Chapter 15 – Snakes In the Grass (And Demons In The Basement)
“I’m as low as a paid assassin is
You know I’m cold as a hired sword”
- Elton John – I Feel Like A Bullet (In The Gun Of Robert Ford)
Rupert got to the school early the next morning, so that he could spend some time alone. Ethan had been keeping a close eye on him over the last couple of days, which wasn’t entirely unjustified, but that didn’t make it any less frustrating. There were times when he just needed his own space to think in.
He wasn’t going to do anything to hurt himself. He was sorely tempted to try and do something to hurt Ethan, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to. A part of him even recognized how unfair it was to heap the blame on it, when he knew that this was his own fault, but the vampire was a convenient scapegoat for his anger.
If he blamed himself, then he wouldn’t be able to function, and keep doing what he had to, and this job was far too important to screw up because he was moping. Ethan had shown him a long time ago how his feelings got in the way of rationality. He might not always keep it in mind, but he sure as hell tried.
He couldn’t fight Buffy’s battles for her no matter how much he might want to, and he couldn’t force Xander to see that he was trying to help make the best of a bad situation. All that he could do was dare to hope that it worked out for the best, and that the children could learn what they needed from him.
He was sitting at the table, staring at space when Willow, Xander and Buffy came in at the same time. A quick glance at the boy was enough for him to see how little sleep he had had last night, but the fact that he was here at all was something in itself. He had obviously taken what he had been told last night to heart. It still didn’t prevent him from trying to kill with a glare, though. Rupert was grateful for the small favours. If that was the only rebellion that he had shown towards Ethan had been to glower at it, then both of their lives would have been a damn sight easier.
“Good morning,” he said, as he rose to his feet and picked up the books that were in front of him on the table, so that it looked like he was doing something.
“Morning, Giles,” Buffy said, in a worryingly cheerful tone. He didn’t have to be a genius to tell that she was already trying to butter him up.
“So, how was patrol last night?”
“Found this,” she tossed something over to him that flashed silver through the air.
He snatched at it, and turned the half-bracelet over in his hands to stare at the blood.
“Did you know anything about it?”
Willow pulled a book off the shelf and pretended to focus on it, while watching them over the top of it.
“Xander found it just outside the woods, near the UC Sunnydale campus, and a frat house. I’ve been invited to a party there, and I was thinking that it might be a good opportunity to go along and see whether I could find anything that might link the two.”
He cleared his throat, as he let the bracelet dangle from his fingers, “How much of this brilliant strategising would be part of a plan to take a night off, if you can?”
Buffy looked at him, “Who, me?”
“I was your age once, and back then I was trying to play a vampire. I’m not as foolish as you might think I look, Buffy.”
“I never thought you looked foolish.”
“Only about half of it,” she confessed, “I seriously do think something might be going on. I mean, how cliché is the whole bad mojo thing? Very seventies too, of course, but if whatever they’re doing works for them, then the fact that it’s dated is hardly going to make them stop.”
He frowned to himself, mulling it over, and then decided it would be best not to fight it. If she wanted to go then she would probably do so, regardless of whether he gave permission, “Very well then. But if you’re going along to investigate, then you’re not going alone.”
“I’m not. I’m going with,” she pulled a face, “Cordelia.”
“Which is all well and good, but I’d rather you have someone else there to watch your back, in case something goes off. Xander can go with you as well.”
“What?” Both Buffy and Xander spoke at the same moment.
“He will have to be discreet, but I’m sure he’ll be able to manage that. Then, if nothing comes of it, you’ll both be able to relax a little.”
“Got it. No green pants with purple polka dots,” Xander didn’t look enthusiastic.
“Willow, you can stay here with me and help me see if we can find anything out about who may have owned this bracelet. After all, you never know what might come in handy. If that’s alright with you, of course?” he looked at Willow, “We may also take the chance to slip out for a coffee, if our side of the investigation proves to be futile.”
“Sure,” Willow nodded, looking enthusiastic, “I can call my mom, and tell her that I’m at the library studying.”
“That has the added benefit of actually being true. Xander,” he gestured for the boy to come a little closed, and waited until he finally stepped forward. He placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder, making the gesture look as natural as he could, “you’re going in my place tonight. If anything seems out of the ordinary, I want you to get in touch. If nothing does, then just take the chance to relax.”
For one tense moment it looked like Xander was going to argue with him, simply for the sake of it, and he had a frightening insight into how frustrating his attitude must have been to Ethan, once upon a time. Hell, he probably still got on the vampire’s nerves. Xander obviously had better self-control then he’d had, though, because he simply nodded.
“Yeah, whatever,” he shrugged Rupert’s hand away, and stepped back, and at that moment the bell rang for first period.
The three teens left together, and as they did he heard Buffy saying, “Cordelia’s going to kill me for this.”
Xander crossed his arms and pushed himself further back into the seat, as Cordelia glared at him in the rare view mirror for what must have been the tenth time since he had hopped into the car. As she also spent quite a lot of time driving with one hand, while fiddling with her hair, it didn’t fill him with great confidence.
Of course, if she crashed then this would all be over, so every cloud had a silver lining, but he’d envisioned his death as being a tad more heroic than when he was in the back seat of a car with his bits and pieces in places that the weren’t meant to be in.
“I still don’t get why you had to bring looser-boy, here,” she complained.
“I told you, Giles wants someone at our back.”
“Either that, or he just didn’t want him in his hair for the night.”
“If you don’t stop that, then we’ll get out of this car right now, and if what you told me is true then they won’t let you in on your own.”
“How were you planning on getting him in, anyway? I mean, they’re not just going to let him waltz in through the front door.”
Buffy shrugged, as they pulled up, “We’ll deal with it somehow.”
Cordelia rolled her eyes, and pulled her keys out of the ignition, “Everyone out of the car. Xander, stick close to me.”
He looked surprised at that, but did as she said, as she led the way through the crowd that had spilled out onto the lawn, and into the house where Richard was standing in the entrance.
“Evening, ladies. What’s with the spare?”
Xander tried not to look offended.
“He’s cool. He’s Buffy’s brother. Her mom’s very over-protective, wouldn’t let her out without him, not since their dad was killed. It was so tragic,” Cordelia’s bottom lip quivered, and she tilted her head slightly so that the light caught her eyes, making them appear moist.
Richard glanced at a friend beside him, and then nodded, “That’s fine. No need to make yourself upset, babe. I had to ask, since we get a lot of people trying to gatecrash, you know. They just want to rub elbows with the rich and powerful, and won’t take no for an answer. But if he’s family, then that’s alright in my books.”
He gestured to one of the boys who were wearing a waitress’s outfit, carrying a tray of drinks and wearing a ‘New Pledge’ sign around his neck. He came over and Richard handed out drinks from off the tray to all of them.
Buffy frowned, looking at the drink, and Xander figured that she would probably want to keep a clear head if she was going to be poking around.
“Is there alcohol in this?” she asked, as Xander knocked his drink back, and Cordelia took a sip of hers.
“Just a smidge,” Richard smiled, and Xander got an uneasy feeling from that expression.
“Thanks, but I’ll pass for now,” Buffy put it down.
Richard nodded, “I understand. I was anxious at my first grownup party, too.”
“So” Cordelia latched onto Richard’s arm, and smiled up at him, looking flattering, “why don’t you show me around this place? It looks immense.”
“Sure thing, babe. Did your friends want to come on the grand tour, too?”
Cordelia shook her head, “Oh, no. They’ll be fine.”
Xander was taken aback by how Cordelia had come through for them, when she didn’t even like him. He watched as she half-led Richard upstairs, and then he turned to Buffy, “Well, here’s your chance to have a look around, Lady Sherlock.”
“Why, thank-you, Mister Watson,” she said playfully in return, then looked a little more serious, “so where do you think we should start?”
“Not in here, obviously. There’s no way that they would have left anything out in the open with a party about to happen.”
“Do you think we should split up?” Buffy asked, “We’d cover more ground.”
“Might be a good idea,” Xander spotted the guy Tom, according to Buffy, making a beeline through the crowd to them, “especially since it looks like you’re going to be occupied for a little while.”
“Sorry to interrupt,” Tom said, clearly not looking sorry at all.
Buffy turned to face him, and Xander thought she looked a little too eager to prove that she could have a good time with or without Angel around. He had a feeling she would rather be out with her vamp-friend, but that obviously wasn’t an option right now.
“Not at all,” she smiled, “We weren’t doing anything important.”
“It’s just that I saw you standing here, and I thought that a beautiful girl deserved a lot more attention than what you have at the moment. Would you care to dance?”
She blinked at him, “With you?”
“No, with my identical twin,” he quipped.
“That’s a shame. I think I’d much rather dance with you.”
“That’s good, because he got called away point five seconds ago.”
“I’m sure Xander can entertain himself for a little while.”
Tom laughed and took her hand, leading her to the dance floor, which was really just a clear area in the middle of the rec room. Xander watched them for a few moments, then glanced around and slipped out into the hallway. Listening at the first doorway he heard the sound of moaning, and a low, rhythmic grunting which told him to steer clear. Keeping his step light, he moved down to the second door, and pressed his ear against it. He could hear nothing.
He twisted the handle and let himself in, to discover an empty room with a note on the bed. Quietly, he picked it up to read ‘Couldn’t take the pressure. Work’s too hard, and I just can’t handle it. Goodbye.’
That sure wasn’t what he was looking for. Kind of weird that someone with every possible advantage buckled under university, though. He folded it back up, and put it back, then left the room. The next several rooms were just bedrooms, and they didn’t look like they held the answer to the mystery of the broken bracelet, either. That was if it even had anything to do with this place, what with how close if had been to Restfield as well.
He headed back down the stairs, grabbed another glass of drink, and scanned the crowd for Buffy. Well, she wasn’t on the dance floor any more. Just as he was about to start actively looking for her she came inside through a set of glass doors, and he started towards her, then noticed that she wasn’t weaving through the crowd, but stumbling through it, like she’d just had half a bottle of vodka, or something. Something was seriously wrong with this picture.
He looped an arm around her, and helped her over to the wall near the phone, before he let go of her again. She leaned against the wall and slid unceremoniously down it, then tilted her head to look up at him. Her expression was vacant, like she wasn’t seeing him. Turning away to face the wall, he picked up the phone and rung the library. The phone was picked up after only a couple of rings.
“Yeah, look. I think we’ve got trouble here. Buffy’s acting completely out of it, like she’s been…”
A splitting pain exploded through his head, and his vision went dark.
Richard slipped an arm around Xander’s back and half-carried, half-dragged him out into the hallway where a free bedroom was, while Tom urged Buffy to her feet, and guided her after him. To the few people still around it simply looked like the two high schoolers might have had a little bit too much to drink, and the few stragglers that weren’t in the fraternity were being herded out the door.
As soon as Tom got her out into the hallway, Buffy leaned away from him and threw up in a pot plant, then curled up on her side, mumbling weakly to herself. Once the last person was out the door he helped Richard get that Chase girl and Buffy down into the basement, and then cornered him, “Why the hell did you let the spare in?”
Richard set his shoulders, “Do you have any idea how suspicious it would have looked if I’d turned him away?”
Tom sighed, “You may as well bring him down, too.”
Richard scowled at him, “Me?”
“Yes, you. You invited him to stay, and you brained him, so you can drag him down the stairs.”
“Has Machida ever fed on a male before? Do we know if it will take him?”
“You’d better hope that he does. Because if not, then you’ll be the one slitting his throat.”
Richard didn’t look too pleased with that.
“Are you going soft on me?” Tom’s voice was no longer friendly, it was cruel. “How many girls have you helped me feed to him now? You’ve already got blood on your hands. The only difference this is going to make is that this won’t be a death that happens at a distance.”
The way that the line went dead without warning told Rupert everything that he needed to know. He didn’t hear any emergency sirens going off, and with what Xander had been saying he now knew that something was going on. His Slayer, the boy, and possibly even Cordelia were in danger.
“I’m going to get the weapons. Willow, do me a favour and ring Angel, tell it to meet us near the frat house. Do you know what one it is?”
“Delta Zeta Kapa. It’s a big one, pretty close the Restfield. Fraternity of Sunnydale’s rich and famous,” she informed him.
“Good. We don’t know what we’re going to find, so I want back-up.”
“What about your…”
“No,” he cut her off sharply.
“He did come through for us the other night, at the museum.”
Look at how well that turned out he thought, sarcastically.
“No,” he shook his head.
“Why are you so determined to keep us away from such a major part of your life?”
“Because you’re better off not knowing him. Now for God’s sake, Willow, we don’t have time to waste.”
A couple of axes and the crossbow, and his war hammer and his knife, and that sword that Buffy favoured. That would do. He tossed everything into a bag, and came out as Willow was hanging up the phone.
“He said he’ll be there in about five minutes, and he’ll meet us outside.”
“Good,” he handed Willow the weapons, and dug out his keys as he hurried out to the car. She was only a beat behind him as he unlocked the door, and got into the drives seat. She kept the weapons on her lap, aside from his knife which was up his sleeve, and he pressed the accelerator to the floor. He took a couple of back streets, to avoid having to run red lights, and by the time they got to the car park Angel was already waiting for them, looking like something that he wouldn’t want to cross.
“Did you want a weapon to take in?” he asked the vampire, as he grabbed his war hammer out of the bag, let Willow get out one of the axes, and went to swing the bag back onto his shoulder and out of the way.
Angel shook its head, “Buffy’s in there. That’s all I need.” It morphed to game face.
Rupert could fully agree with that sentiment. “Let’s do this,” he said, as he made his way over to the door and tried the handle, only to find it locked. He swung his weapon and shattered several panes of glass, as well as the wooden framing that was holding them, then reached through and flicked the latch.
“Well, there goes the element of surprise,” Angel said, as two fellows wearing dark hooded cloaks came up the stairs from a door that looked like it led down to a basement.
Rupert watched through the shattered glass, waiting, and when they were a few steps away from the door he raised his boot and planted it firmly in the centre of the doors, kicking out as hard as he could. One of them was fast enough to get out of the way, but the other one caught a door straight to his forehead and went down like a wet paper bag. Rupert kicked his prone form out of the way, while Angel struck the other one across the side of his head at the moment that three more came out like ants from a mound, to see what the trouble was.
They may have looked the part, but they were easy game. A couple of kicks brought another one down, while Angel grabbed the heads of both the others and slammed them together, hard. Willow slipped past them and dashed over to the door, looking down, and froze.
“Willow, are you alright?” Rupert dashed over to join here, and stopped right behind her, looking down at the massive snake-like demon that she had obviously spotted. “I know what that is,” he said as he urged Willow to one side so that he could get past her and to the creature that was rumoured to be one of the sons of a basilisk and a lesser god.
As he started down the steps another two broke away from the circle, and he could see that a male with his shirt off, and diamonds carved into his back was holding a sword to Buffy’s throat. As he watched she jumped and grabbed the chains high up, and used the height to launch a quick high kick towards his face, which snapped his head back. He sprawled on the ground, gripping his nose, and the other man that had been beside him cracked a savage backhand across her face.
She tugged at the chains, attempting to loosen them from the wall.
“You bitch,” the other man spat, “You’ll respect your betters.”
“She does. You’re just not one of them,” Rupert pulled his knife from his sleeve, and threw it hard and fast so that it flipped end over end, and struck him on the side of the head with enough force to knock him out.
He finished descending the stairs, and shattered the chain holding Buffy with a couple of strikes of the war hammer. The serpentine demon hissed at Cordelia, and licked her cheek. The moment it had scented its offerings everything else hand fallen to the wayside.
Buffy grabbed the bag from off his shoulder and took her sword out of it, as Angel lunged at the child of Machida and began to pound at its face and body. It hissed threateningly, and drew away from the vampire, even as it swiped with wicked-looking hooked nails. Angel avoided one blow, but the second caught across its cheek splitting the flesh open down to the bone.
Angel snarled, and redoubled its attack, hitting at the humanoid head and torso with everything that it had. Rupert didn’t envy it being on the receiving end of that. The vampire punctuated each blow that landed with a word.
“You. Will. Never. Touch. Buffy,” it snarled, as it gave into what was one of vampire’s most basic instincts.
He had seen that same rage in Ethan on a scant handful of occasions, and it was never any less overwhelming or brutal. A vampire without a soul cut loose far more easily, and felt passion on a far deeper, more animalistic level than any other. If Angel already cared for Buffy on that deeper level, then there was no way that he would be able to come between them, as much as the relationship left him ill-at-ease. He tried to tell himself that it was just because he naturally wanted to judge every vampire by Ethan’s standard, which he shouldn’t be doing.
While Angel distracted the child of Machida by pounding it into a bloody pulp Buffy shook herself to help her focus, and then beheaded the beast with a flick of her sword. She dropped the sword to the ground, and quickly headed around the serpentine body to where Angel was still tearing at the fallen corpse.
“Angel, it’s over,” she reached out towards the vampire, and it froze for a second, then turned to her and grabbed her, then it tugged her close and angled its teeth towards her throat, only just stopping itself a hair’s breadth from biting her. If it hadn’t stopped, then he wouldn’t have been able to move fast enough to prevent it. Instead, to his relief, it tightened its grasp, and pressed its face into her shoulder.
“Buffy,” it spoke softly, “please, remind me never to be so stupid again. All that I could think about was the fact that you were in danger, and it was me who put you there.”
“You didn’t force me to come here,” she reassured it.
As it shook its head, Rupert twisted away to give them what little privacy he could. He freed Cordelia, and then the girl beside her who looked like she had been beaten, and had a dull look in her eyes, almost as though she’d missed the fact that she wasn’t going to die. The hospital would probably be the best place for her. Between that, and time spent with her family who were no doubt praying for her safe return, she should recover.
Cordelia rubbed at her wrists, and then stood over one of the fallen guys, glaring down at him. “I really, really want to kick him,” she said, “preferably where it hurts.”
“I wouldn’t tell,” Rupert assured her, as he went over to a prone figure that was stretched out on his chest, on the floor. Xander. He felt for his pulse, just to be certain that he was still alive, since the alternative was unthinkable. He breathed a sigh of relief as he found it strong and steady, and glanced towards Cordelia again. She settled for kicking the man in the side instead, and then turned away from him and sat down on the foot of the stairs, trying to get her trembling under control. Willow made a beeline for where he was.
“He has just been knocked out, hasn’t he?” she asked, looking concerned.
Rupert nodded, and gathered the unconscious teen up in his arms, “He’ll be fine. I’m just going to take him upstairs to somewhere a little more comfortable, and wake him up.”
“Where exactly?” Willow asked, dogging his step.
“Just the lounge. The couch out there will do.”
“Willow,” he interrupted her.
“I need peace and quiet to do this, as well as a little bit of time. It’s a very delicate spell, and it would be best if you stayed down here. If you can get the others to give me a few minutes before coming upstairs, that would also be appreciated.”
“Sure. I can do that,” Willow said, without much enthusiasm.
“Thank-you,” Rupert nodded to her, “that’s a huge help.”
Her expression brightened a little, as eager to please as she was. Rupert, with one hand supporting Xander’s head, climbed the stairs and went into the now vacant lounge, to stretch Xander out on the couch. Lifting his head a little he settled a cushion under it, then dropped to his knees and placed one hand on either side of his head.
Closing his eyes, he settled himself and slowly opened his awareness, feeling everything that was around him, until he felt the dark, tight ball that was Xander’s mind. It wasn’t mind-reading, or anything of the sort. It was more like he was a blind man, feeling along the edges of a shape that experience had given him familiarity with. He didn’t know what he was touching, but he knew what was meant to be where, because he’d felt it so many times before.
He smoothed over the ragged edges with energy, and fed a few sparks of light along a couple of the darker pathways, then as Xander began to shift under his touch he soothed over the nerves, like he had the last time. He hadn’t been lying. It was a delicate spell, and any fumble-fingered idiot could easily damage a mind.
He opened his eyes at the same moment that Xander did, and pulled his hands away. Usually a mind opened up a little when a person was conscious, but Xander’s mind remained rather tightly locked which was the sign of a bad experience.
“You,” Xander growled, and sat up to get away. If he’d had the opportunity, then he would have warned him against moving quite so soon, but he didn’t, so Xander found out the hard way as his body heaved and he was almost sick.
Gently, Rupert pushed against his shoulders until he was lying flat on the couch again, “Just rest. Your body’s in shock. You were knocked out then probably nearly devoured by a giant snake.”
“Why didn’t you just let it happen?”
“What?” he felt shocked at the suggestion.
“I said why didn’t you just let it happen? Would have been a pretty realistic end to both of our problems,” he said, weakly, “I wouldn’t be in this situation any more, and you wouldn’t be stuck with something you hate,” he sounded defeated.
“I don’t hate you, Xander.”
“Sure. That’s real fucking convincing.”
Rupert took a deep breath, “I don’t hate you, and I don’t resent you, as hard as that might be for you to believe. What I hate is the fact that you’re being pushed into a situation like this.”
“Really?” this time there was a little less heat in it.
“Really,” he kept his voice soft, “I…I wouldn’t have wished what you’re going through onto anyone, and I wish I could give you what you had before, but I can’t. All I can do is promise to try and do right by you, and make this as easy on you as I can. All you have to do is give me a chance. Please.”
Xander didn’t reply straight away, but he did look thoughtful, and that alone was more that Rupert had felt he had any right to hope for. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, he met his gaze again.
“I can’t…I can’t…I don’t trust people easily.”
Rupert felt his heart sink a little, but he understood that. He didn’t deserve to be trusted, not when he had already made such a hash of this.
“But,” Xander finally spoke again, almost to faint for him to hear, “I can try to give you a chance. Just… just don’t push me, alright?”
He almost couldn’t believe what he was hearing, and he didn’t want to a huge production out of it. He ran a thumb over the ridge of his cheekbone, and gave him a weak smile, “Thank-you.”
Xander looked uncomfortable, so he pulled his hand back, “I’m going to go back downstairs and see if everyone’s ready to leave. If you’re going to try and sit up, then take it slowly, yes?”
“Sure,” Xander said.
Rupert walked back over to the door that led back to the basement stopped half-way down the stairs, “Were we all ready to leave?”
Cordelia was the first on her feet, “Best idea I’ve heard all evening,” she said as she pulled her car keys out of her pocket, “I have spent way too much time with you losers than is good for me.”
“You’re welcome,” Buffy said sarcastically to her back, “I’m sure no-one was tempted to leave you chained up down here.”
Rupert couldn’t help chuckling a little. Things seemed a little brighter than they had even a few hours ago.
“Buffy?” he asked her, and she shook her head, “Angel and I are going to walk.”
Willow made her way over to the stairs, and Rupert noticed that the other girl who had been chained up as leaning against her for support, “Giles, you don’t mind dropping Callie here off at her place too, do you?”
He eyed the deep bruises on her face, and went the rest of the way down the stairs, “How badly does your face hurt?”
“It’s pretty numb right now,” the girl said in a whisper.
“I…I don’t mean to…to pry, but is that… is that all?” he finally managed to get the words out.
She slowly nodded, “They said that it would only accept a pure sacrifice.”
Rupert let out a breath that he didn’t realize he’d been holding, “Well, let’s be grateful for the small favours. Still, I’d recommend getting checked out by the hospital tomorrow. Some of those bruises look fairly bad, and facial bones can be delicate.”
She looked at him, like she wasn’t sure what to make of him. That was something he was used to, though.
“Thanks,” she said, finally.
Buffy and Angel slipped past him, heading up the stairs, and he was followed by Willow and Callie. He heard Xander saying goodnight to the pair of them, and found him sitting up on the couch with his head in his hands.
“How do you feel, Xander?”
The boy looked at him and groaned, pointedly, “I feel like I’ve got the worlds worst hangover and I didn’t even have the fun of getting drunk first.”
Again, he settled his hands on the sides of his head again, and soothed the nerves back down, making a proper job of it this time.
“You couldn’t have done that earlier?”
“It’s healthy for the body to recognize pain. If I do that too often, then it will take a serious injury to affect you, and by the time it hurts there’s a good chance that any damage done would be permanent.”
“That wouldn’t be so good,” Xander stood up, still moving slowly like he was unsure whether to trust his legs or not.
Rupert led the three teens out to the car, and moved the weapon bag from where Buffy had left it, sitting on the roof. Popping the boot, he threw it in and hopped into the car. Willow and Callie took the back seat without saying a word, and Xander hesitated, staring at him.
“Come on, in you get. The quicker you are, the sooner I can get you back home and you can get a solid night’s rest.”
Xander finally opened the door and hopped in, fastening his seatbelt, “Sounds good.”
“Callie, where did you live?”
“Over in Riverview Heights. Number 118.”
“Right, that’s the furthermost out of our way, so we’ll drop you off first. Just remember to get your parents to take you by the hospital tomorrow, if they don’t insist on doing so tonight.”
They drove in silence for ten minutes, before Callie spoke up again, “I thought I was going to die in there.”
“But you’re fine now,” Willow said, quickly, “You got out, and you’re going to be just fine.”
“Only thanks to all of you.”
Rupert caught her glance towards Willow in the rear view mirror before she lowered her head again, but Willow seemed perfectly oblivious.
“So, do you people do this sort of thing often?”
“Oh, all the time,” Xander cut in, “in fact, this was a quiet night. Usually we have to get some of Professor X’s students to back us up.”
Callie giggled a little, and the sound was sweet and rich. Not long afterwards, he was pulling up outside her house. She unbuckled her seat-belt, and went to get out. Willow caught her by the arm, “Look. If you’re ever around Sunnydale High, then come by the library, if you want. Most of the time we’re there.”
“Thanks. I might take you up on that.”
He kept the car there long enough to watch as she knocked on the door, and was drawn into a frantic embrace on the doorstep, and then finally entered the house. After that he dropped both Willow and Xander off, and finally headed back to his own place. Ethan greeted him at the doorway.
“Long night?” it asked in a casual tone. Try as he might, he couldn’t summon that old white-hot flame of hatred.
“Yes, rather,” he entered the house, and took the glass of whiskey that Ethan offered him, then followed it through to the couch, “I sent Buffy and a couple of friends to a party, then had to rescue her, and a couple of others, and I think I’m making some headway with Xander. I also saw one of Machida’s kin beheaded.”
“Did you burn the remains afterwards?”
“Hmm?” Rupert took a sip of his drink.
“Machida’s kin gave rise to the legend of the Hydra. If enough blood is spilt on its body, then it will grow another head, as well as its old one.”
“Oh,” Rupert muttered.
“Oh, indeed,” Ethan laughed and gave him a half-smile, “Where was the body?”
“Frat house, near Restfield.”
“I know the one. I’ll take care of it later, when I go out.”
“Thanks,” Rupert took another sip, and leaned towards the vampire a little, not quite making contact, but letting himself get a lot closer than he normally would have. He stared at the fire that was dancing in the fireplace through unfocused eyes, and simply let himself relax.