All About Spike
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Blood Kin
By Nan Dibble

Sequel to Old Blood

SECTION FOUR: STRATEGY



Chapter Fifteen: Hail and Farewell

Studying the pitifully childish drawing Spike had given her was much more interesting to Willow than angsting over when Angel would arrive. Just another dumb vamp, after all. She’d already resouled him once and would again if need be and give him a whole lot better reasons for not attaining “perfect happiness” than the spell’s original makers had built in. Blinding pain, for instance, as the accompaniment to an erection. That should tend to break the mood.

Spike’s marginal notes referred to the setting as being like a chrysanthemum. Well, a traditional Egyptian representation of the solar disc wasn’t exactly the thing you’d expect to spring to a vamp’s mind. And the crystal would therefore be unfaceted and clear--either quartz or, Goddess help us all, diamond, depending on whether it was a low amulet for an ordinary priest or a high amulet made for the High Priest of Ra. In either case, the setting would almost certainly be the blended metal called electrum. Silver in color, as Spike’s notes specified. Now practically extinct, electrum had once been held in higher repute even than gold for fabricating magical implements.

Definitely an interesting object to pop up in a vamp’s dream in such detail that Willow could recognize and put a name to it even though she’d never heard of such a thing or seen its representation.

Pretty much Indiana Jones territory here, but not the headpiece of a staff this time. Same purpose, though--focus sunforce on an object. While worn. Not, it would seem, a useful accoutrement for a vamp, given that vamps tended to go all flamey in daylight conditions other than major overcast or absolutely killer smog. So what was this amulet to him, or he to the amulet, that he should dream of it?

Refocusing her eyes, Willow determined that Spike’s weird aura was still fully flared, thank you. Apparently he’d done something permanent to himself in the Reconstruct Dawn spellcasting. Actually it was a little embarrassing to watch him pace, since it was so evident he and Buffy had either recently had sex or else should, right away. The limits of his pacing were the limits of where their auras converged. He didn’t lose contact, not for a second. When he paced close, his aura swarmed all over Buffy’s, enveloping and enclosing it, full of magenta flashes of tantric energy. While Buffy’s aura just ticked over its unchanging red-tinged rose pink: all Slayer, all the time. Pretty impervious to outside influence, was the Slayer. Probably not all that great in bed. Maybe that was why she chose vamps: requiring that kind of hungry single-mindedness to get through to her, physically or emotionally, at all.

Not like herself and Tara, whose auras had been steadily, harmoniously in tune, peaceful and loving. Except when Tara had rejected her, left her; but Willow now remembered only the good times and the intolerable loss.

At least he wasn’t assaulting Dawn’s aura, or Amanda’s, in that blatant fashion. Which in its way was odd because going by his aura, he was into serious blood debt. He was plainly healing from something and that depleted the blood energy faster than normal. Amanda and Dawn and probably Willow herself should represent major snackage. But he wasn’t paying any of them any heed. Only Buffy. Walking circles and figure eights, in orbit around her, in the front room of Casa Summers. Willow decided not to get within grabbing distance anytime soon. And she called to mind the sequence of a freeze spell that would stop him in his tracks. Always best to be prepared.

He must have channeled aetheric energies way past what a vampire normally could, to result in a permanent extension of the aura. That or contacted something so large and powerful that the contact itself was the operative cause of the change. Maybe both.

The amulet was a focus. And he’d become a channel. Although it would probably fry him from the inside out to use it, he had likely become an appropriate conduit for whatever the amulet put out by way of energy. And Somebody now was hinting to him about it by way of dreams.

Close the Hellmouth, he’d said and written in his absurd Victorian cursive in the notes. Maybe so. Somebody was clearly interested in matching up the two of them, the vampire and the amulet.

The amulet was so highly identifiable an object that no extensive search should be required to turn one up. Willow had a number of sources for Egyptian antiquities, and Anya had even more, suppliers for the Magic Box. And with a currently worthless metal as the setting, it was possible the crystal wouldn’t be recognized for what it was because of its lack of faceting. So it might even be possible to come by one cheap.

Sight returning to normal, Willow was trying to figure how to make acquisition of this object the means of prying out of Spike the knowledge she required: the knowledge of how to bring Tara back. Not the contrary, rejecting aspects--just the loving ones. Surely he couldn’t be stupid or suicidal enough to actually want the amulet. He had just sense enough to guess it was magical and therefore to dutifully turn his drawing over to a witch for investigation. Not enough sense to have the least idea what it actually was or how it worked. So maybe he was stupid enough. If so, Willow might have a lever.

There was a knock at the front door, at which point it occurred to Buffy that Angel hadn’t been in the house since the last round of wards and protections and therefore needed an invitation from a resident to enter, and dashed off to answer the knock. Sullen and watchful, Spike trailed along behind.

As Angel came in and stood gravely listening to whatever Buffy was babbling, his expression changed and he saw Spike. Pushing Buffy heedlessly aside, Angel went after Spike, immediate and ferocious, so nobody could have mistaken him for anything but a vampire though he didn’t go game-faced. His first blow knocked Spike half the length of the hall. Spike came up game-faced just in time to be hit again and flung back into the cellar door. Then they were both at it, Angel shoving Buffy off when she tried to intervene, staying bare-knuckles Marquis of Queensbury style, throwing big roundhouse punches, murderously direct, enough to break bone when they landed. Spike used a different style, dropping onto his hands, reversed, and uncoiling to kick Angel’s knee. The kick connected but had no effect on Angel’s advance. As Spike tumbled away, Angel got in a kick of his own, to Spike’s ribs. That stopped Spike long enough that Angel could lean down and grab him by the scruff of the neck, haul him into the air, and fold arms before and behind with the plain intention of breaking Spike’s neck and wrenching his head off. Then it stopped. Angel fell straight backward with a crash that rattled the remaining windows. Spike rose shakily, leaning against the wall, bent as though guarding broken ribs. In his left hand was a taser.

He said, “Welcome to the new century, Peaches.”

Then he collapsed, coughing blood.

**********

Before Angel could move he could talk and he did. “Buffy, you know what he is. How could you let a thing like that corrupt you?”

Somehow Buffy managed not to hit him or apologize and beg his forgiveness, his approval, both of which she wanted intensely to do. “That ‘thing’ kept me alive almost a whole year, despite the fact that I beat him up every chance I got. And he took it. Because he loves me.”

“I noticed that. You stink of him. How could you let that little grinning weasel into your bed? Let him feed on you? God!”

Buffy clapped a hand to her neck. She couldn’t help it. As if she could conceal the evidence that Buffy was Not a Nice Girl.

Sitting leaned back against the staircase, Angel tested out muscular control of one arm, then the other, like his almost infinitely slow Tai-chi routines. He rolled on, “Whatever he’s done to get his hooks into you, it ends now. Don’t worry, Buffy. I’ll take care of him.”

“You’ll do nothing of the sort. He’s mine, and under my protection. You leave him alone.”

Angel gave her a hooded glance. “Oh, is he hiding behind women’s skirts again? I might have expected that. Just give me a few more minutes and I’ll go pay him a call. See if he’s man enough to answer me and come for his whipping. I’ll take that little toy away from him first this time and then see how things go.”

Senior-Prom Buffy was all distressed and demoralized. As she retreated, the Slayer came to the fore. And the Slayer looked at Angel with different eyes. “Angel, I asked you to come to help prevent an apocalypse. We have them here from time to time. I died in the last one, as perhaps you recall. Not counting the one Willow almost set off, of course. If you can’t get your mind out of my pants and off my neck long enough to consider stopping the end of the world, stopping the First that tried to make you commit suicide not so very long ago, then go back to L.A. because you’re no use to me. Anybody who helps me with this is my ally. Anybody who gets in my way is my enemy. Which do you want to be, Angel? Go after Spike again and he won’t have to stop you: I will. My allies are not allowed to murder each other. Now is any part of that not clear to you?”

Angel regarded her admiringly. “Buffy, you’re magnificent when you’re ruthless. What you say is fine with me, just as soon as I get this one little piece of unfinished business out of the way.”

As Angel rose, towering over her by more than a foot, big and dark and intractable, Buffy reached up and closed a hand around his throat, lifting him onto his toes. Guys really hated it when she did that. Showing him the stake she’d collected from the bag by the kitchen door, she told him flatly, “Leave Spike alone.”

His dark eyes stopped being admiring. They no longer held any human expression at all. “Fine, then. As long as he leaves you alone.” It probably wasn’t easy to talk while suspended by the throat, but Angel managed without seeming effort. “The next time I see him, the next time I smell him on you, the next time he obliges me to notice he isn’t in hell where monsters like him belong, I’ll remedy that oversight. I’ll add to that. I don’t smell him on anyone I come in contact with. I don’t hear his name. His wretched existence is not to be acknowledged in my presence. Leave helping you out of it: those are my terms for not dusting the bastard.” He looked down at her. “A nice show, Buffy, but you are not going to stake me over that contemptible weasel and we both know it. Now go get clean. Cleaner. Then I’ll be glad to discuss the situation. I’ve dealt with one damaged Slayer. I’m willing to deal with another.”

Buffy had been braced against Angel’s disapproval. But she hadn’t been prepared for his blunt, visceral disgust. Because he declared her dirty, she felt so and knew that no arguments would persuade him otherwise. All there were, were feelings, and Angel considered feelings a weakness and a danger. The one time he’d given in to them, it had nearly destroyed them both. It had only been by shutting out and denying passion that he’d left her.

It was just about impossible to maintain her own convictions against someone so absolutely convinced of his own righteousness. Especially when he was speaking Received Truth: what she herself had believed unquestioningly until the persistent and finally unavoidable fact of Spike had forced her away from certainties into exceptions, distinctions, justifications. Until, however unwillingly, she’d started thinking and judging and feeling for herself.

Buffy let Angel go and started dully up the stairs to shower.

**********

Naturally Spike wasn’t being merely difficult. He was being impossible. In wincing game face, lying on the front room couch at Casa Spike where Dawn and Amanda had brought him, he wouldn’t let any of the SITs near him, yelled at them when they approached, and broke down into more bloody coughing afterward, so they stayed back, not because of the yelling but because of the coughing. Dawn figured that one of the broken ribs had punctured a lung.

That wasn’t a serious injury by itself. But healing required extra energy, extra blood, and he wouldn’t take it from any of them. Didn’t trust his restraint, to stop before he’d taken too much. Which again wouldn’t have been a problem except that he refused the stored pigs’ blood, too. Dawn made up a mug, heated it and everything, and he slapped it across the room.

Dawn looked at the resultant mess, then her empty hand. “Spike, you look like shit. You have to--”

“Doesn’t signify. How I look,” he responded, on just enough breath to get the words out. “Let me alone. Little while. Get myself gone.”

And probably it was true: whatever didn’t kill him outright would heal eventually. But if he didn’t feed, it would take halfway to forever and he’d be a good part of the way to starving by then. Dawn had never seen a starved vampire. As gaunt as Spike’s face had already gone, she didn’t think she wanted to, either.

He needed quite a lot of blood and he needed it now. And Dawn could think of no way to make him drink the pigs’ blood if he continued to refuse.

Then Suzanne came from the kitchen with another mug. She went straight to the couch and sat on her heels there, holding the cup out. Spike shut his eyes a moment and then took it, downed the contents, and handed it back, directing softly, “Get away.”

Rising, backing off, Sue remarked, “Well, it was my turn next anyway,” as though daring anybody to argue with her. Dawn then noticed Sue had a paper napkin taped to her left forearm.

Vi said to Amanda, “Get the roster.”

So without any more discussion, that was how they did it--in turn, according to the roster. Dawn would fill the mug a quarter full of pigs’ blood, then a SIT would cut herself and fill the mug the rest of the way. And apparently the mixture remained tolerable. Although Spike almost certainly noticed, he didn’t remark on it, just drank it down. And though nobody required it of her, Dawn took a turn too, last of all. And with that mugful in his hands, still untouched, Spike looked until he found her, hanging toward the back. He kept looking at her while he drank it. Dawn didn’t know what to make of that look, but anyway he didn’t seem mad or inclined to pitch a fit about it, which was really all she cared about.

Spike set the mug on the floor. When he looked up, the gauntness was gone from his face again, he’d shed game face, and no bruise-shadows remained either. “Here,” he said, and they all knew to gather to that command. “Hoped this wouldn’t happen. Not surprised it has. The mission is still the mission, children. Don’t you be foolish about this now. Don’t have to like the man to mind him. Just ‘cause he won’t spoil you like I done, give in to all your vapors and your whims, he’ll still use you right. Be sparing of you. If there’s anybody values Slayers nearly as much as me, it’s Angel. So you mind him. Don’t dispute with him. He won’t put up with it like I do. He’s here because I wanted him here. Because he’ll do things I can’t. So you behave for him. All right?”

Amanda, closest to the couch, set her hand on Spike’s arm and he didn’t object. Amanda said, “What are you gonna do, Spike?”

“Well, you call in a bloke to do a job of work for you, a plumber or a carpenter, first thing you do is get out of his way. Let him do his work. And if he didn’t do things different from me, there’d be no use to calling him in, now would there? So you keep what you know, and still you learn whatever you can because Angel, he’s a true master when it comes to beating things down and seeing that they stay beat down. You learn from him every way you can, even if some of the things, what you learn is that you never want to do them again. That’s useful too sometimes. So come take your leave of me, children. An’ then wash, so he won’t smell me on you and make a big noise about it like he does.”

The SITs went one at a time and knelt by the couch and Spike clasped hands with them and kissed each one on the forehead, something he’d never done before, so quite a few got pretty emotional about it. When Kim came and knelt, Spike touched her neck and told her, “He gives you any grief about this, say it was my fault. Say I snuck up on you.”

“Won’t say what’s not true, Spike.”

“Then best to say nothing, let him think what he pleases. But don’t you take any blame ‘cause there’s none due. You all been fine children and I have no complaint of you except that you’re bossy and willful, and I never yet knew a fine lady who wasn’t, so no matter. And you been kind to me more than any like number of humans I’ve ever known in this life or that other, that was before. Don’t you let anybody make you ashamed of it. We know what’s so. That’s enough.”

When he’d finished with all of the SITs, he gave Dawn a look and she gave him one right back because she wasn’t going to take part in his little leavetaking ceremony. Absolutely no frelling way, José.

Although it took him two tries, he got up unassisted, and Dawn followed right along to the door and then out. And waiting outside was big, looming Michael, which startled Dawn a bit. Michael took Spike around the shoulders and pulled him a little to leaning, remarking as they walked on, “Didn’t want to interrupt. Besides, I couldn’t get in. Didn’t like to ask. All those girls. They still yours, Spike?”

“Far as you’re concerned, yes.”

“And Dawn too?”

“Dawn too. Specially Dawn.” Looking around at her, Spike added, “Bit, I never wanted to smell you as food. Now I do. Wish you hadn’t done that.”

Since it was done, Dawn saw no reason to say anything about it. Anyway it wasn’t as if she’d made him drink it. “What is with that Angel, Spike? He hadn’t even gotten his hellos finished!”

“Well, part of it’s me. I don’t deny it. He could tell your sis and I had been together an’ he don’t like that at all. But part is that he hates his demon. I expect that when he got that soul, it went to war with his demon and he sided against the demon and has never made peace with it since. Dunno, actually: I wasn’t there. Didn’t learn about it till years afterward. Calls his demon by a different name. Pretends it’s got nothing to do with him, with Angel. Shuts it out, as best he can. Maybe it’s the kind of soul he got, I dunno. The curse, so he’s either all one, or all the other. Me and my demon get on fine, most of the time. It’s reasonable. I let it have what it needs and it doesn’t give me much grief, by and large, so long as I give it due respect. Soul trying to horn in now, take over the whole doings, but I won’t agree to that. So I expect because I done different, didn’t settle down to a menu of rats and moping for a hundred years before finding a Slayer I wanted to dance with, he figures I’m like his demon. Needing to be put down hard and kept down. Don’t like his demon much myself. They’re both mean, cruel bastards, only Angelus enjoys it more. Should have just taken off. Not been there. But Buffy wouldn’t have that. Tell me not to do nothing dumb, Bit.”

“Don’t do anything dumb, Spike.”

“That’s real good advice. I’ll try hard to keep to it.”

Mike said, “This Angel. Angelus. He’s my sire, right?”

“Seems so. Wouldn’t bring it up to him if I were you, though. Might make him try to think up a third expression an’ die of the strain.”

“And he’s your sire,” Mike pursued.

“On about two bounces. But yeah, as near as makes no difference anymore. Let me down here a minute, lad. Need to collect myself.”

Collecting himself apparently consisted of sitting on the grass at the edge of the sidewalk with knees tucked tight, arms laid across them, and head bent on top. After awhile Mike took a crosslegged seat on the sidewalk, and Dawn settled next to Spike and claimed the tatted arm, that was hers, cheek tucked tight against it. And after they’d all sogged and been furious or forlorn or quietly miserable, or whatever they were being, for awhile, Spike stirred to light a cigarette, remarking, “No punishment like getting exactly what you asked for. Could be worse. He could have dusted me dead. Or I could have done the like to him, and Buffy, she’d never have forgiven me that. Still has a fondness for old Peaches, she does. Girl never forgets the vamp who first sets his mark on her…. If he turns her from me, I’ll do ‘em both. Fire, maybe. No, they might get out. Taser ‘em first, then. Tie ‘em down. Afterward set the fire.” He glanced at Dawn. “Figure that’s dumb, Bit?”

“Thinking about it’s OK,” responded Dawn judiciously. “Doing it would be dumb.”

“Expect you’re right. And don’t you pay me no mind, Michael. Don’t go off and do something I only talked about, figuring it’s what I want. I’ll tell you plain what I want. You won’t be in no doubt whatever about it.”

Mike said, “Since he’s your sire, and mine, what does that make us to each other?”

Spike looked at him, then drew on the cigarette and breathed out smoke. Apparently the punctured lung had sealed itself although the ribs were still probably no treat. “Nothing whatever. What you are is my minion because you submitted and I accepted. An’ you’re a bit more awake than you were, aren’t you?”

“Maybe. Hard to tell. How about we all go someplace, get drunk.”

Dawn couldn’t help it: she giggled. Maybe the tone of voice, or the absolute seriousness. Or the notion of getting drunk for the very first time in the company of two vampires to whom she smelled like food.

“Wouldn’t be much fun for you, Bit. Just watching, an’ all.”

“They have cards at the Bronze,” Dawn replied, stifling her disappointment that she wasn’t to be allowed to drink anything but soda. She thought she might be able to sneak something from Michael, who probably wasn’t anything like as strict as Spike, being less socialized and still largely submerged in his demon. “We could play Crazy Eights. Or even poker, on credit: penny, nickel, dime. You both would end up owing me vast fortunes. If I go home, Spike, I’m going to end up hitting somebody and getting squashed like a bug. Buffy has Willow, and probably Xander, and probably Giles by now, he told her to phone when Angel got in. Big Scooby conference. She doesn’t need me there too. I’m not going home, Spike,” Dawn finished in a dire tone that let him know it was an ultimatum and he’d better take her seriously or he’d suffer the unspecified but severe consequences. “But if I come, no vamp face, and no fights unless you take them outside, otherwise I’d be sooo mortified!”

“See what you mean,” Mike remarked to Spike. “Bossy.”

“Well, all fine ladies are, so I expect it’s a mark of quality. Bit, you go on back and tell the children where you’ll be and have them pass it along quiet to the Slayer, so she won’t be worrying about you. We’ll see if my old bike will carry three. I figure it should if you don’t jump around too much.”

Dawn made a high-pitched whee noise and ran off to do as she’d been told.

**********

Dawn already knew vamps drank liquor almost exclusively for effect: to quiet the nervous energy continually boiling in them when that energy had no other outlet. Spike hated any kind of fruit schnapps, but he’d drink it when there was nothing else. Sober, vamps were jittery, bad-tempered, and impulsive--in a kind of permanent attack mode. The times Spike had gotten into serious trouble weren’t the times he was drunk but the times when he wasn’t.

And vamps were hard-wired oral aggressive. Dawn suspected Spike smoked as a kind of elaborate nervous tic: something to do with his mouth, with his hands. Vamps bit. And they drank. And they talked. Endlessly.

Which was absolutely fine with Dawn because she almost never had gotten a chance to see Spike in the company of another vampire. And the talk was hair-raisingly, eye-poppingly blunt. Apparently vamps weren’t big on innocuous chat. As in most things, they went straight for the throat and worried and tossed the thing until they’d wrested every drop of juice from it. Then they’d go on to something else and do the same.

Having settled themselves at one of the Bronze booths (Dawn and Spike on one side of the table, with Dawn on the inside, and Michael opposite), Spike bought a bottle and a Cherry Coke, and ordered food, never taking his eyes off Dawn for a second. When he came back, with completely humorless application, Mike and Spike (Dawn had to giggle, because it sounded like a TV series about a couple of cartoon animals) threw back successive water-tumbler sized shots, at least three apiece in under fifteen minutes. Then, with the energy boil apparently reduced to a comfortable simmer--what Dawn, from long observation, had come to think of as “coasting”--the two vamps eased back, started in on the spicy wings and blooming onion that were Spike’s favorites, settled themselves more comfortably, and talked.

The topic was Michael’s wanting to know why he shouldn’t eat Dawn.

Out of politeness, both of them were in human face. But Dawn had not the least moment’s doubt she was sitting in the middle of a couple of vamps. Big-eyed and fascinated, she pulled soda through the straw, knowing her life was absolutely on the line here and at the same time that she was in more danger from invading rabid wombats than from Mike because Spike would kill somebody--if necessary and available, several somebodies--to keep her from harm.

And that was where it started, Spike’s first reason: “Well, because she’s mine, an’ I said no.” He didn’t sound the least annoyed. Just explaining. It made Dawn shiver, mostly happily.

“But now, suppose she wasn’t. Just suppose,” Mike responded, frowning in a way some older girl might have found really adorable. Forehead wrinkled up but not in a vamp way, brows drawn, wide eyes thoughtful, not angry at all either. Seriously handsome and maybe even cute, if somebody were an older girl. “Suppose I was just to come across her, before. Maybe she’d still be yours, but I wouldn’t know that, and you wouldn’t have forbid me. Why not then?”

“Well, you tell me why not, Michael.”

“Don’t know any reason. That’s why I’m asking. Because your forbidding me doesn’t forbid you. I don’t see why you don’t eat her. Since she smells so nice.”

That presumably was a compliment, because a look and an approving smile came with it. Definitely shiver-worthy.

Spike stopped eating long enough to wipe his fingers on several napkins, poured his tumbler half full and drank some. “Well, all right, Michael, we’ll play your pretend game awhile. Tell me: do you like Dawn?”

“Certainly do. Smells really nice. Bet she’d taste nice, too.”

“Not the same thing. D’you like her this minute, just sitting here and having her soda, all peaceable. Nobody hunting, nobody escaping.”

Mike considered. “I suppose. Could always eat her afterward. Could be looking forward to that.”

“But then she’d be gone, y’see. No more Dawn, never again.”

“Yeah, that’s right. Then I’d look for the next one.”

“But all that’s Dawn except her blood, all that would be lost. How nice she looks, and how her eyes get big when she’s listening real hard, hard enough to stop jabbering herself, and how glad I am to see her, and how fine it feels to have her sitting right here next to me, all warm an’ happy an’ just the least bit scared but no more than what’s fun, and everything about Dawn that’s not about me at all, that I don’t even know but might someday come to discover…all gone to make a meal for a vamp. Terrible waste, Michael. Disproportionate, all that she is, compared to all you want of her. Like you get an ice-cream cone, say, and toss out the ice cream and just eat the cone. You missed the best part.”

“I hear that,” Mike responded, still frowning, “and I know what you mean by it, I understand. But that doesn’t change that she’d be fine eating, and that’s what I want from her. All the rest, that’s no concern of mine.”

“Well, we’ll take this from another direction because I know how brave Dawn is, we’re not truly scaring her at all. And I know it’s a fair question, that you truly want to know. I’ll match your question with another here. Is there anybody at all, you’re glad just to see them? That whatever you’re doing is better, just because they’re there, even if what you’re doin’ is pretty much shit? That you’re not thinking all the while how to do ‘em or eat ‘em or start a fight with them, no plans for them at all, just there in the same time and place, and that’s so fine you feel like you could just bust apart with how really brilliant it is?”

Mike bent his head, then displaced energy into pouring and downing another drink. They were both very like cats in that, Dawn thought: motions aside to send the impulse some other way, not straight ahead into conflict. She wondered if they were aware of it that way or if the impulse to turn aside just came and was taken at face value, without the meaning. She’d ask Spike later.

Mike said, “You said I was to let that be.”

“For now, I take that back. You go ahead, whatever it is.”

“You.”

“D’you want to eat me, Michael? Because it would be natural enough. You fed off me several times now. You know you can, that you can make food of my blood. Not exactly the same as Dawn here, but sufficient. Not that I’d let you, I’d have you down on your back again so fast your head wouldn’t know when it came off. Just pretending here.”

Spike said that so comfortably, in such a friendly tone. And Mike looked visibly relieved to be assured that even if killing Spike was something he truly wanted, it wasn’t going to happen. Reassured by the limits.

“Sometimes,” Mike admitted. “When you won’t let me hunt. When I’m hungry.”

“Again, that’s natural. Get ‘em hungry enough, even humans will eat one another.”

“Donner Pass,” said Mike immediately. “Been there, heard that story. Yeah…but then again, not really, because I know you’ll see I get to feed some way. You won’t forget me. I never been as hungry as all that, that I’d really want to drink you dry and then dust you so’s you couldn’t come back at me for it, after.”

But he’d thought out the stages, Dawn noticed. The steps that would be required. Dawn suspected that was the demon of it.

“Well, why not, Michael? I’m food to you, not all that different from Bit, except not nearly as good.”

“Got you now,” said Mike, grinning and happy, and grabbed Spike’s tat hand. “Because then you’d be gone. I see that.”

Spike patted Mike’s hand before calmly removing his own to tear off some more sections of onion. “These ain’t much good when they get cold.”

Thus instructed, Mike pulled some apart for himself and scooped them onto his plate.

“You’re a bright lad, Michael, and it’s a true pleasure to watch you comin’ out from underneath the demon the way you are. I like seeing that.”

Mouth full and hands occupied, Mike nodded to indicate he’d understood.

Spike went on, “If I was to make a meal of Bit, here, drink her up, every drop, likely I’d need nothing else for three, four days. Maybe as long as a week. But I’d miss her forever. And there’s no proportion to that, Michael. And the truth is, she don’t belong to me. That’s just a way to say. The truth is, I belong to her, and that makes me happier than I can tell you. There was a time, since we knew each other, you and me, that she was gone, an’ there was nothing I wouldn’t have done to get her back, safe. If me walking into the sunlight would have done it, I’d have done that in a second, and been all kinds of glad about it too, if it meant she’d be back, even if I was not to have her company.”

That called for a real hard hug, and Dawn made sure that need was supplied. And Spike hugged her back, as unself-conscious and frank in this as in discussing the prospect of turning her into dinner. Dawn ignored with determination the fact that his fingers were sticky and left marks. And her orientation changed. She was no longer sitting with a rectangular table between her and possibly dangerous Michael: she was sitting next to Spike, and suspected she took almost as much gladness in that as he’d said he did.

When the hug was done and they both felt like letting go, Spike went on, “Before I got mine back, I sort of had the idea that the soul was a thing that would yell at me don’t do this, don’t do that. That it was into forbidding, like I’m doing with you for this time. An’ sometimes, it does do that. Don’t have it properly tuned and accustomed to being in a vampire, I expect. Instead of that, what’s come to me from it, so far as I notice or understand, is a very sharp sense of proportion. What a thing costs, compared to what it’s worth. A meal’s not worth a life, Michael. It doesn’t fit, and it’s not fit. I’ll do somebody in a second for crossing me, or even for being in my way, that’s just their bad luck. But not for a meal. I’ve come to understand that, and may understand more when the damn soul gets itself settled in and figures out I’m a vamp and not apt to change that anytime soon, which I really wish it’d get the hell done, because it’s been making a terrible nuisance of itself lately. Anyway.” All the buffalo wings were gone, and Spike cleaned his fingers again by dipping them in the water glass (the one with actual water in it) and then rubbing them hard with the remaining clean napkins. Then he lit a cigarette, which the Bronze still allowed. “So despite Dawn smelling all kinds of good, like she does, she’s not food to me, nor a meal. Just Dawn. And because I know I’d miss her something terrible if she was gone, and because that’s what I’m for, I’ll keep all harm from her every way I know and every way I can, while I last. And in most ways, harm is what she calls harm, not what I judge it as. Because I belong to her and not the other way around. And I’d be real pleased if you got to where you could see it like that too, Michael. But I wouldn’t have you say anything but what’s so.”

Copying Spike, Mike also cleaned his hands. “I miss you when you’re gone,” he told Spike. “I’m scared. Don’t know how to do. Go and do some damn stupid thing right off. Don’t like it when you’re gone.”

Spike reached across and ruffled Mike’s hair. “You’re a good lad. You’ll do fine. And I won’t leave you for long nor turn you loose until I figure you can manage and go on from there on your own. Not if there’s any way I can help it.”

Mike’s face turned anxious but he didn’t say anything.

“However,” Spike went on, “gonna have to leave you a little while. Can leave you here, if you want, or back at the other place. It’s coming onto midnight, an’ time I got Bit home or she’ll catch hell.”

The look Mike gave her made Dawn figure she’d graduated from lunch to rival, which she supposed was one step up the food chain but not much improvement from her point of view. She thought Mike was jealous of anybody who took any substantial part of Spike’s attention away from him. But Spike had warned him off in terms not even a fledge could misunderstand, and Dawn kept her taser about her at all times, so Mike’s momentary resentment didn’t worry her. Tomorrow she’d see him and he’d have forgotten all about it, be some different way. He changed almost while you watched.

After a precautionary visit to the restroom, Dawn returned to find Mike grousing about having to be left anywhere and Spike being patient but offering only the two options. Mike decided to stay, so she and Spike left together.

Because Mike had stayed, Dawn got to ride behind instead of straddling the engine housing, which could get pretty hot. Behind was better. As Spike turned the key and kicked the engine alive, Dawn finished tying her hair back (Spike had forgotten to make her wear the helmet), then hugged him around the waist, the signal she was ready. Maybe mindful of his helmetless passenger, he made no great speed and took the corners slow, easy, and wide. Dawn enjoyed leaning into the turns and the motion and the rush of air, even though it prevented conversation.

She was a little surprised to notice he’d gone long, all the way to the end of Brown, before taking a cross street onto Revello: dropping to a walking pace and doing something to the controls so that the bike made twice the noise. Then Dawn knew and began pounding his shoulder because he was so fucking sneaky and hadn’t said word one about it to her. As a figure came running through the dark adjoining yard, Spike braked hard. Dawn did a floundering dismount as Buffy sprang to the back saddle so hard and fast she nearly knocked the bike over but Spike gunned the engine just the same and took off, something like 50 from a standing start with the bike still tilted and Buffy not even properly in place and not wearing a helmet, her hair all streaming out behind her. Like some sort of fucking circus act. Like acrobats. The red rear brake lights flashed at the corner and then they were gone except for the attenuating growl.


Continued in Chapter Sixteen: Penultimate Arrangements

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