She could see mountains through the window. Tall, snowcapped peaks drifting by in the distance. She should have been in school, but here she was, traveling east in an RV they’d borrowed from one of Spike’s poker buddies.
Dawn reached out, tracing random patterns on the window. She should have been in art class, painting something while daydreaming about the boy she liked. Then, at the end of the day, she’d go home and bake cookies with Mom and tell her about the day. But Mom was dead, and here she was, beyond the borders of her home state with Buffy, Spike, and Giles.
Has anyone even noticed? she wondered. Would her classmates think she’d just dropped off the face of the world, or would they be told the same story Giles had spun for the principal? That she and Buffy would be going to England for a few months to recover from Mom’s death. That Dawn would be doing homework packets for the last few weeks of school and would take her finals during the summer.
She’d have to do the homework packets and makeup tests – assuming she survived – but they weren’t the ones going to England. Willow, Tara, Xander, and Anya were already there, having a Watchers’ Council funded European vacation. She smiled slightly, remembering what had happened when the Council had come to Sunnydale a few months earlier, trying to throw their weight around and withhold information about Glory.
Buffy’s hands slam down on the table, cutting off the flow of words. “How dare you? I killed my boyfriend to keep everyone safe, and it’s not even the first time I’ve had to do something like that. How dare you come here and claim I’m not doing my job? And the vampire in my basement you’re bitching about? He’s done more to help and support me than you guys ever have, even before I kicked you out of my life. Slayer, fucking The. That’s me. The reason your little group even exists, and I’m not putting up with your bullshit. You can either go back to sitting around weaving baskets, or whatever the hell British people do so they aren’t being completely useless, or you can start jumping every time I say frog. Your choice, and you’ve got two minutes to decide.”
The smile faded as her thoughts circled back to the current situation. Buffy had called up the Council and said frog. And now the whole Scooby Gang had left their homes. All because of me…. It’s my fault….
She took a slow, deep breath, then forced her gaze away from the window. Her sister was sitting across from her at the RV’s table, muttering swear words under her breath as she worked her way through a thick stack of papers. Dawn dug into her pocket, then slapped a dime down on the top paper.
“For your thoughts,” Dawn explained when Buffy just stared down at it.
“Uh-huh.” Buffy poked at the coin with her finger before looking up. “I thought that was supposed to be a penny.”
“Inflation.” That got a little bit of a smile. “So, what are you reading? Looks kind of intense. You know, based on all of the swearing.”
“Intense is definitely one way to describe it,” Buffy muttered. Then she leaned back in her seat with a grimace before sighing and rubbing at her face. “It’s a report from Graham. He, uh, dug up a bunch of info on the people responsible for the G-virus and sent it to me months ago. But,” she shrugged, “it sort of got put on the back burner because of the Glory stuff and….”
Mom. The word hung between them unspoken, as if not saying it would somehow mean that she hadn’t died. There were cultures that refused to speak the names of the dead. Maybe that was why. It was too painful.
“And now it’s on the front burner,” Dawn said quietly. On the front while Mom was pushed to the back. It wasn’t fair. Riley had been dead for months, and it had been his own damn fault he’d forced Buffy to kill him. He’d been mourned more than enough as far as she was concerned. Mom had only been…. She took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “And we have to stop them, because they could still be after Spike.”
Mom would be okay with the back burner if it meant keeping Spike safe. They’d been friends. And he’d been there for them. He’d let himself get beaten up for her. For one of Mom’s little girls.
“Yeah.” Buffy said softly, and there was more to it than just agreement about the bad guys being after Spike. “Anyway, not a lot to do right now, so I figured I’d read through this. Lots of gross stuff about leeches and something called the Progenitor Virus. It got used to make the T-virus, and then the G. Because, you know, someone was clearly too busy with all the mad science to pay attention to the ABC song during kindergarten.”
“That’s why mad scientists are always getting thwarted. No appreciation for the basics.”
That got her another smile, though it dropped pretty quickly. “These particular mad scientists are a big part of a pharmaceutical company based in Raccoon City, Missouri called The Umbrella Corporation. They’re into some really nasty stuff. The T-virus was supposed to make bioweapons. It does that, but it also turns living people into zombies and, uh, it reanimates the freshly dead into zombies.” She was quiet for a moment, thinking about Mom again. Dawn knew, because she was, too. Buffy took a deep breath. “They tweaked it a bunch, adding some of Spike’s DNA to make the G-virus. You’ve… you’ve seen what that does.”
Dawn shuddered, remembering how awful Spike had looked when Buffy had brought him to the house last year. She hadn’t really been there for that, but the monks had been pretty thorough. She remembered it all. His chest patched up with staples and duct tape, oozing blood. The frequent coughing that also involved blood. And the remains of the things that had burst out of his chest.
Buffy had tried to hide them from her, but she’d seen. Just like she’d seen the ones that had come out of Riley’s victims. Those people had died. So had the things, and without any slayer assistance. They’d been all mangled and sickly compared to the ones from Spike.
And she’d seen Riley himself.
She reached forward and grabbed the papers, adding the much smaller stack of read ones onto the top. “I’ll read through it all and give you the Cliff’s Notes version.”
She shook her head, cutting Buffy off. “Let me do this. This is my kind of thing. Research… even when it’s all horrible and stuff…. It helps.”
Buffy sat quietly for a moment, just staring at her. Then she sighed. “Yeah, okay. You do the research thing. I’m….” Her gaze shifted, looking past Dawn and towards the RV’s small bedroom. “I’m going to check on Spike. Maybe get a little sleep.”
Dawn watched her sister head for the bedroom, quietly slipping through the door. Then she started to read.
She’d often joked that Spike could sleep through an explosion, but Buffy carefully eased the door closed before approaching the bed with nearly silent footsteps. Then she sank down to her knees beside the bed, her fingers reaching out to lightly brush against his sleep-tousled curls. The mussed hair made him look oddly vulnerable, especially with the bruises streaked across his face and the lips that were still slightly swollen.
Her fingers drifted down, not quite touching as they cataloged the injuries to his face and torso. The holes Glory had poked into him with her own fingers were mostly filled back in. He’s getting better, she told herself firmly, fighting the urge to open up a vein for him. The blood she and others had given him right after the rescue had already done a lot for him, and he was healing. The lamb and expired hospital blood in the mini fridge would be enough for now.
She closed her eyes and just breathed in his scent for a moment. Leather and smoke. Something kind of like that scent in the air right before a thunderstorm. The cool, earthy smell all vampires seemed to have in common. He was here. He was safe.
She hadn’t been able to save Riley from his own terrible decisions and inferiority complex. She hadn’t been able to save her mom from the aneurysm. But she’d been able to rescue Spike from Glory. She would keep him safe. And she would keep Dawn safe, even if it meant being on the run for the rest of their lives.
Spike twitched slightly, letting out a soft whimper before muttering something that sounded like, “won’t tell.” Nightmare. She could wake him up, or….
She stood up and quickly took off her shoes before shimmying out of her jeans. Then she carefully climbed into the bed, trying to curl around Spike without jostling him too much. All she had to do was fall asleep while thinking about him, and she’d be in his dream, able to make herself a part of it or disrupt it. As she drifted off, she thought of the first time she’d purposely gone into his dreams.
Buffy stormed up the stairs, absolutely furious as her mother’s words echoed through her thoughts.
“This is my house, young lady, and you are the daughter here, not the mother. My friends are my business, not yours. And there will be no disinvites, unless it’s for Angel. You just gave that man access to my home without even asking me.”
Mom didn’t want to discuss it any further? Fine. Mom didn’t want her going downstairs to “bother” Spike while he was sleeping? Also fine. She didn’t need to go downstairs to give the damn vampire a piece of her mind. She strode into her room, slamming the door closed behind her, then kicked off her shoes before flopping down on her bed. She so wasn’t sleepy at the moment, but that wouldn’t be a problem. The little pebble on her nightstand would help with that. Willow had made the charm for her to help with trance work. It should work for this.
She took a deep breath, grabbed the charm, and closed her eyes, thoughts firmly on the freeloader in her basement.
One moment, she was in her bedroom, and the next she was in a weird, brightly lit room. She knew she was in a dream, and she refused to let it fully take shape around her, leaving just the bright room with wispy figures standing over a metal table. A metal table with a very non-wispy and very naked Spike lying on it.
“What the hell is it with you always being naked?” she exploded. Of course. Of course he’d be having some weird, perverted sex dream. “Put some damn clothes on.”
He slowly sat up, a strange expression on his face that made her uneasy. It was almost like she could identify it, but didn’t quite want to. Then it was washed away by a lazy smirk. “Sorry, pet. My dream, my clothing choices. Same rules as for my bedroom.”
His bedroom. The one in her mother’s basement. The one Riley kept insisting Spike needed to move out of now that Adam had been destroyed. Riley had only met her mother once. Why should he get any kind of say in who lived in her house? Buffy shoved that uncomfortable thought aside and focused on why she was there.
“This has got to stop,” she said, crossing her arms and starting to pace, looking anywhere but at Spike. She lingered on one of the wispy figures for a moment, some of the details becoming a little clearer. Was that… a scalpel? She turned away, pushing aside the growing unease.
“What, you going to bed thinking of me and then going walkabout in my dreams all uninvited? Couldn’t agree more. Feel free to shove off.”
She scowled and turned towards him, keeping her eyes firmly on his face. “I mean all this,” she waved one arm in an encompassing gesture, “with you and my mom. It’s bad enough that you’re watching soaps and bad daytime TV with her, but now cooking classes? Really? Why are you doing this? Is this some kind of sick game to you? Stringing my mom along so you can hold it over me or something?”
The words popped out, echoing what Riley had been saying lately.
They got her a snort of disgust and a raised brow. “Just a mite bit self-centered, are we? May have escaped your notice, pet, but the world doesn’t revolve around you. Did it occur to you that I’m ‘doing this’ because your mum is her own person, and that person happens to be my friend? Something that hasn’t seemed to have bothered you much until now. Someone been whisperin’ in your ear, have they?”
“I haven’t… that’s not….” She shook her head and looked away. Stupid vampire. Why did he always have to be so perceptive? But that didn’t mean Riley wasn’t perceptive, too. Sometimes someone on the outside could see more clearly. On the outside…. Did I seriously just think of my own boyfriend as being on the outside of my life? She shied away from the uncomfortable thought and focused on Spike again. “I want you out of my house.”
“You want, is it?” he said in a mocking tone. “And out of your house? Funny, here I thought it was Joyce’s house. What exactly is your problem, here? Worried your mum’s gone dotty and needs to be protected from making her own choices? Wonder what she’d say to that.”
Buffy tried not to squirm. Mom hadn’t taken it well at all, insisting that she’d just keep inviting Spike back if Willow did a disinvite. And then all that stuff about Angel. Spike’s sudden laugh pulled her out of her thoughts. He’d stood up at some point and was right there, all naked and in her personal space. She scrambled back.
“You talked to her, first, didn’t you?” His eyes brightened with unholy glee. “That’s why you’re here in dreamland, isn’t it? Trying to convince me to leave on my own because Joyce told you where to stick it.” He laughed again, then went serious. “I’m not going to hurt her. Couldn’t, even if I wanted to, remember?” He tapped his head. “But I don’t want to. Didn’t even hurt her after Dru tossed me aside like yesterday’s rubbish, and that’s why you never bothered, in all that time, to have me disinvited.”
He was right. That was why. She’d known that Spike had developed a weird sort of respect for her mom after the ax thing. She’d known that he’d never have gone after Mom to get to her. And not just because he liked Mom. He would have considered it… tacky.
Maybe the problem wasn’t that Mom thought she knew more about vampires than Buffy did. Maybe the problem was Riley thinking he knew more about this particular vampire.
Buffy stared at the wispy figure with the maybe-scalpel, trying to put it all into perspective. Her mom had gone through a divorce, moved to a new town, had to deal with a child who she thought was some kind of delinquent. And then she’d found out the truth about her daughter and that her daughter’s boyfriend had turned into an evil monster…. And the next time she saw that monster, Buffy was inviting him to waltz right into the house. Into her mother’s house.
The wispy figure was becoming more clear as she stared at it. She could almost…. Oh, God. That was…. She knew, suddenly, just what that strange expression on Spike’s face had been. A mix of terror and relief. The wispy figure was Walsh, standing over the table he’d been lying on with a scalpel. She hadn’t barged in on some kind of weird sex dream. She’d disrupted a nightmare. One that could become all-too-real with Walsh still out there somewhere.
“Fine,” she said abruptly, turning to face Spike. “I’m not going to argue about you staying, but you are going to wake up now and pull your damn weight around the house.” He opened his mouth, but she interrupted before he could say anything. “Mom’s pissed off, so you have to watch chick flicks and eat ice cream with me. My room, twenty minutes from now. And don’t be late.”
And then she forced herself to wake up before he could respond.
She hadn’t come for him. She’d left him there.
She hadn’t come, but someone else had. He stared through swollen eyes at the two women. Glory and Walsh. The one with his blood still on her hands, and the other just waiting to get hers on him again. And there, behind them, was Adam, rebuilt and ready to…
He couldn’t breathe. His chest was too tight, and he couldn’t breathe. Things writhed and scrabbled inside of him, clawing at his lungs, trying to wriggle out through the holes Glory had jabbed into him with her fingers. She laughed and clapped in childlike glee before darting forward, her nail pressing against his chest. Pressed and pressed, turning slightly, drilling a hole in his chest and he couldn’t breathe and….
“Seriously? Again with the naked? What’s up with that?”
Air that he didn’t physically need filled his lungs as he took a deep, shuddering breath, the newcomer’s voice banishing the monsters from his chest. Glory and the others became wispy, then vanished as Buffy refused to acknowledge their existence. She’d come for him. Even in his nightmares, she’d come for him.
The chains strung from the ceiling to his wrists were the next thing to go, Buffy catching him before he could fall. She’d come for him, and he could breathe. Don’t even need air, you bloody git. True, but it didn’t matter. He took another deep breath, sucking in air until his lungs ached from it. He’d always hated not being able to breathe, ever since he’d “woken” upside down in an already occupied coffin and had had to dig himself out. The G-virus larvae growing in his chest and bursting out hadn’t exactly made that particular trauma any better.
“I’ve got you,” Buffy murmured, walking him towards the bed. Her nose wrinkled adorably in distaste. “I’d accuse your imagination of torturing you with how gaudy this all is, except I saw the real deal when I rescued you.”
He snorted at that, the pain from his injuries fading to what they were in the waking world as the nightmare lost more of its hold on him. “Please. My imagination has far better taste.” He made a show of glancing about, pretending he wasn’t holding tight to the slayer to keep the gibbering panic at bay. “Entirely different color scheme, of course. Maybe a few skulls and cobwebs for ambiance. Leather and studs along with the chains.”
He glanced back at Buffy in time to catch her rolling her eyes. “We’re talking about nightmare torture here, not your own personal love nest ideas.”
The banter was helping, grounding him in the present, where the horrors of the past and fears of the future couldn’t touch him.
Then everything changed, the dreamscape mutating into something else as the distinct feeling of a Slayer dream settled over him.
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