Every step towards the Magic Box sent a spike of pain through Buffy’s body, but she didn’t care. Actually, no, she kind of did care. It was both a distraction from what was going on with her mom (cancer, a little girl voice whispered in the back of her head. Mommy has a brain tumor.) and a reminder that she’d failed. She’d fought the crazy-strong crazy woman who wanted Dawn, and she’d been swatted like a fly. One of those fat, lazy ones that would just sit there and wash its little stick hands on your sandwich during a picnic.
She swallowed hard, fighting back tears. Picnics…. Would they ever have any more of those as a family? A strangled sob escaped her, and she had to stop for a moment to try to compose herself. She had to be strong. Dawn needed her to be strong. It didn’t matter what she’d started out as. Right now, Dawn was a fourteen-year-old girl with a sick mother. She needed her big sister to be solidly on top of things, not falling apart.
Buffy closed her eyes and breathed as deeply as she could. The skank – Glory, the gross little minion guy had called her – had cracked a few ribs during the beatdown. Slayer healing would clear it all up in a day or so, but for now she felt like one giant bruise with random stabby bits. That included the partially healed wound from having her own stake shoved into her body. God, she was the vampire slayer, and she hadn’t even been able to do that right.
She didn’t buy Spike’s whole death wish thing (not yet. Maybe someday, but not yet), but something had been off. Even Riley had been shocked that she’d been defeated by just a single completely average vampire. Even Riley…. She didn’t want to think about what “even Riley” was supposed to mean, so she took several more cautious breaths before pushing it aside and opening her eyes.
She needed to hurry and pick Dawn up from the Magic Box so they could both see Mom, but…. She looked off into the direction of the nearest cemetery. She could handle a fledge or two, at least, even with her injuries. Ten minutes or so wouldn’t really make much difference, and she could really use the stress relief and confidence boost, especially after the week she’d been having. And maybe she’d even come across that snake thing Glory had summoned.
There was a moment of hesitation, but then Buffy turned away from the Magic Box and broke into a limping jog towards the cemetery. Of course, with my luck, she thought wryly, the place will be completely quiet for…. The thought trailed off as the ants-crawling-on-her-skin tingle of a young vampire or two shivered through her, along with the herd of big old spiders tap dancing down her spine that meant a powerful vamp was nearby. And she recognized the exact choreography of those specific spiders.
Buffy put on a burst of speed, rounding a tree just in time to see Spike dust one of the three vampires he was fighting. She paused for a moment – only to catch her breath and not at all to watch Spike as he practically danced with his two remaining adversaries – before launching herself into the fray. He dusted one, then – just as Buffy readied her own stake – the other, leaving her with nothing to fight. Or, well, almost nothing. Without even thinking about it, she cocked back her arm and slammed her fist right into the center of Spike’s grinning face.
“Ow! What the bloody…?” Spike scowled at her, holding a hand over his injured nose. “Bloke tries to do you a favor, taking on the nasties, and this is how you repay me?”
She shifted uncomfortably, actually feeling a little bit bad about hitting him. He hadn’t been doing anything wrong. Which actually wasn’t really a prerequisite for a punch to the nose, but it felt kind of wrong after the confusing mess of the last time she’d seen him. First there had been that whole disturbing fight in the alley, where she’d been half-convinced he’d wanted to kiss her. She’d said the cruelest, most hurtful thing she could think of before throwing his money at him and walking off. And then he’d come to her house and just sat with her while she cried over her mom. It had been seriously of the weird, especially with the random shotgun he’d had, but also comforting.
“How’s your mum?” he asked suddenly. “She, uh, she still in hospital, then?”
The words, like you even care, floated through her mind, but she couldn’t bring herself to actually say them. Not after the time spent on the porch steps.
“Yeah,” she said quietly, her voice thick with emotion. “She’s um….” She sniffled and wiped away a few stray tears. She shouldn’t be telling him this. Not before talking to Dawn, at least, but the words came out anyway. “Th-there’s a tumor in her head. In her brain.”
Spike’s face seemed to crumple for a moment, like her words had staked him. Then he shook it off. “Oh…. We’ll, I’ll, I’ll just keep patrolling then, shall I? But not for you,” he hurriedly added. “For Joyce. She’s always treated me fair and should have her kids about while she’s doing poorly.”
Buffy wasn’t really sure what to say to that, but a sudden commotion from the other side of the cemetery saved her from having to say anything at all. She turned away and raced towards the noise, Spike a silent shadow by her side. She should have been telling him to go away, to go home and leave the slaying to her, but it was oddly comforting to have him there. Maybe because he was a familiar annoyance, and she needed the familiar right now, no matter how much of a pain in the butt it could be.
Since coming to Sunnydale, she’d seen a lot of seriously bizarre things. What she was seeing right now in front of a crypt… well, honestly, it didn’t even make the top ten list, but it was still totally of the uber weird. The doorway was filled with a swirl of colors, and a bunch of humanoid demons with scales and lumps were tossing both humans and vampires through it.
Even the vampires seemed seriously unhappy about it. Not that Buffy actually cared how they felt. The humans, though? She was going to have to go in after them. Not the first time I’ve done it, she thought, remembering the street kids she’d helped when she was waitressing in L.A.
Maybe she couldn’t win against whatever that Glory chick was, but she was still the Slayer, damn it! She could fight off some butt-ugly kidnapper demons. Once more into a breach. Ignoring her injuries as best she could, Buffy headed into battle, fists and quips ready to fly.
Riley meandered through one of Sunnydale’s cemeteries, lost in thought as he absently rubbed the bite mark on his neck. Sandy…. He stared down at the stake in his hand. The one he’d used to dust the vampire he’d allowed to feed from him. It had hurt, at first, fangs piercing his flesh. But then it had been…. Words couldn’t even describe it. The pleasure of it. The feeling of being needed and important. No wonder Buffy was always letting the things bite her.
He remembered how she’d tried to hide Dracula’s bite from him with a scarf. Despite it being November and a little chilly, he wouldn’t be able to do the same with Sandy’s bite. Maybe a turtleneck? No, that wouldn’t help for when he was alone with Buffy. Maybe he could claim something got him while he was patrolling for her? A group of five or so, and he’d taken them all out with nothing but a measly little bite mark in damage. Yeah, he could spin that for her.
Assuming she even notices the bite, he thought bitterly. The only times she seemed to realize he existed these days was when she needed someone to foist her kid sister off on. The girl was fourteen, not four, and could look after herself. Dawn wasn’t Buffy’s responsibility, and she sure as hell wasn’t his. Despite that, he’d been the dutiful boyfriend, taking on the busywork of spending time with Dawn and getting her ice cream. Only to then have to listen her go on about how he didn’t incite the same kind of passion in Buffy that Angel had.
How many times had she let him bite her? How many times had Angel’s fangs sunk into her tender flesh, drowning her in euphoria? Riley shuddered at the thought, torn between disgust and arousal as he flashed back to Sandy’s bite. It hadn’t lasted long before he’d thrust his stake into her chest, but those few moments….
He was startled out of his thoughts by the sound of a fight. Buffy was there, battling demons with no one but Spike to help her. Before Riley could jump in to save her, though, the demons started escaping through some sort of portal. Buffy went in after them, Spike at her heels. And as Riley stood there, wondering what he should do, the portal started to close.
The last time Buffy had ended up going through a portal, she’d dropped down into a dank and dark sort of factory-ish place. This time, she stepped into a bright woodsy area full of cheerful birdsong and a beautiful river with stepping stones making a path across it. While this exit wasn’t in a ceiling, it was about a foot higher than the entrance had been, and she hit the ground with a thud that aggravated all of her injuries and sent a jolt of pain through her body.
She gritted her teeth and fought through it, forcing herself to her feet and out onto the stepping stones. The lumpy demons and their captives were already across. She had to get to them. Had to take out the bad guys and free the prisoners. She could do this. She –
Oh god. Something disturbingly like fear washed through Buffy in waves of cold dread at the sound of the startled, near-panicked curse. That voice, here out in the sun. She turned – slow, so slow, like moving through thick syrup – and there he was. Spike, trying to hide under his coat from sunlight that… wasn’t burning him up.
“Buffy!” he called out, eyes wide with alarm.
And suddenly, she wasn’t moving in slow motion anymore. It was fast, too fast, her foot skidding along the wet surface of one of the stones, sliding out from under her. Despite her slayer reflexes, she was too hurt to catch herself in time. She fell into the water, her head hitting a stone with a sickening crack that turned the world into a dizzying smear of colors.
When Buffy went through the portal, Spike called himself all sorts of an idiot (and her, too, for that matter) and followed right in after her. Only to find himself instantly assaulted by a brightness and warmth that sent instinctive terror sizzling through him.
“Bloody hell!” he swore, trying to hide under his coat from the deadly sun.
Except… the sodding thing wasn’t really being all that deadly. He should have at least been smoldering by now, but he was only feeling a bit of warmth. Which was what a bright, sunny day was meant to be doing for the non-combustionally inclined. Huh. Well, that was… something he didn’t actually have time to think on at the moment. He’d caught sight of the Slayer, out on the river and turning towards him. Something was off, though. Her usual grace was gone, leaving her wobbling alarmingly on the wet stones. Then she started to fall.
“Buffy!” he called out, racing towards her.
So what if she falls in the drink? part of him asked even as the rest of him was cursing himself for being too slow. Not like she’s a wicked witch or a bloody mogwai, now is it? The water won’t do her a mischief or send quadruplets popping out her back. Bit of a swim might cool down some of that high ‘n’ mighty attit-
Then Buffy hit her head on a rock with a horrible thunk and slid limply into the water, and Spike’s mind went numb for a moment. His body, though, was on autopilot. He went in after, snatching her from the current’s grip and dragging her to shore. She was a dead weight in his arms – though not actually dead. Her heart was beating, and it was bloody well going to stay that way! – and her hair was stained by the blood still coming from the knock on the head. God, the smell of it was intoxicating.
Hunger and arousal and a part of him horrified at the first because he loved her and a part what wanted to eat her all the more because of that love. You’re beneath me. The words she’d tossed at him along with the money, like he was naught but a cheap whore instead of someone who’d been giving her important information. And, well, himself. He’d told her who he’d been, baring his heart to her if not his soul. And she’d crushed it beneath her designer boots.
For a moment, he wanted nothing more than to throw the bloody bitch back into the river and let her drown. The urge passed just seconds before she came to sudden life, thrashing and flailing as she fought to get out of his arms and onto her feet. She even managed to whack him in the nose, and for once it didn’t brass him off. Well, maybe a little, but not enough to pay any mind.
He set her on her feet, and she immediately doubled over, coughing up water. She needed a good sit down and a chance to recover, but a quick look about showed him they didn’t have time. Several of the big, ugly demons were heading their way, and the portal was closing. Half-drowned and likely concussed or not, they had to get a move on.
“We have to go, Slayer. Now,” he said, wrapping his arms around her and steering her towards the portal.
“Wh-what the hell do you think you’re doing?” she whispered unsteadily, voice hoarse and weak from the water. “We….” She coughed, a horrible wracking sound that made his own lungs ache in sympathy, and spat out more water. “We have to go back… rescue the people.”
“Are you out of your bleedin’ mind?” Spike snapped. He could understand if it had been her mates the demons had, but these were complete bloody strangers! Why risk getting trapped here for them? He wondered if it was due to the blow to the head, but no, probably not. Daft bint had always had a distinct lack of self-preservation when it came to others in danger. “The portal’s closing.”
She gave him a mulish look and dug in her heels. She was weak right now, but if she took it into her head to actively fight him, he wouldn’t be able to stop her. Not with the bloody chip. It’d have to be words if he wanted to get them both back. He had to think of something, anything, to get her to come along willingly.
“What about the folks back in Sunnydale? That portal closes with us still here, you won’t be able to help them when they need you. Or your mum and li’l sis. What’s to be, Slayer, them or these people here?”
There was a moment of silence, then she slumped against him, letting him lead her towards the portal. “Why do you even care?” she asked. “You should just leave me here. You have a better chance without me.”
She sounded resigned, like she expected him to drop her like a hot stone and make a break for it. Maybe even wanted him too, so she could try to help these people without any guilt. He could. He’d be able to make it if she wasn’t holding him back. He could go through, tell her mates what had happened. They’d find a way to get her back. So what if he hadn’t a bloody clue where they were. They’d figure out which of the hundreds of thousands of possible dimensions this could be and find Buffy. All he had to do was let go and leave her here.
Bugger that! He wasn’t bloody leaving her behind. He got a better hold on her and increased his speed towards the rapidly shrinking portal, forcing himself to ignore her sudden grunt of pain. She could rest once they were back. He’d get her through and then get her home. Tuck her all snug and safe into her bed. And she’d probably pop him in the sodding nose again for it, because she was an ungrateful bitch and he was a daft wanker for being in love with her and…. And the bloody portal was already too small for them to get through.
He stopped in his tracks, staring in dismay. They couldn’t be trapped here. There had to be a way. He could stick his hands through, force the bloody thing back open wider until Buffy could slither through…. Except the only thing that would likely accomplish was slicing his sodding arms off. Bloody hell, there had to be something. He wasn’t the best at actually following through, but he was good with plans. Think, think, goddammit, think! Maybe… maybe they could….
Then the demons caught up with them, and there was no more time for thinking.
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January 4, 2021 11:21