Dawn sat next to the window in the small living room of their hotel suit. The sun was slowly rising over the Los Angeles skyline, and Buffy and the others had yet to return from their second search of the city.
Dawn had been forced to stay behind and man the phones in case anyone from the Council headquarters called. In reality Dawn knew they were just using that as an excuse to keep her at the hotel and ‘safe’.
The only other person still at the hotel was Angel and he had stayed behind because of his wounded pride. He simply could not accept that everyone, Buffy especially, could be worried about Spike.
In Dawn’s opinion the sooner Angel got over his enormous ego the better it would be for them all.
Sighing, Dawn dragged her thoughts away from the Broody One and back to the task at hand, worrying about Spike. It was like a physical pain in her stomach and no amount of positive thinking would allow the vicious knot to shrink.
Chewing on her lip Dawn tried valiantly to hold her tears at bay. Ever since Sunnydale had collapsed into a giant sink hole, taking Spike with it, Dawn had been plagued by nightmares pertaining to how strained their relationship had been that last year.
Dawn had been furious when she had learned what Spike had tried to do to her sister and had gleefully spent the rest of the year holding onto her righteous anger, making him suffer for not only violating Buffy, but for also breaking his promise to never leave them.
Then Spike had died and Dawn had tried telling herself that she was glad. She had gone on for months acting as if what Spike had done was no big deal, and that his dieing to save the world simply saved her the trouble of killing him herself.
It was not until she had walked in on her sister, crying her heart out over the bleach blonde vampire, that Dawn had finally heard the whole story.
“I used him Dawnie…I knew he loved me and I used him to make myself feel all the while telling him he was beneath me.”
Dawn could still hear her sister’s anguished words in her mind and clearly remembered once Buffy had finished telling Dawn her tale; she had angrily slapped her sister.
It took Dawn almost three weeks to forgive Buffy for not telling her about her and Spike’s mutually abusive relationship.
That forgiveness only came when Dawn had finally admitted her anger at Buffy was simply misdirected. Dawn was angry with herself for not letting Spike know she had forgiven him and that she loved him before he had died.
Dawn had been ready to let Spike know this too, once Buffy accomplished her mission in taking out the Immortal.
Dawn had planed everything down to the last detail. She knew what she would do once she saw him again and what they would talk about. She had set aside several days in order to spend every moment of those days getting reacquainted with her surrogate big brother.
They would watch TV, making fun of the Italian soap operas. Spike would then take her on a tour of the city and finally they would find a nice restaurant and bring home loads of food.
Then Buffy, her and Spike would sit down and have dinner together, as the family they should have always been.
Now it was just a painful fantasy of what should have been. Instead of pleasant evenings spent with her two favorite people she was now in Los Angeles hoping for any miracle that would allow them to find Spike, alive and whole, and left with agonizing dreams detailing her confessing to Spike she loved him only to have him reply, “No you don’t. You never did.”
Hamilton’s expensive black loafers barely made a sound as he made his way into the white room of Wolfram and Hart. Angel and his group may have destroyed some of the Senior Partner’s earthy agents, but that did not mean Angel had managed to get them all killed.
Dropping to one knee, Hamilton bowed his head before the tiny girl that sat primly in her chair before him. She looked like any other child but there was a chilling emptiness in her gaze that made even the most jaded person weary. She was merely a manifestation, a mouthpiece, for the Senior Partners since they could not yet fully manifest in this realm.
“You have lost the Father of the Key,” the little girls voice rang clearly throughout the bright expanse of the white room. It sent chills down Hamilton’s spine and it took all of his self-control not to show how uneasy these meetings made him feel.
“I offer my most humble of apologies,” Hamilton began as he kept his gaze lowered. “The vampire vanished before we could gather the proper agents to scour the area. Angel made sure to destroy most of our magical artifacts. That strategic move slowed us down some and prevented a timely retrieval.”
“Mere excuses. I want results,” the girl rebuked. Hamilton could feel the Senior Partner’s anger rising and thought quickly as to how he could appease them.
“I do have some good news though,” Hamilton rushed on to say hoping to arouse the Senior Partner’s interest.
“The Key is back in Los Angeles as is the traitor Angel,” Hamilton began as he lifted his eyes in order to speak to the Senior Partner‘s representative properly. “If we get the Key we might be able to find the Father. Also it seems that Angel has lost favor with the Slayer, Buffy Summers. We could retrieve him as well and have our revenge. He is human now.”
The smirk that graced the little girls face was truly evil and made Hamilton want to turn his gaze away.
“Then at least part of our plan has succeeded. Retrieve the Key and bring Angel to us. And Hamilton, do try not to disappoint us again. You won‘t like the results.”
With those parting orders the girl vanished leaving Hamilton to wonder just what the Senior Partners were keeping from their emissary, and how he could possibly manipulate the situation to his advantage.
Once Spike had gotten himself under the semblance of control, he climbed out of his bed and pulled on the new soft leather boots Draco had left for him before the red dragon had flown off in search of his old allies. Giving the area around his bed a cursory glance, once more cursing the fact his duster was no more, Spike tried to navigate his way through the winding corridors leading to the main chamber Draco used as his home.
The whole situation made Spike nervous. He remembered well the few times after Buffy had been brought back when the two of them would simply sit and talk. One night she had told Spike about her slayer dreams. Buffy had described the other worldly feeling prevalent in the dreams, how she knew they were dreams even as she witnessed whatever the Powers were trying to show her.
Spike had understood only a fraction of her complaints at the time, those mainly being about how the symbolism and cryptic vague warnings of danger never made sense until well after the crisis had begun.
Now though, Spike would have given almost anything to have Buffy by his side. His dream had frightened him, and he raged inside at how there was nothing he could do to help the unfortunate farmers Ktulu slaughtered half a continent away while he slumbered. Spike finally understood why Buffy had claimed that the dreams were unfair and often times cruel. He couldn’t save the people who had died, but Spike still felt responsible for their deaths.
Shoving his errant thoughts aside, Spike plunged onward through the craved out corridors of the cavern. He had a dragon to find and it was well past time, in Spike’s opinion, for this Ktulu and his master to be put down for good.
Rounding the corner, Spike found Draco lying amidst his large nest, seemingly asleep. Spike didn’t know much about dragons, and what little he did know Spike wasn’t sure if any of it was true or not, but he did figure even the large beast had to tire out eventually. It had been nearly three days since Spike had woken up to the strange world he now found himself in and in that time Spike had rarely seen Draco except when he was either bring Spike his meals, or clean clothes for him to change into. Thinking back Spike wasn’t sure when he had seen the old dragon sleep.
Sighing, Spike turned and started to quietly leave Draco’s bedchamber. If this was in fact the first time in however long since the dragon had last gotten any rest, then Spike was not about to disturb him over some nightmare-vision there was nothing anyone could do to prevent.
“Where do you go Father?” came Draco’s rumbling voice inside his head. Spike was so surprised he nearly fell over and ended up glaring at the now awake dragon.
“You get a kick out of startling me don’t you?” Spike sighed, eyeing the dragon with a resigned look.
“I do not mean to frighten you,” Draco replied, though Spike could easily see the spark of amusement in his black eyes.
“Very funny mate,” Spike groused, shaking his head as his own chuckle rose up from his throat.
“Is there something bothering you Father?” Draco asked, his head tilting to one side. He then lowered it, bringing his head in closer to Spike.
Spike could feel the gentle breeze caused by the dragon’s slight intake of air. Looking closely Spike could just make out the tiny flicker of the dragon’s tongue from inside his slightly parted mouth. It was Draco’s unobtrusive way of scenting Spike’s emotions instead of just taking a tour of Spike’s head. He appreciated the gesture, especially since Draco had finally learned how much air to draw in without knocking Spike flat onto his face.
“It’s nothing,” Spike mumbled as he turned to leave once more. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“It is not nothing,” Draco scolded gently. The soft nudging of the dragon’s tail got Spike to turn around once more. Upon seeing the pained look in Spike’s expressive blue eyes that same tail urged Spike forward so he could rest on Draco’s now outstretched leg. After observing the Father for a few days, Draco wasn’t so sure he what he thought about the humans that had made the Father begin to doubt himself so. These insecurities were something the dragon planed on alleviating very soon.
“It’s just a dream really,” Spike sighed. “Not a bloody thing can be done about it so why bother? Got more important things to worry about than what’s already passed.”
“It is often in the visions of our past that we find the answers we so desperately need,” Draco prodded gently, urging Spike to reveal what he had seen.
“Not my past I was seeing, mate,” Spike mumbled softly though Draco heard him anyway.
“You are seeing Ktulu’s past crimes then?”
“I guess,” Spike shrugged. “Bloody useless though, to see what he’s already done.”
“Not so Father,” Draco replied. “Tell me what you dreamed. Together we might be able to see what Ktulu has planned next.”
Feeling his burden lighten considerably, all thoughts of Buffy fled as Spike launched into the details of his dream. Draco listened with rapt attention, only interrupting to clarify a point or to get Spike to try and remember more details. It made Spike feel like he wasn’t alone and for the first time since arriving in his strange new world, Spike felt as if he belonged.
Blood flowed from the gash crossing the entire expanse of Gaiana’s stomach. The leviathan was dead, the treasure and temple safe, but more of Ktulu’s followers were sure to come and Gaiana did not have the strength to fight them off. She could feel her life force slowly ebbing and her power weakening. She could hear her Goddess beckoning her forth as her soothing presence descended over Gaiana’s torn and broken body.
Pulling into herself, Gaiana tapped into the last reserves of her strength and power and reached out across the world to the one person she knew could help.
As her power surged forth from her weakening body, Gaiana gave a sigh of relief. Her message had been sent. Now she could rest.
Eyes closing, Gaiana slipped into the endless night that awaited her. The world around her stilled as her chest slowly rose, fell, and then stopped. Finally all was silent.
Closing off her prayer, Liana straightened her bowed posture and picked up her broadsword. Taking deep breaths, Liana began a slow exercise, extending her arms, sword out front. She continued the motion by making a slow sweep to the left and then the right side of her body. Turning her arms, she brought the sword in a controlled downward swing letting the sharp tip rest mere inches from the ground.
Moments later the sword was slicing upwards through the air in a graceful arch while Liana turned her body to face in the same direction, feet spread for balance. Her breathing was controlled, her eyes focused on an imaginary foe. Liana could barely hear the sounds of the world around her but she could see and feel every nuisance of the clearing she was standing in. She intuitively knew which direction the air was flowing; she could see where every animal, plant, and bug resided. Liana could even taste the different scents in the air.
Sliding her feet closer together so she was standing upright once more, Liana held her sword upright before her body, tip pointing to the sky.
When the familiar feeling of a warm presence slid over her, Liana continued to regulate her breathing. The Priestess only ever reached out to her in this manner if completely necessary. This way of communication was a draining experience and usually left the recipient more than a little dazed.
“They have come to the temple! The treasure must be retrieved for the Father has finally arrived.”
“There was another raid, my King,” Frederic reported to the solemn figure standing before the wall holding a detailed map of the Alliance’s kingdoms and provinces.
“I know,” came the weary reply. The King kept his back to his adviser, not willing to let the other man see how very tired he was.
“King Aneirin, my Lord,” Frederic continued as he slowly came to stand beside the resigned form of the man he had watched grow from a boy to a man.
‘So like his father,’ Frederic thought with a sigh as he placed a weathered hand on the young man’s heavily burdened shoulders. “I have sent word to the other kingdoms. I advised that a Council be convened, just like the one your ancestor called for when the Dark One was at the height of his power.”
“Good,” King Aneirin stated. Seeming to come to a decision, King Aneirin straightened his shoulders and pulled himself to his full height. Looking his trusted adviser in his kind blue eyes, Aneirin gave the order he knew would cause as much a stir as the recent raids on the boarder towns had. “Find me the fastest messenger the royal court has. I wish to request the return of General Einarr.”
Rubbing the towel vigorously over her damp hair, Buffy sighed as her thoughts once again strayed to all of the problems that seemed to be piling up on her slender shoulders. Her bath had relaxed tired and soar muscles, but unfortunately, could not relax her over taxed mind. They had only been in Los Angeles for one day, but it felt like a lifetime had passed. All they knew was Spike had seemingly vanished off the face of the planet. The only comfort Buffy and the others had was they knew for a fact he was not A, dead or B, trapped in some Wolfram and Hart hell dimension.
Unfortunately, on one of the searches conducted by Faith and a few of the other slayers, they had come across a serpent like demon. It was not one of Wolfram and Hart’s minions but it seemed to be cooperating with them on a different search. When Faith had applied a little bit of pressure the slimy demon had boasted. It had said it’s master, something named Ktulu or Kutlie or something, Buffy didn’t really know nor did she care, was looking to reunite the Father with his Daughter-Key before killing itself.
Now Willow, Xander, Dawn, and Giles were sequestered away with piles of books looking for any reference to solving the mystery of why the cowardly little beast had referred to someone as the Father, and why the things master wanted Dawn, or so they assumed what with the Daughter-Key reference. It was just one more problem on top of a mountain of problems and Buffy found herself wishing Spike were by her side. He might not have had any answers, but he would have been able to keep her going. Laying her head against the soft cushion of the couch she was sitting on, Buffy let a small smile spread out over her exhausted face. She could almost hear his comforting voice filling her mind as she quickly drifted off to sleep.
“Chin up, Slayer. We’ll find the bloody wankers and then you can have a right good time tearing them to pieces.”