The good thing about guys, Xander thought, was that they didn’t want to talk all the time. They didn’t think they had to tell each other exactly what they were thinking, and they weren’t upset if another guy ignored them. Because that’s what guys did.
So when he passed Spike sitting at the kitchen table as he made his way to the refrigerator, Xander just grunted. Spike grunted back, not taking his attention from the messy, unidentifiable, yet not completely unappetizing pile of food in front of him. Yeah, sometimes it was good to be around guys, because Xander sure didn’t feel like talking.
Xander rummaged around in the refrigerator, pushing the Coke aside and wincing at the row of Coronas and Hefeweizens. God, Cordy probably thought he was as big a lush as his father. And okay, maybe he did drink a little too much sometimes, but he wasn’t that bad. But what was he supposed to say—Hey! Dead girlfriend ghosts are upsetting!
He came up with a biscuit left over from dinner the night before and sank his teeth into it. Nice. Maybe if they had some ham he could—
Dawn’s scream pieced the quiet of the late morning, and he dropped the biscuit.
A moment later a second voice joined hers—Andrew, his shriek ragged and broken. And then a third voice.
No, not a voice; it wasn’t human. And it wasn’t screaming—it was roaring.
Xander had the kitchen door open and was running to help before he even thought to get a weapon.
The first thing Xander saw was Andrew on the ground beneath the acacia tree. Then he saw Dawn, who was holding Andrew’s arm and trying to pull him away from the powerfully muscled blue-green demon in front of them, but Andrew was dead weight, his temple an ugly red.
Spike streaked past Xander at a dead run. In some remote part of his brain Spike wondered if it was normal—how fast he was moving. Humans didn’t move like that; compared to him, Xander was slogging through a marsh. It was as if, Spike thought, he had some sort of residual vampiric strength. The blessing of the demon without the curse? God, yes.
Spike slammed into the creature at full speed and it stumbled backwards. It was a—well, hell if he knew, but it was sea-colored, and the front of Spike’s shirt was slimy from their collision. “You are messing with the wrong people,” he gritted, drawing his arm back.
Then the demon moved and he was dangling from its hand, throat compressed, painful, struggling for breath as the monster calmly held him aloft. For a moment Spike began to panic, his vision clouding, before he beat the fear back. The thrill he usually felt was strangely absent—possibly because a fucking gigantic asswipe of a creature was dangling him by his damned fragile human neck, vampire strength or not. The hell with this.
Spike brought his hands down sharply on the creature’s shoulders. It should have been enough to break the demon’s hold—would have, once—but its grip didn’t waver. Right, Spike thought grimly. Time for Plan B.
Behind him Spike could hear Dawn starting to sob, but determinedly pushed the sound out. God, listening to the Bit blurb might make him lose it completely. If he didn’t take care of this, she was toast, and he wasn’t going to let her down like that. Not again.
Spike reached down and gripped the demon’s shoulder with his right hand to steady himself before drawing his left arm back and driving his fist into center of the creature’s chest with everything he had. He’d stopped more hearts like that than with his bedroom eyes and tight little ass combined.
The creature didn’t even flinch.
That was when Spike began to think that maybe he didn’t really have any vampiric strength after all.
“Bit, run—now, run,” Spike choked in those wonderful last few moments before he died for the third time. Her crying became more distant; he was leaving, and he hadn’t managed to do a damn thing. Dawn was going to die, and Harris, and even that sad sod Andrew, who he’d thought would survive a nuclear blast, along with cockroaches and parts of Britney Spears.
Then Spike was drifting down, slowly, slowly. The journey to hell was a long one, it seemed. And then, for some reason, he stopped. No Dantesque flames, no cave action, just him on the ground, the creature staggering above him, and Harris behind the demon, holding a shovel.
The sound of breaking glass brought him back to reality, and he looked over as Buffy landed lightly on the grass, fragments from a second-story window raining down around her. It was still falling as she launched herself forward, charging into the creature much as Spike had. He wanted to tell her it wouldn’t work, but all he could produce was a wordless rasp.
He was wrong, anyway; it worked very nicely. She knocked the creature over, seized its head between her hands, and twisted sharply. Dawn and Andrew gasped at the sound its neck made as it snapped, but Spike and Xander didn’t even flinch. Of course, flinching would have required considerably more energy than Spike had at the moment.
Buffy wasn’t even panting as she let the demon’s head drop to the ground. “Would somebody mind telling me what the hell’s going on out here?”
“So what do you think?” Faith asked, shutting the door to Kennedy’s apartment and replacing the police tape. She wasn’t sure why she bothered; if people wanted in, they’d just take it down, exactly like she and Wood had.
“He hasn’t changed a bit. He’s got them all fooled, but he’s the same thing that he was before. Now he’s just got a pulse,” fumed Wood, shaking his head in disgust.
Faith let that hang in the air a moment. “I meant about Kennedy.”
Wood flushed. There was no good way to transition out of it, so he decided to pretend it never happened. “Uh, yeah. She was surprised?”
Faith raised an eyebrow. “Why do you say that?”
Wood shrugged. Truthfully, he’d just blurted it out, but it seemed reasonable. “There was no sign of a struggle,” he pointed out. “She was a Slayer—strong, well-trained. I don’t think someone could take her without a hell of a fight if she hadn’t been surprised.”
Faith nodded. Wood was damn
near as messed up as she was, but he was smart. Like
“Well, it tells us that whatever it was is really quiet, or can just apparate out of nowhere—”
“Or is someone she knew,” Wood added hurriedly. No need to lower his cool quotient with a term from a book he definitely hadn’t read.
“Kennedy told Fred she thought it was thaumogenesis. What about you?”
Wood hesitated. Yeah, everyone was all set on thaumogenesis, but it seemed too easy to him. If there was one thing he’d learned growing up with Bernard Crowley, it was that nothing was that simple. “I don’t know. Why would it attack Kennedy? Killing Spike would let it stay alive, but killing Kennedy wouldn’t do a damn thing.”
“Unless she was trying to get rid of it, and it decided to get rid of her first.”
Wood shrugged. “Maybe.”
Both were silent as they drove through the city. Unlike Sunnydale, there were some seedier areas in this town; the picturesque park that served as a border between the downtown shopping district and the residential areas had a few shabbily dressed people with bottles huddled under trees. In Sunnydale, demons drawn by the Hellmouth had kept the indigent population pretty much nonexistent. There, they were like found money to the vamps and other baddies; here, they had nothing to fear, except for cranky residents calling the cops.
And yet whatever it was that killed Kennedy had found its way here.
“Good workout this morning?” asked Faith, startling him.
Wood glanced at her a little suspiciously. “It was fine,” he lied.
“Work out all your kinks?”
“Pound out all your aggression?”
“Slay your demons?”
Wood gritted his teeth. “Is there something you want to ask, or do you just want to needle me all day?”
“Both would work for me,” admitted Faith impishly, popping her gum. “How’d your Spike session go?”
Wood winced. “Could you please not phrase it that way?”
She sighed. It wasn’t like there was an easy way to ask him about it. “Look, you cool with the situation at the house?”
“Yeah, I love being two feet away from the thing that killed my mother.”
“You want us to stay in a hotel?”
“Well look, if Spike’s gonna make you crazy—”
“He does not make me crazy!” Wood snapped.
Faith raised her eyebrows.
“He should have stayed dead,” he said finally.
“The thing that killed your mother did stay dead,” she reminded him gently.
Wood was silent for a long moment. “I know.”
“I know you want me to say it’s fine and I’m over it, or that I’ve had it and I’m going to kill Spike the next time I see him, something simple like that. But it’s not simple. Nothing’s simple.”
“Things don’t have to be so hard if you don’t—”
“Last time I looked, you and Buffy weren’t exactly pals,” he shot back. “And I’m pretty sure she didn’t break your mother’s neck.”
“No, it was more like the closest thing I had to a father,” she muttered, almost-forgotten bitterness coloring her voice.
Wood turned to her, startled.
Faith cut him off. “Look, I’m sorry I brought it up. But if you’re looking for goodness and light, I don’t know what you’re doing hanging around with Angel and the others, and I sure as hell don’t know what you’re doing around me.”
“You’re different now.”
“Yeah. ‘Cause people can change. You might want to try it sometime.”
They drove the rest of the way in silence.
Sometimes that was simpler.
They summoned a demon. They summoned a demon. They were insane. Don’t yell, Buffy told herself. Stay calm. Try to—okay, that wasn’t working. Time for another plan. “You summoned a DEMON?” she shouted. “What the hell were you thinking?!”
Andrew cringed in his seat and tried not to look at her. “We were just trying to help,” he said, speaking mostly to a painting slightly to her right.
“Help? Help what? Since when has summoning a demon ever helped anything?!”
“Well, this one time I summoned a Glarghk Guhl Kashma’Nik, which makes its victims delusional, and—” Andrew paused for breath and caught sight of her expression. “—which I only mentioned as an example of a bad use of demons, as opposed to a valid use of summoning a demon to protect the most vulnerable members of the team, which is us,” he corrected hastily.
Buffy looked as if her head were going to explode. And now that he’d accidentally looked at her, he couldn’t look away; it was as if her eyes were following him, like that trophy back at Sunnydale High. Okay, her eyes were definitely following him, because she was going to kill him for summoning that thing and almost getting Dawn killed.
He tried to concentrate on the painting, but it was too close to her; she was drawing his eyes with her powerful Slayer mojo. He turned and faced the other side of the room.
Bad move! Mr. Giles was there, and he looked scary. “And how did you think this particular demon would help you?” he asked frostily.
“The Läfhein’thk protect those who are being threatened by demons,” Andrew said, rubbing his temple for a moment before jumping up in a panic. “Oh my god, am I part demon? Is that why it attacked me?”
“No, because you’re exactly wrong. The Läfhein’thk provides protection to demons who are being threatened!” Giles flashed.
Andrew’s face fell. “But I looked it up—” he began.
“Stop yelling at him,” Dawn said tiredly. “It was my idea. He didn’t want to do it. I made him.”
The look Buffy sent her was searing.
Xander couldn’t take it anymore, and jumped up. “Okay, I want to talk to you two,” he said to Dawn and Andrew. “Alone.”
“After me,” said Buffy ominously.
“Before you,” Xander insisted.
“I’m the one who’s—”
Xander leaned closer to her, lowering his voice so the others wouldn’t hear. “Look, I think I know where they’re coming from a little more than you do, okay?”
She eyed him skeptically.
“Look, coping with being powerless in a houseful of superheroes—leave me what I’m good at,” he persuaded. “I don’t horn in on fighting monsters, do I?’
“For the most part?” he amended.
After a moment she shrugged. She could lecture Dawn later, she supposed. And it was always a good time to kick Andrew’s ass. “Okay,” she agreed reluctantly.
“Good. And stay away from the home repairs, too.”
That one she thought she could manage. “It’s a deal.”
“Excellent. Also, stay away from—”
“Don’t push it,” Buffy advised, herding the others out of the room and giving Dawn a last warning look before leaving. The guilty parties’ sighs of relief were audible.
Xander waited until he was sure everyone was out of hearing range, then turned to face them.
“Okay, you two know I know what I’m talking about when it comes to these things, right? You trust me?”
Dawn and Andrew nodded, Andrew looking worried, Dawn determined. “Good, then I’m not going to beat around the bush.
“You’re both going to die.”