No woman had ever set foot in this shiny black-and-silver lair, and at the rate they were going, no woman ever would. On a certain level, the Trio were depressed by this. On another, they were relieved ... it implied that the Slayer wasn’t going to come kick their asses anytime soon.
“Okay, Jonathan,” Warren said, finally breaking the silence without taking his eyes off the diamond. “You’re the one who researched this whole thing. What are we supposed to do with it again?”
Jonathan frowned. “I’ve explained it before. Weren’t you paying attention?”
“It’s confusing,” Warren said, and Andrew nodded agreement. “I mean, the whole history bit and all. I can’t keep track of anything that predates Windows 95.” Jonathan rolled his eyes.
“First of all, this is no ordinary diamond,” he said. “It has great historical significance.” His eyebrows raised pointedly. Andrew squirmed. “It first appeared in England in 1895, fully faceted and polished. Historians so far haven’t been able to trace it back to its origins, but I ...” – he puffed up his chest beneath its striped rugby shirt – “I have a very reliable source who says that it’s part of a famous lost diamond known as the Blue Tavernier.”
Warren and Andrew looked blank. “So, yeah, I get that,” Warren said. “But what’s the big deal?”
“The deal,” Jonathan snapped, “is that the Blue Tavernier belonged to Louis Quatorze. It was stolen in 1792, along with a bunch of other jewelry, smack in the middle of the French Revolution. But it was a lot bigger then; that’s why no one recognized it when it turned up in England a hundred years later.” He cracked his neck thoughtfully. “They think that the Tavernier was cut down into what’s known as the Hope Diamond,” he said. “But the Hope Diamond is only half of the original Tavernier, according to my source. The rest of it –“ he indicated the cool blue gem on the table – “is this.”
“Okay. Rewind.” Andrew ran his hands through his hair. “Why would they cut it in half?”
“Remind me,” Jonathan said through his teeth, “never to tell you guys anything important, EVER AGAIN, during Enterprise reruns. Honestly.” He sighed for dramatic effect. “OK. This is the story I got from my source.”
“Who is – who again?”
Jonathan glared at Warren. “Hello? Magical world? Not your area?”
“Sor-ree.” Warren curled his lip. “So you found it out from some creepy magic demon dude. Excuse me.”
“Can I continue?”
Warren rolled his eyes. “Okay, whatever. Yeah.”
Jonathan cleared his throat. “According to my source, the Blue Tavernier was stolen from Louis the Sixteenth by a French political group called the Commune of Paris. Which is how it fell into the hands of Maximilien Robespierre. Who, if you remember anything I tell you, ever, is the sorcerer that we’re trying to resurrect. Got it?”
The Duo nodded vacantly at him. Jonathan sighed and went on.
“The gem carried – carries – a lot of power, but also a lot of bad luck,” he said. “Robespierre thought he was powerful enough to control it, and for a while he was. Reign of Terror and all that. Really made the heads roll.”
“You mean, like Marie Antoinette,” Andrew volunteered.
“Among others,” Jonathan said wearily. “Anyway. Robespierre lost control of the gem, and it turned on him. He died on the guillotine in 1794, and no one saw the Blue Tavernier intact after that. My source says it was magically divided into two pieces in an attempt to diminish its power. Half of it showed up in 1830 – that’s the half that they call the Hope Diamond – and it’s brought nothing but financial ruin and death to anyone who’s owned it. In a museum now.” He beamed at the diamond on the table. “This is the other half – the half we’re going to use to bring back Robespierre.”
“But, Jonathan.” Warren’s eyebrows were so close together they looked like a caterpillar on his forehead. “Robespierre’s not a demon, right? He’s a sorcerer.”
“So, he’s dead. He died, like, a million years ago. Got his head chopped off.”
“Yeah,” Jonathan said. “But.” He gave the diamond another fond glance. “The Blue Tavernier is an Indian diamond originally. You know, reincarnation, don’t step on ants, you can’t eat food with a soul?” He didn’t wait for a response. “The Indians believed that human souls could inhabit gemstones,” he said, and looked expectantly at the Duo for a response. They stared back at him.
“Don’t you get it? When Robespierre died, his soul went into the diamond,” he said. “According to what I’ve been told, whoever cut the diamond up made one big mistake – they performed the spell before Robespierre went to the guillotine. So instead of half of him being in the Smithsonian and half here, we’ve got all of him. All we have to do is bring him back.”
“Hello, evil madman?” Andrew’s lip was curled skeptically. “Plus, even if his soul’s in that – that thing –“ he regarded the diamond with caution – “he still doesn’t have a body, right?” He perked up suddenly. “Is that your plan? Is Warren supposed to build him a body?”
Jonathan looked beatific. “He’s not gonna have to,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of possibilities walking around town already. Who do we know who’s really, really strong and really, really fast?”
“Well, duh. Buffy.”
“Yeah. Who else?”
Andrew shot a worried glance at the Boba Fett figurine. “Well, there’s always Spike.”
Jonathan beamed. “Now you’re catching on,” he said. “Plan A and Plan B. Either way, one seriously kick-butt evil henchman. And then....” He paused for effect. “Sunnydale’s as good as ours.”
The Slayer, completely unaware that the Hellmouth was being potentially threatened from beyond the grave by an overzealous French republican by way of a nerd triumverate, was strolling arm-in-arm through her friendly local cemetery with a Way Sexy Guy Who Just Happened To Be Dead And Evil. And trying not to examine it too much. She had just finished telling the purple goo story, leaving out Willow’s cryptic little you’re-not-like-me statement. Spike looked annoyed. In Buffy’s experience, that meant he was thinking.
“That’s bleeding strange,” he said finally. “I mean, weird things happen in dreams in this town, God knows, but Rack shouldn’t have been able to do that. And even if he could, he wouldn’t waste the energy on you.”
Buffy bristled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Compliment, luv.” Spike removed his arm from hers to unlock the passenger door of the DeSoto. “You’re too bloody strong. Wank you off, you’ll just break into his little haunt, guns blazing, and shut him down. Make more sense if he went after the witchlet herself. Or her friend Glinda.” He turned the key, and the DeSoto roared to life.
“You mean Tara?”
Spike shrugged. “Pretty powerful in her own right, our little White Witch. But then, he’d really have to work at it to get his hands on her, and that just doesn’t fly. He’s a loser. Running on empty. Not gonna waste energy or power harassing the Slayer or a witch who doesn’t want anything to do with him.” He manouevered the big car into a parking space in front of the science building, shut off the motor, and frowned over at Buffy. “He goes for the easy sell,” he said. “And the two of you are anything but that. So why would he bother?”
“Good question,” Buffy said. “But the goo on the shoes doesn’t lie. I’m still bitter about that.”
“I like you better barefoot.”
“Pardon?” Her head swiveled sharply in his direction. Spike grinned at her.
“You heard me,” he said. “Come on, let’s go find Tara.”
According to the T.A. on duty in the chemistry lab, someone who looked a lot like Tara had left ten minutes prior. Buffy sighed in exasperation.
“Can’t we look her up at home?”
Buffy shook her head. “Never gave me her address,” she said. “It’s okay – I can call her in the morning.” She glanced at Spike. “We could always go break into Rack’s place and beat him up.”
“Or we could pay a call on Rat Girl.” Spike leaned against a telephone pole and studied his fingernails. “Much faster. Find her, shake her down for clues, and still have an hour or two to make the Beast With Two Backs, back at my place.” He sent Buffy a sultry look from under his lashes. “I mean, your bed’s more comfortable, I’ll give you that. But I’ve got more privacy ... you can scream all you want, without bringing the Scoobies and Little Sis running to the rescue.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “You are so taking the Sex Thing for granted.” Spike grunted.
“Not at all, luv. You want to scurry back to your chaste little princess room and your lonely little dreams, you go right ahead. You want to sleep alone, feel free. I’m just making sure you know about your ... alternatives.” He vaulted over the DeSoto’s hood and leered at her. “How about it, Slayer? We gonna talk all night, or do you wanna go kick Miss Mousie’s ass?”
Gritting her teeth, Buffy got into the car. She hated it when he made sense.
They caught Amy a block from her house, walking fast towards downtown and keeping to the shadows. She looked even more wrecked than she had the day before: pasty skin, chattering teeth, darting beady eyes that reminded Buffy of nothing so much as the rat she’d been. When she saw them step out in front of her, she started to shake.
“Amy,” Buffy said flatly. “We need to talk.”
“N-not now. I c-c-c-can’t. I have to be somewhere.”
“Not anymore you don’t.”
“Buffy, I’m s-s-serious.” Amy widened her eyes in an effort to look pleading. “I h-have to meet someone. Like, five minutes ago.”
“You’re not going anywhere until you talk to us.” Buffy’s hand clamped down on her shoulder, and Amy started to twist and struggle.
“You don’t understand! I have an appointment!”
“Bet you do, luv,” Spike said, looking uncharacteristically humorless. Amy shrank back from him, terrified, and Buffy could see why. A muscle was jumping in his jaw, and his eyes were flinty. “But your little fix can wait. Best you tell the Slayer here what she wants to hear, then you can toddle on your merry way.” He jerked his head toward the DeSoto. “Or we can put her in the car.”
“No! No,” Amy repeated, and tried again, without success, to break Buffy’s grip on her arm. “I’m going to be l-late,” she said miserably, and started to cry. “He won’t see me if I’m late.” She was noticeably thinner than she’d been just days before, and shaking with fine tremors. Buffy would have felt sorry for her, if she hadn’t been responsible for most of this mess. She steered Amy firmly toward the DeSoto and pushed her into the front seat, sliding in after her.
“We need to talk,” she said again. “We won’t keep you long.”
“Wh-what do you want to know?” Amy sniffled and wiped at her eyes. Buffy shot a meaningful look at Spike that said, Do something – I didn’t think this far ahead. Spike smirked at her.
“Been a while since I talked to old Rack,” he said. “Bet he’s wondering where Red’s been, eh? Imagine he doesn’t see something like her waltz in every day.” He knew he was on the right track when Amy’s eyes lit with resentment.
“He keeps asking about her,” she muttered. “Willow this, Willow that, where’s Willow, why didn’t I bring Willow?” Her gaze darted around the car. “I’m supposed to bring her. I’m not supposed to c-come back without her.”
Buffy’s fists clenched, but Spike didn’t seem fazed. “Red had a little accident,” he said smoothly. “Wasn’t thinking clearly for a day or so. Cracked up a car. Broke the Little Bit’s wrist. ‘Fraid she’s sworn off the old hocus-pocus. You might want to tell your dealer there to find himself a Simon and Garfunkel record and have a good cry, ‘cause she won’t be back to break his heart in person.” He dug a cigarette out of the inside pocket of his duster and lit it lazily. “Now, Blondie here and I” – he indicated Buffy with a sweep of his cigarette hand, causing Amy to shrink away from him – “we’re clearing up some of the witchlet’s affairs, while she’s having herself a little R and R. And, while I’m inclined to let bygones be bygones, the Slayer’s not feeling so generous. Seeing as it’s her little sis who’s walking around with a double fracture and all.” He nodded at Buffy, who grabbed Amy’s shoulder and swung her around.
“The monster,” she said, her nose an inch from Amy’s. “Tell us about that hairy gorilla thing. Do you have one? Is Willow’s still around? And why was it chasing Dawn?”
Amy shook her head wildly. “I can’t ... I can’t – I mean I don’t know ... Ow!” She grabbed the side of her face and bent double, weeping into her lap. Buffy glared at Spike.
“Was that really necessary?”
Spike flexed his fingers and shot Buffy a what-can-you-do look. His eyes were glittering yellow with barely-suppressed violence. “Little experiment,” he said. “She’s so far gone that she doesn’t activate the chip.” He grabbed a handful of lank hair and yanked Amy’s head up again. “Lucky break for me, Rat Face,” he snarled, and showed her his fangs. “You’ve let that wanker suck your soul right out of your body. You’ve still got your blood, though. You want to keep that, you’ll tell Buffy everything she wants to know, and fast.”
Amy gave him a last terrified glance, then turned her attention to Buffy. “It’s the Doorholder,” she said, lips trembling. “It opens the door to the Other World. But then it comes after you. Follows you. Rack says that’s the p-p-price of admission. Mine doesn’t look like Willow’s. It’s blue, and it has these teeth.” She swallowed hard. “First Rack brings it,” she said. “Then he keeps it away ... for a little while. I don’t know how to kill it. I don’t know if you can.” She was shaking visibly now. “I don’t know anything else, I swear to you.”
Buffy nodded to Spike, who let go of his handful of Amy’s hair and slid out of Game Face as easily as he’d put it on. “Don’t come near Willow again,” she warned. Amy nodded numbly.
“I won’t. I promise.” Buffy opened the car door, and Amy streaked past her, stumbling into the darkness of quiet residential Sunnydale. Buffy slid back into the car, and for a moment neither she nor Spike said anything. Finally she turned to look at him.
“My place,” she said softly. “If Rack wants her that badly, he’s going to have to come through us first.”
They made a quick stop at the hospital; Spike slunk through the back door to the morgue while Buffy stayed in the car, and was back in a matter of moments, carrying a plastic grocery bag and looking self-satisfied. “Any Weetabix at your place?” he asked. Buffy shook her head.
“We have graham crackers, though,” she guaranteed. “And Triscuits. Triscuits would work, wouldn’t they? God. I can’t believe I’m talking about this.”
“Any relationship is an adjustment. Dr. Ruth says so.”
Buffy ground her teeth. “Normal people adjust to things like ... like different tastes in music. Or decorating. Or where you squeeze the toothpaste. Not what kind of crackers your ... um, lover ... likes to crumble into his stolen blood! Yuck!”
“I’m willing to try the Triscuits,” Spike said reasonably. “I’m flexible.” He shot her a sly glance. “Very flexible, as a matter of fact.”
“Just. Stop. Talking,” she said. “I’m already having to have a serious word with my digestive system.”
He smiled to himself and kept driving. She’d called him her lover.
There was an empty can and a dirty bowl and spoon on the kitchen counter when they walked in; someone had made herself tomato soup, and Buffy was guessing it wasn’t Dawn, who threatened to projectile-vomit every time it appeared on the table. Willow’d had dinner. Good sign. She found the box of Triscuits in the cupboard and pressed it into Spike’s hands. “Knock yourself out,” she said. “This is one culinary experiment I’m determined to miss. I’m going to go talk to Willow.”
He was already rummaging for a coffee mug. “Take your time.” Buffy heard the microwave switch on and shuddered.
Willow’s light was on, for a change. Buffy knocked and cracked the door open. “Will? You up?”
“Sort of.” Willow was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the bed, looking shaky but still more alive than Buffy’d seen her in days. “Come on in,” she invited. “Have a seat. What’s up?”
“We sort of need to talk,” Buffy said, and there was an awkward silence. God, she hated this. Missed the days when she and Willow could have dove headfirst into any topic at all and come up hugging. “I need to ask you a question.”
Willow looked wary. “Okay, shoot.”
“We ran into Amy tonight,” Buffy said. “She doesn’t look good.”
Willow dropped her eyes. “And?”
“She told us about the Doorkeeper.” Buffy scooted a little closer to Willow on the bed. “Will, I need to know. Has it come after you again?”
Willow shook her head. “Why do you think I haven’t left the house?” Her eyes shot up to Buffy’s again. “It’s outside – I saw it the other night out my window. Oh, God, Buffy, I’m so scared for Dawnie. The way it looked at her ...” Big tears shimmered just below the surface. “I totally fucked up. I’m such a loser.”
“Shh.” Buffy slung her arm around Willow’s shoulder, surprised at how thin her friend felt. “It’s you the thing’s after, not Dawn. Amy said so.” She turned Willow’s head gently to face her own. “Will, tell me how to kill it.”
“I’m not sure. He said that he’s the only one who can stop it.”
“But that’s not true,” Buffy said. “You made the thing dissolve. I saw you. Is it gone for good?”
Willow shook her head. “I don’t know.”
“Okay.” Buffy raked her hair back behind her ears. “So, research time then. At the Magic Box? Tomorrow?” Willow nodded, sniffled one more time, reached for a Kleenex.
“I need to apologize to Dawnie,” she said quietly. “Is she around?”
Buffy shook her head. “Mini-golf with Xander this afternoon. Not back yet. She’s not much into me these days, either.”
“Is she still mad at me?”
God. Willow looked so miserable. Buffy hesitated. “Yeah,” she said finally. “But she’ll get over it. Hey, get this,” she said brightly. “The Sunnydale High drama club is putting on Taming of the Shrew this year. And Dawn’s trying out for Bianca.”
Willow chuckled weakly. “Every casting director’s nightmare.”
That’s my girl, Buffy thought. “Will, there’s one other thing,” she said. “I mean, I ... well, I ... I’ve met someone,” she finished lamely. “I mean, I’ve known him for a while, it’s just, well ...”
Willow, sensing non-addiction-related gossip, perked up a little. “Is this a sex thing? Do I know him?” Buffy groaned inwardly.
“Um, yeah. Listen ... I don’t know how to tell you this, but the fact is ...”
“Buffy?” Spike poked his head around the doorjamb. There were Triscuit crumbs on the front of his shirt. “Anya called. Niblet’s staying with them tonight. Hey, Red,” he said. Willow’s eyes went wide.
“Spike,” she said, then turned to Buffy. “Spike?” Buffy nodded. Time for a mental forehead smack.
“I – oh. Okay. And this is a good thing?”
“Apparently,” Buffy said drily. “Look, I just thought you should know, in case you guys run into each other in the bathroom or something. He may be over now and again.”
“Uh-huh. Sure.” Willow was still wide-eyed. “Does Dawnie know?”
“Not yet. You’re the first.”
“Oh.” She cleared her throat. “Well. Um, congratulations.” There was an awkward pause, then, “Well, I was gonna see if you wanted to pop in a video, but I can see you’re busy, so ...”
“What video?” Spike asked. Willow shot him a startled look.
“Um, it doesn’t matter. I hadn’t really decided.” She frowned at him. “You want to?”
“Anything but sodding science fiction,” Spike said, and half-turned into the hallway again. “Slayer, you pick. I’ll fetch the popcorn.”
“Wow,” Willow said, staring open-mouthed at his departing back. “Wow, Buffy. Spike? How did that happen?”
“Long story,” Buffy said, and started to sort through the stack of videocassettes on Willow’s nightstand. “Let’s just say that I’m full up on romantic comedy these days, and go for something nice and straightforward, okay?”
“Sure,” Willow said. “Like what?”
By the time Spike was back with the popcorn, they had vetoed every movie in the house and were stretched out on their stomachs on Willow’s bed, watching a National Geographic special entitled “America’s House Cats”. Spike rolled his eyes, then set the popcorn down in front of Willow and kicked off his shoes. “Join you ladies?”
Buffy crossed her legs behind her, dug into the popcorn, and felt better than she had in ages. Willow was cooing over the kittens and matching her handful-for-handful with the salt and cholesterol. Spike had shed his leather duster and attitude and was stretched out beside her like a cool, solid boulder, his chin resting on his crossed forearms. She hadn’t felt this safe since ... oh, God.
She closed her eyes, hard. She hadn’t felt this safe since the night before Angel woke up Angelus.
She could still remember that night, if she let herself think about it. Rain and wet and running, then arms and sheets and lips and bed and love. Everything so new. Her whole life, balled up into a big knot of trust and adoration that he was unraveling with his fingers, inch by slippery inch.
The trouble was that she couldn’t stop the clock with the nice parts – her thoughts always bled over into the morning after. And the night after that. And the night after that. Stalkings. And dead goldfish. And the blank, destroyed look on Giles’ face in the police lights. Kissing Angel at the same time she drew back her arm for the killing blow. The strange ease with which the sword had slid into him; the look on his face while he reached out for her. No, nothing good about those memories.
She’d say this for Spike. She’d slept with him twice now and he hadn’t gone psycho, dumped her, hired a hooker to bite him, killed her Watcher’s girlfriend, or left town. In her experience, those were a handful of big red smiley faces in the Plus column.
It was too hard to open her eyes again. In the Slayer’s book, safety usually meant sleep.
Continued in Chapter Four