So lets try this again, Xander said good-naturedly, pulling the sweater down over his head. Think well make it out the door this time?
We can give it a try, Pet, Spike said cheerfully, zipping his black jeans.
Im gonna get another can of pop, Xander said, wandering into the kitchen. Want anything?
Had what I wanted already, he chuckled. But we could always try for seconds.
Xander grabbed a can of soda out of the refrigerator. He peeked in the oven, grimaced, and turned the oven off.
Uh, Spike? Was that almost black thing in the oven once a TV dinner for me?
Im not. He walked back through the living room, pausing by the couch. Hey, whats this?
Whats what, Pet? Spike pulled on his boots, then walked in to see what Xander was holding. It was the ring hed found under the sofa. Oh, that. Just a bit of our treasure. Had Red out today checking the lot.
Willow? Checking for what? Xander said, turning the ring in his hand.
Checking for magic. Put all the magic stuff in a separate hidey-hole and sent the Tooth on ahead with her, Spike said, frowning as Xander squinted at the ring. What?
Theres something inscribed in it, but I cant read it.
Lemme see. Spike held the ring up to the light. Hmmm. Frisian, that is. He grimaced; his Frisian was pretty damned rusty. Always together, I think it is.
Is that Xander grinned shyly. Wow, Spike, I didnt know you had that much of a sentimental streak. Im I mean, wow. He slid the ring on his finger. Fits, too. Man, when you said that about picking out rings, I just thought you were, you know, joking. Cmere and let me thank you.
Ummm . . . Pet, Spike began uneasily. He wanted to tell Xander that he hadnt picked the ring out, that it had just rolled under the sofa, that hed left it out because paranoia demanded that Willow check it again, just in case it had been missed but then Xanders tongue was in his mouth and there was so much emotion in that kiss bloody hell, the whelp was trembling that it shocked the thought right out of Spikes mind.
Xander drew back slightly.
Always? he whispered, his eyes searching Spikes anxiously, and Spike could see that the mortal was fighting back tears.
Always, Spike whispered back, and at that moment he realized that he meant it. Forever. Hed turn the whelp and get Red to stick his soul on tight, or theyd find some other way. Wasnt such long odds. This was the Hellmouth, after all. Hell, who knows, maybe Leng Chi might know something. Somehow theyd find a way.
Spike almost chuckled as a thought tickled the back of his mind.
And especially if Xander wants it, therell be a way to find.
Glad you like it, Pet, Spike whispered hoarsely. Now, cmon, or so help me, you can explain to that lot why we never showed up at all.
As if on cue, Xanders cell phone rang. Xander sighed and picked it up.
Yeah? he said into the phone. So sue me already, I had to work late and I wasnt about to sit there covered in plaster dust all evening. Were on our way right now.
Buffy? Spike guessed when Xander broke the connection.
Nah, Giles. Xander grinned. I dont think hes really mad, but Willow wont let anybody order pizza till I get there.
Spike grinned too.
Bloody good thing, seeing as we burned your dinner, he chuckled. Right, then, lets get it over with.
He didnt have to fake his own reluctance. There was nothing he wanted less than to go to Giles house right now. Let the others deal with Buffys bitchiness. Let the frigging Tooth of Ryla choose some other champion than Xander, preferably Buffy herself. She was, after all, the bloody Slayer; let her do the slaying and take all the chances.
He said none of this; he had no intention of spending the drive over to Giles arguing with Xander, and it was an argument he couldnt win anyway. So he kept quiet and knocked on Giles door, ready to push Xander aside if Buffy should choose to assault them with fists, garlic breath, or God alone knew what else. It was Giles who answered the door, though, giving both of them a mildly chiding look.
Do come in, he said absently. I cant listen to the growling stomachs much longer.
Spike walked in first, close behind Giles, casting a wary eye for the Slayer. Buffy was packed into the far corner of the couch, barricaded in by Willow, Tara and the coffee table. Willow gave Xander and Spike a brilliant smile when they walked in.
Hey, guys! she said. Its great to see you. Both of you. She got up; Dawn immediately took her Buffy blockade position. Buffy rolled her eyes as Willow hugged Xander tightly.
Ive missed you lots, she whispered, which of course Spike heard anyway. Im glad youre back. I hope you stay back. We really need you.
Xander looked both stunned and pleased, but he returned the hug.
Ill try, he whispered back. Thats all I can promise, okay?
I know. Willow kissed him on the cheek and released him. Now, I think its your turn to order the pizzas, and all I ask is, can we have one without pineapple? Pretty please? I mean, I know we can pick it off, but still, its just She shuddered. Just plain yucky.
Spike snorted at the idea of any of the Scoobies calling pineapple yucky after some of the things theyd seen and done, but Xander just grinned and grabbed a piece of paper.
I think I can be magnanimous, he chuckled. So whats everybody want?
Spike pulled up a chair, wishing he dared sit with Xander on the love seat. But nobody except Willow and possibly Tara had any inkling as to Spike and Xanders real relationship, and hashing it all out right now with the Slayer and the Watcher would probably end up revealing Spikes chipless condition. So he sat in his chair and gazed moodily at the box hed packed the Tooth of Ryla in, now sitting on Giles desk, open.
Giles apparently noticed the direction of his gaze.
That was a good idea, Spike, sending the Tooth over with Willow, he said. Her own magical protections may have concealed it, and of course it was much safer moving it by daylight. And thank you for sending the journal with it. That was an unexpected bonus.
No problem, Spike said shortly. Actually hed forgotten that hed tucked the journal into the box, but it didnt matter; hed planned to let Giles translate it anyway. Whatd it say? Anything useful?
Unfortunately not much helpful information about the Tooth of Ryla itself, Giles said regretfully. Dorissant, we know, took the Tooth from Padma, daughter of Andreas the Black, when he killed her. As far as I can discover, Dorissant himself never attempted to use the Tooth he certainly would not have met the pure soul qualification. He did give a fair description of the battle with Padma apparently he took what seemed at the time to be a minor wound from the Tooth, but the wound refused to heal and remained troublesome until his death, or at least the end of the journal and mentioned that hed allowed a favorite subordinate to attempt to use the Tooth, and the man died in horrible agony within hours, despite Dorissants most powerful spells and potions. Beyond that, theres no indication of what the nature of the curse might be.
What, other than horrible agonizing death? Buffy said wryly.
Correct, Giles said, shrugging. He did say that perhaps his mistake lay in not allowing the Tooth to choose its wielder. He also recorded a few of his observations about the Tooth, but little beyond a description. Then he frowned. Oh, did you perhaps happen to find a small book of spells anywhere in the vicinity?
Yeah, we did, Spike said, shrugging. He jerked his head at Willow. Gave it to Red.
Giles raised his eyebrows.
Thats an interesting coincidence, actually, he said. According to Dorissants journal, that book belonged to Padma.
Whys that such a coincidence? Xander said, pulling up a chair next to Spikes. The Tooth belonged to her too, didnt it? Come to think of it, that little spell book came out of the same vault where the Tooth was hidden, didnt it? Xander added, glancing at Spike for confirmation.
Yes, well . . . Giles cleared his throat. The coincidence actually lies in the rather talented drawing of Padma which Dorissant rendered in his journal. The Watcher retrieved the moldering journal from his desk, carefully paged through it, then laid the open book down on the coffee table. See for yourself.
Xander glanced at the picture, then gasped, a sound that was echoed by Buffy, Dawn and Tara. Willow made a muffled squeaking sound. Spike looked, and his eyebrows shot up.
The paper was old and deteriorating, and of course the drawing was pen and ink, but allowing for that well, the skillfully rendered picture on the crumbling page could have been Willows twin. The hair was longer, and judging by the pen strokes was probably black; the dark eyes held a fierce, resolved expression and none of Willows sweetness, and a narrow scar ran across the bottom of her jaw, but there was no denying the uncanny resemblance. In the drawing, Willow/Padma held the Tooth of Ryla as if prepared to throw it in battle, arm drawn back, other hand extended and that hand drew Spikes attention.
Oi, Rupert, he said absently, ignoring Giles grimace. Got a magnifying glass?
Yes, here. Giles handed it to Spike, who grabbed the book, ignoring growls from Xander and Buffy and a faint protesting noise from Willow. Vampiric vision, aided by the magnification, picked out what the others probably hadnt noticed that on the figures free hand were several rings, and the one on her fourth finger was a wide band with what looked like a twisted rope down the center.
The same ring that Xander now wore.
What are you looking at? Giles said, bending over his shoulder.
Spike hurriedly took the magnifying glass away.
Just looking at the detail on the Tooth, he said casually. Looking to see if maybe he hid any clues in the drawing.
Did you find anything? Xander asked anxiously.
Nope, sorry, Spike said. He handed the book back to Giles, then reached over to put the magnifying glass on Giles desk. He didnt want to say anything about the ring; that would raise a whole lot of questions, such as where had they gotten it and why was Xander wearing it, that he wasnt prepared to answer right now. So far nobodyd noticed it on Xanders finger no surprise there; the Scoobies never had seemed to notice much of anything about Xander, including the bruises and stiffness from all those mysterious accidents Xander used to have. Spike fought down a growl at that thought. Revenge would have to wait. Right now it was just as well that the Scoobies were used to overlooking Xander and overlooking the dead sorceress ring he was wearing.
Right, okay, so what about the bloody ring? Well, if this Padma bird was wearing it, cant be too awful, can it? On the other hand, her wearing it kind of raises the odds that its magical no, damn it, Red checked everything.
Unless it was out of sight under the couch there, a little voice nagged.
No. No. It wasnt out of sight. I saw it, didnt I? Anyway, its just a ring. She wore lots of rings. Doesnt mean a thing.
But adrantiums a sorcerous metal, the little voice persisted.
But um, I mean, I know the Tooth is the important thing, Willow stammered. But why do I look like her?
Coincidence? Reincarnation? Giles said helplessly. I dont know, Willow.
Well, did the journal say anything about this Padma lady? Xander asked, a split second before Spike could ask the same question. Willow nodded vigorously.
Only a little, Giles said regretfully. That she was rather a fledgling sorceress; that a Frisian overlord took her on as a student, and in time became her lover as well.
Immediately Spike felt better. Right, then. The ring was just a love token. Always together, right. Made sense.
Ummm, not to sound ignorant, but whats Frisian? Buffy asked.
Frisia is one of the nether planes, Giles told her. Its inhabitants, while technically demons by definition, are actually rather peaceful. Coincidentally, adrantium comes from that plane. Youll notice that the Tooth contains only two metals adrantium and gold, representing the nether and terrestrial planes. In biplanar sorcery, gold also represents the material body and adrantium the soul.
But I thought demons and Dawns eyes darted to Spike, then away. and things like that dont have souls.
Yes . . . well . . . Giles frowned. Youre right, that makes little sense. However, you must remember that most of the material Ive found on adrantium was written by inhabitants of the nether planes. Perhaps they believe they have souls, or perhaps our translation is slightly skewed they might mean something more in the nature of astral self or some such. At any rate, its not important.
Spike agreed or rather he could care less. The ring was a bloody engagement ring or something, nether planes and Earth, right, he got the message. He would have sighed with relief, but that might have raised questions.
Right, then, he said impatiently. So, boys and girls, shall we get on to the good part where we figure out exactly whos gonna throw the bloody spear? Hmmmm?
Giles looked rather taken aback.
Well Id thought that perhaps later
Um, if you dont mind, Id kind of rather do it sooner than later, Xander said. I mean, its gonna be kind of hard to eat our pizza with it hanging over us, isnt it, wondering, like, whos the purest-souled of them all?
Yeah, right, laugh it up, Xander said sarcastically, although the look he gave Spike was affectionate. We know youre not in the running, okay?
Well, I dont know that its a matter of whose soul is purest, Giles cautioned. Like Spike, apparently he was taking no chances; he lifted the Tooth out of the box with tongs. My understanding is that anyone with a pure soul can use it, but Dorissant did mention the Tooth choosing.
Yeah, Leng Chi did, too, Spike agreed. Only he never said anything about pure souls. He said pure heart.
Well, as both Angels research and my own mentioned souls, well assume that the two are equivalent for purposes of the Tooth, Giles said. In any event, since everyone in this room except you has both a heart and a soul, and since you would doubtless be disqualified on either count, the difference is irrelevant. I think we can assume that if the Tooth itself chooses a wielder, that that wielder has the required purity, whatever form it may take.
Spike couldnt dispute that, so he kept quiet and cleared the box and other obstacles off Giles desk; he didnt fancy the thing being laid on the coffee table where they were going to eat. Giles nodded his thanks and laid the spear down on the desktop.
Ummm . . . so how does this choosing thing work? Xander asked hesitantly.
Im afraid I dont know, Giles admitted. As weve observed, what little information there is regarding the tooth seems to be only second- or thirdhand, never one of its wielders. I suggest all of us who are eligible approach it, being careful not to touch it, of course
Bloody hell, why dont you just say everybody but Spike and be done with it? Spike growled.
Actually I consider myself to be an extremely unlikely prospect as well, he said, shrugging sheepishly. I doubt that after some of my exploits, either my heart or my soul would be considered pure.
I dont see why we should bother with all this, Buffy said, scowling. Im the Slayer, I should do any slayage.
There you go, Spike encouraged, inwardly cheering. He had his own personal doubts about the purity of Buffys heart, soul, or any other part, for that matter, but it would be a laugh to see how the curse worked, wouldnt it?
Er, I think it best to at least see if the Tooth will in fact choose its own wielder first, Giles suggested hastily, probably coming to the same conclusion about Buffys purity as Spike had.
S-so we all just just kind of gather around? Tara said, following Willow to the desk. Dawn hung back slightly, glancing at Buffy, but at last stepped up to the desk too.
That would seem logical.
Xander gave Spike an unreadable glance and stepped up to the desk. Spike closed his eyes, feeling a pang as sharp as a stake through his heart.
So what do we Willow began, then yelped. Spike opened his eyes just in time to see the short spear shoot up from the desk and directly at the slender redhead. Instinctively, Willow threw up both hands to protect herself and the shaft of the spear smacked solidly into her palm.
do now? Willow finished, gulping, staring at the hand holding the Tooth of Ryla as if shed never seen it before.
Well, Id suggest you get started learning to throw a short spear, Spike chuckled, so relieved its not him! Its not him! that for a brief instant he could have hugged them all even Buffy. Since it looks like historys decided to repeat itself.
This isnt right! Buffy exploded. None of you are supposed to have to do this stuff. Im the Slayer. Im supposed to fight the bad guys. Youre all supposed to be at home living safe, boring lives, not out casting spells and throwing spears and maybe getting hurt.
Spike fought down the urge to agree. Strange feeling, agreeing with the Slayer.
Its true, none of the prior Slayers to my knowledge have ever had a a team of helpers, Giles acknowledged.
So there, Buffy said, nodding.
However, there are two facts that perhaps I should point out, Giles said gently. First, there have always been others besides the Slayer who fight the forces of darkness. Padma was certainly no Slayer; at least theres been no mention of her in the Watcher journals.
See? Willow said, still gazing askance at the Tooth. Giles gestured at the sack-padded box, and Willow carefully but hurriedly placed the spear inside, folding the cloth over it and closing the lid.
And secondly, Giles said quietly, very few Slayers have ever survived to your age, Buffy. So it would appear that perhaps were doing something right.
Oh, Buffy said in a small voice.
And thirdly, Xander suddenly said, Its not exactly safe around Sunnydale for bystanders anyway. Our friend Jesse managed to get himself vamped with no Slayer help at all. Mantis-teachers and enchanted candy bars and hyena spirit possessions and monster Mayors going on killing sprees at graduation can happen even to non-Scoobies. So maybe our safe boring lives werent all that safe or boring to begin with anyway. Maybe, who knows, maybe were safer out doing something about it than sitting home waiting to be done to. At that moment, Xander looked sad and very young, and Spike thought about what his Consort wasnt saying that Sunnydales worst monsters werent necessarily creatures of the night.
Well, thats probably true, Buffy said, brightening. Thats okay, Willow. Im good with spear throwing. Well practice together, kay?
Willow looked slightly queasy.
Ummm . . . were talking targets, right? Dummies and things like that?
Or vampires, Buffy said, smiling. She glanced at Spike and raised an eyebrow. Of course, who says theres a difference? Dont worry, well get you in shape for the big event.
Okay, thats it, Xander said, flushing darkly.
What? Giles said absently, still staring perplexedly at Willow.
Thats it. The final insult, the straw that broke the elephants back, whatever, Xander said angrily. I told Spike one more word from Buffy and were out of here, thats it, thats the word, were gone. Have fun, enjoy the pizza, and good luck with the latest apocalypse and all future apocalypses.
Xander, whats the matter with you? Buffy scowled. We hunt vampires. Always have, always will.
I think his problems the same as mine is, Willow said softly.
What? Buffy turned to Willow. Look, Xanders just being
Xanders just being right, Willow said quietly. Spike went to Angel to get information for us. He didnt have to do that. Angel mightve hurt him or even staked him. He got the Tooth of Ryla for us, and we know it was dangerous for him to even have it, and it was probably hard to get, too. He didnt have to do that either. He didnt even have to tell us the stuff that this Chinese guy or demon or whatever told him. Xanders right, Spikes been nicer than you have lately.
It probably means hes up to something, Buffy said sourly. I dont trust him when he acts nice.
But were supposed to trust you when youre acting mean? Willow said. You know, Buffy, I dont think I want you to teach me anything. Giles can teach me. Or I bet Her eyes flashed. I bet Spike knows how to throw a spear. She turned to Xander and Spike. Dont you?
Spike smirked. And to think I was dreading this. This might be the high point of my whole week.
Sure, Pet, he said. Suppose I could give you some pointers. He chuckled. So to speak. Frankly at this moment Buffys little jabs couldnt even bother him. It wasnt Xander. Xander wasnt the one whod have to use that damned spear. Spike could have walked on clouds at that moment.
Willow, you cant be serious! Buffy protested.
S-shes serious, Tara said softly. She got up and took Willows hand and, after a brief hesitation, Xanders. And Im serious too. If you cant be nice to the people who help you, you could at least be p-polite.
Buffy threw up her hands.
What is this, a Scoobie mutiny? she shouted. She whirled on Dawn. Whos next? You?
What did I do? Dawn said blankly.
Buffy, this is getting quite out of hand Giles began, and Buffy immediately rounded on him too.
Right, of course youre joining in, Buffy snapped. Why not? Youve got plenty of people here to fight against the darkness, huh? Well, fine! Looks like you dont need a Slayer, do you?
She strode to the door and yanked it open, badly startling the hapless pizza delivery boy who stood there, fist raised to knock. She shoved the delivery boy out of the way and stomped out the door, leaving the pizza boy to juggle his precariously balanced boxes.
Uh four large pizzas for Xander Harris? the pizza boy stammered helplessly. Giles sighed and took the pizzas, handing the confused boy some money and closing the door after him.
Maybe I should go after her? Dawn suggested after a brief hesitation.
Giles sighed again.
No, dont. Shell find something to slay in the cemetary and work out some of her frustrations, and Ill talk to her tomorrow when shes had time to think. Please, try not to judge her too harshly. Shes behaved badly, of course, but Buffy lives under a great deal of constant pressure. Shes forced to carry a burden that no one so young should be expected to bear, and sometimes its difficult for her to realize that shes not carrying it alone. Please do try to be patient.
Ive been patient for four years, Xander muttered.
Yes, you have, and far more so than I would have been in your place, Giles said quietly, patting Xander on the shoulder. Youve offered your help and support so selflessly that its easy to take for granted, easy not to show our appreciation. Im no less guilty of that than Buffy. But we do appreciate and need your help, Xander. I hope we can count on you during this crisis.
Xander sighed and Spike grimaced he knew Xander couldnt stand up under that, and he was right.
Yeah, okay, Xander said resignedly. Whats a little more verbal abuse? But bottom line, G-Man, if she even tries to lay a finger on me or Spike again, or even acts like she might let him get hurt, thats it. Really.
Yes, I quite understand, Giles said hurriedly, although he looked rather startled and glanced at Spike uncertainly. In any event, theres little to do now until we can find some way of discovering where this Tiger in Red is hiding.
What happened with your tracking thingy? Xander said, glancing at Willow, who grimaced, blushing.
It didnt work, she confessed. I dont know whether my spell wasnt right, or whether there were protections against that sort of thing, or I just dont know. She sighed, then gave Xander a hopeful glance. Maybe if Tara and I try to cast it again, you could come and kind of lend moral support?
Hey, you girls gonna be starkers when you cast it? Spike said, interested. Can I come too? I can lend immoral support.
You can come too if you want to, Spike, Willow said, blushing. But we wont have to be naked for that. Anyway, we kind of need to be in the cemetary, and we need to have something to track, a demon or something.
Well, since the Slayers off throwing a wobbly, Spike grinned, looks like Im your best bet for catching something thats still kicking so it can scamper off home. When dyou want to do the job?
Uh well, I kind of want to try a stronger tracking spell, Willow said sheepishly. And Giles had to order some of the ingredients at the shop, so itll be a few days at least. But Id probably better start spear practice pretty soon. She looked unhappy. I guess itll have to be at night.
Spike shook his head.
Not a bit of it, he said. Got an hour or two between classes, come on over. We got the building upstairs pretty much blacked out, plenty of room. Ill set up some boxes or something for a target. He turned to Giles. Got something a little less magical for her to practice with? Wouldnt want to go dulling the Tooth of Ryla smacking into walls and things.
Yes, I believe I can find something suitable among my collection, he said. Thats a good idea, Spike. Its probably safest to keep the Tooth locked away until we need it.
Um, sorry to interrupt, guys, Xander said apologetically. But the pizzas getting forgotten, and the growling sound you hear isnt a Vorgost, its my stomach.
A few minutes later they were all gathered around the coffee table, munching on pizza and ignoring Giles protests about would they please eat off plates and stop dripping sauce and cheese on his carpet, and For Gods sake, Spike, must you put your feet up on the table when were eating from it? But everyone had relaxed a bit and it was one of the most amiable Scooby gatherings Spike could remember of recent months. Of course, he realized, he hadnt been around back at the beginning but then, neither had Dawn and Tara. Never mind; things changed, and that wasnt always bad. Why, hadnt been so long ago that hed have killed Xander without a second thought. And look what hed have missed out on.
Spike chuckled and helped himself to another slice of Carnivores Special, extra cheese, hold the garlic.
Deep thoughts, Spike? Dawn said.
Spike chuckled again, glancing at Xander.
Oh, very deep, he said, grinning as Xander hid his blush behind another slice of pizza. Very deep indeed. He gulped down the last bite of his pizza. Tasty as this is, though, Im feeling the need of something a bit, hmmm, saucier, if you get my drift. Had about as much of this evil-fighting stuff as I can stomach for one night, anyway. You mind, Pet? he said casually to Xander. Ready to go home? Cause weve got some heavy-duty celebrating to do. Not quite pure enough for the bloody Tooth of Ryla? Never mind that. Gonna take you home, Pet, strip you naked and show you theres a whole lot of ways that naughtys better than nice.
Xander looked at him, and what Spike saw in those eyes was so simple and so profound that if hed been the breathing sort, it would have taken his breath away, and for the second time that night, with a sort of wonder, Spike thought, Forever.
Yeah, Xander said, grinning. Lets go home.