DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot and original characters is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Spike’s going away party went off without a hitch, but on his way home to his crypt, he intercepted a young woman who was being chased by a large group of people.
Standing at the door of his crypt, Spike pressed his ear against the lifeless stone, listening to the retreating footsteps outside. There were at least eight by his count, although if the group had split up, there could very well have been more in other parts of the cemetery. Eight was still too many for him to take on alone, though, especially since he had a bleedin’ runaway on his hands to protect.
She was laid out on the top of the coffin, passed out from her flight, and the coppery scent of her blood permeated the air, hanging like a crimson cloud over his head, sending his vampiric senses into overload as he struggled to control the demon from emerging. It had been a long time since he’d had such a strong reaction to an injured human, and though the psychological desire to drink had long been domesticated into submission, the physical responses of his body still remained…the watering in his mouth at the anticipation of her hot blood hitting his tongue, the unconscious way his tongue ran along the inside of his teeth, the arousal that tightened the trademark black jeans he still insisted on wearing. It was probably just as well that he was still alone with the young woman; explaining this kind of reaction to a member of the Scooby gang would be uncomfortable to say the least.
Speaking of…Spike pulled the cell phone out of his coat pocket and flipped it open. Who best to call? Didn’t want to drag Red away from Tara if he could help it…Dawn was most likely still partying at the Bronze, had to remember to give her hell about that next time he talked to her…Giles had said something about going away with Lauren for the weekend, taking off after they left the party…That left Xander and Anya, although he had no illusions that the ex-vengeance demon would ever bother poking her head around his crypt again, even if she could’ve been useful. If the vampire asked, he knew that Harris would come, would do what he could to help, and would do so without asking any questions. It was the one thing that he was actually grateful for now, even if it had driven him absolutely barmy pre-Glory days. Xander was loyal to a fault; only the most extreme circumstances could shake him from those allegiances that seemed to root themselves in his head, and Spike accepted the fact that their friendship now fell within those parameters.
A groan from the cloaked form on the coffin shattered his reverie, and the blond vampire had crossed the room to her side before the sound could even dissipate into the cool crypt air. She was waking up, good news for him because then he could find out just what the hell was going on, who exactly was after her. If the gang was going to take this over for him, they would need all the info he could possibly drag out of her before she passed out again.
“Hello?” The young woman’s voice was barely above a whisper, made husky from the pain, and Spike found himself wondering just what could’ve inspired such terror. Now that she was awake, he watched her curl into a fetal position, feet tucking themselves inside her cloak, head ducking into her hood. She was protecting herself from somethin’; he just had no idea what.
“Right here, luv,” he soothed, and instinctively reached out a hand to push the hair away from her eyes. At the first touch of his cold fingers, however, she flinched, and very slowly, Spike pulled away. “Who’s after you?” he tried.
The young woman squeezed her eyes shut, burying her face into the rough fabric of her cloak, obscuring herself from his inspection, and it was all the vampire could do not to force the situation and drag her out of her self-imposed shell. He didn’t have time for this, so if this was going to be her game, there was nothing he could do for her right now; better to just get the ball rolling and get Harris on the spot, pronto.
As he moved to return to his sentry at the door, the vamp’s lean fingers began punching in the phone number, the high-pitched beeps of the cell squealing in the silence of the crypt. It was enough to cut through the fog of his guest, and Spike heard her muffled voice from under her cloak. He stopped, hesitating over the last digit, before looking back at her over his shoulder. “Didn’t quite catch that, luv,” he said.
With the agonizing grace of a wounded gazelle, the young woman raised her head, doing her best not to bend her neck and aggravate the fresh brand along its side. The hood fell back, and for the first time since she’d arrived, Spike got a good look at her.
She was young, but not too young, probably twenty-four, twenty-five, with an alabaster complexion marred only by the blood mottling her skin. The thick lashes he’d seen close hand, but only now, in the flickering lights of the multitudinous candles, was he able to discern the vibrant green of the irises they surrounded, staring at him, unblinking and frighteningly direct. The intelligence in them was plain to see, but what startled the vampire even more was their utter lack of fear of her surroundings. Didn’t she care that she was in a crypt? he wondered. Must be losing my touch.
“Who are you?” Though it was obvious she was struggling for control, her voice was stronger now, and the vampire found himself finally warming to her.
“Name’s Spike,” he answered, slowly closing his phone and slipping it back into his pocket. He took a step closer. “Better question is, who are you?”
“…Kassia.” Her tongue darted out, licking her lips. “I don’t suppose…you have something to drink?”
Aw, hell, the vamp thought. Figures I’d be entertainin’ the same day I’ve cleaned the crypt out. “Don’t know, pet,” he said. “Lemme check.” He sauntered to the small fridge and pulled the door open. Nope, just as empty as he’d thought. Not even a bag of blood for him to have for breakfast. “Listen,” he continued, closing the refrigerator back up, “you’ve got some right nasty wounds there. I’ve got a bit of first aid stuff around here, but you need proper care and someone who knows more than I do about these things. I’m goin’ to call a friend, have him come take you to the hospital---.”
“No!” The desperation in her voice stayed his hand, and Spike frowned. “Please,” she added, “that’s the first place they’ll look for me. If I go there…” Her words trailed off, and she began kneading the cloak between her fingers, green eyes gazing at him steadily.
“This they you keep talkin’ about…they the ones who did that to you?” He waggled his fingers in the vicinity of his neck, mirroring the site of the brand on Kassia.
Her face remained blank, not acknowledging the vampire’s question, almost as if she hadn’t heard it. His mouth opened to repeat his question, then closed almost immediately as he realized she wasn’t even looking directly at him, focusing instead on something off to his left. Spike glanced over. The only thing there was the flickering of the candles against the wall, hardly anything worth such rapt attention. What in bloody hell was wrong with this girl?
“You’re not going to make me go…are you?” Kassia asked. Very carefully, she sat up, her tiny hands groping along the stone of the coffin lid. It was a curious gesture, snagging the blond vampire’s attention with its deliberateness, and as she reached its edge, she swung her legs around so that she was sitting up, her head held high, her gaze still level and steady. It was that, that Spike found so disconcerting. The girl never blinked, those emerald eyes unwavering in their assessment of…whatever it was that fascinated her so.
And then it hit him, and the vampire mentally kicked himself for being so dense. As silently as he could manage, he inched to his right, his own gaze never leaving Kassia’s face. Her head didn’t move, stayed fixed on the candles, confirming his suspicions. She was blind. Whether it was a result of what made her run or a more long-term issue, he had no idea, but at least he now could deal with her more appropriately. “Make you a deal,” he said, and watched as her head snapped toward him, fixing on the sound of his voice. “You spill about what’s going on, and I promise not to make you go to the hospital.” But not to stop trying to convince you to go anyway, he added silently.
Spike sighed in exasperation. “Figured that part out on my own, pet,” he said. “Final jeopardy question is, who’re you rabbiting from?”
Kassia’s face closed, her head lowering so that he could barely make out her words as she whispered her response. “My coven.”
“So she’s a witch.”
Spike nodded, his blue eyes straying back to the crypt door. The young woman was asleep on the other side, settled comfortably with a blanket on top of the coffin, oblivious to the deliberations that were happening just outside the stone walls. His interrogation had exhausted her even further and in spite of having even more unanswered questions, the vampire had relented when she’d asked to rest. He knew from the thick scent in the air that she was still bleeding, albeit more slowly, but every attempt he’d made at approaching her had been met with that same whimpering flinch, the same skittish stare, and he’d eventually stopped trying, hoping against hope that the wounds weren’t actually so serious that she’d end up dying in his crypt.
“Claims she’s only just joined the coven, and when she wanted out…they got a little pissed.” He took a deep drag on his cigarette before turning back to face Xander. “Speaking of pissed…sorry about Anya.”
The construction worker shrugged. “No big. She had so much to drink at The Bronze, she probably won’t even remember me leaving.” He blew on his hands, trying to warm them up. “So this…what did you say her name was?”
“You think she’s on the up and up? Or is there something bigger and badder that she’s not telling?”
“Somethin’s out of joint here, but bugger if I can tell you what it is.”
“I’m late, I’m late, I know. I’m sorry.” A breathless Willow came scurrying around the corner of the crypt, almost colliding with the two men as they turned to face her. “This time, it’s totally not my fault.”
Spike glanced down at the paper bag in the redhead’s hands. “’Cause those snack attacks just can’t wait, can they?” he observed.
“Well, when they’re Tara’s, then no, they can’t. We were out of mangos, so I had to stop and get some before the store closed.”
Xander frowned. “I thought she was all cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs now.”
“Where have you been?” asked Spike. “She’s been through lamb chops, pork rinds, and Ho Ho’s since the cereal stuff.” And they think drinking blood is weird, he thought wryly.
“At least we’re moving on to the healthy region of cravings, right?” the young man questioned. “I mean, mangos…that’s gotta be nutritious for the baby. Fresh fruity goodness, and all.”
Willow rolled her eyes. “Oh sure, they’d be super-healthy, if she didn’t dunk ‘em in the Skippy.”
“Look,” Spike said, tossing his cigarette onto the ground. “As thoroughly entertainin’ as this whole topic of conversation is, there’s this little matter of a blind witch asleep in my crypt I’m hopin’ to get settled before I pick up stakes tomorrow.”
The reminder of his imminent departure cast a pall over the threesome, immediately wiping the amusement from the others’ faces and eradicating the levity from the atmosphere. Although everyone had been in high spirits at the party, outside of the strobe lighting and loud music, the reality was just too disheartening to face with a Mary Poppins smile. Even the ever-optimistic Willow was struggling to find anything good coming from Spike’s going away. “I haven’t heard about any new covens around Sunnydale,” she said, desperate to keep talking and keep her mind off it. “Neither did Tara, when I asked her.”
“I thought I told you not to bother her,” Spike accused.
“Well, what was I supposed to say when she asked where I was going?” the redhead argued.
“You coulda made somethin’ up, lied to her, anything but get her worryin’ ‘bout stuff that’s probably not a big deal anyway,” the vampire retorted.
Xander shook his head in mock dismay. “Spike, Spike, Spike. When are you ever going to learn? Willow’s about as good at lying as you are at getting a date.”
“Shut up, Harris,” he growled, silently fuming as he mentally berated himself. Couldn’t have taken the back path home, he thought. Had to take the bloody short cut and get yourself caught with a whole new kettle of fish. “I just want to get this sorted, and get the hell outta Dodge,” he said, his jaw tight. “I’m not in the mood for your two-bit analysis of my personal life.”
“Did you get a look at the brand?” asked Willow, diverting the conversation back to the reason she was there.
He shook his head. “Wouldn’t let me anywhere near. This coven really did a number on her.”
“Well, maybe I can get through to her,” the young Wicca said. “You know, witch to witch.” She held up her hand, fingers crossed, and smiled as she squeezed herself past the slightly ajar door.
“I’m sure she can do it,” Xander reassured. “She’s got that Willow way about her---.” His words were cut off by the sharp scream from inside the crypt, stunning both men momentarily into ice, before Spike yanked open the stone door and ran inside.
A startled Willow hung back, watching a cowering Kassia on the floor, the screams pouring out of the blind witch’s mouth like liquid fire.
“What in bloody hell did you do?” the blond vampire demanded as he entered and surveyed the scene.
The shrieking stopped, to be replaced by heartrending whimpers. “Spike?” Kassia called out.
He was across the room in an instant, kneeling before her, blue eyes searching the pale face for anything resembling pain or discomfort. “Right here, pet,” he soothed. “Spike’s right here.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Willow protested. “All I did was walk in and next thing you know, she’s going all Linda Blair.” She looked back at Xander. “Honest.”
Kassia reached out, tremulous fingers curling around her host’s forearm. He was shocked at the strength in her tiny grasp, but what was even more surprising was the warm shock of electricity that surged through his skin. Just a reaction to the smell of blood, he reasoned. Gotta be. “She’s a witch,” she said simply, as if that was the only explanation she needed.
“It’s OK,” Spike replied. “She’s a friend of mine. She’s just here to help you.”
“My name’s Willow---.”
“The others will know,” Kassia continued, totally oblivious to the interruption. “Her powers are very strong; they’ll attract the coven, and then they’ll find me. You promised I’d be safe.”
The vampire sighed. Had that been one of the promises he’d made to her in order to get her to talk? Probably. Bollocks. Out loud, he said, “Don’t worry, she’s not stayin’. I just want her to take a look at your neck.”
He didn’t know how to answer that. Tell her the truth and say, sorry, I think you’re lyin’ your ass off and this thing’s bigger than Buddha? Or lie and blame it on idle curiosity? Either way, Spike had a funny feeling she’d see through him and they’d never get anywhere with finding out the whole story. “’Cause…it’s bleedin’…and if it’s infected, she can do something about it.”
A wide-eyed Willow looked at Xander. I can? she mouthed silently to her old friend.
Kassia didn’t remove her hand, only sat there looking up at Spike, and it dawned on him that the outside observer would never have known she was blind. “And…she’ll go…after?” she finally asked.
“Yes, I promise.” He hadn’t meant for those last two words to come out of his mouth---the last thing he needed right now was to be making even more promises---but in the face of his fragile guest, the platinum-haired vampire found himself beset with the urge to protect, to shield her from any more pain. Look at what watchin’ over Niblet’s done to me, he thought. Turned me into a bloody ponce.
Very slowly, Kassia stood, wavering only slightly as she reached full height. As Spike rose beside her, she undid the ties on her cloak, letting it slip from her shoulders, landing in a crumpled woolen heap on the floor, and revealing the stark white of the robe she wore underneath. Drops of blood speckled the shoulders, and the crimson stain that ran down her side matched the path of the brand that was now visible in the candlelight.
Willow stepped forward, and although her movement was inaudible, the blind young woman noticeably flinched, a minuscule retreat against the wall. “She’s not goin’ to hurt you,” Spike repeated. He turned to the redhead. “Harris and I’ll wait outside while you…”
She nodded. “I won’t be long.”
As the vampire brushed past, he murmured, “Good luck.”
“Thanks.” The crypt door opened and shut behind her. “I think I’m going to need it.”
The two men sat in a comfortable silence, wrapped in the welcoming solitude the cemetery usually brought. This was familiar territory; this was known; and both were grateful for what waiting for Willow offered. Spike was still slightly annoyed that Tara had been bothered, but that was insignificant compared to his growing unease about the blind witch situation. How’d she recognized Red’s powers? And that brand…its damage clearly ran further than what was visible. What kind of people would mark a young woman in such a way?
And Kassia…the vampire had to admit she was getting to him, as much as he despised the weakness in himself. Outside of the Scoobies, he deliberately limited his contact with humans to those of the need-to-be-rescued variety, and though she fell within that range now, Spike could feel an inexplicable draw to her, and suspected that if he’d just run into her someplace like The Bronze, he wouldn’t have been able to resist chatting her up. Xander’s earlier crack about his dating record had been right on the money; in spite of constant urging and the occasional fix-up from the gang, Spike had done very little socializing with the fairer sex since Buffy’s death. In fact, he could count on one hand exactly how many dates he’d had, and for counting how many of those went any further, well, he didn’t need any hands for that. It was just…he could never seem to stop comparing them to…her, and inevitably, they all came up lacking. It infuriated Tara, and she was constantly scolding the vampire for refusing to get on with his life.
“Nobody expects you to live like a monk,” she’d said. “And if Buffy were still around, she’d be the first of us to say, ‘Get off your ass, Spike, before I have to kick it into gear.’” He’d chuckled in spite of her ferocity, because Slayer-speak from the gentle witch was about as fitting as Rupert in a tutu. And, of course, when he’d announced that he was leaving Sunnydale, cutting the ties for good so that he could somehow get on with his life, Tara had been the first to beg him not to go, playing on his sympathies and concern for the baby to try and get him to stay. The vampire shook his head at the memory. Women.
The crypt door opened and Willow slipped out, her face drawn and tired. A piece of paper dangled from her hand. “I don’t recognize the design,” she said, jumping right into it. “But I’ve got a sketch now, so I’ll start the research on it in the morning.”
“How is she?” asked Spike, his brow furrowed.
“Shaken, and more than a little bit stirred,” she replied. “That mark goes all the way down to her hip and whoever did it, didn’t do it in one fell swoop. More like, lots of little swoops.” She bit her lip. “Did you guys think what she was wearing looked a little…weird?”
“That’s because it was a sacrificial robe, Red,” the vampire said. Yet another detail Kassia had failed to explain.
Xander’s eyes widened. “Covens do that?”
“No!” Willow’s protestation was vehement. At Spike’s cocked eyebrow, she averted her eyes. “Well, not very often, at least.”
“A blind girl being hunted by evil witches for some satanic sacrifice,” the young man commented. “Oh, Ahn’s going to love this one.”
Spike clapped a hand of reassurance on Xander’s shoulder. “Nah, Red’ll slap a little protection against evil spell on the apartment, you’ll be just dandy. ‘Course, you might end up locking Anya out…”
“Ha ha, very funny.” He turned to Willow. “She up for the walk to my car?”
“I’ve got her if she’s not,” the vampire offered. Neither man saw the redhead’s worried brow, nor how she had yet to move from where she stood blocking the door. It was only when they stepped forward and she didn’t budge that they noticed her disinterest in their banter. “What?” Spike asked. “Even for a girl, she should’ve had plenty of time to get dressed by now.”
“I have a feeling she’s not going to go with Xander,” Willow said. “In fact, I’d pretty much stake my Dixie Chicks collection on it.”
The vampire folded his arms across his chest, cocking his head as he looked down at her. She was not saying what he thought she was saying…
“Now don’t freak before you hear me out,” the Wicca was saying. “Kassia’s really wigging in there. It took me forever to get close enough to her to do any good. I don’t know if it was a sacrifice that went kaplooie or not, but whatever it was, it was bad on a giganto scale, and she’s suffering for it.” Her face softened. “She trusts you, Spike. I thought, maybe, you could…you know…keep an eye on her…for a few days…maybe…” Her voice trailed away as she saw his face grow darker and darker.
“This isn’t my bloody problem anymore, Red,” he rumbled. “Remember the big goin’ away do? You guys handle this one on your own. I’ve got an early start tomorrow.”
As he started to brush past the witch, she grabbed his arm, yanking him to face her. “Don’t be doing that out here, Spike. We both know that your ‘early start’ is just a load of bullpucky so you don’t have to say a real goodbye, and we were fine with that, ‘cause we figured, hey, cut the guy some slack, it’s kind of hard to move on and everything. But Kassia needs you now, and if you just ignore that and run away…” She shook her head. “Why did you even bother saving her in the first place?”
The vampire just looked at her, and the smile slowly creased his face. “You’re goin’ to make one helluva parent, you know that?” he said. “You’ve got the guilt thing down pat.” His smile slowly faded. “I suppose you want me to go in there and volunteer my place for her to stay.”
“Well…” Willow reddened. “She kinda already asked if she could stay with you, and I…kinda already said yes.”
Spike just stared at her in amazement. Beside him, Xander clapped his hand down on the vampire’s shoulder. “It’s OK, man,” he said. “You never really had a chance.”
Her chest rose gently, up…then down…its rhythmic refrain mesmerizing the vampire as he watched her sleep on top of the coffin. The robe was gone now, disposed of by Willow and replaced with one of his own t-shirts---a detail she had conveniently omitted---making Kassia seem more like a college co-ed at a slumber party than a ritual victim on the run. Although he had long since extinguished the candles, he could still see the outline of her body in the dark, the curve of her hip as she lay on the opposite side of the brand, the full breasts straining against the black cotton of the shirt. The cloak had hidden her figure, and the sudden expanse of warm flesh so near to him, here in his crypt, found Spike more than a little aroused.
Although he was certainly no stranger to sexual attraction, it had been a long time since he’d actually recognized its presence, acknowledged to himself that he wanted a particular woman. If he was one hundred percent honest with himself, he’d have to admit that it hadn’t happened since…Buffy. And that was different…
The blond vampire lifted the flask to his lips and took a long swallow of the bourbon it contained. The liquid seared his throat, warming him from the inside out, and he welcomed the cloud it was creating inside his head. He didn’t relish playing babysitter, especially since the one who needed ‘sitting was wreaking havoc with the orderly world he’d created for himself, and he fully intended to get drunk before the sun rose. Red’s last-minute protection spell would do to keep the baddies outside at bay; now all he had to worry about was the baddie within…