Chp 1 Gathering Clouds
Chp One: Gathering Clouds
The bedroom mirror showed her nothing new: the same face, tense, strained. Red rimmed eyes from crying. Blonde hair that needed a wash, pulled back too tightly – she’d get split ends.
The house settled for the night. It was never completely quiet even in the early hours of the day – odd creaks and groans as the wooden floors contracted, the rumble of the fridge, a loose window screen rattling in a wayward breeze.
Buffy picked up the phone and watched as her fingers hovered over the numbers. Odd that they were so plain in her memory – when had she learnt them? She didn’t even remember her mom giving her the note with her dad’s new details written on it.
It would be tomorrow in Europe – or the day before yesterday or whenever! Jeez, it didn’t matter. She needed to speak to him. Mom was sick and Dad should be here – to – to – well, to cope. That’s what dads did. She couldn’t do it. She was too young. She was a child, a daughter, a little girl….
But she put the phone down without dialling. What would be the point? Men and reliability – not two words she could put in the same sentence.
Hey, she could call Riley! He was reliable. She loved him. He was her boyfriend. A nice, normal guy. He would be sympathetic, a shoulder to cry on. But - she didn’t want to, which was all sorts of wrong, and she’d have to sort out those muddled emotions later. She knew he would tell her not to worry, that everything would be all right and although that’s what she wanted to hear, more than anything else, those words wouldn’t help. She wished – no, that was wrong.
She sighed. “And if I don’t call him, he’ll be all hurt feelings guy and get that kicked puppy expression on his face. Why do men have such thin skins!”
Buffy walked to the window and gazed out at the yard. The moon had vanished behind heavy clouds. There was a storm brewing. That was why she felt this pressure all around her, of course. Just the stupid weather.
Spike had long gone. He’d sat with her for a while on the porch steps, which had been kind of weird seeing as how she’d had the strongest feeling he’d wanted to kill her when he’d appeared through the bushes, stalking across the grass with that long, swaggering lope that annoyed her so much.
What was even weirder was that he hadn’t told her not to worry, hadn’t told her that everything would be all right with her mom. He’d listened without speaking – and she had the feeling that was a first for the vampire – then he’d kicked the hell out of an innocent shrub, silently mashing it into the earth with vicious, thudding boots, his face a mask of unconcealed rage. His actions made her feel a bit better.
Buffy opened her bedroom window and drank in the cool of the night air. She felt so alone she could have been the only person alive in Sunnydale, in California, in the whole world. Even Spike would be tucked up in bed by now with that ditzy Harmony. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck wriggle; his presence still lingered in the yard. She remembered him sitting eating the chicken wings in the Bronze earlier, swigging beer, being his usual, annoying self. Why did he eat ordinary food? Angel never did. And why exactly was she worrying about it?
She tensed as a subdued noise came from her mom’s bedroom. Joyce was still up, not sleeping. And that, of course, was why Buffy was desperately trying to fill her mind with stupid questions about stupid vamps. She would do anything rather than think about what the next day would bring….
Deep in the shadows of the trees, Spike gazed up at the bedroom window. He could see the pale shape of her face but knew she couldn’t see him. He watched as she opened the window and could almost imagine he could smell the sweet scent of her perfume drift down to him. Which was a load of bollocks, of course.
It had been a bloody odd evening all round and wasn’t ending well. Joyce! He’d listened to Buffy’s words and wanted to destroy the bloody world and everything and everyone in it. Why the hell should Joyce fall sick? She was a good person. OK, he didn’t have a lot of time for good people, preferred the evil type, obviously, but Joyce…she was – different.
What sodding god would let Joyce be ill? Buffy said it was medical, not mystical but he would still have a good sniff around and if he caught even a wisp of magic or demon or even bloody feng-shui, he’d – he’d -
And he groaned as the chip fired in his head at his thoughts alone.
The storm was still grumbling around just out of sight over the horizon throughout the next long day. There had been warnings of power-cuts if it got really bad. Electrical storms often plunged Sunnydale into darkness.
‘Just another reason to love the place,’ Spike thought grimly as he crashed his way through the glass doors across the entrance to the hospital. He’d had another shit day what with soldier boy catching him in Buffy’s bedroom.
He vamped into game face as he passed a trolley loaded with bags of blood. The temptation was overwhelming, but he forced himself back into human. This wasn’t the time for snacking.
The door he was looking for was half open, the light out, only the glare from the corridor cutting a bright wedge into the darkness. Spike hesitated; what if she was asleep, sedated. He knew bloody well that the Slayer would kick him from here to kingdom come if she knew what he was doing. But no one told him anything. And he needed to know.
“You can come in, Spike.” Her voice was soft, weary, but still warm. He gently pushed the door wider and took a couple of slow paces inside. The darkness of the room didn’t worry him. He could see Joyce, lying propped up in bed.
“How did you know it was me?”
Joyce’s voice, tired though it was, could still carry a hint of sarcasm. “Not too many doctors are wearing long black leather coats this year! Of course, you could be the cause of a whole new fashion statement for the medical profession.”
Spike approached the bed and thrust out a soggy brown paper bag. “Grapes!”
Joyce peered at the bag which was dripping juice over the bed covers. It seemed to have come into contact with something very hard and unforgiving. Spike glared at the mess, remembering that he’d been holding it in his hand when he thrust open the glass entrance doors.
“Grapes? Oh. Right. Most people bring flowers or balloons, but thank you, Spike. It’s very kind of you.”
There was a silence, then – “I nicked them from a shop! We always give people grapes in England when they’re in hospital. So what’s wrong with you?” His words were blunt and unadorned. Her reply was the same.
“A small tumour on my brain.”
“Yes, bugger just about sums it up, I think. But I suppose you know all about things sitting on your brain.”
Spike ran a hand over his platinum hair, instinctively searching, as he had every night since it happened, for the place where the chip lay. “Wonder why these places always smell of disinfectant and piss?”
Joyce felt the smile she’d never thought she’d use again flicker across her mouth. “The same thought has crossed my mind. I just want to go home and wait there until the operation.”
“How’s Buffy taking it?”
“Coping, as you can imagine.”
“Dawn? Who’s - Oh, yes, Dawn” Joyce sounded distracted, odd.
Spike’s senses rippled, every hunter instinct in his body telling him that this member of the herd was weak, failing, shouting at him to kill, take, feed. And under that, another memory was telling him, take her, turn her, help her to another life before she dies.
“She’ll be fine. She’s got Buffy.”
“And Buffy’s got - ?”
“Her friends, Giles, that nice boy Riley.” She strained to see his face: with the light from the corridor behind him, it was just a pale blur but she’d been convinced his eyes had turned to molten gold when she’d mentioned Riley. She wondered why she liked this vampire. He was an evil, soulless thing, and yet somehow seemed more human that a lot of the men she’d met in her life. There was an inner strength in him she could sense. Rupert Giles had it, too, but it was missing from Hank, missing from Angel and, sadly, missing from Buffy’s new boyfriend, Riley. All three of them saw the world through their own desires, their own pain. It warped them. With Spike - she wished that….
His voice sliced into her thoughts. “When do they – ?”
“Operate? In a few days’ time, I think. Spike – ”
“OK, don’t get your bedsocks in a twist, I’m going. I was just passing and thought I’d check you out. Reckoned there might be some spare blood bags lying around. Evil here, remember?”
Joyce tried not to smile; it hurt her head. “I wish – ” She hesitated, she was about to do something most mothers would die before doing. But then most mothers didn’t have a daughter who was the Slayer.
“You don’t hate Buffy, do you, Spike?”
The vampire glared at her in the gloom. “Of course I hate her. She’s the Slayer, isn’t she. Deadly enemies us.”
Joyce waved a hand in denial. “Yes, yes. I can see how much you hate her every time you look at her! ” There was silence for a long minute and the lights flickered as thunder growled insistently in the far distance. “Listen, Spike, I was wondering if you would do me a favour….?”
It was nearly midnight when Buffy wriggled free from Riley’s possessive clasp and swung her legs off the sofa. They’d crashed out in front of the TV and now she felt hot and wrinkled and irritable. Riley rolled over and buried his face in the cushions. He was snoring gently, dead to the world.
A nice hot shower would be great, but that would only wake Dawn and she’d cried herself to sleep earlier. Buffy knew she couldn’t cope with her sister just yet. The next few days were going to be hard on everyone.
She stared down at the breadth of Riley’s shoulders – wide, strong, he looked as if he could carry the whole world on them. So why did she feel she was falling free, treading water, drowning in a sea of disbelief with nothing to hold on to? He should be her rock at this time but – not so much.
Buffy opened the back door and stood on the porch, staring out at the sky. She wished the storm would break. Lightning flickered in the distance but there was no rain and the air felt thick and heavy. Was everyone in the world asleep except for her? She hoped her mom was, alone in that wretched hospital, worrying about her operation. Was Glory asleep? Willow? Xander?
Suddenly, she tensed, every nerve flaring. Here was one evil creature who certainly wasn’t. “Spike! What the hell are you doing here?”
A small red spark drifted to the ground as he tossed away his cigarette and stepped out of the shadows. “Slayer! Nice greeting! Friendly, like.”
“Spike – I am so not in the mood for your rubbish – ”
“Yeah, I can smell Soldier Boy all over you, so I can guess exactly what you are in the mood for! But fascinating as your love life is, Summers, I thought you’d better know that there’s going to be a major fight at the Bronze in a couple of hours. Demon versus demon but it could well escalate and drag in people all over Sunnydale. So unless you want to wake up to find bodies in the streets, you’d better get down there and sort it out now.”
Chp 2 Eye of the Storm
Chapter Two: Eye of the Storm
Buffy sat staring at her reflection in her bedroom mirror as she dragged a brush through her hair. OK, she was now officially crazy. She would send round a memo to all her friends in the morning giving them the news. What the hell was she doing? Even as she tried to pound her brain into giving her answers, she was pulling on a clean black lacy top and reaching for –
What the heck? She wasn’t going on a date with Spike; she was going to the Bronze to stop a fight. She did not need perfume of any sort, shape or description. There would be blood and dust and general ickyness. That was the sort of aroma a Slayer was used to having clinging to her skin.
She picked up two stakes instead and thrust them into the waistband of her jeans. There! That was much more Slayerlike.
And no, she reasoned as she peered round the door into Dawn’s room to check on her sister, she wasn’t mad. OK, it was late, way after midnight, but she wasn’t going to sleep any more and killing things would take her mind off her mom and what lay ahead in the next few days.
Dawn was sprawled across the bed, a long-limbed starfish shape. She’d thrown off the coverlet and Buffy gently pulled it up over her shoulder. The dark hair spilled across the pillow like a shadow and the teenager muttered in her sleep and tossed her head from side to side. Whatever she was dreaming, it wasn’t making her happy.
Buffy tiptoed downstairs: Riley was still sound asleep on the sofa where she’d left him so Dawn wasn’t alone in the house. So she could go to the Bronze, kill demons and be back home before either of them woke up. But she wrote him a note anyway and left it on the floor next to his trainers.
A flash of lightning cut across the treetops as she reached the sidewalk. She paused and Spike appeared, swinging around to her side, matching her stride for stride as they walked, their boots ringing in unison, one dull thud, the other lighter, crisper.
“You don’t have to come with me,” she snapped.
Spike shrugged. “Nothing else to do, Slayer. Watching you trying to separate the Progta Clan from the Fleista Warriors will be better than an episode of Passions.”
Buffy stared at him suspiciously. “Who are these demons and why haven’t I heard about them before?”
“Your lack of knowledge about demon life never fails to astound me, Slayer. What does Wanker Watcher teach you? Progtas are fat, smelly bastards, usually bright yellow; Fleistas are tall, tentacled geezers with bad tempers. They’re sworn enemies. Their whole lifes’ aim is to kill each other as bloodily and painfully as possible.”
“And they’re going to have a fight at the Bronze?”
Spike was glad the clouds were so heavy over Sunnydale that there wasn’t even a glimmer of moonlight. He knew he could lie for Britain when he wanted to, but surely even the Slayer would guess he was making the whole thing up if she could see his face. When Joyce had asked him to take Buffy’s mind off her problems for an evening, he’d had no soddin’ idea how to do it, except by inventing a fight that wasn’t going to happen. He still wasn’t sure why he’d agreed; the Slayer in pain should have been a plus, but somehow that only applied when he was the one dealing out the pain.
“Why are they fighting at the Bronze?”
“There’s a late night demon birthday party and some idiot invited both clans by mistake.”
Buffy stopped in mid-stride. “A demon birthday party at the Bronze?”
Spike spun round to face her, genuinely puzzled by her reaction. He hadn’t been fabricating the party details. “Well, what did you think happened after all the Sunnydale kiddy-winks went home to their warm little beds? The Bronze couldn’t keep open on the money they make from the soft drinks they serve to the likes of Xander and Red! They need to sell the hard stuff to demons. There’s usually a party of some sort about two or three in the morning.”
Buffy studied his face as another flash of lightning cut through the clouds. Something about this whole set-up didn’t ring true, but she couldn’t quite work out the catch. “If this is some lame plan of yours to get me ambushed, I’ll – I’ll – ”
Spike raised an eyebrow and shrugged. His whole attitude was one of nonchalant boredom. “Slayer, as I said to you yesterday evening, all any vamp or demon needs is just one good day to take you down. And when that happens, I’ll be there on the side-lines, cheering them on, counting the squishy parts of your body as they separate into lots of little pieces. But Progtas and Fleistas are just in a pain in the arse to self-respecting vamps and demons. Once they start fighting, life gets very messy. You’ll be doing me a favour by getting rid of them.”
Buffy rolled her eyes and stalked past him down the alley and into the Bronze. She could hear the music thundering out of the club before she pushed open the heavy doors. The sound hit her like a blow, wave after wave of deep, heart-wrenching beat. It was far darker than normal inside: the usual lighting had been replaced with a few candles and a cloud of cigarette smoke hung in the air.
The place wasn’t crowded; a few demons were dancing, more were sitting twined together and there was obviously a heavy drinking session going on at the bar. Something small and furry squeaked when it saw Buffy and fled past her but the rest of the demons didn’t seem bothered. “No vamps,” she said to Spike.
“Not tonight, no. They have enough sense to steer clear of demon parties when there’s a brawl about to happen. Too many weapons being used. You could get caught in the cross-fire.”
“So where are these two demon gangs?”
Spike peered around dramatically, wondering what he would do if anything vaguely resembling the demons he’d described out of his imagination suddenly appeared. “Not here yet, Slayer. Probably out somewhere working up a blood lust. Fancy a drink?”
“Spike, I am so not here for alcohol!” Buffy coughed and waved violently at the cigarette smoke, which – she sniffed – didn’t smell as if it was just tobacco!
“Well, at least sit down, Slayer. You look like some dumb loser who’s been stood up by their boyfriend just standing there. Or you could buy me a proper drink. Nice glass of Scotch would go down well.”
“Spike, this is not some sort of date.”
The vampire shrugged, his eyes glittering in the candlelight. “You were quite happy to spend time in my company last night – and pay for it.”
“Last night I wanted information – and which, by the way, far too much – tonight I’m working.”
Spike sighed heavily. “OK, OK, don’t get your knickers in a twist – if you’re wearing any, of course! I’ll get the drinks.”
Buffy glared at his back as he pushed his way to the bar. No one could annoy her quite as effortlessly as William the Bloody, chipped or not. She was sitting at a table, her gaze quartering the club automatically, searching for the first sighting of demons answering to Spike’s description when he reappeared, flung himself into a chair opposite her and placed two glasses of Scotch on the table. “Bottoms up, pet!”
“What? Uggh, that’s disgusting. Couldn’t you have got me a soda?”
“Bottoms up? Old English expression. Why, you didn’t think it meant anything else, did you, Slayer. My, my, you’re certainly learning some odd things from soldier boy.”
“Spike – get your mind and mouth out of the gutter! And don’t talk about Riley. In fact, just don’t talk.” She sipped her drink automatically, then pushed it away. Spike picked up her glass and cheerfully poured the contents into his. He hadn’t paid for it, anyway. The demon serving at the bar had “agreed” to give him credit. Of course, the sight of fangs heading for his throat had been a great incentive.
Buffy leant back in her chair; her shoulders ached, the tension in her body was unbearable. She wished she could relax, but that was like wishing for the moon. Her mom’s operation, Dawn, Glory, Riley – she wondered what it would be like to have half an hour when none of that was pounding at her brain.
The heavy metal music slid into something quieter, gentler and she found her foot tapping in time. She realised that Spike had been silent for more than five minutes. Glancing up, she found the startling blue gaze fixed on her, the stupidly long lashes annoying her.
“I heard about Joyce,” he said abruptly.
Buffy winced. “How?”
Spike shrugged. “Word gets around.”
Buffy bit her lip so hard she drew blood, but she was too preoccupied to notice Spike’s head tilt, the hunger that flashed across his face at the scent. She struggled to keep control of her thoughts, her emotions. She was the Slayer, the last thing she should do was show a vampire, even a chipped one, that she could be vulnerable.
“She has to have an operation on her brain. On her brain!” The words broke through in a flood of despair. “Everyone keeps telling me she’ll be okay, but how do they know? I keep telling Dawn she’ll be home soon, that everything will go back to normal, but – ” She stopped, then because this was Spike, not someone important to her, not someone whose feelings she had to consider, she blurted out, “What if she isn’t okay? What if she - ? ” Buffy choked on the word. Her worst fear, her ultimate nightmare and she couldn’t say it.
His hand shot out and grasped hers, his touch agonizingly tight, but she welcomed the pain and dug her fingers into his cold flesh, knowing instinctively that whatever she did to him, he could take it. Spike fought not to wince; it felt as if his hand was being ripped from his wrist. “Say the word, Slayer!”
Their fingers twined and clung, the pain was red hot now and she was surprised their flesh didn’t burst into flames. “What if she dies?” There, it was out, said, squirming down onto the table between them. A four letter word. One of the nastiest she could imagine.
“What do you want me to say, Slayer? That it comes to all of us? That I have total belief in the sodding medical profession? Well, I haven’t. I’ve known witch doctors with more skill than some doctors I’ve met. ”
“Stop it! What do you know about mothers, anyway! I love my mom so much. I don’t know what I’d do if she died.”
For a second the blue of his eyes went black and blank and she had the oddest feeling that she’d hurt him more than he’d hurt her, which was ridiculous because hey, this was Spike.
“You’re right, Summers. My knowledge of mothers is zero. Killed a few in my time, though. Did they deserve to die? Probably not. Does Joyce deserve to die. Bloody hell, no. What can you do about it? Sod all, pet. And until that day comes around when it happens, you go on believing that it won’t.”
Slowly their fingers slid apart and he cursed silently as he saw tears glisten for a second on her lashes before she blinked them away. This wasn’t working out as he’d hoped. He was supposed to be taking her mind off Joyce, not making her unhappier about the bloody operation.
Back at Revello Drive, Riley rolled over, snorted and half fell off the sofa. “Buffy?” But there was no reply. He swung his legs to the floor and sat up, yawning and rubbing at his eyes. He guessed immediately that she wasn’t in the house: there was an absence of her presence he could feel.
His heart sank as he found and read her note. She’d gone out to deal with some demon problem. No information, no “why not come and join me”. Just “see you in the morning, tell Dawn not to worry if she wakes up”.
He screwed up the paper and flung it across the room. What the hell did she think he was? Some babysitter for her sister? He pulled on his jacket and shoes. Dawn was sound asleep. He’d be back by the time she woke. He needed – he opened the door and stood on the porch. It had started to rain, lightning flashed across the sky and thunder crashed overhead. He needed to feel a man, in control, powerful. He needed to be someone in this world who wasn’t overlooked and taken for granted.
The door slammed behind him and he plunged off into the night. The slam echoed through the house and upstairs, Dawn woke with a start, her eyes wide and scared as the thunder crashed again.
Chp 3 Little Flames, Big Fires
Chp 3 Little flames, big fire
With a snarl and a hiss, rain swept in across the ocean and fell on Sunnydale like a tiger seizing its prey. It threw itself at the hospital and Joyce Summers turned in her bed and stared at the water streaming down the windows. Lightning slashed across the small piece of sky she could see and she wished with all her heart that she could be out there, feeling the cleansing power of the storm instead of here, breathing in the worry and doubt and dust of this hospital room.
The squall fled across town and pounced joyfully on a car that was speeding through the streets. Riley Finn cursed under his breath as the wipers failed to cope with the downpour. He braked too sharply, felt the car begin to skid, wrenched the wheel too hard to correct it and yelled as the wheels bumped up onto the sidewalk, hit a tree and came to a smoking halt.
He pushed open the door and clambered out, slamming it shut behind him. He stared at the damage, kicked a wheel and knew it would mean a tow truck in the morning. He’d been lucky; there was no one around, the streets deserted at this hour.
Within seconds his clothes were soaked through but he could see he wasn’t far from his destination – the Bronze. And if anyone even looked sideways at him, he’d kill them, whether they were friends of Buffy and her gang or not.
Woken by the thunder, Dawn had pulled on jeans and T-shirt and padded downstairs. One glance into Buffy’s room had shown that her sister wasn’t there. She was probably asleep on the sofa with Riley.
‘I bet I know what they’ve been doing!’ she thought. ‘Well, they can just wake up and talk to me. They shouldn’t be doing anything while Mom’s sick. It’s icky. I hate them both!’
It was dark at the bottom of the stairs. She peered across the room, ready to yell at the couple on the sofa. Then a flash of lightning cleaned the room of shadows for an instant and she saw the tumbled afghan, the dented cushions and - no one. And knew she was alone in the house.
“OK,” she said out loud. “That’s cool. I’m not a kid any more. I don’t need someone here to look after me.” Her voice squeaked on the last word and she switched on all the lights, feeling a bit better as the shadows vanished.
This was weird. What on earth could have happened for both Buffy and Riley to go out? It was one of the things that annoyed her so much, this belief that she was too young to stay by herself at night. Suddenly her legs felt shaky and she sank down on the sofa. Mom! It had to be mommy. Buffy must have got a phone call – bad news – an emergency – they’d rushed out – no – no – nothing bad – nothing bad, please…
She jumped as another roll of thunder sounded almost overhead. Clutching a cushion she muttered, “Perhaps mom just needed something – something important – or perhaps she’s coming home. They might have discovered it’s all a mistake. She doesn’t need an operation at all.”
But she knew she was making it all up. No hospital would call in the middle of the night with good news. So Buffy and Riley had gone out for a bad reason. She shuddered and flinched as the lights flickered, faded, then came back on again. Candles! She had to find candles in case the power failed.
Mom always kept some in a drawer – right, here they were - but she needed matches – oh, okay, here they were in the kitchen. Good – now all she needed to do was – she struck a match, then jumped as a squall of rain threw itself against the windows.
The flame hissed against her skin and she squeaked and flung the match away from her. It spun through the air, landed on a pile of papers which flared alight. Dawn grabbed them and flung them into the sink, running water until all that was left was black ash.
She stared at the mess, pushed it around then abandoned it. Stupid matches, stupid fire. It was all Buffy’s fault. If she hadn’t gone out, then there wouldn’t have been a mess. She could clean it up when she got home.
OK, perhaps no matches would be good. Mom would be upset if she burnt down the house. No, she’d just sit and watch TV until Buffy and Riley got home. That would be sensible. Then she’d glare at them, be coldly polite and adult. She would show them she could look after herself. Her tummy rumbled and she decided to have a nice bowl of cereal with cold milk and there were strawberries in the fridge. She’d be okay.
She curled up in one corner of the sofa, but as she reached for the TV remote, the front door was flung open with a crash and as the bowl, milk and strawberries crashed to the floor, all the lights went out.
Across town in the Bronze, Buffy reached for her glass and found it empty. She glared at Spike who pushed the remains of their drinks across the table to her. She sipped at the Scotch, pulled a face and thrust it back at him. “I don’t know how you can drink that stuff.”
Spike shrugged. “Nectar of the gods, pet.”
“Don’t call me pet. And where the heck are these demons of yours? I’m not sitting here with you for the rest of the evening. I need to get home.”
“What’s the rush? Soldier boy’s there looking after Dawn, isn’t he?”
“That’s not the point! Listen to that thunder. Dawn hates storms; she’s always been scared of lightning.”
Spike’s eyes widened, then narrowed as he took in the tension across her neck and shoulders, the flickering of the muscles around her mouth. He was mentally kicking himself; his plan to distract the Slayer from her mum’s operation had failed dismally. She seemed just as uptight and antsy as she had been before. And somehow he knew that the Dawn remark was just an excuse. Buffy knew Riley was there to take care of her sister.
OK, he’d have to come up with another plan, because he’d promised Joyce that Buffy wouldn’t just sit around worrying about things this evening. It shouldn’t be too difficult. He was good at plans, ideas, plots and secrets. It was the reason behind all his success as a vampire. He frowned down into his glass and wondered what would happen if he hit her. He knew the chip would fire in his head, but at least she’d have something else to think about. Yeah, hitting the Slayer on her dainty little nose was a great idea.
The band on the stage changed. The group were small, silver demons with long yellow hair and nails. They played mean guitars. This time the music was faster, the beat more insistent. He watched as her fingers began to tap on the table and instead of hitting her, heard the words, “Want a dance, Slayer?” coming out of his mouth.
“What?” Her eyes were huge and green in the candlelight. “No way, Spike. I’m here to work. We’re not on some sort of – date.”
He lit a cigarette, the flame from the lighter illuminating the flat planes of his face. “Never thought we were. But we look a bit conspicuous just sitting here. Everyone else is dancing.”
Buffy stared suspiciously through the dim, smoky club and pulled a face. He was annoyingly right; they were the only couple sitting down. All the other demon were dancing, tentacle in tentacle, horns and tails locked. Suddenly Spike threw off his coat, stood up and held out his hand. Buffy stared up at him; if she saw even the suspicion of a smile on his face, she’d hit him so hard he wouldn’t wake up for a week.
Oh god, what would the world be like in a week’s time. Mom! The thought rocketed through her brain but she couldn’t, wouldn’t think about it. She let Spike pull her to her feet and concentrated on the beat of the music, letting it take her body, slowly at first as she swayed and moved, then faster and faster, swirling, turning, the blood pumping through her veins, her hair flying free from its bonds, aware only of the relief the dance was bringing her and the cool touch of his fingers that were there to touch her, support her, balance her when she spun too fast, but that was what she wanted to do, spin and spin, faster and faster, leaving all the worries and despair behind her….
An icy grip fastened on her shoulders and she jolted back to the world. Angrily she stared into a blazing blue gaze, but just as she was about to kill him, the music changed, became softer, slower and without a word, Spike wrapped his arms round her and held her against his chest as her heart and mind slowed down to normal once again.
One part of her brain said, “this is stupid; what the heck are you doing dancing with a vamp” and she wanted to pull away, leave, find something to kill. But the music was soothing and the T-shirt under her cheek was smooth and smelt surprisingly clean, except for smoke and whisky and fried chicken. Slowly the muscles across her shoulders relaxed; she was almost unaware that fingertips were soothing and massaging them as he held her.
Spike let the music carry him; he didn’t understand what the hell he was doing: how had his plan to hit her got so turned around? He was holding the Slayer, dancing with the Slayer; he could feel a tiny patch of warmth on his chest from her breath. If he bent his head – just a fraction - her hair tickled his nose. He could feel the whipcord strength of her limbs, the tension in every inch of her body but as the minutes ticked endlessly past, that tension slackened, vanished, and he had the oddest feeling that she might even be asleep in his arms.
Then, suddenly, without any warning, an enormous crash of thunder rocked the Bronze. The sound equipment on stage died with a cascade of sparks as lightning hit the building and all the remaining dim lights went out. The main doors were smashed open by a violent gust of wind which extinguished all the candles.
The Bronze was plunged into complete darkness, but Spike’s eyes were not human and he could see, only too clearly, the figure of Riley Finn standing in the doorway.
Chp 4 The Eye of the Storm
Chp 4: The Eye of the Storm
On the night of FFL a distraught Buffy struggled with the reality of her mother’s condition. Now the next day they know what Joyce has to face. Spike visited Joyce in hospital: she asked him to do her a favour... later, Spike told Buffy about a demon fight at the Bronze that she needed to stop. She heads out with him leaving Riley to care for Dawn. But Riley wakes to find the Slayer gone and deciding that Dawn can care for herself, heads out on a power trip of his own....
Riley Finn stared into the thick darkness of The Bronze. The wind howled round him as the storm that had cut all the power to the town now joyfully found the open door and swirled into the club. Shrieks, howls and grunts of “Shut the door” rang out as chairs were overturned and a scutter of loose paper flattened itself against the demon dancers.
Someone had found a flashlight and as Riley closed the door behind him, it’s beam speared out across the dancing demons. The electric guitars had stopped but the drummer – who had several arms and three hands on each – was playing a happy solo and the beat changed from romantic to fast and wild.
Riley pushed his way through the throng, heading for the bar. This place in the small hours of the morning was weird. He could feel the danger; he was outnumbered twenty to one, deadly glances were being thrown in his direction and he didn’t care. This was what he was all about – facing down evil, experiencing life on the edge. This was the way a man should live. This was what Buffy did all the time and it worked for her; why shouldn’t it work for him?
He leant on the bar and gazed round, hopefully. He’d heard about these late night drinking sessions at the Bronze. And demons and drink would lead to fighting: he desperately wanted some of that action. Needed to feel his fists sinking into demon flesh. And if there were a couple of vamps to stake as well, then all the better.
He grabbed a bottle of beer from behind the bar, ignoring the pleas from the demon serving that he couldn’t spend the whole evening giving out free drinks, goddamit! But, just as Riley was enjoying the cold liquid running down his throat, the flashlight zoomed across the room. And as it did so, it passed over a platinum blond head that Riley recognised only too well.
Spike! He might have guessed he’d find him here. And he was dancing to the thud of the drums, his arms wrapped round some demon or vampire bitch. She couldn’t have got much closer to him unless she’d crawled inside his pants! So much for all his supposed liking for Buffy. The first chance Spike got, he was off groping some ho. It just showed Hostile 17 wasn’t fit to be in the same room, the same world as the Slayer. And why she couldn’t see that was beyond him.
Well, he’d just go across and have a little word. Make it clear he knew exactly what sort of creep William the Bloody really was, chip or no chip.
Spike groaned; bloody soldier boy had spotted him! He tried holding Buffy closer to him to hide her, but the music had woken her from her dreamy state and she was pulling away. Spike could see Riley pushing his way through the dancers, ignoring the growls and squeaks, bared fangs and teeth.
He caught Buffy’s hand and tried to move her further into the demon crowd. But it was useless.
“What the heck are you doing, Spike!” she snapped, irritated with herself for the last ten minutes of weakness. She couldn’t believe she’d been dancing that close to a vampire, to Spike. OK, she was tired, very tired, what with the worry about her mom and Dawn’s anguish about the operation. But that was no excuse for going to sleep in a vampire’s arms. She shuddered as she thought what her friends would say, how Giles would scold if he knew. Spike – arms – sleep – all bad words put together in one phrase.
She thrust the thought aside that for ten glorious minutes she’d been floating in a cocoon of warmth and safety, relaxed for the first time in days, weeks, months.
“When did the lights go out?” she asked suddenly as the drum beat thudded against her ears.
“Just now,” Spike said, trying to edge her towards the door. “Big storm outside, pet. Can’t you hear the thunder?”
He glanced back over his shoulder and swore under his breath. At any other time, he’d have delighted in being able to annoy Riley, throw it in his too shiny teeth that he, Spike, was the one out with the Slayer this evening. There would be a row, a fight, it would be great. But – and the word stuck in his throat and would not be dislodged, like rough neck skin when it got between your teeth – he’d promised Joyce that he would distract Buffy tonight. Get her mind off her mum’s operation.
And, okay, although watching Riley thump him, because hey, chipped here, might amuse her, he didn’t think it would last long and there were still several hours to get through before the morning.
“Your demon fighters obviously aren’t going to show up tonight,” Buffy said. “I’m going home.”
Spike caught her arms and pulled her round to face him, trying desperately to block her from Riley’s view. But just then, the couple dancing next to them moved away, space opened up and Riley was there, staring down at her, his eyes wide with hurt astonishment.
“What the heck are you doing here?” They spoke together then there was a long pause. The drummer broke into a section involving crashing cymbals which Spike reckoned was a good thing because you could have cut the atmosphere between the three of them with a very sharp knife.
Buffy was the first to speak. “I’m…I’m trying to stop a demon fight.”
“By dancing with Spike?”
“We weren’t dancing…we were…. investigating.” The words sounded lame even as she spoke them.
“Investigating on the dance floor with his arms round you. So just which part of his anatomy were you investigating, Buffy?”
“What? Ewwww, Riley, that’s gross. This is Spike. Remember? Vampire guy. There is no part of his anatomy that would ever interest me.”
“Bollocks!” Spike sounded offended. “Let‘s face it, Soldier Boy, whatever I’ve got she likes it more than yours!”
“Spike – that is so not helping. Just shut up and let me and Riley sort this out. In fact, just go away. Go a long way away, to the other side of the country if possible.”
Spike hesitated then turned away. He was keen to stay and watch the argument but reckoned he’d done the best he could to fulfil his promise to Joyce. If the Slayer and Finn were going to have a full scale slug it out row, then that would surely keep her mind off hospitals, mothers with brain tumours and little sisters who –
He stopped suddenly and spun round, the ridges appearing across his forehead, his eyes gleaming gold in the darkness of the club. “Hey, if you’re here, and Buffy’s here’s – who the hell is looking after Dawn?”
Buffy stared at him, annoyed. Why the heck was he trying to make more trouble for her and Riley? He’d caused enough tonight as it was. “I suppose Willow came round and is sleeping over. Or Xander and Anya. I mean, no one is going to leave a young girl alone in a house in the middle of a thunder storm, least of all Riley.”
Spike shimmered back into human form, looking in disgust at the guilt on the soldier’s face. “Oh yeah?” he drawled in a dreadful American accent.
As the front door at Revello smashed open, Dawn leapt to her feet, slid on the mashed up strawberries and cereal on the floor and ended up on her backside, staring up at the creature that had walked in.
It was small, thin and lavender coloured. It’s face was where most people had a waist, its arms appeared where it’s head should have been and it was wearing high-heeled, jewelled strappy shoes on its feet that were several sizes too big.
“Hey, cool shoes!” Dawn said automatically, because they were right in front of her eyes. Then the non-shopping part of her brain switched itself on and she leapt up, wishing she could think where the weapons were in the dark. She flung out a hand and found a table-lamp. She tugged the flex out of the wall and hefted the base in her hand. One good thump, that was all she’d need.
“I’m all wet!.” The demon sat down on the floor, scooped up some squashed strawberries and mumbled them into her mouth. She stared at Dawn. “You’ve made a mess on the floor. Your mommy’s going to kill you. My name’s Eriddny. Do you like my shoes?”
Dawn hesitated, then put down the table-lamp. “Er, hi Eriddny; I’m Dawn. And yes, they’re very nice. But they look a bit big on you.”
“My Daddy says my feet will grow four times the size by next year so I got big ones out of the shop window. It’s all broken. All smashed.”
“The window?” Dawn moved gingerly off the floor onto the sofa. The little demon ignored her, being busy scooping up the spilt cereal.
“All broken. But it wasn’t me! Honest. I was in bed. Then there was a lot of thunder and rain so I gotten up. I was scared. Were you scared?” Three bright eyes looked up at her. “You’re funny! You’ve only got two eyes. And your face is on top of your head. Does it hurt?”
“What – no. Look, be quiet for a moment. I want to think.”
“‘Think, stink, pink, blink, drink, slink, clink, think, stink, pink, blink, drink, pink, think, stink – I can say lots of words. I need to go to the bathroom. Do you know where my daddy is? Where are your mommy and daddy? Are they upstairs in bed? Shall we go and find them?”
Dawn crossed the room and stared out into the night. The thunder sounded further away now and the rain was lessening. The storm was passing and an uneasy calm lay across Sunnydale. Eriddny had asked where her mother was - Dawn felt the familiar ache that consumed her every time she thought of her mom. She almost wished she didn’t know where she was – alone in that horrid hospital waiting for them to cut open her head and find -
She turned back to the demon child. “Look – you can’t stay, Eriddny. You have to go home. My sister will be back soon and she’s the Slayer. She won’t – well, she won’t want to find you here. Believe me. She’s – she’s mean.”
“My daddy will smack her if she’s nasty to me.”
Dawn shut her eyes for a minute and wondered if such a miracle could ever happen. Then she sighed and knew she was just dreaming. Reality was that Buffy would come hurtling through the door, shouting at her about the mess, and dispatch the baby demon with a backhanded thrust without even waiting to hear that it was a child.
“OK, then you’d better go home right away.”
The little lavender face frowned from the middle of its body and there was a suspicious gleam of tears in all its eyes.
“I don’t know the way. You take me! I like you.”
A small hand slid into Dawn’s and squeezed her fingers. Dawn felt a thrill of pride. She was the one in charge, the one this little demon wanted. Not Buffy, not Riley or Xander or Willow. She was way more grown up than this kid and definitely not lost like her. So she’d take her home to her parents and that would prove to Buffy and everyone that she should be part of the group and be allowed to do things like they did. It would show her mom that she could be relied on to help. Then her mom would get better quicker.
Smiling, she pulled on her denim jacket and led Eriddny out into the night in search of her father.
The eye of the storm settled over Sunnydale Hospital. Joyce Summers could hear that the wind had dropped, the heavy rain had stopped. Her room grew warmer, the air thick and moist: it was as if all the world was sitting, waiting, just as she was waiting for the surgeon’s knife to save her. But Joyce knew that when the eye moved away and the back of the storm hit the town, life would become fierce and savage.
She lay back on her pillows and wondered if Spike had kept his promise to distract Buffy this evening. She smiled gently. If anyone could, he could.
At least, she thought with a sigh, she didn’t have to worry about – the name slid out of her brain and back again – Dawn. She was safe and sound at home. The storm couldn’t hurt her.
Chp 5 Squalls
Chp 5 Squalls
Summary: A distraught Buffy struggles with the reality of her mother’s condition. Spike visits Joyce in hospital: she asks him to do her a favour... later, Spike told Buffy about a demon fight at the Bronze that she needed to stop. Leaving Riley to care for Dawn, she set out with Spike. Riley woke to find the Slayer gone and headed out on a power trip of his own. As a storm raged, a small demon child, Eriddny, wandered into the house and Dawn decided to do the adult thing and find the child’s parents. At the Bronze, Spike dancing with Buffy annoyed Riley until they all realised he’d left Dawn alone.
Buffy erupted through the door of her house like a small blonde whirlwind. “Dawn! Dawn!” She was shouting before she’d reached the family room, but with a cold chill running through her veins, she knew there would be no reply.
She was coming downstairs from Dawn’s empty bedroom when Riley arrived, out of breath. Even for a guy as fit as he was, trying to keep up with a Slayer at full speed was a hopeless task. “Buffy?”
“She’s not here.”
Riley winced at the expression on her face. “Buffy – listen – she’s not a child. I never gave leaving her a thought. But even if Dawn woke up, why would she leave the house in the middle of the night? Why should she? Where would she go?”
Buffy stared at the remains of a mess on the carpet by the sofa: cereal, milk and strawberries by the look of the pink pulp that was left. But the cushions were still in place; there was no sign of a struggle. The door hadn’t been kicked in; the windows were unbroken. So what the hell had happened?
She struggled to keep calm, to not turn and thump her boyfriend where it would hurt the most. Because she was the Slayer and when she hit someone, they stayed hit. “She’s – I know she’s old enough to know better, to stay here by herself, but – it’s – she’s Dawn. She’s my sister. We never leave her on her own. Not because of her age but anything that wants to get to me could try by going through her. Surely you realised that?”
Riley pushed his hands deep into his pockets and stared down at her, his face a picture of misery. “No – I’m so sorry, Buffy. This Slayer business is still a learning curve for me. Let me help you look for her. She can’t have gone far. Perhaps Xander or Willow came round and took her back with them.”
Buffy shook her head. “They’d have left a note. They all know the rules.”
A sound at the door made her spin round, but it was only Spike. He glanced at her face and vamped out. “Gone?”
Buffy nodded wearily.
“Perhaps you should get her one of those fancy collars with a bell, like they put on cats to tell birds they’re around?”
“Not funny, Spike. Are you helping? If not, clear off. I can’t cope with your nonsense tonight.”
Spike crossed to her in two great strides, his face shimmering back to human. “Oh great, Slayer. Was it me who left the Niblet on her own? No, it was your lover boy here. Why aren’t you shouting at him? Or is it just easier to take out your temper on someone who can’t fight back?”
Buffy glared into the bright blue eyes. This was all Spike’s fault. She wasn’t entirely clear how, but he was usually behind everything that went wrong in her life. Without thinking, she bunched her fingers and swung a fist towards his nose, but she’d reckoned without his responses when he was angry. His hand flashed up and caught her fist inches from her face.
For ten long seconds they stood, Riley forgotten, flesh to flesh, fighting to see who was the strongest. Thoughts poured through his mind. God, how he hated her! He’d like to do things to her body that he couldn’t even put into words. God, how she hated him! She’d like to tear off that stupid coat and slam her fists into his bare flesh and –
Suddenly Spike pulled away, dropping her fist and staring over her shoulder. “What the hell’s that?” He pointed towards the floor, his voice suddenly anxious.
Buffy followed where he was looking. “What? Don’t change the subject – it’s just a mess Dawn must have made earlier. She dropped something on the floor and didn’t clear it up.”
She glanced at his face, frowned, then turned to Riley. “Look, we’ve got to find her - fast. Riley – check the graveyards just in case she’s gone looking for me. I’ll go into town. This might just be a silly prank and she’s been sheltering from the storm and couldn’t get back before us.”
“OK – and Buffy – “
“Yes, I know. Sorry and all that. Don’t worry. Talking about who’s to blame won’t do any good. We just need to find her.”
Riley reached out and touched her cheek, pretending he didn’t notice when she froze for an instant. Then he turned and hurried out into the dark night.
Buffy turned to Spike, hands on hips. “OK, what’s up? What have you seen?”
Spike knelt by the sofa, ran his hand across the pinkish goo on the carpet and then raised it palm towards the Slayer. “Can’t you see it?”
Buffy frowned. “See what? Jeez, Spike. Is this some sort of stupid game you’re playing? It’s just a messy goo which I’ve got to clear up because Dawn is oh, far too young to know where the cleaning things are kept!”
Spike stood up and stared down at his hand, ignoring her rant. He knew she had caught and understood his expression. That was why she’d got rid of soldier boy so swiftly. The Slayer might hate him, but she knew who was most likely to be of use in this situation and she would use him accordingly. And even though this wasn’t a part of his plan, it was certainly taking her mind off her mum’s problems tonight.
“Can’t you see the glitter?”
Buffy stared harder at the hand he pushed in front of her face. She could see the thin white fingers, the palm that looked so hard from one angle and soft from another. She knew his nails were dreadful – there was a little scar on the base of his thumb and she wondered where he’d got it and –
“Oh!” There, across his fingertips, was a smearing of lavender glitter. “What the hell is that?”
“That is not good, Slayer. In fact that is bloody bad.”
“Are you going to tell me, or have I got to stand here guessing until I’m an old, old Slayer?”
Spike winced. Slayers didn’t get old. Ever. Which shouldn’t have bothered him at all. Sooner she died the better. He pushed away the thought that her death would not fill him with the glee it should. He’d think about that tomorrow; now he had to find Dawn.
“You only get glitter like this from a Lynfra demon. They shed it from their skin. There’s been a sodding Lynfra in the house, Buffy. And it’s got Dawn!”
Buffy felt a wave of panic sweep over her. “A Lynfra? Is it dangerous? Why does it want Dawn? Is it something to do with Glory?”
“A demon, yes, don’t know and no.”
Buffy picked out the part of the sentence she needed to focus on. “How dangerous?”
Spike wiped his hand across the seat of his jeans. “They stand about eight feet high, dirty great purple things with faces in the middle of their bodies. Three rows of teeth that I bloody well wouldn’t want anywhere near my bits and pieces and arms on the top of what should be their heads. Each arm has seven fingers and seven claws.”
Buffy stared at him. “And there’s one loose in Sunnydale? Where the hell has it come from?”
Spike headed for the door, coat flying. “No idea, Slayer. All I do know is that it only kills on its home ground, in it’s lair. So if you don’t want Joyce to be the mother of just one daughter by morning, we need to find where it lives - and fast!”
A mile away, the eye of the storm was slowly passing over the Sunnydale Mall. Great black clouds began to swirl up from the west and lightning cracked to the ground. The little demon girl, Eriddny, squeaked and grasped Dawn’s hand even tighter. “Oooh, that’s scary, Dawnie. I wish I was home. I do want my mommy so badly.”
Dawn gulped. She wanted her mother, too. She was terrified of lightning, but there was no way she could show Eriddny that she was afraid. Buffy wouldn’t have been scared of a silly storm. “Oh that’s nothing. Don’t worry. I’ve been out in far worse storms with my sister. As long as you don’t stand under a tree, you’re OK. My friend Xander taught me that. He’s very clever. He knows all sorts of things. And my other friend, Willow, knows even more.”
She stopped suddenly as the demon child jerked to a halt and stood, gazing down at the sparkling shoes she’d said she’d taken from a shoe shop window. They were far too big and now she kicked them off, giggling as they sailed into the black sky.
“Nasty poo shoes. They made my toes hurt, Dawnie. I’m tired. Carry me!”
Dawn sighed. The imperious tone was irritating. Strangely it wasn’t as much fun being the adult and in charge as she’d thought it would be. “Can’t you walk? Is it much further to your home?”
The small face in the middle of the demon’s waist, screwed up and a wail echoed round the deserted shopping mall. “I’m tired! Carry me! You’re not nice. I don’t like you any more. You’re not my friend. I want my mommy and daddy!”
Dawn sighed; they had walked a long way and surely it couldn’t be much further. Eriddny had said they lived under the mall, which was odd, but then she supposed demons had to live somewhere and little lavender ones wouldn’t take up much room. She reckoned Eriddny’s parents wouldn’t be that big, otherwise she was sure Buffy and Giles and all the Scoobies would have mentioned them.
She stared down at the small demon girl who was now sitting in a heap on the ground, the arms on top of her head firmly crossed, all three eyes stubbornly shut tight. Eriddny was obviously not going to walk another step. Just then another crack of thunder hit the town and Dawn picked up the child and raced for cover. She had to get inside the mall out of the storm.
On the other side of Sunnydale, in a small room in the hospital, Joyce Summers was woken from her fretful sleep by the storm crashing down once again. She’d been dreaming of – it started to slip away – she couldn’t remember. The only feeling she was left with was one many mothers know – her children were in danger.
And deep in the bowels of Sunnydale’s sewer system, another mother was standing staring down at an empty nest. She raised vast purple arms, flexed her claws and roared in despair, answering the storm with a thunder that was just as loud and just as violent.
Chp 6 Storm Damage
Chp 6 Storm Damage
The torrential rain thundered down onto Sunnydale as the back of the storm finally hit town and decided to have a party.
Buffy turned sideways, trying to speak as the wind tried desperately to hurl her to the sidewalk. Spike grunted and grabbed hold of her hand as it slammed against his chest. He linked his arm through hers and together they staggered across the road, looking for shelter.
“Can’t think in this, Slayer!” he shouted. “Can’t track Niblet. Need to get out of it for five minutes.”
Buffy shook her head, the ribbon holding back her hair had long vanished and it clung blackly to her head. “We must find Dawn. Kill the thing that’s taken her.” She tried to pull her arm away, but Spike tightened his grip as a gust of hailstones threatened to flatten them.
He stared round; where the hell could they go? Then he spotted a car, its hood buried against a tree trunk. He dragged the protesting Slayer across the road, snatched the rear door open and pushed Buffy inside as another cloudburst deluged onto of them.
Buffy dashed water from her eyes, spluttering, gasping for breath. She couldn’t remember a storm like this hitting Sunnydale before. It seemed alive, malignant and she wondered if Glory had summoned it in some weird way. She tugged off her jacket – the denim was sodden and heavy. If she had to fight tonight, it would hamper her big time.
“Stripping for me, Slayer? Really, that’s a great way to say thank you, but – ”
“Spike – I wouldn’t strip for you if my life depended on it! I just want to get this jacket off, that’s all!”
The vampire raised an eyebrow and sighed. “My jeans are soaked and heavy, Slayer. Can I take them off now?”
“You touch your jeans and you’re dust, vampire!”
Spike shifted towards her on the leather seat and she wriggled away. “What the heck - ?”
But he was reaching for a packet of cigarettes that crumpled into mush under his touch as he pulled them out of his pocket.
“Bloody hell! That’s my last packet.”
“Am I supposed to be sorry about that? Being half-drowned, then forced to sit in a car with you is bad enough, Spike, without having smoke blown in my face. And don’t just drop all that filthy tobacco on the floor. This is someone’s car.”
Spike raised an eyebrow at her and continued to flick shreds of tobacco and paper off his fingers. He knew females were often blank about cars, but surely even the Slayer knew whose car this was? He could smell Riley Finn as plainly as if he was sitting there in the driver’s seat. But, and that was interesting, Buffy didn’t recognise the back seat so perhaps she and soldier boy had never clambered in here for a bit of –
“Ouch!” He yelped as she dug her elbow into his ribs.
“I said, don’t mess up this car.”
“You know you’ve got a rotten temper, Slayer. That could get you into big trouble one of these days if you’re not careful.”
Buffy sighed and tried to wring rainwater out of her hair without success. “You mean more trouble than I’ve got now? Unlikely. My mom’s in hospital waiting for an operation, my kid sister’s been abducted by a demon, there’s going to be a huge fight at the Bronze, my boyfriend – “ She hesitated, then went on, “ - and instead of finding sister, killing demon and stopping fight, I’m forced to sit here, soaked through, freezing cold, sheltering from a storm with a smelly vampire.”
“Smelly?” Spike sounded outraged.
“Tobacco, Spike. Not roses and gardenias, you know.”
Spike surreptitiously ground the remains of the cigarettes into the carpet under his feet. He had a pretty good idea that Riley would know exactly who had left them there when he managed to get his car back on the road. Would he wonder exactly what his girlfriend had been doing in the back seat? Spike grinned to himself: he hoped so.
He began to reply to the Slayer when he caught a glimpse of her face. She had turned away from him and was staring out of the window at the rain still cascading down the glass. But he could see her reflection plainly. She looked white and worried and unhappy.
He felt a twinge of something he recognised from his past; something he hadn’t experienced for a very long time – regret. Not, he hastened to tell himself, about upsetting the Slayer. Bloody hell that was his job! Chipped or not, he was an evil vampire and upsetting Buffy Summers was his life’s work.
No, he regretted that he wasn’t keeping the promise he’d made to her mother – to distract Buffy this evening so she wouldn’t sit and worry about operations, brain tumours, and nasty shiny little knives. He liked Joyce Summers and the whole of this evening’s fun and games had been started on her behalf. He was in danger of forgetting that.
He hesitated – bloody hell, perhaps he should tell Buffy that the story about the demon fight at the Bronze had been just that – a story? Would it help her to know that Joyce - as worried as she was about her operation - was more worried about her daughter? Would it make him feel better to share that with the Slayer? Yes, perhaps it would. There were some things that were more important than Slayer versus Vampire arguments.
He opened his mouth to speak when Buffy said, “The rain’s easing a little. Can you try and get Dawn’s scent again? I’m afraid all the glitter tracks from the Lynfra will have been washed away.”
Buffy bit her lip and felt her nails digging crescents of pain into her palms. Where the hell had Dawn gone? And why? She was holding onto the fact that there hadn’t been any signs of a struggle in the house. And why would a demon break in? She was well aware that unlike vampires, they usually went about their own business on their own level. It was only when the two worlds collided that trouble occurred.
Was it anything to do with Dawn not being her real flesh and blood sister? Had some “thing” from her magical past come and taken her. These Lynfra thingies?
She tensed as Spike moved slightly to wind down the window and gaze out. Should she tell him about Dawn? Would it help them find her if he knew?
She realised, with a rush of guilty relief that she wanted to tell him! Sharing this burden with Spike wasn’t the same as telling the Scoobies. He was – different. Sharing with him was – different. Because…because he was evil and didn’t have a soul and couldn’t get upset, she finished triumphantly to herself, even if none of what she was thinking made sense.
She turned – “Spike – listen – about Dawn!”
“OK, OK, you don’t have to ram home the point with a hammer, Slayer. Rain’s stopping. Come on. We can’t sit here all night. It’ll be morning soon and I need to be indoors.” He stopped and looked at her, his blue eyes sharply curious. “What were you going to say?”
“What? Nothing. It can wait.” Buffy got out of the car and shivered as the wind cut through her wet clothing. “So which way do we go? You’re being all Mr Last of the Mohicanish. Have you got any idea where this demon might have taken her or are you just talk?”
Spike stood, head tilted to one side, eyes shut, trying to catch any trace of Dawn. The rain had washed the streets clean but the wind was still strong, blowing a whole load of rubbish across the sidewalk towards them – paper, cans, tree branches, shoes – shoes!
He froze and strode forward. A glittery shoe was tumbling along in the gutter. He plucked one up and stared down at it.
He turned and held it out to Buffy. “Dawn’s?”
She shook her head. “No way. Not her style. And they’re not mine, in case you wondered.”
He grinned briefly, then, “Well, I don’t understand it, but this one’s got glitter inside it, Slayer. So a Lynfra demon has been wearing it recently.”
“I thought you said these demons were huge? That shoe would fit me.”
“Want to try it, Cinderella?”
Buffy sighed. “Shut up, Spike and be serious. So at least we know it’s a female. So hopefully not as big as the males, right?”
“A Lynfra’s touched this in the last hour, Slayer. Don’t know why or where, but it’s the only clue we’ve got.”
Buffy took it from him, frowning as she turned it over and over. “I recognise this – there were a pair in a shop window in the mall! Anya wanted Xander to buy them for her but he didn’t have enough cash. They were hideously expensive.”
“Right! The mall’s a good a bet as any. Lynfras like to make their nests deep under ground. Reckon the mall’s got a basement. There’ll be a way down into the sewer system. That’s where they’ll have taken Dawn.”
He turned and strode away down the road and Buffy followed him. She sighed. She might have guessed the evening would end up with her having to dive into a sewer!
The basement of the Sunnydale mall was dark and empty. Emergency lights from the generator gave off a greeny-yellow light that did just enough to break the darkness into vast islands of gloom. Metal grids and shutters hid the shop fronts from view, although the lingering smell of doughnuts and hot-dogs still hung in the air.
Dawn Summers walked slowly and carefully down the still, silent escalator from the ground floor, her feet making small metallic noises on the treads. Her arms ached from carrying Eriddny, the little demon child. She’d tried making her walk earlier, but the tears and tantrums had been too much to take.
Eriddny had been blessedly silent for a few minutes now; the arms that grew so weirdly from the top of her head were twined round Dawn’s neck so tightly that the teenager could hardly breath.
Dawn hoped fervently that the wretched kid had fallen asleep: all Dawn wanted now was to find Eriddny’s parents and hand them back their lost offspring. What had started out as an adventure was now just boring. She was tired and wanted to go back to bed. She wanted Buffy; she wanted her mom to appear, take over and sort out Eriddny. Mom was good with little children. Dawn could remember so many times at school and at parties where her mom had been lovely with her friends. And as soon as Mom was out of hospital, she’d tell her all about Eriddny and Mom would be pleased that she’d helped her.
She tried to heave Eriddny to a more comfortable position. How could someone so small be so heavy? Kids were a pain. She vowed never to have any, ever. Anyway, you needed to do – the thing – to have kids and that was gross. And what if she had a kid and it looked like Buffy. That would be double gross!
But at least she couldn’t hear the storm down here. That was a plus. Before she’d fallen asleep, Eriddny had muttered something about a door leading down into the part of the mall where all the heating pipes were installed. She’d insisted that was where her home was, but Dawn doubted that. She knew that there were some weirdos hanging around the mall but surely the people who worked there would have noticed a family of purple demons with faces where their waists should be and arms on top of their heads!
Back above ground, Riley Finn had finished checking the graveyards, but there was no sign of Dawn Summers. He was soaked to the skin by the torrential rain but grimly strode on, knowing that even though she wouldn’t say anything, Buffy would blame him for Dawn’s stupidity.
As he headed back towards the centre of Sunnydale, he realised he was close to his wrecked car. Great – he knew there was a gym bag in the trunk with dry clothes inside. At least he could change in the car and feel halfway human again.
He grabbed the bag, flung open the rear door – there would be more room in the back and stopped dead. The all too familiar smell of tobacco and whisky and vampire hit him in the face. Spike had been in his car. What the hell was going on? Then something caught his eye and he grabbed up Buffy’s denim jacket from the floor. Buffy and Hostile 17 had been in the back of his car and as the jacket was wet, it had only been a few minutes ago.
He felt his anger rising. They had been in his car and she had taken off her jacket. What for? And why were Spike’s cigarettes mashed into the carpet as if feet had trampled them down, oblivious to what was happening.
Dawn had found the janitor’s closet. Next to it was a small door standing ajar. She pulled it open and walked through. A metal stairway led down into the depths of the earth. She searched on the wall and found a light switch, but nothing happened. The electricity was still out in Sunnydale.
Dawn hesitated. The stairway yawned darkly before her. The emergency lights glimmered at the top, showing her the first few steps, but the rest vanished into the void.
“Eriddny! Eriddny, wake up, sweetheart. Is this where you live? Can’t you just run down to your mommy?”
Dawn pulled the little demon off her shoulder, then stared down. The little face in the middle of the child was no longer a pretty lavender, but a blotched bright pink. The small body twisted and turned as if in pain, the arms waved pathetically and little cries and moans rang out. It was obvious, even to Dawn, that the demon was sick, very sick.
Chp 7 Being Brave
Chapter 7 Being Brave
Summary: Season 5, between FFL and ITW. Spike visited Joyce in hospital: she asked him to do her a favour, distract Buffy to stop her worrying about her mother. Spike tells Buffy about a demon fight at the Bronze. Riley wakes to find the Slayer gone and leaving Dawn on her own, sets out to find her. As a storm rages, a lost demon child, Eriddny, wanders into the house and Dawn decides to do the adult thing and find the child’s parents. At the Bronze, Spike dancing with Buffy annoys Riley until they realise he’s left Dawn alone. Back at the empty house, Spike believes that a Lynfra demon has taken Dawn. Buffy sends Riley to hunt for her sister, knowing that Spike is the one she needs on her side in this situation. But the strength of the storm forces them to take shelter in an abandoned car – Riley’s. Dawn is nearly home with Erridny, whose mom has just discovered she is missing! But Erridny has now fallen ill.
Dawn sank down on the top step of the stairway leading down to the distant basement part of the Sunnydale mall. She cuddled the little demon girl, Eriddny, gazing down in despair at the small face that instead of being a pretty pale lavender colour, was blotched with bright ugly pink. Her breathing was fast and erratic and she was moaning in her sleep. It was obvious that the child was ill, but what the heck should she do now?
She stared around her in desperation. Why hadn’t she stayed at home when Eriddny arrived? Buffy and Riley would have been back by now and Buffy would know exactly what to do. It had all seemed so straightforward when Eriddny was awake and healthy. Dawn would hand the lost kid back to her parents and they’d be grateful and she could go into hospital tomorrow and tell her mom what she’d done and her mom would be proud and pleased.
She patted the face gently; it felt hot and dry but for all Dawn knew, that was normal for this type of demon.
“I don’t want to go down there into the dark,” he muttered to herself, staring into the gloom where the stairs vanished. “What if I’m wrong and Eriddny’s home isn’t down there at all. She’s too small to know exactly where she lives. It might be in another part of the mall. But I can’t stay here. What if Eriddny’s really ill? She needs her mom and dad. Oh, I do wish Spike were here. He’s good with demons and things. He’d know what to do.”
She felt a wave of irritation at Eriddny for falling ill and then shook her head in disbelief because, suddenly, she had also felt irritated and annoyed at her mom for being sick, for being in hospital needing a horrible operation on her brain!
A sweeping nausea flooded through her body. What was wrong with her? Why did she feel so angry with them? Maybe she was sick, too? Yes – she grabbed at the thought and held it fast. That was it! Whatever germ Eriddny had caught, Dawn probably had it and it was making her think gross thoughts.
She stood up, cradling the little demon in her arms, although Eriddny seemed to be getting heavier every passing minute. Her mom wouldn’t be proud of her now; she’d be ashamed and what if she ever found out that Dawn had felt annoyed that she was ill? And Mom had a knack of finding out everything.
Dawn bit her lip hard and blinked back tears that burnt her eyes. All of a sudden she didn’t want to be grown up, didn’t want to do the same sort of brave things Buffy did. She wanted to be her mom’s little girl, curled up on her lap, feeling safe and secure from the world.
Carefully she started down the steps, heading for the dark. Well, Eriddny was someone’s little girl too and just because Dawn was scared and shaking was no excuse for being a coward. One thing she had learnt from Buffy was that being scared was never an excuse.
* * * * * *
Riley Finn stood at a crossroads and gazed in both directions. The wind and rain had slackened now to a dreary drizzle but he wasn’t even aware that he was wet through. The streets stretched away from him, black and empty; the streetlights were still off, deadened by the power cut. He banged a fist into his palm, wishing he were smacking his knuckles into Hostile 17’s stupid face. There was no way of knowing which direction the vampire and Buffy had taken.
A sudden movement glimpsed out of the side of his eye made him spin round and he pounced on a small, slight figure who was trying to sneak past. It was the bartender, Willie. Riley’s fist clenched in the man’s shirt and lifted him up off his toes. Willie gurgled helplessly and beat his hands against implacable shoulders.
“If you want to breathe again tonight, tell me where Buffy and Spike have gone?” Riley snapped.
“Gggoo dunno breeedd”
Willie’s face went a dark puce colour and Riley dropped him with a thud. The little guy gasped for air, clutching his throat, wondering what the hell had happened tonight for the soldier guy to come over all John McLean on him. “You only had to ask. No need for the physicals, Mr Finn.”
“I haven’t got time to waste, Willie. Where are they?”
The bartender looked up from where he was grovelling on the floor. It was second nature to him to lie, no matter who he was talking to, but there was an expression on the soldier boy’s face that made him fear for parts of his anatomy that he was particularly fond of.
“Saw them - about ten minutes ago - heading for the back entrance of - the mall. Doing a bit of late night shopping, bit of breaking and entering.” He couldn’t help the snigger, decided the thump of his nose was well worth it as he mumbled through a flood of blood, “well, depends what Spike is breaking and entering, I suppose.”
Riley left him lying in the gutter and strode away through the puddles back to his car. He flung open the trunk and pulled out a bundle of oiled cloth. For a long second he stared at the gun lying in his palm, one he’d been issued ages ago. Then he tossed it back in the trunk. Tempting as it was to think of shooting Spike, he didn’t think ordinary bullets would work and anyway, he wanted to feel his fists thudding into that dead white skin.
He slammed down the lid of the trunk and strode away. He had no idea what Spike was up to, but he knew Buffy never thought straight where Hostile 17 was concerned. She was probably in danger and it was up to him to save her. He straightened his shoulders and lengthened his stride. She’d be grateful and proud of him tonight. Of that he was quite certain. He could imagine her voice now – he loved the way she sounded when she was feeling passionate about something – she would say, “Jeez, I’m so pleased to see you, Riley. I really need your help…”
* * * * * *
….“So why didn’t you want soldier boy to help you find Dawn and the demon?” Spike asked, as he forced open the staff entrance door to the mall with a length of metal piping he’d found lying nearby. “I’d have thought all those lovely muscles and his ‘let me rush into danger and get killed’ attitude would have been right up your street, Slayer.”
Buffy glared at him as the door screeched open for a couple of inches. “Riley’s busy helping. He’s checking out the graveyards. We could be wrong about the Lynfra. He might so find Dawn before us.”
Spike raised an eyebrow, then swerved to one side as Buffy’s booted foot shot out, hit the door four-square and it flew off its hinges and crashed to the ground. “Temper, temper, Slayer. Don’t blame me or the fixtures and fittings if you’re beginning to realise that having a boyfriend who isn’t as strong as you isn’t such a good idea.”
Buffy vaulted over the door and stared into the corridor that lay ahead. “I suppose you think you’d make a better one?” she said absently, half her mind on trying to sense Dawn’s presence.
There was a long pause and she turned swiftly to look at him as the meaning of what she’d said suddenly hit her. His blue eyes gleamed in the soft emergency lighting. He tilted his head to one side and looked her up and down, very slowly. For a ridiculous moment, Buffy was back in the cinema with Willow and Xander, eating popcorn, watching a re-run of Gone With The Wind.
“He looks at me as if he knows what I look like without my chemise on.”
That had been roughly what Scarlet had said about Rhett and Buffy fought to keep the colour from flooding up into her cheeks.
This was Spike! He might be many things, but boyfriend material – never in a million, billion years. She’d done the vampire badboy bit. Now she had Riley who was nice and kind and ordinary and she did wish Spike would stop looking at her like that!
He took at step towards her, his gaze never leaving her face; Buffy wanted to turn and walk away but her feet refused to move. Spike reached out a hand and she knew that her own was reaching towards him which was ridiculous and weird and just then a deep, nerve-shattering roar swelled up from underneath their feet. A roar of anger and fear that turned her blood to ice.
Some – thing – wasn’t happy. It was out to kill and Buffy knew with a dreadful certainty that what it wanted to destroy was her kid sister.
In the rain-soaked street, Willie had picked himself up out of the gutter and stumbled towards the room he called home, wishing the Slayer and her boyfriends would leave him alone. It was impossible to run a successful business with Buffy Summers in town.
Rounding a corner, he hesitated as he saw a car smashed against a tree. So that was why Riley Finn had been on foot. Willie staggered over: the door was unlocked and in seconds he’d torn out the radio, wrapping it in a soaking wet denim jacket he found on the back seat. Automatically he tried to lift the lid of the trunk. It was sure to be locked – but it wasn’t. It swung up and he was suddenly staring down at a gun lying there.
In seconds it was tucked inside his blood-soaked shirt and he was scurrying off into the dark. So this night hadn’t been a complete waste of time after all. You never knew who might need a gun in Sunnydale. And the soldier boy who’d broken his nose so casually had just provided it free of charge. Willie grinned. One day someone would pay him good money for this.
And across town in Sunnydale Hospital, Joyce Summers lay, fighting back the fears that crowded in on her. Fears of what tomorrow would bring, what the operation would find; fears for her daughters, the one she loved, the one she hardly knew.
She waited for the sun to rise and wondered how many more times she would see the dawn, and if Spike had kept his word and distracted Buffy tonight. She rather thought he would. For all his faults, he was the type of man who kept a promise to a lady.
Chp 8 Damage Limitation
Title: Storm Warning
Summary: Challenge was for Season 5, between FFL and ITW. Spike visited Joyce in hospital: she asked him to do her a favour, distract Buffy to stop her worrying. Spike tells Buffy about a fight at the Bronze. Riley wakes to find the Slayer gone and leaving Dawn on her own, sets out to find her. As a storm rages, a lost demon child, Eriddny, wanders into the house and Dawn decides to find the child’s parents. At the Bronze, Spike dancing with Buffy annoys Riley until they realise he’s left Dawn alone. Back at the empty house, Spike believes that a Lynfra demon has taken Dawn. Buffy sends Riley to hunt for her sister, knowing that Spike is the one she needs on her side. Dawn has taken Erridny to the mall where she said she lived. But Erridny has now fallen ill and will not be able to tell her mom that Dawn is her rescuer!
Holding Eriddny, the sick demon child in her arms, Dawn Summers slowly walked down the stairs into the darkness of the lower basement. She could feel the little girl shaking; she was so hot, burning up.
“Hang on, sweetheart, I’ll find your mommy real soon. She must be looking for you. She’ll know how to make you better.” Dawn struggled to stay calm. She’d never wanted so much before to know that Buffy was around, to believe that at any moment her own Mom would appear, looking worried and cross and probably grounding her for months, ok, but still taking over, coping with the problem, making everything all right in the way only moms could.
The steps ended and the entrance to a vast tunnel loomed up in front of her. The emergency lighting on the walls ended but Dawn realised that the tunnel’s floor and walls were covered in a sort of mauve and violet glitter that showed her exactly which way to go. Weird!
She forced herself to walk on; one foot in front of the other, that was what she had to concentrate on. Get Eriddny home, then she could run all the way back to her own warm bed and no one would ever know she’d left it.
The tunnel twisted and turned, side passages appeared, vanishing into the gloom, but Dawn followed the glittering path at every junction. It seemed the obvious thing to do. She glanced down at the little face that was no longer a pretty lavender colour but blotched with ugly pink patches. What would she do if Eriddny died before she could get her home? Was this all her fault?
Suddenly as she turned a sharp corner, the ground beneath her feet almost vanished and with a squeal of alarm she realised she was standing on the edge of a vast pit.
As she stared over the edge, she realised that her cry had alerted to something below that she was there. Dawn peered down and taking a deep breath shouted, “Hi! Is anyone there? Hey, is Eriddny’s mom down there? I’ve got your kid but she’s not very well. Hello? Anyone?”
There was a moment’s silence then her blood tingled as an ear-splitting roar of anger echoed up towards her and from below, there was a flash of purple movement as something vast climbed at express speed up the side of the pit towards her.
* * * * * *
Standing on the ruins of the door Buffy had destroyed to gain entry to the mall, the sound of the distant roar had hardly died away before Buffy and Spike were running. There had been no need for words, they hadn’t even exchanged a glance, just turned and ran, leaving a scatter of wet, muddy footprints, Spike’s duster flying out behind him as he scented the air and changed direction suddenly.
“Need to hurry.”
“Go! You’re faster. Save her, Spike.”
There was a world of anguish in her voice which added an extra length to his stride, more power to his muscles. ‘Great going, Spike,’ he thought angrily as he raced along the length of mall towards a small door set in the side wall. ‘You’re supposed to be helping Joyce relax, keep Buffy occupied, not let her youngest nipper get eaten by a sodding Lynfra!’
He could hear Buffy’s footsteps close behind him and even as he crashed through the service door and flung himself down the steel ladder, he wondered at Slayer speed that could almost keep up with a vampire at full stretch.
‘She’s tougher than she looks and quicker – must never forget that,’ he thought. ‘I wouldn’t be running so bloody fast if she was being eaten by a demon, of course, but – ’
He pushed the thought away, reluctant to follow it any further because he didn’t quite know why he was so determined to save Dawn. Was it just to help Joyce, lying in hospital, waiting for an operation on her brain? Yes, of course that was it! It certainly wasn’t to help the Slayer. The Summers girls meant nothing to him apart from being Joyce’s daughters and the only reason he was hunting through these sodding tunnels was because he fancied a scrap and the sun would be up soon so he might as well spend the day fighting demons as anything else.
He could sense the way Dawn had gone but it was puzzling; he could smell Lynfra on her but only a little bit, which didn’t make any sort of sense. If the demon was carrying or dragging her, then it should have been all Lynfra and very little Dawn.
Buffy could hear Spike ahead of her, the thud of his boots on the stone ground. The glitter on the sides of the tunnel gave enough light to show her the flick of his leather coat as it vanished around bends, always just ahead of her. There had been no more roars or growls but no screams either, which hey was a plus! Oh god, what would she say to her mom if anything happened to Dawn? Even if she wasn’t Joyce’s real daughter, Joyce didn’t know that. How could Buffy go into the hospital on the day her mom was about to have brain surgery and tell her that Dawn had been eaten by a demon?
But that wouldn’t happen because she’d save her and she had Spike to help her. And as she sped after the vampire, she didn’t stop to consider why she found that thought comforting.
* * * * * *
Riley Finn strode into the empty mall through a door that had been kicked down and destroyed. Willie the Snitch had told him that Buffy had come this way. Perhaps she’d found out where her sis had been taken.
When he spotted the muddy boot-prints on the floor, he felt his pulse quicken. Two sets – one small, one large. Buffy and Hostile 17. He quickened his pace, breaking into a jog trot that months of army training had perfected. He loathed the idea of his girl running around with that – that thing! He couldn’t be trusted; he was evil and for some reason, although Buffy knew that, she didn’t always act as if she knew.
But he did! He’d been trained for months to capture and kill demons and vampires. It was his calling. His life’s work. You didn’t just ignore and betray all you believed in just because a sexy little girl got into your mind and your heart, did you? And anyway he just didn’t get this ability Buffy had to select which vamps you staked and which you didn’t.
“Wish she’d write me a list,” he muttered as he followed the muddy tracks through a small door and into what seemed to be a janitor’s storage area. “Then I might have some idea why some are off limits and some aren’t!”
How he hated vamps! And he pushed aside that little worming desire to know exactly what it would be like to be bitten by one.
He stared down the stairs into the gloom below. He certainly wasn’t going any further into the dark, not without a light. He grabbed a flashlight off a shelf and with a grim expression on his face, crept down the ladder.
* * * * *
As Spike hurtled along a tunnel hewed out of solid rock, he could hear growling. There was light ahead and as he reached the end of the tunnel he skidded to a halt on the edge of a hundred foot drop down to what he recognised as a Lynfra nest.
Then he swore violently, viciously as he saw what was happening just a few yards away. A rockfall had blocked the narrow ledge that ran around the pit. There was just room behind the rocks for someone very small to hide – and he could see the top of Dawn’s head.
But he could also see, well, you could hardly miss it! – a vast Lynfra demon, all purple hair and fangs protruding from the mouth in its middle, growing and snarling as it tried to hurl the rockfall aside with its three great arms to get to the girl cowering behind it.
“Dawn! Hold on, don’t move.”
“Spike? Jeez Spike is that you?”
“Certainly not Santa Claus, Niblet. Hey!” He picked up a rock and threw it at the Lynfra’s back. It jumped and turned, eight foot of thick purple muscle ready to rip the new intruder to pieces.
“Spike?” He felt Buffy at his back.
“Why does everyone have trouble with my name tonight?” he grumbled, backing away along the ledge.
“Dawn, are you OK?” Buffy yelled.
“Yes, I’m OK. But Buffy, I couldn’t make her stop and listen. She just keeps attacking me. And Eriddny’s not well.”
“Who the heck’s Eriddny?” Spike muttered, chucking another rock at the Lynfra who batted it away with one of the arms that grew, long and purple from the top of its head and then turned back to try and get to Dawn.
“Beats me. Hey, Dawnie, just sit tight. We’ll need to kill this thing, then come and get you. Don’t move.”
The screeched reply was loud and high enough to make their ears ache. “Don’t kill her! You mustn’t kill her!”
Buffy threw a startled glance at Spike. “What the …?”
The vampire shrugged. “Niblet – that’s a Lynfra demon not a nice big purple teddy bear. It’ll eat you if it gets hold of you. Let Buffy and me kill it and we can all go home.”
“No – you don’t understand.” Dawn squealed as another vast rock was pulled away from the barrier in front of her. “I’ve got her kid here. She’s called Eriddny. This thing is Eriddny’s mom!”
Spike felt his mouth go dry. Nothing in the demon world was as violent, deadly or determined as a Lynfra mother protecting her child.
He glanced at Buffy and obviously his expression was enough. “Dawn, I’m sorry about Ahthritnee – ”
“Whatever. But they’re still demons and we can’t rescue you till we kill the mother.”
“No – I won’t let you. Buffy, please, she’s a mom, just like our mom. She’s only protecting her baby. I just want to talk to her, but she won’t listen. Ouch!”
A long claw penetrated the rocks and scratched her leg.
“Throw her the baby then,” Buffy shouted, hearing the distress in her sister’s voice.
“I can’t. I told you, she’s sick. It might hurt her.” Dawn’s voice rang with the stubborn tone that in Buffy’s opinion had got her her own way all her life.
Buffy squared her shoulders and pushed Spike aside. This was ridiculous. Great purple thing threatening to eat Dawn and she wasn’t allowed to kill it! She didn’t care that it was a mother, didn’t care –
And then Spike’s voice whispered in her ear, his cold lips touching her skin making her shiver from – the cold, of course.
“Nobody lays a hand on my little girl!”
tbc - the final chapter will follow soon.
Chp 9 Demons and Death
“Nobody lays a hand on my little girl!” Spike’s whispered words jolted through Buffy like an electric shock. The years rolled away and she was young again, in the school corridor, facing Spike in a battle to the death. And her mom had hit him over the head with an axe! It was still one of her happiest memories.
She frowned, trying to remember; why hadn’t she had a weapon in her hand when they were fighting? Oh yes, now she could recall them agreeing not to use weapons, just bare fists. That was mega weird but she had to admit she liked the feeling of her flesh sinking into his.
Spike felt the Slayer tense as his words hit home. Would she understand what he was trying to say? That moms were programmed to protect their kids. He’d admired Joyce from the second she hit him with a bloody great axe. That was the Summers women all over. Always wanting to hit him with something, although Buffy seemed to prefer skin on skin, trying to break his nose or blacken his eye. He had to admit he liked the feeling of his flesh sinking into her – he swore rudely under his breath – he meant sinking into her flesh!
But now he was standing, staring at the nape of her neck, exposed where her hair was tied up in a silly sort of tail high on her head. Her neck was delicate, smooth, fragile. He could see a scattering of tiny blonde hairs escaping to trail across it. He would have given up the rest of his unlife to bite it; but what was worse, he realised with a flash of unusual insight, he would give a lot more to kiss it. And now he knew for certain where his hatred of Riley Finn came from – good old-fashioned jealousy.
What a bloody stupid situation to be in.
Buffy suddenly felt great tears well up in her eyes. Her mom had risked everything to protect her daughter and that was just what the Lynfra mother was trying to do now. And, although she wasn’t even the tiniest bit superstitious, she wondered if letting this demon live would count on the plus side when her own mom had her brain surgery.
“We need to get Dawn out of there,” she said calmly.
Spike nodded. “I’ll talk to it.” His voice sounded odd, hoarse.
Buffy swung round, glaring at him. “You can speak Lynfra and you tell me this now?”
Spike shrugged and seemed to shake himself back to the present. “Didn’t want to come between you and the killing. And I don’t speak it very well: a few words and phrases. The demon kids speak English. They learn it early on, then they tend to forget it as they get older. Not a lot of chance to use it, I suppose. You know what they say, Slayer - use it or lose it – you should tell soldier boy that!” He grinned and effortlessly caught her hand as it headed for his face.
“Buffy! What are you two doing?” Dawn sounded angry rather than scared. The Lynfra mother had stopped trying to dismantle the barrier and was now prowling up and down outside it, growling unhappily.
“Listen, Dawn, we’ll try really hard not to kill anything. Spike’s going to try and talk to the mom. Just do exactly what he says and don’t make any sudden moves or yell or anything.”
“Yeah, like I’m going to do that! Spike, tell her that Eriddny’s sick. She needs help. I’m not trying to hurt her.”
“Wish me luck, Slayer. Any fond words of farewell if this is my finest hour? You know, ‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to, than I have ever —’ ”
“Get on with it, Spike!” Buffy hissed.
“Not a Dickens fan, then? Well must admit I always thought Carton was a weak kneed wanker.” He shrugged and strode forward. Buffy listened, fascinated as he stopped, bent his head in a sort of bow, then a mixture of clicks and hisses came from his mouth.
The Lynfra mother turned on him, towering up to her full eight foot, her face level with Spike’s, the rows of fangs gleaming as brightly as the rows of claws in the three arms that sprouted from the top of her purple head.
Spike clicked and hissed again, more urgently, and the demon stopped growling and made a noise that sounded almost human; a despairing whine of concern. At last Spike said quietly, without turning away from the Lynfra, “Niblet, I need you to stand up very slowly and walk out from behind the rocks. But slowly.”
“Do I bring Eriddny?”
“Bloody hell, yes. Hold her out very carefully, don’t squeeze her or make her cry out if you can help her. The mom will sniff her, then snatch her away from you. Can you stand still when those claws come close?”
Dawn sounded scared. “I’ll try.”
Buffy walked forward as quietly as she could, her hands in tight fists at her side. Most of her instincts urged her to fight this thing, kill it, destroy it, but Spike’s words had recalled memories of her mom and all she could see in her mind now was Joyce Summers lying in that dreary hospital bed, waiting…. Not that mom wasn’t going to be ok, of course. Doctors did these operations all the time these days; people kept telling her that. Hey, Willow had been on line and given her the exact numbers of successful brain operations in America last year. But none of them had been on her mom.
She watched, holding her breath as Dawn edged cautiously out from behind the barricade, holding in her arms a tiny lavender demon wearing silvery shorts.
The Lynfra growled deeply and Spike spat out a string of hisses and grunts until she fell quiet. Then with one swift movement she leapt next to Dawn and sniffed at Eriddny, the same moaning whine coming from her vast frame.
“I…I’m real sorry she’s sick. I didn’t do anything. I promise. I tried to look after her,” Dawn whispered. She held out the little child and Buffy sighed with relief. It was all going to be OK.
Then, suddenly, with yell, a figure exploded from the mouth of the tunnel. Riley flung himself at Dawn shouting, “I’ve got her, Buffy! She’s safe! Kill the thing! Quick!”
Dawn screamed and as she tried to pull away she dropped Eriddny. Spike swore violently and somehow flung himself forward to catch the little demon before she hit the ground.
“Riley! Don’t!” Buffy shouted but it was too late. The Lynfra had tossed him aside as if he were made of paper and grabbed Dawn.
There was a shocking silence as Dawn’s scream faded away. Buffy and Spike stood on one side, holding Eriddny, the Lynfra clutched Dawn in two of her great arms and waved the other at Buffy and Spike, trying to reach her child.
Then Riley groaned from where he was lying on the ground, there was blood staining his hair where he’d cut his head. Buffy glanced at him, worried by the force of the fall he’d taken. “Are you OK?” she muttered.
“I’ll survive. What happened?”
“Fools rush in,” Spike said sarcastically, pretending not to smell the blood. “That’s what happened, mate.”
“Don’t call me mate! Buffy?”
She bit her lip. She was so fond of Riley but it was always exhausting when he got involved in her work. She thought she’d got him neatly out of the way. “I’ll explain later. Just stay still for a moment. This could get tricky. Spike?”
He stared down at the limp body he was holding carefully in his arms then across at Dawn’s terrified face. Checkmate!
Buffy listened as Spike began to talk to the Lynfra again. It seemed to be a long, involved conversation with a lot of arguing on both sides. Riley had clambered to his feet, ignoring her hushing sounds. “What’s going on? What is that and why is Spike talking to it?”
“We’re trying to do a swop,” she muttered. “It should be easy, we’ve got her kid and she’s got Dawn. I’m not quite sure what the problem is.”
“And when Dawn’s safe, then we kill it?”
Buffy turned and glanced at him, her eyes very green in the light that came filtering down from somewhere high above them. The sun was up and shining down on a new day in Sunnydale. She so needed to be home, to go to the hospital to be with her mom. And there was Glory to worry about – and Dawn. She felt a rush of anger at her sister for putting them all in this position.
“I don’t want to kill it if I can avoid it. She’s only trying to protect her kid. All moms do that.”
“Right, I’ll add mother demons to the list of things that go free!” Riley said sarcastically and then wished he could take the words back as he saw the expression on her face. He dabbed at the blood running down his face. “Hey, come on Buffy, there are so many dos and don’ts in your world, it’s hard to keep up. Vampires with chips in their heads, demons you like, now demons who have kids. It gets confusing and it shouldn’t be. It should be quite straightforward. Demon equals death.”
Buffy turned back to watch Spike. Riley made it all sound so straightforward, but it wasn’t. She’d believed once that life was all black and white, then Angel had happened and now there was Spike - not in the same way, she thought hastily, because – well, because that would be wrong – but she’d learnt over the years that you can’t draw a nice tidy line in the sand and never cross it.
Spike was beginning to remember more and more Lynfra and the conversation began to pick up speed. They’d stopped shouting personal insults at each other, which he reckoned was good – and anyway, what was wrong with the colour of his hair? At least it wasn’t purple.
The demon towering above him was angry and upset and wanted to eat them all, starting with Dawn. But he had her kid, although she didn’t look that good and he only hoped she didn’t die before they got Niblet back.
“This one stays here until Eriddny is well again.”
“No. She goes, this little one stays. That’s the deal.”
“You’ve brought the Slayer into our home, vampire!”
“I didn’t bring her, she brought herself. And if you could tell me how I could have stopped her, I’ll be eager to hear it.”
“Eriddny is sick. This one touched her, infected her.”
Spike nodded. He’d guessed that was what had happened. “She didn’t know you mustn’t touch a Lynfra. And I reckon your daughter’s too young to understand otherwise she’d have steered clear of humans.”
“Spike, what’s the problem. Why haven’t you just given her the kid and got Dawn back?”
Spike sighed, wondering why patience wasn’t high on Wanker Giles’ list of things he should have taught his Slayer. “Got a small problem, Slayer, but I’ll sort it. Just don’t let soldier boy do any more sodding damage!”
He knew exactly what he had to do – knew the remedy for what ailed the little demon girl. Blood – it was always blood.
“This one must let Eriddny feed to cure her,” the Lynfra hissed.
Spike shook his head. “Never going to happen. And no good looking at her sister. Slayer blood’s far too strong for a nipper. And I wouldn’t wish the soldier’s blood on any innocent demon. No – ” he sighed. “It’ll have to be mine. Let Dawn go and I’ll stay and let Eriddny feed.”
Puzzled and worried, Buffy watched. What the heck was Spike doing? Then, just as she was about to intervene, the huge Lynfra put Dawn down and let her run to Buffy who wrapped her arms round her and gave her a quick hug.
“Buffy, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean – the house was empty – there was no one to ask - Eriddny came in from the storm – she‘s so sweet – I couldn’t make her mom understand but I’m so glad you didn’t kill her.”
“It’s OK, Dawnie. Not your fault. Tell me about it later. Riley – can you take Dawn and get her home safely.”
Riley felt a surge of irritation rush through him. She was using him as a babysitter again. Why couldn’t they all go? Why did she want to stay here alone with Spike? Exactly what had they been doing in the back seat of his car? “Buffy – don’t shut me out like this.”
She shut her eyes for a second, fighting back the weariness that threatened to overtake her. All she wanted was to crawl into bed, pull the covers over her head and sleep for the next month. But there was Dawn, Glory and, pushing everything else into the background, her mom’s operation. Why couldn’t Riley understand that and just – well, help.
“Please, Riley. I need Dawn to be home and safe. I trust you to do that.”
“Buffy – I want to stay, too. I want to know that Eriddny’s OK.”
“No!” Buffy felt her temper fraying alarmingly. “Dawn, please don’t argue. Not now. Not today. Go with Riley. Have a shower. Get some sleep. I’ll be home as soon as I can.”
Without another word the two of them vanished back up the tunnel towards the mall basement.
“You might as well go, too, pet,” Spike said. “Nothing to keep you here.”
Buffy crouched down on the rocky ledge and stared at him. He was sitting now, jean-clad legs stretched out in front of him, still holding Eriddny in his arms. “What’s going on? Why haven’t you handed her back?”
Spike raised an eyebrow and smiled. “She got infected when Dawn touched her. Lynfras must never touch humans but unluckily this one’s too young to know the rules. She needs blood now to cure her.”
“Yes, you know, nice red shiny stuff. Mrs Demon wanted Dawn’s; I persuaded her that mine would taste better.”
Buffy stared at him, her eyes widening. “Let me do it. She’s my sister.”
Spike reached out a hand and without thinking, she linked her fingers in his. He smiled at her and for once there wasn’t a trace of sarcasm in his expression. In fact, if she’d wanted to put a name to it, she would have called it affectionate, even loving, which was ridiculous. “I think you’ll need every drop of blood you’ve got in the next few days, pet. Get off home and look after Niblet and your mum. Sun’s up so I’m not going anywhere. Might as well do something useful for this kid while I’m here.”
“Spike – why -? ”
Spike pulled his emotions back under cover and reluctantly untangled his fingers from her strong warm grasp. He still had a reputation to keep up, even now, even with this woman who somehow made him feel things he’d never thought he would or could. “Oh don’t worry, Slayer. I’m not doing it out of the goodness of my undead heart! You never know when you might need a favour in the demon world and Mummy Lynfra could come in very handy in a fight. Oh, and tell Dawn not to worry, Eriddny will be fine.”
Buffy stood up, hesitated, then turned and walked away back into the tunnel. After a few yards, her steps slowed and she stopped and slowly retraced her tracks. She peered out of the tunnel and winced. Spike was sitting on the rocky ledge, surrounded by vast purple demons. His duster had been discarded and the mother Lynfra was holding Eriddny so that her little mouth fastened on his pale arm, just above the wrist.
And although her rows of teeth were small, they were obviously still needle sharp because Spike’s face was contorted with pain.
Buffy started to go to him, then stopped as his gaze turned to where she stood and the blue blaze told her there was no place for her here. She sped away, back to the mall, the sunlight, home and the questions from her nice, normal boyfriend who would never understand exactly the price Hostile 17 was paying.
* * * *
Joyce Summers was determined to go home, leave hospital, sleep in her own bed for the nights before her operation. She’d had enough of the hospital, the smells, the noise, doors banging, nurses calling out, patients shouting. She wanted her own room where she could relax and prepare for what lay ahead.
Clutching the pills the doctor had given her, Buffy helped her mom outside. They would need to get a cab home. She’d been tempted to drive her mom’s car to the hospital but decided perhaps having her laid up in ER with broken bones from smashing the car wouldn’t help her mom to relax.
But the cab rank was empty. Buffy stared round in despair, her arm tightly round Joyce’s shoulders. God, if only Riley hadn’t totalled his car he could have picked them up. But he had, so he couldn’t. Get over it, Buffy, she shouted inside her head. The storm wasn’t his fault. But leaving Dawn alone was, a little voice whispered and she shut down the thought as soon as it happened.
“Buffy – I’m not complaining, but feeling a little whoozy.”
“Need a lift, ladies?”
Buffy spun round. Spike was leaning against the wall, smoking. He flung the cigarette away and strode towards a long dark car.
“No. We’re waiting for a cab. Anyway, what the heck are you doing here? And whose car is that? It’s brand new. If you’ve stolen it - ” Buffy hissed.
“Buffy – don’t be so ungenerous. Spike, if you can give us a ride home, I’ll be grateful for ever,” Joyce said calmly and let him help her into the front seat.
Buffy glared at the back of Spike’s head as he drove them away from the hospital. Then the comfort of the soft leather seats, the carpet under her feet began to soothe and relax her. For a few glorious minutes she knew she could hand over her burden to someone else, shut her eyes, drift away, not think about demons or Glory or Dawn or ……
Joyce glanced back over her shoulder, wincing as the pain in her head caught her. “She’s asleep.”
Spike spun the wheel and accelerated down the street. Joyce smiled to herself. This was one of the reasons she liked the vampire. Anyone else would have driven as if she was made of eggshells. Spike drove as if she might enjoy the speed – which she did. She leant her head back and watched the town speed past. “Buffy told me you took her to the Bronze to stop a demon fight.”
Spike threw her a look. “You wanted her to be bloody well distracted.”
Joyce nodded, biting her lip as the tyres screeched. “And you kept your promise.”
The vampire shrugged. Joyce smelt bad – sick – every instinct told him she was very ill. “I suppose you thought I wouldn’t?”
Joyce didn’t reply until they were pulling up outside Revello Drive. Then, as Buffy woke and scrambled out of the car, she turned to Spike, the warmth in her eyes sliding into a sore place in his mind and soothing it with motherly affection. “Spike, it never crossed my mind that you wouldn’t be there if Buffy needed you.”
He watched her walk up the path and vanish indoors. He sat for a long while, wondering bitterly what the next few days would bring. Then the door opened and Buffy ran down the path and leaned in through the open car window. “Thanks for the ride,” she said. “I needed to get her home.”
She hesitated, wanting to say more, but not sure what. His eyes were too bright, too intense. She felt they could see right through her and they were telling her something she didn’t want to know. She wanted to stay safe with her nice, normal boyfriend. Life was too weird for any more complications.
“Any time you need transport, Slayer, just let me know. Cars, bikes, trucks – ”
She ignored his words; she couldn’t imagine a situation where she would need Spike to steal a vehicle for her.
“Mom’ll be OK, you know,” she said abruptly. “Everyone tells me that.”
Spike drummed his fingers on the steering-wheel. People lied.
Suddenly Buffy frowned and pulling open the door, got into the car next to him. She reached for his hand. Just now his duster had slid up his arm revealing a row of inflamed teeth mark. She stared down at the wound and winced. “Does that hurt?”
Spike pulled his hand away, then grinned idly. “Yes, Slayer. Like hell. Lynfra demons produce poison when you touch them. You have to take it out if they’re going to survive. So they suck blood and the poison comes into you. It burns like hell. Dru used to keep one as a pet, just so she could feel it’s mouth on her skin occasionally. She loved the pain. Said it reminded her of rhubarb. But at least the kid’s fine now. Skipping around without a care in the world when I finally crawled out of there.”
Buffy pulled a face, irritated at hearing about his mad ex-lover, although she didn’t know why she should mind. But that was just a fleeting thought. What remained was the fact that if Spike hadn’t done this, then the Lynfra mom might have made Dawn give her blood. And Dawn wasn’t real. Her blood might have killed Eriddny and then she would surely have died as well.
But Spike didn’t know that. So why had he helped them? She knew he would never tell them.
“Buffy!” Dawn was calling from the doorway. Buffy turned to get out of the car then stopped. She bent forward, her hair blonde and loose swinging down to hide her face as he kissed the burning marks on his wrist. Then she was out, whirling up the path and the door closed behind her.
* * * *
Before she got into bed, Joyce opened her window and stared out into the dark. The storm had long passed, the air was cool and calm. She wished she could sit outside; her house seemed strange, foreign, uncomfortable, as if part of the hospital had come home with her.
She could hear her girls talking and wondered what the future held for them all. She wanted them to be safe, happy, cared for, loved. And as Joyce drew the curtains across the window, she saw under a tree a tiny red glow as a cigarette was lit. And she smiled.
Chp 10 : Secrets
Chapter 11 The Big Plan
“Need you ask!”
“Jeez, Blinkracht is such a big baby when things don’t go his way,” Eriddny said in disgust. “He knows I was only hanging out with him until you got here, but he’s all hands and feet and groping.”
Dawn pushed back her hood and tried to look as if boys groping her was something that happened all the time. “I know. Human boys are just the same. They only have one thing on their mind.”
Dawn nodded gloomily. “I hate her. She’s complaining that I’m not working hard enough at school and that I don’t do enough chores round the house. Willow and Tara - I told you about them? - they don’t do half what I do. Well, Tara does, I suppose. She cooks when Buffy is out and boy, is she forever out! I know she’s hanging with Spike, who used to be my friend, remember? I think they’re doing - it!”
“Is that what happens when your fur grows? You have to, you know, have sex?” Dawn thought that Blinkracht was a hulking idiot of a demon and she was secretly glad that there was no hard and fast rule of when she had to sleep with a boy. Although just to annoy Buffy, she was determined to do it as soon as she found someone to do it with!
Eriddny’s face, weirdly centred where humans had their waists, looked gloomy. The heavy black Goth make-up round her three eyes stood out against the white base she’d plastered over her cheeks to make her look paler. “Yup. Fur comes in and then it’s all nest building and mating and raising brats. Girl Lynfras never get a chance to travel or fight or have any fun once fur’s in. My mom can’t understand why I’m not over-joyed at the thought. She wants me to build a nest right next to hers and Dad’s! Can you imagine how embarrassing that would be?”
Dawn had a vivid memory of the eight foot tall Lynfra who was Eriddny’s mom. There was no way she wanted to meet up with her again, ever. “Well, I don’t have to build a nest, but I’ll never get a chance to go anywhere different or have any excitement until I’m twenty-one and far too old to enjoy myself. Buffy said tonight that I’m grounded for two weeks!” Dawn blurted out. “And I bet she’ll find a reason to ground me again once that time’s up. She’s so mean.”
Dawn coughed as the smoke caught at the back of her throat and surreptitiously, she pinched out the cigarette. It was beginning to make her feel nauseous. “Too right. I just climbed out of the window and down a tree. She can’t tell me what to do. She’s only my sister, not my mother! I hate her. We were going to have such fun together when she came back from the dead. She said we’d do things, go places. But it was all lies. All she wants to do is patrol and have sex with Spike!”
“Wish we could get away from moms and sisters and everyone,” Eriddny said bitterly. “I’d love to go to Los Angeles, wouldn’t you? I bet they’ve got great shops and loads of clubs playing really hot music.”
“Oh yes. It would be amazing. Buffy’s been loads of times, of course, but she never takes me. One of her old boyfriend’s lives there but she never talks about him.”
“My mom and dad are just plain weird about me going anywhere on my own. They say it’s dangerous. How can that be true? Have you seen the length my claws have grown?”
The nails on the fingers of each arm flashed out into four inch purple claws - or they would have been purple except Eriddny had painted them a tasteful black. Dawn admired them: she had to admit that her friend would surely never be in any danger from anything with those weapons ready to strike at any time.
Suddenly an idea sneaked into her head. “Hey, why don’t we go to Los Angeles anyway?”
Eriddny looked up, all her eyes suddenly bright. “You mean run away?”
Dawn tossed back her hair. “No, not actually run away, because that’s childish and would make everyone unhappy. We are not children: we’re nearly grown up. We can go on a short visit to Los Angeles if we want to. We can leave notes and everything. Say we’ll be back in a few days time, then no one will worry or need to follow us. Not that I reckon Buffy would worry about me, anyway. She’ll probably be glad to have me out of the way for a few days so she can concentrate on Spike.”
Eriddny jumped to her feet, the chains decorating her black leather jeans jangling. “Yes! Why not? It would be fun, but....” she hesitated. ....“How would we get there? I can’t get on a bus. People would freak out.”
There was a silence and then Dawn laughed. “Spike told me a story once about how him and a lady friend of his had to escape from a town called Prague a long, long time ago. I don’t think his friend was very well, anyway, she couldn’t travel far without collapsing so they hid in the back of a truck, under some boxes and went right across Europe that way.”
Eriddny grinned. “We can do that! There’s loads of trucks coming into the mall every evening with goods for the shops. They drive out empty, back to Los Angeles. I bet we can hitch a lift with one of those and no one will know.”
“Tomorrow, then. Meet here at midnight and bring food and something to drink.”
“OK.” Dawn reached out to hug the Lynfra girl, then remembered she mustn’t because Lynfa’s got sick when humans touched their skin. “Promise you won’t tell anyone.”
“Promise! You, too.”
Chp 12 Twelve Hours
Hope for the Best
14 Plan for the Worst
15 Love for Sale
* * * *
16 Liam's Territory
17 Impatient to be Free
Storm Warning by Lilachigh
Chapter 17 Impatient to be Free
The room above the demon bar was crowded, the atmosphere hot and sultry, air full of hissings and snappings, the crackle of scales, the flashing of different coloured eyes. The heat made the smell even worse - sulphur, the stink of sewers and the bodily fluids of things that had never ever ventured under a shower or washed their various limbs and heads in a bath.
In the middle of the room, a boxing ring had been built. Four black scaled demons, on at each post, stood guard. In the centre of the ring, a chair, like a throne, covered in black velvet, had been set up high on a dais so that the occupant could be seen by everyone, even those in the far back areas of the room.
Dawn Summers was dragged, kicking, scratching, fighting every inch of the way, but finally she was tied to the chair.
The noise in the room rose several degrees of hissing and she shrank back as several tentacles were thrust through the ropes of the ring and twined round her ankles. She kicked out viciously - they hadn’t bothered to tie her feet; after all, where was she going to run to, there was no escape.
The demon who’d first captured her, jumped into the ring, holding a microphone. He was wearing a tight, white suit and his blue skin glowed against the shiny material. “Good evening, everyone. Are we all having fun?”
“Get on with it!”
“Make her strip!”
“Had some yourself, have you!”
“She’s a bit thin. I’ll need to force feed her for a couple of weeks before...”
Luckily the rest of the shouts were drowned out by a hideous noise coming from the microphone. The demon shook it angrily, then it crackled back into life and his voice boomed out. “Right, listen! Betting for this fair virgin will start in five minutes. I’ll accept dollars, blood in pints, pounds of flesh - human or otherwise - but no magic beans, treasure maps or lamps that summon genies. No elderly relatives fit for sacrifice. Anything with more than twelve legs must be caged. All bets to be written down and handed in and the winner will be announced as soon as possible. Winner to make all arrangements to transport said virgin but be warned - she bites.”
“My sister’s the Slayer! She’ll kill anyone who hurts me,” Dawn yelled but her voice was drowned in the upsurge of demons baying their lust.
She watched in horror as small slips of paper began to be hurled into the ring and the tall demon ordered some tiny rat-like creatures to pick them up. He started sorting them, keeping some, throwing others aside.
Dawn struggled until she felt blood begin to trickle down her fingers as the skin on her wrists tore. She was certain that Buffy would be searching for her by now: Spike, too. And Eriddny had gone to Angel for help. She had to delay the winner of the auction taking her away immediately. The longer she stayed here - where Eriddny knew she was - the better chance there was of rescue. And if not...well, at least she had tried her best. She wouldn’t just give in.
“Right - bets are all in and counted. We have a winner! The fair virgin goes to - ” But before he could say, there was a violent hissing and steam filled the room. The temperature rose several degrees and two demons began a violent tango with each other before bursting into screaming flames.
A bright blue demon, wearing a sharp blue suit and tap shoes, appeared in a flash of light next to Dawn and she found herself oddly pleased to see him. It was Sweet, the dancing demon. He turned, smiled at her and with one sharp fingernail, burnt the cords holding her in place and pulled her gently to her feet, tucking his arm tightly round her waist. “Well, hello again, sweet-thing.”
“I’m sorry, Sir, but the auction has closed. The fair virgin has already been sold to....”
“Me, I’m sure.” He floated off the ground for a few minutes, staring round the room that had suddenly fallen completely silent. Whoever had won the auction had the very good sense not to make himself known. Indeed, a group of fat, grub like creatures were all trying to exit through a doorway at the same time, leaving slime and filth everywhere in their wake.
The tall, thin demon gulped and rung his hands together. “Ah yes, of course, Mr.Sweet, Sir. You are indeed the winner. Er...will you take your prize now or send for her later?”
“Oh, I’ll take her when I go.”
“Fine, very good, right, then I’ll just....just....” He sidled towards the door and with another ingratiating bow, hurried out in the wake of everyone else, leaving the room empty, with just the sizzling ashes of Sweet’s latest victims on the floor.
Dawn struggled helplessly in the iron grip. “I did so not summon you again!” she hissed. “Let me go.”
“Now, now little lady. That isn’t the way to talk to an old friend. You may not have summoned me before - what a shame about that young man, Xander. Not really my type. But when your name came up as available, of course I had to respond to claim my bride. And where is that charming sister of yours? On her way here, I expect.”
“Yes, of course.” Dawn only hoped that was true. “And Spike will be with her. He’s a vampire. You saw him in Sunnydale. He’s dangerous - very dangerous.”
Sweet smiled and tapped three or four times across the floor, swinging Dawn along with him. “Oh, yes, I know all about the vampire, Princess. I’d love to watch him dance, oh what fun that would be, him and the Slayer...” He laughed and swung around to sit back down in the throne chair with Dawn on the ground in front of him. One thin finger held her motionless, the other stroked her hair. He smelt of fire and ash and death but, in an odd way, it was a familiar sort of smell. “So, you think he’s on his way to save you, do you. Well, you may be right, Sweetness. Let’s just wait a while and see.”
And he settled back, singing quietly under his breath and tapping his feet to the rhythm, “All you need is love, da di da de da, All you need is love, Love: love is all you need.”
Dawn sat very still: oddly she didn’t feel scared. Sweet might be saying all the same sort of things he’d said that night in The Bronze, but he wasn’t looking at her when he said them. He seemed almost absentminded, as if he was thinking, waiting for something else to happen....
Spike heaved himself out of a storm drain and reached down to pull Buffy up beside him. They had come through the tunnels at express speed and Buffy was only thankful that in these situations they somehow oddly never needed to talk to communicate because she had no breath left. Eriddny had said she would travel overground back to the bar: she was now far too big to fit into the smaller tunnels. Spike had told her to stay out of the fight, keep safe and not get involved. He was quite sure that by now her parents - or one of them, at least - would be in L.A. looking for their runaway daughter. The last thing they needed was a fight with a fully-grown Lynfra demon!
“Too quiet,” he muttered to Buffy as they ran across the road. “Not good. There should be noise, music, lots of vamps and demons. God, I hope we’re not too late.”
His foot shot out and the door crashed to the ground as his boot kicked it flat. There was a general screaming and hissing as demons and vamps, who’d been sitting having a quiet drink, fled in all directions.
Buffy’s stake flashed twice as two vamps tried to take her down: her foot lashed out to catch a snake like creature hard in one of his two throats and he fell writhing to the floor.
Eyes glowing gold, Spike had another vamp by the throat, listening as words gurgled out of his mouth.
“They’re upstairs,” he snapped. “Auction’s over. Some poxy high-flyin’ demon arrived and they handed Little Bit over to him!”
“Jeez - Spike - quick! ” Buffy leapt for the stairs before Spike could drop the vamp to the ground. How much time had passed since the auction ended? Dawn could be anywhere by now, in this world or some hell dimension they would never find.
The door at the top of the stairs flew open and she raced through, stake in hand, skidding on some slimey mess that covered the wooden floor. And there was Dawn - wearing a revealing white dress, sitting at the feet of - Sweet - the one demon she’d never thought she’d see again.
The room was empty; no sign of his wooden henchmen, which was one blessing. She prowled forward, aware without thinking about it that Spike was at her back.
“Buffy! I’m so sorry - I didn’t mean - we were only going - oh, is Eriddny OK?”
“She’s fine. We’ll talk later. Right now - Sweet - I want you to let my sister go. Again!”
The demon smiled down from his seat on the platform. “I’m not keeping her, Slayer. Although I could. Who knows, one day, when she’s much older - no, you see she’s marked for me for ever now and when she came up for auction, then of course I had to come back to this dimension to make everyone realise she was already taken, so to speak.”
“She never was yours and never will be.” Spike strode forward and held out his hands to Dawn, who suddenly realised the grip on her shoulder that had somehow stopped her from moving, had gone. In a flurry of white silk and lace she hurled herself at Spike. He stopped for a second to smooth her hair and then placed her behind him. “Stay out of the way, Dawnie.”
“Don’t hurt him. He kind of saved my life. I was going to be some slug demon’s slave girl.”
“Hmmm, the vampire is protecting the Slayer’s little sister - little demon sister, I sense. Well, perhaps not demon, but not quite human, eh? Now, I wonder why you would do that?”
“You’re all with the questions,” Buffy broke in impatiently. “So here’s one for you. Why did you come for Dawn. I don’t believe all that ‘she carries my mark’ .”
Sweet stroked his beard, eyes gleaming. “You’re wrong. She is marked - your plump friend, Xander, saw to that. Whenever she’s in danger, I will know. Of course, I might not bother interfering; I do have a life to lead. I get updates about her, about all my Sweet-things. She was safe with the Lynfra girl, but only until she grew up. But you two, you didn’t know about that, did you? To busy enjoying, well, shall we say enjoying each other’s company to know she was in terrible danger.”
“Eriddny’s my friend. She would never hurt me.” Dawn peered round Spike’s shoulder, sounding indignant.
“Friendship? Now there’s a difficult thing to quantify. Are you and the vampire, friends, Slayer?”
“What? Friends - no, yes. Jeez, it’s nobody’s business what we are.”
“Of course Buffy and Spike are friends.”
Sweet tap-danced round the boxing ring, sparks flying from his feet, singing a song from the old movie, Calamity Jane. “Once I had a secret love, that lived within the heart of me, All too soon, my secret love, became impatient to be free...”
“Never going to happen,” Buffy said grimly. “Spike and I would never let you touch her.”
“Well now....” Sweet shuffled slowly on the spot. “Spike and I - there’s a statement to conjure with. I have the feeling that’s the first time you’ve ever said that, Slayer. So it’s a start...a good start.... And now I must fly. To the next time, Sweet-thing!"
“And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain, Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders. For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder...nah nah nah nah nah nah.....”
In the dark outside the bar, Buffy stood with Spike’s arm draped over her shoulders, watching Dawn talking to the tall purple demon that was now a fully grown Lynfra. Lurking in the shadows she could see the even more enormous shape of one of Eriddny’s parents who had, as she had guessed, come to L.A. to help hunt for the girls.
“They can’t stay friends,” she said at last, “can they?”
Spike pulled her a little closer. “Eriddny’s all grown now, an adult. She’ll have a very different life, want different things, hey, even though she thinks it’s too awful to imagine, she might even build her own nest and raise kids under the mall in Sunnydale.”
“Who might have Auntie Dawn as god-mother!”
They were silent for a while and then, "Did we put Dawn in danger? Being us….being together. I mean should we have taken greater care, paid more attention to where she was, who she was seeing? Is all this our fault?"
"No, probably, probably, no. She's a teenager whose big sis is the Slayer. Having demon fiends doesn't seem weird rot her. After all, you're sleeping with a vampire. We do our best. We'll try to do better. Being together - well…"
“And is that what I do, as Sweet said - make your world a little colder?”
“It’s your secret, luv. Us. Yours to tell or keep. I’ve always known that. Sweet’s choice of verse was OK, but I prefer the last one....Remember to let her under your skin. Then you’ll begin to make it better.....”
Buffy didn’t reply directly, just said, “We must get Dawn home.”
Spike sighed as she left him and walked across to the two friends. Then something inside him broke into a million shining pieces because she was singing under her breath another line from Sweet’s old song from Calamity Jane, “...at last my heart’s an open door, and my secret love’s no secret any more.”
“Thank you for fetching help,” Dawn was saying, wanting to hug her friend, but knowing she mustn’t touch her.
“That’s OK. Only glad you weren’t sold as a slave girl. But it might have been fun.”
Dawn shuddered. “They were all gross. Not one cute demon or vamp amongst them.”
“I've got to go home with Mom. She and Dad are sooo cross that I grew up without a party with all the fun and killing things. They're threatening to send me to stay with my aunt and uncle in St.Louis. But they've got a son: he was gross when I last saw him but he might have changed, I suppose. Hey Dawnie. One odd thing. When I went to that hotel to find your sister’s friend, Angel. He was there with some other people.”
Dawn was watching Spike and Buffy. They looked - close - Spike’s arm tight across her shoulders. “Did you speak to him?”
“No. Hey, were they close?”
“I think so.”
“He’s got a baby, does she know?”
“Yeah. A boy. I heard them talking. That Angel was all “my son” and “I must protect him” and all that sort of thing. They were getting ready for some big fight, so I didn’t talk to him. But will you tell her? It might upset her.”
Dawn stared across at her sister, watched as she left Spike and began walking towards her. She had no real idea of Buffy’s feelings for Angel, but somehow she knew that even though a few months ago she would have blurted out this exciting news without thinking, now, even if Buffy grounded her for months, she wouldn’t. She wondered if Sweet would agree that some secrets just shouldn’t be told. She sighed: she had a feeling that this was all a boring part of growing up.
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