By Barb Cummings
Sequel to A Raising in the Sun
Seven o' clock,
Sunday morning, cold as Southern California allowed and slightly foggy; earlier,
before the sun had come up, breath had been visible on the still air.
Daniel Tanner shuffled down the sidewalk and turned into the alley behind
the Doublemeat Palace, heading for the dumpster where, if he were lucky,
he'd find the leftover burgers tossed out by last night's closing shift,
still safely ensconced in their greasy wrappers. A careful walk down
the center of the alley, one foot before the other in the grimy trickle of
condensation. Not too close to the doors, not too close to the watching
huddles of trash or the looming metal bulk of dumpsters--mouths had teeth,
teeth to bite with.
Lizzie had died in the night, slipped
out of herself through the hole in her crushed skull and danced away with
never a word, and he'd spent the rest of the night bullying a terrified Jim
and Ramon into helping him move the body out of the landfill.
There was no end. There was no cure.
They'd lied, the eyeless men, opened their dead mouths and spat out maggot-words
that meant nothing. "There are rules," he muttered, and knew with some
small part of his mind that the words were too loud, too angry, that if people
heard him they would shy away. "There are limits and bounds."
There were laws that circumscribed the greatest of forces, promises that had
to be kept or unmake their guarantor in their neglect. He'd kept his
half of the bargain, and he would see, if it meant his dissolution, that the
eyeless men did likewise.
As soon as he raided the dumpster.
Vengeance was a luxury reserved for those with full stomachs.
Willow Rosenberg woke to the certainty
of power and the sweet weight of her lover's head upon her shoulder.
With her fingers she parted the netted swath of honey-blonde hair concealing
her beloved's face, exposing to mortal view the shuttered eyes, the stubby
dark blond lashes lying upon the silken cheek. This was Tara in a nutshell,
some part of her forever aloof, forever hidden. Not by design or desire,
but simply because there was always more of Tara, the farther in one went.
Tara hid her serene face behind a curtain of hair, Tara hid her unfashionably
lush body behind baggy sweaters, Tara hid her iron will behind a facade of
diffidence. There was always one more veil to pierce, another hope that
this was the final curtain and behind it the white limbs of the goddess would
rise from the pool, sky-clad and radiant, and rather than striking the intruder
blind would fold her to her bosom... Now am I special enough to catch
your eye? Now do I have the power to hold you?
Tara's eyes opened, blue-grey, the color
of distant mountains. Tara's lips curved, no less sweet than the curve
of her hip beneath the blankets, the succulent weight of her breasts pressed
against Willow's slim body. She could nestle into the comforting softness
of Tara's arms, worship at the altar of her body, bury her face in the well
of delight between her thighs, and Tara would cry out in joy and weep in ecstasy
beneath her lapping tongue...
But there was always one more veil.
Dawn Summers lay awake watching the moving
shadows on the ceiling, and thought bitter thoughts about the coming appointment
with her social worker. Her existence was built on a foundation of sand.
The photographs hanging in the stairwell and tucked into little stick-on
holders in the photo albums, bright fleeting images of vacations past.
The box of report cards (A's, A's, and more A's; until last year, the
good sister, the smart sister, the sister who didn't burn down gymnasiums).
The chess set under the bed with the broken black rook, chipped against the
wall when she'd thrown it at Buffy when she was six--all, all a sham.
She hadn’t existed before last fall, the chess set hadn’t existed.
They told her it didn't matter, they told her that they loved her anyway,
but in the dark hours of morning when she stared at the ceiling and thought
Who am I? it did matter, because they'd been made to love her.
I steal, therefore I am.
Buffy Summers dreamed.
She didn't want to examine the darkness
too closely; something prowled back there. She could hear the pad of
feet on floorboards, the low growl... but she couldn't stay in bed; Willow
was calling and she had to go downstairs again. She got up, her long
white nightgown trailing on the floor. She took up the candle from her
bedside in her hand, holding it high overhead. "Boy," she said, "Why
are you crying?"
He looked up from his cross-legged seat
on the bare wood floor, moonlight curls tumbling over the high forehead.
Silver tear-tracks marked his cheeks. "I've caught it," he said,
"but I can't hold on forever." His shadow stretched away into the darkness,
black as jet; in its arms a bright shape struggled.
The thing in the darkness crept closer,
and its growl muted to a pleading whine. It slunk up to rub against
Spike's knee and he reached down, ruffling its fur and crooning to it.
She couldn't see its face, but she could hear its claws kneading the floor.
"Send it away," she whispered.
"Can't do that, love. It's not mine.
Here--you have to take this." He held out the bright shape; it flickered
in his grasp and darted away into the shadows. She gasped, snatching
for it, but the beast was faster, leaping after the shining figure with a
Spike was gone, replaced by a bespectacled
young man in antiquated clothing. A green-scaled, razor-fanged demon
crouched at his side. He held a hand to his mouth, hiding an apologetic
cough. "I realize our situations are not precisely identical," he said.
"But sooner or later one has to come to an accommodation." The demon
growled agreement and bumped its nightmare head against his arm; he scratched
its spiny ears fondly. For a second they looked at her with identical
pairs of blue eyes before blurring together into Spike once more. The
beast trotted back from the shadows, the shimmering figure held with tender
care in its jaws. Spike smiled proudly and patted it on the head.
"There's my girl." He looked at her. "Blood and a little kindness--best
feed it, pet. They get stroppy when they're starved." He took
her shadow from the beast's mouth and held it up. "Well?"
"Soap won't do," she said. "It must
be sewn back on." She sat down on the edge of the bed, wincing
in anticipation, and lifted one bare foot. He sat down tailor-fashion
and pulled a needle and thread out of his duster pockets and held them up;
the needle glinted bright and wicked as a dagger in the candlelight.
Spike began to sew her shadow back on. She scarcely felt the first needle-pricks,
but as he continued to work, the pain increased. Blood ran down his
fingers, and every few stitches he stopped to lick his hands.
"They'll never be clean, you know," he
said. "And this--" He lifted one hand up, pale tongue flicking out to
capture a crimson rivulet before it reached his wrist, and pointed to the
limp rag-clad heap in the corner-- "Is your fault."
The heap of rags was a body. The
dead woman's face was pale and waxy, and the hair around the depression in
her skull, smashed in as if by a length of pipe, was matted with old blood.
Tanner crouched over her, looking up at Buffy with fathomless dark eyes.
"Her name was Lizzie."
They were all looking at her, the dead
woman, the living man and the undead one. The beast growled softly,
uneasy. She should have known the name. "It's in a good cause,"
she said, hearing the weakness of her own words. "Isn't it?"
Spike shrugged. "We won't know for
certain until it's too late, will we?" He held out his hand again, palm
cupped; it was full of tiny blood-red droplets. Pomegranate seeds.
"Here. You get this out of it, anyway. I can't promise they'll
She took the handful of seeds and regarded
them doubtfully. Had she heard this story before? She could throw
them away, crush them underfoot. "What about you?" she asked.
"Ah, I've eaten already." He patted
his stomach. "Came off the other tree, and I think it was green.
It's given me a hell of a bellyache. May take awhile to digest."
Could she afford these? The budget
was so tight. She felt a blunt head nudging her elbow from behind, and
a warm damp tongue tickled her fingers. She wasn't ready to look it
in the eye yet, but... hesitantly, she stroked the beast's muzzle. She
stuffed the seeds into her mouth, crunching down hard on the pips as the
juice ran down her throat, red as life's blood, red as fire, and heard the
beast break into a rumbling purr. The pain wasn't in her feet any longer,
but in her gut. With every stitch, the needle dug deeper, the thread
grew stronger. It hurt. It hurt. It...
The dream dissolved into shreds and tatters,
leaving the bittersweet richness of pomegranate juice on the back of her tongue.
Buffy lay there, unwilling to open her eyes and admit she was awake just
yet. She could feel the twinge deep in her belly as her body grudgingly
followed her mind into wakefulness. Damn. Cramps. It was
a good sign, she supposed. Her first period since coming back, proof
that all the plumbing was in working order. It was difficult to feel
disassociated from reality when your uterus was tying itself in knots.
She got up, checked to make sure there was no blood on the sheets, and shuffled
across the hallway and into the bathroom to ransack the cabinet drawers for
Suitably fortified, Buffy faced herself
down in the mirror, scrubbed her teeth (dutifully turning off the water during;
a Slayer was conservation-minded, except when engaged in hour-long hot shower
orgies with the undead--but, she assured herself, it had been with
a low-flow shower head) and did fearless battle with the horror that was bed
hair. So this is the face of a girl who sleeps with vampires.
Funny how it didn't look that much different from the face of the girl who
violently repressed any desire to sleep with vampires. Where was the
mark of Cain, the scarlet letter that she could flaunt defiantly?
Not even an incipient zit. Buffy bared minty fresh teeth at her reflection,
spat toothpaste foam into the sink, and went back into the bedroom.
The starkness of her room dissatisfied
her. The furniture was still the same--the white-painted iron bedstead,
her dresser, the chairs. Dawn had saved her diaries and Mr. Gordo and
one or two small things as mementoes, and Spike had rather shamefacedly returned
a few photos he'd snatched after the funeral, but everything else had been
thrown away or given to charity after her death: posters, knickknacks, stuffed
animals, clothes, all gone. When they'd moved the furniture back from
the U-Stor-It, the week after she'd returned to the land of the living, she
hadn't cared. The monastic austerity of bare walls had been soothing.
She went over to the suitcases she’d left behind the bed last night, opened
her overnight bag, took out the copy of the Rubaiyat Spike had given
her, and put it on the bookshelf. It was a start.
Buffy pulled open the curtains and let
the morning light flood in, looking out the window into the branches of the
oak tree where another vampire had so often crouched in the wee hours of the
morning. Spike just used the front door. He was a ghost in the
house this morning, a blanket-stealing, bony-kneed, tobacco-breathed, too-chilly-for-December
phantom with tousled platinum hair--curled at her side when she woke, standing
beside her in the bathroom, sleepily scratching his chin and expounding on
the art of shaving without a reflection. In a little while he'd follow
her downstairs and gross out Tara with his disgusting bloodsoaked mess of
a breakfast and fight with Dawn over the comic section.
If she was going to be haunted it might
as well be by the real thing. For better or worse, she'd wrestled the
earthshaking ethical dilemmas of their situation to a temporary standstill,
and now they were left with the hard stuff. Question: how exactly
does one unemployed vampire slayer, sister and mortgage in tow, put together
a life with one vampire of infinite heart and limited ethics? With
a shake of her head she went over to the dresser, pulled out the top drawer
and started tossing things onto the bed. Answer: One drawer at a
"Hey, are you coming down to breakfast
or not?" Dawn asked, poking her head around the door a minute later to find
her sister sitting on the edge of her bed surrounded by piles of clothes and
gazing blankly at the now-complete disarray of the dresser. "Tara's
making pancakes. Are you zoning out again?"
Buffy picked up a pile of sensible slacks,
all calculated to assure an interviewer that this, by golly, was a reliable
team player, and eyed them with loathing. "I do not zone. I engage
in clothing feng-shui." At one halcyon time, she'd owned six-count'em-six
pairs of leather pants, seven if you included the pair that didn't quite fit
because she'd lost ten pounds the year before starting college but couldn't
bear to get rid of because Angel had once admitted to liking them. Maybe
she could find out which thrift store had gotten the bulk of her pre-death
wardrobe and buy it back at bargain prices.
Dawn looked from the clothes to the empty
drawer hanging out of the dresser, and back to her sister. "Earth to
She was not going to blush; there was
nothing to blush about. "It's for Spike. Here, hold these."
Maybe if she moved the underwear to the bottom drawer... There wasn't
much, mainly because half of it had been ripped to shreds in the last week
and now resided in Spike's squicky-flattering collection of Stuff That Smelled
Like Buffy. She was going to have to talk to him about that, though
it might be a good idea to hide that t-shirt of his she’d snitched before
she did so.
"Ohmigod!" Dawn squeaked, clutching the
uninspiring slacks and bouncing up and down. "Is Spike moving in?"
"No!" Jump the gun much? "We've
only been...um...for a week." Buffy shoved some t-shirts to one side
and scrunched the slacks in beside them. "This is purely for slaying
emergencies, so he'll have some things on hand if he can't get back to the
crypt before sunrise." Maybe she ought to hunt up an ashtray--for the
porch, because no amount of great sex was going to buy him a ticket to smoke
in the house.
"Riiiight. Riley never got a drawer.”
Dawn flopped across the bed on her stomach and propped her head up on her
hands. “You’re, like, serious now, right? I mean, you’re having
sex. That’s serious, isn’t it?” At Buffy’s stunned-deer expression
she scowled. “Don’t go all Mom-like on me. You’re not Mom, you’re
my sister. We’re supposed to talk about boys. It’s in the manual.”
Buffy sat down beside her. “I know,
it’s just--” When had Dawn gone from ‘eww, boys’ and safe, chaste crushes
on Xander to using the word ‘sex’ in a grammatical sentence? “Yes, it’s
serious. In a way. It’s--” She shifted sideways, pulling a knee
up on the bed and taking Dawn’s shoulders in her hands. “Complicated.
Dawnie, please don’t pin all your hopes on--I know you like Spike a lot, but
there’s all kinds of... issues. It may not work out. Things could
Dawn snorted. “No way can he lose
his soul more.”
“As if--I’m sure the next Buffy boyfriend
disaster will be something entirely new and original.” Buffy picked
up one of the least objectionable sweaters and began re-folding it.
“I just don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up for an ever after here, much less
Dawn regarded her with the smug and infinitely
irritating wisdom of a younger sibling. “Then you should stop with the
happy every time his name gets mentioned. So what’s it like?”
“Sex. Does it hurt? Is it
like in those books where the--”
Buffy dropped the sweater and clapped
her hand over Dawn’s mouth. “Aaahh!” Deer weren’t big and stunworthy
enough for this expression--elk, maybe, or wildebeests.
Dawn rolled over and crossed her arms.
“Geez, Buffy! It’s not like I’m a quivering virgin or something--I’ve
“You have? Who? Who have you
“It was over the summer. This guy
I met at one of Janice’s parties. Spike killed him.”
“WHAT!?” Visions of Spike-as-chaperone,
gleefully strangling some pimply and presumptuous suitor while Dawn stamped
her foot and complained that he was embarrassing her swam through her head.
“Willow helped!” Dawn went
into a defensive sulk. “He was kind of a vampire, and no, I didn’t
notice, it’s not like I’m Miss Slut-Bomb 2001 with vast experience of what
a vampire doesn’t kiss like. Unlike some people I’m related to.”
Buffy was overwhelmed with the feeling
that the world in general and her sister in particular had breezed past her.
Dawn lay there glowering at the ceiling, the treads of her sneakers shedding
tiny flakes of dried mud onto her older sister’s quilt. Fifteen was
still a little kid, wasn’t it? At fifteen she herself had been... stealing
lipstick, shaking her pom-poms at any member of the football team whose eye
she could catch, cutting class to kill vampires. OK, bad example.
“Valiantly attempting to be the cool yet authoritative older sister
here, but you can’t just drop the whole sex talk thing on me like that.
I have to prepare. Work up a speech. Find some hand puppets.”
Dawn’s eyes revolved, blue but not so
innocent. “I know how it’s done, doofus. We had the whole
‘put the condom on the banana’ demo in health class. I just want to
know what it’s like . It’s not like you guys were exactly quiet
that night on the couch--which is still all creaky and weird to sit on, in
case you care.”
“Um...” How the heck did you answer a
question like that? Great, until your boyfriend loses his soul and
tries to destroy the world? Way to give your impressionable sister
a complex. “I guess that depends on who you’re doing it with.
And why you’re doing it. If you’re with someone you love, who loves
you, it’s...” She bit her lip. “Life-changing. So be darned
sure you want your life to change.”
Maybe that had sunk in; there was
a thoughtful moment before Dawn smirked in a manner entirely too reminiscent
of certain vampires. “I think I'll tell Mrs. Kroger that my juvenile
delinquent behavior is due to being exposed to my sister's perverted love
life. Unless I get something like, say, an XBox for Christmas to drown
out the gross smoochy noises in the middle of the night--"
Buffy threw a rolled-up sock at her and
Dawn disappeared down the hall, cackling.
The house was filling with the heavenly
odors of coffee and Tara's pancakes when Buffy came downstairs a few minutes
later, mingling with the pervasive pine-scent of the Christmas tree.
Buffy stopped to give it a wondering look on the way into the kitchen--decked
out in tinsel and lights under Dawn's exacting artistic direction, it was
the most perfect tree she'd ever seen; it could have been torn from a Currier
& Ives print. She ran her fingers over the needles, plucked a few
off, bruised them, held them to her nose; tiny drops of resin oozed from the
broken flesh. It looked, felt, smelled... alive, and yet it was growing
up out of the same old tree stand. Was it all just an illusion, or
had Willow really transformed their scroungy old fake Douglas fir into the
real thing? Buffy had managed by dint of great effort to avoid learning
anything about magic theory over the past six years, but whether this was
just a fantastically detailed glamour or a real transformation, it argued
And raising you from the dead doesn't?
"Hey, Buff!" Willow was sitting
at the kitchen table with Dawn while Tara stood over at the stove, pouring
another dollop of batter into the skillet. "You made it! We saved
you a few pancakes. Anya e-mailed me a copy of the ceremony we'll be
doing." She passed Buffy a sheet of paper. "We're meeting at
the Magic Box at nine. You get to be the la-place, whatever that is."
Buffy gave the printout a cursory glance.
"I'll assume that's a good thing to be. I'm going to have to talk to
Giles anyway--I think I had a Slayer dream last night."
Willow's cheery expression morphed into
unease. "You think? You don't know for sure?"
Buffy shrugged and poured a generous helping
of syrup over her pancakes. Mmm, buttery goodness. "As prophetic
visions go, it was low on predictiness, high on annoyingly cryptic symbolism."
"I'll bet it predicted lots of broken
furniture in your bedroom," Dawn said. "Ow! You can't hit me,
Buffy bestowed an angelic smile on Dawn,
who was rubbing her arm with an exaggerated look of agony. "That's debatable."
"Kind of a Brunel thing, sans slashed
eyeballs?" Willow didn't wait for an answer, but got up and started
rinsing off her plate. "I've got to head over to the Magic Box now
and help Giles set up--oh, and don't take the lid off that saucepan on the
back burner, cause Miss Kitty getting into it would be of the bad, unless
we want a pet hermit crab--nothing against hermit crabs, they're kinda cute,
but no fur, which makes the petting thing problematical--"
Buffy interrupted the babble-stream before
it could develop into full-blown free association. "Dreamwise, we have
death, small amounts of gore, and formless guilt. The usual."
Self-analysis came about as naturally to her as the milk of human kindness
did to Spike, but it didn't take Sigmund Freud to figure out that part of
her was expecting cosmic retribution any minute now. Good girls didn't
sleep with soulless vampires. "Do you guys have the spells online for
tomorrow night? I've got a job interview before lunch, and that appointment
with The Kroger after lunch, but I should be free by four."
"Online, on board, on track--we are the
essence of on. Be vewy quiet, we're hunting cwazies." Willow grinned,
waved, and was out the door.
Buffy leaned back in her chair and watched
her all but skipping down the driveway, then eyed Willow's coffee cup.
"Maybe it's time to have that talk with her about decaf again."
Tara flipped the last of the pancakes
onto her plate and brought it over to the table. "I think she's just
jazzed about having her powers back." She didn't meet Buffy's eyes.
Well, that was understandable. If
being unable to cast spells had felt anything like the dull grey misery she'd
recently clawed her way out of, Buffy couldn't blame Willow for being the
extra-bouncy human superball now. She felt moderately bounceable herself.
She speared herself another bite of pancake and swirled it around in the pool
of syrup. Plus--lucky Wills!--she wouldn't be battling the persistent
worry that her recovery was bought at too high a price.
"So, what's my part in the ritual?" Dawn
asked, snatching the printout and scanning it for her name.
"Right there. 'Dawn Summers, staying
home and being grounded for her sordid life of crime.'"
"What?" From the tone of her sister's
anguished wail, Buffy might as well have said 'Stay home and have your liver
removed without anesthetic.' "That's completely unfair! I'm so
telling The Kroger you abuse me!"
"Oh, yeah, you do that. 'Mrs. Kroger,
my mean old sister won't let me participate in dangerous Satanic rites!'
Did it ever occur to you that mystic Keys to the universe and rituals to open
doors to the spirit world might possibly not be mixy things?"
"Good point," Tara said. “Though
strictly speaking, Satanism isn’t anything like... oh, never mind.”
Dawn shot her a look of wounded betrayal.
"I'll bet you just made that up."
Buffy sipped her coffee and adopted her
best Sphinx-like-adult smile. "Since you're not going to be there, we'll
never know, will we?"
The gym mats were rolled up against the
walls, fat blue coils of tarpaulin and foam. The pommel horse had been
dragged aside as well and sat watching the proceedings with cockeyed dignity
from the corner. Willow and Tara sat on one of the rolled-up mats, the
floor at their feet awash with books dragged in from the front room of the
store. Xander sat opposite them, playing around with the drum they'd
lugged up from the basement, a big-bellied, cowhide-covered instrument of
uncertain provenance. In the center of the training room floor, Rupert
Giles crouched beside a circle of white chalk, an unlikely houngan in sneakers
and sweatshirt. His hand moved over the floor, dispersing a thin, even
trail of yellow corn meal from between thumb and forefinger. In its
wake the sigils grew like living things: the vèvè of Legba,
a crossroads atop a stylized globe, crowned with a second globe, one arm pierced
with a walking stick; and the vèvè of Ghede, a tau-cross atop
a mausoleum, flanked by a stylized rake and shovel on one hand and a coffin
on the other. Various other items for the ritual were scattered about
the floor--a squeeze bottle of water, the dish of cornmeal, and a large gourd
Buffy knelt at the edge of the circle,
taking candles as Anya handed them to her from the box and setting them up
around the circumference. "...nineteen, twenty. There is no way that
the people who come up with these things don't own major stock in a candle
factory," she grumbled, setting the last of the fat white cylinders in place
and rocking back on her heels. She was dressed in training gear--leggings,
a pair of worn Nikes and a white tank top, with her hair pulled back into
Willow flipped through a few more pages
of the book she was consulting. "Are we sure this will work without
the... you know? 'A speckled cock for Legba--to be killed by wringing
its neck, not cutting its throat.' Cute little fluffy chickies? We can't
kill cute little chickies."
Tara wrinkled her nose. "Not to
encourage the blood sacrifice concept, but you've never met any roosters
personally, have you?"
"There are other acceptable sacrifices,"
Giles said, keeping his attention on the near-complete vèvè
and carefully releasing another thin stream of corn meal from between thumb
and forefinger. There was something ironic--or a touch frightening--in
the fact that Willow had been more willing to sacrifice a human soul than
a rooster. He sometimes thought that it wasn't entirely for the best
that some branches of modern Wiccan practice had so thoroughly expunged the
darker aspects of the craft; it left the practitioners with no sense of proportion.
"Voudoun ceremonies are remarkably amenable to, er, customization. It's
the thought that counts, as it were. I've even corresponded with a
vegetarian Quabbalist Mambo."
Tara laughed. "You're kidding!
I love it! Go syncretism!" Buffy and Anya exchanged blank looks.
Tara looked as if she were about to launch into an explanation, then thought
better of it and sighed. "I guess you have to be there."
"We are here," Anya pointed out.
"And yet the humor escapes us."
"All things considered--" Giles propped
a small wooden cross up in the center of the circle. "We should be grateful
we're only dealing with the Rada loa. The Petro loa demand pigs, goats..."
Occasionally people... He stepped over the ring of candles and out
of the circle, careful not to disturb any of the cornmeal patterns.
He contemplated the assemblage. There was something missing, the most
What were the questions he should be asking?
The obvious, of course; what was drawing the powers to Sunnydale in the absence
of Hellmouth rumblings, ill omens, or prophecies of any type, and what, if
anything, ought they do about it? But if one was summoning up a being
reputed to give unfailingly accurate advice, the temptation to ask a few personal
questions as well was nigh-overwhelming. Or even, he thought, a few
Candles disposed of, Buffy was limbering
up, doing stretches by the weapons rack. She took one of the fencing
sabers from the wall and began running through a few basic thrusts and parries,
warming up for what was to come. She danced through the movements, graceful
and deadly as the blades on the wall behind her, and Giles tried to put aside
his personal affection and observe her with a Watcher's clinical detachment.
She was near the top of her form these days, whipping through her training
exercises with enthusiasm both gratifying and daunting.
Any casual observer comparing the
Buffy of four or five weeks past to the girl before him now would have opined
that her health, physical and emotional, had improved immensely, and the degree
of improvement correlated closely with the amount of time spent with Spike.
The question was, was this something which would have occurred on its own
as the effects of the Raising spell faded? Was it, as a sentimentalist
might have claimed, the effects of true love? Or was some other factor
Buffy's exercises culminated in a full-extension
lunge with the saber-tip pointing at the door. Spike appeared in the
doorway a second later with a paper bag in the crook of one arm, looking sleepy
(ten in the morning was an unholy time for him to be up) but unsinged; he
must have come through the tunnels in the basement. Now the vampire
raised an eyebrow at the sword leveled at his chest and waggled his free
hand at Buffy. "Only five fingers here, Inigo." Buffy lowered
the point of her sword with a grin and bounced to her feet, flinging her arms
around his neck.
"They look good together, don't they?"
"I'm not certain," Giles admitted.
"I avert my eyes whenever it appears that physical contact is in the offing."
Still, Tara was right; Buffy wasn't the only one who looked... he wasn't certain
that one could apply the term 'healthier' to an animated corpse, but he couldn't
think of anything more apt; Spike had quite lost the gaunt, hollow-eyed look
he'd acquired over the summer. Giles adjusted the position of one of
the candles by half an inch with the toe of his sneaker and risked a glance
across the training room. Buffy still had an arm around Spike's waist
and a proprietary thumb hooked through one of his belt loops, but the unseemly
snog-fest had broken up and Spike was pulling things out of the paper bag:
a pair of covered Styrofoam cups with the Kohlermann's logo on them, and
a bottle of cheap white rum. "You have it?" Giles asked, walking
Spike nodded. "Yeh, buckets of it.
Benny was glad to be rid of it; normally he can't give the stuff away.
At least pig's blood's got body to it. Gave me a ten percent discount
too, and don't mention that to his Dad--not that one, you git, that's my breakfast.
Give over." He tossed Giles the other container.
Giles made a show of inspecting it, though
he wasn't certain what he should be looking for; one pint of blood looked
much like another to one unequipped to smell the difference. Blood from
chickens of indeterminate sex and color, slaughtered at a civilized remove
from the proceedings to spare the feelings of tender-hearted Wiccans; was
there any virtue left in it, or would the loa dismiss it with as much disdain
as Spike? Only one way to find out.
He picked up the bottle of rum, and took
it and the chicken blood over to the circle of candles to join the other offerings:
a plate of roasted peanuts and cornbread, a handful of pennies and a wad
of pipe tobacco. He unscrewed the cap and poured a measure of the rum
into a paper cup, ripped open a little restaurant packet of pepper, and dumped
it into the liquor.
"This will, of necessity, be an abbreviated
version of the full ceremony," he said, passing out photocopies of the responses
as everyone took their places. "Unfortunately it wasn't possible to
obtain the proper drapeau or--"
"And the model's not to scale and you
didn't have time to paint it." Xander rolled his copy up and beat out an
experimental tattoo on the drum. The resulting noise was startlingly
deep, rolling through the enclosed space of the training room like tame thunder.
"Spinal Tap, here I come."
Giles ignored him--ignoring Xander was
often the only possible option--and picked up the rattle. "Places, everyone.
Now, Xander." The drumroll sounded again, and Giles took a deep breath.
"Annoncé, annoncé, annoncé!"
Buffy leaped into the center of the room,
twirling the saber behind and before, dancing backwards round the ring of
candles and central cross and then forwards, saluting the cardinal points
of the compass on her way. Revolution completed, she brought the blade
up, poised for an instant on her toes. Spike stepped into her path,
weaponless, an anticipatory grin on his face. Buffy smiled back, and
struck; Spike dodged, and they were off, two magnificent animals evenly matched
in speed and nearly so in strength.
This was for show, only a shadow of the
real battles they'd fought in the past, Giles knew, but even the shadow of
that power and savagery was enough to catch the breath and speed the heart.
Spike, of necessity, fought defensively, blocking, dodging, evading the lightning-swift
darts of Buffy's blade. Now and again pain arced across his face as
he made some move too aggressive for the chip's liking.
Giles had rather expected the glint of
lust in the vampire's eyes, but it was unnerving to see it reflected in Buffy's
face. Both of them were breathing hard, completely absorbed in their
dance. Buffy lunged forward, the tip of the saber aimed straight at
Spike's heart; she was not holding back now, as the mock-battle reached its
culmination. He doubled over backwards, falling to his knees and avoiding
the thrust. Spike knelt before her, visibly aroused and grinning ear
to ear as she pressed the sword-tip to his chest, nicking the royal-blue fabric
of his shirt. Her eyes never left the his. Slowly, Buffy lowered
the sword, dropping the point to rest on the floor between Spike's knees.
Just as slowly, still with his eyes fixed upon hers, Spike bent his head
and kissed the hilt. A tremor ran through Buffy's body as he did so,
as if the weapon were an extension of her hand.
Disturbing, very disturbing, but Giles
couldn't afford to think about it just now. The spell broke; Spike rose,
and the two of them backed away from one another, returning to the outskirts
of the room. Willow and Tara, water bottles in hand, paced from opposite
ends of the room towards the circle, pouring a stream of water behind them.
As they passed, Giles intoned, "A Legba, qui garde la porte." Feet
moving to the rhythm of Xander's inexpert drumming, the women pinwheeled
out to the opposing set of walls and came back to the center once again,
completing the crossroads of water. Giles set the offerings within
the circle of candles, then knelt and picked up the dish of cornmeal, raising
it overhead and drawing a crossroad in the air over the vèvès.
Papa Legba, ovirier barriere pour
Papa Legba, ovirier barriere pour moi
Attibon Legba, ovirier barriere pour moi
Passer Vrai, loa moi passer m' a remerci
He set the dish down and picked up a candle,
repeating the gesture. "Aux Loa de feu au Sud." He passed the
fingers of his left hand through the candle-flame, too quickly to take hurt,
and held his hand over the vèvè.
"Ago! Ago-é!" the others
Giles picked up another water bottle,
feeling a frightening elation. Save for the summoning of the First Slayer,
it had been years since he'd been part of this kind of ritual, and in those
days he'd been calling on beings far more dangerous, but oh, yes, the rush
was still there, the feeling of being outside oneself, caught up in something
vast. He poured out the libation of water at the cardinal points around
the circle, calling on the proper powers at each one before swinging into
the mind-numbing repetition of the lapriyè. By
the time it was over, eyes were beginning to glaze. Giles picked up the gourd
rattle--no proper asson, lacking the beads and snake bones, but it
would do, would serve--and made a sweeping gesture over the vèvès,
as if to fling aside a veil. "A l'Espirit surtout, royaume de Bon Dieu.
Pour les Marasa, Jumeaux sacrés qui se refléctent de chaque
côté di mirior." Water spilled clear and lovely from the
lip of the bottle, the drops spattering the carefully drawn lines of cornmeal,
but that was right and proper at this stage, and Giles felt no regret.
All things passed in their time. "Ago! Ghede! Ago!
Ghede! Ago! Ghede! Ago-é!"
Giles braced himself, took a mouthful
of the peppered rum and spat it onto Ghede's vèvè; his mouth
burned, but he scarcely noticed. Everyone except Xander shuffled into
the center of the room to join the dance, and as they swirled round the ring
of candles. Xander, still seated off to the side with the drum, was
concentrating on keeping the beat, with no attention to spare for anything
else. Willow and Tara stamped and swayed exuberantly, completely caught
up in the rhythm of the ritual. Anya danced carefully, copying the
steps he'd demonstrated earlier, as if she expected a test later. Buffy
looked determined, and Spike looked embarrassed enough to combust on the
spot, but this, Giles had made it very clear, was a participatory rite; there
were no spectators. The drum rumbled on, counterpointing the slap and
scuff of feet on concrete; each beat clear, very clear, each note distinct
yet blending into an overarching framework of sound which permeated the room,
the building, the world.
It wasn't that he didn't like dancing,
because he did, and he was bloody well good at it, thank you very much, but
that was dancing--be it waltz or a foxtrot or free-form modern dance
club writhing, the point was you were talking to someone, body to body, pure
communication unsullied by words. Dancing was a primal shout--yeah,
world, this is me! And this thing they were doing now, he didn't know
what it was, but it was all about talking to something too big to listen,
one with the hymns he'd suffered through in his youth, and what if there was
a beat to it? The whole purpose was to sublimate the self, not express
Besides, how could he concentrate on some
sodding ritual dance with the maddening scent of a Slayer on the rag in his
nostrils? Blood and sweat and the hint of arousal, oh, more than a hint,
she'd enjoyed their little dust-up every bit as much as he had and Christ
he wanted to drag her away from this farce, spread those taut golden thighs
He blinked, staggered. There
was an illusion, when you stood on the platform at the back of a train while
it pulled out of the station, that you were standing still and it was the
world that was rushing away with ever-increasing speed, and it was like that
now; everything was receding--well, why not, the universe was expanding at
the speed of light... or something like that; what had he been thinking...?
The drumbeat was a roaring in his inhumanly sensitive ears. His limbs
froze, and he stumbled again. He was supposed to keep dancing.
It was important. Giles had said so, and he respected old Rupert--didn't
like him, of course, hello, vampire, and vampires don't like anyone and why
the hell was he dancing again? And where was everything and everyone
Buffy whirled around in time to see Spike
stumble and catch himself, breaking rhythm. Despite the fact that the
familiar black-clad body was standing there right behind her, part of her
remained absolutely convinced he was nowhere in... not sight, but whatever
it was that told her he was here. Giles and the others broke ranks, piling
up behind Spike. The drum faltered and fell silent as Xander realized
that something had happened.
Spike, or whatever was inhabiting
his body, looked at her and broke into a lascivious grin, tongue-tip dancing
across sharp white teeth--Spike, but not-Spike. "It's you again!" she
He bent over, and picked up the remains
of the peppered rum, tossed it off and licked his lips. "You went and
opened the door, ti-blanc," he said. It was Spike's voice, a touch more
nasal than usual, but the intonations, the accent, were all wrong. "Why
you so damned surprised when we walk through?" He stretched out one
arm and examined it, twisting his hand back and forth so the muscles of his
forearm rippled under the pale skin. "Fuck me, I got to get one of
these. You smell good enough to eat, ma Cherie."
It had been bad enough when Tara had been
the one ridden by the loa; this was somehow infinitely worse. An irrational
and extremely pissed-off voice in the back of her head was screaming Give
him back, give him back, give him back! Buffy forcibly muffled it and
pulled away as Giles stepped forward, the gourd rattle still clasped in his
hand. "Papa Ghede," he said respectfully, "please accept the offerings
we've brought, and favor us with your advice on the questions which trouble
"There's offerings and offerings."
Not-Spike grinned at Buffy again and grabbed his crotch. "You found
the cock you was chasing, no? You had your mouth full of that drumstick
often enough, Cherie; how come you still so hungry?" Buffy clenched
her teeth and felt her face heating up; was it kosher to give the god you'd
just summoned a good punch in the nose? Not-Spike just laughed and dropped
to the floor cross-legged, grabbed the chicken blood and the roast peanuts
and began crunching them down happily. "Good stuff. I like the
barbeque flavor better, just so you know. So what's so damn important
to ask Papa Ghede?" he said with his mouth full.
Giles, somewhat nonplused at the informality
of it all, squatted down beside the loa. "Well... I suppose the most
important question is why are you here? I don't mean here specifically,
or you specifically," he added hastily. "In the last week or two there's
been an unusually high concentration of... well, for lack of a better term,
emanations of the divine in and around Sunnydale. And yet we can find
no prophecy to explain this--no apocalypses appear to be on the schedule.
What does this mean?"
Ghede finished off the chicken blood and
took a pull from the bottle of rum. "The world's out of balance.
Someone's got too many players on the field, and the other side's gone and
bitched to the ref. There's rules, ti-blanc. There's limits and
bounds, and someone's been stepping over them." He shrugged. "Something
gonna snap soon."
Before Giles could pose another question,
Willow interrupted, her voice unwontedly shrill. "You mean the Balance,
right? That it's gone out of whack? And we should all be doing
anything we can to make sure the good guys win, right? Because last
time, Acathla, Hell, cats and dogs living together--major badness!"
Bright blue eyes darted to the witch's
face, knowing. "You think Light should win? You try getting to
sleep when the sun never sets. You think Dark should win? You
try eating bread when the corn don't grow! You can't have a world without
day and night both. Both sides, they fight like kids on a see-saw, but
we in the middle, we know. The seesaw don't work without a weight on
both sides. So we come to watch where the big fight is, and maybe we
put a thumb on the scales... or maybe not." He winked, a conspiratorial
grin lighting his face.
Giles wrested back control of the conversation.
"If the Balance is indeed being upset, what can we do to restore it?"
Ghede threw back his head and laughed.
“Take the extra players off the field--or switch the team shirts!" He
finished off the last of the peanuts and began tearing into the cornbread.
Possession didn't appear to make much difference in Spike's appetite.
"Who are these extra players?"
Those eyes came back to her, sparkling
with amusement. "You see one every time you look in the mirror, Warrior
of the People."
A thread of panic entered her voice.
Did someone mention cosmic retribution? "You don't mean--"
"What I mean, I say. Now I'll answer
the one you don't ask Like calls to like, and opposites attract. Night
and day make a world." He took a final swig of the rum and wiped his
mouth on the back of his hand. "Looks like you're out of peanuts, Cherie.
Tell my horse he do okay for le mort ti-blanc."
Spike's face went slack and the blue eyes
went white, rolling back in his head. The vampire collapsed, strings
cut, and the bottle left his limp hand and clattered to the floor. Buffy
dove for him, grabbing Spike's shoulders before his head could slam into
the floor and pulling him upright again. He engaged in a brief struggle
to sit up on his own, then melted woozily against Buffy, head cradled between
her breasts. "What the bloody fuck...?" he croaked.
Spike's back, Spike's back, Spike's
back... Anyone else would have been gasping in agony at the amount of
pressure her arms were exerting; Spike just grunted a little and burrowed
into her shoulder. "You're not going to throw up, are you?" Buffy
asked. It would have been a lot easier to sound casual and unworried
if her voice hadn't kept cracking. "Because if you are, I'm dropping
you, right now."
Half a bottle of eighty-proof rotgut
was barely enough to make an impression on vampire physiology, and Spike was
a far more hardened carouser than Tara anyway. "M'fine, love.
Not gonna sick up." He showed no signs of wanting to get to his feet
any time soon; the possession itself seemed to have taken considerable toll.
He aimed a bloodshot glare at Giles. "I've got you in my book, Rupert--if
you ever snooker me into another--"
"It was rather fascinating, wasn't it?"
Giles was watching the two of them with an inscrutable expression. "I
could have wished for more time..."
"Well?" Spike hadn't grown any patience
in his encounter with divinity. "What's the skinny then? Who do
Giles sat down on the pommel horse and
began polishing his glasses. Buffy looked him. Go on, say it
. Giles was always the one to say the necessary and unthinkable.
But this time, all he did was drop his eyes and say nothing, nothing at all.
Buffy’s mouth tightened, and she hauled Spike to his feet. “I’m going
to get him back to his crypt. Talk among yourselves.”
No sun penetrated the lower levels of
the crypt, but there was always light. Splayed in the middle of the
four-poster bed, Buffy was lapped in mellow candlelight. Her hair spilled
golden over the pillows, her head arched back upon the rumpled sheets that
smelled of cigarettes and him--of both of them, now. Spike lay cradled
between her legs, as still as she save for the tiny, subtle movement of lips
and tongue in the secret places of her body, millimeter strokings and sucklings,
all that was needed to coax her to the crest of yet another melting rapture.
He could have brought her to the peak simply by breathing on her; three, six,
who-knew-how-many previous climaxes had left her whole body pliant beyond
measure to his touch, held together only by breath and exquisitely sensitive
skin. She had barely the energy to sigh as the warmth within her swelled
up again and flooded out through all her limbs.
Good girls don’t sleep with vampires.
Spike’s moan of delight segued into slurpy
noises of the sort Dawn would doubtless have parlayed into a new jacket or
three. At last he raised his head from between her thighs, licking his
bloodstained lips with a dazed, glassy-eyed smile. “Nectar," he got
out, his voice husky with satiety. "Nectar and sodding ambrosia.
God, to think you’ve been going to waste for years... we’ve got a new
rule from now on. Once a month we go to bed and don’t get out for the
next three days.”
Good girls don’t fall in love with
soulless monsters. “Spike, you’re disgusting.”
“Yeh, and you love it.” He pulled
himself up the bed, elbow over elbow, her demon lover, terrible as an army
with banners. His body was lean and taut-muscled as a racing greyhound’s,
arching over hers, hard for her again--perhaps Slayer’s blood really was an
aphrodisiac. He kissed her full on the mouth, and the taste of her own
blood and come on his tongue was as rich and wild as pomegranates. His
whispered endearments filled all the empty aching places of her heart, as
his cock filled all the empty aching places of her body--so good, so full
and whole she felt with him inside her! Spike moved within her, slow
and sweet and gentle, fangs teasing her neck but never drawing blood--what
need had he to steal what was freely given elsewhere? His beautiful
face transfigured as they approached completion together: man to monster and
back again, every aspect of him rapt in her.
In the ruddy glow of candlelight his shoulders
were scored beneath her searching hands, marked with swiftly-healing crisscross
welts from the times before which had not been so gentle. Good girls
don’t bite and claw. Good girls are very careful never to break their
boyfriends’ bones or egos. Good girls save the world without wanting
money for it.
“Love?” His hands cradled her face
as her breath hitched and tears rose in her eyes, large, strong hands, hands
which had slain their ten thousands. His arms encircled her shoulders,
holding her as tenderly as a mother her child, while Buffy sobbed against
his chest, as utterly abandoned in grief as she had been in love. “Shh,
love, Buffy-sweet, it’s all right...”
Good girls don’t get turned on by sneaking
out to kill things in the middle of the night. Good girls put duty above
love, always. Good girls never, ever feel good about themselves.
“It’s not!” She tore the words ragged
from her throat; they didn’t want to leave. “I have so much I need to
do! I have to have the sex talk with Dawn. We have a tree now,
I have to buy Christmas presents--I have t-to find a job, just in case!
And I love you, I love you so much! I can’t--I don’t--I don’t want to
die! I don’t want to die! Spike, I d-don’t w-w-want to--”
“Then you won’t!” Inhumanly strong
fingers tightened on her shoulders, candlelight flared and danced in inhuman
golden eyes and limned the serrated lines of bared fangs. Her beautiful
monster, who had so much man in him. “I won’t let it happen. I’ll
be dust before I let a one of them lay a finger on you or the Bit.”
Her Spike, who would live for her, die for her, kill for her, whom no really
good girl would allow herself to love for precisely that reason.
So you can't be a good girl,
“Will you stop me, then, if I have to
jump again to make things right?” Spike’s eyes dropped, unable to meet
hers. And she, stupid girl, had thought the worst she’d have to face
was the prospect of Spike killing someone else. “You know what it said.
Tara said it was always right--” She pressed her face into his chest, feeling
the cool firm muscle contract and shift beneath her cheek. “It can’t
just be that there’s two Slayers, there’s been two Slayers for years.
I came back wrong. That’s the only explanation. I came back wrong,
“Bollocks.” Spike sat up, pulling
her with him, stroking her hair as she had used to stroke Dawn’s when Dawn
had had a nightmare. “I’d know if you weren’t Buffy. I’d know.
There’s something else, and we’ll find it. Go home. Check on Dawn.
Change for Anya’s party. You'll feel better.” He ran the pad
of his thumb across her cheek, wiping away the tears, and his voice grew
light and teasing. “Hell, pet, worse comes to worst I’ll turn you.
You’ll have switched sides. End of problem.”
She punched his arm, and said “Asshole,”
with the inflection that meant 'I love you'. Don’t you get it, Spike?
I’m afraid that I already have.
Continued in Part 22