Chapter 17: Discoveries
Spike stood at the back door, watching the sun set. The sun itself had sunk behind a narrow band of clouds and the intervening buildings, and posed no danger. The sky was shifting from azure and crimson and saffron to plum and pomegranate and old, mellow gold. Xander was behind him, warm as the sun, solid; his arms were tight around Spike's ribs - his chin rested lightly on Spike's shoulder. Oz and Derio, in much the same pose, stood beside them and the link - for the moment at least - pulsed with contentment and love and *family pack family,* heart-beat deep and strong as bone. The van and the truck both stood ready at the curb - the house was shuttered, turned off, closed down. Going back. They were going back.
*Love you so much,* from Xander, that internal petting that soothed even the demon. *We're going to be fine. Going to come home soon.*
*Promise me, love, promise me...* Spike couldn't even finish that thought, and Xander's arms tightened around him - held him somehow closer.
*Never leave you, never let you go.*
*Protect protect protect...love you all,* and that was Derio, whose emotions were stronger in the link than Oz - more volatile. A creature of the heart and he'd already apologized for it again and again, until they'd pounced and held him down and overwhelmed him with their own feelings.
"It'll settle, you'll see," Spike had told him, and he'd sniffed and nodded - hugged the vampire hard, struggling to control what he put through the link - struggling and failing until Oz showed him some of the meditations he'd learned. It helped - enough to make Derio relax and not worry so much about being too loud - too much for them.
The colors of the sky had deepened further - ash and bruise-blue and the sullen red of a banked ember. The moon was to the right of them, new and thin as a sickle-blade, and a few bright stars could be seen against the glow of city lights. Mid-October and the air coming in the open door was edged with frost, heavy with recent rain. The scents of the water - of woodsmoke, wet earth, and the cinnamon-clove spice of dead leaves - was intoxicating and Spike breathed it all in - felt a wrench in his heart as if it were alive.
*Won't be like this there, won't be like this at all...don't want to go, don't want to go...* He knew he sounded like a petulant child but he couldn't help it. Even the gaping hole that Dawn and Tara's absence had made couldn't make him want to go. Xander pressed his mouth to Spike's jaw - rubbed his cheek slowly back and forth, murmuring in his ear.
"It'll be all right, love, it'll be all right... Promise we'll be extra-careful."
"Sorry, Xan," he whispered, miserable, and the Oz-Derio huddle shuffled closer, leaning into him - into Xander - adding heat and weight and strong arms, adding *safe love you pack pack pack.*
"Won't let any sodding thing happen to us, yeah? We'll come home soon."
"Dios travesia protect us," Derio murmured, and *don't take them off, never take them off.* Xander's fingers went up to the beads Spike still wore, green and black for the warrior-loa. Spike could, very faintly, feel the similar beads Xander wore pressing into his back; creator-loa for his boy, frisson of power that made them that much more, in the link and out.
*No, never take them off,* Spike thought, and he sighed.
"We should go. Twelve hours to Point Reyes," Oz said, and Derio murmured agreement. They were going to take the coast roads down - stop somewhere in Point Reyes Park as close to the shore as possible and have one more night that was just them, just family. One more night of peace.
*Going now...we'll be back soon...* Xander thought, comfort for them all and Spike finally turned and took his gaze off the horizon - off the beloved Waterway and the wooded ridges, the miles of shoreline that the family had explored under the silvering moon-light.
*Going now.* Spike pulled Xander close again - kissed him lingeringly.
"Back in a week or so, Spike," Xander said, sad in the link but hopeful as well and Spike had to smile at him - at his eternal optimism and the stubborn, unflinching loyalty that wouldn't let him abandon his friends. "Say me a travel-poem, Spike. Do you know any?" Xander asked, and Spike thought for a moment, then nodded, finding something pretty for his boy even if his heart wasn't in it.
"There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood - touch of manner, hint of mood; and my heart is like a rhyme, with the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time. The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry of bugles going by. And my lonely spirit thrills to see the frosty asters like a smoke upon the hills. There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir; we must rise and follow here, when from every hill of flame she calls and calls each vagabond by name."
The bone-deep disturbance that was the Hellmouth came over them ten miles out and Spike stiffened in the seat beside him - clenched his fingers down tight on his knees and Xander flinched, too. Living on the Hellmouth, you got used to it. He wondered if he'd ever get used to it again.
*Be okay,* he thought at Spike, and Spike sighed and shifted - leaned over into him a little and just rested there. His misery was palpable in the link for all his efforts to lock it down and for the hundredth time Xander wondered if he was doing the right thing. But his conversation with Buffy kept coming back to him, and he knew he'd had to come. Had to.
"Xander - it's bad. We haven't heard from Giles in two weeks. And all kinds of freaky things are happening here... Dawn and some other kids were attacked at the school - there were these...ghosts or something. And I've been having dreams... Girls are dying, all over the world. Girls who are - who could be Slayers. Something is hunting them down and killing them and I'm SEEING it, Xander, every night. Angel - said he would help. Said he'd look into prophecies, stuff like that. And Anya - she's doing what she can with her demon contacts. But I need you here, Xander. And I need Spike. I don't know what's going on but... It's big. Bigger than I can handle alone."
That admission right there had scared Xander, even if he wouldn't own up to it. Buffy - had never wanted back up. Had always seen her role as the Slayer clearly - a role she had to play alone. And she'd hated dragging her friends into her life of death and danger, and she'd hated not being enough when she'd failed, and people had died. For her to admit she needed help - for her to have called Angel - called him - and asked for Spike... Made him go cold.
"I talked to Wesley - he can't raise anybody on the Council. It's - all wrong. And these girls that I'm dreaming...they're dreaming ME, Xander. They're dreaming me and they're coming to find me and...I don't know what to do with them! They're so YOUNG, and they're not Slayers - they don't have any power. I’m so afraid - god, I'm so afraid they're all going to die. Please come - please help us. We need all of you, Xander...please."
So back to the beginning, back to the nexus of it all and Xander was hating every mile they put between themselves and their home - was hating every minute that he had to sacrifice to an uncaring universe. And down inside, where he wouldn't admit it and where he refused to let Spike or Oz or Derio see, he was utterly terrified. Spike turned his head a little and kissed his neck - kissed his jaw and then settled again, the link tight-strung and Oz somewhere behind humming his chant into it, doing his best to keep them all calm and together because that flying-apart feeling of Spike's was getting worse, and the Hellmouth vibe was pushing them all over the edge.
He'd even called Manny, to just ask - to see if there was anything he should know, and Manny had told him they were shutting down - packing up. When the city had begun to rebuild the high school on the old, bombed-out site he'd flatly refused to be a part of it and now he was selling out, and taking every last member of his family with him.
"Something's coming, filho. Something bad. We can all feel it, we demons. Everyone's leaving however they can. You shouldn't come back, credo. You should stay far away."
But he couldn't, and even with the soldier telling him to cut his losses and get out, and the hyena so on edge he had to struggle for control, he was going back. Spike put his hand on Xander's where it rested on the gear-shift, slight pressure and slow rub of his fingertips.
*My knight in patchwork armor...I love you more than I've loved anything in my long life, Xan, and I will do anything to make sure we come out of this alive. Anything. Don't stand in my way, love, don't try and stop me. It's down to family now and nothing else.*
*I understand. I really do, vampire-mine. But you have to help me, love. I can't do this alone.*
*Never leave you alone, my love, my own. Never.*
The 'Welcome to Sunnydale' sign loomed in the headlights and for once Xander gave in to the devil's voice in his mind and he rammed it, full speed. Spike laughed.
Buffy's house was lit like a Christmas tree and they all sat for a moment in their vehicles, just staring at it. Then they got out, stretching a bit, feeling anxious. Spike lit a cigarette and tugged Xander close to him, shivering a little and Xander slipped his arm around him and hugged. Then the door was slamming open and Dawn was pelting down the steps - across the lawn - launching herself straight at them, babbling a mile a minute and hugging Spike, then hugging Xander so hard he gasped for breath.
*Family pack family home home home,* from all of them, feeling a missing piece slot neatly into place as Dawn once again entered the link, a formless joy coming from her that made them all smile.
"You came! Oh, god, you came! I'm so glad, I missed you so much - I've been going crazy without you guys here! It's been getting really creepy, it's been - Oz, your hair is so cool! Oh god -" Dawn finished off with Derio, kissing him soundly on the cheek and then she stood there, panting, staring at them. *Brothers love happy happy happy* in the link, stronger than before. "Well, come on! Don't just stand there, come in! You're not gonna believe this -" Dawn bounced up the sidewalk, grinning, chattering about sleeping arrangements and grocery runs and they just followed her, bewildered. Went inside and Spike grinned when it was clear his invitation was still in place. Then his grin faltered because there was....something...
*What the hell? What's...* Xander was standing very close, feeling the tension through the link - tension that was seeping out to Oz and Derio and they all just stopped, staring. There were sleeping bags everywhere. Duffels, backpacks, heaps of laundry. An overpowering girl smell that was fruity and sweet and medicinal and under all tinged with blood. And that tickle - that little twitch...
"Hey, guys," Buffy said, coming out from the kitchen and Spike blinked at her. She was thinner than before - dark circles under her eyes. Behind her was a crowd of girls and they were all giving off the same low-watt buzz that Buffy projected in spades.
"Christ, Slayer, you said... I didn't expect this," Spike finished softly, and Buffy smiled a little.
"Even I can feel it," she said, and walked over to them - reached out and pulled Xander into a Slayer-strength hug, almost lifting him off his feet. "Thanks for coming," she whispered. Xander hugged her back.
"No problem, Buffy." Buffy drew back - looked at Spike for one long moment.
"Don't even think about it, Slayer," he snapped, and her eyes went wide and then she started laughing.
"Oh, god, I've missed you, Spike!" She shook her head and grabbed Oz and Derio, hugging them too, then she turned to the girls who were hovering in the doorway still. Dawn was off to one side, looking expectant, exuding *amusement* and a sort of smugness.
"Girls - these are... Well, these guys are family." Spike felt the shock of that through the link and glanced at Xander, who was staring at Buffy, smiling.
*Family. God...she really...*
*Seems so, pet. Good on her, yeah?*
"This is Xander, and Oz, and Derio..." Buffy continued, pointing. They all nodded to the girls, Derio slipping his arms around Oz, still disturbed in the link from the Slayer-buzz that was too strong in the house. "And that's...Spike."
"And he's a vampire." A girl - dark-haired and intense looking - stepped forward.
"Yup. He's one of the nastiest vamps you'll ever meet." Buffy grinned sideways at Spike, who snorted.
"Why, Slayer. Didn't know you cared," Spike smirked, and the girl frowned.
"What the hell is he doing in the house?" Spike watched the girl - felt the shiver of energy off of her and he shot a sardonic look at Buffy, one eyebrow going up.
"So - these are the Slayer-wanna-be's, yeah?"
"Potentials, and even if I'm not a full-fledged Slayer it's still my job to dust vamps." The dark-haired girl moved forward, bristling, a stake appearing in her hand and Spike barked a short laugh.
*Fuck. What does this little idiot think she's doing, exactly?*
*I dunno, but Buffy looks like she's about to explode.* Xander leaned back against the door-frame and Oz and Derio walked casually over to Dawn, getting her to sit down on the couch with them. Oz looked - a little baffled.
*They seem pretty tightly wound. Didn't Buffy say - anything? About - us?*
*Guess we'll find out, wolf.* Spike puffed on his smoke, tracking the girl's slow stalk. The other three girls - all looking about sixteen or younger - watched nervously from the doorway. Buffy had a smile on her face, a sort of 'you're gonna eat crow' smile that Spike rather liked.
*I'm thinkin' this girl is a pain in the Slayer's arse.* Spike blew a stream of smoke at the girl, who flinched a little.
"Your job? Your job is stay out of my way, snack-pak. You've got a lot to learn."
"My name's Kennedy," the girl snarled.
"Don't actually care. Slayer - you need her or can I -" Spike vamped, grinning, and there was a collective gasp from the girls. Kennedy's hand flexed around her stake and she shot a quick look at Buffy.
"You just let him in here and then - you're just gonna -"
"You're the one who keeps telling me you wanna see some action. Go on and get some," Buffy said, and Spike snickered at the little twist of utter bitch in her voice.
*Oh yeah, BIG pain in the Slayer's arse.* "C'mon then, sweet. I'll bet you're a real goer, when you get started...wanna give me a try?" Spike did his best leer - his best bedroom voice and Kennedy screeched and flew across the room, stake raised. *Don't even really feel like playing,* he thought. He neatly sidestepped the girl and snatched her around the throat - brought her up sharply, one arm going up between her breasts and holding her shoulder in a vise-like grip, the other tangled in her hair, yanking her head over hard. Her stake-arm was trapped under his and she was tight against his body, her throat inches from his fangs. He carefully took his cigarette out of his mouth, trying not to singe her hair because god! the stink of that. He lowered his mouth - let the tips of his incisors prickle over the thunder of arterial blood.
"What'cha think, Slayer? Thumb up or thumb down?"
"Hey! Don't! Buffy, please - " A blonde girl turned to the Slayer, her mouth wobbling, and Buffy rolled her eyes.
"Sheesh, Eve. I'm not gonna let him eat her. Much." Spike grinned - grazed the fear-clammy skin with his teeth and held the girl against her buck of sheer, mindless terror. Then he pushed her hard away, dragging the stake from her hand and snapping it in two.
"Your job is to die if you don't get a whole fucking lot better, wanna-be. You've got a job on your hands with this lot, Slayer."
"Son of a bitch!" Kennedy touched her neck and then looked in horror at the blood on her hand. She ran upstairs, followed by Eve and a black girl. Another girl - tall and thin and with a look of toughness about her, stayed in the doorway, arms crossed.
"Wow. So - you're Spike," she said, and Spike looked at her. "I'm Amanda."
"Another wanna-be, I take it." He pinched the butt out and pocketed it, ignoring the little wince that got from the girl.
"Potential is the PC term," Dawn called, and Spike laughed. The tension in the room eased a bit and he reached out for Xander's hand and tugged him over to the couch - pushed Dawn into Oz and sat down, dragging Xander half onto his lap.
"What's going on, Buffy? These are the girls you've been dreaming about, right? I thought - you were gonna send them on their way?" Xander squirmed around so he could face Buffy and Spike made a low growling noise, nuzzling into Xander's hair.
*Stop that, evil undead. Let me talk.*
*This place is gettin' on my nerves, love.*
*I know. Sit tight, okay?* Xander caught his wandering hands and held them tight and Spike gave in and just hugged him close.
"I wanted to - I tried to..." Buffy sank down into a chair and sighed, elbows on knees. "They just keep coming. One of them...Annabelle... She got really spooked after... Well, after they were attacked. She ran and...they got her."
"Who got her?" Spike asked, and Amanda came to sit on the floor next to Buffy, back straight.
"These nasty little troll-guys," she muttered, and Buffy shook her head.
"They're - they're called Bringers. They're these guys all in black. No - eyes. It's kinda gross. They're the things that have been killing the girls in my dreams. And - Annabelle. They were around before. When..." Buffy sighed, and looked down at her hands for a moment. "When Angel tried to kill himself, it was the First Evil. It had these - Bringers. They're back. It is back. That's what's been making all this freaky stuff happen and... It was the First that was in your house, Xander. It can look like - anyone dead. It looked like..."
"It looked like mom," Dawn said, tiny voice, and Oz slipped his arm around her, hugging her.
"You all right then, Bit?" Spike asked, and Dawn nodded.
"It said some pretty - freaky stuff." Buffy looked at her sister, sympathy and anger warring in her expression. "It was scary but we figured out it was just lying. Trying to trick us. Like it did to Angel. Like Jesse - like the fake Jesse did to you, Xander."
"Fuck," Xander muttered, and Spike thought about the Angelus he'd talked to, down on the docks. The Angelus that had, at first, made sense. Had been so perfect that he'd... Well, nothing to dwell on now.
"So - any clues about how to take it out?" Spike asked, and Buffy shook her head.
"We were hoping Giles would... But we can't find Giles, and the Council seems to have just - vanished and even Willow isn't communicating. It's like - we're all alone."
"No - not alone," Xander said softly, and Buffy smiled at him - at them all.
"No - not anymore."
The sound of a car outside and thundering footsteps on the stairs made them all look up as the Potentials came back down.
"Groceries," Amanda said, standing up and moving towards the door with the rest and Dawn groaned and stood also.
"They've got some super-strength - I should be exempt from heavy lifting, I'm the brains!" she moaned.
"Solum in somniis, Niblet," Spike said, and Dawn made a face and trooped out.
"What did you say?" Buffy asked, and Spike smirked.
"Basically, 'in your dreams', Slayer," he answered, and she laughed.
"She's doing good with the Latin - she's been keeping up with it. And Greek and couple of demon languages she tells me are the Swahili of the demon world, whatever that means."
"Means most everybody speaks 'em," Spike said, but he wasn't paying attention to Buffy anymore and neither was anybody else. Spike felt the surge of recognition and joy in the link and then the four of them were off the couch and across the room, crowding as close as they could get to Tara, who stood there with a string-bag of oranges in her hands and tears in her eyes.
*Greenwitch lightwitch mother Glinda love you love her keep always keep...* Spike knew Tara wasn't part of the link but he also knew she could see their auras, and the way she looked at them - the fierce clutch of her arms around them - told him that some sense of their feelings - of her belonging was known to the lovely woman who made them all feel as if they'd finally come home.
"God, Tara - missed you," Xander murmured, brushing her cheek with his hand. Oz kissed her other cheek, his eyes shining with happiness and Derio hugged her from behind, taking in a deep breath of her scent of nutmeg and clean earth, dill and thyme and lavender. Spike simply gathered her up in a hard hug, lifting her off her feet and burying his face in her hair and he felt her lips on his jaw for a moment.
"Oh - I can't believe - you're really here -" She wobbled, set back on her feet, and wiped at a stray tear and then the Potentials were pushing through the door, loaded down with groceries and Kennedy was scowling at Spike. He vamped, snarling at her then turned his back and they all led Tara to the couch - made her sit down and then grouped themselves around her.
*God, missed her - need her back. This has to change, have to fix this - when we kill this First she has to come home with us,* Xander thought, and Spike took his hand, squeezing gently.
*Do our best, pet,* he thought, and there was silent agreement from Oz and Derio.
"Have you been here long? Has Buffy t-told you everything?" Tara asked, smoothing her skirt and taking Oz's hand and Xander's and Buffy laughed.
"You guys look like some old-fashioned family portrait." She cocked her head to one side and a slightly wistful look came into her eyes.
"Family, Slayer. You know what that's like."
"Yeah....I guess I do," Buffy said, glancing over at Dawn who was gathering shampoo and toilet paper and other things to take to the upstairs bathroom. "No, they've only been here a half hour or less, Tara, and I haven't had much chance to -" A knock interrupted her and she frowned - stood up and went to the front door. "Who in the world -" She opened the door and Spike caught a glimpse of two pale, girlish faces and then - glint of steel and glass and Buffy was just standing there, frozen. Then flung herself forward, shouting 'Giles!'
filho - son
credo - loved one
Bliss Carman - A Vagabond Song
Solum in somniis - Only in dreams