Summary: Can a vampire be dragged, kicking and screaming into the light? We'll see. Spike's a complicated guy, isn't he?
Author Notes: Herself, the most, in bunches. Liz who's unapologetic lust for Spike first made me want to march in Spike-pride parades – we're here, we love evil soulless things, get used to it!
This is dedicated to the yellow balloon. All creatures that can love and grieve have souls.
Story Notes: Season 6 through, oh, I don't know, let's say after she wore the lilac blouse of breaking up and before she wore the gray robe of victimization.
Completed just before my birthday in July 2002.
Disclaimer: Spike, Buffy, et al belong to Mutant Enemy and Joss and all those people with a legal posse who could come after me and sue my ass if they wanted. Still. Blood. Turnip.
"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?
Continued in ~Incinerator~