DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’,
of course. And the chapter titles are
courtesy of Miles Davis.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Sandrine has taken control of Willow’s body, Halfrek has paid a visit to Spike posing as Cecily, and the Scoobies have descended onto New Orleans, ready to tackle the Willow issue…
She was forced to watch from the sidelines as Giles and Tara did the healing spell, but she was far from calm, far from feeling secure about the whole thing. Too many fears and questions roiled within Buffy’s brain, most of them instigated by the odd conversation she’d had with the blonde witch when she’d returned from IHOP.
“Who’s Cecily?” Tara had asked.
“Cecily. The pretty English girl who said she was a friend of Spike’s? She stopped by to see how he was doing.”
“I don’t know any Cecily.”
“Well, he knew her. But she didn’t stick around for very long. She was gone before I could bring her back the Coke she wanted.”
And that had been it. Giles had walked in then with the rest of the supplies and the subject had been changed to the spell at hand. It didn’t leave Buffy feeling good as she stepped back, allowing them to do their thing. Cecily? Who was she? She wracked her brain, trying to remember everyone they had met since coming to New Orleans, but no one sounded remotely like the description Tara had given her. And even if she was a friend of Spike’s, how in hell did she know where they were staying, let alone that Spike was hurt? Buffy had told no one their new location, and the vamp had only admitted to calling Giles with it. Logic dictated that there should be nobody else who should know where they were just yet.
It might’ve been better if Spike was conscious; at least then, she could’ve asked him herself. But he was still out of it, had been since Tara had returned to find their mystery guest gone. Buffy was tempted to try and wake him up, but sleep seemed to finally be doing him some good. With his skin cooler to the touch, the burns less angry, the best course of action seemed to be to let Giles speed his healing powers along with the spell.
Which meant Buffy had to wait in anticipatory quiet while they went about their business.
If she could just have someone to talk to, she would’ve been happier. The problem was, all the other occupants in the room were either unconscious or wrapped up in the mojo, so she was pretty much out of luck. Even talking to Anya would’ve been a preferred option than stewing in silence, but the ex-demon had begged off with a headache after breakfast, driving Giles to distraction until he’d dropped her off at the other hotel.
The tension between Xander and Anya had been as thick as the blueberry syrup he’d smothered his pancakes with, but he stayed in the car when she got out, watching her through his window as she fought with the seemingly non-functioning card key.
Buffy didn’t know the details---lack of privacy at the restaurant meant limited gossiping opportunities---but even she couldn’t help but see something was wrong. “It’s probably not a good idea to split up right now,” she’d said to him, hoping he’d take the hint. “Not that I think Sandrine could’ve figured out you guys were in town already, but it’s probably better to be safe than sorry, I think.”
His face had flushed in relief, quickly settling into a more neutral definition as his fingers tugged at the handle. “Right,” he’d said. “Remember to call if you need us for anything?”
Does being driven crazy by unanswerable questions qualify as needing anything? Buffy wondered, grimacing as the scent of the poultice Tara was applying to Spike’s chest drifted in her direction. The vampire wasn’t moving, not even as the slim fingers eased the ointment into the worst of the burns, and the crawl of sympathetic pain the Slayer felt along her own skin made her wish---yet again---that there was something she could do. She hugged her arms around her knees, watching as Giles stepped away and turned to face her.
“That’s about all we can do at the moment,” he said quietly, as if raising his voice would somehow disturb the unconscious vampire.
“How long will it take?” she asked, her gaze locked on Spike’s bared chest.
“The effects should be fairly immediate,” Giles replied. “It appears as if his own natural defenses have finally begun to work as well, so really, it should just be a matter of hours before the worst of it is gone.”
“And what then?”
“See what he needs.” Tara hovered at the Watcher’s elbow, eyes serious. “Make him as comfortable as he can get, but if it really hurts, try a lukewarm shower or a bath before using any more of the cream if you can help it. It’s very potent and I’m not sure what its effects on a demon might be.”
“Do you wish us to…stay?” He was hesitant to ask the question. His charge’s concern for Spike had been growing exponentially since she’d first opened the door to them that morning, in spite of the talk they had had in the IHOP parking lot, and it was very apparent that she was feeling helpless in the face of his injury.
“No,” she dismissed with a vague wave of her hand. “You guys go talk to Anya about the whole Sandrine thing. See if she can remember anything else that might help us in finding out how they’ve managed to take over Willow’s body in this. I’ll call you when Spike wakes up.”
Giles nodded, knowing that’s what she would say. “If you need anything---,” he started.
She was perched on the edge of the mattress, eyes expertly scanning the wounds, before the pair had even left the room. With Giles and the others here, she could let go a little bit of her worry about Willow while she waited for Spike to heal. It wasn’t right to see him so helpless; in spite of what he was, the vamp was by far one of the most vital people she knew and witnessing him prostrate, drained of the essence that made him soar around the periphery of her world, left her feeling vaguely uncomfortable.
She was lying. It was much more than vaguely.
“You better be all right,” she said out loud, and risked reaching forward to trail her fingertips over his unmarked cheek. “Don’t make me kick your ass by dying on me now.”
Not when I think I’m falling in love with you, she added silently.
He hadn’t really said anything since following her to her room, hovering behind her as she slipped in the key---and god how she missed the days of mechanical locks and not these stupid pseudo credit cards that required split-second timing in order to get to work right---following her into her room without even bothering to ask, plopping down into the chair by the door when she’d disappeared into the bathroom. Part of Anya hoped that Xander would be gone when she stepped back out, but the tiny wounded puppy part of her was more than a little glad that he’d come after her.
Of course, it was kind of freaking her out that he wasn’t saying anything, just watching her as she re-emerged and stretched out on the bed, not smiling but not frowning, either. Fear about what was going to come, about facing off with Sandrine who might or might not be Willow, was stretching her nerves taut, and though she wanted more than anything to be able to work off some of the tension one way or another, she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of being the first to talk. She hadn’t done anything wrong. One of these days, Xander would just have to realize that.
“Does it feel any better yet?” he finally said.
Anya frowned, opening her eyes to stare at him. That wasn’t what she’d been expecting him to say. There was nothing remotely resembling an apology in those words. “Does what feel any better?” she asked.
Her excuse for not having to watch Buffy make googly eyes at Spike. She’d almost forgotten about that. Actually, she had forgotten about it. “It’s all right,” she replied, and closed her eyes again. “You can go back to your room now. I won’t tell Buffy you shirked your duties by leaving me alone.”
“What’re you talking about?”
“That’s the reason you’re here, right? Because Buffy doesn’t want anyone on their own with Sandrine out there.” His silence was the only confirmation she needed, and Anya sighed. Sometimes she wished that it wasn’t so easy to read the Slayer. Like this new fascination with Spike. Well, not so new. Anyone with two working eyes could’ve seen it coming. The tension between the pair had always been ridiculously evident, and while having Riley around had probably kept the more sexual thoughts at bay, now that he was out of the picture, Anya knew that it had been just a matter of time before something exploded between them. Apparently, that matter constituted the length of a road trip across the country.
“Just go away, Xander,” she said wearily. “I’m not really in the mood to play watchdog right now. I’ll be fine until the Slayer brigade returns.”
He didn’t move, though, nor did he say a word, leaving her in that same awkward silence until she felt her muscles twitching from lying still so long. Finally, she bolted up, drawing her legs into a lotus position as she folded her arms across her chest. “What?” she demanded. “What is it? Why are you finding it so necessary to annoy me like this?”
“I’m not doing anything. I’m just sitting here.”
“Sitting there being judgmental. I can hear you thinking all the way over here.”
Xander sighed. “When are we going to talk about this, Ahn? We can’t go on like this indefinitely.”
“Are you ready to apologize for how you treated me?”
His face clouded, bewilderment in his eyes. “I know I haven’t exactly been Mr. Smooth in dealing with all this, but what do I have to be sorry for? I wasn’t the one who lied---.” He broke off his thought when Anya flopped back down onto the bed, rolling away from him so that her shoulders hunched in furious knots before his face. “Now what? What did I say?”
She was beginning to wonder why she was even bothering. He didn’t get it, and for as long as Buffy or Willow was around, there was no way Anya was ever going to come out on top in any argument that might include them. Xander still didn’t realize just how deeply his mistrust of her cut and though she wasn’t sure what else she had been expecting, it certainly wasn’t this unspoken disavowal of his own fault in this. Maybe she’d been wrong about how good things had been between them. Maybe the past nine months had just been one big lie.
The tears stung as they sprang from nowhere, and she squeezed her eyes shut, refusing to let him see her break down. She was strong, damn it. She’d spent a thousand years reducing men like Xander Harris to quivering piles of entrails and corpuscles. Quite often literally.
So why did she feel like curling into a little ball and crying until the next millennium had passed?
“I’m tired,” she said simply, keeping her voice as neutral as possible. “I think I’m going to take a nap before the next inquisition starts.”
She could hear him shuffling around in his seat and curled her body around the pillow she clutched, forcing herself to keep her eyes closed as anxiety clawed into her stomach with pincer-like needles. It would be nice if she could just go back to worrying about this Sandrine mess like she’d been doing on the plane; that was something tangible, finite, most likely ending in someone’s death. Hopefully Sandrine’s and not someone she actually cared about, like her or Xander. But his proximity made it difficult to refocus her emotions and instead she simmered in a bath of hurt, her mind flitting from each possibility---hope that maybe he would understand just what was going on in her head, anger that he didn’t, worry that perhaps she was doing something wrong, and frustration that she’d already done as much as she could and it still wasn’t enough.
Behind her, the mattress shifted, depressing under his weight and pulling her toward its center, but she held her body rigid, holding her breath as she waited to see what he would do. Seconds stretched interminably, and then she felt the hesitant touch of his fingers along her shoulder, stroking the wrought muscles with ever-increasing pressure. The sigh escaped her before she could stop it, and mentally, Anya kicked herself for being weak even as she relaxed into his tentative massage. How unfair was it that the pride of D’Hoffryn’s fold, the vengeance demon who had wreaked havoc in the lives of thousands upon thousands of ungrateful men, could be reduced to a vulnerable mass of jelly simply from the reassuring hand of the man she cared about? He wasn’t ready to see his own blame in the mess of the last few days---on that, he had been abundantly clear---but somehow knowing that he was bothered enough to follow her into the hotel, to want to comfort her even if he didn’t understand why, meant something.
She just hoped that that something was enough.
Willow woke up before Sandrine.
OK, weird with a side order of just plain eerie, she thought. Hold the confusion.
Everything was black---well, duh, she’s asleep and her eyes are closed---and the sense of nothingness that wrapped Willow in its embrace was almost scarier than the events of the previous evening. Or morning. She was kind of losing track of time in the face of everything that was going on.
Sandrine had ordered Freddie to get rid of Stella’s body, and once she and Iris were alone, the two women had spent hours discussing the ins and outs of Sira and the voix mortelle. It surprised Willow at first that Sandrine wasn’t frightened in the least by the vampire, but after the glimpses---and sometimes too long and too hard looks---of the workings of the other presence’s mind, it made more sense. The woman who now controlled her body had seen and caused just as much mayhem and hate as any demon Willow had ever known. There was very little that scared her at all, so sitting around having drinks was probably a Sunday in the park with Iris to her.
Her plans were oddly familiar, and more than once, Willow had wondered why it was so many people were obsessed in end of the world scenarios. Do they think they’ll get a free pass to live when it’s all over with? Hello, end of the world means no more place for you too, you moron. Think about it for a second. She had quickly learned that she didn’t have to listen to everything that was going on, that by refocusing her thoughts elsewhere she could block out some of the more inane and boring details of what Sandrine was considering. She still had to see whatever Sandrine was witnessing, but it was kind of like daydreaming during class. There, but not. Buffy would be really good at this, she couldn’t help but think at one point.
It helped that Sandrine seemed to have absolutely no clue that Willow was still around. The witch was sure that if her presence was detected, one or the both of them would’ve done some more vodou just to purge what remained of her consciousness. The thought terrified her. As long as she could cling to whatever corner of her mind was available, there was a chance she could get back in control of her body. She wouldn’t give up until she absolutely had to.
The sudden light that filled her head would’ve made Willow blink, and she saw the world come into focus around her as Sandrine abruptly woke up. The desire to rub at her eyes was overwhelming, and even as Willow thought it, she felt her hand lift to her face and do exactly that. It was disconcerting. For a brief moment, it almost felt like she had been the one to instigate the movement. The feeling quickly passed, however, when Sandrine rolled herself over, burying herself in the blankets and closing her eyes again.
At least it’s comfortable, she thought. The night had been spent in Iris’ apartment, though Freddie had tried arguing the fact that Stella had already made arrangements for Sandrine to have her own place. For some reason only known to Iris at this point, the two women needed each other, and Willow was safe for as long as that need was present. Not relaxed about it, but safe, at least.
The sensation of her stomach rumbling jerked her from her reverie, and Willow listened to it for a moment before feeling her annoyance at Sandrine swell. Hello, hungry here, she thought. The least you could do if you’re going to steal my body is feed it every once in a while. Images of pancakes and orange juice popped inside her mind, and she heard as well as felt the corresponding growl from her abdomen. Wish I could just get up and go make my own breakfast, she thought. Even just a banana would be nice about now.
It was then that Sandrine threw back the covers, rising to her feet and padding automatically to the door. Willow watched as she moved almost silently to the kitchen, heading straight for the refrigerator and opening it up, peering inside at its bare shelves before closing it again. So much for food. Maybe just a glass of water then.
And she moved to the sink, reaching overhead to the cupboard, just as Willow would’ve done had she been in control of her body.
The jolt of hopefulness sharpened the witch’s attention, alerting her to the sudden realization that she wasn’t really that aware of Sandrine’s presence at the moment. Is it just coincidence? she wondered. Once might be an accident, but three times is too fluky, even for me.
Time to test the theory. As Sandrine’s hand---My hand! My hand!---reached for the tap, Willow concentrated on not wanting the water, and mentally squealed when her fingers hesitated above the sink, as if waiting for another command. Put the glass down.
Except for the fact that she knew she wasn’t the one really moving her limbs, it could’ve been Willow who replaced the glass in the cupboard. The possibilities of why it was happening tumbled around inside her thoughts, but even as they did so, she felt the insidious cold pressure of Sandrine returning to consciousness, as if it had taken her this long to fully awaken. Her thoughts, like icy fingers slinking around her brain, permeated Willow’s, and she felt the modicum of control she had gained slip away, leaving her as helpless as she had been before.
Except I’m not helpless. She doesn’t know I’m here. And if I can tell her what to do when she’s not fully awake, I don’t have to sit back and wait for Buffy and Spike to come around and save me. I can do some of the saving myself, for a change.
He wasn’t cold any more. If anything, it felt like his flesh was on fire, his left side searing as he kicked at the blanket bunched around his feet. With a grimace, Spike opened his eyes, peering into the too-bright light of the hotel room, the edges of everything fuzzy and glowing as if his eyes had been closed for decades and he was only now regaining his sight. Next to the bed, he saw Buffy sitting curled up in the chair, a sheen of sweat glistening across her forehead, a drop of moisture collecting in the tiny hollow above her upper lip. The word scrumptious popped unbidden into his head, and in spite of his discomfort, Spike felt the stirrings of his arousal within the confines of his jeans, the denim yielding only the slightest to the pressing of his of erection.
She was asleep, or at least resting, her eyes closed, lashes surprisingly dark against her cheek. Through the cracks of the curtains, he could see the promise of sunshine, and wondered briefly why she was so tired during the daytime. That’s when the memories of the previous night came flooding back, the confrontation with Red/not-Red, the power of the gris gris repelling the attack on Buffy, the magic that had slammed into his body with the poker-hot claws that had made his flesh crawl. He vaguely remembered getting back to the hotel---although how the Slayer had managed in his car made his head ache---and for some reason, Spike was convinced that he’d dreamt of Cecily and the blonde witch, both of them speaking to him, touching him, making his body hurt even more.
Should’ve just stayed on the Hellmouth, he groused silently, but knew even as he thought it that it wasn’t what he wanted. No way in hell would he have traded any of the past week, even if he did currently feel like a marshmallow left a little too long over an open flame. Being with the Slayer---Buffy, he could think of her like that now---made him begin to feel like his old self again in a lot of ways, in spite of the psychological setbacks he’d experienced learning about the gris gris woman’s eerily familiar words. He felt strong, empowered. Respected, almost. Buffy had come a long way in trusting that he could help, and for some reason, that meant more than any of the other combined.
The urge to sit up was overwhelming, and with a slight groan, Spike swung his legs around, setting his feet down on the floor as he sat himself up. Immediately, Buffy’s eyes flew open, her own limbs mimicking his actions, and she was standing there, hands pressing into his shoulders, holding him back from rising completely.
“What are you doing?” she demanded. “You’re not going to heal if you don’t take it easy.”
“Good morning to you, too,” he said. His head tilted, his brows knitting together as he watched her gaze sweep over his wounds, the hands that had been holding him down dancing over the edges of the burns gracing his skin.
“They look better,” she commented. “Do they still hurt?”
His response was a sharp hiss when she touched a particularly sensitive spot. “Like a bitch,” Spike admitted. “But bein’ conscious I figure bodes well for gettin’ better.”
“Yeah, Tara’s spell really seemed to work.” She frowned, suddenly aware of the stickiness of her skin, and glanced behind her at the radiator. “Why is it so hot in here?” Buffy said. Crossing to the wall, she began turning dials on the air conditioning, her frown deepening as nothing happened, the grate remaining silent as the fan refused to work. “Crap,” she muttered. “It was working earlier.”
“Did you say Tara’s spell?” Spike asked. “Does that mean Rupert and your little friends finally decided to show their faces?”
She nodded, absorbed in the mechanics as she tried to get it to work. “Tara watched you while we went out for breakfast and got the supplies to do the healing spell. You were really burning up for a while there.” She paused, and he could see the thoughts playing across her face before she turned back to look at him. “Who’s Cecily?”
It was the last name he expected to ever hear from Buffy’s mouth, and he visibly started. “How the hell do you know about Cecily?” he demanded.
“She stopped by to see how you were doing. When did we meet her? Because I can’t remember.”
All thoughts of his pain vanished. Cecily? Here? Wasn’t possible. Spike’s mind flitted back to his dreams, the sensations of Cecily’s fingers on his head, the pain that had wracked through him. What had she said to him? He remembered being called William, and something about…pain? Fuck. For some reason, it seemed important that he know what had happened, because how in hell had somebody from today even known about a callous bitch who’d lived more than a century earlier?
More importantly, why would they pose as her?
He realized then that Buffy was waiting for an answer, and shook his head. “It’s not possible,” he said as strongly as he could manage. “Someone’s just messin’ around with us. Maybe it’s Iris.” He didn’t really think so, but at that point, there didn’t seem to be any other options.
It was enough to distract Buffy, though, and she turned away. “I’m going to call Giles,” she said. “We need to get out of this hotel if we’ve been found. Plus, this heat without air conditioning? Not my idea of fun.”
He didn’t really hear her, though, as memories of long ago danced before his mind’s eye, questions upon questions piling up as he tried to sort out the fantasy from the reality. What exactly had happened? Cecily being around just couldn’t be, yet there had apparently been witnesses to her presence. Maybe it wasn’t a dream. Maybe it had actually occurred.
But if that was true, what in the name of everything that was unholy did that mean for him?
To be continued in Chapter 23: Black Satin…