ETA: a little section that I'd missed out has now been inserted, making this up to 3,600 words.
Previous parts here:
Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four / Part Five / Part Six / Part Seven / Part Eight
Part Nine / Part Ten / Part Eleven / Part Twelve / Part Thirteen / Part Fourteen
Angel of the Morning
“Because he got it from Rack, and we killed Rack last night.”
My mouth flopped open. I don’t think it fell as far as my chest, but it was sure heading that way. Wigged? That hardly covered how I felt. I was as wigged as an eighteenth century aristocrat, or Elton John at his fiftieth birthday party when he’d had the wig with a pirate ship on it, or the character in the Terry Pratchett story whose wig had a floral clock and a take-away linguini shop.
Spike killing Rack, yeah, I could see that. In fact, I was pretty sure that if I’d told Spike everything about what had gone on between me and Rack Spike would have found some way to kill him just for that. Even with the chip, whether Rack was human or not; I hadn’t been entirely sure on that score.
But this was Tara speaking, and she didn’t even seem to be upset about it. Tara, who was so sweet and gentle, who was reluctant even to stake evil vampires, who worried in case ‘Knight Rider’ was too violent for Dawn to watch the reruns. It was like I’d turned on the TV to watch a Discovery Channel special on koala bears only to see the cuddly creatures dropping anvils out of their trees on to the heads of kangaroos.
“He w-w-was horrible,” Tara said, and the stammer kinda unwigged me ‘cause that was more what I would have expected, although Tara hardly ever stammered these days unless she was real upset. “I was trying to track W-Warren, and I couldn’t, and I should have been able to now that he’s attacked us and shed our blood. Then we got a tip that he’d been to Rack, and Spike took me there, and we asked Rack what he’d done for Warren. Only Rack said he wouldn’t tell us a thing unless he got to taste me.” She screwed up her face, and I screwed up mine, ‘cause Rack touching Tara’s mind that way was a horrible thought. “He said that you’d tasted like strawberry, and that he bet that I’d taste like cranberry, and that he w-wanted to f-f-feel that clean innocent sharpness, and he leered at me.”
I winced. I didn’t like being reminded of what Rack had done, it was something that I’d just brushed under the carpet, and it wasn’t something that I’d ever wanted Spike to hear about. I wasn’t even really sure of what Rack had done to me; I didn’t think he’d done anything to my body, just to my mind, but I wasn’t certain. “Oh, sweetie, that must have been awful,” I said. “I bet Spike didn’t take that well.”
“He told Rack ‘keep yer soddin’ paws orf the lady, mate, or oi’ll break them orf’,” Tara related. Her imitation of Spike’s accent sucked so bad that it made me laugh out loud, and Tara grinned briefly in response. Her face turned serious again as she continued. “Rack just sneered, and said ‘You talk big, vampire, but I know all about that chip in your head. You can’t lay a finger on me.”
“Big oops,” I said, unable to resist breaking into a smirk.
“Yeah,” Tara grinned back. “Two seconds later Rack’s arm was being twisted up his back and Spike was telling him ‘Been a few changes around here, pillock. Two choices. Tell us what we want to know now, and we leave peaceable like, or tell us in half a minute with your arm out of its socket’.” She’d given up on her attempt to mimic Spike’s accent, thank goodness. “Rack went white as a sheet and he spilled straight away. Shielding spells, protection spells, glamours, and a bit of firepower. Everything he could pass on to somebody who isn’t magically inclined.”
That wasn’t of the good. The power boost that Rack had given me had taken me up to levels where I could have taken out Spike without much trouble. Of course I had already had quite a lot of magical power; Warren was starting from zero, and so he wouldn’t be in that league. Plus, it would fade away, even if he didn’t use it, and anything that he did use would be gone for good and he wouldn’t be able to cast that spell again. So, not good, but not major league bad either.
“Spike took the money that Warren had paid Rack, and then let him go,” Tara went on. “He told him that he’d better get out of Sunnydale if he wanted to stay alive, and we started to back towards the door. Rack was glaring at him, and rubbing his shoulder, but then suddenly he brought up his hands and made a gesture – he didn’t even need to speak! – and Spike was lifted up and thrown against the wall, and vines sprang out of the wall and wrapped around his arms and legs and held him there. And Rack laughed, and he turned to me.”
Tara shuddered, and fell silent for a moment. She took a deep breath before continuing. “Rack said ‘I’m going to taste you after all, cranberry girl, and I’m going to take everything that you have to give, and make you like it. You can watch, Spike, before I make her dust you.’ I was scared. Really scared. I threw a spell at Rack and it just fizzled. He sucked it up, and laughed more, and reached out and touched my cheek. Spike went into game face, and tugged at the vines, and snarled, and shouted at Rack, and he was saying some pretty scary things. And he was swearing a lot.”
I could imagine. Threatening Tara like that in front of Spike? Not a real smart move, even with Spike tied up. “He got loose?” I guessed.
“Not right off,” Tara said. “I tried to hit Rack, but he caught my arm, and he put his other hand on my, uh, boobies, and then there was a cracking noise, and Rack looked round and Spike was pulling so hard that the wall was starting to split. So Rack let me go and raised his hand to do another spell. Only I remembered that I had a stake, and I pulled it out, and I stabbed Rack with it.” She shuddered again, and fell silent.
I would have hugged Tara, only, somewhat incapacitated in the hugs department, but I squeezed her hand.
“Thanks,” Tara said after a moment. “It didn’t go in very deep. It was sticking out of his back, and he reached back and tried to pull it out, but it must have broken his concentration because the vines vanished. About a second later Spike had Rack by the hair, and he twisted his head around and sank his teeth into Rack’s neck.”
I was a bit squicked by that. Oh, I was glad that Rack was dead. What he’d been going to do to Tara, well, death seemed pretty much the right punishment. The biting thing, though, right in front of Tara, was a bit too much of a reminder that Spike was a vampire.
“Willow, you’d have been so proud of him,” Tara said, surprising me more than somewhat. “He only drank for a couple of seconds, and then he pulled back, and he spat the blood out. He said something like ‘Nah, not a bloody monster any more, act like a soddin’ man,’ and he went back to his proper face.”
She was right, I was proud of Spike. He was justifying all my trust in him. Why couldn’t Xander see it? Maybe he’d come round if he talked to Tara. It was interesting that Tara described Spike’s human features as his ‘proper face’. That was the way I thought of him, too. These days the vampire bumpies were something that he put on when he was fighting, and that was pretty much it.
“Spike picked Rack up by the throat, and he said ‘Doesn’t mean I’m not going to hurt you, twat-features. Gonna hurt you a lot,’ and he dropped him and then he did one of those kicks where he spins round. He knocked Rack flying back across the room and against the wall, and there was a horrible sort of crunching noise, and Rack fell forwards onto the floor.” Tara gulped. “The stake in his back wasn’t sticking out any more. It was, uh, all the way in.”
“Oh.” I could see now why Tara had said ‘we killed him’. “So, he was dead? Good. Uh, that isn’t why Spike hasn’t come to see me himself, is it? ‘Cause, if he thinks I’d be upset about him killing a human, well, what Rack was gonna do to you kinda disqualifies him from the whole human bit as far as I’m concerned.” I had another idea about what might be keeping Spike away, and it wasn’t a good one. What I’d let Rack do to me, whether it was just my mind or my body as well, was something I was pretty ashamed of, and maybe Spike thought less of me for it.
“Sure Spike wanted to come,” Tara assured me. “He just thought it was safer not to. There’s something following us. It started not long after we left Rack’s place. We were trying to track Warren, and something else was tracking us. Not the police. Friends of Rack’s, maybe. I can’t work out what it is exactly. Human, I think, but I’m not sure. When we split up it stayed on Spike’s trail. He doesn’t want to fight an unknown quantity yet, not until he’s dealt with Warren, and he doesn’t want to risk leading it here, with the Slayer being helpless, and you might be a target too. So he’s gone to ground while I came to see you.”
Well, that was a nicer reason than if he’d been disgusted with me about Rack, but it meant that another one of my fears had come true. “It’s Angel,” I told Tara. “Xander said he was going to call Angel and tell him that Spike’s chip is out. I didn’t get the chance to call him myself for a while, and when I did there was no answer. He must be in Sunnydale, and Xander must have told him a whole lot of crazy stuff, and he’s after Spike.”
“Angel? Oh dear,” Tara exclaimed. I didn’t think ‘Oh dear’ quite cut it, but Tara was never one for swearing. “We have to stop him.”
“Yeah, we do,” I agreed. “Trouble is, I’m stuck here, and I’m all woozy, and I’m not thinking straight. I mean, I’ve had a cellphone number for Spike all morning and I didn’t even think to call him. Dumb, huh?”
“Well, you’ve been shot, hon, it’s only natural that you’re not on form,” Tara said. “Maybe calling him might not be a good idea, because he wants to keep the line free in case anyone spots Warren. We’ve passed the number around demons as well as people, and we’ve had a couple of calls already, although each time Warren had gone by the time we got there. Leave it to me. I’ll warn him, and I’ll try to explain to Angel. If he’ll listen to me.”
“Of course he’ll …” I began, only it wasn’t true. Angel didn’t know Tara, maybe hadn’t even heard tell of her, unless Xander had mentioned her, or Buffy had talked about her when she went to see Angel that time after we brought her back. I hadn’t said anything myself ‘cause of the time that I’d warned Cordelia about Harmony being a vampire and Cordelia had said that she’d thought that Harmony was a ‘great big lesbo’. “Uh, maybe Anya can explain things to Angel, if she’s come down off this ‘back Xander right or wrong’ kick yet. I’ll call the Magic Box.”
“Good thinking,” Tara agreed. “Angel will listen to Giles, too, won’t he?”
“Is Giles coming?”
“He’s on his way. Spike called him pretty well right away, and he said he was getting the first flight he could catch. He should be here today.”
I sighed with relief. “That’s great! Giles should be able to keep Angel in line.” I had a sudden uncomfortable thought that maybe Giles wouldn’t want to. I mean, he trusted chipped Spike, yeah, but unchipped might be a different proposition. I was really seeing how come Hallie had gone along with my wish so quickly. “He will, won’t he? I mean, he said he was okay with Spike. Even though Spike doesn’t have a soul or a conscience.” I don’t think I sounded all that sure.
“Spike does have a conscience,” Tara told me. “It’s just not built in the way ours are. He has me.”
“That’s what he wanted me for, as well as the magic thing. So I could help him stay in line and warn him if he was going to do anything wrong. I’m sort of like an external conscience, same as an external hard drive on a computer, linked up with UST.”
I choked. “Uh, I think you mean ‘USB’.”
Tara frowned. “Did I make a funny? What’s ‘UST’ then?”
“Unresolved Sexual Tension,” I explained.
“Oh,” Tara said, looking shocked, and then she giggled. “Well, hon, he is pretty cute for a guy, and he likes me.”
“Hey, any ST had darn well better remain U, missy, or I’d get really cranky,” I warned her, grinning right across my face.
“If you say so,” Tara grinned back, and then the grin turned into a sweet smile. “He’s family, hon. Just like you, and Dawn and Buffy, and Xander and Anya, and Giles, are family.”
“Not as far as Xander is concerned,” I grumbled.
“We’ll just have to persuade him to fall in line.” She glanced at her watch. “Wow, I’ve been here quite a while, and I have to snatch some sleep or I’m going to flake right out, and there’s something important I still haven’t told you.”
“What is it?”
“Well, we’ve thought of a way to locate Warren even with his cloaking spells, but it needs more than just me. It was Spike’s idea; he got it from a Dale Brown book where the Iranians use it to track a Stealth bomber. See, Warren’s just sucking up any probes, and nothing comes back to me. I can get a sort of vague idea of him being somewhere in the area but that’s all. But if you and me are both probing, and linking up to each other, if Warren is in between us he’ll break the link. That would give us the direction. If there were three of us it would give us the exact spot.”
“Hey, yeah.” That should work. “So, I stay here, ‘cause I can’t do anything else, and you cruise round on the bike with Spike, right? So, who could be the third? Somehow, I can’t see Amy rushing to help out, I’ve lost touch with Michael, and Jonathan’s not exactly a viable option. You think Giles might be able to do it? The mind stuff’s not really his thing; he’s more books and incantations guy.”
“We could ask him, hon, he might be able to do it. He does know a whole lot,” Tara said, and suddenly yawned. “Maybe I shouldn’t have looked at my watch. It’s starting to hit me hard. I’d best be going, hon. Take care.”
- - - - -
I called the Magic Box but all I got was the machine with Anya’s irritatingly chirpy message. Being stuck in the hospital was a total downer. I wanted to be all calm and organizing and command-centery, but I was just cut off from everything.
I started getting all paranoid and wondering if Tara’s reason for not wanting me to call Spike was really to keep the line free, or if her ‘UST’ thing was a Freudian slip rather than a mistake because of her not being into computers. I mean, I knew how easy it was to fall for Spike, and Tara was so loveable that I’d fallen for her even though I don’t think that I’d ever really been gay! Okay, I was being pretty silly thinking about anything happening between Spike and Tara, but I was really down and I just felt so helpless. Plus, lots of painkillers clouding my mind.
On top of everything else I was starting to get that uncomfortable feminine itching, and I was pretty sure I was getting a yeast infection. Massive doses of antibiotics so sucked. Sure, it was way better than getting an infection in the wound and my shoulder not healing up, but so not a lot of fun.
Anya arrived to see me just when I was getting good and gloomy. “I’ve brought grapes,” she announced, “because apparently they’re what you’re supposed to bring people in the hospital. I can’t stay long, because I have to get back to the shop in time for the end of the lunch break, and I’ve already been in to see Buffy.”
So that was why the machine had been on. “You’ve seen Buffy? How is she?”
“She can sit up,” Anya said, “but they wouldn’t let me leave her any grapes. Xander did most of the talking.”
“Is Xander coming to see me?”
“No, he doesn’t think you’re very happy with him at the moment, so he’s staying away for now.” She pulled a handful of grapes from the bunch and began eating them. “He called Angel to deal with Spike.”
“Yeah, he said he was going to. That is just so dumb! Darn right that I’m not happy with him.” I looked hard at Anya, hoping that she would show some sign of agreeing with me, and – yay!
“I’m not all that happy about it myself,” Anya said, popping another grape into her mouth. “Spike probably saved Dawn’s life. It was silly of Xander to get all worked up about Spike being a danger when he’s only hunting the person who shot you all. Including Xander. It’s not like Angel is doing anything to get Warren; he’s only interested in Spike.”
“But Warren shot Buffy!”
“His priorities do seem rather odd,” Anya agreed, working her way through the grapes like Xander used to devour donuts. “But Buffy is going to get better, and he has issues with Spike. He kept on going on about chains and hot pokers. Oh, and he’s not very happy about Spike being able to walk in the sun. I think he’s jealous.”
Jealous, yeah. I would have bet money that Xander had made a big thing of Spike sleeping with Buffy, just to make sure that Angel was good and mad. “Is Xander still here?”
“Yes, he’s in with Buffy. She’s not very happy about Xander calling Angel either.”
Good for Buffy. “Get Xander in here, Anya. Please.”
“Are you going to shout at him again?”
“I’ll try not to shout. There’s just something I want to say to him, okay?”
“Oh, all right.” Anya pulled off another stem of grapes and stood up. “Get well soon, Willow.”
“Thanks. Hey, you’ve eaten half of the grapes!”
“That’s traditional as well, isn’t it? I’ll send you Xander.”
- - - - -
“You still mad at me, Will?” Xander sat down, avoiding my eyes, and his hand went to the grapes.
“I’m not pleased, that’s for sure. Tara tells me Angel’s been on Spike’s trail half the night. It’s messing up their hunt for Warren. Call him off, Xander.”
“Warren’s just a human, Will. Spike’s much more dangerous.”
I gave him the full Giles style eyes to the heavens treatment, and then followed up with a Buffy eye-roll. “And Angel’s not?”
“Angel has a soul, Willow,” Xander said, in a sort of patient voice as if he was explaining something to a small child. “All that was holding Spike back was the chip, and now that’s gone he’s just an evil vampire again.”
“As evil as Angelus?”
“Well, no,” Xander conceded. “Maybe not quite that evil.”
“Angel hates Spike, right? Anya says he’s so obsessed with getting Spike that he isn’t even interested in catching Warren.”
“That’s pretty much how it is,” Xander agreed, and frowned. “What are you getting at, Will?”
“Remember what Genghis Khan said about what brought the greatest happiness?” I asked him. Xander looked puzzled, and so I revised my reference. “Conan said it in the movie. They asked him what was the best thing in life, and he said, ‘To crush your enemies. See them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women’."
Xander’s frown grew deeper. “Yeah, I remember that. Your point is?”
“If Angel manages to dust Spike he’s going to be pretty darn happy about it. Maybe even perfectly happy.”
Xander went pale. “He doesn’t hate him that much,” he said, not sounding terribly convinced. “Does he?”
“Maybe,” I said. “Call him off, Xander. I don’t ever want to see Angelus again.” I was overstating the case, I didn’t really think that dusting Spike would unleash Angelus, but I had to get through to Xander somehow.
“I’ll try,” Xander said. “I’m not sure that he’ll listen to me, he’s pretty much wrapped up in his son and in getting rid of Spike, but I’ll try.” He stood up and moved towards the door. “Maybe I did do a dumb thing, Will. I’m sorry. You get better, okay?”
“Thanks. Hey, you’ve eaten all the grapes!”
“Uh, sorry, Will. Bye!”
Xander headed out. The door had closed behind him before something that he’d said registered on me and there was no response when I called after him. “Hey! What do you mean, Angel’s son?”
The characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only and all rights remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the writers of the original episodes, and the TV and production companies responsible for the original television shows. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER ©2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox.