Something outside the Magic Box didn't feel quite right, but Spike couldn't for the unlife of him put his finger on what it was.
It might've been the conspicuously opaque store windows, both as shuttered and dark as a dead man's eyes. Or maybe it was simply the cluster of soiled newspapers, all scattered about the base of the front door. Though it was true that the shop had been shut down for a few days, as evidenced by the discolored paper sign that read "sorry, closed until further notice", it looked bloody unnatural. Clearly somebody needed to tack a few more words onto his resume besides Watcher. Sweeper would be useful. Scrubber certainly wouldn't hurt either. Anything to rid the store of the B-rated horror film vibes it was currently giving off.
But despite the visual weirdness, Spike couldn't shake the idea that the odd little sensation prowling up and down his vertebrae was due to the air itself. It was too thick, too quiet, as if it were waiting for something. Or someone. The fine hair on the back of his neck prickled in agreement.
Just ahead of him, Buffy halted in front of the Magic Box's entrance, her body poised and tight and obviously perceiving that same sense of threat. Her eyes made a quick assessment of all the details that Spike's had, and she tapped against the door with her knuckles. When no one answered, she twisted the unlocked knob and poked her head inside.
"Hello?" she called tentatively.
"Oh, h-hey, I'm g-g-glad you're here," replied a soft voice that could only be Tara's.
Spike breathed a completely unnecessary sigh of relief, chalked his jumpiness up to lack of sleep, and hurried into the shop behind Buffy.
Around the store, the sconces and table lamps washed everything in an eerie golden glow and hid the corners in shadows as black as graveyard dirt. The blonde witch was hunkered down at the usual Scooby research spot, the massive tabletop buried under a pile of old books and enough crystals and potions to resemble a madman's science experiment. Tucking a slip of paper into one of the big leather volumes, Tara slid out from her chair as the slayer drew near.
"Where are they?" Buffy asked, unable to hear the low ripple of voices that Spike's vampire hearing easily picked up on.
The girl hugged her arms and nodded towards the back of the store. "T-training room. Giles called and said he'd be here soon." Tara peered at Spike and then back at Buffy, a furrow creasing between her brows. "Charlie said that he w-wouldn't be… er, you know, coming." She glanced at Spike again, blushing apologetically when he arched an eyebrow at her.
"Game plan's changed," Buffy informed her. "The new one includes an extra dose of vamp strength and less of a chance that we'll get seriously dead."
"Oh. That's… um... of the g-good."
"Yeah, well, let's hope you're not the only one who thinks so," Buffy said, pinning a doubtful look on Spike. "You're in charge of not talking. Don't make me regret this."
"Oh, ye of no faith," he replied, shaking his head as though he'd somehow expected better from her. In truth, he was still surprised his undead ass hadn't ended up in a dust pan after the little Angel-staking incident.
"I wish I did have Faith," the slayer muttered, passing the stairs that led to the upper section of the store. "She'd probably have bagged Bleakgrave by now. Unless she was helping him, of course."
The door to the training room was slightly ajar, and when Buffy thrust it the rest of the way open and stepped inside, a faint whiff of slayer sweat and rubber floor mats infiltrated Spike's nostrils. But it was the achingly recognizable trace of thickets and fire-scent mingling with that of the room which made his mouth go dry. She was in there.
Spike forced his suddenly heavy feet to cross the threshold.
The room wasn't well lit, but like one of the slayer's crossbow stakes, Spike's eyes found their target easily. Charlie sat cross-legged on the leather loveseat, the dim overheads burnishing the waves of her dark hair into a rich bronze. Her hands were folded neatly under her chin as she watched her companion sift through a cardboard box of jars and baubles.
"-not sure it will work, but we should at least try it," Willow was saying.
"Try what?" Buffy asked.
Both girls looked up at the sound of the slayer's voice, and briefly, Spike entertained an absurd fantasy of striding over with Bleakgrave's head in tow and laying it at Charlie's feet. She'd laugh, or cry, perhaps even kiss the bloodstained hands that had torn skull from sinew. She'd apologize for how she'd treated him, he'd forgive her, and every year forward they'd take Bleak's withered cranium out of a storage box, share a hot mug of blood by a roaring fireside, and reminisce about Spike's thoughtful, romantic gift of a severed head.
And then Charlie's fierce gaze met his, and it occurred to him that she'd probably just try to bludgeon him with it.
"Oh, no. No!" she hissed. She was off the couch in an instant, glaring stakes at him, then at the slayer. "You brought him?! This was not the agreement!"
The sheer amount of animosity in her declarations stung, even though Spike had fully braced himself for it.
"Agreement?" Buffy repeated calmly. "There was the yelly stuff, the death threats, and then the input-free, rushy-rush away, but I don't remember actually saying yes to anything."
Charlie's lips pressed into a thin, tight line as she once again took in the sight of Spike. Her hands were clasped in a valiant but failing attempt to keep them steady, he noticed, but he wasn't sure if the trembling was because of her anger at him or her nerves due to the impending battle with Bleakgrave. There was nothing he wanted more than to wrap his arms around her, console her with reassurances and promises to keep her safe, but given her tone and the slayer's demand that he keep his big trap shut, he figured it was prudent to not.
"Why is he here?" Charlie finally asked, directing her livid stare back to the slayer.
"We need the numbers, and William can fight," Buffy replied.
Charlie laughed, and it was a thin, brittle sound. "Yeah, and what makes you so sure he's gonna fight on our side? Did he kiss you too? Tell you he loved you? I've found it really helps with the getting-overage of ancestorcide."
"Of course not," the slayer objected, her lip curling with disgust at the thought, "and we'll deal with your family stuff once this is over. But Bleakgrave hurt him too, and Charlie- he's on our side because you're linked. He's your si-"
"-sidekick," a panicked Spike interrupted, before Buffy could wrench the lid off of the giant can of worms labeled "sire". The slayer may have assumed that Charlie would understand, but Spike knew it would go over as well as tossing a lit firecracker into a gas tank. "You, me," he clarified, trying to compose himself, "we're like that space captain and Spock, or Batman and the little birdy fellow, or-"
"-Caesar and his super loyal politician friend?" Charlie offered, scowling at him again. "Listen up, Brutus. There's not going to be anything remotely sidekickish between us, unless it involves a frequent union between my foot and your hipbone."
"Look, Charlie, I hate this as much as you do," Buffy sighed, giving Spike a frustrated look for his outburst, "but we've got one last shot at taking Bleakgrave down, and it's tonight. You have every right to feel the way you do, but I can't let you throw our chance away 'cause you're ragey."
A long beat of silence passed, Charlie with her arms crossed and fury boiling off of her like steam, and Buffy looking as though she was one snide comment away from declaring marshal law. It seemed like they were at a stalemate, though Spike was sure that the slayer always got the last word in such matters.
"I know this isn't what you want," the slayer said gently, "And I'm sorry, okay? I really am. But think of Carol." Buffy's big eyes glossed over with empathy, and her golden-skinned fingers covered the top of Charlie's pale ones. "Think of Jessie. Tonight's all we've got."
Charlie's eyes fixed on the floor for a moment, before she finally drew in a deep breath and let it out again. "Alright. He fights," she relented, features hardening once more as she turned her face to Spike. "But understand this. You can roll the dice all you want out there Willy, but you won't pass go and you won't collect forgiveness. Get near me while we're fighting and I'll be the last thing you ever see. And when this is all over…"
"...if I'm still kickin', I'll get gone," Spike promised, hoping to the God of Jilted, Tortured Vampires that his bluff would at least ease some of the wrath in her tone. It was like petting a feral cat.
"You can get gone to hell," she suggested furiously. "Actually, on second thought, find somewhere else. If Bleakgrave sends us all to purgatory, I'd prefer to not see you on a daily basis."
Spike could feel the muscles in his jaw begin to throb. On the one hand, it was good that she was angry. She'd unleash biblical levels of rage on anyone who dared lay a claw or magic spell against her, and it would keep her among the unliving. But on the other (slightly more selfish) hand, Spike very much preferred said rage to be directed elsewhere. He was trying to help for Christ's sake, not scratch the wound deeper, and her inability to see it was beginning to torch his fuse.
Buffy must have sensed the tendrils of frustration that were unfurling in Spike's thoughts because she quickly clapped him on his leather-covered shoulder and began propelling him towards the main room of the shop.
"Alright!" the slayer said, keeping an annoyingly firm pressure on his back, "That's probably enough chit-chat for now. William, why don't we go find you someone else to do?" Her eyes widened. "Something. Something else."
Spike let himself be pushed all the way to the door before he dug in his feet, twisted out of the slayer's grabby hands and marched himself right back to where he'd started. Charlie regarded him the way one might regard an early morning wake-up call or a sink full of molding dishes. Or perhaps more accurately, someone who had eaten a sizable portion of their ancestors for fun.
"I give up," Buffy grumbled, stalking off to join Willow in the corner.
Standing toe to toe with his progeny, Spike quashed his desire to grab her by the arms and shake her like one of Giles' mystical gourds. "You know," he sputtered, "I'm tryin' to extend the bloody olive branch here, despite the fact that I've been holdin' the short end of it all soddin' week. And all you want to do is drive it into my heart."
"Don't be ridiculous," she scoffed. "There's at least two other places I'd like to drive it."
Alright, accusations and blame: probably not on the checklist of things to ease the tension. Bargaining might still be worth a go.
"Look, this, between you and me," he said, motioning back and forth between where they were standing, "I know it's a real bleedin' catastrophe. But we need to let my rumored past uglies be water under the bridge 'til Bleaks gets sorted out."
"You know what's thicker than water?" Charlie asked, her voice colder than he'd ever heard it. "Blood. My family's blood. That's what's running under your stupid bridge, and you have no right to make so little of what you spilled!"
"Well... you have no right to make so little of what's between us," Spike retorted.
"There is nothing! I… I never even liked you."
"That so?" Spike leaned in and narrowed his eyes at her. "Try again, luv. Your pants are startin' to catch."
"This is so much not about us," she snapped, her nose stopping an inch away from his. "There is no us! This is about you, being an evil, lying, murderous-"
"-Separate," Willow commanded. Spike hadn't even seen the witch move, but suddenly she was right beside them, hands twisting in a determined, abrupt motion that gave him the wiggins. He felt the soles of his boots drag across the floor until he was standing several feet apart from Charlie, who looked equally disturbed by Willow's display of power.
"If you two wanna get fighty about this later, go for it, but we've got more important things to do right now," the redhead continued, as though she was scolding a pair of children rather than two fully grown, thoroughly irate vampires. "If this doesn't work, we'll need to get going on the backup plan. Charlie? Are you ready?"
"Yeah," Charlie said, still staring at Willow uneasily. "I'm ready."
"Good. Go grab that tall bottle from the box," Willow instructed her, keeping her own suspicious, leery eyes on Spike. At the witch's intimidating look, Spike held up his hands in cooperation and retreated towards the main room, stopping in the doorway to lean his shoulder against the moulding. Safety with the added bonus of still having a front row seat. If Red's little experiment, or whatever it was, blew up in her face- and it probably would, at least he'd be out of there before the ceiling collapsed or someone got devoured by a pack of sentient teacups.
The witch slipped something out of her skirt pocket, and Spike had to squint to see what it was. A flat bronze and stone amulet rested between her thumb and forefinger, reflecting more brightly than it should have under the soft lights. Nothing good, that. Neither was the bottle that Charlie handed her, filled to the brim with some kind of deep scarlet sand. What the hell was it? Clay dust, for a golem? Or was it ground cochineal beetle? Hell, the thing could've been full of Kool-Aid mix for all Spike knew.
"So, um, what are we doing, Will?" Buffy asked, voicing Spike's very thoughts. She frowned as Willow uncorked the bottle and carefully sniffed its innards.
"Oh, just an itsy bitsy summoning spell. I wanted to try one last thing before we go."
"Summoning?" the slayer yelped. "We're summoning something?! Shouldn't we wait for Gi-"
"-Shhh!" Willow said, waving an impatient hand at her. "It'll just take a minute but I need to concentrate!"
Buffy froze in place, as though she were trying to decide whether to interfere with the witch's scheme or not. But whatever her hesitation was, trust seemed to eek out a tiny victory. The slayer rubbed the back of her neck anxiously and headed over to stand beside Charlie, though Spike was sure her location choice had less to do with friendship and more to do with the proximity to the large display of weapons on the wall behind her.
Willow moved to the center of the room and cleared her throat.
"Beatum sit in nomine D'Hoffrynis," she chanted, dumping the sandy red contents of the bottle to form a wide, red sphere. "Fiat hoc spatium porta ad mundum Arashmaharris."
The room began to quake. Swords and axes rattled against the wall, and the box of magic supplies on the couch jingled like a gypsy's coin belt.
Whatever was coming, it was too late for Red to unring the doorbell.
Spike flinched as lightning began to crackle around the training room, blasting the walls with bursts of hot white and electric purple. A soupy mist rose from the floor, twisting around his boots in oddly shaped coils, and all he could smell was hot ozone and the delicious tang of human fear. He suddenly felt Tara's presence behind him, the girl no doubt alerted by the commotion, but Spike didn't dare take his eyes off the summoning mark.
The noise built to a high, shrill cacophony, and with one final, loud crash of lightning, a bald, horned demon that looked like he'd been locked in someone's deep freezer for a few months too long materialized in the center of the witch's circle. His eyes were black chips of obsidian, and the long wisps of his white beard curled around the collar of his robe. It didn't take an expert in demonology to understand that the demon held enormous power; Spike could sense it rolling off of him in hot, billowing waves.
"Behold, D'Hoffryn, Lord of Arashmahar!" the creature cried, his arms raised in exultation. "He that rends bones from limbs and turns the air to-" the demon's beady gaze shifted to Willow. "Ah! Miss Rosenberg! What a wonderful surprise to see you! And I see you've brought some friends."
"Hello, D'Hoffryn," Willow greeted him.
"I admit, I didn't think I'd be hearing from you quite so soon, but I'm pleased you've called." The demon strode majestically out of the badly charred and melted ring of flooring, and Spike had to crush the little smirk that tried to emerge on his face at the sight of the damage. Giles was going to blow a gasket when he received the next repair bill.
"You've reconsidered my offer," D'Hoffryn said. It wasn't so much a question as it was a statement, and the demon's eyes swept boldly over Willow as though he already knew her answer would please him.
"To become a vengeance demon? Yeah," Willow said with a nervous laugh, "not really on the table at the moment."
The demon's face darkened.
"...but, you know, definitely still in my top three possible career choices," she added quickly. "In the meantime, I sort of have a… a favor to ask?"
"Do you think me so lowly that I would grant a boon to a mortal girl for nothing?" D'Hoffryn growled. "Think again, child. I deal in revenge. Not gifts."
"Well, isn't this your lucky day," Charlie mumbled, a bit too loud to be considered discrete.
The demon turned and studied the dark haired girl with unconcealed interest, taking a long, deliberate sniff in the air. "Oh, you're definitely not human," he decided, his robes swishing as he moved in to take a closer look at her. "What are you?"
"At the moment?" Charlie asked, her chin rising in defiance. "Pissed off. Bitter. Sort of hungry..."
"Charlie's a vampire," Willow explained. "There's this magician guy named Bleakgrave, and he killed her and a whole bunch of her family. And now he's gonna throw most of the Sunnydale population through a portally thing to hell so he can take their souls and become Bleakgrave to the power of infinity. Which gets us to the part where we summoned you… we need your help to stop him."
D'Hoffryn tapped his cheek thoughtfully. "You know, I may be biased, but some hell dimensions are quite lovely in the springtime. Take Arashmahar for instance. It's sunny, the humidity is low, and the daytime temperature generally stays in the mid four hundreds. Perhaps you'd like where this magician sends you."
"Yeah," Buffy deadpanned, "if our skin was made from asbestos and we enjoyed broiling on the porch with a nice, hot glass of flame retardant."
"I do not know what things you are referring to, human," D'Hoffryn sneered, "but if-"
"-We don't want to go to hell!" Charlie objected sharply, "And we didn't summon you to give us the sales spiel for relocating there. So can we please get on with this?" All the energy seemed to deflate out of her after her little burst of temper. She had everyone's full attention, but she swallowed nervously and only had eyes for the old demon. "I wish… that Bleakgrave was dead."
Spike heard Buffy and Tara's simultaneous intake of breath, and he couldn't help but share the sentiment.
The request seemed safe enough, but Spike knew that vengeance demons had a nasty habit of granting a wish regardless of whether or not the consequences made the wisher worse off. And hadn't Demon Girl caused one of those fun little dimensional rifts before one of the Scooby crew demoted her to human status? The words "be careful what you wish for" should have been matted, framed, and hung in each of their bedrooms after that particular fiasco.
Spike watched D'Hoffryn expectantly, his eyes darting away briefly to scour the room for any sign of change- a sudden disappearance, a shiny new scent, or additions to Giles's non-existent attempt at room decor. But the demon didn't twitch a muscle, and not a thing appeared out of place.
"Those are the words, right?" Charlie asked after a moment had ticked by. "It's why we summoned you."
"I can feel your pain, child," the demon replied, a small measure of kindness infused into his words. "Though it squeezes and crushes like a serpent's tail, I only grant wishes to demons that are of my own making." D'Hoffran paused, glancing at Willow with the eagerness of a dog spying an unguarded holiday ham. "But if Miss Rosenberg was to join my table as a vengeance demon, she would be more than capable of bestowing this most uncreative punishment upon he who has wronged you."
"No!" Tara cried, pushing past Spike and running to her girlfriend. Her arms formed a protective circle around Willow's shoulders. "Y-you can't have her!"
"Nobody's becoming a vengeance demon," Buffy declared, placing herself firmly between D'Hoffryn and the witches. "Doesn't Anya have a vengeancey friend or something?" she asked the girls.
"Yeah, Halfrek," Willow replied, "but I guess she only does kids. It's okay, though, I-"
"-No, Will, it's not going to happen!" Buffy exclaimed. "We'll find some other way."
"Buffy, if you'll just listen-"
"-No." Tara's arms tightened. "We won't let you, Willow."
Red's huff of frustration sounded like a long gust of wind.
"That's most unfortunate. I do hope that your deaths won't be too painful," D'Hoffryn simpered, smiling rather cheerfully for someone not getting their way. "Well then, I must be off, shame there's nothing I can do…"
"Will you wait a second!" Willow demanded, pulling free of Tara's embrace and stepping around the slayer. "There is… there is something." She glanced at Charlie, giving her an almost imperceptible nod of the head.
"I already told you, I cannot grant the wish," D'Hoffryn said again.
"Not a wish," Charlie agreed. Her eyes fixed on the demon's throat. "Your blood."
If his heart had been beating, Spike was certain he would have heard it thrashing in his ears. "Oh, this is just fuckin' brilliant, Charlie," he heard himself swear. He abandoned his post at the door to advance a few steps in her direction. "Have you gone full-on sack of hammers?! You don't have a bloody inkling what'll happen to you if you wash him down! He's not your run-of-the-mill demon from Willy's, he's halfway up the hill to bein' all-mighty."
"I would just like to reconfirm," Charlie began, turning to inflict a scathing look that curdled the blood in Spike's stomach, "that I don't care. Not about what you say. And even less about what you think."
"Well, you… should," Spike said. "Because you should know that… that I… I already licked him, so he's mine. To eat, that is."
Charlie shut her eyes, and Spike could almost hear the sound of her mentally cursing him. "You don't even eat demons."
"Well, yeah, but rules are rules."
Her eyes snapped back open. "And when would you possibly have had time to-"
"-The strange blonde one did not put his tongue on me, and I belong to no other being," D'Hoffryn interrupted her. "Why is it that you request my blood, pretty vampire?
Spike's hands curled into useless fists at his sides.
Attention diverted, Charlie took a cautious, hopeful step closer to where the vengeance demon stood. "Because I'm the can't-fight creature from the no-mojo lagoon at the moment. I can do magic, but only if I drink someone who has it running through them. Demon blood... tends to go down easier than human, and if I drink someone as powerful as you, we've got a chance at stopping Bleakgrave."
"Hmmmph. I thought there was something... different about you," D'Hoffryn said, with an unconvincing, bored yawn. "Still, I don't feel particularly moved to offer up my vital fluids. My deepest apologies."
The demon turned and began gliding at a snail's pace back towards the summoning circle, as though he were preparing to leave. Despite the show of indifference, Spike was sure that Freezer Face was holding out for something more from her. Spike also would've bet his last trio of cigarettes that Charlie wasn't going to let the demon just poof itself back to Brimstone Resort without a bit of gauntlet throwing.
In four… three… two...
"I had a human life," Charlie cried out, rushing to D'Hoffryn's side. When he stopped walking, she morphed into her version of game face, eyes aglow with anguish. "I had a marriage, and people that I loved. People that loved me. Bleakgrave's taken everything- my life, my happiness. He's torn my family tree apart, branch by branch, and laughed while they all rotted on the ground."
She pulled a handful of trinkets out of her pocket and held it out towards D'Hoffryn, and Spike craned his neck to see what she was offering. A silver wedding ring, a pebble, a knotted piece of twine, and a tarnished brass whistle rested within the nest her fingers made.
"This is what I have left of those I loved, and fits into the palm of my hand." Her fingers closed into a fist over the keepsakes. "Yet you tell me that I don't deserve retribution for what I've lost. Isn't it your job to help avenge those who've suffered? If you won't kill Bleakgrave, then the very least you can do is grant me a drink from you. Let me have my own vengeance so I can finally have some peace."
No one in the room dared to breathe. The smoking portal that D'Hoffryn had teleported through let off a little hiss.
After barely a moment of deliberation, the ancient demon shrugged his narrow shoulders. "Oh, why the hell not? You've made a good argument, girl, and quite frankly I'm curious to see how this will all turn out."
Charlie reached out and touched his arm. "Thank you," she whispered.
Well, wasn't this going to be a plentiful cask of fun? Spike decided he needed to sit down before he began testing the limits of his biting impairment. He slumped himself onto the bench by the door.
"Do not drink too deep, child of the dark," the demon cautioned Charlie, rolling up one of his wide, brown sleeves. "You may be immortal, but even the undying have their limits. There is a savage fire that runs through my veins."
"Then my determination will be the wood that keeps it burning," Charlie murmured, turning his palm skywards and caressing the inside of the demon's pale, bony wrist with her fingertips. "I won't fail, whatever the cost."
Locating a tender spot, Charlie pressed her mouth to the demon's skin and without even a whisper of warning, she sunk in her teeth.
D'Hoffryn let out a groan, almost as if he reveled in the agony of her bite, and Spike fought off a fresh urge to pummel the ancient being back down the hole he'd slithered out of. Bloody figured that a vengeance demon would be getting off on a bit of fang n' drain. Spike gripped the edge of the bench as D'Hoffryn's head rolled back in pleasure, his dark eyes relaxing into contented slits.
Spike was sure he was about to witness a one-ingredient recipe for disaster, but all he could do was grind his teeth and mentally assault the magical feed bag with every single weapon in the training room. At least there were plenty of options so far as demonslaughter went. There were swords. There were throwing stars. There was a nasty specimen of a Ngbaka knife. And Spike was fairly certain that the Delicious Wonder wouldn't survive a flail to the skull, no matter how vengeanceable the tosser was.
He became so preoccupied with his homicidal visions, that he actually jumped a little when he discovered that Charlie was watching him.
Though watch wasn't exactly the right word for it.
Her eyes sought to burn Spike with their intensity as the muscles in her throat worked to swallow the demon's blood. And though her mouth was occupied, her eyes conveyed the message loud and clear. I'd rather be sucking the lifeforce out of you, they said. I'd rather be bleeding you dry.
At first, he tried to meet her glare with dispassionate interest. Cool-as-you-please, he slipped one precious cigarette out of his duster pocket, flicked open his zippo, and lit the thing to keep himself from vamping out in fury. But it didn't take long for him to become unsettled by her stare, and instead, he zeroed in on other parts of her as she fed like a relentless, thirsty lioness; the way her fingers dug into the soft flesh of the demon's limb, the flattened shape of her top lip as it pressed against the mottled blue forearm. Of course, eying her fingers and lips inevitably made him remember how tightly they had been wrapped around his-
It happened so smoothly that Spike almost thought he was going insane. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. Not seconds ago, Charlie had been her typical vampiric hues; all bloodless cheeks and pale pink lips. And Spike had watched as something the color of blue-tinged lilacs swept over her skin like a fever. Even her irises, once like sun-drenched summer grass, now shone as cool and teal as the Mediterranean. He stared at her, unblinking. A pile of ashes dropped onto his knee, and he realized that his cigarette had burned all the way down to the filter.
Dropping the hot stub with a muttered curse, Spike viewed the scene before him with a growing sense of dread in the pit of his stomach. Something was wrong. He glanced away to survey the other girls standing nearby. All were watching Charlie drink with a sort of horrified fascination, but none of them seemed to detect the subtle changes that were occurring to her appearance.
"So we're using Mr. Vengeance to juice our battle spell," Buffy remarked, leaning back against the brick wall. "Ask me how excitedless I am."
"Is it a perfect plan? No," Willow admitted, "But is it the best chance for Bleakgrave to get his just deserts? Also, no, but we're out of options."
Buffy's lips twitched. "Well, at least someone is getting desserts out of this."
"And the rest of us will never want dessert again," said Xander, making both an entrance into the room and such a disgusted face that Spike could only hope that it would permanently stick. The boy twirled a set of keys on his forefinger and cleared his throat mockingly. "Robey demon: he's the other other white meat," he said in a TV announcer voice.
More footsteps sounded towards the training room.
"Oh," Anya exclaimed, breezing through the doorway and coming to a dead stop behind her boyfriend.
"Anyanka," D'Hoffryn said, greeting her with a nod.
The girl clasped her hands together and stared at the demon with huge doe eyes. "Hello, D'Hoffryn. I know it's been a long time, but how have you- hey! Is she biting you? Charlie! That's very inconsiderate and uncalled for!"
"Wait, you know each other?" Xander asked, now studying D'Hoffryn with an expression that bordered on jealousy. "Like an Olaf-the-troll kind of know or..."
"More of a you're-hired and on-the-job-training kinda know," Anya admitted.
Xander blinked. "The snack that isn't smiling back was your boss?"
"I'm very employable. Even Giles said that I go above and beyond."
"...the limits of appropriate customer service, was the rest of that glowing accolade if I'm remembering correctly," said Giles, the last to appear in the crowd of newcomers. "What in tarnation is going on?" he asked, growing concerned as his eyes took in the red sand, the melted concrete, and then finally the demon picnic-for-one in the center of the room.
Spike stood and skulked over to the watcher, grateful that someone else seemed as troubled with the turn of events as him. "Let's see… first, Red, over there, decided to summon D'Hairless, CEO of Revenge, Incorporated," he explained with a scowl, "and then Charlie Girl decided to drink him like blueberry Squeezit."
"For magic! And the drinking was completely consensual," Buffy added, cringing as Charlie finally pulled her fangs out of D'Hoffryn's forearm.
Just about everyone in the room found something else to look at as the vampire began licking the sapphire-colored blood off the corners of her mouth. When she was finished, she stared interestedly at the two spots that still oozed a little from the demon's skin. D'Hoffryn rolled his sleeve back down.
The watcher fixed his bespectacled gaze on Willow. "You summoned a vengeance demon?"
"Well, technically, no, I summoned the lower being who rules the vengeance demons," the witch corrected him. Her proud grin faltered as Giles continued to regard her in stony silence. "But that doesn't really matter. What matters is that Charlie's gonna be running on a full tank tonight."
"You foolish girl!" the watcher reprimanded her. He whipped his glasses off so quickly that Spike felt the movement in the air. "Do you have any idea what might have happened had you uttered that incantation wrong?"
"But I didn't, did I? I'm powerful, Giles, and I know what I'm doing. Maybe you should be thanking me instead of getting your scold on."
A vein on the watcher's temple started to do a fascinating bulgy thing, but he still managed to keep his voice even. "I'm merely explaining that you need to think more carefully about everyone else's safety before unleashing such a spell."
"Yeah," Willow scoffed, "'cause we're all gonna be really safe tonight when Bleakgrave and his minions are trying to kill us, right? What was your big idea to get Charlie's powers back, Professor High Horse?"
To that, Giles had no answer. "You have no way of knowing what this will do to her," he said, his worried gaze settling back on Charlie.
"She's fine! She's better than fine," Willow said. "Right Charlie? How are ya feelin'? Ready for a bit of Bleakgrave free-for-all?"
At the sound of the magician's name, the vampire's eyes flared a glittering blue and faint lines of electricity began to snap at the tips of her fingers. The girl Spike knew seemed mostly out to lunch, with something else at fighting for the wheel beneath that Charlie-shaped shell. Maybe it was a distilled, angry little piece of her, but still… one more sip of vengeance blood, Spike thought as he circled around her to get a better look at the changes, might have left her stumbling and foaming at the mouth.
"I'll wipe Bleakgrave's fingerprints off the face of this earth and make him know pain far worse than death," Charlie snarled. "He'll burn and bleed and wither into a shell of his former existence before he sinks into the ground and becomes the nothing he is. No one will even think his name once I'm finished with him."
D'Hoffryn might have been grinning, but the rest of the group looked like a washed-up pod of gaping gill monsters. The only thing that infiltrated the dead silence was a nervous, audible swallowing sound, courtesy of the whelp.
Charlie stared back at the wide-eyed group of Scoobies, before her eyebrows finally drew together in puzzlement. "What?"
"You got something," Xander said, pointing to his own face, "right th… you know what, it's not important."
"He's trying to tell you that there's some D'Hoffran on your nose," Anya informed her. "It's blue. And kind of distracting. And what's up with the finger voltage?"
"See?" Willow said to Giles with a weak smile. "She's great."
"It seems I've fulfilled my end of this bargain," D'Hoffryn announced. "We shall all meet again, Yekk willing. May you water the battlefield with blood and torment."
"Oh, don't you worry," Xander chuckled anxiously. "We'll be watering it with something."
The demon ignored the boy. "Make him suffer, child," he said, turning to Charlie and running his long, yellowish talons underneath her chin. "Make the magician pay for what he's done."
And just as Spike was ready to rush the ancient demon and start ripping off his overly-intimate fingers one by one, cooperation be damned, D'Hoffryn raised his right arm. Thunder echoed off the walls and the creature disappeared in a tidy wisp of smoke.
Relieved that at least one part of the blood-sucking fiasco was over, Spike wound his way back to the bench and sagged into it. He snuck another glance at Charlie. She stood tall, full of fire and vinegar and a few pints of blue demon blood, and the fear in her eyes had run off screaming into the night. She was a bloody Valkyrie. And she hated more than just his guts.
So why was he still feeling like he needed to protect her when it looked like she could power half of Sunnydale's electrical grid with her littlest finger?
Catching his stare, Charlie hissed at him.
Oh. Right. Because he was a moron, that's why.
But if there were two things Spike was still certain of, it was that he loved her more than unlife itself, and that she had returned his feelings before Bleakgrave stole everything away. And love wasn't the kind of thing that should fall between the cracks or get kicked aside at the first stumbling block. When you had it, you latched onto it with both fangs. And that was exactly what Spike planned on doing. He'd prove his devotion. He'd find a way to fix the forgetting spell and set everything back to right. He just needed to make sure they both survived Bleakgrave's party at ground zero.
"Well," Giles said, his voice sounding overly loud in the quiet that had fallen. "Now that the ruler of the vengeance demons has seen fit to evacuate the premises, will someone please tell me why there's an ice cream truck parked outside?"
A/N: Phew. Hello my lovelies! Thanks for all your wonderful feedback and for sticking with me! Now... WHO'S READY FOR A GINORMOUS FIGHT? :)