Era/season/setting: Set between S4 and S5, canon divergent AU
Rating: Eventually NC17, but only R for language and violence for what gets posted here
Summary: When a carnival comes to town, Spike gets wind of a plot that doesn’t sound good for Sunnydale…or the Slayer.
Author's Note: Thank goodness for free-for-all days! I meant to get this up last night, but time is not my friend right now.
DISCLAIMER: Not mine, which is a shame because usually we're nicer to them than Joss was. The chapter title is from “A Real Nice Clambake,” from the musical, “Carousel.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: After finding Buffy to tell her about the fortune teller, Spike got roped into helping her track the seer down and ran into Oleksiy at the carousel just as the rainstorm finally began…
Buffy groaned. Every inch of her exposed skin felt like she’d fallen asleep on the beach without any sunscreen in the middle of a sunny July afternoon. And what was she doing on the ground? When she attempted to get up, however, her muscles protested, stiff and screaming. The best she could manage was a shift sideways that rolled her onto her back.
Pain lanced through her as prickly grass scraped along her spine. She hissed through her teeth. What had happened? The last thing she remembered was Lurch telling her to run after going all Village of the Damned. But she hadn’t.
No, she distinctly remembered the lightning that came immediately afterward, so close she would’ve sworn it was right on top of her. Was that it? Had she been struck by lightning? It would explain a lot, not to mention be completely in line with her kind of luck.
Not the voice of a doctor or her mother, but weirdly enough, still sounded anxious. It was as much a struggle to open her eyes as it had been to get up, but eventually, her lids fluttered wide enough to see a blurry Spike crouching at her side.
He looked as he always did, though his normally shellacked hair was tousled into waves and a nasty gash scored his strong jaw. The sky beyond him was wrong, though, an ebony swathe devoid of clouds.
“How long was I out?” The words came as a croak, but she was more worried about having stayed unconscious long enough for the storm to completely clear. “Is everybody else all right?”
Abruptly, Spike rose and strode away, but Buffy couldn’t turn her head to see where he went. With an exhausted sigh, she closed her eyes again, focusing on gathering the strength to move past the pain.
One. Two. In. Out.
Giles’s breathing exercises helped. She liked to tease him for being all New Age-y with some of his more esoteric training methods, but they really did work when she bothered to apply them.
Mental note: Thank Giles.
A rustle of leather announced Spike’s return. “Here.”
Though she stiffened when a cool hand slipped beneath her neck, the relief it brought against her singed skin was almost instantaneous. Another sigh escaped her. Then, she felt the hard rim of a water bottle against her lower lip.
“Can’t say that it tastes very good, but it should help you feel better,” Spike said.
She would’ve told him he’d ruined his taste buds on blood and cigarettes, but then the liquid hit her tongue, and she almost gagged on the hot sourness.
“I know,” Spike said. “But I swear, it was sealed. Even took a swig myself first, to make sure the seer hadn’t magicked it.”
Wait. Spike was being nice to her? Maybe she was actually in a coma, and her subconscious was creating this bizarro world to get her to wake up.
She tried pushing the bottle away, but only succeeded in feeling it splash against her breastbone.
Spike chuckled. “Well, if you want to spring break it, can’t say I object.”
Nope. He was his usual pig self.
When he held the bottle to her mouth again, she ignored the taste to swallow down enough to wet her throat. It was refreshing, like he’d said it would be, but she refused any more, too afraid of what might be wrong with it, what might be wrong with her. Opening her eyes was easier this time, though truth be told, she missed the coolness of Spike’s touch when he withdrew and sat back.
Everything was sharper now, the world in clearer focus. The black sky was still odd. It took a moment for her to figure out why.
“Where are the stars?”
Spike glanced up. “Can’t say. Though it’d be a neat trick to sussing out where we are if we could find ‘em.”
“What do you…” But the rest of it died on her tongue as she finally found the power to sit up and look around.
She was on the ground next to the carousel, right where she’d been when Spike had spotted the fortune teller’s sidekick. The neon lights were all dimmed, though, like someone had turned the brightness down on the world. There was no music, no electrical humming from the rides, no bells and whistles from the games.
Worst of all, there were no people. Only her and Spike.
Her gaze stuck on a lump on the ground, ten feet away. The body faced the other way, but the breadth of the powerful back was too much like the sidekick’s to ignore.
Spike followed her attention. “Oh, yeah, he’s here, too.”
“Is he dead?”
“No, just out cold.”
“We need to wake him up and get some answers.”
Standing didn’t work right, though. Her head swam as soon as she was vertical. She would’ve fallen on her ass if Spike didn’t grab onto her elbow and steady her.
“Give it a few more minutes before you thump him conscious again,” Spike said. “Whatever mojo got us here will have worn off.”
Though she wanted to shake him off, Buffy knew she needed his strength to stay on her feet. “Looks like we know what the fortune teller’s plans were,” she said.
The look on Spike’s face said otherwise.
“What?” she demanded. “How can this not be it? Clearly, she wanted to get me out of the way so I couldn’t stop whatever it is she wants to do to Sunnydale.” She waggled her fingers at the sidekick. “She even left a bodyguard, though she probably should’ve thought that part out a little more if she wanted him to actually be effective.”
“Only problem with your little theory is that we surprised him,” Spike replied. “He tried shooing us away, remember?”
“Maybe he felt guilty.”
“He didn’t even want you to know in the first place.”
Spike’s assertion hinted at more of this mystery conversation he’d had with the fortune teller, chitchat she was going to have to get out of him in full at some point. “Then what do you think is going on, Einstein?”
His gaze slid upward, beyond her shoulder. “Something to do with that.”
She got dizzy turning around to see what he was talking about, but her stomach clenched when she was able to focus again. The carousel was ornate, even by carnival standards, and instead of the traditional horses, it sported fantasy creatures to ride – dragons and unicorns and leviathans, oh my! Thick vines curved up the poles and into the domed cover, and the platform was painted like a forest bed, ripe with undergrowth. What Spike stared at was embedded along the upper edge of the wall hiding the central pole, a row of mirrors framed by more of the vines.
Three of them were shattered. A fourth was cracked, but the glass was still intact.
“She sent me through the looking-glass?” Buffy said.
“Us,” he corrected. “But you might want a closer look.”
She had to move gingerly to stay upright, but by the time Buffy reached the central ring, she was starting to feel less sizzly and more slayer-y. The mirrors were too high for her to peer into from the platform, so she climbed on top of a griffin to get a better vantage.
The reflection she expected wasn’t there. It was the carnival in full swing, with all the people who’d been heading for the parking lot getting pelted by the driving rain. Detail was spare, because the angle was the same on the carnival as it was here. But she saw enough to realize it was Sunnydale on the other side of the mirror.
“No more messing around. Lurch wakes up now.”
Spike hung back as she marched over to the recumbent body. The guy was huge, and where were his shoes? Tattoos so did not count as footwear. The rest of his clothing was vintage gypsy, without any of the flair she’d seen on the other carnies. One sleeve of his brown tunic was missing, and scorch marks pocked the neckline. She hadn’t been the only one affected by the magic. It was probably sheer luck Spike hadn’t gone up in flames entirely.
After rolling him onto his back, she gave him a light slap on the cheek. No effect. She tried again, a little harder. Still nothing.
“Maybe he needs the Sleeping Beauty treatment,” Spike said.
“Depends. You offering?”
Buffy ignored the innuendo. Spotting the water Spike had given her, she scooped it up and unscrewed the lid. Very little was gone, only what she’d consumed. Spike really had found a fresh bottle just for her.
When she got ready to pour it over the flunkie’s head, Spike snorted. “That only works in the movies, Slayer. You’re better off hittin’ him again.”
“Says the guy who wanted me to kiss him awake,” she muttered.
She was careful to keep from drowning him, but even after the bottle was emptied, the flunkie didn’t budge. A quick check of his pulse confirmed he was still alive. It was slow and steady, too. Like he was simply asleep.
Frustrated, Buffy leaned against the rail used for the carousel’s line. “Could he be in some kind of trance from whatever woo-hoo he did?”
Spike shrugged. “Just as likely it’s takin’ longer to work out of his system ‘cause he’s the size of a lorry, too.”
Though she didn’t want to hear it, Buffy knew Spike had a point. There could be a million explanations for why he wasn’t waking up, but all the theories in the world wouldn’t give her answers on how to reverse the spell. She needed the sidekick for that, and that was going on the expectation that he actually knew. He wasn’t the boss. According to Spike, the fortune teller had done all the bragging. Rip Van Winkle might be as stuck here as they were.
On a whim, she crouched next to the flunkie again. His pants didn’t have pockets, but his clothes were baggy enough to hide a weapon. She patted him down from waist to shoulder, then did the same with his calves in case something was sheathed under the fabric. Everything felt normal.
“Don’t know what you expect to find,” Spike said. “A bloke like that doesn’t need anything but his hands. It was an absolute doddle for him to throw me out of the seer’s cottage.”
“What exactly happened with the fortune teller?”
“Told you. Talked. Told to thank you. Thrown out.”
“Because I wasn’t leavin’ fast enough, apparently.”
“But she expected you to tell me something was going on.”
Spike shoved his hands deep into his pockets. “I’m not the mind reader, now am I?”
But the twitching muscle in his jaw said there was more to it than that. A lot more. “She had to have a reason,” Buffy pressed. “Did you say something to her about me?”
“Of course not!”
“So she brought me up first.”
His slight hesitation gave him away. “What does it matter? You should be thinkin’ on how to get us back to the Hellmouth.”
With a frustrated growl, Spike whirled away. “Fine. It was him, all right?” He jerked his thumb at the flunkie. “He’s the real seer. Said all this rubbish he had no business knowing. Tried tellin’ him he was off his nut, but then that Madame pulled her Angel nonsense, and that was that. Happy?”
No, but she was starting to get a clearer picture. “If he’s the real fortune teller, why was she the one telling you to talk to me?”
“Because she’s still the one pullin’ all the strings. Trust me. She’s your big bad. I know evil when I see it.”
And yet, the flunkie had all the power. “Is she human?”
“That, I don’t rightly know. He is, though. Got the headache to prove it.”
The more she learned, the more curious she became. The flunkie was physically strong, but magical. He contributed to what had had happened, but he’d tried to warn both Spike and Buffy off. He was the true source of the power, but he wasn’t in charge.
What else was she missing?
She swept her gaze up and down his long body again. The only aspect that seemed odd was the tattooing that snaked up both of his legs. Shifting, she pushed the cuff up to expose more of the swirling ink. Most of it was black, with whorls of dark blue, thinner at his ankles and growing thicker the higher they climbed. A hint of curved gold appeared on the back of his leg, the one exception to the broader strokes.
Buffy froze as Spike knelt next to her and shoved the fabric up to better expose the gold. It was a wide circle with a nine-pointed star at its center and tiny symbols embedded in the outer spaces. “What is it?”
“Don’t know, but that Madame Margareta was wearing a shiny bauble that looked exactly like this.”
Buffy sighed. “I’m starting to think you were right in suggesting we bring Willow in. She might not be able to do anything magicky yet, but she’d have a better idea what these symbols might mean.”
Sitting back on his heels, Spike cocked his head and regarded her with amusement. “Say that again.”
“Willow would know what the symbols mean.”
“She can’t do magic yet.”
“No, before that.”
She rolled her eyes as his intent became clear. “Fine. You were right. Don’t get used to hearing me say it.”
“Don’t know about that. I’m just chock-full of handy tidbits.”
“Like that—” he pointed to the gold tattoo –“is an enneagram.”
“It’s got nine points.”
“And why’s that important?” When Spike faltered, she snorted. “That’s what I thought.”
“Clearly, it connects the pair of ‘em,” Spike argued. “One of ‘em’s gotta be a power source.”
Buffy agreed. She only wished she knew which was which. But when she said so out loud, Spike shook his head.
“Askin’ the wrong questions, pet.”
“What do you think the right ones are?”
He nodded toward the broken mirrors overhead. “It’s obvious that’s how we got into wherever this is. What I’m curious to know…was this place empty? Or did something get out?”
Margareta lounged on the low-slung couch, sipping at her frozen lemonade, as Marty sat at the security desk, flipping from screen to screen. “You’re being a baby,” she chided. “Relax. Have a drink.”
“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” he muttered. Scrubbing a hand over his bald head, he clicked his mouse to switch to yet another view of the empty carnival. “Do you have any idea how much revenue I’m losing with this damn storm you brought in? Every ride’s closed. The parking lot’s empty. There isn’t even anybody at the games and half of those are covered.”
“And I’m telling you for the last time, it’ll be completely worth it. Sunnydale is easy pickings right now.”
“The Slayer still lives here.”
“The Slayer’s the reason the demon population is low enough for us to get our fair share. You should be thanking her. I did.”
Marty whirled around, his eyes huge behind his thick glasses. “Are you insane? You’re insane. You have to be. You talked to her? Are you deliberately trying to give me a heart attack?”
Margareta laughed. “I can’t do anything a lifetime of funnel cake hasn’t managed to do already. Seriously, little brother, we’re going to be just fine.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I do, actually.” Setting aside her drink, she rose and nudged Marty’s chair out of her way to get to the mouse. “Look.”
All it took was a single click to find the right screen. Margareta straightened so Marty could get the full perspective.
Two figures strolled through the deserted parking lot. To a casual onlooker, they looked mostly human, but Margareta could see the differences. The slight glow from their pale skin. The crackle of electricity between lax fingertips that hung at their sides. If they turned toward the camera, she would be able to spot the flickers of lightning in their eyes. Not in the forms she’d planned for, but so much better in the long run.
Marty leaned forward to peer more closely at the image. “I thought there were supposed to be three.”
So did Margareta, but she couldn’t let Marty know that. It was the only aspect of her grand plan that left her unsettled, a deviation whose outcome she couldn’t predict. If only Oleksiy was here to tell her everything would be all right, but no, she knew she had to do without his skillset until the job was done.
It was up to her to stay positive in the interim.
“Two’s all we need,” she said. “Especially when one of them manifested as a vampire and the other…” She tapped the smaller figure on the screen with a long nail. “…is the Slayer.”
To be continued in Chapter Four: If He’s Good or If He’s Bad…