Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.
SECTION 2 - ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL
So what happens now?
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now?
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
(Don't ask anymore)
(Barbara Dickson, Lyrics and Music by T Rice and A Lloyd Webber
[I know. I know. I'm eternally sorry but the lyrics kind of fit.])
Friday, May 17th, 2002
Willow stared at her face in the mirror. If she didn't know better, she'd say that some of those lines seemed to be etched just a trace deeper than a few hours ago, but that had to be her imagination.
Just the same, it looked like she was going to have to head for home, at least until the start of the fall term and that meant she had to do something about how she looked before she met her parents.
A general reversal spell should do it. She could wait, endure Anya being patronising and get the necessary ingredients to do it the easy way. Components and the like might help. Nevertheless, if you had enough raw power, then most of the time, for the simple stuff you could just bulldoze your way through. Of course, that way of doing things had the no waiting, no Anya, no money to spend bonus going for it, now that Giles seemed to be getting snippy about her using things from the shop. It fleetingly crossed her mind to wonder who had actually paid for that Urn of Osiris.
She shifted into lotus position on the bed, albeit with a little more difficulty than was normal, trying to ignore the protesting squeaks that the mattress made with her every move. She focused on her reflection in the mirror and began to chant.
She tried the simplest spells first, telling herself that it was just her imagination that the grey in her hair seemed to be getting denser and her skin drier as she continued. As to her nightshirt getting tighter, that was preposterous. It was four sizes too big, designed to incorporate an array of shoulder pads. There was still plenty of room in there.
Then, when these simple hexes failed to have the required effect she moved on to bigger and more complex magics, or at least normally, using all the correct components they would be more complex. After a couple of these she could no longer deny the cumulative ageing effect. Obviously, this wasn't going to be quite so easy as she had thought.
Switching tactics, she tried a simple glamour. Her relief, when the spell appeared to work, was tempered by what she was now sure were half a dozen additional grey hairs when she allowed the illusion to drop.
Oh God! She was going to be stuck like this forever. Or not. It seemed like every time she used magic she was worsening the effect. Maybe she'd eventually just shrivel up and die. Maybe if she called a Scooby meeting they could... But that was right. She wasn't a Scooby any more. No doubt she wouldn't even be invited to the next meeting and if she tried to call one they would probably all be busy having sex and playing with puppy dogs and wouldn't be able to come.
It wasn't like she had wanted to sacrifice the dog, but that had been what it said in the book... And it had been to help Dawn, even if Giles had denied it. She had heard her and Buffy that morning. Spike had left the bedroom door ajar when he headed out back. She'd heard both of them say that they wished it had just never happened. Then they had turned on her as if she were a criminal when she tried to make their wishes come true. It really wasn't fair to put the blame on her for doing what they had wanted.
And Tara. What was she going to do without Tara?
Suddenly, what she looked like, what her parents were going to say and what her friends thought, didn't seem so important.
How did everything get to be so screwed up all at the same time? Relaxing from her upright position she curled into a foetal ball and cried herself to sleep.
Dawn was looking rather pleased with herself by the time the pizza arrived without an appearance from either her sister or their live-in vamp. When the couple did arrive, her sister looking just as freshly scrubbed as the vampire who had professed his wish to clean up, it was only the serious expressions on both their faces that prevented her from taunting them openly. Instead, she stuck to the safe topic of food.
"There's a couple of slices of the hot and spicy and a couple of the pineapple in the oven keeping warm, and there's a pint of Phish Food in the freezer."
Spike ruffled her hair as he passed en route to the oven. "Thanks, Bit." Buffy took a seat on the sofa next to where her younger sister was loading up on Chunky Monkey straight from the carton. She pulled up her tanned legs toward her chest hugging them against the black satin of her pyjama top. Her eyes rarely left Spike, except when the kitchen counters obscured her view of the jean-clad, shirtless vampire.
"Is something up?" Tara just beat Wes to the question.
Buffy managed a half-hearted smile. "Just the fact that me and Spike seem to be giving the old slayer dreams package a whole new twist. It'll keep. We can do the whole Scooby meeting thing when you and Wes get back from LA."
"Are you sure?" Wes asked. "If this really is a slayer dream then perhaps we should be working on it straight away."
Spike came back into the living room at this point, a plate laden with pizza in one hand and a couple of spoons and an ice-cream carton in the other.
"Feel free. Why don't you ring up and have a word with any of your ex-brethren that might just be lurking in Istanbul? See if they've got any news," he suggested as he took a seat on the arm of the sofa next to Buffy, one arm wrapping around her shoulders once his burdens had been safely deposited on the coffee table in front of the couch.
"We don't know..." Buffy interrupted and then tailed off. "Maybe it was a warning. Maybe it hasn't happened."
"'F you say so, pet. I guess you've been having these things long enough to know." His tone, however, held none of the hope contained within his words. Spike knew that the girl they had seen was already dead. What he didn't know, yet, was why Buffy was more than normally freaked by what had killed her.
"It's the First Evil, or at least it was one of its minions who attacked the girl. A bringer, harbinger, something like that," Buffy told the watcher.
"And that was all you saw. A girl attacked by one of these harbingers? And how did you know it was Istanbul?"
Spike simply gave the watcher a look that said as clearly as if he had spoken that he hadn't spent his entire unlife in London and California. Then, he elaborated on what they had seen. "Just that and some freaky goat head pentagram thing, looked like it belonged in an Alchemy catalogue."
"Wasn't there something like that in that old Dan Ackroyd movie, with the satanic cult or something," Dawn asked.
"Hardly a stellar point of reference, pet."
"And what makes you think this has anything to do with the Council?"
"Can you think of any other reason why Buffy would be dreaming, 'bout a girl that age? 'Sides, she had the look."
"But why?" Wes asked. "There will always be more girls to take her place. There's no guarantee that the girl would ever have even become a slayer."
Spike shrugged. "Demon I knew thought he could end the line, or even just weaken it. Get a run of untrained eight-year-olds and your slayer brand is going to suffer significantly. Might even get themselves a slayer they can control, keep prisoner, whatever."
"So you're saying they're going to kill all the girls who could become slayers?" Dawn asked.
"We're guessin', pet, but I think they're goin' to try."
"And then? What happens then? These eight year-olds you're talking about are only going to be called if the slayer dies... Right? They're going to come after Buffy, aren't they?" Dawn sounded panicked.
"No, love. They're not. No reason why they should, unless Wes's old lot's been keepin' secrets and they've got another slayer stashed away in Cleveland or somewhere."
"Not that I'm aware of," Wes admitted. "Though it's not outside the realms of possibility."
"Then, Buffy is irrelevant to the continuity of the line. Soon as Miss Trinidad & Tobago got her calling, any extra that Buffy did was just icing on the cake. When she died last year, no new slayer. That means it's our little jailbird who's at the end of the line." Spike defied anyone to refute his logic and of course Dawn did.
"But how do we know there isn't another slayer? She could just be in the middle of communist China, or one of those places in Africa where there's some sort of civil war going on all the time. We didn't know Faith existed until she just turned up, or Kendra. We don't know."
"His lot knew." Spike nodded toward Wes. "And the demons knew. I should've picked up on it before slayer number two showed her face in Sunnyhell that first time, but all that 'There can be only one' stuff didn't exactly encourage me to listen to any rumours. I mean, so you hear there's some slayer down in the Caribbean. If you know for a fact that there's one in California, you tend to just think someone somewhere's tellin' porky pies. 'Course I didn't realise that Buffy had actually died. You Scoobies just never thought to ask. I trailed my butt round every demon haunt within half a night's drive last summer. No one knew anything about a third slayer."
"Either way, it would seem wise to alert Faith and the Council to our suspicions. I'll speak to Angel tomorrow. I believe he has kept in contact with her." Wes volunteered to pass on the news.
"Are you sure you want to do that? We could call him just as easily," Buffy offered.
"It's okay. I need to fetch some of my books, anyway. Somehow when they packed up my things for me, they failed to take into account that most of their reference materials were actually my reference materials."
"That was rather remiss of them," Spike observed with a sly grin.
"But not entirely unexpected, given Angel's past actions," countered Wes, remembering how he had marched into their interim LA office to claim some book. "He never did grasp the finer points of ownership, though I doubt he'll make the trip all the way to Sunnydale when he needs a book."
At this point Spike just happened to glance across at the plate he had, mere minutes earlier, stacked with pizza. Only the pineapple slices remained, but he knew that Buffy had been too preoccupied to bother eating any. He bent over and craned his neck to look beneath the table.
"Bloody hell!" he swore at the sight of the puppy crunching the last of the crust from his hot and spicy. "Angel's not the only one, neither. Bit, your damned mutt's just eaten my bloody dinner... again!"
Dawn just smirked. "Well, I guess that settles it. Rogue, it is."
"She's your dog, Niblet. That means it's your job to train her, which also means you're the one that gets to smack her or blow up her nose or whatever you do when she pulls a stunt like that."
"You can't smack her," Dawn protested. "And what's with the blowing up her nose?"
"I'm not going to smack her. Just told you that's your job, and the blowing up its nose, can't remember really if that's for dogs or horses but if it works don't knock it. So?" The vampire stared down the teenager until she finally conceded defeat.
"I'll shut her in the bathroom, okay? Does that class as punishment enough?"
"No. It's not. The mutt's going to be sleeping in there at night until she's housetrained. You start using that as a punishment, and she's going to think she's done something wrong when she hasn't."
The vampire seemed to give up on getting the teenager to discipline the pup. Instead, he pulled the dog out from under the table, pointed her head toward the half-empty plate, hoping she would understand what she was being reprimanded for. Then, with a curl of his lip and a flash of fang he gave a growl that had the pup whimpering and dashing to the safety of Dawn's shadow when he released her.
The vampire's attention returned to Buffy. She still hadn't touched any of her food. "Come on, pet. Why don't you head for bed? Me an' Bit'll get the watcher and the mutt settled. I'll stick your ice cream back in the freezer an' you can get it another time. Okay?"
"I guess. I put us in mom's room. I figured that way, since I don't need so much sleep, I could get an early start on the packing."
"That's fine, love." The vampire picked up the remains of the pizza, and the ice cream, dumping the former in the trash and the latter in the freezer. He returned to the main room to extend a hand to the slayer, pulling to her feet. His arm wrapped around her shoulders and he walked her up to her mother's room and tucked her up in the freshly-made bed like a little girl.
"Won't be long, precious." He placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.
A dim smile flickered across her lips for an instant. "I'll be right here. Gollum."
The vampire immediately dropped into a hunch-shouldered, semi-upright stance as he made his way to the door. "Yesss, masster" he replied in passable impersonation of Tolkein's unfortunate, only to run into Dawn on the landing.
"Okay, I knew you guys were weird, but Quasimodo and Esmerelda. That's just warped. And shouldn't you have the bumpies for that?"
Spike raised his eyes heavenward. "Wasn't-. Never mind... Let's just get everybody to bed, right?"
Soon, Wes had phoned Giles at his hotel to inform him of the latest developments and everyone except Spike was settled in their respective rooms, but the vampire had one last task in mind before he retired for the night. He knocked softly on the door to Buffy's room.
"Come in," Tara answered equally quietly.
Spike opened the door, leaning against the frame as he spoke. "Hey, love. Just me. How are you doin'?"
The Wicca gave a brave smile. "Better than if I was in a dorm all on my own. It's not like you get the chance to dwell on things, with everything that's going on."
"Yeah, well, from experience, the dwelling'll probably start round about when that damp patch on the ceiling loses its fascination. An' if it does, remember we're always there. The door's always open." He flashed her a lascivious grin. "Just make sure you knock before you come in.
Seriously, though, any time you want to talk, or just some company watching the telly, or a hug, whatever... you know you've got an open invitation, day or night, right?"
"I'll bear it in mind."
With what he hoped was a comforting smile and a nod, Spike pulled the door closed as he left.
He slipped quietly into the darkened room where his girl was waiting for him. Before he pulled his jeans off and changed into the pyjama bottoms Buffy had brought through for him when she organised the sleeping arrangements, he checked that all the curtains were firmly closed. A dark lump at the bottom of the bed caught his attention and he realised that the connecting door to the bathroom was open.
"We have to have the mutt?" he asked.
"She was whining. At least now she's quiet."
With a sigh the vampire slipped into bed, pushing the dog out of his way with his feet, his arms wrapping Buffy round from behind, with all the strength and comfort he could give her.
"So, love, what's the big deal with this First guy. Seems to me, if you know him, that means you already sent him off once with his tail between his legs. You'll do it again."
"The deal." Buffy turned in his arms her eyes searching for his in the darkness. "The deal is that last time, it went after someone I loved, and if it wasn't for some freak weather, they would have killed themselves.
The deal is. I can't lose you. Not now. Not ever. I need you."
"No, Buffy, you don't. You're strong. If something happens to me, you'll do just fine. I'm bettin' you would kick the ass of whatever was to blame from here to hell and back.
But so long as I have any say in the matter, I won't be goin' anywhere. Like I said earlier, I'm yours, body, spirit and mind, and so long as I have any choice at all, I won't ever leave you. Unless this thing or its guys come and stick a stake through my chest, I won't be leaving. I'll never just quit on you. I'm not planning on any daylight walks without those orbs around, or at least a good thick blanket."
"It can't be killed... So long as there's evil inside any of us, it will exist."
"But it can be beaten," Spike insisted. "You've done it before. And these harbingers, they can be killed, and whatever the deal is with the goat thing, we can deal with that."
"You make it sound so simple."
"Because as long as I have you, then everything else is simple."
His lips met hers in a tender caress that swiftly became more passionate as Buffy returned the kiss. As always, the bond between them relayed their feelings and in the depths of their hearts they were each a little afraid, but more importantly they had a confidence built on their mutual faith and love and a determination to see this through. Spike was right. At the end of the day one or both of them might fail, but neither of them were about to quit. So, the First Evil was going to have a real fight on its hands this time.
Soon, all thoughts of anything other than each other were banished from their minds, even the thought that they had a canine voyeur sharing the bed with them.
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