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Radiance

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“Angels are terrible things, my Spike. Demons of the light they are, with steel tipped pinions and hair like candyfloss that cuts your tongue to ribbons. They’ll come for us all one day, them with their sharp bones and huge willies.”
~Drusilla~ The Catholic Fancies

 

Xander pulled the car up near the delivery door half an hour after sunset. He knew the routine. They’d got in and out this way before, short cut through the food prep area then through the basement to the morgue. At least in this particular hospital. Weird to think they knew how to get into the dead people zone in all three hospitals in town.
He had ten pints of blood in a cooler in the back seat, which was not routine, had never been part of this routine. But she said get them, bring them, so he did.
A long hollow creak from the door, narrow stream of light spilling out over the tarmac and there they were. Jesus. Even from this distance the guy looked like hell. She was practically carrying him, wrapped in a sheet, pretty much naked, but then that’s how most people woke up in the morgue.
Duh. Most people don’t wake up in a morgue. Only in Sunnydale would any sane person entertain such a thought.
Spike looked much smaller than seemed altogether natural. Slumped down in Buffy’s grasp, his bare feet turned under, dragged over the pavement as she hurried towards the car. Oh man, talk about your stubbed toes.
She shifted the arm she had around his back and tried to push him upright, trying like hell to get his feet under him again, and she was moving fast, her face tight and tense and –
“Open the door, open the goddamned door.”
He did and the two of them tumbled into the back. He hopped in the driver’s seat again, put the car into gear and sped away from the receiving dock. “Where are we taking him?”
“My house.”
“No.” It was so muddied that voice, and so low.
“Spike. My house.”
“No.” This time a whisper. “Lemme out.”
“Spike. Come on, man. Seriously. You’re dressed like Caesar after the stabbage.”
The voice was ragged and huge, roaring through a mouthful of marbles, or perhaps broken teeth. “I. Want. Out. NOW!”
Thrashing in the back seat. Quick glances in the rear-view mirror showed Buffy, just Buffy with that steely expression she got. Wrestling the invisible man.
“Buff, maybe he’d feel more comfortable—”
“We are going to my house.” A thump on the vinyl seat. Was that surrender or collapse? A moan.
Xander’s fingers went white-knuckled on the steering wheel, a sudden churning nausea in his gut. “He doesn’t want to go there!”
“Too bad.” The lid of the cooler opened up. A crinkle sound. “Here. Drink this.”
“Stop. Stop it.” Couldn’t see, but assumed he was moving his face from the offering.
“Do you have any blood left in your entire body? Just drink. Jesus Christ!”
Surrendered quietly then, too battered to fight her. He drank four pints on the drive there and didn’t say another word to either of them.

***

~Scintilla Mundi~

Wings spread, searing light sealing him off from everything. Within the blot of light created by the hummingbird beat of huge terrible wings, a narrow alley became a dark bed of bricks, mortar, broken glass, garbage spilled from rubbish bins, splintered pallets, crushed cardboard boxes. He couldn’t look anywhere but inside himself. He could fight back though, so he knew they were nothing like human. Detached from their wings they moved towards him, grace and majesty, in form and function so like men. They beat and raped him and took no pleasure in it, said nothing until after. But he couldn’t think about that. What they’d said. Not yet.
Worst part really was that they’d taken his coat, his leather, his trophy. Taken him up against a wall, and on his hands and knees, and then stole his coat. Left him for dead. He was already dead. So ha ha you fucking bastards. Ha bloody ha.
Pawing his way up the bricks. Some building he should have recognized. The wall felt slimy and crumbly at the same time. His fingernails were torn and the pads on his fingers were raw. The slimy was blood and the crumbly was from where he’d torn the mortar from between the bricks, crushed some of the bricks themselves.
He’d roared, pushed up against this wall, trying to frighten them away with his scary face, while a hand smooth as kid leather, but hard and hot, had stroked his cheek, burning him with tenderness and murmured wordless comfort. No fire in his head when he was trying to fight them and oh how patient they’d been, so patient with his fighting them, like good parents waiting out a tantrum, holding his arms to keep him from hurting himself while they hurt him with their steely resolve and their shiny skin and eyes too bright and the hum hum hum of something moving the air too fast or something like, oh what was the sound, like the buzz of florescent lights, only the light had been a million times brighter over there where the wings were beating, and now pain waited on the periphery, danced in close and taunted him with what it would do to him later, and it was going to be everywhere inside, in each extremity of each digit, firing off in every nerve.
He needed to find his belt. Find his belt and pull up and tuck in and make himself presentable and they stole his coat and fucked him in an alley and stole his coat. Still had his boots though which was good because he didn’t fancy having to explain where he’d lost his boots and the belt was somewhere somewhere over over somewhere – there. It had blood on it. The buckle was bloody. He should find a phone. Where the fuck am I is that 3rd am I near the Lovejoy Market there’s a phone there’s a phone there and who will you call idiot bastards stole my coat. He’d been drinking and he talked too much everyone knew that he shot off his mouth and so he should have just shut up when will he ever learn to shut the fuck up need to find my fucking coat fucking bastards.
Nope. Not walking anywhere. Just wait. Can’t sit down can’t stand up can’t fucking walk pain is just right there very close and losing it losing oh oh god oh god no good. Lie down. Lie down and let it come. Can’t escape it anyway. Let it come. Sleep now. Die later. The sun’ll come up tomorrow la la ha ha. Let it come.
Instead of the sun, awareness rose. And pain bloomed again in the dark.

 

***

 

Tara set up the sofa bed in the basement as fast as she could. All quiet efficiency, trying not to look at him as he leaned heavily against the cement wall. The others had gone back upstairs, shuffling around, uncomfortable, feeling useless, anxious, and in the way.
The basement was still a little musty, but she comforted herself with the idea that it was more familiar that way, dark like a crypt. That was good, right? Buffy was taking care of him. That was good too. She supposed. She hoped. The freezer was down here and there was an old microwave sitting on a workbench. Really old microwave. A giant one. Still, better than nothing. She’d bring him one of those big soup mugs from the kitchen. All the comforts of home, practically.
“There you go.” She patted the lumpy mattress.
He held the hospital sheet tight around him, moved with heartbreaking slowness the short few steps across the floor, and eased onto the bed.
“We’re going over in the morning to pick up some clothes for you,” she said, pulling the blankets over him.
“Thanks,” he said.
“Do you want me to get you anything?”
And she thought he said something about his coat, but when she asked him again he said, “Cigarettes.”

***

“It had to be humans, right?”
“Who else? He’d have kicked ass on anyone else.”
“Not if there were a lot of them. Hellmouth breeds some pretty powerful demons you know.”
“Or like a million vampires could have jumped him, right?”
“A million?”
“Well, you know, more than ten.”
“No. The vamps hate him. They would have finished him off. Demons maybe. He gambles with some of them. Maybe it had something to do with a debt. In which case he’s an idiot.”
“Jeez, Buffy! You’ve called him an idiot like a million times already—“
“Again with the million. Shouldn’t you be in bed? You still have school in the morning.”
“Way to change the subject. He’s all beat up! Why do you have to kick people when they’re down?”
“I’m not! And he’s not people and—I don’t! He gets himself into these situations and then expects me to bail him out.”
“Buff, doesn’t seem like he was expecting much of anything from you. We wouldn’t have known if he didn’t have that piece of paper in his pocket—“
“Kind of strange the only thing he had in his pocket was the phone number to the Magic Box, don’t you think?”
“Well it is the best place in town to get all his magical needs met. What other number would he need? You’re all there all the time anyway. Not buying anything.”
“If somebody hadn’t spotted him in that alley and called 911 he would have been crispy in another hour. We never would have known what happened to him. He just would have been – poof! Gone. No more Spike.”
“Whereas now he’s all mangled and pulpy like a dog that got hit by a car— What?”
“He’s not a dog!”
“No, hey, Dawn that’s not what—“
“I still can’t believe he woke up in a drawer. The ultimate creepy.”
“He wants cigarettes,” Tara said coming into the dining room. “Anybody know what brand?”
“Marlboro Reds.” Buffy said. “But he can’t — never mind.”

 

***

~Luciferous~

In the dream they lost their angelic glow. Just hard men like in a prison film. In fact, the alley looked a bit like a prison yard. And then it simply was one. The fences glowed and sizzled, sparks of bluish light coming off loops of barbed wire. The guard towers were so tall he couldn’t see the little guardhouses up top. But he knew the guards were watching from those lofty perches. Knew they wouldn’t do anything. And so it went on. Again. Different but with the same emotions, the blows in the dream echoing the dull throbbing real pain in his body, an awareness not so much lucid as merely set to one side—
He jerked, hand closing around the club about to strike. A sharp gasp and his eyes opened onto Buffy’s face, her grimace of pain as he twisted her wrist hard enough to snap the bone in anyone else. She was kneeling next to the bed. Must have touched his face. Tenderness now. That was sodding rich wasn’t it?
“Shit,” he whispered. Let go of her wrist.
“Sorry. My fault. Should have expected you to be jumpy.”
Rolling onto his back, a sob of pain escaped him and he tried to turn it into a laugh. “If I could just…jump out of my skin. That would be jolly.”
“I think I’ve got Demerol still, from when Mom was…it’s in the…I’ll go get it.” She leapt up and started for the stairs.
“’S’okay. Don’t trouble yourself. Won’t help much.”
She stopped. He could feel her anxiety like a weight pressing down on his chest. He closed his eyes again. Heard the scrape of metal as she pulled a chair closer to the bed. Bloody hell. Now she was going to ask questions.
“So, what happened?”
“What’s it look like? Got beat up.”
He could tell by her breathing she was making a concerted effort not to show her frustration. “By who or what?” He took too long to answer. He wasn’t going to answer but she didn’t know that. “Look, I don’t know what you’ve been into lately, so if it’s some kind of demon mafia or—“
He laughed. Really laughed this time. Filtered, as it was through a swollen jaw, big fat split lip, and broken ribs. “Demon mafia. They want their kittens by Tuesday or I’m dust.”
“All right. Humans then. Some kind of gang?”
He blinked up at the ceiling and said nothing. A long forever minute passed and still nothing.
“I-I know this is probably embarrassing, humiliating, shameful—“
“Yeah. Thanks. Wouldn’t have thought up the shameful part myself. Glinda get me those smokes by any chance? Dying for a fag here.”
“You know, normally you’d say you’d kill for one.”
“I’m learning to accept my limitations.”
“Spike…”
“Look. I can’t remember. When I do, I’ll be sure to inform you so you can go kick their glowing white arses for me.”
“They glowed?”
“FUCK! Can I just have a cigarette for fuck’s sake?” The outburst cost him. Pain tangled in his throat, hissed through his teeth in a barely controlled leak before it came choking out of him. Shameful, yes, you stupid cow, and now tears squeezing from the corners of his tightly shuttered eyes, and even that hurt, and he really just wanted her to go away now.
Thankfully, she did.
He lay there, listening to the sounds above his head, distracting himself by simple exercises of the senses. Identifying heartbeats, footfalls. Which woman was on the rag? That’d be Anya. The others were all within days of each other. Proximity. Heady experience. Not tonight though. The kettle was on, someone making tea, microwave popcorn, oily fake butter, salt on his tongue, what time was it? Harris’s heavy tread, now Dawn’s, basement door opening, no, no, go to bed girl—
“Dawnie, no.” That was Tara. Tara to the rescue. Nice kitty. “Maybe tomorrow, ‘kay?”
It was Tara came down the basement steps. Brought him a cuppa, how nice, a pack of Marlboros, how’d she know, and brand new pink Bic – pink, ah well. She made a joke about pink being a healing colour. Placed a chipped saucer for the ashes on the chair Buffy’d left near the bed. Put the mug there.
“I think I remember how you take your tea. I hope anyway. They only have skim milk. Sorry.”
It hurt to smile, but he did it for her. Voluptuous peach. Bet she kept cream in the fridge. She held out a little brown prescription bottle. “Demerol. Buffy kind of insisted.”
He looked at her hand but made no move to take the bottle from her so she set it next to the saucer, gave his attention to the cigs. Didn’t bother with the “packing of the tobacco” ritual, but went directly to the ripping of cellophane, pulling out of foil. His fingers were clumsy, the cigarettes nestled so tightly together in the box, that a scant second’s fumbling was too much frustration. And the idea that he would cry because he couldn’t get a cigarette out of the packet was just too bloody much.
She took it from him and teased a fag out. Lit it for him where it bobbed between scabby lips. She was so gentle and calm.
Once upon a time he would have been sweet about killing her, because he didn’t always want the fight, or need it. Feeling her tremble. Big soft breasts smashed against his chest, one hand on her fleshy bottom pulling her tight to him and the other clutching the back of her skull, all that pretty hair tangled in his fingers as he turned her face away, her big eyes wider still, a sidelong gaze that watched, then couldn’t watch as his teeth pierced her skin and sunk into her neck like needles full of heroin. He would share his euphoria with her in those moments before death. He would have done it sweetly and with care. Now she brings him tea and lights his cigarette with a healing colour.
Noting the sudden rush of blood to her cheeks, he was troubled by the idea that she knew what he’d been thinking. Why should it trouble him? Had everyone forgotten what he was? What he is still?
“They stole my coat.” A whispered confidence as he sucked the drug into his body, ash on the tip an inch long, making a game of when the ash would fall. He could tell her. She’d help him get his duster back, this white-magic witch with her power all in truth and healing. Who better to converse with the agents of light? “I need your help to find them. Get it back.”
“Oh. Oh. Wouldn’t-wouldn’t it be better if—I mean—Buffy or-or even Willow. She’s got more —“
“You. It’s got to be white magic.”
She’d leaned forward to hear him, his voice so hushed, and her expression suddenly wary, as if she also feared they’d come if he spoke too loud.
He would find them. That’s how it would be. So, sshhh, pretty witch, sshhh.
“I-I can try,” she whispered back. “Maybe a locator spell, but you’d have to- you’ll have to tell me more about who- what they are—“
He didn’t know what it was she saw in his eyes, but whatever it was caused her to place her hand over his and squeeze. “We’ll talk later. Get some rest now.”

***

 

~Ignis Fatuus~

One of the men held up the trophy coat then flourished it about like a matador. Great leathern wings unfolded from it. Each scar in the leather was vivid and an area on one pocket was rubbed shiny in the shape of a pack of cigarettes.

“Give it. That’s mine.”

“Not any more. Our fallen warrior needs to get to heaven,” said the man.

“But I won!” Spike said. “You pushed me down. It’s not fair.”

The man slipped his arms through the sleeves and started spinning about, whirling so fast that black turned into white and floated away like a dandelion seed.

***

Woke up knowing everyone else was asleep, here or elsewhere, in his or her little bed. All the aches in his body had mapped out their own territories now, battling for dominion over his attention.

He’d lied about the pills. Seven or eight would do it. That’s how many he took last time. That Glory Bitch Glory Hallelujah time. Watcher had left him some Demerol out of a distorted mercy. The sort granted an animal, albeit one capable of fetching its own glass of water with which to swallow them down. And he wouldn’t have taken them at all if not for that astonishing kiss from Buffy’s warm blood-rich lips. Then it was all right. Float away. Long dry sleep. Let the scabby minions return. Wouldn’t have mattered. He’d have died a happy camper.

But if he swallowed them now, then what? He’d be too drugged to wake himself up. They could come for him. Come back. And he wasn’t ready.

What’s left to take? They’ve taken everything. You’re free now.

Christ. Gotta get out of here.

There were storage bins full of clothes on rickety metal shelves that were spared the flooded basement disaster. God bless Rubbermaid. Most of them full of baby clothes, tiny little pastel whimsies that hurt his eyes to look at. And some of Joyce’s things her babies couldn’t get rid of when she’d passed. In one bin, a few items like warm ups and sweatshirts. Sunnydale High School gym togs. Those’d work. No shoes to fit, but he could make it to the cemetery barefoot. Long as he didn’t run into nasties on the way. He couldn’t stay here. He couldn’t. They’d be unrelenting with their questions, those annoying intrusive children.

He found an axe near the furnace. Rusty edged sorry old thing. Not like the good weapons upstairs. This was something for Christmas tree trunks and the roots of dead shrubs, but better than nothing.

As he made his way back to his world, mausoleums and marble markers, goofer dust and black-cat bones, all the dark mojo of death and cemeteries – the idea that his coat was there, in the crypt, fixed itself in his mind. He’d forgotten it, misplaced at the side of the bed, or it lay crumpled on a sarcophagus under a tatty blanket. He hadn’t even been wearing it probably, because it was warmish night before this. And he didn’t always wear it. Not always. Therefore it would be waiting for him upon his return. The lining would still bear the trace of her sweat, her power, her rage and fear and surrender buried deep in the seams. The terrible beauty of that moment before he killed her, the Yes and the Yours Now he’d seen in her eyes. That was why he took it off her body in the first place. And he’d made death quick hadn’t he? A snap of her neck and not a drop of her blood passed his lips. She was a bloody great kill, that girl, brilliant. He wore the coat to honour her as much as a mark of his triumph over her.

It had to be there and so in his mind it was. He needed to get home. Claim it.

Slow going though, barefoot on the streets and fuck, fuck, hard enough to walk because –

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. The axe scraped the pavement, a dead weight dragged along beside him. Wasn’t sure he could lift it above his shoulder. Stupid. Buggered now, aren’t you, Spike? Fucked and fucked again.

He felt his kneecaps hit the median strip as soon as he stepped onto it. It was spongy grass, so not too bad, and he thought he might as well have a lie down while he was there. Just for a minute.

***

She’s a great beautiful thing, this Slayer, swaying with the rhythm of the subway train, dancing in close then away in her platform boots, an intoxicating blend of Flower power and Black power. A glint, a flash in his eye, halo of an afro framed bright in the rattling car, leather wings outstretched, steel-tipped and shimmering. Oh those warrior angels, always so painful to look upon, but he’d never been afraid like some. If looking into the eyes of an angel meant immolation, than bring it on baby.

They dance together the way enemies do, intimate and powerful as a kiss, the open sesame of mouth on mouth. She’s on him, straddling his sex. A plunge into darkness, and then he’s on her, straddling her sex. He looks into the face of God and then snaps her neck.

He takes his trophy.

He rapes the corpse.

Which never happened.

***

 

Spike lurched up, vamped out, snarling, axe in hand.

Buffy leapt back and stood under the buzz of a flickering streetlamp, her arms raised, palms out, a classic gesture – no weapons. “It’s okay. It’s okay. Just me.”

He was looking at her with the feral eyes of an animal backed into a corner. His voice too well reasoned for that face. “What are you doing here?”

She bit back the easy sartorial observation that sprang to her tongue. That would have been kicking him while he was down. It was the Maalox solution of witty quips she used to quell anxiety. And at the moment her needs needed to take a back seat.

“I was going to ask you the same thing,” she said. “Taking a little snooze in the middle of the road? Have a bed at my house just for you.”

His demon retreated like melting wax from a bronze casting, leaving the man-shape to deal. Legs wobbly, he nevertheless managed to pull himself upright and turn away from her with renewed purpose. “I have to get home now.”

She could only hope he meant the crypt and hadn’t developed some vampire version of Alzheimer’s. Remembering a home he’d never be able to get back to. “Um…alrighty then.” She came up beside him careful not to touch him. “Can I – uh, can I carry the axe for you? Looks like it’s heavy.”

“Okay.” But he didn’t make a move to pass it to her. She reached for it— “I think it’s enchanted or something,” he said.

“Uh huh.” Trying to pry his fingers from the splintered handle. Trying to push down a queer little surge of panic.

“’S a joke Slayer. Haven’t lost my mind. Just my dignity.”

“Oh. Oh, good.” Buffy put the axe over her shoulder, once again congratulating herself on her restraint as he resumed his limping shuffle along the median strip. He was wide open to her at this moment and she wondered at herself, the way she had to bite her tongue even now to resist an insult. To indulge now would be mere cruelty, like tormenting a dog that’d got its leash wrapped around a tree. In the back of her mind was a tiny thought, that she was often cruel to him just because it was easy, irresistible the way he left himself vulnerable to attack in her presence. And even now she had the urge, a habit all tangled up with her concern. Then, shame. Jesus. He was mess. Beaten down and a tiny bit out of his mind. The hour until dawn was slinking along behind them getting ready to pounce and he seemed barely aware of it. Suddenly, she was afraid she would lose him. Not to the sun, but something else, something he knew and wasn’t telling her.

***

It’s not here. It’s not here.

“Spike? Spike? Spike!” It was like shouting into the wind. She tried to stop him, hold him, shake him, get him to look at her as his stumbling, bumbling search in the crypt became more frantic. Then he was on his knees, crawling and seeking and weeping for what she still had no idea. Wasn’t sure he did.

“What’s going on? What’s happening? Tell me. Please. Please tell me!”

“It’s not here.”

“What? Let me help. What are you looking for?”

“My coat.”

“Maybe…maybe it’s at the hospital, you know, with the rest of your stuff. I’ll check this afternoon okay---we’ll find it—”

He gazed at her, a brief flare of hope, then the feeling collapsed in on itself and she had to turn away from the dull despair in his eyes and the swollen mess that was his face. “No. ‘S gone. They took it.”

“Somebody beat you to a pulp for that damned coat? Who?” He rolled away from her.
“Who did this?”

“Done. Me.” The words were muffled and slurred, his cheek pressed against the floor, swollen lips moving. The emotional resonance gave terrible significance to the words but still they made no sense to her. Her hard gulp echoed in the room.

“You’re gonna be okay,” she murmured. Her hand hovered over his shoulder, not touching, afraid to touch.

“’S finished. Go.”

She didn’t argue with him, but she couldn’t just leave him there. Wouldn’t. He was— there was something really wrong. Spike was a bounce back kind of guy. It was his nature. Or maybe just his demon nature, but he’d been beat halfway to hell before and came up fighting. He liked fighting the odds, didn’t he?

Buffy Summers was not good with helpless, not her own sense of it anyway. She took her cell phone out of her back pocket and hit Tara’s number.

***

“He’s going to be pissed off you know,” Tara said as they made their way back to Revello Drive. It was only seven in the morning. Still cool in the shadows.

“Well, maybe he’ll sleep until nightfall and won’t even know we did it,” Buffy said.

“You really think he’d try?” Tara was never comfortable doing spells for a third party without them knowing, even if it was presumably for that third party’s own good. Yet, she’d put a binding spell on the door so he couldn’t get out, and a glamour on it so it wouldn’t be easy to find a way in from the outside.

“A walk in the sun? I dunno. Yeah. Maybe. Anyway, best to keep him…safe. And besides what if these— whatever they were – come looking for him?”

“Any clues as to who? Or why?”

“He didn’t say who. But he said they took his coat.”

“Oh yeah, he mentioned that last night.”

“What? When?”

Tara got flustered at the vaguely accusatory tone. “When- when I brought him the cigarettes. He was- he wanted me to help find his coat. He said they stole it. Didn’t say who they were only that he needed white magic to get it back.”

“So humans then. Or… but why white magic against— I don’t get it.”

"I-I can, you know, swing by after class and see if he- he might talk to me." She ventured a glance at Buffy and saw something in her features – something petty and jealous on the surface and indefinable underneath. "I mean, I mean because he started to last night. Because, you know, of the white magic thing."

Buffy was wearing her Slayer glower. Tara looked away. Then they were out in the sunlight again and whatever she'd seen was not evident in Buffy's voice. "Why is this freaking me out so much?"

Because you hate it when things you take for granted change, Tara thought. Because if you feel compassion you'll have to feel a bunch of other things. Because--

"I mean I know he'll recover," Buffy went on. "It's Spike, right? In a week we won't even be able to tell anything happened."

Everything changes.

"Um, well, that's kind of just on the outside though isn't it? We may never know what happened to him on the inside."