DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of
course. And the chapter titles are
courtesy of Miles Davis.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Anya has gone back to Giles’ place ready to share what she knows, while Buffy and Spike have found themselves cornered by the police at Iris’ club…
The box of donuts remained perched in her hands, untouched by the others in the room. Though Giles had pulled out the chair from the desk for her to sit upon, Anya had refused, steadfastly circuiting the room offering the pastries to the others. It was only when everyone had declined that she stepped away from them, her smile fading into a frown.
“I don’t get it,” she complained. “Willow casts a spell that turns Xander into demon-nip, Giles into Stevie Wonder, Buffy and Spike into the honeymooners from hell, and everybody forgives her just for baking you a few cookies. Me, all I did was not tell you about some stupid staff that has…I have no idea what to do with our resident Wicca, and you won’t eat one stinking donut?” She waited expectantly for some type of response, but getting none, tossed the box down disgustedly on the desk. “You know, this really blows. I come back here, ready to the right thing, and not one of you is willing to cut me a little slack. What’s a girl got to do to get through to you people?”
“Telling us the truth in the first place might have been a good start,” Giles said sternly.
Xander stepped between them when he saw Anya’s jaw drop, her tongue ready to lash out in a way he knew was not going to make the situation any better. “Ahn,” he said in the most reassuring voice he could muster, “you have to understand. If you’d just said something in the beginning, Willow might be home already.”
“Oh, because you would’ve found a way to magically intercept her wherever she is on the way to New Orleans, just based on some ancient history about the voix mortelle?” Anya snorted, rolling her eyes. “Highly doubtful, Xander.”
Giles frowned. “The voix mortelle?”
“That’s what all this about. That’s what I came back to tell you.”
From her seat at the end of the couch, Tara rose, smiling carefully as she stepped toward Anya. “You know,” she said. “I think I’m hungry after all, and those look really good. May I have a donut, please?”
Though she would’ve said before that moment that Tara was the one she least understood, Anya was grateful for the metaphorical show of support from the young witch and pushed the box toward her with what could almost pass as a smile. “I got a little bit of everything,” she explained. “So that whatever anyone wanted, they could get.”
“What we’d like is some answers,” Giles said. When Tara glanced back at him, her eyes steady, he attempted to hold her gaze but failed rather quickly. “And perhaps a jelly-filled donut,” he added, ducking his head as he stepped forward.
“So…you know what this is about, but you don’t know why Willow’s involved?” Tara asked quietly, wiping off some of the powdered sugar that clung to her fingers.
Anya sighed. “I only know the history of what’s going on,” she elaborated. “What’s actually happening now is anybody’s guess.” She waited until even Xander had selected a pastry from the box, crossing to the front of the couch to pace as if she was about to give a presentation. Her fingers twisted in the hem of her shirt as she moved, and it was only when Giles had perched himself on the sofa’s arm, joining the other two who were seated there, that she stopped and faced them.
“About a century ago, give or take a decade, someone stole one of D’Hoffryn’s favorite toys---.”
“D’Hoffryn,” Tara interrupted. “That was your demon boss, right?”
Anya nodded. “He’s the one who got me into the whole vengeance gig in the first place. Anyway, somebody stole the voix mortelle from his collection---.”
“You mentioned that.” This time it was Giles who interrupted her. “This voix mortelle. What is that?”
“A staff. Of sorts. Magical. D’Hoffryn has this fetish for phallic things, and being potentially apocalyptic? Well, that’s just a big juicy cherry on top for him.” She took a deep breath. “So, anyway, like I was saying---.”
“Did you say, apocalyptic?” asked Xander. “I thought we’d already met our annual quota for averting potential end-of-the-world disasters.”
“Do you want me to tell you this or not?” Anya exploded, hands on her hips. “Because I’m very much getting the impression here you guys would rather have a round of twenty questions. I can do that. It might take you until Labor Day to find out what you want to know, but hey, if that’s the way you want to play this, I’m in.”
She was frustrated, her voice too shrill even for her liking. Didn’t they understand how hard it was for her to swallow her pride and come back here like this? she wondered. Not to mention what might happen if D’Hoffryn ever caught wind of it. Sure, she wasn’t part of the fold anymore. That didn’t mean he couldn’t still get angry with her and send someone after her to punish her for opening her mouth in the first place. It wouldn’t surprise her if he wasn’t the reason Halfrek had showed up in the first place.
As before, Tara was the one who came to her defense. “We’re sorry,” she said gently. “Just…go on. We’ll be good.”
“Yes,” Giles added. “Please continue.” As if by afterthought, he leaned over and plucked another donut from the box, showing it to her as if in offering before settling himself back onto the arm of the couch.
She surveyed them suspiciously before sighing. “Where was I?” Anya asked.
“Someone stole D’Hoffryn’s evil stick,” Xander prompted.
“Oh. Right. Well, like I said, the voix mortelle was one of D’Hoffryn’s favorites, so when it turned up missing, he was a little put out. That’s where I came in. Things were a slow for me on the vengeance front so D’Hoffryn asked if I could help him find it.” She looked smug in spite of her earlier annoyance. “One of my easier assignments, let me tell you. Once the bodies started showing up, all I had to do was follow the trail they left behind.”
Anya looked at her as if it was a foolish observation. “Of course, bodies. What, you think a demon’s going to be interested in something that scatters rose petals in its wake? Pretty, but not nearly as satisfying as a line of carnage.”
“Right.” Giles cleared his throat. “I presume this has something to do with the voix mortelle? Does it…kill people?”
“No. It summons Sira. Sira’s the thing that kills people. Eventually.”
The name drove the Watcher to his feet, a frown furrowing his brow. As the younger people watched, he strode over to one of the piles of books in the corner, kneeling to set aside the top few before picking up whatever he was looking for.
“You know about this Sira?” asked Xander.
“It’s…familiar.” He turned a few pages, and then stopped, eyes narrowing as he quickly scanned the text. When his gaze finally lifted, he stared at a waiting Anya. “This is a serpent demon.”
She shrugged. “Yeah? So?”
Tara’s eyes widened. “Serpent? Like in that book I found about the singing?”
For the first time since she’d started her tale, Anya looked guilty, eyes darting around as she ducked her head. “You found that one, huh?” she commented. “I was kind of hoping…” She blushed under Xander’s level gaze. “Never mind.”
“So, these people who took Willow want to summon this Sira for fun and frolicking of the murderous kind,” her boyfriend said. “Didn’t we get enough of serpent demons last year with the Mayor?”
“But that’s not possible.”
“And why not, Ahn?”
“Because the only way to summon Sira is with the voix mortelle and I broke it.”
“You…broke it?” Giles said.
“Betcha didn’t get a Christmas bonus that year,” came from Xander.
“I didn’t have a choice.” With an exasperated sigh, Anya flopped down into the chair, leaning her head against the back cushion. “By the time I found it in New Orleans, Sira had already been called. The three who had done it were gathering power, using Sira to get rid of their enemies, pick out the demons they could control, that kind of thing. The one who was in charge---God, what was her name? Something French.” Her face furrowed, and the others waited in silence for a full minute as she struggled to remember.
Xander leaned forward, his hand proffered in a rolling gesture. “The one who was in charge…?” he prompted.
“Right. Well, What’s-her-name had all these plans. Huge, grandiose plans, which, now that I think about it, were really quite innovative for the time. She certainly got D’Hoffryn’s attention. He actually offered her a job, in spite of the fact that he hated her so much for taking the staff in the first place. But she didn’t take it.” Anya rolled her eyes. “It wasn’t good enough for her, apparently. She always had this impression that she was above it all.”
“How did you break the staff?” asked Tara.
“I’m getting to that. There were three of them---What’s-her-name and her two partners in crime, Percy and Bettina---.”
“How come you remember their names and not the ringleader?” Xander’s gaze was quizzical, elbows propped up on his knees as he leaned forward.
“Because Bettina’s the one who put me to work while I was there,” Anya explained. “She and Percy were lovers, but by the time I showed up on the scene, they were constantly fighting because he kept challenging What’s-her-name about who was going to be in charge. He had the drive, but she had more power. I found out later that she was a mambo before they got their hands on the voix mortelle.”
“And good ol’ Percy was jealous because he was only a lambada?”
Tara looked over at Xander. “A mambo is a female vodou priestess,” she said.
“I knew that.”
Closing the book in his hand, Giles removed his glasses to gaze at the ex-demon with a frown. “If you were put to work,” he said, “does that mean Bettina made a wish?”
“Yep. I was spending most of my time with her because she seemed to be the weakest link of the three. I thought that if I had any chance of getting the staff from What’s-her-name, it would be through Bettina. Well, she found out Percy was using the power he’d obtained from Sira’s summoning to consort with a whole plethora of female types, and went through the roof. Next thing I know, she’s babbling on and on about how much better things were before they’d stolen the voix mortelle, and how she missed it when things were simpler, blah, blah, blah. And then bam! She goes and makes a wish that the stupid staff would just get destroyed so all the madness would stop.”
A faraway look came into Giles’ eyes. “’…until the mortals revolted and separated the tongue from the crown, destroying the power and banishing the serpent to the morass from whence it came,’” he recited quietly, the passage they had read only earlier that day echoing between the members of the group. “It’s referring to the staff, isn’t it?”
Anya nodded. “I was bound to grant her the wish, regardless of what D’Hoffryn might have wanted, so the way I figured it, instead of destroying it, I just…broke it. Once it wasn’t intact anymore, Sira disappeared back to wherever it is he comes from and Percy turned back into being the schmuck Bettina had fallen in love with in the first place.” She grimaced. “Not one of my better resolutions, I’ll have to admit.”
“I don’t get it.” Confusion colored Xander’s face. “How do you know what’s going on with Willow now has anything to do with this?”
“Because the day after she disappeared, my old friend Halfrek stopped by to tell me to stay away from it all. That it was going to be bad.”
“And you just listened to her? Without telling us? Without telling me?”
The pain in his voice sliced at her conscience, and Anya suddenly found her nails highly intriguing, burying her attention into picking at them instead of meeting the gaze of her boyfriend. “I brought donuts,” she said defensively. “Plus, as soon as I figured out what it might all be about, I made Halfrek spill. I’ve probably pissed off a very powerful vengeance demon to do this for you, by the way. You can just bet I’m not on her Christmas card list any more.”
“Why would she try and warn you away?” Giles was just as confused as Xander at this point. “More importantly, if you broke it, why were you so frightened to tell us about it?”
“Did you not read about what Sira does? He sucks the life out of you, Giles. Little by little. And while that’s kind of fun to watch if you’re a demon, being human when he’s wandering around does not exactly make me want to be inviting him over for tea and crumpets, because, hello! I’d be the crumpet!”
“But you broke this staff thing,” Xander argued. “You said yourself that’s the only way to summon him.”
“You keep saying you broke it,” the Watcher commented. He wasn’t about to let this go. “You didn’t destroy it. It’s still out there somewhere, right?” When she nodded, he added, “And you’re afraid someone’s put it back together again.”
Again, she nodded. “Of course, that means they have to find it first. What’s-her-name disappeared with the stick part of the staff before I could stop her. I tried for D’Hoffryn’s sake, but the girl had some serious magical skills, and did I mention angry as hell? You do not want to cross a hopped up mambo, let me tell you. But I did get to hide the skull.”
Tara’s eyes went wide. “D-d-did you say…skull?”
“It sat on top of the shaft. A child’s skull. The shaft was really quite pretty, with these serpents that wound around it and diamonds set in their eyes. When I broke it, I basically separated it into two pieces. I figured D’Hoffryn could just put it back together later. But when What’s-her-name vanished with half of it, he and I decided it would be better if we hid what we had until he could put the thing back together again.”
“And you never found her?”
“Nope. Like I said, she had some powerful skills, a lot stronger than we realized until it was too late. We never did figure out where she went.”
The group was silent for a moment, each lost in his or her thoughts. Anya just watched the others, mouth grim. She had been expecting to feel better about spilling the details of what she knew; wasn’t that the whole point of having a conscience? Know you’re doing the right thing, do it, and then everything is good again. Except she didn’t feel good. She felt like crap. And her stomach was starting to cramp from denying herself any of the donuts.
“I still don’t see where Willow fits in to any of this,” Giles finally murmured. The ends of his spectacles tapped distractedly against his knee. “I just wish I could get Buffy on the phone. She really needs to know these new details.”
Taking a deep breath, Anya steeled herself for what she was about to say. “Maybe it’s time we thought about joining Buffy and Spike in New Orleans,” she said, and then shook her head. “I can’t believe I just said that.”
Lifting her hands over her head in surrender was probably the last thing he’d expected her to do.
Spike’s eyebrows shot up as high as her arms as he stared at Buffy in disbelief. “Are you bloody kidding me, Slayer?” he demanded, not caring about the men waiting at either end of the hall. “You’re not actually giving in to these wankers? They’re human, for fuck’s sake! I’ve seen you---.”
“Human! Exactly! The kind of things you can’t hurt and I don’t kill, remember?” she hissed back. “Not only that, but humans with guns. And crossbows. Who are effectively blocking off the only two ways out of here. One of which is full of UV badness.”
Spike pressed his lips together. “So, that’s it? That’s all that it takes to thwart the almighty Chosen One?” he asked, irritated. He folded his arms across his chest in a deliberate show of non-compliance, ignoring the sound of another gun being cocked even as Buffy glanced at it nervously. “A couple of gits in uniforms, some automatic weapons, and you roll over and show your belly? If I’d known that, I’d’ve gone all fancy dress and guns when I first rolled into Sunnyhell. Would’ve saved myself three years of torture, that’s for sure.”
The unbidden image of Spike as one of the Village People popped into Buffy’s head, and her lips quirked as she fought to bite back the giggles that rose in her throat. If he starts singing YMCA, she thought, I’m going to lose it for sure, although it sure would make one hell of a distraction.
She turned her body just enough so that they couldn’t hear her next words. “I’m not interested in watching them dust you,” she whispered. “If we can get to someplace where I know you’re not going to go up in flames---.”
“We just have to get past ‘em,” Spike replied, his voice just as low. “You think a club owned and run by vampires isn’t goin’ to have underground tunnels?”
To be fair, she hadn’t really thought about that and immediately frowned as her brain started to tick over. “Do you know how to get to them?” she asked.
“Closest one is in Iris’ quarters.” The corner of his mouth lifted. Now this was more like it. This was the Buffy he knew.
She contemplated it for a moment, and then shook her head, scattering his hope like dust. “Too risky. Willow needs me now. I can’t be wasting time playing sewer rat when I don’t know this city.”
“But I do,” Spike replied. She was doing it again, dismissing his capabilities with a casual comment, only this time, a hell of a lot more hung in the balance. Bugger if he was just going to stand by and take it, though. The muscles in his cheek twitched as he bit down hard on his tongue, trying to maintain his cool. “Stop bein’ such a stubborn bint and open your eyes on this one. You get us past the old bill here, and I can get us out. All you have to do is trust me, Buffy.”
His eyes blazed as she looked up at him. He made it sound like she thought it was some kind of four-letter word or something, an impossible feat that not even a Slayer could overcome. When her mouth opened to argue with him, however, Buffy stopped, her words to him from earlier floating back to her inner ear. Just people I can trust, she’d told him. But he hadn’t believed her. If he had, he wouldn’t be asking her for it now.
So why was she hesitating? Because he’s right in his disbelief, the little voice inside her head whispered. If there was a way out, she should be grabbing it with both hands. It shouldn’t matter that she wasn’t going to be the one leading the way; she’d let both Giles and Willow lead before so it wasn’t like it was anything new to her.
Except this was Spike. Letting him lead meant letting down that last barrier between them. No more denying that she needed him. No more denying that he was anything more than a body, even if it was a very hot body. It would be a leap of faith, a huge, gigantic jump for her to say, “Sure, Spike, here’s my life and everything I love. I trust you not to screw it up.”
Could she do it?
Slowly, with a deliberation that made it appear to the waiting police that she was still complying, Buffy lowered one hand to wrap her fingers around Spike’s wrist, tugging it upwards. “Do what they say,” she said loudly enough so that they could hear. Before the flicker of hurt could deepen in the blue depths, she added in a voice only audible to the vampire, “I swear, if you screw up getting us out of here, I’ll stake you myself.”
A careful search of her eyes brought a ghost of a smile to Spike’s lips. She was doing it. The doubts that he’d seen in the grey-green were gone, replaced by a grim determination and a pleading to not mess this up. His shoulders squared. “Right,” he said, his voice overly fake to her ears as he lifted his arms up. “Have to be all law-abidin’ and such. I’m smart enough to know when I’m done for, I’d wager.”
She waited until the cop who had spoken was right behind her, reaching for her hands to slap them into cuffs. At the officer’s order, Spike had positioned himself against the wall, spread-eagled with his back to the Slayer, but a half-turn of his head showed him what was happening out of the corner of his eye.
With the cop’s hand tight around her wrist, Buffy twisted her body, her leg lifting into a carefully aimed kick that landed on his abdomen, sending the man flying backwards into the pair who still blocked the way to Iris’ quarters.
As he caught the first flicker of her movement, Spike reacted with lightning speed by ducking to the ground, grabbing the blanket and casting it towards the lot in the outer doorway. The dark wool blinded them for a moment, lending him just enough time to go sailing in the opposite direction, and he dove over the jumble of bodies Buffy had created with her single assault.
“C’mon!” he yelled back over his shoulder.
She vaulted past the downed officers before they could rise to their feet and ran with Spike to Iris’ door, following him in and slamming the door behind her. He was right there beside her when she turned, hands pulling at the heavy couch to barricade the entrance, and she joined in hauling it the last few feet, the sound of footsteps growing louder on the other side of the heavy wood.
“Havin’ fun yet, pet?” he asked with a grin, the twinkle in his eye unmistakeable.
“It’ll be more fun once we’re in the tunnels,” she shot back, and then shook her head, unable to hold back her own smile. “And I really can’t believe I just thought of stinky rat-infested sewers as fun.”
Nothing more was said between them as Spike pulled aside the liquor cabinet, exposing the large hole in the floor that led down to the underbelly of New Orleans. She watched him disappear, a small splash announcing his safe descent, and hurriedly dropped herself through the hole after him.
There would be time for words later.
Now was the time to run.
To be continued in Chapter 16: Blues for Pablo…