DL 1.11

Aug. 13th, 2005 01:33 am
[identity profile] eee1313.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] dancing_lessons_archive
Lesson the Eleventh: When It Rains...

by cousinjean
We're In This Together by Nine Inch Nails
Let's Dance by The Ramones

This one's for Dynagirl. While I hate to lose anybody from the lineup, if not for her busy schedule my part in this story would have ended with Lesson the Eighth. I'm happy to get to go again, but Dynagirl, your contributions will be missed.


The crypt door slammed open. The Slayer emerged, for what she figured would be the last time, carrying a duffel bag full of armaments. Not her usual assortment of stakes and holy water, but guns. Heavy assault stuff, meant to do serious damage. A parting gift from Spike.
It started to rain.
"Perfect," she said. It came out sarcastic, though the rain provided a perfect setting for her mood. She dropped the duffel bag, fell to her knees beside it, and tilted her face up, letting the drops wash the tears from her face. She wanted to stay that way forever.
Buffy Summers had reached the end of her tether.
Glory knows Dawn's the Key, she thought. Glory... Xander... that bitch! That fucking bitch!
Buffy would make Glory pay for what she did to Xander. Of that she felt certain. The hell bitch would pay for him... and for Spike.
How Glory was to blame for pitting Spike against her again, Buffy wasn't sure; but she'd think of something. Glory took that chip out of his head, for one thing. If not for the chip being gone, Buffy could give him the benefit of the doubt, she could still trust him, depend on his help. She wouldn't be obligated to turn him into a big pile of dust the next time she saw him.
But she did still trust him, to an extent. She believed what he told her about Glory, that if she tried to run with Dawn the goddess would come down on them all before they were ready. She believed Glory had tried to coerce him, and that he meant no harm. Not anymore. He really did love her. She still didn't understand how that could be possible, but she finally believed it.
Even so, she couldn't trust him not to be what he was: a vampire.
A vampire with whom she'd let herself come too damn close to falling in love.
Fresh tears mixed with the rain and washed down her face. Buffy got to her feet, picked up her new toys, and headed for home.
The vampire hazarded a peek from beneath the manhole cover in the street, paying no mind to the rain that came in on him as he did. He had a good view of the Summers residence from there, even if it was a bug's eye view. Bloody lot of good it did him, though, if they weren't ever going to come home.
He'd seen Giles come, and then leave again with the boy. Spike had winced upon seeing Xander again in that state, driven mad by Glory. The boy was, at best, a pain in the ass, and at times he could be a right wanker; but he was also a brave kid. Loyal. He didn't deserve that.
Nobody'd been to the house since the Watcher left. Spike had planned to camp out there, in the tunnel near Buffy's house, so he could be nearby in case anybody made a move on Dawn. He'd let Buffy think he left town, but he'd be damned if he was going to leave her now, to face Glory without him. Buffy was going to get his help whether she wanted it or not. Whether she wanted him or not. It was past mattering what either of them wanted. The hell god was too strong for either of them to face on their own. Only together would they stand a chance of taking the bitch down. Sooner or later Buffy would come around to that fact.
And if she didn't? Well, she'd probably stake him. And this time, she wouldn't miss.
It was a chance he would just have to take.
With a sigh, he lowered the lid and dropped to the tunnel floor, where he slumped against the wall. If Buffy was going home, she'd have been there by now. He knew she'd made it out of the crypt okay. He'd hung around and waited, hiding in the shadows of the cavern, just in case she couldn't figure out how to free herself. He'd forced himself to stay put when she'd begun to cry, one wretched sob after another until she almost choked on them. Spike knew those sobs had been a long time in coming. The girl was becoming a regular Sisyphus. She went through hell time and time again, and every time it looked like she was near the end, something would come along and knock her back down. But still she kept fighting, kept pushing that rock up the hill. He admired that to no end; but he feared that one day, she wouldn't be able to push anymore, and she'd let the sodding rock bowl her over. It was what he'd tried so ineffectually to warn her about that night at the Bronze all those months ago, but he'd let his Big Bad bravado get in the way of the message. It killed him that he couldn't go to her and make her see that she wasn't struggling up the hill alone. That rock was as much his burden now as it was hers. Sisyphus had been damned for eternity; but Spike suspected that Sisyphus hadn't had a vampire hell bent on loving him.
Since he couldn't hold her, he had instead cried right along with her. When she finished, she'd made short work of her bonds and freed herself in record time. He'd been ready to move, in case she decided to look for him, but instead she'd climbed the ladder to the mausoleum and left. After that, Spike had come straight here, to keep an eye on her home.
So if she hadn't come home, then most likely she'd gone to the magic shop, or to her Watcher's. Likely the whole gang would be holed up at one place or the other. The shop was too public, Spike decided. The Watcher's, then. Spike didn't know how to get there through the tunnels. He'd have to wait until dark to head over there. At least he knew the area well, having had the unfortunate experience of being Giles' "guest" for several months right after he'd gotten his chip. He knew of several places nearby he could hide until he was needed.
He had a few hours until sundown. He couldn't remember the last time he'd slept. Now's as good a time as any, he figured, and settled onto the floor of the cavern. As he closed his eyes, another option occurred to him: what if Buffy had tried to take Dawn and run?
"Bloody hell," he muttered, too worried by the thought to sleep. He sat back up, lit himself a cigarette, and waited for dusk.
Ben yawned and shrugged back into his white coat as he headed out of the hospital cafeteria. In the corridor, he stopped short when confronted with a knight in full medieval armor and chain mail, complete with a scarlet, floor length cape. The knight snapped to attention in Ben's presence and boomed, "You summoned me, Lord Benignus?"
Ben looked around the corridor, and grinned at a passing nurse. "Yeah," he said, loud enough for her to hear, "the children's ward is this way. You know, it's really great of you volunteer your time for the kids like this. Great costume, by the way." As he spoke, he led the knight into an unoccupied room.
"You idiot!" he said. "First of all, it's just Ben. Second of all, could you possibly be any more conspicuous?"
"My sincerest apologies, my Lord," the knight replied.
"Fine, whatever. Just, cut it out with the 'my Lord' stuff. Not while we're in public."
"As you wish," the knight said. "You did summon me, did you not?"
"Well, yeah, but I'd think you'd have enough sense to keep it low profile when coming to see me at work." He eyed the knight's armor. "Don't you get hot in that get-up?"
"Physical discomfort is the least of our considerations, sir."
"Right," Ben said, "'cause the potential for heat stroke always makes for an effective warrior." He shook his head. "Anyway, I need you to assemble your men."
"Right away, sir. The purpose?"
"Glory has found the Key. I really hoped it wouldn't come to this, but time is running out. If she gets a chance to use the Key, it's all over. I want you to beat her to it, and destroy it. By whatever means necessary."
"But, sir," the knight said, "we have not yet been able to uncover the Key's location. Do you know where it is?"
Ben sighed. "Yeah. I do."
"Buffy!" Giles sounded alarmed as he met her at the door. "Willow, go get some towels. Buffy, you're soaked!"
"Way to state the obvious there, Giles," Buffy said.
"We were out of our minds with worry. It's been hours since you asked me to go get Xander."
"How is he?" she asked, and as Willow handed her a towel added, "Thanks."
"Anya took him home," Willow said. "Buffy, he's so not good. What Glory did to him--"
"I know," Buffy said, and squeezed her arm. "I saw him. Believe me, Glory will pay. And if there's a way to make him better, we'll find it."
Willow nodded. "Tara said maybe there's a spell that can reverse it. She went home to see what she could find."
Dawn came out of the kitchen. "What about Spike?" she asked.
Buffy sighed. "What about him?"
"I kind of mentioned that Spike was there at Glory's condo," Willow said.
Buffy nodded, and looked at Dawn. "Spike's gone."
Dawn looked worried. "What do you mean, gone?"
"He left town."
Dawn visibly relaxed, obviously relieved the answer didn't involve dust. Then she shook her head. "No. Spike wouldn't just leave. Not now."
"I didn't leave him with much of a choice."
Dawn stared at Buffy. "You made him leave?"
"No," Buffy said, "I tried to kill him. But he got away, and said he was leaving."
Buffy fixed her gaze on her younger sister. "Did you know about the chip?"
"What about the chip?" Giles asked.
"Glory tried to brain suck him and knocked out the chip."
"Good Lord," Giles said. "When?"
"I'm not sure, but it's been a while. I'm guessing at least since around the time he fought those knights off of Dawn."
"But, that was months ago," Giles said. "You mean Spike has been going about unrestrained all this time?"
Buffy nodded. "And I'm guessing Dawn knew. I had a feeling there was something you two were keeping from me, but I thought you'd have the sense to tell me about something this major."
"Major?" Dawn asked. "Buffy, it's Spike."
"Right, Dawn," Buffy said, raising her voice. "It's Spike! The vampire! That chip was the only thing keeping him in line."
"Yeah," Dawn said, "that's why we're all so dead now. 'Cause Spike's some big bad killer with no self-control. That's why he never just waltzed into our house and killed us in our sleep."
"He couldn't," Buffy said. "He lost his invitation, remember?"
Dawn looked at the floor.
"Oh, God," Buffy said. "You didn't."
"He'd just saved my life, Buffy! I didn't want to be in the house by myself!"
"You mean to tell me that for the past few months Spike has not only been going around without the chip in his head, he's also had access to our house?"
"No," Dawn said. "I mean, yeah, if he wanted to, but he wouldn't come in. He said he wouldn't come in again until you invited him. He doesn't want us dead, Buffy. He cares about us."
"I know," Buffy said, "but that's not the point. What about the rest of the town, Dawn? What about all those 'Happy Meals with legs' walking around out there? How many people do you suppose he's killed since he got the chip out?"
Dawn looked shocked at the suggestion. "None!"
Buffy laughed. "I know you're young," she said, "but try not to be so damned naive."
"I'm not!" Dawn looked frustrated. "Why would Spike still be drinking butcher's blood if he was getting the good stuff? Go look in his fridge if you don't believe me, it's stocked with animal blood."
Buffy sighed. She had a point. "You should have told me," she said.
"Why?" Dawn asked. "So you could run my only real friend out of town?"
"Dawn!" Willow said, looking hurt. "Spike's not your only friend. You've got all of us."
"Sorry, Willow," Dawn said, looking at the floor. "I know you guys care about me, but still, you're Buffy's friends. If not for her, you wouldn't hang around with me."
Again, Buffy laughed. "And you think Spike would?" She regretted saying it as soon as she saw the hurt in Dawn's eyes, but it needed to be said.
"Maybe at first he hung around me to get close to you," Dawn said, "but he kept taking care of me even after he knew he didn't have a chance with you. When he found out I'm the Key, he's the only one of you who didn't act all weird and treat me like some kind of freak. All he's done since I came into existence is protect me!" She looked accusingly at Buffy, her eyes glazed over with tears. "And you made him go away. God, Buffy! I mean, what does it take? How far does he have to go to prove himself to you?" Without waiting for an answer, she turned around and ran up the stairs, where Buffy heard the bathroom door slam shut.
Buffy hung her head, and sighed. "Giles, she's right. Spike's never done anything but protect Dawn." She looked up at him. "What if Wesley's first translation of that prophecy is right? What if I just chased away the only chance she had of surviving all of this?"
"Prophecy?" Willow asked. "There's prophecy now?"
Buffy nodded. "Wesley told Giles he found a prophecy about a vampire knight who protects the Key. He thought it was about Angel, but now they think it might be about Spike."
Giles patted Buffy on the shoulder. "If there is one thing I've learned about prophecy, it's that if it's truly meant to be, it will happen, despite our best efforts to avoid it."
"Great," Buffy said. "So what if the other translation is the right one?"
Willow looked even more confused. "Other translation?"
"That Spike might kill Dawn instead," Buffy said.
"Oh," Willow said. "Oh, that's not good."
"No," Giles said, "it's not. But Wesley faxed over the original text and I've been going over it to try and find out for certain."
"Any luck?" Buffy asked.
"Not as yet. It's a rather tricky language, you see."
"It must be," Willow said. "I mean, is he meant to save her, or kill her? That's kind of an important distinction, don't you think?"
"Indeed," Giles said, returning to a stack of books on the table, "which is why I intend to keep on it."
"It doesn't matter," Buffy said. "We don't even have any way to know for sure that it's about Spike. And I can't go around second guessing myself because of some vague prophecy. And Spike's gone. He left, and he won't come back. I told him that if he does, I'll kill him."
"But would you?" Willow asked. "I mean, I know, he's a vampire, and that's kind of your job description, but, Dawn has a point. He really has done a lot of good things lately, and it's not like he had the chip or anything making him do them. Do you... would you really be able to kill him?"
"I don't know," Buffy said. "If I have to, I will. But it doesn't matter. He won't be back."
"How do you know?"
Buffy went over to the window and to watch the rain. Several faces flashed before her: Angel, Riley... her dad. And now add Spike to the list.
"Because they never come back," she whispered.
A group of punk rockers boarded the subway car to make their way home from a concert at CBGB's, or maybe to head somewhere they could continue partying. They were unaware of the predator in their midst. The vampire joined in their post-clubbing enthusiasm, and played along as they gleefully trashed the subway car, screaming all the time about anarchy and rock and roll. He wondered how long it would take them to realize that three members of their party were missing.
He grinned as he headed away from the group towards the empty cars at the back. His mood hadn't been quite this good in years. His appetite for both violence and blood had been sated by the three punks he'd picked a fight with behind the club; His lover waited for him back at the flat they shared, and she could never get enough of him when he'd just had a good kill; also, it really had been an incredible show back at the club. Joey and the blokes had been on tonight.
His grin widened as he walked through the empty cars. "Hey baby if you're all alone," he sang as he went. "Baby you'll let me walk you home." He moved on to the next car. Yep, this night just keeps getting better. "Hey baby yeah you swing it right." He arrived at the last car. He kept singing as he peered in at it's lone occupant. "Yes I know that tonight's the night." As he stepped through the doors to the last car, he became positively giddy. She stood at the opposite end, tensed and ready to go. Just like any good partner should be.
"Well let's dance," he sang as he approached her.
The Slayer lunged at him, and landed a punch to his face, knocking him back, hard. But not knocking him out. He recovered quickly, and landed some good punches of his own before she managed to smash his head through the subway window. Despite the pain, he howled into the night air, exhilarated. This was a beautiful dance. Her every move was fluid and graceful, and they moved together with all of the familiarity of old lovers. But something was wrong. She wasn't as into it as she usually was. She wasn't enjoying it. As he held her down and looked into her eyes, he could see why. She'd grown tired of the dance.
Time to find a new partner.
He snapped her neck. As he took a moment to study his handiwork, he realized something wasn't right. Her ebony skin had turned pale, and her hair had grown long and turned blonde. As he looked into the dead hazel eyes staring up at him, his joy turned to dread as his heart dropped into his stomach. "Buffy," he gasped.
Spike lurched forward with a start, and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes as he gained his bearings. He was in the electrical tunnel under Revello Drive, just as he should be, but he could still hear the rumble of the subway from his dream. He shook his head and climbed to his feet. The sound wasn't from his dream. It was coming from above him. It sounded almost like... hoof beats?
Spike sighed. "What now?"
Buffy didn't know how long she stood at the window, watching the light fade. The rain didn't show any signs of letting up. Has to be some kind of metaphor for my life, she thought.
"I'm going over to Xander's," Willow said. "See if I can help Anya. Want to come?"
Buffy turned around. "Yeah. We should all go. It'll be safer if we stick together."
Willow's eyes widened. "I thought you said Spike left town. He, you don't think he'd--"
"Spike's the least of our problems," Buffy said.
Giles looked up from his book. "How do you mean?"
Buffy looked from Willow to Giles. "Didn't I mention?" Off of their perplexed expressions, she sighed. "Glory knows about Dawn."
"What?" Giles asked.
"Oh my God," Willow said.
"Guys, look," Buffy said, "we have to stay calm."
"But, Buffy," Giles said, "while I admire your grace under pressure, don't you think perhaps you should take Dawn and, um..."
"Run away?" Willow finished for him.
"Well, I was going to say hide," Giles said, "but I suppose that doesn't sound any less, er..."
"'Fraidy-cattish," Willow supplied.
"Yes. Thank you, Willow."
"Not that we think you're a 'fraidy cat," Willow told Buffy.
"Gee, thanks," Buffy said. "But believe me, I'd like nothing better than to take Dawn and get the hell out of Dodge. But I can't. Glory told Spike that if we run, she'll kill us all. And I don't think we could outrun her."
"Then, what're you gonna do?" Willow asked.
Buffy shrugged. "I honestly have no idea. But Spike also said she's not ready to use the Key yet, so we've got time to come up with something."
"Are you certain of that?" Giles asked. "It seems to me you're putting an awful lot of faith in the word of a creature whom you spent the better part of the day attempting to kill."
"I know," Buffy said. "Call it a gut feeling, but I don't think Spike was lying. You'll just have to trust me on this."
Giles sighed, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "All right," he said. "It seems to me that the key -- er, no pun intended -- the key to finding out Glory's weakness lies in the knowledge of what exactly the Key is for."
"Great," Buffy said. "Bring your books, we can do research at Xander's place. Willow, you should probably have Tara meet us there. And have her bring some of your spell books. Maybe we can find some spells to fight Glory. And if nothing else," she said, going to retrieve the duffel bag she'd dropped inside the door, "we can always just shoot the skank."
Giles eyed the contents of the bag. "Where on earth did you get those?"
"Spike's. I'm not sure where he got them, but I'm betting they're leftovers from when the Initiative was in town."
"Do you really think you can just shoot a god?" Willow asked.
Buffy shrugged. "I don't see how it could hurt." She called up the stairs to Dawn, then turned back to her friends. "Do me a favor, guys. Don't say anything to her about Glory knowing. I don't want to frighten her until it's absolutely necessary."
"Right," Willow said. "'Cause being unfrightened is a good place to be. I kind of wish I could be there with her right now."
"Sorry, Will," Buffy said.
"Hey, no big. I mean, it's not like paralyzing fear for your very existence isn't a way of life in Sunnydale."
"Yeah," Buffy said. "It's just one big thrill after another in this town, isn't it?"
Spike peeked out from beneath the manhole cover and squinted through the rain to see what looked like the entire cast of Camelot taking position on Buffy's front lawn.
"I don't suppose they're preparing to sing 'The Lusty Month of May,'" he said.
"Slayer!" an official looking knight in a red cape shouted. "Surrender the Key, and you will be spared!"
"Nope," Spike said, "guess not." He wondered how long the knights would wait before they figured out nobody was home. He could probably slip away unnoticed and make it to Giles' without being followed, and let Buffy know what was going on. Except that Buffy would try her best to stake him before he got to tell her anything. Maybe he could telephone...
The squad lined up and aimed arrows at the house. Spike found himself enthralled by their primitive tactics. Where did they think they were, the bleeding Tower of London? Who the hell shoots arrows at a house in the middle of suburbia? Then again, who the hell wears chain mail and full battle armor in Southern California? These blokes were obviously all one fry short of a full Happy Meal. As Spike watched, one of their ranks passed in front of the line and lit fire to each of the arrows.
"Oh, sodding hell," Spike said as they let the arrows fly. He was up and out of the manhole and running towards the back of the house in an instant. What if the girls had come home while he'd been asleep? Unseen by the knights, he ran through the yard and up the back steps. The door was locked, but it was easy enough for him to kick it in. "Buffy?" he called as he ran through the kitchen. "Dawn?" No answer. Apparently they hadn't come home. He had just enough time to sigh in relief before he heard glass breaking in the living room as another round of flaming arrows assaulted the house. The curtains had caught fire in the living room, and the blaze was already too big for Spike to even hope to put out by himself. He ran back to the kitchen phone and dialed 911, then laid the phone off its hook as he looked for weapons. He found a small arsenal stashed in a trunk in the living room. Picking up a formidable looking battle axe, he squared his shoulders, and charged out the front door.
"Hi, guys!" A frighteningly cheerful Anya met them at the door. "Come inside. Xander, look honey, your friends came to see you!"
Xander sat on the living room floor, hunched over the coffee table, examining a box of crayons. The table itself was covered with at least a half dozen crayon drawings. Buffy walked over to look at them.
"Hi, Buffy," Xander said as she approached, sounding much like himself.
Buffy smiled. "Hey, Xand-man. How do you feel?"
He seemed to struggle with a response. "Cat brains are sticky!" he blurted.
Buffy sat on the floor next to him. "I think I know the feeling." She looked over his drawings. Most were childish and simple, but some betrayed his draftsmanship, indicating that Xander was still in there. She leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Xander, I'm so sorry I let this happen."
He furrowed his brow and shook his head. "Glory."
"I know," Buffy said. "We'll get her."
"Hi, Xander," Willow said, coming to join them.
"Willow!" He grinned and looked at Buffy. "It's Willow!"
"Whatcha working on there?" Willow asked, pointing to the picture in front of him, a series of stick-figures.
"Scoobies," he said.
"Cool," Willow said. She pointed to a figure with red hair. "Hey, is that one me?"
Xander nodded. Buffy leaned forward to look, and pointed to a figure with floppy ears and a tail.
"Is that a dog?" she asked.
He shook his head. "Scarecrow."
"A scarecrow," Willow said. "That's an interesting choice of creative license."
"No!" Xander slammed his hand on the table, causing everybody to jump. He seemed to struggle for the right word. "Rainbow," he said. "Flying monkey?" He looked at Buffy, his eyes pleading for her to understand his meaning.
To her amazement, she did. "Oz," she said. "It's supposed to be Oz."
Giles approached, and leaned over to look at the drawing. "It's not a bad likeness."
Xander smiled, and went back to work on the portrait.
A knock sounded on the door.
"I'll get it!" Anya announced, opening the door to reveal Tara, loaded down with books. "Oh good," Anya said, "everybody's here now. Would anybody like tea?"
"That's not necessary," Giles said.
"Good! I'll go make some." Anya disappeared into the kitchen.
Tara looked confused. "I, I brought as many of our spell books as I could," she told Willow.
"Great!" Willow hopped up to help her with her load. "Did you bring the Agnes Nutter Compendium?"
"Yeah," Tara said, "it's on the bottom. I, I think it got a little wet on the way over. I'm sorry."
Willow looked to be on the verge of a freak out, but then she shrugged. "No big. What's a little water damage to a piddly little four-hundred year old book? It was a second printing, anyway."
"It was raining really hard," Tara said.
"I know," Willow told her. "Really, don't worry about it. We have bigger problems right now." She led Tara over to the dining area, where they launched right into their research.
"That reminds me," Giles said, "I've got my own books down in the car. Excuse me while I go get them."
Buffy nodded. She noticed her sister still hanging back by the door. Whether she was still sulking over Spike or newly upset about Xander, Buffy couldn't tell. "Dawn," she called, "come look at Xander's pictures."
As Dawn walked over to them, Xander put down his crayon and rifled through the pile of finished drawings. He pulled one out, and showed it to Buffy. It was a bunch of swirly scribbling done in green and blue crayon.
"Pretty," Buffy said.
Xander pointed at it. "Dawn."
Buffy looked at him. "Really?"
He nodded, and took the picture to hand to Dawn.
Dawn stared at it for a long time before she took a deep breath and asked, "Is this what I really look like?"
He nodded, and smiled. "Big Energy Gal," he said.
Dawn smiled. "Cool."
"Yeah," Xander said.
She knelt at the table. "Can I color too?"
Buffy smiled as she watched them sort out the crayons to share, then she stood up. "I'm going to see if Anya needs help with the tea."
She could hear the kettle's whistle blowing as she neared the kitchen. Inside, Anya stood over the sink, arms folded, staring at a strip of picture-booth photos of herself and Xander tacked up on the fridge.
Buffy quietly removed the kettle from the stove. "How are you doing?" she asked.
Anya snapped out of her reverie and turned to face Buffy. "Fine," she said, planting a cheerful grin on her face. "Um, what kind of tea do you think everyone likes?" She started to rummage through a cabinet. "We have... well, we just have the one kind, actually."
"I'm sure that'll be fine."
Anya nodded, and began to steep the tea bags.
"You know," she began, her smile never fading, "Xander and I have talked a bit about getting married. Not that we're engaged or anything, he always says 'some day' whenever he brings it up, but still, 'some day' always eventually becomes 'now,' you know?"
Buffy nodded.
"We're still too young," she continued. "I mean, I know I'm ancient, technically, but in human years... and when we do get engaged, I think it should be for at least a year before the wedding. Don't you?"
"Sounds about right," Buffy said.
"I read somewhere that a year is best," Anya said. "Xander just got a promotion, you know."
"No," Buffy said, "he didn't tell us that."
Anya beamed. "They're making him a crew chief on the next job. It's a lot of responsibility. He..." Her smile cracked, and so did her voice. "He wasn't sure whether to take it, because then he wouldn't be home as much, and he... and now he..." Anya's face crumpled as she broke down, grabbing a dish towel off of the counter and crying into it. Buffy hugged her.
"We have to fix him," Anya said between sobs. "If... if I still had my powers, I could fix him."
"Maybe," Buffy said, "maybe not. But that's not how it works."
"Then how does it work?" Anya demanded, breaking off the hug. "How does it work that last night he was Xander, and he was laughing and making fun of my politics, and we were making love and he was fine, and then I left and, and now he just sits there, and colors, and I don't even know if Xander's in there!"
"He is," Buffy said. "He's still Xander. He's just... stuck. And we'll find a way to help him get unstuck."
"What if we don't?" Anya asked.
"We will."
"But what if we can't? What if... oh, God, Buffy. I don't know how to take care of him. I don't even know how to take care of me without his help."
"Then we'll all take care of him," Buffy said. "We'll take care of both of you. That's what family does."
Anya nodded. "I love him, Buffy."
"I know you do." Buffy hugged her again. "We all do."
It wasn't a bad fight, all things considered. A lone vampire against a cadre of fully armored knights--he'd lasted a lot longer than he expected to. Of course, they'd beaten the shit out of him, but not before he'd gotten in plenty of licks for the home team. He might've done better if he'd gone in for the kill, but he'd held back. Upon reflection, he realized that his desire to prove himself to Buffy was turning out to be just as detrimental to his physical well-being as the restraining chip had been. Still, he marveled, he felt a certain sense of pride about the fact that the bodies he'd left strewn about the lawn were merely unconscious. Even if it did mean that they were able to capture him, and were carrying him on horseback to an almost certain second death.
At any rate, he accomplished what he'd set out to, which was getting the bastards to stop trying to burn Buffy's house down. Even so, as they'd hog-tied him and draped him over the horse, through his haze and his bloodied eyes he could see that his effort had probably been too little, too late. Even in the street, he could feel the heat coming off of the house. He could only hope that the rain would slow the fire enough that the fire department would be able to save the house. He kept his eye on the blaze as they carried him away, willing it to stop, praying to whoever would hear the prayers of a creature like him not to let Buffy lose her home, not to take away the last traces of her mother. Only when he heard sirens approaching from the distance did he allow himself to pass out.
He came to again on the grounds of a building he was getting to know all too well. Glory's condo. So, the round table rejects worked for her, then. He felt his heart plunge into his stomach. The Knights would report that the Slayer hadn't been home, and Glory would think she'd taken Dawn and run. For all he knew, that was exactly what Buffy had done.
He feigned unconsciousness as he was hauled off of the horse and dumped on the ground. His captors cut his feet loose, but left his hands bound. His pretense earned him a kick in the ribs. "Get up," the one in the cape commanded as he was hauled to his feet. "Can you walk?"
"Sure," Spike said, "just soon as the ground stops going all wobbly."
"Follow me," the caped one ordered.
Spike kept still as the knight took off for the building's entrance. Posh place like this, Spike thought, you'd think there'd be a twenty-four hour doorman. Of course, he supposed, if there had been, they'd probably killed him. Wouldn't do to have overly curious building security when you had scabby demons and medieval knights coming and going at all hours. Before the caped knight got very far without him, something sharp jabbed him in the ribs from behind.
"Hey! Watch the leather!"
"The General said to follow," another knight ordered, brandishing a spear at him.
Spike sighed, and did as he was told.
Inside, on the elevator, he looked both of his captors up and down. "I used to be a knight, y'know," he confided. "'Course, in my day we didn't go for the whole swords 'n armor bit that you blokes seem to enjoy so much. It just meant people got to call me Sir William." He reflected on this for a second. "Not that they ever did. Still, I got to meet the queen." He nodded. "Nice lady, even if she was a bit dour after the prince up and --"
"Silence!" the General ordered, cuffing him across the mouth with his armored glove.
"Just makin' conversation, mate," Spike said, and spat a mouthful of his own blood on the floor.
"You will not speak until Lord Benignus bids it."
Spike raised an eyebrow. "Lord whatsus?"
"Ben-ig-nus," the General enunciated. "And you will speak his name with all due respect."
"Sure, sure," Spike said. "Sorry, just a little thrown. I thought we were going to see Glory."
"We are not in league with the Beast."
"Oh, you're not, eh?" Spike laughed. "Guess your helmets don't protect you from hell god memory tricks. I hate to break it to you, Lancelot, but your Doc Beningitis and Her Magnificent Whore-ificus are one and the same."
The General sighed. "Lord Benignus may be cursed with the unfortunate affliction of having to share matter with the Beast, but they are not one and the same, and neither are their agendas."
The elevator doors opened, and the other knight shoved Spike into the corridor.
"Lay off!" he said, then turned back to the General. "So, it's a time-share deal, eh? Well that's different then, innit?"
The General raised his hand to knock on the penthouse door. "I'm warning you, vampire. Do not speak to Lord Benignus until you are spoken to."
Spike did his best to look solemn, and nodded. The General knocked. After a moment, Ben opened the door.
"Benny!" Spike offered his most jovial grin. "Long time no see, mate. How's tricks?"
"Silence!" the other knight ordered, punching him in the stomach. Spike doubled over in pain.
"What the hell is that vampire doing here?" Ben asked.
"My Lord," the General said, "he was at the Slayer's residence. Alone. The Slayer and her sister were nowhere to be found. I've sent a party out to search for them, but as the vampire was so intent on protecting the house, it seemed logical that he might know their location. I thought you might like to question him before we killed him."
Ben looked at the General. "What do you mean, 'protecting the house?'"
"Your boys here tried to burn Buffy's house down," Spike said. "They may have bloody well succeeded."
Again, the other knight punched Spike in the stomach. Spike grunted, but managed to stay upright that time.
"Was that really necessary?" Ben asked.
"Sir," the General said, "he injured most of my men."
"No, I mean the house. As if you don't call enough attention to yourselves in those outfits, now you're starting house fires?"
The General had the decency to look chagrined. "We did not realize they were not home, my Lord. We were attempting to force them out of hiding."
"If there's one thing I know about Buffy," Ben said, "it's that she's not one to hide from a fight."
"Damn straight," Spike said.
The knight raised his fist to strike him again, but Ben grabbed it. "That's enough," he said. "You guys, untie him and go back outside. You're dripping all over the carpet." As they obeyed, Ben went into the guest bathroom and came back with a towel, which he tossed to Spike. "Dry off, and clean yourself up. If Glory sees blood on the carpet she'll get suspicious."
Keeping a wary eye on the hell god, Spike dried his rain soaked hair, then wiped his face with the towel. He was surprised at how much blood came off onto it.
"So, just what exactly is it with you and Buffy?" Ben asked.
"It's none of your bloody business, is what it is," Spike said.
"Fine," Ben said, "but it's obvious you care about her. Tell you what. Help me destroy the Key, and Buffy won't have to get hurt."
Spike glared at Ben. "You do realize you're talking about killing an innocent girl?"
"That's an odd thing for a vampire to care about."
"What can I say?" Spike shrugged. "I'm a quirky vampire. And you're not going to touch her."
"And just what do you think you're going to do to stop me?"
"Whatever it takes."
Ben looked thoughtful as he paced over to Spike.
"Do you really mean that?" he asked.
Spike tilted his chin up and did his best to look defiant in the face of the god.
"Yes," he said. And to his own amazement, he really did.
Buffy and Dawn worked on washing the dinner dishes while Anya sat in the living room with Xander. "We're going to stay here tonight," Buffy said. "When we're finished with the dishes I'll run home and get our things. Tell me what you want to wear tomorrow."
"Let me guess," Dawn said. "You don't believe Spike left town, and you're all paranoid he's going to come and try to kill us in our sleep?"
Buffy sighed. "This isn't about Spike. We're staying to help Anya. And if Glory makes another play, it's safer if we're all together."
"All right," Dawn said. "Jeans and a t-shirt. I don't care which one."
Buffy dried off her hand and reached out to brush a stray hair out of her sister's face. "It's been a hell of a day, hasn't it?"
"Just one in a long line of 'em," Dawn said, and looked towards the living room. "But I think today, me and you got off easy."
"Yeah," Buffy said. "I guess we did."
"I've got it!" Giles shouted from the living room.
Dawn shot Buffy a quizzical look, but Buffy just shrugged. "Keep washing," she said. "I'll be right back."
"Got what?" she asked as she exited the kitchen.
"The prophecy," Giles said. "I think I understand. It's not 'either/or,' it's actually 'and.'"
Buffy stared at him. "Huh?"
Giles read from the text. "'The vampire shall save the Key and destroy it.'" He considered this, then slumped back in his chair. "That's really no clearer than before, is it?"
"'Fraid not," Buffy said. "He can't do both. And right now it looks like he's not going to do either."
"Well, just because he told you he was leaving town doesn't mean Spike should be counted out of the game just yet," Giles said. "You didn't actually see him go, did you?"
Buffy crossed her arms. "I can't imagine that he'd want to stick around," she said. "Not after the way I..."
"You what? Tried to kill him? It certainly wasn't the first time you two have had such a confrontation."
"No," Buffy said, "but this was the first time it was so... personal." She shook her head. "There's no way he stayed."
"Still," Giles said, indicating the prophecy, "I think I'll keep at this, if you don't mind."
"Sure, go ahead." She glanced over at the couch, where Xander lay with his head in Anya's lap, watching television. She went over and perched on the arm of the sofa. "How's he doing?" she asked Anya.
"He's fine, as long as the television's on," she said. "He'd rather watch the Cartoon Network, but the storm knocked the cable out, so all we can get right now is the local news."
Buffy pouted out her lip. "Poor Xander," she said, reaching down to tousle his hair. "Being forced to watch current events."
"Nobody likes the fish anymore," he sulked. He sat up. "The fish," he said, pointing at the TV. "The fish! Buffy!" He looked at her, and she looked at the TV.
"Oh, my God," she said, grabbing the remote to turn up the volume. "Dawn! Get in here!"
"Firefighters were able to stop the blaze before it spread to the upper floor of the house," a reporter was saying.
Dawn came out of the kitchen. "What is it?"
Buffy shushed her. Dawn came over to watch the report, followed by Giles, Willow and Tara.
"Oh my God, Buffy," Willow said, "that's your house!"
"Quiet!" Buffy said.
The reporter continued, "Fire department officials say that although most of the house was spared from the flames, smoke and water damage have rendered it unlivable for the time being. Fortunately, no one was home at the time of the fire. An investigation into the cause is pending, but neighbors report seeing a group of men in medieval costumes in front of the house moments before the blaze erupted."
"The Knights of Byzantium," Buffy said.
Dawn looked horrified. "They burned our house down?"
Stunned, all Buffy could do was nod.
"Why would they do that?"
Buffy shook her head. "I don't know." She stood up. "But I'm going to go find out."
"Buffy," Giles asked, "are you certain that's wise?"
"I'm kind of past caring," she said, pulling on her jacket. "Glory does this to my friend," she pointed at Xander, "and there's not anything I can do about it. But these knights, they're human. And there was just no reason for them to take away our home. I may not be able to kick the hell god's ass, but I can sure as hell knock a few knight heads around." She turned to go. "Don't wait up for me," she said, and slammed the door behind her.
"Let me see if I've got all this," Spike said. "Once the Key was put into human form, all of her Key bits got contained in her blood."
"That's right," Ben said. "So if you drain her, all of her Key properties will transfer to you."
"Well, yeah, that makes sense," Spike said, "but if I drain her, she'll die. Doesn't really solve my problem, does it?"
"If you drain her completely, yes. But if you're careful, and don't take too much, she'll have a chance for survival. Which is more than she'll have if she remains the Key. My killing her will be merciful compared to what Glory will do with her."
"Nobody's killing her," Spike said. "Or doing anything else to her. So. I drink from Dawn, and I get to become this mystical Key thingy. So then what happens?"
"You die. Either by your own hand, or by mine, before Glory gets a chance to use you."
"And if she does?"
"You still die, and you take the entire universe out with you."
Spike nodded, and smiled, in spite of himself. "Nice set of options, innit?"
"I admit," Ben said, "it sounds like a lot to put yourself through for a little girl who doesn't even really exist."
"Oh, she exists, mate. She's real enough. That little girl's one half of my whole world."
"I take it Buffy's the other half?"
Spike nodded. "And the sun, the moon, and everything beyond."
"Wow. That's poetic."
"Yeah," Spike muttered, "I'm a regular Tennyson. All right. Call off your knights. Let's do this."
"Consider it done," Ben said, "for now. I can give you one day. If you're not back here in twenty-four hours, I'll assume you either failed or changed your mind."
"I won't do either," Spike said.
"Then be back here. Tomorrow night, we'll finish this."
"Right," Spike said. "Tomorrow night, and we can get this whole sodding mess over and done with. I'll be here." He started for the door.
"Spike," Ben called.
He stopped and turned around.
"If you go through with this," Ben said, "I'll make sure Buffy knows what you did for her."
Spike nodded. "Appreciate that, mate."
He exited the building, and headed for his crypt. The problem was to get to Dawn without Buffy staking him. After the way things had gone between them that morning, he had little doubt that she wouldn't listen to him. He caught himself grinning. It wasn't all bad. That morning's fight had been bloody spectacular, and at least he'd gotten a chance to kiss her goodbye. He tried to focus on that as he made his way home. It wouldn't do for him to dwell on what was to come.
Spike would spend his last day on earth doing his bit to save the world. He had work to do.


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