Note - Thanks to my beta, t_geyer, for her unending patience, perseverance and support. Thanks also to always_jbj who keeps arguing that she doesn't merit a co-writing credit, but without whom I would never have got the basic plotline worked out.
He only turned his back for a minute. Just a minute. He put Tattoo Guy in the bath and next thing he knew there was that constant unchanging beep that meant a code blue and it was all hands, meaning him, on deck until he managed to stop Mr Johnson choking on his own vomit and a doctor finally bothered to show up. The psych ward could be bad enough on a good day. Most of their patients were only there short term while they were evaluated before they were sent to one facility or another, depending on how bad their problems were. Normally, they only had two or three patients at any one time. Lately, they were packing as many beds into the ward as they could, with no extra nurses to look after them. Most of the nursing homes and the local psychiatric hospital were refusing to accept any new admissions and there was nowhere to send their patients, even if they had managed to find time to assess them rather than simply strapping them all down to their beds and dosing them with sedatives.
And now one of them was missing.
The Key... The Key was the link. The Key was a pretty, shiny, little girl. The link must be severed.
Inside the pocket of his stolen coat, Orlando fingered the blade of his stolen scalpel and barely noticed until his blood began to make the fabric sticky to the touch.
The Key was... the key. The Key was the link. The link must be severed... Must find the shiny girl. The Link must be severed, such is the will of God.
Orlando knew where to find shiny little girls at this time of day. He paused for a moment, looking around him before he pulled down his baseball cap and turned in the direction of Dawn's school.
Joyce used the remote to turn the TV off as the final credits began to roll. She smiled at Spike and pushed out of her seat. "Hot chocolate?"
"Yeah," the vampire replied. "But you're going to park your arse on one of them stools and let me make it."
Joyce gave him an assessing glance, but when she went through to the kitchen she pulled out a stool and took a seat next to the central island, resting, but ready to point Spike in the right direction if he couldn't find anything. "You know you don't need to keep coming over to keep an eye on me while Buffy's at college, at least not for me... I mean if you're doing it to stop Buffy worrying-."
"Buffy doesn't know," Spike interrupted in a startled tone. "Your eldest would likely string me up from the rafters an' fetch a bullwhip if she thought I was hanging 'round here when she's not here to keep me in line, so I'd as soon you didn't mention these little visits. An' I'm not doing it to keep an eye on you," his embarrassed tone not fooling Joyce in the slightest. "I'm doing it 'cause your telly's bigger than mine an', well, let's just say the rodents aren't the only unwelcome guests I've got at the mo'. You'll be back in that gallery soon enough and I'll be back to..." Spike's face twisted into an expression of distaste and he lapsed into silence as he pulled three mugs out of the cupboard.
"It sounds like you're trying to avoid going home..." Joyce suggested pointedly.
Spike's shoulders slumped. Just for a second he looked as if he saw a ray of hope but then he squared his shoulders and got a pan from one of the bottom cupboards. "I can't tell you, Joyce. It's, well, I... just can't."
"I'm not the slayer, Spike. Talk to me." Joyce stood up and, taking hold of the vampire's shoulders, she made him turn to face her. "Sit!" she ordered firmly, removing the pan from his hand and setting it down on the unlit stove. It only took a gentle push on the vampire's shoulders before he settled onto the stool next to hers.
Spike gave a sigh of defeat. He'd never been able to keep any secrets from his own mother and he wasn't much better at keeping anything from Joyce. "Harm. After that business where she made off with the Platelet she came lookin' for somewhere to hide. Was only meant to be for a couple of days..." He gave a shrug. "You know what it's like with exes... Things happen. Not always things that should happen. I mean, Harm, not much between the ears but she's not exactly hard on the eyeballs."
Joyce's eyes swept ceilingward in a mixture of compassion and exasperation but she didn't interrupt. Better to let Spike talk himself out and then pitch in.
"You'd think after a hundred an' odd years with Dru I'd be able to take anythin'... but she just needs to open her mouth and I'm climbing the walls...
I don't know how you do it, Joyce. It's just so damn hard being alone. I mean, this chip... I might not be back in that damn wheelchair but far as any self-respecting vamp's concerned I'm still every bit the cripple, an' then when someone comes along and they're actually stupid enough to want to be with you... even if you know it's the wrong someone... An' a week later she's got bloody unicorns everywhere, she's callin' you Blondie Bear and you're wondering why the hell you let her through the door and your home's not your own any more." The vampire let his head slump forward onto his arms.
"Why don't you just sit down and explain to her that you don't feel the way she does?" Joyce suggested, reaching out to place a comforting hand over his.
Spike lifted his head and shook it from side to side with a twisted smile. "Harm's not the brightest tool in the box. Subtlety is a foreign concept an' I've come to the conclusion she has it engraved on the inside of her skull that if she sticks around long enough sooner or later I'll just up an' fall for her like a ton of bricks."
Joyce's look while sympathetic managed to convey some disbelief. "Maybe you just haven't explained it firmly enough."
Spike snorted in derision at the suggestion. "Joyce, I put a stake square through her rib cage, but she's like that damn cat, she just keeps on coming back. Thing is, seems like we're beyond where I could really do the stake thing. Well, I could... if she was really, really gettin' on my wick, but I'd rather just get rid of her."
Joyce considered for a moment. "She's hunting?"
Spike raised an eyebrow wondering where this was leading. "Suppose. I mean she wouldn't exactly ask me to go along, would she? And it's not like she brings home take-out but she's not living on fresh air. Prob'ly not killing them, though, or the Slayer would have been kicking down my door wanting to know where the dead bodies were coming from."
"Surely that must place her in more danger living here than she'd be in nearly anywhere else? Hunting in the same town as the slayer, especially when Buffy knows she's a vampire?" Joyce asked.
"Would do if your eldest could stop laughing at her for long enough to dust her. Slayer just doesn't see Harm as any sort of threat," he admitted with no small amount of self-mockery.
"Well," answered Joyce, "maybe it's time we made Buffy change her mind... or at least let Harmony think she has. You could tell her that Buffy had heard she was still in town, put her on a bus to LA or somewhere and tell her it's the only way to keep her safe."
A shrewd gleam appeared in the vampire's eyes. "That might just work. One thing you can count on Harm to do is to look after her own skin." Spike gave Joyce's hand a slight squeeze, made a curt nod as if the matter had been settled, pushed his stool backward and returned to the task of making hot-chocolate. "Best get to work or Niblet'll be back before it's ready."
The vampire worked in silence for a few minutes, leaning back against the counter when all the mugs had been prepared and the milk was heating but far from hot enough.
"Spike, that time when Buffy brought Dawn and me to your crypt... Harmony?"
"Downstairs," Spike confirmed as Joyce's mouth formed an 'O' of surprise, "but you were never in any danger, Joyce. She knows I wouldn't be best pleased if anything happened to either of you two."
"Not that I don't believe you, Spike," Joyce finally replied, "but it might be better if you bought that bus ticket sooner rather than later. I think it would be tempting fate if Dawn were to pay you a visit and arrive to find Harmony there on her own."
The vampire swore and ducked into the corner of the room as Dawn flung open the kitchen door more from instinct than need, since the porch shaded the entrance from all but the last rays of the evening sun. The young girl was dripping with sweat as if she had run a marathon. There was a cut across the shoulder of her T-shirt, not a rip or a tear, but a sharp cut and the fabric for about three inches below it was stained with blood. She didn't even notice Spike as she rushed into her mother's arms, both of them speaking at once.
"Mommy?" Dawn turned the word into a question, like a toddler asking her mother to make everything right. "Mommy there's a guy. I think he followed me from-."
Orlando, one-time Knight of Byzantium stood framed in the doorway. In his right hand was a bloody scalpel.
Without really thinking about it, Spike put himself between the Summers women and the newcomer. "Get the phone, Joyce, take Bit, find somewhere you can barricade yourselves in and phone the cops."
For the first time Dawn seemed to notice him. "Spike, he's human," she protested not out of any misplaced benevolence toward her attacker, but out of concern for the vampire.
"And so are you. Which one of us is going to come off worse if he gets to use that thing in his hand? Go!" he insisted, this time pushing the women back into the hallway that led to the basement and the dining room and closing the door behind them.
The knight tilted his head on one side. "You stand between me and The Key."
Spike wasn't sure if the man meant it as a question, but he decided to take it as one anyway. "Every damn time!"
"The Key is the link. The link must be severed. Such is the will of God," the mental case chanted, as if in the light of such self-evident truth his opponent would give up his pointless posturing.
Spike lifted an eyebrow and gave a sardonic smile as if he'd just heard a mildly amusing joke. He might really want to just punch this nutter's lights out, but chances were that his first blow would also be his last and the more time he could buy Joyce and the Niblet before it came to that, the more stuff they could pile up against the doors and the better chance they had of making it through until the cops arrived. "See, now there I'd have to differ. Not that God and me are on the best of terms, but I've got to be thinking that any god worth botherin' with would rather see the hell-bitch get what's coming to her than try playing slice and dice with a little girl."
These words seemed to erode any compulsion the knight might have had to offer quarter. With barely a flicker of his gaze to betray his intent, he lunged at Spike and thrust with the scalpel toward the vampire's throat.
The slight tell had been enough.
The knight might have been trained to fight, but he wasn't used to using such a short blade, and Spike hadn't just trained.
For almost a hundred and twenty years he had fought. He grabbed the knight's wrist as he lunged forward, in one smooth motion, twisting his arm and pulling it out to the side so that the knight's momentum turned him around, his back against Spike's front, his neck in just the right spot for Spike to sink his teeth in and feed. Bones in the lunatic's arm crunched into pieces, twisted further than they could stand. The scalpel dropped to the tile floor and for the first time in nearly a year Spike stood with a helpless victim in his grasp and his chip did nothing to stop him from drinking his fill.
If you are under the age of 17, please use your head and do not read fics that are labeled "NC-17". Parents, I cannot control what your children are reading, so please be advised that the majority of the fics archived here are NOT suitable for those under the age of 17.
I do not own Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I am in no way making any profit from this site. This is for pure entertainment purposes only.
Concept: (c)bringonthebloodshed.com (2004), Code & Design: (c)Diabola (2006), Graphics: Selene & Always