Oh, Goddess, Willow whispered, staring.
And well she might stare. Spike, of course, had seen the full extent of Dorissants treasure in the crypt, but that had been heaped in piles in a dark crypt and his mind had been on other things at the time. Here, now, spread out over the floor of his flat, even the subset that he and Xander had managed to carry away looked like a bloody lot of goodies.
Dreadful pile, isnt it? Spike chuckled, pleased.
Oh, my. Willow turned troubled eyes to Spike. Did you, um, steal this stuff? Because not that Im accusing you or anything, even though I know youre evil and all and stealing is kind of what evil people do, but I mean, I dont want Xander to end up in jail or anything.
Sorry, Red, came by this lot more or less honestly, he said, grimacing. Dug it up from an old tomb. Same place where, I might add, I got this. He picked up a wooden box and handed it to Willow. Theres your Tooth of Ryla, double-bagged and boxed, satisfaction not guaranteed.
You found it! Willow took the box eagerly and started to open it.
Uh-uh, Spike cautioned. Take it over to the Watchers house and then get it out if you want. I dont want nothin to do with the bloody thing. And be careful, dont touch it, supposed to be a curse on it if the wrong person tries to use it. Wanted to give it to you, because its safer transporting it by day, I suppose. Anyway, the damn thing calls for somebody pure of soul, and I dont quite qualify, so Id just as soon keep my distance from the bloody thing. And keep Xander away from it too.
Oh. Okay. Willow put the box down carefully out of the way. Involuntarily she glanced back at the gold. I guess if its okay for us to take the Tooth of Ryla, it must be okay for you to take the treasure, right? I mean legally, unless theres some family of Dorissant around . . . Her voice trailed off; then she sighed and shook her head. So . . . what did you want me to check?
Spike shrugged and indicated the treasure spread out over the floor with a wave of his hand.
All of it? Willow asked, appalled.
No, just half, then Xander and I only have a 50/50 chance of being turned into goldfish by anything we touch, Spike said sarcastically. I like the suspense. Yeah, all of it. Got it spread out thin, he said helpfully. Dont fret, obviously I can pay you for it.
Spike, I didnt come over here to get paid, she said. I came over here because you said She stopped, remembering. You said you wanted to talk to me about Xander. Can we do that first? Because Im not much good at spells when my minds on something else, and I guess Ive been kind of distracted lately, because some of my spells havent gone too well, so its probably a good idea to, um, get the worries out of my mind first.
Yeah, well, thats what I wanted to tell you about, Spike said, sighing. In a way. See, I know why your spells arent working tip-top, and probably why Buffys getting the snot kicked out of her more often. And its probably because of Xander.
You mean weve been, um, jinxed or something because of Xander? she said, very slowly. Or are you trying to say weve been jinxed by Xander? Her frown deepened. Because if you think Id think that even for a minute
Spike shook his head.
No, Xander aint jinxed you or cursed you or anything else, he said patiently. He just hmmm. Just hasnt stopped it.
Hang on. Spike raised a hand. See, heres how it is. When Leng Chi told me about the Tooth of Ryla, he told me something about Xander, too. Told me the whelp had a powerful gift, but an unselfish one. Didnt know what he meant, didnt think about it much either, until Spike hesitated. He wasnt about to tell Willow about the chip being disabled, and that meant he couldnt tell Willow about biting Xander, either. Well, anyway, I figured it out while I was at Angels place.
Xanders got a gift? Willow repeated softly.
Oh, yeah, Spike nodded. Powerful one, too. Nowadays they call it synergy. Back in my day we just called it the Push. He thought for a moment. Ever heard about perpetual motion?
Well, of course, Willow said patiently. Its impossible. Without magic, I mean, she added thoughtfully. I suppose with the right spell
Its impossible because every system loses just a little tad of energy each time it goes round, Spike interrupted. But what if there was something putting that little bit of energy back into the system? Or even more energy?
Then perpetual motion would exist, Willow said puzzledly. I mean, actually the system would work better faster, whatever.
Right. Spike fished in his pocket, pulled out a coin and flipped it. Call it.
Um, heads? Willow said confusedly.
Spike slapped the coin on the back of his hand and showed it to Willow.
Tails, he said. But it wouldnt take much to make it come up heads. Suppose somebody could give it just that little, tiny push that it needs at just the right moment.
You mean like telekinesis? Willow said slowly.
Spike shook his head.
Nope, Red. Bigger than that, he said wryly. Much bigger. People with the Push dont push matter. They push reality. Luck, if youd rather. Thats how you usually know em. Either theyre really, really lucky big winners at the gambling tables, if they drop their bread it always lands butter side up, always a hansom available on a rainy day or theyve got the worst damned luck of anyone in the world, cause they bring it down on themselves. Pushing at their luck the wrong way.
Willow was silent; Spike could almost see the gears turning. Then she gasped in realization.
You mean Xanders been . . . pushing . . . us? she whispered.
Oh, yeah, Spike said, nodding. Your spells work better, Buffy fights better, Giles stumbles across the right passage in the right book, Tara just happens to remember the right spell, the monsters just half a second too slow . . . you can take it from there.
And were not doing so well because hes not there? Willow suggested.
Maybe. Spike shrugged. I think it goes further than that, though. You lot had done better other times when the whelp wasnt around. I think He looked at Willow, shrugging. There was simply no way of saying it without hurting her feelings. Think he feels like an outcast now. Like hes not with you lot anymore.
Because Buffy hit him? she whispered.
Spike rolled his eyes.
No, not because Buffy hit him, he said sarcastically. Although that mayve been the last straw. Buffys just being her usual bitchy self, and Xanders gotten bloody tired of it, to my way of thinking. Or, more likely, because Xander loved Spike and was more upset by the last assaults aimed at him. Think whats got him bothered is you all took her side instead of his.
But we didnt! Willow protested hotly. We told her
Listen to yourself, Spike snarled. You told her. Oh, Buffy, thats not nice. Oh, Buffy, you shouldnt have done that. Naughty, naughty Slayer. But nobody stopped her, did they? Nobody took her to task for it. So does she stop? Not hardly. And you lot just keep on with her, business as usual. Nobodys ever stood their ground for him. Nobody had ever stood their ground for Spike, either, until Xander, but he didnt say that. The mere thought of Xander coming between Buffy and Spike, taking the blow meant for the vampire, still stunned him. Youre willing to put up with whatever she does cause shes the bloody fucking Slayer. Well, fine. You got your precious slayer. But you may just have to do without your poor little good luck charm from now on.
But Xander wouldnt let us Willow scowled. This is what you didnt want me telling Xander, isnt it? But why? Because you know hed help us anyway, even if he feels Willow flushed miserably. You know.
No, I expect you not to tell him cause youre supposedly his friend, Spike said patiently. Youre not thinking, Red. Try using that brain of yours for half a mo. Suppose you tell Xander. Hell, tell em all, why not? Fine. Xanders got a gift. Hes not God, you know. He pushes reality, he doesnt flat-out control it. So what happens the first time Buffy gets knocked across the park anyway?
Willow paused. Then she went white.
She blames Xander, she said in a shaky voice.
And Xander? Spike prompts.
Blames himself, Willow finished, barely audibly.
And what happens if despite the best good-wishing he could do, one of you lot gets killed? Spike said triumphantly.
Willow pressed shaking fingers over her mouth, looking at Spike with wide, full eyes.
Oh, Goddess, she whispered. Xander would think it was all his fault. Youre right, I cant tell him. I cant tell anyone, not even Tara. A tear spilled over, rolled down her pale cheek. I wish you hadnt told me.
Had to, Spike said simply. Somebody besides mes got to know, just in case I get dusted someday.
Why? Willow said softly. Why does anyone need to know? Isnt it better if nobody does?
Still not thinking, he chided. Xander. Pushes. Reality. Try again now.
You mean Willow hesitated. You mean that if he could push it one way, he could push it the other, too?
There you go, Spike said, nodding. Pushings like any gift you can use it to help, or to hurt. Now, dont get me wrong, Red. Theres nothing in Xander that would make him use it to hurt others believe me, I know, Spike added wryly. If he was that sort, Angel wouldve long since been dust, and me too, most likely. But I think maybe theres been times hes turned it on himself.
He could see the moment Willow realized what he meant, the expression of horror in her eyes.
His parents? she barely whispered.
Maybe, Spike said cautiously. I rather doubt it, but anythings possible if he felt worthless enough. Nah, I was thinking more the way hes such a bloody demon magnet pulling them to him instead of you all, say. Or Buffy hitting him instead of me. See what I mean?
Oh. Willow looked slightly reassured. So . . . he wouldnt use it to hurt anybody Then she glanced at Spike. But what if, say, he was turned? What then?
Then I figure youd probably better have your soul-sticking spell close at hand, he said, sighing. He very much doubted that Xander would ever consciously use his power against his friends even if he knew about it, and even if he was turned, but subconsciously was another matter entirely. Spike had very few illusions about the self-control of a fledgling vampire in the first flush of his new existence. Spike himself had spent the first few weeks of his unlife joyfully getting even with everyone hed ever been even slightly pissed at, starting with the gits whod ridiculed his poetry and all the way down the list to the lady down the street whod splashed him with dishwater shed flung out the window; in retrospect, he had to admit (although not without a certain satisfaction at the memories) that perhaps hed gone just a bit overboard in the transition from William the Poet to William the Bloody.
You mean that Buffy might have to we might have to to stake him? Willow asked, her voice trembling.
Not unless you plan on going through me first, Spike growled. Then he cleared his throat. Look, Red. I dont have any plans on turning Xander anytime in the immediate future and if it should happen somehow by accident, you just be ready, all right? Ready with your spell, I mean. Cause with this kind of power, you know, Im not all that sure you or Buffy or anybody else could do him. Wouldnt take all that much of a push to defend himself, see? And you notice that despite his lousy luck in always being at the wrong place at the wrong time with some big badass monster, the whelps still alive when even the Slayers died once already.
Oh. Willow blinked thoughtfully, and Spike hoped like hell shed bought what he said. The last thing on earth he needed was somebody deciding that Xander might be, or become, too dangerous to live. Hed chosen Willow as the least likely member of the Scoobies to come to that conclusion.
All right, she said slowly at last. I understand. I guess.
Good. And in the meantime, you lot had better decide whether you want him with you, or whether you want to keep letting Buffy run roughshod over him, Spike said in a hard voice. Cause Im here to tell you, youre not getting both. Either youre his friends, or Xanders not the only one youve got to worry about.
Willow sighed unhappily.
I know, she said. I know weve Then she glanced up sharply. What do you think you can do, I mean with the chip in you?
Ah, FUCK. Forgot about that.
Grab Xander and run like bloody hell, Spike said promptly. Or get help. You know what? Angel wasnt none too pleased at the way Ive been treated, and he and Xander hit it off pretty good, too. Think hed have something to say in the matter, dont you, him and his lot?
Oh. Willow took a deep breath. Im going to have to think about this for a while, okay? But I wont tell anybody.
Good enough. He knew Willow would work it out in her own time, and he had a fair notion that he could trust her with Xanders safety. Just one thing, all right?
I know its tempting, but dont try any spells on him, to bind him or restrict him or whatnot, Spike said quietly, grinning to himself when Willow flushed guiltily. Dont know how the mojo would work on his kind. Remember the last spell that was tried on him? Way I hear it, had every female creature in Sunnydale drooling over him. And that was one he wanted to work.
Willow swallowed hard.
Thats true, she said, as if to herself. Oh, dear. She took a steadying breath. All right. I wont try anything, either not now, at least. So, um, your treasure . . . She eyed the mess on the floor with some dismay.
Not just mine, Spike pointed out. Its half Xanders.
Willow blinked in astonishment.
Why not? Spike shrugged. He helped me go after it. So. Want to make sure its safe for us?
It took six separate spells to cover all the treasure laid out on the carpet. Willow, to her credit, only pointed out once that it would have made things a lot easier if she could have called Tara to come and help. Spike used tongs to pick up the few pieces that glowed when the spell was cast, separating them out into a small pile at one side.
I guess thats all, Willow said, wiping a thin film of sweat from her forehead. Unless theres some kind of poison or powder on the stuff
Ran the hose over the lot of it, Spike said, jerking his head toward the door leading to the building above.
Oh. Well, then, I guess its safe, Willow said. She glanced at the small pile. Only I dont know what the magic is on those.
S all right, Ive got friends in low places, Spike chuckled. Unless you know some way to find out, short of trial and error?
Uh Willow raised her eyebrows. Take pictures and look through the research books?
Hmmm. Not a bad idea, Spike admitted. He went to the bedroom and fetched the Polaroid camera. Just remember, nobody knows about this except you.
Willow grimaced but didnt argue, and when Spike laid the magical pieces out flat, carefully using the tongs, Willow snapped pictures of each piece, front and back. She tucked the pictures into her bag of magical supplies, carefully hidden inside the notebook where she jotted down spells and notes.
Ill see what I can find out, she promised. And I wont tell anyone anything . . . for now, she added.
Good enough, he said simply. He knew Willow didnt trust him, and that was fine; he didnt completely trust her either. But she was definitely his pick of the Scoobies, and certainly more trustworthy than any of the nightside sorcerors he knew. He scooped up a pair of emerald earrings and dropped them in Willows hand. Here. Thanks. Look good with your hair, they will.
Willow stared blankly at the earrings, then flushed.
I didnt do this to get paid, she said indignantly, but she didnt drop the earrings.
And those aint the pay, so dont get flustered, Spike chuckled. Here He grabbed a pretty sapphire drop necklace and handed it to her. You can give that to your lady. This is your pay. He handed Willow the leather-bound book hed found in the alcove with the Tooth of Ryla. Hed had a look; the thing was plainly a spellbook, no use to him.
Willow, however, gasped in delight when she opened it and saw the magical symbols.
Oh, Goddess, thank you! she murmured, paging through the book. Where did you get this?
In Dorissants tomb, stuck in with the Tooth of Ryla, he said. Id be careful using those, Red. Could be Dorissants, since it was in his tomb, or could be that Padma birds, either one.
Yes, well be careful, Willow murmured, tucking the jewelry absently in her pocket, still thumbing through the book as she headed for the door.
A-hem, Spike said, waiting until Willow looked up. He gestured at the box holding the Tooth of Ryla, raising one eyebrow.
Oh. Willow flushed embarrassedly. Sorry. Bye, Spike. She reluctantly put the book in her purse and picked up the box, then stopped at the door. Ummm . . . Giles was expecting you to drop this off tonight, so I think he wants everybody there.
Spike stifled a growl. The last thing he wanted was to go to that meeting tonight, and he didnt particularly want Xander there either. But Xander would demand to go, and that meant Spike went too.
Right, he said reluctantly. Well be there after sunset. He gave Willow a warning scowl. But any more nonsense from Her Buffyness, and you can consider the Tiger in Red your problem, not ours. And I mean that.
He did, too, but he knew it was an empty threat. Xander would never abandon the Scoobies, no matter how they mistreated him; he certainly had never done it up to that point. Willow probably knew it too, because she looked not the least bit intimidated as she carried everything out the door. Spike sighed, dreading that evening, and, as was his way, buried his worry in action.
Angel had had a safe set in one wall of the basement, but considering that Spike had known about it while Angel had still lived here, that meant others probably knew about it too. Therefore Spike made hiding places of his own. It took most of the afternoon and a hell of a lot of exertion and two crowbars, but at last Spike had made a couple of well-hidden hollows to hold the treasure. That would have to do until he could liquidate some of it. Hed have to talk to Xander about that. There was probably no legal means of cashing the stuff in without getting in trouble. Spike knew several reliable fences, but they charged stiff fees. That didnt bother Spike, but he worried that confronted with a haul of this size, they might get greedy or boastful. That left the risky option of storing most of the stuff for a while, and selling it off little by little or, he realized, one other choice, tricky but not beyond his ability to control. He smiled at the thought. It could well serve several other purposes. Yes, just might work . . . especially if Xander would play along.
He had just time enough to straighten the place up and pop a TV dinner in the oven for Xander, not willing to rely on Scooby pizza dinners this time, before Xander got home, tired, sweaty and covered with plaster dust.
Xander groaned, mustered a weary grin when Spike handed him a cold soda, and swallowed half the contents of the can before taking a breath.
God, what a lousy day, Xander sighed, shuddering as the cold of the drink finally registered. Hey, how come you never hand me a beer?
Cause youll just gripe, he said. Spike, how come the beers not cold? Well, cause its British beer, thats why, and its not supposed to be cold. So until you learn to properly appreciate a proper brew, you either get pop or that watery piss you Yanks call beer.
Shower, food, then mindless TV and maybe hot sex? Xander suggested, even though he moved toward the bathroom with a stiffness that indicated hed had a tough day indeed.
Shower, food, then over to Giles house, he said sourly. Forgot about the Tooth thingy, Pet?
Oh, shit. That. Xander sighed.
Yeah. That, Spike agreed, just as unenthusiastically. Come on, Pet, best get it over with.
I guess. Xander trudged to the bathroom, then turned and gazed into Spikes eyes. But if Buffy so much as lays a finger on you, Spike, or pulls any shit like she did with the pizza, Im not kidding, were out of there and the goddamned Slayer can handle the fucking Tiger in Red all by herself, for all I care.
Suits me, Pet, Spike said promptly, although he knew Xander would never abandon Willow, no matter what he might think of Buffy. Still, it shook him to think that Xander would put up with whatever Buffy might choose to throw at him, yet at least consider walking out for Spikes sake.
Spikes musing made him miss Xander undressing; when he stuck his head in the bathroom door, Xander was already in the shower. Spike sighed and wandered back out to the living room. If he got in the shower with Xander now, they wouldnt make it to the meeting tonight.
He sat down on the sofa and lit a cigarette, absently flicking the switch on the air purifier hed placed on the end table. He rarely smoked anymore. Xander often came home from work with throat and lungs irritated by concrete or plaster dust, despite the filter masks they wore on the job site when necessary; Spike wasnt prepared to add smoke irritation to Xanders discomforts. Besides, it was Spikes responsibility to keep his Consort healthy, and giving the whelp lung cancer was not what Spike had in mind. If Xander could get lung cancer while taking regular doses of Spikes blood, that is. Spike wasnt prepared to take that chance. But tonight, thinking about that damned spear, he needed a smoke. And a drink. Or a whole lot of drinks.
Spike sighed and leaned his head on one hand, then frowned as a gleam caught his eye. What the bloody hell -- He leaned over and grimaced, picking up the ring that had rolled slightly under the couch. It was a beautiful thing, a strand of yellow gold twisted with a strand of jet black adrantium, inlaid flat in a wide band of white gold. It must have rolled under the couch when Spike was spreading out the treasure for Willow to check. He set it aside on the end table; hed put it away with the rest later. Right now, hed just heard the shower cut off, and he was not missing his chance to watch a naked Xander walk from the bathroom to the bedroom.
Xander emerged, beautifully damp and tousled, right on cue, and Spike leered as his mortal walked into the bedroom. Spike hesitated, then followed him in.
Feeling all right? he asked, noticing that Xander was still holding himself a little stiffly.
Yeah, Im fine, Xander said as he pulled a clean pair of jeans and a sweater from the closet. Just bent the wrong way when I was helping one of the guys carry a stack of drywall, thats all. Shower felt good on it, though.
Spike plucked the sweater out of Xanders hand.
Know whatll make it feel better, Pet, he said softly, bending his head to kiss Xanders throat.
Xander shivered, but he was already cupping the back of Spikes head, drawing the vampires mouth to his skin.
Wont we be late? he protested weakly.
Spike grinned and reached for their knife, opening his shirt and cutting a thin line into the skin of his chest, urging his Consort close to taste the blood that would heal him.
Punctuality, Spike purred, is vastly overrated.