|Out of the Shadows by Aurora|
|Chapter #21 - Chapter Twenty-One: A Slayerâ€™s Hamartia|
|Chapter Twenty-One: A Slayer’s Hamartia |
Trudging through the forested boundaries of Caleb’s vineyard, Spike assessed the sad band of warriors marching a few feet ahead of him. All he saw were a bunch of frightened girls, ill prepared and dangerously disillusioned. Sure, he had lent a hand in training them and would eviscerate any ghoul that so much as looked at them the wrong way, but there was only so much a century old vampire could teach in a few weeks to a bunch of teenage girls. They had been doomed from the get go; he had only wanted to give them a fighting chance. Sadly, Spike wasn’t even convinced he had managed that.
No, his main point of contention wasn’t with the troops but with those in charge. He couldn’t tell if they were being arrogant with this mission or just plain old ignorant. Either way, he didn’t like the tone adopted by the Slayer and her lot. It tempted fate too much.
Aside from the obvious strategic flaw of attacking an enemy on its home turf—which to be perfectly honest Spike didn’t have any real qualms about since it was how they had always conducted their missions—he was most concerned with the Slayer’s supposed Lieutenants.
Part of the problem was in that they were being partially led by an ex-con of a Slayer who was still wrangling with her inner demons. The night’s fight was her way of atoning for the sins of her past. Though this mission couldn’t take a backseat to redemption, not with what was at stake, Spike knew that was exactly the case when it came to Faith. In his eyes, her presence in the group was a write off, just another liability to add to the growing list.
Then there was Red, Buffy’s strongest ally, opting out of raid. She could claim she wasn’t ready yet to use her magic but he thought it utter bollocks. She was the one who had opened the portal to bring Buffy back, hadn’t she? Spike could understand the volatility of magic but he also knew that running from your own demons only got the ones you loved hurt.
He didn’t even want to think of the tactical flaws involving the Glorified Brick Layer’s presence amid this miserable brigade either.
It was a pitiful sight if he had ever seen one and Spike had seen his share. What with his plethora of previous schemes having gone arse up, he knew incompetence, having employed some remarkably useless minions.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t as though he could voice these grievances. It wasn’t his call. These were the Slayer’s decisions to make, as the job title dictated. The vampire just wasn’t sure how well she had thought it all out.
Up at the front of the line, leading the pack, was Buffy, lost in a trance of leadership and liability. The façade was still intact; the Slayer was in full force, still taking charge and ready for the upcoming mayhem and bloodshed. But it was still just a façade.
Still shaken from their disastrous encounter in the bathroom, Spike was without a doubt certain he was the Slayer’s emotional crutch. He understood the cause; the weight of her burden was finally causing her to crack. While his undying love and undeterred support was all that was keeping her from completely falling to pieces, it was also what was sabotaging her, allowing her to put some of the weight on him, something Buffy never did.
The vampire prayed she could keep it together until this battle was over. They would deal with their issues and the apocalypse as they came.
Spike patted down his chest, searching his duster for his smokes.
Pack was empty.
Tossing the crunched up wrapping aside, he scoffed quietly at the absurdity of his own presence on this death march. Vampire with a soul wasn’t exactly the warrior who should be taking up the cohort’s rear.
Though, a little soullessness, with the clear mind it offered, free of debilitating remorse, would have come in handy right about now.
Irony was seriously having a laugh. At his expense.
Speaking of laughing matters, the only thing worse than the cosmic joke that was the band of misfits before him had been the scene that had transpired outside the Summer’s home no less than an hour before, when they had been given their heroes’ sendoff.
The house’s resident female refugees had congregated around those among them who had drawn up the short straws, wishing those Potentials good luck as they masked their own relief with exaggerated confidence. The fake supportive chatter wasn’t as bad as the awkwardness that permeated the front hall where the so called leaders of this doomed operation had assembled.
Anyanka and the Whelp had thrown so many furtive glances at each other that the vampire could have sworn they were communicating telepathically.
The Principal and the Jailbird had spent their time more or less reenacting a scene out of any daytime soap. After pulling Faith aside, away from prying eyes, the Principal had stormed off in a huff, leaving the Slayer quiet and solemn.
Red had spent the group’s last few minutes in the house doting over her new bird, giving Kennedy a pep talk which poorly disguised her distress with inappropriate optimism.
The Watcher and Buffy had spent the time tersely discussing strategy. The vampire couldn’t help but pick up the feeling that Giles was holding something back. Spike had quickly dismissed it as the Englishman’s usual reserved manner, repressing the urge to embrace his surrogate daughter before she faced off against unknown evil. Of course, there were some things that never changed.
Spike had remained silent throughout the whole farewell song and dance. His soured mood wouldn’t have meshed well with the apprehensive crowd.
Despite his standoffishness, Dawn had approached him and hugged him. No words exchanged. He had gotten the message.
The only person who hadn’t gotten under his skin had been, surprisingly, Andrew. The boy had stayed far enough out of the way that he hadn’t come under the vampire’s radar.
They had left in silence, which had yet to be broken as they made their way to the vineyard. If he hadn’t been so consumed with the prospective fight, Spike would have commended the SITs on actually having kept their mouths shut for a substantial amount of time.
Reaching the edge of the forest near the vineyard’s outer boundary, Buffy turned to face the group.
“We’re here. You know your positions,” she said, authoritatively detached. “We retreat only on my call.”
Without any change in conformation, the group stepped out of the woods and into the vineyard. Up in front, Faith and Buffy quickly dispatched two Bringers that had been patrolling the rows of vines that filled the estate. Xander and Spike kept to the rear, watching the back of the line as the Potentials travelled ahead of them.
Soon they found themselves in front of the vineyard’s cottage.
Spike couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable with the ease of the mission thus far. He would have expected more of a resistance at this point. Something wasn’t right.
“Someone wants us to come over for a visit,” Spike muttered.
“No kidding,” Xander agreed. “Any idiot can see that they’re not even trying to keep us out.”
Spike glared at the boy. “And you conveniently seem to fit the bill, huh?” he sneeringly replied, his patience already having been worn paper thin. “Leave the inane insight in your empty head, Whelp, and keep your insufferable gob shut,” the vampire sourly ordered as he joined the rest of the group gathering in front the vineyard’s cabin.
“Nice talking to you too, Spike,” Xander mumbled, taking a spot next to Molly as the group prepared to enter the house.
Though the annoying prat was rubbing on his last nerve, a part of the vampire couldn’t help but agree with him. Watching Buffy stroll up to the front door as if it were any other house on the soddin’ block had his instincts screaming ‘TRAP!’. What kind of ambush starts off with the attackers knocking on their opponent’s front door?
‘Might as bloody well ask ‘em for a cup of sugar while were at it,’ Spike cynically mused.
The untested group of wannabe slayers crept into the house without even breaking a sweat.
Unnerved by the ominous silence, the girls progressed forward, following their seemingly fearless leader. The unanticipated ease of the mission thus far, and its accompanying suspense, was beginning to weigh down upon them like the proverbial elephant in the room. Not to mention that the fear coming off the whole lot was suffocating to the vampire who was bringing up the rear.
Following the only light in the dim hallway, they moved toward what appeared to be a stairway to the basement, the creak of the old cottage’s floorboards trailing them as they approached the menacing glow.
‘Here we go,’ Spike thought as the group descended into the basement and into an unknown future. ‘The sodding die is cast.’
Sheer and utter chaos.
And he was loving every minute of it.
The Preacher took in a deep whiff, inhaling the stench of fear that permeated the dank basement air. It was intoxicating.
Caleb smirked as he watched the little whores scurry about, feebly fighting against the Bringers.
Didn’t they know they were of inferior stock? Being of the female breed and all?
Glancing down at the supposedly all-powerful Slayer he had so effortlessly knocked to the ground, Caleb shrugged to himself. ‘Apparently not,’ he determined. ‘Reckon it’s time I taught these temptresses a lesson in humility.’
Yanking the Slayer up by her blonde hair, he tossed her limp form into an injured Rona and semi-conscious Kennedy, causing them to crumble into a heap on the floor.
Xander, who had been posted at the cellar’s entrance to defend against any surprise assaults, raced over to the women, guarding over them as the fighting continued all around. His attempts to awaken Buffy were ineffective. The Slayer was out cold. Momentarily, the group was leaderless.
“The good Lord made you the weaker sex for a reason,” Caleb admonished from across the room, his Southern drawl thick with condemnation. “Best start following His wishes, now. Wouldn’t want to reap the Holy wrath upon your wicked selves.”
Knocking a Bringer to the ground, Faith caught sight of Xander tending to an incapacitated Buffy. Without a moment’s hesitation, she charged at Caleb, putting all her strength behind the punch that slammed into his face. The assault caused him to stagger slightly.
“Not as weak as you thought, eh Padre?” she taunted, as she launched one of her knives at him, which he easily deflected.
Caleb smirked at the other Slayer. “Well, you're the other one, aren't you? Your Cain to her Abel.”
“Wouldn’t really know,” Faith dismissed.
With her other knife in her grasp, Faith attempted to plunge its blade into Preacher’s neck. Unfortunately it wouldn’t be fast enough.
Caleb grabbed her outstretched arm, twisting it until she was locked in a morbid embrace. Faith ineffectively fought to keep her hold on her weapon, a bone crunching squeeze of her hands causing her to drop the knife.
“Was never a fan of the good book,” she said through gritted teeth as she kneed Caleb in the groin.
Stumbling a bit, the Preacher momentarily let go of the Slayer, allowing her to escape his grasp. Seizing the opportunity, he backhanded her, knocking her to the ground.
Sneering, he sighed. “Now why doesn’t that surprise me,” he remarked as he grabbed her black hair to deliver a knee to her face. “A pity too. You’d like Revelations. Right up your alley I’d figure.”
The kick he delivered to her side sent the Slayer flying across the room, causing her to crash into the stone wall of the cellar.
Pausing momentarily, the Preacher pondered his last statement. “Come to think of it, kinda up my alley too.”
With a pleased grin plastered on his face, Caleb strolled toward an unsuspecting Potential as she successfully struck down a Bringer.
“The sin of Pride,” he began to sermonize as Molly tensed and spun around to face him, pathetically holding out her sword. “Is one of the deadliest.”
Grabbing the girl about the neck, he lifted her off the ground, choking her. She desperately clawed at the hands squeezing her windpipe, her screams for help coming out as pitiful squeals.
Across the cellar, with Bringers surrounding him, Amanda, and Vi, Spike had been trapped in one corner of the room, tirelessly fighting off the onslaught of minions. It seemed as though the Preacher had sent all his lackeys after him, separating the vampire and the two Potentials from the rest of the group.
The divide and conquer approach.
Never failed, which was what Spike was currently worried about.
The girls beside him, though reeking with fear, were fighting with every morsel of their being, survival instinct fueling the training that he had drilled into them over the last few weeks. If he had the luxury to reflect on the moment, he could take some pride in knowing that he had had a part in their newfound ability to survive. Maybe he had been wrong and a few weeks with him had actually made a difference.
Regrettably, he was too busy fighting the blind bugger in front of him while keeping an eye on the Potentials beside him, making sure their opponents never got the upper hand. It was an existential level of multitasking and a near out of body experience. And it was bloody well exhausting.
It was why the sound of Amanda’s shrill voice screaming Molly’s name seemed so alien to him, so surreal. Taking a potentially fatal chance, he glanced over across the room, following the girl’s line of sight.
What he saw made his stomach sink.
The chaos around the vampire faded into obscurity as he watched the Preacher skewer the tiny waif of a girl with her own sword.
“No!” Spike hollered, fangs descending, face morphing as the rage instantly consumed him.
Acting on instinct and fury, he broke through the throng of Bringers, mercilessly carving a path through them.
He skidded to a stop when he finally reached Molly and her murderer, his mind refusing to fully grasp the sight before him.
The hunter was showcasing his prey, maniacal glee sparkling in his eyes as the limp corpse gradually slid from the steel blade, falling to the ground at the vampire’s feet.
“Always thought the Bible said it best,” he began, holding out the sword before him, mesmerized by the blood that stained it. “‘Frailty, thy name is woman.’”
Spike growled as he lunged at Caleb, landing a solid blow to the larger man’s gut. Staggering, the Preacher quickly regained his stance and threw a punch at the vampire which was easily evaded.
Linking his fingers together, Spike swung his closed fists.
“That was Shakespeare,” he spat as he clobbered Caleb below the chin, causing his head to snap back. “You cad!”
Taking advantage of his momentum and keeping his hands intertwined, Spike swiftly spun around, gaining speed, and smashed his fists into the side of the Preacher’s head. Caleb’s head jerked to the side from the vampire’s onslaught of blows, but his stance was unwavering. To Spike it was as though he was fighting a marble statue.
Caleb sighed as he turned to look the vampire in the eye.
“You will pay for your transgressions, vampire,” he stated, his tone inappropriately animated. “But at this moment, I must do as the good Lord tells us and turn the other cheek.”
The last part of Caleb’s statement was emphasized with a sudden spin in the opposite direction from which he had been facing, slamming his fist into the side of Spike’s face, sending the vampire flying across the room.
His fall was broken by barrels of red wine, which he smashed through as he landed upon them. In a wine soaked heap, the vampire remained unmoving, unconscious from the assault.
It was the sight of Spike crashing through the wooden containers, large pieces of splintered timber flying through the air, which greeted a now alert Buffy. Her squinted, sleep drugged eyes flew open as realization dawned.
“Spike!” she hollered, springing to her feet, deaf to Xander calling her name. “Spike!”
Sprinting, Buffy reached the comatose vamp, sliding on the muddied dirt ground as her hands instinctively latched onto his body. “Spike! Wake up! Get up!” she screamed as she violently shook him.
Her hands frantically skimmed his chest, ensuring that there were no accidental puncture wounds from the flying debris. “I need you to get up!” she shouted.
Xander was suddenly at her side, his hand firmly gripping her shoulder.
“Buffy we need to get out of here,” he beseeched, his eyes skirting around the dim cellar, catching sight of Faith who was regaining consciousness a few feet away.
Nodding in agreement, the Slayer glanced around her. Caleb was entertaining himself with another Potential, a girl’s name she couldn’t quite recall at that very moment. “Get Faith,” she ordered.
“Will do,” Xander responded, running over to the other Slayer, clearly injured from her flight into the wall.
Buffy’s attention immediately returned to Spike, still out cold. “Spike! Get up! We gotta get out of here,” she urgently pleaded as she peeked at the chaos about her once more.
An ice cold stare greeted her when she looked back down at the vampire. The chilling voice that escaped his lips was unrecognizable.
“Call a retreat,” he said unemotionally, sitting up.
Buffy simply stared at him, dumbfounded.
Yanking himself away from her clutches, Spike snarled. “Call the fucking retreat!”
Jumping to his feet, he ran toward the Potentials without a backwards glance at Buffy.
As if shaking off some sort of spell, the Slayer also leapt to her feet. “Fall back! We’re getting out of here! Retreat!”
When she turned to look where the Potentials were relatively positioned, most were already up the stairs, having left wounded or dead Bringers in their wake as they desperately fled the cellar. She ran toward a limping Faith, who was foolishly assisting Rona and Kennedy toward the stairs. Xander was corralling the rest of the fighting girls toward the exit, telling them to abandon their weapons and flee. Unfortunately for him, it drew unwanted attention from a certain sociopath.
Caleb hurled the limp body of the girl in his grasp across the room, which collided with Xander as he was calling out to retreat. The Preacher approached his now vulnerable victim, having knocked him to the ground.
“Usin’ that big mouth of yours again?” he asked, picking Xander up by the collar and hauling him into the air. “Always have somethin’ to say, don’t you Boy? These harlots must’a tainted you with their sin of pride,” he reasoned, cocking his head to the side. “Only one cure for that.”
Caleb reached out to Xander’s mouth, his fingers wrapping around his lower jaw, creating a vice-like grip. “Removing the diseased limb,” he stated as he squeezed the boy’s mandible in his hand.
A bone crushing sound accompanied a blood curdling scream that filled the room.
The agonized noise pulled the vampire’s attention away from the Bringer he was pummeling so that the Potentials could make their escape. Finishing the minion off with a twist of its head, Spike tossed its body aside, sprinting toward a helpless Xander.
‘Please not the Whelp. ’ he inwardly pleaded, racing over to the boy. ‘Not him.’
Remembering the Slayer’s speech weeks before about Xander being the only constant in her life, Spike knew that if the boy died that night, it would destroy Buffy and all would be lost. As upset as he was with the Slayer and her behavior, the vampire couldn’t let that happen. It was why he was charging the Preacher like a bat out of hell.
Ploughing into Caleb’s side, Spike knocked him to the dirt covered floor, which freed Xander’s jaw from his vice-like grip.
Moving quickly, the vampire picked up a dazed Xander and dragged him upstairs, trailing the rest of the retreating party, never once looking back to see if Caleb was coming after them.
Spike could hear Buffy up ahead of him, calling the Potentials to run. Swinging Xander over his shoulder, the vampire followed the Slayer’s orders and started to run for the forest.
The weight of the man he was carrying was nothing compared to the night’s real burden.
Spike knew precisely why the mission had failed. Sadly, he had no one to blame but himself.