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The Other Half

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Summary: Death unites Severus Snape with his soul mate. When one is suddenly ripped from the After, he is sent back to find and reunite with her. If he fails, all souls in eternal bliss will suffer eternal torment- and evil will rise with the imbalance.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Harry Potter > Buffy-Centered > Pairing: Severus SnapecelestialsilenceFR151276,166169927,90829 Feb 0411 Feb 06No

Things That Go Bump In The Night

The Other Half
::celeste::

Chapter 4
Things That Go Bump In The Night

Midnight hour, and the two-story ash gray house serving as Slayer Central was surprisingly quiet. Only three lights were shining through the shuttered windows. One from the living room, directly facing a front lawn spotted with a few newly-planted trees and sod slowly yellowing in the late autumn season, the light peeking through cracks in the boards Xander had apparently finished putting up. Another light glowed from the kitchen off to the side, facing the eastern horizon that would see the pink-hued sunrise in a matter of hours. The last came from a window at the top: Willow and Kennedy’s bedroom.

Buffy supposed it was too much to hope that Willow was awake. She’d left instructions to be called immediately if Willow so much as twitched an eye or asked for a glass of water. The ringer was on, and had not gone off. Checking the cell by its neon-blue glow during the ride home, she saw there were no messages in her voice mail, either.

Giles still hobbled a bit stiffly, the keys tinkling like chimes as he sought the one to unlock the front door. He’d found it as they’d taken the long wooden steps that hadn’t yet begun creaking with age, Xander having recently built the modest but quaint deck complete with lovely overhangs that would eventually be covered in vines along its posts and archway. For now, the wood was bare but for a bit of decoration Xander had carved in to make it seem less sore on the eyes.

When the pair finally passed the threshold, Buffy shrugged off her jacket and hung it over a hook fixed atop the door to the weapons closet. Giles kept his own jacket on, following her into the living room once they’d passed the long banister and walked through the open arch.

It was a large, spacious, room. Xander had planned it that way, since it would be community central for however long training lasted. When he had first shown Buffy the blueprints, she was impressed by the amount of space he’d managed to fit in for everyone. He really was gifted, and had a real career in architecture and design.

For now, the airy space seemed hardly cramped at all when it was full. Even with all the furniture lined against the walls enough to seat ten comfortably- plus the tall bookshelves Giles had insisted on having, the antique coffee and end tables Willow had picked up in one of those fleece markets, and the huge entertainment center boasting all the electronic stuff Xander enjoyed playing as he waited.

The television was on (it was hardly ever off) and Xander himself was sprawled out on the couch with a soft blanket tossed over his hips and legs. Buffy noticed he’d kept his patch on. He rarely took it off, according to Willow, even at home. She supposed he really didn’t want to face the reflection of the past in the mirror.

His breathing was shallow enough to let Buffy know he’d fallen asleep to Cartoon Network again. She considered waking him, but Giles shook his head as if he knew what she’d been thinking. Buffy simply grabbed the remote laying in front of him on the coffee table and hit the power button.

When the picture clicked off, Xander sprang up. “Wha?” he asked, his good eye revolving nearly a full circle as he took in the room. When he spotted Buffy, standing sheepishly with the remote in hand, he exhaled and ran a hand through his dark hair. “Oh. Welcome back.”

“Thanks. Um, sorry?”

Xander shrugged off his impromptu waking, yawning widely as he did so. “S’okay. I’ve been well trained. Things creeping up on you in the night will do that to a guy.” He scratched his lower back momentarily while stretching, and then settled back onto the couch. Drawing his blanket up around him before speaking again. “Find anything?”

“A few vampires,” Giles answered softly before sinking into the recliner. The Watcher was obviously grateful to be off his foot. “Has Faith reported back?”

“Yeah. Called a few hours ago. Told Dawn all was quiet on her end,” Xander’s eye drifted towards the staircase. “Still hasn’t waken?”

“Haven’t checked,” Buffy replied.

Xander shook his head. “Don’t bother. Kennedy would’ve gotten me up.”

“The girls?” Giles went on. ‘The girls’ had become a standard question from the Watcher whenever he was gone over an hour himself. His protectiveness was nearly endearing, until Buffy remembered when it had been directed at her. Then she was just glad he had another outlet.

Xander seemed to have anticipated it as much as Buffy. “Fed and sent off to bed at ten sharp, oh Watcher ours. Phone is free, MTV is off, and not a peep upstairs.” Xander took on a more solemn air. “I think they’re worried about Willow. There wasn’t much fighting over curfew. Even from Dawn.”

“Not the only ones.” Buffy sank down on the end of the couch, and Xander only saved his sock-clad feet from being squashed by the Slayer at the last second. “Are you going home tonight?”

Xander shrugged. “Nah. If it’s okay with you to crash on my old friend the couch here, I think I’ll just stick around until-“ he left off.

Summoning a small smile, Buffy patted his foot. “You know you’re welcome anytime.”

“That’s good, cause I’m not leaving without a fight,” Xander returned jauntily.

Whatever answer Buffy was about to give, died in her throat when the boards covering the front of the windows suddenly exploded into splinters. In the wake of flying wood, a body came hurtling through. Whipping her head around, Buffy took one glance at what said body was, and was instantly on her feet. She leapt over the coffee table with the grace and speed of a cat, landing in a defensive crouch and ready to tackle the demon to keep it from advancing any further.

“And there it is,” Xander said in a rush as he detangled the blanket strangling his legs. Once free, he hauled himself from the couch to his feet. Scrambling along with Giles over to the closet for weapons.

**

Her hands, Severus decided, were roaming in expressly forbidden places by usual social decorum. Twice she’d squeezed at his arse, and twice he’d had to reach back and grab her wrists to slide them up above the safety zone. She was forward, this one, and he wasn’t having any of it.
Then there was the dancing itself. Severus was not experienced with dancing in general. The extent to which he’d endured was the ballroom waltzes enforced onto him by his parents, who both adhered to a strict Pureblood upbringing.

He’d never asked anyone to dance, through all his years at Hogwarts, as a student, and certainly not after for his tenure as Professor. His first time actually on a dance floor being when he was twenty-three and gorged on Firewhiskey: prodded into it by Lucius Malfoy, who had thought it great fun to witness a still-gangly Snape move that tall and awkward body in some semblance of rhythm. There were a few more times between then and now, but none of them had prepared him for this.

This… was scandalous. The bubble of personal space had been abandoned. Through no effort on his part, he now found his legs entangled intimately with hers. He could barely keep them both balanced, let alone hope to keep the pace set by the thrumming music. Severus thought he was managing decently, given the circumstances. In fact, other than rubbing and pelvic thrusts, there really didn’t seem to be much variation.

Still, her liberties were becoming overwhelming. He did not like his person groped, not without express permission in any case. Snape was also uncomfortable with the burning hunger that was unmistakable in her eyes. He’d swallowed rather thickly several times, trying to think of some excuse to get out of this predicament without causing a scene. Though, as he felt her hands go lower once again, at this point he’d probably settle for cutting cruelty and leave it at that.

“Madam,” he snarled, snatching her wrists for the third time and jerking them back up.

The pout did not work for first years, and it certainly didn’t work for 20-some-year-old floozies.

“Not bad,” he heard Black yell from beside him. His unique way of lowering the temperature in a room cleared a bit more space on the crowded dance floor swarming with dancers. Snape used the opportunity to try and maneuver his legs out of her straddle hold. “Might be hope for you yet, Snape!”

If you weren’t already dead, I’d kill you myself, Severus thought back, thoroughly disgruntled. And it was so bloody hot in here he could hardly suck in a decent breath of air.

“She’s a forward little thing, isn’t she?” Black replied, ignoring the threat per usual.

One word for it, Severus sent. He could think of a few more terms, none of them pleasant, or to be used in polite conversation. Have I been sufficiently humiliated yet?

“You, Severus Snape, must be the only man I know who’d want to get out of a pretty girl’s arms. Especially when it’s clear what’s on her mind. Even Remus isn’t this stiff in the collar. No more starch in the laundry for you,” Black returned loudly.

Severus bit his cheek to keep from snapping back aloud. He just wanted to get some sleep, try to pretend this was all some horrible product of cauldron fumes, and repress as soon as possible. Without waiting for Black to grant permission, he decided he’d had more than enough.

“Thank you for the dance. If you’ll excuse me,” he said to the girl. his voice slightly warmer than the North Pole, but not by much. He wondered if he’d need a crowbar to pry her loose, but was surprised when she simply let go with a luscious smile. All full lips and those same devouring eyes.

Right, he thought uncomfortably, moving off the dance floor and ignoring Black’s sudden shouts of protest drowned out by the music. Without glancing back to see if he was followed, Severus waded his way through the sea of people, not bothering to apologize as he purposefully shoved quite a few out of his way rougher than necessary.

When he was finally free of the thick crowd, he made his way through a dodgy back hallway with spidery cracks along the surface of the yellowed walls and stains on the floor he’d rather not examine to closely. There was also a wretched smell of vomit that hung like miasma in the air. Ignoring the rooms that led off from it, his sights were for the one with a large glowing exit sign fixed above its frame.

His footsteps sped, until he finally reached the heavy green door. Pushing against the bar slung across, he was finally released into the cool night air. He moved out of the way as the door began to shut, eagerly gulping of freedom, and leaned heavily against the brick wall. Exhaustion and the never far off feeling of loss he’d had since returning weighing him down whenever he wasn’t being properly distracted.

Shaking his head to clear it of the sudden melancholy, and cursing himself a fool for allowing Black to push him into this, he straightened up. Gathering his dignity again by smoothing his lapels, Snape began taking in the surroundings he now found himself within.

It was definitely not the front of the club. That was for certain. Severus had found yet another dimly lit alleyway by the looks of it. Funny how many he seemed to appear in recently. Yet, he couldn’t mistake the squashed nature of the small blacktop between the two buildings, and the brick wall ending it in a dead end to one side while another led out onto a quiet street. The music was softer here, though he could make out the faint pulse of it carried on the light breeze. Glancing up to the overhangs of the rooftops, the world weary veteran of war entertained a passing notion this place would make an excellent spot for an ambush. Only a single way out, were the side door to be blocked off.

Shadows were great and plentiful here. A single street lamp at the opening of the alleyway was the only thing casting any sort of light within. Severus’ eyes narrowed in calculation. There was an aura here that reminded him far too much of Knockturn Alley for his comfort. Perhaps it was the rubbish of newspaper that rustled around in the wind, or the tinkling of soup cans rolling back and forth against the far wall. Further along he spied the splintered remains of a crate, likely a poor beggar’s seat at one time, now laying abandoned in pieces.

Through his peripheral vision, Severus watched Black sink into view through the door. The spirit gave the alleyway a once over as well. His own lips turning slightly downwards. “Creepy,” he summed up perfectly.

“Mm,” Severus agreed.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this place,” Black stated hesitantly. Severus’ brow slowly made the journey to his hairline as he took in the anxious guide. Black missed it since his concentration was focused on the rooftops. “Perhaps it’s best if we leave after all.”

Severus snorted, wishing he had his robes to wrap tighter around his body. Since he didn’t, he settled for folding his arms across his chest. “I’ve been saying the same all night. Now you decide it’s a good idea?”

Black tossed him an impish grin. “Then it was because of all the people.” His grin slipped. “I didn’t see the back of this place before.”

“It has a certain air of neglect about it,” Severus allowed. “Not what one would expect of a popular night spot.” He dismissed it the next moment. “No matter. Now that I’ve your permission, I intend to have a good night’s rest.”

Just as he was about to move on, and not linger, the door behind him slowly opened to the tune of rusted hinges. They both whirled around, Severus reaching for his wand before remembering he no longer had one. When he caught sight of the brown-haired girl dressed in the forever-stylish little black dress he had just tried escaping from, he went from relieved to a towering temper in the span of a few short seconds.

”Running off so soon?” she asked quietly, her heels clicking as she sashayed her way towards him. The door closed behind her with the ominous sound of a trap snapping firmly shut.

“I’m not much of a night owl,” Severus lied smoothly. “Early to rise, and all that.”

“Really?” she returned, feigning a fascination that didn’t fool the Occlumens one bit. “That’s too bad. I prefer the night, myself.”

”Fascinating,” Snape answered shortly. He watched her, his eyes continuing to narrow as her footsteps advanced closer at a slow and steady pace. Predatorily. Something about her was setting off alarm bells in his mind, something Severus knew he should recognize.

Apparently Black was of the same mindset. “Severus…” he began hesitantly.

What?

“Um, I think you should leave. Now,” Black finished. Severus took his eyes off the woman long enough to pierce Black with an irritated frown. Before he was practically pushing him into her arms. Now he wanted Severus to back off?

Yet, as he examined Black’s continence, he saw a subtle change. The blue eyes were hardening like flinty steel. His jaw had tightened, crushing his teeth together as he stared at the still advancing brunette. “I’m serious, Snape,” he continued grimly. “We’ve got ourselves a vampire.”

A vampire? Severus started and his eyes darted back to the girl. Now that Black brought it up, it was as if the pieces clicked into place like a puzzle. The prowling gait, the hungry eyes, that way said eyes were fixated with his neck.

“Yes. You know. Grr? Arg?” Black said sharply, curling his own fingers and baring his teeth before stopping to point at the young woman. “Vampire.”

“Haven’t you ever dreamed of everlasting night?” she commented then, interrupting Severus and his invisible companion, nearly purring her words. “I have. I think it would be wonderful.”

“Oh, bloody hell,” Severus snapped, his fist curling in agitation as he realized that Black was not only right about her being a vampire, but had also spotted it first. She was still regarding him with that suggestive stare, and he thought she was probably a fledgling- or close to it- attempting to use her thrall against him. Apparently, the shields on his mind were in better shape than he’d originally assumed.

“Would you stop that,” he snapped at her, “I’m not going to fall under your spell. Silly vampires. Think a little thrall is all it takes. You ought to learn the Imperius Curse if you really want to control minds.”

That made her pause, and although she didn’t answer immediately, she didn’t have to. Severus saw it in the fractional widening of her eyes. Obviously taken by surprise that her prey knew what she was.

“I wouldn’t insult it,” Black commented through the corner of his mouth, making a frantic cutting motion across his throat with his finger. Apparently he hoped to silence Severus’ tirade before it got started.

Severus wasn’t hearing any of it. “This is perfect,” he continued, oblivious to her presence for a moment. Too overcome with irritation at the way this hellish night was turning out…. the way the entire few days had turned out. “Night clubs would be a suitable place for your lot. Hot inside. No one could notice with your body at room temperature. Too dark to see how pale you are.” He pointed an accusatory finger at her, even as Black groaned and covered ducked his face into his hands. “And you’ve got your sex appeal, haven’t you? I’m sure you lure them in like flies to honey.”

“Generally,” she answered flatly, distinctly annoyed. “Til you, I had no problems.”

“Yes,” he sneered nastily, “I imagine you wouldn’t. Muggles. Too stupid to see what’s about to bite them in the arse.” Severus turned his face from her, as if he’d caught a disgusting scent right under his hooked nose. “Go find someone else. I’ll not be your snack tonight. Blood-sucking parasites the lot of you.” When she began to go pale as well, in her own temper at a mere mortal’s insults, his sneer twisted to a new level of contempt. “I said push on.”

“Snape!” Black warned sharply again.

“I don’t think I will.”

With that heated statement, her heart-shaped face suddenly shifted to reveal her true form. The smooth brow became rigid, overgrown and distinctly ugly. The thin nose crinkled, not unlike a snarling dog’s muzzle. The cheeks seemed outrageously sharp and jutted out, both angling towards the same full mouth now sporting two needle sharp fangs as her lips drew back in a snarl. “I’m hungry.”

“SNAPE!” Black shouted in genuine alarm. “LOOK OUT!”

“Bloody effing-“ Severus’ own oath was cut off as the vampire launched herself, pouncing across the pavement straight at him.

He’d intended to simply apparate behind her, but as he summoned the magic to do so- he realized with the first tinge of fear he couldn’t. The only thing he could do was to hold up his hands to catch her shoulders as she collided with him. The force knocked him off his feet, sending them both to the ground with a muffled exclamation from Severus.

They rolled around for domination, a tangle of limbs that was a different dance from the one before in the club. He barely managed to make sure she was at the bottom when they finished twisting about for control, Severus sitting on her stomach and instantly going for her throat as the fangs snapped threateningly with sharp clicks at him. Black was shouting somewhere above him, something about pencils, but he was too distracted with the fight for his life to take note of it.

He heard the rumbled growls straight from her chest vibrate into his. Recalling years of Dark Arts training, he made sure to keep a good hold strangle hold on her neck. Any normal human would have begun choking as he squeezed hard enough to bruise and leave imprints of his fingers behind. This was not a normal human however, and it didn’t even need to breathe.

With a strength not normal of the slight build to her body, her fingers dug into his elbows in a vice-like grip and effortlessly flipped him arse over head. After sailing through the night in a long arc, Severus landed on his back, all the air shoved out of his lungs in a short whoosh at the impact. As he struggled for a gasp, the vampire appeared above him, head blotting out the soft light. All Severus could see were two glowing yellow eyes, glimmering with a feral lust for the hunt.

Finally catching his breath, he reached up and caught her chin with his hands just as she was about to lower her head and sink those sharp fangs into his neck. Struggling with her once again, quickly loosing the battle, Snape gave a frustrated shout as a fistful of his hair was yanked hard enough to make him see spots, and his cheek was nearly crushed when the side of his head rubbed into pavement. Exposing his long pale throat, decorated only with a few lockes that lay fanned across an expanse of sallow skin.

It was then he caught sight of the broken wood from that crate laying scattered far from his reach. One piece in particular could do it. The plank had been shattered in half lengthwise, and a jagged point of rough wood was exposed on the end. He felt her hair tickle his face as she came closer to that point on his neck that was now wildly throbbing with adrenalin and fear, and knew he’d only have one chance at this. Then it would be far too late.

Please work, he entreated to whomever was listening. With that, his eyes fixed resolutely on the broken bit of wood.

The first hint of lips, moist against his throat and without a warm flutter of breath, and the makeshift stake was up and floating. Wasting a thought for nothing else, Snape directed it with his mind. He watched as it flew through the night, disappearing behind the body of the vampire resting above him.

The night went still. Her lips froze, teeth having just begun to apply pressure to the skin but not quite enough to break through.

“Oh shi-“

She never finished. There was a sudden rush as the body above him combusted into a dust cloud that settled atop him in the vampire’s place. Severus coughed, dry particles flying into his open mouth that had been gasping, tickling his throat in a most uncomfortable fashion. Slowly he turned his head, shoving the broken bit of wood that had saved his life off his chest, and then pushed himself up by shaking arms until he was sitting upright. He rubbed his cheek at the side of his face she’d been determined to intimately introduce to the ground.

Suddenly he heard a sigh, and glanced over in time to see Black emerge through the open door. Carrying a pencil in one hand that he dropped it in obvious relief. It clattered and rolled on the ground, only stopping once it collided with the solid brick wall. The specter rushed over, appearing both glad and frustrated as hell when he knelt down beside Snape. “Thank Merlin! Only you would be that stupid. Taking on a vampire in a weakened state. What were you thinking?”

“I had it under control,” Severus replied more evenly then he felt. He was proud there wasn’t the slightest hint of a tremor in his voice. “Certainly not the first one I’ve killed.”

Black shook his head, visibly disgruntled with his ‘charge’. “You pompous git. What would you have done had that wood not been there? Eh?”

Severus glanced towards the pencil that lay forgotten near Black. “Why, wait for my Gryffindor on its white steed,” he replied archly. “Carrying the pencil of doom.”

Black snorted. “It was the best I could think of. Forgot about the crate.”

“Well. I’m glad one of us has observational skills better than a near-sighted troll,” Severus retorted. He then clambered to his feet, wincing before rubbing at a likely-bruised tailbone that throbbed dully. “I couldn’t apparate, Black.”

“I told you before, magic works differently here. Levitation- that’s a simple charm. More complex the spell, the more likely it won’t work,” Black informed him matter of factly. “I’ve been meaning to tell you, but we were interrupted before. You may have to relearn a lot of magic.”

Severus ignored the sinking sensation in his gut at that. Learn magic all over again? A frightening prospect, and one he was certain he was not going to enjoy in the least. Then again, the hummingbird pace of his heart could be accounted for by the fact he’d nearly become dinner. “Are you sure there isn’t an outlet to Ollivander’s around?”

Black gazed at him, sympathy written all over his face. “No. Powers were very clear on this.” His voice lightened. “Look at it this way, you already know the basics. The rest is just memorization, isn’t it?”

“I hate you.”

“Aw, you don’t really mean that, Snivelly,” Black replied with a beaming smile. Severus swore his teeth nearly sparkled in the moonlight.

“Yes. I do,” he assured Black nastily. Ignoring Black as he dramatically placed a hand over his ‘mockingly wounded’ heart, Severus stood. His feet seemed steady enough, and other than a bit of soreness in his cheek and back, he had come out of the fight better than the vampire. He began patting dust of off his clothes. “Vampires. I suppose you’ll be introducing me to Dementors and Werewolves next?”

Black’s spread his hands out. “Welcome to the Hellmouth, Snape.”

**

“I hate the Hellmouth,” Xander said, in another part of town. Both hands gripping the handle of a heavy broad sword as he wearily eyed the demon across the room, squaring off with Buffy. “One of those gift givers that picks out something they like instead of something you like. Hate that kind.”

“EVERYONE WAKE UP!” Giles shouted at the top of his lungs. His words threatened to shake down the walls with the boom in his voice. “WE’RE UNDER ATTACK!”

Buffy ignored them both, her world having narrowed down to the demon that shifted its weight from one foot to the other in front of her. It was human in shape. A head, torso, two arms and legs- dressed in the blue uniform of a police officer. That was where the similarities to a human ended. Its hide was pitch black, thick and coarse as leather. It clung loosely to its frame, making the demon resemble a skeleton with each bone and muscle so strongly visible beneath its flesh. Her eyes following the length of the arms, she saw its fingers ended with long, curled talons that looked very vicious; talons that slowly dripped a dark, oily substance that Buffy instinctively realized was poison.

It lacked any body hair at all, even on the head, making it bald and wrinkled. The face was deformed, flattened like a pug, with twin slits for eyes that, she saw, were little more than empty sockets. It also sniffed at the air while its head slid side to side rather than turning. Its movements as a whole were very smooth, nearly graceful. Something one would not figure on, given the twisted back that buckled over from a huge hump across its shoulders. The ears were also deformed- sticking out slightly from the head with triangular flaps of skin that twitched with the slightest sound of movement.

Buffy was betting the thing couldn’t see- relying instead on its senses of smell and sound. Other than the sniffing noises, it was completely silent. The thin black lips remained clamped tightly shut. Still, given the claws, she wouldn’t be surprised if it had some very nasty teeth. It was another given that it was stronger than average, judging by the way it had burst through the thick boards covering the window as if they’d been tissue paper.

She’d never seen this particular demon before, but she could guess what would kill it based on experience. Humanoid demons nearly always depended on their heads remaining attached to their bodies. The spine was iffy, but she could try if in doubt. A last ditch effort, before hacking it to pieces, would be the heart.

“Weapon!” She shouted to Giles and Xander, frown deepening as the ears twitched again. Those poisoned claws would not make for a fun wrestling partner.

There were frantic footfalls from above, and that distracted the demon. It turned the squashed face upwards to the sound. In that instant, Giles tossed the scythe, sending it sailing across the living room to Buffy who caught it deftly with one hand before flipping it in a figure eight. She began a slow prowling circle around the demon, having just enough room to do so without colliding into the furniture.

“NO!” she heard Giles suddenly shout towards the stairwell. “STAY WITH WILLOW! IT MAY BE HERE FOR HER!”

He was addressing Kennedy, then.

“It’s not getting anywhere near Willow,” Buffy stated with grim determination. “C’mon then,” she said to the demon. “Let’s play Marco Polo.”

There was a final deep breath from the creature, and then it pivoted to face Buffy.

Everything narrowed into tunnel vision, focusing only on her opponent. The demon made the first move, slashing out with its clawed hand towards her. Buffy bent backwards, feeling her spine stretch and air breeze over her exposed abdomen when her shirt hiked up a few inches as the arm flew past. She then sprang straight up, her scythe slicing through the air as she brought it up in a wide circle.

The curved blade caught the demon’s arm just below the elbow, but the thing didn’t scream as its arm was severed clean. The amputated limb dropped to the floor, and Buffy smelled a hint of acrid stench as a sizzling, crackling came from the carpet, sounding like someone was busy cooking bacon. Risking a quick glance, she realized she’d have to get said carpet replaced. A black puddle of acid was eating away at the light blue fibers from the goo left behind where it had landed.

At least the body will dispose of itself, Buffy mused just as the demon leapt backwards. At first it appeared as if the creature was going to collide with the wall. That didn’t happen, though. Instead it fell into a large shadow in the square shape of the entertainment center, disappearing as if it had gone through an open door, warping the air with it. Then all was silent and still.

Buffy narrowed her eyes, heard Giles and Xander shifting their feet nervously behind her. She rushed forward, scythe held over her head with both hands, till she brought it down swiftly and without mercy. It went right into the wall, slicing it like butter. Somehow, though, she doubted she’d gotten it.

“What’s going on?” Molly asked, appearing in the middle of the archway in a long pink nightgown rumpled from sleep. Several of the other Slayerettes were behind her. None looked anxious at the prospect of a fight any longer, not since gaining their own powers. Now, they were all resolved. Sleepy, but resolved.

“Demon,” Buffy said succinctly, slipping into the role of leader effortlessly, like a worn and beloved pair of jeans. “Looks like it’s traveling by shadow. Nasty claws. Look out for them.”

Spying the next shadow, Buffy hacked again into the wall. Wielding the scythe in a tree-chopping sideways swing. “Start stabbing at any dark spot you find. We’ll poke it sooner or later.”

Taking her cue, Xander sighed and said an apology to the floor before stabbing his sword down into a long, narrow black patch cast by the banister.

Buffy felt no remorse for Xander as everyone began attacking the house once they’d gotten hold of their preferred killing tools. Crashes of porcelain shattering, bangs as beams were chopped, and thumps as plaster was skewered with arrows rang out as one weapon after another was driven into any patch of shadow they could find. Anything where there was a place the thing could hide inside. It sounded as if a demolition crew were going through the Summers’ home, or just a giant wrecking ball.

Seeing the girls had control of the ground floor, she moved on to the second floor, bounding up the stairs three at a time. Up on the darkened landing, Buffy flipped the light switch and examined the hall that stretched out before her, looking for a possible place the demon could be hiding within. All the doors remained closed on each side, a table pushed up along one wall sporting a vase of artificial flowers halfway down sent out the biggest darkened silhouette, and Buffy decided to target that first.

Cautiously stepping one foot after the other down the hallway, she was nearly to it- tightening her hands on her weapon in anticipation- when her slayer senses sent a shiver down her spine and the skin of her back, clearly telling her something dangerous was trying to sneak up from behind.

Buffy didn’t bother glancing over her shoulder to get a look, instead she immediately tucked into a forward somersault. When she bounded back to her feet from the compact roll, she swirled around on ball of her foot and was already swinging the scythe hard enough to split a baseball bat in two.

She caught the demon dead center in the chest, the crescent blade sheathing itself nearly all the way in with a sharp schling. The demon stumbled forward, embedding the scythe further into its torso. Blood oozed out, eating away at the blue uniform covering the body as the arm had done to the carpet before. Buffy crinkled her nose in disgust, then grunted and pushed harder, feeling the ribs of the chest cavity crack under the assault as the demon was forced to take a few steps back.

Two Slayerettes emerged behind it, along with Xander who had started ascending the stairs sometime after she had. When they spotted the demon, she heard several ‘eeews’ of revulsion from the girls. Revulsion Buffy shared, though less vocally. The blonde Slayer watched its nose wrinkle as it continued to smell, still upright and swinging out towards her with its good arm. With a sigh of annoyance, Buffy adjusted her grip on the handle and gave a hard twist. Shredding the internal organs, if it even had them.

That did it. Unfortunately, had she known beforehand that the death cry would threaten to make her eardrums burst she might have gagged it first. It sounded worse than nails against a chalkboard magnified times a thousand. The high pitch keel seemed to shoot straight into her brain, rattling it around even after she’d reflexively dropped the scythe and used her hands to cover her ears. Nothing could muffle its scream though, and she had to grit her teeth in pain before falling to one knee on the ground.

“OH, MY GOD!” Xander cried out over the piercing shrieks. “MY HEAD’S GONNA EXPLODE!”

The demon thrashed side to side, careening uncontrollably into the walls as it pitched about, flinging tiny bits of plaster everywhere. Buffy’s eyes rolled back in her head as the scream continued, and if she’d been able to think she might have wondered if their heads really would explode.

Finally, the high-pitched wail died down to something like soft mews that were still painfully grating on the ears, but less debilitating. Wincing from them, Buffy drew her hands away and focused on the body slumped against the wall. The thing looked pitiful, grasping at her scythe with flexing fingers, shuddering with its impeding death. Finally it silenced, slumping forward. Unmoving.

Buffy approached it cautiously, thumping one hand to her ear to try and hear properly again. Hoping she hadn’t gone deaf, she bent over and grasped the handle. With the sensation of belonging ringing through her being, she wrenched it from the body that jerked as the blade withdrew.

Once her scythe was removed from the chest, the twisted body began dissolving much faster. A noxious fume rising in thick tendrils of smoke nearly made everyone gag. She pressed her arm against her nose, coughing, as the smell seemed to cling to her throat.

When the acrid bubbling of the plaster and carpet finally stopped, Buffy began inspecting the damage. The wall was partially eaten away, fluffy pink insulation and a support beam melted in the opening. The floor had a large hole, and she was left peering down into the kitchen, Giles staring back up at her. He must have heard it too, judging from the pained expression tightening his weary face. The lines of age carved into Giles even more pronounced than usual.

“That was horrible,” Xander proclaimed, and Buffy lifted her head. His voice sounded like it had been traveling through water, but she could hear it. Relief flooded over her with the revelation. “Disgusting and horrible. A full-out, hands down, nine on the freak meter. What in the world was that?”

“No idea,” Buffy answered. Loudly.

“I hope it’s a single model, and there aren’t anymore on the way,” Xander added.

Buffy doubted it. Not with her track record. “Set up watch,” she instructed the girls, who looked queasy, and Giles still peering up at her through the impromptu window created in the floor. “We stay up in pairs. Xander, find all the lights you can- shine them in every nook and cranny. Basement and attic included. I don’t want these things sneaking up on us.”

“Right,” Xander replied before shaking his head, he too knocking one ear, and then headed for the stairs, dazedly trotting down with the girls in tow.

“I’ll assign pairs,” Giles shouted from below, his voice carrying easily to her. Buffy knelt, peering through the hole while being careful to avoid the burnt edges, and nodded to him. Giles’ chest rose with a steadying breath, and then the Watcher moved out of her sight.

Buffy hadn’t said anything to Xander or the others, guessing it wouldn’t be a welcome observation right then and there, but she was sure they’d realize it once the echoing screams died out. The scythe had not killed the creature on the first blow. Whatever it was, it was sturdier stuff than Ubervamps. Of course, those dusted. Maybe these things just- dissolved.

There was little point in worrying over it now, not when there were preparations to be made, and she decided to discuss it with Giles later when the watch was set up and the lights all on. Obviously the scythe was still the strongest weapon in the arsenal. It hadn’t met the same fate as the unlucky carpets or wall. She wasn’t so sure what that blood would do to the more ordinary wooden and steel ones though. She’d rather not find out.

Seeing as how the Hellmouth had apparently decided to start rumbling, Buffy was pretty certain she was going to whether she liked it or not.

**

The First’s eyes narrowed with a dangerous light as it felt their spawn evaporate into nothing. Ignoring the broken, bloodied bodies that were scattered all around the floor with a nearly imperious air, The First weaved its way through to the corner where shadows churned and revolved over the bent figure of Darkness. The sun was cresting, and like most of Evil’s creatures, Darkness had no fond love affair with it.

So Darkness had been forced to find shelter here, in one of the many abandoned buildings along the Industrial front by the river. It had, at one time, been a warehouse until the place was closed and its stock cleared out. It had since been overrun by a gang of teenagers for quite some time as they used this place for their little parties, one of which Darkness had interrupted with delicious results.

Those he hadn’t killed outright were now turned, scuttling around in the shadows, their clawed hands clicking as they climbed the walls like hundreds of tiny insects, though there were perhaps only ten. Time to grow and expand, after all.

They’d been following their prey all night before the dawn had taken the shadows away. The trail was fresh enough for him to follow, and after peering in through the barred windows of the local jailhouse they had both agreed the Half Made Flesh had already moved on. Not only was it constantly cloaked by the Eternal, rendering it impossible for The First to so much as pay a social visit, they were also keeping a close connection to the soul. The binding would help Evil succeed in the long run, but for now it was a very annoying inconvenience.

It meant the Eternal had time on their side, and a head start. The First was not overly concerned; even if they managed to lead the Halves together that did not mean they would be ready to rejoin and become the Whole. That advantage was entirely Evil’s, that and the fact they were dealing with mortals.

Even if one was the Slayer.

“She’s killed it,” The First said without preamble to the roiling tides of shadows. It stepped over a final body draped across the ground just in front of the shadows, a tall young man with a long pink Mohawk who’d been stripped down to his boxer shorts. Ignoring the congealing blood that puddled and had long since begun to dry, The First spoke again, much more aggrieved. “It hardly even put up a fight.”

Slowly the shadows receded, smoky tendrils that curled apart like curtains to show Darkness sitting within. No longer naked, he wore the clothes he’d taken from the young man dead at his feet. A tight black shirt, ripped strategically in several places that showed off pale skin, sporting the large red Anarchy sign across the shaped chest. Several black plastic bracelets were arranged on his forearms like guards, and that did not include the spiked collar or matching cuffs.

Finishing off the ensemble was a pair of long black leather pants, with no fewer than four belts of different colors and material (including chains) wrapped about the narrow waist. The pants managed to shine even in the darkness, and they accentuated the length of Darkness’ legs. The leather seemed to travel forever, before ending in a pair of black combat boots with a nasty silver tip at the end.

Even though The First privately thought Darkness appeared to be a mortal man lost in the midst of a mid-life crisis, it had to admit the look suited the body and severe face better than it would have originally thought. The difference between the black theme of the clothes, and the paleness of the skin, was striking and dramatic. Dangerous.

Darkness gazed at The First, slowly arching a single brow.

“We can’t keep her off balance if they’re too simple to kill,” The First retorted. “We need to send more next time.”

Darkness snorted, and The First had the impression that if there’d been a hint of white to the eyes it would have seen them rolling.

“Listen,” it began, the voice low and menacing, “you may be able to walk around and kill all the humans you like, while I’m stuck in incorporeal form, but I still control this plane of existence. And I am telling you we need more.”

The narrow face tilted in question, and a long slim finger pointed towards the ceiling.

“I act on behalf of the Intent.” As Darkness sneered in response, The First bristled and placed its hands on its hips. “There’s no need to get snippy about it and go over my head. It’s been a long time since you’ve been here, and I know this girl better than you. She’s clever, unusually bright for a Slayer, and we have to make certain she doesn’t go poking her nose where it doesn’t belong.” The First’s eyes darkened. “The Powers are going to help her out enough as it is. Kill a few of her precious friends, and she’ll be too distraught with grief to listen.”

Darkness seemed to consider that, tracing the thin lips with a single finger as he did so--doubtlessly something he’d picked up from the body’s habits. Finally he gave an elegant shrug with the narrow shoulders, and waved one hand off towards the spawn still clicking around in the shadows unseen. The First took that as invitation, and it responded with a pleased smile of its own.

“Glad we’re on the same page,” it told him.

Darkness smirked in response, before the shadows consumed him, shielding him from the sunlight once more.

**
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