Thanks as always to enigmaticblues for once again organizing this – it’s so lovely to find so many wonderful takes on Spuffy still being created after all these years.
Title: Time is Running Out
Summary: Set post S4 Something Blue (BtVS) and post S5 Soul Purpose (AtS).
Sunnydale, CA – 1999
Officer Jenson walked towards the edge of the field where the woods began, the trees bathed in a reddish tinge by the slowly setting sun. They already covered this area multiple times in the last forty-eight hours, but one more look couldn’t hurt. He’d be sure he logged it in, show they’d covered all the bases, done all they could to find them.
Which hadn’t been enough. At least four more to add to the count of missing in Sunnydale, maybe more. Three of them college girls too, pretty young things. Chief wouldn’t be happy about having to report they’d found nothing, not even bodies, to the media that was slavering like a pack of wild dogs to get at the disaster site – but what the hell were they supposed to do? Couldn’t control the weather, could they?
He shook his head as he neared the denser brush that marked the edge of the clearing. Freak storm this late in December carrying away half a carnival – like something out of the Wizard of Oz, it was. ‘Cept that was just a movie, and this – he eyed the broken limbs and bits of debris, all carefully confined within the parameters of the clearing, not a limb outside the area so much as missing a leaf. He’d seen some crazy stuff in his two years on the Sunnydale PD, okay, he’d seen a lot of crap no one would believe, but this, this one was harder to explain than most. How could those girls just vanish into thin air? How could one confined spot have this much damage and nothing around it be touched?
The fading daylight lengthened the shadows, and he realized with a start that darkness was falling. He suppressed a shiver and turned quickly, pulling his flashlight out and clicking the beam on, letting it slide across the field in front of him as he hurried back across the clearing, dodging the debris of tents and booths that still remained. No point in hanging ‘round out here and adding to the body count.
He was moving so quickly that he almost missed the bounce of the beam off something bright that caught the light. He stopped in the path, aiming the light more directly as his breath caught. Blonde. It was blonde hair, half hidden beneath the flap of a tent. They must have somehow missed her. He hurried forward, pushing the canvas back as he knelt beside the small inert body, gently rolling the girl, who limply uncurled, all but one fist still balled tightly around a crumpled envelope. Jenson noted the rise and fall of her chest with relief as he stumbled back to his feet, waving his light in the air to signal to the other figures moving along the far edge of the clearing. “One of them’s here, and she’s alive!”
He stepped back as an older man and younger woman hurried towards him, leading the rush, the girl falling to her knees with a muffled sob.
“Giles, it’s her. It’s Buffy.”
Three days earlier
“What’s up, Will? You’ve got serious serious face. Exam studying got you down?”
Willow tossed her highlighter onto the desk, scowling. “Stupid Wicca group.”
Buffy paused from unloading her bookbag, “Willow, are you, um, making with the magicks again? ‘Cause I’m still feeling the need to brush multiple times a day to combat the Spike lips,” she shivered.
Willow jumped up, brandishing the sheet of paper. “Buffy, no, of course not. After last week, I totally learned my lesson. Officially taking a break from will bendy spells and all their brethren. Totally spell free here.”
”Relax, just kidding. I still have cookies to prove that.” Buffy leaned forward and glanced at the sheet. “UC-Sunnydale Samhain Harvest Festival.” She frowned, “This is for tomorrow night? But wasn’t Samhain-“
”Like weeks ago?” Willow finished. “I know. But apparently the activity field was booked until this Friday.”
”So your Wicca group’s gonna be-”
“Manning carnival booths and selling muffins. It’s apparently their biggest fundraiser of the year.” Willow glared mournfully at the sheet in her hand. “I volunteered to put together the work schedule for the wicca wannabes who wouldn’t know what Samhain was if it bit them in the-“ ”Uh-oh, meow alert,” Buffy interrupted, grinning. “I’m sorry, Willow, but I’m sure it’ll be great, with you helping organize things. Very successful.” Willow shrugged her shoulders. “I guess. And you’ll come with, won’t you? They’re going to have some rides, and those games that are totally rigged, and even a fortune teller.”
“Sure, Willow, sounds like fun. Maybe the fortune teller can predict if I’ll pass these finals.” Buffy shook her head as she grabbed a book with a sigh, then perked up. “Or maybe even some of the questions on them!”
The UC Sunnydale activity field was ablaze with lights and swarmed with people, as Willow and Buffy entered through the arch made of balloons as dusk was starting to fall.
“Nice, Willow – you guys really outdid yourself,” Buffy commented. “And ooh, look, cotton candy!”
She hurried over towards the booth where the thick strands of spun sugar were being twisted around paper sticks and selected a pink one. “Will? You want some?”
Willow shook her head. “I’ll wait, Tamara’s manning the baked good table and I want to get one of the cupcakes there. I need to kind of check on things, make sure everyone’s where they’re supposed to be.”
They strolled together through the crowd, among the various booths and games, stopping to watch occasionally as person after person plunked down their cash for a chance at stuffed animals and other prizes.
Buffy paused at the ring toss while Willow wandered over to mull the cupcake selection and check in with the Wicca group, absently pulling puffs of the cotton candy and licking the melting sweetness of her fingertips. She turned to look down the midway at the sound of a familiar voice.
“Ahn, it was the only thing they had. It’s Bugs. Who doesn’t like Bugs?”
“Xander Harris, that is not a bug. If it were, I would cherish the token of your desire. It’s a bunny!” Anya’s voice rose higher in revulsion.
“You said you wanted me to win you something, Anya,” Xander grumbled. “Fine, I’ll get rid of it.” Xander stopped as he caught sight of Buffy. “Hey, it’s the Buffster! You’d like a sweet little rabbit, wouldn’t you?”
“Ohh, a bunny. Where’d you get it Xander?” she asked.
“Won it at the shooting gallery.” He cocked his finger like a gun at her as he passed over the stuffed animal. “Eyes like an eagle.”
“Very nice. Sure you don’t want it, Anya?” Buffy bit her lip to keep from smiling as Anya’s eyes narrowed, clearly torn between her fear of the rabbit and her desire to keep all of Xander’s attention on her. It was probably a good thing Anya wasn’t a vengeance demon anymore, she’d probably be toast otherwise, Slayer or no.
“No, that’s fine. I’ll have Xander win me something else. One of those stuffed alligators, perhaps.”
Willow popped back up beside Buffy, arms full of baked goods that she displayed to the others. “So many good things, I couldn’t decide. Xan, you want some of the brownies? I know they’re your favorite.”
“Umm, I love you, Willow,” Xander grinned, grabbing one of the brownies. Buffy looked the other way to keep from laughing out loud as Anya stared daggers at him until he realized what he’d done. “And you too, Anya. Love you too.” He glanced between the two. “But not the same. Differently. Love of the different kind of the two of you.” He stopped and Buffy stepped in before he twisted himself further.
“And we love you, too, Xan-man, in that platonic best-friend kind of way. So thanks for the furry friend here, but Willow and I have a date to see the fortune teller to tell us when we’re going to meet our next tall, dark and handsome, so we’ll leave you guys to it.” She pulled Xander aside. “Try the ferris wheel. Girls like that.”
“Thanks, Buffy. See you later.”
Buffy linked arms with Willow as they wandered toward the edge of the carnival, where one of the booths on the edge displayed a brightly lit sign. Madame Serena. Palms Read and Futures Revealed.
“So is she supposed to be the real deal?” Buffy asked, chucking the stick of her cotton candy in a trash can as she tucked her stuffed rabbit more firmly under her arm.
Willow shrugged. “I doubt it. Bethany found her on some website, she apparently does a lot of fairs and stuff. You sure you want to do this, Buffy?”
Buffy nodded. “My mom used to go to this palm reader back in Los Angeles, right about the time she and my dad were starting to break up, and she’d take me sometimes. It was funny to listen to the vague stuff she’d come up with as her predictions. Never guessed I was a Chosen One, though, so I guess she wasn’t the real deal either.” She started towards the tent. “I’m going to do it. It’ll be fun.”
“Sure, I guess so.” Willow dug in her pocket nervously, pulling out the ten dollar fee. “You want to go first?”
“Let’s do it together,” Buffy replied, pulling back the flap of the tent and peering into the near darkness. “Madame Serena?”
“This way to learn more about your future,” a voice intoned from the rear of the tent.
Buffy and Willow ducked through the opening. Inside, the tent was low and close, with a table set up near the rear on a thick carpet, candles flickering on twisted candelabras on each side illuminating a small woman in a spangled and flowing dress, dark hair piled high on her head. “Come and have a seat and all will be revealed,” she repeated, motioning them forward, the rings on her fingers sparkling in the light.
They took the seats in front of the table holding a crystal ball as directed and handed across their money.
“Now, what can Madame Serena foretell for you tonight? Is there a matter of the heart you wished revealed?”
Buffy looked at Willow and tried not to giggle. “Sure, we were just hoping you could tell us a little more about our futures.”
“Very well, may I have your palm?” Madame Serena gestured to Buffy.
Buffy leaned forward and presented her hand across the table. Madame Serena’s skin was cool and soft as she carefully tilted Buffy’s palm to the candlelight, studying the lines.
“My, but you do have an interesting life line,” Madame Serena mused, ghosting her hand across Buffy’s and meeting her eyes for a half-second with an odd expression. She shook her head, and let go, leaning back in her chair. “But what you wish to hear of tonight is the romance, the love to come.”
She gazed into her crystal ball for a long minute, then shook her head as though to gather her thoughts. “You have known the pain of losing love, yes?”
Buffy frowned, but nodded. “Yes.”
Madame Serena sighed, “Yes, yes, he was handsome, your first love. Unique. One of a kind.”
Buffy glanced at Willow, raising an eyebrow at the cliches. “Yeah, I guess you could say that.”
Madame Serena nodded in understanding. “The first loves, they are hard to lose. But I see in your love line another, the love you are meant for.”
Buffy grinned and leaned forward. “Tell me more.”
“He is one you think of now as an enemy. The opposite of your first love in many ways, light instead of dark, yet in some ways the same. This one is filled with a spark that cannot be denied.”
“Huh?” Buffy asked. “Is he maybe from the Midwest?” She glanced at Willow, who suddenly opened her eyes wide.
“No, his origins are distant and his journey to you long. His way is not yet clear, but his path seems to be inexplicably tied with yours. This one is a poet within, yet there is a darkness that surrounds him at present.”
Willow giggled. Buffy turned and stared at her. “What?”
Willow leaned over. “Sure you’re not still thinking about kissing Spike?”
Buffy stood up. “Spike?” She turned to the fortune teller. “I’m sorry, but you’re telling me that the love of my future life is a bleached blond, no-good, Billy Idol wannebe? I don’t care how chipped he is, that’s never going to happen.”
She turned and left the tent. Willow shrugged and stood up. “Sorry, kind of a touchy subject for her. That kind of sounded like a guy… they had a little thing while they were kind of.. . um… under the influence, and she’s a little sensitive about it still. So, thanks for the fortune and all. I guess I’d better go and find her.”
“You paid as well, do you not wish to know of your true love as well?”
Willow shook her head. “I don’t think I’m ready to know right now.”
The tent flap closed behind the redhead, and Serena blew out a breath. A Slayer in this little town. Of course with the Hellmouth here, it wasn’t that big of a surprise. The friend radiated an untapped power as well, but hers remained mostly dormant for the moment, layered and wrapped in fears and inhibitions that she was soon to begin to shed. Could be a force to be reckoned with one day.
But the Slayer. The mate of a vampire, of all things. And not just one vampire, but two. One in the past, and one to come. Serena absently polished at the prop of the crystal ball before her. She’d heard tales of those girls. Powerful deadly candles in the wind, so brief and yet so lethal for a time. This one was already older than most – perhaps her fascination with the creatures she was chosen to kill gave her some sort of edge.
Satisfied that the sphere was once again clear of smudge marks, she leaned back into her chair to wait for the next guest. She only had another hour or so, then she’d pack up and leave town, crossing Sunnydale off her list of possible doorways back to her world. She’d had no luck finding the right energy signature, and there were too many other things crawling her that she’d rather not tangle with if she could avoid it.
The rustle of the tent flap drew her attention and she touched her hair, patting the carefully coiffed spirals. “This way to learn more about your future.”
A pair entered, a man and woman, and Serena felt her back stiffen as she sensed them instantly. Vampires. She focused on her breathing and heart rate. No need to attract their attention unnecessarily. Just treat them like the rest of these college kids and then get the hell out of Sunnydale.
“What can Madame Serena foretell for you tonight? Is there a matter of the heart you wished revealed?”
The girl tossed her blond hair over her shoulder. “I want to hear all about my future with my Blondie Bear over there.” She batted her eyes at the man, who remained slouched at the rear, arms crossed. “Come here, Spikey, she’ll need to look at our palms to see how they match up.
Blondie Bear prowled across the tent floor and slid into the seat. “Make it quick like.”
Serena took a deep breath and pasted on a smile. “Very well, may I have your palm?”
Buffy sat on a bench outside the Tilt-a-Whirl, waiting for Willow to finish her rounds of Wicca scheduling again. She studied her nails, rubbing at the chip in her pinkie from last night’s slayage. “That’s right, slayage, Madame Serena,” she muttered to herself. “Making out with a vamp under a spell one time does not make a slayer into some kind of vamp groupie. Angel was a special case.”
She shook her head. It was just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, anyway. She hadn’t seen Riley this week, not since she’d bumped into him on campus after the while will be done spell and totally played off the Spike engagement, but she was pretty sure that was the kind of guy she should be going after. Nice. Normal. Able to absorb sunlight without ending in a fiery poof.
Buffy stood up and stretched, patting her side. Her rabbit. Where had she put her rabbit? She snapped her fingers. She must have left it in the fortuneteller tent when she stormed out.
She headed back across the midway. Things were starting to wind down, people heading slowly towards the exits. The edge of the carnival where Madame Serena’s tent sat was nearly deserted, just a couple of girls giggling as they tossed darts at a small booth and another couple arguing a few steps away from the fortune teller tent. Buffy paused as she gave the couple a second glance.
Harmony. And Spike. What the hell was he doing here when he was supposed to be at Giles? Buffy slipped around the back of the tent to try to get closer without him seeing.
“Pet, that cow is daft. How she could think I’d ever fancy the Slayer over the like of you, I don’t know.”
Buffy froze. Madame Serena had told Spike they were destined too? Was she mental?
“I don’t care. She’s a fortuneteller, she knows things, Spike. And I’m not going to stand by and see her take my Blondie Bear away.”
Buffy slipped her hand behind her to find the stake tucked in the back of her pants, before realizing that Harmony wasn’t coming for her. Harmony was headed back in to the tent after Serena.
Buffy started to pull at the rear flap to slip into the back as she watched Spike turn at the sound and catch her eye. A chanting noise filled the night air, then a roar and a whoosh and the last thing Buffy knew was darkness.
The A/N of Epic Fail: I hate posting a WIP for this day, and had the best of intentions to complete this by today when I signed up. Had an outline drafted, bits and pieces sketched out, a nice start. I’d taken into account scheduling issue and signed up for an early date to avoid work conflicts. And then work laughed at my attempts to otherwise have a life, bashed me over the head, dragged me back into the office and chained me to my desk for the last few months. So I’m sorry that this isn’t going to be completed today, but if I get time off for good behavior (fingers crossed), I hope to be able to complete and post it be the free for all day. Thanks for reading the start!
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/319751.html