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The Restfield Irregulars

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“Halloween’s stupid.”

Ryan draped the cheap rubber mask over his fists so he could glare into the empty eye holes. It stared right back at him, molded green brow furrowed in a way that he thought meant it agreed with him.

“What, are you nuts?” Max glanced up from the bin he had been rummaging in, eyes wide with disbelief. “What’s not to like about a candy holiday?”

“Just everything, dork. You have to get all dressed up in a stupid costume and then go to the stupid high school for their stupid charity program, and then you walk around for, like, ever, and then half the candy you get is always stupid peanut butter kisses and Smarties.” He tossed the green mask onto the table. “Mom should just buy me a bag of Reese’s and stop pretending she cares.”

Max looked at him with sympathy. “She couldn’t get the day off, huh?”

“She never gets the day off. I don’t think she even asked.”

Max pulled out a set of horns on a red rubber cap, trying them on. “My dad works swing shift. He can’t take me either.”

Ryan’s eyes felt hot, like maybe he was going to cry, and that was just not cool, crying right in the middle of the stupid costume store; he picked up the green mask again, pulling it swiftly over his head. “Rarr!” he growled, the rubber giving his voice a creepy echo. “I am Goujk the Terrible!”

Max rolled his eyes. “Gooch? What kind of name is that for a demon.”

“GoujK,” Ryan said stoutly. “With a kuh on the end. I think it’s cool. You can be Tufud.”

That made Max laugh, and Ryan growled some more, because having a friend who laughed when you were acting dumb was almost as good as having parents who were around.

Almost.

*

“That’s not a real vampire costume.”

Madison’s mom frowned down at the dress she was holding out. “But it says right here, vampire. I thought this was what you wanted.”

“It’s too girly.”

Her mom looked down at her with that face Madison had come to know all too well – it was her trying-not-to-be-disappointed face, the one she always wore when Madison refused to wear something with puffy sleeves or ruffles or big floppy bows. The one she wore when Madison dressed like herself.

“You are a girl.” She held out one of the lace sleeves enticingly. “Sure you don’t want to try it on?”

“Moooooom! You said I could wear whatever I wanted this year, because I’m using my own money. I want to be a real vampire.” Madison had been saving her paper route money for months, just so she didn’t have to wear something cute and frilly. Last year, she’d let her mom talk her into being a fairy princess, and she’d felt uncomfortable the whole night. She’d just been so… pink.

Her mom sighed grumpily. “And what makes it a real vampire?”

“Like Dracula. You know, a vest and a cape and a ruffly shirt.” She spotted the one she wanted across the store and weaved through the crowd to grab it off the rack. “This one.”

“But Madison, that’s a boy—“ Her mom cut herself off with a frazzled sigh. “Fine. Your money, your costume.”

“Don’t worry, Mom,” Madison said reassuringly as she fastened the cape around her neck – really, grownups were so fragile! “I’ll look really cool.” She swirled the cape up with her arm to shield her face. “Blah, blah, blah!” she said in her very best Transylvanian accent.

Her mom rolled her eyes, but she was smiling, and it was all okay again – it was totally obvious that Madison’s mom just didn’t understand how she had ended up with a daughter who didn’t want to wear dresses or do cutesy crafts with popsicle sticks and glitter, but Madison knew she loved her anyhow, and she in turn did her best to make her mom happy and not be a disappointment. She always wore the clothes her mom bought her – even the pink sparkly shirts – and she always did her homework, and she always made it home from her paper route before sundown.

She just wasn’t bending on this.

Suddenly there was a raucous cackle from behind her; Madison jumped and turned to see some blonde girl hastily setting down a laughing pumpkin on the counter. She rolled her eyes.

Ugh. Teenagers.

*

“It’s so pretty.”

Christina fingered the rich pink brocade of the dress that was displayed on a dress form in the very back of the store.

“It’s too big for you,” her little sister Jillian piped up.

“Duh. I can tell it’s too big.” She petted the lace on the sleeve anyhow. “And I was a princess last year. This year I want to be a superhero, like Wonder Woman or Batgirl.” She reluctantly turned away and headed over to the kids’ section of the store, rifling through the racks.

Huh. That was weird. Usually there were, like, dozens of superhero costumes all over the place, but there weren’t any, not even those generic costumes that were all super-hero-ey but weren’t anyone in particular. There were lots of devils, and witches, and a lacy vampire costume, and then some cutesy things like princesses and flowers and cats, but not a superhero in sight.

Finally she picked out a black outfit with a gold bat at the waist. The packaging said it was an ACTION VAMPIRE GIRL! but she could pretend it was Batgirl.

…Okay, maybe she couldn’t, but it did have a bat. That was something. And it was really cute.

Jillian had grabbed a puffy flower costume and was trying on the felt hat, petals all around her beaming face, and Christina quickly checked her pocket for the money her mom had given her to buy both their costumes, both to make sure she hadn’t dropped it and to make sure there was enough for both outfits. She did some quick math in her head, counting the bills.

Oh crapola, there wasn’t enough!

“Is everything all right here?” The old guy running the shop came over, and Christina sniffled just a bit and put the bat-vamp-girl costume back on the rack. He had a funny voice, like a butler or something.

“We’re okay, sir.” Mom had said she needed to use her best manners, since she couldn’t come with them to the store. “Can we buy the flower costume?”

“And not this one?” He reached out and plucked her costume back off the rack.

Christina lifted her chin. “No, sir, just the flower.”

“Did I forget to mention that I was giving you a fifty-percent discount on your purchase today?” He waggled her costume temptingly. “I am very motivated to sell every costume in this store.”

Okay, he was kinda creepy, but… it wasn’t like he was offering her candy, or luring her to a van, or anything. He was just trying to sell her a costume. And she needed a costume. She didn’t want to drag Jillian to the next store over, not when they still had to walk home.

“Thank you, sir,” she mumbled, and he beamed at her and took the costumes off to the register, ringing them up and bringing Christina back her change, and… Well, maybe he was nice after all. He even put it all in a nice shopping bag, and dropped a few Jolly Ranchers in. Red ones.

Yeah, he was really nice. He just seemed creepy because he was so old. He had to be, like, forty.

***

Miss Edith was telling tales, the willful minx, and Drusilla wished her Daddy were there, for he would know how to punish her properly, but he was gone, tucked deep deep inside, hidden away, and it was not time to call him outside yet, not hardly time, not yet, so instead she took up her errant playmate and brought her to her boy, her sweet boy, so sweet he was, lollipops and cherry blossoms and candy floss, a taste on the tongue and gone. Ah, how she would weep when he was gone.

“Rewind it. Let me see that again.”

He was staring at the sun again, her naughty boy, his eyes like coals, burning, burning away, until he could not see in the night, he would get so lost. She must go to him, blindfold his too-curious eyes, her moth in the night, not let him see the flames. He was hers, he did not belong to the fire. She would not let the fire have him, even though he laughed like a lie, her boy was a liar.

“She’s tricky,” he said to the dust beside him. “Baby likes to play. You see that, when she stakes him with that thing? That’s what you call resourceful.” Tongue to lips, inside out, outside in. “Rewind it again.”

Drusilla hesitated towards him, averting her eyes, she could not bear to watch. “Miss Edith needs her tea,” her voice said without her.

He did not look at her, the flame had him, but he held out his hand, grasping for salvation. “Come here, poodle.” His insides were there in his eyes, inside to outside, she had to help him hide it away. Hide it all so the sun would never see. She had to save him. Save him from the sun, from the fish, from all the burning.

His hand was wavering like a mirage, but she would take it, she would save him from the quicksand, the burning sand, its maw gaping wide to suck him inside, inside inside. Do you love my insides? The parts you can’t see?

There, she had him, his gaze was on her. “Eyeballs to entrails, my sweet,” he said fervently, and he was hers for a moment, just a moment. “That’s why I’ve got to study this slayer.” His eyes were drawn back to the screen, and Dru looked despite herself, she stared at the sun her boy loved so, and oh she loved the sun too, the poetry, the dance, she loved the sun like a sticky bun and soon she would eat her up, outside to inside, icing sweet and sharp, and then her boy would have nowhere to look but her – ah, too bright, too bright, Drusilla could not see. She looked away, at cold concrete, at the things she could bear to rest her eyes on, the cool and the night and inside inside inside. More lies spilled from her naughty boy’s naughty lips. “Once I know her, I can kill her, and once I kill her, you can have your run of Sunnyhell, get strong again.”

She saw it then, clear as the moon. “Don’t worry. Everything’s switching. Outside to inside.” She circled him, gasping from the pleasure of the sight of the eclipse, swirling and twirling deep inside her. Her mouth opened wide to swallow the sun. “It makes her weak.”

And there, he was safe, his insides locked away again. “Really? Did my pet have a vision?”

She looked at his fishes, his burning baby fish, and smiled a wicked promise at them. “Do you know what I miss? Leeches.” She would set a leech to each fish, each one its own, to drain away the burning and the blood until her boy was free again, and then she would set them all to the sun, all the leeches swollen with red fire and red blood, and let them suck away all the sunlight so that her boy could live forever.

Her sweet William took her arms, turning her in a circle, a sweet dance. “Come on. Talk to Daddy.” Not her Daddy, she knew, not hardly, but before she could say, he went on, probing. “This thing that makes the Slayer weak – when is it?”

Drusilla curled inwards, outside to inside, missing her Daddy, her true Daddy. “Tomorrow.” She held Miss Edith closer, held her up between them, a shield against her Spike’s burning.

He was confused, poor boy. “Tomorrow’s Halloween. Nothing happens on Halloween.”

Foolish, foolish, thinking the rules were rules, that things would stay where they belonged, that there even was such a thing as belonging. “Someone’s come to change it all.” Miss Edith had more tales to tell; Drusilla tilted her head so she could hear them all, all the naughty whispers, the rumors floating down from the moon. “Someone new.”

Her sweet boy believed her, as was only proper – listen to your mummy or there will be no cakes with tea; Drusilla had always listened to her mummy, she had always had cakes, until her mummy was gone and there were no cakes ever again, no cakes in her insides, nor tea, nor anything but the hunger and the cold and the seeing, outside to inside, but she was done seeing for now, she closed her eyes and sang Miss Edith a song and danced away, she danced and danced, until her insides and her outsides melted together like sweet syrup and it was all one.

Behind her, her sweet boy had returned to staring at the sun. “Rewind it again.”

Ah, foolish. But he would learn.

***

Christina was officially jealous.

They had arrived at the high school right at four o’clock and gotten signed in, and then some weasel-guy in a suit had come up and looked their group over, wrinkling up his nose like he smelled something bad.

“This the group assigned to Summers?”

The table-lady had nodded, and he’d looked them over one last time, eyes narrow and mean, and then gestured for them to follow him.

And then Christina had seen it.

The dress.

The girl who was wearing it was a lot taller than Christina, and she had boobs, so of course the dress fit her perfectly, and then she had seen them coming over and smiled, and that was when Christina thought she might be jealous, because dress-girl was pretty, too, with really lush brown hair in a fancy updo that made Christina’s two ponytails look lame, and then the weasel-guy had brought them all right over to her, and Christina had realized that she was their chaperone, and so she was going to have to look at her being all grown-up and beautiful in the pretty pink dress all night, while she herself was wearing a costume that wasn’t even what she’d wanted in the first place. And that made it official.

This sucked.

Weasel-guy said some more mean things – Christina didn’t pay much attention, because he was way too old to say anything interesting – and then he left, brushing right past her like she wasn’t even there. Jerk.

Dress-girl waited until he was out of sight, looking annoyed, and then she bent down a bit.

“Hi! I’m Buffy,” she said, trying too hard to be cheerful. “You ready to go trick-or-treating?”

The kids in the group answered with varying degrees of enthusiasm; Christina just rolled her eyes, because really? Buffy? How stupid could a name get? But now that she was up close she could see that the pretty brown hair was a wig, and that was a bit of a comfort. Plus, Buffy’s nose was really funny-looking. Not nearly as nice as Christina’s nose.

That made her feel a little better about the dress.

“Okay then!” Buffy straightened up, face determined. “Let’s go make your dentists cry!”

***

Buffy shepherded her little group of costumed cuties from house to house, trying to be all big-sisterly and nice. Which was actually a little weird; she was an only child, and all her friends were only children, so she really didn’t know how big sisters were supposed to behave, except from TV shows, and on TV shows big sisters were invariably mean and uptight and always complaining about their clothes being stolen, except for when they were the main characters, in which case the younger siblings were always holy terrors that were in fact stealing clothes. Her little troop here was pretty well-behaved, and she didn’t want to be mean, so that left her winging it.

Still, it didn’t take a genius to read their glum faces when they came back from their latest house. She crouched down to get face to face with the little flower, who looked like she was about to burst into tears.

“What did Mrs. Davis give you?”

They all held up toothbrushes. The bane of trick-or-treaters everywhere. At least the people who gave out scary religious tracts usually packaged them with a candy bribe.

She put on her best dramatic Slayer face. “She must be stopped.” That seemed to help; the little flower gave her a watery smile. “Let’s hit one more house. We still have a few more minutes before I need to get you back.

***

And in the back room of a picked-over costume store, Ethan Rayne completed his ritual.

“It’s showtime.”

***

Ryan was bored, just like he’d expected.

He and Max had come together to the high school, and of course they had ended up with the lamest of the lame teenagers – he thought it might be a girl, but it was hard to tell because of the stupid ghost costume. (Seriously? Even kindergarteners wouldn’t be caught dead in that thing!) And then they had started walking, and it was the same old routine. Go to house, say trick-or-treat, stand around while the dumb grownups gushed over all the costumes, get one measly piece of candy in return, then go to the next house and do it all over again.

But his mom had wanted him to “have fun” and if he didn’t come home with a big bag of candy and a bigger grin on his face, she’d be disappointed, so he trudged along the porch to the next door, urged along by their ridiculous ghost companion, and rang the doorbell, pulling his rubber mask down over his face.

“Trick or treat!” he chorused with the rest of his group.

“Oh, aren’t you adorable!” The little old lady was obviously blind, because in no universe was a rubber green demon cute, but whatever. They were almost done. He was about to reach out for his candy when the old lady peered owlishly down into her bucket.

“Oh, dear! Am I all out? I could have sworn I had more candy!”

Seriously? She had exactly one job on Halloween, to have a bucket of candy, and she’d run out without even noticing? How unfair was that?

Max had started growling beside him, which was a little freaky, but he was feeling kind of growly himself, sick to his stomach like he’d eaten all his candy already, and his mask felt hot and clingy and sweaty, and he could feel his anger at the little old lady rolling and pulsing inside him, building and growing until it was rage, it was RAGE, fury coming out of his every pore, and as the pathetic human started to babble out an apology Goujk reached out with his scaly green claws and took her puny throat in his hands and squeezed with all his demonic strength.

She began to choke, and he gloried in it, the feel of her pain at his hands, but the growling behind him turned to a snarl, and he whipped his head around to see Tufud, red and horned and slavering, trying to get past him to steal his kill, and his rage bubbled over and he cast the human aside, attacking his rival, barely even noticing when their contested prey scrabbled her way back into the house and shut the door, because all he could feel was fury and heat and the need to destroy, and…

Goujk lifted his head suddenly. There was something, on the edge of his senses… There! An aura of strength and purpose and evil, not far away. It was calling to him, an irresistible force, and he knew he had to go, he had to find this powerful being and bend his knee in homage, offer to serve this great and glorious evil.

He had found his leader.

Deathmatch forgotten, Goujk leaped from the porch and tore through the shrubbery, hearing Tufud crashing behind him, and ran off into the night.

Neither of them noticed the terrified ghost of a girl, watching them go.

***

Christina watched in horror as Jillian’s feet disappeared, her hands flattening and turning green, her crying face morphing and changing until she was gone, and all that was left was a sunflower, improbably rooted in the concrete, and she had the barest moment to despair before she was doubled over with stomach cramps, like she was sick, and she fell to her knees, dropping her candy bag beside Jillian’s. Her ponytails swung forward on either side of her face, and as she watched they began to change, turning black at the very tips, the blackness spreading upwards like water soaking into a paper towel, and she screwed her eyes shut, because she wasn’t going to cry, she wasn’t, she wasn’t…

And she lifted her head, the night suddenly like day to her, scents and sounds crystal clear in her ears – the melodious screams of prey running on the street, the bitter and intoxicating musk of fear, and oh, there beneath it, she could hear it throbbing through every piece of meat that scuttled by, blood. Blood pumping and fragrant and alluring, she wanted it, she wanted it, she was starved…

She ran out into the street, seeking, hunting – she snarled at a human in military fatigues, he was ripe and smelled like a delicious feast, but he was too big for her alone, she could tell, and so she vaulted a fence and ran off to find more of her kind, someone bigger and stronger, someone who could help her take down her prey.

She would find reinforcements, and she would return, and the man would be hers to feast upon.

She wasn’t going to let such a prime source of blood get away.

***

Madison was moving faster than she’d ever thought possible – faster than on her roller skates even – and part of her was watching in amazement, marveling at her own speed and agility, but most of her was focused on her prey, who had just run into an alley.

Stacey Fishbourne was her name; Madison had been in her group for trick-or-treating, which had been annoying because Stacey always picked on her in the locker-room before gym, but now that all seemed like a dream, and what was real was now, the enticing aroma of Stacey’s blood, the salty smell of her tears running down her cheeks and all over her princess dress, the musk of her terror… Madison swooped into the alley behind Stacey, her cape flowing behind her with a delightful swish of satin, and in seconds she had Stacey in her grasp, had her fangs bared to take her first taste of blood, and…

Wait.

She lifted her head from Stacey’s still-unmarred throat, ignoring her victim’s tears and struggles as she stretched out her senses. There was something powerful nearby, something stronger than the pull of mere blood. She looked out to the mouth of the alley, and she saw him. Tall and strong, strolling along like he owned the streets, and with that one glance she dropped Stacey like a hot potato, because… she knew him.

He was the Big Bad, and she had to follow.

***

Spike strode down the very center of the street, taking in the chaos around him.

He’d occasionally ventured out on Halloween before – not to hunt, because that was gauche, but just to see what the fuss was about – and he’d generally enjoyed the spectacle, particularly in the last few decades as the holiday had grown more elaborate; they still had some ways to go to match the masquerade balls of his human days, but it was a delightful night to watch people without hunting them for once.

This, though… this was something new indeed.

Instead of laughing children, the streets were full of demons and vampires and monsters – except most of them were in miniature, like someone had taken the lineup of Son of Svengoolie and tossed them in the dryer on hot. Scattered human children in costumes ran and wept and huddled in corners watching the madness unfold. The streets smelled of fear and bloodlust and demonic energy; Spike took in a deep whiff and surveyed it all, feeling a grin break out on his face.

“This is just… neat.”

He heard a noise behind him, and turned to see a pair of the fun-sized demons approaching him, one green, one red.

“Well, well, well,” he said heartily. “Come forward, niblets. Don’t be shy.”

They knelt, growling obsequiously, and Spike inclined his head, accepting their obeisance as his due, before taking a knee himself, to get down to his mini-groupies’ level.

“And what would you be called?”

“Goujk,” the green one snarled around his snaggle teeth.

“Tufud” said the red, presenting his horns; Spike gave them an affectionate rub. Really, they were too adorable, far more entertaining than the usual run of demons.

There were more gathering about them, he noticed – mostly small fry, but a few good-sized heavies as well. The children came forward and formed into a semicircle, as if it were storytime at the library – a vampire girl with black pigtails, a gold bat at her waist, and another girl in a waistcoat and ruffled cravat, black hair slicked back like his own, and more behind them, his own little gang. They looked at him with adoring yellow eyes, and he smiled back at them benevolently, rising to his feet.

“All right then,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “Time for some fun.”

***

The vampire who had once been Madison soon found herself walking at the Big Bad’s right hand, mimicking his swagger as they traversed the streets of Sunnydale engaging in acts of mischief.

Spike had started his minions off with a round of ding-dong-ditch – which had turned out to be very un-ditchy, as the local homeowners had apparently figured out that Something Bad Was Happening and simply refused to answer their doors – and then had gleefully led them in smashing jack-o-lanterns down a stretch of Camino Laguna Vista. The little monsters were currently engaged in tossing toilet paper all over a house that Spike had disliked the look of.

“Always wanted to do this,” Spike had confessed to Madison, looking on benevolently with his arms folded, and she had nodded, folding her own arms, because it was like she was his lieutenant, wasn’t she? She felt instinctively that she was meant to be in charge, bowing only to the Big Bad himself, and he seemed willing to indulge her.

Suddenly, Spike jerked his head, up, muttering something under his breath. “Gather the troops,” he snarled, and Madison sprang to obey, running out to corral her fellows. They all gathered behind a tree, Spike crouching down among them, watching with narrow eyes as a group of humans – and one vampire – hurried by. Madison’s sharp ears picked out part of their conversation.

“Are you sure she came this way?” The ponytailed vamp by Madison’s side growled suddenly, as if in recognition; Spike cast her a warning look and she subsided.

“No.” Ah, that one… he had almost the same aura as Spike’s, but… muffled somehow. Like it was wrapped in layers of blankets, and even though Madison could sense strength, it wasn’t enough to break the allure of the Big Bad.

“She’ll be okay.”

The dampened vamp growled, “Buffy would be okay. Whoever she is now, she’s helpless. Come on!”

Spike turned to them then, his eyes gleaming yellow, grinning with unrestrained glee.

“Do you hear that, my friends?” The demons all gathered in close, hanging on his every word. “Somewhere out here is the tenderest meat you’ve ever tasted, and all we have to do is find her first!”

Madison stood when he did, taking her place by his side as he swept out into the night again, testing the air for the scent of their prey, and when he gave a hiss of triumph and stalked off, confident and implacable, she stalked right along with him.

She would follow him anywhere.

***

Goujk strode powerfully in his leader’s wake, clenching and unclenching his scaled claws, yearning for the moment he could dig them deep into the tenderest meat Spike had promised them. They were close now; he could feel their prey in the warehouse ahead, he could practically taste it, hot and wild on his forked tongue.

There were others they could have eaten along the way – frightened children huddled in corners, a happily zoned-out hippie, even an unconscious teen pirate collapsed in a pile of trash here in the alley, good and meaty – but Spike had his eyes on one target, and therefore so did Goujk; he followed his leader with single-minded focus, helping Tufud and the larger demons of their gang as they tore at the flimsy barricades at the warehouse door.

Spike stood and watched, tall and straight and commanding, exuding power and purpose, and when the barricade was down, Goujk stepped to the side and bowed, growling in anticipation as his leader strode through the door as if he were the lord of all he surveyed.

Which, as far as Goujk was concerned, he was.

***

The Lady Coiffure was very put out.

She should, by virtue of her noble birth, be at this moment lounging in her boudoir, devoting all her attention to making herself more beautiful, until her maiden hand was gained by some Grand Duke or other. Instead she had been plunged into a nightmarish world of demons and muskets and – worst of all – low peasants, and now she was in an extremely dirty building being menaced by all manner of unpleasant and vile creatures, who had seized her protectors so that she was all alone as she faced… him.

He was lean and predatory, his face terribly distorted, and she backed away from him in terror as he stalked forward, eyeing her like she was a sweetmeat.

“Look at you,” he purred menacingly. “Shaking. Terrified. Alone. Lost little lamb.”

He struck her then, and she wept, seeing her death in his cold blue eyes, which was entirely unfair. She was not meant for such things! She should be doing… should be doing… should be doing lady things, whatever those might be, not facing certain demise.

“I love it,” the cruel man said, and then his strong hand was on her throat; he bent her backward and stroked her forehead as tenderly as a lover, taking hold of her hair and bending in with his sharp fangs, and tears ran from her eyes as she resigned herself to her doom…

“I’m scared! I want my mommy!”

The monster’s head lifted in surprise, and she looked up at him, and realized she knew him, this was Spike, and why the hell was she cringing before him when she should be punching him in his stupid vampire nose? The pain of his hand in her hair suddenly vanished as her wig came off in his hands, and she was Buffy again, she was herself, and she smiled.

“Hi, honey! I’m home.”

And she punched him in the gut.

***

For a moment Madison felt queasy and disoriented, like she was being sick in reverse, and when the nausea passed, she realized there was a fight going on in front of her, a real honest-to-god fight, and she grabbed the girl next to her and pulled her back just in time to keep from being bowled over as the girl in the dress and the Big Bad fought it out.

Wow. Maybe she needed to revise her opinion of pink, girly clothes, because dress-girl was kicking serious butt.

But as she watched them duke it out, she felt kind of… sad. It had been really wonderful, following Spike around, being his right-hand-vamp. She’d felt like she fit in, for once. Like she belonged.

It had been awesome.

Something shiny and silver spun out of the melee like a bullet; she chased after it and picked it up, glancing back to see Spike sliding onto the ground, beaten. He snarled one last time and was gone.

It was his lighter. As a vampire, she’d been awed and amazed at the sheer courage it took for him to wield flame, knowing instinctively that it was danger, that one wrong move could turn him to ashes, and so his lighter had been like a big old middle-finger to the universe, mystical and portentous.

Now it was just a piece of metal.

The girl with the ponytails came up beside her, looking strange without her bumpies and with her hair mousy brown.

“Is that his?” she asked quietly.

Behind her, a boy with a green rubber mask pushed back on his head and another with a red horned cap joined their group, looking at the lighter. They stared at it together, glumly.

“Yeah, it’s his.” Madison’s fist closed around it. “We should give it back.”

***

Spike staggered out into the alley, eyes dimmed with rage. So close, so fucking close! Just a few more inches and there would have been succulent Slayer blood on his tongue, seasoned with the sweet knowledge that nothing stood between Drusilla and her cure, not to mention the heady spice of Angel’s grief and rage. One more feather in his cap, another tale to tell when he got to bragging, and the Hellmouth his to rule…

He viciously kicked a cardboard box out of his way, then kicked it again, kicking it and kicking it until it was a sagging parody of a box, drooping like a jack-o-lantern in November. Bugger it all, why the bleeding hell couldn’t Dru’s vision have included the fact that the bleeding slayer would get her mojo back just in time to spectacularly kick his ass? You’d think the bloody pixies might have noticed that stupendous failure before sending him out onto the streets on fucking Halloween, like a bloody poseur.

He heard a footstep behind him and whirled, inwardly rolling his eyes at his own stupidity, lingering here in the alley when he knew how fucking clever and resourceful the slayer was, but instead of a fist aimed at his nose, he met… four pairs of huge eyes.

His minions.

They were back to what he assumed must be their normal insipid selves. Two crooked rubber masks, one red, one green. A tall girl with pigtails, gold vinyl bat at the waist of her black outfit – her hair was light brown now, not black, and she looked terrified without her vampire bumpies. And a freckled girl with hair in a pixie cut, in a ruffled poet’s shirt and brocade vest. They were watching him warily, like he was a lion at the zoo, and it would have puffed him up with pride if it weren’t such a fucking low bar, terrifying elementary students – especially since they weren’t even properly terrified, or they’d not have followed him out here at all.

His eyes narrowed. Dru would be ecstatic if he brought home just one of the little buggers for a treat, a dolly she could dress up and play with and sip the terror from, killing them by inches over days or even weeks. He wouldn’t be surprised if this had been her plan all along, in fact. Bitter humiliation for Spike and a sweet young treat for his princess, just the sort of thing his precious jade reveled in.

Well, bugger that. He was bloody well not rewarding the bitch for sending him on a bloody wild goose chase.

He snarled at them, watching as Goujk and Tufud – whatever the fuck their real names were – recoiled, and the pigtailed girl pouted, eyes wounded and betrayed, but when the last girl took a hesitant step forward – forward! – he launched the cardboard box against the alley wall with a final vicious kick. Didn’t the bloody girl have any sense? Walking up to the Big Bad like he was a sheep in a bloody petting zoo?

“Bugger off!” he hissed furiously at his former minions, giving his coat a swish as he stalked down the alley. He gave the pirate-teenager one last kick along the way, just because.

Fuck Halloween.

***

The children watched in awe as Spike vanished into the darkness, the tails of his leather duster swirling behind him.

“Wow,” Ryan said at last. “He said booger.”

They shared a moment of reverent silence, gazing after the coolest adult of all time.

“What does booger off mean?” Max said after a bit, forehead screwing up in confusion.

“I dunno,” Madison shrugged, eyes sparkling. “But I bet it’s something bad.”

“That was so cool!” Christina said suddenly, face splitting into a wide grin.

Max looked doubtful. “I don’t think Mom and Dad are going to be happy about this…”

Madison rolled her eyes. “So don’t tell them, dummy. They won’t know the difference.” She frowned down at the lighter in her hand, opening her mouth like she had more to say, then snapped her teeth shut, chin mutinous. “Like they’d believe it anyhow.”

“Okay. Yeah.” Max nodded in vigorous relief. “They don’t believe in monsters at all.” They all exchanged commiserating looks, because really, adults in Sunnydale were totally stupid. Not believing in monsters! Kids knew better, every single one of them. Though for some reason, as people in Sunnydale grew older… they forgot. They forgot about the things in the dark and the shadows, forgot that the monsters were real, until by the time they were teenagers, they were just as stupid as every other grownup. Maybe stupider, because, well, teenagers. They had hormones and stuff.

Ryan kept staring down the alley, hoping for one last look at his great leader, but when the teenagers who were supposed to be taking care of them – and doing a really lousy job – finally started to spill out into the alley, muttering in confusion, he gave up. Spike was gone. Even so, Ryan felt his lips stretch in an unwilling smile.

“Best Halloween ever,” he whispered to himself.