By Nan Dibble
Sequel to Old Blood
SECTION V: INTO THE DARK
Chapter Seventeen: Polling
The first night of Angel’s arrival, Buffy practically dragged Anya aside after the meeting while the others were gathering in the hall preparatory to leaving. Anya looked from Buffy’s face to Buffy’s gripping hands and back to Buffy’s face again, bright and birdlike and curious, like Jeff Bridges in Starman but not so winsome. Just birdlike and alien, then. Buffy asked her, “Really, Anya. What do you think? About Spike and, and me?”
Anya was the good one to ask first, Buffy thought, because Buffy figured Anya knew him the best, since they were both part-demon. And since Anya’d had conspicuous covertly televised sex with him on the big table in the Magic Box. Must mean you knew somebody pretty well to do that, right? And this was horrible. Embarrassing and utterly horrible. Buffy felt like hiding and never coming out again.
“Well, I have a good many thoughts about you,” Anya responded judiciously, “and a good many about Spike. We’d be here several days if I were to tell you all of them. People don’t usually ask me questions that open-ended because I tend to be literal. You may have noticed. So I sometimes get the impression that I offer considerable information beyond what they’d initially expected. Would you care to narrow that question down?”
Buffy was going to strangle her and then curl up and die. “Spike and me. Together. As a couple.” Oh, she was going to hell for that, certain sure. She’d said together. She’d said couple, which was another way of saying sex when it was a verb, and Spike was practically all verb, had to pry the nouns out of him by brute force.
“Again, that’s a pretty broad topic. And why wasn’t Spike here tonight, by the way? It’s not like him to forget. He doesn’t usually say much of anything, but putting in an appearance has to count for something, for being responsible.”
“He’s not here,” Buffy gritted, “because he and Angel were at each other’s throats from the second Angel set foot inside the door. Round one was inconclusive. More or less a draw--some damage on both sides. Round two is likely to be quite a bit more messy. And end in dust. So I guess he ran, got out, rather than face that. Force that, I mean.” (And abandoned me, the rat! Abandoned me to face it all alone! He knows I’m lousy at that, I hate that! And he still ran!) “OK, no to the vagueness here. Spike and me: are we right? Or are we both kidding ourselves and this is never gonna work, it’s really just a mutual insanity, it’s just the really great sex and how come I always end up with the vampires? Why is that?” Buffy yanked at her hair fretfully.
“The really great sex part, I’ll take on faith,” Anya responded, giving the matter serious thought. “Because he’s skilled, no question: he might have trained as a sex worker except there was no such profession, and therefore no training for it, until very recently, except for the court of Catherine the Great, which was another thing entirely. And you’ve nearly ruined him for that, I must tell you, Buffy. The great thing about vamps in bed, beyond the nearly non-existent refractory time, of course, is that they’re almost impossible to distract. They really give it their all. Drunk and miserable and distracted, they’re pretty pointless, but of course you go on, you don’t want to hurt their tiny feelings or their tiny anything else. Now, Xander--”
“Thanks, Anya. I appreciate your frankness,” Buffy interjected hastily before Anya could launch into (Gak!) Xander’s deficiencies in bed or anywhere else. Buffy did so not want to know!
“Well, it’s about time someone did,” Anya replied tartly, patting her hair, which was champagne blonde at the moment.
Xander was the next target for horrible, embarrassing interrogation but in a way, Xander was safe. Xander had hated Spike from the first moment, when Angel had offered him to Spike as a snack (all a deception, of course, and it hadn’t worked), and had never seen any reason to change his opinion since although as far as Buffy knew, Xander had never seriously attempted to stake Spike, which was more than could be said for her.
“Xander, c’mere.” Buffy drew him away from a conversation with Angel, whom Xander also loathed, into the small alcove between the basement door and the back of the upstairs staircase. “Look, just tell me: Spike and, and I, we’ve been a public item for awhile now. What do you think of it? Really?” Buffy looked him anxiously in the eyes.
“I think your getting it on with Charles Manson would be a considerable improvement. Ted Bundy. And this is the blank where you fill in the lucky mass murderer of your choice. Are you insane, Buffy? No, the question is how insane are you? The idea of shaking the guy’s hand gives me goosebumps and a world of ick. The idea of--”
“Thanks, Xander. I get the idea.” Buffy propelled him back down the hall in the manner of a shopping cart. When he was on the porch, Buffy said firmly, “Good night, Xander.”
She turned and Angel was there, looking down at her somberly. Angel asked, “Is this a poll? Can anybody vote? Can we mark None of the above? Are you the prize in life’s box of Crackerjacks and Spike just got lucky, stuck in his nasty little fingers and there you were?”
“You don’t do sarcasm well,” Buffy shot back and why did she have to always be looking so way up at him? Spike was taller than she was and he didn’t make her look up that way, always hunkering small on the floor, or sprawled low in a chair, or tilting his head pretending to be smaller than he was and why couldn’t Angel do good things like that? Why did he have to make such a point of looming? “That’s Angelus’ shtick and he’s better at it.”
“Buffy, why ask when you already know? Is a quick vote of confidence from his fifteen closest friends--oh, sorry, I forgot: he doesn’t have any friends--going to change that slaughterous foul-mouthed twerp into something fit for human society? Much less yours?”
“He does too. Have friends. He’s changed. He has a soul. Too. And it wasn’t forced on him, either. Which is more than some of us can claim.”
Angel looked thunderous and perplexed. Then perplexed went away. “He must have stolen it. It certainly hasn’t noticeably cramped his style, after all. And that’s what souls are supposed to do, Buffy: make him sorry for being a backstabbing ungrateful bastard I should have squeezed into dust a century ago. You don’t even claim to love him. So why bother trying to defend him? Habit? If he’s been useful, I’m more useful. And I’ll take care of you, not exploit you. Not corrupt you…any more than I already have. And if I knew how to be any more sorry about that, I would be. Because I know Spike would never have been able to get his claws into you, or anything else, except for me. Making you think that vamps were OK. Vamps are not OK, Buffy. We’re demons and we deserve to be dead.” Angel gave her Sincere, Loving Look #22, that had always melted her and still did, dammit, continuing, “As long as I’m among the semi-living, I’ll make it up to you however I can. Now leave it. He’s not worth another minute of my time or your thought. And I’m not going to hear any more.”
After he’d passed her, Buffy muttered rebelliously, “The Emperor has spoken.”
“I heard that,” Angel said over his shoulder, waving a cautionary finger, descending the front steps.
He was staying at a hotel downtown. No room for him at Casa Summers, even if all the SITs were to be bundled together over at Casa Spike. And besides, it wasn’t to be thought of that Angel would stay under the same roof as her, the attraction of his undead charms and huge shoulders might have been too much for them both to resist and presto-change-o, you got Mr. Compleat Ugly Angelus who far outdid anything, even unproven and hypothetical, Spike had ever managed by way of gleeful evil, and the no-friends he attributed to Spike went double, triple, quadruple when it came to Angelus. Absolutely nobody liked Angel’s worse half--not even Angel. So no question of his staying here.
And then, preparing for bed and for reading Dawn the riot act for letting herself get dragged off to a bar, for God’s sake, by the non-comedy team of Spike and Mike, and probably even having the Mystical Green Energy Thing cojones to actually have fun when life had become utterly unbearable for big-sis-who-hadn’t-been-asked-to-escape-to-said-bar, hearing the bike, yanking on the sleepshirt and running, after a bit of a chaste tumble and mutual misery and being delivered, still all chaste and miserable, for Giles to deliver home as if she were a ten-year-old runaway, self-consciously yanking the hem of the sleepshirt over her knees for the fifteenth time, Buffy still managed to scrape up a small puddle of courage to ask, “Giles, you’re nearly always civil to him now. So what do you really think? About Spike and me? Because Angel’s being an utter brute about it and Spike won’t back me up, he just runs, and I’m all alone here, Giles. And it’s so awful….”
Without looking away from the road, Giles passed her a handkerchief. She was too ashamed to get snot in it so she just used it to dab at her eyes and took big sniffs.
Giles said abruptly, “Spike believes that you don’t love him. Would you consider that an accurate assessment?”
So Giles wasn’t gonna be on her side either. Might in fact even be inclined to side with Spike, the traitor! And Rupert Giles doing the male solidarity thing with Spike was absolutely beyond belief, beyond all the odds of oddness.
Buffy wiped her eyes again wearily. “It’s hard for much romance to bloom when I’m always taking all this goddam criticism for boinking the evil undead. Past and present. Nobody backs me up, Giles. Nobody says, ‘Buffy, go for it, be happy, and who cares if he has a pulse.’ It’s hard getting up in the morning or wanting to. But Spike. He helps. He tries so goddam hard and nobody, absolutely nobody, gives him any credit for it. He’s been a real partner to me, Giles, and I can’t face what’s coming, I can’t even face now, without him. So is that love? You tell me.”
“It sounds, at most, like your loving his loving you. And that’s a very poor substitute, Buffy, for the actual thing. Of late and since the soul, I’ve developed quite a lot of respect for Spike. Given his handicaps, he’s done at least as much as Angel, the acknowledged Champion of the Powers That Be, has actually accomplished. At times, perhaps, the flesh is weak, but the spirit certainly is willing; and the same could be said of me, or of any of us. I know if I were in Spike’s position, I would have despaired at the way you blow hot, cold, and icy, never giving the same set of signals for a whole hour at a time. I would have simply given up, Buffy. And I wouldn’t blame him if he did. He’s been trying to accomplish something quite independent of you. He’s been trying, quite creatively, to come up with some effective opposition to the First. Which is supposed to be your mission. Not his. But he’s committed himself to it…again, apart from his commitment to you. I think at this juncture I will be betraying no confidences in telling you that the idea of summoning Angel--”
“--was his. Yeah. He told me.”
“And weren’t you at all surprised by that? Knowing them long-time antagonists, not even considering their history together, which is, to put it mildly, remarkably savage and perverted?”
“Didn’t think about it all that much,” Buffy admitted. “He was being dumb, and that was just one more dumb thing in the middle of all the other dumb things. How in the world did he talk you into that? Into pretending his idea was yours?”
“By painful frankness, when he clearly would be the loser by it if the plan proved successful. He’s a wretchedly bad liar. But he is also impossible to doubt when he speaks the truth, because he spares himself not at all. Which you have a tendency to do, Buffy. ‘Truth cannot be said so as to be understood, and not be believed.’”
“That’s poetry,” Buffy accused.
“So it is. Blake. I gather we share a fondness for Blake, Spike and I--one of the true philosophical revolutionaries. As close as I am ever apt to come to understanding chaos in the service of order. Destruction as part of the Natural cycle. Breaking it all down so it can all be built up a different way, and perhaps a better.”
“So you don’t figure he’s evil anymore?” Buffy asked hopefully.
“I now disqualify myself from judging him at all. He’s beyond my ken. But whatever his means, I believe his ends to be good; so I will continue to offer him assistance in whatever way he requests or is willing to accept. Unless, of course, he loses his temper and kills me, which is always a lively possibility and makes dealing with him so refreshing.”
In the dash lights, Giles’ face wore one of his pursy little smiles. Then he glanced at her, actually taking his eyes off the road for a whole second.
“I know that love does not come on command, Buffy. And I believe that if Spike had no further hope of your returning his love, it would break him. He’s staked absolutely everything on it. So I cannot, in good conscience, tell you to send him away, even though that might be more merciful in the end. All I can say is that if you ever truly know you cannot love him, just as he is and is becoming, without conditions or restrictions, don’t ever say that you can or that you do. That would be the most wicked, cruel, and unforgivable lie I can imagine.”
“Yes, wicked. Evil from intended good is more pernicious than evil intended for its own sake. You must decide this for yourself, Buffy. And then stand by it, no matter who disapproves or disagrees. Even if the one disagreeing is I. This much I will say: that I don’t think that the fact Spike is a vampire, and you are the Slayer, has the least significance anymore, except as it may matter to you, and to him. You are never going to make a man of him. And he is never going to make a vampire of you. Your differences--your opposition, even--is part of what brought and now holds you together. You and he must come to terms with those differences in their full measure. But you are not purely Good, Buffy, and I mean that as no criticism, only the truth. And Spike is by no means purely Evil, if indeed he ever was. He is an individual who loves passionately and tries desperately and with very little hope. And I hope that would always earn my respect, no matter who or what the person was.”
“Person,” Buffy repeated.
“Yes, person. I have been considering your Boogey Man Credo idea in preparation to writing my piece, that you required of us all…what now seems a very long time ago. And that far, at least, I have come in agreement with your basic thesis. Vampires--mature vampires, at least--are individuals. Are people, in any conceivable interpretation of the word. Spike and Angel are persons, beyond question, quite independent of their ensoulment. And they hate one another from having been too close for too long. Such a long life surely has as many drawbacks as advantages…. And I don’t like to think what may be required for Spike to establish a truce, much less a true peace, between them. Because vampires have little interest in negotiations or concessions. Vampires, each and always, are concerned with power. With force and domination. And I don’t believe there is a moderate bone in any of them.”
“So you think Angel is gonna hurt Spike?”
“Oh, I’m quite certain of that. The only question is how much and to what purpose. And that, I should very much like to know.”
“Don’t ask him. Angel. Please. He’s said his condition for not dusting Spike is that we all shut up about him and pretend he doesn’t exist.”
“Very well. There are other avenues. And Angel’s remarks concerning the Hellmouth tonight represent really fresh thinking. He’s right: we’ve been entirely reactive and therefore very nearly helpless: dealing only with the effects, not the cause. Leaving the initiative wholly with the First. Spike’s judgment is validated, pending the result. Angel is the best leader, and one uniquely placed to be effective in our present circumstances, that we could have been fortunate enough to recruit. It’s a good thing, Buffy, that Angel is here. Though I’m sure it will only become more difficult for us all, day by day. And now you’re home.”
Buffy turned her head and sure enough, it was: same old Casa Summers. Giles popped the automatic lock and Buffy uncurled her legs from under her to get out. Standing holding the top of the open door, Buffy said, “Thanks for the ride, Giles. And the talk. And this is so not the crappy car that Spike and Dawn say it is. It’s actually kind of cute.”
“Cute. Yes, how nice. Well, you’re welcome, Buffy. And if I can be of any further help, please don’t hesitate to call upon me. And when you feel so terribly alone, surrounded by nothing but disapproval and opposition, I suggest that you talk to Dawn. She’s surely a powerful and admitted partisan of Spike’s. And if her remarkable claim is at all to believed, she has…ah, friends in high places beyond anybody’s ken, including mine.”
“Dawn? As in, Dawn that I’m gonna ground for a month for being out past midnight?”
“Even so,” Giles said, and sighed. “Surely this is an apocalypse. Too many contending powers have converged for it to be anything else. Ask Dawn. Your present memory of her is not all that there is, Buffy. And you loved her, once.”
“I love her now, but she’s still gonna get grounded!”
“Some loves are so easy to know and say. It’s a pity most are more difficult. I would very much like to have a long talk with Dawn myself. Perhaps that’s what I should do. In any case, she’s your sister as well as Spike’s partisan, and is as totally immoderate as any of the rest of you, so you should find her company comparatively soothing. Good night, Buffy.”
“G’night, Giles.” Buffy shut the door and backed away from the curb, and Giles’ car pulled away.
Trudging upstairs, Buffy found both Willow (her next target for polling) and Dawn asleep, naturally in separate rooms, and was so weary herself that she didn’t wake them…or the assorted SITs sharing their beds, some more innocently than others. Kennedy and Willow, specifically, on the not-innocent side. Not Dawn, JoAnne, Vi, Chloe, Cho-Anh, and at least one pink large teddy bear. Hadn’t meant that at all, rewind, reset, Take Two.
Damn: listening to Giles for any length of time really did whack to the brain.
So Buffy dragged along to her own room and her own pitifully solitary Spikeless bed, flopped face-down on the pillow, and was asleep within minutes.
With Angel running the show, things pretty much ground to a halt during the day except for Buffy’s job, of course, and who really cared about that. Spike had planned it much better, Dawn thought: taking his sleep break from noon to about sundown, so the morning was filled--for the SITs, at least--with weapons drill and individual training. So far, Angel hadn’t shown up at all during the daytime (complicated, but not impossible, for a vamp), and just for an hour or two at night, conferring with the Scoobys and Giles.
Which was fine with Dawn. Angel’s good idea about the Hellmouth and involving some magical talisman or other that Anya was helping Willow locate, per Anya, didn’t square him at all in Dawn’s estimation. Buffy was whiny and wilted and miserable, and nobody had seen or heard from Spike in two days. Dawn was certain something underhanded that she ought to know about was afoot, and Angel had something to do with it. Fine: Spike had said, You bring in a workman, you get out of his way and let him work. But that didn’t mean Spike should give away his fucking bike, that he loved almost as much as the old DeSoto, full of dings, cigarette butts, and character (according to Spike). It didn’t mean giving poor Michael away, or as much as, according to what Amanda had told her, and the SITs knowing about as much about taking proper charge of a vamp as a pig did about Pythagoras.
That wasn’t what you did when you figured to take off for a day or two. That was what you did when you figured you might get seriously dead. It was a wonder he hadn’t tried to give Dawn away, but maybe he’d figured he didn’t have to since she was Buffy’s sister and that was pretty much as good as being given away, right there.
The teeny piece of Spike’s soul that Dawn had co-opted, quite legally and by permission, told her plainly that Spike hadn’t dusted, at least was extant someplace. But Angel’s prohibition was no way enough to keep Spike away, any more than it’d kept the Flying Finnegans act from departing on the bike, three nights back. And it was more than plain that Buffy hadn’t seen him since.
If Spike didn’t come, check in with Dawn somehow, even a phone call--Spike was a modern vamp, knew about tasers and phones and microwaves and everything--it wasn’t because he didn’t want to. It was because he couldn’t. Regardless of anybody else’s claim, he was hers: he’d said so. And nobody restrained or injured Dawn’s rightful property with impunity. Besides, Dawn was scared, but that was her own business.
Since Angel wasn’t anyplace around, or Buffy either, Dawn figured her being grounded only meant she wasn’t allowed to go out to a movie or the mall or anything. It didn’t mean she couldn’t go visit Casa Spike first thing in the morning, the way she always did.
She found a war council already in progress, out in the yard. Kim presided, which meant they were really serious because Kim would do things Amanda never would. If they chose Sue, who was really ruthless and cold-blooded, who was the chief of the no-bra brigade, and who maybe was just a little too interested in vamps, as war leader, that would be the sign that things had really come unglued.
Kim stopped whatever she was saying to wave Dawn to a place next to her. The SITs always did the circle thing, like Spike had taught them, instead of the teacher-class arrangement, the one and then the many. So the circle just inched a little apart to leave Dawn room.
As Dawn plunked down, Kim asked, “What’s the news from Casa Summers?”
“No word. No news,” Dawn said glumly.
“Well, we got this great idea. Tonight Angel’s supposed to review the troops, OK? Because I guess the tasers came in, Spike said they were due about now. One for everybody. So make a big thing of delivering them, and we do a couple drills, OK? All rah rah and fighty? So we’re gonna dog it. Trip over our feet, handle the weapons all girly and eek, is it gonna cut me? Maybe taser a volunteer accidentally-on-purpose. Show Rona some blood, so she can faint. She does real faints, no faking! And make us look like the biggest pack of sissy losers on the planet.”
Rona piped up, “I don’t want anybody but Spike sending me against no Turok-han. They’d waste our asses big time.”
“Yeah,” Kim continued enthusiastically, “and do formations of three, nobody in their right mind does formations of three, everybody bumping into each other--”
Dawn broke in coldly, “That is absolutely the worst fucking idea I’ve heard since New Coke. You know what you’ll do, if you do that? Make Spike look bad! Make Angel think Spike’s an utter incompetent, and you’re a bunch of noodles!”
“Now, that’s harsh, Dawn,” said Rona.
“I don’t care if it’s fucking severe, Rona. You make Spike look like a jerk and I’ll never speak to any of you again, so long as I live.”
“Yeah, and that’s apt to be a whole lot longer than any of us live,” chimed in JoAnne sourly. “Do you think this Angel vamp, or whatever he is, is gonna look out for us like Spike always did? He hasn’t even come to meet us, say Hi, how are all you fine lookin’ maybe-Slayer chicks today?”
“I’ve seen him,” Kennedy said in her usual flat way, not looking at anybody. “I think he’s bad news. Willow seems to put up with him well enough, though. Old Scooby tie or something. Slayer’s boyfriend from way back.”
Rona said, “Yeah, Slayer says come to Mr. Exaljente Generalissimo Grande, we ain’t gonna get to say go.”
“You’re forgetting,” Dawn said. “It was Spike who said come And the fact that I think something’s gone off about that doesn’t change that for all I know, Angel’s doing just about what Spike expected him to do. Wanted him to do. After all, I figure you get to know somebody pretty well in a hundred plus years. So I’m not about to start second-guessing Spike until I know more about it. And that’s what we need: to know more about it. We have to find Spike. Check with him before we do anything drastic. I can take the bus. Check the demon bars. See if he’s been around, and how long ago. There’s non-us people around in the daytime, just not vamps. And speaking of vamps: how scary has Michael gotten at this point?”
“He’s not scary, he’s cute,” piped up Sue, with a she-wolf’s grin.
Dawn groaned loudly, considering that major bad news. And Amanda told Sue, “Keep your chewed-to-the-quick claws off the baby vamp. Unless you intend to become lunchments. In that case, go ahead. Anything else, though, is absolutely off limits. We have enough trouble with Sulky Slayer without that. And from what I hear, E.G.G. Angel would definitely not be amused if you got your throat bitten out or anything else permanently broken, if you catch my drift. We’d have to disappear you. Say something got at you on patrol. Because Spike will definitely not be pleased at all if you get his baby vamp hurt or blamed for…anything of that nature,” Amanda finished prissily.
“And who made you the boss of me?” Sue demanded, rising and glaring at Amanda.
“I made me the boss of you, and in one more minute, I’m gonna demand submission. And I think everybody will back me up on it, too. And you really won’t like what we’ll do to you if you’re submitted, Sue. You’re not a baby vamp, you’re a bitch, and we’ll treat you like one and make you learn better. All right, as of now, you’re off the roster.”
Suzanne sat down real fast. “You don’t have to get all shirty about it, ‘Manda. I didn’t mean anything by it. I said he’s cute, and he is. Puppy dog eyes--”
“He’s probably a gazillion years old, it’s probably about his thirtieth fledgehood or whatever the damn word is, and cute boys with or without fangs is not what the mission is about, Sue! And having heard word one, I do not want to hear word two about puppy dog eyes. He wasn’t given to us as a chew-toy, all right?”
Or a fuckbot, Dawn thought but didn’t say, not wanting to take on the chore of explaining the now decommissioned Buffybot to them. Not one of Spike’s more shining hours anyway.
Instead, she held up her arm and said, “Here.” And they all attended. “Topic drift. Topic is finding Spike. I changed my mind. Sue can check out the demon bars. Any problem with that, Sue?”
“None whatever,” said Sue, grinning and inspecting the nails she’d been accused of biting.
“What I want to do,” Dawn continued, “is talk to Michael. He should be asleep now and therefore findable. Not too many--don’t want to make him nervous. Vamps have been known to do things when they’re nervous. ‘Manda, choose a deputation. Maybe three.”
Quietly, Amanda inquired, “Who made you the boss of us?”
“Spike did. Not in so many words, but he did. Because nobody cares as much about Spike as I do, and because he’s mine, and Mike will confirm that he said so, if you’re in any doubt. And because while you all were coming up with dumb schemes to make yourselves look like the queen Dorks of Dorkland, I was thinking that Michael is our best and maybe our only way to locate Spike and find out what’s happened to him. Does that satisfy you, ‘Manda? Are you happy with that?”
It wasn’t strictly true, there was another way to locate Spike, but Dawn wanted to keep that in reserve and use it only as confirmation, because that would mean going public to the adults. Specifically, to Willow. Anyway, Dawn had said “maybe.”
“Happy enough,” Amanda said, and shrugged. “OK, team is me, Kim, and Rona. Mark is Casa Minion. Casa Michael, I guess it should be. Everybody else on taser drill. If we’re gonna put on a decent show tonight, we need more practice. Vi, you call the drill.”
Heading toward Casa Michael, Amanda remarked to Dawn, “Well, you certainly have the Not-Backing-Off drill down pat.”
“I learned from the best,” Dawn agreed smugly.
Coming up with a key, Amanda explained, “We keep it locked in the daytime. It wouldn’t 100% keep something non-us from coming at him, but it would at least give him warning.”
When the door opened, the first thing Dawn saw was the bike--not on its kickstand but leaned rather forlornly against the side of a staircase. They all got inside and Amanda shut the door to keep the bright out.
Amanda remarked, “I don’t know where he lairs. He has the whole house to himself, after all.”
Dawn called, “Michael, I’d like to talk to you. It’s Dawn.”
Dawn jumped and turned, and there he was, sitting on the lowest landing of the stairs, about six feet away. Well within striking distance. His eyes shone faintly in the shut-door gloom.
As the SITs backed off to a more appropriate distance, Dawn went closer and patted the bike’s rear fender, drawing attention to that hand because the other had gone into her pocket, onto her taser. “I’m worried about Spike, Michael. Nobody’s heard from him since he left, the other night. But first, how are you? Have the SITs been treating you all right?”
“Nothing to complain of. Why’d he leave us, Dawn? Didn’t we do right?”
Suddenly all Dawn could think of was how devastating it’d been when Hank Summers left. Michael’s “us” somehow connected to that. “No, Michael. I’m sure it wasn’t our fault.”
Mike’s eerie, soft, almost sourceless voice responded, “I went for him. I did. Thought he’d do me, right there. Would have made sense that way. This don’t make any sense, Dawn.”
“That’s because we don’t know. Why he went. And I think it’s bad, Michael, or he would have told us. And we’re kind of stuck here. We can’t tag along behind Angel, see where he goes. He’d know. But you’re a vamp. And he wouldn’t notice you. Well, he might, but he wouldn’t make anything of noticing a lone vamp cruising around because he doesn’t know about you. You could be our ace in the hole. Would you like that, Michael?”
“He said I wasn’t to hunt him.”
Amanda said, “That was because he was worried you’d get caught. If you just hunt and find and then come right back and tell us, that’s different. Could you come right back, if you find him?”
“Dunno. If it’s bad, might be I’d want to hurt somebody.”
Dawn said sharply, “That’s not good enough, Michael.” She crossed right in front of him and scraped at the wall to find the light switch, figuring Spike wouldn’t have chosen this house if the power had been shut off. When she pushed the three switches she found, lights came on everywhere throughout the downstairs. As she’d thought, Mike was sitting there in vamp face. Meeting his somber golden eyes, Dawn continued, “You’re not a child, not a fledge, to do the first thing that comes into your head, no matter what it is. You have choices what to do, or not. It’s about time you started to make some. For instance, do you really want to hurt us?”
“Might. But…it startled me, to feel somebody coming. I was afraid.”
“Are you still afraid of us, Michael?”
“No,” Mike admitted, and his face flowed and changed, and he was just a sad looking guy with untrimmed brown hair flopped over his forehead, sitting on the landing. Gaze averted now, dropped to his boots: no longer confrontational.
“Can you make a promise and keep it?” Dawn asked him.
“Maybe.” Mike thought about it and Dawn kept still, letting him. “Yes, I think so.”
“If you can promise to look and come right back and report, then you can hunt him, Michael. Do you promise?”
“If he didn’t want me to hunt so I wouldn’t get hurt,” Mike formulated slowly, “that’s up to me. To take that chance or not. If it’s just me. So OK, Dawn. I promise.”
“Can you handle the bike?”
Glancing up, Mike showed her a lazy smile. “Oh, I expect. I was a merc ten years. I know most kinds of transport.”
Amanda asked, “A merc?”
“Mercenary. I got paid to kill people. Whoever wasn’t paying me, pretty much. Not so different from now. Except the company didn’t smell so good.”
Dawn said, “When you say things like that, it makes us nervous. We think maybe you want to hurt us.”
“Maybe I do. But no Dawn, never no more. Spike would be real sad, was that to happen. So I wouldn’t do that. Just funning you a little. Scare you a little, but not bad. You can scare me back if you want. Say you’re gonna dust me if I don’t do right and like I promised.”
“Don’t want to scare you, Michael,” Dawn replied soberly. “Not even for fun. We’re still too new to be certain what’s fun and what’s truly scary.”
“That makes sense,” Mike decided. “So come dark, I’ll take the bike and hunt him. Then I’ll report back. That all right?”
“That’s fine, Michael.”
“I’d sooner you’d make it ‘Mike.’ And I won’t call you ‘Bit.’ Because that other, that’s his.”
“Right you are. Hundred percent right, Mike.” Dawn thought a minute, then took the taser out of her pocket and held it out to him. He looked at it, then up at her. “You take it. In case you run into any trouble. A Turok-han, say. Or if Angel catches you, tries to hurt you.”
“Oh, he won’t catch me. And he wouldn’t want you to go without.”
Dawn had no trouble sorting out the “he’s.” “There’s more now. I can get another.”
Mike nodded. “Order’s in. Then all right.” He took the taser and held it cupped in both hands. “It’s good you trust me like this. Makes sense. Like you truly don’t want me to get hurt. That if somebody has to get hurt, it’s not me. That maybe we’re like friends.”
Very slowly and carefully Dawn reached out and touched his knee. Nothing personal, not his face, just his knee, and only for a moment. “I’d like to be friends with you. I like vamps, when they’ll let me. You vamps, you’re so downright. Direct. I like that about you.”
“Clean,” Mike commented, putting the taser away in a front pocket. “Like Lawrence said about the desert. That it was clean…. I like that about vamps, too. You children go on, now. I have to rest. And you think about how we could be friends, and we’ll decide about that. Some other time.”
The three SITs went outside, but Dawn lingered last to tell Mike, “When you keep your promise, Spike will be really proud of you when we tell him. That you’ve started choosing for yourself again. I know he wants that for you.”
“You love him. Don’t you. And he lets you.”
“Well, he’s mine. So he has to let me. He had my name in a poem tatted all the way up his arm, to show my claim on him. He’s proud of it.”
“I know he is. I wish he’d let me.”
“I think…we found the right distance. There’s nobody else standing where I’m standing, in relation to him. My sister, the Slayer, she has a different distance, and that’s hers. And the SITs, still a different distance than that. I think maybe you just need to find the right distance. That’s just yours. Not that many vamps he cares about, Mike. So there’s plenty of room.”
“Ahuh. I’ll think about that. You go on now, Dawn. I need to rest. Then I’ll hunt.”
Continued in Chapter Eighteen: Supplice d’Allégance