By Barb Cummings
Sequel to A Raising in the Sun
Disclaimers: The usual. All belongs to Joss and Mutant Enemy, and naught to me.
Rating: PG-13 for language until Chapter 11, when it abruptly becomes R. (I caved, all right? So shoot me.)
Setting: AU Season 6
Pairing: S/B, and about damned time
Distribution: Ask and you shall receive, I'd just like to know where it ends up.
Feedback: Why not? firstname.lastname@example.org
Author’s notes: More or less a sequel to “A Raising In the Sun.” Thanks to Aurelio Zen for lettin' me play with her Zagros demon, and many, many thanks to LA Ward and all the folks at the Redemptionista Writers Group for beta reading.
He didn't want to wake up.
Too late. Consciousness had hold of him now, and the sweet bliss of knowing who he was dissolved into the familiar crawling itch inside his head. Tanner huddled inside his ratty sleeping bag, only his eyes visible. (Important, very important; the Things couldn't get through the cloth.) Sun was down. When no place was yours, no place was proof against the things that prowled the Sunnydale night, it was much safer to sleep during the day. No one visible. Which didn't mean much; he could only see the invisible ones sometimes. Jerk the zipper down, back up, down again. (Very important.) Sit up, slowly, while the fingers crawled through his brain. Check the perimeter.
Still in the park, in the little cave formed by the overhanging myrtle bushes. Tanner twisted round in the sleeping bag, counting off: the rock with the hole in it. The yellow rubber dog. The three matchbooks with one match left, the one on the right-hand end of the back row, bound together with red string. Wards and bounds, marking his territory. Some of the others used crosses, one, two, three, four, planted in the ground, head, feet, one to each side.
No crosses for him. What point when any smart vampire could use a stick and knock them away? He had his own methods. Sometimes he thought he remembered which ones were really magic (The bundle of rowan twigs? The phonograph needle which had only been used once, to play Scriabin's... what?) The knowledge was far away now. Twitching, itching... time to hunt. Past time. He'd put it off too long already. He'd be no help to the others if he didn't do it soon. He struggled out of the sleeping bag and rolled it up, tucking the charms away in its folds as he did so, muttering the right words in the right order.
His outpost was near the playground, a good safe spot, well-lit even at night. Near the squat cinder-block building which guarded the entrance to the public pool. There were showers in there, and bathrooms, and sometimes in the summer you could get good stuff from the lost and found box in the lifeguards' dressing room. The parking lot by the pool house was almost empty, just one lone motorcycle parked there. Tanner eyed it warily as he walked by, lest it pounce. It growled, but it was well-trained, he could see that. It only watched him as he walked up to the pool house.
The lock on the main door was broken and the parks and recreation people had given up trying to replace it long time ago--gangs, they said, or vagrants. Everyone knew it was really vampires. The others just took advantage of the vampires' vandalism, jackals following lions to the watering hole.
What vampires wanted with a men's room Tanner didn't know--probably the same thing he did, a convenient place to wash up when you wanted to pass for human. Look clean and you could get into the Espresso Pump, scavenge some change, spend the evening drinking coffee. They couldn’t see the crawling in your head if you were clean.
Light filtered in from the parking lot outside through high windows paned in heavy pebbled glass. Tanner picked his way past the front desk, placing his feet just so on the spiderweb of cracks in the echoing hall. Men's showers and dressing rooms were on one side, bathroom on the other. Faint scents coiled about him, plucking at his coat sleeves. Chlorine and wet concrete and stale caramel corn, whispering ghosts of summer. A sharp, astringent scent--a stranger--nipped at his ankles. There was water running in the bathroom already. A dark shape loomed over by the sinks. He realized what the sharp smell was. Peroxide.
The man at the sink straightened carefully to avoid banging his head on the tap and sluiced water out of his hair with both hands. He looked over his shoulder, sized up and dismissed Tanner in a glance, and went back to washing the excess bleach out of his hair. He had one of those little traveling shaving kits laid out on the edge of the sink. Tanner recognized him as someone he'd seen around downtown Sunnydale before. One of the night people. Vaguely punkish, Doc Martens or motorcycle boots, black jeans and T-shirt and a black leather longcoat which must have been damned expensive when it was new. And a definite aura of don't-fuck-with-me.
Older memory surfaced--that too-handsome face a-snarl with rage. Tanner's hand went up, touching his nose gingerly. It still hurt when the weather changed. The blond guy falling, strings cut, puppet no more use. But it had hurt him first. Tanner's first impulse was to back away, let the guy leave before going in himself. Second impulse... "You were there. When the air bled lizards."
The blond guy frowned. "No offense, mate, but I lost my taste for deciphering raving loonies a year or two back. Go ahead and use the loo if that's what you're here for."
Tanner didn't move. Manna from heaven. Guy here, alone. Guy’d hurt him. The dogs wouldn't bark for him. That was the singular occurrence, Watson. His fingers jerked at his sides. Three steps. A grab. Fingers twined in bone-white hair. The right words in the right order. Faster than lizards flew, the strings would be cut again and for awhile he, Tanner, would be whole, the crawling itching twitching stilled... Then he heard the voices behind him, out by the front desk. He froze.
The guy at the sink looked up again, irritation twisting his features, and shook water out of his newly-bleached hair. He cocked his pale head to one side, listening. "You expecting company?"
Tanner shook his head, mute, backing into the room and sliding along the wall past the urinals, towards the stalls in back. The blond guy, though obviously tense, took his sweet time turning off the tap, packing up his razor and shaving cream and tossing the plastic gloves and bleach package into the big metal trash can in the corner. That was fine with Tanner. He could play macho. There had been a time when he could have done the same, said a word, made a gesture--but the magic took time now, time to gather scattered thought and marshal them in neat rows. Time you didn't get in a fight. Tanner would hide in the bathroom stalls and if it was human punks maybe they wouldn't find him, and if it wasn't...
...maybe they wouldn't be hungry enough to want him too.
The voices echoed down the damp concrete halls. "Where'd he go?"
"Men's showers. Geez, what stinks in here? Smells like a laundry."
Footsteps in the short hallway, louder, closer. Spike heard scrabbling noises as the homeless guy, whoever he was, clambered desperately up onto the toilet seat, clinging to the wooden partition. Spike sighed and finished his washing-up, not bothering to look at the big sheet of burnished stainless steel they had bolted to the wall in lieu of a mirror. Too dark to see a reflection, even if he'd possessed one, and he had a lot of practice at doing without.
They sauntered around the corner and into the bathroom, yellow-eyed, faces twisted into nightmare shapes. The only heartbeat in the room was the one he could hear thudding violently away in the stall at the back of the room. Spike relaxed. A gang of human marauders he might have had trouble with. Other vampires he could handle. Not that, in the case of these two, he really wanted to soil his hands.
It wasn't unusual for a vampire to pick a style they liked and stick with it for decades, if not forever. Spike did it himself. But sod all, why did so many of them have to pick a look that screamed 'complete git'? The one in front was middling tall and olive-complected, with dark curly hair in a sort of brillo-explosion halo. He was wearing a collection of gold chains and a lemon yellow polyester leisure suit, horrifically wide lapels and all. Very likely the same suit he'd been turned in; that stuff was even more indestructible than the average vampire. The other one was fortyish and balding, with a sort of hunched, apologetic look even in game face. His grey suit was unobjectionable, if dull, and plenty of living humans of his sort would have had the exact same air of having slept in it for at least a week. He looked like an undead chartered accountant.
The first vampire pointed to the stalls. "He's right in--" Then he noticed. His lips twisted in disgust over bared fangs. "Spike."
"None other," Spike replied, squeezing a judicious amount of hair gel into one palm. He set the tube down on the sink, rubbed the gel briskly into his hair and ran a comb through the unruly curls, testing deftly with the other hand to ensure everything was in place. The patent-leather look was easier to keep up, but he'd gotten bored with it. Besides, Buffy had made the off-hand comment after she'd gotten back that she liked the new look. He'd been too embarrassed to admit that the 'new look' had originally been the result of a week's worth of not giving a shit, but rabid wolverines couldn't have made him go back to slicking it completely flat after that. Oh, well. What time he lost getting the hair right he saved on not hanging about waiting for his nails to dry.
"What the hell are you doing here?" the disco-era vampire asked.
Spike rinsed his comb off and put it and the hair gel back into his shaving kit. "Taking advantage of this brilliant invention that came in last century. Indoor plumbing. P'raps you've heard of it?" He sniffed ostentatiously, wrinkled his nose and turned off the faucet. "Guess that would be a 'no'."
Disco-Vamp ignored the insult. "Look, in your condition I don't blame you hanging around and hoping for scraps, but this one's ours."
The smaller one smiled. Nasty expression. "If you're nice we'll let you have sloppy seconds once he's good and dead."
Spike studied him with interest, wondering if he looked that purely evil with a grin on. He hoped so. With a martyred sigh, he pulled his duster off the hook by the sink and shrugged into it. The black leather flared dramatically about his shoulders as he turned to confront the interlopers again. Grinning. The two of them flinched, stepping back in spite of themselves, and then took a belligerent half-step forward. Damn, but he loved doing that. "Just had to do it, didn't you? Here’s poor Spike, completely biteless, and you lot come barging in and not only want to snuff someone right in front of me, you want to tell me all about it in nauseating detail."
Disco looked at Accountant. Accountant looked at Disco and pursed his thin, colorless lips. "I suppose that is inconsiderate of us, considering your... condition."
"Bloody right it's inconsiderate. Think of my feelings." Spike picked up his shaving kit and tucked it into his duster pocket. "D'you think I enjoy playing white hat?" His grin broadened as his hand found the other item in the pocket. "You could have shut your gob and I could have left nice and peaceable, don't ask, don't tell, but no--here you go, forcing my hand." He withdrew his hand, now grasping a wooden stake, from his pocket and swung it in a short sharp arc that terminated in Accountant's chest. "Downright rude, I call it."
Accountant had time for one wounded glance downward before crumbling into dust. "Can't abide bad manners," Spike said cheerfully.
Disco roared, batting the stake out of his hand with one lightning blow and shoving him into the wall. All right, this wanker was older than he looked. Older, and faster, and stronger... ah, well, keep things interesting. His own eyes flaring gold, Spike pushed off the wall and launched himself at the other vampire with a joyful roar. He landed two solid punches, took three, got the bastard into a headlock and rammed his forehead into the edge of the sink a couple of times. Disco managed to hook a foot around his ankle and send them both tumbling to the ground, rolling over and over with fangs snapping inches from one another's throats. Spike freed one arm long enough to flail for the dropped stake. Disco grabbed him before he could get a grip on it, heaved him up into the air and slammed him into the wall by the trash can. Spike dropped to the ground, head spinning. Bloody hell. This wanker was as strong as Angel, and he'd never been able to take Angel in a fair fight...
...which just meant he'd have to fight dirty.
Disco leaped for him. Spike rolled to the side, grabbed the fifty-gallon steel drum and heaved it upwards, catching Disco full in the face. Disco staggered and the drum fell back to the ground with an ear-splitting CLANG! Spike grabbed the bigger vampire's ankles and yanked his feet out from under him, flipping him head over heels into the still-rocking trash can. Before Disco's scream of rage ended Spike had flung himself across the floor and grabbed the stake. Disco's struggles tipped the can over completely, and as he came scuttling out backwards, Spike drove the stake into his back before he had a chance to get his head free.
Spike knelt there beside the pile of dust which had been Disco for a moment, wondering idly why he always started breathing during a fight. "Now that," he said with great satisfaction, "is the way to wake up of an evening." Shaking off his game face, he fished his lighter and cigarettes out of another pocket, tapped one out of the pack and lit up. After a few contented puffs he got to his feet, went over to the paper towel dispenser and repaired the damage the scuffle had done to his clothes. As an afterthought he set the trash can upright. "Oi, mate," he yelled towards the back of the bathroom, "All yours."
No answer. Spike cocked his head to one side. Funny, he couldn't hear the bloke's heartbeat any longer. Had he had a stroke or something, keeled over in the stall? Curious, walked back and opened the door.
There was no one there.
He stood there for a moment, scratching his head. Either the blighter had walked out while the two of them were fighting, and he hadn't noticed, or a dimensional portal had opened up and swallowed him whole. In Sunnydale, both possibilities were equally likely, and which one it was was no business of his. Spike shrugged, and strolled out whistling.
The lion roared. Something went flying, sharp baseball-bat crack against the wall. Smack and thud of fist meeting flesh, gasps and snarls, right outside the door it sounded like. Trapped. Fear knit the frayed edges of his thoughts together, and he looked up at the windows, but there was no escape in that direction. He stood balanced precariously on the toilet seat, gripping the edge of the partition with both hands, layers of heavy flaking paint rough under his thumbs.
There was another guy standing beside him in the stall. Tanner didn't remember him walking in. Maybe the guy'd been invisible. The guy didn't have eyes, but that was OK. Or not OK, but Tanner didn't mind because he was missing things too, more important things than eyes. An eerie calm settled over everything. He couldn't hear the fight going on outside. Couldn't hear anything. Except the guy with no eyes.
"Come with me, Tanner," the guy without eyes said. Some niggling inner voice told him that he ought to be afraid, but the calm felt so good, novocaine for the soul... Tanner shrugged. Not like he had anything better to do. The guy with no eyes opened the door to the stall and walked out, and Tanner followed him. The two combatants were locked together, motionless, in the center of the floor. Be damned. The blond guy was a lion too. "Observe," the guy without eyes said. "Two creatures of perfect evil, existing only to bring..."
"Death," Tanner interrupted. Nasty sharp pointed teeth.
The guy without eyes shook his head, impatient. "No. Death is neither good nor evil. Death... is. They exist to bring pain. Destruction. Chaos. Death is only one means to that end." He stood there, contemplating the frozen tableau. "It's all part of the balance, you see.”
“He hurt me,” Tanner agreed. Then he frowned. “He helped me.”
The guy with no eyes nodded. “Yes. The balance has been perturbed." Tanner shivered. Bad, very bad, worlds out of kilter. The evil geometry of the monkey bars on the playground, black and stark against the sunset.
"You understand," the eyeless man murmured. "Balance must be restored.”
"I--the others," Tanner choked out. "Gotta hunt for 'em."
The eyeless man paused, then nodded. "Yes. I know. That's why we have chosen you. Come with me. There is much yet to do."
“I look like a ratbag.”
Dawn and Willow, who’d been poring over their respective homework in the Summers’ living room, exchanged cautious looks. The words had been spoken in tones of hushed revelation. Buffy was standing in the middle of the Summers’ room, sans makeup, her hair pulled back and knotted at the nape of her neck in what Dawn referred to as ‘Buffy’s skinned weasel look’. She was staring down at her stunning ensemble of baggy sweatsuit and grungy tennis shoes as if she’d really noticed what she was wearing for the first time in weeks. Buffy was clean, Buffy was neat, but Buffy was a far cry from the older sister Dawn remembered agonizing for two hours over what to wear to a fifteen-minute appearance at the Bronze.
Dawn looked up from her exquisitely boring English homework. If she’d realized that her class-cutting last spring would result lowering her GPA to the point that she didn’t qualify for AP classes, she’d... well, she’d still have cut the classes, but... She gave her sister a once-over. “Yeah, you sure do.” A demon of mischief prompted her to add, “So what? It’s only patrol, right? You're gonna go out and get covered in demon guts and vampire dust anyway." She paused before delivering the coup de grace. "Besides, Spike’s seen you look way rattier than this.”
Buffy frowned, not rising to the bait. Darn. “If I’m going out, I should change.” She reached up and touched her cheek tentatively. “I don’t even have any lipstick!”
Dawn could have jumped on the coffee table and cheered; Buffy showing any sign of interest in mundane things like what she looked like was cause for major celebration. “So go buy some,” she said, maintaining a tone of sisterly boredom. “That’s what I do.”
Her sister’s hazel eyes sharpened for an instant in a ‘my little baby sister is wearing lipstick?’ expression. Honestly, sometimes Buffy acted as if she were still twelve. But she didn’t go into freakout mode, just frowned some more. “It’s not in the budget,” she said, and turned and climbed slowly back up the stairs.
“You could borrow some of mine,” Willow called after her.
Buffy turned for a moment, her eyes already regaining that distant, abstracted look which Dawn had grown to hate with a passion in the last month. “Thanks, Will.”
“You know, I could come along on patrol tonight if--”
Buffy didn’t wait for her to finish. “Spike and I can handle it.”
Willow bit her lower lip, her eyes suspiciously bright, and bent over her own book as Buffy disappeared up the stairs. Embarrassed, Dawn tried to lose herself in the exciting compositional possibilities of the gerundive. It didn’t work. The silence in the living room grew thicker and gluier by the moment, until Dawn was sure that if she did get up the nerve to say anything, the words would be trapped like flies in amber and go unheard. The knock on the door was a positive relief. Dawn flung her notebook to the floor and ran for the door. “Hey, Spike! You’re late.”
“‘Lo, Bit,” Spike said, breezing in past her. He was carrying a lethal-looking axe over one shoulder and looked to be in a very good mood. “Ran into some old mates, had to catch up, have a pint, kill them, the usual.” He peered up the stairs. “Where’s your sis? Don’t tell me the Slayer’s still powdering her nose.”
“Weird though it may seem after weeks of Amish Buffy, yeah,” Dawn said. “She’ll be down in a minute.”
“Buffy!” Spike yelled up the stairs. “Get your arse in gear!”
“Get stuffed, Spike!”
Dawn snickered. “Or maybe she’ll stay up there for an hour to piss you off.” She went back to her chair and draped herself sideways over both arms, in the hopes that the unorthodox study position would make her homework slightly more interesting. It didn’t.
Spike followed her into the living room and began roaming restlessly about, picking up pieces of bric-a-brac off the TV and setting them down again, staring at the family photos on the walls, and finally coming to rest on the end of the couch opposite Willow. He shoved his hands in his pockets and sat there for a few minutes, jogging one booted foot against the coffee table. “Hullo, Will,” he said at last.
“Spike,” Willow said neutrally. The vampire’s expressive face fell and Dawn winced, but before anything further could be said Spike’s keen ears had picked up a noise upstairs and he had turned away. A moment later Dawn heard Buffy’s footsteps on the stairs.
Buffy’s clothes had all been donated to Goodwill after her death. So far she’d been hewing to the constraints of The Budget with iron determination to make the utilities payments and continued apathy towards fun in general. Dawn, on the other hand, had shamelessly played on their father’s tendency to resort to retail therapy as a method of assuaging guilt feelings before he returned to L.A. As a result, Buffy was not entirely without wardrobe, even if, so far, she’d been restricting her dressing up to job interviews. She wasn’t dressed up now--at least, unless you compared her blue tank top and jeans to what she’d been wearing earlier. She’d done her hair up a little differently, too, and was wearing a touch of Willow’s lipstick, but the big difference was in her expression.
You couldn’t really say Buffy’s face lit up when she saw Spike. Not the way Spike lit up when he saw Buffy--it was painfully obvious that no matter what he said about accepting that there could never be anything between him and her sister, he was still hopelessly in love with her. But Spike seemed to light some kind of a fire under Buffy nonetheless; the distant look hardly ever crept into her eyes when he was around. She looked interested, as though being alive were more than just a duty she had to carry out. Maybe it was only because Spike’s boundless supply of nervous energy tended to fizz over and infect everyone in the same room. But maybe, Dawn thought, the fire was starting to smoulder a little even when he wasn’t around.
“About bloody time,” Spike said, bouncing to his feet. “Why it takes a frigging hour to apply a square inch of face paint...”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Like you have room to talk. Back in the day you wore more eyeliner than I do.”
Spike snorted. "Yeh, and I put it on in three minutes flat with no mirror."
“Walk ten miles uphill through the snow, too? Let’s go, smartass."
Spike picked up his axe. "Later, Bit. We'll bring you some demon guts."
Buffy turned back for a moment. "Dawn, do what Will tells you to for once, OK? Will, if...”
“I’ll be fine,” Willow said tightly. She pulled her feet up under her and buried her nose in her sociology text. “Not like I’m out doing anything that might be dangerous, unlike you and Spike.” There was a little more resentment in the last word than seemed warranted by anything Spike had done since entering the house, and the muscles in the vampire’s jaw twitched as he visibly bit back a retort.
Buffy’s frown returned for an instant, more perplexed than angry. “I’m sorry, Will, it’s just that... I mean, you’re not really recovered yet, are you? Look, I have an interview tomorrow morning, but I’m free after. What say we meet for lunch? We’ll do the whole girly thing.”
Willow hesitated, then nodded, summoning up a smile. “Sure.”
Reassured, Buffy smiled back and went after Spike, who was already standing impatiently at the door. Willow’s smile faded as she watched them leave. “Do the whole girly thing, sure,” she muttered, adding, almost too low for Dawn to hear, “Not good enough to go on patrol, but when lunch is on the line call Willow!”
At least she had the tact not to bring up babysitting duty. “Hey, I never get to go on patrols,” Dawn pointed out. “You’re just, like, recuperating from the resurrection spell, and then you’ll be back on the front lines.”
The witch retrieved her smile for a second, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “I’m totally recuperated now. If Buffy ever decides she can stand to be in the same room with the awful person who brought her back to life for ten minutes at a time. She sure forgave you and Spike fast enough for helping me.” She ran one hand over the arm of the couch, picking absently at the spot where the upholstery was beginning to wear a little thin. “But it’s not your fault, I guess. I shouldn’t bite Spike’s head off.” She looked rueful. “Cookie time again.”
Dawn chewed on the end of her pencil. If Buffy’d remained equally distant from all of them Willow might not be taking this so hard. She didn’t understand the continuing tension between Willow and her sister herself, or why Spike hadn’t come in for the same treatment. She suspected Buffy didn’t know either. Maybe didn’t even realize it was there. Her sister could be stunningly clueless when it came to understanding her own reactions, much less other people’s. “She’s going to be in a restaurant with you for more than ten minutes tomorrow.”
Willow sighed and tucked her hair behind her ears, picking up her textbook once more. “It’s a start.”
Continued in Part 2