Aces and eights. There’s some irony for you.
Spike’s lips twitched, trying to curve into a sardonic smile around his cigarette. Tells were less of a problem for the vampire, what with his lack of breath and pulse, but none of the other players would miss the significance of a smirk. The card game was going well; there were more kittens in his box than when he had started, and a few trinkets lined his pockets. With any luck, his streak would hold and his winnings would keep him in whiskey and smokes for the next couple weeks.
It was Sept’s night to deal, which was regrettable because the m’bwoga demon had an uncanny ability to notice if too many cards went missing from the deck. Cheating at poker was a fine art that Spike took pride in having cultivated over the years.
“I’ll start the bidding at one,” Sept announced in a watery voice, making good his statement by dropping a skinny tabby into the center of the table. The other players followed suit, adding kittens of various breeds and colors to the pot.
Leaving the cigarette dangling from his lips, Spike snaked one hand under the table and pulled out two Siamese kittens from a litter he had found behind the Bronze the night before. They joined the growing mass of mewling fur on the table. Spike propped his feet on top of his battered cardboard box to keep the rest of his “cash” from escaping.
“I’ll see that and raise you one,” he drawled. Then he took a long drag off of his cigarette and sank back in his chair to observe his opponents’ reactions.
Clem was the easy one. When he had a really good hand the trailing ends of his ears twitched. Spike was fairly certain that the loose-skinned demon did not know about that particular reaction and friendship only went so far. Spike would not give up his edge in their weekly poker games. Two hands ago, Clem’s ears had virtually hummed and Spike had smartly cut his losses early in the bidding before his friend revealed a straight flush. This hand, the dangling folds of skin remained still even as he added an Egyptian Mau to the pot.
Pro’bly has a pair.
Sept was much harder to read. M’bwogan culture demanded stoicism and this calm extended into poker as well. However, if Sept had a particularly good hand, Spike was fairly certain that he would have opened the bidding a little higher than at a single kitten. Sept was slow to add another tabby to the pile.
Even odds he has two pair or three of a kind.
The new guy, Wha’s his name, McLain, Mr. Clean… Maclin!, had been steadily loosing all night long. The human’s features were as memorable as his name compared to the other players, demons all. Maclin was the one tossing in magical trinkets and charms instead of the usual feline fare. He was also roaring drunk and seemed not to notice that he held his cards angled so low that the entire table could see the pair of sevens he held.
Oh yeah, no problem there. This one's definitely worth seeing through.
Carl and Xirus had already folded and were sipping at their drinks disinterestedly.
Sept looked around the table and, when no other bids were forthcoming, laid his cards down: tens and fours. As predicted, Clem revealed a pair of kings and the warlock laid down his sevens.
“Looks like this round goes to me, mates. Dead Man’s Hand for the dead man.” Spike flashed a triumphant smile as he tossed his cards face up on the cheap folding table. Clem sighed good naturedly and Carl shook his head in disgust as the blond started scooping kittens into his box. The handful of magical baubles made their way into the pocket of Spike’s coat.
The drunken warlock pushed back from the table and stood unsteadily. “Well boys, I’m afraid y’all have cleaned me out for the night. It’s been real fun, but I’m thinking I should head out.” With that, he knocked back the rest of his beer and staggered to the door, followed by farewells and some good-natured teasing.
Good riddance, kittens'll get me more dosh than cheap jewelry with simple cantrips anyway.
Sept silently collected everyone’s cards and started shuffling, so Spike turned all his attention back to the game.
In League With Serpents - Fallen
Spike sat very still as he watched Buffy walk away. Even if the afternoon sun had not prevented him from following her, there was no guarantee that his legs would have obeyed even the simplest of commands.
Heaven. She’d been in heaven.
The revelation was too much to wrap his brain around, and so he sat, staring stupidly as the slayer’s petite frame disappeared around the street corner. He sat as the shadows around him lengthened and continued to sit as the alley fell into semi-darkness. At length, his unnatural stillness broke and his head sank slowly into his hands.
Of course she was in heaven, you stupid git. Where else would she go after sacrificin’ herself to save the world?
Suddenly, the slayer’s behavior since her return made perfect sense: her lost expression as she stood on the steps of her house that first night, her unwillingness to make eye contact with her friends, her flinches whenever any of the Scoobies tried to touch her. These were not the actions of a grateful escapee from hell. This was the behavior of someone who had touched perfect happiness and had it stripped away. These were the crippled reactions of someone whose soul had been violated in the worst possible manner.
God Red, what did you do to her?
On shaky legs, Spike rose and made for the back entrance of the Magic Box. He wandered through the training area and slipped into the main store, still lost in thought. Functioning on autopilot, his feet carried him to the front counter where Anya was dusting the shelves behind the register.
The ex-demon turned, caught sight of Spike standing not three feet away from her, and squealed in surprise. Her piercing shriek startled Spike out of his dark thoughts, and the two stood for a moment staring at one another.
“Spike! I wish you wouldn’t do that. I make embarrassingly loud noises when I get startled. And look! I might have broken these jars and then you would have had to pay for them!” Anya scrunched up her face in an attempt to appear stern and angry, but succeeded only in looking like a small child who had smelled something unpleasant.
Spike stood for a moment longer, desperately trying to think of what had brought him to the Magic Box in the first place. Suddenly remembering, he reached into his pockets and started piling charms on the counter.
Act normal! The Slayer doesn't want the others to know!
“Won these off a warlock, luv. Thought you might like a look. I sure as hell don’t want ‘em, but I figured you might be able to sell a few.” Spike started spreading the trinkets out, untangling chains and arranging them so that the former vengeance demon could get a better look.
Over the summer, Anya and Spike had entered into a kind of unofficial business arrangement. Spike brought Anya any strange objects he picked up while on patrol or in the demon bars and Anya would sell them in the Magic Box in return for a cut of the price. The deal suited them both very well because any returns Anya received were pure profit and Spike ended up getting much more money with less effort than he would have hawking them on the black market.
Anya poked around some of the pieces, holding one pendant up to the light before replacing it in the pile and turning her attention to the next piece. After a few minutes of examination, she collected most of the baubles and put them in a plastic shoebox she kept under the counter. Four she shoved back towards Spike.
Seeing the vampire’s questioning glance, she launched into a long-winded explanation. “I’ll take all of the rest. Those four you can get rid of. See that one, with the funny squiggle and the purple gem? That’s a Frixian courtship broach. It’ll dissolve into dust if a kid touches it and you would not believe the number of parents who allow their children to paw all over the merchandise. Shameful. I’ll never manage to sell it before one of them gets their grubby little hands on it.
“Now those two black ones there look like Atlan curse beads. You don’t need to worry, being a vampire and all, but those make human men impotent after prolonged exposure. I’m not risking those around Xander, even if they would fetch a good price. Those used to be quite popular in my vengeance work, let me tell you!
“And that one. Honestly I don’t know what that one was. Doesn’t matter now since it’s broken. You might as well throw it in the trash on your way out.
“I’ll stick with the usual deal. They’ll be priced and out on the floor by tomorrow. I still want fifteen percent of whatever they sell for. That’s pre-discount just so you know. I’m thinking about having a sale for our repeat customers. No arguments over the prices this time either. I know what I’m talking about.” Anya continued to prattle on about supply and demand, laissez faire economies, and perceived desirability, but Spike finally managed to tune out the sound of her voice.
He slipped the broach and beads back into his pants pocket. Any normal evening would have ended with the beads becoming the focal point of some particularly nasty pranks, but Spike was too distracted to care much about getting involved in malicious mischief. He picked up the last charm and looked more closely at it. Sure enough, the large pendant appeared to be broken. All that remained of what had once been a hollow, green orb the size of a small orange was a shattered fragment held to the chain by a delicate gold ring. He tossed it in the trash can behind the counter.
Must’ve fallen on it during the fight.
He patted down his jacket and found a few more green shards in one pocket. They joined the piece still attached to the chain in the wastebasket.
The tingle down the back of his neck that warned of the sun’s unwelcome presence had disappeared sometime during Anya’s appraisal of his winnings. No longer paying the chattering ex-demon any mind what so ever, Spike made what he hoped was an encouraging sound in her general direction before wandering out the front door of the shop.
Spike walked the streets of Sunnydale, going through the motions of his usual routine. First he went to the butcher’s for blood. The friendly smile and quizzical expression on the shopkeeper’s face went unanswered. Then he made his way to his favorite package store for two bottles of Jack Daniels. Instead of responding to the cute cashier’s flirting with his usual leer, he simply laid down his money and walked away in silence. Turning his steps towards home, he made a final stop at a seedy gas station for a few cartons of cigarettes. Even the teenaged attendant, who had been completely engrossed in his Batman comic just moments before, asked if he was okay and was ignored in turn.
Spike was a creature of action. He was impulsive and rash and he always had an answer for any problem, even if it wasn't always the right one. For once in his unlife, Spike was at a complete loss as to what to do. Should he attempt to comfort the slayer or give her space? What would he say to Red and the others if the subject of Buffy’s resurrection came up? Would he be able to hold his tongue the next time he caught them congratulating one another on a job well done? And Dawn, could he keep this big of a secret from her as well?
These and many other questions swirled through Spike’s mind when he finally returned home. The jars of pigs’ blood made their way into the mini fridge. The cigarettes and one of the whiskey bottles went into the small adjoining cabinet. He dropped the last bottle next to his easy chair before facing the television, intending to turn it on.
It was then that the faint smell of blood permeated Spike’s senses. He snapped his eyes towards the far alcove and tensed at what he saw.
There, lying across Dave’s stand, were three dead mice, arranged neatly like an offering.
But no, even though he and his dark princess had made a practice of giving one another rodents for snacks, he could catch no trace of her distinctive signature. Come to think of it, Spike could not sense the recent presence of anyone but himself, the Nibblet, and Clem. Smokes, booze, and dust, yes. Even the earthy aromas he associated with small birds and bats, but no characteristically human or demonic scents. The realization did little to reassure him.
He strode over to the little statue and grabbed one of the mice. Four bleeding gashes marred its throat, two on either side of the neck, and it appeared to have been partially drained. The legs and ribs were broken, as if someone had grabbed the little animal and squeezed. A quick inspection revealed similar injuries to the other two as well.
Okay, this is just… weird.
Spike scooped up the remains and walked to the doorway. After tossing them outside, far from the entrance, he slammed the door and turned around. He no longer trusted his nose, so his eyes raked over every corner of the crypt’s main floor, searching for anything that seemed out of place.
He turned his attention downstairs. The only unusual things he could find were small shards of the broken pendant on his dresser. Those he tossed into a bronze funerary urn that he used to collect ashes and cigarette butts. Finally satisfied that no intruders were waiting to leap from the shadows, Spike returned to his recliner to think.
His nose told him that no other demon or human had entered his crypt in some time. His eyes attested to the fact that the dead mice were the only objects out of place inside the crypt. He could feel no tingle of magic, no hint of its presence.
Angelus loved to leave dead animals lying about his victim’s homes, but as far as I know, Peaches is still all soul-having. No dice there. Not the Scoobies’ style. Too creative for Harm. Looks like Dru’s work, but how could she mask her presence from me? Who the hell else could it be?
Spike sat in the easy chair, the bridge of his nose pinched between thumb and index finger, thinking. He could come up with no ideas as to who would, and could, have left the mice in his crypt. Most of the enemies he had made were more the type to kill first, build cryptic shrines later. The lack of scent or magic removed a great many other people from the running, foes and otherwise. At length, Spike finally gave up. The prankster would reveal him or herself, or not. Then Spike would pound in the trespasser's face, or not. He would just wait and see.
Spike retrieved the bottle of whiskey from the floor and leaned back in his recliner. Thoughts of the dead mice tucked firmly away, there was little else to do but return to the subject of the slayer. If any topic was worth getting drunk over, that one certainly fit the bill. Spike sat in silence for a long while, only stirring when he had finished the first bottle and wanted to trade it out for a full one. On his way to the cabinet, Spike started muttering to himself.
"I bet she had wings. Wha' d'ya think Dave? I bet she had wings and a halo and a little gold harp like in a stained glass window. Wouldn't that just beat all?" The second bottle forgotten, Spike moved to confront the little stone saint. "Not that you care, I bet you find the whole situation most amusin' don't you?" Spike waved the empty bottle menacingly at Dave. "Cellar-dweller worryin’ himself sick over the high, mighty vampire slayer. Well fuck you." He paused and squinted his eyes at the tiny bloodstains that still marred the statue's base, "And fuck you're wee, little mice buddies too." With a dismissive wave, Spike lurched over to his cabinet and grabbed the other bottle of Jack before stumbling down the ladder to his sleeping area.
Pacing the length and breadth of the subterranean chambers, Spike started taking out his frustrations and fears on whatever lay at hand. He kicked furniture and punched the wall until his hand bled, drinking all the while. When he paused for a moment to identify his next target, a strange sensation flooded him. A sense of calm, of acceptance and love suffused his mind. The emotions were so unexpected and foreign to the enraged vampire that he clutched his head wildly, confusion writ large across his features.
Arriving at the only conclusion his liquor soaked mind could settle upon, Spike hurled the rest of the whiskey into one shadowy corner of the room. "Bloody booze!" Even the angry satisfaction of hearing the loud crash and subsequent wet splash of violated alcohol soon faded in the midst of the stream of positive emotions. He shook his head violently, trying to rid himself of the unwelcome feelings, but succeeded only in making himself dizzy. Staggering from the alcohol as much as from his emotional disarray, Spike fell face down on his bed. Wrapped in feelings of comfort and security, the vampire soon fell into a deep sleep.
In League With Serpents - Taking Up The Serpent
When Spike awoke the following afternoon, it was to a splitting headache and a queasy stomach. Vampire constitution or no, over three liters of good Tennessee sour mash bourbon was enough to leave even the heartiest demon hung over.
He would have clutched his head, but the idea of moving made his temples throb just that much more. He would have groaned, but the sound stuck in the dryness of his throat. Knowing from experience that the worst of the sickness would soon pass, Spike concentrated on lying perfectly still.
Not quite ready to open his eyes yet, Spike took a moment to mentally size up his situation.
Nothing broken or missing, good. Where am I?
He carefully tested the air.
Home. Right. What’s the last thing I remember? Came home, got pissed, um… Trashed the bedroom, felt some weird warm fuzzies, passed out. Wait, warm fuzzies?
Spike struggled to part the fog of his memories. It was then that he noticed two things almost simultaneously. One – something was pressing down on his chest that could not entirely be explained away by his tangled sheets and clothing, and two – a soft bundle of affection, not of his own making, pressed against the back of his mind.
Someone was playing around inside his head.
Alarmed, Spike’s eyes flared wide for which he was instantaneously regretful. The light from the few candles still burning felt like brands in his eyes. He rasped out a curse and shut his eyes again. When the pain retreated from blinding agony to a dull throb, he gingerly opened his eyes again.
Bloodshot blue eyes met tiny, red ones.
What the bleedin’ hell!?
The vampire froze, muscles held perfectly still and taut, as he observed his unexpected bedmate. A crimson snake, no longer than his forearm, lay coiled on his chest. At least he thought it was a snake. No normal animal would voluntarily disturb a sleeping vampire, and were those feathers on the creature’s back?
Spike blinked, not entirely convinced that the little serpent wasn’t a hallucination. When his eyes opened again, the snake remained, but this time the bundle of affection touching his mind expanded. The vampire’s eyes opened impossibly wide as tendrils of curiosity and hunger shot through the strange knot of emotions.
Spike jerked a hand up, intending to toss the snake from his chest, but the sudden motion sent waves of pain through his much abused head. He found himself clutching his temples instead. A soft rustling prompted him to peer out through his fingers. The little serpent had reared back and three thin rows of feathers had fanned out to form crests running down the animal’s spine, but this was not what caught Spike’s attention. The subject of his fascination was the pair of feathered wings that the snake had unfurled.
The little creature uncoiled and launched itself into the air. With a flash of red feathers, it was gone.
Spike struggled into a sitting position, still holding his aching head. For the unlife of him, he could not figure out what he had just seen. He was still trying to make some sense of his encounter when a red streak caught his attention.
The little serpent had returned, struggling to fly under the weight of a still squirming rat. It flew over to his bed and hovered briefly before shaking the rat vigorously and dropping it in his lap. It then came to rest on the foot of the bed, forked black tongue lolling, and managed to look extremely pleased with itself.
Huh, ‘s been a long time since someone served me breakfast in bed.
Spike picked up the stunned animal and sniffed it. It was definitely just a rat, and he could smell no poisons on it. He shrugged and brought his demonic features to the fore before sinking his fangs into the little, warm offering. He grimaced as the blood hit his empty stomach, but his body immediately accepted the snack and started using it to mend the worst of his aches and pains.
Feeling much more charitable towards the tiny creature now that he had a little fresh blood in him, Spike tossed the remains of the rat towards it and watched as it dove on the torn rodent and started to feed.
No, not ‘it.’ She.
There was something indefinably feminine about the bundle of emotions in his head, even if physically, Spike had no way of knowing. The serpent had deep crimson scales; the vampire would have called them blood red. Bright red eyes glittered at him like rubies. The feathers along the creature’s back were a darker shade of red, as were those of the wings, which shaded to black at the tips. Hints of blue and yellow dusted the wing feathers and a smooth row of yellow scales protected her underbelly. The coloration, and the serpent’s scent, earthy with a tang of rust, reminded him of the tropical birds he had seen in South America.
The feathered snake lifted her nose from the rat’s torn stomach and licked her muzzle. His throat soothed enough from the blood to function again, Spike spoke to his strange companion, “Well, I guess I know who’s been leavin’ me presents upstairs now, huh?”
The little reptile’s mouth fell open again and little puffs of air came out. Partnered with the flashes of humor coloring the touch in the back of his mind, Spike was fairly certain she was laughing. Spike chuckled ruefully.
“Right, jokes on me. I was expectin’ some big bad come to play. Instead, I get room service.”
He cautiously rolled out of bed and performed a joint cracking stretch. The little serpent watched his every move intently. Somewhere between being offered the perfect hangover relief when he woke up and being able to laugh wholeheartedly at the ridiculousness of the situation, Spike had decided against evicting the little creature outright. Part of him wanted to be angry that something else was lurking around inside his head, but at that point, the vampire was more curious than anything else. Also, though he would never admit it out loud, the untainted adoration coming from the tiny creature was a balm over his much abused self-respect.
“I don’t know what you are or where you came from little one, but if you keep bringin’ me snacks, I might just have to keep you around.”
His head still ached and his body felt like he had lost a fight with a Grnalt hunting party, but Spike still managed to climb the ladder to the main floor of the crypt and get some blood warming in the microwave without any major incidents. The crimson serpent fluttered along behind him before settling on a perch: Dave’s head.
Mug of blood in hand, pig as usual, Spike eased down into his recliner and looked at his reptilian guest.
“I don’t suppose you’ve got a name, little one?” he asked after taking a careful sip.
The serpent cocked her head to one side and confusion flickered through the mental link.
“No? Well I guess we’ll have to take care of that.” Spike thought for a moment, after all, what does one name a telepathic, flying serpent? His thoughts brought him to his human years, to the college education he had received long before being turned. He had particularly enjoyed studying ancient religions and literature. A name from lectures long past popped into his head.
“What about Meret?” he queried. The little snake rustled her feathers and flexed her wings. Whether that was an agreement or an armless creature’s approximation of a shrug, Spike could not guess, but he hoped it was the former. “Meret it is then.” He toasted the serpent before downing the rest of his blood.
In League With Serpents - Fearful Symmetry
The night sky was clear and still as Spike walked through the graveyard. The cemeteries of Sunnydale were large enough that the early evening sounds of the city did not penetrate the acres of graves and carefully tended grass.
To Spike’s vampiric hearing, the night was far from silent. Insects hummed, birds called to one another, and tiny creatures burrowed through the earth beneath his feet. The rustling of feathers and the occasional hiss or puff marked Meret’s presence as she darted around, exploring this strange new world.
Spike kept his eyes and ears open for other vampires and demons, but most of the lesser evils had gone to ground after the Hellions’ abrupt arrival and expulsion. There would be little sport to be had for some time to come.
The blond vampire sighed as he reached one of the cemetery’s small side exits.
The gates were closed and locked, not unusual after dark, but this proved to be little hindrance. He quickly scaled the wrought iron fence and stood for a moment on one of the large stone dividers. The crisp night air held an array of interesting scents: people, car exhaust, burnt grilled cheese in the house across the street. Spike often chose this route when he wished to avoid company.
It wasn’t that he was afraid of humans, far from that, but some nights their presence only served to remind him of the life he had lost. The chip had effectively stolen his old world and thrust him into an awkward position: a predator bereft of the kill.
Spike had visited the Sunnydale Zoo once, after his second return from South America, after the military had seen fit to neuter him. He had stood for a long time in front of the tiger enclosure, locked eye to eye with one of the great cats. The animal had paced the fence, watching him with golden eyes. Spike had seen wild tigers in China before the Boxer Rebellion. They had virtually hummed with barely controlled fury at the vampires’ interruption and the desire to hunt, to kill. Drusilla had asked Angelus if she could try to turn one, a request that thankfully was denied. Spike remembered feeling like he had found kindred spirits. He had never before seen such a raw example of savage freedom.
On the perfectly kept walkways of the zoo, Spike had come face to face with another dark mirror. The cage, as large and well appointed as it was, had broken the great cat’s spirit. Years of captivity had made the animal accept its fate, to be stared at and fed cold meat by puny beings it could have killed with ease had it been free. The fiery spark that had so captivated Drusilla had long since been snuffed. Spike thought of tearing open the cage door before realizing that to do so could only result in the great cat’s death, either at the zoo keepers’ hands or the animal’s own inability to live in the outside world. He had wondered if the creature would have chosen a quick death after feeling freedom or if it even would have taken the chance to escape. He had the sinking feeling that the once proud hunter had been so thoroughly gentled by its captivity that it would have chosen to stay within the confines of the only home it could remember.
Spike had backed away slowly before breaking into a run that did not end until he had reached Willy’s bar. That night, like many more to come, had ended with him drinking heavily, reaffirming his vow to find a way to remove the chip at any cost. Since that day, he had studiously avoided the area surrounding the zoo, unwilling to face the horror it held for him.
It was the memory of that tiger that had prompted Spike to try to take his unlife that night in Harris’ basement. That evening, dressed in one of the whelp’s tacky Hawaiian shirts, marked one of the lowest points for a vampire who had survived decades of highs and lows. Had he not discovered that he could fight other demons just a few hours later, he was sure he would have finished the job that same evening. The short battle over the Hellmouth had given him hope and a returned feeling of self-worth. He had started thinking of the chip as less of a cage and more of a hindrance, something that could be lived with and endured. He still hated the little knot of silicon and wires, and he would react violently to reminders of its presence, but he no longer thought longingly of embracing sunlight.
For a time, he had convinced himself that he was free again, but that turned out to not be the case. Having sought out their aid in his time of need, Spike found himself in the company of the Scoobies at every turn. They came to him when they needed extra muscle and he traded information and his fighting skills for the money he used to keep himself fed and entertained. The situation was far from perfect, but it helped him retain some semblance of independence. That was until he realized something that bound him with chains stronger any governmental chip.
Spike had fallen in love with the slayer.
A pariah among his own kind and enamored with the one woman in the entire world who had cause to hate him the most, Spike had desperately sought acceptance among her circle of friends. He needed the companionship, the contact, but mostly he needed to be around her. He often wondered how she really felt about him before she had jumped from Glory’s tower and died, closing the rift only her blood could seal. He had fought beside her friends all summer, but they had always kept him at arms length. Their cold behavior after the slayer’s resurrection made it perfectly clear that any headway he thought he had made meant next to nothing to them.
In the darkest days of his depression over the long summer of Buffy’s absence, he had come to question the circumstances of his life and death. As a human the strict protocols of Victorian England had kept him constrained, a willing slave to society’s rules. Then his obsessive love for Drusilla had guided his existence for over a hundred years. When fate had thrust him into a truly independent role, he had return to Sunnydale to be effectively muzzled by the Initiative. Even without the chip, his love for the slayer and a promise had kept him bound to Southern California and her battles. Had Spike ever truly been free?
He did not begrudge his position as Dawn’s protector because he loved the girl deeply in his own way, but his tenure as her guardian had forced Spike to make a terrible realization. If he did manage to remove the chip one day, if someone threw his cage door open wide, he would sit inside his prison of his own accord. He had walked so far down his current path that there was no turning back.
That was why Spike refused to visit the tigers. That was why this night, and so many before it, he went out of his way to avoid contact with human strangers. He knew that the slayer had managed to tame him, and some part of him cried for the loss of something he wasn’t sure he had ever truly possessed.
Love’s bitch truly, to the bitter end.
In League With Serpents - Care and Feeding
Tara stood for a moment, still gaping at the scene before her.
“Oh, um, they’re feathered snakes,” she offered up a weak smile.
Spike blinked, expression stony.
“They, uh, were the favored familiars of ancient Mesoamerican warlocks,” she looked at Meret, who had chosen the top of the refrigerator as a good hiding spot, in awe. “They’re supposed to be extinct.”
Now we’re getting somewhere.
“Anything else you’d like to share with the class?” Spike asked sarcastically.
“Yes. I mmmean, I think there’s a book upstairs. Give me a second,” Tara quickly ducked out of the kitchen. Spike could hear her rummaging around in the master bedroom upstairs moments later. The blond witch returned with a huge tome in her arms. She placed it on the counter before taking a seat next to Dawn. In gold leaf across the leather cover, Spike could make out the title: Hadrian’s Bestiary of the Exotic: Third Edition. Opening the book to the back, the witch started skimming through the index.
Tara apparently found what she was looking for and started flipping pages back towards the front cover. Spike watched in amusement as Dawn leaned over, surreptitiously trying to read some of the pages as they turned. She glanced up and realized that Spike had caught her, a wicked twinkle in his eyes. In response to her arched eyebrow, Spike gave the smallest of smiles. The two were far from strangers to conspiracy.
Scoobs are gonna have to let the Bit do some research soon, or else she’ll start lookin’ on her own.
Spike affected a bored expression and Dawn went back to her discreet spying.
After a few moments, Tara reached the page she sought. “Here! Willow mentioned it when we were researching that snake demon over the summer.” She started skimming the yellowed page. “Want to see the entry?” She shoved the book towards Spike.
Tara returned to staring at Meret until Dawn tugged on her sleeve and asked what had brought her home so early. The witch blushed and said she had been nominated for homework duty, to which the teenager winced and made a sour face. The two retrieved Dawn’s backpack from the dining room and settled down to work. Both of them pretended to concentrate on the math problems, but Spike caught their glances towards the fridge.
Spike turned the book around and quickly found the relevant section. He skimmed the first part, which covered the discovery and naming of the species, before finding the good stuff.
…Coatls display some telepathic and empathic talents which, while resembling similar magical spells, are actually an inherent trait of the species. A hatchling will imprint upon the first adult coatl it sees. A mental bond forms between the newborn and the adult, a link through which the hatchling will learn everything it needs to know to survive in the coatl covey. In time, the mental link will spread from the young coatl to other members of the covey through the connection with its chosen parent.
If an adult coatl is not present at a hatching, baby coatls have been known to form similar links with humans. The bond lets the human host and the coatl communicate with thoughts and strong emotions. These bonded coatls learn the habits of their human partners, such as diet and general disposition, much like they would have in the wild. Similarly, the human host will quickly develop a strong mental and emotional connection to a coatl hatchling. Once this bond is firmly established, the mental link has been known to extend to the person’s family and close friends, the bonded coatl’s approximation of an adopted covey. This connection only seems to function in one direction because the linked humans can sense the coatl, but not one another through the other bonds. However, since the coatl tends to echo the emotions of its original bond mate, the feelings it projects to other linked humans often, but not always, represent those of its host...
Sensing his interest, Meret flew down to land on Spike’s shoulder. She wrapped her tail tightly around the vampire’s throat and peered at Tara and Dawn with trepidation. All work on the equations stopped as the girls watched the tiny creature, but Spike paid them no heed and continued with his reading.
…A bonded coatl’s lifespan seems to be connected to the life energy of its human host. While a coatl can be killed, it will not die of disease or old age until its human companion does...
Spike skipped some of the more technical theories attempting to explain the mental and physical link. The esoteric “whys” were not as important to him in that moment as the “whats.” He soon found another interesting section.
…When it was discovered that coatl feathers vastly strengthened mind reading spells in the early eighteen hundreds, the creatures were hunted to extinction by black market bounty hunters. The last sighting of a wild coatl occurred in 1862 and the last known bonded coatl died with its partner, a Mr. Charles Hurst, in 1897...
From that point on, Spike only picked out interesting snippets from amongst a sea of technical jargon and admitted speculation.
…highly intelligent, more so than dogs or even chimpanzees...
…able to fly and carry proportionately heavy loads from birth...
…subsists on insects and small mammals in the wild...
…will fight bitterly to defend its covey or human partners...
…hermaphroditic, starts laying eggs upon reaching maturity...
The following page held a drawing of an adult coatl and its nest.
Well, I’ll be damned.
“Glinda, I’ll be borrowin’ this book.” Spike’s tone of voice was pitched to dissuade argument.
She snapped her attention away from the tiny creature coiled around his neck. “I dddon’t think Mr. Giles would… I mean, I’d have to make sure that Willow is…”
“Look ducks, I’ve got a beastie who shouldn’t even exist knockin’ around inside my head, thinkin’ I’m her mum. I’ll return the book safe and sound to Red and Rupes as soon as I get a handle on the situation. I think I need it a little more right now, yeah?” Spike’s posture dared the witch to disagree. “Also, I’d appreciate it if you kept this little secret among the three of us.” He held up a hand when Tara and Dawn both opened their mouths to protest. “Don’t you have more important things to worry the others with, like recently dead slayers? Meret here would just be a distraction.” For someone with a decidedly warped conscience, Spike knew the mechanics of a good guilt trip by heart. The two girls shut their mouths with audible snaps and twin guilty expressions. “They’ll all find out in time, not to worry.”
But not for a very long time if I can help it.
“Right, be seein’ you Bit, Glinda,” and with that, he turned to go.
“Bye Spike! Thanks for the dagger!” called Dawn.
“The what?” blurted Tara. Spike beat a hasty retreat, tome in hand, making good his escape through the back door and into the yard beyond.
Time to test a theory.
In League With Serpents - Distrust Fund
Wednesdays were paydays.
Spike had managed to convince Meret to stay at the crypt while he ventured into Sunnydale. It hadn’t been too difficult because the little creature still found sporting in the copper birdbath new and exciting. He had left her splashing in the water, probably soaking the Turkish rug that lay nearby. He tried to feel irritated, but amusement kept ruining his attempts. No matter how much trouble the young coatl managed to get into, it was far preferable to the seething boredom that had dominated many of Spike’s evenings before her hatching.
Walking towards the main entrance of the graveyard, Spike was interested to note that the link connecting his mind to Meret’s did not seem to fade with distance. If he concentrated, he could almost feel the cool water. Her delight was infectious and he found himself wearing a genuine smile, something that few among the living, or the dead for that matter, had ever seen.
With a light heart, the vampire wandered along one of the winding paved roads leading out of the cemetery. He kept an eye out for any stray demons, but the party of Kirkan monks he had found digging up fresh graves the night before had gone far to fill his violence quota for the week. The brawl had been brilliant. Alone a Kirka wasn’t much of a challenge, but together they had put up an impressive fight. He had taken down nine of the rat-like demons and still bore their claw marks across his forehead and down one arm. His nose and cheekbone were already starting to set, but his body had yet to turn its healing attention to the deep gouges left by the Kirkas’ poisoned talons. The marks would be gone by the following evening, but for the present, Spike wore them like badges of honor.
The surprise of the evening had been Meret, who had dived on the leader, biting and battering his face with her wings. Her antics had served as little more than a distraction to the large rat demon, but her attacks had both touched and amused the vampire. When the last monk fell, she had hissed over their bodies like a conquering warlord. Spike had spent the rest of the evening lavishing attention on the little serpent.
She might not be much of a fighter now, but wait until she grows up!
The book he had borrowed from Tara stated that while coatls grew throughout their entire lives, most reached a length of at least five feet before adulthood slowed the rate to a crawl. Adding in their uncanny strength, your average adult coatl could crush bones and choke a human, or human-sized demon as the case may be, with ease.
Spike went over the details of the previous night’s fight in all its gory detail, which helped him stave off his disappointment at the current lack of action.
After a few minutes, Spike reached Sunnydale’s shopping district. The streets were full of people, but for once this fact didn’t provoke a bitter reaction in the vampire’s mind. Humming a little swing riff and with a spring in his step, he soon neared his destination.
Tinkling bells announced his arrival at the Magic Box. A quick glance and a discreet sniff proved to the vampire that the whole gang was there. Giles was unloading a new shipment of books onto the shelves in the back while Anya rearranged her crystal display in the front. Xander had pulled out a trashcan and was sitting on the counter, whittling stakes over the bin. The witches sat at the round table with some old books scattered around, and Dawn was sprawled on the floor behind them, homework spread around her. From the sounds, Buffy was in the back working over her punching bag with a vengeance.
“’Lo all,” he offered. His greeting earned slight waves from Tara and Dawn, a grunt from Xander, and brief glances from Willow and Giles.
Why yes, I just beat a horde of demons in hand to hand combat, but I’m just fine. Thanks for askin’.
“Oh, Spike! Today’s your lucky day,” Anya put down the geode she had been situating and gestured him over to the cash register. “Remember that Verulean glaive you brought me a couple months ago? Well this creepy antique weapons collector who works at the museum came in and bought it! Full price too, I never got around to marking it down.” She pulled out an impressively thick envelope from the cash drawer. “I sold a couple other pieces as well, so here’s your cut.”
Spike took the offered packet and nearly swallowed his own tongue when he looked at it. In flowery handwriting, as if by adding curlicues Anya could convey her excitement over the sale, was the amount of this week’s haul. Two thousand four hundred fifty seven dollars and sixty-eight cents. He had been expecting the thirty or so that was his usual take.
Spike stood staring mutely at the stack of cash in his hand.
“So what’re you going to spend it on?” Anya chirped.
“Huh?” Spike replied with becoming eloquence.
“You know, got any big plans that require money that you’ve been keeping secret? I’m thinking about putting my cut aside for a dress, a white one with lots of beadwork and a train,” Anya commented innocently.
The former demon's words were met with muffled curses from Xander. “Nothing, sorry. Knife just slipped.” Anya was on him in a second, fawning over the injury, which was little more than a scratch. Spike eyed the welling blood longingly. Of all the people in the Magic Box, Xander was the only one Spike still dreamed about biting.
Xander submitted to Anya’s ministrations peacefully enough, but the glances he kept throwing Spike’s way were anything but equitable.
“Y’ know Harris, I could clean that knife right up for you,” Spike flashed him a wicked smirk.
“No thanks,” Xander tightened his grip on the blood-stained hilt while Anya wrapped gauze around his other knuckles.
“Spike, that’s just gross,” Dawn added from the floor, wrinkling her nose. The two witches simply shot him disapproving glances before returning to their reading. A long-suffering sigh came from the corner where the watcher was working.
Can’t even joke with these blighters.
Anya kept her gaze fixed on Xander’s injured hand, but Spike could have sworn he saw a slight smile in response to his antics. It was too bad that the former vengeance demon seemed surgically grafted to Harris’ side. Spike would have loved to trade stories about the old days over a pint with the girl, but not if he had to deal with Xander’s assorted insults and distrustful looks.
Spike shoved away from the counter and headed for the far corner where the watcher was unpacking books. On the way over Dawn caught his eye and looked pointedly at his pocket. Spike gave her the barest shake of his head as he passed.
Looks like the Nibblet is keepin’ everythin’ discreet. Good on her.
Upon reaching the bookshelf where the watcher was working, Spike stopped and leaned against an adjoining display case. Spike knew that the watcher knew he was there. To top it off, Giles knew that Spike knew, but it was a common act of rudeness that the overly stuffy Englishman used to convey how much he resented Spike’s presence. The vampire combated the slight the only way he could, by not reacting at all until Giles finally grew tired of the charade.
The watcher finished putting his armload of books on the shelf before pointedly picking up another stack and arranging them as well. When the last book was placed in the row and every spine sat flush with the front of the shelf, Giles turned to the vampire, who was still standing impassively, face studiously blank except for the smallest quirk of his lips.
“Spike, is there something I can do for you?” Giles asked with bare civility.
“Yeah, was wonderin’ what’s got the slayer’s knickers in a twist,” Spike drawled, trying to keep his voice neutral.
Giles eyed him sharply. “I don’t see why I should be telling you anything about Buffy or her current state of mind.”
Spike narrowed his eyes in irritation. “See, it’s like this Rupes: I was going to go back there and share a little demony info with the slayer, and I would like to avoid any topics that would end with me getting knocked about the head. Now, you can give me enough of a clue to help me avoid a nasty scene, or you can have an even more brassed off slayer on your hands while you scrub vamp blood out of your nice training mats. So what’s it gonna be, mate?”
“You can give me the message,” Giles countered.
“Funny, and I thought you were makin’ it pretty plain that you didn’t want to talk to me at all. I’m touched Rupert. Really.”
Giles had the grace to accept defeat when he saw it. He sighed deeply before relenting. “She’s having some financial problems. Apparently the plumbing in her basement needs to be completely replaced and the cost will be rather high.” Giles removed his glasses and started wiping them down with his handkerchief. “The bank turned down her loan application because she is unemployed, and her slaying has been, shall we say, less than superb of late.”
Spike struggled to hide his concern. “So, wha’s gonna be done?”
“Done? I suppose Buffy will have to find a job. I can only support her so much and she has run afoul of the Council so many times that I’m sure they will not offer any aid.” The rate of Giles’ polishing increased, telling Spike that the watcher didn’t like what he was saying any more than the vampire did.
“So l’me get this straight. Somewhere in between gettin’ over her fun filled vacation in” Not heaven! Can’t tell! “hell, playing mom to the little Bit, and savin’ the world from all things evil and nasty, she’s supposed to what? Flip burgers? You’ve got to be kiddin’ me,” Spike was aghast.
“If that’s what it takes,” Giles’ voice grated roughly.
Spike tossed him a dismissive gesture and stormed to the training room door, throwing it wide before striding into Buffy’s sanctuary.
The sight of the slayer literally beating the stuffing out of a punching bag froze Spike in his tracks. She would have stolen his breath away had he real need to breathe. Even as he stood there, transfixed, the small part of his mind that still functioned properly noticed things that he filed away for later.
She’s so thin. She can’t be eatin’. And look at those punches. I’ve never seen the slayer so far off her game. She wouldn’t last five minutes in a real fight against someone like Glory.
Reining in his emotions, Spike struck one of his most arrogant, defensive poses. “Oi! Slayer!”
Buffy stopped hitting the bag and slowly turned to face him. After witnessing the fury of her punches, he was shocked by the blank expression on the slayer’s face. “What do you want Spike?” her voice was equally flat and cold.
Spike took a moment to reclaim his scattered thoughts. “Kirkan demons, nine of them. Caught them grave robbing. Thought it might be important.” He waited for a reaction, any reaction. None were forthcoming.
“I’ll tell Giles. He can look it up,” she commented. Without another word, Buffy turned back to the bag and started hitting it again.
Spike could recognize so obvious a dismissal when he saw it. He stood there for a moment longer, hoping that the slayer would say something else, do something else besides move and speak like an automaton. Hell, he would have even welcomed a swift punch to the nose, but the slayer was completely ignoring him in favor of the bag, which was swinging violently again under her powerful blows.
“Better” Dawn had said. This was not better; this was much, much worse. Spike’s mind cast about, grasping for ideas on how he could help the slayer when she was so thoroughly shutting out everyone around her. His mind latched on the only real thing he had to offer.
Spike burst back through the practice room door. “Rupes, need a word in private.” Seeing the man’s obvious surprise and the refusal rising on the watcher’s lips, Spike ground his teeth. “Please,” he said through clenched jaws.
That did it. Spike never said the word please, especially not to the watcher. Giles nodded slightly and followed the vampire through the side door and into the alley.
The two men stood facing one another for a beat. Then Spike pulled out the envelope Anya had given him, removed a couple twenties, and thrust the rest towards the watcher.
Giles looked at the money as if Spike was offering him a basket full of adders. “What is this?” he asked roughly.
“In some circles, I believe it is called cash,” Spike ground through clenched teeth.
“Yes Spike, I can see that. What I meant is why are you giving it to me?” Giles let his irritation creep into his voice.
“D’ you really need me to spell it out for you?” Spike asked.
Why do you have to make this so hard?
“Look, Rupert, you know that the only gig the slayer will be able to get is some minimum wage, hellish pit of a job with the hours she keeps and nothin’ but a high school degree,” Spike’s façade of anger melted and worry was painted plain across his face. “Something like that will kill her. It’s beneath her. You know that,” he thrust the money a little further towards the watcher and waited.
Giles stared at him, eyes hard and cold behind his glasses. “I suppose this is some kind of sick ploy to get into Buffy’s good graces. I can tell you now that it won’t work.” The watcher turned to go back inside.
It hurt to have his every motivation questioned.
“No ploys. You can tell her whatever you want about the money. Tell her the Council of Wankers is sending her an early birthday present. I could really give a toss what story you cook up as long as she gets the dosh. You know she won’t take it from me. Just, don’t be a git. Let me help her.” Spike was disgusted with the pleading tone his voice had taken.
Giles stood at the door with his back to the vampire. At length, Spike’s outstretched hand dropped and he stared down at the money in his hand.
“I will give it to her,” Giles said softly, “as soon as I can come up with a reasonable explanation.” The watcher faced the vampire and reached out a hand.
“Thanks mate,” Spike said as he handed the money over. “I’ll pass along more as I come by it.”
The two men stood facing one another, neither making a move to reenter the shop.
Spike nodded to himself. “Right then, I’ll just be leaving. Oh, and if I find out you pocketed any of it, I’ll key your BMW.” That almost earned a chuckle from Giles before the watcher schooled his features back to seriousness. “Night Rupes.”
As Spike walked out of the alley, he could have sworn he heard a faint “Goodnight William.”
Nah, Ripper wouldn’t go all nancy on me now. Must be the little one, messing with my head again.
The excuse was empty though. Spike could feel Meret’s sleeping patterns back at the crypt. It was nice knowing he had done something right for a change.
Given time, maybe he could get used to the sensation.
In League With Serpents - Tomb Raiding
It was amazing how much loot had been buried with Sunnydale’s dead.
Now that Spike had proper motivation, he brought his fertile mind and boundless energy to bear discovering new ways to amass money. The night after handing over the envelope of money to Giles, the vampire had revisited the catacombs that had once held the Gem of Amarrah. Most of the gold and jewels there had been removed by his former minions and other latecomers to the trove. However, he was able to fill a small duffel bag with little pieces that had been overlooked. Meret had proved to be very good at finding tiny rings and delicate chains of silver and gold from amongst the dust and debris.
The ones that smelled even faintly of magic went to Anya. It was difficult for Spike to differentiate between those with stronger or weaker charms, all magic felt the same to him, but some of the pieces of jewelry made the ex-demon’s eyes open wide. The vampire was amused to note that Giles himself had purchased three of the rings, after much haggling with Anya over the high prices, before putting them into one of his slaying-related stashes.
The other baubles, while lacking enchantments, were well endowed with precious metals and gems. Spike used his contacts in the black market to hawk the vast majority of the remaining valuables for a significant amount of cash. One gold pair of earrings with tiny teardrop cut sapphires he palmed into Dawn’s purse with a note about their origin. The next evening he had found an ecstatic thank-you scrawled on notebook paper, slipped under his crypt’s door. The letter had gone into a little box Spike reserved for his most treasured items. A delicate silver choker, loosely linked and resembling metallic lace, he put aside for the day he figured out a way to slip Buffy a present.
An amusing side effect of his tomb raiding was that Meret started collecting “treasures” of her own. Anything that caught her eye, including broken glass, shiny rocks, and bits of metallic foil, made its way into her hanging nest. She let Spike lift anything of real value, like an engagement ring someone had dropped in the cemetery, and took great pleasure in rearranging her precious collection.
Spike took this as further proof that even though the Bestiary claimed that coatls were genderless, Meret was at least girly at heart.
The next night was poker night. Spike spent the early parts of the evening combing the allies for stray litters and the later hours increasing his feline collection through cards. The bids only included kittens this time around, no more mysterious eggs to be had, and his winnings were not as impressive as they had been the week before. However, the cash he earned could keep him in the necessities, freeing up his other monetary endeavors for the slayer.
He contemplated turning to slightly more illegal means of obtaining cash, but decided against it in the end. Grave robbing was one thing; holding up a 7-11 was something else all together. Spike knew that in order to keep Giles as a viable go-between for his discreet donations, he would have to keep his activities in the paler shades of moral gray.
Life was pretty good for the blonde vampire. In a week’s time he had acquired a new roommate and a mission to counteract his feelings of boredom and uselessness. When the next Wednesday rolled around, Spike turned over an envelope with a little over six thousand dollars in it to Giles and listened from a distance as the watcher added some of his own money to the pot by writing Buffy a check for ten grand. The only thing that could have made his evening better was if Spike could have replaced Giles in the grateful hug the slayer had offered her watcher.
Easy avenues for money exhausted, Spike became more creative. He had Anya compile a list of spell components he might be able to find around the Hellmouth. Some were odd plants and minerals, while others included various body parts and secretions from demons. After realizing that Clem and his kind were included on the list, he crossed off any species he thought of as harmless or even benevolent to humans before adding actual hunts to his usual patrols. He stalked the subterranean caverns and seedier locales of Sunnydale, picking off some demons as he went and following others to their lairs where he wiped out entire nests. Word spread quickly in occult circles, and the Magic Box started earning a reputation as one of the best stores in the state for acquiring rare, fresh components. Sales skyrocketed, much to Anya’s delight. Demonic activitiey plummeted, much to Giles’ delight.
Anya and Xander announced their engagement. In true Summers’ fashion, Dawn shared her first kiss with a vampire before staking him. Spike commiserated with her over cups of hot chocolate. Clem met Meret over buffalo wings and beer one night. The loose-skinned demon was charmed. Tara visited a couple times a week to see Meret. She often shared new bits of information that she had uncovered about coatls. Spike was surprised to find himself enjoying her company more and more.
A musical demon named Sweet came to Sunnydale and Spike ended up spilling his feelings on the floor in front of Buffy. The entire fiasco was so embarrassing that after saving the slayer from self-immolation, courtesy of her admission to having spent the summer in heaven, he fled to his crypt to forget his woes in alcohol. Buffy had chased him into the alley, but he did not stop and she did not follow. From that night on, Spike did everything in his power to pretend that Sweet’s spell had never happened.
With Buffy’s terrible secret out in the open and business booming, Spike was completely blind-sided when Giles pulled him aside one Wednesday in the Magic Box.
In League With Serpents - Paying the Piper
There were seven of them: six hooded figures in brown robes - two with nets, the rest with clubs - and one apparently unarmed figure in black. Any other time, Spike would have leapt at the opportunity for a good fight, but his senses were screaming that dawn was on the way. Whatever action he took, it would have to be quick.
Meret had landed on his shoulder and was hissing at the group. Spike had come to trust in her judgment of others’ characters. He thought longingly of the shovel he had left behind moments before.
The nets gave him cause for consternation. An unpleasant thought occurred to him.
I want you to go home and hide, little one. Fly fast and high.
The little creature radiated rebellion. She wanted to stay and fight. However, if Spike’s instincts were right, she was in great danger.
Listen to me, Meret! There’s no time!
He allowed anger and fear for her safety to tinge his thoughts. With a hiss of rage, Meret launched herself skyward. Spike broke right, aiming for a low point in the fence.
The figure in black barked a few commands in some demonic tongue Spike did not recognize, and the group scattered as well. As expected, those with the nets attempted to follow Meret while the four armed with clubs came after the running vampire. He smiled to himself as the little serpent swerved in the woods that skirted the edge of the graveyard. If her wickedly amused thoughts were any indication, her pursuers were having problems following the tiny creature among the closely spaced trees.
Using a tombstone as a launching block, Spike threw himself over the break in the fence, landing in a wild tumble that propelled him back to his feet in an instant, bag still in hand. He fully intended to fight his pursuers; he just needed to find a venue that would protect him from the sun’s rapidly approaching rays.
He soon came to a manhole cover and tore it away from the sewer entrance. He turned and saw that the four robed figures had not given up the chase.
Flashing a smirk and two fingers at his pursuers, Spike leapt into the dark hole.
He landed in knee-deep water, not the best fighting conditions to be certain, but still far preferable to immolation. The smooth plains of his face rippled and twisted, eyes flashing golden so that he could see better in the semi-darkness.
Robes’ll drag them down in this.
Spike had spent many nights learning the layout of the sewers when he first came to Sunnydale. He believed that this line lead to a small room that served as a junction for at least five main pipes. He set out down the tunnel, following the flow of the water. Sure enough, the vampire soon turned a corner and came to the open area. His timing could not have been better; he could hear faint splashes echoing behind him.
Spike tore a length of pipe from the wall and swung himself up to the service walkway that encircled the room. Pipe in his right hand and bag in his left, he crouched over the tunnel he had just exited and waited.
Within moments, the hooded figures stumbled into the room. Their robes were soaked and caught the current like sails, making their struggle against the water much more difficult. One even fell and Spike took that moment of confusion to strike. He landed behind the closest figure, putting all his weight and strength behind the pipe. The robed demon’s head collapsed with a pleasing cracking of bones and splattering of brains. Spike swung the bag containing the heavy cross in a backhanded arc at his next opponent before the first had even hit the water.
The wild swing glanced off of the demon’s shoulder, sending it backwards into one of its partners. The pair stumbled towards the wall, robes and limbs tangling. The one that had fallen earlier was fighting to regain its footing when Spike’s fabric-wrapped fist connected viciously with the underside of its chin. The demon went sailing back into the water and did not resurface, red welling in the murky current.
Huh, fragile. ‘S good to know.
Certain that two of his opponents were down for good, Spike turned to the remaining pair. They had managed to find positions in the shallower water between the mouths of two tunnel entrances. Spike eyed them with curiosity, trying to see under their cowls. He had yet to get a good look at his attackers.
“Don’t suppose you’d be willin’ to tell me why you’re so interested in me?” Spike started twirling the cloth bag in his left hand. The robed demons regarded him in silence. “No? Well that’s upsettin’.”
At the high point of the cloth bag’s trajectory, Spike abruptly accelerated its swing, aiming it at the figure’s head to his left. The attack was batted away by the demon’s club, but his vicious follow through with the pipe was not and glanced downward to sink into soft tissue. That sent the club flying as the demon moved to clutch at its throat in a futile attempt to stem the flow of blood.
The force of the cross’ swing had wrapped the bag around his hand, so Spike tightened his grip around the relic and used it to punch at the last demon. The blow fell short as his opponent dodged, and the vampire took a heavy blow to the back in retaliation. He grunted in surprised pain before thrusting the pipe forward into the demon’s gut, bending it over where its face was better aligned to accept Spike’s knee. Momentarily forgetting his interest in his attackers’ identities, Spike kept hitting his latest opponent until it lay broken and torn at his feet.
Bloodlust abated, he straightened and caught sight of the last demon, feebly grasping at its mangled face. He angrily strode over to its crumpled form, yanking the robe’s hood back before grabbing the demon by the throat in his powerful grip.
“Now you want to talk?” he asked, baring his fangs threateningly.
“I’m sure he would, had he a mouth with which to speak,” came a smooth voice from behind him.
Spike whirled in alarm, dropping the dying demon to face this new threat. He had not heard the newcomer’s approach, which was disconcerting in itself. Knuckles tight around the pipe, Spike stole a glance at the last of his brown robed opponents. Sure enough, underneath the torn flesh and veil of blood, the demon had no mouth, or nose, eyes, and ears for that matter. Its head was a smooth expanse of sickly pale flesh, as if a sculptor had started to form a face, but had left out all of the important details.
Spike turned his attention quickly back to the figure standing in the center of the room. His black robes marked him as the final member of the group from the cemetery, but the fact that he could speak at all meant that he was no relative of the four demons scattered around the room. He tried to catch the figure’s scent, but the all-encompassing stench of the sewer thwarted his attempts. The vampire was surprised to notice that the demon, or whatever he was, stood on a circle of dry concrete. The water swirled down and away from the figure’s feet, as if an invisible bubble surrounded him.
Great, all I needed to make my night complete was to deal with a bloody mage.
“Maybe you can help a bloke out then. What’s so fascinatin’ about me that you saw fit to sacrifice these pathetic blighters?” Spike asked while slipping slowly back into the deeper water.
“If I told, it would ruin the surprise,” came the velvety response. Taking a gamble, Spike launched himself with an angry roar. It was a bet he was doomed to loose though. His pipe bounced off of the same shield that kept the water at bay, and flames erupted from his skin. Underneath the searing pain from the explosion, the Initiative’s chip made its presence known.
The force of the explosion sent Spike flying against the far wall, pipe flung from his grip as he instinctively tried to shield himself with his arms. He caught on the walkway for a moment before dropping into the water below, which mercifully extinguished the flames. Knowing that any further attacks would meet with similar failure and wracked by crippling pain, Spike allowed the current to sweep him down another tunnel, carrying him away from the magic-user.
He could hear an echo of panic as Meret sensed his injuries.
I’m fine. Stay where you are!
He could tell through the bond that Meret had escaped her pursuers and was relieved. Despite his reassurances to the coatl, Spike was not fine. His clothing hung in tatters from charred flesh. The weight of the gold cross, bound to his arm by the burned remains of the pillowcase, kept him underwater and slowed his progress.
He lost all concept of time as he drifted. After a while, minutes, hours, he did not know, the water grew shallower and calm. Eventually, he was forced to drag himself upright and continue moving forward under his own power. Every step sent agony rippling through his body, but he would not stop. He could not stop. He could not go to his crypt either. He did not know if he was being followed and he was unwilling to expose Meret and his sanctuary to the warlock and his faceless cronies. Through the haze of pain and exhaustion, only one place came to mind. The vampire had gone there before when he had been in this much trouble. By the time he reached his destination, Spike knew he had to rest soon before he collapsed. His senses told him that it was late afternoon outside.
Unwilling to remain underground where he might still have pursuit, he struggled to pull away what was left of his coat. The garment had come through the ordeal remarkably well, if only because his body had taken the majority of the fireball head on, shielding the leather from the worst of the blast, but it was still in pretty bad shape. Blackened skin cracked open with the twisting motions, but Spike still managed, with a gret deal of pain, to drape the intact sections of leather over his head. He took a moment to let the worst of the pain recede before slowly climbing the ladder to the world above.
He emerged, soaking and slick with the filth of the sewers, into the side street that abutted Giles’ flat. He hunched under the trench coat as he drug himself up the stairs and into the watcher’s garden patio, smoke rising painfully from patches of exposed skin. Propping himself up in the shaded doorway, Spike struggled to make his burned digits wrap around the doorknob before giving up and pounding on the solid wood. His efforts left behind a smear of burned material and blood.
A few moments later, the door swung open to reveal a stunned Giles and Tara.
“’Lo. Care to have a vamp in for a cuppa?” he rasped, and with that, Spike toppled into the watcher’s flat, unconscious before he hit the floor.
In League With Serpents - Bedside Manners
Spike tried, he really did, but he could come up with no plausible excuse for Meret’s presence. After Giles’ silence, and his own, stretched out for a truly uncomfortable amount of time, he fell back on his most trusted line of defense: sarcasm.
“What’s wrong Rupes? Never seen a pet snake before?” he forced out past cracked lips.
“Actually I have, but I believe that this takes the term ‘exotic pets’ a bit far, don’t you?” Giles asked mildly.
Spike paused for a moment; the lack of accusations or interrogations was unexpected to say the least.
“How long was I out?” he finally asked, voice weak.
“Long enough for Tara and myself to get you in the shower and hose the worst of the sewage, blood, and burned fabric off of you. Believe me when I say that you should be thankful that you were not conscious when we cleaned out your wounds,” Giles raised the cup of tea he was holding and took a sip.
Spike turned his head slightly towards where the watcher stood in the doorway. His battered coat hung from a hook on the wall and a pile of black, the remains of his other clothes and the charred pillowcase, had been tossed in the far corner. He was surprised to see his jeans there as well, because he knew he was wearing pants. The fabric was rubbing his skin, irritating the wounds. He glanced down and stared in horror at his attire.
“Tell me those aren’t what I think they are,” he begged the watcher.
“What? Oh, the trousers. Yes I believe those were Riley’s. I don’t want to know how they came to be in my flat, but I believed they would be more comfortable than tweed and I was not about to subject Tara to your prolonged nudity.”
Bleeding Christ, he’s dressin’ me up in Cardboard’s fatigues!
The watcher’s tone had been bland, but there was a wickedly amused glint to his eyes that told Spike that Giles knew exactly what he had done.
Meret’s mental touch a balm over his embarrassment and indignation, Spike simply let his head fall back and closed his eyes again. He wanted to growl. He wanted to shout. He wanted to shake the watcher by the throat and shred the offending pants, but he was simply too tired and injured to put forth the effort.
His lack of an outburst must have unsettled Giles more than a little, because when the watcher spoke again, his voice was tinged with concern. “Spike, I understand that you must be in significant pain, but I must ask you a few questions.”
The vampire nodded his head ever so slightly, but did not open his eyes. He could feel Meret curl into the side of his neck that had escaped the worst of the burns.
“First of all, what did this to you and should we be worried about it making an appearance?”
“I’m not sure. There were seven of them to begin with. Two followed Meret, but she lost them over near Old Gray. I killed four in the sewers." He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. "They were ugly bastards; pasty white skin, no faces. Disgustin.’ The last one did this to me, their leader, a human. I think I lost him in the sewers, assumin’ that he ever tried to follow me at all,” Spike hated the admission, but there it was. Running from any fight galled him to the core.
“I’m sorry, did you say the demons were following a human?” Giles asked, disbelieving.
“Got the fried brain to prove it. What’s wrong Rupes, can’t believe anythin’ ill of a fellow pulser?” Spike asked in disgust. The vampire, whose entire existence revolved around the world’s many shades of gray, found those who only saw black and white to be pathetically naïve. He had always hoped for more from the man who had once been called Ripper.
He could hear Giles clear his throat at the unspoken rebuke. The watcher was never one to take criticism well, especially from a member of the undead. “Do you know why they attacked you?” he asked at length.
“Either they were after the pretty you’ve got wrapped with my kit over there or Meret here. I’m guessing the latter because the two that went after her had nets, but that doesn’t explain why five followed me after we split up.” Spike was honestly perplexed.
The vampire could hear a rustle of fabric and a soft gasp. The contents of the blackened pillowcase must have been forgotten in the rush to tend to his injuries. “Spike, do you know what this is?” the watcher breathed.
“If you’re holding the big cross I managed to lug all the way here, then yes. It’s the Sangre de Cristo ruby set in a fair chunk of gold with some other jewels for garnish. The soon to be Mrs. Whelp is going to hate you for makin’ her pay me finder’s fees after I bring that beauty in,” Spike allowed a hint of pride to sneak into his voice. The Sangre de Cristo ruby had been thought lost for hundreds of years. The irony that such a powerful relic would be restored to the slayer line by a vampire was not lost on Spike. “Tell the Council ‘you’re welcome’ for me and ask that they pay the demon bird in small, unmarked bills. She’ll like that.” Spike’s laugh sounded more like a wheeze, but the point had been made.
“I… Yes, well…” Giles foundered for a moment before switching gears entirely. “By ‘Meret’ I assume you mean the creature on your shoulder that has been terrorizing me for the past couple hours. How exactly did you get your hands on a coatl hatchling? Tara seems inclined to think that you’ve had it for some time.”
“Meret’s a ‘she.’” The correction took on a weary edge.
“Well, technically…,” Giles’ voice slipped into his lecturing tone.
Spike interrupted him before he got the chance to launch into an overly stuffy diatribe. “You can’t hear her Rupert. Believe me, she’s as ‘she’ as they come.”
“That doesn’t answer my question…” Giles pressed.
“Where's Glinda?” Spike asked in an empty attempt at avoidance.
“Getting blood and a certain book that you apparently never returned to her from your crypt. I believe she is also picking up some medical supplies. It wouldn’t do to have you bleeding all over my flat and leaving stains on the furniture. You’ve already introduced some of the most interesting odors into my foyer I have ever had the misfortune of smelling. Now answer the question, please,” Giles returned briskly.
“I won her egg in a poker game. She hatched and thinks I’m her mum.”
“I can appreciate your humor at times Spike, but now is not one of them. I’m sure it wouldn’t kill you to be serious for a moment,” Giles snapped, irritation lacing his tones.
Spike’s dry laughter echoes in the small bathroom. He opened one eye wide enough to take stock of the fuming watcher before dissolving even further into his amusement. The laughter tore at his charred chest, but it warmed his unbeating heart as well, especially when Meret added little puffs of her own to his scratchy guffaws.
His eyes were leaking tears, both from the pain and his mirth, while the watcher glowered in impotent fury, when Tara finally returned. Spike’s laughter had weakened into dry, rasping wheezes so he could hear every word when Giles questioned the witch about Meret in the hallway. The witch’s responses returned the watcher to Spike’s side with a chagrined expression on his face.
“I’ll be in the den, reading. Tara is warming you some blood and will be along shortly.” Spike knew that was as close to an apology as he could ever expect from the watcher.
Tara did arrive moments later, bearing a huge glass, the kind that only come with special promotion deals at movie theaters and fast food joints, and a stuffed satchel. When he attempted to reach for the blood himself, Tara gently but firmly pushed his burned digits away before dropping a ridiculous accordion straw into the blood and offering it to him with a quiet smile. After their shared evenings in his crypt, the silence was comfortable, even to the typically garrulous vampire.
Spike drank the blood in long pulls, its rich texture soothing his burned throat. He could feel his body starting to use the blood to mend his many wounds. After finishing the entire glass, Spike struggled into a seated position to watch the witch. The motion sent sparks along his singed nerves and he tried to ignore the smudges of black and red he left behind on the enameled bathtub, but he wanted to rebuild at least some of his suffering dignity. Meret coiled around the shower fixtures and watched the two intently.
Tara set aside the bloody glass before digging into the cloth bag. She extracted a large plastic bowl, into which she emptied four bottles of a bright blue gel and a handful of herbs before proceeding to knead strips of gauze in the vile looking concoction. She whispered a few words under her breath and the bright blue ooze seemed to glow.
Looks like essence of smurf.
Spike would have liked to protest when Tara started wrapping one of his hands, but when the first strip touched his charred flesh, his arguments quickly faded.
“Magic?” he asked, breathing a sigh of relief.
“Not entirely,” was Tara’s soft reply. “The magic only keeps the gel wet and cold, kind of like an ice pack. The aloe, tea tree extract, some healing herbs, they do the rest.”
Spike took the opportunity to really look at his wounds. His torso and arms were blackened and cracking, blood trickling from the worst of the burned fissures. In retrospect, trying to block a fireball with his arms had not been the most well thought through action Spike had ever undertaken. His chest had still taken the brunt of the attack, but his arms were in equally bad shape, and his hands were little more than charred claws. Had he been human, the injuries would surely have killed him. The burns were significantly less severe below his waist where the baggy pants exposed his hips, and if the level of pain was an accurate measure, his neck and face had escaped the worst of the fire as well.
Tara wrapped him in soothing blue gauze from waist to chin before sitting back to study her handiwork. Considering the amount of gel slathered on each strip, it would take hours for it all to soak into his burned skin. Another whispered word of magic hardened the bandages slightly, sealing the healing balm inside. Seemingly satisfied, she wiped the worst of the gel off on a towel and pulled one last item from her bag. “It was hanging on the clearance rack when I went to buy the aloe. I knew you would hate what Mr. Giles had. I hope these fit.” The shy witch held up a cheap pair of black, rayon pajama pants.
Spike did not know what to say. The gentleness with which Tara had tended his wounds and thoughtfulness of the gift were so foreign to him that he could force no words past the lump in his throat. After being crushed and burned under a church organ, Drusilla had done little to help him recover beyond stealing a wheelchair and bringing him the occasional pet to eat, even though his injuries had been earned while curing the mad vampiress. With one hand, Spike accepted the pants before capturing the tips of Tara’s fingers in his own bandaged mitt and bringing them to his lips. The witch froze before turning a dusky red. Even though the contact hurt more than a little, Spike persisted.
“If you ever need anything, want anything of me, you have only to ask,” he whispered fervently. In this, one of his most unguarded moments, the softer tones of his human persona came to the fore. Tara smiled tremulously and gave his hand the barest squeeze in understanding before letting go and packing things away in her bag.
It was then that Spike realized that Tara had somehow added her name to his short list of true friends. The thought made him smile in return.
“There’s a little more gel in the bowl. I thought you might want to spread it over the worst of your other burns. I’ll go try to distract Mr. Giles for a bit with what I know about Meret. That should give you enough time to change,” she murmured. On the way out, she offered Spike another soft smile before closing the door behind her.
In League With Serpents - Burnt Offerings
Spike was awakened by the sound of someone coming down the ladder from his crypt. He was alert and upright in a second, damaged nerves screaming at the motion. In spite of the intrusion, Meret did not budge from the pillow. His senses told him that it was early in the evening; he had slept nearly an entire night and day. Shaking off the worst of his lethargy and pain, Spike inhaled deeply to identify the intruder.
The quiet witch stepped forward into the room, a tiny ball of bright light guiding her steps. Spike had purposely left all of his candles unlit the night before, preferring total darkness in which to rest and heal.
“Lighter’s in my coat pocket, assumin’ it wasn’t incinerated,” Spike drawled from the darkness.
He heard rather than saw Tara jump at his words. He couldn’t see her very well beyond the magical guide, its light hindering his usually acute sight, and he assumed that same was true for her as well. After a moment, the witch responded, oddly enough, “I don’t think I can handle that too.” The glowing ball passed quickly over the wide array of candles decorating his dresser, bathing the chamber in flickering light. When the last candle was lit, the ball disappeared with a faint wisp of smoke.
It was then that Spike saw that the witch’s arms were full. From all appearances, she had brought more smurf-goo to treat his burns and the rest of his charred clothing from the watcher’s bathroom.
“Rupes send you?” the vampire’s voice was low and flat.
“No. Your bandages needed changing and I… I wwwanted to see how you were,” her final words came out in an unsteady whisper.
Now that she had mentioned them, Spike realized how much the gauze was irritating his skin. His burned skin had absorbed as much of the gel as it could, leaving the fabric behind to rub the wounds. “Itches,” he commented absently as Tara searched for a place to drop her burden.
Spike slid himself to the edge of the bed and raised an arm for inspection when the witch neared. With deft fingers, she unwound the gauze, exposing the skin beneath. The less severe burns on his upper arms and around the perimeter of his torso had almost completely healed. The same could not be said of his forearms, hands, and the center of his chest. There, where the fireball had hit directly, the skin was still red and raw with blackened patches throughout the injuries. The vampire winced a little as the bandages stuck to the worst of the burns on his chest. Tara flinched along with him and murmured a quick apology before continuing.
“You know Mr. Giles didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” she murmured as she started smearing gel and herbs on the new strips of gauze.
“Not hurt,” Spike groused. “Just wanted to make sure no one had ransacked the crypt while I was out.”
Not a likely excuse, especially since the warlock’s stooges had not managed to track Meret. When Spike had moved into the tomb, he had cut each wrist and smeared his blood around the doors and stone passages. To other demons, the scent lasted for a very long time and stood as a warning. “Caution,” it said, “An old and very dangerous vampire lives here. Piss off!” Or at least that was how Spike imagined it.
The witch looked at him critically. “That’s not what Meret was saying.”
Spike simply looked at her, face impassive.
Bugger! Didn’t think about that.
“I wasn’t lying to Mr. Giles; I have started being able to hear her. She was projecting enough back there that the message came through loud and clear,” Tara said.
As if the sleeping serpent realizes she was being discussed, the young coatl rustled her wings and curled into an even tighter knot of scales and feathers.
Spike sat in silence as Tara whispered her incantation over the healing gel. She started with his hands and wrapped them up to the elbows. He submitted willingly to her touch. Not that he would ever admit it out loud, but Spike rather enjoyed having someone fuss over his wounds. It made them seem more important, being worthy of such attention. The feel of the cooling bandages on his burned flesh made him hiss softly in relief.
After wrapping the majority of his torso as well, the witch looked around before moving to wipe her hands on her batiked skirt. Spike motioned for her to stop. “There’s a busted pipe down that tunnel. The water pools in the floor. I use it to wash up sometimes. It’s not much, but there’s soap and a towel.” Tara nodded and soon disappeared down the dimly lit corridor with one of the room’s many candles. Spike managed to scrape together her things with his nearly useless hands and maneuver them into her bag before she returned.
After some brief splashing sounds, Tara reappeared with towel in hand. She held it up. “I don’t suppose Holiday Inn knows about these?” she asked with a small smile. Unless he missed his mark, Spike thought the shy witch was teasing him.
“Yeah, I contract with them for my bathin’ digs,” he commented blandly. “You have anythin’ to do tonight?” he asked, false briskness covering his tentative hope.
“No. Everyone’s busy tonight.”
“Well, I’ve got some popcorn upstairs and there’s supposed to be some kind of marathon ‘secrets of the occult’ bollocks on the telly. Those tend to be good for a laugh. Want to stick around?” he offered.
“Sounds like fun,” she replied.
In League With Serpents - Erasing the Slate
Tara did come the next night. And the next. And the next.
His burns healed slowly, for a vampire at least, but after a few days he only had raw patches on his chest and hands. Tara left him a bottle of untreated gel to use at his discretion. The rapid healing tended to itch more than hurt, but the aloe helped with both.
The routine was nice. The slayer hadn’t been letting Dawn go out as often, so her visits to the crypt became rare. Spike countered the restriction by donning a tarp and spending some of his afternoons at the Summers’ household. Clem left to visit some relatives, so Tara became his only crypt guest.
The witch was quickly taking over a spacious corner of the vampire’s heart. Her kind smiles and soft words reminded him of Joyce and his own, long-dead mother. There was very little he would not have done for her.
That was why the following Wednesday, when she asked him to bring Meret to the Magic Box, he agreed despite his reservations. That did not mean, however, that he went quietly.
In League With Serpents - Backsliding into First
His words might as well have fallen on deaf ears. Alex and Rupert looked ready to argue about his claim, Dawn and Tara just looked scared, Willow and Anya interested, and Joan thoughtful.
Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may have been, none of their reactions had a chance to come to fruition, because in that moment the front door flew open and robed figures came pouring into the shop. The group did what any sane people would have done with faced with such strange occurrences.
Then they ran.
Joan guarded their backs, watching over Dawn’s retreat in particular. Billy moved with her, aiming for a back door that he hoped lead to an exit. They had almost reached it when the first of the robed intruders launched itself at Joan. Billy grabbed the first thing in reach, a solid metal statue of a multi-armed goddess and hit the figure over the head as hard as he could just as Joan’s fist sank into its gut. Much to their surprise, their attacker immediately sank to the floor, cowl falling back to expose a pale, featureless head. Joan’s shocked face met Billy’s and he shrugged before grabbing her arm and dragging her through the threshold.
The door did not lead outside, but to what looked like a private gym stocked with all kinds of weapons. While Joan braced herself against the door, Billy grabbed any piece of furniture he could and drug it over to make a barricade. Joan helped him pile the benches and desks high. Heavy blows kept falling on the other side of the door, but their hasty fortifications seemed to be holding. Joan and Billy staggered back and glanced at the others.
They were met with slack-jawed amazement.
“What?” asked Joan.
Willow spoke first, “How did you two move that stuff? We tried moving the big desk, but you just tossed it around like it didn’t weigh a thing.”
“That was so cool!” squealed Dawn. “You guys are crazy strong. I bet you’re like super heroes or something!”
Billy scratched the back of his neck and looked at Joan. She looked equally confused. He had been running on pure instinct, acting without questioning, and it felt so right, like he had done exactly the same thing a hundred times before. He had not noticed the size and weight of the furniture he and Joan had moved with ease, he had simply done what he thought needed doing. From her expression, it had been the same for Joan.
Billy looked at his hands. They were covered with scars and what looked like recently healed burns. The knuckles were rough and had long since been worked flat with harsh treatment and calluses. These were the hands of a fighter.
Joan seemed more willing to accept this strange role. “Are there any other doors?”
“Yes,” said Alex, appearing from the back of the room, “but it’s locked and looks pretty solid. I heard something on the other side, so there might be more of those guys out back. I think we’re safe for now.”
“What do you think they want?” asked the girl, Dawn.
Joan and Billy traded a look. “I don’t know, but they aren’t human,” Billy finally said.
The older Englishman scowled a little. “Not human? But that’s…” he faltered and looked at Billy again.
“Impossible?” Joan asked with a perky sweetness that made Billy want to snicker. Joan shrugged. “I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but when those things manage to get through, I want something large and preferably sharp in my hands.” She suited her words by walking over to a wide array of blades that were hanging on the wall. She pulled one down and gave it a few test swings.
Billy walked over to her and picked up a long staff with steel capped ends that was leaning against the wall. It simply felt right in his hands and he knew that while he was not sure how skilled he was with such a weapon, his body would remember when the time came. The others were rummaging around the room, whispering nervously and arming themselves as best they could. Even little Dawn had picked out a slender mace, which she wielded with something less than expertise. Billy met Joan’s eyes and smiled ruefully.
“We should take the front. Their hearts are in the right place, but if you’re half as skilled with that blade as you look, we have a better chance of actually winning,” he told her in a soft undertone.
Joan nodded her agreement. “How about you, can you use that staff?” When Billy nodded, she continued. “It’s funny, I can’t remember ever using a sword, but it feels like a part of me, like arms or toes. I wonder who we really are,” her voice tapered off and her eyes lost their focus. Her distant expression was soon replaced with a teasing look. “If we are super heroes, I bet you’re the sidekick!”
“Me? Sidekick? I may not have a reflection missy, but if you look in the mirror, I think you’ll agree that you’d be better at damselling than I!” The teasing felt as natural as everything else. It was so easy to trust Joan, to fall into easy banter. He wondered what they meant to each other when they still had their memories.
“Maybe we’re like the Wonder Twins,” she amended with a wide grin.
“Won’t work, different accents. Maybe Wonder Pen Pals,” he was grinning along with her now. She was so beautiful when she smiled, like she was lit from within.
A particularly heavy blow to the door snapped both of them out of their flirtations. Joan called everyone around.
“OK, Billy and I will be in the front. We seem to have some experience and we’re both pretty strong. You guys try to back us up. You, um, Rupert, do you know how to use that?” she indicated the crossbow in his hands.
“I believe so,” he responded, but his tone did not instill much confidence.
“Only shoot if you have a really clear shot, okay?” she continued without waiting for his answer. “Everybody take your positions. That door won’t hold for much longer.”
She moved to stand on Billy’s right, sword hand away from him. Billy propped himself up with the staff and leaned in close. “So, General Joan, am I the only one who seems to be having a little more fun with this than is probably normal?” he whispered softly enough that the others, milling behind them, could not hear.
She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, “No.”
“Just checking,” he straightened again with a lopsided grin.
They waited, weapons at the ready, for the door to give way. The hooded figures on the other side did not disappoint. Barely a minutes later, the hastily piled furniture came crashing down and the door lurched open wide enough to allow a few of their attackers through. Joan and Billy dispatched them with ease, but while they were fighting, others streamed into the room.
The hooded figures were eerily silent, no battle cries or grunts of pain when a blow landed, and they were all armed with smooth wooden clubs. The size of the room limited their fighting ability, but the figures must have numbered well over a dozen. The defenders were hard pressed to keep them all at bay.
Rupert stayed in the back, taking the shots he could and attempting to shout out warnings when he could not. He was actually fairly good with the crossbow, but simply too many people were fighting in too small a space to allow him to use it much without endangering friend and foe alike.
Surprisingly, Anya turned out to be one of the better fighters. She wielded her club, if not with skill, then with exuberance. She and Alex, who had picked up an axe, stood in front of Rupert and tried to keep the attackers from reaching the older man.
Willow and Tara had closed ranks around Dawn and tried to shield the younger girl from harm. None of them showed much skill with their weapons, but thankfully, all of their opponents only made it to them after passing through the deadly combination of Joan and Billy.
Billy fought back to back with Joan. Every move she made, he shifted to guard her blind spots, and she did the same for him. It was strange, like an inverted dance, but it came to them both like instinct. Billy’s staff spun in wide arcs, bludgeoning and jabbing at hooded figures as they swirled around them, and Joan’s sword sliced through flesh, sinew, and bone, incapacitating any who came within her reach. It had a terrible beauty. It was exhilarating.
It was hot as hell.
Best keep that thought to myself.
A loud scream drew Billy’s attention. He glanced back just in time to see two of their attackers bear down on Dawn. Without thinking, he stretched back and hurled the staff like a spear towards the taller of the hooded pair. The metal tip sank into the figure’s back and it fell, which distracted its partner enough to let Willow get in a solid blow to the thing’s head.
Unarmed and vulnerable to attack, Billy dipped low and scooped up one of the downed attacker’s clubs. He rose with a hard thrust to the face of the thing facing him. It dropped like a stone and he turned to find the next threat. Fortunately, there were only a few hooded figures still standing. He and Joan moved to help the others finish off the last of the attackers.
As the final blows fell, Willow slipped in a spreading pool of blood and landed heavily on the floor. Something small and dark fell from her pockets and Billy watched as it skidded across the floor. Not seeing the tiny object, Alex backed up to avoid stepping on one of the fallen figures and crushed it beneath his boot. Billy saw a brilliant flash and the world seemed to stop.
Memories flooded back.
My name is Spike.
He almost laughed with relief.
Vampire, I’m a vampire.
Once his head cleared enough to think straight, Spike looked around. Xander, Anya, Dawn, and Giles seemed to have emerged fairly unscathed by their experiences, if a little confused. The other people in the room were not faring so well. Buffy stood listlessly, the hilt of her sword barely held in her limp grasp. Whatever progress she had made coming to terms with her death and resurrection had taken a serious hit. Her posture and silence reminded Spike of that first night on the staircase.
He slipped the sword from her nerveless grasp and took her limp hand in his own. He searched her face when she did not react to his touch and met the slayer’s blank, teary eyes. For the moment, she seemed lost in her own pain. As much as Buffy’s condition worried Spike, he was soon overwhelmed by his swelling anger. His emotions were worsened by the grief and terror he could feel from Meret, wherever the little serpent was hiding.
Dawn joined him at Buffy’s side. Seeing his slayer in good hands, the vampire turned to confront the others, but the tableau in front of him trapped the angry words in his throat.
Willow still sat on the floor where she had fallen. Tara, who had started to offer a hand up before the spell had been broken, was standing over her girlfriend with tears streaming down her face.
“Tara, baby?” pleaded Willow.
Tara backed away and shook her head. “No,” she whispered. Spike could not tell if she was answering some unvoiced question or simply fending off Willow. “No,” she repeated more firmly. She turned and fled the room, slipping out of the slightly open door and disappearing. Spike could hear faint sobs as she left the building.
Spike’s hard eyes turned back to Willow.
“Could someone please tell me exactly what just occurred?” asked Giles, wearily.
Anya and Xander shuffled their feet and avoided the watcher’s questioning gaze. Dawn looked around in confusion, and Buffy remained unresponsive. Willow, for her part, looked equal parts stricken and defiant. Since no one else seemed willing to breach the subject, Spike saw no reason to sugar-coat the truth.
“Red here’s been clippin’ out bits of Glinda’s memories, playin’ her like a puppet. Looks like she graduated to toyin’ with the rest of us,” his words were harsh, angry.
Willow’s jerked his head towards him. “How did you… I mean, that’s not true!” her eyes blazed as she spoke.
“Isn’t it?” interrupted the watcher. He slashed his hand in a cutting gesture when Willow opened her mouth to object. His eyes came to rest on his slayer, who had started to pull herself together, but had yet to loose her lost, broken demeanor. “I think it would be best to get Buffy home right now. We can discuss this, at length, later.” His voice promised that the redhead’s latest antics would not be forgotten, or forgiven, lightly.
The witch remained silent, but her anger and embarrassment were plain for all to see. She stood up, dusted herself off, and walked through the front door, back into the public part of the Magic Box.
Giles watched her retreat with a worried expression. Spike thought he could smell the faintest thread of fear coming from the watcher. “Anya, Dawn, could you walk Buffy home? Xander and I will be along after we clean up this… mess.” The ex-demon, uncharacteristically quiet, awkwardly patted one of Buffy’s arms and started leading the slayer towards the door with Dawn close behind. On their way out, Spike met Dawn’s worried eyes and nodded slightly. He would drop by the Summers’ house later that night.
The watcher observed him with veiled eyes. “Spike, your help would be much appreciated.” When the vampire did not immediately scoff at the suggestion, Giles sighed and started removing his torn and bloodstained coat.
Xander wrinkled his nose at the number of dead bodies that were strewn around the room, but moved quickly to unlock the back door to the ally, which turned out to be abandoned, and seek out a mop and bucket from the supply closet.
“Rupes?” Spike started. When the watcher looked up from rolling up his shirtsleeve, the vampire continued. “These are the same blighters who attacked me last week.”
Giles grunted his understanding before turning his attention to his other sleeve. Spike could see a small tattoo on the inside of the watcher’s forearm. He wondered how many other scars from the watcher’s days as Ripper remained hidden under the layers of starched cotton and tweed.
Tough old git.
Spike retreated to the main room of the Magic Box and called for Meret. It took a few tries and as much projected reassurance as the frayed vampire could muster, but the little serpent soon emerged from the darkest corner of the store’s book-filled loft. She curled tightly around his neck again, seeking comfort in his touch.
He shuffled through the books and papers still scattered on the study table and soon found the heavy golden cross. The robed figures had apparently ignored it.
Guess this answers that question.
Seeing that Willow had forgotten her book bag, Spike dumped out its contents into the floor and nudged the cross into the bag with a textbook. He almost wished that the redhead would figure out who had nicked her satchel. That would give him all the excuse he needed to tell her exactly what he felt about her recent behavior. He stashed the bag behind the counter and sauntered back to the workout area, not desperate to return to the bloody disaster area that waited there.
“Cross is safe, guess they didn’t want it after all,” he commented casually as he walked through the door. He froze in place, having caught the watcher and Xander talking to each other conspiratorially and eyeing the door warily. “What now?” he asked with more than a little irritation.
The watcher cleared his throat. “I believe that Willow’s spell has had another, unforeseen side-effect.”
“Cut to the chase Ripper. ’S been a long night,” snapped Spike.
Xander and Giles traded looks. Finally the watcher spoke, “It seems that the spell has had some kind of effect on the bond you have with your coatl.”
“Can hear her jus’ fine,” was the vampire’s terse reply.
“Yes, but so can we,” was the watcher’s.
In League With Serpents - Mi Cripta Es Su Cripta
Since Spike had personally carried each and every one of the nineteen dead bodies out of the Magic Box and down into the sewers to dispose of them, even Xander could not complain when he left early to avoid the mopping and scrubbing. The faceless demons might have had red blood, but no vampire worth his fangs would have mistaken it for a human’s. Spike could not wait to rinse away the stinking fluid.
Making good his escape, Spike shouldered the bag containing the golden cross and ventured out into Sunnydale. After a quick stop by the crypt for a shower, the vampire continued to the Summers’ household to take stock of the night’s damage.
He was surprised to find Tara sitting alone on the front porch. His nose told him that the slayer, her sister, the ex-demon, and the redheaded witch were all inside. Tara rose to her feet when he emerged from the shadows. She looked seconds away from breaking into tears. Meret flew to her side, distressed and comforting.
“Got somewhere else to say?” he asked by way of a greeting.
“No,” was Tara’s reply. Her voice wavered. She reached up to accept the coatl into her hands. Meret landed in her palms and Tara cradled the little serpent against herself.
“Can’t say it’d make Martha Stewart’s cut, but you can stay at the crypt. At least until you get a place of your own.” Tara looked grateful, if uncertain. “I’ll even sleep upstairs.”
The fact that she was even considering the option staggered the vampire. He knew that if the same situation had arisen just months before, she would never have entertained the thought. Hell, he wouldn’t have offered, but here they were. Life, or unlife for that matter, had a way of throwing people together in the strangest ways.
“I’ll only stay a night or two, until I can reapply at the dorms,” Tara finally replied.
Spike was amazed. Tara, who had more goodness in her than anyone he had ever known, was trusting him with guarding her sleep, sharing a roof. He wondered if she even knew the effect her faith had on him.
Big Bad’s gonna be bunkin’ with a real live white hat. Huh. Reputation’s shot for sure this time.
Even with the sardonic inner monologue, Spike was overjoyed. “What do you need?” he asked through the lump in his throat.
“I already packed,” she pointed at a large duffel bag and three cardboard boxes sitting next to the door, all her worldly possessions stacked in one forlorn, little pile. Spike could see her eyes starting to water again as she looked at it. He wondered where she would have gone if not for his offer.
“L’me check in with the Nibblet and I‘ll help you carry it.” Spike waited until the witch nodded before walking to the door.
Meret, stay with Glinda.
He felt a flash of agreement in response.
The front foyer of the Summers’ household was empty and quiet. He could hear someone crying upstairs, probably Willow. Anya and the slayer were definitely upstairs as well, so the sounds coming from the first floor had to be Dawn.
He walked through the dark dining room and came to a stop in the doorway of the kitchen. Dawn was sitting in front of the microwave, watching two cups of hot water go round and round. Though her back was to him, Spike could tell that she had been crying as well.
“Bit?” he asked in a low rumble.
She did not turn to face him. “Why does the world suck so much?”
Trust in teenage logic to boil the night’s misadventures down to that question.
“Jus’ does sometimes.” He waited as the microwave beeped and Dawn retrieved the cups. Into one she dropped a tea bag that smelled strongly of chamomile, and the other received a packet laced with mint. “For you and Big Sis?” When Dawn shrugged noncommittally, Spike walked up to her and hooked a finger under her chin. “She’s lucky to ‘ave a sister like you. How’s she doin’?”
“Like those first few days. It’s like she doesn’t even hear me.” Spike’s unbeating heart felt like breaking when Dawn’s eyes started to well again.
“You know she loves you. Bloody well died for you, she did. She’s just been through a lot and the slayer likes to think she has to face everythin’ alone. She’ll pull through, and so will you. I promise,” Spike winced inwardly, remembering one failed promise made about this same girl. He dropped his hand at the painful memory.
I won’t fail her. Not again.
Even he was unsure which “her” he meant.
“Cut a vamp some slack and don’t go passin’ this around, but Glinda’s going to be stayin’ with me for a few days. You should come by and see her,” and me, “tomorrow,” Spike added in conspiratorial tones. That provoked raised eyebrows and a little smile. “Now let’s go see to your sis.”
“Thanks Spike.” Dawn gave him an awkward hug, almost dousing him with hot tea in the process, and took off for the stairs. He followed behind her, steeling himself. He didn’t fully trust himself to not do or say something to Willow that would get him right and truly staked. Thankfully, the door to the witch’s room was closed when he reached the top of the staircase and the sound of Willow’s sobbing came from the other side. It still took all of his self-control to keep from kicking the door down and tearing into the girl’s throat, chip be damned.
Spike stood behind Dawn as the girl scratched tentatively on Buffy’s door. Her quiet knocks were answered when Anya appeared. Her eyes opened wider at the sight of the vampire, but Spike was thankful when she said nothing and simply pressed a finger to her lips and opened the door to let them into the room.
The scent of slayer coated everything in the bedroom. Spike allowed himself to bask in the aroma of flowery perfume and power for a brief moment before shifting his features in order to better see in the dim lighting.
Buffy was curled in a tight ball under her sheets, fast asleep. Her face was streaked with tears and not even sleep could smooth the telltale marks of grief and pain from her face. Spike moved to the side of her bed as if in a trance. Careful hands pulled the slayer’s pink comforter up around her shoulders. He held perfectly still for a moment before risking brushing a few golden tendrils of hair away from her face. It might have been his imagination, but Spike thought that he saw some of the tightness around the slayer’s eyes fade at his touch. Remembering his audience, Spike snatched his hand back and stepped away from the bed to allow Dawn to take his place at her sister’s side. The girl sniffled a little, and Spike gave her a gruff pat on the back before turning to meet Anya’s considering gaze.
Eyes still golden in the semi-darkness, Spike motioned Anya to join him in the hallway. She followed him willingly enough, but Spike could tell that his demonic features were causing her no small amount of consternation. He walked to the far end of the hall and waited for the former vengeance demon to quietly close the door and join him.
“I have a request to make of you, Anyanka,” he stressed her former name, hoping that it would get his point across.
Anya looked at him in rising surprise and curiosity. “I’m listening.”
“Demon to demon, I’m askin’ you to stand watch tonight.” When Anya opened her mouth to reply, Spike held up a hand to forestall her words. “If you feel the slightest spark of magic coming from that room,” he pointed towards the door that hid Willow from their gaze, “if you smell or hear anything unusual, I want you to stop her.” Anya’s mouth closed with an audible snap as understanding dawned on her face. “I wish that you would keep an eye on Red tonight.”
She was still as human as ever, but there was definitely something of Anyanka in Anya’s eyes when she responded. “Done.”
He wasn’t expecting any miracles, but he knew the former demon well enough to understand that she took her former life and obligations very seriously. He had to take care of Tara, and he knew that the others would never allow him to stay the night, so he did what he could with what he had. The Scoobies liked to forget that Anya had walked the earth for well over a thousand years, sowing all sorts of havoc. Instead of the strangeness the others’ saw, Spike understood her struggle for what it was: a demon trying to fit back into human society. The vampire let his demonic features melt away, secure in the knowledge that even though she was stripped of her powers, he was leaving Buffy and Dawn in the hands of one of the best vengeance demons D’Hoffryn had ever raised.
As he turned to leave, Anya stopped him in his tracks. “Go cheer Meret up. It is disconcerting to have an unhappy coatl in my head.”
Spike eyed her questioningly. “You can hear her?”
“Yes. Now if you don’t mind, I have a slayer and a Key to watch over. Goodnight Spike,” Anya replied with her typical brusqueness. Before Spike could form a coherent reply, the she had retreated to the slayer’s bedroom.
Spike stood on the stairs wondering about the implications of Anya’s revelation. He wondered if Buffy and Willow could hear Meret as well. Finally deciding that he would receive no answers standing on the stairs, Spike walked back down the stairs and into the cool night air.
“You ready, Glinda?”
In League With Serpents - Scars
Spike stood impatiently in front of his microwave, waiting for the blood to warm. He had not slept well on the sarcophagus, he was too accustomed to a soft bed, and had woken up stiff and groggy. It was not a feeling that he was used to or liked in the slightest.
Tara had long since gone to campus when the vampire had risen. Meret was still asleep in her brazier downstairs and Spike was bored and cranky, a bad combination.
The microwave buzzed and Spike retrieved his meal. He sipped the blood slowly and wandered over to the television. There, resting on top of the screen, was a note. He passed his mug to his right hand and scooped up the slip of paper.
I hope I didn’t wake you when I left this morning. I have a few classes that I have to attend, but I’ll be back before dark. I’ll know more about the dorms tonight, hopefully.
I took your jacket to get the sleeves fixed, so don’t worry about it when you don’t see it downstairs. I know how you are about it, but trust me on this. I know a great alterations place on campus.
If it makes you feel better, consider it rent.
See you this evening. I’ll bring hot wings for dinner.
Spike’s eyes widened as he read the letter.
My coat! She’s lettin’ someone cut on my coat!
The fact that his trench coat was so badly burned as to be unwearable did not enter into the vampire’s line of reasoning. All he knew was that his precious jacket was in the hands of a stranger. A stranger wielding scissors.
Unable to retrieve the coat for himself and unwilling to stand around wringing his hands like an expectant father in a delivery room, Spike did the next best thing. He collected a still sleepy Meret and headed into the sewers.
Nothing burned off nervous energy like a little death
In League With Serpents - The Ties That Bind
Spike sat on the ladder in the Magic Box, twirling a stake in one hand, and generally attempting to avoid getting involved in the situation unfolding around him. He had believed that moving Tara into the dorms would be the low point of the evening.
He had been wrong.
Just his luck, Giles had chosen to break the news of his trip to England moments before the vampire arrived. The slayer had been in the back for well over half an hour, fuming and taking out her anger on a practice dummy. Dawn was whining about the watcher’s eminent departure and Anya joined her by complaining loudly about the paper work his leaving would create. Xander simply looked shell-shocked and was stuttering incoherently. The only person not coloring the air with complaints was a conspicuously quiet Willow. Giles was attempting to deflect their questions and protests, but even the watcher seemed close to loosing his composure and yelling. All in all, the environment was not entirely friendly to a blood-sucking bystander. At least he had managed to get his money out of Anya before the current round of laments and accusations had started.
Perversely, the only positive part of the entire situation was Buffy’s outburst of anger. Spike would have been more worried if the slayer had accepted the situation lying down. Emotions were emotions, and he preferred Buffy feeling enraged rather than feeling nothing at all. In fact, Spike hadn’t seen her so, for lack of a better word, lively in a long time.
Meret was exploring the shop’s shelves, momentarily forgotten by the Scoobies. She was curious and liked the shiny bits of jewelry and glass scattered throughout the display cases. Spike wondered if drawing Anya’s attention to the coatl’s behavior would add to or subtract from the amount of complaining he was being forced to witness.
With the distinctive sound of cracking wood, Buffy burst through the practice room door and stalked to the table. All conversation stopped as the others turned to watch the volatile slayer.
“I thought we were here to research Spike’s snake-thing,” she said coldly. Innuendoes streamed through Spike’s mind at that statement, but he wisely held his tongue. Buffy sat down and started unwinding the wrappings around her fists, piling the strips of fabric on the table top.
“Um, yes, that was the original plan for the evening,” replied the watcher, but no one seemed interested in dropping the subject of Giles’ departure just yet.
No one except Spike.
The vampire startled everyone by being the first to take a seat at the table, directly opposite Buffy. Research certainly wasn’t his idea of a good time, but with Meret involved, he was willing to suppress his natural impatience. He reached for the thin book on the top of the closest stack: A Treatise on Empathy and Telepathy: Case Studies.
Can’t be as boring as the last half hour.
Recalling his days in the university, Spike quickly set to work. There were only two mentions of coatls in the index and none of the spell Willow had cast. When he looked up to search for a pencil and piece of paper to start taking notes, he met Buffy’s incredulous stare.
“What?” he snapped defensively.
“Nothing,” was Buffy’s quick reply, but she continued looking at him as if he had grown horns or started speaking in tongues.
Spike snatched up a notepad and pencil before pointedly avoiding her stare and turning his attention to the blank paper before him. One page received any important mentions of coatls used in and around spells. On the next he started listing details about Willow’s spell and the last he reserved for any miscellaneous information that might be helpful. Spike could feel the slayer’s eyes boring into him, but he would not allow himself to react, even as his skin prickled under the scrutiny.
The others finally snapped out of their preoccupation and started taking their own places around the table. Dawn took the seat on Spike’s right and a glaringly obvious hole remained on the vampire’s left between Spike and Willow. Giles took to reading and pacing at the same time, as was his custom, and even Anya joined in the research from her post behind the counter. Xander left for the doughnut shop and soon returned, bearing three boxes of the sugary snacks. Spike nicked a devil’s food doughnut as the box passed and scowled at the surprised looks the Scoobies shot him.
Spike had rarely participated in the Scoobies’ research parties before. The experience was proving to be enlightening. Particularly important finds were read for all to hear and cross reference. Light banter and information flowed freely between the friends as a rough idea of what had happened began to take shape.
“Mind control spells seem to expand far beyond their normal bounds when the focus of the spell is bonded to a coatl. The magical effects have been known to spread to other members of a coatl’s covey,” was Giles’ first contribution.
“Looks like powerful emotions, like fear, make a coatl’s telepathic abilities stronger. Meret must have already been touching all of our minds, but the link was too weak for you guys to notice until the spell freaked her out, which amplified her thoughts,” added Dawn, obviously still enjoying her role as the new researcher of the group.
“Looks like cuttin’ off Meret’s link with magic could have some pretty nasty side effects,” Spike grudgingly offered up to the group a few minutes later. He was unsure if his contributions would be welcomed.
“Like what?” asked Willow, speaking up for the first time.
“Like insanity, coma, and sometimes an acute case of death.” Spike’s eyes trained on the witch, wondering if even those dire warnings would be enough to temper Willow’s casual, oftentimes careless approach to magic. He was surprised when Willow turned a little grey around the gills and quickly turned back to the book she had been reading. Spike looked up at the others and found Anya watching him with a smug expression on her face. He smirked back and gave a nearly imperceptible nod towards the former demon. She simply tossed her hair back over one shoulder with a prim smile and went back to her own research. Spike wished he knew the details on how Anya was handling the “errand” he had given her, because whatever it was seemed to be working like a charm.
Hell, might be a charm.
After a while, the litany of new discoveries dwindled. The general consensus was that Willow’s spell had been affected by Meret’s presence, but had not directly triggered the following link. Likewise, magic would not reverse the effects of the bond. Only a true desire to break the connection on the part of each individual and Meret herself could effect such a change. This did not seem to sit well with any of the Scoobies, so research continued, even when it had obviously become futile.
Even so, the humans, with the exception of the watcher of course, were showing all the signs of intense boredom. Buffy had snapped three pencils from overly rough fidgeting and Xander’s eyes had long since glazed over. Even more amusing, in the vampire’s eyes at least, Anya had fallen asleep at her seat, face pressed against the counter. Spike had started on his seventh book, which contained long descriptions of memory altering spells and their side effects. The translation was calling upon long disused skills and the writing was as dry and boring as any the vampire had encountered. He finally had to put the book down to give his eyes, and brain, a rest.
Xander, who had quickly lost interest in the thick book he had selected, leaned over to see what Spike had been reading. “You big faker!” he snorted. “Hey guys, Evil Dead here has been pretending that he can read Greek!”
Spike met Xander’s eyes and, with the blandest expression he could conjure, simply said one word, “Malakas.”
Willow cracked a wan smile and even Giles looked amused.
“What did you just say?” Xander was many things, but not so stupid as to miss that he had just been insulted.
“You’re the expert on Greek, you tell me,” came the vampire’s smooth reply.
“Giles, what did he say?” Xander asked, voice low and threatening.
The watcher schooled his features to seriousness. “I believe that the closest translation would be ‘wanker.’”
Spike ignored Xander’s stream of sputtering insults, and instead watched the other Englishman.
“Spike, I had no idea you spoke Greek,” Giles started curiously.
“You never asked.”
The watcher sighed and, showing uncharacteristic patience with the vampire, asked “What other languages do you know?”
“Demonic or human?” Spike countered smugly.
“Well Rupes, I can get by in most any country in Europe. As for ancient languages, I can read Latin, and a little Sumerian and Etruscan. Of the demony tongues, I also know Vinjis, Fyarl, Frophla, and a little Rwasundi, but the time-shiftin’ makes that one a bit dicey.” During his litany, the vampire had leaned back and put his hands behind his head, striking an arrogant pose.
The watcher seemed impressed in spite of himself. Never one to let go of the upper-hand easily, Giles finally responded, “Well, then I guess if you get tired of the book you’re reading now, you can start on the Dahlian Chronicles.”
Spike winced. The Dahlian Chronicles were renowned as some of the densest and most boring passages of archaic Latin ever put to paper. “Dirty pool Ripper.”
Shoulda kept my mouth shut.
Giles only smiled and returned to his copy of Mansfield’s Unnatural History.
Meret’s curiosity over the store’s strange wares was overtaken by her desire to see what so absorbed her bond mate. She glided to Spike’s shoulder and started watching the Scoobies. Dawn’s sharp intake of breath drew both the vampire’s and the coatl’s attention.
“Giles, I think you need to read this!” the younger Summers squeaked.
Her sudden outburst roused Anya from her sleep with a cry of “Not the Easter eggs!” Everyone turned and stared as the former demon wiped a bit of drool from her chin and attempted to act as if nothing had happened.
The watcher walked to the girl’s side and retrieved the book in question. A few lines from the book made Giles’ eyes open wide. “Oh, dear Lord,” he whispered.
“Giles, cut the drama,” interrupted the slayer. “Spill.”
“This is a list of spells that use coatls themselves as components. Some of them even call for the inclusion of the coatl’s primary bond mate. If someone managed to get their hands on both Meret and Spike…” Giles trailed off.
“Then what, watcher?” Spike’s voice cracked like a whip.
“Then any number of unpleasant things could occur, from weakening dimensional walls to draining all of the mental and spiritual energy from most of the population of California,” the watcher paused to remove his glasses. “There are pages of such spells. It will take hours to research them all.”
Xander raised a hand. “Not to be a big party pooper, but didn’t we decide that the guy who lit Spike up like a Roman candle was trying to catch the snake too.”
When he was met with silence and wide eyed stares, Xander let his hand slowly drop.
Giles turned a hard gaze upon the vampire. “Spike, you have to tell us everything about how you obtained Meret’s egg.”
Spike huffed and crossed his arms. “Not much to tell. I was playin’ some poker over at Willy’s. Instead of kittens, this drunk git was tossin’ in trinkets and cheap magic charms. Meret’s egg was in the mix. End of story.”
“You play for kittens?” Buffy asked, disbelieving.
“Used as currency in some demon circles. ‘S not as uncommon as you think.” Spike grinned at her discomfiture.
“Did you catch its name?” asked Willow, appearing more animated than she had all night.
The vampire glanced at her in confusion. “What ‘it,’ Red?”
“The drunk demony thing who had Meret’s egg.”
“Not a demon. Human warlock. Think ‘is name was McLynn… Macbeth… somethin’.” He caught the watcher’s disapproving look. “What?” he snarled.
“So you are saying that a warlock simply gave something as rare and valuable as a coatl egg away during a game of cards.” The watcher made it sound as if playing poker was on par with eating babies. Spike’s scowl deepened. “Now another warlock, leading a band of demons, is after both you and the coatl. Did it not occur to you that the two might be one and the same?”
Spike opened his mouth to respond, but he could come up with no defense. In truth, he had not thought of the possibility. His teeth clicked together audibly and he glowered at the watcher.
“What happens if this wizard guy knows about any of those spells?” Buffy asked, ever the slayer.
Spike felt Meret start to literally vibrate with fear against his throat. One glance around the room told the vampire all he needed to know about the cause of her terror. He surged to his feet, upturning his chair.
“So that’s it huh? Gonna kill her on the off chance that some nasty knows about those spells?” As he spoke, Spike became more and more angry. He could feel the bones of his face rippling between human and demonic as he lost all semblance of control of his emotions. “Solve both of your little problems in one go? I may not be able to fight you, but I’ll see myself dust before any one of you lays a finger on her!”
“Spike, I’m sure they aren’t thinking about killing Meret,” Dawn said soothingly, trying to calm the enraged vampire. “Right guys?” She looked around the room and was met with uncomfortable glances from Xander, Willow, and Giles. Anya was watching the whole affair with sleepy eyes and Buffy was strangely still. “Right?” she repeated pleadingly.
“Dawnie, it’s not that simple,” started Willow.
“Because this same plan worked out so well last year with Glory,” Anya’s mumbled sarcastically, still groggy from her inadvertent nap.
“Anya!” Xander cried, horrified.
“What? Oh, oh God!” she looked at Dawn, and clamped her mouth shut, eyes wide.
“What is she talking about?” Dawn asked. She faced the people seated at the table.
“Nothing Dawn, Anya just lets her mouth run away with her sometimes,” Xander attempted to joke, but his voice sounded sickly and his face was devoid of color.
Dawn simply stood in silence, glaring and balling her small fists at her sides. “What happened?” she repeated.
Spike doubted that even Angelus, in the height of his torturous creativity, could have drug the truth from anyone present in the room. Unfortunately, Dawn was much smarter than the Scoobies liked to believe.
“You wanted to kill me,” she said coldly.
“Dawnie, no!” cried Willow. Xander and Giles were looking anywhere except at the teenager in front of them. Spike let his features melt back into human guise before closing his eyes against the pain held in Dawn’s voice.
“You wanted to kill me, but Buffy refused. When Spike promised to protect me, it wasn’t just from Glory, it was from you.” Her voice had dropped to a bare whisper.
Buffy rose from her seat and rounded the table. When she tried to embrace her sister, Dawn shrank back, bumping into Spike in the process. The vampire placed a hand on her shoulder, trying to steady and comfort the girl in one gesture.
Dawn leaned forward and started gathering books into her pale blue backpack. “I have to go,” she mumbled. “I have homework.”
“Dawn,” tried Buffy, to no avail.
Turning before anyone but Spike could see her tears. Dawn ran out of the front door of the Magic Box.
Spike stood facing Buffy, debating between trying to comfort the slayer and following the teenager. Buffy looked equally torn, alternating glances between the door and her friends. The rest of the Scoobies remained around the table, faces frozen in shock at Dawn’s departure.
Making a decision, Spike caught Buffy's attention. “I’ll take care of the Bit, make sure nothin’ nasty gets a hold of her. You do damage control,” he said for the slayer’s ears alone.
As he started to turn away, Spike felt someone grab his arm. He looked down to find Buffy’s tiny hand holding his wrist. He met her eyes in confusion. The slayer angled herself so that none of her friends could see and silently mouthed, “Thank you.” With a final squeeze, she released him and turned back to the table.
Spike stood a moment longer, mind reeling.
What’s gotten into the slayer?
Shaking himself from his pleasant distraction, he followed Dawn out of the Magic Box. Even so, all of his senses were focused on the warmth the slayer’s hand had left behind.
In League With Serpents - Gifts
If it wasn’t one thing, it was another.
Spike and Dawn never got to their hot chocolate before the Scoobies caught up with them. Spike slipped out of the back during the tearful reconciliation. Dawn might have been able to forget and forgive, but the vampire was less willing to do so.
The next night his favorite liquor store was sold out of Jack Daniels. He had to settle for a cheap knock-off.
Later that week he was forced to leave Meret at the crypt while he ran out to the Sunnydale Mall, of all accursed destinations. His tribulations were in vain though, because the jeweler he had lined up to remove the Sangre de Cristo ruby broke one of the tines of the mounting and had to repair it before he could get to placing the stone in another setting. No amount of yelling, threats, or arm waving could fix the cross any faster, not for lack of trying, so Spike was sent packing with the ruby in a small velvet bag in one pocket.
The knowledge that he and Meret were being hunted by the one thing the vampire could not fight haunted his every waking moment, making matters just that much worse. He convinced the coatl to stay in their crypt more and more in an attempt to keep her safe.
Thoroughly bored and possessed of an ill temper, Spike could only find release in hunting.
That was why he had been roaming the seediest back allies he could find the first Friday of December, danger bound and without a hint of alcohol or serpentine calm to temper his violent mood.
That was why he had picked a fight with four intoxicated Vrilians without a single weapon in sight.
That was why he had a length of rebar sticking through his right shoulder.
Curiosity might have killed the cat, but it was boredom that would eventually get Spike.
Damn that smarts.
Spike was propped up against a dumpster, debating the best way to remove the rebar. Finally deciding that more of the rusty metal was exposed in the front than the back, he gritted his teeth and wrapped a hand around the rod. With an unneeded, if steadying, breath, Spike ripped the length of steel from his shoulder. His strangled roar echoed loudly through the alley: just another scream that the citizens of Sunnydale would convince themselves they had never really heard.
Once the white spots obscuring his vision faded, Spike dropped the bloody rod on the back of the nearest Vrilian. He would not bother hiding the bodies. Not when the light of day would dissolve them into an oily stain, a normal enough sight near the dumpsters behind Alonzo’s Pizzaria. One hand remained pressed over his wound, even as the blood flow slowed to a mere trickle. Removing the rebar had alleviated the worst of the pain, but the open wound still burned and the torn ligatures left his right arm dangling weakly at his side. He would need a meal and plenty of rest to regain its full use.
He walked around the four prone bodies, the Vrilians were much too large to step over with ease, and stopped briefly at each form. A quick pat down revealed that the demons carried nothing of value, so Spike drew the boot knife he had taken to carrying and set to work. One-handed, the task became problematic, not to mention messy, but Spike soon collected eight tusks for Anya’s exotic component inventory. Despite his ongoing avoidance of the Scoobies, he kept to his duty to the slayer.
He dug around in the closest dumpster until he had found a plastic grocery bag to hold the tusks. In the dim street lights, he wiped his hands off as best he could on his ruined shirt and watched as the dark red of his welling blood and the yellow of the demons’ watery secretions blended in with the darker black of his shirt and jeans.
Knew I liked that color for a reason.
Putting as much swagger into his step as his aching side would allow, Spike returned to the mostly deserted streets. Nothing ordered the vampire’s thoughts and improved his mood like a healthy spot of violence. The chaotic events of the past couple evenings were temporarily forgotten in the electrical charge of Spike’s post-fight afterglow.
In League With Serpents - Flying Blind
Spike slipped into the Magic Box early the next evening after a quick stop by the Sunnydale Mall. Cross and tusks tucked safely away in another pillow case, he walked through the training room and stopped behind the door into the main store. One last time, he paused to take measure of Meret’s emotions. The serpent was a little nervous, but that might have been attributable to the vampire’s own state of mind. Mostly she just radiated waves of contentment. Her stomach was full of warm blood and she was looped lazily around the vampire’s neck, her favorite roost.
Knowing that he had to continue, but wanting to avoid doing so all the same, Spike opened the door as quietly as he could and slipped into the main floor of the Magic Box. He stood still in the shadows of the corner and simply watching the scene before him, wondering how long it would take the others to notice his presence.
Willow was pouring a circle of salt on the floor in front of the cash register. Dawn was next to her, placing smooth stones around the circle with larger rocks marking what could only be the cardinal directions. Buffy was toying with a few pillar candles, probably waiting for the circle to be completed before placing them, and obviously lost in thought. Giles paced around all three of them, waving a smoking bundle of sage and chanting the words of a common purification spell. Anya was sorting through a pile of polished rocks on the counter, and Xander was hovering behind her, pulling down jars of components from the shelf and lining them up next to his fiancé.
Dawn finished arranging the river stones and got to her feet. She stretched, reaching for the ceiling and standing on tip toes as if to defy gravity itself. She lost her balance and performed an impromptu hopping dance to avoid stepping on the circle and ruining all of their hard work. The redheaded witch shooed her away with a joke and a grin before drawing Buffy’s attention back to the present and indicating where the candles should go.
They joked and they laughed and the vampire saw a side of the Scoobies they rarely showed the rest of the world. One they certainly hid behind defensive walls whenever the vampire was present.
Spike’s concept of family had been built through his experiences. As a human, family had been about loyalty, blood, and duty. As a vampire: power, blood, and status. Always blood, and Spike had thought the Scoobies were no exception. Shared blood, through birth, rebirth, or battles, was his key to family. He had believed that if he fought by their side long enough, shed enough of his blood and saved enough of theirs, that he could become one of them. It was what experience had taught him, what the demon in him thought to be true, but as he watched the scene before him, it occurred to him that there were other things that constituted a real family.
Yes, the Scoobies had weathered many a battle together, but that was not where the heart of their bond existed. It had been strengthened by the fights, but it had been built in between over doughnuts and silly movies and homework, parts of their lives Spike rarely tried to touch.
But he had reached out with those things occasionally, first with Dawn and then with Tara, and the thought was a revelation for the vampire. For the preservation of his life and sanity, Spike had to learn how to fit back into human society after decades living as a demon. Without a soul, his moral compass was unreliable and he had only his wits and his experiences to guide him. Without a soul, he had to learn what was expected of him through observation and experiment. Building a conscience from scratch was difficult and confusing for the vampire, but it was possible and he was determined to try.
There were few beings, human or demonic, who could rival Spike in terms of sheer determination.
In League With Serpents - Layers of Restraint
Spike was sitting on the couch in the Summers’ living room, counting the ways he wanted to kill reindeer.
Dawn had left a sickeningly saccharine movie playing while she bustled around the room. Spike was convinced that the little stop motion figures populating the screen had to be demons of some sort or another. Nothing could be that cute without having truly evil motivations at heart. Dawn hummed along with the songs while she rearranged decorations. She was so excited about the evening that Spike managed to bite his tongue to keep from putting a damper on her Christmas cheer.
The rest of the Scoobies were at the airport, picking up Giles and Willow. Dawn had managed to convince Tara to go and had given up her seat in the car to the shy witch. The vampire had silently wished her luck. There was nothing like the holiday spirit to help patch up a relationship. With any luck, the whole gang would be together for the holidays.
Meret was sleeping off her latest meal upstairs, curled on Buffy’s pillow. Spike wondered if the slayer knew about the little serpent’s new napping habits. Probably not, seeing as how he would not fit in an ashtray.
“Spike, do you think the tree looks crooked?” Dawn asked for the third time in as many minutes.
“No,” he replied, not really paying attention. In fact, the tree did look crooked, but that was caused more by the asymmetrical branches than anything the vampire could do with the stand. Besides, decked with glittering garlands and shiny ornaments, no one would really notice except for an overly anal teenager and the vampire she tormented in her aims of Yuletide perfection.
Dawn shrugged and started humming again. She had been arranging presents beneath the tree for a solid five minutes before Spike noticed what she had done.
“Nibblet, I thought you were going to keep that one hidden,” he asked, trying to keep his voice bland.
“And let you wuss out? I don’t think so.” She glared at him with one hand on her hip, a pose she had certainly picked up from the slayer. Among the other presents sat a tiny red package.
Truth be told, Spike had been having second thoughts about the little velvet box. “Jus’ tryin’ to keep it a surprise ‘s all,” he said defensively, knowing that he had been caught.
“Yuh huh. I just think you’re a big chicken!” Dawn replied with an arch look.
Spike’s eyes flared. “Take that back!”
“I just call ‘em like I see ‘em, Big Bad,” she slurred the nickname, letting him know what she thought of that as well.
“Now you’re askin’ for it!”
“I’d be more worried if you weren’t such a ‘fraidy cat.”
Spike sprang to his feet and rounded the table in one fluid motion. Dawn’s eyes widened in mock terror and danced out of his reach, scooping up the box in her retreat. “Oh no! I’m in trouble now!”
The vampire’s eyes glinted. “Give me the box.”
Dawn’s grin widened. “Make me.”
Spike shrugged. “Fair enough. Where was it I helped you hide that shirt you ‘borrowed’ from Big Sis and spilled ketchup all over. Oh yeah, in the backyard. Back in a tick.” He turned and started for the kitchen.
“You wouldn’t!” Dawn squealed.
“What? I’m evil.” He turned again and started to walk away with a little secret smile on his lips.
Instead of the expected apologies and backpedaling, Spike received something else from the youngest Summers: a flying coaster between the shoulder blades.
“Hey!” He turned in time to catch the next cork disc in the nose. “Bloody hell Nibblet!”
“You’re… you’re such a big meanie!” Dawn railed.
“Vampire,” he said, as if that explained it all.
Dawn aimed another missile at him and Spike watched, fully intending to bat it out of the air. It was then that he noticed the faint prickling down the back of his neck, far too late to do anything about it. Bonds as strong as tempered steel wound around his arms and legs, rooting him in place. More swept around his body and over his head, preventing any movement. He fought against the magic, struggled with all his strength and will, but the spell was too strong.
Dawn’s coaster bounced off of his forehead. She looked at him oddly when her attack did not even earn a blink. “Spike?”
He tried to answer her, to tell her to run, to run himself and drag her along, but his body simply would not obey. He watched, helpless, as realization dawned on the girl.
The front door swung open and Spike could hear heavy footsteps, more than could belong to a single person. He didn’t need to see what was behind him; he had Dawn’s reaction to tell him everything he needed to know. Her eyes opened wide in terror and she shrank back against the wall.
“I do so hate to break up such a touching moment, but I believe that this charade has gone on long enough.” The voice was smooth, the same one that had haunted Spike since his humiliating defeat in the sewers. “Bring the girl. I believe she will be an excellent tool in getting our guest to behave.”
Three demons brushed past Spike, who was struggling fiercely against the magic, even if his efforts made no visible progress. Dawn shook off her terror and tried to run, but the faceless demons were too fast. In the struggle, the coffee table lay broken and splintered, but the fight was soon over. Two of the demons held her while she screamed and kicked. The third simply stood waiting, club at the ready.
Not again. Not Nibblet. Won’t watch her hurt again.
He raged against the magical restraints, but there was nothing he could do.
The warlock walked over to stand in front of Spike. The vampire could feel his gaze even as the shadows of the cowl hid the man’s features. Apparently satisfied, the hooded head nodded abruptly. “Never send a demon to do a man’s job.” The man turned and signaled the remaining demon. “I knew you’d make a good babysitter for my pet project, chipped and tamed as you are.” He patted Spike’s cheek with mocking condescension. “Oh yes, I know all about you William. Now let’s just see how long it takes to find your little feathered friend.”
Spike brought all of his strength to bear, trying to force his body into action, but he was helpless in the grasp of the warlock’s spell. The faceless demon advanced slowly and raised its club high. The vampire, stubborn to the last, kept up his hopeless struggle. He reached out with his mind and found Meret’s touch.
He watched as the demon’s weapon arced towards his head. He watched Dawn struggle against their captors, screaming loudly for her sister.
Meret run! Find Buffy! Tell her…
But he never got to finish the sentence. It was driven from his mind, along with every other conscious thought, when the demon’s club hit home.
In League With Serpents - Crossing the Rubicon
Spike hung from his wrists, muscles taut and angry, watching Maclin from beneath lowered eyelids. The warlock had finished setting up his altar and dismissed his demonic helpers. For the next hour, he had laboriously painted two stylized serpents on the cavern’s floor: one feathered and red, the other gaunt and green. Spike thought he recognized the design as Aztec in origin, but he could not be sure. When the picture was complete, Maclin took a post standing quietly in front of the raised slab of stone. He seemed to be waiting for something, but for what the vampire could not guess.
The vampire had asked Dawn to try contacting Meret, but her efforts met with the same resistance his had. Maclin had done his work well. Dawn had lapsed into silence after that, and try as he might, Spike could find no words of comfort for the girl that would not insult her intelligence.
And so he waited, and watched, and called to mind all of the things he would like to do to Maclin if he got the chance.
The rattling of rusty links drew his attention back to Dawn. She was watching the warlock with a worried expression.
“Somethin’ in particular caught your fancy Bit?” Spike said for her ears alone.
She answered in an equally quiet voice. “I think I know what he’s going to do.”
Spike snorted before he could catch himself.
Dawn turned to look at him and scowled. “No really. Remember those spells I found when we were trying to figure out Meret’s bond at the Magic Box?” When the vampire nodded vaguely, she continued. “Well, I kinda blackmailed Giles into letting me help research them since I found them and all. Anyway, that set-up looks an awful lot like the description of a spell that creates a permanent gateway between dimensions.”
“So he’s gonna make another Hellmouth or something close to, huh?”
Dawn shrugged and her forehead wrinkled in thought. “Spike?”
“What happens if you get two Hellmouths right next to each other?”
Spike thought for a moment before memory made his eyes open wide. His mind was miles and years away, replaying the earthquake in Kangra, as well as what had caused it. He could hear the long-dead witch’s words clearly in his mind. “They will be small gates, very easily controlled…”
Easily controlled my ass.
Spike was never sure exactly what had happened, but he had felt some kind of resonance between the energies of the two portals. The magical vibrations had increased at an alarming rate, feeding off of one another, until the magic tore itself loose from the witch’s control. The gates finally consumed one another and the ensuing earthquake had been incredible. The earth had bucked and heaved, destroying the countryside for miles around. Amazingly, the vampires had escaped the ordeal with few injuries. The same could not be said for the witch. The earthquake had been forgiving, but Darla had not. Another scheme to find Angelus and “cure” him of his little soul problem thwarted, Darla had taken out her rage on the witch. The screams had lasted a long, long time.
Two days later, Darla had gone hunting and never returned. Dru had wept for weeks at the loss of both her “Daddy” and “Grandmummy.” Despite his sire’s depression, Spike had reveled in his newfound freedom, especially in the midst of the earthquake’s destruction. He could still see the wholesale devastation in his mind: a perfect playground for a young demon newly released from familial obligations.
He winced at the memories. The scenes of gleeful carnage were strangely distasteful.
“Bit. We may have a problem.”
“How much of a problem? Are we talking an ‘Oops my spell backfired, don’t I feel silly,’ or an ‘Oops, I just destroyed the world’ kind of problem?” Dawn asked with false humor.
“You want the good news first or the bad?”
“Good. I’m an optimist.”
“There might not be a Hellmouth once this spell goes down,” said the vampire in a dull voice.
“Wait, that’s really good! I mean, yay, no Hellmouth! So what’s the bad news?” Dawn gave him a wan smile, trying to be cheerful.
Spike face was set into a bleak grimace. “There might not be a west coast either.” The earthquake in India had been caused by two very minor gates. What would happen if two Hellmouths created the same kind of resonance and consumed one another?
Dawn’s face fell into similarly grim lines. “Oh.”
“Bit, I need you to tell me everything you can remember about that spell…”
In League With Serpents - Awakenings
Spike dreamed. At least, he thought they were dreams. Everything was so confusing. He could feel stone, sticky and wet, against his face. The scent of his own blood filled his nostrils, blocking out everything else. His body tingled, but he could not move. There were hands too, insistent hands tugging at him, and voices that grazed against the edges of his mind. Voices that spoke with familiar tones, telling him sweet lies.
“Help me with his hands.”
“Is he gonna be okay?”
“I don’t know. We need to get him back to Giles.”
“Buffy, you know it was the only way, right?”
Strong arms lifted him. He hung, broken and numb, in their grasp.
“Dawnie, I’ve got him. Could you get Meret?”
He felt something nudge against his mind, and it was met with searing agony. He fell again into the blackness.
In League With Serpents - Good Will Towards Men
Christmas morning dawned clear and bright. Spike knew this because Dawn chased him out of the basement before the sun rose. With only a few hours sleep under his belt, the vampire was hardly feeling up to spreading Christmas cheer. After watching Buffy and Dawn riffle through their stockings, he managed to escape back into the basement while the sisters ate breakfast and waited on their guests.
When the others arrived some time later, Spike was feeling much more charitable. He even helped Xander hide the newly repaired coffee table, the victim of Spike and Dawn’s kidnappers, away from Buffy’s vigilant eye.
When it came time to open presents, Spike would have liked to hang to the back, but Dawn had other plans. The vampire was dragged into the living room and placed on the couch between Buffy and Tara with a shove and a good-natured glare. Meret escaped the girl’s attentions by retreating to the top of the tree and wrapping herself in a chokehold around the angel there, so Dawn returned to her self-styled position of Christmas director. Once all the presents were distributed, Spike was surprised to have collected a small stack in front of him.
As the youngest, Dawn opened a present first. It was a compendium of common demons from Giles. She giggled with glee and started flipping through the fully illustrated volume. In the weeks following her inclusion, Dawn’s enthusiasm for research had only grown. The watcher smiled paternally at the girl’s reaction.
Two to one odds the Bit ends up bein’ a watcher.
The first round of gifts revealed a large amount of clothing: the highlight being the incredibly inappropriate outfit Anya had purchased for Xander. Spike found the lengths of vinyl and chains nearly as amusing as the interesting shade of red the boy turned upon opening the gift. After a fair amount of teasing on Dawn’s part, it was decided that in spite of their appearances, Spike and Anya were assuredly the oldest people in the room, so Giles had to go before them. The watcher opened a present from Willow to reveal a slim book with the title A Guide To American Slang. The Brit snorted in amusement and started flipping through the pages.
With that, the vampire found all eyes on him. The situation was decidedly uncomfortable, but he managed to keep up a mien of cool composure as he selected a present to unwrap. The one he finally chose was from Dawn and sported black wrapping paper with tiny skulls and crossbones.
Someone’s been hittin’ the goth specialty shops.
Without further preamble, the vampire tore through the wrappings to reveal a small, leather journal. He cocked an eyebrow at the teenager before opening the book. Inside he found page upon page of information on coatls written in loopy, girlish script. Anything Dawn had been able to scrounge up on the feathered serpents had made its way into the pages, everything cited, organized, and catalogued in an index with scanned images glued on some of the pages. He ran his fingers over the pages, knowing how much time and energy had gone into the book. The final entry had a photograph of Meret lounging on Dave’s shoulders, but it was Dawn’s writing that had Spike’s full attention.
Meret – “Beloved,” Egyptian Goddess of Song and Rejoicing
He never could keep his secrets from her. By the time he looked up from the gift, the others had started opening the next round of presents. He met Dawn’s eyes and the girl grinned impishly at him. He was thankful that the group’s attention had turned to Willow’s set of crystals. He was having a little trouble dealing with the growing lump in his throat.
Buffy selected his present to open next. Slipped under the ribbon was a note, written on heavy paper. She did not read the words aloud, but Spike replayed them in his mind.
I can’t top the present you were supposed to open today. However, I do believe that I can add a little cultural depth to your weapons’ chest. Use these in good health and a long life.
Inside the box were two daggers: a Turkish kukri and an Indonesian kris, newly sharpened, polished, and oiled. He had retrieved the curved blades the night before from the piles of loot he had stored beneath his crypt. Their craftsmanship was beautiful, but each was still a fighting weapon. Buffy smiled at them, appreciative as only a true warrior could be of the folded steel and keen edges. She thanked him with a twinkle in her eye, and Spike caught her playing with the ring on her right hand.
Tara also chose to open his present next. Her note was much shorter:
For reference the next time I try to get myself dusted.
Beneath the white tissue was a book on medicinal herbs and healing potions. He had caught the shy witch eyeing the volume longingly when it came in one of Anya’s shipments. He had managed to hide it until he could talk the former demon down to a decent price. Tara’s reaction was all he could have hoped for. She felt the binding and delicate velum covering the colored plates disbelievingly before stuttering her effusive thanks.
He opened his gift from Tara next. Inside he found a stack of simple cotton t-shirts, all black, and a strange contraption consisting of a few large brass loops, a couple matching chains and various bits of wood and rope tying the pieces together. He had stared at it in confusion until the witch had explained that it was for Meret, a perch that he could hang up for the little coatl to enjoy. He mumbled another thanks, touched by her thoughtfulness. No one knew better than Tara how quickly he ran through his signature shirts and Meret certainly seemed to approve of her new toy.
Giles had been given Spike’s red envelope, addressed to all of the Scoobies, to open. He did so, even if his facial expression seemed to indicate that he expected someone’s ear to fall out of the folded paper. As he read the letter, Giles’ eyebrows crept higher and higher.
“C’mon G-man, what does it say. Is it a death threat?” Xander asked. “It’s a death threat isn’t it?”
The watcher sighed in exasperation. “No. It is a promise for each of us to receive a coatl egg when Meret starts laying them.” Buffy’s soft intake of breath was as satisfying as Dawn’s exuberant squeal. “It won’t be for another year,” the watcher continued, “but she should clutch two or three at a time every other year after that.” Spike received enthusiastic appreciation from all sides. Even Xander managed a sincere thanks. The vampire, for his part, tried his best to look unaffected by the entire scene, but even he knew that his mask of casual indifference wasn’t convincing anyone.
Soon enough the furor died down and they moved on to their next gifts. More clothes and a stack of cheesy Japanese horror films for Xander later, and it was the vampire’s turn again. He only had one present left, a card from Buffy. More nervous than he would ever admit, the vampire picked up the brightly colored envelope and opened it. The card itself sported a rather chintzy picture of a Christmas tree, but it was the note inside that captured his full attention.
It turns out that shopping for a vampire is really hard, especially one whose favorite past times pretty much include drinking, smoking, and bar fighting. I could only think of one thing that you might want, and it’s not the kind of thing I could get at the mall. You once told me that all we have ever done is dance. Seeing as how your chip isn’t really working anymore, I’ve talked Giles into setting aside every Wednesday night for one-on-one ‘dancing lessons.’
I won’t hold back if you don’t.
Spike read through the letter twice, not quite believing what he was seeing.
Slayer’s giving me fights for Christmas?
Finally deciding that his eyes weren’t deceiving him, Spike turned to the slayer with a wide grin and a feral gleam in his eyes. He found Buffy chewing the corner of her lip in worry.
“So what do you think?” she asked.
His smile widened even further. “Can’t think of a better way to spend my Wednesday nights.”
Obviously relieved, the slayer’s eyes took on a wicked glint. “You really think you can take me?”
He curled his tongue behind his teeth and narrowed his eyes, raking the slayer’s body with an appraising gaze. “Oh, I think I’m up to giving you a go.”
Buffy opened her mouth to retort, but whatever she was about to say was lost in a high-pitched shriek from Dawn.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” When everyone else in the room leaned in to see what had the girl so excited, Dawn presented a slip of paper and read it aloud.
"Here are two things every girl in Sunnyhell should have. Now you just need your big sis to teach you how to use them properly."
She dropped the note and pulled the contents of the box out to show the rest of the room. From one hand dangled a pair of black Doc Martins, uncannily similar to Spike’s own boots. In her other hand were two slender stakes the vampire had carved down from twisted roots that had invaded his ceiling.
While Dawn gleefully shed her brown loafers and started trying on her new shoes, every other eye in the room turned to the vampire. Some were amused, some disapproving. He just flashed a lopsided grin and shrugged.
“You’re just trying to get me pissed,” Buffy hissed.
Spike met the slayer’s glare with a leer. “If I was tryin’ to do that, I’d’ve given you some bourbon.”
“You are so going to get it this Wednesday.”
He leaned in close and breathed across her ear, “I’m countin’ on it, love.”
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