I’m afraid I’ll confess – this fic grew into a monster. Please bear with me :)
Act III, Scene One
“Everyone prepped and ready?” Riley Finn looked around for confirmation from his squad leaders, receiving nods from each.
“You know the drill. Stay in your squad, check in every ten minutes, each squad taking a square mile and moving outwards. We don’t know what we’re looking for, so stay sharp – call in anything that looks suspicious. Go!” he barked, moving into the tree line with Forrest and Graham, one eye watching the other teams disperse.
Robin Goodfellow crouched high above the small group, already having selected the next player in his entertainment. This one would be a joy to humiliate, the puffed-up, self-important little mortal. The puck knew they were hunting him, and felt a delicious sense of irony at the thought of what he was about to do.
The bushes a little farther ahead rustled, drawing Finn’s attention, and he motioned to the two others to cover him as he approached, weapon ready. He saw nothing, and moved closer, circling behind the scrub. Shadows wrapped around his body, shielding him from view, and he barely had time to cry out before agony consumed him and he blacked out.
Robin blew his fingers. Ah, glamour: how he had missed it. He watched with malicious joy as the soldier’s friends ran towards where he had fallen, searching the ground. A roar suddenly erupted behind them, causing both to whip round. Oh good, the boy was awake!
Finn lurched to his feet, feeling as though every bone in his body had been broken and reset, and bumped his head against a low hanging branch, eliciting a groan of pain. His eyes opened to see Forrest and Graham aiming their guns at him, and he looked over his shoulder, thinking they had something in their sights that was about to attack him, puzzled when he saw nothing there.
“Guys? What’s going on? Did you see whatever got me?” he said, panic blossoming in his stomach as first fear then steely determination came over his friends’ faces. He saw movement from Forrest and dove into the bushes, rolling to his feet and heading off in a blind rush. He heard Graham’s shout, telling Forrest to fall back and call in an HST sighting at their co-ordinates. Riley had the sickening feeling they were talking about him. As soon as he thought he was safe, he pulled off his crumpled body armour and tattered fatigue shirt, looking down in horror as his realised his skin was no longer tanned and warm, but grey, warty and …Oh my god, was he oozing slime? His hands flew to his face, and he was relived when he didn’t encounter ridges or bumps, but his relief was short lived when his hands ventured higher. Instead of hair, there were horns sprouting from his skull, and from the feeling, they too were slime covered. He needed to find the one person who could help him figure out what was going on and how to stop it. He had to find Buffy.
Robin followed at his heels, guiding him by a mixture of illusions and persuasions in a circle through the wood, avoiding his comrades, until they neared the clearing where the Slayer lay unconscious. When he caught sight of the girl, Riley ran forward, concern for her safety overriding his instincts to be cautious. His thick gray fingers buried in her neck, searching for a pulse, and he released a pent-up sigh of relief when the strong steady throb beat against his skin. Her breathing seemed to be fine, and he sat back to watch her, stroking her hair from time to time. He hoped she wouldn’t freak too badly when she woke up – but then, hadn’t she been quick to defend Hostile 17, and to realise it was Giles in a demon form? Surely she’d understand that he was still Riley underneath the slime and antlers.
Scarcely had the thought crossed his mind when Buffy began to stir, groaning as her bruises made their presence felt. Her eyes flickered open, and a shy smile curved her lips.
“Oh, hi there,” she murmured, wishing for a hairbrush, a mirror and a shower. God, who was this? She sat up, automatically smoothing her hair and checking her clothes.
Riley felt a surge of triumph – she knew it was him! She saw through the spell or illusion, whatever it was, and she knew it was him. And she seemed pleased to see him, too.
“Buffy! Oh god, I’m so glad to see you. You would not believe… well, scratch that, maybe you would believe what’s happened to me tonight.”
“Hush, it’s okay. Everything’s going to be just fine. You know, I just realised something,” Buffy looked down, a blush colouring her cheeks.
“What? If you mean the slime and the antlers, I’m hoping that’s just temporary….”
“No, silly, although they do look good on you. I just realized… I love you,” she confessed, and Riley’s heart nearly exploded. She really must love him, if she was saying it under these circumstances, when he was far from looking his best. He held open his arms, and she nestled between them happily. He was going to enjoy this moment; they could find her Watcher later.
Scene II – Elsewhere in the woods
Spike paced back and forth impatiently. Where the hell was that sodding fairy? He’d been gone long enough to enchant the whole damn town.
“M’lord!” The puck materialised in front of him with a smile that would have put the Cheshire Cat to shame.
“What’s going on? Did you find Xander and the soldier boy?” The vampire burst out.
“Oh good my lord, I found the mortal with some fellows who were out hunting, cast a little glamour to change his visage to that which he hunts, and they chased him all over the forest!” Robin giggled maniacally. “I led him through the paths and bowers, until he happened upon the lady fair, and now she fancies herself in love with a creature of dripping slime and towering, gnarled horns.”
An arrogant smirk settled over Spike’s face. This was too precious – Captain Cardboard turned into a chaos demon! Bugger, he wished he had a camera.
“And Xander? What’s happening there?”
Robin shot him a crafty look from lowered lids.
“A lover’s entranced to love the girl, as you wished, m’lord,” he said truthfully. Ah, it was only a small sin, that of omission. For the second time that evening, Spike heard the approach of two very clumsy humans, and motioned to Robin to take cover just as Tara and Xander came into view.
“Why won’t you just give me a chance?” Xander whined, attempting to catch hold of the blonde witch’s hand. She shook him off as she kept walking.
“What have you done with Willow? Where did you take her? Tell me, or I’ll just do a locator spell to take me to her,” Tara was frightened and angry. She’d found Xander in the woods, but there was still no sign of her girlfriend, and in his current state of mind the boy might just have done something hasty. She squashed the fear rising like a cold tide in her stomach. If he’d done something to Willow, he was going to pay.
“I’d quite happily lock her up and throw away the key if I thought it would make any difference to you! I haven’t seen her, but if I did, I’d have some very strong words to say about her dragging you out here at night time. I mean, this is the Hellmouth! Anything could happen to you out here,” Xander shouted, trailing after his beloved.
Tara spun to face him, her eyes glowing in the dark as magic flowed through her barely restrained.
“Where is she, Xander?”
The brunette recoiled in shock, wondering what possessed his shy, sweet Tara.
“Nothing! I swear! I haven’t seen her,” he frantically tried to pacify the seething witch. Searching his aura, Tara knew that he was telling her the truth – she would waste no more time with him.
“Leave me alone, Xander. I’m going to find her without you.”
Xander sat down with his back to a tree, quite exhausted. He’d be a fool to rush after his love when she was in that kind of mood – he could end up as a rat, or worse.
‘Just rest here for a minute. Maybe even close my eyes. Just for a minute or two,’ he thought, his eyes closing as sleep took him unaware.
“You plonker!” Hissed the vampire, catching the pixie a sharp blow around the head. “You’ve buggered it up somehow – he’s still after the witch when he’s meant to be after Anya! Quick – charm him now. We’ll have to figure the rest of it out later, although god only knows what you’ve managed to cock up.”
Robin tiptoed over to the sleeping form of Xander, daubing his lips with the potion and slinking back to Spike’s side.
“Someone else is coming. Get down,” the vampire ordered, oblivious to the puck’s delighted smile.
Anya and Willow stumbled past, both tired and arguing.
“Anya, please! Listen to me, look at me! I’m not making fun of you, I’m serious. I love you, I’ve only ever loved you, I promise. You have to believe me,” the redhead pleaded.
“Yeah, like I’ll believe that! You being so lovey-dovey with Tara this afternoon makes this really convincing. On the other hand, maybe it was all an act with Tara, too – either way, I’m not buying it, Willow. Plus, I don’t like girls,” Anya added as an afterthought.
Xander’s eyes opened with a start. Falling asleep out here was so not the smart thing to do. But waking up to see Anya? That was worthwhile and then some.
“Anya? Did you change your hair? You look incredible,” he gushed compliments as he stood, moving to her side intent on pulling her to him and apologising for being such an idiot. How could he have dumped her? She was everything he had ever longed for in a woman. Anya ‘s gaze wavered from one to the other of them, her eyes filling with tears once more.
“Oh, I see. This is all just a game of let’s make fun of the poor, defenceless demon! I should have known better – look at how you treat Spike! It’s ok to use him when you need him, then treat him like a leper afterwards. I’m not going to stand around and let you use and humiliate me like he does. Go ahead and laugh it up while you can,” she spat, fuming.
“Xander, you’re in love with Tara – well, good luck to you both. Anya’s mine, and I’m not going to let you treat her this badly. You’ve made her cry!” Willow yelled, laying the blame squarely at his door.
“You what? It’s you that’s all crazed over Tara, and you can take her with my blessing. I’ll tell her father tomorrow that I was wrong. Just leave Anya alone, okay? I love her,” he offered.
At that moment Tara ran into the little clearing, sobbing with relief when she saw Willow.
“Oh, thank goddess! You’re safe,” she panted, throwing her arms around her girlfriend. Willow stood stiffly, trying to break away from the embrace and feeling awkward. She tried to show Anya that she wasn’t reciprocating, but the newly blonde girl was too busy staring daggers at Tara.
“Willow? Honey? What’s wrong? Has Xander hurt you?” Tara fussed, wondering why Willow was frozen in her arms, and worrying when she stepped away.
“Tara, I have to tell you something. This has all been a big mistake,” she started.
“I’ll say,” Anya snorted.
“I don’t love you, Tara. I’m in love with Anya. I’m sorry, but we can’t be together,” Willow continued. Tara frowned in confusion and hurt. How could her lover be saying this to her now?
Anya began a slow, steady clap.
“Bravo! You three are really something. You should take this to Broadway, you’d make lots of money,” she drawled. “I admit, you really had me fooled, Tara. I thought you were different, that you actually liked me, but it turns out you’re a liar just like them.”
“What? What are you talking about? I have no idea what’s going on, any more than you do!” The quiet blonde protested.
“So you didn’t come up with this scheme then? Having both Willow and Xander chase me around the woods tonight telling me how much they both love me, when we know it’s not true? I never realised you could be that cruel, Tara. D’Hoffryn would love to meet you!”
“Anya, I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I certainly haven’t put Willow or Xander up to anything! Please, listen to me. We must be able to figure this out,” Tara persevered, trying to convince her friend that she was telling the truth.
“Well, I hope the three of you will be very happy together. I’m leaving!” Tara caught Anya’s shoulder as the furious and hurt girl turned away.
“No! Don’t you see? This must be something weird, maybe evil. It’s possessed Willow and Xander. If we stay together we stand a chance of figuring out what it is, maybe do a spell to see what’s affecting them.” Tara had no idea what was happening, but she did know that splitting up was a bad idea.
“Stay with me Anya, please,” Xander leapt forward, only to be pushed aside by Willow. “Hey! Watch who you’re pushing!”
“Get away from her, Xander. Anya, I love you. I’ll do anything you want to prove it. I’ll conjure you pretty things – oh! You like roses? Give me a second,” Willow began chanting, only for Xander’s hand to land over her mouth, muffling her words.
“No, there’ll be no turning people into rats or… other things. Anya, I love you. Come home with me?” The boy doubled over as Willow’s elbow shot into his stomach, winding him, and she turned eyes black with anger upon her former friend.
“Kali, I call upon thee…” again the chanting was broken off as Xander tackled her to the ground.
“Stop it! Both of you!” Tara shouted.
“Screw you!” Willow yelled, and Tara recoiled from the hate filling her gentle lover’s face.
“Wuh-Willow? What happened to you? Sweetheart, did someone do something to you?” she stammered.
“Yes! Something happened to me! I woke up, and realised I could never love you because I already love Anya. I don’t want you, Tara,” the redhead screamed.
Her heart breaking, Tara turned to Anya.
“You called your vengeance friends, didn’t you? Did you wish away Willow’s love for me? You did, I can see it in your eyes. Tell me, and them, exactly what you did. Now!” Anya had never heard such a commanding and confident tone from Tara before, and something inside her recognised that the witch was close to losing control.
“Tara, I didn’t do anything. I told Xander that you and Willow were going to do the handfasting ceremony tonight, yes, but I wanted him to come out here, find you and her together and happy, and realise that he couldn’t have you. I thought…maybe he’d want me instead. He’s done nothing but insult me and threaten me all night up until just now. I’m going to go now, and pack my things. I’ll be out of Sunnydale by morning, you have my word,” she promised.
“No! Don’t go!” Xander and Willow called out in unison, but Anya simply shook her head and walked away. Shock froze the two wrestlers for a moment, but soon they were on their feet and tearing after the ex-demon, leaving Tara standing alone for the second time that night. She clung to her conviction that something was wrong here – if she really believed that Willow didn’t love her any more, she’d lie down and never move again. Trudging after the others, she moved on.
Spike grabbed the fairy by the back of its neck and hauled him from the ground.
He was fond of Red and her girlfriend, and was murderously angry with the sprite for the scene he’d just witnessed. No stranger to a broken heart, he had a good idea of what Glinda must be feeling round about now.
“What is going on? You can’t tell me you mistook Red for the boy. You’re tearing them all apart. A year ago, I’d have been cheering you on, but that was the past. I care about what happens to them now, so why don’t you come clean? I might not have any iron on me, but my belt buckle? That’s steel, and I think that might do enough damage to make things interesting,” he growled. Robin did his best to look contrite, but he was fighting a losing battle. He flinched when he heard another growl from the vampire holding him.
“M’lord, a thousand pardons! ‘Tis but my nature to make devilry and sport of mortals and I could not help myself! There’s a counter charm, I simply need to find the flame haired witch and utter it, and send them all to sleep. They’ll forget, and the lovers who are meant to be, will be once more,” he squeaked.
“You’d best be telling the truth, and get a bloody move on. I don’t fancy being caught out here when the sun comes up.” Spike dropped the creature who promptly vanished mid-fall after giving him a jaunty wink.
Spike sighed, wishing his unlife was just a little bit easier. He was already questioning his reaction to seeing Buffy’s friends screaming at each other over some ridiculous spell – he cared about them. The Big Bad who would have cheerfully chowed down on each and every one of them, having nearly killed Willow and Xander in the past with no pangs of conscience. Maybe it wasn’t just Buffy he’d let into his heart after all…. Oh yeah, he’d definitely turned into one of the good guys. Now he just needed Buffy to see that. And speaking of, he wondered how she was getting on with the boy. Time to go have a look-see.
Robin was having a fine old time abroad in the woods, leading each mortal separately in circles, drawing them ever closer to the sacred grove which was still arranged for a handfasting. One after another, he let them arrive exhausted in the circle of trees, whispering a rhyme to send them to sleep where they collapsed. He dribbled another potion between the lips of the red-haired witch, bidding the previous charm broken, and he stood up. His tale was nearly done, and he sighed. It had been fun while it lasted.
Anyone still out there? :) Act IV and Act V to come…
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/31843.html