Most people, at some point during their lives, get that feeling of total clarity. Sometimes it is almost expected, like watching a late train to pull into the station when it’s pouring with rain and blowing up a storm, and other times it’s unexpected, like the train has caught fire a mile down the track and the clouds have parted, revealing a beautiful, endless blue sky.
Spike, his fingers around Riley’s neck and digging into his skin, has just had one of those moments. But where there is no rain or fire, there is blood to replace it, and where there is no train or station, there is sharpness and pain.
Focus shifts and Spike falls. He sees wood and his own chest. He sees blurred outlines and the unmistakable shape of rows of teeth: fangs within a triumphant beam.
When Spike hits the floor, he silently says goodbye.
“No!” Dawn screamed. She watched, too far away to help, too slow to stop it.
Next to her, Xander was frozen in place. Dawn instinctively looked to him. Why, she wasn’t entirely sure. Maybe it was to comfort him, or maybe it was to comfort herself with his reassuring face or possibly a joke, if he could think up an appropriate one before the moment passed, which he probably could. Xander could joke about anything.
But Xander’s face was pale, his eyes wide and glassy. He swallowed and Dawn watched it like it was in slow motion. Xander’s eyes closed and Dawn cried.
Tara covered her mouth with trembling hands. She turned to Xander; his eyes were closed as though to block out the world. She wanted to reach out to him, touch him, connect to him, and she wondered if that’s what Willow would do if she was here.
She was lost.
Fred felt the pause like it was a physical thing, a ball of silence and indecision that you could bounce against the wall or maybe lose forever when it sails serenely over the garden fence. She was at a loss to explain the strange sensation, or explain why the stun gun dropped from her hand.
Teeth pressed together hard because he promised he wouldn’t ever cry for a friend again, Gunn clenched his fists. He wouldn’t watch it, wouldn’t witness the blast that would leave nothing to even cry for.
Instead, he silently promised to avenge and damn-well enjoy doing it. He owed Spike that.
Wesley had thought about this moment, how he would feel if the worst happened. He’d thought about the incredible loss he’d feel. And, as predicted, it was painful beyond words.
But the regret and his abysmal failure cut deeper than he’d ever imagined it would. It didn’t just hurt, it made him angry, furious.
He had always felt it when his father watched him, observed his shortcomings and witnessed his inadequacies. It was like an ever-present dagger pressing into his back, waiting to plunge with satisfaction and superiority.
Wesley was sure he could feel the tip of a blade.
Cordelia sucked in a harsh breath – a gasp – and glanced around at the others. No one was moving. No one was moving. She wasn’t moving.
A sob choked her.
Why was no one moving?
Angel watched, helpless, unable to prevent what had already happened. He watched the anger on his Grandchilde’s face turn to sorrow.
Something hard and ugly and so very painful pulsed inside him, just inside his chest. It was regret, a hundred or more years of it.
He loved his Grandchilde, even though he hated him.
He didn’t want him to leave.
“Fuck it,” said a pained voice from the ground.
Tears running down her face, streaming over her ruddy cheeks and onto her shirt, Dawn laughed.
She watched Xander open his eyes and stare.
“He’s not dust,” Xander said. “Why…? How…? He’s not dust.”
Xander ran forward, apparently unmindful of any danger.
Dawn watched the others follow and everything went from silence and stillness to a rush of sound and movement, weapons drawn and teeth bared. The stagnant night cracked in half.
As Xander dropped to Spike’s side, Dawn finally moved. Her arms pumped at her sides and her legs catapulted her over the hood of the truck. Riley was retreating, allowing his army to take point while he slunk back into the shadows. She could just see enough of his face to see him laughing.
Vampires closed in around her, twisted faces and camouflage bearing down on her in a twisted parody of an ambush. Dawn’s gaze was locked firmly to Riley’s shadowed form, and she struck out with elbows, fists and sweeping legs as she made her way through the scrum, knocking down vamps like jarhead-shaped skittles.
She knew exactly where they were even before she saw them, the hair standing up on her left arm as a vamp approached on that side, and then on the back of her neck as another charged from behind.
Dawn spun, her stake swishing out and around, two explosions of dust trailing it like the tail of a comet.
There was death around her: dead Initiative, dead teenagers, dead recruits. The darkness flashed, stunners stunning and tainting the air with singed flesh, and UV lights blinding and filling the night with shrieks and angry cries.
Dawn shuddered and she blinked, turning her head towards an unseen and unheard disturbance, a ripple of instinct that suddenly wracked her body.
He looked up from where he’d just landed, his back flat to the floor, and rolled to clear a foolish vamp intent on pouncing. He bounced to his feet, kicked, dislodging fangs, then pulled the vamp to him and his stake.
Through the exploding dust, Dawn watched him. She sensed his age, his skill, his demon fighting for release just below than thin veil of flesh he called skin. For a moment, it disgusted her and she wondered how her sister could have ever touched him. She pushed away the sick feeling in her stomach.
“Are you alright?”
Abruptly, Angel was in front of her, touching her, his face full of vampish concern, yellow eyes fixed to hers.
“I…” She closed her eyes and remembered.
This was Angel. He’d helped her, helped all of them. He was good. He wasn’t the enemy. They were the enemy.
She could sense them all now, like a Slayer Switch had been flicked on inside her. Is this what Buffy had felt? Was this what it felt like to be a Slayer?
“Dawn,” Angel said, more urgently. “What’s wrong?”
She shook her head. “Nothing. I just got turned on.”
Dawn turned away from him and looked back towards Happy Burger. Riley was gone.
“Fuck me,” Dawn swore.
“Uh…Dawn? I don’t think –.”
“What? No, not you. But you need to get away from me, Angel. You’re too distracting.” She pointed over to Gunn who was struggling with the aid of Cordelia to take down two largely-built vamps. “Help them.”
Angel stared her.
“Please. I know what I’m doing. Go!”
Angel nodded and Dawn glanced around her. Spike and Xander were still on the ground, Xander gradually pulling Spike to a standing position.
She ran to them.
“Hang on,” he replied, holding a hand up. “Just give me a sec while I…” He gripped the stake tightly and looked down at it.
So close. Just an inch to the right and it would have gone straight through his heart.
It had hurt like a bitch. He’d watched it sink into his chest as pain exploded and clouded his vision. The moment the tip had drawn blood, he’d thought it was over, and by the triumphant expression on the other vampire’s face, so had Riley.
The stake had sunk in as far as it would go without coming out the other side. He pulled it out with one enormous tug, unable to stop the scream of pain from leaving his mouth. He was sure he felt it graze his heart.
His blood left his body sluggishly, dribbling in a slow, macabre fashion; not like the blood of the living, and not at all like the blood of a truly dead corpse. The flow would stop soon, of course, and then it would begin to heal. But Spike didn’t have time to wait for that.
“Where is he?” Spike sneered angrily.
“I lost sight of him,” Dawn replied. “I think he went inside.”
“Right.” Spike started walking, picking up speed as he went. Dawn and Xander walked by his side, their footsteps turning to strides as they went.
“Are you sure you can fight?” Xander asked.
“Never been surer.”
“But you’re broken.”
“I thought…” Xander laughed humourlessly. “You know.”
Spike nodded and looked at him. “I know. I’m not, though.”
“I know. Don’t.”
“I won’t. You can’t either, though.”
“Um,” Dawn interrupted, “is this a secret conversation or can anyone join in?”
The numbers were dwindling now and, although that was largely due to Angel and Dawn, Spike suspected many of them had retreated along with Riley.
“Dawnus? Can you take care of these few for me?” Spike asked, nodding at the three left loitering hesitantly by the hole in the wall.
Spike watched her, leaning sideways on Xander but feeling stronger every second. There was something different and he wanted to see.
Dawn’s hair flew over her shoulder as she rounded and her leg lifted in a reverse roundhouse kick. She looked so much like Buffy, every inch the Slayer and beautiful with it. Dawn radiated strength now.
Yeah, something was definitely different.
Spike could feel her. He could feel her presence like a beacon that was both drawing him in and warning him away.
The last vamp dusted and Dawn turned. Gone was the gleeful surprise and girlish novelty. She was strong. She was capable. She was confident.
There stood the current Slayer.
Xander was glad to see that Dawn was handling all of this insanity well. If anything, she was thriving on it. It was a good thing too, because he felt as if he was close to coming apart.
Spike had been staked. He'd almost died
Xander was wishing he had time to go throw up, or break out in hysterical laughter. In the back of his head he could hear Don Adams from that campy 1960 series saying 'Missed him by that much!'. Seeing Spike fall had nearly caused his own heart to stop, and if it wasn't for the fact that Dawn was the Slayer and trouble would find her anywhere they went, he was prepared to pack the entire clan up and ]move somewhere nice and quiet, like Kansas or West Virginia.
Then again there were those crazed Children of the Corn who liked to hang out in Kansas, and West Virginia had all those trees, which meant there was a lot of bugs, and bugs were creepy.
Spike wasn't leaning on him quite so hard now but Xander wasn't ready to let him go just yet. There were about fifteen or so vampires left, and they'd all disappeared into the back of the building. His holy water had emptied not long ago but it had helped a lot, which gave Xander the warm fuzzies. The vampires hosed down moved more slowly, letting the human members or the Reformed Scoobies a better chance at killing them.
Spike growled and attempted to stand up straight but Xander didn't let him. "Right. They've gone to ground in the back. Anyone been here before? Know the layout?"
No one was saying anything yet so Xander spoke up. "Look, I've never really been behind the counter, but all these places are basically the same. The equipment is probably all been sold off but we don't know what kind of crap Riley has dragged in. The thing we have to worry most about is the walk-in cooler and the freezer. Some of them were made so employees could lock themselves in, in case the place was robbed. They're usually pretty sturdy so I'm not sure anything short of a major earthquake will get them out if they're locked in there. On the other hand, it could be a trap. This pizza place I worked at two years ago had one, and it had a trap door leading up to the roof."
"Shit." Surprisingly enough, it was Angel swearing. Oh, the older vampire would damn Spike all the time, but it was rare that the man let the S-word slip. "We'll have to split up, just in case there is a way out. Spike, Dawn, Xander, Fred and Wes, take the outside, watch the back door and check out the roof. The rest of us will search the back."
Xander wanted to argue, and say that Spike needed rest or a couple of gallons of blood. Problem was, he knew there wasn't any time. Tara had been forced to drop the spell that was keeping the vampires in one place; she wasn't able to split her attention between that and fighting. If they took the time that Spike needed to rest, Riley might get away and Xander really didn't think he could handle another night like tonight.
They all just nodded and turned, no-one having the air to make a snarky comment. It was still early in the night but Xander was bone tired. He and Fred both stopped by the back of the truck, grabbing up a couple of stun batons and a few more stakes. Fred was still carrying one of her UV lights. It was bulky and almost out of power but Xander figured Fred knew what she was doing. At the very least the small woman could throw it at a vampire; for someone so dainty, Fred could be incredibly rough. He wasn't sure if it was the five years she spent in Pylea, or the childhood growing up on a farm in Texas.
Either way, she could be just as scary as Cordelia; she was just more polite about it.
They ran out the hole that used to be the main door and out into the night. They ran along side of the building to the back. There was a narrow walkway in between the back of the building and the garbage dumpsters. A small shed that Xander figured once held extra sandwich boxes, napkins and paper cups was behind it. Beside of it was a red ladder that led to the top of the roof. It was old and rusted and Xander wanted a tetanus shot just looking at it.
"Bloody hell. That's not gonna fucking hold."
Wesley reached up to adjust the glasses that weren't there any more. "I—I think I can do a stabilizing spell of some sort. It should hold."
Dawn bounced on her toes. "Right. Make it so!"
Xander couldn't help it, he started a laughing. If it had a hysterical edge, he figured he had good cause. "Good going, Dawnster! I'll make a geek out of you yet!" The look of horror on her face would have been funny if he had more brain cells working.
Wes was chanting, Fred holding up the UV light so that he could see the ladder. Spike paced back and forth a few moments and then growled.
"Fuck this shit, I'm going on up."
With that, Spike took a few steps back and then ran and jumped on top of the shed, pausing a moment and then jumping onto the roof of the deserted restaurant. Dawn's eyes widened.
"Spike! Wait for me!"
Xander wanted to stop her but he could hear Spike fighting on the roof. Right now it wasn't Dawn, his little sister, it was Dawn the Vampire Slayer talking and, as much as it hurt Xander, he let her go. Dawn followed Spike, her brown hair flying as she jumped. Then she was gone and there were the sounds of even more fighting on the roof. They were up there alone.
Before Fred and Wes had the ladder fixed up, there was a sound behind them. Xander turned to see a stocky figure moving quickly through the growing shadows. It moved too quickly to be a human. He was the rear guard, unfortunately, so that meant he had to keep Fred and Wes safe. He barely had time to press himself into the shadows when the figure came by.
Xander lashed out with one of his stun batons, catching the vampire in the armpit. While it wasn't a solid blow, it did make the vamp stumble and Xander was able to bring it down on the back of his head and get another good hit in. Unfortunately, his baton was losing power. The vampire rolled and started to get back on its feet so Xander hit it again, putting all his strength into it.
The stun baton crackled, and Xander was able to see exactly who the vampire was.
Roger Wyndam-Pryce. Wesley's father.
"Aw, shit! Why didn't you just listen to us and get out of town, you bastard?"
Roger sneered. "As if I'm going to listen to a couple of uneducated Colonials and my nancy-boy of a son."
Suddenly Roger turned to dust, making Xander stumble since he was swinging with his baton at the time. He looked up to see a stone faced Wesley standing there, a stake in hand.
He didn't know what to say.
"Later. I've got the ladder fixed and even managed to get most of the rust off. However, I do believe we'll all need to update our injections. Now come on, Fred is waiting for us and Spike and Dawn are outnumbered on the roof."
Xander took a deep breath and pushed any words of sympathy away. Wes looked as if he was ready to break but they just didn't have the time right now. Xander nodded, his ability to joke having left him when he saw Spike fall at Riley's hands.
"Right. Let's go." Xander hurried to follow Wesley, Fred having climbed halfway up the ladder already.
They had a battle to finish.
Beta'd by kitty_poker1.
A/N: I am so sorry I'm late with this, it's all my fault. RL is being weird right now and my Muse hates me.