By Barb Cummings
Sequel to A Raising in the Sun
"It's quite simple,
Quentin.” Giles set his saucer on the coffee table and sank back
into the armchair. “Her position is that her first responsibility
is to raise and educate her younger sister, and she simply cannot afford
to depend on my charity, as she puts it, to accomplish this. Unless the
Council sees fit to recompense her for her work on their behalf, she has
no choice but to cease patrolling and, er, 'get a real job.'"
There was a long, static-ridden
pause, during which Giles reviewed his own words half a dozen times--too
indifferent? Too threatening? He sat back in the armchair and
took the album from the top of the stack on the coffee table, turning it
over and over in his lap, and slipped the record in its inner sleeve free.
Eric Clapton and Cream. The black vinyl gleamed fitfully. Bulky,
fragile things, records, a bastard to ship. He could have replaced
most of them with CDs, but to his mind that would have been as great travesty
as replacing his library with an E-book. No tiny, shiny, digitized
scrap of plastic could compare with the glory of analog sound and full-sized
Besides, he'd seen Spike's lustful glances
in his record cabinet's direction, and had a good idea where half of them
would end up if he did get rid of them. He was reluctantly resigned
to Spike’s liason with Buffy, but damned if he was going to leave his record
collection to a vampire.
A trans-Atlantic sigh emerged
from the hiss of line noise. "I see." Travers's tone implied
that he did see; with the bulk of the planet between them, his displeasure
still came through the phone lines loud and clear. "And have you pointed
out to her that this decision will cost lives, even worlds?"
Giles set the album down again and
picked up his teacup, taking a sip. Now for the tricky part.
"Well, er, actually... she was rather worried about that. I pointed
out that, technically speaking, her first death released her from her duties
as Slayer. The Powers evidently intended her to be a short-timer--the
Pergamum Codex had only the one prophecy regarding her, after all."
He reached over and flipped the work in question open, skimming the relevant
passages. How worried they'd all been, all those years ago--and over
a vampire. How quaint. "She did say that she might
try to get a little slaying in on weekends, time permitting."
There was an indistinct noise on the
other end of the line. Best not get too facetious; Travers was neither
stupid nor easily manipulated. No one who rose to become Head of
the Council was. Giles continued, "Several of her friends and associates
did offer to patrol in her stead, but I persuaded them that it was far
too dangerous for normal humans to attempt this alone."
"Indeed?" Travers's voice was
as dry as the California desert. "You managed adequately all summer,
as I recall."
"Mmm. Yes. We managed.
With the help of a vampire and a powerful witch. I'm sure you're aware
that summer is the period at which vampire activity is at its lowest ebb,
the Hellmouth is quiescent, et cetera. Willow is still suffering the
effects of over-straining her magical abilities last month. Spike
has, of course, no inclination to risk himself on behalf of innocent bystanders
if it brings him no personal gain." Travers wouldn't, he hoped, start
pondering the question of exactly what sort of personal gain had prompted
Spike to help over the summer. "This leaves Tara McClay as our sole
supernatural resource, and while she's a competent practitioner, combat
spells are not her forte."
"I do sympathize with Ms. Summers's
financial woes, but the Council's resources are not inexhaustible.
Forty years of a Labor government--"
"Yes, yes, men living on the dole from birth
to death--I grew up in the sixties, Quentin, and they've been over for
quite some time now." Giles reined in his temper and stirred his
tea. "Our resources are not inexhaustible, true, but neither are
they anywhere near exhausted. That retreat in--"
Travers cut him off. "This is
a matter of principle, Rupert, for me as much as it is for you. The
Slayer is the Council's instrument--"
"The Slayer is a twenty-year-old girl
who's died twice in the Council's service!"
"No, Rupert, Buffy Summers is a twenty-year-old
girl." Travers's voice grew cold. "The Slayer is far more than
that. She existed long before Buffy was Called and she will exist
long after Buffy is dust."
"Buffy's been dust. Twice.
And both times she's returned to her calling despite there being no reason
for her to do so. You're right, Quentin--she isn't the Slayer.
Faith is. Buffy is a good person who's been aiding our cause because
she knows it to be the best use she can make of her talents. We owe
her. Quentin, think. How often do we have a truly experienced
Slayer at our disposal? How many survive the Cruciamentum--how many
live to take the Cruciamentum? There is no comparison between the
girl I met five years ago and the Buffy Summers of today. I scarcely
dare imagine what she will be capable of in a few more years."
"Yes... what will she be capable of?
That’s the question, isn't it?" Travers said. There was a note
in his voice that Giles couldn’t interpret and therefore distrusted.
"There are reasons for the Council exercising such control over the Slayer,
Rupert, reasons that you don't--"
"Why don't you explain them to me?"
Silence again. Travers was no
fool. He wouldn't drop obscure hints out of carelessness; he was on
a fishing expedition of his own. "I'm not free to tell you anything
I please, Rupert. But I will say this. Slayers who survive as
long as your Buffy has have a tendency to become ... willful."
"Ah. Very helpful. And
I'll be able to distinguish this from her normal behavior precisely how?"
"Perhaps my terminology is imprecise.
Extraordinarily focused upon their work, and more vulnerable to... dangerous
urges. And therefore in greater need of guidance than ever.
Making a Slayer independant of her Watcher at this point is the last thing
I would advise. I'll take the money matter under advisement, Rupert,
but that's all I can promise you."
Giles sat there for some time after
Travers had hung up, frowning into space and turning his cup of cooling
tea round and round in his hands. Travers meant to make him suspicious
of Buffy's behavior, he was certain, but to what end? To make him
stay in America? To quash the idea of Buffy getting a separate stipend?
What, from the Council’s point of view, could be considered bad about a Slayer
becoming more focused upon her job?
She's already keeping company with
one of them; how much more focused can one get? His frown deepened.
Surely that couldn't be it... Could it?
Last year Buffy had been worried about
the increasing allure that her midnight hunts held for her, and asked him
to stay and delve into the origins of her powers. Joyce’s illness
and death and Glory’s hunt for Dawn had derailed that plan before it had
begun, but now... He sat back and looked about the room, at the stacks
of books and half-packed boxes. Life in transition. Bloody hell.
The Krallock demon's cavernous
nostrils flared, and its barnacle-encrusted head swung ponderously to face
the back of the room, spattering seawater all over the floor. Its
damp, weed-draped form filled the entire doorway, making the utility room
of Willy's even more claustrophobic, and absorbing the sound of clinking glasses
and barroom squabbles that otherwise drifted back from the front of the
building. "Vampire," it rumbled. "What the hell is he doing
here? Bad enough the owner lets his kind into the bar."
The three demons at the table shuffled
their feet (or whatever passed for them) looked uncomfortable, and examined
their cards, the floor, the pipes in the ceiling--anything but the Krallock
demon or the object of its displeasure. Said object tapped his cigarette
into the nearby ashtray and leaned back in his chair, a faint smirk
enlivening his angular countenance. Into the silence he drawled, "Playing
poker, which is more than I can say for you."
The dealer's rheumy eyes took on a
distressed squint, and his wrinkled, pouchy throat bobbed as he swallowed.
He laid his ears flat against his skull and tried to still their nervous
twitching. "He's ... uh ... Spike."
The nictating membranes slid over the
Krallock's slit-pupiled, basketball-sized eyes, followed by the true lids
in a contemptuous double blink. Apparently this was insufficient explanation.
Spike's snide grin widened. He was enjoying their discomfiture--Clem,
the dealer, wasn't so bad, but as a rule, demons despised vampires.
Vampires were the lowest of the low, hybrids hopelessly tainted with humanity:
fast-breeding, stupid, expendable cannon fodder. Not that this didn't
sum up Spike's opinion of most other vampires as well, but he objected
very strenuously at being lumped in with the common throng.
Admitting that they were a little bit
afraid of a mere vampire wasn't going to win Clem and his pals any points
with the big-shot out-of-town demon. Admitting that the mere vampire's
propensity towards taking down big-shot, out-of-town demons wasn't an entirely
unwelcome trait amongst the smaller fry of Sunnydale's demon population
would win them even fewer. "I'm no ordinary vampire, mate.
Scourge of Europe, done a couple of Slayers in my day, used to be the Master
The creature in the doorway shook its
head and gave a disdainful snort, perfuming the cramped room with smell
of dead fish and salt. "Used to be?"
Spike's eyes narrowed a trifle.
His nerves were singing with that lovely frisson of adrenaline and anticipation
which presaged a fight--and just a touch of fear; Krallock demons were definitely
out of his league. As usual, he fed the last emotion into more swagger.
"Gave it up for Lent. You gonna ante up or stand there like a mop
in need of a wringer?"
The Krallock demon gave the four of
them a disdainful once-over. "I don't consort with his kind."
It snorted again. "Nor do I consort with those who do." It gave
Spike a last look. “Your blood is unworthy to stain my talons.”
With that it backed out of the doorway, its claws leaving a trail of ragged
scars in the apparently worthier linoleum.
With its departure the atmosphere in
the room lightened perceptibly. Spike relaxed, and Clem breathed
a sigh which might have been relief. True, the Krallocks were a noble
line, among the closest to pure, Ascended demons to be found on this plane.
It would have been an honor to have one join them. On the other hand,
they had a habit of biting off heads when annoyed, and like most pure demons,
they were easily annoyed. The small fuzzy purple Skibbnir demon to
Clem's left shuffled through his cards and glared at Spike, and Clem hurriedly
joined in with a ferocious, wrinkly scowl. "He probably had a dozen
tabbies in his brood pouch."
Maintaining face, as expected.
"Just enough to cover what you owe me, eh?" Spike studied his hand--two
nines, a queen, a ten and a three. Plus the jack of diamonds he's
palmed earlier, if you wanted to get technical about it. He rearranged
his cards and tossed the three on the discard pile. "One. Hit
Clem burst into guffaws of laughter
and dealt him another card. "I thought that's what you hung around
the Slayer for."
The Skibbnir made a chittering noise
like a forest full of demented squirrels and high-fived Clem's wrinkled,
loose-skinned paw with two of its six limbs. "Good 'un, Clem!"
Spike turned his new card over and
slid it into his hand. Eight of clubs. And a good thing
or you'd be eating those ears. He exchanged one of the nines
for the jack tucked away in the sleeve of his duster--vampiric speed was
a wonderful thing. "Now, now, boys, no rude remarks about my lady,
or I'll have to give you a refresher lesson in manners.”
Purple snickered. “Your
lady now, is it?”
“Me 'n the Slayer're working together
now, remember." He blew a smoke ring at Purple with entirely unfeigned
smugness. "Though it's not so much work these days. She's got
better things to do with the undead than stake 'em."
The third demon, a spidery-thin, pearly-skinned
humanoid with glittering encrustations of blue crystal scattered over its
body, discarded a pair of cards and received his replacements with an impassive
face. "We've heard that song and dance before."
Spike's grin got wider. "Yeh,
well, you'll be hearing a lot more of it. The Slayer's finally kicked
over her traces. Told the Council to piss off. She's going into
a better-paying line of work."
"Uh huh," the crystalline demon said, obviously
skeptical. "And we all jumped for joy when her Watcher got fired,
but here they still are, making our lives miserable."
"Dealer takes two." Clem
examined his new hand, cards held up before his protuberant nose.
"I'm in. See your shorthair and raise you a Persian."
"I fold," Purple said with a disgusted
hiss. "Your life? As if the Slayer knows you exist."
Spike focused on the crystalline demon's
heartbeat (or whatever it was making noise in there) and tried to decide
whether the speeding up meant he had good cards or bad ones. Clem's
right ear was twitching again, and that meant he had a good hand, or was
in the process of manufacturing one. Cheating was part of the game,
accepted until someone felt like making something of it--they were demons,
"Live and let live's my motto," Clem
said. He glanced at Spike. "Present company excepted.
The Slayer's never bothered with the likes of us. Vampires, greater
demons... Why, my cousin Ferlie--"
"Like that Krallock demon," Spike interrupted.
"Think she'd let that soggy blighter ponce about town, insultin' the locals,
if she were still on the job? I'll bet you anything you care to name
that come Sunday next, she won't have lifted a finger against it."
Purple and Blue Crystal looked interested.
Clem shook his head, setting his jowls to wagging. "Uh uh. Last
time I took one of your wagers I ended up stuck on top of a fence with
my britches caught on a nail."
Spike's Cheshire Cat expression
didn't waver. "You see any nails around here?"
“Done,” Blue Crystal said, and the
other two chimed in. “But just a friendly bet--money, no kittens.”
"Not exactly an encouraging conversation,"
Giles said, "But better than it could have gone."
"Willful?" Buffy said with a little
frown. "It makes me sound like the heroine of a Gothic romance.
If I get a sudden urge to run across a moor in my nightie, Giles, by all
means stop me."
"They're being ridiculous," Anya said,
setting the Council's letter down and sliding it across the table to Giles.
"Slaying is a public service job like a police officer or firefighter, so
Buffy should be making at least as much as they do at similar levels of
experience. Did you point out that it's far more cost-effective in
terms of lives saved to maintain one experienced Slayer than it is to constantly
be training new ones?"
Willow's fingers tightened around her
pencil. She forced them to unclasp, lest she snap it in half.
Again. What was it about Xander that made him unerringly seek out the
most annoying women in Sunnydale to fall for? It wasn't even that Anya
was saying anything rude or clueless. She was making sense for once.
It was just that it was Anya: all by itself, the sound of that whiny nasal
voice had the ability to drill into Willow's skull and start chipping its
way out with a pickaxe. She stared down at the pile of notes in front
of her, trying to concentrate on anything besides the sound of the soon-to-be
Mrs. Harris prattling on.
The notes were just the way she
liked them: alphabetized each in their own folders with the color-coded
tabs. Blue for the original spells she'd based her research on, green
for the spells she'd actually used in the creation of the new one, red for
the new spell itself, yellow for notes on the changes and substitutions
she'd made in creating it, orange for miscellaneous additional notes which
might come in handy. The pile of bright manila folders stood square-cornered
on the central glass insert of the table-top, exuding that new-paper-and-glue
smell which conjured up her favorite time of year, the beginning of school.
A week's worth of effort, boiled down
to 'I can't do it.' Willow shuffled the stack again, unhappily aware
that the nervous dampness of her palms would wilt the folders' crisp clean
newness. The queasy twist in her stomach, the barely-leashed panic
which made her heart pound were familiar. She had nightmares like this.
She couldn't remember the combination to her locker. She'd forgotten
to drop the calculus class, and now she had to read the entire semester's
worth of material in the hour before the final. She was standing at
the front of the classroom, stumbling through an oral report to the accompaniment
of bored snickers from her classmates.
She Wasn't Prepared.
"You don't want to antagonize them
more than necessary," Anya chirped, innocent of the effect she was producing.
"If we can make them realize Buffy's a valuable commodity, it'll make for
much better labor-management relations in the long run."
The really annoying thing, Willow
decided, was that no one else was annoyed. Tara was nibbling on her
pencil and sketching out one of the weird organic-looking doodles that
she claimed helped her concentrate on new spells--this one looked like
a cross between a bagpipe and an okra bush. Spike and Buffy were
poring over a street map of L.A. spread out across the pages of Aurelius
the Seer: A Comprehensive Index of Prophecies and alternating between
listening to Giles and an incredibly pointless argument about the best
way to get to Buffy's father's apartment from the freeway. Dawn, sulking
a little because she wasn't going to L.A. with them, perched on the bottom
rung of the ladder up to the balcony where the restricted books were kept,
knees akimbo and her nose in another grimoire. Funny how no one gives
her the fish-eye when she starts pawing through Really-Dark-We-Mean-It-This-Time
Magicks. My raise the dead spell didn't bring back a shambling
zombie, but noooo, let Dawn at the Crowley, she'll be fine...
Giles, who should have been annoyed
if anyone should, was adjusting his glasses and nodding sagely at Anya,
making little notations in the margins of the letter. He tipped the
glasses down and peered over the rims at Spike. "Progress on your end?"
"Dropped a word or two to Clem and
the kitten poker crowd the other night that Buffy was going into retirement,
and let a few other blokes down at Willy's overhear." Spike shot Buffy
a wicked smile. "It'll be all over town by tonight that the Slayer's taking
The shop bell rang and Xander
swung in with a brace of pizza boxes balanced on one hand. "Dinner
is served!" he announced, plopping both boxes down in the center of the
table. He planted a kiss on Anya's cheek in passing and dropped into
the chair between her and Willow. Yuck. We know you're googly-eyed
over Anya, Xander, do you have to rub it in? "Brain food all
around. We've got half veggie--and yes, I remembered the bell peppers--and
half black olives and pepperoni. The one on the bottom's half ham
and pineapple and half sausage and mushroom. I think that caters to
everyone's unreasonable topping prejudices. Oh, and extra garlic
all around just for you, Spike."
"Didn't know you cared, Harris.
Ta ever so." Spike grabbed two slices of pepperoni, trailing cheese
strings all over the engraving of his great-great-ever-so-great-grandsire.
He handed one to Buffy and took a large bite of his own.
"Don't fill up on food before you've eaten
your real dinner," Buffy admonished, accepting the offering and taking
a sedate bite. "Wow. I said that with a straight face.
New heights have been reached on the surreal-weirdness-of-life index."
Willow stared at the pizza. "I
said no bell peppers, not 'extra bell peppers, the vegetable expressly
designed to make Willow barf.'" She looked accusingly at Xander. "You
know I hate bell peppers."
Xander made an embarrassed gesture
halfway between a shrug and an arm-wave. "Oops. Sorry, Will.
I got you mixed up with Anya. She likes 'em. But there's three
Tara laid claim to a slice of
the veggie pizza and inspected it to confirm the presence of bell peppers.
"We can pick them off, honey. You know, I think they're a fruit,
not a vegetable. Tomatoes are a fruit."
"Harris's Law: Anything green
is a vegetable, including Jell-O." Xander watched Spike hopefully
for a moment. "You're not running, gagging, or breaking out in hives.
Tara smiled, a teasing light in her
eyes. "You know it doesn't have any effect when it's cooked."
"Hope springs eternal."
"Don't bother," Willow said under her
breath, as the topic drifted farther from her torment. "The taste
permeates the whole cheese-crust-tomato... complex," she waved a hand at
the box, "and ruins it. It's all got bell pepper cooties."
Since no one, least of all Xander,
whose fault it all was and who should have been far sorrier, seemed inclined
to spring up and offer to get her a replacement pizza, Willow folded her
arms and prepared to give Dawn a run for her money in the sulking department.
Why the frilly heck was everyone in such a good mood when it was obvious
they were all doomed? The whole scene had the Currier & Ives clarity
of a moment upon which she would someday look back upon with nostalgia,
the last hurrah of a vanished era. She watched Tara carefully removing
bits of bell pepper from a slice of pizza, and felt both touched and irritated.
Strands of her lover's hair were slipping from behind her ears, falling
across her face in silky wheat-blonde sheaves, and every now and again she
raised a hand to tuck it back in place. Tara smiled and held out the
pepperless slice, a peace offering. The gesture stirred an obscure
longing in Willow, as if Tara were already an old and treasured memory rather
than a real and living presence. Once again, the big happy Scooby
family, all except crotchety old Aunt Willow. She took the pizza
and managed a return smile. She had to pull herself out of this funk.
Buffy said, "Next item. Spike
and I are leaving for L.A. tomorrow night, so we kick off our web of deception
with a couple of days of really convincing non-slayage. We should
be back Saturday night, unless Dad wants to have some family time."
She didn't sound very certain that this would be the case.
Spike grunted. "Just as well.
More than twenty-four hours with that wanker and I'll go spare."
Buffy wrinkled her nose at him.
"We can't afford a hotel. Would you rather stay with Angel?"
"Let me think... flensing or thumbscrews...
ow! Pax, love, I'll behave. Vamp's honor."
"Like that reassures me. Console
yourself with the knowledge that you annoy Dad just as much as he annoys
"Still not so hot on the vampire thing?"
Willow asked, shooting for sympathetic. I will be mature, reasonable
Willow, I will, I will...
Buffy waved her pizza in the air and
shook her head. "Oh, no, that would mean accepting that there is
a vampire thing. Dad's still clinging desperately to the conviction
that Spike's a victim of poor circulation and a bad UV allergy." She
sighed, blowing her bangs out of her eyes. "Who just happens to be
able to grow fangs at will. Dad's temperature approaches absolute
zero on the 'no visible means of support and lives in a crypt' thing.
I think he still has secret hopes of me marrying a nice orthodontist."
Spike finished off his pizza and licked
his fingers before appropriating another slice. "He'll come round,
love. It's all part of my bohemian charm."
Buffy actually giggled. "Oh, any
day now." Willow tried to suppress a double-take. How long had
it been since she'd heard Buffy giggle? "When I called he told me
he wanted the name of your coffin supplier for the next time he redecorates."
Spike pulled her closer, nose to nose,
and purred, "I'll put him in a coffin the minute you say the word, pet."
"Try it and you'll be occupying an
urn right next to him, sweetie," Buffy cooed back.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Xander yelled,
making a time-out sign. "I'm remembering exactly why this relationship
is so twisted and sick! There will be no cutesy Eskimo kisses between
Slayers and the eating-way-too-much-of-my-pizza undead in my presence!
I have a delicate stomach!"
Spike smirked at him. "Yeh,
I remember. Next time I'll steal an RV with independent suspension."
"Might I remind everyone that
this is a business meeting?" Giles broke in. Willow decided that
Giles was the only bearable person in the room.
"Business. Right." Buffy
sat up and folded her hands all prim and proper on the table. "I
want to get started on the Tanner thing as soon as we get back. Are
we go for that?"
"Oh, yes," Tara said, nodding vigorously.
"I found dozens of spells to cripple a rival's magic."
Well, of course, Willow thought.
Magic was the same as anything else; it was always easier to break something
than to build something. Naturally Tara would find success, and she'd
crash and burn like the failure you are. Tara rushed
on, "The main problem's been that most of them did a lot more than that--they're
spells for wizards' duels, mostly, and we don't want to hurt him."
Speak for yourself. The
memory of her ignominious defeat at Tanner's hands still stung.
"So I've been working on isolating
the magic-deadening elements from the more destructive effects, and I think
I've got it pared down to what we need." Tara handed Giles and Anya
a short list of ingredients. "I'll need a focal object, something
we can bring him into physical contact with. We've probably got something
in the shop that'll work. Anya and I can look through the inventory
this weekend. I'll cast a separate binding spell on it so that once
it's on, he won't be able to take it off. It'll work like a lighting
rod. He'll be grounded. Any spells he tries will just fizzle
Buffy looked pleased. "Coolness.
Will? How's your end going?"
What the clues were, Willow wasn't
sure--voice a little too bright and chipper and Happy-Buffy, her expression
a little too eager, perhaps--but she was instantly certain that Buffy knew
perfectly well that she had bupkis to show for the last week's labor, and
was covering for her out of pity. She plastered a smile across her
face. "Working on it," she said. "I've got the spell altered
to do exactly what we need, but there's still the whole power source problem."
"That's what you've been saying for
days. Don't you think it's time to try another approach?" Anya asked.
"Honestly, Willow, now that you're powerless you need to be a little more
"I am not powerless!" Willow's
head lashed around to face her ex-demon nemesis, her eyes going liquid black
as eldritch forces coiled through her body. For a brief moment she
felt like herself again, as she'd felt blasting open the hospital doors.
Anya jumped back in her chair, ducking behind Xander's shoulder. Tara's
hand closed on her arm, Tara's anxious face brought her back a measure of
calm. She relaxed, muscle by muscle, dispersing the energies she'd
marshaled. She had to conserve. If she used them, she was done
for the next day. "I'm... semi-powered."
"Will..." Xander looked concerned.
All of them looked concerned. "You're... jumpy."
"And you need to watch where you
jump," Anya grumbled. "You could curse someone's eye out."
"We've got till we get back from
L.A., anyway," Buffy said. "No pressure." She hesitated, worrying
her lower lip. "But maybe we should have some kind of backup plan,
just in case?"
"I said I'd have it ready, and I will!"
Willow snapped, then immediately dropped her head, giving the folders before
her another unneeded shuffling. "Sorry. I'm just a little tired."
Anya frowned at her and Willow gritted her teeth. Just one little
spell. One little spell--no black magic, just darkish grey--would
shut her up. Give her permanent laryngitis, or hiccups, or something.
One teeny, tiny, itsy bitsy spell... But that, as Buffy was
fond of saying, would be wrong.
This is the same Buffy getting
snuggly with the vampire?
A chill raced over her and the fine
hairs on the back of her neck lifted. It took a moment to muster the
courage to look up, then duck back down behind her notebook. Across
the room, reflected in the glass of the display cases where her own reflection
should be--Willow, yet Not-Willow. Alabaster skin, cat-green eyes,
hair like a fall of glowing embers, a sweet wicked Mona Lisa smile Willow
had practiced in the mirror for hours and never managed to get right: the
vampire version of herself whom Anya had once summoned accidentally from
an alternate dimension.
Except it couldn't be, really,
because they'd sent Vamp-Willow back where she came from, right? And
more, the whole mirror thing. Vampires didn't reflect, so a vampire
being a reflection? "Pretty sure that's not normal,"
she muttered, then realized she'd spoken aloud as Tara looked up from her
sketching, a question in her eyes. "This, um, thing." Willow grabbed
the Index of Prophecies and pointed at random to one of the illustrations.
"Rusnak demons have, um, three horns, and this one has, uh, three horns,
so obviously I'm looking at the wrong picture, ha ha, don't mind me!"
Tara's forehead wrinkled in perplexity,
and multiple transparent copies of Vamp-Willow blew her a kiss from the
panes of glass. No one else noticed. Willow scarcely heard Buffy
and Giles start discussing the Council situation again. We sent you away!
Oh, I never really left.
The vision in black leather and red lace got up and sashayed around
the reflected table to run a languid finger along the spine of the nearest
reflected book. I've always been... right... here. She
tapped a long-nailed finger against her chest and Willow felt an icy twinge
over her own heart. Wrong, her alter ego said, with
a little moue at the reflected Buffy and Spike, who were exchanging lascivious
caresses. Reflected-Buffy tossed a look of scornful amusement at
her, and Willow's cheeks grew hot. So very, very wrong.
He's still a bad, bad boy, you know. But, oh, so much fun
. Reflected-Willow grabbed reflected-Anya's hair and yanked her
head back, trailing one blood-red nail across the bared throat.
We could have all kinds of fun with the little demon girl.
That smile again. Or anyone else. She strolled
over to the reflected Dawn, who radiated a flaring nexus of emerald-green
energy, and ran her hands down over the girl's translucent shoulders.
If it's power you need...
"...we can use that glamor I worked
up to infiltrate Bryce's group," Tara was saying. "Then the two of
you could patrol, but you'd be under cover."
"That'll be great. And oh--I
had that interview with the gym today and they said they'd call back if
they wanted to see me again, so be sure--"
Willow looked down, but there was no
escape; that too-familiar face smiled slyly up at her from the inset glass
of the table. Silly, isn't it? All this fuss over money,
when any decent witch could enchant an ever-full purse...
She scrunched her eyes shut and shook
her head, hard, not caring who noticed or how strange it looked. When
she opened them again, all she saw in the glass was her own pinched and
The night was luminous around them.
Only the brightest stars were visible overhead; Orion and the Great Bear
made their circumference of the heavens against the lurid glow of Los Angeles,
which suffused half the sky ahead of them. Headlights streamed past
in an endless strobing line behind them. The wind was brisk and chill,
which bothered Spike not a whit--cold was something like color for him;
a thing he could easily distinguish but which made little impact on his physical
comfort. Buffy, seated on the edge of the rest stop picnic table in
front of him, was another story, still bundled up in her coat. Her
hands burrowed under his duster, drawing leisurely revolutions over his shoulderblades,
and her head rested in the crook of his shoulder, her breath warm against
Spike rocked against her, hips
cradled between her thighs, each stroke slow, deep, strong, wave after languorous
wave rolling in to shore. He was drowning in her, gladly, going down
for the third time, caught in the rapture of the deep: Buffy Summers his
ocean, and Here There Be Monsters. Buffy locked her ankles together
behind him, threw her head back and arched into his thrusts. Her body
clasped him in counterpoint to his rhythm, drew him deeper, his soft liquid
growls and her little kitten-mew gasps lost in the roar of traffic.
It was a contest, as so many things
were between them. An eternal moment in which they strove together,
all their opposites reconciled in that striving, dark and light, male and
female, the quick and the dead--vampire and Slayer made one greater whole,
lasting as long as they could bear it. He broke first this time, shattering
against some invisible high-water mark, crying out, and his capitulation
triggered hers; her body clenched and trembled around him as he gave himself
up to long shuddering spasms of release. She slumped backwards onto
the table, gasping for breath, and he followed, unwilling to give up a fingersbreadth
of contact. They lay there together for a moment, feeling the tremors
of their conjoined bodies die away.
He felt a shiver that wasn't born of
passion run through her, and swore softly. "Sorry, love. I'm
not much use as a bedwarmer."
She smiled in the feeble imitation
of darkness. "You're a pretty good windbreak." As he pulled
out she made a disappointed little noise, but when he slid down her torso,
nibbling at the bare goose-fleshed skin below her navel, she groaned and
twined her fingers in his hair, holding him back. "No--don't start!
I told Dad we'd be there before midnight. We can't get into another
The lack of conviction in her voice
was absolute balm to the--well, not to the soul, but to the something--of
a man taking the current love of his life to meet the former love of hers.
"How about a four-hour one? It's only half an hour to L.A. from here,
pet. I'm a thirsty man, and it's not your neck that's my chalice.
Besides," he licked a milky streak of their mingled juices from her inner
thigh and leered up at her, "I've got you all messy. Only right I
should clean you up."
Buffy looked torn for a second, but
another car rolled into the rest stop parking lot and her expression firmed.
"That's what I brought wet-naps for." She tugged her skirt, which was rucked
up about her waist, down over her hips and rolled over to grab her purse
off the adjacent bench. Spike promptly ducked under the hem and followed
his nose. "Here--oh--Spike, damn you, quit th-th--"
Half an hour later, virtue had prevailed,
mostly, and they were roaring south along the Coast Highway, windows rolled
down and the radio blasting KSPC over the howl of the wind. The DeSoto
roared its challenge to lesser vehicles, which got out of the way if they
knew what was good for them--fiberglass crumple zones and airbags could
do only so much when pitted against a quarter-ton of solid steel. "They're
playing our song, pet! 'You know you want what's on my mind, you
know you need what's on my mind...'"
"I hear that these days they record
songs with, you know, lyrics and melodies and stuff," Buffy said, mock-reflective.
"Maybe we should try to find some."
"'Wind Beneath My Wings?'"
"Oh, shut up.” Her lower lip
slipped out in that criminally adorable pout. “That was the spell."
“Keep telling yourself that, pet.”
Spike tightened his arm around Buffy's shoulders, grinning up at the hunter
in the sky. He had a cooler full of blood in the trunk, music that wasn't
completely revolting on the radio, Buffy's head on his shoulder and her
hand resting possessively across his stomach. They were headed off
to see the two men in all the world he'd have been happiest to see staked
out on an anthill, and he was downright giddy about it because it meant a
precious few hours when he had her entirely to himself, free of the demands
of friends and family and job interviews. The fact that a legitimate
stop to use the loo had segued irresistibly into a nice little session of
shagging didn’t hurt his mood either.
It was possible that if he looked down
he'd find the distant look in her eyes again--it came upon her less and
less often now, which pleased him immensely, but even his ego wasn't quite
up to assuming that a week's worth of slap and tickle with him was enough
to get her over a little thing like being dead. He hadn't managed it
in a hundred and twenty-some years, after all. He chuckled quietly
and reached into his duster pocket for a cigarette, steadying the steering
wheel with his knee.
"You do that a lot more than you used
to," Buffy observed.
He paused in the complicated operation
of lighting the fag one-handed. "What, smoke? I'll have you know
between the Niblet's dirty looks and your refusal to invest in a bleeding
ashtray I'm down to half a pack a day."
"No--laugh." She hitched herself
up a little straighter, but stayed close to his side, maintaining contact.
Over the last day or two she’d begun, almost shyly, to return his casual
touches, and to initiate her own. He liked that--hell, loved it.
Dru had never been one for a cuddle; she wanted petting and cosseting often
enough, but like a cat of uncertain temper, she could go from purring on
the hearth to clawing your arm off in half a second. Harmony had been
keen on it, but he hadn't been keen on her. He wondered briefly if Megan
had been serious about Harm coming back to Sunnydale for Christmas, and who
he'd have to kill to prevent it from happening. "It's... nice.
I don't think I saw you smile once last year--well, no... you did with Mom
He covered her small warm hand with
his large cool one. "Didn't have a lot to smile about when you were
about, sweetling, what with unrequited love on one hand and constantly being
smacked in the nose on the other."
She sniffed, tossing her head.
"I had issues."
"And a mean right hook."
He laughed again, reveling in the steady beat of her heart and the feel of
her slim, strong body against his. Her curves were as delicious to trace
with hands as with eyes. Tara's not-so-subtle attempts to feed her
up were starting to show results; Buffy was still thinner than he liked
to see, but there was some muscle between skin and bone now, and she no
longer looked as though the slightest breeze would bear her away from the
land of the living. She radiated a warmth he could feel even through
her coat--sometimes he thought he could feel it all the way across the room,
his personal ray of sunlight. He buried his nose in her wind-tousled
hair, taking in a breath imbued with the sonata of fragrances that spelled
Buffy: body wash and shampoo and mousse, rose and strawberry
and citrus and half a dozen others, and beneath it all the musky female
scent that was her and her alone.
Her hand was tracing the ridged bands
of muscle along his abdomen, wandering lower and lower, and parts south
were starting to take notice. Less than an hour of playtime wasn't
nearly enough to wear either of them out. "Love, unless you fancy learning
the fine art of administering a blow job in a moving vehicle, I wouldn't
do that if I were you."
Buffy jerked her hand upwards with
a guilty look (or was it slightly intrigued?) but didn't remove it entirely.
"Sorry. It's--seeing Faith has me wigged. I can handle Angel,
but she makes me insane. And I've got to play nice. I've got
Spike glanced down at her, perplexed.
"This isn't like you, love. What did she do to you?"
A shudder ran through her. "Nearly
"Ooh. My kind of girl."
Her voice went flat and hard.
"Found a spell that switched our bodies. Got me locked up for crimes
she'd committed, went out and played 'Hi, I'm Skanky Ho Buffy!' with everyone
I knew, slept with Riley--and he didn't even know the difference!--and--"
A sudden memory of a two-years-gone
night at the Bronze rose up in his head, a weird little Buffy-encounter
he'd written off as the result of one of her rare attempts to drink more
than one beer at a sitting. "Bloody hell, that night you told me you'd
got muscles I'd never even dreamed of, and you could squeeze me till I
popped like warm champagne--that was Faith?" That turned out to
be prophetic . He swerved into the carpool lane to pass a semi
and suppressed another chuckle; he didn't think Buffy would appreciate this
particular irony. "I just thought you were legless. Don't think
I care for this bird--you can be a right bitch, love, but you were never
a cocktease. Much."
Buffy shot upright, fire in her
eyes. "She told you what? Fine, forget diplomacy, I'm
just going to strangle her."
"Do that and in twenty-four hours the
Council will have a shiny new Slayer of their very own to play with."
"Oh. Right. Fooey."
Buffy subsided grumpily, then bounced up in excitement. "Ooh,
look! Dairy Queen, next exit!"
"You're sublimating, love."
"Thank you, Count Sigmund. Sometimes
a waffle cone is only a waffle cone." She folded her arms across her
chest, a frail attempt at defense. "She was... she was me. All
the horrible grotty parts of me, blown up twenty times, in living color
and 3-D stereophonic sound. She... enjoyed being a Slayer."
He gave her the eyebrow. "And
"Not like that."
"Like what? You don’t love it that
you’re faster and stronger than everyone else? You don’t love it
that you can walk through the dark and fear not a single sodding beastie
that makes the night its home? Christ, love, I hope you enjoy
it! If you could see yourself--the way your eyes light up the moment
you get that little tingle that says the game's afoot! The way you
move--like silk, like lightning!" She was looking at him, fascinated,
revolted, entranced. "The look in your eyes when you make a kill--it's
like the look in your eyes when I'm buried up to my balls in your sweet little
quim and making you scream. You're alive, Buffy! So alive that--"
Spike wrenched the wheel around and the DeSoto slid across three lanes of
traffic to swoosh down the exit ramp. The centrifical force sent Buffy
careening into his side; her knee hit the tuning knob on the radio and Mick
Jagger howled You make a dead man co-o-ome! Spike grinned and
switched back to the alternative station.
She looked up at the exit sign.
"I--I didn't think you were really going to get off."
"How the hell could I help it,
love? Any lady of mine wants a waffle cone, she gets one." He
craned his neck out the window, looking for the illuminated sign. "There
As they sat in the drive-through, waiting
for change, she said, small-voiced, "That’s why you love me, isn’t it?
You’ve always seen that dark part of me.”
A surge of anger rose in him, at her
parents, at Angel, at everyone who'd convinced her that she was ordinary,
and that ordinary was a good thing to be. In a way, she was as crippled
as he was, her true nature as prisoned by her own fears as he was by the
chip. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “Bloody
hell, Buffy, of course I have. I don’t go in for safe birds, any more
than you go in for safe blokes. Always seen the part of you that rushes
in nightly to save crews of brain-dead gits who’d better serve the world
as vamp snacks, too, haven’t I? All that’s best of dark and bright
meets in your aspect and your eyes.”
“Faith’s nothing but a killer.”
There was challenge in her eyes now. “What if I don't want to be that
He shrugged. "You are a
killer, love. Just like me. Who said you were nothing but?"
She sat back against the ancient leather
upholstery, frowning, the red-and white glow of the Dairy Queen sign limning
her features against the umber shadows, and allowed him to gather her close
again. Not happy, but neither panicking nor lashing out at the implications
of what he was saying--that was a good sign, wasn’t it? "Spike...
do you remember... being dead?"
He flicked ash out the window. Taking
the gold in the non sequitur Olympics... "I've been devoting my
Friday afternoons to my remembrance of being dead, pet. Barring tomorrow,
when the company'll only make me wish I were deader."
She squirmed slightly in the circle
of his arm, taking his hand in hers and playing with his rings, turning
them round on his fingers. He noticed with an odd little thrill that
the necklace she was wearing was the ring he'd given her back when, under
the influence of Willow's mis-cast spell, strung on a chain--it would have
to be, it was far too large for her. "I mean really dead. After
Drusilla drained you, but before you... woke up as you."
He took a thoughtful drag on his
cigarette and let the smoke trickle out slowly through his nose. "Dunno
as I can answer that one, pet. Technically, I'm not even sure it was
me who died--" Absolute terror, waking in the cramped dark confines of
his coffin, gasping for breath he didn't yet realize he no longer needed.
Screaming, begging, weeping for rescue that never came, until finally panic
melded with an unfamiliar fury and drove him to tear his way through four
inches of silk and mahogany and six feet of good English soil, to collapse
bloody-handed and half-mad with fear in Drusilla's waiting arms... "Strike
that, I'm sure it was me. But I remember the waking more than the sleeping.
Maybe it's the bits of William I've lost that remember that part."
"I can't remember either."
He could hear the frown in her voice. "And I should, shouldn't I?
Five months. I was dead for five months. I didn't just... go
out like a light, did I? If you brought me back, there had to be a
me to bring back, right? The spell didn't just... make up
a copy or something? Or just bring back scraps and pieces?"
That was an uncomfortable question.
He and Willow had known that there'd be a chance, as with any resurrection
spell, that what they brought back would be something other than a whole,
complete Buffy Summers. At the time, he'd told Dawn and Willow that
he'd dispose of any failures, but he'd have told Willow bloody near anything
at that point, and Dawn... well, he'd never had to cross that bridge, thank
whatever passed for God in Heaven these days. "You're Buffy Anne Summers
in all her irritating glory, love. I'd know if you weren't.
Trust me on that."
The girl at the drive-through window
handed him the cones, frozen yogurt swirl for her, chocolate for him.
He handed Buffy's over to her and she took it, licking up the drips with
sensual delight. There was still trouble in her voice. "But
I'm not. I'm five months away from Buffy Anne Summers. I came
back before, but that was just minutes. I keep thinking...it has to
mean something, that I'm back again. Not in a prophecy way--I have
to make it mean something. I always tried to do the right things,
before, and I ended up--I was alone with everyone around me, and--I have
to make it different this time. I know it. I feel it."
She placed her palm on his chest, and for a second it felt almost as if his
heart had jolted to life again. "I don't understand this, but you're
part of it. You said it, last year--it's wrong, us being together.
I tried all the right things, and... they weren't right. You're the
wrongest thing I know, and... you fit." She looked up at him, light
pooling like quicksilver in her eyes. My mistress's eyes are nothing
like the sun... "She's taken... everything, at one time or another,
and I can’t lose you too. I won’t. I guess the prospect of Faithness
is putting me into Cave-Buffy, mark-my-territory mode. I'm sorry.
Especially since I'm probably going to be a big scaredy cat about telling
Angel about us--I'm going to try, but--"
Spike tossed his cigarette out the
window as they pulled back onto the highway; it bounced out of sight in
the rear-view mirror in a shower of orange sparks. Heedless of traffic,
he bent to kiss her, breathing in rose and violet and strawberry and oranges
and sweet girl-musk, made richer yet by their recent play--and fainter,
but there, the mingled odors of leather and tobacco and whiskey. A
satisfied growl rose in his throat. They were all over each other;
they'd crawled into each other's skins, drunk each other down as surely
as if blood had been exchanged. As Angel would realize the minute he
inhaled. "Nothing to apologize for, love. You can mark my territory
Continued in Part 17