Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.
SECTION 4 - ELSEWHERE
I love the time and in between
The calm inside me
In the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a distance I have wandered
To touch upon the years of
Reaching out and reaching in
Holding out and holding in
This is heaven to no one else but me
And I'll defend it
As long as I can be
Left here to linger in silence
If I choose to
Would you try to understand?
(Sarah McLachlan, Album - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
Thanks also to Emma for suggesting this way back
when I started FTE, even if it did take me three
months to follow through.
Hope she's still reading.
Sunday, May 19th, 2002
"Oh, Willow!" Tara stood back to let the former Watcher see the jug of blood in the fridge.
"I see it," Wes confirmed. "I'm assuming the seal is Willow's mark."
The Wiccan nodded. She pulled the jug from the fridge, setting it on the counter. Then, she pulled open the salad drawer, revealing a few sealed bags of blood. They, too, had the same sickly green aura surrounding them as the jug, Willow's mark appearing on each one. She removed those, too, placing them next to the pitcher.
"I don't understand. Willow had gone before Spike even bought all this blood. She hasn't even been in the house."
"Are you sure about that? There isn't a spare key hidden somewhere outside in case someone gets locked out? Assuming, of course, that Willow would actually need a key to get in, or even that she would need to be here to do the magic. It's entirely possible that she wouldn't even need to be anywhere near the house."
"But if the blood's magically poisoned, shouldn't there have been some sign when we looked at, well, when I looked at Spike?"
"Not necessarily. She could easily have used magic to create a mundane poison. There are, in fact, certain similarities between Spike's symptoms and arsenic poisoning, for example. In the days when it was commonly available, almost all cases of arsenic poisoning occurred 'within the family' as the poison had to be administered at a low dose over a period of time before the target became immune to the emetic effects of the drug. Only then, could a larger, fatal dose be given. Spike said when he was ill during the party that he voided his entire stomach contents. After that he seemed to be almost his normal self. Last night, he managed to keep down a portion of what he'd drunk, and now he's running a fever and has bruises consistent with internal bleeding. None of this necessarily suggests that the toxin would have to be magical in nature. There are a few poisons which are effective against vampires. The poison's actual creation could be magical, but the substance itself obviously is not." Wesley picked up the jug, tilting it slightly to stare at the liquid inside before lowering his nose to sniff the contents. "Or that may not have been Willow's intent in the matter at all..."
Tara frowned in puzzlement as she watched Wes carry out his olfactory test. "I could be wrong, but if there was anything to smell, wouldn't Spike be the first to notice?"
"You would think so, wouldn't you?" Wes countered as he pushed the jug over toward the young woman. "Nevertheless..."
Buffy came awake with a start and immediately felt bereft. There was no Spike in front of her. Her renewal of her claim on him was nothing but a dream. She began to wonder how much of the rest of the experience had been real as she realised that her slip had been pushed up far beyond her waist. Her thighs were damp and sticky, and as she flexed her vaginal muscles she realised Spike was still inside her.
"Morning, love." The voice at her ear was more croaky than his normal, husky whisper, reminding Buffy that he was ill and probably shouldn't have been doing what they appeared to have just done.
She moved to ease away from him so that she could roll to face him, but his arm held her to him with a strength that seemed at odds with his infirmity.
"Stay... please, love... for a few minutes."
Buffy relaxed back against him. "Oh-Kay. You can have a few minutes, Mr Snuggles, but after that I get to roll over and see how the patient is doing and make a start on my Florence Nightingale routine. I've not had much practice, but I learned from the best. And, bonus... if you make it downstairs, we can see how often we can make Giles clean his glasses."
"Don't you ever dare call me that in front of anyone else, pet."
"Giles? It's going to be your name. Actually, according to all the papers we have downstairs, it already is."
"You know exactly what I mean. Now shhhh. See, in my version of what just happened, you should be too knackered to move for at least half an hour and too high to get all chatty and torment your man for... well, days?"
Buffy sighed, easing their bodies apart and then rolling over. Before she could even speak, her shock at Spike's haggard, hollowed out features silenced her. Tears filled her eyes and instead of words she let her fingertips brush gently at his face as she bestowed a longing kiss on his fevered lips. "Spike, when you're well, I'll lie here, well, actually the bed itself would be more comfortable, but I'll happily spend hours, days even, basking in the afterglow of our incredible sex, real and imaginary, but I don't do sitting around watching the people I love die. I need to be doing whatever I can to help you get better. I need to go see if they've come up with anything, find out what's happening, see if we know whose butt needs kicking, yet. You understand?"
"Sure, love. But you're forgetting one thing. I already told you I'm not planning on dying."
"And I'm not planning on letting you."
"Heyyy, you two," Tara called as the couple made their way to the living room, accompanied by Rogue.
The dog hadn't strayed more than a few feet from the vampire since the couple woke, following him around as he got dressed.
The back door stood open to allow the egress of the smoke from the incense and Tara was in the midst of vacuuming up all the magic sand. "We were just about to send a search party to see if you were awake yet?" Tara did her best to look cheerful, but though the vampire didn't look worse than when she had seen him earlier, he certainly didn't look better.
A sheen of perspiration coated his face, his eyes seemed to have sunk back into his head and were underlined by dark purple bruises and his cheek bones no longer looked sexy, but gaunt.
"Darn. Did we miss the start of the meeting?" Buffy looked round the room. Giles was still in last night's clothes, his glasses in one hand as he pinched the bridge of his nose with the other, a cup of black coffee in front of him instead of his normal tea. Dawn was seated next to him on the sofa. Her expression gave away little but the barely touched stack of pancakes on the plate in her lap said a whole lot more.
"What's up, Dawnie?" her sister asked. "Don't tell me you've gone off Tara's pancakes."
"If Spike can't eat, it doesn't seem right that we should."
"Rubbish, Bitlet. Get them down your neck before you end up lookin' even more like Kate Moss, or bloody Social Services'll think we're starvin' you and that dress'll fall off an' end up in a puddle round your ankles come Friday.
What'd you do with Junior Watcher? He gone back to his for some kip?"
"He's gone to get some things for breakfast," Tara answered gravely.
"Alright! What the bloody hell is going on? I gather since we had a visit from the Orb Fairy that somebody's been checkin' up on us, but you three are actin' like your damn dog died, which seein' as she's right here, doesn't make much sense."
"It's complicated, Spike. Willow seems to be involved-." That was as far as Giles got before Buffy exploded.
"Willow? She is so going to get her octogenarian butt kicked. I am gonna-."
"Buffy!" Giles shouted to get Buffy's renewed attention. "Willow would appear to have a hand in events, but as things stand, we don't know whether she is trying to harm Spike or aid him."
Dawn snorted. "Like she needed to use magic if she was on our side..."
"Dawn, there is such a thing as giving someone the benefit of the doubt," Giles insisted. "I can hardly believe that Willow would feel welcome here at the moment, or..." The Watcher put his glasses back on, pushing them up his nose with one finger before he fixed his gaze directly on the teen. "...That she would expect you to put your trust in any explanation she might give."
"Well," Buffy interjected. "Why don't you bring me and Spike up to speed, and then you and I can go and ask her?"
Dawn rolled her eyes. "I told you guys not to say anything before she had her second coffee."
"Before we do that, Buffy. I'm led to understand that Spike is manifesting more symptoms. I think it would be advisable, if you expect us to find out how this is being achieved, if we were to see what we're talking about."
"We know what they're doing, Rupert, and if you say Bathmorda's involved, what's the big discussion?" As the two men argued, Tara slipped into the kitchen unnoticed by anyone.
"That's where you're wrong. There is no sign whatsoever of any magic being used to directly affect you."
"So, I'm imagining it, am I?"
"That is not what I said," Giles argued.
"No, but then you've always been quite good at not quite saying outright what you mean. Or maybe I'm meant to be faking it, some huge ploy for attention, is that it? Or maybe... just maybe like I told you stupid buggers in the first place, vaudun doesn't work the same way normal magic does and maybe mon-sewer Cloutier's little acid trip doesn't work with it."
"You know if it wasn't for Buffy, I'd quite happily let whatever this is take its toll, but Tara assures me that the only sign of any magic to do with you was the visual manifestation of your shared dreams, and I choose to have faith both in her and a sorcerer of the highest renown in preference to one of your hunches any day."
Tara walked up to the two men who had somehow managed to end up nose to nose. "Stop it, both of you. Spike, have some blood." She pressed Spike's mug into his hand.
Spike hadn't even raised the mug above waist height when he frowned. "What in blazes did you put in this, Glinda? Essence of skunk? It smells like somebody's cess pit."
Tara took the mug from him again. "Thank you. Now, if I tell you that blood came from the same pitcher you were drinking from last night and I've added nothing to it, perhaps you'll sit down and listen."
"Everywhere?" Buffy asked.
"I've been to every butcher's shop and packing plant in town. They all say the same thing. When they got in to work this morning any stocks of blood that they were holding on the premises had curdled overnight. Everything else was fine, but they had to ditch all they had. In the end I had to wait while they butchered a pig at one of the plants and have them collect the blood there and then, but considering more goes over the floor than gets collected, I don't think that will keep him going for long." He held up a plastic carton, holding a little over a quart of the precious liquid, before setting it on the kitchen counter beside the box of doughnuts he'd brought.
Spike gave the Watcher a weary smile. "Thanks for tryin' anyway."
Wes grinned back at him. "As I was saying, I didn't think that would keep you going for very long, so I made a detour via the bloodbank, where I found that one of their employees was willing to be very helpful... for a small fee."
Wes pulled at least half a dozen blood bags out of various pockets, and Spike's smile ratcheted up a notch. "How much do I owe you?"
Wes shook his head. "Call it an engagement present. Heaven only knows when I'd have time to buy you anything else."
Buffy mouthed a silent "Thank you," over Spike's shoulder, before she scooped up the carton, pulled Spike's mug from the cupboard, filled it and put it in the microwave.
"So... curiouser and curiouser." Spike tilted his head on one side. "Seems to me, if Red was doin' some mojo that turned the blood rancid as some sort of time-delayed side-effect that she'd hardly bother goin' round all the butchers in town when she could achieve what she wanted just by tamperin' with our fridge."
"The same thought had occurred to me," Wes confirmed. "I believe that Willow deliberately made the blood undrinkable, and while it is possible that this is some sort of prank, I'm more inclined to believe this is a warning."
"Which begs the question, a warning about what," Giles commented. "What does Willow know that we don't?"
"Let's go find out, shall we?" Buffy asked, sliding off her stool. "Dawn, when that blood's heated make sure he drinks it. When he's drunk that one, heat some more and make sure he drinks that. Repeat until you run out of blood or we get back."
"Got ya," the teen responded, glad to have something concrete to do.
Spike followed Buffy as she went upstairs to fetch a jacket, Rogue still shadowing him as closely as if she were on a very short lead.
"You're not coming with us," Buffy told the vamp before he could argue otherwise.
"I'm not stupid, pet. I know right now if push came to shove I'd be a liability. I'm in even less of a hurry to get you killed than I am me, but if Giles is right, there's just as likely people after you at least as much as me." He loosened his belt.
"Now's not the time, honey."
"Ha bloody ha, pet," Spike responded as he slid the pouch that held the orbs off the leather strap and pressed it into Buffy's hand. "If the Watchers are readin' this wrong, or even if they're right, Red's not exactly in the most rational frame of mind right now. You want me to stay here and drink up, then you're going to have to take them."
"Spike, they could be the only thing that's stopped you keeling over already."
"Or they could be making no difference at all, but we know if there's a fight, or some bastard with a gun or a bow, then they will. Don't make me worry about you, love... please."
"Okay, but if you get worse I want you to call me on my cell."
Spike leaned in to press a lingering goodbye kiss to her lips, lifting her slightly so that they were closer to being level as the kiss deepened and became more passionate.
"Mmm," Buffy drew her head back for just a fraction of a second before the vampire swooped in to claim her lips once more. "Spike..." She pushed him gently away. "Gotta go. Wes and Giles are waiting and the quicker we find out what's going on, the quicker we can get you fixed."
She pulled open the door on one side of the armoire and grabbed the first jacket she could see, tugging it from its hanger as she turned to go. "I'll be back as quick as I can. Don't go anywhere." She paused briefly with one hand resting on the door, returning his gaze. "Love you, vamp-boy."
Spike waited until he heard the front door shut behind her before he allowed his legs to give way and fell back onto the freshly made bed. "Love you, too, Buttercup," he whispered. The vampire rolled onto his side, drawing his knees up as he clutched at his stomach. Rogue jumped onto the bed from the other side, crawling until her face was only inches from Spike's before she lay down, a soft whining coming from her throat.
Dawn muttered to herself as she carried the mug of blood upstairs. "Like it would have killed him to come back downstairs and get it." She pushed open the door to the master bedroom.
"Hey! You! You could at least answer when I shouted you."
"Buffy?" Spike's voice was little more than a dry whisper.
"No, himbo. Dawn. Buffy left, remember? Gone to see the Wicked Witch... Oh boy!"
"Shut up! She meant it... No! She changed, I changed, I can be-."
"Tara!" Dawn shouted downstairs. "I need you."
"No, I don't do that any more, Dru." Spike's eyes seemed to be following someone's movements around the room, only there was no one there. Even more strangely, Rogue now stood on the bed, hackles raised, and a low growl rumbled through her body as she bared her teeth in the direction that Spike seemed to be looking. "Can't have pretty girls. No, Dru, no. Hers." Spike seemed to paw at his neck, his fingers pulling aside clothing to bare what to Dawn looked like a recent bite mark, pulling at the healing flesh until it began to bleed. "Hers..." Spike seemed to be almost sobbing as Tara entered the room.
"Tara, what do we do? He was fine when Buffy left. Five minutes later... What's going on?"
When Tara noticed the vamp's eyes gleam with a hint of gold she decided to take no chances. "Dawn, go downstairs and find some straws. He should feed as a natural instinct, if we present it properly."
As soon as the younger girl left the room, Tara sent up a brief prayer to Morpheus, Lord of Sleep, asking him to claim the vampire. In his weakened state Spike soon succumbed to the effects of the spell, and when Dawn returned with a handful of plastic drinking straws, he was once again quiet. Thankfully, when the Wiccan managed to get him into a position where he could suck the blood in the mug through a straw, he started to feed without regaining consciousness. Tara only hoped that the blood Wes had managed to procure would be enough to allow him to heal himself. If not, she didn't know what they would do.
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