A Parliament Of Monsters
By Barb Cummings
Sequel to Necessary Evils
L.A.'s demon scene was a glittering labyrinth of excess, a network of
glitzy casinos and smoke-filled clubs. Curiosity shops stocked with monkey’s
paws and magic carpets huddled furtively in the shadow of glass-sided skyscrapers,
sprawling bazaars threaded their way through entire sewer mains, and exotic
bordellos where anything and anyone could be had for a price did business
Sunnydale's demon scene was Willy's Alibi Room.
It was the shank end of the night, almost closing time, and Evie'd run through
her sob story so often she’d memorized the thing. Sunnydale proper
currently harbored upwards of sixty vampires, with maybe another dozen or
so lairing on campus or hunting the cheap new housing developments which
were eating up the farmland on the outskirts of town. Evie figured she'd
talked the ears off of thirty of them tonight–-she'd even hit the
Fish Tank and Bender's and the Espresso Pump on the chance of running into
a hunting pack or two. She'd earned some R&R.
It was Pirates of the Caribbean Night at Willy’s, a promotional gimmick
which seemed to consist primarily of flinging a few sad plastic leis across
the bar, programming the juke box with nothing but Jimmy Buffet and Bob
Marley, and giving all the drinks nautical names. Which apparently justified
jacking the price up a buck or two apiece. Not that Evie cared; it was on
Spike's tab. She maneuvered past a table full of Fyarl who were tossing
back steins of something with a suspicious resemblance to used motor oil
to the accompaniment of booming honks of laughter and bellows of "But
why is the RUM gone?" and sauntered up to the bar.
of the same," she demanded, slapping down a twenty on the stained oak.
Susie, the taciturn Bracken demon who served as Willy's relief bartender,
gave Evie a skeptical look and handed her change and another B-pos Bloody
Mary. It had been a long time since Evie'd had this much cash to throw around.
Evie smirked at her and turned to survey the bar. A quartet of vampires
had filed in through the front door as she ordered, Jets all the way, and
claimed a table near hers amidst the usual exchange of territorial growls
with other patrons. Evie recognized only one of them-no surprise there;
ninety percent of Sunnydale's vampire population was an ever-churning froth
of expendable fledges, sired on a whim and abandoned on another, and lucky
to live a year before the Slayer or their elders did them in.
She sashayed back to her table, seated herself with a flounce and a calculated
crossing of legs. Spike hadn't intended his grubstake to cover the slinky
new dress, much less the fuck-me pumps, but the mall was open till ten,
it fit the bimbo image she was going for, and hey, she was evil. Evie skewered
the slightly wilted cherry tomato bobbing in her drink with her yellow plastic
cutlass (free with every drink on POTC Night!) and held the trophy up for
inspection, trying to put a name to the lantern-jawed goon at the next table.
Jer, that was it. He'd been one of the Mayor's crew, and hopefully he'd
remember her only as one of Whip's putas, if he remembered her at all,
not as Dalton's get and someone who might possibly possess a brain beneath
the hairspray and eyeshadow.
She popped the tasteless little morsel into her mouth with a throaty purr
and ran the tip of her tongue along the plump curves, licking crimson dewdrops
from vermillion flesh. For a finale she vamped out and bit, fangs flashing--well,
fang, anyway. Cold red seeds spurted and Evie licked her lips, cleaning
up every last drop. She shot a lash-veiled glance at the other table; yep,
all four were watching, all right--the guys entranced, the women cynically
amused. The puddles on the table were equal parts beer and drool. Technically
speaking, vampires reproduced asexually, but anything possessing a dick
was generally pretty eager to put it to use.
Five minutes later she was seated with her new pals, pretending to be a
few yo ho hos drunker than she was and regaling them with her tale of Kite's
mythical offer. The women, Tanker and Linnet, watched with slit-eyed alertness
while Jer interrogated her, cats stalking an oblivious mouse. Linnet was
small and dark and fluttery; Tanker leather-clad and pierced, with a butchy
shock of salt-and-pepper hair and tribal tats encircling impressive biceps.
Freddy, the youngest of the group, was a straggly nondescript youth in a
backwards baseball cap and jeans perilously close to sliding off his lanky
hips. He seemed dead set on living up to every stereotype of the dumb fledge
out there, and just sat there in game face, staring at Evie with a faintly
worshipful expression which implored her to do the cherry tomato trick again.
"...so I dunno if it's worth it," Evie burbled. "Amherst's
got it going, but I hear the Slayer's out for him, and I left L.A. 'cause
it was Gang War Central. I don't wanna get caught in the crossfire again."
"That treacherous bastard!" Tanker exploded, pounding a fist on
the table. "Alliance my undead ass!" She rounded on Evie with
a snarl. "Kite say anything about why he wanted you to get in good
Jackpot. These must be Corvini's minions. Evie assumed a cheerfully vacant
smile and shrugged. "Nope."
"You got no percentage takin'
Kite up on it," Jer argued. He was a big rock-shouldered guy whose
nose had seen a few too many close encounters with a fist before he was
turned. He looked as if he were waiting for the fedora to make a comeback.
"You risk your neck for him, and whaddya get? Nothin'."
Evie dunked her plastic sword in her drink and licked blood off the blade.
"I figure I get a place in the baddest gang in Sunnydale."
"Baddest and biggest. Which means you'll get somewhere between diddly
and squat when it comes to divvying up prey or perks," Linnet pointed
out. "And if you think you can catch Amherst's eye with that sword-swallowing
act, think again."
"Whereas there are only four of us. Works
out to a better chance for advancement, capisce? Besides, it's what you
might call common knowledge that Amherst has already got some high-toned
L.A. broad polishin' his ridges, if you know what I mean." Jer took
a swallow of blood, followed by a shot of whiskey, and licked his lips.
"You work for us, you feed Amherst phony info, and you got a deal worth
lookin' at." His big callused hand flexed against the tabletop, and
the hair at the back of Evie's neck prickled; if there was anything she
was good at it was telling when it was time to cut and run. "Not to
mention that Kite ain't currently in the vicinity, and we are. If you don't
play ball, there could be considerable discomfort involved."
All four of them leaned forward and grinned, a mass show of ivory. Evie
pushed away from the table, an adrenaline tremble in her arms and a hollowing
in her chest where the pounding of her heart should have been. If she threw
her drink in Jer's eyes and kicked the chair in front of Tanker, then maybe
Spike's mocking voice sounded in her ears: "Bloody hell, you silly
bint, you never even tried hitting a demon?"
The muscle-memory of punting the Vernex demon into the junipers rushed through
her, and a heady sense of renewed power surged up in its wake, filling the
hollow places with a red and joyful rage. Evie's hand crept to her purse
and slipped into the outer pocket. Lipstick, change purse, wet wipes for
those stubborn bloodstains...there. Her fingers curled around the sliver
of metal. "I bet there will be, hijo de una perra," she said.
She whipped the nailfile out and drove it point-first through Jer's palm
and into the tabletop, pinning Jer's hand to the scarred wood. Evie leaped
to her feet with a triumphant, terrified snarl, eyes blazing yellow. "But
it's not gonna be mine."
Jer roared and ripped his hand free, then roared again at the further damage
he'd done himself. He lunged across the table after her, game-faced and
snarling, clawing for her throat. Drinks crashed to the floor, glasses exploding
like cherry bombs. Evie exercised the better part of valor and skittered
backwards. Jer skidded face-first into the minefield of broken glass and
spilled alcohol. Tanker and Linnet sat back, amused and a trifle more respectful,
and Freddy burst into whooping adenoidal laughter, breaking off into a yerp!
of surprise when Jer lurched to his feet, malt-sodden and bleeding, and
cuffed him in the head.
Several carnivorous types at other tables looked up, nostrils and other
less identifiable orifices flaring at the scent of blood, and Willy came
storming out of the back room, both arms windmilling in futile outrage.
"Goddammit, take that outside!" he yelled, the tip of his thin
nose quivering. "No freebies!"
"It's a good offer,"
Evie said. She yanked her nailfile free of the table and backed towards
the door, holding it like a shiv. "I'll think about it. You think about
how if you dust me, you got no in with Amherst at all, and fuck knows what
he's planning. I could find out for you. Tell your boss I'll have an answer
for him tomorrow night."
Jer rounded the wreckage of the table in one limping stride, and Evie broke
and ran, kicking off her heels as she went. Grrl power was great and all,
but there were four of them and one of her, and she wasn't fucking stupid.
Every sense strained for the sound of pursuing feet, but Jer's steps faltered
halfway across the parking lot, and only Freddy's yelps followed her down
the street, as Jer took out his frustrations on the fledge.
Wind beat against her face as she raced through the waning night. Evie slowed
to a jog once she'd put a few blocks between herself and the bar, and steered
for Main Street. It was too late to use crowds of pedestrians to confuse
her scent, but she skinned up the first moderately tall building in her
way, and hopscotched from roof to roof for awhile before diving into a couple
of the stinkiest Dumpsters she could find. One little black dress a total
loss, but she'd rather lose a dress than her spleen if Jer and his pals
tracked her to Spike's lair.
Satisfied at last that no one could trail her, Evie slumped against a streetlight
and took a non-breather. She was shaking with reaction, fear and the rapture
of reawakened bloodlust warring for control of her body. She turned the
nailfile over in her hands. She'd never been much of a fighter, even before
the chip. She'd always relied on her wits to get by. But tonight... fuck,
that felt good.
It occurred to her that she could double-cross Spike, rat him out to
either Amherst or Corvini, and probably be richly rewarded for it. But
Spike had given her teeth again, and for a vampire, what richer reward
was there? She brought the nailfile to her lips and licked it clean before
tucking it back into her purse, paying fastidious attention to the blood
clotting in the grooves. It tasted like victory.
Sooty fire-edged clouds rose from the coal-bed of vermillion and gold
on the western horizon, and the wind smelled of rain come to quench the
celestial conflagration. Tara stood at the sink, washing jalapenos and
watching the storm roll in. In the living room, Miss Kitty Fantastico
washed her paws on the back of the couch and Spike sprawled out below
with remote in hand, treating a longsuffering Buffy to an enthusiastic
play-by-play of Manchester United's defeat of Blackburn Rovers. Dawn scrunched
in a gawky foetal curl in the armchair, thumbing through The Sibley Guide
to Demons in a purely informational search for pictures of horns.
Out in the driveway a car door slammed, and Willow raced for the shadowed
rear of the house, an undead Isadora Duncan muffled in a violently lime-green
scarf. She skipped into the kitchen and plunked her booty down in triumph
on the counter, a few stray locks of unconfined hair sparking and frizzling
in the last feeble rays of the sun. "Got it!"
Tara examined the book in dismay. Annabel Victoria Pryce: A Watcher's
Memoir. To call it a slender volume would be generous; it was practically
anorexic. "All the way to Santa Barbara for this?"
"Yup. Unimpressive, huh?" Willow unwound the scarf and pinched
out her smouldering coiffure. "But Giles says it's got some material
on Slayer legends we can't find anywhere else. He's pretty sure someone
did a purge of the Council records around twenty-five years ago--there's
a lot of unexplained gaps in the material available to field Watchers.
And with his personal persona being non grata, he's gonna have to call
in favors by the bushel before he can get access to the main Council Library
in London, much less into the restricted files."
Her fingers, still damp from the peppers, were leaving blurry spots on
the quaint old typeface. Tara set the book down with a shiver. Slim cool
arms entwined her waist and Willow's head nestled against her shoulder,
ash-smudged alabaster, a china doll left too long in the attic. Breath
stirred the fine hairs at the nape of her neck, chill as the wind outside.
"A little," Tara admitted. "Summoning ancient powers and
giving them a stern lecture isn't really my kind of magic."
She felt Willow's cheek curve in a smile. "You can do it, baby. We
just have to figure out how. You gave me my soul back, didn't you?"
"That was different. A tested spell, and I was--" She didn't
know what she'd been, desperate or stupid or brave, but that kind of insane
determination wasn't something she could summon up every day.
"Incredible, and don't let anyone tell you different." Willow
picked up the book and cradled it to her chest. "I'd better get to
work on this. Half of it's in French. It's worse than Uncle Paul's letters
"Spike knows some French, doesn't he?"
Willow grinned. "I don't think the words Spike knows are likely to
be in this book. Should we set the table?"
"I thought we'd just eat in front of the TV tonight. If you want
to get out the soup bowls--"
Willow bounced out with crockery in arm, and Tara arranged a mandala of
pepper slices on the last cheese sandwich. She piled melty golden-brown
sandwiches in a pyramid on the blue willow platter and poured bowls of
savory red: tomato soup from the saucepan in front, pig's blood from the
double boiler on the back. Cooking was like a spell, in a way: the right
ingredients, the right gestures in the right order, and voila, happy people.
Tomato slices for Dawn, extra cheese for Buffy, jalapenos for Spike, and
extra-light on the butter for Willow, who, in unhappy contrast to her
sire, had a delicate stomach for anything not blood.
She had no idea what secret ingredient would make her content with her
She didn't make the mistake of thinking that advice was cheap, or cheaply
given. Spike rope-walked the chasm between good and evil without a net,
and Buffy risked her own fall, leaning unsupported across the abyss to
take his hand when he faltered. Sometimes Tara thought it might have been
easier for her and Willow in some other time and place, where they didn't
stand in those larger-than-life shadows. Mostly she knew better--there
was no time or place in which this would be easy. In the last year Willow
had done everything it was reasonably possible for her to do to make things
work between them. But there was no way (no safe way, no easy way) for
Willow to un-become a vampire.
That was the seductive thing about magic: it always came with a price,
but the temptation to buy on credit was overwhelming. Out in the living
room, Willow sat cross-legged, tucked into one corner of the couch, her
new find propped on one knee and a literary Tower of Pisa of spellbooks
teetering at her side. Her small pink tongue-tip peeked from one corner
of her mouth as she jotted down neat columns of notes, coursing from one
book to another like a hound on the scent. Just as Buffy had always to
remember that Spike, however domesticated, was still a demon, she had
always to remember that Willow, however chastened by experience, was still
Willow. When Willow reached a limit, her first reaction was to push it.
Everyone converged on her when she brought the platter out, mad dogs when
the bread comes. Buffy put her and Spike's dinners on the same tray, soup
and burba-spiced pig's blood in dangerous proximity. An unwary sandwich
could end up anywhere. Dawn left the Sibley face-down on the nearest
TV tray--the wail outside was either the wind picking up, or Giles's moan
of bibliophilic anguish from across the Atlantic--and relieved Tara of
a bowl of soup. "Are you all right? You look like Mrs. Fitzgibbons
after Spike ate her Pomeranian. Want me to check that bandage?"
Tara shook her head, embarrassed. "I'm fine, really. Just thinking
about the...the spell for Kennedy." Her fingers were at her neck
again, prodding the tender flesh as if to squeeze out the pain like poison.
"Am I ever going to live that sodding dog down?" Spike asked,
deeply aggrieved. "Bet 'f I'd eaten Mrs. Fitzgibbons no one'd give
a rat's, but lay a fang on the poor little puppy--" He reached for
the burba weed, and Buffy took advantage of his momentary distraction
to stage a commando raid on the remote. Paul Scholes gave way to Charlton
Heston as a singularly unconvincing Mexican. "Oi! We're watching
"Correction. You were watching that. For the third time."
Buffy tossed the remote to Dawn, who clutched it to her bosom with a maniacal
"Fine." Spike slouched down amidst the couch cushions with a
martyred pout. "You just keep this in mind the next time you want
me to watch some great nance sliding around an ice rink in sequined knickers."
Buffy laughed and curled up at Spike's side, and Dawn settled herself
on the floor between his knees, the two of them teasing a deep purring
growl out of him in no time. Tara sat sandwiched between Buffy and Willow,
acutely aware of the pressure of Willow's thigh against her own. So very
ordinary, 95% of living with a creature of the night. Why couldn't she
handle that 5%? In the moments when vampire became only another thing
that Willow was, no more or less important than the red hair or the quirky
grin or the frog fear, it all worked--couldn't she make those moments
last longer? Maybe there was something, some meditation or exercise, which
would allow her to...not notice vampire-ness, somehow? Right. Because
the last time you cast a spell to not notice demons, it worked SO well.
Not that there was much to notice right now. Willow ate her sandwich the
way Willow had always eaten grilled cheese sandwiches: cut diagonally,
first one corner, then the other, nipping off neat, symmetrical bites
from each end, and if she hadn't known that there was blood in the soup
bowl... But she knew.
On the TV, Heston deposited his clueless American wife in a near-deserted
hotel outside Los Robles. "What, did he just overdose on stupid pills?"
Dawn asked, "Put her on the grill, she's dead meat."
Willow shuddered and tugged the red and blue afghan up over her knees.
"That motel guy gives me both heebies and jeebies."
Try harder. She'd had the right idea, the other night; she'd just gone
too far, too fast, and in a really stupid direction. Buffy'd had considerable
acerbic commentary on that: Accepting Willow as a vampire doesn't mean
accepting yourself as an hors d'oeuvre. Arm around the shoulders; that
was good. Willow gave a happy little wriggle and snuggled closer, her
body sweetly pliant against Tara's own.
Buffy had mentioned in passing once that vampires really, really liked
having their brow ridges stroked. That was a nice, safe, middle-of-the-road
thing to do, right? Solidly balanced between brandishing crosses and offering
up one's jugular. "Sweetie? Change," she whispered. "Please?"
Willow blinked, confused and a little apprehensive, but her eyes closed
green and opened gold. Tara brushed bright strands of copper from her
lover's newly-furrowed brow, tracing the curves of bone and cartilage.
Willow's gasp, and the small moan with which she butted into Tara's palm,
indicated that 'like' was a rather inadequate descriptive verb. Or at
least that it should have come with several more 'reallys' attached. The
alto counterpoint to Spike's baritone rumble burst from Willow's slim
chest, and the whole couch vibrated to a two-part harmony of predatory
bliss, straight from where the wild things were.
She liked cats. Maybe she could think of vampires as being like cats.
Big, dead, evil cats.
On the TV, the motorcycle gang closed in, and Janet Leigh screamed. Willow's
yellow gaze riveted on the cinematic carnage and her purr deepened to
a throaty snarl of anticipation. Only for a second, and then she was shrinking
into Tara's side with a meep! of dismay at on-screen naughtiness, but
Tara's heart was battering its way out of her ribcage anyway. The doorbell
rang and she sprang to her feet. "I'll get it! That must be..."
A pizza guy, UPS, wandering Mormons, anyone would do. She fought a gust
of cold rainy wind for possession of the door and froze, open-mouthed
with surprise. "Kennedy?"
"Hey." Kennedy's tone was deliberately casual, and she stood
with an indifferent elbow propped up against one of the porch columns.
She was dressed to slay in a rain-speckled blouse of blood-red silk cinched
with a silver concho belt--real Navajo silver, if Tara was any judge.
Artfully distressed designer jeans and a pair of Italian boots calculated
to induce paroxysms of shoe envy in Buffy finished off the ensemble. "I
was patrolling, and I thought I'd stop by and see if there's any news."
Kennedy stood fidgeting with her belt for a moment, and cleared her throat.
"About the spell."
"Oh." It was barely half an hour past sunset, and prime patrolling
time wasn't for another hour yet; most vampires were just getting up about
now. "Uh...not really. We're just starting to..."
The fidgeting escalated to toe-tapping. "Mind if I don't stand here
and catch SARS? It's starting to rain like a sonofabitch."
Tara stepped aside--without issuing an explicit invitation, because in
Sunnydale you never knew--and Kennedy strolled right in, alive and well
and fetchingly damp around the edges. She was wearing a musky, exotic,
come-hither perfume, and the scent wafted through the room with her every
movement. Willow's nose twitched, Spike's nostrils flared, and a glint
of fang showed as Kennedy hip-swished past the couch. She made a runway
turn in front of the fireplace, tossed her stormcloud hair and halted.
Licorice-dark eyes homed in on Willow, and her tongue caressed raspberry-glossed
lips. Maybe she didn't get that when a vampire said you looked edible,
they meant it literally. "Got something for me?"
Willow gaped at her. "Oh! Right. Yes. Not, um, to scale and I haven't
painted it or anything--" She fumbled for her notebook. "No
sign of a spell or mystic illness on this end. Total certainty's on hold
till Faith checks in, but since Buffy's not lacking in the power department..."
Buffy finger-waved from the couch. "Full of zingy Slayer goodness."
"...it's not real likely that there's something wrong with the source
of Slayer power, either. It's fine, you're fine, you're just not getting
any. Enough. Um, power. Whatever the problem is, it's only affecting you--"
"It can't be just me!" Kennedy interrupted. "It's ev--"
Faced with multiple stares, and she broke off. "Check in from where?
Is John Edwards making house calls?"
"Faith's not dead." Buffy didn't elaborate. "'Ev' what?
Wanna tack on a few syllables?"
Insouciance dissolved into an uncomfortable squirm. "I just meant
it could be affecting Faith. We don't know."
Spike sucked his cheeks in and folded his arms across his chest, his eyes
a blue so pale and cold it was almost grey. "Minute ago you thought
Faith was dead."
Kennedy's lips drew noose-tight, and she met the vampire's eyes with a
defiant glare. "Until a few minutes ago no one bothered to tell me
Willow broke the standoff with a small, diplomatic cough. "ANYWAY.
We're trying to come up with a non-Nightmare-On-Revello-Drive way to contact
the First Slayer. Assuming we can get her to talk."
"She's definitely on the pre-verbal side," Buffy said, scrunching
her nose. "Also big with the homicidal mania."
"She spoke through Tara, last time," Willow countered. "Or
at least, through your mental image of Tara. So the real thing..."
She beamed, and Tara ducked her head. "That's--I mean, that's the
kind of magic I'm b-best at. Communication, synthesis, interpretation...it's
worth a try."
"Whoa!" Kennedy flung up both hands. "I thought you people
were all gung-ho for this demon-power story. Now you're talking like it's
a person or something."
"Not a person, exactly." Tara looked thoughtful. "More
of a personification."
Willow nodded. "I mean, true, there had to be a flesh and blood first-ever
one-girl-in-all-the-world once. Council tradition says that her name was
Sineya--that's the name Giles used in the enjoining spell, when we made
the Uber-Slayer to defeat Adam? But whatever the enjoining spell woke
up–it might have, well, echoes of the real Sineya-if-that-was-her-real-name,
but it couldn't really be her, because dead, obviously, and ghosts manifest
in the material world, and the First Slayer only appeared in our dreams.
And Giles says no human ghost could possibly last from the Stone Age to
the present, anyway. Half-life. The ectoplasmic matrices break down, and
they fade away after a few hundred years. Which is really sad when you
think about it. You go to all the trouble to haunt someplace--"
"The First Slayer's more like...an avatar," Tara said, trying
to allay Kennedy's obvious confusion. "An archetype. The distilled
essence of Slayerness."
"Which we accidentally poked up out of Buffy's subconscious."
Willow mimed stabbing something. "Which, let me tell you, is one
scary place. In theory, she ought to be pokeable through any Slayer's
subconscious, given a sufficiently pointy stick. Maybe she can give us
a clue what's wrong."
Kennedy edged closer to the couch, craning her neck to see Willow's notebook.
"So what do I have to do?"
"We're not sure yet," Willow admitted. "There's this meditative
ritual I want to try in Orpheia's Akhashic Guide, for the manifestation
of the anima. I figure if we kit-bash that with a tailored summoning spell,
"Yipe, look at the time!" Buffy leaped to her feet. "I'm
supposed to meet--excuse me, rendezvous with--Riley and his Mystery
Date at eight. Fill me in when we get back, Will." She grabbed her
jacket, snatched stakes from the weapons chest, considered a sword and
then put it back with a grimace at the rain now pounding at the porch
roof. "You want to sit in?" she asked Spike, who was collecting
his things in a far more leisurely manner.
"Nah." Spike shrugged into his jacket. "But I'll drop you
off." He extended an arm. "Walk you to my car, little girl?"
Buffy took his elbow with a flirtatious grin. "Only if you give me
candy, mister. Later, guys!"
Kennedy's lip curled as Dawn shut the door behind them, and she rounded
on the younger Summers with narrow-eyed disapproval. "Doesn't it
bother you at all that your sister's with a guy who's kind of...dead?"
Dawn shrugged. "He's a consenting adult corpse, right?"
"Well, it makes me sick." Kennedy gave the couch a once-over
for vampire cooties and then sat down close enough to Willow to contract
a major infection. "So, tell me about this First Slayer chick."
Dawn gave a small, restrained snort and began collecting the dinner things,
a plate here and a bowl there. She aimed a look at Tara over the top of
her precarious armful, and jerked her head in the direction of the kitchen.
Mystified, Tara trailed after her; she needed to put away the leftovers
anyway, or try–-fitting anything into the refrigerator was kind
of like playing edible Tetris. Dawn dumped the dishes into the sink, walked
over to the stove and switched the range fan on, muffling the sound of
conversation from sensitive vampire ears. Dawn thought of things like
that. "You realize Kennedy's totally crushing on Willow, right?"
"What?" Tara banged her head on the freezer door, bit back an
intemperate word or two, and straightened. "No! That's not--she doesn't
"Excuse me? Personal experience with the smitten Slayer in play here."
In a family which had elevated the eyebrow thing to a fine art, Dawn didn't
win many points on style, but she got the message across. "Remember
the last person who wore red silk and Eau de Fuck Me Silly to tell a vampire
he had no chance with her whatsoever?" She slapped the back of one
hand to her forehead and adopted an exaggerated Buffy-falsetto. "'Spike,
it can never be! You're evil! It would be wrong!" Dawn grabbed a
bunch of celery and tango-dipped it over the counter. "Take me now,
you dead, passionate fool!' Puhlease. Look at her."
Tara peeked over the top of the refrigerator door. Willow was sorting
spellbooks into piles while Kennedy looked on--anyone can read this,
Spike can read this, and where the hell is Giles when you need him?
"Oh, yeah, I see what you mean," she said, solemn. "That's
hot. I'd better just pack my bags now."
"Watch," Dawn hissed. Kennedy leaned close. Definitely in
Willow's personal space, and okay, maybe her blouse was one button shy
of indecent exposure, but lots of people wore their clothes that way.
When Kennedy reached for a book her hand met Willow's and didn't flinch,
but didn't linger, either. Willow, engrossed in literary triage, handed
the book over with barely a glance.
Kennedy didn't flinch. Tara huddled behind her shield of chrome and
white enamel, gut-punched with revelation. All her joints felt watery
and her stomach seemed to have become a vast empty cavern threatening
to suck all the air out of her lungs. Kennedy might hate vampires, but
she wasn't physically revolted by them. She'd got it all backwards. Willow
had fought hard to conquer her demons, literal and otherwise. Confronted
often enough with I can't love a vampire, she wouldn't resort to magic
to make Tara come to her, or attempt some desperate, dangerous ploy to
change herself into something acceptable.
But she might just find herself a girlfriend who could love a vampire.
She'd worried so much over whether or not she'd have to leave Willow,
it had never occurred to her that Willow might leave her. Even the obsessiveness
of Aurelians had its limits; Spike had given up on Drusilla eventually.
"It...it's n-not like there's a law against thinking Willow's cute,"
she got out at last.
"Fine." Dawn abandoned her celery beau to its vegetative fate
and headed for the stairs with a flounce and a Theda Bara eyeroll. "Gazillion-year
old ex-Key and reigning expert on the love lives of Slayers, but hey,
don't mind me--I've got essay questions to fake."
Tara buried herself in the freezer, re-arranging things until her fingers
were stiff with cold. Dawn was seeing things, and she was borrowing hammers,
and if she tried one more configuration of leftovers, the entire refrigerator
was going to collapse into Food-9. She slammed the door and walked back
to the living room with calm determination. Dawn had left the Sibley
on the TV tray, and Tara picked it up and straightened the spine, flipping
through it at random in a concerted effort to distract herself from self-fulfilling
...in the veins of the Mohra demon flows the blood of eternity.
She wasn't sure why the page caught her eye. She'd seen it mentioned once
or twice as a component in a some of the more powerful and dangerous healing
spells. Terribly rare, terribly expensive. Nothing that would ever show
up for sale on Anya's shelves.
"Sweetie?" Willow held out one of the books. "You think
we'll need this one?"
"You never know." Tara tucked the Guide to Demons into a
sweater pocket. If Willow noticed the renewed pounding of her heart, she
didn't say a word.
When you're strange
Faces come out of the rain
When you're strange
No one remembers your name
When you're strange...
Raindrops hit the side windows running and raced each other to the back
of the car as the DeSoto hummed along wet black streets littered with
palm fronds and pulpy fragments of paper, heading for the shiny new Marriot
by the freeway. The radio sputtered and an announcer interrupted Jim Morrison
to warn of possible mudslides in the vicinity of Kingman's Bluff. Buffy
watched the wipers dashing sheets of quicksilver to the right and left,
bringing her closer to her rendezvous with every tick.
"...if they've half a brain between them, they'll attack through
the sewers in the daytime, and try to catch us between the sun and a hard
place. The lower level's defensible enough since we had the doors put
in, 'less they bring explosives, but I want to set someone tunneling parallel
to the sewer main outside the lower level doors." Spike had gone
game-faced for the slight sensory edge it gave him, and his pupils flashed,
tarnished pennies in a dark well. "Make a crawl space, like, with
a few arrow slits for crossbows, or just for recce."
Buffy pinched her lower lip. "How many people can we afford to pull
off regular work for that?"
"I'll put Denny on it. Not like he's good for anything else."
Spike fidgeted, thumbs tapping the wheel, and considered. "Or we
could just round up a few stray fledges, work 'em till they drop, and
stake 'em after."
By vampire standards, working strangers to death in preference to his
own minions made him a soft touch. "That doesn't seem very...sporting,"
Buffy said carefully. Sometimes she envied Willow and Tara--once Tara
got used to the whole vampire thing (and of course Tara would get used
to the whole vampire thing. Wouldn't she?) they'd have it made. She and
Spike were always going to be engaged in a tug-of-war between It would
be wrong and Yeah, so? "Killing them I'm on board with, but using
them for slave labor and then killing them is... squicky."
Spike's forehead acquired a few more convolutions as he tried to work
that one out. "We could pay them before killing them," he suggested,
with only minimal sarcasm. "If they showed promise I'd be for keeping
them, but seriously, love, how else do we get it done quick and on the
The vision of half a dozen vampires punching a time clock and exploding
into dust forced a snort of laughter out against her will. "I don't
know! God, I'm turning into a demon OSHA inspector. What about magic?"
"Quick, yeh; cheap? Not if we want it to last more'n fifteen minutes
before collapsing of its own weight."
Buffy acknowledged the point with a moue; there was a big difference between
a spell that reamed out fifty feet of earth and a spell that reamed out
fifty feet of earth, disposed of the excess fill in a safe and responsible
manner, and provided drainage and support beams and a preliminary scrying
to avoid bursting the odd gas main in the process. Spike leaned back,
one hand draped carelessly over the top of the steering wheel. "We'll
have a better idea how much time we've got once Evie's cradled in the
bosoms of the ungodly and plucking their brains for us."
Evie had chutzpah, no doubt about that. She could see why Spike had made
the impulsive decision to recruit her. Still... "You think she can
handle that, first week on the job?"
"She's a clever bird." Spike shook a cigarette loose from the
perpetually half-full pack in his pocket–would he use a cigarette
case if she got him one, or dismiss it as poncy?--and lipped it, bracing
the wheel with one knee while he felt around for his lighter. "About
to graduate university when Dalton turned her. Wanted to be a marine biologist,
as I recollect, or some egghead thing like that." Smoke streamed
out the window and dispersed into the rainy night. "She was right
hacked off about missing out on the cap-tossing--though come to think,
she did go in the end. Ate the professor that gave her a B-."
"Keep talking. I'm starting to warm to that slave labor idea."
Buffy laid her forehead against the window and trailed a finger through
the faint mist of condensation which bloomed on the glass. The problem
with leading Spike to ethical water was that it made her think, too. At
the moment her brain felt like one of those bent nail puzzles--somewhere
there was a trick that would untwist everything into bright, shiny, simple
pieces, but darned if she could figure out what it was. She couldn't afford
to think of vampires as people. The lines that allowed her to function
as a Slayer were already dangerously blurred, and handing out socks to
the minions could only lead to badness. But some still small voice told
her that thinking of them as a commodity was equally dangerous. Every
one of the nameless, faceless vamps she'd sent to dust in the past had
a past--had been a person, once, and if they weren't that person any longer,
were still a someone, not a something.
Spike didn't think of it in those terms. He had his own lines in the sand,
but they divided the people he cared about--vampire or human--from the
rest of the world, whose continued existence depended solely upon how
interesting or useful they happened to be to him today. Except his lines
had gone smudgy, too, 'interesting and useful' grown to encompass a category
of people so broad and vague that he could barely define it any longer,
and got grouchy when asked to try. Their lives had gone from the stark
clarity of pen and ink to a blurry watercolor brilliance.
Rows of rain-spangled cars shone diamond-bright in the headlights as they
pulled up in front of the Sunnydale Marriot. "What are we doing here,
She wasn't talking about the hotel. Spike's lion-gold eyes were pensive
beneath that gargoyle brow, and what was she, really, that she found the
savage lines of his demon face so beautiful? "I don't know. Got to
do something, though, don't we? It's what we're made for, both of us."
He toyed with his cigarette, rolling the slim white cylinder between nicotine-stained
fingers, and looked up with a grin, half shyness and half deviltry. "'Spect
we'll figure it out as we go along, like always."
He pitched the half-smoked cig end over end and got out to open her
door for her, half-drenched in the time it took him to walk around the
car. Buffy stood tip-toe, brushed lips to his cheek--cold as vampires
were seldom cold in sunny California--and turned towards the sterile glow
of the hotel doors. Spike caught her wrist and pulled her back, enfolding
her like the rainswept night.
They clung together in a blind roaring universe of water. Spike's cold
nose found refuge in tendrils of tawny hair curling at the base of her
jaw, and Buffy pressed close, muffling the misty billows of her breath
against his shoulder till warmth blossomed there like crocuses in winter.
She laid a palm flat against his chest, mapping the place where his heart
should have beat. She didn't miss the thump and rush. Enough to feel the
solid swell of pectoral muscle tense and relax at her touch, and the singing
thrill of Spike, right here! from her Slayer's senses. She let
her hand slide down the firm plane of his belly, fingers exploring the
interesting gap where his t-shirt was riding up--it was one he'd acquired
the summer after her death, when he'd gotten so razor-wire thin, and it
was a little too small for him now that there was a healthy amount of flesh
between skin and bone. There were certain advantages to that, involving
the ticklish, anticipatory twitch of cool satiny skin, and the tiniest
wisp of dark hair trailing down from his navel, just begging to be tweaked...
"Sure you don't want to come?" she whispered.
Spike growled into the tender folds of her neck, lips teasing at her earlobe.
"I want to come, all right. But I've got Evie to see to, Willow didn't
fill the sodding gas tank like I told her, and this rain'll flush those
Frewlar demons out of hiding. 'Sides, Captain America and Bucky'll likely
talk freer if I'm not about." His tongue curled, and his eyes glinted
in the aqueous light. Blue now; he'd gone human in her arms. "Just
wanted to see you off proper."
It was refreshing that Spike was handling the Riley situation without
a trace of the sulky jealousy still all too likely to erupt between him
and Angel...but also fairly tasty to be seen off properly. "Mmm.
You'll have to see me off improperly sometime. Bronze at eleven?"
"If it hasn't taken on two of every creature and pulled up anchor."
Spike's vehicular dinosaur forded the primeval swamp of the parking lot,
and the wicked red eyes of its taillights faded into shrouds of rain as
it disappeared down the access road. Buffy tilted her head back and squinted
up at the hotel's facade, trying to read the room numbers around the scalloped
edge of the awning. A raindrop seeped through a seam in the burgundy canvas
and fell in her eye.
"Buffy! Ready to move out?" Sam Finn strode briskly through
the front doors, an exceptionally wholesome Emma Peel in Kevlar and sleek
black government-issue all-weather gear. Her low-slung utility belt bristled
with assorted tracking and communications gear, grapples, a taser, and
several mysterious items Buffy suspected were just there to make the belt
balance. Riley loomed right behind his wife, sporting an even more impressive
array of gadgets. They looked like they'd stepped out of the Sharper Image
His N' Hers catalogue.
Buffy blinked and rubbed violently at her eye, hoping fervently that her
mascara lived up to its billing. "More like swim out, but all rarin'
to go." She hunched her shoulders in her silly bright teal windbreaker,
feeling slightly underdressed. Rather to her disappointment, Mrs. Riley
Finn showed no signs of being anything but a perfectly normal gorgeous,
statuesque Amazon. It wasn't that she grudged Riley moving on, Buffy told
herself sternly. It was just that the universe was a better, fairer place
when all the guys who dumped her were cursed to wander the world, doomed
never to experience perfect happiness. She was pretty sure it was in the
"Here's our targets." Riley fanned a sheaf of laminated sheets
in front of her, each one stamped all over with TOP SECRET, EYES ONLY,
CONFIDENTIAL, and for all Buffy could tell, DO NOT OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS.
Most of the faces were vampires, shown in full-face and profile, both
game-face and human. There were a few demons: a Fyarl, a Bracken or two,
something that looked like Clem's older, saggier cousin, and one thing
she couldn't identify at all. It looked like someone had ripped a couple
dozen wanted posters off the wall of the Mos Eisley Post Office. "The
ones with the red Xs through have been confirmed killed--either we found
their bodies in the complex before we locked it down, or we've got reliable
reports of their deaths later. The blue Xs are the one's we've recaptured.
"About half of the subjects had tracers implanted." Riley was
punching coordinates into a Rockwell Collins GPS receiver. "We don't
know how many are still generating a signal, or at what strength. The
plan was to quarter the town in the van till we picked up a target, and
then close on foot, but it looks like our lucky night." He tilted
the unit to allow Buffy to see a detailed schematic of Sunnydale's streets
scrolling across the tiny screen, which impressed her somewhat less than
it might have before Willow had introduced her to Mapquest. "It's
got a little something extra under the hood," he said with a grin.
The flick of a button, and the view changed to the layout of the cave
system. "Turns out that infrared satellite photos are good for more
than finding Mayan ruins." The view snapped back to street-level
again, focusing on the industrial park west of the hotel. "There's
A yellow dot zipped between the ghostly outlines of the buildings, heading
away from the freeway. "Ooh, retro. Pac-Vamp."
The dot jittered and fuzzed out for a moment, then reappeared further
down the street. Riley grimaced. "Either the tracer's running out
of power, something's interfering with the signal, or it teleports,"
he said. "Sometimes it's all three. Let's go." He plunged into
the rain, and Sam took off in perfectly coordinated unison. Buffy stuffed
the photos inside her windbreaker and scrambled to catch up. Right. Of
course. Not the leader of the pack, not tonight. She could do that.
Over hedges, around corners, between cars, her racing feet found the high
spots of their own volition, and Buffy skimmed across the wet neon surface
of the night, outpacing the raindrops. She caught up to Team Finn in a
matter of seconds, and reined herself in to a jog. It had been a long
time since she'd patrolled with anyone but Spike. Xander wasn't up to
it anymore; even after a year of PT he still limped, and he and Anya were
retired, anyway. Dawn had school. Tara and Willow came along occasionally,
when they didn't have evening classes, but for the most part she ran with
wolves. She'd lost the habit of holding herself to human limitations.
Not that Sam and Riley weren't good. They dodged from cover to cover,
slipped single-file through the narrow slot between two barracks-style
office complexes, alert, wary, silent as all get-out–but they weren't
Spike, attuned to her every move and vice versa. There was distinct third-wheeliness
in the air. Or was that fifth wheel? Had to be, because three made a tricycle.
The pair of them dropped to a crouch behind a lone Subaru. "He's
moving fast," Sam whispered, with a nod at the GPS unit. Buffy did
a little bunny hop, trying without success to see over the Great Wall
of Finn. Sam looked at Riley, biting her lip. "You think...?"
Without a word, Team Finn split to cover the parking lot, skirting the
shabby little oleander hedges which dissected the asphalt. The whole non-verbal
communication thing was really irritating when it was some other couple
doing it. Buffy did a quick eeny meeny and took after Sam.
Vampire, vampire, who's got the vampire? She stretched her Slayer senses
to the limit, breathing in the chalky odor of wet stucco and the faint
sickening smell of oil-slick pavement. The industrial park stretched away
into the murk, rank upon infinite rank of featureless Lego buildings distinguished
only by numbers half-obscured by rain and darkness. No go. Where instinct
failed, thinkiness would have to suffice. If I were a vampire in this
part of town, where would I be going?
"Damn," Riley muttered as they came together in the lee of the
next row of offices. "Signal's gone again."
Buffy beckoned. "This way." Riley and Sam didn't follow immediately,
much to her irritation. She whirled, dancing on her toes. "Hurry!"
Sam looked dubious, but Riley gave her a come-on jerk of his head, and
this time they followed as Buffy tore off down the covered walkway fronting
the nearest block of offices. The clack of her boot-heels reverberated
off the concrete and her reflection capered from window to blank black
window at her side. Rain slapped her in the face as the walkway came to
an end, and she was out in the open once more, stake in hand, no, stake
bad, they wanted this puppy undusted. She could sense her prey now, close,
a tinfoil skittering along her nerves.
There--a shadow darting along the top of the cinderblock wall surrounding
the park. For a split second the floodlights reflected sleek and silvery
from its head. A second shadow broke from the insufficient cover of an
oleander and made a panicked scramble for the wall. It was a skinny kid
in ragged jeans and a Grateful Dead t-shirt, eyes mad with hatred and
terror beneath a mop of unkempt black hair. Buffy half expected Spike
to be crouched atop the wall, grinning down at the fun and ready to pounce,
but there was a distinctly girly shriek and a windmilling of arms, and
the wall-top shadow disappeared with a muffled thump.
The skinny kid snarled and made a predictable feint left before dodging
right, worn sneakers skidding on rainbow slicks of oil. Buffy was where
he was going before he was, meeting his bared fangs with a feral grin.
"May I have this dance?" He fled, and she was before him again,
doing a Gene Kelly round the nearest light pole. There was no challenge
in a foe who couldn't fight back. "That's so like a guy, just hang
around by the punchbowl all night." Sam and Riley pounded across
the wet pavement towards her, eyes wide. "Oh well, you'd probably
step on my toes anyway." She hauled off with a straight right to
the jaw. The vampire spun around and collided with Sam, who jammed a taser
into his shoulder. The vamp's head snapped up, chin to the sky, and he
convulsed, golden eyes rolling back blank and white in his head. He collapsed
in a limp awkward heap on the pavement.
Riley rolled the body over with one steel-toed boot. "Damn, Buffy.
How'd you know he'd break this way?"
"Easy. He had to be heading for Lincoln Avenue." Light failed
to dawn, and Buffy elaborated. "He's got a chip in his head, right?
Feeding opportunities therefore limited? Lincoln's Ho Central. All those
seedy motels. He could get someone to hire him for a suck job there, easy."
She wrinkled her nose. "Someone with no standards in personal hygiene,
"Oh." She could have sworn Riley was blushing. "I didn't
Hopefully Sam appreciated having a guy who'd lived in Sunnydale for two
years and never realized where the hookers hung out--the human ones, anyway.
Riley bent to run one of his blinky devices along the creature's lanky
torso. "Hostile Eleven," he said with a grin. "The genetic
signature matches perfectly."
"Well, that was...anticlimactic." Buffy rubbed her knuckles
and stared down at their first...victim was the wrong word, but she couldn't
think of the right one. There was something ignominious about this; it
was vermin control, not an epic battle of good and evil. But someone needed
to spray for roaches. "There's another one out there." She started
for the wall, but Riley grabbed her shoulder, his hand large and startlingly
"Hold your positions," he snapped. "I'll check it out."
Buffy almost opened her mouth to object, but the look in his eyes and
the minute shake of his head stopped her; this was something to do with
his mysterious personal business. He disappeared into the shadows. Buffy
watched the dark spot where he wasn't for a moment longer, itchy--she
couldn't tell for certain if the second vampire was still anywhere nearby.
Sam didn't look particularly happy with the situation herself, but she
only pulled out her cell and dispensed terse directions to the pickup
crew. That done, she hauled the groggy vampire up, snapped a pair of not-at-all-sexy
manacles around his bony wrists, and dragged their captive under the minimal
protection of the covered walkway. She leaned back against the cruddy
stucco, a little too casual. "Pretty lucky coincidence, you running
into Ri the very first night we're in town. How often does something like
Buffy tucked her hands into her armpits. The rain was starting to soak
through her less-than-high-tech windbreaker. Now that she wasn't moving,
she was starting to get cold. "About once a week," she muttered.
There was something in the other woman's eyes she couldn't fathom, an
assessing look which went beyond the wariness a new wife might feel around
an old girlfriend. "So, uh, congratulations, and everything. How
long have you and Riley been married?"
"Our first wedding anniversary was in October."
Wedding bells less than a year after Riley'd left Sunnydale. Hmph. Never
mind that she'd been lying awake nights a scant month later, calculating
the correct angle from which to jump Spike's bones. That was, naturally,
completely different. "Not a believer in long engagements, huh?"
"Not in our business." Sam looked at her, dark eyes under dark
level brows, a perfect oval of a face--Raphael's Madonna and Kalashnikov.
"I'll be square with you--I resented it sometimes, that he was spending
time with me getting over you."
Sign here, and tell me where you want me to unload the shipment of awkward.
"I hope you don't think–because it's so over. There's Spike,
very much there's Spike. And you. And not that Riley isn't a great guy,
he is, but we're just not...it didn't work out and..." Buffy covered
her eyes with a groan. "Can I back up and maybe do this with hand
"I didn't mean to put you on the spot." Sam shifted her grip
on the taser with a rueful smile. "OK, maybe I did. Look, let's not
talk about it." A silence almost as awkward as the speech followed.
"So how did you and Spike meet?"
"We were in a band," Buffy deadpanned. She pulled the sheaf
of laminated photos out of her purse and shuffled through them again.
It was like looking over old yearbook photos--you know that guy, the
one who threw the Jell-O at the gym teacher? This was the guy who sat
behind him in algebra. "Hey!" She pointed to a mug-shot of
a Bracken demon. "That's Susie! She's the relief bartender at Willy's.
She's..." Not exactly a friend, but not someone she'd expected to
see flashy-thinged and carted away in a black helicopter, either.
"We got another positive ID? Fantastic." Sam whipped out her
cell again. "I'll alert the team–two tags in one night is–"
Slayer reflexes let Buffy grab her arm before she could hit the speed
dial. "Whoa, there, Black Mamba! You can't just go all KGB on Susie.
She hasn't done anything."
Sam looked down at her. "Buffy... Ours not to question why. Our assignment
is to retrieve or eliminate. Riley wouldn't tell you this," her voice
dropped: quiet, confidential, serious, just between us Amazons. "But
you need to know. He's putting his career on the line, making this end
run around orders for your boyfriend. His record in Sunnydale's not good.
I've seen the files–AWOL, assaulting a superior officer–the
only reason he's not rotting in a military prison somewhere is that someone
in Washington likes him. Friends in high places can only protect you so
"That's Riley's decision to make, isn't it?"
"Not saying it isn't. But it won't look good if our superiors find
out he's subverting the mission objectives for one HST, much less two."
She looked honestly perplexed. "You're not what I expected. Ri talked
about you a lot, how you were this legendary warrior for good–"
"Yeah, well, I'm an independent contractor these days. What's going
to happen to them? The specimens you collect?" Visions of the Initiative
holding facilities rose unbidden from memory, featureless cages and electro-shock
forcefields. Spike had been in one of those cages, once. At the time,
she'd thought it was the funniest thing in the world. "I'm all for
science, yay cell phones and Midol, but--"
Sam's shoulders rose and fell, unconcerned. "That's not my department,
but they'll be studied, to see how the chips have modified their neural
patterns and their behavioral responses to various stimuli. We're scientists,
not the Spanish Inquisition."
"And what happens when the study's–"
At that fraught juncture the Herkimer Battle Jitney roared in through
the main gates of the park, sending up twin arcs of spray from its massive
wheels, and the hup-hup-hup crew poured out like ants, and in two seconds
flat the fallen vampire was being prodded, poked, measured, and tagged
by a swarm of ninja paramedics. A moment later Riley's head appeared atop
the cinderblock fence. "Whatever it was, it got away from me,"
he said, a little too cheerfully. The rain was beginning to slack off,
and patchy black holes were starting to appear and widen in the overcast
sky, and Riley stretched, flexing those mile-wide shoulders. "Not
a bad night's work."
"Gonna get better, hon," Sam said with a grin and a Mona-you're-a-brick
punch to his arm. "The Slayer gave us an ID on one of the missing."
"The Slayer is having second thoughts," Buffy interrupted. "Look,
we went through this once with Oz, didn't we? Rounding up the dangerous
ones is one thing, but Susie's not a threat even if she didn't have a
chip. Bracken demons are harmless, unless you try to pat them on the back
and impale yourself on the spines. And of course, the violet eyeshadow
with her complexion? Huge mistake unless she enjoys looking like a giant
bruise, but I don't see a warrant from the fashion police. You can't just...
just kidnap her."
Riley sighed. "No promises. I'll talk to my commanding officer. Maybe
we can arrange a release when the study's complete."
"Thanks." Would it torpedo Riley's military career if Susie
just happened to get a phone call tipping her off that the Initiative
was back in town? Probably not, and ever so much quicker than dealing
with military bureaucracy. Buffy shuffled Susie's rap sheet back into
the sheaf of photos as if that would hide her from the long arm of the
law, glanced at the top photo and froze. Long dark hair, café au
lait skin gone a shade or two paler in death. Middling-pretty face enlivened
by wide sloe eyes, brimming with fear and fury in the picture before her. Hostile 6, vampire, female, est. 0-5 yrs post-infection.
Evie. Of course. She should have realized. Spike had said she was chipped.
"Recognize someone else?" Riley asked.
Buffy handed the photos back without a hitch. "Nope. 'Fraid not."
Wesley's apartment was scrupulously tidy as always, full of ancient, breakable
artifacts and angular furniture. No sybaritic overstuffed armchairs for
Mr. Wyndam-Pryce. Even the lampshades were boxy. Beneath thee austere
geometry there was something humid and rotten, the lingering scent of
decay and despair. Or maybe that was just Lilah Morgan's perfume. Cordy
rubbed her temples and took a sip of the tea her host had provided–Wesley
might be slouching around in designer stubble and modeling the John Constantine
collection these days, but the tea was eternal.
"You're certain?" Wesley scribbled the address on a post-it
pad. "Yes. You've been most helpful." He hung up the phone and
leaned back on the low-slung couch, fingers steepled before his lean impassive
face. "Bernard Crowley moved to California from New York in 1978
following the death of his Slayer, Nikki Wood. He relocated from Beverly
Hills to Pasadena in '92 and has been living there ever since. There's
no current contact between him and the Council–none they'll admit
to me, anyway. Apparently he had some kind of falling-out with them over
the proper course of action regarding Nikki's son–"
Cordelia looked up from her tea. "A Slayer with a kid? That's wrong
He shrugged. "Unusual, but not unprecedented. Not that long ago a
girl of sixteen might well already be married when Called. I gather the
normal procedure was to arrange for an abortion or an adoption, but Nikki
insisted upon keeping the boy, and Crowley backed her up. He raised the
child after her death. And that," he said with a grimace of mild
frustration, "is the one and only thing which distinguishes him from
any other retired Watcher the world round. The son enjoyed a brief career
as a vampire hunter in his early twenties, but Crowley himself has no
history of any particular interest in Angelus or in Angel. So the question
is...why should he go to such lengths to kidnap Angel now?"
"No, the question is where did he take Angel, and how do we get him
back," Cordelia snapped. "You don't seem to get that I woke
up on the floor. With a paperclip stuck to my face. For this you pay,
bowler hat man."
"Yes, I can see where that would inspire a quenchless thirst for
vengeance." Wesley rose and paced over to the glass-fronted bookshelves,
hands clasped loose-limbed behind his back as he regarded the irregular
ranks of books and artifacts displayed thereon. "Crowley's place
is the logical starting point for a search. Unless you feel it best to
wait until Fred and Gunn return--"
God, it was so frustrating, that touchy, guilt-ridden pride of his. Cordelia's
fingers tightened around the handle of the teacup, vestigal good manners
all that prevented her from chucking it at his head. Angel had forgiven
if not forgotten, but Wesley was still spanking his inner moppet, and
she was beginning to suspect that his inner moppet got off on it. She,
on the other hand... "If you don't knock off the jaded urban sorcerer
act, I might. You opened a vein for him, so don't try to convince me you
don't give a damn now. Just get in the car and–"
There was a knock at the door. The two of them exchanged a startled glance.
"Who's that?" Cordelia whispered. "You don't actually know
anyone anymore, do you?"
"Regrettably, no," Wesley murmured. He took a medium-vile looking
dagger from the weapons rack by the bookshelf, and opened the door with
Angel stood on the threshold, still wearing yesterday's clothes (uncharacteristically
rumpled, as if they'd been stuffed in a locker somewhere), a fading scrape
across his cheek the only evidence of foul play. Screw the angst. Cordy
shot past Wesley and barrelled into the prodigal, flinging her arms around
that massive chest in a bear-hug. "Angel! You're alive! More or less!
What happened? How'd you get away? Did you–"
To her utter shock, he pulled her into his arms and returned the hug hard
enough to make her squeak, and my, didn't it feel good, wrapped up in
all that vampire muscle? "Mr. Crowley had a proposition for me,"
he said, big blunt hands sliding up to tangle in her hair. Omigod, he's...sniffing
me?! "I admit it didn't seem very attractive at first, but in the
end he made me an offer I couldn't refuse."
There was a secret humor in his tone. Cordelia pulled away, suspicious.
"What's he up to? Some kind of Watcher Amway?"
Angel smiled. Not the sketchy upturn of lips that was all he'd usually
commit to--this was a great big brilliant Irish grin, complete with a
twinkle in those normally unreadable eyes. "Let's just say our little
problem isn't a problem any longer."
And he kissed her. Kissed her with all the ease of two and a half centuries'
practice, kissed her till her heart pounded and her knees went wobbly,
though maybe that was just oxygen deprivation. It wasn't the first time;
they'd done this before, once or twice...or thrice, who was counting?
But it was always furtive and guilt-ridden, left them less rather than
more satisfied. A stolen pleasure that didn't really count, like broken
cookies, no calories. This kiss was definitely illegal, immoral and
fattening. One big square hand firm between her shoulder blades--all,
really, that was holding her up at the moment--the other cupping her ass,
thumb drawing maddening circles. She clung to him like lichen to a mountain,
God, he was so big all over, she could fall into him like falling into
the earth itself, dark and secret and strong. Someone was making embarrassing
little moany sounds...oh, right, that was her.
"You went to the shaman," Wesley breathed.
Angel broke off and gazed at Wesley over the top of her head. "Not
exactly. But I think I can safely say my soul's not going anywhere for
a good long time. Gonna ask me in?"
Wesley's throat worked for a second, the long pale scar rippling across
his Adam's apple. "You've always been welcome in this house."
"Now that makes me very happy, Wes." Angel's eyes were scalpels,
blunted, maybe, by this odd mood, but still capable of inflicting damage.
"Not perfectly happy, but sometimes in this world we just have to
settle. You know all about that, I guess. How is Lilah doing these days?"
The tone of his voice, the manic glitter in his eye, the offhand cruelty--all
of it slid neatly into place, knives filleting the breath out of Cordelia's
lungs more effectively than the kiss had. Something within her was wailing, It's not fair! I was good, I was careful! If this was going to happen
anyway, why couldn't I have gotten one night to remember out of it? She
forced words past the lump of sick, frozen terror in her throat. "Wesley!
Too late. A blur of movement, and Angel had flung her aside and slammed
Wesley into the bookcase, one hand around his throat, the other ramming
Wes's own knife into his gut. Glass shattered, the Euclidean purity of
the shelves transformed in an instant to fractal chaos, and a small fortune
in rare texts tumbled to the floor. Cordelia screamed and cast wildly
around for a weapon–Wes had ten million antique thingybobs scattered
around the apartment, surely one had to be within arm's reach.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you, darlin'," Angel snarled.
Wesley made a strangled croaking noise, turning almost black in the face
as Angel's fingers dug into his windpipe. Cordelia froze, hand inches
from the haft of a battleaxe, mesmerized by thin trickles of blood on
Wesley's temple, red against the rapidly empurpling skin. Blood-flowers
bloomed on his shirt-front, scarlet petals opening and spreading across
the cotton. One of the worst deaths you can die, Angel had told her
once. Not that he'd needed to tell her; she'd been there, still had the
scar that was such a bitch to make up for bikini shots. "Or there'll
be one less ex-Watcher in L.A."
Wesley's eyes were imploring: Kill him, though it destroy me! That was
why Angel had rejected her as a hostage, she realized; Wesley wouldn't
have hesitated. Her voice was eerily steady in her own ears. "You're
just going to feel like shit when Tara puts your soul back, so--"
"Cordy? Shut the fuck up." He gazed at Wesley with a smile obscenely
close to loving. "Don't look so glum, Wes. I'm going to give you
what you really want. I told you I was going to kill you for what you
did to my son. Took me awhile to get around to it, is all. Eye for an
eye, tooth for a tooth–you've been begging for it, haven't you?
But don't think this is all just fun and games for me, though it really,
really is–" He jabbed the knife in further, gave it a vicious
twist–"I've been thinking I needed to keep you guys off my
back. Thinking I needed flunkies, minions, the usual–and then d'oh!
It hits me. Already got 'em. They just require a little fine-tuning. You're
gonna be my right-hand man, Wes. Just like old times. And Cordy can be...
well, you don't actually know how to do anything, do you? Ah, hell, with
those tits who needs talent? We need to find Connor."
"Do we?" Wesley choked out.
"Yeah, Wes, we do. He's family." He grinned, his teeth saw-blades
in ivory, his eyes a sulfurous blaze in the shadows of his ridged brows.
"And now so are you."
Cordelia lunged for the battleaxe. Angel turned, all smooth terrible power,
and flung Wesley aside, a limp bloodied scarecrow. He wrenched the axe
from her grasp, trapping her wrists in one hand, and hauled her up by
the hair. "Cordy, Cordy, Cordy," he caroled. "You seem
stressed. How about I just buy you a new wardrobe–that's the going
price for a Get Out of Cordelia's Self-righteous Condemnation Free card,
isn't it? "
She wrenched at his arm, and might as well have been wrestling granite.
He was always so infinitely careful with her, she forgot how inhumanly
strong he was. The bones in her wrists were screaming under the pressure
of his hand, a little metacarpal chorus of agony. "I'm not buying
that that old goat could give you a moment of perfect happiness! This
has got to be a spell or something! Angel, you've got to fight it! It's
Angel's eyes softened from teak to brown velvet, and his hands dropped
to his sides. "Cordelia," he murmured. "It's–it's
incredible! Your love has warmed my stony vampire heart! For you and you
alone I'll give up evil and live the life of a virtuous champion!"
He slapped her hard enough to rattle the teeth in her jaw. "Or not.
'Fight it, Angel!'" he mimicked. "You stupid cow. Of course
it's real. It's the big damn hero who's the fantasy. And you fell for
it, hook, line and sinker, didn't you? God, you're pathetic. Had a chance
at power most humans can't even conceive of, and you gave it up–for
what? To be with him? Well, here you are, no visions, no power, no purpose,
and where's that grand romance you sacrificed it all for? You're useless.
Useless to him, useless to yourself." He leaned in close. She could
smell the meat-locker stench of recent feeding on his breath, and his
eyes were great golden bonfires. His voice lowered, roughened. "But
I've got a use for you, Cordelia Chase. Every time he looks at you, I'm
watching through his eyes. Every breath he forgets not to take, I'm smelling
your wet little cunt. Every time he thinks about you, every time he lies
awake, every time he touches--"
Cordelia kneed him in the groin and flipped backwards over the couch,
landing hard on her ass. Angel roared and doubled over, careening around
the couch after her and sending the end table flying. She crab-scuttled
backwards, but Angel pounced, scary-fast, pinning her shoulders to the
floor with two hundred-plus pounds of lustful demonic fury. His teeth
were in her throat and she was writhing wildly beneath him, trying to
get leverage and screaming Don't don't don't! and--
An arm came down like lighting and Angel arched backwards with a yell,
clawing for the broken table leg lodged in his back. Wesley was standing,
God knew how, a blood-soaked revenant with eyes dreadful in their calm
acceptance of what was happening. I guess, Cordelia thought crazily, he's used to being cut open by now. Blood everywhere, great swathes
and gouts of it. "Run," he rasped through bloody foam, and
then Angel was upon him.
Cordelia ran. She veered round in the doorway, one hand to her ravaged
throat, heartsick and dizzy. Angel looked up from his work, grinning,
Wesley's blood on his lips, his blood on Wesley's.
"Go ahead, run," he purred. "We'll be along presently."
Continued in Chapter 7