DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’,
of course. And the chapter titles are
courtesy of Miles Davis.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy has told Spike she loves him, Spike has not told her yet about the chip being gone, and the plans move forward to try and figure out what the hell is going on with Willow, Sandrine, and Anya…
Her head was killing her. Carefully, as if moving would mean even more pain, Anya lifted her hand to the side of her skull and felt the knot that had formed there after that stupid vampire Tom had hit her over the head. Way to go for making Xander jealous, she thought irritably. You win first prize in the stupid stunts of the century contest.
She knew without opening her eyes where she would be. Well, maybe not the specifics, but she knew who was responsible for giving her the killer headache and dumping her on one horrifically uncomfortable couch. It could only be Sandrine and Iris, and she was still somewhere in whatever they were dubbing their lair these days. Anywhere else, and surely someone would’ve been instantly at her side as soon as she had moved, offering her a cold beverage or maybe some gratifying sex to make up for having gotten her kidnapped in the first place.
As if in direct response to her thoughts, Anya heard a faint creak off to her left and realized she wasn’t as alone as she thought. One eye cracked open, and she squinted into the blinding light of the room. “Xander?” she asked faintly.
“Freddie,” came back the reply, and her lids fluttered shut again.
Crap. Freddie was the one who snatched Willow. Suspicions confirmed.
“Are you thirsty?” Freddie asked. “I don’t have keys to the liquor cabinet but there’s some water. It might just take the edge off until somebody around this place decides to wake up and let us get some kind of proper breakfast.”
He sounded annoyed, and Anya frowned as she opened her eyes again. A couple firm blinks made the light inside the room more palatable and she saw the young man sprawled on a chair nearby. Not bad-looking was her first thought, followed almost immediately by, but not as good-looking as Xander. There was something about him, though, something familiar, and she couldn’t stop the query from popping out of her mouth.
“Have we met?” she asked.
Freddie grinned. “Officially, the answer would be no. Unofficially, the answer is kind of no, kind of yes. I’m Freddie.”
“You said that already.”
“And you’re Anyanka.”
“Anya,” she automatically corrected. “Wait. Did I wreak vengeance on you or something? Is that how I know you?”
His grin grew wider, like the Cheshire Cat’s, and she had the instinctive reaction to slap it from his face. “Kind of yes, kind of no,” he said obliquely.
In spite of her headache, Anya pulled herself up into a sitting position, noting for the first time the plush interior of the room. She hadn’t been bound, and as far as she could see, this Freddie wasn’t armed. Was it possible she wasn’t being held captive after all? A quick assessment of the interior again, though, negated that question. It reeked of the same Arabian night/post-modern opulence that the club did. It had to belong to the vampire Buffy had told them about.
“Look, I’m not one who’s really very big on skirting around the issue,” she said, smoothing out the wrinkles in her dress. “So, why don’t you just get over this need of yours to play Mr. Mystery and tell me what the hell is going on here because I have a monster headache and I’m really not in the mood to pussyfoot around. So. Let’s start with an easy one, OK? Like, where am I? Am I still at Midnight?”
He nodded. “These are Iris’ private quarters.”
“And you’re the guy who kidnapped Willow.” When he seemed reluctant to confirm, she sighed in annoyance. “OK, see, now that wasn’t actually a question, so you don’t have to worry about giving too much of your…” She used air quotes to say the next. “…’evil plot’ away. I know this is about the voix mortelle, and I know that somehow, Sandrine has decided to come back from the dead and take over Willow’s body. Whatever. What I don’t know is why, or what taking me hostage has to do with anything.”
“But…Willow is Sandrine.”
That made her pause, and Anya’s eyes narrowed as she studied him. The events of the attack on Spike, and the words of Halfrek, and her own recollections of the last time she’d been in New Orleans, combined to settle into a pattern, albeit an unbelievable one, inside her brain. “And you’re Percy,” she said slowly. “That’s why you look so familiar. You have his eyes.”
“Well, technically, I have his soul. That’s the way the whole reincarnation gig works, you know. But give the girl a prize anyway.” He stopped, looking at her quizzically. “It is girl now, right? You’re not a demon anymore?”
His casual dismissal of her status pissed her off, and Anya bridled under his gaze. “Only in the technical definition of the term,” she said. “So you don’t want to mess with me. Just because I can’t actually do most of the things I learned as a vengeance demon, doesn’t mean I haven’t still held on to a few of the tricks. And it’s done wonders for my imagination.”
“You’re not moving, though.”
“Did I not mention the headache I have? I’m…regrouping.” She rolled her eyes at his smug attitude, and collapsed back into the couch. “So there used to be three of you,” she commented. “Where’s Bettina? Who gets to be her?”
His smile disappeared, a cloud shading his gaze in pain. “That was Stella,” he replied.
His use of the past tense didn’t go unnoticed. “Great,” she muttered. “So Sandrine really is back on her homicidal ego trip. I was kind of hoping she was just saving the nasty stuff for demons and Slayers.”
“Nope. She’s pretty much nasty to everyone. Except for Iris, for some reason. The two of them are gettin’ on thick as thieves.”
“That won’t last. Sandrine hates sharing.”
“Tell me about it.”
The moment of commiseration wrapped around them like a warm blanket. “You know,” Anya finally said, “Buffy’s going to do everything she can to stop whatever Sandrine has planned. It’s very likely you could get caught in the crossfire. Not that she’ll kill you, of course. She has this whole honor thing when it comes to humans. But it doesn’t mean she won’t find a way to make your life completely miserable. Like making sure you go to jail. Or letting Iris make you her lunch.” OK, so that last wasn’t true, but Freddie didn’t know that and she watched in satisfaction as he visibly paled.
“Sandrine’s very powerful,” he said, but it lacked his normal conviction.
“And do you have any idea how many apocalypses Buffy has stopped?” Anya countered. “She will win. That’s just what she does. But…” She leaned forward conspiratorially, a sly gleam in her eye. “…I’ll bet if you were to let me go, maybe even come with me and tell everyone what exactly is going on, she’d give you a break. And not one of the bone-crunching kind, if you know what I mean.”
A long silence followed. “I let you go, and Sandrine’ll have my head for sure,” Freddie finally said. “Do you really think the woman who made me kill my best friend in front of her will think twice about serving me up for Iris’ breakfast if you get away?” He shook his head sadly. “I don’t think so. As much as I’m beginning to regret getting into this little mess, I’ve got my own skin to be thinking about here. And I like it wrapped around my body, thank you very much. Not hanging in strips like some sort of sick mobile. My advice to you is just do what she says and hope she’s in a good mood when she decides to kill you so that she makes it quick. ‘Cause if you piss her off? She will make your life hell. You can take my word on that.”
It was the defeat in his voice that made her skin itch. As she hugged her arms close around her body, burrowing deeper into the cushions of the couch, Anya rolled his words over and over in her head, the memories of how psychotic Sandrine had been the first time around chilling her veins in fear. Great, she thought. And Willow is not exactly bursting with the Anya love either. Add them together, toss in a side of good old-fashioned revenge, and what did she get?
Screwed to the wall. And very much not in an orgasmic way.
As terrified as the realization made her, Willow was getting used to her disembodiment, manipulating her awareness of Sandrine’s activities enough to keep some semblance of sanity at the same time. More than a few of the images that filtered through the other presence’s consciousness made Willow begin to think that tackling demons on the Hellmouth wasn’t such a bad recreational activity after all. Anything had to be better than having front row tickets to the Psycho Horror Picture Show. Even spending an afternoon listening to Anya discuss the virtue of ben-wa balls was preferable to what she was currently going through.
Anya. Remembering the events of the previous night burned Willow in guilt. Sandrine had plans for the ex-demon; she’d had them ever since going through the redhead’s memories and realizing she was friends with the same person who had destroyed the voix mortelle the first time around. Why weren’t you with Xander? Why the Miss Flirty routine with Tom? And why were you even here? Didn’t Buffy tell you what happened to Spike?
Not that there was anything she could’ve done to stop Sandrine. Not in putting the order out to snatch Anya, and not in distracting her best friend for the few minutes it would take to do so.
But it was done now, and knowing what was planned only made Willow more determined to do something about stopping it, in whatever way she could. She’d spent the entire previous day planning on what she would do in her small window of opportunity come sunrise, and now, she was waiting on pins and needles for Sandrine to wake up just enough so that she could implement her plan.
It came slowly this time.
Physical sensation was the first to arrive, the heat from the bare body draped over hers making her sticky in spite of the air conditioning in the apartment. Sandrine hadn’t even known the guy’s name when she’d picked him out from the crowd at the bar she’d dragged Iris to, but it didn’t prevent her from taking him back to ravish until the poor guy passed out. You’d think she hadn’t had sex in years, Willow thought. Oh. Except… maybe she hasn’t.
She could smell him then. Sweat. Cheap cologne. Stale beer. Yuck.
So glad I’m gay now.
Though her eyes weren’t open, Willow could feel the beginnings of Sandrine’s mind waking, slimy fingers slithering to pollute her mind. This is it. The window’s only cracked, but I can’t waste it.
She focused her attention on rising from the bed and walking over to the desk in the room, picturing it like a silent movie. I really need a soundtrack. Maybe Flight of the Bumblebee. Except that made her dizzy, considering, even though Sandrine followed her example by doing exactly as she acted it out in her head, stumbling slightly as her drowsy lids refused to open completely.
She didn’t know yet just how much control she could exert, whether directing her body’s actions was all or if she could command her voice, too. Now wasn’t the time for experimentation, though. Now, she had a plan to execute, and she couldn’t afford to be playing footloose and fancy-free trying to see what kind of a puppetmaster she really was.
Where’s the pen?
Willow felt the frown furrow her brow as Sandrine pulled open the drawer to look for the writing implement, rooting in the mussed interior only to come up empty. She could’ve sworn she’d seen it out of the corner of her eye before falling into bed with whats-his-name; it had to be here somewhere. Each pass of her gaze over the top only woke the other presence up more, though, and she felt the panic begin to rise in her throat until her eyes caught the tip of what she was seeking poking out from underneath a ledger in the corner.
The words she’d chosen were scribbled hastily across the page of the notepad, pointed and concise to save on time, and she ripped it out, folding it in half and writing the name on the outer edge. The grasp that had been a slither in her awareness began to be claws, and Willow fought to maintain control long enough to see her plan through.
She can’t catch me now. She’ll know I’m here.
Door. Get to the door.
Oops. Still naked. Grab the robe.
Crap. Where’d that guard go?
The hall was empty as she pulled the edges of the robe together, and Willow’s gaze swept up and down it as she mentally bemoaned lazy vampires who left their posts when Iris specifically said to keep an eye on her. Like I’m going to try and escape. Well, Sandrine would, but she needs to stick around if she wants her whole let’s be evil and take over the world scheme to work.
Her panic was escalating into a full-blown anxiety attack as her tenuous manipulation began to fray, but when the vampire appeared around the corner, the sound of the opening door alerting him to her presence, she mentally exhaled. OK, look evil so that he won’t make you talk. How do you look evil? Think leather. Think Spike. Think attitude.
Oh, holy mother earth, just think of something and do it.
As she pressed the paper into his hand, the words tumbled from her mouth. “He doesn’t get this in half an hour and you’ll be burning brighter than a Chinese firecracker, got it?”
The vampire visibly blanched and a startled Willow watched him rush away before slipping back inside the room. She leaned heavily against the door. Wow. Boy, do I love the sound of my voice. My words. And who knew vamps could actually get paler?
Her glee in the success of her plan was quickly shuttled to non-existence as Sandrine finished waking, snapping to attention with a crisp slap, and Willow was once again relegated to the sidelines, watching as the other surveyed the room in curiosity, her confusion about why exactly she was up and out of bed darkening her thoughts. There was no evidence that she suspected anything was wrong though, and as she dropped the robe back to a silken heap on the floor, Willow allowed herself to relax just ever so slightly.
It could still work. She’d chosen the only other person who seemed to be trapped in Sandrine’s spell who might be willing to do something about it, and though she wasn’t convinced he would actually do anything, it was at least worth a shot in trying. And if that didn’t work, she’d just try something else. She had her voice. There were other options she could always try.
It wasn’t like she didn’t have all day to come up with something.
“We don’t have all day,” Spike growled as he eased the Desoto to the curb. “Buffy said they’d be back at the hotel by noon to play show and tell on what everyone’s sussed out today.”
“I know,” Tara replied. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. The irritation was very much a façade. The vampire had been humming under his breath ever since she’d come to his room to request his help in getting some more supplies for the spells she had in mind, even casually switching to an easy listening station on the radio in the car when she’d grimaced at the blaring of the punk in the speakers. More than once, she had caught him with a wistful smile on his face, but every time he saw her noticing him, Spike would affect an air of studied nonchalance.
In a way, it was almost funny. Where last night, he had been obviously angry at the whole mess with Anya, barely containing his rage as Xander and Buffy had argued, today he sat as if all was right with the world, as if nothing anybody said or did could make a dent in his good mood. Yet, he was embarrassed when Tara noticed, shifting to indifference when he thought she was paying attention, only to slide back into whatever private paradise he was imagining that was making him so happy when she looked away.
“You want to come in?” she offered, pointing to the magic shop that was only just opening. “Didn’t you say something about wanting some burba weed?” She already knew he had. Knowing Buffy wanted him to spend the morning finishing up healing and faced with a young witch who said she’d just go get the supplies without him, it had been his way of justifying sneaking out into daylight to drive her himself. Big Bad Big Brother, that’s what he is, she thought. Except I better not say that out loud or he’ll get pissy for sure. “They probably have it here.”
She saw his eyes flicker through the cracks in the blacked out windows, assessing the people walking by on the street, before shrugging as if he didn’t really have an opinion. “S’long as you don’t expect me to be paying for any of your fixings,” Spike said as he reached into the seat behind him for his blanket. His eyes glinted in amusement. “I saw how much dosh you had in your purse when you made me stop for that coffee.”
She couldn’t help her small smile as she realized he was playing with her. “I think someone’s just cranky,” Tara teased. “It’s not my fault Starbucks doesn’t sell blood frappuccinos.”
“And I’m tellin’ you, they’d make a soddin’ fortune,” he countered as he slipped the blanket over his head.
There must be some kind of generic blueprint for magic shops that you can buy when you open one, Tara thought as she followed a smoking Spike through the door. Dimly lit, with shelves carrying a cornucopia of magical minutiae, it looked very much like the store back in Sunnydale. It was just missing Mr. Bogarty behind the counter. In his place was a girl who looked to be her age, absorbed in flipping through a Cosmo laid out on the counter, bubble gum cracking as she chewed casually away. She didn’t even look up when her first customers of the day walked in.
“I shouldn’t be very long,” Tara said to Spike. “I have a list.”
He nodded and sauntered off, leaving her to stand and stare around her as she tried to determine where to start. Most of what she needed was run-of-the-mill, so replacing what they’d used would be simple. Plus, she hadn’t anticipated the healing spell they’d done on Spike to work so effectively, so those were ingredients that would definitely be good to have on hand, should the need to cast it arise again.
She’d been surprised to see his face bereft of any of the burns when she’d first walked in on him that morning. He’d even moved with his usual feral grace, devoid of any visible pain. When she’d asked how he was feeling, though, she hadn’t been prepared for the smile that curved his lips, his head ducking shyly as he’d headed for the bathroom.
“Right as rain,” he’d said quietly.
Whatever had happened between him and Buffy after leaving for their room the previous night had obviously settled the fears that she’d sensed when she’d redressed his wounds. She only hoped that they would find Willow soon enough so that hers could get settled as well.
She was lost in her thoughts, her arms laden with items, when the door swished open and closed again. It wasn’t until she felt the soft brush of someone’s sleeve against her bare skin of her elbow that she realized she and Spike were no longer alone in the shop.
“Sorry about that,” the young man who’d bumped her said.
Tara looked up to see a youthful face, marred with a series of scars around his left eye, the smell of motor oil clinging to his skin though it appeared to be clean, and just nodded in mute acceptance of his apology. When she turned to head for the shelf of talismans where she could get the last of her items, she immediately bumped into another man, older but almost identically scarred. The smile he cast down to her raised goosebumps along her arms, especially when he stepped forward to press her into the shelves behind her back.
“Interestin’ place, ain’t it, sugar?” the second man drawled. His voice was low enough so that only she and his companion could hear him, the heat from his body causing rivulets of sweat to begin dripping down her back in spite of the air conditioning within the shop. “’Course, I’m goin’ to bet it’s not nearly as interestin’ as you.” Thick fingers came up to flick the ends of her hair over her shoulder, and too close, Tara saw the calluses roughening the pads, his nails that had been chewed down to the quick.
Speech was impossible. Instinctively, her body curled into itself, her head lowering as she felt the fear begin to boil in her stomach. Go away, she chanted silently. Please. Just leave me alone.
He was heedless of her reaction. Taking the topmost jar from Tara’s grasp, the man gave it a rough shake. “’Course, only those who lay down with the devil deal in witchcraft. You a witch? Or just lookin’ for some Halloween trinkets?” He didn’t wait for an answer, and Tara felt his friend step closer to her side, her heart starting to pound inside her chest. “I’m thinking…witch. You got the look about you. Don’t she got the look, Daryl?”
Daryl nodded. “Yep, she got the look.”
She couldn’t move. Each word, each twang, even the acrid scent of their skin, sent Tara back to the small community in which she’d grown up, and the taunts she’d suffered from the mouths of both her family and her so-called Christian neighbors. Whispers of fear that introduced the nightmares, drove her to hide behind the walls of her house, now came screeching back, rooting her to her spot as she fought to quell her rising nausea. How could I forget? she wondered helplessly. How could I ever forget?
“I-I-I really need to p-p-pay for these,” she stuttered, and inwardly screamed at how easily the frightened little girl came back. All because of a couple of no-brain hicks who didn’t understand one single thing about what it meant to be evil. And yet…she didn’t move.
“What kind of spell you plannin’ on casting, baby girl?” the older man asked. “A love spell? There a boy you’re trying to seduce to the dark forces of the devil, too?” She flinched when he reached out and brushed her cheek, and couldn’t help the whimper that squeaked in her throat. “All you girls are after---.”
“Am I missing some sort of party here, pet?”
Never had the sound of Spike’s voice sent such a rush of pleasure through her body, and Tara’s head jerked up, her breathing quickening in anticipation of the freedom he represented as the blond vampire stepped up behind Daryl. His head was tilted, his thumbs hooked through his belt loops, and at that exact moment in time, he looked like an angel to her.
“We was just havin’ ourselves a little chat with the lady here,” the older man said defensively, his gaze sweeping over Spike in disgust. “Just mosey along there.” He pointed to the opposite end of the store. “I believe the eighties are thataway.”
He and Daryl shared a snicker as Spike just rolled his eyes. “Guess it must Junior’s day to be having the brain.”
When it became obvious the blond wasn’t moving, both men turned away from Tara to square off with him. “I believe you were told to vamoose,” Daryl said. “Don’t make us get physical.”
“Now that would be interestin’ to see. Haven’t had a decent spot of violence in a good twelve hours.” Spike ducked as the first punch was thrown, watching as the older man went sprawling when his fist connected with air. He shook his head in disdain. “Now that was just pathetic.”
When Daryl’s fist shot out, the vampire stopped it with his own open grip, using the man’s momentum to propel him sideways, tossing him into his friend so that the two tangled in a heap. His face was grim, eyes flashing gold as he surveyed their struggle to get up, lashing out with a heavy boot when Daryl managed to get to his knees.
“Guess you don’t like pickin’ on people your own size,” Spike said coldly. “I’d make you apologize to the lady, but somehow, I don’t think you’d mean it.”
Only when the two men stumbled out of the store, Daryl clutching at his sore ribs, was Tara able to move again. The breath she’d been holding came out in a ragged exhale, but before she could thank Spike for his intervention, the clerk behind the counter spoke up.
“Thanks for saving me the trouble of calling my dad,” she said gratefully, though her finger casually held her place on the page of her magazine. “He hates it when those guys show up. They always make a mess of the place.”
Spike’s eyebrows shot up. “They’re regulars?”
“In the crazy, we hate everything magical and therefore we must ruin it for everyone else, kind of way. Yeah. Thanks for not making them brunch, too. I’m really not in the mood to be mopping up blood this morning.”
The latter made both Tara and Spike pause, albeit for different reasons. “You know I’m a vampire?” he asked the clerk.
“Well, duh. The smoking blanket kind of gave you away.”
“And you’re not scared?”
With a heavy sigh, the girl reached down behind the counter and extracted a large cross and water pistol. “Holy water,” she said in explanation. “I’m covered.”
“S-s-so, those guys…they’re…not demons?” Seeing Spike hurt them had made her automatically assume they were. If they weren’t…
“Nope. Just your garden variety jerk-off humans.” The clerk gestured toward the items that Tara still clutched to her chest. “You ready for me to start ringing you up?”
She didn’t even hear the girl’s words. As she watched, Spike turned away, reaching into his pocket for his cigarette and lighter, pointedly ignoring the “No Smoking” sign emblazoned along the wall as he quickly lit one up. Some of it made sense now. In the cosmicly ironic definition of the word. His jitteriness last night. His quick disappearance when the fight started heating up between Buffy and Xander. It might even account for some of his good mood this morning.
Surprisingly enough, though, it didn’t scare her. He’d had more than enough opportunities to act on it, and hadn’t. He had, in fact, defended her, protected her.
But she still had to know for sure.
Dumping her things to the counter, Tara approached him cautiously, reaching out to touch the worn leather of his sleeve when he tried to turn away. “The chip?” she asked tremulously.
It took forever for him to answer. When he did, his head was bowed, his gaze watching the ash on his cigarette sift to the ground before being scattered by the fan of the air conditioning vents.
“Gone,” was all Spike said.
To be continued in Chapter 28: Agitation…