Ice-Cream


by
Maz



37 Chance Meetings

Prompt: 98 - Cubic

Tuesday 6 August

It was still early, the sun having only just set as they left the house, but the streets were quiet, even for a Tuesday evening. Of course, the better quality suburbs were always quiet. For all their denial of the truth about their town, those residents who had the means did seem to find lots of excuses for spending time elsewhere. An occasional car passed them as they made their way towards the cemetery and the Du Lac mausoleum, but there wasn't even a dog walker out on foot. Not that Spike was bothered by that. They had plenty of time, in spite of all they had to do and he was in no hurry to bring his temporary escape from the tangled emotions rife in the atmosphere at home to an end.

As he ambled along, Spike kept a surreptitious eye on Xander, noting the way he kept always one pace ahead of Jesse. He'd hardly spoken a word to the creature all week, but it wasn't because he was still angry. That emotion had burnt itself out quite thoroughly the night he'd punished Jesse for his own blindness. No, it appeared that Xander had finally accepted that the memories he'd been harbouring were indeed his alone. It was a lesson all children learnt, one way or another - that a minion was not capable of experiencing or understanding emotions, to the extent that they might as well be a separate species. The difference was that most children didn't have a personal stake in the results of the lesson.

For two days after Jesse had crawled back into the house and curled up under the kitchen table Spike had watched, ignoring Jesse but keeping a close eye on Xander's reactions. He'd been prepared for any response, from denial to dispatch. In the event, however, Xander neither attempted to feed the fool nor kill him. He just ignored him. And Jesse stayed where he was, hiding under his blanket, under the table.

The fact that Jesse couldn't heal without feeding hadn't bothered Spike, as long as he kept quiet, but eventually the need for someone to keep the house clean had led him to drag the creature out for something to eat. By the time they got home, Jesse was healed and able to resume his duties.

Since then, Jesse had been much more circumspect around Xander. Spike grinned to himself as he mused on the change in Jesse's demeanour. Maybe it wasn't so much Xander keeping a pace in front, maybe it was Jesse hanging a pace back. He'd see if it lasted with them both out together. It was going to be a busy night; once they had the cross they'd have to take it back to Dru, but then they'd need to go out again to restock the larder.

Up until now Spike had been content to pander to Angelus' squeamishness and he and the boys had eaten out, but with only a week to go, and with the Du Lac cross in the house, he didn't feel like taking risks. The fridge was stocked with an extra load of blood bags from Nigel Mears. Mears himself was already stashed in the pantry, but it was amazing how many humans you could fit into twenty-five cubic feet and still leave enough space to keep them breathing and fresh. Angel would just have to avoid the kitchen. He seemed to have perfected the art of denial in his dealings with his family, he'd just have to extend it a little further. Smiling to himself, Spike ran his mind over the best locations for a quick snatch and grab that wouldn't attract Luke's attention. They'd been careful to avoid any of the Court's regular hunting grounds and until after the ritual Spike intended to keep it that way. At least Ethan's spell had been a success. On the one occasion Spike had visited Willy's, the little grease ball had admitted that Luke was on the warpath, hunting high and low for them. Maybe another trip down to the docks? Or maybe that computer place out by the highway? They were still running two shifts and the early shift came on at five. Hang around in the parking lot and they'd have plenty of time to pick up three or four stragglers, stuff them in the boot of a spare car and get them home before dawn. Yeah, that sounded good, as long as they weren't too big.

Xander's hand on his shoulder interrupted his thoughts and brought him back to the present.

Ahead of them a small figure was approaching, a girl with a bag of groceries clasped loosely under one arm. Xander's head went up and he took a deep scent of the air before casting a wide grin in Spike's direction. "This'll be fun," he observed.

Slowly the gap between them and their prey closed. She seemed as oblivious of the dangers of her situation as any of the other sheep in town, but from Xander's expression Spike guessed this was not one of the nameless masses.

As they passed under the streetlight, she glanced up and, at last, she saw them. She stopped in her tracks, but it was not with alarm. "Xander!" she called. Hefting the shopping bag and hugging it to her chest she stumbled into a trot. "Jesse!" As she got nearer she was forced to slow down, the bag threatening to spill its contents, but she kept talking. "Thank goodness!" she gasped. "Where've you been?" A few short yards away she came to a halt, her expression suddenly horrified. Spike wondered if she'd somehow sensed what they were, but she didn't appear to be scared of them. Something else then. "Oh my god!" she gasped. Then, plastering a smile on her face and visibly struggling to calm down, she continued, "I'm so glad to see you. The police! They came to my house yesterday." Glancing from one to the other, she ignored Spike. "Have you been out of town?" she asked, but carried on, not waiting for an answer, "Xander, have you been home? Because... because... Oh Xander, I have some awful news. I was so worried."

Spike looked her up and down. Sort of sweet, he thought. Small, young, and dressed even younger with no style or care for her appearance, but there was a hint of steel under the little girl exterior. He interrupted her disjointed remarks, "And you'd be Willow, right?"

She barely spared him a glance "Yes," she agreed. "I'm their friend." Concentrating all her attention on Xander she kept talking, angry now and beginning to scold. "You should have called. Told me, before you went running off on a road trip. Xander..." Xander opened his mouth, but she ploughed on, over the top of whatever he was going to say, "I've been so scared. I didn't believe them, when they... I don't... I mean.." She juggled the bag, apparently trying to get it into a hold that would allow her to reach out to him. Jesse took a step forward to stand next to Xander's shoulder and she grasped the distraction gratefully. "Jesse! Your parents have been so worried. I called them today and they said you'd run off, or something. That's where I'm going now." Giving up on getting an easier grip of the bag, she just stood there, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot. "But if they know you're back." She paused to take a breath. "Except, you can't have gone there yet. Because there is no way they'd let you out of their sight. They've been so scared." Her shoulders slumped and suddenly she sounded defeated. "Where have you been?" she pleaded. "The police said Xander's parents had been dead for maybe two weeks. And they wanted to talk to both of you." She stopped, one hand flying to her mouth. "Oh God!" She turned to Xander. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to say that. I meant... I mean..." She took a deep breath. as if gathering her courage. "But they are, Xander. They're dead. Both of them. Murdered. I'm so, so sorry."

Xander cocked his head thoughtfully. "Don't be," he said. "I know. I was there."

Willow's eyes opened as wide as saucers and she took surprised step backwards, away from them. "What are you saying? That's what the police... No! I don't believe you." But she kept backing up.

Xander's smile was both mischievous and slightly malicious as he advanced towards her with leisurely grace, a big cat, still more interested in playing with his food than impatient for the kill. "Believe it, Wills," he said. "They cried."

The sound of pounding footsteps caused Spike to look around and a voice called out, "You there!" as a man ran towards them. The bloody watcher, cross held out ahead of him, pelted across the street and jumped between the girl and Xander. "Get behind me," he ordered.

Xander growled. "Aw, swell. It's the White Hat," he said, his voice full of disgust. Flinching back from the cross shoved towards them, he and Jesse both slipped into gameface.

Meanwhile Willow was staring at the watcher uncomprehending. "What?" she asked, apparently still too shocked to take in what was happening. Not getting an answer from the watcher, who was concentrating of the trio in front of him, she turned back to Xander. "Oh my god!" she gasped. "What? What's happened? What's wrong with your faces?"

The watcher reached out and grabbed her arm, pulling her away from them. "Get behind me and stay there!" he ordered, his voice harsh with fear and determination. Willow did as she was told. "Now back up, slowly."

"What? But..."

"Just do it! I promise, I'll explain when we get away from these, um..." he seemed to flounder for a moment, "bad men," he finished.

Spike almost laughed out loud. Bad men? How mealy-mouthed. But the watcher, mealy-mouthed or not, was digging in his pocket and then he had two crosses out and it was like a repeat of the last time they'd met.

Watching Xander and Jesse pull back another step, Spike considered making an issue of it. But in spite of his earlier dawdling, he still needed to get the Du Lac cross and, he figured, if the watcher was busy dealing with a hysterical teenager there was no danger they'd stumble over him in Restfield. Allowing his own face to slip into its true form, he snarled at the watcher, turned on his heel and strode away. The boys hesitated for only a moment, before he heard them turn too and hurry to catch up with him. At the corner of the street he looked back. The watcher and the girl were gone.

Note - just to show I did the sums, 25 cubic feet is basically 2 by 2 by 6 - if Spike wraps them up tightly, with lots of gaffer tape, I figured he could get four or five happy meals on legs into a pantry that size. *g*





38 Too much truth

Prompt: 99 - Clamp

Giles didn't slow down until they were back near the town centre and he was reasonably certain that the trio of vampires had not followed them, but eventually he had to stop. Bending over and resting his hands on his knees, he concentrated for a few moments on simply breathing. Really! He'd become soft over the last few years, working in research and support. If he was going to train the slayer, he'd need to get himself fitter than he was now. The old guard may not think that hands-on involvement in the training was necessary, but the casualty rate for the active watchers had always been high. Dolce et decorum est, or not, unlike poor Merrick Jamison-Smythe, Giles intended to live long enough to retire! Standing up and drawing a last few, deep, panting breaths he shook his head and ruefully acknowledged that rushing into the middle of a vampire attack, before his slayer had even arrived, was hardly setting a good precedent towards achieving that ambition. However, what else could he have done? Living on a hellmouth was obviously going to result in encounters with vampires, and he was sworn to protect, as much as the slayer was chosen to do the same.

Suddenly, he felt the weight of his secret lie heavy on his shoulders and loneliness threatened, but he clamped down ruthlessly on the moment of weakness. He couldn't afford it! At home, surrounded by other watchers in the familiar surroundings of the Council headquarters, it was easy to discuss warding techniques and theorise about decapitation and staking over a glass of port in the members' dining room. But here, alone on the hellmouth, the adrenaline starting to fade from his system, he realised that even a lifetime of study was no preparation for the real thing. Nothing was, not even the worst of his misspent youth. If all active postings were as eventful as this it was no wonder so many died on their first tour of duty. He'd write to Travers, he determined; young watchers needed exposure to the things they might have to face in the field.

With that decided he cast a careful eye around the immediate area to check where they were and that nothing threatened. In the meantime, he had a child to get safely to her home, if she'd allow him to escort her. They were approximately equidistant from his flat and the school. Thankfully, nowhere in Sunnydale was very far from anywhere else.

Turning around to face her, he studied her properly for the first time. She looked miserable, her hair wild and disordered, hugging her arms around her meagre chest, and so very young. Hopefully she'd accept the recommended cover story, he'd get her home and she'd be more careful in future for this fright. He opened his mouth, but at that moment she looked up and caught his eye. "Why did I run?" she asked. There was a maturity to the question that took Giles by surprise and he hesitated, loosing the opportunity to lie as she continued more firmly, "What was wrong with their faces? Why were they acting so strange?"

Thinking fast, Giles stumbled over his words as his intended answer was replaced by a need to discover more of her involvement. He'd assumed she was a random target, an unfortunate who was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. "You, you thought you knew them?" he asked.

All at once she appeared angry. "Of course I know them! That was Xander! And Jesse!" She looked back up the street, the way they'd run. "I lost my bag," she observed. Then, returning to the question at hand, "I've known them all my life. I don't know who the other one was. But, but something's wrong." In spite of the fact that her voice had been firm when she started speaking, it became progressively more bewildered. "They... they weren't acting like... like themselves." She turned on Giles, angry again. "And you said you'd explain. So explain! Right now! Because none of this is making..." She stopped abruptly and Giles got the distinct impression that she'd just shocked herself, talking to an adult like that. Instead she just gazed at him beseechingly.

This was not what he wanted. Taking care to avoid involving civilians was one of the first lessons all watchers were taught. It was elementary. So why was he having such trouble concocting a plausible story that would send her on her way? Perhaps it was the fact that she'd known the vampires' human hosts, before they were turned. "When did you last see them?" he asked instead.

She paused and her mouth drooped. "Um... three weeks ago? Er, maybe four?" She looked guilty and Giles' curiosity was piqued. Although certainly human, and apparently ignorant of what had happened to her friends, was she still somehow involved? Her next words dispelled that suspicion. "I was busy," she explained, her voice both defensive and defiant, and she looked him straight in the eye for a moment. "I got a new computer and I was learning how to work it and I didn't..." As her voice petered out again, she dropped her gaze to her feet. "When I called Xander, no one answered, but I just thought he was out," she mumbled. "But then, yesterday, the police came around and told me... they told me..." Miserably, she looked back up at him. "They told me Xander's parents had been found dead. Murdered. And I called Jesse and his mom said he'd run away and they didn't know where he was. And I was going round there, just now, and I couldn't believe it when I saw them both and I thought... I thought..." She took a deep, gulping breath. "But their faces... "

Again she stopped and Giles sighed. He couldn't leave her in ignorance. Looking around he spotted a bench about a hundred yards away, in front of the memorial gardens. "Let's go and sit down?" he suggested. "We'll be safe enough on a busy road like this." His hand hesitated above her shoulder, but he didn't know her well enough to offer sympathy. Not to mention the fact that he was more than old enough to be her father.

Together they walked to the bench and sat. Giles twisted slightly to face her as she huddled in her corner, her hands gripped between her knees. For one more moment Giles hesitated, but she looked up at him from beneath her hair, her eyes wide with confusion and he couldn't do it. He couldn't lie. If she refused to believe him, if she ran screaming, or laughing, from his company, he'd simply have to shrug and carry on. "They were vampires," he said.

Her eyes got even wider and for a moment he thought she'd stopped breathing. "Vampires?" she whispered.

At least she hadn't run, but she didn't look convinced either. "Er, yes, vampires." Still uncertain, for some reason her reaction engendered in him an overwhelming need to convince. "This whole area is a centre of mystical energy," he explained. "The Spanish who first settled here called it 'Boca del Infierno'. Roughly translated: Hellmouth. It's a sort of, um, a portal between this reality and the next. And things gravitate towards it that, that you might not find elsewhere."

"Things like vampires?"

"Yes."

She looked away and gazed off into space, her face blank and Giles sat watching her, waiting for her judgement. When she did eventually speak, it was nothing that he expected. "That's why I ran," she said, her voice wondering. "I knew there was something wrong. I've always known." Turning back to him she asked, "Can we save them?"

The naiveté of the question shocked him and brought him to his senses. What was he doing? This was a child he was talking to. Turning away from her, he took off his glasses, rested his elbows on his knees and dropped his head, scrubbing his palms up his cheeks and rubbing the heels of his hands into his eyes. What had he done? This was his fight. His and his slayer's. The rules against civilians existed for very good reasons and he had just been brought up hard against one of them. He'd never have told an adult, neither man nor woman, about the hellmouth. Telling a child was criminal. Sighing, he raised his head and looked across at her, weary beyond measure. "No," he said. "They can't be saved. Your friends are dead. And if you stay near me, you will be too." Hauling himself to his feet, he looked down at her. "Let me get you home," he offered. "Your parents will be worried about you."

She opened her mouth to say something in reply, but stopped and nodded. "Okay," she agreed.

They'd been walking for about five minutes, avoiding by common consent the street where they'd met the vampires although Giles was certain they would no longer be in the area, when she broke the silence. "Are the stories true?" she asked.

"Which stories?"

"The stories about vampires. The ones in books and movies."

"Some of them." Giles paused and thought about the books he'd read as a young man and films he'd seen. "Not all of them."

"But they do kill people? And drink their blood?"

"Yes, those parts are true."

"I need to know more."

"No you don't." He felt certain of that now. "All you need to do is be careful after dark. Don't go out alone!"

She stopped and turned to face him. "No!" she said. "I could have been killed! By my best friends! I am not going to go back to pretending that there's nothing wrong here! I can't!" Recognising his determination, she got a stubborn expression of her own. "If you won't tell me, I'll go looking for answers," she threatened and there was something about her that convinced Giles she was deadly serious. Deadly being the operative word.

Taking off his specs, he rubbed at the bridge of his nose while he tried to find an answer that would satisfy her and not place her in greater danger than he already had. He came up blank. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out his handkerchief and gave the glasses a polish before putting them back on. Her expression hadn't shifted, she still looked totally determined. Sighing, he capitulated. "Very well. I'd give you my address, but... "

Smiling now, although it was not a happy smile, she interrupted, "But my parents would freak if they knew I went to a man's house alone."

In spite of the seriousness of their discussion, Giles felt the corners of his own mouth tug up in a reluctant half smile of his own. "Oh dear," he said. "I really haven't thought this though properly. Soon I'll have another young woman around..." He ignored her questioning eyebrow, staying with the point under discussion. There was time enough to explain about the slayer, later. "You're right. I think the library might be a more suitable spot. Do you know Sunnydale High School?"

"Yes, of course. I'm going to be a student there, in the fall."

Giles blinked. "Oh my goodness. Are you? How very, um, well. Er, time for introductions, I suppose. I'm Mr. Giles. The school librarian."

"Willow Rosenberg," she replied, holding out her hand.

Gravely, they shook. "You can come over tomorrow, if you like?" he suggested. "I have keys and I'll leave the door open." A thought struck him. "Oh dear. Do you think I should find someone to act as chaperone? Although, I'm not exactly sure who..."

Willow grinned. "Don't worry, my parents won't mind the library."

"Oh. Alright then. Well, I'm busy putting away the new books, so we'll have plenty to do as we talk." Bending a stern gaze upon her, for all the good he suspected it would do, he added, "Just be certain to only come over during daylight hours."

Willow nodded her agreement to that stipulation and turned to point out the street they needed to take, to reach her home. Five minutes later Giles stood on the pavement and watched until she had unlocked the door and entered the house, before he turned back towards his own flat. Somehow, he doubted that his tenure on the hellmouth was going to be a normal watcher's assignment, if such a beast existed.

Note: Giles' Latin quote is part of a line from the Roman poet Horace - Dolce et decorum est pro patria mori - it translates as 'it is sweet and right to die for your country' and was made famous to non-classic scholars by the First World War poet Wilfred Owen in his poem about a man dying in a gas attack, where it was described as 'the old lie'.





39 Crux

Prompt: 100 - Previous Prompt from #64 - Promise

Tuesday 6th August

When Spike entered the living room he was feeling buoyant. They now had the last element for the ritual in their possession. By this time next week Dru would be restored to health. He refused to contemplate any alternative. Drusilla, herself, was sitting dealing her tarot cards onto the coffee table, which had been pulled up in front of her chair. Angelus wasn't there, but the kitchen door opening heralded his entrance, carrying a mug which he immediately put down on the bureau, leaving it neglected as he came over to see what they had brought back with them. Dru looked up, but didn't say anything. Spike figured that his expression was enough to tell her that he'd been successful in his mission.

Approaching her, he carefully placed the rag wrapped bundle he was carrying in his gloved hands down next to her cards and peeled away the layers of mouldy fabric, until the contents lay exposed. Although he'd studied it as he removed it from the reliquary, in the bright light of the room the detail of the pierced work and chasings on the gold cross were now clearly visible. Peering more closely at one of the piercings, Spike could also see the more sullen gleam of steel running up inside the shaft. Yes, it was both beautiful and deadly, in more ways than one.

Behind him, he felt his grandsire lean close. "What is it?" Angelus asked.

Without looking around, Spike shrugged. "Don't know. A weapon, by the looks of things. Dru just told me where it was and that it's needed in the ritual." Pointing, he added. "Has a blade inside, see?"

Angelus let out a breathy whistle of appreciation. "So it has," he agreed.

Looking up, Spike noticed that Xander had retreated to a spot behind Dru, obviously repulsed by the religious aspect of the thing. Dru however was leaning forward to get a better view. She reached out her hand, allowing it to hover over the cross. "It hums" she whispered. "I can hear it." Sitting back with a satisfied expression she reached down into the cushions beside her, retrieving her doll.

Sitting the doll gently on her lap, Dru petted its hair and cooed at it, before viciously twisting its head off and tossing it aside. Sticking her middle and forefingers down through the hole into its body she withdrew, one by one, five folded scraps of paper and handed them to Spike.

Quickly stripping off his gloves and dropping them on the floor beside him, Spike took the papers from her and spread each one out on the coffee table. They appeared to be pages torn from a book. "This is it?" he asked, glancing back up at Dru. "This is the spell that'll make you well again?" Dru merely narrowed her eyes and smiled.

A hand reached over Spike's shoulder and picked up one of the pages. Twisting around, he watched as Angelus scanned the sheet he held. "Where did you get this?" Angelus asked.

Dru laughed. "From a watcher who wasn't watching well enough."

Angelus gave a grunt, still studying the page in his hand, but Spike had turned back to his sire, a sudden chill causing him to speak sharply when he asked, "When?"

"In London," she replied, her voice smug.

The chill transforming itself into suspicion and then into certainty, Spike stared at her. "That night?" he breathed. He didn't need her slight nod for confirmation. "And you never told me?"

Dru looked back at him, one eyebrow raised in disdainful question. "I told you."

Surging to his feet, needing some sort of action, Spike took one step towards her before he managed to stop himself. Rigid with suppressed anger he yelled at her, "You didn't tell me you were out hunting a watcher! You didn't tell me you were going to beard the bloody lions in their bloody den!" Throwing up his hands, he spun and took two paces away before rounding on her again. "Bloody hell woman! London's the centre of their powerbase and you went after one? You could have been hurt!" As suddenly as it arose, the anger drained out of him. This was his sire and Angelus was right, he never could keep up with her. "I could have come with you," he said. "Made sure you were safe."

Instead of snapping back, however, Drusilla raised one hand to her head, bending forward in her chair and emitting a strangled whine.

In a flash, Spike was at her side, remorse shaking him as thoroughly as his previous anger. Getting his arms around her shoulders he eased her back upright. Contrite, he rested his forehead against her brow. "I'm sorry. Forgive me?" he murmured. Crouching down next to her chair he continued, "I shouldn't have shouted at you. But you know I hate to see you like this and the thought of you..."

Drusilla petted weakly at his arm. "It hurts," she moaned.

"I know, baby. I know. But we'll make it better. We'll make you well. I promise!"

Sighing as the fit passed, she gave him a weak smile. "Yes, yes, you will. I know you will."

Putting his hands around her neck, he kissed her gently but firmly, knowing he was forgiven and confirming his remorse. When she eventually pulled away she leant back in her chair, resting her head against the cushions. Spike stood up again and turned his attention back to his grandsire.

Angelus was frowning, his brows pulled together as he paced back and forth. While Spike had been preoccupied with Dru he had apparently picked up a few more sheets and as Spike watched he shuffled them, studying each in turn. Eventually, just as Spike's limited patience was reaching breaking point, again, he turned to look at them all and announced, "This doesn't make sense."

'No,' Spike thought. 'Not another problem. Not now.' They were so close. "What doesn't make sense?" he snapped.

Angelus shrugged. "This. It's gibberish."

Grabbing the sheets away from him, Spike scanned them quickly. "What d'y' mean, Gibberish? It's Latin! You do read Latin, don't you?"

Angelus made an attempt to retrieve them, but Spike danced back and held them away from him. Giving up on that, Angelus simply pointed. "It's not. Look at them. It looks like Latin, but it's not."

Behind him, Spike heard Drusilla protest, "Don't..." but he was too busy giving the papers a more thorough study, to take any notice of her. Angelus was right. It wasn't Latin. At least not any form of Latin Spike knew, and he considered himself fluent. Shocked, he looked up and caught Angelus' eye. They stared at each other for a long moment and Spike wondered what would happen to them if this last ditch plan came crashing down in failure, as all his previous attempts to find a cure had. He got no answer from Angelus, who broke their locked gaze, his eyes focussing past Spike. Spike turned.

At some point, Dru had returned to her cards. Now she was gazing down at them. "You can't read it," she intoned and Spike wasn't sure if she was simply seeing something in her cards, or whether it was a minor vision. She pointed down at the card closest to her, answering that question at least. "Not without the key."

"The key?" Bugger! Why hadn't he realised? "This stuff is written in some kind of code?"

Looking up, Dru smiled. "Yeah."

She didn't sound worried, but Spike felt like he couldn't face even one more complication. Tossing the pages down on the coffee table, he brought both his hands up to his face and scrubbed them back over his head, clasping them behind his neck. "Seven days!" he growled. "We have seven days. If we'd had a chance to study them before, we could've been working on them. But now?" Squaring his shoulders and dropping his arms he took a deep breath. "Shit!" He looked across at Xander. "Don't suppose you have hidden cross-word and code breaking skills, pet?" Xander grimaced and shook his head. "Shit! Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!" He turned on Angelus. "Now what the fuck do we do?"

Angelus had picked up another page and was pacing again, but he stopped abruptly, his eyes coming up to meet Spike's. "Who do we know who might be able to translate dark necromancy written in code?" he asked rhetorically. His mouth curled into a small smile. "Time to call in my marker, I think. Aren't you glad now that I didn't let you kill him?"

Spike scowled and looked over at Xander. "Get the minion," he ordered. "We have a pantry to stock." Turning back to Angelus, as Xander scooted out of the room, he growled. "And you," he observed. "Don't say a word. We've got exactly one week to crack this and I don't intend to waste any of it on hunting. Just get Ethan Rayne here! If we don't sort out this mess by next Tuesday we'll have to wait another month. And frankly, I'm not sure there's time for that!"


Friday 9th August

Pausing at the top of the stairs leading up to the bookshelves, Giles watched the girl, the young woman, sitting at the library table. She was still reading, although the pile of books next to her right hand was smaller than it had been last time he'd checked on her. In the three days since she'd talked and threatened her way into his secrets, she'd worked her way through every reference book on vampires in his possession and had moved on to more general texts. On the first day she'd read silently and he'd hardly noticed she was there as he went about his business, shelving books and searching for information on rituals to cure sick vampires. When she left in the late afternoon she looked sad. On the second day she'd begun to ask questions and Giles had been surprised to discover that there could be some children whom he did not dislike on sight, as her obvious intelligence and her ability to absorb, retain and make sense of what she read were clearly apparent in what she asked. Today there was an air of grim determination about her and again she'd hardly said a word since she first arrived.

Giles had decided to leave her alone, unless she needed him. He'd continued to busy himself, putting away the last of his books, while scanning through those that he thought might contain something useful. It was unfortunate that Liam's information had been so slight. His main concern had been to get out of town and head home, curtailing his summer road trip. However, Giles had quizzed him carefully and believed he now knew everything the young man had heard.

Having spent three days searching with no success in the usual texts, Giles had eventually remembered the diaries of former watchers. It was there that he'd found the information he was looking for. It had not been reassuring but the tattoo he'd glimpsed had clinched the matter for him. The vampire, Angelus, was in Sunnydale.

Tracking down information on Spike had proved easier, although Giles was seriously worried that none of the references mentioned the familial relationship between the two. He'd sent a letter to the Council, informing them of the omission and asked that they do their utmost to speed the arrival of the slayer. To his mind, the advent of two very old and powerful vampires was more that enough to warrant her presence. All he'd had in return was an excited telephone call from some young woman wanting more information. He'd supplied what he could, until she'd explained that she wanted to know for her thesis. At that point he had regrettably allowed his frustrations to get the better of him and had slammed the phone down on her. She hadn't called back.

Liam had said that there was something wrong with a member of Angelus' family and it appeared, from the few scraps Liam had overheard, that whatever they had planned was an attempt to cure her. That had also gone into the letter, since it was obvious this must be Drusilla; which meant that the memo reporting her demise in Prague was overly optimistic.

The problem facing Giles now was that the information Liam had been able to supply was just not enough. The fact that the ritual would happen in a church on the night of the new moon was too little to draw any firm conclusions. The mention of a magical artefact of some kind might have been of some help, if he'd only known what it was. Without an idea of the type of magic, the task of discovering more was like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Until now.

Giles stared at the book in his hands. If he was right. The pieces all seemed to fit: the fact that William the Bloody had brought Drusilla to Sunnydale, the fact that Angelus had surfaced after a hundred years of obscurity, and finally, the fact that Josephus du Lac was interred here in Sunnydale... Giles pulled himself together and continued down the stairs to the central floor of the library.

Coming to a stop next to the table, opposite Willow, he cleared his throat. "I'm sorry," he said when she looked up, "but I have to go out. I, I need to check on something."

Willow carefully placed a scrap of paper in the page she was reading and closed her book. "Er, okay. Um... does that mean you need to lock up?"

"Oh! Oh dear. I hadn't thought, but, but yes, I suppose I should."

Tilting her head, Willow silently read the title of the book he still held and obviously concluding that his mission was not mundane, asked, "Where y'going?"

"I need to go and, um... I'm going to check a tomb. To, to see if a magical artefact is still in it."

"Magical?"

Something in the tone of her voice irritated Giles. "Yes," he explained, "magic also exists. I would have thought that the existence of vampires were proof enough of that!"

Willow's eyes widened. "Oh, yes. Umm... I'm sorry?"

Giles was immediately sorry too. Really, there was no need for him to have snapped at her like that. "It's getting on a bit anyway," he offered. "Won't your parents be expecting you home for tea?"

Apparently recognising the olive branch, Willow grinned. "Oh no, they're not back yet."

"Not back?"

"They're at a conference. Well, at a number of conferences. They'll be home in three weeks. At least, I think they will. That was what they said when they phoned last week."

But this was shocking. "My god! And they left you at home? Alone?"

It was obviously the wrong thing to say, arousing the stubbornness he'd witnessed in her on the night they met. "I can look after myself! I've been doing it for years."

For someone normally so polite, in her indignation she was amazingly rude. Giles opened his mouth to say more, but some instinct thankfully caused him to pause before he could make the awkward situation worse. He was really not accustomed to conversing with young women and there was obviously nothing to be gained by railing at Willow for her parents' shortcomings. "Yes, yes, I'm sure you can," he said instead. "I, I was just surprised."

Willow, also seemed to be regretting her tone because her voice was hesitant when she asked, "Er, so, um... Can I come with you?"

Considering that there were few risks, given that it was still daylight, Giles paused. He'd actually enjoyed her questions yesterday. It was a new experience to have an apt and eager student. And teaching her would be good practice for when he also had to teach his slayer. Since she had now learnt so much, it would be a shame if she lost interest through lack of encouragement. Also, if she went with him, he could ensure she got home safely. "Okay," he agreed. Heading into his office, and it was an unexpected luxury that he had an office he could hide in from the swarms of students when the school year began, he grabbed a torch and his keys. "It shouldn't take more than an hour," he said as he returned.

Willow was already half way to the door.





40 Bad Moon Rising

Prompt: 101 - Entice

Saturday 10th August

Ignoring the minion under the table and the open door to the living room, Spike pulled the four ready meals out of the pantry, one at a time. Turning them to make sure the gaffer tape across their mouths and wrapped around their chests, arms and legs was still secure, he was pleased to note that none of them had made any attempt to get free. Any successful attempt anyway, he thought, adding fresh tape to an area of chafe at the small Asian woman's wrists. Once satisfied that they were all secure, he placed them carefully back, rotating them in the space so the ones from the front, with the better access to air, were now at the back, allowing the others a day of more effortless breathing. They all seemed to be relatively fit still, even after three days with no food and little water. The pantry was beginning to stink, but after tonight they wouldn't be so squashed against each other, which would probably be a temporary relief to the ones that were left.

Four days, Spike thought, four days to go before he could shake the dust of this town from his boots. Even with Angelus drinking from the bag and Dru drinking from Angelus, that still only amounted to one meal a day between the remaining three of them. Jesse could have half rations, but Spike didn't want to starve either himself or Xander.

His initial idea of spreading the stock across seven days and staying home had lasted less than twenty four hours, before the tension between Angelus and Dru had driven him out of the house. If he didn't need the big lunk, he'd have thrown Angelus out, but instead he dragged Xander and Jesse down to the docks area where they glutted themselves, saving both the stores in the pantry and Spike's sanity.

Cocking his head Spike listened to the sounds of stirring from the living room - a groan, followed by a muttered curse. Ethan was waking up. Closing the pantry door, Spike went to set him free so he could see to his human hygiene needs.

When he entered the room the mage raised his head from his pillow and offered a weak smile. Sticking his right leg out from under the blanket, he lifted it in the air and shook it, making the chain jangle. Angelus swore the chain wasn't necessary, but Spike was taking no chances. If Ethan ran away precious time would be lost and, since it had taken three days for him to present himself back in Sunnydale after Angelus' call, Spike's stress levels were already fit to send him off into violence. They'd made no progress with the text since Dru had volunteered it and he really couldn't afford to kill the only chance they had for a translation. Once again he cursed Dru for not handing over the pages earlier.

Ethan rolled off the sofa and waited patiently as Spike unlocked the padlock from the eyebolt he'd fixed into the floorboards. Then he gathered the loose length of chain into his arms and shuffled off to the bathroom attached to the side of the house.

At least he'd managed to identify the author of the text; evidence that gave Spike some confidence in his skills. It made sense - the cross had come from the Du Lac mausoleum, the manuscript had been written by Du Lac. Unfortunately, that was where Ethan appeared to have stalled in his initial attempt. He'd spent five hours poring over the pages after he arrived last night and had made absolutely no progress in the translation. Eventually Angelus had persuaded Spike to allow him some sleep and had promised to stand over him tonight, to make sure he was not trying to cheat them. It was good to see the sincerity in Angelus' face. He was obviously as eager as Spike to find a cure for Dru; but in spite of that, Spike didn't intend to allow the chaos mage out of his sight. He was grimly gratified that he'd decided to save the stored meals after all. Until he had that translation, there was no way he was leaving the house!

Returning to the kitchen, he kicked Jesse awake. "Coffee," he ordered when the minion scrambled out from his nest. "Enough for all of us. Bacon, eggs and toast for the wizard, then heat up a couple of bags of blood and take them through to Angelus." Catching Jesse's wistful glance at the closed pantry door, he added, "You eat after Xander and me. And that's after Angelus feeds Dru. So get moving, if you're hungry."

Jesse jumped into action and Spike watched for a moment to be sure he knew what he was doing, then he went to check on Dru and wake Xander. At the door into the passage he paused. "And when the magic man comes back," he added, tossing the padlock to Jesse, "lock him to the cross bar on the table leg. He can work in here."

Dru lay unmoving on her back in the middle of the big bed, like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty waiting for her prince to wake her with a kiss. Spike longed for such a simple solution. Being dependent upon the chaos mage, even if he had honoured his debt to Angelus, was almost unendurable. Carefully he sat down on the edge of the mattress and stroked the back of a finger up her cheek bone, easing her hair back from her brow. She stirred and he pulled back. He'd let her sleep until Angelus was ready to feed her. She was so weak now that he and Xander had moved out of the bed onto the floor. Looking across the room, he watched his childe snuffle and turn over, his arm reaching out to the space Spike had occupied. It encountered nothing but disturbed sheets and that apparently was enough to bring Xander to consciousness because he lifted his head and peered around blearily. Finally his gaze settled on Spike and he let out a small breathy sigh of relief. Spike remembered that feeling as a young fledge - the sense of reassurance that sire was there, so all was right with the world. He forced a smile, even as he wished with all his heart that it was indeed so.

"Bathroom free?" Xander croaked.

"Should be, in a minute. The wizard was in there a moment ago, but Jesse's sorting him some breakfast, so he'll be out soon." He raised an eyebrow. "Feeling grubby, pet?"

Xander grinned. "Bit sticky, maybe?" he offered. Nodding towards the bed he added, "Is she okay? We didn't disturb her, did we?"

"No, she slept right through." He sighed. "I almost wish she hadn't. She's getting worse with every day. If it weren't for Angelus feeding her..." He trailed off. They both knew that without the added power in the blood, because it came through her sire, Dru would have faded away completely before now.

Xander crawled out from under the blankets and across the room, curling up at Spike's feet and resting his head against Spike's knee. Unable to touch Dru for fear of waking her, Spike settled for stroking Xander's hair as he felt his childe relax against him.

They stayed like that for about ten minutes, until Spike caught the sound of footsteps in the hallway heading to the kitchen. He gave Xander a nudge. "Go get clean, pet. Then get some clothes on. I'll go make sure Jesse locks up properly."

Two hours later, Spike was pacing. "Well?" he asked, for the fifth time. "Come on, now. Enlighten me."

Ethan looked up warily and Angelus took a step forward, as if to intervene. "It's not Latin," Ethan said. "If it were, I'd have this done in a jiffy. But it's not, I, I think..."

Spike interrupted, "If it was Latin, we'd not have a problem and we wouldn't have brought you in."

Rolling his shoulders in a painful shrug, Ethan stuttered, "No, no! Listen! I... I'm not even sure it's a language."

With a growl of pure frustration, Spike yelled, "Then make it a language!"

Ethan raised his hands above his head in a surrender position and tried again. "Hang on! You-you can beat the crap out of me. Go ahead, I can't stop you! Or-or you can listen to what I have to say."

Spike felt Angelus' hands on his shoulders and allowed himself to be restrained. "I want the cure! And I want it now!" Turning around he shrugged Angelus off, growling at him, "Some people find pain very inspirational."

Angelus grabbed his arm, but he pulled away and took a step towards Ethan who lowered his arms and cowered back in his chair. "Wait. It-it-- calm down! I can't do this if you kill me!"

Narrowing his eyes, Spike considered the mage carefully. He gave a reluctant nod and Ethan took a deep breath, the tension in his shoulders relaxing slightly. "I think it's in code," he explained. "It has to have a key. Was there anything else, apart from the pages? Anything at all?"

Spike looked up at Angelus and saw the same arrested expression on his face that he imagined was on his own. "I'll get it," Angelus said as he hurried from the room.

A moment later Angelus was back with the bag containing the cloth wrapped cross. He placed it on the kitchen table with a gesture to indicate Ethan should open it. Ethan cautiously reached inside and withdrew the bundle. Carefully he lifted away the wrappings. As the gold of the cross came to view, he let out a breath of awed appreciation.

"It's a knife," Spike explained.

Picking it up, Ethan studied the detail of the cross. With a shake of his head he gripped it at top and bottom, tugging the sections apart. Slowly the blade slid free of its costly sheath. With a sigh of relief, Ethan put the T-section that had held the blade down and lifted the knife to the light, twisting it. He smiled. "There," he said. Angelus and Spike crowded forward and Ethan laid the blade down. "See?" he asked. "There, on the blade. Runes." Tearing a sheet from his yellow legal pad he placed it over the length of the steel and began to run the edge of his pencil lead back and forth. Slowly the markings on the blade came clear on the paper. "Ah," he sighed. "Yes! This I know. This I can read." Looking up he grinned. "As an ornament, it may be rather crass, but Gentlemen, I think we have the key to the text. Give me a couple of hours and all will be revealed."


~*~*~*~*~


Giles looked at his watch as he placed the telephone handset back in its cradle. They'd been researching all day, but it was still a couple of hours until sunset and it seemed their search was finally at an end. "Du Lac," he breathed. "Of course. Oh dear, oh dear."

Returning to the table, he sat down heavily. Willow looked up at him over the top of her computer screen. "Have you found something?"

Giles nodded. "I rather fear I have. Uh, I've, I believe I've discovered the reason the vampires are in town. The exact reason they're in town. It would appear that the ritual they're planning to perform was created, or discovered, by a dark mage called Josephus du Lac."

"The guy from the cemetery?"

"Er, yes, quite. The guy, um, the guy from the cemetery." He took a deep breath to help him gather his thoughts and began to explain. "As a young man he belonged to a religious sect that was excommunicated by the Vatican at the turn of the century. He ended his days here, in in Sunnydale. Du Lac was both a... a theologian and a mathematician. The artefact we went looking for yesterday was an invention of his, which he called 'The Du Lac Cross'." He opened the copy of the National Geographic that had sent him to the telephone in the first place and handed it to her. The photograph of the cross occupied a full page. "It was more than a mere symbol. It was used to understand certain mystical texts, to, uh, decipher hidden meanings and so forth." Taking off his glasses, Giles pinched the bridge of his nose, allowing Willow to quickly scan the text that accompanied the picture.

Willow looked up sharply. "This photo's in colour and according to this, Du Lac destroyed every cross except the one buried with him.."

"Yes. Well, if you look at the credits at the end of the article, you'll see that he died in 1952."

Willow nodded and put the magazine down. Slipping his glasses back on Giles picked it up and took one last look before closing it and laying it aside. "He also had a number of books of the dark arts printed. Most were destroyed at his death, like the crosses. I thought the only remaining copies were in the safekeeping of the Council."

Catching the note of concern in his voice, Willow grimaced. "From your expression, I'm guessing there are more?"

"No, the, uh, book I was thinking of was in the Council library. It was said to contain rituals and spells that reap unspeakable evil. I've just been on the phone to the Council and it would appear that it has gone missing. Mr Fellows, the Council's librarian, believes that it was taken from the possession of one of our researchers."

"Believes?"

"Er, yes. The researcher in question was found dead a few months ago. He had a very distinctive wound on his neck."

Willow gasped. "And you think it was this Spike guy who took it?"

"Quite possibly. One small consolation is that it was written in archaic Latin so that nobody but the sect members could understand it."

"So we're safe?"

"I don't know. I daren't assume so. Spike went to great lengths to free Angelus, and although that could be because Angelus is his grandsire, from what Liam overheard I believe we must fear the worst. If they have the cross..." He paused and he could see that he didn't need to spell it out for Willow. "The ritual would appear... I believe its purpose is to restore a weak and sick vampire back to full health."

"A vampire like Drusilla?"

"Exactly."

"I've been reading about her. She is so not good." Willow stared down at her fingers resting on the keyboard, for a moment, her forehead scrunched in thought. Then, taking a deep breath she looked up straight into his eyes. "So how do we stop them?" she asked.

The question jolted Giles out of his own train of thought. "We don't," he said. "The slayer does. I, I need to telephone the Council Executive immediately and demand that they send the slayer here, at once. If Drusilla is enfeebled and needs to be cured using such arts, the danger she would represent at full power is too serious to contemplate. And the three of them together are too much for anyone other than the slayer to handle."

Willow looked sad. "And if they don't send her?"

It had been Giles' own thought, tossed back at him. "I... I don't really know." He smiled weakly. "Get out of town?"

"We can't do that!"

Rubbing his hand across his mouth, as if to wipe away his flippancy, Giles sighed. "I know. But... I don't know what to do. I... I'm a Watcher, I haven't the skill to fight vampires... A, a Slayer slays, a Watcher..."

Willow raised her eyebrow, looking at him sceptically. "Watches?" she suggested.

"Yes. No! He, he trains her, he, he prepares her... He doesn't go into battle."

Cocking her head, Willow gave him a wistful smile. "It looked to me like you were doing the whole battling thing, when you rescued me."

Giles dismissed that with a flick of his hand. "I waved a cross around. Entering a pitched battle is another thing entirely." Slumping back in his chair, he contemplated the ceiling wearily. "Besides, we don't know where they are."

He wasn't sure if she was simply trying to buck him up, or whether she really thought they could do something useful when she replied, "But we know where they will be." Turning the screen of her computer slightly towards him, she gestured him over. "I've been doing some research too."

Giles stood up and walked around the corner of the table to stand behind her. With one hand on the back of her chair, he leant forward to see what she had. And found himself looking at the web page for the Sunnydale Historical Society. It took him an agonising minute to register exactly what she wanted him to see. He could scan a printed page and glean the salient information in moments, but web pages confused him, with their bright colours and random layouts. Then he saw it. He straightened up. "There are forty-three churches in Sunnydale?" he asked. "That seems a little excessive."

Willow twisted in her chair and grinned up at him. "It's the extra evil vibe from the Hellmouth. Makes people pray harder."

It was a good thought. Giles hated leaving things to the last minute, but in case the slayer couldn't come before Tuesday, preparation would be most helpful. "Are any of them closed or abandoned?" he asked.

"Two," Willow replied, her cheerfulness undiminished.

They exchanged a long look. "I'll just go and make another phone call," Giles said, picking up the National Geographic on his way to the office.


~*~*~*~*~


They reconvened in the living room. Spike left the chain attached to Ethan's ankle, but he didn't bother fixing it to the eyebolt. They were all there. Dru had walked through to her chair under her own steam, so she could witness the explanation and tell him if the mage was being truthful. Even Jesse had crept in and taken up station by the door, apparently as interested as the rest of them in hearing the details of the cure.

Ethan sat on the sofa, hunching forward in his seat, and tore the sheets of his notes free from the legal pad, spreading them out in a row on the coffee table. Shaking his head his voice was full of smug satisfaction as he explained, "It's written in Trionic." Looking up, he obviously noted the incomprehension around him. "See this passage here?" he asked, pointing at the top of the first page of his notes. "It continues with this passage here, then concludes with this one," he finished, pointing in turn to different paragraphs of his spinderly handwriting on different pages. Then, placing the original pages, with their continuous block type, down in a row below his notes he continued, "Now that the code's broken, the rhythm of the original sentence structure, here," he indicated what could have been a random word in the original text, for all Spike could tell, "tells us that from there, we go back to this page," he pointed back to another paragraph on the first page of his notes, "then to this section, and finally to this bit." On each occasion he pointed at a different part of his notes. "Put the whole thing together in the right order, and you have the ritual, all laid out in nice clear English, ready to use." Sitting back he grinned at them. "I'll have that drink now," he said.

Spike considered him thoughtfully, then he smiled. "Okay, mate. I reckon you deserve a drink." He waved a hand at Jesse who jumped to obey. "And how long will it take to finish doing that?"

An expression of apprehension crossed Ethan's face. "I could do it in a few hours, or it could take me until Tuesday evening. It really depends on what you have planned for me after that."

Before Spike could reply, Angelus jumped in. "He'll let you go. And I'll release you from your debt to me. You have my word."

Ethan nodded, but Spike wasn't prepared to let it go quite that easily. He jerked his head towards Angelus. "Yeah, like he says. I'll let you go. After the ritual."

Reaching up for the glass Jesse offered, Ethan tried to look offended. "So untrusting," he mocked. "and there was I thinking the childe obeyed the grandsire in well regulated families."

"Yeah, well, this family is as well regulated as a barrel load of cats, so you can let that thought go for starters. You're staying here until I have proof that the ritual works. If it does, if Dru's well again when we finish, I'll let you go. How's that? Seem fair to you?"

Taking a sip, Ethan nodded again. "Alright," he acknowledged. "In your place, I'd probably do the same. It's a deal."

Spike looked across at Dru and she nodded her head slightly. "I'll be well again," she murmured. "I'll be well. I hear the drums of the dark god calling me. He's going to make me whole."

Ethan's eyebrow quirked. Suddenly his attention was wholly on Dru. "The dark god?" he queried. "How very intriguing. Do tell."

"The dark god in the primal lands. My Angel won't share. But he wants it too."

Draining his glass, Ethan leant forward and held it out for a refill. Looking over at Spike he asked, "Mind if I just get drunk tonight? I promise to finish tomorrow. It really won't take long."

Spike thought about it. "Alright," he agreed. "We could all do with a drink. And if I'm going to be stuck here for the next two nights, I'm going to need to get drunk to stop myself going mad." Bending down, he reconnected Ethan's chain to the eyebolt and sat at the other end of the sofa. Xander settled at his feet and Angelus disappeared, only to reappear carrying the easy chair from his bedroom. Jesse got busy pouring.

Sitting back with his newly refilled glass, Ethan smiled. "I bet we could pass the time entertainingly with some stories. Like The Canterbury Tales, or The Decameron. I'm sure you all have some wonderful tales you could tell."

Spike was thinking more about helping Dru to bed, but she smiled at him and he could see that the idea of bedtime stories appealed to her. She looked better for having fed well and maybe she just wanted the illusion of a happy family. How could he refuse her, when Angelus would leave as soon as the new moon was past? He looked across at Angelus, suddenly realising that he felt good. A weight had been lifted from his shoulders, leaving him slightly euphoric and very relaxed. After all his planning and scheming, Dru's cure was finally only two and a half nights away. "Yeah, why not," he agreed. "Why don't you tell us what you've been doing since you ran out on us in China, mate?"

Angelus took a large gulp from his glass. "Okay." He smirked. "If you'll tell me exactly how it was you ended up wearing the local trollop's clothes that time in Moscow."

Spike laughed. "Sure." If Angelus had hoped to embarrass him, that was the wrong story to demand. The way he'd used the courtesan's favourite dress and mannerisms to entice her protector to his end was one he didn't mind telling at all. "But you go first, eh?"

It turned into one of the most relaxed evenings Spike could remember in years. The stories ran free, with much barracking from the listeners, Dru had more energy than he had seen for days, and if Angelus spent a bit too much time watching her, Spike couldn't raise the energy to care. He was too busy laughing at Angelus trying to explain Detroit, at Ethan's tales of his misdeeds with the oh so respectable watcher and Dru's reminiscences of how she had tricked Darla out of her favourite pearl necklace. Xander was snug against his leg, gently stroking up and down the back of his calf, Jesse kept the glasses full and for once all was well with his world. He didn't notice any change in tone when Ethan suggested, "Let me tell you a story about a demon I met once in Africa."




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