It was originally titled Creatures of Darkness, but that's going to change because I hate the title. I had actually started posting it at ffnet, but pulled it when I decided I wasn't happy with the direction it was going. It's set 5 years after The Gift, and Buffy was never brought back from the dead...
DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot and original characters is Joss'. Too bad.
SUMMARY: Set five years after The Gift, everyone has moved on with their lives without the Slayer. Now that Dawn is in college, Spike is getting ready to leave Sunnydale when a new mystery woman falls into his lap.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: In this story, seasons 6 and 7 never happened, Buffy was never brought back from the dead, which means that nothing that happened later occurred in this universe either.
He could see her outline in the window, slender grace made soft by sheer curtains, and he took a deep drag on his cigarette before flicking it into a nearby puddle. Wouldn’t do to have her find out he was checking on her, not after the fiasco with the frat boy last time. Spike still swore that it had looked like things were out of her control, but Bit had remained firm.
“I know how to take care of myself,” she’d stated. “I had two excellent teachers, remember?”
Since then, the vamp had kept his distance, only stopping by after calling first, or doing as he was now---watching from his favorite vantage point across the street. Old habits were hard to break, and it didn’t make a bit of difference to him that Dawn was in college now, or that she was almost nineteen. Hell, she’s only two years older than Buffy was---. He cut himself off, his face suddenly closed. No. Not going there. Not tonight.
Stuffing his hands deep inside his pockets, he pulled his duster closer around him as he began sauntering down the sidewalk. The Bronze was his destination, much as it pained him to admit it, and he just wanted to get there, make his appearance, and get the hell out. These organized shindigs had lost their appeal years ago, but Spike knew that Clem had gone to a great deal of trouble to put it all together, renting out the building for the entire evening, promising a huge turnout. He didn’t have the heart to tell his old friend how much he’d come to hate large crowds, that every face amidst the strangers brought back some old memory, and that those memories were getting darker and darker with every passing day. Let him have this night.
He hoped that leaving Sunnydale would finally put an end to the haunting. He’d still be available for Dawn, but the teenager---young woman, he had to remind himself---didn’t need him as much anymore, as much as he hated to acknowledge it. She had her college, her new boyfriend, and all the self-defense skills that he could stuff down her throat without her turning on him. Buffy would’ve been proud of what her kid sis had grown up into.
Buffy…God, he didn’t want to think about her, not tonight of all nights, but no matter where his head turned, there she was. He was usually so careful not to dwell on her memory; even around Dawn, he’d finally managed to disassociate the death of his Slayer with the life of this beautiful young girl. Perhaps it was his own maudlin mood this evening, the fact that this was his last midnight walk through the streets of Sunnydale, the fact that he was finally forcing himself to move on with his life and let go of a past that had never had the chance to really be. Or perhaps it was because he was depressed as hell, and thinking of the beautiful young woman who’d died saving them was as good a way of passing the time as anything else…
Had it really been five years? Before, time had really not had much meaning for him. Living as a near immortal made a vamp a little blasé about the whole clock issue, even when he’d felt like he was just marking time, waiting for a way to get the chip out. After her, though…Every second seemed to matter, each contained in its own little shell, a nugget of time either graced with her presence or spent bereft of her beauty. And then her death, that horrible moment frozen in all eternity, seeing her broken body lying under the scaffolding, breaking his into innumerable shards…wanting so desperately to just cradle her in his arms, shield her from the inevitable, yet unable to venture out into the sunlight to even say his goodbye…
The familiar prick of tears behind his eyes steeled his gut. It was supposed to get easier as time went on, yet that single image always managed to rip apart his resolve and serve it back to him with added salt, aggravating his wounds and convincing him that he would never be able to get over her. Like you even want to, that little voice inside his head taunted. Like you even deserve to.
The familiar shape of The Bronze loomed in front of him, and for once, Spike found himself glad of the diversion. He actually frequented the club much less than in the old days, but when his and Clem’s usual haunt had burned down after a Karoya attack the previous month, his buddy had had no choice but to move the party here. He could hear the music filtering into the alley and smiled. The Sex Pistols. Leave it to good ol’ Clem.
In spite of the crowd packed within the club’s walls, the blond vampire managed to steal in unnoticed, slipping out of his trademark duster so that he could melt more effectively into the throng. Bloody hell, he thought. I don’t know this many people. Where in blazes did Clem find them all? Glancing around, he saw the variety of demons mingling with the humans, some of them dancing, more of them just drinking, and after a moment of careful consideration, realized that, yes, he did in fact recognize most of the people present. The blonde in the corner was the owner of the book store next to the Magic Box…the group of vamps near the stage were regulars in his weekly poker game…even the kid talking to Clem was someone who’d been saved after the Skebner virus was released by that rogue carny bloke…
“We weren’t sure you were going to show.”
At the sound of the voice over his shoulder, Spike smiled. OK, so maybe this night wouldn’t be a total waste after all. He turned, his head ducked, his blue eyes softened.
“And I thought you were supposed to be taking it easy,” he said, taking in the blonde witch’s very pregnant form. His hand reached out, rested gently on her swollen belly.
Tara laughed, a gentle reminder of more halcyon days. “You sound like Willow,” she scolded.
“Well, at least you didn’t tell me I sound like Rupes. That would’ve been unforgivable.”
“I heard that.” Giles stepped forward, a tumbler of whisky in his hand. “Nice to see you can show up for your own going away party, Spike.”
The Englishmen regarded each other, two sets of intelligent blue eyes meeting in mutual respect if not admiration. Spike’s smile faded as he slowly pulled his hand away from Tara. “I promised Clem I’d be here,” he stated simply, and left it at that. There was no need for further explanation; both of them knew to what degree the blond vampire held his word. Not that that would’ve been true in the old days, but since Glory’s defeat, since his oath to Buffy…well, Rupert now accepted the knowledge that Spike kept his promises, once they were made, regardless of their frivolity.
“I do wish I’d been asked to help with the music, though,” Giles commented, grimacing as the Sex Pistols changed to the Ramones. “We aren’t really going to have to listen to this noise all night, are we?”
The vamp’s lips twisted into a sadistic smile. “Just for you, Rupes. Just for you.” He looked around at the crowd. “If you guys made it, does that mean…?”
“Willow’s at the bar getting me a drink,” Tara explained. At Spike’s raised eyebrow, she giggled. “A Perrier with a twist of lime, silly.”
“And Lauren’s in the ladies’ room,” offered Giles. “I’m sure she’ll be joining us shortly.”
“And the boy? Are him and Anya---?”
“---running late, no thanks to the magic of alarm clocks.” Spike turned to see Xander approaching, pulling his wife along behind him.
“Alarm clock?” queried the Watcher. “It’s nine o’clock at night…Never mind. I don’t want to know.”
“And when are you going to call it quits with this boy thing?” the young construction worker demanded good-naturedly. “One of these days, I’m going to look older than you.”
The vampire cocked his eyebrow. “Hate to tell you this, but that day is here. Must be the ol’ ball and chain that does it to you.” He grinned at the ex-vengeance demon. “Evenin’, Anya.”
She smiled tightly. “Spike.” Glancing around at the guests, Anya commented, “So how many of these people did you have to pay to show up? Or are they just as glad to see you go as I am?”
Xander’s grip on her arm tightened, and he pulled her slightly away from the group. “Now, Ahn, we agreed to play nice-nice tonight. Remember the deal?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” the young woman grumbled, her arms folded across her chest. “But I’m not doing this without some serious amounts of alcohol in me. Go get me a drink.”
“Isn’t she just a little ray of sunshine?” Xander said dryly. “As long as I’m going, anyone else want anything?” At the resounding silence that greeted his offer, he shrugged and ambled off in the direction of the bar.
“Well, better go let Clem know I showed so I get credit for this,” Spike grumbled. He turned to Tara and wagged his finger. “If I see you pushin’ yourself too hard, I’ll make ‘em kick you and Red out.” Her wide smile was the only response as the blond vampire swaggered off into the crowd.
From the corner of the club, he had a widescreen view of the party, could see the throng dancing in the middle…Xander and Giles shooting a game of pool as their respective other halves sat by and watched…Willow fussing over her partner at their table…Clem by the bar, trying to work up the nerve to chat up some blonde…
The smile that spread his lips was not one of joy but tinged with sadness. In spite of his initial misgivings, Spike was learning that Sunnydale had really become home for him, in more ways than one, and that wasn’t something he’d experienced in a very long time. Five years ago, he’d wanted to run, escape the memory of the love he’d never had, try and forget what being with Buffy had felt like, but his promise had bound him to the town, forcing him to deal with his grief, and somehow find a way to move on with his undead life. What he’d actually done turned out to be something far greater than even he could have imagined, something for which he’d been searching without even realizing, something that was a much bigger gift the Slayer had bestowed than even sacrificing her life.
Spike had found a family.
It wasn’t the family he would’ve chosen. Red and Tara were all right enough, and yeah, he’d had a soft spot for Niblet, but it was the men in the dynamic that had given him the most headaches in the beginning. He and Xander had always been at loggerheads, especially after the boy had discovered Spike’s true feelings for the Slayer, and it was only after months of being slay partners did the construction worker start warming to him. Hours of walking through cemeteries with only the other for company had forced their hands, and what had started out as an exercise in agony had evolved into a reluctant friendship. Even the mess with Anya had been excused away, somehow strengthening their relationship, realizing they shared just a little something more than that unrequited love for a dead Slayer.
And there was Giles. In spite of their common heritage, he had been the hardest to befriend, locked as he was in the role he’d played for so many years. He had refused to step back when the vampire had taken a firmer hand in raising Dawn; it was only when Spike had saved her from a particularly nasty demon outside her school, taking an almost fatal blow to the chest as a result, that the Watcher had relented even a little. Together, they had embarked on teaching the young girl how to defend herself, and although she was no Buffy, her natural grace and intelligence leant itself well to weapons combat, making their efforts almost too easy.
Their uneasy alliance settled into a comfortable familiarity which, although neither would ever call themselves best mates, became grounded in a reciprocal deference that eased their friendship. Gradually, Giles became more accepting of Spike’s role among the Scooby gang; with Red and Tara as the vampire’s most vociferous advocates, the older man probably grew weary of arguing with them over the matter. And then when Spike had introduced him to Lauren, the remaining old doubts had simply faded away.
The glue, of course, had been Dawn. In the beginning, he’d been reluctant to share his promise to the others, not wanting to give them the opportunity to kick him to the curb for good. He’d kept his word by doing what he did best---lurking under his favorite tree, going through a pack of smokes a night while his eyes remained glued to the house, making sure nothing amiss happened to the teenager. That had lasted for exactly three weeks, at which point Dawn had come marching out, grabbed his arm, and dragged him inside, never saying a word. Since then, the pair had been virtually inseparable. Well, until she’d left for college, that is.
He took a deep drag on his cigarette. That was why he was going. Everything was changing around him; his friends were growing up, growing away, growing out as was the case with Tara. He just wasn’t needed anymore. He only wished that…
He caught her scent, an elusive mixture mingling with the smells of the club, and had to refrain from shaking his head. She just never gave up.
Two long hands clapped themselves over Spike’s eyes and he sighed. “That didn’t work when you tried sneaking in morning after prom, Niblet,” he said. “What makes you think it’s going to work now?”
Dawn pouted as she scuttled around to face him. “You’re no fun,” she said. “The least you could do was pretend, seeing as how you’re deserting me and all.”
“We’ve been over this,” the vampire said. “It’s not desertion. You’ve got my cell number; all you have to do is call and I’ll come runnin’.”
She pulled his arm, dragging him to his feet. “Come dance with me, Spike,” she said as a slower number came booming through the speakers. “I’ve known you six years and you’ve never once danced with me.”
It was all he could do not to visibly cringe at her choice of words. He could still hear his conversation with Buffy in the alley in his head, using that damn metaphor once too many times, her throwing the cash at him as well as those words he hated. Now, to hear almost the same thing come from Dawn…it wasn’t her, but the similarities were still there, in spite of conditioning himself not to see them anymore…and it hurt.
Allowing himself to be dragged onto the dance floor, Spike held the young girl at arm’s length as she began to sway slightly to the music. Not that kind of dance, he held, and not goin’ to let her think it is. There had been a brief period during that first year when Dawn’s schoolgirl crush had made their relationship uncomfortable, and although he knew she’d moved on, the vampire didn’t want to run the risk of dredging up old feelings.
“Didn’t think you were goin’ to come,” he commented.
Her wide blue eyes grew even wider. “And miss your last night in Sunnydale? No way! But if you’d waited just a little longer before taking off, we could’ve walked here together.” She was smiling as she added this last, tilting her head in that typical Summers way.
“Shit,” Spike muttered. “So much for bein’ sneaky.”
She laughed. “You’ve always sucked at lurking, Spike.”
“You couldn’t let me go with that last delusion?”
“I don’t want you to go at all.” Dawn’s voice was suddenly serious as she tightened her grip on the blond vampire.
There was a long moment of silence between them, two sets of determined blue eyes meeting almost level and Spike was struck by the realization that had Buffy lived, her kid sister would’ve towered over her. Not that the young woman was gangly or anything; she’d outgrown that by the time she was sixteen. But with her boots on, Dawn could easily face off with the blond vampire, an elegant swirl of barely contained energy, and he couldn’t help the swell of pride that rose in his chest. No, she wasn’t his by blood, and no, by all rights a vampire shouldn’t be allowed to claim ownership of such a beautiful creature, but he couldn’t help it. She was as much a product of his guiding as she was of Giles’…or Buffy’s…
“All right,” she finally said. “But only because I don’t want to ruin your party.”
“Not possible, Niblet,” Spike said. “Not possible.”
Part of him wished he’d gone to the bother of getting drunk. At the very least, it would have made the long walk home more entertaining, not to mention wiped out any possibility of last-minute dreams about beautiful blonde women plunging to their deaths. As it was, midnight found Spike sauntering along the cemetery path, very much alone, very much sober.
Tara had begged him not to go back to the crypt as he got ready to leave the Bronze. “You should be around friends,” she’d argued. “Come stay with us tonight. We’ve still got the spare bed set up in the nursery.”
“Appreciate the invite, pet,” he’d responded. “But I’ve got to get an early start tomorrow. You don’t need me rattlin’ around, wakin’ up the whole house.”
Willow rolled her eyes. “Oh, gee, let’s see,” she’d said. “Me, one. Tara, two. Hardly a full house.”
“And baby, three,” he’d added, laying his palm on the blonde witch’s swollen belly. “This little one deserves to get some sleep as well.”
Tara laughed. “Trust me. I don’t think it ever sleeps.” As if in revolt, the fetus chose that time to kick, surprising both the young woman and the vampire touching her.
“That one’s a fighter,” Spike commented, and finished pulling on his duster. “You’re goin’ to ring me when it decides to finally poke its head out, right?”
And he’d left, not even bothering to say good-bye to anyone else. It was easier that way. He’d certainly not announced his arrival when he’d shown up in Sunnydale seven years earlier; the vampire saw no reason to herald his departure. They got their party; that should be enough.
Even for a cemetery, it was unnaturally quiet, not a vamp in sight, no sign of untoward demon activity. Normally, that would’ve set off a five-bell alarm in Spike’s head, put him on alert for a bit of action, but tonight, he welcomed the silence, embraced it as a last hurrah. A long time ago, in a lifetime that seemed eons away, the vampire would’ve wanted to go out with a bang, not with a whimper. Now it was different. A clean break, that’s what he wanted. No unnecessary ties.
He couldn’t lie to himself. He’d miss it. But it was time to move on, time to finally cleave himself from her memory, time to start anew…
The sharp crack of a twig in the distance wouldn’t normally have caught his attention, but in the unearthly silence of the night, it shattered the quiet like a gunshot. Spike’s head jerked in the direction of the sound, senses automatically keen, eyes narrowing. Someone running. Blue eyes rolled as the vampire dropped his cigarette to the earth and ground it under the heel of his boot. So much for peace, he thought. Might as well head this one off at the proverbial pass. The hurrying footsteps were getting closer, and now he could hear the unevenness of the pace as the runner stumbled, picked himself back up, started again. It was quickly apparent that there would be no need for the vamp to even move; the runner---whoever it was---was headed straight for him.
In just a matter of seconds, Spike saw the cloaked figure emerge from around a tombstone, and the sharp tang of fresh blood immediately assaulted his nose. Whoever he was, he was hurt, and leaving a trail blatant enough for a child to follow. The vampire shook his head. You’d think people livin’ on the Hellmouth would know better, he thought.
Two steps took him into the runner’s path and his hands shot out, grabbing flailing upper arms, jerking the intended prey to a halt. Before he could speak, however, the head turned, the hood of the cloak fell back, and he found himself staring into a young woman’s face, luminous with fear. “Please,” she begged, struggling against his grip. “Don’t make me.”
“It’s OK, luv,” Spike said. “Who’s after you?”
At the sound of his voice, she froze, her muscles stiffening, and the vampire became aware of the blood trickling from her forehead. It was dripping through her eyebrows, onto her lids, into her lashes, and as he watched, a crimson bead landed directly in her eye. Her only response was an autonomous one, a single blink---no hand to reach up and wipe it away to clear her vision, no vocal complaints about not being able to see. Spike frowned, and was about to comment when her head whipped around again, alerting to the sounds that had been behind her.
“They’re coming,” she whispered. “They’ll catch me.”
“Nobody’s goin’ to hurt you,” the blond vampire reassured, positioning himself so that he stood between her and her follower. His hearing sharpened. Correction, he thought. Followers. The sound of multiple footsteps was unmistakable, and Spike found that he couldn’t discern exactly how many there were. A group, a large group by the sounds of it. This would require back-up.
He let go of the young woman’s arms and reached into his duster pocket for his cell. Maybe the gang was still at the Bronze. Here’s the test to see if Bit is actually carrying her phone. As he began to punch in the numbers, there was a whispering thud at his side, and he looked down just in time to see the young woman slump to the ground. Bugger, Spike thought, and snapped the cell back shut. No way could he protect her and take care of her assailants, and no time to bring in the gang. Sometimes the best plan was just to run.
She was a feather in his arms, and he felt the warm stickiness of her blood begin to seep into his shirt as he held her close. His crypt was the nearest safety. He’d take her there, get Xander to come out and take her off his hands. Spike smiled. Anya would just love that. The ex-demon was getting more and more possessive of her husband as the years passed, and these midnight forays into the cemetery with her least favorite vampire were at the top of her hate list. Oh well. That’s Harris’ problem, not mine. With his leather coat flapping behind them, the pair fled into the darkness.
Once at the door of his home, the blond vampire shifted the girl’s weight so that he could let them in more easily, but as he did so, her dark hair fell from her shoulder, exposing the curve of her neck. He couldn’t help but look at it---again, those damn old habits---but when he did, he was spellbound. It was raw, oozing, the scent of scorched flesh now drifting up to reach him, eddying in red ridges down her neck and under her cloak. How far it extended, he had no idea, but Spike did know one thing. Someone had viciously branded the young woman very, very recently, most likely those who were chasing her, and for something as venomous as the mark seemed to be, whoever it was, they weren’t going to give up until they got her back…