Pain flashed through Michael’s body as it he the ground.
Very fucking hard.
He winced even as the air left his lips in a sudden, excruciating rush, leaving him breathless and aching. Nothing was broken, his brain supplied feebly in a split second assessment of the type and severity of the pain he was feeling, but that meant very little considering he was pretty damn sure he was going to have bruises all over his backside.
“Not bad. On a scale of one to ten, I’d have to say… nine point five?”
Oh. Right. He had followed –her- through that merry little trip into dark, falling hell. So, of course, she was here at the other end.
Was it too much to hope that she’d landed just as painfully?
Despite the irritation that he felt at the mere sound of her voice, he found himself hoping that she hadn’t gotten hurt and tried to tell himself that it was just because he didn’t want to hear her whine about how sore she was.
He cracked open one eye reluctantly to look in the direction her voice had come from. But, laying flat on the ground, there wasn’t much he could see. Dingy twilight and vague tree shapes over head. Maybe a moon or two in the sky.
Moon… or two?
Michael blinked rapidly, trying to clear the fuzziness from his vision. Had he knocked his head when he hit the ground? He blinked some more, wishing that one of the moons would disappear.
Nope, there it was, not just one but two round, glowing orbs in the sky.
“Where are we?”
He wanted to lift his head to look for her but the aches that were still threading their way through his body gave the clear impression that doing so would probably not be a good idea.
Then again, good ideas were definitely not his forte.
“Another dimension?” Dawn’s voice floated to his ears from somewhere nearby as he struggled into a sitting position. The aching flared up before dying down to a manageable level. He’d been through worse than this, no reason to lay around feeling sorry for himself.
“Maybe another planet?” she continued from behind him. “Yeah, that’s it, that weird alley portal was actually one of those stargate things like on that show Andrew watches. So we stepped through and – bam! – another planet.”
Michael turned, giving her a quick once over. She looked like she was in one piece, which he found to be somewhat reassuring, despite the annoyance that her very presence was creating. It was always so hard to think when she was around; hard to concentrate on the here and now and get done whatever needed to be done. She was entirely too irritating for his sanity.
Except, that wasn’t it, a part of his mind whispered.
He shoved that part down, locking it away until a better time.
“So how do we get home?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Well, let’s see, if someone hadn’t followed me into the creepy, obviously evil alleyway, then he’d be calling Willow right about now to arrange transport out of this place.”
“Whoa – you expected me to stay back there and tell your sister that I let you go wandering down a dark alley by yourself and let you disappear? Oh, hell no,” Michael shook his head angrily, despite the pain that every movement brought with it. “I’m not suicidal.”
Dawn snickered. “So you admit that you’re afraid of my sister.”
“Everyone is afraid of your sister.”
“She’s loony herself.”
“Again – he’s nuts.”
“And Faith and Isabel and…” she paused, smiling at him with fake sweetness. “Get the picture or should I keep going? You’re the only one that’s afraid of Buffy.”
He bristled, but couldn’t really think of anything more intelligent to say than a denial of what he’d already admitted to, so he kept his mouth wisely shut. Arguing with Dawn never got him anywhere anyway.
“We’ll just have to figure out where we are and try to get home by ourselves, I guess,” Dawn sighed, looking around.
He joined her in a quick perusal of the area, only to find that, beyond a span of about fifteen feet or so, the forest was too thick and dark to see much of anything. A chill crawled up his spine, dancing along his skin until he shivered from the intensity of it.
Something wasn’t right about this place and he wasn’t talking about the two moons in the sky or the fact that they’d gotten here after falling through some kind of portal. This place reeked of danger and evil, two things he knew all too well about.
“We need to find someplace better to spend the night than out here in the open,” he muttered, fighting to calm the suddenly rapid beating of his heart, the feel of anxiety that coursed through him for their continued safety. This place was an unknown to him and that meant finding a good, solid position to defend themselves from if needed.
“Yeah, I think you’re right.”
Michael looked at Dawn sharply. She was rubbing her arms and looking around, eyes wide and skittish. She’d felt it, just like he had.
This place was Evil, he’d bet money on it.
Fingers hooked, only somewhat reluctantly, into the belt loops on the back of Michael’s jeans, Dawn allowed herself to be led slowly through the dark forest. Shutting her eyes and stumbling along would have been just as productive, she reasoned, than trying to see through the darkness and make sense of the myriad of shapes and sounds that she was hearing. Shelter or even a trace of civilization seemed like nothing more than a dream after the hour or more they had been walking failed to yield even another life form.
That she could see anyway.
There were animals in the forest – she was sure of it. But between the darkness and the animals’ apparent unwillingness to come close enough to be seen, she had yet to lay eyes on one of the creatures that was making so much noise in the underbrush.
It was better that way, she told herself. This was a strange place and maybe, just maybe, those cute little creatures she was picturing in her mind were nothing like what was actually out there. For all she knew they could be rabid and bloodthirsty, just waiting for a chance to strike out at the two of them and –
“Stop it,” she hissed under her breath to herself.
Dawn flushed, ignoring the curious glance that Michael shot at her over his shoulder. “Nothing. Just talking to myself.”
He rolled his eyes and she knew she’d just been once more relegated to that position of ‘weird girl’ in his book.
There just wasn’t a way to win when it came to Michael Guerin. Be nice to him and he was rude. Be annoying around him and he was rude. Be downright mean to him and he just got ruder.
Really – why did she even try? That was a twenty-thousand dollar question if ever there was one, in her opinion.
She slammed into Michael’s back, a loud curse flying from her lips only to be stopped immediately by his hand. In the darkness she could see the whites of his eyes, the roundness of those dark orbs as he looked into the forest around them.
“I heard something. Close,” he muttered by way of explanation for his sudden stop, the hand over her mouth.
She nodded slowly and he removed his hand.
The forest seemed quieter now than it had been moments before. An unearthly air of stillness that brought goosebumps to her arms. The little sounds that had permeated the forest’s nighttime routine had all but vanished, leaving a silence that was almost deafening. She shivered for a moment, uncontrollably, her entire body shaking as it was overcome by a feeling of malevolence so powerful that it rocked her to her very soul.
“We’re in trouble,” she whispered, mostly to Michael, but sort of for her own benefit, too; as if saying the words would snap her out and away from that feeling that was holding her hostage to her fear. She’d been in bad situations before; the kind of situation that made her hair stand on end. Usually, though, Buffy and the others were with her and she got that feeling that everything would be okay.
“We’ll be fine.”
She didn’t scoff at his words, as much as some part of her wanted to. His voice didn’t shake and he said it firmly enough that, for one brief moment, she believed him. He had been the so-called protector of his group of friends, right?
“Think your powers work here like they do on Earth?” she whispered even as she wondered if it did her any good to do so. Whatever was out there, filling her with such dread, could probably hear every word they were saying.
It was a terrifying thought.
He was a man of few words – but hopefully a man of few words that could get them out of whatever trouble they had stumbled into.
Not that she wanted to rely on him in any way. No, not in the least. He was rude and cranky and –
And it had grown on her.
She was pathetic and damnit if she didn’t know it.
Somehow, someway, Michael Guerin had gotten under her skin.
And she –liked- it.
This was no time to be thinking about her own shortcomings in the ways of lust, though.
“Did you hear that?” Michael whispered, his breath a tickle in her ear. She shivered without meaning to, trying to hear what it was that he had heard.
“No,” she shook her head after a few moments. The anxious feeling hadn’t left her, but there wasn’t a sound to go with it. “I don’t hear anything.”
Even in the darkness she could see him frown. “I could’ve sworn I heard.”
She heard it when it happened again. Something moving toward them in the darkness – leaves and twigs snapping underfoot.
No, under –feet-, she corrected herself. Because, whatever was coming their way, there was definitely more than one of them and, while she and Michael were having trouble seeing in the darkness of the forest, whatever was heading their way didn’t seem to have any problems.
She opened her mouth to speak, to form some kind of plan on how in the hell they were going to defend themselves in if it came down to doing just that –
But her voice was robbed of her the next second when the shadows of the forest parted.
Moonlight cast sickly rays through the trees to illuminate faces she knew all too well. No names, no specifics, just the general knowledge of what they were up against.
“Vampires,” she muttered.
Dozens of them. Men, women. Some young in appearance, others older.
And they looked happy to see her and Michael.
A little too happy for her tastes, considering they probably saw her as nothing more than dinner.
“We are so screwed,” Michael managed not to sound afraid, which she had to give him credit for.
Because, yeah – no matter which way she looked at it, they were screwed.
“Buffy is going to kill us if we live through this,” she groaned.
“Well, there’s some good news for you, then.”
Dawn pressed herself closer to Michael as one of the vampires took a step forward, putting itself within arm’s reach of her body.
“Oh yeah, what’s that?”
She felt him shrug, a movement of shoulders against her back.
“There’s no way in hell we’re going to live through this.”
As far as ‘good news’ went, it left something to be desired.