By Nan Dibble
Sequel to Old Blood
SECTION THREE: ENGAGEMENTS
Chapter Nine: On Notice
After breakfast, Willow checked around the house, upstairs and down, and found no anomalous stranger who might be the Dawn, that Buffy had said was back. Willow was curious: the only artificial being she’d ever encountered was the BuffyBot, which could pass for human only if you squinted real hard and didn’t really listen to its chirpy pre-programmed nonsense. By all evidence, this Dawn was an entirely different fettle of kish who’d passed for years, unremarked and accepted. An artifact, a made thing, and yet person enough that an unsouled vampire could become deeply attached, if Willow had the chronology anything like right.
The only other time Willow had seen Spike that agitated was when Drusilla had dumped him and he’d tried to coerce a love spell from Willow to get his undead sweetie back. Big fiasco, of course. You think you have somebody all figured out, a feckless vamp with absolutely no magical affinity, incapable even of a love spell, your basic muscle-head who’d certainly never impressed you with anything resembling blinding intelligence, always trailing lovelorn after some woman or other he’d fixed his pathetic affections on for no discernable reason except that she didn’t want him, and then he goes and pulls off something like this, that Willow herself, a powerful witch, didn’t know how to undertake.
Inexplicable. Vaguely annoying. Intriguing.
Finding no Dawn anywhere around, Willow widened her search. She cut through the back yard and beyond the break in the hedge she found Spike’s contingent of SITs spread out in pairs, engaged in what looked like staking practice.
Sure enough, there was Spike on the shaded porch in conversation with a leggy mid-teen girl with long brown hair whom Willow was quite certain she’d never seen before.
Spike and the Dawn both looked up as Willow approached. Spike said neutrally, “Red,” and the Dawn said cheerily, “Hi, Willow.”
Willow made a smile as she sat on the grass. When she looked up, the Dawn’s expression had changed to wistful and a little pained.
“Sorry,” the Dawn said. “For a minute, I forgot that you forgot. But the upside is, maybe you’ll see how wretched forgetfulness spells really are, like the ones you put on Tara, and everybody.”
Willow couldn’t have been more astonished and indignant if the girl had punched her in the mouth.
“Now, Bit, that’s not nice,” Spike commented.
“Sure, like I’m gonna take Emily Post lessons from the not-so-evil semi-undead,” the girl shot back at him pertly.
“Well, you could consider when even a vamp tells you to mind your manners, chances are you been pretty egregious.”
“Egregious, that’s a fine word. Right up there with effulgent.” Clearly, that was some kind of inside joke, by Spike’s answering expression.
“Well, that could be, too. Anyway it’s not Red’s fault she doesn’t recollect you, an’ she was quite a lot of help in getting you home, so you be nice to her before she turns you slightly into a frog here.”
“She’d never do that,” retorted the Dawn smugly. “She has frog fear.”
Willow’s astonishment and indignation went wide like a huge balloon. What was this creature and how could she know such things about Willow when Willow knew next to nothing about her? Willow felt naked and defenseless, like that bad sort of dream where you were in front of a class or an audience and forgot all your lines, naked and everything and had to hope nobody would notice if you just kept talking. Yet underneath there remained the cool, impersonal curiosity that had wondered what Warren would look like without his skin. That never changed. That still scared her, yanked her back from the brink of actually touching, seizing hold of the currents of power she felt randomly twining and surging around her all the time: currents yearning for direction and guidance; yearning to be used.
That’s what other people didn’t know: that chaotic energy had an intrinsic yen to make sense, yearned for shape and purpose, had a hungry affinity for any strong intention in those attuned to it. As Willow was. Irrevocably. When you used it, it became magic. But as long as you didn’t, it remained only the eddy and flow of undifferentiated unclaimed energy sloshing around like the ocean out of sight of land.
Looking with other vision, Willow examined the Dawn’s aura. It was surprisingly unremarkable--exactly what you’d expect with a healthy girl that age: white-yellow and cheerful, filmy, pretty shapeless and not closely conforming to body contours. The edges were shaded to peach, to pink where her aura and the vampire’s overlapped and fuzzed into each other. Quite an ordinary aura for a girl comfortable with a close friend.
Instead, it was Spike’s aura that was strikingly abnormal.
Since the body was animated by supernatural forces and its merely Natural functions were scaled down and simple, about on the level of your basic garden slug, vampires didn’t generate much of a bioenergy field. The aura was characteristically dark-toned, uniform, and tight to the body contour. Brown-black at rest, shot through with white-yellow streaks in pain or psychological distress, red-black in sullen bloodthirst, and a deep maroon when that thirst had been satisfied. Change only within a narrow range and not much variation from head to foot.
When Spike had suffered a severe injury to his hands, some weeks ago, Willow had used his aura as a diagnostic. Allowing for the injury, it had been about what she would have expected. Since then, she’d had no reason to check it. She was surprised to find it flared wide, nearly across the whole of the porch, and comprised of almost as many flowing hues and shadings as a human’s, instead of the stable vamp monochrome that was typical even for him. The base color was slate blue, most intense around the torso, more transparent and thinner around the limbs, then heavily dark again at the hands, streaked there with small explosions of cerise and vermilion: he’d been killing recently and the energy and effect of that was still apparent in his hands. Deep maroon at the core: he’d fed well not long ago. His aura engulfed the Dawn’s almost completely like a protective bubble, but the overlay was neutral, merely bright: hers was the only color apparent. So the impression was benign, not one of overwhelming, devouring influence.
He’d been messing with quite a lot of aethereal energy, great whacking gobs of it. Had to be the residuum of the Dawn spellcasting. Since becoming able to discern such things, Willow had never seen such an energy-charged aura except on Rack, an active sorcerer; on a vamp it was just ridiculous, disproportionate, like a tuxedo on a pig or a Vibrant Crown on a Chihuahua.
Filing the strange aura for future thought, Willow brought her mind firmly back to the matter at hand, asking, “What exactly did you do to get her back?”
Spike looked aside, obviously deciding whether to answer or not. Finally, he asked bluntly, ‘Why?”
It wasn’t so much a hostile question as one that required a good reason.
Willow spread her hands and offered one of her most upbeat, harmless smiles. “Professional curiosity. Most vamps can’t manipulate magic at all without a heavy-duty talisman or a detailed, pre-formulated spell. And a sacrifice dedicated and shed as the power source. So I wondered what you used.”
Spike returned his attention to the chore he’d been performing: sharpening a stake. A rather peculiar occupation for a vampire, but Willow thought it better not to comment. He said, “Mostly, it was dickering. Not magic. Sort of hard to describe.”
“What did you use to power it?”
“Feelings, mostly. At least that’s all I knew of. Oh, and what remained from the blood spell. That’s all gone now.”
With the place of the conjuration identified, Willow was able to infer some of the mechanics. He’d used the crystals she’d set in the basement, that was obvious, and powered it with the residue of the blood magic. “How did you reconstruct her? How did you make the template, or whatever you used? How do you even make a template for a personality that was a construct to begin with?”
Spike glanced at the girl, then back at his hands. “Don’t believe I care to discuss that, sorry. Maybe sometime Bit can say, if she feels like it.” His face lifted and changed subtly: not quite vamp-face, but not quite human, either. “An’ if you get into my head about this, or about anything without my say-so, I’ll be way beyond annoyed. You get some slack from me for the help, that’s appreciated. But it don’t extend to you getting into my head. Not saying you would, or mean to. Just telling you, so you’ll know.”
Well, Willow hadn’t really expected a vampire to talk sorcerous shop with her. It was entirely possible he just didn’t want to admit he had no clear idea how he’d done it, that he’d fluked out lucky.
And there was little point seeking information from the Dawn, the artifact: she’d probably be the last one to have any idea how she’d been made.
But the possibility of making a convincing simulacrum, a complete living person recreated somehow out of memory, was far too intriguing to be left alone. Willow thought she could interpret and translate from any account, however ill-informed and incoherent.
Offering the Dawn polite congratulations on her return, Willow took her leave, trying to think what leverage, pressure, she could bring to bear on Spike to make him tell.
Watching Willow walk away, Dawn leaned confidingly against Spike’s tatted arm, that was hers. “She thinks you made me.”
“Don’t see that it matters. An’ I don’t think it’s specially wise to claim acquaintance with Lady Gates, to a witch. Don’t think it’s any of her proper business, actually, but you do what you please, Bit.”
“I think she wants Tara back.”
Spike set a finished stake aside and collected a fresh dowel, taking more time in choosing than was really needed. “Could be. You well might be right about that. Tara was a fine girl, an’ they certainly were close. Magic brought them together and then the magic pushed them apart…. Natural she’d miss her, specially now with Kennedy an’ all. Doesn’t begin to measure up. But I think if that could be done by magic, she’d have done it already. Not that I know a whole lot about it.”
“She thinks you do. Even an idiot can have the right answer sometimes.”
Spike smiled and didn’t say anything.
“Seriously,” Dawn said. “She thinks I’m a thing and you’re an idiot, and thinks you have something she really, really wants that you just told her you wouldn’t give her. That would make me nervous if I were you.”
“Don’t believe there’ll be time for her to get up to much mischief. Things are gonna head downhill pretty quick now. Don’t you worry, Bit. No harm coming from that direction and what comes, I’m making for myself, don’t need extra help.”
“You mean the patrol?”
“That, yeah. And some other stuff simmering about. Just glad we got you back all safe before anything more…develops.”
Dawn didn’t like it when Spike was evasive and cryptic. If whatever he had in mind was really chancy, it gave her no opportunity to talk him out of it. Which was probably why he wouldn’t tell her.
They traded a look: bland on his side, suspicious and full of misgivings on hers.
Vampires seemed so fragile to her. One small accident with a pointy stick and poof, they were gone, just like that. Dawn shook her head, frowning, and squeezed his arm so he’d know she wasn’t happy about this.
She said gloomily, “I worry about you sometimes.”
“Only sometimes? Then things must be far too quiet.”
“Thing,” he retorted.
She poked him in the shoulder but it didn’t make her feel any better.
A little before midday, after Dawn had gone off, Spike called the children into the house. Not enough shade was left on the porch, and the house had a good-sized front room, space for everybody all together: one reason he’d chosen it. He settled on the floor, and the SITs ranged themselves around, choosing favored places. Over the past weeks, they’d come to feel at home here.
And almost every single one had chosen a taser, chosen the vamp patrol. At least partly because he’d been the one to propose it and ask for volunteers. He felt the responsibility of that.
“Now bear with me,” he said, paying lots of attention to the proper lighting of a cigarette, “because you know all my tricks now, and I don’t know how to say. So it won’t sound like much. But I made you all a promise, and after tomorrow, it can’t be like that anymore. I told each of you I’d keep you from death. An’ so far that’s been all right, we done that. Not just me: you all know that perfectly well. But that was what I said. What I promised. I taught you as best I know, an’ I never once told you anything but what’s true, as best I know. And you all done very fine, learned and done what you could with no shirking and no complaints. So now it’s yours to see to, because I can’t.
“When you’re dealing with other vamps, as you will be, don’t you go by me. I’m real old, and most you’ll run into are hardly past fledges--as young, in the vampire way, as you are in yours. So they’re mostly dumb an’ don’t think about what they’re doing before they do it, and sometimes not even then. You watch ‘em close and watch yourselves and each other. I call you children because that’s how I think of you, but when the Slayer was your age, she’d already been Slayer for a year. She didn’t get much chance to be a child, and you won’t neither. And the fact is, I can’t keep you from death. Only you can. So I give you back to yourselves, to do that.” He held up his spread left hand, like taking a wrong-handed oath. “From my hand, back to your own. To keep yourselves safe--”
Amanda unwound from her seat on the couch and came and took his upraised hand in both hers, which was all right, no great matter, but then she bent and kissed him on the forehead and that upset him, that was more than what was called for. But because Amanda had done it they all wanted to, of course, and turning his head and trying to wave them off made no difference, they were stubborn and it wasn’t what he’d intended at all.
He’d only meant to take proper leave of them and end the promise he could no longer keep. Instead, it felt like forgiveness for whatever he’d not done or done wrong and he’d surely not earned that, not from them. Not from anyone. And there was nothing he could do with a feeling like that, nowhere for it to go. Not at all what a vampire should feel toward such a delicious smelling bunch of children.
So he told them they were stupid bints and got away into the basement the first chance they gave him.
And the worst part of it was that he still had the other pack, nominally Buffy’s, to do it all again with because he’d made them the same promise too, all the SITs. Well, he wouldn’t, that’s all. Now he knew how they were apt to behave, he’d just have Buffy tell them. Totally fucking inappropriate. Tell her when he saw her tonight, make her take care of it because no way was he gonna go through a thing like that twice.
As it happened, Buffy chickened out too and she didn’t think it was fair for Spike to ask her to make an announcement that sounded, to her, really close to, “Goodbye, good luck, now go out and get killed.”
Tonight’s patrol had been called off in favor of a practice. A SIT, Vi, perched on a ladder to approximate the height of a Turok-han, and the rest of the Potentials took turns to swipe and poke at her. Buffy told the leaders of Spike’s troop to pass along that unfortunate hail and farewell to the members of her troop and left it to them.
It had been a really rotten day. When she’d visited him after school, Giles made it clear that he considered any alliance with vampires to be doomed and the equivalent to selling your soul to the Devil. Cheap. The phrase “a shameful expediency” had been used. Then they’d gotten into the whole issue of Spike training the SITs again, something Giles had never approved of: on principle, he insisted, rather than any criticism of Spike personally or of how he’d actually handled it. “But you cannot and must not forget, Buffy, that he is a vampire! He simply cannot perceive the serious moral issues which accepting any vampire as an equal automatically raises. And I must assume, since you have again taken him as your lover, that neither can you.”
And when Buffy had brought up the excuse of the soul, Giles had dismissed it on the grounds that Ethan Rayne’s soul had done nothing to hold him back from malign sorcery. Nor had Willow’s. “The soul, Buffy, is all well and good, and I respect Spike for the attempt. He has done something I never conceived any vampire would do of his own accord. Nevertheless, all anyone has seen from him is insanity and confusion: neither guilt nor anything resembling repentance. A soul is no guarantee of right action for any creature, let alone one naturally so inclined toward evil, violence, and cruelty as a vampire.”
And on and on. Wicked evil soulless demon monster vampire thing, blah, blah, blah. Buffy had ended the rant only by leaving, with the very minimal satisfaction of having virtuously solicited and listened to Giles’ opinion, negative and unhelpful as it was.
She’d had no better luck with Anya, as she explained to Spike, lurking moodily by the hedge, when he asked her about it. Turning together, they ambled along the hedge to the sidewalk while Buffy groused, “All I could do is get Anya to agree to hold it after the patrol, not before. She’s set it up with Willy. Demon-human solidarity, yea rah. Real big honkin’ clue there’s liquor involved. The whole thing is iffy enough without a whole bunch of the vamps, or even the SITs, bombed out of their minds from the get-go.”
“Sorry, pet. Anya gets hold of a thing, sometimes, there’s no stopping her.”
Stopping and starting by an undefined restless inertia, they continued slowly along the sidewalk toward the corner of Brown, where they might turn or not. No choice had to be made right away, just walking.
Buffy said, “And I talked to Giles. No joy there. No surprise, either, I guess. But at least I tried….”
“Rupert doesn’t put much trust in vamps, and we pretty much think alike about that. So I don’t fault him for it. But we’re all out of good choices here, an’ some of the bad ones are worse than others.”
Buffy mentioned, “He doesn’t think you’re sorry enough.” She glanced up and, no surprise, Spike’s face had gone stormy and sullen.
“He don’t know nothing about that. That’s my concern. He can think what he likes.”
Having reached the corner, they hung up under the street light there.
“And to top everything off,” Buffy said, still watching him, “I had another little visit from the First today. Just what I needed.”
“That a fact. Who was it doin’ this time.”
Buffy sighed, a little more choked and shaky than she’d meant. “My mom. Really creepy. All reasonable and concerned.”
“An’ what did it say, Slayer?” Spike prompted, like the set-up line of a joke.
Except the punchline wasn’t funny. Not even a little. “Oh, the usual, how we’re all gonna die, that kind of thing. And…that you’ve been killing again.”
“Ahuh. And are you gonna ask me, pet?”
From Slayer to pet in two sentences. That was almost a record. Buffy pushed at her hair wearily. “When something goes bad, just tell me, all right? I know what it’s doing. But I can’t have that on my mind. Can’t wonder about it. Either I trust you or I don’t. And I do. I have to.”
As she lifted, he bent and they were kissing with fierce intensity. It really had been a wretched day. And the turn onto Brown had been made so they probably both knew where they were headed now.
“That thing,” Spike said. “That you asked the other night, and I said no.” A quick glance to see if she understood. “Maybe I was wrong. If you still want.”
Yet another uncomfortable thing to decide. And yet he’d given in, when she’d been certain he wouldn’t. And it was about trust, after all, and therefore maybe a way to reaffirm and heal it, if healing was needed. Buffy leaned her head against Spike’s arm. “We’re both edgy and tired. Maybe it’s not a good time to try new things. If it’s gonna bother you, let it go. I don’t want to make things hard for you. Not exactly….”
She checked, and that unintended double entendre had won a small, tight smile.
He said, “I want it to be how you want. Whatever that is. Want to make you happy and glow all over, like you do. An’ see it in your eyes, that it’s me you’re with and no other, and glad of that. Don’t want to hold anything back. Want to put my mark on you and make you shout for me when you come, and set all the sorrow aside.”
She checked again, and his face was gentle and intense. Wide and unfathomable, his eyes drew her in as they always did and always had. It seemed to her that his gaze saw her all the way down, as far as she went, and she felt it like that. Heat gathered and a fluttering sensation began as though a bird were trapped deep inside.
She said, “I want you free and joyous and strong, coming to me. I want to be whatever you need me to be. I want you proud and content with yourself because your crazy pieces fit my crazy pieces just right. And know that there’s nobody else I would ever want to be with except you. I want you to explode so hard you feel like you’re coming all apart but you won’t because I’ll hold you safe forever. And I want--”
His mouth stopped her.
They went inside the house, and down.
Their loving had all sorts of moods because it connected to so many things. Sometimes they played with the delays, making a huge production and argument over the removal of clothes, and who was allowed, and what stayed nonsensically, even inconveniently, on. Sometimes quite a lot of it was talk, skeptical, daring one another, sassy backtalk and pretended haughtiness, pushes and slaps and the occasional elbow going abruptly astray against something sensitive, provoking pretended startlement, injury, and retaliation, back and forth, tit for tat. And sometimes there were no words at all, nearly like one of their old battles: because they could, and they were both deeply into the body and that was best sometimes, punishing and sudden. Other times were silly and teasing, extreme tickling, and having to stop for the laughter. And some times were indescribably intense and a little slow, their eyes on one another most of the time, watching, conversing with touch and pressure and long repetitions that became nearly unendurable before they changed and shifted, always watching. Eyes shutting because it was so good you had to try to draw it in and hold it, keep it like held breath, became an event all by itself.
This was one of the intense, slow times. No play in it, clothes carelessly discarded without fuss, and then skin contact, amassing the first slow frictions until there was noplace that wasn’t alive and aching for harder pressure, more contact. He could make her crazy holding her just slightly off balance, never quite secure, always trying unconsciously to right herself. He’d told her once that was like music: dissonances, off tempos, and then the great major chord to declare. She tumbled and was tumbled back, suspended, shuddering, being readied for that declaration.
More than usual he required her attention, lifting her chin and waiting for her eyes to find focus, come out of their daze and greet him before he’d resume. Breathing deep in a heavy rhythm as he did when aroused as though that was somehow hardwired into him, the unnecessary breath, so she always knew and felt it in him, more persuasive and intimate than the more obvious signs because it was so peculiarly his own.
Another thing she felt in him was old, recognized and resisted for so long: his generosity. He gave her beautiful smiles when her breath began to hitch and he noted and displayed to her evidences of her arousal as though they were achievements to be proud of, as though she were doing something astonishing and splendid of her own brilliance. There was in him, at such times, no vanity at all and a giving so complete and self-forgetful it seemed to her a kind of innocence and infinitely precious. And in the moment when everything balanced, collided, and convulsed, shock upon shock roaring through her, he called her wonderful names and encouraged her and kept the shocks rolling beyond what she thought she could endure, and then gentled and petted her for as long as it took her to come back within her body from wherever the convulsions had flung her. Cool against her heat, making a cradle for her with his body, everything softly balanced now and at rest as long as she wished it to be.
But he hadn’t changed. And he was still unsatisfied.
She touched him intimately and asked a half-frowning question with her eyes. His answer was to gently move from under her and pad across to the bureau. She knew then what he’d gone for and sat on the edge of the bed. Returning, he spilled into her lap the four silk scarves used for tying. So as not to disturb her he circled the bed and from that side stretched out flat on his back, arms extended toward the corners of the big bed, waiting.
Buffy picked at the scarves uneasily. This wasn’t how she’d visualized it. The tying and surrender had their place but she hadn’t thought of them in conjunction with his changing. It was too much like the manacles he’d subjected himself to in her basement. To control him when he couldn’t control himself. It wasn’t what she’d meant.
When she looked around at him, he was staring at her, already golden-eyed. Still waiting. She understood then that this was his condition. He required it of her to do as she’d asked. It meant something to him, and this was part of it. So perhaps it would be all right anyway. Under other circumstances it had been acceptable and good, a fulfillment of what they’d needed from each other at that time. Slowly she wrapped around his left wrist the confining hitch that would neither tighten nor give, then fastened the remainder of the scarf securely to the thick brass corner post he probably could yank out of the frame if he truly tried. Then she did the same to his left ankle. A sudden pang of tenderness and concern made her stop and kiss him hard, reaching wide herself to entangle their fingers, reassure them both that this was no harm, only a chosen limit.
He told her softly, “It’s all right, love. Get to it now before I perish entirely.”
He brought down the other wrist to where she could reach and bind it, and she finished securing him with no further intermissions. She looked around then, and the golden eyes had faded back to cobalt.
He said, “When it’s time. Come to me now.”
The way of bondage was to tease the dumb reflexes. Make him need and try to move when the bonds prevented it. It was, in its way, the complimentary state to her being kept off balance, fooling the muscles with the deep suspicion of falling. Pit the restrained body against itself, overload with sensation and thereby set the rest free.
He had no responsibilities in this. He had ceded control of his body. He lay quiet, his eyes shut now so that every touch would come from nowhere, unexpected, and no warning of a repeat or a change unless she chose to give that to him.
She started with simple kissing, close long contact, barely enough to make him breathe. Presently, reaching out high and low, she began an irregular series of touches, grazes, flick and gone almost before he could react. She knew where his sensitivities were and began setting them off, no pattern to it, nothing to anticipate so everything aware and waiting. Involuntary jerks in reaction now, drawing hard on the silk, muscles beginning to fire off and not fully relax before the next shock came.
She began giving him heat: the heat of her mouth and her hot breath and the occasional but steady press of her hot hands. Touching him less the more he reacted. Making the flesh yearn toward her, unable to reach, unable not to try: impulses at odds with one another, heightening sensation, in aching suspense.
When she thought the rhythm of his breathing was about right she descended on his mouth with a devouring kiss, preventing him from getting any air at all. He didn’t need it, but that was another reflexive motion frustrated, tied, fighting for release. The control he’d surrendered to her was itself erotic: the awareness of power, the immediacy of what she could make him do with her hands and her mouth and teeth, her drifting hair trailed across slowly or slapped sudden and hard. With her weight now, the whole of her body raking across him only slightly lubricated by her sweat. Therefore friction, that she now needed herself, aroused and wanting, knowing he smelled that and was dragged by that to try to hold her still but she wouldn’t be still, moving and touching everywhere except where he wanted her.
At the first touch to his center his reaction nearly flung her off the bed. His eyes were finally open and wide-golden with no sense in them, flickering, absent: the only focus internal. The full true face emerged: what he’d always withheld before. Now it was there because she’d called it forth, it had answered her, terrible and beautiful and strange, the fanged mouth open, desperate to pull in enough breath. The body also changed but more subtly, appreciable only by touch and by the quicker, more insistent responses.
He was close, and she wanted him inside her when his release hit. She found her balance, kneeling. Then she quickly took him in. Both of them arched and shuddered. Almost immediately the first of the convulsions hit her: straining together and yet straining away, deep rhythmic shudders tightening in ecstatic waves. A lurch and then his chest lifted. A freed hand tangled in her hair and yanked her forward to meet the wide rising jaws and the fangs that buried themselves in her neck.
Continued in Chapter Ten: Crisis of Conscience