Summary: Angel and Spike have a hard time adjusting to their new living arrangements in Texas. Can they put their troubles aside long enough to save a missing girl?
Rating: PG-13 (for language)
Author's Note: This is the third episode in my Angel: Afterlife virtual season six series. For series background and prior episodes, see this post.
Something about the girl creeped Aggie the hell out, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on what. It’s just a little girl, she told herself, there’s nothing scary about that. A little girl sitting in a graveyard. Singing a creepy-ass song in the middle of the damn night. Okay, not helping. Think about nice things that aren’t creepy. Like kittens. Cute, fluffy, kitteny thoughts.
Neither of the guys seemed particularly eager to make the first overture. And as the only owner of a uterus in the party, Aggie supposed it was up to her to approach the girl so they didn’t spook her too badly. But what if she spooks me? said a voice in her head. She told the voice to shut up.
“Hi, Maya,” she said. “That’s a nice song you were singing.”
“My momma taught it to me,” said the girl, bouncing her ball and sweeping up a handful of jacks.
“Your momma’s really worried about you, she’s been looking for you all day.”
“I’m on sevensies,” said Maya. “Auntie Pockets says seven’s my lucky number because I’m seven years old and I was born on the seventh of July, and July is the seventh month.” She bounced the ball again.
Yeah, something about the girl was definitely not right. In Aggie’s experience, kids Maya’s age were a suspicious, cagey bunch who’d had so many warnings about Stranger Danger burned into their brains they knew better than to let three strange adults approach them and strike up a conversation. Maya was showing no apprehension at all, and no surprise that they’d known her name. The girl hadn’t even reacted when Aggie mentioned her mother. In fact, she wasn’t giving off any emotions; her aura was just a big fat blank, like she was asleep or something.
Aggie started to move towards her, but Angel put a hand on her arm to stop her. “How’d you get here, Maya?” he asked. “Do you remember?”
“Auntie Pockets brought me. We’re having a picnic.”
Aggie looked around. There was no one in sight. “Can you see Auntie Pockets right now?”
Maya laughed. “No, silly, she’s inside getting the picnic ready.”
Aggie’s eyes went to the door to the crypt. At first glance it had appeared closed, but now she could see that it was just slightly ajar. Someone was inside.
“Would you like to come to our picnic? I’ll ask Auntie Pockets if we have enough cookies.”
“That’s okay,” said Aggie, “don’t—”
“Auntie Pockets!” called the girl. “Can my new friends come to our picnic?”
Angel stepped in front of Aggie, putting himself between her and whatever might be in the crypt. The door began to creak open—
A sweet-looking old lady stepped out, holding a Nutter Butter in her hand. “Here, poppet,” she said, handing it to the girl. “Have a cookie.” The old lady looked up at them and smiled. “I’m not sure I have enough food for all of you, but I’m sure we can share with our new friends, right poppet?”
Aggie blinked. The messages her brain was sending her made no sense. One second she was looking at a perfectly harmless old woman, but then the image seemed to flicker and just for a second she caught a glimpse of a huge hairy spider, as tall as a horse and as black as the space between the stars. Then she saw the old woman again, and then another flicker and it was a fat, bloated woman, naked except for a sheathed knife hanging from a belt around her waist. In her hand she held a heart, still beating and dripping bright red blood.
“What’s the matter, dearie?” said the woman, looking at her curiously.
Something about the woman was Very Wrong. Whatever she was, was definitely not a sweet little old lady. “She’s wearing a glamour,” warned Aggie. “She’s not what she seems.”
Spike and Angel didn’t move.
“Angel,” she said, tugging at his arm. He didn’t react. His face was utterly slack and expressionless. Worse, his aura had gone blank. It was still there, it was just ... empty. She looked over at Spike, but he was just as zombified as Angel.
“He can’t hear you, dear, neither of them can.” The old woman gazed at her keenly. “You’re a special one, aren’t you? Saw through my glamour and resisted my thrall. Someone’s taught you very well. Pity.”
Aggie ran. She didn’t think, she just did it. Her feet were moving even before she was conscious of her hindbrain screaming at her to get away, as far away as possible. Right. Now.
“Stop her,” she heard the woman say behind her. Aggie ran harder—she could feel the adrenaline coursing through her body—as hard and as fast as she’d ever run from anything.
It wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough.
Something hit her in the back, hard enough to knock the air out of her lungs and send her crashing to the ground. Icy arms wrapped around her in a grip as strong as steel cable as she fell. She and Angel hit the ground together, the vampire controlling their roll so that Aggie ended up face down with the full weight of his body on top of her, pinning her to the ground.
Angel hauled Aggie to her feet. She struggled in his grasp, but he was unimaginably strong. “Angel, snap out of it,” she pleaded. “She’s controlling you, but you can fight it. Please, Angel, you have to fight it.”
His face remained perfectly impassive as he began to drag her back to the crypt. There was no malice there, none of the brutality she knew he was capable of, just that same blankness that had taken over his aura.
“Bring her inside, dear,” called the woman. “And you, bring the little girl. It’s almost time.” She walked back into the crypt. Spike took Maya by the hand and followed her inside.
Aggie’s mind raced as she continued to struggle. She couldn’t get away from Angel, but maybe she could at least slow him down a little, buying some time before he dragged her inside that crypt. She needed to break the thrall, but how? It hadn’t affected her, but she had no idea why. The woman said she’d resisted it, but she hadn’t done anything. So why was she immune?
As Angel hauled Aggie across the rough, overgrown ground she felt something cold thump against her chest. The amulet. Of course. It was made of iron. That must have been what protected her. Maybe if she could get Angel to touch the iron on her pendant it would break the thrall. Unfortunately, he had her arms pinned to her side and there was no way she was going to break free. But, hang on, old graveyards were full of iron. They used to use it for the fences around the burial sites, to contain the spirits of dead. She cast her eyes around and sure enough, there was a low wrought iron fence surrounding one of the plots ahead. If she could get Angel to touch it, maybe it would break the spell.
She stopped struggling and pretended to cooperate, letting her feet fall into step with his. Just as she’d hoped, he loosened his grip a little, allowing her to walk under her own power. She was lucky: while he was under the thrall he wasn’t nearly as careful and suspicious as he was when his mind was clear. Otherwise, he never would have let his guard down so easily.
As they drew alongside the iron fence Aggie pretended to stumble. Angel bent over to haul her upright and she threw her head back as hard as she could. There was a sickening crunch of cartilage as her skull made contact with Angel’s nose. While he was recovering from that she twisted around and leveraged both feet off the ground, kicking out against a nearby monument hard enough to send them both staggering backwards. Angel stumbled and fell backward onto the spear-topped pickets of the fence, pulling Aggie down on top of him and driving himself onto the points even harder. She heard him cry out in pain and he let go of her. She tumbled off of him ass over elbow and only narrowly avoiding breaking her neck on a tombstone. As it was her head thumped painfully against the hard stone, causing her vision to explode in burst of flashing white lights.
“Aggie?” Angel’s voice, hardly more than a whisper. A groan, then, “Aggie, are you all right?”
“I’m okay,” she managed, pushing herself upright.
“I didn’t hurt you, did I?”Angel had extricated himself from the fence. Blood seeped freely from two puncture wounds in his back and from his nose.
“Nothing a few Advil can’t fix,” she said, standing up unsteadily. “You’re you again, right?”
“Yes,” he said, swiping a sleeve across his face to wipe away the blood. “I was aware of everything. I could hear you talking to me, but I couldn’t do anything about it. How’d you break the spell?”
“It’s the iron. Impervious to malevolent spirits. Sorry about the impaling, by the way.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Angel. He bent over and ripped a length of the ancient fence out of the ground. Then he began to break off the individual pickets so that he had a handful of iron spears. Aggie knew the stuff was probably brittle with age, but even so, the strength that must be required to do such a thing was staggering.
“Remember,” she told him, “you can’t let go of the iron, not even for a second, or she’ll put you back under her thrall. Speaking as a puny human that would be bad for me.”
“I’m pretty sure I’ve still got a few shards of that fence stuck in my back, but I’ll be careful. You ready?”
Aggie nodded. “Let’s go finish off that bitch.”
It didn’t take long. They pretended that Aggie was still Angel’s captive and walked into the crypt with the iron spears concealed behind her back. Maya was lying on the stone floor while the woman sharpened an extremely old and nasty-looking stone knife. She looked up when they entered and had just enough time to shout, “Stop them!” at Spike, before Angel threw one of his iron spears. It lodged in her eye as Spike started toward them. The woman screamed and fell backward. As she fell she began to change form, her body undulating and bulging grotesquely. Aggie didn’t wait around to see what happened next. She scooped up Maya, who had begun to cry, and ran out of the crypt.
“It’s all right,” she crooned, hugging the girl. “You’re safe now. We’re gonna take you home to your momma.”
Behind her, she could hear Spike begin to cuss a blue streak, and she clapped her hands over the little girl’s ears. There was a series of muffled thumps followed by a few loud crashes, and then the two vampires emerged from the crypt.
“Is she dead?” mouthed Aggie so Maya wouldn’t hear.
“Yeah, and I gave her a good kicking, too,” said Spike. “Just to be sure. Damned old biddy, putting a thrall on me.”
They took Maya home to her very grateful mother. Demitra tried to pay them for their help, and then switched to forcing food on them when it became obvious they weren’t going to take any of her money. After a lot of hugging and crying, they managed to get away with nothing more than a sweet potato pie and four pounds of foil-wrapped spareribs.
“So what was that thing anyway?” asked Aggie when they were back in the van, driving home. “Some kind of witch?”
“Cithirith demon,” said Angel. “Big into black magic. They can basically live forever as long as they devour the heart of an innocent every year.”
“Sounds lovely. They don’t happen to look like a big-ass hairy spider in their natural form, do they?”
“How did you know?” said Angel.
“I could see through her glamour.” Aggie shuddered. “That harpy queen of the arachnids is gonna be the star attraction in my nightmares for a while.”
She turned onto Decatur Street and parked the Volkswagen in the gravel driveway beside the towering oleanders. The three of them went in through the back door of the house. The clock on the microwave said 2:08; Aggie couldn’t believe she wasn’t more tired.
“That was a proper bit of fun, wasn’t it?” said Spike cheerfully.
“Yeah, it’s always a party with you two around,” said Aggie.
“I’m going to go wash this blood off,” said Angel. Aggie watched him walk upstairs. He moved stiffly, like he was still in some pain. She wondered how long it’d take for those puncture wounds to heal. And speaking of healing—
She went to the freezer, took out a bag of frozen peas and sank down into a chair, pressing the frozen vegetables against her sore back like a compress.
“Get a bit knocked around, did we?” said Spike.
“As it turns out,” she said, “getting tackled by a vampire is not at all like being knocked over with a feather.”
“Let’s have a look, then.” He came over and stood behind her. She moved the compress and lifted up the back of her shirt so he could see her lower back. He tutted over her like a school nurse and felt along her ribs with cool fingers. “The fact you’re not screaming in pain says you haven’t broken any ribs. I reckon you’ll live.”
She sank back against the compress again. “Don’t tell Angel, okay?”
“Pretty sure he already knows, the way he high-tailed it out of here just now. He prefers to do his self-flagellating in private.”
Aggie snorted. “I certainly hope so.”
“Dirty girl,” said Spike. They shared a smile. “Well,” he said. “I believe I’ll be heading up to Bedfordshire.”
“Goodnight,” said Aggie.
The book Angel had been reading earlier that evening was still on the table, beside the box of tissues she’d gotten out for Demitra. It was Dante’s Divine Comedy. She thumbed it open to a random page—
Through me you pass into the city of woe:
Through me you pass into eternal pain:
Through me among the people lost for aye.
Justice the founder of my fabric moved:
To rear me was the task of power divine,
Supremest wisdom, and primeval love.
Before me things create were none, save things
Eternal, and eternal I shall endure.
All hope abandon, ye who enter here.
Cheerful. No wonder he was so damned depressed. She closed the book, leaned back and closed her eyes. She stayed that way until she realized she was starting to doze off. The peas had lost a lot of of their cold and begun to get mushy, but her back felt a little better at least. She got up and put the bag of peas back in the freezer. When she turned around there was a single tissue rose lying on the kitchen table.
It had been one of her grandmother’s special tricks, making a rose out of single sheet of Kleenex. She used to do it all the time when Aggie was little. She’d pack them into Aggie’s lunchbox or tuck them into the pockets of her freshly laundered shirts, a little surprise to remind her granddaughter that she was loved.
Aggie picked up the rose and sniffed the delicate tissue petals as if it were a real flower. It smelled faintly, but distinctly, of Avon’s Unforgettable.
She carried the rose into the front parlor and opened the walnut chifferobe where all her grandmother’s idols and fetishes were kept. She set the rose on one of the shelves, next to the statue of Saint Anne. “Thank you,” she said, in case anyone was listening.
There was a little string of prayer beads draped around Saint Anne, small rough cut stones of snow quartz and black tourmaline in a seemingly random, but very specific pattern. She took the beads, closed the chifferobe, and went upstairs.
She could hear Angel moving around up in the attic. She hesitated, then climbed the dark narrow steps to the attic and knocked on the door. “Come in,” he said.
His hair was still wet from the shower; he was wearing a pair of black jeans she’d bought him at the Assistance League Thrift Shop and nothing else. He was twisted around, trying to position a bandage over the two scabbed-over puncture wounds that puckered the skin of his lower back.
“Let me help,” she said.
“Thanks,” he said when she’d fastened the bandage in place. He walked across the room and grabbed a shirt that was draped on the back of a chair.
He’d done a lot of work up here in the last two days. Most of the boxes and old furniture that had been stored in the attic were pushed over to one side, piled up in front of the attic’s only window to block the sunlight. He’d brought up one of the beds from downstairs, a small desk, a couple of chairs and an old wardrobe. A brass lamp with a fringed ochre shade bathed the space in sepia-colored light.
“About earlier,” she said, uncomfortably. “I think I owe you an apology. I can be kind of a nosy-ass bitch sometimes.”
He finished buttoning his shirt and looked up at her, all innocence. “Really?”
She stared at him. “Are you using sarcasm on me?”
“Maybe.” The barest hint of a smile hovered at the corner of his mouth.
She shook her head, amused. “So he does have a sense of humor. Who knew?”
“Aggie,” he said, and hesitated. “I know I haven’t exactly been easy to be around. You’ve done a lot for me and it’s not that I’m not grateful, it’s just ... I lost everything that mattered to me. It’s not something you just bounce back from.”
“I know that.”
“I will, though, eventually. I just need some time, okay?”
“And maybe for me to back off a little, right?”
“Maybe just a little.”
“I can give you more space. In fact, I can give you lots of space.” She held out the string of beads. “This is for you.”
He took it from her and held it in the palm of his hand, running his thumb over the small black and white stones. “What is it?”
“A mindward. It was my grandmother’s. When you’re wearing it, you’ll be completely shielded from psychics. I won’t be able to see your aura or read your mind or anything.”
He looked up at her, surprised. His eyes were soft and brown in the yellow light. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Put it on.”
As soon as he slipped the beads around his wrist it was like the sun coming out. All the gloom that had been emanating from him vanished, like it had never been there in the first place. Aggie smiled. “Lovely.”
“You really can’t read me anymore?”
He shook his head slowly. “Your grandmother used to wear this? To shield herself from you?”
Aggie shrugged. “Everyone’s entitled to their secrets.”
“Thank you,” he said.
“You’re welcome.” There was a silence. “Okay,” she said. “I’m gonna go now.” She turned to leave.
“Connor's my son,” said Angel.
She spun around and stared at him. “But vampires can’t—”
“It’s a really long story.”
“Apparently.” She paused. “But I’m not asking you to tell it. See how I’m giving you space? There’s you and here’s me and look at all this space in between us. I’m not even tempted to ask about your miracle vampire progeny.”
He smiled faintly. “I can tell.”
“You know it’s killing me, right?”
“I do, yes.”
“Just so you're properly appreciative.”
“Okay,” she said. “Well, goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” he said softly as she pulled the door closed behind her.
She climbed back down the narrow steps to the second floor landing.
“How’s Mr. Broodypants doing?”
She walked over to the open door of Spike’s bedroom. He was lying on top of the bedspread with his boots still on, leafing through an ancient Reader’s Digest.
“I don’t have any idea,” she said, leaning against the doorjamb. “I gave him a mindward. It shields him so I can’t read him anymore.”
“Yeah? Where’s my present, then?”
“I only had one,” she told him. “Anyway, I thought you didn’t care if I read your mind.”
“Don’t want to be left out is all.” He narrowed his eyes. “You do it for him or for you?”
He nodded. “Fair enough.”
She sat down on the room’s only chair, a floral print wingback that smelled inexplicably of parmesan cheese. “How’s the reading?”
“Joe’s duodenum sounds like a right tosser.” He sighed and tossed the Reader’s Digest onto the floor.
She smiled at him. “Even if I had another mindward I wouldn’t give it to you. You’ve got a nice aura: strong, steady, and a very fetching shade of chartreuse. I’d miss it if I couldn’t see it anymore.”
He cocked one eyebrow warily. “If you’re being nice to me I may faint from shock.”
“Alas, the fainting couch is downstairs in the parlor.”
“Well, bless your cotton socks,” he said. “Nice to hear someone likes having me around for a change.”
“We both do,” she said seriously. “You’re good for him, even if he won’t admit it.
“How do you figure that?”
“You’ve got a shared history. That’s important, especially now.”
His expression darkened. “It’s not a very nice history, luv. The two of us have done a lot of bad things together. Things you don’t even want to imagine. It’s the real reason we get on each other’s tits so badly. Neither of us likes to be reminded of who we used to be.”
“You’ve been through hell together and made it out the other side,” she said. “And thence you came forth to see again the stars.”
“You getting poetical on me? ’Cause I know a thing or two about poetry.”
“No,” she said, standing up. “I’m going to bed.”
“Sleep tight,” he said. “Don’t let the Cithirith demons bite.”
“By the way,” she called from the hallway. “I probably forgot to mention, the house is haunted.”
“What?!” she heard Spike say.
She smiled and shut her bedroom door. Then she got ready for bed and crawled under the covers, which smelled only slightly of Avon’s Unforgettable. If she was going to be anywhere, she thought, she might as well be here. And she fell into a deep and peaceful and dreamless sleep, for the first time since she’d come home.