There were things in the dark behind them. Soft rustles of clothing. Thumps as bodies bumped into walls. Low, hungry moans. Lost, mindless bastards seeking sustenance to ease a hunger that could never be assuaged…
Even with the taste of tainted human blood still lingering on his tongue, Spike could feel the echo of that hunger. He tried to shove it back. To ignore it, along with the deep ache in his wrist. He was himself at the moment, but there was no telling how long it would last. Human blood was more potent than animal, especially when it came to healing, but the virus-laden soup he’d sucked up off the floor hadn’t magically cured him. Had probably made things even worse.
Don’t think on it, he told himself, putting on a bit more speed. Now’s not the time.
He had to get Buffy back to the lobby, where she could see and had the ammunition she’d need to fight. If one of the things behind them got to her…. If she was bitten….
She was a tense weight over his shoulder, holding herself rigid instead of just letting herself slump limply. Part of it was no doubt so she could stare into the darkness behind them. Another part…. He knew her well enough. Knew she was fighting the urge to struggle free. If she struggled, the chip could decide he was trying to hurt her. Even if it didn’t, her trying to get free and run right now would slow them down. And the things in the dark would catch up.
If they got to her when she couldn’t effectively fight back…. I’ll kill her first, he thought grimly. If she got bit…. Grab up one of the guns and just start firing. The chip would go off as soon as he so much as pointed a gun in her general direction. No clue what would happen to him if he was actually aiming to kill, but he didn’t give a damn. He’d take care of his slayer. Wouldn’t let her become a zombie.
Yeah, well, move your arse, and maybe it won’t be a problem. He could see light ahead, coming under the first rolling security door they’d come across, the one between the east wing and the lobby. Bloody thing had jammed only a couple of feet up, and they’d just left it.
“Almost there,” he said.
Then, just as she started to move around, he bent and set her on the ground on her back. One push, and she was under the door, vanishing from sight as an unfamiliar male voice said he had her. Bloody hell!
He felt something at his back as he dropped down. Something pawing at his leg as he slid under. Then an exhausted looking black man in a police uniform was pulling him the rest of the way through before Buffy slammed the security door down. Safe. For now.
Was a right nasty wound on the man’s side, and Spike could smell the infection coming off it in waves. Wouldn’t be much longer before they’d another zombie to deal with.
“Marvin Branagh, Raccoon City Police,” the cop said. “You two alright?”
“Marv,” Buffy murmured. Then she glanced down at the man’s wound before looking to Spike.
Bloody hell. Another one she wouldn’t be able to save. He slowly got to his feet, making eye contact with her as he shook his head slightly. That same look of despair and resignation washed across her face before she replaced it with something more neutral.
“We’re fine,” Buffy said. “More or less. But I can’t say the same for the man who gave me this.” She pulled the little book out of her pocket. “This is for you.”
“Damn,” Marvin muttered, carefully taking the book as if he thought it might bite. “Come on. We’ve got things to talk about.”
Then he slowly made his way towards the center of the lobby, clutching at the wound in his side. The one that wouldn’t have been fatal in pretty much any other situation.
She didn’t remember sitting down. Just needing to get out of the house. Going outside. And now she was sitting on the porch steps, and she wasn’t entirely sure how long she had been there.
Mom was…. Buffy wrapped her arms around herself. Her mother was going to spend the night in the hospital. It’s probably a good thing, she told herself.
The passing out. The headaches. Something was clearly wrong, even if the trance she’d done hadn’t shown anything. Maybe the overnight stay at the hospital would give better results. Maybe the doctors would be able to point to something this time, and just say, “oh, this is the problem.” And then just… fix it. Fix Mom. All better.
The door opened, and then someone was sitting down beside her. They moved in sync, Buffy leaning in against Spike’s chest just as he slid an arm around her shoulder. Would Riley have been there like that for her, if she hadn’t been forced to kill him a month ago? Or would he have been so obsessed with finding Walsh that she would have ended up leaning on Spike for comfort, anyway? The familiar grief and anger barely stirred. The mind-numbing terror over her mom was too heavy, holding all other feelings down.
“I don’t know what to do,” she whispered. There was nothing for her to fight. Nothing she could punch until Mom was all better.
“What can you do?” Spike asked.
Okay, that was seriously unhelpful. She already knew there was nothing she could do. That she was useless right now. She didn’t need her nose rubbed in it, but she couldn’t even summon up the energy to be mad at him.
“Not meant to be a rhetorical question, slayer,” he said sharply. “Nothing you can do to make your mum all better, but that don’t mean you can’t do anything at all.”
What could she do? She felt sluggish. Stupid. It didn’t feel like she could do anything at all, other than just sit there. “I… I don’t know. I guess….”
“Life goes on, even with your mum not feeling her best. I can take over all of the cooking.” His voice was gentler now. “What can you do?”
Buffy blinked, forcing herself to think. Mom was sick, but the world was still turning. Things still had to be done, and there was a lot that had been giving Mom trouble lately. Things that Buffy had been helping with, but hadn’t fully taken over. Just like Spike with the cooking.
“I can wash the dishes,” she said. “Maybe work out a schedule with Dawn with them. And with cleaning. I guess I can help her with her homework.”
“That’s my girl.” She didn’t have to see his face to know he was smiling at her. She wanted to insist that she wasn’t his girl, but couldn’t seem to form the words. “I’ll help out with the homework, too. Maths and science, and such. Probably for the best if I don’t try with that nonsense you lot call English.”
She couldn’t manage a laugh, but her lips twitched up into a smile. Then the smile fell, and she just sat there, leaning against him and letting him hold her. Half the time, she didn’t know how she felt about him, but right now, she was grateful for another real adult there while Mom was sick. It helped her feel more in control. Less like a little kid in over her head.
“You’ll drown in the can’ts, if you aren’t careful,” he said quietly. “Went through that myself with Dru and with…. If you just keep focusing on what you can’t do, you’ll never get ‘round to what you can. Just remember that. Focusing on the can’t never helps anyone.”
Focusing on the can’t…. There were so many things she couldn’t do. So many things that she’d failed at. Riley. Angel. Ford. All of the victims she hadn’t been in time to save.
She took a deep breath and just… let it go. For a little bit anyway. For right now. She could let go of all of her couldn’ts and think about all the things she could do.
Step, step, step, turn. Step, step, step turn. Not enough. He needed something more. He swiped a retractable pen from the receptionist desk. Step, step, step, turn. Click, click. Step, step, step, turn. Click, click. That was good. He could work with that.
He took a slow, deep breath. Click, click. Step, step, step, turn. Click, click. Step, step, step, turn. Click, click. Click, click. Deep breaths. In and out. Click, click. Step, step. Click, click. Step, turn. Click, click.
Focus inward. Feel his body. Click, click. Clickety-click. Tune out the drone of Buffy and Dead Man Walking. Or sitting rather. They were up near the large statue of a woman that Buffy had seen in her dream, sitting on a leather bench seat while talking about whatever was in that book. She shot him an annoyed look as he continued clicking the pen, but didn’t say anything. Probably because of the worry lurking there under the annoyance.
Another slow, deep breath. He needed to focus, not let his attention wander. He closed his eyes. Click, click. Pace and click, find the relative calm of the motion. Feel his own energy, starting with the tingly buzz of slayer power concentrated in his left hand. The feeling of it faded away not far past his wrist. The other wrist, though….
Sludge. A thick soup of tangled nastiness that was creeping down into his hand and up into his arm. The normal sparking hum of his own demonic energies were fighting back, trying to stop the creeping sludge, but it was as he’d thought. His healing was going strong, but the infection was stronger.
He’d be a liability if he didn’t find a source of untainted human blood, and he wasn’t even certain that would be enough at this point. The only option was slayer blood. Enough to destroy the infection without leaving Buffy too depleted.
He opened his eyes, still in a calm, near-trance state. He tucked the pen into his pocket, then lifted both of his hands, staring at them as he slowly curled them into fists before straightening them back out. Then again. And again. He was barely aware of the surges of pain in his wrist as he did it. One hand full of slayer power combined with vampire. The other infected with a virus that would turn him into a mindless…thing. If only there were a way to –
Buffy’s voice cut into his thoughts, pulling him completely back to reality as she walked towards him. She’d left good ol’ Marv sitting back by the statue.
“We’ve got a lead on those medallions from my dream.” She held up the little book, then put it in her pocket. “I’ll tell you about it while we look for survivors.”
Survivors…. The hunger stirred. If there were any true survivors, they’d be untainted. Fresh, clean blood. Bodies made up of tasty bits of flesh and….
No. Bloody well not going to consider any of Buffy’s survivors as dinner. He froze for a moment at that thought. Dinner…. Bloody hell.
There was incense lit and some sort of red sand spread about on the floor in a circle. The slayer was sat in the middle of it with her eyes closed, lotus-style and looking vaguely constipated.
“What’s all this meant to be, then?” Spike asked. “And why is it keeping you from getting your arse downstairs to eat the pot roast I’ve been slaving over for the past six hours? Nibblet said you’ve been up here doing some sort of smelly magic.”
“Smelly” was definitely one way to describe it. It smelt like the sorts of incense Dru had sometimes used, but even she’d had the sense not to do it in a closed up bedroom.
Buffy’s eyes snapped open. “Pot roast? Six hours? Didn’t you just…?” She blinked and glanced over at the clock. Then her entire body seemed to deflate a bit. “Damn. I’ve been trying to do a magic trance thing Tara recommended. She… she said I’d be able to see it. If anyone was using magic to hurt Mom.”
Ah. So that was the way of it, then. His annoyance immediately drained away. He hadn’t smelt any magic around Joyce. Didn’t necessarily mean anything since he couldn’t always smell that sort of thing, but he strongly suspected that whatever was wrong was natural. Joyce was just… sick. No telling Buffy that, though. Not yet. She wouldn’t believe him until she’d confirmed it herself. Tried whatever she could to find an enemy she could vanquish.
He tilted his head to the side, studying the setup she had going on. He wasn’t sure if the ritual she was attempting really needed all that rubbish, but she was definitely going about getting into the trance state all wrong.
“Stand up,” he repeated, circling around her. “You’re more likely to pass out from boredom than go into a trance like that.”
She gave him a dubious look but stood up anyway. “And what, exactly, would you know about trances?”
“Quite a bit more than you obviously think. May not be a witch, but I know my way around a ritual.” He raised a brow. “Remember what I was doing before you dropped a bloody organ on me.”
A look of contrition spread across her face, and she opened her mouth, probably to apologize. Then her eyes narrowed. “Yeah, no. You totally had that coming, and you know it.”
Fair point. From her perspective, at least. From his, well, he’d just been saving the woman he loved, hadn’t he? But none of that was important at the moment.
“You get into a trance by stilling your thoughts,” he pointed out. “A lot of people, they do it by stilling their bodies, first. For the likes of you and me, though? Not our style. If we’re not moving about, it means our thoughts are doing it instead. No way to have both completely still. So, what you need to do is stand in your little circle there and go through a set of exercises.”
Another dubious look, but, again, she did as he’d asked. Some simple stretches that flowed into a series of fighting moves, all kept contained within that circle of sand. Not bad. He walked around her as she moved, clapping his hands together lightly in time to her heartbeat.
“Now, just let yourself move. Don’t try to think or not think. Close your eyes and just be.”
That was it. She was moving faster, but her heart rate was staying fairly even. All her worries temporarily drifting away. Suddenly, she went completely still for a moment before her eyes snapped open. They were dilated and slightly glassy, like she was looking beyond the world.
She stared in his general direction, her gaze locking on his left hand. Then she turned and headed out the room.
Spike took a deep breath and slowly let it out. Well. Seemed to have worked, then, hadn’t it? He quickly cleaned up the mess of sand on the floor, then waited for her to return. Shouldn’t take her long to go have a look at her mum. And she’d need support, whether she found anything or not.
She was back after roughly five minutes, looking pale as a ghost.
“I….” She blinked at him. “There was nothing. Around Mom.” She stopped talking for a moment and shuddered. “But Dawn…. She kept vanishing.”
Dawn had vanished. He’d sent her ahead deeper into the hardware store while he’d worked on blocking the main doors, and now he couldn’t bloody find the girl. He moved quietly through the shelves, gun in one hand, his finger near – but not on – the trigger.
“Dawn,” he called softly.
No response. No sounds of a teenage girl shifting about. No moans or shuffles from any of the walking dead.
There’d been too many of them out on the main road, along with too many abandoned cars. If they were going to make it to the police station, they’d have to try for the back alleys. And Dawn would need some kind of weapon. She’d no experience with firearms, and unlike her sister, she’d no supernatural affinity for weapons that would have made her an expert in very little time. The hardware store had seemed like a safe choice.
Seemed being the operative word there. No indication that any zombies had broken in, but he also couldn’t find –
There. A sound. Giles spun towards it, finger sliding towards the trigger…. Then he jerked it away and pointed the gun at the floor as Dawn came out of the ladies’ room.
“Sorry,” she whispered. “Had to pee. And I, uh, found this.” She held up a bright blue crowbar. “Figured I could use it to, you know…” She trailed off as she swung it through the air a few times.
He nodded slowly as he eyed her makeshift weapon. And prayed to every god he’d ever heard of that they could somehow avoid her having to use it.
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