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Harbingers of Beatrice by Holly
Chapter Ten
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Chapter Ten
Absence of Fear

“Does she always do this?”
Spike ignored the glare Wesley aimed over his shoulder, focusing instead on the thrashing Cordelia. He knew that thrashing—knew it well, in fact. Dru used to pitch and scream something awful when the visions hit her. At least she had in the old days. Over the years, she’d come to anticipate them like a mortal woman might her menses.
So, Cordelia was a seer. That explained…
Well, nothing.
Gunn had his arms wrapped around her, presumably to keep her from hurting herself—or sending the car hurdling toward a lamppost. Almost unwittingly, Spike found himself slipping into the old habit of counting. Dru usually started to calm around the ten-count. Cordelia made it to seventeen before her convulsions subsided, leaving her a panting, shaking mess against her friend’s chest.
Then, without warning, she twisted in her seat and slapped Spike upside the head. Hard.
“Ow! What was that for?”
“Some consolation. ‘Does she always do this?’ Please!”
“Cordelia,” Wesley said from the driver’s seat, “a little description of what you saw might be good.”
Cordelia glowered at Spike for another long beat before turning around again, caressing her temples. “Kids. Two of them. They’re being attacked in the alley behind…oh, it’s that place on the east-side.”
“Not really helpful,” Gunn informed her. His observation also merited a head slap, though notably not as hard.
“Hey, buddy. I work for these things. Not the other way around.”
Spike leaned forward. “So what happens now?”
“Now we go save the kids that Cordelia saw in her vision,” Wesley replied.
“Right after you drop me off at this Tarabas, right?”
“That’s Caritas, and no. We’re going now. We can’t afford to stop.” 
He slumped back, exasperated. “But you heard Charlie! The one alley on the east-side? We could be out here for hours.”
“I’m sure the lots of screaming will help point us in the right direction.”
“In this bloody town? Where the hell do you think you are?”
“Serves you right for calling me Charlie,” Gunn snapped. 
“It’s the one by Mom’s Barb-B-Que House,” Cordelia said, dropping her hands to her lap. “Not that one but the one close to it? You know? The one that has bad décor but doesn’t make up for it with decent food?” She slapped Gunn again, this time on the shoulder. “You go there all the time!”
“Ow, what? It’s cheap.”
Spike shook his head. “And we’re not stopping at this karaoke bar first, why?”
“Because it’s not on our way,” Wesley retorted. “And if the Powers seem to think that our attention should be on the kids that Cordelia saw in her vision, then we’re going to trust them.”
“Bugger the Powers! I have to—”
“Save the Slayer,” Gunn supplied.
“We heard you the first time,” Cordelia agreed. “You have the broken-record epidemic. And there will be no premature leaving of the vehicle. The last time that happened, Angel went the way of the dark side.”
Gunn groaned again. “Dammit, Cordy, did you really have to do that?”
“Do what?”
“The Dark Side? Won’t be able to watch Star Wars again without thinking about all this shit with Angel.”
“So I ruined Star Wars for you, not that stupid Phantom-whatever movie that you were bitching about all last year?”
“We agreed never to bring that up again.”
“I thought it had its virtues,” Wesley offered.
Gunn released an exasperated sigh. “That’s because you’re not a true fan. True fans thought it sucked.”
“Would the lot of you shut the bloody hell up?” Spike snarled. “If we’re making with the rescue bit, let’s go ahead and get it over with. Bad enough that I have a reputation for killing my kind on the Hellmouth. It’s becoming a sodding conflict of interest.”
There was a moment’s silence.
“Someone’s testy,” Cordelia drawled.
His eyes narrowed at her. “Well, yeah! How the hell do you hope to defeat whatever’s eating at the youngsters? Wes’ll throw a book at them, I suppose, and Charlie here’ll start talkin’ Lucas dialog. Maybe you can spray a little perfume in their direction.”
“I will not talk Lucas dialog because, for the record, that movie doesn’t exist,” Gunn said. “And knock off calling me Charlie before I’m forced to shove something very wooden and pointy through your chest.”
“Okay. Flash ‘em some attitude. That’ll work.”
The car jerked and came to a fierce, sudden halt beside a curb. “Spike,” Wesley said as he and the others began piling out, “if getting to Caritas matters to you at all, you’ll firstly shut up, and secondly help us deal with whatever we’re about to encounter. You want to help Buffy? Buffy would want you to help us, and you know it.
Dirty fucking pool.
“Right, right. You old git.” Heaving a much put-upon sigh, Spike jumped to the concrete after them. “What if the runts are being attacked by a human? What then? I throw pebbles at ‘em and hope it doesn’t hurt?”
In unison, his new friends answered him with, “Shut up!”
Spike grinned. These people, once you got passed the unfortunate Angel-association, were all right. 
Then again, he reckoned that their working with a vampire—soulful or otherwise—had worked in his personal favor. It hadn’t taken much convincing that he was here for Buffy. After they believed it, they didn’t belabor the point—just accepted that it was true and that was all there was to it. Furthermore, they functioned with a group dynamic that rivaled the one he had left behind. Better, in some ways, without the deadweight of Harris.
“Spike!” Cordelia called before following the others into the alley. “You coming?”
“Right, right,” he muttered. “Rely on the vampire to save the day. You people are depraved.”
But seeing as he was in a hurry, and the best chance at getting this party back on track before sunup, he broke into a jog and chased the sounds of struggle.
The scene that greeted him was not pleasant. Neither was the smell.
A Kraelek demon. Of course it had to be a Kraelek demon. Glowing puss and all. The odious stench that he would know anywhere. It was a hulking thing, thick skinned and ugly. Also not one to look head-on, lest you weren’t partial to functioning eyeballs. The worst was the puss itself. The Kraelek would pour it down its victim’s throat and liquefy their insides.
Not a pleasant way to go.
The most disturbing thing, though, was the fact that there was one in LA at all. The Kraelek weren’t native to California, or America, for that matter. If it was here, it was because there was a fat payout waiting for it. Their currency of choice was power, though they’d take cash or charge if need be. But their loyalty was always for sale, which made them a gamble in terms of hiring, and was furthermore why they’d been dead last on the short-list for lackeys back when Spike had done that sort of thing.
Though Kraelek didn’t favor vampires as meals, they were considered fair game if the price was right.
Of course, vampires wouldn’t die from such an attack—not at first. But they couldn’t well feed without a stomach and eventually starved to death.
The Kraelek in question was attempting to back two girls against the alley wall. Either Cordy’s vision was off or she’d read it wrong, because the girls weren’t kids—well, one of them was, but the other was at least in her twenties and seemed anything but helpless. Her look of fierce determination rivaled any slayer he had faced, and with her dirty-blonde hair and build, somewhat reminded him of Buffy. She hadn’t so much as glanced in his or his companions’ direction, which was likely smart, seeing as the creature hadn’t acknowledged them, either. She was currently warding it off with what appeared to be an elongated stake—one she looked like she knew how to use. 
The other girl, though, couldn’t be more than ten. But like her companion, she didn’t look afraid.
Which was either very fortunate or very creepy.
“What the…” Gunn said, frowning. “Puss? No one mentioned puss.”
“Get over it,” Cordelia snapped. “Someone get the girl. Wes, Spike, distract the demon. We have to get its attention.”
Spike glared at her. “And how do you suggest we go about that?”
Wesley shot an arrow into the Kraelek’s left leg with a small, handheld crossbow he’d pulled out of nowhere. The creature howled and turned to them violently, flashing its fangs.
“There,” he said. “Easy enough for you?”
“Bloody fantastic. You have anything in a larger size? ‘Cause that’s not gonna do us rot, you egotistical sod.” Spike rolled his eyes. Then an idea occurred to him—a very bad, probably suicidal idea, but the best one he had at the moment. He leaped forward before he could talk himself out of it, the bones in his face shifting as his fangs descended.
Might as well go full hero. Not like he had any pride left.
“Don’t look at it!” he shouted, swinging furiously as the Kraelek started to turn back to its original prey. “Unless you fancy carrying around a tapping cane for the rest of your days!” 
Another flash of incisors. He dropped to the ground on instinct and rolled over to the blonde woman and her child.
“Time for formal introductions’ll come later,” Spike said, fighting to his feet again. “Run off to the wanker in the glasses.”
He received a blank stare for his troubles.
“Who are you?” the wannabe slayer demanded.
But before Spike could think to answer, the Kraelek swung back its massive arm and sent her flying toward Wesley, which…well, worked. The other girl, the child, hadn’t flinched, though for the first time, he saw her look properly afraid.
“Serves her right,” Spike muttered. “Told her this wasn’t the proper time for bloody introductions.”
Cordelia rushed to help the slayer wannabe while Gunn and Wes attacked the demon from the back. They moved with respective synchronicity, obviously well attuned to each other’s moves. The former Watcher had used up the last of his arrows and was attempting to distract the Kraelek while Gunn collected the girl’s fallen. 
“That’s right, you bastard,” Wesley snapped. “Pick on someone your own size.”
Then Gunn lurched toward the monster and began releasing what looked to be a year’s worth of repressed rage. While impressive to watch, it wasn’t all that effective, given that he kept flinching away to avoid eye-contact.
Spike turned to the child behind him. “You all right?”
She nodded.
“It’ll be over in a minute, pidge.”
There was doubt behind the child’s eyes, but she did not comment. In that moment, she looked much too old to be so young. 
He whirled around, eyed the Kraelek, and let down the barrier separating himself from his demon. The thing that had been cornered and wounded for too bloody long. He thought of Buffy, of the love he hadn’t asked for but couldn’t shake. The sodding injustice that he’d fallen for the Slayer, and his absolute rage that she had been taken from him. He thought of the righteous merry lot of Scoobies back home, of Dru cackling in his crypt, Darla’s smirking grin and Angelus—
The rage gnawed and clawed and ate away at his insides, and set him into motion.
Spike roared and took a flying leap at the beast. He threw his arms around the Kraelek best he could, then sank his fangs into its neck and tore. He gnashed. He dug. He made it bleed. A foul, repugnant taste invaded his mouth, and he didn’t care. Didn’t care when he felt the skin at his shoulder tear away. Didn’t care when his side screamed out in pain, or when the monster thrashed and clawed at any patch of flesh it could find. Spike growled and bit harder. Bit until his jaw hurt. Bit until everything hurt. Bit until the creature cried out and tossed him to the feet of an awed Wesley and Gunn.
Then the Kraelek’s roars became distant. Spike blinked and looked up just as the beast disappeared into a wall of traffic at the other end of the alley.
There was nothing for a long, long moment.
“Ummm…” Cordelia offered. “Ew?”
Wesley tilted his head, considering, then approached and offered him a hand. “You all right?”
Spike flinched and nodded, his face distorting into a painful frown as he spat the mouthful of blood that hadn’t trickled down his throat back onto the pavement. “Okay,” he said thoughtfully. “Maybe that wasn’t as bright an idea as I thought.”
The slayer wannabe had, at some point, broken free of Cordelia’s grasp and made a beeline back to the child. Spike watched them embrace, met the kid’s too-wise eyes, and flinched and shook away his game face.
“You knew what that thing was?” Gunn asked.
“Kraelek demon,” he replied.                                                   
Wesley frowned. “Kraelek? Are you sure? They are non-indigenous to these parts…or anywhere in the American continent, for that matter. They—”
“I know what it was, boy. Don’t go lecturing me. I’ve seen ‘em before. Almost lost Dru to one in Prague.” He shook his head. “That was before the mob, of course.”
“I guess this is where we say thank you.”
Spike turned to the wannabe slayer, who had hiked the tike into her arms awkwardly. The kid looked too old to be carried around like that, but what did he know?
Then the woman looked at him and her face melted into a scowl.
He arched an eyebrow. “What?”
“How did you know we were down here?” she asked, suspicious.
“All the bloody racket was kind of a giveaway.”
Cordelia plastered on what could only be called a salesy smile as she elbowed Spike in the side. “It’s a long story.”
“Yeah, starting with how she’s not a kid.” Gunn pointed at the wannabe slayer. “I thought you said she was a kid.”
“So I screwed up. Okay? At least we found the place. There was still—”
The woman stiffened even more, sending Spike a scathing look. “You were sent here?”
“No, no,” Cordelia said, stepping forward, then pausing as though realizing that might not be the smartest move. “I…we’re good guys, I promise. I just…sometimes know random things. Like when someone’s in trouble.”
“Are you being followed?” Wesley asked, frowning. “Can we help?”
“No. We’re fine. Thank you for your help…we should be getting back.”
“Wait.” Wesley reached into his back pocket and withdrew his wallet.
“I’m not taking your money,” the girl said.
“Good,” Cordelia responded, her voice regaining some of its edge. “Seeing as we usually charge for what we just did.”
“I’m giving you my card.” Wesley held up a small white business card with a poorly drawn lobster logo on the front. At least, that was what it looked like to Spike at this distance. “If you need anything. Shelter. Protection. Someone to talk to, my number’s on the front.”
A pause. The wannabe slayer studied him for a long minute before offering a snicker. “What? Do business with a vampire?” She turned a pointed gaze to the vampire in question. “Thanks, but I’ll pass.”
The child in her arms frowned at that. “He saved me, Nikki. He’s not bad.”
“All vamps are bad, hon. You know that.”
“Nikki?” Spike raised his hands and took a step forward, slow and measured, “Knew a bird named Nikki once. Tough cookie. Didn’t take too kindly to vamps, either.” He smiled before turning his attention to the child, cocking his head. “What’s your name, pidge?”
Nikki stiffened. “She’s smart enough not to give her name to—”
“I’m Rosalie,” the girl said, offering a small smile. “Rosie.”
The wannabe slayer grunted. “Kid, your dad’s gonna be pissed.”
Spike took another step forward. “Rosie, I’m Spike. You can tell your mum that this lot here is the do-gooding type. They get off on this white-night rot so you could do worse if you’re in a pinch. Rescuing kiddies is part of the gig.”
“The usually paying gig,” Cordelia muttered.
Nikki’s face remained impassive. “We don’t need help.”
“Right then.” Spike sighed and shook his head, turning back to Wesley. “Can we be going, then? I got me a number to sing.”
And that was that. The four headed back to the car, though Wesley a bit reluctantly. Every few feet, he kept stopping and looking back, but the girl didn’t chase him, and Spike knew she wasn’t going to.
“Just once,” Cordelia said, limping slightly, “I’d like a vision that didn’t include puss or blood or guts or anything ooky. Can’t I have a vision of Keanu Reeves?” She turned her head skyward. “Is that so much to freaking ask?”
Gunn chuckled and patted her back. “Want me to threaten Keanu so the Powers get interested?”
“Would you do that for me?”
“Probably not.”
Cordelia rolled her eyes and poked her tongue out at him, then shook her head and motioned to the scene they’d just left. “That whole thing was weird.”
“Ain’t nothing not weird about puss demons,” Gunn agreed as he helped Cordelia into the car. He turned to Spike once the vampire was situated. “And you. You’re on the verge of seriously wigging me out. You sure you’re a vampire?”
“I believe we all saw the bumpies,” Cordelia observed.
“But since when—”
“It was the girl,” Wesley said softly. “The child. There’s something about her.” He looked into the rearview mirror, then cursed and twisted to meet Spike’s eyes. “Did you feel that?”
“Annoyed? Sure.”
“No. The girl. Rosie.” Wesley frowned. “There was something off about her.”
“The fact that she saw a living, breathing monster and didn’t run screaming for help is a big ass red flag.” Gunn shook his head. “Don’t know what her mom’s thinking, but it’ll get them both killed.”
That wasn’t Spike’s thought, but he didn’t say what he was thinking. He didn’t know if there was anything to say. So he stayed quiet, his mind on the scene they’d just left and as he tried to work out the taste of residual Kraelek.
Then his thoughts turned to Buffy, as they always did, and that jolt of awareness sparked through him once more.
No more bloody distractions. No more visions. No more nothing until he got his answers.
Even still, he couldn’t shake the mental image of the girl. The child with her old eyes. Bloody good thing Dru was out of the picture. She’d have vamped the girl, kept her as a dolly. He didn’t know what it meant that the thought pissed him off, but he was sure it wasn’t good. So he tried to ignore it instead.
And yet, the damn thing persisted.
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