By Nan Dibble
Sequel to Old Blood
SECTION V: INTO THE DARK
Chapter Eighteen: Supplice d’Allégance
When Dawn came asking for a locator spell early on a Wednesday morning, Willow thought nothing of it. Such spells were routine. People were always losing things or each other.
And Dawn barging into Willow’s room, asking for something or just wanting to chat, was routine, too. Willow accepted her because everybody else did and because for months, Casa Summers had become a place where strange teenagers popped up and challenged you for bathroom rights as if they’d always been there. In most ways, on a practical basis, Dawn was just another. Willow didn’t pay much attention, just tried to avoid getting trampled at meals. The new improved reality that included Dawn was pretty much like the old reality that didn’t, and Willow was much more concerned about acing her Western Civ. midterm, in make-up coursework, than about Buffy’s unremarkable, tiresomely energetic, and possibly artificial kid sister.
Dawn was just Dawn.
Collecting the salt shaker filled with very fine red powder, the materia locus, Willow spread a topographical map of Sunnydale and environs out on the desk and sprinkled the materia lightly over it. Then Dawn touched it with the focus she’d brought: a small rectangular object made of silver metal.
Willow asked, “Isn’t that Spike’s lighter?”
“Yeah. Giles found it, I guess up at the motel. I thought I’d take it to him.”
Willow thought she vaguely remembered Angel saying everything was all super dandy fine, except Angel still didn’t want Spike underfoot at Casa Summers or anywhere in Buffy’s vicinity. So he’d parked Spike someplace and set him to investigating some practical aspects of the Hellmouth.
“Give it to Angel tonight,” Willow suggested indifferently. “I’m sure he’ll see Spike gets it.”
“I want to give it to him myself. I haven’t seen him in five days, and that’s a long time not to see somebody you’re used to seeing every day.”
Not caring enough to dispute the matter, Willow spoke the operative part of the spell, then shook the map to slide the materia locus across most of the middle. (If the middle had the X, there was no need to perform the trickier procedure of dusting the edges.) The materia adhered to the map in a single, jewel-like dot, marking an address on Albert Terrace, six streets away, in the middle of the block.
Having studied the map, Dawn trotted off, and Willow forgot the whole thing completely until Dawn caught her having lunch in the kitchen.
“Eew,” said Dawn, with an appropriate expression. “What’s that?”
“Sprout soup. Want some?”
“Thanks, but I’d rather live uninhabited by internal Triffids…. Willow, something’s not kosher.”
“Well, I’m the good one to tell, all right,” Willow responded amiably. “My credentials are a little out of date, but card-carrying Jewish person here. Wicca Jewish. So: what’s not kosher?”
Dawn leaned both elbows on the counter. Frowning, she slapped absently at her hair, which was showing too much of an affinity for Willow’s soup. “The map point, the locus, is one of the abandoned houses. Grass up to Yo.” Her flat hand put the grass at waist high. “When I knocked, nobody answered. I called that it was me, and still nobody answered. So I waited a little while, watched a mutt marking territory, and then knocked again and rang the bell and called, kicked the door, everything. And Angel came to the door. It’s one of those houses with a big porch overhang, like here, so he could do that and not go all flamey. And he told me Spike wasn’t there, which I knew perfectly well he was, and I showed the lighter, and he got a funny expression on his face and offered to pass it along. The lighter, not his face. Does Angelus look like Angel?”
Suddenly Willow decided she didn’t want any more soup. “Angelus looks exactly like Angel, except for real mean eyes. The only difference is on the inside. Angelus has eyes like a snake.”
“Well, if that was Angel, he has the mean eyes down cold. And I mean cold. Spike’s been gone nearly a week. Reasonable reasons were given. Except that they seem to have been lies. I don’t like it that Angel’s telling me Spike’s not there when he is.”
“Did you tell him that? That you knew he was lying?”
“Wednesday’s not my stupid day. I tried to look like the biggest idiot birthed, or not, since the last Ice Age and skipped off in my girlish way, tra la.”
“Well, Spike really doesn’t like me reading him. You know that.”
“Make an exception. Blame it on me, he hardly ever murders me when he’s mad. Just find out if he’s all right.”
“Go outside,” Willow directed absently. Catching Dawn’s indignant being-sent-away look, Willow explained, “Your watching is a distraction.”
As Dawn obediently zipped out the back door, Willow tried to decide the best approach: what she should do, as opposed to what she could do.
Willow was making up coursework because she’d spent six months of near house-arrest at the Devon coven penitentiary (literally) following her out-of-control attempt to end the world.
And she’d been penitent, all right: the coven had made her face her nerd arrogance, founded in the conviction of her own irrelevance, so whatever little trick such a powerless nerdy twerp could do must not count or matter, must be all right.
Like steal someone’s memory. Or refuse to recognize anyone else’s right to selfhood when it inconvenienced or displeased her or she simply thought she could make better choices for them than they could, walking in and out of their minds at will. Or perform dangerous blood magic to raise a friend from the dead…against that friend’s will and without her consent…and then get in a royal snit for not being thanked for it. Or try to make of her own personal grief a force to incinerate the earth. As if the power to do it, the pain to want to, and the self-absorption not to care who else she hurt absolved her of all responsibility.
Now, knowing herself to be a powerful witch dangerously lacking in safeguards, knowledge, or wisdom sufficient to render her harmless without also taking great care, Willow was very controlled and deliberate. She’d found terrifying the realization that she could do irrevocable things--things no amount of sorries and guilt cookies could make right again.
These days, Willow was much more respectful of the Law of Unintended Consequences and of trespassing beyond other people’s rightful boundaries.
Spike had told her to keep the hell out of his head, and she’d dutifully respected that. So she opened the connection now on the mental equivalent of tippy-toes, ready to retreat at the first sign of a yell.
(slow, indifferent attention) Yes.
(no yell yet. hopeful/nervous) You mind this?
Reassured of consent, Willow tried to interpret the tone, the intent of what she was getting. Because the mental voice didn’t, to her, “sound” like Spike at all. There were no overtones or undertones. No vague, swirly, smoky surround of emotional affect, the way there generally was with anybody. With Spike, that normally took the form of what she’d thought of as a “whiskey edge”: brown, strongly focused, with a bite to it, no pun intended. Instead, this was mechanical: like having a conversation with a computer fitted for voice commands and responses.
Something not kosher indeed.
Are you OK?
Explain no yes--I don’t understand.
Doing what I must.
And what’s Angel doing? To you???
What he must. I think he enjoys it more than I do.
(alarm; effortful rousing concern) Keep her out of it. Away from it. Please.
Willow was shocked into staring at her soup: Spike had just asked her something Please!
She flipped her soup into the sink, then rinsed and refilled the bowl with tap water, all full of chlorinated goodness doing brave battle with the sewage residue. She set the bowl on the table. Staring into the smoothing surface of the water, Willow conjugated the Latin verb videre: all the forms of seeing. With the mental link as the center, like a camera mount, she saw in the water’s surface what Spike could see, like a reflection in a small round mirror.
In a slow pan from left to right, she saw a dark board floor and above it bare walls with the lighter rectangles where pictures had been removed. Crooked rough plywood that almost certainly covered windows. No direct sunlight, and nearly no light at all, was admitted to this room. Your basic empty house, refitted for vampire occupancy.
This had probably been the living room. She saw no doors leading outside. A doorless arch to a dining/kitchen area where someone was moving. Then, as the vision panned farther to the right, an open door and a hall beyond. connecting to some other part of the house.
The motion in the kitchen became Angel, broad-shouldered and solemn, intent on his task: setting up a small, cheap folding table. He returned to the kitchen and brought back a big Kool-Aid style clear glass pitcher filled with what had to be icy cold water, going by the condensation. He placed the sweating pitcher on the little table. Added a glass. Considered the arrangement, the effect.
Because there’d been an effect. An interior lock on a target: like an alcoholic seeing liquor or…what somebody incredibly, desperately thirsty would feel looking at a pitcher of ice water.
Willow had never been as thirsty as that. She could only guess. But she wasn’t in any serious doubt.
Angel said something, but Willow could only see, not hear. But because the perspective didn’t change, she knew Spike hadn’t moved. Not an inch. She tried to nudge his attention to himself, so she could see if there were ropes, restraints. But the lock on the pitcher was too strong, and his awareness of her intruding presence too dim, for her to influence.
She didn’t want to give Angel any reason to suspect her scrying. So she kept inner silence while Spike fought the pull of the water. Willow would have thought only blood could affect him that way. But apparently if you were dehydrated enough, water would do just fine.
Not that there wasn’t blood. When Spike finally broke the lock and let his gaze fall to the nothing that was the floor, Willow realized why the boards were dark. Blood. Lots of it. Some dried black, some fresh. A whole bunch of flies taking an interest in it.
As far as she could tell, there was nothing keeping Spike in place. Nothing to prevent him from taking the pitcher and drinking it all down. Nothing, in fact, to prevent him from crossing the room to wherever the outside door was and leaving. Except that he didn’t.
If Angel was still there, Spike had ceased to notice him.
Willow quickly grabbed her bowl and drank all the water. It tasted awful: bad city water--a tautology. She drank it anyway. Besides, she figured she didn’t have to see any more to know the meaning of what was going on.
(equivalent of whisper) Spike, why are you doing this?
Because I must. Don’t say to me anything you don’t want repeated.
(startlement, indignation) You’d tell?
If I’m asked. Yes.
(derisive) What are the chances you’re going to be asked if a witch is talking to you in your head?
Low. Ask what you must, then go away.
(slower, flatter) Because it’s a comfort.
(concerned, a little touched)It is?
Then why don’t you want me to stay?
I am not to have comfort. This is not about comfort. It delays the end.
(startled alarm) What end?
(nothing: no reaction)
What end, Spike? How is this supposed to end?
Willow lost the connection in a blaze of static. Dawn had come back and was leaning on the counter again. Expecting a report.
Willow chewed on her lip. “Angel and Spike are having some kind of a face-off. Spike insists it’s necessary, and you should keep out of it. There’s bad parts to it but I don’t know enough to call it yet.”
“Did he yell? Throw you out?”
“He…has other things on his mind. He didn’t object.”
“So: if I go back over there and start yelling my head off, is that gonna make things better or worse?”
Willow shook her head. “He really, really, really doesn’t want you getting involved in this, Dawn.”
Dawn pensively bit at a nail-edge. “‘Really’ cubed. That’s severe. What if we tell Buffy? Is that ‘really’ cubed, too?”
“I don’t know. Not yet, Dawn. I got the strong sense that this is something he made up his mind to and is really-cubed determined to see all the way through to the end.”
“What end?” Dawn demanded.
“I don’t know yet,” Willow temporized. “I’ll monitor, as much as he’ll let me.”
“Willow. There’s something I’ve been looking for the chance to talk about with you. About me and Spike.” When Willow looked up, Dawn was leaning both elbows on the countertop and drawing idly on the surface with an index finger. So averted, so conspicuously non-confrontational, that it was faintly alarming. Dawn continued, “For the record, I existed independently before Spike recovered me. Actually, it was something we did together. The operational force was connection, not a spell at all. No template and no summoning were involved. There’s nothing in what we did that would be of the least use to anyone else. In reconstructing somebody, for instance. I’ve been waiting for you to bring it up, so I could get it out of the way. But you never have. I think what I think you’ve been thinking is a really terrible idea, but we don’t have to discuss it because it’s not possible unless you’re willing to settle for the equivalent of the Buffybot. And that, you could have done anytime. And you haven’t. So I think you know as well as I do that it’s impossible. What’s gone is gone. And I’m sorry, but that’s how it is.”
“Oh,” said Willow, feeling as though she’d been rammed by a truck she hadn’t even seen coming. “But….” She was thinking about Spike’s strange aura. But that would be accounted for by either opening up or being forced open by a complex and powerful aetherial connection--exactly what Dawn had described.
Finally lifting her large, implacable eyes, Dawn added, “If Spike’s in trouble and you’re the contact, I need to be sure you don’t think something could be available from him, or from me, that we don’t have. I don’t think this is a good time for private agendas. When Spike’s hands were hurt so bad, you tried to help. And you told me that was because you had history with him, even though all of it wasn’t good. You said he was a mensch. And I say, when push comes to shove, Spike is us. And Angel’s not. So you--”
On a different frequency, abrupt pain. Huge pain. Willow did the equivalent of scooting away fast, so as not to be overwhelmed by an onrushing tsunami.
“What was that?” Dawn asked, shrewdly attentive.
Willow fanned a hand in front of her face, then slapped it onto her chest, heart doing doubletime waltz, sitting jammed all the way back in her chair. “Let’s say…heavy duty hint that this isn’t the greatest time for company over there. I’ll check back in a while. When I figure out more of what’s going on, I’ll let you know.”
“All right. If Spike said wait, I’ll wait. But the minute he says something else, tell me. I’ll be at Casa Spike.” As Dawn sauntered outside, Willow thought of asking, Who are you and what have you done with Dawn? But (a) they’d already done that and (b) Willow wasn’t sure she wanted to know.
Dawn ran to Casa Mike. Opening the door just a crack, she called, “Mike, it’s me. Dawn. Can I come in?” Because it was important for him to know she and the SITs weren’t just gonna come waltzing in whenever, during his sleeping time, into his own place. She’d done that with Spike, just burst into his crypt. She was ashamed, thinking back, how rude and thoughtless that had been. Vamps didn’t have much, maybe didn’t need much. But that was no reason to make them feel vulnerable and unsafe in the only place they had that was truly their own.
“Come in, Dawn.”
Mike was sitting in one of the big chairs, a little bleary, rubbing his eyes. Had probably been asleep but staying near the door, waiting for word. The same as all of them were.
Dawn perched on an arm of the adjoining chair. “Willow’s confirmed. She has it now. She’s talking to him. Spike doesn’t want us interfering.”
“Willow--that’s Red. The witch.”
“Right. She can talk to Spike inside his head. And I know he hates that, but he hasn’t shouted her out. So I figure it’s bad, Mike.”
“Well, we pretty well knew that,” Mike responded calmly. “If Angel meant him to die, if that was what this was for, he’d already be gone. And he’s not. So he’ll last awhile, until we come.”
It had taken Mike two nights to identify the house on Albert. About three in the morning, Dawn and all the SITs camped out at Casa Spike had heard what they’d been waiting for: the sound of the approaching motorcycle. Before Mike could even dismount, they’d all run out to the curb, and he’d told them. Then he’d said, “I’m going back there now,” and started an argument because Kim had been worried he’d just break in, or try to go after Angel, or follow some other vamp impulse and ruin things. Mike had listened until Kim was done, then said, “I can wait. Wait just in range. So I can feel him, and he can feel me. Won’t know it’s me, of course, but if he’s scared, if he’s hurt, maybe it would be better to know somebody’s there. Steady. Not leaving. Don’t think you should forbid it, Kim.”
Then Dawn had asked in a small voice if she could come too, keep vigil, and Mike had told her that wouldn’t be good because Angel knew her, knew her smell, and well might notice something and come looking. “Best if it’s just me. Just some vamp he don’t know, don’t mean nothing to him.”
However reluctantly, they’d all accepted his judgment on that, so he’d kept the vigil alone that night and would again tonight, until Willow relayed the word it was OK to go and get Spike out of there.
Now Dawn asked, “Do you know what he’s doing? Why he’s doing this?”
“I’m only six years old, Dawn. In this life. Lots of things I don’t know. Maybe he’ll tell us. Afterward.”
Dawn slammed fists onto her knees. “I want to know now!”
Understanding it was impatience, not a real demand, Mike smiled at her. “When there’s nothing to do, you wait. It all comes around. You wait your chance, and it comes. Too bad you can’t be better at waiting. It frets you so.”
It tickled Dawn a little, to have Mike offer sympathy for her human shortcomings.
“I should get back now. And you need to rest. When anything happens, I’ll come tell you.”
Dawn got up and started to go, then looked back at him: so calm and quiet, so unlike Spike with his compulsive fidgets and coiled suddenness. Knowing she was still within striking range and he could easily take her before she’d know what was happening. Knowing that didn’t matter, any more than it did with Spike.
She’d seen Mike often enough in game face that it was easy for her to imagine it: the broad, overhung brow; the wide golden eyes and steady gaze. “You’re almost your own person again. Spike will be glad.”
“Yeah.” The simple word, simply accepting and agreeing.
“Sometimes I imagine Spike as a cat. Like a cougar. Sometimes he reminds me. Is it OK if I imagine you like a lion?”
“Can’t help what you imagine, Dawn. Don’t mind it, though. Lions aren’t like the pictures people have in their minds about them. But nothing wrong with the picture, if that’s what you want. Not a picture, though. I’m a vamp, Dawn. Be best if I remind you of that.”
“You’re right. Best as what you are. It only seems easier to imagine something else. Because I truly don’t know lions, either. It only seems more familiar. It isn’t, though, really….”
Dawn left then, carefully shutting the door tight behind her against the sunshine, and ran to Casa Spike to wait for further word.
Willow made a cup of soothing tea and took it down to the basement. Spike’s cot was gone, wrecked, but there was a chair down there for waiting out laundry cycles. Willow put it where the cot had been to increase the affinity. Be in a place where he’d been, see what he’d once been accustomed to seeing.
She’d waited an hour before attempting contact, but found the pain still in full flood and yanked clear again. So she went up to the second floor and resumed her search for the amulet and actually got interested because there was something quite promising on e-Bay. Not enough of the right details to be certain. She put in a moderate bid, then checked on magical implements available on her other bookmarked sites and registered a couple of carefully worded searches on two of the supplier sites. When she next looked at her watch, another two hours had passed. So she took a bathroom break, then did the turns back down to the basement and the chair.
Pain still there, but just the wreckage after a flood had passed. She could move it aside, not be distracted by it, clear a different channel and focus only on that.
(soft, careful) Spike?
What the hell was that?
I was not attending. I was punished.
(contrite) Did I distract you?
(more contrite) Sorry.
I can make it stop. I can make [u]him[/u] stop!
(rush of NO, anxiety, anger) No. Let it alone. It must finish.
But why? Why are you letting him do this to you?
(exasperated, concerned, worried) Necessary for what, Spike?
(flat; more distant) Necessary.
Why is it necessary for you to let Angel torture you?
Supplice d’Allégance. Pain is the means. Not the end.
OK, what’s the end, then? What is this goddam for?
(slow, distant, objective) Vampires are not kindly creatures. Pain is a form of conversation. Angel and I are having a conversation. Finally I will give the right answer and it will be over.
What’s the right answer, Spike?
Angel is waiting for NO. I have not yet given him NO. He will force me until I do. Then he’ll break the NO and wait for YES. He won’t believe NO until he’s forced it. Then he may not believe YES.
(determined, trying to understand) What happens if he doesn’t believe the YES? Or you can’t give him the YES he wants?
Then he’ll keep beating down the NO until I can give nothing.
What I’m hearing is ‘until you’re dead.’ Am I hearing that right?
(pause: thinking; cold) And how far are you from the NO?
Very close now.
Am I in the way of that?
(immense black hole of exhaustion opening, widening, deepening, spreading out in every direction) I don’t know. It’s a comfort. I don’t know.
If I left you alone, could you rest?
I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. (echoes, endlessly repeating, diminishing until she could no longer hear them)
I’ll come back in a little while. Rest now, if you can.
Willow had something now, a handle: Supplice d’Allégance. Research mode. She dashed upstairs and got back on the laptop.
Although the Council of Watchers headquarters had been destroyed, along with nearly all the senior members of the council, the council library was in Oxford and hadn’t been touched. And one of the council’s projects for the last thirty-some years was scanning in the original old manuscripts, and the translations, beginning with the oldest and rarest of the documents, books, and codices. During her time with the coven, Willow had been allowed to assist this lifetime project, adding translations of some of the most frequently referenced texts. She still had access to the online archives. She thought there was a good chance a basic word-search would yield results.
Allégance, that was simple: something like allegiance, I pledge allegiance. Given vampire semi-feudal social arrangements, probably something closer to fealty. And supplice, maybe Norman French--
There it was. She had the whole phrase. Supplice d’Allégance. Translation, Ordeal of Fealty, with supplice having the implication of torture, trial by torture. Sounded like she was in the right ballpark.
She clicked on the link and was into a late 15th century manuscript about the semi-legendary exploits of Vlad the Impaler, known to his many friends as Dracula, who Spike claimed owed him eleven pounds and was a notorious tightwad. Of course Spike said that about anybody who wouldn’t loan him money….
Willow skimmed the translation.
It seemed that during that round of wars with the Ottoman (read: Turkish) Empire in the 1400’s in which old Vlad had made his bones, so to speak, and gained his first notoriety, one Strelzborg (or –berg or –bergen, etc.), a Lithuanian baron (read: Master Vampire, in spite of the waffling footnotes and cautious annotations) had arrived offering support and troops nearly equal to what Vlad himself could command. A desirable ally--assuming he’d stay bought. Vlad was never noted as a trusting sort. So he’d required the Supplice d’Allégance of this nice, helpful volunteer to ensure that Vlad would be able to depend on his loyalty. It had gone on for two weeks, or two months, depending on the translation, at which point the hopeful Strelz-something had conspicuously failed to thrive, and likely dusted, and Vlad had co-opted all his troops, and everything had been all hunky-dory and kittens and Christmas. Vlad had what he wanted without the annoyance of a possible rival or rebel. End of story.
One of the 18th century commentators, one Cedric Giles, shrewdly observed that although this was the only extant mention of the ritual, knowledge of vampiric social customs was so limited that the possibility of its being relatively common in the upper strata of vampire high-politik should not be discounted. The fact that the ordinary vamp quite possibly might never have heard of, much less observed or been involved in, such a formal ordeal didn’t mean it wasn’t well known by European Master Vampires of the time and possibly since.
Trust a Giles, Willow thought, to not take the received word as the last word, bless his suspicious quintessentially Giles-ish heart.
Likewise, Willow thought, the top levels of the international vampire hierarchy: the Old Blood, as it were. Like the Order of Aurelius. Of which the highest ranking members she knew of were one Angel/Angelus and one William the Bloody, more commonly known as Spike. Sire and childe. Kin and rivals almost every way there was, and neither of them missing any chance to slander the other, an antipathy almost palpable….
Willow had no question she now knew what was going on. Either Spike or Angel had initiated the damn ritual as a basis for their cooperation in the fight against the First, in which Angel had received a field promotion to general via Buffy upon arrival and Spike had no official standing at all and had even been forbidden Casa Summers altogether. Banned from the field. Whoever had first come up with the idea, Spike had consented to it to break the stalemate. Angel didn’t like him, didn’t trust him, and certainly would never depend on him. And Spike wanted in. Wanted it bad enough to go through whatever hell Angel’s nasty little paleolithic mind could contrive, to get in. Get finally to NO: involuntary bedrock resistance in extremis. A true ultimate NO beyond which was only death. And then maybe finally to YES--a surrender Angel could believe because it’d been forced, and forged, out of the worst pain one vampire could inflict upon another, willingly suffered, without ropes or shackles or any other constraint except the will to continue and endure, no matter what.
Angel, cynical bastard that he was, probably figured Spike would die in the process like the Sainted Strelz-whatever. And good riddance, it wasn’t Angel’s fault, no locks or handcuffs preventing Spike from walking out at any time.
But Spike wouldn’t have gone into a thing like that expecting to die, no matter what Angel’s expectations were. Angel, Willow thought, tapping a stylus against her teeth, quite likely didn’t know about Spike’s little vacation with the First. Six weeks of torment nearly as inventive and thorough as anything kin could manage. And Spike had come out of that all broken up but nothing that a week or two of healing couldn’t fix, and hardly any crazier than before, and time had taken care of that, too. Spike had already been to NO and back again. He might have liked his odds. He would have risked it.
If there was one thing Willow had learned about Spike, it was that he absolutely throve on crazy risks that would have taken out anybody less wholeheartedly committed. He’d remarked to her once that the trick of skating on thin ice was skate tast. In a figurative sense, of course, this being sunny non-freezing California. And Spike was the absolute king of skate fast.
Yeah: she was certain she had it now, the gamble to which Spike had committed his body and his sanity and his life, win or lose.
She waited until midnight before attempting contact again. The first time, she was whited out by pain. The next time, she found herself intruding on what felt uncomfortably like sex, so she backed right out of that too. A dream, maybe. Likely a dream. The third time, she made contact.
(softly, cautiously) Spike?
Are you to NO yet?
Very close. Soon. Don’t stay. You’ll be hurt.
I know about the Supplice d’Allégance. I understand the game plan, I think. How can I help you get to YES?
Doesn’t matter. It will go as it goes. You’re not made for vampire conversations, witch.
I don’t want to be a distraction. Is it worse in the day or in the night?
I don’t know.
No comparisons. Only now. No duration. Only now. No day, night. (a sort of tingling silence)
My sight has been taken. Harder to know, connect, without it. Go away, witch. You don’t want to know this. You’re not like us. It hurts you to know.
That’s my business, buster.
Is it night?
Willow blinked blurred eyes at the lighted face of her clock. It’s 2:45 in the morning. On Wednesday. I mean Thursday.
(attention; a feeling of turning, orientation, as though centering in an infinite amount of dark, empty space)
Interrupted by the onset of another siege of excruciating pain that Willow had to withdraw from. It was still going on when she fell finally asleep, to incredibly bad dreams of the naked-in-public and being chased by monsters variety. It was still going on each time she awoke. When she looked at her breakfast and thought it might as well have been a bowl of dirt, it was still going on. It was almost noon before it suddenly broke, ended, and that was such a relief that Willow burst into tears and had to spin Buffy a completely ridiculous and incoherent yarn about PMS and lack of exercise and something to do with newt’s eyes, she didn’t know how that’d gotten in there, but her explanation seemed to need a little more bizarrity and eye of newt was definitely it.
When she tried to contact Spike again, she suspected she’d completely blown out her capacity for contact. At least she got no response--not even attention. She hoped to hell he’d finally gotten to NO because she didn’t know about him but she wasn’t sure how much more of this she could take.
But each hour through that day, she tried again, just the same. Because if her immaterial company constituted a comfort, she wouldn’t have denied it to a dog dying in the road and she was wound up about as tight as she could get with rage at Angel.
That evening, he came by: talking to Buffy, sitting in the front room, walking in the yard. All solemn and big and seeming-simple. Willow couldn’t stand to look at him. She couldn’t have returned him a civil word if she’d tried, and just hustled off whenever she spotted him. If he so much as said one crosswise word to anybody where she could hear it, she was gonna do something unexpected and rather ugly to his throat from the inside and see how he liked her form of conversation.
She knew well that Angelus was the cruelest, most cold-blooded bastard who’d ever walked the earth. Until now, she’d assumed Angel was different.
After Angel left, Willow had a slight collision of priorities with Kennedy, who wanted a cuddle before setting out on patrol. Then Willow figured What the hell and gave in, she needed some touch-comfort after what she’d been through. Just out on the front porch on the glider, nothing intense that was apt to frighten the horses, the way they’d said in the coven, anything was OK as long as you didn’t do it in the street and frighten the horses….
Drowsily comfortable with Kennedy petting and occasionally smooching, her arms around sweet soft girlflesh, Willow reached out for another check.
(vague bewilderment) It hurts.
Willow frowned and came to alert because it wasn’t the same clipped mechanical “voice” as before. It was somehow a child’s voice.
What hurts, baby?
(deeper bewilderment) Everything.
Did you get to NO?
I was bad. Took some wet from my arm. That’s bad. Not allowed to have the wet.
Trying to figure that out, Willow came up with the appalling picture of Spike biting his arm, trying to drink his own blood, and that was so awful she hoped to hell that constituted a NO because if it didn’t, she couldn’t imagine what he’d have to do before Angel would acknowledge it, finally, as a refusal, resistance.
Hang on, baby. A little longer. We’re coming for you. Don’t be afraid.
“What is it?” Kennedy demanded, seeing Willow’s resolve-face and maybe even knowing what it meant.
“Get Dawn here. She’s at Casa Spike. Phone her. Then the patrol: first point--
“The mark, yeah?”
“OK, first mark is 3650 Albert Terrace. Wait there, outside. As backup. But go call Dawn first.”
When Dawn flashed onto the porch, Willow told her, “Dawn, we’re going after Spike. Two things: you get Buffy. I don’t much care what you tell her, except don’t mention Angel. It’s the house on Albert Terrace. Second, no matter what you see, no matter what happens, don’t be scared. Nothing bad is gonna happen to you. But it may get real scary and you’ve gotta expect that, be prepared.”
“Scary,” repeated Dawn, perfectly dead-pan. “Right.” And she was gone again, on the run.
Willow went ahead on her own. She didn’t want to have to try to do explanations. In fact, she thought the fewer explanations, the better. Predictably, she found the SIT patrol already in place, on the sidewalk beyond the high, uncut lawn. In fact, Willow thought it was all the SITs: twenty-five, or however many of them there were now, she could never keep count.
She saw Buffy and Dawn coming from the corner, Dawn flapping her arms up and down, clearly offering some kind of explanation, circling Buffy like a tall, skinny yapping dog. Fine: that piece in place then.
Willow told Kennedy, “You’re with me. Everybody else stays here, as backup.”
Kennedy turned to say something to Amanda, then turned and moved, taking position at Willow’s left. Which left the right-hand position to Buffy, making the turn from the sidewalk and then down the walk.
“All right,” Buffy demanded of Willow, “what’s this about?”
“Spike’s in there. He’s hurt. I intend to get him out, and I thought you’d want to come with.”
Buffy frowned incredulously, but Willow didn’t wait for further conversation. She went to the door and gave it five good bangs without touching it. “Angel, it’s me: Willow. Open up. Now.”
Hardly a minute later, the door opened and Angel was there, looking at Willow and then doing a double-take at finding Dawn, Kennedy, and Buffy on the front step behind her. And then all the SITs assembled out on the sidewalk.
Having apparently taken in the essentials of the situation, Buffy brushed past him and he moved out of her way, trying to choose something to say as Willow and the two girls also went past.
Willow hadn’t seen the inside of the house from this direction, but when Buffy glanced a question in the hall, Willow pointed to the second door on the right.
“What’s this about?” Angel was asking mildly from behind them. “Buffy?”
There was no room to get past, so he disappeared, circling through the kitchen.
There was no lamp lit in the living room, no light of any kind, so Willow made a glow between her clasped hands and tossed it to hover near the middle of the ceiling. Then she started looking for Spike. But Buffy had already found him. Assuming what looked like a dirty pile of rags was Spike.
Crouched, Buffy swiveled with an incredulous, accusatory glare just in time for it to meet Angel, arriving in the kitchen arch and mostly filling it.
“Buffy, I can explain. It was necessary. A vampire thing, none of….” Angel’s voice trailed off. Apparently he could see his explanation wasn’t winning him any Buffy points whatever. But it seemed that he was at least as determined as Spike not to have the ritual aborted, incomplete. In a flat, resigned voice, he commanded, “Spike. Take Dawn.”
The pile of rags moved. It had two legs and bones and that was about all Willow could tell about it in that first second because it wasn’t recognizably Spike at all.
Willow threw at him, in her head, Do it! Now! She’s protected, just do it!
The skeletal thing that had no eyes went into a questing balance for a second, then flung itself straight at Dawn. Although both girls were armed with tasers, they had no chance to use them because Angel caught his creature up in his arms and flung it clear across the room into the far wall. Hard. It tried to rise, still trying to come, obey that last command. But Angel shouldered Dawn aside and strode across the room, ignoring Buffy, ignoring them all, looking as though he intended to pound the thing into powder on the floor. And again caught it in his arms and held it, dropping to his knees, gentling it with one big hand, saying quietly, “Enough, Will. That’s enough now. It’s all right now.”
Willow shut her eyes, breathing hard. Spike had made it to YES.
Buffy was standing, hands on hips, rigid with fury. And Angel still wasn’t paying her a bit of attention, still soothing his horribly desiccated childe. Undoing the cuff button and rolling up his sleeve, he presented his bare forearm, saying, “It’s allowed now, Will. You can change. Go ahead. It’s allowed.”
The wraith Spike had allowed himself to become clutched at the arm and began soundlessly feeding. It was really grotesque and unpleasant to watch, so Willow didn’t.
Buffy announced in a take-no-prisoners voice, “We’re taking him home.”
“Not yet,” Angel responded with monumental calm, still not looking around. “He needs me to take care of him now. You wouldn’t know how. What to do.”
“Then you tell me. But he comes home. Now.”
Without further argument, Angel rose with Spike in his arms--trailing limbs that were no more than parchment over bone--and carried him into the hall and out the front door with Buffy trotting right behind, all kinds of stormclouds in her face.
Willow absently dismissed Kennedy to take the SITs on the scheduled patrol. Dawn, pocketing her taser, remarked, “I have to get a good look so I can tell him how awful he was,” and ran off after Angel and Buffy. Catching up, Dawn lifted a hand and found a cluster of bones, maybe a hand, to clasp.
Following along, in no hurry now, Willow could hear Angel doggedly trying to explain. That after all, it wasn’t as though Dawn was really her sister and anyway there’d been no danger, he was there and had stopped it. And Spike (Will, as he called him) had agreed to this, it was an established vampire custom for settling rank, and that wasn’t getting him anywhere either and he should have saved his breath, he was only digging himself in deeper by trying to be reasonable. Buffy wasn’t inclined to be reasonable. She’d taken one look and been horrified and furious, and still was. Having lost the moral high ground, Angel should have just shut up and waited for the worst of it to blow over.
Willow could have told him. But she didn’t. She was pretty well satisfied with the way things were going, all on their own, and saw no further need to interfere.
Making Angel carry Spike upstairs and settle him in Buffy’s own bed seemed a bit much, but Buffy was nothing if not thorough. Still trailing behind, Willow thought she could see some improvement just from the one feeding: Spike looked more mummified than destroyed. You could recognize the hair. But the empty eyesockets still were something Willow couldn’t regard steadily.
Dawn had continued to hold his hand. She looked up at Angel as though vaguely wondering why he was still there. Buffy, standing at the bedside, was looking at Angel the same way, except she wasn’t doing vague, she was doing impatient.
Angel stood unhappily a moment more, then said, “Nothing but water, and not much of that. No more than a pint in six hours.”
“No blood?” Dawn asked.
“No. Not yet. I’ll come back tomorrow for that. All right. Good night.”
He turned and left, and Willow noticed the conspicuous lack of anybody wishing him good night in return.
She could almost feel sorry for him. Or maybe not.
Although Angel had won the battle he knew about, the Supplice d’Allégance, it was becoming increasingly clear to Willow that Spike had won the real war: the one for the allegiance of the Summers women, the SITs, and even herself.
None of them able to tolerate the ruthless absolutes of vampire “conversations” whose words were blood and agony. Spike had only to suffer it, survive it, and let the fact of what had been done to him--and who’d done it--speak for themselves.
Willow knew she’d never be able to look at Angel the same again. Nor, she thought, would any of them. He might still be a general in the present war, but he’d been revealed as a monster well worthy of Angelus, soul and all, and nobody would want to be in a room with him, after this, any longer than they could help. Angel might know planning, and warfare, and vampire lore; Spike knew women.
Dawn was still fondly holding Spike’s skeletal, inhuman hand. Buffy was pawing through drawers, choosing a scarf to cover the horrible absence of his eyes.
Considering the wreck on Buffy’s bed, Willow reflected that Mr. Skate Fast had put everything he had on the line for the highest stakes he cared about and come away with it all.
And Angel still didn’t even know it.
Willow wasn’t inclined to enlighten him. Ever.
Continued in Chapter Nineteen: Revamping