By Barb Cummings
Sequel to A Raising in the Sun
She'd been caught. She couldn't believe she'd been caught. That
wasn't supposed to happen. She wasn't supposed to be in Sunnydale's
Second Precinct, locked up in a bare holding cell that smelled like six
years worth of stale barf. Dawn huddled on the grimy bench that ran
along the back wall, staring down at the loops and splatters of stains decorating
the worn linoleum between the toes of her sneakers, and tried very hard not
to throw up.
the old woman crooned, shuffling a little closer and reaching out towards
Dawn's hair. "Such a pretty green."
flinched away, and the woman's brown-paper-bag face crumpled into lines of
hurt and disappointment. She drew her three layers of tatty sweaters
more closely around her and shuffled away again, muttering under her breath.
Dawn drew a silent breath of relief and relaxed her guard slightly.
She hated the fact that even though her career as a mystical McGuffin was
supposed to be over, she still roused unpredictable reactions in people who
weren't quite in touch with reality. They feared her or adored her,
and there didn't seem to be anything she could do about it but try to avoid
them. The two of them had been playing musical chairs around the cell
for the last hour, except without music and without chairs. The old
woman was probably a harmless kook, in for panhandling or loitering or something,
she told herself. Not every street person in Sunnydale is a member of
Mystery Man Tanner's gang of Nutcase Commandos, out to suck your brains.
like you've made a new best friend," the girl on the other end of the bench
observed. She was maybe a year or two older than Dawn, with thin, fox-sharp
features, and a vaguely Goth-y air--dead black hair, raccoon-mask of mascara,
and artfully ragged layers of black skirts over black tights bagging a little
at the knees. She'd asked Dawn if she had any cigarettes when she came
in, and had ignored her since.
shrugged, keeping her eyes on her toes.
your first time?"
shrugged again. Shut up. Don't talk to me. I'm not really
here. The other girl smiled, a knowing grin that didn't reach
her ice-colored eyes. "Yeah, first time. I can tell. You're
all twitchy and stiff, like you're too good to be here."
shut up, shut up... Dawn chanted to herself. Couldn't the floor
swallow her? Where was the Hellmouth when you really needed it? The embarrassment
was almost worse than the fear. She'd been in worse places, in far more
danger. But this was different. This was no surreal nightmare
with demons and magic which would fade in the light of day. This was
stupid, boring, real-world trouble which would only get worse when the sun
get used to it," the Goth chick concluded.
felt her face growing hot. No, I won't! She let the wave
of self-pity wash over her and tried to distract herself with the daydream
she'd been constructing ever more elaborate versions of since she'd gotten
here. By now it was practically a five-act epic complete with orchestra
and hors d'oeuvres during intermission.
was about Christmas, which imposed a high lameness factor. But Halloween
had been a nightmare, what with Buffy's Raising and their dad freaking and
everything, and Thanksgiving had been a Family Value Bucket from KFC, so she
figured she was due one good holiday this year. She knew just how it
would go, and if she scrunched her eyes really tight she could see it all
Eve, Willow would be all recovered and she and Tara would be laughing together
again. Spike would show up early, dashing from car to porch and trailing
smoke in the last rays of the setting sun. Buffy would make some sarcastic
remark about the brain-deadness of certain vampires, but she'd be smiling.
The witches would curl up in the big overstuffed chair, and Spike and her
sister would sit on the couch with her, and they'd have popcorn and Christmas
cookies and cocoa.
the hall where the men's cells were someone was yelling, a hash of words that
didn't make any sense. Dawn clapped her hands over her ears, but it
didn't help much. The black-haired girl laughed. Dawn tried to
melt into the bench while touching as little of its surface as possible.
She added phantom jimmies to the illusory cookies.
know, you'll be more comfortable if you take that pole out of your ass," the
black-haired girl said.
up," Dawn muttered. They'd have sandwiches and turn on the TV and
watch Ralphie scheme to get the Red Rider air rifle, and toss back eggnog
with a splash of rum (or in Spike's case, rum with a splash of eggnog) every
time someone said "You'll shoot your eye out!" and everyone would get a little
bit silly. Then they'd watch Jimmy Stewart race down Main Street in
the snow while Spike complained that the SNL sketch where the townsfolk banded
together to beat Mr. Potter to death was a much better ending.
When the movies were over she'd go to the record cabinet that still held Mom's
collection of LPs, and pull out the scratchy old Bing Crosby album and put
it on. And she'd pretend she was too old and sophisticated for carols,
and Tara would tease her and she'd let herself be convinced and they'd sing
along to "White Christmas."
old woman shuffled over again and picked up a lock of Dawn's hair, running
it through her fingers. "Pretty shiny light..."
the tears of stress that pricked her eyes, Dawn jerked her head away, jumped
to her feet and hissed, "Go away!"
woman stared at her for a long moment and then tears began spilling from her
eyes, winter rains flooding the eroded planes of her face. Deep wracking
sobs shook her, the sort of unguarded weeping no one over the age of five
should be doing in public. Dawn stood in the middle of the cell, thin
fingers clasping her arms in an agony of embarrassment. Great.
Now on top of everything else, she felt like shit for making a crazy old woman
would go to bed, and Buffy would get Spike a blanket and a pillow for the
couch, but if Dawn stayed awake long enough there'd be footsteps on the stairs.
She'd shout them out of bed at six-thirty in the morning, snicker at Buffy's
feeble attempts at explaining why Spike was there, and have sisterly blackmail
material for the next week. And Tara would put the turkey in the oven,
and her sister would put on airs because she remembered what a potato ricer
was, and Spike would hang around being male and nuiscancy and try to steal
the marshmallows which were supposed to go on the mashed yams.
craned her neck, staring down the institutional green tunnel of the long hall
to catch a glimpse of the clock on the wall down at the end, but the angle
was so sharp she couldn't tell where the hands were. How long had she
been here? It had to be past midnight. The security guys had pounced
on them at nine, just before the mall closed. An hour's worth of humiliating
interrogation by store security, and then the cops had showed up. Lisa's
parents had come and picked her up hours ago, and dragged her home in a protective
fury, declaring that she was not going to be allowed to associate with a
bad influence like Dawn Summers any longer.
was coming. Buffy always came, even when she was sick and tired of
dragging her stupid little sister to safety for the seven zillionth time.
Didn't she? Dawn swallowed a pathetic little sob. God, what if Buffy'd
decided it would teach her a lesson to be left here all night? What if a Zarkroth
demon had eaten Tara before Buffy got home and her sister never got the message?
What if Spike was nailing Buffy to the mattress in his crypt and--SO not
thinking about that one.
Xander would come over, and Giles, who'd decided not to go back to England
after all, and they'd all watch "It's a Charlie Brown Christmas" and Xander
would do the Snoopy dance. And then dinner would be ready, and afterwards
they'd open presents and everyone would get exactly what they wanted.
She'd look at the pictures of her and Buffy and Mom scattered around the living
room, and feel kind of achy because Mom wasn't there, but it would be a good
ache. And it wouldn't matter that her sister was the Slayer and Spike
was a vampire and most of all it wouldn't matter that she had done something
as incredibly stupid as get caught stealing an egg-strangler from Williams
& Sonoma, because it was Christmas and they were a family now and weird
love was way, WAY better than no love.
echoed down the hall from the admitting desk, distorted by distance and
the muffling effects of acoustic tile. A second later the screech of
unoiled casters pushing away from the desk was followed by the overlapping
clack-clack of several pairs of approaching footsteps. Dawn shot to
her feet. "Please be Buffy, please be Buffy..."
was the policewoman from the desk at the end of the hall, and with her was
Buffy with her eyes crackling green and her mouth in that thin hard line that
meant someone was going to get it but good. Spike loomed behind her,
hands thrust into the pockets of his duster, sucking on an unlit cigarette
with a scowl. The homeless woman shrank back into the corner of the
cell at the sight of him; the people who lived on Sunnydale's underbelly were
more willing to admit to the things that walked among them than the town's
daylight inhabitants. The Goth chick was either bolder or less experienced
than she'd have had Dawn believe; she got up and sauntered over to the bars,
eyeing the newcomers speculatively. "Hey. Got a cig?"
ignored her, and stood with arms folded impatiently as the policewoman searched
through her jingling mass of keys. Spike favored Dawn's cellmate with
an unfriendly leer. "Might. What's it worth to you?" He grinned
a little as Buffy gave them both the Laser Death Glare, and winked at Dawn.
She felt a rush of relief; surely Spike's presence would shield her from
some of Buffy's wrath--if nothing else, diverting Buffy from being mad at
her into being mad at Spike was usually a piece of cake.
policewoman at last found the key she was looking for. She shooed the
older women away from the door, and Dawn rushed over as soon as they vacated.
She grabbed the cold steel bars, barely restraining herself from bouncing
up and down. At last the door swung open, and Dawn flung herself out
into the hallway and broke down in relief. "Oh, God, Buffy, I thought
you were never coming, I was so scared--"
sister's angry facade slipped for just an instant. Dawn was caught
up in a fervent, awkward three-way hug, her face wedged between Buffy's
head and Spike's shoulder with the familiar comforting scents of L'Oreal
hair conditioner and smoke-impregnated leather filling her nose. She
had never felt safer.
pulled away first. "Let's get out of here. Dawn, you've got
a lot of explaining to do."
That was the tight, calm Buffy-voice. She'd been hoping for the outraged
yelling Buffy-voice. Worse, her sister was breaking out the Mom phrases.
Dawn nodded meekly as the warder closed the cell door behind her. Its
ominous clang followed them down the hall as they left the cellblock and
made their way through the precinct room. Buffy was pissed. Really
pissed. She glanced up at Spike, who shrugged elaborately and made
a 'better you than me' face. She shivered. Much less safe-feeling,
ride home wasn't any better. Buffy drove with both hands locked to
the SUV's steering wheel, looking neither right nor left and daring any lesser
traffic to challenge her. Luckily the bar rush hadn't started yet and
the streets were relatively empty. Spike slouched in the passenger seat,
playing with his lighter and occasionally looking sideways at Buffy.
The wind, which had been just a playful breeze earlier in the evening, had
picked up, and was slapping the car with fitful little sprays of raindrops,
just enough to get the windshield dirty.
had intended to stay cool and calm, but the oppressive silence expanded by
the minute, filling the car's interior and finally squeezing words out of
her. "It's not like I took anything important!"
not the point," Buffy snapped.
is, you got caught," Spike said, in tones of deep disappointment.
not the point either!" Buffy took out her fury on an innocent paper cup
blowing across the lane, swerving to crush it. Dawn and Spike unobtrusively
grabbed their respective door handles. "The point is, stealing is wrong!"
glared sullenly at the back of her sister's head. Now that she was
no longer in immediate danger of becoming someone's prison bitch, Buffy's
attitude was beginning to grate. "Oh, right. I remember all
those calls Mom and Dad got from Bullock's when we lived in L.A., Miss Oh-I-Meant-To-Pay-For-That."
Spike exclaimed in delight. "And here I thought nicking that rocket
launcher was your first time! I knew you were a girl after my own heart!"
eyes narrowed dangerously, and Dawn saw her opportunity and seized it.
Sorry, Spike, you're going down. "Besides, Spike steals all
the time and you never rag on him! Half the stuff he owns is stolen!"
but I don't get caught," Spike countered. "There's a big difference
didn't need vampire hearing to pick up the sound of Buffy's teeth grinding.
"We're not talking about me, and we're not talking about Spike, and hello,
the using of someone who spent the last century eating people as your model
for good behavior? Not ideal! And I didn't steal the rocket launcher,
Xander did!" She returned her attention to the road in time to avoid a close
encounter with the palm trees along the median. "Are we agreed that
stealing is wrong?" She shot a look at Spike, who jerked to attention in his
he agreed, sounding more nostalgic than disapproving. "Vile, wicked,
transferred the sullen glare to Spike. "All right, I get it.”
sister's knuckles whitened on the steering wheel. "You’d better get
it--both of you. This isn’t a joke. While you're out auditioning
for Second Punk on the Left, have you thought about the fact that the moment
this gets back to Social Services you will be shipped off to Dad Fed-Ex?
Is that what you want?"
looked somewhat chastened and Dawn bit her lip. "No."
I--” Buffy's shoulders slumped. “I can’t do this right now.
I’m tired, Dawn. We'll talk about it tomorrow."
The crypt door was, as usual, unlocked. When Buffy slammed it open
into the stone wall the clang reverberated through the crypt, and the echoes
hadn't entirely died away by the time she'd clambered down the stairs to
the lower chamber, and stormed into the bedchamber to glare at the still-slumbering
occupant. Spike was the picture of repose in a nest of feather pillows
and hunter-green quilting, one arm folded over the coverlet and the other
curled under his cheek. His chest rose and fell just often enough
to startle you into realizing it was still most of the time. Exactly when
had Spike gone all hedonistic? When she’d come barging into the crypt
last year at this time, she’d usually found him stretched out corpse-fashion
on the top of the bare stone sarcophagus upstairs, hands crossed over his
chest--playing vampire, she’d thought to herself scornfully at the time,
talking the talk while the chip prevented him from walking the walk.
creature that he was, he looked far more at home in the bed.
Well, we’ll just have to do something about that. Buffy bent down,
grabbed a handful of blankets and yanked them ruthlessly into the air.
eyes flew open. Half-way into game face, he spun over with a yip of
surprise and a futile grab at the bedclothes. "Grraahr--oh, it's you."
long has this been going on?" Buffy demanded.
vampire’s eyebrows took a tour upwards. He ran a hand through his sleep-tousled
hair, then leaned back into the pillows and laced his fingers across his
stomach, displaying a great deal of muscular and distracting ivory flesh.
"How long's what been going on? Me getting some well-deserved shut-eye,
or you rudely interrupting it? Not long enough and too long, respectively."
Without warning he jackknifed forward, grabbed the trailing edge of the blankets
and hauled back.
teetered, lost her balance and toppled onto the bed in a tangle of coverlet
and Spike's overly cold and boney shins. She scrambled to her hands
and knees, determined to hold onto her outrage despite the awkwardness of
her position. Spike was leering at her, and she realized that from this
angle he could see all the way down her shirt. Not that there was anything
down there he hadn't already seen, but it was the principle of the thing.
Flushing, she sat upright and tugged her blouse into place. "You know
what I'm talking about--Dawn stealing! And you teaching her how!"
went wary. He rubbed the back of his head. "Haven't the foggiest,
love. She was doing the Artful Dodger routine well before yours truly
entered the picture. We got chummy over her nicking Giles's journal,
remember?" He rearranged his feet under the covers to take advantage
of the warm spot where she was sitting.
her arms and resolutely avoided looking down to where the toes of his right
foot were stroking her thigh. With some effort she kept her voice as
cold as said toes. "She said you showed her how to shoplift over the
kept looking at him; Spike was pathetically easy to crack if you did the
little skeptical eyebrow thing. A trace of guilt crept into his eyes.
"All right, I might have given her a pointer or two. More a demonstration,
like, of how I do it. But I never gave her the nudge to use
'em. I knew you wouldn’t want that, and you know I'd never do anything
to hurt Dawn, Buffy!" He leaned forward and caught her hands in his own,
looking so genuinely distressed that had the matter been any less important
she would have been tempted to forgive him immediately.
this was serious. Buffy remained adamant. "But you knew she was
stealing things, and you didn't stop her."
sighed. "I guessed. Didn't exactly know for certain. She
gave me a little something once or twice, aftershave for my birthday, that
sort of thing. I never asked where it came from--wouldn't've been polite--and
she never told. Didn't seem to matter then. You were gone, and
Dawn was going to your Dad..."
matters a whole heaping lot now!”
leaned over the side of the bed and rummaged around until he came up with
his jeans, got up and began pulling them on. "Look, I'll talk to her
if you think it'll help--give her any load of righteous bollocks you like."
flopped backwards onto the bed and stared up at the cobwebby ceiling.
Spike has a birthday? "Because the gospel of virtue is ever so convincing
coming from you?"
dark brows angled downwards, accents on a frown. "I mean it, Buffy.
I..." He stalked over to the dresser, pulled a drawer out and studied the
half-dozen identical black t-shirts intently for a moment before pacing away
again. "...am getting shagged out on basic black. Look, it's hard,
this not being evil," he said, low-voiced. "Like I said. But
I've got to try, don't I? Especially if I've buggered things up for
the Bit. At least let me try."
was a pleading note in his voice, and Buffy felt her resolve crumbling.
"I guess it couldn't hurt." She rolled over onto her stomach and traced
the thin gold curlicues on the coverlet with one dispirited finger.
"I called the store this morning and they're willing to drop the charges
since it's her first time, but she's banned from the mall for six months.
She's already going through withdrawal.” She buried her face in the
sheets; they smelled of smoke and Spike, and she didn’t want the combination
to be so comforting when she was mad at him. “This morning she hit
me with that camper we stole last spring. I’ve got to be a better example.
You’ve got to--”
a legal identity, get a nine to five job, and become a fine upstanding undead
American? Not happening, pet.”
turned her head enough to give him the evil eye from behind a fold of blanket.
“I was going to say, stop stealing things in front of Dawn, but watching
a vampire with a fake green card dodging La Migra would make up for a lot
of sucky days.”
Spike pulled open the wardrobe door and rooted through the tangle of coat
hangers, finally emerging with a charcoal grey turtleneck which, Buffy couldn’t
help thinking, would look absolutely gorgeous with his eyes and go very nicely
with her own taupe-and-silver outfit. Color coordination, always a
plus. “And what happens the next time you lot need me for a spot of
breaking and entering or grand theft auto? You’re not the most law-abiding
little group yourselves, you know--I’m just better at it.”
lifted her head and groaned. “I know, I know! God, Spike, I
can't do this! When I was fifteen I was doing the exact same thing,
except for me it was all about Mom and Dad's divorce. How can I lecture
her on Thou Shalt Not Steal when my whole life is Thou Shalt Not Steal Unless
It's Necessary For The Slaying or You're The Slayer's Vampire Boyfriend In
Which Case We'll Overlook It?"
stopped in the middle of pulling the sweater over his head, looking down
at her with an incongruously sweet, tender little smile.
She ran the last few sentences backwards. I used the B word. Tactical
error. Maybe he won't notice. Right. This is Spike, owner
and proprietor buffyobsession.com. I'm so doomed.
tossed his shirt on the bed and sat down beside her. She felt a firm
hand on her back, cool fingers working along the tense lines of her muscles.
"You do what every mum and dad in the history of the universe has done, love.
You lie so hard that you forget you ever had a misspent youth, and if that
doesn't work, you pull out the classic 'Do as I say, not as I do' line of
shite. I'll help, if I can--if you want me to."
summoned up a wan smile and laid her cheek on his thigh. Astonishing
how quickly that cool body soaked up heat. "I don't want to be the
grown-up," she said, hating the sulky note in her own voice. Her hand
crept up to rest on his knee, and she scrunched a little closer. There
was some magnetism between them, that flesh called to flesh the instant an
invisible line was crossed. "But I guess I've got to break out the
sensible shoes and PTA notes. I may be off the hook with Social Services
if they're not pressing charges, but if the police called them already--"
defense is a good offense, right?" Spike had that glint in his eyes that
meant trouble. "Don't wait for someone to tell tales, go runnin' to
'em right off and bleat for counseling and pamphlets and sodding educational
filmstrips. Dawn'll bloody well hate you, but you'll look all responsible-like."
raised her head and looked at him oddly. "That's... a halfway
decent plan. Who are you, and what have you done with Spike?"
chuckled. "I know a thing or two about strategy, Slayer. It's
sticking to it where I cock up. Give me a day or two and I'll chuck
the whole thing for whaling on the bastards with a tire iron." He glanced
at the clock on the nightstand next to the bed, and his hand wandered down
to caress the curve of her hip as his voice dropped to a sultry growl.
"'Sides, I think I can make bein' grown up worth your while."
shivered under his touch and looked longingly at the clock. She had
an hour before she had to get to Giles's place... She slid her hand
further up his thigh and felt him shiver in return. "Well...
As long as we're on overlapping schedules, I guess we might as well..."
Spike twitched violently. Ooh, he's ticklish. She smiled,
feeling very wicked and decadent and... grown up. "Overlap."
Crisp black letters on heavy, cream-colored paper blazoned with the Council
of Watchers' arms on one corner, signed by Quentin Travers in ink which
had undoubtedly come from a fountain pen or perhaps even a quill--a weighty
letter, full of weighty news. Giles wondered if he was supposed to
be grateful that they'd rated the bother of a real letter, not some smudged
fax or ephemeral scatter of phosphors on a monitor. "It's not good
news, I'm afraid."
sitting at attention on the couch, tucked a strand of honey-blonde hair
back into her ponytail--she had arrived somewhat disheveled, for reasons
Giles felt it better not to inquire into very closely, and was still effecting
repairs. She studied the results in her compact, granted them provisional
approval, and tucked it back into her purse. "My brilliant powers
of deduction told me as much when you said you wanted to talk to me in person."
She clasped her hands in her lap, poised against the backdrop of half-packed
boxes and half-sorted piles of books. His house, like his life, was
stuck in transition. "My hatches are battened. Fire away."
folded the letter back on its creases and glanced it over once more, in
the futile hope that the words would have changed since his last look. In
the lull of his momentary hesitation, Spike stuck his head out of the kitchen
and held up a box of Weetabix. "You're scarpering off soon, so you won't
be needing this, right?"
face went stony. He really hadn't expected Spike to be here for this,
if for no other reason than that it was the middle of the day. When
he'd opened the door to Buffy's knock, there Spike’d been on the porch behind
her, looking as if he'd had a day at the beach sans sunscreen. Last
night's rain showers had evolved into a sullen grey overcast. Exactly
what was needed; more excuse for Spike to lark about in the daytime.
More irritation crept into his voice than he intended. "If you can
tear your attention away from the larder for five minutes, Spike...
brows twitched, but he stuffed the box back into the kitchen cupboard and
prowled back into the living room. He collapsed into a boneless sprawl
beside Buffy on the couch, near arm flung over the back of the couch behind
her, thumb and forefinger brushing the nape of her neck, playing with the
wisps of fine tawny hair. It was a gesture unselfconsciously intimate,
as was Buffy's slight list backwards into his hand. You should want
to kill him for that, the cool, analytical part of Giles's mind reminded
him. You should have killed him years ago, really. If you could
doom Ben for the crime of having been born Glory's vessel, how much more
does this creature deserve execution?
couldn’t call up the old certainty where Spike was concerned any longer.
He had always questioned Buffy’s insistence upon sparing Spike's life in
exchange for the assistance, willing or unwilling, he'd given them over the
years. One killed vampires, one did not associate with them.
Foolish, dangerous sentiment sprang from such familiarity, of succumbing
to the fallacy that a vampire was a person with human loyalties, human loves,
rather than a thing bred of chaos which would, sooner or later, be driven
by its nature to destroy one. To his chagrin, it was a fallacy he found
himself increasingly prone to. There was no way this liaison between
the living and the dead could end well. It was his duty to protect
his Slayer from less tangible dangers than the ones she faced nightly.
But he watched Spike's thumb move along her hairline, and the slight curve
of her lips, and knew in his bones the reason he would not object to Spike's
He cleared his throat. "I'll spare you Travers's overview of the last
five centuries of precedent regarding Council support of Slayers. Here
we are. '...in short, it has always been the responsibility of the Watcher
to ensure that his Slayer is adequately fed, clothed, and housed. After
reviewing the terms of your salary and making inquiries into the cost of
living in your area, we have determined that your current financial arrangements
with us are sufficient to the task, assuming of course that due economy is
practiced--'" Giles held up another sheet of paper. "How thoughtful--he's
included a budget. 'Therefore we must regretfully decline your request
to issue a separate living allowance to Buffy Summers--'"
yours, Quentin Travers, enormous git,'" Spike growled. He scratched
his nose, which was beginning to peel.
set the letter down on the coffee table and began polishing his glasses.
forced a chipper look. "It's not as if we expected them to go along
quietly. We'll just have to--I mean, we can have Anya do accountanty
stuff, can't we, and show them that their figures are all wrong?"
shook his head. "I've already gone over them twice, and Travers is
quite correct--I could support you if put to it. I cannot, however,
support your sister, your house, and yours and Dawn's future education,
as such frivolous items are not included in Travers's idea of due economy."
He sat back in the chair and rubbed his eyes, deciding not to mention Travers's
implication that if he returned to England as planned, he'd be taking a
cut in salary as he'd no longer be Buffy's active Watcher. That felt
almost just, a fit penance for his desertion.
on the couch Buffy glanced at Spike, her lower lip caught in her teeth.
The vampire's arm dropped from the back of the couch to her shoulders and
she straightened a little. Spike cocked an eyebrow at her and she
shook her head ever so slightly. Nonverbal communication concluded,
Buffy turned back to Giles. "All right," she said, determination coming
back into her eyes. "If they want to play hardball... can I use
your phone? I need to call L.A."
of course." Giles waved her towards the phone. L.A.? The only people
Buffy might be calling there were her father or Angel, and neither of them
seemed likely to hold any solutions to the current dilemma. Buffy
shoved one of the ubiquitous piles of reference books to one side and pulled
the phone free. She tucked the receiver between her shoulder and her
ear and tapped out the number quickly. Spike shot Giles an inquiring
look behind her back, apparently just as much in the dark as he was.
stood tapping one foot impatiently, waiting for the phone to pick up and
twirling the cord around her free hand. "Hi, Cordy? Yes, still alive
again. No, I'm not--that's really none of your--Cordy! Focus! Slayer
business! Angel's still in touch with Faith, right?"
made a soft derisive noise at the sound of his grand-sire's name and Buffy
made a shushing motion at him. “Shut up, Spike.” Spike complied,
but listened to the rest of the conversation with a tense attention to every
nuance of Buffy’s words and body language. “Not you, Cordy. I
just need to get a message to Faith. The sooner the better. The
Council's probably going to be contacting her soon with an offer she can't
refuse, and I need her to refuse it." She rolled her eyes at whatever Cordelia's
response was. "I know. I admit I wasn't Miss Junior Impulse Control.
But this is vitally important."
grabbed the letter off the coffee table before Giles could stop her, and began
reading it, her eyes darting back and forth across the page. They froze
on one passage and Giles saw her stiffen, an angry light joining the determination.
She covered the receiver with one hand and hissed, "You didn't tell me they
were trying to blackmail you too!" She handed the letter to Spike, who took
it from her and squinted at it at arm's length for some minutes before looking
up to regard Giles with an uncomfortable intensity.
attention was back on the phone. "Look, just tell her the Council is
out to screw us again, and don't believe a word they say, and I'll explain
when I can talk to her in person. Have Angel call me with the number
of the prison, and tell him not to freak if Spike answers the phone."
More eye-rolling. "Yes, he does. No, I'm--just have him call me,
okay? Thanks. No. No! This is me hanging up on you,
Cordy... right. Later." She set the phone down and heaved an
exasperated sigh. "She is so protective of him these days! I swear,
if I didn't know better... urgh."
Giles asked. "What exactly do you have in mind, Buffy?"
she said with a look that might have been mischievous had it not been so
deadly serious. "As president and fifty percent of the membership of
Slayer's Local 101, I'm calling a strike for higher wages. Or wages
gave her a hard look over the top of his glasses. "And you want to
ensure that they don't pull strings to--"
the potential scab out of stir," Spike finished.
Even if she still hates my guts--and big love on my part for her, believe
me, not in the program--I'm betting she'll see that we're better off hanging
together on this one. If I can break them she'll get bennies too."
you can't seriously intend to stop patrolling."
gave the eye-roll another workout. "Yes, Giles, Spike's corrupted me
hopelessly, I care nothing for the lives of those I formerly worked tirelessly
to protect--of course I'm not going to stop patrolling! I just have
to make the Council think I have." She met his skeptical look with a
defiant jut of her chin. "Somehow. I'm working on it! I'm new to this
strategy thing. You two are both older and sneakier than I am--some
leaned back and folded his arms across his chest. "Right. Old
Niccolo hasn’t a patch on us. So how does the Council of Wankers get
the skinny on happenings in dear old Sunnyhell?"
send regular reports--which I could doctor, naturally." Giles stroked
his chin, thoughtful. How long had it been now, since the Council had
been trusted allies rather than polite adversaries? Long before Spike
had started his erratic journey in the opposite direction. "But they'll
have other channels as well--anything from local informants to bound demon
servitors to something as prosaic as subscribing to the Sunnydale Press.
Deceiving them will be no small task."
flashed Spike a little grin and elbowed him in the ribs. "Ooh, cool.
Deception, fraud, and chicanery--right up your alley. Get to work."
She stuck her lower lip out and shook Travers's letter in Giles's direction.
"Now what's this about them going all Ebeneezer Scrooge with your salary?"
snatched the letter back. "They're cutting out the field duty bonus,
which is only fair as I shan't be on field duty--but since this didn't come
up when I applied to come back the first time, I'm assuming that their true
purpose is to coerce me into staying here to keep an eye on you. They
will, of course, send someone to replace me if I leave, but I’m fairly certain
it will be an observer rather than a... er... mentor." He added drily,
"You have a reputation for being difficult to work with."
have yet to comprehend the difficulty that is me." Buffy tucked another loose
strand of hair behind her ear, eyes sparking. "Giles, I hate the idea
of you leaving. I think you're completely wrong about us not needing
you. I'd give anything if you'd stay. But I swear I'll wear nothing
but Blue Light Specials for the rest of the millennium if I let them
force you into it." She stood up and pulled the scrunchy off her
hair. "And now I'm going to borrow your bathroom. I'm all Night
Of The Living Buffy and serious renovations are in order."
got up and headed for the hall; Giles watched her go with anxious eyes.
In actuality she looked better than he'd seen her since her return; there
was almost a bounce in her step as she disappeared down the hall. Across
the room Spike propped one boot on top of the coffee table, his eyes following
her retreating form appreciatively. Buffy Summers, dragged into the
land of the living by a dead man's hand... God, but he was sick of
irony. Spike’s pale eyes slid back to Giles, full of sardonic challenge--and
Giles looked away. He knows.
expression was victorious, but his words lacked bite, perhaps because he
was wise enough to realize that he didn't know what kind of battle he'd won,
nor why his opponent had chosen to abandon the field. "Never thanked
you for the other day, Watcher," Spike said, voice pitched not to carry down
the hall. "Not for me--I don't need your blessing, but it meant a lot
to her, you not telling her she was barmy to be seen with me."
well, if you cock up I'll make you beg me to kill you," Giles replied with
a tight smile.
tilted his head to one side and matched it with something that was a little
too self-mocking to be a smirk. "If I cock up she'll beat you to it."
He ran the tip of his tongue over his teeth and arched a brow. "Part
of the appeal."
And that was
probably the truth, Giles reflected with mild disgust. Spike didn't
give him a chance to use the admission against him. "I've always thought
this business of going home because you're useless was bollocks, and now I'm
sure of it. So you're getting a bit long in the tooth to be out fighting
nasties first-hand--you're a bloody walking library, and you've forgotten
more about front-line demon fighting than the rest of those Council tossers
ever knew. Useless my lily-white arse." His boot hit the floor with
a thump and he leaned forward, the aspect of the demon a burning shadow behind
every plane and angle of his face. "You see it, don't you, Watcher?
The rest of them, they don't look, but you see it. 'A traveler betwixt
life and death;/The reason firm, the temperate will,/Endurance, foresight,
strength and skill;/A perfect woman, nobly planned,/to warn, to comfort, and
looked down; his knuckles were white against the dark upholstery. He
forced himself to unclench his fingers from the arm of the chair. "'And
yet a spirit still, and bright,/with something of an angel light.' I wouldn't
have thought Wordsworth your style."
made an impatient gesture. "You get bored enough in a hundred and
twenty years, you'll read anything. But you see it, damn your eyes,
and you're leaving her anyway--why?"
truth did he owe Spike, and why? All he can bear, because he is
staying. He kept his voice clipped and precise. "Because I've seen
her die twice now, and I cannot bear it again. Cannot.
You... can. You are a braver man than I am, William the sodding
Bloody, and I hate you for it."
looked taken aback--had he expected something else? The vampire sat
back slightly, resting his wrists on his knees. "There's fitter things
you could hate me for, Rupert."
took off his glasses and ran a hand through his hair--how much of the receding
hairline was due to Buffy? he asked himself wryly. "Undoubtedly so.
But I can't think of any of them at the moment."
wager the lapse of memory clears up right quick. Look, Watcher, you
chew on this: she'll die sooner or later no matter where on the globe you've
parked your arse. If it's here, it's got a better chance of being later.
cut himself off, looking over his shoulder at the front door. A moment
later Willow knocked as she swung it open and stuck her head inside.
"Hello? Giles? I thought I could get on those transcripts 'cause I'm all
with the catching up--umm, Spike? You look kinda toasty. Zinc
oxide. It's your friend. You guys aren't busy making me more
work, are you, 'cause I thought Fridays were interview days." She came
inside, edging around several boxes labeled 'MISC RECORDS' and set her laptop
on the dining table. "I downloaded this trial version of some voice-recognition
software from Tucows this morning, so I thought we'd see how that works--though
with the accent, maybe it won't. Work. But if it does than I
can take the tapes and do them at home, you know, telecommuting without the
commuting--" She plugged in the laptop's adapter and flipped the lid up.
"--and I hear there was a big Dawn crisis last night." A slight edge
entered her voice. "I must have slept through it, as so often happens
when no one wakes me up."
emerged from the hallway, looking subtlety better groomed without there being
any one difference that one could point to as the reason for the improvement.
She adjusted one earring. "It’s no biggie, Will. Dawn's gone all
West Side Story on us again. Tara was asleep when you got home, and
then there didn't seem much point in waking you up for the big angst-fest."
course not." Willow hit enter as if it were her worst enemy. "It's not
like I could have done anything useful in my current not-useful state.
Might as well let me get my beauty sleep."
OK, Buffy. I get the logic. Needs of the many. Don't worry
about it." She looked up with a bright and genuine smile. "Where's one
of those tapes?"
got up and went over to the tape case, and Spike rose to his feet.
"Enthralling as I find the sound of my own voice, I'd best get on, see if
I can find anything needs killing--not that often I can take a midday stroll
in this climate. The Bit's still at home, Will?"
distracted by her struggles with the audio settings, nodded.
snorted. "She'll be at home for a long, looong time. She
is more grounded than dirt."
I'll push off, then. Later, love." He kissed the top of Buffy's head,
brushed his knuckles across her cheek, and headed for the door.
forget your blanket, it might clear up!" Buffy shouted after him. She
turned away from the door and walked over to the table to examine Willow's
setup. She hitched herself up on the table and swung her legs back
and forth. "Do you think I should get him one of those big black umbrellas
for Christmas, or would that just encourage him to more extra-crispy adventures?
Is there any kind of anti-vamp-combustion spell, Wills?"
there were, vamps would be beating a path to our door and we'd be rolling
in cash. Or dead. Give me a minute or so of tape to test this,
Giles," Willow said.
slipped the tape into the recorder and Willow plugged it into the laptop's
incoming audio. He pressed the 'play' button and Spike's raspy North
London accent filled the air: "...so by this time I was off my nut with
boredom--you try living in a coal mine for a month and see how you like it--so
I waited till Angelus had Darla's heels about her ears one night, and I took
Drusilla topside for some entertainment. We'd been living off the miners,
and I wanted someone who didn't taste of coal dust for a change. So
we come across this bloke, the local preacher, it looked like. He’s
a shrunk-up little pissant 'thout enough blood in him to get your mouth wet
enough to spit, but he's not caked solid with anthracite and that's all that
matters to me at this point. He asks us if we're saved--thought Dru
was a tart, I reckon--and Dru, bless her mad black heart, she starts rattling
off the Pater Noster, and the pruny little chap sodding near explodes yelling
about us being a couple of Papists. Which is both inaccurate and annoying,
as I'm C of E myself, or was when--anyway, I snap his neck, and this is the
really funny part--"
hit the pause button, looking up at Buffy, who stood listening to the narration
with an unreadable expression. Willow grimaced. "Um. Guess
you don't want to hear that, all things considered."
shook her head. "No. But I need to hear it. I need to
remember--" She took a deep breath, and her fingertips brushed her cheek.
"Everything about Spike. Everything."
Continued in Part 15