By Nan Dibble
Sequel to Old Blood
SECTION FOUR: STRATEGY
Chapter Fourteen: Adjustments and Evasions
The night before Angel was due to arrive, Spike lined his minions up on the small front lawn of the house on Livingston and looked them over. Then he pointed and said, “Gonzo, come here.”
Gonzo looked uneasy and stupid, but he always looked that way. He moved prompt, did exactly as he was told, and Spike couldn’t stand the sight of him.
“Gonzo, you’re a pitiful excuse for a vampire.”
“Shut up and listen here. I got a war coming up and I need to clear out the useless stuff. So you’re gone.” Gonzo looked so terrified, and maybe Spike had halfway meant him to, putting it like that, that Spike sighed in exasperation and clouted him across the head. “Not that, idiot. Gone from here, gone from me.” Spike reached in a pocket and pulled out folded bills, all fresh twenties. Anya’d got them for him, exchanging the wrinkled singles and fives for fresh clean bills at the bank.
The two vamps, not counting Mike, he’d spared in the hospital fiasco, he’d dismissed after the party with the instruction to stay out of his sight. He owed them nothing--their lives were gift enough. But a minion who’d served awhile was due something for services rendered. Spike figured if all he could offer for leavegeld was small money, it should at least look nice.
Spike dragged out Gonzo’s hand and slapped the twenty into it. “You most likely won’t last to spend it, you’re such a fucking fool, but it’s yours any road for adequate service. What’s your proper name, Gonzo?”
“Hell, you’re better off with ‘Gonzo.’ But that’s your call. All right, Rudolph, you gave adequate service as required. Take back your life now from my hand. Bugger off.”
Dewey’s name proved to be Frank, and Spike turned him off pretty much the same, a useless waste of the space. Then he called Huey forward.
“What’s your name, Huey?”
Huey shrugged. “‘Huey’ does well enough.”
“Now don’t you make me regret what I got thought out here. What’s your fucking name, mate?”
“Well, that’s terrible, you’re right. Anyway, Huey, you got some kind of glimmer of a brain and you might actually see out a century with moderate luck. If you ask Willy, he’ll probably give you a job bartending now he’s short a man. Not that you couldn’t do better, but good night jobs are hard to come by. Huey, you done me good service and we’re quits. Take your life back from my hand now and good luck to you.” Spike counted out into Huey’s hand five twenties, which pretty well broke the bank, but such things had to be done properly, or as near as possible.
Huey considered the bills, then looked up remarking, “There’s generally a good game at the Wander Bar, a few nights a week. This is a good enough stake to sit in for a hand or two, anyway. See what develops. Any overage, maybe that could buy some more tasers, something.”
He was a tall narrow vamp, with lank fair hair tied back and a gloomy, creased Scandinavian face, like a Michigan farmer getting news of weevils in the wheat. Spike hadn’t much bothered to look at him before, except what was necessary.
Surprised by the offer, Spike started pacing, pulling a hand through his hair, back to front. “Well, I can’t support you anymore, now can I? Told you, Willy’s all brassed off I hit him, not that he didn’t have it coming, the clueless bleeder, an’ he’s given me the toss. So--”
“I can fend for myself,” Huey responded. “Good pickings in a dying town. But don’t like them Biters much. Like to see ‘em taken down. If I can chip in to a war chest, kill a few more of ‘em, I won’t be displeased. If there are developments, I’ll be in touch.”
“All right,” Spike responded. “In that case, you just might want to drift up to Willy’s a bit later. Might be some challenge fights at decent odds, considering I’m not real popular with the cousins just now. Amazing, how some people will let their guts rule their sense.”
“That’s a fact. I just might do that.”
As Huey started away in long strides, Spike faced Mike, all healed up proper and looking altogether pathetic, frightened, and woebegone. Obviously expecting to be turned away too. Of course he’d think that. Spike hadn’t considered that far.
“It’s all right, Michael. I still got considerable to teach you, considering I haven’t even started.”
Mike dropped down on the grass, set his face in his hands, and sobbed. Spike sat on his heels by him patiently. Finally Mike lifted his tearful face and asked, “Why is it like this? Never was like this before.”
Spike lit a cigarette. “Well, I broke you proper. That means you truly gave your life into my hands. That’s what you feel now, inside you: that you don’t have control over yourself anymore. It’s pretty much knocked you back to being a fledge--heart of a child, mind of an adult, and aimless passions of a demon. Mostly the demon running things again because you surrendered control over it. Not moderate creatures, demons. With the demon in charge, every moment and every feeling seems gigantic--like that’s all there is, all you know.
“This, between us now, is an attachment and an addiction and a strong dependency. Right now, you need me and have a powerful appetite for my notice and care. So the notion I might abandon you is frightening and you got noplace outside it to stand and look at it.”
As little as Spike felt like explaining typical Aurelian emotional excess to what was very like a new-raised fledge and childe overwhelmed by confusion and the demon, it was the necessary thing to do and a duty he’d accepted with Mike’s submission. And it steadied him because this was about the only connection he was still certain of.
The present situation had a lot in common with sitting in a locked burning house having a calm, rational discussion with your dog. But no need to further frighten the lad with notions like that.
Spike said, “So long as you do what I tell you, as quick and as best you can, I’m pleased with you. If I’m not pleased, you’ll be in no doubt. So be easy with yourself about it, Michael. It’s always this way.”
Michael reached out and touched Spike’s cheek, announcing blithely, “I love you.”
Spike shut his eyes. “No, you don’t, Michael. That’s a different loss of control. Easy mistake to make. But you can’t know that yet. Maybe you’ll come to know the difference. But now, it’s just another way to try to hang on. Need, mostly, with maybe some liking mixed in. I’m not angry with you, Michael, but it’s no good for you to confuse things more than they already are. So leave off about it.”
Need, with some liking. Spike held himself still until that had seared all the way through. Because that was himself, mostly. And that was Buffy. But not Dawn. She had no need of him, so the liking was freed. If Angel would only leave him Dawn, he might yet endure this.
Mike asked, “Can I feed off you some more?”
“No, Michael. Vampires can’t do for one another that way except now and again.”
“Then I want to hunt. The pigs’ blood is crap.”
“I know it is. Don’t have that figured out yet. Be patient a little longer.”
“Not patient,” Mike corrected. “Hungry.”
“Well, you’re gonna have to wait, aren’t you? Now shut up about it.”
Mike subsided: obedient, unhappy, and trusting.
A bit of a trial but still mostly a sweet-natured lad, as he’d been from the start. And it’d been this or dust him. So if the time wasn’t altogether convenient, it wasn’t Mike’s fault.
Spike spent another few minutes being terrified. For much the same reasons as Michael. But Spike hadn’t given over control of himself, not altogether. Not to Buffy. Not to anyone. Even the First hadn’t had that from him, not steadily. Right or wrong, he was still making his own choices, and even wrong was better than helpless.
He stood up, remarking, “Come on, then. We’ll go over to Willy’s and pick some fights.”
“Can I fight, too?”
“Maybe. A Monday crowd’s not much, generally. But if there’s more than what I can take, you can have some, too.”
As usual, after breakfast Dawn went over to Casa Spike to visit and catch up on the night’s news. As usual, the SITs were doing weapons drill, and as usual Spike was on the porch, watching them judiciously from time to time. But instead of making stakes, he was counting money with bruised, swollen hands.
He was sitting slightly crooked, too: the way he used to before his back finally healed. Looking critically, Dawn saw other bruises either just blooming or just fading, she wasn’t sure which.
Dropping onto the step, she inquired, “Busy night at Willy’s?”
Spike took the cigarette out of his mouth to respond, “Well, yes and no. Yes, quite a busy night at Willy’s, once it got goin’ and word got around. But no, not the way you mean. That’s done. I don’t work there no more.”
“What were you doing, then? Besides fighting, of course.”
Spike smirked. “More fighting. Let a few cousins try to get a good piece of me if they paid for the privilege. Profitable. And that also sort of required that I could hit them back.”
Dawn grinned knowingly. “And you liked that.”
“Oh, yes. And it seems some idiots were fool enough to lay bets. Dunno why I ever bothered tryin’ to work for it.”
“Well, there’s less wear and tear,” Dawn commented, drawing two fingers down the back of his left hand. He sat quite still for a moment, then went on sorting and turning the bills to the be same way around.
“How’s Michael doing?”
“He’s a good lad. Just now it’s sort of like getting lumbered with the pup of one of those big breed of dog--St. Bernard, maybe. Or mastiff….” Another still pause, his eyes lifted to something faraway.
“It’s just that sometimes he puts me in mind of his sire. Long while back, maybe. Before I knew him. But that’s foolish because I expect Darla brought him up right sharp.”
Dawn fingered around that new and unexpected fact like an ice cube left melting on a countertop. And the fact Spike had never mentioned it before and decided to mention it now.
“I don’t know Angel,” she commented after awhile.
“Well, that sounds grim.”
Although she’d smiled, she got no smile back. Spike said, “You shouldn’t mind. I don’t expect he’ll notice you at all. It was Dru, that noticed children…. Anyway.” Spike stubbed out the cigarette, then began stacking the bills neatly in descending denomination. “Might be a good thing if you stood clear a ways. In terms of me. Till we see a bit more of how it’s going, an’ all. No need for you to take sides.”
“No,” Dawn agreed. “That’s already done.”
“Yeah. All right. What I mean is, he dislikes me something terrible, and it’s not that I ain’t given him cause lately. Go back awhile further, though, maybe I have some cause, as well.”
“Spike, spit it out, for heaven’s sake.”
“Right. If he figured I was fond of you, might be he’d hurt you some way to bother me. Not on account of you at all. Not that he won’t come right at me, too. He plays all the angles and he’s a bone mean son of a bitch and I don’t want you hurt, ever, on my account. So don’t you come back here, visiting like you do, until we know--”
“--how it’s going to go, yeah, I got that. Not gonna do it, though, Spike. I’ll just tone it down to sneaky. I can do sneaky. And I’m not likely to be the one he’ll be watching, after all.” Dawn explained, “I asked Buffy about it last night. You want to know what she said?”
“No. Don’t want you bearing tales. Hard enough to understand as it is without somebody running between and making it worse. Things go to bad farce real fast then. ‘M not in the mood for farce.”
“What are you in the mood for?” responded Dawn, insinuatingly innocent, and got a sharp glance that became a frowning glare. “Well, it’s your mind, Spike: I didn’t say anything.”
“Let be, Bit. ‘Tisn’t funny.”
Dawn eyed him critically. “If I hug you, are you gonna go all weird?”
“Too late. I’m all weird already and I don’t expect--”
Dawn hugged him, and that shut him up. For all that he kept his distance with her and the SITs about the same, he had a powerful hunger to be petted, held. Dawn considered that a good thing to know about him, like his being ticklish. That could be bait, or a lever.
If what she’d heard so far about Angel was anything like accurate, Angel tried to keep the two sides of his nature, human and demonic, antipodal distances apart. There was Angel, and then there was awful Angelus, and never were the twain allowed to meet, ick, uck, foul unclean, get thee behind me evil soulless thing and all that. Spike refused to make that kind of distinction: all Spike, all the time. But the distinction was still there in subtle ways. Dawn thought it was the human side that hungered for simple touch, contact. And it was his awareness of his demon that kept him wary of initiating it.
Like how he’d behaved, introducing them to stoned mummy-headed Michael, at the party. Knowing things could go real bad, real fast, yet fond and accepting of the younger vampire. Just making sure the necessary limits were observed so nobody got hurt.
She let him go with a quick arm pat, to not test the limits of extreme hugging, which was unlikely to become an Olympic event. So no extra points for extension or endurance. Or grace in the release. She told him quietly, “Maybe it won’t be as bad as you think. But even if it is, I love you and that doesn’t depend on anything but you and me. So nobody else gets to touch it. Nobody comes between.”
He was breathing rather hard and had turned his face away, giving her only his blinking profile. But he hadn’t gone weird or fallen to pieces, either. He was managing. “Yeah,” he said, and then looked around and stroked his bruised, swollen knuckles down the side of her face, a quick, shy gesture that she supposed was very brave of him, under the circumstances.
Dawn decided she was really quite prepared not to like Angel at all. She also decided that to live up to his advance billing, he’d have to be King Kong.
Returning from the High School a little past four, Buffy bypassed Revello to turn on Brown and parked in front of Casa Spike. Dashing inside, she waved off the greetings, comments, and questions from the SITs she passed, in a hurry to get downstairs and tell Spike the wonderful idea she’d thought of, idle in her cubicle through the afternoon. Actually, ideas: several. And most of them mutually exclusive. But certainly one or another of them would do to quiet her frantic anxiety about Angel’s arrival.
Unlike Spike’s ancient DeSoto, currently on blocks awaiting repairs, Angel’s vehicle apparently wasn’t sunproofed. He wouldn’t be setting out until dark. So it would be nine or later before he got here. Still plenty of time, she thought, skipping down the stairs.
As she’d expected, she found Spike naked and asleep: sprawled prone with his head turned aside, arms and legs spread wide, suggesting he’d splatted from a height. Dim white-on-white in the basement’s enforced dusk: more guessed-at than seen. And really deep asleep: he didn’t stir while Buffy lit two of the candles of the collection locked by their dripped wax to a tray on the low cabinet nearest the bed. Neither of them liked the track lighting.
Turning, starting to say his name, Buffy was surprised to find his back and flanks mottled with innumerable bruises. Grey to purple patches along his spread arms and the visible side of his face, as well. No wounds, though; no scabbing or blood.
Given vampire healing, the marks looked barely hours old. Which would mean it’d happened in daylight. Puzzling.
Sitting on the edge of the bed he hadn’t managed to occupy didn’t rouse him. She kissed his ear and then, as an afterthought, licked it and blew onto it, thinking about the old joke.
An arm twitched. Then he blinked and scraped a hand slowly down his face. “Yeah,” he said, but it was an automatic word. He was drifting off again.
Buffy tried to find an unmarked place on his shoulder to grasp and shake. “Spike. Wake up. I have an idea. We could--”
“Bright. All shining.” Muzzy, blurred voice.
A jerk of deep startlement, breath coming quick and hard; staring.
Buffy shook his shoulder again. “Spike, wake up.”
“Hell. Another one.”
“’Nother fucking dream. Goddam.” He rolled to sitting beside her a moment, both hands rubbing at his eyes, then pushed through his hair. “Damn it to hell.” Abruptly he was off to the bureau, yanking on fresh clothes. T-shirt first--the reverse of usual. First priority covering the marks.
“I already noticed,” Buffy mentioned dryly.
“Yeah,” he said, his back still to her. “What time’s it got to be?”
“Going for five. Did you have some trouble in the tunnels?”
“Willy’s. Damn. Now what’s that got to do with anything?” Jeans zipped and fastened, he turned, but he was away someplace inside his head, staring at nothing and still breathing hard. Buffy resigned herself to the fact he wasn’t gonna attend to anything else until this was dealt with.
She prompted, “What was the dream about?”
“Well, you gave me this sort of necklace thing,” he said, as though she should remember it, unconsciously miming putting such an object around his neck. “Thin serpentine chain, a kind of medallion suspended…. An’ it meant something. There was a reason for it. Special. Something I could do with it. What the hell was it.” Hand still clasping the invisible dream-pendant, he bent his head, eyes tight shut, fighting to retrieve the memory. “I could draw it, I think--the medallion. Setting. Maybe Red…. It was for the Hellmouth. Close the Hellmouth. Yeah. If I drew it, maybe Red or Rupert could figure out--”
He bolted up the stairs, and Buffy thought she knew what he’d gone in search of: a battered green spiral notebook where he attempted his systematic thinking. She thought she remembered seeing it in one of the cabinets. She checked, found it, and had it waiting when he came back down. He immediately grabbed it and the pen she also held and dropped straight down on the floor, completely intent.
First he jotted notes along one side of the page, staring into space between entries. Then he tried to draw it. He got as far as a serrated circle, then crossed that out and tried again. After three more tries he flung the pen away in frustration. Then he made himself get up and retrieve it and tried yet again, this time a side view.
The object he drew was dome-shaped, convex. The point of the dome was a separate protuberance, smoothly rounded. That apparently was what he’d been unable to render to his satisfaction in a frontal view, because the back of the object came quickly, a squared off serrated edge roughly drawn and a bit lopsided but evidently good enough because he set the pad on the floor and considered it without trying to improve the sketch further.
“Like a chrysanthemum,” he muttered. “Clear jewel in the center.” He added that to the notes, and then silver-colored. Finally, when he could find nothing more to add, he looked up and noticed Buffy watching.
Buffy settled onto the floor, facing him across the notebook. “How long have you been having prophetic dreams?”
She didn’t think she needed to say the rest of it: and not telling me about it? That, she figured, was implicit in the question, and in her having to ask at all.
“Long while. Years.”
“Before the dream about the alley?” She named the only such dream he’d admitted to, and which she’d therefore assumed to be unique.
“Yeah. Some. More, lately. You have Slayer dreams sometimes. Do I ever expect to tell me about them?”
“No,” Buffy admitted steadily. “Because I’m the Slayer. It’s part of the job description. So is telling them to everybody.”
“Well, I’m not the Slayer, am I? So what I dream is my business.” He repeated the gesture of rubbing his eyes, then pushing both hands through his hair. “Mostly it’s all bollixed up, tangled….” His hands rolled and twisted, demonstrating the tangling. “An’ they’re personal. And most of ‘em are bad, all right? No point goin’ on about them. And who’d pay any attention anyway?”
“I would have. If you’d told me.”
“Oh, yeah, that would have gone over real good: ‘Well, Giles, you see I been fucking this vampire and sometimes he has strange dreams.’ Sure, I can see you sayin’ that. ‘Willow, last night Spike an’ me took down a wall, having a boff, and he had this dream’--”
The sarcasm was bitter and brutal. The only thing that kept Buffy from smacking him was the awareness it was justified. She hadn’t realized, though, that such bitterness was still alive in him from those days. She’d thought it all reconciled, put away.
“You could have told me,” she insisted.
“You’re joking. Don’t you remember that talking was about all we didn’t do?”
“I thought we were talking now. I thought--”
“Well, ‘s’not retroactive, pet. I never asked you nothing about Angel. And you never said. Never asked how he came to mark you, and yes, I know his mark when I see it. Never asked you about anything, really. And you’re not a great one to volunteer. We get by with now, and how’s the children, and what happens Tuesdays.”
She said, “I guess what happens Tuesdays is that you remember all the reasons you’re angry at me and throw them in my face.”
“Well, you asked, pet. This once, you asked, and I told you. So now are you pleased?”
His furious eyes were blue, almost to black in the limited light. His tense face was smooth, not bulged into brutal forehead, fangs. That meant nothing, Buffy thought. He’d loosed his demon against her, blunt and ruthless, and that was what she was confronting now.
“All right, I’m asking, then. How did you manage the decorative beating you’ve been hoping I wouldn’t notice or comment about?”
“Wasn’t a beating, because I won. Challenge fights, up at Willy’s. Because I don’t have a job there anymore. I raised a little over four hundred fucking dollars. Enough for tasers for all the children, an’ they’re on order now. Have ‘em by the end of the week. And some extra to kick in to the bank, same as always. I pay my fucking way, Slayer. You know what else you don’t know? Wasn’t Rupert’s idea to bring in Angel. It was mine. Knew you wouldn’t listen if I brought it up. So I asked Rupert to do it for me. You pay attention to what he says. Not like me. And sure enough, Angel’s due in a couple of hours, just like I expected. You got regard for Rupert. Not much for me. You know what else? I haven’t touched that disgusting dead blood since the children, Amanda, brought it up. Can’t tolerate it no more. I been hunting. But you wouldn’t ask me about that neither. Might have told you if you’d asked, but you didn’t. Because you didn’t want to know the answer.”
Buffy was hurt, appalled, demoralized. She was also toweringly angry that he’d dump all of this on her when she was strung tight to breaking over the prospect of having to deal with Angel again. Which he knew. After she’d backed his idea about trying out the joint patrol that’d gone so wrong. After she’d wrenched her principles practically asunder, consenting to his feeding from the SITs. When she’d forgiven and more than forgiven his feeding from her.
Which, she suddenly thought, he’d done not only because he’d wanted to. Not only to mark her, in defiance of Angel. But in the expectation she’d blow up and throw him out. As she was so close to doing now.
Not bitterness, she thought. Or not only that. Not necessarily untrue, but calculated for effect. What he was flinging at her was provocation.
And the part that didn’t fit was the bruising.
“So you went up to Willy’s and picked fights last night, right?”
“Yeah. Not gonna live on charity here.”
“And you’ve been hunting, you say,” Buffy pursued.
“So not the SITs.”
“That was a stupid idea,” Spike responded sullenly…and evasively.
Her ear was tuning now. Hearing not just what he said but what, by deliberate calculation, he avoided saying. “All right,” she shot back, “then tell me why, if you’re hunting to your heart’s content, after all the fine live blood, you’re so drained that you haven’t healed from surface injuries twenty hours old?”
For the first time, he looked aside. He really was a terrible liar. Terrible at keeping whatever he felt off his face, out of his body language. “Well, that Michael. He needed.”
“You’ve been letting him feed from you, haven’t you. That’s where the blood has gone.”
“Well, I couldn’t hardly let him go out hunting on his own, could I? He--”
Spike saw that pit before quite falling into it. Buffy saw it. “Because he’s an ordinary vamp with no self-control. And he would have drunk them dry. Killed them, because that’s what vamps do. Except you. You say you’ve been hunting. What’s the total kill, Spike? How many people have you killed to feed your new pet?” He didn’t have anything ready for that blunt question and tried to make silence his answer. But Buffy heard it for what it was: another evasion. “None, Spike. You haven’t killed anybody.”
“Believe what you like,” Spike said sullenly. Which wasn’t an answer either. It wasn’t working even a little now.
“I think I will. Nobody, Spike. You fed from them like you fed from Kim. Barely anything at all.”
Very softly, he said, “There was no need.” He’d withdrawn the blustering demonic boogey man. This was only Spike.
“And what’s the need of this, now? Why pick a fight and throw all this crap at me to.…” Then she saw it, because she’d seen it before. He’d bitten her because he’d intended to. His own reaction had blindsided him, but that didn’t change that he’d offered to turn for her in the expectation that she’d have a monumental fit afterward and throw him out. Then he’d seized on the opportunity of the SITs’ mini-rebellion but that hadn’t gotten him thrown out either. So now he’d put together this big collection of misleading facts and half-truths and dumped them on her, still pursuing the same dogged purpose: to provoke her into rejecting him.
Buffy leaned and took his hands. She felt a twitch, but he didn’t pull away or refuse the contact, the connection. Because he never did. It wasn’t in him.
He’d lost his job. Ended the arrangement with the SITs, separating from them too. Buffy would have bet he’d made some attempt to drive Dawn away. And now her. Trying to leave no hostages that could be used against him or he could be used against, either way.
Already feeling she knew the answer, Buffy asked gently, “Why not just leave, Spike?”
“Because I can’t, love. Never could. And that will just make everything worse, an’ he’ll hurt you on my account, and that’s not right, that you should be caught between and feel you have to defend me to keep faith. And either way, it’s terrible: if you do, or if you don’t. Send me off, love. For your own sake. I’m nothing but harm to you here.”
“Do you want me to?”
His face was full of love and helpless misery. And asked directly, point-blank, he answered her as he always had: with the truth. “No. I’m fucking terrified of it, love. But you should.”
“Well, you’re right,” Buffy said. “Your being here will make everything harder. But your not being here would make it unbearable. If it’s hard, then it’s hard. I need you here. Don’t leave me to face this alone.”
“Never could do that. Unless you said. Don’t want you hurt for me. ‘Tisn’t about me. Shouldn’t be. But it will be because he’ll make it so. Can’t help it. And neither can I. ‘Cause he’ll do everything he can to make me turn loose of you and I won’t. Not never. And I couldn’t contrive to make you do it neither. Damn stupid useless git.”
“Maybe we don’t talk as much as we should,” Buffy said, and ruffled his hair with her fingers. “But you don’t fool me much, and I don’t fool you much, and maybe that’s enough. Let’s be terrified together. Let’s give him something to really get furious about. There’s time: want to have noisy, smelly sex?”
Continued in Chapter Fifteen: Hail and Farewell