DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’,
of course. And the chapter titles are
courtesy of Miles Davis.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Sandrine attacked the hotel in an attempt to get Freddie, during which time the truth about Spike’s chip came out to Buffy and Giles. Buffy lied about knowing about it, covering for Spike, but when Sandrine was thwarted from snatching Freddie, she disappeared with the vampire instead…
Though sweat was beading along her forehead from the heat generated by the explosions, dripping down between her breasts in a ticklish track, Buffy’s skin was chilled as she stared at the empty space in front of her, frost swathing her muscles so that movement was impossible.
Gone. They were gone.
Both of them.
Where in hell did they go?
She heard the tentative steps of the others as they merged onto the lot, but couldn’t tear her gaze away, not even when Tara came up beside her and rested a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“What happened?” she heard Xander ask behind her.
“Sandrine teleported out of here,” Freddie replied.
“She can do that?”
“She did it before,” Buffy murmured, finally finding her tongue. “In the swamp. After she attacked Spike.” The ice spread its resolve, stiffening her shoulders. When she spoke again, her voice rang like a crystal through the smoke-filled air. “Where’d she go, Freddie? Where’d she take him?”
“I don’t know. Anywhere.” He flinched when she turned blazing eyes toward him. “Maybe back to Iris’,” he hastened to venture.
“It’ll be all right.” Tara’s tone was gentle as she gave the Slayer a reassuring squeeze. “Willow’s still somewhere inside Sandrine. She won’t let anything happen to Spike.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Anya said loudly. “Because she did such a bang-up job in making sure I didn’t get hurt. Bang-up being the key phrase here, of course.”
That settled it. “We’ve got to find him,” Buffy said, but as she began turning toward the others, the squeal of tires from the other side of the parking lot captured her attention, and the group watched as a trail of cars began pealing away from the hotel. “That’s going to be Iris’ group. We’ll follow them. They’ll lead us back to Sandrine.” This time, she looked at Xander. “Where’s the car?”
With a grimace, he pointed behind them. “It would be that flaming ball of scrap metal over there.”
“The Desoto then,” she said, but before she’d taken two steps, she stopped, shaking her head. “Except…Spike has the keys.”
“I can probably hotwire it,” Xander offered. “Although it might take me a few minutes.”
“Do it. We need transportation as soon as possible. Iris has got an in with the police around here, and I’m thinking with as much noise as her little minions have made tonight, it’s not going to be long before they decide to show up. We don’t need to be sitting in a jail cell all night while Sandrine’s doing god knows what to Spike.”
Giles’ sudden approach at her side cut her off, and she hesitated when she realized he’d overheard the last part of her conversation. “What’s this…about Spike?” he wheezed as he fought to regain his breath.
“He’s gone,” said Buffy. “Sandrine took him.”
“He saved my life,” Freddie volunteered, holding up the gris gris that still dangled from his hand.
“Why?” the Watcher asked.
“Because Sandrine tried snatching him away again.”
“And she took Spike because…?”
“Because she’s a pissy bitch who doesn’t like others to play with her toys!” Buffy exploded in frustration. “I don’t know, Giles. I just know, she came looking for Freddie, Spike intervened, so she took Spike instead. Does she have a grand master scheme? Probably. Do I know what that is? No. What I do know is that the longer we stand around here and play twenty questions, the more time she’s got to get away.” She refused to quail beneath her Watcher’s direct stare. “We’re going after them,” she said. “We’re getting him back.”
“And how do you…propose to find him?”
“Between Tara being able to sense her magic and Freddie being a member of Sandrine’s psychic friends network, I’m thinking it’s not going to be that hard once Xander gets the Desoto running.”
“Actually,” Freddie interrupted, “I’m not really sensing anything with Sandrine right now. I only did when she got so upset. She must be calmed down now.”
“She’s got Spike with her,” Xander offered. “The way his mouth goes, it shouldn’t be too long before she gets good and angry again.”
“Buffy,” the Watcher started. “We need to talk about this---.”
“No.” The single word was clipped as it hung in the air between them. “This is not a time for talking, Giles. This is a time for doing. I’m not going to just stand back and let her get away with this---.”
“And she won’t. But without a definitive plan, you’ll merely be charging at windmills, and someone else is bound to get hurt as a result. Do you really want to lose a third person you care about to this…debacle?”
He wasn’t chastising her for her feelings for Spike. With the soft cadence of his voice, the firm but gentle weight of his gaze, he was attempting to cut through her heightened state, to force her to see reason when all she could distinguish was the immediate pain and fury at the vampire’s disappearance. The weight of Tara’s hand on her shoulder only served to remind Buffy of the circle of friends she had around her, of how much she had to lose if it dwindled even further, and she felt the tug of resistance loosen in the pit of her stomach.
“What do you suggest then?” she asked quietly.
“We need to get to safety first,” Giles replied, matching her tone. “The vampires seem to be retreating, but the hotel is in a shambles. Staying here isn’t an option, not with Sandrine and Iris knowing our location.”
“It’s a good thing this is a tourist town,” Xander commented. “I’d begin to worry about running out of hotels to wreck.”
“No. No more hotels. That makes us too easy to find,” Buffy said
“And having Freddie around like our own personal homing beacon for Sandrine doesn’t make us easy prey at all,” Anya commented dryly.
“If he can’t sense her, then we have to play the odds that she can’t sense him either,” the Slayer went on. “We have to go someplace where she won’t expect to find us.”
“Did you have anyplace specific in mind?”
She nodded. “It should be all clear. It’s only got one bedroom, but the couch is comfy, and there’s tons of floor space.”
“Right. So, let’s pack up and get going then.” The Watcher stood aside as the group filed past him back toward their rooms, before squinting in the direction of the flaming cars. “By the way, what happened to the rental?”
Asking Tara for help in packing didn’t garner any unnecessary attention from the others, so Buffy was relieved when she shut the door behind them. This was going to be a lot easier if she could get her own answers first, without having to worry about fielding questions from the rest of the gang.
“Did you guys have separate bags?” Tara asked as she crossed to the clothes hanging by the bathroom. “Or do you want me to just put Spike’s things in with your yours?”
“How did you know?”
Her query, though out of the blue, only brought the shortest of hesitations to the witch’s movements, and she turned calm eyes to the Slayer. “He finally told you,” she said simply.
“No, he hurt a little boy.” She shook her head at the sudden shock that sprang across Tara’s face. “It was an accident. He was saving him and there were feet connecting with very sensitive parts and Spike over-reacted. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that his chip went kaplooiey, and that you knew this before I did.”
“Actually, Spike thinks it’s not there at all. Something the seer you got the gris gris from said.”
“She knew before me, too? Was there some billboard on this that I missed or something?” Buffy collapsed onto the bed, staring up at the ceiling. “I thought Spike being on our side was supposed to make things easier. He’s done so much, and…he’s trying so hard. And did you see how he just threw that gris gris to Freddie?” She exhaled heavily and closed her eyes. “Stupid vamp,” she muttered.
Setting down the t-shirts she’d already started pulling from the hangers, Tara crossed to the edge of the bed and sat down next to the Slayer. “Everything will be all right,” she soothed. “Telling the others shouldn’t be a problem now, not now that they’ve seen him like we have.”
“Giles already knows. He was there for the floor show. He wigged in a huge way, so I lied to him and told him I already knew about it. That it was all right.”
“Which it is…right?”
The soft question drew Buffy’s eyes back open. “Only if we get Spike back in one piece. That’s the only all right scenario I’ll be happy with.” Trying to be upset with Tara was as hard as it was trying to be upset with Willow for extended periods of time, she realized. And was it really fair? “So how come you get to be the best friend and confidante, while I just get to be his kept-in-the-dark girlfriend who has to find everything out the hard way?” she asked.
Tara smiled at the slight annoyance in the other girl’s tone. “It’s not like he came out and told me, Buffy,” she said. “He saved me from getting attacked by a couple of jerks at the magic shop. I’m sure you would’ve been the first one on his list of people to tell if I hadn’t figured it out first.”
“I’m going to ask Giles to do a drive-by of where we rescued Anya,” Buffy said as she rose from the bed and began pulling her things out of the drawers. “Not that I really expect Sandrine to go with the obvious and take him back there, but at least you’ll be able to confirm for us whether it’s still an option.” She glanced at the witch as Tara returned to the hanging clothes. “You can still do the sensing of her magic thing, right?”
She nodded. “It’s actually stronger now. She’s…growing in power, I think.”
Not exactly what she wanted to hear right now, but Buffy remained stoic. “Then that just means we have to work faster to get Spike and Willow back,” she said. She didn’t vocalize the thought that came immediately after; they needed all the positive attitudes they could manage right now.
Before it’s too late.
The car was the last place she had wanted to talk about it, but as soon they had gone by Iris’ apartment building and found no traces of Sandrine’s magic, Giles had introduced the subject of Spike’s chip. To his credit, he had waited until Xander had turned on the radio, keeping his voice as low as possible as he addressed Buffy, but with so many sets of ears crammed into the vehicle, it was unavoidable that someone would overhear something.
“Is that the chip Sandrine told me keeps Spike from hurting people?” Freddie asked from Buffy’s other side.
“What’s this about the Spike’s chip?” Xander piped up from the driver’s seat, turning down the music slightly.
She saw his eyes flickering to the rearview mirror, and Buffy pressed her lips together, wishing that for once, Giles had kept his opinion to himself for longer than five minutes. But her talk with Tara had bolstered her determination to do right by Spike, and it wasn’t like she hadn’t already committed herself to standing by him. The only thing she had to worry about was whether or not Xander would drive them off the road when he heard the news.
“It’s gone.” Best to just get it out there. Short and sweet. Keep the shock value to a minimum.
“Gone? What do you mean gone?”
“Gone. As in…not there anymore.”
The car coasted to a stop at a light. “How? How is that possible?”
“I thought it just didn’t work anymore,” Giles stated with a frown.
She caught Tara’s eye, and swallowed in resolve. “Nope. Gone. At least, that’s what Clara said.”
“Clara…? Isn’t that the vodou mama who gave you your little mojo forcefield? What, does she have X-ray vision, too?”
Buffy shrugged at Xander’s question, trying to make it seem as nonchalant as possible as she shared the details she’d gotten from Tara. “I don’t know the specifics. I only know that she said it wasn’t there, and that nothing fires when Spike…” Her voice trailed off. Any word she picked was going to get attacked, and while it didn’t bother her, she knew that wasn’t going to be true with the other men in her life. “…hurts humans,” she finished, finally deciding to just say it like it was.
The light changed to green, and she was grateful when his eyes disappeared from the mirror to concentrate on the sliver of window he could actually see through in front of him. “And again with the how,” he demanded.
“We’re not sure,” she conceded. She grasped for the few particulars Tara had volunteered. “Spike’s got a theory that his little Cecily wannabe visitor had something to do with it, but that would mean she’s either the world’s best brain surgeon or some kind of witch. Given our history, I’m leaning toward witch.”
“Or demon,” Tara said. “That’s always a possibility, too.”
“So why wasn’t he stake food as soon as you found out?” Xander asked. “Why is it we’re even worrying about getting him back from Sandrine if he’s gone all evil again?”
“Because he’s not evil,” she shot back harshly. Her eye caught the terrain outside the open window. “Turn left here.” She saw the grim determination on her friend’s face, and though her anger was rising inside at his casual bandying of the word “evil,” she could see how he’d get that. Hadn’t she been there herself before this whole New Orleans trip? It had taken the intensive time they’d spent together to see past the façade Spike so studiously erected in her presence. How could she expect Xander to see him any differently?
“This is Spike,” he said, as if that was enough explanation.
“The same Spike who saved my life,” Tara said quietly, ignoring the confusion lingering on the brunette’s face when he glanced at her.
“And not like I’m head cheerleader for anyone vampy after havin’ to put up with Iris the past few days, but he was awful willing to play catch with me with his little gris gris,” Freddie added.
In the mirror, Buffy caught Xander’s frown, but she deliberately turned her head when the house appeared out of the corner of her eye. “This is it,” she said, pointing out the window. “Pull over here.”
Seeing the darkened windows of the Green Dolphin cottage sent a stab of melancholic nostalgia through her chest, and she sighed as the car eased to a stop along the curb. “What is this place?” she heard Giles ask as he opened the door to step out onto the sidewalk.
“The house Spike and I stayed at before Pablo sold us out to Iris,” she replied, clambering from the back seat. “As long as it’s empty, it’ll be the last place they expect us to go back to.”
“Is it safe?”
“As safe as anyplace is, provided no one’s around.” She held up a hand to stop the others from getting out of the Desoto just yet. “Let me just do a quick sweep to make sure it’s clear.”
Giles turned back toward the car, but surprised Buffy when instead of getting in, he pulled out the crossbow from earlier. “I’m coming with you,” he said, straightening, and his tone brooked no argument.
They were both silent as they skirted the outer edge of the cottage, but once the internal view from the lanai confirmed for them that the house was just as it was when the pair had left it before---minus a scaled demon unconscious on the still-shattered piano---the Slayer let loose the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. “It looks like Pablo skipped,” she said, “but other than that, we should be OK.”
“Buffy…” His quiet voice halted her turn back toward the car, and she glanced up to see his face hidden in the shadows, the moonlight haloing his head in silver. Though the combination of the dark and his spectacles kept the intent of his gaze sequestered from her scrutiny, his voice held no recriminations when he spoke. “No matter what you may want to believe, a chip is not a soul.”
With that one statement, Buffy realized he wasn’t going to ask her to qualify her relationship with Spike. Not when he already seemed to know. “I’m not saying it is,” she said quietly. “And I’m not so blind not to see that it’s going to be hard. For either me or Spike. But I’ve seen his heart, Giles. And I’ve seen how much he’s trying to be more than what we think he is. This isn’t about judging him for what he might do. This is about giving him the chance to be judged for what he actually does. If something goes terribly wrong and he decides to kill again, you know I’ll be the first one in line to do something about it. Didn’t I prove that with Angel? But…after everything here, with choosing to save Freddie when he didn’t have to, with…everything else…right now, he deserves our faith in him. I think he’s earned it.”
He was silent as he regarded her, his mouth thin. She wasn’t good at the explanations, or in trying to put words on the instincts that she usually let rule her life. She could only hope that some of her logic made sense, and that Giles would trust her opinion on this.
When he spoke, his voice was still so low, she had to strain to hear him. “I have a theory about the garde on Freddie’s arm and how we can use it to locate Spike,” he said. And it was that statement, the careful avoidance of any direct argument with her statements, the casual utterance of his thoughts on how to rescue the vampire, that assured the Slayer of her Watcher’s acceptance of Spike’s integration within the group, and his trust in her belief of him. Though the desire to throw her arms around him and hug him in gratitude was great, she refrained, bestowing upon him instead her brightest of smiles.
“Let’s get everyone inside first,” she said. “I think we’ll think clearer once we’ve got some walls between us and Sandrine.”
The first thing he became aware of was the cool feel of something hard against his back. Bare skin, he realized, pressed into the relative smoothness of what was unmistakably stone. The question as to why his torso was bare, however, was soon forgotten in Spike’s realization that he wasn’t physically bound, and slowly, he opened his eyes to survey his surroundings.
Dark, but not too dark, with the faint faraway drip that suggested damp. Carefully, he turned his head, eyes glinting in gold as he vamped just enough to take it all in. Someplace underground, but not a tunnel. More like one of the numerous hideaways that lurked beneath the surface of the Big Easy. An open entrance disappeared into ebony, while candles glinted at the side of a king-sized bed that seemed very much out of place in light of where he was.
He quickly realized that it wasn’t just his back that was bare. Looking down, Spike noted the absence of his usual attire, his upper body and feet both bereft of covering, while blue silk pyjama bottoms billowed around his legs. Another sweep of the room didn’t reveal his belongings, though, and he scowled at the loss.
“Not that I’m all that fussed about the cold,” he called out to whoever just might be in attendance. “But taking a bloke’s kit isn’t exactly the way to get onto his good side.”
“I like this look better.” He turned his head to see Sandrine lounging in the open doorway, but kept his face aloof as he absorbed the black slip dress that molded to her curves. “And can I just say? For being such a bitch, Buffy sure does have yummy taste in boyfriends.”
“Is that what this is all about then? You got an itch for a bit of cold comfort? Hate to disappoint, ducks, but you’re not really my type.”
She smiled, her teeth gleaming white in the flickering candle as she stepped toward him. “See, now, it doesn’t do you any good to lie to me, Spike,” she said lightly. “Because I have all of the little witch’s memories, so I know all about the times you went to see her.” Her brow furrowed as she pretended to try and remember. “Wasn’t it just last fall that you told Willow you’d even considered biting her? Something about a pink fluffy number, I think.”
He kept his gaze cold. “The thing of it is, though, you’re not Red.”
“No, I’m not.” Coming to a stop directly in front of him, Sandrine’s head tilted as her eyes drank in the sight of his sculptured chest, one hand coming up to trace the outline of a well-defined pec. “I’m better.”
With a blur, Spike’s hand flew up to catch her wrist, keeping his touch firm but painfree so that she wouldn’t know about the status of his chip just yet. That was his wild card, and he knew it. “Like I said,” he said, his tone clipped. “Not interested.”
Her bottom lip jutted out into a pout. “See, I don’t get you, Spike,” she said. “From everything I have from Willow’s memory, and everything Iris has told me about you, you should be chomping at the bit to get out from under the Slayer’s stylish heel. What happened to wanting to wreak havoc and go for the jugular? I thought you’d be excited to get out of Buffy’s shadow and finally start having a little fun again.”
“Now, you’re just not lookin’ at it from the right perspective,” he drawled with a smile. “’Cause the way I see it…pissing you off? Best spot of fun I’ve had in a bloody moon.”
The rake of her nails across his cheek was expected, but Spike’s grin only widened as he felt the familiar sting of the cool air hitting his exposed scratches, swiveling his head back to stare into the glittering green depths of her eyes. “So pathetic,” she bit out. “Like a whipped little puppy. I don’t know what it is that you and the witch see in the Slayer. Bossy, holier than thou, with a god complex the size of Texas. You could do so much better.”
“You mean, like a skanky, two-bit, has-been mambo, who has to satisfy her bout of penis envy by summoning a soddin’ snake demon? Yeah, pet, you’re right. That’s just soooo much better.”
She pulled herself away then, her face contorted into a snarl, and Spike saw too late the magic erupting from her hands. Fire burst into a wall around him, encasing him in a coffin of flames against the wall, and he pressed himself back into the stone to keep it as far away from his skin as possible. When he tried to test his prison by reaching forward, wondering if he dared to make a break for it and risk momentary immolation before getting free, the inferno blazed and crackled harder, thickening to molasses until he knew with certainty that getting through it would take more time than he could guarantee not going up in dust with it.
Through the orange and crimson, Sandrine’s mouth twisted in angry glee. “Now that’s fun,” she said.
“Don’t know why you’re bloody pussyfooting around with me,” he snapped. “Just stake me and get it over with. I’m of no use to you.” Not that he really wanted that to happen, of course, but the bitch was annoying him with her parlor tricks.
“That’s where you’re wrong,” she replied. “And really, it’s your own fault by sticking your nose in where it doesn’t belong. If you’d just let me take Freddie in the first place, we could’ve avoided all this. But no, you had to go all John Wayne and ride to the rescue. So, instead of me using Freddie as my sacrifice to Sira, you get to take his place instead.” She smiled, but this time there was no mirth in it. “Aren’t you the lucky one…?”
To be continued in Chapter 35: Speak Like a Child…