All About Spike
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Blood Kin
By Nan Dibble

Sequel to Old Blood

SECTION FOUR: STRATEGY



Chapter Thirteen: Retreats and Approaches

Leaning back against the slight recess of the loading bay, Spike put down a fair amount of bourbon, then passed the bottle back to Mike, letting it touch the back of Mike’s hand so he’d know it was there, waiting until it was held steady before letting go. The lad had one good hand, or good enough.

Mike’s face being a thorough train wreck, Spike had ripped off a long strip of sheet, there in the hospital, and made a blindfold/bandage, which rendered the lad a lot less conspicuous or at least conspicuous in a less alarming way. Spike and the three minions had left through Emergency Receiving without attracting any notice. As in, so out. And back--to Anya’s party.

Dark, quiet, and private, the familiar loading bay of Willy’s seemed as good a place as any. Blindfolded broken-ribbed Michael with his compound skull fracture and broken wrists would know where he was, what was roundabout, how things should sound and smell. He’d know Spike was there, wouldn’t let anything come at him while he was at such a disadvantage. Nothing much a minion had to worry about. That was Spike’s concern now.

For any injured vamp, treatment pretty much consisted of keeping still, time, as much blood as possible, alcohol as available, and not getting dead before you could move.

Being a modern lad, Michael preferred inhalables--odd because otherwise Mike didn’t smoke. In the process of coming up with some of that for him, Spike had been discovered by Anya: cruising the shallow edges of the party to roust anybody not enjoying themselves as required. Likely that was a bit of a chore, given that half the invited guests had been dusted. Anya fluttered some and tried to fuss over Mike, who showed the worst damage. Then she’d provided the bourbon, which was entirely handsome of her. First time Spike had ever known her to lay out actual coin on his account, unless it was some part of the party deal she’d made with Willy, whatever that was. Still nice of her, regardless.

If Turok-han had reduced thirty to just four, it would have constituted an appalling defeat. What being forced to do that reduction himself constituted, Spike didn’t like to think. Except for Michael, whatever Spike saw was a long distance away and that was where he wanted it. And Michael’s company was peaceable, no trouble, most everything simple and understood. Without layers.

Slayer had come into view awhile ago. Spike had stayed quiet and out of the light and she’d eventually gone off again. Layers there. Complications. Spike didn’t feel like dealing with that just now.

The other minions, Spike sometimes saw too, coming and going from the bar. There was something passing for music from a blue van with all its doors slid back, and a mix of demons, vamps, and humans, some of them Anya’s Chamber of Commerce contacts, milling about, some dancing. The minions had Spike’s leave to do that, help out: they hadn’t taken any damage so no reason not to second the five of them to Willy for the night. Got Spike off the hook, which was just as well since beyond getting as impaired as Michael as rapidly as possible and keeping track of the lad, he had no plans whatsoever.

Setting the bottle aside, Mike extended his right arm. “Think this might be ready,” he commented. Neutral. Not a request. Just saying it and then waiting.

Spike slid off the dock, waited a moment to be sure his balance would serve, then took hold of the hand and wrist, carefully feeling how the bones lay under the diminished swelling. “Yeah, seems about right. You set?”

“Go ahead.”

A steady tug eased the healing wrist bones back in line, like they should be.

Spike asked, “That feel better?”

“Expect it will. Other one will be ready soon.”

“Let’s see.” Spike inspected the other wrist with his fingertips. “Yeah, still too much swelling to hold it right. Pretty soon, though.”

Getting back onto the dock seemed too much effort. Spike just leaned a folded arm on it and that was good enough.

“You gonna teach me now?” Michael asked presently.

“Well, not this minute. But yeah. What I can.”

“All right.” Mike reached to find out where Spike was, then passed the bottle again. After a time, he said, “Could use some blood.”

“Healing will do that,” Spike agreed, and lifted the non-tat arm. Took him a moment to realize Mike didn’t know about that, how to do. And likely scared to guess, maybe be wrong. “Go ahead. ‘S’not sire’s blood, can’t give you that, but I’m your elder by a good bit in the same bloodline and it’ll serve well enough. Be pigs’ blood in the morning, can’t be helped, that’s what there is.”

“You sure?”

“About the pigs’ blood?”

“No. About this.” Carefully Michael laid a finger on Spike’s arm, then withdrew it.

“Don’t make me tell you things twice, Michael. It’s tiresome.”

With one good hand to steady, Mike found a convenient angle and began to feed. Drawing heavy and strong, as though from prey. Spike had to make himself pay attention and tell the lad to leave off before Mike drained him dry. Wouldn’t be fatal, only uncomfortable, awkward, and peculiar looking.

After sealing the mark and letting go, Mike commented wistfully, “That was good. Strong. Like to have some more later.”

“No, that’s all. Need it for myself. That will hold you till we get back.” Spike didn’t tell him what he’d tasted was the last ghostly sweetness of Slayer blood, at one remove, diluted, and now quite cold. Didn’t want him getting ideas about it, since it wasn’t for him. Wasn’t for Spike either, he reminded himself--not anytime soon. But sometime. Sometime again. Maybe….

“Get back where?”

“Where we’re going. All in good time, Michael. We’re here now. Enjoy the party.”

“Yeah,” responded Mike, accepting it. “Sounds like a good party.”

Spike didn’t know and didn’t care, so he didn’t answer. He’d been about to drifting and the feed had elevated that to a quiet float. The edge of the bay felt soft because he’d gone a little numb. More good than not. Demon came on stronger, to be watchful, and he didn’t resist or forbid.

“Dawn,” said Mike, and that made Spike lift his head and take notice.

And sure enough, it was Dawn, Amanda, and Kim coming with a flashlight.

Well, that was three of ‘em, all armed, so he supposed there was no harm in their wandering about and it was Dawn’s party after all, even if basically nobody knew that. He didn’t catch any smell of liquor off them, nor inhalables, so they were behaving in that respect.

When the light shone in his face, he raised an arm to shield his eyes. His demon found the light blinding and didn’t like it. “Quit that.”

Mike said, “Hi, Dawn,” and his demon sounded like it was leaning hard on a leash, yearning closer, and no wonder: all the children smelled very fine, but particularly Dawn. Couldn’t not notice a thing like that.

The light painted Michael quickly up and down. In something just short of an alarmed squeak, Dawn asked, “Michael?”

Michael turned his head and asked Spike, “OK to just talk?”

“Well. I s’pose. And Amanda and Kim are here too. Amanda, this is Michael. You make your manners now, so he’ll know you.”

The tall girl looked around helplessly and Spike realized she didn’t know how to do. Should take up a career as a social something. Something to occupy him….

“Give him your hand, ‘Manda. And Michael, you turn it loose. Let her go now, Michael. That’s fine. No damage. And Kim.” When Kim had likewise offered her hand, however nervously, and been politely released after a moment’s clasp, Spike said, “Now Michael, you gonna know them?” A nod. “Well, far as you’re concerned, they’re all mine, Michael. And you let them be. They’re not for you. They won’t hurt you and you don’t hurt them. All clear about that?”

Everybody seemed agreeable if uncertain, having no manners to speak of.

Amanda fidgeted in preparation, then asked, “How’s he gonna know us, Spike? His eyes are all covered up.”

“Child, he can smell you as well as I do. And now he knows that, and your voice, an’ a whole lot more than somebody else’d know just looking at you. He can tell you’re nervous an’ tired and should--”

“Spike,” said Dawn quickly, “I don’t really think ‘Manda wants to know that.”

Spike shrugged.

Dawn asked hesitantly, “Spike, are you still mad at me?”

“Why would I be mad at you, Bit?”

“Well, never mind. Can I ask you something, then?”

“Nothing complicated an’ nothing about blood,” Spike decided.

“I think I can avoid those. We were wondering. Why did you dust all those vamps in there?”

“Complicated. Or Michael, do you yet know the answer?”

“’Cause we didn’t stop when you said.” Mike turned his blindfolded face, to be told that was right and enough answer. Spike patted him reassuringly, which was easier than talking and probably better. Mike added quietly, “Think that other wrist….”

“Well, let’s see.” Spike examined it and found the swelling a lot less. Blood had done the boy some good. Spike concentrated, then tugged to make room for the healing wrist bones to straighten. “That feel about right?”

“Yeah, fine. Thanks.” Mike flexed the wrist cautiously, checking.

Mike was holding himself easer, less stiffly. The shoulderblade would be healed by now and ribs probably a fair way toward re-knitting, too. Collarbone was a looser connection and would take longer. But the lad should be close to mended by morning. Able to see and move and do, anyway, Spike judged.

Kim blurted, “How come he’s not mad at you, Spike?”

“Why d’you children go on so about everybody being mad?” Spike complained.

Dawn said, “Generally when you hit somebody until he can’t move, it’s because you’re mad at him, and he’s mad at you. And you’re not, and we don’t understand. Is it a guy thing? A vamp thing?”

“It’s a you’re a bloody nuisance thing. Well, ask him if you want. Then sod off. ‘M not in the mood to talk. Go have your goddam party.”

“Michael, why aren’t you mad at Spike?”

“Why would I be mad, Kim? I was wrong and didn’t know no better, and he’s gonna teach me.”

Some muttering and headshaking among the children Spike didn’t bother paying attention to.

But Dawn, she just wouldn’t shut up and go away, like he’d told her to. “Spike, how are you gonna get home?”

“Was a truck.” Spike recalled. “An’ my bike, too. Some way. Doesn’t matter”

“Xander, he has his truck. He’ll come for you, all right?”

“If you say,” Spike responded with complete indifference. Sunrise was a long distance off. Years, maybe. No point considering anything as far off as that.

As the children moved away, still chattering, Mike said, “They smell nice. Clean. And they’re all yours? Didn’t smell you on ‘em. Maybe Kim, a little…. And Dawn, she came with you: I saw that.”

“None of your concern, Michael. They’re not for you, an’ that’s all you need to know about it.”

“You got a lot of girls.” Again, that insinuating, wistful tone.

“You’re starting to annoy me again, Michael.” When Spike thoughtlessly pitched the empty bottle, Mike flinched and held still, not sure what was coming next. “It’s no harm. You just stay put where you are. Gonna get another. Won’t be long.”

“I could come. I can walk.”

“Not gonna leave you long. You stay, all right?”

“If a Biter--”

“I see Huey there aways. I’ll send him up to you.” Spike started toward the front, not really blaming the boy for his whinging. He was still mostly disabled and couldn’t see what might be coming, and that was frightening for a lad without much experience in being helpless. He’d have to learn that as a minion, it wasn’t his concern anymore.

Spike sent Huey to look after Mike, so that was all right. And he found he didn’t even have to manage the stairs because there was a plank bar set up outside. He’d seen that before but forgotten. He surveyed what was available and chose.

“Spike, you can’t--”

“Willy, I’m not in the mood.”

Spike was annoyed enough that his head cleared suddenly, quite a bit; his demon fierce and ready. He squared his balance and hit the stupid bugger, quite hard. Dumped him backward, out of sight. So that was all right. Enough backtalk.

He turned, and there was Rupert Giles, disgustingly sober, blue shirt and jacket with the elbow patches all tweed and donnish, looking at him like Spike was a dog he mildly regretted having to put down.

Spike didn’t say anything, just waited.

“I thought I should tell you,” the Watcher said. “I’ve been discussing certain matters with Buffy.”

And there wasn’t a whole lot Spike felt like saying about that either. So he just went on to take the fresh bottle to share with Michael, who’d be anxious.

**********

Sitting in the daylit front room at Casa Summers, Buffy thought it was just wretched for Spike to be absent during this grandmother and grandfather of all Giles lectures, resumed from that ghastly party she’d somehow gotten through without belting anybody, particularly Anya.

True, Spike hadn’t come home last night: when Xander had gone with the truck to collect him, he’d been nowhere to be found. Which was not necessarily anything to worry about, since there were dozens of vacant houses he could have laired up in for the day. And true, he therefore wouldn’t have known this lecture session was coming. And also true that the whole collapse of the SITs/vamp cooperation thing had probably been demoralizing to him most of all, since he’d had the most invested in it. And Spike’s reaction to demoralization was generally to get blind drunk for a few days, and that was almost certainly what he was doing, but it was still wretched and cowardly of him to leave her facing Giles all alone when Giles was incredibly not only talking about expanding the SITs/vamp thing beyond anything anybody had envisioned but about trying to coax Angel in to organize it!

Not that Angel couldn’t, Angel was a positive demon (pardon punnage) for methodical organization not even taking Mr. Hyde/Angelus into account, which she didn’t want to, not ever again, and not that organization wasn’t something Spike basically sucked at, and she did too; not even counting how easily the First had suckered them last night, contemptuously easy, like flicking an ant from your sandwich.

Not that that hospital ward had been anything like a sandwich of course--no food images of any kind were appropriate or tolerable. That had been pretty awful in fact and Amanda had barfed several times afterward, they’d had to stop the van and let her out, and Buffy had pretty much felt like barfing too. And heartsick, as well, for Spike, having to dust all those vamps rather than let them leech onto all the bleeding patients. That was almost equal to her single-handed single night record for stakings. Or maybe even over it, possibly. She forgot exactly what the record had been, except a lot. And his total last night had been definitely a lot. All there were except three, one of them Michael, who still made her rather nervous, not that she knew him all that well. Or, really, at all. And why Spike had left those three among the walking unbreathing undead, she had no idea.

Except that the occasion had been a vile set-up and sort of trap, Spike himself had been awesome and she’d been really disappointed he hadn’t come home last night so she could tell him so and maybe console or at least distract him….

She figured Spike felt really awful about it, but since she hadn’t been able to find him to ask him, she wasn’t 100% sure: it was risky to assume she knew or even could guess how Spike felt about so many things, so she really wanted to ask him before going all Sympathy-Girl on him, which might be exactly the wrong thing, and he certainly hadn’t come looking for her to cry on her shoulder or anything. So maybe he’d reacted some entirely different way. But it was still wretched of him not to be here.

Buffy tugged at the collar of her white turtle-neck to make extra sure it covered the new mark that Giles must never, ever see.

Sitting forward in the armchair while Buffy perched on the weapons chest, earnest, logical, and dauntingly certain, Giles was saying, “Spike’s experience, however disastrous in the short term, has served to make several things clear. One,” (he held up an illustrating finger, in case she wasn’t clear on what one was) “the vampires of Sunnydale have at least the potential willingness to oppose the First. Two,” (two fingers, duh) “if not outrageously provoked, they are capable of interacting with humans on something beyond a strictly predator/prey basis. At one point I observed a spontaneous game with a pie plate springing up. Although I gather in the abattoir at the hospital, some of the vampires actually did attack the Potentials-- Yes?”

Amanda and Dawn were standing in the doorway. Acknowledged by Giles, they crossed to the couch like Junior High Posture and Deportment and seated themselves primly.

“Yes?” Giles said again, this time slightly more sharply.

“We’ve had some rearrangements,” Amanda said, and swallowed hard. “We get to know about things now. And talk about them, before they’re decided. This is America, Mr. Giles.”

Dawn volunteered, “And I’m seconding for Spike.”

Giles furled his brow. “You are doing what?”

Dawn shrugged. “Deputizing. Sitting in for him.”

“You are doing nothing of the sort. Buffy--”

Quickly, not to lose the backup, anything was better than sitting here with Giles all alone, Buffy said, “Let them stay, Giles.” She did a huge shrug and dismissive-face. “It’s not as if they don’t live here. It isn’t as if they’re not gonna be expected to fight, no matter what happens. Not Dawn, of course. She--”

“Oh,” said Giles. “This is Dawn.”

They all turned Well, yeah expressions on him. Not quite enough to make him remove his glasses, but enough to keep him still, giving Dawn a long, thorough, frowning inspection not affected by Dawn’s smiling brightly at him and giving him a little fingers-wiggling wave.

Eventually, Giles asked Dawn, “And what are you, precisely?”

Dawn gave him a smaller composed smile and folded her hands. “Resident observer for the Powers That Be.”

“Good Lord.” That brought the glasses off and required a careful wipe of each lens with the handkerchief. Like who else in the known universe carries a pocket handkerchief? Buffy thought. Resuming the glasses and tucking the handkerchief away, Giles said, “And what evidence can you put forward to support this remarkable claim, young lady?”

“None I care to demonstrate at the present moment,” Dawn replied, cheerily unperturbed. “So it probably would be easier if you just consider me Spike and Buffy’s joint sister. Which in practical terms is what I am. Although that doesn’t mean, doesn’t in any way whatever mean that they are brother and sister, not a bit of it, no.” She wiped out that implication heavily with both spread hands.

“Good Lord.”

“You see,” Dawn went on, “I have a personal interest in, and really strong connection to, both of them. I was originally made from Buffy, psychologically and in part physically, to begin with: you may notice the family resemblance? And of course the Slayer/Key blood thing that Glory was so hot for, there for awhile, which is no longer an active issue, by the way. And I’m currently anchored on this plane because I abstracted a piece of Spike’s soul. With his consent, of course. Even though he didn’t know that was what I was gonna take. And it was a very little, teensy, unimportant piece, hardly worth considering, except that it’s enough of an anchor to hold me together and here. And he didn’t mind, he said so. And everybody please stop looking at me that way. It’s rude and it makes me nervous.”

Buffy blurted in a dire voice, “You took his soul?”

“It’s perfectly all right, Buffy, and it’s not as if you ever asked,” Dawn retorted and flipped her hair. “Spike asked, though. He asked right away, and I told him, and he said it was all right so long as I never did it again. And I never will.” Dawn finished with a So there face.

Buffy burst out, “Why didn’t you take all of it while you were about it?”

“Well, he fought so hard to get it--that wouldn’t have been nice! And who knew then it was gonna be the problem it is now? I’m not omniscient, Buffy!”

Buffy had the vague idea that was some sort of a bus but didn’t want to risk asking. She could look it up later provided she could get Dawn to spell it for her. Instead, she said, “Well, nobody said that you were,” which seemed safe. “Now Giles and I are talking about something very serious, and you can both stay on the condition that you don’t interrupt or make a nuisance of yourselves.” Finishing, Buffy smiled brightly at Giles, indicating that was all settled now and he should proceed. In case he didn’t get the point, she added, “You were saying, Giles. I think you were up to Two.” She showed him two fingers, which was obscene if you held them a certain way and you were British, so she showed him a polite American two, demonstrating the subtlety Spike found so appealing about her or so he said.

Giles sighed. “I’ve completely lost the thread of my argument. Dawn, we shall have to discuss this, in considerable detail, some other time. But to resume. There is reason to believe vampires could constitute a quite formidable fighting force, one that would extend the limited capabilities of the Slayers in Training by several orders of magnitude. But they lack the disposition. They lack discipline and training. And they lack leadership. It’s at least evident that the Order of Aurelius still carries considerable prestige, cachet I might term it, in Sunnydale from the Master’s long term of ascendancy. Or semi-ascendency, since he was essentially stuck in the Hellmouth and therefore unable, in fact, to ascend in any meaningful way except through the agency of his adherents and minions. Such as Darla. Who, report has it, is recently deceased. Again. Which leaves as the senior member of that lineage Angel, whom we all know, and you, Buffy, once professed to love. However unwisely.

“If we are to take advantage of this opportunity, it should be done properly. Angel must be enlisted.”

“Is that Two or Three?” Buffy inquired, thinking that Spike was never gonna agree to this and she wasn’t all that hot about the idea herself. Angel had a way of filling a room or a situation that left very little air for anybody else to breathe. And once he started on a thing, he never turned aside, never gave up. Worse than Spike, even, who’d been bad enough with the obsessive-stalker thing. Angel was that squared and cubed and many multiples beyond.

“We’d have to ask Spike first,” Dawn commented firmly.

“As it happens,” Giles responded, “I’ve already discussed this with Spike and have his agreement.”

“You do?” Dawn asked, jaw gaping unattractively. “You did? And he went alongwith it?”

“Precisely. To all of them. If necessary, he will confirm this. He is far from pleased at the prospect, as one might imagine. But he will not oppose it.”

Buffy said, “I’m sorry, Giles. But I’d have to hear that from him.”

Amanda whispered to Dawn, “Who’s Angel?” and Dawn shushed her. That should make an interesting explanation. And not a short one. And how would Dawn know anyway? She hadn’t even been fabricated then, or whatever the right word was. Maybe that could come right after the explanation of who or what the hell were the Powers That Be, that Giles seemed so impressed with or alarmed by, she wasn’t sure which. Buffy didn’t recall ever having heard the phrase before.

But one thing was certain: Spike was gonna absolutely hate this, and if he’d given Giles his OK on it, Buffy was gonna have to hear it from him, and why, and why the hell he hadn’t said word one about it to her but had let her get blindsided by Giles about it with no advance warning.

Giles said, “May I assume, Buffy, that when Spike confirms what I’ve said, you’ll undertake to convince Angel to involve himself in this?”

“Maybe,” Buffy said. “I’ll give you a definite maybe on that. Because if Angel gets into this, the whole game changes. And I have to think out for myself if that’s likely to be a good thing or not. Because I’m the Slayer and in the end, I decide. Not you, and not the SITs, and not Spike, or the Scoobys, or my weird sister. Me.”

“Understood and accepted,” said Giles, rising. “Dawn, would you care to take a short Sunday ride?”

“Thank you, Mr. Giles, but I’m not supposed to ride with older men I don’t know very well in male menopause rental cars with crappy styling.” Dawn gave him a 2,000 watt smile. “Some other time, maybe.”

“Good Lord.”

**********

About 8:00, the phone on the weapons chest rang. Being closest, Willow took it, said a few words and listened, then held the receiver out to Buffy and got out of her way to let her sit. It was Amanda, at Casa Spike, reporting that Spike was back.

“But Buffy, don’t be hard on him,” Amanda begged. “He’s really down.”

“You mean, he’s drunk.”

“No, I don’t think so. He’s been moving those, ah, minions, Mike and the others, into a house over on Livingston. He took us and showed us, so we wouldn’t go dust any of them by mistake, and a little light furniture moving, getting the jugs of food in and everything. Helping them settle in. And we all got introduced to the minions, so they’d know we were off limits too, and when he came back here it’s Sue’s turn on the roster but Spike turned her down. Sent her away. He said that wasn’t called for and he’d changed his mind and the pigs’ blood would do well enough, he supposed he was used to it, and I have no idea what’s going on here anymore. We had it all figured out, and now this.”

Buffy thought there were other people besides her with Angel on their minds. Well, that’d been the shortest experiment in social planning ever. She rubbed her neck.

“Buffy? Are you still there?”

“The silence you hear is a Buffy-thinking silence. OK. I’ll be right over.”

When Buffy got past the hedge, she saw Spike doing something to his motorcycle under the streetlight. He glanced over his shoulder, then continued whatever he was doing. Wiping it down with a cloth, she saw, coming closer.

“Hullo, Slayer.”

“Hi, Spike. What’cha doing?”

“Tried to carry parcels on the bike. One spilled, got all over. Nasty mess, but I think I got all of it now.” He straightened and faced her, holding the wadded cloth at his side. “So, how are you, love.”

“No: how are you?”

“I asked first, don’t be tiresome, pet.”

“Giles came by this morning. Last night, actually, but we didn’t really get into it until this morning. Talking about Angel. He says he’s talked to you about it, too.”

“Yeah, some. Bit of a stunner, that. Maybe that’s what’s needed, though. Somebody to take hold, an’ he does that, oh, yes. Takes hold and then shakes. Certainly I’m no more use to you lot.”

“Thinking of doing a runner, are we?” Buffy asked, very coolly, and gestured at the motorcycle.

“What? Oh, no, love, I saw that wasn’t gonna be any use neither. Cousins won’t be particularly fond of me after last night. No going that way now. Just keep on as we have been, see what develops.”

“Then what do you mean, you’re no use?”

“Well, bring Angel into it, he’s not about to leave the children with me, now is he? No, he’ll want that. To do some different way.” He hitched a shoulder. “And pretty much everything else, most like. I expect he may let me run errands or some such. Or maybe not even that. Doesn’t like me much, you know how that is, or some of it anyway. An’ he certain sure is not gonna like us, like we been.”

Buffy considered him. If he’d been drinking, there was no longer any sign of it. No restless fidgeting, either. Very nearly, no expression unless blank weariness counted as an expression. She asked him quietly, “Spike, don’t you think I can stand up to Angel?”

As quietly, he replied, “Dunno, love. Can you? Never much stood up to the Scoobys.” Then he turned half away with a wave that dismissed that remark or maybe apologized for it. “I dunno, never mind me. You’ll do what you need to. ‘S’not about me, after all. Story here started long before I came and most likely it’ll be going…awhile yet.”

She heard what he’d almost said: long after I’m gone.

“What’s blown out your candle, Spike? Is it what happened at the hospital?”

“Yeah, that pretty well put paid to that fine idea, all right. Absolute fucking fiasco. One thing you might want to keep in mind, though,” Spike continued, frowning soberly at the sidewalk. “It knew we were there, by the gates. Which wasn’t hard--just look an’ see us, we weren’t making no particular secret of it. But it also knew we were coming, at the hospital. Knew how to set us up, knew how to play us.

“There’s gonna be somebody sayin’ it’s me. That gave us away. And I can’t say for sure that’s not so. It’s had me, right enough, and for some time, before you came and brought me out of there. But didn’t need to be me. It’s got to Red at least once, by all reports. And you seen it, times when nobody else there could, so it had to have access there, to you, to do that. When it shows in public, no matter what mask it’s using, it’s got a connection to everybody who sees it. Because there’s nothing really there at all.” He pointed to his head. “All in your mind. And I don’t think you dare let it keep getting in like that. All kind of bad things could come of it. Some way, Willow or Anya, or somebody the Watcher knows, whoever, has to find a way to keep it out, or nothing’s gonna work right. Not if it knows everything we’re doing. And can pretend to be anybody it wants. You. Me. Done both of us, at the least. Anybody who’s been dead, at least a little. So any vamp. Angel, even.” He glanced up, just a second. “When first you see him, pet, hit Peaches a good one to make certain there’s something there.”

Buffy considered him further, identified the correct jeans pocket by shape, and slid his cigarettes and lighter out, maybe with some contact of a more personal nature, but she didn’t prolong or push that. She got out a cigarette and lit it, carefully without inhaling in case she coughed or barfed or did something else gross, and handed it over while he stared at her and slowly took it: a quiet little dreamlike exchange. Buffy was happy, having succeeded in surprising him.

“That’s a good idea,” she said. “A really useful idea. We’ll find out how to do that.”

“Yeah. Well, good, then.” A little quirk of smile and his shoulders lifting, not quite so slumped. And an eye-smile, too, looking at her and then away as he lifted the cigarette to his mouth and brightened the coal with indrawn breath.

“Spike, if you say Not, it’s Not.”

“No, love. ‘Tisn’t about me and not mine to say. Nor Buffy’s. It’s the Slayer has to call this one. It’s--” And then he was across the distance between and kissing her hard, hands splayed on her back and moving, taking different hold first in one place and then another. Buffy tried to hug him back as strongly, kiss him just as hard.

She didn’t know where the cigarette went.


Continued in Chapter Fourteen: Adjustments and Evasions

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