The next night found Kennedy and Riley wandering the streets of Los Angeles. They had set up a schedule and patrol route with the help of Riley and a few of his men. Each group of slayers would be paired with at least one soldier. Riley and Kennedy, as the more experienced members of the team, would patrol together.
“So you’re like this super-secret solider guy who goes around fighting demons?” Kennedy asked.
“Then you know not to get in my way,” Kennedy said as she began walking a few paces ahead of Riley.
Rolling his eyes, Riley said, “Yes, Ma’am,” in the most nauseatingly insincere voice he could manage. Apparently having spent so much time with Xander had paid off for Riley, if the tightening of Kennedy’s shoulders was any indication.
They walked along, silent, both scanning the streets and alleyways. Despite their mutual dislike, Kennedy and Riley took advantage of each others strengths-Riley with his high-tech weaponry and scanners, and Kennedy with her slayer senses. As they continued their patrol, they took out various demons and vampires, but nothing to indicate that Wolfram and Hart were up to anything.
Spotting movement up ahead, Kennedy went still, trying to extend her senses the way she had been taught. The other slayers and soldiers were scattered around the area and were a few blocks away; Riley was standing a little to her left and behind her.
Kennedy gripped her weapon tighter. A dark shape pulled away from the shadows. When it stepped forward into the light provided by a street lamp, she saw it was one of the lizard-like demons they had been fighting since their arrival in Los Angeles. It stood at the mouth of an alley, a rictus grin stretching across its face when it spotted them. A matching grin spread across Kennedy’s face. This creature she could take.
“Stay back,” Kennedy said, her tone firm. “There’s only one.”
Not waiting for Riley’s assent, she started forward, meeting the demon’s rush halfway. It slashed at her with its claws, and tried to knock her down with its tail. Kennedy landed a few good hits on the demon, though to Riley’s eyes they appeared to do little harm. The demon’s grin seemed to widen. In a move that surprised both Riley and Kennedy, the demon rushed forward, faster than either could see and landed a hit that sent Kennedy sailing into the air. The hit itself had not been too bad, but her landing drove the air from her lungs. Several shots rang out in the night, the sound causing Kennedy’s ears to ring. Bullet wounds appeared on the demon‘s torso. Blood trickled from the wounds, but the demon’s grin stayed firmly in place.
Gasping, Kennedy watched as the demon bowed perfunctorily, and backed away into the surrounding darkness and disappeared.
This set off alarm bells in Riley’s head. The demon could have ended her if it had wanted to. Riley would never have been able to reach her before it did, and the bullets he had fired seemed to have done little damage. So why had it disappeared without finishing her off? Riley thought as he jogged forward to help Kennedy to her feet.
“Are you alright?” He asked as he held his hand out for her to take.
“I thought I told you I could handle things!” Kennedy yelled as she shoved Riley’s helping hand away. Pulling herself to her feet, Kennedy dusted her clothes off and tried to get the dirt and grime from her hair. She would worry about the blood later.
“If that‘s what you call handling things, then I‘m surprised you‘ve lasted as long as you have,” Riley yelled back, outraged. The creature, in Riley’s opinion, had only been toying with her, and this pissing contest Kennedy seemed set on playing with him starting to wear thin.
“I know how to do my job!”
“If that was the case then you’d know when to accept help too!”
“Whatever,” Kennedy said with a trace of disgust in her voice. “Let’s go gather the others and head back to the hotel.”
“I’m going to take a look around,” Riley said, eyes scanning the darkness. “You can head back if you want.”
“There’s nothing here, Agent Finn,” Kennedy said with a roll of her eyes. “Slayer here. I’d know if there was.”
“Well, Slayers aren’t always right you know,” Riley shot back as he cautiously stepped forward. Edging around the corner and into the alley the demon had come from; Riley shone his flashlight around the area, trying to see if there was anything to tell them what the demon had been up too.
Riley did not get very far. His light hit a dark red puddle. It was still wet. Taking a few more steps forward, the stench of dead bodies and garbage hit him. A small detached part of Riley’s brain, the part that was still a country boy from Iowa, was curled up in a corner, sickly green and trying to convince the rest of him that turning and throwing up was a good idea. Riley had learned years ago to ignore that part of his brain, at least until he was alone and no one would see him fall apart.
The pile of mutilated bodies was currently making it very hard for Riley to ignore that small bit of himself that hadn’t been hardened from years of combat. The bodies before him had literally been pulled apart. He could see the blood splatter along the brick walls of the alley and the ground. It wasn’t so much seeing the massacre that was affecting him; it was the fact that the bodies had been artfully arranged. There were three heads resting atop the severed ends of three arms, three torsos had been tied together to make one, and two severed legs were resting against the bottom. Two more arms had been placed against the bloodied shoulder sockets, palms facing up. Blood had been used to draw wings on the concrete.
Pulling out a digital camera from one of his pockets, Riley took a few pictures of the scene. He didn’t know how well the pictures would turn out, but Riley knew that he couldn’t wait until morning. By then the bodies and the blood would be gone. Wolfram and Hart would make sure of it.
Hearing a gasp from behind him, Riley turned to see Kennedy. She was standing at the mouth of the alley, having followed despite her desire to leave. Her eyes were wide, and her skin was pale. Turning swiftly she fled around the corner and moments later, Riley could hear gasping retching sounds. Despite her bravado, Kennedy wasn’t yet hardened enough to withstand the gruesome sight, and part of Riley envied her.
Spike could smell the salt from the ocean in the air. He saw the sparkling ocean waters off in the distance. Ships dotted the water; some lined up in the city’s port, others fished the bay and more still sailed off for distant lands.
The city itself was vast, and filled with buildings of many different sizes. Spike could see what looked like temples, places of business, and homes. To his right he could see one of the tallest and most impressive buildings in Andreas Bay. Its base was several city blocks wide. Windows lined the sides, and its ceiling was a smooth dome. In front of the building Spike could see the statue of a fully armored man on horseback. One of the statue’s hands was thrust into the air, sword held high. On its other arm rested a shield with a griffin carved in it. This was Andreas Bay’s military academy. Einarr had gone there when he had been younger. He had told Spike about the academy after Spike had shared stories from his own school days.
Below, Spike could hear people wandering about conducting business, or simply passing on gossip. The servants talked freely beneath him, but unfortunately, most of the gossip had to do with the possibility of King Aneirin becoming betrothed. Spike figured no one wanted to speak of the harsh reality of the Dark One’s war. Therefore, they focused on the silly things, like who was supposedly seeing whom, and which noble was drunkest the night before.
A sound from behind him had Spike turning towards the door. The metal of the balcony railing felt cool and solid under his hands. It kept him focused. They would be meeting with King Aneirin soon, and the last thing Spike wanted was for the meeting to start, or end, badly.
Looking towards the open doorway, his eyes settled on a man he figured was Frederic, the royal advisor Einarr had told him about. He felt his friend stiffen beside him.
“Greetings, Father.” Frederic bowed slightly in Spike’s direction. “Einarr, it’s a pleasure to see you again.”
His tone was much cooler when addressing Einarr and Spike took an instant dislike to the older man.
“Frederic.” A stern voice called from behind the advisor, and Spike noticed Einarr’s eyes snap up to peer over Frederic’s shoulder. The emotions flickering across his friend’s face were easy for anyone to see. Pain, anger, regret, and loneliness shone brightly before the old soldier reined them in, locking his emotions behind a stoic mask.
The man who emerged from behind Frederic was tall, a few inches taller than himself, Spike observed. He held his head high, his shoulders straight, arms clasped loosely behind his back. He was young, Spike knew, but it surprised him to see the age in the haunted green eyes. They reminded Spike of Dawn’s eyes. King Aneirin had the look of someone who, while not on the frontline of battle, had seen and suffered in the aftermath of those battles. He had lost loved ones and people, dictated by the crown he wore, he was sworn to protect. This was not the naïve young man Einarr remembered, and Spike’s heart ached for the innocence he knew Aneirin had lost.
“Father,” Aneirin greeted softly. Turning his gaze towards Einarr, Spike watched as similar emotions shone in the king’s eyes. It was clear to Spike, Aneirin regretted whatever had happened all those years before, but lacked the knowledge of how to repair the rift.
“General Einarr,” King Aneirin said. “Thank you for coming so quickly.”
“Your summons said there was an urgent crisis, my Lord.”
Ignoring his icy tone, King Aneirin let his gaze wander over both men before continuing. “You know about the raids along the border towns. They‘ve grown more…vicious if possible.”
“I have been trying to get the Alliance to gather their armies together again, but it has proven a difficult task.”
“And you needed me, why?” Einarr asked softly.
“King Aneirin believes you could contribute to our continued effort against the Dark One’s army,” Frederic offered. “Maybe as a military advisor or…”
“No, Frederic,” Aneirin cut in. “We have already discussed this. I want Einarr reinstated as General, and head of my royal guard.”
“But your Majesty, this is not possible.”
“And if Einarr’s willing, then why not?” Spike asked, speaking up for the first time. “He’s the bloody king. Can’t he reinstate someone if he wants to?”
Shaking his head Frederic stated, “I’m sorry Father, but I don’t think you quite understand what’s at stake here. We have rules, laws, and traditions. They can not simply be tossed aside on the whim of one man, king or not.”
“I understand quite well, Freddie,” Spike stated firmly. A smirk grew on his face at Frederic’s wince. He hated it when people talked down to him, or anyone he cared about. “You’ve got a bloody massive war on your hands, and a Big Bad who doesn’t care one bit about your precious laws. This bugger is killing people, end of bloody story. All we need to discuss is how we’re going to stop him.”
“I believe Frederic had one point in his misguided explanation,” Aneirin said. “You don’t understand our laws and traditions, and I believe this is a point in our favor.”
“How so?” Einarr asked his interest truly piqued.
“Let us take a seat, and discuss this properly,” King Aneirin said, gesturing towards the table and chairs a short distance away.
They talked for hours. Ideas and theories were interspersed with explanations of who certain people were, and why things were done in certain ways. The awkwardness of Einarr and Aneirin’s reunion soon fell away under the weight of the impending crisis. Old wounds would need to be dealt with, Spike knew, but at this time the threat of war took precedence.
During the talks, Spike took the time to observe all three men together. Often he would see Frederic try and hide his frustration as Aneirin occasionally ignored his advice. At the same time, Einarr’s estimation of the young king grew, and his eyes shone with a hint of familial pride.
Spike was also pleased to find his friend being proven wrong. He had worried a good bit of their journey about how he should approach the king, and being told it was rumored Aneirin had not grown out of his spoiled brat phase had not helped.
Now Spike found himself engaging in a passionate discussion with a young man who truly cared for his people. When the meeting finally drew to a close, Spike felt his burden was a bit lighter. Tomorrow would bring the Alliance’s Council, and Spike’s worry would begin anew, but for now he could rest knowing he had one more powerful ally in his strange new world.
“Molly,” Aneirin called to one of the serving girls as they all stood. “I’ve had the rooms next to Lady Dawn’s set aside for the Father and General Einarr, so if you could show them to their rooms I would appreciate it.”
“Who’s Lady Dawn?” Spike demanded, eyes wide and filling with hope.
“She is just a young woman who happens to be King Aneirin’s guest,” Frederic answered.
“Tell me who she is, old man!” Spike demanded, his blue eyes flashing yellow.
“I’d advise you to stop playing your games, Frederic,” Einarr stated coldly. “They will not be tolerated.”
“How dare you speak to me in such a disrespectful manner!” Frederic cried out. “I am the king’s advisor, and you would both do well to remember that.”
“You would also do well to remember your king is standing right here, Frederic,” Aneirin stated softly. Turing his gaze towards Spike, he continued, “The Oracle brought Lady Dawn to us a few weeks ago. I had planned on introducing you to her since she is the Key.”
Spike’s knees went weak even as his heart soared in his chest. By luck alone he had stumbled upon his Bit. It was only Einarr’s quick reflexes that saved Spike from crashing to the floor.
Bringing wide eyes to focus on Frederic, Spike demanded with a harsh shout, “Take me to her now!”
He didn’t give Frederic time to argue as he lunged forward, and dragged the royal advisor along behind him. Dawn was here, and that was all Spike needed to know.
“He’s not very subtle is he?” Aneirin asked.
“No,” Einarr said. “Spike is rather candid, and does not hide behind propriety.”
Einarr could see the wince his words caused, and a part of him was pleased. Many years had passed, but the pain of not only being blamed for his king’s death, but having his status stripped away by a boy that Einarr had treated as his own son, was painful.
“My King,” Einarr ground out. “I have spoken out of turn…”
“No, General,” Aneirin interrupted softly. “I think for this moment we can forget propriety, and simply speak as two men. One of whom I have always thought of as a beloved Uncle, despite some harshly spoken words.”
“You called me a traitor and a coward.”
“I suppose saying I was young and stupid won’t help matters, will it?” Aneirin said, his tone filled with regret. “I would also like to say I was simply lashing out in my grief, but that would be false as well. Simply put, I did blame you. I was wrong, but that is the truth.”
“You were young,” Einarr sighed, suddenly feeling every one of his near fifty years.
“And that is still no excuse,” Aneirin stated. “My father would have slapped me, and then lectured me on respecting those who choose to serve our family.”
This brought a rueful chuckle from Einarr. He could well remember how such lectures had sounded. Einarr carried many memories of watching King Edderon gently and sometimes not so gently teach his son how a good king should rule.
“You were definitely a handful.”
“That, kind sir, is putting it mildly.” Aneirin smiled at his father’s old friend. “I was stubborn, impulsive, and thought I knew everything.”
“My boy, you may have been lashing out, but I should have known better,” Einarr said as he wrapped Aneirin in a tight embrace. “And for that, I am sorry.”
“Spike?” Dawn whispered softly, eyes going wide. She could barely believe what she was seeing. Standing in the open doorway of her room was Spike. There were differences in his appearance. His hair had grown out some since she had last seen him. A white cotton shirt and brown pants had replaced his usual black on black dress. She could see the tip of a sword’s handle peeking out from under the long fur-lined wrap he wore. He looked tired, his eyes haunted with the same shadows she had often glimpsed in her sister’s. Regardless of the changes, Spike was the most welcome sight Dawn had seen in a long time.
It only took Spike a few seconds to reach her side, but soon their arms were wrapped around each other.
“Spike, I can‘t believe you‘re here!” Dawn cried, her words muffled against his chest. “It all happened so fast. One second I was with Buffy, and then I was here. They were all looking at me like I was some sort of freak!”
“It’s okay, luv,” Spike murmured, holding her tightly. “I’ve got you now.”
When Spike returned, a grinning Dawn at his side, the rift he had noticed earlier was still evident, but gradually growing smaller. This made Spike’s happiness at finding Dawn seem sweeter. It looked as if the painful, and unnecessary estrangement would soon be over.
“I see you have found Lady Dawn,” Aneirin said, his amusement clear.
“Bloody right I have,” Spike replied with an impish grin. His arm was still slung across Dawn’s shoulders, while hers were wrapped around his waist. Neither seemed inclined to let go of the other anytime soon.
“I am glad your reunion was a happy one.”
“Not too sure your advisor feels the same way,” Spike replied. “Bloke seemed a bit flustered.”
“It was probably because you ruined his carefully arranged plans,” Einarr said. A smile broke out on his face as Spike’s smile turned all too innocent. Dawn simply rolled her eyes.
“Kind sir,” Aneirin said his tone haughty. “I don’t believe that expression will be cause for anyone to believe you. It certainly never worked for me.”
“Your father saw right through it every time.”
“If I remember correctly, so did you,” Aneirin bluntly stated.
“A bit of a troublemaker were you, mate?”
“I had my moments,” Aneirin answered, smiling. He resolutely ignored Einarr’s incredulous snort and mumbled, “Moments? King Edderon should have put you on a leash.”
“There were times her sister and I considered putting a leash on this one as well,” Spike replied. His grin only widened at Dawn’s enraged “Hey!” and his chuckles didn’t desist when she jabbed him with her elbow.
The following days were pleasant, but busy. It seemed every waking moment of Spike’s time was taken up by nobles wanting a bit of his time, or in audience with Einarr, King Aneirin, Frederic, and a few of the remaining visiting kings. These talks always turned heated, leading Spike to retreat to the training grounds.
Most of the soldiers had heard tales of the Key and the Father of the Key their whole lives and were either in awe of Spike, or showed arrogance. None were outwardly disrespectful, but a few felt they could easily beat Spike. Needless to say, he had fun proving his worth.
“Father,” Frederic said, interrupting Spike’s meal with Dawn. Despite the pleasant expression he wore, his tone gave away his irritation. “Caius insists on seeing you.”
“Caius?” Spike asked, confusion coloring his words.
“I believe he said you know him as ‘Draco’.”
“Bloody hell!” Spike cried out, his eyes lighting up. “Come on Bit. You’ve got to meet him.”
Jumping up, Spike grabbed Dawn’s hand and dragged her down the corridors, following Frederic‘s retreating form.
Bursting through the doors and onto the castle lawn, Spike found his friend sitting rather smugly before the main entrance of the castle. Upon seeing the pair, Draco’s dark eyes lit up. Cocking his head to the side, Draco brought his head forward and gently sniffed Dawn. With an incredulous look Spike noted the dragon had been very gentle.
“So mate,” Spike started, his words filled with suspicious humor. “How many times were accidental and how many were on purpose?”
“I have no idea what you are speaking of Father,” Draco responded, false innocence lacing his words.
“Holy cow! You can talk!” Dawn cried out, once she had gotten over her shock at seeing a real dragon. It also helped that there was no portal opening below her this time.
“Why of course I can Lady Key,” Draco responded. “Though based on what the Father has told me, I am not surprised at your reaction.”
“Sorry Caius…um Draco,” Dawn said with a shrug of her shoulders. “Hey, if your name is Caius, why does Spike call you Draco?”
“To many I am Caius, Dragon Lord,” Draco answered tone serious. “But to the Father, I am Draco, friend.”
“Father?” Dawn asked as she went over what Draco had said. “You mean Spike?”
Looking from Spike to Draco, Dawn scrunched up her nose. “Why does everyone insist on calling Spike Father?”
“Spike,” Dawn grumbled. “I’m the Key and here that seems to be a very big deal. Now quit stalling and tell me what’s going on!”
“Didn’t want you involved,” Spike answered with a sigh. He resolutely ignored the soft echo of Draco’s voice in his head saying, “She can not be sheltered from this, not matter how much you wish her to be.”
Taking pity on his friend, Draco said, “What Spike is having a hard time saying is that he is the Father of the Key.”
Dawn’s eyes grew and she jerked her head around to look at Spike. He was watching her intently, worry and fear shining in his eyes.
“Father,” Dawn stuttered. “Of the Key, who is me and Spike is the Father of the Key. Oh boy…”