When they found the ruins of the planet, they found a box.
It was what was locked and sealed within the box that made the difference.
The Academy was built into the ground. Labs and tunnels crawling through the hard rock, snaking death and venom beneath layers and layers. They made him walk, marching numb. His arms burned, twisted back in heavy handcuffs, with three men holding out crosses.
People watched. A little girl strapped down to a chair looked up as he walked on by like a dead man, and he could feel the dead bodies watching his march.
“Unusual, seems to be proof of mythology from Earth-That-Was.”
“Start prepping the blood storages.”
“Put him in Cell 93.”
“Next to the Subject?”
“He’s behind bars. Can’t hurt her.”
They lock him up, leaving him tasting dust and ashes. “You’ll regret this,” He assures calmly, smiling with a mouthful of daggers and knives. They smirk with identical smirks, blood staining their hands equally.
He watches her, sprawling out in his cell.
She’s wide eyed, dressed in a white medical gown and gazing at the cracks on the floor.
It’s about three hours before he even bother to speak to her, watching the strange hallways and the strange people. He doesn’t understand why he has an existence, dug out of the wreckage of a ruined planet and transported on a fucking spaceship to another planet.
He tries not to think about too much. He doesn’t want to remember the world caving in on him, the blonde girl who smiled like summer but spoke like winter. He doesn’t want to think about his Sire, or everything he lost.
He sits up slowly on the cot, resting his head on his arm. “Who are you supposed to be, anyway?”
She looks up, regarding him slowly and carefully. Her eyes trace the outline of his body as she tucked herself up in the corner away. “This world is detached by time and history, you are dug up like the bones of the dead and yet you walk and talk.”
He sighed. “You have a name?”
“People from before called me River. Now I am the experiment. Their puppet, pulled along to dance what they bid.”
He allowed himself to collapse back down onto the couch, smacking his head hard against the brick wall. “What do they do here, anyways?”
“They fiddle. They drive their fingers into our bodies and invade our minds and try to make us more.”
He remembers this from before. How the blood fell from the roof and escaping only with half of him. The chip and the hunt and the fallout.
“Do not fear the blade, but the hand.”
When they first take her, he doesn’t know what to do.
They haul her to her feet and force her to against the wall. She screams nonsense, broken down mangled pieces of words that bleed into insanity. They force her to become serene by injecting her again and again until she is like clay to their hands.
She disappears for almost a full day, returned cowering and shaking and covered in blood. The men laugh, shoving her behind the bars and leaving her broken.
“You alright, pet?”
She turns her head slowly towards him. “I’m not an animal to be shell out beneath hands and made weak.”
He blinks, leaning against the cold metal bars. “Force of habit. Won’t mention it again.”
“Thank you.” She paused, cocking her head. “They won’t touch you. You are unknown. A probability not probable.”
Every three days, they give him a bag of blood.
Every three days, they take her away.
“I don’t like it here,” she mumbled, lying flat on the ground. “I can hear the hiss of the knives and taste the evil.”
He’s grown to become mad, feeding off the rage.
He’s filled with death and the suffering. He knows how to escape, the way to wait for the cage to swing open for the feedings, and how to break their necks and take they keys. He’d sweep her away from the wreckage of this living grave, and maybe they’d figure out what to do next.
“Don’t like it much either, Love.”
She’s trembling, overwhelmed by the lack of drugs rushing through her veins. She’s suffering from withdrawal, he understands. Needing what she lacks, unsupported for so long.
He looks hard at her, her heart beating like hellfire. “River. Do you trust me?”
He remembers Buffy slamming words at him, followed by livid fists. He remembered everything, warping his decisions and thoughts.
River’s watching him softly, one hand outstretched.
“You are no monster. I see through past you, into your eyes and through your ears. I trust you.”
River is separated from his cell by a small little hallway and two sets of bars. They are alone, pushed deep into the building, back into the darkness where he thrives and she adapts.
He lies back propped against a wall. River is waiting.
He can smell their fear as they walk down the hallway. He can taste the bagged blood, feel the anxiety.
They swing his door open, watching him with eagerness. For so long he’s been like a doll to them. Lying like a stone behind bars, allowing them to push and prod him for the sake of a blood bag. They don’t realize he’s moved until their necks have been ripped open and he’s tasted living blood for the first time in a very long time.
One man moves, and he smashes his head in against the brick wall, one hand snatching up the keys and tossing them to the small waiting hand.
It’s like clockwork. He’s nothing but pent up rage, and she’s the tortured soul who’s fighting with her back against the wall.
She looks small, blood staining her hands. Her hair tangles, eyes smouldering like embers of a blazing fire.
He strikes first, using a pipe to caving one skull in. She snakes out, snatching up both a knife and a gun before turning herself into a weapon. Lashing out again and again, and suddenly they just fit.
“Loading Bay was up here. We can hitch a ride.” He directs her, a gentle touch to her wrist. They loop through the hallways, her bare feet soundless against the ground. He can taste both blood and smoke, and all she can taste is ashes and lighting.
He’s already moving forward into a hollowed out space between boxes and supplies, but she’s leading him onwards. “They fix her brain to excel. She can understand the gizmos and gadgets, and push them into use.”
Within seconds they’ve cleared out the space ship, tossing eleven bodies out. (eleven drained bodies out, to be honest.)
The ship itself is dark, with tinted windows and long hallways. It’s designed for shipments, and she’s sprinting through the hallways laughing wildly. She’s also unsteady with her hands grazing smooth metal walls for balance, he notices. How she looks so narrow and thin beneath the lighting.
He doesn’t understand how it’s happened, but she’s seated in the Pilot’s chair and her hands are pulling at things and pressing buttons and suddenly they are floating in the air.
(engines roar and he can feel the vibrations of flight through his boots and she’s lifting them higher and higher into the air before thrusting forward and they are flying.)
Honest to god flying.
They sell the ship fast. They use the money to hole up somewhere cheap for the day before heading out for a new ride. He doesn’t really comprehend this world, and how it functions. She’s also hazed, lost in a tortured state of liberation.
She has insomnia, some nights spent pacing in frantic circles and dancing the same routines across the small space they have and other nights locking herself into the closet of the hotel room and hiding.
Despite this reality they face, they go out one evening when the sun has set low and the clouds cover the low skies thickly. They find a ship lot, and they wander like ghosts through.
“She believes this one will be our death,” she murmured into his shoulder, one hand grasping his sleeve. Her eyes pierce at the Dealer, narrowed eyes and fast words. “Engine goes boom, rebels go splat.”
He winced at the mental picture.
The other ship had thick windows everywhere. The sun would reduce him into ash, making her scowl and walk through the maze of rusted ships.
It was one ship though.
It was nestled against the curve of the hill, dark metal and smoothed edges. She went still at the sight of it.
“Freedom?” She asked, looking up with terrified eyes.
“Freedom.” He stated, stepping forward.
They buy the ship.
They also buy several parts and a stock of food and powdered blood.
(Powdered blood. A hideous invention necessary for the ventures of space.)
He steals a pair of shoes for her, because he’d be damn if she would cut her bare feet of something rusted and die. It takes nearly two months to get into the air, but it’s worth it. She finds some contraption that plays old music, and between the beat of attempted flight and struggle to get there he feels free.
(she’s still there. Dark and hazed, with sentences split in halves.)
“Stars, Spike.” River warns him, bright and electric. Her heart beats to the sounds of violins and pianos, and sometimes she just twirls around the grated floors with smooth steps and high leaps. “They shine so bright they blind.”
“That’s what stars do, love.”
It takes exactly two tries to get into the air.
She tries once because even though she knows that the ship will not fly, she is desperate to leave. The world searches for the escaped patient who was taken by a madman. She doesn’t want tiny little cell rooms and glittery needles that turn hearts to slugs and brains to cotton.
She attempts to lift the beast of the ground, willing everything to just work.
The ship doesn’t leave the ground, however.
She screams at the gravity and curses the attempt before resigning herself to fix the chaotic mess. Wires rewired, and repairing the veins of the home until life flows through the walls and makes itself real. She can see pieces. The way the power grids burst into colours, and how some buttons flicker like fireflies. The engine room hums because it is alive, and she is the master reworking rust and decay.
It becomes real beneath her fingertips.
The second time, she knows.
The second time she can feel the beast rumble and live, and Spike is humming with clenched teeth and loud thoughts. She grips the wheel and forces the engine to thrive and
dance beneath her control.
They lift until all they can see is stars and blackness.
It only takes two attempts to soar into freedom.
Powdered Blood tastes like chalk.
He mixes it into water, attempting to quench the endless thirst within him. He’s hold up in the dining area, surrounded by three thick textbooks of her own that details engines. All over the table are pages with her neat scrawl trying to script out thoughts and explain pieces of information and are ruined by her riddled wording.
It looks blinding to him.
“The thirst means you live.” She informs him, perched up on the counter ledge. “You drink to survive.”
She’s not flying the ship.
The thought terrifies him vaguely.
Her words scan the disarray of pages. “They make no sense. Meanings are hazed and lost. Can’t see clearly from that perspective, and I must find clarity.”
“Clarity ain’t the best.”
“It is more than she has.”
He hates the way powdered blood tastes.
One night he finds her playing with a gun.
Clicking the safety on and off.
Over and over again, trapped on a loop.
He grabs the gun and breaks it, and hauls her up and into his arms. “The hell do you think you are doing?”
She said nothing, tense in his grip.
He carries her down to his bunk, and wraps her up in blankets and stories. Stories about brave little girls who were made into killers, and monsters who maybe had the chance to be men.
(he thinks about Faith. He isn’t sure why, but he thinks about her.)
He stops thinking about Buffy and Dru. They are dust.
One night they watch the stars.
“Dust.” She sighs. “Past, present and future.”
He kisses her hard, and all he can taste is lightening.
He can feel her smile.
(happy endings, perhaps)