|Story Title:||Miles To Go Before I Sleep|
In another dimension, another time, a decision is made and a new dimension spins off into the vast universe: the Gift-less Dimension. Back in the Unexpected Universe, the Council, and our heroes, are offered a mission for pay - substantial pay. Sounds good, but the universe, as always, is conspiring against them. There is never anything good given to them that doesn’t demand blood in return.
April 2011 (About two months since the mortgage burning party)
Reminder: In my world, crucial decision points can create new dimensions/universes as well as portals to them. Worlds split at some (usually major) decision points, with one dimension going with decision ‘A’ and one dimension following decision ‘B’.
Music Referenced: None
ScreenCaps courtesy of ScreenCap Paradise: http://www.screencap-paradise.com/?cat=3
|Thanks:||To Capella42 for her great suggestions that made the chapter, and the whole story, better. Thanks also to u2fan2005 and epd4 for their suggestions, corrections, and help betaing this chapter and to Anona for her grammatical and punctuation corrections and final review. All mistakes are mine because I simply cannot stop fiddling right up to the last moment.|
|Rating / Warnings:||
NC17. Content is only suitable for mature adults. Contains explicit language, sex, adult themes, and other adult situations that some people may find objectionable. If you are under the age of 17 or find any of these themes objectionable – GO AWAY.
(Ten years ago) May 2001, Sunnydale, Glory’s tower, “Evil Joss Dimension” (aka: Canon):
Dawn screamed above her on the rickety tower and Buffy’s head jerked up involuntarily, trying to see what was happening. The hell-god lay beaten at Buffy’s feet, now morphed into her human form of Ben. The Slayer rushed away from him, this fight was over – she had to get up the tower, up to Dawn.
For the first time in months the Slayer felt a small surge of hope burst forth in her heart. It felt like the weight of the world lifted off her shoulders in that moment. Finally they had won; they had defeated Glory, saved her sister and the world. It hadn’t been easy. In fact, it had been one of the hardest battles she’d ever waged, mentally, emotionally, and physically. But, with the help of her friends and Spike, she had finally done the impossible – defeated a god.
As she flew up the shaking tower, the biggest weight on her heart was knowing that, even though they could go home, her mom wouldn’t be there waiting. She still missed her every moment of every day, but she had Dawn and that’s what she had to concentrate on now. It’s what her mom would’ve wanted.
Giles knelt down next to the beaten and bloodied man whom he had once considered to be their … well, if not friend, then certainly not an enemy – an ally perhaps. “Can you move?” he asked sympathetically as Ben struggled to breathe through his bloodied nose and mouth.
“Need … a minute,” Ben stammered out. “She could’ve killed me.”
Giles shook his head slowly. “No, she couldn’t. Never. And, sooner or later, Glory will re-emerge and make Buffy pay for that mercy and the world with her. Buffy even knows that, and still she couldn’t take a human life. She’s a hero, you see,” Giles pointed out, smiling sadly at Ben.
“She’s not like us,” he added after a moment, but it wasn’t Giles any longer, it was Ripper. His gaze hardened and his mouth drew into a determined, grim line as he stared down at the beaten man. There was only one thing left to do, for Buffy, for Dawn, for the world.
“Us?” Ben questioned, his eyes widening with fear.
Giles reached a hand down and covered the human’s mouth and nose. The Watcher pressed down with all his strength, cutting off Ben’s oxygen supply and smothering him.
Looking down on Glory’s human vessel, a glimmer of pity rose in the Watcher, the gentler soul of Giles surfacing past the determined Ripper. Ben was a victim, controlled and suppressed by the hell-god. An innocent, just like Dawn, caught in the ruthless attempt of a power hungry bitch on her way to regain her former position and rank. Ben hadn’t chosen this fate; it was dumped on him, he’d had no choice.
Suddenly appalled with himself, Giles’ grip loosened slightly. Ben took a deep, shuddering breath and opened his eyes to look up at the Watcher, silently begging for mercy. Ben gulped hungrily at the oxygen that his body thirsted for, drinking it in like a parched desert would drink a blessed drop of rain. Giles closed his eyes, trying to get his nerve back, his determination back. He had to do this, for Buffy if for no other reason, he admonished himself.
Before he could summon his resolve again, the Watcher was thrown across the battleground. His body slammed into one of the shaky and tenuous legs of the tower that Glory’s crazy human minions had built and the whole thing swayed dangerously. Giles cried out, his voice masking the grotesque crunch of bone. The pain in his back was excruciating, but only for a moment, then it faded to nearly nothing. He tried to reach behind him as he slid down to the ground under the tower, but he couldn’t get his arm to work. Or the other arm. He tried to stand but his legs wouldn’t move either.
All he could do was look up and watch Glory pick her way deliberately through the debris towards him. She had the troll hammer gripped in her hands and a deadly, angry glint in her eyes. “You were right,” Glory informed Giles coldly. “I’m back.”
It was the last thing Giles ever heard as she slammed the hammer down on his skull. The last thought that flashed in his mind was for Buffy and Dawn, both now high up on the tower above him. He couldn’t help her now, he’d failed her; he’d failed the world.
I sincerely hope I didn’t leave dirty dishes in the sink. Funny what your mind conjures when you’re dying.
A bright flash of the portal opening drew Glory’s attention upwards. For a brief moment she stared up at the gateway, her heart lifted in absolute joy – she was nearly home! Otherworldly demons were flooding through the opening, both from her dimension and others. A giant bat flew through the portal and Glory squealed like a school-girl. She hadn’t been this giddy in so long she’d nearly forgotten what it felt like. It was even better than the time she found a pair Louboutins in her size at Bergdorf Goodman for half off!
The hell-god was so enthralled that she was only briefly aware of Doc plunging from the tower. Her faithful follower landed with a grisly crunch of bones and flesh on the ground not far from where the impertinent peroxide vampire lay unconscious, but she didn’t focus on them. There was something else holding her attention now: Dawn wasn’t alone on the tower – the Slayer was there too.
Glory’s eyes widened and she let out an ear piercing scream as she saw Buffy running towards the portal. That bitch Slayer was going to screw this up for her after all!
In an instant, Glory swung the troll hammer with all her godly strength at the base of the impoverished tower. The whole structure swayed like a drunken sailor and began listing dangerously to the left. She quickly hit it again and the tower dropped several feet, buckling in the middle and bending down like a pond bird snatching a small fish from the shallows. Glory dropped the hammer onto the ground and a satisfied smile curled her red lips. No one bested her twice.
The tower dropped out from under Buffy’s feet just as she pushed off the end – or tried to push off, but her feet hit nothing but thin air. Buffy faltered and her feet shot out from under her as she leapt off the end of the demonic high-dive. With no momentum to carry her away from the tower, she fell. Her arms flailed, trying to propel her forward into the portal, but it wasn’t enough. Her shins cracked loudly against the end of the steel gangplank before she tumbled head over heels towards the concrete below, completely missing the portal. She reached out towards the steel structure, but it was too far away – there was nothing she could do to stop the inevitable.
Everything seemed to move in slow motion while she tumbled towards the earth below. That weight that had been lifted from her suddenly crashed down on her like a wave of leaden misery. She realized with complete clarity that she had failed in her mission; failed Dawn, and failed the world. Her life flashed before her eyes: her dad running beside her as she rode her bicycle for the first time with no training wheels, her mom baking cookies at Christmastime, the day her parents brought Dawn home from the hospital, the day Merrick told her she was the Chosen One, the heartbreaking move from L.A. to Sunnydale and everything since.
It all seemed to race through her mind so quickly – too quickly. It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t nearly enough. It had all been leading to this moment in time, and it all ended here, in abject failure.
When Buffy hit on the concrete below the tower, her body pancaked unto itself and bounced several feet back up into the air before settling down again with a dull thud. She could actually feel every bone in her body fold and shatter, every organ explode within her.
It isn’t the fall that’ll get you, it’s the landing. Funny what your mind conjures when you’re dying.
Death was her gift, but she was leaving this world ‘gift-less’; the Slayer had faltered, she’d ultimately failed. For the briefest moment she thought she saw Spike reach out for her, call her name, but she couldn’t really focus through the pain. Then everything faded to a dull, lifeless grey and finally darkness descended on her like the sun sinking below the horizon for the last time.
Spike crawled over to Buffy, his body mangled, bleeding and broken, even as he heard Dawn screaming above him. He looked up to see the tower whipping back and forth like a delicate reed in a savage wind. Dawn was hanging on for dear life and the portal to hell continued to expand as her blood was strewn about. Demons of every description began spewing out of the gaping maw, but he had no thoughts of them, only of Buffy and of the promise he’d made to her to protect Dawn.
He struggled to his feet, then fell back down to one knee; his leg screamed in pain like it was broken, although he wasn’t sure. He pushed the pain away. Whatever it was, it would heal – later. Now he needed to get to Dawn. He pushed himself upright and took one staggering step and then another, but it wouldn’t be enough. The whole tower creaked loudly, like millions upon millions of rusty bolts being reluctantly turned in their moorings at once, and then it just gave way, crashing down and taking Dawn with it.
Spike saw it coming right at him. He instinctively turned and dove on top of Buffy to shield her from the falling debris. Protecting Buffy was a reflex; he didn’t realize that it was already too late for that. She no longer needed him to shield her from anything.
Over the din of the steel crashing around him, he heard screams, Dawn’s screams and others. Minions and Scoobies alike were caught in the avalanche of iron and steel, as if a demonic junkyard was falling from the sky. It seemed to last an eternity as he took the brunt of the punishment on his back and legs, trying to do all he could to keep the deadly girders off the Slayer. But he had no idea how long an eternity really was. He’d lived forever, it seemed, but he couldn’t comprehend the length and depth and width of an eternity until everything went silent.
Completely still. Deathly silent. No movement. No breath. No screams. No heartbeats. There was nothing. His entire world died in that moment.
“Oh, God, Buffy,” Spike moaned as he realized there was no heartbeat, there was no breath even from her.
He’d rarely been this close to the Slayer. Except for her fist connecting with his nose, he’d only felt her touch a few precious times. That day Red’s ‘will be done’ spell went wonky came to his mind. The gentle kiss she’d given him for standing up to Glory was another moment he’d treasure until the end of time. But now here he was, next to her at last and it was too late. It was too late to hold her, to comfort her, to help her. It was too late to keep his word. He’d failed. He’d given his word to this lady who held his heart in her hands and he’d failed.
Tears came to his eyes unbidden. He couldn’t stop the sobs which wracked his body even as the demons continued to stream in from the open portal above him. It didn’t matter – the world could finally end.
What difference did it make now? He had no one to be a hero for. Buffy and Dawn were gone.
PRESENT DAY: Tuesday, April 12th, 2011, Unexpected Universe:
Angel stretched his legs out under the heavy oak table and let his gaze wander around the conference room in Council headquarters in Sunnydale. Buffy and Spike, along with the rest of the Council Governing Committee (aka: CGC) were all here. Fred had called this meeting on behalf of Angel and had specifically asked that Spike attend despite the fact that he wasn’t actually on the CGC. Two FBI agents stood at the very head of the table to Angel’s right. Buffy and Spike retreated to the other end of the long room, as far away from the broody vampire as they could get.
For Buffy, the fact that Angel wanted Spike to attend a meeting was cause for considerable concern. The fact that Spike actually came was even more shocking.
“… An American nuclear submarine has gone missing in the Bering Sea in international waters, about halfway between Alaska and Russia. The last transmission from the crew was three days ago,” the older of the agents told the group.
Buffy sized up the senior agent, guessing he was in his fifties. The nearly black hair of the man’s youth had salted with grey and lines crinkled around his eyes and lips when he talked. He wore a brown suit which was quite obviously ‘off the rack’. His tie looked like something Rodney Dangerfield would wear; it was too wide, 1970s wide, and sported three shades of orange in a paisley design. She mentally called him ‘Salt & Pepper’; she hadn’t actually caught either of their names.
“The Navy and Coast Guard have located the sub with a homing beacon that the crew engaged just after the radio transmissions ended,” he continued to drone flatly. “It’s under several thousand feet of sub-freezing, constantly churning water on the bottom of what may be the deadliest sea in the world.
“We’ve managed to kept the disappearance out of the news, but to say that time is of the essence would be a gross understatement … which is what brings us here today,” he continued. The agent’s dour frown seemed to age him another ten years within just a few minutes.
Buffy sighed heavily, crossing her arms over her chest in utter boredom. What did any of this have to do with them?
When the younger of the two FBI agents started pulling out visual aids in the form of charts and graphs to add to their long-winded tale of woe, Buffy sighed even louder, but they didn’t seem to notice her apathy. After listening to the men drone on about the geo-political implications of a missing nuclear sub for another five minutes, Buffy finally raised her hand. When they didn’t stop talking or recognize her, she stood up.
“Excuse me,” she began curtly. “I know this is beyond fascinating for you government types, but some of us actually have lives that we’d like to get back to before the world ends. Can you shorten this down to the Reader’s Digest version and tell us what any of this has to do with a southern California community outreach and enhancement organization?”
‘Salt & Pepper’ cleared his throat uncomfortably and looked at Angel for help. The older agent was apparently in charge of this shindig, but was obviously not very comfortable with veering far off his carefully planned, and excruciatingly boring, script.
Angel stood up and looked down the table at Buffy. “Bottom line?” the dark vampire asked.
“The bottomest of the bottom,” Buffy agreed, her arms folded tightly over her chest.
“The Navy sent an unmanned probe down – what they call an ‘AUV’. What they found is a monster that’s as big as the sub, wrapped around it with several octopus-type arms. From what they can see, the hull has already been crushed, so it’s a good bet the crew is lost. If it manages to destroy the nuclear reactor, it would be like setting off a nuclear bomb just off the coast,” Angel summarized as quickly as possible, well aware that Buffy had reached the end of her patience. He’d seen that look more than once in his unlife. “Bottom line: that would not be good.”
“The Loch Ness Monster is alive and well and vacationing off the coast of Alaska?” Buffy queried. “How did it get out of that lake in Ireland?”
“Scotland,” Giles corrected quietly. “And I don’t believe the Loch Ness Monster has arms like an octopus.”
“They’ve never seen anything like it before,” Angel informed her.
“We believe it may be demonic in nature,” the younger of the FBI agents offered. “Which is where your …uhhh … ‘community outreach organization’ comes in.”
Buffy sighed and looked up at the ceiling a moment, then leveled her gaze back on Angel. “So … we’re supposed to go fight some ginormous underwater monster with what? Stakes? Crossbows? Our good intentions? I’m sure the Navy has lots of fancy weapons they can use on it – what do they need me for?”
“Not you, Buffy,” Angel clarified, shifting his gaze to Spike and Bess, who sat side-by-side to her right. “They need someone who can withstand the pressure at that depth, who doesn’t have to breathe, who isn’t bothered by cold and someone whom exposure to a nuclear reactor won’t hurt.”
“Oh, bloody hell,” Spike moaned, rolling his eyes. “If you think I’m gettin’ on another soddin’ sub with the likes of you, you’re dafter than I thought.”
“Spiiike,” Angel groaned as if talking to a petulant child. “If you hadn’t been on that sub in the first place, I wouldn’t have had to go there,” he reminded his grand-childe. “Besides, they’re willing to pay.”
At that, Spike sat forward in his chair. “How much?”
“Oh no! Just hold on one minute!” Buffy started, putting one hand on Spike’s shoulder as if to hold him back and holding her other hand up to stop Angel from answering. “You want me to send Spike and Bess off to fight this thing when we don’t even know what it is or how to kill it?”
“We have video of it,” the younger FBI agent offered quickly. “The AUV sent it back before it got … well, you’ll see.”
The younger man seemed a little nervous, more than the older man, as he pulled out an iPad and queued up the video. At least he didn’t need a script to go by, that was a relief.
He was handsome enough, probably late twenties, with short dishwater blond hair – regulation short, Buffy assumed. He wore a well cut grey suit that was obviously not ‘off the rack’, in direct contrast to Salt & Pepper. He had a matching grey tie with just a hint of thin, lilac stripes running diagonally across it. Frankly, he looked like he might’ve just stepped off the pages of “GQ”. Newbie, Buffy thought, and probably still living off his parents’ money.
“The pay would be substantial,” the elder agent said, confirming Angel’s pronouncement as the newbie fiddled with his gadget. “Seven figures if you can prevent the core from melting down. You have to stop the potential devastation of the ecosystem by getting the reactor back to the surface undamaged. In addition, the demon would need to be vanquished. We can ill afford further incidents like this one.”
“Seven to the left side of the decimal, yeah?” Spike questioned, cocking a brow at the man.
The elder agent smiled knowingly and nodded.
“US dollars … not Zimbabwe dollars or Mexican pesos or some rot like that?” Spike continued and received another affirmative nod.
“And just what might the first number in that long string o’ lovely numbers be, then?” Spike wondered.
“We were thinking of a middle range prime number. To be split amongst the three of you and the Council.”
“What does that mean?” Buffy asked looking at Spike.
Spike narrowed his eyes at the FBI agent for a moment and then looked at Buffy. “Five million … split four ways.”
“Five million?” Buffy’s eyes went wide. “That would be like … uhhh …”
“A million and a quarter … each,” Spike calculated for her.
“And, if this is successful, we’d consider putting your organization, as well as Angel Investigations, on retainer with an annual fee in the low six figures,” the elder agent explained further. “Compensation for each mission you complete, would, of course, be negotiated based on a risk/reward scale as well as level of difficulty.”
Buffy let all that sink in a minute as the younger agent slid his iPad down the table towards them. It sounded like they were judging a gymnastic event – a score for level of difficulty and execution. You fall off the balance beam and drop the nuclear reactor and they deduct one point from your score. Of course, everyone will be dead by then! She was not loving this.
Spike got the device situated so he, Bess, and Buffy could see it from their seats. Giles, Wes, and Faith got up and stood behind them.
“Are you sure this is demonic?” Buffy wondered. “It just looks like an overgrown octopus.”
“Keep watching,” the younger agent advised.
When the AUV found the creature’s head it paused there in its journey around the downed sub. The giant octopus appeared to be asleep, resting atop the submarine. However, when the probe came in for a closer look, it roused the sleeping monster. Two slits in the creature’s head opened to reveal enormous eyes. The irises were as red as a matador’s cape and likely as large and the purple colored pupils seemed to be electric; they glowed from within like a neon light. In the video, the size of the creature was hard to judge with nothing to really compare it to, but it appeared to cover the sub completely.
“Whoa,” Faith muttered as the underwater demon looked directly at the probe and opened a gaping maw full of thousands of thin, razor sharp teeth. In a blink of an eye, the creature sucked the AUV inside. Shortly after passing by those rows of teeth, the video went abruptly black.
“That AUV was approximately the size of a large man. It weighed several hundred pounds and was made from extremely thick steel to withstand the pressure at that depth. That ‘octopus’ just ate it like it was a piece of celery,” the elder agent explained. “We can’t send a torpedo down there and blow it up – we’d blow up the sub in the process.
“What we can do is send some more AUVs down to help. They could be used to distract the monster, draw its attention away from you. Maybe we could drop a net over it to try and keep it from lashing out or getting away. But, I’m afraid that to vanquish it, it will take hand-to-hand combat, harpoons, spear guns … although I don’t think stakes or crossbows would be advisable.”
“Could you give us a minute?” Buffy asked, looking at the two ‘febs’.
“Of course,” Salt & Pepper agreed, as the two suits exited the conference room, closing the door behind them.
“This is crazy – it’s too dangerous,” Buffy started before the door even closed completely. “And, what do we know about these guys … Angel?”
“Angel’s worked with ‘em before. Innit that right, Peaches?” Spike interjected before Angel could answer.
“Not these particular guys, but … yeah. They called themselves the Demon Research Initiative in the forties. Back then, they didn’t pay, they didn’t even ask, they told – do it or else,” Angel explained.
“The Demon Research Initiative? As in the Initiative that set up camp right here in Sunnydale and tried to kill us all?” Buffy asked incredulously.
Angel shrugged. “I don’t know if it’s the same … anyway, they don’t call themselves that anymore … they just said they’re with the FBI.”
“Oh, well – that’s different!” Buffy scoffed. “Of course, if they’re just with the FBI they must be perfectly trustworthy. And now they not only know about you, but you’ve led them to our doorstep, too. What a guy.”
“Buffy,” Angel groaned her name like she was an ill-tempered child.
“Don’t ‘Buffy’ me, Sporto! I’m not sixteen anymore – you can drop the holier-than-thou attitude,” Buffy chastised him. “Why did you bring them here?”
Angel closed his eyes and sighed heavily before opening them and meeting her angry gaze. “I need the money and … I don’t think I can beat that thing alone. I thought I was helping – thought the extra income wouldn’t hurt you either.”
“Ever the altruist,” Spike smirked. “What’s that catchy ditty ya got there at AI? ‘We trample the trollops’ or some rot like that? Why don’t ya go back and tend to that, then? We don’t need your soddin’ money,” the blond vamp informed his grand-sire with a smirk. Despite the fact that Spike would jump at the chance for that payday in a heartbeat, it was obvious that Buffy was against it, and it did his soul good to rub Angel’s face in the muck at any possible opportunity.
Angel glared at him wordlessly. He knew better than to egg Spike on too much; for whatever reason the people in Sunnydale thought he was some kind of hero or something. Xander even called him by his actual name now. The best Angel got from Xander Harris was being called ‘Dead Boy’ most of the time, regardless of the number of times Angel had saved his sorry ass – at least one of those times from Spike.
Giles cleared his throat loudly and everyone turned to him. “Not to be overly materialistic, but such a payday would go a long way towards funding numerous programs for the Slayers and Watchers in the field. We could provide additional training, enhanced weaponry, increased wages, housing … perhaps even health and dental insurance with those funds and the ongoing retainer fee.”
“Oh, well, in that case – sure!” Buffy replied sarcastically, waving her arms out dramatically. “Let the big sea monster eat my husband and my daughter, as long as I can get health insurance!”
“Don’t forget dental,” Faith interjected with a smirk.
“Buffy, you know very well that’s not what I meant,” Giles defended himself.
“Giles, all the money in the world is not worth this. This is my family you’re talking about. I’m not sacrificing them for dental!” Buffy insisted angrily.
Giles blew out a breath and held his hands up in surrender. “And I’m not suggesting that either. I’m simply saying the funds they’re offering could go a long way towards our mission of protecting the greater good of the world at large. That is what we’re here for, as I recall.”
Buffy sighed and rolled her eyes before leveling a determined gaze on Giles. “I don’t like it. I can’t even go with Spike and Bess. How do we know we can trust them? How do we know they won’t gather us all up and put us in cages to study like lab rats?”
“If they were gonna do that, they would’ve done it already,” Angel answered for the Watcher.
Buffy turned a steely gaze on her ex, her green eyes darkened to the color of slate and narrowed as she studied him. “Or leave them at the bottom of the ocean …” she suggested. Her voice was so hard that it came out as an accusation. What if Angel was really here looking for payback for the time he spent imprisoned under the waves?
Angel closed his eyes and took in a deep, exasperated breath, his hands balled into fists and his jaw clenched as he counted to ten … then twenty. After counting to fifty, he let the air out slowly and looked Buffy squarely in the eye, determined to keep his voice even and calm. “They need help – they’re willing to pay for it. They’re a bureaucratic, government agency. All they’re interested in is keeping the public from panicking, keeping the economy of the whole west coast from collapsing, and keeping world peace. All I want is a payday … money, cash, greenbacks, dinero. That’s it, Buffy. There’s no hidden agenda here. There’s no conspiracy.”
“And, they can print all the money they want to pay for it – they own the soddin’ printin’ press,” Spike interjected brightly, happy to see Buffy getting his grand-sire’s goat. “I think at least two million each wouldn’t be unreasonable compared to what bailing out the whole west coast would run.”
“I’m certain they’d be open to negotiation,” Giles agreed. “This isn’t a decision for the CGC, however. It’s completely up to Spike and Bess, as individuals, but I believe the long-term implications of such a windfall could propel the Council from disarray to ...”
“… the ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous’?” Buffy interjected sarcastically, cutting him off. Then, changing to an earnest tone she asked, “Is it just me or do you guys think Robin Leach is a demon?”
Nearly everyone in the meeting nodded and muttered quiet words of agreement. Giles rolled his eyes.
(Three days later), Friday, April, 15th, 2011:
Despite Buffy’s concerns and objections, Spike and Bess both wanted to join the submarine rescue mission with Angel. Buffy knew she could pressure Spike into not doing it, but she had no right to stop Bess. So, in the end, she decided she’d rather have Spike go with Bess than Bess go alone with Angel. At least Spike did have the Gem of Amarra; Bess had nothing but her Slayer and vampire strength and healing abilities. Spike and Bess could watch each other’s back; she didn’t trust Angel to watch anyone’s back but Angel’s.
The three vamps left from the military base south of town yesterday. They had flown out to an aircraft carrier via helicopter. From there they transferred to a smaller boat and were taken directly to the spot in the Bering Sea over the downed sub. Using their bond, Spike had kept in contact with Buffy nearly every hour to assure her that everything was alright. So far everything was going according to what the FBI agents had told them. To everyone’s relief there had been no surprises.
Spike contacted Buffy when they started their decent. Since neither Angel nor Bess had protection from the sun, they had to start before dawn. Even with heavy weights, it would take a good while, nearly three hours, to descend to the bottom of the ocean. The Navy had provided protective pressure suits and weapons for them along with masks that would allow them to speak to each other and to the crew on te surface. She ‘talked’ with Spike through the bond for nearly two and a half hours as he slowly made the descent with Angel and Bess.
Be careful … both of you, she admonished him, as she’d done so many times before.
It’s our middle name, pet, Spike assured her, as usual. I’ll let ya know as soon as it’s over, yeah?
Ok, baby … I love you, Buffy sent back to him. She knew that no matter how much she wanted to, she couldn’t communicate with him while they were battling the demon sea monster. She could endanger not only him, but Bess as well, if he lost his focus in the fight.
Love you more than you know, Buffy, Spike sent back and then he was gone. Their bond closed.
Buffy nervously flitted around the house cleaning things that didn’t need cleaning and organizing books that didn’t need organizing as she waited, and waited … and waited. She wanted so badly to contact Spike, but knew she couldn’t. She just had to wait.
Annie sat on the couch trying to get into her spring break reading assignment, ‘Alas, Babylon’, but her mother was making her crazy. “Hey,” Annie offered about mid-morning, giving up and putting the book down. “Why don’t we go check out those places you wanted to look at for the Slayer Olympics?”
Since Annie’s spring break had started a day earlier than Dani’s and Billy’s, she and MacKenzie were the only kids in the house just now.
Buffy smiled at her and nodded. “That’s a great idea! I’m going nuts here – I don’t do ‘wait’ well.”
“I hadn’t noticed.” Annie rolled her eyes and smiled. It wasn’t that Annie wasn’t worried too, but her dad had promised her tat he and Bess would be back within a week. For her, his promise was like a Midas Muffler guarantee, you could count on it.
“It’s been two hours! What could be taking them so long?” Buffy asked rhetorically as she went to get the baby from the playpen.
“They’re fine, Mom. You know Dad, he’s probably just playing with it or something,” Annie assured her.
Buffy laughed, imagining Spike taunting the large sea monster before slaying it. “How’d you get to be so smart?” she asked her daughter.
Annie laughed. “Dad says I get it from him.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “He’s so modest.”
Buffy, MacKenzie, and Annie headed out, taking the Blue Bomber to scope out a couple of venues Buffy was considering for the first ‘Supernatural Olympics’. Giles had given her the go-ahead to have the event this summer and she wasn’t wasting any time with the preparations. She didn’t want to give him the chance to change his mind.
While checking the locations, another hour dragged by. Still no word from Spike.
To pass a little more time and try to keep her mind occupied by something other than worry, Buffy pulled into the parking lot of a brand new ‘Green Grocer’ supermarket. It had just opened the previous week and was one of the city’s ‘reclamation’ projects. They had offered the abandoned land, which wasn’t far from downtown, at a substantial discount to any business willing to tear down the old warehouse building and bring new life to the area. Buffy had found that organic food stores sold many items that Dani could eat – foods that were milk-free – and this new store promised to have an even larger variety of goodies to choose from than the small health food store down by the Magic Box.
After forcing her mind to concentrate on milk-free shopping for another half an hour, Buffy was getting more and more worried about Spike and Bess. She still hadn’t heard a peep from him. It was driving her crazy … ok, crazier. Her stomach churned and roiled with nervous butterflies and she had to force herself to keep the bond closed and not contact him. With her mind a million, or at least several thousand, miles away, Buffy loaded the groceries into the back of the Bomber and began strapping MacKenzie into her carrier while Annie happily took the shopping buggy back to the buggy corral.
As Annie had done many times before when she’d gone shopping with her dad, she began running behind the cart, then jumped onto the back and rode it away from the minivan. She knew her mom would tell her not to do that. She knew this mostly because her dad always said, “Don’t tell your mum.” But her mom wasn’t looking.
Buffy had just climbed into the minivan and put the key into the ignition when she heard a horrible crash.
“Owwww!” Annie wailed in pain, tears already evident in the timbre of her voice.
Leaving the key still in the ignition and the door standing wide open, Buffy jumped out and rushed to the back of the minivan. She saw Annie sprawled on the pavement; the shopping cart was lying on its side next to her.
“Mooom!” Annie cried as she sat up, holding her left forearm tightly with her right hand. Rivers of blood dripped from between her fingers, dripping on her legs and staining her jeans crimson.
“Oh my God,” Buffy muttered when she saw the blood. Buffy sprinted down the aisle between the parked cards, running towards her eldest daughter.
As Annie’s blood dripped onto the pavement, something strange began to happen. The blacktop began to shine and undulate like liquid mercury. After a moment, a golden light started to swirl under Annie. Within seconds it began to expand out in all directions. A portal was opening.
“Annie!!” Buffy screamed louder when she realized what was happening. Buffy had barely covered fifty of the hundred yards between them when Annie disappeared from view, swallowed by the portal.
“Mama!!” Annie called, her voice fading as if she was tumbling down a deep well.
Buffy threw herself onto the ground next to the edge of the portal and reached into it. Her hands searched for Annie, but Buffy was met with only empty air below her fingers. She leaned her upper body down into the bright swirling light – Annie had to be there, she had to be right there. But she wasn’t. Annie was lying on her back in a sandy pit about twenty feet below Buffy. The girl was writhing in pain from the long fall, still holding the deep gash on her arm.
“Annie! Can you hear me?” Helplessly, Buffy stared down at her daughter. If she just jumped down there, she’d be trapped too.
“Mama! Mama!” Annie called back as tears of fear and pain ran down her cheeks and blood continued to flow from the cut on her arm.
“Annie! Stay there! Don’t move! I’m coming! I’ll get you!” Buffy assured her, her mind racing a million miles an hour. She needed a rope or a ladder or … something to get down there and get back up with.
She lifted her head out of the portal and looked around for something to use, scanning the parking lot frantically. What she wouldn’t give for a construction truck with ladders strapped to the top right about now. And, as if God had heard her prayer, there was one, not far away.
Buffy ducked her head back down into the portal. “I’m gonna get a ladder,” she yelled down to her frightened daughter. “Don’t move – I’ll be right back!”
As Buffy pulled back out of the portal she noticed the edge had begun to slowly recede now that the blood had stopped flowing onto it. Buffy jumped to her feet. She needed to hurry.
“NOOO! Don’t leave me!” Annie begged, panic rising in her voice as she looked up at the portal. Her throat tightened. She could see the edges of the opening drawing closed above her.
A long, shrill scream of horror emanating from the portal stopped Buffy in her tracks. She turned back quickly and dropped down to her knees next to the bright edge of the opening. Intent on assuring Annie that it would be alright, she leaned back into the bright, swirling light. That intent faded when Buffy looked down at her daughter. Her heart jumped to her throat and froze there.
Annie was screaming and crying and kicking her legs, trying to get away from a creature that had emerged from under the sand at the bottom of the pit. It could only be described as a giant doodlebug, easily six feet long and three feet wide with a chitinous, armored back. Large pincers on its head clacked together loudly as it waited at the bottom for its next meal to tumble down into its clutches.
Annie was scrambling, trying to climb up the side of the pit she’d fallen into. She wasn’t making any headway, however, as the sand under her hands and feet simply calved off. If anything, Annie was sliding down the incline. With each passing moment, her daughter was getting closer and closer to the large predator which had dug the sandy trap.
There was no time to think. No time to consider her other daughter, still in the minivan. No time to even contact Spike.
The portal snapped closed behind her with a bright flash of light and a whirl of cold wind.
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