Nobody Never Gets to Heaven
By Lizbeth Marcs
They got no family. They don't belong no place.... With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us.
— George Milton from Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Caroline pulled the mac ’n cheese casserole out of the oven and set it down in the center of the table. She nervously tucked a long strand of hair out of her face and counted the place settings for the tenth time.
She wanted to make a good impression on the recruiter from the Seneca Academy for Young Women. True, he said there was no need to go all out to impress him. There was already a spot at the school just waiting for Diamond to take it and he was only here to offer her that spot, nothing more. However, instinct, honed by years of working to make sure her children had everything they needed to get ahead in life, had taken over. She once more found herself overcompensating to impress yet another person who held the future of one her children in his hands.
Maybe she’d be a little less nervous if Mr. Harris hadn’t cancelled coming over last night. He said something had cropped up and that he simply couldn’t make it. She supposed that in his line of work that happened quite a bit, but the way his voice sounded made her uneasy. There was a distance to it that hadn’t been there before, almost as if Diamond was no longer his top priority. It was a sharp contrast from the enthusiastic and outgoing young man that had upended her comfortable family routine for the past 3 weeks.
What if he had changed his mind? Worse, what if his bosses decided that Diamond wouldn’t fit in with the student body based on his reports? He may already be thinking of the next girl on his recruitment list even as he pondered how to let Diamond down easy.
Diamond needed that school. She needed the special programs it had to offer. Maybe her little girl would decide to do something else with her life once she graduated, but if Diamond graduated and decided to be a Slayer then she should have that option open to her. The only way to do that was to get in that school.
“Candles, flower centerpiece, cloth napkins,” Howard said behind her. He moved to stand next to her and he surveyed the table with an amused air. “Oooo, even the good china. Honey? Is there something you want to tell me?”
Caroline frowned in confusion at her husband.
He grinned and snaked an arm around her waist. “Just let me know if I’m looking at an all-out push to impress the school recruiter or a dinner date with Mr. Harris.”
The tension broke and Caroline lightly smacked him on the chest with matching grin of her own. “Behave you.”
Howard shrugged, chuckled, and shook his head. “I’m pretty sure Mr. Harris is going to see right through you. Any man that can match me quote-for-quote on Babylon 5 is a man who is a fine judge of character.”
Caroline kissed him on the cheek. “Try not to get into a debate over The Amazing X-Men with Mr. Harris over dinner. Tonight is Diamond’s night.”
“Fine. I promise not to argue him into the ground about Magneto. And he likes the bad girls far too much for my taste,” Howard said with a comically weary air. “What is this world coming too when a red-blooded American male prefers the evil version of Emma Frost over Jean Grey?”
“Yes, well, I’ve definitely seen you spending a lot of time over her four-color panels when you think I’m not paying attention.”
“I blame occasional and momentary insanity,” Howard insisted with a wounded sniff.
Caroline grabbed her husband by the front of his shirt and pulled him down for a quick kiss. “Chop the vegetables for the salad,” she whispered in a sexy voice.
Howard broke the embrace with a warm chuckle and headed to the sink to wash his hands.
Caroline paused a moment to watch him. It’s going to be fine, she thought. It’s going to be just fine. We’re all on our game tonight. Nothing is going to go wrong.
She almost made herself believe it.
She spun on her heel, headed out of the kitchen and through the house until she stood at the foot of the stairs. “Diamond! Jaylen! Are you ready yet? Come down and let me take a look at you.”
“Moooo-oooom. I’m busy,” Diamond shouted back.
Ten-year-old Jaylen bounced down the stairs with an evil grin on his face. “She’s getting herself pretty for Mr. Harris,” he announced
“I heard that! And I am not!”
“Jaylen Anthony O’Bannon, you stop that,” Caroline warned her son. “Your sister is nervous enough as it is.”
Jaylen made a yuck face. “She’s wearing lip gloss.”
“I am not!” came the inevitable yell from upstairs.
“It’s the peach one,” Jaylen muttered. “I don’t see why he’s so great anyway. It’s Mr. Harris this and Mr. Harris that. Everything Mr. Harris does is—”
“Jaylen, that’s enough,” Caroline said in a voice that brooked no further debate. “I told your sister that it was perfectly okay to dress up as much as she wanted. This is a special night for her and I want her to look her best.”
“Sorry,” Jaylen mumbled.
“Come here. Let me look at you.” Caroline reached out and grabbed Jaylen’s wrist before he could squirm away. She ran a hand through his tousled hair and wondered if her boy ever met a comb he liked. “Don’t we look like a handsome man.”
“I look like a dweeb,” he complained.
“You look like a grown-up.” She bent down and kissed her son on the forehead. “Now, don’t loosen your tie, keep your elbows off the table, chew with your mouth closed, don’t talk with your mouth full, and sit up straight.”
Jaylen rolled his eyes. “Mooooom.”
“This is as much for you as it is for your sister, you know,” Caroline informed him. “She’ll be making all kinds of new connections in Cleveland, connections that you might be grateful for when you get older and start planning for your future.”
“I plan to be a firefighter,” Jaylen stated. “Diamond can have her stupid vampires.”
The ugly specter of sibling rivalry had at last reared its head. Jaylen had actually been very good about all the attention Diamond had absorbed for the past 3 weeks, but it appeared he had at last reached the breaking point. Caroline wished she could blame him for the little green-eyed monster in his heart, but she grew up with a big brother who was a piano prodigy. She knew what it was like to have everyone around her reinforce that she wasn’t the special one.
I’ll make it up to him after we get Diamond settled in Cleveland, Caroline promised herself. We’ll go on a trip. Maybe I’ll let him sign up for the karate classes this year instead of next year. He’ll like that.
She pulled Jaylen into a hug, which earned her a squawk of complaint, although Jaylen’s voice lacked its usual fervor that he was too big for his old mom to be hugging him.
The doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it!” Diamond shouted as she raced down the stairs.
“Wait, wait, wait, wait,” Caroline ordered as she stepped between her daughter and the front door. “Let me look at you.”
“Mom! Mr. Harris is waiting,” 14-year-old Diamond informed her as she hopped from foot-to-foot.
“Alright, alright, alright. Go ahead. You look lovely,” Caroline said as she stepped aside.
Diamond blushed as she flashed a grin and scampered for the door.
“Go in the kitchen and help your father,” Caroline told her son. She turned, willed her heart to slow down, and followed her daughter.
“—look great,” Mr. Harris’s voice drifted through the open door. “A little dressy for a walk through cemeteries, though.”
Caroline reached the door and her heart sank. Mr. Harris’s hair was still wet, as if he barely had time to jump in the shower before he headed over. He was dressed in nothing more than work boots, jeans, and a flannel shirt.
“Hey, Mrs. O’Bannon,” Mr. Harris shuffled on the front porch. “Sorry about the just-out-of-bed look. It’s been a long couple of days and I overslept.”
Caroline’s arms protectively drifted around her daughter. “Trouble?”
He flashed a toothy grin. “Always. Nothing you have to worry about, though.”
Caroline nervously nodded.
“Since I’m running so late, I thought I’d just get right with the program, and—” Mr. Harris began.
“You’re not late at all,” Caroline interrupted. “In fact, we’re just getting dinner on the table. It’s my specialty. Mac ’n Cheese Casserole Surprise with salad and chocolate cake for dessert.”
Mr. Harris blinked. “Wow. You went all out.” He shook his head. “Honestly, though, we are running late. I figured that Diamond could give me a final cemetery tour and show me what she’s learned over the past couple of weeks. Then I figured we’d head back here for some celebratory hot chocolate and talk Cleveland terms. I don’t want to keep her out too late. I want to get everything settled tonight, which means I’d like us to be back here before 10:30 or so.”
Diamond looked up at her with a pleading look in her eyes. It appeared that she’d much rather be running around cemeteries with Mr. Harris than sit down to her favorite meal. Her little girl was growing up so fast.
Caroline melted. “Since you put it like that, we’ll leave plates warming in the oven for both of you.”
“Thanks, mom!” Diamond chirped as she untangled herself from Caroline’s arms.
“Mr. Harris, why don’t you come in and wait while Diamond gets changed,” Caroline invited.
Mr. Harris’s hand shot out lightening quick and grabbed Caroline around the wrist.
Caroline wasn’t sure what startled her more: the fact that Mr. Harris grabbed her, or the speed at which he did it.
“Diamond? What did I tell you about inviting people into your home?” Mr. Harris’s voice had taken on the tone of a teacher.
“Don’t do it,” Diamond dutifully responded like the straight-A student she was.
Mr. Harris grinned his toothy grin at Caroline, but didn’t let go of her wrist. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to go all wiggy on you. It’s an automatic response on my part.”
Caroline nervously smiled. “Well, I thought it would be all right since we know you.”
Mr. Harris once more took on the mien of a teacher. “Diamond?” he prompted.
“Don’t ever invite anyone in, even if they’re someone you know because you don’t know if they’ve been attacked by a vampire and turned between the time you last saw them and now,” Diamond parroted.
“Very good.” Mr. Harris once more turned his attention to Caroline. “No offense, but you haven’t seen me in two days. For all you know, I could have been turned between the last time you saw me and right now.”
Diamond giggled. Caroline found herself grinning in the face of the ridiculous notion.
“Well, you don’t look like a vampire to me,” Caroline lightly responded. “Diamond? Does he look like a vampire to you?”
“Nope,” Diamond declared.
Mr. Harris raised his eyebrows, but his grin remained friendly. “Boy, we need to introduce you to some vampires that aren’t in grrrr face. They don’t look the part either.”
Caroline started to feel uncomfortable. Mr. Harris still hadn’t let go of her wrist and he kept hammering home his point about inviting no one in, not even someone she knew. She supposed that he was taking advantage of the fact that she had invited him in by turning it into a teaching moment for Diamond, but the way he was going about it…
“Maybe I should point out that if you were really a vampire, you wouldn’t be telling us that we made a fatal mistake.” Caroline hoped that she sounded more light-hearted than she actually felt. “You wouldn’t want to put us on notice, right?”
Mr. Harris made a ‘hunh’ face. “That’s a point. Okay. You got me. You’re too smart for me.”
Caroline’s unease dropped back down to normal levels. It was just as it appeared. It was a teaching moment for Diamond. That’s all it was.
“Mr. Harris, you can let go of my wrist now,” Caroline gently said.
He startled. “Whoops. Sorry.” He sheepishly dropped his hand. “Guess I got into the moment. I’ve got to watch that.”
Caroline rubbed her wrist. “Your hand’s very cold.”
Diamond frowned. “It’s not that cold out.”
Mr. Harris ran a hand through his wet hair. “The hot water cut out in my hotel room, so it was cold showers all the way for me. Like I said, it’s been a rough couple of days. Conference calls from London. Some kind of big to-do with a big-bad type that I’d dealt with before, so my constant advice was wanted while they plotted and planned to take down their fiend. I collapsed into bed somewhere around 10 this morning and slept all day. I jumped out of bed maybe a half-hour ago, ran through the shower, threw on some clothes, and ran here.”
“Then you need mom’s casserole to warm you up before we go to the cemetery,” Diamond excitedly offered. “It’s really good. I could eat it all the time. We could even put the chocolate cake in the microwave and heat it up. You wouldn’t have to put the ice cream on it or anything.”
Mr. Harris ducked his head in an effort to hide his smile. “You’re making my mouth water. I’m going to start drowning in my own drool any second.”
“Have you even had a chance today to eat at all?” Caroline asked.
Mr. Harris looked down. “Honestly? No.” He looked up with a crooked grin. “Know what? I could eat. Is the offer for dinner still on?”
Caroline smiled with relief. Everything was going according to plan. “Of course.”
“Yay!” Diamond cheered.
“Honey, go make sure your father and your brother haven’t turned the kitchen into a war zone,” Caroline said.
Diamond scurried off to the kitchen, giggling the entire way.
Mr. Harris chuckled. “She’s going to be a handful.”
Caroline’s instincts for ensuring her children’s future once more kicked in. “Diamond is just excited. I’m sure you’ll find that she’ll be an excellent student and will contribute in a substantive way to the school. All of her teachers say that she’s not disruptive and has an excellent head for—”
Mr. Harris held up his hands. “Whoa. You’re acting like I said that like it was a bad thing. It’s a good thing. A very, very good thing. The more of a handful she is, the better it’ll be.”
Caroline’s relieved smile returned. “Sorry. I guess I’m nervous, too.”
Mr. Harris looked her right in the eye and said softly. “Don’t be. There’s nothing to worry about. Nothing at all.”
Caroline found herself relaxing right down to her toes. “You’re right.”
Mr. Harris’s gaze didn’t waver. “So, is that food hot and fresh?”
Caroline felt like she was floating on a cloud. “Very hot. Very fresh.”
Mr. Harris’s voice dropped an octave as his gaze increased in intensity. “Just the way I like it?”
Caroline felt such a sudden sexual jolt that she gasped, “Any way you want it.”
“Good. I plan to take my time and enjoy myself.”
Mr. Harris’s eyes didn’t leave her face as he stepped over the threshold. His toothy grin made a spectacular return as his arm went around Caroline’s waist and he pulled her close enough to feel that underneath those jeans he was rock hard.
“Just so you know,” he whispered over her lips, “I’m absolutely starving.”
Xander called later that night to let the Cleveland headmaster know that the O’Bannons backed out at the last minute. According to his brief report, the parents insisted on accompanying him and Diamond on their final tour through the local cemeteries. During the tour, they ran into a vampire — an older one, not a fledge — and Mrs. O’Bannon was almost bitten before Xander and Diamond were able to dust it.
Xander was naturally quite upset. He should’ve never let them come along, he said. They were very eager to enroll Diamond and they had all but signed on the dotted line. The attack on what was supposed to be a routine patrol had changed their minds so fast that his head was still spinning. He tried to reason with them, but no matter what he said—
The headmaster interrupted at this point. He shouldn’t blame himself, was the headmaster’s official judgment. What happened to him could’ve happened to anyone. The parents were no doubt shaken, but would probably again change their minds with time. He told Xander that maybe it would be best if he checked in with the family in a month or two.
Xander didn’t easily accept this. The poor man was positively convinced that he was somehow to blame for the stroke of bad luck. Eventually, however, he reluctantly agreed. Best to leave the business be for the time being. He’d swing by again in 6 weeks or so to see if the family had changed its mind.
When Xander rang off, the headmaster was quite pleased that Xander’s concerns had been settled without too much effort. Xander was rather good at his job, and he rarely failed to convince a girl and her family about the benefits the Seneca Academy for Young Women could confer on young Slayers. The fact that the turnaround happened when he was so close to signing the girl must’ve been quite a blow to his ego.
The headmaster didn’t think anything more about it. After more than a year recruiting young Slayers in Africa, and after yet another year recruiting Slayers in North America, Xander had proven himself to be one of the most trustworthy field operatives the Council had. The headmaster slept soundly that night certain that if there were anything new to report Xander would call in to let him know.
One week later, the police broke down the door of the O’Bannon home and found all four members of the family.
What was left of them, anyway.
Two weeks later, the Council found out what really happened that last night Xander Harris saw the O’Bannons.
Too bad it cost them the lives of 3 Slayers and 4 Watchers.
It was also the first appearance of Xander’s meticulously detailed reports of what he did to whom and how. He even spelled out his reasoning for leaving such evidence in that first report. For posterity and to keep the Council’s records “honest,” he said. He even called it A Letter to Liars. He underlined “liars” with three heavy black strokes. No one could figure out why he chose to highlight that word.
It was only the beginning of what Rupert Giles called the Council’s annus horribilis. No matter what the Council did they couldn’t seem to catch him, thanks to an amulet that Willow Rosenberg had given him prior to his trip to Africa that allowed him to travel unnoticed and invisible to all mundane and mystical gazes, provided he stayed away from sacred ground.
Meanwhile, the bodies — including more than a few Watchers and Slayers — kept piling up. There never was any need to guess which murders Xander committed. Every corpse came with its own meticulously detailed report and it was always left somewhere on the body. In cases of mass murder, the report was left with the body of the person who was the last to die. If Xander stopped for a week or two in a large city, the report was mailed to the closest Council house on his way out of town.
The Council had a devil of a time getting their hands on some of those reports, since the police sometimes beat the Slayers and Watchers to the scene of the crime. The Council was always very careful to steal every report they knew about and to leave no trace of their existence behind. More than one homicide detective ended up screaming at partners, secretaries, and other police officers guarding the evidence locker when Xander’s missives disappeared.
One Slayer even got turned.
For that one, Xander mailed his report to the Council in London. By the time it landed on Giles’s desk, Xander was half-a-continent away with his new companion. Even with the meticulously detailed report that was his calling card, no one could figure out how Xander managed to turn a Slayer. Worse, no one knew what to make of it, let alone what to do about it. No one alive knew of another case like it. True, much of the Council’s history had been lost in the explosion that destroyed the old Council, but a turned Slayer, if it had ever happened, was not something that would have been lost and forgotten. Or at least that was the hope.
Eventually Willow caught up with the vampire wearing the face of her childhood friend.
Too bad she was partially motivated by rage and grief when she finally had his location locked down and an army of Slayers surrounding his hiding place to make sure he didn’t slip through her fingers again.
The end result was not pretty.
“This is a bad bit of business. You mark my words. This is going to end with us thigh-high in the muck,” Spike grimly said without taking his eyes off the road ahead.
Faith had reached the breaking point with Spike and his pronouncements of gloom. “Will you shut the fuck up already? You’ve been saying that for the last 10 goddamn miles.”
“I keep saying it ’cause I don’t think you’re paying attention,” Spike snapped.
Faith hauled herself out of her prone position in the car’s back seat and thrust her face forward between Spike and Xander. “I don’t need the constant fucking reminder, so shut the fucking pie hole unless you got something interestin’ to say.”
“Been saying plenty that was interestin’, but you’re too busy opening your mouth to open your ears,” Spike snarled.
“Stop it,” Xander said in a quiet voice. He didn’t bother to turn his head from the passenger side window.
Spike and Faith didn’t hear him.
“My ears are working just fine, asshole. You ain’t tellin’ me nothin’ I don’t already know,” Faith shot back.
“You mean you actually know something?” Spike asked. “Wonders never cease. There must be an apocalypse on the—”
“Stop it!” Xander shouted. Even though Spike was speeding down the dark road to Vegas at a breakneck speed, Xander reached forward and began opening the passenger side door.
“Whoa!” Spike shouted as he slammed on the brakes.
Faith was thrown forward by the sudden stop in forward momentum. She ended up partially draped over the back of the front seat. “What the fuck? Spike!”
Xander had already opened the car door and was pacing in the darkness outside.
“Don’t bitch me out, Slayer. Wasn’t my decision to take a walk while we were going 80,” Spike growled as he, too, exited the car in a fit of temper.
Faith righted herself with a snarl and tumbled out of the car. By the time she hit the ground, Spike was already tearing into Harris.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Spike ranted at the restlessly pacing Xander. “D’you want to get your head ripped clean off? Wait. Don’t answer that. I already know the answer to that.”
Xander’s angry gaze swept across his traveling companions. “I had to get away from both of you. The tense is bad enough. The adrenalin is the real killer.” He wrinkled his nose to make clear what exactly he meant. “Fine. You both win. You both have equally big dicks.”
Spike’s “Oi!” echoed Faith’s “Fuck you, Harris.”
“Can we please stop fighting long enough to reach the Council house in Vegas?” Xander angrily requested. “The two of you arguing isn’t going to make this any better or easier.”
That’s when Faith finally noticed that Xander was ever so slightly trembling.
Harris and his fucking pushing it to the limit. That explains that, then. Jesus. We need him in tip-top shape for this caper and he fucking knows it, Faith thought with irritation. “Yo! Billy-boy! Hand me the keys.”
Spike whirled on her with a pointed finger. “If you think for one second that I’m about to let you drive—”
“Before you go all bad ass on me, why don’t you ask Harris when was the last time he ate?”
Spike turned on Xander with a frown. “Well?” he demanded.
Xander glared at her. “I’m not hungry.”
Spike studied Xander for a beat before tossing the keys to Faith.
“I’m fine,” Xander insisted through clenched teeth.
“Like hell you are,” Spike said.
Faith popped the trunk and opened the cooler stashed inside. She grabbed a random blood bag, closed both cooler and trunk, and then stalked over to the bickering pair.
“Eat,” Spike ordered. “Last thing we need is you losing control over a paper cut, ’specially considering our current situation.”
“Spike, for Christ’s sake. I’m not going to—”
Xander’s protest was cut off with an “ooof” as Faith shoved the blood bag into his abdomen. “Pig with a side of otter, just like the doctor ordered,” she informed him.
Faith could see Xander fighting the urge to look down at the blood bag held against his stomach. The end was never in doubt, though. He began to tremble harder as his eyes tracked downward and he licked his lips.
“I’m guessing at least four days,” Faith said.
“Five,” Xander mumbled as his hands slowly inched for the bag.
“A new world record,” Spike dryly remarked. “And a bloody stupid thing to do.”
Xander’s hands closed around the bag and his head dropped. “Spike, please,” he whispered.
“Now you listen to your Uncle Spike. I was a vampire for longer than you and your parents and your grandparents all laid end to end have been alive.” Spike’s voice wasn’t unkind, even though it indicated that he was at the end of his patience over this particular matter. “You can’t avoid feeding. Sooner or later the hunger will drive you mad. When that happens, soul or no soul, people will end up dead. Hear me?”
“I have it under control,” Xander murmured as his licked his lips once more.
“Yeah. I can see that. Because we all know that when that temper of yours snaps, your first instinct is to leave a moving car.” Spike closed in on Xander with a swagger. “You want to keep that demon under control? Then you’ve got to give a little to get what you want, and that means feeding, fighting, and fucking, yeah? The fighting and fucking is covered all right, but the feeding? Aye, now there’s the rub.”
Xander sounded so defeated that Faith felt bad for him. Still, it appeared that Xander needed it hammered once more into his thick skull that this bullshit of his had to stop. If Spike taking Xander to the woodshed finally put an end to the off-and-on running argument, Faith figured she should put on a cheerleader outfit and start shaking the pom-poms. Besides, it was freakin’ animal blood. If that was immoral, then someone should just slap ‘killer’ on her forehead every time she ate a burger. Near as she could see it was exactly the same thing, only a lot more liquid.
Spike poked a finger in the middle of Xander’s chest. “You’ve gotta hold up your end of the bargain. If you don’t, you not only won’t help a blessed living soul, some poor unfortunate bloke is going to find himself at the wrong end of your fangs one of these nights. Now you look me in the eyes and tell me you think it’s worth taking that kind of chance.”
Xander swallowed and managed to tear his eyes away from the blood bag to look at Spike. Faith could see self-hate, resentment, shame, and a dash of resignation all rolled up into one neat little package of an expression. She took it as a good sign. Something was finally seeping through the noggin. She wasn’t naïve enough to believe that this was the last time this conversation would happen, but at this point she was willing to settle for it happening less often.
Spike obviously read Xander’s expression the same way as Faith did, and the set of his shoulders relaxed. “While you’re chewing on that bit of fat, I want you to promise me that you’re going to keep nice and full while we’re here. We need you in fighting trim, and that means you can’t be fighting hunger while you’re at it. This crew’s on edge as it is. They’ll be looking for any excuse, and I damn well am not in the mood to give them one. Situation’s too hairy for any of us to stick our heads in the lion’s mouth.”
Xander’s eyes were once more fixed on the blood bag. Faith sensed more than saw the fight going on underneath his skin. Jesus. Good thing she wasn’t on the rag, otherwise he would’ve been flashing fang long before now. Not that she had any complaints about the good times to be had when she was on the rag and the guy taking care of her needs didn’t actually need to breathe.
Well, at least he wouldn’t have gone as hungry.
“I’ll be a few minutes,” Xander mumbled.
“Take your time,” Spike said with a wave of his hand. “I’m not what you’d call eager to get where we’re going. If we didn’t have a sunrise to beat, I’d be stopping to smell some roses just to put their noses out of joint.”
Xander silently turned away and headed out into the darkness of the desert. Faith figured he’d go out for a good quarter mile, just to make sure no would see him vamp out as his teeth ripped into the bag.
Spike let out a relieved breath and headed for the car to wait.
“Well-spotted, that,” Spike complimented her as he leaned against the car.
Faith joined him. “Yeah, well, just surprised you didn’t spot it first.”
Faith could see in the harsh shadows of the headlights that Spike’s smile was both grim and sad. “Who knew a heartbeat and a pair of working lungs could be such effective blinders, eh? Angel’s little last laugh before he became dust on the wind. Stupid, arse. Signing away his prophecy like that. If he wasn’t gone, I’d tie him down in the sun and watch him burn, I would.”
Faith slipped the pack of cigarettes out of her jacket pocket and offered one to Spike by way of apology for their earlier dust-up. “Wonder what Angel would’ve made of him.”
“Before or after he laughed until blood shot out his nose?”
Faith paused in lighting up her cigarette to look at Spike.
Spike held out his hand for the lighter. “Don’t look at me like that. I laughed myself sick when I heard what the Council’s pet goddess had done to him, and there were days I even liked the bloke. Angel?” Spike shrugged as he accepted the lighter from Faith. “No love lost there. Never was. Oh, he’d never show just how much he enjoyed this little bit irony, you can be sure of that. I’m sure he would’ve taken his responsibilities to teach ol’ Harris the ropes of living as a souled vampire in a human world downright seriously. He certainly never would’ve let this business about not feeding properly go on as long as it has.”
Faith waited for Spike to finish lighting up before holding out her hand to take the lighter back. “Is that you admitting that Angel would’ve been the better choice? I may have to clean out my ears to make sure I heard you right.”
“Truth to tell, not sure who’d be the better choice between Angel and me,” Spike admitted. “Boy’s tangled himself in a blanket of guilt so thick that he can’t see his way clear. Angel would’ve had a better handle on that. But Xander enjoys the power that comes with it too much. Angel would’ve lost patience with him. At least there I can relate.”
Faith frowned at him. “You miss it.”
“Miss the power, darlin’, I don’t deny that,” Spike said. “Never much minded being a vampire, and that’s even with the soul. Still,” Spike paused to take a drag on his cigarette and release a stream of smoke, “don’t know if you’d get the same story if I had soul and power for more ’n the 2 years I had both. Soul never had a chance to set in all nice and proper before I found myself gasping for breath with a pulse in my ears. I suspect maybe my answer might’ve been different if it’d gone on much longer.”
“Still not seeing how you think Xander enjoys being a vampire,” Faith half-heartedly argued before drawing smoke deep into her lungs.
Spike paused, as if he were trying to find the right words to explain his charge. “Some vampires are just ugly pieces of work. Stupid as dogs, have all the motivation of sheep looking to their sires to tell ’em how to wipe their arses, ugly as sin, and can’t see much beyond sinking their fangs into the next meal. Like most people, if you catch my drift.”
“Pretty fucking cynical of you,” Faith remarked.
“Makes it no less true,” Spike countered without heat. “But some vampires? Some are just works of art, and our boy’s a work of art, with soul or without. Who would’ve thought, eh? Beat my Slayer-killing record within weeks of getting turned with no effort at all. Right now his kill ratio is so high it’s going to be centuries, if ever, that anyone’ll top it. That right there is the real Slayer of Slayers. He’s welcome to the title, far’s I’m concerned. Takes quite a bit of the heat off m’self.”
“You gotta point in there somewheres, Spike? ’Cause I ain’t seein’ it.”
“Nah. You don’t wanna see it, there’s the difference.” Spike turned his head to look at her. “Our boy may have that soul locked tight into him, but watch him in a fight when he lets go of the guilt and the pretence. Out comes that face and those moves are smooth and sure. He keeps going no matter what the other side throws at him. Nothing stops him until everything on the other side is dead or dust. Makes a bloke’s mouth water to watch, it does. And after, while the fight’s still buzzing in his brain, well, don’t gotta tell you how it is.”
Faith frowned down at her cigarette. No, Spike really didn’t. The irritation over seeing his point ignited a defensive spark. “Yeah, well, I count three of us who get like that. So unless the afterparty’s gettin’ too rough for you to play and you wanna start bowing out…”
“Day I pass on my just rewards, is the day you can bury me dead or alive,” Spike snorted. “Point I’m tryin’ to make is that Harris never could quite keep up with his mates. Oh, he’d try like the dickens to make the grade, but he was just human after all. No matter how hard you try, the chips are just gonna fall like that. Now he’s got the power and he likes that it allows him to do what he always wanted to do. Can’t blame him there, ’specially since I’m walking in his human shoes these days. But,” here Spike held up a finger, “it comes wrapped in that fuzzy blanket of guilt I mentioned earlier. It kills him that it comes with a butcher’s bill that’d drown any sane man in blood.”
Faith threw her cigarette to the ground so hard it sparked. “My, my Billy-boy. Ain’t we all fisofical tonight. You ain’t worried about helpin’ our little Vegas cherubs, are ya?”
“If you’d been listening to me instead of flapping that tongue, you mighta picked up on that,” Spike replied with a world-weary tone. “And you can bet your teeth those cherubs have read the Council’s reports, including Harris’s Johnny-on-the-spot reporting, on how he turned Kennedy. That’s just going to make their itchy stake hands even itchier, and that’s even before we make our grand entrance. They’re gonna be watching our boy real close for any excuse to dust him good and proper.”
Faith looked sharply at Spike. “You figure the Goody-Two-Shoes Bitch of the North is settin’ him up?”
“That is the mystery,” Spike replied as he tossed his own cigarette to the ground. “Can’t answer that, but her insisting that we had to be involved with this mess,” Spike shook his head, “it’s got a nasty edge to it I don’t like.”
“Fuck,” Faith emphatically swore as she kicked at the dirt. “I figured it’d be fucking ugly anyhow, but the way you’re layin’ it out just now…I’m thinkin’ that maybe I ain’t even been scratching the surface.”
Spike’s face pinched into a thoughtful expression. “Too right, you’re not. You’re asking a sire to come in and help deal with one his creations, who just happens to be a turned Slayer. The relationship between sire and sired? Always messy on the best of days, but never messier then when the two are on opposite sides like we got here. And you can bet her Worship has already laid down the order that her precious Kennedy ends the business undusty, which will make it that much more messy.”
At long last, Faith finally got why Spike was worrying like an old woman about everything. “Jesus. If G even gets half of how bad this could get, what the fuck was he thinkin’ when he okayed Willow’s request we come here to help corner the wife so she can slap a soul in her and get her happy ending?”
“Another mystery, that,” Spike answered. “Can’t even begin to suss out how the old man thinks, and I’ve given up trying. But I can tell you why he didn’t put his foot down when her Worship decided to yank us in. No one’s said ‘no’ to her since Sunnydale fell to dust. Just a mite too late to start saying it now.”
Faith joined Spike at the car once more and slumped against its support. Her Slayer eyes picked up movement in the desert. Xander coming back from his feed, no doubt. He sure took his sweet time. As hungry as he was, she suspected that after he drained the bag he ripped it open and licked the inside clean to get every last drop of blood.
“We’re fucked, ain’t we?” she asked. “No matter what, all three of us are fucked.”
“Buggered, broiled, and baked like 4-and-20 blackbirds,” Spike agreed. “That’s why I’ve been sharing my innermost while Harris was out of earshot. You and me, we’re going to have to keep sharpish if we plan to get him out of Vegas with his skin intact. You can’t hold up your end unless you know ’zactly what we’re up against, not just with our cherubs, but also with our boy. I’m telling you this right now, Kennedy’s just the icing on the steaming turd we usually get served whenever we ride to the rescue. Way they see it, he turned a Slayer once and there’s nothing stoppin’ him from doing it again if he makes his mind up to it, soul or no soul.”
Faith let that sink in before rendering her final judgment on the matter. “Seriously fucked.”