A Chiming of Bells
By Barb C
Summary: Ever wondered what happened to that Harrier demon that Willow zapped in Necessary Evils? Well, until today, Spike never had, either...
Notes: The first half of this story was written for Noel_of_Spike 2010. It was completed for the 2013 fall round of Seasonal_Spuffy. It takes place in the Barbverse (a post-Gift AU) circa 2004, and employs certain elements of comics canon, but is in no way comics-compliant.
Right, so: fag-end of the year. A lone string of lights blinking mournfully in the early-morning darkness. Brittle, denuded Christmas trees scattered along the curb of Revello Drive.
And there was an angel in the garage.
Well, not an angel, not exactly. The harps-and-halos variety, if they existed, tended to avoid places like Sunnydale. But a Harrier demon came close enough – high-level minion of the Powers, customarily dispatched to deal with beasties as far above a vampire’s weight class as they themselves were. And not in the garage, not completely. A tattered fan of pinions thrust out from beneath the half-lowered garage door, scattering lances of heavenly light across the driveway.
Spike sat in the DeSoto for a moment longer, cheeks sucked in, fingers tapping a baffled tattoo on the steering wheel. It had been a long night, but not that long. At last he rubbed his jaw, muttered “Well, bugger,” got out of the car, and raced the morning sun to the front door. Keeping an eye on the garage. Just in case.
Buffy was in the kitchen feeding Billy his breakfast, or making the attempt, at any rate - their son was of an age where his enthusiasm as a trencherman considerably outstripped his skill. “It’s only going to be there for a few days,” Buffy said the moment he walked in. She set Billy's bowl down on the kitchen island and folded her arms defensively beneath her breasts. “You can park your gas-guzzling monster on the street for that long.”
"Da Da Da Da!" Billy agreed, beating a lively tattoo on the edge of the island with his spoon.
Spike rescued the utensil and maneuvered a spoonful of soft-boiled egg and pig’s blood into the general vicinity of his son’s mouth. “Here, mate, brekky goes inside, not all over your Mum and Dad.” He wiped the gory smears of blood from Billy's cheeks with the hem of his t-shirt. “Don’t suppose I get to ask why it’s there at all?”
Buffy gave him a good-luck-with-that look. Spike forbore to ask whether it applied to his question or his attempts at toddler-feeding. "I think it’s the one Willow blasted a few years ago," she said. "I feel kind of responsible, since we were the ones it was talking to when she went all Han-shot-first." The Slayer tipped her chin up, her mouth set in the determined line that meant he could jaw at her all day and she wouldn't budge an inch. “I have a demon in my bedroom. Why not an angel in the garage?”
And there wasn’t much he could say to that.
It had been a being of light, once. Even now, the glare when he opened the side door of the garage was worse than the rising sun. In motion (and Harriers were always in motion) , it was a thing of heartbreaking beauty. A whirlwind of eyes, a rush of wings, a clash of blades, a shining in the air, he'd described it once, in a more poetic mood. Now, brought to unnatural rest amongst a clutter of paint cans and rusty gardening spades, it was grotesque, an awkward amalgamation of parts never meant to be so joined.
The Harrier blinked its myriad eyes and mantled in its corner, drawing its multitude of wings in around itself, for all the world like a broken-winged pigeon some tender-hearted kid had brought home in a shoebox. CREATURE OF DARKNESS, it said. WE MEET AGAIN.
"Oi, inside voice! It's a thrill for me, too." Spike squinted into the colorless blaze, tears running down his cheeks. As his eyes adjusted, he could make out the blackened scar at the juncture of its uppermost pair of wings, half-veiled by feathers of spun glass and razor blades. The plumes were fractured and crazed, their diamond clarity dimmed. "Looks like Red did quite a number on you."
The creature's pinions twitched, shivered. HER POWER WAS DRAWN FROM THE FIRST OF ALL EVILS. SUCH WOUNDS HEAL SLOWLY. It turned the gaze of half a dozen eyes upon him, surveying him from head to foot. YOU HAVE CHANGED.
Spike leaned back against the tool bench, arms folded and head cocked. He'd ditched the bleached-blond look a couple of years ago, but he had an idea that the Harrier was oblivious to such superficialities. "Might have done. What's that to you?"
YOU ARE MORTAL NOW. YOU AND THE SLAYER HAVE SPAWNED. AND YET YOU REMAIN A VAMPIRE.
"You're an observant chap, but that still begs the question of why you're talking up the space where my car could be leaving oil spots. "
"Its pals wouldn't take it with them," Buffy's voice came from behind him. She had Billy balanced on one hip; the boy regarded the Harrier with wide eyes, mouth shaping a wondering O. "When we closed the Hellmouth, and they all got sucked back into Heaven Twenty-Six-A, or wherever? Apparently Clarence here doesn't qualify any longer."
The Harrier shifted restlessly. I CANNOT RETURN IN THIS STATE. WHILE MY WOUND REMAINS, I AM... TAINTED. IMPURE.
He couldn't help it; Spike let loose a bark of laughter. "Where've I heard that one before?"
I AM NOT UNAWARE OF THE IRONY. It sounded faintly peevish. I HAVE TRAVELED FAR IN SEARCH OF HEALING. It whisked a stray wing out of Billy's curious reach. AND MY JOURNEY ENDS WHERE IT BEGAN. IT SEEMS MY ONLY HOPE LIES HERE, WHERE ONCE THE HELLMOUTH LAY. I SEEK THE SEED OF WONDER.
Spike raised a skeptical eyebrow. "The what of who now?"
Their guest glanced at the Slayer with about a third of its eyes. Buffy made an encouraging noise, and the Harrier heaved something like a sigh, its brilliant plumage bristling like porcupine quills. THE FIRST EVIL CHOSE THIS HELLMOUTH FOR A REASON. AS DID GLORIFICUS, AND MANY OTHERS BEFORE THEM. IT WAS THE FIRST GATEWAY INTO THIS WORLD. THE DOOR YOUR SISTER WAS MADE TO OPEN - OR CLOSE. AND THOUGH THAT DOOR BE SEALED, GREAT POWER YET LIES UPON ITS THRESHOLD.
Bloody well figured. Every magical McGuffin since the beginning of time seemed to be stashed in Sunnydale somewhere. "Yeah, well, you won't find it lying about in this garage. So if you don't mind - "
The Slayer's hands might be occupied with a squirming toddler, but she lost no time kicking him in the shins. "Stop being a pill, Spike. So this Seed of Wonder thingummy can heal you and you can go home, right?" The Harrier didn't precisely have a head to nod, but it inclined... something. "Then I'll drop Billy off with Anya and we'll get going. Um... what's your name, anyway?"
The Harrier drew itself up. MY APPELLATION IN YOUR TONGUE MIGHT BEST BE RENDERED 'A CHIMING OF BELLS AND A CLASHING OF CYMBALS.'
Buffy pursed her lips. "I think we'll stick with Clarence."
The Hellmouth was a pit, in every sense of the word.
Or had been, once. Still was, in a way, albeit a much shallower one. Dozens of Sunnydale's myriad caves and sewer tunnels spiraled in towards it, a vast underground whirlpool of stone. But the drains had been clogged good and proper for a good four years now, and on the surface the bulldozers had long since roared in and smoothed all evidence of its collapse away, leaving a shiny new high school in their wake.
Far beneath said surface, Spike eyed Clarence with disfavor. One thing about spelunking with an angel, or an approximation thereof, you never needed to bring a torch, though Buffy'd insisted on bringing one anyway. That was the best he could say for the situation. He'd been looking forward to a long nap and a lazy afternoon of puttering about with Billy while Buffy took off to handle her skating classes and such diurnal errands as his sun allergy made impractical. Instead he was scrambling over yet another heap of treacherously unstable rubble, straining his eyes into a darkness so absolute that even the Harrier's radiance was swallowed up within a few yards.
"You sure this is wise, love?" he asked, low-voiced, as Buffy squeezed through the gap between two cracked slabs of concrete. "Suppose this Seed oojum does fix him up - this is the chap who was going to parbroil Sunnydale for its wicked ways."
"That's not the deal, is it, Clarence?" Buffy swiped a lock of hair from her eyes, leaving a smudge of dirt across her forehead. "We help you find the Seed, and then you go home."
THAT WAS OUR AGREEMENT, Clarence replied. IN ANY CASE I ACT ONLY AS THE POWERS DIRECT.
Not terribly reassuring. Spike wrestled a defunct water heater aside. They were getting closer to the great central shaft which had once been the gateway to Hell - or a hell; Spike had never been entirely clear on that bit - but when he and Buffy had closed the Hellmouth, the resulting earthquake had destroyed half the old passages and opened a dozen new ones. Any vampire worth his fangs could still feel the thrum of residual magic through the stone - not even a tenth what it had been when the Hellmouth was open, but the echoes of that power would ring through the earth for centuries to come. Exhilarating, if you were a demon, but hardly a doddle to navigate.
The tunnel, such as it was, was narrowing rapidly, choked with crumbled concrete and twisted girders. Round the next bend it cut off entirely in an impenetrable tangle of rubble and ancient pipes - an entire building, it looked like, slammed down into the earth. The Harrier limped (insofar as something without any apparent legs could be said to limp) up to the barrier and crouched, panting, its razor plumage laid flat. Shards of light dripped like sweat from its tarnished wings.
Buffy bit her lip. "This doesn't look good."
The Harrier swivelled, dozens of raptorial eyes blinking in unison. THE SEED IS NEAR. IF NO WAY TO IT EXISTS, I SHALL MAKE ONE.
"Ooh, aren't we butch?" Spike kicked at the wall of debris, sending a small shower of rust flakes pattering to the tunnel floor. "Face it, mate, you're in no shape to make an ice cube melt. We're not getting through here without high explosives."
"Ah, ah, ah. No fighting, no biting." Buffy planted her fists on her hips, surveying the wreckage with the narrow-eyed speculation of a Slayer about to do something rash. She pointed upwards. "I think I can fit through that hole at the top. Hand over the flashlight, Spike. I'll see if it goes anywhere. If it does, we'll break a hole big enough for Clarence somehow - we can borrow some blasting caps from Xander or something if we have to. If it doesn't, we can try another tunnel." She held out her hand for the torch, which Spike passed over grudgingly, and ordered, "Give me a boost."
Entertaining as watching his wife's jeans-clad arse wriggling through a hole barely large enough to toss a peanut through was, the show was short-lived. Spike was left to pace the confined space of the clogged passage, straining his ears for the sound of Buffy's heartbeat and huffs of breath as she squirmed through the rubble. A few minutes on, and even that was lost in the distant rush of water and the slow, steady creak and groan of settling earth.
The Harrier crouched athwart the rubble-pile, watching the tiny gap through which the Slayer had disappeared with half its eyes. The others followed Spike, watchful as a hawk with a mouse. On the twenty-fourth round he'd made of the corridor, it said at last, I DO NOT UNDERSTAND. YOU WERE AS I AM, ONCE.
Spike snorted. "Second tenor in the next-best-thing-to-heavenly host? Not likely."
Burning golden eyes blinked in series. YOU WERE SEPARATED FROM YOUR OWN KIND BY ILL CHANCE, AS I HAVE BEEN. YOU NEVER SOUGHT TO RETURN, TO RECLAIM YOUR PLACE AS A WARRIOR OF DARKNESS. THE TAINT OF HUMANITY WITHIN YOU - YOU NURTURED IT, RATHER THAN SOUGHT TO BURN IT OUT, AS MOST VAMPIRES DO. Its many wings shivered, shedding sunbeams. YET NO MERE TAINT CAN CHANGE YOUR NATURE. YOU ARE... EVIL.
"Not precisely news, mate. " Spike halted his perambulations to kick the wall of rubble again, size up the hole at the top, and take up his pacing with a frustrated growl. There were many advantages to a life of regular meals and regular workouts, but enhancing his ability to fit through letter-slot-sized gaps wasn't among them. "I'm evil, yeah, but I don't have to kill anyone today. What's that to you, unless you're planning on topping me in the immediate future?"
The Harrier sagged. IT IS MY NATURE TO DESTROY EVIL. EVEN AS IT IS YOUR NATURE TO DESTROY THE HUMANS YOU HAVE EMBRACED. WITHOUT HESITATION OR COMPROMISE. EVEN WEAKENED AS I AM, I SHOULD OBLITERATE YOU, AND THE SLAYER FOR CONSORTING WITH YOU. AND INSTEAD...
"You come running to her for help. Same reason I did - you knew she'd give it." Spike propped a shoulder against the wall, contemplative. "Sometimes I think it's not that humans're good. Not really. Most of 'em are no better than us demons, and a lot more inventive with the weapons of mass destruction. But they're... flexible."
THEY ARE WEAK. THEY ALLOW EVIL TO EXIST AMONG THEM UNCHALLENGED.
Spike's gaze sharpened. "Unlike your nearest and dearest, who've kicked you to the curb - bugger me, you're not having second thoughts about returning to the bosom, are you?"
NO! The Harrier mantled, bristling diamonds. MY KIN WOULD BE RIGHT TO DESTROY ME SHOULD I RETURN AS I AM, LEST I POLLUTE OTHERS WITH FEAR AND DOUBT.
"Yeah, you keep telling yourself that." Spike surged off the wall. There was something, right on the edge of hearing - "Just so long as you're still 'weak' enough to keep your end of the bargain once you're running on all eight cylinders again." He took a leap, grabbed a protruding hunk of rebar, and pulled himself up to peer down the Slayer's rabbit hole. No, he wasn't imagining things - there it was, so far and faint that only vampire eyes could have caught it: the distant, many-times reflected glow of the Slayer's returning torch. "Get off your arse - Buffy's coming." He vamped out for the marginal sensory boost it gave him, and frowned. Heartbeat, breathing, the ever-so-faint aroma of brassed-off Slayer... "And she's bloody annoyed about something. There something you're not telling us?"
The Harrier shifted uncomfortably. THERE IS ANOTHER REASON BESIDES MY OWN WEAKNESS THAT I DESIRED YOUR AID, it admitted. THE SEED IS... PROTECTED.
"Protected?" Spike snarled. "Protected how? I swear, if you've sent Buffy in there alone against - whatever the fuck it is, I'll pluck you like a bloody chicken!"
"Calm down, Spike." Buffy's muffled voice emerged from the passage overhead, followed a moment later by her pale and sweat-streaked face. "I'm fine. The tunnel opens out again after a couple hundred yards, and then it's a straight shot to a big open cavern. Probably part of the old shaft of the Hellmouth. And there's something glowy and Seed-like on the far side." She turned on the Harrier with an expression that would have melted lead. "But before I went in there, you might have mentioned it's being guarded by a giant snake." Her eyes narrowed. "A really familiar giant snake."
Clarence shuffled its wings in an oddly sulky shrug. YOU DID NOT ASK. AND I DID NOT KNOW WHAT FORM THE PROTECTOR MIGHT TAKE. THE SEED COULD HAVE SUMMONED ANY POWERFUL BEING WHICH HAS DWELT LONG NEAR THE HELLMOUTH TO ITS AID.
"Great," Buffy said, as Spike lifted her out and set her down on the tunnel floor. "It couldn't have picked something lame like the Master. Nope, we've got a Grade A certified Old One. Well, at least it's not Glory. I blew this one up once, I can do it again." She fished her cell phone out of her jeans, grimaced at the state of the bars, and punched in a number. "Xander? Yeah, sorry, I've gone underground. No, really underground. Listen, we need some blasting caps. Or maybe a truckload of fertilizer, if that's easier. Yep. Nope. As soon as possible, I have an angel I need to get rid of. Just don't get Homeland Security on your back or anything. Uh huh. Second manhole on Grove Avenue west of 14th. Great, we'll meet you there." She flipped the phone closed with a grin. "Having a friend in construction kicks ass."
"Look, mate, one of us has been making things go boom since dynamite was invented, and it's not you." In point of fact, Spike had been a schoolboy when dynamite was invented, but he was counting on Xander Harris to be less than informed on the life and times of Alfred Nobel. "Putting the charges there won't shift half that rubble. If you put them there and over there, you'll bring the whole lot down, and Bob's your uncle."
"Uh huh, and everything on top of it, too." Xander measured out a length of wire. "In case it's escaped your notice, we're underneath a city block of houses and stores and gas mains. I know the words 'collateral damage' mean nothing to you, but any hole we blast that's big enough to kill him is also big enough for him to get out through, probably over our dead and creatively mangled bodies, and rampage gaily through Sunnydale."
The Harrier gave itself an impatient shake. NO. THE SEED BIRTHED IT ANEW, AND THE SEED SUSTAINS IT. IT CANNOT EXIST AWAY FROM THE SEED.
"So this Seed thing is... alive?" Buffy stood on tiptoe, peering into the claustrophobic depths of the tunnel. "Can we talk to it? Tell it we don't mean it any harm?"
THE SEED IS NOT ALIVE. IT IS LIFE. IT INFORMS ALL THINGS. IT DOES NOT REMEMBER OR REASON, ANY MORE THAN THE POWER WHICH BECAME YOUR SISTER REMEMBERED OR REASONED BEFORE IT WAS GIVEN HUMAN FORM. BUT IF A WORLD CAN BE SAID TO HAVE A SOUL, THE SEED IS SUCH.
The back of Spike's neck prickled with the memory of another night in the Hellmouth, not so many years past. Buffy was looking at him funny. "Spike? Are you OK?"
"Yeah, I just - " He raked fingers through his hair. "D'you remember the night we closed the Hellmouth? Just realized. That...thing I felt. What we fed the Key's power into. That must have been the Seed."
Her eyes widened, just a tick. "Oh." After a moment, "Keep an eye on this tunnel, both of you, and make sure Fake Snake Wilkins doesn't sneak up on us while I help Xander not blow things up."
"Trust you to take all the fun out of high explosives," Spike muttered, but he took up his post without further demur.
Clarence crouched beside him like one of Nelson's lions, assorted eyes blinking through its ruffled plumage, its brilliance making his skin itch. YOU HAVE KNOWN THE SEED, THEN. There was a note in that great tolling bell of a voice that approached pleading. TELL ME OF IT.
It wasn't something you could explain in words, that vast, intricate web of being he'd experienced. Christ knew he'd tried often enough in the weeks after, covering reams of notepaper in hopelessly awful verse, all of which he'd consigned to the fireplace when he'd finally admitted to himself it couldn't be done - not by a Shakespeare or a Shelley, and certainly not by a Pratt. Buffy'd been there with him; he didn't need to explain it to her. "I felt... connected. To everything. Everyone. I felt...alive."
The Harrier exhaled, a hiss of steam on hot iron. AND SO THE SEED IS WHAT... CHANGED YOU?
Spike fiddled with his lighter. He wanted a cigarette, but Buffy would fuss, and Harris would pitch a fit. "What, the heartbeat and all? Nah. That happened later. Mohra blood. The Seed didn't so much as offer us a sticking plaster." Though he couldn't truly say it hadn't changed him. He'd told Buffy once that death was a profound and powerful experience; how much moreso life? He would have chosen to risk the Mohra blood regardless, he was certain, but he couldn't deny that the memory of that night had weighed heavily in the choice. He flicked the lighter, and stifled a smile as he was rewarded by twin bellows of "Spike, put that out!" He stuffed it back into his pocket.
I DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHY THEY TOLERATE YOU, Clarence said. I ENVY YOU THEIR... FLEXIBILITY. AND YOUR OWN. YET ONCE I MOVED AT THE WILL OF THE POWERS THEMSELVES.
"Rather move at my own. Heads up, looks like Harris's finally got the doilies arranged to his liking."
"All right, get to cover, everybody!" Xander sidled up the tunnel with the detonator under one arm, unreeling cord behind him. He set the detonator down and tossed a pair of small plastic objects Spike's way. Spike caught them and held them up, disbelieving.
"Earplugs? For Christ's sake, I'm a creature of the bloody night here!"
"If you want to be a creature of the night with ruptured eardrums, feel free," Xander replied cheerfully, pulling a dust mask up over his nose and sticking plugs into his own ears.
"Put 'em in, Spikey Bear." Buffy's voice was muffled by her own dust mask. "Darned if I'm going to be the only one in the household who can hear your son screaming his head off at three in the morning."
Grumbling, Spike complied, and all of them backed around the bend in the tunnel and crouched low. Xander looked at Buffy. Buffy nodded, and he thumbed the control button - less dramatic than driving a plunger home, but just as effective. Spike felt the boom more than heard it. His bones rattled. A crack, a rumble, and clouds of dust boiled over them. Buffy and Xander retreated, coughing. Spike edged around the corner and squinted into the murk, and barked his shins for his pains. "Fuck!" His voice was distant in his own ears, and for a second he thought he'd gone deaf after all. No, he still had the earplugs in. Plucking them out, Spike shuffled a few cautious steps forward, wary of loose rock. The dust was starting to settle a little. Clarence surged past him, its light turning the dust-laden air to roiling silver.
"Is the tunnel clear?" Buffy sounded like she'd swallowed a sheet of sandpaper.
"Half a mo'." Spike clambered up and peered into the opening, now large enough for them to crawl through on hands and knees, or perhaps even walk if they bent over. The blast had knocked loose about half the rock. "Clarence may be a tight fit, but we should manage."
The Harrier was already seizing rocks in... well, Spike wasn't entirely certain what, but rocks were definitely being seized and shoved aside. Xander surveyed the damage with a critical eye. "Looks stable. Am I correct in thinking my job here is done?"
"Other than staying poised to run screaming for help if whatever's in there eats us, I'd say so."
"Wait a sec." Xander rummaged around in his knapsack for a moment and produced a roll of duct tape. He tossed it to Buffy. "Here. I'll be with you in spirit."
Spike rolled his eyes. "Bloody perfect. We're reduced to assaulting a true demon with magic duct tape."
Xander gave him a pitying look. "All duct tape is magic. Just take it. I guarantee it'll come in handy."
"Just kiss already, you two." Buffy squared her shoulders and glanced at Spike, then Clarence. "Ready?"
INDEED. Clarence's plumage bristled, and it gave the impression that if it had possessed a head, it would have ducked it. SLAYER, WHATEVER COMES, I WOULD... THANK YOU. Its eyes turned to Spike. AND YOU, CREATURE OF DARKNESS.
Xander shook his head. "What, no thanks for the guy with the dynamite?"
Crawling through the cleared tunnel was no cakewalk even now; they went on hands and knees. Clarence's light frightened shadows from every rock and pebble, to scurry and jitter across the stone walls. The worst part was the dust. Spike could hold his breath for a good twenty minutes if he had to, but Buffy kept coughing, despite her mask.
Fifty feet on, the tunnel widened, opening into a football-field sized cavern, the floor twenty feet below and ceiling eighty above. The dust thinned from pea-souper to thin haze, revealing a long shallow downwards slope of scree and tumbled boulders. Pieces of twisted girder and the occasional rusted pipe poked out of the rubble; Spike could hear the hollow, telltale rush of water or the hiss of gas from some of them. "Some of these are live, pet," he whispered. "Not a place to get careless in."
Buffy nodded, grim, and started to pick her way downwards. In the center of the chamber, something pulsed, red as heart's blood. The Seed of Wonder wasn't all that impressive: the size and shape of an ostrich egg, floating in mid-air over a short pedestal of stone. But Spike could feel it, same as he felt the fading buzz of the Hellmouth itself, tugging on the strands and filaments of magic woven into the earth around them.
A shadow moved in the darkness beyond it, a rustle of scales against stone. The Harrier thrust past them, its blazing wings spread wide, their razor tips scoring the cavern walls to either side. For an instant it was as terrible and overwhelming as it had been before Willow's magic had shattered it - a being Spike could well believe was capable of taking on the thing before them head to head. Its light threw the Seed's guardian into stark relief: out of the haze of dust, the Old One Olvikan rose before them, coil upon coil, halfway to the cavern's ceiling. Clarence's flame guttered and failed in the shadow of its foe, and the Harrier sank back to earth.
"Well, well, well," the Old One hissed. "It really is a small world, isn't it? Still consorting with vampires, Miss Summers? I must say, I'm sorry to see you didn't take my advice." It flicked its long forked tongue in Spike's direction and cocked its head. "Though I really can't tell what kind of mongrel you are right now."
Spike snarled, keeping himself out of game face only with difficulty. This thing might be only the Spitting Image version of a true demon, but it was a bloody big one. Buffy laid a hand on his shoulder and looked up, up, up to meet Olvikan's gaze. "Look, I took you down once, and I can do it again, but what's the point? All we want to do is to use the Seed of Whatsis to fix up Clarence, here, and then we'll be on our way and you can guard your little Chamber of Secrets in peace."
The Old One's serpentine head swayed as its coils made figures of eight upon the stone. "Now why on earth should I cooperate with you?" it inquired. "A chance for one of us to manifest is rarer than hen's teeth, what with that dratted Drogyn fellow keeping us all pent up in the Deeper Well. Richard Wilkins was a - well, no, he wasn't a good man, but he went to a great deal of trouble to ascend into me, and you ruined it. The Seed's powerful, but between the two of us, it's not too bright. What I'm saying is, I've got a lot of latitude. Discretion in how I carry out my duties. If you think I'm just going to sit here and twiddle my thumbs while you waltz in and do as you like -" it reared up like a cobra about to strike - "I'll remind you I don't have any thumbs."
Buffy muttered, "Suddenly I'm wishing I'd kept that Scythe thingy after all."
"Oi! Voldemort!" Spike tucked his thumbs in his belt. "Clarence here tells me you're stuck here. Can't leave the Seed. What's to stop us from sauntering off and coming back tomorrow with an army?"
Olvikan's mandibles clicked and the vicious spiked club of its tail lashed once, shattering the pedestal beneath the Seed. "If you leave this chamber, I'll make certain that you never find the Seed again. Think outside the box, I always say." It turned to Clarence. "I have a proposal for you. I'll give you access to the Seed right now, free and clear, on one condition." The Old One darted its head at Buffy and Spike. "As soon as you're healed, kill them.
"I'm not asking for much, the way I see it." There was a twinkle in Olvikan's snaky eyes, bugger him. "Think about it, young fellow. Even if the Seed heals you, what do you think your folks will do when they find out you got home by cozying up to the very demon and the very demon-loving Slayer you were sent here to dispose of? Even if your kind were capable of lying, you can't hush something like that up." It chortled. "I don't see a ticker-tape parade in your future, that's for certain. Whereas if you go home and tell them that you carried out your righteous mission, well..."
Clarence spread its tattered wings and lifted what might have been its head, if it had possessed any such easily-identified body parts. Several glittering yellow eyes swivelled in the direction of the Seed, and its whole body quivered - almost, Spike thought, like a vampire stopped short upon an uninvited threshold. Then the Harrier's wings drooped. I AM NO LONGER CERTAIN MY MISSION IS RIGHTEOUS.
"That's what you're here to fix, isn't it?" The Old One sounded so sodding wholesome and reasonable about the whole thing.
All of Clarence's eyes were riveted upon Olvikan's serpentine form. All but one. I AGREE TO YOUR TERMS. ALLOW THE SEED TO HEAL ME, AND I SHALL KILL THEM.
"Clarence, wait!" Buffy started forward, but Spike grabbed her shoulder. Could be his own eyes were playing tricks, but he could swear that that single errant eye had winked at him.
Its razor pinions beat once, twice, thrice, and Clarence vaulted over their heads in a thunderclap of sound, up the slope towards the mouth of the tunnel. Light flared, and the tunnel-mouth collapsed in a hail of dust and stone, blocking their escape. The mini-avalanche knocked them both off their feet. The Harrier wheeled overhead and descended the slope once more, alighting before the restless coils of the Old One. The blackened, fused scar at the base of its wings was darker than ever, and it shook with fatigue, or perhaps sorrow.
Spike bit his lip; was he wrong, and was Clarence about to do them both in? Buffy's shoulder was tense beneath his hand. The Old One's many-fanged mandibles stretched wide in a nightmare grin, and its massive coils slithered away, revealing the pulsing blood-red heart of the world. Did 'world' mean just this planet, or the entire universe? Bit of hubris, wasn't it, thinking that soul of the entire cosmos was located in your navel? No time to ponder either way, for Clarence was reaching for the Seed.
The cavern flooded with ruby light, and the Harrier cried out, a wild, terrible scream that haunted Spike's dreams for years afterwards. For an instant they saw it blazoned across the darkness: Every nerve and vein, every bone and sinew, every translucent pinion pulsed hearts-blood red. Deep in the Harrier's scarred breast, red kindled to orange, orange to yellow, yellow to white, and white to gas-flame blue, too brilliant for vampire eyes to bear. Spike fell to his knees, blinded, tears running down his cheeks.
Buffy was pulling him upright, herself fighting for purchase in the loose stone. Spike shook his head, blinking away afterimages as his retinae healed. Clarence stood over them, shining, whole. Spike blinked again, but no: he could look at the Harrier straight on now, without burning his eyes. The light it shed was a cool silver-grey instead of actinic white; its deadly plumage was of steel and smoky quartz rather than spun glass and diamond. It extended its many wings, the Seed's sanguine light staining the glittering blades of its plumage. I AM RESTORED. There was no victory in its voice. It tolled like a funeral bell. IN BODY, AT LEAST.
"Very spiffy." Olvikan clicked its mandibles in satisfaction. "Now, if you'll just give me a hand squashing these two - heh, a hand, when neither of us have any? That's a real knee-slapper."
Eyes swivelled, regarding the Old One with raptorial intensity. NO.
Olvikan blinked. "Now see here, you said - "
The Harrier fell upon the snake-demon in a storm of wings, the blades of its primaries slashing wicked furrows in the Old One's armored hide. Scales the size of dinner plates spun through the air over their heads. Olvikan roared and flung its vast length skywards, seeking to emmesh its foe in its coils. Circling, the Harrier stooped like a falcon to the kill and the two great creatures crashed back to earth.
"Sod the grand battle between good and evil," Spike growled as Olvikan's lashing tail ripped though a wing and dashed a scatter of knife-edged plumage down on the stones around them. "Doesn't matter who wins if you end up smashed flat regardless."
"I don't intend to make Billy an orphan just yet. Come on!" Buffy grabbed Spike's wrist, hauling him up the slope towards the place where the tunnel wasn't any longer. "Do you still have your lighter?"
"Love, it's not the best time to take up smo - wait, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"For once, yeah. Good could use a cheat code to take on the megaboss."
"Final boss, pet."
"Whatever. Where are those live gas pipes?"
No easy task, listening for a gas line with two Godzilla-class foes duking it out in the near distance. Ah. A faint hiss, somewhere over - "There."
A shallow arc of high density polyethylene piping curved out of the rubble. Small favors; if it had been one of the old cast-iron lines, it would surely have cracked and they'd have all blown to kingdom come by now. Spike looked around - one of Clarence's severed primaries gleamed in the darkness, beautiful and deadly, with an edge like monofilament line. Buffy had already wrestled a few more feet of gas line free of the debris, and was ripping a length of duct tape off with her teeth. Spike dropped to a crouch beside her, grasping the feather by its haft. "You realize Harris'll never let us live this down."
"If it prevents an earth-shattering kaboom, I don't care. Ready?"
Spike tossed Buffy his lighter and swung the feather like a machete. It severed the line with a quick, clean whack, and Buffy whipped tape around the short end, sealing it off. He barely had time to grab the long end and brace himself. A yellow flick of flame and a WHOOSH! and the gas exploded into a gigantic plume of flame.
"Now!" Buffy yelled, as Clarence and Olvikan cartwheeled over their heads. Spike leaned back, aiming the pipe upwards so that the jet of flame intersected Olvikan's armored flank, just at the place where Clarence had ripped the scales free. A deafening bellow and the stink of burning meat filled the cavern. Their improvised flamethrower sputtered and died almost immediately as the gas ran out, but for an instant, Olvikan was distracted, and an instant was all Clarence needed. The blades of its wings sliced through the Old One's throat, once, twice, and again. With a look of pained surprise, Olvikan's head tipped sideways, and hung for a moment by a strand of gristle. The vast reptilian body swayed and twitched, spraying a fountain of green ichor and only gradually realizing it was dead. Coil by coil, it slumped to the cavern floor
Clarence alit upon the cavern floor, mantling over the Seed. "So," Buffy said, wary. "All better now?"
The Harrier's feathers ruffled like the clash of swords. NO. I HAVE FAILED. A SMALL PORTION OF THE FIRST EVIL'S ESSENCE REMAINED WITHIN MY WOUND - THUS COULD I LIE TO THE GUARDIAN, OUT OF PITY FOR THOSE WHOM I SHOULD DESTROY. WHEN I SOUGHT HEALING, I FOUND THAT THE SEED COULD NOT REMOVE THE STAIN WITHOUT UNMAKING ME. I SHOULD HAVE CHOSEN UNMAKING WITHOUT REGRET. INSTEAD I CHOSE TO LIVE HEALED IN BODY, BUT STILL IMPURE. CAPABLE OF DECEIT. Its not-exactly-a-head drooped. I AM ASHAMED.
"Well, don't be," Buffy snapped. "I'm not saying we couldn't have taken the Mayor's evil twin on without you, but it was a lot easier with you." She stood on tiptoe, and patted the nearest wing, careful not to slice her fingers on the vanes. "Look, most vampires don't want to save the world, but Spike did. Maybe most Harriers just follow orders, but the very first time we met, even before Willow zapped you, you stopped trying to kill us long enough to talk. That doesn't make you evil any more than saving the world once made Spike good. It just makes you... flexible."
Clarence bristled, then heaved a hurricane sigh. YOU SPEAK THE TRUTH, HOWEVER LITTLE IT PLEASES ME TO HEAR IT. IT IS NOT A QUALITY MY BRETHREN WILL APPRECIATE.
"Join the club." Spike stretched gingerly, checking himself for scorchmarks. "Buck up, Sunshine. 'Least you've got your health. Dunno why you're so keen to rejoin the choir invisible, myself. This isn't such a bad old world, when it comes to it. A chap like you could make his way. Rent yourself out as a night-light, or somesuch."
THERE IS MUCH THAT COULD BE ACCOMPLISHED HERE, the Harrier admitted. PERHAPS... it blazed up and surveyed the self-lit cavern with three or four eyes. PERHAPS THE PLACE WHERE LIGHT IS MOST NEEDED IS IN THE DARKNESS. YES. I SHALL REMAIN IN THIS WORLD. It flicked a pile of rubble aside with one wing. AND I SHALL TRANSFORM THIS PLACE INTO A MORE FITTING DWELLING.
"You're sure?" Buffy asked. "I mean, I know our garage isn't too scenic, but it's the Taj Mahal compared to this dump."
I CRAVE A PURPOSE, SLAYER. AND THE SEED IS A SOURCE OF GREAT POWER. IT REQUIRES A GUARDIAN, LEST IT BE MISUSED. WHAT PROTECTORS IT CONJURES ON ITS OWN ARE LESS THAN SATISFACTORY.
"Bloke's got a point, love." A point that would get it out of their garage, and therefore one Spike could heartily endorse. He pulled out his cell phone and began punching up the crypt - buggered if he was going to dig his way out through that tunnel again when he could get some of the minions, er, employees to do it. "And it's time we were on our way, in any case."
Buffy grimaced. "Yeah, Anya's probably charging us time and a half." She looked Clarence up and down. "You going to be okay?"
Clarence nodded, or the nearest approximation thereof. INDEED. AS THE CREATURE OF DARK...SPIKE... SAYS, I MUST LEARN TO MAKE MY OWN WAY, WITHOUT THE GUIDANCE OF THE POWERS. FIND MY OWN WINGS. BUT PERHAPS I MIGHT... VISIT?
Spike growled; Buffy elbowed him in the ribs. "Of course you can. Don't mind Spike. He gets cranky when he likes someone. It's a vampire thing." She grinned, mischievous. "It's kind of poetic, isn't it? A fallen angel and a... a risen vampire."
"The only place I want to rise from is bed, preferably sixteen hours from now," Spike snorted. But he kept his peace. When you lived with the Slayer, you learned to choose your battles.
Besides, it was a bit poetic, wasn't it?