A Parliament Of Monsters
By Barb Cummings
Sequel to Necessary Evils
The crash drew Lawson downstairs at a run, his own feet swifter than
the creaky old elevator. Halfway out onto the balcony overlooking the
lobby he skidded to a halt, and threw a glance over the railing. A handful
of the new fledges were deployed around the lobby, four of them guarding
the front doors with a variety of ironmongery clutched in their hands,
three more milling around the foot of the stairs holding crossbows like
they'd never seen one before. Lawson groaned; not a single one of them
was more than ten years out of the grave, and none of them had any real
combat training, much less expertise in weapons that had gone out of style
a century before their original birth. The first goddam thing he was going
to do tomorrow night was head down to the L.A. Gun Club and round up a
few dozen semi-automatics.
Angel was a different story. Hell, Angel was a whole different book.
He swept across the balcony like a hurricane across Florida, swinging
the claymore as if the wind itself bore the blade up. Spike dived off
the balcony rail and tucked into a shoulder-roll barely in time to avoid
the five-foot hunk of steel which came whistling down in his wake. The
oak railing shattered like balsa, sending a deadly hail of splinters in
Lawson dodged the pencil rain and retreated to the comparative safety
of the elevator door as Angel wrenched his sword free of the wreckage
and spun to face Spike once more. The two older vampires circled, their
faces streaked with blood and plaster dust, demon-masks painted in strokes
of crimson and white. Angel attacked; Spike fell back, feinted, and thrust
for the shoulder. The saber's point sank home, but the flat of Angel's
sword caught Spike with rib-cracking force and sent him flying across
the balcony. Spike flailed for the shattered remnants of the rail as he
went over, halting his fall with a shoulder-wrenching jerk, and hung there
one-handed. His sword pinwheeled to earth below him, landing on the jade-green
floor of the lobby with a ringing clatter. The minions at the foot of
the stairs surged up, baying for blood, and the multiple twang
of crossbows finally granted a stationary target filled the air. Spike
howled, curling in mid-air as a bolt slammed into his kidneys.
Angel's lips curled in a lazy, what-have-we-here? grin. He strolled
over to the edge of the balcony and stood with one Prada-shod foot hovering
over Spike's white-knuckled hand. "Isn't this a bit of a cliché,
even for you?" he asked.
"Sorry," Spike gasped, blinking blood and sweat from his eyes.
"I'll try something more original." He reached around behind
his back with his free hand, yanked the crossbow bolt free, and lunged
upwards, ramming it through glossy patent leather and pinning Angel's
foot to the floor. Angel toppled backwards with a yell and Spike hauled
himself up onto the balcony using his grandsire's body as ballast. Angel
tore his foot free with a roar and went for Spike's throat. The two of
them rolled over and over, gouging, punching, kicking and biting, fists
pulping faces and fangs ripping bloody furrows in each other's chest and
The minions had backed off again, uncertain of their chances of hitting
Angel in the melée--not that a few of them might not be considering
the option, but firing at Angel and missing would invite a fate not to
be contemplated. Lawson couldn't fault them for either impulse. This wasn't
a formal challenge, but the very fact that Spike was another Aurelian
with no small reputation of his own made it more than a personal quarrel.
No matter that Spike had less than zero interest in vampire politics--if
Angel couldn't defeat Spike decisively, it would undermine Angel's authority
all the same.
The combatants slammed against the wall in front of him and bounced
off again--Lawson wasn't even certain they realized he was there. If he
stepped in now, his support of his sire would both strengthen Angel's
hold on the others and shore up his own uncertain credentials as one of
Angel's inner circle. It would put him one up on Wesley in the constant
struggle for their sire's favor and attention. It would force Angel to...
To what? However belatedly, Angel had already confirmed him as a member
of the oldest and most feared vampire clan on the planet, and given him
a measure of trust and responsibility. Given him a mission, outlined a
plan. What more did he want? What more was there to want?
The elevator pinged, and the doors whooshed open behind him, disgorging
a minion just up from the basement. She leaped out and bulled past Lawson
with a whoop, waving a flamberge with an enthusiasm which far outstripped
her skill. She aimed her blade straight for Spike, whose head Angel was
doing his damnedest to remove from his shoulders.
Lawson was no stranger to decisive moments. The day the bombs had fallen
on Pearl Harbor. The day he'd walked into the recruiting office. The day
he'd looked into Angel's eyes and said I'm the only one. Looking
back, it seemed strange that all of those moments had come while he was
a living man. Had anything he'd done, anything he'd decided, since dying
mattered? He'd been the best vampire he could be, but the lives he'd shattered,
the people he'd killed, all would have come to their ends one way or another
if he hadn't happened by. Death was universal; he was merely one of its
He reached down, picked up a fragment of the shattered balcony rail,
took two steps forward and coolly inserted it between the minion's shoulder
blades. She and her weapon crumbled to dust as Spike jabbed both thumbs
into Angel's eyes. Angel released his grip with a bellow of half-blinded
agony, and Spike staggered to his feet and reeled back, eyes coin-bright
and blood streaming from his flared nostrils. He looked from Angel to
Lawson and back again, reached some decision of his own, and bolted for
the elevator. Lawson ducked in after him and slapped the close door button.
The machinery lurched and grumbled into motion.
"I could smell Taco Girl on that bint you staked," Spike gasped.
He straightened himself to his full and not terribly impressive height
against the elevator wall and spat out a tooth. "Where is she?"
"Basement," Lawson said, tucking his makeshift stake into
his belt as they shuddered to a halt. "Lingerie, notions, and captives."
He dug his nails under the brass plate of the elevator controls and pulled;
the control box tore free of the wall in a shower of sparks and a bouquet
of curling wires. "It'll take awhile for Angel to get the minions
under control and go around to the service stairs. You've got a few minutes."
He led the way out into the basement, through stacks of featureless crates
and cast-off furniture shrouded in the dust of half a century's abandonment,
over to a large pair of double doors, and flung them open. "There's
an exit into the sewers just off the pool."
Spike snorted. "What, no bowling alley?"
The empty pool made an eminently practical icebox, pre-equipped with
drains; all you had to do was hose off the mess every couple of days and
toss any bodies into the sewers, where the local scavengers would make
short work of them. Lawson flicked the lights on and cocked an ear to
the moans and whimpers below. Half a dozen heartbeats tripped away in
asynchronous terror. That was down two. The fledges must have been hungry.
Spike knelt on the deck, looking down into the drained hollow. Wesley's
toy and the random meals were chained to the pool ladder. Reddish-brown
smears of blood stained the cracked plaster, along with less palatable
substances. Irritation flickered across his mobile face, and Lawson wondered
if that was that what the good guys were supposed to feel in a situation
like this. At least Spike felt something, he thought sardonically. Puts
him one up on me.
"Keys," Spike demanded, extending a hand--of course there
would be keys, and of course Lawson could produce them. The younger vampire
obliged, plucking the key ring from its hook and tossing it over. Spike
caught it and dropped down into the pool, grunting in pain as he landed,
and limped over to the huddled captives. "Right, you lot, let's get
a move on."
Spike wasn't a very inspiring figure: with one rapidly blackening eye,
a gaudy selection of bruises, and bloody bite-marks lacerating his shoulders,
he looked worse than the vamp fodder he was supposedly rescuing. But something
in his eyes got the captives shuffling to their feet nonetheless. The
snick of tumblers falling into place, the metallic rattle as a waterfall
of chains cascaded to the plaster, and it was done.
Lawson frowned as Spike hoisted the last of the woozy, fang-scarred
prisoners up to catch hold of the ladder. He couldn't see the point of
the exercise. "Angel will round up another batch of them by tomorrow."
"That's tomorrow." Spike clambered out of the pool, a half-conscious
Fred slung over his shoulders. "Where's the colored bloke?"
"Gunn? I don't know." Lawson took Fred off his hands, half
supporting her weight. "Angel had him locked up somewhere that Wyndam-Pryce
couldn't get at him."
"Fuck it, no time," Spike muttered, with an aggravated glance
at the little huddle of captives.
"Oh, we've got time," Lawson said, tightening his hold on
Fred until she squeaked. "Time enough for you and me to have a talk.
You can tell me what I want to know and walk out of here, taking her with
you--" He patted Fred's cheek, and she looked up at him blurrily.
"Or you can keep playing dumb, and force me to finish what Pryce
started. Maybe you've still got enough juice to take me, but maybe you
don't, and I can damn sure keep you occupied till the old man shows up."
Dark brows lowered over eyes several degrees colder than they had been
a moment ago, but Spike didn't move--no doubt just as aware as Lawson
of the shape he was in and his chances against a fresh opponent. "Care
to tell me exactly what piece of vital information I'm concealing about
Silence stretched taut between them. "I need to know that there's
a point to all this, somewhere, somehow--what we are, and what we do,"
Lawson said at last. "I don't know if Angel made me wrong, or if
part of his soul got...stuck in me somehow, but the killing, the destruction...none
of it means anything! I thought Angel could--he says he's going to rebuild
the Order of Aurelius, but that's just more of the same.
"I talked to a lot of vampires in Sunnydale. Most of them think
you're crazy. Even your own minions." His hand tightened on Fred's
throat, feeling her bird-fine limbs tremble and shiver against him. "But
you know what? They follow you anyway. Because you're crazy."
Spike scowled, and there was no answer in the bruised and bloodied planes
of cheek and jaw, the impatient blue eyes, no clue in the irascible quirk
of that scarred brow. "Mate, you want to natter on about life, the
universe, and everything, get me good and rat-arsed some night I'm not
running for my life. There's a time and a sodding place, and this isn't
Panic shot through Lawson like fire through the California scrubland.
What if there really were no answer? "Not good enough! Tell me, damn
it, or Fred here will regret it!"
"What do I look like, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi?" Spike snapped.
"It's not like there's a sodding manual! Slaughter and mayhem don't
turn your crank any longer, find something that does. Collect stamps,
join the Wank Of The Month Club, start at A and insult everyone in the
phone book--pick one, and leave me out of it." He looked down at
Fred, eyes narrowing, turned on his heel and stalked towards the exit,
shoving past the confused prisoners. "Cheers. Enjoy yourself. I'm
The dramatic exit was somewhat marred as he caught the toe of one boot
in a tangle of discarded chain, and half-stumbled with a curse. Lawson
bit back disappointment. Spike was only doing what any sensible vampire
in his situation would do, cutting his losses and getting out. Hell.
But Spike had never been a sensible vampire. The stumble turned into
a spin, and Spike whipped around like a released slingshot, kicking the
chain straight at Lawson's head. In the same instant Fred sank her teeth
into his hand--a minor distraction, but an effective one. Lawson flung
up one arm to block the chain and Fred squirmed out of his loosened grasp,
snatched the shard of oak from his belt and would have rammed it home
in his heart had Spike's fingers not closed on her wrist at the last instant.
"Oh, no, you're not gonna stop me," she said, glaring wild-eyed
up at Spike. "Uh uh. I'm real sorry, but he's gonna have to die.
I'm thinkin' something with ants. How much of a vampire can get nibbled
away before they dust? It's a question, a real question."
"Scientific inquiry later, love," Spike said, taking away
the stake and tucking her under one arm (with some difficulty, as she
was almost as tall as he was). He eyed Lawson with disfavor. "You're
obviously mad as a hatter, so I'll make allowances." Without warning
he lashed out with the butt-end of the stake, and Lawson yelled as a fireball
of pain exploded in his nose. "But not many. Lesson the first, when
you're asking advice of your elders and betters, bloody well mind your
manners. The bona fide white hats aren't nearly so forgiving as your loving
Lawson closed his eyes. The steel-wool rasp of desperation in his voice
was more eloquent than the words. "Spike--I can't go on like this.
I get nothing, nothing from being a vampire, and I don't know how to be
Spike sighed. "Neither do I, mate. The fault's not in our sires,
but in ourselves." Shouts and the pounding of footsteps on the stairs
interrupted them. He straightened, weariness forgotten, and bellowed at
the captives, "Don't fucking well stand there, run, or I'll eat you
myself!" He cocked his head, tongue curled against his bloodstained
teeth. "Coming with?"
Moments of decision. Moments that, when you looked back, defined your
entire life, or death. Pick one. Lawson shook his head. "No.
Go ahead. I'll hold them up. I don't think he saw me stake that girl upstairs;
it happened just as you were trying to gouge his eyes out. Besides, he's
a dick, but he's still my sire." He nodded at the fragment of balcony
rail, and met Spike's eyes. "Make it look good."
"Been staked. Hurts like fuck."
If that was an out, Lawson wasn't taking it. "Yeah, well... that
offer to get you drunk still good?"
"Always. Glenlivet, neat, as long as you're buying." Spike
hefted the stake with a wry smile, and plunged it without hesitation into
Crouched on the rooftop, a pipestem gargoyle gazing down at the bright
sterile windows of the building on the corner opposite, Connor pondered
his options. The medicines he needed were in there, but getting hold of
them had proven to be a thornier problem than he'd anticipated. The white-clad
woman at the front desk had first tried to shoo him away to the free clinic
downtown, and then threatened to call out her guards if he didn't leave.
The shifty-eyed man in the parking lot who'd offered to get him what he
wanted for a price was asking for more than his meager funds could cover.
Breaking in would be simple enough, but medicines here came in the form
of tiny featureless pills, not the herbs and potions he was familiar with.
He couldn't read the local language well enough to tell what was what.
With a sigh of resignation, Connor dropped over the side of the building
and skinned down the drainpipe. He was just going to have to enlist someone
who could. He comforted himself with the thought that he'd be killing
two birds with one stone. A scouting mission into enemy territory was
long overdue, and if he could liberate someone from the Hyperion who could
help him out of his own dilemma, so much the better.
Connor had never heard of the saddest words of tongue or pen, but if
anyone had asked him what the sweetest were, he'd have answered without
hesitation, "I told you so." He'd known, in the same
way he knew that the sun would rise in the morning and rocks would fall
when you dropped them, that Angel would turn on them sooner or later.
And now everyone else knew it too, but since all of them were dead, delirious,
or captured, his opportunities for gloating were limited. In a way it
was his own fault. He'd had the chance to take Angel out for good last
summer. Instead he'd chosen to pursue his father's--his real
father's--plan of vengeance. It was painful to admit it, but Holtz had
been wrong, blinded by the smoke of his long-burning hatred. In the long
run, vengeance was too costly. It was much better to take your enemies
out hard and fast, the first chance you got.
It was getting on for five in the morning as he approached the hotel.
There was still an hour or so till full dawn, but low down on the eastern
horizon, the sky was taking on a luminous pewter sheen. The Hyperion's
battlements loomed high overhead, a castle to be stormed, and a single
lighted window squinted blearily at the coming dawn.
What there wasn't was any sign of a lookout at the front gate, and that
was weird. Angel hadn't yet started recruiting local vampires, mainly
because there weren't any local vampires stupid enough to lair within
two miles of the Hyperion, and the Sunnydale imports were as yet unfamiliar
with the territory. They patrolled the neighborhood aggressively nonetheless.
Twice in the last week he'd run afoul of vampires nosing around his lair.
The first time there'd only been one, and he'd disposed of it quickly.
The second time there'd been three, and he'd stayed hidden until he was
certain they'd left. It was only a matter of time before someone found
Now, though, there was no sight or scent of a sentry. Connor melted
into the shadows of the entryway to the office building across the street,
straining his eyes to catch any sign of movement in the foliage of the
courtyard, or anyone lurking beneath the trees lining the sidewalk in
front of the hotel. What did the uncannily deserted posts mean? Simple
malingering, or was something else going on? Suspicious, he retreated
half a block to Norton and slunk down the side street, slipping from shadow
to ink-blot shadow in the eaves of the storefronts. The bandana he'd used
to wash Cordelia's wounds was still in his back pocket; he tore a thin
whippy branch from one of the trees, tied the bloodied rag to the end,
and poked it cautiously around the corner. After ten minutes of vamp-fishing
and no bites, he gave up: there weren't any of the usual lookouts at the
side doors or the service entrances, either.
Connor debated a quick reconnaissance. His ears were as keen as any
vampire's, and once inside he should be able to tell quickly if there
were any human survivors, and get a rough idea of where in the building
they were. On the other hand, it might be a trap, possibly not intended
for him, but deadly even so.
A grating noise further down the street made him freeze. Flattening
himself to the wall, Connor peered around the corner, his vamp-bait fluttering
forgotten to the pavement. Half a block away, the manhole cover in the
center of the street hiccupped, then flipped upwards with a loud CLONK!
and shivered to rest on the pavement like a settling quarter. A head gophered
up out of the hole, its features in shadow and its unruly hair a flat
shocking white in the street lights. Connor's lips drew back from his
teeth as he caught the faint scent of vampire.
The vampire hopped out onto the street, a lithe silhouette crouching
beside the manhole. A sinewy arm reached down and hauled a smaller, slimmer
figure out, then a larger, bulkier one, and another, and another, until
there was a small herd of people that Connor's nose informed him were
unmistakably human--and pretty ripe humans, too, stinking of blood and
filth. They milled around in blinking confusion on the pavement. A couple
of them started sobbing at the sight of open sky.
"What the hell are you waiting for?" the vampire snarled.
"Get out of here, and be quick about it. Sun's almost up, and I'm
not going to fry shepherding you gits home."
"But I don't know where I am!" a woman wailed.
"Sunset and Camden," the vampire growled, "And if you're
not elsewhere inside five minutes, you're going to be inside me."
"Wilshire's two blocks thataway, and the number 20 bus runs every
half hour." That was--Fred? Definitely Fred, sounding bone-tired
and on the verge of slipping back into wall-scribbling mode. "But
don't you go back up by the hotel, go around that way." She pointed
down the street. "Spike, you got money?"
"Give it here." Fred plucked Spike's wallet from his hand
and thrust a handful of crumpled bills at her fellow-prisoners. "That
oughta be enough for all of you. There's a 7-11 two blocks east where
you can get change, assuming they don't think you're crazy people, which
they might, 'cause honest, you look like crazy people but it's a big help
if you talk to each other and not to yourselves. Now hurry up, all of
you, or you'll miss the bus and Spike'll eat you and that would just be
With many an apprehensive look, the little crowd of ex-prisoners wandered
off down the street. The vampire watched them go, one hand clenching and
unclenching at his side, and a gleam of predatory calculation in his eyes.
Fred's eyelids fluttered, and Spike whirled, catching her before she could
slide to the ground. "Come on, pet, don't go south on me now,"
Fred stirred in his arms and mumbled something incomprehensible about
pancakes. Connor could see, now, that her reedy limbs were covered with
bloody scrawls of runes, reeking of dark magic and ill intent. He was
no stranger to torture, dealt out or received; he'd been weaned on pain
and privation, and he harbored a certain amount of scorn for Angel's human
minions, who imagined that their lives had been so hard. The mean streets
of L.A. and even the slave-pens of Pylea were nothing compared to the
blasted wilderness of Quortoth and Holtz's harsh and unyielding brand
of...well, he'd thought it was love at the time, and nowadays he tried
not to think about it at all. Still, his gut stirred uneasily at the sight
of those lovingly-inflicted wounds.
Spike, still cradling Fred in his arms, looked up with a growl and a
blood-red flash of pupils--he must have caught Connor's scent. Connor
expected to see ridges and fangs, but the vampire's face, when he straightened
and faced the darkness, was wholly human. "Come on out, whelp,"
he said, in a voice stripped of menace by weariness.
Connor weighed fight against flight--Spike wasn't much bigger than he
was, and obviously in bad shape. There wouldn't be a better time to take
him on if it did come to a fight. On the other hand, was it worth a fight?
Fred didn't look like she was in any condition to break into the surgical
center. He didn't owe her anything after she'd sided with Angel against
him. He could find someone else. But then...with anyone else, he'd have
to waste time explaining.
Besides, more than anything else he wanted Fred to gaze up at him with
big dark doe-eyes and say in a trembling, penitent voice, You were
right, Connor. He's a monster, and we never shoulda pulled him out of
He stepped boldly out of the shadows, facing Spike down. "I know
you," he said. "You're the one who helped Wesley and Faith pull
Angel out of the Bay."
"And you're the chap who put him there," Spike replied equably.
"Can't say as I don't understand the urge." He glanced to the
east and hoisted Fred up over one shoulder. "Sorry, mate, no time
"I don't think so." Connor moved to block Spike's path. "You're
a monster. Just like him. You're not going anywhere with her."
"Yeh? Well, if I stand here with her, we'll go up in flames in
about fifteen minutes, and I'm bloody well not letting you drag her back
in to Daddy, so--"
"You think I'm working with him?" Connor spat.
"I'd kill him first. Or myself."
Spike rolled his eyes. "Classic cry for attention. Mark my words,
at the end of the day all you want is a pat on the head and a lolly from
"Oh, yeah? You're the one who helped rescue him," Connor retorted,
dripping scorn. "You're his friend."
"If I weren't otherwise occupied, I'd rip your tongue out for that,"
Spike snarled. "Angel and me, we'll never be friends. Now, Fred's
hurt and I'm combustible, so get out of my way and let me get her to my
car or I'll give you a taste of what I gave your old man just now."
Connor scowled. Aspersions cast against Angel's fighting ability carried
an unaccountable sting, if only because they reflected indirectly on his
own prowess. He eyed Spike's bruised face and bloodied body with a sneer.
"What, beating your face repeatedly against my fist--wait, you have
Holtz had taught him to look at any new element entering a situation
as something to use to his advantage, and car opened up sudden
vistas of possibility. Spike was a monster, but he was a monster with
wheels, and he was working against Angel for some reason. "I've got
a...a friend. Cordelia--you remember her? Angel attacked her, and the
wound's festered. I need medicine for her, and I need to get her to a
safer place. I know someplace I could take her, but it's across town,
and I couldn't carry her there without hurting her--but you've got a car.
Help me, and I'll let you bring Fred along. It's a human's place, so Angel
and his minions can't get in. They'll be safe. And the person who owns
it knows about vampires, so she'll know not to invite them in--she's got
Spike cut him off. "Car's this way. Come on."
"So let me get this straight," Angel said, his voice the thrum
of an electric knife. "The six of you couldn't catch up to one kidney-stabbed,
beaten-to-a-pulp vampire who was nursemaiding an entire herd of half-drained
humans down two hundred yards of wide-open sewer pipe?"
The row of unhappy minions ducked heads and shuffled feet, elbowing
one another until the smallest one was shoved forward, a flock of undead
penguins offering up a sacrifice to the leopard seal. The scapegoat's
eyes glazed with panic. "He went topside," she croaked. "It
was almost dawn."
"Almost dawn," Angel repeated. He strode over to the window,
ignoring the stabbing pain in his shoulder and the grinding of small bones
in his foot, and jerked on the sash. The curtains flew open and a wash
of silver light flooded the room. The minions cringed back against the
far wall, crying out and flinging up their arms to shield their eyes.
"It sounds to me like you people aren't really familiar with how
much light a vampire can stand. I think a demonstration is in order."
He grabbed the nearest minion by the scruff of the neck and thrust him
through the window in a crash of shattering glass, out into the open air.
"Notice," he said blithely, "that indirect light is merely
uncomfortable, not fatal." The fledge screamed and writhed like a
speared trout in his grip as the first rays of sunrise broke over the
LA skyline and lanced across the rooftops. "Direct sunlight, on the
Angel's arm remained rigid as iron as the rising sun sliced down the
Hyperion's wall and flayed the minion with a blade of fire. His hair blazed
up in a crown of flame, and his screams were lost to the rush and crackle
of burning. Skin charred, guts boiled, bones incandesced into traceries
of living coal, and as the agonized, upturned face dissolved into ash
in the wind of its own destruction, Angel let go.
A shower of sparks spiraled down to the street on the morning breeze,
and Angel yanked the blinds down and turned to face the others. He held
up his scorched fist, the arm blistered all the way up to the elbow. "You
had him in reach and you let him go," he snarled, "because you're
afraid of a little sun. You're Aurelians! Pathetic, inbred, last-chance
Aurelians, but when I give you an order I expect you to carry it out or
die trying. Is that understood?"
A few nods and whimpers. The woman they'd pushed to the fore fell to
her knees. "Master, I--I followed as far as I dared, and I saw--he
left with a boy." She held out a scrap of red cloth. "He dropped
Angel took the offering, eyes slitting as the scent reached his nostrils.
Connor. "For that you live. You three, go round us up some fresh
blood--I know it's daylight. Be inventive. You, go see to Lawson, you,
get this mess cleaned up and get that window fixed, and you," he
pointed to the one who'd given him the bandana, "come with me."
The minion followed him down the hall at a respectful distance, awe
in her protuberant eyes. He didn't have to think of her as 'the minion';
he remembered her name, because he remembered everything. He just didn't
care. Perhaps he'd kill her, too, just for the hell of it... but no, she
was the only one who'd showed even the dimmest spark of initiative. They
hadn't wanted to catch up. Spike had cut and run, a tacit admission of
defeat, but he'd left a trail of destruction behind him--minions dead,
Angel wounded, Lawson very fortuitously staked not quite in
the heart. These were young, stupid, Sunnydale vampires, to whom Angelus
was a distant, defanged boogyman, and Spike a real, ever-present menace.
Big mistake on their part, and they might not survive learning otherwise.
Back in his own room, Angel tossed a first-aid kit at the minion and
stripped off his blood-soaked shirt and ruined shoes. He sat on the edge
of the bed while she cleaned and bound his wounds. He felt edgy, in need
of a kill or a fuck or both, and the minion didn't look up to satisfying
either craving. She was thin and mousy, with an unfortunate mole on one
cheek, and she'd die with the same drab dullness with which she lived.
He'd hoped that at least a few of Lawson's catch would be worth keeping,
that he'd have a few competent family lieutenants trained up before he
started recruiting local vampires. So far he'd been disappointed. The
Master had been fussy about whom he sired, but his descendants hadn't
been nearly so discriminating--and of course, Buffy had taken out all
the truly dangerous members of the Master's court years ago.
He was going to have to turn Gunn, no matter how pissed off Wesley might
get; he needed both competence and loyalty. Lawson's dealings with Spike
made him suspect now, a liability. If he weren't so short-handed, he'd
stake the possibly traitorous bastard.
If you can take him, of course.
The muscles in his jaw tightened. There wasn't any if about
Yeah? Spike could have won that fight. Not easily, maybe, but you
think about that, old man.
His soul might be doped into quiescence, but the self-doubt it engendered
could still sink its claws into his gut, turning on him with the same
diabolical guile that his demonic urges employed. He'd lost fights to
Spike once or twice in the past, but those infrequent defeats had always
been due to Spike cheating somehow. In a straightforward brawl, there
had never been any doubt in his mind that Spike would lose. Until tonight.
Angel straightened and smacked the minion away with a grunt of annoyance.
"Get out." She bobbed her head and scurried away roach-like,
slamming the door behind her in her haste. Idiot, and get of idiots. He
rose and flexed his shoulder, testing the give of the bandages and wincing
a little as the wound twinged, and pulled a white wifebeater out of the
top drawer. He'd heal in a day, and he'd given Spike something to remember
him by, but it was damned annoying.
A glint of light on the dresser caught his eye as he shrugged into the
undershirt. It was the DVD Wesley had given him. Clips from the surveillance
cameras that the Meers boy had planted on Buffy last year, Wesley claimed,
including a few scenes of Buffy and Spike sparring. An underground classic,
no doubt. He picked up the silvery disc and flipped it over. The label
was a cheap home-stamped thing featuring an improbably busty blonde doing
questionable things with a stake and the title 'Sizzling Action With Cold
Dead Seed.' "Aw, Wes, you shouldn't have," Angel murmured. "I
didn't get you anything."
He limped over to the entertainment center, slipped the disc into the
tray of the DVD player, lowered himself onto the bed with a stifled hiss
of pain, and clicked the remote. He'd miscalculated. He wouldn't do so
again. Spike wasn't a fledge any longer, but a vampire in his prime, and
since taking up demon-fighting, he'd honed his considerable skills to
a razor's edge on creatures which far outstripped him in size and strength.
And there were those clandestine nips of Slayer's blood--a savage growl
rattled the bars of Angel's chest. That blood was his, his to
savor, his to spill. He jabbed the play button with one thumb, imagining
it was Spike's eye socket. He never got tired of fights he couldn't lose,
and the reason he didn't lose them was that he knew his enemies. Doing
my homework like a good boy, Wes.
Whoever had burned the DVD couldn't edit for shit. Scenes were clipped
short or bracketed by unrelated snippets of action--or more often, inaction.
He fast-forwarded through fifteen or twenty minutes worth of barely-visible
humping before the abrupt cut to the well-lit training room at the Magic
Box. Pause, play.
--Buffy's fist to his nose. Spike drops, sweep-kicks for her knees.
She leapfrogs over his leg and lashes out mid-air with a kick of her own,
one-two to the head. He goes down and kips up again, catching her with
a double-handed blow to the jaw as she comes down. She staggers, rolls,
somersaulting to her feet and launching herself at him again. Spike grabs
her ankle in mid-air and twists--she's slammed against the wall, kicking
The scene cut short, replaced by an out-of-focus shot of Buffy's bedroom.
Angel hit rewind, and the blurry figures squiggled back into position.
He unleashed the deadly choreography again, frame-by-frame, move and counter-move
coming so quickly the camera captured only their blurred ghosts. The remote
was in his left hand now, as his right crept downwards to cup hardening
They are beautiful when they dance, two magnificent animals, all
sleek rolling muscle and sinuous curves. They've both filled out in the
last year; the spectacular cheekbones that always make Angel's fingers
itch for a pencil are closer to sheer cliffs than cavernous hollows these
days. Beneath her tank top, Buffy's breasts bob and jiggle. Pebble-hard
nipples tent the thin pink cotton, a siren summons to the answering bulge
in Spike's jeans. Buffy's eyes are diamond-bright, eager, and Spike's
grinning, breathing hard--
Angel was breathing hard and fast himself, fondling his aching erection
through his trousers. He could imagine the whiff of her, sweat and arousal
and rich hot blood pumping just beneath the fevered skin. He knew the
taste of that blood, salty and metallic, the taste of seawater, the taste
of womankind. Wherever Spike had been, he'd been first, and likewise with
Buffy. His fangs grew sharp and his cock throbbed at the memory. Squeeze,
stroke, from root to head and back again, tight as a Slayer's virginal
cunt, hard as a naive young fledge's humiliated tears. There was nothing
they could discover of one another that he had not laid bare long since.
Right, said the sardonic voice in his hindbrain. You
fucked her twice. She doesn't remember the second time and believe me,
the first time was--well, hey, I guess it was fine for a terrified virgin
and a guy who'd been dating his right hand for the past century. And Spike,
of all the times you knocked him around, the one he remembers is the one
that ended with you on your knees calling him Will...
Angel snarled, groaned, straining suspended half-way between release
and agony. Elastic scraped scratchy tracks down the underside of his cock
as he yanked the waistband of his sweats down over his hips. Freed, his
cock sprang up to slap against his belly, the milky droplets already seeping
from the head spattering damp spots on his undershirt. Remote. Where was
remote? For that matter, where was hand? Hand, meet cock. Get better acquainted.
Front yard. Fireflies overhead like tiny Japanese lanterns. Spike
lounging against the rough bole of the oak tree, his pale flesh luminous
in the night. Buffy leaning into him, gold into silver. Spike lifts her
up and spins her around, bracing her back against the tree. His lips move
against hers; he's reciting Marvell as she undoes his fly. He's half-erect
already, drawing arabesques of pearl on her belly. Her mouth captures
his and poetry is swallowed in a kiss. Her legs entwine his waist like
ivy, bare toes curling and flexing, and he's inside her now, vaster than
empires and more slow, fucking her hard against the tree. Oh yeah. Make
her scream and beg and bite her, rip her open, make Valentine's lace of
her entrails--he's not biting her, God damn it, Spike, you don't have
a soul, what the hell is your excuse? Poser, pussy, cunt-licking failure
of a demon! There's bark in her hair and she's biting his shoulder to
muffle her screams. They topple heedless to the grass, an avalanche of
flesh, and the camera goes dark.
Was this romantic bullshit all there was? Impossible that the mask wouldn't
fall sooner or later, and they remember what they were to one another,
demon and slayer of demons. He stroked harder, working the foreskin over
the head, pinching, tugging harder (Darla's fangs as she swallows him
whole, Drusilla's ecstatic screams as the whip comes down). He thumbed
the remote with one hand and himself with the other, and oh, yeah, paydirt..
Bedroom. Spike splayed out, naked, erect, bound. White skin, red
stripes, dark curling hair. Buffy stands at the foot of the bed, dark
lashes sweeping flushed cheeks, Spike's belt in her hands. She doubles
it, snaps it, and the crack of leather is gunshot loud. Spike's hips jerk;
his balls are tight and almost as dark as the coarse hair they rest in,
his leaking cock swollen to impossible dimensions. Buffy crawls onto the
bed, stalking him like a lioness, and straddles his lean hips. She's playing
with her breasts as she sinks down on him, head thrown back, eyes near-closed,
taking him in inch by inch. They gasp in unison as she begins to move.
Yes, oh, yes, this was more like it. He had the rhythm now, hard and
She rides him mercilessly through three explosive orgasms, and
he's still hard. She writhes and gasps and pants, taunts him into game
face and fucks him back out, bites his small taut nipples till he roars
and strains against the ropes, and the bed-frame shudders dangerously
around them. Crack! goes the belt. Buffy's whipped it around his neck
and yanked it tight, and Spike's whole body convulses with something so
far beyond pleasure not even seeing it play out across that endlessly
expressive face can convey the intensity.
A spasm wracked him, and Angel fell back shuddering and unfulfilled,
balls aching as if he hadn't come at all. He threw his head back against
the headboard with a roar of frustration. On the TV screen the masque
continued, spectres caught in an eternal passion play.
He spends and spends and spends within her, everything in him emptied
out, and sinks back at last, utterly, paradoxically replete. Buffy collapses
on top of him, herself spent, kissing the fading lines of red, curling
around him. She nuzzles him, cheek to cheek, vampire-fashion. Casually,
Spike reaches up and wraps a hand around one of his bonds, snaps it, and
holds her close. As one, they draw breath.
Kill them. Kill them both. No, fuck them both, fuck them blind and bleeding,
they have no goddam right to be happy when I have--I have--
This rage was not a demon's rage; this jealousy was not a demon's jealousy.
This was the isolation and fury of the man, who still, after all these
years, needs killing. He wasn't jealous of them, but of what they had,
what remained forever beyond his reach. A whisper in the night, a shadow
in the corner of the eye, an elusive scent--scent!
Angel grabbed the bandana and crushed it to his nose. Yes. Her
scent, lingering just beneath Connor's. Of course. Find one, and he'd
take them both. How would his boy's blood taste, when he finally bound
that rebel child to his side with bonds he couldn't break?
He clutched the bloodstained bandana, thrusting into the crumpled cloth,
seeing Cordelia's cool dark beauty, flawless face, lush body. That body
helpless beneath his, his cock lost in the valley between her breasts.
Connor's face in the background, terrified and worshipful, watching as
Angel took back hat was his by right. Her neck bared to his fangs, her
blood flowing down his throat like metallic sunshine, her screams ringing
sweetly in his ears and her heart slowing and ceasing forever before she
rose again as a fit consort for the master of the Aurelians--he would
have that, have her, soon. Tonight, tonight--
Angel's climax hit like a freight train, hips arcing up off the bed
as jizz splattered across his belly. He came again, and again, bucking
and thrashing against the mattress, and in the bowels of the Hyperion
the minions shuddered at their master's roar of triumph.
Three bright strands of copper braided with a piece of red string, the
whole wound carefully around the smudge stick: celery, acacia, yarrow,
goldenseal, each herb chosen carefully both for its properties and its
effect on the others. The portable spell circle, spread out on the minuscule
square of carpet between the bed and the door of her room, inscribed with
ominous sigils in red and black Magic Marker. Six candles set carefully
around the perimeter of the circle, alternating black and white. An altar
set up on the cheapass dresser, right in front of the flickering TV set,
the brazier smoking gently beneath the yellowed NO COOKING ALLOWED IN
ROOMS sign. All these things had failed utterly to transform Kennedy's
cruddy little rent-by-the-week room into a haven of all things magical.
In fact, Kennedy thought, the whole thing was pretty damn lame. But
she'd seen enough results so far to keep her thoughts to herself. Along
with her hands and her eyes and any other body part which might accidentally
come within five feet of Willow Rosenberg, which was really difficult
in a room the approximate size of an ant farm. But Willow had insisted
that the spell had to be done in Kennedy's place of power, or as close
as they could come to it, and at the moment, this was it.
"You're sure about the blood?" Tara asked, reading over Willow's
neatly printed spell. Kennedy couldn't have said whether her tone was
worried, accusing, or frightened, which probably meant it wasn't any of
those things, and she was driving herself nuts. "This is a little
more...intense than I was expecting."
"I know you can handle it," Willow said, arranging a small
magnet and the crystal with Kennedy's aura-picture in front of the brazier.
"You were Ghede's horse, weren't you? It was Kennedy's idea, really.
The spell just wasn't coming together--more of a dis-spell than a spell,
you know?--and she reminded me that the First Slayer's on the dark and
ancient side, and it's not gonna manifest for some weenie little herbal
bath." She began circling the brazier with whitish, lumpy objects.
Bones? Suspiciously human bones? Oh, no, couldn't be, because where would
a vampire get human bones? Except of course from the steaming bodies of--
"I thought you were going to throw those out," Buffy said
from her cross-legged perch in the center of the bed, where she was grinding
something green and gooey into something green and gooier in a mortar.
She wrinkled her nose in disdain. "Don't they have Acathla cooties
Willow clasped the last bone protectively to her breast. "I prefer
to think of it as a long and distinguished mystical pedigree," she
replied. "These bones have been through two and a half re-soulings,
three major conjurations, a de-lusting, and that... incident."
Tara winced. "The one we decided never to mention again?"
"That's the one." Willow regarded the bone dubiously. "Maybe
I should throw them out."
"Herbs go squish now," Buffy announced, holding out the mortar.
Tara produced a small silvery knife with a triangular blade. "Kennedy?
If you'll hold out your hand..."
Yeah, right, I'll let the witch whose girlfriend I just macked on come
at me with a knife. That's the ticket. Kennedy swallowed and held out
her hand, relieved to see that it didn't tremble. So far Buffy and Tara
had said and done nothing to indicate that they knew what had happened
that afternoon in the basement, and she'd been avoiding Willow's gaze
so assiduously that she had no idea if Willow was nervous or not. Kennedy
wasn't reassured by the general silence. Even if Willow kept mum, Spike
knew, and he could be plotting to use his knowledge of her flagrante delecto
to his advantage. It was obvious he wanted her gone. He could turn Buffy
and Tara against her, and God, what if Travers found out? Would he decide
that she was just as contaminated as Buffy was? For the first time a thrill
of real fear ran through her.
Tara mistook her shudder for aversion to the knife. "I'll be quick."
She lowered the point of the athame to Kennedy's palm with clinical precision,
and drew a slim red line with one swift slash. It felt like a paper cut:
one moment of numb burn, and then a throbbing ache as the skin parted
and the blood welled up. Tara turned her hand over, and the crimson drops
splashed down into the mortar, mingling with the pulpy green of the mullein
"And just a spritz of extra-virgin olive oil..." Willow mixed
with verve. "Voila. Magic pesto."
Buffy laid a hand on her shoulder. "Crucial thing? Don't let it
con you into thinking it's in charge."
Kennedy nodded. "Yeah. Got it."
"I think we're ready," Tara said. She stepped into the spell
circle, held the still-bloody athame high and intoned, "I call upon
Sineya, first of the Ones. I offer my tongue to she who is without words
that she may speak." Without a flinch, without a wince, she licked
the bloodied edge of the knife straight on.
Willow dabbed the blood-and-oil mixture on Kennedy's forehead, breastbone,
and palms. The pungent mixture trickled down cold and gelid to her eyebrows,
and stung as it worked into the cut in her hand. Willow turned to Tara,
who opened her mouth, and Willow let three drops of the mixture fall onto
her tongue. Tara knelt and inscribed 'Head' on the first of the white
candles with the point of the athame, leaving tiny bloodstained curls
of wax shavings. "Ignite!" The candle flickered to life. "Here
do I light the first Lamp. May it be a beacon to that which we summon."
Buffy, anxiously consulting her copy of the spell, took the smudge stick
and held it over the brazier till it caught, sending heavy roiling clouds
of white smoke up towards the ceiling. She waved the smudge stick around
the altar, setting everyone except Willow coughing, until Kennedy managed
to wedge the front window open. They had, luckily, thought to take the
battery out of the fire alarm first, though Kennedy suspected it was probably
"Is anyone going to notice the smoke?" Willow whispered.
"They'll just think it's pot," Kennedy said with a shrug.
"Let's get on with it."
Tara repeated the process with the second and third white candles, inscribing
them with 'Spirit' and 'Heart.' "Here do I light the second Lamp.
May it illuminate the passageway between worlds. Here do I light the third
Lamp. May it bring enlightenment within as it brings light without."
She held out the athame, and Kennedy took it with a nervous breath.
Kennedy knelt down, extended her wounded hand over the nearest black
candle, and squeezed out a last drop of blood. "I beseech Sineya
to speak to her daughter this night. As these candles burn, so burn the
hearts of Sineya's children for her wisdom."
As her blood hit the candle-wick, all three black candles burst into
eldritch flame, blue and baleful, and the smoke from the incense billowed
up around them in choking clouds. Tara's head jerked back and she uttered
a strangled cry, collapsing to the floor. Kennedy started to get up, to
do something--that was what she was for, wasn't it? To do something about...about...things
like this. The room swam in dim smoky circles and her head throbbed. There
wasn't any air. She was choking, smothering, dying--
"Aaah!" Kennedy shot upright with a gasp. The air in her lungs
and her aching throat was clean and pure as no air on earth, not a single
molecule of burned hydrocarbon sullying its crystal clarity. She looked
around. The sky overhead was a brilliant blaze of blue, the sands which
stretched off to the horizon a bleached bone-white. Heat waves shimmered
across the dunes, turning the desert into a melting Daliesque dreamscape.
Here and there an outcropping of rock, a gnarled mass of dead root and
trunk, or the skeletal remains of some vanished leviathan broke the surface.
Blinking the grit from her eyes, Kennedy got to her feet and looked
around. She was alone.
"No," Tara said. Kennedy whirled around. Tara stood on the
baked earth where she absolutely hadn't stood a second ago, a light breeze
ruffling her wheaten hair. At her side crouched a thing barely human,
tattered remains of clothing winding like gravecloth about its dark limbs
and white streaks of mud caking its savage face, outlining the skull beneath
the skin. "You're not alone. That's the problem."
"Is that her?" Kennedy demanded. "Is she the First Slayer?
"She has no name," Tara said. "She's grown beyond the
curse of human features."
The dark angular creature rose from its crouch and Kennedy realized
that it--she--was human, after all, a human body moved from within by
something wholly inhuman. She prowled across the parched sand between
them and stood upright, studying Kennedy with chill, alien eyes. "Thief,"
she rasped, and turned away, lip curled in contempt, loping away across
Kennedy stood open-mouthed for a second, too stunned to do anything
else. Was it talking about Willow? She couldn't think what else she might
have stolen lately, and hell, it wasn't like Willow hadn't--she broke
into a run. "Hey! Come back! I came here to find out why I don't
have the power I should have!"
Heat blasted up from the ground, and shifting sand sucked and clutched
at her boots with every step. She caught up to the lean dark figure and
grabbed her shoulder, spinning her around. "What do you mean, 'thief'?
Answer me, damn it!"
"Rrrraarrghh!" The face that rounded on her was as demonic
as any vampire's, wild tawny eyes and sharp white teeth bared in an inhuman
snarl. "We live in the kill," she rasped. "We are born
and we die in the kill. Alone!"
Fingers thin and knotted as twigs and as strong as steel wire closed
around her throat as Kennedy kicked and pummeled at her opponent. They
tumbled together down the sloping face of the dune, sand pouring in scalding
showers around them. At the bottom of the hill she scrambled to her feet,
coughing; Sineya had vanished.
Tara sat a little higher on the dune, arms folded over her bent knees.
Along the crest of the dune marched a line of women, of girls. Buffy Summers
was at the head of the line, and right behind her was a dark-haired, dark-eyed
vixen in black leather who had to be Faith. She gave an insouciant puff
on her cigarette and waved. Behind her were...shit, Rona, and Vi, and
Soo-lin and Chloe and Molly, and a couple she didn't recognize, little
kids almost, couldn't be more than fourteen.
The First Slayer prowled among them like the shadow of death, reaching
out claw-like hands for the youngest of the girls. "No!" Kennedy
yelled, scrambling upwards through an ever-growing avalanche of sand.
"You can't have them!"
"Blood is her due," Tara said. "Promised, sealed, and
delivered in the time before time. Such bargains are not lightly broken."
"What bargain? I haven't--"
Tara stood up. "You have your answer."
"No! I don't! I don't have a fucking clue!" Kennedy yelled.
She lumbered up the dune towards Tara, slipping and falling back a foot
for every one she gained. "Is there some goddam cryptic quotient
you've got to fill for the month?" She grabbed Tara's shoulders and
began shaking her unresisting body back and forth like a rag doll. "Explain
to me exactly what's going on, or--"
"Raaaugh!" Something leaped on her from behind, not the First
Slayer--it was some kind of demon, all horns and fangs and bright green
scales. It lashed its barbed tail and dug its claws into her back, trying
to pry her away from Tara, but damned if she was going to let go before
she had her answers--
"Hey, B. Think we ought to do something?" Faith asked.
Buffy blinked, looking down at the brawl at the foot of the dune. "I
don't know," she said. Her head felt muzzy and light. "It's
not our dream, is it?"
Faith took a drag on her cigarette and scratched her head. "Guess
"Doing stuff is what we do." A cold nose nudged her fingers
and she reached down absently and patted the shadow-beast at her side.
It was so much better behaved since she'd started letting it out at night.
"The question is, who do we do it to?"
"Well, they aren't going to be much help." Faith jerked a
thumb at the girls behind them. "Not in the shape they're in."
Buffy looked. None of the girls' shadows showed more than a flash of
paw, a Cheshire Cat blink of sullen golden eyes. "That's never going
to work." She knelt down and opened up the bag, plunging her hands
in up to the elbow and drawing up spread fingers dripping with ashen mud.
She clapped both hands to her cheeks, cold in the hot sun. "Time
to get my game face on."
"You sure about that?" Faith asked. "There's no going
back, you know. And there are other ways." She pointed to the tower,
looming over the tallest of the dunes, its shadow as black as pitch.
Buffy stared down into the depths of the bag, doubt nipping at her.
Faith was right, of course. That would be the easiest way. But...she looked
up into the eyes of the youngest girls, huddled together at the back of
the line. "You think you're going to get all of us up there? No longer
an option, I'm thinking."
Faith gave a little 'just sayin'' shrug.
"It'll be easier if I go first," Buffy said resolutely. She
smeared the mud across her forehead in the mask older than counted time,
down her nose, there and there and there. Getting it right was important,
because she could only do this once. Something was buzzing, distracting
her from her task. Flies, or mosquitoes--were there mosquitoes in the
desert? Buffy slapped at her arms, trying to still the insistent chirping
whine. Where was it? The thing sounded as big as a crop duster, for crying
She rocketed up, dizzy and gasping for breath. She was sprawled on greasy
asphalt between a battered blue Lincoln and a towering Dodge Ram in the
parking lot of the Sunset Arms Motor Lodge. Her head ached and her cell
phone was going crazy in her purse. Rolling over, with a whimper at what
extended contact with oil-encrusted gravel was doing to her pink suede
jacket, she could see Kennedy was curled up on her side a few feet away,
twitching as if in the throes of some violent dream. There had been a
dream. Something about a desert, or luggage? Slayer dreams were usually
unforgettably vivid, but this one slipped away in a swirl of sand and
sun-glare, leaving her with the uncomfortable sense of having tapped into
someone else's phone line.
The door to Kennedy's room gaped wide, and Willow emerged from a cloud
of turgid yellow-grey smoke with Tara's limp body cradled in her arms.
She laid Tara down on the pavement with panicky care, smoothing her hair
back from her forehead, and looked over at Buffy. "I practically
had to peel Kennedy off her! Is she breathing? I can't tell! They're supposed
to fog up a mirror, but I don't have a mirror, because why would I carry
a mirror, and also, if she's not? Vampires can't do CPR! Buffy! Can you
Buffy rolled to her knees and crawled groggily over. Why couldn't vampires
do CPR? If they could smoke and heave martyred sighs and sing Barry Manilow...maybe
Angel just hadn't known CPR. "Willow, stop with the mouth and start
with the ears. You can hear her heartbeat, remember?"
"Oh! Oh, right!" Willow gazed worriedly into Tara's shuttered
eyes. "Can you turn off your cell phone?"
"Eep. My bad." Buffy stood up and walked a few feet away,
squinting at the phone's readout. Whoever was calling wasn't satisfied
with voice mail, apparently; this was the third time they'd called. The
number wasn't familiar, and it was a Sunnydale area code, so it couldn't
be Spike checking in from L.A. Who on earth...? She glanced over her shoulder.
Tara was sitting up and coughing, so the vampire CPR question was thankfully
moot. "Hello? Buffy Summers. Kinda busy at the moment, so--"
"Miss Summers?" The voice was deep, rich, educated, and no
one she knew. "My name is Robin Wood. I believe I have something
that belongs to you."
The motel was the sort that rented rooms by the hour, equipped with
a stained mattress, matted and ancient shag carpet, and a television which
could also be rented by the hour. Its single mean window was mostly blocked
by a hulking old air conditioning unit. Even to Riley's human senses,
it smelled of sweat and sex and despair. He'd spent too many nights in
rooms like this.
In that tawdry setting, the girl seated before the empty mirror was
like Kino's pearl--lustrous, glowing, and destructive. She ran the brush
through the crackling mass of her golden hair one last time, white arms
curving like the necks of swans. Perfect. She was perfect. Perfect tits,
perfect ass, perfect face, perfect white teeth that morphed into perfect
white fangs. A marble Galatea, still a step away from life. Maybe that
was why it was so hard to take her out of the world; you didn't meet perfection
Harmony Kendall made a moue at her absent reflection. "So Rileykins,
have you made the deal with the Slayer yet?"
Riley's fingers closed around the stake behind his back, feeling the
comforting solidity of the oak against his palm. Today he was going to
kill her. Today he was going to walk out of the door and into Sam's arms
a free man. He should have done it the first night he'd rolled back into
Sunnydale and discovered her waiting for him--hell, he should have done
it two years ago in that Mexican suck-joint. "No, I haven't, and
I'm not going to."
Her fists went to her hips and her face twisted in a girlish pout. "Rileeeeeeey!
Perfection? Bull. She was shrill and stupid and shallow, someone he'd
never have slept with regardless of species if he hadn't been drunk and
depressed and certain he was on his way to a quick, messy death in the
South American jungle. He'd made the mistake of looking into her eyes,
the morning after, past the stupid and the shallow to the hope he'd seen
too often in his own mirror: Maybe this time he really loves me.
Sick at heart and stomach both, he'd left her, and never darkened the
door of another vamp brothel since.
Ever since that day a part of him understood why Buffy had never been
able to stake Spike. But it wasn't a part of himself he wanted to pay
much attention to. "I didn't promise anything," Riley snapped.
"You're trying to blackmail me, remember?"
The pout acquired reinforcements in the form of arms crossed defiantly
beneath the pneumatic bosom. "Well, I wouldn't have to blackmail
you if you'd just be a gentleman and protect me!" Harmony got up,
tossing her hair dramatically. "But since you're being such a dick
about it, I guess it's time to tell little SaMANtha about our understanding."
"We don't have an understanding! We had a one-night stand, before
I was married--"
"It doesn't have to be one night," Harmony cooed, sidling
up and running a finger along the line of his jaw. Her other hand drifted
downwards. "I can make you feel soooo good. You do like me just a
teensy bit, don't you? Even when you're a big ol' grumpy bear? After all,
either you've got a stake in your pocket, or--" A disappointed look
entered her eyes. "Oh. You do have a stake in your pocket."
"Harmony, I kill demons for a living! Of course I have a stake
in my pocket!"
She shrugged, popping her gum. "You never know. I mean, Spike?
You'd never think such a little guy would have such an enormous--"
"I really don't want to hear about Spike's--"
"--ego, but he's so full of himself that--oh, wait, sorry, I'm
blackmailing you! I forgot!" She sashayed over to the phone. "Do
you have to dial 9 on this thing?"
Riley snatched the receiver from her hand. "Damn it, don't you
get it? I can't guarantee Buffy will lay off your boyfriend! I don't have
any pull with Buffy at all! Go blackmail your other ex. He's the one sleeping
Harmony rolled her eyes. "Duh! THAT wouldn't work. Buffy already
KNOWS I slept with Blondie Bear." A Malibu Barbie smile lit her face.
"I bet she just writhes every time he accidentally screams my name
in the throes of passion."
That Buffy writhed every time Harmony's name came up was actually a
good bet. "Have you considered just asking her not to kill you? God
knows half the other demons in this town seem to have a pass for some
reason or other--"
"Hello?" Harmony thwapped his forehead with a perfectly manicured
fingernail. "Are you not listening? Buffy is my NEMESIS!" She
began pacing agitatedly back and forth. "I'm not meeting you in sleazy
motels and burnt-out buildings for the kink factor, mister! I have refined
tastes! I have to be totally vigilant, because the minute I let my guard
down the Slayer will be hot on my trail, hounding me mercilessly in her
never-ending quest for vengeance! I mean, how else do you explain it?"
"The TIMING!" Harmony waved her hands. "She always concentrated
on slaying those crypt-trash vampires hanging around in the cemetery before,
but the very minute I get back to Sunnydale and meet a nice
guy who appreciates me for my finer qualities, the Slayer goes all vendetta-y
on poor Mr. Amherst! Coincidence? I don't think so!"
"Of course," Riley muttered. "Why didn't I see that?"
He frowned. "Do you smell smoke?"
He pulled the dingy curtains aside and peered through the slit of flyspecked
glass above the air conditioner. Across the four lanes of desultory weekend
traffic on Lincoln, one of the somewhat less sleazy motels across the
street was on fire...or at least, the parking lot was a haze of yellowish
smoke, billowing out of the doors and windows of one of the units.
"Omigod!" Harmony wailed, throwing herself at Riley's chest
like a salmon swimming upstream, oblivious to her technical advantage
in strength. "She's trying to burn me out! Save me!"
Since the smoke was thinning and fading even as they watched, revealing
an indistinct trio of figures stumbling around the parking lot, that didn't
seem too likely...until a gusty breeze whipped the lingering smudge away,
and the figures resolved into Willow, a dark girl he didn't recognize,
and Buffy. How the hell had she come to be here, of all places? Any second
she might look across the street and recognize his rental car, or worse,
him. Buffy might not be hounding Harmony, but he was beginning to feel
as if she were hounding him.
"I'm leaving," he said, prying Harmony's fingers from around
"Good idea," she said breathlessly. "You draw her away
so I can escape! Oh, Honeypunkin, you're so brave!"
"Yeah, I'm a hero all right." He could plunge the stake into
her back right here, right now, end this farce in a shower of dust. He'd
done it dozens of times before, and he could do it again, because she
wasn't human, wasn't pitiable--she was a monster who'd killed hundreds
without remorse and would kill hundreds more if he didn't--
Riley burst head-down into the sunny midwinter morning, leaving Harmony
gnawing her knuckles in the shadow of the door. Self-disgust roiled in
his gut as he flung himself into the rental car and gunned the engine.
He wheeled out of the potholed motel lot and turned blindly at the first
traffic light that presented itself, then again, and again. When he looked
up at last, the Neon was nosing down a familiar street, and an equally
familiar ivy-girded wall loomed to one side. Restfield Cemetery. He pulled
over to the curb and got stiffly out of the car, standing on the leaf-strewn
sidewalk and gazing through the rusting, vine-bound bars. Through the
gaps, tombstones gleamed white in the winter sun.
The side gate was locked, but it was an easy climb. Riley stood in the
middle of the broad rolling lawn, listening to the complacent twitter
of starlings. In daylight the cemetery looked completely different, a
haven of serene, sunlit marble. Even the grass was still green in places,
where the overhanging trees sheltered it from Sunnydale's infrequent frosts.
The peace might be illusory, but it was seductive. Riley shoved his hands
into his coat pockets and scuffed down the gravel path that wound towards
the center of the cemetery.
He had to pull himself, and the mission, together somehow. Harmony was
just a stupid, petty distraction, but he couldn't afford stupid petty
distractions. Barton and Randall were checking out the leads he'd gotten
at the dinner party, but he didn't expect them to find anything--even
if Buffy and Spike had been telling the truth about the Doctor having
agents in Sunnydale, he couldn't believe that that was the whole story.
The Doctor had agents all the way from Seattle to Houston; he must have
had one in Sunnydale for years. That wouldn't explain the sudden convenient
disappearance of all their targets. No, something else was going on, and
Buffy had to know what it was. He kicked a rock. It ricocheted off a mausoleum
half sunk in moss and spanged into the gloomy shadows of a live oak.
Even in Sunnydale, trees didn't complain when you chucked a rock at
them. Not often, anyway. Riley dodged behind the nearest tombstone, his
hand closing on his taser before moving on to the butt of his Army-issue
Beretta. No vampire would be sneaking around in broad daylight, but there
were plenty of diurnal hostiles who could be lurking in the shadows.
Silence and the occasional chirp of birdsong reigned over Restfield.
One of them had to move first. It was a battle of wills, and Riley won.
A dark, broad-shouldered figure in a long trench coat broke from the shadows
to the rear of the mausoleum, heading for the fence. Mud smeared the man's
knees and shoulders, and a large leather satchel bumped at his side.
Riley whipped out the taser and fired. One of the prongs embedded itself
in the man's back, but the other went wide. With a curse Riley exploded
from cover in a low diving tackle. He rammed shoulder-first into his quarry's
knees, taking them both down, rolled once through the litter of dead leaves
and acorns and came up astride the grunting, leaf-spackled heap of his
opponent. Riley slammed the stranger one-two in the jaw, and it occurred
to him somewhere between the first punch and the second that he might
be pounding some innocent groundskeeper into jelly.
The professional forearm-block which stopped the second punch reassured
him on that point. Riley contorted to avoid the murderous jab to the heart
with the steel-cored stake which followed--the point would tear right
through the light Kevlar of his flak jacket if it connected. Underneath
the enveloping folds of the trench coat, the stranger was as big as he
was, and in just as good shape despite looking ten or fifteen years older.
Granite-hard eyes glittered beneath the brim of a battered leather hat
until Riley's fist pulped one of them shut. The stake came at him again,
and Riley twisted at the last moment--the point burned along the flesh
of his forearm and plunged into the man's own satchel, pinning it to the
damp ground. The man rolled away and the satchel ripped free and burst
open, spilling a gristly tangle of claws and teeth and scales from a dozen
different demon species. Tightly-corked glass bottles and Ziploc bags
containing squishy lumps of flesh in every shade imaginable rolled every
which way across the grass.
With a bitten-off yell of rage the man tore himself free of Riley and
lunged after his scattered loot. Riley surged to his feet. His boot came
down on the interloper's hand, and a second later the barrel of his Beretta
jammed against the man's temple. His quarry froze on his hands and knees,
shoulders knotted with fear, and Riley wasn't the kind of guy who went
out looking to beat things up to salve his pride, but damn, that felt
"I'm betting you're the famous Gib Cain," he said.
"What the hell of it?" the man snarled.
What do you know, Spike had been telling the truth for once. "I like
to know who I'm threatening. Adds the personal touch." If anything
could salvage this disaster of a mission, it would be getting a solid
line on the biggest black market dealer in Southern California. Riley
glanced at the cornucopia of demon parts strewn about them and began reeling
in the taser prongs. "Now what do we have here? Gathaur scales, a
"Yeah, and so?" Cain sneered.
"Pretty small potatoes for the Doctor, isn't it?" Riley waved
at the assortment. "More like the kind of thing some two-bit independent
operator might go after. Last year the Doctor cleared a cool fifty million
in Hombja'moleev musk alone, didn't he? You'd think a warlock with the
power to use the stuff wouldn't need it, but I guess there's pathetic
losers in every line of work." He eased off Cain's hand and backed
up a step or two, nudging the nearest plastic bag with the toe of his
boot. The powder inside shifted with an iridescent shimmer. He'd seen
its like before--once he'd even gotten a look at the creature which produced
it, chained to a concrete block in a dingy hut, its rainbow moth-wings
in tatters from the constant scraping. It had tried to bite through his
skull and suck his brains out. "Now this...this is more like it.
Triathskai dust, isn't it? And pretty high quality by the color."
He picked up the baggie and shook it, avoiding looking too long at the
hypnotic oil-slick slither of colors within. "Nasty stuff, but oh,
"I'm not breaking any laws, soldier boy," Cain spat. "Out
in the real world, word is demons don't exist."
"That's the cool thing about the unit I work for," Riley said
pleasantly. "It doesn't exist either. You know a guy named Ethan
A wary frown creased Cain's brow. "Chaos mage, wasn't he? Nobody's
heard from him in years."
Riley grinned. "Exactly. But let's face it, Cain, you're small potatoes
too. My bosses don't give a damn about you, and neither do I--but they
do give a damn about your boss. I'm gonna take you in, and you're gonna
have a nice long talk--"
Apprehension silvered Cain's eyes, quickly replaced by cunning. "We
can talk now, kid. You know a guy named Spike?"
A tell or two must have undermined his poker face, because Cain relaxed
visibly. "He's got that effect on people. Goddamn bloodsucker. Look,
I'll play straight with you. Yeah, I've done a few jobs for the Doctor,
but I've done jobs for a lot of people. And I've got more witnesses than
you can count who can testify I've only been in Sunnydale off and on.
You want an agent in place, you don't have to look any farther than that
crypt over there." He pointed towards the center of the graveyard.
"Where do you think I got this stuff? Look, it's even got their logo
on the bags!"
Several of the baggies were indeed stamped with the red axe of the BVI
logo--not the pixie dust, but that didn't mean anything. Even Spike wasn't
idiot enough to slap his personal trademark on quasi-illegal euphorics--and
if he was, Anya would have stopped him. "The Slayer told me about
Spike's sideline," Riley said, expressionless. "She assured
me that Bloody Vengeance Inc. doesn't trade in anything addictive or dangerous."
"Yeah? You really think your Slayer tells you everything?" Cain
asked, getting to his feet. "I've run into her before, you know.
She's always been soft on demons, even before she started fucking them."
He brushed grass off his hat. "You said it yourself--I'm small potatoes.
Let me walk, and I'll show you something I guarantee you'll find interesting."
For a moment Riley hesitated. "Let's see it. Then we'll talk."
Cain smirked. "Come on, then."
Riley expected Cain to lead him back to Spike's crypt, but instead the
man took a circuitous route through the tombstones, weaving through hedges
and irregular rows of marble and granite monuments until they came to
an open grave, or what looked like one. Cain hopped down into the muddy
earth at the bottom, reached down and grabbed something that turned out
to be the handle of an earth-smeared trap door. He grinned back at Riley.
"Hope you're not claustrophobic. I took out the sentry, and in the
middle of the day they're all asleep, but we're still gonna to have to
That explained the mud. The tunnel was barely large enough to crawl through
on all fours; if you could see in the dark and didn't have to breathe,
it might have been bearable, but even for a vampire it couldn't have been
pleasant. Riley tucked his pistol into the front of his belt and crawled
after Cain, alert for a possible ambush. The tunnel ended in another trap
door which, for all its rustic make, opened on hinges as smooth and noiseless
as metallic silk. This door opened into a larger, partially-excavated
runway which seemed to parallel a sewer main; it ended in a jumble of
shovels and buckets propped against a wheelbarrow. Amber light seeped
into the end of the tunnel from the chamber beyond, and Cain held a ghostly
finger to his lips and motioned Riley after him.
Riley drew his pistol and advanced, step by careful step. He barely recognized
the lower level of Spike's crypt--he'd been down there once or twice,
years ago, but then it had been a damp, unfinished hole in the ground,
decorated with moldering bones and a few decaying coffins. Now it was
better equipped than some dorm rooms he'd stayed in. A handful of guttering
candles cast their mellow glow over the chairs and tables, the TV and
the bookshelves and the mini-fridge and the dartboard and the curtained-off
shower and a couple of X-Box controllers and...Jesus Christ, Buffy could
have moved in here instead of Spike moving into the house on Revello.
Just now he was surrounded by the uncanny stillness of sleeping vampires.
A new nest must have taken over the crypt after Spike had vacated it.
Riley caught his breath in his teeth; if he could have muffled his heartbeat
with a hand he would have. But it was too late; from one of the alcoves
came the snuffle and snort of someone waking. "Who's there?"
a voice said, sharp and suspicious. "Denny, is that--"
"Human!" another voice yelled. A blurred shadow flashed across
Riley's vision and the candles flicked out. Darkness fell, full of golden
eyes and savage growls. Riley spun, but Cain was gone, vanished back down
the tunnel. He cocked, aimed blindly towards the sound of the voice, and
squeezed off three shots in rapid succession--he might not hit anything,
and a handgun wasn't much use against a vampire even if he did, but the
crack of the Beretta in the enclosed space was deafening. A couple of
anguished wails followed by blundering crashes bore witness to the effect
on sensitive vampire ears. Riley retreated towards the tunnel and fired
again, but he'd misjudged in the dark, and his shoulders bumped against
the cool, root-laced earth of the crypt wall. One pair of cold callused
hands wrenched the gun from his grip while a second pair grabbed for his
wrists. A third pair snatched the taser. Riley struck out with fists and
feet and elbows, feeling the crunch of flesh and bone as he connected.
A chill ring of metal rammed up against his temple, accompanied by the
deadly snik of the Beretta cocking, and Riley, like Cain before
A match hissed and flared to life with the stink of sulfur, and flame
blossomed on half a dozen candles a minute later. Two vampires were holding
him down, one on each side, and a third, a tall, balding vampire with
eyes as cold as the barrel of the pistol he had leveled at Riley's head,
watched the proceedings with interest.
A dishwater blonde in an oversized t-shirt and bunny slippers was peering
down the tunnel, calling frantically, "Denny! Denny!" There
was a swelling bruise on her cheek and her nose looked like it might be
broken; he'd done some damage, at least. She turned to the balding vampire.
"David, he's not answering!" She whirled on Riley, fangs bared,
tears streaking her freckled cheeks, and jabbed the taser at him menacingly.
"You dusted my brother!"
"Nadia, calm down," David cautioned. "You know this one
belongs to the Slayer."
"I don't give a damn! He killed Denny, the bastard! I'm going to
rip his goddam eyeballs out and play marbles with 'em!"
"Spike's not here!"
A small dark vampire woman with a strangely familiar face stalked up
and slapped Nadia hard enough to shock her out of game face. "Spike
may not be here, but I am, and you can fucking well wait till your Master
gets back to kill this maricon! What kind of fucking example
are you setting for the new guys?" She waved at the quartet of vampires
clustered blinking in the far corner of the room.
"Look, maybe we should go," one of the putative new guys said,
nervously fingering the hem of his t-shirt. "We just figured that
with that LA big shot trying to move in that maybe Spike wasn't offering
such a bad deal after all, but if you guys are having problems, I hear
Rack's looking for muscle, and he's always got someone to eat--"
"Sit down and shut up," the dark-haired vamp girl snapped.
"Christ on a crutch, Evie, a week ago you were the new guy!"
Nadia snarled. "Who forgot to die and made you boss?"
This wasn't some new nest moving in on Spike's old territory, this was...
Minions. Spike had minions. Riley fought back hysterical laughter. It
wasn't a laughing matter. He could count at least half a dozen shadowy,
golden-eyed figures besides General Woundwort here skulking around the
corners of the crypt, plus the four new guys, whatever that signified.
Which meant--Oh, God, it was funny, it had to be or he'd start screaming--that
Spike was running the biggest vampire gang in Sunnydale. Buffy couldn't
"Evie's right, Nadia," David said shortly. "At the very
least we can discuss the matter with the Slayer tonight. Mr. Finn, please
remember I have a gun aimed at your head, and no compunction about using
it. Did you stake Nadia's brother?"
Or maybe Buffy knew just fine. "I never met the guy,"
Riley ground out through clenched teeth, "but if I had, damn right
I would have staked him."
"He's telling the truth," another vampire said, ghosting in
from the tunnel. "Denny's scent-trail ends where it intersects the
older one left by Cain. Cain's second trail and this guy's are half an
hour newer and don't come within twenty feet of Denny's dust."
David's serpentine eyes blinked once. He lowered the Beretta and ejected
the remaining clip, tucking the ammunition into his shirt pocket. "Well,
then, Mr. Finn, it appears you're only guilty of trespassing and breaking
and entering. Elise, Nadia, track Cain as far as you can. We have Spike's
permission to kill him, but I think capturing him would be more prudent.
He may have information we need. Fernando, get a couple of those bear
traps out of storage and plant them in the access tunnel in case he comes
back." He waved to the vampires holding Riley. "You're free
to go, Mr. Finn. Next time, I suggest you knock."
Five minutes later Riley stumbled out of the crypt's front door to the
tune of Evie's hand planted firmly between his shoulder blades, his empty
gun in hand. "Get lost, meat-sack," Evie said. As she slammed
the door shut behind him, her sullen little face was momentarily framed
in the barred grille, and Riley realized in a flash where he'd seen her
before, and not just where he'd seen her--where Buffy had seen her. The
binder full of target photos.
Spike was harboring Hostile 6... and Buffy Summers had known all along.