"Angels are terrible things, my Spike. Demons of the light they are, with steel tipped pinions and hair like candyfloss that cuts your tongue to ribbons. They'll come for us all one day, them with their sharp bones and huge willies."
--~Drusilla~ The Catholic Fancies
Xander pulled the car up near the delivery door half an hour after sunset. He knew the routine. They'd got in and out this way before, short cut through the food prep area then through the basement to the morgue. At least in this particular hospital. Weird to think they knew how to get into the dead people zone in all three hospitals in town.
He had ten pints of blood in a cooler in the back seat, which was not routine, had never been part of this routine. But she said get them, bring them, so he did.
A long hollow creak from the door, narrow stream of light spilling out over the tarmac and there they were. Jesus. Even from this distance the guy looked like hell. She was practically carrying him, wrapped in a sheet, pretty much naked, but then that's how most people woke up in the morgue.
Duh. Most people don't wake up in a morgue. Only in Sunnydale would any sane person entertain such a thought.
Spike looked much smaller than seemed altogether natural. And strange as it was to admit, all was not right with the world when Spike looked diminished or in anyway so helpless. The last time he'd seen him really trashed was after the whole Glory thing, but he'd still had most of his clothes on that time. He wasn't naked and didn't look as if bad people had torn the wings off him and played kick the angel around heaven's schoolyard.
Which was just a crazy image and where the hell had that come from?
It was an attitude thing Spike had going for him really. The whole Big Bad thing. And it was nowhere to be seen at the moment, which is why he looked a little like Christ coming down off the cross carried by his long suffering mother. Slumped down in Buffy's grasp, his bare feet turned under, dragged over the pavement as she hurried towards the car. Oh man, talk about your stubbed toes.
She shifted the arm she had around his back and tried to push him upright, trying like hell to get his feet under him again, and she was moving fast, her face tight and tense and -
"Open the door, open the goddamned door."
He did and the two of them tumbled into the back. He hopped in the driver's seat again, put the car into gear and sped away from the receiving dock. "Where are we taking him?"
"No." It was so muddied that voice and so low.
"Spike. My house."
"No." This time a whisper. "Lemme out."
"Spike. Come on, man. Seriously. You're dressed like Caesar after the stabbage."
The voice was ragged and huge, roaring through a mouthful of marbles, or perhaps broken teeth. "I. Want. Out. NOW!"
Thrashing in the back seat. Quick glances in the rear-view mirror showed Buffy, just Buffy with that steely expression she got. Wrestling the invisible man.
"Buff, maybe he'd feel more comfortable at his own...uh, place, you know."
"We are going to my house." A thump on the vinyl seat. Was that surrender or collapse? A moan.
Xander's fingers went white-knuckled on the steering wheel, a sudden churning nausea in his gut. "He doesn't want to go there!"
"Too bad." The lid of the cooler opened up. A crinkle sound. "Here. Drink this."
"Stop. Stop it." Couldn't see, but assumed he was moving his face from the offering.
"Do you have any blood left in your entire body? Just drink. Jesus Christ!"
Surrendered quietly then, too battered to fight her. He drank four pints on the drive there and didn't say another word to either of them.
Wings spread, searing light sealing him off from everything. Within the blot of light created by the hummingbird beat of huge terrible wings, a narrow alley became a dark bed of bricks, mortar, broken glass, garbage spilled from rubbish bins, splintered pallets, crushed cardboard boxes. He couldn't look anywhere but inside himself. He could fight back though, so he knew they were nothing like human. Detached from their wings they moved towards him, grace and majesty, in form and function so like men. They beat and raped him and took no pleasure in it, said nothing until after. But he couldn't think about that. What they'd said. Not yet.
Worst part really was that they'd taken his coat, his leather, his trophy. Taken him up against a wall, and on his hands and knees, and then stole his coat. Left him for dead. He was already dead. So ha ha you fucking bastards. Ha bloody ha.
Pawing his way up the bricks. Some building he should have recognized. The wall felt slimy and crumbly at the same time. His fingernails were torn and the pads on his fingers were raw. The slimy was blood and the crumbly was from where he'd torn the mortar from between the bricks, crushed some of the bricks themselves.
He'd roared, pushed up against this wall, trying to frighten them away with his scary face, while a hand smooth as kid leather, but hard and hot, had stroked his cheek burning him with tenderness and murmured wordless comfort. No fire in his head when he was trying to fight them and oh how patient they'd been, so patient with his fighting them, like good parents waiting out a tantrum, holding his arms to keep him from hurting himself while they hurt him and now pain waited on the periphery, danced in close and taunted him with what it would do to him later, and it was going to be everywhere inside, in each extremity of each digit, firing off in every nerve. Pain was hovering around him just waiting until he stopped thinking about the coat.
As soon as he stopped thinking about the coat he would feel and know and have to think about what they were, and what they'd done and said, and what it meant. Their steely resolve and their shiny skin and eyes too bright and the hum hum hum of something moving the air too fast or something like, oh what was the sound, like the buzz of florescent lights, only the light had been a million times brighter over there where the wings were beating. And more light had radiated from every muscle and sinew and cold purposeful act and he needed to find his belt and pull up and tuck in and make himself presentable and they stole his coat and fucked him in an alley and stole his coat. Still had his boots though which was good because he didn't fancy having to explain where he'd lost his boots and the belt was somewhere somewhere over over somewhere - there. It had blood on it. The buckle was bloody. He should find a phone. Where the fuck am I is that 3rd am I near the Lovejoy Market there's a phone there's a phone there and who will you call idiot bastards stole my coat. He'd been drinking and he talked too much everyone knew that he shot off his mouth and so he should have just shut up when will he ever learn to shut the fuck up need to find my fucking coat fucking bastards.
Nope. Not walking anywhere. Just wait. Can't sit down can't stand up can't fucking walk pain is just right there very close and losing it losing oh oh god oh god no good. Lie down. Lie down and let it come. Can't escape it anyway. Let it come. Sleep now. Die later. The sun'll come up tomorrow la la ha ha. Let it come.
Instead of the sun, awareness rose. And pain bloomed again in the dark.
Tara set up the sofa bed in the basement as fast as she could. All quiet efficiency, trying not to look at him as he leaned heavily against the cement wall. The others had gone back upstairs, shuffling around, uncomfortable, feeling useless, anxious, and in the way.
The basement was still a little musty, but she comforted herself with the idea that it was more familiar that way, dark like a crypt. That was good, right? Buffy was taking care of him. That was good too. She supposed. She hoped. The freezer was down here and there was an old microwave sitting on a workbench. Really old microwave. A giant one. Still, better than nothing. She'd bring him one of those big soup mugs from the kitchen. All the comforts of home, practically.
"There you go." She patted the lumpy mattress.
He held the hospital sheet tight around him, moved with heartbreaking slowness the short few steps across the floor, and eased onto the bed.
"We're going over in the morning to pick up some clothes for you," she said, pulling the blankets over him.
"Thanks," he said.
"Do you want me to get you anything?"
And she thought he said something about his coat, but when she asked him again he said, "Cigarettes."
"It had to be humans, right?"
"Who else? He'd have kicked ass on anyone else."
"Not if there were a lot of them. Hellmouth breeds some pretty powerful demons you know."
"Or like a million vampires could have jumped him, right?"
"Well, you know, more than ten."
"No. The vamps hate him. They would have finished him off. Demons maybe. He gambles with some of them. Maybe it had something to do with a debt. In which case he's an idiot."
"Jeez, Buffy! You've called him an idiot like a million times already-"
"Again with the million. Shouldn't you be in bed? You still have school in the morning."
"Way to change the subject. He's all beat up! Why do you have to kick people when they're down?"
"I'm not! And he's not people and-I don't! He gets himself into these situations and then expects me to bail him out."
"Buff, doesn't seem like he was expecting much of anything from you. We wouldn't have known if he didn't have that piece of paper in his pocket-"
"Kind of strange the only thing he had in his pocket was the phone number to the Magic Box, don't you think?"
"Well it is the best place in town to get all his magical needs met. What other number would he need? You're all there all the time anyway. Not buying anything."
"If somebody hadn't spotted him in that alley and called 911 he would have been crispy in another hour. We never would have known what happened to him. He just would have been - poof! Gone. No more Spike."
"Whereas now he's all mangled and pulpy like a dog that got hit by a car- What?"
"He's not a dog!"
"No, hey, Dawn that's not what-"
"I still can't believe he woke up in a drawer. The ultimate creepy."
"He wants cigarettes," Tara said coming into the dining room. "Anybody know what brand?"
"Marlboro Reds." Buffy said. "But he can't - never mind."
In the dream they lost their angelic glow. Just hard men like in a prison film. In fact, the alley looked a bit like a prison yard. And then it simply was one. The fences glowed and sizzled, sparks of bluish light coming off loops of barbed wire. The guard towers were so tall he couldn't see the little guardhouses up top. But he knew the guards were watching from those lofty perches. Knew they wouldn't do anything. And so it went on. Again. Different but with the same emotions, the blows in the dream echoing the dull throbbing real pain in his body, an awareness not so much lucid as merely set to one side-
He jerked, hand closing around the club about to strike. A sharp gasp and his eyes opened onto Buffy's face, her grimace of pain as he twisted her wrist hard enough to snap the bone in anyone else. She was kneeling next to the bed. Must have touched his face. Tenderness now. That was sodding rich wasn't it?
"Shit," he whispered. Let go of her wrist.
"Sorry. My fault. Should have expected you to be jumpy."
Rolling onto his back, a sob of pain escaped him and he tried to turn it into a laugh. "If I could just...jump out of my skin. That would be jolly."
"I think I've got Demerol still, from when Mom was...it's in the...I'll go get it." She leapt up and started for the stairs.
"'S'okay. Don't trouble yourself. Won't help much."
She stopped. He could feel her anxiety like a weight pressing down on his chest. He closed his eyes again. Heard the scrape of metal as she pulled a chair closer to the bed. Bloody hell. Now she was going to ask questions.
"So, what happened?"
"What's it look like? Got beat up."
He could tell by her breathing she was making a concerted effort not to show her frustration. "By who or what?" He took too long to answer. He wasn't going to answer but she didn't know that. "Look, I don't know what you've been into lately, so if it's some kind of demon mafia or-"
He laughed. Really laughed this time. Filtered, as it was through a swollen jaw, big fat split lip, and broken ribs. "Demon mafia. They want their kittens by Tuesday or I'm dust."
"All right. Humans then. Some kind of gang?"
He blinked up at the ceiling and said nothing. A long forever minute passed and still nothing.
"I-I know this is probably embarrassing, humiliating, shameful-"
"Yeah. Thanks. Wouldn't have thought up the shameful part myself. Glinda get me those smokes by any chance? Dying for a fag here."
"You know, normally you'd say you'd kill for one."
"I'm learning to accept my limitations."
"Look. I can't remember. When I do, I'll be sure to inform you so you can go kick their glowing white arses for me."
"FUCK! Can I just have a cigarette for fuck's sake?" The outburst cost him. Pain tangled in his throat, hissed through his teeth in a barely controlled leak before it came choking out of him. Shameful, yes, you stupid bint, and now tears squeezing from the corners of his tightly shuttered eyes, and even that hurt, and he really just wanted her to go away now.
Thankfully, she did.
He lay there, listening to the sounds above his head, distracting himself by simple exercises of the senses. Identifying heartbeats, footfalls. Which woman was on the rag? That'd be Anya. The others were all within days of each other. Proximity. Heady experience. Not tonight though. The kettle was on, someone making tea, microwave popcorn, oily fake butter, salt on his tongue, what time was it? Harris's heavy tread, now Dawn's, basement door opening, no, no, go to bed girl-
"Dawnie, no." That was Tara. Tara to the rescue. Nice kitty. "Maybe tomorrow, 'kay?"
It was Tara came down the basement steps. Brought him a cuppa, how nice, a pack of Marlboros, how'd she know, and brand new pink Bic - pink, ah well. She made a joke about pink being a healing colour. Placed a chipped saucer for the ashes on the chair Buffy'd left near the bed. Put the mug there.
"I think I remember how you take your tea. I hope anyway. They only have skim milk. Sorry."
It hurt to smile, but he did it for her. Voluptuous peach. Bet she kept cream in the fridge. She held out a little brown prescription bottle. "Demerol. Buffy kind of insisted."
He looked at her hand but made no move to take the bottle from her so she set it next to the saucer, gave his attention to the cigs. Didn't bother with the "packing of the tobacco" ritual, but went directly to the ripping of cellophane, pulling out of foil. His fingers were clumsy, the cigarettes nestled so tightly together in the box, that a scant second's fumbling was too much frustration. And the idea that he would cry because he couldn't get a cigarette out of the packet was just too bloody much.
She took it from him and teased a fag out. Lit it for him where it bobbed between scabby lips. She was so gentle and calm.
Once upon a time he would have been sweet about killing her, because he didn't always want the fight, or need it. Feeling her tremble. Big soft breasts smashed against his chest, one hand on her fleshy bottom pulling her tight to him and the other clutching the back of her skull, all that pretty hair tangled in his fingers as he turned her face away, her big eyes wider still, a sidelong gaze that watched, then couldn't watch as his teeth pierced her skin and sunk into her neck like needles full of heroin. He would share his euphoria with her in those moments before death. He would have done it sweetly and with care. Now she brings him tea and lights his cigarette with a healing colour.
Noting the sudden rush of blood to her cheeks, he was troubled by the idea that she knew what he'd been thinking. Why should it trouble him? Had everyone forgotten what he was? What he is still?
"They stole my coat." A whispered confidence as he sucked the drug into his body, ash on the tip an inch long, making a game of when the ash would fall. He could tell her. She'd help him get his duster back, this white-magic witch with her power all in truth and healing. Who better to converse with the agents of light? "I need your help to find them. Get it back."
"Oh. Oh. Wouldn't-wouldn't it be better if-I mean-Buffy or-or even Willow. She's got more -"
"You. It's got to be white magic."
She'd leaned forward to hear him, his voice so hushed, and her expression suddenly wary, as if she also feared they'd come if he spoke too loud.
He would find them. That's how it would be. So, sshhh, pretty witch, sshhh.
"I-I can try," she whispered back. "Maybe a locator spell, but you'd have to- you'll have to tell me more about who- what they are-"
He didn't know what it was she saw in his eyes, but whatever it was caused her to place her hand over his and squeeze. "We'll talk later. Get some rest now."
One of the men held up the trophy coat then flourished it about like a matador. Great leathern wings unfolded from it. Each scar in the leather was vivid and an area on one pocket was rubbed shiny in the shape of a pack of cigarettes.
"Give it. That's mine."
"Not any more. Our fallen warrior needs to get to heaven," said the man.
"But I won!" Spike said. "You pushed me down. It's not fair."
The man slipped his arms through the sleeves and started spinning about, whirling so fast that black turned into white and floated away like a dandelion seed.
Woke up knowing everyone else was asleep, here or elsewhere, in his or her little bed. All the aches in his body had mapped out their own territories now, battling for dominion over his attention.
He'd lied about the pills. Seven or eight would do it. That's how many he took last time. That Glory Bitch Glory Hallelujah time. Watcher had left him some Demerol out of a distorted mercy. The sort granted an animal, albeit one capable of fetching its own glass of water with which to swallow them down. And he wouldn't have taken them at all if not for that astonishing kiss from Buffy's warm blood-rich lips. Then it was all right. Float away. Long dry sleep. Let the scabby minions return. Wouldn't have mattered. He'd have died a happy camper.
But if he swallowed them now, then what? He'd be too drugged to wake himself up. They could come for him. Come back. And he wasn't ready.
What's left to take? They've taken everything. You're free now.
Christ. Gotta get out of here.
There were storage bins full of clothes on rickety metal shelves that were spared the flooded basement disaster. God bless Rubbermaid. Most of them full of baby clothes, tiny little pastel whimsies that hurt his eyes to look at. And some of Joyce's things her babies couldn't get rid of when she'd passed. In one bin, a few items like warm ups and sweatshirts. Sunnydale High School gym togs. Those'd work. No shoes to fit, but he could make it to the cemetery barefoot. Long as he didn't run into nasties on the way. He couldn't stay here. He couldn't. They'd be unrelenting with their questions, those annoying intrusive children.
He found an axe near the furnace. Rusty edged sorry old thing. Not like the good weapons upstairs. This was something for Christmas tree trunks and the roots of dead shrubs, but better than nothing.
As he made his way back to his world, mausoleums and marble markers, goofer dust and black-cat bones, all the dark mojo of death and cemeteries - the idea that his coat was there, in the crypt, fixed itself in his mind. He'd forgotten it, misplaced at the side of the bed, or it lay crumpled on a sarcophagus under a tatty blanket. He hadn't even been wearing it probably, because it was warmish night before this. And he didn't always wear it. Not always. Therefore it would be waiting for him upon his return. The lining would still bear the trace of her sweat, her power, her rage and fear and surrender buried deep in the seams. The terrible beauty of that moment before he killed her, the Yes and the Yours Now he'd seen in her eyes. That was why he took it off her body in the first place. And he'd made death quick hadn't he? A snap of her neck and not a drop of her blood passed his lips. She was a bloody great kill, that girl, brilliant. He wore the coat to honour her as much as a mark of his triumph over her.
It had to be there and so in his mind it was. He needed to get home. Claim it.
Slow going though, barefoot on the streets and fuck, fuck, hard enough to walk because -
Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. The axe scraped the pavement, a dead weight dragged along beside him. Wasn't sure he could lift it above his shoulder. Stupid. Buggered now, aren't you, Spike? Fucked and fucked again.
He felt his kneecaps hit the median strip as soon as he stepped onto it. It was spongy grass, so not too bad, and he thought he might as well have a lie down while he was there. Just for a minute.
She's a great beautiful thing, this Slayer, swaying with the rhythm of the subway train, dancing in close then away in her platform boots, an intoxicating blend of Flower power and Black power. A glint, a flash in his eye, halo of an afro framed bright in the rattling car, leather wings outstretched, steel-tipped and simmering. Oh those warrior angels, always so painful to look upon, but he'd never been afraid like some. If looking into the eyes of an angel meant immolation, than bring it on baby.
They dance together the way enemies do, intimate and powerful as a kiss, the open sesame of mouth on mouth. She's on him, straddling his sex. A plunge into darkness, and then he's on her straddling her sex. He looks into the face of God and then snaps her neck.
He takes his trophy.
He rapes the corpse.
Which never happened.
Spike lurched up, vamped out, snarling, axe in hand.
Buffy leapt back and stood under the buzz of a flickering streetlamp, her arms raised, palms out, a classic gesture - no weapons. "It's okay. It's okay. Just me."
He was looking at her with the feral eyes of an animal backed into a corner. His voice too well reasoned for that face. "What are you doing here?"
She bit back the easy sartorial observation that sprang to her tongue. That would have been kicking him while he was down. It was the Maalox solution of witty quips she used to quell anxiety. And at the moment her needs needed to take a back seat.
"I was going to ask you the same thing," she said. "Taking a little snooze in the middle of the road? Have a bed at my house just for you."
His demon retreated like melting wax from a bronze casting, leaving the man-shape to deal. Legs wobbly, he nevertheless managed to pull himself upright and turn away from her with renewed purpose. "I have to get home now."
She could only hope he meant the crypt and hadn't developed some vampire version of Alzheimer's. Remembering a home he'd never be able to get back to. "Um...alrighty then." She came up beside him careful not to touch him. "Can I - uh, can I carry the axe for you? Looks like it's heavy."
"Okay." But he didn't make a move to pass it to her. She reached for it- "I think it's enchanted or something," he said.
"Uh huh." Trying to pry his fingers from the splintered handle. Trying to push down a queer little surge of panic.
"'S a joke Slayer. Haven't lost my mind. Just my dignity."
"Oh. Oh, good." Buffy put the axe over her shoulder, once again congratulating herself on her restraint as he resumed his limping shuffle along the median strip. He was wide open to her at this moment and she wondered at herself, the way she had to bite her tongue even now to resist an insult. To indulge now would be mere cruelty, like tormenting a dog that'd got its leash wrapped around a tree. In the back of her mind was a tiny thought, that she was often cruel to him just because it was easy, irresistible the way he left himself vulnerable to attack in her presence. And even now she had the urge, a habit all tangled up with her concern. Then, shame. Jesus. He was mess. Beaten down and a tiny bit out of his mind. The hour until dawn was slinking along behind them getting ready to pounce and he seemed barely aware of it. Suddenly, she was afraid she would lose him. Not to the sun, but something else, something he knew and wasn't telling her.
It's not here. It's not here.
"Spike? Spike? Spike!" It was like shouting into the wind. She tried to stop him, hold him, shake him, get him to look at her as his stumbling, bumbling search in the crypt became more frantic. Then he was on his knees, crawling and seeking and weeping for what she still had no idea. Wasn't sure he did.
"What's going on? What's happening? Tell me. Please. Please tell me!"
"It's not here."
"What? Let me help. What are you looking for?"
"Maybe...maybe it's at the hospital, you know, with the rest of your stuff. I'll check this afternoon okay---we'll find it-"
He gazed at her, a brief flare of hope, then the feeling collapsed in on itself and she had to turn away from the dull despair in his eyes and the swollen mess that was his face. "No. 'S gone. They took it."
"Somebody beat you to a pulp for that damned coat? Who?" He rolled away from her. "Who did this?"
"Done. Me." The words were muffled and slurred, his cheek pressed against the floor, swollen lips moving. The emotional resonance gave terrible significance to the words but still they made no sense to her. Her hard gulp echoed in the room.
"You're gonna be okay," she murmured. Her hand hovered over his shoulder, not touching, afraid to touch.
"'S finished. Go."
She didn't argue with him, but she couldn't just leave him there. Wouldn't. He was- there was something really wrong. Spike was a bounce back kind of guy. It was his nature. Or maybe just his demon nature, but he'd been beat halfway to hell before and came up fighting. He liked fighting the odds, didn't he?
Buffy Summers was not good with helpless, not her own sense of it anyway. She took her cell phone out of her back pocket and hit Tara's number.
"He's going to be pissed off you know," Tara said as they made their way back to Revello Drive. It was only seven in the morning. Still cool in the shadows.
"Well, maybe he'll sleep until nightfall and won't even know we did it," Buffy said.
"You really think he'd try?" Tara was never comfortable doing spells for a third party without them knowing, even if it was presumably for that third party's own good. Yet, she'd put a binding spell on the door so he couldn't get out, and a glamour on it so it wouldn't be easy to find a way in from the outside.
"A walk in the sun? I dunno. Yeah. Maybe. Anyway, best to keep him...safe. And besides what if these- whatever they were - come looking for him?"
"Any clues as to who? Or why?"
"He didn't say who. But he said they took his coat."
"Oh yeah, he mentioned that last night."
The witch got flustered at the vaguely accusatory tone. "When- when I brought him the cigarettes. He was- he wanted me to help find his coat. He said they stole it. Didn't say who they were only that he needed white magic to get it back."
"So humans then. Or... but why white magic against- I don't get it."
"I-I can, you know, swing by after class and see if he- he might talk to me." She ventured a glance at Buffy and saw something in her features - something petty and jealous on the surface and indefinable underneath. "I mean, I mean because he started to last night. Because, you know, of the white magic thing."
Buffy was wearing her Slayer glower. Tara looked away. Then they were out in the sunlight again and whatever she'd seen was not evident in Buffy's voice. "Why is this freaking me out so much?"
Because you hate it when things you take for granted change, Tara thought. Because if you feel compassion you'll have to feel a bunch of other things. Because--
"I mean I know he'll recover," Buffy went on. "It's Spike, right? In a week we won't even be able to tell anything happened."
"Um, well, that's kind of just on the outside though isn't it? We may never know what happened to him on the inside."
"That's what he said. Could have been some colourful smart-ass remark, but it's the most information we've got so far."
"What about hospital records? Willow could get into the files, right?"
"What? An autopsy report?"
"Okay, so obviously they didn't start an autopsy-"
"Which is of the good."
"But they would have examined him, right? We'd know if there was anything...Some weird glowing demon goo or poison or something."
"I don't think he's gone off the deep end because of demon goo, Xander."
"He, uh, he hasn't actually gone off the deep end though right? No PTSD, Viet Nam Vet, disgruntled postal worker kind of deep end, right? Or, God! No sudden lack of chippiness?"
"He can barely walk so I doubt a rampage is in the picture any time soon. Will? Could you hack in to hospital files and see if they did find something weird?"
"I don't think those reports would even be scanned in yet. It's only been a day or so, and all that stuff is entered by hand on standard forms, isn't it? And besides...uh, body missing now. Kind of a big snafu losing a body."
"This is Sunnydale. They probably have a special file just for dead bodies that get up and walk out-"
"There are a number of demons that glow."
Anya delivered this bit of information while rushing past the table on her way to the register. Her annoyance admirably held in check, she thought. At least she hadn't been overt about it. They would have ignored it in any case, firmly entrenched as they were in the importance of their business, and clinging as they so often did to a certain sense of entitlement. Taking up the large table on this late, bright, very busy Friday afternoon.
It didn't often occur to the Scooby Gang that discussions about things like morgues, disappearing bodies, and glowing demons might be cause for consternation to customers looking for healing crystals and love spell ingredients.
She rang up the purchase, smiling her "thank you for shopping at The Magic Box" smile that she'd spent so much time perfecting in the mirror at home. She hardly had to force it anymore, because being at the shop selling useful things to people made her feel good. It troubled her that her friends didn't seem to see the inappropriateness of using the shop for their meetings during business hours.
She returned with a feather duster and began dusting all the shelves near the table. Noticed they were all waiting for her to elucidate, wearing expectant and irritable expressions. Good.
"There are demons that excrete a kind of phosphorescent substance from their pores," she explained, feathered wand whipping about. Willow sneezed several times, which gave her some small satisfaction. "But only in their mating season. And the Vashverdahl glow a greenish colour after they moult. Those are huge, but they don't move very fast."
Adjusting a glass jar, she eyed the level of Jalop root then cast a suspicious eye at the redhead before adding, "And then of course, there are angels."
"Huh?" Buffy said.
Xander said, "And can I just add a wha-?" Anya very much wished that Xander would start work on a new construction project of some sort soon.
"Angels. Daemon Luminati," she explained exasperated by their expressions of incredulity. "You know, forces of darkness on one side, forces of light on the other. Many of the lower beings walk the middle path of course. A little more white, a little more black sometimes, but essentially neutral like most human beings-"
"We're talking demons now, not Dungeons and Dragons right?"
"Ha ha, yes, very amusing. If you want to make merry with the most elemental truths of the demon world go ahead. I'm only trying to provide potentially useful information." So you will all leave.
"Vampires, force of darkness, obviously," Buffy ventured.
"Obviously, yes. A Slayer would be an example of a demon of light."
"I'm not a demon."
"All mystical power originates from the same source, dividing and recombining as it moves into the other dimensions."
"I'm not a demon!"
"Suit yourself. I'm just telling you what I know."
"What do these light thingies look like?"
"I've never seen one. I don't know many demons of the dark-side that have."
"And why would these demons of light want to beat the crap out of Spike?"
"I doubt it could have been demons of light. Pure dark and pure light demons tend to cancel each other out in a spectacular way. Massive implosion. We'd have a big gaping hole where Sunnydale used to be. Except...well, Spike's not exactly a force of darkness anymore, is he?"
"More like he's staggering down the double yellow line on the Good versus Evil Highway."
"Score excellent metaphor to Willow Rosenberg, reigning champion!" Xander and Willow high-fived.
"Can we stay on topic, please?"
"I suppose Luminati could have done it and he'd live to tell the tale. I don't know why they'd bother though. Seems more like a human act than an angelic one."
"Okay. So what would make humans glow?"
Anya smiled. "Oh we have all kinds of things available here in the shop. And also there are some herbs you can use with specific incantations that will significantly increase human strength and endurance. Temporarily of course and such a hang-over the next day."
"Awful lot of trouble just to take a leather coat."
"You gotta admit though, it was a really cool leather coat. All comfy and broken in." Xander glanced around at the faces of his gals. "Kind of a guy thing. Guys have killed other guys for less, you know."
The bell over the transom gave a jazzy jangle as a pierced and tattooed customer left the store with his dreadlocked mate. Tara did a little dance with the couple, him holding the door for her and her assuming she was in their way. She dipped her chin, veil of hair falling across her face as she murmured thanks he likely didn't hear before she made a beeline for the table.
"Did you see him, did you talk to him?"
"Give her a chance to catch her breath, Buffy."
"It's all right. My breath is caught. And he was still crashed when I went by at lunch. Hadn't really moved from where we left him. I tried to fortify the spells on the door, but they'll be fading pretty soon..." She glanced at Willow, quick, furtive. "Mine don't last very long."
"The sun'll be down in a little while anyway," Buffy said then looked at the clock with a frown. "Dawn was supposed to come here after school. I said that, right? You heard me tell her that this morning, right?"
"It's Friday," Willow said. "Essential loitering and hanging out to do on Fridays after school as I recall."
"It's almost dark though. We didn't hang out at the school until dark."
"And just where were you those three years, little missy?" Willow teased.
"That was different! Slayer business! We weren't just hanging out in the parking lot while boys flexed and revved their engines."
"She's probably gone to see Spike," Anya said. "She was quite concerned about him last night and mentioned that she might."
They all wished loudly that Anya had mentioned it earlier. Considering how quickly it got them out the door she rather wished the same.
Bloody wonderful. Yet another dream full of specious symbolism. The point, the point, when would his subconscious get to the fucking point?
Willow had just offered him a magic chocolate chip cookie she'd baked herself, insisting that he'd be a better person if he ate one. His mind, hyper-aware of its dreaming state, protested to his attackers (certain they were pulling the strings in this dream) that he'd already swallowed the chip; he'd accepted it and didn't see why he should have to eat the damned cookie now.
"That chip is gone," Willow said. "These are bittersweet chips."
"Bittersweet, eh?" He wriggled his fingers in her face. "Ooh. Significant. Can we skip ahead to the painful conclusions, hard lessons learned part? I'd very much like to wake up. Things to be. Places to do."
She smiled and broke the cookie in half. It was still warm, the bits of chocolate oozing black as old blood. "Which half do you want?"
"Since when do I get to choose?"
"Since always." Her brow wrinkled and she shoved the golden brown gooey morsel at him. "Choose."
Fine. Play along. He pointed to her left hand. "That one."
She clicked her tongue.
"All right. That one, then."
She drew in a hissing breath through her teeth.
"Oh bloody hell, Red! What do you want me to do here?"
"These aren't choices!" he screamed. And he pushed his hand into her smiling face and pushed and pushed, grinding down her smile until it was nothing. Had her pinned beneath him now, his hand covering her face like a starfish, smothering the smugness out of her, and the edges of the dream dissolved...
He was not surprised to find a real, warm, struggling body lying beneath him. He'd half expected it. It was the calm, the stillness, the sweet serene silence in his head that surprised him.
"Dawn." Her eyes were so big, little child BIG, and her small fists were beating at him and her long skinny legs jerked and her heels pounded the floor and why was it taking so long for him to move his hand, why was it taking so long for him to move-
"Dawn." He pushed away, off and back. Staring at her.
She took a few quick shallow breaths, then sucked in a lung full and started to wail like a kid that had the air knocked out of her falling off a swing.
He found himself chanting a mantra, "I'm sorry petal, I'm sorry, I didn't know baby, I'm so sorry..." over and over even as the singular part of his body that was feeling no pain considered what it meant that there wasn't any pain. He'd had his hand over her mouth and nose just then, hadn't he? Trying to kill the arrogant tormentor in his dream-
Ah. But Dawn didn't know, or hadn't realized it yet. Perhaps she wouldn't make the connection, her own mind full of fear and hurt at what he'd nearly done, her huge tears squirting out and the gasping sobs still coming. She would forgive him soon. He could see that. She was already thinking how she'd startled him, and him all battered and not quite in his right mind. She was already taking responsibility for the danger she'd put herself in, while clinging to the idea that she hadn't been in any real danger.
He considered testing that hypothesis. He wanted her to stop crying. Could he force her to stop? Slap her the way they did in old movies. As if that ever worked in real life. Or...he could take her head between his hands and push his fingers through her temples, crush her skull. Or...he could shake her really hard. Or...
"Sorry I frightened you, sweetheart. Not hurt, are you?"
"No. It's-it's my fault. I scared you too, I guess." She gave a soggy little laugh, and pulled the heels of her hands across eyes and blotchy cheeks, smearing her careful Look At Me I'm A Woman cosmetics.
He'd killed whores younger than she, back in the day. Christ, so many of them in London, you could pluck 'em like fruit from a tree. Dru used to joke he'd get a tummy ache. All those fleshy apricots. So many sweet juicy plums. Fucked and sucked 'em dry and no older than this one. Barely ripe, this girl.
He brushed away a strand of hair clinging to her damp cheek. Chestnut. They used to call this colour chestnut, he thought, rubbing it between his finger and thumb. He could smell her blood, rich with fear and love. Hear the heartbeat at her throat, eyes drawn to its hypnotic pulsing. His baby girl. Looking intensely at him now. Looking at the black and blue and swollen red of his face. Looking into his eyes and seeing... what?
No. Don't let her see it--
Her eyes widened. Her nostrils flared. Her mouth opened, a sharp little gasp.
"Oh no," she whispered.
The door flew open, banged against the wall. So predictable, his Slayer. To the rescue without even knowing who it was needed saving.
There was a flurry of anxious voices, questions, demands. He lay back on the ground, closed his eyes and shut it all off.
He'd been waiting for the Slayer and her coterie to come to his crypt and finish him off. Waiting very patiently he'd thought. He watched television while he waited, or rather, watched the pixilated flickerings of Lucys and Rickys, Vanna Whites and Judge Judys. Couldn't concentrate, couldn't imagine what was taking so long. Surely Little Sister told Big Sister, "Spike tried to smother me and he didn't even get a headache."
The peanut M&Ms all over the floor had likely been a gift from Dawn, brought to share that night - how many nights ago was that? The bag must have ripped open in the struggle between his dreaming and waking, bright candies rolling across the floor, working their way beneath the chair. The soles of his bare feet were stained in rainbow colours, and rested on a sticky, crunchy chocolate-peanut carpet. Mice were nibbling about his toes. As far as they could tell, there was no difference between him and the chair. Nothing to fear in anything that sat so still for so long.
The creak of the door however was reason to scatter.
Spike glanced over only long enough to acknowledge her presence then turned back to the television.
"You-you look a lot better tonight," Buffy said.
All the better to stake me then. "Recuperative powers," he croaked. Shit. Was that his voice? "Vampire thing."
"Right. I brought you some stuff. We did a couple of loads of laundry for you. Well, I did. Dawn never does laundry voluntarily."
What the hell? "You washed my clothes?"
"Yeah, well, not gonna make a habit of it, so don't get too cocky." Her chin, which had been jutting out defying him to make something of it, dipped down again, her eyes looking anywhere but at him. "So, um, clean clothes here if you want to get out of the Sunnydale High gym sweats. Wash up maybe."
He looked down at himself. A shrug. Eyes back on the screen. Friends. Stupid show. Chandler and Monica were getting married. When did that happen? What the fuck was going on?
"And I, uh, I brought fresh blood for you."
Was he hungry? He could hear his demon screaming at him from across a great chasm of indifference. YES, you bloody great prat! We're famished. Get up for fuck's sake! Kill the woman and then go hunting. She won't expect it. Getupgetupgetup-
"I'll just put it in the fridge then." The refrigerator door opened. "Yuck. How long has this been in here? It's all congealed. Well I suppose they don't put expiration dates on tubs of pig's blood. I'm gonna throw this one out, okay? Don't want it to get mixed up with the new stuff."
Shitfuckpiss. Dawn hadn't told her then. Idiot child! His body began to hum and he couldn't tell from what exactly. He was all feeling and no feeling and maybe it was anxiety or simply bloodlust or rage or terror or love or-
"Hey, um, Willow says she's got a few leads, but she still needs some information from you. If she had a description, or at least a name...maybe you heard one of their names? We could ask around if we had a name. Tara's gonna do some kind of spell. Willow can't because, you know...but Tara's pretty good. Once we narrow the parameters. Which bar were you at? Cuz Wil says you were found in the alley between Hadley and Lovejoy and there are two or three bars pretty close by to there. You weren't in that strip club, were you? I mean, not that it's any of my business anymore, not that it was my business ever. I mean just because we-"
shut up please shut up
"You're not listening are you?"
"Yeah. You want me to talk to Tara."
"I can bring her by later tonight."
"No. I don't want - it isn't-" Stop. Focus. Start again. "Look, it's not like I'm going to get the coat back, all right, so there's really no need for all this fuss."
"Ever consider the possibility of getting another coat?"
The pert sarcasm in her voice kept his eyes focused on the television screen. He couldn't look at her. Could not. Because the truth was burning behind his eyes and she'd see it, see the prison door wide open. More than the door. Those shiny fuckers had blown a hole in the goddamned walls. He was free now. Done his time in hard suffering, made restitution with the coat he'd worn like a second-hand soul for so many years. He could walk out anytime and there was no one to stop him, no one but her. And if he looked into her eyes he'd have to watch that painful awareness crawl across her face. A flicker of fear perhaps, then steely Slayer resolve. He could hope for sorrow and regret but what if he saw nothing at all? He'd rather she plunged the stake in his heart right through his back than to see a lack of even fleeting regret in her eyes.
"What the hell is this, Spike? Why are you obsessing about that stupid coat when you- You lost a lot more than a coat it seems to me."
Or...he could stand up. He could move across the room. Keep his eyes down, play on this unaccustomed sympathy she felt, nuzzle in close, looking for hugs and comfort, oh I'm just a little kicked puppy, give me love, snuffle, snuffle and oh her throat and oh the slow sweet pulse of her elusive compassion and the scent of blood tickling the back of his tongue and his tongue pressed to the hollow and the twitch in her cunt he knew so well, and was that cucumber melon body wash tonight, and the tingle in his extremities and his fangs descending and his cock rising and-
"You have no idea what I've lost," he said.
He could hear her tense breathing, could feel her thinking and imagined the little gears turning, fancied he knew what was coming next. He was wrong.
"We saw the medical examiner's report."
The statement stretched out and out and out, pulled taut then snapped like a rubber band - ping - shot across the room at him. He twitched when it hit.
"Willow has a friend," she continued, "this pre-med guy works at the hospital, he got it for her. There seemed to be more alcohol than actual blood in your veins - B-positive blood by the way, and I won't ask how you got that, but good thing because if it was pig's blood some little vampire would've been on the front page of the National Enquirer next week. The rest was pretty dry reading considering the graphic details, but we got the gist. I know, Spike. I know what happened."
His jaw clenched. Stupid meddling fucks. Sodding little bastards. "You think so? Because I'm pretty sure you don't."
The crunch of her shoe soles on the odd candy-coated peanut or two as she approached him obliquely, then stopped, as if knowing in her gut the wisdom of keeping manoeuvring distance between them...just in case. "Well, here's my take on it. A bunch of creepy redneck assholes - the human kind - beat you senseless then--" she took a breath, gearing herself to be grown-up Buffy in the face of something icky, but the word she chose was laughably coy. "Then - they assaulted you."
He laughed, a hot sigh of a laugh. "Assaulted? Bloody hell, Slayer, they fucked me sideways, reamed me royally and took my bloody coat. But they weren't human. And you and your little pals are never going to find them. Believe me, you don't want to."
"No. You don't want us to."
"Why? I mean I get that you feel, like, ashamed or something, and I can understand that. But you can't let them get away with this. And if you aren't ready to do something about it, then let me."
"Yes! Whatever's happened between you and me, you're still part of the team. I'm going to find these guys and make them pay!"
He leapt from the chair. "Who the hell asked you to? And what's this team business all of a sudden? Should I be grateful for the inclusion, because it's too little, too bloody late! I'm long done with slavering over some crumb tossed my way - Oh, wait. Hold on a minute. I know what this is about. Feeling guilty are we? Good heavens. Is it possible I've sufficiently paid for the sin of having loved you by getting fucked up the arse against my will?" She drew in a sharp breath. The past tense seemed to surprise her. Surprised him as well. He cocked his head, gave her the coldest thin line of a smile and was rewarded with a telltale tremor in her balled fists. "You know, I think you were right about me all along. Whatever I felt, it wasn't love. I don't have it in me."
Buffy blinked, her lashes like dewy spider webs, eyes mostly pupil ringed with green-gold and glistening. Tears or a trick of strobing light from the television, he wasn't sure which, wasn't sure if it mattered to him anymore. He considered an Angelus ploy, sweet boy charm, feint to the left, spring at her in his vamp face. She'd dust him right quick and there'd be an end to it. He wouldn't ever have to go outside, wouldn't have to find out how easily he could scribble all over the blank slate the angels had made of him. But then her fists uncurled and she took a deep breath.
"Okay," she said. "Okay. Now you're just trying to piss me off or hurt me so I won't pursue this. I understand that you want to be the one to decide how it's handled, but-"
That was very nearly an admission of feelings on her part. A week ago he would have pounced on it like a rawhide chew toy.
"Jesus fucking Christ woman! There's nothing to handle!" He held her in the snare of his gaze, nailed her in place with the monstrous sublime truth of it. "I'm free, I've been set free with fists and steel-toed boots and vicious ugly sex. It's poetic really."
The gaze she returned was full of pity and fear, not appreciation for the karmic elegance of the sentence and its execution. "How are you free, Spike? Cuz I'm not seeing it."
Then he couldn't hold her gaze anymore and he whispered, "You need to leave now."
"No. Don't do that. Leave."
And she did.
A Buddhist monk had once told him that vampires were instruments of karma for everyone but themselves. Spike had scoffed at that, at the monk, and even at his own need to engage the man in a dialogue on matters of philosophy and religion. He'd been with Dru for sixty years and she wasn't much with the intellectual discourse. He wanted to drink tea and have a civilized conversation before feeding, that's all.
Karma, he'd countered, was the same as the "God's will, God's plan" crap he'd heard as a boy. Worse it implied that victims deserved whatever they got. Drusilla had killed a number of tiny tots over the years. What possible karmic debt could they have accrued in their few short months on this world? At least with the C of E mothers could take comfort in the idea that their dead babies were safe in the bosom of the Lord. And with Christianity in general you had your Jesus, who, once you were on board with him, would take on all the bad things a bloke had done and make it all right with God. It was bleeding clever really.
Then the monk explained that karma was not about debts, but was, simply put, the law of cause and effect. Individual will in harmony with the universe made for good Cause. And good cause made for good effect. But individual will enslaved to animal passions brought only suffering. And what was a vampire but individual will inextricably bound to an animal whose passion brought suffering to everything it touched?
Oh, it was all so simple to the monk. He taught Spike a prayer to "bring the demon into harmony with the will of the universe," and they'd chanted together for a bit. Admittedly, Spike had experienced a sensation, strangely invigorating yet serene, right before he'd sunk his fangs into the man's throat. And being enlightened, the monk accepted that such was his karma. But even the body of an enlightened monk with no worldly attachments will fight death. Bodies do that, individual will or not. Yet, with his dying breath the monk had managed to say, "I am an instrument for your karma, vampire."
Now, as Spike stepped out into the night, snatches of the monk's chant resonated in the hollows of his body. But his demon was singing a song from a Bugs Bunny cartoon,
"A hunting we will go, a hunting we will go..."
You say, "What's in your fist?
What's in your head?
What's in your eyes?
What's in your bed?"
I don't know
But don't give up
The moon spilled through the leaves over his head, shifting shadows and undulating puddles of light beneath his feet as he chased the quickening blood and the pounding heart through the park. It was better than he remembered, like his first time in flavour, in anticipation, but without the clumsiness of inexperience. Like a great wolf he ran, steady, unhurried, wearing down his prey. He could smell her, young and plump and rosy, terrified, a familiar scent to the man, food to the beast.
He'd felt her quiver of fear from a distance, a soft blonde thing on a park bench, felt her know he was near and tasted the rush of adrenalin in her tensing muscles just before she took off. She'd headed for the street, but he kept cutting her off, forcing her to veer away, driving her into the heart of the park, and still she hadn't seen him. He was saving that for when he had her cornered. But he was in no rush. Make it last. Savour the moment. He might never get another. She'd have to kill him after this-
Fuck! Another vampire! Some stupid bloody fledgling, and he was driving her right towards it!
He went left, scrambling through a tight clump of camellias and raced along side, flanking her, unseen, but felt and heard. Sharp needles of moisture pelting his cheeks, a blizzard of torn petals flying off him, ahead now, a little farther and he'd cut her off, just in time to get between his prey and the opportunist who was waiting for her. He stepped onto the jogging path and she raced across it straight into his waiting arms.
Tara. Sshhh. Be vewy, vewy quiet. I'm hunting wabbit.
The witch took in his altered features without even blinking, looked over her shoulder, panted out, "There's one chasing me!"
He almost laughed. Spun about instead and plunged his hand into the surprised fledgling's chest. Pulled out the dead heart and tossed it aside. While the creature was adjusting to that development, Spike reached up and twisted its head off, completely off, blood and bone and viscera trailing over his arms for a moment before both body and head crumpled into dust
Tara began to babble behind him. "Shit, oh shit. I dropped my stake and oh shit. Buffy said the park was clean, she'd just gone through it or I wouldn't have- Spike? What's wrong?"
Shaking, shaking so hard his legs wouldn't hold him.
"What's the matter? Are you hurt? Are you sick?"
The feeling was moving inside him like a snake over hot rocks, sizzling and in a hurry, and everything hurt, and maybe it was shame, or maybe it was grief or failure or relief. All. None. Coiling tight around his throat now-
"Oh, oh, sweetie," Tara murmured. Her hand brushed over his shoulders, ignoring the face still bedecked in its demon visage, and she kept stoking his back until the demon went away and there was just a man sitting on the ground, shaking like crazy, choked with sobs. "It's okay, really, it's gonna be all right."
"Was it- was it you? Hunting me in the park?"
He didn't answer for such a long time that Tara thought he hadn't heard her over the noise - loud 80's rock music and louder patrons cheering the Lakers game on the giant screen that leered over the bar. But when he finally glanced up, just a flick of a gaze, the soft grunt of his response told her everything she didn't want to know, and it was all bound up in his eyes, confusion, shame, things she couldn't begin to fathom. How much easier it must have been for William the Bloody back when he was just a creature of the night with a creature-of-the-night agenda.
The bar had been his idea, which she thought was odd considering his recent not-so-pleasant experience. She'd wanted to take him to her tiny studio apartment and pour cups of calming tea down his throat, but he'd gone stiff at the suggestion, and then positively jittery when she offered to hang with him for a bit at his own place - that jiggly-eyed panic people got when they were afraid to be alone and afraid to be alone with someone, so she'd agreed to crowds and alcohol because, damn it, he really looked like he shouldn't be alone.
He didn't want to be alone, but now it was clear why he chose a crowded bar. Only the stupidest vampire would attack an intended victim openly in a bar.
Oh Goddess, she was sitting across from a vampire who'd chased her for a quarter mile through Weatherly Park with every intention of sucking the life's blood from her body. Tara leaned her head into her hands, fingernails digging into her scalp. "Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ," she whispered.
"Yeah," he said, in a voice too flat, too dead. "Blows, don't it?"
She didn't know why she felt it as betrayal, sudden, keen, and sharp the way that she did, or why the tears just squirted out in such an embarrassing manner, why her voice was all squeaky when she said, "I thought you liked me."
"I do." His gaze sidled towards the wall. "I-I didn't know it was you."
She picked up the cocktail napkin from under her wine glass and swiped her eyes. "For a blood-sucking fiend, you're not a very good liar, Spike."
"Yeah, all right. On some level I knew your scent, the way you move, all that. But it wasn't - I mean I wasn't out hunting you in particular. You weren't being singled out if that's what you're thinking."
"Great. Terrific." Blew her nose. "So I guess the chip doesn't work at all now, not just with Buffy." He looked startled and she dropped her gaze letting her hair fall over her face. "She told me a while back."
"She told someone. That's nice to know."
"Do you want her to kill you?"
"Not at this particular moment." He caught the eye of the cocktail server and gave the universal gesture for another round. Tara hadn't even finished the one she had but she didn't protest. Best to keep him talking until she talked him out of committing suicide by Slayer. Or maybe she shouldn't try. Maybe she should just tell Buffy. He could hurt a lot of people. She'd wait a few minutes, then go off to use the restroom, find a phone, make the call. Buffy would put him down quick like a rabid animal-
His eyes were black in the dim light of the booth as he peered at her, reading her thoughts despite the veil of hair she hoped hid all. "You tell her and she'll have to though, won't she?"
It wasn't a challenge, or an appeal to her sympathies; it was fact. In fact, it seemed he was hoping for that very thing. She held his continued existence in her hands and suddenly it pissed her off.
"You chickenshit!" Spike jumped, knocking his nearly empty glass and sending it rolling off the table. For a brief moment other mouths stopped yapping, and all eyes turned to access the situation with smirks or concern, before returning to previously scheduled programming.
"Putting the responsibility on my shoulders?" Tara continued. "Well f-f-fuck that!"
He leaned sideways to scoop the glass from floor and she leaned down with him so that her outrage wouldn't lose any momentum while he was temporarily out of sight. "You want to go back to what you were before then just go! Commit to it! I'm not going to stop you." Upright again, he stared at the tabletop, his mouth skewed, his jaw muscles thumping. "But if this is all about how resisting temptation is just too hard then don't you dare try to put it on me. Because, buddy, if I can step back from a woman I love and let her struggle with temptation all on her lonesome then I sure as hell can step back from you." Of course, the audacity and foolishness of her outburst struck her immediately and she hastened to add, "I mean, unless you-you happen to eat me before I've stepped back far enough."
"Wouldn't dare after that scolding. Ballsy little thing, aren't you?"
"Well, you know, dyke here."
"Don't suppose you could be a little bisexual tonight? Promise I won't bite."
"You have a serious problem sexualising anger directed at you, you know that. right? Beside, that was a sorry, half-assed attempt at seduction. Face it, your heart's not in it."
"No. It isn't."
The cocktail waitress returned, set the drinks on the table and took his empty glasses. "You just want to run a tab, hon?"
"Think I'd best pay as I go," Spike said.
Another glass of Merlot for her. Jack Daniels and beer back for him. His choice reminded her of where she grew up, of men with big bellies and baseball caps. The thought of Spike in that world struck her as funny, then not so funny. Her daddy and uncles would have reacted much the same way as she imagined the men who'd attacked him had. Fear was a fascist dictator in shit-kicking boots back home. Something so strange as Spike would have to be crushed, and not for the legitimate "vampire" reason, but rather because no thing should have power but what they, in their fear, allowed - not women, blacks, homosexuals, or even God, and certainly not this freak of an impossible nature, strutting around and being all up-in-your-face about it. Chip or no chip, Spike had power, wicked and fierce, huge and unwieldy at times, and she sensed that if she tried to look too closely at the source of that power it would blind her, or break her heart.
Spike picked up the shot glass and tossed the liquor back. "They looked like men," he said, "just no-neck blokes drinking at the bar."
His words, coming so soon on the heels of her own thoughts, wigged her out. Far worse somehow than be hunted down like an animal, was having the privacy of her mind invaded. But he was lost in his own head, sorting through things that had nothing to do with her. He kept his eyes down, and his fingers wrapped around the pint glass. "But they weren't. Men. Human, I mean."
She held her breath, stealing herself against the urge to prompt. Truth had to unfold itself slowly sometimes. He looked up and his smile was so sad, she wondered why he bothered with it.
"I know you all think I'm in some state of denial about this. I'm not. Sure, I was pissed out of my mind and pissed off about-well, what I'm usually pissed off about these days. Love is a punishing thing, innit? Makes us weep and crawl on our bellies round and round the same old circles, until one day, when we've had too much bourbon and not enough beer, we say something that can ruffle even an angel's feathers."
Comprehension - bam, between her shoulder blades and bang, right between the eyes. Angels. Real angels. The ringing in her ears vibrated in time with the sudden sparkling, fuzziness of the ether. She blinked. Blinked again.
"I don't even remember what I said. It was like I was in a bad play. Me saying my lines, bullshit I'd said a thousand times and had no passion for, didn't believe, but there I am mouthing the words, strutting and posturing like it means something. And there they were picking up their cues, call and response kind of thing, 'cos the show must go on. That's destiny for you."
"Even you have free will, Spike. You're not locked into the same role for eternity."
"Yes. I am. But I chose it. We all of us cooperate with destiny, right? We may not think so. We may feel like we're victims or lucky bastards afterwards, but on some level we walk in with our eyes wide open, knowing we set it up to happen just that way. We set ourselves up. I knew it when Dru turned me. I knew it the first time I saw Buffy dancing at the Bronze. Knew it with the bit of silicon in my head. Other times. Other things. This - that night, was like that.
"One minute they were just big dumb fuckers giving me shit and me giving it right back, playing our scene, and the next they were looking at me like they knew who and what I was on a molecular level going back to the time of the first big bang or whatever it was set the universe in motion. It was bleedin' petrifying. My gut was screaming at me to shut my mouth, to look away, to run like hell, but Destiny said, sorry mate, you wrote this play, you directed it, and you wanted to be the bloody star, so now it's show time."
He lit a cigarette from the candle on the table, curled his lips so that the smoke went up and drifted over his shoulder. "I got the last word in, very pithy exit line. They followed me. Big fellas they were. I'm fast and I'm strong but as you've probably noticed, not exactly a bruiser. I still figured they were human and knew I couldn't fight 'em. Had it in my besotted brain I was gonna short cut through the alley and slip into the sewers. Didn't make it through the alley though."
He leaned back, showy nonchalance, one arm draped across the backrest, gaze fixed on the burning tip of his cigarette. The smoke curled up and the tobacco made hissing crackling noises and the sound of his voice seemed to come from someplace very far away and yet curl intimately around the shell curves inside her ears. His eyes were on her again.
"Three or four men turned into six or seven. I figured I was cross-eyed drunk, seeing double or something. A couple of them moved to block each end of the alley and they spread their arms out, Jesus on the cross kind of thing. I thought, well that's just soddin' stupid. What, you think I can't go around, slip under, knock you down? But then these-these great wings unfurled from their backs, right? Stretched out, cutting off the light from the street, shining with their own light. And it was so intense, so bright. Knocked me flat on my arse. Then the others, they-they circled round me. Their faces were - I couldn't make out features, only the light around them like rings around the moon you know? Coronas or ..."
"Auras," she said quickly, then bit her lip.
"Oh, yeah, right. Auras must've been. So with their halos on high beam they started in on me. I'm throwing punches, kicking, cursing a blue streak, but-but it didn't- And they never said anything, you know. Not a word the entire time they were doing it. Just me and the sound of my own voice, a sound that didn't travel. All that yelling and screaming I did and it never seemed to get out of my head. Damnedest thing."
Tara listened to him, to the dry recitation made poignant by the occasional catch in his voice, and she knew the aching sympathy she felt for him was inappropriate, probably undeserved. A demon was sitting across from her, a demon who (she'd been told) got off on inflicting pain, and wreaking bloody havoc across whole continents, a demon who admitted to viewing her as dinner only a couple of hours ago. If a man still existed inside that body, he was no more than a symbiotic ghost of sorts. Yet all she could see was the person who'd sat with Dawn during the long awful summer, assuring her that it was still okay to laugh at South Park (even though he couldn't himself), who'd chased through the cemeteries with a bunch of well-meaning amateurs that mostly slowed him down, a person who was in love beyond all reason with a woman he could never hope would love him back and she couldn't help feeling -
"Sympathy for the Devil," he said.
Damn! Stop doing that. "Huh?"
He jerked his chin at the speakers in the ceiling. "The song. Sympathy for the Devil. Stones version too. Must've switched the DMX channel on us. It's my curse."
"Hits from the 70's?"
He laughed. A real laugh, and appeared surprised he was still capable of it. "No. See. Angel is cursed with a soul. I'm cursed with bloody irony everywhere I go."
"That's quite a curse," she said, draining the wine and picking up the full glass. "Having the irony in every experience constantly pointed out and illuminated in some whimsical way."
"You resorting to sarcasm now, Glinda? Thought you'd be above it."
"I'm a little drunk. Sorry. It's just...none of this makes sense, not even in metaphysical kind of way. I don't understand. Why would they do that to you? Why you?"
"'Cos I'm bad." He said it like it was perfectly reasonable.
"So a bunch of angels just happen to be hanging out in a bar, and happen to notice a vampire and decide he must be beaten and raped because he's bad."
"Yeah, I guess." His voice wavered uncertainly.
"Doesn't that strike you as, you know- I mean, there must be more to it than that. Why wouldn't they just stake you or smite your head off with a flaming sword of justice or something? And why did they take your coat? That's just- I mean, if you're bad - so Eeeviiilll," she wiggled her fingers in the air as if this somehow demonstrated the concept of evil (definitely drunk now - such a lightweight), "why didn't they just kill you?"
"Dunno. Could ask Buffy the same question. Still haven't figured that one out. Thought I had, but I was wrong."
Tara took a long swallow from the full glass. The sexcapades had been a serious mistake on both their parts in her opinion, though she'd never said so, yet it had definitely been a catalyst for something...life altering, or unlife altering as the case may be.
"I think your, uh, 'cooperating with Destiny' theory applies there too, don't you? There's a-a reason, something Big Picture-y. Same with these angels or light demons or whatever they were. They must've said something or, you know, told you some reason, thought it at you, or- There's got to be a reason, Spike. Maybe you don't know what it is yet and maybe you won't figure it out or remember it for a while, but there has to be some reason or it might as well have been a bunch of human guys getting their jollies off in a back alley.'
He opened his mouth, closed it again, blinked a few times, took a drag off his smoke, stubbed it out in the pebbled-glass candle holder, sent the smoke into the air with a whoosh from between his lips, looked at her and said, "I don't think I can- I don't want to do this anymore."
"I have to leave." And he slid out of the booth just like that.
"What? Now? No, no. I'm - I'm sorry. I didn't mean..."
He ran a hand through his hair. Eyes on her. "I need to leave." Turned and headed for the door. Tara scrambled out of the booth and went after him, catching hold of his arm as the heavy door swung out. On the thresh hold, an eerie suspension of sound between the noise on the street and the noisy bar, so it was just the two of them, her breath catching at his cold stare. "What are you going to do?" she asked.
"Please, Spike, just-just-just- go home, okay? Don't-don't do anything that'll-it'll hurt her so much - Buffy - you don't know-"
"I don't think she knows either. Hey, perhaps it's time she finds out."
He peeled her fingers from his sleeve gently but firmly, then turned and left. The door swung back and she stopped it. Stood with her hand on it, paralysed. She could follow him, this dead man seeking the quickest path to a permanent grave, but what could she say? In her gut she knew. She had to call Buffy. The Slayer. There was no other option now.
Spike stepped into the alley, the alley, the one behind The Pink Feather. There was a smeared chalk outline on the ground and he laughed. He didn't care much for the sound, but it was funny. It wasn't an outline of his body but that of a woman. This was the alley of the doomed apparently. He examined the crumbled mortar and the spatters of something that could be blood, could be anyone's blood, because everything in him was borrowed or stolen or purchased for cheap and there was nothing else here - no graffiti scribbled in gore and suffering that decried what had happened, or even demonstrated with certainty that it had happened to him at all. There were no reasons here. And no well-worn leather duster casually discarded behind a heap of garbage.
He was clinging to a delusion, and that was a sure indication of solipsism or grand megalomania. Look at me. I'm terribly special. The hosts of heaven were mean to me and stole my coat.
Hosts of heaven. What utter bullshit. Bloody demons is what they were. Or men. Dull, cruel, ordinary human beings.
He scuffed the chalk line with the toe of his boot then did a vicious little dance that erased the lines of the human being who had died there, all the while fervently hoping it was a vampire who got her.
Fuck 'em all. Why should he give a fat rat's arse?
Once upon a time, when Spike was bad, destructive rampages were a form of dynamic meditation.
In the alley of the doomed, he climbed the fire escape that led to the residential hotel above the bar for a little breaking and entering. Steal something. Kill someone. But the people living there were mostly scraping by on Wild Turkey and food stamps. Or they were drug addicts. Nothing worth stealing, or nothing he was interested in at any rate, so he went up to the roof and roared at the stars, leaping across chasms from building to building until he ran out of buildings. Then he spread his arms out, and jumped, flying, flying, flying - bam - onto the roof of a car, nearly went through it. He lay in the crumpled cradle of metal and laughed. He'd forgotten how much fun it was, the wild-child immortality of his vampire youth. Destructo-Man! Able to crush cars in a single bound. His fall had managed to pop the boot - trunk - whatever, and lo! A tire iron! Spent several satisfying minutes bashing the Plymouth Sundance into lovely smithereens, and yes, nothing quite like the sound of breaking glass for relieving a bit of tension. When the distant police sirens grew closer then rounded a corner in a squeal of rubber and flashing lights, he'd sauntered off into the shadows, making his way to the warehouses near the docks. After that, something of a blur. More smashing and breaking and throwing of things into the river.
But when it was all said and done, he didn't feel particularly revitalized, no blissful altered state of consciousness, no dark force welcoming him back into the fold with blood drenched claws. Mostly tired and a bit peckish. Should have supped on that longshoreman before throwing him into the river - still alive enough to curse Spike to hell dimensions that involved his mother, body cavities and things that were supposed to get a bloke riled up. But hey Mr Longshoreman, been there, done that. Bored, he decided to swing by the Thanh Thao Market to pick up some smokes before heading home.
Back in his own comfy cemetery, he perched himself on his favourite lounging-about tombstone, the one that marked the double grave of "Jack and Judith, beloved husband, beloved wife," and opened the carton of cigarettes he'd had no intention of buying and popped the top of the beer he'd be goddamned if he'd pay for goddamn it. Yep, that had been the plan. Oh, he'd gone into the Thanh Thao Market fully intending to rip off a six-pack and as many cartons of Marlboros as he could carry, had every intention of grabbing Thanh by his bitter old tongue and throttling him with it. Maybe poke out his eyes with those sticks of beef jerky the suspicious bastard was so certain he slipped up his coat sleeve every time he came in. Look, you fat old fart, nothing up my sleeves, 'cos I got no fucking coat! Gouge. Cue screaming. But, Thanh's daughter Mary was tending shop all by herself, and Mary reminded him too much of Tara and so that was that. She was fatter and not as doe-eyed pretty, but sweet and smart. Her black eyes darted shyly behind less-than-stylish specs and she had her nose in a book when she ought to be wary of Big Bads like himself strolling in at two in the morning.
"Poppy's in the hospital," she explained, ringing up his carton and single can of American piss-for-beer. "Heart attack. He's okay. Mom's with him."
"Where's your brother?"
She gave a tense shrug. "He had a gig or something." Oh right, Johnny of the orange-hair, nose-ring, Vietnamese puck-rap-fusion, soon to sign with a major recording label for the last two years fame. Tosser.
Spike glanced up at the camera. He knew it was sham, didn't actually work.
"You've got a gun, right?"
She gave little theatrical shudder, and he was distracted by the jiggle of her tits for a second. "I don't like guns," she said. "Anyway, I don't think Poppy keeps it loaded."
"You have a cross?"
She giggled and lifted the chain around her neck so that he could see the tiny silver cross she'd hidden under her t-shirt. "I still don't know what good you think it'll do."
Oh, the blithe denial of Sunnydale merchants. "Just so long as you have it. And keep your finger close to that button under the register."
"You sound like my dad," she said, handing him his change and his goods.
"Well, that's just...cruel. I like that in a girl."
He'd given her his patented smirk and wink, lacking flirtatious sincerity but she hadn't seemed to notice. They never did. Made 'em feel sexy and special and who didn't need that occasionally-
Fuck! When did he start feeling this tender regard for a girl he'd spoken with maybe eight times in a year and a half?
The urge to tenderness was not particularly new. It just never ever paid off. He wasn't sure when the urge first reared its pathetic head or if it had always been there, nascent, waiting patiently for the best moment for him to make an ass of himself. Drusilla, charmingly ruthless in her little girl needs, fickle and capricious and mad, had never been so far gone that she couldn't get anything she wanted from him by appealing to his "tickly soft underbelly" as she called it. Any similar urge with Harmony always flew out the window as soon as she opened her mouth and the nasally whining commenced. He didn't love her of course. But hell, he didn't love Mary Thanh, so what was that all about?
He did love Buffy though, despite what he'd told her and it wouldn't go away like he wanted it to. And much as he craved the wild, nails-gouging-the-flesh sex, he had the tender urge more often than he dared show. The only time Buffy allowed tenderness was when she was handcuffed to a bedpost or a railing or something. Then she could pretend that she had no choice - beast, torture me with your eyelashes and your fingertips and all those soft endearments poured into my ear. She'd whisper, "No, no more, I can't, please, please, I can't," all the while melting like candle wax around him, while he coaxed and kissed and murmured, "Yes you can, you can do it, come, come for me again, come for your lover sweetness, you can do it." And when she did, it was magic, long and slow and full of deep shudders, her whole body clutching him, drawing him in so deep he had to fight his inevitable moment of panic at the sucking pull of her womb. It was Life calling him, a fiercely persuasive cajolery that made him want to plant flags in new territories and babies in her belly. That wasn't supposed to happen.
But Death was designed to feed Life. It's why vampires were an abomination to other demons and humans alike. They were cheaters holding back their flesh from decay. They drank Life's blood and gave nothing in return. That was their true evil.
True Evil finished his cigarette, got up and decided to call it a night, but the closer he got to the dank hole he called home the more he sensed trouble. Not the big, Slayer's come to stake me good and proper trouble, and nothing that might involve demons with wings, but a lesser form that he wasn't sure he had the juice for.
Ah yes, there was trouble now, milling about the place, reeking of marijuana and hormonally charged perspiration overlain with various ineffective stopgaps - Arrid Extra Extra Dry, Herbal Essence shampoo and conditioner, Apricot Bodywash, and Stridex medicated acne pads. Everyone shushing everyone else - in shushes loud enough to wake even the most sincerely dead. Squeals of fake terror, the wicked laughter of boys tormenting girls, and entirely too many of them doing the Transylvanian accent, and oh, bloody hell, not the Time Warp dance!
You'd think the Sunnydale public schools would start providing mandatory Demon Awareness courses or something. At least hand out vampire survival kits along with the bucket loads of free condoms. The little morons probably hadn't come prepared with those either.
Well, kiddies, school's in session. And you've just put Mr Spike in a very foul mood.
Dawn was starting to panic. Outside her new friends were making noises about coming inside and Patrick was already inside touching Spike's things. She knew Buffy's patrolling schedule varied, but was pretty confident Shady Rest had already been swept clean of vampires and other nasties. Spike didn't have much tolerance for the newly risen on his turf, so doubly safe. Even so, she knew things that her friends didn't. Aside from way too much information about demons, she knew what she was doing was wrong, not for the usual "borrowing without asking first" reasons, but for reasons of trust and betrayal and who the hell were these people that she got talked into this?
"Wow, for a transient he lives pretty good."
"Uh, yeah." The flashlight's beam swept across the floor, over the sarcophagus and back again. Jack Daniels, Jack Daniels, he always had JD somewhere...maybe downstairs, but she couldn't-
Patrick opened the fridge.
"Cool. He's got vodka in the freezer. And Popsicles!"
Dawn took a deep breath. Either Spike didn't have blood in fridge or Patrick was too stoned to notice. "Okay, grab the vodka and let's-no, leave the Popsicles!"
Because those are mine. For me. He gets them for me.
Had to go and tell them, didn't you? Ooh, I know where we could get some hard liquor. I know a guy who lives in a crypt. Could've just said no. Just say no, Dawn. Say no to people who decide you're cool enough to hang with them because of a couple detentions. Say no to boys who want to steal your Popsicles and get into your pants. Just say no.
"Because he'll be back soon," she said, suddenly testy.
"It's not even three yet. You said he wouldn't be back until right before sunrise."
"Sometimes he comes back sooner. And-and like I told you before, he has a gun."
"You think he'd just start shooting?"
"Maybe. He's crazy."
Patrick raised the vodka bottle and shook it at her. "Yeah, but this isn't enough for all of us."
Outside, the sound of their friends being loudly sneaky suddenly quieted down.
"Well, I'm not gonna have any, so-"
"Cool! A ladder."
"No! Don't go down there. It-it just leads to the sewers. There's nothing-"
Outside, someone whimpered, someone squealed. "Eric, you asshole! That's not funny-" A scream. More screams. Running. What part of 'stay together and be really quiet' did they not understand? They were in a graveyard in Sunnydale, for God's sake!
"The sewers?" Patrick said. "Hey, maybe they lead to the school. We could break in or something." He rushed to the door, shouting. "Hey you guys-"
She spotted a bottle of Jack Daniels on a pile of books next to the ratty old chair, scooped it up and shot after him.
"Got it!" she cried and ploughed straight into a statue. A statue that grabbed her by one arm and started shaking her. The flashlight fell out of her hand and rolled away. Her other fist was paralysed around the neck of the bottle.
Oh god. She'd got them all killed. She could almost hear the countless vampires who weren't supposed to be around tonight sucking the life out of all her friends. She herself was probably about to be dragged into the lair of some demon overlord that needed virgins for a ritual sacrifice to raise his dark god. She was going to die a virgin! And for what? The chance to ride around in a Mercedes SUV with people she barely knew who smoked way too much pot and were therefore stupid enough to follow her into a graveyard at three in the morning.
But in the next moment she realised her situation was far far worse.
"Please don't tell Buffy. Please, please, please don't tell Buffy...please don't tell Buffy, please..."
"Buffy is the least of your problems, darlin'," Spike said. "Seeing as how I'm perfectly capable of beating your pretty little bottom myself." He half-shoved, half-tossed her through the door, managing to catch the bottle of Jack Daniels that slipped from her stiff fingers before it hit ground.
"In my day caning was the thing. Or switches - well, more like trees is what they were; cut your backside to ribbons. My father beat me with a fishing pole once. The sound of that slicing through the air before it landed, there's a sound you don't soon forget."
Spike's voice was tight, clipped and he was pacing around, his movements scattering the candlelight, his fists clenching and unclenching, and his eyes scanning surfaces and dark corners with all the appearance of actually looking for a cane or switch or fishing pole. Dawn hunched down farther into the chair, convincing herself that this was another one of those threats he couldn't carry out like tearing her head off and sucking on her brain stem. But he looked so angry, the kind that was cold and focused and came out of fear and hurt and it wasn't possible he was actually going to hurt her because he couldn't, right? That night last week, that was just a weird fluke. He'd been in a lot of pain and what was a headache on top of all the rest of his pain? That's what she'd convinced herself of later, why she didn't tell anyone. But he hadn't been angry with her really, not then. And she'd never seen him angry like this before, so when he touched his belt buckle like he was considering that as an option a whimper slipped out. Once she thought it was sexy when he shoved his thumb in his belt buckle in that half-conscious way, even though it also embarrassed her, but now it was just making her legs shake.
Okay, but he couldn't actually do anything anyway. This was just a bunch of crap. And even if he could - well, so what? He was going to spank her like a child? Get over yourself, Spike. I'm fifteen and I'm sorry, it was stupid, yes, but jeez! She hadn't been spanked since that time at Nordstrom when she was five and she rode the escalator up to the third floor when her dad's back was turned and played hide and seek in the women's evening gowns with her sticky hands full of butterscotch dumdum. Her dad had been mostly scared, but it was the angry she remembered and the three pretty hard swats on her bottom. But no way was Spike going to do that because she was way too old. The caning talk was rattling around her brain though, especially the kind of caning where you really couldn't sit down, but had to lay on your stomach for days like they did to that kid in Malaysia or wherever, the one who spray-painted graffiti on a car. That was so not happening to her. He was just trying to make some stupid adult type impression on her and where did he get off acting like a grown up? He was her evil Peter Pan. Unfortunately, right now he just looked like a man, a grown-up man, who was really really pissed off, and maybe more than pissed off but she didn't want to examine that too closely.
If he took off his belt she was going to pee her pants, or worse, fall to her knees wailing "Not the belt, not the belt!" which would be the crowning humiliation of the whole horrible night. Perhaps an apology was in order.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I didn't mean to-"
Blinding swift, vampire quick, he was in her face, "Shut the fuck up!" then he hit her - smack, a sharp thump of a blow to the side of her head, shocking enough without the messing up of her hair, making the tears fly out of her eyes and the squeal come out of her mouth. Not nearly as hard as he wanted to smack her, and terrifying because he looked like it was taking all his effort not to hit her again and much harder.
"Shut up! You don't get to talk! You're obviously too high to form cogent thoughts let alone speak any."
He'd dropped the rough accent and was using complete sentences. This was so not good. She rubbed her head and sucked in snot and tears. "I'm not high." Her voice came out much more whiny than she wanted it to considering-
Oh my god. He hit me. Oh my god, oh my god. He can hit me.
"Did I say you could talk? Did I? NO!" Her heart was pounding too hard and fast now. She drew her knees up and kept her eyes down, down. "Not high, not drunk, just stupid. Must've left your brain in the Deadhead mobile with all the other brains no one was using tonight." He was pacing again, with a fury and tension she hadn't seen in forever. "And fuck, why do I even care about your scrawny hide anyway? Stupid little girls like you deserve to die! I should know. I've killed my share."
Sobs came bursting through the lips she'd been pressing together. Suddenly he was in front of her again, leaning in, face too close to her face. She couldn't look at him, tried to suck in the little wheezing sobs. "You wanna die, Dawn? 'Cos I can oblige you now. Or better, I can make you just like me." She tried to shrink, make herself tiny, invisible, but he grabbed her chin and forced her face up. She slid her eyes away, avoiding his. They burned like dry ice. "Would you like that, baby? Show you all the nasty things I know? The fast kill. Or the lovely slow kill. Show you how to make your victims suffer for days. Get the kind of screams that crawl under your skin and ring inside your skull for an eternity. And so many other things." He pushed tear-damp hair away from her cheek, and she shuddered. Wanted to stick her fingers in her ears and squeeze her eyes shut but his voice slid in, paralysing her. "You know if I turn a virgin I get to break her cherry every night forever. Until I get bored. Then-bam!" He clapped his hands before her face and the sound echoed, hollow and chilling, and she wanted to scream but no sound would come out. "Stick a pointy in your heart. Chain you up and hang you out for the sun to dry."
He straightened and she could feel him looking down at her, feel the tremors in his body rattling her own bones like little earthquakes, which is why she finally looked up. "That's what happens to stupid little girls like you, pet."
His head was cocked in that way he had and she could tell by the set of his jaw he'd only banked the coals of his fury, but he wasn't as mad.
She sucked in a shaky breath, and snarled, "I hate you."
"I hate you more, you inconsiderate, presumptuous little twat. You've abused our friendship. Which pains me even to say because it makes me sound like a fucking nance. And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to chain smoke for a bit before taking you-"
The door flew open and Buffy stood on the threshold with a loaded crossbow.
~Hard Shiny Pretty~
The Angel of Death was wearing her soul on the outside like a suit of armour, a blinding nimbus with a Buffy coloured spot in the middle. Warrior of the people here. Protector of Life in all its messy glory, humming with power, one finger on the pulse of her humanity and the other poised over a hair trigger.
This is another one of those moments that goes on forever isn't it? An infinite moment in which to remember and reflect. Good things. I should concentrate on good things...
Blooming onions. Blood. Blood. Guinness. Peanut butter. Good. First kiss behind the Bronze. Astonishing. Good. Tongue circling the bruised-plum blush of Drusilla's areola. Blood. First cigarette after three rounds of the most amazing, brilliant all night shag fest one good day of his entire existence. Best cigarette EVER Trembling hand on her bosom, and he doesn't notice her heart isn't beating, how could he when between his palm and her flesh are layers of fabric and corset stays and his own fevered imagination, and "yes, oh yes," she knows what he wants. He wants to be what she sees in him. Tiny bottle blonde bouncing on the dance floor with her friends, all smiles and giggles and teenaged joy. This Barbie-doll cheerleader is the Slayer? Hot damn. "What happens on Saturday?" "I kill you." Saturday in the Harris basement prison, a brief respite from despair with a Mel Brooks marathon and a rare moment of male solidarity. Willow sighing in exasperation, "If you guys replay that campfire scene one more time I'm going to cut off your hands." Up to his elbow in flesh and bone, fingers closing round the heart and pulling. Dawn laughing at something he said should I start this program over? during the long bad summer and the pulse pounding at her throat and his fangs tingling to come down and doesn't she smell delicious and the punch in the arm she gave him for no reason before flouncing off to the kitchen for another diet soda to go with her Cheetos and Chips Ahoy. Hot blood coating the roof of his mouth, sliding down his throat, filling him with delicious languid heat, an island of marshmallow goo floating on a mug of hot chocolate-
"Get away from her Spike."
No wait! I need to remember more. More than Mel Brooks and breasts and blood and laughing and peanut butter-
"Hello," Dawn drawled, "he's like standing all the way over there."
"Be quiet, Bit."
Buffy gestured with the cross bow that he should move farther away from her sister. He complied, eyes tracking the tip of the arrow winking at him in the candlelight. Not in front of her, for Christ's sake. "Can we take this outside?"
Oblivious and self-involved as befitted her age, Dawn nevertheless picked up on the vibe. She looked at him, to him, her voice rising in both pitch and shakiness. "Why is she--? Don't tell me she's gone all loony tunes again, because I'm really getting sick of-"
"Dawn!" They both shouted at the same time.
"Get over here by me. Now." Buffy said.
She scrambled from the chair automatically, but her mouth was still moving. "I wanna know what's going on. What are you doing? What's happened? Buffy, tell me what's going on!"
"Slayer," Spike said. "Outside. Please."
"Shut up!" The cross bow jerked dangerously.
"Oh my God, Spike," Dawn said. Her knees buckled and then she was sitting on the hard floor looking up at him, eyes all glittery from tears about to spill. "What have you done?"
His own eyes ached, sought relief and solace in the dark places. But there weren't any left. Every corner was illuminated, too bright and sharp as glass. He gazed at the toes of his boots, comforting sooty black, and the curse of irony reared its mocking head. He hadn't done a sodding thing he'd intended to do tonight. Nothing to show for his freedom but a carton of smokes, bruised knuckles, and an empty belly. He started to laugh.
"You think this is funny you son of a bitch?" A chink in the Slayer's armour. Oh. This was going to hurt her. Hurt like hell. He was such an idiot.
Even the Hellmouth has symmetry, Spike. Evidenced by the number of alleyways in this, its favourite little burg. In Sunnydale's alleys worlds met, touched, moved through or passed each other by. Sometimes it hurt. Sometimes you died. In these alleys you traversed one state of being to another.
Each blow from their fists was a benediction, a promise, a paid-in-full marker stamped on his flesh. Bruises, breaks, rends and tears, great gaping holes illuminated by cold white light and pointed out with the dull blades of their fingers. Reciting for him the litany of cruelties, suffering, and tolls for the dead like an epic poem. A hundred odd years of karmic payback in under an hour. And all he had to do was take it like a man. Of course no man could have taken it and lived.
Like for like. Blow for blow. Cause and effect. Fists and fangs and cocks. This is the ugly death you gave to many. This is the sweet death you promised some. Feel that? And that? This is the living blood of a Warrior on your dead tongue. This is your first kill. This is the throat you tore last. This is the beating heart in your hand. This is the neck you snapped. The back you cracked. Entrails round the mulberry bush. This is the boy that soiled himself while you laughed. These are your teeth in the apricot girls. This is your prick in the plums. This is the foetus you ripped from the womb. Your mother's womb, your wife's, your sister's, your daughter's. This is the grave they lie in. You are the man that mourns them. Feel that? Helpless, humiliated, terrified, and outraged. Pissing yourself before you die. And this and this and this. Like for like in multitudes.
Multitudes and all their kin. Tens of thousands written in pain and painstakingly recounted for his edification. Too big to fit inside his head yet he absorbed it in seconds. They take his trophy and with it, the false security of his imposed conscience. Hands stroking him with the dispassionate compassion of omnipotence.
Hush. Why do you weep? They're only symbols. Like for like. This is the freedom you wanted, the freedom you claimed was owed you. Impatient creature. We've done as you asked. Every step you take from this moment forward you take of your own free will.
And he'd cursed them, because he couldn't even stand up. Now, tonight, he cursed the curse of pitiless options and choices. Inside him, the demon kicked and screamed like a two year old throwing a tantrum. Tara was right. He was a chickenshit bastard and he was going to die for that reason alone. Bloody fucking ironic, that.
"You're all chip-loose and fancy free now, right?" Her voice called him back. Another laugh escaped him. Dry and weary. Not a nice sound. Not nice at all. Jesus, he was tired. The Buffy spot inside the armour trembled, too much emotion for her little body to hold and her voice scraped across his eardrum like chalk on slate. "Had anyone good to eat tonight, Spike?"
"What?" Dawn squeaked. "No! No way! Tell her it isn't true. Tell her!"
"Doesn't matter. Your sis here has to consider the possibility of a pre-emptive strike regardless. Am I right, Slayer?"
"You're not even going to try to fight me are you? Just stand there and let me-"
"I've been fighting all night," he said. Don't look. Don't look. "Bit knackered."
The arrow shot past his ear and bounced harmlessly off the wall some distance behind him. He applauded himself on the lack of noticeable flinching. She dropped the crossbow, reached around and pulled a stake from the waistband of her hip-hugging jeans, twirled it in her tense little hand. "Too bad. Come on, Spike. Make it worth my time."
"Stop it!" Dawn cried, springing to her feet again, eyes zeroing in on first one then the other. "Just stop it!"
"Outside then! I'm not doing this in front of -"
"And have her blame me for the rest of my life? Oh no. Huh uh. If you're going to force me to be your executioner, she might as well watch you roll over and show me your belly." She started bouncing on the balls of her feet finding her balance, stake moving from hand to hand. All ready to rumble, and firing words at him like spit balls. "Tara called me. But then you knew she would. You were counting on it just like she said." He turned away from her but she circled with him, sights locked on, dancing at the edges of his vision. Squeezed his eyes shut tight, tighter. But unless he plugged his ears and sang la la la, he wasn't shutting out that voice. "I spent most of the night tracking the path of your little rampage. Didn't find a single blood-drained corpse." A pause. "Mary Thanh says hi by the way."
He opened his eyes and tried to give her a cool look, but there was a force gathering at the base of his spine, and something else wriggling in his gut, and an altogether different feeling growing in the region of his solar plexus, volatile chemicals that should not be mixed.
"You haven't fed tonight." She peered at him. "You haven't eaten for days. Think I can't tell? Vampire slayer, remember?"
"So slay already! Quick yapping at me."
"You. Fucking. Coward."
"I can't do this! You know I can't do this. The chip doesn't work. That's all! I didn't grow a sodding soul. I'm a hundred forty-eight year old horny kid with no fucking patience and the impulse control of a toddler! I'll bollix it up. You know I will. You'll have to do it eventually and it'll be worse then-"
"Flatter yourself much?"
"I know you, Buffy. You waited too long with Angelus. You can't afford to do that with me."
Her eyes crackled and her whole body went rigid and he knew he'd hit his mark. He braced himself automatically. Here it comes. And waited. And waited a bit longer. Heard her suck in a breath and let it out slowly.
The stake clattered across the floor and rolled to a stop against his boots.
"Fine," she said through clenched teeth. "You can fall on the sword your own damn self. We'll tell everyone what a noble sacrifice you made and come back in the morning to sweep up your remains. Let's go, Dawn."
No. No, no, no!
"Bitch!" Blindly kicking at the sharpened stick. "Bitch, bitch, fucking bitch! Why can't I make it clear to you? They-they took away this tiny bit of technology then shoved the whole bleedin' world up my arse! I can't fit the whole world inside me, all right? I'm not you! I can't be all constipated with the world and people and feelings about people I don't even know. I have room for you and the Bit. No more. Maybe Glinda. But that's it!"
She turned to look at him, one hand on the door and Dawn's hand clasped in the other. He felt compelled to add, "Okay, yeah, Mary Thanh maybe. Not her father or brother though because they're arseholes--"
And he hated that Miss Buffy Summers could look at him with such angelic forbearance, profess to love the world enough to save it half a dozen times and still never say she loved him. Where was the justice?
Suddenly, he was on the floor. Full of self-pity, mad as hell about it and at the same time not giving a good goddamn how it looked, sitting there blubbering like a baby. Ought to teach a class at the community center in the art of being a conflicted wanker.
"Buffy..." Dawn's voice was a soft entreaty. A beat, then the purposeful march of Slayer soles across the concrete and Dawn's lazier lope of a stride shortly after. They plopped themselves down on either side of him. Buffy sat yogi fashion hands curved into lotus blossoms resting on her knees. Dawn drew her knees up to her chin, and proceeded to pick at the loose rubber on her Sketchers. A vaguely companionable silence followed while they waited for him to stop emoting.
Finally Buffy ventured, "Maybe this is low blood sugar or something."
"Ha bloody ha." He tugged the hem of his shirt out of his jeans and wiped his face. Felt her arm sneak around his back and give him a couple of pats on the shoulder before departing again.
"Still, you should drink something besides whiskey or bourbon or whatever. Maybe if you got a microwave, you know, heat it up? Wouldn't be so repulsive."
"Had one. Kept blowing the circuit that runs the fridge."
"Dawn, make yourself useful and get Spike a mug of yuck."
"Okay," Dawn said, climbing to her feet. "My butt was starting to get cold anyway."
"Oh yeah. That reminds me. What's my sister's butt doing here at three in the morning?"
"Um...well, funny story actually."
"No it isn't. And I already thumped her for it."
"Thumped her? You mean you hit her?"
"You hit my sister?"
"You wanna field this one Niblet?"
Dawn ducked down behind the refrigerator door and the sounds of things being shuffled around could be heard. The shuffling went on for quite some time considering there were only three things on the shelf. But Buffy couldn't see that. "It's no big deal. We had a disagreement."
"And he hit you?"
"I said it's no big deal." The fridge door slammed shut. "Mug. Mug. Where is that mug?"
"Christ girl, just fess up. Don't make me the nark here. Goes against my nature."
She looked at Buffy briefly before her eyes sidled to a bit of crumbling plaster. "Nothing happened, all right?"
Spike gazed at her unblinking for a moment then sighed. "'S like this. Carload of teenage tossers smoking weed decide to party in the cemetery. One of the partiers raids a certain crypt of a certain vampire in her acquaintance. Why? Because he has booze. Vampire scares the shit out of the others. Knocks Dawnie upside the head for being a stupid git. End of story."
Dawn's entire being radiated condemnation. Judas! her eyes accused, back-stabber, really mean guy who is in no way ever to be considered a friend of mine again - until she caught sight of Buffy's expression. A great tsunami of never-ending lectures and grounded for eternity would be crashing over her soon.
"Or, you know, he could just thump me a couple more times and we'll call it good."
There's a fist in my head
Dreams in my fist
Eyes in my sex
Sex in my mouth
You don't know.
By the time they reached Revello Drive Spike had come to the conclusion that had he lived to father children he would have been exactly useless in anything requiring consistent, firm discipline. Sure he could knock the kid upside the head for being an idiot, but unless it involved manacles, cattle prods, and overwrought declarations of undying devotion to his Beloved, tough love was not really his forte. A mere whimper from Dru and he'd caved. A crook of Buffy's little finger and he caved. Dawn's stricken look when Buffy declared, "forget that phones were even invented, because you'll never get to use one again!" made him want to buy the girl milkshakes and whatever latest fad fashion her little heart desired just to remove the expression from her face. He was the King of Cave.
The torturous existence Buffy devised for her darling sis would've made Angelus right proud. During the walk from the cemetery the list of things Dawn would not be allowed to do and the various unpleasant chores she would be required to do had grown from no trips to the mall and washing up after supper every night to what amounted to a four month house arrest with a year's indentured servitude on the side - Dawn screeching about the injustice of it all and Buffy screeching back, "fine, maybe I should just let Spike beat your ass bloody then?" to which Dawn replied that at least she'd be able to have a life afterwards. Which was a very good point, but since his anger had cooled he wouldn't have been able to do it anyway, so it was just as well the option wasn't really under serious consideration.
"You have about two hours to sleep before school," Buffy said, unlocking the front door and flinging the keys onto the table.
"I don't have school." The word "bitch" was implied but not vocalized. "It's a teacher planning day remember?" The word "moron" was also implicit.
"Fine. You can start your lack of a social life right away then. Go upstairs and go to bed."
Stomping up the stairs followed.
He'd wisely refrained from comment. "I'm gonna head out."
Buffy looked at him, startled, as if he'd just said something nonsensical. "The sun's almost up. Just crash in the basement. Bed's still there."
He congratulated himself on keeping the surprise out of his voice when he said, "All right. Thanks."
And so here he was, in the basement where it was dark and cool and smelled of damp cement. Not sleeping. When the door at the top of the stairs creaked open, he thought he should pretend to be sleeping, but in a moment she was standing at the sofa bed in her terry cloth bathrobe with a towel turban on her head and he couldn't have closed his eyes if he wanted to. Her face was scrubbed shiny, and though her eyes were tired, she looked painfully young to him. She snatched at the towel and started rubbing her hair into a tangle.
"Hey," she said. "Hey," he said back. After that, everything happened really fast and also with a languorous sticky slowness, his legs seeming tangled and dream fleeing, his hands flopping on the flowered sheets like unwieldy moths, body and mind shorting each other out, and all because her lips were pressing kisses to the tip of his prick. Fortunately his prick knew what to do and happily stood up and said hello to the rest of her mouth. And it was good, good, good. Afterwards she lay with her head on his stomach, hair cool and wet, cheek warm, her fingers threaded through his pubic hair. Oh, he had questions, even suspicions, but he wasn't about to ask. Instead he slept.
He awakened to the bang of the washing machine lid and Willow's whispered hiss, "Shit." She looked over and caught his gaze. "Sorry."
"'S okay. What time is it?"
She spun the dial and started the machine. "A little before nine."
"Oh." He sank back into the pillows and closed his eyes. Then shot up with a start. "At night?"
"Yeah. I'm surprised you were able to sleep so long what with stompy-girl flinging herself around upstairs." Dawn he assumed. "Some of us were being quiet so's not to wake the dead - and hey, the dead is looking mighty refreshed as a result, I must say." Nothing like a blowjob and 15 hours of uninterrupted slumber, he thought. She was grinning at him and he experienced the odd twinge of embarrassment like she knew what had gone on down here in the wee hours. Then he noticed the wooden cross, gripped with a white-knuckled tension in her fist. Apparently, she knew something. The hand holding the cross gestured at the sorted piles of clothes on the floor. "I couldn't wait any longer. No clean underwear. Magic moratorium." A heavy sigh. She hopped up on the washing machine and eyed him, cross tapping nervously against the shiny white surface. "Did you know that sometimes you breathe when you're sleeping? Rapid eye movement too."
"Draw up a chair and watch? People say I'm creepy."
"Do all vampires do that in their sleep?"
"Couldn't tell you. I don't know all vampires." He scrambled for his jeans on the floor and struggled into them under the covers. "I think it's an autonomic motor response. Some bit of the brain stem doesn't know the body is dead. So the occasional urge to breathe. As for the dreams... dunno. We could get into a philosophical, metaphysical discussion about the mind not being the brain, but-"
"When did you become Mr. Science and Philosophy?"
"Immortality has been more than usually boring for the past two years. I read a lot. Watch the Discovery Channel." She stared at him, a mixture of curiosity and alarm. "What? I can't be multi-faceted?"
She looked down at her swinging feet.
"Has she gone out already?" he asked.
"Who? Buffy? She's at work. Should be home pretty soon actually."
"Dawn's still here though."
Willow laughed. "Can't you feel the suffering? The rage? The misery?" She pointed a finger up indicating the music coming from the kitchen. "I think it's Nine Inch Nails." The volume increased suddenly. "Yup. Definitely. Yours?"
"I was introducing her to the classics." He shoved his feet into his boots, but didn't bother to lace them up. "My mistake."
"Um...there's... there's a message for you..." She hesitated, coloured up and looked away. "From Tara. For you. On the fridge. She wants you to call her."
Her eyes were on him again, nothing nervous in them at all now. Fierce, dangerous little eyes those were. "I know you saw her last night," she said. "I know the chip doesn't work anymore. But she wouldn't tell me what happened. How she found out."
"I suppose you'd like me to tell you then."
"Well, see, if you do that she'll think I'm interfering in her business and it'll piss her off. And I'm trying to prove something to her, that I respect her privacy and stuff. But if you hurt her, I'll make you suffer for a long time before I kill you."
"Wouldn't expect anything less. Did she say why she wanted me to call her?"
"She thinks she has a way to find the, um, you know, that night, the whatever they were, which, believe me, I'd be happy to help you with if I wasn't all... screwed up."
He grabbed his shirt and headed for the stairs. "Oh, hell, Red. Who isn't?"
Dawn glanced at him when he came through the door, her fleeting guilty expression immediately replaced with an attempt at cool indifference. She turned away, hair whipping across the cold shoulder she was giving him, and began some furious sponge activity on counter tops.
He went to the refrigerator and pulled the note from under the happy mushroom magnet Stared at it. After last night's epiphany or whatever the hell, there wasn't any reason to pursue-
Well, at least he could call and tell her thanks, don't bother. Don't need to find them. Really. I've figured it all out now. Turned down the volume on the boom box as he went to the phone.
"Hey! I was listening to that!"
"I need to make a call."
She shoved the volume lever all the way to the right and shouted. "Well you don't live here! There's a pay phone at the 7-11."
He turned it down again. "Knock it off Bit."
"My name is Dawn. You may address me as Dawn. Or wait. Since I'm not permitted to consort with vampires and their ilk I think I'd prefer it if you didn't address me at all. EVER." She reached for the volume control again, but before she could, he grabbed the CD player from the counter, jerked the plug from the wall in the process, opened the back door and threw it into the yard. Oh sure, he could have taken the phone into the other room, it being one of those portable sorts, but he just found her attitude annoying.
"I need to make a call."
She stared at him in open-mouthed fury as if none of the invectives forming on her tongue would be sufficient for the Evil that he was. He met her gaze without a flinch, which wasn't all that easy considering he was fighting the urge to slap her silly. Not for the first time in the last 24 hours did he find himself grateful that fatherhood was not in his future. The snap, crackle, pop in her eyes was quenched by a sudden onslaught of angry tears, whereupon she threw the sponge at his head and fled the kitchen. More stomping. The slam of her bedroom door rattled all the windows in the house. That did make him flinch. He eyed the phone in his hand and set it down in its cradle again.
Fuck it. Time to kill something.
He'd found a lovely little nest downtown, quite posh. Three elegant ladies and two nicely dressed gents, running an escort scam, bleeding money from their marks before bleeding them dry. He'd killed them and taken the money. Went to a bar, got a buzz on and then made the rounds of the cemeteries, dusting whatever idiot was foolish enough to cross his path.
He was just toying with this one. "If you minions ever want to get ahead, you have to dress better. Look at me. Timeless, go-anywhere fashion-"
"That's debatable," came a familiar voice from behind him.
"Holy crap. The Slayer!"
Now the little shit starts cowering. Well that won't do at all. "No debate," Spike said, grabbing a handful of elastic waistband as the guy turned to flee. "He's wearing Hammer pants."
"Just dust him already. Quit screwing around."
"You're not the boss of me."
"Shut up! I was here first. I don't need your running commentary on my technique-"
"You're pants-ing him. What kind of technique is that?"
Spike twisted the fabric in his fist tight enough so that he could lift the fellow off the ground and send him crashing into a tombstone. Hammerpants rolled and was up in an instant, flinging a threat over his shoulder as he ran. "Master Brian will make you pay, traitor!"
Traitor looked at Slayer and both started laughing. Even the minions had minions these days. Master Brian indeed. Laughing slowed their pursuit, macabre giddiness before slaughter. Of course, she wasn't slaughtering her own kind. He stopped running. Let her catch the fellow up and finish the job. He'd done enough for one night.
She found him sitting on the grass, leaning against a monument chosen for its phallic thrust, smoking a cigarette of course.
"Been busy. I could have stayed home and caught up on my sleep," she said, flopping down next to him. "I hear you got plenty of that."
"Yeah. What with the emotional breakdown and then the blowjob." He expected to feel a bit more satisfaction from her noticeable twitch. Took a calculated drag off the cig. "What was that all about by the way?"
"What was what about?"
He debated the best response, settled on an eye roll. The breath from her sigh was a little cloud of annoyance that mingled with the smoke from his cigarette. "Must we analyse everything?" she grumped.
"You broke off with me." The bitter, angst-ridden note in his voice was humiliating. Fuck all. Forge ahead. "And, you know, I'm fine with it - not fine, but dealing well enough and we're doing all right you and me, or as all right as we can get, not friends maybe, but something else that at least isn't vicious, then suddenly you're crawling under the covers and sucking me off. You'll pardon me if I have questions."
"You know, most guys are happy to get a blowjob under any circumstances-"
"With you, it's always a good idea to know the circumstances. That way the circumstances can't come back and bite me in the arse later."
"I didn't hear you asking me to stop!" She shifted, hot with embarrassment now. He could feel it radiating off her body. "I just wanted to, okay. I thought - I thought maybe you...needed it."
"Oh fucking hell. I'm your charity case now, is that it? I suffer a few well-deserved indignities and suddenly you're the Mother Theresa of sexual healing-" Her keen eyes narrowed on him and his mind scrambled back over what he'd just said, what he might have revealed.
"Well-deserved, huh? Let's analyse that why don't we?"
"It's what you already think, what you know in your gut is true."
"You don't know what's in my head or my gut."
"Yeah, Slayer. I do."
"No, you don't! I don't even know what I think or feel anymore. It's all messed up between you and me, Spike, in a way that we - that I can't ever recover from. Don't you see? We've -we've defied the natural order of things. And it's all messed up."
"Well, yeah, but-"
"I'm the Slayer, I don't have the right to judge you."
"What the hell are you talking about? That's what the bloody Slayer does!"
"No- No it isn't! God, don't you get it?" She kicked out, chucking up a clump of grass and soil with the heel of her sneaker. "I don't have the right to judge you, I mean, literally, I don't have the right!" She drew her knees up, wrapped her arms around them, and started rocking. Shit! Oh shit, she was crying. Crying now.
"Slayer...Buffy, sweetheart, what in bleeding hell are you on about?"
"The very fact that you're a vampire means you've already been judged, see. My job is not Judge. My job is to carry out the sentence. I'm just- I'm just the executioner!"
She was crying, so he couldn't say, well, duh. This was obviously terribly significant. It must be. The woman never cried in front of him. His arm reached out-
She turned. "Because of you, who you are, it's all screwed up! I spout judgments all the damn time, I think judgmentally. And nothing's cut and dried anymore. With Angel, soul, no soul. Simple. With you I have to decide everyday, every fucking day, and it's qualitative and messy and not simple-"
His astonishment must have been written all over him, because suddenly her eyes got big and she swiped her hands across her wet cheeks, snuffled. "What? Did I use the wrong word? Qualitative? That's what I mean, isn't it?"
Her intellectual insecurity was unbearably precious. Both arms out now, drawing her to him, soggy face pressed into his shirt. "I don't know baby. Depends on what you're trying to say."
"Like the quality of everything you do. God!" She gulped back on a sob. "Does this action balance out that one. Comparable? Maybe I mean comparable."
"Don't worry about it, sweetheart. I get the drift. I'm pre-judged and yet you judge me. Weighing my actions everyday keeps you from doing your job which is to take me down like the evil scum I am."
She clutched the fabric of his shirt in two fistfuls, a bit of skin as well, and wailed into his chest. "Yes! But I don't want to be your executioner, Spike. I don't! I don't want to be your judge either. And I shouldn't even have to think twice about any of it. I shouldn't be thinking about what a terrible thing it was, what happened to you. Not just a couple of weeks ago, but I mean all of it, being turned and every nasty thing that goes with it. You say it was empowering, but from this side it just looks like a terrible, miserable joke on us. Like me, being the Chosen One but having absolutely no choice in the matter. It's so not fair."
He could have said something about Destiny, knowing a thing or two about it as he did, but instead he just stroked her hair and let her talk. Her frankness was too rare a gift to interrupt with pointless wisdom. She drew in a breath load of snot and misery. "But life isn't fair right. It doesn't matter what I think about any of it. I haven't been able to do my job with you since the day we met, and that's just so fucked up I can't even begin to tell you. And now I'm giving you blow jobs on Xander's old sofa bed in the basement of my mother's house!"
Cripes! No wonder all the lumps in the mattress felt vaguely familiar. She drew back and used her sleeve to wipe her face. And having done so, the face was able to set itself into firm resolve. "But it can't- it shouldn't discount the terrible things you've done to others. Lots worse. Lots worse things and you know it. It doesn't balance out. No matter how we try to make it balance."
He closed his eyes for a moment, wondered if he could look at her, wondered if she would listen now, if it would make any difference. "I need to tell you something. About me. And angels."
High-heeled sandals with wraparound straps were not the best for foraging amongst the topmost stock shelves. Her feet ached, it being the end of the workday, but her ankles still looked lovely if she did say so herself, and the polish on her toenails shone pearl-pink even in the dim light of the basement. Unfortunately, the higher up the ladder, the more wobbly the shoes and the less confident the wearer. Anya decided she needed help.
"I'm willing to trade whatever you're stealing for some much needed assistance," she called, steadying herself as she reached for a plastic storage box.
"Not stealing," Spike said, walking out of the gloomy recesses.
"Oh. Hiding out then."
She manoeuvred the box over the edge of the shelf one handed. "There's such a thing as thinking too much, you know."
"Apparently it's just as bad as talking too much."
She heard him laugh softly and then his hands were on either side of the ladder, ostensibly steadying it for her, though the top of his head nearly brushed the cheeks of her ass. She glanced down over her shoulder, and he leaned back, head cocked in its customary fashion, sans customary lewd smirk on the face. Lack of lewd. Huh... something was not quite right about that.
The box slid out too far over her head and tipped and toppled. He caught it as it dropped.
"I wouldn't know, of course," she said climbing down again. "About thinking too much, I mean. At least, according to Xander and Willow. And Giles, when he was here."
"Does it bother you? Their opinions?"
"Sometimes." She took the box from him and as soon as she looked in his eyes she felt sad. Her own sad. And his. She said what she felt. "Do you believe there really is such a thing as unconditional love?"
His whole body clenched like a fist, but just for a fraction of a second, then he shrugged. "Doubt it. Always conditions of some kind, right?"
"Not if it's unconditional. That's what unconditional means. Without conditions."
"Yeah. I'm not saying you can't love the whole package, see the person you love exactly as they are and love 'em for everything they are, good, bad and all points in between. I'm just saying, you'd have to love yourself pretty much...well, unconditionally, or you'd never be at peace with it. Always trying to please, hoping to get the same back."
"Hope is the oldest curse of all. Supposedly. D'Hoffryn claimed to know the nephew of the all powerful demon who first cursed humanity with it."
He snorted. "Demons are so full of crap. Almost as bad as humans. Unconditional love, my arse. Where do they get off?"
She considered this a moment then put the box on the floor. A sudden pressing need to challenge the inexplicable melancholy she felt in his presence came over her and she brushed the dust from her hands and placed them on her hips. "What about babies? Unconditional love is a biological necessity for survival of their- my - species. Why else would they-? I mean, when you consider the pain of childbirth - Baby heads aren't really all that small you know. And there's the ignominy of expressing breast milk every morning before you go to work just so your child can thrive on the superior nutritive value of breast milk - what?"
He was smiling now. "Harris is an idiot and he doesn't deserve you."
"That's not - that's really... nice of you to say actually."
"Calls 'em like I sees 'em."
"I kissed Rupert." It seemed important to tell him this, though judging from his expression it was not so shocking an admission she knew it would be for the others.
"Yeah?" he said with just a little lift of his brow.
"He kissed me back too. When we thought we were engaged. Xander doesn't know."
"Wouldn't advise you to fess up on that one."
"Oh, no! But it was a very passionate kiss. And it got me wondering. How could I have those feelings for him and not be aware, not know? I'm not afraid to have feelings or to express them. Ever. So why didn't I know I felt that? Did he know? Was he just really good at hiding it?"
"He's old school British, luv. The only time they're not repressing is when they're drunk." A wink and grin. "'S why we drink so often and so much." He jerked his chin toward the stairs. "She up there?"
"This cool with you? Using the shop?"
"As long as you clean up after." He looked nervous and she had to ask. "You're really going to try to call upon the Luminati?"
"Uh, no, Tara is."
"Yes, yes. But why?"
"Right now, not really sure."
Anya patted him on the shoulder. "Understandable," she said. Four pats seemed sufficiently comforting. She added another one for good measure. "They're unbelievably terrifying."
She picked up the box and headed up the stairs. After a moment he followed.
and you know what I miss most about that time?
was the quality of blackness
it was soft somehow in the absence of fear you could take it into your mouth and send it out through your teeth _~Jane Siberry~_
In the training room he found Tara moving with the slow purposeful grace of someone thoroughly grounded in her Earth Mama persona. She was lighting the wicks on brand new candles - dozens of fat columns in soft white and dull black. Those were going to set him back a few bucks. Anya undoubtedly had an accurate tally in her little file box beneath the counter up front. Usually he ripped 'em off - not from the Magic Box (well, not so many at a time), or he bought boxes of cheap tapers from factory liquidations and 99cent stores. But this sort of magic didn't work with stolen components. With White Magic, if you haggled the price you were likely to get bargain basement results. The Dark Arts were strangely more rigid, what with their ritual sacrifices and tedious incantations, but the results were showier, quicker, and seemed, on the outset, easier to achieve. Still, if you needed the invocation of Meririm found only in a 16th century grimoire of excommunicated Cardinal Nicos which you foolishly left in a hotel room in Paris in the 1950's and decided to use a similar invocation out of Bellecourte's Compendium instead because it happened to be in the local library, well sir, your plan to unleash a pestilent curse through Sunnydale's water supply was bound to be less than completely effective. He learned that lesson the hard way.
Learned all his lessons the hard way.
Tara turned to him, smile on high beam. Damn. She looked positively serene. Too serene. None of the tremulous uncertainty she showed any other time. Irritation flared up in his chest pushing the fear to one side momentarily. What right did she have to be so fucking serene when the Big Bad was standing here quaking in his boots? Did she not know what fearful thing she was about to do?
"Ready?" she asked.
"No." The word came out short and sharpish. "Why am I doing this again?"
"I'm assuming it's not to get your coat back anymore," she said still smiling that smile. Well, they could offer to replace it at least, that was just good form. "Find the truth and embrace it. Clarity? Closure?"
"If you start singing the theme song from Touched by an Angel, I'm outa here."
"Spike. You told me you wanted to do this."
No, Buffy wanted him to do this. Talked him into it. 'Cos it was all about her, right? "I have to know, Spike. I have to know or I don't think I can--" Do her bloody job? She didn't have much choice in that no matter what he had affirmed here tonight.
"We can stop right now. You don't have to go through with it."
He made a sweeping gesture indicating the candles and various magical sundries. "Bitch'd still charge me for the stuff."
Tara lush lips curled in a secretive sly-boots manner. Whence this confidence? He tried to focus his predatory instincts on all the sensory clues. Heartbeat, and the whoosh whoosh of blood through her veins, and the phantom tickle of salt and rust on his tongue, and hormones excreted through her pores like a pearly film lain over her skin. Nothing remarkable. He aimed his gaze at her tits, big melon-y handfuls unbound beneath her white gown, but his body wasn't taking the bait. Would not be distracted. He felt at war with his face, muscles betraying him in grimaces and furrows and possibly panicky twitches about the eyes.
He needed to embrace his inner demon and buck the hell up.
"It'll be okay, really." Her voice was smooth, all liquid and amber. "I've set up warders for my protection in case badness shows up." Then she pointed one languid hand at the ring of black candles standing by itself toward the northern-most wall. "And you have your own little circle of safety in case-"
"What? Goodness shows up?"
"You won't get fried."
"You can't summon these things, Glinda. I'm pretty sure of that. Most demons, yeah, you can trick 'em into showing, but-"
"I've got it covered." As if to illustrate her remarkable assurance, she plucked a filmy bit of white silk from the couch and draped it over her head. Looked at him through a veil of white. "I'm all with the-" she began. The veil fluttered and then stuck to her lips. She folded the fabric away from her face in mild frustration. "-with the beseeching and humble entreaty."
She'd taken on a bit of Red's speaking style. That couldn't be good. "Are you sure you should be doing this alone?"
"My mother's helping me."
"I thought your mother was-oh." Well, at least she wasn't channelling Willow.
"Spike. I've got it covered. You'll be safe."
"Could be thinking of your safety, couldn't I now?"
"Really? That's - that's sweet but-"
"Your safety means mine own, pet."
"Right. Got it. Empty your pockets, remove any jewellery. Boots and belt off." He must have been broadcasting a big giant 'huh?' "You can't have anything metal on your person."
"Damn. Gonna have to remove the rod from out my arse then. Should warn you, my spine's likely to collapse as a result."
"Spike. They won't be able to touch you. I promise."
His jaw clenched and then he just shook his head, resigned. She couldn't keep that promise if they decided otherwise.
On the porch steps, Buffy leaned back on her elbows, tipped her head and looked at the stars. Introspective times like this required a cigarette to be truly appreciated Or rather, someone sitting next to her smoking one.
She kind of got the whole cigarette thing at moments like this. The way it must focus you on inhaling and exhaling slow and easy. Except for the cancer causing toxins and the coughing part it was probably a very relaxing thing to do. The tip glowing and burning, smoke curling up into the air, you sitting on the earth and maybe getting a little teary eyed. Elemental contemplation. Downright spiritual. Except, not. She sighed.
Damn. Wish I hadn't talked him into doing this summoning thing.
He'd been so...scared, even while pulling himself up and saying, "if it's that important to you then I'll give it a go." And yes, she was feeling a little guilty about that tonight because if Spike was scared then these angels must be bowel-loosening scary. But of course, they would be to him wouldn't they? If they were, in fact, angels.
So. Not angels. Demons. That glowed. Much easier concept.
"I need to tell you something. About me. About angels..."
"About...? About Angel's what?"
"What...? Not bloody Angel! If I'd meant Angel I would have said the bleedin' pouf, or Peaches Galore, or-"
"You mean real angels? Like angels on high and aaaahhhh..." She did her best impersonation of a heavenly choir.
He covered his ears and when that failed covered her mouth. "Stop. For the love of-"
"You and angels? Cloud sitting angels with halos and wings?"
"Not the golden-haired faux-Victorian dollies you put on top of the sodding Christmas tree," he said. "These were the real thing. Powerful. Eternal beings. Not like us - not like vampires I mean."
"Uh, yeah, cuz like - angels. Opposite of evil."
"Oh look, she's read Metaphysics for Dummies. Bully for you." He took a deep calming breath as if he actually needed one. "You read the bit about the difference between immortal and eternal then?"
"Must've skipped that chapter."
"Vampires are immortal beings. Not eternal. We don't we don't die like we're supposed to."
"Ri-ight, part of the whole vampire sales pitch, isn't it? Live forever. Stay pretty. Guess that means no slaying of angels for me then. I can still kill vampires though." She waggled her brows. "You for instance."
"No. You can end my existence. Not the same thing."
"Aargh...is this conversation gonna be all existential...ly? Cuz that stuff gives me a headache."
He manoeuvred her body so she was leaning back against him and started to rub her temples - just enough pressure from his thumbs, his fingers spread over her skull, buried in her hair. "Relax and listen." Lips brushing her earlobe, "I promise if your brain starts oozing out your ears I'll push it right back in again." She felt a lovely shiver rush up her spine and out the top of her head. He pulled back a little and let his thumbs move the skin at her temples around in soothing circles. "All right? 'S like this. We - vampires that is - when we're turned we step outside the natural order. We die, but we don't. We cheat life and death alike. But no matter how long we manage to survive in this state, immortality ends eventually. The end will come to all of us. It's just---it isn't death. Death, true death is life recycling energy. Vampires have surrendered that connection. We don't...we don't come back. Not as microbes in the soil or grass or cow's milk or the hamburger you have for lunch that you shit out the next morning."
"Eew. Thanks for the image. Rub it out."
He applied a bit more pressure with his thumbs. "Listen. This is important. Once we're gone, we're gone, right? We're nothing anymore. Nothing at all. You understand?"
She'd started to say something, protest. No, see, there was dust left. She'd breathed enough of it in over the last six years to know there was definitely dust action. That was something, not nothing. "How much nothing? I mean are we talking nothing as in dust in the wind. Or nothing like a void-nothing, like never-existed nothing?"
"More like the void, never-existed bit."
"Oh. That's...that's kind of sad. But people remember you. I mean even if you only exist as bad memories people are desperately trying to forget, you still... Anyway, at least your human soul is free to move on."
The thumbs stopped moving and his hands pulled back, rested on her shoulders for a second before he moved away, pushed and groaned the way people do when their legs have fallen asleep. But his legs didn't fall asleep. She suspected she'd ventured into the Area 51 of the whole sharing experience. His voice was gruff. "Soul-boy tell you that?"
"I don't - I'm not sure. I heard it somewhere. Maybe Giles. When a vampire is made the demon pushes the human soul out and it's goes into limbo or stasis or something. God that sounds so silly when I say it out loud. Why? What do think happens to it when you finally kiss the big stake?"
"How should I know?" There was a sharp edge to his voice. Now he was actually pushing her. Not angry or rough, just pushing her away. It was Marlboro time. "Don't know about all this soul business. Don't know if I really believe in souls."
"Hard to believe in when it's not around to plague you."
"You are a judgmental little bitch." He said it matter-of-factly, not a trace of rancour as he lit his cigarette. "You have no more idea what a soul is than I do. Less I should think."
"I happen to have one."
"Really? Where's it located? What's it look like? What's it do exactly? Does it hop into a new body when the old one's worn out? Does an embryo have one? Is your soul the undiluted eau de Buffy or is Buffy's soul just a tiny part of a vast divine intelligence governing the universe?"
"I...well... I don't..."
"You don't know. You don't know shit because you likely never think about it. And even if you did think about it you still wouldn't know." There was a hint of something in that statement, not cruelty exactly because his voice was too gentle, calm, but it reminded her of what she feared in her secret heart of hearts. That someday he'd learn the art of patience and when he did, the intellect he kept honed and razor sharp in reserve just for moments like this would be the knife he used to kill her.
He lay back in the cool grass, blowing smoke rings at the stars. "I, on the other hand, was a good Christian lad back in the day."
She snorted. "You were not."
"Yes. I was. Well, everyone was back then 'cept for Heathen Darkies, Red Injuns, and Chinamen. Said my prayers every night, went to church twice on Sundays. Had all that soul stuff drilled into me from the time I could sit up and take notice. If you were good, ate all your porridge, weren't wilful or disobedient, helped the less fortunate and kept yourself from impure thoughts your soul went to heaven. Anything else it went straight to hell. There was a popular children's book that described hell in unflinching detail. I remember this one verse, kind of a nursery rhyme that I was fond of, mostly for the sing-song-y rhythm." He paused, eyes focused on the middle distance as he rifled through papers in his brain before reciting.
*"'Satan is glad--when I am bad,*
And hopes that I--with him shall lie
In fire and chains--and dreadful pains.'"
He grinned at her look of horror. "None of that Doctor Seuss nonsense for us. And didn't I make Satan glad, Slayer? Learned to appreciate my chains and dreadful pains, I did. But back then, different story. Trying to hide my impure thoughts beneath layers of romantic nonsense, believing I could give my soul to my beloved along with my heart, like a soddin' engagement ring. I had no more idea what a soul actually was than I do now. I know I felt something...leave...when I died. But it was such a little thing, you know? Such a little tug and snap, it didn't seem important after I'd awakened to a brand new wicked world." He went introspective for a moment then roused himself with wan pluckiness she thought a bit creepy. "Soul doesn't equal Good though. Angel-dearest knows that right well himself. We've lived through too much human history to believe otherwise. So I ask, what is it really? What does it mean? Why does Peaches have this Get Out of Jail Free card with you and I get squat."
She'd avoided examining this for so long that her response was automatically dismissive. "Hi? Blowjob?"
He sighed wearily. "Buffy, damn it, why must you- You're trivializing. Like you always do with me. Forget it, all right. Done talking now."
"Oh god. Oh god."
Tara struck a match, one of those long fireplace sorts. "I'm pretty sure God won't make an appearance."
"Yeah. 'Cos that'd prove his existence and we can't have that." Good one Spike. But the snarky 'tude wasn't doing anything to quell the numb terror creeping into his bones. There were some things that were too boundless, too radiant even for humans to gaze upon without bursting into flames. Surely she realised that.
And he could feel it, a gathering presence as she walked around the ring of black candles igniting each, calling upon energies and forces whose names danced elusively in his mind like fire sprites. A frisson of sublime anxiety, an ionic charge, made his skin twitch and jump. Spots of white light flared, little explosive flashes like the after-image of fireworks behind his wide-open eyes. What was she doing? How could this possibly work? Calling up an energy that was anathema to his kind to protect him from it? That was just crazy. Oh god. She was just a girl. She couldn't possibly hope to contain them with her charms and potions.
His circle was facing north, with sigils and sage and rose quartz between the black candles. It was like socks with sandals. Wrong somehow with the love and the cleansing smoke and devil's hearts. With a white lily lying in the point of the inverted pentagram in which he sat. This couldn't be right.
Tara moved through the thickening air, a dolphin riding waves of light and dark, and he thought he could see her aura, smudged clean all around her, tinted pink and yellow-gold like a tea rose. And she was closing the circle even now, sealing him off, a specimen under a murky glass dome. But it was all illusion. There was nothing that would ever be thick enough, or dark enough that they could not penetrate, nothing between him and the air beyond this ring of candles and the hugeness of space where they would come, they would come to fill the world with all that light and trap him forever beneath the glass, blind and flailing, pinned like a bug to a board-
Buffy jogged after him, finally had to race to catch up, grabbed him by the sleeve and tugged hard. Goddamn, vampires could move so freaking fast when they'd a mind to. "Spike! Come on. Come on. Stop. Just stop a minute. I didn't mean - look, I'm sorry okay? My bad."
He jerked from her grasp and rounded on her. "And what...I'm supposed to be grateful? Thank you for apologizing to me. That was ever so gracious."
"What did you expect? You went off at a tangent! You were going to tell me something and then you- I hate when you bring him up! You know that. Why do you have to do that?"
"Because it was germane to the topic."
"What does Angel have to do with these angel thingies? I mean he's not one, right?"
He stared at her, open-mouthed stunned disbelief. "Were you listening to me at all? At all?"
"Eternal beings? Tremendously powerful? Big fucking scary ANGELS!"
She swallowed and heard it echoing inside her head. "Anya called them the Daemon Luminati."
"Yeah. Those. That's what got me in the alley. Not Angel. Not angel thingies. Those."
Oh. And she'd known all along hadn't she? Known since she first heard Anya speak the name they were called and she just couldn't -
She sank to the ground, which happened to be the sidewalk outside the cemetery gates, sat in uncomfortable sprawl just a few yards from the drive with its flanking statuary of nondescript seraphim pointing the way to the parking lot, her mind looping round and round.
"Why?" she asked finally. He was sitting on the curb next to her now, tapping the filter of a cigarette on his thumbnail.
"Apparently, I asked for it. Because I wanted you to love me back."
"I don't have to!" He was only reminding her that he didn't technically have to breathe, but the words rang with mortifying Dawn-like petulance.
"Spike," she murmured. "Just breathe."
And he did because it was something, something at last to focus on. Concentrated on the rhythm of in and out, paraffin and beeswax smoke on his tongue and in his nose, eyes closed to make the dark bubble darker, crushing the lily in his fist to his breast like the dead do. Just breathe. And after a while a sound drifted in, like snoring and distant church bells.
She put her head in her hands and shook it mournfully. "Jesus Christ, Spike. Jesus." What had he done? What had she done?
"Buffy, I didn't mean- Not blaming you, or like that."
"I know...but...I mean Jesus! What were you thinking?"
"Don't get me wrong. Not like I prayed or anything. I don't even know how I-I don't know any of this for sure. Only I'd finally got that you couldn't love me. Because it wasn't right. Because of what I'd done and what I'd been. No matter what I did in the present or the future, there was no making up for that in your mind. Didn't matter what was in your heart. You've learned the hard way not to be ruled by that. But I'm immortal, you're not. And I wanted you to love me while we were both sharing the same world. Because we won't meet again. I don't get another chance."
"You don't know that. You just said- all that stuff about souls and...you can't know that."
"Yeah. Yeah, Slayer. Think I do. I suspected it before, but it didn't mean anything. 'Cos I had darkness, my princess, groceries on parade nightly, blood and fags and fists. I had the whole world. So it didn't matter. Now that it does, well," He gave her a smile, grim, melancholy, certain, "it still doesn't matter. This is all I'm ever gonna be. This. Right here. When I go, my soul or whatever it is I surrendered for the chance to strut around in a beautiful corpse, that goes with me. Poof. No more."
His eyelids were so heavy he could only peer through a slit between them. For a moment he couldn't reconcile what he saw with what he was hearing, feeling. Like viewing a desert sunrise through the slats of a window blind. Murmurs that had sounded like sleep and bells had deepened into the floating heaviness of morphine and spine-shaking Chinese gongs.
Stupid, stupid girl.
Tara was kneeling towards the east with her upturned face, veil aflutter and the candles flaring up, spitting and sputtering, casting fewer and fewer shadows on the floor and the walls as the light expanded.
"Zagzagel. Ashriel. Uriel. Raziel." Bloody bloody hell! No!
He stood up, sub-sonic vibrations rumbling beneath his feet, stabbing pain through his temples. NO!
"Nafriel. Lahatiel. Naoutha. Puriel." She was calling them by name! Names of fire and lightning and winds of change.
"Abraxas. Naadame. Rogziel. Hutriel."
Wrath mysteries punishment wisdom division flame and light and light and light and light and
Wings beating so fast the world stopped spinning.
...deserted by the blackbirds and the staccato of the staff and though you trust the light towards which you wend your way sometimes you feel that all you wanted has been taken away you will walk in good company _~Jane Siberry~_
The world was a snow globe turned inside out. Instead of flakes of plastic, the snow was made of cottonwood seeds and dandelion fluff set floating on the ether, stirred by the nearly imperceptible movement of wings.
Tara wondered how she'd failed to notice this simple fact before. Delight bubbled up and came laughing out. Yes! It really was all a matter of perception!
No. Not cottonwood or dandelion. The stuff of light these were.
The fuzzy bits of light danced over her flesh, warming her and stimulating her even as she felt her limbs go languid. A vague thought meandered. Deadly radiation? What felt like the after-effect of a full body massage was actually organs melting, bones crumbling into dust? Was that it? She flexed her fingers experimentally. Reassured that her body still functioned, she focused her concentration on the dark mass of fear somewhere to her left.
Oh, poor thing! Poor trembling creature. It's okay. It's all right. She reached out, but the beast was trapped, cowering from the pinwheel light that bumped and bounced against its black little world.
There is a spider, a filigree button at the center of a web, spun sugar bright. It's a very pretty spider. It's a very pretty web. Caught on the last blazing spikes of the sun, suspended between the pinions of wings that span a universe. Reminds him of snowflakes, how there are no two alike. And who figured that out anyway? Who goes about comparing snowflakes to determine that somewhere somehow in billions of bits of crystallized water there weren't two exactly the same?
Snowflakes, spider webs, just patterns burned onto his retinas. His retinas are fried most likely. They'd recover of course, because he's got all that supernatural mojo going on. Or they would, if he didn't happen to be on fire.
Not even a hot fire. He's burning nonetheless.
Are my eyes open or closed? Am I standing, sitting, or crouched? How many of them are dancing on the head of a pin inside my brain? Do the answers matter when one is ablaze?
When Buffy was a little girl she heard the expression "written in the stars" and, like a perfectly normal kid, took it literally. On nights like this one, she used to lie in the back yard of her house in LA hoping to see the stars writing in the heavens, imagining it would be kind of like seeing the witch in Wizard of Oz writing "Surrender Dorothy" in the sky with her broom stick only with a less scary message - something meant just for her, like "Hi Buffy!" maybe or "Buffy, the next Dorothy Hamill." It wasn't until she was twelve, not looking for it at all, so past those childish notions because she was in Junior High and wore mascara and lip gloss and an almost bra, that she saw what seemed to be the stars rearranging themselves overhead. Her stomach had done butterfly loop de loops and she silently congratulated herself. Oh my yes, she was special. Here was proof at long last. And she watched and she waited, breathless, trembling with a wonder she thought herself far too sophisticated to feel anymore. But unfortunately the message etched across the sky was as mysterious as the stars themselves, written in glyphs or secret letters of some secret alphabet. She had no idea what it said. Later she wondered why she hadn't thought of UFOs or that maybe she was hallucinating because of bad sausage pizza or any number of possibilities other than the really odd notion that stars were trying to tell her something she couldn't understand.
"Right," she said looking at those same stars from her porch in Sunnydale o'er the Hellmouth. "Probably said, 'Chosen Ones, Apply Here Now."
She remembered one afternoon not so long ago, after the flayed-alive, knife-to-the-bone activity that often passed for sex between them, discovering she'd been dozing, her cheek resting on Spike's stomach like the cool side of a pillow. She lay there for a bit pretending she was still asleep to save herself the sight of his smug contentment, and drifted off into a fantasy of him as an alien, the two of them star crossed lovers whose planets were at war. Sleeping with the enemy seemed tragically romantic under those circumstances, the crimes he'd committed more distant, less personal. It was war after all. They'd never meant to fall in love. It was simply destiny. Of course she'd leapt up and fled as soon as the concept "fall in love" wriggled into her semi-conscious mind - ran off "virtue fluttering" as he said.
Now, a sudden rush of raw feeling overwhelmed her, and it had no definition this feeling, just sharp in the gut as she jack-knifed forward, head to her knees, arms wrapped tight around her ankles, folded into the tightest little body-ball she could manage, hiding from stars and destiny and the terrible thing she'd convinced Spike to do because she wanted answers - answers that ultimately would make no difference.
~Poof. No more~
And if it were true for him...
"I'm going to have to stop punning while slaying," she whispered to the stars. But she wanted to flail and kick her legs and cry that it wasn't fair to her! How could she do what she did every night, fighting a war that was never going to end, if she couldn't slay vampires with a witty bon mot and a casual brushing of dust from her clothes? What if she condemned the souls they'd lost to a hell of non-existence - erased from continuity, from the promise of renewal, of recovery, of any hope?
"Vampires don't care, pet. It's not a part of us anymore. And I doubt a soul is some sort of conscious entity languishing in limbo and fretting over its fate."
Still, he didn't know for certain, did he? He'd admitted as much. And she had to know even if it didn't change what she had to do, or what she was destined to do.
Destiny sucked harder than a newly risen vampire.
The backdoor opened. "Whoa," Willow said softly, "Heavy-sigh alert. Should I fetch my bumbershoot?"
Buffy raised her head, saw Willow's green sneakers out of the corner of her eye. "I can't love him," she said to the shoes.
The shoes stepped down, and Willow's arm slid across her shoulders as she sat beside her on the porch steps. "Yup. He's no damn good. But hey, since when has that stopped any of us?"
"This isn't funny."
"I'm not - not making with the funnies. You can't love him. I get that. I don't think you should. Doesn't mean you don't."
"I don't. Not the way the he wants. I can't spare the room in my heart."
"Your heart is suddenly a 5x7 locker at U-Store-It?"
"I thought you weren't going to make with the funnies?"
"Look. I'm not advocating for Spike here, believe me, and this thing, with him and Tara - it troubles me. A lot."
"She's just being Tara. You don't have any reason to be jealous."
"That's not it. She doesn't know him like we do. He punched her in the nose once, but she's never had the broken bottle in the face or been pinned to a bed while he tried to-" she broke off, shimmied her shoulders to shake the memories loose and brush them off. "Okay, so he's changed - a little - and I'm willing to acknowledge that this change may be because of how he feels about you. But it wasn't all that long ago that he was all about killing everybody. And I know something happened between them. Something serious that scared her. So I don't get this sudden Spike lovefest..."
"But...what you're saying right now about having no room in your heart? Big scaredy-cat bullshit. Love makes room for itself. You add new rooms to your heart house every time you love someone."
Buffy looked at her askance. "Mixed messages, here. And sorry, but...heart house?"
Willow grinned. "My reign as champion of metaphors may be coming to an end. I'm not suggesting you make a trip to Home Depot to build the Spike love room, I'm just saying...why impose limitations on the size of your heart?"
Head in hands again, Buffy moaned, "Is it love if I just don't want him to die?"
"Already dead. As I'm sure he'd point out if he were here. You know...you could be feeling this strange and unusual sensation some of us like to call compassion. Like, you know, the way you do for lions at the zoo. God, I hate zoos. Even those new-fangled habitat ones, with the big fakey Star Trek rocks and -"
Suddenly Buffy threw her head back and roared, and the roar that came out of her would have put a lion to shame. Willow slid sideways so fast that if she hadn't been wearing sturdy denim she would have got huge splinters in her behind.
"He loves me, Will. I mean loves me in a big romantic epic movie kind of way. With self-sacrifice and all that crap I can't possibly give back to him. Even if he wasn't, you know, a soulless vampire who for some stupid reason has decided to change his evil ways for me - I can't give the big love anymore. Not if I'm going to be saving the goddamned world all the time - and not if I - oh god Willow! What have I done?"
"Um...not really sure."
"It's just - I had to know. I needed to know if I'm-oh God-"
Willow waited, her eyes probing for any minute hint at the Big Truth she sensed was coming. Of course, with Buffy she'd learned the Truth had to be pried out with a crowbar sometimes, but she was willing to give it a few more seconds.
The whispered words were so low Willow wasn't sure she got them right. "I need to know if I'm a soul killer."
"What? Of course you're not! Why would you think-? What does that even mean?"
"There's this possibility when I dust a vamp, that somehow... somehow the human soul they lost when they were turned, that-that it sort of gets dusted as well. In a matter of speaking."
"Oh my God. But-no, that can't be right. Giles never said anything like-"
Buffy moaned, and her face fell into her hands. "He's going to die. I've sent him off to die."
"Wait. Okay. We're back to Spike now, right? I thought he was with Tara."
"She's - she's summoning the Luminati for him. At the Magic Box-"
"She's summoning...? Do you have any idea how crazy that is?" Willow was on her feet now, up and down the short steps, her arms stiff at her sides, fists balled up. "She didn't tell me that! She said she had a way to find out what they were or- or find them or something. She didn't tell me she was summoning demons!"
Buffy looked instantly horribly guilty. She gulped. "Calm down. It's okay. They're - they're angels."
Pacing the yard now. Stiff grass and pebbles squeaked a protest beneath the rubber treads of her sneakers. "Hello! Angels! Demons of Light!"
"But- but Tara's not the one in danger. She's a good guy. She's got the soul and everything. They won't hurt her. Spike's the one-"
"Soul schmoul, they don't care! They don't even have souls."
"No...angels have souls. Don't they have souls? They're good."
Willow waved away any and all distinctions along with Buffy's silly notions of good and evil. "It's a whole light or dark alignment thing. They're all demons, even according to Judeo-Christian tradition. It's just a matter of who they call boss."
"Oh. Oh crap."
"What are they doing, Buffy? How did he talk her into this?"
"He- he didn't. He didn't want to. I-I- it was my idea okay? She said she could call them and I talked him into it so he could find out-"
"Shitshitshit. Tara's done some dark stuff with us, with me -they'll totally sniff it out! Oh god. We have to go there. Buffy! We have to stop it, stop her-"
"I'll grab some weapons."
"Don't bother," Willow shouted over her shoulder as she ran. "Won't help."
It occurred to Buffy as she loped beside her and raced ahead that Willow's dark mojo wouldn't be any help either.
The first conscious memory of his life - the life in which he had a heartbeat - was of diffuse sunlight pouring through French doors. His mother was doing something mysterious to potted plants with an atomizer. He thought she was making them smell nice, because she had similar atomizers on her dressing table full of lemon verbena and Rose attar. As he watched her leaning, bending, turning; as he listened to the familiar rustle and squeaking noises that in later days would be associated with taffeta and whalebone stays and not merely mother, he was struck with the realisation that he and she were two distinct and separate beings. He was alone in his body, which meant that she must also be alone in hers, and that this was a wonderful, amazing thing. They were both inside their own unique containers. He tried to express this to her. But as he was not quite three he lacked the sophistication of language adequate to express the concept. The sheer awesome power of his discovery was misinterpreted as anxiety and the need for comfort.
"No, no, my darling boy! You're not alone," she exclaimed, drawing him into her lap. "Your mamma is here. She will always be with you. And you will always be with me, my beautiful, sweet little boy." Then she gave him her breast, which wasn't what he was after, but as she didn't offer the teat nearly as often as he desired only seemed right to enjoy it. How easily she'd seduced him away from his discovery.
Drusilla also seduced him with breasts, and the more alluring and mysterious promise of bare thighs above her stockings, and strange exotic words that made him gasp in wonder and alarm. Her voice and eyes told him the truth of himself, saw inside him and knew he was alone in there, special, unique in all the world. She took everything he'd become in his short life into her own body and gave it back to him transmogrified. The mingling of their blood was the blood of generations going back to the once-upon-a-time before there was Time. And he became everything. At once.
For a moment.
After that moment, the birth into darkness. Clawing his way out of the earth to find his new mother waiting even as his old mother wept beneath her mourning crepe somewhere far away. Baby bird feedings and learning to hunt.
He completely lost the desire to pour his pathetic soul onto the page. There was nothing left to pour. But he didn't feel empty. He'd become so much more than feeble expressions of soul and self. He was connected to all Life in the most intimate way possible. He took it away.
Yes, she'd saved him from mediocrity. From rejections, or possible acceptance, from marriage and fatherhood, money woes or success, sickness, aging and shuffling off the mortal coil, from becoming worm-food, decay. But she didn't save him from love, the bitch.
I burn for love, he thought and then began to laugh.
Spike was laughing. The fluffy bits of light stopped flinging themselves against the magic that protected him and began to multiply, filling up the room now, purging the shadows and softening the corners so that everything was illuminated, cold and bright and edgeless, making the dark dome near the wall seem like a haven. Tara's throat tightened. She couldn't breathe; it was in her mouth and nose and lungs, choking and gagging her at the same time, even the pores of her skin were clogged with light. She struggled to stand up, to warn Spike, or beg him for help, but her legs had the consistency of gummy worms.
Her throat opened as if to vomit out the light. She heard herself speaking instead and the voice that issued forth was legion.
"WHAT AMUSES YOU BEAST?"
So many voices in the one voice.
Spike tested his eyelids - blink, blink - then his eyes. Focus. He could see. He wasn't burning. A trick of their light. He was safe inside his circle. Soft dark in a ring of candles. The candles flames weren't moving though. Not a flicker. Static, glowing like little flame shaped bulbs. Beyond the circle, searing light had taken on the strange blue-white luminosity of an iceberg. He could still hear the annoying florescent hum of their wings, but saw only Tara in her white dress with her white white bones gleaming through, and her hair rimmed in white gold, and the flesh of her face layered over her skull like mother of pearl. He smelled lilacs and lemon blossoms and burnt sage, distinct, unmingled.
"The things I do for love. That amuses." His voice was raw as if he'd been screaming for hours. "Tell you what doesn't amuse - whatever you're doing to the witch, she's not liking it. Got this thing 'bout having her mind messed with by powerful beings. Pisses her right off."
"HER BODY IS OUR MOUTHPIECE. HER MIND IS YET HER OWN. WHY HAVE YOU SUMMONED US?"
"I have questions."
"YOU HAVE ANSWERS."
"What is it with you pure demon-types and your soddin' riddles? The questions are not my own. If you were as all-powerful as you like to think you'd know that, wouldn't you?"
"STEP OUT OF THE CIRCLE."
"Glinda advised me against it. Think she knew where she was at."
"YOU FEAR US."
"There's a little matter of the odds being in your favour-"
"YOU ARE WISE TO FEAR US, UNCLEAN THING. TO SUMMON THE LUMINATI ONCE IS FOOLISH. TWICE, DEADLY FOR SUCH AS YOU."
"Yeah, about that first time. Was it good for you, because I always like a cuddle after-"
"STEP OUT OF THE CIRCLE. WE WILL ANSWER."
The voices in the one voice seemed suddenly too much for Tara's body. It shuddered, and shimmied, a subtle eruption from within. The light covered her eyes like frost.
"What are you doing to her? Stop it!"
"THIS VESSEL LOSES COHESION. IF YOU WANT ANSWERS STEP OUT AND ASK THEM NOW."
Fuck! Of course she couldn't contain them. Of course he would have to choose yet again some pointless noble gesture that would avail him nothing. He wasn't the one that wanted answers. He knew the goddamned answers already. When I go, so goes my soul. The End. He knew at that moment he wasn't ever going to get what he wanted - that illusive effulgent something Dru promised so long ago. The lightness of being he'd hoped to find in the darkest part of darkness, in the poetry of love and death, in bloodsong, or Buffy's body. He would never ever get what he wanted.
"It's easier if you let go," Tara said. And the softness of her true voice hurt his ears.
I almost ran over an angel. He had a nice big fat cigar. "In a sense," he said, "you're alone here, So if you jump, you best jump far." _~Tori Amos~_
No Admittance. Xander was attempting to challenge the admonition on the training room door with an axe. One of those fireman types you were supposed to "break glass in case of emergency" to use. Buffy could never figure out the point of having an axe behind glass or really what the average guy was expected to do with one. Neither could Anya apparently. She was pressed close to Xander, looking drawn and anxious, digging her manicured nails into his arm that held the axe. He spared only a cursory glance for them as they burst into the shop, as if he'd been expecting a Slayer and a Witch arriving any moment.
"We can't open the door and she doesn't want me to use the axe," he explained. His calm seemed preternatural, stillness before the inevitable apocalypse he'd learned to anticipate from years of living on the Hellmouth. Considering the high frequency whine in the air and the molten intensity of light Buffy saw leaking out around the edges of the door he wasn't far off. "I've tried to explain that I can replace the door at no cost but-"
"I don't care about the freaking door!" Anya cried. "I'm afraid of what will come out through the hole you make in it! There must be thousands of them in there. What if Tara wasn't strong enough to put up proper warding spells? Or... oh god. Oh god. This door could be part of the circle. If we break the circle then - oh god." She clutched at Xander's biceps, her entire body quivering with terror. "The cavalry is here. Can we leave now? Please, Xander."
Of course she wanted to leave. Who could blame her? Anya had been a favoured demon of the Lower Beings for a thousand years. Behind door number one was likely a painful reckoning for the dark vengeance she'd once wielded.
But Tara was behind that door. And Spike-
Buffy moved towards it, reached to turn the knob. "You guys get out, I'll-"
"It won't open!" "Don't open it!" Xander and Anya said at the same time. And beneath those cries she heard a rumbled chanting, Willow's voice. She spun to shout at her "No!" but found she had no voice of her own.
Willow's eyes were like jet, focused but not seeing, and her arm arced in the air. Lazy tracers followed the motion. Her fingers curled around a dark mass and with just the barest flick of her wrist something black and oily left her hand, gathered more of itself to itself then rose up to crest above their heads before crashing down and rushing towards the door - and everything standing in the way.
Paralysed, Xander and Anya wore identical expressions of open-mouthed horror. Buffy flung herself at them, pushing them out of the path of the wave, all their limbs tangling as they rolled like a kitten's ball of string. She was on her feet in an instant, though she had no idea what to do next.
The wave broke against the door. It was as if the "No Admittance" sign announced a universal law of physics - "immovable object here" - and naturally, the magic had no option but to rush back the way it came. Willow's had only enough time to emit a little squeak of surprised annoyance before she went under, tossed and tumbled, toppling books from the shelves, shattering glass and sending goods flying everywhere.
Xander yelped, and was scrambling to her aid even as the sobbing Anya tried to hold him back. And suddenly, Buffy didn't care. Not in a mean way. She knew they were all right, or as all right as they could be under the circumstances. It was a simple thing to dismiss them from her thoughts. Turn her back on them. They didn't need her right now.
She eyes the door with the same peaceful certainty she'd experienced diving from that tower, into a vortex and certain death. Under her gaze, the bold lettering on the door tore like gauze. She laid first her hand, then the whole length of her body to it, feeling the cold light penetrating the wood and metal from the other side, seeping into the marrow of her bones as if to freeze her, as if she didn't know that trick of heaven already. She felt her palms pressing in and through, felt her breath flowing in and through the barrier.
"I'm here now. Let me in."
Spike was experiencing an unaccustomed sympathy for the Brooding Hulk and his "moment of happiness" clause.
His very own moment of happiness had led him here. He didn't realize how hard he'd been clinging to it until now, how desperately he'd sought to recapture it ever since that first night, when the walls came down.
They'd been at it for hours. The violent urgency of their initial couplings had passed, and she was malleable as Silly Putty by then, stretched long beneath him, or pressed flat over him, or folded over and over and over, bubbles of satisfaction bursting all around him with soft little pops.
Long past exhaustion and well into an altered state of consciousness, he played at rearranging her molecules with his cock and his tongue and his fingers, heard her breath catch, thought he'd hurt her, which was an odd thought considering they were both covered with abrasions, bruises, and dirt. But he kept fucking her, slow languorous ins and outs, a nudge to her sweet spot on the upswing, watching her face with a kind of anxious fascination, wondering if he'd just discovered the very best way to kill a Slayer. She gasped again, her little oh oh oh my god's dissolving into ... something else. Not pain though.
Her eyes flew open and locked onto his. Saw what he saw and knew what he knew in that moment. She looked surprised, and the breathless laughter that came out of her, unexpected and utterly foreign, almost made him stop, or at least some part of his brain thought he should stop. But his body kept moving, because by then he was coming again and he couldn't have stopped, not even if the sun had chosen that moment to burst through the cracks in the roof and fry his bobbing backside.
Still she'd laughed as the tears rolled down the sides of her face and into her tangled hair, laughed as she thrashed her head and clutched at him, fierce and almost angry that he'd drilled so deep into her and brought this huge joy welling to the surface, this very joy that lapped over him, moved through, poured back into her, a perpetual loop of cascading, effervescent, good good good vibrations. And after, when they'd finally collapsed unable to go on, he felt scoured, squeaky clean beneath the dust and sweat and territorial marks they'd inflicted on each other. She slept at his side and he didn't even feel the need to touch her just to convince himself this was real. Because he knew he'd brought her joy. Cracked the ice and got the waters moving again. He was her joy. Him!
It all went to hell in the morning, of course. But he'd refused to accept that he might have been deluded about the joy no matter what she told him later. He was so fucking certain. Yet as many times as she came to him, as hard as he tried, that moment of her joy and his happiness never came again. And it was that moment he'd held onto so hard for so long until he'd squeezed all the juice out of it. It was the moment that led him here, to this existential terror hovering beyond the ring of darkness.
The Luminati inside Tara's body were rattling the cage of her bones hard, hard. Her mouth and eyes wide open, tears flying out, blood coating her teeth from where she must have bitten her tongue. They would burst out soon. Soon. Burn everything.
"STEP INTO THE LIGHT." Blood coursed from Tara's lips with the words.
He was safe in his circle, the circle she had made for him. She was going to die for it.
He shivered, an absurdly delicate sensation, before calm settled in. The look of horror and regret on her face told him what he himself hadn't been sure of until that moment.
He wasn't going to let her die for it.
A step. "Self-righteous pricks." Another step. "You get off on this shit, don't you? Whip the dog until he cowers, then get him to do tricks. Jump through fiery hoops, walk a tightrope on his hind legs, do anything for the Scooby snack you dangle in front of his nose, right?" He paused at the perimeter. Felt his lips stretch and assumed he was smiling. "Oh, but I forgot. Gave me the gift of free will, didn't you? Expected me to fail spectacularly, I imagine."
The hum of wings beat faster and the light in the room began to coalesce, a swarm of diaphanous insects gathering, making ready. "News flash, motherfuckers. I knew I was never gonna get the girl."
He slid his right foot between a black candle and a clump of rose quartz.
The solid mass of the door shifted with a nauseating squelch. Buffy fell/pushed through it like phosphorescent Jell-O, heard herself say "eeoowww," thought how stupid that sounded, even as she tumbled into the light. No sense of up or down or anything else then but cold blinding white. Was she actually blind now? Is this what blind people saw, this vast white void instead of the comforting darkness she'd always imagined? There was something - not quite a sound. It was vibrating in her sinuses and her nose started to run. White light and white noise. Every movement brought vertigo. She swiped a hand across her nostrils, squeezed her eyes shut, took a couple of deep snotty breaths, let them out through her mouth and then, slowly, slowly, opened her eyes.
She saw everything, too much of everything, and her stomach lurched.
There was Tara, hair crackling around her head - Medusa's snakes struck by lightning. Her mouth and eyes were open wide. Blood on her teeth and chin, and splashes of blood on the fabric that covered her breasts were the only bits of colour in the room. The white void had dimmed to the glint of sun reflected off snow, and then the glinting disassembled and took a new shape. Lots of shapes, but all the same.
Daemon Luminati. Too many to count. Too many to fit in this room, let alone the world. The sudden silence was marred by the plash of Tara's blood hitting the floor, and Buffy marvelled that those drops could seem so loud, louder than her heart thudding in her chest, which was very loud indeed. And then there came another sound, one that made her Slayer senses surge and gather in her solar plexus. Her fingers clenched around a phantom stake. Her muscles coiled, ready to leap, kick, kill.
The sound was a demon screaming and the demon was Spike, and it was stuck to the sole of Spike's left heel, trying to get away, and also trying to reel Spike back into a ring of black candles with static flames, and Spike was pathetic, and Spike was brave, and Spike was a nightmare, a wraith, a monster, and a beautiful man with pale bare feet trying to shake a demon off his heel like it was a yippy little terrier.
She saw all of him: the mind, the personality, the experiences of a hundred forty odd years of his existence on earth writ on his flesh, carved into his bones - He was some woman's baby once. Tiny and new. Oh God - she saw the demon that made it possible for his body to walk and talk and kill and feed. Two separate things that could never be independent of each other. If Spike managed to break the connection, there would be nothing left to animate his flesh. She felt it in her gut like memory and prophecy and the dream-stories of mortal women whose lovers had been seduced away by faerie queens. He'd been too long in that twilight everlasting. As soon as his feet crossed the barrier of magic, the weight of a hundred years would crumble his body to dust faster than any pointed stick.
Why had she sent him on this quest? Why was she always asking the impossible from him? Why did he try when he knew, by the very nature of the beast that made his existence possible, he would fail her?
Even as she thought it, she realized with a sudden wrenching pain, that he wasn't doing this for her.
Too big for her body, the feelings were. Sorrow. Regret. Compassion. Loss. She loved him at the very moment he wasn't thinking about her at all. Breathless wonder, awe, even. She felt the moment pull tight, fraught with exquisite tension as she watched him struggle in this very moment that she loved him, amazed at his stalwart determination to leave one demon behind him in the dark, and run open armed into a nest of wasps. All he was, or ever would be, burned away. Head long into a furnace of non-existence.
Not for Buffy.
It made her sad. It also opened her heart wide. She knew now that she had room for him in there, between her sister, her friends and the rest of humanity.
So when he placed his foot between the black candles and broke the circle, and Tara whispered "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," and the Luminati rushed towards him with a sound like a million hummingbirds zeroing in on the same black blossom, the Slayer moved, made of her body a wall, between the light and the dark. She wore the armour of her soul on the outside. To save a vampire and a witch from angels.
Tara fell, a puddle of white. He smelled ozone tinged with blood, heard her heartbeat stutter, slow, then pound steady, a soft drumming backbeat for the tiny voice growing louder in his head, words he couldn't quite make out. All the questions were meaningless. There were never any answers to be had here. He could feel the Luminati coming for him, and he felt a tug at his heel and another tug - something at his wrist was chafing, pulling.
He looked up. Blue sky. Yellow balloon. It was like those dreams he sometimes had of light he'd never see again, impossible blue of the sky, bedazzling yellow fields of barley, and gaudy, sequin-spangled leaves dancing the in the wind. Colours as viewed through astigmatic memory, intense to the point of nausea. And his soul was floating there in that impossible blue, bobbing yellow on a very long string, high, high above him. He saw that it was tethered to his wrist and that it had been ever since he'd died, though he hadn't noticed the string until now - now, when the knot was unravelling, now, when he could do no more than watch helplessly as it drifted higher, while a dog worried one ankle and his foot stepped out over a precipice. The tiny voice got louder, and he only realized he'd been hearing this voice for a long time because the words were clearer and had begun to make sense and sound true -
you do not exist you never existed you never will exist no one ever loved you or hated you or knew or cared to know you existed you are not seen no one sees you no one will ever see you you are not heard nothing you say or think matters not even to you you had no impact on anything ever because you never were and are not now and never will be you are nothing you are nothing you are nothing
And the demon wailed. And his soul floated up to far in the blue sky, and he would never know the moment it burst, because he and it and the demon at his heel would never have existed to worry about the moment they ceased to be.
nothing nothing Spike nothing ever nothing always less than nothing never were
And he wanted to mourn his own passing into non-existence but what was the point? Even he wouldn't remember him. And this moment, before the big Nothing, was the cruellest Hell ever devised.
Spike you are nothing Spike nothing nothing "Spike."
He gasped, blinked, scrabbled at the string as it curled away from his wrist and wiggled up into the air. No!
Balloon, string, wrist, fingers... Yes! Caught it!
Small fingers lock about his wrist, twisting, grinding against the bone. Pain, sweet and solid. Buffy.
She looks at him. She's got a little girl frown of worry between her brows. Blue sky. Her eyes aren't that color, are they? "I caught it," he says. He can't help grinning.
Spike had evidently lost his mind. Broken the circle of protection and now stood there, grinning like a lunatic at her - a mentally challenged lunatic - while the Luminati rushed towards the breach.
Don't have time for this.
Buffy planted her hands on Spike's chest and shoved, sending him sprawling to his ass in the center of the dark circle. He scrambled right back up, looked to have every appearance of trying to get out again. She stamped her foot, pointed to the middle of the pentagram on the floor and said, "Stay!" God, he really did look like a kicked puppy sometimes. "I mean it! I'm like the only thing between you and fiery demise right now-"
His eyes went wide, then narrowed to mean, mad slits - a matched set for the grim line of his mouth. She realized nearly too late that he was reacting to something seen over her shoulder, and whirled round. Tara. Shit.
Her second thought when she turned was "ugh." The Luminati were moving away from Spike now, swimming through the light towards Tara. Weird glowy wriggly things that looked repulsively like sperm trying to beat each other to an ovum. They weren't moving really fast, but they sure as hell had a goal in mind. Tara was on her knees, struggling, tangled in her dress, her face a study in quiet panic.
"Stay away from her!" Buffy cried, hoping like hell the stern, commanding authority in her voice was enough to get their attention. She didn't dare move her body from the break in Spike's protective circle.
She felt his hand on her arm. It was dry and hot. She shook it off.
"Slayer." His breath tickled the hairs at the nape of her neck, but his voice was hard and harsh and so fucking intense. "It's me they want. Get out of the way."
"NO!" She felt him flinch, heard the gritty slide of his feet on the floor as he moved back fractionally, but she didn't turn around, didn't take her eyes off the Luminati. "I'm not exchanging one of you for the other. Not letting anyone do the big, stupid, bloody self-sacrifice thing here!"
A beat, then a snort that came dangerously close to a giggle. "You said bloody."
"Shut up," she squeaked in un-Slayerlike manner. It was the sort of offended girl-squeak usually accompanied by girl-slaps to boyfriend's chest and followed by pouts that demanded moderately priced jewellery.
Warrior of the People was going to be a hard sell if her body was acting like a teenager at a mall food court. She batted behind her at his hands reaching for her again, concentrating on projecting an imperious...something. Or maybe just - Slayer here, really dangerous Slayer.
"Yo! Angels! You touch her and you answer to me! And you are not gonna like what I have to say."
The thing about bluffing is that you had to feel in your gut that you weren't bluffing. She was usually really good at that. So good in fact that it transcended the realm of bluff and became fact, assurance, certainty.
The Luminati slowed, bobbed in the air. They appeared to be looking at her - though strictly speaking, in present form, they had no eyes. Damn. They were calling her bluff.
She steeled herself and waited. Waited and waited some more until she was tight as a wire and ready to snap. "What are they doing?" she hissed. "Why aren't they doing something?"
"They were using Tara's body, her voice, to speak before," Spike said quietly, "maybe they can't-"
An explosion of light sent her crashing to the floor. All the oxygen in the room seemed consumed by this sudden burst of energy, yet her aching lungs continued to drag in and out, and she suspected she was breathing pure angel. She'd brought her arm up over her eyes automatically when the burst hit, but it was useless as protection. The light passed through her flesh, muscle, bone. Her shuttered eyelids felt seared away. The light filled every nook and cranny in her head. Damn, her nose was running again. No. It was bleeding. And her ears wanted to pop. She could hear Tara sobbing far, far away, and somewhere behind her she could also hear Spike, curses echoing in that hushed and hollow way of prayers in a cathedral. He might be praying for all that she could tell. The words no longer mattered. She knew without looking he was on his knees.
After a moment, she could feel the brightness ... contract somehow, and she peered cautiously over her arm.
There was now one enormous angel, a pillar that should not have been able to fit into the room. It had a kind of classicism about it, a Renaissance angel, painted from life, bathed in soft opalescent colours, modelled, perhaps, on some rich patron's kept lover. Aloof and serene, it loomed above her, compassion implicit, cascading from the elegant folds of its silken robes. Every line, subtle hue, and contour said, I am so far above you that I have to squint and bend very low to the ground to even see you, let alone see your suffering. And yet I do see it - and you. I see inside you, tiny creature. All that you are, were, or ever will be exists between a breath in and out, the blink of my eye, the raising of my foot and the putting it down again. Yet I deign to look upon you now and pity your sorry mortal existence.
And she found herself gasping at her own insignificance.
You have let the unclean thing crawl between your legs, infect you with its poison.
You were weak. "Yes." You could not help yourself. "No."
"Whatever it is they're telling you, don't listen."
Even now it tries to get inside you.
"They're powerful, yes, and so far above me they might as well be God-"
Putrid matter that masquerades as a man.
"-but what you're seeing, what they're showing you right now, all resplendent, and beautiful, and terrible to behold-"
You need never succumb to its corruption. You needn't swallow its foul seed nor be seduced, nor enslaved to the flesh again.
"-that's a reflection of you, love. Your light bouncing off them. They have no true reflection of their own. They don't have souls. They're still-"
Let us be your strength.
"-demons. You can fight demons, Slayer. It's what you do. Doesn't matter whose team they play for. Get up now. Show 'em what you're made of."
Leave this earthly plane and be one with us, your kindred.
"Buffy, come on! You're the only one they won't touch here. They can't touch you! You got the mark of the Chosen One stamped on your butt. Now get up, or me and the witch are gonna fry!"
It was getting hotter. Anya would be so pissed if the shop burnt down.
"Slayer! Goddamn it! I'm not keen on what they've got in store for me, right, but Tara? Why should she suffer just because you were hoping for different answers than the ones you already have?"
Bastard. "Guilt trip? Not helping." Any sting of facetiousness was lost in the horrible sincerity and wrenching sob attached to the words. There was a giant angel foot on the back of her neck grinding her nose in her messes, and a giant angel hand trying to pull her up by her hair. Couldn't he see that?
She heard him sigh. Such a deep sigh. "Sorry, baby." She could feel him close. "Bloody hard for a girl to shine when those buggers have stolen all the bulbs, yeah? Know you're trying your best. So I'm right here. Got your back like always." And his words were so soothing, and made her heart ache and swell, and she was grateful, just grateful. She didn't realize he was stepping out of the circle until his hands were on her shoulders, lifting her up, and then it was too late.
The Angel broke into a million pieces and every piece came at them.
There was a word for it. Something to do with atomic bombs and volcanic eruptions, a word for when sound broke, for when things arrived before they'd left. And who was screaming? Screams swallowed up in the roar. Tears swept away by the wind that wasn't. Particles of angel light hurtling forever and ever on their way towards her, beautiful, terrible, wonderful, inevitable. They were clasped together somehow, her and Spike and Tara, and the roar and the rush set each molecule in their bodies dancing in this great cosmic mosh pit and she closed her eyes, not out of fear, but to make a shield - You must go through me to get to them - and then
Darkness seemed so much darker than Buffy remembered. Like the ocean, but not, because although she floated in it, on it, there weren't any waves, because there wasn't any wind, because there wasn't any sun, and she could just listen to the whoosh of her blood in her ears, her heart beating at every pulse point, the soft steady sound of her breath in and out. She even thought she could hear her hair growing-
"What- what wasn't that?" Somewhere in this liquid darkness, Tara was also floating.
"What didn't-didn't just happen?"
"If this is non-existence, how come I can hear two silly bints asking nonsensical questions?"
"Maybe we're all non-existing together." It sounded dreamy.
A beat. "Yeeaahh. Slayer...perhaps you should consider going back to university before that brain of yours turns to utter mush."
"Hey. A little disoriented here."
"I-I think we're just ... on the floor. In the dark."
A creaking noise. Narrow beam of light sweeping across the black. Xander's voice, shaky with hope and dread. "Hello? Anybody alive in here?"
"Oh thank God." Shouting. "They're okay!"
Tara started laughing, a low, sweet rumble.
"Okay." Xander plunked his beer down on the table, his gaze catching Tara's eyes, leaping over Spike's out of habit, and continuing onto Buffy's where it stayed fixed, also out of habit. "How long are you three gonna play this 'buddies back from Nam' routine?"
"What are you talking about?" Buffy said
She wasn't fooling him with that mildly exasperated look. Not fooling him one iota. She knew exactly what he was talking about. The three of them sitting there, all Deerhunter and Platoon-ish. And yeah, sure, probably lots of mutual sustained abject terror while they were locked in that room together with big scary things. But the people outside that room were experiencing plenty of abject terror themselves. To a lesser degree, he'd give them that much. And he'd concede that it might be hard to explain what happened if you hadn't been there, but jeez, it had been over a week since they stumbled out the door, looking beat and bloodied, hair standing on end - literally standing on end which he thought only happened after wacky comedy electrocutions - and trying to hold each other upright but failing because they were laughing so freaking hard they kept falling down. Which anxious friends could only pray was cathartic in nature despite it being deeply disturbing to witness. Like the current buddy buddy routine, which Xander was now drunk enough to comment upon.
"This," he said unfurling one finger from those still curled around the bottle. He wagged it back and forth at the three sat across from him. "This thing. This, we've shared something none of you can understand, thing." Three pairs of eyes were on him, steady, calm, blinking in eerie tandem. "That! That's what I'm talking about! Plus, Dead Boy Slim is way too introspective-"
"Not...inordinately so. I don't think. Considering."
"See, see? What he just said there? It's not natural." He lifted the bottle to his lips and took three long swallows. Anya was still in the little girls' room doing whatever it was little girls did after they peed.
"Stop talking around him, Xander," Buffy said. "It's impolite."
"There. Another indication of wrongness. I have to be polite to him now."
"Needn't be polite on my account, Harris. Feel free to insult me regularly and I'll happily do the same for you."
Buffy thumped at Xander's fingers locked around the sweating beer bottle. "How many of those have you had?"
"A couple or three. Five. I dunno. We're celebrating averting another apocalypse, aren't we?"
"Wasn't exactly apocalyptic proportions," Tara said.
"How d'you figure that?"
"Well, we were the only ones who were going to die...probably."
"And probably not me," Buffy chimed in, "on account of I have Chosen One stamped on my butt." She glanced obliquely at Spike and grinned. "I haven't seen it myself so must defer to those in the know." Spike also grinned, sly and smug, and Buffy lowered her batting eyelashes to concentrate on slurping up dregs of Diet Coke by vigorously churning the straw in the ice.
Xander shuddered, partly from the noisy ice sounds, partly to shake the curtain of denial over that particular "place Xander must never go." He could go a lot of places in his head, but Spike and Buffyland wasn't one of them. It had been hard enough to leave them be that first night when they all three fell asleep on the sofa together and he'd just wanted to thrust pillows between those he considered his womenfolk and the undead guy in the middle. But there weren't enough pillows in the world to accomplish the task, and Anya had insisted he quit trying. More distressing the next day, when he came by at lunch and none of them were on the sofa. He'd even checked for a coating of dust on the sunlit cushions, relieved when he found none, and berating himself for being worried he might. Then watching Tara come down the stairs, looking serene and ... resolved. As she left the house he heard Willow crying softly upstairs. He didn't know why, exactly, though he suspected it had something to do with the magic tsunami she'd unleashed at their heads, and since he was still kind of mad about that he didn't go upstairs to find out why she was crying. So he'd gone into the kitchen instead to chat with Dawn while she made a sandwich. And standing there, commenting on the gross-factor of refried beans and salsa on Wonder bread, was when he heard the rhythmic creaking and groaning coming from the basement. That haunting, familiar protest of faulty springs, and the grunts and sighs of carnal comfort. Dawn had glanced at his face, whatever expression was on it, cranked up the radio on a battered boombox, and looked out the kitchen window, thoughtfully munching her sandwich. She offered to make him a sandwich. He'd declined and fled out the backdoor.
The band started their next set - lots of verve and raucous guitar. Xander had something to say, something important on the tip of his tongue, and he knew it would wend its way from brain to tongue tip to tirade as soon as he started talking. He took a deep breath to compensate for the noise level and opened his mouth-
"Harris." The vampire leaned across the table, and for some reason, Xander tilted his head to make his ear more accessible. "Your woman's out there on the dance floor about to become the creamy middle in a hunk sandwich."
Xander's head shot around. Anya had, in fact, been waylaid on her return from the facilities by two hunky youngsters and was now happily jerking and gyrating between them. The conversation, as well as the half empty beer, was abandoned in favour of territorial imperatives.
"Ooh, look," Tara hissed, "Bad Poets Couch is open. Hurry." Her fingers grasped both the sleeves and skin of her companions' arms in a pinchy little tug, jerking them in the direction of the tatty sofa sprawled in bohemian grandeur against the wall beneath the stairs to the catwalk. Her eyes were fixed on her target with the kind of unabashed avarice Buffy thought of as "Anya's look," and when another group moved in on the coveted sofa - upscale versions of disaffected youth and dreadlocked vegetarianism - Tara let go their arms and sailed forward with a gesture and a whispered word that both repelled encroachers and cleared a path. The two girls took up positions at either end of massive couch, stretching their legs out to the middle to save Spike's spot while he went off to fetch another beer for himself, and beverages for the ladies.
"I thought you were against using magic for non-important stuff."
"Getting a good seat isn't important?" Tara asked with a pawky grin. "Nothing wrong with a little magic to grease the wheels of opportunity as you long as don't hurt anyone in the process. Like... invoking the parking space deities so you can get a spot close to the student loan office before they close the week of Thanksgiving."
"You can do that? Wow...wait, does it have to be parallel parking?"
"Besides," Tara went on, "the Bad Poets Couch is very rarely open. You'll notice I didn't compel the people sitting here to leave, I just made sure we got here before anyone else."
"How come I didn't even know this couch had a name? I've been coming here forever."
"You don't come here poetry nights, pet," Spike said, tossing little cans of apricot nectar to each of them. He jerked his chin at the photocopied poster taped to the wall over her head, announcing Wednesday Nights Poetry Open Mike.
"And you do?"
"Hell no. What kind of a ponce do you take me for?"
She gave the question no consideration, being too busy examining her beverage with wrinkled nose of displeasure. "Wanted a Diet Coke. With lots of ice. Wah."
"I'm not your tavern wench, wench. Tins. Easy to carry."
"We call them cans in this country. Jeez you've been here for how long now?" But her eyes were teasing him. He smiled menacingly at the two pairs of legs taking up the middle portion of Bad Poets Couch. Tara sat up with a squeak of apology, but Buffy was still playing at snotty brat, daring him to move her. So he did. Quick as the preternatural beast he was, he'd grabbed both her ankles in one hand and flung her legs to the floor. Didn't even spill his beer. As soon as he sat down she put her feet in his lap. He seemed fine by that.
They sat a while in what is often called companionable silence, two drinking thick juice with a tinny aftertaste, and the other working on his second bottled beer, each lost in their own thoughts, which Buffy was pretty sure revolved around the same subject.
Well, somebody sure as heck ought to start talking about it. She sighed. Might as well be the superhero.
"So ... why aren't we dead?" She glanced at Spike. "Or deader. I mean, why did they stop? Why did they just go poof like that?"
Spike turned his head and stared. Tara leaned out to stare. Both wore similar expressions of astonishment.
"You're kidding, right?" he said. And she felt anxiety fluttering in her gut, that sense of being out of a loop you were so sure you were in. They knew something she didn't. They shared something she didn't.
"No," she said, aware of how tiny her voice sounded. "I don't know what happened at the end. Pretty sure we were done for. Weren't you guys?"
"Well, yeah, until you stopped them."
"I didn't stop them."
Tara and Spike looked at each other.
"I suppose it makes sense," Spike said to Tara, making no sense at all.
Tara smiled. "Yeah. She wouldn't see it the same way."
Suddenly, inexplicably ticked off, Buffy dragged her feet off Spike's lap and scrunched down into Bad Poets cushions, arms folded, glaring out at the noisy dance floor. "I feel like I'm nine years old and you guys had a slumber party and didn't invite me."
"Slumber party, eh?" The smirk was back. "You two in babydoll jammies, jumping up and down on the bed, pillow fight, feathers flying everywhere. Me with a camcorder."
Tara snorted. Buffy was not amused.
"Okay, you need to close the Pervert Funhouse in your mind now and get back to what I don't seem to know or understand. Which, may I just say, totally sucks, because we were all there together, about to be incinerated or whatever. Together." She sank deeper into the sofa, wishing it would swallow her, because she felt so little and alone and she wanted to cry, and it pissed her off. "So, clearly I don't get it, and you're both much smarter than me, so why don't you just tell me what happened? And talk slowly and don't use too many big words."
"No one's saying you're stupid, luv."
"No, no, Buffy, that's not- I guess we assumed you knew because you did it."
"Did what? Oh. Oh no. No! It wasn't me. I didn't do anything-"
"We're both pretty sure the Luminati left this dimension because you made them leave."
"No I didn't. Did I? How'd I do that?"
Again, vampire and witch exchanged looks. Tara smiled at him, inclined her head in what was very nearly a regal nod. Spike looked at the bottle in his hands. Didn't bring it to his lips. He seemed almost...embarrassed.
"'Cos you loved us," he said.
A jolt. Hot and white and aching and true. That moment when she'd loved him.
His voice went from soft to gruff. "Me and Glinda here were under the protection of your banner, Slayer. And a thing of beauty it was too. Glorious." Again they exchanged looks, smiles. "They tested you on it, of course. Right up to the last. But, you being cut from the same cloth as them and all, well, in the end they had to respect what you felt was true. Even...even if it was mostly a proprietary love in my case."
"Like you belonged to me, you mean?"
"Yeah." He took a swallow of beer, didn't look at her. Tara was sitting sideways now, one leg drawn up beneath the satiny blue of her skirt. Her elbow was propped on the backrest, hair bunched around her hand where her head leaned on it. She gazed at him with heavy lidded, catlike contentment, a little half-smile still playing with her lips. Then she gave his knee a pat. He knee jerked a little, and he blinked at her, bemused, before his default mode smirk settled in.
"I'm going to see if I can catch a ride from Xander and Anya," Tara announced, unfolding herself from the sultry comfort of Bad Poets Couch. She smoothed her skirt, grabbed her bag and slung it over her shoulder, then stood in a moment of uncertainty. Like there was something she should do or say. Buffy found herself folded into a quick, tight hug.
"Thanks for loving us," Tara whispered in her ear.
"Not a problem," Buffy murmured as she squeezed back. Her throat was tight with an emotion she couldn't quite identify. Or many. Lots and lots of emotions.
She barely registered her friends even as she watched them leaving - not Xander's belligerent glower, nor Anya spinning him about and shoving him towards the door that Tara was holding open. Anya and Tara both gave little waves. Buffy kind of waved back. Anya mouthed "call me" and did the hand gesture. Then they were gone. And she was left alone in a room full of people. Alone with him.
"That's not it, you know," she said.
"What's that, pet?" He had his cigarettes out and was patting his pockets for his lighter, dots and dashes that telegraphed his nicotine addiction to the world.
"It wasn't proprietary. It wasn't about how you belonged to me. Mine to kill or save. Not that."
He stopped the frantic search, one hand frozen as it reached for the breast pocket inside his jacket. Poised over his heart. "Oh?" he said. Oh. And oh god, too much hope in that little word. Too much. "What was it then?"
He sighed, resigned to never knowing. And it wasn't fair. She knew it.
"Look. Spike. I can't ignore your past. And I wish I could say - I mean, I wish that I were truly righteous enough, or noble enough to say that I can't ignore your past on this earth, your history with other people, the deaths you caused, but it's much less honourable than that. What I can't ignore, can't forget is your history with me. I will never be able to look at you and say it wasn't you who did those things to me, who said those - those horrible things to me. You aren't a different person. Wait, let me finish-" She'd held up her hand as if he'd been about to protest before realising he hadn't. "And apparently I've seen too many television movies on the Lifetime channel." That got no reaction so she plunged on. "I'm not saying you haven't changed, but-but, see... with Angel, I could think of him as two different people, the one who hated me and the one who loved me. You are the same person who hated me. You understand?"
He wasn't looking at her, but he was listening intently and he nodded.
"You said those things to me. You. Said them in such a way as to cause the greatest pain, to cut to bone and make me feel miserable and worthless before you killed me. And even after, when you were all chipped up, and full of rage about it, when you didn't have the power to take my life with your own hands anymore - not that you could have, ever," she added just to remind him who was boss. Saw his mouth quirk. Almost a smile. "You've always been able to get under my skin, find the stuff I don't want anybody to see and rub my face in it, like it was all this broken glass on the pavement. And it hurt. It hurt me bad. Just telling you this is really hard for me, because it acknowledges the power you still have. So even if I'm thinking we have some kind of destiny together now, I can't forget the past, and I can't promise you any kind of future. I don't know what you'll do in the future, do I? I can't promise love knowing it's possible I might have to take you out someday. But I can offer you right now. This moment. I love you this very moment."
He closed his eyes briefly, and all the tension in his face fell away. "Moments have a tendency to string themselves together."
"That they do." She stood up, held out her hand. "So, you wanna dance or what?"
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