Buffy lost herself in the lunge-stake-roll of slaying, the whisper of breeze past her face and the whirl of her coat around her, the thickening of her mucous as the ashes of the slain settled in her throat... Buffy hacked up a gob of spit. Okay, she could totally live without that part of it.
"Can I get blacklung offa this stuff?" The vampire she was battling halted for a moment, surprised by the question. She took advantage of the moment and staked him.
"Some help you were," she grumbled. The small nest dispersed in the most literal sense, Buffy left the tiny city of masoleums and headed towards the fresh plots on the other side of the graveyard. Eleanor Michelson had been exsanguinated three nights before, and Giles had asked her to keep an eye on the grave. "Heh. It's a stake out!" She giggled to herself, tucking her stake more securely into the waistband of her jeans.
"God, you're punning to yourself, now?" Somehow, the voice wasn't as unexpected as its owner had hoped. Of course, the little tinglies running up and down her spine probably had a little something to do with that, but mostly it was just that Spike was, in all things, predictable.
"Can't waste the quality material on some yob who's about to make with the motes, can I?" She looked him over; he'd fleshed out a fair bit since he'd shown up on Giles' doorstep with the beginnings of a suntan, but pig's blood obviously wasn't the high octane he was used to. There were still circles under his eyes, and his tight T-shirts weren't quite as muscle-revealing as he probably thought. But still, no biggie. She hadn't staked the guy, so he really wasn't in any position to complain.
"If that's your quality material, best you spare the poor blighters and do your bit in silence." He extracted an ever-present cigarette and lit up, drawing in for a long moment as he fell into step beside her. "There's a thought, innit? You, mute? God, but the heavens would sing praises to whomever could pull that off."
"Give it a go, then. I've been looking for an excuse to exorcise some demons. This particularly annoying one comes to mind..." She pulled out her stake and twirled it through her fingers, laughing at the expression on his face. "What're you up to, Spike? Willy cut you off again? Can't hustle enough to buy yourself a pretty little vamp girl?"
Spike visibly restrained himself from retorting, much to Buffy's surprise. "Just thought I'd see if I could pick up a spot of violence, Slayer. If you're feelin' the Lone Ranger vibe, just say the word."
The rejection was already pushing her tongue forward when her brain caught up. It was a slow night, and spatting with Spike was better than sitting around on cold tombstones waiting for lazy dead people to get their asses in gear. "'Sokay. You can be Tonto. Just this once," she warned.
"No worries, pet. I'm rarely quite this bored." He cocked an eyebrow at her, sneer smearing his face.
"Huh. And you wonder why you don't have any friends." She shrugged and turned away, scanning the plots for the freshest graves.
"Oi! Kemo Sabe!" Buffy turned at Spike's shout to see a bright pinpoint of light flaring in the space between them. She thought at first that he had flicked his cigarette in her direction, but stopped herself from snapping at him when she realized it was stationary.
"What is it?"
"Light at the end of the tunnel?" He smirked, and she shot a glare his direction.
"You've got better eyes than me. Is it doing anything?"
He raised his eyebrows in surprise. "The almighty Slayer is admitting to a failing? Will wonders never cease."
"Spike..." Her tone brooked no argument, and he shrugged in resignation.
"Kinda coruscating a bit."
"'S glittering. Pulsing."
"Oh." She sidled around it, avoiding getting any closer but wanting to see if the change of angle would have any effect. "Is it getting any bigger?"
"Can't really tell, actually." All of the sarcasm was gone from his voice, his attention fixed on the tiny pulsating point.
"Look, I'm gonna -" she was distracted from whatever she was going to say by the crunch and heave of the ground behind her. She spun around to see pale, dirty fists with bloody knuckles punching through the earth. She sighed, tossed her hair, and walked over to wait for the fledgling to rise.
After a long, boring minute of watching the hands flail, she gave up. Grabbing one tiny wrist, she pulled upwards until the vampire was free.
The vampire nodded, confused.
"Check." And she was dust.
"Yeah, that was sporting." This time Spike really did flick his cigarette butt at her, but she simply stepped aside to avoid it.
"Look, Spike. I'm gonna stay here, and I want you to go back to Giles' and tell him about the chorus-girl light thingie."
"'S called 'coruscating', pet." He smirked.
"Whatever. Can you do that?"
He looked her over, the beginnings of an obnoxious leer on his lips. "What's in it for me, then?"
Buffy groaned. "One: lack of imminent dusty ending. Two: promises of future violence. That do you?"
"You gonna let me patrol?" He asked, pointed brow climbing towards his hairline.
"Would you just go already?" She demanded, exasperated.
"I'm gone," he shouted over his shoulder, already halfway across the cemetery.
"Great," muttered Buffy when she couldn't see him anymore. "And again with the lonesome boredom."
She spent a long half-hour idly flipping her stake, bored enough to practice the expansion of her senses that Giles swore would eventually allow her to feel less powerful vampires. She even thought she felt a tingle, but before she could verify it, it was subsumed by her overwhelming awareness of Spike's approach. By the time Giles' tiny Citroen sputtered to a stop and he, Spike, Willow and Xander piled out of it, she was posed between them and the light.
"Welcome to tonight's freak show. Penny a pop for the ladies and gents, vamps are a dollar."
"Hey!" Xander protested. "The funnies are my job!"
"Yet another in the long line of lost career opportunities," Spike clucked, shaking his head in mock tragedy.
Xander glared. "And yet, he lives. Care to remedy that, Buff?"
"Can't, Xan. He's already dead." She exchanged a quick grin with Spike that had Xander backing away slowly.
"Okay. I've coped with a lot of things in my life. Giant demonic mayor-snakes, pedophiliac praying-mantises, hyena happies, and your everyday array of bloodsucking fiends and oozy demons. But nothing, and I do mean nothing, has creeped me to the level of seeing the two of you make with the bonhomie."
"As nobody is currently bleeding or shouting - your protests aside, Xander - I find I prefer this particular scenario to their usual modes of interaction." Giles nodded at Buffy. "Might we see the phenomenon?"
"Where's my penny?" She pouted. At his scowl, however, she skulked aside, giving him access to the tiny point.
"Have you noticed any change in Spike's absence?" Giles asked, maintaining a healthy distance.
"Besides the increased peace of mind?" Buffy chuckled, but quickly amended her answer. "Nah. It's too small for me to tell."
"I can't be sure," Spike stepped closer, "but I think it's gotten bigger. Or at least it's flaring more."
Giles nodded in Spike's general direction, attention fixed on the light. "Interesting. Willow?"
She jerked herself away from a whispered discussion on the merits of swiss rolls versus twinkies to bound perkily over to Giles. "Yup?"
"You have been working on the detection of magical signatures, have you not? Do you think you might be able to examine the area?"
She looked at him askance. "Can't you do that?" Only a little more than a month had passed since her will-be-done spell had gone so disastrously wrong, and Willow was still dubious about performing any magic without a grounding circle and direct supervision.
"Not without supplies that I hadn't the forethought to pack. I can, of course, retrieve them if you feel yourself unable..."
"No, no! I'm able. I'm extra able. Just watch me with the able!" Spike and Buffy backed behind Willow, who dropped into a tailor's seat on the ground and closed her eyes. Murmuring a quick blessing to herself, she extended her hands, feeling the thrum of magic vibrating the sensitive skin of her fingertips. When she opened her eyes again, she could see the magicks that held the tiny light in place. "That is beyond cool."
"Wanna fill those of us without magic monkey powers in, Wils?" Xander was on his knees directly behind her, as if he could see through her eyes if he got close enough.
"It's like... I can't tell what it's supposed to be, but it's growing. There's this big egg-shaped magical lattice, and the more pulsies the light makes, the further out on the lattice it reaches. Like most of it's down a big hole, but it's pulling itself out."
Giles removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "In other words, someone is constructing a portal."
"A portal to where?" Xander was helping Willow to her feet, and almost slipped when he tried to pay attention to Giles as well. It was only Spike's unexpected support at Willow's elbow that let the two of them maintain their feet.
"From where, actually. A portal of the type Willow described is induced by a rather long, intricate ritual that takes place where the portal will eventually open."
"So since there's no hummin' little blokes in black robes, it's somebody else trying to come here." Spike lit another cigarette and leaned against the recently-dusted Eleanor Michelson's glossy new tombstone.
"Indeed. The ritual to create such a portal usually lasts upwards of twenty-four hours, so we should commence monitoring this point tomorrow night." Giles was obviously prepared to leave it at that, but Buffy's hand on his elbow stopped him.
"Uh, Giles? This thing's gonna get bigger, right? Well, people actually get buried, funerals and all, in this part of the cemetery. What if someone sees it?"
"Then I'm sure that, in true Sunnydale fashion, they will conclude that it is merely a trick of the light and put it out of their mind."
"They can't, y'know, fall in or anything?"
"The portal should be inert until complete, but if you like, Willow and I can cast an aversion charm over the area."
She beamed up at him. "That'd be great. Thanks, Giles!" She turned, then, and addressed Spike. "You up for a couple more cemeteries? Or did watching me take out poor Eleanor put you down for the count?"
"I think I can handle it," he replied, settling his duster more securely around his shoulders. "Later, Watcher, Witch, Whelp."
As they made their way through the tombstones, Buffy's voice trickled back to her friends: "You just make with the nicknames so you have grounds for inane alliteration, don't you?"
Spike's reply was lost to distance.
Giles sighed. "Well, then. Let's get to it, shall we?"
"Is nobody else feeling the wig that is Spike and Buffy playtime?" Xander grumbled.
Willow raised a hand. "It's pretty wigsome, yeah."
Giles rolled his eyes. "Spike is an excellent fighter, and no threat to Buffy. I don't care how they get on as long as they are neither affianced nor engaged in mutual homicide."
Willow cringed at the reminder and returned her attention to setting the aversion charm over the area. When Xander started acting skittish and began meandering aimlessly away, she broke off her chant and grinned at Giles. "It worked!" She squeaked.
He peered at her over his glasses. "Well done, indeed. I had expected to find it necessary to assist."
Willow shrugged. "No biggie. Buffy kept stealing my pens, so I cast a smaller charm over my desk. Just amped up the power, and it's good to go!"
Giles smiled. "Excellent. Shall I give you and Xander rides home?"
"Sounds like a plan, G-Man." As they passed beyond the field encompassed by the aversion charm, Xander came bounding back towards them.
"Haven't we had this discussion," Giles complained.
"Yup. No diminuitives associated with the illustrious name of Giles. Gotcha." Willow was still giggling at his antics when they piled into the car.
Buffy warily approached the location of the portal just as the sun began to set. She knew it was there, knew she had a purpose in heading towards it, but simply could not turn her eyes or her feet that direction. Eventually she huffed and gave up, settling herself on a nearby tombstone.
Half an hour later, Willow came rushing up, Spike strolling in her wake. "So, so sorry I'm late. There was studying, then there was talking, and then there were double-shot mochas with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles." Her hands were busy as she spoke, slinging her bag to the ground and feeling through the air in front of her for the tingle in her skin that registered her magical awareness.
"Far be it from me to interfere in chocolatey caffeine indulgence." She cocked her head. "You got coffee with Spike?"
"What? No!" Willow's voice was distracted, her eyes shut tight.
"Nah. Heard the pitter-patter of tiny feet and felt the urge to investigate." Spike slumped against an opposing tombstone. "Any change?"
"Couldn't tell you, its - Oh!" Buffy cut herself off. As she had been speaking, Willow had ended the charm that kept her attention away from the portal. Instead of a pinpoint, the light was now a dull oyster sheen over an ellipse of air roughly the size of a door. The edges shimmered slightly, as the burgeoning portal continued its expanding pulse and crawl.
"Pretty thing, innit?" Spike asked, head tilted.
Willow cooed. "Think maybe someday I'll be able to do that?"
"Dunno," Buffy shrugged. "Not really my thing. So now what? We sit around and wait for the bad guy to poke his head out?"
"That's about it." Willow dragged a textbook out of her bag and opened it, angling it so that the nearest streetlight cast a vague orange glow onto the pages.
"Great." Buffy slipped off the top of the tombstone and settled on the ground in front of it, leaning back. "When's Giles supposed to show up?"
"He said he'd be here at eight; you found the portal around nine, right? So he should be here in plenty of time."
"But I wanna patrol," Buffy whined.
"Go ahead," Willow replied. "Just make sure you're back in time."
"I'll watch out for Red," Spike forestalled her protests. "Keep her off the dinner menu."
Buffy shot him a grateful glance, while Willow just looked at him in surprise. "Thanks, Spike." She levered herself up off the ground and was gone.
"What was that about?" Willow asked.
Spike checked himself in the act of taking a drag. "What, that? Slayer's not much for the sit-and-wait. Likely to drive the both of us bug-shaggin' crazy if she doesn't get the itch out of her feet tonight."
Willow leveled an amused gaze at him. "You know, for such an evil guy, you're really kind of a softie."
"Am not!" Spike objected, drawing himself up to his full, indignant height. "As bad as the next guy, just don't like hearin' the Slayer natter on."
"Of course not," Willow murmured. "But then, the next guy around here is me."
Spike shot her a glare but let that pass unremarked. The two of them settled down to pass the hour until Giles' arrival in surprisingly companionable silence.
By the time Buffy returned, Giles had settled on the ground beside Willow and joined the vigil over the portal.
As soon as she approached, a heavy buzz filled the air. With a snap and ping that sent Spike arse over teakettle off of his perch, the portal coalesced into a bright blaze of white light. There was a murmur, as of distant conversation, and then a familiar voice rang out.
"Got it. See you in a week, Wils!" And Buffy was there.
She stepped through the portal, which closed up behind her, dropping a few inches onto the solid-packed ground. She looked older, honed, her eyes flashing brilliant green against the pallor of her skin. Her hair was darker, closer to auburn than blonde, and was pulled up into a no-nonsense pony-tail high on the back of her head. Her clothing was different, too; she wore tight low-rise denims, as was her wont, but the cable-knit sweater she wore over them was dark grey and covered all of her skin. Her boots were plain, practical, and thudded solidly against the earth as she took a step forward. She was wearing a black pea-coat, which she immediately shrugged off and folded over one arm.
"God, I forgot how warm it was here!" In spite of her somewhat weathered appearance, she sounded perky enough. Those who had been silently watching the portal just stared.
"Hey guys, what's up?" Xander loped up to them, not noticing his version of Buffy still standing a few yards behind and to the left of the newcomer. "Portal gone already? What, you killed it without me?" He pulled a moue of disappointment, then laughed. "So, then, who's up for some Bronze-y goodness?"
"Xander, please do be quiet," Giles barked. Xander jumped at the unexpected harshness of his tone, and looked around more warily.
"What's the what? Something go wrong?" He turned his attention to the interloper. "Hey, Buff. New look?"
Spike growled. "Something's off. Smells like Slayer, but..."
"Whoa!" The original Buffy came running up at that. "You can smell me?"
Spike tapped the side of his nose. "Vampire, luv."
From the first words Spike had spoken, crouched in the shadow of a tombstone, he had portal-Buffy's full attention.
"Spike?" She murmured, advancing towards him.
"Uh, yeah. Have been for awhile now." She reached out a hand towards him and he jumped back, nearly tripping over the other Buffy in the process. "Oi! Slayer! Get your... uh, other you away from me!"
Buffy interposed herself between the two. "Who the hell are you and what do you want with Spike?"
Portal-Buffy shook herself. "Oh, right. Sorry." She backed away slightly, turning to encompass the entire group. "Damn. Original Scoobies, out in force." She grinned. "This is a good, good thing."
"Um..." Xander stammered through a few false attempts before completing a sentence. "Giles? What happened?"
Giles gestured with his glasses. "That thing is what came through the portal. Obviously it's impersonating Buffy, though the likeness is somewhat off."
"That'd be what, six more years on the job?" Portal-Buffy laughed. "You don't look the same, either, Giles. And Xander! You're all skinny!"
"What, Stay-Puft?" Spike chortled until Buffy elbowed him.
"And I say again: Who. The hell. Are you?"
"Down girl," she laughed. "Was I always this feisty?" She shook herself. "Right. Here's the scoop: this is, what, 2000? So about three years ago, Giles, Angel brought you a copy of the Pergamum Codex. Now, in my time, we need it but all known copies have been destroyed. So my Giles went through his diaries, determined that he never actually used it after I killed the Master, and decided it'd be okay if I came back and got it from you. There're some other books that are pretty much irreplacable that he thought I could finagle away; some've actually been useful, but he also," she produced a three-ring binder from, presumably, the same place she stored her never-ending supply of stakes, "wrote up the pertinent information, along with dealers who said they had replacement copies in this time-line. Or he suggested scanning them into the computer, if you can make Willow promise not to let any demons loose on the internet. I'm here for a week, so you've got time."
The response to her little speech was pretty simple: absolute silence.
"Look, guys. It's me. Six years from now, we run into a situation that we really need more information on. Since this was the one place we knew we could get the information, well, I came back to get it." She shrugged. "Easy-peasy."
"You... are from the future?" Giles was polishing his glasses furiously.
Portal-Buffy giggled and held up her right hand. "We come in peace," she intoned, then shrugged again. "Nah, not really. I mean, not future-really, not not peace-really. Um. Words aren't my friend. Anyway. So what happened is, Willow and Dawn got together with some of the Coven to dig up a parallel time-line that diverged in a way that had absolutely no effect on anything we did. Really. It was like, some guy in Atoka tied his left shoe before his right, or something. Harder than just sending me back in time - and don't glare at me, Giles - but less likely to change the future I go back to. So here I am! Although I totally wasn't expecting the welcoming committee."
Giles cocked his head and looked her over. "Six years. That would mean -"
"Eleven years slaying. Yup."
"What's the big?" Buffy asked.
"Slayers die young, pet. You're already gettin' up there, and it's only been what, five? Betcha she," and he nodded at portal-Buffy, "is one of the oldest on record."
"The oldest, actually. Not that it matters anymore. But hey, remind me before I go to set you up with some nifty new hardware!" Portal-Buffy beamed.
"Um, not to be the obligatory parade-induced raincloud, but how do we know that she's really Buffy?" Xander looked worried that someone was going to yell at him again, but released some of his tension when Willow patted his arm and nodded.
"Excellent question." Giles returned his attention to portal-Buffy. "Any ideas?"
"Hey. I've seen this cartoon. Letting the maybe-villain pick the trials never proves anything." Buffy nodded sharply.
Portal-Buffy grinned. "Good catch. So... Spike can tell I'm a Slayer. Um. Ask me some questions, then."
Giles asked first. "When did you first read the Slayer Handbook?"
She smirked at Buffy. "Never have, never will. Next?"
Willow went next. "Biggest fear?"
Portal-Buffy cocked an eyebrow. "Mine or yours?"
"These days, it'd be me vamp, you frog."
Willow nodded her agreement as Spike stepped up. "How'd you beat me the first time we fought?"
The smile on portal-Buffy's face turned unexpectedly sad. "Didn't. Mom clocked you with an ax."
Spike sucked hard on his cigarette as Buffy asked her question. "Why... Why did I get so mad at Angel just before we kissed for the first time?"
Only portal-Buffy noticed Spike's scowl at the question, though Xander's disdainful sneer earned him a poke from Willow.
Portal-Buffy tilted her head back and closed her eyes, thinking. "Hell, girl, that was a long time ago." She shook herself, then, and stared straight at Buffy. "You thought he read your damned diary."
"You swear a lot," Willow murmured.
"Eh," portal-Buffy shrugged. "Xander, you're up."
Xander leveled a remarkably steady stare in her direction. "What was the worst thing I did when I was possessed by the hyena?"
Eyes locked with his, portal-Buffy's entire mien of light-hearted banter dissolved. They simply held one another's gaze for a long, telling moment, and then Xander nodded.
"I thought you couldn't remember," Willow hissed, and Buffy jolted when she realized what he was talking about. She walked over to her friend and reached out, twining her fingers with his and pressing their shoulders together.
"It's okay," she murmured. His return nod was pained.
"Do I miss all the fun, then?" Spike tried to break up the suddenly solemn atmosphere. "What's this about Harris gettin' all possessed?"
"There was an ego-maniacal zookeeper and a primal hyena spirit, followed by the consumption of a live pig. Altogether, not a fun week." Buffy's answer was terse, but just frivolous enough to lighten the mood.
"So. We convinced?" Spike asked, sticking his hands in his pockets and rocking up onto the balls of his feet.
"We're good," Buffy nodded, and led the way out of the cemetery.
"So my Giles managed to salvage his diaries, but they're pretty fusty. What's the 411 on the Scooby set?" Portal-Buffy was walking alongside Giles, having fallen into step behind the others.
Giles looked at her out of the corner of his eye. "Can you... If you're from an alternate timeline, then it shouldn't matter. Do they all..." He trailed off.
Portal-Buffy stopped and turned to him, catching his elbow so he swiveled to face her. "I'm not going to lie, Giles. It's not easy. And even though everyone here makes it through, that doesn't mean that everyone we care about will. The next three years or so are incredibly, excruciatingly hard on all of us." But then her eyes burned, bright with mirth and joy. "Though there may be a way to fix some things," she conceded.
"Is that wise? We have no way of knowing how -" She cut him off.
"Giles, Giles, Giles," she shook her head. "I told you, didn't I? The Coven scanned this time-line for points of divergence. The plan is for me to do what I can, and in a week, when it's time for me to go back, my Willow will let me know if I fixed things or truly screwed them up. Obviously, we can only tell for the next six years, but there's been a two year lull on apocalypses - well, not counting the crap Angel gets up to - so we have some leeway. If all things are a go, then you get to be eternally grateful; if I've blown it, well, I'll trigger the forget-me charm Willow set me up with and your memories will re-write themselves as if I were never here."
"Re-aligning the universe around the presence or absence of a particular individual is hardly something I would term a charm!" Giles protested.
"That's what we've got Dawn for. Trust me, Giles, we're copascetic." She turned and began walking again towards the gate to the cemetery where the others were waiting. "Chill. I'll fill you in later."
When Giles had claimed the honor of hosting portal-Buffy for the week and demanded full rights to her time for the first evening, the others cleared out reluctantly. Spike and Buffy headed off for patrol, and Willow and Xander decided to tag along. The quick-fire exchange of insults between Spike and Xander followed them out the door and was only muffled when they turned the corner. After the last notes of their argument abated, Giles let the door shut.
He crossed past portal-Buffy, perched on the edge of the couch, and busied himself making tea in the kitchen. "Can I get you anything?" He called.
"Tea'd be lovely, milk and sugar if you have it." He looked up in surprise. "I've been living in England for the last couple of years," she answered his unspoken question. "Gotten used to it." She pointed at the heavy coat she had been wearing when she arrived; it looked out of place on the denuded coat-rack.
"Ah." The whistle of steam sounded and Giles brought the teapot and cups in on a tray. "So, where to begin? Do you want to collect the books now or can that wait for tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow's good." Portal-Buffy fished out a sugarcube and plucked at the corners, holding it over her saucer. "Well, I guess the first thing to do is talk about the Initiative." She looked up, her glance worried. "You know what they are already, right?"
"Yes. Although I would not be opposed to hearing what you have to say." Giles poured out and settled himself beside her on the couch, half-turned to watch her speak.
Portal-Buffy hmmed for a moment, obviously planning where to begin. "First off, I've kinda got a caveat to this full-disclosure thing."
"Go ahead," Giles nodded warily.
"Some things are gonna happen, and pretty soon, if I'm remembering right, that are gonna screw mightily with our lives. But part of this whole thing is me attempting to make your lives better, and some of the big goods come from the bad. So I'm planning to gloss over some stuff, and hoping that everyone's social lives just sort of fall out in the right order, okay?"
"Essentially, you're here to save the world, not to play Dr. Phil."
Portal-Buffy stared at him. "Did you just make a pop-culture reference?"
Giles blushed and busied himself with his tea.
"Oookay. Now that my mind is blown, on to business." She grinned and began detailing the twisted plans of Maggie Walsh and the importance of Lab 314.
"So what do you think of her?" Buffy asked. She and Spike had already led the others through two cemeteries and managed to dust only one fledgeling, although there had been an interesting scrap with some sort of scavenger demon who insisted on eating fresh-buried corpses. After the absolute yuck of that experience, Xander and Willow had begged off for the night and both had headed back to the dorm room to spend the evening talking over the stranger with Buffy's face.
"Dunno, pet. She's different, that's for sure." Spike vaulted atop a mausoleum, scanning the empty cemetery as he continued his conversation with Buffy.
"Good different or bad different?"
Spike rolled his eyes and jumped down. "Different different. Don't know. Didn't say much. Seemed friendly enough, which is more than I can say for the present version." He laughed as Buffy whiffed a blow in the general direction of his head. "Oi! Watch the hair!"
"Hard not to," Buffy giggled. "But seriously. Didn't you think it was weird that she, well, didn't think it was weird that you were there?"
Spike shrugged, starting off across the grass. Buffy fell easily into step beside him. "Sounds like Giles kept records; I'd guess I'm mentioned."
"Yeah, but... She looked really happy to see you. And when she was talking about the original Scoobies, it sounded like you were included."
Spike scowled and flicked his cigarette away, watching it arc and bounce off of a tombstone. "Guess I never get this buggerin' chip out of my head, then. Must still be fighting with you lot."
Buffy dashed ahead at the sound of angry conversation. Before Spike caught up with her, though, she held up a hand to halt his progress, then crooked a beckoning finger without looking back at him. Spike crept as stealthily as he could to her side, but almost ruined it with his hissed swearing when he saw what she had discovered.
Buffy silenced him with a hand over his mouth, eyes still fixed on the Initiative agents standing huddled on the other side of the low stone wall that divided the newer and older parts of the cemetery. Riley was obvious, now that she knew to look for him, and she picked out two of his fraternity brothers from the other four soldiers. What truly held her attention, however, was the small, pale-skinned form of what was obviously a demon child, face-down on the ground with taser burns on its back. She signaled a retreat and she and Spike withdrew behind the nearest statuary.
"'S Eddie!" Spike hissed.
Buffy cocked a questioning brow.
"Clem's nephew," he explained.
"Who's Clem?" Buffy asked.
"'E's a demon, isn't 'e, so of course you won't go worryin' your pretty li'l 'ead about 'im." Spike's voice rose slightly as he spat, his accent growing thicker in his consternation.
Buffy stilled him with a firm grip on his arm and a hand on his chest. "Spike. Just tell me. Who is Clem?"
"Friend of mine. Sweetest demon you'd ever hope to meet. Got a thing for chips and dip and watching bad telly. His mum, brother and sister-in-law live over in the apartment complex behind the Junior High School. They all, but for Clem, pass as human."
"I don't care what they pass as," Buffy affirmed. "I just saw a little boy who's been burned, and a bunch of chumps who really need to be dealt with. If I get them, can you get him out?"
Spike just stared at her, awe and confusion warring across his face.
"Spike," she spoke a little louder, directly into his ear. He jumped and shook himself.
"Yeah, Slayer. I got him."
"Good." She nodded and moved back towards the wall. He stopped her with a hand on her arm and shrugged out of his coat, handing it over, before tucking the stray wisps of her hair up under her black knit cap.
"Just in case." And he moved into position.
The soldiers were still standing around the demon, who hadn't been moved. Riley, though, was talking loudly into his communicator.
"Unclassified adolescent HST apprehended. Awaiting retrieval team. Over."
The buzz and crackle of the mechanical response sounded harsh in the general quiet. "Retrieval team dispatched. ETA three minutes. Over."
Buffy's head snapped up and towards Spike at that, and he nodded back. Three minutes didn't give them much time to work with. She hefted her stake, weighing it in her hand. She'd practiced tossing it for hours, but always point-first. If she screwed this up... She just wouldn't.
Riley was standing with his back to her, and the blunt end of the stake took him square in the back of the skull. The thunk was loud, and he didn't even groan as he collapsed backwards. The other four immediately looked her way, and she ducked behind the low wall.
Spike, watching from the other side, snickered under his breath as the uptight soldier collapsed. When one of the others started signalling the remaining members of his squad to take flanking positions, Spike almost clapped. All four of them progressed together, leaving Eddie unattended. It was a matter of a moment to leap the wall, dart forward, and swoop the boy up and away. He was back over the wall and darting towards the untended mausoleums that marked the far end of the graveyard before the soldiers had even reached Buffy's position.
Buffy, meanwhile, had been creeping as stealthily as possible along the wall, away from Spike. She heaved a sigh of relief when she saw the flash of white that marked Spike and his burden speeding away, and stood to draw the soldiers' attention. The didn't notice her at first, even though the one who had taken up the left-flanking position was only a matter of yards away. Buffy grimaced and pulled herself atop the wall, making sure the soles of her boots scraped against the cement, and began running along it. With a shout, the soldiers commenced the chase. She was faster and nimbler, however, and reached the taller outer wall to the cemetery long before they did. With a gleeful grin, she flipped them off over her shoulder and levered herself up into one of the overhanging trees that grew along the grassy walkway that bound the cemetery, vaulting from there over the wall itself. From that point it was simply a matter of taking off the cap, folding Spike's coat over her arm, and disappearing into the maze of neat houses and trimmed lawns that separated her from Giles'.