Written for the Dark Xander Fic-A-Thon.
All previous parts here.
Continued from Part 2.
She got why Spike thought he had to play this stone cold. She really did. Luring Kennedy within snatching distance of a Council house, and then bringing Xander in to track her down and help with the snatch was like watching nitro and glycerin have themselves a BDSM session. That wasn’t even taking into account the whole sire-and-sired deal Spike thoughtfully spelled out for her in the desert.
She closed her eyes and forced herself to take several deep breaths. Spike was right. They needed eyes and ears open and inside the Council house. The mission was a clusterfuck waiting to happen. The tension among the baby Slayers was torqued almost to the breaking point, no doubt with Martin Dearest providing just the right amount of twist. Spike was worried that Xander’d flip out on them when faced with Kennedy, or that Kennedy would dust Xander once she realized that it would take more for Xander to lose his soul than a roll in the hay. She was worried about what Willow’d do if she had to choose between Xander and the wife.
She was taking Martin’s and the Baby Slayers’ attitudes too personally and letting it get to her. None of them — especially Xander — could afford her flying off the handle. She had to suck it up, play nice, and do her part if she was going to be any help at all.
There were days when maturity sucked.
When she was sure she could keep the temper under wraps, she emerged from the guest room and hauled ass downstairs so she could sit in on Spike’s pre-mission meeting with Martin. She was halfway down the steps when she saw that Spike still had his duffle slung over his shoulder and was standing in the entrance hall chatting with Martin. She opened her mouth to say something, but Spike looked up and beat her to the punch.
“Change of plans, Lehane,” Spike said with a grin. An outsider might think that he was pleased with whatever bit of news he was about to impart, but Faith could tell that he was royally pissed. “Martin here thinks it best if we go on into the library and consult with our Willow.”
Faith placed her hands behind her back to hide the fact that they were turning into fists of their own accord. “That right?”
“’Pears she’s been researching her heart out since she got here the other day,” Spike informed her. “From what I gather, she’s up to her eyeballs in books.”
I’ll tear her fucking head off, Faith angrily thought.
“As I was explaining to Mr…” Martin paused and asked, “Spike is it?”
Spike waved a lazy hand and maintained his friendly demeanor. “Just Spike’ll do me fine. Never was much of a proper gentleman, truth to tell. ’S why I got the job I do.”
Faith mentally added Spike to her list of asses that were begging to be kicked. His step-n-fetchit routine was getting on her last nerve. If she had to watch Spike kiss Willow’s scrawny ass, she really would go ballistic.
“Best get to the happy reunion, then,” Spike said as he shifted the weight of his duffle.
“I can get one of the girls to bring your bag up to your room,” Martin offered.
“Nah. Rather see to it m’self,” Spike said with a shrug. “Don’t look it, but I got some sensitive tools of the trade. I get a mite tetchy when anyone touches it. Everything inside is placed just so.”
Faith finished going down the stairs as she wondered what “sensitive tools of the trade” Spike was talking about. The most he had was the usual mission file and stake-and-holy water combo tucked among his clothes.
Martin looked sharply at Spike. “For the vampire?” he asked.
“Can’t say,” Spike said as he knowingly tapped his nose. “Worth more ’n my job to tell and worth more ’n your life to find out. The old man uses Harris as a big gun for a reason, but he only breaks that glass in an emergency if you get my drift. So’s I wouldn’t push too much about what’s in my bag if I were you.”
Faith couldn’t stop herself from staring at Spike. What the hell is he doing? He’s making it sound like we need to keep Xander on a choke chain. If they get it into their heads that we’re the only people keeping him on the straight and narrow…
Martin confirmed Faith’s worst fears when he asked, “How much of a danger is he?”
Spike smiled in a way that showed all his teeth. “None, actually. Soul’s a right torture for him. Keeps him compliant. He’ll do his bit without a word of complaint. My equipment is to remind him he shouldn’t be getting ideas above his station after we pass out the happy endings.”
That’s when Faith finally got what Spike was really hinting at and relaxed. If anyone could make Xander look like a 24-7 victim of non-stop Council abuse, Spike could.
“I don’t follow,” Martin said with a confused frown.
Spike shifted the weight of his duffle again, as if it really did hold something heavier than clothes, paperwork, stakes, and a bottle of holy water. “Harris is broken. Always the way when a vampire gets his soul back. Eventually they pull themselves together and begin doing some thinking and Harris? Well, he’s smarter ’n the majority.”
“I’ve read in-depth about his exploits as well as his very detailed missives to the Council,” Martin said.
“Then I don’t have to tell you that he’s a reg’lar Rhodes scholar, even if he lacks the pedigree papers,” Spike nodded knowingly. “So for him, that thinking will come sooner rather than later, yeah?”
“That’s the trouble,” Martin snorted.
“Stop looking for it where there ain’t none,” Faith snapped.
Spike shot her a filthy look. “Now, now, Lehane. Martin’s got a point. A good point.” He turned to Martin. “Don’t mind Faith. You insulted her by hinting that she chose to associate with Harris. This is the second-longest living Slayer you’ve got here and you say that to her? Lucky she didn’t rip your head off.”
Faith’s eyebrows rose in surprise. If Spike managed to bleach her rep after what happened in Baltimore, then he probably knew how to turn water into wine, too.
“I believe you can set things right by offering an apology,” Spike said.
Faith had to give Martin a little credit. His apology was immediate and seemed sincere. “I’m sorry, Miss Lehane. It’s just that your attitude…I thought…”
“She’s doin’ her bit like the rest of us. Can’t blame her when she’s sick of paying the toll for doing nothing less than her job,” Spike interrupted as he grinned at her.
Well, if Martin could be a big man, she could match him big for big. “This deal has us all on edge. Forget it,” Faith said.
Spike’s grin widened, probably because she was finally playing along.
“Thank you.” Martin sounded genuinely relieved. “You’ve set my mind at rest on this point, at least.”
“Told you. Harris’ll be no trouble,” Spike reassured him. “Even if he were tempted, which he ain’t on account of the soul, he’s locked down by daylight. He’s got to stay put.”
Faith couldn’t resist a grin of her own. The MGM Grand was, at best, an easy stretch in Club Fed. Even though she knew Martin wouldn’t consider Xander’s current predicament hard time in solitary, she wondered how he’d react if he knew Xander would’ve preferred being trapped in a rent-by-the-hour motel room with no amenities.
“If he’s no trouble, then why does he need your expertise and a Slayer constantly watching him?” Martin demanded.
“Need to set the terms of his employment, so to speak,” Spike said with a shrug. “Unlike present company, Council employment for him could be measured in centuries. Best to reinforce his place while that mind of his is open to being hammered into a proper shape. Don’t need to do it now, no. But it needs to be done now so it doesn’t need to be done later.”
Martin looked slightly ill as he speculatively looked at Spike’s duffle bag. Whatever he was about to ask was interrupted by Willow’s dramatic entrance.
“OhmyGodIjustheardyougothere,” she said without taking a breath as she charged for Spike and threw her arms around his neck.
“Easy, Red. Not near as unbreakable as I used to be,” Spike good-naturedly complained as he returned the hug and shot Faith a warning look over the top of Willow’s head.
Willow pulled back and spared Faith a glance. “Hey, Faith. Glad to see you, too.”
Faith may have made her mind up to playing Spike’s game, but there were some games she wasn’t willing to play. “Too bad you can’t say ‘hey’ to your old bud, hunh? Those books of yours must be wicked interesting if you’re just getting some air now.”
If Willow even heard Faith’s hidden accusation, she didn’t show it. Instead, she turned to Martin and said, “I’ll take Spike and Faith to the library, ’kay? I have to catch them up.”
“I’ll see that no one disturbs you,” Martin solicitously said.
Willow waved at Faith to follow and grabbed Spike by the hand. “This way.”
The three of them were silent as Willow led them down the hall and into the Council house’s impressive library. The research table in the center was piled high with books and loose papers, a sign that Willow really had been buried under research when the three of them pulled up in front of the house.
That didn’t stop Faith from unfurling her tongue the second Willow closed the door behind them. “You’ve been fucking here the whole time?”
Willow quickly waved her hands. “Faith, please. Voice down. Little pitchers have big ears.”
“She’s gotta point,” Spike said neutrally to Faith. He turned to Willow and added, “Though Dimples here has a better one.”
That brought Willow up short. “Dimples?”
“Ignore him. He says it to piss me off,” Faith snarled. “They shit all over us when we showed.”
Willow deflated. “I’m sorry. I really am. I kept checking to see if you’d showed up yet. I even went out to the front porch a couple of times. It got so late that I thought that you got held up somewhere, so I gave up keeping an eye out for you and came in here to do more research. When Cally came to get me I thought she was going to tell me that you’d called to say that you’d be here tonight.”
“Said we’d be here today, didn’t we?” Spike asked as he dropped his duffle bag to the floor and flopped in an overstuffed chair.
“Technically, it’s tomorrow,” Willow corrected him.
“When you work nights like we do, ’s still today,” Spike insisted.
“And what about you two?” Willow asked as her eyes pinged back and forth between Spike and Faith. “An hour before sunrise? You guys were cutting it awfully close. Xander could’ve been—”
“Gee, your finger don’t look broken,” Faith interrupted as she crossed her arms.
Willow startled. “What?”
“Slayer,” Spike drawled a warning.
“You know. Your finger. The one you use to dial the phone.” Faith grinned at her. “Could’ve called Spike’s cell to ask or had someone do it for you. Then again, I’ve been hooked up with Spike and Xander for five or six months now. In all that time, no calls, no notes, no nothin’ out of you.”
Willow began, “Faith, you don’t understa—”
“Makes a girl think that maybe you don’t really give a shit,” Faith interrupted. “Makes a girl think that you might be about to shed some crocodile tears about how much your heart bleeds that fate’s been keepin’ you from picking up the damn phone.”
“Finished?” Spike wearily asked.
Willow’s face crumpled as she helplessly rubbed her hands. “What am I supposed to say to him, Faith? What? ‘Gee, Xander, sorry about giving you back your soul. Sorry about saving your life in Mexico City. Sorry about keeping you alive even though you want to die. Except I’m really not because, hey! I can’t feel bad that you’re alive. You’ll be feeling peachy in no time at all. Give it a century or two and you’ll thank me. You’ll have to thank my ghost, though, since I’m pretty sure I won’t be alive by then.’”
Faith snorted as she paced over to a chair and threw herself into it. Could she read Willow like a fucking book or what?
“I know what he wants from me,” Willow said as she blinked back the tears. “Believe me, I know. Spike can tell you, right Spike?” She didn’t wait for an answer and dove forward instead. “It’s just that I can’t, okay? I can’t. I can’t just let him die. He knows I can’t. I’ll just end up hurting him even more if I tell him that I can’t because I don’t want to lose him again. I won’t hurt him like that.”
“Compared to what? The shit you’ve already done to him?” Faith angrily asked.
Spike was out of his chair and standing between Faith and Willow before Willow could fire a volley back. “Now, ladies, you’ve made your positions clear. Nothing’s going to be solved right this moment. We’ve got ground to cover.”
Faith was not about to let anything drop. Far as she was concerned, Willow still had a shitload to answer for. “Yeah, like why she didn’t teach Martin some manners before we showed.”
“I talked to him,” Willow quietly protested.
“Bullshit,” Faith responded.
Spike made a talk-to-the-hand motion to Faith, but he addressed his next words to Willow. “Fact is, it mighta helped set Xander’s mind to rest if you spared a moment to come out yourself.”
“I told you—” Willow angrily began.
“That you didn’t know where we were. Fair ’nuff, I suppose,” Spike smoothly interrupted. “But if you talked to Clark, then you had to know what was in store for us. The Initiative gave me a better reception than that.”
“I talked to him,” Willow insisted again. “It’s just that…just that…well, I thought I convinced Martin to be civil.” She deflated. “I guess not.”
“Don’t give me that crap,” Faith sneered. “You’re so high up in the Council you need a frigging oxygen tank. You could’ve ordered his ass to let Xander in through the front door. If he gave you shit, you could’ve made one phone call and had G do it for you. Jesus. And one more thing: does no one around here know what an uninvite spell is? If I know what it is, then Martin sure as shit knows.”
Spike expectantly looked at Willow.
Willow sighed and her shoulders sagged even more. “Letting Xander into this house is never going to happen, uninvite spell or no.”
“Definitely won’t if you don’t step up,” Faith snapped.
Willow closed her eyes and shook her head in a defeated manner. “You’re going to find this out anyway. There’s someone here who…Xander repeatedly raped, brutally tortured, and then murdered her friend in the messiest way you can imagine.”
Faith sat upright. She was about to ask if the story was true or bullshit, but Spike got the words out first.
“Story I’ve heard before,” Spike said. “Might be true. Just as likely that it’s not.”
“Clara Newton. She was out of Chicago,” Willow admitted. “She was Slayer 28, the last one Xander killed before he turned—” Willow paused and swallowed. “Clara was one of Xander’s recruits, y’know, back before he, unh, y’know. Anyway the Slayer, Clara’s friend, she’s Marie Longfeather. They both went through training together in Cleveland. Clara was in Chicago for less than a week when…Marie was still in Cleveland when she died.”
There was a moment of stunned silence.
“Oh, bloody hell,” Spike whispered.
“And you brought Xander here!” Faith shouted as she hopped to her feet. “What are you? Retarded?”
“Faith, your voice,” Willow urgently said.
“Un-fucking-believable. Do you have any fucking clue what you just did? This Marie chick’s blaming Xander for shit his bod did while his soul was out for a pack of smokes. Xander’ll fucking go off the deep end if he finds out that someone like her is here for real,” Faith ranted.
“I know it’s not good, but Martin and I talked to Marie and explained—” Willow began.
“The same Martin that wants Xander dusted? You really are retarded,” Faith interrupted.
“Faith! That’s enough!” Spike shouted.
Faith pointed at Willow. “But she—”
“I know,” Spike interrupted.
“No you don’t,” Willow hotly protested.
Spike turned on her. “Explain this, then. You’ve handed us an anvil. Then you walked us off the cliff.”
“Nothing’s going to happen,” Willow insisted. “I explained about the difference between vampires without souls and—”
“All that girl sees is a killer,” Spike interrupted. “Can explain it all you want, but there it is. What you’ve done is wave a red flag in front of a bull. Make no mistake.”
“I didn’t know about her connection to Xander until yesterday,” Willow hotly responded. “Believe me, I would’ve had her reassigned if I knew before.”
“Then send her away now,” Faith said.
Willow paced over the books, “I would if there was time, but there isn’t. Kennedy’s already here and we have to move tonight — my tonight not yours — if we’re going to get her.”
“You know this for sure?” Faith asked.
“Yes.” Willow emphatically nodded as she began shuffling papers.
Faith exchanged looks with Spike. She was ready to call bullshit on this, too, but Willow sounded too sure of herself.
“How’d you get ’round the trinket?” Spike asked.
Willow looked up and for the first time Faith noticed that there were dark circles under her eyes. “I didn’t,” she admitted. “We lured her here. We know she’s here because she was seen on the Strip yesterday before someone’s attention wandered just enough for her to disappear from sight again. Her usual post-Xandery pattern is that she stops for a few days when she lands in a city. The larger it is, the longer she’s likely going to stay and lose herself in the crowd for awhile.”
“Same as her pattern with Harris. Prob’ly picked the habit of it up from him,” Spike mildly interrupted. “Our boy knew what he was about. No doubt he trained her up right. She’d be a fool to forget it.” He punctuated this final judgment with a shake of his head, as if some part of him couldn’t help but admire the bloody swath Xander had cut through North America and Mexico both with and without Kennedy.
Faith noticed that Willow shot a glare at Spike. He acted like he didn’t notice, so Faith wasn’t sure if he had made the comment without thinking, as he was wont to do when trying to figure out any demon’s next move.
“Harris’ll track her even with that bloody amulet ’round her neck,” Spike continued his musing. “Our Xander’s got a gift. Takes my breath away some days. Intimate familiarity will give him even more of a leg up.”
Faith’s eyes narrowed. Spike may sound innocent, but the way he was using words told her that he was deliberately sticking it to Willow.
“Still needs a place to start, though,” Spike concluded. “To pick up the scent, understand? Fresher the better.”
“He won’t be tracking her,” Willow shortly said.
Faith and Spike exchanged puzzled glances.
“Then how’s he supposed to find her?” Spike asked.
“There’s this spell—” Willow began.
“No!” Spike and Faith shouted in unison.
“You even twitch that fucking nose in his direction I’ll cut it off,” Faith growled.
“Boy’s so hexed there are days he can’t see straight for it,” Spike’s angry protest overlapped Faith’s threat.
Willow’s voice rose over theirs, “It won’t hurt him!”
Faith took her shot. “Like all your other spells haven’t?”
“He’s alive, so I’m thinking they haven’t,” Willow hotly corrected her.
“It’s a matter of trust, innit?” Spike countered. “Harris is not likely to trust you.”
Willow’s jaw dropped. “Excuse me? How can you even say that?”
Spike strode over to Willow until he was practically standing on top of her toes. Faith had to give Willow credit. She didn’t back down in the face of Spike’s thunderous expression.
“You listen close. Only going to say this once,” Spike said in a low timbre. “You’ve bound him up so tight in spells some days he’s tripping over himself.”
“To prevent him from hurting himself,” Willow said with emotion. “He would’ve walked right into the sun or he would’ve staked himself if I didn’t stop him.”
“Which brings us back ’round to Longfeather,” Spike growled.
Willow stepped back. “What does she have to do with spells?”
“It’s more ’n just not hurting himself. Got to defend himself until the other side stays down, too.” Spike held up a hand to stop Willow from interrupting. “Already happened once. ’S how Robin got a nasty case of fried brain. Not to mention a broken body.”
Hell of an example there, Billy-boy, Faith thought as she fought the urge to cringe. Then again, Robin was the only example Spike had of someone attacking souled Xander simply because he was what he was.
“Caused a right scandal, that did.” Spike waved at Faith. “If she didn’t speak up for the defense, he’d be dust.”
Willow drew herself to her full height. “The Council can’t kill him. If they try, Xander can walk away with his soul intact and they know that.”
Spike narrowed his eyes. “Hold true if a lone wolf takes a shot?”
Willow sagged. “I know what you’re asking. Robin was acting alone, so no. If Xander quits Council service for selfish reasons and means it, he’ll lose his soul. Any attempt on his life has to have official sanction. You know that.”
“Wasn’t askin’ about Robin,” Spike said. “Was askin’ about what would happen if the locals decide to get their own back and Martin looks the other way. That official enough?”
Faith’s eyes snapped to Spike. Son of a bitch. What do you want to bet if Willow answers that the right way, Spike’ll be encouraging the Baby Slayers to break out the stakes?
“Still need someone in London agreeing to it, Spike,” Willow wearily replied.
The only sign of Spike’s disappointment was a slight tic in the corner of his mouth. What he said next, however, belied the idea that Spike had been thinking in that direction at all. “I know that. What d’you take me for? I’m just askin’ what would happen if Longfeather pulls a stake on him.”
“She won’t,” Willow said firmly. “She understands that we need Xander to get Kennedy. She also understands that killing Xander will have very bad consequences for her.”
Faith snorted. Right. Like that’s ever stopped anyone. Didn’t stop Robin from trying it against two vampires with souls.
Spike crossed his arms. “Fine. Say someone else pulls a stake on him. Could be anyone. Want to know what’ll happen? I’ll tell you. Your orders kick in. Harris defends himself. Bad for him if it’s a Slayer, ’cause he’ll have to near kill her to keep her down. That, or use that mind trick of his. Think all her little friends are gonna like that? The harder they go after him, the harder he’ll have to fight them. It’ll be a bloodbath. Probably mixed with dust.”
Willow paled, confirming Faith’s suspicions that Willow was so focused on getting the wife back that she wasn’t thinking about anything else.
“I’ll talk to them again,” she shakily promised. “I’ll explain that if they attack him, he’s under mystical orders to defend himself until they’re no longer a threat. He’ll stop short of killing them, but accidents can happen if things get too out of control.”
“You do that,” Spike said shortly. “Gettin’ away from the point, anyhow. Your fine mystical orders have already landed Harris in the soup. Your binding work means he can’t even explain why he can’t do X, but has to do Y. Everything he knows is locked up tight,” here Spike tapped his head, “and can’t reach his tongue.”
“It’s to prevent him from—”
“Askin’ someone to put him out of his misery,” Spike finished.
“From committing suicide by Slayer,” Willow corrected him. “I tried to refine it, but he kept fighting me. Then we had to get him out of London for his own protection, so I didn’t get the chance to fix it.”
Spike crossed his arms and glared.
Willow cringed. “Oh. The trusting me thing. As in he doesn’t.”
“Halleluiah,” Faith grumbled.
Willow turned, strode over to the table, and picked up an open book. “This is the spell. Here.” She defiantly thrust it toward Spike, as if to prove that the spell was as harmless as she claimed.
“You know I know nothing about magic, Red,” Spike stated as he moved forward until he stood next to the table and accepted Willow’s offer to review the pages.
Faith fought against the threatened smirk. Even though not one of the three of them would go near casting a spell with a 10-foot pole, their library in San Francisco had more than a few spell books for research. Hell, Faith couldn’t care less about the difference between an eye of newt and an eye of frog, but even she had learned how to read a spell in the past few months if only so she’d have a better handle on what she faced whenever they had to deal with magic users with a taste for blood.
Spike peered down at the book and asked, “So? What am I looking at?”
“Well, there’s always a draw between…between…” Willow seemed to be fumbling for the right words. “Well, between vampires who’ve been together a long time and—”
Spike looked up with a frown and interrupted her. “Spent more ’n a few decades in the comp’ny of Darla. Never felt the urge to go looking when she wasn’t about. Took it as a sign that things were goin’ my way, actually.”
Willow bowed her head so low that her hair curtained off her expression. “You know what I mean,” she said.
Spike looked back down at the book. “Just making sure you do.”
Billy-boy is having a wicked good time there, Faith thought with amusement as she flopped back down into her chair.
Willow took a deep breath and looked back up. Her expression was schooled to show an appearance of calm, but Faith figured that Spike’s subtle needling had gotten under her skin.
“It’s a kind of ‘Lassie come home’ spell,” Willow’s tone was similar to one that Watchers tended to go with when they were dumbing down something they thought was too complicated for their audience to understand. “This spell was used when someone got lost or ran away. Normally, a witch would cast the spell on herself or on someone else. The bespelled person would then go to where the missing person was last seen, speak a final word of power to activate the mystical call, and then wait. The missing person was then compelled to answer. If they’re alive and within 3 hours’ traveling distance, they show up. If you wait more than 3 hours, that means they’re outside the reach of the spell.”
Faith shuddered. “Nasty.”
Willow turned to Faith. “How so? If someone’s lost or…or…what if they had amnesia or something? This spell would result in happy reunions. Or what if you were trying to catch a criminal? This spell allows someone to draw that criminal into a trap because they’d have to show up at wherever the spell caster is.”
Faith saw that Spike was taking advantage of Willow’s distraction to read through the spell. “What if someone’s walked for a reason? I can think of a million reasons why someone might want to do that. A crappy home life for a start,” Faith remarked.
“All spells are open to abuse, and this is no different,” Willow admitted. “But if you misuse magic for selfish reasons just to bend someone to your will, you pay. Believe me. I know. Anyone who knows anything about magic knows it. You’d have to be willing to suffer the consequences if you used this spell to drag someone back to you against their will and if the intent isn’t pure.”
Spike was still scanning the pages, which meant that she had to keep Willow talking for as long as possible.
“Ain’t that what you’re trying to do?” Faith asked. “Or maybe you dodge the bullet because it’s your bud who’s gonna be the honey to Kenny-girl’s fly.”
Willow’s eyes narrowed. “It’s different.”
“Pretty sure it’s not,” Faith said.
“One, we’re doing this to help Kennedy. We’re doing this so we can catch her, take the amulet away from her, and then give her back her soul,” Willow argued. “Once she gets her soul back, she won’t be hurting people any more. So there’s also a greater good element right there.”
Normally Faith would let it drop right there because she could see what Willow was saying. However, Spike was still reading which meant she had to keep talking. “Still is against her will no matter how you slice it. Xander’s got enough on his plate without blowback from this spell of yours.”
Willow relaxed and actually smiled. “Oh. Okay. I see what you’re worried about. There’s no danger to him at all. I’m the one casting the spell, so if there’s a backlash — and there won’t be because it’s being done for a darn good reason — it comes back on me. For purposes of the spell, Xander’s totally innocent.”
Spike snapped the book shut. “Can’t make heads nor tails of this,” he announced. “Still, something you said has caused a bit of brain tickle. You mentioned somethin’ about the target being alive? Hate to say it, but—”
“It’ll work,” Willow interrupted.
“Don’t know ’bout that,” Spike said as he hefted the book. “In my experience, magic can be a mite picky about the difference between undead and alive.”
Willow snatched the book out of his hand. “We tested it.”
Spike raised an eyebrow. “On two vampires?”
Willow responded with a curt nod. “There were two vampires in Moscow who were trying to take over a crime syndicate. The Slayers there caught one of them, but didn’t kill the captive right away because they needed information. I heard about it and I thought it was a perfect test case. So, I went to Moscow and performed the spell.”
“His partner strolled right into a trap, eh? Just like that?” Spike asked as he thoughtfully rubbed his chin.
Willow grinned. “Her partner, actually. And yes he did.”
Spike’s mouth ticked. “She’s still got the trinket. This powerful enough to overwhelm it?”
Willow sagged. “Unknown. That’s why I had to call in Xander.” She looked down once more so that her hair hid her face. “The amulet is passive protection against being seen. This is an active call to draw someone to you. In theory the amulet shouldn’t matter, but we can’t afford to test it using someone else as the bait. If it fails or only partially works, it might tip Kennedy off about what we’re planning. Because she’s got the amulet, Kennedy’s hard enough to track as it is, so if she goes into hiding we could lose her for years. Xander already has an existing mystical draw for her because of, unh, you know. I’m hoping that natural connection will boost the spell over any shielding the amulet might provide.”
Spike caught Faith’s eye, a sure sign that he wanted her to pay close attention. “Powerful little bugger, innit? Wonder that the Council hasn’t sent this spell out to everyone in the empire. Would make it easier for those of us toilin’ to keep the world safe for puppies.”
“Well, first off, the spellcaster needs to have a clear picture in his or her head of an individual. So using it to attract random demons and vampires won’t work. Also, the spell can be a little tricky,” Willow admitted. “It requires a high level of skill to get it just right.”
Faith sat up. “And if you cast it wrong?”
Willow shrugged. “Then nothing. It just doesn’t work at all.”
“You sure?” Faith asked.
“Yes,” Willow said with certainty as Spike gave Faith a slight nod to show that Willow was telling the truth about that much.
“So there’s nothin’ in the spell that’s gonna hurt Xander when you put it on him and when you take it off,” Faith pushed.
“Nothing at all,” Willow reassured her. “And I only have to cast it. I don’t have to rescind it. After 3 hours it just goes ‘poof’ since no one is usually a mystical people magnet. Well, most people aren’t. Xander’s draw for Kennedy will just revert back to its natural state.”
Spike gave Faith another slight nod to show that he saw the same thing while he scanned the book.
Faith felt relief as she leaned back. From the look of things, Willow wasn’t deliberately trying to sacrifice Xander to get her wife back. Just the same, she planned to keep both eyes on Willow the entire time they were in Vegas. Hell, if she could find a way to grow two eyes in back of her head, she’d keep them trained on the redhead, too.
“Well, if that’s all, I guess you better get your gear in order so we can hustle over to where we’ve stashed Xander,” Faith said. “We’ll leave about an hour before sunset and meet Xander at the—”
“He has to come here,” Willow interrupted.
“Well, that’s stupid,” Faith said.
“It’ll be faster if you go to him ’stead of the other way ’round,” Spike agreed. “Harris can’t leave where he is until the sun’s down. And I suspect bringing him here isn’t the smartest thing we can do.”
“He has to,” Willow said apologetically. “Like I said, the spell’s tricky and it requires prep work. Besides, it has to be performed outside anyway. I can’t do this kind of magic on a street corner right off the Strip. There’ll be too many distractions.”
“Are you kidding me?” Faith was back on her feet. “By the time Xander gets here, you cast the spell, and we go to wherever you’ve laid your trap to catch the wife, that’ll be, what? Three? Four hours? There’ll be at least one body with Kenny-girl’s name on it by then.”
“We don’t know that,” Willow protested. “She’ll probably still be stalking and—”
“If you’ve made such a bloody great study of her pattern, you know Lehane’s right,” Spike quietly interrupted. “Her and Harris always did a quick kill to whet the appetite first thing. It was the people they got their fangs on closer to sunrise that had the bad luck to linger so’s they’d have someone to play with during the day. You know that. If she’s sticking to the same pattern, there’ll be one body before Harris is bait. Hell, she got here before us. Prob’ly has already put a few gravediggers to work.”
“Holy fuck,” Faith swore as she began to pace. “What the fuck where you thinkin’? Vegas? It’s like dumpin’ her in the middle of a million all-you-can-eat buffets. I was wonderin’ that even before we left San Fran, but I figured you had it covered.”
“We didn’t expect her to get here so soon,” Willow said. “We thought we’d have to dangle the lure a little bit more before she’d go along. Everyone was surprised when we found out that she was already here. I thought you guys would be here almost a week before we could do this.”
“Still don’t change the fact that even after she showed, you’d still have at least a few hours overlap and you’d still have at least one dead body on your hands,” Faith ranted. “Now I don’t know about you, but that shit’s just wrong. People with heartbeats? Come first. I don’t fucking care who the goddamn vampire is.”
“And if Xander lost his soul?” Wilow asked quietly.
Faith froze. “You threatening somethin’?” she asked in an even voice.
Willow shook her head and almost laughed. “No. I’m not. Removing a soul from a vampire if they comply with the conditions of keeping it is almost impossible. You’d have to turn to some pretty powerful dark magics. Anyone who did it against the vampire’s wishes would be putting their own soul at risk, that’s if it didn’t kill them dead in a not-walking-around kind of way. And the chances of them dying are pretty high, especially since they have to be in line of sight of the vampire they’re targeting to do it.”
“Happened to Angel,” Spike said in an even voice of his own.
Faith frowned. “Yes and no. When I went walkies in Angel’s head, I saw what happened. They had to crowbar Angel’s soul out with one powerful-ass spell that faked Angel’s idea of perfect happiness. He was lookin’ to lose it, so he was a willin’ participant and behind bars so he wouldn’t kill everyone in the room when the soul went bye-bye. Where they fucked up was when they lost the container that held his soul. That’s why they had to call in her.” Faith jerked her chin at Willow. “The soul was trapped, so a straight-up resouling spell wasn’t going to cut it. She was the only one powerful enough to destroy the container without needin’ to know where it was. They had to wait until it was free and clear before shoving it back into him.”
Willow seemed unnerved that Faith spit out the detailed explanation before she had a chance. “That’s exactly right.”
Faith uncomfortably shrugged. “Easy to understand, seein’ as I saw the whole thing from Angel’s perspective and had Wes explaining it to me after.”
The moment passed and Willow was back on the attack. “All I was asking is what you’d do if Xander lost his soul tomorrow. Would you stake him or would you try to get him back first? Don’t tell me that you’d stake him first, because you wouldn’t. I know it and you know it.”
“This is bullshit. It’s not ever gonna happen,” Faith said with certainty.
Willow opened her mouth, but Spike intervened with a snort.
“Question’s nonsense and you know it,” he said. “Harris has got to put his all into it. On account of your self-preservation orders, he’s got to first travel out of physical reach of the Council. Possible, but we’re in Frisco. Takes a bit of driving in this neck of the woods. Once he’s safe from Council stakes, then and only then can he quit. He’s got to tender his resignation by either callin’ into London or sending something written through the mail, again on account of your self-preservation orders. Guarantees more that a few people’ll die. Better ’n chains for the likes of him. He’ll take whatever the Council shovels out until the sun goes cold ’cause of it. Only way he gets to walk and keep the soul is if the Council officially tries to dust him. Short of that,” Spike shrugged, “Council can do what it wants and he’ll bend over and ask for more.”
Willow rubbed her forehead. “You make it sound like he’s a slave.”
“Maybe ’cause he is,” Faith snapped.
Willow spread her hands. “If I could’ve just given him his soul, I would have. You know that. The spell…it won’t let you. Believe me. I looked. I looked really, really hard to find a way around it. There has to be a way for Xander to lose his soul and the conditions under which he could lose it had to match his crimes. It’s designed that way. I don’t know why, but it is. I had to find something where it would be close to impossible for him to lose by accident, like what happened with Angel in Sunnydale, but still meet the spell’s conditions. Since he seemed to be obsessed with killing Slayers and Watchers, having him work for the Council was the best solution I could think of, and believe me, I spent a lot of time thinking.”
“It’s still—” Faith began.
“Leave it,” Spike quietly interrupted. He studied Willow through half-closed eyes. “She did her best. ’S all we can ask.”
“Over and above, if you ask me,” Faith sarcastically said.
Willow drew herself up to her full height. “Think it’s going to be any different for Kennedy?”
“There is that,” Spike mildly said.
He’s backing off awfully fast. Don’t sound like the pissed off Billy-boy I know. He was the first one to say the slave thing back in San Fran, Faith angrily thought as she shot Spike a glare.
“Still, getting back to Faith’s point. Why Vegas? Could set this up in a more remote location. Less chance of bodies stackin’ up like cordwood,” Spike said.
“I’m not happy about it either,” Willow admitted.
“Seems there’s a lot about Vegas that makes you unhappy,” Spike remarked.
Willow dispiritedly shook her head. “We found out Kennedy was in the area. Long story how, but we had evidence. Even then we weren’t sure because of the amulet, so we were taking a chance in sending out the lure as it was. This was the closest Council house, so that’s why here. The other option was to lure her to a house that was further way, but—”
“Could still lose her,” Faith grunted as she crossed her arms. “You could lose her on the Strip far easier than on Main Street in East Bumfuck.”
“Is it close? And is there a Council house there if it is?” Willow wearily asked. “Because I’ll totally I’ll take it if the answer to both those questions is yes.”
Faith shook her head and looked away. Willow had an answer for everything. She’d feel better about it if the witch got the fact that she was paying for the wife by sacrificing a few human lives. Hell, maybe she’d even accept the plan as the only way if Willow at least acknowledged it. If anything, it seemed to her that Willow was hell bent on not seeing it.
“Much fun as this is,” Spike cast a speculative glance at the books piled up on the library’s research table, “what else do we need to know?”
Willow drifted back to the table and began shuffling the papers. “I’ll tell everyone later. Xander’ll have to conference in for the meeting at 4 where I explain what we need to do. It’s…it’s…hard. I don’t want to go through the plan twice and I want to be sure that everyone hears the same information.”
“Fair ’nuff,” Spike said. “The research, though. Makes me think there’s something you’re not tellin’.”
Willow looked up with a tired smile. “Kennedy’s fast arrival threw off my timetable a little bit. Nothing big, but enough that I’m a little nervous about making sure everything’s just right. That’s why I’ve been trapped in the library and drinking coffee straight out of the pot. I want to be prepared for anything and everything. I’m nervous. If we lose Kennedy after this attempt—”
“Understood,” Spike acknowledged with a nod. When Faith opened her mouth to protest, Spike once more caught her eye and shook his head before adding, “Two of us need a bit of shuteye. If you need anything…”
“I’ll holler like you’ve never heard me holler,” Willow agreed. “Shoo. Get some sleep.”
Spike picked up his duffle. “Plan to. Would feel better if you do the same.”
Willow merely grunted an acknowledgement. She was already back deep into whatever research that had locked her away from the world before their arrival.