Sequel to Two Days; part of The Voicesverse
Rating: PG 13
Spoilers: The Voicesverse/Shepherd Stories universe picks up from "Grave" and moves on accordingly through an AU Season 7. This is my Season 8 AU.
Summary: Spike returns to Buffy and Sunnydale, with the first team of Initiative-made vampires in response to a brutal serial killer's trail of blood and death. But the killer is literally more inhuman than the usual run of killers and is bent on satisfying a vendetta against our boy and the slayer. And now there's a wild card that's set on going into the pot. Bless you, sweet dark Princess, for prodding me with your presence.
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet! firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Author's Notes: As always, my deepest thanks go to those who always find time to beta me when I'm growling for a look-see. To Chris, Kelly, Colleen, Cindy and Chennie (so many C's!), I'll see you again soon! Without you guys, I'd be toast.
And thank you, Laura, for instantly caring when I update. It means so much!
This was the monster that had bled those girls - bled Maddie. And he was determined that it ended now.
"What? No warm embrace? No smoochies?" said Gabriel sarcastically as he spread his arms in greeting.
Daniel smiled. Xander was shocked at how frightening it looked. "Only if I can rip those off first," he said, nodding at the vampire's outstretched arms.
Xander squeaked at the air speed at which the crazed vampire covered the remaining distance to Daniel. Gabriel's heavily booted foot slammed into the fledgling's chest, pushing him up into the air and against the wall. Spinning in the air, coat flying around him, Spike's evil clone came down perfectly poised with most of his weight on his back foot. Gabriel dove after Daniel silently, pushing him against the wall once more as he inflicted wounds with fangs and long, ragged nails.
It was a close-quarters battle. A street fight. Daniel had been taken by surprise and had forgotten most of his lessons from Shepherd immediately, falling back on those he learned in his military training. Finally, by brute strength and superior weight, he threw the dervish off with a roar, getting his neck ripped nastily in the process, then spun away to gather himself for an offensive of his own.
Almost instantly, bony fingers like metal hooks caught at one shoulder and dug in, stabbing into muscle and burrowing toward bone. A hunk of skin came with Gabriel's retracted fist as he jerked his hand back. Daniel snarled in pain. Managing to get an elbow up, the fledgling slammed it into his foe. Finally able to turn, he brought up a hammer-like fist. Gabriel's open hand closed around it, slowing Daniel slightly as the blow was directed downward. Savagely, he brought his other hand down in a chopping motion onto the fledgling's wrist. Daniel's hand went numb. Gabriel slammed him back against the wall with all his strength.
Xander looked around the floor. Daniel was a head and a half taller and twice the other vamp's breadth. Yet Daniel was the one looking like a lightweight. The man grabbed the foreshortened axe and flung himself to his feet, swinging the weapon blindly in Gabriel's general direction.
In a flash of motion, Gabriel came in under the blade and once again took hold of the handle with both hands, slinging Xander off his feet. The man held on for dear life as his feet reconnected with the linoleum.
But the subsequent jerk from the vampire insured that Xander saw stars as the flat side of the axe sharply connected with his forehead. He dropped like a stone, nervelessly letting go of the weapon as he fell.
He hit the floor, vision dulling as he saw Daniel begin to throw a flurry of hard punches at the other vampire's face and gut as Gabriel tried to move the axe into attack position.
Unbelievably, the last thing Xander heard was Gabriel's crazy laugh as the world went black.
"I do not believe this!"
Jonathan sat on the cot at the other end of the holding cell, as far from Dawn's cubicle as he could possibly get. "You?" His eyes flashed. "I'm back in jail. How do you think I feel? I'm not going to have your sister breaking me out this time."
Dawn looked at Jonathan resentfully. "How was I to know Anya put in an alarm system? And it's just a misunderstanding, anyway. As soon as she finds out it's us, we're out of here." She wished she really believed that. She and Anya had a history.
"For you, maybe" he said wistfully. "But I've got a record. Remember the heist?"
"No," she said flatly. Dawn frowned in remembrance. "Well, maybe."
"How soon they forget... but I guarantee you, there's a little computer in the other room that'll connect the dots. I bet my name is up on it right now. Flashing lights even. So if I do get out, on some technicality, I'm still a marked man," he said, full of doom, gloom and monuments to self-pity.
Dawn snorted at his histrionics. "Wait. I get a phone call, right? They always do on TV."
"Sure. But who are you going to call? Cause I'd rather rot in here than have your sister come and kick my ass. She'll blame me. She always does."
Dawn looked off through the bars, arms wrapped around the steel. Her eyes traveled to her fingertips, blackened with ink. "Does this stuff come off?"
"Booked. Again." Jonathan sighed as he rubbed his own fingers against his dark polo shirt. "Sunnydale is not a good place for me. I can't imagine why I ever came back."
"Cause you're a mama's boy?"
The door opened, and a young policeman walked in. "You can each make a phone call. Who's first?"
Wearily, Jonathan indicated Dawn with a half-hearted wave. It wasn't like he had anyone to call anyway. He hoped to never see his roommate Xander again. Or the Slayer. Or anyone he'd let down today. A long incarceration was his best bet. That and a 'special friendship' with some big guy named Bubba who'd keep him alive so he could suffer appropriately for his myriad sins.
Well, maybe 'alive and suffering' wasn't the best idea.
"Bloody buggerin' Hell, Daniel!" Spike's bellow brought Xander around. His head felt like it had been split open, and his brains were leaking out. Which was probably the only thing that was keeping Spike from killing him at the moment. He experimentally opened one eye and closed it immediately as light exploded into his brain, making his head implode. Maybe playing possum was the way to go.
He listened with an inward groan as Spike enumerated his and Daniel's offenses.
"Concealin' information. Goin' off half-cocked. Almost gettin' cut in *half*, for Christ's sake."
Xander's eyes did open then, steeled for the light as he stole a look at Daniel. The fledgling stood at attention, hands clasped respectfully behind his back. Xander suspected the stance also hid the clenching and unclenching of his fists.
There was a large bandage that was colored with blood wrapped around Daniel's middle. His face wore the evidence of his fight with Gabriel in purple bruises and broken skin. Xander was shocked again at the memory of the Tasmanian devil that was 'mini-Spike'.
Xander chuckled painfully. 'Mini-Spike.' Catchy.
"And you!" Spike roared as he rounded on Xander. "I'd like to know what the bloody hell you were thinkin', whelp!"
The jig was so up. Get jiggy, Xanman, the man thought as he rolled over and started to rise.
Xander promptly doubled over and threw up, kneeling on the kitchen floor.
"Stupid git!" Spike was disgusted as he waved a medic over. The man helped Xander onto his back again. He felt the room continue to spin as lunch and bile rose into his throat once more. He moaned.
"Concussion. And it serves you right," Spike said in dark satisfaction. "First sign of trouble, you should have said somethin'. Now Buffy's out lookin' for the Bit, which is where I should be instead of pickin' up your beaten and battered bodies."
"No Dawn?" Xander croaked, winded by his continuing bout with nausea.
Spike's look of anger was supplanted by worry. "No word yet. But Buffy'll..." He shook it off. "You, by all rights, should be dead, Harris." He spun to face Daniel. "And *you* should be decoratin' the floor. Any idea why he left you alive? Cause right now, I'm admirin' the self-restraint," he said, voice dripping with sarcasm.
Xander and Daniel traded looks. Spike noticed. "What? Do I have to separate the two of you 'til after you spill?"
Spike's cell phone rang. With another venomous look at the two offenders, he glanced at the caller i.d.
"Bloody hell," he whispered. He stared at the phone. Decisively, he clicked it on 'receive'. "This is Shepherd," he said, holding his voice firm.
His forehead cleared briefly. "Nibblet? Are you all right?"
Xander sighed in relief. Dawn was found. He looked at Daniel, who had gone into parade rest.
"Are you hurt?" Spike continued into the phone. "Did...?" Furrows in his brow etched themselves in deeper than before. His eyes began to burn in anger. Xander grimaced in sympathy.
"You did *what*?" The vampire took in several deep breaths and pushed them out to calm himself. "Your big sis is gonna kill you. If I don't bloody well do it first!"
He smiled dangerously into the phone. "Oh, no worries, Bit," he said crushingly. "I'll get you out. And your little friend, too. But make no mistake, only because we need him right now. And m'thinkin' you'll be droppin' the high and mighty act you've been pullin' lately in return."
Xander winced again as Spike clutched the phone tightly enough to crush it. He was sorry he was witnessing this. And Dawnie? Where was Dawnie?
"Bollocks! You've been in a right jealous snit for days now. Don't know what possessed you to call me, except you bein' sure I'd come waggin' my tail at the chance to get back into your good graces."
Xander closed his eyes. Spike yelling at Dawn. This had to be bad.
"No, you *cannot* talk to Buffy! She doesn't have the paper to get you out. I do. S'not like she has a bloody membership card that says 'slayer' on it!
With a smothered curse, Spike disengaged the signal. He looked at Xander.
"Dawn's in jail," he said tightly. "She and the boy. Broke into the Magic Box to get supplies."
"So she's safe, no thanks to you." Spike ran his hands through his hair. "You," he said, turning to Daniel, "call the slayer and let her know I've gone to get Dawn. And she's to get back to base with the team she's got with her. Now."
He shot a menacingly look at Xander as he walked out of the kitchen. "You better hope this ends well, Harris."
Xander looked at Daniel, who had already gotten on his cell to contact the base. He laid his head back on the floor and stared at the ceiling.
He'd really screwed up on this one. Buffy was gonna kill him.
The slayer heaved a sigh of relief, followed by a flash of anger. Dawn was so going to get it!
She turned back to the patrol. "They found her. Shepherd says to get back to base."
Matthews and Jeffries, who were bringing up the rear, turned back sharply in the way they'd come. Buffy's spidey senses kicked in. And then everything was happening too fast to make sense.
First, there was the pungent smell of gasoline, followed by the sound of a splash as liquid hit Kevlar battle armor. Jeffries pushed Matthews to the right as flame licked out and engulfed him.
Matthews looked up in horror even as Buffy grabbed DeLuca and felt her hands slide down his wet armor. She slung him behind her and moved forward to Jeffries just as he fell away into dust.
There was the sound of a gutteral roar of grief, but the slayer didn't have time to deal with it, any of it. The black clad figure had already moved into the trees, ducking into the shadows at preternatural speed. Following with a leap over a parked car, she headed into the woods after their assailant.
"So. You didn't win?" Xander whispered as they carried him to a big black van on a gurney.
Daniel looked at him sourly, then to his middle. "Do I look like I won?"
"What? He just... left?"
The fledgling looked at Xander warningly, then glanced cautiously at the medic.
The man lay back on the gurney. What's the what? As his head began pounding anew, he realized it was about to blow off his shoulders, and the ice pack they'd placed on his forehead burned like cold fire. Cold. Fire. God, he was making no sense!
Daniel got in the van behind Xander and slid the door shut as the vehicle moved into the night.
Spike's hands clutched the steering wheel convulsively.
It had been all he could do not to take both Daniel and Harris apart when he'd realized that the Nibblet had been missing for hours. They'd seen firsthand, fresh blood and all, what that bloody sadist could do and still they hadn't come to him.
The perfect soldier-vamp wasn't playing by Shepherd rules, and Spike wouldn't tolerate it. Hard to believe that Harris could end up being what a parent would describe as a 'bad influence.'
He shook his head. Unfair, even if it was the sodding whelp. Daniel had been a loose cannon ever since he'd found out about his girl. Spike had just been stupid enough to believe that Daniel had the discipline to hold off - although the vampire knew that had he been in Daniel's place, he would have already burned down Sunnydale to find the bastard.
His cell phone went off again. Spike absently reached down and picked it up. As he pieced together what dispatch was telling him, he slammed on the brakes, firing off orders as quickly as his mouth would move.
Dawn was in jail. Dawn was safe. It was all about Buffy now. Buffy and the team that was decimated on patrol, one dead and others with major burns. The gasoline had splashed and run underneath Kevlar vests that had trapped the traveling flames against undead bodies. The lack of oxygen was the only thing that had saved them. Jeffries hadn't been so lucky.
And of course, being the stupid slayer that she was, Buffy had run off after him alone, like she was bloody immortal. DeLuca had tried to follow, but she'd had too great a head start. Spike mentally called her every name he could think of. Now it was up to him to track her down and watch her back, just as he'd done for years.
He turned the truck around and headed in the direction of Sunnyrest, still barking orders into the phone as he drove, too fast, to the last place Buffy had been seen.
She flew over the headstones without thinking. Knew this cemetery backwards and forwards. In the light and in the dark. Mostly, in the dark, she thought absently, as she searched the shadows with slayer vision for a glimpse of Gabriel.
Because it had to be Gabriel, right? And gasoline? He might be crazy, but he was smart, just as DeLuca had said. Smart and cunning and all those things that made the real evil stand out from the fledglings who awoke in their graves all hungry and stupid.
Her sense of self-preservation began to kick in as she reached for her headset. She needed to let them know where she was, cause hey. They didn't. Spike was probably cursing her six ways to Sunday by now. The fallout from one of those was never a chuckle-fest.
She slowed slightly, unfamiliar with the how and the why of the talking when she was moving at a dead run. She reached up tentatively, fingers looking for the switch.
Something that felt like a small bulldozer hit her square in the back and brought her down. She rolled and came to her feet, only to catch a flash of startling eyes in a whirl of black leather, before it closed on her.
"I guess we're gonna rot here, huh?"
Dawn flipped her hair and looked at Jonathan narrowly. "Spike said he was coming. He will. Even if I wish he wasn't."
Jonathan sighed. "And he said he'd get us both out."
Looking down, Dawn flushed at the remembered anger and disgust in Spike's voice. "Um, 'fraid so." She looked up candidly. "I won't kid you. It's not going to be pretty."
Jonathan let out a defeated breath. "Well, yeah, I'm still skating on thin ice with Buffy anyway. This means I just fell through a crack. And I'm freezing into a Popsicle."
Dawn laughed derisively. "You're worried about *Buffy*?" She continued to chuckle as Jonathan slumped further and further into himself. "Buffy's the least of our troubles. We pissed off Spike. And I've *never* pissed him off. Not really. So yeah, it's not gonna be pretty."
Turning her face to the security door of the lock up, she sighed, wondering just how miserable Spike could make her life before he forgave her.
The smell of Buffy's blood - slayer blood - hit Spike before he was into the cemetery twenty paces. He sorted the direction and started running, falling into gameface without being aware of it. The smell sharpened, metallic and hot. Like ambrosia.
If that bastard didn't kill her, Spike thought, *he* would. 'First, I'll save her, then I'll kill her' ran through his head and out. This was bloody, bloody stupid!
The smell got stronger as he got closer. He sped up and leapt into the midst of the battle, tearing the smell of dirt and blood away from the blonde that was fending the vampire off with defensive moves instead of the usual offensive ones.
There was a fresh onslaught of the odor of blood that stopped Spike dead in his tracks. A rush of it, as Buffy sunk against a head stone. In the split second that Spike hesitated, Gabriel took off. The instinct to go after the killer warred with his need to get Buffy somewhere safe. Buffy won.
"Christ, Slayer," he muttered, working to keep panic out of his voice. "Ripped your arm clean open. M'gonna tear his bloody head off!" Spike shook his head, glancing after the other vampire, who had smirked once as he retreated at vampire speed. "Can't believe he had you on the ropes like that, love," he said, as he went to her, trying to keep his voice steady. Couldn't let her see that, now could he? How frightened he was. How close the bastard had come. He reached for her injured arm to try to assess the damage.
She shrugged him off resentfully and pushed herself up and away from the headstone, miffed. "Didn't you see him?"
Spike stepped closer and squinted at her arm. He needed to see how bad it was. "Yeah, saw the little piss ant," he said distractedly. "All done up in Drac-black. Typical. Nice boots, though... Let's see to your arm, love."
"Oh, bloody right as rain, you are!"
"He *does* look like you! Like they said," she insisted, trying to divert him as she moved her arm out of line of sight.
The vampire drew himself up to full height. "Does not!"
"Well, not exactly. More like a cheap Spike rip-off," she said dryly as she began to walk away from him.
"Oh, right! And when did I ever go tearin' gapin' holes in you anyway? Always had more finesse than that!" What? Was he gonna have to wait until she bloody passed out from loss of blood before he could see to her? Stupid bint!
His anger and fear welled up and burst through. "And what the hell was that, anyway? You goin' off after him by yourself, knowin' what he was, what I walked into at the house." He moved in front of her, blocking her way. "I've had it with seeing you die!"
Buffy stopped walking, face pale. The arm of her sweater was soaked with blood and it was beginning to drip away from her fingertips. "You know what, I don't feel so good."
"Oh, hell!" Spike caught her as she staggered, the smell of so much flowing rich slayer blood finally making real impact on his brain. Bastard had hit the main artery.
He growled, grabbed at her headset and hit transmit. "It's Shepherd. Need a medic now," he said evenly, not letting the fear into his voice. Hell, she was the slayer. She'd taken more damage than this. "Sunnyrest. Main gate. M'bringin' the slayer out."
With that, he put a hand under Buffy's knees and picked her up, striding quickly toward the cemetery entrance as her blood left a trail like perfume behind them.
Xander enjoyed the little gurney ride in through the back door of the Initiative. They'd come straight into the large unfinished area that served as a direct way into its bowels. For once, with the medic hovering at his shoulder, the whole thing felt AllAboutXander.
And it was about time. This was the first time one of his concussions had made any real impression on anyone. He felt important. And he especially liked the feel of the cool air passing over his incredibly sore head.
Oh, sure, it felt like there were a thousand elephants line-dancing across his brain, but it wasn't the first time and at least the beat had rhythm.
All in all, it was a nice ride. Too bad he couldn't have drugs. Not yet, anyway. Cause he was concussed. Ergo, no good stuff, just Tylenol. Which sucked.
But he could look forward to cool, clean sheets, a nice quiet room, and getting the low-down from Daniel about just what had happened at the house while he was all comatose.
After all, Dawn was found, Buffy was on her way back, and...
Close by, one of the support people handed Daniel a set of headphones. He thrust them on his head and began running for the steel double doors.
"Hey," Xander said weakly. "What about me?"
The gurney picked up its pace, following Daniel through the doors and into the massive space that was the Pit. Xander heard a tight, low murmur and the sound of booted feet hurrying across. Wincing, he turned his head to one side, but realized he'd have to raise it to see anything. Which he did with a deep groan. Daniel had already made it to the communication station.
Everyone was wearing white plastic suits, just like in the movie, ET. In fact, exactly like ET, he thought, bemused. It looked just like a movie set.
Something was wrong. Very, very wrong. Was he sure they hadn't given him any drugs?
There wasn't much in the way of personnel at the old base yet, but it looked like each person he saw was functioning as two as they moved through seemingly urgent tasks. Xander's medic deserted him as a tech dressed in a white plastic suit grabbed for his gurney. He could smell the sharp odor of the plastic.
"Back off!" Xander warned. The tech moved away a little, as if uncertain where he was needed most. He looked at Daniel.
There was no way they were shuttling Xander off to a private room with the neon light emergency going on. "Go! I'm fine. Do... well, whatever it is you were doing. Or wait! Push me over there first!"
The tech looked toward Daniel. With a curt nod, Daniel motioned him forward. The gurney glided across the floor to the comm space, where Xander slid off and put his weight on shaky legs. He took a deep breath and worked toward upright. He might be listing a little to the left, but he was good. As long as the chair stayed twelve inches away. It was hard to tell if it would. His depth perception kept coming and going.
Daniel had traded his field headphones for something a little more streamlined. He was issuing instructions. Lots of them. Xander collapsed into the empty chair at the fledgling's right. As his ass hit the seat, his head began to pound in earnest. He wanted drugs. Good drugs.
Daniel glanced at him briefly, concerned. There was a tight look around his eyes that Xander took at face value. There was trouble. Big trouble.
Daniel's lips compressed to a thin line. He should have been with them. Especially since Shepherd wasn't. He grabbed Hollis as she went by.
The woman nodded. "We're good to go. I went over the injuries with the medic-in-charge. It's not good. Shock. Burns. But only the one casualty."
"Jeffries," Daniel said quietly.
"Yes, sir. DeLuca took over the team when he realized he couldn't catch up with the slayer and that Matthews wasn't... well, able."
"How bad is it?"
"Three seriously injured, two moderately. Everyone is splashed with gasoline, some more than others, so they're all kinds of combustible right now. Even a spark in the wrong place could send another one up, maybe the whole team. We'll need to clean them up as soon as possible." She looked at him candidly. "And it should have been much worse."
Daniel waited for the rest.
"Jeffries was flanking Matthews," she continued, "Pushed him out of the way and took the brunt of the flame. It broke the patrol pattern enough that injuries were mostly minor." She waited a beat, trying to decide how to phrase her next statement. She went with clinical. "They retained his remains."
So they'd saved Jeffries for this. And Jeffries had saved his comrades. Daniel couldn't believe how quickly it had all gone pear-shaped. Daniel hated the fact that they didn't have a full team. There was only one psych and he was already earmarked for Matthews. They'd jumped the gun by opening up the base with only a skeleton crew. He'd give anything for a full staff right now. If they were still in Vail, there'd be several psychs and their assistants, plenty of EMT-types and the administrative/support staff to keep it moving, not just poor Hollis. He felt crippled.
"ETA, two minutes," Rimbold, the communications tech called out.
He looked at Hollis. "Go."
She moved off to the left where an area was being set up for quarantine and clean up. The members of Second Team who had been left behind dropped thick sheets of plastic from the ceiling to cordon the area off.
Xander was so dizzy it took him a moment to take in what had been said. "Gasoline?"
"Gabriel. Ambushed the rescue team. The slayer went after him," Daniel said tightly. "Alone."
"Oh, God. Buffy." The man buried his aching head in his hands, ignoring the sharp pain. "All my fault. If I'd just come clean..."
"Shepherd's gone after the Slayer."
Xander glanced up. And even that hurt. He swallowed his nausea to reassure Daniel. "He'll find her, too. He was always showing up where he wasn't wanted," Xander said gamely. "You'll see. He'll find her."
"A whole team. He took out a whole team. Most of First Team and part of Second, injured," Daniel muttered. "Rat bastard son of a bitch." Daniel glanced at the board as he pushed his hair back, grateful that he didn't perspire anymore. He'd be swimming in sweat right now, waiting for the casualties to come in. If they'd only stopped Gabriel at the house, *none* of this would be happening right now. It would all be over.
A light began blinking.
"They're here," Daniel said loudly. He pointed to two of the techs. "You're on assist. Get them in and over there," he said, pointing to the newly finished enclosure. "Make it quick, quiet, to the point."
The double doors opened. As the first of the vampires came in, the odor of gasoline and charred dead flesh carried through the Pit with the help of the enormous air blowers. The techs pointed out the triage area and went out after the ones that weren't ambulatory.
Xander caught his breath. It was the most sickening thing he'd ever smelled.
"So, is he coming or not?"
Dawn cast a jaundiced eye at Jonathan. "Oh, he's coming, all right. Get ready for it," she finished glumly.
She'd been thinking about it since she'd gotten off the phone. Maybe she had been all jealous-y and snarky lately, but it was like Spike just came and went as he pleased. Would go do the whole mid-life thing for a while, and then come back like he'd never left. The blood in the refrigerator had really pissed her off. And she'd wanted him to know it. He'd been there, what? All of two seconds and he already had a *shelf*?
"Well, it's not like we didn't need the stuff..."
Oh, great. Now Jonathan was going to try to justify what they did. Rolling her eyes, the girl snorted. "Oh, yeah. That'll go over well. He's all big on the excuses right now." She raised an eyebrow. "And you are so dead, cause I'm a kid and you're like... well, *almost* a grown up."
This is so bad, Dawn thought. If she could just keep her mouth shut when he started yelling, just back off into the corner of the car, creep really, really close to the door, maybe he'd get unmad faster.
And Buffy. Buffy was going to be all disappointed. And if they figured out that there weren't any signs of breaking and entering... B&E, she reminded herself... then they were going to just *know* that she'd been practicing, which she was *so* not supposed to do. So Buffy would go from 'disappointed' to downright mad. Too. Which meant both of them. At once. Mad.
Dawn's mind wouldn't quit moving. She was getting a really, really bad headache. The kind that made your hair hurt. The kind that made your neck go all stiff and achy.
She put her head in her hands and moaned.
"So he's gonna be mad?" Jonathan's voice was getting weaker and weaker.
"He's gonna be mad," Dawn assured him in a small voice.
Jonathan was quiet for a moment. "You think there'll be some kind of house arrest involved? Or will he just kill me outright? Put me out of his misery?"
Dawn looked up, rallying. "Spike doesn't kill people anymore," she said in a condescending tone. Jonathan began to relax a little. And that wasn't happening if she could help it. "You'll just wish he had."
"Well, where is he, then?"
"He'll be here." But Dawn was beginning to wonder. Either he was really, really mad...
Or something was really, really wrong.
Daniel was at the quarantine area when Spike's voice came over the speaker. Everyone was inside and being treated, worst cases first. Dr. Jackson had whisked Matthews away as soon as he'd stripped down and been cleaned up. Hollis made certain that everything, armor and clothing alike, went directly into a waste container for toxic materials.
Unknowingly, Xander smiled when he heard Spike's voice. There were a lot of really bad things you could say about Spike, but right now, his unparalleled talent for stalking Buffy was making Xander see him in a very favorable light.
"Need a medic now," the disembodied voice continued.
He sounded so calm that Xander was momentarily comforted by the tone of his voice. So it took him a little longer than usual to get the gist. The man's head spun around to stare at Rimbold. The man was tinkering with dials and switches. Subsequently, Spike's next words were much clearer. And loud enough for Daniel's vampire hearing to pick up on.
"Sunnyrest. Main gate. M'bringin' the slayer out."
Xander's hands went together of their own accord as his lips went white and his shocked eyes found Daniel, who was already across the thirty-five feet and back at the comm station. "Rimbold, we got a truck out?"
The man pushed a button and spoke into his headset.
"Oh, sweet Jesus," Xander breathed out. "She's hurt. I mean, *really* hurt."
Daniel looked at him impatiently as he reclaimed his headset. "You don't know that."
"You think Buffy'd be letting him call for a doctor if she wasn't? She'd have to be unconscious," Xander said, bitterness tainting his words.
Rimbold interrupted them. "Transport will be there in four minutes. At the Sunnyrest Cemetery. Main gate on the east side."
"Set me up," Daniel said briskly. Rimbold connected Daniel's headset directly into the comm board.
"Shepherd? North here. Four minutes on that transport."
"This can't wait then," Spike said cryptically. "And it better not be a bleedin' second more. Slayer's made a fine mess of herself. Can't do much without dressin's and such. No vamps on that truck, right?"
Daniel looked at Rimbold. He shook his head. "Just support. No field operatives."
"Just support personnel, Shepherd."
He heard Spike push out a breath. "Right, then."
Xander shoved himself to his feet. His head felt like it was splitting open. "Spike! Is she...?"
He stopped, unable to continue. Because Xander really didn't want to know. Not like this. They waited, staring at the speaker, as Rimbold stayed in quiet one-sided conversation with the team in the recon and rescue vehicle. Seconds seemed to tick by slowly, just like watching the hands of a clock, except instead of that old-fashioned comfort, Xander was staring at a red LED that told its tale in military time, to the tenth of a second. He held his breath.
"M'at the main gate. *Been* here," Spike said finally, impatience leaking into his tone. "Where the fuck is that bleedin' truck?" he growled. Suddenly the vampire didn't sound nearly as calm.
Rimbold, still monitoring the driver's frequency, asked a quiet question. "One minute, forty-eight seconds," he said to Daniel.
"Under two minutes," Daniel relayed.
"Well, bloody hell," Spike said in disgust. "Get a White Room ready for the slayer. Now."
"Yes, sir," Daniel said quickly. He motioned to Hollis, who was still overseeing the clean up. "Set up one of the isolation rooms for the Slayer," he said briskly.
"And don't bring us in through the Pit," Spike continued. "Not if there's any vamps there. Bring us another way. But a quick way. No dawdling."
Hollis glanced at Daniel. "We can do that."
"Go," he said quietly. He pulled his mic to his mouth and spoke. "Done, Shepherd." Daniel frowned. Isolation? And why did he need to clear the Pit. Or bring the slayer in another way? He turned off his mic and looked at Xander, who was clutching at the desk, but still standing. "What the hell is he talking about?" Daniel said in puzzlement.
"Well, she's hurt," Xander said, trying to sort it out. His eyes cleared. "Oh, shit. She's bleeding. Probably a lot." Xander looked worried. "I guess bleeding bad enough that Spike doesn't trust..."
"We've found bodies before," Daniel retorted. "I mean, the team has. It was a problem, but not..."
A calm measured voice interrupted him. "I suspect that his concern is that Buffy's blood is slayer blood. There is an integral difference where a vampire is concerned. Which might also account for Spike's ill mood. Although certainly, any injury Buffy might have taken, grave or no, is also a determining factor."
Xander spun around, seriously impairing his already damaged balance mechanism. His hand fell on the newcomer's arm, clutching it tightly as his jaw dropped. The man eased Xander into a chair and turned back to the fledgling.
"Who the hell are you?" Daniel asked curtly. "And how the hell did you get in?"
The man looked at him appraisingly, as he handed the vampire an envelope and his identification. "I'm your interim Watcher," he said crisply. "Ralston has been, uh..." He hesitated briefly. "Reassigned. You're Daniel, of course."
Startled, Daniel looked up from the i.d. card as the man pulled off his glasses and wiped them on his handkerchief. "Now," he said smoothly as he returned his spectacles to their rightful place, "could you be so kind as to put Spike on the line? Tell him it's Rupert. And... do you have something that looks a little more like a telephone?"
Continued in Chapter 11