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This story is part of the ongoing arc of the Fragments!verse.

Pairing: Spike/Xander
Genre: h/c, adventure
Rating: R, for naughty language and non-explicit sex.
Spoilers: All of both series.

Summary: Post-series Spike and Xander must go back in time to participate in the events of "The Zeppo" and prevent an apocalypse in the future.

Thanks to Flurblewig for the beta!

Disclaimer: This is fanfic, based on the shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, the Series. Characters are property of Mutant Enemy. This story was written for fun, not profit.



Before the Time of Dawn


by
Shadowscast



Part One


Spike stalked onto the stage, resplendent in his long black leather coat. The thud of his heavy boots on the wooden planks was the only sound in the room. A spotlight lit his scowling face in stark planes.

He stopped at an invisible mark at center stage, spun on his heel to face his audience, crossed his arms and lifted his chin. In an almost accusing tone, he began, "You've heard that vampires are real." He waited—a soft rustle of whispered translations filled the dramatic pause. "You've heard that they're strong, that they drink blood, that they love to kill your kind." Another pause. "Maybe you've also heard that some of them are as liable to sit down with you for a cuppa tea as to fight you, that some of them hold down real jobs and pass in human society without ever harming a kitten, that some of them are bloody fantastic ... conversationalists." There was a nervous twitter of laughter in the audience, and Spike waited it out with a hint of an indulgent smirk. "It's all true. But know this." All traces of amusement left his face. "Every vampire is a demon. Every vampire dreams of ripping your throat open and gulping your hot, bitter blood until there's none left in you. Every vampire that walks this earth delights in murder, rape, and torture. I know this because I used to be one."


*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*

After the lecture, Xander caught up with Spike in the senior staff lounge.

Spike was stirring his coffee so violently it was in danger of splashing over the edge of his mug. "What did you think?" he asked as soon as he noticed Xander. "Did I overdo it?"

"Nah, it was great. They needed that. It's better than learning the hard way, right?" Xander gave Spike a quick kiss and took away his coffee spoon. "Calm down, okay? It's over, you were awesome—actually, you made three of them cry."

Spike snorted. "Was hoping for at least six." He took a gulp of coffee and casually straddled a wooden chair. "Bit different from anything I've done before, that's for sure. But I think I like this teaching gig. I'm considering making them call me Professor Smith. Sounds posh, don't it?"

Xander grinned. "I'm just wondering when you're going to get around to explaining Angel and Harmony."

"Oh, that's all set for the second lecture: Moral Ambiguity and the Post-Modern Slayer. Andrew made a Powerpoint."

"I cannot wait to see it." Xander glanced at his watch. "Oh, hey, speaking of Andrew, I saw him right before your class. He said Giles wanted to see us both in the conference room as soon as you were free."

"Right." Spike took another long gulp of coffee and then set his mug aside. "Did it sound like the world was about to end, or can we stop in the broom closet on the way?"

"Hey, if the world's about to end I insist on a broom closet break." Xander tugged on the lapels of Spike's coat to bring him close enough to kiss. "Impending apocalypses are big turn-ons for me. Did I ever tell you about my first time?"

They made it to the conference room fourteen minutes later, only slightly rumpled. Giles and Andrew were standing at the whiteboard, puzzling over a diagram with a lot of arrows in it. Dawn was sitting cross-legged on top of the big wooden table with a heavy old book open in her lap. "Hey guys," she greeted them. "How did Vampires 101 go?"

"Spike kicked ass," Xander said proudly. "Best class ever. Man I wish they'd offered that as an elective back at Sunnydale High."

"It would have come in handy," Andrew agreed.

Giles turned around, adjusting his glasses. "Funny you should mention Sunnydale High. In fact, you're going to have to go back there."

"A bit late for that, ain't it?" Spike said, sweeping his coat out of the way to sit down.

"Yes, indeed. I'll get to that." Giles glanced back at the whiteboard. "You see, there have been portents—"

"It's the end of the world," Andrew supplied helpfully.

Spike poked Xander in the ribs. "Told you so."

"You did not."

"When did that phrase stop being impressive?" Dawn asked, addressing nobody in particular. "Can anyone remember?"

"Familiarity breeds contempt," Spike said with a shrug.

Xander mock-punched Spike in the shoulder. "I sure hope you're not talking about our relationship."

"It's the end of the world," Giles said, rather more emphatically than Andrew had, "and we're six years too late to stop it."

Xander settled into the seat next to Spike's. "Well, that can't be good." Since the meeting lacked the panicked air of a true we're all about to die strategy session, Xander kicked his chair back and rested his feet against the table. "What're we going to do about it?"

Giles looked pained. He took his glasses off and pinched the bridge of his nose before finally saying, reluctantly, "You and Spike are going to travel back in time."

Andrew almost looked like he was going to start hopping up and down with excitement. "I got the idea from Star Trek: The Voyage Home. You know how they had to go back in time to get a whale? It's like that, only with a demon. See, there was a marathon on Space last night and I was thinking about our little apocalypse problem, and—"

"Thank you, Andrew," Giles cut him off. "Now, needless to say, this is going to be both a dangerous and delicate mission—"

"Wait, we can do that?" Xander stared at Giles and Andrew. "Since when can we do that? 'Cause, uh, I can think of a hell of a lot of things in our collective lives that might have gone better with a do-over."

Frowning, Giles put his glasses back on. "We do not propose to rewrite history. It would be appallingly unwise even to try. According to the top thinkers in magical temporal philosophy, any alteration in the timeline is bound to change it for the worse."

"Then why are we even talking about this?" Spike asked.

"We found a loophole," Andrew said.

Dawn nodded. "Me."

"We have come to believe that when the monks created Dawn, they projected her reality backwards," Giles explained. "Thus, even though Dawn did not exist as a human being six years ago, if you travel back in time six years you will find her there, just as you remember her."

"I had a childhood," Dawn said, grinning widely. "For real!"

"Because Dawn's life before the spell projects backwards rather than forwards," Giles continued, "changes in her timeline should not have any sort of deleterious effect."

Xander stared blankly at Giles for a moment, then turned to Dawn and Andrew. "Okay, could somebody maybe paraphrase that? Possibly with Star Trek references?"

"It's simple, really," Dawn assured him. "The point is that it doesn't matter if you change my history at any point in time before the monks do their spell, because when they do, everything gets reset. I won't remember anything that happened."

"In fact," Giles added, "we are reasonably certain that any events involving Dawn will be reset in all our memories, as well, when that spell is cast."

"Reasonably certain?" Spike repeated, raising his eyebrow.

"The important thing is that you don't make any changes that don't involve Dawn," Andrew said. "'Cause those wouldn't be overwritten by the monks' spell; they'd just be incorporated into it."

"And every change is a bad change," Dawn reminded them.

"Got it," Xander nodded. "I don't want to come back to a world where everyone has tentacles, let me tell you."

"Dunno," Spike said, pitching his voice so Xander and Dawn could hear but Giles couldn't, "Bet we could have a lot of fun with tentacles."

Dawn glared at him. "By the way, while you two are back there, I'll thank you to please not shatter my childhood innocence."

"What?" Spike asked, all wide-eyed innocence. "You'll forget it all anyway, won't you?"

"Yeah, but not for like a year and a half!"

Giles cleared his throat. "If you would please—we have a lot of details to go over."

"Speaking of which," Xander said, "exactly which part of my not-so-glorious past am I going to be reliving?"

Giles picked up a sheaf of handwritten notes from the table and quickly shuffled through them. "Do you remember the Sisterhood of Jhe?"

Spike's eyes went wide and he snuck a look at Xander. "Isn't that when you and Faith ...?" he asked in a voice somewhere between a whisper and a snort.

Xander let his feet thud to the floor. "Oh ... god."





Part Two


"Wait a mo'," Spike said, looking out the passenger side window of the rental car, "What are we doing here?"

Giles had parked them in front of a building that had clearly seen better days—like, maybe the 1920's. To Xander's eye it looked ready to collapse in the next earthquake, which didn't make him exactly eager to go running in and start working the dark mojo, but Spike sounded like he had more specific objections.

"It's an abandoned hotel," Giles said, and got out to unload the trunk. Xander went to help him.

"I know that," Spike said, getting out and slamming his door. "It's the bloody Hyperion. Are we doing the spell here?"

"Angel suggested it," Giles said, slightly defensively. "We needed a place near Sunnydale—but not in it, for obvious reasons. And we needed to know with absolute certainty that the location was deserted on the day six years ago that you two will, er, appear."

Xander looked back and forth between the two of them. "Is there a problem?" he asked, addressing Spike, not Giles.

"No," Spike said, in a very obvious yes-but-I-don't-want-to-talk-about-it tone. "Just would've been nice to get a little notice, is all."

Giles picked up the duffle bag that held his magic supplies. "He did mention that it was, er, will be haunted when you arrive there in 1999. Which is why we can guarantee it will be, or rather was, deserted."

"Haunted?" Xander stared at Giles, then at the hotel, then back at Giles. "Wouldn't that qualify as one of those unnecessary complications we're trying to avoid?"

"Actually, possessed would perhaps be a more appropriate term than haunted," Giles corrected himself. "There was a Thesulac demon residing in the premises. It's gone now, but while you're in the past you will want to minimize your time inside the hotel. Oh, and if you hear any voices urging you to kill each other or yourselves—well, don't listen to them."

"Can I just say there are aspects of this plan that worry me?" Xander shouldered the second duffle—the one he and Spike would be taking into the past—and waited for Giles to lead the way.

"And that makes it different from our other plans how?" Spike asked, sliding his arm around Xander's waist as they walked.

Xander ignored the obviously rhetorical question. "So, you've met the resident evil, I take it?"

"The Thesulac? No, that was news to me, though I can't say I'm surprised."

"Then why didn't you want to do the spell here?"

"I stayed here with Angel for a while after I turned human. Wasn't the greatest time in my life."

That made Xander immediately curious, because Spike never talked about the time period between the big battle with the Senior Partners and meeting Xander at the porn store. Unfortunately there was no time to ask for details; they were already inside the lobby.

Giles had stopped, staring at the floor; as his eye adjusted slowly to the dim light Xander realized there was a giant red pentagram painted there, faint but visible. Giles cleared his throat. "I think we had better make our circle off to the side."

The actual spell was surprisingly simple; Spike and Xander stood close together, holding hands, while Giles poured sand in a circle around them and chanted something in Sumerian. He'd explained the process ahead of time, so Xander knew to expect the gradual darkening of his vision and the growing feeling of weightlessness. He squeezed Spike's hand tightly until he couldn't feel it anymore.

Then there was nothing. No light, no sound, no touch. He wasn't sure if he was breathing. He had no sense of up or down, no sense of now. He thought, this is what it means to be timeless, and he wasn't sure if he was remembering thinking those words or if he hadn't thought them yet.

Then there was something solid under his feet and someone holding his hand and bright light and a rush of sound.

"Xander?" It was Spike. "You all right, luv?"

He was perfectly all right except for his stomach trying to turn inside out. He took a deep breath, clenched his teeth, and gave Spike the thumbs-up signal.

The look of the lobby was a bit worrying. They'd supposedly traveled into the past, but this place looked more dusty, neglected and decrepit than it had when they'd walked in.

Angel's going to move in later and clean up the place. It all makes sense. Get a grip, Xander. He noticed that the pentagram was gone—or, rather, not there yet.

"Right, we'd better close this thing up," Spike said, stepping carefully out of the glowing white circle that had taken the place of Giles's poured sand.

"Ymmph," Xander replied, and ran outside to throw up.

Spike joined him a couple minutes later in the overgrown front garden. Wordlessly, he handed Xander a water bottle. Xander rinsed out his mouth, then took a couple careful swallows.

"That, I gather, was the reason Rupert told us to skip breakfast." Spike nearly managed to sound more sympathetic than snarky. But not quite.

Deciding he probably wasn't about to puke again, Xander stood up. "What, I was supposed to come back to California and not eat at Denny's?"

Spike snorted. "Thought I was supposed to be the one with no impulse control? Anyhow, we're done here; I locked up our circle, and here's the key." He opened his hand to reveal what looked like a cat's eye marble with a pink swirl in its center, perfectly ordinary except for the fact it was softly glowing. In fact, Xander knew, the magical sphere was far more fragile than ordinary glass. "Where should we put it for safekeeping?" Spike asked.

Xander looked around. The tangled garden offered a wealth of hiding places, but there was too much risk; what if a stray dog found it and thought it looked tasty? If they couldn't find it when they came back they'd have to default to plan B: move to the Midwest and pass the next six years in real time, trying not to do anything significant while they waited for the day they could come back to this hotel and meet Giles and give him what he needed to stop the world from ending. "Inside," he decided.

Back in the lobby without the pressing urge to vomit, Xander was aware of a subtler discomfort: a nagging disquiet at the back of his mind, a sudden lack of confidence in his and Spike's ability to come through this mission without disaster. He had a feeling like he'd left his stove on or his door unlocked. "Are we forgetting something?" he asked Spike. "We brought the list, right? And Dawn's instructions? And the money? Did we make sure all the bills were dated before 1999?"

"Shhhh." Spike touched his finger to Xander's lips, a crease between his eyebrows betraying concern. "I feel it too. It's the fucking Thesulac—the paranoia demon. It's hungry. Don't let it run away with you."

"Right." Xander shuddered. "Let's stick the marble in the reception desk and get the hell out of here."


*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*

The first step in the careful plan they'd worked out back in Rome was to make sure Giles had sent them to the right day. That was easy; they walked three blocks to a corner store and checked out the front page of a paper. January 22, 1999. "Perfect," Xander said softly, and Spike nodded.

Xander bought a can of Sprite to kill the lingering bad taste in his mouth, and they set off in pursuit of step two on the bullet-point list Andrew had printed out for them: get a rental car.

Two and a half hours later, they passed the "Welcome to Sunnydale" sign.

"This is weird," Xander said.

Spike, driving, nodded. "Hell yeah. Never been a time I came to this place that wasn't weird somehow, but this is one for the bloody record books." He ran a hand absently through his hair, which was dyed back to something resembling its natural sandy-brown color. "Right about now Dru and I are painting the streets of Fortaleza red and having the time of our unlives. She's already thinking of leaving me, of course, makin' eyes at that chaos demon behind my back..." He shook his head as if to clear it.

And hey, that was something else Spike never talked about: his vampire escapades. "Do you miss Dru?" Xander ventured. He didn't really want to know, but it seemed like something he should ask.

Spike's knuckles went white on the steering wheel. "When I said painting the streets red," he said quietly, with a sort of disconcerting intensity, "I was being more or less literal. Right now I'm murdering people, pet. So don't ask me if I miss any part of that."

Xander winced; right, this was why they never talked about the past. Only now they were living in it. He touched Spike's thigh. "That wasn't—isn't you," he said. "The demon did the killing, and it's gone. There's nothing left of it in you."

Spike smiled humorlessly. "And that's exactly my problem, innit?" Before Xander could answer, he changed the subject. "Hey, look, one of those What is the Matrix? billboards. Don't that just take you back?"

They stopped on the outskirts of town at Sunnydale's only nice hotel. It was the third bullet-point: Check into the Holiday Inn.

Too bad it was full.

"Full?" Xander repeated, voice full of disbelief. "How—who the hell comes to Sunnydale in January? Who comes to Sunnydale at all?"

The desk clerk, looking slightly offended, pointed at the signboard propped up to the left of the reception desk: Welcome, Funeral Directors of California! "The conference is running until Sunday," he said. "If you need accommodations in the meantime, may I suggest the Downtowner? It's only a one-star motel, I'm afraid, but since you didn't make reservations..."

"That'll be fine," Spike said, touching Xander's hand in a shut up and let me handle this sort of way.

"Would you like a map?" the clerk offered.

Spike shook his head, still squeezing Xander's hand below the clerk's eye level. "Thanks, we know the place."

Walking back out of the car, Spike said quietly "Don't argue with people, pet. We want to be as forgettable as possible, right? Who cares if we have to stay in a crap motel?"

"You think I'm worried about roaches? Spike, that's the place where Faith lives."

Spike stopped. "Oh. Bloody hell." He stared at Xander over the roof of the rental car for a long moment, sharing in the dismay. "There aren't any other hotels in Sunnydale, are there?"

"No—we'd have to go all the way to Santa Barbara."

"That's too far from the action."

"Yeah, I know."

They got into the car, and Spike started it up. "We'll have to stay at the Downtowner," he said. "We probably won't even see Faith. And even if we do—she's never seen me, and she's not likely to recognize you."

They'd talked about this, back in Rome—not about Faith in particular, but about the chances of being recognized in general. Xander was six years older, missing an eye. He wore his hair back in a short ponytail, and he chose clothes in earthy, dusty colors. They figured that anyone but his closest friends would pass him by without looking too closely. As for Spike, he was wearing glasses, he'd dyed his hair brown, he'd let Andrew pick out his clothes, and hey—out in the daylight. Short of silicon prosthetics, it was about the best they could do.

"Okay," Xander sighed, "The Downtowner it is. What could possibly go wrong?"





Part Three


"Faith was living in this place?" Spike said, looking around. "No wonder she went evil."

"Is living, and will go evil," Xander reminded him, dropping the duffle bag on the sagging bed. The mattress squeaked. That's gonna be fun to sleep on, oh yeah.

Spike pushed the deadbolt into place. "Makes you wonder, don't it? How it all would've played out if one or two little things had gone differently?"

"You mean if Faith hadn't killed the Mayor's aide?" Xander shrugged. "She would've found some other interesting way to fuck up. She was headed that way from when she first hit Sunnydale."

"She turned out all right in the end, though."

"Which we would almost certainly prevent if we tried to fix anything. Remember Murphy's Law of Time Travel."

Spike rolled his eyes and flopped down on the room's battered armchair. It wobbled precariously. "Don't get your knickers in a twist, I wasn't suggesting we go around changing things. I was there for Rupert's lecture, and I watched the whole Back to the Future trilogy, too. I was just saying, hey, what if? All theoretical, like."

"Sorry."

"S'alright. Being back here, it puts you on edge. I get that."

Xander flashed Spike a wan smile. "You could say that, yeah. I mean, it's like visiting a ghost town. Where the actual town is a ghost." He started unpacking the duffle. "Okay, what should we do with this?" He held up a bulging manila envelope, post-marked Sao Paulo. A last-minute contribution from Willow, it contained dried Lethe's bramble and detailed instructions on how to remove specific memories without turning all your friends into helpless amnesiacs. If things are careening wildly towards worst-case scenario, she'd advised them on the phone, give that stuff to Giles and get him to do cleanup. Just, whatever you do, don't let me have it.

Spike shrugged. "Anyone comes snooping around, there's no place in this room that stuff would be safe. Just stick it in the drawers over there and try not to give anyone reason to look."

Xander frowned, but followed Spike's advice. He tucked their cash reserve into the drawer next to the spell stuff, for the same reason—no better place to hide it. Some neatly-folded shirts went on top as a weak attempt at camouflage.

He tried to tell himself this was no different from checking into any other hotel room with Spike. Since they'd started working for the Council together, they'd been doing a lot of traveling. This room was actually way nicer than the one they'd shared with Illyria in Kathmandu. This one just happens to be nearly identical to the room where I lost my virginity.

"Hey," Spike said, "It's quarter to five. We should go find Dawn."


*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*

It hadn't been easy to figure out a way for two grown men to secretly make contact with a 12-year-old girl. The plan that they'd eventually come up with in Rome was not what you might call "flawless." Dawn had a memory of ballet lessons; in the history created for her by the monks, she'd taken them from when she was eight until when she was fourteen. She claimed to be fairly sure, almost definitely, at least seventy-five percent certain, that when she was twelve she'd been dancing from 4 p.m. 'till 5 every Friday at Madam Tremblay's studio on Oak Street. It was only four blocks from Revello Drive, and she'd usually walked home alone.

At 5 p.m. they walked along Oak Street. It was a residential area with well-groomed lawns sporting occasional tricycles. The dance studio was in the basement of one of the houses; Dawn hadn't been able to remember the address, but she'd told them it was about halfway up the street.

"Is that her?" Spike asked quietly. He pointed across the street and four houses up to where a brown-haired girl carrying a small pink duffle bag was just coming out the front door.

"That's her."

They crossed the street and walked towards her. She paid them no particular attention; she skipped a few steps and twirled, maybe remembering some choreography from her lesson. Her long hair was pulled back in a high ponytail and her sweater had a white teddy bear embroidered on its front.

"She's a child," Spike murmured.

Xander didn't bother to comment on Spike's statement of the obvious. He was feeling the weirdness too—the shock of seeing her so young, the familiarity of it, the brain-bending paradox of realizing that in some sense this was the first time he'd ever seen her at this age. "Hey," he said out loud, because they were almost in front of her, "Dawn!"

She looked up, startled. "Hi?"

"We need to talk to you," Xander said.

Her expression wavered between suspicious and puzzled. "I'm not supposed to talk to str—" and then she laughed. "Xander! Why are you dressed like a pirate?"

He glanced down at his khaki Dockers and suede jacket. "I was going for business casual..."

Spike kicked him gently in the ankle. "Go on, say the bloody line."

"Right. Dawn, we're here from the year 2005, and we need your help to save the world."

Dawn rolled her eyes. "Yeah, right. Did Buffy put you up to this?"

"Look at him, niblet," Spike said. "There was a reason you didn't recognize him at first glance."

Dawn looked at Spike, instead. "Hey, I know you," she said. "You're ... Spike, right? Aren't you supposed to be a vampire?" She and Spike both glanced automatically towards the sun—it was low in the western sky, bathing all three of them in its warm golden glow.

"Used to be," he said. "Turned human in 2004."

Dawn frowned, backing a step away from them. "That's impossible. My sister says there's no way to cure vampires."

"We didn't know it was possible," Spike said, "and we're still not sure how it happened. But here I am in the bright sunshine. Wanna take my pulse?"

She shook her head. "That still doesn't prove you're from the future."

"Right," Xander agreed. "But I can prove it."

"Oh yeah?" Dawn said. "Okay, how?"

This had been a big question, back in Rome. At first they'd thought of bringing photos of Dawn's and Buffy's older selves, but Giles had been worried about the potential for polluting the timeline. In the end, Dawn had offered up a solution.

"I know what happened to Mr. Fluffy," Xander said.

Dawn suddenly looked pale. "What are you talking about?" she asked, in a completely unconvincing bluff.

"The class gerbil," Xander clarified, to make sure that she knew that he knew exactly what he was talking about. "He didn't die of natural causes. You stole a spellbook from Willow. You tried to give him fairy wings. It didn't work."

"I ... I told you that? In the future?" Dawn looked like she was about to cry, which made Xander feel like an asshole.

"Yeah," he said as gently as possible. "You told us so that we could tell you, so you'd trust us."

"We're not mad at you, pet," Spike added. "We know you didn't mean to hurt him."

In fact, as adult Dawn had pointed out, the whole thing hadn't been her fault at all—it was just part of the history concocted by the monks. "And I felt awful about it for years," she'd added with exasperation.

Not that they could explain that to younger Dawn—they were definitely not going to tell the poor kid that she didn't technically exist.

"Okay," she said, voice trembling, "I believe you. But what do you need me for? Buffy's the Slayer."

"She is what she is," Spike said, "but you're the one we need." Keeping it nice and vague. "Your older self told us all about it." And here came the white lie... "You remember all of this happening, so it's got to be you that helps us." That reasoning didn't make sense if you really thought about it, but time travel was confusing at the best of times and Dawn had been pretty sure that her 12-year-old self would buy it.

Dawn took a deep breath and stood a little straighter. "All right, let's say I believe you. What do I have to do?"

"Next Tuesday, your sister and her friends are going to be fighting a demon cult in the high school," Spike said. "They're going to win. But there's what you might call a slight misunderstanding. The demon cult isn't trying to destroy the world—they're trying to save it."


*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*

"Misunderstanding?" Xander had repeated, staring at Giles. "They opened the fucking Hellmouth. What's to misunderstand?"

"Their motive in doing so." Giles picked up one of the books from the table in front of him. Xander recognized it immediately as the volume he, Spike and Illyria had collected a month previously in Nepal; the swastikas embossed on its red leather cover had freaked him out until Spike explained that they were a Hindu sacred symbol predating the Nazi party by at least seven thousand years. Giles flipped through the pages of tight Sanskrit text until he came to an illustration, and handed the open book to Xander, who held it so Spike could see too.

In the drawing, two demons were locked in battle in front of an abstract starburst pattern that might depict anything from an exploding volcano to a beautiful sunrise. One of the demons was a two-headed snakelike thing; the other one was vaguely recognizable as a Sister of Jhe. In the foreground of the drawing, seven small human figures bowed in either abject fear or wondrous gratitude.

"I had the text translated," Giles said. "It describes an event in southern India in the first century BC. It seems there was an active Hellmouth there at the time. Following a series of increasingly serious demonic and seismic disturbances, the Hellmouth spontaneously opened. All manner of chaos and destruction followed, as one would expect. Tens of thousands of humans were killed. In the end it was a local clan of demons, adept in both physical combat and magic, who managed to fight back the armies of hell and perform a ritual to close the Hellmouth. That clan subsequently became the Sisterhood of Jhe, and dedicated themselves to preventing such a disaster from ever happening again."

"Well, hugs and puppies for the Sisterhood then," Spike said, "but what were they doing opening the bloody Sunnydale Hellmouth?"

"Think of Earth as a sort of mystical pressure cooker," Dawn said. "And think of the Hellmouths as vents. Mostly they're closed up tight, which is good, because when they open up it's not steam that comes out, it's big hungry demons and wacky mystical energy. But the longer they all stay closed, the more pressure builds, until eventually one of them has to explode open like that one in India."

Giles picked up the story again. "For the past two thousand years, the Sisterhood of Jhe has been visiting Hellmouths all over the world and opening them briefly to bleed off the pressure. They have a powerful ritual which allows them to safely open a Hellmouth and let it vent for about an hour, during which time they kill any monsters that should happen to emerge."

"I think I see the problem, then," Spike said. "You lot stopped them from doing their thing, and now the pressure's building, innit?"

"Indeed." Giles grimaced. "The Sisterhood had already run into several setbacks in the twentieth century which left their numbers much reduced, and I believe that in Sunnydale in 1999 we destroyed what was left of the order. Unfortunately, we have no clue as to how to perform the ritual to safely open a Hellmouth. I am afraid that knowledge died with the Sisterhood."

Xander turned to Andrew. "So when you said this mission was like in Star Trek when they went back in time to save the whales..."

Andrew nodded. Lacing his fingers together, he said solemnly, "You must return to the year 1999 to rescue the noble and misunderstood Sisterhood of Jhe."


*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*

They walked Dawn to within a block of her house. She promised to call them at the hotel the next evening at a time when she could talk on the phone without her mom or Buffy listening, and she swore she wouldn't tell anyone about them in the meantime.

"I think that went pretty well," Xander said once Dawn was out of sight. "She didn't freak out or anything. Now all we have to do is steal those books, which should be easy, and stay out of sight until Tuesday."

Spike mock-slapped the back of Xander's head. "Stop counting those bloody chickens, luv. Do you want to jinx us?"

They walked back towards the motel, keeping to quiet side streets to decrease their chances of running into anyone who might recognize them. The sun set as they walked. With no one around, Xander dared to take Spike's hand. Being out and proud might not technically be the best strategy for staying inconspicuous, but Xander couldn't stand being close to Spike for so long without touching him. It made his skin tingle and his heart race and his fingers feel all jittery.

Spike closed his hand around Xander's hand without comment. "That used to be one of my favorite cemeteries," he said, nodding his head sideways at the place they were passing. "Peaceful Acres. Had all the best epitaphs."

"If you like the place that much," said a harsh, mocking voice behind them, "you might be interested to know they have an opening."

Xander and Spike both spun around to face the speaker. It was a vampire, of course—three feet away from them, its ugly ridged features twisted into an eager grin.

"Bugger," Spike said quietly, with feeling.

We are total fucking idiots, Xander had time to realize. Out in Sunnydale after dark without a single stake.

The vampire lunged forward and grabbed for Spike's arm. Spike managed to duck aside at the last moment and the vampire stumbled between them. Xander gave it a quick jab in the kidneys and leapt backwards before it could turn and grab him. It grunted, hopefully in intense pain. When it turned to see where Spike was, Spike punched it in the nose and called out in Xander's direction, "Hey luv, can we dust this wanker?"

"Are you kidding? It's nothing but a fledge." A little bravado in the middle of a fight never hurt anyone. The vampire didn't need to know that neither Spike nor Xander was considered an active combatant by the Council these days. He ducked a wild vamp punch. "It's still got clumps of dirt clinging to its burial suit." The fledge spun and kicked Xander before he could dodge again. He managed to tense his abs in time to take the kick without serious damage, but it sent him flying backwards to land on his butt in the grass.

"I don't mean are we capable, I mean if we dust him will we fuck up the sodding timeline!?" Grabbing the Peaceful Acres' wrought-iron fence, Spike jumped and kicked out with both legs to catch the charging vampire square in the chest. The vampire stumbled backwards a couple steps but didn't fall. It surged forward again before Spike had time to get out of the way and threw him against the fence so hard the whole length of it vibrated. Spike's face went tight with pain and Xander decided the timeline could go fuck itself.

Looking around wildly for anything made of wood, he saw a white picket fence on the other side of the street. He hesitated for a split second between running to help Spike now and losing precious seconds crossing the street, but without some kind of stake there was no way to defeat the vampire. Then the fledge howled in pain and let go of Spike; he'd kneed it in the groin. Yeah, Spike! Xander silently cheered, and dashed across the street.

It was no problem to rip a slat off the shoddily-constructed picket fence, but up close Xander could tell the top of the picket was way too blunt. He knew he couldn't shove it through a vampire's chest. He shot a frantic look across the street and saw things were getting worse—the vampire had pinned Spike up against the iron railings and it looked like it was about to bite him.

Xander snapped the slat over his knee. It broke in a jagged diagonal, as he'd hoped; now it was a stake. Across the street, the vamp plunged its teeth into Spike's neck. Xander charged, screaming some kind of war cry, maybe just screaming. He barely even felt the stake go through the vampire's jacket and flesh. Then there was nothing but a cloud of dust, and Spike wild-eyed on the other side of it, clapping his hand to his neck.

"Bloody hell," Spike croaked. "That was close." And then his knees gave out, but it didn't matter because Xander's arms were already tight around him.





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