By Nan Dibble
Sequel to Old Blood
SECTION THREE: ENGAGEMENTS
Chapter Twelve: Patrol
Under other circumstances, Spike would have started drinking and not quit until he passed out. Just too much to deal with. Some of the things brilliant and splendid, and some so awful that his mind shied away even while their effects kept hitting him like the end of a bad fight when you couldn’t see the blows coming anymore and only knew when the next one knocked you crooked and staggering.
He watched Buffy dealing out weapons from the chest. The children were all about, coming and going, so he made himself wait until only the last few were left. That was long enough. He released himself to her, clove fast, kissed her hard and hungry, for all they’d spent the whole morning shagging like minks till he couldn’t tell where he left off and she began and didn’t want to, neither.
“Could do you right here,” he told her when he quit to let her breathe. And his demon wanted to. Hell with the children. Hell with the patrol. He could smell the morning all over her and wanted her again and still.
She took what breath she needed very quick and came back at him, her mouth a furnace of heat. All of her, scalding right through the clothes.
But there wasn’t time, and they both knew it, so they held back from utterly scandalizing the children, who’d cleared out fast anyhow. Not neither of them inclined to stop, breathing hard, except that time was too short to have another proper go that wouldn’t change or ease anything anyway.
“Tell me again,” he asked her, very soft.
“Didn’t hurt me. Just scared me. No: it scared me, you didn’t. Just too much, too strong. And too strange for me to deal, right away.” Buffy thumped him on the chest, demanding in a fierce whisper, “Stupid soul, leave him alone!”
But the soul still paid no heed, kept telling him he was wrong, and had hurt her, even though he knew, and she said, he’d done no such thing. All still confused and contrary and all running on the supercharged Slayer blood, so strong that he was pushed past his limits and felt as if he might shake himself to pieces.
He tried to make the same distinction as she had: it didn’t make any sense. But she did. All sorts of good sense and simple, powerful connections. He tried to hold to that and shove the other away.
But there was too much of the other to do that for long. The despairing panic, the wish to just be gone never mind how, that hadn’t been changed, only set aside, suppressed. Every now and again, it erupted nearly as strong as before and blindsided him. And like everything else it was powered, it ran roaring, on the Slayer blood.
Like swallowing down the living heart of heat. Enormous heat coiled into his core and radiating, pulsing, hardly cooled in him though nearly a day had passed. And coming so hard all twined into it, so sometimes he seemed still suspended in that moment, the finest he ever expected to know. Exploding and taking in simultaneously. Emptying completely and being ecstatically filled. Nothing else could be that fine. Nothing at all.
And then the damn soul would kick in with its wretched conviction of wrong, hurting her, destroying her, and all sense would drop out of everything again and he’d just want to curl up and die. If the wonder of feeding on and climaxing with a Slayer wasn’t right, then nothing was and everything dust and ashes and no hope at all.
Like she’d said: Way out on the far edge of nothing, where it’s all dark except for the fires. The world as hell.
And him too caught up in it to sort any of it or do anything except try to keep moving and not be overwhelmed.
Drinking himself insensible was a really appealing alternative except that anything short of that, he’d only have lost what sense and control he still had. Everything roiling in him so heavy and hot and fast, and then take the brakes off and wreck the steering.
Didn’t seem wise.
Seemed like utter fucking insanity, in fact. But then, so did all of it.
Second choice: go kill something.
Fortunately, that could be arranged.
Slayer was taking the witch, the children, and all the weapons in the van. As they pulled out, Spike turned to get the motorbike, searching his pockets for the key. Not finding it. Recalling then emptying his pockets so as not to waste the money--leave it for them, what he had. Must have dropped it then. Just what he didn’t need, one more damn thing getting away from him. He wheeled and started back toward the house, and there was Dawn, smugly holding up something in two prim fingers.
“Forget something?” she asked, snippy and provoking.
“Not in the mood, Bit.” But when he reached for the key, she closed her hand around it.
“Condition,” she said. “I go with.”
Almost, he took the key anyway. But not quite. He fisted his hand at his side to keep it there, make it mind. “’S’not what the Slayer said.”
“It’s what I say. Deal.”
“Get your helmet, then. Go on: not takin’ you without.”
While she scampered off to wherever she’d stashed it, Spike went to the bike and paced, trying to wind down. Nearly flashed out at her, and that wasn’t acceptable. When she came running back with the helmet and consented to hand over the key, Spike told her, “Bit, you sing small around me. Altogether out of patience here.”
Mounting up behind him, she responded cheerily, “Got my taser,” and he wasn’t quite sure what to make of that but decided best to leave it alone and pulled out.
Reaching Willy’s, the first thing Spike saw was Harris’ truck. And the second thing was the Watcher’s rental red Mustang, the new ugly design that had no style at all. Oh, fine. Wonderful. Spike kept going, slow and weaving through the crowd in the mustering place, and stopped the bike in the weeds out back, where it was dark and empty. Turning the key, he felt Dawn scrambling down and quick grabbed her arm and held her there, trying to think what to tell her.
“Dunno who to tell you to stay with. Red, maybe. Or Harris, yeah, that’s better. C’mon.”
There were vamps and other assorted demons everyplace--wandering around like Fourth of July, waiting for the fireworks. Like a fucking county fair except no Ferris wheel, no cheap prizes. A right glory of inhalables though: get stoned just standing in the vicinity. With Dawn in tow twisting and complaining, which set up ugly echoes of the night he’d lost her, Spike shoved whoever he found in his way, looking for Harris. Naturally they instead ran into Michael, who wanted to talk about the arrangements.
“Not now, Michael. Got to get this child off my hands,” Spike said, starting past, but Bit had set her feet and didn’t budge.
Wearing her hugest smile, Dawn stuck out her free hand. “Michael. Hi. I’ve been wanting to meet you. I’m Dawn.”
Mike’s eyes cut back to Spike for a clue what he was supposed to do. Spike sighed. “Dawn, this is Michael. Michael, Dawn’s mine and I’ll do anybody who so much as touches her. All clear here now?”
“Handshake count as touching?”
“No, go ahead and shake her fucking hand, she won’t quit else. Bit, you’re gonna drive me round the bend, you go on like this.”
Dawn of course paid no attention, shaking Michael’s hand and grinning like a fool, just like Mike wouldn’t drink her down in a second and three more like her if he got the chance. Really bad idea bringing her, should have bloody well walked if she wouldn’t give up the key, should turn right around and take her home now except that everybody else was here and he had things he was supposed to be seeing to. Goddam fucking hell.
Whole thing was a terrible idea and he should’ve never agreed to it.
Spotting Harris, Spike dragged Dawn away while she shouted goodbyes and “Nice to meet you!” like taking leave from bloody afternoon tea. Delivering her over to Harris, as much as he could considering Harris had both hands occupied with food, Spike directed, “Get her home, she’s got no business bein’ here in the first place. Chain her up, I don’t care, just get her out of here. Bit, you quit bein’ a bitch and mind Harris. Not all that fond of you at the moment, so you behave.”
As Spike turned away, Harris was asking Dawn who’d brought her, and Dawn said, and Harris yelled some smart remark, and Spike didn’t want to know about it, not at all.
Before he could find Mike again to get matters squared away he ran into Willy, coming out from behind a plank bar set up across a couple of sawhorses, and all Willy wanted to do was whinge on about Spike not showing up last night. Spike waited through it as the reasons for not pulling Willy’s face off grew less and less compelling and some of that must have shown, because Willy decided they’d settle up about it later and scuttled back behind the bar. Willy had no goddam complaint coming, he was getting a little over two vamps’ work for no more pay, considering the minions, and where the hell had they got to, anyway?
Time to get this fucking fools’ parade sorted and moving.
There were thirteen SITs and about thirty vamps divided into two troops. The Slayer was in charge of one and Spike had the other, with Mike seconding him. The plan was to loosely cordon off the two front gates of the school’s high chain link perimeter fence. There was a construction gate at the rear but Harris had padlocked it last night.
It wasn’t a full blockade: they weren’t yet fitted out for anything like that. The idea was to be waiting for whatever Biters emerged and take them down, judging in the process how well the mixed troops of vamps and SITs seemed to work.
The SITs had been trained to fight in pairs, one engaging, the other going for the kill. To each pair would be added two vamps. They’d do the engaging, a screen for the SITs and their tasers. Once the Biter was down, Spike or the Slayer would do the final honors with a two-handed battle axe.
Nothing fancy, nothing that depended on intricate coordination or split-second timing. Just see ‘em and slay ‘em. Seemed like a simple enough plan that nothing should go too wrong they couldn’t adjust to, get around.
Maybe twenty minutes after the troops moved into place, the first few Turok-han emerged: three of the stalking grey Biters, all headed toward the Slayer’s gate. Leaving Mike to mind things, Spike headed that way too. He called JoAnne, Chloe, and their pair of vamps to him, to draw the first Biter off and leave Buffy and the rest with only two to deal with. Needed space to do a Biter, especially with tasers in the mix. The three were dusted with minor damage to one of the vamps. Spike returned to the other gate.
Maybe ten minutes later, two more Turok-han came out to be dusted. Spike loaned Mike the axe and let him do the honors. Did all right, and nobody hurt this time.
One of the SITs, Vi, found a pie plate in the weeds. She, Kim, and one of the vamps, a little red-headed runt, started playing Frisbee catch with it. Spike took the axe back and leaned on it. Two more vamps joined the Frisbee game. Sides were chosen, a midline was scraped in the dirt, and they started keeping score. The vamp who’d been hurt began grousing because she couldn’t play.
Spike tipped the axe against the fence and started pacing. He didn’t recall a night when fewer than fifteen, sixteen Turok-han were wandering around in Sunnydale. Certainly not a Saturday, the best hunting night of the week. Something off.
He checked the area inside the fence lit by the school’s roof-mounted floodlights, found it clear, and went over to Buffy. “Give it some more time, if you want, but I say declare a victory and pack it in. If they ain’t come by now, they’re not coming.”
“Somewhat less than exciting,” Buffy agreed. “On the up side, everybody seems to be playing nice….”
Two of the vamps got into each other’s faces over who’d touched the pie plate first. Mike started over to settle them down. And Buffy’s head whipped around as if she’d heard something Spike hadn’t, which wasn’t likely.
Willow in her head. Well, at least Red seemed to have learned not to do him like that. He wondered that Buffy still put up with it.
From Buffy’s changing expression, the news wasn’t good, no surprise. She said, “On the radio. At the hospital. What sounds like about ten Turok-han, except they’re claiming they’re something or other escaped from the zoo. We don’t even have a zoo, Spike.”
Spike thought that the evening was looking up again.
The hot-wired 6 x 6 jerked to a rough halt outside the Emergency dock Spike had come to know quite well, and all the vamps piled out. Slayer and the SITs, female and human, could waltz in through the front a lot more acceptably than a mixed bunch of vamps in game-face. This way was best.
A few people down, crudely broken and dead, around the entrance and back by the admissions desk. There was a security camera: Spike swiped and broke it with the long-handled axe, idly wondering what’d be made of the tapes. More escaped zoo animals, most likely. Martians from Andromeda. No matter.
Once inside, it was no problem knowing which way to head: follow the smell of blood wafting so strong down the elevator shaft. Like music heard from far off. And deafening the nearer you came.
For the first second, when they all spilled from the elevators on the upper floor, it was more than Spike could take in. No sign of Turok-han: first thing he’d looked for. Instead, the general ward or whatever they called it, where Dawn had ended up that time her arm got broke in a car wreck with Red, some sixty beds all lined up, two sides, and most of them filled, was the worst mess Spike had ever seen, and that was including several battlefields. Except only a few dead. A couple of burly orderlies, some medical people--nurses or doctors with stethoscope necklaces and clipped IDs--and one man whose uniform suggested internal security, all dispatched and cleanly drained.
The rest, all the patients, had been opened and left to bleed.
A few maybe that could have been fixed, on their feet or flopping around with some energy. But that wasn’t the point or the issue anymore. Not after the vamps saw the buffet that the overwhelming sweet strong bloodsmell had drawn them to and began doing what vamps inevitably would do when presented with such a richness all laid out for them.
Walking forward into the ward, Spike set two hands wide on the axe and pushed it against a pillar, cracking the haft as near the blade as he could manage. That had to be first.
Then he said, “On the floor or you’re gone.” No need to shout. The ward was silent and they were all vampires.
Not a one paid any heed. Not even Michael, still standing by the elevators and scowling, trying to make out what this was and what it meant.
Methodical and fast, Spike started doing them all. He’d dusted maybe five before those not still obliviously feeding reacted, realized, and came at him. Wild with the blood smell and the taste, as he might have been if he hadn’t fed so splendidly the night before. No different except he could keep himself from it and they could not. No different except they’d crossed his word and he knew, as at least the younger ones didn’t, what had to follow from that.
From behind the nurse’s station, he had the reach on those coming at him long enough to dust two more before he had to move and dodge. In the open he cut the legs out from under as many as he could hit, sweeping hard to one side and then the other and then finishing those he’d taken down, quick terse punches of the butt-end of the stick crushing the rib cage into the heart and the dust following. There were fewer now because at least some of those who knew how things were had backed off and dropped flat near the set of big doors where the Slayer and the children were just bursting through.
Naturally it had taken them longer. The bait hadn’t been left for them, or the clear marked path. This set-up wasn’t for them though maybe the aftermath had been if they’d tried to interfere. As of course they would have. Among the reasons Spike had to settle it all first: before they could get involved; before the vamps could turn on them.
He had no time or attention to spare, just had to hope the Slayer had the sense to keep the children out of it, they could do no good now. If one of the feeding vamps came at them, they were well set to take it down and he’d dust it afterward if there was still need.
Michael was finally moving, approaching where Spike was holding off about eighteen vamps in the clear space between the ranked beds and still dusting them at a great rate, two or three a minute, the axe haft as easy as a pool cue in his hands. Whether Mike meant to help or attack made no matter, it was too late for that, and Spike put him down with the thick end of the haft between the eyes. The Slayer’s intent was more certain, but Spike shouted to her, “No! Tend to the children,” and for bloody once she did as she’d been told and retreated again.
Four of the vamps went at the SITs--maybe for hostages, maybe as a try for their weapons, there being nothing to hand but plastic, metal. Or maybe they’d been only hoping to get out the door. Didn’t matter. The children did ‘em, neat and tidy, their dust bursting over the ones on the floor. And after a little longer the vamps on the floor, and Michael starting to stir, were the only ones left.
Spike went and stood over the nearest one lying there. The vamp, the little red-headed one, exclaimed, “I submit!”
Spike tapped his shoulder with the haft, and he rolled over. Blood on his mouth. Spike dusted him with a quick punch of the stick. Went to the next one, and the same.
The last two were clean-faced, either had the sense to lick it off or hadn’t had the chance to begin feeding but no matter, good enough.
To each of them, Spike said, “I accept your submission. You have your life from my hand. Get up.”
Then he turned back to Michael, who was on his feet by then.
Mike said, “Would have helped. Looked like fun.” Not easy for him to talk, most likely, because Spike had hit him clean: busted the nose, likely driven some of the bone into the brain, but that couldn’t keep a vamp down for long. Barely give him a headache, if he’d lasted long enough for one to develop. Blood running down his face, eyes starting to swell shut. Not a pretty sight.
“Should have been,” Spike agreed. “Wasn’t, somehow. Maybe it’s getting played takes some of the fun out of it. Have to do you now, Michael.”
Spike shook his head. “’S’not the way it works.”
Amazing he could scowl with his face in such condition, but Mike managed it, pointing to the two vamps, now minions, that Spike had spared.
Spike shook his head again. The lad really didn’t know anything. “They were under your word. You’re accountable, that they didn’t mind. An’ then that they came at me. That’s on you, Michael. They maybe get the option to submit. You’d have to earn it.”
At least Mike didn’t ask how he could do that. The lad was ignorant, not stupid, or no more than most. He stood a minute, deciding, then came at Spike quick, an arm raised to fend off the stick, going for the stick.
Spike reversed it, spinning back the part Mike was reaching for and beating him down with the other, backing, circling, sliding his two hands lower until he was wielding nearly the full length. Struck a wrist, busted that, but couldn’t get the right angle on the other and swatted Mike in the ribs a few times, swinging the stick like a bat. Got the angle then and struck the other wrist, a solid, disabling blow. Sprang away when Mike lunged but the lad had done well, inside the stick’s swing and trying to yank Spike’s feet out but couldn’t do that, not with both wrists busted and Spike’s feet and balance set as they should be.
The stick couldn’t swing at Mike so close, but Spike held it vertical by the center and brought it down with the full strength of his back and arms. Cracked Mike’s shoulder and then the collarbone when Mike flopped over onto his back.
Spike stood over him, the stick poised high and straight. “You done now, Michael?”
Mike strained for a moment, couldn’t get any leverage, any way to push off, and fell back flat again. “Guess so.” His eyes, swollen all but shut and clouded with blood anyway, tried to focus on the end of the stick.
“Now you got the option. I suggest you take it.”
Either the boyo wasn’t thinking any too clear anymore or it took him a minute or two to make up his mind to it. Then he said flatly, “I submit,” and sagged even flatter, which Spike wouldn’t have thought possible.
“I accept your submission, Michael. You have your life from my hand. Now get up and help the children figure if there’s any here like to live if they’re seen to.”
Mike tried again, then reported dully, “Can’t.”
Spike turned. “’Manda, help Michael here get on his feet so he can do what I told him.”
Spike reflected that sometime he’d explain it to Mike--pack structure, and subordination, and what fealty and submission entailed and what was owed in return. Why some subordinate vamp might be allowed to submit after disobedience or failure but not one in a position of trust. Not till he’d been beaten down and on the point of death or the submission would never hold, never mean what it should. Could never trust the lad again otherwise. So next time, Mike would know such things and know how to do.
Such teaching was one of the things that was fit between master and minion.
And the first terrible thing was that it all made perfect, unquestioned sense.
And the second terrible thing was that the soul made no protest. Smug and aloof and indifferent to any pain that wasn’t human.
Spike flung the axe haft away.
Continued in Chapter Thirteen: Retreats and Approaches