Rating: light R
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Timeline: Late Winter 2005, Post NFA
Characters: Spike/Buffy, past Buffy/Immortal, Spike/Angel friendship, Illyria... present and accounted for.
Summary: Old enemies, complex hatreds, and love that's easier than it used to seem.
A/N: As springtime hits and flowers bloom, here's a midwinter tale in honor of the Winter That Wasn't, set a Russia That Never Was.
The rag-picker hobbled down the empty, windblown street. She bent down to inspect a dark shadow in a doorway, but was thrown off balance by the opening of the door to the boarded up building. The old woman peered up at the hurried newcomer, who was bundled up so securely that only her steely blue eyes were visible.
"Where is the bank in this vile town?" the woman demanded. Her Russian lacked the local lilt, and the tone of her voice was unfriendly.
The old woman looked her up and down and responded with a raised arm, directing her down the street.
The tall woman left without a word of thanks, but glanced back to see a whirlwind of street debris, dirt, and snow surround the ragpicker as she trudged away. Her eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"Baba Yaga," Illyria muttered.
"Dawn!" Buffy yelled as she entered the living room, shedding her wool coat. "I told you it was my turn to go shopping. You're returning all this crap tomorrow." She kicked a bag on the ground and winced as it failed to give way. "What are you buying with all my money, anyway? Rocks?"
"Maybe." Dawn emerged from the bathroom, fastening an earring to her ear. "Stuff I need. Whatever. Number one, I got a check for helping the Council like, 2 weeks ago and I didn't spend any of it. Number two, don't you have a fabulously wealthy boyfriend that buys you whatever you want?"
Buffy flopped down on the sofa. "Thanks for paying attention, but I haven't even seen the guy for at least a month. Life is too short to wait around for someone who won't even call me when he's on business trips. When he comes back from wherever he is, I think I'll tell him we're done."
"Whoa. That's a change. You guys were total lovebirds the last time I saw you together. Is it just that he didn't call?"
Buffy shrugged. "Eh, just not that into him anymore, I guess. It's weird, but I just can't exactly remember why I liked him. Guess maybe even super-perfect, immortal men get boring after a few months."
"Well, I gotta run. You coming out dancing with us later? Single girls like us have to stay in the spotlight."
Buffy sighed. "Nah. Maybe this weekend." She sighed as Dawn left the room.
Dawn reappeared in the doorway. "Uh, he was about to knock as I opened the door. I'll leave you guys alone." She slipped out uncomfortably as Buffy faced her boyfriend for the first time in a month.
Buffy was overwhelmed. He filled the room, flooding her senses with his presence. She flew into his arms, her words from earlier completely forgotten.
He extricated himself from her and drew back. "My darling, we must leave immediately. My helicopter is almost ready. Do you like the snow?"
"As long as you're there."
"Bloody idiot," Spike muttered, shooting Angel a dirty look. "One more night trapped in here with you instead of out there where I belong, and I promise I'll rearrange parts of your anatomy that-"
"Why do you always exaggerate? It's very annoying." Angel looked up from the desk where he was drawing.
"Annoying? Ha! You're one to talk. "
"What? How could I possibly be the annoying one, here?" Angel's voice rose.
Spike snorted in exasperation and flung himself face down on the room's single, narrow bed. After a moment he rolled over and the words started to fly.
"Let's get out of here, you said. Let's head somewhere dark for the winter so we can stay out and relax, you said. Hey, Wolfram and Hart never had an office in Russia, you said. There's this really great little city I know, it'll be great. Bollocks. Bollocks."
"How was I supposed to know? Besides, I wasn't the one who pissed them off. "
Spike and Angel broke off their arguing as Illyria entered the tiny apartment.
"Where have you been?" Angel hadn't seen her for two days.
"Where I go is not of concern to you. Your feeble enemies are an annoyance to me and prevent you from being of use. We will talk soon." Illyria turned away from them and hunched over intently in the corner, staring at the wall. After a few moments, she left again.
"Think you've been told off, old son," Spike said, earning a smack on the head as Angel turned back to his book.
Illyria watched the helicopter descend, sending up eddies of fresh snow across the rooftops. From her perch, she could see the pilot and two passengers inside. Yes, these were the ones she was waiting for. She could see the tendrils of power mixed in with the swirls of wind from the helicopter blades. When the door opened, she was momentarily blown back by the rush of power and could barely see the tall man and small young woman at the source. As her vision readjusted, it was obvious how much of the man's control was focused on the woman at his side. The tendrils wrapped around her, binding every limb as well as her torso. Illyria smiled at the sight and slipped away, for the time being.
Buffy was snowblind for a moment as the tinted helicopter door opened. It was colder than anything she'd ever felt in her life. She snuggled further into her white fur coat and gloves, presented to her by Sergei on the ride. The rooftops around her looked like they hadn't seen a lot of repair. Looking further out across the city, she saw smokestacks and concrete, with dense forests beyond to the horizon. This didn't exactly look like much of a vacation destination. Why would anyone take a vacation in Northern Russia in the winter, anyway?
Later, Buffy wandered around the lobby of the old hotel. The building had obviously seen better days, but some elegance remained in the marble floors and giant chandelier. Sergei was being very mysterious, and she wasn't sure she liked it. It wasn't really clear why she was along on this trip, since she'd only spent a few hours in his company since their arrival.
Darkness was beginning to fall over the city, making it feel like late evening despite the early hour. How far north was this place? The days had been getting longer in Rome for like a month. Yeah, science class was a while ago.
She settled on a sofa in the corner with a view of the street. She spent a few minutes watching the old cars and trucks drive by outside. As the darkness grew deeper, she noticed many of the bundled up passerby checking their watches for the time. The pattern lulled her to a near sleep and she jumped when the woman sitting on the chair nearby spoke up.
"'Scuze me. Where'd you meet your boyfriend? He looks awful familiar." She spoke with a Texas twang.
Buffy was taken aback by the woman's directness. "Uh, hi. Are you visiting from the U.S.? We met in Rome."
"Gosh, I'm sorry. I'm Fred, and I'm from L.A., and before that, Texas."
"Hi, I'm Buffy." She noticed a flicker in the woman's brown eyes. This was a weird encounter for sure.
"So, your boyfriend. There's something a little off about him, I just thought you should know. Here, let me show you." Fred muttered some words and waved her hand. Suddenly Buffy could see pale gray wisps wrapping around her wrists and waist, stretching out through the door onto the street.
"What -" She broke off as the bands darkened and appeared to tighten. She saw Sergei come through the revolving door, but he was covered in a cloud of black tendrils. The tendrils reached out for her, wrapping around her wrists on top of the existing lighter wisps. She shook her head in confusion.
"Darling, is something wrong?" Sergei reached towards her, but she recoiled.
"What? No, no." Suddenly, she had trouble remembering why she was so upset. At last, she'd get a chance to spend some time with her boyfriend.
"I'll be right here. Y'all come back after dinner, ok?" Fred called out as they finally left for their romantic dinner.
After dinner, Sergei dropped her back off at the hotel and left again. At first, Buffy sat happily in their suite, but a few hours later she remembered the strange woman in the lobby. Pulling on practical clothes, she crept down to see if she really was still there.
The woman was still in the same spot on the sofa, staring straight ahead.
"Uh, excuse me? I was wondering, about what you said earlier. Can you show me again? Can you make it so I don't have all that stuff wrapped around me? I - I think maybe my boyfriend did something to me."
When Fred snapped her fingers, the room exploded. Suddenly Buffy could smell hundreds, thousands of new scents. Every color in the room seemed richer. She felt strength course through her.
"Ok, so what was that?" she demanded of Fred.
Fred turned to her with a new look in her eyes. All the friendliness she had displayed earlier was completely gone now. "You are shielded from the power, as you wished. But you have power of your own.
You say you are called Buffy. Does the word Slayer mean anything to you?"
"I practically invented it. How do you know?" She furrowed her brow in confusion.
"I am Ilyria, God-King. I need your help. I believe you know my companions. I will take you to them and tell you my plans."
This Fred, Illyria, whatever, didn't seem like the most stable sort, but Buffy was still reeling from the removal of the entangled power. Going back to her room and waiting for Sergei to return had amazingly little appeal. She followed obediently.
When Buffy stepped into the small windowless room, she stopped dead. Angel and Spike were seated at a battered table playing a game of poker. She would have been less surprised to find a dog dealing a hand to her own litter of tiny. fanged puppies.
Angel and Spike looked no less surprised. The three of them stood there gazing at each other stupidly, mouths dropped wide open, until they were started by the clapping of Illyria's hands.
"My minions, pay attention. I have assembled you for a very important task."
A thunderous noise cracked through the air. Buffy found herself holding her hands over her ears almost involuntarily.
"What the hell is that?" Angel yelled.
When the sound finally stopped, Illyria smiled. "It has begun."