This chapter kicked my butt! After writing Giles and Spikes' little moment in the last chappie, which I adored, I had a hard time getting through this one, so I hope you enjoy!
A quick trot through the sewers brought Spike and Jhexel to the Doc's door, and it was easy enough to plant his boot beneath the lock and cave it in. A wave of dry, stale air hit him in the face as he stepped across the threshold, the magic that might keep him out as dead as the demon who'd kept the small flat. The interior was worse than he remembered, piles of parchment and heavy books stacked floor to ceiling, artefacts scattered in corners and over tables, a cataclysmic mess that would take weeks to go through properly if he worked round the clock. Luckily for him, he'd brought the Kid along to help.
Spike took a few steps deeper into the front room, kicking aside some crumpled papers.
It would still take them days.
"Alright," he muttered to himself, looking around. Had to start somewhere. Crossing to a small dining table, he swept it clear of clutter. "Pick a corner and work your way in," he instructed, cocking a thumb back over his shoulder at the empty space he'd created. "Gotta move fast, but try not to miss anything. If it's got to do with comin' back from the dead, anything at all, put it in a pile. Anything on the rift in the dimensions'll go in another."
He got no response, and a questioning look over his shoulder was quick to reminded Spike that the Kid had lost his family and his home only the night before, and that he had already given Spike far more help than he owed him. Caught in his own troubles, he'd stood there barking orders like a damn drill sergeant while the younger male had bowed willingly without protest, and it occurred to him that he had taken advantage of a bad situation gone worse
"You know you don't have to be here," he said, flatly and without any suggestive intonation. "Don't get me wrong, 'preciate any help I can get, but I don't want you to think you have to…"
He trailed off when the Kid huffed a sad sort of chuckle, a miserable half-smile on one side of his mouth. "What else have I got to do?" he asked.
The vampire was abruptly hit with a hard wave of empathy for the little demon; he was young, just a teen in his lifetime, and he was entirely lost in the world. Life on the Hellmouth was hard, and without his nest the Genthos was vulnerable, to more than just the Slayer. His old family would likely kill him under certain circumstances now, as would a host of others, and Spike was more than a little responsible for his situation.
"Look, Kid," he began, slow and unsure, "Know it doesn't help, but it gets better… 'ventually."
Jhexel looked up at him with wary eyes and the fear there cut at him.
"Lost a nest myself once," he admitted.
Neither seemed able to take the conversation any farther then, and they wandered to opposite sides of the room to begin their search. It was an awkward silence for all of five minutes before the task absorbed them both, each with their own instinctive hunting style. Jhexel sat down and pulled towering stacks of paper towards himself until he was surrounded by a semi-circle of columns that rose above his head, his dark eyes flickering over a page a second as he read quickly and efficiently, placing the discards in a rapidly forming pile near one knee. Spike's own search was less steady, less even, using what he knew of the Doc and how beings like him thought to his advantage. He checked artifacts and objects first; crystals, talismans, and carved wooden chests, drawn to the things that were half-hidden or in places of honor or importance before he moved on to the books, the loose drawings and scribbled notes. Outside an open window cicadas hummed, the only sound in the house besides the gentle shifting of the walls, the soft flap of turning pages. From his position propped against the side of an end table, Spike breathed deep, watching the little Genthos across from him. He felt overwhelmed in that moment, with an odd sense of peace, of calm, as if something in him had given up winning the race and simply wanted to plod on to the end.
As if it were simply too late.
It took them two full days, and two nights to get through it all, and they had sod all to show for it either, two piles less than three inches thick together, a couple of tattered, palm-sized books and one rather garish charm on a string that smelled like mothballs but might prove useful.
Spike had to hope that something, anything might prove useful, might help because there was nothing left. They had searched the house from top to bottom, gone over every scribble and through every drawer and there was just nothing left. He supposed it was all well-enough that they were finished, because truth be told he was getting nervous not having checked in on Buffy and the Bit in so long, and he was beginning to feel a bit peckish…
Screw it. He was starving!
He was pretty much healed all round from the multiple injuries he'd accumulated, but he still didn't feel one hundred percent, and he was starting to get a bloody headache. The Kid had to be getting there too; he hadn't eaten either and Spike's advanced hearing was picking up some serious stomach churning.
Packing everything from the table top into a beat-up leather satchel he shrugged his duster back on and walked to the door, gesturing Jhexel through before propping the broken door up behind them. The night was quiet, a warm damp breeze blowing up the street, and it was refreshing on the two sleep-deprived demons' skin; both of them lifting their faces into the wind, breathing in the scent of night jasmine coming from the park. It felt like far too long a walk to the Restview cemetery, much longer than it should have, and by the time they got to his crypt he was seriously lusting after the bed in the lower level.
Dropping down through the hole, he crossed to the dresser and grabbed a couple of clean tshirts and some socks, stuffing them into a stolen gym bag he'd stashed in one of the drawers. Glancing back over his shoulder, he caught the little Genthos staring fixedly at the bed, his eyes half closed as he swayed on his feet.
"Listen, Kid," he said without turning, gathering up a couple of his books and a moleskin notepad, adding them to his bag, "You wanna stay here a day or so?"
Spike zipped his bag and turned to face him. "I need to get back to Buffy's," he said, hiking the bag up onto his shoulder alongside the satchel. "Know you need to hunt, probably need to… process. This is as good a place as any for both."
"You wouldn't mind sir?" the boy asked quietly, crossing his arms and gripping fistfuls of his coat at the elbows. His eyes were on the floor.
"If it's mine, it's yours Kid," he answered honestly. "Least I can do, after..." Spike snapped his mouth shut. Shouldn't have said anything. The silent hurt in the young man was physically jarring. "Take a shower," he murmured, "Get some real sleep. There's t-shirts that'll probably fit you. Take some time, get your head on. Think about where you wanna go."
Jhexel's head jerked up hard and Spike could see the fear flash, hot and biting in his eyes.
"Relax," he chided lightly, crossing to his side and squeezing the demon's shoulder. "You can stay here as long as you want. Long as you need. And don't think you're not welcome at the Slayer's place; think the Bit's taken a shine to you."
Spike himself wasn't actually sure how he felt about that, but it got the smallest look of contentment onto the Kid's face, no matter how fleeting, and he guessed that was enough.
"Gonna head out," he said gruffly, clearing his throat. "You get lonesome you come over, you hear? Remember how to get there?"
"Good deal." Hiking his two bags up onto his shoulder, he began to climb the ladder back to the upper level. Halfway up, he sensed the little Genthos turn toward him and he paused.
Spike exhaled hard, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose with one hand.
And then he made his escape, scarpering the rest of the way up the ladder and out the door of the crypt into the night. It bothered him a bit, that he felt so much for the effectively orphaned demon. It went beyond feelings of gratitude, of guilt. He was starting to look at Jhexel the same way he looked at Dawn, nicknaming him, offering up a part of himself in an effort to provide support, the same way he had with the Bit before Buffy had come back. He was starting to feel like a big brother, an uncle, and while it wasn't wholly unpleasant, it was strange. He was a caretaker, he knew that, always had been, but this was different. He wasn't sure he had ever cared so much so fast as he did for the people now in his life. What that meant for him, about him, he didn't know, but by the time he'd gotten back to Revello Drive he'd decided it didn't matter. He wasn't the type to shut those feelings off easily, and so he shook away the nervousness he felt and manned up to the fact that he was a vampire who cared about people.
Breaking from his own thoughts, he hit the steps of the porch just as Xander was coming out the front door, warm yellow light spilling out of the house. He could see Dawn and Tara standing in the doorway just beyond him, and he recognized the face the Bit wore when she was trying to hide her anxiety. He recognized too the sigh of relief that canted her shoulders when she caught sight of him coming out of the dark.
"All right lil' Bit?" he asked, and Xander jumped and turned quickly round to face him.
"Did you find anything?" the boy demanded, and it cut at him that he couldn't just say yes.
"Maybe," he replied. "Nothin' sure. Demon girl have any luck?"
Xander swallowed and set his jaw, apparently unable to answer. Tara took up the responsibility of a negative answer, shaking her head and Spike sighed, dragging a hand roughly through his messy hair. Suddenly, Dawn was thrust aside and Buffy came barreling through the doorway, crashing into him with the force of a small freight train. He staggered back and just managed to catch his balance before toppling down the steps, his arms coming out instinctively to wrap around her. She felt frail and fragile in his arms, and buried her face in his chest as she held him close, refusing to look at him. Didn't take a genius to know that this was the softer girl, the sweeter girl, the one that called him Will'em, and it was a bittersweet thing.
"Easy pet," he murmured. "Wasn't gone that long was I? 'S all right."
Taking her chin in his hand, he tipped her face up to his and could've drowned in her shy, hazel eyes. Having her in his arms again was like a weight off his shoulders, calming, reassuring. Here she was safe, and the protective feelings which had been tickling around in his lungs swelled inside his chest. Hauling her up against him, he lifted her off her toes in a grip even tighter than the one she had on him, ducking his face into the crook of her neck and drawing her scent into his body. Dropping her back onto the porch, Spike frowned.
She'd lost weight in the time he'd been at the Doc's.
"She give you any guff while I was gone?" he asked.
"She wasn't happy," Dawn said. "She gets mad sometimes. And she growls…"
"And you didn't make her," he sighed.
"How were we supposed to do that?" Xander snapped. "This is the closest she's even let me get to her."
There was a hard, biting comment on the tip of Spike's tongue but he bit it back. The whelp might be havin' the hardest time of all of them, and he looked, his clothes and hair messy and rumpled, his face drawn, dark circles under his eyes.
"Doesn't matter," the vampire said gruffly. Taking a step towards the door, he drew Dawn in to his side and gave her a light hug, which the teenager returned with a weary relief. "Why don't you get some sleep lil' Bit," he offered. "I'll take care of big sis. You need a good night's rest."
"Thanks," Dawn murmured. "I'm glad you're back." With one more squeeze she bade the others goodnight, kissed her sister's forehead, and trudged up the stairs to her room.
"I'm going too," Xander mumbled. "Giles said to meet him at the Magic Box tomorrow night. You need a ride?"
He'd directed the question to Tara, but the blonde wicca seemed to have missed it, lost in her thoughts.
"No worries," Spike answered, keeping his eye on the girl as Buffy clung to his arm. "Walk 'em over, it's close enough."
Xander frowned, but then nodded, patted Tara on the shoulder, and walked down to the street where he got into his car and drove away. Spike stepped into the house, pulling Buffy with him as Tara quietly closed the door, and guiding the Slayer into the living room where he deposited her on the couch.
"Glinda?" he asked with concern, "You all right?"
Tara eyes jumped up to his and she emitted a frantic, nervous laugh, very unlike her. It was a hysterical sort of laugh, like she couldn't control the sound, and it chilled him, made him step up to her side and put his hands on her elbows. Closing her eyes tight, Tara bit down on her knuckle, trying to regain control.
"Hey," he murmured, taking her hand and drawing it away from her mouth, "Tara? What's wrong?"
"It's Willow," the girl said, tears evident in her voice. "She's been… trying to c,c,curse us. I can feel her. Her magic. It's all j,j,jumbled and dark, and it's… I don't know. It's like static, c,c,cutting out before it can get to us."
"Easy," Spike ordered, trying to calm her as her words came faster and faster and her breath began to catch. "Breathe luv."
Tara drew in a big, shaky breath and hugged her torso. "She's angry. There's something w,w,wrong, something else there, but she's r,r,really angry Spike. And I can't just… can't just wait for her to d,d,do it. She could hurt Buffy, or Dawn… you. M,m,me." Suddenly she raised her face and locked eyes with him, strength and determination burning in the normally timid woman despite the tears that streamed down her face. "I need something of yours," she said. "Yours and Buffy's. Dawn's too. Something you wear – jewelry. A ring, or a necklace…"
"I'll find something," he vowed. "But Glinda, are you…"
"I'm… ok Spike," she said softly. "It's..." She couldn't finish. "I need to go to the Magic Box," she whispered. "Get some things. There's a book too, at my old apartment."
"You shouldn't be out by yourself," he said firmly. "I can go, pick up what you need."
"No," she shook her head. "I… I think I'd like to spend the night alone. I'll stay at my apartment, come back in the morning. I'll have the ingredients together for the protection spell and we can do it before we go to meet Giles."
"You sure pet?" he asked gently. "Don't like you goin' off alone."
Tara nodded, but there was a sadness around her mouth, a glint of hot tears in her eyes that made Spike shift uncomfortably at the idea of letting her go. He watched quietly while she got her coat and keys, watched, until she was safely into her car and had pulled away into the night. Locking the door securely, he returned to the living room where Buffy waited, watching him closely form her place on the couch.
"Come on Slayer," he urged, offering her his hand. "Let's get somethin' in your belly."