By Barb Cummings
Sequel to A Raising in the Sun
Buffy burrowed deeper into the covers, hugging her pillow, the sensations
of waking muddled up with the fading dream... memory? Arms tightening
convulsively arkquoound her, strong enough for her to feel it, strong
enough that the pressure of her own embrace elicited a growl of pleasure
instead of a wince of pain. A stir of realization: I don't have
to hold back. Cool moist velvet of his tongue against hers, deft
nervous hands roving along her sides, her back, pulling her closer, never
close enough. Scenting her desire, his growl going from contented purr
to something savage, primal, dangerous. Deep in her belly a molten
internal pulse ignited in response...
woke with a gasp. Morning sun slanted through her windows, drawing
trails of light across the bedspread. She heard voices downstairs,
smelled coffee brewing--or reconstituting, or whatever you called it when
hot water hit Folger's Instant. Maybe someday she'd get up the nerve
to experiment with the coffee maker again. Surely it couldn't be too
hard to make it do the drippy thing instead of the running dry and catching
fire thing. Coffee, coffee, coffee, think about--Spike.
rolled over with a groan. She shouldn't be feeling all warm and tingly.
Triple plus ungood. She flung the covers aside with a shiver that had
nothing to do with the nippy fall air, pulled her robe off the bedpost and
struggled into it. Shower. Cold shower. Very cold shower.
That worked for guys, right? Into the bathroom. Brush teeth,
stare blearily at un-made-up morning Buffy-face in mirror. Remember
to take off robe before entering shower.
almost leaped right through the closed shower door when the icy spray hit
her. Abandoning her pursuit of asceticism, she frantically twisted
the hot water on. There, that was bearable. Cool, not cold,
just like--okay, hot shower. Very hot shower.
the unforgiving light of morning the events of the previous night were surreal.
One minute she was giving a really impressive speech on valuing honesty over
kissy-face, and the next she was scarring Dawn permanently with Slayer Porno
Theatre. Not that Dawn hadn't spied on her and Angel, or her and Riley
for that matter, half a million times, the little perv. But they'd
been boyfriends, and Spike was--Spike. And oh, God, Tara'd seen the
whole thing. Both times. Tara probably doesn't even
have baser urges. She's like a Platonic solid. Or something
Greek, anyway. Please let them all have been eaten by Zagros demons
before I come down...
advantage of waking up late was that Dawn had already left for school.
Maybe if she was lucky everyone else would be gone, too. An hour
later, having determined that showers of any temperature were not much good
for anything besides the removal of dirt, and after pulling out everything
in her closet at least twice in a futile hunt for something that didn't scream
'I'm having wet dreams about Spike,' Buffy trotted downstairs in jeans and
a camel-colored cowl-necked sweater, hair wrapped up in a towel and stomach
inhabited by a large flock of butterflies.
to her chagrin, though it was almost ten, Willow and Tara were still in the
kitchen. Didn't they have classes anymore? Her feet slowed, then stopped,
and she stood wavering on tip-toe on the third stair from the bottom, hand
on the railing and ears straining to catch Tara's low, concerned voice.
vampire? No matter how much help he's been lately, it's only been a year since
he was trying to kill us. Hard to believe it's not some kind of--of
didn't sound quite as dire. "Maybe--love the thing you kill, and all?
That would be deeply psychological. But, benefit of the doubt--she
told me she just likes him. And he's saved her life almost as many
times as he's tried to kill her now, which, big plus. Besides, he is
you say so." Tara sounded dubious. "I'm more worried about him being
plain wicked. I know he’s pretty much non-practicing evil at the moment--"
A thoughtful pause. "Cute, really? He's always seemed a little
funny-looking to me. His head's too big for the rest of him. And
he's kind of scrawny."
the staircase, Buffy's eyes went green with outrage. Jeez, Tara,
I thought you were gay, not blind. Just because Spike wasn't the
poster boy for steroid abuse... And I do not have a thing for vampires.
I'm dogged by vampires with a thing for me.
snickered. “Hey, ‘compact yet muscular,’ remember? Just ask Xander.”
She went on, almost regretfully, "I don't think we need to worry.
Not like it isn't doomed anyway, with the ghost of Angel past still looming
over her love life. It messed things up with Riley, it'll mess things
up with Spike. I really feel sorry for the poor guy."
fingers tightened on the bannister; Willow couldn't have come up with a better
one-two punch if she'd practiced for a week. Not going to break
it. Can't afford the carpenter bills. She stomped on the
last two steps as loudly as she could and walked into the kitchen.
Willow and Tara were both sitting at the kitchen table, solemn as a pair of
owls, all trace of speculation vanished. They looked up in unison as
she came in. There was a platter of croissants on the table into which
severe incursions had been made, which hinted that they'd been waiting for
her for some time. She flashed them a jittery little smile. "Hey,
reply. They'd been chatty enough when she wasn't there. With
an uneasy glance at her housemates, Buffy went to the refrigerator.
She dithered over cherry or blueberry yogurt for a minute before going
for the cherry. She rescued her favorite coffee mug from the sink
and rinsed it off before dumping a generous teaspoonful of instant coffee
into it. She filled it with water and stuck it in the microwave.
"Hola? Wilkommen? Bienvenue? Willow, how are you feeling?"
face was shadowed for a moment and she seemed to shrink in on herself.
"I kinda know how you felt during that Cruciamentum test."
I'm sure you'll..." Buffy trailed off. "It's not permanent, right?
You just wore yourself out blowing doors open?"
forced a smile. "Yeah. All better in no time. But enough
tried her best to look blank. She's been doing that so much lately,
why couldn't she pull it up now when she needed it? She felt as if Spike
had peeled off a couple of layers of skin with that kiss, leaving her painfully
tender to the touch. The witches exchanged uncomfy looks. "Buffy,"
Tara said, "Last night--"
dropped into a free chair and buried her face in her hands, peeking out at
the two of them between her fingers. "Isn't it a little too early for
last night?" She essayed another feeble smile. "Guess not.
Silly me. First thing we need to do is like you said, Will, see if
we can track down this Tanner guy--who he was, and how he's doing this,
and where he is now. Second thing--"
didn't mean that part of last night," Willow broke in. "More the last
part. With the, you know..."
sat back and folded her arms. "Spit-swapping? Block it from your
minds. I have. Stress. It was stress over Willow.
Also possibly a side effect of the inhalation of bourbon fumes."
went as red as Willow's hair. "Why you did it isn't any of our business,"
nodded vigorously in agreement. "We won't even think about thinking
microwave beeped. Buffy ignored it. "Glad you feel that way.
Really not ready to dish at this precise moment." Lost use of personal
pronouns. Very bad sign.
clasped her hands on the table in front of her and kept her eyes firmly fixed
upon her left thumbnail. "We just needed--we thought--Buffy, I know
you've been, um, I-I said last year I'd be there if you ever needed to talk
about anything, so if you do, I still am. And Willow too, of course!
We--we just want you to be sure you know what you're getting into."
silence stretched from seconds into minutes, until broken by the scrape of
Buffy's chair as she got up to get her now-lukewarm coffee. She sat
back down and dunked a croissant in the mug. "Let's see." She bit the
coffee-sodden end off the croissant and began ticking off points with the
remaining pastry. "Spike is a soulless vampire restrained from killing
people only by a piece of government hardware with an uncertain expiration
date, and because he has the hots for me. If the chip fails, I may
have to kill him. If the chip doesn't fail but he decides he doesn't
love me after all, I may have to kill him." She turned a wide-eyed look on
the other two. "That about cover it?"
and Tara did another synchronized squirm. "Um..."
just..." Willow gave Tara an agonized look. "Buffy. You know
I like Spike as much as anyone--well, except you of course, since me?
so not with the kissing--but someone's got to say it. How
long did it take you to work up to killing Angelus? How many people
died in the meantime?"
flinched. Oh, dirty pool, Rosenberg... "It's different," she said.
Her throat had gone dry. "I loved Angel."
looked skeptical. "And you don't love Spike."
became deeply absorbed in unwinding the layers of her croissant. She
shrugged. "No." Not yet. Maybe never. Maybe five
minutes from now. We're running a pool; who wants three PM Friday?
were things Tara obviously wanted to say; Buffy could see them bubbling inside
her, but Tara didn't say them. Didn't have to; a small self-critical
voice in the back of her own head had them on repeating loop already.
Spike only wants you because A) he wants to get back at Angel for stealing
Dru B) He's obsessed with Slayers C) There's nothing better on telly D) All
of the above. You only want Spike because A) You've got some sick
vampire fetish B) You're an enormous slut C) The famous Slayer death wish
D) All of the above. If by some outside chance he really does love
you, you'll mess it up anyway, just like you messed up with every single
other man you've ever loved. Lather, rinse, repeat. "Look
guys, if I go off the rails and you shove me back on, I'll thank you later.
But right now I'm not even on the train yet." She pulled the tab off
the top of her yogurt and plopped a spoonful onto the last bite of croissant.
"It's just one kiss."
made an apologetic grimace. "When in one day you go from all 'This
can never be!' to wild passionate vampire kissage on the driveway...
I worry, you know? And not just about you, about Spike too."
She leaned forward, conspiratorial. "So, was he any good? I
mean, from the moaning and slurpy noises I’m guessing yes, but--"
Tara cleared her throat and Willow clapped a hand over her mouth, looking
guilty. "Just asking." She mouthed 'Talk later!' behind Tara's
still didn't look happy. "If you don't have any feelings for Spike,
should you be... encouraging him?"
didn't say no feelings!" Buffy smacked her mug down on the table, sloshing
coffee onto the newspaper. "There are feelings! Lots of feelings!
With Spike there is nothing but feelings! Ow!" She grabbed
a napkin and mopped hot coffee off her front. Now she'd have to change
shirts. "I just don't know which feelings they are." She sighed.
"Look--what I had with Angel... I can never do that again. I've
tried, right? It doesn't work. I don't have that kind of love
in me any more. Trust me, outside of the fact that they're both the
same sex and species, Spike and Angel are as different as night and day,
and I could never feel the same way about Spike."
stabbed her spoon into the heart of the yogurt. It was true.
As far as it went.
Late Friday afternoon at the Magic Box. The DeSoto skidded to a stop
in front of the shop, and Spike leaped out of the car, flung a blanket
over his head, and dashed across the sunlit expanse of sidewalk. He
yanked the door open so fast he almost twisted the handle off, and dove
inside to the accompaniment of the shop bell. There was a perfectly
good tunnel leading into the Magic Box's basement, but it meandered, and
he'd been in a hurry. He had people--well, person--well, Buffy--to
see, and damned if he was going to let a little sunshine take him out of
his way, at least for the approximately thirty seconds a vampire his age
could take it before starting to smoulder.
was behind the counter breaking out a few more rolls of quarters for the
change drawer of the cash register, taking the opportunity to fondle the shiny
coins while no one was paying attention. She looked up, took in the
arrival of the sun-scorched vampire, murmured, "If you catch the greeting
cards on fire, Spike, you're paying for them," and went back to her receipts.
you too, pet," Spike growled, pulling the slightly charred army blanket off
his head. He slouched over to the back of the store, where Rupert
Giles sat at the circular table in the book section, going through the pile
of neat, color-coordinated folders filled with neat, indexed notes in front
of him. He tossed the blanket under the table, and sat down opposite
the Watcher. Neither spoke for a moment. At last Spike said,
took off his glasses. "It was on the radio this morning. I hardly
consider myself a sentimentalist, but I confess I spent the whole morning
listening to Rubber Soul."
waste." Spike produced a flask from the interior pocket of his duster,
and unscrewed the top. "To George." He tossed back a swallow and handed
it to Giles, who followed suit.
Anya asked. "Is this some English ritual I'm not aware of?"
and Watcher turned twin gazes of laser death on her, and then Giles shook
his head. "Never mind, Anya. I believe he was before your time.
Well." He glanced at the two cassette tapes beside the pile of folders,
and sighed. "I'd been hoping to go over the last few sessions and clarify
a few points, but it appears that the last few sessions have yet to be transcribed."
made a mock-sorrowful noise. "Pity, that. Guess we'll be forced
to do something interesting instead."
would naturally preclude your participation," Giles said with champagne dryness.
Spike smirked at him and tucked his flask away again. Move it along,
nothing to see here. Giles adjusted his glasses and gave the cassettes
a severe look. "I must speak to Willow about this. If she's
unable to make time for this project due to her schoolwork, I'll ask the
Council to assign us a secretary." He slid a fresh cassette into the recorder,
hit the play button, and said into the microphone, "Interview with the--I'm
sorry, I can't say it--William the Bloody, a.k.a Spike, conducted by Rupert
Giles on November 30, 2001. Session six." He clicked the pause button.
"I don't suppose I can convince you to give your real surname this time?"
lazed back in the chair and folded his arms across his chest, obstinacy in
every line of his body. "You suppose correctly. I told you
when we started this, none of your Council's bloody business who my family
was. I'll spill my guts about whatever you care to hear after 1880,
but anything prior to my turning's off limits. Take it or leave it.
And speaking of taking it, I'm not doing this out of the goodness of my
heart." He held out a hand. "Where's my honorarium?"
sighed and pulled out his wallet, and counted out five twenties into the
vampire's palm. "Mm. One can but try. Since one of the purposes
of this study is to document the survival of aspects of the host personality
in the post-turning vampire, it would be immensely helpful if we had some
idea of what the human William the Bloody was like."
rolled his eyes. It had been a little galling to discover just how
patchy, incomplete, and downright inaccurate the Council's dossier on him
was--not that he hadn't started a lot of the contradictory stories himself
in the early years of the twentieth century, when he'd been trying to establish
a reputation for himself apart from Angelus and Darla, but weren't these
Council chaps supposed to be vampire boffins? "All present and accounted for,
minus the annoying consciency bits. If you're all that keen to find
out, exercise your massive brain and--"
presuming you gave the correct date for your death, I can have the Council
access Scotland Yard's records for persons discovered dead by violence on
and immediately after that day," Giles said with a wintry smile at Spike's
discomfited look. He began the recording again. "If I recall correctly,
we left off in...?"
gave up. He never should have agreed to cooperate, but cash was cash,
and it wasn't that often that he had a chance to acquire some in a completely
legitimate fashion. The downside was that eventually Giles was going
to pick up enough clues to discover his real name, and... well, what
if he did? Not as if he'd been important enough in life to merit more than
a two-line obituary tucked away in some obscure corner of the Times
. William the not so Bloody, born 1852, died 1880, accomplished bugger
all in between. Finally, some good came of being a complete non-entity.
"New York. Dru and I were hunting the Battery that year, though we could
have gone anywhere, done anything--you wouldn't sodding well believe the
number of drifters there were about. We hadn't eaten so well since the
influenza epidemic during the Great War--God's truth, we could kill two or
three people a day for weeks and no one'd notice. It was like that
everywhere. Whole bloody country on the move, hoping things'd be better
in the next town over, and the locals more relieved than not when some hobo
turned up stiff and minus a few pints, 'cause there's one less stranger to
be knocking at their door looking for handouts and work that wasn't to be
had. We had this cold-water flat in--"
mind started drifting almost immediately. There were few things that
pleased Spike so much as the sound of his own voice, but today his attention
was elsewhere, on the memory of warm hands and warm lips and grey-green eyes
gone hazy with passion, and recollections of seventy-year-old kills couldn't
compete. He hadn't expected her to...any of it.
had no romantic illusions about what it all meant--it was all heat and desire
on her part, the painful prickling of a numb body and soul coming back to
life. It would burn wild and bright and hot and then be gone, leaving
him--one way or another--in ashes. So much more than he'd hoped for,
so very, very much less than he wanted... but he'd take it. Oh,
yes, he'd take it, because who knew when that flame would be snuffed out again?
Better burned than left in the dark. He glanced at the clock on the
shop wall again. Three-thirty-seven. Twenty-three minutes and
fifteen seconds until Buffy walked in the door. He licked his lips
and realized that Giles was staring at him strangely. He had absolutely
no idea what he'd just said. Oh, well. He always had more fun
with these interviews when Dawn was around to play suitably horrified audience,
anyway; Giles lacked an appreciation for Grand Guignol. "So I killed
'em and I ate 'em, the end. Rupert, what are you doing about the Slayer's
turned off the cassette player. "Not that it's any of your business,
but I am working on it." He took off his glasses and began to polish
jogged one foot against the nearest chair leg. "What's the holdup?
Just put her on the bloody payroll."
shrugged, though the set of his shoulders gave more than a little hint that
he was as annoyed about the situation as Spike was. "The Council's still
considering the matter. There's no precedent for an adult Slayer living
independently of her Watcher. Little enough precedent for an adult
Slayer. Few last as long as Buffy has."
takes a licking and..." Buffy. Licking. Rrrrowr
. Giles was staring at him again. Twenty-one minutes and forty-two
seconds. "Never mind. They're making her sweat because she had them
by the short and curlies last year, aren't they?"
thought has crossed my mind," Giles admitted. "I doubt we'd be seeing
quite this much red tape and paperwork had Buffy been slightly, er, more
tactful in her dealings with them. Once I return to England and can
deal with the matter in person I expect things will clear up." He left
unsaid the Or Ripper will have a talk with someone part, but Spike
didn't need to hear it. Giles would have made one hell of a vampire.
The Watcher gave the untranscribed cassettes an irritated glance. "Assuming
this project ever ends and allows me to leave for England, of course."
shrugged. The thought of seeing London again was appealing--he hadn't
been home for decades--but if Giles couldn't manage to live an interesting
life in California, Spike doubted he'd have much better luck in Bath.
And if he hadn't figured out that Willow was dawdling in order to keep
him in the States as long as possible, Spike didn't feel obliged to enlighten
him. "Cheer up, Rupes, I've only got so much life to narrate.
Though if you'll keep paying me I'll be happy to start making things up."
bell on the front door jangled, and Xander bounced in, sporting an impressive
collection of bandages on both hands. "Hey, guys," he said, leaning
over the counter and kissing Anya on the top of her head. He came over
and flopped down at the table. "Hey, G-Man. Where's the Buffster?"
smirked and waved a completely healed hand at him. Giles transferred
the irritated glance from the cassettes to Xander. "She and Willow
and Tara should be here shortly. And don't call me that."
minutes, thirty-one seconds. Spike fidgeted in his chair. Giles,
having learned the hard way that quizzing Spike on anything when he was in
the throes of one of his hyperactive fits was worse than useless, shoved the
tape recorder to one side and began going through the folders again.
Spike got up and started pacing, back and forth from the table to the ladder
leading to the loft where the restricted grimoires were kept. He needed
a cigarette. The alley out back was in shadow at this time of day, but
if he left he might miss her arrival, and he didn't want to miss one more
minute of Buffy if he could help it. Of course he wasn't certain how
she was going to react. Since Dawn and Tara had been witness to their
interrupted snogging session, she couldn't get cold feet and pretend the
whole thing had never happened. Or could she? The Niblet didn't
exactly count, and Tara was the Black Hole of Calcutta of discretion.
She probably wouldn't breathe a word of the incident without Buffy's permission.
doorbell jangled again and Buffy walked in (twelve minutes and fifty-two
seconds early, thank God he hadn't gone for that cigarette!) followed by
Willow and Tara, the former looking tired and the latter uncomfortable.
Buffy was wearing that red halter top that made him want to bite through
the straps. She'd done something to her hair, too, lightened it up
a little, and it curled softly around her shoulders and the smooth creamy
column of her neck. He grinned at her. Couldn't help it.
brushed right by him. Cut him cold, wouldn't meet his eyes. Buffy
skirted the table and sat down between Giles and Xander, eyes still downcast,
white teeth nibbling on her lower lip. Sod it all. She was going
to back out on him; he could feel it in his bones--going to insist that
the whole thing was an aberration and leave him to the cold comfort of Pearly
Palm and her five sisters again. God knows what he'd been expecting;
not hearts and flowers, surely, but some kind of acknowledgment.
She was having second thoughts, and she expected him to wag his tail and
slink back to his doghouse until called for. Well, bugger that.
He'd tasted blood and he wasn't going to give up this easily.
and Tara took their seats, relegating him, as usual, to the background of
the bookshelves. Willow flipped her laptop open and began to finger-dance
across the keyboard. Spike hitched himself up on the railing of the
stairs and glowered. Honesty, is it? Do as I say, not as I do, eh, Slayer?
We'll see about that.
Safely ensconced behind a wall of Scoobies, Buffy kept her eyes attentively
on Xander as he finished narrating his and Spike's adventures of the previous
night. In her peripheral vision, Spike favored her with an insolent
raising of one brow. He was mad. What right did he have to
be mad? Not like she'd signed a pre-nup with him or anything.
It was just one stupid (glorious, mind-melting) kiss. Xander finished
his story and Tara and Willow launched into theirs. Don't look
at Spike. Look at table, not at gorgeous pouting vampire.
She folded her hands. "So--in short, we've got a crew of Glory's left-over
crazies running around sucking brains right and left."
not just that," Xander said. "If this Tanner guy creates a new crazy
every time he does this mind-suck thing for the whole crew, then when do
the crazies reach critical mass? One person won't be enough, and he'll
have to start grabbing two or three at a time. This could get out of
was doodling on a legal pad, making a little sketch of the ritual as Xander
had described it, her fair brows dipping together. "It sounds like
they were using a really weirded-out version of the spell Willow used to
cure me--they're taking mental energy from one person and transferring it
to another." She tapped the pen on one of the curlicues. "I wish you
remembered more of the details."
sor-ree," Xander grumbled. "Next time I'm being sacrificed I'll ask
them to untie my hands so I can take notes."
produced another folder, this one full of printed web documents and photos,
laid it in the center of the table and flipped it open. Buffy leaned
forward and picked one of them up. It was definitely a younger version
of the man she'd confronted in the cemetery, a graduation photo, maybe.
He looked bright and hopeful. "Daniel Evelyn Tanner," Willow said.
"Born May 22, 1956, right here in Sunnydale. Attended Sunnydale High,
graduated near the top of his class, left for Yale in 1974. Nothing
more about him until 1992, when he came back to Sunnydale to live a completely
uneventful life. He's in the phone book and the voting records, but
he seems to be retired. Until Glory captured him and turned him into
one of her brain-dead minions. He was admitted to Sunnydale General
Hospital on April 16, 2001 for observation for schizoid behavior, and disappeared
with the rest of the crazies in May. And that's the last official
word on Mr. Tanner--missing and presumed dead."
snorted. "But actually alive and confirmed nuts."
bit meditatively at her thumbnail. "I don't understand where the loa
fits in. Most of the traditional practitioners in Southern California
are into Santeria, not Voudoun."
it of the bad? This loa thing?” Xander asked. “Some kind
looked up. “Not precisely. Loa or Lwa are Haitian ancestral spirits
or gods, New World versions of the Orisha of Western Africa, which are
primarily Yoruban or Dahomeyan in origin, and while there are some unsavory
a mixed bag, good and bad wise,” Tara finished.
Ritual possession plays a large role in their worship, so this was not necessarily
an inimical move.”
have known if this Tanner was a practicing houngan," Anya said. "Every
witch, wizard, and sorcerer in Sunnydale orders supplies through the Magic
Tara agreed. "I looked some stuff up today too. What he did last
night wasn't a real Voudoun ritual--no drums, no offerings, no invocation,
no nothing. Ghede normally wouldn't come if he was called like that--no
self-respecting loa would. So either Daniel Tanner is an incredibly
powerful wizard, strong enough to summon what amounts to a minor god without
the proper ritual--or Ghede came because he wanted to. Because he had
something important to tell us." She looked at Buffy. "What exactly
did he say to you?"
shrugged. "He gave me three questions--I asked what was wrong with
Willow and how to fix her, mainly--and he gave me the kind of totally useless
answers I usually get from random mythical creatures and then told me that
I was asking the wrong questions anyway." Buffy began picking the eraser
of the nearest pencil to shreds. "Since Willow's fine now, it was
a pretty pointless encounter all around. If there were any shining
beacons of answers in there, I'd be shouting them from the rooftops, promise."
should try to remember exactly what he said," Tara persisted. "Ghede's
advice sounds pointless or strange sometimes, but it's always accurate."
stuck out her lower lip. "Right. For an advice-giving god, he
was a complete pig."
shrugged. "It's a Trickster figure thing. He's dead. The
dead are beyond punishment.”
I wish,” Spike muttered.
continued, “They can do and say what the living don't dare. But the
advice is good, and whatever he said could be vital, so if you can remember
the exact wording--"
try. But right now we have to figure out what to do about the brain-eating
non-zombies. We can't just kill them. This isn't really their
ours," Tara said. "It never even occurred to me to wonder what happened
to all the others...and it should have."
was really upset, Buffy noted. Had she ever felt like that? Spike's
soup kitchen jibe still bothered her. She took her duties as Slayer
seriously, but had she ever really felt that kind of personal concern for
the people she was protecting? She saved lives because it was the
right thing to do, but she couldn't say she got much personal satisfaction
out of it anymore, if she ever had. Was this how Spike felt, going
through the motions of goodness because he couldn't do anything else?
was still there, still looking, pale eyes calling to hers. Do not
stirred uneasily, his hand grasping Anya's. "We were all pretty thrashed
know--but all the rest of the summer?" Tara shook her head. "They've
been living like that for months, trying to take care of themselves--I
know what it's like, being like that! I should have--we should have--"
silence reigned for a moment, to be broken by Spike's impatient, "Should've.
Didn't. Cry me a river. What do we do about it now?"
shot him a daggery look. Did he have to rub her nose in the fact that
he didn't give a flying flip? "We try to fix them. Will--what
about the spell? Is the one they're using defective? You don't have
to go out and turn someone into a drooling idiot every two weeks to keep Tara
pretty sure this Tanner guy's using an inefficient version of the spell.
Maybe he overheard me doing it and didn't catch all the words or something.
My version's a permanent fix, but the energy's still gotta come from somewhere.
Someone. I'm working on it." Willow's tone was a trifle defensive still;
she hunched over the laptop, all her attention on the screen. "But
like I said before, the original mental energy's gone, with Glory. Unless...
maybe I could draw on some other kind of energy..." Her eyes went distant,
then sparked with renewed enthusiasm. "Ooooh. That's a thought."
She snatched Tara's pen and started scribbling, oblivious to Tara's sudden
air of worry.
sat back, relieved. "Coolness. The big gun fires again."
raised an eyebrow, slid off the bannister and sauntered over to the table,
hands in pockets. "Forgetting something, aren't we? While Will
plays Albert Schweitzer this Tanner bloke's out rounding up more brain food."
forgetting, Spike." She began tapping the mangled pencil on the table.
"I just haven't decided what the best course of action is yet. We can't
just take him out. He's human."
dunno, Slayer, quite a few other things seem to have slipped your mind lately."
The acid in his voice snapped her head up to
meet his eyes at last. Buffy shoved her chair back, jumped to her feet
and advanced on him. Spike stood his ground in that hipshot slouch
that she thought of as his hunting pose. She glared up into his half-lidded
eyes, three-inch heels ensuring that she met him only a few inches shy of
nose to nose. She could beat him black and blue if she wanted to and
he couldn't lift a finger to stop her; where the hell did he get off looking
so intimidating? "I haven't forgotten anything."
insolent drawl went straight to the beast in the back of her brain that was
responsible for fighting and... other stuff, caught it by the scruff of the
neck and made it hiss in rage. She hadn't given in to the urge to
hit him for a long time, but she was itching to do so now; there were times
when the only thing that could sum up the tangled mess of emotions he roused
in her was a good swift punch in the nose. Everyone else was watching
them with uneasy confusion. She bared her teeth in something an uninformed
observer might have taken for a smile. "Excuse me," she said, piling
on the sugar, "I need to talk with Spike in private."
grabbed his arm, feeling his muscles tense under her fingers, and dragged
him behind the counter, out the back door of the shop, into the alley.
Too familiar, the scraps of paper, the dirty concrete, the crunch of grit
and broken glass beneath the soles of her feet, the faint nauseating smell
of spoiled food from the dumpster behind the Espresso Pump down the block.
Why did she end up having so many conversations with Spike in alleys?
"What is with you?"
had straightened, weight shifted forward on his toes, watching her like a
cat with a mouse. The faint bitter smirk on his lips was insufficient
mask for the hurt in his eyes. "Gonna hit me, love?" he purred.
"Just like old times? Been awhile, hasn't it? You go right
ahead. Give it to me good. You know you want to."
didn't stop to think why the words were familiar, just lashed out in blind
fury. Spike dodged, but she was just a hair faster than he was, and
her fist clipped his jaw; she felt his teeth graze her knuckles. Spike
fell back with that mad grin, licking his own blood from his lips, feral yellow
flickering in his eyes. A useless, toothless threat; he couldn't bite--or
yes, he could, just not with his fangs, bite deeper than she wanted to think
about. Buffy stood there in the lee of the dumpster, fists clenched,
chest heaving, on the verge of tears for no reason she could name. "What's
wrong with you, Spike?"
shook himself, rolling his shoulders. "With me? Take a sodding
is what it's been all along, isn't it? You really do get off on me beating
you up!" She was going to be sick, she was sure of it. And she
was not, not, not going to hit him again, not going to give him what he
began circling her. "I get off on fighting you, you stupid
bint. You and this lovely piece of silicon in my brain won't let me
get off any other way. And you get off fighting me--don't deny it,
I can smell you getting all hot and bothered. You like whaling on a
bloke who can't hit back? You like it better than what we did last
night?" His voice was a dead-serious snarl. "If I could hit back
I dunno as I could choose one dance over the other either. But you're
going to have to. I know you'll never love me. I'm going to love
you till I'm dust, but I'm damned if I'm going to sit for this. I'll
take the touch any way I can get it, but I get this much say--kiss me or
kick me, but it's one or the other. You can't have both, not till I
can have both too."
a sob she lunged at him. Spike ducked the blow, feinted left and dodged
behind her. Buffy spun to follow him. "Make your mind up, Slayer."
He blocked her incoming fist, dodged her kick and caught her by the heel,
using her momentum to flip her over--all defensive moves, skating on the
narrow edge of what the chip classified an attack. She twisted in mid-air,
landing in a crouch, kicking out from it and knocking Spike's feet out from
under him. He was rolling even as he hit the ground, and bounced to
his feet breathing hard and fast, but far too shallowly for someone who really
needed the oxygen. "What's it going to be, Slayer? This?
Or the other?"
squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep breath. She'd died--twice now,
for crying out loud! Was her life going to be like this forever, slipping
back into the same old patterns like falling into quicksand, jumping back
on the same endless merry-go-round? God knew she she hadn't asked
to come back, but she was here--did it have to be the same thing all over
again? Couldn't she make it different this time, somehow? I don't
love him. He can't love me, or-- No, she couldn't even think about
that, couldn't pull up those three-year-old memories that still throbbed
and ached at certain words, certain glances, like shrapnel healed into an
old wound. I can't, because it would be wrong...
The dead are beyond punishment.
they weren't. Not hardly. But she was on her third life now.
Her life, no one else's. Not Tara's, not Willow's, certainly
not Angel's. Hers, to make of what she would--what she dared.
was still there when she opened her eyes; giving her a long, anything but
expressionless stare. He was always going to be there, watching her
back, irritating the hell out of her, making her life... a life. If
she let him.
was a world, a life, without Spike in it. "This, Spike. It's
going to be this." She lunged for him again, and he didn't make a
move to stop her.
Truth to tell, he'd expected another punch, and didn't have the heart to
block it. But her hands were open, and her fingers warm on the back
of his neck as she grasped him, pulled him down, and his hands were tangled
in the tawny silk of her hair and her sweet vicious mouth was savaging his,
lips tongue teeth devouring one another, she blood to him, he air and food
and water to her. Their bodies spoke to one another, pressed up against
the brickwork, old tensions giving way to new ones--now that they had this
it was impossible not to want more. Soon. Now. How
did this cris-cross thing go? In about ten seconds he would bite through
the damn straps. Her hands left his shoulders and he growled in protest
until he realized that they were tearing at his belt buckle and why in
hell had he been such a git as to wear button-fly jeans today--
gasped into his chest, "Ah! Yeah! Do that!"
froze, fingers tightening on her shoulders. "Love..." He was having
trouble getting enough breath to form the words. "That wasn't me."
turned in his arms, just in time to see the wall of cinnamon-gold fur rolling
by. Bear. Big bear. Fucking enormous bear. The bear
looked at the two of them and shook its massive head, rubbery black lips
peeling away from a set of fangs that put Spike's to shame. The loading
dock of the store across the alley was faintly visible through its sides.
It rumbled at them again, then lurched into motion with a contemptuous grunt.
A minute later it was gone.
collapsed back against the wall, shivering. Buffy stared at him.
"Spike. Spike! You're hyperventilating! Stop breathing!"
She looked up at him, perplexed. "I've seen you take on fire-breathing,
spine-covered, acid-dripping Things five times your size with a song in your
heart. What's the deal with Winnie the Pooh?"
don't like bears, all right?" He straightened up and peered cautiously
around the dumpster. There was no sign of the bear. "It's a
bloody childhood trauma."
bit her lip, trying to hide a smile. "You didn't have a childhood."
opened his mouth, decided that the argument about whether he was or wasn't
William wasn't worth getting into at this point, and prowled round to the
other side of the dumpster, checking for bear tracks. "Well, if it's
not mine, I wish to hell that ponce William had taken it with him when he
left. Just be glad it's not sodding bunnies." He took a deep
breath. "I think that's killed the mood."
wrinkled her nose, taking in their surroundings. "Just as well.
I guess we should go back in." She stuck out her hand, as much a
challenge as a peace offering. "Come on. If I'm going to do
this, I'm going to do it all the way."
that mean what he thought it meant? He must have let the astonished
hope leaping up within him show in his face, for Buffy's eyes grew suspiciously
bright. She took a deep breath of her own, and he could tell she
was shakier than she was letting on. "I--I told you I'd never been
ashamed to know you. So... I shouldn't be ashamed about... wanting
to know you better."
took her hand, feeling it tremble in his until he gave it a squeeze.
She pressed close to him for a moment, holding him with fierce strength
while he buried his nose in the crook of her neck and breathed her in.
He wasn't fool enough to think this meant smooth sailing ever after, but
he was fool enough that, for this moment, he didn't care. She broke
away reluctantly, General Buffy again, and hand in hand they went back into
the shop to face the enemy. Buffy dropped his hand as the entered,
walked to the center of the floor, put both hands on her hips and cocked
her head at the others.
announcement," she said. "You know how we aren't sure how the loa fits
in? Well, make more fitting room--there's now a Chumash bear spirit
in the alley." She paused, forefinger pressed to her lips as if remembering
something. "Also, I was gonna do the whole secret doomed star-crossed affair
thing, but you know what? I've given this a lot of thought, and I just
don't have the energy for one of those right now."
except Willow and Tara looked at her in puzzlement. With an expression
of grim determination, Buffy turned, marched back over to Spike, wrapped
both arms around his neck, pulled his head down and picked up where they'd
this he hadn't expected. Spike broke into an amazed grin as
her small warm body pressed against him and his arms went round her--reflex,
almost; could you develop a reflex in less than twenty-four hours?
Apparently so. Their mouths met with less urgency this time, both
of them knowing now for certain that it wasn't the first-last-only, that
they had all the time in the world to nip and taste and nibble and explore
the really interesting effects you could get with a thirty-four degree difference
in body temperature.
Xander and Giles yelled in outraged unison. Tara looked distressed.
Anya looked up, shrugged, and went back to counting receipts.
not my fault, it's not my fault!" Willow squeaked, hiding behind the screen
of the laptop. "I didn't do anything this time! I promise!"
pulled back for air, cheeks pink, eyes bright, her heart going at trip-hammer
speed; the sound was music. She glared defiantly around the room.
"In orderNo spell. In my right mind. If he misbehaves, I dust
him." Her eyes came home to his, And that would kill me writ
so plain in her gaze that his heart wrenched within him in startled pain;
did she know what her eyes were saying? "Anything else is nobody's business
but ours. Deal. Now that that's out of the way, bear-analyzing
looked down at her, a smile lurking about the corners of his mouth.
"My, Slayer, you certainly do know how to romance a fellow."
wait, wait, you can't just say 'Deal' and leave it at that!" Xander objected.
"Is there straddling involved here? Because I absolutely draw the line at
expected this from Harris. He really had. They'd gotten to tolerate
each other over the summer, but Harris could never quite get over the vampire
thing, and after Buffy's return Spike had been the recipient of all the frustrated
anger he couldn't take out on Willow. One night of chasing through a
park wasn't going to bridge that gap. So why was he surprised at how
much it stung? "Ah, here it comes." Spike slipped a proprietary arm around
Buffy's waist and went for the counter-attack. "Is that a bit of the
green-eyed monster I hear? The vampire's good enough to cheat at pool with,
but I don't want him shagging my Slayer?"
other circumstances the shade of purple Xander was turning would have been
exceptionally entertaining. "Damn straight! How are we supposed to
handle this? Do we say 'Hi, Buffy, congratulations on your new demon lover,
and by the way, have you seen a psychiatrist lately?' Or do we do the awkward
pretending not to notice what's going on, and try to lure her to the psychiatrist
with a trail of jelly doughnuts?" Xander rounded on Giles, who was polishing
his glasses so violently it was a wonder he hadn't worn through the lenses.
"Giles! Tell her she can't do this!"
Watcher's face might have been carved from granite. "At what point
in this conversation has Buffy been replaced by someone who takes my orders?”
He put the glasses back on, studying the two of them. “Buffy--I made
it my policy to keep out of your personal life when you were a girl, as long
as it didn’t interfere with your calling. I see no reason to change
that policy now. I won’t deny that I find this... most inadvisable.
I fear it will end in tragedy--again. But if this is your choice--"
is." The two words held every ounce of Summers determination in her,
and they were the sweetest things Spike could remember hearing in over a
I accept it. As for you--” He looked Spike up and down. “For
better or worse, you are not the vampire Angel was. See to it that you
remain so. You know to exactly what lengths I’m willing to go to protect
nodded slowly. He wasn’t positive, but he thought the odds were better
than even that he’d just been given a compliment as well as a warning.
“Wouldn’t expect any less.”
strode over to the table, tugging him along in her wake. "Now.
Are we going to discuss demony stuff or argue about my love life?"
waved one hand apologetically. "Um, Buff, your love life is
considered for a moment, then slipped her arm around Spike in turn and smiled
up at him impishly. "So it is. End of argument."
Continued in Part 11