DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of
course. And the chapter titles are
courtesy of Miles Davis.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy has disappeared with Sandrine as an exchange for Freddie, after the witch showed up at the cottage looking for her sacrifice to Sira…
“You’re a fool.” Though Iris and Sandrine stood facing each other, both ramrod straight, even from her vantage point across the living room Buffy could feel the barely repressed anger coiling throughout the vampire’s body as she bit the words out, her own senses springing to a rapid alert even behind the barrier that prevented her escape.
“And I’m beginning to get a little tired of a certain someone’s lack of so-called faith,” Sandrine replied in tones equally cold.
A scarlet-tipped finger pointed at the corner. “You brought the Slayer to my home. Do you have any idea how incredibly stupid that makes you?”
The redhead’s eyes flashed. “You vampires are all the same,” she spat. “You lack vision.”
“I can see perfectly fine that you’re going to be the death of us all, witch.”
“You’re already dead, dummy.”
“And so will you be if you don’t get her out of here!”
Their voices were rising, their tempers flaring just as high, but neither woman moved even a fraction of an inch from where they stood. Buffy rolled her eyes. This little show had been going on ever since she and Sandrine had materialized at the apartment she’d rescued Anya and Freddie from to see a minion about to go down on a half-naked Iris, and though the Slayer had been caged in the corner almost instantaneously, the vitriol that had erupted from the blonde vampire’s mouth had been just as immediate, kicking the other vamp to the side in her haste to argue with the mambo.
He’d been the lucky one, scampering out the door and away from the fracas, leaving Buffy to stay and watch the fight that ensued. Frankly, it was getting old, and though seeing them at odds meant bonus points for the good guys’ side, she would’ve much preferred not having a front row seat.
“It’s just a matter of a few hours,” Sandrine was saying. “If you can manage to keep your fangs to yourself until sunset, you’ll see that this is the best plan all around.”
“There is no such thing as a best plan if a Slayer’s involved,” Iris argued. “Using her as the sacrifice isn’t going to solve your problem. Kill her, and another one will just get called, and that one will come after you, and the one after that, and the one after that until you are good and dead and mostly not buried because they’ll cut you up into lots of little pieces.”
“So maybe you’ll get lucky and she’ll just cut off your head. The end result will be the same. You’re going to be dead and all of our work will be for nothing.”
For the first time, Sandrine seemed to relax in the vampire’s presence, taking a step back to expose the line of sight between the two blondes in the room. “You want to tell her, Buffy?” the redhead asked lightly. “Or do I get to be the bearer of good news?” She waited for a response, but when the Slayer remained silent, her brows lifted. “No? Spoilsport.” Back to Iris. “Wanna know another of the benefits of me having little Willow’s memories?” she queried. “I know that the Slayer line doesn’t go through Buffy anymore. I kill her, and absolutely nothing will happen.”
The vampire frowned. “That’s not possible. One dies, another pops up just like some annoying, goody-goody Kleenex. That’s the way it goes. ”
“Yessiree, bob, you’re right there.” Sandrine was almost bouncing in her glee. “Except Buffy’s already died before, so the line went on to Kendra, who bit the big one from Drusilla---literally, I might add---and then to Faith. And that Slayer happens to be locked away, all nice and cozy and safe from imminent death. Twenty-five years to life, I believe.”
Understanding smoothed the lines from Iris’ brow, the corner of her mouth canting in a bloody slash. “I’d heard rumors…” For the first time, she acknowledged the Slayer’s presence in the room, eyes bright in both delight and reluctant admiration. “So you really did come back from the dead?” she asked Buffy.
She folded her arms across her chest and lifted her chin. “Looking a lot better than you, I might add,” she said, confirming the vampire’s query.
Some of the shine faded, her mouth hardening. “So, this one dies…”
“…and you get a few decades of Slayer-free goodness and I still get my snakey summoned,” Sandrine finished triumphantly. She flopped down onto the couch, feigning exhaustion. “Now, do be a good vamp and go do your sleeping by day thing. I need time to rest up for tonight.” She did a flicking motion with her fingers as her eyes drifted shut. “I said, shoo.”
Buffy watched as the demon opened her mouth to say something, and then closed it again with an audible click, pivoting on her heel and storming from the room. “You really are bossy, aren’t you,” she observed dryly once it was just the two of them.
“Don’t really need to hear any comments from the peanut gallery right now,” Sandrine said from the couch, not even opening her eyes. Exhaustion weighed her body into the cushions, her shoulders slumped for the first time since returning from the cottage.
“Or what? You’ll kill me?” She laughed. “Would kind of defeat the purpose of saving me for snake bait tonight, wouldn’t it?”
“Nothing says I can’t hand you over to him with a gag as this month’s favorite fashion accessory.”
Buffy pretended to pout. “Spike gets silk pyjamas and I get a gag? Where’s the justice in that?” She heard Sandrine muttering, but the specific words escaped her. Oh, good, she thought. It’s working. She had no intention in trying to escape until they reached the swamp, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t try and rattle the mambo’s cage a little before they got there. Anything to gain a little bit of an advantage.
“I forgot to thank you for those, by the way,” she went on cheerily. “Normally, Spike’s all commando guy, but seeing him in your little seduction get-up? Yum with a capital Y. They’re going to get tons of use when we get back to Sunnydale.”
She could see the mambo shake her head, though she still didn’t turn to look back at Buffy. “I’ve changed my mind,” Sandrine said. “You and Spike are perfect for each other. Neither one of you knows when to shut up.”
“Aw, c’mon. You were all about the banter back at the cottage. Don’t tell me going toe-to-toe with Iris sapped your quipping power. Not that she’s much of a challenge, especially when the whole part about being sexually frustrated is factored in. But can I just tell you…popping us in without knocking first?” She shook her head, grimacing. “So not the image I wanted to be carrying around inside my head today.”
There was a snort of derision. “Please. Iris is a joke. Once Sira grants me my power, I’ll get rid of her. Stupid vampire,” she muttered as an afterthought.
“A stupid vampire with surveillance and cameras all over the place,” Buffy said brightly. She was having far too much fun goading the redhead, her confidence in the plans she and her friend had laid out---even if she didn’t get the opportunity to tell them about her adjusted role in them---bolstering her desire to shake the other woman’s assurance. Sandrine had already made it clear she wasn’t going to harm the Slayer; apparently, Sira liked his sacrifices in pristine condition. And after feeling so ineffectual for so long, Buffy was ready to take her frustrations out on anyone who got in her way.
On the couch, Sandrine sat up, frowning as her eyes scanned the room for the recording devices Buffy had alluded to. Quickly, though, she scowled, shooting the blonde a dirty look. “It won’t work, you know,” she said. “You’re pretty much toast any way this happens.”
“If you say so.” Bright, perky. Buffy at her most annoying.
“I do. I do say so.”
“Stop what?” OK, lather on the faux innocence and the annoyance factor went up by a power of ten. Gotta remember that for future reference, the Slayer thought amusedly.
She watched as Sandrine growled in frustration, rising to her feet and stomping from the room without giving her prisoner another glance. OK, that worked too well, she thought, her cheerful façade immediately dropping. The goal had been just to keep her on edge, not to actually push her over it. And now Buffy was forced to do the one thing she hated more than anything else.
Now, she had to wait.
With the steering wheel as a drumpad, his thumbs tapped out a beat only heard in his head as Spike’s eyes darted to the slit in the black paint to peer out at Clara’s shop. She was taking her sweet time with it, he thought irritably. What happened to only needing a few things to help Freddie?
“Please tell me that blood you had for lunch wasn’t laced with caffeine,” Giles commented dryly from the passenger seat. “You haven’t stopped fidgeting since she got out of the car.”
“Just want to get a move on,” Spike replied. “It’s goin’ to take a bit to get out to Sira Sommeil and we want to be ready to move on bringing Red back as soon as the sun hits the horizon.” His gaze flickered to the rearview mirror, catching Freddie’s eye in the back. “That’s what you said, right? Can’t start the shindig until after sunset?”
“That’s right,” the young man agreed.
“So just thinkin’ about time here, Rupert,” Spike finished, leveling his gaze at the Watcher. “I’m not willing to let Buffy be at the hands of Sandrine any longer than she has to be. The sooner we---.”
“Yes, yes, I get it.” He cut him off with a wave of his hand, and frowned behind his glasses. “My apologies if I’m not completely…adjusted to your deference to doing the good thing here,” he said sardonically. “Buffy may have had time to adapt, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to grant the rest of us a period of reprieve in order to better habituate ourselves to your new…situation.”
Blue eyes bored into blue, and the muscles twitched in Spike’s cheek. After a long minute, he said, “You obviously got something to say to me, so I suggest you just spit it out. Is it me and Buffy? Is that what’s got your knickers in such a twist?”
Giles’ face remained impassive. “Buffy’s an adult. She’s capable of choosing who she wishes to…spend time with.”
Spike snorted. “Don’t see what you’re bein’ all delicate for,” he commented. “This is me, remember? I’ve been in your house. I’ve seen your unmentionables. You don’t have to pussyfoot around your words with me. I’m not one of your precious protégés you’re afraid to sully with a little exposure to Ripper.”
The Watcher cast a look at the back seat. “I hardly think this is the time or place for this type of discussion, Spike.”
Freddie immediately slid forward to lean over the back of the front seat. “You want me to give you two a little privacy?” he offered. “I can always run for beignets or lattes or something---.”
Their synchronous denials sent the young man scuttling back into his corner, and he turned his head away from the pair of frowns to stare ineffectually out the blacked out window.
“Whatever you need to say,” Spike said, returning to face the man next to him, “you can do it in front of the lad. It’s not like he’s goin’ back with us to Sunnyhell. No need for you to worry about bad impressions or whatnot.”
As his hands tightened around the crossbow that rested in his lap, Giles appraised the vampire in a cool sweep, noting the tennis shoes that now graced his feet instead of his customary boots, the lack of the duster that beaconed as Spike’s usual Big Bad trademark. It was him, and then not, like a butterfly caught in transition, and the effect was disconcerting to say the least. “It’s your chip,” he finally said out loud. “I’m not yet comfortable with the fact that you’re in a position now to hurt Buffy.”
“Newsflash, Rupert. I could always hurt Buffy. I just chose not to all this time.”
“That doesn’t exactly make me feel better, Spike.” He shook his head. “I told Buffy this, and I’m going to tell you the same thing. Having a chip did not instill you with a soul. Just because you’ve managed to not make a mess of things so far, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll do the right thing, or that you even understand what the right thing is.”
“So, you’re tellin’ me that little pep talk back in my crypt, with all that higher purpose claptrap…that was just lipservice, right? You didn’t believe one soddin’ word of it.”
“I did, but---.”
“Should’ve known you wouldn’t be able to walk the walk,” Spike muttered. Disappointment clouded his aspect. “Not that it makes a bloody difference to me, but Buffy has this fancy notion of caring what you think.”
“This isn’t about that. This is about understanding what’s right, and what’s wrong without having to rely on technology to shock it into you.”
“Hate to break it to you,” the vampire said, “but I’ve always known the difference between right and wrong.” Though his voice was firm, there was no corresponding coldness in his gaze. “Just never cared about it before, is all.”
“Oh, please,” Giles replied, with a roll of his eyes. “Don’t even try pulling that ‘you care about it now’ line with me. You think you know me so well? Don’t forget, I lived with you, too. I’d rather think I know you just as well as Buffy does at this point.”
“Things are different,” Spike argued. “Have been for awhile. I’m not sayin’ I’m all reformed and the like. I’m just sayin’…” He exhaled loudly in exasperation, long fingers running through his hair. “I’m just sayin’,” he tried again, “the world looks different to me now. I don’t…have the same type of urges as I did. Don’t get me wrong. They’re still there, just…don’t really want to be acting on them all the time like I did before. Doesn’t seem right.”
“Are you trying to tell me that every time you look at Buffy, you don’t see the potential of another Slayer to add to your count? A…living blood bag, so to speak?”
“No. I see the woman I love.”
The matter-of-factness of his tone and the speed of his reply drove Giles to stare into the demon’s eyes, searching for any sign of duplicity. The clearest cobalt stared back, daring him to question the truth that hung between them like a double-edged sword, and almost imperceptibly, the Watcher began shaking his head.
“You’re not nearly good enough for her, you know,” he said quietly, his body already tensing for an even lengthier argument.
He surprised him. “I know,” Spike acquiesced, his voice equally low. “Don’t think that I’m not goin’ to live with that every single moment she lets me share her life with her. But she seems to think it doesn’t matter, so for her sake, I’m goin’ to set it aside.” He looked away for the first time since starting the conversation. “I’m not lookin’ for your approval in how I feel about her, Rupert. But I’m not goin’ to let you deny it, either. It’s real, and it’s not goin’ away, and I swear that for as long as she’ll let me, I’ll do whatever it takes to make her happy.”
The car lapsed into silence as both Englishmen sank into their reveries, their thoughts not so different as each dwelled on the golden form of the Slayer and what she meant in their lives. The air grew thick as the seconds passed, broken only when the back door opened and Clara collapsed onto the seat, a heavy bag in her lap.
“Next time I need supplies,” she gasped, “remind me to take one of you strapping young men along with me to do the carrying.”
It was left to Freddie to help Clara with the supplies through the swamp, as the low-hanging sun forced Spike to travel with the blanket over his head, leaving Giles to manage the weapons cache. They had been met at the morass’ edge by the other team, and after perfunctory direction from the vampire about what had happened during his previous visit, they had split up, each group trekking through the bog toward what they hoped was the final stop on their Big Easy expedition.
Tara sported one gris gris, while Giles had the other, dividing their protection against Sandrine should the mambo take them by surprise. The redhead was already there, and it was that trail that Tara followed, leading her small group with more than a little trepidation toward the pull of the darker magic. With the sun still out, they knew that Iris’ usual coterie would not be in attendance until later, and each and every one of them fervently wished that they reached the proceedings before that happened. Of course, that didn’t preclude other types of demons to come into play, so they remained on guard regardless, creeping through the swamp as stealthily as they could.
The protection of the swamp meant Spike didn’t have to wait until complete sunset before tossing aside the blanket, and he immediately took one of the swords from Giles’ care as his eyes swept the perimeter. Outside of the usual creepy crawlies that inhabited the area, he sensed absolutely nothing amiss, and felt the first finger of disappointment crawl up his spine. Too easy, he thought, following after Freddie’s lead. We’re getting in here too easy. Why doesn’t that bitch have more defenses in place?
Tara came to a halt in the middle of a boggy patch, an unsuspecting Anya almost colliding behind her.
“Watch it,” the ex-demon complained in a voice not designed for discretion. She fidgeted with the sword she was having difficulty not dragging along the earth, and wished yet again that she’d asked for a lighter weapon.
“Sshhh,” Tara warned. She cocked her head as if she was listening for something, and nearly jumped out of her skin when Peter rested a solid hand on her shoulder.
“There are voices ahead,” he said in a silken rumble. “I will go on and scout them out.”
“No way,” Xander hissed, stepping up. “All for one and one for all here. Nobody’s scouting solo. Them’s the rules.” He almost blanched when the towering giant turned his leaden gaze upon him, and swallowed hard to maintain his composure when the other man spoke.
“I was born here,” he said simply. “I know these lands better than you. I will be careful.”
“Oh, and just because I’m not Brier Rabbit, I can’t be careful, too?” the brunette countered.
“Xander! I’m stressed out enough about this. Lay off the bunny talk.”
He flushed at his slip. “Sorry, Ahn.”
Peter’s face remained blank. “Have you ever fought a vodou priestess before? Would you even know how?”
“They’re not any relation to Incan mummy girls, are they?” he joked. “’Cause those I got experience with.”
Peter didn’t even crack a smile, just lifted the sword in his hands and used it to point in the vicinity in front of them. “She is out there,” he said simply. “I only wish to ensure that you remain safe.”
“And what about you?”
But Peter was already moving, silent through the muck, his skin disappearing into the encroaching dark as he stepped away. Tara rested her hand on Xander’s arm when he inched to follow.
“We’ll give him five minutes,” she said. “He knows what he’s doing. And we’re safe as long as we have the gris gris.”
“Yeah, but what about him?” Xander muttered, as his eyes narrowed to follow the man in front of them.
Something was going on, something she’d been sensing ever since Sandrine’s surprise visit at the cottage, but what it was exactly, Willow couldn’t put her finger on.
Not that Buffy turning herself over instead of Freddie was all that surprising. It smacked left and right of the Slayer’s brand of hero-saving. No, what Willow couldn’t figure out was why Buffy never once tried to escape from Sandrine’s clutches, and why she had deliberately tried to goad the mambo into anger earlier at Iris’ apartment.
There must be some kind of plan. She and Spike came up with something to finish this all up.
What it could be, though, escaped her understanding.
Sandrine had finally made good on her gag threat, muzzling Buffy long before they’d left the apartment. Willow could see her now, stretched out on the dais the demons the mambo was employing had set in the middle of the swamp. Ropes lashed her to the stone surface, while a circle of fire was already starting to grow around the platform. It was several feet away, out of reach of actually harming the Slayer, to act more as a signal for Sira once he was summoned, but even knowing that nugget of information didn’t quell the fear that shook Willow’s awareness.
She wasn’t the only one afraid. Before stepping away from the display, Sandrine had looked down at the bound Slayer, and Willow had seen the beginning of worry creeping into Buffy’s eyes.
This wasn’t what they had been expecting. Buffy’s not sure she’s going to make it out of here.
She felt the cool satin of the staff in Sandrine’s hand, now intact and waiting for the words to be uttered that would bring it purpose again. The demons encircled the clearing, and though Willow knew Iris was lying in wait for complete sunset, she suspected Sandrine wasn’t nearly so patient.
OK, not so much with the thinking everything is going to be all right, she thought desperately. Maybe a little extra super-duper praying might be in order.
Are you there, God? It’s me, Willow…
To be continued in Chapter 39: Dark Magus…