Title: Fire in the Soul (3/?)
Word count: 4150
Pairing: Spike/Buffy, but also a bit Dru-ish
A/N: Beta’d by snickfic, and reviewed by MiAmor. Some photos contained herein are copyrighted as noted.
Summary: A few years after Sunnydale’s spectacular demise, Buffy and her crew are getting on with their lives in San Francisco. A not entirely unwelcome blast from her past (Spike! It's Spike!) blows into town, but he’s brought more than the generally allowable amount of baggage with him.
Chapter 1 on LJ / Chapter 1 on DW — In which a "chance" encounter leads to strong language and less-than-adult behavior. Also: animal magnetism.
Chapter 2a on LJ / Chapter 2a on DW — In which Dawn makes her feelings known and Buffy tries not to.
Chapter 2bc on LJ / Chapter 2bc on DW— In which Buffy gets on with her Sunday, which naturally ends up being weird.
Chapter 3 — In which reports are made, scents are smelled, and sights are seen, pleasant and otherwise. Click here to read on LJ.
It turned out the earthquake wasn’t that big a deal. “Just a little one,” the natives all agreed. Buffy wasn’t buying it. Okay, it was great that there wasn’t any property damage to speak of or loss of life, but she knew a bad sign when it shook her awake at 3 AM. Something was coming, like it always did. That was okay, because she would make sure it went back to whatever hell it had crawled out of, like she always did. A slayer’s work is never done.
Unfortunately, that meant research first. It was her day off, but in the interests of getting the research bus moving, she decided to go in anyway. Besides, she didn’t think her mind would go anyplace good if she had too much free time today.
She made it in time for the 11 AM conference call with Slayer Central, settling into the chair closest to the coffeemaker. Sylvia, who ran the Monday meetings, sighed and slid an agenda to her from across the table.
“For all the good it’ll do,” she muttered.
Buffy smiled apologetically. Syl knew she wouldn’t be here if it was business as usual.
“Good morning.” came Giles’ voice over the speaker in the middle of the conference table. She still thought it was way too ‘Charlie’s Angels’ and wondered when they’d convince him to go on Skype. Syl made an “after you” gesture.
“Hiya, Giles,” said Buffy.
“Buffy! This is unexpected. Is everything all right?”
“Pretty much. We could have an apocalypse a’brewin’, though.”
“I see. What are the signs?” Buffy could hear him snapping his fingers urgently, the shuffle of papers and the click of writing implements being readied. She could just make out the sound of a cup and saucer being placed someplace near the speakerphone, followed by a muffled, “Thank you, Laurence.” She grinned. He was so in his element. Also, it was nice that he took her word for things these days. The time was long past that she needed to convince him to take her hunches seriously.
“It’s pretty generic at this point. We had an earthquake last night.”
“A 4.3,” Angela supplied.
“Right. And there’ve been some out of season wildlife defections. I heard there was a mass exodus of sea lions.”
“The bison stampeded out of their enclosure last night,” added Sylvia. “The park rangers are having a hell of a time rounding them all up.”
Buffy shot her an approving glance. “Okay, good. One of our informants contacted me with some vague info about air currents and things like that. Anybody else got anything bizarre? More bizarre than usual, anyway?” Buffy got a cup of coffee while the day-duty squad leaders reported any unusual field notes. Buffy listened to the familiar scratching of Giles’ pen and the newer tippy-tap of distant computer keys coming over the speaker. There wasn’t that much more to tell, all of it pretty mundane, and the conversation soon wound down.
“Thank you all very much. We’ll get started on this right away. I trust the spring equinox celebrations went off without incident?” asked Giles, returning to the regular meeting format.
“Yes, sir,” said Sylvia. “We had a few skirmishes, but all aggressors were defeated. No injuries to any slayers or non-combatants. The Committee of Covens sent over a nice note and a seasonal fruit basket this morning. They were very happy with the new arrangements.”
“Excellent.” Giles sounded pleased.
Oh, right. Last night. She hated to bring him down, but it might be pertinent, so…
“Um, Giles? There is this one other thing that I forgot to mention before. A couple of old acquaintances showed up over the weekend. I don’t know if it means anything, but …”
“Do spit it out, Buffy.”
“Spike was at the park last night.”
“Spike? Our Spike? William the Bloody? In San Francisco? How odd. I’d heard… Still, I imagine he could be useful if the situation becomes serious.”
Buffy felt a bright flash of bad temper and struggled to keep calm. He didn’t seem surprised to hear about Spike’s undustiness, which she should have known. Willow must’ve told him. Spike wasn’t a subject she and Giles ever discussed. But, since he’d already burned to death for them once, it seem beyond callous to discuss Spike’s “usefulness”— especially with the guy who’d conspired to have him assassinated. She decided to soldier on, being info gal, if only to stop him from saying anything more that she might regret.
“He was with Drusilla.”
That stopped him. The other slayers were looking at each other for clues, but none of them knew what she was talking about.
“Magic Eightball says she’s got a soul now.”
“What! That’s…dear lord, the bloody things are sprouting up like mushrooms. Do you believe it?”
“Well, I’ve run into her twice and she hasn’t attacked or threatened me. She’s still a nut bar, but she only registered at about 2 on the Drusilla Creep-o-Meter, so something is seriously different. According to Spike, she wants to help with, quote - what’s coming - unquote.”
“Oh dear. That, more than any number of earthquakes or fleeing animals, makes me think you do indeed have a serious situation on your hands.”
“Tell me about it,” sighed Buffy.
“Yes, well, I’ll do my best to find out what I can on this end. We’ll be in touch as soon as we have anything. Please brief your people about Spike and Drusilla. And Buffy…do be careful.”
In spite of herself, she was touched by the note of concern in his voice. It was clear — to her if not the other slayers around the table — that his worry was for more than just her physical safety.
They wrapped up the call. Sylvia hauled the fruit basket over to the conference table while the others looked expectantly at Buffy for their instructions. She tried to organize the tangle in her mind. There was so much she could say about Spike, much of it completely not pertinent to the current situation. She decided to keep it strictly professional. Diving in, she sketched out a brief history of souled vampires, of their past cooperation with the slayers, of Spike’s many contributions to the cause, and of Drusilla’s status as a seer. She thought she did a pretty good job of keeping her opinions out of it.
The squad leaders didn’t seem shocked at the idea of friendly demons. It was something about many new slayers that kept surprising Buffy, though she supposed it made sense. The Slayer Council had resources aplenty, but the training it provided tended toward identification and field skills rather than the kind of top-down indoctrination that she vaguely recalled from high school. Even when she mentioned that Spike and Dru had taken out three slayers between them in the century before their souls were even a glimmer, the women looked more thoughtful than freaked.
“So,” Angela said. “I guess that means we’d really rather have them on our side, huh?”
“Um, yeah. But even if they are, I want everybody to use extreme caution around these two. I can tell you from experience that the whole ‘soul-having’ thing does not make them safe. These guys are vamps, not teddy bears.”
They decided to send out a ‘do not stake except to protect or defend’ order along with Spike and Dru’s descriptions to the evening patrols. Buffy had to admit to some relief about that. She wasn’t sure if it was the well-being of the slayers or of Spike that had been worrying her. Probably the slayers. Spike might be acting a little off, but she doubted he was off enough to turn down a healthy brawl with a team of attacking slayers, if only for the fun of it. Some of the girls might get hurt, or demoralized or something.
It being her day off, she left at around 2 o’clock to run her Monday errands. She picked up a few groceries, her laundry, and her favorite conditioner from the salon down the street. She did a little window-shopping on her way back to the apartment, and found herself stepping into the butcher shop to buy some blood. It was only good manners, she told herself. If an old friend came to town, it was only being cordial to stock up on a few of his (or her) favorites, in case he (or she!) dropped by, right? If she knew Willow was coming, she’d pick up some of that weird tea she liked. Definitely. She was not planning to get anchovies and marshmallows for Dawn, though. She had to draw the line somewhere.
She stowed everything back at the apartment and straightened up the place a bit. She caught up with the shows she’d DVR’d for an hour or two and popped a Lean Cuisine into the microwave for dinner. After spending some time checking out Zappos.com and MedievalArmory.com she decided to walk down to North Beach for dessert.
The weather continued to be freaky. One block would be clear and cold, the next would be foggy. Around the corner from that there would be a gale blowing, over the next rise a pocket of houses would still be giving off the heat of the day at 8:30 at night. Freaky, yes, but essentially normal for this town. She liked the variety.
She was able to get a window seat overlooking Columbus, flirting pleasantly with her waiter when he brought her tiramisu and cappuccino. She was a semi-regular customer, and the flirtation was part of the ritual. She didn’t mind eating alone, not anymore, but it was nice to have a bit of lighthearted banter with her evening pick-me-up. In fact, she was so busy laughing at Carlo’s innuendo-laden riff on hot coffee that she almost missed seeing Spike walking down the sidewalk, Drusilla on his arm, before he disappeared into City Lights Bookstore.
Buffy’s smile faded. She signaled for the check, another thing that was good about being a regular. They were quick, knowing that she often ran out after “old friends” (aka vampires). She pulled her knit beanie down around her ears and made it up to the corner just as her quarry came out of the shop. Spike tucked a small book-shaped package into a pocket of his leather duster before sauntering up the street with Dru. Buffy followed them up Broadway, stopping often to look in windows and otherwise dawdling. They turned off the main road after a couple of blocks. When she judged that they should be about a block ahead she peeked around the corner to get a bead. Oh yeah. They were oblivious. She was stealthy like a ninja.
The aromas coming from Henry’s Hunan across the street made her vow to skip the Lean Cuisine for something better tomorrow night. The area was peppered with chic advertising agency offices, inaccessibly steep hills, and dead ends, but nothing that would draw night-dwelling fun-lovers. The restaurant was the only thing stirring at this time of night. The neighborhood didn’t have the feel of the standard vampire hangout. But then, she supposed that Spike and Dru weren’t so much the standard issue vampires these days.
They stopped at the next corner. They seemed to confer for a moment, and then Dru continued to glide down the street, leaving Spike behind to … do what exactly? He was just standing there, head bowed, back to her, facing something that looked like a big tombstone from this distance. He was dappled in black and silver, almost lost in the shadows cast by the streetlight shining through the leaves of the tree beside him. She felt a familiar twinge of homesickness. She still missed having him around in the quiet of the night.
“Hurry up, Slayer. You’re going to want to see this.” His voice floated up the block between them.
Okay, so maybe she wasn’t the stealthiest. She squared her shoulders and strode down the block like she had just as much right to be here as he did. Because she did.
“Do you feel it?” he asked as she reached the corner where he was waiting. He gestured with his chin to indicate the surrounding area. She reached out with her senses but couldn’t really feel anything else with him standing there radiating his Spikeness at her. “Hallowed ground, this is.”
“Can’t be all that hallowed, if you’re not on fire,” she retorted.
“Now, now, Slayer. No need to be nasty. We’ve all got our spiritual side. This is a shrine to great events, one close to all our hearts.”
Shrine? She suddenly realized the big tombstone thingy squatting on the corner was actually an historical marker with a big brass plaque stuck to the front. There wasn’t enough light for her to make it out, but whatever it was, this whole scenario felt decidedly un-Spike-like.
“On this spot, Philo T. Farnsworth transmitted the first television image.” he intoned, his hand over his heart, looking for all the world like a leather-clad altar boy. “Father of the telly — conjured it up right here. Makes me come over all tingly.”
She blinked at him. It was kinda Spike-like, but if he started running around town pointing out any other areas of historical interest, she was going to have to wonder if she’d ever really known him.
“Ooookay. That’s moderately interesting, I guess. You’re giving guided tours, now?”
He shot her a look of annoyance. “Could do. ‘Course, willfully ignorant little chits have got no appreciation for the finer things, so there’s no point, is there?”
“Hey! I’m not--” she took a deep breath, struggling not to rise to the bait. “Fine. What I really want to know is, what you’re doing here? You and Drusilla? This is the third night in a row that we’ve all just happened to be in the same place at the same time. What gives?”
He smiled fondly up the street. “Ah, Dru. Always got a method to her madness, so to speak. I just go where I’m told.”
Buffy felt her chest give a twinge at the obvious affection in his voice. She suppressed the urge to run after Dru and tear out all her hair. It was ridiculous. She hadn’t seen Spike in years, after all. They were both free to choose whatever lovers they liked. She had no claim on him, as the disaster in the Hellmouth and afterward proved. He never believed she loved him, and he never gave her any reason to pine for him. No kisses or promises. And, anyway, if she was going to tear out anybody’s hair, it really ought to be his! Or maybe her own.
“So, you think Dru is, what — using thrall to bring me to her? Why?”
“Nooo,” he drawled. “I think she sees where you’re going to be and finds a reason to be there, too.” She pursed her lips and gave him her best ‘go on’ look. The why-the-heck-would-she-want-to-do-that was implied. He sighed. “Because she wants to help your whole sorry species, and somebody told her you’re the go-to gal for the world saving. Might’ve been me. Might’ve been one of her dollies. Buggered if I know how her mind works, just know it does.”
Humph. Fine. So, now Dru was the brains of the operation? Maybe she always had been. Still, Spike’s confidence that thrall wasn’t in play was comforting. Regular old divination was less disturbing than mind control. Slightly.
“I’m sure her altruism knows no bounds. But what are you guys actually doing? When you’re not terrifying little girls, that is?”
He looked confused for a moment. “Didn’t think the mite…” At Buffy’s expression, he changed gears, standing straighter. “Gathering intel, Slayer. What else? So far, it hasn’t involved a lot of head bashing, so I’m just taking in the sights while Dru does the heavy lifting. Want to come watch?”
Buffy wasn’t at all sure she did, but Spike had already whirled around and was walking up the street the way Drusilla had gone. She hurried after him, trying to maintain a façade of cool detachment.
He reached the Filbert Steps and headed up the hillside, taking two steps at a time. It was hard to maintain an indifferent air while trotting up a dizzying series of steeply pitched stairs. Spike was waiting for her at the top. She refused to let him see her the slightest bit winded, and walked past him without a pause. He fell into step beside her, and soon they were standing at the base of fog-shrouded Coit Tower.
It wasn’t particularly late, but there weren’t any people around. The sight and sounds of the city around them were muffled in the mist, lending the tower grounds an eerie otherworldly feeling.
Drusilla detached herself from the shadow of a nearby tree, striking a pose with arms stretched up and out at odd angles, palms raised to the sky.
“What is she doing?” asked Buffy in a hushed voice.
“No idea,” he answered, matching her volume. She could hear that he was smiling and felt another stab of annoyance. She couldn’t see what was so admirable about Dru and her bizarre antics. Maybe it was a sire thing.
Dru stayed perfectly still, the hazy light illuminating her like one of those soft-focus silent films. Before long, a small shape fell from one of the trees and glided to a stop on her open palm. Another plummeted downward, only to sketch a little comma in the air and come to rest in her other hand. It shook itself and extended its wings as it waddled in an off-balance circle, eventually settling.
“Petty Polly,” crooned Dru, first to one then the other of the birds. Several more swooped down from the trees, and soon she had birds all up her arms and atop her shoulders.
Their color was muted in the diffuse light, but Buffy recognized them as the non-indigenous wild parrots known to hang out in the area. They shuffled and bobbed, oddly silent for a flock of birds famous for their noise. They appeared to be waiting.
Out of the gloom came an unkempt bird, patchy feathers askew, flying on an ungainly trajectory toward the strange tree formed by Drusilla’s outstretched arms. It landed gracelessly on one shoulder as the other birds grumpily made room. Dru whipped her face around, staring into the new arrival’s beady eyes. As they regarded one another, their heads tilted to the side at an alarming angle. They almost looked like two sides of a peculiar interspecies mirror. A little part of Buffy hoped that Dru’s head would snap right off. A nice, self-inflicted dusting would make her life so much simpler.
The tableau stretched on for long minutes. Dru shook her head in consternation.
“Too many small scratchings. There’s something peeping out from the muddle, but it won’t speak to me,” she accused.
The bird straightened to give a single screeching cry, and most of the others took wing, disappearing into the shadowy gray. The original two birds remained in her upturned palms, the scruffy one on her shoulder. She brought her hands down, so the three birds were level.
Their heads swiveled jerkily to and fro, as if in a quick, on-field huddle. Without warning, the two in Dru’s hands struck, scoring a vicious, bloody slash into each of her palms with their beaks, before flying away, squawking.
“Oh,” said Dru in small, wondering voice. With a crunch, her face shifted to the fangy version. Buffy fought the urge to take a step back. She glanced at Spike, who only looked on with concentration, conspicuously not paying Buffy any mind.
Dru held her bloody hands trembling before her yellow eyes, then turned to look at the bird still resting on her shoulder. It tilted its head again, but to Buffy’s eye it no longer looked inquisitive. It looked like it was offering its scrawny bird-neck to a vampire. That couldn’t be right, could it?
With a cry, Dru snatched it from her shoulder and bit down. Two swallows later, she fell to her knees, keening. She cradled the body of the mangled bird loosely in her bloody fingers, human features contorted in grief. Spike appeared at her side almost before Buffy realized he had left her own. She cautiously inched closer. He crouched down before Drusilla, one hand gliding over her hair soothingly while the thumb of the other tried to brush away the bits of down clinging to the corners of her mouth.
“There now, pet. Was his time, is all.”
Dru shook her head wildly. “I never wished to harm even a feather! I’m a wicked, careless girl,” she wailed. “Now he’s broken and it’s all my fault,” she choked out and began to sob in earnest.
“Don’t think so, Dru,” soothed Spike. “Looked to me like he had something to tell you, and couldn’t wrap his little bird brain around another way to do it. Isn’t that right?”
“But,..” she began, looking down at the body and shuddering.
“Hush, now, princess. He was old and sick. Wanted to help his flock. Died a hero, getting his message back to headquarters.” He lightly tapped her temple. “That’s you, innit? Don’t let the message go to waste, now. Try to remember, there’s a good girl.”
She bit her lip, looking up. “It’s burning and bright — hurts my eyes — but I remember the way the silken threads waved. So many tiny thoughts, floating like kites, blown about in the slightest breeze. Shhh.” She held a blood stained finger to her lips and looked up at Spike playfully through her lashes. Buffy felt the now familiar clench in her chest at the sight. She breathed in through her nose and forced herself to relax, to listen.
“There’s a lovely secret. Do you know it? It’s shiny and shimmering, and it will keep us safe from the lightning when it comes,” whispered Dru. Her wide eyes then clapped on Buffy, focused, clear and piercingly lucid. “It’s coming very soon, now.”
She held up the bird to Spike, who patted his pockets until he found his recent bookstore purchase. He slipped the book out of its paper bag and back into his duster pocket, holding the bag out to receive the body. Dru reverently placed it inside, and rose to her feet with preternatural grace, daintily licking her fingers. Spike scrunched up the top of the bag and stuck it under his arm.
“I must go to bed without any supper, Spike. That must be the penalty for my impulsiveness.”
“If you think you ought,” said Spike. “I’ll see you home, then.” Drusilla nodded but gave him a significant look. “Oh. Right.” She started down the hill as he reluctantly turned to Buffy.
“So, um, Slayer. I’ve got to go, but we…” He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “Seems like you and I still have a lot to talk about.”
“If you say so,” she said, channeling her inner Dawn to get the right note of nonchalance.
He had the gall to actually smile at that. “’M sure you have questions ‘bout things...”
“Only a hundred or so,” she muttered.
He soldiered on. “Dru thinks – sod that — I think we should have a little parley, make sure we’re all up to speed on the coming menace and that.” He looked pleased with himself for this splendid idea.
“So, like, a business meeting,” she stated flatly, brows raised.
“Yeah.” He looked at her and must’ve seen the skepticism on her face. “Well, no. Just want to talk to you, Buffy. Or listen, more like.” He grinned at her. “Truth to tell, ‘m sort of looking forward to that telling off I so richly deserve.”
He was so weird. She was probably just as weird for finding it cute, even now.
“I guess I can make room in my busy schedule for that. I’m not patrolling tomorrow night, so…”
“I’ll be there.”
“Uh huh. You’ll be where?”
He looked caught out. “Wherever you say, of course.”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine. Come over to my place after sunset. I guess you already know the address.”
At least he had the grace to look guilty.
“Better not keep Dru waiting,” she added. He started.
“Right. Well, night then.”
“Good night, Spike.”
They turned awkwardly and walked off in their respective directions. After they’d each gone a block or so, Buffy heard the sound of happy whistling in the distance. She felt a little frisson of anticipation.
She didn’t see him tossing the bag of bird over a fence as he headed down the hill to meet Dru.
Continued in Chapter 4 — In which Buffy possibly overthinks things before she and Spike try that new-fangled “communication” thing.
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