By Nan Dibble
Sequel to Old Blood
SECTION VI: INTO THE LIGHT
Chapter Twenty One: Slights, Sights, and the Fate of Cleveland
Hearing the approach of the motorbike, Spike rolled out of bed, dressed, and was downstairs by the time the tone changed to quieter idling. The bike’s noise, the calls of wakening birds, and the beginning stir of traffic on more traveled streets provided a complete and accustomed soundscape in which Spike oriented himself, going down the porch steps and across the front yard.
As Spike mounted pillion, Michael let the bike pull out.
Fifteen minutes later, retrieving the hidden key let them into the back annex of the Magic Box. Spike turned his head, noting Angel’s presence off to his right, at the street side of the training room. Probably doing those infinitely slow moves of his: about as stirring as watching a glacier melt. Moves you could probably do in your average sized closet. Spike didn’t know why Angel bothered leaving his hotel, unless for some reason he wanted to watch Spike’s progress in the unarmed drills.
The scent of coffee meant Anya was also up early. She liked to keep an eye on the merchandise when anybody else was here, no matter who.
While Spike sat on the back bench to pull off his boots, Mike dragged all the pads into a pile near the outside door. They met, both barefoot, out in the middle of the floor. Mike tapped Spike’s shoulder, and they began.
It was a little like wrestling and a little like the tether fighting once popular in France. Pretty much continuous contact, a medley of blows, holds, and throws, going at it full speed, full force, but minimal footwork. No need for any warm-up, no need to hold back.
Spike had tried training with a few of the SITs but had found it too difficult to keep from hurting them because they weren’t consistent in their moves and sometimes leaned in closer than they should. Blows that should have been quick, pulled jabs instead connected solidly and the SIT knocked off her feet, unprepared. And the SITs needed for protection the pads whose edges were a tripping hazard for Spike. Better working out with Mike on the bare floor. Just go at it, all out.
Mike’s fighting style, like Spike’s, was an eclectic hodgepodge of unarmed combat moves and streetfighting. Normally Spike would have thrown in more aerial stuff--backflips, drops, sweeps, flying kicks and the like--but his blindness denied him accuracy, and losing contact put him at a further disadvantage. Regretfully he left the flying flourishes--the little extras that could startle an opponent and make people like Huey think he “fought pretty”--to some other time.
Buffy would have worked out with him, had in fact offered a couple of times, but Spike didn’t want to show her anything less than his best form. Bad enough to have Angel watching, assuming he was.
Thinking about being watched distracted him enough that Mike had him down and into a headlock, bang done. Enough of that then. When Mike let him up, Spike went over to the weight bench and worked there awhile. Didn’t need anybody’s help doing that. He pushed himself mercilessly because he knew what he expected of himself and was still way short of that. Strength decent, maybe, but endurance was terrible and he was still stiff and awkward by his own standards from having to contain motions within a limited range because of the blindness. His measure was the Slayer: her supernatural strength, agility, and skill. Still be awhile, he judged, before he’d be fit to dance with her.
At the first signs of shaking exhaustion he continued a little longer, then quit and rested. Mike brought him a cold quart of bottled water. He drank some of it, then all of it, Didn’t have to feed a dozen times a day now but the water still was good and he went through considerable of that.
The idea of having to pay for water offended him. Being idle and useless and kept on charity offended him. He keenly felt the difference between working, stealing, or extorting/finagling/gambling to provide for his own needs, all of which he considered sensible, and being a dead drag on Buffy’s skint economies. And now there’d be leavegeld for Michael to get together and how was he to do that?
Spike made himself shut down that line of thinking. When he was healing, he always did that: got into cycles of aimless depression and worry. No sense to them. It was worse this time because he wasn’t inclined to drink himself into a blank interval, since that would have rendered him completely helpless; and his confidence in his own ability and resources to deal with any challenge were pretty much at an all-time low. Because he’d submitted. To Angel. Couldn’t claim the head bloodied but unbowedsodding rot anymore. In Angel’s presence, Spike always had an ear halfway cocked. Attending. Waiting for direction. Vaguely anxious for notice and approval that consciously he was indifferent to.
He’d been willingly owned a long while now. Given pieces of himself away freely, without calculation, beginning with Buffy and Dawn. All sorts of people now had a claim on him: Willow, all the SITs, the Watcher, Anya, even that git Harris, some ghosts like Joyce and Tara, and Michael too, of course. All that rested light on him. It was different, acknowledging Angel’s ownership.
Despite all the thinking Spike had done about it before and since, despite intending and accepting it, it made him feel less than he’d been. Less in every way. Made him feel fragile and unsure.
He bestirred himself for a session hitting the large heavy bag and the suspended smaller one, working toward a sustained staccato rhythm, thinking that if he wasn’t anymore the weapon he’d been accustomed to and expected himself to be, he was still sufficient to the mission of closing the Hellmouth. Nothing much signified beyond that.
Mike coming up. And Angel behind him. Spike kept up the rhythm of striking the light bag as though he didn’t notice because he didn’t want to notice.
All grave and approving, Angel said, “Well, you’re beginning to have some meat on those bones,” and Spike’s memory replayed, Well, you’re almost fit to beat up a nun, said in exactly that tone, from other, lesser recoveries, followed by that same swat on the shoulder. He’d expected it and therefore held his balance and his rhythm against it. He wondered if Angel had the same old soundtrack playing counterpoint in his head but not enough to ask.
We are what we were. Spike was getting his strength back, enough to prod Angel into reasserting dominance. Same old tune, just new and more guarded words. Meant pretty much the same.
Angel proposed, “Why don’t we do a couple of turns. Test your speed, not go easy on you and wait for you like your boy here.”
Spike reached out and stilled the bag, realizing it was Mike Angel was after. Michael, come all watchful, guarding him. “Michael, go home.”
Mike said, “Don’t want to.”
“That wasn’t a question, and you ain’t got your leavegeld yet, so you mind. Go on home. I’ll be along presently. Michael.”
Michael didn’t respond. The lad thought he knew well enough what was what but still fancied his chances. Didn’t know how jealous Angel was in his ownership. Didn’t know that the restrictions Angel imposed on himself in regard to humans didn’t extend to vamps. Still played rough and pretty much the same as always, in that respect.
Angel commented, “You don’t keep that boy in line. You can’t put him down, so he’s lost respect for you.”
“Michael,” Spike said one last time.
“Not gonna leave you here,” Mike said stubbornly.
So Spike hit him before Angel could. Hit him hard and unexpected, and put him down, and set an elbow in his throat, wrists crossed and hands in neck-breaking position. “Michael, you’re embarrassing me in front of my Sire. Now you get home like I said.”
There were a couple of ways Mike could have broken free, but Spike trusted the lad not to and he didn’t. Maybe Mike understood the attack and maybe he didn’t, but he accepted it anyway. Spike let him up and listened for the sound of the door, that would mean Mike was clear. Then he faced around to Angel.
“If you want to play, I’m here.”
A cuff to the head, hard enough to break Spike’s stance, but just the one, and Angel’s amused, sardonic voice commenting, “I expect more from you, considering all that good girl blood you’re getting. Are you sure you didn’t inherit thrall from Dru, not dreams?”
Spike shrugged. “Can build up strength and get hard on pig blood. Just takes longer.” He expected another smack for that, but probably just got a scowl, which didn’t signify. So he added, “The children and I understand each other well enough.” Which probably was annoying too but not as bad as bringing up the Slayer directly, so Angel let it pass.
“You’re their mascot,” Angel said, turning, moving away. “Pet vamp. Well, I suppose it’s good somebody finally found a use for you.”
So this game was apparently over: no fun without Mike to play the angles, the connections. Not worth the play just for Spike, that he could have at a word. Spike broke stance and went slowly for his boots.
Except at midday, the alley behind the Magic Box received no direct sun so it was simple enough for Spike to locate and lift the storm grate that let him drop into the big sewer pipe below. Stepping up onto a wall cleat let him reach and slide the grate back into place.
Along the route between here and Casa Summers were other grates the sun did shine through. So Spike untied the blindfold and tried out his eyes.
Got general dark blur, so he wasn’t certain if he’d be able to notice the sunfall spaces or not. The first of the exposed grates was a couple of hundred paces on, so he started walking, blinking and squinting, trying to discern any detail that would give him a basis for comparison. Presently he felt there was a vamp up ahead and halted, pulling out the piano wire garrote from his back pocket.
“Yeah. There’s sun here. Thought you might need…want to steer around it.”
Spike put the garrote away and continued on. He could make out an area of increased warmth but couldn’t see the light at all, which answered that.
They walked on together for awhile. Then Spike decided, “You take the bike for leavegeld.”
“You already gave it to me. You taking it back to give it to me again?”
Spike shook his head. “Forgot. Dunno what else I’d have. I’ll think about it. I’ll think of something. It’s time, Michael.”
“No need of that. And ain’t going anyway, I hope you know that.”
“You should, though. Gonna get real ugly here pretty soon now. You should get gone. Use the damn bike, since it’s yours anyway.”
“I still want in, Spike. That ain’t changed.”
“Different game now. ‘Tisn’t my call now. Never was, actually. An’ you’d just have the whole thing to go through again with Angel, if he didn’t just dust you for lack of the time to sort you proper. According to his notion of proper. Best you stay clear now.”
“Another thing you forgot,” Mike said. “You gave me away to the children. It’s their say now, not yours. So whatever leavegeld I’ve got coming, it’d be from them. I know what I’d ask for.”
“What,” Spike responded with misgivings in his voice.
“What you got: an arrangement. If they go up against Turok-han again, I’d sort of like to see that. Take a hand. With an arrangement, I wouldn’t need to hunt. Dawn don’t like my hunting. She hasn’t said so, but I know.”
“You’re trying to be on too many sides at once. You’ll only get grief from that.”
“No, that’s you,” Mike contradicted composedly. “It’s still real simple for me. Want to dust a whole bunch of Biters. All I can get at, anyway. When that goes down, I’ll be in the middle of it. And whoever is around me there, that’s what side I’m on.”
“Then fine: since you got it all figured out, it’s plain you don’t need me or my advice anymore. So you just go your ways hereafter. I got more than enough to keep track of without bothering about you.”
“Fine,” Mike shot back. “I will, then.”
“Yeah. You do that.”
They walked along in prickly silence until Mike pulled Spike aside, explaining, “Grate.”
Spike made an annoyed face but didn’t say anything.
Presently Mike said, “You think he’ll try to go after Dawn next?”
So he hadn’t fooled the lad at all: Mike had figured out the brush with Angel. Spike answered frankly, “Hell if I know. He can’t hardly go after Buffy, as I expect he’d like to. Warned her, Dawn, but would she listen?”
“No, shouldn’t think so. Be interesting to watch him try, though.”
“I expect. Maybe.”
“You still want me to come by for you, tomorrow morning?”
“No, Michael. That’s done.”
An hour or so before that evening’s Scooby meeting, Spike could distinguish between the extremes of light and dark. He could make out the bare bulb in the basement as a pale white fuzziness, but nothing beyond that. Resuming the blindfold, he went to the top of the stairs and shouted for Dawn. When she came, he led her back down.
“Need to know,” he told her, keenly self-conscious, “how awful this looks. Now don’t you ‘eek’ or be tiresome: just tell me.”
He removed the blindfold and let her see whatever there was to see.
In a very tiny voice, she said, “Eek?”
“Oh.” Spike started doing up the scarf again, but she pushed his hands down and told him to wait. A faucet was turned on for a moment at the far side of the basement. Then Dawn returned and told him to bend down and shut his eyes.
“Some ooky gunk,” she explained, patting at his eyes carefully with a bit of wet cloth, then finishing with the dry end. “That’s moderately presentable.”
He blinked. “What’s it look like?”
“Sort of like cataracts. Your eyes, but hazed over. Can you see anything?”
“See the bulb.” Spike pointed, to prove it.
“And the bulb.” Spike pointed again, smiling small when Dawn made a vexed noise at him. He wrapped the scarf around his hand. “Better with or without, you think?”
“With,” Dawn decided judiciously. “Everybody’s used to it so nobody will notice. And better to show less than you actually can do, not more.”
Admiring her wise sneakiness, Spike refolded the scarf and tied it back in place across his eyes, around his head. “Bit, what kind of terms are you on with Lady Gates?”
A silence. Then, brightly, “What size answer do you want: small, medium, or large?”
“Specific. Angel’s got somebody--well, his baby son, actually--kidnapped into Quar’toth. I wondered if there might be a way to get the baby out.”
“Short answer for that: no. Angel’s in communication with the Powers, Spike. If he hasn’t done anything about it, it’s because he’s already asked and been turned down.”
“Do you know that? Or can you know that?” Spike pursued quietly.
“Is this really important? Because I’m really, really not supposed to be talking about this.”
“Just asking what you know, Bit. Not how you know it.”
“If it’s something to do with you, I’ll find out. Either that or get the door slammed in my face. There’s still a connection, if that’s what you mean. What I see, Lady Gates sees. What I know, She knows. As much as She cares to, anyway. If She wants to at all, which I don’t know for certain. But if I were to really annoy Her…really put Her on the spot, the way we did…. I don’t think I’d get away with it twice, Spike. The Powers don’t like being messed with. And what They don’t like, They’re quite capable of grinding into powder or unmaking altogether. It’s always best to stay out of Their notice.”
“That’s what Anya said,” Spike allowed. “But I kind of think they’re messing with me, Bit. Things falling somewhat too neat and convenient to be accident. I don’t necessarily mind, but I like to know where I stand. Whether I’m imagining things or there are other players in the game beyond the ones I know.”
“There’s always other players, Spike. Hanging around the vicinity of an impending apocalypse, that’s always a safe assumption. Imagining what, for instance? What’s too convenient?”
Spike thought about mentioning how that dream vision of the pendant, the amulet, had come so pat, together with the strong conviction it some way was tied to the Hellmouth--produced aptly just before Angel’s arrival. How easy the amulet had been, once sketched and identified, to find and secure. But as he’d said, he actually didn’t much mind the laboriously obvious Destiny for the Terminally Stupid approach so long as it seemed to be tending in the direction he wanted to go anyway. That he was being used, that none of this was for his benefit, was to him a given; the only question was whether the use was toward a purpose he approved.
So long as their plans ran together, he saw no reason to risk jeopardizing Dawn’s position with her chief patron. No, he wouldn’t involve her in it.
So he said instead, “Oh, like how Angel’s Champion get-up doesn’t seem to fit all that well and has this big long zipper in the back,” (His hands measured it out.) “and a tag that says Acme Rentals. And how I don’t get any fancy stuff like that for leavegeld despite all my good service given gratis.”
“You got paid, Spike: you got me!”
“Oh, was that the prize? Thought that was just something I’d signed up for on the telly. What d’you think, Bit: should we sign Angel up for one of those free home trials of a floor waxer or really posh exercise equipment? Or those lonely ladies with asthma or something and that real interesting line of patter offering to call a poor bloke at home at his expense and just chat the night away? He could even get those right at the hotel. Add it onto his bill. Bet he’d like that, all so simple and all done on the phone lines.”
Dawn giggled. “You have a wicked, nasty mind. One of the main qualifications for membership in the Me club, of which I am naturally the president. How do we get the number to call?”
“Oh, I have that memorized. Was an internet address, and I know that, too.”
“Wicked and depraved,” declared Dawn admiringly.
“Well, got to earn my way as a child’s pet, here, don’t I?”
“Absofuckinglutely. I’ll get something to write the numbers down. You can do the phone, you can sound reasonably respectable when you want, and I’ll do the internet sign-up when Willow’s off the laptop.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Spike agreed.
For meetings, the armchair had become Angel’s because Spike now sat beside Buffy on the couch. To her left, because he was left-handed and she, right: a fighting arrangement that meant they could easily reach and clear a circle some twelve feet across, plus the length of whatever weapon each wielded, and not get in one another’s way. What Buffy liked about that arrangement, Spike always and reliably to her left, was that it had become automatic. She’d changed her fighting style knowing that arc would always be covered, didn’t need attending to, freeing her to extend her own effective arc several feet farther and to the rear.
She’d also changed her side of the bed. She therefore always nearest the window, where light might attack; he nearest the door, where an intruder might come. Not that she seriously expected her bedroom to be invaded. Just how they were, how they did. Spike always to her left and again solid there. Ivory skin of biceps, against her own arm, comparatively cool and therefore always noticed. Forearms below all smooth and tight over muscle, bones decently clothed, the slight fuzz of hair more easily felt than seen. Strong hands with tendons showing, typically clasped or laid close below his waist in an unconsciously sexy way that both guarded and called attention whenever he gestured, which was pretty much whenever he spoke. Not often: in company he preferred to listen and then maybe comment or discuss afterward. He seldom said much while a wider discussion was going on. Head typically raised and face lifted attentively, turning toward whoever was talking. His face remained more a flavor and specific kinesthetic memories to her than something seen, interrupted as it was by the blindfold and all expressions therefore masked and incomplete for lack of his quick-changing and expressive greyblue eyes.
Buffy missed his eyes and how they always found her first in every gathering; how they’d flick to someone and dismissively away, no further comment needed; the x-ray feeling of their steady attention; how they went wide and stormy in passion. She tried to set aside her awareness that it was Angel who’d taken them from her: Spike had told her emphatically that the ordeal and its tortures were necessary, agreed, and customary things, vamp business that had little to do with her and much to do with their long and troubled history together, he and Angel. Not for her to approve or disapprove or be wildly indignant about. So she set those feelings aside as best she could.
As Spike had recovered, the tension and antagonism between him and Angel had returned and increased in proportion. It was like being able to sense magnetic fields swirling between them in repulsion and in influence. Or the flow of ambient magic Willow said was all about, powerful and unseen. But all civil and carefully indirect on Spike’s part and heavily jovial and occasionally sarcastic on Angel’s. Never erupting into outright hostility anymore. The ordeal had set limits on that, as it was apparently designed to do. They could be in the same room for an hour without raising their voices or coming to blows. Which Buffy supposed was an improvement, though one only doubtfully worth the price.
That level of ruthlessness, she still wouldn’t condone or tolerate no matter what Spike said. Whatever moral authority Angel had held over her in any respect was gone.
Willow was going around the room passing out the newest try at an anti-First charm: two hardened beads of dough or clay with a string threaded through to make a necklace.
Willow was saying, “I know the last one gave some of you headaches, but I’ve been wearing this one all day and no headache, no throwing up, so give it a try, all right?”
She gave Buffy two rather than face the awkwardness of trying to hand Spike anything, which was either thoughtful or chicken, depending on how you looked at it. Buffy put hers on, then tapped Spike’s hand and gave him the other one. He smelled it, made a slight face, and put it on. Buffy lifted a bead and smelled it but couldn’t notice anything worth a grimace.
“The good news,” Willow said, nervously wringing her hands in the middle of the floor, “is that they do seem to work. Xander, I’m gonna try to read you, OK?”
“Fire away,” Xander invited, holding both hands out wide.
Willow made a show of shutting her eyes and squinching up her nose in concentration, then opened her eyes and beamed. “See? Nothing. Or only a mishmash. This one doesn’t block: it scatters. Throws everybody’s thoughts onto two different wavelengths and mixes ‘em all up and lowers the volume, too. So picking out individual thoughts is just about impossible. So I think this one works!”
“The bad news,” prompted Angel, who never lost a topic.
Willow spread her hands. “The other good news is that they’re cheap and real easy to make. Because the bad news is, they’re really, really fragile. The beads are gonna crumble in just ordinary wear and tear. I’m working on a way to harden them. But so far, protection spells won’t layer on top of the thought-Cuisenart-enabling spells. Clear nailpolish doesn’t work either. However, I’ve made up a whole bunch of ‘em, and I’m putting them in a bowl on the hall table. So if you roll on it in your sleep or take a shower or something and they go all crumbly? Just get yourself a fresh one. Because guys, you gotta keep this on 24/7 for it to be much good, see? Without it, your mind’s wide open and you might as well have been using nothing at all.”
Having looked around for comments, Willow took a seat in one of the straight chairs.
Angel hunched his shoulders and leaned forward, taking back his chairman/general authority. “What’s the progress on creating a barrier around the school grounds?”
Willow replied, “Well, the last idea was a flop, sorry. Whatever works for Bringers doesn’t work for vamps, and whatever works for vamps not only doesn’t work for Bringers but makes our vamps have to keep their distance, too.”
Spike commented, “Lots more Biters than Bringers. Don’t worry about ‘em. Just stop the Turok-han, let the Bringers through. We can take care of ‘em from that point on.”
“Stages,” commented Angel, and folded his hands. “That’s something we need to explore more. Split the opposing forces, deal with them separately by different means. How about fire of long but finite duration? No vamp’s going into that. But the Bringers could. And fire doesn’t require much equipment or much to keep it going, once you have it started.”
Giles said, “I would think containment by fire would produce the same problem all our other ideas about containment have: there’s nothing to prevent the First and its forces from simply waiting it out. Whatever they need by way of supplies, they evidently have in sufficiency because the raids into Sunnydale appear to be only by way of nuisance. Not foraging sufficient to provide for the needs of an army the size the First is evidently building according to Buffy’s visions.”
When Giles looked over at her for confirmation, Buffy waggled a hand and then rubbed her eyes in weary discouragement. “Confirmation here, oh yes. Imagine a bathtub full of roaches. Then imagine the roaches are about seven feet tall. That’s the kind of density I’ve been seeing.”
Angel decided, “Deal with the containment as a separate issue. We’ll worry about how to make them want to come out as an issue in its own right. Giles and Xander, the containment’s still yours. Willow?”
“Got it,” said Willow, busily taking notes on a spiral pad.
“Anya,” Angel said, changing focus. “Any luck yet with theories of what the First’s timetable is?”
“Well, given how long it’s been putzing around,” Anya responded, “it certainly doesn’t seem date-related. In the sense of calendars, not in the sense of dating. Other than the Hellmouth getting more Hellmouthy, affecting the residents and the students in particular, dropping property values to record lows, and I’ve decided to remove my investments from Sunnydale entirely, the Chamber of Commerce running around and trying to organize a Richard Wilkins memorial festival for heaven’s sakes, other than that, there’s been next to no interaction between the First and the population. Local population of vamps and other demons is way up, though, according to Willy and my other knowledgeable sources.”
Knowledgeable sources had come to mean those with knowledge of the Hellmouth and its effect as a demon magnet, magic existing, coming apocalypse, yada, yada.
Anya continued, “So I don’t think the First’s timetable has anything to do with what happens in Sunnydale. Or California. Or the United States, and so forth. It apparently doesn’t care if the place is populated or relatively empty when the balloon goes up. It’s making no attempt to keep people here or force them out, either one. As Giles said, the raids seem more of a nuisance it doesn’t bother restraining than any kind of deliberate attack. Flea bites. As far as I can tell, we’re still with the watched pot theory: when the First has the kind of numbers it wants down there, they’ll all come boiling out.”
Finishing a note, Willow added, “What I’ve gathered from the geological, meteorological, and astrophysical networks and databases doesn’t yet suggest any natural occurrence we should be taking account of. No fault activity, volcanic eruption, catastrophic mudslide, tsunamic activity, or near-approach asteroids or meteors to factor in. All normal. Nor do we have the power to call one up, unfortunately. Because I would really, really like to see a crustal implosion and a fuming calderon of magma welling up to suck that whole high school into Dante-Land. Used to fantasize about that in gym, actually. But we don’t have the mojo for that without repercussions on the scale of uplifting the equivalent of Mt. Everest under Cleveland and disrupting the whole of the Great Lakes system, and that would be bad. Very bad to produce consequences on that scale. We’d be punished. So even if we could do that, we wouldn’t want to. Because it would be bad.” Willow fell silent, grimly regarding her hands, the corners of her mouth pulled down tight.
“Willow?” Buffy prompted gently.
“Sometimes I scare me, that’s all,” Willow blurted. “Willow Rosenberg, Destroyer of the Great Lakes. My uncle has a vacation cabin in Michigan. All the birds and the fishes. Woodchucks. Elk. And the Canadians would be soooo pissed!”
Anya commented briskly, “Well, there’s no use angsting about that because we’re not going to do it. And about the vamps. I didn’t mention that they’re coming in, all right, but they’re also leaving. Transient population. Tourists. Have a few beers, buy some souvenirs, eat a couple of locals, and then gone again, pfft. Patrolling is still productive.” Anya looked to Buffy for confirmation.
“About average numbers, yeah.”
Anya went on, “So although current population is at least stable and probably up, there’s no cohesion. No established hunting territories. Strictly catch-as-catch-can, as the phrase goes. Complete anarchy, in other words. Just the way demons like it. Or so I’m told. That would affect recruitment, I’d think. Assuming we’re still planning to try to involve the general demon population in this. Short of putting a FREE FOOD ALL YOU CAN EAT BUFFET sign out by the highway, I can’t think of anything we could offer that would interest them. They have, pardon, no stake here. No reason to risk their unlives for Sunnydale.”
Angel said flatly, “I’ll take care of that. Next thing: what about the amulet?”
Recovering from her brood, Willow said, “Well, it checks out OK. It’s definitely magical and is a multi-use implement. In other words, it’s been used, and could be used again. I can’t really assess its power without trying it out. And I think Spike would object to that.”
“Why?” Spike asked.
“Well, we talked about that, but…maybe I need to explain again, now that you’re…better.” Which was Willow’s awkward way around saying they’d discussed it and either Spike had forgotten or hadn’t been sufficiently compos mentis to take it in.
Spike’s small smile suggested he heard the subtext well enough. “S’pose you do that, then.”
“Maybe you remember me telling about your aura? How it’s gone ginormous,” (Willow spread her arms wide.) “and all colorful and streaky since whatever you and Dawn did, for her to come back?”
“Nope. But I’m listening. From the little I recall, vamps don’t have much by the way of an aura.”
“Well, generally, that’s true. Very low natural energy output, most of it’s supernatural. But not for you. Not anymore. Not that you’re like a freak or anything, didn’t mean that. Just really unusual. It was damped down some while you were hurt and healing, but it’s about back to full spread now. Fills about a third of the room.” Eyes gone wide and blank, Willow gestured, sketching in the air the extent of Spike’s aura. “And since we don’t happen to have a high priest of Amon Ra on hand, they’re pretty scarce on the ground, and haven’t yet made much headway in determining the exact ritual attached to this amulet, it’s really frustrating, then the qualifications for somebody to use this thing is how much energy they can channel. And with that aura, you have everybody else here beat by a waaay margin.”
Another small, tight smile from Spike. “An’ testing it out would involve what, precisely?”
“Your putting it on and going out into the daylight. About noon, ideally.”
“Ahuh. Sort of thought so. Like to take a look at it. Never seen it except in my head.”
Anya pawed in her bag, then lifted a closed fist. Holding the fist before her, she asked, “Willow, is there apt to be a problem if he makes contact? Touches it? Because I don’t want to be here if there is.”
Willow looked at her watch. “At nine o’ clock at night? I think we’re pretty safe on that one at the moment. And incandescent light’s not gonna affect it at all. Go ahead.”
Anya let the amulet fall, dangling from its chain, and rose to hand it to Spike. Holding the chain in one hand, he casually stripped off the blindfold and blinked a few times. Everybody was leaning forward, Buffy included, looking at him: at his eyes.
That they were there at all was a huge improvement. They looked cloudy and vague, as if he wasn’t focusing very well.
“It’s bright,” he remarked, seeming unaware of everybody’s attention. “Shines.” He brought up his other hand to hold the pendant quietly for a moment. “Hums. It’s awake. Is it doing anything?”
Willow said, “No hum detection here. And no shine I can see.” Her eyes going vague again, she added, “But your aura does. Shine, I mean. No color, if you don’t count white as a color. Clear bright white.” She shut her eyes as though what she saw was bright enough to be painful.
“Yes,” said Anya, “I can see it, a little. It’s flared out from…. Spike, I think it’s attached to your soul.”
“Shouldn’t wonder,” Spike responded calmly. “Figured something like that. Wouldn’t be tidy, otherwise.” He let the chain drop onto the amulet and closed his hand around it. “I’ll just keep this now, all right? ‘Cause I figure it’s mine.”
Angel got up and held out a palm. “I’ll take it. You’re not careful enough. Hand it over.”
There was a moment when they were looking at each other. Then Spike let the amulet and chain slide into Angel’s hand, that immediately fisted around it. Angel turned to Willow, who had a hand covering her eyes. “Willow.”
She roused and peeked, then smiled a little. “All better now. It’s gone back to normal. Normal for Spike, anyway, that is.” When Angel kept looking at her, obviously waiting for more information, she told him, “No, it’s not doing anything now. All normal. For you, that is. Ordinary vamp aura. Maybe a little brighter on account of the soul,” she ended diplomatically, which made Buffy think there was probably no effect but Willow didn’t want to say so.
Buffy asked, “Any humming?”
“No,” Angel admitted. “Nothing at all.”
Spike said, “So if somebody can contrive a way for me to get inside the high school in daylight, we might see something interesting.”
“No,” said Willow quickly, “we’d have to figure some way to fireproof you first.”
“Don’t trouble about that,” Spike responded. “It will go how it goes. Think maybe we might close down the Hellmouth an’ no major effect on Cleveland.” He smiled.
Buffy took Spike’s hand and gripped it quite hard. “But you can’t.”
“Maybe not. But I can try.”
Willow burst out, “Why you? I mean I know, but--why would you want to?”
“Because I opened it.”
Continued in Chapter Twenty Two: The Law of Unintended Consequences