Sequel to Two Days; part of The Voicesverse
Rating: PG 13 with a bullet! Action/Adventure/Mystery
Summary: I was going to put a summary together that kind of did a capsule summary of the story so far. I couldn't. It will take a better writer than me to pull it off, because I want to mention everything. Suffice it to say that in my BtVS Season 8, a string of murders brings Spike back to Sunnydale, before the Vail Project is ready. The Vail-Sunnydale Project consists of twenty-six vampires, nineteen support personnel, Daniel and Spike (who is known as Shepherd to the vampires of the project). The 'serial killer' is a vampire, and in a sense, is Spike's brother as much as a brother to the vampires created by the Initiative that Spike works with. Oh, and Xander is really cool. Jonathan is not dead. Dawn is still annoying. And Gabriel is a real nutter. Drusilla is nowhere to be found. Riley is still worm food...
And I'm digressing.
Things were left in a real uproar last time. It's not getting any better.
Distribution: http://www.the-sandlot.com/fic.php?mode=fic&fic_id=346 http://www.allaboutspike.com/fic/243.html
Spoilers: Season 6. This is a Season 8 AU by now. Only spoilers are for my own fics, Voices in the Dark, Reminders, Shepherd, and Two Days, which scares me, cause the continuity is pretty much in my court now.
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time... except Daniel and DeLuca. Those gorgeous vamps are all mine!
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet! email@example.com
Author's Notes: Thanks to everyone who has fed back on Wolf - in fact, any of the Shepherd Stories. You have no idea how it comforts me when I've been Jossed... This is for Chris, Kelly, Colleen and Chennie, the betas who hung in while I did everything *but* work on "Wolf", and for all the folks who very quietly prodded me without pushing.
Thanks, guys. Think the muse is back! Hope you think so, too!
The man gulped air and tried to speak. But all that came out was a wheeze. Putting a hand to his chest, he caught his breath and attempted to find his voice.
"There's another one," he gasped out.
"Another what?" Daniel was completely puzzled. "Another...?"
"Girl. There's another... girl."
"Where did you hear...?" The fledgling didn't even know Xander had been off the base. The last time he'd talked to him, he was going up into Lowell House to find a room for Dawn. "Where did it happen?"
Eyes widening, Daniel grabbed his cell phone off the desk and took Xander's arm with the other hand. He pulled him down the corridor. "He's been here?"
The man nodded. "Well, unless..." Xander shrugged off his abortive attempt at black humor and shifted gears. "He's been here all right," he said, swallowing bile. "He's been here and left his toy behind. I've never seen anything like it. And I've seen plenty!"
Moving swiftly, the fledgling got them to the elevator that would spit them out on the ground floor of Lowell. He took a moment to identify himself and place his request.
"I should have secured this place sooner," Daniel said angrily. "Everything's fine now. Up and online. Must have happened last night."
Xander leaned against the wall weakly. "Like any of us knew any of this before last night. Or early this morning. Remember?"
Last night? It had only been last night when they'd found those bodies...? Daniel ran a hand over his face. He looked up to catch Xander doing the same thing. He watched as the man wiped an upper lip that was wet with perspiration.
"What... how does she look?"
"Not like Buffy, that's for sure," he answered bluntly as the door opened on the Lowell House level.
"No, I meant..." Daniel's tone changed abruptly as he followed Xander. "Wait. What do you mean, not like Buffy?"
Xander headed toward the stairs. "Just what I said," he said curtly. "So I guess we can pretty well bank on the fact that this is All About Spike."
Retreating into silence, the two headed up the stairs and down a hallway to one of the doors that was furthest from the front of the older building. Xander reached for the door and took a deep breath.
In the time it took for the door to swing open, Daniel had a fleeting memory of coming into his grandmother's house after playing outside for hours at a time. His stomach would twist in hunger and his mouth would begin to water, even before he realized that the aroma that greeted him was that of freshly-baked bread.
The rich, metallic odor of human blood was like that for him now. Like the most delicious bread ever baked. He lost himself in it for the space of a moment as he looked into the room.
His eyes went to the splashes of deep red blood on the walls first. The floor was painted in it. The blood puddled around the girl's torn-out neck was still wet. He swallowed sharply. Her chin was resting on her back. Her head had been completely turned around, muscles torn and shredded to allow the one hundred eighty degree twist.
Xander had had time to prepare himself for seeing her again. He turned back to Daniel to get his reaction. What he got instead was a new shock.
"Whoa!" The man stumbled backward into the room, almost slipping in a wet spot. Daniel reached out and pulled him away from the body. The man winced at the proximity to the vampire and choked out his name. "Daniel?"
The fledgling looked at him in surprise and back at the girl on the floor. "What?"
Xander took hold of his fear and pushed it down. After all, this was just Daniel. His buddy Daniel. Daniel the Vampire. "Put the pointies away, okay," he said slowly. "And the lumpies, too, while you're at it. Damn," he said, as Daniel's face reverted back to his human one. "You scared the bejesus out of me! As if this wasn't bad enough!"
"Sorry," Daniel mumbled apologetically, shame-faced.
"Well, it is a lot of blood. And the whole neck thing is the height of sick. But you are one ugly vamp. Did anybody ever tell you that?"
The fledgling realized that Xander was rambling. And he could see why. The scene was horrific. He reached for his phone and requested a tech crew, then turned back to Xander.
"The girl's brunette," he said finally.
"The girl is Asian," Xander qualified. "I looked. Maybe Chinese. That would make the most sense," the man said as he continued to recover from the double shock of seeing the girl again and seeing Daniel in gameface for the first time.
"Giles told us once that Spike's first slayer - the first one he killed - was Chinese. Can you tell if she's Chinese?" he blathered.
"He wouldn't care if she was. He's just making a statement." Daniel looked around the room. "Shepherd was right. We need wards on this place if we can't do a disinvite. And what's a ward, anyway?"
"It's a spell. We did something like that at the Magic Box once. And again, so wishing for Will right now."
"Well, the crew is on its way up," Daniel said unnecessarily. The room, in fact all of Lowell House, seemed eerily deserted. The contrast to the busy base below was unnerving, even to the vampire. He stood there staring blankly at the word written on the wall. "I don't know why he's still bothering with that," he said with a dark look.
"I heard Shepherd talking about this to the slayer today," he said indicating the writing on the wall. "It's some old Greek myth. Doesn't even fit. It seemed like some smoke and mirrors thing to me then. And you're saying this girl doesn't have anything to do with Buffy."
"Who's... uh, Prosperpina? Prosper...? Live long and pros... Okay, sorry. Nerves are shot," he muttered.
"Proserpina. The Queen of Hell." At Xander's surprised look, Daniel explained with a shy duck of his head. "Took Classic Lit in college. Had a little refresher course today."
"Does that make Gabriel the king?" the man said, trying to cover his anxiety with conversation.
"Of Hell? Well, Hades made the judgment to let Eurydice leave. Set conditions. Orpheus didn't follow the conditions, so she went back. Had to stay that time."
"Are you sure this doesn't mean something?" Xander asked, intrigued. "Drusilla was in Sunnydale. Well, here, in fact. Down under. She didn't go after Buffy or Spike. Let them go."
"I don't think she was in any position to launch an attack."
"You don't know Dru." The man's mouth quirked ruefully in remembrance. "That part wouldn't really matter."
Daniel ran his hand through his hair. The smell was becoming overwhelming. The fledgling could see where the blood was soaking into the unprotected areas of the hardwood floor, staining it with life. "Let's wait outside," he said briskly.
"Oh. Okay, sure. I'll close it up." He stepped out and pulled the door shut, just as the tech crew appeared at the far end of the hall. "Or not," he continued in the same breath as he pushed the door open again.
Daniel strode down the hall to meet the three men, who were armed with cases and bundles. Xander watched as he spoke to them, giving them a swift and concise series of orders as he led them toward the door. His last directive was the hardest for Xander to hear.
"Find out who she is. See if she's a student here, or has a job. People are going to be wondering about her."
Suddenly, the similarities to the crime scene photographs of Madeleine and the one open eye that had peeped glassily through her blonde hair were too much. Daniel needed to get out of there - had to get out of there. Report to Shepherd and...
He was going to gouge the son of a bitch's eyes out before he staked him.
She was supposed to be in hell and she wasn't. The fable had been rewritten. Instead of suffering in eternal torment, she was alive, walking the earth. Mother blamed his brother for that, and it was as good an excuse as any to take him down. Not that he really needed one....
Because of his impatience, Orpheus had lost his beloved on the brink of delivering her out of hell. From what Gabriel could gather, his brother had played it a little more carefully. Of course, it was hard to tell. Mother's visions could get confusing.
She'd said the slayer had died in color and light. Been reborn in darkness, with a spirit that was sick unto death. Dead, but walking, destined to soon slip back to darkness. But his brother had held her long enough for her to find the light again.
With the pixies and the talking stars and all, Gabriel thought Mother was full of crap a lot of the time, but this story was amusing and totally insane, so it was probably true.
Bottom line was that his brother had spurned his dark princess for the all-goodness-and-light slayer. It was an insult not to be borne.
Eurydice must die so that Orpheus could fulfill his destiny to wander alone, broken and whining piteously to any and everyone. Gabriel didn't plan for him to wander long. The convenience store around the corner from the old cemetery was plenty of wandering time. In the fable, it was spurned maidens who tore Orpheus apart, but Gabriel thought one wolf would do.
After all, he was a very hungry wolf.
Screw the fable. He was going to kill his brother and his whore and all his little tin soldiers and those stupid little hangers-on who dogged the slayer's footsteps just because. And the words on the walls had served their purpose, because Gabriel was one vampire who liked his press, be it bad or worse. Which reminded him that he needed a newspaper.
Chuckling, he looked out of the cave to gauge the imminence of the coming darkness. Still a while to go before he could safely take to the trees. He sighed with impatience. He had places to be, things to see and objets to retrieve. He wasn't sure which he would do first, but something was bound to present itself if he just stayed open to the experience.
Those little hangers-on might be a good first stop...
Buffy was standing by the large table in the conference room when DeLuca walked in. Seeing his face brighten when he saw her, she smiled back. He seemed like such a sweet kid - for a vampire anyway, she reminded herself.
He ducked his head, a bit bashful at the sunny smile on her face, and then looked up. "They said you needed me. That I can help."
Spike nodded. "I think you can, yeah. Take a look at this." He pushed a hard copy of a frame extraction from one of the surveillance disks. "You seen him?"
DeLuca's eyes darkened. "I thought he was dead," he said flatly.
"He is," Spike agreed. "Undead."
"Not what I meant, Shepherd." The fledgling shook his head. "When they took him away and he never came back, I thought..." His eyes were fixed on the photo, repulsion written across his open face.
Spike glanced at Buffy. "Well, no love there." He looked intently at DeLuca. "Didn't care for the wanker much, I take it. Ever talk to him?"
Something that might have been a shudder moved across the fledgling's shoulders. "I talked to him," he said with distaste. "And no, I didn't like him. He was screwed up." His eyes flew to Spike. "He's a vamp now? He's the one doing all this?" At the expressionless look on Shepherd's face, his eyes traveled to Buffy's.
"Maybe," the slayer said guardedly.
"What do you think?" Spike prodded. "You met him. Talked to him."
"I was glad when they took him away," DeLuca confessed. "And I hoped he wouldn't come back. He made me uncomfortable. He... watched. He watched everybody and when he thought no one was looking, he had this expression on his face like we were..."
"Not good enough?" Buffy prompted.
"More like pond scum."
"Oh," she said, sitting down in a chair and leaning back to gaze at DeLuca.
"His name?" Spike was getting impatient.
"Gabriel. Gabriel Naughton." The fledgling's lip curled up. "Or that's what he said. He said a lot of things."
The vampire eyes were hard. "Like what?"
"I don't know. Things that caused problems. He would start fights, but when it was all over, he wasn't anywhere around. He seemed to like it... messed up."
"Chaotic?" Buffy nodded her head, hoping DeLuca would get her drift.
"Yes. He'd start these... things. Saying something that sounded innocent, but it wasn't. He'd sit back with this smile on his face. A... hungry smile. Like he was feeding off of what was happening." DeLuca shrugged and looked down at his hands. "I wanted to call him on it, but... you couldn't really put your finger on what it was he'd done." The man looked at Spike. "Shepherd, this guy could cause a prison riot from solitary confinement."
Spike tapped the photo. "And this is him? You're sure?"
"Yes, sir. It's him."
The vampire got up from his perch on the table and walked DeLuca to the door. "Patrol tonight. Get some rest."
DeLuca looked at him. "Yes, sir." He opened his mouth, closed it, and then plunged on. "We're going after him? Tonight?"
"Good." The fledgling nodded and left, closing the door behind him.
"I guess my next question would be 'where is Drusilla?'" Buffy said from her chair.
Spike ran his hand through his hair. "Dunno, love. Hopefully, she had a lucid moment and slipped off into the night."
"You think?" Buffy sounded uncertain.
"Maybe. She's not around. All of this stinks more of Angelus than anything Dru could come up with. This isn't her kind of game."
"You keep saying that. I guess you should know," she said, capitulating.
"Yeah." He stared at the wall over Buffy's head. "You know, can't help thinkin' though..."
She looked at him questioningly.
"Well, bloody hell. Dru makes a new playmate that looks something like me, but acts like something straight out of The Angelus School of Torture and Mind Games. Does this mean she turned me for m'looks? Cause I think I had more to offer than..."
"Oh, please." Buffy let out a disgusted snort. "Spare me your pain."
The muffled strains of an Avril Levigne song wafted through the room. The slayer made an embarrassed noise and captured her bag from the floor, digging until she excavated a cell phone. She glanced up at Spike and caught his derisive look.
"It's Dawn's phone, all right? Mine was dead this morning," she said in her own defense. He tilted his head as he waited for more of an explanation. "And mine does not have pithy top forty on it either!" As Spike let out a low chuckle, she punched the 'receive' button. Immediately, a man's shrill voice came pouring into her ear. Buffy's brow knit into a frown that became deeper and deeper.
"Hold it, Xand!" She waited for him to wind down. "Yes, it's me and no, I'm not with Dawn. I've got her cell. Isn't she supposed to be here by now?"
Spike could hear the man talking quickly on the other end, but couldn't make out all the words.
"Oh, okay..." Buffy said, relaxing. "Give Jonathan a call and tell them to get on over. This ice cream fetish they've got is gonna have to wait."
She listened some more. "He's right here. In the conference room. Okay, I'll tell him." She hit the button and put the cell on the table. "Daniel needs us. Want to do it here?"
Spike shrugged. "Be fine."
"Good. Cause he's on his way."
"Okay, Jonathan is so dead," Xander said shakily. "And so am I if I don't find them pretty quick. Cannot believe I just lied to Buffy! Mind if I use your office and track that little rat down?"
Daniel looked at him in confusion. "Sure. But what...?"
"Buffy's got Dawn's cell. I'm gonna check at the house again." Xander slapped his forehead. "Oh! And I'll try my place, too."
A frown creased Daniel forehead. "Why would they be at your place?"
"Dawn might have left something last night. Who knows? Anyway, I'm not calling out the posse just yet. But I didn't get to tell Jonathan to tell Dawn to get a bag together. I'll leave another message at the house, just in case. She's gonna be exceedingly miffed when she shows up and finds out she's staying over."
"I'll let Shepherd and the slayer know about the girl upstairs." Daniel headed down the hall. Couldn't believe he'd slipped up and hadn't secured the perimeter.
"Do that. I'll beep you if we need to go hunt them down."
The fledgling stopped. "You're really worried, aren't you?"
"Nah. Yeah. Not really, but... well, I don't know. Just give me a few, all right? It's not like it's dark yet."
"Just beep me."
"Right. Beep you." Xander's hand went to his forehead, as he watched Daniel disappear around the corner. "I'm never having kids," he mumbled. "Never. No matter what. Wild horses couldn't drag warm seed out of me right now. Or ever, I bet..."
Buffy was worried about Spike. The news of the death of the young woman upstairs had hit him hard and he was uncharacteristically quiet. Too quiet. Guilt was all well and good, but not when she needed him at top form. They needed to take that insane vamp out tonight before he could hurt anyone else. She needed to get Spike's mind back on tonight and off the girl in the dorm room at Lowell House. Picking a fight seemed like as good an idea as any.
"I am so not wearing this. What makes you think I'm wearing this?"
"Buffy..." Spike's voice took on a warning tone.
"This makes me look like a Brittany Spears wanna-be." Buffy pulled at the headset with a pout. "I don't like it."
"It's not a fashion statement, Slayer. It's a survival device. Or call it a cell phone without a handset. Don't care what you call it as long as you wear the bloody thing!"
Buffy stuck out her lower lip even further as she eyed the mass of black plastic on the worktable. "Well, I'm not wearing *that*!"
The vampire didn't even look up. He was well aware of what she was talking about. "'Fraid it'll make you look fat, love?"
As she pushed the Kevlar vest off to the side, she gave him a dark glare. "Hey, I've still got a stake at home with your name on it!"
"I know." He looked up with a smirk. "As I remember, I put my name on the thing m'self."
"Yeah, that's right. You did." Mollified slightly, one corner of her mouth quirked up. This was more like it! "The heart you put under your name kind of makes it difficult to stake you with it, anyway. One of your more romantic moments..."
"By design," he said sweetly. "Always up for avoiding a stakin'." He walked over and fingered the vest. "And I'm not wearing the sodding vest either, so that'll be the both of us dead, then," he said as he looked down at her.
She cut her eyes up at him with a grin. "At least we'll look good. Rather be a Gabriel victim than a fashion victim anyway."
"Hush," Spike admonished her angrily as he began pacing, head down. "I suspect he's running out of clever words and ideas. That last was scraping at the bottom of the barrel."
"You mean upstairs?" At his curt nod, she took up the new topic. "Do they know who the girl is yet? Or was?" Buffy asked with a frown as she picked up the vest and pushed it under the table out of sight.
"Yeah," he said over his shoulder as he paced. "Waitress over at the Bronze. College student. From San Francisco originally."
"We've got to stop him, Spike."
The vampire stopped pacing and gave her a reassuring smile, the first she'd seen since the body was discovered. "We'll take the pillock out and be eatin' popcorn by midnight. We know what he is now, and what he wants," he said dangerously. "He's too sure of himself now, by halves. That's what's gonna do him in."
It had been a long day. Gabriel had been unable to really rest, mind plotting out his next moves and discarding them almost as quickly. He thought he knew what he needed to do first. She'd said it was there, in a dark place. The grail, tucked away with sachets and mothballs.
So that was his first stop, if all went well. And if there was a hidden benefit involved, that would work out fine.
Gabriel was a heavy believer in coincidence as fate. And the world really did seem to revolve around him. Finally, things were darkening up a little outside. It was a little early yet, but he was never one to refuse a gift that could put surprise on his side.
Jonathan eyed the phone as it rang again. There was no way he was picking it up. Xander would yell at him. Dawn was the one who was upstairs curling her hair, not him.
Why should he take the heat for it? None of this was his fault. Especially the not-being-there-yet part...
He imagined his roommate wouldn't see it that way, of course. Hence, the ringing phone. As Xander's shrill voice came over the answering machine speaker, Jonathan reached over and turned the volume down. Getting yelled at over the phone or over the speaker would have the same result. He'd be all jumpy and nervous - like he'd had too much cappuccino. Which was not good. He didn't drive well when he was all hopped-up.
He stared at the blinking light. Dammit, he was getting all anxious anyway! They needed to leave, or both Xander and the slayer would have his head on a pike. God, he hated having to be the adult! "Dawn!" he yelled as he stood mesmerized by the red light winking on and off. "Dawn!"
The clomp of heavy feet informed Jonathan that she'd heard him. Tearing his eyes away from the phone, he saw her standing with a foot tapping at the head of the stairs. "What?"
"What?" he echoed incredulously. " 'What?' " He felt his face redden. "We've got to go! They're waiting for us. And this is twice that Xander's called."
"So answer it," she said flippantly as she headed back to the bathroom.
"No way! You answer it," he shot back. "You're the reason we're not there. I don't think you were telling the truth about... well, you know. I think you just wanted to come home and change clothes!"
"Fine," she said haughtily. "Think whatever you want. I don't care. And I..."
Xander's tinny voice filled the room. Jonathan had turned up the sound on the answering machine message. "... so Dawn's gonna have to stay at the base tonight. Cause until we can do a disinvite on the house, any vampire out there has an open invitation."
Eyes widening, the teenager gulped.
"And it turns out this Gabriel is making it open season on slayers and souled vampires, and anybody else he wants to. No signs of Dru yet, Spike says, but who knows how long that'll hold. Tonight, the big thing is to get wards on Lowell House, in case he comes back."
"Dru?! What's he talking about?" she said wildly.
Jonathan snapped the machine off. "Dawn, we've got to get out of here. It's gonna be dark in... oh, shit!"
"You know how to do a ward?" she said, raising her voice as she moved back toward her room.
"Yeah, but I don't have the ingredients!"
"What did Xander mean - in case he comes back?"
Uh, that we missed the most important part? "I don't know and we don't have time to find out! What are you doing?" he yelped, following her up the steps two at a time.
She appeared from behind the bathroom door, holding a bright pink bathroom appliance that was trailing a metallic pink cord. "Here," she said, putting it straight into Jonathan's hand.
"Ow!" he yelled. "Ow! Jeez, Dawn! Burning flesh! Blistering flesh!" He juggled the hot curling iron until he was holding it by the handle in his other hand. He sucked on the reddening skin loudly. "Now what?"
"Getting a bag," she said calmly from her room. "And we'll have to go to the Magic Box to get the stuff," she said, voice loud enough to carry into the hall. "Do you know what stuff?"
"Yeah." He twitched a little. "Hurry up. We..." His mouth closed with a snap as Dawn came out of her room with an overnight bag.
She looked at him pityingly. "I always keep a bag packed. Hold over from the Glory Days," she said in explanation.
"Guess you had to be there. Come on." Her long legs covered the hallway and she loped down the stairs, grabbing the doorknob and pulling the door open in one movement.
Jonathan reached her just as she shut the door with a slam. "What?" His burned fingers were momentarily forgotten.
"This is bad. Really bad." Dawn began tearing around the living room. "Too bad there's no real weapon against something like this!"
"Okay, that's it. I'm going after her! Need a vehicle. Now!" Xander threw his hands in the air in frustration.
"We'll get a truck," Daniel assured him. "And I'm going with you."
The man's nose wrinkled slightly at the thought of the odor of singed Spike - which he'd smelled more than once in the past. "Well, get a blanket or something, too. Scorched Daniel is not something I want to smell on the way over in the car."
"Truck," Xander corrected himself.
"We need to let Shepherd know..." Daniel reached for his cell.
Xander snatched at the phone and looked at the vampire challengingly. "Which means telling Buffy. No thanks. They're busy getting the ops planned for tonight from what you said. No reason to interrupt. We're just going to go. Tell them when we get back. Or not at all."
The vampire had decided that the slayer had gone completely off her nut. Or she'd been in his private stash of bourbon.
"Can you hear me?" Buffy stepped around the corner, speaking into the mouthpiece. "Can you hear me now?"
He threw up his hands in disgust. "Christ, Buffy, this is not a bleedin' commercial!"
"Well, can you? Hear me, I mean," she said as she walked back in the room. Putting her hands in the air, she swung one hip forward and made a quick dance move. "I'm not that innocent," she warbled in a voice that was not in range and not in tune.
Spike shook his head and looked at her in disgust. "At least go for a bit of Chrissy Hind or a bird with some talent. And no," he said as her mouth opened, "you cannot have one for Christmas. It's not a toy."
"You're so moody. We're going on patrol. Where's the bad in that? Staking things, beheadings, big nasty oozy demon stabbings..." she said, picking up a weapon and swinging it, intent on the flash of light on the blade. "You're going down, Vampire," she muttered to the empty air.
Spike shook his head in amazement. Give the woman a weapon and a mission and the sun came out for her. Heaven forbid they ever completely cleaned out the Hellmouth. Have to put her on antidepressants.
Buffy smiled to herself. It had worked at Anya and Xander's almost wedding, too. She had a real career in physical comedy if she could stop slaying long enough to get to L.A. or New York.
It had taken them ten minutes to ransack the house and find an umbrella. Jonathan's hands were aching to put themselves around Dawn's neck and squeeze. He'd made do with the steering wheel.
"God, it never rains! And I just finished my hair. This humidity will flatten it!" she said pettishly from the passenger seat of Xander's car.
Jonathan was finally getting mad. "I'm a lot more worried about being flattened by whatever might be out there!"
"Oh, chill out!" Dawn was getting real bored with Jonathan real fast. "We're here. We just stop and get the... Don't pull up there! Just park on the street!"
Jonathan swung the car to the curb, almost cursing at the car in the other lane.
"Hope she's here," Dawn muttered.
"What do you mean, 'hope she's here'? Why wouldn't she be?"
"Well, I haven't seen her in days. She could be out of town. And who knows if she's restocked everything?"
Jonathan groaned. "Now you tell me. I am so dead! Wait! *We* are so dead! Both of us. Cause I'm not taking the fall alone!"
Dawn pushed at the car door and maneuvered the already-wet umbrella outside to open it. "Whatever." She leapt out and pulled at the door to the shop, waiting to hear the answering bell.
It was locked.
"Great..." she mumbled to Jonathan as he joined her.
"So now what? We need..."
He was answered by a green glow and the pop of the dead bolt as the door opened.
"Dawn!" Jonathan was shocked.
The teenager put a hand in her dark hair, looking at it critically as it ran thought her fingers. "Ugh. Let's get in there and get the stuff before my hair falls completely!"
Daniel's lips were a thin, drawn line. Xander was scared enough for both of them.
"Look at this! Now Buffy's no housekeeper, but this..." He ran a hand over his face. "You don't think...?" The man's voice trailed off.
"She's been here, but she's not here now."
"She could be hurt."
Daniel shook his head. "Not here, she wasn't. There's no scent of her blood, a faint scent of fear, but I think that's Jonathan."
Xander smiled. "This is almost as good as having Oz around." At Daniel's puzzled look, Xander shook his head. "I'll explain later. So what next?"
"See if we can figure out where they went, I guess."
Xander looked around the room. Drawers were half-open. The sofa was pulled away from the wall. "Man, this place is trashed! Of course, I've seen Dawn's room, so..." As Xander's eyes fell on the coat closet, they widened. "Wait a minute. Something's wrong. Nobody ever uses that closet... and the door's open." Xander moved toward the handmade weapon's chest he'd given Buffy for her birthday one year and swung the lid up. He grabbed a crossbow and tossed it to Daniel.
"Thanks." The fledgling sounded distracted. Xander thought he must be trying to sniff out more information.
The man grabbed the sawed-off axe that he'd adapted for Buffy's weapons chest. It would have to do. He wasn't sure where she was keeping the big axe anymore. "Check upstairs," he directed Daniel. "I'll look around down here."
Nodding, the vampire disappeared up the stairs. Xander headed to the kitchen, snagging half a package of pop tarts as he breezed to the back door and checked the lock.
The man moved quickly out of the kitchen and took to the hallway outside the basement door so that he could finish his circuit in the dining room. His breath went out of his body with a 'woof' when the door opened out, knocking him against the opposite wall. A thin, strong arm went around his neck, pulling him as close as a lover, as the hand attached to the other arm clamped down on his wrist. The axe fell to the floor. It skittered as it was kicked into the kitchen and across the floor.
Xander caught the smell of worn leather, liquor and cigarettes. And overpowering those odors was the stale smell of blood, gore, and dirt. His stomach lurched in nausea. He knew who had him. Hadn't had a doubt, really.
"Why, hello, hanger-on," a honeyed voice whispered in his ear. "Comfy enough? Or do you like more cuddle with your snuggle?" A shift and Xander was hitched up even closer to the hard, wiry body.
Xander closed his eyes in shame. What a shitty end! To have your neck snapped by a bad vampire when a good one was one stair flight away!
"Where's the party?" The intimate whisper was tickling Xander's ear, distracting him. "I'm here, but you're the first to show. And you aren't even the one who was issuing the invitations. I was all up for a surprise party, but it looks like I'm the host." He chuckled. There was a slight hiccup in it, as if he'd been laughing non-stop for hours. "Got several surprises in store for the gang. This one's for you," he said softly, as he shifted his grip and put his mouth right above Xander's neck. "Nice jugular you've got there. Do you work out, or is it an occupational thing?"
Xander willed himself to go completely limp as the vampire chuckled softly. "Soft boy. Nice boy. Well, maybe not so soft. Let's see..."
Xander let his knees give way as he let himself bend at the waist. Gabriel's hand fell away as he went sailing over the man's head. The vampire rolled over his back with a delighted chuckle and continued until he was on his feet. Xander took a good look and his mouth dropped open. The vampire laughed loudly and put both hands out in answer to applause that he didn't expect to come.
Xander's eyes were locked on his opponent.
"That's right, cutie. William the Bloody, Version 3.0," Gabriel said in satisfaction with a slight bow. "If you call the souled version 2, of course. I don't, but I'm sure some do..." He ran a hand through his greasy, over-long hair, pushing it back over his ears in a bastardized version of Spike's old look. "And I wasn't ready to kill you anyway. My kind of diligent work should be appreciated by one who knows."
Xander stared in undisguised shock as he took in the long, dark roots on the blond hair, the almost skeletal look of the vampire's cheekbones and the brilliance of his mad eyes. He didn't look like he'd fed or rested in weeks. Maybe months. The man didn't know how he'd ever thought Spike was evil. On his worst day, the vampire had never been like this. Hell, evil for Spike, for the last few years before the soul anyway, was nabbing a pack of smokes and scaring some college kid for a few bucks. Now *this* was evil! Gabriel was a serial killer on the vampiric equivalent of steroids - and a starvation diet.
"And what's a dark knight without his armor, you ask?" He pulled Spike's old leather duster away from his body and turned quickly, coat snapping in retaliation. "Not much of a grail, is it?" He laughed again, sending chills up the man's back. "Unless you know the history." At the Xander's puzzled look, the vampire smiled. "Guess you don't. Oh, well. I was always a sucker for the whole seventies thing, anyway." He shrugged. "Born too late, I guess.
"That's right, doll. All the looks, none of the handicaps. No soul, no government leash, no moral ambiguities. Just me like I always was. With one tiny improvement. Eternal life. Oh, that and a kick-ass libido!"
Xander threw himself back into the kitchen and the floor, scrambling for the axe and rolling to bring it against his chest. If he just hurt it a little...
"Now, now. That wasn't nice." Before Xander could draw a shaky breath, Gabriel was lying on top of him, axe imprisoned in both of his bony hands. He turned it back slowly, bringing the blade toward Xander's chest. "Guess some people aren't very appreciative of the good fortune of others."
Xander bucked once, but the vampire wasn't going anywhere. And then, he was.
As Gabriel's body rolled off and away, Xander leapt up and looked in the direction of the crazy vamp's hot, blue eyes.
Daniel. Thank God.
The fledgling was in gameface, crossbow in his hand forgotten. It dropped to the floor.
"Hello, brother," Gabriel said, unfazed, with a vicious smile that resembled a snarl. "Nice ta meetcha."
Continued in Chapter 9