A Parliament Of Monsters
By Barb Cummings
Sequel to Necessary Evils
Disclaimers: The usual. All belongs to Joss and Mutant
Enemy, and naught to me.
Setting: Post-Gift /AU Season 7
Pairing: B/S all the way, baybee!
Distribution: Ask and you shall receive, I'd just like
to know where it ends up.
Synopsis: Buffy. Spike. Angelus. Nuff said.
Author’s notes: A sequel to "Necessary Evils,"
which is a sequel to “A Raising In the Sun.” Previously: Willow
brought Buffy back to life using Dawn's blood and William's soul, creating
an imbalance which allowed the First Evil to use Willow to take over the
world. Spike and Buffy narrowly defeated the First, resulting in the de-Keying
of Dawn, the permanent closure of the Hellmouth, and Willow's death and
resurrection as a souled vampire. As always, thanks to Jane Davitt and
the Redemptionista Writers Group, betas extraordinaire.
If fate were kind, Rupert Giles thought, it would be in a room such as
this that he would die. The very air was redolent of knowledge--leather
and ink and aging paper, and the lingering tang of lemon oil rubbed painstakingly
into dark gleaming walnut panels. There were books, of course: rank upon
rank of them, towering to the beams of the ceiling, titles in gold and
scarlet and black. No uneasy tingle of power from grimoires or spellbooks
in this sanctuary, just the unsullied power of the written word. An old-fashioned
globe stood in the corner, its faded blues and greens and pinks a mosaic
of obsolete borders. Outside the tall bay windows, squadrons of bees hummed
about the garden, but the scarlet hibiscus nodding against the windowpane
rather shattered the illusion of Shropshire in Pasadena. The hills visible
against the smog-hazed horizon beyond the window were parched and brown
with the breath of summer, the hot dry Santa Ana winds hissing down from
the mountains. The sight was oddly comforting. He had lived in California
long enough to miss it when he left. Dreadful thought.
A bee in its livery of
black and yellow lit on the lip of the nearest blossom and crawled into
its blazing heart, to emerge a moment later bathed in a golden haze of
pollen. "Africanized," said the very old man seated behind the
desk. He waved a gnarled hand at the window. "So-called killer bees.
No place in the Southwestern United States they haven't invaded. The European
honeybees were dying out. Mites. The killer bees are immune." He
smiled, putting only the minimum necessary humor into the expression.
"And for the most part, humanity lives cheek by jowl with them, none
the wiser. Very like our own situation, in some ways."
"There are certain
parallels," Giles agreed. He was in an agreeable mood. Good company,
good Scotch--a trifle early in the day for it, but this was something
of a special occasion--and every prospect of finding the information he'd
come for. He leaned back into the sinfully inviting armchair. "But
the bees serve a useful purpose that I dare say most vampires do not."
"Who can say what
purpose all things serve in the great balance?" Bernard Crowley rose
to his feet and crossed to the bookshelf, his thin knobby hands crab-walking
over cracked spines and foxed corners until they found the book they sought.
"You are an ambitious man, Mr. Giles." Fingers closing pincer-like
on the leatherbound volume, he drew it from the shelf and returned to
his chair, also leatherbound and nearly as ancient as the books which
surrounded it. "I don't believe I've heard of anyone attempting such
an in-depth study of a single vampire before."
Giles shrugged and took
a sip of his Scotch. "It's been an enormous project, to be sure,
but I've had very able help and the inestimable advantage of having access
to a willing subject. I hope to make the finished work as much an ethnography
as a biography, though the latter would be task enough. We know so little
about the creatures we hunt." He offered a small, professional smile
of his own. "Which is why I decided to complete the project despite
my, er, recent parting of ways with the Council. Who knows when another
such opportunity will arise?"
The lines bracketing
Crowley's mouth flexed in disapproval. "I heard something about your
recent disagreement with young Quentin. You have a publisher, then?"
of mine in New England has connections with the Miskatonic University
Press, and..." Giles waved a deprecating hand. "But that's of
no moment now."
eased forward and laid the book open across the desk. He flipped the pages
over, one by one, and yellowing ghosts of newsprint past fluttered in
the breeze of their turning, clippings and photographs of a New York more
than thirty years gone. He looked up, eyes glittering in their setting
of pouched and wrinkled flesh. "Given your falling out with the Council,
why do you assume I might be willing to jeopardize my pension by helping
the notorious renegade Rupert Giles?"
"I've achieved notoriety
so swiftly, have I? Standards for villainy are non-existent these days."
Giles set his glass down and met the older man's inquisitive gaze. "For
one thing, because the accumulation of knowledge is an end in itself.
And for another..." He hesitated. "I know something of you as
well, Mr. Crowley. Your relationship with the Council was also rather
strained in its day. You know what it is to have a Slayer in your charge
Crowley adjusted his
glasses and gazed down at the pictures before him. Giles caught an upside-down
glimpse of a young woman, a young man, a baby...brilliant white smiles
in dark handsome faces, moments of joy captured and pinned like butterflies
to the page. "Indeed I do. Though not, I may say, in so colorful
a fashion as your Buffy Summers has managed."
face gave away nothing, but there was a gleam in his ink-dot eyes, and
Giles was unsure if anger or mockery predominated. The old man had earned
the right to either emotion in ways someone like Quentin Travers never
could. Choosing his words with the care of a man picking his way through
an unfamiliar swamp, Giles said, "On occasion, a little too colorful.
Which is why I would be everlastingly grateful for any independent corroboration
of events you can offer."
Crowley leaned back and
steepled his fingers, gazing down at the book full of memories. At length
he said, "There are no substantial inaccuracies in his account of
Nikki Wood's death that I can see. I never had the misfortune to run afoul
of him myself, but Nikki encountered him several times before the end.
She was a very observant woman--I assume you've read my official Watcher's
diary for 1977? And later, of course, the witnesses who saw him leave
the subway station after he'd killed her gave the police a very vivid
description." There was no identifiable emotion in his voice, but
his fingers were shaking as with surprising delicacy he coaxed a photograph
sketch free of the fasteners attaching it to the scrapbook. He leaned
forward, offering it to Giles. "Her neck was broken. A clean kill.
He never set fangs upon her, nor violated the body." He rasped to
a halt; the effort it took for him to continue was palpable. "Such
terrible things to be grateful for."
Giles took the photograph.
Nikki Wood's dead eyes stared up at him from the floor of the subway car,
her head canted at a grotesque angle, her hands curling limp and helpless
at her sides. She did not look asleep. "He has...spoken of her. He
said..." Would this only make it harder? Would he want to know, in
Crowley's place? "He saw her as a warrior. An equal. Not as...food,
or a plaything." He laid the photograph reverently back upon the
desk. "I don't suppose you have any contemporary photographs of..."
"Only this." Crowley held up another piece of paper, a copy
of a police sketch. Even in the clumsy lines of the police rendering,
there was no mistaking that face. Giles undid that catch of his briefcase
and pulled out the photograph to compare. Beyond superficial differences
of clothing and hairstyle, the high brow and aquiline nose, scimitar cheekbones
and angular jaw were all the same, facing off across a quarter-century's
gap. Across the room the old man's wrinkled throat worked, and the tremor
in his hands increased. "That is the...subject?" Crowley inquired,
a note of living pain in his voice as fragile as the old clippings in
Giles looked up, acutely
aware that for the man before him, this was no matter of idle historical
curiosity. "Yes. This is Spike." He passed the picture over:
a slightly overexposed night shot of a small crowd of people standing
around a bonfire on a sandy beach, making faces into the camera. At the
forefront was a small, lithely-muscled man in a Union Jack t-shirt, out-at-the-knees
blue jeans and scuffed black Docs, his thumbs hooked loosely into the
waistband of his jeans. He had a slightly startled grin on his face; the
flash had bleached his short spiky hair to an even more shocking white
than the peroxide had, and stoked the pupils of his blue, blue eyes to
a glowing demonic red. An even smaller woman in white shorts and halter
top stood beside him, her arm around his waist, her summer tan dark against
his ivory skin. The photographer had caught her in the act of looking
up, her eyes sparkling and her mouth half open, her hair a raw-honey blur
whipping across her shoulders. "The woman with him is Buffy Summers."
Crowley stared at the
photograph for a long time, running his fingertips across the images.
"William the Bloody. No Angelus, but...sufficient unto the day."
He looked at Giles, voice under control once more--but a control no longer
effortless. "Was it destiny, you think, that brought him to the bed
of a third Slayer, having sent two before her to their graves? And if
destiny drove this creature to love a Slayer, why this one, do you suppose,
And not the one you
loved? "Buffy is a remarkable young woman," Giles said,
as if gentling something wild and wounded.
"They are all,"
Bernard Crowley replied, "remarkable young women."
He stared at the photograph
for a while longer, and turned it over to read the inscription on the
back, in Buffy's careless scrawl. Jul 4 2002 Dear Giles: Fireworks
pretty. Had clambake after. S called everyone bloody Colonials till I
clocked him. Wish you were here. Love, B.
"And your Nikki
more so than most." Giles put all the sincerity he was capable of
into the words. "She was the longest-lived Slayer in this century,
was she not?"
"She was twenty-five
when he killed her," Crowley said, expressionless. "How much
of his past does she know of?"
It took a second to realize
Crowley had changed 'shes' in mid-sentence. "More than I do,"
Giles admitted. "Spike refused to tell me anything about his life
before he was turned, but a few things Buffy's said lead me to believe
he's confided in her. And she's seen all my notes." He swirled the
melting ice cubes around in the bottom of his glass. "She is not
associating with him out of ignorance, if that's what you're asking."
Crowley's mouth spasmed
around a sound which might have been a curse or a prayer. He handed back
the photograph of Spike, and wiped his fingers on his sleeve before picking
up Nikki's and returning it and the police sketch to their places in the
scrapbook. "He never made an attempt on my life, or on the lives
of Nikki's family. Not out of any concern for us, or any sense of honor.
You must understand, Mr. Giles, that we were unimportant to him. He had
come to slay the Slayer. We were...irrelevant. Food, as you say, or playthings.
Had we stood between him and her death, he would have killed any of us,
gladly and without a second thought."
There was such a freight
of scorn in those clipped, precise words. Giles could hardly reproach
him for it; it was a marvel, all things considered, that Bernard Crowley
had agreed to meet with him at all. "I understand, Mr. Crowley. Believe
me, I never forget what Spike is. And neither, I think, does Buffy."
He felt the inadequacy of the words even as he spoke them--what precisely
was Spike these days? "He has changed, or perhaps...reverted, but
it would serve none of us to pretend that he was human."
The old man stood, and
returned the scrapbook to its place on the shelf. "I find myself
too weary to talk of Nikki any longer today. Forgive an old man his weakness,
and accept my best wishes for completing your work."
The tone of dismissal
was plain, and Giles suppressed a sigh and rose to his feet, following
Crowley's shuffling steps out of the study and down the long hall to the
front door. There was little to be gained in pressing the matter. "Perhaps
I might call again, when you're feeling stronger?"
Mr. Crowley smiled, bland
and inscrutable, holding open the screen door. "I fear that I expect
to be very much occupied with other matters for the forseeable future."
Giles made his reluctant
farewells and walked down the winding path from the house to the street,
brushing aside the drooping dusty fronds of the pepper trees, back to
the rented Jaguar he'd left parked at the foot of the driveway. When he
looked back, the old man was standing on the front stoop watching him
go, dwindled to a bent scarecrow figure of twig-thin limbs and wispy cornsilk
hair. Bernard Crowley's was, Giles thought, the fate of all Watchers:
to survive one's Slayer and live on, surrounded by books.
Perhaps, if the fates
were kind, he would not die in a room like that after all.
It was an hour short of closing time, and there were a dozen people in
the Fish Tank when Evie walked in. She discounted half of them right off.
The two tired-looking women in garish spandex and cheap wigs were in the
same trade she was, though they were offering different goods, and she'd
never had much luck picking up women anyway. She inhaled, teasing individual
human scents from the general miasma of sweat and despair, spilt beer
and salt water that permeated the bar. Time was when the anticipation
was almost as good as the kill, but these days her ribs were far too close
to her skin for Evie to play around with her dinner. The old guy slumped
in the corner booth, arthritic hands cupping a squat glass half-full of
amber fluid--he might be looking for a moment of oblivion, but he was
eaten out from within by something neither magic nor medicine would cure;
she could smell the rotted-lilies scent of his illness. No, she wasn't
Evie ordered a Michelob--she
might as well get the cheap crap, since it tasted exactly the same as
the expensive crap to a vampire's palate--and sauntered to the end of
the bar. She leaned back, elbows propped against the bar rail, and sucked
on her longneck, eyeing the crowd around the pool tables. Two big grizzled
men with tattooed forearms and leather jackets gaping over beer bellies
faced off over the expanse of worn green felt against a trio of slim brown
pachucos with impeccably slicked-back hair. Possibilities there.
Her eyes sized each one up in turn, looking for the telltale signs: a
hint of pallor beneath dark skin or redneck tans, a crescent scar on the
wrist or above the collarbone. Nothing. Nothing obvious, anyway. Her stomach
growled resentfully and she took another swallow of beer to silence it.
God, was she going to have to seduce some virgin?
It didn't used to be
like this. Who knew she'd end up missing Whip's crappy run-down rat-trap
someday? Shit, she'd cheered the night the Slayer torched the place, and
skedaddled for L.A. and greener pastures when Whip and the others stormed
off to take the Slayer on. Got no pride, Evie? Whip had sneered.
Gonna let a human run us outta the sweetest setup we've ever had?
To which the only possible answer was Fuck, yes! She couldn't
afford pride--if she could, she wouldn't have been working for Whip in
the first place. And it wasn't like she could have fought the brass-haired,
brass-balled little bitch in her condition, anyway. Whip and all the others
had been dust in the wind for years, and she was still undead and back
in Sunnydale. Again.
She inhaled again. Oh, yeah, there. Male, prime of life, healthy. Evie
shifted position, checking out the man at the other end of the bar. Wearing
a battered leather jacket. Tall, heavy-set, dark-haired, face a scrimshaw
of hard, wind-carved lines. Dude had eyes like a gravel quarry, some dark,
indeterminate color between brown and grey. Probably played a mean game
of poker. Evie stared dead center at his bowed shoulders and put some
mojo into it--it was bullshit, but she liked to pretend she had some of
that thrall thing going for her. The guy didn't twitch at all, but after
a moment he turned. Just his head, no excess motion. Stony eyes looked
They always wanted something
more, the ones whose eyes looked like that. Something to make them feel
for a second. Dinner is served. "Hey," she said.
"That seat taken?"
The man held her gaze for a second longer, then returned to the contemplation
of his beer foam. The hitch of his shoulders might have been a shrug or
a come-on; Evie plumped for the latter and swivel-hipped it down the length
of the bar. The two off-duty whores whispered behind scarlet-clawed hands
as she passed them, but Evie didn't bother sorting their crow-chatter
from the background noise. Focus on the meal, here.
She slid onto the stool beside him with a practiced wriggle. She hadn't
seen herself in a mirror for seven years, and what she'd seen the last
time she looked hadn't been all that and a bag of chips, but anyone playing
shark in the Fish Tank wasn't fussy. About anything. Evie tossed her hair
over one shoulder--long and glossy and black, her one good feature--and
took a long swig of her hops-flavored soda water, then set the bottle
down on the bar, running the tip of her index finger around the rim. "They
serve any food here?" she asked. She was still stalking her prey.
Not the way she used to do it in the old days--and don't even think about
the old days, the power and the blood and the hunt, only three years gone
and might as well be a hundred. She was still a hunter. Hell, this was
better than working for Whip, even if she did go hungry more often than
Another grunt. "Don't ask me. First time I've been here."
"New in town?" That might be good or bad. "I grew up here.
Lived in L.A. the last couple years. I just got back." She injected
a little hesitancy, a little concern, into her voice. "You wanna
be careful after dark, mister. You wouldn't think it from the Leave It
To Beaver vibe, but there's a lot of weird shit goes down in Sunnydale."
The man actually barked out a laugh. "Believe me, sister, I can take
care of myself.”
Evie smiled, assessing the heft of his shoulders with a sidelong gaze.
She could have lived off this one for a month, in the old days, if she'd
been careful...but she hadn't needed to be, then. He was wearing some
kind of necklace made out of...wolf's teeth, maybe? Bitchin'. Though human
would have been more of a turn-on. This guy was more than he seemed, maybe,
but that could be a plus. She grinned, slow and saucy, letting her tongue-tip
trace the curve of her lower lip. "Bet you can. But I'm still hungry.
You know anyplace around here where I might get a...bite, at this time
of night? I promise I don't eat much."
She let the gold blossom and fade in her eyes, just obvious enough to
make it clear what she was to someone in the know. His eyes reflected
a smile almost as devoid of humanity as her own. "Yeah," he
said. "Come to think of it, I do."
The streetlight outside the bar was broken, and the alley behind was impenetrably
dark to human eyes. Her meal ticket glanced out at the street for passers-by
before fading into the shadows of the rear entrance. He must have been
back here before, Evie decided, picking her way through the maze of rotting
garbage. The night air was close with the odors of stale urine, the dead-fish
reek of the nearby docks, and things even a vampire really didn't want
to think too much about. Rats scuttled away behind the piles of splintered
wooden pallets, their sharp vicious chittering echoing off the brick and
concrete. Evie shouldered up to the wall, folding her arms across her
chest, unfolding them in irritation as she realized the defensiveness
of her posture. Her prey kicked aside a packing crate. Would he want her
to fake giving a shit? No, not this one. "You want a quickie, it's
fifty bucks. You want me to make it last, it's a hundred," she said.
Businesslike. "It's easier if you roll up your sleeve."
His flint-shard eyes swept her up and down, frank and impersonal as a
man buying a racehorse. "I want it in the neck," he said. He
pulled a wallet from his hip pocket, counted out five bedraggled twenties,
and tossed them to the ground at her feet. "You'd better be worth
"Traditionalist, huh?" Evie shrugged her purse off and set it
down in the cleanest spot she could find. She knelt to pick up the bills--this
was part of the show she gave, letting them think they were in control,
that their money meant something. She stuffed the money into her purse
and straightened, smoothing her palms along her thighs and letting the
gold rise in her eyes again. Her fangs made pinprick indentations in her
lower lip. "Fine by me. You want it to scar?" She'd had fetishists
ask for weirder things.
He opened his arms with a scary-ass smile. "Surprise me."
Evie's fingers closed on the heavy folds of leather and pulled him down,
big broad shoulders kitten-helpless in her grip. The scent of dust and
creosote hung about him, sweat-soaked leather and hot pulsing blood. Dizzy
with hunger and need, Evie's lips parted and she set fangs to skin, fighting
the urge to rend and tear--had to be oh so careful now, think good thoughts,
how she wasn't going to kill this guy, wasn't going to rip through skin
and cartilage and gorge herself on his fountaining blood. No. Slow. Careful.
Because he wanted it. And it was OK if he wanted it. Stubble beneath her
lips, salt beneath her tongue, God so good, careful, careful, careful...
It took a second to realize that the dagger-sharp pain was in her chest,
not her head. "It's an oak dowel with a sharpened steel core,"
the flat voice whispered in her ear. She could feel the vibration of his
vocal cords against her frozen lips. "It's slimmer than a wooden
stake and far stronger, and I don't have to be a Slayer to push it all
the way through your ribcage with no problem at all. What I want you to
do is step back against the wall--no, you leave your demon face be. That's
what I need, girl. Mind me, and maybe you won't be dust after I've finished."
A growl of outrage forced its way up her throat. What the hell was he
up to? Was he gonna try to rape her? How goddam dare he? She was the hunter
here. She would fucking kill this sonofabitch, if it made her head explode
to do so. Later, when he didn't have twelve inches of wood stabbing her
in the heart to make up for the three-inch floppy he probably sported
elsewhere. Evie took two wary steps backward, until cold slimy brick pressed
against her shoulder blades, and he followed, step for step. Most humans
had no conception of how fast a vamp could move when they had to, but
her captor (no, her dinner, damn it) kept that high-tech stake right to
her ribs, right above the place her heart should have been hammering against.
He'd torn her blouse and broken skin. She could feel blood she couldn't
spare starting to seep into the fabric.
One-handed, he fished a pair of weirdly-curved pliers out of a coat pocket
and limbered them up, click-click. She saw the silhouette of his upraised
hand, black against black, and then the motion-sensitive light over the
Fish Tank's rear entrance flooded the alley with its sickly glare and
half-blinded her. "Open your mouth, girlie. And keep your face on.
You drop it, or scream, or bite me, you're a pile of ash."
Evie blinked back light-tears. Christ on a crutch, he was going to go
all Marathon Man on her. He was so goddam dead. She flung her head back,
away from his looming backlit figure, lips skinned back in a snarl. Her
skull cracked against the bricks, and she welcomed the pain as one more
reason to hate. The man chuckled. "That's the ticket. Open wide."
He levered the pliers into her mouth, forcing her jaw wide. The flat savorless
taste of her own blood flooded her tongue, and the chill metal bruised
her gums and split her lower lip as the pincers locked around her lower
Most humans had no conception of how keen a vampire's ears were, either.
Someone was coming. She could hear the approaching footsteps, two pairs,
man and a woman, and...no heartbeats. Fuck. Only another couple of vamps,
and she'd be lucky if another vampire would so much as pause to snicker
at her demise. On the other hand, maybe they'd take down Dr. Scrivello
here just for the fun of it.
"--got to learn some time," the man's voice said. "Not
every town's got a twenty-four-hour butcher on premises, you know."
Light, sardonic British-accented baritone--she knew that voice. Double
fuck. Spike. Not just any vampire, a completely fucked-up insane vampire
who'd allied himself with the Slayer. On the other hand, Spike had some
kind of hero complex these days. Maybe she could take advantage of it.
"But it's bunnies!" the woman countered, beseeching. "Cute
little flop-eared bunnies. From a Make-the-World-Safe-For-Anya standpoint,
OK, I can see it, but can't we start with something that's got less personality?
And fluffiness? Scales would be good. And beadiness of eye. Frogs, maybe--or
wait, not frogs, they make me nervous. Lizards. Or maybe not lizards,
because, skittery? Not a good trait in a breakfast food."
"Won't do, Red. 'S got to be warm-blooded." Spike sounded as
though he'd given this particular lecture before. "What, d'you think
pig's blood generates spontaneously in plastic bags? Someone's got to
nail the pig between the eyes with a whacking great mallet, string it
up on a meathook, slit its throat and let it bleed out." A snort.
"Thinking about it's the only way I can get the stuff down, some
The guy that smelled of the desert didn't hear; his face was a mask of
impassive concentration. He wasn't even getting off on this, and how sick
was that? He wrenched hard on the handles of his pliers and the thin bone
around the tooth went snap-crackle-pop. Evie gagged reflexively on blood,
fingernails clawing gory gouges on the brickwork behind her as her canine
was jerked free of its socket. Steel cracked against the incisor beside
it. Her jaw was on fire--no throbbing, because no heartbeat, just a steady
agonizing nuclear burn. "Help," she choked out. No human being
would hear her more than a few feet away, but what was coming down the
sidewalk wasn't human. "Please. I need help."
The stake point grated against bone. "One more word, girlie, you'll
be beyond help." Her captor dropped the crimson-smeared fang into
his coat pocket, hooked the pliers around her upper left canine, and began
working it free in a brutal back-and-forth sawing motion. Her lips were
numb. A viscous glistening delta of bloody saliva drooled over the corners
of her mouth and down the front of her shirt--adding insult to injury,
her stomach was still knotting with hunger. She was going to scream. Then
the chill sharp weight against her chest would sink in and she'd dissolve
into nothingness and that would be a relief. That was it. Scream, and
it would all be over.
Evie got a glimpse of a pale elfin face, distorted by ridges and fangs,
and auburn hair flying--mother-of-pearl framed in dried blood. Pliers
and steel-cored stake clattered to the filthy concrete, and the man who'd
held them flew backwards against the stack of pallets, eyes white-ringed
with startlement and pain. Wood splintered and collapsed beneath his weight.
Her nemesis rolled to his knees, gasping and clutching his right hand
to his belly. Small fingers encircled the man's left wrist with an audible
crunch of bone grinding against bone and hauled him upright.
The little redhead glared at the man in the wolf's-tooth necklace, her
thin chest expanding and contracting in jerky heaves. "Mr. Cain,
I presume? You know, I'm really, truly getting to not like you at all."
Vampire, obviously, but there was something off about her, something weird
in her scent and the tone of her voice, an alien light in the fulvous
gold of her eyes. Evie turned and hotfooted it for the street. A shadow
peeled off the wall as she reached the mouth of the alley, and strong
hands caught her by the elbows, whirling her for an instant into the halogen
glare of the light and back again into the darkness. Platinum blond hair
and black leather jacket, knife-slash cheekbones, incongruous midsummer-blue
eyes caught in nets of laugh-lines--Spike, grinning, Harlequin in moonlight
and ebony. "What's the hurry, pet? Party's just starting."
"Let me go, chupacabra!"
Evie howled, bucking against his grip. Spike chuckled and cuffed her across
the mouth, and forked lighting jagged from the raw socket of her missing
tooth all the way down her spinal cord. He flipped her off her feet and
toted her back into the alley; Evie struggled, but the arm pinning hers
to her sides might as well have been muscled with steel hawsers. Spike
wasn't the oldest vampire she'd ever met, but he was up there, well into
his second century, a hell of a lot stronger than she was and totally
loco to boot, what with living off goddam animals and fucking the Slayer
and helping close the Hellmouth and saving the world and all. Loco. Catch
her running to humans and drinking the blood of dead pigs after...it
happened? No fucking way.
Cain was down on his knees in the muck, staring up at the redhead with
smoldering resentment, the first real expression Evie had seen on his
face. He jerked his head in Spike's direction, his lips twisted in a rictus
of disdain. "Spike."
"Cain." Spike stopped a few paces away, head cocked, regarding
the confrontation with amused interest. "And now the traditional
exchange of manly monosyllables is complete, I can't help but notice you're
still in town. What part of sod off and die don't you understand?"
He looked to the redhead, scarred eyebrow at half-mast. "I take it
you're acquainted with this bloke, Will?"
Will transferred her grip from wrist to the necklace, yanking Cain's head
down hard. The cord snapped with a high-tension ping and a dozen yellowing
fangs rained to the ground, the fragile old bone shattering on impact.
"He tried to kill Oz once." Her voice was Waterford crystal,
clear and sharp, and Evie, listening, decided that maybe Cain had more
to worry about from this Will than he did from Spike.
"Ah. You want to off him, then?" Spike sounded excessively cheerful
at the prospect. "Dog-boy was a bit of a wanker, but--"
"Oh, for God's sake, Spike, it's just a damned vampire," Cain
rasped. "Vermin even to other vermin. What's it to you if I take
the saleable parts before your girlfriend dusts it? And speaking of your
girlfriend, does she know you've got minions beating up humans for you?"
Spike extracted a slightly battered cigarette from an inside jacket pocket
and tucked it in the corner of his mouth, flicking a glance in Willow's
direction. The flare of his lighter picked out a starfield of sweat droplets
on Cain's brow. "Interesting question, that," he drawled, drawing
the cigarette to brilliant life. "Pity you won't get a chance to
ask her. 'Sides, our Willow's not exactly a minion. More of a protege,
"You don't even remember me. Or Oz." Willow's voice quivered,
but it wasn't a quiver that implied weakness. "I remember every single
person I've tried to kill, Mr. Cain. And I don't feel like remembering
you. You--you should leave. Now." She dropped Cain's wrist as if
it were something fouler than alley-scrapings, and Evie realized in a
burst of revolted clarity what was wrong with her.
"She's got a soul!"
"That being why Frank Buck here's still got his delicates intact."
Spike plunked Evie down at his side and allowed her to get her feet underneath
her. He turned the wolf-grin on Cain. "However, yours truly's not
burdened, and Christ only knows when my killer instinct's going to overwhelm
the extreme boredom inspired by the sight of your face. I don't care what
you're after or why, Cain. Hellmouth's closed, and Sunnydale's my territory.
You want bits and bobs, hunt 'em elsewhere."
Cain's breath hissing in and out through his clenched teeth was the only
sound in the alley for a long moment. He hooked an elbow over the top
of the nearby stack of pallets and pulled himself upright in ungainly
no-hands-Ma lurches "You ride me out on a rail, Spike, and you're
in deeper shit than you can imagine. I told you, I'm not freelance any
longer. I've got backing from the big boys. Your pissant little operation's
just in the way." "Yeh, you've got backing. I've got nice sharp
teeth. Your boss isn't around to wipe your arse right now, but I'm right
here to wipe the floor with it." A chainsaw rumble rolled up from
the bottom of his chest and Spike's eyes shaded from blue to predatory
yellow beneath gnarled ridges of bone. Willow hastily followed suit, baring
her fangs in a somewhat unconvincing snarl. "Thinking you'd better
be off, Gib old mate."
And he was, staggering out of the alley with his torn coat-sleeve hanging
askew. Willow watched him go with a cold light in her eyes, and then shrank
in on herself like Styrofoam in a pressure cooker. "Oh, God. Oh,
God. Oh, God..."
"Snap out of it, Red. Time for that later." Spike gave Evie
a little shake. He'd already shed his game face. "You. What's your
story? You couldn't break loose from a berk who was practicing home dentistry
with one hand and trying to keep you pinned with the other?"
Evie glared after the departing Cain with fervor exceeding Willow's, shaking
with hunger and fury. He was her prey, damn it, she'd hunted him down
and caught him--so she was using words instead of fangs, so what? She
spat in Spike's face, or tried to; it didn't get very far. "I don't
talk to goat-sucking, human-loving traitors. Stake me or turn me loose,
Willow snuffled and scrubbed the heel of her hand across her eyes, wiping
away the fangs and ridges. With a deep shuddery breath she reached over
for a length of broken pallet. "Splintery or extra-splintery?"
Evie gulped. "He...got me by surprise."
"I'll bet. You look familiar. Dalton's get, aren't you?" Spike
exhaled a thoughtful plume of blue smoke, examining her at greater length.
"Worked for me for awhile, few years back?"
Evie shrugged, sullen. "Yeah. Before the Slayer kicked your ass,
Angelus stole your girl, and you hightailed out of town with your tail
between your legs."
Spike cuffed her again, hard enough to stagger her back a pace. Evie clapped
a hand to her jaw and spat incomprehensible profanities as Spike licked
her blood from his knuckles. "Fair cop," he said with surprising
mildness. "But that was long ago and in another country, and besides,
the wench is dead. Not that I hold that against her." His hand dropped
and he dug a thumb into her ribs. "You're turning tricks, you're
skin and bone, and you let that arsewipe pin you." The corner of
his mouth took on a self-satisfied curl, and he laid a finger to his temple.
"Got it. Initiative, Class of Double-Ought?"
"She's got a behavior-modification chip? Like you used to?"
Sonething took a whetstone to Willow's dull gaze, and the eyes that rose
to meet Evie's were keen with interest. "I always wondered what happened
to Hostiles One through Sixteen. I thought you were the only one who got
out when the Initiative lab got all destroyed. You mean, she's harmless?"
"I'm not harmless!" Evie snarled. "Better a chip in my
head than a fucking disgusting soul crawling around in my gut." Willow
flinched, guilt displacing her momentary animation, and Evie turned the
snarl on Spike. "Maybe I can't bite, but at least I'm living off
human blood instead of human charity."
Spike snorted. "And living so very well, too, by the looks of you."
Evie tried to smack his hand off her shoulder, with a signal lack of success.
Not just because he was stronger than she was, either; she was getting
dizzy from hunger and pain and blood loss. Right now she probably couldn't
have fought Willow off. Willow was looking at her, all big sad puppy-eyed
compassion. Fucking sick-making, her and her soul, standing there all
clean and shiny and well-fed. "Nah, you're not harmless," Spike
went on, a needling tone creeping into his voice. "Bet you've sussed
out a way to kill even with the chip in your head, haven't you? Laid traps.
Set houses afire. Beat the crap out of a demon or two, made them kill
for you--" At the look on her face, he broke into incredulous laughter.
"Bloody hell, you silly bint, you never even tried hitting a demon?"
"The chip only works on biochemistry native to this dimension,"
Willow put in helpfully. "It's got really interesting heuristics.
I'd love to study one in detail." She eyed the back of Evie's skull
with rather alarming avarice.
"Like you did all that stuff instead of hiding behind the Slayer's
skirts, you big undead pussy?" Evie flung back at him. "Fuck
you and the horse you slurp through a bendy straw, I'm out of here."
She yanked herself away and Spike let her go, his wicked blue eyes a-glitter
with amusement. Evie made it three steps before one high heel went out
from under her, and she collapsed beside her purse. Hundred bucks. She
had Cain's hundred bucks in there, and that would buy...three, four bags
of Willy's best at the Alibi Room. Enough to keep her mobile for another
week if she'd been uninjured, barely enough to fuel her healing body for
a day in her current condition. Evie looked down at the blood and spit
smearing the front of her blouse. Assuming someone didn't just roll her
as the easy prey she was, and steal the whole thing. She drew a ragged,
determined breath, stowed the purse under one arm and forced herself to
her feet again. If someone dusted her, she was taking the money with her.
"You're not going to make it a quarter-mile," Spike said behind
her. "But happens we've got business in that direction."
Evie stopped, her head hanging. Screw it. Pride hadn't hit the sale table
yet. "Yeah? I should care why?"
Spike sauntered over and sucked in his cheeks. "Got a word to have
with Rack. Take us to his place, and I might feel generous later."
Evie blinked. The block or so surrounding Rack's place was prime hunting
territory, a smorgasbord of half-dazed magic junkies too zoned on stolen
power to run. She generally avoided it--too much of a fight to get a good
spot. It wasn't far off; in fact, she'd passed it by on the way down to
the docks, slinking past with lowered head, careful not to project any
kind of challenge towards the three older vamps who'd staked out the entrance.
But with these two with her...maybe she'd get a decent meal tonight after
all. "Sure. Come on."
Spike and Willow followed her down the street, Spike vamp-silent, Willow
walking almost as noisily as a human. Spike hadn't taught her shit about
hunting, assuming he was her sire and responsible for such things. Or
maybe she just didn't want to learn. Willow still looked haunted and unhappy--a
soul thing, Evie guessed; Spike didn't say anything, but now and again
he'd look down at her with a bewildered concern that was, in its way,
even more deeply wrong than the soul business. Evie felt a sudden weird
nostalgia for her own sire. She hadn't thought of Dalton for years, but
he'd been all right. He'd looked damn funny when the Judge torched him,
Once they left the Fish Tank and its surrounding straggle of parked cars
behind, the street was mostly deserted at this late hour. Evie tried to
think through the hot-coal aching of her jaw. She wasn't going to heal
fast, or at all, till she got a little blood in her, and she wasn't going
to get any clientele till she healed. Her face felt lopsided and swollen.
"Is it gonna grow back?" she asked.
"The tooth," she said impatiently. "You're old and you've
lost enough fights--do they grow back?"
Spike grinned--teeth sharp, white, and all in perfect working order. "Give
it a week or two. Won't give you odds on a finger, though. Never tried
That was some comfort, if he was telling the truth. Evie frowned, taking
the next turn to Rack's place automatically. If she bought animal blood,
her money would last longer, but fuck, she'd managed to avoid that ultimate
humiliation for so long, and it chapped her ass to fail now. She'd been
down, but she'd never been reduced to drinking warmed-over pig like the
fucking sellouts behind her. Not that it seemed to have hurt them any.
Neither Spike nor Willow were exactly the heavyset type, but she could
tell from their previous close encounter that his ribs were sheathed
in a healthy layer of muscle, and she was acutely aware of her own gauntness
"You're the only one I've run into," Spike said abruptly. "From
that place. Heard tell a few more made it out, but I never met any of
Evie shrugged. "There was another guy got out with me, during the
big fight. He couldn't take it, not being able to feed. Walked into the
sun after a month." She threw a defiant sneer over her shoulder.
"I saw you there when the place went smash. Killing off your own
Spike didn't look particularly chastened. "Takes some amount of brains,
surviving as long as you have with no bite." The smirk that never
entirely left his face when dealing with her intensified. "If you
call what you do surviving."
"I do OK," Evie snapped. Almost there. Rack's entrance would
be right off the next alley; she could feel it in her bones. They passed
an old man huddled on the stoop of the Navy recruitment office, and her
stomach rumbled in protest. Her feet slowed down of their own volition,
and Evie looked at the crumpled heap of humanity longingly. He was drunk
and stinking, and she'd regret it in the evening, but she couldn't bear
the black hole in her gut any longer. "Wait up. Lemme get a bite
from this guy." If she did it carefully enough, he might not even
wake up, and the chip might not fire at all.
Spike halted, interposing his deceptively lean frame between her and the
bum. "Bloke's veins are running eighty proof, you nit. Two swallows
and you'll keel over." He shucked off the motorcycle jacket and handed
it to Willow, extending one bare arm, wrist up. "Well, come on, can't
stand here all night."
Evie blinked down at the pale, blue-veined wrist before her. The streetlights
gleamed off the curve of Spike's shoulder, where the dark fabric of his
t-shirt strained over the muscles of his upper arm, and gilded the dusting
of light brown hair on his forearm. "This doesn't make me your fucking
minion or anything," she said.
"Good, because minions are suck-arse wastes of hemoglobin,"
Spike rejoined. "You do a job for me, I pay you, we go our separate
Still Evie hesitated. She chin-pointed at Willow. "You made her.
I can tell."
"No!" Willow looked quite shocked. "I made me. I mean,
I made him make me. Kind of. I was in a place. But he's been a really
great sire, a little on the cranky side maybe, but we deal, you know?
"You gonna drink or not?" Spike demanded.
It occurred to Evie that if the two of them had come straight down Alembert
to the Fish Tank, there was no way in hell they could have missed Rack's.
But somehow, as she sank her remaining fangs into the vein and sucked
down mouthful after avid mouthful, it didn't matter all that much.
Willow tilted her head back as she walked beneath the big wrought-iron
arch of the main gates to Restfield Cemetery, watching the topmost branches
of the elms claw at the moon overhead. It was a few days past full, a
tarnished silver coin sailing across the clear, cold January night, and
it bathed the cemetery in ghostly radiance. "You don't get it,"
she said. "I really, really wanted to kill him."
Spike, striding along at her side and keeping a scowling eye on the back
of Evie's head, snorted. "'Course you did. I keep telling you, Red--vampire
with a soul's still a vampire."
"But it wasn't like that." Willow kicked at a drift of dead
leaves by the side of the gravel path, disconsolate. Becoming a vampire
should have made it all easier. "I didn't want to eat him. I was
mad because he hurt Oz. This was me. Willow-me."
"Who were you expecting it to be, Wendell Wilkie?"
"I don't know. I thought..." She'd thought that she could label
all her bad naughty urges demon and wall them off in a corner, all very
Cask of Amontillado. That there'd be Good Willow with a soul, and Evil
Willow without. And instead it was just all one big tangled mess of Willow.
She jammed her hands into her coat pockets--she didn't need the coat for
warmth these days, but you had to have somewhere to put your hands, right?
"Do you remember what it was like? Having a soul?"
"Do I remember being a pathetic sodden mess?" Spike scoffed.
"'Oooh, I'm sorry,' and 'Oh, how could I?' twenty-four-seven? Of
course I--" He trailed off and crushed out his cigarette on the nearest
tombstone, distance clouding his eyes, like a man trying to recall the
words to a once-loved and long-forgotten song. "S' a little like
remembering a dream. I felt things...try to get 'em back, sometimes. They
don't make any sense to me now." He rolled his shoulders, shrugging
introspection away. "You remember what it was like the five minutes
you didn't have one?"
"Yeah." And it all made perfect sense. Willow shivered. "The
scary thing? I wasn't someone else."
Spike chuckled, low and conspiratorial. "Terrifying, innit?"
His scowl returned. "You think it would help to talk to the L.A.
branch of the family..."
"Hey." Willow patted his arm. "Why? You've got me this
Spike gave her a look, half startled pride and half reflexive sarcasm.
"Guess I did."
"Hey! Spike! You said I could hit demons, right?" Evie hopped off
a tombstone up ahead. She was all hyped up on the blood Spike had given
her--vampire blood wasn't anything you could live off, but drinking from
a vampire Spike's age was a little like mainlining Red Bull.
"You can try," Spike started, and then his eyes widened. Evie's
foot was poised above a scaly, tight-coiled blue-black thing about the
size of a bowling ball. "Oi, you daft bint, leave that be!"
Evie gave the whatever-it-was an energetic punt. It sailed over the tombstone
in a graceful arc and landed with a squeal and a meaty thump fifty yards
away. She threw back her head with a whoop of glee and tore after it.
Spike muttered an imprecation that would have melted lead and sprinted
off after his giddy not-a-minion. Willow shook her head and suppressed
a tiny and wholly unreasonable flare of jealousy as she pulled out her
cell phone. Reception was always lousy inside Restfield, but she'd promised.
She punched in Tara's number and strolled towards the crypt as the line
rang, and rang, and rang. Just before the voicemail recording kicked in,
Tara picked up. "Whas marrer?"
Tara's bedroom voice, drowsy and molasses-sweet. Tara sprawled out all
golden and silky-soft on the bed, tangled up in blankets and smelling
like sun-warmed rosemary and girl-musk--the very thought made her feel
all toasty and purrsome inside. "Tara? It's just me, honey--you wanted
me to call before I started home?"
"Mrrmf." There was a muffled scraping noise, then, "Willow?
It's three in the morning. I went to bed hours ago. I have morning classes
"Oh." Willow's face fell. She'd known that. "I'm sorry.
We--I lost track of time. You know, Spike's been having trouble with this
guy cutting in on the business, and he heard through the grapevine that
someone was downtown tonight harvesting vampire teeth, and he asked if
I wanted to come along when he took care of it, and you'll never guess
who it turned out to be! Gib Cain!"
"Who?" Tara sounded as if she was starting to drift off.
"That werewolf hunter? That Buffy--never mind. I can tell you about
"Well...it's good you found the guy. Did...did Spike really need
you along tonight?"
Willow opened her mouth, shut it, and tried to keep the hurt out of her
voice when she finally answered. "He wanted me along. He asked. He's
A sigh. "I know. And I'm...it's just that I worry. I mean...this
isn't slaying. It's..." The voice on the phone sounded small and
sad and confused now. "I know I've b-been...I haven't always been
easy to be around, and sometimes...Never mind. I miss you. Come home soon."
Why? The Willow you miss died a year ago.
No. That wasn't fair, was it? Tara was trying, trying really hard. Willow's
hand dropped to her side, cell dangling loosely from her fingers. A far-off
voice piped "Willow? Willow?"
Spike had told her, back at the beginning, that being her sire didn't
mean anything, but of course it did. She just couldn't define that meaning
in human terms, and every time she tried she just ended up mumbling, "He's
my sire," as if that could explain everything, and of course it
could--to another vampire. Who would understand perfectly why she'd immediately
accepted the casual offer to come along tonight, or why she resented the
attention Spike gave the minions--despite Spike's crochets on the subject,
she didn't know what else to call them--even though it was business and
nothing to do with her.
It wasn't like she was out every night gadding about with Sunnydale's
vampire set, she thought with a resentful scuff at the gravel. As Spike's
get they accorded her grudging respect, but she wasn't one of them, nor
did she want to be, really. She had a soul. Teensy social barrier, there,
when she couldn't get into hanging around the water cooler and swapping
tales of slaughter. Spike, who pursued humanity with such ferocious
determination, made it easy to forget just how great the gap was, but
sometimes she found herself staring even at him across an unbridgeable
Willow stuffed the plaintively cheeping cell phone back into her pocket
and started to walk, fast, barely noticing where her feet were taking
her. A year ago, Willow Rosenberg had plans. Big plans. OK, she'd burnt
out her magic to the point it might never come back, she'd come within
an inch of destroying the world, she was teetering on the edge of losing
the woman she loved, she was kind of a vampire, and worst of all, she'd
gotten two Cs on her mid-terms. The goblins might just as well come and
carry her away. But she'd rallied. She was going to turn things around.
She might be a vampire, but she had a soul and she was going to use her
vast powers for good and noble purposes. Like Angel. Helping the helpless,
befriending the friendless, and defeating the defeatless. Just maybe not
so much with the hitting, because contrary to popular belief and to Willow's
secret disappointment, becoming a vampire did not instantly endow you
with a black-belt level command of every martial art known to man. The
third or fourth time Buffy sent her flying across the training room and
into the wall, Willow decided that increased pain threshold or no, this
was not on the Fun List.
No, she should follow her strengths. Study. Research. The acquisition
of forbidden knowledge. She had an unparalleled in now. She could mingle
with demons, find out stuff no human investigator could ever discover.
She could be the Dian Fossey of the demon world. Visions of papers co-authored
with Harriet Doyle danced in her head, for about the ten seconds it took
to discover that demons could smell the soul on her like stink on Anya's
favorite Brie, and were even less than inclined to talk to such a freak
of nature than to a human.
So a year later, here
she was, risking life, limb, and spontaneous combustion for her degree
in the afternoons, pitching in with occasional slayage in the evenings,
and tagging along after Spike trying to build up her demonic street cred
at night. Neither world fit her any longer, and unlike Spike, who didn't
give a damn what world he lived in so long as Buffy existed in the center
of it, she had yet to find her balance. The Rosenberg outline for So
You Want To Be A Vampire had been refined down to a single word:
Spike's pale head re-materialized among the carious teeth of the tombstones.
He had one hand clamped firmly on Evie's shoulder and was marching her
ahead of him at arm's length. A horrible reek preceded them, the unholy
mating of rotten hamburger and week-old socks. Willow gagged and exhaled
quickly, trying to get the nauseating smell out of her lungs. "...and
that," Spike said through tight-clenched jaw, "is why we
don't kick the Vernex demons despite their ever-so-tempting resemblance
to a football, you buggering little cow." He threw an exasperated
glare in Willow's direction, Please, God, tell me I was never this thick
at her age implicit in every bristling line of his body.
Evie's manic grin got wider at the sight of Willow. She pumped her fist
in the air. "Fuckin' A, I can kick demons!"
The iron-grated windows of Spike's old crypt spilled welcoming golden
light across the close-cropped lawn as they came crunching single-file
up the path. Spike flung the door open with a crash and swept inside.
"Heads up, children, we've got company."
The homey clutter of furniture the crypt had once sported was long gone,
cleared out to make room for counters and shelves and bins and an enormous
old roll-top desk. Willow had honestly never thought Spike would be able
to make a go of his demon-hunting business--he might be great at the killing
part, but dealing with clients and taxes and paperwork wasn't exactly
his idiom. Spike had solved that little problem by delegating the clients,
taxes, and paperwork to someone else at the earliest opportunity. If he
wasn't good at fiddly details, he was stunningly good at motivating people
who were, as long as the motivation in question involved the occasional
boot to the head. It shouldn't have been a surprise; after all, he'd made
his Sunnydale debut by taking over the Master's old gang lock, stock,
and sepulchre, and running it pretty darn efficiently until Buffy'd dropped
the organ on him. The 'employees' currently in residence rose hurriedly
to their feet as Spike ushered Evie inside--balding, phlegmatic David,
who craved numbers as much as he craved blood and had taken payroll and
accounting over from Anya when it got to be more than a part-time job;
small, fierce Nadia and her slim fey brother Denny, who looked after inventory
and packaging, and never explained why they'd killed their own sire.
"Gah, Spike, don't tell me you kicked that damn Vernex demon again!"
Nadia complained, pinching her nose.
"Shut your gob or I'll kick it down your throat next time,"
Spike replied amiably. "New bird's Evie. She'll be joining our merry
band of outlaws. David, take her downstairs, fetch out the Lincoln green,
and give her a feed--yeh, it's pig, and you'll drink it and like it."
Evie followed David over to the ladder leading downstairs without protest--too
wiped out to argue, probably. She'd fit in, Willow was pretty sure. It
was uncanny, the way Spike could pick them. The weirdos, the misfits,
the geeks; he homed in unerringly and went for the jugular. Spike couldn't
have known Evie was chipped. But he'd seen something, some weakness, or
some strength. Maybe it was just that a century and a quarter's worth
of experience in cutting out the vulnerable loners from the human herd
could apply just as well to the vampire herd.
Or maybe it took one to know one.
"I'm gonna take off," Willow called across the room. "I
kinda promised Tara I'd be home, um, three hours ago."
Spike glanced up from the pile of receipts David was showing him. "I'll
be along in a tick, pet. Car's by the front gate; I'll give you a lift
if you want."
"Sire's pet," Nadia whispered with a sly grin.
Willow grinned back and walked out into the night, shutting the crypt
door behind her with a smugness as unreasonable in human terms as the
earlier jealousy had been. She headed back towards the street, swinging
along the path with something approaching good cheer. She'd make it up
to Tara. When she got home, she'd catch a nap, and then take a really
hot shower just before her beloved woke up, and duck into bed before the
borrowed heat could dissipate. And she'd remember to breathe the whole
time, and there would be snuggling. Severe, unrestrained snuggling.
A staticky crackle issued from her pocket. Drat, had she forgotten to
turn the phone off? Way to waste weekend minutes. She pulled her cell
phone out, about to turn it off, when something made her pause.
She wasn't all that great at the hunting thing, and she knew it. The raw
ability was there--she could see in the dark, she could hear faint, mysterious
crunching noises at fifty paces, she could pick Tara's clothes out of
a pile of laundry blindfolded by the scent...but telling one mysterious
crunching noise from another was another matter. It wasn't that Spike
hadn't tried to teach her, but...she'd slacked. With verve and determination.
Left to his own devices her sire would certainly have lost patience and
resorted to the Angelus Method ("You don't learn, you don't eat")
on her, but there was Tara. And Buffy. And she was a noble vampire, living
in a town with a twenty-four-hour butcher, and no intention of snacking
on infants, so: slackage emerged triumphant. And probably? Better all
around that way, because deep down, the thought of her fangs tearing into
living flesh stirred an excited little flutter in her stomach, and she
couldn't help wondering just a tiny, ultra-miniturized bit how much richer
and better and warmer that lovely blood-taste would be coming straight
from the vein. Which was bad. Very bad.
Except now that she really needed the skills for a virtuous enterprise,
she didn't have them. What Spike had said about relaxing into the night,
becoming part of it? Willow stood still and allowed the nocturnal symphony
to wash over her, wind and distant cars and the defiant late-night song
of a mockingbird. She could still hear voices from the crypt, and Denny'd
tuned a radio to one of his everlasting salsa stations, but this had come
from the other direction. The faint crackle of vegetation crushing beneath
stealthy feet, or just a stray ground squirrel? She sniffed the breeze,
but whatever it was was staying safely downwind of her.
Maybe it was Cain, come back to cause trouble. Definite possibility there.
Spike was way too cavalier about Cain. Maybe he did have friends in low
places. Spike's business was small, true, but since the Hellmouth had
closed, Sunnydale wasn't attracting the huge number of exotic demons it
had in the past, and competition was getting tougher.
She was confident that
she could handle Cain. Maybe she even wanted to handle Cain. Willow pulled
her jacket tightly around herself and started off in the direction of
the mysterious noise, moving as silently as she knew how. A stand of junipers
loomed before her, dark upright sentinels clustered around a weatherbeaten
mausoleum. Was something moving beneath the shadows of the trees? Willow
faded back into the shadow of the marble walls and flattened her shoulders
to the cool stone, holding her nonexistent breath. Not that she wanted
to impress Tara, but...OK, she wanted to impress Tara. Spike hadn't just
asked her along to be nice, because Spike, nice? Sheeyah. Maybe she wasn't
UberWitch any longer, but she could still use her semi-awesome, why-didn't-I-listen-when-Spike-tried-to-teach-me-this-sneaky-predator-stuff
powers for good, darn it. She could--
A dark figure cannonballed out of the underbrush, striking Willow in the
midsection and rolling her over backwards on the damp grass. After a second's
panic, Willow dredged up her lessons and made a clumsy left-handed grab
for her attacker's arm--clumsy, but faster than any human could block.
Her attacker blocked it. Her cell phone tumbled across the grass, buzzing.
Willow dug her heels into the turf for leverage and flopped like a gaffed
salmon, but a pair of slim, muscular thighs pinned her arms to her sides
and a stake-point sharp and deadly as desire pressed down against her
heart. Long dark hair lashed her face and flipped back over her attacker's
shoulders, revealing a delicate, olive-skinned face with almond eyes and
a wide, generous mouth.
"Hello, cutie," the girl said with a triumphant grin, bracing
to ram the stake home. "I'm Kennedy, and you're dust."
Continued in Chapter 2