Some rather graphic violence in this part.
“This champagne is amazing!” Dawn took another gulp from her glass. “Like this place, which is…wow! Just wow!”
Her eyes tracked around the Walsingham’s salon (that’s what the guy on the front desk had called it), which had a ceiling so high Buffy wouldn’t have been surprised to see clouds floating up there, and so crusted in fancy plasterwork, it was a wonder it didn’t collapse under the weight.
“Look at this carpet,” Dawn enthused. “You can practically swim in it.”
“Uh-huh.” Buffy had been trying to keep an eye on Spike. The two of them had made a kind of progress around the room earlier on, greeting all the wedding guests, thanking them for their good wishes, and so on. Now, there was no sign of him.
Some of those guests Buffy had recognised. And not because she knew them. She’d seen them on TV, or read about them in some magazine. Some of the bitty Slayers had gotten all excited when one guy with long hair and a furious expression had kind of stormed into the room. Seems he was lead singer in a band Buffy had never heard of, but which were, apparently, the coolest thing ever.
One thing about these guests, though. They were all human.
Where had the vamps gotten to?
Apart from Spike, there’d been none in evidence, except for some flunkey in a dark suit who’d stood at Spike’s shoulder and relieved him of any cards or gifts that were pressed into his hands by well-wishers.
Okay, so Buffy hadn’t really wanted to share a room with a bunch of vamps she wasn’t allowed to slay, but…where were they all?
And that included Spike and his minion, who’d done the disappearing act some while ago.
So much for vamp/human togetherness.
If she were a world-destroying monster, Buffy thought, she wouldn’t believe in it either.
“This place is majorly weird,” Willow said, right in her ear. “For starters, it’s bigger inside than outside.”
Buffy jumped a mile. With a huge effort, she managed not to go into a full-on fighting stance, fists raised, roundhouse kick at the ready. “Don’t do that, Will.”
“Sorry.” Willow didn’t look sorry. More like tipsy. “Boy, you’re tense.”
Buffy glared at her. “Do you blame me? We’re in a strange place – which, yes, is definitely weird, like you said – full of vampires, and there’s no sign of any of them.”
“There isn’t?” Willow gazed around the room, emptying her glass as she did so. “So there isn’t. This champagne’s incredible, by the way.”
“People keep saying that.”
Buffy had put down her own glass almost untasted. Maybe she should’ve told everyone else to stick to orange juice too?
“It’s okay, you know,” Willow said. “I got the lowdown on this place before we came. Vamps can’t attack us here, even if they want to.”
Buffy blinked at her. “They can’t? How come?”
Willow waved her free hand airily. “It’s kind of like neutral territory? Very strong mojo. I don’t think even I could countermand it. Not that I’d want to, of course.”
“Oh.” Buffy let herself relax a little. “That’s cool, I guess?”
Willow smiled. “Sure is. Seems like warring groups have used this place as a sort of de-militarized zone for centuries. Ever since the time of Dee and Walsingham.”
“Uh-this would be the Walsingham this place is named after, would it?”
It seemed like a safe enough guess.
Willow nodded happily. “That’s right. Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster to Queen Elizabeth the First. Seems he owned this house -or not this exact house, it’s been totally rebuilt – but its predecessor. Used it to conduct negotiations with the local demon clans. Which is where Dee came in.”
“John Dee, the queen’s court magician, of course,” Willow said, in a patient tone, as if Buffy should have just known.
Why do people keep doing that?
“Sounds like you’ve gone into this a lot,” Buffy said.
“Sure.” Willow smiled. “Best to be thorough.” When Buffy just looked at her, Willow punched her arm playfully. “Hey, we’re a team, remember? You’re the brawn and I’m the brain.” She sucked her fingers. “Ow, muscles.”
Buffy laughed. “Sorry.”
It was a relief to know the missing vamps weren’t planning a surprise massacre, but it still didn’t explain where they’d all gotten to. Maybe, she thought, some exploration was in order?
But Willow had put her arm through Buffy’s and drawn her into a corner. “How’s it going, then? Are you and Spike gonna do the dirty on your wedding night?”
Buffy gaped, then frowned. Not just tipsy. She’s drunk.
She glanced over her shoulder to make sure Dawn was well out of earshot. “Doesn’t look like it.”
Willow pouted slightly. “Bu-but why not?” She put her hands on her hips in mock anger, and said, rather louder than Buffy was comfortable with, “What’d I say about those vampire issues?”
Geez, Will, tell everyone, why don’t you?
Sotto voce, Buffy said, “I know what you said. Easier said than done, my friend.”
Willow’s eyes had strayed away from her, across the room, to where Kennedy was standing, on the fringes of the adoring group of bitty Slayers gathered around the lead singer guy.
Not that Kennedy looked much interested in the guy. More like bored, and miserable.
“I hear you,” Willow said, gloomy now.
“Like that, huh?” Buffy grimaced. “Anything I can do to help?”
Willow shook her head. “Nope. Not until she stops being a dumbass.”
Okay, Will, that’s your problem right there.
But later for that, Buffy thought. Willow was drunk. Not the time to be having that talk that she and Kennedy needed to have.
Instead, she guided Willow over to where Dawn was standing, a half-full champagne bottle clutched in one hand.
“Keep an eye on my little sis, huh, Will? Don’t let her do anything stupid.”
Buffy caught Dawn’s eye as she spoke, indicating Willow. Dawn rolled her eyes and nodded.
Then it was sneak out of the room, in search of Spike and the missing vamps.
For one thing, not counting the wedding party, there didn’t seem to be any guests. For another, the staff were so discreet as to be almost invisible.
Almost, because the concierge at the front desk was still on duty, and only too happy to direct Buffy to the rest rooms, not to mention to pretend he didn’t know that was just a cover for the sneaking. But of other staff? Not a sign.
Maybe, Buffy thought, they really were invisible?
The idea made her uncomfortable, and after that, the sneaking included a lot of looking over her shoulder. There was never anything there, though.
At least, not anything she could see.
First, she tried going up the grand staircase to the second floor. One door opened into a fabulous mirrored ballroom, all plasterwork scrolls and gilding. For a moment, Buffy pictured herself in a fabulous gown – royal blue, Zuhair Murad- to match the fabulous room, gliding up and down the polished floor with her beau’s arm around her waist, while an invisible orchestra totally rocked that waltz.
Inevitably, thoughts of the Sunnydale High Prom came to mind, and her last dance – in fact, her only dance – with Angel. Boy, he’d looked good in a tux, and unlike Spike, he’d had the legs for it.
And now he’s a monk. He wears a dress and Jesus sandals with socks. What a waste.
She shut the ballroom door and moved on.
There were several rooms further down the corridor set up like conference rooms, with long tables and whiteboards. All were empty. If there were any demon clans negotiating stuff in the Walsingham these days, they weren’t doing it right now.
She opened every door that would open, even the linen closet. No sign of anyone, least of all the missing vamps.
Higher floors proved similarly disappointing. Most of the rooms she couldn’t check, because they were locked. But if the vamps were hiding in them, they were being very quiet, which wasn’t her experience with vamps. The ones she met ran more to shouting and fistfights in bars where they served stinky O Pos and rotgut whisky in filthy glasses.
Maybe she’d just met the wrong kind of vamps?
The building went all the way up to the tenth floor. Still nothing. Where the hell where they?
She wandered along the thickly carpeted corridor to the end, past a closet full of cleaning materials. Beyond that, there was a fire door, through which she glimpsed a set of concrete stairs.
“Ah, what the hell…”
She shrugged, grabbed the emergency handle and wrenched it upwards, then pushed the door open and went through.
At once, a strange throbbing noise assaulted her ears. The concrete stairwell echoed with it.
She peered over the banister into the gloom. The noise was coming from some way down. She glanced at her feet and frowned. Something told her this was not the time to be wearing shoes she couldn’t run in.
It was a wrench leaving her new Emily Choos behind, but she told herself she’d come back for them later.
Bare-footed, she crept down the stairs, and the further down she went, the louder the noise became. It sounded like drums beating, but every so often there’d be a different sound, like the roar of people shouting.
Something told her she’d found the missing vamps.
It didn’t surprise her at all that the noise seemed to be coming from the basement. What was it with vamps and basements? Even so, when she’d gone as far down as there was to go and peered through the glass panel in the fire door, her jaw dropped in amazement.
She was looking into a cavernous open space, way bigger than the ballroom, but so crowded it was a wonder anyone could breath.
Then again, they mostly didn’t need to.
There was a bar off to one side. She could just make out the glint of bottles and glasses over the milling heads. The throbbing sound was some kind of music, heavy on the drums and bass.
The lighting in the room was dim , but there was enough that she could see the walls were red brick near the ceiling, and undressed stone lower down, with layers of dirt in between. In one patch of bare earth, she was sure she could see something round and white protruding, like a human skull.
It was like someone had built a bar in the middle of an archaeological dig.
The ceiling was wreathed with cigarette smoke. Every vamp in the room seemed to be smoking. They were all looking in one direction too, and when she craned her head to look that way, she saw a raised circular platform, pinpointed by spotlight.
There were two half-naked guys – okay, make that half-naked vamps – wrestling on the platform. One guy -a huge bear of a man with a shaved head- had the other in a headlock and was pulling him backwards, inch by inch, until his back was arched at an impossible angle.
Buffy winced. Even through the thick emergency glass, she could see when the guy’s spine broke.
The big vamp wasn’t finished, though. He grabbed the loser’s head and twisted it so hard, he tore it off completely. There was an explosion of dust, and the watching crowd roared its approval.
Buffy felt sick. Nice subjects you have, Spike.
As she thought it, a flash of white caught her attention. Silence fell on the other side of the door.
Buffy stared, with her mouth open, as Spike climbed onto the platform.
Every vamp in the room was staring at him, every one of them silent. The big guy who’d won the fight had gone on his knees at Spike’s feet.
Spike ignored him. He addressed the crowd. Then, he ripped his shirt off.
Hallelujah, Summers, there is a God.
Did his skin still feel the same, she wondered, as it had ten years ago -silky and smooth, and not very guy-like?
Not human guy-like anyway.
The big, shaven-headed vamp was still on his knees. Spike said something to him and gestured for him to rise. A roar of approval spread from the vamps standing close to the platform, to those further away, travelling across the room like a shockwave after an earthquake.
Then, the foot-stomping began, accompanied by the chanting. “Spike!Spike!Spike!” Over and over, until the word had been repeated often enough to become meaningless.
The big vamp had lumbered to his feet. He addressed Spike, made a placating gesture, but Spike shook his head, and the big vamp reluctantly – very reluctantly, anyone could see – raised his fists to defend himself.
“All that ass-licking won’t do you any good, buddy,” Buffy muttered. “Only one way this is gonna end. You’re going down. Oh yeah.”
But as the first flurry of blows were exchanged, she wasn’t quite so sure. The big vamp was big – I mean, really big! – and mean as they come. His first punch connected with Spike’s nose and sent blood spraying everywhere.
Not that Spike seemed to care. He only laughed and danced away on the balls of his feet, wiping off the blood with the back of his arm.
Buffy found herself grinning. Okay, the circs were incredibly unpleasant, even for vamps – like WWF without the silly costumes and the showmanship -but this was the most like himself that Spike had been since she’d first set eyes on him the week before.
He was in his element. That was plain to anyone.
She watched, ooh-ing and ahh-ing along with the vamps as Spike ran rings around his opponent, putting those centuries of fighting dirty to good use. It wasn’t so much a fight, as a display.
In fact, maybe she was wrong about the showmanship, because what was this if not a lesson in who was toughest?
And when it was over, the big vamp was on his knees again, bruised and bloodied and beaten, holding up one hand to Spike, as if begging for mercy.
Spike stood over him for a moment. The expression on his face was…
Buffy couldn’t put a name to it, except that it was raw, and cold, and mean beyond belief, and made her blood freeze in her veins.
The room had gone quiet again. Every vamp in it was staring at the two figures on the platform. But Spike had won. What on earth were they waiting for?
Buffy had her answer a moment later, when from somewhere in the crowd a large knife went sailing through the air, hilt-first, to land at Spike’s feet with what was probably an almighty clatter. At the same time, the big vamp’s pleading hand fell back to his side. His head hung down, hopeless, like a condemned man at his execution.
Which, as it turned out, this pretty much was.
Buffy watched in growing horror and Spike bent to pick up the knife. He sort of smiled at someone in the crowd – whoever had thrown the knife, maybe? – then held it up so everyone could see it. Then he bent, grabbed the big vamp’s head by the chin, pulled it back, and cut his throat.
No arterial blood sprayed from the gash. The guy’s heart would’ve had to beat for that to happen. But there was plenty of blood all the same. The crowd howled its approval.
But Spike wasn’t done yet. As the big vamp clutched his throat, Spike threw him down on his back, got astride him, knees on either side of his huge body, and…cut out his heart.
Buffy’s gorge rose. She had to look away – take deep breath after deep breath to swallow down her nausea.
When she made herself look through the glass again, there was nothing left of the big vamp, save a pile of dust, and his shrivelled dead heart, held aloft in Spike’s hand.
Not just held aloft, but paraded around the edge of the platform, along with the bloody knife, while once again, the crowd roared in approval. The stamping and chanting began again, even louder this time.
Suddenly, Spike threw the heart and the knife into the crowd. There was a mad scramble to retrieve them, and, with his audience distracted, Spike jumped down from the platform and disappeared.
Buffy sagged against the fire door. She was shaking all over, she realised – as if she’d never seen death before – and she still felt sick to her stomach.
When Spike had told her back at the TV studio that there wasn’t a vamp meaner than him, he hadn’t been kidding.
Suddenly, Buffy was desperate to get back to her sister and the others. Vampire issues be damned, she had to get them out of here.
Anyway, if there was vamp cage fighting or whatever going on in the basement, Willow had been wrong about the Walsingham being a de-militarized zone, so she was probably wrong about that too.
Buffy took a deep breath. It was a long way back up those stairs.
But the alternative – going through the fire door and pushing past all those drunk vamps…
Well, the odds weren’t good.
Anyway, there were her Emily Choos to think of.
She squared her shoulders and headed towards the stairs. But something – a prickling between her shoulder blades – made her turn around. There was a guy standing on the other side of the fire door.
A short guy with white hair, no shirt and a bloody nose. He was looking though the glass right at her.
“Hey, you made me spill my drink.” Dawn turned a startled face on Buffy. Champagne was slopping over her hand. She addressed the lead singer guy, who’d been smouldering moodily at her when Buffy approached them. “Give me a minute, okay?”
The singer guy did a sort of pout-y shrug thing, but he nodded, and his eyes followed them as Buffy led Dawn away. Looked like he was smitten. Guys often were.
“What’s the matter with you?” Dawn hissed, as they went. “Any minute and he was gonna give me his cellphone number.”
Buffy gave the singer guy her best big-sister scowl, and he turned gratifyingly pale. “Didn’t realise you were such a fangirl.”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “It’s not for me. Vondra and Ranjit are the fans, but they’re too scared to talk to him. So I said I’d do it.”
The two bitty Slayers in question were looking their way, Buffy noticed, with nervous expressions on their faces, as if they realised they were being talked about. She frowned. If they’d been drinking, she and Spike were gonna have words.
But on the phone. Definitely on the phone.
“What’s going on?” Dawn had dug her heels into the very expensive carpet. “Tell me right this minute.”
Buffy glanced over her shoulder. No so-called vampire kings in sight yet, but there wasn’t time for this.
She drew Dawn to one side, and kept her voice low. “What’s going on is that you were right all along. Spike’s fucked up – possibly crazy. We all need to leave before anything happens.”
“Like what?” Dawn frowned. “What did you see? Where have you been anyway?”
This was taking too long. Buffy scanned the crowd, looking for the others. She could see Willow and Xander. Willow looked a little green around the gills, and Xander was holding her upright, but like he didn’t want to stand too close in case she barfed all over him. Of Giles, there was no sign.
“Okay, where did Giles go?”
“He complained it was too noisy in here,” Dawn said. “I think he said he was going to the library. But I wasn’t really listening. And it was kind of noisy.”
“Damnit!” Buffy pushed Dawn back into the room. “Get the others together. Ask Kennedy to help you. God knows, she looks miserable enough. She’ll be glad to get out of here. Then meet me in the lobby in five. I’ll go find Giles.”
“But…” Dawn began, but Buffy shook her head.
“Don’t argue with me, Dawnie, okay? This is serious. We have to leave. Now.”
Dawn looked mutinous for a moment, but then she sighed. “You’re the boss.”
“I so am.”
Buffy left Dawn to do her stuff, and hurried across the lobby in the direction of the library. Knowing her luck, Spike had gifted Giles another bottle of very expensive whisky and Giles, like Willow, was drunk as a skunk.
Don’t be a dumbass, Summers. Giles can hold his drink. He’s had enough practice.
She flung the library door open. Giles was standing by the huge fireplace, tumbler of whisky in one hand, leather-bound book in the other. As Buffy entered the room, he laughed.
“Yes, very amusing.”
“I thought so,” Spike said. “There you are, Slayer. Been looking for you all over.”
Buffy froze on the spot. She took in his immaculate appearance, his neat clothes and hair, his cool as a cucumber attitude. Even his nose looked fine.
Maybe there really are two of him?
She peered closer. Okay, maybe not so much with the nose. If you looked hard, there was a slight just-been-punched look about it, but nothing to speak of. He’d healed real fast.
Say something, damnit!
“And I’ve been looking for you,” she said. “I’m afraid we have to be going, Spike. Slayer business, you know?”
“We do?” Giles blinked at her in surprise, then looked at his glass with regret. “Really, Buffy, can’t it wait till tomorrow?”
Buffy folded her arms. She gave Spike back look for look. “I’m afraid not. Something’s…come up.”
“That’s a pity,” Spike said. “I was hoping we could have that little talk you mentioned earlier, in the limo.” When she just frowned –
Don’t rise to the bait, Summers. Don’t, okay?
-he went on, “There’s so much I have to tell you.” With definite emphasis on ‘so much.’
Damnit, she thought. So tempting. “Another time, okay?” she said, with false brightness. “Call me.”
He looked grave. “Believe me, it’s better now.”
Giles’s gaze went from one of them to the other. Buffy couldn’t see his eyes because of the firelight glinting off his glasses.
“Surely, Buffy,” he said, “there can’t be anything that urgent, can there? We’ve only been away from the school for a few hours, and no crises were pending that I recall -save for the apocalypse, of course.”
Really not helping, Giles.
Okay, she thought. Why isn’t Giles helping?
Maybe he thought that if Spike was offering to spill secrets, she should take him up on the offer.
She scowled. Maybe Giles wasn’t wrong.
She addressed Spike, who waited for her answer with that annoying bland expression back on his face.
“All right, but I want your word none of your vamp henchmen, or any other kind of vamp, are gonna come anywhere near my people.” And if you break that promise, I’ll dust you, asshole. See if I won’t.
“I promise,” he said, solemnly. His expression said he knew exactly where she was coming from.
I don’t get it. I really don’t. He loathes them. He wants to kill them all. Why do they let him be king?
That did it. Giles was right. She had to find out.
“Okay. Giles, tell the others it was a false alarm, will you?”
Spike said to him, “Enjoy the whisky, Rupert, and if any of these books take your fancy, they’re yours to keep.”
Then he gestured towards the door. “After you, Slayer.”
Spike stood by a side table, on which sat a crystal decanter full of some brown liquid, and glasses.
“I hope you don’t mind if I indulge?”
She watched as he poured himself a drink. It reminded her that he’d been very careful so far not to drink blood anywhere near her. That was new too. The old him hadn’t cared at all. In fact, sometimes he’d done it with as much lipsmacking enjoyment as he could, just to gross her out.
They were in the private lounge where they’d met the first time. He sat down on the far side of the mahogany coffee table, sipped his drink, and looked at her, saying nothing.
Not gonna make it easy for me, huh? Well, two can play that game.
“Okay,” she said. “What was that all about? And how come this place has vamp cage fighting in the basement? Willow told me it’s, like, neutral territory? No one can fight anyone.”
“That’s true,” he said. “But the basement isn’t in the building. It’s beneath it. Best place for vampires, don’t you think?”
Is that sarcasm?
“Inside a vacuum cleaner’s better.”
His eyes were hooded as he took another sip. “We agree on something, then.”
Okay, Mister, you asked for it.
“You really don’t like them, do you? Your subjects, I mean. I can see it in your face. Why do they let you boss them around? That big guy didn’t even try to fight you at the end there. He let you cut his frickin’ heart out.”
The memory made her feel a little nauseous. It was an effort to keep her eyes steady on his face.
“Yeah, well,” he said, “sometimes you have to throw your weight around. Don’t want one of these fuckers getting any funny ideas, do you?”
“That doesn’t answer my question,” she said.”Why are they so damn scared of you?” She leaned forward, fixing him with her best Slayer glare. “Why the hell are you king of the vampires?”
He hesitated. Then he sighed, tipped back his head and drained the contents of his glass.
“Because I have a soul,” he said.
Her jaw dropped. Somehow, it was the last thing she’d expected him to say.
“But…but, don’t they hate that?”
He shrugged. “Nothing they can do about it. Unless they get their own souls, and none of them have the balls.” His gaze went unfocused for a moment. “Not so far, anyway.”
She was still trying to process what he’d said. “Okay, since when does having a soul qualify you to be king of the vampires?”
He gave her a considering look, like he was considering not telling her, or just lying through his teeth. Then, he said, “Since Angel and me got a very powerful mage – a very powerful, now very dead mage – and yes, he was evil – to write us a prophecy saying just that.”
She stared. “You faked a prophecy?”
“And the other vamps – the not-soul-having ones – believed it?”
He shrugged. “Vamps are a credulous bunch. But you know that, Slayer. Come across a few vamp messiahs in your time, haven’t you?”
She thought of the Master, and that creepy kid. What was his name? Oh yeah, the Anointed One. Destined to leads the vamps into the Promised Land, or some such.
“Sure,” she said. “But all of them?”
He gave her a mirthless grin. “Not all of them, but we’re working on it.”
“We? As in you and Angel?”
“That’s right, ‘cept he’s having this decade off.” When she just stared, “It’s tiring work, Slayer, being king.”
“Angel’s having a vacation? As a monk?”
“Sooo, when his vacation’s over? What then?”
He shrugged again. “He’s king, and I get some well-earned time off.”
“Something tells me you won’t spend it as a monk.” She couldn’t imagine it somehow.
“No sodding way,” he said, sounding so much like the old Spike that her heart ached for a moment.
Forget it, Summers. The past is the past.
He got up suddenly, crossed to the decanter and poured himself another drink.
“You’re probably still wondering about all this, aren’t you?” he said. “The posh hotels, the limos, tossers working for me with stupid names like Anton?”
She couldn’t help smiling. “Little bit.”
He turned around, glass in hand, looking so grim that the smile slid off her face at once.
“Vamps may be credulous,” he said, “but they’re not all stupid. You have to give them a little of what they want, or no chance you’ll get what you want from them.”
Her jaw dropped again. “The protection racket in Chicago!”
“Exactly,” he said. “They were well impressed with that one.”
And Beijing? Paris? Cape Town?”
“Beijing and Paris, for sure,” he said. “But not Cape Town. That was just a weird business.”
Silence fell. She felt a little poleaxed. He sipped his drink – and looked worried. Like he wasn’t sure what she might say next.
Well, I’m not sure either. This is just…I don’t know.
“Okay,” she said, at last. “What you’re telling me is, you and Angel are running a scam on all the other vamps. You’ve concocted a false prophecy, which they’ve fallen for, and now you and Angel are kind of interchangeable vamp kings?”
He nodded. “Got it in one, Slayer.”
“And the purpose of this gig is to…lower the vamp body count, right?”
He nodded again. “It’s the least we can do to help.”
A prickle started up at the back of her neck. A sort of heat that flooded through her, like a wave.
Was this what a hot flush felt like?
Oh come on, Summers, even you don’t think you’re that old.
“Are you seriously telling me that you and Angel think you’re doing this for me?”
He shook his head. “No, love,” -and hadn’t she once longed to hear him call her that again?-” We’re doin’ it for us.”
“Glad to hear it.”
He nodded in acknowledgement. “Can’t do stuff for other people all the time. Gotta do it for yourself. Because you want to. You taught me that.”
He nodded again, but didn’t elaborate, so she let it go. Suddenly, the idea of talking about old times with him – reconnecting- didn’t seem like such a good one. There’d been so much pain. In fact, the pain had outweighed the pleasure.
Not just with him, but with Angel too.
“‘Course,” he said, suddenly, still sipping his drink, “it does benefit you. At least, I hope so. Fewer vampires to fight. Especially now-” he hesitated, as if not sure whether to go on, but then said, all in a rush – “now you’re my queen.”
He gave her a deprecating look. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to come over sounding like old Drac there.”
“It’s okay.” The implications of what he’d just said were beginning to sink in.
Instead of coming on all cocky and spoiling for a fight, from now on the vamps would be on their knees at her feet.
Sweet. Worth celebrating, even.
“I’ve changed my mind,” she said. “I would like a drink after all.”
He picked up the phone. “I’ll tell room service to bring up some champagne.”
“Uh-uh.” She shook her head. “It’s great and all, but it goes to my head too quick. I’ll have scotch. On the rocks.”
This took him by surprise. “Are you sure, Slayer, because…”
“I’m all grown up now,” she assured him. “It won’t be like that time with the kitten poker and the barfing. I promise.”
He smiled – a real, genuine smile. Probably his first.
She watched him while he poured her drink. He looked at ease with himself, in a way she hadn’t seen since the time he’d first barrelled into Sunnydale with Drusilla. Like he knew who he was, and where he was going.
Except not evil.
Or mostly not.
She found she was glad for him. Even (maybe just a bit) glad that he’d changed so much.
Not that it let him off the hook. She’d been owed at least a phonecall, damnit!
He held out her glass. She took it, and he touched his own against it.
“To the queen of the vampires,” he said. “Long may she reign.”
She wasn’t sure how to respond to that, so she smiled and drank. The whisky was good – peaty and warm, despite the ice. She could see why Giles was so enamoured.
They sat down again. He seemed very relaxed. Maybe he thought the interrogation was over.
Okay, Summers. Go for it.
“So,” she said. “I know it’s ancient history and all, but how come you never told me you were back from the dead?”
He paused with his glass half way to his lips, then sighed and set it down on the table.
“Knew you’d get around to it in the end.”
“Well, sure,” she said. “Not like you were ever gonna.”
“No,” he admitted. “Still the coward around you, Slayer. Like always.”
“Coward?” She made a face at him. “That’s not the word I’d use.”
More like total jerk, but whatever.
He grimaced. “I would. Anyway, I’ve got no excuse. None that’ll stand up…well, anywhere.” He eyed her across the table. “How much do you know already?”
She made a vague hand gesture. “Not a lot. Just what Andrew told me -” Plus, I had Willow do some magical snooping, but you don’t wanna know about that -” that you were alive again and in LA working with Angel at that evil law firm. And yeah, if I ever do see Angel again, I’m still gonna ask him what the hell he was thinking.”
He sort of smirked. “Will you be selling tickets?”
“What?” She mock-scowled at him. “No.”
“Pity.” He drank more scotch. “‘Course, he wouldn’t be able to tell you anything, because of his vow of silence.”
She shrugged. “That’s okay. He just needs to listen.”
Their eyes met, and a moment later they were laughing again. It was so easy, she thought. Much easier than before.
“So,” he said, “seems maybe you didn’t know that when I first tumbled out of that amulet I was some sort of ghost?”
“No,” she lied. “Hadn’t heard that one.”
“Yeah.” He looked gloomy just at the memory. “Not a fun time. For one thing, not being able to touch anything, found myself thinking way too much. Mostly about you. About…” he took a long swallow of his drink…”us. God, Slayer, how the fuck did you ever put up with me?”
“I…” She stared. Yet again, it was the last thing she’d been expecting him to say.
“Anyway, I put on a brave face,” he went on, “as you do. Well, as you do if you’re me and you’re stuck around Angel. But when I got my body back, well…”
He gave her a helpless look. “I meant to come and find you, but somehow I couldn’t make myself do it. I couldn’t make myself believe that you’d be glad to see me.”
“Spike…” she tried to interrupt again, but he grimaced at her.
“I know you wanna say your piece, Slayer. Let me finish first, yeah? Then the floor’s all yours.”
“All right.” She settled back into the couch. “I’m listening.”
“After that, I meant to call you. I told myself that even if I had made your life a misery, you’d stood by me, and you’d want to know that I was alive and doing okay.”
“Damn straight,” she said.
“But I couldn’t make myself do that either. I told myself, I’ll make a life for myself first – learn to be all Mr-Swirly-Coat-Hero, like Angel. Then I’d call you. Needless to say, that didn’t work out too well.”
She gave him a sympathetic look. “Dana, huh?”
He nodded. “Then – well, then the brown stuff really hit the fan.”
“‘Course,” he said, “I understand now why old Rupert said what he said. Serve Angel – well, and me, but mostly Angel – right, for not coming clean about Wolfram & Hart. Trouble is,” and his mouth set in a hard line, “wasn’t Angel that paid for it. Wes and Charlie were the ones who died.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. What else was there to say, except the truth? “But it wasn’t just Giles’s decision – not to help you, I mean. I backed him one hundred per cent.”
He regarded her stone-faced for a moment, but then he shrugged. “Was too late to save Fred anyway. Maybe if we’d called earlier – explained how sick she was…”
She gave him a helpless look. “Maybe.”
Into the awkward silence that followed, she said, “Good to know that you didn’t deliberately set out to destroy Downtown LA. A lot of our people died that day, mostly running interference for civilians.”
He nodded. “I heard.” The smile he gave her this time was kind of lop-sided. “When Angel fucks up, he doesn’t do it by halves. Not that I’m saying it was all down to him. I signed up for the crazy ride, and so did Wes and the others.”
He looked down at his hands, which still held his empty glass. “Thought that would be the end of us. My second attempt at a glorious, hero’s death. Turned out it wasn’t so much The Wild Bunch, though. More like The Great Escape.”
She blinked. “You got away on a motorbike?”
He looked startled, like he hadn’t expected her to get the reference.
Hey, Mr Fancypants King of the Vampires, I have layers too, you know.
“Um…yeah,” he agreed. “After Angel killed the dragon – I helped, but that never gets mentioned- we took Charlie to a hospital – he didn’t make it, they told us later- but another demon horde came after us, so we thought, best for everyone if we led them out of town. That’s when I stole the motorbike.”
“So, you outran them?”
He nodded. “At least, we thought we did. Later, we realised that when they gave up, they just headed back to LA. Sorry about that, Slayer.”
Suddenly, he shot to his feet, and threw his empty glass against the wall. The thick crystal shattered into inch long shards. “Fuck that useless fucking word.”
She’d jumped to her feet when he did, and leapt over the couch back to give herself fighting room. But then he slumped back into his chair and gave her a sheepish look.
“S’okay, Slayer. Really. Bit on edge. Lost it there for a moment.”
“You don’t say.” She waited, watching him settle, before sliding back into her own seat. “What brought that on?”
He gave her that eyebrow-raised, don’t you get it yet? look of his.
“Obvious, isn’t it?”
She shook her head. “Not to me.”
He sighed, passing a hand over his face, like he was tired of talking.
“Sorry,” he said, again, making a face, like he hated the taste of the word leaving his mouth. “Word’s so bloody inadequate. Soon as I got my soul, I knew that. How could mealy-mouthed apologies ever make up for what I did to you? S’the same now. Angel and me fucked up, and you and yours paid the price. That was when I realised I left it too late. I didn’t phone you, an’ I didn’t phone you. Now, I couldn’t.”
He sort of sagged into his chair. “Done. Say what you want to me, Slayer. I deserve it. From the one about me doing an Angel and making decisions for you, to the one about being a stupid, bollocking arsehole.”
Silence fell. She watched him, took a sip of her scotch, watched him again. He barely moved, slumped into the chair, like all the fight had gone out of him.
No wonder he hadn’t wanted to talk about the past, she thought, if this was how it made him feel.
Suddenly, the whole king of the vampires schtick was understandable. Angel and him, they were still trying to make amends – far away from her – as far away as possible – but still trying.
At last, she broke the silence. “Why did we only hear about you, not about Angel? Until the other day, I thought he was dead.”
He came back from his bout of self-loathing – or self-pity, whi-ich kind of the same thing – and focused on her face.
“Ah, you know Angel. Well,” he qualified after a moment, “maybe not as well as you think you do. He takes things to heart, does Angel.”
“Oh.” After a moment, she said, “You mean he had some kind of breakdown, don’t you?”
“Melt down, more like. Could’ve poured him into a glass and drunk him. Pulled himself together in the end – or sort of -but that’s when he started talking about being a monk. Said it was the only way he could be certain he’d never hurt you again.”
Ten years ago, she thought, that revelation would’ve had her either crying her eyes out or so mad with Angel she wanted to kill him. Now…
“Poor Angel,” she said.
Spike nodded. “‘Spect he’ll be okay by the time it’s his turn. Hope so anyway. Don’t fancy this king lark forever.”
Silence fell again. At last, he said, “Are you feeling all right, Slayer?”
She blinked. “Sure. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Er…” he looked taken aback. “Just thought there’d be more yelling, that’s all.”
She rolled her eyes. “Sorry to disappoint you. Done my share of shouting – my share of weeping and wailing too – over you two fuck-ups.”
He seemed to shrink in on himself a little. “I understand.”
And suddenly, just like that, she was mad at him after all.
Take a deep breath, Summers.
“You know when I said you’d turned into Angel Mark Two?”
He frowned. “Yeah, but…”
She held up her hand. “Ah-ah. My turn to talk, remember?”
For a moment, she thought he might argue, but in the end he just gave her a moody look. Which sort of emphasised her point again, but whatever.
“Was gonna say that I didn’t realise how right I was. Get down off that ledge, Spike, okay?”
His frown bit deeper, but then he sort of sagged again. “You’re right, of course, Slayer.” He glared at the whisky decanter. “Shouldn’t drink so much. It only makes me morbid.”
“Uh-huh.” Or worse, she thought. There’d been whisky on his breath that time in the bathroom that…
That she so wasn’t gonna think about.
She eyed her own glass. Maybe whisky made her morbid too?
“So, anyway,” she said. “Yes, I was mad at you for not calling. Then I was mad at you for – as I thought – turning to the dark side again. I’d’ve been mad at Angel too, if I hadn’t thought he was dead. But…water under the bridge, right? Your reasoning might be fucked up – ” like you -” but I understand it at last.”
He sat up. “You do?”
“Yeah,” she said. “You were right about being a coward.”
He sagged again.
“But I…kind of understand that too. And we’re grown-ups now, right? At least, I am. We’re over all that…that melodrama?”
Her eyes challenged him. How about you, Mister?
He grimaced. “Trying to be. Sort of a work in progress, though.”
He indicated the room again, with its antique furniture and priceless Persian carpets.
“This vamp king gig is part of the process. Vamps are like kids, see? Really nasty, vicious kids. The only way to control them – the only way to keep them down – is to be an adult. An adult they’re scared of.”
“I get that,” she said. And she did, finally. “So that fight in the basement bar…”
“…was me getting down and dirty with the kids,” he agreed. “They’re gonna have their version of fun whatever happens. I’m there to show them where the boundaries are.”
He eyed the whisky decanter, like he was considering pouring himself another, but then frowned and turned his back on it. “Vampires being outed in public has helped, actually. Even the stupidest of them understand they can’t do what they like now without being hunted down like rats. Makes ’em easier to control.”
So much for the good old days, she thought. And maybe they hadn’t been so good anyway.
He was looking at her, like he still thought she might want to yell at him. When she kept quiet, he said, “So, like I said, I’m trying to be the responsible adult to a bunch of irredeemable juvenile delinquents. It seems to be working. Even Angel says I’m more thoughtful -not as obnoxious as I used to be.”
This last was said with a lop-sided smile, and she found herself smiling back.
“Thought you said Angel’d taken a vow of silence?”
The smile spread on his face. “He has. He wrote me a note.”
She found herself mentally ticking off the questions he’d answered. Just one left now.
“So, why did you ask me to marry you?”
He’d just gotten this look on his face like recess was over and it was time to get back to policing the class room, but at least the face he turned on her hadn’t gone all blank and distant again.
“Angel and me,” he said, “we never meant to keep what we were trying to do a secret from you. It just worked out that way. To busy, I s’pose, trying to impress the minions and impose our will on them to think about anything else.”
“I get that too,” she said. Which was true. Setting up the Slayer school had been kind of the same deal, though – thankfully -with a lower mortality rate among the pupils.
“But it’s all sorted now,” he went on. “So, when this latest apocalypse showed up, it seemed like time to give something back to society.”
She narrowed her eyes. “They’ll really do what I say?”
He gave her back look for look. “They will if they want to live.”
She felt sorry for him again suddenly. What a way to live. Kind of like wearing a hair shirt all the time, only scratchier, and with fangs.
She picked up her glass and downed the last mouthful. “Guess that brings us back around to where we started, in the limo. What do we do if the sham marriage doesn’t qualify with this hell-beast as -” she made air-quotes around the words -“‘all the children of men joining together.'”
He frowned. “It should. We’ll know soon enough anyway.”
She liked the new him, she decided. They could do business together. And maybe more than business. After all, there were those ‘vamp issues’ of hers to deal with, and he was still a major league hottie.
But before she could say any more, he said, with sudden vehemence,
“I swear to you, Slayer, I never meant more by it than that. Wasn’t some ploy to get back in your pants. I’m not…I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but even I’m not that crass.”
For a moment, she felt a mixture of fury and disappointment. And then resignation.
That train had pulled out of the station long ago. For all she knew, he didn’t even find her attractive any more now she was…
Now she was older.
Best to let it go, Summers. And you need all the friends you can get.
She was on the point of saying as much, when the door flew open, and Dawn barged in, past the protesting hench-vamp.
“Buffy, you have to come now. It’s the apocalypse.”
The second was, why did I have that damn drink?
Spike was already on his feet.
Dawn’s gaze skimmed over him, like he wasn’t really there, before heading back to Buffy.
“Like you wouldn’t believe! Rain of blood, fireballs, headless horsemen. You name it. Looks like this world-ending demon’ll be here any minute.”
The hench-vamp had muscled into the room behind Dawn, but at her words, his gaze went to Spike and stayed there.
Was it Buffy’s imagination, or did the vamp look kind of…accusing?
That wasn’t good. Spike must’ve been selling this whole ‘marrying the Slayer to avert the apocalypse’ thing to his subjects big-time.
Even then, not all of them had bought it, judging by the Anton incident.
“Okay,” Buffy said, in a loud voice. “Seems like we need to promote this vamp/human togetherness deal a little more aggressively.” And she turned to Spike, which would his cue to-
“Been a while, Slayer,” Spike said, “but I think I still know how to get your back.”
“Good,” she said. “Great.”
The hench-vamp’s face cleared. Maybe the thought of violence had cheered him up a little.
Dawn, meanwhile, had gotten this disbelieving look. “If you think you’re gonna take on this thing all by yourself, Buffy, you are crazy.” Her eyes slid reluctantly to include Spike again. “And you, Spike.”
Strongly implied was, not that I care about you.
Buffy gave Dawn a warning look. I know how you feel, but not now, okay?
“‘Course not,” she said. “That’s what the rest of you are here for, right?”
Dawn looked pleased. “Right.” Then her face fell. “Willow’s passed out, though. Which is bad. Also, what do we do with the civilians?”
Buffy frowned. Willow being out for the count was bad. Willow was her big gun. Not to mention the only person Dawn would listen to when it came to not incinerating everything.
“Er…black coffee?” It was the only thing she could think of. That was supposed to help with hangovers, right?
Spike addressed Dawn again. “Pardon me for interrupting -” Yeesh! New Spike was still a little hard to take sometimes, which the look on Dawn’s face only confirmed -“but black coffee won’t make Willow feel better. It’ll just make her twitchy.”
He turned on the hench-vamp. “Show Mr Giles where the spell books are. Fetch him any ingredients he needs to cure Ms Rosenberg’s hangover. And his own, if necessary. And get a bloody move on.”
The hench-vamp sketched a hasty bow. “Right away, your majesty.”
As he went, he cast a look back at Spike over his shoulder. His face was a mix of emotions, adoration and loathing very much to the fore.
Dawn noticed it too.
“This king deal looks like hard work,” she said.
Spike nodded. “Yeah, it is.”
They shared a moment, like some sort of bonding thing, and suddenly Dawn was looking at Spike with new respect.
Buffy seized on it. “Marshal the troops, Dawnie. Whatever happens, Spike and I are gonna need back-up.”
Then she looked down at her clothes. “Damn, I’m not dressed for this.”
“You look very nice, though,” Spike offered.
“Really?” Then she frowned. “You mean I look like my mom?”
“Er…” Suddenly, he’d gotten this nervous look on his face. “I didn’t actually say-”
“It’s okay,” she said. “I am gonna take it as a compliment this time.”
His relief was so obvious, she almost laughed. “Still not great for fighting in.”
He looked down at his tux, miraculously un-rumpled. “No.” Putting a hand almost on her elbow, but not quite, he ushered her towards the door. “Tell them what you need at the front desk. They can get it for you.”
Out in the corridor, he headed in the other direction.
“Where are you going?”
He grinned at her. “Gonna get changed myself. I suggest we meet on the roof in ten minutes. We need to be outside the Walsingham’s magical field, in the open. Somewhere this thing will spot us.”
“And the civilians?”
He shrugged. “I don’t see why they shouldn’t carry on with the party.”
Then he was gone, walking fast, with a swirl of hench-vamps collecting behind him. She heard him barking orders, though all she caught was, “…and find me the bloody press officer!”
“Hmm,” Dawn said, at her shoulder. “He’s kind of cool – you know, for an ex-rapist and murderer?”
She rolled her eyes. “He’s getting there.”
As they hurried down the stairs, Dawn went on, “He is still fucked up, though?”
But it was more of a question this time. Is he, or isn’t he?
“Oh yeah,” Buffy said. “Fucked up like you wouldn’t believe.”
Kennedy was waiting for them in the lobby. She still looked depressed, but no longer like she might die of boredom.
“What’s the situation?” Buffy asked her.
Kennedy indicated the state room, from which the sounds of music and laughter still issued. “Civilians are all in there still. The younger trainee Slayers are guarding them, but, like, you know, unobtrusively?”
“And the older ones?”
Kennedy grinned. “Tooling up, even as we speak. Come on.”
She led the way across the lobby, past the front desk where the unflappable concierge just nodded at them, down a corridor past the rest rooms, and into a huge cavern of a space, which gave the weird impression of being bigger than the entire building.
Buffy gaped up at the ceiling, which seemed miles away. And the walls, which also went on for miles, and which were adorned with what looked like every weapon known to man, and then some.
Xander was standing nearby, holding a flame thrower.
Buffy nodded. “Very.”
Xander sketched her a jaunty half-salute.
“Here.” Kennedy threw her a pile of black clothes. “Try these on for size.”
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/484241.html