Chp 4: The Eye of the Storm
Riley Finn stared into the thick darkness of The Bronze. The wind howled round him as the storm that had cut all the power to the town now joyfully found the open door and swirled into the club. Shrieks, howls and grunts of “Shut the door” rang out as chairs were overturned and a scutter of loose paper flattened itself against the demon dancers.
Someone had found a flashlight and as Riley closed the door behind him, it’s beam speared out across the dancing demons. The electric guitars had stopped but the drummer – who had several arms and three hands on each – was playing a happy solo and the beat changed from romantic to fast and wild.
Riley pushed his way through the throng, heading for the bar. This place in the small hours of the morning was weird. He could feel the danger; he was outnumbered twenty to one, deadly glances were being thrown in his direction and he didn’t care. This was what he was all about – facing down evil, experiencing life on the edge. This was the way a man should live. This was what Buffy did all the time and it worked for her; why shouldn’t it work for him?
He leant on the bar and gazed round, hopefully. He’d heard about these late night drinking sessions at the Bronze. And demons and drink would lead to fighting: he desperately wanted some of that action. Needed to feel his fists sinking into demon flesh. And if there were a couple of vamps to stake as well, then all the better.
He grabbed a bottle of beer from behind the bar, ignoring the pleas from the demon serving that he couldn’t spend the whole evening giving out free drinks, goddamit! But, just as Riley was enjoying the cold liquid running down his throat, the flashlight zoomed across the room. And as it did so, it passed over a platinum blond head that Riley recognised only too well.
Spike! He might have guessed he’d find him here. And he was dancing to the thud of the drums, his arms wrapped round some demon or vampire bitch. She couldn’t have got much closer to him unless she’d crawled inside his pants! So much for all his supposed liking for Buffy. The first chance Spike got, he was off groping some ho. It just showed Hostile 17 wasn’t fit to be in the same room, the same world as the Slayer. And why she couldn’t see that was beyond him. Well, he’d just go and have a little word. Make it clear he knew exactly what sort of creep William the Bloody really was, chip or no chip.
Spike groaned; bloody soldier boy had spotted him! He tried holding Buffy closer to him to hide her, but the music had woken her from her dreamy state and she was pulling away. Spike could see Riley pushing his way through the dancers, ignoring the growls and squeaks, bared fangs and teeth. He caught Buffy’s hand and tried to move her further into the demon crowd. But it was useless.
“What the heck are you doing, Spike!” she snapped, irritated with herself for the last ten minutes of weakness. She couldn’t believe she’d been dancing that close to a vampire, to Spike. OK, she was tired, very tired, what with the worry about her mom and Dawn’s anguish about the operation. But that was no excuse for going to sleep in a vampire’s arms. She shuddered as she thought what her friends would say, how Giles would scold if he knew. Spike – arms – sleep – all bad words put together in one phrase.
She thrust the thought aside that for ten glorious minutes she’d been floating in a cocoon of warmth and safety, relaxed for the first time in days, weeks, months. “When did the lights go out?” she asked suddenly as the drum-beat thudded against her ears.
“Just now,” Spike said, trying to edge her towards the door. “Big storm outside, pet. Can’t you hear the thunder?”
He glanced back over his shoulder and swore under his breath. At any other time, he’d have delighted in being able to annoy Riley, throw it in his too shiny teeth that he, Spike, was the one out with the Slayer this evening. There would be a row, a fight, it would be great. But – and the word stuck in his throat and would not be dislodged, like rough neck skin when it got between your teeth – he’d promised Joyce that he would distract Buffy tonight. Get her mind off her mum’s operation. And, okay, although watching Riley thump him, because hey, chipped here, might amuse her, he didn’t think it would last long and there were still several hours to get through before the morning.
“Your demon fighters obviously aren’t going to show up tonight,” Buffy said. “I’m going home.”
Spike caught her arms and pulled her round to face him, trying desperately to block her from Riley’s view. But just then, the couple dancing next to them moved away, space opened up and Riley was there, staring down at her, his eyes wide with hurt astonishment.
“What the heck are you doing here?” They spoke together then there was a long pause. The drummer broke into a section involving crashing cymbals which Spike reckoned was a good thing because you could have cut the atmosphere between the three of them with a very sharp knife.
Buffy was the first to speak. “I’m…I’m trying to stop a demon fight.”
“By dancing with Spike?”
“We weren’t dancing…we were…. investigating.” The words sounded lame even as she spoke them.
“Investigating on the dance floor with his arms round you. So just which part of his anatomy were you investigating, Buffy?”
“What? Ewwww, Riley, that’s gross. This is Spike. Remember? Vampire guy. There is no part of his anatomy that would ever interest me.”
“Bollocks!” Without realising that what he'd just said could be taken two ways, Spike sounded offended. “Let‘s face it, Soldier Boy, whatever I’ve got, she likes it more than yours!”
“Spike – that is so not helping. Just shut up and let me and Riley sort this out. In fact, just go away. Go a long way away, to the other side of the country if possible.”
Spike hesitated then turned away. He was keen to stay and watch the argument but reckoned he’d done the best he could to fulfil his promise to Joyce. If the Slayer and Finn were going to have a full scale slug it out row, then that would surely keep her mind off hospitals, mothers with brain tumours and little sisters who – He stopped suddenly and spun round, the ridges appearing across his forehead, his eyes gleaming gold in the darkness of the club. “Hey, if you’re here, and Buffy’s here’s – who the hell is looking after Dawn?”
Buffy stared at him, annoyed. Why the heck was he trying to make more trouble for her and Riley? He’d caused enough tonight as it was. “I suppose Willow came round and is sleeping over. Or Xander and Anya. I mean, no one is going to leave a young girl alone in a house in the middle of a thunder storm, least of all Riley.”
Spike shimmered back into human form, looking in disgust at the guilt on the soldier’s face. “Oh yeah?” he drawled in a dreadful American accent.
* * * * * *
As the front door at Revello smashed open, Dawn leapt to her feet, slid on the mashed up strawberries and cereal on the floor and ended up on her backside, staring up at the creature that had walked in. It was small, thin and lavender coloured: there was a face where most people had a waist; arms appeared where a head should have been and it was wearing high-heeled, jewelled strappy shoes that were several sizes too big.
“Hey, cool shoes!” Dawn said automatically, because they were right in front of her eyes. Then the non-shopping part of her brain switched itself on and she leapt up, wishing she could think where the weapons were in the dark. She flung out a hand and found a table-lamp. She tugged the flex out of the wall and hefted the base in her hand. One good thump, that was all she’d need.
“I’m all wet!.” The demon sat down on the floor, scooped up some squashed strawberries and mumbled them into her mouth. She stared at Dawn. “You’ve made a mess on the floor. Your mommy’s going to kill you. My name’s Eriddny. Do you like my shoes?”
Dawn hesitated, then put down the table-lamp. “Er, hi Eriddny; I’m Dawn. And yes, they’re very nice. But they look a bit big on you.”
“My Daddy says my feet will grow four times the size by next year so I got big ones out of the shop window. It’s all broken. All smashed.”
“The window?” Dawn moved gingerly off the floor onto the sofa. The little demon ignored her, being busy scooping up the spilt cereal.
“All broken. But it wasn’t me! Honest. I was in bed. Then there was a lot of thunder and rain so I gotten up. I was scared. Were you scared?” Three bright eyes looked up at her. “You’re funny! You’ve only got two eyes. And your face is on top of your head. Does it hurt?”
“What – no. Look, be quiet for a moment. I want to think.”
“‘Think, stink, pink, blink, drink, slink, clink, think, stink, pink, blink, drink, pink, think, stink – I can say lots of words. I need to go to the bathroom. Do you know where my daddy is? Where are your mommy and daddy? Are they upstairs in bed? Shall we go and find them?”
Dawn crossed the room and stared out into the night. The thunder sounded further away now and the rain was lessening. The storm was passing and an uneasy calm lay across Sunnydale. Eriddny had asked where her mother was - Dawn felt the familiar ache that consumed her every time she thought of her mom. She almost wished she didn’t know where she was – alone in that horrid hospital waiting for them to cut open her head and find - She turned back to the demon child. “Look – you can’t stay, Eriddny. You have to go home. My sister will be back soon and she’s the Slayer. She won’t – well, she won’t want to find you here. Believe me. She’s – she’s mean.”
“My daddy will smack her if she’s nasty to me.”
Dawn shut her eyes for a minute and wondered if such a miracle could ever happen. Then she sighed and knew she was just dreaming. Reality was that Buffy would come hurtling through the door, shouting at her about the mess, and dispatch the baby demon with a backhanded thrust without even waiting to hear that it was a child. “OK, then you’d better go home right away.”
The little lavender face frowned from the middle of its body and there was a suspicious gleam of tears in all its eyes. “I don’t know the way. You take me! I like you.”
A small hand slid into Dawn’s and squeezed her fingers. Dawn felt a thrill of pride. She was the one in charge, the one this little demon wanted. Not Buffy, not Riley or Xander or Willow. She was way more grown up than this kid and definitely not lost like her. So she’d take her home to her parents and that would prove to Buffy and everyone that she should be part of the group and be allowed to do things like they did. It would show her mom that she could be relied on to help. Then her mom would get better quicker. Smiling, she pulled on her denim jacket and led Eriddny out into the night in search of the demon's parents.
The eye of the storm settled over Sunnydale Hospital. Joyce Summers could hear that the wind had dropped, the heavy rain had stopped. Her room grew warmer, the air thick and moist: it was as if all the world was sitting, waiting, just as she was waiting for the surgeon’s knife to save her. But Joyce knew that when the eye moved away and the back of the storm hit the town, life would become fierce and savage.
She lay back on her pillows and wondered if Spike had kept his promise to distract Buffy this evening. She smiled gently. If anyone could, he could.
At least, she thought with a sigh, she didn’t have to worry about – the name slid out of her brain and back again – Dawn, of course! She was safe and sound at home. The storm couldn’t hurt her.