He could see it now. Maybe it had already been there, lighter, fainter. Or maybe this was new. The sky was turning from black to deep purple. Magic, rippling beneath the stars, pulsing and spreading.
‘So,’ Xander said. ‘This is bad. Again.’
Spike glanced at him and then went back to looking at the road.
Xander frowned. ‘What?’
‘Nothing. It’s bad. I was silently agreeing.’
‘No, no, you have that look. What’s up? Apart from the obvious.’
The DeSoto screeched to a halt and Xander kept his eyes on the sky as they got out. The purple wave slowly moved over them, over the car, over the sidewalk, over the hedgerows. Over the wrought iron gates of Peaceful Meadows.
They made their way quickly into the cemetery. Dawn and Angel were in the distance and Dawn ran partway to meet them. She pointed up at the wave.
‘Tell me that’s pollution,’ she said. ‘Tell me that’s the work of a giant cow breaking through the ozone layer. Or a billion smaller cows.’
‘I’m not sure what would be worse,’ Xander said, ‘a wave of methane or this.’
‘These are powerful magics,’ Angel said, looking up at the sky. He liked to state the obvious in serious situations and Xander was halfway tempted to pat him on the head. Or bitch-slap him.
Dawn ignored them both. ‘And it’s supposed to, what, raise everyone from the dead?’
Xander shrugged. ‘That’s what Crazy Old Guy said.’
‘What about the skeletons? Oh my god, are we going to have a Jason and the Argonauts moment?’
That was an alarming thought. Battling a skeleton army would be cool for the first few seconds, but after sliding a sword harmlessly through a ribcage several times, it was bound to grow kinda tiring.
‘You’re all missing the point!’ Spike drew his sword and somewhere behind him, Xander could see the first graves beginning to shift and crumble.
‘I think we get it,’ Xander said. ‘Very many undead. So how do we kill them all?’
‘We don’t. You get on that phone to Wesley and Willow and the New York Coven and tell them to reverse this. Angel, you need to get to the hospital, the morgue. The dead break free there and there’ll be hell to pay. Dawn, this is the biggest cemetery and the closest to the residential areas. Guard it. Don’t let anything or anyone in or out. Xander and I will head over to Shady Hill. Get Gunn on the phone. He can take Fair Haven.’
Spike turned and headed back to the car and Xander trailed along behind him, squinting at his cell phone’s display as he walked.
‘This is stupid, Spike. We can’t take on all of Sunnydale’s undead at the same time. How many dead people are there? You know, I’m gonna run for mayor and ban all burials. Cremations only in this town, oh yessiree.’
‘You dialling yet?’
‘I’m trying! Jeeze, lighten up. What’s your problem? Aside from Sunnydale about to be overrun with flesh-eating zombies.’
They stopped next to the car and Spike snatched the phone. ‘It’s not about that. Shit happens. We’ll cope. We always do. But there’s something else. It’s not just the random dead that are about to rise. It’s Joyce, Anya.’
‘And it gets worse.’
Xander met Spike’s intense gaze. They stood nearly nose to nose and Xander was sure neither of them was breathing. He swallowed. ‘Buffy.’
Spike nodded and looked up at the sky. ‘If that reaches her, we’ll have an undead slayer on our hands.’
Xander wasn’t sure what to say to that. He took back his cell and watched Spike’s fingers clench the hilt of his sword. He dialled Wesley’s number and put the phone to his ear. ‘I have to go to her,’ he said as the number rang. ‘To Anya. I can’t let her be in that much pain. Will you—? Buffy ...’
Spike nodded again. He looked sickly pale under the moonlight and the purple haze above, but Xander wondered how much of it was really the sky’s influence. They’d been here before and it was no less painful and sickening the second time around.
‘I’ll take care of it.’
Every step was an effort. It felt like walking against a gale. He knew where he wanted to be, beside Xander and Dawn, but it was impossible. This was the only way. They had things to do. Dawn had her calling; it was her responsibility to fight. Xander needed to be there for Anya. As much as an unwanted pang of jealousy stung him, he understood that. Xander had loved her just like he’d loved Buffy. And now, yet again, they were fighting for her peace, for Anya’s.
Spike pushed open the door and was assaulted by a disgusting mixture of sounds and smells. It had been a while since he’d been to a demon bar. He sauntered through the crowd, brushing a Grack demon as he passed and shoving a Dwarf Fyarl in the back. He sat down on one of the stools at the bar and ordered something from the horned barman that had once made Xander throw up just on hearing the ingredients.
A vampire in full gameface, a battered leather jacket and greasy black hair parted in the middle and trailing over his shoulders, leaned on his elbow and tilted his glass in Spike’s direction. ‘William the Bloody, isn’t it? Spike?’
‘Spot on, mate. And you must be ... someone of absolutely no consequence.’
The vampire laughed. ‘You’d know who I was if you were tuned in. But you’re an outcast now. Ain’t no-one less in the know than you.’
Spike gave him a sardonic smile. ‘I’ll remember to tune into Demon FM from tomorrow.’
‘You kill your own kind.’
And there it was, the main reason Spike didn’t frequent demon bars. He wasn’t afraid of a scrap. Cracking bone and tearing flesh was always a good time-killer. It was just that every time he spent more than five seconds in the presence of any group of demons/vampires/magical beings—
‘You consort with humans!’ The vampire spat on the dirty floor and Spike glanced down to make sure nothing had splashed on his shoes or, Beelzebub forbid, his duster.
‘I’m aware of that,’ Spike said. He drained his glass and put it back on the bar with a loud clunk. ‘Now pay attention, twit, because I haven’t got time to listen to my own biography. Got a problem that needs sorting.’
‘Eh?’ The vampire grinned over his shoulder, and behind him three more vampires, seated at a round table playing poker, grinned back him. ‘You getting this?’ he said to them.
The largest of the three stood. He had a ring through one nostril and a tribal tattoo covered almost his entire left arm. ‘Sounds like the traitor wants help.’
Spike stood. Even drawing himself up to his full height, he was a clear foot shorter than Tattoo Vamp. He didn’t care. The larger they were, the bigger the crater they left when you cracked their skulls against the floor. ‘Didn’t say it was my problem, did I?’ He stepped closer and smirked. ‘It’s yours.’
The cemetery was quiet, which was a good thing. Nothing worse than the sounds of screaming and blood-sucking when you were visiting a loved one.
Loved one. Right now that phrase sent a wave of guilt and sickness down into Xander’s belly. He planted his sword into the soil and sank to his knees in front of Anya’s grave.
‘Hey. Long time, no—.’ He looked away. ‘Too long. I should have come sooner. Sorry about that. But you know me, much with the absent mind and the laziness. And I was scared.’
Considering how much they all knew about magic and hell and demonic creatures and all things fantastic, there was so much Xander was unsure about. Like whether the dead went on. The ordinary dead. The ones that got hit by buses, fell down stairs or passed away with a weak bladder and a face full of wrinkles. Ex-vengeance demons that died in a battle with a god; that was ordinary, right?
‘Are you still here?’ he asked her. ‘Do you ...watch? I mean that in a completely non-pervy, non-voyeury, guardian angel sort of way. Although if you do watch, that’s cool. I’m sure Spike wouldn’t mind.’
That was the wrong thing to say. Xander swore at himself and got up. He ran his hands though his hair and glanced up at the purple haze drifting towards them.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, turning back to the grave. ‘About Spike. It’s not that I moved on. No, I don’t mean that. What I mean is that I didn’t stop loving you, but I love Spike, too. I sound greedy, right? Maybe I am. But you should have guessed that by the amount of waffles on my breakfast plate. You always made me extra. Sheesh, I sound like a Harlequin novel freak. Uh, not that I read those. Not nearly explicit enough for my tastes.’
Xander looked up at the purple wave again. Was it moving faster? Five minutes, maybe ten, and it would surely arrive above the cemetery gate.
‘Anyway, look, there’s some serious mojo heading this way and it’s gonna reach us any minute. I put in a call to Wills and she’s liaising with the New York Coven. Hopefully they’ll do their witchy thing and this whole conversation will be moot. Well, not all of it.’
He knelt down again and reached for the headstone. He smoothed his finger over the ‘A’ of her name.
‘If it reaches us, that purple stuff up there, you’ll wake up. It’s gonna hurt, and ... I love you too much for that to happen.’
He glanced at his sword.
‘If I could have one wish, it would be to not have to do this. I know it’s not a vengeancey thing, but if you somehow grant me this one thing, I think we’d both benefit. Oh, and if wishes are going I’ll also have world peace. And some new sneakers. What do you say?’
Despite what people said about vampires being unholy creatures of the night, fearless wraiths who could stare down the devil himself with a toothy grin, they did actually have some fears. The morgue was a creepy place to be at the best of times, and with the purple haze only minutes away, there were about to be twenty or more corpses springing to life.
Angel was used to corpses, especially walking ones. He was used to the undead leaping out of bushes, from behind tombstones and fences, growling, screaming, threatening, splashing mud up his brand new pants. Vamps were old news.
He’d been to hell and back, literally. He’d known ultimate pain and misery and been shown his worst fears and choked on them.
But zombies? Bring back the hot pokers and flaming walls.
Angel shuddered and waited. He was standing in the main storage area. It was late so the only staff was the security guard who was catching up on some sleep at his desk in the corridor outside. Only a few lights were on and Angel flicked a few switches and lit up the rest of the room.
There were two bodies laid out on the tables, covered head to ankle in green sheets. He watched them carefully, looking for any sign. His hand clenched tight around the fabric-covered hilt of his sword.
He knew where Spike was ultimately heading and he wondered why he hadn’t argued with him about it. Maybe because he didn’t want to be the one to do it. Maybe it was easier to cut off a stranger’s head.
Maybe he wanted to keep his nightmares just as they were.
‘Excuse me, what are you doing here?’
Angel glanced back at the voice. Long white coat, blonde hair up in an immaculate bun, shoes black and shiny.
The doctor looked at the sword hanging at Angel’s side. ‘Oh my god. Who are you?’
Something rattled. Metallic. Angel looked back at the tables and the two bodies lying side by side. Under the sheets, the bodies started to convulse.
‘I’m not the one you need to worry about.’
Gunn paced The Magic Box. Research, books, magic, chicken feet and frogs’ eyes; they weren’t his thing. He was a man of action. The purple haze had already passed them and by now it would be directly over the nearest cemetery.
‘I’m gonna take off, guys. I’m no good with all this stuff.’
‘No, absolutely not!’ Wesley said, covering the mouthpiece of his phone with his left hand.
‘Says who, my keeper?’
‘Says the person trying to put together a spell that needs three focal participants.’
Gunn threw his arms up. ‘I don’t know anything about magic!’
Fred peered at him around an enormous pile of old books, all of them leather bound and three to five inches thick.
‘This isn’t me. I need to be out there. That cemetery -- you know, the one down the end of this damn street -- is about to be overrun. Dawn needs my help.’
‘Don’t worry,’ Fred said. ‘You won’t need to know anything. Once the reversal spell is ready to go you’ll just have to sit here and think ... backwards thoughts.’ She suddenly stood. ‘Oh, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded!’
Gunn held up a hand to stop her. ‘It’s fine, don’t worry. Are you telling me anyone can do this? You just need a third?’
Fred and Wesley looked at each and Wesley shrugged. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Wait, where are you going?!’
Gunn was already halfway to the door. ‘Just hold on.’
There was no way he was going to sit on his butt waiting for a spell that may or may not even work. He wasn’t that guy. He wasn’t that patient. He was the guy with the really sharp sword and the balls to take on a cemetery full of flesh-eaters.
A goth girl with bright red eye-liner, army boots and a black, tasselled handbag turned around and gave him a suspicious look.
Gunn ran up to her. ‘How’d you like to earn twenty bucks?’
She lifted an eyebrow that was all pencil and no hair. ‘You gotta be kidding.’
‘No, no, not like that.’ He pointed back at The Magic Box. ‘They’re doing some hippie ritual thing. They need a third but I got places I gotta be.’
‘What sort of ritual?’
Gun shrugged dramatically, his arms lifting high and his hands slapping back down against his thighs. ‘I don’t know, some spell thingy. Lot of incense, chanting. I’d do it myself but the herbs have already given me a headache.’
‘I’ll do it,’ the girl said, and held out her hand for the money.
Just as he thought.
Gunn waited to make sure she entered the shop. The purple haze was drifting past them now and was just about to cover the cemetery. He ran.
Vampires were stupid, Spike decided, and then he remembered he was talking about himself. That gave him a start and his steady pace across the grassy ground faltered. It wasn’t often he forgot who he was. Never, in fact. He was well aware he wasn’t human, but most of the time he was just him, just Spike.
He looked up at the sky. He could see magic rippling in the distance like a slow wave. It was pretty, even beautiful, but the pain it was about to inflict would be anything but.
Spike tried to clear his mind of anything like that. He’d had centuries practice at being cold-hearted so it should be easy enough. Easy not to think about the thousands of people who would be in agony, all that screaming that had already begun just a mile away. Dawn. She was on her own and by now she would be listening to the pounding of fists and splintering wood, the awful muffled cries.
Spike resisted running to her. Somebody had to be here. Somebody had to kill the Slayer when she crawled out of her grave.
Xander put his elbow on his knee and rested his chin in his hand.
‘Of course, Spike is crazy. Take tonight: he’s got this bright idea about getting the local blood-suckers to help us out. He’s told them all that if the dearly departed un-depart, they’ll eat all the residents and there’ll be nothing left for anyone else.’ Xander laughed quietly to himself. ‘You believe that? I wonder if they went for it. I guess it does make sense, but it’s not ideal. I really don’t want to think about the level of disrespect we’ve got going on here, but surely the dead killing the dead is better than the dead killing the living. So they’re kind of on our side. Wow, only on a Hellmouth, huh?’
Xander glanced up at the purple haze. It was directly above him. ‘Please hurry up, Wills.’
The doctor was sprawled across the floor in a dead faint, her bun now dishevelled and one patent leather shoe detached from her foot. It was for the best, Angel thought as he decapitated the second walking corpse. She didn’t need to see him execute any more people.
The two bodies now lay inert on the morgue floor. They were the only two freshly dead, which was a miracle in a town like Sunnydale where it was easier to get your bone marrow sucked out by a gilled demon that it was to die of a heart attack, although admittedly the two sometimes went together.
Angel turned at the terrible scream, bared his teeth and raised his sword and— ‘Cordelia?’
She lowered her iron mace and delicately brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes. ‘Oh, you’re okay. I wasn’t worried.’
Angel gestured awkwardly at the decapitated people. ‘Only two.’
‘And change,’ Cordielia said as something thumped behind them. ‘Looks like the refrigerated ones want out.’
Angel checked the drawers, banged his fist against the metal. ‘Secure,’ he said, and then a drawer at the far end exploded outwards.
‘You were saying, genius?’
‘This can’t be right. These doors are new, reinforced. They’d hold a vampire if they had to.’
Another door exploded open and a marbled blue and white hand gripped the outside and pulled. Angel reached for his phone.
‘I think you’ll find it easier to lop heads off with something sharp and pointy, like, I don’t know, A SWORD!’
‘Get that doctor out of here!’ Angel snapped. He held the phone against his ear. ‘They’re even stronger. Much, much stronger.’
Dawn was well aware of just how strong they were. It took only a few minutes for them to start clawing their way out of the dirt. It was easy at first. Wait for the head to pop up, don’t look in their eyes, swing the sword, listen to the silence.
But it got harder. They came up faster. One arm out, two, then heave and they slithered out like emancipated snakes. Too many.
Gunn joined her and together they hacked through the corpses. Dawn tried not to cry. She couldn’t think of them as people. She had to think of the people outside the cemetery, the families just yards from the front gates. She was their defender.
She brought her sword down and cut through dead flesh and bone. The body dropped to her feet and Dawn gasped as a realisation hit her. She was prepared to die for those people. The thought terrified her. And it strengthened her. She raised her sword again and decided if the day she died was today, she was going to take as many down with her as she could.
Gunn stayed out of her way.
Screaming, groaning, crying.
Spike blocked out the sounds as much as he could. He had to stay here. The magic was about to hit them and he couldn’t allow an undead Slayer to rise. She was too powerful. She could kill thousands before they could stop her. Someone had to kill her before she could drag herself from her grave. Someone had to—
In the distance a man screamed and screamed until it turned into a weak gurgle.
Someone had to stay.
Spike’s cell phone rang and he reached into his pocket. ‘Give me good news, Angel.’
The noise was terrible, but Xander was staying away. The graves nearest the gates had already started to shift and it wasn’t long before arms and heads started to poke through.
Xander was on his feet, watching from a distance. The bodies no sooner cleared their graves than they were snatched up and their necks twisted and broken. The vampire closest to Xander looked up at him and snarled.
Nice little vampy, Xander said in his imaginary voice. Please don’t hurt William the Bloody’s boyfriend. Smell the claim, buddy.
The vampire grinned nastily and jerked around at the sound of a hand breaking through earth. He pounced and Xander was reminded of his Aunt Millie’s cat, a vicious, mangy thing that pounced on anything: broccoli, flies, fingers and thumbs and GI Joes. Lily pads. That had been funny.
There was laughing in the distance, but not at Xander’s memories. More vamps, a couple of demons. They were having the time of their unlives.
‘It’s like whack-a-mole!’ one of them called.
They were getting closer and more and more graves became infected. Xander stood strong. He wasn’t moving. No way. Anya was his and he would help her. He would put her out of her misery. He would save her this time, not like he’d failed to do before.
If he wasn’t such an idiot, such a screw up, she’d be alive now. She’d be walking around, talking, making people uncomfortable with her weird perspective and straight talking.
Above him, the purple haze writhed and hissed and with a flash it suddenly enveloped the whole night sky. Xander sank to his knees and felt the grave beneath him tremble.
Beta'd by kitty_poker1. Thanks also to literati and amejisuto for their help and encouragement.