Thieves in the Night
Child of the Hellmouth
Thieves in the Night
word count: 7031
Visiting hours would be over soon, and though she could easily sneak back in and stay the night she'd promised her parents she'd be home at some point. For the moment though she was needed here...but if the kid sighed forlornly one more time she was going to shove his crayons down his throat and then leave.
Heidi looked up from her magazine and glared at her little brother. “You've got to sleep sometime.”
Ryan glared back at her. “Don't you have something better to do than read stupid teen magazines?”
She looked at the clock on the wall. “You're right. I do need to run an errand.” She tossed the magazine to the floor and started to stand. The sudden panic on his face at her actions amused her for a good two seconds.
“Where are you going?”
“Well, normally I'd love to stay and bug you, but I promised I'd check on somebody while I was here.”
“That teacher, the one that got attacked at your school?”
“Do you think she'll ever wake up?”
“Don't know. We're all rooting for her though.” She stretched a bit, letting her muscles relax.
“You'll come back right?”
“Yeah. I'll come say goodnight before I leave.” She tilted her head and took in his suddenly frightened expression, maybe there was more to her brother's fear than just being away from home. “What's wrong?”
“Can I go home with you?”
She sighed, then again... Sometimes her little brother whined just a little too much. “Ryan you know I can't check you out. I'm underage, and so not your legal guardian.”
His eyes remained scared. “He'll come back.”
“Death.” The surety in his voice sent a chill through her, but he'd always had a wild imagination...and a love of horror movies. Maybe he'd finally seen one too many.
“I'll be back in a little while.” She ruffled his hair. “Try to go to sleep.”
Xander walked quietly down the sidewalk, Marshal was several feet ahead of him, and Cordelia was a few feet behind him. After three attempts of trying to track Spike down, they'd had no luck. Every time they doubled back to the factory to try and track him, there was nothing. Even when the scent had been fresh the vampire had all but disappeared.
All they'd managed to do so far was clean out a couple of small vamp nests in the surrounding warehouses. A good night’s work, but not the kind of luck he was after. So now they were in a more residential area...on their way to Buffy's house in fact. Just because Buffy had a barrier to keep Angel out didn't mean she and her mother were safe.
For a lack of anything better to do Cordelia had tried to distract his bad mood with conversation...it was working.
“So you think I'm getting better?”
“Yeah. Kind of impressive how fast you pick up the moves.”
He heard her move closer to him. “Why do you think I'm such a good cheerleader?” He looked at her over his shoulder, knowing he looked confused, she rolled her eyes. “I remember the moves once I've seen them and do them a couple of times.”
“Cool. Remind me to take you to the archery range we have set up.”
“And a regular bow.”
“Neat...anything on Spike yet? Not that we'd find any vampires this close to Buffy's place.”
Marshal hung back to walk with them. No.
He sighed. “Marshal's right, the trail was cold, frigid even.”
“Where do you think he'll go?”
“Abandoned house maybe?”
“Great, there's a lot of those around. Only half of them get repossessed and put back on the market. The rest just end up staying empty. At least an old house would be a step up in living quarters, compared to that stupid factory.”
He gave her an exasperated look. “Cordy.”
“What? Some of those houses have really nice carpet.”
Marshal snickered a bit. Moving on people. So Spike could be anywhere?
He nodded. “Yeah.”
Cordelia wrapped around him for a second. “You're worried about him.”
He held onto her as well. “Yeah. Aren't you?”
“Yeah.” Ugh, mushy human stuff. We're at the Slayer's now...why are we here anyway?
Xander held up a finger and shushed them both. “Just checking on something. Follow me, quietly.” He moved into the yard and started to climb the tree.
“I am so not following you up there.”
“Suit yourself.” He continued up until he could safely get onto the roof in front of Buffy's bedroom window.
“What are you doing?”
“Checking to see if Buffy is home...” He looked inside the darkened room, crap. “Which she's not.” Why does that matter?
Cordelia however was more informed. “You don't think...”
He jumped down and landed...almost silently. “Gotta work on my landings...and yeah I do think.” Someone wanna let me in on what's going on?
“But she's sick, and gross looking.” He rolled his eyes at her comment. “Well she is.” See, if I knew what was going on that conversation would have actually made sense to me. But no one ever tells the cute little kitty anything.
Xander gave him a look. “Buffy. Sick with the flu. Went patrolling.” Smart ass.
“Boys behave.” Cordelia scolded them before looking back to Xander. “What now?”
“We get the pack out and search for her...except for Heidi.”
“Why...oh yeah. Her brother is in the hospital with the same flu.”
Cordelia's cell phone rang just then and he quickly looked back at the house, hoping Mrs. Summers didn't hear it. She fished it out of her bag and answered it. “Hello? Whoa, slow down Heidi, take a breath, start over and try not to Willow Babble my ear off.” There was a look of careful concentration on her face as she listened to Heidi for a moment. “She what? We'll be there soon. Yeah, thanks Heidi. I'll call the others; keep an eye out for bad guys.” She hung up and gave him a worried look.
“That didn't sound good. What happened?”
“Tor and Rhonda just brought Buffy to the hospital. They ran into her on patrol...then Angel showed up. They managed to get her away from him, but she passed out. She's in the ER now.” Whoa.
Xander let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. “Damn. You call Kyle; I'll get Giles on the com. Marshal.” Yeah?
“Can you finish up patrol before heading home?” Sure.
“No heroics.” That's not a problem.
Heidi, Tor and Rhonda stood beside a baffled Giles as they watched Buffy desperately struggle with the hospital staff, even in her weakened state they could barely keep her contained. Giles felt simply helpless. The others however, faced a struggle of their own. One of their Alpha's was struggling against captors, against a situation she didn't want to be in, but those same captors were trying to help her. They couldn't decide if they should grab Buffy and run, or help restrain her...Joyce watched with worried eyes a bit farther back. She was the only one who knew why Buffy was so scared.
This was the scene that Xander and Cordy saw as they burst through a set of double doors, Xander having tracked their pack members by scent. He took it all in, and strode toward Buffy, pushing orderlies, and nurses aside to get his hands on Buffy. She continued to struggle.
Her eyes opened wider, as if she could see him now, when she couldn't before. “Xander?”
“I'll take care of everything. You need to rest now.”
She shook her head. “Not here.”
“You'll be fine. Let them help you.”
A nurse tried to dart foreword with a needle, Buffy managed to knock it out of the woman's grasp. “No!”
Xander sighed as he leaned closer to her and whispered in her ear. “I'm pulling rank on you Buff. I'm the first Alpha of this pack; you can't help me look out for everyone if you're this weak.”
“Behave; let them give you something to help you sleep. We'll take care of you.”
“Stupid logic guy.”
“She'll be fine now.”
A second nurse moved forward with another needle, and moved slowly as she medicated Buffy. She eyed Xander and Buffy warily, but did her job silently. Xander moved back to rejoin the others as a now very sleepy slayer was moved to a private room.
Joyce gave him a quick hug when he reached them. “Thank you Xander.”
“No thanks needed Mrs. Summers. Just looking out for my friend.”
“It’s more than that. You all do so much for her. You have no idea how much I appreciate it.”
They managed rather sheepish smiles, and to break the mushy moment Cordy spoke her mind. “What was all that about anyway?”
Xander nodded. There had been real fear on Buffy's face. “I've never seen her scared like that.”
“She...really hates hospitals. When she was eight, her cousin Celia died in one.... Buffy was alone with her at the time.”
Rhonda and Tor both shuddered, but it was Rhonda who spoke. “Whoa...that's...that would be like losing Cordy.”
Joyce looked from Rhonda to Cordelia, a bit of realization hitting her, but she didn't quite comment on the girls' likeness. “Yes, they were as close as sisters.”
“Harsh.” Cordelia grasped her sister's hand for a moment.
Joyce let out a weary sigh. “I should probably call her father.”
Giles gave her a brief smile. “Oh...I believe there's a phone at the nurses’ station. I'll walk with you.”
“Thank you Mr. Giles.” They headed toward the nurses’ station, leaving the teens alone.
Cordelia leaned towards Xander. “Is she safe here? Can Angel get to her?”
“He can waltz right in, there's no threshold barrier.”
Tor glanced towards the room where Buffy was. “So we need wards for her room, just like Ms. Calendar's?”
“That would be best. I need someone to stay here while I get supplies.”
Heidi shook her head. “I'm going to be here anyway.”
Cordelia looked unsure and shook her head. “That's a bit of a stretch. You can't sit with your brother, check on Jenny, and watch Buffy.”
“I just checked on Jenny a little while ago, I was on my way back to my brother's room when they brought Buffy in.”
Xander nodded. “How are the wards?”
Tor motioned toward Buffy's room. “Since her wards are okay I can stay out here and keep an eye out for Angel.”
Xander thought for a moment, considered his options, and shook his head. “I'll stay here; someone needs to make another quick sweep before turning in. Rhonda?”
She nodded. “Tor and I can make the sweep.”
She smirked. “Supply run?”
“Yeah, call Kyle again. Have him meet you at my house. Here's the key.” He fished out his house key and handed it to her.
“What about your mom?”
He shrugged. “She's...at a friend’s.”
“Oh...Oh! Okay. So, what am I getting?”
“The warding kit is in my closet, Kyle knows where.”
“Alright, be careful.” She gave him a quick kiss and headed back the way they'd come. Rhonda and Tor touched his arms and left through another set of doors.
Heidi watched them leave for a moment before looking at him again. “I'll get you some coffee before I check on Ryan again.”
Once he had his supplies in his hands the warding went quickly, with a paper talisman on the window and the door he at the very least felt better, and Heidi went home. Kyle and Cordelia were just about to follow her example when Angel all but skipped into view, a small bouquet of flowers in his grasp. There was a bounce in his step, a smile played on his lips and Xander had the distinct urge to turn him inside out. Slowly...maybe with some barbwire that had been blessed by a priest. He could dream.
They were standing in the hall, watching him as he approached Buffy's room, and paused in the open doorway. He felt the barrier then, the nifty ward they'd put up to keep him out. That's what they thought anyway...as it turned out Angel was just savoring the moment of having Buffy helpless and at his mercy because a moment later he tried to step into her room...and got shocked as he rebounded, slightly singed from the barrier.
“Cordy, stay behind us.”
“Not a problem, I'm not feeling brave tonight.” Was what she said, but a glimpse of the wooden cross in her hand was heartening.
The three of them approached Angel with extreme caution and a dash of what was probably insanity. Angel turned to face them, his smile just a little sour, probably because the ward had mussed his perfectly styled hair. “Hey guys, seems someone put up a do not disturb sign. How thoughtful.”
Xander moved a step closer, making sure Cordelia was completely behind him. “You need to leave.”
Angel smiled at him, amused. “You think you can make me boy?”
Xander grinned back; it was a feral grin, an animal grin, a barring of teeth and not much else. He spoke with authority, a haughtiness he didn't feel. “You forget your place vampire.” He added a flash of green eyes for effect.
“I'm not just Demon Kin, I'm also part Primal, and I've got the first of my Mazoku markings.”
“You're still human Little Prince, and I don't fear you.”
“You should.” Xander felt his grin broaden as he felt a familiar presence behind them. “Botan, how nice of you to join us.”
She walked around their group, glowing faintly, her magic leaking out causing a subtle light show across her body. “There a problem Xander?”
“Not yet.” He focused on Angel. “I've got friends in all sorts of places Angel. Don't forget that.”
Angel smirked at him, as if he had a secret and was willing to share. “The White Knight never gets the reward he craves. It must really bug you that I got her and you didn't.”
Xander couldn't help the snort that erupted from him, nor the laugh that followed. “God, childish much? I'm so over her.” Cordelia's hand slipped into his. “But we're pack and we'll do anything for her. And Angelus, just so you know, even with your soul you're not good enough for her.”
Angel had no retort, except to snarl and leave, tossing the flowers at their feet as he stomped away.
Xander tried to slow his heart rate, hoping his fear didn't show as he casually asked Botan. “So. You working?”
She nodded her magic drawing up back into her. “So far just a couple of natural deaths here tonight.”
“There was a bar fight at the Fish Tank, no demons involved.”
“Really?” Cordelia murmured as she put her cross away. “How often does that happen in this town?”
Xander was restless after that, he'd always been uneasy around Angel, but Angelus scared the bejesus out of him. With good reason thank you very much.
He'd volunteered to stay the night at the hospital, and his loyalty and restlessness had him pacing the halls, checking on Jenny and Buffy periodically. He had just decided to check on Ryan as well when he turned down a hall and found Buffy and Ryan both standing in a daze...a worried daze if there was such a state.
It puzzled him that they were just standing there, and then two orderlies wheeled a gurney with a small body covered with a sheet out of the children's ward. He grimaced at the smell of death and hated that he couldn't fight this crappy flu that seemed to have so many at its mercy.
Buffy and Ryan seemed responsive enough and he managed to coax them back to their beds before the nurse on staff made her rounds. Then he patrolled the halls some more, he didn't leave the hospital until the first rays of light peaked over the horizon.
Angel entered the slightly run down house they'd taken over, just until they found something better of course, in a state of...anger? Rage? He was certainly ticked; something must have gone wrong with his plans tonight, whatever they had been. Spike didn't really care what those plans had been, but that they'd gone terribly wrong and pissed off Daddy was a plus in his book.
The older vampire slammed the door shut and immediately kicked a hole in the wall of the small foyer, then another, and a third. The mice in the walls barely scurried away in time.
“If you're going to bring the house down I'd like to get outside first if you don't mind. I don't want dry wall in my hair.”
His grandsire stalked toward him, the wall forgotten, and without a word of warning he kicked Spike's wheelchair, sending both chair and vampire across the room, in different directions.
Angel loomed over him and Spike felt just a tiny spark of fear. “The only reason I keep you around boy, is because you amuse Dru on her good days. And myself when I need a laugh.” With a sneer he turned away from Spike. “Dru! We're going out! Now!”
Drusilla appeared, dressed in a ball gown. “Will you take me dancing Daddy?”
“After I kill something.”
“What happened my Angel?”
“What always happens Dru? That boy, that thrice damned little prince. He and his friends had the Slayer's hospital room warded up tight.”
Drusilla let a giggle slip through. “The Prince is smart love. We'll just have to find a way around him.”
“I don't want a way around him, I want him dead. Come on.”
They left and Spike started to move toward his chair several feet away from him. He had healed quite a bit, but he wasn't up to walking yet. He heard the mice scurrying away in the walls again and Marshal came into view beside him.
“How the bloody hell did you get in?” Basement window was broken. Angel didn't notice me following him.
“Best you keep it that way.” He started moving toward the chair again. Marshal didn't bother watching him struggle. Instead he went to the wheelchair, now lying on its side and began to push it toward Spike, putting his now greater mass to good use. Spike really looked at the cat, realizing that he'd gotten much bigger than he'd been the first time he'd seen him. Marshal pushed the chair to him and Spike set it upright, locked the wheels in place and managed to climb back into it. Marshal watched him move his legs. It won't be long till you're walking again will it?
“No, another week, maybe two...Marshal.” What?
“Why do Dru and Angelus call Xander a Prince?” Marshal's eyes grew wide, almost comical. You don't know?
“Obviously, otherwise wouldn't be asking.” That's something you should ask Xander...can I tell him where you are? He and Cordelia are worried. They've been trying to track you down every night since Giles burned the factory up.
“Go ahead; miss seeing the both of them. Best get going.”
Marshal nodded and slipped down to the basement to leave the way he'd come. Spike sat and wondered about the title that his sire and grandsire had used to label the boy. Could Xander actually be royalty? Nah.
The group stood around Buffy's room en mass as she told them about Ryan, a little girl named Tina who died, and a monster that Ryan had seen. A monster he'd called Death.
Xander nodded. “Well that explains why you guys were out in the hall last night; do you remember me putting you back to bed?”
“No...what about Ryan?”
“Tucked him in too.”
“How long did you stay here last night?”
“I left at dawn, which is why I feel like crap and probably look like it too, if Cordy's reaction this morning was anything to go by.”
Giles slipped his glasses back on. “Children do have, at times, very vivid imaginations Buffy. Perhaps what this boy saw was not a true monster.”
“Yeah but I think I saw something too, I mean I was loopy from the drugs and fever but I know a monster when I see one.”
“I believe you Buff.” Xander told her, shooting Giles a look that stalled any other comments. “Add in that Ryan is Heidi's little brother and it’s enough to make me worry.” Giles and Buffy looked at him and Willow smiled, Xander rolled his eyes. “Come on, we told you that Heidi's little brother was in the hospital with the same flu. Didn't we Will.”
“Huh, didn't realize that was her Ryan. Anyway...what Ryan saw really scared him and one of the doctors was acting really suspicious last night. There might be a connection. I'll try to keep an eye on him if you guys will start the research on monsters that only kids can see. And guys try to be careful on patrol.”
The kids eyed him warily as he worked, the only reason they trusted him at this point was because the nurses, the older ones who had known him for years vouched for him. It was odd; he'd never thought all the injuries of his childhood would actually pay off one day.
Heidi waltzed into the ward with a duffel bag, though she peeked over her shoulder, as though checking to make sure she wasn't being watched. Then she shivered and looked around the room. “Harris?”
“Yeah?” He asked as he put the last paper talisman into place, and the wards came to life, their invisible tingly energy basking the walls and doors.
“Why are you putting wards in the children's ward?”
“Ryan and Buffy saw something last night...and a little girl died.”
Heidi's healthy complexion paled. “He...he wasn't just being a baby. There's something actually here?”
“Good chance of it.”
Ryan, who'd been sitting on his hospital bed looked from Xander to Heidi. “Is he your boyfriend?”
Heidi rolled her eyes and tried to share a conspiring look with Xander. “Little brothers.”
“You forget, I am a little brother, so I do not share in your plight.”
He ignored Heidi's pain and grinned at Ryan. “We're friends, practically family, it’s a weird thing, but we look out for one another and I'm looking out for you too.”
“Wards. They'll keep the monster out.”
“They've kept out all the other monsters so far.”
Kyle slipped through the halls of the hospital, nodding to the nurses that Xander had talked to earlier. They pretended he wasn't there, though they smiled as he passed them, he wasn't sure why Xander was tight with the matronly nurses, and he wasn't sure he wanted to know.
He had already checked on Jenny, she remained unchanged...except that there seemed to be a bit more color to her cheeks so he supposed it was an improvement. His next stop was Buffy's room...and of course she was not in her bed. With a sigh he moved on toward the childrens' ward, given the current situation there was no point looking for her anywhere else.
He found her there; or rather he gaped at her in surprise as she went flying across the hall from just outside the door to the ward. He winced as she hit the wall stunned, and slid to the floor in a Buffy shaped puddle. An older man, a doctor, stepped out of the ward and started toward her. She managed to move her arm in warning but was too late and the doctor went flying too, hitting the wall beside her.
Buffy struggled up and caught sight of him. “Kyle!” Her yell seemed to jump start him and he started moving again, toward her and the doctor...and whatever it was that was attacking them.
Heidi got to them first; appearing out of the ward, running not flying, her hair was mussed from sleep. Buffy yelled at her. “Get the doctor behind the wards.” Even when not quite awake, Heidi was good at following orders; because she simply dragged the doctor back into room. Though she staggered a bit when something...sliced into the both of them. Buffy was back on her feet and kicked at whatever it was giving Heidi time to get the doctor to safety. Then the...monster started trashing Buffy.
'Protect the Pack'. Their first rule, the first Xander had laid down for them. It was what drove all thought from Kyle, he simply ran for the space by Buffy, managing to knock away whatever was attacking her, its foul scent attacked his nose when he connected with it and sent it flying. Then he grabbed Buffy and dragged her into the ward and behind the protective barrier that had been set up.
“Thanks.” Buffy gasped as she leaned back against him.
They looked to Heidi and Kyle whispered her old nickname into the darkness. “Didi?”
A lamp clicked on, and a wide-eyed Ryan gazed at them all from beside his bed. Heidi was at his feet, kneeling by the doctor. “I'm okay. But the doc's bleeding pretty bad.”
Buffy knelt by them. “So are you.”
Heidi looked at her arm. “Oh...yeah...guess so.” A scared, strangled sound escaped Ryan's throat as he gripped at his older sister's shoulder. She gripped his hand in turn. “I'm okay Ryan.”
Buffy gave Ryan a calm smile before checking the doctor's wounds. “Kyle get me something to wrap up their wounds, we need to stop the bleeding.”
“There's some towels in the bathroom.” Ryan's voice was soft, scared.
“He couldn't come in.”
Buffy grinned at him from where she was examining the wounded. “Xander does good wards.”
Xander sat at Buffy's side, ever vigilant; she in turn glared at him as she ate. “You don't have to watch me eat every bite.”
“You're right, but if I don't you won't eat it.”
“Xander, its hospital food. It’s disgusting.”
He gave her a wry smile. “Any food is worth eating Buff. Trust me.”
Her eyes turned thoughtful, almost as if she were remembering something. “Does this have anything to do with your food stashes? And when do you have time to hide all that food. Seriously. I found energy bars in my couch cushions a few days ago. You're worse than a squirrel.”
“Better than one actually, squirrels forget where they hide their food.”
She rolled her eyes, sighed, and ate the last bite of her meal. “You win.”
She gave him a glare, and he just grinned at her. Heidi raised her hand from her seat in the corner of the room. “If you two are going to have a knock down drag out Alpha fight can I leave the room? I don't want to get caught in the crossfire. I like being in one piece.”
Before Buffy could turn her glare on Heidi, Giles knocked lightly on the door before entering the room, Willow bounced in behind him, a stack of papers in her hand. Willow's excited bounce became less bouncy when she felt the tension in the room. “Err...should we come back later?”
“Well, that depends. Is that homework in your hands?” Buffy asked, her glare gone.
“Oh...no. No homework, just all the dirt we could find on Dr. Backer.” Willow smiled and started to hand the papers to Buffy. “This guy is really bad...news...” She looked from Buffy to Xander to Heidi. “Um...guys?”
“Sorry Willow.” Buffy waved the papers away. “The monster isn't Backer.”
“Oh darn, are you sure?” Willow pouted at her. “I mean we did all this research and everything. Giles even touched the computer!”
Xander snorted, and just barely kept a snicker from escaping his lips. Heidi however didn't have as much self control and simply cackled. “Did...did the computer...survive?” Heidi asked between gasps of laughter.
“The infernal machine is unscathed, thank you very much. Are you sure this Backer chap isn't our monster?”
“Yeah, sorry Giles.” Buffy grinned at him, though it disappeared quickly enough.
“Enough Heidi.” Xander glanced at her and she managed to stifle her laughter. “Buffy, Kyle and Heidi had a run in with the thing last night.”
Buffy nodded. “The—thing. It attacked Dr. Backer, nearly killed him. If Kyle and Heidi hadn't been there he'd be dead, and I'd probably still be unconscious. As it is he spent the rest of the night in surgery. I called Xan in to put up some wards on his room after his surgery was over.”
“Xander, that's a lot of wards, Buffy's room, the children's ward and now the Doctor's room? How badly are you drained?
“I could use a nap, possibly a burger. Next time someone needs wards I'm volunteering you for the job.”
“I'll keep my supplies ready.”
Buffy nodded and handed a drawing to Giles. “This monster is definitely real Giles, and it's invisible. None of us could see it.”
Giles looked at the drawing, a strange look on his face. “Err...did you draw this?”
Xander and Heidi both snickered while Buffy glared at her watcher. Heidi waved toward the drawing. “My little brother drew it. Seems the kids can see it, whatever it is.”
“Oh. Yes. Um...I wonder what it could be.”
Buffy raised a brow at him. “That's what your job is, to find out. See if you can get the run down on his ugliness.”
Xander snapped his eyes back to her. “You're having a plan?”
“Yeah. I'm gonna go through Dr. Backer's office to see if I can find out why the Monster went after him. Willow, I'll need you with me. I don't speak or read doctor.”
“I can totally help.” Willow grinned and motioned to Xander. “We used to play doctor when we were kids.”
Three pairs of amused eyes focused on Xander. Heidi of course, leered. Xander rolled his eyes. “Stop being evil Wills. You and I both know you always played it wrong.”
Willow gave him a confused look, but her eyes were mischievous. “What do you mean?”
Buffy looked at them. “Do I even want to know?”
Willow shrugged. “I used to diagnose Xander and Jesse with my Mom's old medical books.” She turned back to Xander. “Remember when Jesse found that old straight Jacket in my attic? And then we put it on him and he chased us through the house?”
He smiled. “Yeah, good times.”
Buffy wrinkled her nose. “Your childhood memories scare me.”
“Quite.” Giles murmured.
“As fun as this is I need to go check on Ryan.” Heidi grinned as she got up from her chair. “But I want to know why you had a straight jacket in your attic.”
“Later.” Willow promised.
“I'll have Kyle come by later to back you up if you need it Heidi.”
“Thanks.” She slipped from the room.
“And you Xander?” Giles asked.
“If you need help with the research Cordy or Larry are free. But the rest of us need to patrol.”
“Good plan.” Buffy smiled. “Now, let’s get to work.”
Giles took a sip from his tea, only glancing occasionally at his research assistants. For the most part Larry had remained quiet; Cordelia however was full of questions. Normally he didn't mind a young and inquisitive mind, but they didn't have time to go in depth over every demon in every book.
“What does this one do?” Cordelia asked again.
“It uses minor demons to collect the souls of the dead, which it then uses to sustain itself.”
Larry shuddered. “So this is the not glamorous part of slaying.”
Cordelia gave him a little smile. “It’s also the gross part...unless you get slimed on patrol.”
Larry stared at her. “Xander lets you patrol?”
Giles sighed and closed his book. “You are going armed.”
She rolled her eyes a bit. “Stake, cross, holy water, dagger, and Xander of course.”
“I don't think Xander qualifies as a weapon.”
“You haven't seen him beat up a vampire.”
Giles gave a small snort. “He had mentioned he was training you.”
“Rhonda is helping me too.”
Larry gave her a thoughtful look. “What's with you and Rhonda? You've always kinda hung out, just not at school...until recently anyway.”
“Oh, we're sisters.”
Cordelia shrugged. “Her mom is the 'other woman'.”
“Indeed. Suddenly things make much more sense.”
Cordelia grinned at them both, but closed the book she'd been looking through with a sigh...and stared at the cover. Then she looked back up at Giles. “Hey Giles. Where's that picture Heidi's brother drew?”
“Hmm? Oh, here...” He handed her the drawing. “Why?”
Cordelia held it next to the cover of the book she'd just closed. Larry peered closer and gaped. “That can't be a coincidence.”
“What? What is it?” Giles stood to get a better look. “Good lord. I think you may have found our monster. Good work Cordelia.”
“I still think this is a stupid idea.” Willow muttered as she continued to support Buffy's weight, managing to glare at them both.
“Seconded.” Heidi growled. “Tell me again why you both have to be sick.”
“Being sick means being weak.” Buffy groaned. “And if I'm off my game I could get killed.”
“I'm still not sure how you talked me into drinking the flu germs with you.” Xander grumbled...and stumbled, thankful that Heidi was strong enough to support him. “Especially since I'm still wiped from putting up all those wards.”
Willow rolled her eyes. “Definitely not your greatest idea, that goes for both of you by the way. Also, the flu is a virus, not germs.”
They all looked at Heidi. “What?” Xander asked her, and then he looked in the direction Heidi was staring. At some point they'd ended up at the door to the children's ward, though he didn't remember much of the walk from Dr. Backer's office. He wasn't sure what the problem was, his mind already fuzzy due to the virus he and Buffy had ingested. Then he realized what had Heidi so upset. The children's ward was empty; Ryan and the other kids were gone.
Heidi let out a low, frustrated growl. “I'm gonna kill the brat. I told him to stay here.”
“They probably got scared, look.” Willow pointed at the paper talisman that Xander had placed on the door earlier. “Someone messed up the wards.”
He sighed. “Stupid orderlies, Nurses, whatever.”
“Where would they go?”
Xander nudged at Heidi. “Track it; you know this dirkenfiend's scent.”
“Der Kindestod.” Willow corrected him.
Buffy gripped Willow's hand gently. “Close enough. You're up Heidi.”
They entered the room, careful to stay out of Heidi's way as she circled the area, scenting the air. “It’s been here, recently.” She came to a stop at another door. “Here...great.”
“What is it?” Willow asked as they moved toward her.
“There's a back stair well here that leads to the basement.”
“Who the heck puts a basement access door in a children's ward.” Willow muttered.
Xander rolled his eyes and shuffled to the door. “Ponder later, find kids now.”
Xander grimaced when they reached the lower levels of the hospital, the very bowls of the building...it was a sight he could have lived without. Who knew that there was a place in Sunnydale that was creepier than the boiler room of the high school. Heck who would have thought the basement of the hospital was this icky.
A scream ahead of them brought him out of his thoughts, and Heidi's worried whisper of “Ryan” got his blood moving faster. “Get the kids.” Heidi and Willow moved away from them and circled around the Der Kindestod to get to the kids.
“Do you see it?” Buffy asked him as they approached the Der Kindestod.”
“Old fashioned black suit, scary face, black hat that looks like the illegitimate offspring of a bowler and a top hat.”
“That's our boy.” Buffy confirmed.
“You hit him, I'll tackle him.”
“Why do you get to tackle him?”
“Because I'm bigger and he'll go down harder.”
“This is not the time for a short joke.”
“Says the short person.” He gave her a grin as she knocked the thing away from Ryan. Then they both tackled it giving Heidi and Willow the chance to gather the children and head back towards the stairs. However the beast knocked them both off and made its way toward the group. “See if you'd stayed on your feet you could have knocked him back down when he did that to me.”
Buffy sent him a glare even as they did a slowed scramble to go after the monster again. They were a step too late and the Der Kindestod made a grab for the kids. Ryan and the others screamed and Willow put herself between them and the threat she couldn't see and shouted something, though he couldn't make out what it was. There was a flash of light and a translucent green dome formed over the group. The monster hit it, and rebounded off its surface.
“Guys! Hurry!” Willow yelled at them. It was all the encouragement they needed.
Xander piled on top of the thing again and held it in a full body lock. “Buffy!”
Buffy was there in front of him in an instant and with a quick twist and a sickening snap the Der Kindestod fell limp, its head hanging at an unnatural angle.
“Is it dead?” Heidi called out from behind Willow's shield, her little brother safe in her arms.
Buffy sat back and nodded. “Very dead.”
Willow breathed out a sigh and the shield disappeared. “Good. I don't think I could have kept that up much longer.”
“What was that Willow? The fancy light show.”
“Looked like a barrier, a quick and dirty ward even.” Xander groaned as he crawled off the dead demon. “Nice move there Wills.”
“Thanks...I wasn't sure it would work...it’s a pretty advanced move.”
Ryan looked at them all like they were crazy. “Can we get out of here now?”
Heidi carried the tray carefully as she entered the room, it was laden with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, glasses of juice and bologna sandwiches. Buffy gave her an odd look. “So Mom put you to work?”
“I offered to carry it all up. She's the one who made the sandwiches.” Heidi set the tray down and handed a plate to Buffy. “Crunchy peanut butter and extra jelly.” The next plate went to Xander who was lying on top the bed covers, but with his own blanket wrapped around him. “Bologna with mustard and cheese.” She then handed the last of the sandwiches to Willow and Oz who were snuggled in a chair beside the bed. “There's more downstairs if you're still hungry afterward.” She then carefully climbed over Buffy, with her own peanut butter sandwich, and snuggled down between Xander and Buffy.
“Thanks Heidi.” He grinned as he moved to make room for her.”
“Welcome, oh, here. She pulled a folded piece of paper from her pocket. “Ryan drew a picture for you.” She handed the paper to Buffy. “You didn't rate a picture Xander. Ryan thinks Buffy is prettier.”
“Gasp, no. My heart, it breaks.”
There were a few snorts and Oz looked up from his sandwich. “Sorry I missed all the excitement.”
Xander shrugged and took a bite of his sandwich. “No big. There'll be other battles.”
Buffy made a face at that. “We need to step up our training. I'm thinking we all need experience putting up wards. We can't just rely on you and Willow for that. It’s not smart.”
“Tor's already been practicing. It looks like he might have some talent with magic anyway.” Xander looked at all of them. “We need to make time for a group trip to the archery range.”
“My van should hold us all.”
“Let’s all get better first.” Willow grinned at them and raised her glass of juice. “To our health.”
Gales of laughter filled the room.