By Estepheia and Marcee
Part 40 - Get Set
Xander blearily opened his eyes. There was just enough daylight seeping dully through the grimy window to allow him to see Spike leaning casually against the doorframe, looking for all the world like he owned the place. Except the vampire was tapping his hat restlessly against his leg, ruining the effect.
“I’m awake, I’m awake,” Xander yawned. “Hardly slept anyway.”
It was true. He’d been dead tired when he’d gone to bed, but too many unpleasant thoughts had stirred around in his head like dirty socks in the wash, making him dizzy and keeping him awake. In the end he’d nodded off a few times only to be woken by confusing dreams or unfamiliar sounds. Once he’d heard steps and the low murmur of voices outside his door. He’d been about to give alarm, when he’d recognized Spike and - belatedly - Buffy-with-Maeve’s-voice. They had both sounded unusually… amiable.
Xander sat up, trying to find a rational thought to hold on to. “Where’s Buffy?”
“Got her to lie down for a bit. About time, too,” Spike replied. “Come on, get your ass out of bed. What are you waiting for?”
“Breakfast, a carnation for my buttonhole and the morning paper, ironed of course, thank you very much.” Xander answered promptly.
“Sorry, ‘s my day off. Now get moving.”
Xander grinned and rolled off the bed. In case of an emergency, he’d slept in his clothes, which now looked extra rumpled. He slipped into his uncomfortable shoes. Then he quickly combed his fingers through his unruly hair and ruefully scratched the scruffy stubble on his chin. *No shower, check. No toothbrush, check. No mouth-wash, check.*
“What’s the rush?” he asked. “I thought the portal doesn’t open until tonight.”
“With Buffy asleep and the sun up, someone’s got to keep watch outside. The Watcher’s no good, and the Watcher’s cub - well, let’s just say I don’t trust him not to do anything stupid,” Spike explained, still fiddling with his hat.
“What about the coachman, what’s his name, Harper?”
“Can’t see him taking orders from the likes of me.”
Xander nodded and picked up his coat and hat. But then he froze, when the memory came back.
“What?” Spike asked, straightening up.
“Just remembered. No chip.”
“You’re still alive,” Spike pointed out and turned to leave.
*Yeah, but for how long?* Xander silently wondered, then reminded himself that silently wondering wasn’t going to get him any answers. While he’d tried to fall asleep last night he had practiced about a dozen suitable opening lines “Hey, when do you plan on eating everyone?” or “I was thinking, do we taste like chicken?” or something like, “Does eating a guy make you gay?” but maybe the direct approach was best. He took a deep breath. “Spike?”
Que Sera Sera… The Magic Box was quiet, except for the insistent electronic tune. Maeve dug into her boot and gingerly got out the cell phone. She held the weird technological artifact as if it might bite her. Unsure what to do with it, she placed it gently on the floor.
The music ended abruptly. What was left was eerie silence.
Giles had to practically crawl to get out of the circle. His nose was bleeding. Maeve rushed to help him and awkwardly hoisted him to his feet. She tried to dig in her pocket for a handkerchief, but with her hands still bound by the cuffs, it was a difficult task. When she finally presented the small white square, she was rewarded with a grateful smile from the Watcher.
Meanwhile, Willow, Anya and Tara were holding hands again, thus ‘repairing’ the circle and closing the gaps Giles and Andrew had left. Willow’s eyes were jet-black, her skin was pale and energy seemed to crackle around her. She was staring blindly at the ceiling. Before her, the temporal portal hovered, like a magical view-screen. It flickered as day and night alternated in quick succession. At the same time it was showing a blurry bird’s eye view of cities and landscapes that rushed past at a dizzying speed. As the ‘time tunnel’ raced eastwards and back into the past, Giles and Maeve dragged Andrew’s limp body out of the circle.
The key for the handcuffs had exited along with Warren, but it didn’t take Giles long to tap into his inner juvenile delinquent and pick the lock.
He cast a worried glance at the circle, but so far the strain of keeping the portal open didn’t show. Creating the initial rift in the fabric of time had sucked up magical energy like a black hole, but its upkeep cost a mere trickle.
The Watcher checked Andrew’s pulse and examined his eyes, before slapping the handcuffs on the young man’s wrists. Giles rifled through his pockets. The only ID he found was a Blockbuster card, which he returned to the boy’s wallet. Then he picked up the cell phone. The minute he did, it began to sing again. He pushed the ‘talk’ button:
“Yea. Dawn’s fine. We’re good. Just looking around a little before we head back. Is everything okay there?” Angel walked around the trashed basement, holding the cell phone to his ear.
Meanwhile, Dawn was sifting through the remains of Warren’s headquarters looking for clues.
Cordelia sat in front of the monitor, unconsciously picking glitter out of her hair. She was watching Giles talking to Angel on the little computer screen in front of her. Because of the headphones she was able to catch both sides of the conversation.
“One went through the portal, as planned, one got away and one is incapacitated,” Giles was saying. “I must say, although Cordelia’s idea was rather outside the box, it worked very well, indeed. Willow is keeping the temporal portal open--”
“We caught the whole show,” Angel interrupted.
“Yes, quite,” Giles muttered, turning toward the hidden camera. “Did you run into any problems on your side?”
“Nothing we couldn’t handle,” Angel said, examining a row of neatly labeled video tapes and CDs. He grabbed a cardboard box and shoveled everything labeled “Surveillance, Slayer” into it.
“Jolly good,” Giles said, dabbing his nose with Maeve’s handkerchief.
Angel nodded to no one in particular, then, “Yea, see you.” He folded his phone to end the conversation.
“It’s so cool,” Cordelia commented. “I just saw him on the phone with you. You know, the camera really loves him.”
“Neat,” Angel answered absentmindedly as he dumped the full box near the stairs.
“It’s like a live action soap opera.”
“Yea, we’re like stars,” Dawn grinned. But then the smile turned into a scowl and she picked up one of the tapes, labeled ‘Summers, D: Bedroom.’ “Can we burn these?” she asked “You know, in a big evidence destroying bonfire? Cause I sure don’t wanna star in them.”
“Maybe later,” Angel said and pulled a black tarp off a broken table. “Perfect,” he mumbled as he perused the objects spread across the table.
“What?” Cordelia finally turned away from the screen. She’d been operating switches, toggling between the various cameras, extrapolating their locations and committing them to memory.
Angel was staring at the remains of what was once a Master Plan of Biblical Proportions. “Maps, gear, security codes.” Angel looked at Cordelia. “They robbed a bank.”
“Looks like they’ll be out of our hair for good,” Cordy said as she tried to run her fingers through her own. She scowled, “No pun intended.”
Dawn rushed over to the table to witness the evidence. “Ooh, we got ‘em good.”
Cordy joined them, smiling. “Anyone got the number to 9-1-1?”
“One sec,” Xander said.
Spike was already halfway through the door but something about the tone of Xander’s voice stopped him in his tracks. He turned around, a wary look in his eyes.
“I want to ask you something,” Xander told the vampire, seriously.
Spike arched his eyebrow. “The answer is no, Harris. I don’t swing that way.” Then he reconsidered and chuckled. “Or, at least, I haven’t in a very long while.”
Xander blinked. Then the penny dropped. “Ew, no. Not that.”
“What about, then?”
“About what it’s like, the whole fangy, evil and soulless package.”
“Ask the experts. Giles or Willoughby, they’ll tell you all you wanna hear,” Spike brushed him off.
“I’m asking you, Spike.”
“Why the sudden interest?”
“Sudden? Not so much. I always kinda wondered. Never had the…”
“What makes you think this is a good time? You should be out there, patrolling.”
“I know, and I will, but I need to know…”
Spike affected a sigh. “Go on then. Make it quick.”
“See, what I always wanted to know is this: when someone gets turned, is the vampire still the same person, only, you know, evil? Or is it true what Giles said, a demon moves into the dead body, like into an empty house and it’s a totally different thing, only it kind of inherits the dead person’s memories?”
Spike didn’t answer right away. He tucked his hat under his arm, dug out his tobacco pouch. Xander watched impatiently, as the vampire rolled himself a cigarette, stuck it between his lips and struck a match to light it.
Spike inhaled deeply and studied the glowing tip thoughtfully. Then he closed the door and leaned against it.
“You’re talking about me.”
“And Crawford.” Xander agreed.
“You see a guy for what? Five minutes? And then you grow all concerned about him? William Crawford is dead. Died long before you were born. There’s nothing more to tell. Sod off.”
But Xander was undeterred. “It’s just that I can’t believe he’s you and you’re…you know, it’s just so weird.”
“Well, I think, I thought maybe he was kind of a dweeb,” Xander mumbled.
“Oh?” Spike frowned. Had Buffy talked to Xander about his mortal self? But when? “Well, whatever it is you heard, it’s got nothing to do with me,” he scoffed.
“See, that’s what I’d like to know,” Xander persevered, suddenly convinced that the vampire’s disclaimer was a load of bull. “What’s it like? What happens when you get turned? How does it feel, not having a soul?”
Spike dropped his half-smoked cigarette, ground it out under his heel and began to pace. “Look, when you’re human you grow up and you learn. Parents, church, teachers, they all tell you what’s right an’ what’s wrong. Tear your clothes, steal apples, spite the teacher - get caned. Keep yourself tidy, say your prayers, and learn your lessons - get a treat. Stick and carrot. As simple as that. In the end you play by the rules cause you feel bloody rotten if you don’t.”
Spike paused and smiled. There was a subtle shift in atmosphere. Xander tensed.
“Become a vampire and all that is a big load of codswallop.” Spike continued, lowering his voice menacingly. “You still KNOW the rules, but you don’t care. The fact that your food is human doesn’t mean a thing. The people you kill, you don’t think of them at all. You just do whatever you like, kill and maim without feelin’ bad about it.” He stopped his pacing in front of Xander, taxing him like a butcher might check out a piece of cattle. Then he smirked.
“There’s just nothing there to tell you that you shouldn’t,” Spike said smoothly. Xander swallowed and had to stop himself from reaching for his stake.
Spike held his gaze for a moment, then play-punched Xander’s shoulder. “That answer your question, mate?”
“Okay, I get that,” Xander said, nodding slowly. “So how come you love Buffy?”
“What’s got love to do with right and wrong?” Spike said somewhat defensively.
“Love is good and hate is evil, right?”
“I always knew you were a bit dense, monkey boy.”
“Okay, so tell me, what’s the difference between her and that girl Cecily? You loved her too, right? I mean, it looked like you had it bad, with the moon-eyes and the waxing poetics and that bulge in your…” a beat. “Heart.”
Spike looked up sharply. *How the hell does he know all that?*
“But, you killed her, didn’t you?” Xander continued, taking a wild guess.
“I got my revenge, if that’s what you’re asking, and it wasn’t pretty,” Spike admitted, hovering uneasily between pride and the unaccustomed urge to justify his actions.
“So I’ll ask you again: what’s the difference between her and Buffy?”
“These are all the tapes we could find,” Angel said without preamble, as he walked into the Magic Box. He glanced uneasily at the Slayer, then headed for the round table, carefully avoiding the magical circle and the three spell-casters who were still maintaining the glowing portal. He set the heavy cardboard box down.
“Good Lord!” Giles exclaimed at the number of tapes.
“Yea. The way they had Casa Summers rigged with cameras? Enough to make their own Big Brother show,” Cordelia said, as she followed Angel inside, Dawn in her wake.
“Dawn, I can’t tell you how relieved I am to see you. Are you alright? I’m so sorry, I should have anticipated…” Giles said, awkwardly resisting the impulse to hug the girl.
“It’s okay! I’m good,” Dawn said cheerfully, her earlier fear forgotten. “I mean, I wasn’t scared, not really. For Master criminals they were really lame. Plus I knew you guys would come and get me out. Right?”
Giles nodded emphatically and cleaned his glasses. “Certainly,” he muttered.
“What about Buffy?” the teenager asked excitedly. “Are we going to get her back now?” She took a tentative step towards the portal and squinted, trying to make out images.
“Hopefully, yes. It all depends on whether Willow can keep the portal open long enough,” Giles told her truthfully.
“Who is he?” Angel asked and pointed at the lanky boy with the unruly blond hair, who was still lying on the floor unconscious. At least his nose has stopped bleeding.
“His name is Andrew Wells. I believe I remember him from my days at the Sunnydale High library.” Giles answered, searching his memory.
“Tuckers brother?” Cordelia exclaimed. "Our supervillian is the guy who wrote a petition to make ‘The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy’ our prom theme?"
“Yes, I believe you may be right,” Giles agreed absentmindedly.
Angel picked the prone body up and hoisted him over his shoulder. “I know just the place for him. I’ll take the tunnels.” With that Angel disappeared into the basement of the shop.
“Too bad that Warren guy got away,” Dawn chipped in. “Plus he still has all that money. Couldn’t he have dropped his bag when he went through the portal?”
“That money was from the bank robbery Buffy told us about. In that case, we wouldn’t have been able to keep any of it, anyway, Dawn. You know that.” Giles tried to explain.
“We might have gotten a reward though. The banks do give rewards to those who get them their money back, right?” Dawn sighed wistfully. “I saw this great leather jacket over at the mall, and boots. Oh, and I think we still have to pay the plumber. Wow, that’s so unfair!”
“Actually…” Giles said.
But Dawn wasn’t listening because a frightening thought had struck her. “So, what if he changes the past? Maybe he already did? Maybe…”
“Don’t worry,” Cordelia stopped the girl’s babble. “He can’t.”
“Actually, Cordelia suggested I prepare a certain spell and when he wasn’t looking I… um… summoned a second portal,” Giles elaborated.
“Cool!” Dawn squealed. “Where did you send him? To the dinosaurs?”
“Not quite,” Giles smiled. “It wasn’t a temporal portal.”
“So he’s now buying himself his very own tropical island somewhere?” Dawn asked with a small pout.
“I doubt it,” Giles said with a malicious glint in his eye.
“I don’t think they accept dollars in Pylea,” Cordelia said cheerfully.
For a moment Spike was stumped. Deep inside he knew that there had to be some kind of fundamental difference between Cecily and Buffy. Only maybe there wasn’t and it was just him who was different? *Oh bloody hell!* It was confusing and infuriating and he had no words to explain what he didn’t quite understand himself. Besides, why should he have to bare his non-existent soul in front of the stupid git?
“Think what you will, Harris!” Spike sputtered and headed for the exit. “You’ve got other things to do than stand here an’ give me the third degree. You’re supposed to be out there, making sure--“
He didn’t get to finish his sentence, because when he yanked the door open he found himself looking into the barrels of three cocked army revolvers, held by three determined looking men. One of whom was Richard Hartford.
“Crawford?! What in God’s name are you doing here?”
Continued in Part 41 - Ready