Leaves, Wind, Dust And Ashes

The cemetery seemed eerie tonight. Wisps of mist curled like fingers over the gravestones, a breeze sent dry leaves skittering over the ground like footsteps and the clammy air caressed Buffy's face as though a ghost were kissing her.

The Slayer couldn't remember how long it had been since she felt creeped out by a graveyard. Years. This was her hunting ground, her place of work. She knew every path, every possible ambush location, and almost every inscription on the tombstones. It was as familiar as her own garden and as scary. Yet tonight, she was jumping at shadows and felt as if she was in the middle of a low budget horror movie.

Shaking off the mood, she looked round for something to kill. That would deal with the wiggins, she thought. Moving briskly, she made for a spot that was generally good for a vampire or two, her stake at the ready.

The subtle air of danger returned as she heard a child crying. It was still fairly early, about eight o’clock, but it was an odd place for a child to be. Looking around quickly, Buffy saw a small figure, huddled up against a gravestone.

Walking over slowly, not wanting to scare the child, Buffy called out, "Hi there, are you OK? Where's your Mommy?" She tucked the stake in her coat pocket and put a friendly look on her face.

She was close enough now to see the tears staining the small girl's face. Buffy wasn't very used to children and she was having a hard job even guessing this one's age. Seven maybe. A Barbie fan if all the pink clothes were anything to go by.

The girl looked up, a sob catching in her throat. "Mommy's gone to live with Baby Jesus. She can see me though and she says a prayer for me every night."

Buffy recoiled involuntarily then plastered a smile on her face."I'm sure she misses you very much. How about we get you home to your Daddy then? I bet he's wondering where you are, huh?"

The girl nodded docilely and stood up, holding out her hand. Buffy took it rather gingerly and said, "Now, what's your name? I'm Buffy. And which way do you live? Can you remember your street?"

"I'm Victoria. I live not far away. I can take us there."

Pulling on Buffy's hand, she began to lead them deeper into the cemetery.

As they walked, Victoria chattered away to Buffy about school (looking forward to second grade), friends (Susie and Ashley but not Stephanie because she was mean and hadn't invited Victoria to her birthday party even though she'd promised she would) and soccer teams (she played in goal because she couldn't run very fast). Buffy listened absent mindedly, scanning the bushes and wondering why no one was trying to munch on this little happy meal.

Victoria suddenly stopped by a bench. "Can we sit down for just a bit? My legs are awful tired," she said, glancing up at Buffy wistfully.

"It's really not a good idea," replied Buffy. "Maybe I could give you a piggy back for a bit?"

"I'm not a baby! And I'm sitting down, so there!" Pouting, she flopped down on a seat, crossing her arms and frowning hideously.

Buffy sighed. Obviously she was now the villain, not the rescuer. Kneeling down beside the little girl she tentatively patted her arm. "I know you're a big girl," she said kindly. "But we really need to get you home quickly. If we get out of here, maybe we can call your daddy and he can come get you. We can go for a soda and a burger at that place with the play area. It's not far from here and it has a phone. How does that sound?"

Victoria looked at her through eyes that were suddenly swimming with tears. "I miss my Mommy!' she announced, sobbing.

Buffy got up beside her on the bench and cuddled her gently. "I can imagine," she said softly. "My Mommy died not that long ago too."

"Really?" Victoria looked interested. "Is she in heaven with my Mommy? Maybe they know each other and drink coffee there?"

"Umm, could be," said Buffy, wondering what it was with people who seemed to think heaven was a giant social event.

"I'm thirsty," said Victoria. "I'm thirsty, right now."

Buffy nodded sadly. "I know," she said. Taking a deep breath, she pulled out the stake and sent Victoria flying on the wind, stronger now, that blew the leaves around her feet.

Blinking to clear the dust and tears from her eyes, Buffy walked towards a new grave and read the inscription. "So she was called Victoria," she murmured to herself.

"Slayer," said a voice behind her. She turned to see Spike, an odd look on his face.

"You saw me stake her, didn't you?" said Buffy. It wasn't really a question. The awkward sympathy on his face told her that. He nodded, silent for once.

"It was so hard. I knew at once; how many parents let their kids wander off in this town, let alone in the cemetery? But I couldn't do it, not until she changed. I just let her talk, pretended I didn't guess -"

Spike stared off into the distance. "Never turned a kid myself. Some things you just don't do, you know? Won't deny I've killed some but I've not done that to them."

Buffy gave him a sick look but said nothing. Turning, she walked off quickly and Spike made no attempt to follow her.

The next night, Spike was waiting for her as she left the house to patrol.

"What is it, Spike? Want to tell me about some more of your brave deeds?"

"Sort of," he admitted.

She raised her hand, anger twisting her face. "I'm so not in the mood for this, Spike."

"Hang about. Got a little something for you."
Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a plastic zip lock bag. It was filled with a mixture of dust and leaves.

"What the hell is that?"

"Thought it might make you feel better. It's the ashes of the vamp who turned that little girl and killed her mum."

Buffy stared at him. "You went looking for him? Why?"

Spike shrugged, embarrassed. "You were upset," he said simply.

Buffy took the bag. "Thank you," she said awkwardly. Then, trying to get back to normal, she asked, "What's with all the leaves?"

Spike coughed. "Well, when I say it's his ashes, I'm talking symbolically. You know what it's like, can't exactly catch the dust. But some of it must have landed on the ground, so I scooped up a bit."

Buffy stared at him, and then began to laugh.


As he reached the crypt door a few hours later, Spike paused and looked round. For a moment the leaves were still, yet the breeze swirled around him, touching his face with a gentleness Victoria would have recognised.

Then there was one less ghost in the graveyard.

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