The Page of Wands
Post-Series/S10 | PG-13
It’s an odd place, Spike’s head. The heart of it is difficult to find.
You ever hear the story about the time Spike and Dru got their cards read?
It was ’78, two years before they had to start counting centuries, and Spike had just offed the Slayer in New York. It was a battle he’d fight again, as many times as his immortal life could hold, but for now undeath was on the up. Dru was back from her strop about that fight on the Kings Road, proven herself not quite as daft as she looked by getting across the ocean, and was proud to have her Spike the killer decorating her arm once more. As for the man himself, he was riding high, because the gossip was just starting to spread. Modern communications – that was the thing. They’d come a long way in seventy years and now he was quids in at demon bars across the country and had a dinner invitation for every night he could eat.
As it was, the pair of them were down in New Orleans. You’d never have thought the couple had been fighting since Woodstock: if there was a hotel, they’d shagged in the penthouse – if there was powder, they’d had a drink off of the last one to snort it. Dru had a thing about doing drugs straight, of course, which was probably some old Catholic leftover. She forgot the rule half the time (like she forgot all the others) but it never went well, so Spike had been keeping them out of the full scene.
Anyway, they were down in the French Quarter. It was more of a dump back then than it is these days, because pretty much everything was a dump in the 70s. Or for some other socio-cultural reason neither of them gave a shit about at the time. Fair enough, they’d been there on their first tour after China, just in time to find out Storyville had been shut down and have Darla sent into a tizz, but the Quarter didn’t seem to have changed much. It was still hot. Still sticky. Still full of too many mint juleps and not enough hard booze.
Spike blamed disco, if you’re asking.
It was avoiding disco, in fact, that found Dru twittering to the stars and down into some grime-ridden backstreet where this old woman was sitting outside her front door, table to the other side of her with a jug of iced tea on it. Tea, that was, and a hipflask of bourbon, which was getting more attention as she filled her glass. The result looked a lot like a julep.
It had been a long night and Spike was impatient, so he had half a mind to off the woman and have her flask. The whole idea made Dru giggle, though, and she put that hand of hers on his elbow, told him, “Ooh, no, this one’s not for supper, my Spike. She’s got a present for us. We’ll have to keep her as a guest.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking – being a guest of Dru’s isn’t something you’d wish on anybody. It’s all blindfolds and tea parties and viscera and sex games that verge slightly too far into torture scenarios. The thing is, about Drusilla, is that she can mean a hundred things with a single word, and with it now ’78, nearly a century, Spike knew quite well that Dru was actually warning him that they weren’t to kill this old lady – otherwise the old girl was going to be peeved.
On the one hand, now, Spike had spent the last decade growing a little tired of acting the junior partner in these sorts of decisions. Dru had come of age in 1960, of course, but it was Spike’s opinion that he’d had rather a hand in all of that. At the same time, it had been a lonely and often serious year hunting down Nikki the Vampire Slayer, and the magic of the world was always that there were other people to eat. Hell, there were liquor stores with entire displays of bourbon, which made for better targets than this crone’s poxy nightcap.
“All right then, my dove,” was what Spike said in the end, slinging an arm around Drusilla’s shoulders and squeezing tight. “Let’s see what she’s got. We’ve half an hour till the midnight showing, if you fancy.” If there was to be no more killing, then there was always time for a bit of softcore porn.
They strolled casually up the cobbles, happy as you please. Dru was humming away, because she liked it when they were happy and also, Spike feared, because she’d recognised one of her own. The Sight was a cruel mistress, time and a half, but Dru had mostly made her peace with it over the years. When they ran into someone else it had touched, there was either a bloodbath or an evening of sorority doublespeak. Those evenings, Spike knew, were her very favourites.
The woman acknowledged their presence with a nod. She had cards in her lap, then her hands – cards bigger than her hands – and in an instant she was shuffling through them. “You’ll be wanting to come inside Mama’s shop,” she said when they came closer. I’m not doing the Creole, so you’ll just have to imagine it. “It’s a shame we’re only open during daylight hours.”
It was a ramshackle set of buildings, all around them. There was a law or something like that, to keep all the facades Spanish-style, but these ones hadn’t been restored in a while. There were balconies above them and in the gloom it looked like Mama’s shop had at least a good lick of green verditer to go around the blue shutters, but there was terracotta red coming through. She looked out of place, is what I’m saying, because why she was sitting on the street I do not know. It makes sense to imagine she had a table outside her shop – and there was a sign, waving in the breeze, the way there was above half the doorways on the block – and it was a humid night, but why was she there and nobody else?
It was the Sight; it had to be. “But you know why we’re here!” is what Dru said, confirming it.
The woman nodded again, still shuffling. She jerked her head towards the table. “Get yourselves sitting down.”
It turned out there were two stools, under the table. Spike wasn’t about to let it perturb him, of course, but in his view it was all a bit unnecessary.
Dru got done first, but it was a load of nonsense, naturally, about time and daffodils and doilies. Presumably it made sense to the pair of them. It made the silly girl happy, and probably shored her up against some sort of misfortune they were set to run into later.
Then it was Spike’s turn. In retrospect, of course, he should have seen the whole thing coming. It had only been a few months since New York, and dealing with a Slayer was something to define a vamp for at least a generation afterwards. Still, when the cards were laid down – three of them, turned in a row with a satisfying slide of their soft edges – well, it was a message even a dunce like him could read.
First: the Queen of Swords. “Restrained emotion; pure skill. She’s brittle; exhilarating. Independent. Too aware of sorrow.”
Second: the Queen of Pentacles. “Sold determination and motherly support. She’s hard-working; perseverent. Tough. Secretive.”
Last: the Queen of Wands. “Instinct and creativity. She’s flexible; passionate. A leader of others. Fearless.”
Now, again, it’s true enough to say that over the years Spike had had it pointed out that he isn’t the sharpest tack in the box. Nonetheless, with the three ladies sitting there in front of him even he was able to work out that this was a line about Slayers. And it was intriguing: he was hooked. He’d been around Dru too long and grown up in a time too superstitious not to credit this kind of glimpse into his future when he got it.
“But how do they fight?” was what he asked, because he has the subtlety of an ox. He leaned forward, the Queen of Pentacles’ cowhide coat still new and unsettled around his shoulders. “This one,” he pointed out, tapping a finger on the Queen of Swords, “she’s got her weapon. But this one,” he tapped on Nikki, holding the round coin to her like a pregnant belly, “she’s not about to protect herself from anyone.”
He was too proud, really, not to be pissed at the idea his latest had been an easy kill.
The old woman’s dark eyes bore into his, as though she could see it in him – or something, at any rate. “The Queen of Pentacles’ power does not come from the weapon she wields, but from those around her, the ones she nurtures. Maybe you bring her down, but she’ll not be gone while her memory remains.”
Mama’s eyes dropped to his black leather lapels, at which point Spike resisted the urge to wrap the coat tighter around him. That comment, at least as he was concerned, was bollocks. The reason he’d done for Nikki – the reason it had been clear her time was done – that had all been right there in how she’d lost hold of her weapon.
He saw it every night, relived it. She’d lost the stake as the train doors had closed. Christ knew what would happen if he ever let himself into the same position.
“And this one?” Spike distracted himself, pointing at the Queen of Wands. This one. “What, she’s gonna come after me with a bit of tr…” All right, yeah, so he’s a bit thick, old Spike. It did in fact take him that long to make the connection between this queen’s leafy staff and those sharpened bits of wood that were every vampire’s bane.
Drusilla who was, to have it said again, a lot smarter than most gave her credit for – she laughed. It was one of her kinder giggles, going right up her nose and between her teeth. Spike narrowed his eyes at her, but he didn’t really mind. The girl looked indulgent, and in those days that was all he wanted.
With a growl, nonetheless, Spike turned back to the old woman and jabbed his finger in the new lady’s face, hard enough to make the rickety old table wobble on its wooden legs. “Who’s she?” When was she going to come for him? When was he going to come for her? Another seventy years hence, a century? Or sooner?
She was sexy, it was fair to say Spike noticed. With her knees spread beneath her yellow dress, she sat face on to the front of the card, not in profile like the Chinese swordmaiden; not at a demure thirty, forty-five degrees. There was a black cat at her feet and a sunflower held in her left hand, a deadly omen if ever there was one.
The mystic, of course, didn’t answer. It was Dru instead, in a sing-song. “The Queen of Cups is coming for you…” She swayed from side to side on her stool, making the legs creak – her hands between her knees like a schoolgirl and a pixie’s smirk on her face. “She lets you borrow her daughters, but it’s the youngest one, the younger one… She’ll borrow you back and make you bleed and burn and cry.”
It was a disturbing thing to be told, no question about it. Looking back at his beloved, Spike felt an odd sensation pass through him. It wasn’t fear, but it was a little something like uncertainty. Disquiet. Drusilla was in the know about something and she wasn’t about to say any more: she brought a finger to her lips and winked at him, giggled and cackled at the night.
Later on, as time went by and Dru forgave him for whatever slight it had been to fight the good fight with London punks last year, well – she would come to cackle less and growl a little more, even lament. For now, however, she was in a mood where this was all the most hilarious idea alive.
Spike was not entirely out of touch with Drusilla’s emotions, but he didn’t know the future. He got about as far as figuring out that this next girl had a chance at killing him. “And what’s your wisdom about all this then?” he asked the tarot mama.
He didn’t listen, of course. He was too busy thinking about how he was going to kill this girl and her sunflower.
And then they did manage to make the midnight showing, so he soon forgot all about it.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/536457.html