Footsteps behind her, big clumsy careless stomp-stomp-shuffle-stomps. The demon from Willow’s hallucination, snarling at her like a mad Ewok. She kicked him hard in the face, and instead of falling backwards he turned into a man. The man had wild eyes and dreadlocks and what looked like massive acne scars. He was smiling.
Go ahead and fight, little girl. You can’t keep her.
I can’t keep who? Dream-Buffy scowled, making Sleeping-Buffy murmur angrily to herself. Talk sense, Pustule Boy, or get out of my nightmare. Make room for something that can really put up a fight.
You can’t keep her, Pustule Boy repeated, and began to laugh. Because she doesn’t want to stay. His eyes dilated, and his features changed. Dream- Buffy’s eyes narrowed.
Willow was flickering. Even with big black alien pupils, she looked sad. Buffy, listen. You aren’t like me. He’s not like this.
Dream-Buffy frowned. Willow was fading around the edges. The dreadlocks were coming back. Willow, don’t go. Don’t go, Willow.
Pustule Boy grinned at her. Mine, he said, and as Dream-Buffy started for him, hawked up a gob of something purple and sticky and spat it at her. It landed on her shoes.
Asshole, Sleeping-Buffy commiserated. Not like they’ll wash, either. You couldn’t have worn the Reeboks tonight?
By the time they looked up, the alley was empty.
Buffy sat up in bed and looked at the clock. Three a.m. Not exactly the witching hour, but close enough. She swung her feet out of bed.
“Going somewhere, love?”
She glanced back over her shoulder at Spike. Trust him not to be sleeping when he should be. “Go back to sleep,” she said. “It’s nothing.”
“Can’t sleep,” he said cheerfully. “It’s the garlic. Gives me insomnia.”
She wrinkled her nose at him. “That’s all it does? What a waste of twelve bucks.”
Not her best comeback, but he rewarded it with one of those sexy little half-laughs that never quite made it out of his throat. “Dracula’s allergic,” he said. “But he was allergic when he was human, too. Doesn’t affect me one way or the other ... except that the smell’s a little strong in here. I keep thinking about Italian food.” He yawned. “You’ve been tossing and turning a bit, too. Bad dream?”
Buffy sighed and swung her feet back into bed. Just her luck – he was in the mood to talk. “Weird dream,” she confirmed. “Willow. And the Ewok demon. And some guy with really bad skin.”
“That’d be Rack.” She looked at him sharply, and he shrugged. “Funny he made it into your head, but then that’s sort of his thing.”
“Meaning --?” Buffy didn’t like the sound of this.
Spike pushed himself up on some pillows and crossed his ankles under the covers. “Odd sort of wanker, Rack,” he said. “Been at the black magic so long that he’s sort of burned himself out from the inside. Got a lot of power, not much else. Soul is damaged, emotions aren’t working right, long- term memory is pretty much gone. That’s why he’s in the business. Reels in the magical dilettante crowd, the wannabes, and deals them a little bit of temporary power for a chunk of their insides. Figure he got lucky with Willow – she’s the real deal. Probably got your name from her head.”
Buffy hugged her knees. “You mean he has a chunk of Willow?” Spike nodded.
“Had, anyway. He’s probably burned his way through most of it by now. He’s as big a junkie as anyone he deals to.”
“So part of her is ... just ... gone?”
“Mm. I figure he took her olfactories, this last trip,” Spike said. “Can’t smell, can’t taste, can’t detect hot or cold.” At Buffy’s aghast look, he shrugged. “She’ll get them back, at least partially. Those kind of things have a certain ability to regenerate. As long as she doesn’t go back.”
“What’ll happen if she does?”
Spike laced his fingers behind his head and leaned back against the wall. “For a while, he’ll just nip away at her,” he said. “Memories, emotions, goals, morals. That sort of thing. Sort of clean her out from the inside, bit by bit. Then, when there’s nothing else left of value, he’ll start on the brain. Sooner or later, he’ll take something crucial ... and after that, no more Teen Witch.”
Buffy shuddered. “Can I kick his ass?”
“Probably. Wanna get some more sleep first?”
She sighed and lay back down. “I guess.” He was still watching her, she could tell. The light from the window silhouetted one sharp cheekbone and made him look all film-noir, a sulky black-and-white James Dean. “Spit it out,” she said, and he half-laughed again.
“Just wondering, Blondie,” he said. “How things are gonna play in the morning.” He half-turned so she couldn’t see his face anymore. “Not that it matters, really. But if you’re planning to pull another ‘what-was-I- ever-thinking’, why don’t you just tell me? That way I can split now and avoid the scene.”
Oh, God. Here we go. She flipped around and found herself facing his back. “What do you want, Spike? Hearts and flowers?”
“Nothing wrong with that if you can manage it.” He twisted back around and glowered down at her, somehow managing to look more weary than menacing. “But it’s not necessary. I’d be happy with a cease-fire.”
She snorted. “Who are you kidding? You love duking it out with me.”
“Pot. Kettle.” The covers had slipped down, and he could see one of her breasts, a sweet little handful of marzipan with a pale pink crown. He traced its outline with one finger and felt her shudder. “Truce, Slayer?”
She was melting. “I suppose.” His mouth replaced his hand, and she kicked the covers to the foot of the bed. “Spike?”
“Uh-huh.” His mouth was full, and he already had that glazed look in his eyes. She yanked him up by the hair for a second.
“She’s going to be okay, right? I mean, we can dust this Rack guy?”
His eyes went cobalt with intensity. “Since when has there ever been anything, or anyone, that you couldn’t handle?”
Her lip trembled. “She’s my best friend. There’s a lot on the line.”
He sighed, and slithered back up her body until they were eye to eye. “Ever read Matthew Arnold?”
“Um. Random much? No. Who’s he?”
He rolled onto his back, pulling her with him so she was sprawled over his body. “British poet. World War One era.” She scowled down at him.
“And your point?”
He grinned up at her, then sobered. “Ah, love/Let us be true to one another!” She rolled her eyes, but he kept going. “For the world, which seems/To lie before us like a land of dreams/So various, so beautiful, so new/Hath neither really joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude/Nor help for pain.”
Her face had changed. She looked like she might cry. He finished softly. “And we are here as on a darkling plain/Swept by confused alarms of struggle and might/As ignorant armies clash by night.”
“That’s cheery,” she said, pretty brow furrowed. “What was he trying to say?”
“Basically that life sucks,” Spike said. “But at least you’ve got company. Can I kiss you now?”
“If you must,” Buffy said, and went liquid in his arms.
When she woke up, dawn was just beginning to filter through her curtains. There was a dent in the pillow that smelled faintly like cigarettes, but Spike was gone.
For the best, Buffy thought, tamping down the Jell-O part of her that had gone all wiggly during last night’s Poetry Jam and had been looking forward to waking up with him. Shower, dress, go figure out how to kill Rack. Have a Pop-Tart.
She had intended to wear the suede shoes from last night’s dream, but she couldn’t find them. Padding downstairs in her bare feet, she threw some cinnamon bread into the toaster and was buttering her second slice when Tara and Dawn came through the door.
“Hi, guys. How was the flick?”
“Grooving,” Dawn said, deadpan, and snatched the toast from Buffy’s hand with a quick leggo-my-eggo flick of her wrist perfected by years of experience. Buffy shot her an evil look, pondered getting the bread out again, and decided to settle for OJ.
“Tara? Juice?” She brandished the carton at Tara, who backed away nervously.
“N-no. I should be going. Really.” She shot a sideways glance up the stairs.
“She hasn’t been out of her room for a week.” Dawn rolled her eyes. “Good thing, too.”
“Well, hell-ooo. It’s not her with a lame-o cast, is it? It’s not her who’s going to have to audition for Bianca on Monday with only one good arm.”
“You?” Buffy started to laugh. “You’re auditioning for Bianca?”
Dawn put on her best prim-little-girl face. “I’m the good sister,” she said from around the last bite of cinnamon toast, and flounced away toward the stairs. “Bye, Tara.”
“Bye, Dawnie.” Tara gave Buffy an apologetic smile and turned toward the door. Then she stopped. “Buffy?”
“What exactly did you kill last night? There’s stuff all over your shoes.”
“My shoes?” Buffy drained her juice and frowned. “I don’t remember getting anything ... hey, hang on. Is it purple?”
Tara nodded. “And ... sort of ... yucky ..”
“That does it,” Buffy said grimly. “Research time. I paid a fortune for those.”
The Magic Box was overrun with customers – the Saturday Crowd, Anya called them smugly – and she was in her element. Buffy, remembering her own disastrous brush with the world of retail, flopped into a chair at the research table and eyed her wonderingly.
“Set a date, Xander?” she asked.
“Um. Merciful Zeus. No.” Xander turned pasty underneath his construction- worker tan. “Don’t talk so loud.”
Buffy shrugged and propped her elbows on the table. “Whatever. So. Rack. Mad Ewok demon. Purple goo. Willow, looking all witchy. That was the dream.”
Tara nodded earnestly. “But you never actually saw Rack while you were on patrol?”
“Right. Nor,” Buffy said frowning, “was I wearing those particular shoes. I would never wear suede shoes patrolling. That was the first weird thing about the dream.” She sighed. “So. The Ewok turns into Rack, turns into Willow, turns back into Rack. Who spits purple gunk on my shoes, in the dream, and says I can’t have her back, because she doesn’t want to be here.”
“Weird.” Xander munched his donut thoughtfully. “Did Willow say anything?”
“Yeah. She said ... um ... let me think ... okay. ‘You’re not like me. He’s not like this.’ Then she got all dreadlocky again.”
“You’re not like me.” Tara tucked her hair behind her ears. “That’s easy enough. You, Buffy, aren’t like me, Willow. And ‘this’ must be her addiction. The witchcraft. But who’s ‘he’?”
“Um. Dunno. Rack, maybe?” Buffy pretended sudden interest in the nearest book cover.
Xander shook his head. “Mmmph,” he said, swallowing the last of the donut. “No. That doesn’t make sense. Rack’s the cause of the addiction, so he’s gotta be linked, right? The ‘he’ must have something to do with Buffy, not Willow.”
Tara picked up the goo-covered shoe, which held pride of place in the middle of the table, and studied it gingerly. “Did the dream wake you up, Buffy?”
“Mm. Yeah. I was going to go check on Willow. And then ... I ... well, and then I didn’t.” Buffy bit her lip. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. “Back in a minute. Bathroom,” she said, and bolted for the back of the shop.
“Wow.” Dawn had wandered over and was perched on the edge of the table. “My big sister. Queen of the Weirdos.”
Xander, still studying the pointy end of his cruller, looked up. “Yeah,” he said. “What’s up with that?”
By the time Buffy came back, Xander had been drafted to cash-register duty by a harassed-looking Anya, Dawn was fingering something sparkly on the crystals table, and Tara was scraping the purple goo from the shoe into a little jar, using a disposable plastic glove and what looked like a chopstick. “I’ve got a friend in the university chemistry lab,” she said to Buffy. “I’ll have her run an analysis on it. I mean, the dream and everything kinda points to magic, but it could just be a prank, too. Maybe. And I’ll look in my books at home.”
“Sounds good.” Buffy surveyed the ruined shoes sadly. “Thanks, Tara.”
“Sure, anytime. Hey, Buffy?”
“Thanks for taking care of Willow.” She looked troubled. “If there’s anything I can do, let me know. I just can’t ... be there ... right now. That’s all.”
“Yeah.” On a sudden impulse, Buffy squeezed Tara’s shoulder. “I understand.”
Home again, minus Dawn, who was helping Anya wrap peacock skulls in tissue paper and had finagled a lunch-and-mini-golf invitation from Xander. Buffy peeked into Willow’s room, saw her friend curled up with her back to the door, and tiptoed out again. She hadn’t made her bed yet. She’d do that, then maybe catch a quick nap. Hot sex during the midnight hours was hell on the old Slayer stamina.
Under her pillow was a book she hadn’t noticed earlier that morning, an old, peeling little paperback. Duino Elegies. Had to be one of Spike’s specials. One page was folded down; a glance at her desk told her that he’d highlighted the passage with her own marker. She closed her eyes for a moment, undecided, then opened the book. The page was worn, and old underlines scored the words he’d highlighted:
Of course it is odd to live no more on the earth/
To abandon customs you’ve just begun to get used to/
Not to give meaning to roses and other such/
Promising things in terms of a human future/
To be held no more by hands that can never relax/
For fear they will drop you and even to put your name to one side/
Like a broken toy. Strange to wish wishes no longer./
Strange to see things that seemed to/
Belong together floating in every direction./
It’s very hard to be dead, and you try to make up for lost time/
Till slowly you start to get whiffs of eternity./
But the living are wrong in the sharp distinctions they make./
Angels, it seems, don’t always know if they’re moving among/
The living or the dead. The drift of eternity drags all the ages of man/
Through both of those spheres and its sound rises over them both./
Those who have died young finally need us no longer – you can be weaned/
From things of this world as gently as a child outgrows its mother’s breast./
But we who have need of those huge mysteries, we who can sometimes/
Draw up from wellsprings of sadness rejoicing and progress/
How could we exist without them? Is the old tale pointless/
That tells how music began in the midst of the mourning for Linos/
Piercing the arid numbness and, in that stunned/
Space, where an almost godlike youth/
Had suddenly stopped existing, made emptiness vibrate in ways/
That thrill us, comfort us, help us now?
Huh, Buffy thought, and turned the little book over and over in her hands. Too tired to think about that one. But it’s pretty.
This time, when she slept, she didn’t dream.
When she woke up, there was a message from Tara on the machine. Hi, Buffy, Dawn. Um, Willow. Buffy, can you call me when you get a chance?
Buffy dialed the number. Three rings, no answer. Four. She was just about to hang up when –
“Oh, hi. Tara?”
“No, sorry. She’s not in right now.” The voice was young and female and a little too perky to suit Buffy’s present mood. “She said something about going over to the university. Um, the lab, maybe?”
“OK. Thanks.” Buffy replaced the receiver and considered her options.
She could patrol over to the university and see if she ran into Tara. She could wait until tomorrow and call her then.
Or she could get a ride from Spike.
Jell-O Sex Addict Buffy was feeling very good about the prospect of Spike. Cynic Buffy was less convinced, and a bit weirded out about the poetry thing. I mean, who could even tell what he meant by it? Wellsprings of sadness? Whiffs of eternity? Angels?
Color her stupid, but they hadn’t covered all this imagery stuff in Western Lit I. And what exactly did he expect from her now? Was he hoping to discuss it? Would there be a quiz or something?
The last thing she needed right now in her life was a boyfriend who was smarter than her. Leaving out the whole Evil Dead thing, of course. And the fact that somehow, some way, he could hit her and not send himself into Migraine Land.
The fact that there weren’t human Happy Meal wrappers strewn around Sunnydale made her think that he must have been right. God, she hated those words in his voice. You came back wrong.
Well, of course she had. She’d known it before he said it. Known it the minute her eyes popped open in the coffin. Something was gone, and it wasn’t just the Heaven thing, either. For weeks, she’d felt like a too-full closet behind a flimsy door, just waiting to explode. And yet it hadn’t happened.
Giles had left. She’d let him. Her friends had yet to really, truly apologize for the whole Resurrection thing. She’d let it slide. Willow, overnight, had turned into an addict, crashed a stolen car running from some magic junkie demon she’d summoned herself, and nearly killed Dawn, and what had Buffy done about it? Patted her head and tucked her into bed.
Nothing was getting through. Except for maybe Spike. Hitting him felt good. Fucking him felt better. The whole Evil Dead thing was about to be a non-issue, because she didn’t care anymore. Screw the railroad spikes, screw the centuries of mayhem, screw the fact that he was still an evil killer. When he was around, she had nerve endings again.
Not a good sign, Buff. You’re supposed to be a White Hat. No room for shades of grey in the Slayer Universe.
Oh, bugger off.
Jesus. She even sounded like him.
She started off walking toward UC Sunnydale, but she ended up at the crypt. It wasn’t yet sunset, but she could hear music as she rapped at his door and slipped inside. Very un-Spike-like it was, too. Sweet, sweepy piano and a soprano voice clear and lush enough to bring the hair up on Buffy’s arms.
Sure on this shining night/With star-made shadows round/
Kindness must watch for me/This side the ground./
The late year lies down the north./All is healed, all is health./
High summer holds the earth. Hearts all whole./
He turned and saw her, and they stood staring at each other as the piano pounded away at some heartfelt chords and the soprano started up again wistfully.
Sure on this shining night/I weep for wonder/
Wandering far alone/With shadows on the stars.
“Y’know,” she said as the piano died away into nothingness. “I had you more pegged as a ‘Hits Of The ‘80’s’ guy. What is this stuff?”
“Samuel Barber,” he said. “British poof. Dead for thirty years, at least. I must be going all period these days.”
“Wild.” Buffy took two steps toward him, then decided not to get too close just yet. “Tell me something: how much work does the whole Sid Vicious thing really take to hang together? William?”
He laughed unpleasantly. “Don’t fool yourself, precious. Just because I got laid and started feeling poetic doesn’t mean I’m not a badass.” He showed her his fangs, and looked disgruntled when she only laughed.
“What?” he snapped. “Hello, dead for two hundred years, right? I’m going to acquire some layers. Not like I walked around without opinions until the Disco Age hit full flower. Give me some credit.”
“Point.” Buffy put her hands in her pockets. “I’m going over to the chemistry lab to meet Tara. Wanna come?”
He studied her under lowered brows for a moment, as if expecting a trick. “Yeah, all right,” he said finally. “If we can stop at the morgue on the way. I’m all out of B positive.”
“A world of ‘Ew’,” Buffy said, but didn’t protest when he took her arm.
They headed out into a Sunnydale night. Together.
Continued in Chapter Three