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Forever and a Day by Lilachigh
Chp 15 No Choice
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Forever and a Day

Chp 15 No Choice

The path leading down into the Devil’s Punchbowl was steep and slippery underfoot. The snow and ice slid away, leaving soft clinging mud as Buffy and Spike plunged hundreds of feet down towards the floor of the great hollow. Bare branches scratched wickedly at their faces and long tangles of brambles caught and plucked at their clothes as they fought their way past.

The lower they went, the steeper the path became, then suddenly the track petered out and they reached the bottom where a deep layer of crispy dead leaves crunched underfoot. Spike tilted his head back and stared up at what he could still see of the night sky through the bare tree branches that crowded in like a black lace curtain overhead. “Mist’s coming down after us, pet,” he said briefly, watching the white tendrils curling implacably through the cold air towards them.

Buffy stopped to catch her breath. “I was right! Whatever it is, it’s heading here,” she said.

Spike gazed round. “But what for? There’s nothing here – just more brambles, bushes, mud and sodding stones.”

“I can hear water running,” Buffy said and pushed her way up a slope, through a tangle of stinging nettles, wincing as they stung her skin. “Here! Spike – there’s a stream – look, bubbling out between those rocks.”

In front of them stood a jumble of huge boulders and rocks, piled haphazardly on top of each other. From halfway up the pile, water was cascading out from between two stones.

The vampire joined her. “Surprised it isn’t frozen solid in this temperature.” He reached forward to touch it, then stopped. “Hey, Slayer. It’s warm!”

Buffy glanced at him in astonishment, then dabbled her fingers in the trickle of water that hissed out across the shining rock. “You’re right. What the hell – ”
She pulled at one of the massive boulders that guarded the entrance, then braced herself as it moved slightly, then stopped. Spike splashed his way through the stream to her side and together they rocked the boulder until, with a final grunt from Spike, they heaved it aside and it rolled down the slope, crashing through the undergrowth.

Buffy caught her breath in a gasp. The boulder had been sitting on top of what looked like a dark funnel that lead straight down into the earth. Water was flowing freely now and she could see faint traces of steam rising when it reached the cold air.

She peered down into the blackness beneath her but could see nothing. Spike bent over and stuck his head into the opening.

“Careful, you idiot!” Buffy snapped. “What if there’s some sort of monster lurking just inside. A big one, with lots of sharp teeth! Listen, I haven’t spent all this time and trouble over you just to see you get dusted the first time you get the chance to do something stupid.”

Spike stood up and grinned at her. “¥ou’d have done exactly the same thing, Slayer! I was just saving you the bother! Anyway, there’s nothing there. But the air feels warm. And – look - !”

He pointed and Buffy turned as the mist they had lived with for so long began to change. It was as if the hole in the rock was acting as a magnet. The mist no longer drifted but began to thicken and quicken as it headed for the Punchbowl floor.

Even as they watched, the first tendrils found the entrance and flowed inside. Then it was as all the mist was being sucked up and it flew past Buffy and Spike at an ever-increasing speed.

Spike ran his fingers through his hair and watched. “Right, no doubt about it, pet. Whatever evil‘s behind this, we’ve definitely reached coming home time!”

“We need to get in there.”

Spike nodded. “Could be a hundred foot drop, sweetheart.”

Buffy raised her eyebrows. “Chicken!” she said sweetly and slid herself, feet first, into the crack in the ground.

Spike cursed violently and tried to grab hold of her hands as she vanished from view. His Plague infected blood that he’d forced her to drink when she’d been about to revert to childhood had made her stronger; it was apparently also making her far less cautious than normal. And being impulsive was not a good thing where a Slayer was concerned.

“Stupid bint! Buffy! Buffy! Are you OK?”

“Fine. Come on in, the water’s lovely!” came her muffled shout.

Muttering under his breath exactly what he was going to do to his woman once he got her somewhere private, Spike tore off his leather coat and threw it across a bush. There was just room then to squeeze himself inside the rock. He felt his boots splash down into the water that was trickling out of the rock wall, forming into a pool and then cascading out into the Punchbowl.

“It’s icy cold when it comes out of the wall,” Buffy was saying. “ But the ground’s hot, Spike. That’s what’s making the water warm.”

He waded through the pool to where she’d climbed out onto a narrow ledge. “There’s light coming from somewhere, too, pet.”

“Yeah. Sort of reddish. Which way is the mist heading?”

Spike turned to watch. The white tendrils were racing past him now, joining into a solid column and vanishing through a hole in the ground, the same hole that the reddish light was coming from.

“I’m wondering if this is such a good idea, Slayer,” he said tentatively, watching the mist being sucked downwards. He thought he could hear a sort of roaring noise now. “For all we know, that could be another Hellmouth.”

Buffy screwed up her face. “Ugggh. I so do not need to deal with that again. But there’s never been any record of a Hellmouth in England. Not as far as I know.” She sighed. “I know I’m never talking to Giles again, but I do wish he was here. Even if he had to write his comments down for me to read! He might know what we’re dealing with.”

Spike shrugged. His opinion of her ex-Watcher wasn’t polite, wasn’t even civilized. He knew Rupert Giles would dust him without blinking if the chance ever arose. He’d seen the expression in the Watcher’s eyes back in London when the realisation that Buffy was sleeping with him had struck home; when Giles had first realised that what he’d hoped was an infatuation was really love. When he’d realised that all his worst nightmares were coming true.

Oh, he’d made with all the pretty words, hadn’t shouted or even made Spike feel unwelcome. Giles had been far more worried then about losing whatever faint regard Buffy still had for him. But now? This Plague and the effect it had on vampires had swung him completely into the “Let’s dust Spike” camp.

Spike jumped slightly as Buffy put a hand on his shoulder. He could see her face in the odd light striking upwards from the ground. She looked serious; Slayer serious.

“Spike – whatever’s down there, it’s what the Plague mist has been heading towards for all these centuries. Remember those diaries that Wesley sent to Giles before he died? How we heard about the Plague in the first place? It’s been coming across Europe for years and now it’s finally got here. God knows what’s going to happen now. We have to go down underground with it and see. We – I – haven’t got a choice.”

“We – I - ? You shutting me out again, pet?”

Buffy ran her hand gently down his cheek. “No, of course not, stupid! But you do have a choice. I don’t. That’s all I’m trying to say. I’m not being brave – although, hey, whatever was in your blood certainly makes fighting evil seem easy – I’m being realistic.” She smiled. “And that’s a sentence I never thought I’d hear myself saying! Jeez, friends trying to destroy the world, lover dying and coming back to life - if I’ve learnt nothing else over the past few years, I’ve discovered that being a Slayer has nothing to do with realism.”

“Well, if you think for one moment that I’m going to let you vanish through that hole in the ground on your own, then you’re even crazier than I thought!” he snapped. “If we go, we go together.”

* * * * * * * *

Outside in the Devil’s Punchbowl, a grim faced Rupert Giles and a very worried Willow were clambering slowly down the path from the car park. Willow was fighting to keep the shimmering shield in place – the shield she’d magiced into being to keep her and Giles safe from the Plague.

But the worry on her face wasn’t just from the mental effort she was expending to keep them protected. She was desperately worried both by Buffy and Spike vanishing into this misty, murky hole and the waves of hatred she could feel coming from Giles as they slid and slithered their way down the muddy path.

She was also only too aware that the movement of the mist around them had changed. Minutes ago it had been moving, but slowly with its usual wavering movements. Now there was a chill rush past her face, as the very air seemed to quiver and throw itself downhill.

“What do you intend doing, Giles?” she gasped, clutching hold of a tree trunk to stop herself sitting on her backside and sliding all the way down.

Giles glanced at her and braced himself sideways to stop walking. He could see the shimmering barrier waving and realised how hard it was for the witch to keep it in place if they weren’t close together.

“Whatever’s necessary,” he said briefly. “I’m hoping that Buffy will be able to discover what’s behind all this evil and deal with it. If we can help, then we will, but Willow, whatever we find, whatever trouble Buffy is in when we reach her, you must not drop the barrier. The mist seems to have changed in substance – ”

“Oh, you’ve noticed that, too. Yes, it’s gone all thick and yoghurty.”

The merest flicker of a smile touched Giles’ face. “And so you have destroyed my desire ever to eat yoghurt again! Not that I ever do, but there was always the thought of such an adventure ahead of me! But yes, I have noticed. It’s picked up speed and is heading, very definitely, for one destination.”

“So that’s where we’ll find Buffy and Spike.”

Giles held out his hand as she let go of the tree trunk and slid down the few feet towards him. “Yes, and as I was just saying, under no circumstances must you lower the barrier. We still have no protection against the Plague.”

Willow’s eyes grew darker. Giles sounded – hey, that was stupid, she was about to say ‘scared’. She could understand him insisting that she protected herself, but he seemed so determined to stay safe himself as well.

“Giles, that’s all good, a good plan and yes, completely on board with the staying safe. Love staying safe. Life’s work staying safe. But this Plague – what it does to people – the lost children – Giles, if we can stop it, even if we have to sacrifice ourselves to do it, surely we’ve no choice?”

The Watcher patted her hand in an absentminded fashion, turned and continued to half slide, half clamber down the path, following the fast flowing mist towards its final destination.

He knew he sounded as if he was looking after himself first and that the rest of the world could go hang, but Willow wasn’t looking at the bigger picture. He had complete faith in Buffy’s abilities to destroy whatever was causing this. He had no idea how, but he knew she would do it.

But what he did know, felt in his bones so hard that they ached with the knowledge, was that the Plague had created a race of super vampires and, starting with Spike, he had to eliminate them before they discovered their power and what havoc they could cause with it.

To be continued

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