I'd Turn Back If I Were You | Forward Ho!

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A million thanks to betas Brutti_ma_buoni, Deb C, Typographer, Diebirchen, Lookingforoctober, Slaymesoftly, and Rainkatt. Any remaining mistakes are all my own!

Previous chapters can be found on AO3 here or at my website here.




Usually Anya found inventory invigorating. All those tidy lines of jars and boxes on the shelves translating into tidy columns of figures marching down the page, making order out of chaos. Vials of belladonna, cartons of jackalope antlers, jars of cockatrice combs in formaldehyde: everything neatly counted, stacked, labeled, and ticked off on her clipboard, fuel for her meticulous computer files. Each one told a story: this crate of assorted finger bones, for example, Item #A25. She recalled distinctly the night she'd acquired it, standing on the wharf last November with the rusting hull of the ship looming overhead. The sight of the crate conjured up the slap of oily black waves lapping against the pier and the iodine reek of seaweed as she haggled with the captain. Finger bones of what, the manifest hadn't said, but there was no denying they'd been a bargain. It was all deeply satisfying.

Usually. Today was an exception.

This search was a wild goose chase; she knew her own stock, and there were no more Orbs of Thessulah in the Magic Box. There probably weren't more than a dozen left in the entire world. When the Ritual of Restoration had been lost, the manufacturer had understandably gone out of business. She had calls out to all her contacts, and she'd spent hours scouring eBay for certain obscure keywords. She had bots set up to bid on half a dozen items with blurry photos and even blurrier descriptions, most of which would probably turn out to be millefiore paperweights, but if there was an Orb available, she'd already taken all the necessary steps to find it.

But humans, she had come to realize, needed to do things, even when there wasn't anything to be done. She'd scorned that mortal impulse to busywork once, but she understood now. It was how you dealt with being powerless.

Maybe she should try another search term or two when they were finished here. Just in case.

Resolutely, Anya wrenched her thoughts away to more pleasant topics. She and Xander had had inventive and exciting sex the night before. According to the directions on the box, it was too early for the test strip to show anything conclusive, but she'd pee on it when she got home all the same. Their baby was bound to be precocious. Perhaps in a few years there'd be a mini-Anya or mini-Xander standing beside her, eyes wide and attentive. The thought brought a smile to her lips; in a mere five to seven years, she could be instructing her and Xander's offspring in the sacred mysteries of commerce. Hopefully it would inherit her head for numbers. At least, if...

The smile fled. They'd been trying for months. According to her gynecologist, her eggs were healthy and fertile. Xander's sperm, likewise. So why wasn't anything happening? Was there some demonic technicality to her human form that neither she nor modern science could detect, which was preventing the conception of what would undoubtedly be the handsomest and most intelligent baby on earth? Had D'Hoffryn done something vengeancy to her out of spite when she'd refused his offer to return to Arashmahar? She ground her teeth. Maybe it was time for a few choice words with the old goat.

"Have you checked behind these boxes?" Dawn asked. She was standing on tiptoe, on the highest rung of the stepladder, in the dimmest and most spider-infested corner of the basement, engaged in a rummage through the cartons of mandrake root on the top shelf. Exactly the sort of dangerous thing Anya would never allow her own daughter or son to do. "Or what about the corner over there? There's room to stash something behind that big statue thing. It looks like no one's moved it in five years. Or five hundred."

"It's an Olmec sacrificial altar," Anya informed her. "If you want to crawl behind it to look, be my guest. Just mind the roaches."

"Roaches?" Dawn's enthusiasm for the hunt waned audibly.

"Well, there is an opening to the sewer down here, you know." Anya smiled (Smile #7, Helpful and Encouraging, Not At All Implying That the Customer Had Asked a Silly Question).

Dawn descended the ladder with reluctance, and eyed the hunk of Meso-American stonework dubiously. "Do you think Angel's really lost his soul? I mean, how happy can the guy get these days, all things considered?"

"You'd be surprised." Anya pulled out a box of freeze-dried rats' tails and inspected it. As expected, it was devoid of anything not rat. "It won't make any difference in the long run, anyway. Even if he has lost his soul, and even if we find an Orb and put it back, sooner or later he'll just lose it again."

Compressed in the gap between the Olmec altar and the basement wall, Dawn made a face, whether at the dig to her sister or the immanent prospect of roaches was impossible to say. "I could never see the point of the happiness clause anyway. If I wanted to curse a soul into someone, I'd make darned sure it would stay there."

"The curse was about vengeance." Anya returned the rats' tails to their places. "The point isn't to keep other people safe; it's to make Angel suffer. Probably the Kalderash intended to tell Angel what would break it, so he could suffer even more knowing he could never dare to be happy. It's what I would have done." Not what she'd do today, no siree, but she could still understand the impulse. "I just hope Buffy gets down to business more quickly this time."

Dawn's voice was muffled by several tons of basalt. "Hey! Just because she had gooey feelings for Angel years ago doesn't mean... "

"It's not that easy eradicating gooey feelings! They're the emotional equivalent of roaches. I've completely moved on to domestic bliss with Xander, but when that nasty little man made Olaf reappear at our wedding I can't say I didn't note the pleasing circumference of his biceps. Olaf's, that is, not the nasty little man's. Um, don't tell Xander I said that. His biceps are enticing too." Anya's fingers tightened on the clipboard, and her voice grew fierce. "We're -- we're going to have a baby. Soon-ish. And I'm not going through nine months of unattractively swollen ankles just to provide Angelus with a light snack! I need to know how Buffy's going to deal with this if we can't get an Orb, because if she can't... "

A long silence from behind the statue. At length, "Hey, I'm not the guy's biggest fan, either. Outside of that time he kidnapped me and tried to feed me to Drusilla - wait a minute." Rustling and thumping noises ensued. "There is something back here!"

Anya's eyebrows shot up. "Really?" Had Giles stashed something behind the statue without telling her? Or more likely, stashed something behind the statue and forgotten about it through his constitutional aversion to modern inventory tracking techniques? "What is it?"

"I don't know. Hand me the flashlight." Minutes later Dawn emerged from behind the statue, cobwebbed and grimy and clutching a lacquered bamboo box the size of a pencil case. A series of elaborate pictograms were inscribed in bright orange upon the glossy black surface. "That's one of the Pockla dialects, isn't it?" she asked, tracing a pictogram with one finger.

"It is." Anya frowned. "How did you know?"

"I saw some in one of the grimoires." Dawn waved the question away. "It was labeled 'Representative Pockla Heiroglyphs' or something. They're demon healers, right? What's inside?"

The box was unlocked, and the catch proved simple. The interior was lined with red velvet, and inside were thirty-six hollows, six of which were empty, and thirty of which cradled ampules filled with an oily yellow fluid. Anya picked one up and snapped the top off, sniffed the contents, poured a drop onto her finger and dabbed it with the tip of her tongue. Neem oil, cottonseed extract, and the unmistakable tingle of Hursk venom... Somehow the basement seemed colder. Probably a draft from the sewers.

"This box isn't dirty enough to have been back there for very long," Dawn began, and then, noticing Anya's expression, "What's the matter? It's not poison, is it?"

"I don't know. Nothing. No, it's not poison. It's an herbal mixture. Most often used as a... as a male contraceptive. Was there any paperwork with this? A packing slip, an invoice, anything?"

"I didn't look." Dawn poked at the ampoules. "This one's got something underneath it... here." The packing slip was written in a curious brown ink on a many times folded square of onionskin paper. Anya unfolded it with shaking fingers. Dr. Gahvrakh's Most Efficacious Elixir, 36 ampoules. Take Monthly As Directed. No Refunds. The buyer was listed as A. Harris, at the Magic Box's address. Anya stared at the box, stomach clenching. "I never ordered these."

"But it's got your name on it, doesn't it? Maybe it was a free sample that came with something else? What are the -- "

Dawn's question was interrupted by a loud banging from upstairs, and Anya wasn't sure if she were glad or sorry. "I'll be right back," she said, eyes narrowing.

It had been centuries since Anya had felt it worth her time to be embarrassed about anything, but the muddle of disbelief, shame and anger battling it out within her now was coming close. The sign on the front door said very clearly "CLOSED, Please Come Again!" and she would have been entirely within her rights to ignore whatever illiterate or inconsiderate person was defying its strictures, but at the moment she was in the mood to imitate a Mantis demon and bite someone's head off. Preferably a male, A-for-Alexander-shaped someone, but the intruder at the door would do.

As she cleared the top of the stairs, the pounding began again, harder now. The front door rattled with the force of the blows, turning the ordinarily cheerful jangle of the bell to an alarm. The lights were off in the front of the shop, and the sun was sinking low in the sky outside, but she could still make out shapes looming through the glass. Three or four of them, at least. It was still too early for them to be vampires. Perhaps she'd let the police tell them off, instead. "We're closed," Anya shouted. "Come back tomorrow during regular business hours."

"I just need to use your phone," the largest of the shapes replied. "It's an emergency." "I'll call the police for you." Edging behind the counter, Anya grabbed the phone and began dialing 911. Crap, the line was dead! Who cut phone lines anymore? Where was her cell? She'd left her purse right here somewhere --

Glass shattered at the front of the shop. The door flew open and five or six men in dark clothes and ski masks flooded in, armed with crowbars and baseball bats. Anya couldn't tell if they were human or vampires, and at this point it hardly mattered. "Tell Spike that Doctor Gregson sends his regards!" the man in the lead yelled and brought his bat down on the counter-top with a crack.

Anya screamed, snatched up the display rack of costume jewelry sitting by the cash register and flung it with the accuracy of terror. The invader flinched as cheap quartz pendants and pot metal rings rained down on his head. Anya leaned across the counter, yanked his ski mask over his eyes, and ran for the basement stairs. She reached them inches ahead of her half-blind pursuer, whirling and slamming the door shut in his face; blood was soaking his mask where a flying ring had nicked him through the eye-hole, and it served him right. Anya turned the lock and shot the deadbolt. She'd thought it was wasteful when Giles had insisted upon installing a bolt on both sides of the door, but she blessed him for it now.

"Anya, what the hell?" Dawn hollered from the foot of the stairs. "What's going on up there?"

Anya leaned against the door -- solid wood, thankfully, far less vulnerable than the glass-paned front door. They could escape through the sewer exit if they had to, but she wasn't about to abandon the field before calling in reinforcements. "We're being attacked, as usual. Do you have your cell phone? Call the police, and Buffy, and . . ."

Dawn was already stabbing numbers. "Yeah, I need to report a break-in at the Magic Box, 5124 Maple Court. I don't know. We're locked in in the basement. How many?" she mouthed at Anya, who held up the requisite number of fingers. "Five or six, we think. I don't know. Okay. Okay." Click -- stab stab stab. "Buffy? It's me, some guys are attacking the Magic Box - I don't know! No, I already called the police. We're locked in the basement. We can make a run for it through the sewers if we need to. I know, I know! God, Buffy, I'm not six! I know. Fine." She bit her lip and glanced Anya's way. "Buffy's at the airport picking up Giles. it's going to take at least fifteen minutes for her to get back here."

There were different noises coming from the shop now -- smashings and crashings and crunchings and splinterings. This was no robbery. "Call the crypt," Anya ordered. Dawn looked at her, startled; Buffy had made it abundantly clear that Spike's minions were not to be messed with, and in the ordinary way of things Anya would have agreed. Most vampires were none too bright, and might decide to join in the smashing for the fun of it. But this was an emergency. "Call them."

With a gulp, Dawn attacked her phone again and handed it over to Anya as it picked up. "David," Anya said briskly "someone's attacking the Magic Box. A quarter of the stock is Spike's, and his people have an obligation to protect it. Send someone over now."

*******


I've been drivin' all night, my hand's wet on the wheel
There's a voice in my head, that drives my heel


White lines disappeared beneath the DeSoto's long, black hood as its eight-cylinder maw devoured the highway. Spike's fingers drummed a tattoo on the steering wheel, and his eyes flicked from the road ahead to the rear-view mirror, alert for the tell-tale glitter of blue and red. For a nerve-wracking minute longer, the highway patrol car hugged his bumper, then swerved into the next lane and roared away into the night. Spike exhaled ten minutes' worth of held breath and sank back against the worn leather.

Last night getting pulled over had been a lark. Now it was a looming disaster. What the hell had he been thinking, to make such a show of himself? True, neither his prints nor the DeSoto's plates were in any police database. In the old days, any policeman foolish enough to pull him over had ended up as lunch, and since the chip, he'd been careful out of necessity. But it wasn't a car that blended into traffic, and Los Angeles was a city wise to the ways of demons. The only mention of his exploits in the news had been a brief squib about two officers in critical condition after a shoot-out; one benefit of robbing a demon's lair was that demons paid well to be kept out of the headlines. Still, it was sheer luck he hadn't killed anyone. Angel was on the rampage, up to God knew what villainy that Buffy would feel obligated to put a stop to, and what was he doing? Arsing about trying to impress Angel's scrawny get. Oooh, look at me, I'm the cool vampire. Much cooler than your fuddy-duddy Dad. Pathetic.

Sunnydale Next Three Exits flashed past the window. The speedometer needle was creeping inexorably upwards again, and Spike forced himself to ease up on the gas. This was the trouble with batting for the team of goodness and light; you couldn't have a spot of fun without it coming back to bite you on the arse. He didn't have the luxury of not caring about the consequences any longer. He was Marley's bloody ghost, lumbered with iron chains of cause and effect, and he forgot that to his peril. Or more to the point, Buffy's peril.

Still... no denying it had been fun, letting loose like that. William the Bloody, nigh-unstoppable force of chaos and destruction. He'd almost forgotten what it was like, the rush, the crunch, the screams, the rank, delicious scent of terror. Not that he didn't get plenty of aggro fighting at Buffy's side, but it was all so... regimented. And this was to be his life for the next... five, ten, fifty years? Given time for sober reflection, he'd choose Buffy over the thrill of the kill any day, for as long as he could get her. But sober reflection wasn't always an option, and there was a certain guilty relief in that thought, and why the bloody hell should it be guilty relief?

He shook himself irritably. He'd told Buffy once that he'd ruined himself for real evil working with her lot, that he could never go back to what he'd been. Which was true enough, but he wasn't any too clear on what he could go forward to. One day she wouldn't be at his side any longer, and what would he be then, with no chip to restrain him and no soul to guide him, and sober reflection, as noted, not always an option?

Not that having a soul seemed to give Angel all that sodding much guidance.

His cell went off, and Spike jumped half out of his skin, snarling curses as he fished it out of his pocket. "This bloody well better be good."

"Spike!" It was Dawn, a note in her voice that lifted his hackles. "Are you on the way home?"

"Yeah. Where are you? Where's Buffy?"

"I'm at the Magic Box, with Anya. We were in the basement looking for an Orb of Thessulah. These guys wanted to come in and Anya told them to come back tomorrow, but they broke the front door open, and they're busting everything up, and we're down in the basement with the door locked, and the police and David and Buffy are on their way, but . . . "

To hell with caution; he floored it.

*******


Pain, blinding and absolute.

Evie woke with an indrawn breath so sharp her unaccustomed lungs ached. The agony in her skull vanished as quickly as it had come, and the scream tearing its way out of her throat collapsed into a strangled gasp. For a long moment she lay stunned and shivering in her cot, braced for the pain's return, afraid to move, afraid to breathe. It didn't come, but she still felt shaky and nauseated. What the hell was wrong with her? Had she dreamed about killing? Would that set the chip off?

At last she rolled over and sat up, chafing her healing arms to ward off a chill deeper than her own undead flesh. The rest of Spike's gang was still grabbing much-needed Zs before their lord and technically-not-master got back from L.A., and the barracks looked like an after-hours morgue, with only the occasional grunt or snuffle distinguishing the occupants of the other alcoves from corpses in truth. The beat-up digital alarm clock on the dresser told her it was late afternoon. At least it wasn't playing "I Got You, Babe."

With a groan, Evie gave up on sleep and dragged herself to her feet. The curtains shielding the archway which led to David's quarters showed a blade-thin slit of light – of course he'd be up, burning the midday oil. Evie wasn't sure she'd ever seen him sleep. She rummaged in the dresser for clean clothes and ran a comb through her hair, grimacing at the short, frizzled wisps she could see out of the corner of her eye. She'd charred a lot of it off in her sunlit dash two days back, and it was going to take a while for it to grow out again. Probably looked like shit. Maybe she'd go Corvini's route, buzz it short and butch it up.

More or less presentable, she padded towards the light, past the other alcoves and the wall where Nadia slumped in her shackles. It should have made the place more homey, having a captive strung up like that, but somehow it only made the tension worse. Everyone was on edge. In any other gang, Nadia would have been blowing in the wind by now for disobeying orders. The only question would have been whether or not her boss felt like excising a few body parts first. But in any other gang, she'd never have had to worry about being framed for killing someone.

Behind the hanging curtains, the door at the end of the short tunnel was open. The room behind it wasn't that much bigger than the alcoves in the main barracks, but it sported a mini-fridge and a crammed-to-overflowing bookshelf in addition to a cot and dresser, along with a little workbench in the corner crowded with paint pots, spray primer, and half-finished wargaming miniatures. Even David was a closet loser. He looked up as she entered, unsurprised; he was sitting on the edge of his cot, entering figures in an old-fashioned ledger. Evie was a little disappointed that he was using a ball-point pen instead of quill and ink. Candlelight gleamed off his bald spot. "Yes?"

"Couldn't sleep." Better not mention the chip. Just its presence made her enough of a liability; if it was going on the fritz, even Spike might decide she was more trouble than she was worth. "Heard anything?"

"Elise found nothing at the hotel, as expected, and Spike is on his way back to Sunnydale." David consulted his watch. "He should be here within the hour." He set the ledger aside, regarding her with that reptilian stare.

Evie frowned, picking at a loose thread in the hem of her t-shirt. "I just keep thinking... what the hell does Angelus want here? The Hellmouth's closed. Why the fuck would he take the trouble to frame Spike? Or recruit here when there's hundreds of vamps in L.A.? I know he's loco, but . . . "

"He's unpredictable, yes," David agreed. "And the last time he was here, somewhat irrational. But there's method in this particular madness. If Spike hadn't happened to go to L.A. at the precise moment he needed an alibi, framing him would have provided the Slayer with a distraction for the time it will take Angelus to gather his strength. As for the other. . . you're Dalton's get. What did he tell you of the history of the Order of Aurelius?"

Evie shrugged, "Not a lot." Actually her sire had talked her fucking ears off about the Order, but she'd always found that it paid to keep some kinds of knowledge close to your chest. "What everyone knows, I guess. Some twelfth-century nutcase called Aurelius foretold the rise of the Anointed One, and a bunch of other nutcases down the centuries believed him. They thought he'd bring back the Old Ones and annihilate humanity or some shit like that."

"Mmm." David looked like she was failing the essay portion of the test. "And the Anointed One arose as Aurelius foretold."

"I know, the creepy little pendejo was in charge when Dalton turned me. And Spike torched him inside of six months." Evie snorted. "All that destroy-the-world bullshit sounds shiny, but I got just one question: if humanity gets annihilated, then what the fuck do we eat?"

"You're being facetious." David's mild tone had acquired an edge. "But you make my point for me. The Anointed One was the prophesied leader of the Aurelians – and Spike defeated him. I don't believe that was a coincidence. If Angel intends to . . . " His cell phone buzzed. "Pardon me. Bloody Vengeance Incorporated, David spe. . . ah, Mrs. Harris. Indeed? How many? Very well, I'll send someone over directly." He flipped the phone shut. "The Magic Box is under attack."

Five minutes later, the rusty old Ford van that Bloody Vengeance Inc. used for deliveries was bucketing down Wilkins Boulevard towards downtown Sunnydale. Evie was crammed into the back seat between a bleary Allen and a grouchy Denita -- Diego, the bastard, had called shotgun. The sun was still doing a Flying Wallenda on the western horizon, and Evie smeared over the windows would keep them from doing anything but smoking a little, but after her swimming pool adventure, she was scrunched down between her larger seatmates. In theory the grease smeared over the windows would keep them from doing anything but smoking a little, but after her swimming pool adventure, she wasn't too eager to pan-fry herself again.

"It's extremely likely that these are Cain's men," David said, sweeping the wheel around and swerving into an alley to cut across to Maple. "This could be a distraction to get us out of the crypt, but Elise and Fernando should be able to hold off any assault there long enough for us to deal with this. Remember, hurt them as much as you like, but leave them alive."

"Is Spike really gonna care if we kill these guys?" Denita asked, understandably skeptical.

"Probably not." David's lips twisted in distaste. "But bear in mind that the Slayer is on her way as well, and Spike takes her displeasure very seriously. Besides, we'll want to question them."

Lucky for her, Evie thought, this was one test she couldn't fail. She'd bet a pint of Willy's best that David had taken all the new employees on this gig precisely in order to see if any of them would snap and go for the neck when presented with human prey.

David pulled out of the alley and onto Maple, and Spike's DeSoto roared past on their right, missing the van's bumper by a hair. It screeched to a stop in front of a fire hydrant, and Spike catapulted out of the driver's seat, his eyes molten gold and his fangs bared. He was limping slightly, and the patchwork of bruises across his face confirmed that he'd been in one hell of a fight not that long ago. "You lot, with me," he snarled, striding across the sidewalk. "Evie, stay here and give a shout when you hear sirens."

The front door of the Magic Box hung askew, and overturned racks and smashed display cases spilled their contents across the threshold and out onto the sidewalk. Shouts and crashing noises issued from within. Evie inhaled; the invaders were human, all right. Fuck. No point in arguing. She'd be useless in a fight. The others plunged through the door, leaving her to twiddle her thumbs on the sidewalk, her ears cocked for the sound of approaching cop cars. Sentry was better than nothing, but if only she could bite . . .

She barely had time not to take a breath before a wave of excruciating pain knocked her off her feet. Evie crumpled, both hands clutching her head. Her knees hit the sidewalk and the pain was gone, leaving her panting and dizzy. The grain of the cement swam before her eyes. God damn, the roots of her hair hurt! What the uncle-fucking hell? Could she not even think about biting people without the chip firing now? She didn't have time for this shit. Whimpering, she bit her lip and struggled to her feet, broken charms crunching under her sneakers.

Someone had smashed the store's overhead lights while her head was exploding, and the only illumination inside was the anemic light of evening pouring through the broken door. Dark figures struggled and snarled amidst the wreckage, human and vampire indistinguishable in the gloom. Cain's people had the numbers, but Spike's were stronger and faster, and the attackers couldn't see in the dark. The sickening snap of bone was followed by a scream. Someone flung a display case through the window, and a knot of humans and vampires -- that is, vampire -- that is, Spike -- crashed through the window after it.

Feet and fists flailing, the mass of struggling men cartwheeled out onto the sidewalk, scattering knock-off Zuni fetishes in their wake. Evie dodged, but her foot skidded on a lucky money cat, and she went down hard as the brawlers collided with her head-on. A man loomed over her, his weight pinning her arms to the pavement, his stone-eyed face distorted in a savage rictus that rivaled any vamp's game face. Scent confirmed what sight was too busy panicking to deal with: Gib Cain. Rules or no rules, chip or no chip, like hell was she letting her other fang go without a fight. Evie drove an elbow at his face. Bone and cartilage crunched, and the chip. . .

Did nothing.

The shock was greater, somehow, than if it had fired. Evie froze. Cain bellowed in pain and clutched his nose. Blood gushed over his hand, and the bright coppery scent flooded her nostrils. That was all she needed. She vamped out with an avid snarl and lunged upwards, a shark riding a red tide of hunger and fury. She might be missing a fang, but the teeth she had left were plenty sharp enough do the job.

*******


Angel wouldn't have heard her leave, but Drusilla had packed a lunch, and it screamed so. Her sire leaped to his feet as she strolled across the lobby with her big leather trunk, and cut her off before she could reach the doors.

"Dru! Where d'you think you're going?" His hand closed on her upper arm, hard enough to bruise. Drusilla tossed her head and dropped her luggage. The luggage shrieked. Angel spun and kicked it, and the lock snapped. The moldy leather trunk popped open, spilling Miss Edith, a chipped tea set, seventy-two tarot cards, a tangle of bloodstained dresses, and a scrawny ten-year-old out into the ragged red pentagram inscribed upon the Hyperion's lobby floor. (Not all the scrub-brushes in all the world could make that clean again, not if all the maids in all the world wore their fingers to bony stumps.)

The Lunch drew breath for another shriek, and Drusilla caught her eye. "Hush," she murmured, taloned fingers flexing on air. "Bye, baby bunting, Mama has gone a-hunting, to catch a little rabbit-skin, to eat her baby bunting in. . . " The Lunch's pupils dilated, and her heaving chest stilled. She huddled on the lobby floor, a rangy bundle of half-grown limbs, and Drusilla gave her an approving pat on the head. "There's a dearie." She looked up at Angel, reproachful. "Waste not, want not!"

Reproach was lost on him. His grip tightened deliciously. "Drusilla, I don't have time for your foolery right now. Go back to your room. If you're bored, you can go out with Wesley tonight and make us some new playmates."

Drusilla made a circle of thumb and forefinger, observing Angel through a spyglass of flesh. For all he puffed and roared, the soul was still there, a vile squirming thing coiled like a maggot in his heart. A maggot drowned in absinthe now, but every night it would twitch and wriggle to life, nibbling and gnawing away from the inside. Let it bite. She drew herself up, very fine in plum satin. "Shan't. You promised me dollies and dresses and a new family to hurt me very nicely, but Wesley doesn't love me, and you didn't let me have my present. So I'm running away from home." She nodded, decisive. "As this isn't home, I shall find home first, and then run away from it."

The noise Angel made was halfway between a growl and a groan. "It's daylight out there!"

Without a word, Drusilla produced a frilly black-lace parasol from the rubbish spilling out of the trunk and snapped it open.

Angel heaved a sigh and ran one hand through his brush of hair. "All right, Dru, what's the matter? Hasn't Wesley been attentive enough? Do I need to speak to him for you?"

"A good caning," Drusilla replied, reflective. Perhaps if she made him angry enough, Daddy would spank her. "He'd like that. He's all full of ink-scratch and broken glass, muttering and mumbling all the night long. He sounds so cross in Sumerian, and who wouldn't, with that metal Slayer taking bites out of his skull?" With a wriggle and a rustle of silk she freed herself, spinning out of reach and peering at him from behind her parasol. "Goodbye, dear Papa." There was alarm in his eyes; her Daddy might not love her properly, but he needed her. Needed the voices that whispered in her ear, at least. Best remind him, now and then, that she was indeed a princess and not a goose-girl. "I'm off to seek my fortune, all in my Sunday best."

"Dru, you know I need Crowley until we know exactly what the shadowcaster does. And he's all dried up anyway. Wouldn't you like a better present?" Angel glanced at the lobby doors, which were swinging open on the tall, balding frame of Doctor Gregson. "Come on -- anything you like. Name it."

Triumph flowered in her breast, red and gold. Darla had always said that Angelus needed to be managed properly, and she was being oh, so proper! Drusilla slyly lowered her parasol and her lashes. "Truly anything?"

"Anything." Angel grabbed her and lifted her bodily up, carried her into his office, and plunked her down in one of the less-battered chairs. "If and only if," he said, tapping a finger to her nose, "you stay right there where I can keep an eye on you." He turned back towards the doctor. "Come on in, Doctor Gregson. We've got a lot to talk about."

The doctor accepted Angel's offer of a chair with ill grace. Curled like a mouse in her corner, Drusilla considered Doctor Gregson: Human in seeming, but not in substance, he trailed a perfume of antiseptic and despair. "Doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief," she sing-songed. "You're the one our dear cousin James engaged to slit him from guzzle to snatch last year and make him proof from all harm for a year and a day."

Gregson frowned at her, and then his expression cleared as he recollected what she was talking about. "It was only for an hour, young lady." James had used that hour to attempt his revenge upon Angelus. An hour wasted, that. The doctor turned back to Angelus, and Drusilla licked her lips and settled into her corner, a cat satisfied that she was perched in front of the correct mouse-hole.

"It's all very well to say that Mr. Crowley has, er, abdicated his responsibilities in this venture." Gregson folded his hands, long surgeon's fingers interlocking. Scalpel-wielding hands, Drusilla thought, flick flick flick. "But Mr. Crowley and I had a business agreement. In exchange for installing the Doximal pump, I was to have unlimited access to the shadowcaster for a period of no less than one month. If he's defaulted on his agreement, I've got no choice but to repossess the pump, and believe me, I can hire a corporate wizard who can do so from a safe distance. Unless you can offer me some form of equivalent payment, of course."

Angel leaned back in his own far less battered chair, a knowing smirk playing about his lips. "Crowley was playing you for a sucker, Doc. Only a Slayer can pass through the shadowcaster portal unharmed."

Gregson made a dismissive pfft. "So he informed me. I'm only interested in the byproducts of other people passing through the portal. I'm a businessman, not an adventurer." A scowl darkened his high, glistening brow. "A businessman with some significant losses of stock to make up. "

Angel raised an eyebrow. Needles and tongs, pincers and pins. "Ah?"

"My clinic was vandalized last night. A number of extremely valuable specimens were destroyed or stolen." The doctor's expression grew ever more sour. "Luckily there was sufficient security footage left to identify the perpetrator. A business rival of mine. It's so aggravating, dealing with amateurs."

Drusilla drew in a long hissing breath and leaned forward, the silk of her gown rustling like the voices of dead. Naughty, naughty Spike. She could still smell him in the air, leather and ash. Always so hungry, her Spike. And so was she, come to that. Out in the lobby the Lunch was creeping towards the front door; she raised a hand and beckoned. The Lunch regarded her with a hopeless whimper, and began to crawl towards her on hands and knees across the rubble-strewn floor. Drusilla took the girl upon her knee, stroking her matted hair. She set her fangs delicately against the flutter and throb of blood in the child's slender throat. Dark liquid eyes panicked, hitching breath; pulse growing weak and thready as her kiss lengthened.

"Spike paid me a visit my homeowner's insurance won't thank me for last night, too." Angel's bared teeth shaded towards fangs. "Here's the deal. You want access to the shadowcaster? You've got it. You can have all the demons it can spit out, in perpetuity. In return, I want you to give me complete control of the Doximal delivery implant. I want the remote control and the dead man's switch disabled, and I want refills. There can't be an infinite supply of the drug in there, and I plan on unliving a long, long time." His eyes glinted yellow. "I might even be able to help you with your Spike problem."

"Rest assured, I've already arranged to send Spike a very sternly worded message." Gregson pursed his lips, as if weighing the freshness of a peach. "As for your offer, making the modifications you want without removing the device -- I assume you'd rather it remain in situ? -- will be. . . challenging. And while I understand that you can't be held responsible for Mr. Crowley's failings, it's an unfortunate fact that he was already behind schedule in his payment. I'm afraid I have to demand some form of assurance before I can consider accepting your offer. The four weeks of unrestricted access to the shadowcaster I'm due, for example."

The girl in her arms gave a keening whimper. Cradling the warm limp weight in her lap, Drusilla crooned a low, wordless song to the rhythm of a failing heart. James's dust had wept so on the wind, for days and days after his sad demise, driving her quite frantic.

Angel shot an irritated look in her direction and leaned back, the King in his counting-house, a-counting out his money. "If I didn't know better," he said, "I'd suspect you think I'm stupid. This is a Slayer artifact, Doc. One of a kind. But I'll tell you what I can do -- there's a completely unique demon in one of the upstairs suites. You can have it right now, and any others that, uh, become available in the process of testing. In exchange, you start work on the modifications right away."

"You drive a hard bargain," Gregson sighed. "But I can't afford to pass by an opportunity like this over trifles." He rose to his feet and offered his hand, which Angel ignored. After a moment he let it drop to his side. "I'll send my people around to remove the corpse within an hour. No sense in letting it decay further. I'll have a preliminary plan for the first stage of modifications to the device to you by day after tomorrow."

Foolish Papa, to desire the Slayer-trap so. Couldn't he feel it spit and spark? Couldn't he see the capering black shapes that ring-around-a-rosied him, metal teeth gnashing, clawed fingers clashing? Best give it to the doctor and be done. But that was none of her affair. Angelus would have his present, and she would have hers. Drusilla leaped to her feet, toppling the Lunch's pale, lifeless body to the floor, and seized the cuff of the doctor's jacket. Gregson drew back, but she held him fast, as poor Janet must, lest the Fairy Queen snatch him away. "You're the Doctor, the man with the knives. I know all about you." She fell into a sing-song chant: "Bits and bobs, shreds and slices, snips and snails and demons' tails."

Doctor Gregson glanced down at her, eyebrows raised, and extricated his sleeve from her grasp. "I don't take psychiatric cases," he said. "There's a clinic in Las Vegas, however. . . "

"Don't mind her. Drusilla's got some invaluable talents, but she lives in a world of her own. A really annoying world of her own." Angel pulled her off the doctor in exasperation. "Dru, the grownups are talking."

Drusilla rounded on her sire, claws out, hissing. "No! You promised me whatever I chose, and this is what I choose." They forgot, all of them, that she'd been on her own now for ever so long, and grown ever so wise. She turned back to Gregson. "What's the price of a heart?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Oh, do listen!" Weren't doctors supposed to be clever? "It's very simple. My Spike left me lost and lorn, all for the Slayer's sake, and after I made him especially, too! I want his heart for my own again, and then the Slayer may have the rest of him, for all I care." She shook a warning finger beneath Gregson's nose. "I don't want it all gone to dust, though. I should like to keep it in a velvet box and take it out and sing to it once each day for a thousand years. It will be my dearest keepsake, besides Miss Edith and the star that shines over my shoulder."

"That's not even possible, " Angel began, but Gregson held up a hand. His eyes gleamed like foxfire.

"Perhaps not so impossible as all that."

Angel looked skeptical. Such a hard head her Papa had, to match his hard heart – would that Spike's had been harder as well! "Yeah? I seem to remember James going poof like any other vampire after you removed his heart. It just took him a little longer."

"Indeed. And it might take longer yet, with the proper preparation." Oh, this Doctor was a mad one, to be sure, his test tubes already a-bubbling. "The problem of vampire organs disintegrating when the parent vampire dusts is a long-time obstacle in my business. I've never discovered a solution which was commercially viable, but on an individual basis... " He turned to Drusilla and bowed slightly. "I think, madam, you might find the results satisfactory." He smiled at Angel, thin and oily. "If somewhat expensive."

Drusilla clapped her hands, shivering in delight. "Oh! I shall pick out a velvet box directly!"

"Dru, are you sure... ah, hell!" Angel's annoyance vanished in a savage grin. "It's poetic. Do it, Doc. I can't think of a better way to get Spike out of my hair." He bent and kissed the top of Drusilla's smooth dark head. "Sometimes, sweetness, you do earn your keep."

******

It was a measure of the blind will to survive, Bernard Crowley mused, that even when there was only one choice remaining, it could still take so long to nerve oneself to take it.

The young man who wasn't Robin watched him guardedly from across the cell. Charles Gunn, that was his name. Free of Drusilla's thrall, Crowley could see that Gunn bore Robin very little resemblance, but it had taken him most of the day to achieve that state. He could recall ranting, weeping, raving: arguing with his long-dead Slayer, pleading with Robin to forgive him. Now, clear-headed but exhausted, he huddled against the bank of old strongboxes in the rear of the cell. Angelus's minions had ripped a number of them out of the wall and smashed them open, looking for treasures left behind by long-departed guests. The holes leered at down at him, a lopsided, skeletal grin.

Gunn was not at his best, either. They hadn't bothered to set his broken finger, of course, and his hand had swollen to match his knee. Still, he was young and strong, and more than fit to do what Crowley needed him to do. The only hitch was the one respect in which he did resemble Robin: they were both incredibly stubborn.

"It's very simple, young man! If I die, the Doximal pump shuts off. Angel returns to himself. There is simply nothing else for it," Crowley snapped. "You must kill me, and it must be quick. I'm certain he's taking steps to obtain more of the drug somehow."

"Ain't happening, old man!" Gunn held up his manacled hand, mummified in torn strips of shirt. "Not even if I wanted to, and I don't want to. Look, this Robin guy -- he was someone you cared for, right? And he's dead, and it's your fault and you feel like shit. I get why you'd wanna fall on your sword, but damned if I'm going to hold it for you."

Crowley reached up -- he was handcuffed, but Angelus had not, apparently, felt it worthwhile to chain him to the wall. He grabbed the lip of the nearest strongbox cavity, hissing as the torn metal edge sliced his fingers. He levered himself to his feet, and tottered across the few feet separating them. "Don't be sentimental. You'd be surprised at what you're capable of."

Gunn met his eyes squarely. "No. I wouldn't. And that's why it's not happening. Whatever secrets you've got squirreled away, they're not so important that. . . "

How could the young be so world-weary and yet at the same time so naive? Crowley shook his head. "The only reason they haven't killed me already is that they believe I can give them more information. Unfortunately, they are correct. I was trained before Quentin Travers purged the Council archives. Do you have any idea what that means?" he snorted. Of course not. None of these children could. "The damage that monster could do with the shadowcaster goes far beyond summoning a few paltry demons. Angelus has already tried to destroy the world once. Do you really believe he won't try again? We can't take that chance. I took an oath once, to do anything within my power to save the world. If the only way I can fulfill that oath is to die. . . " A shudder ran through him at the memory of cold hands and colder eyes. "I can stand up to torture, but I can't stand up to her."

Exasperated, Gunn shook his head. "Man, I'm starting to see where Wesley gets it from. He used to talk like that when he got his Watcher on, and I didn't much like what he had to say, either. I'm not killing anyone who can't grow fangs."

"Then you're a fool." Crowley's shoulders slumped in resignation. He had hoped. . . but it had been a coward's hope, that he would be spared this. If a mortal sin was to be committed, better he commit it who was already damned. Turning away, he hobbled back to the rear wall, perusing the empty slots with a connoisseur's eye. "I let the girl I loved like a daughter go up against William the Bloody unaided rather than risk the consequences of using the shadowcaster. And Quentin Travers, fond as he is of power, was content to let it stay lost when I kept it after Nikki's death. Acathla was a child's toy compared to . . . Ah, well, I see I can't dissuade you. It has been a pleasure knowing you, young man."

"You're not done knowing me yet." Gunn braced himself against the wall with his good leg, shoving himself upright.

Crowley set his shirt-sleeve against the edge of a strongbox slot, catching the cloth in the points of the torn metal, and began working his arm back and forth. It was a good quality shirt, hard for an old man to tear. He had been something of a dandy in his day, and it was hard to let the old vanities go. He could hear the clink of chains as Gunn shifted position behind him. "There's no way you're gonna get a rope long enough to hang yourself out of that," Gunn said. "You think you're gonna slit your wrists and bleed out or something?"

"Certainly not. That would take far too long." Crowley began working on the other sleeve. "If you do escape, tell Rupert Giles. . . tell him that hubris is Angelus's besetting sin. Better to reign in hell, and all that. Look it up - Paradise Lost, Book I, line 597. Can you remember that?"

"Book I, line 597," Gunn repeated, with the air of someone humoring a madman. "But . . .

Crowley bent to retrieve the fallen scraps of cloth in a series of arthritic jerks, wadding them in his fist. Carefully, he plugged each nostril with a wad of cotton-rayon blend, then stuffed the remainder into his mouth and swallowed hard.

Immediately his body revolted. He doubled over, choking violently. Gunn pushed off the wall with a yell, but the manacles pulled him up short. Four minutes without oxygen before brain cells started dying. The need for air was overwhelming; his head pounded, his lungs ached. Dimly, over the stuttering roar of his own blood, he heard his cellmate shouting: "Hey! Angel! Anybody! Your prize Watcher's choking to death in here! Don't you vamps have god damn super hearing? Someone get in here, now!"

How long? Four minutes, four hours, forever. Black stars swam before his eyes. The door crashed open and one of the higher-ranking minions dove past Gunn, sliding to his knees at Crowley's side. The minion thrust a hand down Crowley's throat, pulling the soggy, crumpled wad of cloth free, as Crowley tried feebly to bat him away. Air rushed into his lungs, but the dizziness didn't abate. Pains now in his side, shooting down his left arm. His heart clenched and shivered within his chest. Ah. That's right. Angelus's minions had failed to capture his Lidocaine when they'd captured him. He hadn't taken any in two days.

How very fortunate.

"Give him some goddamn CPR!" Gunn yelled.

Through the grey haze overtaking his vision, Crowley saw the vampire cock his head, the indifference in his eyes at chilling odds with his open, boy-next-door face. "I don't know CPR."

Thank God.

"Don't you die on me, old man!"

Too late for that. His gaze was already focused on another shore. Crowley did not think he would see Nikki there, or Robin. Doubtless he was headed for warmer climes than they. But he forced it back to Gunn's for a second longer. "Paradise Lost," he rasped. "Book I, line 597. Remember."

*******


The old Watcher sprawled in the middle of the room, a scarecrow figure of skin and bone. Gunn slumped against the wall, the defeated curve of his spine a signal of exhaustion and despair; for the moment, anyway, Crowley's death had taken all the fight out of him. Lawson knelt at the old man's side, gazing down at his blue and waxen face. Wyndam-Pryce dropped to his knees beside him, his mouth a pruny twist of disapproval. Despite the plain lack of a heartbeat, he laid two fingers alongside the withered throat, feeling for a pulse. Finding none, his frown deepened. "Why didn't you try to sire him?"

Lawson contemplated the dead face for a moment longer, then reached down and closed the old man's eyelids. "I couldn't be certain how long he'd been choking when I got here. If there was brain damage, siring wouldn't fix it."

A muscle in Pryce's jaw jumped; he didn't like having his relative inexperience as a vampire thrown back at him. "Crowley's mind contained priceless knowledge," he reproved. "Salvaging even a portion of it . . ."

"He might have refused to drink anyway. He had something he believed in enough to die for."

"He was a Watcher."

Pryce said it as if that were all the explanation necessary. Lawson was seized with a sudden curiosity -- did Pryce struggle with the same malaise he did? "Do you ever miss that?" he asked. "Having a. . . greater purpose?"

"What makes you think I don't have one?" Pryce's smile was grim. "The Watchers very nearly destroyed me. I intend to return the favor tenfold."

"What the hell is going on down here?"

Angel's voice, cold and menacing, interrupted any chance at further exploration. He stood in the doorway, shadowed by the inquisitive Doctor Gregson, and took in the wreckage with one comprehensive glance. Lawson got to his feet and held up the gummy wad of cloth. "Sir. He tore this off of his shirt and swallowed it. I don't know if the choking triggered the stroke, or if he was due for one anyway, but either way, he was gone before we could get to him."

Heat-lighting flickered in his sire's eyes. "That's the second time a prisoner's been lost on your watch, boy. Any particular reason I shouldn't kill you?"

Lawson stiffened. "That's up to you, but I won't sit still while you do it. Can you afford to do that right now, sir?"

Spike would have gone for his throat at that, but Angel wasn't so easily baited. Behind the impassive face, Lawson could see him considering his chances: his own partially healed wounds, the fact that Lawson was a match for him in weight and reach, and his current shortage of capable lieutenants. He laughed, short, sharp, and ugly, and gave Cowley a contemptuous kick to the head. "If I weren't on a deadline, I'd dust you right here, but you've got a reprieve. Make the most of it." He rounded on Gregson, who was watching the proceedings with the prurient interest of a man observing a four-car pileup. "We're going to have to bump that surgery up. The Watcher may have been bluffing when he said there was a deadman switch, but I'm not going to risk calling it."

Gregson nodded, producing a cell phone with the flourish of a stage magician. "Very well. I'll contact the clinic and make the arrangements. We should be ready for you within an hour."

"Great. I'll be there as soon as I sort things out here." Angel jerked a thumb at Crowley's body. "Take that to Drusilla, and tell her she can do as she likes with it, and make sure he," he gestured towards Gunn, "doesn't strangle himself with a twist-tie or something. Charlie-boy here is joining the family as soon as I get out of surgery. I need at least one minion with both balls and brains. When you've cleaned up this mess, take Dru and go hunting. I want at least three more decent recruits by the weekend."

He turned and started for the door. Wesley's already pinched mouth tightened further, and Lawson's fists clenched in frustration. "I have a question, sir."

Pryce prudently took a step or two aside. Angel turned, eyes golden, and for all he was still bruised and limping from his encounter with Spike, his shoulders were still very broad and his fangs very sharp. "You do, do you?"

Lawson met his eyes. "What exactly are we doing here? Are we trying to rebuild the Order of Aurelius, or kill the Slayer, or find your kid, or what? Here I am, playing errand boy one day, killing a few drunk college kids the next, and for what? What's the point?"

Push the old man hard enough, and he'd bite. Angel moved then, one hand clamping around the younger vampire's throat and slamming him hard up against the ruined bank of safe-boxes. "What's the point?" he snarled, fangs inches from Lawson's nose. "This is the point! There are seven billion people out there, living their dull, stupid, pedestrian lives, and too many of those people have forgotten that the only thing that gives those lives meaning is the fact that at any moment, we can end them. We are the flame in the darkness, the shadow on the moon, the rattle of their final breath. We are artists, boyo. Artists in fear, in pain, in death. And as Spike might say, the world is our bloody canvas." A disdainful sneer curled his lips. "I carve my masterpieces in flesh and blood and souls. And if that's not meaning enough for you, Sammy-boy, you're no get of mine."

His head ringing, Lawson swiped a hand across his mouth and licked the blood from his fingers. Spike had told him, all those years ago, that scrambling for Angel's approval was a fool's game, but part of him had hoped, all the same, that some day his sire would swoop in, dispensing wisdom that would make sense of his peculiar vampiric ennui. The loss of that hope bit more painfully than any set of corporeal fangs could. "Just one more thing. You ever read Paradise Lost?"

"You need help on your book report? Of course I've read Paradise Lost." Angel's eyes narrowed. "Why do you ask?"

Fuck you too, old man. Whatever the hell Crowley had meant by that reference, Angel could figure it out on his own. "No reason."

*******


Wesley stood at the top of the steps, watching as the Gregson Clinic's ambulance pulled up to the curb, and Angelus disappeared within. The car purred to life and pulled away, vanishing into traffic. No more than twenty-four hours, Doctor Gregson assured them. Well and good, but twenty-four hours could be an eternity. The Slayer was surely on the alert by now, and Sam Lawson was increasingly a problem -- he'd left half an hour ago, ostensibly to begin his search for the new minions Angelus had ordered, but Wesley honestly wondered if they'd ever see him again. Which might be for the best. Had he been anyone other than Angel's guilty-secret get, Wesley was certain Lawson would have been a pile of dust under some minion's broom by now. Angel's soul might be quiescent, but Wesley was not so foolish as to imagine that it exerted no influence at all. Angelus delighted in keeping his lieutenants at one another's throats, but while that might keep them from uniting against their master, it also lead to the sort of disaffection he could see growing in Lawson's eyes day by day. If he, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, were in charge. . .

Put that thought aside. There were some things it wasn't safe to think about, particularly when Drusilla was about. Wesley had no illusions that Angelus had assigned him to look after her simply because he thought they'd make a pretty couple.

"Knock, knock."

Startled out of his reverie, Wesley looked down. Standing at the bottom of the hotel's front steps was a small man in a rumpled grey suit and a fedora. Bright, shrewd eyes flicked past Wesley to the Hyperion's dark and none too tidy interior. "Hey, I love what you've done with the place. The big guy at home?" He strolled past Wesley, unfazed by the vampire's attempt to block his passage. "Sucks that nobody needs to ask for an invitation to a vamp's house, doesn't it?"
"Here, stop that!" Wesley grabbed the little man's shoulder and whirled him around, or tried to; the rumpled man brushed his hand away as if it were cobwebs. He shook his head and made a tch noise.

"What, Angel never mentioned me? Name's Whistler. Pleased to meet you." He stuck out his hand, which Wesley, after the fashion of his sire, ignored. After a moment Whistler withdrew it with a sorrowful headshake. "Nobody's neighborly anymore."

"Angel did, in fact, mention you," Wesley said frostily. "You're the Balance demon who originally engaged him to become a champion of the Powers. But in case it's escaped your notice, it's Angelus who is currently in residence, and he is no longer the Powers' willing pawn, nor am I. If you're looking for a champion of goodness and light, look elsewhere."

Whistler flung himself down in one of the overstuff scarlet chairs which had escaped the earlier carnage, and laced his hands behind his head. He tipped his head back and addressed the vaulted ceiling, or something beyond it. "Man, what do they teach them in these schools?" Returning his gaze to Wesley, "OK, I'll use small words. I serve the Balance. Not good, not evil, balance." He held both hands out, miming a scale. "And I'll tell you, it's been a wild ride in these parts the last few years. There's been a lot of argument upstairs about the way we ought to handle things from here on out." He leaned forward. "But then what do you know, a little bird tells me that Angel has the shadowcaster, and that opens up a whole slew of possibilities." He grinned. "Whether or not he's using it at the moment, he's still the vampire with a soul. Prophecy Guy. And there's one humdinger of a prophecy waiting in the wings. One that makes the Shanshu look like chump change. So I'm here to make him an offer he can't refuse."

comment count unavailable Rants Talk to me

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( 20 rants — Talk To Me )
slaymesoftly
Dec. 23rd, 2013 08:30 pm (UTC)
Another piece in the opus that is POM. :)
rahirah
Dec. 23rd, 2013 11:38 pm (UTC)
Thanks. Couldn't do it without you guys. :)
kerry_220
Dec. 23rd, 2013 10:05 pm (UTC)
One of the things about the internet is with downloads and spoiler sites, the producers overseas have found that they can't package up the big shows and movies and sell them to us Antipodeans months or years after the event. So we've been introduced to the joys of the "Mid-season Finale".

At rough count, I thought there were about eleven or so 'cliffies' in that chapter - if you count What Happens With Gunn and Lawson??? - and the star only got a phone conversation!! Ha!!

I think it's a safe bet, you just out gunned any mid-season finale I've ever seen!

Anyways, turkey to stuff and trifle to make. Thanks for the early Christmas present :-)
rahirah
Dec. 23rd, 2013 11:39 pm (UTC)
Heh, one of my betas noted the excessive cliffhangeriness of this chapter. Rest assured, next chapter shoes start dropping, and where there are shoes, there will be Buffy. :D
shipperx
Dec. 24th, 2013 04:55 am (UTC)
God, I've missed Anya. She was one of my faves and you write her so well. And you're writing. So yay! And yay for having some Anya POV too.
rahirah
Dec. 24th, 2013 05:17 am (UTC)
Anya's always fun to write. :)
treadingthedark
Dec. 24th, 2013 09:19 am (UTC)
Excellent chapter. Can't wait for more.
rahirah
Dec. 24th, 2013 03:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Hopefully the next one won't take quite as long!
readers_only
Dec. 25th, 2013 03:22 am (UTC)
Barb, that was gripping! I love the parallel stories. It even feels good to know what the future holds. What a fun ride! Thank you for sharing your talent! Merry Christmas! Oh almost forgot, Anya! Evie! Gunn! Dawn! Spike! I love them all. I even like David.


Edited at 2013-12-25 03:26 am (UTC)
enname
Dec. 25th, 2013 06:44 am (UTC)
Yay!! *bookmarks it* I only have Internet on my phone and that does not make for a relaxing read.
rahirah
Dec. 26th, 2013 04:09 am (UTC)
One letter at a time? *g*
thisficklemob
Dec. 25th, 2013 09:08 pm (UTC)
Saving this to savor later. Yay!
rahirah
Dec. 26th, 2013 04:09 am (UTC)
:D
thisficklemob
Dec. 28th, 2013 01:58 am (UTC)
Wow, I did not see those twists coming -- especially the male contraceptive. I guess perhaps I should have, with the lack of hysterical blindness. Oh, Xander.

I wonder what his reasoning is -- is his income shakier than he'd want? Is he just not feeling ready? (Totally valid, IMHO; he's at most twenty-two.) But letting Anya think they're "trying" if they're not... not valid. Bad decision, Alexander!

One thing I wasn't sure about was the calls to the crypt -- it sounded like Anya called David before Dawn did, but then David responds just to Dawn's call? Did Anya call a different number?
rahirah
Dec. 28th, 2013 02:26 am (UTC)
Argh, I did a bunch of switching around of scenes regarding that phone call, and I bet I messed it up. I'll have to fix it.
magnuskn
Dec. 26th, 2013 12:23 pm (UTC)
This is a very lovely christmas present. :) Another excellent chapter and I'm very intrigued where this story is going.
rahirah
Dec. 27th, 2013 02:26 am (UTC)
Thanks for reading. :)
hello_spikey
Dec. 26th, 2013 09:16 pm (UTC)
So good to see a continuation of this!

Such drama! Such complexity! So much tension!

EE! Crowly. Poor guy. Poor Gunn! Poor everyone. Love the way you paint Lawson's ambiguity.

Way to leave all those threads loose, though. Will try to be patient waiting for the next installment!
rahirah
Dec. 27th, 2013 02:26 am (UTC)
Heh. Very patiently, I hope!
paratti
Dec. 27th, 2013 09:31 pm (UTC)
Loved it.
( 20 rants — Talk To Me )

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