By Barb Cummings
Sequel to A Raising in the Sun
The outer doors of L'Orangerie were flanked by dwarf orange
trees, their small sour fruit just beginning to blush gold with the
colder nights. From his vantage point in the front seat of
the convertible, Angel could see all the way through the archway and into
the courtyard beyond, where a fountain burbled in the center of
the flagstone pavement. Evening deepened and merged with the night
as he waited, and the lights in the courtyard came on, glimmering white
and gold in the indigo shadows. The scent of citrus and damp stone
contested with the fumes from the unending stampede of cars rushing by
on La Cienega Avenue, but the clash of odors didn’t bother him; he hadn't
inhaled for fifteen minutes.
It had once been his favorite
part of the hunt, this--stalking his victim, learning their ways,
their fears, their weaknesses, building from the timber of their own
hearts the scaffold upon which he would hang them. Not for Angelus
the quick kill; each death was unique and to be savored. He was, in
his own way, an artist. He still found pleasure in pursuit, little
though he liked to acknowledge the fact.
Men in exquisitely tailored suits
and women in silk and pearls drove up, entrusted sleek late-model
cars to valets and straggled up the walk, to disappear into the restaurant.
Other parties straggled out by ones and twos and fours to reclaim
their shining fiberglass chariots. The clothing was different,
and the vehicles moved via internal combustion rather than horsepower,
but the patterns of fashionable entertainment had changed little over
the past two hundred years.
Laughter and fragments of
conversation fell upon his ears, slices of other people's lives at
once enigmatic and banal. Angel listened. He couldn’t help
listening. He hadn’t tried to eavesdrop on Buffy’s conversation
with Faith, either, but vampire hearing couldn’t help but pick up some
of it, even from halfway across an echoing room filled with the yammering
of two dozen other women trying to connect to the outside world across
an inch-thick barrier of smudged glass. Having heard, he couldn’t
ignore the implications. If he could get her away from Spike for
awhile, or get Spike away from her, he could... he didn’t know what, maybe
just run a stake through Spike’s chest and walk quietly away. But
if Buffy were as emotionally dependant upon Spike as she seemed to be, he
might be running her through as well. A dilemma.
The players in said dilemma
emerged from the restaurant shortly after ten, party of four: Hank
Summers, unassuming middle-aged man with greying brown hair and a slight
paunch minimized by the cut of his dinner jacket; Linda Gutierrez, a
Hispanic woman young and pretty enough to be a trophy girlfriend, though
the forceful look in her eyes cast doubt on that notion; Buffy Summers,
vampire slayer and sometime love of his life, ethereal in cream and
rose, with her tawny-gold hair caught up and bound about the top of
her head with a gold fillet; and Spike, former minion, former nemesis,
long-time annoyance, lean, pale and elegant in a dark suit and a necktie
only true love could have coerced him into. Linda was grilling Spike,
who looked a trifle harried.
"...Tuesday,” Spike said,
“but it was the bagged stuff from Willie's. The blood bank can
chuck it when it expires or sell it on the black market; who am I to
deny some poor overworked intern a little extra income?"
"Uh huh." Linda was
obviously still skeptical. "And the last time you bit someone?"
But there were extenuating circumstances! Tell her, Buffy!"
Buffy was right at his side,
her fingers curled possessively around the crook of Spike's arm, laughing
at his discomfiture in the face of Linda's rapid-fire questions, her
upturned face illumined by a brilliant smile, tinged now with wicked
humor. "If there hadn't been, he'd be Mr. Big Pile of Dust about
It struck Angel that
he hadn't seen that smile in a very long time, and for a moment his
resolve wavered. Only for a moment; he had not survived this
long on sentiment. He reached across the front seat and picked
up the stake, tucking it into the sleeve of his coat. His quarry
was in sight; he need only cut him from the rest of the herd. He
opened the car door and slipped out into the too-bright L.A. night, a shadow
"...didn't know you spoke
French," Hank said, unwillingly impressed.
Spike favored Hank with
the thirteenth smirk of the evening. There was an American for
you; never mind the bloodsucking creature of the night bits, the astonishing
thing is he speaks more than one language! "Enough to get by.
You spend fifty-plus years knocking about Europe, you pick up what you hear
the most: 'Où est la salles des bains?’ ‘Mon Dieu! Arrêtez,
s'il vous plaît. Ne me tuez pas!' the usual.
"Show-off," Buffy said in
the tone which meant she was incredibly pleased with him. She
gave his arm a quick squeeze, her eyes brighter than the lights inside,
and who needed a heartbeat when you had a girl like this looking at
you like that? Her lower lip slipped out in a mock-pout. "I could
have handled it. I took two semesters of French in high school."
He dipped his head to nuzzle
her ear. "Love, you ordered a shoe."
Buffy looked sidelong up
at him through lowered lashes, daring him to tease the pout into another
smile. "So maybe I wanted a shoe. You can never have too many
Spike nodded, excessively
sober, and turned on his heel, spinning her around with him.
"Right then, back we go, and you can correct my pronunciation to the
Buffy gave a little shriek
of laughter as the valet drove up with Hank's Lexus, and wrestled Spike
back to the curb. "Don't you dare!" Abandoning him for the
moment, she grabbed her father in an impulsive, rib-cracking hug and
kissed him on the cheek. "Dad, thank you! I think this is
the first real night out I've had in a year, and it's been wonderful."
Spike made a mental note that if what amounted to a double date with
her father was producing this kind of reaction, a romantic dinner for
two would probably induce Buffy-meltdown. Buffy did a little pirouette
on the sidewalk, while Hank surreptitiously felt his sides to see if
anything had snapped. "I just wish it didn't have to end--I feel
like dancing till dawn, or--"
"Why not, then?" Spike
caught her hand, pulled her back into the circle of his arm, and dipped
her tango-fashion. "Got enough for a cab, don't we? We can
find some speakeasy with a cover charge in the single digits and let
the old folks toddle on home--"
Buffy giggled. "Coming
from the only person here who's celebrated a
centennial, and uses the term speakeasy with a straight face..."
She threw her father a hopeful upside-down look. "It won't
bother you if we get in late? I know you said you had to go
in to work this weekend..."
Spike suppressed a laugh
at the guilt which creased Hank Summers's brow. If Buffy'd been
a less scrupulous person she could have parlayed that look into a
weekend at the Hilton at the least. As it was, Hank handed the
valet his tip, hesitated, extracted his Visa card from his wallet and
handed it to Buffy. "Here, sweetie. Have fun. Just
don't make me come bail you out, hmm?"
My favorite color.” She reached up and ruffled Spike’s hair.
It was barely possible, Spike thought, that he and Summers pere had
one thing in common--her father seemed to be just as addicted to that
glowing smile of hers as he was, looking pleased as hell when Buffy
bestowed another hug which threatened the integrity of his internal
organs. "Dad, you’re tops. The concierge had a phone--I'll
go call us a cab." She dashed back towards the restaurant door in
a flurry of--well, Buffy would have been able to describe the dress in
exacting technical detail, but Spike settled for 'sheer floaty stuff.'
Pity they were going to have to return it in the morning; she looked ravishing
in the low-cut, cream-colored bodice which left exactly enough to the imagination...
"Don't let her get
into trouble," Hank said, getting into his car.
Spike tore himself away
from his diverting speculation on just how athletic Buffy could get
in that dress before coming out of it and grinned. "Not a matter
of 'let,' mate." He watched the Lexus pull away from the curb
and took a deep breath for the hell of it, reveling in the scent of smog
and oranges, and gave himself up to the luxury of dithering over whether
or not he'd have a smoke.
Buffy's happiness was contagious,
but this trip hadn't solved anything, not really--it might take weeks,
or months, before the Council buckled under to Buffy's demands, if
they ever did. Till then, she was still in a precarious position
financially, and in her custody of Dawn. The thought of her having
to take some scut-work job to make ends meet made him itch to crack a
few Watcher heads. She wouldn't take money from him, for fear of
where he might have obtained it. Spike rocked back on his heels
and shoved his hands in his pockets, heedless of what he was doing to
the cut of his suit. Buffy could be unreasonably suspicious at times;
just because he'd happened to mention that between the two of them they
were probably strong enough to rip an ATM machine out of the wall and break
it open didn't mean he was planning on doing it. Not any time soon,
He needed very little for
himself; scavenging, gambling, and the occasional petty theft kept
him in blood and beers very nicely, with just enough uncertainty to
make life interesting. He could have gotten a job, even in Sunnydale,
where the underworld was a tiny, parochial thing compared to Los Angeles's
thriving demon community. There were several higher-up demons
in town who used vampires for muscle, and if there was one thing he
was good at, it was kicking ass. Until recently he'd scorned the
idea--he was no one's lackey, and though he'd shed as many of the trappings
of his living days as he could, there remained a stubborn core of William-beliefs
so deeply ingrained as to be instinct: one opened doors for a lady, one
paid one's gaming debts even if one had to knock over a convenience store
to do so, and a gentleman didn't sully his hands with trade.
Still, he wasn't a gentleman
any longer by any stretch of the imagination, and Buffy was his girl
now. That made him at least partly responsible for her welfare,
not to mention Dawn's. Buffy would most certainly not see it
that way, but... perhaps some sullying was in order. Spike felt
a curious internal warmth that had nothing to do with body temperature--it
had been a long time since anyone had depended on him for anything.
Pride? Haven't had that in stock since the crash of '98, but root around
in the cellar, mate, p'raps there's a crate left in a corner somewhere.
His current reputation was
such that some prospective employers might even find it an advantage;
owning the loyalty of the vampire who'd done in Slayers and his own
kind alike would be a coup in some circles. On the other hand,
his inability to attack humans was a distinct liability. More to
the point, he'd never been good at taking orders from anyone he wasn't
in love with, and none of Sunnydale's demon bigwigs were all that appealing.
Scratch that idea, save as a desperation ploy. What other possibilities
were there? Besides his talents in the ass-kicking line, he spoke
a dozen-odd languages, both human and demon, could identify hundreds
of demon species on sight, had a working command of black magic combined
with an intense distrust of same, possessed an eclectic knowledge of nineteenth
and twentieth century human literature, wrote poetry badly, and had a
certain knack for interior decorating on a non-existent budget--not exactly
a resume calculated to bring in a six-figure salary in a small college
town, even for someone who wasn't a legally dead illegal alien.
The rasping snarl, pitched
too low for human ears, interrupted his musings, and Spike perked up
immediately. Whatever it was sounded large and brassed off, exactly
what he needed to banish unprofitable thoughts about profits. Buffy
would be out soon. Perhaps he should wait...
Right. He might
be whipped and happy to be so, but he wasn't that whipped.
Whatever it is, I can kill the bugger and be back in two ticks.
Piece of cake.
It looked too simple.
Summers and his girlfriend took off, and then Buffy ran back into
the restaurant. The patness of it all made Angel suspect a setup,
but there was no way any of them could have known he'd be here tonight;
his decision to come had been wholly on the spur of the moment. Sometimes
the simple explanation was the correct one, and luck was working in
Spike stood on the curb,
rocking back and forth very slightly from heel to toe and gazing out
at traffic with a contemplative expression. Angel's slow and purposeful
stalk had brought him within fifty feet of his one-time protege when
he heard the growl. Spike snapped to attention like a warhorse hearing
a distant trumpet-charge, and a glittering, vicious smile spread across
his face. He looked over his shoulder at the courtyard, then turned
and strode away across the close-cropped lawn towards the side of the
building, breaking into an eager trot at the sound of another growl.
Angel increased his own pace to keep up. Spike pulled his suit jacket
off as he ran, hopped a low stucco wall and disappeared behind a stand
of topiary trees. A third growl segued into a full-throated roar,
competing with the thump and rattle of the restaurant's heat pump.
The roar was followed by the crackle of breaking branches and Spike came
sailing back through the foliage, leaving a ragged hole in the center of
the carefully-manicured privet hedge. He hit the grass rolling, somersaulted
to his feet and shook himself violently, shedding leaves and twigs in all
directions. He threw back his head with a wolf-howl, whooped "Come and
get it, baby!" and dove back through the hedge.
Angel called down silent
imprecations on whatever demon had wandered up out of the sewers to
complicate his plans, and ducked around the hedge. Spike's opponent
wasn't a species Angel recognized; it stood at least eight feet tall
and must have measured as much across. Its haystack of a body was
covered with thick slatey-blue fur and an assortment of shiny, multi-faceted
black hemispheres in varying sizes radiating out in an irregular whorl
from the tooth-filled maw in the thing's upper surface. Whether they
were eyes, tympanic membranes, or something else entirely was impossible
to say. It supported its bulk on three elephantine limbs and lashed
out at Spike with another three long, whiplike tentacles, each equipped
with a set of claws like ebony scimitars. Spike ducked as the nearest
tentacle sliced through the air over his head, close enough to shave off
the tip of a bone-white curl or two, and came up again inside the thing's
Angel’s first thought was
that Spike had just gone insane; there was no way he could fight this
thing effectively without a weapon. It was too large to wrestle,
punching and kicking would make little impression on that enormous
bulk, and its fur looked too thick for a vampire's fangs to penetrate
even had Spike been in game face. A second later the method in Spike's
madness became clear as his fist hammered into one of the shiny black
organs, smashing it to glistening jelly. The demon's roaring escalated
and Spike darted back as it reared up on two legs and tried to trample
him with the third.
Spike continued his lethal
dance, ducking under or leaping over the whirling tentacles, flitting
forward to pulp another eyespot whenever an opening presented itself.
His arms were covered with translucent red-black goo to the elbow,
and blood was running into one eye from a cut on his forehead where
he'd been a hair too slow on a dodge. His eyes were aflame with
kill-lust, his breath came in short harsh explosions through bared teeth,
and there was a fine sheen of sweat on his face--physical reactions born
of emotion, not exertion; a vampire's body had no need to regulate its
Angel wavered on the
fringes of the fight, debating whether or not to join in. If
he remained aloof there was a good chance his problem would be solved
for him, but then he'd have to dispose of this thing by himself, and
he'd left his thrice-cursed cell phone in the car so calling for backup
wasn't an easy matter. The matter was taken out of his hands forthwith;
Spike zigged when he should have zagged, and one of the creature's tentacles
coiled around Spike's chest, pinning his arms and lifting him bodily off
the ground. The concentric rings of serrated teeth in the demon's
maw gnashed like an animate paper shredder as the tentacle propelled Spike
towards the opening. With a curse Angel leaped forward, aiming
a roundhouse kick at the thing's near leg. At the same time Spike
vamped out, bent his head and sank his fangs into the wrinkled blue skin
of the tentacle holding him, ripping out a sizeable hunk of ichor-dripping
The creature's roar took
on train-whistle urgency. The tentacle holding Spike spasmed
and flung the vampire into the side of the building. Spike landed
hard on one shoulder and plummeted to the ground, gagging on demon blood.
Angel dropped into a crouch, wrapped his arms around the leg he'd kicked,
and heaved up and out. With a basso wail the thing swayed like
a redwood about to topple, then tipped slowly and majestically over onto
its side and lay there, waving its tentacles and kicking the air.
The tentacle Spike had bitten twitched and shuddered, spattering purple
blood across the grass.
Spike got to his feet, ran
a hand through his disordered hair, and spat out a mouthful of purple
goo. "Like sodding peppermint whale oil, that is. If other
demons didn’t taste so disgusting my unlife would be a lot easier. "
He dusted off the knees of his trousers, keeping an appraising eye on
Angel. "Fancy meeting you here. Wondered if you were going to
join in or stand there with your mouth hanging open in appreciation of my
prowess." He rotated his shoulder experimentally, determined that everything
was in working order, and walked over to retrieve his coat, all loose-limbed,
predatory grace, as if he hadn’t just been tossed into a wall like a discarded
You know what he is.
Demon animating the mind and body of a man a hundred and
twenty years dead, inhuman arrogance an imperfect mask for all-too-human
fears. "So who exactly are you trying to fool, Spike?"
"Eh?" Spike's dark
brows sketched twin interrogation marks. "What're you on about?"
He shrugged back into his coat, concealing the worst of the damage grass
stains and demon blood had done to his shirt. He began going through
the pockets, and finally located his lighter and a sadly abused pack of
Marlboros. He extracted a cigarette with care and straightened it
out, then held the pack out to Angel. "Fag? Or is that too
personal a question?"
Angel waved the pack away
with impatience; Spike knew damned well that it was Angelus who smoked.
Spike shrugged and lit up, tucked his lighter back into his pocket,
and tilted his sleek white-blond head back to exhale a stream of smoke,
his face was a razor-cheeked study in quiescent savagery.
What we were informs what we become , Darla had told him,
long ago. Were there still echoes in Spike of the diffident,
bookish young man Drusilla had carted home to him and Darla, like a cat
proudly presenting its owners with a bedraggled and half-dead mouse?
Not that it mattered; William was dead, and any echoes of him that remained
in Spike were only echoes.
"This." Angel strode
over and gestured at the fallen demon. "Fighting things like this when
Buffy's not around to watch and give you the Slayer seal of approval.
Running around in the middle of the day, having a nutritious breakfast
when the only four food groups you really need are O, A, B and AB--" Faster
than thought, he whipped the stake out of his coat sleeve and rammed it
against Spike's chest. "You'd almost pass for human. But not
quite. You've gotten soft, old pal. The Spike I knew would
never have let me get within five feet of him."
Spike glanced down at the
wooden point making a divot in the lapel of his suit jacket, unflustered.
"Yeh, I've gotten into this bad habit of trusting people lately.
Give it a rest, Angelus. If you'd meant to stake me or Dru you'd
have done it years ago, not pissed around setting her on fire--she told
me about that little joke of yours. You're keen on the pre-show, but
when it comes to the kickoff you're back in the stands. You'll beat
us, burn us, drag us through hell at your heels--but kill us? Never."
"Fancy talk from someone
whose last conversation with me was conducted with the business end of a
hot poker." Angel held Spike's eyes for a beat, long enough to
let Spike grow uneasy about the accuracy of his assessment, and at last
let the stake drop. "Why should I, when
I can will hurt you a lot more by letting you live?
Don't expect me to weep for Drusilla. The crazy bitch
deserved it." He might as well have reached in and run a file
right along a nerve; hatred boiled up in Spike's eyes, their golden depths
going molten. This was too easy. "Careful, Spike. If you keep
asking for Angelus, you may get him."
A visible quiver of rage
tensed Spike’s shoulders, but somewhat to Angel’s surprise he held
himself back and twitched his coat back into place. "Right, I
forgot. You're the good twin."
"I've been trying to figure
it out all day," Angel said, ignoring him. It would be satisfying
to rip Spike's spine out and tie it in knots, but ultimately pointless.
For vampires physical pain was cheap, healed and forgotten in hours
or days. No, if he wanted to wound Spike, he knew exactly how to
do it. He stepped back a pace or two and studied the younger vampire.
"What's in this for you besides the thrill of notching your bedpost?"
Still abnormally calm, Spike
leaned back against the hedge and sucked on his cigarette. "Don't
think I much care for your tone when speaking of my girl."
“Your girl.” Angel’s
voice took on a gunmetal chill. "Tell me something, Spike.
Do you believe your own line?"
"What d'you mean by that?"
"Simple interrogative sentence.
Do you really believe you can give up being evil?"
Spike blew a smoke ring.
"Give up the killing? Give up the rush of seeing things go smash?
Give up the joy--" He kicked in another of the fallen demon's eyes
with a black glee that suggested he would far rather be connecting
the toe of his boot with Angel's face--"of hurting something?
No." His nostrils flared. "But I can bloody well be
selective about who I kill, and when. Traitor's not exactly a noble
occupation, but you're in it right along with me, so glass houses, eh?"
If there was one thing Spike
was not, it was a plausible liar, and his voice was edgy now with anger
and sincerity. Maybe he had convinced himself, as well as Buffy,
that he had a prayer of resisting his own nature for more than a token
few weeks... no, months now, almost a year. An eyeblink to someone
who'd seen two and a half centuries roll by, hell, an eyeblink to Spike,
who was half his age. "I'm glad you realize that much," Angel said,
lacing his hands together behind his back and pacing in a slow circle
around Spike and the heap of quivering blue fur. "That you can't
change what you are. Does Buffy, though--does she really?"
A muscle in Spike's jaw
jumped. "You'd have to ask Buffy that."
"'Cause I'm not sure she
really gets it," Angel continued. Spike turned uneasily in place,
trying to keep him in sight. "The urges. You know.
Not just for blood. For destruction. For a good slaughter.
The sweetness of inflicting pain, the delicious scent of fear--not
just any fear, either. Human fear. Human pain. That's
our natural prey, Spike. Hard to imagine you've given it up entirely."
"'Our'?" Spike asked, his
"You think I don't still
feel it?" Even with a soul, even with the twin goads of guilt
and remorse constantly pricking him, he'd given in to those urges more
than once; he still woke sometimes from dreams of Kate’s rich living
blood gushing into his mouth, or the artistic satisfaction of closing
the doors on the crowd from Wolfram & Hart. Remorse was stronger
than the satisfaction, but Spike knew none, and Spike had never possessed
his self-control; the chip only provided him with an illusion of it.
Spike snorted, folding
his arms across his chest. "Didn't think you'd admit it if you
did. What's all this in service of? I've got a lady waiting."
"Harmony showed up in L.A.
"Decided she was going to
be a good guy."
"Really?" Spike looked
intrigued for a second. "Did the bint make a go of it, or did
she work the Kendall magic once again?"
"What do you think, Spike?
She betrayed us to a vampire cult within twenty-four hours. So
I'm just not all that convinced that your little turn-around is for real.
I'll grant you've beaten her record. I'll even grant you love Buffy,
the same sick way you loved Drusilla, and that makes it bearable being
the neutered little lapdog you are today. But I know you, Spike.
You're a monster, and furthermore, you love being a monster. You
don't regret a single life you've taken, the first thought in your head
when you see a human being walk into a room is 'Mmm, tasty!' and if that
chip came out tomorrow--"
Spike's lips peeled back
in a wolfish grin over sharp white fangs, and a harsh bark of laughter
escaped him. "I'd what? Enlighten me, Angelus.
What'm I going to do?"
Got a quote for you: 'Not us! Not demons!' Name that
"A prize fuckwit of my acquaintance."
Between one absent breath and the next Spike was nose to nose with
Angel, or as close to it as he could get given the difference in their
heights. "You tell me something, Angelus! You had
her! Had her in your arms, in your bed, all warm and alive--you
tasted the closest thing to heaven our kind will ever know! How
the bloody hell could you get up the morning after and rip her heart
out? She loved you! She would have loved you even without
your precious sodding soul if you'd let her, and you threw it all away!
And later--you can't shag her lest you experience perfect happiness and
lose that inefficiently attached soul again, and what d'you do?
Turn the world upside down to find someone who could diddle with the curse?
No, not our Angel! He scarpers off to the big city and starts a
detective agency. Bloody brilliant!"
Angel grabbed him by the
lapels and hauled him up level; Spike didn't fight it, just sneered
into his thundercloud frown. "Do you think I had a choice
?" Angel snarled. “Do you think I wanted to hurt her?”
"In a word, yes!" Spike
snarled back. "What's your sodding soul got to do with it?
You love her or you don't, Peaches! You want an explanation?
Here it is: Buffy's with me because you let her go, you bloody great
Angel dropped Spike in one
motion and in the next his fist connected with the younger vampire's
jaw hard enough to slam him back into the wall of blue fur behind them.
"I let her go because it was the right thing to do! Something
you're incapable of understanding."
Spike pulled himself upright
on one of the thing's tentacles, wiping blood from his mouth with the
back of his hand. It left a gory smear of mingled red and purple
across his sleeve. "What I'm incapable of is leaving her--not
unless she gives me the boot herself. I’d fucking well rather walk
out into the sun and burn. She makes me feel--balls, why am I telling
you this? You know! And you left anyway, because you'd bloody
well rather wallow in misery than try to solve the problem!"
"Better to face the misery
than delude myself into thinking we had a future," Angel snapped.
"And that's all it would be: delusion. Every single thing
that made it impossible for Buffy and me goes double for Buffy and you.
You're evil. She's not. You're immortal. She's not.
You'll burn in the sun and she'll wither in the dark. It's not
meant to be."
Spike's lip curled up to
expose one razor-sharp canine and he all but spat at Angel's feet.
"Why should I give a toss what's meant to be? I'm not the special
pet of the Powers, with a bouquet of prophecies pinned to my manly chest.
I can do as I sodding well please with my unlife--not that I wouldn't
anyway. What's meant to be is what happens, when it happens, and
not a minute sooner."
Angel said, emphasizing the word very deliberately, "Is that Buffy
died. That's a traumatic experience."
"Yeh, seems to me I remember
it being a tad upsetting. Can’t recall you being there."
"She told me that when she
first came back, you were the only thing that seemed real to her.
She figures that's love." Angel’s dark eyes raked Spike up and
down. "I figure it's instinct. She's a Slayer. Killing
your kind is what she was born for. Of course you're going to be
the first thing she focuses on." He gave Spike a knife-edged smile.
"But you know what? She's waking up now. She's starting to see
other things again. I'm betting that when she realizes that there's
a whole real, daylight world out there for her--she'll walk out into
it. And you won't be able to follow her. What are you going
to do then?"
"Ring you up and cry on
your shoulder. Here, did you just hunt me down to--half a mo'."
Spike cocked his head to one side, ice-blue eyes slitted, an incredulous
grin curling across his face. "Bloody hell, I get it--you
want me to cock up, don't you? You'd throw a sodding ticker-tape
parade if I slipped and took a nibble from the nearest warm body.
If I can be a good boy, you can't can keep yourself toasty warm at night
with your woolly blankie of moral superiority. You didn’t help
breaking her heart--no, that was Angelus. Can't hold the bloody special
soul-having Angel responsible for what the soulless monster did!
Well, bugger that! I've sussed it out, Peaches--it took almost a
year for Buffy to admit I could love her, and she’s still half
convinced there's something wrong with her that you couldn't love
her without your bloody soul. If I'd no other reasons I'd play white
hat just to spite you, y'pathetic wanker!"
"You know, Spike, I came out here
tonight with half a mind to kill you, and--"
Spike's eyes went wide and
Angel felt a twinge of irritation; surely he wasn't going to try the
old 'There's someone behind you!' trick. A second later he recalled
that Spike was the world's worst liar, and spun around. Not someone;
With a gargantuan shudder
the blue-furred monstrosity rolled over, coiled its two uninjured
tentacles around the nearest lamp post, and heaved itself upright to
the accompaniment of metallic pops and groans. Spike dropped
to his knees as a tentacle lashed out and the ropy appendage whipped
over his head and wrapped itself around Angel. The creature had
learned its lesson; the thing gripped him too low around the waist for
him to reach it with his fangs. Spike, crouched on the grass below,
looked up at him and laughed, then sprang at the demon, aiming for another
eye. Before he reached his target a small lithe shape bearing a
long, spear-like object came hurtling down from the roof of the restaurant.
It landed squarely on top of the demon's rolling back, astride the gnashing
pit of teeth, and thrust downward with the thing in its hands. The
demon shrieked in pain.
"Past time you got here, pet!"
Spike yelled. "You missed Peaches admitting he’s got half a mind!"
“Shut up and hit things, Spike!”
The thing she'd rammed into the demon's maw was a push-broom, one of
the industrial fiberglass-and-metal models. The demon choked and
shook itself, and Spike laughed, pulping another eyespot. Buffy grinned
down at him, her now-unbound hair a wild golden halo about her head, her
eyes shining green and alight with feral joy. This time his arm went deeper;
he hauled out something fibrous and necessary-looking. The demon
jerked and staggered, a Brobdignagian marionette with tangled strings.
Its rings of teeth pulsed futilely around the head of the broom, unable
to spit it out or snap it into pieces small enough to swallow.
Buffy hung on to the shaggy blue carpet of fur as it spun ponderously
in place and started its second topple of the night. Angel struggled
wildly in the grip of the creature's tentacle, and horror chased excitement
from Buffy’s face as she realized it was going to land right on top of
him. She yanked on a double handful of fur in a hopeless attempt
to steer the creature’s bulk sideways.
Something slammed into
him from the side just before he hit the ground, stretching the tentacle
out to its fullest extent so that as the black-speckled blue hulk descended,
it crashed to earth several inches short of Angel's body. The
tentacle uncoiled on impact, and Angel rolled head over heels and fetched
up against the foot of the privet hedge. The thing which had slammed
into him lay draped across his shoulders for a second, then sat up and
shook itself. Spike. Angel’s eyes narrowed. "What
the hell did you do that for?"
Spike began picking privet
leaves and clumps of mangled rye grass off his jacket. “Oh, there’s
gratitude for you.” He cocked a sardonic eyebrow at his grandsire.
"Because I love her more than I hate you."
Buffy let go of the demon's
fur, dropped to the ground and ran over to them, skidding to a halt
on her knees. "Are you all right?" Her words made no distinctions,
but it was Spike’s shoulders her arms encircled. Her hands traveled
over his face and body, checking for damage. Buffy cradled his
head on her shoulder, her face buried in the sticky tangle of his hair,
and Spike nuzzled her ear with a resonant growl.
"Never better, love."
His eyes shimmered from gold to blue at her touch, and his brow ridges
receded--no shame there at her touching his demon face; more as if
he were slipping into a more comfortable set of clothes. "You?"
Wonderful. Mmmm..." Angel heard her breath catch and
resume and her heart trip faster than her recent exertions could justify.
Her lashes swept a fringe of dark silk across her flushed cheeks as grey-in-this-light
eyes darted for a moment in his direction; had he not been there, Angel
was convinced, the two of them would be tearing each other's clothes off
and having at it on the blue-furred hulk at this moment. He had
a queasy sense of deja vu on multiple levels: Spike making savage
love to Drusilla, couched upon a heap of exsanguinated corpses.
Buffy tearing across the dance floor of the Bronze to leap on him, giddy
with her own strength and sensuality, heedless of the danger of unleashing
it on him...or perhaps welcoming that danger.
He'd seen something close
to the core of her being that night, and again on the night when he'd
given her those scars on her neck, something deep-rooted and frighteningly
strong. Something Faith’s fall from grace had frightened her into
keeping under rigid control ever since. Now, as she nestled in Spike's
arms, he could sense that the bonds she’d placed on herself were loosening
and fraying. Spike might not have prompted her dangerous intoxication
with the darker side of her nature, but it was obvious that his presence
He wasn’t in love with her
any longer, nor she with him, but he loved her still, if only for the
sake of what she’d done in dragging him as far out of the darkness as
it was possible for him to come. He couldn’t allow Buffy to fall
into the abyss she’d rescued him from.
Unwitting of his realization,
Buffy drew back and took in the condition of Spike's clothes with
dismay. "I think I speak for both of us when I say thank God
for Nordstrom's generous return policy." She jerked a thumb at
the demon. "What is that thing?"
"Rudnark demon." Spike
got to his feet and gave Buffy a hand up. "Not very bright, but
they take a lot of killing. Teach me to go anywhere without an
axe again." The Rudnark made a violent choking noise, something
like the dying wheeze of a fork-clogged garbage disposal, and gave a
Buffy gave it a kick and
yanked the broom free. "On the other hand, maybe we've just been
underestimating the lethal possibilities of janitorial supplies for
all these years." She turned to Angel and took his hand.
"We're lucky you happened to be here..." Suspicion clouded her eyes.
"You did just happen to be here, didn't you?"
Angel looked at Spike, who
shrugged infinitesimally: Your move. Spike had saved him from
a painful convalescence at least, though he'd done so only for Buffy's
sake, and keeping Buffy’s trust at this point was paramount. "Cordelia
had a vision." True; Cordelia had had lots of visions.
"What you might call a fortuitous
coincidence," Spike said, a wicked gleam in his eyes.
"Well, it's a good whatever
he said." She squeezed Angel's hands and smiled up at him; a
century of sunrise encompassed in a single human face--she'd never looked
less like someone with a death wish. "Thank you. You know--I
was terrified of seeing you. Terrified of telling you about... everything.
But you’ve been--wonderful." She looked down at herself and wrinkled
her nose. "The disco fever has definitely broken. Maybe we
should just go find a hotel with dry-cleaning and room service and check
in for the night. We can take a cab back to Dad's apartment before
sunrise, sleep in, and head back to Sunnydale this evening."
Spike wrapped his arms around
her from behind and nipped at her ear. "Mmm, I love a woman
who takes charge. Lead the way, love."
"Thanks again!" Buffy called
as they started off towards the waiting cab. "Say hello to Cordelia!"
Angel stood with hand
in pockets and a deeply unhappy expression as the two of them walked
off arm in arm, covered in purple ichor and palpably eager to be alone
with each other. He had more sense than to ever admit to Cordelia
that he'd been within twenty miles of Buffy Summers tonight. He
felt a sick twist in the pit of his stomach.
He was going to have
to call Giles. The Watcher hated him quite as much as Spike
did, and for far better reason; if his passion was quieter, it was
no less potentially deadly. But there was no help for it, given
Buffy's disturbing behavior. Angel drew a pained sigh and headed
back towards his car, and that thrice-cursed cell phone.
Candles, black. A
whole bank of them, a Milky Way’s worth of miniature stars.
The circle inscribed in red ochre and sulfur, sigils drawn at each
cardinal point with blue chalk, because you couldn’t get powdered
lapis on such short notice and Anya would have noticed something funny
if she’d special-ordered it. Real frankincense, a fine powder
scattered across the glowing coals in the brazier. It smouldered
and melted around the edges as its languorous perfume rose into the
still air of the cavern. Crow’s feather to the left, an ebony slash
against the rock. Cock’s feather to the right, glowing tawny red
in the candlelight. In the center of the circle, the knife.
Silver, hand-long blade, triangular--a knife designed for the penetrating
wound, for drawing blood.
Of course, there would be
Willow smoothed the crumpled,
ink-stained pages of the grimoire flat once more, tongue-tip wetting
her lips. She’d copied as much as she could of the text and
pored over its translation for the last several nights, even tried
a small spell to leech the ink-stain out of the ancient paper, but
there were still large segments of commentary she couldn’t read, and
the exact purpose of the spell remained obscure. The blue chalk
worried her, but Buffy would be coming back to Sunnydale tonight, and
tomorrow--tomorrow she’d have to have her miracle ready. She’d
compensated by using the frankincense instead of the combination of
stoat’s musk and pine resin the spell called for--frankincense was expensive,
but she had no idea where she was supposed to find a stoat. She’d
taken other precautions, too: she’d drawn another, larger circle in
corn meal and turquoise chips around the circumference of the cavern
and called on Raven and Corn Mother and all the powers of an entirely
different and antithetical tradition to confine any energies which might
escape the inner circle.
She knelt in the center
of the inner circle, sweating palms folded on her lap. Compared
to some of the spells she’d done in her life, this one used comparatively
little raw power. It was well within her current limits.
Probably, if anything went wrong, she could break off the invocation,
refuse to harbor the power she was calling and send it packing.
Probably. There was no kidding herself that this wasn’t dangerous
and stupid, but--
Visions of a wretched landfill
encampment she’d never seen with her own eyes flashed through her brain,
phantom shapes wracked with misery and fear that she could alleviate--
if only . Buffy’s face, her eyes full of disappointment:
I thought I could depend on you, Will. Tara’s earnest
voice, full of pity: I thought you were someone special.
Other faces, other memories: Moloch, advancing on her with mechanical
deliberation; Mayor Wilkins, cheerily threatening her with death; Spike,
drunk and vicious and about to slice her face open; Verruca, laughing
at her weakness; the scarecrow figure of Daniel Tanner, tearing her mind
free of its moorings...
She closed her eyes and
tipped her head back, breathing deeply to calm her racing heart.
She raised her arms, palms outspread, and began. Willow picked
up the cock’s feather, and flung it onto the coals. The stench
of burning feathers joined the heavy odor of the incense.
Herald of the Dawn, guardian of the gates
Let that which I summon enter!
She could feel the currents
of power stirring, rising within her. She picked up the crow’s
feather and tossed it after its mate.
Herald of the Dusk, guardian of the gates
Do not bar the way, but hold it open!
Willow fumbled for the hilt
of the knife; the silver was chill against her skin, an interstellar
cold. Willow scrunched her eyes shut, gritted her teeth,
and plunged the knife into her palm, the point slicing through skin,
stabbing through muscle and tendon, sliding between the metacarpal bones
to emerge from the back of her hand. “Thus do I grasp the door
into the Great Abyss!” she screamed, yanking the knife free. Agony
lanced through her, pain too great to encompass shooting all the way up
into her shoulder and coiling around her spinal cord. “Thus do I
open the door!” Tears blinded her; blood flowed from the double wound
in scarlet rivulets, dripping onto the coals and hissing like a nest of
snakes. “Thus do I consecrate the threshold!”
Willow slapped her bleeding
left palm down on the brazier. The red and black of the coals
seared itself onto the back of her eyelids, and there was noplace she
could escape. Fire and ice, meeting, melding, becoming one pain
impossible in its scope and perfection. She could smell her own
flesh burning, and a part of her mind flung up memories of summer barbeques
and hamburgers broiling on the back yard grill. She almost vomited
at the image, but with iron determination she swallowed her own bile and
pulled her hand away. “The way is open, the path is clear!
Enter in where you have been made welcome, Lord of the Great Dark, make
of me the vessel for your power and I shall be thy willing servant!”
A wind sprang up where
no wind should have been, and the candle-flames dipped and lay almost
flat for a breath, for two--and then they were gone, every flame snuffed
out, and the great dark they’d kept at bay rolled in and drowned all.
There should have been thunder, there should have been lightning and the
howling of wolves. There should have been the wailing of damned
souls as the Hellmouth gaped wide. But the wind was gone as quickly
as it had come, and there was only the deep silence of the caves, made
deeper by the slow insistent drip, drip, drip of water in the far distance,
in some jet-black fastness where the earth yet labored to bring forth a
garden of stone, building its cold limestone blossoms petal by petal over
the millennia. Willow knelt alone in the dark, cradling her throbbing
hand in her lap and rocking back and forth in pain. Her sobs made
pitiful little dents in the silence.
Out of the darkness a greater dark coalesced,
black as night, black as ice in the deeps of midwinter, an absence
of light so intense that it froze the eyes no less than too great a
concentration of light could burn. Vast it rose above her, stretching
itself from floor to roof-beam, from wall to wall, and perceiving her
huddled there stooped like a falcon upon a dove.
Woman, why are you
There was nothing else she
could say. “It hurts. It hurrrts!”
Then bid it stop.
Too dazed to do anything
but obey, Willow mumbled, “Wounds be healed, pains be eased.”
The pain stopped.
And there was no joy in the universe so great as that moment, when
the mind still comprehended the full extent of the pain and realized
it was no longer there. It was the feeling you got when the Midol
kicked in, except a million times better.
Willow crouched on the bare
stone floor, holding her uninjured hand. “Fiat lux,” she whispered.
A ball of golden light sprang into being over her head, shining down
on the half-melted ranks of candles, the sullenly smoking brazier,
the bloodstained knife. She looked down at her palm; beneath
the film of drying blood, the skin there was pink and smooth and perfect,
save for a thin silver scar running through the center, bisecting the
lines of head and heart and life. Turning her hand over revealed
a matching scar on the back, from knuckles to wrist. She flexed
her fingers, probing inwardly for the scraped-dry feeling. It wasn’t
She scrambled to her feet,
looking around. There was her book bag and her trusty blue nylon
duffle. She pointed at the brazier. “Cool!” She bent
over and touched the rim with tentative fingers; the metal held no
trace of heat. She picked it up, knocked the half-burnt coals out,
and straightened, cupping it in her hands. “Clean!” Instantly,
the metal sparkled in the witchlight.
And she felt fine.
Just like her old self. Willow broke into a grin, and a giddy
laugh escaped her. She hugged the brazier to her chest and spun
around, scuffing the now-powerless sigils beneath the soles of her sandals.
“Woo! I did it! Ignite!” The candles sprang back
to life. “Volo!” She rose into the air and swooped around
the cavern, narrowly missing a stalactite--Disneyland had a new E-ticket
ride. “Willow Rosenberg, wicca supreme, rides again!”
The cold black voice brought
her up short in mid-swoop. As it should be. But there
will be time for celebrations later. It is time to meet your
One by one, from out
the pitch black depths of the tunnels on every side, the eyeless men
Continued in Part 20