By Barb Cummings
Sequel to A Raising in the Sun
Dawn lay in bed, watching him through her
eyelashes. The monster had been sitting in a straight-backed chair,
reading The Maltese Falcon in the dark, but at some point in the night
he'd fallen asleep and slumped over sideways onto the foot of her bed.
Pearly predawn light washed over the curve of his shoulder and spilled into
his pale hair--another half-hour and he'd be in big trouble if he didn't wake
up. His mouth was open slightly and the wire-rimmed reading glasses
he fondly imagined he'd kept hidden from her over the summer were askew on
Monsters drooled in their sleep.
She felt like crap. Someone had vacuumed
out her insides, and there was a weird crawly feeling in her stomach when
she looked at Spike. It took her awhile to pin it down. It wasn't
fear. It wasn't disgust. It wasn't shock or horror or any of the
things she really ought to have been feeling while looking at a monster.
It was just... the knowledge that he was a monster, a hot, embarrassed
how-could-I-be-so-stupid feeling akin to the day she'd realized that Santa
Claus really was just Dad in a funny suit, except with massacres. If
this was adulthood, it sucked.
The door to her room eased open a few inches
and Buffy's right eye appeared in the crack, followed shortly by the rest
of her, slim golden hands clutching a burqa of white terrycloth tightly around
her torso. Her eyes, even sans eyeshadow and mascara, were huge hazel
pools in her small, sharp-chinned face, her posture drawn in brushstrokes
of apprehension. When she saw that Dawn was awake, she let out a small
sigh and with it some of the tension. She slipped inside, caught Dawn's
eye and held a finger to her lips: Don't wake him, walked over to the
window and pulled the drapes shut.
"Why?" Dawn whispered.
Buffy gave her a duh look. "Not looking
forward to explaining the burnt vampire smell to the insurance adjuster when
I try to claim the charred carpet on our homeowner's policy?"
"Not that." Dawn struggled upright
against the pillows. Her limbs were leaden, like she had bowling balls
strapped to her ankles. "I mean... OK, today you love him. But
you didn't used to. Why didn't you ever kill him?"
Her sister stopped beside Spike's chair
and reached down to straighten out his glasses, smoothing his hair back from
his high forehead. "I don't know," she said. "I tried. Just
like he tried to kill me." Buffy tugged one wavy lock free, gel crackling
as she wound it around her forefinger and let it spring back into its natural
curl. "I guess our hearts weren't in it."
Buffy's heart hadn't been in killing Angelus,
but she'd done it. "Did you ever see anyone he killed?"
Slim golden fingers, playing through hair
the color of bleached bones. Buffy sighed. "You want a catalog?
Dell and Dwayne Robichaud, throats torn out. Sherri Addison's dad, broken
neck. Steve Laughton's dad, broken... everything. Sheila Martini--technically
Dru killed her, but Spike's the one who brought home take-out.
That was Week One." The moving fingers paused. "Dawn...is
"I was just curious." Dawn sank back
down into the bed and
burrowed down under the quilt, poking Spike in the nose as her feet shifted
beneath the covers.
Spike woke with a snort, losing his
glasses entirely as he jerked himself upright. He stared wildly around
the room for a moment, yellow-eyed with surprise, then broke into a huge grin
when he saw she'd woken up. "Dawn! How're you feeling, Pidge?"
"I'm OK." This was where she should
reach out and hug him, because she knew Spike loved getting hugged but was
too much ultra-cool vampire guy to ever admit it. Her arms just lay
there like slugs on the patchwork squares of the quilt. Dawn pasted
a return smile onto her face, but she didn't know what to say to him any longer,
and a second later his smile faltered.
He knew. Predator's senses or just
reasonably perceptive guy, he could see the wariness in her eyes and feel
the new distance stretching between them. Spike swallowed, picked up
his book and got to his feet, not even bothering to get embarrassed about
the glasses. "I'll just be off, then, let you get some more sleep."
A pang lanced her heart as she watched
him leave, leaving a hollow ache behind. She and Spike had possessed
something between them that he didn't have even with Buffy, and now it was
gone. Should she call him back, tease him about the glasses and try
to pretend everything was the same as it had been? Only yesterday she'd
have known exactly what words to use.
"I'll bring you some breakfast later,"
Buffy said, pausing in the doorway with one hand on the frame. "And
I'll call in sick for you at school. Assuming they're open again after
the whole cafeteria demon thingy. Giles says you should just try to
rest as much as possible today." A small vertical line appeared between
her brows as she looked from Dawn to Spike and back again, aware that something
was out of kilter but unable to ascertain what. Dawn rolled over and
pulled her quilt up over her ears, and after a second of lip-biting, Buffy
Spike remained in the doorway a moment
longer, a sweet wistful smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"Goodbye, Spike," she whispered as he followed
Buffy down the hall. Did she want to cry? She wasn't sure.
In the end she just lay there, empty, too tired to feel anything at all.
She should have asked about Willow, but maybe Buffy didn’t know.
It took her longer than she wanted to get
back to sleep.
Three drops of ink squeezed from the eyedropper,
one after the other, drip, drip, drip into the pie-plate full of Evian.
Willow sat cross-legged on her old bed in her old room at her parents’ house,
gazing intently at the makeshift scrying bowl balanced on the coverlet before
her. She passed a hand over the water. “Reveal,” she whispered.
The ink swirled, forming a fractal whirlpool of indigo on the surface of the
water. The Summers house emerged from the coiling lines of ink, with
Spike’s motorcycle parked in the driveway, in the middle of the oil spot
left by the DeSoto. She made another pass over the water, and the image
wavered, but she couldn’t bring up the interior of the house.
“Are you sure you don’t want any breakfast,
Willow chewed on her lower lip. “No,
Mom,” she hollered through the closed door. “I’m not hungry. I’ll
fix some cereal before I go to class.”
There was a pause. “You know, Willow,
if you and your...um...friend had a fight, then opening an honest dialogue
is paramount to--”
Willow ground the heel of her hand into
the bridge of her nose and tuned her mother’s voice out. She’d spent
half of last night in a frantic casting of spells of obscuration and concealment
around herself, and twice already this morning she’d felt the feeble scratchings
of someone trying to penetrate them--Giles, maybe, or Anya; it hadn’t been
Tara’s familiar touch. She’d had five hours of sleep, had a pounding
headache, and the more she thought about last night the worse things got.
She couldn't be a bad guy, could she? No bad guy was so lame as to have
to run home to Mommy and Daddy with some cheeseball story about a fight with
Tara, begging for a place to spend the night. No, she just needed time
to sort things out, that was all.
“...so if you’re questioning your ego definition
on this level, honey, maybe it’s time to...”
“I’ll think about it, Mom. Aren’t
you late for work?”
There were spells of ward and protection
laid about the Summers house, too--nothing too fancy, just the old standards.
They coccooned the house in an intricate cat’s-cradle of rose and saffron
threads. Tara had cast them when the two of them moved in; Willow had
been too weakened in the aftermath of Buffy’s Raising to help. Now she
could rip right through them, but the idea of wantonly destroying Tara’s work
made her ache. Willow reached out with something that wasn’t her hand
and began picking the spell apart, thread by thread by thread, slowly insinuating
herself into the weave and allowing her own power to flow through unhindered.
The ink swirls, and she is drawn into
the world it inscribes upon the quicksilver surface of the water.
Willow walks. It is not she who is
the ghost, but the world around her; walls part like smoke, and misty wisps
of brick and stucco cling to her skirt as she passes them by. Here is
Dawn’s room with its teen-aged clutter of posters and books and clothes.
The hidden corners are still drifted with toys, too childish to play with
and too beloved to give away. Dawn lies on the bed, the human shell
of her tossing in the restless slumber of innocence lost, the ageless heart
of her being pulsing raw green power for any who dares grasp it.
The part of Willow still sitting on the
bed drew a sob of relief. Dawn was alive. She hadn't burnt all
her bridges yet. She'd lost her way in the woods, and though the slick black
voice in her head was no Virgil, maybe Tara would still be willing to play
Beatrice. She could honestly claim she'd had no idea that the spell
would harm Dawn. Of course, then she'd have to explain where she'd gotten
the part of the spell which tapped into Dawn's power...and worse, why she'd
tapped into Dawn's power in the first place. She couldn’t just go traipsing
back, not without knowing more about Buffy’s mood and what the others thought
had happened. Another pass. “Reveal.”
Buffy’s room is empty. The window
is open and the morning breeze lifts the curtains, carrying away the musk
of sex and blood. The scents are old, and the walls carry no echo of
soft cries and sharp pleas--the bed is rumpled, but there was no sporting
in this room last night, nor any room. The top drawer of the dresser
is open slightly, and there are a few pairs of newly-washed black t-shirts
visible through the crack. In the bathroom across the hall, there is
a third toothbrush in the holder.
The vampire stares blearily at the
nothingness in the mirror (his sleep schedule has been shot to hell) and draws
the razor carefully along the line of his jaw; when he flicks the shaving
cream off into the sink, it abruptly pops into visibility. Being a monster,
he cannot truly understand why the fact of his being so troubles the girl
in the room down the hall. Yet her withdrawal pains him terribly, in
a manner no monster should feel.
In the master bedroom, Tara lies sleeping,
curled around the empty space where her absent love should be. Her beautiful
face has none of its usual serenity. She moans and cries out as she
feels Willow walk unseen through the secret places of the house, reaching
out with her round soft arms, and Willow shies away, fearful of waking her,
fearful of breaking the spell.
Buffy is downstairs. Worry and fear
coil around her, a grey miasma, but she denies them power--she is cooking
breakfast; waffles enough to feed a small army, and eggs and toast (there
are no strawberries, and this is a source of vast unease, because there should,
there should be strawberries with waffles, but they are out of season and
they have no money and the lack means she is a bad sister, a bad friend and
a terrible Slayer).
There is the ritual of breakfast for sick
people: Buffy brings waffles on trays, and Dawn and Tara wake and stir and
pick fretfully at their food, and demand newspapers or milk or whatever Buffy
has forgotten to bring. Spike comes downstairs and he and Buffy eat
the rest of the waffles, syrup on hers, pig’s blood on his. They talk
about last night in low voices; Buffy has grasped that the removal of the
chip was not something he sought, but she suspects nothing of Willow’s involvement,
and the cobalt bonds of the geas still hold Spike mute. They move gradually
closer as they talk, their auras sparking, red-gold and crimson-lit ebony--
A burst of unfocused tantric energy shattered
the image into wild ink-squiggles and Willow fell back, almost kicking over
the pie plate with one rabbit-slippered foot. “Whoa.” She shook
her head and sat up. She shouldn’t have been surprised; two supernatural
creatures of diametrically opposed natures making whoopie was bound to produce
a few mystic aftershocks, especially when supernatural creatures in question
acted like they’d spontaneously combust if they went for more than twelve
hours without an orgasm.
Willow slumped a little and rubbed her
eyes. Should she try the Magic Box? The shop had far more effective
wards, though, and she wasn’t sure if she could hack them without alerting
Giles. Besides, she had a mission: find out when Tara was recovered
enough to talk. The squicky fascination of spying on your friends was
just bonus material. She attempted to visualize the kitchen again and
got one fleeting glimpse of Buffy licking syrup off Spike’s chest before
another wild surge of static kicked her out again. It was impossible to spy
effectively when she was constantly forced to pan to fireplace.
I’m never, ever going to eat off the dining room table again.
Periodic checks in the scrying bowl over
the remainder of the morning revealed that when Buffy and Spike were alone,
they were groping each other 75.3% of time. Spike made another attempt
to give Buffy grocery money, and the fifteen-minute argument over same culminated
in the wig-inducing spectacle of Buffy taking the money and roaring off in
the Cherokee. No wonder Spike used to get so disgusted when we foiled
his plans. Possibly insane, power-mad witch on loose, Slayer on major
shopping spree at Albertson's. When Buffy returned, Spike had thoughtfully
cleaned and oiled her various implements of destruction, and was on the phone
with Clem, having a mysterious conversation about customers and the fact
that someone named Teeth wasn’t going to like it, whatever it was.
The two of them spent the rest of the morning doing exciting things like
dishes, laundry, and each other on top of the dryer, which shorted out the
scrying spell again (and a good thing too). Even Slayers and vampires
had to spend ninty percent of their lives doing everyday ordinary stuff, or
at best supervising minions who did it for them, but watching them at it
was boring beyond belief.
An hour later, Willow sat in the back of
the darkened Art History 302 lecture hall, watching the slides of Rosso's
"Descent From the Cross" melt into Parmigiano's "Madonna With The Long Neck"
on the screen and listening to Professor Alpert drone on about the philosophical
underpinnings of the Mannerist school of painting. She scribbled out
'Mannerism -- 1525-1600. Artist's inner vision supercedes twin authorities
of nature & the ancients. Deliberate physical & spatial distortions
employed to make aesthetic point.' She could relate to that. She
felt distorted out of all recognition. She could look back over all
the things she'd done over the past two weeks and see that each individual
decision made sense as she made it, but when she put it all together, the
picture was subtlely off. Pretty sure that begging Spike to kill
me isn't normal behavior. Her fingers tightened on her pen, and
Willow added, 'Kid in painting looks dead. Gross' to her notes.
Except...she'd wanted it. Even as
she'd listened in horror to the words pouring from her mouth, something
within her had exulted when Spike's fangs grazed her neck, and wailed in abandoned
fury when he pulled away. You didn't want to bite me,
I just happened to be around. But ugh, ick, blech, that couldn't
be her! She didn't want to die!
Of course not.
The girl in the seat in front of her turned
around and smiled at Willow with her own face gone ridged and fangy.
"But you’re sure he wouldn't have left you dead. I work with what I'm
given, oh Willow-titwillow-titwillow," she said with a pout. "Some little
part of you wonders what it would be like to be immortal and invulnerable--is
that my fault?"
Willow bent over her notes, and whispered,
"One: Shut up. Two: Leave."
The ebony voice purled through her skull,
closer than her skin to her flesh. Leave? As well tell your
shadow to walk away. I am within you, I am of you, as you are of me.
We are one now, of your own free choice. A choice that cannot be unmade.
I have given you everything you desired, have I not?
It had. She could still feel it,
a La Brea Tar Pit of dark power bubbling away beneath the surface of her
soul. But she couldn't use it. She buried her face in her
hands, grateful for the darkness of the auditorium. At least she'd
completed her three tasks, and the bargain wasn't hanging over her head any
An amused chuckle reverberated through
her mind. Isn't it? There remain eleven of Tanner's people
who are still quite mad. Until you have used the Key's power to cleanse
their minds, your bargain remains unfulfilled and your power is only on loan.
"I don't want your stupid power anymore!"
Willow hissed, attracting stares from her classmates on either side.
Cheeks flaming, she oozed down into her seat.
"Does that matter any longer? You
have it. And it cries out for use." Willow swallowed a shocked
yip; Professor Alpert had been replaced by Jenny Calendar. None one
else seemed to notice anything peculiar; the rest of the students were dutifully
scribbling notes about the stylistic contrasts between Mannerist and late
Renaissance art. Jenny leaned forward, arms folded against the
podium, and smiled. "But let's not get hung up on details. What
I want, Willow, is to restore the Balance. Have you forgotten that it's
still in danger?"
Well, boo big flipping hoo,
Willow shot back. I may be special needs girl for not figuring this
out sooner, but the whole 'let's kill your best friend's sister for the good
of mankind and if that doesn't work attempt suicide by vampire' thing kind
of gave it away. You're not working for the same side Whistler was,
and if you think I'm going to kill Dawn or Buffy or even Spike to fix your
precious Balance, you're crazier than Tanner!
The illusion of her high school Comp. Sci.
teacher sauntered over to the AV screen and tapped it with her pointer; the
cool formalism of the long-necked Madonna was instantly replaced with an overhead
view of Sunnydale. Jenny indicated the wreckage of the old high school.
"The side I represent is irrelevant at this point. If the Balance isn't
restored, then the Hellmouth will turn itself inside out in a matter of weeks.
The forces of Light will over-run Sunnydale and slaughter the forces of Darkness,
and anyone they see as having aided the forces of Darkness." She smiled,
delighted by the prospect. "Do you have any idea how many demons live
in this town, or how many people they deal with every day, all unawares?"
Willow gripped the arms of her seat and
said nothing. Faux-Jenny continued, "Now, I'm not going to ask you to
interfere on my behalf. Oh, no--that wasn't part of our bargain, and
I always keep the letter of my promises. I don't even object to the
slaughter. There are always more demons to be had. I'm just pointing
out that our bargain is not complete, and at the moment, my advantage is
your advantage. Unless you want to see your town laid waste... for its
Luminous shapes with wings of light and
swords of flame mow down students like wheat. The wind carries screams
and the charcoal stench of burnt skin. She stands knee-deep in blood
as arcane energies bath the skies overhead and bodies boil and explode from
within like turkey giblets in a microwave. The campus is a demonic Arlington,
an endless field of corpses human and otherwise, bloated and rotting in the
pale winter sunlight. Flocks of ravens fight seagulls for the eyes
of the fallen... She was hyperventilating and everyone
was looking at her funny. You're lying.
"No. I may not tell the whole truth,
but I've never needed to lie to you."
Oh, right. Like 'Dawn won't be
harmed if you use her power to cast this spell,' which is totally true, except
for the part about Dawn not being harmed?
Jenny sighed and tossed her dark curls
over one shoulder. "Harm is such a relative word. The Key cannot
be destroyed, only transformed. By all means let's wait and do nothing,
Willow. Buffy waited, and that worked so well for me, didn't it?"
Jenny's eyes bugged out and her smile split into a hideous death's-head grin,
drooling blood as her head lolled broken-necked to one side. Willow
jerked backwards, scrambling half-way over the back of her seat with a shriek.
"Hey!" yelled the boy beside her.
"Take a pill, will you?"
"Silence!" Willow snarled, fingers
crooking in menace, and the boy's words choked off. He clutched his
throat in panic as she gathered up her books and ran out of the auditorium.
It was late afternoon when Tara descended
the stairs, feeling as shattered as Picasso's nude. She'd slept off
and on all day, rousing groggily when Buffy brought her sandwiches, but her
brain was still floating several feet above the top of her head. Disjointed
scenes from last night were starting to bubble one by one out of the foggy
pit of her skull, brightly-colored blobs in a mental lava-lamp.
Buffy cradling Dawn in her arms, tawny
blonde hair spilling across chestnut brown. The girl's body was frail
and hollow as the shed husk of a cicada.
Dizzy kaleidoscope of buildings and streetlights
flashing by outside the SUV's windows. Hands, warm and cold, hauling
her out of the car and upstairs.
Spike limping up scorched and shaken, his
pale skin flecked with ash and the diamond-sharp angles of his cheekbones
blunted with soot, a charcoal sketch of defeat.
Power surging through her, far more power
than Willow should have been capable of summoning up. Power recoiling
as she realized to her horror that Dawn had been standing on Kether from the
beginning of the spell.
Xander flying at Spike, demanding to know
what he'd done to Willow, and Spike turning on him with a wild-eyed snarl.
Giles separating the two of them with a sharp word.
A hundred desperate repetitions of
Where is she? I have to find her! which no one would answer.
Voices drifted up to meet her, tone poems
without meaning, Buffy's clarinet-crisp and light, Anya's staccato brass,
Spike and Giles's tenor and alto sax... what was Xander? An accordion?
A trombone? Tara repressed a giggle, afraid that if she started to laugh
she'd never stop.
"...should've noticed sooner. Kept
thinking there was something missing, and it turns out to be Dawn. What's
the bloody good of..."
"None of us noticed." That was Giles.
"Willow's an extraordinarily powerful witch, more than capable of tailoring
the spell to affect you as well as the rest of us. It's difficult to
cloud a vampire's mind, but not impossible. Especially one as, er, lacking
in mental discipline as you are." Spike growled, but said nothing.
"Dawn's young and healthy; she should recover, physically at least."
"At least?" There was a worried edge
to Buffy's voice. "There's an other than physical?" There was
a rustle and a creak, as of bodies rearranging themselves on furniture, and
a soft indrawing of breath from Spike. "Does that still hurt?"
"Not so's it matters. She hadn't
much juice left to hit me with, thank God for small favors."
She? What she? Couldn't
be Willow. Not possibly, not Willow who donated to Amnesty International
and had frog fear and wouldn't shop at WalMart and hadn't wanted to shoot
the horsies. Willow didn't hurt things. No, no, no...
"Second bloody shirt I've done for in as many days."
Tara rounded the corner into the living
room. Giles was leaning up against the mantelpiece in a brown study,
glasses in hand, studying them as if they were the last artefact of a ancient
demonic civilization. Xander and Anya were scrunched up together at
one end of the couch, and Spike was scrunched up next to Buffy at the other
end. The no-man's-land in the middle was divided by a Maginot Line of
half-folded laundry, stacks of black jeans, black t-shirts, and not-quite-so-black
button-down shirts. The charred remains of Spike's striped sweater were
stuffed haphazardly into the nearest wastebasket, and he was matching up
pairs from a tangle of identical black socks. Every eye was on her,
and Tara wanted to sink into the floor. Unfortunately she couldn't muster
the magic to sink a toothpick into cream cheese right now.
"Tara!" Buffy leaped to her feet with desperate
cheer. "You made it down!" Before she could protest, Tara found
herself the target of a whirlwind of overwhelming Slayerly concern--Buffy
wasn't exactly good at the whole nurturing thing, but she really, really tried.
Five minutes later, she was ensconced in the armchair with Xander tucking
one of Aunt Caroline's afghans tucked around her. "Here you go!" Buffy
plunked a glass of warm milk (microwaved) a bowl of soup (Campbell's tomato,
woefully lumpy) and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich down on the nearby
end table with a bright smile.
"You shouldn't--" Tara started, but Buffy
waved her objections away.
"No big. Your girlfriend's gone postal;
the least I can do is provide comfort food. Is peanut butter OK?
Do you need anything else? Green vegetables? I went shopping this
morning, and I think some of the stuff I bought had leaves attached.
Would you rather have chicken soup? We have cans; I can do cans--"
"And if you need a nip or two to set you
up--" Spike indicated his hip flask and his heroic willingness to sacrifice
the contents to her well-being.
"Um... thanks, but I already feel like
I have a hangover." Tara picked up her sandwich and took a dutiful
bite. If she didn't eat now she'd regret it tomorrow. Everyone
was being extra-nice, even Spike, which always heralded badness.
After several minutes of furtive looks
and strangled 'You!' 'No, you!' noises, Giles lost the battle for non-dominance
and cleared his throat. "Tara, I'm sorry to press you on this so quickly,
but is there a chance that you can cast a location spell to help us track
Tara held her sandwich in both hands and
stared at the blob of grape jelly oozing slowly out from between the crusts
of bread. Sugar and starch and protein, just what she needed, however
unappealing the thought of chewing and swallowing was right now. "I...
probably not for another day or so. I'm pretty much drained. You
But Giles was shaking his head. "Anya and
I made the attempt this morning. To make a long story short, we failed.
All else being equal, Tara, you have a far more personal connection with Willow
Once. Not anymore. Did
she look as wretched as she felt? She had no idea who Willow was anymore.
Had she ever known? And if she no longer knew Willow, who on earth
was Tara McClay? "I--I'm not even sure what... I know the spell went
bad. I don't know if Willow's..."
"She's fine," Xander said. Everything
but his voice was screamed that Willow was anything but. "Fine."
Anya squeezed his hand and for a second Tara hated them both, because they
were all coupley and together and Willow was gone. "She was just... startled.
By the end of the spell. She needs space. Spike went after her.
Which is totally wrong. I should have gone. I--"
"I blame myself," Giles said, rubbing his
eyes. He hadn't taken the kind of hit that Dawn or Tara had, but he
did possess a modicum of magical talent and hadn't escaped the spell's backlash
unscathed. "I should have supervised her more closely after--"
He glanced across the Summers' dining room in the direction of the kitchen,
where Buffy was attacking another loaf of bread as if it were all the fiends
of hell. "The first... incident."
"You shouldn't," Tara protested.
She shifted in the armchair, pulling the afghan closer around her shoulders
against a sudden chill. "If anyone should have realized what was happening,
it's me. I knew how hard she took losing her magic, I knew it was suspicious
that she got her powers back all of a sudden--" A sob gathered in her
throat and Tara forced it down with peanut butter.
"Ah, kitten, we all cocked up," Spike
"Some of us more than others," Xander muttered.
"Captain Wrong-Way Peachfuzz here seems to have confused 'bring her back'
with 'scare her off.'
Spike bristled. "Oh, sod off, Harris.
Teleporting's not among my many talents. We'd better find her fast,
though. Something nastier'n I am's got its hooks in her."
Tara ventured a timid interruption.
"What happened to Mr. Tanner and the others?"
Xander glared, rubbing his temples.
"They got away while I was helping Giles get you and Dawn into the SUV."
"Highly effective lot we are," Spike said
with a derisive snort.
Xander honed his glare on the back of the
vampire's skull for a few minutes, then accepted the lack of a direct attack
as tacit truce. "Yeah. Finely tuned machine."
Buffy returned with more sandwiches, which
she started passing around like rations. "So, to sum up--Willow may
or may not be under the control of something yicky which may or may not be
providing her with her nifty new powers, but she absolutely for sure involved
Dawn in a way dangerous spell which almost killed her. This after yanking
me back to life without a permission slip, and nearly dusting Spike in the
process." Her lips thinned. "I think I need to have a little talk
Giles replaced his glasses. "Spike,
perhaps you'd better fill Tara in on the details of your final encounter."
The vampire's jaw clenched. His eyes
never left the pile of socks as he ran through a brief description of his
conversation with Willow, or whatever was wearing Willow at the moment.
Tara listened with mounting horror. "You... you mean your chip's not...?"
"Gone the way of the dodo," Spike said.
"And you almost killed Willow." Tara
found she was shaking, alternating waves of fear and anger racking her shoulders.
Spike finally looked up, his eyes bleak
as Arctic ice. "Yeh. That about covers it."
"So excuse me," Tara said, her voice cracking
with the effort to hold it steady, "Can someone explain why all of you are
so worried about what Willow might do? OK, putting Dawn in that
spell was bad. Really bad. But I know she didn't mean
for Dawn to get hurt!" She flung off the afghan and swayed to her feet.
"Willow's got problems, but she's a good person! She cares about people!
She wants to help them, she wants to fix things, and sometimes she goes too
far--" A beseeching look at Buffy, who was sitting stone-faced on the couch,
her folded arms a barrier across her heart. "She does bad things sometimes,
but she's good! And Spike--I'm sorry, I like you, you've helped
us a lot, but--but--you're not. Willow almost killed one person last
night--you almost killed two. So--"
"You know, she's got a really good point
there, Buff," Xander said. "We got any guarantee the Peroxide Wonder here
isn't planning out the week's menu with us as the main course as we speak?"
The iron bars of no argument slammed down
in Buffy's voice. "That's enough, both of you! In case it's escaped
your notice, Spike's the one here, helping--"
Spike rose from the couch, all lithe black-clad
grace: ...black as the Pit, and terrible as a demon, was Bagheera
... He faced her, a terrible demon indeed for all that his
face was as human as her own. He reached up and stroked her trembling
cheek, his nostrils dilating as he drank in her fear-drenched scent.
His fingers were cool and dry. He smiled, and the expression managed
to be horrifying and heartbreaking at the same time. "No, pet," he said,
and though his eyes never left Tara's he was speaking only to Buffy.
"She's right. Just like Will was right. Clever birds, the both
And he was gone, just like that, between
one breath and the next. "Spike!" Buffy cried. She grabbed an armful
of afghan from the back of the couch and was gone too, almost as quickly,
and Tara was falling backwards into the armchair and Giles's and Xander's
arms, sobbing as if her heart had not already broken.
Spike's motorcycle was still in the driveway,
crouched in the shadow of the Cherokee, but he was nowhere in sight.
Buffy ran down the front walk, her eyes going automatically to the oak tree
where she'd so often caught him standing in the past, but there was no trace
of him, not even a trampled cigarette butt in the grass. The last molten
sliver of the sun was still visible above the horizon, but it would soon be
gone, and the shadows were already plenty long enough for a vampire as indifferent
to his own flammability as Spike was. Maybe she wouldn't need the afghan
after all, but she wasn't taking any chances.
He couldn't have gotten far. The
whole blurry-vampire-speed thing was only good for a block, tops. Had
he taken to the sewers? Which way would he have gone--back
to the crypt, or--? She didn't have to guess. Buffy closed her eyes
and concentrated, and a thrill ran down her spine, out through every nerve
and back again: not just vampire nearby but Spike, right there
, magnetic north to the lodestone of her soul.
She found him beneath an olive tree at
the edge of the little park on Cavenaugh, lazing against the treetrunk with
hands in pockets, his head tilted to meet the gnarled bole. He was
still as only the dead can be still, an unliving shadow among the silver-grey
sprays of olive leaves, and though he was standing in plain sight, eight
people in ten would have walked right past him. A cigarette smouldered
between his lips, half an inch of ash undisturbed at the tip. A thin
tendril of smoke curled upwards to wreath his head like some infernal halo.
Half a dozen children were racing around
on the other side of the park, playing some complicated game of tag through
the monkey bars. Their distant shrieks of laughter cut the air like
the cries of tropical birds, a sound far more exotic to Buffy's ears than
the roars of demons or the wailing of the damned. Spike watched them
across the straw-colored expanse of dead Bermuda grass, and a shudder ran
over his body, ravenous yearning and revulsion entwined too closely to distinguish.
He didn't move, didn't speak as Buffy approached, but she was certain that
he sensed her presence as surely as she'd sensed his. After a moment
one languid white hand rose to his mouth, and she saw his cheeks hollow and
his chest expand as he took a drag on the cigarette.
"I could walk over there," he said very
softly. "I could walk over there, and I could kill them all before the
last one had time to scream. Not going to. But I could."
All her senses were focused on the tremor
in his voice, the glitter in his eye, the tension in his every muscle--once
more Spike was the only real thing in a universe of shadows. Buffy folded
her arms across her chest and regarded him, unafraid, but... watchful. "Spike,
haven't we had this conversation?"
He turned to look at her, the corner of
his mouth twitching upwards. "We will never stop having this conversation,
Slayer." He peeled himself off the tree trunk and set off in an aimless
zig-zag across the park, stalking along with his head down. Buffy followed,
speeding up to keep pace with his longer stride. The few stars visible
overhead were hard brilliant points of light, and the waning moon now rising
over the rooftops to the east was still bright enough to paint long black
shadows on the grass to vie with those drawn by the nearby streetlights.
"I keep thinking I've got the answer, you
know?" Spike flung his cigarette at the nearest Requiescat
in Pace. "And every bloody time I think I've got it pinned
to the wall, the question gets more complicated. I didn't kill
anyone last night! Supposed to be a good thing, right? What
we're aiming for here, keep old Spike on the straight and narrow?
But the Bit’s looking at me like I'm something a dog wouldn't roll in, Glinda's
set to give me a mystic bitchslapping, and let's not forget Xander 'Stake
'Em All And Let God Sort 'Em Out' Harris--"
They'd left the park behind and were walking
along the berm next to an irrigation canal. A five-foot wrought-iron
fence ran along the bottom of the embankment, and ranks of stately junipers
marched off across the manicured grass beyond, dividing the rows of headstones--no
elaborate carvings or monuments here, just discrete flat rectangles
of bronze or polished granite. She didn't have the disguise spell
on, but as long as they were out, they ought to make themselves useful.
She tugged Spike after her and slid down the embankment, and a moment
later they were over the fence and strolling through the cemetery, alert
for movement, though chances were that Spike's continuing tirade would
scare off anything with ears.
"Yeh, if it'd been anyone besides Will last
night, there's a chance I'd've killed them!" The vampire aimed
a wild sweep of his arm and a belligerent glare at the nearest juniper,
daring it to make a move. "You know how that makes me feel?
Like dog's dinner, that's what, because it would tear you and Dawn to
shreds if I had! But part of me's screaming 'Only a chance?
What happened to rock solid certain?' and another part's off blubbing
in a corner because it was Will and I almost did kill
her--" His voice held a rising note of panic. "There's nothing I do
feels right anymore! I know I've buggered things up with Dawn,
but I don't understand why! It was so simple with the chip.
Didn't matter what I felt, what I want, try anything with a human and
I'm flat on my arse with a migraine, and now I have to bloody think
about every sodding move I make!"
Spike strode over to the hummock of new
turf which signified a recent grave, bent down and plunged a fist through
the grass, halfway to his elbow into the soft earth below. He hauled the dazed
fledgling who'd been in the process of clawing her way free up in a shower
of damp clods. "I'm doing the best I bloody well can here!" Spike bellowed
to the graveyard at large. "In fact, better! I've twisted my
insides into a sodding pretzel, and it isn't good enough! Did it right,
didn't I? Didn't do anything evil. Didn't kill either of 'em,
and I wanted to--it's the wanting to, isn't it?" he snarled at the newborn
vampire, who nodded her head in desperate agreement seconds before Spike
ripped it off with a roar of frustration and tossed her disintegrating body
aside like a rag doll. "Bloody buggering hell, I can't
"Damn it, Spike!" someone said in
an aggrieved whine. "That was our minion! It took us a year to
find a good one!"
A matching pair of older vampires materialized
from the shadow of the largest juniper, looking more nervous than menacing.
They were dressed in a patchwork of worn shirts and out-at-the- knees jeans,
and one of them was wearing a knit green wool cap that made him look like
an undead Michael Nesmith. Buffy choked back a squeak of totally inappropriate
laughter--it was the same timid, scruffy pair of vamps Spike had dragged her
after last winter, on the ill-fated 'date' preceding the whole Drusilla-and-chains
incident. Damn it, she should have sensed them. There were disadvantages
to having Spike's electric presence thrumming through her system twenty-four
seven; other vampires were starting to pale in comparison unless they were
right on top of her--definitely not a position she wanted to encourage.
Buffy whipped her stake out of her coat pocket and dropped into a fighting
"Oh, fuck, it's the Slayer!" Scruffy #1
took to his heels, and after a gape-mouthed moment Scruffy #2 followed his
"Right, I've had about enough of you pair
of limp-dicked would-be wankers!" Spike howled. "You're for it,
the both of you!" He tore off after them.
Buffy beseeched the heavens for patience
or the ability to fake it, and dashed after, the red and blue pinwheels on
the afghan flapping behind her. The chase led into an older part of
the cemetery--the Scruffy Twins were heading towards the moonlit limestone
bulk of an open mausoleum. Buffy leaped over a tombstone, plunged her stake
between Scruffy #1's shoulderblades, and spat out a mouthful of vamp dust
in time to see Scruffy #2 dive for the marble lid of the sarcophagus in the
center of the mausoleum. Spike grabbed him by the collar, yanked him
back and slammed a fist into his jaw. The other vampire made a wild
swing at Spike which Spike didn't even bother to block. Lips skinned
back over his teeth in an insanely joyful grin, Spike delivered three swift
vicious blows to Scruffy's gut, grabbed him by both ears as he doubled over,
and bashed him face-first into the sarcophagus. There was a wet crunch;
teeth flew and a spray of dark crimson splattered across the pristine marble.
Scruffy slid bonelessly to the ground in a smear of blood and mucus, moans
of pain bubbling out of his ruined mouth. Spike licked his lips and
stepped back, breathing hard, to survey his work. He looked up at Buffy
and smiled, a heavy-lidded look of satiety. "Now this," he purred, "this
is more like. I don't bloody think. I bloody fight and fuck and
feed and beat the shit out of things."
As he met her eyes and saw the shock on
her face, the smile vanished, replaced with sick self-loathing, and all of
a sudden Buffy knew with complete and equally sickening certainty exactly
what was coming next. Lips compressed to near-invisibility, she walked
up the mausoleum steps, knelt beside Scruffy and drove the stake into his
heart, ignoring the sudden wrenching emptiness in her own. She stood
and faced Spike, fists planted on hips. "Really," she said, then realized
she was still clutching the afghan--the Linus Van Pelt vibe had to go.
She tossed it away and smashed a hard right into Spike's nose with force enough
to rock him back on his heels. "'Cause I think we can do better than
"OW!" Spike reeled back and clapped
a hand to his nose. "What the bloody hell was that for?"
"Got your attention, didn't it?"
Buffy danced back on her toes, crooking a finger in a come-hither gesture.
"I'm just a little bit pissed off right now, Spikey. Just a tad."
She lunged forward and Spike leaped to the top of the sarcophagus, staring
at her all wide blue-eyed shock, as if she'd lost her mind. She leaped
after him. Spike blocked the right to his jaw, dodged the left to his
solar plexus and fell for the kick which swept his legs from under him.
He fell on his ass, hard, and immediately kicked out to sweep her own feet
out from under her. Buffy leapt over his shins. Spike jackknifed
up in one of those flashy moves everyone thought was a vampire thing
but was more likely attributable to those two hundred crunches a day,
caught her ankles in mid-leap and flipped her backwards.
Buffy landed on her back, twisted
sideways to avoid Spike's grab at her wrists, and was on her feet again with
a roll. Out of the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of a shape
in the graveyard beyond, a vast half-translucent figure like the shadow of
Ghede which had followed Tara before possessing her fully. The woman
stretched, her dark limbs gaunt and muscular against the sky. She rose
from her bed of bones, her hair a wild veil across her face--was it slashed
across with white clay? Behind her a male figure strode out of the
night, pale as death and bearing at his side a drum. His footfalls
and the slap of his palm on the drum-head were the sounds of cities falling
to ruin. The woman held aloft the severed head of a slain demon in
her left hand, and in her right the knife which still dripped with its blood.
She threw back her head and laughed, red tongue lolling from her sharp-toothed
maw. The necklace of skulls which was all she wore rattled like dead
leaves, and the smell of burning flesh was on the wind as she danced to the
pounding beat of her ash-white consort’s drum.
"What the hell is wrong with you, Slayer?" Spike yelled.
He was on his feet again, skirting one of the corner columns of the mausoleum,
and Buffy forgot the nebulous shapes in a fresh wave of fury.
It was only another god sighting, and they never did anything but hang
around looking portentous, so who cared?
"What's wrong with me?" She feinted right and aimed
a devastating wheel kick at his head. "Listen to yourself!
Pot insulting kettle's color scheme much?"
Spike rolled with the kick, blocked a follow-up punch
and got a nasty jab to her stomach through her guard. "Better
talk to myself than you," he said between clenched teeth, "I'm the only
one in this bleeding conversation making any sense!" Buffy kicked
him in the kneecap and dodged his two-handed blow to her jaw--not quite fast
enough. She staggered backwards, faked a stumble, and flipped him head
over heels. Spike dragged her down after him, slammed one size-12 Doc
Marten into her belly and flung her halfway across the mausoleum. Buffy
sprang to her feet, scarcely feeling the impact, and dove at Spike.
He met her with an exultant snarl.
The fight developed a rhythm sensuous in
its complexity, thrusting and blocking, striking and feinting. Buffy
gave herself up to it. It was good to be pushed this hard and
fast, good to watch the yellow light flicker in his eyes as they circled,
good to watch the bunch and slide of muscles in his arms and chest.
Either Slayer's blood was some kind of vampire steroids, or she wasn't the
only one who'd put on a little extra muscle in the last month, because when
he landed a blow, damn, it hurt. And that was good too, in the weirdest possible
way. Sick as it was, she'd missed this. It had been years since
she'd fought him, really fought him, and she'd forgotten how swift and deadly
he was, forgotten that the only thing better than fighting with Spike was
fighting with Spike, and the only thing better than fighting
with Spike was... OK, hadn't forgotten that part, but oh, that was lost
forever now because--because--
Vast inhuman shapes, light and dark, danced
behind them, slashing patterns of horrible beauty across the night sky.
For a second they broke apart, panting, and the divine shadows which
mimicked them did likewise. "Is this about anything in particular?"
Spike asked. "Or have you just gone off your nut?"
"Like you don't know!" Buffy gasped. "I
have this one by heart, Spike! I can sing all twelve verses from memory!
'It's too haaaaard! I can't do it without the chip, or with a curse,
or when I'm not super-soldier!'" She vaulted over the sarcophagus and
drove both bootheels solidly into Spike's midsection; he went down with a
strangled 'Oof!' grabbed her calf and yanked her after him. "So which
is it going to--ung!-- be, the 'Guess I'll go evil' speech or the 'I'm no
good for you' speech? Or hey, why not combine both? Then you ride
off into the stupid sunset on your stupid Harley for my own stupid good, and
I h-hope it fries you, you stupid, stupid... GUY!"
Spike caught Buffy's wrist, flipped
her around, wrenched her arm up behind her back, and pinned her down on the
lid of the sarcophagus, his whole weight thrown into keeping her off-balance.
"Bloody right it's too hard," he hissed, and it was obvious he wasn't talking
about life in general. "And for the mercy of Christ, it’s not a Harley,
it’s a sodding Triumph Bonneville! Where'd you get the fuckwitted idea
I'm going anywhere? Or giving up? What was the first thing Angelus
told you about me, love?"
Buffy rammed an elbow into his gut and
twisted free, glaring at him. "That once you started something, you..."
She gulped, and Spike’s whole expression softened at once into that terrifying
killer's tenderness as he took in the pain in her eyes. If her churning
insides were any indication, a similar merry-go-round of emotion was whirling
across her own face. "...you don't stop until everything in your way
"Yeh, well..." His voice had gone husky.
"He was right, if you replace 'dead' with 'sorted,' and add in 'unless
he gets bored or something good comes on telly.'" They stood there,
eyes locked, frozen in place. Spike's hands slid from her upper arm,
over one breast and down her stomach, fingers brushing lightly over her aching
nipple, sending little jolts of fire through her. Spike watched the progress
of his hand with hungry eyes, the tip of his tongue running slowly along his
upper teeth. Her whole body throbbed under his gaze. She could
scarcely breathe. Spike licked the trickle of blood off his upper lip
and grinned. He tapped her playfully on the shoulder. "Don't feature
you boring me ever, and there's bugger all on Tuesday nights. Tag,
pet, you're it."
And he was off again, laughing, shadow-boxing
round behind her. He spun into her reach and threw a right to her jaw--playful,
now. She blocked the blow and aimed a roundhouse kick at him.
Spike absorbed the impact and launched himself at her again, barreling into
her like a guided missile and slamming her up against the nearest column.
Somewhere inside Good Buffy was carping that there wasn’t time for this, that
they should go home and make responsible Willow-finding plans. Good
Buffy could stuff it.
She let her hands slide down his pectorals,
mimicking his earlier caress, felt him take a deep, ragged breath as her thumbs
swirled over his nipples and felt him let it go with a high-pitched whimper
as her teeth closed on one firm little nub through the fabric of his shirt.
There was a faint sheen of sweat across his forehead in the moonlight, but
he wasn't at all hot after all that exertion. Holding him was like
embracing a piece of the night made flesh. He kept on whimpering as
her fingers undid his belt buckle and began working the zipper of his jeans,
stroking their languorous way downwards. His cock thrust eagerly against
her palm, yearning towards the wellspring of slick warmth between her thighs,
pulsing--not to the beat of his silent heart, but her own. "How the
heck do you manage to fight like this?" she asked, running a fingernail along
the straining inseam of his jeans.
"Lots of practice," Spike gasped, fumbling
with her zipper in turn. A shudder ran through him as his hand slipped
into her jeans and caressed her warm flesh, and she realized his cheek was
wet where it pressed against her neck, and not with sweat. "Love, I'll
try till I'm dust, though it's you that makes me so, but I just can't care
the way they want me to! I try. I try so hard. I look at
some chit on the street and I think--I think 'There, she's Dawn's age, someone
loves her like you do the Bit,' and it's all right in my head but there's
nothing in my heart, nothing!"
Buffy ran the tip of her tongue along the
acute angle of his cheekbone, tasting salt. "This is nothing?" she whispered.
She kissed his eyelids, lipping tears from the long dark lashes--so unfair
that lashes like that got issued to a man. "It doesn't taste like nothing.
It doesn't feel like nothing."
"It's not enough!" he moaned, burying his
face between her breasts. "Not enough for Niblet, not enough for Tara--how
can it possibly be enough for you?"
When had what anyone besides her thought
of him become something to agonize over, and should she be throwing a party?
"I guess you know, then." Spike lifted swimming blue eyes to stare at
her. "How you act. When they stop treating you like a man."
She held his head in both hands, her fingers lost in the bleach-roughened
curls, and let her own head fall to meet it, forehead pressed to forehead.
She was dizzy, aching for him in every sense of the words, and far, far out
of her depth. Words--Spike lived by words, great glorious piles of them.
He needed words, and words were what she sucked at so very, very much.
Couldn't she somehow make her hands and eyes speak for her, tell him what
he needed to hear? Could he tell that the fact she was here, with him,
and not with Xander and Tara, was an essay in itself? "Spike... you
said once that I treated you like a man, but you’re wrong--it would be an
insult to treat you like a man. You work harder at being human than
any man I know. I treat you like a vampire, a vampire who's...who's
reaching for something. Something you shouldn't even be able to see,
something most of the people who're supposed to have it take completely for
granted. You make me see how precious being human is, Spike, every day,
and I need that to go on doing what I have to do. Even if you
haven't touched it, even if you can’t, I love that you keep reaching.
I love you."
He laughed, a wild, awful, half-sobbing sound,
and leaned forwards, winter-sky eyes devouring her. His hand was on
her cheek, stroking it-- not with the impartial gentleness he'd used with
Tara, but with feverish intensity; she could feel his fingers trembling.
"Help me touch it, Buffy. Help me feel it. Make me feel it.
Beat it into me if you have to! When I'm inside you I can almost touch
"I can't," she gasped, "I can't ever make
you anything." His mouth was on hers, teeth scraping teeth with the
ferocity of his kiss, tongues sliding past and twisting together in sleek
velvet caresses as he drank warmth from her mouth like blood. She moaned
as he slid in and out of game face, fangs pricking her lips like rose-thorns.
Her fingers tore the buttons of his shirt free of their holes.
Marble beneath her, hard, cold, smooth,
and dry. Bas-relief olive wreaths cut into her shoulderblades through
the scratchy warmth of the afghan; fifty years of weathering blurred the once-sharp
edges of the carvings. Spike above her, firm, cool, smoother, hair
escaping in sweat-dampened ringlets from its comb-and-gel-imposed order.
Even she was not strong enough to dig her fingers right into the stone, though
she tried, she tried, as his fangs nipped at her collarbone and up the swan-curve
of her throat, pinpricks of ice and fire. The lean hard length of his
body was molded to hers, belly to belly, and she lay back, trying to wriggle
out of jeans and underwear (and she'd thought ahead for once--pads, this time)
without losing an inch of contact with his skin. She kicked the clothing
free, and dipped her fingers between her own thighs. She brought them
to his lips, glistening with milky fluid shot with crimson. "Think it's
Spike's growl vibrated through her body
so violently that she bucked and gasped and almost came without another touch.
He sucked her fingers deep into his mouth, the wet-velvet-and-steel of his
tongue swirling around the pad of each one, His hands were on her shoulders,
her body bounded by the rock-solid pillars of his arms, hips flexing together
in relentless rhythm. Starbursts went off inside her with every stroke,
building to nova intensity--oh God, he had been made to fill her, she’d been
made to enfold him. Before the afterimages could fade she was atop him
with one quick lunge and roll, his narrow hips captured between her thighs.
Tonight she was going to push that non-existant vampire refractory period
to the limit.
She spread both hands gloatingly across
the muscled expanse of his chest, raking her fingers across the sharply defined
pectorals, down the sheer planes of his abdomen while he arched and shuddered
beneath her. Her nails traced the sparse line of hair leading from his
navel to the dark nest of curls below, eliciting ticklish shivers. He
was slick and warm still from her heat and moisture, and she took him in
one hand, stroking lightly, then with greater firmness, playing with the foreskin
and the sensitive flesh beneath. His body came to life again immediately,
swelling beneath her hand--so soft, so hard, satin over granite. His
eyes held hers captive, so dark a blue they seemed black. “‘Thou art
my life, my love, my heart,’” he breathed. “‘The very eyes of me; And
hast command of every part, to live and die for thee...’ Make me live,
Buffy. Make me..."
"I can't make you anything," she repeated.
"Except this." She bent and breathed on the head, her tongue flicking
out to taste another kind of salt tears. Every slightest touch and movement
of hers elicited some fascinating twitch or quiver from that beautiful pale
body, some new expression of lust-drowned rapture on that expressive face.
"I can make you come. All. Night. Long."
The wheel of the heavens turned above them,
the earth groaned beneath them, and in the graveyard beyond, their dance was
mirrored by the Black Mother, impaled in rapture upon the lingam of the Lord
of Destruction. And in the labyrinth of passages deep below Sunnydale,
Willow Rosenberg walked into an echoing cavern, took a deep breath, and announced
to the assemblage of eyeless men, “OK. From now on, we’re doing this
Continued in Part 30