Buffy leaned her shoulder into the rough wall carved from stone and dirt, the sensation guiding her in the pitch blackness. Behind her, she could hear the gentle sound of Slayerettes breathing, the trickle of water somewhere far off, the occasional rock overturned by the delicately-trodding feet. It shouldn’t be much further before they found the cavern where the beast was hiding. Buffy was heading up one team coming from the east; Angel was leading the other from the west.
Surprise attack. Ostensibly.
They may not have needed to be quite so sneaky. Or have quite as large of teams. But every opportunity was a training opportunity. Giles and Xander both agreed leading the Slayerettes four miles through an underground cavern without any light was too perfect an opportunity to pass up. Everything now was looked upon by Xander as a training opportunity.
Buffy only agreed to the ridiculous plan when they concurred with her that a vampire in each team would make the moving along so much smoother. Vamps can see in the dark, unlike humans. And trekking 15 teenage girls through four miles of winding tunnels – someone was bound to get lost.
And Spike being on her team wasn’t even a question.
(Well – Angel thought for a moment that there was a question and then Willow pointed out that the team coming from the west would need a leader. He got so puffed up from being called Leader in contrast to Spike being just a watchdog, it quickly became a non issue.)
Training session? Or vacation? Buffy thought.
The previous night was spread out between four hotel rooms; the girls trolling the local night life until way past curfew; Angel brought Cordy and showed her some of his old haunts. Buffy and Spike had stayed in. Curled up naked between hotel sheets, arguing about what horrible sitcom rerun to watch on the hotel television… she hummed low to herself.
Best vacation ever.
Even if the next day was spent with 15 hungover, angsty teenage girls trekking through miles of mud in pitch darkness. Four miles had never been so long.
Behind her, there was a sudden flash of blue light, causing her to spin around so fast she tripped and fell right into a puddle. She groaned and swore under her breath, hearing the muttered whispers of the girls all around her. Spike was standing some ten feet from her, illuminated by the remarkably bright glare of his cell phone.
“Spike!” Buffy hissed angrily. “What the hell are you doing?”
Spike didn’t flinch. He was staring down at his phone with an unreadable expression on his face, his brow furrowed and his thumb moving restlessly over the screen. Buffy stood and made her way to his side, reaching out to touch his arm.
He looked up at her, his eyes wide and wild. “She should have called by now. Or at least messaged me.”
Buffy stared back blankly. There was absolutely no context for these statements. She had no clue what he could possibly be talking about. But the look of intense worry on his face made her feel as though she should be intimately aware of the situation. She looked around her, counting the shadows the vibrant blue light of his phone cast. Fifteen girls. No one was missing. She turned back to him and saw he had lifted the phone to his ear, the tinny sound of a phone ringing now emanating from it.
He looked over at her and grabbed her hand, squeezing. She smiled and squeezed back.
“Bit. I know it’s late, but give me a call when you get this. I want to hear all about your date.” He paused. “This is Spike. I should be home soon, okay?” He lingered over the message, leaning into the phone as if the receiver of his message was right there, pressed between his hand and his ear.
Buffy squeezed his hand again and he lifted the phone away, pressing the red button emblazoned over her sister’s face.
He sighed and looked down at the phone, keeping it lit by scrolling through his messages. “She had a date. Her time. Where she is – she should have been home before we set out.” He looked up at her and Buffy felt her heart clench at his facial expression. “She alwayscalls, Buffy. If I’m not there, she always calls when she gets home. She should have called.”
“I’m sure she just… thinks that you don’t get service down here. Or didn’t want to bother you.”
Spike looked at her like she’d grown a third eye, “Witchy magicked up these phones for you, remember? We could still call her from a hell dimension if I wanted to.”
Buffy contemplated for a minute and then started giggling. “She’s on a date?” Spike nodded. She grinned, “Oh… Spike. I’m sure she just is having fun and lost track of time… Maybe she? Maybe they? ... You know.” Buffy wiggled her eyebrows.
It was possibly the most disconcerting moment of her entire life: standing in a dank hole in the ground, trying to break the news gently to her vampire boyfriend that her nearly twenty year old sister might, at that very moment, be having sex. She hoped for Dawn’s sake it was good, too. Shouldn’t she be the one feeling discomforted by the fact that Dawnie was an adult?
Spike’s look of absolute horror almost made her laugh harder. “She would still tell me.”
Buffy was dumbstruck, “She tells you things like that!?!”
But there really wasn’t an answer for that. The second she said it, she knew it was true. Of course Dawn would message Spike in the middle of a date to tell him it was going well. Almost wish she had been adopted as a little sister to a vampire when she started college. Buffy kept dating vampires. Dawn just wrestled them into obsessively protective older brothers.
Why did it sometimes feel like she lost on that count?
Buffy reached for the phone constantly shoved and forgotten in her back pocket. “Okay. I’ll call Cordy and see if she’s heard anything. You should call someone there who can check in…”
The next five minutes were spent sitting in mud, phones pressed against their ears, the whole tunnel lit up blue. The girls all busy on their own phones, reconnecting with the world – but staying as silent as possible. (Buffy later would wonder if they were txting each other back and forth, as occasionally there would be a muffled wave of laughter – as if they were all in on the same joke.)
Buffy called Cordy, who within moments was as frantic as Spike. And then she called Angel, to keep him in the loop and to tell him to take a pause with his girls. In a very serious voice, he asked to be handed to Spike and the two had a very short conversation Buffy didn’t hear (he began pacing nervously when she handed him the phone). After those two calls, Buffy didn’t know what else to do except sit with her hands in her lap and wait. She thought briefly about calling Andrew - but figured that had already been done. And anyway, what would she say? She didn’t even know Dawn had a date that night. Or with who.
She thumbed through her messages from Dawn. It wasn’t that the sisters didn’t keep in contact. To be fair, they spoke pretty regularly. Buffy had a tendency to forget her phone existed from time to time – but Dawnie never did. Buffy’s phone held within it a constant stream of her younger sister’s observations and comments. Pictures periodically buzzed in - of her dressing up for a class project, forcing Spike to watch a chick flick, her newest recipe, a pair of shoes on sale. Of late, the messages had been fewer and farther between. They were both busy. Buffy didn’t call enough – hated talking on the phone, they both seemed to be always in the midst of a crisis whenever the other one called. She was growing up, too. Had classes, was working harder for Giles than ever, she was changing in ways Buffy was feeling a little left out of.
Probably that was the way things were supposed to happen.
Spike sighed beside her and stood up, holding out her hand. “Let’s deal with this beastie so that I can get back home.”
Buffy took his hand and felt her heart drop a little. He had planned on staying at least another week with her. It was all spur of the moment, but she had already painted some very large castles in the air. A whole week, just the two of them. It wasn’t an opportunity that came around often. She was prepared to make every moment count.
She shouldn’t be jealous of Dawn. She should be worried that she hadn’t contacted anyone. She should be rushing to get to LA and figure it all out herself. Buffy repeated these things to herself as they all trudged through the blackness – Spike’s phone lighting up every few moments behind her. She believed every word. She was worried about her sister.
She also really wanted a vacation with her boyfriend.
It takes them about another hour to get to the entrance of the cavern. A well-lit cavern that smells worse the closer they get to it. Buffy and Spike take the lead, crouching down and creeping through the shadows until they reach the entrance, the Slayerettes hesitantly coming from behind.
Willow’s research suggested that there was an entrance to a hell dimension here. Something really nasty. An encampment was rumored to be there. Full of nasties. Nothing thirty slayers and two vamps couldn’t handle easily. It was closing the portal that was going to be the biggest issue. Willow was on alert, just waiting for Buffy’s call.
The first thing Buffy notices upon entering the open space, is that the main source of light is coming from a shaft that leads up to the surface. She sags against Spike’s arm slightly, The two of them could probably have done this alone through that entrance. The second thing she sees is Angel’s shocked face peering out from an entrance about half a football field’s length away. She waves half-heartedly to him.
The very last thing she notices – well, Spike and the girls have to point it out to her – is that the room (such as it is) is empty. She’d already turned to them and outlined a battle plan, pointing and whispering to them directions. While they all stood in a line and stared at her blankly. A couple of them crossing their arms over their chests, raising their eyebrows with that specific brand of disdain and disbelief only a teenage girl can truly evoke with a simple expression. It was only when Spike hissed her name and started walking into the room, dragging her along behind him that she really looked around.
The cavern was empty.
Or – that is – nearly empty.
In the middle of the space, directly under the shaft of light coming from above (as though she had planned it, the brat) sat Dawnie on a pile of blankets with several thermoses scattered all around her. Cool as a cucumber. Sipping from a mug what smelled suspiciously like hot chocolate.
The younger girl stood up, “I heard there was a portal needing closing.”
Spike’s shout of laughter made Buffy jump. It spurred everyone into action. And out of the corner of her eye she could see Oz leaning up against a wall, looking damn pleased with himself. The place was suddenly full of activity. The girls greeting each other as though it had been months instead of just a few hours since they were divided. (There were some politics and alliances Buffy suspected she may have trounced and ripped apart in her unceremonious division early that morning.) Paper mugs full of chocolate were passed around; the space so quickly became full of sound and movement.
Buffy stood silent and still, watching Spike wrap up Dawn into a great bear hug. She thought maybe there may have been tears in his eyes – she didn’t know whether she’d ever have the heart to tease him about that. Dawn peeked out over Spike’s shoulder and winked at Buffy. She had never been so happy that Dawn had captured Spike’s heart so much as in that moment, when the relief showed so plain on his face and Dawn looked so pleased to be held too tightly by a vampire.
At some point, Buffy was going to break Oz’s arm for this.
At some point, she might have prevent Spike from killing someone.
At some point, she’d demand to hear the whole story.
At some point, she’d have to be General Buffy again.
For now, she just wiped her eyes and threw herself into the bear hug.