Today is slaymesoftly‘s posting day, but she is struggling with a poorly computer, an inept repair service and the impossibility of using tablets and phones to post anything of actual substance.
So I offered to step in, to share something I had planned to post at the weekend, when you Colonials have a Mother’s Day. Many, many moons ago now I started a post-NFA, post-Chosen story called After the Deluge. Quite a lot of its early chapters were posted to this community. One point three three recurring percent of you may even recall the fic, which had Spike and Buffy slowly moving, one from California, the other from Rome, until they finally meet in the Cotswolds, with a substantial cast of others. The last chapter I posted was Chapter 25.
Well, an MA took up a lot of time, and other writing was a distraction. But I did do more, and as it started on this comm, it seems a good place to offer it up. Spike, Buffy and the gang are in a barn in the Cotswolds, it’s dark, and The First has recently appeared to scare everybody a bit.
Chapter Twenty-six: Finding the Rabbit-hole
There was little light left in the sky by the time the group pushed through the battered barn door and into the farmyard. “We’re going to need some light”, Dawn announced. “Is there a flashlight in that rental car?”
“There’s probably a torch in there. Yes. Go look, will you, Bit?” When did he become a leader?
Rupert Giles nodded and moved to his own vehicle, rummaging in the door pockets. He swore under his breath after a moment and called his brother across to help with the search. After a moment he called again, with the same complete absence of a response. He jerked his head up, colliding with the door frame.
“Still bumping your head I see, Watcher,” Spike pointed out. It was quite unnecessary to do so, but fun.
“Thank you, Spike. I had noticed.” Rupert’s voice was sharp. “Where is my brother?”
Dawn and Buffy looked around, then at each other. Who had seen him last? They turned to the witches.
“I thought he was with us when we left the barn.” Althanea sounded concerned.
“He was. Took off thataway as soon as Big Bro went to his motor, though.” Spike sounded bored, but Buffy recognised an edge to his voice.
“Whichaway? Should we worry?” Dawn noticed the edge too – what would make the other, non-Giles, Giles rush off? What was making her Giles go all Watchery on her?
Rupert Giles looked grim. “Some of you people seem to mistake rural prettiness for safety. California is far from the only demon-infested area, you know. Did I mention that this is a centre of mystical convergence? You ought to remember, Buffy. There was one of those in Sunnydale.”
“You mean this well thing is kinda Hellmouthy? Not cool.” Dawn felt she was doing quite a good impression of her sister’s way with words there. Twin glares from Buffy and Spike suggested otherwise. She mimed closing a zip across her lips.
Spike’s voice was deep and low. “Bit, this well makes the pit at Sunnydale look like a dry puddle. I’ve looked into it. It’s a hole in the world. Literally.”
Dawn opened her mouth to ask if he meant right through to Australia, looked at the intensity of his gaze and thought better of it. He noticed her reaction and spoke, “Went there with the Great Broody One. Not so long before it all went down in LA. Not a good memory, neither. Not quite as pleasant or as relaxing as your run-of-the-dale hellmouth, neither. Whatever’s up now, it’s got to have summat to do with that, stands to reason.”
“My concern is why my dear brother felt the need to rush off there ahead of us.” Rupert Giles spoke in a clipped voice, the strain very clear. “It is not at all in his usual character. He leads from the rear, I’m afraid. I have a very uncomfortable feeling our igneous friend may have influenced him.” Cliché or not, his spectacles were in his hand, cleaning in progress.
Dawn gaped at him. God but her mouth was taking a lot of controlling just now. But this was the brother of Giles. The Giles who had been one of the fixed points in her life as long as she could remember. Since before she had existed, technically, though those weren’t thoughts she much enjoyed playing with. She couldn’t imagine not trusting Rupert Giles. Surely that must apply to his brother too?
Buffy could imagine not trusting Rupert Giles all too easily. It had taken a while after the end of her home town before she’d felt as comfortable with him as before. No, not quite that comfortable – perhaps never quite so comfortable ever again, to be honest with herself. With Spike so close to her he could probably feel her tingling, that edge of grief and resentment had gone, but the sense of betrayal had been very profound. Now it was looking as if her ex-Watcher might get to feel betrayed too, which would be … interesting. Probably in a Chinese way, knowing her luck.
Spike was bored. No, more like irritable. He did not like this place – too many memories and a sense of failure, something he never much liked to dwell on. If they were going to that pit, they should go, not faff about after the mini-watcher. Wanker had headed off in the direction of the Well. They were all heading that way too. What was the big deal?
“Know bloody well what the deal is,” he muttered in an undertone. Something was beginning to stink here. He sidled across to the Giles he knew. “Hey, Rupes old mate. Should we just head over there after your lad? Nowhere much else he’s likely to go now, is there?”
“Thank you, Spike, for your pithy analysis of the situation.” Rupert Giles sounded even more irritated than Spike – and worried, which was not quite the same. “Perhaps you would care to lead the way?”
“Seeing as I’m the only one who knows the way, “ he muttered as Buffy seemed about to raise an objection, “leave it off, Buffy. You get to be She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed when we get there, promise.”
There was no arguing with that logic, so they set out across the barnyard and over the stile into the first field. Inevitably there was mud on the other side; while Dawn complained about damage to her shiny shoes, Spike’s nose told him she would have more to complain about before long.
It was Andrew who first trod in the generous leavings of the local cows, and Andrew’s disgust was loudest, until Giles ordered him in no uncertain terms to shut his gob. Funny how close to the surface Ripper could be in times of stress. The younger man started to argue, then halted, mid-whine, as a dark bulk loomed in front of them and emitted a deep moan of agony. Later he would robustly deny grabbing the Watcher’s hand, still more trying to dive behind Dawn, but the witnesses would not forget in a hurry.
“It’s a cow, you bleeding plonker!” Spike was torn between laughter and annoyance. “You’ve seen demons before – can’t you tell when it isn’t one?”
The witches were genuinely surprised at the fuss made by the strange little American, though they could sympathise with Dawn’s concern for her Italian footwear. Despite his magical grasp of their shared tongue, however, Witleof was totally bewildered. Cows were normal in his world, a source of food, income and warmth in the shared homes of his people. He patted the animal’s flank as he passed, marvelling at its bulk compared to his own family’s cattle.
A path wound through the clump of trees below the hill crest. Nobody was tempted to leave it. As the land opened beyond them they paused to gaze up the slope. “Not so much a wood, more an improved park,” muttered Giles.
Vampire hearing caught his words, “Our old friends Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton, presumably,” Spike replied. “No-one ever said the Powers That Mess With Our Heads were short of a penny or three. And the long view is kinda their style, innit?”
“Along there, then?” asked Buffy. Spike motioned her to move on. His posture changed, and hers echoed it – alert before, they were now hyper-alert. Witleof glanced to his left and followed suit. Three warriors led the group – there could be no doubt.
Behind them the witches started a low chant, interleaving their voices so there was no discernible pause for breath. Around them swirled a light purple mist which bellied out to cover the entire group, its tendrils wrapping them gently.
There was a counterpoint from Dawn and Andrew, “He said it’s a copse.”
“I think you’ll find it was a coppice”
“Coppice. Though he said spinney too. “
“Well, which was it – coppice or spinney? It can’t be both.”
“Can too. What is a spinney anyway?”
“If you two have quite finished,” Giles grimaced. “Time to move. Run!” The last word, almost barked, startled the entire group for a moment, then they all stumbled forwards, picking up speed as they began to cover the ground, tripping over roots and stones, until Dawn flicked on the flashlight she had acquired when actually doing as she had been told for once.
As they crested the rise their route flattened out. The wavering torchlight showed individual trees and almost-manicured lawns in between them. A smooth slope, more like a lawn than parkland, ran down to a clump of trees, darker than dark in the light from the stars, the moon and Dawn’s flashlight. Spike was in the lead by now and swept his arm out to act as a bar to the others. No onward rush was going to be allowed here.
“OK, Slayer. You and me first, right? Look to the sides as we go downhill – likely to be an assault from there if last time’s anything to go by. Witlewotsit next, then witches, watchers, and the Bit.”
Buffy stared at him for a second. When had Spike turned into the tactical brain of the situation? All she could do was nod her assent and move into position. Andrew was safely to the rear, where with any luck he could cause fewer problems than usual, and Dawn was as safe as could be managed. As if by instinct she reached out a hand to grab Spike’s, and found him doing the same. After all this time they could still work as a machine. They glanced at each other, grinned and began to run downhill.
As they picked up speed, bounding from tussock to clump, avoiding holes, roots and moss with an agility not matched by the rest of their team, they inevitably drew ahead, something Spike had planned. For a few moments he gave himself up to the sheer exhilaration of running with his best girl by his side, then grunted to draw her attention. “Gonna be an attack in about thirty seconds, I reckon. You ready for that?”
She nodded, scanning ahead for the telltale signs of demon opponents. “How did you say you did it last time?” she half-grunted.
“Cheese wire,” Spike replied, his focus never leaving the slope ahead of them. “Not so much your thing, I’m thinking. Crossover trick instead?”
She nodded her assent and squeezed his hand briefly, before releasing it as a metal helmet came into view below them. She counted to ten, then launched herself crosswise, in a trajectory that would have bowled her partner over had he not changed direction as swiftly as her, aiming at the figure starting to advance from Buffy’s right just as she took out the assailant on his left with a roundhouse kick and a sword slash to the throat. God, but this felt so right.
As if choreographed, they bent in synchrony, wresting jagged-looking blades and crude shields from their late opponents, tossing them back to be caught by Witleof and Giles, then straightened to face the next onslaught. Spike gave the next attacker a hobnail in the throat, spinning away and maintaining momentum in order to land on the chest of the next in line. “Nice one,” Buffy managed to call in between finishing off two particularly ugly characters.
Buffy and Spike stood back-to-back, surveying what was left of the concerted attack. Only three left now, all with much more wary expressions, but no sign of reduced determination. Spike grinned. Only three-to-two? Poor buggers probably hadn’t a clue how far they were outnumbered.
This time they worked even more like a machine, flipping and swinging and vaulting in harmony, not pausing to count or breathe till their opponents lay around them. From up the hill there was a burst of applause. “Still got it, luv,” Spike told her.
“Not so bad yourself, considering your age,” she retorted.
The rest of the group caught up. The entrance to the Deeper Well was waiting for them.
There is a little more which will appear, I hope, on Sunday.
I don’t deserve comments, but would be deliriously happy if there were feedback.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/500733.html