Thanks to Vladt catching me in a good mood, and thanks to the fact I'll probably have a busy day tomorrow, I'm posting Friday's chapter early...
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
Tara watched the figure on the screen as it reached out to one side. A single tear trickled down her cheek as the vampire's lips moved to form his fiancée's name. The picture was indistinct but nothing could disguise the look Spike reserved for one woman alone, not even the amber glow of his demon eyes or the combination of muck, blood and old rainwater that streaked his features.
"He knew." The thought slipped from her lips. "He knew." The first flames appeared on his hand and the low-light camera swiftly whited out so that those at the house on Revello were not subjected to the sight of the fire consuming the flesh from Spike's body or his bones turning to dust that was already indistinguishable from the silt in the bottom of the storm drain by the time Buffy reached the spot where he had lain. They watched a silent movie that only caught a fraction of the show. They couldn't hear how Buffy cried out a massive, "no," to the world or how she swore at Spike, even as he burned, for not somehow resisting harder and holding out till she could get there, for insisting she take the orbs but most of all for daring to leave her alone when their time together had so barely started. When the screen cleared all they saw was Buffy kneeling on the floor of the tunnel, trying to scoop up handfuls of debris from the bottom of what was in effect a very shallow stream only to have it slip through her fingers. The screen went dark and they knew that their enemy thought he had got his point across.
"What did you mean? When you said that he knew..." Giles' voice was as soft and comforting as a velvet wrap as he placed a tumbler of Wes's brandy into Tara's shaking hands.
"H-he knew what the cure was. I thought he was rambling, generalising, but h-he knew. He said we h-had to send Dawn away because his demon knew that her blood would heal him, just the s-same as B-Buffy's... and it was only when I s-saw that look on his face that I realised... he knew... and he chose to die rather than to hurt either of them.
For years, everyone except Dawn and Joyce just used him and we said he didn't... he couldn't love her. We treated him like his feelings didn't matter, like they were less real than ours... like he couldn't be hurt but if he..."
"...But if he could care enough to make that choice, then every petty cruelty that we visited upon him more than likely made its mark on his..."
Bee raised sad eyes to the grey-haired watcher. Her grief mingled with her disappointment that even with the greatest of all possible proof he still couldn't bring himself to say the word. "...On his soul," she finished for him.
Minutes passed in silence as the quartet perched on the edges of their respective seats, each of them cradling a glass in their hands from which they took occasional sips.
Finally, Tara spoke again. "What about Dawnie? Do we get her to come back? Do we tell her? Do we wait for Buffy to get back? I mean she was supposed to be getting as far away as she could, but somehow I don't think she would stray too far."
"How about I try Lily's phone and see where they're going?" Bee suggested. "Lily might take Buffy back to her place or they might be coming here."
"Or Buffy might be looking to find Robin Wood and get some payback," Giles added. "She had a shock and it hit her hard... but Buffy is incredibly resilient and she has a particularly vindictive streak towards anyone who targets the men in her life. She's quite capable of setting her grief to one side until she has exacted vengeance.
More to the point, convincing as the footage was, we are dealing with at least one enemy who specialises in mind games and illusion and added to that we have no real way given the poor quality of the footage to tell if it has been digitally altered somehow. The last thing we want to do is tell Dawn that Spike has gone, only for him to then walk in through the door like the proverbial bad penny."
"But if there's a chance he might be alive and if what he said was true, isn't that all the more reason to get her back here?" Bee asked.
"He wouldn't do it. He wouldn't risk hurting either of them. Not so long as there was the smallest bit of him still in control," Tara offered.
"And Buffy would never let Dawn put herself in that sort of danger," Giles added.
Bee shook her head. "You're all just making difficulties where there needn't be any. I assume if Spike somehow knows that Dawn's blood is the same as Buffy's that they're both the same group?"
"Well, yes, they're both AB+, but I don't see..."
"You don't have to. Tara, why don't you call Dawn? Be honest. Tell her that Spike sneaked out and Buffy went out to look for him. Tell her what the poison is and that you think her blood may be at least partially as effective as Buffy's. Let her make her own choice about it. She's not a child... Then, when she gets here, you can explain about the web site face to face."
Tara nodded and picked up the cordless phone from where Giles had left it on the coffee table.
Bee made her way through to the entrance hall, picking up one of the spare phones and tossing it to Wes. "It didn't look like Spike made time to pack, but you never know. His phone might have been in his coat pocket. It's worth a try. If you hear it ring rather than getting a message to say it's switched off or whatever, try to rule out him having left it in the house somewhere. When you've done that, go over to your place and wait for a visitor. If Spike really is gone, the last thing Buffy is going to want when she comes home, is to find a house full of strangers. I'll follow when I'm finished with my own calls."
"No instructions for me?" Giles asked dryly.
Bee gave him a half-smile. "You can stand around and look pretty... or if you prefer, you can contact the people Buffy will want around her on the off chance that the worst does turn out to be true."
She picked up another phone from the hall table and, to the puzzlement of the others, wandered out the front door, getting into the passenger side of her car and apparently rummaging through the glove compartment, all the while pinning the phone in place between her ear and a shoulder. Soon she had a lit cigarette in her mouth and seemed to be talking around it, at the same time holding something in her right hand and hitting it with her left.
"That has to be the most peculiar woman I've ever met. Look pretty, indeed," Giles muttered to himself as he turned away from the window and tried to get hold of Anya using the last of the spare phones.
"Oh!" Anya's delicately boned face seemed to somehow crumple and she caught her lower lip under her upper teeth to still its trembling.
"We don't know anything for sure, Anya." Giles tried to comfort her, wondering how the vampire seemed to have the affection of all the women in their circle while at the same time inspiring quite the opposite in the male of the species. "It's entirely possible that it was a ruse on the part of either Robin Wood or The First or not inconceivably both. They may have wanted to halt our research or distract Buffy. However, if it does turn out that the worst has happened, then Buffy and Dawn will need their friends around them. Please tell Xander that I trust him to realise this is an opportunity for him to rise above any pettiness and do whatever may need to be done in order to comfort his friends."
"You mean no gloating, right?" Anya asked, the couple's earlier conversation fresh in her mind.
"I mean no gloating and if Buffy or Dawn feel that they or Spike are still due any apologies then I suggest that Xander be prepared to give them, otherwise his presence may be less than constructive... How is Xander faring this morning after his misadventure last night?"
Anya looked over to the still firmly closed bedroom door. "Nauseous... and less than constructive."
Lily physically ached to rush forward and comfort the grieving girl but something here was not right. The light produced by Spike's immolation had revealed something which shouldn't have been there. She kept her distance and reached into her jacket pocket, pulling out a roll of fruit flavoured chews that she kept there for Rosa. She unwrapped several of the sweets, popping them into her mouth one after the other and chewing on them until they made a pliable, sticky mess only to then delicately remove the resulting ball from her mouth. Next, with a move she hoped was swift enough to fool anyone watching, she reached up from under and behind the camera that had been attached just above average head height on the wall of the storm drain and used the glob of confectionery to obscure the lens.
She was just moving forward to take Buffy in her arms when the girl looked up. First a look of hope appeared in her eyes and then a huge smile brightened her tear-stained face. "It wasn't him." Her voice was full of absolute certainty. "I mean it looked like him and I can even still smell his aftershave and it had me fooled for a minute or two but he said I would know if he died and it just doesn't feel like he's gone and the pains, kinda spread a bit since this morning but not enough for him to have gone woof..." Buffy used her hands to mimic the flames that had appeared to consume Spike almost instantaneously. "And Rogue was so not leaving him alone, not to mention he made a promise."
"Is good but someone, they watch the tunnels." She pointed to the disabled camera. "And I no think it City Engineers."
"So we keep going until we find him and we don't stop again for anything unless it physically makes us."
"You go on. This is Maple, just make straight line. 1570 maybe mile that way. I no keep up with young girl, but I no be so far behind if-." Lily paused as the sound of a dog barking echoed its way from somewhere up ahead and Buffy took to her heels.
Every time she came to an intersection, Buffy would pause just for a moment or two to check that the sound came from neither right nor left before continuing on. The animal sounded frantic and Buffy feared that The First's little stunt might have delayed her just that bit too long, so that whatever events were being played out up ahead would already be concluded by the time she got there. She cursed herself for not reaching inward earlier to find the truth through their bond, but the fact of the matter was that she had simply been so devastated by the scene that had played out before her eyes that she hadn't been able to function on any sort of level.
The tunnel's echoes and the splashing of the water beneath her feet as she ran, all made it nearly impossible to judge just how far away the dog was but Buffy just ran as hard as she could, hoping against hope that she would arrive in time to make a difference. Then, abruptly, the barking stopped.
She wanted to run even faster, but without the sound to guide her she had to be even more careful when she checked every offshoot to the main tunnel looking for the smallest sign that someone had passed that way. Long minutes later, when she did find it, it seemed almost blinding. A spear of daylight probed its way into the tunnel from high above, its rays illuminating Rogue's limp body at the ladder's base while Rupert licked blood from the fur at the side of the dog's head. As she approached, Rogue struggled to her feet with an obvious effort, whimpering and despite her injuries, looking guilty, as if she felt she had failed.
Buffy hunkered down, scratching the dog behind her ear on the uninjured side of her head before checking the wound. The cut was little more than a graze, but any open wound was bad news in this sort of environment and a large area around it seemed to be tender to the touch. "Shh, honey, it's not your fault. You've been a brave girl. I'll call your Uncle Giles and he'll bring the DeSoto and take you to the nice veterinarian who we'll probably have to pay in cash because it will look too damn suspicious to claim on a two day old insurance policy. Just stay here while I climb up there 'cause I don't think I'll get a signal this far underground." She bent over and stroked Rupert, too, trying to settle the animals so they would wait for her to come back. The cat stood from his previous seated position revealing a small cellophane wrapper. Buffy picked it up and read the writing on it. A thermal blanket. Whatever Wood was planning, at least it didn't involve Spike getting a suntan, just yet.
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