: Battling the ElementsAuthor
: Brutti ma buoniRating
: Spike, Xander, DawnWord Count
: Adventure, road tripSetting
: an alternate start to season six
Crossposted from fall_for_sx
Sunnydale was Buffy’s shrine, for Spike. All too clear to those who watched him trying to drag himself together after she fell. If anyone had doubted that he cared, they learned the truth in the months after they lost Buffy.
Now he curated the shrine, dusting and polishing till it became a perfectly buffed Buffy of Holies. Dusting off the vampires, polishing away the demons. Scything through the undead till Xander felt a queasy sense of pity for some of the broken objects he swept off the streets before they could dissolve the tarmac and create greasy potholes in the Shrine.
Xander missed Buffy. Missed her like hell. Daily. But that didn’t make her mission his endless sacred purpose. Sure, keeping the streets of Sunnydale safer than lethal was worth trying, but he wasn’t going to pretend it was all okay and not messing up the rest of his life. Some days, he wished he had some nights off. Didn’t have to run construction crews on three hours sleep, or sink sacred daggers into the guts of plump Bl’itdu demons and discover they splurt when burst. Didn’t have to break up with Anya, who couldn’t stand the endless danger even before the Slayer died.
So, just a little, just at the edges of his consciousness, Xander worried about Spike. Defining normality for a chipped stone-cold killer vampire who’d temporarily foresworn evil for the sake of a heroic girl whose life he’d just failed to save? Tricky. But Xander was pretty sure Spike’s state wasn’t normal. He was an executioner now. But also a Scooby to the core, babysitting Dawn without complaint, sharing strategy meetings, researching with Giles till the Watcher left for England. Being vaguely polite, or at least tolerant, of the humans who had loved Buffy too.
Xander took up smoking that summer. Not a death wish. He was looking for that peace he’d seen, just once, in that desperate wreck of a gas station, when he’d lit Spike’s cigarette, and the vampire had dragged in his first dead lungful of smoke. That level of temporary contentment looked worth having.
The fact Xander thought of that secret moment every time he lit up? Totally not the reason for his deadly new habit.
It was Tuesday. So Dawn was in trouble. There seemed to be some kind of rule.
At least, Xander assumed she was in trouble. She looked edgy enough, and sat through the Scooby meeting as though settled on a colony of fire ants.
Waiting to get Spike alone, he guessed. So Xander made damn sure he was in earshot when that happened.
“Mmm?” He got it, quickly. On edge even before Dawn began to explain.
“I think there’s something we need to do.”
There had been science class. It had been dull. Dawn had been passing notes with Janice, not paying attention to the physics-talk surrounding them. And as she talked, a portal opened. Just a small one. No one noticed.
“I have to know more about me. What is this Key power? Can I use it? Is it always gonna bring destruction on the world? Cuz the science class seemed okay, after. And I have some ideas about that, but... I don’t want to be wrong about this.”
Spike was reluctant, visibly. “Yeah? Reckon we’re a bit short of reading matter there. Not like Buf- people didn’t look for it. Maybe don’t want to look too deep, too soon, anyways. Might not like what we find.”
Dawn shook her head, very definite and stern. “No, I need to know. The Knights had stuff. Their captain talked about research. We could go and look. Willow says they had quarters in New York. And Istanbul, if that doesn’t work.”
“Can’t get to the Big Apple, love. No planes for me, bloody long drive – too far to take you. Let alone getting to Byzantium.”
Spike was being almost reflex obstructive, throwing out objections. Xander could almost hear Dawn’s eyeroll. “Yes. Because travel issues are a good reason not to investigate potential Apocalypse material.”
He sighed. “Look, love. No one’s going to let you go off with me. I’m not gonna go without you, leave this place undefended and you like tasty trap-bait. There might be more Knights in New York, too. Too dangerous.”
“So, what? We just sit here for the rest of my life? Whatever that means for an eternal mystical Key.”
Xander stepped out of the shadows. “Let me just say no way in hell are you travelling alone with Spike.”
“You coming too, Pizza Boy?” Spike showed just a fraction of his old self there. But he had opened the door for Xander to enter. (Which was pretty much what Xander had hoped would happen. Weird, for Spike to be so obliging on this one.)
“If you’re going, I’m going.”
“We’re going.” Dawn was definite. “You can defend my honour, Spike can defend our lives, and Willow’s way strong enough to keep tabs on Sunnydale. C’m on, guys. Let’s go save the world from me.”
If Xander had been completely honest with himself, he would have admitted he didn’t think this was a mission of great importance. What could they find, really?
If he’d been more honest still, he’d have admitted he had to get out of Sunnydale anyway. Could imagine Dawn did too.
Could put up with Spike, if that was what it took. Surely he couldn’t keep up the Buffy obsession once he got away.
The road trip to New York was uneventful. Long, dull, filled with irritation and lacking in life’s luxuries. Xander refused to drive in a blacked out car (“Cops. Would be bad.”), so they spent lengthy hot days in crappy motels with malfunctioning aircon. The car Spike stole for the trip proved to be junk, and they got stuck for an additional two days waiting for parts. Obviously, it was in the worst of the motels they’d used.
All the same, they started to unwind. Dawn smiled, once or twice. Spike snarked, and Xander was relieved he did. Some level of normality was resuming.
Worse, of course, were sleeping arrangements. No question of separate rooms – they needed Dawn double-guarded at all times. The first day, they looked at the room, and its two doubles, festering carpet and lack of broken down chairs or other horizontal alternatives. Looked at each other: Dawn, Spike, Xander. Three into two... Dawn plus Xander? Icky. Dawn plus Spike? Over my dead body, and possibly his. Which left...
Spike plus Xander.
Over the next nights, they stopped thinking about it. Outwardly.
Xander almost got used to sleeping in the light, in close contact with a day-warmed corpse.
Oddly, it started to feel like normality. In a good way.
Xander didn’t have time to be freaked by this before they got to the city.
There was nothing for them in New York. An empty office, filled with junk mail. An address in Istanbul, and a few references to the Knights’ library.
They would have had to be insane to go on. So they did. Even Spike agreed, though he was still reluctant to look too deeply into Dawn’s mysteries.
Go back to Sunnydale? Out of the question. Not one of the three seriously proposed it.
Why would they? There was no one waiting for them.
No one had cash for luxury intercontinental travel, so Spike made some enquiries and found a cargo ship that would take them with few questions so long as Spike and Xander did guard duty over the other guards. Apparently, lack of trust an issue when shipping illegal cargo, but they were prepared to believe Spike would follow through (“Used to work for the kid’s granddad. Got us some sweet travel deals over the decades. There’s some folk as will work with your basic undeads, in return for a bit of security and, you know, being allowed to live.”).
So, excellent news. Berths on a cargo ship crossing the Atlantic in stormy autumn. Xander was seasick. Of course he was.
Spike found it funny. Of course he did.
Dawn tried to nurse him. Which was agony. Thank the gods, Spike intervened to ensure Xander was left alone with his bucket.
They bunked and did duty alternately, with Dawn in the other bunk when she needed. So no more bedtime snuggles (not that there had been snuggling). But Xander was getting into a bed recently vacated by Spike, over and over. Sleeping on a pillow smelling of smoke, hair gel and something indefinably Spike. (Not a hint of corpse, which had to be good.)
By the time they’d hit mid-Atlantic, Xander was starting to surface. Still pukey, sure, but able to raise his head occasionally, enough to get on deck and appreciate the grim, grey expanse of the Atlantic.
A shame, because he was in the firing line in time for the crisis.
Spike and Xander, for once awake at the same time, were on deck when it started.
When the centre of the ocean starts to boil, you suspect it’s a bad scene.
When the ocean rises, and forms itself into the figure of a man, this suspicion becomes a certainty.
“I have been waiting for you,” said the winds, in a waft of seabed rankness, handily confirming the Oh shit
“Is this someone you owe money to?” Xander asked Spike, suspicious. He received only a bewildered shrug in return.
But Spike was the only one on the ship who seemed prepared to engage with a sentient water being. “Oi! You there! What’s your name?”
Xander had a moment to wonder if that was really the most urgent question, before the mass surged larger, prouder almost.
“I AM DAGON.”Dagon... Dagon... Familiar sounding name
“YOU HELD MY SPHERE.”Dagonsphere
. Oh. There it was.
“Yeah? Think we had it around somewhere. Handy little gizmo.”
“IT IS DESTROYED. YOU COME HERE TO TAUNT ME IN MY POWERLESSNESS.”
“Really not-” was as far as Xander got (though powerlessness: probably good, with pissed off water spirits).
“BUT HERE I HAVE THE POWER.”
Spike began a (futile) effort to calm the creature. “Look, Dagon. Very sorry to hear you’ve lost your sphere, but it’s not our fault. There’ve been things going on, world shaking things... There was a god, and she-”
“YES. GLORIFICUS. SHE SOUGHT THE KEY.”
Not good. Spike was backing off. Gods with knowledge were scary.
“THE KEY IS HERE.”
Very not good.
“Yeah? Key, is it? What’s that when it’s at home?”
Spike got a faceful of sea for that.
“BRING HER TO ME.”
Xander remembered Spike on a similar occasion, not so long ago. I’m paralysed with not caring very much.
But it was a long time since January. Spike’s dripping face was set. Caring a great deal.
“No way. You go through me to the Key. Or you don’t go.”
Xander was moving slowly towards the hatch to get below decks. Not fleeing, unlike the rest of the crew. He had a role: checking on Dawn. Spike cast him a brief glance. It agreed, soft humans get below decks. Reassure the kids, keep yourself safe.
Let the vampire handle it.
Thing was, Xander did actually trust Spike to protect them, to the best of his ability. That was new, and logical after the last few months of solidarity.
But he wasn’t going to abandon Spike to this alone; he did care what happened to him up on deck. That was newer. There was something about living on top of the vampire, sometimes literally, day in and out, that had made Xander intensely aware of Spike as a person.
Evil, probably. Sometimes. But not about to betray Dawn. Xander had heard Spike’s dreams of Buffy, these past days. Could have... If only I’d... Next time...
. Exactly why the vampire looked so dire when he woke: there was no next time, and he never could.
Perhaps this moment, when the sea rose up to challenge him, maybe this would be Spike’s ‘next time’. Xander wasn’t going to get in the way of that.
But as Xander slipped below decks, Dawn was coming up to meet hm.
Leggy, pale, looking so young. But tough enough to grab Xander’s ankle as he swung down the companionway and send him sprawling. Fast enough to get up the ladder before he could stop her. Brave enough and dumb enough to think this was a plan.
He heard her voice, challenging almost as soon as her head reached deck level, way ahead of his flailing grip. “You called?”
“Yu-huh. What about it?” That was Dawn at her best teen snottiness.
“YOU ARE NOT OF THE HUMAN RACE.”
“Am too.” You tell him, Dawnie. But this isn’t the playground.
“TODAY. BUT NOT TOMORROW. AND YOU OWE ME, FOR THE LOSS OF MY SPHERE.”
Xander could see her Dawn’s nervous swallow reflex. What could a massive water demon want that she could offer?
Spike’s voice came from beyond her. “Reckon we’ve paid that already. A Slayer, in exchange for the sphere.”
“I WANT MORE.”
Shrug. “We got nothing.” The bleakness of Spike’s voice fell across the boiling seas.
Dagon paused. Could a wave think? Xander could almost see it happening. When the dialogue resumed, the booming voice had dropped a little.
“A Slayer death? Slayers die often. It is insufficient.”
“This one died willingly. To save the world. In a cause where your sphere failed and was destroyed.” Spike again, formal and negotiating.
“And she was my sister. Not just a Slayer. She died for me. That matters.” Dawn in her turn, wavering in voice but not in courage.
Pause. “YES,” said Dagon.
“Okay. So we can talk.” Dawn smiled at the green seas.
The picture froze. The sea stilled. The remaining cowering crewmen petrified. Dawn hopped over the ship’s rail, and onto the unmoving ocean.
Xander didn’t know why he was still moving, but Spike was too, sprinting, actually, to the ship’s rail, howling, “Dawn! No, it’s a trap! Don’t-”
Too many words, to someone who’d already taken the step.
Dawn looked back. “It’s okay, guys. I’m going to be okay. I just need a little talk with someone who gets the Key.”
Dawn was gone for hours. Probably. The clocks were still, in this time out of mind.
Spike and Xander remained on deck, amid the nothingness. Not hot or cold, wet or dry. Nothing to do but wait for their girl to return. You’ll have to go through me
, what a futile thought, when the girl herself walked willingly into danger.
Spike smoked almost continuously, till Xander asked him to stop for a while. The smoke wasn’t blowing away, and he could hardly make out the black coat and blond head at the ship’s rail in the accumulating fug.
When asked, he did actually stop. Which was unusual, and promising.
Some time later....“She will come back, won’t she?”
Spike, vulnerable? That was rare. Xander wanted to reassure, but his face wasn’t doing that thing, apparently.
“Sorry. You don’t know any more than I do, right? But she’s got to be okay. Otherwise...”
Xander nodded. “Yeah. Otherwise it was all for nothing. And there’s nothing left.”
“You got any cigarettes to spare?”
“What? You kids don’t smoke. Too much sense to clog your pink little breathing apparatus with all this shit.”
Xander hadn’t been going to say any of this, but he couldn’t stop it spilling out in this weird between-times-calm. “I do now. Sometimes, when I need. I remember, back then, when I lit your cigarette at the gas station, with the Knights outside, and Giles bleeding, and death on the way... I wished I had something to do that made me that happy, took me away from there. Even for a moment.”
“Yeah. I remember. Thanks again for that.” Flippant words, but Spike sounded heartfelt in remembering.
Silence on deck, apart from Xander coughing hopelessly through the smoke. He still had no knack for this.
“Not working too well for you, is it?” Spike sounded almost sympathetic.
“It’s a start. But I think my happy place is elsewhere.”
“Is that so?”
Spike sounded intrigued. Which might have been the start of something distracting.
Except Dawn walked out of the ocean at that moment.
She looked.... older. And independent. And as if she’d been gone longer than a couple of hours. “It’s okay, guys. I’m fine. We had a talk. He’s gonna let us go. I think it’s better if I don’t use boats in future, though. He might forget we had a deal.”
“Yeah. The portal thing, you don’t need to know about. Won’t happen again.”
Xander started to lose the plot when Spike said, “You sure? Seemed like it might happen every twenty-eight days or so.”
Dawn went scarlet. “You guessed
It was almost a relief to see her independence cracked. But, bewildered, Xander finally found his voice to ask what the hell they were talking about
Spike sighed. “Blood, Xander. We’re talking about blood. I smelled it on her. That’s what opens the portals, innit?”
“You knew, all along...?” Dawn, speechless, stopped.
“Reckoned the Doc bleeding you started the power going. Now when you bleed, it’s going to keep on happening. Right? Please, tell me I’m wrong.” He sounded anguished, not surprisingly. If the Key kept on bleeding...
They all knew what came from that. Suddenly, Spike not wanting to research the Key made sense. Knowing for sure, knowing Dawn was dangerous... what would he do? Could Xander share that decision?
Dawn was shaking her head, though. Confident in her answer. “You’re wrong. It never happened before. Won’t happen again. Just the first time after the ceremony, a bit of lingering power. It’s gone now. Good thing I was way stressed and my cycle was all off for months after, or the power would have been closer, maybe the portal a bit stronger. Now can we please stop talking about my periods?
She sat suddenly, face dropping into her hands, younger again. Spike stood awkwardly beside her. “Sorry, love. But thanks. I thought... Didn’t know what to do if you couldn’t control it. Couldn’t kill you to save the world; not before, not now.”
Dawn was crying now, relief and embarrassment and grief combined. Spike was blinking hard. Xander prioritised, and hugged Dawn till she calmed a little.
But he was watching Spike, till Dagon released the sands of time, and the waves heaved once more.
Later, Spike walked down below decks. Slow, weary, empty of expression. Xander followed, leaving Dawn to look after herself. Turned out she didn’t need her nursemaids after all.
“Did my best for the kid.”
“Yeah. You really did.”
“Didn’t need me, did she? Brave little bit.” Spike sounded exhausted. But also somehow lighter than he'd been in a long time; like some long duty was done.
“Yeah. She really is.” Xander felt helplessly proud of them both.
They got to the cabin they’d been sharing, turn and turn about. Walked in. Sat down on the bed together. It felt like normality; how things should be in their new post-Buffy world. This was how it was, now.
Spike’s voice tolled on. “You and me. We’re not needed any more.”
“No. We’re really not. We’re a couple of washed up Scoobies.”
“We could go back. We know about Dawn now. Don’t need to go to Istanbul.” Spike sounded unenthralled. He brightened. “Could go anywhere.”
“Yeah.” Xander tried to think of where he could go, and why. It really didn’t seem to matter. He’d see Dawn safely stowed somewhere and... well, think of something. Carpenters were needed other places than Sunnydale.
“You, me and the kid. Not such a bad gang.”
Xander blinked. Did Spike seriously mean that as an invitation?
“And now she’s all emancipated and such, she can get her own room.”
Spike winked. Xander blinked again.
Yeah. There was an invitation, all right. To way more than being in Spike’s ‘gang’.
Gulp. Had he been so obvious? He’d only worked it out for himself in the past few days.
Xander managed to speak. “Uh... Yeah. That would be cool.”
“Good.” Spike stood, paused, ducked down and kissed him, fast and bewildering. “That’s settled, then.”
He walked out of the cabin, kicking the door closed as he went, and with a shouted, “Dawn! Got something to tell you!”
Xander sat. Goofy grin all over his face and tingles of promise flooding him.
Eventually, they’d wonder what else Dawn had discussed with Dagon. But now wasn’t the time for that.
And yes. Buffy was gone. But he and Spike weren't. He was going to go with that thought for now.