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Chapter Four - Shut Your Mouth

'You know what my problem is?' Spike asked as he planted a boot in his opponent's stomach. 'I lack self confidence.'

The creature doubled over and Spike jabbed it in its eyes.

'You're not gonna believe me,' Spike said, bouncing from foot to foot as he waited for the creature to get back up, 'but once upon a time I was called William the Bloody. Can you imagine?'

The redcap adopted a hunched posture, its dark eyes studying the vampire. It was holding an axe in long twig-like arms that almost reached the ground.

'Listen, mate, feel free to jump into this conversation whenever it suits, okay,' Spike commented.

The redcap snarled, drool dripping from its wrinkled face, then it sprang, long legs launching it across the space between it and the vampire in a single bound. It brought the axe down hard, but Spike had already dived out of the way.

'Mind where you're swinging that bleedin' hedge-trimmer,' Spike complained. 'You could take somebody's eye out with that.'

Using a tree for support, Spike swung himself up on to the roof of a mausoleum. He perched there like a leather-clad gargoyle, eyes fixed on the angry redcap.

'As I was saying, I used to be somebody,' he continued. 'Me and Dru and that other fella. We were the best, you know.'

The axe struck the stone by Spike's foot, raising sparks.

'What the bloody hell do you think you're doing?' Spike demanded as he hopped down from the roof. He spun and kicked out high into the redcap's face. The creature's blood red hat went spinning off into the dirt. 'Can't you see I'm eulogising here?'

The redcap grabbed the lapels of Spike's coat in its talons and lifted him up off the ground. Spike headbutted him.

'Hands off the jacket,' Spike insisted as he picked himself up off the floor. 'It's a souvenir. From a Slayer, no less. Yeah, that's right. A Slayer.'

The redcap swung its axe experimentally as it looked for an opening.

'Killed her,' Spike explained, breathing heavily. 'Killed two of the things. Course, that was back in the good old days. B.S. Before Sunnydale. Before Summers.'

The redcap swung the axe low, aiming for the vampire's feet. Spike jumped straight up and landed on the flat of the axe blade, pinning it to the ground.

'Didn't I just ask you not to do that,' he said. He leaped again, spinning in the air and lashing out with a foot. His boot connected with the redcap's jaw, sending him rolling backwards away from the axe.

'As I was saying, before I was rudely interrupted – and I really would stay down this time if I were you – this town hasn't exactly been good to me,' Spike continued. He and the redcap were crouched low, cat-like, as the circled the fallen axe. 'And maybe that's why I'm with an airhead like Harm.'

Spike feinted left, but the redcap was not fooled. Spike shrugged. Then he tumbled forward, rolling head over heels in the direction of the axe. The redcap lacked his finesse, simply diving forward, sliding the last few feet to the weapon on its stomach.

The hands clasped round the weapon almost simultaneously.

The redcap stood up, dragging Spike upright with him.

'I'd be the first to admit that Harmony isn't exactly all there,' Spike was saying even as he struggled to maintain his grip on the axe. 'Actually, she can be bloody irritating at times.'

The redcap shook the axe, trying to throw Spike loose, but he refused to let go, in spite being hurled about like a wet rag.

'But there's one thing you need to remember,' Spike said without missing a beat. 'Nobody bad mouths my girl but me.'

Spike's face contorted. Ridges appeared and his eyes yellowed. When he smiled he bared his fangs.

Spike dug his heels into the soft ground and yanked on the axe, tearing it from the redcap's grip.

'Got it?' he asked.

He swung the axe in one fluid motion. The movement was so fast that a human might have had trouble following it, but the redcap was not human. Even it, however, could only watch as the blade approached and then bit into the soft flesh of its neck.

Spike left the body where it lay and went to collect the head.

He scooped it up one-handed.

'Next time,' he said, 'remember your manners.'

He released the head and brought his boot up to meet it as it fell.

'He shoots, he scores!' the vampire shouted as the head sailed over the treetops and out of sight.

Spike sat down on top of a headstone and lit a cigarette.

He didn't know for sure if the redcap had really been badmouthing Harmony, but, quite frankly, he didn't care. Since he had had this chip installed he was not able to harm humans, but non-humans were still fair game. And he had to admit that – metaphorically and otherwise – he got quite a kick out of it.

* * *

'Well that was fun,' Buffy said.

'Could be wrong, but I think I'm detecting sarcasm, Miss Summers,' Riley commented as they left the hospital.

'Well spotted, Mr Finn. I take back everything I've said about you.'

'Everything?' Riley queried as he put an arm around her.

'Well, maybe not everything,' Buffy purred as she snuggled in as close as she could while still being able to walk.

The pair had accompanied Phoebe Donner to the hospital and then had to answer a whole load of police questions regarding the car accident and the attack on Phoebe. Having agreed to give written statements in the morning, Buffy and Riley had finally been allowed to leave.

'So, what would you like to do now?' Riley asked.

'Well…' Buffy began.

'No, don't tell me. You want to patrol,' Riley sighed.

'We should go looking for golden boy,' Buffy said.

'Before he kills any more vampires, you mean,' Riley said.

Buffy scowled.

'Just kidding.' Riley stroked Buffy's hair. 'You know, all work and no play makes Buffy a dull girl.'

'Is that so?' Buffy asked. 'Well then, Mr Finn, you'd better hope I'm not tired out by the time we get home...'

* * *

The creature watched Willow over the top of the barrier. The girl was sitting cross-legged on her bed, seemingly oblivious to the creature's presence. It sharpened its claws as she turned the page of her textbook, pausing every so often to scribble an entry into the notebook next to her. The little monster crept out from behind the shelter of the discarded sandal and stalked towards its prey. There was a noise from outside the room, the sound of a key turning in a lock.

'Hi honey, I'm home,' Tara called.

Willow began to rise from the bed to go and meet her.

The animal had to make its move now.

It sprang.

'Hey there, Miss Kitty,' Willow said as the kitten landed in her lap. 'Were you feeling lonely down there?'

Swinging her legs off the bed, Willow scooped up Miss Kitty Fantastico and went to meet Tara at the door.

Tara was hanging up her coat.

'Missed you,' Willow said, getting as close as she could without crushing Miss Kitty.

'Missed you too,' Tara replied. 'And you,' she added, ruffling the fur on Miss Kitty's head.

Miss Kitty purred contentedly.

'I think she's feeling left out,' Willow explained. 'Aren't you, you ridiculous ball of fluff.'

Tara squeezed past in order to put a carton of milk in the fridge. She and Willow had got back after the picnic only to discover that they had no milk. Willow had been happy to leave it until the morning, but Tara had wanted to stretch her legs any way after riding back in Xander's car.

'We could always bring her with us to Scooby meetings,' Tara suggested. 'She could be our official mascot.'

'I thought that was Xander,' Willow joked.

The kitten yowled and wriggled in Willow's arms.

'Let me,' Tara suggested as she picked Miss Kitty up herself. 'I don't think you're really taken with that idea, are you, Kitty? Trust me, you're better off here anyway.'

'I thought you liked Scooby stuff?' Willow protested.

'I do,' Tara insisted. 'Really. It's just the whole monsters and death and fate of the world stuff I could do without.'

'Well that's different,' Willow agreed. How about we take an evening off? You, me and Kitty. And no monsters.'

'Promise?' Tara asked.

'Promise.'

The window caved inwards. Fragments of glass were scattered across the bed and the carpet. Willow quickly uttered a few words of magic to prevent the shards getting within more than a few inches of her and Tara.

A figure followed the glass into the room. He glowed with a powerful golden light and Willow was unable to look at him directly. From the corner of her eye she gained the impression of a tall, handsome man with long hair. He appeared to be dressed in some kind of armour, decorated with spiral designs, but he carried no weapons.

'Where is the cauldron?' he demanded.

Tara looked at Willow.

'Sorry,' Willow said.

 

 
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