Title: Fire in the Soul (6a/9)
Word count: 2180
Pairing: Spike/Buffy, with Dru and OCs.
A/N: Thanks for the quickie beta by MiAmor. NOT comics compliant.
Summary: A few years after Sunnydale’s spectacular demise, Buffy and her crew are getting on with their lives in San Francisco. A not entirely unwelcome blast from her past (Spike! It's Spike!) blows into town, but he’s brought more than the generally allowable amount of baggage with him.
Chapter 1 on LJ / Chapter 1 on DW — In which a "chance" encounter leads to strong language and less-than-adult behavior. Also: animal magnetism.
Chapter 2a on LJ / Chapter 2a on DW — In which Dawn makes her feelings known and Buffy tries not to.
Chapter 2bc on LJ / Chapter 2bc on DW— In which Buffy gets on with her Sunday, which naturally ends up being weird.
Chapter 3 on LJ / Chapter 3 on DW — In which Buffy checks in with Giles and has another bizarre vampire meet up.
Chapter 4 on LJ / Chapter 4 on DW — In which Buffy possibly overthinks things before she and Spike try that new-fangled “communication” thing.
Chapter 5 on LJ / Chapter 5 on DW — In which Spike and Buffy lick their respective wounds after a communication breakdown.
6a — Intelligence, in which our heroes get closer to the source of the big, brewin' evil, if not each other.
“But Giles, it makes no sense. The official cause of death was listed as hypothermia. It doesn’t freeze in San Francisco. Like, ever.” Buffy flipped through the file in front of her, her index finger stabbing the offending document. “The coroner’s report says that the Muni driver’s lungs froze, causing suffocation and the resulting accident. Whatever it is, it’s obviously supernatural in origin.”
Buffy, Sylvia, and Angela nodded at each other across the conference table.
“Psychiatric emergencies are still going up,” added Sylvia.
“I just know it’s all connected with our looming badness,” finished Buffy.
“I’m sure you’re right,” said Giles through the speaker on the table. “Earthquakes, climate changes, unusual animal behavior, and mass lunacy are … well, our research indicates that it’s most likely something, ah, big.” Buffy pursed her lips. “Perhaps even as big as a Hell God,” he added.
“Oh, is that all?” said Buffy, flopping back in her chair. “I wonder where my hammer is?”
Angela and Sylvia looked worried.
“We’re also looking into a possible Ascension,” said Giles, as if that made anything better.
“Giles, we’ve been through all that before. This feels new. It’s different from the fights we fought before. Please find something definite for me.
“We’re trying, dear girl. I’m most interested to hear what your conference this afternoon will discover. Report anything new, at any hour.”
While Sylvia handled the end of the conference call, Buffy slumped at the table, holding her chin in her hands.
“Is this what an apocalypse feels like?” asked Angela. Buffy started. She hadn’t noticed the other woman moving to sit beside her. She considered the question.
“Pretty much. Lots of impending doom and waiting around to hear ‘I don’t know’.” She brightened. “But then we kick its ass. It’s a thing. My guess is the whole process wouldn’t work without the flailing and panicking part. I’m just worried that we don’t know what we’re dealing with yet. That usually means we’ve got a ways to go.”
“Oh,” said Angela. “Okay. It’s my first one, so I kind of thought it’d be more, you know, exciting.”
“There’ll be excitement aplenty. Probably too much. No need to rush it.” But Buffy felt it, too. That restlessness, the desire to be doing, not headed to yet another meeting.
Buffy checked the address again. The enormous house before her was obviously well maintained and seemed inviting. Neither of those things were what she’d been expecting from a Demon/Wiccan meeting place. Especially one so close to Haight Street. A musty bar, a dank cave, or a moonlit grove were more in line with what she’d imagined. Maybe witchcraft paid better than slaying. A lot of things paid better than slaying, but she was still boggled that she got paid for it at all. Bless the Council of Slayers and their new modern outlook. Even her trainees got a stipend nowadays. Of course, the Council of Slayers pretty much did what Buffy asked, even to the point of letting her stay in the field and not mummifying her in upper management at the home office. Still, her little apartment didn’t look like much in comparison with the fancy building with the pretty potted lemon trees flanking the shiny red door before her. She rang the bell. After a moment, the door opened to reveal a familiar face.
“Gordon! Hey! I didn’t know you’d be here.”
“Well, it’s my place, so they kinda had to let me come,” said Gordon, his jowly face wreathed with smiles.
“You live here?” asked Buffy.
“Yep. Since about 1930. The banker I got it from didn’t have as diversified a portfolio as he should have. But then, most humans take a ridiculously short term view on investment.”
Buffy didn't really have anything to say to that. Short term had always been in her job description, but things were supposed to be different now. The Council was even talking about Slayer pension plans.
Gordon led her past the foyer, through a pretty sunlit room containing a grand piano and a half dozen electric guitars, and into a large low-lit room littered with comfortable couches and overstuffed armchairs. An assortment of beverages stood on a sideboard and trays of appetizers were laid out on the various end tables. A spot-lit pool table took up the far end of the room, past which was an archway leading deeper into the house.
“Very clubby,” noted Buffy.
Gordon grinned. “Even demons like their comforts, after a while.”
“It's kinda quiet. Am I early?” she asked.
“I wanted to have a few minutes before the horde descended,” he said. He handed her a diet soda and indicated a chair, settling himself on the couch closest to it. She sat.
“Yeah, good. What am in for? My people said friendlies, but that's subject to interpretation, right?”
“Exactly. I thought, 'Hey, Slayers have enough surprises in their lives'. So here's the guest list: there'll be a contingent of witches — you'll probably know most of them — a few seers of various breeds, a few of the higher-brain function warrior classes. They've all been briefed to expect you. They're pretty excited, actually.”
“Aw, that's sweet. Why would these guys want to throw in with us? I mean, when I come up against fighters, they're usually trying to cause an apocalypse, not stop one.”
“Well, you know, there's plenty of precedent for these kind of alliances. A couple of the lesser of evils will team up to defend against a greater one. Maybe they don't want to lose territory, maybe they prefer the devil they know. Lots of reasons, really. It's not like this is new territory for the Council, from what I hear.” Gordon looked at her a little too knowingly.
Buffy suspected he was referring to something specific, but decided not to push it.
“Okay. I'm here to get whatever intel there is and make nice, if I can. Just give me the signal if I'm making some kind of cultural oopsie, I guess.”
“What's the signal?” asked Gordon.
“I dunno. Whistle 'If You're Going to San Francisco'?”
“You got it, Slayer.”
The doorbell chimed. Buffy sipped her soda while Gordon went to answer the door.
“Punctual as always,” Gordon's voice carried into the room. Buffy caught a murmur of feminine voices, and then the clatter of familiar footwear. A tiny girl wearing purple cowboy boots galloped into the room and headed straight for the sideboard. She got on tiptoes and reached out to grasp a can of soda.
“Hi Edie,” said Buffy. “It's nice to see you again.”
The little girl turned around. “Hi Buffy,” she said. She came over and thrust the can out with both hands. “Is this root beer? Aunt Ellie said I could have one.”
“Yep.” Buffy nodded with a smile.
“And only one,” said Eleanor, coming into the room. “Oh, hello Buffy! Is Edie bothering you?”
Edie was hunkered down cross-legged on the floor at Buffy's feet, concentrating on opening the soda can all by herself.
“Of course not. She's totally got it covered,” said Buffy. “How are you?”
“I'd like to say calmer, but you know, things are starting to get weird.”
“Yeah,” agreed Buffy.
Two other women came in, chatting with Gordon. Celia, Angela's aunt, called out, “Hola, chica!” and gave her a broad smile and a hug. She introduced Buffy to Ms. Johnson, whose white bun and deeply lined face were paired with clear, amused eyes.
“Charming,” she said, looking Buffy over. “I sense you've lived through interesting times, my dear. I hope you'll tell me all about it, once we've dealt with this nonsense”
“I'll bet you've had some interesting ones, yourself,” said Buffy. Because, well, the woman's laugh lines gave it away.
Ms. Johnson chuckled and patted Buffy's arm. “True enough. Youngsters don't always get that.”
Buffy shrugged. A few years ago, she probably wouldn't have, either. But dealing with a lot of people in times of crisis had finally made her realize that everybody had a story.
They watched Eleanor set up Edie with books, some bright toy ponies, and a blanket — with which to make a fort out of a side chair.
“Of course,” said Ms. Johnson, “there's youngsters and then there's youngsters.” She and Buffy smiled at each other.
Celia came and fussed over Ms. Johnson, making sure she was seated comfortably with a view of the entrance to the room. Ms. Johnson waved away attempts to supply her with refreshments, finally accepting a cup of tea, saying it was only because Gordon “knew what he was about.”
The bell chimed again and again. The room began to fill: an ethereal hooded figure with eyes of solid white, a couple of fierce women-warriors with ridged backs and gill-like formations along their cheeks, a shambling guy who would probably pass for a “bear” in the Castro but pinged Buffy's slaydar as something more, as well as some others.
The bell stopped chiming and Gordon went around making sure everybody got settled. The guy really was an ideal host, Buffy thought.
A hush fell over the room and Buffy felt a strong sense of “vamp!” at her back. She spun around to see Spike, with Dru on his arm, standing in the archway by the pool table, looking a bit like a royal couple. Gordon hurried over and kissed Drusilla's offered hand.
“Is that them?” asked Ms. Johnson in ringing tones.
Buffy realized with irritation that she wasn't the featured guest at this little confab. She glanced over at Eleanor, who was sidling closer to Edie's chair-fort, looking worried.
“For those of you who haven't yet had the pleasure, may I introduce my old friends, Drusilla the Seer and William the Bloody, Hero of the Hellmouth, and formerly Lord of Beverly Hills, now known as Spike,” said Gordon. “They come to bring aid in this time of confusion and peril.”
“It's the Cowardly Lion,” Edie told Eleanor in a loud, childlike whisper, peering out from under her blanket.
And the Scarecrow, thought Buffy. And, hey, a couple of days ago I was the hero of the Hellmouth.
Spike head swiveled toward the little girl. “Hey there, Mighty Mite. Didn't give you a fright t'other night, did I?”
Edie shook her head solemnly.
Spike cocked an eyebrow at Dru. “Didn't I tell you?” he said.
Drusilla shook her head at him with disappointment. Spike shrugged and sent a conspiratorial smile toward Edie before turning to address the room.
“Think we're all in agreement that there's something comin', and it's not the bloody circus,” he said. “Anybody think different?”
There were murmurings of agreement. He took a deep sniff and gestured toward his companion.
“Dru here has been canvassing the locals for some idea of what is behind this new nasty. She's conferred with the beasts of the water, the earth, and the air. They all agree that it's not something new. More like, something old as very old balls. An Old One.”
A collective gasp went through the room. Buffy felt her stomach drop. He nodded in her direction.
“Now, me and the Slayer here have dealt with Old Ones before. Can be a bit of a challenge, I'll grant you that. Fallout from this one's first stirrings make it seem a bit bigger and badder than we've yet seen. Don't know what it wants, though destruction is a safe bet. Don't know its weaknesses, though everything has 'em.”
He tucked his thumbs in his waistband and rocked back on his heels, clearly relishing the idea of taking advantage of those weaknesses.
Buffy felt he'd had the floor long enough. Had to give him points for enthusiasm, though. She stood.
“Okay, that's a good place to start,” she said. “Primordial evil isn't really my first choice, but we'll deal. Do we know where it's likely to show up next?”
Dru leaned over to whisper in Spike's ear.
“Dru thinks it's in the water, but it won't stay there long.”
The white-eyed creature spoke. Buffy remembered its name was something like “Dave”.
“It is still bound beneath the waves, I have seen it thrashing to free itself.” It paused. “Well, not 'seen' in the literal sense, of course. More of a vague impression, really.”
“Okay, so we've got a little time before it makes it onto land, then?”
Dru looked into the middle distance and Dave's brow wrinkled in concentration. They nodded, finally. “Perhaps another day. No more,” said Dave.
“We'll have our people concentrate on the waterfront tonight,” said Buffy. “Too bad we're surrounded on three sides by water. That's like, what, 20 miles of shoreline?”
Dru's fingers fluttered around her temples. “Iron bars and water all around. No escape.”
Buffy, Eleanor, and Gordon spoke in unison.
To be continued...