By Barb Cummings
Sequel to A Raising in the Sun
The cavern was illuminated with
rank upon rank of black candles, tall pillars and short squat votives crowded
together on ledges, a great waxen pipe-organ with flames guttering low and
sullen on each black and curling wick. Stalactites of drippings festooned
the cavern walls. Willow watched a droplet of wax roll down the side
of the nearest candle, slow, and freeze in the cool air. It smelled
One of the eyeless men--the leader,
Willow guessed, though they all looked identical--knelt before her, his bald
leathery head bent in obsequious reverence. A dozen or so of his companions
milled about at the opposite end of the cavern, having taken their fawning
to a discreet distance after she'd singed a few burlap robes. Harbingers,
they called themselves, and that name was naggingly familiar, but she couldn't
exactly stroll into the Magic Box and play Research Girl right now.
She'd made them fetch her a bench to sit on. It looked as if it had
been ripped out of one of the old Initiative labs--there were bolt-holes in
the bottoms of the legs and the slate-blue leatherette upholstery sported
some fairly nasty-looking claw-marks on one end. Better than bare rock,
though; if she was going to play Evil Overlord, there were going to be amenities.
(She was pretty certain that her current situation was in blatant violation
of Evil Overlord Rules #22, 50, and 54, but she had #29 down pat.)
"It's very simple," Willow said to
the eyeless man. "You and your boss can't do diddly-squat without me.
So let's ditch the cute little manipulation games, 'kay? Tell me exactly
what the frilly heck is going on and maybe I'll just, you know, do something
radical like help you. Not loving the mini-Armageddon concept." She
avoided the creature's lack of eyes, her fingers picking at mildewy stuffing
through the rents in the bench. "You're all pissy because I didn't kill
Dawn and Spike didn't kill me and Buffy didn't kill Spike, but is any of
that what you really want? No. What you want is to re-balance
the Balance. Am I right?"
The Harbinger raised his mutilated
head and did the staring-into-space thing that passed for looking at her.
"What we want," he said in his dry grasshopper whisper, "is to overwhelm this
entire plane in a firestorm of destruction, and enslave those we do not slay
outright for an eternity of torment." A rictus which vaguely resembled a
smile distorted his face for a second. "However, correcting the Balance
is an acceptable short-term goal."
Willow swallowed. Never let
them see you sweat, or stutter, or... even some of Spike's liquid courage
would be nice right about now. "OK. So the problem is there are too
many good guys running around. This can't just be happening because
I brought Buffy back from the dead. There's been two Slayers ever since
she died the first time."
Raven-harsh laughter rang in
her ears. "No. It is not just happening because you brought
the Slayer back to a life she'd willingly renounced, but your rash actions
in doing so precipitated the present situation nonetheless. Why do
you think fate drew Daniel Tanner to you, to make you our agent? That,
too, is balance." The laugh chopped off short and he struck the butt
of his staff against the cavern floor, speaking a word that grated like the
stone-on-stone scrape of an opening tomb. A many-leveled game board
shimmered into being in front of her, Salvador Dali channeling Harry Potter.
Pieces advanced, retreated, fought and died, and with every move the configuration
of the board shifted around them, an ever-changing pattern of action, reaction
"Even this is a simplification, but
the Balance, you see, is not a simple see-saw," the eyeless man said.
"One piece for every living and unliving creature in this world. Any
one of whom can, at the right time, in the right place, make an immeasurable
difference. But there are certain individuals who, by virtue of power
or determination, are recognized as warriors for one side or another."
Willow gripped the edge of the bench
and leaned forward, studying the pieces in fascination. There was Buffy,
sword in hand, the white queen. Giles and a mini-Willow flanked her,
clad in bishop's robes and bearing ancient tomes, and there was Xander carrying
a knight's lance. Opposite them was the black king--the Master, with Darla
as his queen and a court full of minions. A new figure entered the fray,
black and white entwined: Angel and Angelus frozen in a terrible struggle,
the man pinning the demon. The board shifted; Angel staked Darla and
Buffy crushed the Master's bones. Another shift and Spike roared onto
the board with Drusilla, a black knight in the service of a new dark queen.
Angelus ascended the throne, the new black king, and Spike interfered with
his queen's move to allow Buffy check and mate.
Willow watched as Faith threw aside her
white sword for Mayor Wilkins's obsidian knife, and stood at his right hand.
Angel departed for the far ends of the board. Maggie Walsh died at the
hands of her own creation. Faith changed sides again, Anya peered out
of a castle that looked suspiciously like the Magic Box, Dawn arrived out
of nowhere, neither black nor white, but a brilliant green. With each
move and countermove the board changed, the dark pit at its heart slowly becoming
a level plane, and an ominous upthrust of squares, like the burgeoning of
a newborn volcano, began to form in its center.
The eyeless man looked down upon
the board, his slash of a mouth dragging lines of his wrinkled countenance
down with it. "Historically the Slayer fights alone, but Buffy Summers has
drawn others to battle at her side. It was for her sake that Angel
rejoined the fight on the side of the Powers. It was through his intervention
that Faith did likewise. There are not only two Slayers, but the side of Light
commands the vampire with a soul, and controls the Key, which was never intended
to take part in the great struggle at all. Further," the Harbinger's
voice took on a tinge of disgust, "Buffy Summers has suborned one of the greatest
dark warriors of our age."
Willow blinked down at the tiny figure
of Spike rearing back on his motorcycle, a jet-black anomaly among the assemblage
of white pieces, and didn't bother to suppress a snort. "Spike?
Near brush with sharp pointy teeth here! I'd call him part of the solution,
not part of the problem."
"You are alive, are you not?"
the Harbinger said. "Therefore he is part of the problem." The
tiny figure of Buffy fell to its death from a miniature tower, and the swelling
in the center of the board ceased its expansion until mini-Willow pulled mini-Buffy
through a glowing portal and into play once more. "Being what he is,
he cannot change sides. The human soul is a mutable thing; a demon's
essence is carved in diamond."
"Angelus did not change; he was subdued.
William the Bloody is--" He clenched fleshless fingers into scarecrow fists,
and hissed in tones of loathing, "--trying to do the right thing. Being
what he is, his motives cannot but be selfish--he fights for good to sate
his craving for battle, to gratify his vanity, to bring happiness to those
he..." the loathing distilled into pure acid, "...loves." The
eyeless man pronounced the last word as if it were poison and his lips would
wither to speak it. "But still, he is trying. That in itself is... unprecedented.
It shakes the foundations of the possible."
On the board, Spike saved Daniel
Tanner from a pair of anonymous vampires, and the Hellmouth boiled up like
a witch's cauldron. "That's it?" Willow slid off the bench
and dropped to her knees beside the board. She picked up the tiny jet
figure and turned it over in her fingers. Weird to think that Spike
without a soul was a bigger problem than Angel with. "That's what messed
everything up? It's all Spike's fault for slacking off on the homicidal
"No more or less than it is the fault
of Buffy Summers's renewed existence on this plane. Either one is unbalancing.
Together they threaten disaster."
"What if we just teleport one of
them to Maui or something?"
The eyeless man managed to convey
complete contempt without moving a single facial muscle. "Insufficient.
They must either be removed from this plane, or enticed to our side.
The vision of Sunnydale as a blasted
field of corpses flooded her senses once more, heat and crow-calls and the
stench of rotting flesh. Willow gripped the game-piece tightly, its tiny sharp
projections digging into her palm, and fought with her heaving stomach.
"If you say so." The Harbinger's
smile was edging into Hannibal Lecter territory. "The former would be
simpler, the latter of more long- term benefit. To some extent the Balance
is self-correcting. When it skews too far to one side, random factors
combine to provide individuals with opportunities to act so as to increase
the presence of whichever side is lacking. But the individuals presented
with such opportunities must choose to take advantage of them."
Willow frowned. "Like Spike
did when he helped Buffy defeat Angelus... or when he turned against Adam...
or when he held out against Glory, or..." Spike, it seemed, was large
with the answering when opportunity knocked. She was beginning to see
why the Black Hats might be peeved with him--not exactly the most reliable
of employees. The Harbinger nodded grimly and Willow narrowed her eyes.
"Wait a minute. Losing my magic bringing Buffy back...that's one of these
random factors, isn't it?"
The smile became an incongruously
prissy smirk. "Your reputation for intelligence is well-deserved.
And you, unlike your comrades, realize that maintaining the Balance is more
important than petty hopes of victory for your side. Who, then, is
the more virtuous?"
Suck-up. Still, in the
midst of stomach-churning fear and guilt it was a comforting thought.
Just because the eyeless guy was evil didn't mean he couldn't be right.
Spike had gone against his home team three or four times and had ended up
helping save the world each time--why couldn't she do the same? Unlike
Spike, she wasn't running off half-cocked in a passion to do the right thing
for all the wrong reasons. She'd thought this out. She was responsible
for this mess; it was up to her to clean it up. She looked up at the
Harbinger. "Removed from this plane, or converted, huh?" Willow closed
her eyes and reached out for the cords of power binding her to the remnants
of Tanner's band, reeling them in. Deep within her was the sound of
Spike had never tackled brooding
as an art--for one thing, Angel had staked out that emotional territory and
guarded it with dog-in-the-manger ferocity for the last century, and for another,
a proper brood required a an attention span Spike didn't possess. A
day or two of deep brown study, tops, and he'd be exploding with the twitchy
compulsion to do something. The closest he usually came was a
sulk, preferably accompanied by getting good and smashed. Right now
he regretted his lack of expertise.
They liked him. Tara'd said
so, and Tara, of all people in the world, wouldn't lie. But they didn't
trust him, not with the chip gone, not even Niblet. The knowledge was
a gnawing ache in his gut, all the more painful for his inability to explain
its presence. Buffy loved him. She lay draped atop him now, the
afghan-wrapped chrysalis of some arts-and-crafts-minded moth, deep in untroubled
sleep only inches away from the fangs which had come so close to meeting in
Willow's tender neck. If that wasn't trust, what was? And shouldn't
that have been enough, that Buffy trusted him with her life?
Except, of course, that he knew better
than anyone that there were plenty of things Buffy held dearer than her own
life. Her sister. Her friends. Her world. Her sodding
duty, however weary of it she claimed to be. She'd entrusted him with
Dawn once, and he'd failed her, and was bidding fair to do so again.
His arms tightened fractionally around Buffy's shoulders and he timed his
breathing to hers, drawing just enough air into his unresponsive lungs to
fuel the low frustrated rumble in the depths of his chest. Each heartbeat
marked a moment he'd never have with her again--each one to be seized and
drained to the utmost. Holding her was a small slice of heaven, but...
...it wasn't enough.
Not good enough. Not for
her. Never good enough. Got to find a way to do better.
A sharp little elbow jabbed him in
the ribs as Buffy stirred in her sleep, and the top of her head bumped against
his chin. She'd been catnapping for an hour now, and he had no intention
of waking her; she'd gotten less sleep last night than he had. Too late;
a second later the chrysalis heaved, stretched, and split open. Buffy's
tawny-blonde head emerged from the fuzzy blue and crimson folds, staring
into the empty spaces of the night--kindred to the empty spaces behind her
eyes. The windows of her soul had the shades drawn again. She
looked down at him as if at a stranger, and the afghan bunched beneath her
clenched fingers. Her nails bit cresents in his chest through the intricately
"Am I here? Is this real?"
Her voice was a lost thing in the
wilderness. God, for an enemy he could fight, something with spines
and scales he could pound into jelly and know that it would never trouble
her again! Nothing to do against this foe but endure, while emptiness
mocked him through her eyes. He cupped her face in both palms and smoothed
one hand across her forehead, pushing the tangled locks of hair away from
her face. "Shh, love. It's real. You're real--were you dreaming?
You're awake now, pretty pet..."
For a moment she remained frozen
in his grip, and then, to his enormous relief, a hint of spring appeared
in the winter grey of her eyes. Buffy melted against him as the thaw
spread through the rest of her, wrapping her arms around his torso.
"Sorry," she whispered. "Just one of those... spells."
"I know, love. I'm here."
"Sometimes I think they're what's
real. That I'm still dead, or I was never alive at all and all this
is--" She broke off, racked with a continuous shiver. He'd never
thought of her as fragile, or someone to be protected in a physical sense,
but she felt so small like this, clinging to him like a burr. "I keep
thinking--if I could remember. If there was some connection between
me now and and me then. Something to fill up the empty place.
I'd know. I'd be sure I was real. But there's nothing."
Your fault she's like this, you selfish
tosser. Your soul that fetched her back. Spike's teeth met
in his lower lip, and the unsatisfying tang of his own blood flooded his mouth.
Sodding guilt. He hated it; freakish, unnatural thing, what business
had he feeling anything like it? In the last year it had infiltrated
his mind and heart like an emotional bindweed, getting into everywhere it
wasn't wanted. "Love," he whispered, miserable, "I'm..."
Her fingers on his lips silenced
him. "Don't be," she said. "Not now. I want to be here.
But she was still shaking, the shiver
muted through the enveloping blanket. He tucked the afghan's folds around
her shoulders, stroking her hair and crooning softly as if she were a nervous
animal to be soothed. Gradually Buffy relaxed beneath his touch, the last
of the tension easing out of her shoulders as she snuggled into his embrace.
"I did dream something," she said, a frown drawing a pair of tiny lines between
her brows. "You were in it. You, and Willow, and...something
else. It was your birthday. There was a party. You were
sitting at the head of the table, and you had a crown on, and Willow gave
you a present. It was a beautiful box, all tied up with a big red bow,
and when you opened it up there was this... this... this grail kind of thing,
a golden cup."
A wave of deja vu washed over him.
He'd heard those words, or something like them, before--long ago and far away.
Something Dru had said, maybe, but he couldn't remember, and like much of
what Dru said, it didn't make any more sense the second time around.
Buffy went on, "It shone and shone,
and you picked it up to drink out of it... and I knew that whatever was in
the cup was going to kill you. Burn you up." Her eyes sought his,
haunted. "I tried to take it away from you, smash it, but you said
you needed it--you were crying, oh, God, like your heart was going to break--"
Her voice cracked. "And you raised the cup, and you drank, and you--you
screamed, and there was light everywhere, and--and--you were gone."
Spike brushed his lips across her
forehead, kissing away the worry- lines, and summoned up a century's worth
of experience in the fine art of handling women prone to prophetic nightmares.
"Ah, is that all, sweet? You got any idea how often I've set myself afire?
Takes more than a little charring round the edges to do Spike in. You
even sure this dream's one of the special Slayer jobbies, and not just come
of fretting over your sis all day?"
An almost-smile flashed across Buffy's
face and she scrubbed at her gritty eyes with her knuckles. "No, the
nightmares about Dawn have a lot more whining for Kleenex and Seven-Up in
them. It felt like a Slayer dream. But usually the Slayer dreams
are more with the Cecil B. DeMille, not so much with the David Lynch.
What time is it?"
Spike glanced at the sky and consulted
his internal clock. "Getting on for ten."
Buffy struggled free of the afghan and
sat up, stretching. Her nose wrinkled disdainfully at their general
air of disheveled sticky mess. "We have got to stop doing this
in places with no running water."
"Sorry, pet. I can kick the
head off a sprinkler if you like."
"Ooh, chivalry is not dead!
C'mon, Grr-Kitty, let's go get cleaned up. The night is young and we
have multiple asses to kick."
"Don't blame me. Blondie Bear was
Spike dropped the rumble an octave and
growled, "Call me either one where anyone can hear you, chit, and I'll bloody
well bite you."
Buffy's eyes glinted at him beneath
lowered lashes, and ooh, yeah, there came the pouty lip, plump and pink and
very, very biteable. "Threat or promise, Spikey?" She leaned over
the side of the sarcophagus and began rummaging for her clothing. "We
need to make the rounds and see if anyone's got goss on Willow. If
she's pulled a Saruman on us she may be hiring orcs." Spike's eyebrow
went up. "What?! I saw the movie! He's the... the other
beardy guy." She paused, shirt in hand. "I don't even know how
to feel about Willow right now. Mad, and worried, and did I say mad?
I kind of hate asking Tara to..."
Spike laced his hands behind his
head, licking the bitten place on his lower lip. "Yeh, not the most
fun in the world, hunting down your nearest and dearest. Supposed to
meet Clem at Willy's at eleven anyway; got business, and as of midnight Sunday
last he owes me fifty quid. By the way, there's a Krallock demon in
town we could do in any time we've a spare evening. Get me a fag while
you're down there, love?"
Her reply was slightly muffled.
"You don't need a cigarette."
Spike grinned. "Yeh?
Came so hard that last time I thought my balls'd turned inside out.
Believe me, pet, I need a ciggie." He could feel the heat rising in
her; it was such a turn-on making her blush. For all her uninhibited
verve between the sheets, Buffy liked to pretend a certain degree of innocence...
or perhaps it wasn't pretend after all; part of her allure was the constant
sense that he could astound her with her own body's capacity for pleasure.
"Possibly three or four. Come on, world'll end at least six more times
before you can expire of my second-hand smoke."
Buffy abandoned her search and flung
herself across him, straddling his hips, and pinned his arms over his head.
"Uh uh. It's my sacred Chosen One duty to fight evil, and smoking is
evil. All those TV ads say so."
Spike regarded her for a second,
catching his tongue-tip between his teeth, then twisted out from under her
without warning and reached for his duster. Buffy dove after him, grabbed
the other flap and managed to get a hand into one pocket. "Hah!"
She waved the half-empty package of Marlboros triumphantly in the air, sending
a few white cylinders flying gracefully into the night.
"Bloody hell, give that back!
Do you know how much those things cost when you're not nicking 'em?"
Buffy stuck out her tongue, doing
a little nyah-nyah lap-dance that set her breasts jiggling enticingly, and
fuck if he wasn't packing wood again. She broke into a smug grin.
"Grrrraarhh!" He lunged for her.
Buffy ducked inside his reach. Her fingers were digging into his ribs, skittering
up and down over every sensitive spot she'd discovered in the last week and
a half, and Spike's growl metamorphosed into a shriek of laughter. "Bloody--YIII!!
Buffy! No! Not that! Not there, oh Christ, fuck, YOW!"
They flipped over the side of the sarcophagus and landed in a tangle of discarded
clothes and afghan. Spike's teeth were just laying claim to one pert
little breast when Buffy's purse rang from somewhere underneath the small
of her back.
"Where'd it go, where'd--"
Buffy flailed around for the cell with one hand, keeping the cigarettes at
arm's length while Spike considered the delightful prospect before him.
He gave the aureole a few preparatory circlings with the tip of his tongue
and hummed as the delicate flesh crinkled beneath his touch. Buffy's
eyes rolled back as she finally found the cell phone. "Hello?
Tara? Yeah, I was just about to call you." She made furious get-off-me!
gestures at Spike, who ignored her blithely.
"See, vampire here, love."
He blew on the damp spot and turned his attention to the other breast, coaxing
the nipple higher and harder, relishing the little involuntary jerks of her
hips under his weight. "Got the world's biggest oral fixation--deprive
me of my fags 'n I've got to suck on something..." Spike vamped out
and caught her nipple between the points of his fangs, nipping and savaging
with a rough relentless delicacy, until he could feel the blood pounding beneath
the translucent skin. Reverting to human shape, he drew one sensitive
little raspberry nub into his mouth with a growl, suckling avidly until the
wild look in her eyes let him know it was time to switch off. With
the cell in one hand and his smokes in the other Buffy was helpless to retaliate,
and her every little wriggle and gasp went straight to his resurgant cock.
"Static?" Buffy squeaked. "No, that's
Spike. Yes, I found him, and we had--a-ah!--long talk. He's, uh--oh!--looking
for his cigarettes. Filthy, filthy habit. We were about to sally forth
and--oooooh!--comb the underworld. But we can get his laundry off the
couch first. Uh! Bye!"
Buffy dropped the cell phone, clasping
the back of his head and pressing him closer, her fingers buried in his curls.
A long wordless moan urged him to make a more thorough mouthful of her.
The cigarettes fell from the nerveless fingers of her other hand, and Spike
immediately snatched them, rocked back on his heels and stuck one into the
corner of his mouth with a smirk. "Tsk, Slayer, lyin' down on the job?
What happened to sallying forth to comb the underworld?"
Buffy glared, panting hard, then
burst into giggles. Spike glanced down at himself; Little Spike was
bobbing enthusiastically against his belly, desperate for more attention.
Buffy rolled over, hiccuping with laughter, and shimmied across the pile of
clothes to give it to him. "Isn't smoking supposed to stunt
Once Buffy's expert assistance
rendered him once more capable of zipping up his jeans in comfort, Spike lay
in lazy repletion, chin on hand, and watched her dress. She sat on
the side of the sarcophagus with her shirt half-buttoned, the modest swell
of her breasts over the abbreviated lace of her bra--she was small and firm
enough to go without if she wanted, but that flash of the forbidden always
made his heart yearn to race, so he was glad she sometimes didn't want.
Her hands moved in sure, graceful arcs, combing out her hair. A hundred
strokes, he thought; lucky brush, in such intimate daily contact with that
cascade of spun sunlight. He loved her hair, the sheen and bounce of
gold silk above and the musky tangle of chestnut curls below; all that's best
of dark and bright indeed, and who was he to sneer at unnatural blondes?
He ran a toe along her bare ankle and
Buffy looked down at him for one moment of perfect radiant content, and then
trouble entered her eyes once more. "Is it always going to be like
this? I mean, eventually do we get to the point where we can touch
each other without precipitating an exchange of bodily fluids?"
Silly question. He'd be wanting
her when she was wrinkled and grey--stake him now and his restless dust would
follow whatever wind stirred her clothing. "'Spect eventually we'll
wear each other out and be reduced to one or two shags a day like everyone
"I guess. This, with us, totally
refuses to suck. And I feel skeezy enjoying myself even a little when
Tara's home worried sick and Willow's... whereever, doing whatever."
Ah, yes, the Summers guilt complex
reared its annoying yet endearing head. "I'm worried about Red too,
love, but since we weren't planning on hunting her tonight I can't see we've
set the schedule back any."
Buffy looked at him, curious, and
though he wasn't sure what he'd said to prompt it, she smiled, one of those
glorious light-up-the-room smiles he'd happily endure a week-long John Tesh
concert to see. She stuffed the brush back in her purse, buttoned her blouse up and slipped
her kicky little suede ankle boots back on--where the hell had she gotten
those? Sometimes he suspected Dawn wasn't the only light-fingered one
in the family. "It's funny. The first time we ever kissed, that
time Willow messed up that spell...the moment we touched, nothing else mattered.
I was sure it was the spell. But it keeps happening. Now I get
to worry that it's because of whatever freakazoid demony secrets are lurking
in my sordid Slayer past."
Spike allowed himself a nostalgic
moment: Memories of their torrid clinch while the battle with the Chumash
spirits raged around them had provided him with wanking material for the next
year. He sat up and began pulling on his boots. "What of it if it is?
Say you've a vamp fetish, say I've a Slayer fetish--good on us. Bloody
brilliant luck for the both of us we met."
Buffy shook her head. "You
know, I've got to stop listening to you. If I do it long enough, you
start to make sense."
The Zagros demon in the purple knee brace was leaving
the bar as the motorcycle roared into the parking lot. It snuffed the
air as they pulled up, and shuffled hurriedly out of their way as Spike swung
Buffy off the seat. Buffy watched it limp off across the unusually-full
parking lot, eyes narrowed. "Scales the exact same color as the Bridesmaids'
Dresses From Hell, I swear!" she muttered under her breath, her haunted
expression segueing into a fresh pout at Spike's chuckle. "Oh, sure,
you can laugh--all you have to do is show up in something black. What
"Innit, though? Just goes to show what an
altruistic bloke I am. 'Course I also have to be polite to Harris. Bad
form to eat the groom on his wedding day." Spike offered her his arm;
she took it, and he matched her quick glowing smile--a week and a half of
shagging each other senseless in every position two exceptionally athletic
and limber people could manage, and this simple public touch still lit him
up like an electric torch. He didn't have to put on a show of swagger
as they strode up to the front door; he was escorting his lady and for that
reason alone he was king of the world.
The noise hit him the minute they stepped inside--the
jukebox was blaring "This Kiss" over the din of a few dozen shouted conversations
in half as many languages. On a normal Tuesday night, Willy's place
boasted half a dozen customers, lurking in the corner booths or holding up
the bar, but tonight every booth and table was packed, and part of the crowd
had spilled over into the normally closed-off storerooms in the back of the
building, much to the disgruntlement of the kitten poker crowd.
Spike scanned the crowd for Clem, but the Sharpesi
demon was nowhere to be seen. The crowd wasn't the usual mix of vampires,
demons, and a few down-and-out humans looking to score a suck job or just
too fried to care who they drank with, either. The percentage of the
weird and unusual had gone way up. A pair of Serevus demons, (obviously
from out of town, judging by their matching I VISITED THE HELLMOUTH AND ALL
I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY T-SHIRT attire) were posing beside the jukebox, their
leathery wings poking through slits in the back of the shirts and fanning
the smoky air. The tall, thin, bile-colored demon Spike recalled from
their last visit was squinting at the Serevi through the viewfinder of a cheap
35mm camera and urging them "Closer! The wings are still cut off!"
The looks of wariness, fear and just plain huh? at the sight of him at the
Slayer's side, instead of a respectful three paces behind, were still pure
gold. Word of Buffy's break with the Council was all over town by now,
but no one was quite sure what it meant.
Willy was swiping a rag around a
glass behind the bar, with the effect of redistributing the smudges in new
and interesting patterns. He looked up as they approached, the tip
of his long thin nose twitching. "Hey, Slayer," he said, guarded. "Or
is it just Miz Summers now that you're a free agent again?"
"It's always Slayer to you, Willy,"
Buffy replied, leaning against the bar. Spike settled into a hipshot
slouch behind her, arms folded across his chest. "Busy," she said, as
the vampires on either side of her grabbed their drinks and abandoned their
stools. "What is this, triple coupon night?"
Willy shrugged. "Bad stuff
in the downbelow, Slayer. Or good stuff. Either way, the Hellmouth's
not real reliable-like these days, and it's messin' up a lot of prime real
estate. You need a place to crash for the day, Spike, I'm rentin' out
the storeroom. Only fifty bucks a day, and cheap at the price."
"That would be the storeroom with
the windows that let in the nice sunbeams around tennish?" Spike asked.
"Grand-dad didn't recommend the view."
"Suit yourself. What can I do you
for? Got a nice fresh shipment of--"
"We need some information," Buffy interrupted.
"Willow Rosenberg. She disappeared Sunday night, and we think she's gotten
into something over her head. Have you heard anything--"
"Yeah, well, my memory ain't none
too good since that no-good skunk messed with my mind." Willy set the
glass down and picked up another one. Spike observed with interest that
the one he'd set down was now actually dirtier than the one he was cleaning.
"Not to mention the recent unpleasantness with the Hellmouth. All these
folks on the move, it's easy to miss one girl." At Buffy's hard-edged
look, he added hastily, "I'll tell ya anything I know, Slayer, you don't have
to bust up the place. But things is kinda hazy these days. I'm
The corners of Buffy's mouth went pinched,
and her hand started to travel towards her purse. Willy was fishing
for a bribe, but considering the current strained state of the Summers financial
empire, Spike was fairly sure she didn't have enough to make The Snitch pony
up, and he wasn't inclined to part with any more of his own hard-earned dosh
than absolutely necessary. "This shouldn't strain even your limited
mental capacity, mate," Spike said. "Wiccan bird--red hair, green eyes,
so tall, yen for the ladies? Seen hide nor hair of her, or not?"
Willy smirked. "You're asking me?"
He threw a conspiratorial look at Buffy. "Last time the witch went missing,
Chip Boy here--urk!" Glassware went flying and the bartender's legs spasmed
in a frog-kick as Spike heaved him over the bar. Spike cocked his head
and smiled, very deliberately letting the man watch his face distort and
his canines lengthen and sharpen. The room went silent, as if someone'd
flipped the mute button on the whole chattering lot of them, and every head
swivelled to the tableau beside the bar, taking in the fact of Spike holding
Willy at arm's length a foot above the floor and not collapsing in agony.
"You might think," Spike said pleasantly,
"That this trick's working 'cause I'm not meaning to hurt you. Could
just be I'm just holding you here for the Slayer to whale on, not that either
of us'd do something that uncivilized--oh, wait." He drove his other
fist into Willy's gut while Buffy watched with critical detachment--not hard;
barely a love-tap by vampire standards, but Willy gave vent to a very gratifying
'oof!' "Yes, we would."
"Spike, he can't tell us everything
he knows with a crushed windpipe. Let him down." Spike let go
immediately and Willy dropped, staggered, and narrowly averted a fall by grabbing
the bar. Buffy pushed that delectable lower lip out. "Besides,
I'm not having any fun. Next time I get to be the bad cop."
Spike stepped back with an elaborate bow.
"Deepest apologies, pet. Ladies first."
Buffy shot him a flirtatious smile
and rounded on Willy, grabbing the bartender by the lapels. She wasn't
tall enough to hold him off the floor, but she got her point across.
Willy rubbed his throat, and jerked
his head in Spike's direction. His protuberant eyes were showing a greater
than usual amount of white around the edges. "So he's...uh..."
"Are we talking about Spike?"
Buffy inquired, giving him a shake. "I don't remember us talking about Spike."
"Look, honest, Slayer, I don't know!
It's like a Rwandan refugee camp down there. Your Willow could be anywhere--but..."
He hesitated, and continued in a lower voice, "May not mean anything, but
the first folks to start moving, a couple of weeks ago, before all this got
so bad? They weren't movin' away from the Hellmouth. They were kiting
out of the section of the caves closer to where those Army guys were set up
a few years back. If your pal's involved with something, it may be
setting up shop there."
Buffy let Willy go and exchanged
a look with Spike while Willy made a hasty retreat to the relative safety
of the area behind the bar. Neither of them had any very fond memories
of that particular area of Sunnydale Underground. Spike pulled a twenty
out of his pocket and slapped it down on the bar. "Right, then.
Clem comes in, we're at the table over there. O-neg and Guinness, make sure
it's the hospital stuff, and don't think I can't taste the difference.
You want anything, pet? I'm still flush with nice clean eyeball
"Diet Coke." She eyed the glasses
on the counter. "In the can, please. And I could go for some nachos."
"You heard the Slayer." Spike
lapsed back into human shape and gave Willy his most charming and predatory
smile. "Keep the change."
They headed for the table, loaded down
with drinks and Willy's Kitten Surprise nachos. Willy's limited menu
was sadly devoid of blooming onions, and Spike wondered exactly how high
on the evil meter breaking a few of the owner's fingers until he agreed to
feature it would register. Probably fairly high, going by the glowing sense
of anticipation the thought of doing it produced. Maybe he could just
threaten finger breakage; contemplating that only gave him a small happy.
Spike set his blood and Guinness down,
delivered Buffy her Coke, pulled out a chair for her and slouched comfortably
down on his tailbone. Buffy perched on the edge of her seat and picked up
a nacho, nibbling on the edge. "We can recon the caves--" she yawned.
"Tomorrow, I guess. Maybe Tara will be able to narrow it down to, oh, only
fifty or sixty miles of tunnel by then." She looked at the nachos, then
down at herself, eyes large with sudden doubt. "You'd tell me if I
was getting fat, right?"
That made it official; he was absolutely,
positively The Boyfriend-- bizarre changes of subject and the most dreaded
question a woman could ask a man all wrapped up in one. "Is there any
answer to that which won't get me staked? 'Love, hate to tell you, but
you're in grave danger of ballooning up to a size two?'"
She smacked his arm. "I'm serious!
I've been eating like a horse lately. Do these pants look tighter to
Spike favored her with a lascivious
grin. "Yeh, and the strange thing is, seein' you in 'em always makes
my trousers tighter, too. Think it's psychological?"
Buffy rolled her eyes. "You like
getting slapped around, don't you?"
"Depends on who's doing the slapping."
He waggled an eyebrow at her. "Still got those manacles under the bed,
"And once more, we enter into 'ew'
territory. Like I'd ever let you chain me up again."
"Thinking more of letting you chain
She snorted, but there was a gleam
of--anticipation? curiosity?--in her eyes. Make a note of that one for the
one-month anniversary. Buffy scooched her chair over, leaned into his
side and gave his biceps a squeeze as he slipped an arm around her shoulders.
"You're a big ol' pervert, and if you ever tell anyone I even thought about
it the world will find out that you purr when I scratch your lumpies.
Hey, there's Clem."
"I do not--oh, you're thinking about
it, then?" Spike sat up and waved Clem over, and the bile-colored demon's
flash went off right in front of them, a hot needle in his light-sensitive
eyes. "Watch it, wanker!" He was half-way into game face, blinking
white and violet splotches from his vision and lunging over the table when
Buffy caught him by the collar and yanked him back to his seat.
"Chill, Spike. Save it for
"Sorry, sorry, sorry!" the creature
babbled, its pale bulging eyes darting back and forth between them.
"Finger slipped, wrong button, there's no film in it, please don't--"
Wrapping the camera in batrachian fingers and clutching it to its boney chest,
the demon backed off--a gratifying change from their last encounter, to be
sure. A that moment Clem bustled up with a pleased grin, his skin-flaps
wobbling, and the would-be photojournalist made its escape.
Clem beamed at him. "Hey, Spike!
You're looking good. For a dead guy, anyway. Here's that list
you wanted. There's only five of them so far, but once people start
seeing that you can come through I think-- oh, my." He gaped at Buffy.
"You really are going out with the Slayer? Who was that guy?"
"Dunno. Some arsewipe who picked
a fight with us a couple of weeks ago, and now apparently wants an autographed
photo." Spike perused the list: five names, five potential customers.
In time, he hoped, they'd be seeking him out through Anya's advertising, but
right now he needed a jump-start, and a little industrial espionage--er, word
of mouth never hurt anyone. "Been dealing with Teeth, this lot?"
Clem snagged a chair from the next
table and plopped himself down. Buffy waved him towards the nachos and
the demon grabbed a handful and crunched them down. "Yeah. Except
for that last guy; he's been going to Rack."
Buffy frowned. "Should I know
"Yeh, you should," Spike replied.
"But you don't, so listen and learn."
Buffy smiled very sweetly at Clem
and kicked Spike in the shins. "Spike and I are--hey! That's not why
he owes you fifty dollars, is it?" She turned on Spike with an outraged glare.
"Were you making bets with him over whether or not I'd go out with you?"
In hindsight, that was when it all
began to go pear-shaped. "I bloody well was not!" Spike retorted, indignant.
"That would be--" Ungentlemanly was the word that leapt to mind, but would
blow his badass reputation completely.
Clem held up a conciliatory paw.
"Oh, no, nothing like that! It was just a little wager on that Krallock
demon that blew in from Seattle. Some of us--us demons, you know--didn't believe
you'd really stopped working for the Council, so I bet Spike you'd kill it
before Sunday night. But you didn't, so--" He fished a wad of crumpled
bills out of the folds of his tunic and handed them over to Spike with a
cheerful, saw- toothed smile. Spike took them with a sense of dread;
something was about to go terribly wrong.
"Krallock demon?" Buffy asked, her eyes
sharp as throwing daggers. "The one you just told me about tonight?"
Oh, buggering hell, this can't
be good. Spike became extremely interested in the foam on his beer.
"Uh... yeh. Since you're not working for the Council anymore," he cleared
his throat significantly to remind her that Clem was right there with his
great flaps of ears twitching like weathervanes, "didn't figure you'd need
to know from me." He ran a finger around the mouth of his glass and
licked beer suds off it.
Buffy grew ominously quiet.
"Even if I'm not working for the Council any longer," she said, "don't you
think I might need to know about the big boys in town?" There was a
tightness in her voice he couldn't quite analyze. "After all, Krallock
demon... I'm not the big expert you or Giles or Anya is, but aren't they on
the large and vicious side?"
Clem nodded vigorously. "They
sure are! Why, when it showed up for poker night last week--this was
after you took off for L.A., Spike--it bit Ralphie's head clean off after
he bluffed it into folding on a straight when all Ralphie had was a pair of
fours." Clem shook his head ruefully. "Man, that Krallock sure doesn't
like vampires! Dust everywhere. We were sweeping Ralphie out of
the furniture for hours."
"Gathering I needn't to go into mourning
for Ralphie." Buffy's tone didn't lighten any. "But let me get
this straight, Spike. You kept from me the fact that there was a dangerous
new demon in town--a demon that for all I know has been snacking on sweet
little old ladies and their poodles every night for the last week--so that
you could win a fifty dollar bet?"
Spike squirmed. "Well, yeh."
He was getting all defensive and bothered, and wasn't sure why. This
was demon business pure and simple, and done in defense of her little scheme,
too. Mostly. "Don't know what your knickers are in a twist about.
All I bet on was you wouldn't kill it by Sunday, 'cause of, you know; whether
you knew it was in town to begin with never came up. Never suggested
to 'em you knew it was there. 'S not cheating--much, anyway."
Buffy had drawn away from him and
was sitting up very straight, looking at him with huge wounded eyes, and Spike
frantically reviewed the last several minutes of conversation, trying to
figure out what was wrong. Krallock demons, large, dangerous, poodle
snacking, little old ladies, not cheating, much... Oh bloody buggering
It was the little things that got
Hadn't he used up his quota of irony
yet? Nobly turn aside from warm-blooded murder and trip up on a stupid
sodding sin of omission. Not a little thing to her, though, those hypothetical
old ladies. "Harris and I were going to take it out Sunday night," he
said, painfully aware of how feeble he sounded. "We just got distracted
by the Hellmouth going arse-up on us. And it's not as if we've had time
to hunt the bloody thing anyway! In fact--"
"That's not the point! You
kept something from me that affects my job--my real job, not whatever I end
up doing to pay the bills." Buffy drew a deep, dejected breath and
let it out. "And people could have gotten killed. Maybe they
She wasn't even angry, and that was
the worst part of watching the walls that had recently been breached between
them slamming up again behind her eyes. She was just... resigned.
As if she didn't--as if she couldn't expect better of him.
This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends, not with a
bang... Spike sat there, gripping his glass, eyes glued to the scarred
tabletop as Buffy rose to her feet and slung her purse over her shoulder.
Get mad at me, love. Flay me up one side and down the other.
Hit me, threaten me with stakes, do something, say something. Angry
means we've got a chance, angry means you think I could've done better...
"I'm tired, Spike," she said. "I'm
He looked up, met her eyes, his own all
anguished desperation; she turned her head aside, as if from the sight of
some terrible wound. "Buffy, look, I cocked up--"
"Yes, you did." She was
going to leave him his pride, for all it was worth; no stomping out, no public
humiliation. Small favors. Buffy bent over and dropped a chaste
kiss on his forehead, and when she straightened her eyes were bright with
emotion, fathomless pools fringed with jet. "I love you," she whispered,
fingertips so very gentle along the side of his face, the line of his jaw.
"I do. I will always..." Her voice cracked in two, shattered into
shards so painful he could see her throat closing in agony around them, and
how could he soothe away pain he'd caused? "But this is one of the
times it's very, very hard."
The room was spinning, and Spike squeezed
his eyes closed to shut out the sight of the hurt in hers, and found himself
dragging in huge harsh lungfuls of breath. As wounds made by words go,
not so deep as the grave nor wide as a church door, but 'tis enough, 'twill
She was gone when he opened his eyes,
and Clem was shaking his shoulder. "Spike! Hey! Spike, are
Spike gave one short bitter bark of laughter.
"Yeh. 'M okay. Just okay."
He was sitting in Buffy's living
room. He wasn't exactly sure why; everyone else had gone home or to
bed. "You can get the phone, can't you, Giles?" Buffy asked as
she waltzed out the door. "Of course," he answered,
though he was really quite tired. She tossed her hair and smiled at
him, and he didn't have the heart to complain. The phone rang the moment
the door closed behind her.
"Is Dawn there?" Breathless,
giggly girl-voices; Lisa, Megan, Janice, who could tell them apart?
"She skipped school and giant snakes ate the cafeteria, and only the Key can
"She's indisposed," he said, but the
other line was ringing.
"Hello, it's just me!" Clem, cheerful and
faintly apologetic. "I need to get this stuff to Spike." The demon's
wrinkled paw emerged from the receiver, holding a bouquet of squirming eyeballs.
"Can you take a message?"
"I think it might be better if--"
rrrring! "Mr. Giles? Have
you seen my daughter? I have to tell you, if you've let Willow go off
to destroy the world on her own I'll be forced to report you to MOO.
I didn't sign her permission slip."
He was juggling three or four receivers
now. "Giles!" Buffy chirped through one of them. "I found Spike, and
it's OK--he made me a vampire, and we're going to get married and live happily
ever after, except not so much with the living. Giles? Giles?
Are you there, Giles?"
Giles woke, his heart pounding, and
lay there for a moment, clutching his pillow and coming to the groggy realization
that the shrill insistent ringing in his ear was coming from the telephone
downstairs and not the remnants of his dream. He groped for his glasses
on the bedside table, crawled out of bed and staggered downstairs, barking
his shin against a box full of books. He swore bitterly, and grabbed
the receiver, expecting news of Willow, erupting Hellmouths, or gods on parade.
What he got was Quentin Travers.
"Rupert, are you mad?"
Giles slumped against the breakfast
bar, putting one of the leaning towers of books in grave danger of toppling,
and squinted across the darkened living room at the time on the VCR.
"Very possibly." He'd gotten home past midnight, stared at the pile
of notes and journals on the kitchen table for a moment, and very deliberately
turned his back on the whole mess and gone upstairs to bed. He ran a
hand through his hair. "Quentin, it's three in the bloody morning over here,
and I have a beast of a headache. Can't this wait?"
"How long have you known that Buffy
Summers has been... involved..." Travers invested the word with such
concentrated bile that Giles was surprised the phone lines didn't corrode,
"with a vampire?"
Damn. Giles picked up the phone
and sat down on the couch. "Involved? Are you referring to Angel?" he
asked, schooling his voice to blankness.
"You know precisely to whom I am
referring. In the last several weeks our local sources have been claiming
that Buffy Summers is carrying on a public affair with William the Bloody
and that you are not only aware of the situation, you condone it. At
first I dismissed it as unfounded rumor, but within the last hour I've received
a copy of a photograph of the two of them in a... compromising position,
and I can no longer ignore the matter. We've had our differences, Rupert,
I won't pretend we haven't, but all your past betrayals of the Council have
been in the name of a misguided devotion to your Slayer. But this..."
Travers sounded genuinely grieved.
"Is still in the name of that misguided
devotion," Giles replied coldly. Why couldn't he be having this conversation
at nine A.M. after a strong cup of Earl Grey? Travers knew exactly what
time it was in Sunnydale, he had no doubt. "In my considered judgement,
Buffy's association with Spike is doing her more good than harm at the moment.
Should that perception ever reverse itself, I am more than prepared to take
the appropriate steps to end it."
There was a hissing silence on the
other end of the line. "I'd hoped that your researches would have borne
more fruit by now. It would make explaining the situation less... traumatic.
There are reasons--"
"The extreme likelihood that the
Slayer's powers have a demonic origin of some sort? Yes, I deduced
that some time ago, Travers." Giles suppressed an urge to smugness;
Travers would only trip him up with it if he gave in to overconfidence now.
"I fail to see its bearing on the current situation."
Spluttering. "You fail--?
Good Lord, Rupert, what do you think's driving her to this unhallowed liaison?
We've seen it happen again and again--the power grows with age and use, and
if it's not channeled correctly, disaster! The Slayer who gives in to
her baser urges and engages in this... this miscegenation, invariably destroys
"Odd." Giles fought down a flare
of anger. "My research indicated that a number of them were destroyed
by the Council."
"All Slayers die sooner or later.
The point is, they can die in battle for us, or against us. Buffy Summers
has been teetering on the edge of rogue status for years--"
"No, Travers," Giles hissed, his
hand tightening on the receiver. "That's not the point. I've
seen Buffy die twice. Until you can say likewise of a Slayer you've
Watched, don't presume to tell me what the point is. She will die.
But she can die whole, as a warrior, fighting for people she loves and a
cause she believes in, or she can die broken, with despair chipping piece
after piece of her soul away long before her body ceases to breathe."
He realized he was shaking with anger, and took a deep breath, calming himself.
"I don't pretend to understand why Spike is necessary to her. I do not
approve of Spike taking the place he has in Buffy's life. But so long
as he poses no danger to Buffy or the others, it is not my place to approve
He waited tensely for the response
to that. Did the Council's unknown informant know of the chip's deactivation?
If so, that would narrow the field considerably, give him some idea who was
peaching on them. Travers sighed. "The Council does not react well to extortion,
Rupert. This... work stoppage of hers is the second time Miss Summers
has resorted to it to gain her way with us, and in light of this new information we will not--no, we cannot stand for it. A desire to provide
for her sister is one thing. Shirking her duties in order to... cavort
with a demon, the very creature it is her sacred duty to eliminate from
the world--that, sir, is a very different matter.
"Because of our past friendship, Rupert,
I'm giving you a chance I'd give no one else--a chance to do your duty.
Buffy Summers has gone through a tremendous amount of trauma in the past year,
quite aside from her return from the dead, enough to push the stablest person
to the edge. She needs help. Help we can give her."
Giles closed his eyes and leaned back against
the couch cushions. "Indeed. Your concern for her welfare touches me,
Travers. Do go on."
An eager note slipped into Travers's
smooth dry voice. "I can have a Council team in Sunnydale within forty-eight
hours. Counselors, parapsychologists, and so forth to examine and develop
a treatment program for Miss Summers, and a few of the more...physical types
to deal with the vampire. The creature's still cooperating with you,
I presume; as it's unable to attack humans it should be easy enough for you
to capture and restrain it."
They didn't yet know about Spike's unleashing,
then, though Giles couldn't imagine Spike keeping it a secret for long.
"Mmm, yes, so it should. Considering that our last several personal
encounters with Council representatives have left me inclined to trust you only slightly
more than a soulless creature of evil, perhaps you should explain to me why
I should want to?"
The question seemed to floor Travers.
"Rupert, why do you think the Council exists? Why do Slayers have Watchers?
To record their triumphs and failures to be sure, but first and foremost to
guard against just what is happening now. To channel their abilities
into a form which will aid humanity." His tone was deadly serious.
"You've faced a rogue Slayer. And Faith was half-trained, undisciplined,
sabotaged by her own passions. Do you really want to face another one,
this time a Slayer who is, as you've pointed out yourself, the most experienced
and determined of her kind for a century? Allied, moreover, with one
of the most vicious and deadly vampires the line of Aurelius has produced?
It is your sworn duty to protect the world--with her, but also, if need be,
from her, should Buffy Summers decide to throw her lot in with the demonic
strain of her heritage." Travers cleared his throat. "And on a
more mundane level, if you aid us in containing the vampire for study and
in gaining us access to Miss Summers, I'm prepared to accede to Miss Summers's
demands for a salary."
"I see." Giles sat silent for awhile, watching
the shadows of branches move across the drawn curtains. Travers's
offer deserved half-serious consideration, if only because Spike was, after
all, a vampire, and potentially dangerous for that reason alone. Still,
Spike was a vampire who had saved his life once, however self-serving his
reasons had been, and while Giles would have had no qualms about sending Spike
to a dusty death should it prove necessary, turning him over for vivisection
seemed... tacky. And there was a more important factor as well. "Quentin...
regardless of my opinions of Buffy's personal life, I will not lie to her
on your account again for any price. I'm afraid I couldn't possibly
accommodate you without discussing the matter with her first, and I think
we both know what her response would be."
"Ah." It was rather chilling that
Travers sounded perfectly calm, as if this had been the answer he'd been expecting
all along--well, it may have been; "Then it is with very great regret that
I must inform you that your association, and that of Buffy Summers, with
the Council of Watchers, is over."
"Haven't we gone through this before, Travers?
Without a Slayer, what do you intend to--"
He could hear the frosty smile all
the way across the globe. "That, Rupert, is no longer any of your concern."
And the line went dead.
Continued in Part 31