AN: Disclaimer and summary found in first chapter.
Well, it certainly has been awhile since I updated this story. But I actually have a new chapter. Really. :)
Thank you to my wonderful beta, afterlife, and to those who have taken the time to review this story.
Part 19: No Where To Run
Andrew walked back towards the small, sleepy group in the waiting room. He was carrying a small cardboard tray with several large cups of coffee, and a paper bag with the words Crispy Cream printed in bold letters. Joyce smiled at the young man and took the coffee offered to her as he passed the others their hot drinks.
Cash was snuggled against his mother, dead to the world around him. Anya had to maneuver carefully when she took her drink from her employee so as to not wake the boy.
He then went to the two other children, who were sitting at a small coffee table with magazines spread about the top of it. They had the cards they were playing with earlier, but put away their game as he handed them each a small carton of chocolate milk. After snagging his own donut, he then gave them the bag before going to sit down next to Joyce.
Dawn was sitting with Willow, so her cup of coffee remained in the holder untouched. Andrew placed the tray in the seat between him and Joyce, then grabbed his own orange juice and began to nibble on the donut.
The silence was deafening as they all sat there, lost in their own thoughts and worries.
"What's taking them so long?" Jessie asked, breaking the quiet. "Shouldn't they be back by now?"
"Soon, baby," Anya assured her daughter.
"But…" The child leaned forward and whispered as if it were some big secret, "The sun's already up."
Van jumped to his feet, his back straight and his jaw clinched.
"Van?" Joyce said softly.
"What do you hear?" Andrew asked. He had seen that look before and knew it meant the boy could hear or sense something they couldn't, thanks to his wolf.
He turned to look at the adults, confusion etched on his face. "There's a rumbling."
No sooner had he said the words when the earth began to jerk violently beneath their feet.
Giles was slammed against the counter with a painful oomph when the earthquake began. His head banged against the plywood, cutting a small gash on his forehead as he clung onto the fixture in an attempt to keep from falling. Items fell off of the shelves around him, the bindings of the books breaking and the glass jars shattering upon impact.
Graham stumbled backwards and fell hard on his butt from the sudden jolts forwards and backwards. The commando fought to his feet, then ran nearly sideways across the room to the counter. He helped Giles over to the doorway that lead to the storage area and the two men braced themselves.
The very foundation of the building began to groan in protest from the movement, before a large crack began to spread across the showroom floor and race towards the training area in the back. The crack caused the heavy loft to come crashing down, destroying the small play area for the children that Anya had set up underneath it.
The caving in of the loft caused a chain reaction. The extra weight caused most of the floor to give way and fall into the basement below. That in turn took out the support wall that the loft was built into, causing the back end of the shop with the training room to collapse in on itself.
Giles and Graham listened while some of his men yelped in surprise as the walls fell in on them, then heard that sickening cracking sound as the earth beneath them split opened and dragged them down below. Travers's cries were the loudest.
Hell had opened up wide to greet him.
The force of the first jolt dropped Faith onto her butt. Though the Boston native had lived in the southern part of California for a good seven years before moving out, she had never gotten used to the sudden earthquakes that would occasionally arise. Not that this one was in any way a sudden or a natural earthquake, especially considering the show that was going on before them.
Faith's eyes widened as one of the concrete pillars that held up part of the second floor cracked in two and brought down part of the ceiling. Rolling to the side, she barely missed being crushed by some of the falling debris.
Diana took a step back from the circle, a wild smile on her face. The symbol on which she had dripped Dylan's blood began to glow. A crack formed and ran along its lines, drawing the symbol into the very foundation. Once it was complete, the earthquake stopped.
Angel helped the slayer to her feet quickly, then flanked to her side. Spike was on her other side, glancing from Diana to where the children were. Faith could see that the vampire wanted to go over and help Dylan, but he didn't because he knew something was coming. As Buffy would say, her spidey senses were tingling; only now they actually felt like a thousand tiny knives stabbing her over and over again. It was as if her whole body had been asleep and was only now just waking, much different from the usual sense she got when danger was approaching.
Angel and Spike had similar looks on their faces. So did Connor. And Bastian. And, if she wasn't reeling in pain, Faith was sure Pickle would have one too.
"You guys feel that?" she asked, shifting on her feet into a fight stance.
The vamps nodded together, also readying themselves for what was about to come.
"That's not a good thing, is it?"
They shook their heads no this time. It would have been comical to watch, if it wasn't such a bad thing that was causing it.
A black mist began to seep from the symbol like London fog through an opened window. The feeling of danger that accompanied it was almost overwhelming.
Next to her, Faith could literally feel Spike and Angel bristle.
Clutching his fist, the former bleached-blond answered, "Yeah. Don't die."
Buffy threw her head back and let out a painful scream. It wouldn't be long; she could feel the baby was almost there.
"Breathe, Buffy, breathe," Xander coached from beside her, not daring to venture any further in front of her. He was still doing his best to keep this from happening now, and was now showing her some of the Lamaze methods he had learned for Anya but had never really gotten to use.
"Like this." The carpenter drew in a deep breath, let out three high-pitched short breaths, followed by three lower-pitched short breaths before repeating the process. "See. Now, just concentrate on breathing, not pushing."
"Xander," the slayer said calmly, making him think he was safe. He leaned in a little closer to her to hear what she had to say when her hand wrapped tightly around the collar of his shirt and jerked him violently towards her face. "Concentrate on your own damn breathing!"
Her friend's eyes were wide, but she could hardly pay him attention as another contraction began as soon as the other ended, telling her once again to push.
"Look," she grunted.
"Look and see if you can see the head," she ordered.
"What! No, no, no, no, no, no, NO! That's None-Xander-Lookie Area! Off-limits! Do not proceed! Stay the hell away under the threat of a painful death area!"
"Anya would kill me! Spike would kill me! They'd kill me together, bring me back to life, then kill me again!"
"Xander, just look!"
Her friend made one more desperate look at her as his last ditch effort to not have to do this, then made his way in front of her. Okay, he'd seen the videos, he knew what to expect. He'd just take a quick peek – not even a peek really, more like a glance – and then pretend that it never-
"What? What, 'Oh, God'? 'Oh, God,' is not what I want to hear right now, Xander!"
Dazed, the carpenter looked up and said, "There's a head."
Diana took a step back and looked up at the black mist that was rising above her head. Her mad grin was like that of a child on Christmas morning. This was it for her.
Spike tightened his fist and drew in an unneeded breath. This thing, whatever it was, had no form, not yet anyway. How the hell were they supposed to fight something that was little more than smoke?
Connor joined the group, having left Bastian with Dylan. The scent of her blood covered the young man, and it was taking everything that Spike had to keep from attacking him for having it on him. He knew it wasn't Little Peaches's fault, but his demon didn't seem to understand that. All it knew was that its offspring was injured, and this person next to him was covered in her blood. But he would just have to channel that anger towards the task before them – stopping this thing from getting his son.
Diana raised her arms towards the form rising above her. "Welcome home."
A portion of the mist turned to her, and, for all intents and purposes, stared at the woman below. It was a strange sight, since the thing had no real head to turn towards her, but it was looking at her.
Then, the mist started to spread around the woman who had summoned it. It moved around her, never once actually touching her, but passing over nearly ever inch of her body. When she raised her hand to watch the smoke curl around it, it moved with her, allowing no contact whatsoever.
"What's it doing?" Faith asked.
"Inspecting her?" Connor offered.
"To be its mother?" the miracle child answered.
A mass of the fog gathered behind Diana, and a smaller portion rose in front of her face. She was still smiling brightly.
"Not to be its mum," Spike said, transfixed by the sight as much as the others. "But to be its…"
"Dinner," Angel finished.
No sooner had the words left his grandsire's mouth, the thing attacked. The mass that had gathered behind her shot forward into her back, causing the woman to erupt into a painful scream that would chill the dead. As her mouth hung opened to let the sound out, the mist that had been in front of her moved into her body through the open passage. Her scream turned into a gagging sound as the mist disappeared inside her.
When it was completely gone, the woman stumbled backwards and staggered away from the altar. She came towards the group, her steps jagged and twisting to strange angles, like someone who had no control over what their body was doing. She wasn't screaming any longer, but her eyes were wide with surprise, pain, but mostly fear.
In a last effort for help, she reached out towards them, as if pleading for one of them to take pity on her and do something. But even if they had wanted to, they didn't know how. After a few more seconds, her body slumped forward to its knees, then fell face-forward onto the floor. Her arm was still stretched out towards them.
While the body lay there, what almost looked like her shadow rose up from inside her. The dark outlined mass slowly stood up, looked down at the woman who it resembled, then up to the group before it. The thing turned to each of them, then disconnected itself from Diana and turned back into the smoky glob it had been before.
"You know, that would have been pretty cool if it wasn't about to do that to us," Faith said, tightening her fist. All the good that would do. They couldn't really hit something that didn't have a body and apparently could pass right through a person to eat their soul.
This was bad. Very bad.
And a baby's cry told them it just got worse.
Xander was grateful for many things in his life. His wife. His children. His best friends and their inability to stay dead.
But right now he was most grateful for the fact that, once he saw the child's head, his brain had switched over to automatic pilot and made everything he was doing seem like he was watching someone else do it on TV. Now all those years of watching Rescue 911 when he was younger and having to sit through those disturbing birthing videos that Anya had made him watch actually seemed like a good thing.
The carpenter had pulled off his robe, and now had the infant placed on top of it. Buffy was panting, worn out from the experience. Xander offered her a smile that she didn't notice, then turned back to the relatively quiet baby. The child had cried a bit right after he had freed it, but nothing like he had expected. Compared to his own children, it had been nothing.
Reaching into his jeans pockets, he pulled out a Swiss army knife that 'Jessie' had given him for Christmas. "Sorry, kid," he said before separating the mother and child.
This time, the child screamed bloody murder, but Xander ignored it. He quickly cleaned the babe the best he could, then picked the child up.
"Xander," Buffy said, holding her arms out.
"Hey, time to see your mom. She's pretty cool. You'll like-."
Four painful cries from the lobby cut him off and caused him to instinctively pull the child closer to him. He turned his head to the end of the wall that separated the waiting area from the main room. The screams were still echoing when black mist seeped around the wall and hung in the air before them. Xander gripped the child, who was still wailing, tightly to him, as the carpenter just stared at the thing a few feet away.
Buffy was making some kind of whimpering sound, like she was trying to help, but was unable to do so. She grabbed at Xander, but he was having a deer-caught-in-the-headlights moment, and found it impossible to move. The slayer caught his shirt and pulled herself around him and the baby like she was trying to protect them both.
"Xander!" she screamed in a faraway voice.
He blinked. Xander felt a heavy hand slap onto his shoulder and pull, dragging both him and the slayer that clung to him to their feet. The carpenter stumbled as he tried to keep his balance, which was thrown off by the shock that still held him as well as the weight of Buffy pulling down on him. In his arms, the baby continued to cry.
"You alright?" Oz asked over his shoulder, now standing between the three and the still stalking mist.
"Been better," Buffy answered, breathing hard from the pain.
She let go of Xander like she was going to try and fight, but she ended up nearly crumpling to the floor the second her hands left her old friend. Oz caught her on the way down, and held her tiny body next to his.
Unconsciously, the group began to back away from the black cloud slowly like it was a rabid dog about to attack.
"What do we do?" Xander asked, looking for the quickest way to get out of there. There had to be some way. After all, Oz just didn't appear out of nowhere. Least, he didn't think he did.
As if reading his thoughts, the werewolf offered, "Run?"
"Sounds good to me," the blonde at his side muttered a second before Oz scooped her up and the group made a frantic dash for the front entrance.