All About Spike

Chapter: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24

Blood Kin
By Nan Dibble

Sequel to Old Blood

Originally titled Enemy of My Enemy

Old Blood brief summary:

Recovered by Buffy from the First, Spike sets out, with Dawn's help, to kill the fledges he made while triggered, assists Buffy with training the SITs, and tries to avoid resuming their S6 sexual patterns
Post-Showtime, Rated R, Spike/Dawn friendship, Spike/Buffy.

Blood Kin brief summary

Follows from Old Blood. Roving Turok-han are decimating Sunnydale’s vamps. Willing to fight but needing a leader, the vamps fix on an unwilling Spike, who summons Angel—who’s in a position to take over everything Spike cares about—to form a fighting partnership between Sunnydale’s vampires and Buffy and the SITs. Also Dawn returns to her Key state and Spike attempts to recover her.
Post-Showtime, somewhat AU, Rated R, Spike/Buffy, Spike/Dawn friendship. WIP

Disclaimer: Effulgent Spike (and Buffy, and Dawn, and everybody) belongs to Mutant Enemy and Joss Whedon, to whom be all praise. No infringement nor profit intended, only more SpikeJoy for everyone.


Chapter One: Grenades and Stakes

Drawing two cards gave Spike two pair, nines over fives. Interesting hand: not too big or too small, and the draw already past, so no more improvement: whatever you had, you had. Judiciously he raised a finger just enough to direct his minion, who’d accepted the name of Gonzo the Great, to stay with the hand until/unless Spike signaled otherwise.

Since the other players in the back room of Willy’s didn’t know Gonzo was Spike’s minion, Spike had a considerable advantage quite apart from the usual varieties of cheating they all practiced, except that Spike was better at them.

And if the game ended in a fight, that was no bad thing either. Just one of the small pleasures that kept life on the Hellmouth interesting and the reputation of Willy’s as a down-and-dirty dangerous demon bar intact.

Clem, who’d opened, bet a cautious suckling grey tiger-striped kitten. Clem obviously had a pair and was now worried it wasn’t high enough. As a guess, jacks, with maybe an ace as a kicker.

The Vrahall demon, whose name was apparently Hrish-huugh-att, raised a weaned butterscotch. Just to confuse things, Spike asked if that was the same as marmalade, a really appetizing color, or just plain yellow. After some argument, the consensus came down on yellow, which of course was ridiculous, it was the same color, only different words. So Spike raised by coat color of marmalade, getting a little edge without actually having to throw more into the pot.

Everybody else at the table of course was an idiot with the possible exception of a vamp named Mike (in sullen game face), whom Spike didn’t know, and Clem, of course, who wasn’t exactly dim but such a fucking warm-hearted wanker that there was no practical difference. So the fun, for Spike, was finding out how blatantly he could cheat without somebody catching him at it.

When Mike called, the bet was to Gonzo, who also called. That brought the bet back to Clem, who frowned and sorted his cards (moving two) in a really embarrassing manner. Bugger: the bat-eared skinbag had trip something, which let Spike out of it right there, unless he wanted to see if he could bluff Clem out. That possibility died with a thud when Clem raised to a bluepoint Burmese, weaned. Lovely little things, although you’d be picking fur out of your teeth for days.

Spike confessed that was too rich for his blood and folded. Mike called. Gonzo called. Clem showed trip threes. Mike had two pair, aces and nines. Gonzo spread out a full house, fours over Jacks. Spike stared at the hand, at the clueless minion, then back at the hand again.

Then he ostentatiously checked the wall clock, since no demon would be caught with such a nancified ornament as a wristwatch, and said, “That’s it for me. Gotta go on shift.”

As Spike pushed away from the table, Gonzo offered, “I’ll do the tally,” as well he might, since that would keep him at the table awhile longer. Figuring out who owed who what fractions of kittens sometimes took awhile.

“Sooner Clem did it, but it’s strangers’ choice,” Spike commented, glancing to vampire Mike and the Vrahall. Hrish-huugh-att pointed at Clem, and Mike muttered, “Fine with me. Whatever.” Spike nodded. “Clem, then. Gonzo, you s’pose you could help me unload today’s delivery?”

Looking unhappier by the minute but with no good way to dodge out of it, Gonzo trailed Spike into the store room.

Spike wheeled and shut the door, then rounded on Gonzo in game face. “You incredible idiot, you sat there holding a full house and you didn’t raise?”

Already backing off, not that it was going to do him any good, Gonzo protested, “You said, ‘Keep it going,’ boss. ‘Keep it going,’ you said, and I did that. Did just like you said. And what are you pissed about? We won the hand, didn’t we?”

Advancing as Gonzo retreated, Spike responded, “There is no ‘we’ here. There’s me and a moron minion without the brains of an unripe cantaloupe. Total waste of the space. That hand was worth a couple of Siamese, at least. And you let it stay at a goddamned bluepoint Burmese. Amazed you didn’t fold on four aces. Won the hand? Won the fucking hand?”

A commotion started up out in the bar. Spike ignored it.

Gonzo pointed at the wall, anxious to direct Spike’s attention someplace else. “Biter. They’re yelling Biter, boss.”

And so they were. Spike tipped his head, deciding where he most wanted to direct his seething anger: at Gonzo, or a Turok-han. “All right, get the kegs in the racks and the bottles in the cooler. And you better have it done before I get back.”

“Sure, boss!”

Spike shoved up the accordion door of the loading bay and jumped down to ground level. Cruising Turok-han, that the local demons called “Biters,” not having a clue about the history or proper nomenclature of Sunnyhell’s newest demon contingent, had become a nightly occurrence. As Spike’s job at Willy’s combined bartender and bouncer, it was his responsibility to see that none actually got inside or ate actual customers. Mostly he did it by luring the Turok-han off, since the snaggle-toothed Uber-vamps hated their mixed-blood distant descendents and were almost always willing to turn aside and pursue. Biters were bigger and stronger, but Spike was faster and knew Sunnydale’s alleys and roofs and interlaced sewer lines intimately. It wasn’t any problem to lure the Biter a few streets away, then ditch him with a quick leap to a roof or down a sewer.

Spike generally didn’t consider the Uber-vamps worth fighting. Taking out one or two, here and there, had no significant impact on their total numbers, and the chance of sustaining serious damage in such a fight was a near certainty.

Having just had a demonstration of winning that was worse than losing should rationally have made Spike even more cautious. It had the opposite effect. He was annoyed and wanted to kill something, and the Turok-han had presented itself at the opportune moment. Gonzo would still be available afterward, if Spike wanted to visit on him the just wrath of a Master Vampire whose plans had been royally fucked up by an idiot minion.

As he came around the corner of the building, he pulled from his back pocket the wooden-handled piano wire garrote he now always kept on him. Grey-skinned, ropy limbed, shark-mouthed and a bony seven or eight feet high, two Biters had a human backed up against a loudly protesting blue Ford Pinto in the front parking lot and were apparently bickering over who got first crack at the snack. Eating a human, solo, would keep an ordinary vamp going for several days; the Biters apparently needed one apiece, every night, and had begun to make a serious dent in Sunnydale’s remaining population.

What they were feeding on, down in the nearby Hellmouth, Spike neither knew nor cared. But every night, a couple of dozen Biters emerged from the basement entrances of the High School and scattered in various directions to forage. To hunt. Since Willy’s was only two blocks from Sunnydale High, some inevitably passed by, going or returning.

So far, none had actually invaded the demon bar. Willy, who was human, had promised Spike a bounty to make sure none ever did.

From maybe twenty paces away, Spike yelled, “Oi, grey and ugly. You’re trespassing. This is claimed territory. Get the hell out!”

One Biter looked around at him, which meant the other one started chowing down on the human, about as Spike had expected. The first one started clicking: not a demon language Spike knew, though near enough to Thresin that he could sometimes catch a word or two. Mostly cursing, no surprise there. Thres demons didn’t go in for polite chat, at least the ones he’d run into, so those were mostly the words he knew.

Feeble scum didn’t come out as much of an insult in English, but it probably was pretty scathing in Biter.

“You deaf as well as ugly? Go and hunt the hell someplace else!”

The first Biter came at him then: big bounding strides that closed the distance in notime flat. Spike had dodged, of course--in among the cars. When the Biter changed direction, Spike jumped up on the hood of a green Nissan, denting the metal heavily, the cheap way cars were made nowadays, then jumped to the roof of a red Mitsubishi coupe as the Biter took a swipe at where he’d been. Naturally those two car alarms went off, too, adding to the din.

His last jump had put him at a good angle to slip the garrote crosshanded over the Biter’s head, set his shoulders, and yank hard. The piano wire cut through the neck and spinal column, a neat beheading. The Biter dusted in an explosion of grey, noxious ash.

Spike turned, not quite quickly enough: having finished its meal, the other Biter had reached the Mitsubishi and took a huge clawed swipe across Spike’s legs. Spike went sideways. He hit the blacktop in a roll, but the Biter only needed to turn to reach him and he was hit again across the left shoulder, the claws digging in and holding him in place, pretty much immobilizing that arm. He grabbed the Biter’s forearm long enough to whip both boots up into a head kick that freed him from the claws and threw him and the Biter apart. Spike was on his feet, looking for the nearest place to get high and into good garroting position when he saw something like a black rubber ball come bouncing under the Biter’s feet and flung himself away in a full-out dive under the nearest vehicle, a Dodge 4x4. He rolled under the truck and out the other side, then tucked, arms over his head, as the incendiary grenade went off, turning the Biter into a pillar of flame that screeched and wobbled a second, then flared into a fireball as its fuel diffused into dust.

The Nissan caught, and there was a good chance the Mitsubishi would go too. Spike uncurled and put some distance between him and the burning vehicles, holding his injured shoulder.

The bar’s customers, of various demon races, were coming out to watch, now that the fight was over. But one vamp was standing in the open, still bent into the underhand throwing pose from pitching the grenade. Mike, from the poker game. He and Spike traded wary, carefully neutral glances as Spike passed by to begin his shift at the bar.

Spike liked it that the patrons cleared away and left him a path without his having to shove his way through. His reputation in Sunnydale had been lower than dirt for a long time. Chipped vampire, helpless against humans, who ran at the Slayer’s heels and slaughtered his own because he couldn’t go after his proper prey. It’d taken him several weeks at Willy’s, taking on all comers, to turn that around. The furniture and fixtures had suffered in the process, but the predictable fights had provided Willy’s with a thriving customer base, demon and human, wanting to watch and wager on the results.

As Spike took his place behind the bar, he noticed with satisfaction that Willy was on the stepstool wiping at the chalk board and then changing the odds to 3 to 1 (demon). Spike’s odds against humans were 30 to 1 and not apt to go any higher.

The chip had been neutralized.

Spike slopped some vodka on a bar rag and roughly wiped down the gashes, going to game face not because of pain but to stop the bleeding faster, then paid the injuries no further attention, staying even with current orders as the patrons started returning. Apparently the Mitsubishi had caught, and there were some odds being called on the likelihood of the next vehicle over joining the conflagration.

The job at Willy’s had initially been to settle a debt Spike owed for trashing the place. It continued because Spike found it convenient in a number of ways. His shift didn’t begin till midnight, so it didn’t interfere with the occasional kitten poker game or the nightly patrol he did with the Slayers-in-Training, the Potentials. It was only four days a week, which left three for other important nighttime activities, like shagging the Slayer whenever she passed him a certain look or started brushing against him on patrol.

Willy’s always had been a good place to fish for information, find out what was doing among Sunnydale’s large demon contingent drawn to the Hellmouth’s disruptive energies. Sunnydale had long been a popular vacation and tourist spot for demons of all sorts. The Vrahall demon had been wearing one of the souvenir T-shirts that read I visited the Hellmouth and it (picture of large red lips, fangs) me.

In addition to information, Spike’s job brought in cash: always in short supply when feeding, clothing, and housing about 30 people, most of them ravenous teenagers. And expenses had inevitably gone up now that they were maintaining two households, the Summers place on Revello and the new place where Spike and about half of the SITs were camped out, on Brown, the next street over.

The Slayer’s “student advisor” job at the High School brought in some. Not much, but at least even with her take-home from that disgusting pit, the Doublemeat Palace, so she’d been able to quit there, to Spike’s great relief. Demon girl, Anya, of course, had the Magic Box, but didn’t chip in on any sort of regular basis, as Spike understood things. Giles, the ex-Watcher, paid for his globe-hopping trips to collect newly-found Potentials out of his own savings, gone more often than present, so he didn’t chip in much beyond that. Harris donated some from his job in construction, and so did the witch, Willow, in the form of rent at Casa Summers. The frequent hospital bills were paid by installments with whatever was left over.

With the basics mostly taken care of, whatever Spike brought in went toward necessities like the cable bill, video rental, and outings to the mall. And the minions, of course.

Having heard a call for beer, Spike set the glass down and was a minute recognizing Mike, the incendiary grenade guy. It was the first time Spike had seen him out of game face. Mike looked at him long enough to either be a muted challenge, or else the bloke wanted something. Either way, Spike didn’t care, and turned away to catch the next order. It did nothing for the vamp’s likability that his human face vaguely reminded Spike of Riley Finn, one of the Slayer’s numerous exes, all of whom Spike hated when he bothered thinking about such things.

The clanks of successive sets of metal window shutters closing announced 4 a.m. Spike served the last round, then went to the storeroom. All the kegs and bottles had been put away, but Gonzo had decamped, no surprise. Spike glowered and tried to make a mental note to settle up with the idiot some other time, even though he knew he’d most likely forget. Too much going on to enforce proper discipline on the minions, of which he now had three: Gonzo, Huey, and Dewey. There’d been Louie, but a Biter had driven him off a kill and then had him for dessert about a week ago.

The Turok-han were becoming more and more of a problem. Spike hoped that whenever, as predicted, they came spilling out of the Hellmouth full force, he’d have the children, the SITs, something like ready to meet them. Outnumbered, as predicted, about a thousand to one. But you could only do what you could do.

There was the totally unknown power and reliability of the witch’s magic to be factored in, assorted prophecies that might apply or not, and the occasional rumored magical weapon to be located and secured. All impossible to calculate in terms of their effect in evening the odds. Nothing to be done but do the best he could with the parts that made sense. He tried not to think about the other parts any more than he could help.

Willy was locking the chain-link inner gate behind the last of the departing patrons. Spike didn’t bother asking him for the Biter bounty but took it, and his night’s wages, directly out of the till. It was simpler that way, and since Spike was continually handling cash, Willy didn’t have much option but to trust his part-time bartender/bouncer not to steal him blind. Spike mostly contented himself with nicking cigarettes and the odd bottle, which wasn’t much of a dent, considering.

“Night, Spike,” Willy called, heading out the back. “See to the padlock?”

“Right you are.”

The gashes had all stopped bleeding some time ago and the shoulder was only faintly lame. But he knew he’d catch hell if he showed up in slashed clothing. All sorts of needless fussing and explanations required by his birds, either set, depending on where he showed up for breakfast. So he changed into one of the spare sets of identical black jeans and T-shirts he kept in back, then let himself out the rear door.

He was shutting the padlock when he felt himself being watched.

That vamp Mike--a decent distance away, just standing there, not like he figured to jump Spike for the bounty money. Had some of his own coming too, but it wasn’t Spike’s business to tell him that.

“You want something?” Spike asked evenly.

“Talk to you a minute?”

“About what? Sun’s coming.”

Mike hitched a shoulder. “Not for awhile yet.” Then he held up a bottle which, by shape and color, wasn’t anything Willy carried. Been down to the store by the mall and then back. Odd.

Spike settled a hip on the edge of the loading bay and lit a cigarette. Thus invited, Mike took a seat in barely-reaching distance at the far side of the ledge and leaned to hand the bottle over. Hadn’t been opened.

Polite bastard. Not a fledge, either: put and shed game face at will. Knew when the sun was due without glancing at the stars.

Spike had enough of a drink, then returned the bottle and waited to find out what all this was in aid of.

“Payin’ my respects,” said Mike. “Master Vamp of Sunnydale. Order of Aurelius, I hear.”

He offered the bottle again, but Spike waved it off, still waiting.

“I was turned here,” Mike continued. “Passing through. About six years ago.”

“I don’t give a goddam about your fucking history, mate. You--“

Mike was impolite enough to interrupt. “I’m an Aurelian. But not one of yours.”

Spike stared at him a good long while. “And I should care because…?”

“Because I knew enough to get away and stay away while you were slaughtering all of your get, a couple of months back,” replied Mike bluntly. “I didn’t want to get caught in a mistake.”

Spike considered. There were several of his bloodline that might have turned this vamp. All of them had been in Sunnydale around that time, in and out. The Master himself, head of the bloodline, finally done in by the Slayer. Then his own immediate clan: Darla, Angelus, and Drusilla. They’d all been here around that time: Darla toadying to the Master, Angel drifting in, in the Slayer’s wake, then he and Dru together after Prague.

“Not that I really care, but whose get are you then?”

“Angelus. Pieced it together afterward. Turned me and left me.”

Spike felt his face tighten at the mention of his Sire’s name. “Possible, not proven. And if it’s some big family inheritance you’re after, you’re shit out of luck. First thing, there isn’t any, not that I know of. Second, without acknowledgement, you’re an ex-dinner that got interrupted, went sideways. Don’t expect Angel to care. Nor me neither.”

“I know that. I just want a fair hearing. Whatever you figure to do about the Turok-han, I want in.”

“Now, that’s interesting,” Spike said in a lazy, totally uninterested voice. He decided to accept the bottle when it was offered again. “Want to play some more with your grenades, do you?”

“Nobody’s doing anything. Can’t make a kill anymore without one of those fucking monsters taking it away from you and taking you, besides, if you don’t back off quick enough. Hunting territories are already all messed up, border raids and fights every night now. Whole place is coming unglued. Give ‘em time, they’re going to overrun the whole town. And nobody’s doing anything.”

Spike set the bottle on his knee. “Go someplace else, then. What’s holding you here?”

“I don’t run. OK, from you on your own ground, all right, I backed off. Not challenging you here. But I don’t run from a thing like that. I’m ex-merc. I been talking to the cousins, around town. Don’t have to go up against those fuckers with a piece of twine, not if there was a supply of bug-burners you could draw on.”

“What is it that you want, Michael?”

“I told you: I want in.”

Spike smiled at the sky. “You be in, then, if you want. Whatever the hell you think ‘in’ means.”

“If you don’t control the Hellmouth, you don’t control the town. Are you gonna let yourself be driven off the Hellmouth?”

“Well, I don’t hardly have it now, do I? No, you go play soldiers if that’s what you want.” He finished the cigarette and pitched it, then passed the bottle back.

Taking it, the other vampire looked up in game face, golden eyes shining. “I can’t. They won’t follow me. The cousins. I know I got no claim, but I’m an Aurelian all the same, the same as you. But they won’t follow me. They’d follow you.”

“Michael, have you ever been a minion?”


“Have you ever tried getting much of anything done with minions?”

“No,” Mike admitted, less vehemently, letting his face relax into human contours.

“Then let me educate you, Michael. Trying to organize demons to do anything whatever has a lot in common with herding cats. Just take us two, now. I can’t trust you, and you better know you can’t trust me. The second I think it’s to my advantage to take your head off, I’ll do it. Or even if you do no more than seriously piss me off. And the second you figure you don’t need me to be this fine figurehead or whatever you got in mind, you’ll do me quick as blinking. Now multiply that by fifty. You seem like a bright enough lad: you do the math.”

Mike argued stubbornly, “I been a merc. Nearly ten years. It doesn’t have to be that way. I know the rules.”

“No, your demon is six years old, it was never a merc, it’s only a demon. Maybe you can set it aside a little easier than most because of how you were turned. But you’re not the person who was a merc, that person is dead, Michael. And all the demon wants is a good feed, and a good shag, and shelter from the sun, I got mine, Jack, and the hell with the cousins. Demons love chaos, Michael. They love to bust things up. And the more you try to set ‘em up like dominos, the harder they’ll knock those dominos down and you for afters. Anybody who believes otherwise is a fool. Now you go your ways, I got nothing against you. You came polite and--” Spike stopped, overtaken by a thought. “Any chance you could get your hands on two, three dozen tasers?”

Mike raised his head. He and Spike looked at each other a long moment.

“Might be. I’ll let you know.”

Conspicuously leaving the bottle behind, Mike slid off the edge of the dock and began walking away. Spike called after him, “You’re due $ 100 bounty for doing that Biter. You might want to ask Willy about that sometime.”

“You keep it. I’m not after your job.”

“Good to know that,” commented Spike peaceably. Well, that had been one of the possibilities that’d occurred to him. And he didn’t altogether discard it. Spike was inclined to believe Angelus had turned the boy: something about his bullheaded impatience, his refusal to consider alternatives, made a pretty good match for his Sire’s ways, subtracting about 200 years of experience in cold-blooded bullying. The lad was just starting out, after all. Orphaned, so to say: never been a minion or a childe or a sire.

He’d learn. Or else he’d die. It was nothing to Spike, either way.

Absently he collected the bottle in passing. No point wasting it.


The house on Brown Street was a modest ranch with white aluminum siding and a brick-colored roof, in decent condition. Although a FOR SALE sign decorated the front lawn, in almost five weeks no one had come to show or to see the property. Sunnydale’s housing market had disappeared off the bottom of the graph and realtors had been among the first to leave town. It had taken Spike no more than an hour’s meandering to choose this one among five vacant on Revello and Brown. The back yards of the two properties abutted, so there was constant traffic back and forth. And the previous owners had abandoned the place in such haste that the utilities hadn’t been cut off. A definite advantage.

They had a pretty comfortable set-up, Spike and his pack of fourteen Slayers-in-Training. There were no stupid rules against smoking in the house, meals were served on a set schedule (cooked according to a written rotation), and most of the day was blocked out for different kinds of training and practice. Not much active supervision to be done. Place pretty much ran itself. Spike usually watched morning weapons practice from the shaded side porch, then called a couple or three pairs for drilling or instruction down in the basement until noontime. Then he had the basement to himself all afternoon, to sleep until sundown and then preparations for the night’s patrol, either on their own or in combination with the Slayer’s pack, after the children had all had their suppers.

When Spike arrived, still short of sunrise that Saturday morning, the children were already out in the yard doing their morning jerks, waving and calling to him as he passed. In the kitchen he found Amanda and Kim finishing slices of toast dripping with jam, and Willow yawning over a cup of herbal tea with a surprisingly pleasant smell.

Pouring a cup of pigs’ blood for himself, Spike greeted Willow and she sat abruptly straighter, blinking hard to wake herself up.

“I am so not a morning person!” Willow announced.

Spike added crumbled cereal and a good shot of hot sauce to the blood, then put the cup in the microwave and set it going. Putting Mike’s bottle of Scotch into the top of a cabinet, Spike responded, “Then why are you up?”

“Wanted to tell you…. Wanted to tell you…. Oh! I’ve done a dump and set a dampening field on the basement. Our basement. Maybe you could see, later, if the all-radioactive-dangerous-itchy-magic vibes are down to tolerable levels yet. Doesn’t feel like anything to me, but” (she shrugged expressively) “that’s me, you know?” Then she smiled brightly. “You get to be the canary in the coal mine!”

Collecting his mug from the microwave, Spike gave her a look expressive of all his enthusiasm for the prospect.

“There are crystals,” Willow mentioned, as though that should be considered a special inducement. “At the cardinal points and one in the middle, just in case.”

As Amanda and Kim, who’d stayed politely quiet while the grown-ups were talking, said, “Bye, Spike,” and “We’re gone, Spike,” before joining the group in the yard, Spike turned sunwise and tried to locate the fuming blowhole of residual blood magic that had been erupting in the Summers’ basement for the past five weeks: the reason Spike had been forced to vacate. “It’s better,” he admitted. “Can’t feel it from here anymore, at least. All right, I’ll look in before patrol. Red, anything desperate on the want list you know about?” When Willow shook her head wordlessly, Spike went on, “Gonna hang onto my pay a bit, see if something comes up. If it does, I’ll need it to hand. So take it into account, if there’s need, but I’m not throwin’ it into the pot just yet, all right?”

“All right.” Willow had become the de facto treasurer, in part because nobody quite trusted Anya to keep good account of which funds had come from where. Anya was a little bit too good with money for anybody, Spike included, to be comfortable entrusting her with theirs. As with a shark, what went in bore little resemblance to what came out.

Spike kept still about the Biter bounty, in part because that was “found” money and therefore not yet committed to anything. The other reason was that admitting it would have meant explaining why he’d taken on a pair of Turok-han single-handed, something that would definitely have put the Slayer’s back up, both because of the risk and because it’d taken her four separate tries to bring one down. Spike didn’t want her to feel she was in a competition about such a thing.

No need to make a problem when there wasn’t one.

“Rupert still here?” Spike asked idly.

“Yes, do you think he’s finally found them all? No new Potentials located in, what--six, seven weeks?”

“About that. He still stayin’ at that motel?”

“Ahuh, the last that he said.”

“Right. Well, dawdle over your tea as long as you please, pet. My time to watch the children try to murder each other with sharp objects.” Trading a smile with the witch, Spike went out onto the side porch and settled on the steps.

His presence was the signal for the two leaders, Kim and Amanda, to call the pack from their warm-up exercises and start weapons drill. It was hard to get good edge weapons these days, but Willow had found an internet source of hand-forged daggers and short swords, good replicas intended for the Society for Creative Anachronism and RenFaire crowds. Made for use, not just show. There were now nearly enough for everyone to have one.

Bloody antiques, but effective enough, he supposed. Not so much against vampires, but good for whittling down the larger non-humanoid demons that showed up from time to time. Good also against Harbingers, agents and minions of their ultimate opponent, the First Evil. Cut them up right nice. But Spike was increasingly taken by the effectiveness of tasers, which could take down anything on two legs and even some creatures with more than two, and which doubled the effectiveness of any other weapon by disabling the target almost immediately.

Like almost everything else about Slayers, choice of weapons was hobbled into near paralysis by tradition. Dead stop in the Middle Ages. Correction: dead stop with the Greek phalanx, because they had yet to adopt anything resembling effective armor. Figured Slayers were as disposable as so many test dummies, kill one and another pops right up someplace, so why bother protecting them? Stick a weapon in her hand and send her out to be slaughtered, was pretty much the drill.

Spike had never had any fondness for the Council of Watchers and had shed no tears over hearing that their headquarters, and nearly all senior members, had been blown into small particles. But once he’d really started thinking about permissible weaponry, and about sending his children into the field against Turok-han, Spike’s contempt for the council’s notions of acceptable risk had made him wish he’d blown the place up himself.

If that Mike, now, could come up with a source of affordable tasers, Spike would get them even if it meant he had to arm-wrestle Rupert Giles under a table to do it. Ex-Watcher though he was, Rupert had barely been dragged, kicking and protesting and wiping his wanker glasses, into the computer age. As bad as the rest of them. The idea of arming Potentials with tasers would about send him right round the bend. Should be on the receiving end a few times, as Spike had: then see how he felt about it.

And all the while he’d been considering this, his hands had taken up their usual occupation: turning foot-long dowel sticks into stakes with a large, sharp knife. He studied the one he was working on quizzically: when all else fails, stab it with a pointy stick. The cheapest ammunition. Cheap, almost, as the generations of Slayers who’d wielded them.

His Slayer, now--she wasn’t expendable. Nor the SITs, his pack. Or hers, come to that. Their purpose was to fight; Spike’s purpose was to keep them all alive. While rendering as many of the opposition as messily, thoroughly dead as possible, of course.

That incendiary grenade, that had made quite a pretty show. He wondered what they cost by the dozen, or the gross.

Since it wasn’t a schoolday, the usual activity brought the usual company: Dawn, the Slayer’s kid sister, plunking down on the steps and collecting a dowel from the basket, producing her own large, sharp knife to whittle the point.

“Mornin’, Bit.”

“Hi, Spike. What’s the news from the Hellmouth?”

“Just more of the usual. What cheer from Casa Summers?”

“Xander’s free next Thursday, if you still want to get your bike back.” She tilted her head and repeated bike back, enjoying the sound of the words.

“’M still thinking about that,” Spike responded, and Dawn made a cheerful lips-zipping gesture, meaning that she’d let Spike bring the matter up with Harris himself without coaching from the sidelines. Spike gave her a look, so she zipped her lips again. “You just can’t wait to ride pillion,” Spike charged.

“I already have the helmet,” she countered. “And never mind me: think Slayer hanging onto your middle, little terrified screams in your ear, leaning into the turns--“

“Mind what you’re doing, Bit,” Spike interrupted mildly. “Don’t get all daydreamy with a knife in your hands, cut yourself, certain sure.”

“Not my fingers in danger,” Dawn declared airily, and Spike had to laugh.

“And that could be, too. I’ll think about it.”

“Why do I have no trouble believing that?” From there to Slayer was no jump at all, and Dawn exclaimed, “Oh, I’m so uber-glad you made it up and got back together again!”

Spike finished one stake, laid it aside, and collected another dowel. “Fairly pleased about it myself, if you must know.”

“Blackmaily material for absolute centuries!” Dawn exulted, waving her knife about in a fairly horrifying manner. Like an orchestra conductor. Then she stopped and gave him a sly, water-testing sideways look that put him on his guard much more than the knife had. “Spike, can I ask you something?’

“Depends on the something, pet.”

“And you won’t kill me or get mad or anything.”

“Now how can I promise a thing like that when you haven’t yet asked me, love? Might need you drawn and quartered, now--“

“Don’t be stupid, Spike. I truly want to know.” When Spike just kept on looking at her, she burst out, “Why doesn’t Buffy love you the way I do?”

Spike laughed and relaxed, again attending to the stake. “I expect that has a lot to do with you’re sixteen and a half, and she’s…what, now: twenty-one? Different things get important with a few more years, love. You’ll find out.”

Dawn shook her head. “No, I know all about that, sex and all--”

“Oh, you do, do you? And how--”

“Please, don’t be dumb. All right, I don’t know. Ms. Ex-green Ball of Mystical Energy here, all produced by squick-free magic, no birds, no bees. That’s not the point. What I mean is what I do know. Anytime you get hurt, it’s like I can’t breathe, it’s not even that I’m scared you’re gonna actually die or anything, I know you came through everything else, you’ll come through this, but it doesn’t matter, I’m all twisted up inside. And Buffy’s calmly checking off how long you’ll be out and how to cover for you and who’s gonna take the patrol or should she cancel it. I see that, Spike. I know that. But I don’t understand how she can be like that. Ever. But specially when you’re hurt.”

“Well, she’s the Slayer, pet. That’s what she’s for. That’s what comes first. Now if I’d taken a fancy to a…painter, say. Or a musician. Or even a writer, maybe. Then that would be what came first.”

“People come first, Spike,” said Dawn, very seriously. So Spike felt he had to take it very seriously too.

“No, they don’t, pet. It’s priorities. Now look here.” He set out four dowels, side by side, and set another set of four underneath that. “Now, that top row, that’s the Slayer’s priorities. And the first one is always the mission. That’s why she’s the Slayer at all: that’s what she’s for. An’ that next one, that’s her-for-the-mission: what she’s got to be, and do, as the Slayer. That’s second. And third, maybe that’s me. And that’s a fine place to be. An’ that last one, that’s her-for-herself. She comes last in her own priorities. Which is why you and I nag her to eat, and get enough sleep, and care for herself and all, because she forgets without us reminding. Because that’s last priority, for her. Everything else goes before that.”

“And what’s the second line?”

“Why, that’s me, pet. And my first thing, that’s the Slayer. Her-for-the-mission. To watch her back and do what’s needful to keep her safe. And you know that’s what I’m for, don’t you.”

“Heard you say so. Not sure I agree with it.”

“Well, you don’t have to, pet. These are my priorities, not yours. You got yourself a whole different set, because you look at everything from your own angle. Then second, for me, is Buffy herself. Everything that’s not Slayer. Third is the mission, because she mostly takes care of that, I just go along as best I can. And last here, that’s me-for-myself. Or no: that’s you, Bit. Have to get another stick, to be me.”

As he did so, Dawn sulked, “I thought you were gonna leave me out.”

“No, you didn’t. Now I got more sticks than she does, an’ that’s not right.” He set out a fifth stick for Buffy’s line as well. “Can’t say how she sorts those last two, you’d have to ask her. But I figure the fourth one’s you, and that last one, that’s her-for-herself. Don’t never not take you into account, Bit. Neither her nor me.”

Dawn took four sticks and thumped them down, side by side, on the porch. Then she considered and put two back. She pointed to one of the two that remained. “That’s you.” She pointed to the other. “That’s Buffy.” Then she looked up at him--somewhere between appeal and challenge.

“Where’s you, love?”

Dawn just stared at him. Wide unfathomable eyes the color of sky.

Spike picked up all the sticks and returned them to the basket. “Might be sometime,” he said softly, “you’ll come to love somebody who’s a part of something. Then you’ll know third is a fine place to be. Can’t always expect to be first, every time, Bit. Doesn’t work that way, except maybe for children. Wouldn’t know about that, myself…. It’s fine. Truly. It’s enough. Someday, maybe you’ll find that out for yourself. Till then, you have to take my word. Or not.”

“Not,” she said. “Maybe. I don’t think it’s just priorities.”

“What do you make of it then, pet?”

Dawn looked unhappy. Then she zipped her lips. And since she refused to explain, Spike let it go and they talked of other things.

Continued in Chapter Two: Dreams and Portents

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