Disclaimer: Nothing in the Buffyverse belongs to me. It's all the property of Joss and Mutant Enemy.
Light from the portal flashed, shoots of energy opening up the tear in the fabric of reality that separated them from freedom.
They were so close.
Willow? Buffy thought, Was that Willow?
Her mind was numb, hesitant. I can't look back. I won't look back.
If she did, she may never be able to look away.
Buffy's mouth dropped open as the first Senior Partner moved into view around the roof of a pizza restaurant, huge and fleshy, with a horse-like face ridged in sharp, plate-like protrusions. Nature's protection. It undulated beneath its natural armor as it moved on weak legs, like an overlarge caterpillar, its thin, membrane wings tight to its sides. A protective exoskeleton lined its back, limbs, and tail. It would be difficult to break through. She would need to go for its belly.
Buffy could tell where this one got its name. Feelers like whiskers, talons like claws, and that sound it made, it was almost akin to a howl. The Wolf, Buffy thought. A long tail, with more long thin appendages had her feeling almost ill. She raised the scythe, ready, willing, when a blur raced past her.
Illyria stopped before the first Partner and stared up at it, looking absurdly small before its girth. She spoke calmly, in a harsh ancient language. Its eyes were wide and unfathomable, whiteless, but nonetheless intelligent. Buffy shuddered when the first demon opened its mouth, its voice could have been called wise, cultured, but it spoke through rows of teeth.
The second Partner crawled into view, an enormous arthropod with deadly looking claws, walking like a centipede. Something in its mouth clicked each time it spoke, staring down at the former god-king. Thick, glossy looking horns protruded from the front of its head, each branching into two protrusions. The Hart. But where's the other one? Buffy wondered, her spine tingling as she glanced around searching.
Illyria was speaking very fast, spitting out her words with venom. Buffy could only watch from her side of the trenches, stunned and frozen, clutching her scythe like a lifeline.
Everything felt like too much. Willow was chanting again. It was invasive to Buffy's ears, and the bright flashes of the widening portal were blinding to her eyes as they fluttered across the surfaces before her. She could feel that single drop of sweat making a path down her neck, over the curve of her collar-bone, and between her breasts. Buffy held back the urge to scream.
The Wolf laughed, if you could call it that, or at least gargled in its massive column of a throat and knocked Illyria back. She flew and hit the brick of an abandoned building.
"Hey!" Buffy shouted, stepping forth. "It's not nice to hit."
They turned their eyes to her. God they bore into her, their gazes penetrating. Buffy shifted, but tossed her hair and clutched her scythe with both hands.
"Are you ogling me?" Buffy asked, tilting her head. "Well that's just creepy."
They made low noises in their throats, awful noises, but Buffy kept a game face on.
"Did I make you mad?" she asked, her voice saturated with mock enthusiasm.
The Wolf shot forward. Buffy dodged it, running back along its side in the direction it came from.
"You have to do better than that," she muttered and increased her speed. Her breathing came harder and her arms pumped at her sides.
The Hart snapped for her with pincers that emerged from its upper chest. Buffy rolled out of the way and kept running away from the portal as they lumbered behind, too large for the narrow streets of L.A.
Spike's shout from behind startled Buffy, she almost fell, but caught herself, narrowly avoiding the Hart's pincers once more.
"Follow her!" he yelled.
There was the sound of footsteps. The slayers were running. Then they were screaming, fighting the demons, pushing them back with clangs of weaponry.
Buffy cheered them on silently, turning another corner.
I will get them out of here alive. I will.
"Yeah, Will?" he called back. He abandoned his sword and cracked the demons ribs with his fists. That'll bruise in the morning, Spike thought with a glance to his battered knuckles as he hit the demon's thick hide. Around him, the slayers fought, pushing the demons back and away from the opening portal.
"Spike!" she called again.
"Hang on a tick, Samantha," he replied, retrieving his sword and driving it through the demons skull. It fell with a thud.
Spike turned to race toward Willow and was practically blinded by the brightness there. Willow stood in the center of it, illuminated. Her arms were outstretched, palms up, and she was breathing heavily in concentration. The portal itself was a different matter. It was a hole hanging there against the brick wall behind Willow. Its white outline was like staring into the sun. Spike resisted the urge to close his eyes. But past it, he could see the sun, a glimpse of blue. Their dimension.
The portal gave another lurch, light flashing out once again.
"Bloody hell!" he exclaimed, shielding his eyes with his forearm and running forth.
"Spike, I need you to find Buffy," Willow said. "Where is she?"
"She's run off, the big guys followed her that way," he replied. "What does she need to know?"
"The portal is still opening," Willow explained, "It's most of the way there, but it needs my energy to keep it going. Once it's open, we don't have much time."
"What are you saying?" Spike asked.
"I mean, once the portal's been opened, there's a limited amount of time for all of us to get through," Willow replied. "After it's closed, it's closed, the symbol will fade like the ones the demons' made and we won't be able to get out."
"You could just whip up another batch of herbal paint, couldn't you?" Spike asked.
"No, I have some of the ingredients, but not all of them. I brought some from home," Willow said. She let out a soft cry of concentration as the portal widened again, the bright flash almost blinding Spike. "Now find her. Hurry!"
So he ran.
Buffy dodged the Wolf again, shooting down an alley. It was dark. The clouded sky above of red and grey wasn't helping her to see much.
"Can't catch me," she muttered under her breath as it tried to follow through the narrow opening. "Is that the best you've got?" she shouted at it.
The Wolf howled, honestly howled, and pushed forth with powerful shoulders. Its thick exoskeleton broke the brick in its way. Buffy backed up, her eyes locked with its in steady contact. She grinned before turning and running.
The Hart rounded the other corner, blocking her way out, clicking its feet, its pincers as well, as it closed in on her.
"Oh, now that's just fabulous," Buffy murmured under her breath, moving her back against the alley wall.
The closed in slowly, taking their time and teasing her with their advancing nearness. Buffy's hand ghosted across the wall behind her, searching for anything, a door, a window. A fire escape? Buffy thought as her hands brushed over the lowest rung. That'll work.
The Wolf and the Hart closed in as Buffy turned and used the rung to fling herself upward, at least a few feet closer to the top. The demons below her screamed together in anger and pain as they clashed. The Wolf's feelers to the Hart's pincers. I'm good, she thought, dropping back down, this time on the Hart's long plated back.
Buffy began to run as it made feeble attempts to turn in the narrow alleyway, already stuffed with its girth. At the end, Buffy paused, searching for a dent in that natural armor, a single place where she could sink the scythe. Zip, zero, nada, Buffy thought. She leapt off at the end and kept on running.
"Spike?" she asked, startled, turning toward his voice.
Spike ran from the opposite alleyway, his face betraying concern and relief.
"Buffy, I need to talk to you," he said, stopping before her, breathing heavily although he had no need to breathe.
Buffy shot a glance to the Partners. The Hart still struggled, its enormous body wriggling in the brick alley. Buffy could hear the buildings collapsing around them and knew that the Wolf was doing the same on the other side. There wasn't much time.
"Come on," she said, grabbing his hand and running with him, further from the portal, still drawing them away.
Buffy paused before a loan office and ducked between the thick stucco columns that lined its front door.
"I think it's safe here," Buffy said, gasping a bit.
"Buffy," Spike began. His hands rested on her shoulders. "We have to go back."
"No," Buffy protested. "If we go back that way, the Partners will be in close range of the injured slayers, of Dawn. Not to mention the fact that there's an already opened portal there. What if they just head on through?"
"Look, I know the risks, but Buffy—"
A long, loud howl alerted Buffy to the presence of the Partners. Buffy's heart leapt to her throat and began to hammer as she saw them round the corner. Our footprints, she realized. They stood out, chalky grey against the black pavement after the fight and running across every surface imaginable.
"You've got to move," Buffy told him, pushing lightly on his chest as the Partners came closer. "Run!"
"No, Buffy, you don't understand—"
The Wolf's tail hit the stucco hard. Buffy pulled Spike back from the falling debris, pushing him out into the street before following.
"Keep going," she called.
The Partners were done with cat and mouse, Buffy could feel the difference. She had humiliated them and they were out for blood.
Buffy dodged as the Hart shot forward, the three eyes lining each side of its head blinked at her, level with her. Buffy found a surge of speed, barely dodged its snapping pincers and ran on. It was getting closer, so close. Buffy could already imagine the sharpness of those appendages slicing her skin, barely an inch behind her.
"Hey, ugly!" called a voice from behind.
There was a dull thud. The Hart turned, rising up like a centipede, its thousand strong legs moving in time with each other, the clicking overwhelming. A group of five slayers stood at the end of the street. They had all fired their crossbows in perfect time, hitting its thick exoskeleton to produce the thump.
"That's right, we're talking to you!" another said.
Buffy couldn't restrain her grin as the girls shot a second round of arrows, this time striking its exposed underbelly. The Hart howled, but didn't fall. Instead it ran for them.
"Move!" Buffy commanded.
They did as she said, the Hart right on their tail.
Buffy ran back to Spike at the other end of the street, grasping his hand to pull him with her.
"Where did the other one go?" he asked her quietly.
Buffy put two fingers to his lips, silencing him, straining her ears. She knew Spike was doing the same from the way he closed his eyes, clenched his jaw.
A slither caught Buffy's ear. She and Spike whipped around at the same moment, sword and scythe aloft, ready.
The Wolf's tail emerged from behind the striking at them, feelers wriggling. It blindly hit at buildings, knocking them down into piles of brick.
"Spike!" Buffy tackled him out of the way of its flailing tail.
His arms wrapped instinctively around her, cradling her head, her neck, as they fell. They hit the ground hard, landing in a pile of rubble, dust rising. Spike let out a soft groan and struggled with her to sit.
Buffy raised a hand to Spike's face. His forehead had been cut and was bleeding steadily. "Are you okay?"
"I've got a few bumps and bruises, no trouble there," he replied, reaching a hand beneath his shirt to feel his ribs and wincing. "Yourself?"
"Still kicking," Buffy said and helped him stand.
The Wolf screeched as a new batch of slayers ran forth, a battalion of the demon army on their tail. One of them shot an arrow, hitting the Wolf squarely in one large, intelligent eye. Its dark blood bubbled forth and spilled down one ridged cheek as it flailed and screamed. Spike held his breath, clenching his jaw. He looked sick.
"What is it?" Buffy asked him, smoothing her hand from his shoulder to wrist.
"God, the scent of it," he muttered, not breathing.
"Bad?" Buffy asked.
"Lucky you're not a vampire, love," Spike said.
"What was it you wanted to tell me?" she asked.
"Oh, right," Spike muttered. He grasped her hand and tugged for her to follow. Buffy complied, following him inside the broken down building. "Looks like he'll be occupied for a bit," he said as the Wolf kept screaming. Spike took a deep breath. "The portal. Willow told me it doesn't have much time."
"What does she mean, 'not much time'?" Buffy asked, panic rising in her throat as they stepped through bricks, wood, and chipped paint. Broken glass littered the floor. A sliver of it cut through the dusty leather side of her boot, slicing into her big toe. "Perfect," Buffy muttered.
"Here." Spike slung her arm over his shoulder and led her over to a pile of fallen foundational wood, inspected it for more glass, and sat her down, kneeling before her.
"It'll shut soon, won't it? Does this mean that we won't all make it out?" Buffy asked quietly as he unzipped her boot.
"Have we ever?" he replied just as softly.
Buffy didn't answer as Spike peeled off her sock, pulling any bits of glass from it before turning his attention to her foot. She winced and bit her lip as he caught the shard between nimble fingers and slid it slowly from her flesh. Buffy gasped at the sudden relief, the fresh rush of blood.
"Oh, I've got something for that," Spike said, patting his coat pockets in search of something. He found a small strip of fabric, perhaps a foot long and very thin.
"I see you were educated at the school of torn-sheets-for-bandages too," she said with a smile as he began wrapping her foot.
"Seemed like a good enough idea," he replied with a shrug. "I thought, in case of emergency."
Buffy felt a small jolt of pain as he tightened it and breathed deeply through her nose.
"Too tight?" he asked.
"No," she whispered, shaking her head.
Spike sat back on his heels, rubbing the arch of her foot.
"We just need to find an opening," Buffy said. "An opportunity to kill them, maybe separate them. Should we make them mad again, get them all rearing and rising and exposing of the underbelly-ing? And wasn't there supposed to be a third?" Buffy rested her head on her hands a moment, bent over her lap. "We need more time. There has to be an easier way to do this."
Spike started, releasing her foot. "Where's Angel?"
"I don't know. I haven't seen him or Cordelia for almost an hour now," Buffy said, pulling on her sock, her boot.
Spike's eyes went wide in panic, fear.
"Spike, it's all right. He can take care of himself. Honestly, this, it's kind of surprising. Are you actually worried about him or—?"
"A bit, but it's not that," Spike said. He rose up on his knees, gripping her upper arms. "Buffy, the sword. Angel has the sword."
Buffy's mouth went dry. "We still have the scythe, maybe we can…"
"We need it, Buffy," Spike told her. "Rupert said it, Illyria said it. It can kill them. We'll be better off with the both of you having weapons that can squash these tossers. It's the only way that—"
"We can escape," Buffy finished. She bit her lip. "Okay, we need to get to Angel as fast as possible. I'm going to stay here, keep them occupied for as long as I can. Stick to the shadows. Don't let any of the demons see you. Find him."
Spike nodded and rested his forehead against hers, their breathing matched, even. Buffy shut her eyes as his hand slid through her hair, resting at the nape of her neck and stroking softly.
"You watch yourself, you hear me?" he asked, clenching his jaw.
"I will," Buffy whispered and ran her fingers over the soft hair at his temple. "I'll be fine. I'm gonna be fine."
Spike nodded. He glanced down at her lips, back to her eyes, before standing. Buffy gave him a weak smile as he sprinted away, back toward the portal.
Buffy swallowed hard and stood. She tested her foot gingerly. She'd had far worse. Emerging from the dark building into the clouded outside world was difficult, as these things always were. But this was duty, this was her life.
Buffy tightened her grip on the scythe and stepped back toward the fray.
"Bollocks," Spike muttered, dodging through the shadows.
The roars of the monstrous demons shook the city from behind him. From where Buffy still was, fighting those things. It took every bit of will he possessed to keep moving, to stick to his mission. Find Angel, bring Angel back, kill the bloody beasts, and get back home. To life with Buffy.
Spike paused in a darkened corner, closing his eyes. Angel was close. Spike could smell him and hear the flutter of a heartbeat that was Cordelia's astral body. Spike tilted his head, listening.
"Got you in there," he murmured as he approached a boutique.
Spike turned through its broken doorway in caution. The inside had been rocked, probably in the quakes, sending clothes and jewelry to the floor along with the usual broken foundational materials and window shards that littered these places. Deeper inside, Angel sat on an overturned crate, holding the sword on his lap. Cordelia sat against the wall behind him. Her head lolled back, her nose bloodied and cheek swelling. A sword smeared with demon's blood lay in her lap.
Spike grinned when he saw him jump.
"Spike?" Cordelia asked with a soft groan.
"What are you doing here?" Angel asked.
"Me? What about you? Hiding out here like a bleeding poncy—"
"You don't want to finish that sentence," Angel growled.
Spike raised his hands in silent defense. "I'm just saying, it looks bleak."
"I got hurt," Cordelia interjected in defense.
"That's why I'm here," Angel whispered.
"You all right? That's a right nasty welt there," Spike said. "Let me see."
He walked further in and knelt before Cordelia, gingerly touching her cheek. She winced in reaction, jerking her head away.
"Cheekbone's broken," Spike muttered, probing the puffiest part. "We should take you to hospital when we get back, pet."
Cordelia shook her head.
Spike opened his mouth in confusion, but Angel cut him off.
"I can't leave her here," Angel said, rubbing a hand over his face. "They'll find her for sure and she can't defend herself. Not like this. I'm not just going to abandon her to die."
"I hear you, mate," Spike agreed, standing. He sucked in a breath through his teeth. "Angel, they're here."
There was a long beat of silence.
"I know," Angel whispered. "And it would be so easy to take them down. I could gut them, slaughter them in the ways that I've been dreaming about, paint Los Angeles with their blood." Angel laughed in self loathing at that unguarded hunger in his voice. "Pure artistry."
Spike knew just how tempted he was. Angel was practically salivating at the thought, speaking lovely, poetic words about carnage. He understood.
"Look, I know you and yourself need your moody broody alone time together, but there's two giant demons parading the streets of Los Angeles out there. We need you to jump into action or what have you. Come on, go in running, do everything so perfectly it annoys us lesser beings…" Spike said. He paused and quirked an eyebrow, "Why are there only two?"
"I killed one of them," Angel explained. "Three years ago. It manifested, it didn't use magic like this. I used a glove. A holy glove," he added to quell Spike's confusion.
"One down, all right, Angel," Spike said in encouragement. "So, there's two to go. Pick up that killing machine and let's get on it, granddad."
"You should go," Cordelia agreed in a quiet voice, resolved. "You've got the mystic sword that kills all, take care of it. Angel, I'll be all right."
Spike resisted the urge to scoff. Girl knows she won't be. She's suffered more in the last twenty-four hours any of us poor sods here.
Angel shook his head, making Spike start. He grasped Spike's elbow and led him outside of the boutique.
"What?" Spike asked.
"Do you remember being a family?" Angel asked him quietly.
"Yeah, sure. You and Darla, the abusive parents who psychologically screwed me and Dru for all eternity," Spike said with a grin. "Family life."
Angel growled. "I mean it. Not with Darla and I, but really."
Spike thought back to his mum, a fuzzy memory, but it was still there. Being cared for, loved. The way life had been. He thought of those last few weeks in Buffy's basement. Those last three nights of a sense of belonging, of loving her so fiercely and being cared for in return. Their time in hell together had only strengthened that bond, showed him how deep it ran on her end. Spike knew. More than remembrance, he knew.
"Yeah," Spike said, sniffing to brush off his emotion. "Sure I do."
"Then you know why I won't leave," Angel said. "I have lost everything but her."
"She's all that I have left," Angel said.
"What about your kid? Uh, Connor wasn't it?" Spike said in a feeble attempt to kick Angel into gear.
Angel smiled fondly, like the rare smiles he once bestowed on Spike in their soulless days, this was purer. "Yeah, there's Connor. He's healthy, he's happy. Why would I take that away from him by dragging him back into my life, even if he does remember now? I swore to myself, I'd take one day. I'd help him if he needed me, but I wouldn't…"
"You're too noble for your own good, you know," Spike said.
"Shut up, Spike."
Spike raised his hands defensively. "I'm just saying."
"The answer is still no," Angel replied. "I'm waiting with Cordy until I can get her through the portal."
"Well, it's still the size of a bowling ball last I checked," Spike said.
"I'll wait 'til it gets bigger."
"We've got to come up with better insults," Spike mused.
Angel laughed. A genuine laugh. The first Spike had heard in a long while. "Hopefully we get the chance to practice those."
Spike chuckled. "Yeah. We will, you'll see. It's good motivation to make it out, besides."
Angel nodded, grim and serious once more. He hesitated a moment, a flicker of conflict and held the sword out, the hilt of it facing Spike.
Spike cocked his head and reached for it, only barely brushing the handle with his fingers.
"I couldn't," he muttered.
"You'll have to," Angel replied.
"You're letting me—and remember this is me we're talking about here—steal your glory?" Spike asked.
"Please," Angel said, smiling for once. "It isn't stealing if I'm giving it away. Besides, your just getting the sword, I'm keeping the glory."
Spike's fingers closed around the sword. He swallowed, unexpectedly emotional, but unwilling to let Angel see. "Thanks," he managed after a moment.
"Don't mention it," Angel said. "Really, just don't. We don't do heart to hearts."
Spike glanced down at the sword, turning it in his hands. "Got to agree with you there."
"You gonna get going?" Angel asked him quietly.
"Yeah, I'll do that," Spike said, still dazed.
"Now would probably be best," Angel prompted, crossing his arms.
"Oh, yeah," Spike shook his head and turned. "Take good care of the lady. She's not looking so great in there."
"I will," Angel said quietly, "forever."
"Ha, I told her it was your word!"
Spike gave Angel one more look before turning and running back the way he came. Back to Buffy, back to the fight.
Pure artistry,Angel had called it. Spike grinned. He still preferred a brawl and he was in for the fight of his life. That thought only made him run faster.
He was about to have himself a real good day.
Author's Note: The final battle was too long and needed to be split into parts, hence the cliffies, but the next update's coming soon. I want to give a big thanks to ginar369, Gravenimage, nrdhrd3, Magnusrae, Naomi, Gothic Saku-chan, and beccaboo-ILoveAshAndQuinn for reviewing as well as a thank you to anyone who followed or made this story a favorite.