He stepped forward as if to greet them and wedged himself between them. Buffy, aware of the tension between the two vampires, maneuvered herself so that they flanked her. Angel immediately repositioned himself. //This is like life-sized three-card monte// Buffy thought crossly. She shot a look at Spike, curious as to why he wasn't acting equally territorial, and a little peeved that he seemed to be taking it all with equanimity, his fluid strides never faltering.
They walked for a little while in silence. They had just reached the top of a high but gently sloped hill when they came upon a canoodling couple, both human. They turned away, Buffy wistfully lingering a moment longer, and came face-to-face with a large group of vampires and their witch-minions.
Buffy was getting incredibly frustrated. Angel used his bulk to great advantage, not only against his opponents, but against her as well. He kept her shielded from the fray, and the tilt of his shoulders kept her from seeing very much of it. She ran around so that she was next to Spike, as far from Angel as possible. The blond vampire grinned fiercely at her, and they moved in unison to stand back-to-back for the fight. Buffy and Spike finished off their attackers, and turned to challenge Angel's opponents. He was fighting two at once, but it was the third creature who caught Spike's attention. The figure raised its arms and chanted to the sky, and the tiny hairs on the back of Spike's neck stood on end; it was as if the whole world had blinked at once. Twin screams could be heard even as the power surge died away. Spike raced back up the hill and saw the human couple they'd seen before struggling in vain with invisible bonds even as the creature that had chanted appeared behind them and drained them both. Buffy was just in time to witness the deaths. "Oh, God."
The sound of her voice seemed to recall Spike to the present moment. He turned to her, his voice low. "We need the witches. We'll need them first thing tomorrow morning."
"What witches?" Buffy asked, confused.
"Red and her bird, love. I'll go talk to them now, get them started. I'll see you later, Buffy." She nodded automatically in mute agreement despite her confusion and saw Angel, blood dripping from his knuckles, ready to escort her home.
"What's an eleven-letter word for beauty?" Dawn shouted out from the den when she heard Buffy's key unlocking the front door. She and Joyce were down on the den carpet, regular and rhyming dictionaries scattered around them as they hunched over the Sunday crossword puzzle.
Dawn let the thesaurus slip from her fingers when she heard Angel's voice and not Spike's, as she'd expected. "How about 'Dawn Summers'?" the vampire joked.
Into the awkward silence that followed, Buffy spoke. "Come on, Angel, let me get the first aid kit and clean you up."
As soon as they were out of earshot, Joyce closed her eyes and sighed, "Please don't tell me they're together again."
"Not if I can help it," Dawn promised, and the two shared a secret smile.
Buffy got the gauze and ointment out of her first-aid drawer and motioned for Angel to sit on her bed. She angled the lamp so that its light would hit his hands. She taped his knuckles until he looked like a prizefighter. The sound of Dawn's laughter drifted up the stairs, and Angel said abruptly, "Dawn seems really jumpy around me. Is something wrong?"
Buffy considered for a moment, then answered, "Well, I told her . . ."
"About the prophecy?!"
"No! About our history. About how we got together and then everything got bad." She paused, assuming a spurious air of nonchalance. "I mean, she knows that you weren't responsible. It was Angelus. Angel and Angelus have nothing to do with each other, right?" She hit just the right note of idle curiosity, but she hadn't forgotten for a single moment the anguished words she'd heard Spike choke out as she eavesdropped in the alley. She needed to believe that he was wrong, that Angel's ignorance of Angelus's deeds hadn't been feigned, that the kiss they'd shared before she plunged her sword into him had meant what she'd thought. //If it doesn't, then fighting with Xander, lying to Giles, deserting Mom and Dawn, endangering everybody, getting Kendra killed, would mean nothing. I did it all for him. That's got to mean something.// Angel had just opened his mouth to answer when the phone rang, startling them both. They could hear Dawn race to get it.
"Spike!" They heard her gleeful exclamation as they put away the medical supplies and made their way down the stairs. "Mom!" Dawn yelled, pitching her voice loud enough to be heard several rooms away, "he says it's 'pulchritude'!" She giggled a bit, then said, "Yeah, they got here safe and sound. Well, he was hurt a little, but Buffy fixed him up." She listened for a moment, then finished the conversation with "Okay. See you soon." She walked back to where her mother and Buffy sat in the middle of a sea of books and papers. "He says he'll be home in an hour."
She plunked herself down between them and whispered "Scooch over" to her sister just as Angel, who'd been sitting on the couch, stood up.
He stood tall, looming in judgment over them. "'Home'? I thought he lived in that crypt."
"He's got a crypt," Buffy agreed, narrowly avoiding an outright lie.
"Good," he relaxed, "because even with a chip, Spike's dangerous around humans."
Just before either of her daughters could leap to Spike's defense or spill the beans about his de-chipped state, Joyce let out the loudest, fakest yawn in history. There was no way she was going to let some jackass vampire who'd deflowered and betrayed her daughter lecture all of them about trust and boundaries. "Well," she said, melodramatically feigning sleepiness, "it was so nice to see you again, Angel." She began hustling him to the front door. "I'm sure we'll see you soon. You have a good night." She closed the door firmly and secured the deadbolt. After all, Spike had a key.
Crouched behind one of the bushes in the front lawn, Angel could hear the lock click as Joyce turned it. He noticed, though, that she left the front porch light on. //Something's going on.// He remembered the message that Dawn had relayed, and got comfortable, ready to wait an hour for Spike's return. He settled down on the grass.
Fifty minutes later, he heard the sound of heavy boots scuffing along the sidewalk. He raised himself back up into a crouch, grimacing when he heard a twig snap beneath him, but the sound was masked by the shrill ringing of a cell phone. He could hear Spike answer it. "Yeah? . . . Niblet, shouldn't you be fast asleep? It's a school night. . . . I'll quiz you tomorrow over breakfast. Deal? . . . Night, pet." Angel's mouth hung open in disbelief as Spike snapped the phone shut, unlocked the front door, went inside, and turned off the porch light.
Buffy was having caf, au lait while Spike heard Dawn recite her irregular verbs to prep for her French exam. Joyce walked over to the table and set a full plate in front of her younger daughter. "Here you are, honey. French toast."
"Ha ha," Dawn muttered sarcastically.
"So I think theme breakfasts are funny. Sue me."
Buffy drained her cup and stood up. "Ready?" she asked Spike.
"Yeah. Best o' luck, Jellybean. Bye, Joyce."
They walked to the Magic Box, going over what they'd witnessed the night before. "So Red 'n' Tara said they'd spend the night looking up spells and such."
"Willow's girlfriend," he answered, surprised by the question. Off her look, he added, "Pretty. About so high. Blondish-brownish hair. Nice voice."
"Willow has a girlfriend?" Buffy asked.
"Yeah," he answered, and left it at that.
When they entered, Giles, Anya, and Xander were sitting at the table. For once, Giles didn't have a book in front of him. He was sipping tea, listening to Anya relating an anecdote - something from her demon days - with a fixed smile; Xander did the same. "Morning, all," Spike greeted them. Willow and Tara walked in with a few books.
The meeting began with Spike relating what had happened on the last patrol. "Good Lord," Giles murmured. "They're using power from the sun-blocking spell to fuel their own smaller, deadlier spells."
"Yeah," Spike affirmed, "and that's where the Wiccas come in."
Willow stood up. "Well, Tara did some sensing spells, but couldn't find the source of the main spell. And I looked through every book we've got, but as long as the big spell is in effect, there's pretty much nothing we can do about the little ones." She took a deep breath and looked apologetically at Buffy. "So it looks like we'll have to use the prophecy after all." Buffy nodded bravely. She'd dreaded that it would come to this.
Angel had worked himself up into a towering rage, pacing all through the night, when he remembered Spike saying something about a meeting first thing in the morning. He ran to the magic shop, slamming the door open so hard that it came off its hinges. The whole group looked up, startled by the force of his entrance. His smoldering eyes narrowed when he saw Spike sitting at the table between Buffy and Xander. "What's going on here?" he asked menacingly.
Buffy got up and walked toward him. "We were talking about the situation here." She swallowed hard. "And about the prophecy. It looks like our only chance."
Angel straightened his body from its predatory hunch. "The prophecy? As in you and me?" She nodded. "No dice."
"Not until he's out of your house." He pointed an accusing finger at his step-childe.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Buffy asked, torn between rage and confusion.
"He's dangerous. I don't want him anywhere near you."
"No, Buffy!" he interrupted. "I'm the one in the prophecy. I'm the one who can help you. I'm the one who came down from L. A. the minute I heard. Not him. And I'm the one you lied to last night." He paused before adding, "Just think of this as my payment."
They all gaped at him. Spike stood. "Fine," he said. He was seething at the stunt Angel was pulling, but he had no choice since the larger vampire was, in effect, holding the entire population of Sunnydale hostage. "I'll be out of the Summers house and back in my crypt this afternoon."
Angel didn't bother to acknowledge him, but turned to Willow and asked, "So when's the big night?"
Willow picked up the blue book Giles had used before and flipped to the right page. "Buffy," she said softly, "you need to come too." She led the way to a corner of the room; Buffy and Angel followed.
Giles, Anya, Xander, Spike, and Tara all stayed at the table. Xander said, "As soon as the prophecy is completed, I say we stake him."
"But he said he wouldn't lose his soul," Anya reminded her lover.
"Soul, shmoul. Look at him. Even with a soul, he's evil."
Spike's mouth quirked in a half-smile. It broadened when he heard Giles mutter, "Tosser!"
Tara sat in Buffy's seat, next to Spike. She got his attention by touching his arm gently. "I . . . I . . . uh . . . know my timing's off, but I haven't had the time to do this before. Um . . . after you move your stuff, could you come by my place? I want to give you my room-warming gift."
"Sure, pet," he answered, gratified. "But you didn't have to get me anything. I mean, we've only met the one time."
"But look what I got out of it." She smiled fondly at Willow, across the room.
The spell the redhead was working dimmed the lights. Colored balls of fire generated in her hands. She chanted ceaselessly. Then it all spun out of control. Buffy had to dodge as the blue fireball darted at her; the red one singed Angel's hair. Willow collapsed, panting. Giles rushed over to her and carried her back to the work table. She came around when Tara held her hand. "Sorry," she said weakly. "The spell didn't work."
Tara turned to face the group. "The full moon is in three nights. That's a night of natural power. You should be able to do it then." She gathered Willow into her arms.
"Sounds fine," Angel said.
Buffy turned to Spike and said, "I'll call you for tonight's patrol, okay?"
"No need," Angel interjected quickly. "I think our boy Spike should take the night off." He stepped close to the blond vampire and locked eyes with him. "Buffy and I need to get our rhythm back" - he raised his eyebrows suggestively - "if we're going to save Sunnydale in three days. We'll be better off on our own."
Spike stalked back to the Summers house alone. He stepped inside the kitchen to make himself some hot chocolate and found Joyce hanging up the phone. "Oh, Spike, I'm so glad you're here. That was the hospital. They've scheduled my operation for the day after tomorrow. They want me there tomorrow morning."
Spike was startled by the suddenness of it all. "That's all the warning they're giving you?"
"Apparently this is how it works," she replied. "I'll have to let Carol know. At least I don't have to worry about Buffy and Dawn, since you'll be here." She shot him a relieved smile and went upstairs to finish getting ready for work.
As soon as she'd driven off, Spike loaded his car with his records, record player, posters, throw pillows, and clothes. He tucked Xander's envelope in his duster pocket. He gave the room one last look and saw the doll Dawn had given him lying on the bed. He picked it up, closed his door, and went into her room. On a sheet of her purple stationery, he wrote a short note. "Hey Twizzler - Long story short. That bloody sod Angel wanted me out of your house. According to some prophecy, he's the one who can help your big sis save Sunnyhell, and he refused to play ball until I promised to leave. Sorry to run out without saying goodbye. I've still got the phone, so call me whenever you want. But do NOT come to me - ugly things are happening here, and I don't want them happening to you. I'm taking your mum to hospital tomorrow morning, so I'll see you then. Love, Spike." He tucked the note under the Count's cape and placed the doll on Dawn's bed.
Giles hung up the phone and went back to the training room where Buffy was still stretching. "Anything important?" she asked.
"It was Spike. He wanted to make sure someone picked up Dawn this afternoon. He said she was expecting him to come get her."
"Oh." Buffy didn't know what to say. She looked up hopefully at her watcher. "Could you?"
"Of course. I'll bring her back here so she won't be alone in the house." He paused and then took the plunge. "Buffy, what do you feel about what happened this morning? About Angel's demands?"
She looked surprised to hear such questions from him. "It made me mad." He nodded encouragingly; Buffy was at her best when she knew her own emotions. "I mean, who is he to question my mom's decision? And Spike has been great with Mom, great with Dawn. It's good to go patrolling with someone who can more than hold his own. So, yeah, it got me mad." She looked at Giles, whose eyes were fixed so intently on her she knew her other feelings had not gone unnoticed. His paternal smile pushed her on. "And I guess I'm scared. What Angel did this morning - it made me wonder if we're really on the same side. It made me wonder how much he deserved the credit I've always given him. It really hurt, Giles."
Spike walked over to Tara's building and knocked on her door. It had only taken him ten minutes to put away his things, ten minutes in which he felt acutely the disparity between his crypt and a home. Tara opened the door and said, "Pe-Pe-Perfect timing. Willow's got classes the rere -rest of the afternoon, so we've got plenty of ti-ti-time."
"Plenty of time for what?" he asked.
"To make your p-p-present." She led the way past boxes of Willow's stuff to a large circle drawn on the carpet in light green powder. They sat down Indian-style in the circle, and Tara spoke without a stutter.
"Remember when you came here with Willow and you saw into my mind?" He nodded. "Well, that spell went both ways. I got a peek into yours."
Again, he nodded; he'd felt her reciprocating, but it hadn't bothered him. "What'd you see, pet?"
"Your family." He went still. "I found a spell about a year ago to translate thoughts onto paper. It took me until now to become powerful enough to work it." She looked down. "I could tell how much you miss them. If you want, if you trust me, I could be your conduit. You just think of them, I'll look into you, and they'll come out on this paper," she explained, laying a large sheet of heavy sketching paper between them. In response, he held out his hands. She clasped them and looked into his eyes.
She could tell the moment he stopped seeing her. His eyes softened, and their dark blue deepened. Images formed slowly in her mind as she concentrated fiercely. She saw a man and two women. Sweat beaded on her face as dark lines began to form on the cream-colored paper.
When the spell was finally done, Tara was panting heavily. The sheet was covered with images: his father with his nose in a book; his mother in the red dress she'd made from a silk sari; his sister laughing; his father on horseback; his mother's darkly beautiful face; Stella as a child, holding her little brother's hand. He looked it over wonderingly, and when he met her eyes again, she thought she would cry. He knew he had to say something to acknowledge the enormity of what she had done for him, but before he could even think of anything appropriate, she said "Wait!" and stepped out of the circle. She took a large picture frame from her dresser drawer, hastily scraped off the price tag, and handed it to him. "Now it's done." He stood up and saw a similar picture of a woman on her desk. Understanding that he didn't need to say anything, he kissed her cheek and turned to go.
Dawn was surprised, but a little glad, that it wasn't Spike who picked her up after school. She'd finally gotten her poetry assignment back - word was that Ms. Okan had had a fight with her boyfriend and accidentally left the assignments at his house when she stormed out - and she wasn't sure if she wanted Spike to see it. The poem was, after all, a paean to him and Xander. So she hopped into Giles's sports car cheerfully.
When she walked into the Magic Box, she was startled to find Buffy waiting for her with her arms crossed. "Don't you have class?" she asked.
"In a little bit. Dawn, I need to talk to you. Could you please come back here?" Buffy escorted her sister to the training room. "Um . . ." Buffy began, pacing nervously, "Spike's not living with us anymore."
"What? Why not?!" Dawn was outraged. "Did you guys have a fight or something?"
"No, not at all," Buffy replied, taken aback. "There's, um, this prophecy that says that Angel and I can fix the sun-be-gone we've been experiencing, and he said he wouldn't help unless Spike moved out. Dawn -" she said, holding up a hand to ask for her sister's continued attention, "that's not even the big news. Spike called. He said he saw Mom this morning. Before he got a chance to tell her he was moving out, she said that she had to be at the hospital tomorrow. Her surgery is the day after."
Buffy watched helplessly as Dawn's eyes filled with tears. "What do we do, Buffy?" she asked, her voice shaking.
"We stay with Mom tonight, and tell her Spike stayed away so we'd have family time. Then we go with her when he drives her to the hospital tomorrow morning."
Dinner was surprisingly low-key. They had comfort food - homemade macaroni and cheese - they all made together, giggling as they added way too much grated cheddar. They trooped into the den, Buffy and Joyce collapsing under the weight of so much food; their eyes widened when Dawn appeared with bowls of ice cream-topped brownies.
They savored dessert slowly, talking incessantly between bites. Dawn giggled as her mother told the story of her first haircut - at Buffy's hands, with a pair of orange-and-white safety scissors. "You're just lucky I couldn't find the pinking shears," Buffy said with an evil smile.
"Hey, guess what?" Dawn jumped in.
"I, uh, won first prize in the poetry contest."
"Spike would be so proud," Buffy said wryly.
"Really, sweetie? That's great! Can we hear it?" Joyce asked.
"Yeah, of course." Dawn rooted around under the sofa for her knapsack, and finally pulled out a piece of looseleaf. "It's about Spike and Xander," she admitted, blushing a little. Buffy stopped hearing her sister's nervous voice after the first few lines: "He moves like the moon, / Body darker than night, hair brighter than lightning, / A walking eclipse of a man."
//Think, brain, think// Buffy commanded herself. Dawn's words had set off an alarm somewhere in her mind, but she couldn't locate it. //It'll come to me. Eventually.// She came back to the reality of the den when she heard her mother's enthusiastic applause.
She felt it the minute Angel seemed to materialize next to her. He smiled easily at her as if their confrontation that morning had never happened. "Hi, Buffy."
"Hi." They stood without speaking for a few moments while she searched desperately for equilibrium. When she had a reasonable facsimile, she said, "I think we should go back to the place we were attacked last night. We can do quick sweeps of the other cemeteries on our way." He nodded agreeably and they set off.
It wasn't until the fourth graveyard that they came across some vampires. Buffy moved in quickly for the kill, dusting three in a matter of moments. She brushed the dust from her pants and tank top and headed for the exit. "Buffy, wait. What's the matter?"
"What are you talking about?"
"I've patrolled with you before, remember? You used to banter. You used to have fun."
"As I recall, you and I didn't patrol that strenuously. We were busy doing other things." As soon as the words left her mouth, she regretted them. She hadn't meant to sound like she was issuing an invitation to a repeat performance.
She flushed hotly when Angel smirked knowingly at her and moved even closer to her. "I can vouch for the fact that a good time was had by all." He laid one hand on her arm and ran the other through her loose hair. "And soon we'll be together again," he whispered.
She looked down as she stepped back and hid the shame from her voice. "But not tonight."
When they finally reached the scene of the previous night's fracas, Buffy could hear the sounds of a struggle. She ran around a cluster of imposing mausoleums to see Spike, a stake in each hand, fighting with a trio of orange-robed vampires. A lucky blow rid him of one of them, and by the time Buffy reached his side, he'd managed to dust the other two. "Loser vamps 0, fashion police 3," she quipped.
He smiled down at her. "All's well with your -" Spike broke off when Angel finally came into view.
"Yeah," she affirmed quickly, trying to explain with her eyes that Angel didn't know anything about her mother's health. Spike got the message instantly.
Angel stood next to Buffy. "Spike."
"Why are you here? I told you to take the night off."
"Shouldn't that be the Slayer's call?" Spike asked carelessly, as if it were all academic.
Angel grinned. "It is. I know you heard the prophecy - our 'union' binds us together." He draped a heavy arm over her shoulders. "We are one," he said, remembering how much that phrase had discomfitted Spike before.
When Spike hissed in disbelief and turned to Buffy, he saw two huge green eyes mutely beseeching him to give in with good grace. "All right, then, Peaches. Playing field's yours. Take care, pet," he said as he strode back to his crypt.
They were heading for the gate when Angel's cell phone rang. Buffy moved so that she was out of earshot; she needed space from him and his high-handed ways. She looked around, puzzled, when a faint electronic beeping reached her ears. She peered through some bushes to see Riley in full camouflage gear, an infrared body heat sensor in his hand. Despite registering on his screen, she still surprised him when she stepped up to face him. "Riley." She kept her tone non-committal.
"Buffy!" His eyes widened, but then he got his reaction under control. "Figures I'd find you here. I'm guessing the other little blip on my screen is your new boyfriend. God, what barrel were you scraping the bottom of to find Spike?"
His assumptions were so off-base that she didn't, for a moment, know how to respond. "Spike is not my boyfriend. And I know you must be itching to drag him back to your lab, but here's a friendly warning: the chip is out." He stared blankly, not wanting to believe her. "And the cold-blooded body showing up on your monitor is Angel, my ex-boyfriend, another vampire I'm warning you to steer clear of."
"Why? Who's he? Your great-grandfather's twin brother?" Riley asked snidely.
"He's not family. He's an ally. So run along, soldier. No one for you to kill or capture here."
Riley's silence convinced Buffy he was thinking over what she'd said. Until he muttered, "Except you."
"Excuse me? When did you decide delusions were fun?" Buffy asked, laughter escaping her. In response, Riley punched her across the jaw. She absorbed the blow calmly, not even bothering to shift into a fighting stance. She questioned him, more curious than upset. "Why are you hitting me? When did you decide we were enemies?"
"When you allied yourself again with the demons."
He continued to beat on her, but it seemed to have no effect. "Riley. Stop. You can't win." He kept up his attack. She backhanded him almost casually, and the force of it sent him staggering. She followed with a leaping roundhouse kick that left him sprawled on the ground, blood pouring from a cut on his temple. The last thing he heard before he passed out was, "Next time a girl says stop, listen to her." She knelt beside his body and turned on his walkie-talkie so that his men would find him quickly.
Angel was still on the phone when she headed back in his direction, winding up a conversation with Cordelia about the latest at the karaoke bar. Buffy mouthed, "I have to go home" and pointed at his watch; without waiting for his response, she turned on her heel and headed for Revello Drive.
Continue: Part 9/15