Clem looked behind them nervously, then rushed to catch up with Tara, who hadn’t noticed that he was falling behind. He swallowed heavily as Tara stopped to let a vampire cross in front of her, amazed at how calm she was. Clem knew that she was one of the strongest witches he’d ever met, but there was a difference between knowing and believing, and his nervous stomach hadn’t gotten to the believing stage, yet. He freaked out every time a vampire walked near them, despite the fact that not one of them had paid even the slightest bit of attention to them.
Tara started moving again, and he noticed that her hands were shaking slightly. Clem hoped this spell didn’t take too much out of her, because if it did, they’d be of no help when they finally found Xander and Kendra. A couple of Listers walked past, presumably on their way to the kitchens, since that was the only place Clem had seen them the last time he was here. He’d had no idea they were such good cooks. That meant he and Tara were closer than he’d thought; the entrance to the basement was right past the kitchens.
He couldn’t believe Tara had convinced him to help her find Xander. He’d come back to see if Giles needed help with the getaway car, but no one had been there when he’d found it. He’d almost gone home, but he’d walked all the way back to Puffy Spike’s mansion, the least he could do was check on Tara, and make sure she was all right before he left. She’d been very happy to see him, but when she told him that her cell phone wasn’t working, he’d come close to panicking. He’d refused to go with her into Puffy’s basement, but had agreed to accompany her to the entrance the others had used when they’d snuck in earlier. Then he would go back to the car to wait for the others.
The problem was, the old servant’s entrance had been magically sealed. Tara could tell it had been done by Dru very recently. She’d been afraid that they were trapped inside now, but didn’t want to break the lock just yet, since that would let Dru know she was there. Unfortunately, all the other entrances into the basement had been locked, as well. That’s when Tara came up with the idea to use a concealing spell to walk through the front door, right past the Fyarls on guard, and all the vampires inside, as pretty as you please.
Clem had laughed, quite certain that she was joking. But she hadn’t been joking at all. She didn’t want to do it on her own because the concealing and muffling spells would be far too difficult to handle all at once if she didn’t have someone to help her find her way, and guard her while she worked. She hadn’t asked, just looked at Clem sadly, because her only other choice was to break the seal on the basement doors, and alert Dru to her presence. He didn’t understand why Dru wouldn’t detect the concealing spells, but Tara was confident that she could hide those, and who was he to challenge a witch about her magic?
“It’s all a matter of misdirection,” she’d told him.
So here Clem was, getting ready to go back down into the basement, clutching an axe in his trembling hands. He was terrified that they’d be discovered, and end up hanging on the wall next to Spike, bloody and beaten. The next time Spike asked for a favor, Clem was telling him to do it himself, because it may be a real honor having a friend like Spike, but there was no honor in being dead. Besides, what good was honor, anyway? You couldn’t use it for ante in a game of poker; it wasn’t worth a single kitten. It wouldn’t get you an extra movie at the video store, either, not even one of the really bad black and white horror movies that Spike had told Clem the two of them used to make fun of back on Spike’s world.
That sounded like a lot of fun, he thought regretfully, but the way things were going, there would be no chance to find out. After all, Clem was no prize when it came to fighting, so if they were waiting on him to be just-in-the-nick-of time-rescue-guy, they were in real trouble. Now, Tara, she was worthy of the name nick-of-time rescuer. He liked Tara, even if she was a human. You had to watch out for humans, you could never tell how they’d react to a demon, but she’d been nice to him right from the get-go. So had Xander. And Kendra had defended him to her own Watcher! So he’d stick around to help, just because he liked them. But if he survived this crazy mess, he’d never let them talk him into doing something this stupid again.
Clem was reminded of the time his cousin Randall had talked him into climbing up onto the roof of Uncle Neil’s garage. He knew better than to listen to Randall. Randall was always getting him into trouble. But he’d done it, and they’d played up on the roof for a long time. Then Uncle Neil found their ladder, and when he’d climbed up, Randall and Clem had been playing chicken - seeing who could get closer to the edge. Clem had been winning, his toes wiggling in the air over the gutter.
Uncle Neil had shouted at them, and Clem had slipped and fallen right off the roof. He’d broken his forearm in two places, and had to wear a cast for six weeks. He’d gotten into big trouble listening to Randall. He’d been grounded for a month! So just because you liked someone didn’t mean you should let them talk you into following them into a Master Vampire’s lair. And next time, he’d mean it when he said no.
He put his hand on Tara’s shoulder, pulling her to a stop. She’d been about to walk right past the door to the basement. Now that he was touching her, he could tell she was trembling all over. He ducked his head down close to her ear and whispered very softly.
“This is it.” He held her back when she took a step toward the door. “Are you okay? Do you need some water or something?” He held out a bottle of water, and she took it gratefully.
Clem pulled a bottle out of his other pocket for himself, and gulped it right down. Mind-numbing fear was thirsty work. He’d heard that chocolate was good for the nerves. If that was the case, then he could use about a pound of Hershey’s Kisses right now. Oh, or maybe a bag of those malted milk balls his mom used to buy at Easter, the ones shaped like eggs, with the hard candy shells. Not that his family was the religious type, and besides, Easter was a human holiday. But his mom knew he liked them, so she bought them by the case every spring, so he’d have them all year round. Too bad he hadn’t thought to bring chocolate, too.
He looked around, uncertain whether he should set his empty water bottle down or not. Would it look like the bottle appeared out of nowhere? Or would Tara’s magic make it stay invisible even after they’d moved on? Would that be a drain on her magic? Finally he just put it back in his jacket pocket, where it had come from in the first place. Tara held on to her bottle, tucking it into the bag with her witchcraft supplies, so he supposed he’d done the right thing.
Tara squeezed his hand, and Clem noticed that she wasn’t shaking as much. So maybe the water had helped. Good. She put her ear up next to the door and pressed her palm to the wood, but he guessed she couldn’t hear or feel anything, because she shrugged, and quietly pulled the door open. They crept inside, pulled the door closed behind them, and started down the stairs together.
At first, it sounded like someone was watching gladiator movies with the sound on high, then Clem realized what was going on. He stopped Tara, but he could tell from her wide eyes that she’d figured it out, too. Clem went down a couple more steps, until he could see around the corner into the large room below them. Everyone was there, and they were all fighting.
Giles stood next to a wall, his crossbow shooting bolt after bolt at the bad guys. Spike, Kendra and Xander were surrounded by vampires and other demons, and on the far side, Puffy and Dru stood and watched as their minions fought. Spike was fighting three at once, spinning and kicking and slashing his sword through the bad guy’s bodies, like they were made of air. Clem could see what Spike had meant when he’d said that a good fight was like dancing. He was holding his sword in his right hand, though, and Clem could have sworn Spike was left handed. He saw Spike wince when he had to use his left hand to fend off a Fyarl, and Clem realized that Spike was wounded. Uh oh. That wasn’t good.
Kendra looked fine, she was fighting two vamps at once, and as he watched, she staked one, and Giles got the other with a crossbow bolt. He was a good shot. Kendra was staying close to him. It was obvious they’d fought together for a long time, they made a good team. Xander was just finishing up with a Laumear demon he’d backed up against a wall. The Laumear collapsed, and Xander bent down and wiped his sword off on the dead demon’s clothes. That was when Clem realized that Xander had three auras now. One for himself, one for his friend Buddy, and one for the fiery sword he held in his hand. Oh, she was a beauty!
Tara touched him on the arm, and pulled him back up a few steps to whisper in his ear.
“I need a few minutes for a spell, can you watch, and make sure no one comes up from downstairs?”
Clem nodded, gripping his axe tightly. “But what about from up there?” He motioned to the doorway behind them.
“Don’t worry, I’m taking care of that.”
Clem shrugged. She was the witch; he figured she knew what she was doing. He snuck back down the stairs, careful to stay out of Puffy and Drusilla’s sight. He noticed motion out of the corner of his eye, and looked up to see Tara at the door, her hands pressed against the wood as she said something too soft for him to hear. There was a faint glow around the door, and on top of the door knob. He figured out what she was doing just as the knob fell off, right into Tara’s hands.
He glanced around the corner, but it looked like Dru was too busy watching the fight to notice Tara sealing the door with magic. That’s when he noticed that the good guys were losing. Not because they weren’t as good as the bad guys, but because there were so many more bad guys than good. With Spike wounded, they were under a serious disadvantage. If he was talented with an axe, or weren’t such a coward, he’d charge down those stairs and come to their aid, but he knew his axe wouldn’t make much difference with him at the other end.
He turned back to ask Tara if there was something she could do to help, but just as he looked back, she pointed her finger at a vampire who was about to sneak up on Spike. He was fighting a Grappler demon who was keeping him busy enough that he wouldn’t have time to notice the guy behind him until it was too late.
Tara said one word, “Ignire!” and the vamp went up in a flash of flame and a puff of smoke.
Clem was impressed. Tara smiled at him, and took aim at another vampire. Sitting, he slipped down a few stairs, to give her plenty of room to aim, and peeked over the rail to see if Dru or Puffy had noticed Tara yet. They didn’t seem to have, but he figured it was only a matter of time, with as much magic as Tara was throwing around. He was surprised it hadn’t happen already. But he’d keep an eye out. This, Clem could do. It made him feel like he was really helping.
Of course, the first time someone came up the stairs after Tara, he would probably change his mind, but until then, he could at least pretend he was brave and courageous, like Xander, or Luke Skywalker. Although he was probably more like Han Solo – kind of a bad guy, who reluctantly did good when he was forced into a corner. Wait - if Xander was Luke, then Spike had to be Solo. Clem popped his head up over the rail again, and checked out the fight. All clear.
Another vamp went up in flames while he watched, and he ducked back down again, grinning. He wouldn’t mess with Tara, even if he was Darth Vader. No, he wasn’t Luke or Han. They were both larger than life, and that was way bigger than him. Clem guessed in the end, he was more of a sidekick kind of guy. Oh! If Spike was Han Solo, that made Clem Chewbacca! He’d always thought Chewie was great, with his sharp teeth, and ear-curdling cry. Chewbacca was someone to be reckoned with. He tried out a Chewie cry, a really soft one. He could use some practice. If they made it out of here alive, he’d have to rent the video and get in some quality Chewbacca time.
He peeked over the rail once again. It looked like Puffy was getting in on the action, now that the minions were thinned out. He was fighting with Xander, their swords flashing in the air. Clem worried about Xander, because Spike had taught Xander a lot about swords in the last few weeks, but Xander had admitted that he knew he still had a lot to learn. Puffy had been sword fighting for a lot longer than Xander had been alive.
He glanced back at the corner Dru had been standing in. She was gone. Uh oh. That wasn’t good. He searched the room, but didn’t see her until he looked at the bottom of the stairs. There she was, staring up at Clem, and she didn’t look happy. Clem swallowed, heavily. Then Dru’s gaze shifted, and he realized that it wasn’t him that Drusilla really wanted. If they were going to win this fight, they needed Tara. She was important, and that made Clem important, too, because he was the only thing between Dru and Tara. He asked himself what Chewbacca would do, but he already knew the answer. Clem stood up, holding his axe in both hands to hide their trembling, and waited for Drusilla to make her move.