By Barb Cummings
Sequel to A Raising in the Sun
“I don’t want you to
go,” Anya said. She was standing behind him in the bedroom, fussing
with his collar, and Xander pulled her hand away for the third time.
Normally he liked her to fuss a little--engage in the mutual grooming ritual,
she called it, more to tease him than out of cultural cluelessness these
days. Tonight her attentiveness bothered him and he shivered her hands
away like a horse twitching flies from its skin.
Patience, always with Anya the patience.
“Ahn,” he replied, tugging his coat from its hook in the closet, “It’s your
shower. I’m not gonna hang around and mess that up for you.” The
living room was filling up with biddies of all ages and several species, and
a Sunday night which could have been profitably spent curled up together on
the couch watching bad movies and throwing popcorn at the TV screen was already
Anya didn’t pout; she never pouted.
She just looked at him in that confused-but-eager way she had, trying to understand
his Earth logic. “But it’s a party where all my friends give me presents
and wish me well. You’re my best friend, Xander. Of course you’re
invited. And you don’t even have to give me a present.”
“Girlfriends. Friends who are girls.”
He indicated himself with a flourish. “Me, not a girl. I thought
we’d gone over this.”
She sat down on the edge of the bed, radiant
in red (though God, he hoped she’d tire of the platinum hair soon; it reminded
him far too much of someone he’d far rather kick than kiss). Her face
wore that pinched unattractive frown which had been more and more in evidence
lately. Wedding stress, wedding stress--but if the arrival of Halfrek
and the rest of her demon pals had cheered Anya, it hadn’t helped relieve
him. He’d listened to them chattering in the kitchen while Anya made
dinner, stirring up memories of the good old days of slaughter and destruction
along with the tuna casserole. Sometimes he had the uncomfortable feeling
that Anya’s beauty really was just skin-deep, that at any moment sharp teeth
would slice through it from below and the Anya-skin would fall away, leaving...
something unpleasant, that was for sure. Xander Harris, demon magnet.
Because of course no normal human female could sustain a long-term
relationship with the likes of him.
He shook the thought away. Anya
tried to be normal. She put a great deal of effort into being normal,
but never seemed to realize the source of his nerves was the fact that she
did have to put effort into it. Now she was watching him again, trying
to gauge his mood from the set of his shoulders. “Sexual segregation
at entertainment functions is an antiquated custom. I don’t see why
we can’t have an up-to-date relationship.”
Xander ground his teeth and rattled the hangers
on the clothes rack so as to have an excuse not to turn around. “Is
that what Halfrek says about it?”
“No. It’s a valuable networking
opportunity, and besides that, we have Vienna sausages, which I know you
like. Why do you keep bringing up Halfrek? You’re not--do you
find her more attractive than me?” Anya gasped and clapped a hand to
her mouth. “She been flirting with you, hasn’t she? I knew it!
She’s always been the beauty! It’s like when she stole that Grud demon
all over again! ‘Oh, you’re pretty, Anyanka, but Halfrek, she’s stunning!’
And I happen to know she’s had work done on her facial veins--you can bank
on it, they’re not that perfectly defined naturally!”
Why was it that women invariably picked
romantic rivals as maids of honor? Some feminine pack ranking thing,
maybe, the alpha female depriving the rest of the right to breed? Xander
abandoned the pointless re-arrangement of his shirts and walked over to the
bed, where he sat down and put an arm around her shoulders. “No, of
Anya sniffled and laid her head on
his shoulder, letting him play with her hair. “You just don’t realize
the animal attraction you exude. It’s pheromones, I’m sure of it; it
drives women mad. I’ve seen them looking at you. Especially Willow.
Honestly, Xander, you drove the poor girl to lesbianism to try to escape her
hopeless passion for you.” She searched his face for traces of residual
Willow-lust, anxious. “It is hopeless, isn’t it?”
“Anya, honey, sweetheart, darling, you’re
making me insane.” Xander caught up her wringing hands in his and stilled
them. “I lust after neither Willow nor Halfrek. I love you.
You’re gorgeous. And I’m going out on patrol. Spike says there’s
a Krallock demon on the loose, and we’re gonna take it down.”
She caught at his sleeve, limpid brown
eyes full of nameless fears. “A Krallock demon? Do you have to?
Do you realize they can bite through pig iron? If you absolutely can’t
stay here, why not go to a movie or participate in something that won’t result
in bodily injury and reduced work hours? It’s a Sunday night!”
More patience. Heaping bucketfuls
of patience. Anya, after all, came from a long line of demons who sensibly
abandoned ship when an apocalypse rolled into town, and he came from a long
line of people who were only passingly acquainted with the concept of ‘sensible.’
“I know. But Buffy and Willow and Tara are all coming to your
shower, they being of the girl persuasion, and someone’s got to patrol--”
“For one night, don’t you think--”
Patience go bye-bye. “That we can
just let people be eaten for a change?” he snapped. Anya flinched away,
face crumbling around her wounded eyes, and he immediately felt like a heel.
“I didn’t mean--”
He hated feeling like a heel. “Yeah, that’s
the problem!” What exactly did that mean? Oh, well, it sounded
good. Forget reason and logic and all the nights they’d blown off patrol
to go to the Bronze or study or whatever; tonight Buffy was counting on him.
More or less. Xander stormed out into the living room, coat flapping
behind him. The effectiveness of his exit was somewhat marred by having
to maneuver around a string of middle-aged businesswomen engaged in trying
to pass an orange from one end of the line to the other without using their
hands, but as exits went, it was one of his better ones.
Willow was wearing the dead Muppet top--sleeveless,
bright red, and very, very fuzzy. Buffy was secretly positive that that
top was a sign of the coming apocalypse--if not this one, then another one
down the line somewhere, involving large toothless furry things gumming them
all to death while reciting the alphabet. Its appearance always signified
Willow in one of her insanely positive moods, which generally coincided with
one of Buffy’s ‘life sucks dead rats through a garden hose’ moods. Buffy
gazed forlornly at the small gold-wrapped package in her hands. It
was beautiful--red velvet ribbon and professionally crisp store wrapping paper
in an abstract pattern of silver and gold bells that didn’t look too obviously
Christmas-y... and no acts of hideous evil required. All she’d had
to do was change the tags. Out goes the ‘To Buffy From Dad,’ in comes
the ‘To Anya from Buffy,’ and ta-da, shower present. Wah .
Tara patted her shoulder. “Be
strong. You’re doing the right thing.”
“I don’t want to do the right thing.
I want my new Discman.” Weirdly enough, after bawling on Spike’s shoulder,
she’d gone home, showered, changed, had another argument with Dawn about her
grounding, and, as he’d predicted, felt better. In theory she knew that
a good cry and a wash-up afterwards were restoratives, but she’d been sure
that kind of emotional resiliency had abandoned her back in the age of dinosaurs.
A large part of her relative peace of mind, she suspected, hinged on the
fact that she already knew the solution to this problem, however little she
wanted to accept it right now. Or maybe she was finally learning to
harness the awesome power of Summers’ denial for good rather than evil.
If, of course, her best friend would ever
drop the subject. “Me, I think Giles is all over-reacty,” Willow said,
dispensing seasonal good cheer and blind optimism. “For all we know?
This ‘leave the playing field’ biz could be a good thing. It
could mean ‘Buffy gets to retire from the slaying and have the normal life
she’s always wanted, yay!’ And it said you’re one of these extra
players which means that there’s others and if we find them then we can--”
“Rub them out for the good of humanity?”
Buffy asked, extra-perky.
“We could at least find out why the extras
are extra.” Willow was not to be deterred by inappropriate humor. “And
you could try the retirement option and see what happens. I mean, you’re
supposed to be on strike anyway, right? Instead of making a secret identity
for your secret identity, you just quit for real for awhile.”
“Maybe you’ve got a point, Wills--several
simultaneous points--but we’ve never had much luck relying on kinder, gentler
interpretations of prophesy.” She’d been haunted by the specter of an
ordinary life for so long--she’d matched wills with Giles for it, fought the
Watcher’s Council for it, held on to Riley like a life raft for the prospect
of it. She'd thought that the trip to L.A. had finally exorcized it.
Now it rose from its grave once more, ranting about how it would have succeeded
if it weren’t for those meddling kids. What exactly did she mean by
a normal life, anyway? Starring in the Ice Capades and/or marrying Christian
Slater wasn’t really an option at this stage.
They checked the building number
as they approached the nearest block of apartments--they’d been here a hundred
times, but the complex was one of those cookie-cutter places where every unit
looked much the same as every other unit, and it wouldn’t be the first of
those hundred times that they’d ended up making embarrassed apologies to
some retired couple from Minnesota. The three of them crowded onto the
landing and Tara knocked; there was no response. “Can they hear us?”
she asked, leaning over to peer in the window. The drapes were drawn, and
a bass thumpa-thumpa-thumpa made the porch railings vibrate slightly.
Buffy bounced up and down on her toes, trying
to see through the window over Tara’s shoulder. “Thing is, I’ve tried
quitting before, remember? I can’t just turn the Slayer powers off.
Weirdness follows me around and waves its tentacles in my face yelling ‘lookie,
lookie!’” A familiar tingle chased up her spine and down again.
“Speaking of which...”
She turned, and there he was, the epitome of her non-normal
life: Spike, strolling up the walk behind them, a moving shadow in the gathering
dusk, slicked-back, bone-colored waves of hair licked with the faintest tinge
of gold in the last of the evening light. He had a bulky unfamiliar
object slung over one shoulder, and as he got closer she recognized it as
the tranquilizer gun he’d taken from Bryce’s men at Halloween. Trust
Spike to keep track of the cool toys.
“Hey.” She waved Anya’s present
at him. “You’re right. Having a conscience is highly overrated.
Turn me now so I won’t have to give this up.” I can joke about this.
Healthy sign of emotional distance or flashing neon ‘Go directly to Hell,
do not pass Go?’
Spike stopped on the step below her.
In the amber glow of the porch light the corners of his eyes were crinkled
in amusement and a pious smirk quirked his lips. “Sorry, love, but your
stunning example’s completely reformed me. Wouldn’t interfere with
your sacrifice for the world.”
“Curses.” Buffy slipped her arms
around his waist and leaned into him as if they hadn’t spent half the afternoon
shagging like mad things. They flowed together like quicksliver, her head
butting against his chest, her hands gliding up the small of his back.
Muscle rolled beneath her hands as he shifted the weight of the trank gun.
Very touchable, Spike, very tasteable. Blood and smoke on her tongue,
complex leather-whiskey-earth scent in her nose and rumbly happy-vampire noises
vibrating in her ear; a workout for all five senses. She could spend
a year learning the exact proportions of his mouth by heart, charting the
curve of his lower lip, the precise angle of the divot in his upper lip as
the cool supple flesh grew warm beneath her own.
She pulled away and nodded at the gun.
“Don’t tell me, let me guess. You were invited to the shower, and decided
Anya really needed something to keep Xander from straying out of the game
Spike snorted. “Some of us have
patrol tonight, Slayer Chavez.” He looked at Willow. “Got ‘em?”
Willow gave him a tolerant smile; Laymen!
it said. “Quality spellcasting,” she said, “Takes time. They
have to soak for another couple of hours. I’ll zing ‘em them over to
you after the shower.”
“Fat lot of good that’ll do us if the
blighter decides to show ahead of schedule,” Spike grumbled. “Krallock
demon,” he added by way of explanation to Buffy. “We’re off to track
it down its lair as soon as I extract Harris from the hen party. They’re
tough bastards. Red said she could add a little extra mojo to the darts.”
Willow made a ‘pfft’ noise and waved his
complaint away, unfazed. “A little! Ho ho. This is no weenie little
sleep spell. Au contraire! One poke from these puppies will knock
your beastie into next week.” She made an illustrative jab at the air.
Tara looked askance at Willow. “When
did you agree to...?”
“Last night? When you guys were
trimming the tree with Dawn? And this morning, did you not notice the
nasty green bubbly thing on the left rear burner?” Willow sounded the
tiniest bit exasperated. “I told you, the magic’s back. I didn’t
realize I needed to clear every spell I do with you.”
“Of course not--it’s just... I mean...”
Tara was looking flustered in the extreme,
and Buffy intervened. “Isn’t it a little soon to be making with the
big magic? Tomorrow, big spell-casting night, with us needing a well-rested,
chipper Willow. It’s not that we don’t trust you, Wills, but two days
ago you were wearing yourself out lighting your candle, and now you’re burning
it at both ends.”
Willow folded pale arms across her fuzzy
red torso, eyes scrunched and lower lip protruding. Her good cheer was
beginning to acquire a sullen edge. “I told you, not a problem.
If you don’t want to believe me, fine.”
Spike kissed the top of Buffy’s head
and murmured in a perfectly neutral voice, “Red knows her own limits best,
eh?” To Buffy he added, “Be a love and don’t kill our little pal if
you happen to run across it before midnight, hey? Or at least, don’t
let anyone see you kill it? I’ve got money riding on this.”
Buffy covered her ears in a hear-no-evil
pose. “I am shocked, shocked I tell you! As long as it’s not kittens,
I’ll try to restrain my killer instincts. It would help if I had some
idea what a Krallock demon looked like.”
“Christ, Slayer, what do they teach you
in these schools? Nine foot tall, claws as long as your arm, all over
seaweed and barnacles, smells like the Thames at low tide...”
Tara was knocking on the door again, to
no apparent effect. Spike made an impatient noise, brushed by Tara and
hammered a fist on the apartment door till it shook on its hinges. The
porch-shaking backbeat cut off, the door flew open, and from within the apartment
a gale of shrill feminine laughter added several degrees of wind chill to
the nippy evening.
A tall, statuesque woman in a cream linen
suit dress stood in the entryway. She could have just stepped out of
a cameo; she had a smooth oval face with regular features and large, fine
dark eyes. A mass of dark russet hair was piled atop her head, spilling
down her neck in a waterfall of ringlets, and a large, rather gaudy gold-and-ruby
pendant which didn’t match the rest of her tasteful attire in the least was
displayed prominently upon her bosom. This must be Anya’s maid of honor,
in human guise for the moment--Anya’d mentioned she was another vengeance
demon. The stone had a fire that drew the eye, and Buffy found herself
making calculations as to how quickly she could grab and crush it if the need
“You must be Xander’s friends. Come
on in, all of you,” the woman said. Her tone and expression conveyed
politely unexpressed curiosity as to why Xander’s friends would be intruding
upon Anya’s wedding shower. Buffy’s finely honed bitch-detection alarms
gave a warning buzz. “I’m Halfrek. Please call me Hallie.”
Tara mustered a polite smile, and Willow
looked at Halfrek curiously--Willow’d come within a hair of being a colleague,
after all. Halfrek stepped back and held the door open. The spotless
apartment beyond was festooned with streamers in blue and white and full of
people. Considering the usual state of Xander’s apartment when he’d
been living alone, it gave one a real respect for Anya’s talent for organization.
Willow and Tara filed inside.
Buffy hooked her fingers through Spike’s and breezed after them, to be brought
up short when Spike remained rooted to the spot, staring at Halfrek.
Had he never been invited in? She’d gotten the idea that over the summer
Spike had gotten in fairly tight with the rest of the gang, but if anyone
was likely to leave him uninvited, it was Xander... She looked over
her shoulder, questioning. “Spike? Do you need an entry visa?”
“Eh?” Spike had the pole-axed
look of a man running into a girl he’d loved or hated in high school at the
ten-year reunion. He returned to earth with a shake and stepped across
the threshold, still staring at Hallie’s back as she made for the living room,
shooing Tara and Willow before her. His head was cocked to one side
in puzzlement. “Sorry, love, thought I saw a ghost.”
“William?” Halfrek asked, turning about,
fine large eyes even larger with shock at the sound of his voice. Her
hand went to her bosom, (which did, to Buffy’s intense interest, actually
heave) covering her pendant in a curiously old-fashioned gesture. “Oh,
my stars. It is William! Why aren’t you dead?”
“Cecily?” For a second Spike’s
face was naked--not just open, but stripped, peeled bare to expose some quivering
inner pith of emotion never intended to bear the sting of open air.
Then he straightened, visibly pulling the Big Bad cloak around his shoulders--head
cocked insolently back, eyes hooded, one thumb hooked into his belt--a veritable
Cherynobl of danger and sex appeal. “I go by Spike these days, and as
it happens, I am dead.”
Was there a vibe here? Buffy looked
from one face to the other. Oh, we have an entire Moog synthesizer’s
worth of vibes. I do not like her, Sam I Am.
Spike looked Halfrek up and down, nostrils
flaring. “You took up a new profession after the news about Harding
“Why, yes, D’Hoffryn contacted me right
after--” A look crossed Halfrek’s face, as at a memory which should
have been haunting, but which time and distance had rendered meaningless.
“Oh. My. Roger... So that was you.” Her voice sharpened.
“You didn’t go after me.”
A slow and unpleasent smile stretched
across his face, and Spike’s canines extended for a second. “Professional
courtesy, Miss Addams.”
Buffy was beginning to feel as if she
were witnessing some kind of emotional tennis match. Halfrek lobs
a funny look into the net, and Spike responds with a backhanded compliment!
Fifteen all! “Excuse me,” she said, waving a hand. “Did someone
forget to pass out the scorecards?”
Spike was immediately contrite.
“Sorry, love. Bit of a shock. This is--was--Cecily Addams.
We were acquainted, back in London...” He hesitated. “Before I was
turned. Halfrek, this is my girl.” He gave ‘my girl’ a defiant
emphasis, as if he feared Halfrek might miss the point. “Buffy Summers, the
Buffy smiled very sweetly and tucked a
hand around Spike’s arm, suppressing an urge to take a leaf from his book
and growl at her rival. My vampire. You cannot have him on
a boat, you cannot have him in the coat.
Xander appeared out of the mob of women
in the living room, shrugging into his regrettable brown coat. Buffy
had always had high hopes of it being shredded by something with big teeth
and a taste for Naugahyde, but so far nothing had obliged her. Xander
looked none too pleased with life, but he didn’t give any of them a chance
to ask questions. “What’s up, Spike? Old girlfriend?”
Spike and Halfrek said “Not by half,”
and “Hardly,” in frosty unison.
Xander’s eyebrows went up. “Well,
excuse me for engaging in banter without a license. You ready to rock,
“Yeh.” He tossed Xander the tranquilizer
gun with a little more force than necessary. “Will’s not gonna deliver
the goods till later, so if we meet up with anything before then you’ll have
to beat it to death with the stock.” Spike considered this. “The
night’s looking up.”
Xander shouldered the trank gun and headed
for the door. Spike turned to follow; on impulse, Buffy caught hold
of his duster and tugged him back. “Hey, you. I need my recommended
daily allowance of Spikey goodness before you go.”
Something chilly thawed in his eyes, and the small cold doubt
which had started to crystallize in her own gut melted as she felt one of
those deep growly laughs go through him. “Well, we’ll have to do something
about that, Slayer. Can’t have you going all weak-kneed, can we?”
With an inscrutable look in Halfrek’s
direction, Spike bent to kiss her, and mmmmmm, good . In the
midst of being ten dollars and fifty-two cents shy of dead broke and Giles
leaving and cryptic loas and crazy wizards there was Spike kissage, and it
was very, very good, deep, slow, caressing tongue stroking tongue while Xander
made gagging noises unheeded in the background and Spike’s strong hand slid
down from the small of her back to grab her ass and heave her upright and
damned if her knees hadn’t gone out on her there for a second. “You’ll
pay for this,” she whispered into his ear, and Spike gave her a wicked leer.
“Can’t wait.” And he and Xander
were out the door and gone.
Buffy straightened her blouse, wiped
the silly grin off her face, and turned to face Halfrek. “So,” she said
brightly. “There’s cake?”
The whole thing was Spike’s fault, of
course. Xander wasn’t sure exactly why or how, but if you traced
the connections back properly, everything was Spike’s fault. If he
hadn’t mentioned the stupid Krallock demon, maybe Xander would have taken
Anya’s advice to go see a movie, and the bed waiting for him when he returned
wouldn’t be the living room couch, and they wouldn’t be lost in the Sunnydale
Not that Spike was admitting to having
led them astray. The author of their predicament stood in the middle
of the crossroads--or more accurately, the cross-tunnel--half-smoked cigarette
askew in one corner of his mouth, his lean face sporting the tight-lipped
scowl which usually presaged someone or something getting smashed into very
small pieces. The tunnels remained blank and uninformative: each one
perfectly straight, faced with ancient tile which had once been white but
was now a dingy cream where it wasn’t mottled with stains from rust or mold.
Mysterious pipes and cables snaked along the walls, their color-coded insulation
slowly flaking away into powder. Every twenty feet or so a ceiling panel
provided feeble greenish light. The ceiling was just low enough to
make Xander feel like ducking constantly.
Xander set the tranquilizer gun down,
one hand straying to the pocket of his coat where the ordinary, un-magical
darts nestled. “Look, I know it’s against Guy Rule #147, but I think
it’s time to accept that we’re lost.”
Spike removed his cigarette and snarled,
“We are not bloody lost!” He whirled around, duster flaring, and
stalked ten or twelve paces back the way they’d come. His fingers clenched
on the haft of the axe with which he’d supplemented their trank gun, and
his pale angry eyes flicked from side to side, examining the featureless tile
of walls and ceiling. “I bloody well live down here, in case you’ve
forgotten. I know these tunnels like the back of my hand--most of these
tunnels--the ones near the crypt, anyway--and this intersection shouldn’t
be here. This tunnel’s supposed to take a jog left here and run into
the main sewer line for Wilkins Boulevard fifty feet further along.”
Xander folded his arms and leaned against
the nearest bundle of mystery cables. “Well, it doesn’t. So we
can either wander like Charlie on the MTA until we get completely lost, fall
down a pit, and starve to death--”
“I wouldn’t count on you living that long,”
“--or we can admit we’re slightly lost,
backtrack, take the right tunnel, and those of us with steady jobs might possibly
get home in time to snatch six hours of sleep before having to be at the
site tomorrow morning. I know which option I’m going for.”
Spike glowered for a minute, the muscles
in his jaw working. Somewhere in the distance, water started dripping,
marking time. Very deliberately, Spike took the cigarette butt from
his lips and ground it out against the white-tiled wall, leaving a grey-black
smudge. He tossed the butt aside, shouldered the axe and set off without
a word. Xander followed with a sense of relief; it was never certain
when Spike’s penchant for reckless stupidity would kick in, and he couldn’t
help feeling they’d just backed away from the ledge over the bottomless pit.
He trudged down the corridor in Spike’s
wake, hands shoved into his coat pockets. His thumbs still ached from
last week’s adventures, though the bandage level had subsided and he had most
of his range of motion back. Anya was right, as she was with annoying
frequency. He never should have volunteered for slaying duty on a work
night. He’d already received one warning about clocking in late--just
a friendly heads-up from Tony, the job superintendent, who liked his work.
The next warning wasn’t going to be so friendly, and might go on his record.
He couldn’t blame Tony; there was no room on a construction site for a worker
who continually showed up late or sleepy or with mysterious injuries that
interfered with his work. It was dangerous, not just for him but for
everyone he worked with: power tools, heavy machinery, and heights were just
as potentially deadly as vampires when handled carelessly. And around
every job site, clustered in every Home Depot parking lot, were the dark-eyed,
watchful men--the guys without jobs, men who’d take over his spot in a hot
second the minute the job superintendent gave the word. Construction
jobs were at a premium, and construction workers were expendable. Hell,
at any minute he could get laid off just because some banker backed out and
the next project failed to materialize.
Buffy had to fit whatever job she took
around her slaying; it was beginning to look as if he was going to have to
give serious thought to fitting slaying around his job. And that stank.
There were thousands of construction workers, and only a handful of vampire
hunters. It was what he did after hours that made his life worth something
to the world, wasn’t it? Any schmoe could slap together a condominium;
how many could say they’d helped blow away the Judge with a bazooka?
But God, Anya wanted kids. How could he possibly--
He almost ran nose-first into the back
of Spike’s head. The vampire had come to an abrupt halt; they were at
another four-way intersection, exactly the same as the one they’d just left.
Xander looked around uneasily. “I don’t remember this.”
“That’s because it wasn’t there.”
“That’s impossible. We must have
gotten turned around at that first intersection--all those tunnels did look
alike. We just went down the wrong one, and this is--”
Spike gave him the ‘Exactly how stupid
are you, anyway?’ look and pointed to the wall without a word. There
at shoulder height on the grimy tile was a black smudge, as if someone had
ground out a cigarette butt against the wall.
There was cake. There was also the
ubiquitous veggie-and-dip platter which Buffy suspected of traveling from
party to party under its own power, accompanied by its partner in crime, the
cheese and cracker assortment. Drinks included a surfeit of wine coolers
in flavor combinations never seen in nature, and fruit punch which proved
to have been liberally dosed with cayenne pepper--Anya had, apparently, been
stricken with this culinary inspiration after the summoning ritual.
Buffy batted aside a cluster of crepe
paper wedding bells and began the challenging task of assembling a crack
team of hors d’oeuvres on a dangerously bendy paper plate. Between
the ritual, two hours of workout, and two or three hours of... other workout,
she was starving. As she contemplated the optimal placement of broccoli
florets, Willow popped up beside her, earlier grouchiness evaporated.
“We timed it just right! The humiliating party games just finished.”
Willow gazed around. “I didn’t know Anya knew all these people.
“Yeah, how dare she have a social life
when we have none?” There were a dozen or so women present, two or three
of whom seemed to be friends of Anya’s from her vengeance demon days, and
the rest of whom, Buffy guessed, were people Anya knew professionally. She
recognized one or two faces as regular customers at the Magic Box. Tara
surfaced briefly, conversing with someone from her old Wicca group, before
she was sucked up into the crowd once more. Exhibit A, the Normal Life.
Buffy tried to imagine herself among them, and wondered if this was what
had driven Angel to lurking.
“We’re cool,” Willow assured her.
“I know lots of people at school, honest. I even have lunch with them
sometimes. I verge upon verging upon popular.”
“True. And I spoke to the counter
guy at Albertsons when I picked up milk. Plus, I have an excuse.
I’ve been dead. It cuts down on your opportunities to meet and greet.”
Buffy stood on tiptoe and tried to get an idea of the lay of the land.
Strategy. “Food promotes happy mingling. You get drinks, I’ll
get you a plate.”
Willow saluted and made a break for
the kitchen, where the ice chest was located. Buffy shifted her own
plate to a position of precarious balance on her forearm and started loading
up a second plate for Willow. As she tried to remember whether Willow
liked cauliflower or not, and if guessing wrong was likely to trigger another
sulk, Halfrek’s voice emerged from the background babble for a second, low
and mildly scandalized. She was talking to one of the other vengeance
demons. “...dating a vampire, can you believe it?”
The second vengeance demon put shocked
fingers to her lips. “No!”
“Declassé, isn’t it?” Halfrek
looked down her lovely nose. “But then, it’s not as though Slayers are
anything but mongrels themselves...”
Buffy was saved from the faux pas of punching
the maid of honor’s teeth in by the bride-to-be, who appeared out of nowhere
bearing more canapes. “Buffy, you made it!” Anya bubbled, blocking her
escape route. “I really thought you’d pretend you needed to kill things tonight
and not come.”
“Never crossed my mind,” Buffy lied.
Anya looked so grateful, and she’d come this close to forgetting about the
party altogether, and closer to arriving sans gift. Bad, inconsiderate
Buffy. She really ought to make more of an effort to make friends
with Anya, if only Anya weren’t so... Anya. “I wouldn’t have missed
this for the world.”
Anya’s eyes lit up. “I wanted
to ask if you’d like to be one of my bridesmaids. I would have asked
before, but you were dead, and it seemed pointless.”
“I--um. It must be a pain to change
the plans so close to the wedding.”
“Oh, it is.” Anya gave her a brilliant
smile. “But you’re a friend, and one’s supposed to inconvenience oneself
for friends. Hallie!” she cried, propelling Buffy over to the little
coterie of women seated around the coffee table, poring over catalogs of flower
arrangements and gowns. “She said yes! You’ve met Hallie--Buffy,
this is Netta. I used to work with her.” Anya winked violently
at the word ‘work.’ “And Sandra Murchison and Lorri Collins, Lorri works
for one of our biggest suppliers...”
Buffy scrabbled up a cheery smile for
the four pairs of inquisitive eyes, human and otherwise, which fastened on
her and the two heaping plates of food she was carrying. Hello,
everyone, this is my friend with the binge eating disorder. She
hurriedly divested herself of Willow’s plate and sat down, attempting to
take up the smallest possible space on the couch.
“So pleased to meet you--Buffy, is it?”
Sandra extended a hand and clasped Buffy’s in a vigorous shake. “Hi.
I’m Max’s wife--I don’t know if you’ve met him; he used to be on Xander’s
construction crew? Though I’m confused--Anya, I could have sworn you
told us that Buffy was the friend who passed on last May!”
Buffy’s brain threw a rod and froze.
“It was more a...”
Anya bounced up and down, alight with
enthusiasm and in no mood to let a little thing like death and resurrection
interfere with the celebration of her nuptials. “She was. Show
her the dresses!”
Was there a glint of malicious enjoyment
in Halfrek’s eyes as she passed the appropriate catalog over? Buffy
went rigid with horror as she took in the full glory of the dress in the photograph.
She swallowed. Maybe Willow could pull it off, considering some of
the things Willow’d worn with a willing heart. Besides, Willow was
a redhead. Redheads looked good in green. Bottle blondes looked
like something fished up out of the estuary at low tide in green, but she
was strong, she could take it. Except for the ruffles, no sane human being
could take those ruffles, and--
She looked up, stared right into Anya’s
bright, hopeful eyes, and said, “It’s gorgeous.”
A cold bottle, still dripping ice water,
appeared in her hand. Literally. Buffy almost dropped it in her
lap. "Kiwi-strawberry." Willow draped herself over the back of
the couch beside her and gestured; her plate of hors d’oeuvres left the coffee
table and floated serenely across the intervening distance; Buffy opened her
mouth to say something about not freaking the mundanes, but by that time Willow
had the plate on the back of the couch and was nibbling on a Ritz. "It's
all they had left,” Willow said, waving her own bottle. “I see you’ve
been introduced to the Attack of the Asparagus People."
Buffy took a swallow of kiwi-strawberry and felt her
mouth implode as the cloyingly sweet liquid hit the back of her throat.
The wearer of the Elmo skin really had no call to cast stones, and besides,
Willow was Xander’s best man and would probably get to wear a nice butchy
tux or something while she was trapped in this--this--
“Drink up,” Sandra whispered. “We’re
going to need all the courage we can get to wear those dresses in public.”
With a wary glance at Anya, who was chattering
at Netta about the correct placement of the hideous cabbage rose corsages,
Buffy whispered, “Didn’t anyone try to talk her out of--?”
Sandra snorted and took a swallow of her
own drink. “You don’t want to know what we talked her out of, believe
me. There were insects involved.”
“I renounce curiosity.” Conversation.
She was having a conversation with a normal person--no need to panic; once
upon a time she’d spoken to normal people on a regular basis. Sandra
looked to be thirty-five, maybe, plumpish, with short poofy blonde hair every
bit as natural as Buffy’s and a wicked glint hiding in her mild brown eyes.
Give up the slaying and this could be me in ten or fifteen years--husband,
two point five kids, white picket fence. A rewarding career by day,
PTA meetings by night! Look, in the SUV, it’s Supermom! “So...
your husband works with Xander?”
A shadow crossed Sandra’s face.
“Used to. There was an accident last year. He’s in a wheelchair.
He works in the contractor’s office now.”
“Oh.” And of all possible subjects,
Buffy Summers picks... “I’m so sorry to hear that.”
Sandra shrugged. “We deal.
It’s not easy, but sometimes I think that if I didn’t have a fight on my hands
I think I’d get bored.”
Buffy swirled the watermelon-colored liquid
around in its bottle, took another sip and unpuckered her lips. “I can
relate, I guess. At least my boyfriend’s the walking dead.”
Sandra gave her an odd look and Buffy amended, “Uh, when he first gets up.
Spike’s not a morning person.”
Halfrek stood and announced that they
were going to start opening presents now. The there was a general whoop
of approval and the guests gathered round the couch as Netta began ferrying
presents over to the coffee table for Anya to rip open and exclaim over.
As they turned to watch the celebration of capitalism at its finest, Willow
took a swig of her own drink and nudged Buffy’s shoulder with an elbow.
“Spike rates the B-word now?” she asked with a teasing grin.
“I should hope so, considering his performance
in the foyer,” Halfrek said with an arch lift of one perfectly manicured brow
which managed to convey that either way, said performance had been incredibly
Boyfriend was so completely the wrong
word for Spike, all wholesome and malt-shoppy, but until she could think
of something fitter for public consumption than ‘demon lover’... Buffy
gave Halfrek a smile as poisonously sweet as the wine cooler. “Spike’s...
mine.” She did her own swoopy-eyebrow thing, matching Halfrek arch
for arch. “So--you knew him when he was--” Mindful of Sandra’s curious
presence, she switched tracks from ‘The notorious William the Bloody’ to
“--younger? Did you go to the prom together?”
Halfrek burst into peals of laughter.
Lovely, chiming laughter. Buffy decided that she really, truly
hated her. “We were acquainted socially. William, I suppose, would
describe us as intimate friends. He does have a tendency to embroider,
“I wouldn’t know,” Buffy said, all innocence.
In fact, Spike had told her quite a lot about his past; the problem was, she
had no idea how much of it was embroidery and how much cloth. In that
grilling she’d given him last year, he’d dropped all kinds of vainglorious
hints, making out that he’d been a rebel from the cradle on, with a trail
of broken hearts and broken heads a mile wide and a continent long by the
time Drusilla had been smitten by his rugged good looks and devilish charm.
If William the Bloody had been a nineteeth-century gangster, would that make
the former Cecily Addams some kind of Victorian moll? But that story
didn’t match up with other bits and pieces he’d let fall in less guarded moments,
and she’d been warming to the idea of coaxing him out of himself little by
Now, confronted with a possible wellspring
of information, she felt a perverse sense that this was cheating.
Spike had pneumonia when he was twelve, and his mother gave him poetry
books, and it’s a good bet his birthday is May 21. Or William’s birthday
was. Whatever. I found that out with my very own investigative
brilliance, Miss Tattletale Addams.
Halfrek settled comfortably, folding her
hands demurely on her lap. “I grant his family was respectable enough...”
“Home sweet home,” Xander muttered as
they trudged into the intersection for the seventh or eighth time.
It didn’t seem to matter which of the four branches they chose to follow.
They’d tried each tunnel in turn. They’d tried splitting up and going
down two tunnels at once. They’d tried walking backwards. They’d
tried looking for trap doors and secret buttons. They’d tried everything
but leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, and every single attempt led right back
to their starting point.
Xander collapsed, back against the wall,
and slid to the ground, laying the tranquilizer gun across his knees.
Spike stared around at the four identical tunnels leading off in for identically
useless directions, perfectly expressionless; then a snarl of rage contorted
his face and he whipped the axe off his shoulder and swung at the nearest
wall. “Bloody, fucking... rrrrarrggh!” Tile shattered under the
force of the blow and a rain of dust and knife-edged ceramic shards clattered
to the floor. Spike stood in the wreckage, golden-eyed with frustration
and breathing in short angry snorts. Then he heaved a sigh, propped
his axe up in the nearest corner, and slumped down against the wall opposite
Xander glanced at his watch. The
liquid crystal display was a featureless silver-grey. He frowned and
shook his wrist to no effect. He’d just put in a new battery last month.
“How long have we been down here?”
Spike grunted. “Does it matter?”
Anger still simmered in his eyes, little golden flecks boiling up out of the
blue. “Stupid bint,” he muttered. “Probably telling the Slayer
tales out of school right this minute. Doesn’t know when she’s got it
good. Could’ve killed her then if I’d taken the fancy to. Could
kill her now if I could get her bloody pendant; she seems to forget she’s
a sodding demon--”
“Spike, what the hell are you talking
“Bloody Cecily bloody Addams is what
I’m talking about!” Spike leaped to his feet and began tiger-pacing
back and forth. “Your Halfrek. Woman’s a bleeding menace.
Not as if I wasn’t going to tell Buffy eventually, but the time’s got to be
right for a thing like that. You don’t just go blurting out your entire
history to a bird on the first date.” He twitched a sneer in Xander’s
direction. “Or maybe you do, not having any history to speak of, but--”
“Whoa, not my Halfrek. You
want her, you can keep her. Anya’s got some insane idea that I’m hot
for her.” Where the hell had that come from, anyway? He’d
seen what Halfrek looked like in her true shape, and had been trying
to avoid thinking about Anya’s having once looked the same ever since.
Even if the thought of falling for the veiny and terrifying Halfrek wasn’t
absurd, where did Anya get the notion he’d prefer anyone to her?
“Not that daft an idea for her to get,
is it?” Spike retorted. “You’re not exactly throwing yourself into the
“Look, I just wanted to go to a JP and
get it over with!” Xander snapped back. One of the voices in his head--the
sarcastic one--pointed out that ‘get it over with’ was not exactly the most
romantic terminology with which to refer to his ultimate union with his beloved.
“The big wedding with the big guest list and the bigger price tag was Anya’s
idea.” He tilted his head back, staring up at the water-marked ceiling.
“I just can’t believe...” Spike was watching him with snide amusement.
“Forget it. You’ve got no idea what kind of commitment this--”
Spike stopped pacing and roared with
laughter. “Commitment? You lost track of who you’re talking to?
Hundred and twenty years, mate. And if you think your demon bird’s high-maintenance,
you give Dru a try.”
Xander surged to his feet, fists clenched.
“Anya’s not a God-damned demon! Stop calling her that, or I’ll--”
Spike’s brows climbed up his forehead,
accompaniment to a smarmy grin. “What’s the matter, Harris, afraid your
firstborn will pop out all veiny and vengeful?”
Xander didn’t think; he just swung.
He didn’t even see Spike move; one second the vampire was there, and the next
second he wasn’t, and Xander’s fist smashed into the wall behind him.
“AAAHHHHH!!! Fuck!” Xander fell to his knees and contracted into
a ball of agony around his throbbing knuckles.
“And not even a hole in the wall to show
for it,” Spike observed from his new vantage point three feet to the left.
He slapped his palm against the tile. “Quality workmanship, this.”
He put his head to one side and regarded Xander with pursed lips and hollowed
cheeks. “You really are the biggest prat in creation, Harris.”
Xander slumped against the wall, his forehead
pressed into the cold tile. After some minutes of strained, breathless
gasping of ‘ow, ow, ow,’ he rolled over painfully and cradled his injured
fist in his lap. “And you’re thinking that there’s some chance I haven’t
“Not really, but I never tire of calling
it to your attention.” Spike dropped to his haunches and draped a hand
over each knee, rocking back and forth with a look of honest curiosity.
“What the hell are you narked about? Is this still about me and Buffy?”
Yes. No. I take the Fifth.
“Let’s see.” Xander started to tick things off on his fingers,
thought better of it, and continued sans visual aids. “Buffy’s lost
her mind and is dating another vampire.”
“If it’s any comfort, I wouldn’t
say there’ve been any actual dates involved.”
“Shut up, I’m on a roll. Anya has
half a dozen old co-workers in town, all of whom think I’m human trash, and
has been gabbing happily on about the good old vengeancy days of yore--and
yeah, it does bother me just a tiny bit that the woman I love spent a thousand
years maiming and torturing guys who may have been creeps of one sort of another
but probably didn’t all deserve to have their parts rot off and their bodies
devoured by army ants. I know that’s not PC of me, but tough.
And in less than three weeks I’m getting married and I’m going to be personally
responsible for the welfare of another human being for the rest of our lives,
so I am just a little bit nervous, all right? Everyone else around here
gets to explode in random violence whenever they’ve had a bad day; I’m just
joining the club.”
“Ah. Translation: It’s hard to get
shirty about the Slayer’s choice of snogging partner when Anyanka’s record
of bloodshed and destruction puts yours truly to shame.”
Exactly. “No, it’s totally
different. Anya’s human now.”
“Ah. Right. That old song
“Eat flaming death, English pig-dog.”
They sat there for awhile. “She’s
a tidy bird, Anya.” Spike pulled his cigarettes out and shook one free.
After ceremoniously drawing it to life and taking a long drag, he flicked
off his lighter and propped the hand with the smouldering cigarette up on
one knee. “You muff this up and you’re a bigger wanker than I thought.”
“Thought you didn’t like her.”
“I don’t. Don’t think she’s too
fond of me, either, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get on.” At Xander’s
expression he assumed a smirk of superiority. “It’s a demon thing.
You wouldn’t understand.”
“Well, it won’t matter if we end up wandering
around the bowels of the Great Underground Empire for the next sixty years.”
Xander shoved his hair out of his eyes with his good hand and tried to estimate
the time. It felt like hours, but the corridors were only a couple hundred
feet long at most, and it couldn’t possibly take more than five minutes to
walk from intersection to intersection. Figure in more time for arguments,
secret panel hunting, and staring hopelessly into space, and they couldn’t
have been here more than an hour, hour and a half tops. Not long enough
to feel hopeless about getting out, but plenty long enough to engender growing
panic about job security. We are in a maze of twisty little passages,
all alike. Except not twisty. And not likely to be eaten
by grues. Vampires, on the other hand... “Academically speaking,
exactly how hungry do you have to get before the pain just doesn’t matter
Spike closed his eyes and let his head
fall back against the wall. “Doesn’t matter; you’ll be dead of thirst
inside a week and I can eat you in comfort.” His lip curled. “I’d
rather gnaw on loose insulation.”
At least there was a plentiful supply
of it, Xander thought morosely. He looked up at the nearest bundle
of cables. Strands of clean, unflaking plastic twined about one another,
their colors bright and eye-catching. What the... “Spike?” Spike
looked up from his cigarette, which had gone out, glower set on ‘kill.’
Xander pointed to the cable. “Does this look different to you?”
“Of course it--” Spike flicked his lighter
off and stuffed it back in his pocket, and crawled over to peer at the cables.
He frowned at them from below for a moment, looked over his shoulder at the
other cables visible, and got to his feet. Round the circuit of tunnels
he prowled, poking, prodding, and sniffing. At last he halted in front
of one of the bundles, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand and looking
perplexed. All of them were like new. “There’s not even any nubbly bits
left on the floor,” he said.
“But this is the same intersection.”
Xander clambered to his feet rather less gracefully. Why the hell had
Spike had to mention dying of thirst? Now he was parched, and the constant
distant drip, drip, drip of water that they never reached wasn’t helping.
He tapped the tile with the black smudge in the center. “There’s the
cigarette burn, right...” He blinked. There was, in fact, no black
smudge to be seen.
“No, it’s this one, you--bloody hell.”
Spike made another round of inspection. “It’s gone.”
Xander worried the inside of his cheek.
“OK, I thought I knew what was going on here. Some kind of teleport trap.
Oldest trick in the Dungeonmaster’s Handbook. But this is downright
disturbing. It can’t be of the good.”
“Oh, can’t it?” Spike looked grim.
“Did it ever occur to you to wonder what exactly happens when the Balance
gets too far out of kilter on the side of goodness and light?”
“Not really. 700 Club marathons?”
Spike’s shoulders twitched in an
involuntary shudder. “Hang on a bit and you’ll find out.”
Continued in Part 23