By Nan Dibble
Sequel to Old Blood
SECTION V: INTO THE DARK
Chapter Sixteen: Penultimate Arrangements
Spike put a good pad of distance between them and Revello. Letting the bike run full out, he visualized it like a map in a movie and a red line lengthening to show distance and direction when in fact the actors were just trudging a few feet from soundstage 13 to soundstage 14--from one set to the next. Because only the distance was important, not the destination. Because the fact was, they weren’t going anywhere. The fact was they were going Nowhere. So anywhere would do.
There were still some farms, mostly long abandoned, at Sunnydale’s margins. Spotting a dirt track winding off, he slowed and took it, headlight showing only a few yards ahead, blocked by tall patchy stands of weeds as the track twisted. He slowed more to navigate among the numerous deep potholes. Bike’s suspension needed work. Well, maybe sometime.
He didn’t know how far away Angel could sense or even smell him, but this should be enough distance that following would take awhile; and the wretched track would jar the hell out of a big car like Angel’s convertible. Spike would hear anything like that coming long before it arrived. Spotting the dark sag-roofed mass of the farmhouse, he turned toward it, slowed to stopping, and just let the bike heel over, tumbling to get his left leg clear but otherwise not caring how he landed, Buffy more graceful about it with likely a keener kinesthetic sense of the bike’s motion, so she’d felt it tipping before he’d actually decided to just let it drop. His careless tumble was made more fluid by Buffy’s elegant tuck-and-roll, like the whole thing was a planned and practiced maneuver, bit of a trick, and should have a Ta Da and maybe a hand-holding joint bow, applause, at the finish.
She even thought, gathering herself against and across him, not to lean on the ribs. Then her splendid hot mouth came down, and his arms found the strength after all to lift and clasp her, and it was good like that. Good any way at all.
So many things not in need of saying. How he’d done the slow, loud approach just in hope of her. How she’d recognized the sound of the bike and yanked a knee-length sleeping T over the whatever or the nothing she’d had on, and down the roof and the tree the old way and running, the sound of it hope to her too, all like something planned but none of it planned, just one of their frequent magical convergences.
Standing still, he often floundered. But in motion he was seldom wrong and then the affinities of motion took over and she was there, as often as not, no need and no use to explanations, that’s just how it was: the inevitabilities of their coming together when they were both moving right. Always converging or on their way to converging, even when he couldn’t see it. After all this while, he should have some faith in it but he never had anything more than hope and wishing and so lonely for her.
They’d landed on a slight slope. Not with the motion of the fall but a new motion, more by their own internal momentum than by gravity, they did a slow rolling tumble to the bottom, she still somehow putting no weight on the sore ribs when she was at the topside of the roll and holding the almost-no-distance and supporting him above her as the roll took her underneath. Favoring the ribs as he did himself, seemingly with no thought, just automatic and a part of the motion. So kind in her strength. So thoughtful and easily aware.
When they came to rest that second time, she was weeping, sobbing, her tears more on his face than her own, so that he wasn’t sure if he was crying too or not. He stroked the lovely soft hair back from her face making soothing noises, some words, some not. And so strange to be all humming inside with that small sup of Slayer blood and it not hers, as though he’d been obscurely unfaithful and yet not, since it was Dawn’s; strange to be all fed up well and yet so emptily exhausted that he wanted only to lie like this, clasped in her arms and kissing her, do nothing else, out until the end of his forever.
“--go,” she was muttering, “and keep going, not ever come back, can’t we do that? Just run and run and never stop--?”
“Of course we can, love. Got all we need right here, enough for gas as far as Canada maybe, an’ I don’t need much, hardly anything, there are ways an’ it’ll all be for you, fine food and fine clothes and quiet all about, nothing to make my princess sad--” Then he had to stop because that was soothing-Dru-babble, he could always come up with that, some fantasy or another spilling out, didn’t matter, anything but outright unconscious he could do that but Buffy wasn’t a lunatic to be placated with soothing lies, she deserved better, she deserved sense--
“Hush,” she said, although he’d already gone silent. “Hush, we don’t have to, we can’t, I know that.” She began stroking, patting his face, saying, “Spike, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry--”
Knowing itself betrayed, his demon wanted to flash out at her, sweep her out of living fast and hard. He felt the change begin in his eyes: as if they heated, sharpened. Sharpness and suddenness starting to flow from that all through him. But he held himself from it. Because he was fed up so fine, his demon didn’t have the extra leverage of hunger and had to submit. The change receded and even with her hand touching his face, she wouldn’t know, wouldn’t have felt there was still within him anything not altogether humbled and obedient to her.
“Sorry, so sorry,” she still was wailing.
A huge wave of sadness lifted up in Spike and he thought he knew its name. He had no soothing noises to answer that. When at last she stopped apologizing, he said, “I know you tried your best, pet. So what conditions has he set, then, for me to not breathe his air?”
“I tried. I did. But it’s not fighting and I can’t…can’t keep believing that this is right. That we’re right.” Her hand closed into a fist and she pounded the ground just beyond his head. “Can’t, without you there. When it’s just me.”
And yet she’d come. Heard the bike and come running, all barefoot, across the dark grass. That was need, though, not love. He knew that well enough. And likely only love would have let her hold fast, given her a place to stand.
With her fist still hammering down, Spike said softly, “You can hit me, love. I’m what’s making it hard for you. Except for me, it would all be simple again.”
Her fist uncoiled and patted more aimless apologies against the side of his head.
He guessed the Slayer in her also was angry, also felt betrayed. Also was being restrained and deflected from striking at him: guilty of abandonment and of being the proximal cause of her misery, as she was guilty of weakness and irresolution. And the conflicted punishing anger swallowed down, refused, as it nearly always was now because the will to cherish, protect, and forgive was so much stronger, such a steady ache of self-surrender and longing that the fleeting irrationalities had no power and only harmlessly flashed and faded. All layers, complications. Nothing simple anymore.
He kissed her to say he knew that and accepted it. And she kissed him back to say she knew and it didn’t help. That she could not hold fast and yet would not let go. And their hands on one another therefore snatching and desperate, unable to take good hold and be at peace in the contact.
Well, it was all pretty much what he’d expected, after all. Hoped for better but not expected it. So this line was all run out. Have to do that other, then.
Spike got up and extended a hand. Buffy took it and he pulled her up. They turned together back to the bike humming on its side.
Spike ranged along the row of identical doors until the scent told him the right one. He rapped twice sharply and then stood away. Back by the bike, Buffy stood wide-eyed and waiflike in the long T and her bare legs, hair all tumbled by the wind.
In under a minute, the door opened. Maybe the Watcher had heard the bike.
Spike took another retreating step, eyes downcast, hands stuffed safe into pockets, shoulders hunched and tight. “Rupert. Sorry to trouble you again.”
“Wonder if you might take Buffy home. Don’t want to cause no further trouble. Won’t happen again.”
Silence. Then Giles asked mildly, “Do you want to come in?”
Spike backed another step. “No need. But…I’m gonna work something out. A truce, of a sort. With Angel, if he’ll have it. If it’s OK, I’ll just slide it under your door when it’s done. Then maybe you could pass it along, next chance you have.”
His demon was enraged with the Watcher: for assisting Angel’s advent and for what Giles had yet to do, that Spike had just now asked of him. The Kill the Messenger impulse. Completely irrational and fiercely strong, and Spike with less conviction to withhold himself from it. So he kept himself backed away and controlled the furious demon within him as a hooded falcon that bated and raged.
He flinched, startled, at the Watcher’s hand dropping onto his shoulder. But the hand pursued past the flinch to rest, heavy and quiet, where it had been sent to go. Giles said, “I’m sure this is horribly difficult. For you both. Certainly I’ll help in any way that I can. And I value the confidence you’ve placed in me.”
“Yeah. Thanks.” Spike immediately wheeled and returned to the bike. To Buffy. “You’ll go home with the Watcher. Maybe that will keep Angel within bounds. I’m gonna send him an offer of truce, like. An’ that may take a bit, working out. So don’t you worry if you don’t see anything of me for awhile. I imagine that will be one of his conditions, to consider it at all. I’ll come to you when I can.”
Buffy hugged him. “I’ll wait. And try not to let things get worse in the meantime.”
“Yeah. Right. You go on, now,” Spike said as Giles came out again, shut the unit’s door, and went to stand by his stupid ugly car in the second row of parking slots.
Spike watched them out of sight, then went to Giles’ former place: where Spike had written the letters DAWN on his hand, trying not to lose that too. Determining nobody was alive inside that unit, Spike quickly broke in and wedged the door shut with a wad of tissues. Having shut all the drapes, he turned on the desk lamp and settled there, pulling the sheaf of complementary stationery out of the drawer and finding a pen.
Once he had a cigarette going, he was as ready as he’d ever be to compose what probably was his own death warrant.
The first draft began, You barbaric lout That went into the wastebasket immediately. The next draft contained fifteen synonyms for idiot but was discarded not for that reason but because Spike tried to put in condolences about Darla’s reported newest death, and that got complicated because he’d really hated the bitch by the end and pretty much all along, actually, and the words and phrases looked to him like exactly what they were: hypocritical cant. So he pitched that too.
The third draft began, Angel, I’m sorry I had you tortured over the Gem of Amarra. If you want something done properly, you have to do it yourself. I should have done it myself but that was always your preferred art form you great bleeding nance
Since the level of discourse rather went downhill from there, Spike added that draft to the rejects, plowed his fingers through his hair a few more times, reviewed most of the reasons he knew he had to do this, took a fresh sheet of paper, and began again.
Angel, I hope you recognize this as an impasse. I don’t want to be at war with you. It’s a waste of energies required elsewhere. Since I know you’re not apt to make accommodation, it falls to me
Probably there is too much between us for anything to be simply said or entirely believed. We have lost any semblance of civility. For my part, I am quit of you and satisfied to be so. Yet that is not entirely true either. I remember the misfortune we had following Gordon’s slaughter at Khartoum and how splendidly you handled that. And so of course I knew this present situation would also be best directed by you and not by me, an opinion in which you appear to concur. If it is offensive to you that I speak of you and of Angelus, that you were to
A way exists to resolve such an impasse as this. It was formulated and used among those who, like us, are of the Elder Blood; few in this time remember it. I saw it done once in Russia, where perhaps the old ways held longest. I have been told that the Line of the Tepes, in the Balkans, also had recourse to it. Supplice d’Allégance. The Absolute Submission. I believe you may know of it
I mean nothing here, or very little, beyond what I say. There is no buried cipher to be worked out. I will not willingly be shut out of this and cannot further tolerate the impasse in which we find ourselves, perhaps to the ruin of all else. This is the only solution I have found to end it.
Rupert Giles, C.O.W., has kindly agreed to carry this message for me in
I submit myself to your will and wait to know it. You may test my obedience in whatever way seems good to you.
Spike turned that draft over and sat staring at the blank reverse side for several hours. Then he turned it face up, reread it, added a few words, a few more strikeouts, and methodically made a fair copy. He signed it
William of Aurelius
Having folded the letter, he slid it into an envelope he then sealed and addressed. Only as he was about to slide it under the door of Giles’ new efficiency did he realize what he’d written was To Angelus of Aurelius. For a second, he thought to change it. Then he poked it the rest of the way and rose. No matter.
The hillsides east of Sunnydale were good stone with numerous water-cut caves of varying depth and complexity. There’d once been a nest of Hrath’najaur demons who’d preferred the isolation but Spike found no current sign of them. He chose that cave to lair in because it had room to wheel the bike inside. The remaining time before sunrise he spent checking the surrounding area for any sign of habitation since many sorts of demons and other creatures were not constrained by sunlight as vampires were, and he didn’t want any happening on him when he was asleep. Finding nothing amiss, he kicked and spread loose sand over the bike’s treadmarks, then retreated into the deeper dark.
He could still vaguely smell the Hrath’najaurs--not an unpleasant odor, and it gave an illusion of company as cemeteries did. Spike had no fondness for unmodified Nature and little for solitude. The Hrath’najaurs’ sleeping area was deep clean sand--they were burrowers--and Spike settled there. For a while, arms behind his head, he thought about what he’d need to do, in what order, when he woke. A little after sunrise, he slept and eventually woke to a redder light, the last of the sunset, blessedly with no memory of dreaming.
It might have been good to have some vision past what was ahead. But he hadn’t expected assurances.
Toward the rear of the main cavern, there was a spring of fresh water gathered still and cool in a catchpool. Spike drank from cupped palms, then ducked his head a couple of times and sat back on his heels. The water soaking into his shirt felt good. So he pulled off the shirt and had a soapless wash with it. Seeing that twilight had fallen, he returned to the bike, pulling the wet shirt back on. He wheeled the bike out, swung on, and started slow down the crooked ground toward the nearest road. Only when he’d reached it did he notice that the assorted bangs and bumps of the descent hadn’t bothered his ribs. That much less clutter to complicate his thinking and doing.
Coming in, he’d taken note of a convenience store likely to have a phone. Returning there, he found his guess confirmed and poked in coins and dialed the motel’s number he’d written on his hand last night. Getting an answer, he asked for Giles, who answered on the second ring.
“Me, Rupert. Any word?”
“Yes. And yes. Spike? Is there anything else I might do? Spike? Are you--?”
“Keep the whole bloody thing from coming apart, I s’pose. Assuming anybody can do that…. No, nothing more I know. Obliged to you, Watcher. Goodbye.”
So Angel had agreed. Spike hadn’t seriously doubted he would. His childe served up on a plate to play with as he pleased and as long as he pleased, now why would Angel say no to that?
So proceed to the next thing, then. Mounting the bike, Spike went fast into town, checking the most likely places as he came to them. The Bronze. The dying theater (the mall multiplex was drawing too much custom) and streetside shops, still open at this hour, mostly college children abroad. Then Willy’s, a quick look inside finding Huey bussing tables. Spike caught his eye and went back outside, waiting until Huey joined him.
“How was the poker?”
“Decent. Betting was better, though. A decent stake. You fight pretty, Spike. Bet Willy would take you back if you ate some crow.”
“Well. Other things to do. An’ I never did like crow…. Gonna be away awhile. Could I send Michael to you? Look after him, whatever he needs? I’ll leave the bike with him. Could sell it, that’d be enough for his keep for awhile. He’s not fit to be on his own yet. You know.”
“No. He’s not. And I can’t do for him, Spike. He’s not gonna mind me.”
Spike shrugged. “Keep him from getting hurt too bad, then. Can’t take him with, that’s not an option.”
“He’s not my get, Spike. I won’t do him no harm, but past that, I can’t say. Can’t just swap a fledge around like that, minion or not. You know better.” Huey’s long Scandinavian face was serious. Not hostile. Not really anything.
“Yeah. I s’pose. See you, then.” Spike turned back to the bike and headed to the last place he knew to look: the house on Livingston. Although he could tell Michael had laired there through the day, he was gone. Spike stood awhile in the yard. Coming up with a possibility he didn’t like, he started walking, not wanting the bike’s noise to announce him.
Approaching Casa Spike, on Brown, he felt the awareness of a whole lot of suitable prey inside, that was the SITs. And through that, not quite lost in it, the low-level prickly awareness of another predator in the vicinity. Spike went on slowly, by feel rather than by sight, making no attempt to conceal himself. When he was pretty sure he was close, he stopped. “Come here, Michael.”
Out from behind some trash cans at the side of a garage, Mike straightened and came, sullen and resentful. No good answers and no good time for talk. Spike just turned and walked back to Casa Spike, Mike trailing along behind.
At the head of the walk, Spike stopped. “Michael, go ring the bell. Ask ‘Manda and Kim to come out here. Then come back.”
When Mike and the two SITs came, Spike sat down on his heels, and the SITs did the same. Mike stood glowering and unhappy.
“’Manda,” Spike said, “you know I been looking after Michael, here. Can’t do that now. And I know you can’t be responsible for him. But look after him how you can, all right? Nobody never asks him inside. Never. And nobody never lets him feed from them. And Michael, they’re still mine, even when I’m not here to say so, all right?” Spike looked up but Mike refused to meet his eyes. “Michael, you look at me when I’m talking to you.” Obeying, Mike went yellow-eyed and vamp-faced. Spike said anyway, “That’s fine. Michael, you trust these children. All of ‘em. You know them all. They won’t do you no harm. You need something, you can ask them. And Bit. Something you don’t know, you ask Dawn. ‘Manda or Kim, here, they’ll go fetch her if there’s need. And tell her what I said. Whatever Dawn says, you do, she won’t tell you wrong. She knows, the most of anyone, how it is for us. You still lair back on Livingston. But you don’t hunt anyplace nearby, right? Just like I told you, just like before. I know you’re mad at me, Michael. I thought we’d have longer. ‘S’not my choice, to leave you.” Another thought occurred, and Spike added, “Don’t you hunt me, neither. It doesn’t concern you. You stay clear or you’d be hurt. You hear me?”
“Michael, my bike is back at the other place. It’s yours. Use it or sell it, whatever you please.”
“Don’t want your bike.”
The lad was at the thin, vibrating edge of control. But it wouldn’t do for Spike to let on he knew that.
“It’s yours, all the same. Now you gonna do what I told you, Michael?”
“Maybe. What d’you care, if you’re not gonna be here?” Mike challenged.
“Michael, I want to provide for you. Be easier not to: can you see that? Be easier just to walk off, let you all go your ways. But you’re a good lad an’ I don’t want to do you that way. And these children, they been kind and kept faith with me, and I know they’d look after you without me even asking. So I believe this can be, and no one hurt, and--”
Mike swung at him. Spike saw it coming and leaned away in lots of time, then stood fast, balanced right, the children ducking and quickly getting clear.
“Spike, don’t,” said Amanda sharply. “We’ll cope. Truly. Don’t.”
It wasn’t right. A disobedient minion was not to be tolerated. Let alone one who’d raise a hand against a master.
Not looking anywhere except at yellow-eyed Mike, Spike said, “If he don’t mind me, he won’t mind anybody. You’d have to do him, soon or late.”
“Then we will. If we have to. But not you. Not now. Leave him alone, Spike. Please.”
Spike told Mike, “Now you hear, how they speak up for you? You hear that? You know what’s due, Michael.”
Vamp-face flowed and was gone as Mike sank to his knees. “Dust me then, what do I care.”
“I would, except they claimed charge over you. And I’m gonna allow that. So you submit to them, Michael. And you never, ever cross them or they’ll do you, and you know they can. Just like I could. Now you do it, Michael. Right this minute.”
“Don’t want you to leave me,” Mike exclaimed, finally starting to cry.
“Well, that’s not up to you, is it? Nor me, but there’s no help for it. You give them your submission, Michael, and be a help to them like you been to me. ‘S’not the best, but there’s nothing else. No other way. Michael!”
“All right. I submit.”
“We accept your submission, Michael,” said Amanda, coming into Spike’s line of sight. And Spike was proud of her because she’d listened, at the hospital, in spite of all else that’d been there. She knew the proper words. “Take your life from our hands. We’ll keep you and look after you and no harm coming to anyone from it.” Approaching Mike, Amanda had her taser in her hand, and she moved light and careful, but once she’d gone down on her heels by the lad, likely she couldn’t have stopped him if he’d decided to turn and take her. But this time, at least, that didn’t happen, and Mike allowed the tall, thin, homely girl who would barely have made a whole meal to clasp him around the shoulders and hold him so.
So Spike obeyed the glance she flashed him, to be gone with no more fuss about it. Spike headed off, as quick and quiet as he could, through the yard and through the hedge. That was Michael seen to, anyway. And they might find a way to be, Mike and the SITs, and maybe better than Spike for all that no human he’d ever heard of had asked for or accepted submission from a vampire. Nor any vamp who’d offered it, neither. None of them knew the rules. Which maybe was for the best, since they therefore had no expectations and would make it up as they went. Like he and Buffy had. There were no rules for that neither. And it worked well enough, or had….
Put things together whatever way they fit, whatever way he could. Try to make them come to sense, even if it was no sense anybody else would confirm or agree to. Tradition was a steadying thing: hard to hold against and a support perilous to discard. Without it, everything had to be thought out and decided, minute to minute, and nobody could live like that forever. Some things had to be understood, simple, or the complexities and uncertainties would multiply into an infinite fishline backlash tangle you’d finally have to cut through to free yourself of it. And then the hook, last of all.
Standing quiet under the maple tree, Spike thought that he’d cut through all the line and arrived at the hook end of things. All the complexities were set aside and no more choices to be made.
After awhile Angel came out to him and they faced each other. Spike almost asked what was required of him, where he was to go, but didn’t, realizing there was no need. Angel would specify. So Spike just waited. Angel turned with an abrupt summoning gesture. Spike followed along and got in on the passenger side when Angel slid in behind the wheel of his big convertible, that Spike sometimes had derisively thought of as the Angelmobile. But that didn’t signify anymore. Spike leaned back and shut his eyes.
When the car stopped, Spike got out and again followed, entering one of the anonymous, characterless abandoned houses. This one had been completely cleaned out to the bare walls. Angel led him through to what was probably the living room. A largeish room, anyway. That was good because Spike had never liked small enclosed spaces since his rising, finding himself trapped in a cheap deal coffin. Nothing he couldn’t control, but at least it seemed no immediate part of the ordeal.
Again they stood and faced one another.
Angelus would have gloated and insulted him. Called him boy, if not worse. Told him how stupid he’d been to enter into such an open-ended agreement, one that few, historically, had ever survived. Which wasn’t meant to be survived. Which was, in fact, a form of tradition-sanctioned murder from its earliest beginnings: instituted as a method of dealing with intractable, ambitious juniors and subordinates.
Angel did not allow himself gloating or insults. He said only, flatly, “Declare.”
So he did know the forms. That should make things simpler.
Spike replied, “I, William of Aurelius, do submit myself to the Supplice d’Allégance, my Master and Sire, as test and proof of my fealty.”
“I accept your submission. Your life is in my hand, to determine whether you be my true and obedient childe, to keep fealty against all hardship and temptation, even in extremis.” Angel scratched an eyebrow, then went on less formally, “All right, Will. Would you have it slow or fast?”
“Then my command is stand.”
Spike found and took a steady stance. He didn’t flinch or move when Angel went to vamp face and the wide jaws closed at the junction of Spike’s neck and shoulder. The dizziness wasn’t too bad at first. Only after Angel began spitting the blood aside onto the floor did the swimming in Spike’s head become severe. Blinking as he was drained, Spike concentrated on his stance. If the dark room seemed to tilt and start spinning slowly counterclockwise, at least he still knew how he stood. Passing out wouldn’t count as refusal. Only refusal counted as refusal.
Easier to start drained than wait to slowly become so. Quicker, then, to the point of involuntary refusal. It was after that, that the really bad part would begin.
Continued in Chapter Seventeen: Polling