The Devil's in The Details
It suddenly turned and leapt at him. Cobb fell backward as a body hit him like a ton of bricks. Before he could defend himself, he was waking from the dream. Water dripped from his nose as he stared into Miles' face.
"What the hell?" Cobb exclaimed as he gently pushed Miles away.
He wondered when his father-in-law had arrived, but his presence wasn't the most pressing mater. Cobb pulled the needle from his arm. He threw them aside as he got up from his chair and reached for the towel Miles offered him.
"Okay, would you mind telling me why you pulled me early?"
He expected Mr. Giles to answer, and was surprised when he heard the concern in Miles' voice.
"Because you were showing the same signs as Miss Summers right before one of her episodes." He exchanged glances with Mr. Giles, before he continued. "Forgive us for thinking it best to pull you out, Dom."
Cobb raked his hand through his hair. Miles was right to pull him out, but it didn't help that he was about to find the answer they sought.
"No, you did the right thing," he sighed.
He paced the room while he explained everything that had happened during his time with Buffy. Cobb worked hard to put the pieces together. He knew there were a few pieces still missing. The problem came about because Buffy kept her emotions bottled inside and took all the blame whenever things went wrong. She used her journal as a release, but even they only skimmed the top layers. It was as if Buffy couldn't give voice to her feelings. Still, he had to try to see if he had missed something.
"Mr. Giles, I need to look at Buffy's diaries again. There's something I might have missed, and I think it's important."
Giles nodded in agreement. He waited to hear what Cobb had discovered. His hand reached for his glasses by nervous habit. Miles wasn't as patient, and played on his personal relationship with Cobb.
"For goodness sakes, Dom. Tell us what you saw at the very least," he said, leveling his piercing blue eyes on his son-in-law.
Cobb turned to see the two expectant faces staring at him. He glanced at the other technicians Mr. Giles had brought in to help him. They caught his hesitation. Cobb stepped over to the far corner and they followed him.
"It was strange. I'd have control, and suddenly Buffy would change the design. She was taking me through the memories of the most traumatic moments in her life; when things changed for her, or perhaps shouldn't have changed. I'm not sure. Plus, there was something there."
Miles grabbed Cobb's arm. He turned the younger man toward him to search his face. His shoulders sagged in relief. He must have found what he was looking for since he released Cobb with an apologetic smile.
"What do you mean something there? Can you describe it?" Giles asked as he sent sidewise glances at his old friend.
He wasn't sure what was going on between Miles and his son-in-law. Giles did know that it had better not interfere with helping Buffy. His eyes narrowed as he sent Miles a Ripperesque glare. The other man looked then back at Cobb as he awaited an answer. Giles smiled when he noticed his old friend straighten his shoulders. That's better, old boy, get it together.
Cobb turned to Mr. Giles and found the older man staring at Miles. He slowly turned his head toward him, and Cobb couldn't help the strange feeling this man was someone to handle carefully.
He closed his eyes as he tried to recall the details. Cobb softy whispered, "Dark, powerful, predatory comes to mind. And I could swear I saw white markings. It was fast and kept to the shadows. I just caught the movement from the corner of my eye, and perhaps wouldn't have even seen that much were it not for Buffy's words. There's much more to the instances in her life than she revealed to anyone, and this…whatever it is," Cobb exclaimed, his hands flew upward in frustration. "It's at the center of it all. Look, I never would have believed any of this before you came to me." He stared into Giles' pale green eyes, pleading for understanding. "But, I'm telling you that I can help figure this out. The answers are in her diaries, I just know it."
They raced from the hospital to Buffy's home. Her room had become a shrine, and Cobb felt strange entering it. He didn't exchange pleasantries with her sister or friends, simply because there wasn't much he could say. They didn't like what he was there for, and he didn't much agree with their attitude.
He went straight to the small desk that sat next to the window seat. His finger brushed against the sheer drapes, and knew Buffy had sat here to pour out her emotions. He just wished she could have found it within herself to speak about the people she wrote about, or even expound on the events to address the stifled feelings he saw in her writing. Cobb recognized it not only from his own educational background, but also from his experience with Mal.
Retrieving Buffy's diaries, he laid them on her bed. Cobb slipped off his shoes then stretched until he found a comfortable position. He reached for the first diary, and leaned back to start reading. This time he paid particular attention to specific detail. The nuances Buffy used, and more importantly, what she didn't say.
He jotted down notes as he read, with dates and events beside them. People's names in bold letters lay to the farthest right border. It appeared that he was keeping some sort of running score under each name. Every so often, he would add a slash underneath a name then continue reading.
This continued for several hours, until he came to the last book. Cobb placed it on his chest then took several slow breaths. He closed his eyes as he laid his forearm across them. He was the very picture of exhaustion. A knock on the door disturbed his small respite. He sighed loudly, but remained as he was.
"Yes," he called out.
An arm holding coffee clutched in its hand opened the door. The other hand held up a bag filled with sugary goodness, and its owner sent Cobb a cheery smile.
"How goes it?"
Miles walked into the room, handing Dom the coffee. He placed the bag on the nightstand. His blue eyes perused the books strewn about the bed. They wandered back up the relaxed body sprawled haphazardly across the mattress. Dom looked very much at home in Buffy Summers' bedroom. Miles couldn't remember seeing the younger man appearing as relaxed anywhere else without the children nearby. His brow furrowed in concern. Dom had finally come to terms with Mal's death and finally put his life back together. Miles wasn't sure what he or the children would do if he went off the rails again.
Cobb turned to Miles using his finger to mark his place in the diary. "I know what to do. It's not going to be as easy as we thought and well…" his voiced dropped off as he turned away from his father-in-law's concerned stare.
"Spit it out, Dom. What are you not saying?"
Cobb gently placed the diary aside. He no longer had any need for it, but felt reluctant to release the physical link with Buffy's past. Shaking his head at his own foolishness, he pushed off the bed and walked over to the window seat. He stared out at the tree she used to sneak out for her nightly slaying duties.
"I have to go back inside and help her finish what she's started," he answered cryptically.
"What the hell does that mean?"
"I'm not sure I can explain it more than once, and that it will make much sense even then. Come on, she doesn't have much time left."
They gathered the diaries together and left the room. Cobb stopped as he went to close the door. His eyes glanced back around the seemingly innocent room. It looked like any other teenage girl's room, yet he knew better.
"It's almost over, Buffy, I promise," he whispered into the silent, empty room then closed the door behind him.
Cobb was once again sitting next to Buffy's bed. A silent tech was about to dose him with the cocktail mixture that would send him to the first level. The long exhaustive discussion that took place earlier hadn't helped his preparation routine. He came close to calling it off - or at the very least, postponing it for several hours. Cobb felt everything fade away the minute he stepped into Buffy's room. He couldn't explain it, and didn't want to.
He looked around at the people milling around the room for the first time. There was a distinctive air about them. He realized they were military, and wondered why he hadn't seen it before. Cobb shook his head at overlooking something so obvious. He was part of the original team to create the system for the military training program. It was foolish for him to think that they hadn't continued without him. He didn't understand why the military would involve themselves with Buffy. It worried him, though, since his own dealings with them had shown that they didn't like to lose what they considered valuable assets.
"Don't worry, Mr. Cobb, we're all here voluntarily. Each of us owes Buffy our lives," the tech said as he started the drip. "She's in good hands with us. We've got the hospital wired, and no one will interfere until this is through." He sent Cobb a pleasant smile. "Good luck. If you get a chance, tell Buffy that Graham says hey."
Cobb nodded, while still eyeing the young tech/soldier with some doubt. He had no choice this far into the game. Laying his head back against the chair, Cobb closed his eyes and melted into the dream.
He walked into Giles' apartment where he found Buffy waiting for him. She sat perched atop an enormous stack of books, holding an equally large book across her lap. He saw that the title started with 'V', but nothing more. Giles' round glasses sat perched across her nose. She held a delicate cup of tea, with her pinky arched upward as she sipped the fragrant brew.
Buffy smiled at him expectantly as she asked, "Do you understand?"
"How many times has it happened?"
He watched her smile fade as she dropped the book to the floor. It landed with a loud 'THUMP!' The books crumbled from beneath her, and she rode them to the ground, where she gracefully landed on her feet mere inches from him. Buffy stared up at him, and Cobb couldn't help but feel small next to her larger-than-life persona.
"The devil's in the details," she said, before she turned to dash out the door in a blonde blur of speed.
He cursed under his breath as he turned to chase after her. How, the hell, did this keep happening?
Cobb stepped out the door into total mayhem. You have to be kidding me, right?
He looked at the sky as if some entity would answer him. Perhaps, given everything he had learned over the past few weeks, it wasn't too far of a stretch.
Buffy was facing off against some patchwork monster, and she was winning. Her hair flew about her like a nimbus. Her voice echoed with some strange overlay of voices. Cobb gulped as she turned to stare at him with gold-rimmed red eyes. He watched her destroy the monster as her then-boyfriend watched from the sidelines. Cobb watched Riley come forward in time to catch her before she collapsed to the floor.
There it was again. He knew he was on the right track and took off after Buffy. He slid to a stop when he saw her fighting unimaginable monsters. Cobb knew what he had seen.
But before he could do or say anything, the construct changed. The kick was different as he felt his world tilt around him. He hit the ground hard in a heap of legs and arms. Cobb understood Buffy's subconscious didn't want him there on some level, yet had opened up to him despite that. He had to walk a fine line while here, especially since it appeared, that she could take control whenever she wanted. At least Cobb hoped it was her taking control; the other option terrified him.
He slowly got to his feet and stared at his newest challenge. It was a castle from some bad B-movie. He couldn't have created this if he had wanted to, and he didn't want to. He knew Buffy was inside with Dracula. The 'Dracula' with the accent and fangs, who could turn into a bat, and he even had the brides who followed him around wherever he went.
Cobb started walking up the steps when he saw it - the shadow. He ran for the door in an effort to get to Buffy before it did. The door wouldn't open at first, and he fought the knob. It finally turned in his hand. He didn't stop to wonder why as he ran for where he knew he would find Buffy. She was drinking from Dracula when it happened.
The shadow attacked her. They rolled on the floor, neither getting the upper hand on the other. Cobb knew he had to do something to stop this before Buffy died. The only thing he could think to do was to kick to the next level. He prayed he would take Buffy along with him. It would have to happen fast and take something big to work.
He stared at Dracula, who stood back, watching the fight with a bored expression. Cobb searched the room around him then smiled. He grabbed the decorative sword from the wall and swung at the Count's head. It fell to the ground, frozen in a wide-eyed look of shock. The fight stopped and Cobb grabbed Buffy as he jumped straight into the full-length mirror against the wall across from them.
They landed in a dark, quiet place. Cobb had kept this construct as an emergency escape. He had hoped he wouldn't need it. He pulled Buffy next to him as she gasped for air. Her slight body shook and his heart went out to her. Cobb couldn't imagine how long she had kept this from the others.
The question that rang through his mind was why? Why wouldn't she tell them?
Share this with those closest to her, wasn't there anyone she could tell? He couldn't stop the harsh laugh that bubbled from his chest. Her head jerked up as she sent him a wary look. He shook his head at her. It was the same reason he didn't tell his team about Mal.
"They have no idea, do they?" He felt her head shake against his arm. "Exactly how am I supposed to convince them about something this big?"
Buffy pushed away from his embrace to stare up at him with wide green eyes. She turned away to stare into the darkened space.
Her voice came out in a hoarse whisper, "How do you tell those you care about the most that they need to let you go. Every day you stay alive, if you can call it that, puts them in more danger. I thought it was finally over when I died to save Dawnie's life."
She paused and looked back at him. Cobb saw everything there written across her face. Buffy didn't have the strength to keep on fighting. The shadow would win eventually. He waited for her to continue.
"They brought me back, and I felt as if I couldn't breathe. I…I hated them for it. I tried not to, but I did. Eventually things got better, but the other…" she trailed off. "It hasn't stopped, and inevitably landed me here." Her hands spread wide to encompass their surroundings. "She won't let me go. No matter how hard I fight, she won't leave me alone."
"The First Slayer."
The pieces fell into place for Cobb. He understood what was happening, and thought he knew how to stop it. Perhaps he could finally help Buffy and her family find some peace.
"Buffy, do you trust me enough to help you with this?"
She wrinkled her small upturned nose at him as she thought over his proposition. He watched her became the Buffy he had seen from the pictures. The woman he would have liked to know had circumstances been different. She slowly nodded her head.
Cobb rose to his feet then extended his hand to her. Buffy placed her hand in his as he helped her to her feet. She looked up at him, unsure what to make of him. He was ruggedly handsome, although not really her type. It wasn't as if they would see each other after this. So, Buffy did a very Buffy thing. She lifted up to her tiptoes and brushed her lips across Cobb's. His wide-eyed expression told her she had caught him off-guard, but that he hadn't minded. Her lips tilted upward into a self-satisfied smile. Yeah, even dream-Buffy still had it.
"Here's how this needs to work," Cobb explained his design to Buffy, and she nodded her head in understanding. "Okay, we need to kick to the last level and send you on your way. Are you ready?"
Buffy stood in one boneless move. Cobb watched in admiration at her inherent grace. He got to his feet, although not as gracefully as Buffy, but he had his own strength about him. They clasped hands as they approached the door. He turned to her and smiled. She returned it as they stepped through. Light encompassed them, snapping out of sight as the door closed softly behind them.
They were falling from Glory's tower. The lightning crashed around them and the ground rushed up to meet them. Pain rushed through their bodies as the portal's power encompassed them. It was just what Cobb was hoping for as he pushed them forward to the next level. He had no desire to watch Buffy fall to her death, but using it as a kick worked perfectly.
They landed on their feet right back where it had all began - the Master's Cave. This time Cobb controlled the design with Buffy giving him free reign. They approached the murky pool where Buffy experienced her first death. Cobb felt her fingers tremble, and he tightened his hold on her hand.
"Trust me," he softly whispered.
He guided her around the pool to the shadowed recesses deeper within the cave. Buffy stared up at him in confusion. Cobb pressed his free hand against his lips to quiet her. They waited quietly for several moments. The previous scene replayed before their eyes.
Cobb felt Buffy try to break away from him, but he held onto her with everything he had. He turned to her and pointed to the water as the other Buffy left. Buffy quieted then stared in horror. The Shadow drew itself up and stalked after Buffy's younger persona.
Buffy turned to Cobb, who nodded, and they burst from their hiding place. They raced after the First Slayer's shadow, tackling it to the ground. Buffy knew she had to defeat it here - when it was at its weakest - or she would never know peace. She had no intention to let this bitch continue to kill her each night.
Cobb extracted himself from the dog pile, as the two powerful 'women' started exchanging blows. He watched as they slammed each other against the cave walls, threw punches and kicks with unimaginable speed. It didn't seem as if either had the upper hand. The longer they fought, the more solid the 'shadow' became. It had Cobb worried. He had no idea if this was good or bad.
However, from the grim look of determination on Buffy's face, he prayed it was good. He started looking around for some type weapon for Buffy to use. This was an all or nothing battle with Buffy's life in the balance. Cobb almost slapped himself in the head as the obvious stared him in the face. He ran over to the water and lay on his stomach. Cobb thrust his hand into the grey water and started searching about.
"Come on, come on," he muttered under his breath.
He felt his body tilting forward and held onto the edge with his other hand. There he felt something, and went back across it. He stretched his fingers out as his face came perilously close to the water. Cobb held his breath and dunked his head under the water to grab the object. He reached for it and arched backward, gasping for air.
"Got it!" he crowed with excitement, pumping his fist in the air.
He turned back to the fight and felt his heart drop. The First Slayer held Buffy beneath her, and was choking the life from her. Cobb had to do something or Buffy would die again, and he wasn't sure she would get this chance again. He tackled the First Slayer off Buffy.
Unfortunately, it directed the feral woman's attention toward him. He heard Buffy's gasp for air, and then he was airborne. His body slammed against the wall, and Cobb swore he was seeing stars circle his head. The woman flashed her teeth at him before turning back to Buffy. Guess she was done with him. Cobb couldn't say he was unhappy with that. Hopefully, he had bought Buffy enough time.
It was up to her now. All he could do was watch and wait.
The First Slayer spun around to continue her attack on Buffy. She was met with a hard blow to the jaw. It threw her backward, but she quickly recovered. A low guttural growl emitted from her chest as she advanced on Buffy. This time Buffy met her halfway. They were like two bighorn rams butting heads. Their blows came so fast that Cobb couldn't keep track. He held his breath and waited.
It happened in slow motion when he least expected it. The First Slayer kicked Buffy away from her. He followed the trajectory as Buffy's body crumpled against the cave floor. His heart caught in his throat. Get up, Buffy. Get up…get up…get up.
The mantra poured from his lips as he watched helplessly. The Fist Slayer stalked over to Buffy's beaten body. She grabbed her hair, pulling her face up as she snarled down into her bruised face. Suddenly, Buffy surged up from the floor and shoved her fist at the First Slayer's heart. The First Slayer's coal black eyes widened in shock as she stared down at her chest, where Mr. Pointy stuck mid-way through her heart. She looked back at Buffy in acceptance, before she faded from sight.
Buffy collapsed back to the ground, breathing heavily. It was finally over. She heard Cobb as he got to his feet. It was time for him to leave. Time for them both
to leave. Buffy smiled as she shakily got to her feet. She felt his arm wrap around her waist in support as they started to walk back toward the light.
She was finally going home.
Cobb woke to silent monitors and solemn faces. He turned to see Buffy's body lying there in quiet repose. She was gone, and he knew that they had finally allowed her to find her release.
Miles helped him to his feet and pressed his shoulder in quiet understanding. They had grown closer over this past year. Each in their own way had laid Mal's ghost to rest. They missed her terribly but knew it was time to move forward and give Phillipa and James the life they deserved. Cobb hoped Buffy's family would come to the same realization.
Life. It was harsh and real, but so worth it. His hand slipped inside his pocket to caress his talisman as he left the room.
Hope you liked it, and aren't mad for not warning you earlier. But, then well it wouldn't have worked correctly.