February 14th, 2008

space2

The Risks of Glory, chapter 1 of 8

Disclaimer: Legal stuff, don't own characters, haven't made any money, this is for entertainment purposes, no profit earned, lawyers go away. –kisses-

POV: Shifts Perspective

Spoiler Alert: There are tidbits from past episodes and Spanderverse: stories.

Notes: Tenth story in the Spanderverse-universe, following “Hospital Visits”. Everything from the television series through the defeat of Adam also occurred as depicted, in the Spanderverse.

People’s thoughts are depicted in italics. You’ll find emphasis depicted with an underline.

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The Risks of Glory

Ch 1- Friday Night Fights

 

Buffy stalked through Quiet Hills Cemetery, not quite alert to the sounds around her. Her mind was on the important surgery her mother was going to be scheduled for. The doctor had made it clear that they shouldn't put it off, and yet, so far no word on when it would actually be.

 

At least, she sighed, Riley is feeling a lot better.

 

They were keeping him overnight for observation, but the treatment seemed to work just fine. With her mother back at home resting, Buffy decided to go looking for a fight. Sure, she was still in pain thanks to Adam, but she was healing as rapidly as ever. Surely she could take a vampire or three tonight.

 

Naturally, her mind wandered back to her mom. The problem was Dawn, of course. Joyce had still not told her what exactly was going on. As far as the runt was concerned, she "had to go back for a few more tests". Buffy didn't like keeping this from her. She knew she'd be upset, but she was going to be even more so when she found out that she was being lied to 'to protect' her.

 

Buffy's attention was drawn back to the here and now when she heard the clear rasp of a mausoleum door scraping. This wasn't Spike's usual haunt and since as far as she knew he hadn't picked out a 'fall cottage' in Quiet Hills, somebody was in for a bad night.

 

She quickly pushed thoughts of Spike away. The gang had yet to hear of his latest exploits to hurt them and that he had once again hooked up with Harmony. Thinking about that too much could cause a rational person's brain to melt. She was worried about Xander and how he'd take this latest betrayal. For reasons she'd never be able to comprehend, he'd insisted that Spike could change; had been changing. He wanted to believe they were friends and that the vampire could grow. Maybe she wanted to believe it, too. Maybe that's part of the reason that she hadn't allowed Riley to stake him when he was out of control.

 

She hid behind a large statue of a Greek woman pouring an empty vase and watched as a tall and buff vampire strolled casually through the graveyard. He had short, kempt blond hair and moved athletically. As she honed in on him, sensing his strength, she determined he must have been only a few decades old.

 

Piece of cake, she thought to herself as she stepped out confidently behind him.

 

The vampire, dressed in the black leather that they all thought made them look bad-ass, spun around. Obviously he had sensed a hunter nearby, as he was in a defensive stance before she even got to attack.

 

"Slayer!? Look, girl, I'm not here to tango with you. I'm just passing through."

 

"Uh-huh. And you're what? Taking the moonlight tour of Sunnydale's mausoleums? I don't remember that being on our Chamber of Commerce's brochures."

 

"So, maybe I'm looking for a place to crash. It's only for a day or two until I can dust William the freaking Bloody."

 

"Spike? What's your business with him? And please don't believe for a minute that I actually care."

 

"I'm here to dust him," the vampire said. Unknown to Buffy, he used to be Perry Whitfield, mechanic and twenty eight. Now he called himself Stud. "So you see, I take out a nuisance in your fair city and then I leave. We both win."

 

"It's not like I'm down with Spike or anything, but you crashed my town just to… what… take out an annoyance for me?"

 

"Not for you. For me and for my Sire. William has become an insult to everything the Aurelius Clan once stood for. As a member, I have the right to eliminate him."

 

"Aurelius? I thought they were nearly extinct. Just Ang… uh, just Spike left. And he can't sire anyone right now."

 

"You're forgetting our Sire, Dru. Will broke her fragile, undead heart. That's not something I'm going to just put up with. Now, you want to be smart? You let me do what I'm here to do and go about your business. Believe me," he said, brushing a hand down the white t-shirt showing from his unzipped leather jacket, "You don't want any of this. I've killed legions."

 

Buffy shrugged. "I've heard that before. And, for the record, you are my business."

 

As she surged forward to engage, she found her first three punches blocked. She grinned as a kick caught the vampire to the shin but as she tried to follow up with a snap kick to his head; that was blocked as well.

 

"I sure do hope you taste as good as you look, cutie," he said as he punched her in the stomach.

 

Again, her Adam-inflicted wound protested its continued rough treatment. She ignored the pain however. It was healed shut and she'd learned to ignore pain while in hand to hand combat. It was the only way a Slayer survived.

 

As they continued raining blows on each other, Buffy was pleased to note that she was landing more than he was. Even injured, she hadn't lost her touch.

 

"I can't (block, block) understand why (punch, block, punch) you're defending that (oof, block, punch, ugh) creep?!"

 

"It's just (ow!) that it's (punch, punch, kick) my (block, block, kick, argh) problem to deal (punch) with. Besides, since (duck, punch) when does a (leap-kick) vampire make deals with a (oof!) Slayer?"

 

"I just thought you'd (duck, block) have better things to do…."

 

Stud went into a round house kick that caught Buffy in the side of the head. Momentum spun her around, facing away from her opponent. Even as she retaliated with a back kick that kept him off her, her eyes were scanning the new arrivals striding toward her with confidence.

 

In the lead were two vampires wearing the tattered remains of lab coats. Next to them two more vampires, looking unsure and worried tried to hang back. Behind the group of blood suckers, Adam strolled robotically.

 

"Oh, great," she sighed.

 

She spun around to push her attack of her current foe before the others could gang up on her, but found him staring at the new arrivals.

 

"These friends of yours," he asked her.

 

"More like bad pennies. They keep showing up when I'm fighting somebody else."

 

As the new arrivals came within ten feet of Buffy and Stud, her opponent called out to them. Buffy tensed, already trying to formulate a strategy that would allow her to escape.

 

"Hey, now! What's this?"

 

"We're here to kick a little Slayer ass, what do you think? I hear they're good eating," lead lab coat said.

 

"Yeah? Well, piss off. Can't you see me and the Slayer got our own thing going on here?"

 

Buffy couldn't keep the surprise from her face. She'd expected the guy to join his fellows in an attempt to wear her down. Apparently the other vampires were just as surprised.

 

"B-but… look, we have prior dibs on her. If you don't want to help, then just stand aside and let us get down to business. Adam here has been missing our little bird."

 

"Tough. Finder's keepers, dude. Right now, the Slayer is engaged with me. You can have anything that may be left."

 

"Look," the lab coat said confused, "I don't know why we're arguing about this, we could…."

 

"…don't even suggest," Stud said, "that we team up. The Order of Aurelius doesn't need the help of some group of nerds."

 

The vampires variously growled and hissed at the insult, but were still looking to lead lab-coat guy to give them directions. He was looking flabbergasted by the odd turn of events.

 

"Look, man, I don't know who this Aurelius is and I don't give a damn. We live here, you're just a visitor. We should have dibs."

 

"Okay everybody!" Buffy was just slightly miffed. "Could we stop talking about me like I'm not standing right here?"

 

"Tell you what, Slayer," Stud said, "Truce? Just until these upstarts are out of our way."

 

She raised an eyebrow in surprise, but he seemed sincere enough. Who would have thought a vampire other than Angel could show a little shred of honor?

 

"It's a deal," she replied. "Looks like you guys are outclassed. If you want to take off, that'd be the smart thing."

 

Of course they didn't. Roaring in rage, the lead lab coat guy waved his team to attack. Buffy found herself facing the two fledges and Adam. Fortunately the newbies were so unused to fighting; she was able to use a few simple moves to keep them between her self and the robot-zombie. Unfortunately, that meant pulling her blows so that they'd stay in Adam's way.

 

Stud meantime was fighting off one Initiative lab coat while the lead guy stood screaming encouragement; encouragement, anyway, if you included a barrage of insults in that definition. When it was obvious his companion wasn't able to overpower the Aurelius guy, he sighed through his fangs and jumped in as well.

 

Buffy heard the brief roar of a dusting in progress and risked a quick glimpse over. She saw the lead lab-coat guy wrestling with Dru-sired vamp. The other lab coat was gone. As she was returning to her own fight, she barely missed being grabbed by Adam who had found space to reach an arm between the two hissing vampires. With a quick dodge she yanked one of the fledglings into his way again, while side kicking the other vampire.

 

She let things sit like this until she knew which side was going to win in her temporary allies' battle. It was unfortunate and a little sad when the roar of another dusting led to decent-guy's ashes fading from view. With leader guy rushing to gang against her, she quickly staked the two fledglings she'd been playing with and turned her attention to Adam.

 

She couldn't believe it, but she was actually missing the old cyber-demon-human hybrid. At least then, she had the luxury of distracting him with debates on world conquering and clever dialog. Now he was just a shadow of his former self.

 

"Ooff," she yelled as his fist caught her in the chest and sent her flying backward. She stumbled back, but kept on her feet. Glancing behind her she'd found that they had positioned her on the embankment of a large hill, the steep incline leading down into dense thickets and thorns and forest beyond. She smiled as they thought they had her trapped.

 

Once again, leader guy was playing the coward on her seeing as his gang was down to him and a zombie. "Just kill her already, Adam!"

 

Adam lunged at Buffy and she went into a dodge, grateful that the vampires had removed his jagged skewer. She should have known it wouldn't be that easy.

 

From each wrist, short but lethal knife blades sprang forward. Even as they did and before Buffy knew what she was seeing, she was going into a desperate lunge to dodge the slicing, stabbing blades.

 

She easily evaded one, but Adam moved far faster than she was used to and the other sliced cleanly through her baby blue sweater and the skin underneath. She hissed with pain, but never slowed down. Grabbing him by a forearm, she swung him around and toward the embankment. Following up with a two-footed jump kick, he was sent briefly out into the air before gravity caught him and sent him plunging down into the debris below.

 

She grunted as she landed flat on her back on the hard ground. Going into a flip, she jumped up onto the balls of her feet and went into a defensive stance to block the vampire's follow up assault.

 

As it turned out there wasn't one. Fifteen yards ahead of her and running wildly, lab-coat leader dude was taking the 'tactical retreat' option of combat. She stood for half a second with an internal debate of 'vampire or Adam' and then she was sprinting after the blood sucker. Adam was down where the picker-thingies were and besides, he'd managed to hurt her… again! She wasn't ready to face him one on one, especially in a place where she'd be torn apart by the plant life while he shrugged it off.

 

Dashing around monuments and leaping over tombstones, she caught up to the vampire after several minutes. He turned at the sound of her approach, still running, and hissed at her before tripping over his own feet. A moment later and there was a last roar of a vampire discorporating.

 

Buffy sat on the ground, waving vampire dust away from her face with one hand. The other was busy feeling her knife wound. It was relatively shallow so she wasn't worried about the wound itself. What it represented bothered her, though. Adam was connecting with her in every single battle they had. Not just with a punch here and there, but drawing blood. So far, all she'd managed was to turn him into a rolling stone.

 

Sighing, she got up and crossed back the way she'd run. When she returned to the embankment, she stared down into the darkness of the wild thorn bushes. Nothing stirred. There was no movement and no sounds of thrashing through the underbrush.

 

So, she figured, either he's out for good; fat chance. Or he's already wandered away. They probably have an automated homing beacon allowing him to return to the Vamp-cave or wherever they're holed up. She sighed out into the night. I gotta come up with a way to defeat him before they learn how to attach another bazooka to the big lug.

 

Buffy turned to make her way home.

 

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As Buffy and Stud battled the Initiative gang, a dark haired man stood behind a mausoleum taking in the battle. He recognized Buffy, of course. She was always around fighting off the things that crept in the night. It didn't take too much research to come up with the only explanation that had fit. She had to be the Slayer. Of course, the 'Chosen One' was supposed to be only a myth, but then again, vampires were only supposed to be too. So much for stories only being stories.

 

Beside him, a short girl stood with long flowing brown hair. Where the man was dressed for the cold weather, the girl wore a simple shift. It was made of yellow cotton and on her feet were sandals, leaving too much of her skin exposed for comfort. She should have been freezing, but she completely ignored the elements. On her face was a beatific, but vacuous wide smile. Her eyes never left the lumbering Adam, no matter what else was happening in the battle. As Adam disappeared over an embankment and after Buffy took off after the blood sucker, Warren Meers turned to the young lady.

 

"April, stop recording. Analyze. Was that what I think it was… a cyborg?"

 

"Nearly, honey. It was a demon-human-cybernetic hybrid organism."

 

"That's incredible!" Warren was awed and excited. He'd been working himself on trying his hand at cybernetics/human interfaces. Even with all of his genius, however, he'd never been able to solve the communications barrier between flesh and wire. If he hadn't been here tonight grave robbing for research funds, he may never had known that someone had actually managed it.

 

"April, baby, what is the condition of the cyborg? Can you tell from here?"

 

"The organism lies at the edge of my sensor range, Warren. He appears to be inert."

 

"My god… my god. This is… I mean… wow… this is huge. This could provide a quantum leap in my understanding of true cybernetics. I could…," Warren fell silent, his eyes far away as he lost himself in the daydream he'd had since watching re-runs of a kitschy 70's program called 'The Six Million Dollar Man'. He'd made it his life's mission to discover true bionics and to make himself super powered.

 

"This could give me the answers," he said. "I could really do it. April, I have to have that cyborg. Carry it to the house, but come in through the basement door. Don't let anyone see you."

 

"Oh, Warren, I live only to make you happy. But, I'm not sure this course is wise. The being may re-activate and he is equipped with bladed weapons and superior speed and strength."

 

"Then disable him. But not permanently."

 

"I will attempt to, dearest, but I must re-iterate the risk."

 

"No. You really don't, you stupid bitch! Just do what I've told you. Now, go into evade mode… now."

 

April's face turned slack as she switched behavioral modes. A flat, robotic voice rang out, "Evade mode activated. This unit will avoid human encounters."

 

A moment later and April's empty, but sunny disposition returned. "Of course, Warren. Of course, I don't need to re-iterate anything. You are my boyfriend and you are wise, intelligent, handsome, funny, sexy and a great lover. Shall I prepare a hot bath for you when you get home? I could provide you with Program O-1 before your soak."

 

"Uh, yeah, yeah, that'd be swell, April. Now, go get that piece of equipment."

 

As the sexbot did as ordered, Warren turned to make his own way home. April's scanners had picked up demon parts incorporated into the gestalt being: it was possible that is what his own experiments had been missing this whole time. As he traveled, keeping one eye open for vampires with his stun-gun in one hand, he was making a mental list of equipment and surgical tools he'd need to restock. Once he'd taken his own close look at the construct, he'd make a detailed plan for its study.

 

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End Ch 1

 

space2

The Risks of Glory, chapter 2 of 8

Disclaimer: Legal stuff, don't own characters, haven't made any money, this is for entertainment purposes, no profit earned, lawyers go away. –kisses-

POV: Shifts Perspective

Spoiler Alert: There are tidbits from past episodes and Spanderverse: stories.

Notes: Tenth story in the Spanderverse-universe, following “Hospital Visits”. Everything from the television series through the defeat of Adam also occurred as depicted, in the Spanderverse.

People’s thoughts are depicted in italics. You’ll find emphasis depicted with an underline.

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The Risks of Glory

Ch 2- A Busy Saturday

 

Buffy walked stiffly into the Summers' kitchen trying to ignore her various aches and pains. Being the Slayer meant a certain amount of cuts and bruises, but she'd taken more than her share lately. As she walked into the room, the scent of dripped coffee caught her attention and she immediately brightened.

 

Joyce sat glancing through an art catalog and Buffy surreptitiously checked to see how many words were on the page. Her mother wasn't supposed to be doing any heavy reading as it would only bring on another headache. Satisfying herself that it was mostly just pictures, she proceeded to the mug cabinet.

 

As she poured her coffee and exchanged morning pleasantries, Joyce tried to stand up from her counter seat. She stumbled a little on her way to the refrigerator, but caught herself.

 

"You should be upstairs resting, mom."

 

"So should you, by the way you're shuffling about. Oh, Buffy, please tell me you didn't get hurt again last night? Honestly, I don't know if I can take another icky puncture wound this soon."

 

"It's not bad. Just the usual Friday night fun in Sunnydale."

 

Joyce sighed and then gave Buffy a sardonic smile. "You know, it's not too late to move back to L.A. so you can just join one of those girl gangs."

 

"That wouldn't be fun violence, mom. Besides, I really am okay. And I… just know there is not coffee in that mug!?"

 

Her mother grimaced, caught between trying to look authority-figurish and actually looking guilty. "I can have a cup of coffee if I want to. Besides, I took one of those monster yellow pills and it makes me feel all spacey. I need to overdose on caffeine just to feel normal."

 

"Uh-uh," Buffy grabbed the remains of her mother's beverage and poured it into the sink. "You heard what the doctor said. No caffeine. He did not include 'except for in the morning'. Now, you march back up those stairs and listen to that boring talk radio program you enjoy so much. I'll take care of these few dishes and come to check on you before I go to the Magic Box."

 

"Yeah," Dawn said, coming into the kitchen. "You have to do what she said, 'cause you're outnumbered two to one."

 

As Dawn began to putz around the room, Buffy helped her mother to her feet. Well, some might say, 'dragged her from the stool and pushed her toward the door', but….

 

"I'll bring you a nice hot cup of herbal tea and the day's mail. You can spend an entirely empty half-hour going through all the junk offers. You just know how much you love being tempted," Buffy said.

 

Dawn quickly added, "And I'm bringing you up toast and marmalade. You're not supposed to take your medicine on an empty stomach, you know."

 

Joyce put her hands up in surrender. "Okay, okay. I'm going. But I'm coming right back down here if I hear another Sister-War start."

 

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Buffy opened the Magic Box door, the little bell signaling her descent into chaos. All around her, bodies flitted to and fro, grabbing items off shelves and bumping into display tables. It was insane. She considered briefly using Slayer strength to push her way through, but then figured Giles wouldn’t appreciate her putting his customers into the hospital.

 

The insanity, however, was completely worth it for her to see the look on Giles’ face. It was obvious that he was a deer caught in headlights and was wondering when he’d lost control. She giggled, forgetting for a moment her aches and Adam and the woman in the din behind her who’d elbowed her in the back as she’d made her way from the front door.

 

“…I understand,” she heard Xander speaking to Giles. “Just stay British; you’ll make it, man.”

 

She joined them and Giles complained to her in a panicked voice that there were too many people. They all wanted things and Anya wouldn’t help him because she was too busy smirking over the money.

 

“You’re the one who wanted to be a capitalist pig,” she said teasingly, “I was perfectly happy to just crash in on your apartment.” After she gave him a few pats, he rushing off to help a flagging customer, she joined Anya and Willow at the counter.

 

Anya was happily grinning and ringing up sales while Willow appeared to be in a fight to the death with the gift wrap.

 

“Hey, guys.”

 

“Buffy! Welcome to the Magic Box,” Anya said.

 

“I think you only say that to people who haven’t been here before.”

 

“Oh! There are so many rules when you’re trying to be nice. Really, I just wish they’d give me their money and stop trying to talk to me.”

 

“Hey, Buff,” Willow said, grinning ear to ear.

 

She didn’t seem at all bothered that the evil gift wrap was winning their battle. Buffy could only smile at her and try to hold in her laughter.

 

“Isn’t this exciting,” Willow went on. “With the customers and the sales. I might be starting to understand Anya’s love for the money. And Tara! She’s been busy all morning with palm and Tarot readings. Not that her making money is the important thing, of course… I mean it’s the helping people that matters.”

 

“No, it’s the money,” Anya said. “I just love the sound of this register. Listen, I’m about to ring a sale….” She hit a few buttons on the register and it dinged gaily as the money tray slid out. “…Isn’t that just darling!?”

 

“Does this look wrapped right,” Willow asked the room at large.

 

“Well, sure,” Anya patted Willow’s arm patronizingly. “If you wrapped it with your feet, that is. Here, let me… oh darn, another one to wrap after this? We should charge a fee.”

 

Willow rolled her eyes and made her way around the counter to Buffy. Pulling her to the side, the two girls made their way over to the research table. The usual research table, anyway. At the moment it was filled with varying sizes of unscented candles. A crude hand drawn sign stated they were on sale, ‘Buy Two Get One Free!’

 

“So,” Xander had joined them, “What is my favorite super-gal doing here? Come to work? Please…?”

 

“Sorry, Xan. I only came to bring this before the group,” Buffy pulled out a glowing coppery sphere from her shoulder bag. “Discussion? Ideas?”

 

Placing the sphere in the middle of the table, after clearing a small space, the gang stared at it. It sat placidly, glowing in a soft, warm way, but otherwise doing nothing.

 

“What are we staring at,” Giles asked over their shoulders. “Oh, how shiny.”

 

“I found it on patrol. Any idea what it is? And don’t tell me a glow-ball for ravers, I’ve already been through that idea.”

 

“W-well, no, I’d imagine not,” Giles continued, “Obviously it’s magical. I mean, it’s so, uh,  ‘glow-ey’ I believe you’d say. Oh, yes!?”

 

The gang turned to hear what Giles’ idea was regarding the Orb, but instead he was dashing across the room. He headed for a woman who was waving a slim, red book over her head and seeking assistance.

 

Buffy sighed, though her voice held amusement, “I miss the days when he was just a tea-pushing Watcher.”

 

Willow giggled, “And shooting stares of disapproval around the room.”

 

“Usually at me…,” Xander grinned. “Now we’ve lost him to the whims of fortune and the evils of retail. It’s so sad when they grow up to be such a disappointment.”

 

Just then Dawn rushed up to the group. She was huffing and puffing, out of breath. Glaring at her sister, she informed her, “Told you (huff-huff) you couldn’t (huff) just ditch (huff) me.”

 

Buffy’s only response was an eye roll. “As long as you’re here, why don’t you ask Anya if she could use a little help? And, don’t touch anything,” she yelled after a huffing Dawn.

 

“Well, so much for my day today…,” Xander whined just a little.

 

“Oh, Xan? If you had something to do, you don’t have to worry about research right now. I mean, it’s not like the glow-thingy looks like it wants to explode, or hatch, or open the Hellmouth or anything.”

 

“Nah, it’s alright Buff. I was just going to be buying a water tank and roofing my parent’s house today. Besides, there’s no way Anya is going to let me out of here with this many customers.”

 

Xander sounded a bit bitter to himself when he spoke of Anya. Fortunately, no one else seemed to pick up on it. He didn’t mean to sound so irritated, but Anya really was extra demanding today, despite her good mood. Plus, of course, he realized that a lot of it was his own problem. He was still stuck on Spike’s visit and looked forward to beers tonight at the Bronze. I’m such a loser, he thought.

 

No, you’re not, Commando-Xander thought sternly at him. Stop believing that horse-shit your father fed you. Now, let’s get focused on our new mystery.

 

I second that emotion, Hyena growled, apparently unaware he/she was quoting a song lyric.

 

As the gang once again focused on the sphere in front of them and Willow began naming a list of books that might be helpful, another interruption occurred. This time Riley had managed to find his way through the crowd in the front of the shop.

 

“Boy, where’d all these people come from? I didn’t realize that Sunnydale even had this many folks in it.”

 

“Hey, baby! I was just thinking about you,” Buffy said excitedly. “I was just getting ready to palm my sister off on my unsuspecting friends and come to see if you were feeling a hundred percent.”

 

Riley gave her a kiss with a laugh. He loved to see her happy. It seemed like there was so little of it lately, what with the chip problem and her mom and now Adam running around as a personal vampire bodyguard. Once again, things were crazy and they never seemed to get a break to just laugh and be like regular people.

 

“So, Riles, how are you doing? You know, without the extra strength,” Xander asked.

 

He received a shrug in response; then Riley gave him a grin. “It’s taking some getting used to. I was almost defeated by a stuck jelly jar lid this morning… but I persevered. So, Buff… what’s the plan, today?”

 

She pointed to the glow ball on the table.

 

Of course, he’d noticed it on approaching the gang. He hadn’t given much thought to the glow-ball, but should have known it wouldn’t be as simple as a party favor.

 

“More research,” she said wryly. “Unless, of course, my over-indulgent boyfriend can come up with an excuse for me to duck out of here?”

 

“I thought we might go hunting in Adam’s caves… hit the usual vampire nesting sites, see if we can’t find him.”

 

Buffy rubbed at her chest wound automatically, saying at the same time, “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

 

Riley, naturally, caught the gesture. She was forced to confide in the group that she’d once again got hurt when going up against the cyborg. Even with being more zombie or robot now, he was still much stronger than her, and seemed to be able to anticipate her dodges and weaves.

 

“It’s his onboard scanners,” Riley said. “He’s running algorithms to anticipate your moves even as you’re making them.”

 

“He must have a statistical analyses program onboard,” Willow said, looking concerned. “He’d be able to run the numbers and respond to the most probable outcomes of any of our actions faster than we could change our tactics. Especially in the middle of a battle when we don’t have the time to do a lot of thinking. Tara and I can work on some magical possibilities later tonight, see if we can come up with something new and useful.”

 

“In the meantime, let’s see if we can figure out what our new trinket does,” Xander added.

 

Riley wasn't ready to let the subject rest. “Buffy, I think we should go out and find him now. I realize he’s tough, but the more time we give the Initiative vampires, the more dangerous they can make him. We need to take him out as soon as possible.”

 

“You can’t go out patrolling,” Dawn said from behind them. “Buffy said that you could get hurt too easily now.”

 

“I didn’t say that,” Buffy insisted.

 

“Yeah, you did. Remember? ‘Riley’s like a regular guy now. He shouldn’t be putting himself in danger, anymore.’ And then you said he was like Xander.”

 

“Hey! I’m not exactly helpless here,” Xander exclaimed.

 

“I just meant going one on one with Adam,” Buffy lamely said. She glared at Dawn and her big mouth.

 

Riley’s clenched jaw worked back and forth as color infused his cheeks. Turning from the group be stalked toward the front door, glaring at customers in his way. He called back to Buffy, “I just remembered; I should be doing some job hunting today. Considering I’ve quit my last position, money’s going to become an issue.”

 

“Riley, wait,” Buffy called out, but he wasn’t in the mood to listen at the moment. With him calling back to her that it was alright, she couldn’t help but hear the front door of the Magic Box slam shut behind him.

 

“Thanks, Dawn,” she said, “Thanks a lot. Willow? I don’t suppose you could cast a spell of silence on my sister?”

 

“You better not!” Dawn looked around, embarrassed. She didn’t mean to yell so loud. She continued, “I’ll tell mom!”

 

As she took in the group’s looks, she realized how silly that sounded. Tell mom without her voice? She added a little lamely, “You know, I’d tell her on a Post-It. Oh, look! Newt’s eyes!”

 

She scampered away from the glare of her sister and went for a closer look at the oogey things on the store’s shelves. Pulling the jar from its shelf, she began to swish the yellowish liquid around inside the jar, causing the eyes to float about and catch the overhead lights.

 

Buffy sighed in irritation, “Can you guys start the research on the globe-thingy? I want to see if I can find Riley and smooth things over. If he comes back in the meantime, can you let him know I’m looking for him? And, please… don’t let Dawn talk to him!”

 

Again they were interrupted, this time by the smash of a glass jar onto the floor. The crowd around one of the shelves began clapping and they heard a distinct Dawn-sounding ‘Oops!’ from the area. This was very quickly followed by Anya screeching her way across the sales floor. Buffy saw Giles glare in her direction, but he was too busy with the book woman still to come over.

 

She grabbed Dawn from the spectacle, and dragged her out of the door, leaving a load of ‘really sorry’ in their wake.

 

Once outside, she told Dawn they were going home where she could do homework or go to a friends or something. Dawn was a little teary eyed, but she ignored this.

 

“I can’t find and fight the vampires and Adam and help mom and investigate stuff if I have to keep saving the world from your extreme klutziness!”

 

Back in the store, Anya was throwing a fit. She shouldn’t have to clean up after non-customer’s messes. She didn’t even want to clean up after the paying public’s messes! Plus, she had way too much to do with the money part.

 

Xander stepped forward; volunteering for cleanup. Giles remained deep in discussion with the book lady and Tara was still ensconced in the back with a reading. Willow sighed. That left her to start on the research by herself. She had really been hoping to continue looking for a healing spell for Mrs. Summers sometime today.

 

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End Ch 2

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The Risks of Glory, chapter 3 of 8

Disclaimer: Legal stuff, don't own characters, haven't made any money, this is for entertainment purposes, no profit earned, lawyers go away. –kisses-

POV: Shifts Perspective

Spoiler Alert: There are tidbits from past episodes and Spanderverse: stories.

Notes: Tenth story in the Spanderverse-universe, following “Hospital Visits”. Everything from the television series through the defeat of Adam also occurred as depicted, in the Spanderverse.

People’s thoughts are depicted in italics. You’ll find emphasis depicted with an underline.

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The Risks of Glory

Ch 3 – Another Falls

 

Verona, Italy – The Order of St. Lucian Nunnery

 

The entry vestibule of the nunnery stood open to the elements. Not only had the heavy oak door been torn from its hinges, but the solid stone archway had tumbled as easily as a child’s blocks. From inside were the screams of women, some barely older than girls. They’re yells bounced off of more stone walls within. Blood covered most of the floor along with a few scorch marks from magic blasts that had done no good.

 

Standing deep within the citadel, was a blonde woman with a limp perm. She was wearing a tight fitting silk dress of royal blue and pumps of dark gray. A hair band and belt matching the color of her shoes completed her simple ensemble.

 

Around her, short grayish/brown-skinned and bumpy looking men and women attacked the humans with enthusiasm. There were two dead monks from Glory’s cadre of ‘helpers’, but she paid no mind to them at all. Instead her focus was on feeling the place, listening to its history and all of its dark secrets. They radiated from the walls and floor and whispered through the corridors. They told her things she wished to hear, like the fact that her little runaway Czechs had been here. Those naughty, naughty boys with their Key-stealing ways; she’d have to punish them when she finally caught up with them.

 

Glorificus heard from the walls that the person she really needed to speak to was the Mother Superior. She’d be in the fortified basement, of course. Glory looked irritated; she was already sure the woman would be chanting away to herself, trying to summon some weak-assed magic to delay the Beast. As if! Religious people! They were supposed to be all helpful, and instead they defiantly stood in her way at every turn. It was enough to make a girl cranky.

 

Striding across the room, she completely ignored the chaos and blood letting going on around her. The Sisters, for the most part, weren’t a concern. Whether they escaped or were killed here and now wouldn’t make any difference to her, and ergo, wouldn’t make any difference to the world. At least in Glory’s estimation: her worldview only stretched as far as her own wants and desires. Right now, she desired to speak to an old, chanting woman.

 

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Mother Superior stood before a small fire burning in a pit built into the stone floor. Above her, the sounds of her novitiates and nuns fighting for their lives and losing sounded. Her eyes streamed tears for their loss and she fervently hoped that some of them would find their way to escape. She wasn’t able to help them, however. The terror that she truly didn’t believe would come, even after her encounter with the Monks from Brno, had arrived. She would die in minutes and she didn’t even have time to pray for her own deliverance nor for those who’d been under her charge. She suddenly realized what Elder Samuele had gone through in his last moments. The flesh trying to convince her to run away and leave her duty unfulfilled while her soul berated her for her fear, despite knowing she was about to enter the Kingdom of God. Her mind was torturing itself with the knowledge of what was occurring above her and her heart broke in two at the realization that like the Order of Svratka, the Order of St. Lucia would now fall. She wept bitter tears for her dear friend’s pain and for her own, but she did not let it interrupt her chant.

 

Above the fire there levitated a simple crystal ball. It was the sort commonly used by witches and seers the world over and held no special powers in and of itself. However, through the Nunnery’s magic, it linked with a similar crystal hidden in a forgotten set of suites in a hidden corridor deep in the Vatican.

 

Within the crystal ball, the Mother saw a man in a medieval military styled uniform. The man’s face was lightly scarred and his eyes were as hard as flint. They carried the righteous fire that the Mother had always hoped burned in her own eyes. The fire of the faithful; the Wrath of God which would allow them to defeat this darkness that had descended upon the world, even if she was not here to witness it.

 

“Mother,” Gregor of the Order of the Byzantium Knighthood greeted her. His expression was questioning, but his tone remained flat and free of inflection, cold.

 

She nodded her head once, “The Beast has arrived. We have failed. It falls to you now.”

 

From behind the Mother’s shoulder, a slim arm reached. A hand with well groomed nails painted shiny silver reached out past her to snag the crystal ball. Within, Gregor’s face showed just a hint of shock and fear. The Mother Superior’s own face was a mask of terror. Her breath was frozen in her lungs, her throat closed off in a spasm of horror. She tried to move, to scoot away from the devil-in-woman’s-form, but found her self frozen in place.

 

The Beast smiled at the figure in the magic vision. “Hello, Gregor. Good-bye Gregor,” she said sweetly before crushing the ball in her fist.

 

“Hello, Sweetie,” she turned on the old woman. “Now I just bet you’re familiar with two human monks who came through this way. They’d be oh-so-high, kind of attractive in a ‘we can’t get laid’ sort of way. They would have had a Key with them, or maybe they only mentioned where they hid it? Any of this ringing any bells, Pasticciotti?”

 

“Bitch-devil! I tell you nothing!”

 

“Devil? Oh, no sweetie. You’re not giving me the credit due.” She reached out and pinched the old woman’s chin in the palm of her hand. Squeezing her fingers together against the flesh until the woman had no choice but to cry out in pain, Glory felt bone crack.

 

“I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to keep destroying you little human’s houses of worship. Just tell me about my Key, cream cake. It’s such a little thing, and it’s not like it’s here, so you really don’t have to defend it. Just tell me…,” her voice took on a plaintive, whining tone.

 

The Mother’s eyes leaked more tears than before, her nose running. She hurt, and the Beast could do so much more. And yet, even now, she never once was tempted to help the Evil Whore. Summoning the courage that comes from a lifetime devoted to a higher power, she hocked up a mouthful of spit and flung it into the Hellspawn’s face.

 

Glory released her in shock. She stood for a moment, wiping at her face. Her features became filled with anger and disgust and she grabbed the Mother Superior’s hair and yanked her painfully across the stone cobbles of the floor. Bringing her up to kneel before her, she stared into the old woman’s eyes and saw nothing but resolve. It angered her even more than the spit that there was no more fear in the woman, only steely acceptance.

 

“Fine. I’ve gotten bored with this whole game anyway. If you can’t be helpful in one way, then you’ll be helpful in another.”

 

The Mother Superior screamed as Glory’s fingers seem to phase through her hair and skin and skull deep into the recesses of her brain. Light swirled around the old woman’s head and the young woman’s hands. It took only moments and then Glorificus stood again, leaving the old nun’s body to fall twitching to the floor.

 

Behind her, Glory heard her monks dragging some wimpy, sniveling thing into the chamber. She turned and gave them a dangerous smile.

 

As soon as the pretty young girl in the novitiate outfit saw the Mother Superior drooling on herself, she went into hysterics. Glory watched in amusement for at least a full minute as the woman spent her energy trying to break free of her repulsive little monky’s hands and back away from the spectacle babbling on the floor. Begging for mercy in Italian, she pleaded to be let free.

 

“Just tell me what I need to know,” Glory intoned, also in Italian. “I want my Key.”

 

The young woman continued to stare at the Mother Superior and babbling for mercy. It was just dull and she was wasting Glory’s time. She stepped forward and grabbed the little mouse by her chin, squeezing painfully to get her attention. She then stopped and loosened her hold, trying to place an approximation of a comforting smile on her face.

 

“I’m looking for my Key, or the men that know where it’s at. Just tell me… before I get impatient.”

 

And the nun-in-training did. She spilled the details, what little she knew, of the Brothers who had visited. She didn’t know anything about a Key, but the Nunnery had given them traveling funds and sent them to Rome for a trip to America.

 

It took a little coaxing for the distraught girl to come up with the name of the destination, but as she revealed where the monks of Brno were headed, Glory erupted in a dazzling smile.

 

“Pack our bags, boys. We’re going to America! And guys? Make sure I get a First Class, Non-stop flight, alright?”

 

“O-of course, Your Beautiful Effervescence,” Grono answered before rushing off to find a phone and a directory.

 

Glory took no notice. “Knowing how cheap these religious orders are, we may be able to get there before them. I’d love to see their faces when I meet them in the Sunnydale airport. Just before I put my fist through them.”

 

“A-and what of the nun, Your Glowing Magnanimousity?”

 

Glory turned toward the young woman. She seemed surprised to find herself with the young ladies face still clutched in her slim hand. With a flick of her wrist a loud snap echoed and reverberated throughout the chamber.

 

“What nun?”

 

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End Ch 3

 

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Chapter 4 - The Risks of Glory

Disclaimer: Legal stuff, don't own characters, haven't made any money, this is for entertainment purposes, no profit earned, lawyers go away. –kisses-

POV: Shifts Perspective

Spoiler Alert: There are tidbits from past episodes and Spanderverse: stories.

Notes: Tenth story in the Spanderverse-universe, following “Hospital Visits”. Everything from the television series through the defeat of Adam also occurred as depicted, in the Spanderverse.

People’s thoughts are depicted in italics. You’ll find emphasis depicted with an underline.

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The Risks of Glory

Ch 4- Spike’s Fallout

 

Giles smiled warmly as he followed the last customer to the front door. It had been an incredibly profitable day, according to Anya. She hadn’t let him near the money all day, which was alright, since it was better that he actually assist customers than leave that to her. Now he was just happy and relieved to give the sign hanging on the front door a twist to the ‘Closed, Please Come Again’ side. Doing this, he glanced above the doorway and uttered a silent curse at the bell. He wasn’t sure why he’d thought the annoying thing would be ‘quaint’ but it had nearly gotten on his last nerve at least half a dozen times during the day.

 

Crossing back toward the rear of the shop on aching feet, he was grateful as Xander used a foot to kick a chair out from the table for him. He sank onto the hard wood, removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes.

 

“That was incredible; perhaps, too much of a good thing.”

 

“I am very happy with the amount of business we’ve done today,” Anya enthused. “We should have that many customers everyday! Oh, and by the way, here is the bill for Dawn and Buffy for the jar they broke and the Newt’s Eyes we couldn’t save.”

 

“Anya! You can’t charge your friends over an accident,” Xander said.

 

“I don’t see why not. Business is business, after all.”

 

“And Buffy is the Slayer. If she decided to start charging us every time she has to rush to our rescue, we’d be bankrupt.”

 

“Xander has a point,” Giles said, “I’m afraid we’ll simply have to write off the loss.”

 

“Thank you for letting me set up a table in the back Mr. Giles,” Tara was all smiles, though she also looked knackered to his eyes. “This money will really help with school supplies.”

 

“I don’t think we charged you enough,” Anya said. She pouted, “If I had known anyone would be so interested in Tarot, I would have insisted on a portion of your haul.”

 

Willow eye rolled, “I think you’re embracing the concepts of capitalism a bit too tightly.”

 

“Yes, well,” Giles interrupted, “As much as this is all so stimulating, we do have a few problems to deal with here. For instance, what have we found out about our table decoration, here? And also, uh, w-what are we going to do w-with Spike?”

 

All eyes instinctively turned to Xander. He had the closest relationship with the vampire and had been the most upset earlier in the afternoon when Buffy had spilled about how close Riley had come to not making his surgery.

 

He felt like such an idiot. He was the one going around defending Spike’s new attitude to everyone, only to find out that he was being played… again. Even Hyena and Commando were feeling chagrined and remaining silent on the matter.

 

“What’s there to do,” Xander said. “He’s betrayed us again. As much as it hurts me to say so, Buffy has a duty.”

 

“W-well, yes,” Giles said, “But she’s reluctant to harm him while he isn’t capable of feeding on humanity.”

 

“And I kind of still like him,” Tara said shyly. “I mean I’m angry at him, too. But I think, except for trying so hard to get the chip removed, he really is trying to fit in.”

 

“That’s the thing though, baby. What if it had worked? Can Spike still not feed on people without the inhibitor? Would he even bother trying not to? And what about us?”

 

“Willow’s right,” Anya said. “And, boy, does it suck to have to agree with her. But Spike is a current demon still. It’s not like me. He doesn’t have a human soul to try to keep him in check. I mean, not that a soul helps everyone, but with a demon there’s no… consciousness of what’s wrong with preying on people.”

 

“Well, there’s also the matter of Spike’s usefulness to consider,” Giles added to the discussion. “There may come a time when Buffy will need to beat some information out of him.”

 

“Do you think he’ll really know anything useful now,” Xander questioned. “He’s not exactly plugged into the demon underground anymore. And anything he knows, Anya will know or we can find through research. Not that I want him dead, I don’t. I just don’t want the rest of us dead more. Sooner or later that chip is going to come out or stop working. Maybe we should be proactive, here. A vampire has already taken enough of our friends and family.”

 

There was a long moment of uncomfortable silence. Anytime Xander’s father entered a conversation, even only peripherally, things tended to get quiet. Inside, Xander’s heart was breaking: he was talking about killing a man he thought he was falling for; thank God he hadn’t broken up with Anya yet or come out. On the other hand after Jesse and Jenny and his dad and Blayne, how could he not consider it? Spike had been gunning for them all not that long ago. There was no way of knowing if anything they’d gone through with him since the chip would have any value at all once it wasn’t in his way. In fact, if he was like Angel at all, being able to hunt them down would give him even more pleasure than before.

 

“So, about the orb…,” Willow changed subjects to a relieved smile by Giles. “So far, I’ve ruled out a few things. There’s still five possibilities as far as I know: the Sphere of the Olympians; the Orb of the Spider-people; the Tothric Globe – but that one’s been lost for centuries, so its probably not it, you can stop looking panicked Xan; the Dagon Sphere and finally the Globe of Infinite Sorrows- that one’s purportedly buried somewhere in the Sahara though, so again… not much of a possibility.”

 

“How did you rule out the Crystal of Perpetual Blood,” Giles asked.

 

“Well, according to the Voluminous Scrolls of Rek-Sha-Shee, as soon as Buffy or any semi-mystical being touched it they should have exploded.”

 

“Ah, yes. Quite right… so, let’s research, shall we?”

 

Tara and Anya both sighed at once and then looked at each other.

 

Tara spoke first, “I-I don’t want to make things more complicated, but my grandmother once told me about a coppery sphere called the Orb of the Bayou used to summon Wraiths. This could be it; we should check the Cajun myth volumes while we’re at it.”

 

“And I know at least three other orbs that look like this,” Anya added, “One from Russia and two from old Persia.”

 

“Looks like a long and not so fun evening of reading then.” Xander stood up and started for Giles’ office. “I’ll start the hot water for tea and a pot of fresh coffee. Just pick me out some books and pile them in front of my chair.”

 

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Spike stood outside in the blustery, cold wind peeking in at the Scoobies. It appeared there was another meeting afoot to which he hadn’t been invited. Not that this was a shock. Buffy had undoubtedly told everyone about his little faux pas by now and sent them into a tizzy. Well, she’d get over it. Once she was lonely enough, she’d beg him to talk to her and then he’d seduce her and show her that she didn’t need Commando-drip anyway. He wondered where she was right now. He didn’t see her around the meeting table.

 

Please tell me that bitch isn’t off making up with Finn. That would really be a kick in the head, he thought.

 

His eyes lingered on Xander as he got up and headed back toward where Giles kept an office. He wondered how angry Xander would be at him. He knew there’d be disappointment and recriminations, but he’d listen to Spike when he tried to explain. He’d understand how hard it was to live under the constant threat of being shocked through the brain, of wanting to be free from the fear of a misfire every time he walked by a microwave.

 

Harmony, of course, was thrilled. For her this finally had meant that she didn’t have to share her ‘Blondie-bear’ with the Scoobies. She’d been convinced that he was truly back on the road to being a mindless, vacuous blood-rat, like her. He wasn’t going to let that happen. Not like he’d never wanted to go back to being the predator, but now he’d learned over the past several months that he could still be himself and be part of a greater whole. And if there was anything that most vampires secretly wanted it was community. Well, he’d found that, and he wasn’t about to let it be pissed away just because of one little, not-very-important misstep. Surely, they’d all see that his intentions weren’t completely bad.

 

He reached into the deep pocket of his long leather jacket. Past the cigarettes that Harmony had bought lay the item his hand sought. Pulling out the dingy, white square of cotton fabric, he readied himself to eat some crow and strolled into the Magic Box.

 

As Giles approached him looking right mad, Spike internalized a bit of shiver. Not that he would admit such to himself, but there was a violence in the Watcher’s eyes that bothered him. He waved the handkerchief in the air, and slid an easy smile onto his face.

 

“So, then, mates? How much trouble am I in?”

 

“Get out, Spike.”

 

“Oh, come on Rupert. The soldier is fine and the chip is still in place. It wasn’t like I was really hurting anyone. Let’s let bygones be bygones, yeah?”

 

Rupert Giles grabbed fistfuls of Spike’s T-shirt and manhandled him to the door. Not that he could have moved him if Spike had decided he didn’t want to go. But the vampire was currently in a state of shock at just how deep the hatred in the man’s eyes went. He hadn’t seen the Watcher this worked up since he’d come after Angelus after his girlfriend’s death.

 

“I’m saying this once. We are not your friends. We are not your ‘mates’. You’re no longer welcomed here, you soulless filth. Leave town, Spike, or that chip in your defective noggin is going to be the only thing left of you.”

 

So saying, Giles literally pushed Spike out of the door and to the ground.

 

Just before the door was unceremoniously slammed in his face, Spike saw Xander looking sick. But when he had met the human’s eyes, he'd simply looked away.

 

In the Magic Box, Xander sat down heavily and tried to focus on the book he’d been assigned. He didn’t want to talk about Spike or the hint of old Ripper that Giles had unleashed. He didn’t have to; Willow could never let things lie.

 

“That was a bit harsh, wasn’t it?”

 

“Maybe,” Giles admitted. “But I don’t want him to hang around here thinking what he almost cost Riley wasn't important to us. The only way to teach an old vampire new tricks are to force him to understand that actions have consequences. H-he’s been cut off from his fellow demon community at large. I can’t believe that Harmony is going to provide enough stimulation… err… let me rephrase: I don’t think she’ll be enough of a social network for him. By completely cutting him off from us, he’ll be forced to either learn what we expect and to conform, or perhaps he won’t be able to take the isolation and will leave Sunnydale. Either way, it was necessary to speak his language.”

 

“I still think he should just be slain,” Anya said. It was almost a relief that she didn’t have to abide by her truce with Spike anymore. She didn’t like the way he gazed at her Xander.

 

“Are you alright, Xander,” Tara asked with concern. It didn’t take Wiccan intuition to see the pain on his features. She wished that Anya would notice and maybe not be so ‘death to Spike’ in front of him.

 

“Yeah, I’m fine. Giles was right. Spike only gets violence and threats. Like any demon….”

 

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It was midnight when the gang decided to wrap things up for the night. There were so many references to be cross-examined and they weren’t anywhere near to pinning down which Orb they held. There’d also been no word or visit from Buffy that evening. Several times, one or another of them considered phoning her, but the thought of interrupting if she was spending time with Joyce was too daunting. They were all more worried than ever after Buffy had shared what the doctor’s had found. The worst part was that they all had to watch what they said around Dawn until Joyce owned up to the truth with her.

 

So, the gang went their separate ways. Xander and Anya drove back to their apartment. Walking up the stairwell and coming around the corner of their hallway, they were greeted with the sight of Spike. Slouching against a wall, he had a cigarette lit and had obviously been waiting for them to return.

 

Waiting for Xander to return you mean, Anya thought bitterly at the vampire. Aloud she said, “Just ignore him, Xander. He’ll only try to give you some lame excuse for his behavior. It’s past time you brushed him out of your life.”

 

But Xander being Xander waved her off. Pissed, she strode into the apartment. From within he and Spike heard her slam the bedroom door shut.

 

“I can’t believe you’d show up here.”

 

“Xander….”

 

“Don’t Spike! I don’t want to hear any more of your lies. We weren’t friends. I get that now. We were never friends. You were just playing your usual games until you could set us up for the kill.”

 

Spike launched himself off of the wall. Before Xander could fully comprehend that he had moved, he was standing toe to toe with the blond with his blue eyes drilling into Xander’s far more boring brown ones.

 

“I never set you up for anything! Not since last spring, anyway. We are friends, and I won’t listen to you insult that. What I did was about being free of this blasted chip so that I didn’t have to be afraid of the humans around me at every turn. Can’t you understand that?”

 

“Can’t you understand,” Xander yelled, his voice echoing in the otherwise empty hallway. “God damn it, Spike! What if Riley had died because of you? What if when that chip gets removed I turn into just another Buffy-friend to murder? Huh? Can you say with certainty that your demon is going to give a damn about us when he’s free?!”

 

Xander heaved a heavy sigh and walked to his apartment door. Stepping through the threshold, he turned back to the vampire in the hallway. “You just don’t get it, Spike. And I don’t know how to get through to you. You nearly caused the death of someone I consider a friend, too. I like Riley. I liked you. But he’s not running around behind our backs with a vampire who hurt Anya, who tried to hurt Dawn. And he’s not lying to our faces while he tries to get turned back into a people-killing monster.”

 

“Xander… please….”

 

“Just go. You should leave town, Spike. Maybe you can find your answers and your freedom somewhere else.”

 

“I know you’re angry with me right now….”

 

“…no, I’m not Spike. I’m not angry with you at all. I’m just bitterly disappointed. If I’m angry at anyone, it’s at myself. Because after everything I’ve been through… after Angelus, after Dracula,” Spike could see tears begin to shine in Xander’s eyes, but they did not fall, “I believed. I believed in you. I forgot what you were behind the laughs and our movie nights and the beer and pool games. What do I feel toward you now, Spike? Disgust.”

 

He began to close the door on him when Spike lunged forward. He couldn’t let things sit like this. He had to fix it. He just had to. But when he attempted to cross over the threshold of the doorway, he found himself repelled across the expanse of the narrow hallway and into the wall he’d just leaned against.

 

Looking shocked, he heard Xander say with just a hint of malice, “You can’t come in, remember? No invite.”

 

“I-I was in before. Remember… Toth…,” Spike stopped as he realized that maybe Xander didn’t want a reminder of his animal persona groping him on the living room floor.

 

“Funny thing, that. When Anya complained about it to Giles he suggested it was because only Commando-Xander actually signed the lease. Since there was three of me, technically, there wasn’t a true ownership clause over the space. Mystically speaking, I mean. Now that I’m whole again…?”

 

“But look on the bright side, Spike,” Xander continued just before closing the door tight against him, “Maybe you can convince Anya to invite you in for coffee sometime.”

 

As Spike was left to wander out into the suddenly very lonely night, he refused to acknowledge that his eyesight was unusually blurred.

 

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End Ch 4

 

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Chapter 5 of 8 - The Risks of Glory

Disclaimer: Legal stuff, don't own characters, haven't made any money, this is for entertainment purposes, no profit earned, lawyers go away. –kisses-

POV: Shifts Perspective

Spoiler Alert: There are tidbits from past episodes and Spanderverse: stories.

Notes: Tenth story in the Spanderverse-universe, following “Hospital Visits”. Everything from the television series through the defeat of Adam also occurred as depicted, in the Spanderverse.

People’s thoughts are depicted in italics. You’ll find emphasis depicted with an underline.

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The Risks of Glory

Ch 5- Babble

 

Buffy awoke and stretched, feeling pain free. Finally she’d completely healed from Adam’s assaults and felt more like herself. There was still her mother’s illness to handle, and Dawn was finally told about the surgery yesterday which was another drama in and of itself, but things were settling down a little bit. It was Wednesday, which meant more class work she wasn’t remotely interested in bothering with. She’d mentioned last night at dinner just skipping classes and being here for her mother, but Joyce wouldn’t even entertain the notion. Instead she’d insisted that she wasn’t an invalid and could take care of herself. She’d spent three hours at the gallery the day before and today she was planning on starting a menu for Thanksgiving. She wanted the entire gang to be invited so she could do up a regular old-fashioned dinner party.

 

As Buffy showered, she was at least relieved that Riley wasn’t angry over Dawn’s comments anymore. Well, he’d had four days after all. And more good news…, Adam hadn’t been seen nor heard from since he’d taken a tumble into the woods. She had looked, but as expected, he’d wandered off. Still, she was holding out optimism that he’d been so damaged the vampires wouldn’t be able to put him back together again.

 

And as if the good news couldn’t stop, no Spike!

 

She’d been sure that he would show up on her doorstep or even in her kitchen with some sob story and clever song and dance routine. But nope, even her mom said she hadn’t seen him, so maybe he finally got the hint and took off. Just in case, she’d naturally had the ‘no pulse, no entry’ spell done against him- again. This time even Dawn and her mother agreed that he wasn’t allowed in the house. All that was left was getting her mother through her surgery.

 

Buffy faltered. She’d done such a good job of convincing herself that once the surgery was done, everything would be fixed. But there were the times, like now, when she realized that it might only be the beginning. Suddenly feeling the need to see her mom, she hurriedly scrubbed herself soap-less and exited the shower.

 

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The Magic Box was once again in a lull. It appeared that weekdays would be slow, but weekends would bring out every wanna-be Wicca within a one hundred mile radius to the shop. Since this was a weekday…. Anya sat playing with her register, ringing up false sales and then refunds just so it would ding at her. Giles was huddled with a sheaf of thick pages, trying to decipher some ancient language that may or may not have some connection with the mystery orb.

 

Buffy entered the empty shop. After asking Giles for the morning update from the news, she turned conversation to Joyce.

 

“…so if you could just drop in on her some time today, Giles? I’d really, really appreciate it.”

 

“Of course, Buffy. Any word on when they’ll perform her surgery?”

 

“Day after tomorrow. You know, I’m all optimistic until I actually hear how soon it’s going to be and then it’s all ‘terror-gloom-tears’ time.”

 

“And she’s still at home? I would have thought they’d have her in for, uh, whatever they do before actual surgery. Taking vitals and interrupting your sleep in the middle of the night for blood tests and to give you a sleeping pill and such.”

 

“They tried. Hell, I tried. Mom refuses to stay lying around helpless in a hospital bed over the next two days. She was so adamant, even my Slayer powers were rendered useless. Even Dawn’s incredible powers of whining just bounced off of her mom-shield. I guess she’ll be okay. I mean, it’s only two days and she has her pills.”

 

“A-And afterward? If there’s anyway we can help with her recovery, you know you have only to ask any of us.”

 

“Thanks. As a matter of fact, I’m stopping by the Administrator’s Office between classes today. I wanted to drop a few courses, but mom nearly blew a gasket. I was able to convince her to let me move back home though. I’ll need everyone’s help to move my stuff out of the dorm sometime this weekend.”

 

“Certainly. I’ll spread the word to everyone to be available.”

 

“Thanks, Giles. Anya? You’re awfully quiet today. I didn’t even get a ‘Welcome to the Magic Box’ from you.”

 

“I’m crabby. Xander’s being mean and snotty because of that whole Spike thing and we haven’t even had sex in five days. If I don’t get some soon, I might die o-or go on a serial killing spree or something. Don’t humans self-destruct when they don’t get sex regularly?”

 

“This is what I’ve had to listen to over the last few days,” Giles directed at Buffy.

 

“Well, uh, sorry to hear that Anya…, I guess. Um, I’m gonna get to class.”

 

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It was three-thirty and Buffy dropped her books on her desk and looked over at Willow’s empty bed. She’d spent so much time at Tara’s that for all intents and purposes that was her room now. Maybe she’d suggest that Willow make it her official residence instead of paying the dorm fee on a room she never used. She felt bad for dumping the whole cost on Willow, but she knew that she’d understand why Buffy had to move out of campus housing. Plus if Will really wanted to keep it, she could always request a new dorm mate be assigned.

 

Leaving the room empty, again, she exited into the hallway. There stood Riley, comically frozen in a mid-knock gesture. Smiling at him as he shyly put his hand down, she asked him how his day had been.

 

“Good, actually. I spent most of it with Graham. He’s close to being released from the doctor’s care finally. I mean I feel bad about cracking his ribs, but Nurse Greene and Dr. Watanabe are acting like I nearly killed the guy.”

 

Buffy couldn’t stop the sour frown from coming over her face at the mention of Graham. It bothered her that an Initiative or Meta-Ops-whatever-they-called-themselves guy was still hanging around. She turned and the two of them walked down the hallway.

 

“I know,” Riley said a little impatiently, having caught her expression. “I mean I understand your feelings about the guys, but Graham is my best friend. He’s gone out of his way to stay out of yours. You should cut him a little slack. He’s not Initiative anymore.”

 

“I know that,” Buffy said and even she flinched at the pissy tone of her voice. Trying to soften her stance in order to avoid an argument, she tried again. “I know he’s one of the good guys, okay? In fact, as a person, I like Graham just fine. It’s just… when you said the Pentagon was going to leave us alone, I thought that meant the army base would get moved or something. Every time I think about all that heavy hardware lying there waiting for some demon to get a hold of, I get a little wigged. Adam already tried to blow me to pieces with an arm cannon doohickey, remember?”

 

Instead of replying, Riley chose to drop the subject. It was going to be a sore spot with her no matter what he said. “So, what are your plans this evening? I was hoping maybe we could have dinner together. You know, candlelight, bottle of wine, fresh flowers in a vase… the whole nine.”

 

“Um…, yeah. Yeah, maybe. I just want to get back to the house and check on my mom. Why don’t you call me later at around six-ish and I’ll let you know? I gotta run, honey. I need to go over to the hospital and talk to the doctor about mom’s surgery on Friday. I was so frazzled by the news that she needed surgery; I didn’t even ask any questions. Like what the risks are or what we can do to help her recover afterward. I was just a total basket case.”

 

“I could come with you, if you need some moral support?”

 

“Oh, thanks, but… I kinda need to deal with this myself. What you could do, is go by the junior high school and walk Dawnie home. She just found out the whole story yesterday.” (1)

 

“How’d she handle it?”

 

“Total meltdown,” Buffy replied. “That’s why I really think that she could use your manly shoulder. She was really trying hard, unsuccessfully, to put on a brave little toaster face. I think there’s still some angst she needs to get off her chest and I know she’ll feel bad if she dumps it on me or mom. I don’t want her holding that kinda stuff inside.”

 

“Yeah, okay. I’ll see to her. Listen, though… give some serious thought to us tonight, alright?” Riley leaned in and gave her a quick kiss before they separated outside of the dorm building.

 

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Buffy was leaving the hospital from her meeting with the doctor which had lasted all of ten minutes. He hadn't even gotten time to get all of the clichés out of his system before he'd been paged away to an emergency. Or so he claimed; she wondered if he hadn't had a secretary or nurse page him on purpose. Whatever, all she'd gotten out of him was the same old routine she'd seen too many times on E.R. 'We do this all the time'; 'there's very little risk'; 'your mother is a strong candidate for the procedure'; 'we'll see how things stand after the surgery'. Blah-blah-bibbity-blah- all of it useless.

 

As she made her way toward the exit, she noted a small commotion going on in the hallway in front of her. A young doctor-type, and a real cutie, was wrestling with some patient on a gurney. He had shaggy brown hair and the blue scrubs he wore were clinging nicely to his butt.

 

Shrugging, she made her way over to the doctor and the out of control guy to see if she could lend a hand. The patient was seriously having an attitude problem and even as she was making her way over, she saw him club Dr. Hotstuff in the face.

 

Grabbing the patient by a shoulder, she slammed him down onto the gurney and pinned him in place while a nurse and an orderly strapped him securely. The cute doctor, who turned out to be an intern named Ben, smiled at her gratefully.

 

"Strong woman. You must really work out," he grinned at her.

 

"Yeah, well… uh, fitness is in these days, right?"

 

Glancing down at the patient who was busy babbling to himself, she noted his features and recognition hit her like a fist to the stomach. This was Mr. Goodmore from the warehouse. He was out of his security uniform and dressed in a pair of tan slacks and a white shirt, but it was definitely him.

 

Ben noticed her interest and said, "Poor guy, huh?"

 

"I know this man. I just saw him last week. What's wrong with him?"

 

"I'm no psychiatrist, but he was rushed in when he tried to jump in front of a garbage truck. I'd say he was a little nutty," he tried to joke.

 

Buffy wasn't amused, however. "This guy isn't crazy. I mean he was working security and I talked with him and everything."

 

"Whatever you say," Ben said, "But right now we need to get him to the psyche ward and on a sedative."

 

"Mr. Goodmore," Buffy ignored Ben, "It's me. Remember? We met last week?"

 

"Oh, I know you missy! You think you're above it all! Well, you're not! They'll get to you to. They come through you're family. They turn them into frogs! FROGS! FROGS!" Mr. Goodmore started laughing maniacally sending shivers down Buffy's spine.

 

"What do you mean!? Who? Who's coming Mr. Goodmore," she pleaded.

 

"Let's get him upstairs," Ben told the orderlies as they began moving the gurney down the hallway. "Don't let him upset you. I don’t think he knows what he's saying. I'm sorry you had to see him like that though, considering you know him…."

 

"Yeah," Buffy told him. Her mind was racing. No one just turned into a raving nut in a week like that. At least they didn't on the Hellmouth without something else going on. "Yeah, uh, he seemed nice. Um, I'll see you around."

 

"Yeah, maybe we'll see each other around town sometime, or something?"

 

"Uh, sure," Buffy said distractedly. When she turned to leave again, she was barely managing not to barrel through people in her way.

 

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Buffy came into the Summers' home in panic, suddenly sure that her mother's tumor or blockage; whatever was wrong, was an attack. She didn't know by whom or how they'd managed to make her mother sick and that had her upset. She couldn't fight what she didn't know and who knew what else 'whoever' was up to.

 

As she came in she found her mother lying on the couch holding her head. Tears were streaming down Joyce's face and she was grimacing in pain. She had gotten a damp washcloth for her forehead, but it was obviously not helping.

 

"Mom! Mom, what can I do?"

 

"Stop yelling at me, damn it!"

 

Buffy took a deep breath to calm her self.

 

She's only snapping at me because of whatever's wrong. It's going to be okay… it's going to be okay.

 

"Mom, it's going to be alright. Have you taken your pills this afternoon?"

 

"I'm in pain, Buffy! How do you expect me to remember, everything!? I can't keep up with everything, you know! I'm not a secretary, after all! Have you even bothered to check with front desk, yet?"

 

"Okay, mom, okay. Just lie here, I'm going to get you some help. I'll fix things…," Buffy ran upstairs to her mother's medicine cabinet and rummaged until she found Joyce's prescription pain medication. Glancing at the directions, she decided to just ignore them. Instead, she shook out two of the pink caplets and placed them on Joyce's nightstand along with a glass of water. When she returned downstairs, Joyce was sitting up and looking dazed.

 

"Buffy? Why are you home? You didn't skip classes did you? I told you I wouldn't put up with that nonsense."

 

"It's okay, mom. It's okay. Classes are over. It is late afternoon. Come on, I'm going to get you settled upstairs. We don't want Dawn to see you like this, okay?"

 

Buffy struggled as she had to half-carry Joyce up the stairs, but when they reached the top, she seemed able to walk by herself again.

 

"Buffy, I'm sorry. I know I'm acting weird, its just, my head…."

 

"I know, mom. It doesn't matter. I'm going to get you into bed and give you your pain pills."

 

"Oh, no, I can't. I have to get dinner ready and those pills make me feel wacky."

 

"I'm going to take care of everything," Buffy tried to calm her mother. "Dawnie's going to be upset if she sees you like this. Please, mom, let me do this for you. You'll feel a lot better once your pills kick in and you get some sleep."

 

Joyce nodded her acquiescence and allowed herself to be guided to her room. Buffy didn't bother undressing her, only removing her slippers. Once she had her sitting up in her bed and tucked under the blankets, she reached for the pills and water.

 

Her mother was once again out of it, and Buffy could feel the dam of tears trying to break through her calm resolve to hold herself together.

 

"Dawnie's just light and air, you know," Joyce babbled at her. "I told them. I told them 'I didn't order light and air', but they wouldn't take it back. I had to sign for it, you know. I hope your father understands when he gets home. I had no choice! The U.P.S. man wouldn't return it!"

 

"Shh, mom. Here. I need you to swallow these with a bit of water, okay? Then I'll see about dinner, alright?"

 

Buffy placed the pills in her mother's mouth and was relieved when Joyce obediently took them with her water. She was helping her mother slide down under the blankets, when Joyce unexpectedly slapped her hard across her face. The blow hurt her more than any hit Adam could have come up with, and Buffy grabbed her face in shock.

 

"You bitch!" Her mother went on a mercifully short rant, "You think I don't know you're trying to poison me!? I know! I know what ungrateful little bitches Slayer's are with their egos and their 'me, me, me, it's all about me'. Oh, yes, miss, don't think I don’t know what you're planning."

 

"Mom, please…!"

 

Joyce suddenly swooned. There was no other way to describe it and when she looked again at Buffy, she seemed to be back in the here and now.

 

"Buffy? What are you doing home, honey? What time is it?"

 

"It's a bit after four, mom. Riley picked Dawn up from school and probably took her for a walk or ice cream. I need to go down and start dinner. Can you lie down for me? Try to get a bit of sleep, okay?"

 

"Buffy… did I… was I acting, you know…?"

 

"Don’t worry about it. Another few days and you'll be yourself again."

 

"I don't want Dawn to see me acting crazy."

 

"I know. That's why I need you to just rest. Here, lie down…."

 

Once Joyce was settled, Buffy made her way down the hallway. Fighting herself every step of the way, she refused to make a sound; at least, not until she reached the bathroom.

 

Turning the spigots on full blast in the sink, Buffy began to cry in loud, huge sobs. She balled her fists and hit herself in the thighs. She hit the sink. She stomped her foot against the tiled floor. Mostly though, she just gave into body-shaking sobbing.

 

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End Ch 5

 

(1) Dawn is 15 at this time and it actually in high school. Because of Sunnydale High’s destruction, however, they are cramming both age groups into the local Junior High. I should have included this somewhere in the story so it would be clearer why Riley’s going to the J.H. school.

 

space2

The Risks of Glory, ch 6 of 8

Disclaimer: Legal stuff, don't own characters, haven't made any money, this is for entertainment purposes, no profit earned, lawyers go away. –kisses-

POV: Shifts Perspective

Spoiler Alert: There are tidbits from past episodes and Spanderverse: stories.

Notes: Tenth story in the Spanderverse-universe, following “Hospital Visits”. Everything from the television series through the defeat of Adam also occurred as depicted, in the Spanderverse.

People’s thoughts are depicted in italics. You’ll find emphasis depicted with an underline.

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The Risks of Glory

Ch 6- A Hex?

 

When Dawn and Riley came in twenty minutes later, they found Buffy sitting at the kitchen counter. She had a look of concentration on her face and her hands wrapped around a cooling cup of coffee. It was obvious that she'd been crying.

 

As she looked at them, Buffy was sure that Dawn had had a nice good cry as well. If there was one thing the Summers sisters shared, it was looking like crapola when the waterworks came on.

 

"Hey, guys. I'm glad you're home," Buffy said. "Listen, Riley, could you maybe stay here for just a little bit. I need to run out and check on something; it might be related to my mom…, maybe. I mean I'm not sure, I just need to really check."

 

"Are you sure I shouldn't come with you. For backup…."

 

"I appreciate it, but I can do this. And I don't want Dawn here alone with mom. She's been… she's…," Buffy struggled against more tears and Riley could guess that something had happened during the afternoon.

 

He stepped over to her and placed a kiss on the top of her head. "Of course I can stay; whatever you need."

 

"Has mom," Dawn audibly swallowed, her voice nearly choking, "Is she getting worse?"

 

"Not really, Dawnie. I promise; it's nothing to worry about. It's just that the thing in her brain? It's making her say things. She doesn't really know what's coming out but it can be upsetting. In another day and a half, they'll take out whatever is causing this and she'll be herself again. Until then, promise me you won't take anything she says seriously; either one of you. Remember, she doesn't mean them."

 

"O-okay," Dawn said, putting on an approximation of the resolve-face she'd seen Willow use when she was super-serious. "Okay. Is she upstairs?"

 

"Yeah. I got her to take her pain medication, so I think she'll be fine with a short nap. Um, I was supposed to start dinner, but there are T.V. dinners in the freezer. You can just follow the directions on the back of the box. Riley, I'm so sorry about dinner plans falling through this evening. I know how much you want us to have some alone time…."

 

"…Hey, it's okay," Riley said with another quick kiss to her forehead. "If someone might be causing all of this, or at least taking advantage of it, then you should be out there investigating. Just promise me if you run into Adam, you won't try to fight him by yourself again?"

 

"I promise." Buffy gave him a quick kiss and then she gathered up her coat, a few stakes, and headed out.

 

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The ding of the bell over the door announced Buffy's arrival at the Magic Box. She immediately headed toward the back, giving Giles a nod of acknowledgment. He was busy with Ms. Book-woman again. It was the same lady that had been there over the weekend. Ahead of her and sitting at the large round table were Anya, Willow and Tara.

 

"Hey guys, any luck yet," Buffy asked. They had several books opened between them, along with the Orb of Mystery, warmly glowing away to itself.

 

"Not yet," Willow blew out a breath of frustration. "I mean, a little. We know that Wraiths won't be attacking us, at least not ones summoned by our ball-thingy."

 

"And I'm almost sure it's not the Communist Orb," Anya added. "I still need to check another reference to be sure, if Giles ever completes his sale and gets over here to help me find the manuscript."

 

"Wasn't she here over the weekend," Buffy asked. "I could swear it was the woman that was hogging his attention before."

 

"It is," Tara smiled shyly. "Her name is Mrs. Mills. She's divorced, forty-five, no children. She's an assistant librarian specializing in the Eastern European Studies section at the U.C. library. And she's looking to re-enter the dating pool with someone who is intelligent, bookish, and has a sense of… knowing his place in the scheme of things."

 

Willow giggled, "Tara's been doing some match-making on the sly."

 

"Nothing sneaky, or anything," she protested. "I just thought, well, it's so hard for Giles to meet people his own age who also believe in the supernatural and are well spoken."

 

"And I already checked into her background on the internet and with a little bit of snooping on the school's network." Willow smiled warmly as she watched Giles and Lavinia discussing a vial of red liquid. "Nothing comes up suggesting she's a praying mantis, mummy, vampire, evil witch or hellspawn ."

 

"That was really sweet, Tara. But listen guys," Buffy grew serious, immediately placing everyone back into Scooby-mode. “I’ve got some information, maybe. I think this Orb may be connected somehow to what’s happening with my mom. The guard that gave me the Orb while I was patrolling? Well in one week, he went whacko. They have him sedated in the mental ward at the hospital."

 

All three girls at the table immediately jumped out of their chairs and backed away from the table. Giles saw, and excused himself from Mrs. Mills, though with a little regret. She was a delightful woman.

 

"…won't hurt us. I mean, we've been around it for a week and we're not babbling more than usual," Buffy was saying.

 

"What am I missing?"

 

"Oh, Giles…, I might have a clue. When I found this on patrol? It was actually the security guard I met that handed it to me. He thought it was a glow-ball for parties… anyway, he's suddenly gone around the bend. I'm telling you, Giles. Something about it is making my spider-sense ding."

 

"Buffy thinks this is connected to Mrs. Summers," Willow said.

 

"Right. Like maybe somebody is putting a hex on my mom or something. Somehow this orb is tied into it… we just have to find out who sent it and what they're casting on her."

 

"B-Buffy, are you sure? I mean, you're mom seems to have a n-natural ailment," Tara said. She didn't want to burst Buffy's hope of a quick fix, but she wasn't aware of any spells that caused this sort of slow, drawn out brain blockage/tumor/thing. It was usually pretty quick, unless it's death by slow poisoning, but even then that wasn’t a spell.

 

"Well, if it is a hex, then that means I was on the right track," Willow said excitedly. "See, I've been using some spare time to look up healing spells or potions. I mean, I haven't found anything quite yet. You'd think after centuries of wizardry, somebody would have come up with a sure-fire healing incantation by now."

 

"Let me see Mrs. Mills to the door then we can discuss this further. But Willow? I don't want you doing anything mystically to Ms. Summers until you talk to me…."

 

"He's right, honey," Tara said quietly. "I know you mean well, but those types of spells tend to have unintended consequences."

 

"They're usually a scam," Anya added. "A witch casts a hex then swoops in with a 'magic cure' for whatever is ailing someone. After she drains the purse of her victim and leaves, the 'magic' suddenly gets revealed as an illusion and the person dies anyway. I've seen it dozens of times… we have a Vengeance Demon, Mara, who specializes in revenge on hexing witches. Or, I guess I should say, D'Hoffryn does."

 

"I appreciate the effort, Willow," Buffy said. "Keep looking, okay?"

 

As Giles rejoined them, Anya mentioned a trance sort of spell that might help Buffy. That brought up a memory for Giles and he realized the magician that Anya was speaking of.

 

"Buffy; that spell… that level of meditation can be quite difficult to achieve," he said.

 

"I get that, Giles. But this for mom; I'll do it. I've been training so hard with you, and I'm really close. What do I need?"

 

"Here," Giles said, "I'll get you the supplies. Anya can fill you in on the process."

 

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Buffy returned home at sunset with the wind once again kicking up. Fall was rapidly becoming winter and even in Southern California, a coat was necessary every day now. She entered to find an empty house and a note on the dining room table from Joyce. She had apparently felt much better after a quick nap and didn't want Dawn and Riley to have to eat crappy T.V. dinners, so she'd taken them out to eat. She apologized to Buffy for not waiting to see if she'd be home soon, but Buffy found herself relieved for the house's silence.

 

Racing up to her room, she set down her supplies. She began a rhythmic chant as she poured the violet-red colored sand in a circle on her carpeting. She started to grimace at the thought of vacuuming it up, and then stopped her mind from wandering. Lighting a white candle, she sat cross-legged within the circle and ended her chant. From there she stared at the light as it glowed through her closed eyelids. Mentally, she reached downward and downward; picturing herself as a diver trying to reach the ocean's bottom.

 

After a while, and unnoticed to her, the sounds of the wind outside disappeared. Little itches of her skin vanished, and she lost awareness of her breathing. Her mind drifted on her, but not back to mundane things…, it continued to drift into a deeper and deeper state of consciousness. Although she wasn't aware of it, she'd stopped reaching for the ocean's bottom and started to approach it automatically. There in front of her was a single bright point of light surrounded by a sea of darkness.

 

Buffy's mind drifted toward the point of light and then through it. In her bedroom, her eyes jerked open.

 

She stood slowly, the room brightening and fading with a white glow. All of the colors around her seemed more vibrant than ever before. She could hear her boots scrape along the carpet's fibers and they whispered echoingly with each step.

 

As she turned the doorknob, it too echoed. As if she was stuck in a cavernous room. Pictures on the wall almost became three-dimensional; like the people in them could step from the frames and be made flesh. As she stared in amazement at how every detail was as sharp and clear as etchings on a glass, her eyes were drawn to Dawn, smiling.

 

Dawn's image began to fade almost to the point of vanishing. And then it would reappear with the same detail as that of their mother, standing beside her. The effect was occurring rapidly and Joyce's image didn't do the same thing. Buffy stood transfixed and puzzled.

 

Downstairs, she heard Dawn's laugh and her mother calling her name; checking to see if she'd gotten home yet. She turned away from the odd acting picture and headed downstairs. On her way, she passed by Dawn, watching her sister fade in and out as her photograph had done.

 

"Buffy? Are you alright… you're looking kinda funny," Dawn said with an echo effect.

 

"Uh, yeah. Yeah, I'm fine, I think. I'm just a little wore out."

 

"You should have been here to go to dinner! We had the best lasagna, ever!" Dawn's voice continued to echo, but it was her fading in and out of view that had Buffy so disturbed. Her sister didn't seem to notice any difference and went on chattily, "I need to go to the bathroom, but mom wants to see you since you're home."

 

"Yeah, I want to see her too."

 

In the living room, Riley and Joyce stood together sharing a smile. They didn't fade in and out, but their voices were also doing the echo thing. Like her boots against the floor and the doorknob. Apparently, echo was part of her trance state. As Joyce and Riley greeted her, the photograph behind them revealed a picture of Hank. He was so young looking and had one arm around a four or five year old Buffy, while in his other arm was a baby. The baby, Dawn, was fading in and out, leaving Hank cradling a none-to-pleased house cat they used to have instead, and then a baby and then Mr. Meow-Meow again.

 

"Buffy?" Her mother drew her attention, "I asked if you've eaten, yet? Are you alright?"

 

Buffy's new sight revealed nothing unusual with her mother. There were no shadows, no fists, and no hands around her throat choking. Nothing but a soft, white glow surrounded her. The same as around her own hands, and around Riley. Even the incredible fading Dawn had shared the same glow, though hers was just the slightest tinge of green.

 

"Yeah, mom. I'm fine."

 

"Okay, honey. Maybe you should turn in early. You look a little spacey," Joyce turned and walked toward the kitchen. "I'm going to heat water for tea. Would you like anything, Riley?"

 

"Oh, no…, but thank you, Mrs. Summers."

 

Once Joyce was out of the way, and before Dawn came back from upstairs, Riley took a hold of Buffy's arm. "Buffy? What have you been up to? If I didn't know better, I'd think you'd been toking some funny plant."

 

"Huh? No. No, I'm…," Buffy pulled out of his grasp and picked up another photo. This one was more recent; from about a year ago. Buffy, Joyce and Dawn were all laying on their mother's bed. Joyce had set the camera's timer so that they could have a picture of the three of them. They were all wearing goofy smiles, and Buffy almost smiled again seeing the joy in their faces. Almost, except that Dawn was still fading in and out; she was the only one.

 

Buffy looked at the stairs and dashed to the foot of them. She stared up toward the second floor, her mind blanking out. She felt like she was on the edge of a great discovery… something to do with her sister and she was both afraid and desperate to know the answer.

 

Until Riley grabbed her arm, spinning her around and pissing her off.

 

"Buffy, I think you better come out with me and get some air. You're acting like you're high as a kite."

 

Buffy yanked her arm away, a little more roughly than she meant, but her meditation was wearing off. She could just feel it and she needed to know why Dawn was different than everyone else in the room.

 

"I can't, yet. I'm working on something."

 

"What? Buffy, what have you done?"

 

"Riley! I don't have time for you right now," she hissed and immediately regretted her choice of words. "I mean… I didn't mean that. It's just this is a Slayer thing…."

 

"No. I get it. I think you expressed yourself quite clearly. Tell your mom I appreciated dinner. If you decide you suddenly have found time for me, you just whistle. I'm sure I'll come running."

 

Riley turned and slammed out of the house. He wondered if maybe Sandy would be at Willy's tonight. He could use someone to talk to again.

 

Her mother returned to the hallway entry. In one hand she had a travel mug. In her other was her purse and she had on her coat.

 

"Are you going out?"

 

"Just for a bit, honey. I'm so much better, this is a good opportunity to check in at the gallery again and get some work caught up. Don’t worry, I'll be careful. I have my pepper spray in my purse and I've been keeping one of your stakes in my inside coat pocket. I'll see you in a bit, sweetheart."

 

Buffy watched her mother go out the front door and then turned her attention to the second story. Climbing the stairs, she arrived outside Dawn's room. Down the hallway, she could hear the shower running.

 

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Outside the Summers' home, Spike stood behind the large oak in the front yard. He lit his third cigarette and waited. He didn't know why, it wasn't like Buffy was going to talk to him even if she did leave to patrol.

 

He'd already tried Xander, too. He'd gone to the apartment, but as soon as Xander had opened the door, he'd shoved a cross in Spike's face, scaring the bejeezus out of him. He hadn't even been able to utter anything, before the door was slammed back in his face.

 

It was rude, really. He'd even used the cross that Spike had gotten him as a present after Dracula's assault. Spike had stomped away, hoping that Xander would hear his outrage; he wished that's what he'd felt. Instead, he just hurt inside in a way that a vampire wasn't supposed to hurt over a frickin' human. Any human!

 

So, here he was watching Riley storm out of the house and down the block. That, at least, made Spike's night. The stupid bastard must have shown up to try to patch things up with the Slayer after their blow out in the cemetery.

 

Well, it didn't work, now did it wanker? Let's face it… you blew it. You should just put your drab olives back on and blow out of town. I'm just sorry I can't give you the exit you so richly deserve.

 

His attention returned to the house as another figure exited. He felt a burst of hope, but it was only Joyce. He briefly considered stepping out of the shadow of the tree and saying hello. But, with Buffy in a snit, there was no telling what she'd do if he approached her mother these days. Instead he watched the bushes and the shadows around her car, making sure she got into her vehicle safely. He wished she wouldn't go out after dark, but like the rest of Sunnydale, she seemed to have a compulsion to test fate. He did notice her quick glance into the back seat and cargo area of the Jeep before she actually got in, though. There was no doubt about it, she was one smart cookie.

 

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Dawn entered her bedroom, redressed from her shower and with a towel wrapped around her long hair. It took forever to dry and she needed to brush it out almost right away or it would end up all tangled. When she opened her door, she found her sister in her room… without permission… looking at all of her stuff.

 

"Buffy? Who said you could enter my room?" Dawn was outraged in a way that only a fifteen year old could be. "You better not be touching my stuff!"

 

As Buffy turned toward her, Dawn noticed her glassy stare and the way she looked almost shocked. Her look quickly turned to suspicion and anger. Dawn was trying to figure out what the heck was going on when Buffy grabbed her… her fingers digging into the flesh of her arms hard!

 

"Ow! What are you, crazy!?"

 

"Who are you? What are you doing to my mother?"

 

"God! Get off me! I'm going to tell…!"

 

"If you have something to say, you say it to me! You stay the hell away from my mother! Now, what are you doing here?"

 

"What the h-… uh, heck are you doing here? This is my room! And I can talk to mom all I want… have you been doing drugs or something!?"

 

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Buffy's trance broke just then. In front of her, Dawn appeared to be her normal self. The normal pain-in-the-ass teen she always was. Except, Buffy knew better, now. She'd seen the photos, she'd seen the room changing before her eyes; first a bedroom, then a storage room and then back. And finally there was Dawn's fading trick; she didn't know what the answer was, but there was something seriously mystical going on with this girl.

 

In that moment, Buffy thought, She's not my sister. She's an imposter.

 

She pushed the thought away. If Dawn was an imposter, didn't that mean that her real sister was probably dead? She couldn't deal with that. She just couldn't. There had to be another answer, and she was going to find it.

 

Downstairs, the phone rang and Buffy pushed her way past her outraged… guest… to answer it. Picking it up, she was relieved to hear her Watcher's voice. If anyone could figure out what her vision meant, it was him. And he'd come up with something that didn't equal her sister being killed and replaced by a doppelganger.

 

"Thank god, Giles! Listen, I just did that vision thingie, and there was some weird…," Buffy felt eyes on her and turned to see Dawn glaring hatefully at her. "Uh…, it's nothing. What did you need?"

 

"Are you sure, Buffy…," she could hear the puzzlement in his voice. It was important though that she not talk in front of whatever was looking at her. She didn't want it having any more information than it had already guessed.

 

"Yeah. I'll talk to you later."

 

"Uh, a-alright. Um, the reason I was calling is I believe we have the answer to our bauble. It's almost assuredly the Dagon Sphere. It's for protection… uh, to drive away… uh, 'that which cannot be named'. I don't know how it's gotten to Sunnydale, yet, but someone must have tried to send it to the Slayer for some reason."

 

"Okay, Giles. I'm going to go back to the warehouse. Maybe I can find something there."

 

"Now, Buffy, please be very careful. Usually things that go unnamed do so because of great reverence or fear. Sometimes both and that means it's probably very powerful."

 

"I got it. Thanks, Giles. Give my thanks to everyone else, too. I'll let you know what I find tomorrow. Good night."

 

Buffy turned to pretend-Dawn and watched her warily. She didn't look like something that would be feared or worshipped, but her vision and the arrival of a protective Orb was too coincidental to be a real coincidence.

 

"I have to go out for a bit and check into something."

 

"You shouldn't leave me here by myself, you know."

 

"I know. But I think you can handle yourself until I get back."

 

"What are you going to do," Dawn asked.

 

Buffy tried to tell if she had some hidden undertone of menace in her voice or not. She just couldn't tell what or who she was dealing with.

 

"Nothing important. It's just stuff…."

 

"Slayer stuff," Dawn said contemptuously. "You really think it matters to me that you're a Slayer? I mean, nutso Faith is one too, so it can't be all that great, right? In fact, I wonder if you're just overrated."

 

"And just what is that supposed to mean?"

 

"Nothing," her 'sister' said. "Mom's going to be back soon, you know."

 

"I'll be back, first."

 

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End Ch 6