Chapter 13 All that Glitters
A/N. (I just realised I've forgotten to put a disclaimer up on the last few chapters. Well, that's about to be rectified, because I CLEARLY do not own BtVS; that realm belongs to Joss Whedon, etc. I'm just playing.
Well, it's come to this.
I'm sure that some of you might have seen this coming, and for you who have, I'm terribly sorry that I've been so predictable. It's been two weeks, and I've discovered that Uni was far more work than it's made out to be… and I don't think my undertaking a double-degree is helping any.
Thus, it pains me to take this action, but I've decided it's for the best. I can no longer give this fic the time it deserves, so this is the last chapter I will post in a while. I do not mean to abandon this completely; I owe the fanfiction world far too much to let this slide for eternity. But it may be a few years before I pick this up again.
Thank you to all of you who have stuck with me so far, and especially Kim, whose words and reviews have always left me with a smile. Thank you to everyone else who has commented and hey, just read this fic and the one before it. It means a lot to me that you've enjoyed my work.
So here's to the last chapter for a while. I hope you forgive me. But I won't let this one lie sleeping forever.
8 8 8
They decided to visit the graveyard of all those nights ago in the day time. It would have been a rather painful suicide to come at night without Buffy or Spike, and the point was, they had decided (or rather Dawn had decided, vociferously, with her high-pitched voice reminding them that since she was the Key, she should have final say in the investigation) to keep it amongst just themselves. For the time being. Until they unearthed something significant enough to warrant the Scoobies' attention.
And so it was that Cassandra, Daniel, and Dawn found themselves picking their way through gravestones and grass, hands clasped tightly around backpacks filled with food and drink and a rug. Their excuse for venturing out on this bright, sunny Saturday morning had been a picnic in the park, but Cassandra for one seriously doubted if she'd leave this place with any sort of appetite. And if they were successful in finding a trace of what had happened, well… she thought a lack of appetite might segue into the contents of breakfast revisiting the world.
"Are you sure it's around here somewhere?" Dawn demanded, her sharp gaze scanning their surroundings.
Daniel rolled his eyes for the umpteenth time. "No, we're not sure. Why don't you try remembering the exact place where you saw a scary ritual months ago and in the dark. Besides, as far as I can see, graves all look the same to me."
Dawn flashed him a highly unsympathetic look. "Maus-o-leum," she enunciated slowly, pointing to one rising up ahead from the grass. "Tomb-stone," she spoke as if to a child, pointing at a stone block rising from their feet. "It's not that difficult, idiot."
"Easy enough for you to say," Daniel retorted, his pride stung. "What differentiates that maus-o-leum from that maus-o-leum?" He gestured at the one she'd pointed to and another to their left. "Nothing! Until you go up real close and read the names… and trust me when I say we didn't exactly have time to do that while we were running for our lives."
Dawn swung around, hands on her hips. "Fine then," she said sweetly. "If your memory really is so faulty, I guess we'll just spend the morning combing every inch of this graveyard for anything we can find."
Cassandra groaned from behind them and slapped her forehead. "It's going to be a long, boring morning searching for something we don't even…"
"Looking for something?"
The three teenagers spun around in surprise at the unfamiliar voice, to see a little old man smiling harmlessly at them. He was about their height, with soft white hair framing sparkling eyes, and benevolence seemed to cloak him like a shroud.
"I'm sorry for interrupting, but I couldn't help overhear some of your conversation. I happen to know this cemetery quite well… my dear old da lies just around the corner from here." He paused, that gentle smile never leaving his lips as he cocked his head a little to the side. "Perhaps you could use some help?"
Daniel stared at him as if he were their saviour. Dawn's serene nod of acceptance masked the flare of triumph in her eyes. And Cassandra…
Cassandra's insides froze solid and descended to the pit of her stomach as she tried to school her face.
8 8 8
They came during the day this time, and Anya closed up the shop and packed away the customers muttering under her breath. Xander had told her Englishmen appeared to have an unhealthily close relationship with manners. Clearly, there was an affair going on.
"So you're going now?" Finally, Giles added silently in his mind as he regarded the Head Watcher.
"Indeed," Quentin inclined his head and gestured towards the rest of the Watchers standing behind him. "We only wished to pay our respects before we left to the airport."
Buffy wrinkled her nose slightly. "Respects paid," she muttered, but then her eyes widened slightly in amusement. "Though I see Mr. Sulky isn't here," she noted perkily.
The standing Watchers shifted uneasily, and Quentin coughed. "Yes, well… Fredrick decided to be absent on our last visit. I doubt he anything constructive to add, at any rate."
"Hear, hear," Elspeth murmured behind her father's shoulder, before raising her voice. "However, the rest of us wish to impart our farewells, knowing that we leave with a closer and healthier relationship with Buffy than any Council has ever had with their Slayer. It is a quietly historical moment, to say the least."
The gentle irony in her voice even prompted Buffy's wary countenance to turn to a smile. "Historical, yeah."
"And rest assured that we will continue to build upon this if possible. We are all fighting the same enemy here, and if there is a need, Father and I have agreed that I myself may even be posted as a permanent Council representative in Sunnydale."
It was a mark of how far they had come that Buffy didn't immediately scream at the idea, and Giles had to regard both his Slayer and Elspeth with reaffirmed respect. The latter smiled agreeably at the former, no hint of guile in her face, and Giles felt a strange sense of relief. If there had to be a Council representative, then at least it would be her. He found that he didn't mind that idea so much.
In the last few days, they had gotten to know each other a little more during negotiations. Both Elspeth and Fredrick had spent most of their early lives in adjacent boarding schools, which explained their absence at the Council of Watchers during Giles' own formative years, but they had been introduced to the real world of Slayers and demons and the Watcher heritage that lay in their bloodline far later than he. It seemed strange, Giles mused bitterly, that Quentin had judged him for being too emotionally intertwined with Buffy when he had had a daughter himself. Then again, he had never picked the Quentin of old as a father.
In truth, something struck him as strange whenever he turned Elspeth's tale over in his head, but he couldn't quite put a finger on it.
Nevertheless, he couldn't deny that whatever her background, she was a pleasure to be with. He smiled at her now, enjoying the wide one she flashed in return. With her easy diplomacy and sharply humorous jibes, negotiations with the Watcher's Council over their new partnership had gone over far smoother than he'd imagined, and he was grateful.
"That is good to hear," Giles said at last. "We will keep in contact then."
"Excellent," Travers picked up his coat and the Watchers turned to leave.
Of course, it was their luck that Spike chose at that moment to walk in from the basement without knocking, a twist of scales still around his fist.
"Well, I've finished off the scalin'," he announced loudly "And I have to say, that was one bloody good…"
He paused, looked around at the assembled Watchers, and shook his head ruefully. "Not my day. I'll just be goin' now…"
"Wait," Travers voice called him back, and the vampire obeyed with obvious reluctance. "Is that a… Sobekian cobra skin I see?"
"None other, Head wanker," Spike muttered the last two words under his breath, guarding it protectively with his stance. It seemed like yesterday that he'd had that conversation with the Slayer, one that had filled him with a strange sense of usefulness that went beyond helping her patrol.
Buffy had picked at the ruins of her sweater and the snake-demon's secretions. "This stuff is valuable?" she had asked disbelievingly, and before Giles could continue, Spike had answered for him.
"Extremely," Spike's lips had curled into a smile. "You're wearin' about a grand's worth on your pretty shoulder right now, Slayer."
Buffy's mouth had formed a shocked 'o' as she'd stared at the opalescent liquid on her skin, completely harmless against the unbroken flesh. "It doesn't look like anything worth that much."
He'd shrugged. "Some things aren't what they seem, Slayer," and he'd watched the look of hope cross over her face at the possibilities.
Spike was torn unwelcomely back from the memory by Travers' voice.
"A genuine Sobekian cobra skin… incredible. Might I ask how you acquired it?"
From the counter, Buffy shrugged. "Glory raised the Sober thing, we killed it," Buffy said airily. "No biggie."
Shadows darkened across the Head Watcher's face at the name. "On the contrary, Miss. Summers, every action that Glory makes is important."
Buffy exhaled in irritation. "I'm actually quite aware of that. But why are you so interested in the skin itself?"
He brushed some imaginary dust off his suit as he answered, and Buffy was struck by the stupidity again that dictated he wore more than a shirt and pants under the Sunnydale sun, even if he was heading back to England in an hour. "Sobekian demons are very rare, Miss. Summers… so it is out of interest that I question."
A flash of something crossed his face, and then the Head Watcher paused, his next words almost apologetic. "Not to mention, this kind of thing is worth a lot of money. As well as its venom. I don't suppose…"
"Well, we're not givin' it to you, if that's what you think," he said sternly. "You're right. Stuff like this is worth a lot of money, and it's not like the Slayer has time to hold down a respectable nine to five between savin' the world. And even if she did, it's hard to stay sittin' comfy when you could be losin' your job the next time the apocalypse knocks within office hours."
His voice roiled over the assembled Watchers and they shifted as it hit them. Elspeth decided privately that it was a very good thing Fredrick hadn't attended, otherwise there most certainly would not have been the sudden silence, spinning out like blown glass across the gathered people. From behind the counter, even Anya stopped her banging and muttering as she regarded the strange expressions on the Head Watcher's face with curiosity. His eyes had widened, and the action of cogs turning in his head was almost visible across the tiredly official etchings of his face. Across from the room where he leaned against a bookcase, Giles' eyes were torn between Travers' and Spike's. And as for the vampire himself, he shifted uncomfortably under both the Travers' and the Slayers suddenly piercing glances, wondering what on the Hellmouth he'd gotten himself into now. From the hot burn he was beginning to develop on his back, he was going to get questions from her later, and he wasn't entirely sure how he was going to answer.
Finally, the silence was broken. "I never thought of that," there seemed to be real regret in Travers' voice. "Dear Lord, I never thought of that."
"Well, now that you have, what do you propose to do with it?" Nigel checked his watch as he asked.
Travers' thoughtful eyes flicked from the vampire with the Sobekian scales wrapped around his fist, to the tiny golden-blonde Slayer in front of him. "Perhaps a monthly stipend?" he suggested finally. "One hundred pounds a month, maybe? That amount could serve as a start."
"Oh come on, she's worth more than that!" Spike interjected again, and everyone stared at him in surprise. He glared back, annoyed at all of the unwanted attention and the uncomfortableness that stirred along in his gut as he received it. It was the shock in Buffy's face that got him most, and so he turned back to the Englishmen to hide it, reeling straight back into the soul-searching gaze of the Head Watcher. At the renewed sight of it, he set his jaw. "She's worth more than that," he repeated stubbornly, gesturing jerkily in the air. "For God's sake, she saves the soddin' world!"
Now the Travers was making him jumpy, and he wasn't sure if he regretted speaking up. Luckily, however, attention shifted when Nigel cleared his throat impatiently. "Uh… Mr. Travers… we'll miss our plane if we don't leave soon."
The Head Watcher nodded slowly, his eyes never leaving Spike's sparking blue ones, and gestured for them to go. The group of Watchers walked stiffly out of the shop, all but Elspeth leaving behind a scent of tweed, and at last Travers was the only one left who didn't belong.
"As I said, Mr. Bloody… it is a start," the Head Watcher surveyed him keenly, before nodding his head and leaving with the rest.
8 8 8
Daniel, Cassandra decided, was terrible at lying.
"It's… a family heirloom!" Daniel gabbled, and from behind him and out of view, Cassandra barely refrained from cradling her head in her palms.
"Really?" Doc asked mildly, taking sprightly steps on the dewy grass. "It's a strange family heirloom when you don't know what it looks like."
Dawn rolled her eyes and pushed smoothly ahead, her long limbs matching Doc's strides effortlessly. "It's not our direct family's per se, it's our friend's," she explained smoothly. "She rung us up this morning in an absolute mess because she realised she'd lost it during her Aunt's funeral that we all attended last week, but she couldn't come look for it herself because she's packing."
Well, Cassandra thought wryly, if Daniel was terrible at lying, Dawn was frighteningly good at it. The younger Summers oozed innocence and a guileless charm, and it was enough to quieten Cassandra's heart a little as it thrummed beneath her ribs. She hadn't gotten over it yet. Doc. Doc. Doc. Was walking. Next to them. Less than a feet away.
The images of his benevolent face presiding over Dawn's cries of pain was definitely not helping.
Her panicked heartbeat returned, and she closed her eyes and winced internally. Nope. It wasn't helping at all.
"You're quiet, little one."
She jerked out of her thoughts at his voice, staring at him with wide eyes. He was still walking, but his pace had slowed, and a strange something flickered into his gaze. For a second, she swore his pupils had flashed almost reptilian as he surveyed her. "Cat got your… tongue?"
Her mouth was suddenly dry. "No, I…"
"Don't mind Cassandra," Daniel said with an easy laugh. "She gets a little shy sometimes."
Blood flushed back into her muscles. "I do not!" she said indignantly.
"You do so," he shot back, a teasing smile on his face, and for some reason the familiarity of the gesture was enough to tear her thoughts away from the fact that Doc was scarily, frighteningly close, and still regarding her eerily.
"Do not," she countered, deciding that if she couldn't cope, at least she could ignore.
"Do so..." he raised his eyebrow. "Isn't this a little infantile?"
She shrugged with a smile. "If I'm not mistaken, I heard you arguing in two syllables right along with..."
It was a gentle clearing of the throat, almost a cough, that interrupted their friendly bickering. Cassandra and Daniel spun around to realise that Dawn and Doc were now about three feet behind them, the latter kneeling down with a natural grace and examining something in the grass.
"Children?" he said mildly, closing his fingers around something on the ground and then holding it out in his palm for them to see. "I do think I've found something."
It was a gemstone, completely black as if it were made out of shadow. A single, blazing, golden wing arced across it, standing out lividly from the darkness. They looked at it, a gaze mixed with shock, awe, and apprehension, and the silence settled uncomfortably around their shoulders with the discovery.
"A strange family heirloom," Doc commented lightly.
"It's a strange family," Daniel hastily tried to laugh it off, but his voice died away as Dawn took it in trembling fingers. There was a questioning recognition in the girl's studying gaze, and taking her friend's cue, Cassandra tried to put her finger on its familiarity.
And came up with the picture of a single image seared into her neck.
There was something strange going on. Cassandra tore her eyes from the mesmerising glints of sunlight on the gemstone and to their surroundings. They had come by here before, she realised numbly. It was one of the first places they'd looked that morning, when their enthusiasm had been near its peak and they'd examined every blade of grass before concluding that nothing was there.
Cassandra looked at Doc's kind, bland, innocent face, and felt her heart drop to the bottom of her stomach.
8 8 8
"Why'd you do that?"
The cellar was dark and he blinked as his vision adjusted, but there was no place to hide with bright emerald eyes seeking him out in the blackness. He hung his head and listened to her heartbeat throb under his skin. They were close, and he wondered if she realised it. Wondered if she cared.
"You know the answer to that."
They were close, and she wondered if he realised it. They were close enough for her to have almost felt the vibrations from his chest as his voice rumbled through and made itself known.
Yes, she knew the answer to that.
Her mind was dizzy. There were times when she couldn't comprehend, couldn't understand her life. Heck, that was an understatement.
Yes. She knew the answer, but what should she do about it?
In the darkness, he stopped breathing. Not that he needed it or anything, it was merely that her scent was breaking in waves around him and with the shadows around them, his senses were heightened. There was sunlight and vanilla in her smell, and he was afraid if he drank too much of it in he'd become drunk. Intoxicated. With her. And he couldn't do that, not when he needed his wits about him, not when she was just standing there with such an odd look on her face.
Why hadn't she said anything yet? Or done anything? Or hit him?
The Slayer took a shaky step forwards and the vampire blinked as she hesitantly wrapped her arms around him, loosely.
"Thanks," she said, her voice muffled into his jacket.
Wonderingly, his hands remembered their minds, and they falteringly fell upon golden hair and a smooth back.
"You're welcome," he said thickly, and it was enough.