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
Tara volunteered to fetch the beers that were left in the fridge. Spike sank into the armchair that she vacated and pulled Buffy down into his lap.
"Thanks for steppin' in to give us a hand there, slayer!" he groused, doing his best to sound ticked off instead of just relieved. It was over, and Brandon and his father seemed to have accepted without question the half-truths that they had been told about Dawn, or at least with no more questioning than anything else he had told them. Spike's hands drifted to Buffy's midriff, suddenly tickling his fiancée until she squirmed on his lap.
"But I didn't want to interrupt when you were obviously on a roll," Buffy gasped between giggles.
"Thought you'd leave me all the dirty work, you mean. If I didn't know better I'd say you were being a coward."
"Nope," Buffy's responded breathlessly. "Just an opportunist. And you're so good when you go all Big Bad."
Spike whispered something in Buffy's ear that only she could hear and the slayer flushed red and slapped ineffectually at the vampire's chest.
"There's one bottle of the brown stuff and three bottles of Bud. As far as sodas go we've got regular Coke, diet Coke, diet 7 Up or Jolt." Tara's voice carried through from the kitchen.
"I don't mind sharing the last bottle of Newkie Brown if Spike wants the other half," Wes suggested.
"I'll take the Coke without the yummy artificial sweetener aftertaste," Mr Michaels told her, having already established that he didn't drink when driving.
"I guess that leaves the Budweisers for you, me and Buffy," Anya announced cheerfully. "Problem solved."
Once everyone was provided with suitable refreshments Wes looked at Spike with a sly smile. "Actually, you managed quite a creditable show with the exposition, Spike. You're well travelled. From what I've read you seem to pick up languages reasonably well, when you make the effort. You know it makes me wonder if you've ever considered a career as a watcher."
Spike head spun toward his fellow Englishman. A stream of words that were totally unintelligible to Buffy left his mouth. They were, however, enough to cause Wes to almost choke on his beer.
"Was that some English swear words that you just hadn't felt compelled to use until now?" the slayer asked.
"No, pet, I was just confirming Boy-Watcher's assessment of my language skills," the vamp replied content that he was definitely ahead of the Watcher on points.
"I believe it was actually an Arabic dialect of some sort," Mr Michaels told her. "But I couldn't quite catch the actual words."
Anya looked over. "Really? What he said was that Wesley should be sodomised by an extremely well endowed camel until his bottom-."
"Anya, luv, the whole point about saying it in Bedouin was that the watcher was meant to be the only one who understood."
"Really, Spike, you should remember that vengeance is a multicultural business. Besides, the Arabs are extremely inventive when it comes to cursing. I spent a lot of time in that part of the world. Though, I must say, I did like your bit about the sand storm. That would be very painful and not normally possible without some form of extra-planar assistance. Also, I'm sure it wouldn't taste very nice, though by that time it is likely that he would have passed out."
Wes by now seemed to have recovered from his earlier shock. "You know it would have been much more succinct to simply say 'bugger off'."
"Very true," responded the vampire. "But I don't suppose if I'd said 'bugger off' that I'd have got to see you snort your beer instead of drinking it."
Spike caught the gaze of Mr Michaels for just a fraction of a second before he let his eyes drift to the back door. In the general teasing that was going on, Spike doubted anyone other than Buffy and he noticed the man slip out to talk to his son.
Dawn opened one of the two cans of soda and passed it to Brandon before opening the other. The boy automatically took a sip from the can in his hand, but he couldn't have told you whether it was cola, lemonade or root beer.
"I know it's a bit of a shock, and I'm guessing I should have held out for a year or two if I was going for the 'I'm so in love with you I don't care who your family is' vote, but I really didn't want to lie to you all the time." Dawn's eyes seemed bigger and bluer than ever as she gazed imploringly at the face of the boy sitting on the step beside her.
"You know, I think you're the first person any of us has ever actually told, except maybe Buffy telling Riley but then he already knew all about the demons, so Buffy just had to tell him the slayer part, but that was kind of unavoidable. You're the first person we chose to tell. I've known Janice like forever and I've had to tell her lies and half-truths every step of the way. I just didn't want things to be like that between us."
"What did you want? You thought if you introduced me to Lily and Herman that we could all live happily ever after?
Why am I even answering you?" The boy dropped his head and ran a hand through his hair, wincing slightly when it came to the bump on the back of his head.
"What? I'm still the same person I was an hour ago when you were playing footsie under the table."
But Dawn's words weren't to be heard by the boy. "No, you're not Dawn. You're just a figment of my imagination. Dawn's real. She has a real family not some bunch of comic book superhero rejects and Halloween boogey men. Dad always said I should read more 'proper' books and less of the Forbidden Planet crap."
"Hey, Buffy and Spike are not rejects. If it weren't for them you would be in hell several times over." Dawn grasped the back of his neck and used it to pull his face in towards hers, kissing him forcefully to cut off his objections, not releasing him until he began to respond to her. "Did that feel like some figment of your imagination? 'Cause if it did I want to swap dreams with you."
"Look, Dawn, whatever you are... The simple truth is demons aren't real. Magic isn't real. I know this. I've known this, well, maybe not my whole life, but it's a good few years since I gave up on Santa Claus. My father definitely knows this. So, if I can feel the great big painful lump on my head and I'm seeing my dad going along quite happily with a bunch of wackos trying to tell me that every fairy tale and dime store horror novel bad guy I ever heard of is living right next to me, I'm going to take the option where I believe it's the concussion talking."
"And you know what? In any other town, that would go down just fine, but in this town that sort of thinking can get you killed, because while you're thinking, 'this can not be happening' some vampire will be chowing down on your neck.
Haven't you ever thought it was weird that all the cabs in Sunnydale disappear when it gets dark? No one will do it. They know that sooner or later they'll end up food for some vampire who decided to order in.
Have you wondered why your dad's paying out five times the old amount for life insurance since you moved? The only reason we don't top Washington on the per capita murder rate is that if someone gets vamped and staked then there's a convenient lack of bodies. Also, not much in the way of bodies when a giant snake decides the graduating class should be his lunch and the whole school pretty much gets blown up along with him."
"She's right, son." Brandon started at the sound of his father's voice behind him. "It's part of why I was asked to come here."
"That's ridiculous," the youth snapped back at his father.
"Dawn," the older man suggested. "I think you might want to go inside in case Brandon says something he might regret later. It's not really you he's angry with, but I don't think he's seeing things too clearly at the minute."
Mr Michaels waited until Dawn had moved into the house and took her place on the step next to his son. Dawn pressed her ear to the kitchen door trying to work out whether they had just made a huge mistake.
"How could you bring me here? How could you get me involved in all this and not even warn me?" Brandon shouted at his father.
"How could I warn you? What could I have said that would have made you believe me, rather than ringing up your mom and telling her I belonged in Bellevue?"
"You could have at least tried. I just can't believe you knew all this and you still brought me here."
"I warned you as best I could, told you to be real careful especially after dark. You know how to look after yourself. I just never thought until you picked that girl to ask to the dance that you could possibly end up in so deep. Even then, I never thought that the people involved would kill a kid just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"Well, I guess you thought wrong. So tell me, dad , just who were these people that you misread so much?"
"I'm afraid I can't tell you that. If, however, you were to find out by some other means, I guess there's not much I could do about it." Mr Michaels looked toward the door that was closed behind them.
"So it's up to them to tell me that as well? How about what did happen in that hospital, 'cause come to think of it, it's the first concussion I've picked up where they put me on a drip."
"Well, you were right when you thought you were shot. You lost a lot of blood and the bullet was lodged too close to your heart for them to risk operating. The doctors had pretty much given up hope, but then Miss Summers showed up with her friends, and from what I gather, Miss Rosenberg drew energy from myself and the others, which she then used to magically remove the bullet and heal the wound as if it had never been there."
"So, a fatal bullet wound, they make like it never happened, but a bump on the head is beyond them?" Brandon ranted.
"Apparently so. It appears the workings of the brain and magic don't mix particularly well. Miss Rosenberg thought it was best to let the head injury heal in its own time."
"But playing hocus pocus with my vital organs, that's okay by you?"
"Brandon, they were the only chance you had. I'd have tried anything if it meant I could keep you alive. Your mom was sitting in an airport before I could tell her that you were going to make it through. Can you imagine how that felt having to tell your mom while she was thousands of miles away that her son would probably be dead before she could even get here?"
"No, I probably can't, which again begs the question, what the fuck are we doing here."
"I really can't tell you that, son. You know who asked me to come. That should tell you how important it is."
"I'm sick of this damn military, need-to-know bullshit, dad. You quit the army when I was about two, but you still jump every time that guy has some favour he can't find any other schmuck to do. Well, in my book, this was one damn favour too many." The boy pushed away from the porch, and set off full pelt, making his way through the bushes at the far end of the yard as if they weren't there, heedless of cuts and scratches.
While his father was still recovering from his surprise at the boy's abrupt departure, the kitchen door was pulled open and two figures exited, each pulling on a long, leather coat as they ran in the same direction as Brandon.
"We'll make sure he gets home okay," Buffy shouted as she and Spike left, both hurdling the bushes with ease.
"If we want to get to see Micro Bit tonight, this is goin' to have to be a retrieval rather than just waitin' the boy out an' keepin' an eye on him to make sure there aren't any other Big Bads around."
"I know. I just don't know which way I want to play it. I don't want to disappoint Rosa, but if we screw this up. I don't know what we should do."
Spike gave a humourless laugh and pointed to indicate that Buffy should angle slightly to the left of their current course. The scent of Brandon's blood from his various abrasions guided the vampire through backyards and alleys as clearly as if it were an illuminated highway. "That makes two of us."
Brandon's trail had followed the same alley for a couple of minutes now. If he didn't change direction soon his route was going to take him straight to the Greyhound bus depot. Buffy knew this. What worried her was the possibility that Brandon might know, as well. Could he possibly be planning to just hop the next bus out of Sunnydale, or had he just got too tired to keep cutting through people's yards? How far could he get on just the cash he had in his pockets?
'And this kid seriously ought to be trying out for track. Definite scholarship possibilities,' Buffy thought.
"Think he-?" Buffy slowed to a halt, puzzled to realise that even though she hadn't been running flat out, Spike had dropped behind. It only took him seconds to catch up, but she could tell even as he approached that something was wrong.
"S' nothin', slayer. Just a stitch. Guess vampires aren't meant to eat that much human food an' then go for a run straight after."
"Has this happened before?"
"No. But then I've never pigged out on brown ale, pasta and ice cream and then tried to run a marathon either." Spike nodded in the direction they had been running. "Go find the kid. Keep an eye on him. I'll catch up with you at the depot. He's just takin' the path of least resistance. He's getting' tired. If the trail veers off I'll find him and bring him to you. Okay?"
"Go on, love. Before he finds himself in more trouble than he's already in for insultin' my slayer."
Buffy turned to go after the boy, but spun back again to press a ferocious kiss to the stunned vampire's lips. As she finally did take off at speed Spike called after her. "What was that for?"
She turned to face him again walking backwards as she replied. "I'm making sure you've got plenty of incentive to keep yourself in one piece till you catch up." She blew him a final kiss and then turned on her heel once more and ran as fast as she could for the bus depot.
"You got any spare change, son? Buy an old man some coffee."
Brandon was doubtful that any money he gave the old panhandler would ever make it to a coffee vendor, but he wasn't unsympathetic. "I could do with a coffee, too, but I don't have change. How about you come with me and I'll buy yours?"
The bum seemed to consider. "There's a diner two blocks up does free refills. If we went there, I could stay till closing time."
Buffy almost ran into the pair as they were about to leave.
"Prithee, fair lady, what causes thee to travel with such unseemly haste?"
'Great. A whole bus station full of people, and he hooks up with Crazy Larry,' she thought. 'Guess I'm going to have to play along.'
"My sister's suitor hath left our abode in much distress and without any word of farewell. She was sorely vexed and bade myself and my companion follow after him and watch over him to ensure he reached his father's mansion without mishap."
"I think perhaps, lady, that thou art off thy rocker, for thou speakst of a companion who can be neither seen nor heard, unlike thy habitual companion, the vampire, who ist oftimes more vocal than is seemly."
"I think, perhaps a knight known far and wide as Crazy Larry would be better acquainted with such a malady than I. And my companion shall in time be both seen and heard, when he ceases to be afflicted by the malady that slows his progress so greatly that he bade me travel ahead, so that the squire here would not fall into bad company."
"The squire and I were to share refreshments at a nearby eatery."
"Perhaps you will accept this token of my regret, as he will be unable to join you, for my companion is to meet us here." Buffy pulled a ten dollar bill from her wallet and pressed it into the old man's palm.
The bum gave a low bow and raised an imaginary hat. "The lady is most kind."
Larry turned to leave the bus station by a different exit, one that came out nearer to a liquor store.
"What? You think I need defending from some old bum? I was going to take him for a coffee, maybe buy him something to eat. You give him money and he'll just buy alcohol."
"Brandon. It's up to him. Crazy Larry has been hanging round here nearly as long as I can remember. Somehow, he manages to stay alive and in one piece when by rights someone should have picked him off years ago. One more bottle of whatever is not going to kill him... And they're what I think you need defending from." Brandon followed Buffy's gaze to see a group of about eight youths move from their seats by the wall to intercept a young girl who was struggling on her own with a heavy suitcase.
She'd picked up on their presence as soon as she arrived, but she had hoped they would wait until Spike arrived before making their move. "Go sit in the waiting room. Any of them come near you or anyone else in there, then use this." She pulled a large wooden cross from a coat pocket.
A block away, Spike pushed his protesting body back into a run. As when he and Buffy had been under attack from Riley and his men, he could see what Buffy saw as she moved to defend the young girl. He knew that while his girl was invulnerable, it would be difficult to adequately protect the young girl from eight attackers all at once. He pushed his body to its limits in order to get to Buffy while he could still make a difference.
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