By Nan Dibble
Sequel to Old Blood
SECTION TWO: APPROACHES
Chapter Seven: The Productions of Time
Spike stopped the bike, set the kickstand, and pocketed the key. But then he spent a couple of cigarettes’ worth of time, glancing occasionally at the lighted front window of Giles’ mini-efficiency, in the row of identical units, with the feeling that it was the other way around and the window was watching him, seeing if he’d actually do it or not.
So of course eventually he had to. He pitched the last cigarette, went up the walk, and knocked on the door.
When the door opened, he said at once, looking at his boots, “I got no quarrel with you. If it wasn’t for the children, I’d have nothing to do with it neither, for all I was the one who brought it up. Don’t like any part of it whatever. But it’s what has to be done if the children are to stand a chance against the Turok-han. How I feel about it don’t signify. And whether Red contends we’re demons or animi or goddam afrits, I couldn’t care less. We are what we are and changing names don’t change that.”
Giles said coldly, “An accurate Latin plural done on the fly is marginally enough to keep me from slamming the door in your face. What do you want, Spike?”
“A little talk.”
“Very well. Come in.”
“Don’t want to come in. Don’t think I could abide walls just now. Maybe you could come out awhile. If you would. Saw a picnic table off the other end of the row. Maybe there. Don’t expect it would take a whole long while.”
Spike stuck his hands in his pockets and started off, paying no attention to whether there were any following noises or not. The picnic table was the kind with an attached bench on each of the long sides. He slid up onto the table and put his boots on the bench. He’d just lit a cigarette when Giles came. With precise motions, the Watcher set on the table a bottle of very good single malt and two of the stupid wrapped glasses.
“No,” said Spike. “That’s generous, but no. Have to keep close track of myself these days…. I expect you’re Church of England. I’m Church of Fucking Practicality and sod the rest. You want to figure I’m damned, it’s no skin off my nose and you’ll get no argument from yours truly about it. Sometimes, seems that’s the only answer that makes sense.” He drew on the cigarette, then gestured with it randomly. “There’s things somebody should know, about what’s goin’ on and what’s coming. Nothing I can talk to Buffy about. But somebody should know. So I’m gonna tell you, if you’ll give me your word not to say anything about it to a living soul unless you know you must. Won’t dispute your judgment on that. Sometimes your principles don’t get on too well with my practicalities, but we’ve managed before and come to terms. So: we got a deal, or not?”
Having unwrapped a glass, Giles poured himself a deliberate measure, the fussy overprecise way that he did. “I’ve been meaning to ask you, Spike. How are you bearing up. Regarding Dawn. Obviously I’ve noticed your new fashion statement, personal adornment. I presume it was put there to be noticed.”
“Don’t give the least fucking damn if it’s noticed or not. It’s for what it means, not what it looks like. Don’t have to give account of myself to you.”
“Very well. Perhaps that came out more abrasive than I intended. If so, I apologize. So. How is it with you?”
In what had become a habitual gesture, Spike rubbed the back of his left hand with his right: touching the words. Freshening his awareness of them. “About at the end of my tether. Try to keep on keeping on but ‘s’not working. Some days better, some days worse. No matter. What I have to tell you has to do with what is, and what’s coming. Some of it, I’ve seen. Visions, like. I think they’re from…from the fact it was Dru that turned me. And if some way we all come through this, that’s a thing I’d like to talk to you about sometime. Considering I don’t doubt you’re sometime gonna try to put a new Watchers Council together, it’d be nice to have some true things said, like raisins in among all the tripe…. But that doesn’t signify now. I need your word to go any farther with this.”
“I swear I will keep your confidence until in my best judgment that would no longer be the right thing to do.”
“Good enough.” Spike got his lighter out of his pocket and started playing with it. Slipping it from hand to hand. Clicking the flint to a flame, then snapping the cover shut, and then again. Turn the cool silver weight around and about between his palms. Couldn’t abide his hands being empty or still any length of time. Balancing himself and the things he touched, testing and feeling the balance every moment with a sense of faraway speculation.
He began, “I think what’s coming is gonna depend quite a lot on the cousins. I’ve spoken to Michael, and we’re on for Saturday, that patrol. So that’s the beginning, if it goes all right. There are quite a few hundred vamps in Sunnydale, and damn near all of them could fight and would if it were put to them the right way, so they could see their own advantage in it. Then once they’re in, hold them in. But it can’t be me that does that. Since Dawn’s been gone, I haven’t been connecting all that well. Can’t know what to do except by the rules. And the rules can’t hold me….” A shrug, a small downpulled smile. “You had beef for your dinner, Rupert. And port for afters. Pie, I think, though could be a pudding, what they call pudding this side, sweet…. Some sodding bad coffee an’ then decent brandy from your flask to cut the taste, at the meeting. I know that, an’ it’s damn distracting….”
Another tight, private smile at the flash of alarm and uneasiness plain in the beat of the man’s blood, the scent from exposed skin, the quicker pull of breath. Nothing to be seen but all there, known with complete immediacy. Fiddling with his lighter, distantly amused as one layer among many, Spike said dryly, “No fear, Watcher. I need you to outlast this night and I still have the choice. But ‘tisn’t because I don’t know or notice. Or it couldn’t be otherwise.”
Giles said coolly, “I am quite aware that you’re a vampire, Spike. It seems it’s Buffy that forgets.”
Spike responded, “I recall a bit of schoolboy Latin and you trot out the good booze. Think you’re a little too easy to please, Rupert. We’re not all chums together here. My kind eat your kind, and you better not forget it because I never do. You’re safe enough now but I won’t answer for tomorrow.”
“Are you putting me on notice?”
“Maybe. Best if everybody knows where he stands.”
Watcher gave him a nasty look. “If you’ve quite finished trying to intimidate me, perhaps you’d make your point, assuming that you have one. You’ve given the impression you want my help, or at least my cooperation. If so, you’ve chosen a curious way of going about it.”
The night began brightening to Spike’s changing eyes and he stopped, drew that back into himself again. “So you don’t think diplomat would be a good career choice here.”
Watcher barely controlled a smile and had some of his drink. “Get on with it. Save the dangerous creature of the night routine for some other time.”
“Well, if you say…. If diplomat’s out, I could fall back on being a fucking disastrous general. Got an atrocious temper and once I blow up, I don’t look nowhere else, don’t check for something comin’ up from behind. No strategy. Straight ahead, that’s all, and through whatever’s between. Though that’s fine for a bar fight, seems it’s not the best qualification for command. No makings even of a bloody second-rate T.E. Lawrence here. So I expect I should give it a pass.” Soberly, frankly, Spike admitted, “I don’t keep enough distance from things. If I get all caught up in this, I’m gone. Running with the pack. Snacking on small children, the occasional family pet. Whatever offered…. Couldn’t keep myself from it. I’ve seen it, dreamed it…. It will have to be Angel. He’s the only one can catch hold of this and bloody well hammer them all into line. Me, I’ll fight, sure enough, but after torturing some poor bugger a day or two, I lose interest. Not never Angel. He bloody well perseveres, never tires, never looks aside, stares it all down like a basilisk, everything all turned to stone….You know: he’s done you once. No need to go on about it, then. You know.”
“I’m surprised you’d even consider such a thing.”
“So am I. But I don’t see any other good option. Fact I don’t like it don’t change anything at all.” Spike pitched a cold butt and lit a fresh cigarette, pausing a minute to watch the flame play. “This will have to be his, in the end. But I will never contact him or summon him or beg him to come. Probably just as well, because I’d likely make a hash of that too, just out of sheer contrariness. Can’t help that, around him. I can’t abide him, nor him, me. So it would have to be you.”
By degrees the night had brightened to him again, every sound from the road and the hillside beyond crisp and sharp, scents awakening like the long soft toss of a shawl, and him comfortable and composed within his body, all the long bones at rest, fit smooth together as they should. All good and easy down the back of his neck, down the arms, centered and patient in the spine. Face settled as it wished to go, almost serene.
The Watcher didn’t like it, it set him uneasy. Spike couldn’t bring himself to care.
Still playing with the lighter, watching how the flat sides glinted and flashed, he continued, “Don’t believe it would ever occur to Buffy on her own account, to ask Angel for such help. At least she’s never said. Don’t believe she’d do it, though--to set him over me. I don’t believe she’d do me like that. Even though she should, and it could all hang by that. She don’t care for me, Rupert, enough to set that aside when it’s necessary. Tries extra hard on that account, tryin’ to make up for what’s not there, between us; an’ that locks her in, doesn’t let her see what’s best. To set me aside or throw me away at need. To use me like she’d use herself. Slayer’s ruthless; Buffy is not. She’s got to be made to see it. Set the Slayer in charge, act according to the Slayer’s priorities. Mission must come first--before me and before herself. Or it will all be lost. I don’t believe she’d listen to me about such a thing. Don’t believe she could face me and still do it. So it would have to be you.”
With the dispassionate Watcher calm Spike mostly despised and still relied on, Giles said, “What do you mean to do, Spike?”
“I don’t precisely know. Only know what I can’t. What I’m not fit for. Something dumb or other, I expect. She doesn’t need this from me, with all the rest. No matter how things fall out, I’ll keep it away from her as best I can.
“But Angel. If he comes, he’s in the place to take from me every fucking thing I care about. And that scares me so bad, I can’t find the words to tell you. I’ll lose it on my own terms before I’ll let him take it from me. And all the same, if that’s the only way this can turn out right, then that’s what has to be. If afterward I tell you different, don’t pay it no mind whatever. Anybody gets scared enough, they’re apt to do all manner of dumb stuff. Can’t answer for myself in that respect. This is all I got, best I know to do: to tell you and leave it with you. And trust you to do what you think is right. Which I got a hell of a lot more faith in than any notion I ever had of what was right. Don’t you let them push you out, Watcher. You stick with this. Because what in the green world is she ever gonna do without you? That’s all, then. I’m done.”
He pitched the last cigarette and lifted easy off the table, didn’t need the duster to balance him, all smooth-moving and right.
“Spike. Take care.”
Spike wheeled around and leveled an arm long to point. “Rupert, you move from where you’re staying. Move tonight. An’ if ever I come to your door again, don’t you let me in.”
He felt lighter, freer, for having that seen to and settled. Maybe he wouldn’t go straight back, cruise around a bit, let the air and the night come in. Good he’d gone and got his bike back. Wherever he was going, he could go fast.
Might be pleasant, though, to talk to Dawn again, see how things were for her, where she was and as she was. It’d been on his mind for some time, to do that: measurelessly lonely for her, lost and disconnected in his days; now, no reason anymore to deny himself. Since it had been done once, it could be done again, and no great matter to make the Powers manifest her to him as they had before, if he could just annoy them sufficiently. And that was something he was generally pretty good at.
That might well be fast, too.
Spike stowed the bike in among some bushes by the house on Brown: not exactly hiding it, only putting it where it wouldn’t make a noise for itself the first time somebody looked. It wouldn’t set somebody to wondering where he was or looking for him on that account. He cut through the gap in the hedge to the back of Casa Summers and waited until the kitchen was empty to go quietly through and straight down to the basement. He set the bolt.
What’d become of Anya’s high-power focusing crystal, he had no idea. But there was more than enough power swirling around him here to make up for that. Any old thing should do.
He settled himself comfortable in the middle of the floor, a way he could stay for some while. His demon already free within him for the simplicity, he next set himself, reconciling to the unfitting things and putting the others away, so they’d not become distractions. He knew enough of magic to know that the first and most important thing was to focus himself. Otherwise everything would go lopsided and sideways. When he felt set, he took up the central crystal in his two hands.
There was a hitch, a momentary confusion as the flow from the cardinal crystals adjusted to the different angle and purpose. Then it all came through him and out, following his intent.
The reason he’d been aware of the flow beyond what the witch could detect was that it had been made for him in the first place. It was attuned to him, and he to it, and Dawn had made it from and with her blood. So all aligned proper, no need to try to force it from its natural path or control it. It connected where it was made to go and all he had to do was stay open to it, let it take its intent from him. And that was very clear. Not confused at all.
He wanted Dawn.
Very fast, almost immediate: immense Presence, pressure that wanted him flat, tried to push him flat, but the power of the blood sacrifice, with its absolute purity, held steady against it. The Power had to respect that.
Why do you trouble Us again?
“Because I can.”
Why should We take any notice of you, creature?
“Well, you’re doin’ that, aren’t you? So I’d guess you’re obliged to. Or you wouldn’t. You just give me what I want and I’ll be gone the sooner and you won’t have to take any notice of me anymore.”
You are insolent and annoying.
“I certainly hope so. Given that a lot of practice. Now do what I say, you’re wasting more time arguing about it than it’d take to do it and be done.”
And immaterial but felt, an electric presence, Dawn was there beside him blurting urgently, “Don’t be dumb now. I’ve been ready. I took enough from you to pull in all the pieces and hold them. Waiting for you. Now we have to make Them free me. Make Them give me what I need to be apart, the way I was before. They won’t want to. We have to make Them. Go for broke, Spike.”
It wasn’t at all what he’d expected, but it was exactly what he needed to hear.
“You owe me,” he told the Whatever, the Power, considering, gathering certainty, gathering up everything he’d come to know to make of it a weapon and a lever, like a long, straight, heavy stick. Pool cue, maybe: he could imagine that, holding that just so, to make the right angle, bring the right force. “I served your purpose and you used me, and damn near used me up. And you had no right. I’m not your creature. I came in and held things together for you when there was nothing to make me. I wasn’t part of your purpose except that I chose to be. You owe me for that. And you’re called to account for it. I claim Dawn from you, to be as she was, with nothing took from anybody alive to make her so. It’s all hers, by her own right, from having been that and lived that, past what you intended for her. So give it back to her, it’s nothing to you, she’s nothing to you now. She’s not beholden to you. You got no more call on her, no reason to make or unmake her except to square things with me. Give her what she needs and let her go.”
And if we do not?
“Then I’ll damn well keep annoying you until you do.”
We have the power to end you and make that-which-is as though you had never been.
Then the Power threw it all at him: whirlwinds and storms and disorientation within those; pain and creeping disease and loss and despair. But mostly attack by scale, by vastness. Vastness of time and distance, that made any single moment or point of place meaningless and even statistically impossible, as if nothing could be that was. Multiple metamorphoses of geologic slowness, layer upon layer, change begetting change, huge, indifferent, cold. And then added to that, dimensions upon dimensions folded together in enormous detail and complexity, all alien and unknown and unknowable, far beyond what any lone creature could take in or comprehend.
And at that same time, very fast in his mind, Dawn muttering, “Don’t let Them dazzle you with special effects. It’s crap, Spike. They’re just trying to distract you, make you beat yourself down. It isn’t how it seems. The game is five-card stud. You’re holding and They have bupkis. A good pair against a red flush: four hearts and the down card’s a diamond. See it this way: it’s not a vague cloudy They, it’s a Lady named Gates and She likes to think well of herself. She’s treated us like shit, and She knows it. So She’s not happy with us and She doesn’t know the difference between nice and Good. Don’t let Her bluff you. Don’t let Her make you back off. She’s bluffing and She thinks we don’t have the guts to stay in the game. Raise, and keep raising. She’ll fold. Because ending us wouldn’t be goddam Nice. It’s chicken poker, Spike. She’ll fold, or we’ll be ended, one or the other. Go straight at Her. Tear Her throat out.”
And Spike found he could deflect the overwhelming Everything enough to say flatly, “Fuck you, bitch.”
The special effects let up: gone, just like that. It became very quiet for awhile.
Then the entity Dawn had whittled down, defined for him, as Lady Gates stated coldly, “You have no power to compel us.”
“No, you have the power to compel you. As long as your debt to me isn’t settled, you’re crooked and out of balance. You did that, not me. If you end me, you’ll never be right. I tell you how to square the debt. You gave me the handle and the lever I need: Dawn. And she claimed me. In your name. So as long as Dawn’s a part of you, you got to put up with me. With both of us. Mutilate yourself, or let her go. How much of you is she? Next to nothing. Why are you making this big deal about it?”
Lady Gates declared haughtily, “It’s a matter of principle. No one compels Us.”
“Then I’ll ask nice. Do us a nice favor here. Because you’re so big-hearted an’ all. Let the fucking child be where she belongs, where she wants--”
All at once, Spike wasn’t certain, wavered. Didn’t want in any way to do Dawn like Buffy had been. Didn’t want to yank her out of someplace and a way of being he knew he couldn’t even begin to imagine--
Dawn was solid enough beside him, just past where he could see without looking, to clip him sharply across the head. “Don’t be an idiot. I set this up, we set it up together. Get on with it. I put Her there for you. Do Her, Spike.”
Certain again, Spike shoved it all on the table that wasn’t a table: the playing field, the everything-there-was: call or fold. Chicken poker.
Several things happened simultaneously. The crystal in his hands shattered. He was hit, knocked rolling, by something of no great size but infinite momentum. And there wasn’t a single scrap of magic left in the dark basement.
And the child was all over him, grabbing everything she could get ahold of, hanging on like she was scared she’d be yanked away next second like had happened before. And him just as crazy, making sure she smelled right and tasted right and had the right number of fingers and features and limbs: that everything about her was exactly as it should be, exactly as with such difficulty he’d contrived not to forget. And it was, it was all right.
She was babbling, “I was so scared, so scared you wouldn’t guess, know the connection was both ways and take proper hold, I was so scared what I took wouldn’t be enough--”
Spike was content to just keep holding her close, with the weight all proper and her long legs, jeans and everything, exactly as she’d been when he’d lost hold of her, waving around on the floor while she found fresh ways to hang on and reattach herself. Her breathing was right, and the heart in a hurry to make the blood move, and she really smelled very fine, like she always had, and he’d actually forgotten that but it was true and part of her just the same, although he’d forgotten. So if he’d forgotten anything else, that probably was all right too. Hadn’t been all up to him, after all: she’d done it herself, too, so she’d have known not to leave anything out.
Neither one of them, he thought, could have done it alone. He found it a very deep and satisfying thing, that she should have needed him and not just him needing her to bring this off.
And Dawn was saying fiercely, “It serves Them right and it will serve Them well. Dimensionality has to be all the way down, has to be here and now, not just the everything and everywhere, and I can be that to Them, I fucking well am that whether They like it or not. And I missed you so goddam much!”
“Missed you real bad too, Bit. Coming all unstuck, no end to it. Kept you with me as best I could, but it wasn’t enough, not nearly enough, an’ just exactly what did you take?”
Dawn sat back then, away from him, primly adjusting her clothes and her hair, little pats and tugs. “What I needed. And you don’t need to know the rest.”
“Yes, I do, Bit. An’ I’m not gonna face down Lady Gates and then turn around and let you get away with stuff. You tell me, now. What did you take?”
She gave him a long, measuring look that meant she was figuring precisely how much she could get away with. Looking innocent as all hell, as if that could gain her any mileage with him, as well as he knew her.
“Well, I’ll tell you this once, on condition that we never talk about it again and you forget it as quick as you can. Deal?”
She picked at her shirt, elaborately casual. “I took two things. One was a line of poetry. And the other was a piece of your soul. Knew you wouldn’t miss it, as little a piece as that. And it let me stay together and be and bring to me all the other pieces, so I’d be ready and all They’d have to do was let me go. All collected, all packed and waiting by the door, and it was a very tiny piece, and are you mad at me?”
“And what poetry did you take, pet?”
“It’s Blake. You have quite a lot of Blake, so I was pretty sure you wouldn’t mind since it was kind of an emergency, the only chance I was gonna get. Eternity is in love with the productions of Time. It seemed to fit, and I knew I could hang onto it and use it to keep being until you came. And are you pissed at me, Spike?”
“Just don’t do it again. Had enough misery getting that soul, I dunno how much yanking about it will stand without flying all to pieces. As to the poetry, that’s not strictly mine, so I guess there’s no harm in your taking it. You got enough now of what you need to keep you going, d’you think?”
Instead of answering, Dawn jumped up and started hauling him up too, though he was much too heavy for her, he had to consent and help. She started bouncing on her toes. “Come on, let’s tell Buffy, she’ll be so surprised!”
“Expect she will. That, at least. Go on, then.”
Dashing up the stairs, Dawn asked over her shoulder, “Did you get the bike? And will you take me out on it?”
“If you like, Bit. Whatever you please.”
Continued in Chapter Eight: Striking Distance