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Chapter Two - Spirits in the Material World

'But Mom,' Buffy and Dawn whined in unison.

Joyce Summers had had two decades to build up an immunity to her daughters' protests.

'No buts from either of you,' Joyce commanded. 'Dawn needs someone to look after her.'

'No, I don't,' Dawn insisted.

'Yes, you do,' Joyce and Buffy responded before returning to their own discussion.

'Dawn needs someone to look after her,' Joyce repeated, 'and I can hardly take her to the gallery with me. She can go with you. Think of it as quality sister time.'

'Without the quality sister,' Dawn muttered. Joyce glared at her. 'Okay, okay, I'll get my jacket.'

'But Mom,' Buffy persisted.

'I thought we agreed no buts,' Joyce said.

'No, you agreed. Our feelings didn't enter into it.'

'Maternal prerogative,' Joyce explained.

'Whatever. Today was supposed to be special. Time out for the Scooby gang.'

'And it will be special,' Joyce responded. 'Time out for the Scooby gang and sister.'

'You're not going to budge in this, are you,' Buffy deduced.

'That's my girl. Doesn't miss a trick.'

'Flattery isn't going to get you anywhere,' Buffy retorted.

Joyce opened the fridge door.

'Well then , maybe this might.'

She lifted a stack of Tupperware containers out of the fridge and placed them on the kitchen counter.

'Bet you didn't even think to get any food for this afternoon, did you?' Joyce said.

'Well, I have been kind of busy.'

'And that's what moms are for anyway.' Joyce laughed. 'So, am I forgiven.'

Buffy folded her arms. 'I can be angry and grateful at the same time you know. I am a truly multi-talented Buffy.'

'Just take care of Dawn for me,' Joyce said, 'then you can be any kind of Buffy you want.'

The doorbell chimed.

'I've got it.' Dawn's voice drifted in from the hallway.

'Hey, kid,' Riley said as she opened the door.

'I'm not a kid,' Dawn protested under her breath.

'Riley!' Buffy emerged from the kitchen and wrapped her arms round him, but that was as far as they went. Riley was uncomfortable about kissing his girlfriend in front of her mother.

'Riley.' Joyce greeted him with a broad smile.

'Mrs Summers. Is it okay if I steal your daughter away for the afternoon?'

'I think something can be arranged,' Joyce replied. 'Just this once. Is it all right if you take Dawn with you as well? I would look after her, but I've got to get over to the gallery. There's a whole shipment of Celtic artefacts that needs cataloguing.'

Buffy stared at her boyfriend, pleading with her eyes for him to say no.

'I don't see that being a problem,' Riley said.

Buffy elbowed him in the ribs.

'What?' he protested. Buffy just glared.

Riley shrugged. 'C'mon, kiddo,' he said to Dawn, 'the car's waiting outside.'

'I'm not a…' Dawn began.

'We know,' the others answered in unison.

* * *

Clouds scudded across the blue-grey sky. Tara squinted at the horizon and hoped rain was not on the way. Mind you, there were plenty of people around here who did want to get wet.

The quarry was a favourite college hangout and many students, mostly male, were diving from the edge of the sand-coloured pit into the lake at the bottom. Those onlookers not participating whooped with delight every time a fresh body struck the water.

Tara pulled her dark cardigan tight as she hugged herself.

'Isn't that a bit dangerous,' she said.

'See how we're not doing it,' Willow answered.

'There's nothing to it,' Xander added from his position near the picnic hamper. 'I bet I could do it.'

'But you're not going to,' Anya said. 'I prefer my Xander with his skull intact.'

Willow pulled a face and Tara tried not to laugh.

'I still don't understand what we're all doing out here, anyway,' Anya continued, 'and why I almost had to leave the magic shop unattended.'

'Anya, I explained all this to you last night,' Xander said patiently.

'Oh yes, now I remember. Right after -'

'Yes, right after…that,' Xander interrupted swiftly.

Tara and Willow avoided looking at each other fearing that if their eyes met they might burst into giggles.

Xander persevered. 'We're here to spend some quality time with our friends.'

'Your friends,' Anya corrected.

'Our friends,' Xander repeated. 'We don't often get a chance to just hang out like normal people, y'know, without any vampires, or zombies or demons…'

'Hey!' Anya exclaimed.

'Ex-demons excepted,' Xander corrected hurriedly. 'But it's like we can't turn around anymore without some horny demon out to boil our eyes or someone messing about with magical weirdness…'

'Hey!' Willow protested.

Tara raised her hand. 'Can I second that 'hey'?'

'And what's wrong with horny demons anyhow?' Anya smiled slyly, linking her arm with Xander's.

Willow rolled her eyes as Xander's face attempted to mimic the colour of beetroot. Tara stared at her feet, her long hair hiding her face.

Xander gently extricated himself from his girlfriend.

'Look, okay, I admit I'm not saying this very well, but you get where I'm coming from, right?'

'No,' Anya answered honestly.

'Wait a sec,' Willow said, settling herself on the blanket covering the grass. 'Back it up. 'Nearly had to leave the magic shop unattended?' What's that all about?'

'Oh, Giles didn't come in to work this morning,' Anya explained.

'That's not like him,' Tara interjected, tucking her legs neatly under her as she dropped down next to Willow.

'I can't understand it,' Anya agreed. 'How could anyone want to be away from all those lovely customers and their lovely money? I was afraid I might have to close the shop this afternoon. I hate having to choose between my money and my Xander.'

'Tough choice,' Willow agreed.

'Will!' Xander protested.

'It didn't matter anyway because he arrived just as I was about to go out. He was all kind of flushed and…' Anya waved her arms about, '…oh, I don't know, up, happy, full of life.' She grinned broadly. 'I figure he'd been having sex.'

'Ann?' Xander's eyes threatened to explode from their sockets. 'You can't say things like that.'

'Why not?'

'Well, y'know, we talked about this.'

Anya snuggled up against him.

'Mmmm, and we don't talk about it nearly enough,' she said.

'So, do you reckon Olivia's visiting, then?' Willow asked.

'Does it matter?'

The other three turned to Tara and she seemed to shrink within her clothes.

'What I mean is,' she stammered, 'well, shouldn't Mr Giles' private life be, well, private?'

'Hey, Giles is one of the gang,' Xander said. 'We have no secrets from each other, am I right? Or is that just me? Talk to me, guys, I'm getting that it's just me, here.'

'Hey guys, miss me?'

'Ah, saved by the Buffster,' Xander said.

'As usual,' Anya added dryly.

'And the Dawnster,' Xander continued. 'And how is my favourite of Buffy's sisters today?'

'I'm her only sister,' Dawn commented.

'And your point is?'

'Buffy, you want to give me a hand with these?' Riley asked, his arms laden with provisions. 'There's some more in the car.'

'Sure, just give me a minute,' Buffy responded vaguely as she crossed to the low fence around the lip of the quarry.

Willow touched Tara's shoulder and the other girl turned to meet her eyes. She nodded and Willow got up and joined Buffy.

'Hey,' she said.

'Hey, yourself,' Buffy replied.

'So, you want to talk about it?' Willow leant back against the fence.

The wind picked up, lifting Buffy's hair away from her face and dragging it behind her like a flag.

'Talk about what?' Buffy asked.

'Whatever it is that's eating at you.'

Buffy turned, her head tilted to one side.

'Have you got some wacky Wiccan thing that lets you see that?'

Willow folded her arms and cracked her shy half-smile.

'Nope, that would be a wacky best friend thing,' she explained.

'That obvious, huh?'

'It is to me. So, are you going to tell me about it?'

'I had a fight with Giles last night,' Buffy said.

'Well, that's new.'

'Will, was that sarcasm.'

'From me?'

'Will, I'm serious.'

Willow held up her arms in mock surrender.

'Okay, from now on I am a sarcasm-free zone.'

'We were at Ms Calendar's grave last night. There were vampires and Giles started acting all crazy. Will, I think he still blames me for…what happened, y'know, with Angel and…'

'Did he say that?' Willow asked.

'Well, no, but…'

'But me no buts,' Willow insisted. 'Take it from me, Giles does not and never has blamed you for what happened. I think there's just been some weird misunderstanding and the sooner you two sort it out the better. Have you tried talking to him yet?'

'No,' Buffy admitted. 'Riley wanted me to go round to see Giles this morning, but I wasn't sure…'

'Well, get sure,' Willow instructed. 'If you talk and then he talks and then you both talks, this whole thing'll be forgotten about before you know it.'

'You think?'

'I know. I am a wacky Wiccan, remember?'

'And a best friend,' Buffy added. 'C'mon, let's go eat.'

'Besides,' Willow added as they strolled back towards the others, 'sounds like Giles could be over it already. Olivia's over.'

'No way? What do girls see in him?'

'Well…no, on second thoughts, let's pretend that I wasn't just about to go there.'

'Willow!'

* * *

Phoebe Donner was nineteen. She worked in a bookstore six days a week and lived with her parents while she saved up enough money to move to L.A. Of course, saving would be easier if she did not go out clubbing whenever possible. She had been on her way over to the Bronze tonight. She had stayed late at the store to help unpack a new delivery that had come in that morning and had then had to race home to get changed. She was big on what she saw as the 'Goth' look. She had naturally olive skin so she had to use a heavy base to achieve the desired degree of whiteness, but the effect contrasted well with her ink black hair. She wore black, leather trousers and a vinyl jacket. Her slender neck was decorated by a spiked collar and a bat-shaped earring hung from her left earlobe. The only colour marring her monochrome look was her bright green lipstick.

The people, she knew at the club - she did not have friends - told her that she looked like a vampire. That was okay with Phoebe. She was really into that whole Anne Rice, Laurell Hamilton thing and had always harboured a secret longing to meet a real live vampire. She found the idea of someone sinking their sharp teeth into the soft flesh of her throat strangely erotic.

At least, she had until about five minutes ago.

The guy breathing down her neck was no Lestat. Phoebe had seen him at the bookstore a half-dozen times, always right before closing after the sun had started to set. He was called Chaz or Chad or something. He was hairless, right down to the fact that there were no eyelashes hidden behind his glasses. His eyes were tinged pink with albinism, hardly a problem for a creature of the night. He was thin and wiry and looked as if he might snap in the wind, but the arm that pinned her to the ground was stronger than any human had a right to be. But that was okay because Chaz/Chad was not human.

Phoebe struggled to free herself, but she might as well have been trying to lift a house. She was pinned to the ground and the blows she struck with her flailing hands rolled off the vampire like rain on a windshield. She cried out as she felt his teeth pierce her skin. The bite was not gentle and loving as she imagined, but brutal and full of pain. This was not the nip of a lover, but the bite of a hungry carnivore.

'Leave the woman alone!'

Phoebe could not see who had spoken, but he sounded male and he was not American. He had a lilting accent she could not place.

'I said, leave her alone!'

The weight on her chest eased as Chaz/Chad was hauled off of her.

'I wish to converse with thee, demon,' her rescuer said to the vampire who was now suspended, feet three inches from the ground. Phoebe was still unable to see the man who had rescued her. She was staring straight at him, but he glowed with a bright golden light that made it impossible to discern more than a vague silhouette.

'Listen to me, demon, and listen well,' the man was saying. 'You kind are a stain upon this earth, a canker. If I had my way, you and others like you would be swept away and this land made pure and clean once more. But it is just possible you may be of use to me. Would you like to help me, demon.'

Chaz/Chad nodded vigorously. His mouth was moving, but he was unable to form words.

'Good,' the golden man said. 'Now tell me where you have hidden the Cauldron of the Dagda.'

'The what?' the vampire blurted.

* * *

'So we stop by Giles' place and then find somewhere to leave the car while we do a circuit of the cemeteries on foot,' Riley said.

'Sounds like a plan,' Buffy replied.

They had stayed out at the quarry until after dark, enjoying just being friends for a while, but eventually duty had won out. She was the Slayer and she had to patrol. Riley had offered to keep her company and Xander had volunteered to drive Dawn home so that they could get started straight away. Of course, there was the little matter of talking things through with Gils to deal with first.

'You could try and sound a bit more enthusiastic,' Riley commented. 'Not looking forward to seeing Giles again, huh?'

Buffy squirmed in her seat, as much as her seatbelt would allow.

'I'm just not sure about bursting in on him right now, especially if Olivia's with him. We might interrupt…no, I so don't want to think about that.'

Riley laughed. 'Yes, that might be a bit embarrassing, but I don't think that's the real reason you're trying to avoid going, do you?'

'Riley, look out!' Buffy screamed.

Riley slammed on the brakes as he, too, saw the girl run out into the road. He swerved to try to avoid her, but still managed to clip her with the wing of the car. She rolled up onto the bonnet and bounced off the windshield before sliding back into the road. Wheels locked, Riley's car careered sideways before wrapping itself around a tree.

'Buffy, are you all right?' Riley asked.

'Yeah, just a bit shaken up. Where'd you learn to drive anyhow? And they say I'm bad.'

'You are,' Riley responded. 'I'm going to check on that girl. Join me?'

'Sure, but I'll have to climb over and use your door. Your parking leaves a lot to be desired.'

'I'll try and do better next time.'

The girl had rolled off of the rolled and was lying against a clump of bushes. She was groggily trying to stand.

'Don't try to move,' Riley said, crouching at her side, 'we'll get help. Where are you hurt?'

'I can't move my arm,' the girl moaned.

'Makes sense,' Riley said. 'You took his the windshield with your shoulder. I'm Riley, by the way.'

'Phoebe.'

Phoebe leaned forward as she spoke, revealing a nasty wound on her neck. Riley looked at Buffy and she nodded. She had recognised it, too.

'What were you running from, Phoebe?' Buffy asked.

'Running? I wasn't?'

'You ran straight out into the road,' Riley said. 'Something must have spooked you.'

'You're gonna think I'm crazy.'

'Try us,' Buffy suggested.

'We've seen our share of crazy,' Riley added.

'Look, there was this guy and he sort of came out of nowhere and…and I think he was a vampire.'

Phoebe's voice was shrill with hysteria. Riley took her hand in both of his and gave it a comforting squeeze.

'Shh, it's okay, he's gone now,' Riley said. 'Your safe.' He indicated the wound on her neck. 'Did he do that.'

'Y-yes. Y'know, I thought it wouldn't hurt. That it was something special. But it isn't, is it?'

Buffy scowled and rolled her eyes. She had very little time for romantic vampire wannabes, but now was not the time to preach.

'No, it isn't,' she muttered.

Phoebe was on the verge of tears. 'It hurt. It hurt so much. It felt as if he was tearing my throat out.'

'But he's gone now, Phoebe' Riley assured her. 'You fought him off.'

'No,' Phoebe said. 'I didn't.'

'You didn't?' Buffy repeated. Phoebe shook her head.

'There was this other guy,' she explained.

'Human or vampire?'

'I don't know. I couldn't get a good look at him. He kind of glowed, y'know, like a light bulb. And he had a funny accent.'

'Just tell us what happened, Phoebe,' Riley urged.

'Well, this guy pulls the vampire off of me and he starts asking him lots of questions about some kind of cauldron.'

'A cauldron?' Riley pressed.

'Yeah, I'm pretty sure he said cauldron, but the vampire didn't know anything so this guy he…well, he…'

'Yes?' Buffy prompted.

'C'mon, Phoebe, you can tell us,' Riley added.

And now Phoebe did start crying.

'He tore him apart,' she sobbed.

 

 
[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] Ongoing...