By Barb Cummings
Sequel to A Raising in the Sun
Downtown Sunnydale on a Saturday night, an island of small-town ambience
in the ocean of So Cal suburbia. Main Street, lit up with the glitter
and sparkle of Christmas lights, hosts the usual good-time Saturday crowds
augmented by hordes of shoppers. The Bronze, the Espresso Pump, the
Sun Theater, all packed. Go further downtown, towards the docks, and
the streets grow narrower, darker, and the seedier allure of the Fish Tank
and the Purple Onion draw their own circles of clientele.
you are human, you keep to the light, stick with the swirling mass of high
school kids with oversized jeans and backwards baseball caps, college kids
in fashionable piercings and haircuts that had been out of date in L.A. for
weeks, adults young and old grabbing the bit in their teeth and throwing over
the traces of the workweek. If you are human, and have lived in Sunnydale
any amount of time, you know something is out there in the dark, beyond the
sodium glow of the street lamps. You join in the buzz of talk and ever-so-slightly-nervous
laughter and hope that by refusing to name it, you can ward it off.
you aren't human, you keep to the darkness, stalking the mortal herd with
predatory precision. You drift along the edges of the crowds, silent
as the mist that legend said you could turn to--legend was wrong, but who
needed special effects when you had strength and speed and senses far beyond
the mortal? There's nothing human which could match you, much less best
you. Scout the sidewalks, looking for tonight's victim. The blue-haired
woman with the armful of packages? The lanky young man with the soul
patch and the air of existential discontent? Or there, in the alleyway
ahead, the young couple necking heedlessly against the wall, hands and mouths
all over each other, lost in a carnal fog?
you are a vampire, you smile to yourself and glide forward across the gum-pocked
pavement in front of the theater, cruel delight welling deep inside as you
imagine your hand falling on the man's shoulder. You imagine his look
of shock, the woman's terror as you tear his jugular open, the fear in their
eyes as delicious as the blood in their veins. You suit action to thought,
reaching out; but before your hand comes to rest upon its target, the man
in the alley turns to face you in a swirl of black leather. His golden
eyes and ridged brow and sharp-fanged, arrogant smile mirror your own, the
only reflection you will ever know.
you are a vampire, you realize, too late, that there is only one heartbeat
to be heard between them. You start to back away, thinking that you
have intruded upon the other's kill; but there is no blood on his mouth,
and his hand, cold as your own, closes about your wrist with a strength that
exceeds your fledgling prowess by a century or more, pinning you in place.
The delicate pink tip of the woman's tongue darts across her kiss-swollen
lips, and her eyes are bright with excitement, not fear.
you are a vampire, you look upon the faces of the Slayer and her traitorous
consort and know that you've made a terrible, terrible mistake. As
the wooden stake plunges into your chest, there is one moment of needle-sharp,
achingly brilliant pain which lasts forever, the forever you were promised
when your sire first placed your dying lips to the wound at his breast and
bade you suck.
then you are gone.
Buffy nudged the pile of dust at her feet with a disdainful toe, and the
evening breeze finished dispersing the remains of the vampire who'd attacked
them. Spike slouched against the brickwork, watching her with an admiring
half-grin that didn't quite conceal his fangs. She watched him back
from beneath lowered lashes. His pale hands drew a rising arc in the
darkness as he brought his lighter up to meet the cigarette held askew in
one corner of his mouth. His left thumb flicked the striker of the
gold Zippo and the flame leaped up, conjuring twin gold-on-gold reflections
in his eyes. The light lent the momentary illusion of warmth to his
angular features, threw the brow ridges of his demonic face into sharp relief
and cast the hollows of his cheeks into deep shadow. He cupped his
right hand around the cigarette, and the red ember at its tip flared, dimmed,
and brightened again as he drew it to life.
couldn't stand smokers, hated the smell of cigarettes, and was in full agreement
with the old joke about the designated smoking areas in California being
Arizona and Nevada. So why was the sight of Spike lighting up so god-damned
sexy? Something about the way that sensual mouth pursed around the
cigarette...or maybe the way those strong, long-fingered hands manipulated
the lighter... He flicked the lighter off and returned it to his coat
pocket. Smoke trickled from between his parted lips and coiled upwards
in a lazy spiral. "Was it good for you, love?"
as good as this." Buffy dragged him down without waiting for him to
shake off the game face, grabbed his cigarette, and tossed it over her shoulder.
She was afraid for a moment that he'd take her curiosity wrong, but after
a moment's surprise Spike responded with all the enthusiasm she could have
wished, and they were feeling each other up and trading long nicotine-flavored
kisses again. The first time Angel had kissed her he'd vamped out uncontrollably,
and ever after had been wary of it happening again. If anything, Spike
seemed to have the opposite reaction; he had to concentrate to keep from reverting
to human at her touch. Buffy ran her tongue over his teeth, testing
the sharp points of his canines. Different. Dangerous. Thrilling.
She really had meant for tonight to be all business.
Really. They had work to do. Vamps to kill, crazies to track.
So naturally Spike had to show up looking hotter than a two-dollar pistol,
and ride her around on what was essentially a two-wheeled, gas-powered vibrator
until she was all hot and bothered. At least it wasn't just her.
Spike had scarcely let her out of arm's reach all evening--always catching
hold of her hand or touching her cheek or stroking her hair or brushing against
her, as if to reassure himself that she was really there. Or maybe
just to be touching her. For all her own longing, she'd never realized
how starved for physical contact he was, too--going on two days' evidence,
Spike was big on the PDAs.
So they were being businesslike. Really.
Here on the town's main drag it was ever so much more inconspicuous for
the two of them to go arm in arm than to stalk along like a pair of Old West
gunslingers lookin' fer trouble at the OK Corral. Ending up macking
in the alley next to the Sun was just an occupational hazard of going arm
in arm, was all.
His soft cool lips tantalized
her throat, his fangs making little teasing pinpricks against her skin that
never came close to really drawing blood. Some part of her was completely
astonished at all this implied about his control and her trust of it, but
the rest of her shivered and melted as his hand slid up and over her shoulder,
stroking the line of her collarbone where it ran beneath her jacket, then
dropping to cup her breast. Her nipples went taut under his fingers.
He had an unerring sense of what kind of touches, and where, turned her to
goo. Best of all it was mutual; her hands were eliciting all kinds of
happy little rumblings from Spike as they explored the lean hard lines of
his torso. It was very easy to tell exactly what kinds of touches he
liked, and where.
made an attempt to break free of his circling arms that barely qualified
as quarter-hearted. "We should patrol."
implies actually moving from place to place at some point."
nuzzled her collarbone. "I am moving from place... to... mmmmrrrhhrr...."
Now this was a cool discovery; rub a vampire's brow ridges and he'd follow
you anywhere. Fun with game face. Who knew? Spike tilted
his head back with a goofily blissful expression, allowing her easier access
to that completely lickable Adam's apple, and said hoarsely, "Got a dangerous
vampire to keep an eye on right here, Slayer."
She took advantage of the invitation and licked his throat, reveling in
his pleasurable shudder. "I always thought this one was kind of a creampuff.
I hear he uses excessive amounts of hair gel."
many times, pet?" His husky growl went right to the center of her being and
many times did you bring yourself off today, thinkin' about last night?"
him on the chest, hard. Had to be hard; soft wouldn't make an impression
on that rock-solid body. "As if!" Could she make a quick grab
for his shirt pocket and find out what the heck he was hiding in there?
Or would any such attempt degenerate into further sessions of Grope The Vampire,
and would either of them really object if it did?
only laughed. "How many?"
looked up, biting her lower lip with a reluctant smile. "Twice."
At his skeptical look, "Well, twice before Tara got home." Her smile
went wicked. "And you?"
nipped at her pouting lip and chuckled. "If the whelp had shown up a
few minutes earlier he'd've gotten an eyeful. I'll be in Guinness for
non-stop wanking any day now if this keeps up. Not that I wasn't close
reached down and toyed with the buttons of his fly, cupping the already sizeable
bulge in his jeans and letting her fingers stray to one side, then
the other, teasing him through the worn black denim. "Seems to
me like you're keeping up very nicely." He groaned and his cock jerked
and hardened further beneath her touch. So nice not to have
to pretend Spike didn't exist below the belt buckle, especially when
the real estate in that neighborhood was so choice. It was a little
aggravating that he could scent her arousal no matter how she might try to
hide it, but everyone could see just how hot she got him, and it gave
her a heady, joyful jolt of sexual power. She did that to him,
she, Buffy Summers, the one Angelus hadn't thought worth a second go, the
one Riley had left for not needing him enough.
growled deep in his chest and ground his body into hers. She was half
a breath away from yanking the jeans right off those narrow, muscled hips
(damned if she could tell what besides his hard-on kept them up in the first
place) and going down on him right then and there when the scream tore through
the noise of traffic and Saturday crowds.
Bugger," Spike snarled with truly heartfelt viciousness.
bit back similar sentiments. Time to save the world, or at least the
local part of it. "Sounds like it came from across the street.
dashed out of the alley and down the sidewalk, dodging pedestrians and prompting
a few more shrieks from the people who noticed that Spike was still all fangy.
Vaulting the hood of an acid-green Nissan parked at the intersection, Buffy
paused on the corner, trying to concentrate on the tingle along her nerves
that meant vampires were nearby. She'd never been as good at this aspect
of the Slayer biz as the hitting parts, and having to filter out Spike's
overwhelming presence didn't make it any easier. Still... "There,"
she said, pointing.
gaze followed her outstretched hand and he nodded, eyes lighting at the prospect
of carnage. There were four this time. Smarter than the one who'd
attacked earlier, too. Two of them, human features to the fore, were
standing guard in the mouth of the alley behind the hairdresser’s, camouflaged
in seedy-young-adult uniforms of baggy jeans and oversized flannel shirts.
Both stared insolently at the passers-by and silently dared anyone to venture
past them. No one was taking them up on it. In the shadows of
the alley behind them, two dimly visible figures loomed over a body sprawled
out on the oil-stained concrete. Its leg kicked fitfully, once.
guard-vamps sprouted fangs and dropped into a fighting stance the moment
the two of them approached. Buffy shot a look at Spike--all it ever
took. She dove at the vamp on the right while he tore into the one
on the left with a joyful roar. Instead of closing with her foe she
feinted, dropped, and rolled under his swing to come up behind him.
She back-kicked as she came to her feet and slammed her heel into his kidneys
as Spike grabbed his opponent by the scruff of the neck and rammed his head
into the wall. The force of Buffy's kick sent her target staggering
forward face-first into Spike's waiting fist, but she didn't bother to track
his progress; without hesitation she leaped at the pair who were feeding
on the man on the ground. She dug her fingers into the nearest one's
shoulder and yanked him upright. "Hey, Mr. Selfish! Didn't your
mom teach you that you shouldn't eat if you didn't bring enough for everyone
in the class?"
interrupted vampire snarled and lunged at her. She smashed a hard left
into his jaw, sending him reeling back into the side of the nearby dumpster.
Buffy grinned, flexing her hand. Oh, yeah, that felt good.
The second one's head snapped up, runnels of crimson
trailing from the corners of her mouth. "Make-up's running, Elvira.
Have a wet-nap." She snapped a front kick at the crouching vampire,
catching her right under the chin. "Oopsie. That was my boot."
Number One kicked off the dumpster and pounced her from behind. She
elbowed him in the nose, whirled in place and drove her fist into his solar
plexus. His legs went out from under him and she brought her knee up
to catch him in the face again. The sound of bones breaking was music.
Yeah. This was the stuff. Get out all that... frustration.
caught a glimpse of Spike as she spun, engaged in his own dance with the other
two. He was outright toying with them--he'd shifted back to human form,
foregoing the extra advantage of strength and speed that letting his demon
aspect surface gave him--saying, in essence, I don't need it for
you. He'd leave himself open, let them get in a hit or two,
think they had him going, and then let go with a lightning-swift series of
brutal kicks and blows. His face was alight with that huge tongue-wagging
grin, loving the fight, turned on as all hell by the act of pummelling someone
into the ground.
He caught her eye and winked, conspiratorial.
off on it.
suppose you're telling me you don't?
cramp of self-disgust in her stomach had a knock-down drag-out with the adrenaline
rush of the fight, and lost--for the moment, anyway. The moment almost
cost her; both of her foes took instant advantage of her distraction and for
a second she staggered under the impact of their fists. She crashed
into the side of the dumpster and the side panel fell open with a clang; one
of the plastic bags inside burst and garbage cascaded out onto the ground.
Buffy leaped to her feet, well and truly pissed off now. "Do you realize
this blouse has to be dry-cleaned?" she snapped, whipping out her stake.
"No more Ms. Nice Slayer!"
at the mouth of the alley Spike had taken note of her slip and already disposed
of one of his foes; now he wrestled the second one into a headlock and wrenched,
hard. The guard-vamp's scream was cut off as his head and body parted
was coming for her, bursting right through the shower of grey-brown particles
which were all that was left of his opponent. Buffy rammed her
stake home, straight through the rib cage of the female vamp, and whirled,
looking for the other one--no way was she going to let Spike dust more vamps
in a night than she got. There he was, by the dumpster, just turning
to face her. She readied the stake for a blow. Spike fell into
position behind the remaining vamp, boxing him in. Buffy struck.
The vampire howled in fear and dodged, but she'd taken that into account.
Mr. Pointy arced towards his heart.
had told her more than once during their training sessions that the opponent
most to be feared was the inexperienced one, because they were the most unpredictable.
Over the years Buffy had found the advice to be accurate, but pretty much
useless--how could you predict something that wasn't predictable? Or
in this case, even an opponent? The vamp gang's victim, still supine,
had kicked the last vampire's legs out from under him. Her target was
now flat on his butt on the ground, and her stake was now headed straight
for Spike's chest.
slowed to a crawl. She saw Spike's eyes go wide, and his right forearm
start up to block her at the approximate speed of molasses in January.
She screamed at the pokiness of her nerve impulses, which were moseying
from her brain to her arm at much the same pace.
managed to divert her aim a fraction; he managed to block. The stake
went flying. Shaking with equal parts relief and absolute fury, she
bent and wrenched the nearest piece of sharp wood off the pallet leaning
up against the wall behind the dumpster and stabbed it into the fallen vampire's
chest. She stood there staring down at the place where it wasn't any
longer, unable to control her shivering. That could have been--could
have been-- "Spike! Are you OK?"
patted himself down. "Yeh. Still undead, no thanks to..."
A fearful whimper at their feet broke the spell. Spike's head turned
slowly, his eyes sparking gold. The man who'd almost been lunch staggered
to his feet, clutching the dumpster. Dark-haired, husky, wearing a
Dodgers t-shirt... "You. I know you," Spike whispered.
"Ramon, innit?" He smiled, the sweet, bone-chilling smile which presaged
casual bloodshed, and without any further warning his hand shot out to clamp
around Ramon's throat.
had always been characteristic of Spike that he could go from edgy annoyance
to full-blown murderous rage in the space of an eyeblink. It didn't
happen often these days; two years of living with the chip had forced him
to learn how to muzzle that demonic temper, but every now and then it chewed
through the straps. It's OK, Buffy thought, the chip will...
flashed on the night a month ago when she'd been dragged unwilling back to
life, and the fight with Magnus Bryce's men: the crack of gunfire, the fiery
lash of the bullet creasing her arm, Spike's fangs sinking into the neck
of the man who'd shot her, heedless of the pain the ship was causing... and
for the first time it really sank in that the chip made it very difficult
for Spike to kill people--and very difficult was not the same as impossible.
fist met Spike's nose just before his fingers met flesh. He staggered
with the double pain of her blow and the chip-shock, dropping the terrified
Ramon immediately. Buffy heaved him up by the lapels with all her
strength, tossing him across the alley and into the wall. He hit with
an audible thump, slid down the wall and crumpled to the ground, clutching
his head. Plainly dizzy and aching, he found his feet, then reeled
back into the brick wall as Buffy's hard little fist smacked into his nose
a second time.
ASSHOLE!" she yelled. Buffy interposed herself between Ramon and Spike,
balanced on the balls of her feet, fist cocked and ready to hit the vampire
again despite the tears welling in her eyes and the quiver of her mouth.
"What are you THINKING?" For a long moment the two of them remained
frozen, eyes locked, Spike's bloodied face a mask of impotent fury, all the
more frightening for remaining human. "Spike..."
voice broke on his name, and perhaps he sensed the fear behind her anger.
The rage in his eyes melted away as they softened from gold to blue, and he
held out a placating hand. "Sorry, love--got a little carried away--"
away? Don't 'love' me, you--!" Her fist lashed out and Spike's
expression hardened again--he grabbed her wrist before she could connect,
making no move to fight her, but pulling her close and holding on, hard,
before she tore her arm from his grasp. Buffy slapped both palms flat
against his chest, ready to shove him off. She made the mistake of
looking up and was instantly lost in the lustful, adoring azure of his eyes.
late for that, pet."
breath made a little hitching noise in her throat. "This isn't a game!
You could have killed--" Ramon? Anyone? Should it have
occurred to her that he could kill her too?
shook his head with a rueful laugh and let her go, massaging his temples.
"It didn't come off, did it?" He licked the trickle of blood from his upper
lip. "And yours truly's got a bugger of a headache to keep me company
for the next hour. No harm, no foul."
was a voice in the back of her head yammering No harm, no foul, no, it's
wrong wrong wrong but I need him want him love--oh God, not that, not now,
don't say it don't think it--still a monster, still a monster--
his dark eyes like saucers, broke and ran, kicking up a shower of garbage.
Spike yelled as a crumpled milk carton smacked him in the head.
Buffy gasped. "I mean, catch him!"
The UC Sunnydale library had been built in the 70's, during a phase when
architecture was all blocky textured cement pillars and plate glass.
In the summer, in the daytime, the interior was pleasantly light and airy,
but at night, in the winter, sitting too close to those vast blank windowed
walls could give you the unnerving sensation of floating in some starless
just went to show, Willow thought, giving the page in front of her a moody
flip, that you could make anything creepy if you tried hard enough.
She sighed and pulled her German dictionary over to look up another irregular
verb. Obviously she wasn't trying hard enough, because the evening
remained as prosaic as it could possibly be. Other students with book
bags slung over their shoulders or varicolored stacks of texts in their arms
drifted past her carrel in knots of twos or threes, exchanging low whispers
on the location of the nearest card catalogue terminal, or the periodical
literature room. Willow peered at them over the stacks of dictionaries
and reference books piled around her. No one seemed nervous.
There were no ominous flickering lights, no manifestations of power.
hadn't been hoping for any, she told herself sternly. She was just doing
research. Translating. Sure, the last time she'd opened this
book she'd been caught up in a transcendent mystical experience unlike anything
she'd ever known. But it had been wrong, and creepy, and evil, and
anyway, things had been different then.
Then you had power.
hand tightened on the pencil and the point snapped off, leaving a snail-trail
squiggle of graphite across her translation notes. "Oh--" She
looked guiltily around. It was practically sacrilegious to swear in
a library, wasn't it? "Bugger," she finished in a much softer voice.
There. British swearing didn't count. Giles had done it all the
time. Willow Rosenberg, too much of a weenie to say fuck in a library.
With a sigh she returned to her task. The scribbled footnote she was
currently translating ran over onto the next page. She turned the yellow,
dog-eared vellum over and began the laborious task of translating the next
"In the next chapter," an oddly familiar voice
said. Willow's head jerked up. Her reflection in the night-black
glass gazed back, her but not her: a young woman in red lace and black leather
posed seductively in her carrel, leaning on one hand and looking at her with
a coquettish tilt of her head. Her hair, longer than Willow’s, fell
in russet sheaves about her pale, pixie-ish face. "Hi, Snuggles."
She wiggled the fingers of her free hand at Willow. "What we want.
In the next chapter." Her lips curved in a pouting smile and her voice
grew husky. "Wanna look?"
jumped to her feet, sending several of the books tumbling to the floor.
She rubbed her eyes, hard, but her vampire avatar was gone, and the reflection
in the window was her own prosaic self. "I'd say this verges on
the disturbing," she muttered. Well, she'd wanted a transcendent mystic
experience... She looked down at the shabby little book on the desktop,
and after a few false starts, extended her hand and ran a finger over the
pages. What was that disturbing rust-colored stain sticking those two
leaves together? Best not think about it. One by one, she turned
the pages until the next chapter heading leaped out at her from the top of
one of them. The crabbed, archaic lettering blurred into illegibility
in several places further down the page, but the title was clear: Addressing
That Which Abides In The Great Darkness.
didn't sound good. Let's face it, nothing in this puppy is Norman Vincent
Peale material. She sat down again, tracing the lines of text with
one finger and frowning at the difficult language. The first few chapters
of the grimoire had been devoted to necromantic spells of various kinds:
spells to bind a ghost to your service, spells to reanimate the dead, spells
to create zombies. The next few chapters had dealt with living souls,
but had been no less uncomfy to contemplate--here there were spells for influencing
decisions and clouding minds.
she'd hoped to find was something that would restore a damaged spirit and
allow her to regain her magic. This, however, was an invocation of
some kind, though the author was cagey about what exactly was being summoned.
Odd. Knowing the correct name of the being you were invoking was vital;
otherwise you risked losing control.
Who art beyond the light of sun or moon
Who precedeth time, who art the final darkness
My soul is yours; grant me therefore all that I
Yea, though my desires be as the boundless sea shalt
thou satisfy them
And in retu--
The rest of the page was hopeless; at some point, someone had spilt ink
over half of it. Willow turned to the next page; it wasn't in good
condition, but she thought that it might still be decipherable if she worked
at it. Still, this wasn't at all what she was looking for. Summoning
some nameless, really-not-good-sounding critter was not on the agenda.
Even if it could satisfy desires as boundless as the sea. Which did
kind of cover getting one's mojo back, didn't--
slammed the book shut, stood up, and began stuffing things into her backpack.
It was past time to get home.
Not catching someone was a good deal more difficult than it looked.
ahead of them Ramon staggered to a halt and doubled over in the crimson glow
of a NO VACANCY sign, hands braced against his knees. Lincoln had once
been the main route into Sunnydale, back before the interstate came through,
and was lined with a string of grungy little motels built back in the 40's--horseshoes
of little detached cabins rejoicing in decaying pioneer ambience. Spike
could remember staying in ones just like them on cross-country trips with
Dru, in the days when they'd been new and fashionably kitschy. He made
a mental note to mention the fun factor of faux log cabin sex to Buffy, and
to leave out the part about having the inhabitants of the cabin next door
in the shadows of the Ace Hardware store across the street, Spike watched
as Ramon looked up, scanning the apparently deserted street. The vampire
could see the droplets of sweat beading on his brow, each one reflecting
the gory neon light. The breeze brought the ambrosial scent of blood
and fear to his nose. Ramon'd tried to be tricky at first, but his
pursuers knew downtown Sunnydale intimately, and they were both faster and
had more endurance than he did. After ten minutes of dodging through
alleys and doubling back, their quarry had taken a straight course down Lincoln
towards the edge of town. And he was their quarry, no doubt about that.
They'd loped along behind him for a good three miles now, like wolves wearing
down a deer on the Discovery Channel. It had been a long time since
he'd hunted a human being in earnest, but the old skills returned with gratifying
the time it took the man to wipe the sweat from his brow Spike left the doorway,
flowing down the darkened sidewalk with unearthly swiftness to crouch behind
the wire lattice shading a bus bench twenty feet closer to his mark.
Across the street he caught a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye:
Buffy, leaving her own hiding place for new concealment. A breath later
she was by his side, her gaze never leaving the back of Ramon's head.
carried herself with tense grace of a lioness stalking a gazelle. There
was a wildness of spirit in her that called out to him in kinship, and reveled
as he did in the hunt and the kill, that leapt up in joy within her when
danger made the blood run quick and hot in her veins. Artemis of
Sunnydale, Night’s huntress/Shall I behold thy unclothed glory/and the hounds
of my heart tear my flesh...? Oh, that’s brilliant, that is.
No improvement in compositional skills in a hundred and twenty years, I
see. No, no cold, chaste huntress this beside him. She brooked
no comparison to old goddesses, this woman who could out-fight and out-fuck
the lot of them. Whatever siren song the night held for her, Buffy
had always denied it sway over her life, living with a fierce resolve that
the Slayer in her would be servant, not master. He wasn’t sure if he
loved her more because of or despite that resolve and the distance it put
never been able to take Dru on a hunt like this; she was too easily distracted--ironic
that he was finally getting to share this particular thrill with someone only
after he could no longer bring it to its deadly conclusion. Buffy laid
a hand on his thigh, splayed fingers warm through the black denim, and suddenly
the lack of a deadly conclusion didn't seem such a hardship. Perhaps
he'd take to carrying a camera like those ponces who couldn't bear to shoot
the cute furry animals.
glanced at him and made a small motion towards Ramon, a question in her eyes.
Spike shook his head. Normally he was willing to follow her lead on
patrol, but this was his element. Buffy fought demons; she had little
experience with hunting humans. Ramon straightened and jogged off again.
Spike laid a restraining hand on Buffy's shoulder, allowing their prey to
move on unmolested for a moment before continuing the pursuit.
"He's headed for the dump," he whispered.
minutes later, they were half-crouched at the summit of a mountain of junk,
peering over the crest and down into the valley below. Buffy brushed
at the unidentifiable smear of black gunk on her sleeve with distaste.
"Why can't more villains lair in luxury condos?"
was stretching it. In an arroyo formed by two intersecting ranges
of trash, half a dozen crazies were visible in the rubble. One of them
going from one ramshackle shelter to the next delivering food--plastic-wrapped
microwave burritos, it looked like. The others, under Tanner's supervision,
busied themselves with the Sisyphean task of keeping the shelters from falling
to pieces around them, adjusting the positions of old doors and pieces of
plywood and sheet metal according to some arcane architectural plan.
"Bloody Hooverville down there," Spike muttered. The aggravating thing
was that this miniature Calcutta had been growing practically under his nose
all summer--he came to the dump at least once a week to scout for useful discards.
Not that he would have considered it anything more than a possible source
of amusement if he had discovered it, but he'd probably have mentioned it
to one of the humans, and they'd doubtless have felt the need to investigate,
and the whole mess could have been nipped in the bud far earlier.
it wasn't as if they'd hung out a welcome sign. They'd done a bang-up
job of hiding their little community among the winding canyons of trash.
Nothing was visible from the area of the dump near the front gate, and since
he'd often had Dawn with him on his own expeditions here over the summer,
he'd avoided foraging too far afield. "Now what?"
elbowed herself up over a broken-legged record cabinet and frowned down at
the collection of huts. "Survivor: The Hellmouth! gets yanked
for low ratings," she said. "Number one, we take Tanner out. Number
two, we get the rest of his little Kool-Aid cult. Number three... I
haven't gotten to number three yet." She dropped back down behind the
crest of the trash heap and kicked a tangle of old Christmas tree lights out
of her way.
say that 'Get em's' not a plan after my own heart, love, but exactly what
are we going to do with them once they're got?"
looked disgruntled. "If Tara's right and Will can't fix them up, I
don't know what we can do. But they shouldn't be living here like this,
no matter what. Maybe I can talk to Dawn's social worker about it.
She's got to be good for something besides dropping by to snoop for dirty
dishes." She glanced over her shoulder. "This bites. I
don't do strategy. Giles does strategy. I hit things."
sucked his cheeks in. "The Watcher isn't going to be around to do strategy
much longer, pet."
made her flinch. Without a word, Buffy got to her feet and began picking
her way through the rubbish, back towards the front gate. Spike followed
her in a small landslide of trash. He studied the set of her shoulders
as they walked; her arms were folded across her chest and she kept her head
down. The retreat into blank non-emotion was painful in contrast to
the animation she'd shown five minutes ago.
they reached the gate to the dump Spike hesitated, then took a couple of longer
strides to catch up with her, and fell into step at her side. He couldn't
help feeling that he was taking an enormous chance, somehow, despite all
they'd shared in the last twenty-four hours, but buggered if he was going
to let her crawl into her shell again and pull the shell in after her.
He put an arm round her shoulders. Buffy looked up at him, startled,
and for an instant she stiffened, about to pull away. But she didn't,
and bit by bit the tenseness drained out of her. At last she leaned
into his side, butting her head into his shoulder with a muffled sigh.
"It's so much easier when you can solve problems by killing something," she
mouth twitched in a wry smile. "Tell me about it."
It was well past midnight when they rolled into the Summers' driveway.
Buffy pulled off her helmet and shook her hair out. "Gah. You
are never, but never, going to con me into driving that monster again.
It's like a recurring Driver’s Ed nightmare."
leaned back in the seat and grinned at her. "Come on, if the Bit can
drive it, surely it's not too much for the mighty Slayer! But if it
makes you wobbly in the knees, next time you can take the bike." Buffy's
speculative look made him regret the offer instantly. Her only advantage
over Dawn as a chauffeur was possession of a valid driver's licence--he might
drive like a maniac, but Buffy Summers drove like an inexperienced maniac.
Following along behind her on the motorcycle for the brief drive from the
Magic Box back to the cemetery would have been heart-stopping had his heart
been beating in the first place, and went a long way towards explaining why
she cadged so many rides with him when she had her mother's perfectly good
SUV sitting in the garage. He gave the motorcycle a protective pat
and silently promised it never to let her near the ignition. "Well.
Suppose I'd better be getting on home."
stood in the driveway, turning the helmet round and round in her hands.
"Do you--I mean, it’s not that late--would you like to come in for a bit?"
allowed himself a smirk at her incongruous attack of propriety. "This
the bit where I'm supposed to shuffle my feet and look shy? Right--"
He adopted a dreadful American accent. "Gosh, Buffy, that'd be swell!"
get off the bike and come on!" Buffy snapped, but her eyes were sparkling.
"I'm only inviting you in so I can palm Dawn's gross casserole off on you."
Bit's a culinary genius, and someday you Philistines will appreciate her."
Spike let down the kickstand, and swung off the bike to follow her inside.
The house was dark, not that that made any difference to him, and there was
no sign of light from upstairs. Willow or Tara sometimes made a late
night of spellcasting on weekends, but not tonight, apparently.
maneuvered around the furniture in the darkened living room and turned on
the light in the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator and began rummaging
around. "Speaking of munchies, you want anything? Tara left some
you'd never ask, I'm half famished." Spike reached over her shoulder
and snagged the carton of pig's blood, twisted the cap off and took a long
made an irritated noise and pointed across the kitchen to the cupboard where
the glasses were. "Spike, were you raised in a barn? Don't drink
out of the carton!" She looked nonplused for a moment. "Did I
just say that? Kafka moment. I'm turning into a giant Mom.
You've got my permission to kill me now."
are worse fates, love," Spike said with a chuckle. He went over to
the cupboard, took his usual glass from the shelf and poured himself a generous
helping of the pig's blood. He stuck the glass in the microwave and
took the carton back to the fridge; Buffy was examining one of the wrapped
up hamburgers with a faintly queasy expression.
think this one's yours--that, or Tara's getting really forgetful." She handed
it to him; to Spike's delight it was practically raw and oozing blood all
over the bun.
that was right thoughtful of her." Spike took a large bite and raised his
eyebrows at Buffy's gagging noises. "Wha?" He retrieved his glass
of blood and took it and the burger into the living room, set them down on
the coffee table and sprawled out on the couch with a sigh of content. Buffy
followed him in a moment later with her rather more well-done meal and a
mug of decaf tea--mint, by the smell of it--shoved him over and curled up
were both too occupied with wolfing down their post-midnight snack to say
anything for awhile, and Spike felt no need to break the companionable silence
afterwards. Buffy didn't seem to be in a particularly amorous mood;
she had the faint line between her brows which denoted deep thought, and
was content to burrow into his side and draw comfort from his nearness.
Spike sipped his slowly cooling blood, listened to her heart beat, and tried
to figure out why he felt so odd. Bloody hell. I'm happy.
lied to Will and Tara the other morning," Buffy said.
cocked his head inquiringly and said nothing. She continued, "I told
them I'd had a revelation--about how no one's happy all the time, so it was
normal that I wasn't, yippee skippee I'm getting better." She contemplated
her tea. "I did have a revelation that morning, but that wasn't it."
made a non-committal go-ahead noise. The tension had returned to her
limbs, as if what she was telling him was difficult for her to get out.
"It was about you pulling me out of the way of that truck. I almost
died. Again. And I realized--you're not going to be there every
time a truck comes along. Sooner or later, I will die again. It
was such a peaceful feeling. I don't even have to do anything suicidal--I'm
the Slayer. You said it yourself--Death's always on my tail."
fingers tightened on her shoulder. "Buffy... you know that promise
I made you, when you first came back?"
looked up at him with solemn eyes; in this light they were stormy grey.
"You're not backing out on it, are you? Willow claims the only reason
you're sorry I came back is because I'm unhappy about it."
shook his head and set his blood down on the coffee table, disturbing her
briefly with the movement. "Well... yeh, she's right there."
He leaned back once more and tucked her under his arm, his free hand straying
to her face and stroking her cheek. "No fear. When you die next,
I'll make sure you stay dead. But fair warning, Slayer--I'm on your
tail too, and if the bloke with the scythe thinks he'll get to you again without
a fight from yours truly, he's in for a shock." He dropped his head
to rest his forehead on hers, cringing a little at the broken note he couldn’t
quite keep out of his voice. "I'm sorry, love, that's the best I can
do. I'm a selfish bastard, and it's all I'm ever going to have, this
right here. I want it to last. I don't know where we vamps go
when we get dusted, but it's bloody well certain to have a warmer climate
than wherever you end up."
haunted look crossed Buffy's face for an instant. She reached up, her
fingertips tracing a feather-light path down the arch of his cheek in unconscious
mirroring of his gesture. As if, mirabile dictu, the thought of his
not being there troubled her, and she sought reassurance of his presence.
"I can live with that. So to speak.” She laughed a little.
“I'm beginning to think... maybe I wasn't lying to them after all."
The line between her brows reappeared, and she tilted her chin up, regarding
him with upside-down gravity. "You wanted to kill Ramon tonight."
raised his head and looked down at her for a long, level moment. She
kept her eyes fixed on his, but he could feel a tremor running through her.
He longed to say something that would soothe it away, return the laughter
to her eyes. To lie to her. The one thing he’d never been able
to pull off, even if he hadn’t promised... You want it real, Buffy
Anne Summers... He braced himself. "Vampire, love. I always
want to kill them." She lay against him, quiescent, listening,
neither drawing closer nor pulling away. He felt the restless urge
to get up and start pacing, but as long as she was willing to sit here he
wasn't minded to encourage her to leave. So why are you still talking,
you git? "Most of them, anyway. Don't want to kill you.
Or the Bit. Or the rest of your little gang of followers--well, Harris,
sometimes, but he'd stain the rug. We do that, you know. Not
kill the people we... get on with."
basically we've got half a dozen people you wouldn't kill if the chip came
out tomorrow, and then there's the rest of the world?" Her voice was
remarkably steady; no one less attuned to her minute shifts of mood would
have caught the quaver beneath the confidence. “You see, I need to know
where I stand, Spike.”
rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Not exactly. Look, there's always
been categories, like. People who shoot you, or tie me up and sodding
near turn my brain to tapioca--I'll always want to kill them. Most
people, I don't give a damn about them one way or the other. Unless
I'm bored or peckish or pissed off, and then I want to kill them. There's
necessary people, like Bernie Kohlermann or Willy, and I won't kill them,
even if I want to--" And let's not examine the laundry list of humanity
piling up in this category too closely, William, because I don't fancy explaining
exactly how Dawn's silly little bints of friends are vital to your continued
existence, do you? It's like bloody stray cats, once you give 'em names-
- "And then there's people I... love, and I don't want to kill them unless
they're being particular bitches--oi, mind the leather! But it's not
the wanting or not wanting that matters in the end, is it? It's
whether or not they end up on the dinner menu." He hesitated.
of them looked up at the noise on the stairs. Tara stood there, clutching
her robe to her. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I fell asleep.
I wouldn't have interrupted, but I heard voices, and--it's Dawn. I
got the call right after you checked in at ten, and then I tried calling back,
but you'd left and no place else I called had seen you. She--she got
Continued in Part 14