Santa Claws by Lilachigh
Chapter 18 Intervention
Dawn Summers was feeling guilty - very guilty. She had the nasty feeling that Tara’s inability to complete the spell that would take the panther demon from inside Spike and give it to little Eric was somehow her fault. Jeez, to be fair, she thought, screwing her eyes tighter shut, they’d all been kneeling on the hard ground of the back yard for a very long time and her legs had gone numb. But she wasn’t a child any more, she told herself fiercely; Buffy coped with pain all the time. OK, she was the Slayer but still, Dawn refused to let her sister think she couldn’t put up with sore knees in order to get Spike back to normal. Over the last few weeks, she’d realised that the feelings her sister and the vampire had for each other were outside her understanding. She didn’t even know if she ever wanted to feel so deeply for another person. It made you so...so...she searched her mind and came up with the word vulnerable. She gave her head a little shake. Perhaps when she was older, but all she knew at the moment was that if her sister lost Spike then she would no longer be Buffy, but just an outer shell with nothing inside.
Although Tara had wanted them all to keep their eyes closed, finally Dawn let her lids flicker slightly and peered out from under her lashes. She was holding Eric’s hand on one side and Buffy’s firm fingers on the other. She could see that her sister’s grasp on Spike’s hand was so tight that her knuckles gleamed white in the night gloom. On Spike’s other side knelt Tara with Eric again completing the circle round to herself again.
On the grass in the middle of the circle sat a copper bowl with thin spirals of blue and yellow smoke circling up into the sky. The air felt heavy; Dawn realised that it was becoming harder and harder to breathe deeply. She could taste - well, she wasn’t sure exactly what it was - something old and rotten, like one of those foreign cheeses that Spike and Anya both loved so much. It filled her head, closed her throat and nose and she felt her chest heave as her lungs fought for air. The fumes from the fire burnt her eyes - she felt tears forming but didn’t dare let go of Eric’s hand to brush them away.
“Buffy,” she whispered anxiously.
“Sssh! Tara’s working.”
“But Buffy - I can’t breathe.... I feel weird....”
“Please, Dawnie. For my sake. Just hold on a few more minutes. This has got to work. It just has to!”
Dawn shut her eyes again and tried desperately to drag air into her lungs. She knew if she once started coughing she’d never stop and the noise would shatter Tara’s concentration. But even as she swayed and fought to keep upright on her knees, she felt Eric’s hand start shaking in hers and then the whole group collapsed onto the grass, spluttering, coughing and gasping for air. And through the tears streaming down her face, Dawn saw the blue and yellow flames turn black and go out with a nasty hissing sound.
Appalled, she scrambled to her feet and realised Eric was staring at her, his panther eyes shining in the moonlight, his bottom lip trembling. And even as she watched, he turned and vanished into the bushes that surrounded the yard. Dawn didn’t hesitate; she knew that Eric mustn’t be allowed to wander off but she really didn’t want Buffy or Spike to be angry with him. She could only imagine how disappointed he must be that Tara’s spell hadn’t worked. He was so desperate to become a true Sylvamalkyn and be reunited forever with his mom.
Slipping through the bushes, she could hear him ahead of her and then the sounds were coming from above her head and she guessed he’d taken to the trees.
“Eric!” she hissed. “Come back.”
The leaves above her parted and a small face, covered with a smattering of golden hairs peeked through. “Dawn - go away! Leave me alone. I want my mom.”
Dawn felt sudden tears stinging her eyes. Oh how she knew how that felt. It would have been so wonderful to have her own mom indoors right now, ready to give advice, help or just be there. If she shut her eyes, she could almost feel the touch of Joyce’s cheek against hers, feel fingers softly pushing her hair back from her face, twisting her necklace straight....yes, she could understand Eric only too well. She hesitated - all she wanted was to go back to the house, find Buffy and Spike and Tara and let the adults work out all these problems with Eric. He could be such an irritating kid. But somehow she felt that would be letting everyone down, including herself in some strange way....
“Your mom will come and get you when we’ve got the demon out of Spike and into you. That was what she agreed with Buffy. She can’t be too close while the spell’s being done in case Spike’s Sylvamalkyn demon goes into her by mistake!”
“But the stupid spell didn’t work.”
“Well, no, not this time, but Tara will try again. Buffy and Spike will help. Tara’s a clever witch, really, really clever. She’ll find a way to make it happen. Believe me.”
“I thought Mom would be watching. Someone was looking at us, but it wasn’t Mom.”
Dawn glanced round, nervously. The last thing Buffy would want was for one of their neighbours to be out in their back yard, watching. Although the trees and bushes had been allowed to grow tall and thick over the years to stop just such a thing happening, sometimes Buffy got visits from the couple who lived next door who said they were worried by the odd people who came and went at all hours of the day and night and was Buffy managing to cope okay now her mother had passed away?
She shivered: she was beginning to imagine things - the chanting, the failed spell, the dark yard and the despair she felt coming from Buffy and Spike, everything had conspired to make her jumpy. But, even so, it did feel as if someone, somewhere was watching her. Making up her mind, Dawn leapt to grasp the lowest tree branch and clambered into the dark shadows where the foliage was densest to get out of sight.
Eric was curled up in the fork of two big branches, swaying comfortably as the tree moved in the wind. Cautiously, Dawn eased herself down beside him, peering at a new tear in her jeans that she just knew was going to cause her grief with her sister when it came to laundry day.
“So what do you reckon is watching us? If it’s something dangerous, we should tell Buffy.”
Eric shook his head, then frowned. “The red-headed lady lives in your house so she can’t be dangerous, can she? And the other - ”
Dawn turned too fast and almost fell out of the tree. She grabbed a branch and peered down at the little boy. “Willow? Willow is out here watching us?”
A nod and an impatient shrug answered her. “Yes, of course she is. Over there, on the other side of the yard. You must have seen her.”
Dawn’s mind whirled helplessly. Jeez, if Willow was out here in the dark, why hadn’t she joined them, helped Tara with the spell? And why the heck was she invisible? That was kind of creepy. OK, more than kind of. And OK, equally weird that Eric could see her and the rest of them couldn’t, but hey, he was half demon, so maybe that was why. And again, OK, Willow wasn’t supposed to do a lot of black magic, because as Buffy had told her, it was making her ill, but this was the good kind, wasn’t it? Otherwise Tara wouldn’t be attempting to make the old charm work.
She gazed up through the canopy of leaves, trying to see through the darkness to the stars above. She was so confused. There was something about Willow and the Sylvamalkyn spell that she didn’t understand. Thinking back - OK, Willow had insisted to them all that there was no spell to take the demon out of Spike, then Eric had announced that yes, there was an easy one and she’d told Buffy and Buffy had said they would go to Tara and not bother Willow any more....
Dawn had thought it was because Willow was too...too high-powered to be bothered with a little charm. But maybe...a thought slid into her mind and she pushed it away. But it refused to go. What if Willow didn’t want Spike to be cured?
She shivered: she didn’t want to think about what that would mean. Willow was Buffy’s best friend - except that, of course, now she wasn’t! Spike was. Did you feel differently about your friends when you grew up? Janice was her best friend - and Dawn had to admit that she hated it when Janice went to the mall with other girls and didn’t ask her to go too. But even as she thought it, she knew it wasn’t the same. Willow and Buffy weren’t teenagers any more; they’d shared all sorts of adventures, most of which she didn’t know about except when little snippets of information came her way. And Willow had lost her other friend, Xander. Even Dawn could see that the witch loathed Anya and had been upset when Xander stayed in the Santa Claus world to become Father Christmas.
“I don’t think the Willow lady likes me and Spike much,” Eric said suddenly. “She never smiles at us. I think she’s very sad.”
Dawn didn’t reply. Something the boy had said earlier niggled at the corner of her mind. “Eric - just now, you told about the red-headed lady, then you said, ‘And the other’ and I interrupted you. Do you mean two people have been watching us?”
Eric gave her the sort of look most little boys reserved for when their big sisters were being particularly dumb. “Are you blind or something? Jeez, the lady who stayed behind in the Santa Claus world has been waving at everyone and jumping up and down all the time and everyone’s ignored her. I reckon she’s going to be so cross when people do speak to her!”
.......As the foul air choked the five people in the circle, sending them collapsing to the ground, Spike rolled to his feet: the fumes hadn’t touched his lungs - hey, not having to breathe had advantages sometimes, but his eyes stung and he would have killed for a large glass of Giles’ best whiskey to take the rotten taste from his mouth. “What the heck happened, Tara?” he said as he and Buffy helped her to her feet.
Tara shook her head, looking worried and scared. “I...I...don’t know, Spike. It should have worked. All the ingredients were right and I checked the spell - several times. The circle was complete. I...I just don’t understand why it went wrong. I’m so sorry.”
Buffy felt angry words crashing into her brain and pushed them back. Shouting at Tara wouldn’t help Spike. If this plan wasn’t going to work, then they’d just have to think up something different. And if nothing worked - she shuddered - refusing to believe that would happen. If Spike stayed a Sylvamalkyn, he would leave Sunnydale. Whatever she said, no matter how many times she told him she would never let them part, she knew, deep down, that she would wake one morning to find him gone. Because he would never, ever, put her and Dawn in danger.
As if he sensed her anguish, Spike’s arm encircled her waist. “I reckon we all need to sleep and tackle it again tomorrow, pet. Tara’s exhausted and Eric must be - hey, where is he?” He spun round, lifting his head to sense the little boy.
“And where’s Dawn?” Buffy found herself pulling away from him, grimly, realising her sister was also missing. “Jeez, if they’ve wandered off on some stupid - ”
“They can’t have gone far,” Tara said wearily. “Shall I go and look for them? The sun will be up soon and Spike needs to be inside.”
Buffy made a swift decision - “We’ll be quicker if we split up. Spike - check the basement, Tara have a quick look upstairs, in case Dawn’s just gone to bed - I’ll scout round out here.”
Spike could see the anger and tension written across her face and found himself saying, “Buffy, listen - Eric might be upset that the spell didn’t work. Don’t be angry with him when you find him. You might scare him if you go all Slayer. He’s not being deliberately naughty; he just wants to be a Sylvamalkyn like his mum.”
Buffy was astonished at how hurt she felt at those words. What did he think - that she was some sort of monster who’d terrify a little boy who only wanted his mom? OK, perhaps she did lose her temper with Dawn occasionally and hey, perhaps she wasn’t cut out to be a parent, good or bad, but that didn’t mean she was completely clueless.
“Well thanks for your vote of confidence, Spike. I know he’s only a little boy who wants his mom - and I’m sure she’ll be around somewhere, watching. In fact, I’m wondering if he’s run off to find her and Dawn went with him. But check the house first. And don’t worry - I’ll try not to let everyone down.”
He moved to kiss her and then the same hurt expression leapt into his eyes as she turned her head to avoid his lips.
“What’s up, Slayer?”
“Nothing - nothing’s up. We need to find Eric and Dawn, that’s all.”
Spike vamped out and back again. “First time in months you haven’t wanted me to kiss you, so something’s wrong. And if I’ve learnt anything during these weeks it’s that if we don’t talk to each other, problems fester and run out of control.”
“And now, of course, is really the right time to stop and chat!” Buffy snapped sarcastically.
“Buffy! Spike! Stop it!” Tara whirled round, long hair cascading across her face. “Why are you doing this...this...arguing? What’s happening to you?”
Her two friends stared at her, their faces showing the conflicting emotions that were cascading through them.
“I feel...” Buffy stopped...she felt weird, as if another person was staring out of her eyes, as if someone else was saying the words that longed to be shouted out loud. And before she could bite them back, she heard her voice saying, “I just want this to be over. I want to go back to how life was before. Is that too much to ask?”