By Barb Cummings
Sequel to A Raising in the Sun
Tara padded down the hall. Her bare feet made no sound on the
carpet, and every so often she halted, listening for any slight movement
behind the closed doors. The house was eerily silent. She had
always been an early riser, and the habit stood her in good stead now--in
all likelihood, her opponent was still snuggled obliviously beneath her covers--
Dawn’s door flew open. Dawn shot out into the hallway, blue cotton
nightgown whipping round her thin calves, and skidded through the bathroom
door in front of Tara. “Yeah!” she whooped, bare feet beating out a
victory dance on the tiles. “I win, you lose, I rule, you suck!”
I’ve got an early class today!”
pulled the shower door open, looking at Tara over her shoulder and batting
dark lashes over those great big innocent blue eyes. “But I got here
first. Dibs. It’s the law. Besides, you guys have Mom’s
bathroom. Eww...” She made a face at the bottom of the tub.
“Buffy! You left gross Slayer scum all over the bathtub!”
it out,” came Buffy’s muffled and unsympathetic reply.
stamped a foot. “It’s your scum!”
A moment later a tousle-haired Buffy emerged from her own room, muffled
in a robe and yawning. “You keep claiming I’m not the Mom of you.
I concede. Not the Mom, therefore, not in charge of housework.
If my scum offends you, give me the shower first.”
let you leave me twice as much scum? Besides, I’m faster. You
take about ten years to wash your hair.”
bring your sister back from the dead if you aren’t willing to embrace her
hair care rituals. Move!”
ensued. Tara sighed and turned back to the master bedroom to see if
Willow was through with the bathroom there. She wasn’t at all sorry
they’d decided to move into Buffy’s house. Renting Joyce Summers’ old
room was cheaper than the dorm and gave Buffy a much-needed source of income,
and it was quieter and more private than the dorm too. Usually.
Behind her the sound of Dawn shrieking “Ahhh! No fair!” and Buffy caroling
“I rule, you suck!” rang through the hall. There were times when she
could work up nostalgia for student housing.
it was good to see Buffy engaged with the rest of the world this morning.
Her flashes of connection were getting more frequent, and lasting longer.
Maybe things would work out. Maybe they’d all been cosmically lucky,
and there really would be no more serious consequences from Willow’s spell.
Maybe... the bedroom was buzzing. Tara stopped just outside the doorway
with her hand on the knob, puzzled. The vibration wasn’t entirely physical,
and it made her fingertips tingle. She tightened her grip on the knob
and turned it, apprehension in the set of her shoulders.
the door revealed the low, penetrating hum to be of very worldly origin.
Willow sat cross-legged in the middle of the floor, among the piles of schoolbooks
and laundry and boxes they hadn’t finished unpacking yet, wrapped up in a
green silk robe. Her hair fanned across her shoulders like a fall of
glowing embers in the morning light, and a huge old book bound in flaking
brown calfskin lay open upon her lap, the pages bright with illuminated text
in red and blue and gold. Her elfin face was set in concentration as
she traced the words of a spell with one finger. The hum intensified
as she did so.
lover looked up, startled. The intricate patterns of power in the air
shivered and dissolved, falling apart into nothing, and Willow’s face fell
with them. A wounded little “Oh!” escaped her lips.
Willow closed the book and essayed a bright, painful smile. “Done
with the shower.”
knelt and glanced briefly at the cover of the grimoire. Thaumaturgie Made
Plaine. An old standard, full of cures for warts and spells for
making chickens lay and love spells that didn’t work. Easy, simple
magics which shouldn’t be any strain on Willow’s recovering faculties.
Nothing scary about this one, but Willow had promised her she’d wait before
jumping back into magic. “Hon, I thought--weren’t you going to wait
on the spellcasting till I could monitor you? You could hurt yourself!
Which spell were you doing?”
didn’t mean for her tone to be wary, or suspicious, or accusing. Maybe
it wasn’t any of those things; maybe it was only that the lingering tension
between them had never quite dispelled since Willow had performed the Raising,
or maybe it was part and parcel of her disappointment over the failed spell.
Willow’s brows slanted and her lips compressed to a thin angry line.
“What, you didn’t listen at the door long enough to tell?” She scrambled
to her feet and skinned out of her robe, pulling clothes from the closet
winced. “I didn’t mean--I was j-just wondering. I know you weren’t
really--” Most of the spells in that particular book required material
components to cast; in speaking the words without them, Willow could only
have been doing a dry run, a mental exercise. Not technically a violation
of their agreement. And she’d messed it up at the first minor distraction,
which made Tara all the more concerned that they stick to that agreement,
but she could tell Willow wasn’t in a mood to be reminded of that.
Tara tugged on a strand of honey-colored hair, trying to come up with the
right words. “It’s just--are you sure you’re ready?”
grabbed a pair of jeans and began tugging them on. “Why doesn’t--anyone--believe
me? I’m fine! I’ve been fine for weeks! I’ve cast difficult
spells before, and recovered just fine, and--and--” All of a sudden her
face crumpled and a panicked sob escaped her. “It shouldn’t be this
only took a moment to rise to her feet and close the distance between them.
Tara took the smaller woman in her arms and held her fiercely close while
Willow clung to her and tried to still her jerky breathing. “Something’s
wrong,” she moaned into Tara’s shoulder. “I can still do the spells,
but it’s so hard! Even the easy ones! It used to be like... like
breathing, I just did it, it just happened, and now I have to make it happen
and I don’t get it, nothing’s changed, I still--”
shh, it’s all right,” Tara crooned, stroking her hair. “You shut down
a dimensional gate practically all by yourself, on sheer willpower.
Or Will power.” Willow managed a quavery smile. “It’s only been
a month. The aether out by the factory is still all shaken up.
Is it any wonder you are, too? Give yourself time to heal.”
felt Willow take a deep shuddering breath and let it out. A moment
later she pushed away slightly; in the morning light Tara could see the
charcoal smudges of weariness around her eyes, lying just below the transparent
porcelain of her skin. Beautiful had never seemed a sufficient word
to describe Willow. Willow had something beyond beauty, some fey quality
that caught at your heart from half-way across the room and drew you closer,
desperate just to be near this creature whose every breath and movement scattered
magic with careless generosity in her wake. For the first few months
she’d known her, Tara had been terribly afraid that she’d wake up one morning
and discover that Willow had only been a dream.
she wasn’t, of course--she was a living, breathing woman, stubborn and loving
and heedless and brilliant, fearless with the courage of one who has never
truly known defeat and terrifying for the same reason. “Maybe... maybe
it’s...better this way. That you slow down a little. You’ve been
pushing yourself so hard all summer, and between slaying and school...”
eyes clouded. “The things we fight don’t slow down.”
can’t save the world all by yourself.” Tara put a finger beneath Willow’s
chin and lifted her head. “That’s Buffy’s job. And even she’s
sigh. “Oh, all right, if you’re going to use rational argument on me...”
Willow cuddled into her shoulder. “I’ll try to be less spazzy.
Promise. But I still think--”
Tara said firmly. “Breakfast now.”
Dawn and Buffy were already in the kitchen when they came downstairs.
It was a bright, sunny November morning. Willow winced. Pale
clear light streamed in through the windows, and outside the sky was blue
and the birds were probably singing, but thankfully Willow couldn't hear
them. It was difficult to believe that this was a town situated over
a Hellmouth. Except, of course, for the fact that at this minute she
felt like hell. She only hoped that Tara wouldn’t notice. Her
eyes were gritty with the aftermath of her magical exercises, and there was
a slow, sullen pounding in the back of her head. She would have gone
over and pulled down the blinds to keep the stabby sunlight out, or at least
asked Dawn to do it, except for the fact that then they'd have asked what
was wrong, and she really didn't want to talk about it.
seated across the kitchen table from her sister and looking far too bright
and chipper to be allowed, was scarfing down Coco Puffs and reading the
back of the cereal box. Buffy was stirring her own cereal, which was
slowly disintegrating into chocolate gruel, in languid circles. She
held up her spoon and let brown, gluey milk dribble back into the bowl, watching
the drops fall with utter fascination. Looked like the connection with
the world had some static in it.
you going to eat that?”
started and blinked. “Oh.” She looked down at her cereal.
“I think it’s left the realm of chocolate goodness and entered the realm
of performance art.”
not, want not,” Dawn said from the safety of her cardboard defensive emplacement.
gave her a look, picked up the cereal bowl, went to the kitchen door, opened
it and emptied the bowl into the flowerbed. “Not waste. Mulch.”
She came back and poured herself a new bowlful.
that old Buffy humor or new Buffy weirdness? Willow decided to assume
the former and mustered a laugh. “Succinct, yet mildly disturbing.”
She eyed the Coco Puffs and decided against them. She didn’t think
she could face a sugar high right now. She opened the refrigerator
and pawed through the contents--leftover macaroni and hotdog casserole, yuck,
Buffy’s stash of yogurt fruit cups, yuck, milk jug half-full of pig’s blood
for Spike, double yuck... bread. Boring squishy Wonder Bread.
With which one could make toast. Bland, dry, boring toast. Yes.
Bland was of the good.
and Buffy kept up a mild sisterly snipefest as she waited for the toast to
pop, which would have been annoying except that it was such a relief to see
Buffy reacting to things again. Dawn kept peering at her round the
cereal box as if she couldn't quite believe she was having a normal argument
with her bossy older sister.
seem to be in a good mood this morning, Buffy,” Tara observed, coming in
with the morning paper. Willow felt a surge of justification, balm after
the last month, and even her magic-induced headache seemed to ease off.
When even Tara had to admit the Raising had worked, had been, in the end,
a good thing...
made a dismissive half-shrugging gesture. “Spike and I had a fight
last night, and--”
too bad--oh, cool! Look, here’s the advertisement Anya put in for the
Magic Box!” Dawn pulled the paper over to admire Anya’s entrepreneurial
genius as Tara gathered up her books. Tara kissed the top of Willow’s
head. “Byzantine history calls. See you later, sweetie.”
Willow sat down, maintaining a surreptitious watch on Buffy’s expression--well,
maybe, if surreptitious meant ‘eyes glued anxiously to face while trying
desperately to appear otherwise’. Improving? Not improving?
Buffy gave her a flinchy, worried look and Willow forced herself to be cool.
“Fight? I thought the two of you were getting on like gangbusters.”
She took a nervous bite of toast and swallowed it a little too quickly, coughing
as the crumbs scratched her throat. “Though gangbusters, it does sound pretty
fighty, doesn’t it?”
didn’t hit him again, did you?” Dawn asked accusingly. “It's totally
not fair when he can’t hit back.”
I did not hit him,” Buffy said, taking a stab at her innocent coffee cup
with a spoon, as if practicing staking moves. “We were in the middle
of Willy’s, and I’m not about to have a public fistfight with Fang-face.
We just had... words.”
scraped margarine over her toast. Nothing like gossip to alleviate
pain. “And these words filled your heart with chipperness? So,
considered. “Not as such. It was just...” She made a vague
swirly gesture with both hands. “...a non-revelation. Before
the fight started I was happy and trying to figure out why I was happy, so
I could, I don’t know, use the scientific method to duplicate the process
or something. And couldn’t. I went to bed all worried about it
last night, and when I woke up there was the answer. An answer.
A thought, at least. It doesn’t matter why. It just matters that
I was--until Mr. Ooh-what-a-big-pair-of-fangs-I’ve-got had to go all contrary,
anyway--because that means I can. And that means I will be. Sometimes.
Which is all anyone gets, right? No one’s happy all the time.”
that’s really great, Buffy. But...”
fight? It’s complicated.” She looked significantly at Willow.
“I’llway elltay ouyay atway unchlay, enwhay Awnday’s otnay aroundway otay
efendday ethay annoyingway ampirevay.”
rolled her eyes, the teenage personification of sarcasm. “Golly gee,
I just don’t know how you guys manage to hide your secrets so well.
I am baffled, I tell you, baffled. Hey, if you were at Willy’s, were
the guys in back still playing for kittens? ‘Cause I really wanted
one and Spike said I’d have to--"
eyes narrowed. "How do you know about Willy's back room?"
flicker of alarm crossed her sister's face and disappeared in record time.
Dawn shrugged, elaborately casual. "Spike must have mentioned it." She
began shoveling spoonfuls of soggy chocolate into her mouth. "Gaw geh
Spike take you to Willy's? You, underage human-type girl? Willy's,
gross disgusting demon bar?" Buffy leaned forward over the table with
a fair approximation of the look her mother used to use when grilling her
about her own unsavory teenaged wandering. "If he took you to Willy's
he is SO dust. Spike, stake. Stake, Spike."
Dawn was far more resistant to The Look than Buffy had ever been.
Or maybe Buffy just wasn't doing it right--it was hard to wrap oneself in
the cloak of quasi-parental authority with a spoonful of Coco Puffs in your
hand. “Um, Buffy...” Willow pointed. Buffy looked down,
confused. Her hair was dragging in the cereal. She jerked upright
and swiped at the ends of her hair with a napkin.
the reason, Dawn's big innocent blue eyes simply got bigger, bluer, and
more innocent, and she rolled them piously ceilingward as she grabbed her
book bag and slung it over one shoulder. "Geez, Buffy, chill.
You know I hung out with Spike a lot over the summer, while he was playing
‘My bodyguard the vampire’ all the time. We might have stopped at
Willy’s once or twice when he had to buy blood. Which would you rather,
he take me inside with him or leave me in the parking lot by myself?
Besides," she added, "who's calling who underage?"
me, I'm almost twenty-one and legal in lots of states," Buffy retorted.
"Just not this one. You are barely fifteen and... not. And stop
changing the subject!"
didn't crack. She tucked her hair casually behind her ear and smiled
a cool, superior smile. "I thought the subject was underage bar-hopping?
Which one of us has been doing within the last twenty-four hours? That
one not being me?" A horn sounded outside. "That's Lisa's mom.
Can I go now, or are you going to play Spanish Inquisition some more?"
gave up and buried her nose in her coffee. "Oh, go to school."
Dawn grabbed her book bag and bounced out the front door, Buffy frowned
into her coffee cup and stirred in another packet of Sweet-N-Low. “I
bet she’s lying through her pearly white teeth. If I really want to
know the details, I’ll have to grill Spike. He’s more crackable...
of course, that would mean deliberately seeking out Spike. My interview's
at ten. When do you want to meet for lunch?"
lets out at eleven-thirty. Noon?"
"It is the traditional lunch hour, true. Can I see the paper a sec?
Anya'll get all sniffly if I can't say I've seen her ad."
Willow handed her the community section. "Page six. Right next
to that article about the guy that freaked out in the Espresso Pump."
"Freaked out in..." Buffy frowned and folded the paper in half, perusing
the article more carefully. "This says it’s just another of the rash
of mysterious mental collapses over the last year... the last year?
As in not stopping since Glory went away? This can't be good.
Wills, we so need to talk--a bunch of non-Spikey non-fighty stuff came up
last night that we’re going to need you in on.”
Willow knew she sounded cranky but was too headachey to make the attempt
to overcome it. “Cause last night, it sounded like not so much.”
night it was freakout, one, temporary. Willy’s not exactly a well-beloved
member of the community; anyone could have gotten torqued off and done a
freakout spell on him.” She tapped the newspaper article with a forefinger.
“Now according to this it’s freakouts, plague of, continuing long past the
point they should have stopped. So Will, I hope you’re right about
being ready to make with the magic again. We’re going need you.”
Buffy slid into the booth and set her purse down on the vinyl seat beside
her with a sigh. The interview had gone... well, it had gone.
She’d never interviewed well, and it didn’t help that she hadn’t wanted
a job as office help at Sunnydale Affordable Mortgage and Loan in the first
place. This was impossible. She not only had to find a job that
would support her and Dawn, but one which had flexible enough hours to allow
for vampire slaying and occasional world saveage. Getting herself up
in office drag, plastering a fake smile over her face and talking with the
interviewer about actualizing her goals and being a team player was... surreal.
'Previous experience. One three-month stint as a waitress, six apocalypses
averted. Last night I beat up three demons, killed two vampires and
almost kissed a third... What was that noise? Oh, nothing, just the
superego pounding the id with a mallet again...
situation wasn't panic-worthy yet; they had the tail end of Mom's life insurance
and the money from the sale of the gallery, and the child support checks
for Dawn still arrived regularly from their father's bank. As a last
resort, she could tuck her tail between her legs and appeal to said father,
not that she had any intention of doing so save as an absolute last resort.
They weren’t going to starve in the streets, but she hated, hated, hated
having to agonize over whether or not she’d been right to run out this morning
and blow some of The Budget on a re-stock of decent makeup. She’d rationalized
it as a purchase that would help her on Employment Quest, but she was well
aware that it was a rationalization.
said Willow breathlessly, sliding into the seat across from her. “Sorry
I’m late. Professor Sorenson had this three-page hand-out, and there
was this unfortunate collating incident. “So what’s up that you didn’t
want Dawn to hear?”
looked carefully around the café. The lone waitress was attending
to another table and everyone around them seemed to be absorbed with their
own lunchtime travails. She leaned forward and placed both palms flat
on the table. “Rule Number One, no freaking.”
looked a little uneasy, but nodded. “Agreed. Designated freak-free
zone starts here.”
Number Two... I can’t think of a Rule Number Two, but it sounded silly to
have a Rule Number One all by itself.” Babbling. You’re babbling.
Stop it. Willow will get you for trademark infringement .
She took a deep breath. “OK, Will, I know you’re with Tara now and
all, but you still... um... notice guys, right?”
an equal opportunity noticer,” Willow said, cautious. “Though any conclusions
drawn from the noticing are purely academic.”
rubbed the base of her right thumb, trying to ignore the sense-memory of
that cool agile tongue flicking over her skin, soft and wet but not too wet...
“So... if I said I’d started to notice that Spike’s, um, nice-looking in
certain lights, would you consider me completely insane?”
Willow rubbed her nose, perplexed, but was saved from immediate response
by the arrival of the waitress. “Tuna salad sandwich on rye, and can
I get it with the little froofy things on the toothpicks? Those things
are so cool... What do you want, Buff? I still get parental subsidies,
salad, dressing on the side.” Buffy watched the departing waitress suspiciously,
then turned back to her friend. “So, would you?”
stared at her for a long moment, and to Buffy’s everlasting gratitude did
not ask if she were under another spell. “I’d consider you insane if you didn’t
think Spike was nice-looking in certain lights. You just now noticed
I mean, no. I mean... in the abstract. Spike’s... nice-looking.”
In the lean, panthery, drop-dead-gorgeous sense of ‘nice’. “It’s
just that the looks of Spike are pretty much irrelevant given the soulless-killerness
of Spike, and until... well... right this minute... the back of my mind looked
like the end of that Indiana Jones movie, with rows and rows of neatly crated
wrong lusty Spike thoughts stretching off to infinity, and now for some reason
they’re starting to break out of the crates. And worse?” She
leaned forward, her eyes gone wide and tragic. “I think... I think
I’m starting to... like him.”
can see where that would be unsettling,” Willow said, poker-faced.
sat back and folded her arms across her chest, pouting. “This isn’t
funny, Will! I was having fun last night! The kind of
fun I have with you guys. Spike’s not allowed in the Buffy Fun Club.
Or he shouldn’t be.”
busboy appeared and deposited ice water and napkins. Willow picked
up her glass, slurped up an ice cube and began crunching it noisily.
“Why not? We didn’t exactly spend the summer ignoring him. It
wasn’t unknown for Spike to engage in extracurricular Bronzing with us, and
he and Xander had that whole dueling CDs thing going for awhile--” She dissolved
into little snorts of laughter. “You should have--he--with the Patsy Cline,
and the expression on Spike’s face--”
laugh riot, but you had to be there?”
wiped her eyes, looking guilty. OK, maybe a little heavy on the
irony there, Buff. “Um, yeah. And Giles--Giles is all mad
at us now because of the whole...” Her eyes slid away from Buffy’s and
glued themselves to a spot on the tabletop, and she began twisting her paper
napkin into a corkscrew. “..return from the dead thing, but there were,
you know, definite signs of restrained British bonding before that.”
Buffy propped her chin on her fist and frowned. “Did you know Spike
proved sufficient to distract Willow from the mutilation of her napkin.
Her brows quirked. “He never told me so in so many words, but he was
helping me catch up with my Western Lit when I was out of school for that
week--" Right after you brought me back from the dead, but let’s not go
there, “--and no one knows that much about archy and mehitabel if they
don’t like poetry. Plus he helped Dawn with her English while she was
in summer school. You knew that. Didn’t you?”
Again.” Buffy felt vaguely disconcerted. She’d been getting
rather fond of the idea that she’d discovered something about Spike that
no one else knew. “I haven’t been noticing things very well lately.
The things I should notice, anyway.”
Buff, have you ever considered that maybe these noticings are connected somehow?
Spike’s gotten... um...”
a good way of putting it. I don’t know if he’ll ever be all the way
good, but he’s... not bad. You saw how mad Giles and Tara were at both
of us after we... you know... but neither one of us got shown the door and
asked never to darken his doorstep again. Maybe it’s just because Giles
still needs us to finish up that big interview paper thingy I’m helping him
with, but the point is we both get to stick around and get yelled at.
Spike’s one of us now.” She stopped and looked at Buffy curiously.
“That was what you wanted, wasn’t it?”
yes, it was. I just... I never thought about it involving... me.”
Buffy frowned and stirred her slowly melting ice cubes while Willow squirmed
slightly. The food arrived. Buffy speared a lettuce leaf and
let her fork hover over the dressing for a second, then sighed and popped
the greenery into her mouth bare. Those nachos last night had probably
contained a million calories, all migrating straight to her hips at this
moment. All Spike’s fault; probably some weird vampire ability to divine
that cheese was her culinary downfall.
interrupted her musings. “Maybe your crates are breaking open
because you’re starting to like him. Because you can
start to like him, because he’s turning into someone likeable. And you’re
not insane, because the rest of us are liking him too.” She grinned.
“Some more than others, of course.”
guess that makes sense.” Buffy wrinkled her nose. “I’m new improved
Clue-Free Buffy with thirty percent less insight. I’ll deal.
Now we get to the exciting post-fun argument.” Willow clasped her
hands in front of her and looked expectant. “While we were at Willy’s,
we got drinks--seltzer, seltzer!--and I was going to charge them to the Council
as a slaying expense. Giles said if he couldn’t get me a salary then
we could at least do a little creative accounting with his. And Spike
ordered human blood, of course, and I didn’t even think to call him on it
until he tried to get take-out later. Then I said I wasn’t going to
pay for it, and told him to take it back, and he got mad, and I got mad, but
my moral high ground was severely eroded from not having objected right away,
and then we got distracted by demons, and... other things... and--DAMMIT,
he ended up taking the stuff home after all!” Buffy smacked the table
and the silverware jumped.
Willow appeared torn. “The human blood thing is of the bad, technically,
but it’s not like he gets it very often, and...honestly? We’ve kind
of looked the other way when he does. It doesn’t seem to, um, affect
him for the worse, if you know what I mean--not like he chugs a bag and gets
all nostalgic for killing people.”
Buffy grumbled, “but it’s still wrong.”
don’t see the problem,” Willow said. “Angel drank bagged people blood
all the time. He had a whole fridge full. Of course he had a lot
more money than Spike does...”
fixed Willow with an evil glare. What was up with this using of reason
and logic? “Angel never rubbed my nose in it.” Uncomfortable
silence. “All right, I admit it, I’m wigging unduly over something
that never wigged me before, and do you know why? I hope so, because
don’t think it’s that difficult, Buffy. You’ve got an incredibly hot
guy who’s head over heels for you and he just happens to be a vampire.
Think back to the last time this happened.”
Buffy held up both hands. “So not going there.”
Last time you fell for a vampire the world almost ended. And with
the chip, potential Spike-related heartbreak abounds if it ever goes blooey.
So naturally you’re going to try to avoid it happening again, and hence,
it’s not! I am nowhere near falling for Spike. I merely find him
somewhat attractive in a purely academic, non-touchy sense, and if I can
go back to avoiding thinking about it, everything will be exactly the way
it used to be.”
that you used to hate him and now you like him.”
that makes everything complicated and annoying.” Buffy stabbed vindictively
at her salad. “This is the badness that comes of liking vampires.
It never happened with Angel.” Uncomfortable silence. “Not that
I didn’t like Angel. I loved Angel.” The even more uncomfortable memory
of a night three years gone, standing at Angel’s side in the Magic Box,
while Spike’s contemptuous North London voice drawled You’ll never be
friends... “OK, ‘like’ could never fit into the same room with me and
Angel, given that all the space was taken up by buckets of romantic angst,
and--that’s it, Will!” She thumped the table again and Willow grabbed
her water glass. “I shouldn’t run from this whole friend thing, I should
embrace it, because friendship equals death to romantic weirdness!”
did romance make an entrance?” Willow asked. Buffy paid no attention.
Friend. Yes. The perfect solution. It’ll be just like me
and Xander. Slaying partners. Talking buddies. No more
noticing of--” Electric blue eyes that crinkle when he smiles and
knife-edge cheekbones and expressive, deadly hands and the intriguing
twitch of muscles beneath that ubiquitous black t-shirt and we don’t go any
lower than that because Spike absolutely, positively does not exist below
the belt buckle and the memory of his reaction to you squirming around on
his lap under the influence of that engagement spell which by the way was
ALSO all Willow’s fault never, EVER kept you up at night-- “--stuff.
The thing is, just because I can notice doesn’t mean I should be. Spike’s...
he doesn’t care about people, Will. About me, about Dawn, about
the rest of you, yeah. But about Willy, or some random guy on the street?
No. He can’t. No soul. And what’s it say about me if I...
accept someone like that as--as...”
friend?” Willow said quietly.
moaned and dropped her forehead to the table, narrowly avoiding her side
bowl of dressing. She sat back up straight and said with great determination,
“Freakouts. We’re going to talk about freakouts now. We need
to know how many of them there’ve been since last spring. Can you find
that out for me?”
nodded, looking pleased. “I can do a search of the newspaper’s archives
tonight, and maybe hack into the hospital admissions records and the police’s
missing persons files--well, no, that’s so huge it would be pointless.
When do you need it?”
looked so eager that Buffy was tempted to say “Fifteen minutes” and see what
happened. A guilty pang went through her. She’d been avoiding
Willow, she knew that, and now that she was starting to get a grip on the
world again, she was beginning to feel bad about it. “The sooner the
better. Let me know when you’ve got the info and we’ll rally the troops.”
A thought struck her. “Do you know what happened to the rest of Glory’s
shook her head. “No. We were distracted. They just wandered
off, I guess. We could check at the hospital, or...”
course,” said Buffy, resigned. “My favorite place in all the world.
Hospital it is. You said you were ready to fire up the spells again.
You’re sure about that?”
was the barest hesitation before Willow nodded again. “I am.
What do you need?”
a start, the spell you cured Tara with. I have a feeling we’re going
to need it.”
Evening. Friday. On Friday he checked the others. Always
the first thing.
scrambled over the piles of refuse, shards and pieces of other people’s lives,
other people’s minds. Avoid the caretaker’s trailer, touch the rusted
“No Private Dumping” sign, follow the barbed wire fence back along its snarled
length to the cluster of sheet-metal and cardboard hovels hidden from view
by the mounds of trash. Some of the others were out already, gathered around
a fire in an old oil drum. Still more were hidden away inside their
lairs. He could feel them, all of them connected inside by the fingers
crawling from mind to mind, hunting and never finding. Dana, Ronnie,
Jim. The Rabbit Guy. Blondie. Their eyes followed him as
he passed by, wary, scared, madder than his own. He counted them off
one by one. Fourteen. The list had been longer once, then shorter,
and now it was longer again. That was good. Meant he was doing
hungry, Tanner,” Blondie whined at him. He didn’t answer her.
Food wasn’t his problem. She’d chewed off the Press-On nails
again and her fingertips looked raw and bloody. Stupid. You could
be crazy in Sunnydale and live, but not stupid. Walk around smelling
of fresh blood and the list would be one name shorter, if not tonight then
soon. He didn’t care...
shit,” he muttered. If the list got shorter he was a bad person.
“Ronnie, do we have band-aids?”
small and grey and balding, ceased his rocking back and forth on the upturned
paint can and shook his head.
right. I’ll get some. Can you take her over to...” Where?
“The One Small Step headquarters? We haven’t hit them for a
month. Get her hands cleaned up.”
nodded and looked at the ground. Went back to rocking. Tanner
sighed. He could feel it slipping away, what he’d taken, fizz fizz
fizz in little green sparks leaking out of eyes and ears and dribbling from
his mouth with every word spoken. Time again. The Rabbit Guy
started screaming. Oh, yeah. Way past time.
headed back towards the exit from the dump, following the winding path beaten
by the sanitation trucks. “Get people together, Ronnie. We’re
Continued in Part 5