The sign read “Welcome to Raccoon City.” Spike’s hands shifted on the steering wheel, nudging the DeSoto towards the sign.
“We aren’t here for that,” Buffy said from the passenger seat.
“Spoilsport,” he muttered, straightening the wheel.
“This is my stop,” she said. Her door opened, showing a black void instead of the destroyed city streets he saw through the windows.
“It’s dangerous to go alone.”
“Two by two, while the third wheels come and go,” she agreed. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back before dinner.”
She dove into the blackness. Then it was his stop.
Without stopping the car, he opened his door and stepped out into a lab. A familiar looking sandy-haired man in a white lab coat was filling a case with vials of variously colored liquids. William Birkin. One of Walsh’s cronies.
Men burst into the lab, wearing black combat armor and ventilator masks. The verbal exchange was distorted and indistinct, but the gunfire was painfully loud. The men in armor took the case, leaving Birkin a bloody, dying mess. Dying, but not dead. Shaking hands grabbed up one remaining vial of purple fluid and loaded it into a syringe. And then….
“He sees you,” Dru said from behind Spike as Birkin began to mutate, one arm swelling grotesquely as an eye the size of his head grew out of the injection site on his shoulder. “The virus wants you.” She gently turned Spike’s head, showing him a little girl in what looked like some kind of warehouse or industrial plant. “He sees her, too. Daughter of the host. A dead man and a living girl are not the same. One makes perfect little monsters to run all about. The other… she absorbs the parasites. She becomes a monster. The virus wants her just as much as you, my darling boy.”
His eyes narrowed. Mutated William Birkin wanted the girl? He was bloody well going to make sure the bastard didn’t get anything he wanted.
Spike chased after the girl, running through the living room of a large house, then a parking garage before splashing into a sewer. That was where he lost sight of her.
“Bloody buggering fuck,” he swore, coming to a stop and looking around. No point in trying for her scent in a bloody sewer. Still no sight of her, but there was Buffy, in the sewer, with the inside of a library behind her. “You seen a little tidbit wander by?”
Tidbit… he could really do with a bit of snack right about now.
“You just missed her,” Buffy said.
“Bloody hell,” he muttered, scratching at his wrist. His gaze wandered, noting the rats lapping at the green liquid seeping from a broken vial. “Stupid chit is going to get herself nabbed by the bloody mutant.” Then he tilted his head as he looked beyond Buffy. “Looks like you’ve your own situation to worry about, love.”
She turned back toward the library, leaving him to his own task. He took two steps before finding himself somewhere that looked like it could have been the cousin of the Initiative, right down to Walsh sitting in front of a collection of screens, one of them showing himself, Buffy, and the little girl in a parking garage. Another showed Dawn and Rupert with an Asian woman. Two… creatures stood behind Walsh. The human features were different and the demon bits weren’t all the same, but he recognized them as the same sort of thing Adam had been.
“The spider queen in her lair,” Dru murmured from behind him. “Little flies had best stay away.”
“I’m no fly.”
“Maybe no, maybe so,” she singsonged. Then she spun him around, taking his hands and positioning them under the faucet of a bathroom sink. Blood began to flow from it. “Just remember to wash your hands before dinner.”
The towel she gave him said Manus Dextra over an image of a closed right fist.
“Wouldn’t want to have bad manners.”
He turned away from the sink, drawn by a barely heard sound. As he walked through the darkness, he started to make it out. A girl was singing.
“… two by two, hurrah, hurrah.
The ants go marching two by two, hurrah, hurrah.
The ants go marching two by two,
The little one stops to tie his shoe.
And they all go marching…
To the ground…
To get out of the rain.
The girl he’d been trying to find was suddenly right there in front of him. “Boom,” she whispered. And behind her, something exploded.
“… Don’t worry, I’ll be back before dinner.”
Buffy dove into the blackness beyond the car door, rolling as she hit the ground. Then she got to her feet and went through a door into what seemed to be a gun store. The man behind the counter looked sad and rundown. And was pointing a rifle at her.
“You’re going to need this,” the man said, setting the rifle on the counter.
She wrinkled her nose. “Yeah, no, guns aren’t really my thing.”
“Killing monsters is your thing, using whatever tools will do the job.” As he spoke, Buffy found herself looking out the window. Smashed cars were everywhere, and bodies lurched through the streets. “Distance is your friend,” the man said from right beside her, pressing the rifle into her hand. “It’s the best way to deliver your gift.”
“I don’t think I’m ready to be Santa Claus.”
She opened the door, stepping through into something that looked like it had once been a museum. There was even a giant statue of a woman near the back, resting on an even larger base. She walked towards it, over bloody shoeprints and past makeshift medical areas. Past the patterned rug and desk that declared she was in the Raccoon Police Department. There was a long gold plaque on the statue’s base with three round depressions almost as big as her head.
They filled in with three medallions, a unicorn, a woman, and a lion. The base changed as each medallion appeared, until it was gone, showing a gated door. It wasn’t time for that. Not yet. She turned away and started walking through a library.
“Gonna follow the script, B, or do what I would do?” Faith asked, strolling along beside her.
“Somehow, I don’t think trying to steal boyfriends is really going to help that much.”
“Ooh, feisty. You’re gonna need that.” Faith reached out to grab her arm while something rustled back in the stacks. “Flip the script, B. The Puppet Master thinks she knows you, but she’s only seen the tip of the iceberg. Don’t do the expected.”
“I’ve already cut the strings.”
“Don’t let them put new ones on you,” Faith said. Then she knelt down and picked a card up off the floor before pressing it into Buffy’s hand. “Don’t give up. You’ll figure things out if you keep going until it’s almost time for dinner. Probably.”
Buffy stared down at the card. Manus Sinistra. The open left hand. The edge of the card dug into her right palm, drawing blood. She let it go and watched it fall. Fluttering down, down, a slow spiral into the sewers where beady-eyed rats lapped at green liquid seeping from broken vials. They scattered as a girl – not much younger than Dawn – ran past. A man reached out of the shadows and grabbed her, the pendant she was wearing breaking away and falling to the ground in a parking garage. Then the man and girl vanished into the darkness just as someone else came splashing into the sewer.
“Bloody buggering fuck,” Spike swore as he came to a stop, glancing around. “You seen a little tidbit wander by?”
“You just missed her.”
“Bloody hell,” he muttered, absently scratching at his right wrist. “Stupid chit is going to get herself nabbed by the bloody mutant.” Then he tilted his head, looking beyond her. “Looks like you’ve your own situation to deal with, love.”
Something was rustling in the stacks again. She turned, but it was too slow, like trying to move through syrup. Whatever was in the stacks jumped out at her….
“The cheese must stay together!” a bald man insisted, waving a slice of cheese at her. There was a hole in the middle, with the missing piece stuck to the side of the slice.
The man slapped the cheese onto her still bleeding palm, then pushed her away.
She stumbled onto a moving train. The little girl from the sewer was curled up on a bench, wrapped up in Spike’s jacket. The pendant she’d lost fell from her hand, becoming a stopwatch, counting down the time.
Spike half fell, half rolled out of bed, landing in a heap of tangled blankets on the floor before he could fully open his eyes. Had to get up. Had to find Buffy. Had to…. Had to, what, exactly? He took a slow, deep breath and tried to gather his scattered thoughts.
Buffy was off hunting after her right git of a boyfriend, who was refusing a shot to control the G-virus running rampant through his body. Spike shuddered and forced back the panic and memories of Adam. Huddling in the corner and just screaming for a while might have been nicely therapeutic, but it wouldn’t be terribly helpful in the current situation.
The current situation…. Right, okay. Buffy had gone all squirrelly a few days before (Right around the time you had that dream of kissing her), and then, this morning, she’d told him about Soldier Boy. She’d insisted that Spike stay in the house, which still had all the magical protections against Adam. That it would keep him safe if the worst happened and Finn came after him in an attempt to make more G-virus monsters.
And then he’d had the dream. Could have just been a wonky nightmare, he reminded himself. Wouldn’t exactly be the first time. No. No, that wasn’t right. It hadn’t been a normal dream. There’d been an odd sort of weight to it. Like….
The stars pressing down, Dru’s voice murmured in his memories, whispering all their thoughts while the pixies listen in.
Prophecy. Slayer dream. He’d had a bloody slayer dream.
He stared at his left hand for a moment, then snapped into action, pulling a notebook and pen from his nightstand before throwing on a pair of sweatpants. Then he hustled up the stairs to the kitchen, shoving Dawn’s homework off the table to make room.
“Hey!” the girl protested. “What the hell was that all about?”
He ignored her, scribbling down everything he remembered from the dream.
Finn’s body twisting and changing.
A woman screaming.
Buffy with tears in her eyes.
Things almost like the ones that had burst out his chest, but weaker and malformed. Dying.
The smell of burning flesh.
A monster’s scream.
Walsh, looking at a giant tube, smiling in satisfaction at the mutated Riley Finn suspended in fluid within.
And in another was Spike himself, screaming soundlessly while things ripped through his chest, pouring out in never ending waves.
FIRE! FIRE! FIREFIREFIRE!
The pen broke from the pressure he was using, which had been enough to go through a couple of pages. Spike blinked down at it, vaguely noticing that he was drawing in rapid little gasps of air. G-virus mutants on the loose. Had to breathe. Needed to be able to breathe….
He shuddered and tried again to throw off the sense of panic from the dream. “Bad things going down, little bit. Your sis happen to have a flamethrower lying about?”
He grabbed one of her notebooks, skipping past the pages of maths notes to a clean page to make notes of his own. There had been a pattern to the dream, messages hidden in the small details just as much as the large. Fire was an obvious theme. They needed fire to stop Finn, and he didn’t think his lighter was going to cut it.
Fire to stop the monster. The G-virus regenerated its host, causing mutations as it went to work. Could fire early enough destroy the mutant before it got too impervious to harm? Those tanks for him and Finn, what would be, or a warning of what might, if they didn’t use the fire soon enough?
“Um… no?” Dawn answered uncertainly. “I don’t think. She’s got a rocket launcher somewhere, but, um, I don’t think it has any ammo.”
Right, okay. Not a problem. He knew a few demons who owed him and might have what he needed. It was daytime, but that wouldn’t stop him. He’d hit the sewers, call in his marks, and should have the hardware by nightfall.
Then he’d just have to find Buffy, who would likely already have found Finn. And if not….
If he’d mutated enough, Finn would be the one finding him.
Spike slumped back in the seat at the RV’s table, bringing his cigarette to his mouth for a long drag. He let his eyes flutter closed, savoring a few more hits of nicotine before leaning forward and putting the fag out. Buffy, Dawn, and Rupert were gathered about, the RV pulled over while they tried to figure everything out.
“Right then,” he said, looking at the four open notebooks spread across the table. One was an account of the dream he’d just had and another was Buffy’s. The bits at the beginning and again when they’d both dreamt of the sewer were highlighted in purple in both notebooks.
Another of the notebooks was the one he’d just been scribbling down notes in, filled with circled and underlined bits and random questions. He tapped a circled phrase with a pen. “Two by two seems fairly straightforward. You said it at the beginning of the dream,” he inclined his head towards Buffy, “and the girl was singing about ants going two by two. Then there’s the mention of third wheels and me seeing us in groups of two, each with an extra.”
He pulled over the fourth notebook and wrote, Stay together. Keep the Bit with the Watcher.
Then he tapped another circled part of his notes with the pen. “The rats drinking the green stuff is important.”
“Are you certain of that?” Rupert asked with a slight frown. “They only showed up once, seemingly as background.”
Spike shook his head. He’d thought about that, that maybe it was just to show whoever had nabbed the viruses had gone through the sewer, but it didn’t feel right. “I’ve been working out daft bits of prophecy for over a hundred years. Trust me on this. We both dreamt the same basic thing, there, but had different perspectives on it. And we both noticed the rats drinking from a broken vial.” He looked towards Dawn. “You’ve been reading through Graham’s report. It say anything about something green?”
The girl nodded, looking pale. “Um, yeah. That sounds like the T-virus, especially with the rotting people lurching around that Buffy saw. It basically makes zombies. Symptoms are being itchy and getting really confused, and stuff. And, um, majorly hungry. Like, eating other humans levels of hungry, and that’s just super gross.” She shuddered, then glanced at Spike. “Um… no offense.”
“None taken, pidge,” he said with a slight smirk. He pushed aside uneasy thoughts about the dream. His wrist had itched at one point, right around when he’d been thinking about being a mite peckish. Probably just bleed through from reality. Healing from torture tended to itch like crazy once you got to a certain point. “Though I’ll have you know that humans are bloody delicious.”
“Ew.” Her face wrinkled up adorably. “I so didn’t want to hear that.”
“Stop grossing out my sister,” Buffy said, giving him a light smack to the back of the head. He obliged her with a loud “ow” and a glare. “You’re the one with all the history of analyzing this stuff, so get back to analyzing.” Before he could do that, though, she leaned forward and poked at his notes, where he’d circled and underlined the words before dinner. “I really don’t think this is of the good, especially with all the talk about virus victims being hungry.”
“Also, they start rotting while still alive,” Dawn added in helpfully.
“And you worry about me grossing her out?” Spike muttered. Then he tapped the fourth notebook thoughtfully before writing down that the T-virus was loose in Raccoon City, spread in part by infected rats. “With the dinner thing, there are a few things to consider. It could just be a time reference, but I doubt that. One of the references involved your hand getting cut by my card from the enjoining ritual. Another involved my hands getting washed in blood. Could be something is going to try to eat us, and the only way out of it involves the bond between us from that.”
“The presence of the cheese man definitely implies that, if nothing else,” Rupert added. His pet theory was that the cheese represented the power of the slayer, and Spike thought he likely wasn’t too far off, there. “The concept of dinner might also be metaphorical, and not someone being literally eaten.”
“Hell, it could just mean we need to stock up on snacks,” Buffy said. “My slayer dreams like to give me weird, cryptic advice about my love life, like, ‘hey, yeah, don’t kiss Riley or the sun will go down.’ So maybe this time it’s trying to tell us we’re gonna miss dinner and need to pack a big lunch.”
He wondered how things would have gone if she’d actually listened to the advice about Finn. Would have saved her a lot of heartbreak. He kept that thought to himself. “Somehow, I doubt that’s what it means, though it definitely wouldn’t hurt.”
He added that to his notes. Stock up on snacks, firearms, and ammo. The chip would have a fit if he tried to aim a gun at anything, but it had been pretty clear that Buffy would need to be armed with distance weapons. Rupert probably had contacts that could get them the guns. And I’ll handle the snacks. Knowing her, she’d pack up granola bars and all that diet nonsense. He’d make sure she had jerky, candy bars, and things like peanut butter crackers. Definitely some of those cheesy goldfish crackers she loved.
She gave him a thoughtful look. “If we went ahead and gave you all the blood in the fridge, would it last you a while, or just cause a big ol’ food coma and be gone?”
“Last a while, though not as long with all the healing I still have to do.”
“That could even be part of the meaning behind the before dinner references,” Rupert pointed out. “Any blood to be had in Raccoon City is likely to be contaminated. Even if we give him everything we currently have, it’s likely he’ll need some from Buffy, especially with another G-virus mutant on the loose.”
“Thanks for the reminder,” Spike grumbled.
Not that he’d exactly forgot the beastie would have to be dealt with. Or that it would be after him and the girl. Or that Walsh seemed to have two more Adam-creatures under her control. Don’t matter. Helped to take out Adam, didn’t I? And he’d got the flamethrower to Buffy in time, even if Finn hadn’t been mutated quite enough to no longer count as human. If this new monster wanted to jam his larvae down Spike’s throat without even taking him to the cinema or buying him dinner first, he wouldn’t live to regret it.
He took a deep breath and slowly blew it out. Time to get back to work. “Right, give me a minute to get more of this figured out.”
He studied the notes he’d made about the two dreams, writing more things down in the fourth notebook. Finally, he thought he had it as figured out as he could manage.
“Walsh and some of her lot are holed up in Raccoon City, where they’ve been tweaking the G-virus in a hidden lab. Someone came for – or is going to come for – all the viruses William Birkin has been working on, which leads to him turning into a big nasty. And during all this, the T-virus gets out into the population, creating a sodding zombie horde for us to deal with. We also have to worry about doing something before dinner and keeping Little Girl Birkin out of Big Daddy William’s clutches.”
“Also, keep you out of ‘Big Daddy Birkin’s’ clutches,” Buffy piped in. Her hand rested on his thigh, gently squeezing. “I really don’t want to slap your ass back together with duct tape and staples again.”
“Not my ass that’s in danger here, love, though thanks ever so for that particular mental image.” He managed a slight smile for her. “And no worries on the duct tape and staples. Thought I’d pack up some super glue and elastic bandages. Seems a mite more dignified, you know?”
“Be that as it may,” the Watcher said quietly, “we’d rather you stay in one piece, if at all possible. You’ve grown on us. Rather like a fungus, honestly.”
Spike snorted. “You just like having someone else about from across the pond, especially one who’s even older than you are.”
“Well, yes, that goes without saying.” Then he leaned over the table to look at the notebook. “I had a thought about the young lady’s pendant… ah, yes, fairly similar to what you have here. It likely contains something important or is a key to something important. My thought was that it’s likely time sensitive, as well.”
Spike nodded and made note of it. “Good point, that. Countdown might also have something to do with the explosion at the end of my dream. Either way, time limits seem to be an important component. Before dinner. The stopwatch. Trying to get down to the ground before the rain and things going boom.”
Buffy shifted closer to him, peering down at the page. “Okay, so, we go in, take out as many of the zombies as we can, stop Walsh and the G-virus mutant, save the girl, and all while keeping Dawn safe.”
He almost expected the nibblet to protest, but there was an air of subdued seriousness about her. “That might not be possible. Spike saw me and Giles on one of Walsh’s screens.” She glanced around the RV. “Somehow, I kinda doubt she has cameras set up in here.”
“Not bloody likely,” Spike muttered. Beside him, Buffy had gone unnaturally still, no doubt torn on what they should do. “The slayer dreams seem to mean this is a problem only we can solve. If we don’t go to Raccoon City, it’s like to come back and bite us on the arse later. That being said, one thing I learned with Dru’s visions is that no future is set in stone, even if some of them are so likely they might as well be.” He reached out to grip Buffy’s shoulder. “The future is what we make of it, and we’ll be doing our damnedest to make sure it’s one where we all come out of this intact.”
“I’ve some contacts that help us toward that,” Rupert said, moving towards the front of the RV. “We’ll stop at the next town, get what we need, then head on towards Raccoon City. Agreed?”
Buffy looked at all of them, taking a deep breath and releasing it in a sigh. “Agreed. Let’s do this.”
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October 20, 2020 14:17