"Can I say, once again, that I am so not liking this plan?" Xander complained. "I'm just saying – a seal that is the entrance to the Hellmouth? Sounds like something we should be staying away from".
"And we will," Buffy snapped. "Just as soon as we cover it back up. We can't leave it exposed for whatever happens along to find it. Or – students. Students go down there all the time. We need to take care of this immediately".
"Have a feeling we're too late," Spike said, doing his level best not to show his anxiety. The pull from the basement was stronger than ever.
"Too late? Why?" Buffy scowled.
"Have a gander for yourself," he answered, pulling the door open to reveal the unmistakable sound of screams his sensitive ears had picked up moments earlier.
"Uh, guys? You can find it on your own now, right?" Andrew tried to pull away from them, but Spike tightened his grip.
"Keep a move on, you git".
Xander fell back. "I'll let you guys take the lead," he whispered as they crept forward.
"Bloody hell!" Spike murmured when they reached the chamber. A young man was bound to a large wooden circle that hung over what was obviously the uncovered seal, blood splattering downwards from the symbols carved into his chest. A dozen or so hooded men encircled the seal, chanting almost inaudibly, their eyes carved out of their heads, much to Spike's horror.
"Seal opening. Satanic manhole covering being opened!" Xander moaned in terror under his breath.
"This wasn't here before. I had nothing to do with this… I don't think I want to be here," Andrew gulped.
Cuffing him on the back of the head, Buffy snarled, "Well, it was your great plan to open the seal in the first place, moron. How do we stop it?"
"I- I don't know. Take away the blood, I guess".
"And I'm thinking, hurry Slayer," Spike added, nostrils twitching at the scent of fresh hot blood being spilled. He thrust Andrew at Xander. "You hold the boy wonder, we'll stop the bloodbath".
Spike and Buffy leapt forward just as the Seal of Danzalthar began to open, one section at a time, revealing an intensely bright light. Buffy moved to release the almost dead sacrifice while Spike aimed for the disfigured chanters. Within moments she was at his side, slaying the robed figures as quickly as he was. Spike was dismayed to see the seal continued to open – got all the blood it needed already – but he didn't let it distract him. Just as the last of the men guarding the seal fell to the ground, it opened fully to reveal a deep, dark hole.
Drawn against his will, Xander moved forward to peer into the abyss, leaping backwards when a grey taloned hand reached up and rested on the edge.
"Xander – run!" Buffy told him. He did as she ordered, turning tail with Andrew close behind. "How we gonna close this thing?" she asked Spike as she hefted her axe, fear making her voice discordant.
"Dunno, pet. Have to wing this one, I'm guessing".
The creature had pulled itself fully out of the hole now, and Spike gaped at the thing facing them. It was uglier than the Master, uglier even than the Prince of Lies or any other ancient vampire he'd ever seen. For it was definitely a vampire, of that he was certain. Another hand extended from the open seal, on the heels of the first vamp.
"Shit," Buffy exclaimed. "And here I was hoping for just one". She advanced warily, circling the vampire.
"Isn't he lovely," Drusilla crooned from Spike's other side. His head snapped towards her, and then back to Buffy. "She can't see me, my prince. Only you. And my darling boy there," she nodded towards the vamp. "I wanted you to know what a real vampire looks like, my sweet. Since you've turned into such a pathetic excuse for a bloodsucker. Not nice to stay in the sunshine like you have. Needed to find myself a new dark prince to take your place".
"You're not Dru," he growled softly.
"And you're not a man". Dru had disappeared, to be replaced by a Buffy identically dressed to the one who was now trading blows with the vampire. Spike ignored her to engage the second creature that had climbed from the seal. A quick glance revealed no more escapees from the Hellmouth, but Spike wasn't holding his needless breath on that point. He had a feeling there were more than two of them.
"You can close the seal, you know," not-Buffy said conversationally. "Play the hero. I know how you like to do that". Despite himself, Spike glanced at her, wondering if she – it – would really tell them how to do that.
The false Buffy smiled cruelly. "Yes Spike, you can do it. All you have to do is finish off that guy over there. You know how these things work. It has to have the blood, and once the blood starts flowing…"
"It doesn't close until it stops," he ground out in between blows. "Yeah. I'm not killing anybody for you, bitch, sorry".
She shrugged uncaringly. "It's up to you. The longer it stays open, the more of my guys escape. Fastest way to do it is to give the seal what it wants. Heart's blood". She cast a glance at the limp body of the man lying in the corner. "He could last for hours yet, and even then it wouldn't be over. It'll take more than his death to close the seal".
Morphing back into Dru, she continued speaking. "And my poor dears have such buckets of energy. Been cooped up for so long, laying in wait for their moment. Since before the first bug walked. How many of them do you think you can stop? And little girls tear so easily… Like pink paper…"
Two more vampiric heads appeared through the seal, clambering up to join the fray, and Spike considered his options. The thing aping Dru was right. No matter how much stronger Buffy was nowadays, these creatures were superior to most anything she had ever faced. Already the scent of Buffy's blood was strong, running freely from cuts the talons had inflicted upon her. Spike stared in dismay when she staked the thing and the wooden weapon in her grip simply shattered against its breastbone. Buffy stepped back, panicked.
"The axe, luv! Go for the head," he called out to her. She nodded in determination and dove for the weapon she'd dropped. Meanwhile, he had his own monster to kill. He wished he had more than just the shovel he'd tossed aside. If only he'd thought to bring along a broadsword. These bastards did not die easy.
His mind whirled as he fought. Spike knew he was hot-headed. Rash. Impulsive. Prone to biting off more than he could chew. Despite those traits, he had survived over a century as a vampire. And that was because he also had a practical streak a mile wide. That seemingly glaring contradiction had saved his and Drusilla's hides countless times.
It was the realistic side of him that was considering what the not-Buffy had told him. All he had to do to stop more super-vamps from escaping was end one life… one innocent life. If she was telling the truth. He swallowed hard as he ducked the swinging arm of his own opponent, never losing sight of the newest guests at the party, one now fully emerged, the other halfway out.
The half-drained bloke had no chance of surviving, he told himself. If Spike didn't kill the poor tosser, he'd likely expire quietly in the corner on his own while the heroes were busy battling the hordes of demons escaping the Hellmouth. Be doing him a favor really, putting him out of his misery.
That line of reasoning did little to stop the twisting in his gut.
"See all our friends as they come squirming up from out the earth," Drusilla crooned, writhing to unheard music.
Buffy managed to decapitate her opponent, its body exploding outward into dust. The third vamp looked at her and then took off, running from the room. Spike made his decision as yet another hand appeared on the edge of the hole.
"You chase it down, Buffy, I'll hold these back," he yelled, digging his shoulder in and driving the ugly creature back towards the open hole, hoping to send it back down into the hell it had escaped. He managed to drive the vampire to the edge of the seal, where it accidentally knocked the one who had just climbed out back in, along with the newest potential escapee, the grey forms tumbling into the darkness below. Unfortunately the original vampire remained on its feet, diving to the side at the last moment and almost sending Spike plummeting down in its place. Spike immediately abandoned his efforts and ran to the unconscious man in the corner.
"'M sorry mate," he whispered raggedly as he dragged the human back towards the gaping seal, dodging the creature trying to trap him. When he reached the open pit, he dug his fingers into the man's chest, ripping the cuts open, digging further until he had a hold of the man's barely beating heart. With a shudder, he ripped it out and squeezed it, spreading the blood around the perimeter of the seal, then raised his palms to his mouth as if by instinct, tongue darting out to lick them clean. With a groan he stopped, his blood-soaked hands balling into fists as he dropped them to his side.
"C'mon, c'mon," he grunted as yet another grey taloned hand poked up from the opening, refusing to let himself consider what he'd done. He'd deal with the soul-crushing guilt later. "Close, will you?" With a sudden flare of light, the seal snapped shut, severing the emergent arm from the body below.
"Right then," he snarled. "Guess that just leaves you and me, ugly". Spike renewed the fight with the remaining vampire, thanking whatever deity might be listening for the Gem of Amarra. He might not be winning this fight, but at least he wasn't losing it either.
"Spike!" he heard, and he turned to see the axe spinning at him end over end. Without missing a beat he reached up and snagged it from the air, then whirled and decapitated the vampire in front of him, grunting in satisfaction when it exploded into dust.
He rushed to Buffy's side. "How you holding up, pet?"
"I'm holding, and I'm up, but that's it. Number three got away from me," she grimaced in disgust as she sagged against the wall. "And hey, what the hell are those things?"
"Some kind of vamp is my best guess. Xander and the boy?"
"Getting away in the getaway car. I called to make sure they were safe before I gave up the chase". She noticed the body then, eyes widening impossibly at the sight of the gaping chest. "Oh my God, what did that thing do to him?"
Spike paled, or would have had it been physiologically possible, but he didn't correct her. "Let's – let's get him upstairs, drop him somewhere the cops will find him," he said, hoping the tremor in his voice wasn't noticeable to Buffy. "See the ring?" he pointed out the man's wedding band. "Somebody's going to be missing him". The tremor became more pronounced. "At least… at least they won't have to wonder what happened to him".
He scooped the corpse up and headed for the exit. "You go ahead," Buffy called to him. "I really want to cover this seal up before we leave. I'll meet you at home". He hesitated, not wanting to leave her in the state she was in, but she insisted. "Go on. I'm okay".
He nodded and turned. Grateful, actually, for the solitude. His mind was spinning with recriminations and he needed time. Time to examine what he'd done, to try to justify it to himself before he tried to justify it to the Slayer.
Spike strode down the corridors leading back to the stairs. "Change your mind?" he asked gruffly when he realized Buffy was right beside him.
She looked behind her. "Oh, no silly, I'm still covering up the seal. Not that it will do any good. It's gotten the taste for blood now… and it's hungry for more".
Spike shied away, eyes closed in despair. When he opened them again she was gone, but his mother was keeping pace by his side.
"Really, William, how could you hide what you did from Buffy? Are you ashamed of yourself? I thought I taught you better than to lie to a lady". She gave a tiny laugh. "Of course, I also taught you better than to kill your mother and turn her into a monster. I suppose you're just a bad seed. Can't be helped".
He stopped dead in his tracks, shaking. "Sod off!" he screamed.
His mother regarded him sadly. "No, you're not a hero after all, are you?" she asked, then winked out of existence.
Panting wildly, Spike moaned low in throat, an agonized guttural sound. His feverish eyes searched the surroundings, but he was quite alone once more.
If you didn't count his latest victim slung over his shoulder.