The stench of rot and infection permeating the hallway was thick enough to practically bathe in. The lights worked, but they were dim and flickering, casting shifting shadows. Was the mangled corpse at the turn of the hall twitching, or was it all just a trick of the light?
Spike strode past Buffy, drawing the sword and cutting off the corpse’s head in one smooth motion. The slayer gave him a look, and he just shrugged before sheathing the sword.
“With the general stink hereabouts, no way to tell if a still body is going to stay that way. Best to just assume and not leave anything behind us to attack.”
She nodded and led the way slowly down the hall. More dim lights. Debris. Broken windows to the outdoors with boards over them, trying to keep the nasties at bay. All but useless to try to keep it out when the infection had already found a way inside.
The infection…. He flexed his hand into a fist a few times. Some of the tooth marks had fully healed, but others hadn’t even scabbed over yet. And the ache was still there, deep down. Could mean nothing. He was healing. He knew he was. But was he healing enough? If he took more blood from Buffy….
He took a slow, deep breath and forced himself to focus, listening for any stray heartbeats or breathing as he followed her through the hall. Not but soft, hungry moans and the sounds of the woman in front of him.
She tried a door to the right, letting them into a well-lit – and empty – room. There was a small stage with a podium and chalkboard, along with seating everywhere. Probably where the patrol cops got their assignments at the start of each shift. Not that it really mattered what the room was for.
“Looks like we can at least resupply here if we need to,” Buffy said quietly as she glanced around. “Marvin said he and some of the other cops had been trying to set up areas like this once the infection started to spread inside.”
First aid kits. Unopened bottles of water and packages of food. Even several boxes of bullets, all laid out and waiting for anyone who came along. Made sense, he supposed. Zombies wouldn’t have much use for guns or ammo, while the survivors….
He clenched and unclenched his fist. No point dwelling too much on things. He’d either fully heal, or he wouldn’t. And if it was the latter…. Well, they’d figure out some kind of contingency plan, wouldn’t they?
“…not planning to die. This is all just a contingency plan.”
It should have looked ridiculous. A grown woman in a shabby bathrobe, propped up by pillows in her bed while she talked to the two men she’d invited up to her room. There was a quiet seriousness about everything, though, that kept it from looking ridiculous. Looking being the operative word, because what Joyce was proposing sounded nothing but.
“Are you out of your bleeding mind?” Spike pushed away from the wall he’d been leaning on and started to pace. He didn’t want to think about this. About Buffy’s mum – his friend – dying. But there was that bloody tumor in her head, and it didn’t care a whit what any of them wanted. “Willing the house to me is daft enough, but all this with Dawn? You can’t just hand her over like that. She’s a child, not a bloody couch.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that,” Joyce said dryly. Then she focused her attention on Giles. “How long would it take for your contacts to create a respectable legal identity for Spike?”
Rupert studied her for a moment, the same dubious thoughts about her sanity no doubt occurring to him. Then he sighed and removed his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose before putting them back on. “I’d have to call in a few markers, but it could be done in as little as two days. William Giles, my nephew from England, who came over, let’s say, two years ago. That would make it less… unusual for me to be around as needed.”
He didn’t say it, but what the man was thinking was obvious. Why was Joyce choosing a bloody vampire as a possible legal guardian for Dawn, and not him? Because she’s gone ‘round the bloody bend, obviously. That tumor was in her brain, and she’d already had flashes of crazy. Clearly this was all just a more lucid variety.
“You’re Buffy’s Watcher,” Joyce said quietly, proving that the tumor wasn’t impacting her observational skills, at least. “You’re a father figure to her, but if I… if I die, and you come sweeping in to take care of everything….”
“It would feel as if I’m trying to take your place.”
“Whereas I already bloody live here,” Spike said with a sigh. He stopped his pacing to look at the woman on the bed. Maybe she hadn’t gone as sack of hammers as he’d thought. “All I’d be doing is stepping up to help out around the place. Bein’ Dawn’s legal guardian would be a way to keep her in her home with us, not someone else moving in to take your place.”
“Exactly. Though….” She hesitated. “Buffy is a related adult.”
Oh, god, there was a disaster just waiting to happen. Buffy was more than capable of taking care of the little bit, but with everything else….
“She’d shut down,” he said bluntly. “Everything she’s juggling right now, and if she lost you…. If she felt like she had to play mum to her sister, you’d end up with a slayer in burn out.”
And that way led to the possibility of her flirting entirely too close to the edge of a death wish. He didn’t say the words, just gave Rupert a look. The grim one he got back was a pretty clear indication that the other man was on the same page.
“My nephew has been living in this house for a year,” the Watcher said, “tutoring your daughters in lieu of rent.” He glanced over at Spike. “I’ll need your education history, so it can be used as a base for your credentials. Joyce can put the guardianship recommendation into her will, and Dawn is old enough that her wishes would be taken into consideration in any custody hearing. However, if Hank or another family member should initiate that custody hearing….”
“Hank is an only child, and his parents are both dead. Mine travel too much to offer stability, and my sisters would trust my judgment. So Hank, who I haven’t even been able to get a hold of, would be the only issue. And, honestly, the chances of him actually showing any interest in his daughters is rather low.”
“Wanker,” Spike muttered.
That got a wry smile from Rupert. Seemed they both had the same stellar opinion of Joyce’s ex.
“Be that as it may, the possibility does still exist. I think, though, that we can work around it. My contacts are very good at what they do. Within forty-eight hours, we’ll have a legal identity for Spike beyond all reproach, along with a forged document stating that Hank agrees that custody of Dawn should go to Spike in order to cause as little disruption as possible to her life. The language used will ensure that, should he fight it, he will come across as indecisive and unwilling to put Dawn’s wellbeing above his own wants. That, coupled with Dawn’s own wishes would mean that – as long she’s doing well in this environment – Child Services would be reluctant to remove her from her home.”
“Well, then, that’s all sorted, isn’t it?” Spike grumbled.
He felt… odd about it all. Unsettled. He wasn’t exactly averse to the idea of taking care of the Nibblet. Already was to an extent, wasn’t he? And he’d always been the sort to enjoy being needed. But this…. Just being entrusted with someone’s child, as if it was the most logical thing in the world.
“Will you do this?” Joyce asked, looking right into his eyes. “Will you take care of my baby? Both of my babies?”
He imagined them in trouble. Dawn feeling rudderless and alone. Buffy in over her head and drowning in it all. Would he do his damnedest to take care of them, with their mum gone and a crazy woman after the Bit? There was only one possible answer to that.
“Until the end of the world.”
Water and a protein bar a little less than fifteen minutes after the Gatorade and snacks. She wasn’t exactly looking forward to having to use the bathroom in this place, but she needed to keep hydrated. Especially with Spike pacing around the room restlessly and scratching at his wrist. It could have just been itchiness from healing, but Buffy wasn’t going to count on it.
She glanced at the band-aid slapped over the puncture wound on her hand. It had been a small enough puncture – just big enough for a vampire to suck from – so it was probably mostly healed by now. She’d gone for the hand because of the slayer dream. All that Manus Dextra stuff…. Except, Manus Sinistra had been shown, too, and Spike’s left hand hadn’t been involved at all. It wasn’t even where he’d been bitten.
She took a deep breath and blew it out up into her hair. Even with Spike helping with the interpretation, slayer dreams tended to be designed so they only made perfect sense in hindsight. But she had had his help interpreting this one, and they’d both had different versions of the same dream. If they couldn’t get perfect twenty-twenty vision of the whole thing in time, maybe they’d be able to squeak by with a strong seventeen-twenty instead.
The sound of Spike opening up some kind of granola bar caught her attention, a feeling of dread dropping down on her like a two-ton weight. Was the infection winning again, hunger compelling him to eat whatever was available, even if it wouldn’t actually do anything to help? Or….
He took a bite, rolling it from one side of his mouth to the other as he took a moment to enjoy the mouthfeel of something solid. A couple of chews before letting it rest on his tongue to take in the flavor. Then a few more chews followed by swallowing.
Oh, thank God, Buffy thought, knees going weak with relief. It wasn’t the virus. Just Spike being Spike. He was always popping something or other into his mouth. Cheese crackers, cereal, hot wings. Just about anything battered and fried. The pineapple chunks and cottage cheese she’d set out for her breakfast…. If he was bored or nervous, pretty much anything was fair game to be munched.
She finished off the bottle of water, watching him nibble and pace while she ignored the vague urge to yell at him for wasting food that the survivors would need. She’d realized after Mom’s death that cooking and eating human food helped him deal with stress. If a granola bar or two could do anything to take his mind off of the virus, she wasn’t going to argue.
Especially when she was pretty sure there wouldn’t be that many survivors. Not after everything Marvin had told her.
Spike stopped suddenly, his head tilted slightly as he went into a moment of that utter stillness only a vampire could manage. “Sounds like we’ve a little mousie scurrying about,” he murmured, staring at the door across from the one they’d come in through.
Then he moved, rushing forward to throw the door open before darting through it. There was the sound of things falling over, followed by a high-pitched scream and British swearing. Less than a minute later, Spike herded a young girl back through the door without actually touching her and risking setting off the chip.
Short blonde hair with a headband tucked behind her ears. A blue and white checkered vest over a short-sleeved button up shirt. Black shorts and a pair of tennis shoes over long black socks. It was the girl they’d both seen in the slayer dreams. The one that the G-mutant was going to be chasing after just as much as Spike.
Buffy had tried not to think too much about the mutant. Had even managed to completely forget about it since it hadn’t shown up yet. Now, though….
Adam had been intelligent and cunning. When Willow and Tara had layered spells all over the house to keep him from being able to find Spike, he’d gone on to a plan B. But Riley… Riley had been mindless, attacking and attempting to make more G-mutants out of everyone he came across until Spike had left the safety of the house.
She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, shuddering at the memories. God, she didn’t want to think about any of this right now. No choice, though.
If the current mutant was like Adam, they were in deep shit. Honestly, though, Spike’s dream had shown a desperate and wounded man injecting himself. Unless he just happened to have a G-virus control chip implanted, he was going to be more like Riley. And this mutant had two people it could sense as perfect for making more mutants. While they’d’ been apart, it would have been confused, possibly held immobile by not knowing which one to go after.
Now, though…. Just leaving the girl to take care of herself wasn’t an option Buffy was willing to consider. Neither was leaving Spike to wander around on his own to possibly turn into a zombie from the T-virus. The G-mutant was pretty much guaranteed to come for them, and they were just going to have to deal with it.
She took a deep breath before slowly approaching the obviously terrified girl. “Hi,” she said. “I’m Buffy, and he’s Spike. What’s your name?”
“Sh-Sherry Birkin.” Still scared, but some of the tension was gone as she realized they probably weren’t going to hurt her.
“Well, Sherry, there are a lot of monsters out there, but we know how to fight monsters, okay?”
The girl nodded and flashed a nervous smile. They looked different, and Sherry was at least a couple of years younger, but something about that look was so much like Dawn. At least she’s safe back in the RV, Buffy thought as she smiled back.
“Stay with us, and we’ll get you out safe,” she said, hoping she wasn’t making promises she couldn’t keep.
Hands reached for her, decayed fingers scrabbling at her clothes, catching at her hair. Had to keep them back. Keep them away while Giles reloaded. The crowbar swung, breaking the grasping hands, smashing in heads. Too many. There were too many, and Giles was taking too long. She couldn’t–
Three bangs. One right after the other. Heads exploded, sending bits of brain, blood, and bone splattering everywhere.
Three more shots rang out, then Giles grabbed her by the arm and pulled her into an alley. Except for them and two freshly shot zombies, the alley was empty. Safe. For now anyways. Dawn sat against the wall, closing her eyes as she caught her breath.
“How much farther?” she asked after a few minutes.
He hesitated before answering. “Another five miles, I think.”
Another five…. She swallowed hard and opened her eyes. Another five miles. Through a city crawling with the undead. You survived just fine in Sunnydale, she reminded herself, very determinedly not thinking about the fact that they were currently on the run from there. You can survive this.
A few more minutes to rest, and then they were back out on the streets of Raccoon City, making their way towards the police station.
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