By Barb Cummings
Sequel to A Raising in the Sun
Dawn threw out one arm as
she raced up to the corner. Whang! the aluminum pole of the
street sign slapped into her palm, and muscle-shock tore up her arm to her
shoulder as her weight swung over, out, around--she was Sheena of the Jungle,
legs scissoring over the curb as she used the sign to slingshot around the
corner. She took off down Main the moment she touched ground again,
her feet pounding down the narrow stretch of sidewalk, breath ripping in
and out of her lungs. Anyone chased by monsters on a regular basis
really should go out for track. That stupid story from second period
English kept running through her head, the one about the magic of getting
new sneakers. She could use some magic sneakers about now. When
had Main Street gotten so long? It was only a block or two from the
corner of Main and Laramie to the Magic Box, but it was a block or two that
stretched for miles--there!
The mouth of the alley was
choked with people--Spike, Buffy, Tanner, three more crazies. Her
sister's small lithe body blocked the sidewalk on one side, and Spike loomed
opposite, boxing the crazies in. In two more of Dawn's flying steps
the tableau broke apart, the crazies charging Spike, Buffy lunging for the
one in the blue cap. Dawn saw an opening in the melee and swerved
for it just as Blue Cap flinched away from Buffy. His head came up,
and his rheumy eyes widened with childlike delight as they met Dawn's.
He lurched forward, reaching out to embrace her with a gap-toothed grin.
Dawn made a futile effort to un-swerve--Spike and Buffy performed impossible
maneuvers all the time, surely she could straighten out one turn--but momentum
was not her friend. She felt herself losing control, one body part
at a time: feet skidding out from beneath her, arms flailing, center of balance
shifting disastrously to the left.
She slammed into Blue Cap full-force,
bowling him over and falling backwards onto her butt. He hit the pavement
with a pained grunt, a flailing tangle of limbs and Salvation Army-reject
clothing. Still reaching for her, even now--gnarled fingers with black
half-moons of nails pawed her ankles. Dawn kicked free and was on
her feet again with a clumsy roll-and-scramble, clipboard clutched to her
chest. Buffy sidestepped her to get at Blue Cap, but otherwise neither
she nor Spike gave her a second glance. Time to dump this thing.
She made to skim the clipboard away frisbee-style, but a voice shouting
"Dawn! Over here!" interrupted her.
Half-way down the alley, Willow
leaned out from behind a pile of boxes on the loading dock, hopping up and
down and waving an arm. The auburn flag of her hair burned against
the backdrop of alley-grunge. Dawn dove for cover behind the dock
and Willow yanked a stove-sized box emblazoned SCRYING BASINS, 1 DOZ. THIS
SIDE UP in front of the both of them. She burrowed into the corrugated
cavern, utterly unfounded relief flooding her as the scent of glue and cardboard
evoked childhood secret hideouts, where the monsters couldn't come.
She tossed the clipboard aside, drew her knees up to her chest and hugged
them, trying to catch her breath.
Willow nudged her knee with the corner
of the clipboard. "Keep it," she whispered. "Just in case."
"It doesn't work on them!" Dawn whispered
back, making frantic beating motions in the direction of the crazies.
Willow sat back on her heels and gnawed
on her lower lip. "Shoot. I never thought of that. They can
see your Keyness. Stay here. We should have them under control
in a minute." She started backing out, then paused, her eyes shifting
from emerald to onyx. "I really need you to keep hold of that clipboard,
She was off, and Dawn sat there
in a long-legged heap for a minute or so, trying to decide if she should
just stay where she was or sneak out and try to get inside the Magic Box.
Either option involved scouting, so she grabbed the clipboard again (because,
really important) and crawled forward on hands and knees, peering around
the edge of the loading dock.
Willow was crouching beside Tara,
who was kneeling beside Tanner's crumpled body. Dawn suppressed a
shudder; his breathing sounded like the drugged-up wheeze of a patient she'd
had to pass on the way to visit Mom in the hospital last year. One
day the bed had held a sheet-swathed lump surrounded by machines that went
ping, and the next it'd been empty.
The crazy in the blue cap was sprawled
on the sidewalk, and Giles had the older one in the yellow windbreaker backed
whimpering against the alley wall opposite Tanner. Xander's car was
just pulling up to the opposite curb, and Xander and Anya piled out and
raced across to grab the third crazy, a non-descript, balding man with no
convenient identifying clothing, before he could take advantage of Buffy's
distraction and escape.
And Buffy was big-time distracted,
but why? Dawn felt like the clue bus was coming and she'd lost her
transfer. Spike knelt on the sidewalk in front of her sister, his head
thrown back and throat bared like some out-take from Animal Planet, the vampire
propitiating his mate. Buffy stared down at him with big frozen eyes,
and Dawn didn't think she was just stupefied by the sight of that dorky striped
sweater he was wearing.
Xander, still wrestling with
his crazy, cleared his throat loudly and nodded at Blue Cap, who was beginning
to stir. "You know, if you and the undead Marcel Marceau here can
spare an invisible room to put these guys in, or even just lend us a hand--"
Buffy came to life and hushed him
with a gesture. She dropped to one knee to bring herself level with
Spike, the glint in her eye indicating that she was having a National Geographic
moment of her own. Her hand fumbled at the clasp of her purse.
Her gaze never left Spike's face as she pulled out--ohmigod, a stake, Mr.
Pointy no less, you could tell because it was slimmer and sharper than the
ones Xander turned out on the lathe, and sort of twisty, because for all
her virtues Kendra hadn't been any great shakes at whittling, and was she
going to she wasn't going to--she was going to!
"Buffy!" Dawn screamed.
But no one noticed.
There were eleven heartbeats thumping
away within hearing distance, and he could match each one to a name each
one without even thinking about it. Jim, Blue Cap, and the Third Murderer
(well, he had to call the bloke something), erratic with terror. Tanner's,
slow and labored. Xander's, racing with the exuberance of youth; Giles's
strong and steady but with less resilience than his younger companions'.
Willow's, a wild triphammer of anticipation; Tara's, sweet and smooth; Anya's
bird-quick and fierce. (And someone else? Younger, been running
The only one that mattered was Buffy's,
three feet in front of him. You'd think hers would be another bird-flutter
in that tiny chest, but no--the Slayer's pulse was as deep and powerful
as that of the earth itself, strong enough to shake him to the bone.
His sensitive ears caught the rustle of clothing as she dropped to one knee,
and his whole body quivered as something hard and sharp jabbed him in the
abdomen. The wooden point didn't penetrate the skin. "That's
not my heart, love."
"Shut up." Her voice was brittle
with tension. The stake-point slipped under the waistband of his jeans
and tugged the hem of his pullover free. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Tried," he gasped. "Couldn't."
The muscles of his stomach twitched as the sharp point snaked its way upwards,
pulling his shirt with it and drawing cool night air across his exposed
skin in its wake.
"How long has it been?" Buffy whispered.
Spike swallowed, one convulsive
bob of his Adam's apple, and heard her breath hitch. Never could see
the sense in her fixation with his throat. "I can't tell you
"Did you get it taken out?"
She leaned towards him, straddling his thighs. Her scent was a ravishing
medley of blood and sweat, anger and arousal. Her pert little breasts
brushed his bare chest through her thin rayon blouse. The stake-point traced
its way higher, up over the vault of his ribcage, digging into his flesh
slightly with every irregular panting breath he took. "Or did it just
Hoarsely, "I can't tell you that
"Can't?" The deadly sliver
of wood traveled up and down the line of his sternum, then wandered across
to his left pectoral, drawing ever-tighter circles around the fading scar
where Glory's fingers had dug through flesh and bone. His nipples went
taut and he unsuccessfully tried to stifle a groan. Buffy's warm breath,
smelling of orange Tic-Tacs and the second-hand traces of his cigarettes,
caressed his cheek. "Or won't?" The stake-tip flicked his left
nipple, then dug in a few inches above it, imprinting its mark on his skin.
Right over his heart. Oh, God in Heaven, he was either going to die
or come in his jeans, and either one would be a relief.
To hell with tradition; his eyes
flew open to meet Buffy's. "Can't! I've tried! Tried
with you, tried with Dawn--the words won't come, I--"
The stake disappeared. Buffy
surged upright, taking her weight off his knees, and something small, oblong,
and black rushed towards his face at supersonic speeds. Thwack!
The purse smacked him across the nose and Spike lost his balance
and toppled over backwards. "Next time," Buffy hissed, "try a little
Spike lay spreadeagled on the sidewalk,
blinking up at her. Hey, Slayer, I can see up your skirt from here
didn't seem to be the cleverest segue to a new topic of conversation at
the moment. "Not going to kill me, then?" he croaked.
Buffy grabbed Blue Cap by the scruff
of the neck and hauled him to his feet, hustling him towards the alley.
Thus speaks the Dread Pirate
Buffy. Spike sat up and got to his feet, yanking his pullover
down over his middle and slapping the worst of the sidewalk grit from his
duster. "You didn't ask--" The big question, the do-I-need-to-stake-you
question, the question that should be first and foremost in a Slayer's mind
when she finds out her demon lover has his bite back.
Buffy turned. The anger had
fled, leaving her face grave and quiet. She looked up at him, moss-agate
eyes searching his. "If you've killed anyone?" She'd worn that
look the night she died, the night she said Come in, Spike. "I didn't
think I needed to."
She turned away and Spike followed
her, chest drum-tight with an emotion too deep and terrible to be joy.
There had to be something he could kill, just so he could lay it at her
Willow's hands clenched as Buffy
leaned forward, pressing the stake to Spike's chest. The air in the
alley went heavy, glassy, an oily heat-mirage shimmer of emotion. Her
own appalled gasp, Dawn's shriek of warning, were both stifled under the weight
of an alien anticipation. Tara sensed it and looked up from her preparations,
trying to pinpoint the source of the disturbance. Then Buffy was on
her feet and Spike was flat on his back and undusty. The tension ebbed
away in seconds, and Willow felt the anticipation give way to a philosophical
acknowledgment that something which seemed too good to be true usually was.
When are you going to tell me
what is this all about? Willow demanded.
You will know within the hour
Willow probed further, but her only
answer was quelling silence. Her bravado was starting to fray around
the edges. Much more of this and she was going to dissolve into a
puddle of nervous goo.
Spike caught her eyes as he and
Buffy herded the crazies into the alley, his own still full of Why?
Willow turned away, digging into a heaping helping of feeling crappy
with guilt sauce. She couldn't give him whys when she didn't have
any herself. She hadn't yet been able to get the vampire alone to
cast the forgetfulness spell on him, and she had the awful feeling that
he'd recognized the Lethe's bramble for what it was in the Magic Box.
They all tended to forget that though Spike didn't normally trust magic,
Drusilla'd dabbled in it, and he'd helped his one-time vampire love conduct
more than a few dark rituals in his day.
She couldn't even say Trust me.
He would, she knew. He'd charge through a crowd of foes he
couldn't fight, up a tower to meet an imminent sunrise and an unknown menace
of indeterminate strength just because she asked him to. Because she
was Buffy's friend, or because on some weird post-geek supernatural creature
level, they shared an understanding? Or because Spike was, or had
been becoming, her friend?
And she was betraying him.
Maybe. There wasn't anything
intrinsically bad in keeping her role in the chip removal a secret, she
reassured herself. There had to be a good reason for it, something
to do with the crazy-curing spell, maybe. Maybe everything really
was for the best in this best of all possible worlds, and she wasn't just
playing Pangloss to her vampire Candide. She squeezed her eyes shut and
breathed in, gathering calm to the center of her being and tacking it down
with a stapler.
When she opened them again, Tara
was draping the silver chain over Tanner's head. Her love centered the
medallion of twisted silver wire and amethyst on the unconscious man's chest.
Sitting back, she drew her athame from the pocket of her sweater and pulled
the sheath from the short triangular blade, whispering a few words of sanctification.
She held it up and pricked her forefinger, letting a single drop of blood
fall on the central crystal (probably, Willow thought, the darkest spell
Tara'd ever ventured) and placed the funnel over it. "With silver I
find you, with heart's blood I bind you," Tara whispered. "Be sealed
in this covenant till I release thee, on the names of Maktiel, and Abdiel,
and Alekh-Madab." She grasped Tanner's limp shoulders in both hands and cried,
Powers of the mind, and heart, and soul!
Cunning of the fingers and cunning of the tongue!
Be ye a spring dried, a wind stilled
Be ye a fire quenched and a field made barren!
Thus I command ye, and what I say three times
Thus do I bind the strength of Daniel Tanner
Thus do I break the staff of Daniel Tanner's power
Thus do I drain the virtue that lies within Daniel
Be it so, be it so, be it so!
Light flared from Tanner's body
all around the necklace, swirling into the mouth of the funnel and out through
the nozzle. Tanner's eyes shot open as his body convulsed in Tara's
grasp. For a full thirty seconds his rigid body was wreathed in witchlight,
and then all went dark as he sagged back against the bricks. Tara's
head fell forward to rest against Tanner's, and for another few seconds
both of them were totally limp. Then he stirred, and Tara drew back.
His mouth worked for a moment, and he wet his lips. "What... what
did you..." He lifted one hand to the necklace. Sparks flared
and the scent of ozone filled the air, and he snatched his fingers away.
"I've bound your magical abilities,
Mr. Tanner," Tara said. "Just for the time being. We couldn't
risk you doing what you did to Willow again." She ducked her head,
a little embarrassed at being the focus of everyone's attention. "We
really do want to help you."
The corner of Tanner's mouth quirked,
halfway between bitter and humorous. "And you couldn't just toss me
some spare change, or a temperance pamphlet?" He squinted up at Willow,
as if she were out of focus. "Rotten. The heartwood's rotten...
you silly girl, I had nothing to lose. It'll betray you. That's
its nature." The dark mad eyes flicked to Spike. "Ask him.
He knows. He's part of it at the root, the roots go deeper, deeper,
digging into your brain and all the little moles... mole-runs in your head..."
"Is this the pointless, insane rambling,
or the creepy, prophetic rambling?" Xander asked. Spike shrugged,
"Never got the hang of the difference,
"Either way," Willow said, "we're
here to go Sigmund Freud on its tookus." She turned to Tanner.
"I can fix you. And them." She waved a hand at the other three
crazies. "Do you get that? I can make you all better, for good,
and you won't have to live like this anymore." She dropped to a crouch
beside Tara and put a hand on her shoulder. "I remember what it was
like, when Glory did this to her. I remember what it was like when
you did it to me. It's horrible, and I want--I need to fix this.
You can make it easier by helping, but one way or another I'm going to do
it." Because Buffy is depending on me, and this time I won't screw
Tanner stared at her for a long
moment, and then his thin shoulders began to shake. He broke into
a thin, scary chuckle that choked off in a half-sob. "Honor among
thieves," he gasped at last. "Oh, God, kid, go ahead. Why the
hell not? I should get my thirty pieces of silver, shouldn't I?"
He braced himself against the wall and began levering himself painfully
to his feet. "Spread the wealth!"
Willow let out a breath of relief.
"Let's get cooking." She clapped both hands together. "'Get
these three onto Tiphareth... that's the sephira in the center of the tree...
right, that one there. See how everything comes together there?
It'll all flow through that center point."
"This isn't all of them," Anya pointed
out as Xander grabbed the crazy in the windbreaker and dragged him over
to the central sephira. "There are more. Should we find them
Willow forced herself to stop worrying
her lower lip. At this rate she was going to own the west coast Chapstick
monopoly before midnight. Anya was right; this wasn't even half the
band, and she'd promised to cure all of them. Maybe she should have
pushed for a raid on the dump after all; it would have been much easier to
do all of them at once that way. Now she was going to have to come up with
some other scheme for getting Dawn in position to cast the spell a second
time. And speaking of which--
"If this works, I'll get you the
others," Tanner said. He hobbled over to the edge of the tree-of-life
diagram, wincing a little at each step, and looked down at it, frowning in
uncertainty. "Spiderweb," he whispered. "Spinning, spinning..."
He took Jim's elbow and urged him forward. Jim whimpered and balked,
and Tara got up and came over to help. Together the two of them coaxed
the three men into a loose huddle around the centerpoint of the tree.
Jim tried to follow Tanner when he stepped away.
"Be still," Willow said, laying a finger
on the man in the windbreaker; caught in coils of power, Jim froze in place
and stood shaking on the sephira of rebirth. She wished she'd learned
a little more Hebrew than was necessary for her bat mitzvah; her translations,
she was certain, sucked the big one. She swallowed her nerves and
stepped back. "OK, everyone--almost ready. When I call you,
come stand on the sephira I point to. I need a minute to, uh, meditate."
She backed over to the loading dock; Dawn was leaning against it, making
a futile attempt to comb the wind-tangles out of her hair with her fingers
while still holding fast to the clipboard.
"I'm such a feeb," Dawn snarled.
"I totally suck."
"Dawnie," she whispered, "You don't suck.
I need someone to stand on Kether. That one right there at the top.
For balance. I was going to have Tara do it, but I think that first
spell's pretty much drained her." She was only half fibbing there;
Kether had been intended for Dawn all along, but Tara was slumped in place,
her face the color of oatmeal. Dawn looked doubtful, and Willow gave
her a companionable nudge. "Please? I really need someone in the top
spot. It's necessary to the spell, and if you don't do it I'll have
to, and it'll work better if I'm free to--"
Willow saw the doubt in Dawn's eyes vanish,
replaced with determination to make up for her big scaredy running away-ness.
"OK. I'll do it. Do I need to do anything or say any--?"
"Just step up when I call, and stand
there," Willow assured her. "I'll do all the rest."
Dawn fidgeted beside the delivery
door, twisting a strand of hair around one hand while Willow walked back
over to the chalk diagram. The others formed a ragged circle around
the edge. She wished she could chuck the clipboard and really participate,
but somehow she just couldn't seem to get up the nerve to drop the thing.
There'd be Buffy freakage, and there'd be questions, and the squirmy possibility
that her sister would realize she'd been following them when they'd gone
all Roman Polanski on the street corner. At least this way she could
do something useful tonight.
Willow stopped at the top of the
tree, bowed her head, and said something in Hebrew. Then she straightened
and held her hands high overhead. "AIN SOPH AUR, from whence all things
proceed, I invoke thy blessing! Addonai Elohim! I invoke the
Supernals! I call on the Crown, the First Emanation! I call upon
thy virtue; thou partest the veils of nonexistence. Kether!"
She made a discreet beckoning motion with one hand, and Dawn edged nervously
past Giles to stand on the sephira at the pinnacle of the whole design.
A tingle ran through her scalp as she stepped onto the symbol, and the hairs
at the back of her neck lifted.
This wasn't the first major ritual
she'd participated in. She'd helped Willow raise Buffy from the dead,
and she'd been hanging out around witches for years now--Dawn knew a few
things about magic. The Raising had taken hours, and involved all kinds
of repetitious chants and waving of hands. She and Spike had had detailed
lists of instructions telling them where to walk, where to stop, what powder
to sprinkle and what words to say when they got there. The description
of the loa-summoning had sounded like a lot of the same thing. But
here--Willow was just waving people into place willy-nilly. It felt
weird, with none of the intricate buildup of word and gesture and symbol
Dawn had grown to associate with really big magic.
But this was really big. She
could feel the vibrations in the long bones of her arms and legs, like when
she was six and her Dad took them to LAX and they parked under the flight
path of the jets. Willow was already moving on. "I call upon
Wisdom, the Second Emanation! Great Father, the giver of life!
Through thee is creation engendered. Chokmah! I call upon
Understanding, the Third Emanation! Great Mother, the nurturer of life!
In thee is creation made manifest. Bineh!"
As Giles and Willow in turn stepped
into place, completing the Supernals, Dawn felt the tingling surge downwards,
lapping over her shoulders. Willow's singsong chant continued: "Addonai
Elohim! I invoke the days of Creation! I call on Mercy, the
Fourth Emanation; in thee is the Law with ruleth the universe, and from
vengeance shall you forge mercy. Chesed!" Anya took her place,
and the electric-wintergreen feeling skittered down to Dawn's elbows.
Was this right? Was it normal? Willow hadn't exactly told her
what to expect.
"I call upon Severity, the Fifth
Emanation. Thou art the destruction that cleanses, that we may create
anew; from thy chaos shall we forge order. Geburah!" Spike stepped
gingerly into his place, and Dawn's fingers jerked as if she'd touched a light
socket. Verdant sparks dazzled her eyes for a moment. "I call
upon Harmony, the Sixth Emanation! Thou art the balance of all things,
thou art the rebirth of the spirit. Thou restorest what is broken to
Many-layered strata of censer-smoke
drifted past, teasing Dawn's nose with the heavy drugged scent of incense.
Willow was really into it now, her eyes like jet in her pale face.
"I call upon Victory, the Seventh Emanation! Thou art the power of
the heart; in thee we feel, in thee we love! Netzach!" As Xander
moved in, Willow herself stepped onto the next sephira. "I call upon
Splendor, the Eighth Emanation! Thou art the power of the mind; in
thee we think, in thee we reason! Hod!"
Dawn gasped, trying to hold herself
upright; her backbone was a T1 cable carrying a million jolts of energy
a second. All the lines connecting the sephiroth were glowing neon
serpents in rose and gold, and she couldn't tell if it was her eyes or if
they were really moving. Willow's voice was inexorable. "I call
upon the Foundation, the Ninth Emanation!"
Tanner, his drawn face and blank
eyes making him look deader than Spike, stepped into place, and Dawn almost
fell to her knees as the jolts of energy converged down there.
Was this the feeling that made Buffy jump Spike on a street corner?
She'd felt bits and pieces of this, thrills when giggling over Teen Beat
with her friends, sweet liquid fire in her first taste of cool male lips.
This was bigger, this was dangerous, the kind of danger you'd do anything
to taste again. Appalling, intriguing thought If I'm made of Buffy...
Was something in her drawn to that kind of danger, too?
Willow kept going. "Thou art the
channel whereby enlightenment passes from Heaven to Earth; thou art the sign
of magic and of the sacred union. Through thee shall pass all things!
A vast soundless roar battered at
Dawn's ears, or perhaps she was the vast soundless roar. The censer-smoke
was underlit with green now, and in the eerie light--where was it coming
from? Not Willow. She could see the whites of everyone's eyes,
a sickly, glistening cerise. Willow's voice rose--or did it?
It was no louder, but it filled the alley from gutter to the bruised-indigo
vault of the sky overhead. "I call upon the Kingdom, the Tenth Emanation!
Queen of the Underworld, thou rulest the Manifested Universe, That Which
Is! Malkuth!" Buffy took a step forward and as her feet touched
the last of the sephira, a circuit closed and power surged from Dawn's head
to her toes.
"By this Key let every gate be opened!"
Willow cried out, "Let the fire of heaven descend to Earth, and be these
men healed thereby!"
And something within Dawn blossomed like
a terrible flower. Her blood had razed the walls between worlds before,
but then she'd felt nothing but the pain of the knife-cuts in her side.
Now she was light. She was sound. She was nothing and everything.
Worlds without end, an infinity of infinities, tesseracts of possibility
nested one within the other--all the worlds that ever were or ever could
be, and she was the reality beneath the reality from which they sprung.
Power beyond measure, beyond imagining, was hers--not to command, for no
Key could turn itself--but to channel.
Torrents of emerald light lashed outward,
the raw unformed stuff of creation, crackling through the net Willow'd woven
to trap them. The rays shot down from Kether through Chokmah and Bineh,
seared through Chesed and Geburah to collide in Tiphareth and lance out
again through Netzach and Hod, converge in Yesod and finally in Malkuth,
and from Malkuth shoot back to Yesod once more. The Tree lit up like
an insane pinball machine, energy racing from point to point and back again,
growing in power and intensity with every new circuit.
In the past Dawn had wondered, idly,
how things would have turned out if the monks had made her a toothpick or
a Porsche or a grain of sand in the Gobi desert instead of a human girl.
Would Glory ever have found her? Would the ritual for using her still
have required blood, or would it have magically revised itself to suit whatever
form she was assigned? She'd never know the answer to those questions,
but she knew this: a toothpick or a grain of sand wouldn't feel like she
The human shell that was Dawn Summers
screamed and clutched at her head as the forces ripped through a form never
designed to contain it, scouring her mind to the bedrock. Memories flashed
past, a jumble of precious lies, things that had never happened but which
defined the scope of her manufactured life. She tried in vain to grasp
them before the floodwaters bore them beyond her reach. Scenes from
her childhood, scenes from her teens--backyard cookouts, Buffy and cousin
Celia tying her to the tree while playing Power Girl and forgetting her,
the spelling bee, lying awake in the night and listening to Mom and Dad argue
while Buffy held her tight, the divorce, moving to Sunnydale, Angelus's mocking
eyes and sharp fangs--whirled away from her one by one and sucked into
oblivion by a savage undertow of power. She was dissolving, eroding
from the inside out, and no one could see her, no one could tell.
She didn't see the man in the Dodgers
T-shirt stumble around the corner of the alley and stand there swaying back
and forth at the sight before him, a bubbling moan rising from his throat.
She didn't see Spike, staring at her through the humming beams of light,
his dark brows twisted in an expression of desperate confusion. Dawn
Summers was beyond seeing anything at all.
"!la muchacha verde del sol!" wailed
Ramon, rushing towards Dawn and enveloping her in a bear-hug. His
weight staggered her, pushing her off the sephira, and at once the net of
power snapped and collapsed in a tangle of hissing green loops. Dawn,
rag-doll limp, sagged in Ramon's arms while he hugged her and babbled broken
prayers and entreaties in Spanish. A bone-chilling snarl of rage split
the night, thin and small after the music of the spheres still ringing through
Dawn's head, and a lean black-and-ivory blur tore Ramon away from her.
"Not this time, you sodding bastard!"
Ramon's garbled entreaties became a scream of terror, choked off short as
Spike slammed him into the pavement, fingers clamped around his throat--the
grip that could snap a human neck in an instant, long before Buffy, at the
opposite end of the alley, could reach him. If Buffy and everyone
else hadn't been jarred off their feet by the unexpected breaking of the
spell. If Buffy and everyone else weren't blinking and trying to figure
out what Spike was doing with the... something, someone, nothing important.
She was still carrying the stupid
clipboard, and couldn't for the life of her let go.
The vampire's eyes were flat golden
coins in the dim light of the alley, and his fangs gleamed. "Spike!"
Dawn choked out. She couldn't get up and stop him. All her joints
were on fire. She was dizzy and aching, her whole body a taut rind
of pain surrounding a ringing emptiness which yearned after the very power
which had nearly destroyed it. But even before she spoke, something
in his stance changed, lapsing from immanent slaughter to a relaxed predator's
stillness ready to explode into violence again at any moment. His free
hand went to the inside pocket of his duster for a second, and his eyes dropped
to Dawn's. "He hurt you, pet. Shall I kill him?"
His tone was utterly conversational,
as if he were commenting on the weather or asking her if she wanted sausage
or pepperoni on her pizza. She'd fantasized about this, hadn't she?
Her own pet vampire--better be nice to me, or he'll bite your head off.
Only now it was real, and Spike was looking down at her with those terrible
eyes and Dawn knew without a single doubt in the world that if she said
yes Spike would rip Ramon's head right off, slam-dunk his skull
in the dumpster and use his severed carotid for a drinking fountain.
And the only possible thing that would stop him would be Buffy saying
no a little bit faster, but Buffy was still shaking shards of green
light out of her head and crawling over to see if Willow was all right.
And the worst thing was seeing the eager, vicious light in his eyes and the
way his tongue curled over the rending points of his fangs and knowing, also
without a doubt in the world, that her good pal Spike was really, really
hoping she'd say yes.
"No," she rasped. "No, he
didn't... he kinda saved me, I think. The spell..." Her knees
wobbled, and in an instant Spike had dropped Ramon and was at her side, holding
"Dawn-love, you're--" He placed
one palm, chill as the air around them, on her forehead. Felt so good,
like pressing her face to an air-conditioned window-pane in summer.
"Burning up! What're you doing here?" His eyes, blue again but
no less deadly, scanned the alleyway. He glanced down at the clipboard
and raised an eyebrow, then yanked it out of Dawn's hands before she could
object. "Who gave you this?"
"Willow," Dawn said. Spike
growled, a sound like a jaguar swallowing a rusty buzzsaw, and flung the clipboard
across the alley with force enough to shatter it against the far wall.
Uh oh. Willow would be pissed. Dawn's head felt muzzy. I just
saved a man's life. Ramon would be little shredded bloody lumps right
now if I'd said 'yes.' All Spike's cool stories about little girls in
coal bins had happened to people as real as Ramon was.
"Dawn!" Buffy shrieked, scrambling
to her feet. "What are you doing here? Are you all right?"
The world was starting to spin.
How come she always ended up fainting just as things got exciting?
It wasn't fair. "Spike..."
His face didn't show anything, and
that in itself was unusual for Spike. "'Fraid so." He gave Ramon
a kick in the head to make him stay down, whipped off his duster and wadded
it up. "Here, have a lie-down."
Part of her wanted to protest that no,
she wasn't going to lie down, this was important, but Spike's big
cool hands felt so wonderful on the hot papery skin of her cheeks, and it
was easier to sink down onto the cushion of worn black leather, breathe in
the comforting smell of bourbon and smoke and close her eyes.
She heard her sister’s anxious voice from
a million miles away: “Give her here--oh, Dawn, oh, God, Dawn...”
Buffy reached for her, taking her from Spike's arms and cradling her to
her chest. Small and slender as Buffy was, Dawn felt insubstantial
in comparison, translucent enough to see through her own flesh to her bones.
Spike gave her hand a last squeeze and got slowly to his feet.
A swirl of dislodged memories fluttered
down onto the surface of her consciousness: Spike slumped in the beanbag
chair in a mute, inexplicable fury, the emberglow of Willow's hair in the
basement light, and the prickly-musty scent of crushed herbs. Dawn
had a moment to think Waitaminute, the chip-- And then there was darkness,
and it felt awfully good.
When the veils of everyday reality
were stripped away, the world was a CGI wonderland of interlocking lines
of force. A vast matrix of mystic lines of force, indigo, black, and
violet, swirled round the vortex of the Hellmouth. Crumpled sheets
of shimmering bronze and copper underlay them, power of the earth itself,
too vast for any single wizard to bent to his will. The trace-lines
of a thousand thousand spells cast in Sunnydale over the last century wove
and tangled throughout, glowing in mauve and azure and gold: old spells,
new spells, spells of ward and guard, spells to lure, spells to deceive,
spells to find money and love and power, all paling before the new-cast glory
of the spell she was weaving now.
Tides of magic surged through and around
her, and Willow reached out, grasped them bare-handed and wrested them into
the shapes she desired. No clumsy approximation of word and gesture
here, no dithering over whether toadflax or motherwort would produce the
effect closest to what she wanted. She was working directly with raw
magic, fresh from the heartspring of the universe.
Auras shone around her--Buffy and
Spike in gold and ebony, Tara in pale springtime green, Xander royal blue,
Anya violet, Giles a startling black-shot scarlet. Dawn outblazed
them all, a pure and endless paean of brilliant emerald light radiating
outwards in all directions. Willow trapped the power in the rose and
gold net of the sephiroth, bound it, shaped it, sent it singing back in
complex chords of emerald and olivine. Without the strength provided
by her silent partner, she could never have hoped to control this wild floodtide
of power. It would have burnt her to the bone in seconds. But
with it--with it she was Morgan Le Fay, Titania, Endora, all rolled into
She could see the traces of Tanner's
brainsuck spell as sluggish bruise-colored whorls in the auras of the crazies,
and of Tanner himself. The flaws in his technique were obvious, as
was what she'd need to do to repair the damage to her minds for once and
all. With complete assurance Willow plucked a strand of light here,
tweaked a node of power there, calling on the green just as she'd called
on Glory's stolen power to heal Tara. Malachite arpeggios and with
descants of aquamarine danced from node to node along the net, meeting and
parting and meeting again in cascades of creme-de-menthe sparks. Tanner
first. Child's play to send verdant cascades of light down the ley-lines
of power, focusing the energy she commanded on Yesod and illuminating a mind
cloaked in the shadows of madness. The torch of her power banished
the horrors back to the sub-basements of thought they'd crawled up from,
forging new paths from axon to dendrite in a springtime glow of renewal.
She could sense Tanner's connection
to the three crazies within the compass of the spell, and all the others
as well, bonds forged of a long summer of shared misery. Willow's senses
telescoped out along the lines of power. Three more in Weatherly Park,
six more back at the dump, and a lone figure shambling down Main Street,
goal-less and forlorn. Ramon. She knew his name, his history,
could see in the mangled remnants of his mind a wife, a daughter, a life--he'd
been an auto mechanic in the Chevron station on Fourth an eternity ago.
And she, Willow Rosenberg, was going to return him to all that. Fix
him. Fix all of them. She could do that.
So simple, so easy, to take up the reins
from Tanner's lax grasp and make them her own. The spell-cords binding
the crazies to Tanner lit up like a bundle of glow-sticks at a rave as she
sent power flooding through Yesod and into Tiphareth. Come to me!
Her partner was pleased with her; she could feel its dark rejoicing
thrumming through her veins. Could she go farther? Do more?
Could she just reach out, like so, reel in the cords and draw them all here...?
The cords resisted her efforts.
Impatient, Willow called on more power, and it answered her summons willingly.
The universe could well spare this tithe of its substance in a good cause.
Somewhere someone was crying out in pain, but no matter--she'd fix that
too, in good time. It would take too long to wait for the crazies
to come here, she decided. Why not send healing to them directly?
First to the six in the dump, then...
Without warning the spell snapped
with all the force of an axe-cut hawser, and Willow howled in agony as it
lashed her mind in a whip-crack of thwarted power. NO! screamed
the black voice. Too soon! She was supposed to die!
The Tree of Life contained and deflected the worst of the damage as Willow
tumbled headlong from the exalted heights of pure magic, falling back into
the confines of her own body with bone-jarring force.
At first she thought it was
the black voice again, but no, it had come from outside her head. Willow
realized she was lying face-down in a heap in the alley, her nose mashed
into the oil-spattered concrete. She fumbled with her hands--she couldn't
remember exactly how to work them for a minute--got them underneath her
torso and shoved herself upright. Groans and whimpers reached her
ears from all sides; only Buffy and Spike were still more or less standing,
courtesy of supernatural muscle, but everyone seemed to be moving.
A warm trickle crawled down her neck and her fingers came away smeared with
crimson when she rubbed at it. Something had gone wrong. The
crazy she'd called--darn, he hadn't been bound by the spell, and he'd blundered
into Dawn, wrecking the whole thing. She'd have to start it all over
to take care of the rest of them...
An inhuman yowl of rage interrupted
her meandering thoughts. Seeing Dawn in physical danger must have
been enough for Spike's natural vampiric resistance to spells of mental
confusion to kick in. For a second he crouched over the terrified
crazy, a hawk over a rabbit, his duster mantled like great black wings.
A second later he'd abandoned his prey to rush to Dawn's side, and a second
after that, the clipboard spun past Willow's ear and smashed into three pieces
against the bricks.
Buffy, just putting a hand to Willow's
shoulder and ask if she were all right, froze as she realized what had been
going on in front of her eyes for the last several minutes. She took
off towards her sister like a scalded cat. Willow groaned and buried
her face in her hands. It was all going wrong!
The chill black voice demanded,
Renew the spell. Do it now, while all is still prepared.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, Willow protested.
Do you fail to notice the mass disruption, here? Buffy freakage?
General debilitation and achiness? No way can I put this spell back
together right this red-hot minute. And what's this about the dying?
No dying! Maybe we should all just take a juice break or something
and calm down--
You blind, stupid little fool, the
dark voice said. The Key's mortal form was to be destroyed in this
spell. The vampire would then turn on you as the author of her demise,
and the Slayer would be forced to destroy him. Or he would destroy
her--either outcome would have been acceptable. Thus would the Balance
have been restored. But now the Key lives, and-- It cut off
as Willow looked up and saw Spike rise and begin a fluid stalk towards her,
murder burning in his ice-colored eyes and every lineament of his body.
But perhaps, it continued rather more cheerfully, all
is not yet lost.
"You lied to me, Red."
Half a dozen swift steps covered the distance he'd taken in a single leap
going the other direction. "Told me Dawn wasn't going to get hurt.
" Willow was still on hands and knees in the alleyway, looking up
at him with her hair all wild about her pale, shocky face, her sweet little
strawberry of a mouth hanging open. She swayed to her feet, alley
dirt all over the knees of her hippy-dippy Indian-print skirt and the top
that almost but not quite didn't match--never was a clotheshorse, was Red,
not in her high school days, not now. Spike kept coming, step by step,
backing her up against the alley wall, slapping palm to the bricks behind
her and blocking her escape with his outstretched arm. She shoved at
him, but she might as well have been shoving brick and steel; no one without
Slayer strength could hope to budge a vampire who didn't intend to be budged.
"What happened to 'I can kill you,'
Red?" He lowered his face to hers, nose to nose, and he knew it was
a hell of a lot scarier that his features remained perfectly human while
the look in his eyes was anything but. "Dr. Evil leave you a bit short
on the old mojo?" She was bleeding from a scrape on her temple, and
scarcely noticing what he did, Spike drew a finger across her cheek, held
it up to the light, and licked it clean. Always suspected Red would
Willow cringed back against the
bricks. "No! I didn't mean...I never thought... Spike, you--you
like me! You wouldn't--you said you wouldn't--!"
His voice dropped to a rasping growl.
"I like lots of people, Red. Doesn't stop me from getting a grin out
of their messy demise." He wasn't enjoying this nearly as much as he should
have. Bugger. "Bloody hell, Will, you sodding near fried Dawn!
What the fuck are you playing at?"
By the time he'd finished the sentence
there was more bewilderment than threat in his voice, and the face before
him changed. There was no other word for it; panic and confusion and
horror drained away, replaced by a hard, calculating smile in a transformation
as complete and profound as if she'd switched to game face. "I'm not
playing, Spike. Your mistake if you think I am." Her eyes went
onyx, and she drove both small fists at him simultaneously, a blow he'd
barely have felt had it only been physical. The stink of ozone bit
his sinuses, and black-violet lightning arced from her hands to his chest.
Needles of fire and ice exploded throughout his quiescent heart and Spike
reeled backwards with a scream of agony. Willow took to her heels and
For future reference, Spike old
lad, if Will says she can kill you, she means it. If she hadn't
been weakened from the backlash of the interrupted spell, he'd be ash right
now; power that could send a Harrier packing could incinerate a vampire
in seconds. Hugging the excruciating throb in his chest, Spike turned
for a quick look at Buffy; she was talking to a still-groggy Giles about
the pros and cons of taking Dawn to a hospital or just getting her home to
bed. She caught his eye: Take care of it, Spike.
For a moment he thought of bringing
Tara along; she might be able to reason with Will where nothing he could
say would penetrate. But Tara didn't look much better off than Dawn
was, huddled in a sick soft heap on the ground with Anya fussing over her.
Xander was trying to keep Tanner and company from panicking. Well,
then. Looks like the cavalry is you.
Tracking conditions on Main were
terrible--cold dry air that didn't hold a scent well, and hundreds of competing
odors to confuse the trail. But Willow'd passed this way only a minute
or two ago, and creature of the sodding night, here. Spike vamped out
and stood still as death, listening with ears that could hear worms crawling
in the ground below the sidewalk. He took a deep breath, held it,
testing the air--Yeah. That way--and took off running, following
the distant drumbeat of running feet and the fugitive scent of cinnamon.
She'd been smart, taken a corner
as soon as she could to get out of his line of sight, but it wasn't enough;
he caught and cornered her against a parked Mercury within three blocks.
This time he didn't press his luck, keeping a wary distance between them.
"Don't want to hurt you, Will--"
"Oh, don't you?" Willow said with
a wild laugh. "Sure looked like you wanted to back there! And
I didn't see Buffy the Vampire Layer rushing in to save me, either!"
"Bit occupied with her sis, don't
"It wasn't supposed to happen this
way!" Willow's resolve face peeled away, revealing bone-deep misery beneath.
"You don't get it. You can't get it. I couldn't let her down
again! You don't know what it's like to be this--this boring, ordinary,
mouse of a person, when everyone else around you is magic! When you'd
do anything to be special, make them notice--"
Spike threw up his hands with an
eye-roll that would have done Buffy proud. "Oh, give it a rest!
I'm a fucking vampire, Will! How'd'you think I got this way, sent in
boxtops?" He schooled his restless body to stillness again and tried
for coaxing. "Come on back with me, pet, tell us what's going on and
all's forgiven--you know that."
"With you? After that little
performance in the alley? Incendiere!" Willow gestured and red
and gold flames blazed up in a ring all around her, scorching the paint
job on the Mercury, and Spike fell back with a surprised yelp. "How
stupid do you think I am?"
Spike, you're evil.
Well, so he was, he'd never made a big secret of the fact. "Stopped,
didn't I?" he demanded. "Both times. D'you think Buffy would've
sent me after you if she thought--"
"Stopped?" Willow laughed.
"Come on. Got stopped, you mean. Wittle Dawnie got upset.
Well, Dawn's not here, and Buffy's not here, and you don't care quite as
much about the rest of us, do you?"
His hand moved towards his duster
pocket, tracing the outline of the flat stiff rectangle within. "As
a matter of fact--"
Willow's face underwent another
transformation, from desperation to wicked amusement, unnerving in its swiftness;
for a second Spike was reminded of expressions Darla used to get.
The ring of flames parted for her like the Red Sea, and Willow swayed towards
him. "Didn't you want to kill me there for a moment, when you thought
I'd hurt your precious little Dawn? And you do like me, Spike.
I can tell." Her voice had grown low and sultry, almost teasing, and
her eyes were orbs of polished jet against the pale, flawless skin of her
face. She walked straight up to him and slipped her arms around his
waist; Spike, stunned into immobility, made no move to stop her. "Maybe
it hasn't sunk in yet." She reached up and tapped a finger to the tip
of his nose. "No. More. Chip."
She arched her neck, exposing
the pale, perfect line of her throat, and the roots of Spike's fangs began
to ache; he could feel the points of his canines digging into his lower
lip. "You know you want it," Willow whispered. "It would be
easy, right now, when I'm not so much with the big magic. You could
bite me right here. Bite me, take me. Up against the wall.
I'd scream. You'd like that, wouldn't you? How long since anyone's
been really afraid of Big Bad Spike?"
Oh God in Heaven, far, far too long.
Hypnotized by possibilities, his head dropped towards the delicious angle
where her neck met her shoulder, lower, lower. "That's right," Willow
crooned. "This is what you're meant for. You're so tired of
fighting yourself, aren't you?" The blood-scent was fresh and maddening,
far more so than such a small cut should have been. "You want this.
You ache with every fiber of your being for the simple, sure days when you
were Death incarnate, clad in power and glory. You don't have to pretend
any longer. You can take what you want again. I'd be afraid,"
she whispered. "I'm not really into boys any longer, but you're
very pretty, and maybe I'd even--"
Her scent rose up around him like
an herb garden in summer, mint and cinnamon and rosemary and Willow
, warm and living. Willow who'd given him a cookie to wash the Buffy-taste
out of his mouth. Spike shoved her away with frantic strength.
"No," he gasped, chest heaving like he'd just come off a marathon.
Willow fell back through the flames
and banged into the door of the car, face twisted in fury. She slammed
her fist against the hot metal, heedless of the blistering paint.
"Who do you think you're kidding, Spike? You want this!
I can feel desire coming off you in waves!"
Spike shook himself, drawing the
back of his hand across his mouth. "Sounds awfully familiar, this.
Someone gave me a pretty speech just like it once before. Blah-de-blah,
beast who must and will be free--soon as you do what I want you to, Spike,
soon as you play fetch and carry all over Robin Hood's barn, Spike, soon
as you change the leash you're wearing for the shiny new one I've got behind
my back, Spike. Well, tough on you, the chip's out already and you've
no more cards to play on me. And maybe I still have a yen for slaughter
now and then, but you don't. You're not Will. I don't know what--"
"Oh, I'm Willow, all right," she
sneered. "You think anything but what Willow wanted, what Willow decided
was best, got us here tonight? This is the way it always works.
I suggest, I explain, I point out the obvious--but it's always they who act.
But you?" Her voice dripped scorn. "You were magnificent, once.
You were an extraordinary monster. Now? You're pathetic, pretending
you're on their side when everything in you cries out to be on the other.
You can try for the rest of your damned existence and you'll never be good,
never be more than a killer on a leash--and your leash is gone, Spike.
You say you know what it is to want more? Well, more's right
here." She yanked the collar of her blouse down. "All you have
to do is reach out and take it. Because you can."
Spike stood trembling. That
was the only reason he'd ever done anything, when it came down to it--because
he could. Two years, two long years defined by can'ts-- can't hunt,
can't feed, can't so much as kick someone in the shins without calling a
firestorm of pain down on his head. Over now, and had it really sunk
in yet? He could kill. "No."
Willow smiled, licking her own blood
from her chin. "Give me one good reason," she whispered, "why not."
Spike squeezed his eyes shut, seeing
the face of the woman he loved, the woman he'd live for, die for, kill for--
not kill for. I didn't think I'd need to.
In that moment he almost got it.
Almost, not quite--as close as a creature of sodding darkness could come,
maybe, on short notice with the smell of blood and smoke in his nose.
Spike opened his eyes, and his hand went to his duster pocket again.
He pulled out the envelope Lisa had given him that morning, slightly dog-eared
now, and flipped it at Willow. The uprush of heated air caught it and
sent it dancing across the flames for a moment before it fluttered, dipped,
and burst into flame. For a brief second the bright colors of the card
within showed through the charring envelope, and then they too were gone.
"Because I’ve gotten a taste for
being treated like a man, Will. Or whatever you are. Found I quite
fancy it. And if I want to be treated like a man, I'd bloody well better
act like one, hadn't I? What the fuck has a century of being evil gotten
me? Dru left me, Angelus betrayed me, Darla--that bitch never gave
me anything but grief to begin with! At least I know the white hats'll
stand by their own."
Willow flung back her head and laughed,
a completely delightful sound. "Act like a man? You mean pausing
to ask permission of a fifteen-year-old girl before eviscerating a man for...
what, exactly? Being in your way? All that stands between you
and total carnage again is the whim of a couple of children less than a
fifth your age. Spike, Spike, Spike--if this is the best imitation
of a man you can manage, what happens when they stop treating you like one?"
With that she brought both hands
together with thunderclap force. The ring of flame roared up, twenty
feet tall and red as blood, then winked out, taking Willow with it.
Spike stood alone on the sidewalk, staring at the ring of charred pavement
and blistered paint which was all the evidence left that Willow had ever been
there at all, ran a hand through his soot-streaked hair and muttered, "Bloody
hell. Knew there had to be a catch to it."
Continued in Part 29