Adventure in Gruffland

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It is my misfortune today to be posting in the footsteps of some truly brillant work. I humbly offer my submission for seasonal_spuffy‘s Fairytale Season. I hope you enjoy it, and I bow my head to my predecessors.

I also want to extend my deepest appreciation and regard to my betas, married_n_mich and spiralleds. They are always there for me, no matter what’s going on in their lives. I don’t deserve them, but they’re stuck with me.

– Mommanerd 

Adventure in Gruffland
Once upon a time, in a little house across the river, there lived two beautiful sisters and a vampire…

***

It was cool out, and the sky was a brilliant, layered blue. It was early winter and the ground was littered with dried brown leaves that dissolved under Dawn’s feet as she made her way toward town. It never really got cold enough here to have any snow. She was used to that. She moved past the row of neighboring houses, missing their quaint appeal as she looked over the list in her hand. Buffy’s handwriting sucked, but she knew what the words were anyway. They always bought the same stuff. She didn’t even need a dumb list, except it seemed to make Buffy feel all in charge to write it out and hand it over.

Dawn tossed her long brown hair behind her shoulder and slid the list into her jacket pocket. She zipped the jacket up farther, knowing she should have listened and worn her wool coat. Hey, the kid sister had to make some of her own decisions, right? Even if she wasn’t a slayer or a witch or even a stuffy watcher type – yet.

A big, black bird swooped off the bare branches of a nearby tree, barely missing her head. Dawn shrieked as she ducked and looked around, making sure it didn’t have friends. Creepy things. She hated the black birds in this place. They were loud and rude and left messes all over the path. That was the only drawback to this town they’d moved to after leaving Rome. Buffy had chosen it because she said it felt magical, as if she hadn’t had enough of that already. Hard to believe a couple of girls from California could fall in love with a place that never heard of Starbucks. She supposed having Buffy pretty much to herself had something to do with that. She had friends here too, and great clothes and she was finally getting a good grasp on Italian. She’d never admit it to her sister, but she even enjoyed being sent to market on these little errands. She got a silly thrill crossing the old stone bridge that led to the shops, even if it was out of her way.

The bridge looked as pretty as ever, and Dawn stepped daintily onto it, pretending that she was a peasant girl from a time before video games and sirens. There was surely a handsome prince looking down on her from his castle, falling in love right then.

She didn’t see the white trails of mist that followed behind her, solidifying to grasp her ankle and pull her down hard. She screamed as she fell.

What do you have for me?

Her head slammed against the hand rail and everything went white and then black.

***
Dawn had been gone for hours, and it wasn’t even Tuesday.

Buffy checked her watch again and peered out the window at every angle. It was frosty around the edges due to a cold snap that had rolled in overnight. She held her hand against the glass to melt some of it away, but sighed and gave up. Stupid window. She moved to the door and pulled it open, crossing her arms to ward off the blast of cold air.

Nothing moved outside. It was nearly dark and there was no sign of her sister. Fine then, they’d go look for her. How far could she have gone anyway? It was only a few blocks to the grocery store and the list was small. Bread, milk, cereal. Oh, and blood, of course.

She heard him come into the room. It was now sunset, so he was right on time. She glanced at her watch, noting it was only two minutes later than the last time she’d checked, and she mused that he probably didn’t even need a watch. She’d never seen him wear one.

“Six-thirty four,” he commented.

One question answered. “How do you do that?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Trick of the trade, I guess.” He fixed one of his twisty frowns on her. “Thinking up new ways to make this shack even colder, love?”

She glared back at him, but naturally there was no response. He never responded to anything anymore. “I sent Dawn out for food over two hours ago. I don’t see her anywhere and it’s cold out.”

He nodded his understanding and moved to the closet, where he removed her coat and tossed it to her. “After you, Slayer.”

***
They walked together silently, but it wasn’t an easy silence, not like in the old days.

Buffy didn’t know how things had gotten so strained between them. When they had arrived in LA, the battle had been going on for hours. Angel was nowhere to be found and Gunn was lying in the cold rain, his eyes vacant. She found Spike next to him, unconscious but otherwise intact and had called over one of the slayers to attend to him and directed the rest into the heat of the battle. When it was over, the buildings and streets were in ruins and five of the girls were dead. So were the demons, at least the ones who’d stayed around to face the army of super-powered girls.

The group returning to Italy included Spike. He was unconscious for most of the trip, waking only long enough to drink blood and answer simple questions about what had happened. Finding him was the last thing she’d expected. Killing demons and saving the world were a lot easier for her than dealing with the emotions this brought up. The happiness of discovering him was tempered by knowing he’d spent the last year with Angel and nobody told her. Andrew and Giles knew, she discovered, and that bit of knowledge that had caused a rift between them that Buffy still didn’t care to mend. And then the dead girls; she knew their families had to be called. Notified was the term. It sounded so official. There would be more grieving, yet the mission was accomplished and she was proud of them, all of them.

After that, Spike had stayed with her, though she didn’t really understand why anymore. She thought she’d been through every possible relationship with him, but that notion had been proven wrong by the cool distance she’d discovered over the last half year. Gone were the sarcastic commentary and the easy reliance they had had with each other. Spike was tense and quiet and much too willing to do anything she suggested. This new and not-so-improved Spike was really beginning to piss her off, especially when she thought about how well Dawn was doing with him. They didn’t have any trouble doing all those impossible things like talking and laughing and having pizza parties.

Buffy glanced back at Spike. He hadn’t said anything to her since leaving the house twenty minutes earlier. They hadn’t seen any sign of Dawn, either. Buffy stopped abruptly and Spike, who’d been studying the scuff marks on his boots again, walked right into her.

“What are you doing?” she asked him.

“Looking for your sister.”

She’d had enough of his emotionless answers. It was like trying to connect with Spock, without the half human part and how in the world did she come up with that little bit of trivia? She’d spent way too much time with Andrew. “You’re doing a crap job of tracking Dawn. You’re supposed to have all these skills with smelling things and hearing heartbeats. I think you could try a little harder.”

“You think I’m not trying?” The voice was flat, but his expression had frosted over. That was something, at least.

“You act like you’re out taking an after dinner stroll. Don’t you even care?”

He brushed past her, continuing down the path. She thought she heard him mutter, “I care,” but she couldn’t be sure of it since his was head down again and was already several feet ahead of her.

Between her worries over Dawn and her complete frustration with a guy she used to be able to read without words, she snapped. “If I wanted to spend all my time with Broody Guy, I would have given that damn amulet to Angel.”

The words stopped him and straightened his spine. She immediately hated herself and wanted to take it all back, apologize, but didn’t know how because every vibe she got from him told her he would never accept it. Why was it was so hard to talk to him?

“Spike…”

“We need to find Dawn,” was all he said.

***
They’d looked all over this side of the river. Since Dawn hadn’t stopped at any of her friends’ homes it was time to go search other routes into town. Buffy always preferred to take the main road, but Dawn had a fondness for the little footbridge.

“This way,” she told Spike.

She had to admit he’d been pretty great about going along with any idea she could come up with. But she’d give anything if he’d just once tell her she was being bloody stupid instead of holding on to his annoying agreeableness. What a dope.

“The bridge?” he asked her. “You can look and see she isn’t over there.”

Finally, the guy had an opinion. “We still haven’t checked it, and she goes that way a lot.”

“Still not there,” he grumbled.

For the first time since she’d sent Dawn out, Buffy smiled. Spike moved aside so that she could cross the narrow bridge first, but then he grabbed onto her arm just as she was stepping forward.

“What?” she asked.

He shook his head. “I dunno. Something.” He turned his intense gaze on her. “Do you feel it?”

She was going to deny feeling anything, which was a complete lie as long as he had his grip on her and was standing so close, close enough that she could make out the tiny worry lines on his face in spite of the darkness. If it weren’t for the brightness of the moon she wouldn’t be able to see anything at all. As it was, she was entranced by the shadows cast across the hollows of his face and the slight flair of his nostrils.

“Do you?” he asked her.

“Do I feel you? I mean, it?” Buffy stumbled.

“It’s strong, innit?”

“Strong, that’s a good word.”

He shook her arm. “Buffy, the air. Feel it,” he urged.

“Oh my God.” She stepped back. He was right; the air all around them was full of what she could only call power. It sent a chill down her back. “What is that?”

Other than the two of them, there was nobody else around, yet the feeling that they weren’t alone was overwhelming. Buffy moved toward the bridge again, toward the words she could hear lingering in the mist that had moved in unnoticed.

What do you have for me?

“You hear that?” she asked him. She knew by the way he moved his head that he had.

“I think we should go back,” he said.

“What?” She whirled on him. “We’re looking for my sister, and I’m not leaving until I find her.”

“I don’t know what this is. It wouldn’t hurt to think this out.”

“You are telling me to stop and think? Okay, now I know they sent back the wrong Spike.”

He clenched his jaw. “Buffy…”

What do you have for me?

Buffy turned back to the bridge. “What do you want? You tell me that and maybe we can talk and, oh yeah, how about giving me my sister?”

Silence met her demand.

“I’m going over,” she told Spike. She took off before he could protest more. She heard his sigh of impatience, but her attention moved to the thickening wisps of fog that were pouring up and over the sides of the bridge. They took on substance and formed into long arms and fingers, reaching out to her. She felt their icy grasp twist up around her ankles, pulling at her legs, urging her to follow them over the bridge and down into the water.

She tried to kick free, but her legs wouldn’t move. She scrambled for the stake in her waistband, hacking down through the mist, finding nothing but cool, moist air. Spike was holding her now, dragging her back toward the road.

“Fight it, Buffy.”

Like she wasn’t fighting? Who did he think he was talking to? She willed her frozen feet to kick, finally managing to pull free from the shadowy grip of the bridge-thing. They fell onto cobblestone path, the impact knocking the air out of her lungs.

“We’re going back to the house,” she finally gasped.

“Bloody brilliant,” he said. “We need to make some plans.”

“No,” she said. “We need to get some more weapons.”

***
“Love, the weapons won’t help. You can’t beat this thing with fists and swords.”

“I can try,” she said. Her bag was full, but she wanted to be prepared.

“Won’t work.”

The bag hit the floor with a loud clang. She rounded on him. “Are you going to help me or not?”

“I’ve always got your back.”

“That’s not what I asked you. You’ve been throwing up walls ever since we found this thing. It’s no coincidence that it showed up the same day that Dawn disappeared. You know I’m not going to sit back and let it go.” She brushed past him and lifted her scythe off the mantle.

“This thing isn’t physical, it’s mystical,” he said.

She put the scythe to her shoulder. “So’s this.” She narrowed her gaze at him. As usual, there was something he wasn’t telling her. “You know what this is, don’t you?”

Spike crossed his arms. Great. He was going to be defensive again. She didn’t care. “Tell me.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “‘S an old legend. Haven’t heard tell of it since the old days, back in England. Farmer had three daughters. First two went missing.”

“Sounds like what used to go down in Sunnydale all the time. Tell me you didn’t have anything to do with this.”

Spike took a deep breath. “Not this time, pet. I said it was mystical. Not about blood.”

“Fine,” she said, “continue.”

“Finally the old man went out with his last daughter and found the thing at the bridge. It said it wanted the other girl or some such thing.”

“He gave it his other daughter?” Buffy couldn’t imagine such a thing.

Spike shook his head. “Farmer said no, needed the girl to do the work. Gave it three goats instead. Bugger wasn’t too happy about the exchange and…”

“…the other girls were never seen again.” He didn’t need to finish the story for her. “What about the demon?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Never seen again either, except in other stories that popped up every twenty years or so. Eventually turned into a sodding tale about a troll and the goats.”

“I remember that one,” Buffy said. “I don’t suppose we can kick it on the ass and it will go away?”

“Not if we ever want to see li’l sis again.”

“So how do we get her back?” she asked. “The demon, it asked what I had for it. It wants something from me. Something not goatish. What?”

Silence hung between them, the only sounds coming from the ticking of the clock on the wall and Buffy’s own breathing. Where was Giles with his dusty old books when she needed him?

“Look, I can go back and try to suss out what that thing’s after,” Spike finally said.

“No.”

“You can’t say no! This is something I can do, for once.”

“What are you talking about?” Buffy asked him. “You’re always doing things for me, like you think I can’t figure this slaying thing out for myself if you’re not there to make sure I don’t screw something up again.” Okay, where had all that come from?

“Just thought you’d appreciate the backup.”

The stone face was back. Nobody could stick her foot in it quite like Buffy, the Vampire Insulter. Not that there was anything wrong with insulting vampires. If she was going to stake them, what did it matter if she hurt their feelings first? That was just the problem; Spike wasn’t the normal vampire and she really didn’t want to hurt him. She’d done enough of that in the past.

“I didn’t mean that,” she told him.

“Why don’t you go call Giles? He’s probably got notes scrawled in margins somewhere about this thing.”

Buffy stepped back, giving up on trying to talk to him. “Okay, I can do that. I’ll be right back.” She went into the kitchen and picked up the phone, punching in the number and waiting for the phone to connect. Two rings, three, four, the click of the answering machine. She left a message outlining the problem and asked Giles to call her back on her cell phone, since she’d be out looking for Dawn again.

She hung up and wiped her damp palms on her jeans. She didn’t know whether her nervousness was from the situation with the misty demon-thing or with the prospect of getting Spike to open up. Probably both. She wasn’t going to let him know much this was getting to her. She’d walk back out there and tell him how it was, that she liked having him around and appreciated his help. If he stayed cold, she’d tell him he could go. He was only staying with her out of a sense of duty anyway, and it simply wasn’t enough for either of them. It would be better. Yeah, better. She probably wouldn’t even miss him much, if at all. Her stomach lurched at the thought.

“Hey, Spike,” she called out, rounding the corner with her smile on full wattage. “About what I said…”

She was talking to an empty room. He was gone.

***
Her feet slapped against the cool stones of the road. Around one more corner and she’d be there. She ran faster, hoping she’d catch him before he did something stupid and rash and completely Spike-ish. If she couldn’t get away from that thing on her own, she knew he wouldn’t be able to.

The mist was already around his feet and up to his knees when she reached out and grasped the back of his leather coat and pulled as hard as she could.

“‘S no use, Buffy. Can’t move.”

“Let him go!” she yelled.

The mist crept higher, up around his hips and waist. Solidifying cords, like long arms, held him tightly.

“Buffy, go back, wait for Giles to call,” he said. “If it takes me, maybe I can find Dawn.”

“No!” She pulled harder, but only succeeded in tearing the thick duster. “Stop,” she told the thing. “Tell me what you want.”

What do you have for me?

The mist had stopped moving up him. It seemed to be waiting for her answer, its grip pulsing around him, threatening to swallow him up.

“I don’t have anything,” she cried. “You’ve taken my sister and all I have left is…”

What do you have for me?

“All I have left is him!” she yelled.

“Do it, Buffy,” Spike said.

“No. Not again.”

“Do it. If you want her back, do it.”

She couldn’t speak. Tears choked her. She couldn’t believe she had to go through this nightmare over and over again. It was like some greater power was telling her that she couldn’t have something that was hers, that she couldn’t be happy.

What do you have for me?

“Him!” Buffy cried. “You took my sister and he’s all I have to give.”

The mist covered him completely, seeping slowly over the side of the bridge to disappear beneath it, leaving nothing but empty night. Buffy blinked, clearing the tears that filled her eyes. They were both gone now, and she didn’t know what to do. The idea of going to back to the empty house sent a cold shiver through her, and she folded her arms around herself, trying to stave off the emotions that threatened to break her.

She could call Giles again, but doubted he would answer. He would have called her already if he’d gotten her message. They didn’t have phone service where Xander was. Maybe Willow? Why had she thought it would be a good idea to move away from everyone? She was so stupid, no wonder she was alone.

“Buffy?”

It was Dawn. Buffy turned, almost afraid she wouldn’t see her, but there she was. Buffy hugged her tight, too tight, eliciting a squeal. Yes, a Dawn-squeal. It was a sweet sound. “You’re back,” she whispered.

“What happened?” Dawn asked. “I don’t remember. My head hurts.”

“I’ll tell you all about it,” Buffy said. “Let’s go home.”

***
The lights from the house cast patches of silvery glow onto the tiny yard. Buffy noted that it had warmed several degrees, and the frost was gone. They hurried inside and Buffy shut and locked the door behind them. Except for the bump on the back of her head, Dawn was fine and hungry, as usual. While Buffy got an ice pack, Dawn rummaged for a snack. It felt empty in the little house with just the two of them. Even with Spike being distant and quiet like he’d been in the past months, he still had a way of filling the room. She took a deep breath and blew it out. She’d cried enough for the night.

“Where’s Spike?” Dawn asked.

“He’s gone,” Buffy said.

“He left?”

“No, Dawn. To get you back I had to make a trade, and he wanted to but I didn’t. I mean, yes, I wanted you back, but I didn’t want to send him away.”

“I don’t understand,” Dawn said. She dropped down onto the couch.

“I had to give him up.” How could the simple words hurt so much to say? Buffy folded her arms and tried to continue. “That thing that took you, it wanted me to give it something so that I could get you back.”

Dawn was still frowning, not getting it. “But why Spike?”

Despite all her efforts, the tears filled Buffy’s eyes again. “He was the only other thing I cared about, and I think it mattered.”

“You did that for me?” Dawn asked. She was crying now too.

“I love you, and Spike loves you. He wanted me to do it.”

“I don’t know what to say.” Dawn’s voice was small, and it tugged at Buffy. She rushed over to the couch and pulled her sister into her arms. They cried and held each other until Dawn fell into an exhausted sleep. Buffy fought the tiredness that wanted to engulf her, replaying the events of the day and wondering what she could have changed so that things would have been different, so that he would have known that she cared. She’d never learn.

***
Her cell phone rang with a loud warble and Buffy fumbled for it, her sleepy mind not really functioning well enough to flip it open to see who was calling.

“Whazz that?” Dawn asked.

The phone warbled again, and Buffy somehow managed to answer it. “Hello?”

“Buffy, we just returned from a mission and I got your message.”

It was good to hear Giles’ voice. The strains of the past didn’t seem to matter anymore. “Thanks for calling me back. It’s okay, I have Dawn. We got her back.”

“However did you manage it? I’ve checked any of the lore I could find on what you described. There’s never been an account of a victim being returned.”

“Leave it to me,” Buffy muttered.

“What was that?”

“Never mind,” she said. “It wanted something from me.”

“Yes, that would be the pattern.”

“So I gave it Spike.”

“Spike?”

After all the she’d been through, she couldn’t go into it again. “Giles, I’ll let Dawn tell you the rest, not that there’s that much to tell. I just can’t, not right now.”

“Of course.”

“But, Giles? Thank you for calling me and… and for being there. It means a lot.”

“I’ll always be here for you, Buffy.”

She handed the phone to Dawn, not needing to say more. She picked up the thawed ice pack and carried it out to the kitchen. She washed her hands and splashed some water on her face. Her eyes felt scratchy. It was going to be a long night.

“You’re looking a little ragged around the edges there, pet.”

Spike? She spun around, almost expecting to find nothing behind her, but there he was. She reached out to make sure he was solid. Yes, he was really there and looking so very good.

“How…?”

He grinned at her. “Magic, love.” He moved aside, revealing a beautiful woman with translucent skin and long, pale hair.

“Your gift was most acceptable,” the woman told her. Her voice was soft and lyrical and decidedly not human.

“This is so cool,” Dawn squealed from the doorway.

“Who are you?” Buffy asked.

“Just a visitor,” she answered, “trapped here until a gift given in love and selflessness was offered.” She drifted over to Buffy. “You offered such a gift. You have my thanks.” She lifted her silvery fingers to Buffy’s cheek and brushed it softly and then she was gone.

“What was that?” she asked Spike, holding on to him to make sure he wouldn’t be disappearing along with their apparently new friend.

“I’m calling Giles!” Dawn called out, squeeing happily as she headed back out to get the phone again. Buffy knew exactly how she felt.

“So, you’re back,” she said. Great opening, Buff. Way to open communications with distant dead guy who was looking at her like he wanted to eat her alive in a non-vampirey way.

“You love me,” he said.

“How do you figure?”

“You do. You love me a lot.” His face was taking on a superior look, a jaunty confidence that she hadn’t seen for so long. “Misty said it,” he told her. “Said it had to be true love, or the spell wouldn’t have broken.”

“Well yeah, there’s that.”

He moved in closer, the tip of his tongue appearing through his smirking lips and teeth. Something inside her curled up deliciously and she felt warm all over.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked.

“You know me,” she said, “Not so much with the baring of emotions.” She swallowed hard, finding it nearly impossible to talk or stand or even breathe, for that matter. “Besides,” she finally sputtered, “the last time I told you, you went up in flames, and you didn’t even believe me.”

He was standing so close that his face almost touched hers. He lifted his hand to her cheek, the same one brushed by the woman, and whispered his fingertips across it, finally letting them rest against her lips. It felt like a kiss, and she closed her eyes, longing for more. Suddenly it was his mouth against hers and he was pulling her close. It was like heaven and she didn’t want to let go. She had him and she had Dawn and Giles, and she felt complete.

It was magic.

***
…and they lived happily ever after

 

Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/71164.html

mommanerd

mommanerd