A Parliament Of Monsters
By Barb Cummings
Sequel to Necessary Evils
When one's life and fortunes, not to mention one's accommodations,
become entwined with those of a vampire, certain sacrifices are required.
Various concerned parties, particularly those expecting fat grandchildren,
had pointed this out in exhaustive detail to Buffy over the course of
the last seven years. You couldn't sing in the sunshine or have tiny
precious babies with an undead creature of the night. Buffy had pointed
out in her turn, in what she felt was a perfectly reasonable and not-at-all-strident
tone of voice, that just possibly having tiny precious babies was a
little lower on her scale of priorities at the moment than getting a
degree or her Registered PSA instructor's rating.
Yet Buffy could not deny that there was truth in the warnings. When the
pellucid light of morning broke over Sunnydale, tricking out each roof-tile
and parked car in more than Oriental splendor, the heavy folds of the
curtains kept a stranglehold on the dawn in the bedroom of Buffy Anne
Summers and Wm. T. Bloody.
In short, vampires could run up your utility bills something fierce.
As she generally greeted the sunrise wrongside-to, straggling back
home after a far-too-late night of slaying, on most mornings Buffy was
perfectly content to snuggle up to Spike's side and let the dawn choke.
This, alas, was not most mornings. Duty tore her from the embrace of
her nice warm bed and her nice lukewarm vampire at the ungodly hour
of nine AM. Much bleariness, therefore, held at bay by the intense concentration
necessary to fix herself a fortifying post-reunion-sex breakfast. Possibly
she could arrange an intravenous caffeine drip.
Kennedy, in the first unequivocal sign of evil she'd displayed, appeared
to be a morning person. She'd already showered, dressed, eaten a frugal
yet nutritious breakfast, and probably gotten in a facial and a bikini
wax while she was at it. She was currently in the living room, doing vigorous
step aerobics on a stack of phonebooks, to the accompaniment of a badly-recorded
Monkeywrench bootleg. The realization that enough of Spike's crappy punk
music had crowbarred its way into her brain in the last year that Buffy
recognized the band was almost more disturbing than the music itself.
"You're eating that?" Kennedy yelled over the
screech of Tim Kerr's feedback.
Buffy blinked down at her half-demolished breakfast--grapefruit, bacon,
eggs sunny-side-up, and a croissant. "That was, in fact, my diabolical
"It's all carbs and cholesterol!" Up, down, bend, kick,
up, down... Kennedy was mesmerizing, in a really annoying way. It would
be wrong to actively wish for ankle breakage, but phone books were
slippery. "I'm on a modified Atkins. Check it out, twenty percent
body fat. My Watcher put together a whole coordinated diet and exercise
regimen for me. You work out, right?" There was a subtle challenge
in her tone. "I saw the weights behind the couch."
"Actually, those are Spike's. I'm not looking to develop my biceps."
Granted the effect on Spike was exceptionally nice, but Buffy had yet
to discover the practical purpose of acquiring muscles when you could
already bench press a refrigerator without breaking a sweat. "I
usually put in an hour or two of combat drills at the Magic Box after
I get off work. I could show you some tricks, kick your ass..."
Kennedy shot her a lemon-sucking look at the reminder. One-upmanship,
breakfast of champions; petty, yet satisfying. "Did Tara talk to
you about doing the aura thingy before she left for class?"
The CD sputtered to an end. Kennedy bounced off her stack of Yellow Pages
and sat down on the couch to unstrap her ankle weights. "Yeah, she
said to meet her over at the Magic Box at five." She regarded Buffy
through slitted eyes, a hunter taking careful aim with a dart. "If
she's up to it, what with having her head half chewed off and all."
Ow. Not quite dead center, but still a hit. "You heard about that,
"Heard and marveled." Kennedy's expression was
just south of a sneer. "Not often that you get more vampire bites
inside the Slayer's house than outside." She tossed her cloudy mane
of hair and strolled into the dining room, a confident swagger in her
step. "So I was thinking of getting in a good slay tonight. That
nest of vamps over in Restfield. They all your good buddies and pals too?"
"They're..." This was not a time for imprecise syntax. "Not
a threat. Spike keeps them under control."
There was an edge to Kennedy's voice: challenge, and disappointment, almost,
lying just beneath. "Yeah? Like Willow's not a threat?"
"No." Buffy sopped up the last of the golden, LDL-laden yumminess
with the tail end of her croissant and downed the rest of her coffee.
"Differently than Willow's not a threat. A) Soul, B) fear and trembling."
"So you're... what, protecting a whole nest of vampires?
And you still call yourself a Slayer?"
That was actually a good question, and one she didn't have an answer for.
"It's complicated. Look, my first class is at eleven--I'm going to
go get my skates and take off in half an hour or so. If you have things
to do, I can drop you off downtown on my way to the rink."
Kennedy looked for a moment as if she'd press her challenge further, then
relaxed and leaned against the counter. "Yeah, sure. I thought I
might scope a few places out. Don't wanna take up your couch space forever.
And the sooner I'm up to speed, the better. Looks like you need all the
help you can get."
"Gosh, thanks. In the meantime, here." Buffy walked over
to the desk in the living room and extracted a ratty grey three-ring
binder. A home-printed label on the cover read An Inquiry Into
The Origins Of Slayer Ability, by Rupert Giles. She tossed it
"What's this?" Kennedy caught the awkward missile
in both hands and turned it over, suspicious.
Buffy stopped, one hand on the bannister, her tone a model of uninformative
blandness. "Light reading. The birds and the bees."
She left Kennedy frowning at the binder and headed upstairs. That should
keep Kennedy busy for awhile, and maybe give her something to think about.
She didn't have to like the girl, Buffy reminded herself, she just had
to help her. Once upon a time she'd possessed that blazing certainty herself,
the absolute conviction that there was a right and a wrong in the universe,
and she, by golly, was the best-qualified person to decide which was which.
Sometimes she missed it. That was the real reason Slayers died young.
No one over twenty-one could sustain the moral superiority.
Dawn's old room (now Spike's office) and her old room (now Dawn's bedroom)
and entered the master bedroom--not Mom's room any longer. Sanctuary.
Her Toscana vanity set rubbed companionable elbows with the antique
four-poster, and Spike's well-thumbed copies of Kerouac and Kipling
battled for shelf space with her LaVyrle Spencers. The subdued, tasteful
shades of taupe and sage and antique rose in the carpet that she'd picked
out set off the rich dark jewel tones Spike loved, all warmed in the
glow of fat white pillar candles. She was almost glad, now, that her
father had disposed of most of her things during the months she'd been
dead; it meant that when Spike moved in, they'd been starting together,
Spike, unsurprisingly, was still asleep. He'd always been an uncommonly
early riser for a vampire, and over the last year their sleeping schedules
had slipped into closer sync. Still, he rarely got up before noon unless
the world was ending--not an unusual occurrence in Sunnydale. He was buried
under a heap of bedding, (Dan River Essex, one of the few patterns they'd
managed to agree upon as neither 'too fucking girly' or 'too Victorian
whorehouse'). One narrow, high-arched foot dangled white and vulnerable
off the edge of the bed. Buffy contemplated the possibilities for a moment,
then virtuously restrained herself to peeling back a corner of the coverlet
and giving him a shake. "Hey, gorgeous. Wakey, wakey."
With a complaining rumble, Spike burrowed deeper into the covers in
a futile attempt to run sleep to ground. Buffy shook him again, and
he flexed beneath her hand, a pale crescent of spine and shoulder against
the rich wine and gold of the sheets. He uncoiled in a long, languorous,
toe-curling stretch. Fangs extended at the apex of a jaw-cracking yawn,
then receded as his eyes blinked from yellow back to a blue that exactly
matched the accents in the sheets. Damn, but she'd picked one decorative
vampire. Buffy folded onto the side of the bed. "I'm going to drop
Kennedy off downtown on my way to the rink. I don't want to leave her
here alone with you and Willow asleep."
Spike mumbled into her thigh. "Less chance she'll trip and accidentally
impale herself on my teeth."
Buffy gave the nearest silver-gilt corkscrew of hair a disciplinary
tweak, eliciting a muffled yelp. Demanding moral clarity before noon
was asking a lot of even the most diurnal of vampires, but she'd always
had high expectations. "Am I going to have a problem with you,
too? And off the record, do not tempt me."
"Not so long as she confines herself to pointed
looks." Spike propped himself up on one elbow and squinted at the
clock on the nightstand. "Did you notice last night, love? She talks
like Faith's gone and died on us something permanent."
"Like that ever happens," Buffy muttered. "You're right,
that's a weirdness." As far as the world at large knew, Faith had
died in the Los Angeles County Hospital last winter, of complications
from a stab wound received in a prison fight, but Quentin Travers knew
the true story. "Either Travers is keeping the rank and file in
the dark, or...what if Faith did call down Ancient Gypsy Curse Mark
II to keep her power from being passed on?"
Spike's expression indicated that he thought she was bonkers or barmy
or some other quaint English version of nuts. "I wouldn't cover that
bet," he said. "Not in cash nor kittens."
should get the 411 from her anyway." Buffy retrieved her gym bag
from the closet and inspected her reflection in the vanity mirror with
a critical eye: white cashmere pullover and bright teal stirrup pants,
hair drawn up in a perky-bouncy ponytail. For someone running on half
a night's sleep, not bad. She slung the bag over her shoulder, skates
clinking, and bent to kiss Spike on the nose. "Angel's got a contact
number for her."
"You got anything else you want me to do?"
Spike grumbled. "Juggle crosses, gargle holy water?"
She ran a teasing finger along his collarbone. "There's dishes downstairs.
Or how about wearing The Blue Shirt of Ultimate Hotness?"
Spike went game-faced and mock-snarled at her, "You mean Ultimate
Nanciness? There are limits."
Buffy laughed as he tangled one hand in the fall of her hair and drew
her down for a real kiss, deep and languid, his tongue the most cunning
of serpents in the garden of her mouth. The gym bag thunked forgotten
to the floor. She slid her arms around his neck and hitched a leg over
his middle as those big cool hands spanned the arch of her hips. "A
tasty armful, you are," he rasped into her neck. "I'm minded
to have breakfast in bed." Fangs pricked the hollow at the base
of her throat ever so lightly, and in seconds the tight little buds
of her nipples were nudging his chest through her sweater. "There's
my cinnamon drops," Spike crooned. "Hard and sweet 'n hot
Buffy didn't go braless as often these days, since she actually had
something to put in one again, but oh, God, she was glad today was one
of those days. She could feel every separate fiber in the fleece. Spike's
fingers did naughty, naughty things beneath the waistband of her tights
as she rocked against his morning hard-on. His demon eyes were like
liquid butterscotch, all warm and melty. Just the way her insides felt
when he growled. He was dangerous, her vampire--a lazy, well-fed tiger
was still a tiger. Couldn't ever forget that. Call her Sara Houcke.
Just now, with her mouth on Spike's chest, her tongue tracing the fading
hieroglyphs of last night's loving till he went blue-eyed and gaspy
beneath her, it was difficult to focus on exactly where the wrong was.
If this kept up, she might as well not have taken that shower. Buffy
pulled away, her voice husky. "If I talk to Angel, I'm
just gonna end up peeling his ears off about Darla again."
Spike lifted his hand to his mouth and his tongue curled catlike about
each separate finger, savoring. He sank back into the pillows with a smirk
and laced his hands behind his head. "Much though I'm enjoying the
visual, I think that's Cordelia's job these days."
Buffy grinned and slid down his torso to the floor, oh-so-slowly--if
she was going to go to work squirming, so was he. She grabbed her bag.
"So true. And you can't say Cordy's not devoted to her work. For
once you're the cool, calm, emotionally uninvolved one in the family.
Make the most of it."
He threw a pillow at her as she made her escape, laughing. Kennedy
was waiting at the bottom of the stairs, taking in her new dishevelment
with disapproving eyes. Vamp-loving freak, yeah, right, take a number,
She'd loved Angel first in ignorance of his nature, then in defiance
of it. They'd never overcome it: until Spike had come along, the most
powerfully erotic experience of her short life had been the night Angel
had fed from her. In retrospect, she was certain that that night, more
than any amount of remonstrations from Giles or her mother, had sealed
Angel's decision to leave her. Years later she'd railed at Riley Finn
for allowing those pathetic vamp whores to suckle at his veins, all
the more furious at him because she knew that dark circle of need from
the inside out.
Spike, the unabashed monster, had never bitten her. Never wanted to.
He'd tasted her in other ways, and there was an indescribable satisfaction
in knowing that some tiny portion of her flowed in his veins, but with
Spike there was no yearning to give of herself until there was no her
left. Death was no longer a mysterious dark-cloaked lover, at once feared
and pursued. She'd been there, done that, met herself on the other side.
Death was blue-eyed and laughing, her good left hand, her old friend
and boon companion, cruel and tender and almost human. Her gift. She
didn't love Spike because he was a demon, but she suspected he'd ruined
her for anything else. And the fangs? Still a major turn-on.
Kennedy could go suck eggs--or not; probably too much cholesterol.
Buffy plucked the keys to the Jeep from their hook. "Let's go."
As the population of a small town had died to ensure his survival into
the twenty-first century, the least Spike felt he could do in their
memory was to thoroughly enjoy the marvels of modern plumbing. Accordingly,
he ran through his morning exercises and then took his leisurely time
scrubbing, shaving, and attending to certain other shower-related necessaries.
An hour and a half after Buffy's departure, he abandoned his towel on
the bathroom floor--tradition, that--and strolled back into their bedroom.
Very important, that possessive pronoun. He'd had plenty of experience
building private Xanadus to suit Drusilla's whims of the moment, less
in the art of domestic compromise. Buffy was less capricious than his
one-time dark mistress, and less apt to be sweet-talked into or out
of decisions. Made interior decorating--and everything else--more of
The contentious blue shirt had been pulled to the fore on his side of
the closet, and Spike eyed it with disfavor. Buffy's determined and
subversive attack on his wardrobe alternately charmed and irritated
the hell out of him. Life in the Summers household in a nutshell. Sometimes
the crowded, feminine bustle drove him snarling out into the night,
frantic for a spot of aggro. Other times...it couldn't be denied that
having four girls to spoil, and to be petted and spoiled by in turn,
went down a treat. Still, William the Bloody didn't pick out his kit
based on whether or not his lady love thought it made his eyes look
Though she had asked him very nicely...
Oh, to hell with it. Just this once, as a coming-home present. If he
could intimidate demons with a chip in his head, he could manage it
in a button-down Oxford.
He could hear two voices downstairs as he dressed (at least the shirt
was on the darkish side, and didn't look too poncy paired with black
jeans) and only one heartbeat. Tara must be back for lunch; she did
that days when she had a long enough break between classes. They were
talking, then. Good. He'd done his best for Will, but he wasn't cut
out to be Qui-Gon, especially not to a vampire with a soul.
There were three orders on the fax machine in the office; Anya's weekly
usual, and two new ones Nadia'd sent over from the crypt. Spike squinted
at the small print: A witch in Modesto he'd done a job for last summer,
wanting a Frewlar demon's second liver, and one from...Edwina Briggs?
Consolidated Curses Briggs? He grinned, chuffed as nuts; they were coming
up in the world. No wonder Cain and his mysterious backers were pissed
off, if his little Ma-and-Pa slaughter was starting to pull in orders
from the L.A. mystical elite. Briggs wanted a live Gershon demon--there
was a challenge. Gershons were fast, wily bastards, pack-hunters resembling
armor-plated wolfhounds. Highly prized, when trained up right, and if
he could deliver, it would mean a very pretty penny indeed.
Anya kept telling him he had a chance to make it big here. His intimate
knowledge of the demon community gave him an advantage in the post-Hellmouth
Southern California market the other suppliers couldn't match. The question
was whether or not he wanted to make it big. All he'd figured on when
he started was a way to make some extra cash for Buffy and Dawn; power
and territory had always been a means for him, not an end. He enjoyed
his work, not to mention the shine that his new occupation had put on
his reputation, but he didn't expect his current domestic idyll to last
forever. In a few years Will and Tara would be in grad school, and Dawn
off to university, and then perhaps he and Buffy could shake Sunnydale's
dust from their feet and see a bit of the world. Wasn't like Sunnydale
needed a full-time Slayer these days any more than Paris or Acapulco
Spike set the faxes on his desk, did a quick check of his e-mail and
headed downstairs, running over the last places he'd gotten wind of
Gershons lairing. Clem knew a bloke who'd mentioned his brother losing
a tentacle to one somewhere in the foothills south of Yosemite, and
there'd been that supposed mountain lion attack in Topanga Canyon last
Willow and Tara were seated side by side at the dining room table, heads
together over the mustiest of a stack of occult reference books. Last
night's existential gloom seemed to have vanished in a mutual burbling
haze of spell-wankery. "...so it would have to be a two-part incantation?"
Tara asked. She looked pale, though she couldn't possibly have lost
any more blood to Willow than she would have to the average Red Cross
"At least. Restore normal biological function, exorcize the demon.
Three parts if--" Willow looked up with a bubbly grin. "Hey,
Spike! Just the person we needed to see! Line of sight isn't strictly
necessary but it would be a little unnerving without, and besides, we
don't want you going all mushy and puddinglike, the traffic cone was
"We wanted to ask you something," Tara said, cutting in before
Willow could soar off into some giddy verbal stratosphere. "About
vampire history and stuff."
Spike surveyed the small lending library assembled on the table--two
books on general vampire history, a third on the Order of Aurelius,
and a fourth on several of the less prestigious vampire families of
the last few centuries. He sauntered into the kitchen and pulled a jug
of blood out of the refrigerator, poured himself a mugful and stuck
it in the microwave. "I can tell you straight off that half the
stuff in those books is complete bollocks." He drummed an impatient
tattoo on the countertop while his breakfast revolved sedately in place
for an intolerable eighteen seconds. Sodding things weren't fast enough.
What was needed was InstaBlood. Or just the old-fashioned straight-from-the-vein
Not to be outdone in the nervous tic department, Tara twisted a strand
of dark blonde hair around her index finger. "Have you ever heard
of anyone who ever stopped being a vampire?"
"Other than at the pointy end of a stick? Can't say as I have."
The microwave dinged at last, and Spike pulled his mug out and poured
in a dollop of tabasco sauce. Christ, if he were going Gershon hunting,
it'd mean a fucking safari, far from civilized necessities like hot
showers and microwaves. He mentally jacked up his commission another
ten percent and slid into a chair across the table from the witches.
"Mind, there's all sorts of scam artists claiming they can purge
the humanity out of a vamp--everything from prayer vigils to St. Vigeous
to those bleeding 'Make Your Demon Larger, Scalier, Harder!' e-mails.
Utter shite, the lot of them."
"We were thinking more of the other direction," Tara admitted,
her voice dropping to a whisper barely audible even to vampire ears.
"T-turning human again."
Willow bobbed her head like a dashboard Chihuahua. "A cure."
Spike sat back and cocked his head to one side, brow wrinkling. "A
cure? We're not sick, love, we're dead."
"Well, technically?" Willow bounced a little in her chair,
big green eyes shining with the thrill of the hunt--mildly terrifying,
all things considered. "Not. We're undead, which is only mostly
dead, and mostly dead is partly alive, because otherwise, hello the
post-mortem lividity!" Apparently Spike's expression fell short
of the rapt and enthusiastic response she'd been hoping for, but she
forged on anyway. "Anyway, a spell to turn a vampire into a human
is theoretically possible--heck, a lot of the pieces already exist,
though they'd need tweakage."
Spike tilted back in his chair, teetering dangerously on two legs.
His demonic sense of propriety had been successively beaten, strangled,
and, in the last year, bribed into complaisance with all the blood and
sex and licit violence it could handle, but now it perked up in the
back of his skull with a disapproving growl. One thing to kill them,
but undoing vampires? Something dodgy in that, though it would be more
worrisome if Willow had the power to light a damp squib. "And all
you've got to do is slap the mystical tinkertoys together and hey presto,
heartbeat? Somehow, I smell a catch."
"It's not that simple. If it were, someone would have done it by
now," Tara said. She fiddled with the flyleaf of the nearest book.
"Aside from some of the spells being dark magic and all of them
Willow grimaced. "--there's technical difficulties from here
to somewhere very far from here. A lot of the component spells aren't
compatible in their current form. The mandrake's scream shatters your
Orb of Thessula or the belladonna fumes curdle your oil of cockatrice,
and, well, best you'd end up with is..."
"Nineteen stone of rotting meat? One of you care to fill me in
on just why this is so vital?" Both of them looked squirmy, and
Spike pinned Tara's unwilling eyes down with his own. Was she really
so desperate as to consider something like this? "Will forcing
me to sire her was bloody stupid, but risking an exciting new career
as a maggot farm to turn her back won't look good on the Mensa application
Tara shrank in upon herself as if something crueler than Willow's fangs
had drained the life out of her. She huddled there soft and shaking,
her eyes as bleak as a Norse saga. But she wasn't soft on the inside.
This was the girl--the woman--who'd sat mute while Glory broke every
one of her fingers. Something kindled in her, and Tara straightened
and met Spike's gaze without flinching. "Haven't I already done
something just as wrong? If I hadn't agreed to do the resouling spell,
Willow wouldn't be condemned to eternity as a vampire because I couldn't
bear to lose her."
"No, she'd be a pile of dust. I'm not seeing the advantage in
that." There was a hint of a growl in his voice now. "What's
wrong with my Will that you can't love her no more?"
"I'd never do anything Willow doesn't agree to, and I'm not going
to use black magic or sneak around behind anyone's back. But if there's
a way to make her human again safely, then yes, I'd rather have her
human." Tara took a gulping, defiant breath. "I can't--vampires
aren't... I'm sorry, I hate that I feel like this, but you're c-creepy!"
Spike tipped a look at Willow, who made a helpless hand-wavy gesture,
and teetered further, nonplused. Buffy might bitch about cold feet or
blood breath, but she did so with matter-of-fact equanimity. "Ah.
Well, we are that. Part of the whole living dead motif."
"I know that sounds petty. And I keep trying to get past it, but
it's not working." Tara fumbled in her pocket and Willow handed
her a Kleenex. "I know we can't solve anything by throwing more
magic at it, but we've tried, we really have, and...I just wish everything
could be the way it was." She trailed off with a hopeless sniffle.
Willow took her hand and squeezed it.
Spike considered. "Two possibilities. One, try harder. Two, I turn
you, too, and you and Will are happy as vampire clams together, the
Tara had to be pounded on the back for quite some minutes after that.
"All the no there is in the world," she choked out at last.
"Just as serious as you are about turning Will human," Spike
replied testily. "Your loss; I have it on good authority that I'm
a top-notch sire."
Tara gazed down at the sad little square of peach-colored tissue in
her hands, rapidly decomposing into its constituent fibers under the
mauling she was giving it. "You didn't mention option three,"
she said with a quiet dignity. "The one where I give up. And you
Willow gave a little cry of distress. "But I don't want you to--"
Spike exhaled in exasperation. Must she make this more complicated than
it already was? "Win what? Bugger it, pet, I'm not even playing!"
"But you are." Tara swallowed, lifting her eyes to meet his.
"You love her, Spike. Not the same way I do, but everyone can see
"Then everyone's stoned. Will's get of mine, is all, and that
not by my choice. I've got more affection for--" Spike surged to
his feet and began pacing, the length of the dining room and back. "Anyone,
really." Tara's clear, sorrowful eyes backed him into a corner,
as surely as he'd pinned her earlier, and Spike dropped into his chair
again, slid down on his tailbone and threw her a sulky look. "'Course
there's a connection, of sorts. Can't help that." The demon in
Willow was the demon in him, binding them all the way back to whatever
sorry tosser sired the lot of them. Didn't mean he had to go all soppy
over it. Last time he'd tried playing sire to someone who mattered,
it had been an unmitigated bloody disaster. The grotesque benediction
of his mother's final dissolving smile was still with him, some nights.
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
Sorry, mate, already seen it.
He shook off the memory with a twitch of his shoulders--picking a fight
with some yob twice his size and ripping his opponent's liver and lights
out bare-handed worked better, but that option had been renovated right
off the menu some time ago. Pity. Fuck the fava beans, nothing went
better with liver than onions, and there were a good number of people
in the world who would, in Spike's opinion, be vastly improved by the
loss of a few internal organs. Point was, he'd resolved not to get emotionally
involved this time round, and....
And Willow was sitting there looking up at him, big sea-green eyes glistening
with hurt, just the hint of a quiver to her chin, and Spike was around
the table and down on one knee beside her chair before the first tear
could roll down her cheek. "Oh, Christ, Will, I'm a rotter! You
know I don't mean it when I say such things! You're my clever, vicious
girl, best I've ever made, best--"
Tara was looking I told you sos at him. "Look, never
mind all that," Spike said, quite cross now. "Didn't mention
you walking because it's not an option. Not if you still love her. And
if you look mopey and say love's not enough, I'll bite you."
"Obsessive pursuit of your pooky bear is a time-honored Aurelian
tradition," Willow chimed in. "You might as well get used
to it." She and Spike exchanged decisive nods, and that was that--closed
ranks of vampire solidarity.
Tara looked at them both, resignation fighting the unwilling smile which
tugged at her lips. "OK. I won't say it. Option one it is."
She looked up at the clock. "Shoot, I've got to get back to campus.
Do you want to meet me at the Magic Box later, Willow? I'm doing Kennedy's
Willow saw her to the door. Spike restrained the urge to bang his
forehead against the table. That had worked about as well as his plans
usually did. He wandered into the living room, sprawled out on the couch
and flicked the TV on, prepared to work up a colossal sulk. Passions
just wasn't the same since Timmy'd died. He could call L.A.; Angel was
probably up by now. Though another fifty crunches or so wouldn't hurt.
Slayer's blood was powerful stuff, even in the licks and nibbles he
got, and a bloke had to watch his waistline. Or he could nip up to the
office and start setting up supplies and scheduling for the Gershon
hunt. Or possibly there was a sword or two in the weapons chest he'd
missed sharpening, or, God help him, dishes to be done.
Bloody fucking hell, he loved Willow. Loved her second only to Buffy
and Dawn, with all the selfish, violent passion his demon nature was
capable of, and with all William's hopeless, besotted tenderness. He
would gladly have laid the severed heads of their enemies in their laps
if they'd asked it of him, and loved them all the more because they
didn't ask. Tara wasn't his as the other three were, but
she was Willow's, which made her family as vampires counted it. Besides,
he liked her. Forced to it, he'd side with Willow--of course--but the
bints had better work this out; he didn't want to choose.
Willow returned from the front porch, smoldering faintly in an excess
of love and sunburn. She plunked herself down on the couch at his side.
"Didn't do anything." He scowled. "You want to be human
She leaned forward, rested her pointed little chin on folded arms.
"I don't know. I want to be a witch again, and I miss chocolate,
and I totally don't fit in with the cool vampire crowd. And I want Tara
to be happy. But then I think, 'This would take a hundred years to do,'
and realize I've got a hundred years."
Spike snorted. "Shouldn't do it just to make her happy if you don't--"
"Uh huh." She tugged at his sleeve. "And how
cold was it going to be in hell before you wore that shirt, Mr. Pot?"
Her eyes were sharp and speculative upon him, as if he were one of her
magical conundrums to be unraveled. "Come on, if Buffy wanted you
human, you'd be out tearing the world apart to find a spell for it.
You don't want me to be human again."
Spike shrugged. "Bit more trouble changing species than shirts,
pet. Be a love and hand me the remote."
Willow handed it over. "Care to explain why a guy who works out
for two or three hours a day lacks the energy to get up and walk three
feet over to the coffee table?"
"Some respect for your sire, chit." Spike shook the remote
at the screen like an accusation. "Mark my words, Caleb goes pining
after Tess instead of sticking with Olivia like a sensible chap, in
two years' time the sorry ponce'll be shagged out on her couch, seriously
considering doing her washing-up for her."
"A fate worse than death, and we should know." Willow leaned
over and rubbed her cheek against his, a purely vampiric gesture that
Spike returned with an affectionate rumble. "No matter what,"
she whispered, too low for human ears to hear, "you'll always be
She bounced off, and after a moment Spike realized he was sporting
a grin hardly less buoyant than Willow's own. Whistling tunelessly to
himself, he leaned over and grabbed the phone, and punched in the number
for Angel Investigations.
Kennedy stood on the corner of Main and Wilkins, squinting into the
low-slung winter sun. A celadon sky backed an eclectic scatter of palms,
eucalyptus, and pines amidst a wilderness of red tile roofs: Downtown
Sunnydale in all its minuscule glory, a jumble of quirky little stores
and offices. So strange to see green at this time of year--it felt like
springtime, not the dead of winter. Back home in Boston everything would
be buried under six inches of grey, slushy snow. College town, hell--she'd
seen whole colleges bigger than this place.
She'd called the number her Watcher had given her, left a terse report
of what little she'd learned so far on the anonymous voicemail, and
spent the afternoon trolling the low-rent motels along Lincoln, taking
a room at the least roach-ridden specimen she could find. No way on
God's green footstool was she gonna live in a house where fruitcakes
offered themselves up for vampires to feed on. When she'd walked in
on Buffy's sister changing the bandage on the ragged wound in Tara's
neck this morning, it had taken everything in her to hold back from
storming down to the basement and putting a stake through Willow right
then and there. This place wasn't just fucked, it was knocked up with
twins and starting a college fund.
Much-needed wake-up call, though. No matter how cute and funny Willow
was, fairy-tales about souls and star-crossed lovers were bullshit packaged
as aromatherapy. The only good vampire was a dusty vampire.
It was getting close to five, when she was supposed to meet Tara at
the Magic Box. Presumably, Willow would be there too. Kennedy stopped
at a newspaper kiosk and stared at the headlines in the Sunnydale Press.
The City Council was holding a bond election, and the Mayor was proudly
announcing that Sunnydale's homeless population was down sixty-five
percent from last year. She turned away, restless. There was no point
to her going over there. The Council had witches and psychics and mystics,
oh my, and in the past year it felt like every single one of them had
fingerprinted her Kirlian aura and rotated her chakras and pored over
her palms, and come up with a big fat nothing. Willow and Tara couldn't
possibly find anything that the vast resources of the Council couldn't.
Of course, maybe the vast resources of the Council just weren't telling
her what they'd found.
With a little noise of disgust, Kennedy turned and started walking back
towards the heart of town, fast. If they were running a scam, she had
to find out what it was. The report, or monograph, or whatever it was
that Buffy had given her, was digging into her shoulder through the
nylon of her backpack. She shrugged the pack off, pulled the binder
out, and shrugged the pack on without breaking stride. It wasn't all
that long--twenty pages, maybe. She'd read through the whole thing at
lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon, off an on, picking at one
section or another. It was primo Watcherspeak all the way through, dry
as dust, with almost more footnotes than text.
There were parts she practically had memorized. Superhuman abilities
derived from... parallel cases of demonic influence on human physiology
(see Appendix II, Vengeance Demons)... First Slayer as archetypical
representative of... power activated via specific blood ritual, i.e.
the death of the previous Slayer... Kennedy recognized a few of
the names in the bibliography from her own Watcher's library. If it
was a fake, someone had put a hell of a lot of work into it. The final
paragraphs of the summation were still scrolling across the backs of
her eyeballs, closed-caption heresy.
...all the available evidence supports the conclusion that Slayers
as a group derive their power from some form of ancestral demonic compact,
passed down through the female line.
Bogus. It had to be. Her Watcher wouldn't lie to her about something
like this. Unless she doesn't know about it either. She'd
been in training to be a Slayer all her life, and never given a thought
to where her power came from, but it had to come from somewhere good,
right? Slayers weren't demons, they killed demons. Demons which tore
out people's throats and ate babies and tried to end the world.
Why shouldn't the monograph be a good fake? And--radical thought here--did
it matter where the power came from, as long as she had it? There was
a world here, still, and it was her job to save it. She was still who
she was. Kennedy tilted her head back and sunlight flooded across her
upturned face, making her eyes sting and water. Blinding, after the
vamp-dim environment of Buffy's house. Slayers had been fighting vampires
since...since always. Buffy was a rogue, trying to rattle her with this
live-and-let-suck-the-lifesblood crap. Fuck that.
On first glance through the shop windows, the Magic Box looked like
any other New Age mecca--shiny glass-fronted display cases full of crystals
and candles and incense, fliers for local meditation seminars and yoga
classes plastered around the cash register. It was only when you took
a closer look at the rows of murky bottles and disturbingly-shaped objects
crowding the shelves behind the counter that an uneasy prickle began
to raise the short hairs at the back of your neck.
A sharp-featured young woman in lavender was standing at the register,
and Dawn Summers was hovering beside the nearest display of love charms,
wearing a dorky little nametag with Ask About Our Curses
on the bottom. Unlike her sister, Dawn was halfway through the adolescent
transition from lanky to luscious, dark-haired and model-tall, with
a heart-shaped face and big blue eyes. Under other circumstances--like
Dawn not being a total raving loon on the vampire subject--Kennedy might
have seriously considered going for the toaster oven with this one.
Dawn aimed a big eager smile at Kennedy. "Welcome to the Magic
Box, where all your incanting needs are--oh, it's you." Her lower
lip protruded as Kennedy shut the door behind her, and her welcoming
smile morphed into a suspicious scowl. "Here to stock up on holy
water? Just remember, if you mess with Spike, you're not just messing
with a hundred-and-fifty-year-old master vampire with two Slayers under
his belt." She tapped a thumb against her chest. "You're messing
Kennedy cut her off. "I'm not buying. I'm supposed to meet someone
here. So how much of this stuff is a total fake?" She stared up
at the jars of newt's eyes and powdered unicorn's horn. She'd heard
too many cautionary tales about charlatans and fakes to be impressed
by the Witchy-Poo crowd, but a vampire slayer couldn't entirely dismiss
the possibility that some of this mumbo-jumbo could be the real deal.
The woman at the counter gave a disapproving sniff and primped her Veronica
Lake 'do. "Is the person you're going to meet going to be buying
something? Because if not, please go away. We have a bus station for
"It's OK, Anya, she's mine." Willow emerged from the rear
of the store. "In a metaphorical sense."
Kennedy followed her to the rear of the store, fighting back the four-alarm
clamor of her Slayer sense. Tara was already back there, arranging a
selection of weird items on a table in the library section. The table
was covered with a plastic picnic tablecloth, on which had been drawn
a complicated circle of alchemical symbols in marker. "Portable
spell circle," Tara explained with a shy smile. Her hand went comfortably
on Willow's hip--the good news was that that was a big ping on the gaydar,
and the bad news was that Willow was taken and God, what was she thinking?
Willow rested her head on Tara's shoulder. Was there a flash of shame
in the vampire's face, looking at the bandages on her lover's throat?
Probably just bloodlust. Couldn't wait to get her alone again and do
things to her, nasty, vaguely perverted vampire things that Kennedy
wasn't gonna think about tonight in bed. Willow flashed a smile over
Tara's shoulder, reassuring and sweet, and Kennedy swallowed, imagining
fangs. Shit. Maybe the Slayer's demonic heritage the real explanation
for Summers and her series of vampire fuck-buddies. Some kind of weird
pheromone thing. No, that was stupid. She'd never heard of any other
Slayers going native. Probably Summers had made the whole thing up to
justify her screwing a vamp, not the other way around. There wasn't
any kinship between her and the things she killed. She wouldn't let
Tara set a large piece of quartz crystal in the center of the table.
"Sit here, and hold these." She handed Kennedy a pair of stones.
One was a shard of unrelieved midnight, the second a glossier black
flecked with rosettes of white. "Onyx. It governs aggressive energy,
good and bad. It represents your power as a Slayer. The other is snowflake
obsidian, and it'll help clarify any blockages in the energy flow of
Kennedy closed her fingers around the slick cold stone, feeling its
edges bite into her palm. She wasn't going to dance around the subject
on tippy-toes. "Buffy claims we get our power from some demon thing.
So what does that mean? There's only so much demon to go around? My
midichlorian count is too low?"
"Hopefully that's what this will tell us." Tara sat down opposite
her. "It's a simple spell. I don't even need it to look at your
aura, really, but I need Willow to see too, so we're making a kind of
In the front of the store, Anya walked over to the front door and flipped
the sign around to CLOSED, Please Come Again! She hovered in the background,
watching the proceedings with professional and slightly critical interest.
Dawn just looked suspicious. Kennedy sat stock-still as the crevices
of her palms grew damp around the stones.
Tara intoned softly, "Earth and sky, here meet. Light and dark,
here greet. The circle is closed and consecrated." She reached
out and touched the tip of her finger to the quartz crystal in the center
of the table. The crystal hummed, a high, pure note that called light
from the heart of the stone. Energy coiled serpentine up Kennedy's spine
and out along her limbs, and in the crystal, a tiny, perfect image of
her appeared, spreadeagled in nothingness like Michelangelo's perfect
man. A faint shimmer enveloped the mini-Kennedy, making her the wick
in a near-invisible flame. Kennedy watched in fascination, impressed
Tara spoke a word and the crystal darkened, bringing the aura into bright
relief. Currents and eddies of force swirled and leaped within the brilliant
tangerine corona. She looked from Willow to Kennedy and back to the
crystal again, a line of perplexity deepening between her brows. "OK,"
she said. "Now that's just plain weird."
"What is it?" Willow asked, hushed.
"The normal aura's there," Tara said, "and the Slayer
power is there." Kennedy squinted and peered closer; shadowing
every one of the tiny figure's moves was a...well, a shadow, an inky
double almost obscured behind the vivid orange flame. "You can
see how the connection to the Slayer power is through Muladhara, Svadhisthana
and Manipura." She pointed out a series of Klein-bottle distortions
where black and orange met, and bit her lip, still frowning. "That
makes sense; it's all tied up in power and aggression and identity and,
uh, sex. Earth, fire, and water. It wouldn't be communicating through
any of the higher chakras. But look at this."
She pulled a handful of quartz crystals out of her bag and laid them
on the table. Each one held a tiny figure of its own, but frozen, obviously
portraits rather than a living mirror. Kennedy could see Willow, and
Buffy, and... Tara blushed at Willow's questioning look. "They
were going to be Christmas presents, but I didn't get them finished
on time. But look at the differences."
She held up the crystal with Buffy's image. The older Slayer's aura
was a blazing sun-gold, rippling with subtle patterns of jet, like the
hide of a great cat. "See? In Buffy's aura, the power's distributed
all through the normal human aura. In Kennedy's, it's there, but not
integrated. And there's not as much of it."
Willow strained forward in her chair like a hound on the scent, obviously
unhappy with the need to rely on second-hand information. "We need
to get some idea what the normal variation among Slayers is. Or among
people with demons attached." She held up her own image in one
hand and Spike's in the other, contrasting the uniform dull vermillion
of her own aura with the ebony black of Spike's. "Do we have any
totally normal--ooh, here's Xander. He's just plain dark blue."
"That's normal," Tara agreed. "Vampires with souls keep
the color, but it's darker. Unsouled vampires are solid black, with
little highlights of the original color left--Spike's a bad example,
he's got a lot. See those blue sparky things? If you look just right,
you can see his aura was that bright blue when he was alive."
"Huh. I noticed those once." Back when I could still
do magic on my own was left unspoken. "I thought they came
from the chip. Are there any older readings from Buffy? Or Faith?"
Tara shook her head. "Nothing like this. I didn't even learn
this spell until last November. I remember a little about Faith from
three years ago, but she and Buffy were body-switched, which messed
everything up. I think Buffy's aura was a lot closer to Kennedy's
back then--more distinction between Buffy aura and Slayer aura. And
Faith's aura was more like Buffy's is now, except practically blacked
out by her own power."
Willow frowned at the miniatures as if they were at fault for the whole
mess. "I wish you'd gotten a chance to look at Faith when she was
here last time, since--"
Kennedy sighed. The two of them were off in a world of their own; she
might as well have been one of the rocks she held in her hands. "Look,
can we skip the history lessons and the vampire psychic anatomy and
just find out what's wrong with me?"
"That's the t-trouble," Tara said. "I think...there's
nothing wrong with you at all. A-at least," she stammered as Kennedy
darkened, "There's nothing blocking your power. There's just not
as much of it as there should be. To find out more than that, I think
we'd have to..."
Willow's pale face had gone positively ashen. "Contact the source."
"Bernard Crowley," Cordelia Chase repeated. She perched on
the edge of Angel's desk Girl-Friday style, sorting through a handful
of case files. The long, slim length of one calf jogged rhythmically
where it crossed the opposing knee, and her Jimmy Choo sandal dangled
from one impeccably pedicured toe. Angel found the sight mesmerizing.
Was it going to fall, or not? If he kept an eye on the shoe, it ensured
that said eye didn't follow the lines of that leg in the opposite direction.
"Wizened, British, and Watcher-y. Definitely Watcher-y. He kept
insisting he wasn't a part of the brotherhood of tweed any longer, but
he sure seemed to know a lot about what they've been up to lately."
Angel leaned forward, propped his chin on his clasped hands and frowned.
"And he didn't say why he wanted to see me?"
"Something about a proposition to your mutual advantage. No details.
Very Sidney Greenstreet." She tossed her dark hair--grown out,
thank God, from the disastrous bleach-and-bob of her Groosalugg Phase--and
handed him the file. Her scent lingered on the manila folder. "This
was all we could find on short notice. I dropped an e-mail to Pryce
Incorporated or whatever Wesley's calling himself these days--and shouldn't
it be Wyndam-Pryce Interrogations? Does Wyndam fail the nouveau noir
test? I thought English guys just kept adding last names until the family
tree collapsed under the need for pruning--" A stare and a raised
eyebrow, and Cordy got the hint. "Anyway, no joy--this guy was
before his time." She pursed her lips and slid off the desk. "Actually,
this guy might even be before your time."
Angel allowed himself the hint of a smile as he paged through the meager
collection of facts on one Bernard Crowley. It told him little more
than what Cordelia'd already passed on. Cordelia watched him, one hand
on her hip. "So, have you thought about it?"
Probably just another attempt by the Council to discover Faith's whereabouts,
but it never hurt to be cautious. "Yeah, I'll see him. Friends
close, enemies closer."
She didn't quite stamp her foot. "Not Crowley. It.
The big, life-changing, potentially curse-lifting It."
"About what? The worst that can happen is that this
Kung Pao guy can't help you. Look, this isn't just about whether or
not you get to take something other than your right hand out for dinner
and a movie without the world coming to an end--"
Angel slammed the folder down on the desktop a little harder than
he'd intended. "Kun-Sun-Dai, and no, Cordy, the worst
that can happen is that we try it and something goes wrong and Angelus
comes out to play. I'm really not willing to take that chance. We've
already been through this."
He'd let himself get giddy and careless last winter, when the news
filtered down from Sunnydale that Willow was now a vampire with a soul,
sans curse. The giddy hadn't lasted more than a week or two, ending
with him sitting in Buffy's living room on a poorly-sprung couch that
reeked of sex he wasn't having, while Willow scrunched in an armchair,
giving off don't-kill-me vibes while Buffy kept her grouchy, overprotective
sire on a short leash in the background. "You got your soul
back through a curse that includes the Ritual of Restoration.
I could put your soul back a dozen times and it'll just fall out again
the next time you're perfectly happy. What needs to be done is break
the curse, and I...I can't do that level of magic anymore."
For a moment, Willow's face had been the embodiment of perfect misery.
"You're not willing to take many chances lately, are you?"
Cordelia snapped, yankng him back to the equally uncomfortable present.
For a second he thought she was going to grab him, but no--Cordelia
had too much restraint when it came to such things. Damn her. The fire
in her eyes dimmed and her shoulders slumped. "When did we get
so scared, Angel? When did I turn into a blue-haired old lady driving
twenty-five in the fast lane? OK, you're older than dirt, fine, but
I'm twenty-two. They're doing it." She didn't qualify
the they, and didn't need to. "And it's probably not
gonna work and they'll probably end up in fiery exploding oh-the-humanity
badness, but they're trying. When did we get so scared that we couldn't
even get up the cojones to try?"
Angel looked her in the eyes, his mouth tight as a bear-trap. "Cordy..."
There really wasn't anything else to be said, but it was a measure of
how he felt about her that he'd say it all again. "You know what?
You're right to be terrified out of your mind. I'm a demon.
Unlike Spike, I don't think that's a good thing."
"I'm not in love with the demon." Cordy spun
on her heel and stalked out of the office. Angel watched her go, hands
clenching. He wanted to storm after her and argue. He wanted to retreat
to his room and stare at the ceiling for a few days. He wanted to throw
her down on the desk and...
There were times when he wondered half-seriously if he were still underwater,
contemplating the slow northward grind of the Pacific plate and victim
to one of his own elaborate hallucinations. Life had certainly retained
a surreal edge. For almost a week after the rescue, he'd woken every
evening to damp sheets and fragile, needle-thin forests of salt crystals,
sealing his eyelids shut and riming his lips as his body gradually expelled
the seawater from its tissues, and healed the damage that three months
beneath the waves had wrought. He'd been constantly, ravenously thirsty.
He'd been through worse. He licked his lips, remembering Wesley's blood
on his tongue, a sacrament of forgiveness and regret. This just wasn't
the time to indulge in experimental spells that promised heaven and
might deliver hell. He was the center, and he had to hold. Connor was
skulking through L.A.'s mean streets, tarnished and afraid; Fred and
Gunn studiously avoided one another for reasons he could guess at, but
was reluctant to voice. Wesley lurked around the fringes of their lives
like a wolf at the edge of a campfire, yearning to be tossed a bone
but too proud and wounded to come into the light.
He'd grown to rely on Cordelia in times like these. Cordelia's bluntness,
Cordelia's honesty, Cordelia's strength of purpose... but Cordy had
her own troubles, and they were half his fault. Her cheer was painted
on with her blush and eyeshadow every morning. Angel couldn't blame
her. He knew what it was to discover oneself abandoned by Fate; nothing
was more terrible save discovering that one had been picked up again.
She'd taken a chance. For him, because of him--because, caught up in
the giddy certainty that he was going to be free, he'd made her promises
he couldn't keep. Cordy'd never gotten a vision warning them of Connor's
betrayal. After that night on the L.A. freeway, Cordy'd never gotten
another vision again. You didn't defy the Powers without paying a price.
Out in the lobby, a cultured British voice inquired, "Excuse me,
miss? Have I found Angel Investigations?"
"Good afternoon!" Cordelia caroled. "You must be Mr.
Crowley. Go right on in, and Angel will be with you."
Mr. Crowley proved to be an elderly man in tweed, equipped with, of
all things, a bowler hat and umbrella. His wispy, thinning white hair
was plastered firmly to his pink scalp, and he had something of the
air of an aging John Steed. He looked around the office with restrained
curiosity, noting with still-sharp eyes the case files and reference
books. Angel rose from behind the desk with his most professionally
reassuring smile and extended a hand. Crowley took it, raised a near-invisible
eyebrow, and settled himself in the chair across from the desk. "Thank
you for agreeing to see me. I realize that your recent dealings with
my former employers have been less than pleasant."
That was a serious contender for understatement of the year. Angel sat
down and steepled his fingers. "I have to say I was surprised to
get your call. So what can we do for you, Mr.--"
The phone shrilled in the lobby, and Cordelia swung into the usual chipper
spiel. "Angel Investigations, helping the hopeless since--"
"'Lo, Cordy. You sound ravishing. Is the old man up? Tell
him his beamish boy wants a word."
No other voice in the world but Spike's could rouse that particular
combination of nostalgia and seething resentment. Vampire hearing was
keen enough not only to hear Cordelia through the closed door of his
office, but to pick up the person on the other end of the line as well.
Normally he tuned her out unless he had a very good reason to eavesdrop;
it was the polite thing to do, and there were too many things, these
days, that he wasn't sure he wanted to hear her say.
"Spike," Cordelia replied, with all the enthusiasm of a woman
holding a dead lizard by the tail. "This is not a good time. In
fact, it's never a good time. All times are bad."
"Fine way to greet the chap who helped fish your boss out of the
Los Angeles Bay on four hours' notice," Spike retorted. "I
need to talk to Angel. He is speaking in complete sentences now, isn't
he? All the fish-nibbled bits grown back?"
"He's with a client. Is it important?" Her tone implied that
Spike's having anything important to say was on a par with the chances
of Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming the next governor.
"Would I call long distance just to annoy him? Don't answer that."
"Excuse me just a moment," Angel said. Crowley nodded, holding
his bowler in his lap with the stiff disapprobation one might expect
of a man who wore a bowler in Southern California. "Cordy, I'll
take that." He picked up his phone and Cordelia transferred the
call with the usual quota of mysterious clicks and beeps. "Spike."
The pause was almost, but not quite, long enough to be awkward. The
events of the summer hadn't precisely smoothed matters over between
them--attempting to smooth matters between him and Spike was rather
like taking a flatiron to the Himalayas--but they'd reached a species
of détente over Connor's treachery. "Is there a reason for
this call, or are you just playing with the buttons on the phone?"
"What, a bloke can't just ring up and brighten his grandsire's
dreary existence?" Spike drawled. "You sound yourself again.
Not so waterlogged. Cheerleader still on the rag about losing her private
line to the Powers?"
Spike sounded like... Spike. Which, in the face of all that had suffered
a sea-change around Angel of late, was perversely comforting. There
were some things, however annoying, that shouldn't change. Angel aimed
a covert glance out the window of his office at Cordelia's desk. "Among
other things. What do you want?"
"Faith's latest number. Got a bit of a situation here; her replacement
showed up last night."
Angel glanced over at Crowley. "Courtesy of our mutual friend?"
A year ago it would have been Buffy needs Faith's number,
with the implied and wants me to get it for her,
Spike losing no opportunity to rub Angel's nose in their connection.
Angel doubted Spike refrained from prodding that particular sore spot
out of delicacy; more likely they'd both just developed too many calluses
to make it fun. Or perhaps his obsession with Buffy was fading, and
it honestly wasn't important to Spike any longer.
Yeah, that was likely.
"She claims not." Spike's tone said all that
needed to be said about his opinion of the claim.
"Interesting, considering that we got a visit from a dear old auntie
"Listening in as we speak?" When he wasn't thinking with his
dick or his fists, Spike was moderately quick on the uptake.
"Right." Angel leaned back in his chair and stretched his
legs out beneath the desk, flipping through his Rolodex--Cordy kept
threatening to convert his address book to something computerized, but
so far he'd managed to fob her off. "I'll have more on it later."
"You got my e-mail, yeh? You can send it there if you don't want
to be reciting it in front of Auntie May."
Spike had e-mail? "Uh...I think Cordy has Willow's."
"That'll do. If Faith would get a bleeding Hotmail account, I wouldn't
be running up my phone bill." Spike paused at Angel's inadvertent
chuckle, suspicious. "What's so amusing?"
"The idea of you caring about a phone bill."
"Can't just move across town and kill someone with a clean credit
history anymore, can I?"
Angel rubbed his chin. "Can't?"
"Can," Spike said with audibly clenched jaw, "but don't.
One year, one month, two weeks and some-odd days, Angel. Since the chip
came out. Haven't killed anyone yet, but cheer up, someone's sure to
cut me off in traffic sooner or later--"
Angel tilted his head back against the grey leather and spun his chair.
God, but he was tired all of a sudden. "And it's funny because
"Funny? I'll tell you what's funny, Sire." Hurt
and pride and anger crackled in every word. "You were right proud
when I took down my first meal. Prouder yet first time I tore someone
apart by inches for the fun of it. Now I'm not killing anyone, you haven't
a good word to say about it. Ironic, you might call it. You sure that
soul of yours is working proper?"
"I'm not your sire, Spike."
"Must have been someone else in that coal mine, then, or on that
rooftop in Vienna," Spike snarled. "I'm Dru's by blood, but
in everything else that matters, you'll always be my sire. And it kills
you to know it."
The receiver on the other end clicked--God, how Spike must hate that
modern phones couldn't be slammed down in the cradle with a satisfying
crash! Angel closed his eyes for a moment, then straightened and turned
back to Crowley. "Sorry. I deal with some volatile people in this
Crowley nodded. "I understand, having been in much the same business
myself. But in a way this is all very fortuitous." He produced
a card case and opened it, selecting two of the small rectangles of
paper. "This is my card, and this is the card of my associate,
Dr. Gregson. We have in mind a project with which we believe you can
be an inestimable help."
Angel took the cards and frowned. Gregson...something about the name
was familiar. "Dr. Gregson the Slod demon? The...collector?"
"Quite." Crowley sat back, spine like a ramrod. "You
"I know of him. I had to kill one of his patients a year or so
"Unfortunate. But then you know that he is quite reputable in his
Frown deepening, Angel set the cards on his desk. His fingers itched,
and he wiped his hand against the knee of his trousers. "If you
consider collecting and selling demon body parts a sphere. I'm afraid
I don't understand what I can do for either of you. It doesn't sound
like you need a private detective, even one that specializes in supernatural
"No," Crowley agreed. "What we need is an assassin."
Angel rose, stepping around the desk. "It's been nice talking to
you, Mr. Crowley, but I think you've got the wrong man. I don't take
that kind of work."
"Really? I have sources in the Council of Watchers still. I know
all about your activities of last winter. It is my impression that you
tried very sincerely to get William the Bloody killed."
"Killing vampires is part of my job," Angel replied, stone-faced.
"If this is some kind of blackmail attempt, all I can say is publish
and be damned. If you think that trying to get one unsouled vampire
dusted is the worst thing on my conscience, you haven't read my file
very closely." He scrubbed his tingling palm against his thigh
"Blackmail? Hardly. My point is simply that you are on record as
holding a considerable personal grudge against the vampire known as
Spike. I could also bring up the incident of the Gem of Amarra, which
I believe involved the extensive and creative application of hot pokers
to your person, or the Du Lac ritual, wherein Spike sacrificed you to
restore Drusilla the Mad to good health. Spike is, as you yourself point
out, soulless, and still a creature of evil no matter that he has lately
been aiding a Slayer whose allegiance is itself highly questionable."
Crowley's voice remained measured, but the passion in his eyes was eerily
familiar; Angel had seen it in all too many other faces over the last
few centuries. "I will not beat around the bush. Twenty-five years
ago, this creature murdered my Slayer, Nikki Wood."
That had been the last thing Angel expected to hear. "I'm sorry."
Crowley waved a deprecating hand, but his eyes were tiny shards of
black ice. "I realize that all Slayers die at the hands of a vampire
sooner or later, and to pursue personal vengeance is futile. I am old,
Mr. Angel, and I find that I no longer care about the futility of revenge.
It is... intolerable that this creature live as the lover
of a Slayer when he has sent two of her sisters to their graves. I have
made inquiries. It is no easy matter to find someone willing to match
themselves against a vampire of this Spike's reputation, especially
considering the nature of his allies. But your reputation in many ways
exceeds his, and I am willing to pay you quite handsomely to--"
"No," Angel said flatly. "I've been a killer in my day,
Mr. Crowley, but I'm not for hire." He strode over to Crowley's
chair and gestured at the door. "I'm sorry I can be of so little
help to you, but--" A wave of dizziness crashed over him, and he
staggered, clutching the back of the chair.
When had the ceiling gotten so high? Crowley's pink and impassive face
loomed over him, fuzzing in and out as rippling distortions rolled across
his vision. Maybe he was still underwater, after all. "I, too,
am sorry that we could not reach an agreement, but I did anticipate
that you might feel this way." Crowley stepped back as two burly,
white-clad men strode into the office. Angel growled, but his vocal
cords refused to cooperate, and all that came out was a strangled hiss.
"Don't be concerned about the young lady in the lobby--she'll awake
in good health. Nor for yourself, for that matter--Dr. Gregson assures
me that the entire operation will be...quite painless."
Continued in Chapter 4