Unciatim…

By Maquis Leader

 

Rated R

Author’s note: Post Not Fade Away. This is the fifth story written using the prompts from 600 Seconds.  It follows Skeleton Dance. The prompts will be in bold. Some of the prompts are pictures and those will be described.

 

 

 

 

“Do you remember the old woman?”

 

“What old woman, luv?” Spike didn’t look up from the newspaper he was reading.

 

The old woman with the spinning wheel.” Dru arched her back as Spike ran a hand down her spine. “Do you think she knew Sleeping Beauty?”

 

“Perhaps.”

 

“Naughty prince.” She giggled. “What a naughty boy.”

 

“But that’s how you girls like us.” He leered at her over the top of the paper.

 

“Think of all the naughty things he must’ve done. Mm…” Closing her eyes, Dru licked her lips lasciviously.

 

“I don’t get it.” Buffy nudged Angel. The three of them knew things that she’d never heard of, and she’d learned to speak up or get left out on the joke.

 

“In some versions of Sleeping Beauty, the prince doesn’t wake her up with a kiss.” He paused a moment, letting her think about it.

 

“So… he wakes her up by…” There weren’t a lot of alternatives. “By having sex with her?”

 

“Oh, no, she sleeps through that.” Spike snickered.

 

“He must not have been like you.” Dru giggled again and nipped at the underside of his jaw.

 

“She wakes up when she gives birth.” Angel watched Buffy’s nose crinkle up in that funny way he loved as the pieces came together in her mind.

 

“You mean he – eww!” A disgusted frown covered Buffy’s face. “That’s just like a man – take advantage of some poor unconscious girl.”

 

“Depends on the girl.”

 

The chocolate eyes held hers for a long moment and Buffy felt heat spread through her. She flushed as Dru giggled once again. It was bad enough that one vampire could tell when she got excited, but three? Cool fingers brushed her cheek and Buffy leaned into Angel’s touch for a moment, her embarrassment passing, before going back to her magazine.

 

Once she’d become accustomed to the quirks of everyday vamp family life, Buffy found herself spending more and more of her time in Dru’s new “flat”. In a weird way, Buffy was more comfortable spending time down here with the three of them than she was upstairs. All those eager young Slayers got on her nerves as well.

 

Looking up from her magazine again, Buffy decided that Xander had done a great job on the place. After he’d inspected the old speakeasy hiding under the hotel, he’d drawn up plans for a Regency look with modern conveniences. Riley had delivered the things from Drusilla’s rooms at the lighthouse, and Angel had purchased the other items needed to furnish the rest of the place.

 

Buffy grinned. Angel had done the paying, but she’d done the shopping. To her surprise, she’d enjoyed shopping for vintage items that would fit in with the décor. It seemed shopping was shopping, no matter the time period. She let her gaze drift over Dru on the way back to her magazine. Dru seemed genuinely happy to live in her “flat” and didn't want to leave. Not that she could, but she had yet to try.

 

With the no-demon-violence spell having been considered and discarded because it would leave both Spike and Angel unable to protect Drusilla – or themselves – Willow had decided instead to put wards into place during the renovations, guaranteeing that Drusilla couldn’t get out and that only certain people could get in. It also ensured that the wards couldn’t be tampered with as they were, in effect, hardwired into the building.

 

Research into Mallory’s files by Giles and Murdoch revealed the drug he had been using to keep Drusilla under control. Angel’s objections were overruled and it was decided to keep her on the drug as a safeguard. While Murdoch agreed that she did seem to want to stay with them of her own free will, he reminded Angel that the average vampire was capricious and unpredictable at best and coupled with Drusilla’s mental condition, it was best to stack the deck in their favor.

 

There was no need to remind Angel about the average vampire. He knew the nature of the average – and the not so average – vampire only too well. Despite his own guilty feelings at drugging Drusilla to keep her docile, he did understand the need to ensure the safety of the others living in the hotel.

 

In the end, Drusilla had settled into her “guest rooms” with very little fuss. She was delighted with the daily delivery of neat disposable bodies and the microwave that heated the blood to just the right temperature. Angel and Spike were careful to not drink any of the blood that was supplied for her. Spike because he wanted to keep his edge, and Angel, of course, couldn’t allow himself to be tranquil and happy. Angelus’ vote wasn’t counted.

 

 “Angel, do you remember the old woman with the spinning wheel?” Dru asked again.

 

“No.” Used to Dru’s ramblings and odd questions, Angel didn’t look up from the notes he was making for his art class. Monet was one of his favorites, and he had decided to tie into Spike’s lessons on Baudelaire. He really didn’t need notes, but it made him feel more like a real instructor. “Sorry, Dru, I don’t remember the old woman.”

 

“Of course you do.” She propped herself up on one elbow to look at him, her dark eyes glittering in the faux gaslight. “You remember everything.”

 

“I don’t remember the old woman.” Angel said firmly.

 

“She was all wrinkly and she had no teeth.” Sucking her lips in, Dru mimicked the sunken look of someone without teeth. “Her skin was gray, the thread was all gray, everything was gray except for her shawl. You remember her.”

 

“Drusilla…” Spike warned softly. “Angel said he doesn’t remember.”

 

“He remembers. Angel remembers everything.”

 

Angel sighed. Dru was like a terrier. Once she got her teeth into something, she shook it until it bled. Of course he remembered the old woman, or he could if he took the time to look through his memories for her. Angelus was already happily sorting through the category “Women, old” and looking for any who had had a spinning wheel. He tried sidetracking his demon with “Buffy, naked”.

 

“It was a lovely tartan, red and green.” The black eyes bored into his. “We ate Scottish for a week, remember?”

 

Buffy felt Angel tense beside her and tore her attention from the article on the hunky TV FBI agent to focus on what was going on around her. Angel and Dru were staring at each other, and Spike was watching the two of them like a referee at a fight.

 

“She said ‘With my last breath – ‘ What do you think she would have said?” Dru stroked her long fingernails up and down the length of her throat. “If Grandmama hadn’t ripped her throat out – “

 

“It doesn’t matter.” Angel spat out. Angelus had paused at the images of Buffy before  continuing relentlessly until he found the old woman. Chuckles echoed through Angel’s mind as the scene was played and replayed.

 

“Would she have cursed us?” Dru watched her sire’s face, reading the guilt and reveling in it. “When people say ‘with my last breath’ – they’re going to cast a curse. My father did – do you remember?”

 

“Drusilla.” Spike warned again.

 

“He remembers.”

 

This was something Buffy had seen before, and she didn’t like it. From time to time, Dru would bring up painful memories and torment Angel with them. It might be payback for Angelus’ treatment or simply because Dru knew Angel wouldn’t strike back.

 

She didn’t know or care which; either way, with her around, Angel didn’t need to defend himself. “Dru – knock it off!”

 

Dru’s gaze snapped to her and for a long moment they engaged in a stare down. This wasn’t the first time the two of them had had a battle of wills, and it probably wouldn’t be the last.

 

After their first few clashes, Buffy had asked an expert for some pointers on dealing with Dru. According to Murdoch, Dru would bow to her will if she exercised her authority as Angel’s mate and displayed properly dominant behavior. Once Willow translated for her, Buffy got the picture. It was like she was the head cheerleader dating the quarterback and had to keep the wide receiver’s girlfriend in her place. She’d been there, done that, and would’ve made Cordy green with jealousy at how she handled her power.

 

Spike and Angel knew to keep out of it, instead busying themselves with their reading. The one time Spike had interfered, both women had turned on him and from past experience, Angel knew to stay out of the way of a catfight and wait for the women to sort out who was in charge.

 

After several tense moments, Dru conceded and lowered her eyes. There would be no apology and Buffy she didn’t press for one. In a way, she felt sorry for Dru, but Buffy wasn’t going to let her dig her claws into the wounds that Angel carried on his soul.

 

“It’s so quiet today.” Dru rubbed her temples. “I can hear the little mousies eating the cheese.”

 

“Why don’t you read a book?” Buffy suggested.

 

“Ladies don’t read novels.” She replied haughtily. “My mother says they’re too risqué and lead to improper thoughts.”

 

Gimme a break. “Yeah, well my mom told me I didn’t have to be the Slayer. She said I could choose to be just a regular girl with a normal life.” When Dru tilted her head to one side, clearly considering what she’d said, Buffy shrugged. “Maybe moms don’t always know everything.”

 

“Ladies do read poetry.” Dru conceded.

 

“I’ll get you something, pet.” Spike laid his papers on the end table and got up to look at the nearby bookshelf. “Here’s a nice volume you’ll like. Emily Dickinson. One of America’s most romantic poets.”

 

“I love romance.” She smiled adoringly up at him as she took the book.

 

Spike caught Angel’s eye and smirked. He knew Angel thought Dickinson was beneath him, preferring Shelley and Byron and other Romantic era poets.

 

Insolent get. Buffy settled back against his side and Angel let himself be soothed by her touch. Angelus had finally given up replaying the old woman’s murder and gone back to browsing through old fantasies of Buffy, embellishing and tweaking some of the finer points.

 

My life just keeps getting weirder and weirder. Buffy watched Dru for a few moments before going back to her magazine.

 

“No sun tanning today?” Angel asked after Angelus fine tuned a particularly favorite fantasy.

 

“Nope, it’s all cloudy and rainy.” Nearly every day, Buffy would go up to the roof and lay in the sun for a few hours. Despite Giles’ concerns, she didn’t figure she’d live long enough for skin cancer to be an issue. Besides, she liked bringing the sunshine back to Angel. “I like being here with you and reading anyway.”

 

“Me, too.” They were both lying. He was just as disappointed as she was. Maybe more so, since soaking in the warmth of the sun from Buffy’s body was as close as he would get to being in the sunshine with her. Ever again.

 

Rain is good for the flowers.” Dru said dreamily. “They suckle it like mother’s blood.”

 

“Vivid and poetic, pet.” Spike patted her hip absently.

 

“I’ve seen the Knave and the rain in the Slayer’s kingdom.”

 

Angel looked up quickly from his notes. Since moving into the Hyperion, clues about the Slayer’s kingdom had been coming to Dru in irritatingly small bits and pieces. Other visions had come to her, but after a series of minor sorties, nothing more about what he feared was a major event.

 

The last few weeks had been relatively quiet. Dru had only had one vision – of a rather large Schilopodean demon who’d decided to build a new den inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. The warm, wet conditions were perfect for the incubation of eggs. He and Buffy had taken a group of Slayers and killed it and its new hatchlings, damaging a large portion of the ride in the process. Disney’s official story was that the ride was closed for renovations. Since that time, there’d been no new visions of any kind.

 

“The Knave?” Spike asked softly.

 

“The Knave of Hearts, he stole the tarts.” There was a dreamy look on Dru’s face and her eyes were focused on another reality. “He took them clean away.”

 

“Tarts? Tarts are the cake?” From time to time Dru would give them tantalizing clues and then stop, telling them it was too soon and the cake might fall. Angel had yet to figure out what that meant.

 

“No… the cake is from the Slayer.”

 

“I thought I was cookies.” Buffy muttered.

 

“Tell me about the Knave, Dru.” Angel flipped to a clean sheet in his notepad. “What does he look like?”

 

“Oh, he’s a rogue, he is.” A sensual smile curved Dru’s lips. “Dark of eye and heart. He likes the pretty maids all in a row. Likes the tender flesh and bright red blood.”

 

“What about his face?” Angel prompted. Dark eyes weren’t enough to build a sketch with. “What does his face look like?”

 

“Wicked.” A low and husky laugh came from her. “He’s stolen the tarts to raise the castle.”

 

“The castle?” Before Angel could question her further, Dru blinked and shook her head. Whatever force was channeling visions to her had stopped. “Great. Castle, cake, knave. Why do I feel like we’re getting pieces to a jigsaw puzzle?”

 

“Better question – for how many puzzles?” Buffy asked. Working with seers was frustrating. No wonder Giles had never had one around. “Am I cookies or cake?”

 

“A cake is like a big cookie.” Spike rubbed Dru’s shoulders; the visions gave his precious poodle vicious headaches. “Split the difference and call yourself a cupcake.”

 

“Very funny.” She stuck her tongue out at him.

 

Irritated, Angel snapped his fingers at them. “So far we’ve got the Slayer’s kingdom, the queen, cake, tarts, the Knave of Hearts, and now a castle. Did I miss anything?”

 

Buffy’s head whipped around. “Did you just snap your fingers at me?” Cranky or not, he wasn’t going to act like she was at his beck and call.

 

“The maids in waiting.” Spike watched Angel add that to the list, his movements jerky and angry.

 

“I’m sorry!” Watching Angel, catching the anger in his scent, Dru shrank back against Spike. “The dream is inside a dream inside a dream and I get lost!”

 

Guilt crushed his irritation and Angel put the pad down and gave her his best smile. “I know, lass. I’m not angry with you, I’m angry with myself for not figuring this out.”

 

“You’ll solve the puzzle, Daddy. You always get what you want.” Dru relaxed and picked up her volume of poetry once again. “No matter how thick the walls.”

 

It was an offhand remark, one Angel wasn’t sure she’d meant to hurt him with. Dru could be malicious – God knew she’d had a good teacher – but she was intent on the poetry and probably hadn’t realized how the remark would hurt.

 

Unlike Angelus, who’d gleefully trotted out several gruesome examples. If Angel had to choose, he’d pick Dru as the lesser of two evils to deal with.

 

Miffed, Angelus pulled out one of the big guns in his arsenal, and Angel found himself reliving the moments before he’d turned Dru. Following her down the long stone corridor, and making a game out of leaping across the slashes of sunlight that fell between the stone pillars. Up ahead, she stood in a doorway, fear pouring off her body. Absolute terror in her eyes as she realized he’d circled around behind her.

 

“Angel.” Buffy said again.

 

The memory broke. “What?”

 

“Are you okay?” She ran a hand over his shoulder, feeling him tremble under her fingers.

 

“I’m fine.” Countering with fluffy memories would only lead to a battle he couldn’t possibly win. Angel gave her a fake smile. “Just thinking.”

 

“Tell Angelus I said shut up.” Hopefully her dominant cheerleader thing extended that far. “I sort of have an idea what all this means. You’ve got the Knave of Hearts and stolen tarts, pair that with maids in waiting and I’d be a queen – ‘cos queens had those, right?”

 

“Some queens had dozens of maids in waiting.” Dru nodded. “They took care of her and she made good marriages for them.”

 

The idea of girls cleaning and cooking for a fat old lady and then being handed over to some rich old guy pissed her off. Probably where that tacky little maid uniform came from. “Yeah well, Queen, maids in waiting – whatever. Anyway, it’s like the old rhyme, remember?” When they didn’t answer, Buffy grinned. Finally she was one up on them in the info department.

 

“I don’t think it connects, Buffy.” There was that impish grin he loved, and Angel hated to see it go. “The rhyme is ‘pretty maids all in a row’ not maids in waiting.”

 

“There is that maids a milking thing.” Spike offered.

 

“You mean I finally know something you guys don’t?” Her grin widened. “The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts, all on a summer’s day. The Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts, and took them clean away.”

 

“Brava!” Dru clapped her hands. “That will put the men in their place! Girl Power!”

 

“Oh my God.” Buffy winced. Of all the things for Dru to pick up.

 

“I rather liked those girls.” Spike waggled his eyebrows suggestively. “Slutty Spice, Easy Spice, Leather Spice – “

 

“You’re such a bad boy.” Giggling, Dru leaned over to kiss him. He returned the kiss wholeheartedly.

 

One of the things Buffy had discovered about vampires was they were easily aroused and constantly horny. She gave them a few moments to play tonsil hockey. Beside her, she could feel Angel’s body grow taut. Angel was no exception, obviously.

 

“Enough! Get a room!” Personally, she was grossed out. “So now you guys remember the rhyme? Add in the cake and it sounds like Alice in Wonderland.”

 

“How do you connect the nursery rhyme with Alice in Wonderland?”

 

“The rhyme is in the book.” Buffy glared at Angel when he looked surprised. “You know, I do read.”

 

“I’m sorry.” He leaned down and kissed the pouting lips. More than likely she’d remembered one of the made for TV versions, but Angel kept that to himself. Himself and Angelus.

 

“It does make sense.” The book had been one of Spike’s childhood favorites, first published when he’d been a boy of five or six years old. Carroll’s great imagery had intrigued him. Later, when controversy began to swirl around Carroll and his lifestyle and motivation for writing the book, Spike had read it again and had delighted in the double entendres and innuendos he’d missed as a child. “If Buffy is the Queen, she’s going to make something this Knave is going to steal.”

 

“Nobody will steal anything I bake.” Buffy snorted. Slayer she was, Top Chef she wasn’t.

 

“The tarts could be a symbolic reference.” Angel had never read Alice but it was embedded in the culture to the point that he was at least familiar with the basic story. “It’s something you’re going to make, or create in some way.”

 

“The only thing I can make is bills – those they can have.” Money wasn’t an issue any longer, but she was still bitter.  Just like Scarlett, she was never going to be hungry again. Or wearing last year’s fashions.

 

“The Slayer’s kingdom was Sunnydale, but it’s gone. Hmm… it could be the hotel – or LA.” The Los Angeles area was a lot of territory, and Spike discarded the idea. “No, the kingdom’s got to be just the hotel and the school.”

 

“Makes sense. Buffy controlled Sunnydale pretty tightly, but even with all the new girls – there’s no way she’s holding down all of LA.” Angel agreed. Seeing the look on Buffy’s face, he pulled her tighter against his side. “Don’t pout. Sunnydale could fit in one corner of Hollywood with plenty of room left over.”

 

“Where does the damn cake fit in?” It had been years since he’d read the book and Spike wasn’t blessed with a photographic memory. “It made Alice grow – or did it make her shrink? It may have been both.”

 

“Great.” Snuggling up under Angel’s chin, Buffy rubbed her cheek against the cool skin. “I’ll either have stretch marks or get eaten by a bug.”

 

“What does all of this mean?” Angel tried to see the pattern. Figuring out the clues was only one part of solving the puzzle. There was no guarantee that once they knew what the clues meant that they’d be able to figure out what Dru was trying to warn them about.

 

“No blooming clue.” Spike said cheerily. “But I think I’ll reread the book, it’s been a while.” He nudged Dru. “Let’s have us a romp before I start, what do you say?”

 

“Mm…” Dru purred. “Will you play my maid in waiting and undress me?”

 

“I’ll be the best maid you’ve ever had.” Sweeping her up into his arms, Spike carried her into their bedroom.

 

Watching them, Buffy sighed. “Great, what do we get to do?”

 

“Well…” Angel nuzzled her ear. “We could go back to your room… I could play your maid…” He purred along the back of her neck. “Help you out of your clothes…”

 

“Oh…It’s good to be the Queen…”

 

 

 

 

Alice in Wonderland?”

 

“Actually, it’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” Buffy found it hard to believe that Giles would get a book title wrong.

 

“Are you certain this aren’t just some inane, or perhaps I should say insane, ramblings?” Giles was skeptical.

 

“She was right about the fuzzy-wuzzy worm, wasn’t she?” Granted the fuzzy-wuzzy worm had been a hundred feet long and had had claws on each of its uncounted feet, plus fangs that would make a vamp jealous – it had also been exactly where Dru had said it would be.

 

“I don’t suppose we could chalk it up to beginner’s luck?”

 

“Giles, neither of us is fond of seers, but Drusilla is frighteningly accurate.” Murdoch had spent weeks reading Dru’s diaries and comparing her fairy tale dreams to real events. “She was spot on with the First, Sunnydale’s destruction, and the battle here in Los Angeles and our part in it.”

 

“Yes, but those, ah… dreams if you will, came whole where this one is piecemeal. How do we know it’s not just a part of her fantasy world like her dolls and her tea parties?”

 

“You haven’t seen her when it hits her, Giles.” Buffy shivered. “She looks through you – through the real world – and sees somewhere else. It’s freaky.”

 

“She keeps saying it’s “too soon” or something to that effect.” Murdoch consulted his notes. “’Too soon and the cake will fall.’”

 

“Which means what, exactly?” Clearly frustrated, Giles went back to cataloguing Mallory’s journals.

 

After working with seers and agents for the PTB for the last several years, Angel was more accustomed to their methods. “Sometimes this is the way they do things. We’re supposed to figure it out on our own, otherwise we’d be completely dependent on them.”

 

“They’d become a crutch. We’d be bugging them over every little thing.” Secretly, Buffy would like to be able to just drop by and have a little chat with the PTB when she needed to. Bad guy at this place with this magical doodad and this evil plan? Got it! It wasn’t like she still wouldn’t have to go kick some bad guy’s butt like she usually did, it’d just make it easier to find them.

 

Coming out of her musings, she noticed the odd look on Angel’s face. “Angel?”

 

“Oh, uh, nothing.” It spooked him that Buffy had unknowingly echoed what the Oracles had said to him. “You’re right – we’d be too dependent on them.”

 

“Still, I agree with Giles, it would be nice to know more about these things in advance.” Murdoch said. “I’d be happy to buy one of those planner notebooks everyone in this city seems to carry around.”

 

Buffy nodded in agreement. “I’d spring for a Prada cover.” And matching shoes and…

 

“Are we certain Buffy is the Queen?” Going over the bits and pieces that Dru had given them in the past weeks, Murdoch chewed his pen thoughtfully. “Drusilla refers to ‘the Slayer’ and ‘the Queen’ as if they’re separate people.”

 

“But the ‘Slayer’s kingdom’ would make the Slayer the Queen – that’s me.” Buffy liked the idea of being a Queen. Then Angel could be her king. He shifted his body closer to her, as if reading her mind, and she dropped her hand to his thigh, squeezing gently.

 

“That’s a logical conclusion. If we were dealing with logic.” Reluctantly, Giles put the journal away and picked up one of the copies of Alice that Willow had printed out. She’d found the original, unabridged text complete with the original Tenniel illustrations. Carroll had overseen even the illustrations, insisting on certain details. “I suppose I must read this lunatic’s work.”

 

“Giles – not interested in reading a book?” Buffy dropped her jaw and widened her eyes in mock horror. “My world is askew.”

 

“Yes, well – “ He looked over the top of his glasses at her. “I’d think you’d be used to it by now. Our world is seldom not askew.”

 

“Speaking of, where’s Will?” It was unusual for Willow not to be at one of these meetings. Buffy hadn’t realized until now that Willow hadn’t come back after bringing the printouts in.

 

Willow is focusing on another task.” Giles told her.

 

“There’s something more important than this?” Considering the accuracy of Dru’s visions and the possible threat against the school, Angel couldn’t imagine anything more important right now.

 

“Apparently so.” Willow had changed since their departure from Sunnydale. She was in touch with a deeper power than before and at times, Giles wondered if the PTB – as the others called them – worked directly through her.

 

“It’s not as if everyone else isn’t beating their head against this particular wall.” Murdoch jotted notes in the margin as he read. “Although I’m not certain Xander’s method will prove to be of help.”

 

Knowing Xander, he was probably reading a comic book version. “Some of those comics are pretty good.” Research wasn’t Xander’s strong point any more than it was hers, and Buffy felt the need to defend her fellow research handicapped friend. “And who knows – the artistic interpretation could be helpful.”

 

“He’s watching a video.” A smile lurked at the corner of Angel’s mouth.

 

“Oh, the one with Ann Jillian? I really liked that one.” Maybe she’d go watch with him.

 

“I don’t think so. This one is called Alice’s Adventures in Wonderdickland.”

 

“In what? Oh…“ Her face flushed as Murdoch and Angel shared a knowing, male laugh. “I… don’t… think… I’ve seen that one.”

 

“I’d hope not.” Looking up, Giles gave Angel and Murdoch a disgusted look. “Your mother raised you with the proper values.”

 

She nodded, squashing the little inner voice that wanted to remind him that she’d lost her virginity at seventeen to a vampire, burned down the gym of one high school and blown up another, run away, and had an abusive nothing-but-dirty-sex relationship with Spike. Not to mention that under the influence of drugged candy, said mother had had sex on the hood of a police car with Giles. Twice.

 

Angel’s hand covered hers and he squeezed lovingly. A soft rumble in his chest told her he was still snickering, just on a level no one else could hear.

 

Sliding her hand down, Buffy pinched his inner thigh. He jumped, banging his knee on the underside of the table. She smiled sweetly up at him. Angel was laughing at the knowledge that they’d recently watched a video called Vampires’ Eternal Lust – and she’d been more than willing to try some of the things the eternally lusty vampires had demonstrated onscreen.

 

The chocolate eyes promised revenge, and Buffy decided to retreat. “I’m going to check on Willow.”

 

“Later.”

 

Buffy shivered. Angel’s soft tone was pitched low enough that Giles and Murdoch probably didn’t hear him. She did and her body tingled in anticipation. Revenge was sweet.

 

 

 

 

Buffy found Willow in the library, frowning at her computer screen. “Hey.”

 

“Buffy, hey.” Looking up, she smiled. “Tired of the party already?”

 

“It’s no fun without you and Xander.”

 

“We’re not going to figure it out just yet anyway.” She wasn’t sure how she knew, but Willow knew there were a few more pieces they needed before they figured out Dru’s fairy tale. “Soon, but not yet.”

 

“Are you sure you weren’t there? You mention cake and I may get violent.” As Buffy dropped into the chair next to Willow, she was startled to see a picture of Angel on Willow’s screen. “That’s Angel!”

 

“Sorta, it’s from 1873. Angelus, Darla, and Dru had their pictures taken for some reason.”

 

“Let me guess, then they ate the photographer?” Angelus, no wonder the clothes were beyond retro and there was a full smile lighting up his face. Beautiful, gorgeous, sexy – bad Buffy!

 

“Actually, no.” For whatever reason, the photographer had been spared. “Probably to develop the film, no one hour photos back then, you know.”

 

“Where did you find it?”

 

“There was a lot of stuff on Angelus – and Angel – in the Council files. More stuff than even Giles knew about.” Willow scrolled down the page to show some more photographs of Angelus. “They were some of the first things retrieved from what was left of the Council’s headquarters.”

 

“Should I be worried that you’re researching my boyfriend?”

 

“Well, I’ve been thinking of switching sides again.” She joked. Her relationship with Kennedy had broken up several months ago and so far she’d been flying solo. The two of them had been too different. She preferred curling up with a good book while Kennedy preferred clubbing all night.  “Just to try my luck.”

 

“You should.” Buffy still harbored old feelings of Willow and Xander getting together someday. “Not with Angel, though, I mean.”

 

“Yeah, Angel’s a little tall for me.”

 

“I dunno, there’s advantages to having a tall boyfriend." She grinned. "So… if you’re not after Angel’s body, why are you researching him?”

 

“The curse. I’m trying to find out as much about it as possible.”

 

“What have you found?” The idea that Willow could fix Angel’s curse made her heart race.

 

“Not much.” Seeing Buffy’s face fall, Willow reached out to her. “I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s okay, Will.” She squeezed her friend’s hand. “We’re used to it. We deal.”

 

“I got a hold of a copy of the Rituals of the Undead. Yet another goodie the Council was hiding.” Toggling the screen, Willow showed a page full of ancient text. “The problem is, there’s no translation.”

 

“Jenny translated the spell to put Angel’s soul back, so maybe – “

 

“Well, yeah.” She agreed. “I could probably put together a program to translate it, but I don’t really think it’ll do any good.” Highlighting a section of the text, Willow copied it into a document, just below another block of text. “This is the spell that I used to put Angel’s soul back. And that’s the translation.”

 

“You could use that to translate the rest of the book, though, right?” Buffy had seen enough Star Trek to know that once you had some of the words translated, then the rest could be figured out. “Right?”

 

“Right, and that’s what I’ll do. But – “ She shook her head. “It’s not going to matter. I mean, sure there’s probably some handy spells in it, but they’re not going to help with Angel’s curse.”

 

“But if the curse came out of the book – then something in it has to help!”

 

“Buffy, look at the spell.” Willow tapped the translation on the screen. “It’s just a spell to put a soul back. There’s no loophole – nothing about the happiness clause – nothing.”

 

Buffy read the spell slowly and carefully. “I don’t understand. You lost me.”

 

“Okay.” She turned to face Buffy again. “Well, you know the whole thing’s never made any real sense. If they put Angel’s soul back so he would suffer and feel guilty, then having him lose his soul later defeats the purpose.”

 

“What if maybe the gypsies thought Angelus would turn on whoever made him happy and that’d make him feel as bad as they felt when that girl died?” That didn’t make sense and Buffy knew it, but then she probably knew more about vampires than the average gypsy did.

 

Willow gave her a look that let her know what she thought of that theory. “Who knows what they were thinking? They might’ve thought he’d go back to Darla and kill her and Spike and Dru because of the guilt – but that still doesn’t explain the happiness clause.”

 

“Nothing explains the happiness clause.”

 

“Someone wasn’t thinking clearly.” Grief could do that, Willow knew from painful experience. “It probably didn’t occur to them that yeah, Angelus would kill whoever made Angel happy – but Angelus wouldn’t care. If anything, he’d be happy to do it. I thought that maybe a vengeance spell had been used, but I checked around and it wasn’t. Though D’Hoffryn admired it. Said it was a real work of art.”

 

“I’m glad it got his seal of approval.” Buffy said sarcastically.

 

“So the loophole isn’t really a loophole, because it’s not in the spell. It’s like there’s more than one spell. One to put his soul back and another to take it away if he’s happy. Or worse, the second one really is a curse.”

 

“Spell, curse, what’s the difference?” Blinking back tears, Buffy read the spell again. None of it made any sense to her, it could be bad poetry for all she knew.

 

“The difference is that a spell can be reversed. A curse can’t be.” When Buffy’s face crumpled and tears began to run down her cheeks, Willow wished she’d been able to cushion the blow. “I’m sorry, Buffy.”

 

“It’s okay.” She wiped her cheeks. “It’s not like we’re not dealing with it already. What’s the difference?”

 

“The difference is – “ Willow hugged her. “I’m trying to find a way to fix it.”

 

“Thanks, Will.” She hugged Willow tightly before letting go and wiping at her cheeks again. “There probably isn’t a way, but at least you’re looking.”

 

“You two deserve some happiness.” Life was way too short in their line of business.

 

“We’ll settle for almost happy.” At least they were together even if they weren’t allowed to be totally happy.

 

“I don’t want you to have to settle.” Willow toggled the windows on the screen until she found another text file. “I’ve broken down the spell to figure out what each part does as much as I can. This spell was used – we assume, anyway – by the gypsies to put Angel’s soul back. I’ve used it twice since then with the same results.”

 

“And I’m grateful.” Having Angelus loose wasn’t her idea of a good time. “But didn’t they realize that Angel’s soul was innocent?”

 

“What I think is that they knew and didn’t care. They didn’t care so much about the guilt as they did about trapping Angelus inside of someone who was going to be a basket case.”

 

Buffy thought about that for a long moment. She’d always assumed the gypsies hadn’t realized that they were torturing an innocent soul by locking him up with a demon. But what if they had? “Oh my God… that’d make them as bad as Angelus.” They’d knowingly trapped and tortured Angel’s innocent soul just to trap and torment Angelus.

 

“Not quite the innocent gypsies when you think about it that way. But – “ Willow tapped the screen. “Angel didn’t have a clue about the happiness clause. He knew the gypsies wanted him to suffer – but they never said anything about what would happen if he stopped suffering and got happy.”

 

“They may not have expected him to.” Still, there was the gloat and kick ‘em while they’re down factor to consider. “And if he’d known, then he would have been even more miserable all this time.”

 

“Oh yeah, and he’d never have let himself fall in love with you. Well – “ Willow grinned. “Okay, yeah, but he wouldn’t have let things get, you know, happy.  Plus, this spell isn’t even specific to Angel, it could be used on any soul. It’s the intent of the caster that pulls the original soul back to a particular body. There has to be a second spell – or curse – that was done later.”

 

“Great. What’d he do, piss someone else off?” Chances were that Angel wouldn’t have ever let her know he loved her and would probably have never let her get close to him if he’d known about the happiness clause. He’d have left Sunnydale after he’d carried out his original task of warning her about the Harvest. Buffy wasn’t sure if that would have been better or worse.

 

“He has been around for awhile. My theory is that someone who survived the massacre that happened later added the loophole.” Willow pointed out the next item on her list. “According to the Council’s records, Darla led a group of vampires – probably just Spike and Dru, but who knows – out to a gypsy camp in Romania in 1898 and killed all but a few of the gypsies who managed somehow to escape . The survivors said that Darla had wanted someone to reverse the spell they’d done to Angelus and get rid of the soul and was she was killing anyone who said they couldn’t do it.”

 

“Wow, and I thought I got pissed off when someone hurt Angel.” Buffy had never figured Darla cared for Angel that much, but maybe she’d been wrong. “I guess one of the survivors put the happiness loophole spell on Angel without really thinking it through. Instead of doing something to Darla, who actually did the killing.”

 

Willow nodded. “That’s what I think, too. And then when they did realize what could happen, those that were left of their clan had to follow Angel around.”

 

“I hate to say this, but why didn’t they just stake him?”

 

“Probably because according to the Council’s reports, Angel was genuinely suffering from the guilt. He wandered around crazy for a long time.”

 

“Then why follow him?” Buffy asked bitterly. “Just in case?”

 

Willow shrugged. “I don't know. They did lose track of Angel after awhile and assumed he was dead.” She frowned. “Dust, I mean. I think the gypsies probably thought there was no chance he’d ever be happy.”

 

“They really should check out the prophecies from time to time.”

 

“Lucky for Angel, the Council does, because that’s the only reason they didn’t have him killed.” Scrolling farther down the page, Willow found the entry she’d pasted in from an old Council journal. “’It is the consensus of the Council, this 6th day of May, 1899, that Angelus be left alone in accordance with the prophecies of Aberjian as well as the Pergamum Codex and other writings.”

 

“They knew…” All this time, the Council had known that Angelus would be freed, that he’d awaken Acathla, and that she’d send him to Hell. “Those old bastards.”

 

“It’s scary to think how many centuries have passed just waiting for certain things to happen.” Sometimes Willow wondered if she had a mention in some of these prophecies, but she knew better than to look.

 

Scary was one word for it. Angry was more how Buffy felt. What right did these prophecy writers have to say how her life was going to go? And why the hell couldn’t they give her a happy ending?

 

Unaware of Buffy’s tumbled thoughts, Willow continued. “I'm guessing that the surviving gypsies found out that Angel was still alive and decieded to keep an eye on him just in case, or they added the happiness part of the curse then because he wasn't suffering like he had been." She sighed and shrugged again. "We’re never going to know exactly what happened, but if I can find out if the happiness clause is a spell or a curse – then I may be able to fix it.”

 

“How?” Hadn’t Willow just told her curses weren’t fixable?

 

“If it’s a spell, I can create a counter spell. If it’s a curse…” Willow’s confidence faded. “Well… I’m not exactly sure how we can remove it. You know, spell – counter spell. But curses don’t have counter curses.”

 

“How can you find out one way or the other?”

 

“I’m not sure yet. I’m working on it.” She smiled sadly. “I’m sorry it’s all vague city.”

 

“It’s okay, Will. You’re trying.” Buffy hugged Willow again. “I love you. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had. I’m sorry I’ve made your life crazy.”

 

Willow sniffled as tears came to her eyes. “I love you too, Buffy. I’m glad you’re my friend. Even if my life is crazy. Otherwise, think how dull things would be.” She only hoped that she could help Buffy and Angel as much as a friend could.

 

 

 

 

Author’s note: unciatim: little by little. (University of Notre Dame Latin Dictionary and Grammar Aid)

 

The prompts used in this chapter are:

 


with my last breath

rain

the lesser of two evils





Chapter 6: Through The Looking Glass – When everything else is eliminated, that which remains must be the answer. Even if nobody likes it.