Chapter 27: Upsets
"They told us...they'd cure her. They'd make her a - a higher being if I...did this." Angel was cradling an amulet in his hands - large and ugly, with a dull-yellow stone in its garish, goldish setting.
"An' you believed 'em?" Spike drawled, lighting up, and Angel shot him a frustrated, exhausted glare.
"Yeah, I did. They've been sending the visions - they've been - keeping me on track. They sent Whistler, so I could help Buffy, and they sent Doyle -"
"And they send killer migraines that are turnin' your Cordelia's brains to mush. And we all know how you and the Slayer worked out..." Spike grunted when Xander's elbow jabbed into his side and he hissed, turning his head to scowl at his human.
*Stop it, evil undead. You're not helping.*
*Don't particularly WANT to help -*
*We can't let Cordy die! If he's willing -* Under the concern for Cordelia and the empathy Xander was feeling towards Angel and his plight was the faint, hastily squashed 'thank god, this will end it, mine will be safe, we can go home, go home, go home, thank god' Spike grinned nastily and looked back at Angel, who was sitting in a slumped posture on the edge of the couch, suffering with eternal forbearance Tara's sympathetic clucking, Buffy's silent grip on his wrist, the murmured words of Giles and Ethan discussing the amulet, the Powers, the possibilities that this was it, the one thing that would save them.
*Miserable brooding bastard -* He settled himself more comfortably, arm around Xander's waist, both of them sprawled on pillows on the floor by the hearth.
*I thought you two kinda - made up?* from Oz, and Spike rolled his eyes, pluming smoke towards the fireplace.
*He's still an utter git. Who'd believe such tripe?* But Spike subsided, leaning against Xander and stretching his bare feet towards the fire. Stroking his hand gently through Xander's hair and snarling silently when his fingers touched the band of the patch. *I'll believe it if it'll get you out of here, pet. Anything...*
"So what - what does the amulet do?" Oz asked quietly, and Angel shook his head.
"I don't - know. They wouldn't tell me...Cordelia said they didn't know, but... They just said it would destroy the First's army."
"An army of Turok-Han..." Giles murmured, and Angel sighed.
"I don't know what could destroy an army of those things... I think - whatever it does - I'm not going to survive it."
*I think he's right,* Derio thought, and Spike looked over at him in surprise.
*Why d'ya think that, wolf?*
*I don't - know. I feel...something. There's -* Derio was sitting in the corner of the couch and he pushed himself to his feet suddenly, head cocked as if listening. The link was quiet except for what Derio could feel - the knowing thrumming like the plucked strand of a spider-web. It seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere, and Derio circled the room uneasily, pausing often to listen, his eyes flashing to black and then clearing, again and again - his anxiety like fever-shivers, creeping over them all. Xander and Oz both tensed, wolf and hyena rising up. Spike could feel a headache starting in Xander's temple - in the back of the empty socket - and he rubbed his knuckles lightly up and down Xander's neck, hoping to stave it off.
"But - you can't leave Cordelia and Connor all alone... There has to be another way, Angel." Buffy said, plucking the amulet out of his hands and glaring at it.
"I don't want to do this to them but...it's just the way it has to be," Angel replied, and his voice was very, very soft - full of pain and sorrow and Spike snapped, Derio's unease getting to him as well as Angel's misery.
"Why don't you ever fight, damnit, Angel!" he snapped, and Angel pushed himself to his feet and stalked over to him - stood there staring down at him, his expression haggard and tense.
"Fighting this means Cordelia dies. That's not going to happen, Spike," he said, and Spike shook his head. He untangled himself reluctantly from Xander and the pillows they were propped against and stood up, reaching to put one hand on Angel's shoulder, squeezing hard.
"How do you know? How can you just...give up? Give her up, and Connor?" *God - wouldn't do that to you, pet, wouldn't...*
*You'd do whatever you had to, Spike, just like I would. Love you... Let it go - he feels bad enough.* Xander stood up as well, getting an arm around Spike and rubbing his hand slowly up and down his side. Soothing and reassuring and Spike leaned into him and sighed.
"Yeah, okay. Okay, love. I'll let it go." Spike let his hand slip off Angel's shoulder but the other vampire didn't move away - simply sagged, head down, and Spike felt a moment's sympathy. Xander hugged him, and they stood there in silence, 'listening' to Derio. Faith had gone up to bed already, taking Dawn and Johnathan with her in an unusual display of tact, muttering something about 'old lovers' and getting a glare of disapproval from Buffy. The fire in the fireplace was burning low, radiating comforting heat and the good smell of burning apple-wood. Giles and Ethan were still deep in conversation and Tara was watching Derio with a worried look. Buffy was examining the amulet with squinted eyes, as if looking for a secret or a hidden catch. Derio stopped again, listening, then resumed his pacing - stopped right beside them and Spike could see his hands shaking - could feel the strange twisting of the knowing as something pinged it again and again. Angel eyed Derio uncertainly, looking unhappy to be so near a nervous werewolf.
Spike's beads burned faintly against his chest and he reached into his shirt to pull them out - to touch them. Angel tipped his head quizzically, glancing up at Spike with a question in his eyes. Derio morphed further towards the wolf and whined low in his throat and Angel looked up from studying the strand of Spike's beads and turned to him sharply, frowning.
"Can you stop that? Jesus -" Oz was up and on him in a flash, snarling, more than half wolf and right in Angel's face, and Angel recoiled.
"'uck ov," Oz growled, and Angel put up a hand, placatory gesture that Oz ignored. Derio lifted his head suddenly and was just as suddenly human again. Whatever it was was closer - was strong. The link was buzzing like a downed wire, cresting wave of power and it began to feel - horribly familiar.
"What is that?" Angel said and then Buffy made a small squeak of surprise as the wards suddenly flared, dancing sheets of pale green fire up the doors and windows. Ethan grabbed Giles' hand - grabbed Tara's and they stood, drawing together, concentrating, *light light no harm shall pass* faintly from Tara.
"What the fuck -" Spike muttered, and the beads thrummed in his hand, their power in the link as well, adding to the overall chaos of energies that were swirling through the house.
"It's - something trying to....get in..." Xander was rigid under Spike's arm, and they both felt the strange, roiling energy that they'd felt before. Stronger, this time - mixed with something else.
*Not pack not pack not pack,* from the wolves - from the hyena. The demon was silent, but its energy was so malevolently furious that Xander actually flinched away from Spike for a moment.
*Sorry, love - sorry. God, it's - is it? Why...*
*It is - Jesus, who ELSE is there?* Oz and Derio were both growling, sing-song wail that was getting louder and louder.
"Anybody have any ideas?" Buffy said just as the wards by the front door sent up a fountain of sparks, white-hot and roaring. Tara, Giles and Ethan all cried out, flung apart and stumbling, Ethan going down to one knee. Blood trickled down from one side of Tara's nose and Spike felt the demon's roar rattle out of his chest.
"What is it?" Giles cried, loud and angry and suddenly the wards fell - flared and sank away as if they'd never been and - Jack strode through the door.
"It's uninvited company," Spike grated, staring at the Sidhe with the demon's furious gaze. Jack stood there smirking, still in his leather bomber jacket and ragged jeans, ancient and raveling backpack hanging from one shoulder.
"Now, that's not very hospitable, is it, vampire? Not hospitable at all." Jack grinned, and his eyes sparked red behind the fall of messy, feather-starred hair. Something was with him - something lurking out of sight still, and Spike pushed past Angel, who was game-faced and growling but unmoving. He put himself carefully between the others and Jack and felt Xander at his shoulder - felt Oz and Derio come up on the other side, and finally saw Angel come to stand beside Xander, human again. Spike didn't bother with human - he had nothing to hide. Buffy pushed in front of Angel, scowling.
"Who the hell are you? How do you know Spike? What -"
Jack held up an elegant hand, fingers spread, his ring glinting dully in the light. "All in good time, Slayer," he said, and Buffy's mouth snapped shut in surprise.
"Tara, are you all right? Giles -?" Xander asked, and there was a murmur from behind them, and then Giles' voice, a little shaky.
"We're all right. But I - we all - would like an explanation for...what happened."
"This is Jack. Remember? I told you about him," Xander said, and Spike could hear the Watcher's heart kick up a notch, and Glinda's, too. Fear in the air, a little. From the mage was something else - excitement. Spike wanted to turn around and shake the man but he took a deep breath and tried to calm down instead.
*Not pack!* was screaming in the link from all of them and Xander's *calm, calm, c'mon, calm down -* was making the demon snarl, confused and angry.
"What are you doing here, Sidhe?" Spike grated, and he saw Angel react to that - heard the intake of breath from Ethan and Tara
"Oh, I'm here for lots of reasons....but only one to do with you..." Jack cocked his head to one side, his eyes sparking red and his otherness like a waver of heat around him, scraping on all their nerves. "As for what happened... Your wards tap energy that we - were born controlling. You can't keep us out with that." Jack surveyed the room and his gaze lit on Xander. His eyes narrowed in what looked like surprise as, Spike was sure, he noticed the patch. Spike bared his teeth, daring the Sidhe to say anything and Jack shrugged, looking away. There was something else, though...
"What's skulking in the bushes, then? Tell it to show itself," Spike snapped, and Jack grinned.
"He's afraid, is all," Jack said, and there was a huff of explosive breath-sound and the scrape of something hard - stone? - over the stone of the courtyard.
"I'm not afraid!" a voice called, and Jack laughed softly.
"Come in here, then! Come see," Jack said, coaxing voice, and something stirred in the darkness by the door - some further darkness that Spike's eyes couldn't penetrate. Then it separated and reformed and came inside. A young man - or something that looked like a young man - with Jack's dusky skin and foam of tangled hair; red-glowing eyes like coals, nothing like the faded spark in Jacks. He was whipcord-muscle and bone, long fingers and smirking mouth, dressed in the same street-dweller rags of worn jeans, raveling sweater and cracked, sprung boots. He stood for a long moment in the doorway and then glided forward, pure predator in every step and Spike took one step forward, growling. Angel did the same, although he looked confused as well as protective. The link seethed with furious emotion and Derio was shifting again, losing his hold on the wolf.
"You've added another wolf to the fold, then," Jack said, eyeing him. "And another vampire. You do collect odd friends, Xander." Beside Spike, Xander shrugged, his eye as green as sour apples, glinting eerily.
"I pick and choose the best," Xander said, and his voice was harsh as he struggled against the hyena. *Wasn't this bad before, why is it so STRONG? God - what the hell does he WANT...?*
"You're upsetting our hosts, pooka," Jack said suddenly, and he turned and laid his hand on the other's shoulder. "You need to ward that." The other shot him a sullen look but shrugged, and suddenly the air seemed to move around him and the *other outsider wrong wrong wrong* of him eased off - went away almost entirely and it was just Jack's peculiar, thundery energy left.
"Pooka," Angel breathed, and the pooka looked at him and grinned, showing small, very white teeth. His canines were very sharp.
"Heard of me then, have you?" he said, and Jack made a clucking sound.
"No time for that nonsense, pooka." Jack took the backpack off his shoulder and eased it to the floor - took up a stance that was relaxed and easy, as if trying to prove his harmlessness.
"If you've any of that beer, Xander, I'd take a dram or two -"
"Is this something social?" Spike snapped, and Jack shot him a laughing glance.
"This is the saving of the world, vampire - what better way to start then with a drop of beer and maybe a bit of that cake?" He pointed with his chin at Dawn's abandoned plate and Spike wanted to leap on him - wanted him out and away from his family.
"Look - what the hell is going on? I want someone to explain all this right now." Angel looked furious, as did Buffy beside him, and it was Tara's soft voice that startled them all.
"If you'll sit and share a bite with us, we'll talk. Will you be our guest?" She was suddenly right there, much too close to Jack and his pooka, standing easily in her long skirt and cardigan, her hands held out in a gesture of greeting. Derio moved fast to her side, and Oz did, and Jack made a small bow in her direction.
"You are the lady of the house, that much is plain. We would both thank you for your hospitality, chovexani." Tara blanched at that word and then bowed her head a little.
"Please sit, then, and I'll bring you something," Tara's voice was calm - she was calm, and she half-turned towards the rest of them, her head high and her gaze going sharply to Giles and then to Ethan. "Please make our guests welcome," she said softly and turned and walked towards the kitchen. Spike took a step after her and hesitated for a long moment, torn. Xander touched his shoulder.
"I'll go with her. You stay out here, okay?"
"Yeah," Spike said, relived that Tara wouldn't be alone. *Find out what in hell she's doing, love, yeah? Fuckin' bastard knows something -*
*We'll figure it out. It'll be okay.* Oz was calmer now - was deliberately pushing the wolf down and away, the wolf-chant in the link like a faint heart-beat. As Xander hurried across the room to catch up to Tara, Spike made a wide gesture with his arms, finally pushing the demon aside.
"Come and sit, then," he said, scowling at Angels' abortive attempt to intervene. "And why didn't your bloody fire-work display attract any attention?" He'd half-expected the Potentials to have come thundering down the stairs after the commotion.
"Oh, you mean the girls upstairs?" Jack asked, looking pointedly up and Spike hissed. "They're sleeping a little extra-hard tonight. No harm," he added, holding up his hands. They walked forward and settled on the hearth, the pooka turning and warming his hands for a moment. The Watcher and the mage resumed their seats on the couch - Angel went to stand at one end of the mantle and the Slayer went with him. Oz settled cross-legged in front of the couch and after a moment Derio joined him, not fully human yet, but trying. Spike just stood where he was, arms crossed and legs planted wide, ready for a fight if came to that. They waited, silent.
"It's pretty quiet out there," Xander said softly, nervousness fluttering in his stomach like prickly butterflies.
"It'll be all right. Can you get two of the green p-plates down?" Tara asked, her voice serenely calm and even. Xander had to smile at that and stretched to reach the top of a tall cabinet, lifting down two white plates that were painted with a design of morning-glory vines and flowers. Something Buffy and Dawn had brought from the Revello Drive house - something not much used.
"You're really going all out, here. What's - what're you doing, exactly?" Xander asked as Tara carefully cut two slices of cake and placed them neatly on the plates.
"I'm...invoking something. If we make them our guests - give them food and drink - it invokes the l-law of hospitality."
"Never heard of it," Xander said, getting two of Spike's imported beers uncapped and onto the tray Tara had unearthed.
"It's...old. Very old. It's one of th-the few things they'd respect. We give them this, and that makes them our gu-guests. We have to protect them from any harm that might come at them under our r-roof and -" Tara raised her voice just a little and Xander grinned, shutting his mouth closed over the indignant remark he had just been going to make.
"And...in turn, they have to keep any harm that might have followed them away from us. They can't h-harm anyone under the roof that has taken them in, and they can't tell any l-lies that might harm us while they're our guests."
"Oh!" Xander was impressed, and he relayed it to the others, feeling an easing of the tension in Oz and Derio and a mental snort of disbelief from Spike. *Sounds like a good thing.*
*We'll see,* Spike grumbled. *They're not to be trusted.*
"Oh-okay. Ready. Can you carry this, Xander?" Tara wiped her hands on a towel and pushed her hair back, and Xander reached past her and grabbed the salt-shaker off the table and put it on the tray.
"Sure I can, Tara. Ummm...what was that word? The word he called you - cho-ves -?"
"Chovexani. It's a R-romany word. A gypsy word," she clarified, when Xander gave her a puzzled look. "It means wu-witch."
"Oh." Xander picked up the tray - did a small double-take and looked at Tara. "So, you - you're -"
"I'm...mu-my family is Romany. Yes," Tara said quietly, and all Xander could do was nod.
*No wonder her dad wanted her back so bad,* from Oz, and Xander resolved to think about it later. Right now, they had Jack to deal with, and that was quite enough.
"Okay. Right. Let's go." They both walked back out to the living room and their guests.
"That was really quite delicious," Jack said, tipping his beer up to drain the last drops. Beside him, the pooka was idly picking at the label on his own bottle. He'd finished off the cake in quick, wolfish bites and drunk the beer down just as fast. Jack had verbally restrained him from getting up at least three times and now the magical signature that he'd tamped down earlier was starting to build back up, making hackles rise all over the room.
"Th-thank you," Tara said from her place in the armchair and Jack nodded to her - turned an expression of pure exasperation on the pooka.
"All right, then! Go!" he snapped, and the pooka bounded to his feet and started to move over the room, examining books and weapons, cracks in the walls and the shadows in the corner. His energy jangled along their nerves but it was still more subdued than before, as if the simple physical act of going and doing kept it from building up too strong.
*Fairy with ADHD,* Xander thought, and Spike made a sort of snorting noise.
"Can we please get to the point now?" Angel looked ready to blow, and Jack looked up at him, pushing hair and feathers back out of his face.
"Patience is a virtue, my good Angelus," he said softly, and Angel recoiled a step, staring at him.
"My name is Angel -"
"Your name is Angelus, and the blood you shed and the magics you toyed with are like a dark smoke all around you, to those as can see it. As Xander most likely can see it..." Jack shot Xander a sly look and Xander frowned at him.
"I've never looked at - at Angel."
Jack's eyebrows went up in surprise, and the pooka laughed from his place near the library doors.
"Told you," he said, and Jack looked angry for a moment, then shrugged.
"To each his own. I'm here to talk about the First - and about that...weapon you so were so fortuitously given."
"What do you know about any of that?" Giles growled, *darkman darkman* rising up and rippling out, and Jack looked at Giles appraisingly.
"I know that the First is...taking liberties. And I know that the Powers - as they call themselves - are being..."
"Being the same as always. Lords of the Manor," the pooka said, and picked up a sword from its place in an open duffle - swung it easily through the air, making it sing.
"Leave it be," Spike snapped, and the pooka grinned at him.
"Want to make me?" he purred, and Spike was across the room - on him, fist in the laddered front of his dusk-blue sweater, his other hand gripping the thin wrist, forcing the sword down.
*Jesus, Spike! Don't -*
"Jack tasted damn good - what do you taste like, pooka?" Spike hissed, demon to the fore, and the pooka tipped his head back - he was about four inches shorter than Spike.
"Dunno - wanna try? Call me Scavenger, eh vampire? We should be friends." The pooka was too close - one long-fingered hand stroking too intimately along Spike's chest and Xander felt the growl in his chest - strode over to them just as Spike was stiff-arming the pooka backwards.
"Fuck off, Scavenger. You'll get no scraps."
"Too pretty not to try," Scavenger said, grinning, his eyes like burning coals.
"Enough!" Jack barked, and they all swung around to stare at him, jolted by the whiplash of power that had flared through the room. Scavenger hissed and slunk away, going halfway up the stairs and huddling down over his knees. "We've things to discuss. The First - has overstepped itself, and the Powers - are being stubborn. It will not be tolerated." Jack uncoiled gracefully and his glamour was gone. He stood there in the coat of maybe-velvet, maybe-leaves, his angular face longer and his limbs too thin. He was frowning.
*Xan, love - can you... Can you still SEE? Can you look at him?*
*I - don't know. I haven't tried, since...* They both shuddered at the brief flash of memory, and Derio and Oz both immediately moved closer, soothing unconsciously through the link.
*Be all right, love,* Spike added, answering pressure of his arm around Xander and Xander nodded - shut his eye for a moment.
"Taisbean," he whispered, and looked.
*It works...still works...* he thought, with a little upsurge of relief that caught him off guard. If it hadn't worked...would it have really mattered? Jack looked the same - coat flickering between velvet or brocade and whatever it really was - leaves and flowers, maybe, or the thin skin of birds. There were more feathers in this hair than before, and a thong tied around his left thigh, with beads and feathers and what looked like a bone hanging down. He noticed Xander looking and nodded, flashing a sharp-edged grin; his face and body stretched and thinned and then settled again into the angular not-quite-humanity of the brocade coat-self. The sparks still danced and swirled, and the amusement was still there - the casual malice of the stalking cat. But no real harm.
*Truth. He's not lying, unless he can hide that. But I don't think so.* They went back towards the fireplace, gathering in a loose circle that included the couch. Jack stood there, his hands clasped loosely behind his back. He nodded to Xander once, the spark in his eyes, and then he turned to the group.
"We're...from outside. We see things. We know things. That - amulet - will defeat the First's army, but at the cost of the life of the bearer." Jack looked down, then up again, his smile lazy and razor-edged. "Normally, we wouldn't care. What's one less vampire? Or human - or anything else? But this time... Something's different. Angelus - you cannot wield this."
"I can and I will. I'm not going to let Cordelia die, and that's final."
"She'll die anyway, if you do," Jack said mildly, and Angel growled. Xander stared at him - and stared again, feeding his image into the link. Angel's demon was in the arms of his soul - held so tightly it could barely move. Both of them looked ill - exhausted - sick at heart. Ready for the end. But there was something else. A delicate line of mist and sparks, barely there. It flowed out from Angel's heart, and away up into the air. Exactly the same as Buffy. A tether. A line - straight to heaven. The gold and deep blue sparks that swirled and flowed around Angel flowed up that tether, and back down, slow dance of light.
*No wonder. He was - he was in heaven. Like Buffy. No wonder it was so awful, to have his soul returned. And every time it's been lost and brought back -* Xander shuddered. God - how horrible it must be. And Angel must know. Must feel it, like Buffy felt it.
*What's the matter with him? He looks -* Derio was wide-eyed, contemplating the images that Xander was showing them. *Spike's demon doesn't look like that.*
*Mine's not been kept locked up in some mental box for a century and a half,* Spike thought.
"If this amulet will kill the bearer then you're right, Angel must not bear it. We'll find some - other way of dealing with the First." Giles spoke quietly, but his voice was inflexible - his look hard. Jack tipped his head in acknowledgement but then shook it, the smile fading a little.
"No - it must be borne. It must be - used. Used by someone not-human. Someone stronger than a human, and someone with a soul." There was dead silence at his words, and then Buffy made a small noise, stepping forward. Her eyes were huge in her thin face, and her hand was shaking as she held the amulet up. Tara moved up with her, hand on her arm and Buffy looked at her for a moment before turning to Jack.
"It's for me then. I'm - I'm supposed to wear it. That - makes sense -"
"Buffy, no -" Giles said, anguished, and Jack held up his hand.
"No Slayer, not for you," he said softly. Scavenger had come down from the stairs and sidled up behind him - stood there now, frowning up at all them from behind the tangled hair that hid half his face.
"Just get to it, Jack," he said softly. In the seeing he was a swirl of black energy - of deep-red and crystal-blue sparks. A horse's shadowy outline hovered around him, tossing its head. Xander felt a growing sense of panic - of inevitability, and he pushed it sharply away.
*No, no, no. Fuck no. Oh god -*
*Xan, what -*
"No," Jack said, not looking at Buffy - not at all. "The Powers are quite...adamant that the amulet be worn by..."
"No! No. Jack, stop it -" Xander felt like he might be sick - like he just might go over to the Sidhe and hit him - or take the amulet and smash it on the stone of the fireplace. He was shaking, he could feel it, but he didn't know what to do about it.
*NO. Not human, with a soul? That could be me. Or Oz or Derio. But they sent it to ANGEL. They want -*
"Some things can't be changed, Xander," Jack said, and for the first time Xander saw his smile waver - saw something like uncertainty in the narrow face.
"This is going to be changed! This is not going to happen!" Xander felt Spike's hand on his arm and he groped blindly for it - clung with a grip that would leave bruises. Behind Jack, the pooka was looking - angry. He made a snarling sort of face, and stepped forward.
"Jack - tell them."
"You overstep yourself, pooka," Jack grated, and Ethan glided up to both of them, his eyes shining with a manic light.
"We're all instruments of chaos here, gentlemen. But I've got some favors owed me that you may not like. Explain yourselves, or you will be very, very sorry.
*Infinite ending beginning chaos cold cold cold,* that was Ethan's power, revving up against Jack's and for a moment everyone was simply frozen. Then Jack lifted his hand and pushed the air, gently, and Ethan's power - Giles' - even the link, for one awful moment of time was dead. Jack looked at Xander - looked at Spike, and his eyes were sorrowful and dark as pits.
"The amulet is for a vampire. The amulet is for Spike," Jack said. And all hell broke lose.