She wondered about the sanity of what she was going to do, but what choice was there? Her predecessor from so very long ago had trusted the monster. His exploits on the side of good, along with his grandsire’s, had been written in more Watcher Journals than she cared to think about. Besides, there were too few of them left. Her end – the end of the whole damn world – was coming. She needed Spike. He’d been nothing but helpful, snide, insightful - but still it stuck in her craw. She was a Slayer after all.
She jumped to the next roof over, still scanning the night sky for him, for any danger, half surprised to have made it this far without something challenging her. Above her, stars twinkled. She paused to gaze at them. Her world was mostly smog and light pollution. Stars were a rare sight. It might be the very last time she saw them. That thought made tears prick at the back of her eyes. She blinked them away. Slayers didn’t have time for tears.
She spotted him, not too far away. Jogging over, easily leaping from roof to roof, she kicked off into space. Her cat-like landing was slightly marred by the scythe she carried. It was a useful weapon – an important one – but it could be unwieldy. She always had small bruises from where it would thump along her calves.
“Took you long enough,” Spike said with that damn smugness of his.
She snorted, tossing him the scythe. He caught it effortlessly. Somewhere an ancestral Slayer was spinning in her grave, knowing a vampire held the scythe. She really didn’t care. “Scared of having to wait here alone, were ya?” She could be a wise-ass, too. After straightening her clothes, she ran her hands over her head, feeling the scratchy stubble there. A few days ago, she had nearly died. A monster caught her by the hair, swinging her into a wall so hard, she thought her back had broken. She swore it would never happen again. Without the hair, she thought she looked younger, waif-like. She didn’t like it, but it was better than dying.
“No, but I was starting to think that you’d gotten cold feet.” He didn’t sound particularly serious. Spike liked to rile her up. She had come to expect it of him. Sometimes, she even took the bait, but not tonight.
“I had a dream about you again.” She licked her lips. She didn’t want to think about it, like there was a choice. Her hand snapped out automatically, catching the scythe as he tossed it back to her.
His eyes narrowed, giving him away. He was as nervous about her Slayer dream as she was. Worse, he knew that Slayer, too. “Yeah? Was it a good one?”
She shuddered, wishing he wouldn’t joke about some things, not so much because she thought it was disrespectful, but because there was nothing good about her dreams, not since she’d been a Slayer. She closed her eyes, seeing the tumble of images from her dreams. This girl had friends, which was more than she had. That Slayer had been cute. She’d left her hair long and fought in skirts so tiny that she had to wonder if that Slayer had been using her panties as a distraction. She saw how hard the blond girl fought, how hard she loved. She had seen her clutching this vampire slouching next to her, had watched him following her into danger time and again.
It made no sense, but she didn’t doubt the truth of it. Some of it had been written into the Journals, but she had never really had the time to study them. Spike and that Slayer had stood together against more ends of the world than she cared to think about and they had won. Would she win with Spike? “You loved her, didn’t you? The Slayer that I keep seeing.” She studied his face, wondering how any Slayer could love a vampire. She couldn’t. She trusted him, to a point, but she didn’t think she could love him.
His eyes hardened a little and she knew she shouldn’t have asked. His expression changed as he tried to laugh her off. “It’s gonna be the end of the world in two days, and you want to hear about some old flame of mine?” That laugh betrayed him. She knew the truth without him telling her. This vampire had loved a Slayer. It was said the other one, his grand-sire, had, too. It boggled her mind.
She didn’t answer him. She wasn’t sure that he’d have heard her if she did. His blue eyes were distant, lost centuries in the past. What must it be like to live so long? She didn’t want to know. She didn’t understand the appeal of immortality, but she knew some chased after it with both hands. They would willingly give themselves to Spike to turn if he were so inclined. She prodded him with the scythe’s pole. “C’mon, Spike. We have to do this before sunrise.”
He didn’t protest. She just hoped he was fully back with her, facing this apocalypse and not back then, standing shoulder to shoulder with the blond Slayer. She needed him. Her sister, Elizabeth, needed him, because she didn’t think she would be with this world in two days. Spike, having survived so many other catastrophes, might be the only thing left to protect her sister.
The magic apothecary shop was one of those places Spike’s witch friends had told her she could always trust. She hadn’t been inside before, but her Watcher thought the witches were telling the truth. If her Watcher said it was necessary to trust them – and Spike agreed - she was willing to come here for help. The monks that ran it – or were they wizards? She didn’t suppose it mattered – had something the witches hoped would stem the tide.
The smells in the place made her nose itch. Dried herbs decorated the shelves. Candles crammed every available space. She assumed the baubles and bits of jewelry on the front counter display were for the non-serious buyers, the wanna-be witches and people looking for a ‘spell’ for easy money or forever love or some nonsense. She had seen real magic and only occasionally did it need something to be filtered through, like an orb, like her scythe.
More hidden to the casual eye were stakes secreted around the room. The monks knew the dangers that stalked the night. There was probably wolf’s bane, silver bullets, holy water and other true weapons hidden around if she took a moment to try and spot them all. It sucked that they needed such things, but if she failed in two days, it might be a moot point. No one might need to worry about anything again.
Spike dinged the bell and a bald headed monk came out, fussing with his bland, brown robes. The man froze, seeing Spike. He instinctively knew the vampire for what he was. His hand flicked out for one of the half-hidden stakes.
“What’s that thing doing here?” He barely took his eyes off of Spike, but the vampire didn’t seem ruffled by it.
What? Did he think a vampire could walk her in here under duress? She raised her hands. “Relax. He’s got a soul. He’s totally neutered.”
Spike’s eyebrows rose at that word. He obviously didn’t like it, and that made her smile just a little. It wasn’t often she scored a hit on him. The monk looked unimpressed, his eyes still hard.
“My brother was killed by a vampire, so forgive me for being cautious.”
The monk gave them another look before going under the counter to get something. Her skin prickled, her fingers tightening on her scythe. She had no reason to mistrust his actions, but nothing and no one was going to catch her unawares. She had an end of days to rout and she was not going to die pitiful and stupid because she trusted someone just on Spike’s say-so.
“I was told that you would come,” the monk said, digging in a large box under the counter. She relaxed a little. His actions weren’t threatening and if the witches were right, there was something in that box that she needed desperately. “I have some weapons that can help you, but what is most important is to make sure that the portal is not opened. It will be the end of everything if this happens.”
She swallowed hard. She was too damned young for this. It wasn’t fair. Why should the fate of the world rest on her shoulders? What if she failed? At least she wouldn’t be alive to see it. She wouldn’t have to live with her failure, but others might. Elizabeth might have to eek out a living in hell. Of course, she might not live to enjoy her victory, either. She knew that was a distinct possibility, and she told herself that it would be okay. She would make sure of that. Death might be a whole hell of a lot easier than living. She cast a glance at Spike, unnerved to see he looked almost as unsettled as she did at the idea of the open portal. He’d been there before. She knew that. She couldn’t make this the first failed attempt to stop an apocalypse the vampire had ever seen.
The monk handed her something. The pouch was velvet, or at least she thought it was. It had been a long time since that fabric was popular. It felt soft to the touch. Under it, she could feel something relatively small but hefty, round and smooth. She resisted the urge to take it out and look at it.
“This should be of some help, but I have also prepared a spell to make it more difficult for them to open the portal. It has been done only once before, and at a great cost, but it did delay the creature long enough to give the Slayer some time to gather her forces.”
Only once before. Now she had to make it twice. She didn’t ask if that Slayer had lived, even though it was obvious she had succeeded. Though, there were times she could believe this was already hell on earth.
The monk beckoned for them to follow. She’d seen other witch’s cauldrons but the one he led them to in the back room looked particularly crappy. He got all chanty on them, doing whatever it was he was doing before the fire. She got bored, a touch anxious, like she really had time to just be standing around. She started tossing the pouch up in the air, catching it deftly every time. Spike said nothing. He trusted, as she did, that her Slayer reflexes wouldn’t let her drop it.
Wouldn’t that just suck? She could potentially save the world with this thing or something and what would happen if she got butterfingers and smashed it. She heard the monk saying something about circles and letting her look and she found herself opening the pouch, almost wondering if her fingers were really under her own control.
She got the pouch open, her finger stroking the cool smooth surface of the orb, not even surprised when it began to glow. Once it did, she couldn’t look away. Flickering like a holo-movie, the orb showed her things. It sucked her breath into its glassy depths, leaving her chest tight. Oh god! Was that how the last fight went? What the fuck was that thing the Slayer and her band was fighting? That’s what she was expected to fight? No way. She had no prayer of winning.
Did the last Slayer win? She couldn’t see. There was so much blood. She could feel the pain. Was that her face superimposed over the other Slayers? Was this her future? Oh god, she really was going to die. Her little sister would have nothing left. She was Elizabeth’s only family and if she died and the world didn’t, who would care for Elizabeth? If she died and the world became hell, would she want her sister to live? She needed someone to care for Elizabeth, no matter what happened.
Barely aware Spike was talking, she grabbed his arm, feeling the hard wiry muscle under his jacket. He glanced at her. She panted, the fear making her sick. She couldn’t spit up. She had to be strong. She sucked a deep breath in, like her Watcher had always told her to do, to calm herself. Calm? Bullshit.
“Look, Spike, if anything happens to me, you’ll take care of Elizabeth, right?”
Spike looked unhappy, confused. “What?”
She couldn’t mask her terror. She was little more than a child and she was expected to die to save the world. It wasn’t fair. If she had to die, she would be prepared. “My sister. Promise you’ll take care of her.” A devil’s bargain, she knew, asking a vampire for such a favor.
“But you don’t have-”
Spike stumbled as if staked. Her head snapped up, seeing a green glowing ball of energy in the monk’s hand. Was this supposed to happen? Had they been betrayed? Why didn’t she know more magic? Spike went down, nearly dragging her to her knees. She put a steadying hand on his shoulder. If something happened to him, she knew she had no prayer. This ancient vampire, this survivor of many Ends of Days, was her best chance at winning. He was her sister’s only chance to live well.
She called his name several times. Something was wrong. Something had changed. She had no way of knowing if it was good or bad. Her Slayer senses stayed mute on the subject.
His strong hand curled around hers and he smiled. Why did he have to have such a sweet, sexy smile? She didn’t know if he had just been made stronger for her or if she no longer had to worry about what would happen in two days.
“’Till the end of the world.”