It was over. The terrible nightmare was finally over, though the aches and pains still lingered. He should have felt the joyous swell of victory – and perhaps it would come in time – but for now, all he felt was exhaustion. And pain, mainly from the headache that became steadily worse as the woman nattering on and on refused to shut the bloody hell up.
“Anya!” Giles yelled for the third time, trying to cut through her incessant yammering about magical commerce. There was a moment of blessed silence. “Would you like a job?”
She froze for a second, her efficient money-counting momentarily paused, and blinked. “Okay.”
“Good,” he said, some of the tension leaving him at the thought of having capable help. He’d experienced torture at the hands of a masterful sadist and had helped avert numerous apocalypses, yet none of that had prepared him for the horrors of retail. “We’ll talk shop tomorrow.”
“Okay,” Anya said again before going back to counting the money. “…Boss.” She smiled happily at the word.
At least someone’s in a good mood, he thought with a slight smile of his own. He sat up straighter in his chair with a groan and reached for one of the books he’d been reading off and on since his conversation with Buffy. While an ancient primordial evil was more important in the grand scheme of things, the situation Buffy and Spike were in right now was distressing to his slayer. He wished he could just blame the vampire and stake him for it, but – in this at least – he was guilty of no more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There was also the child to consider. It was an innocent. And, well, it was Buffy’s. Given her calling and short life expectancy – something he found too painful to dwell on overmuch – it might very well be the only child she’d any hope of ever having. It would be something of her that would continue on when the heartbreakingly inevitable finally came to pass.
At that moment, he made a vow to himself. He would end that innocent life himself if it came down to a choice between it and Buffy, but barring that, he would do his utmost to protect it. If that meant keeping Spike safe and well…. He sighed and rubbed at his tired eyes, resigning himself to the situation. Then so be it.
“Did Buffy seem okay when you talked to her?” Willow asked as she and Xander each grabbed a book from the pile.
“I believe so, yes,” he said absently as he carefully opened the book. It was a fascinating read, detailing how the So’voriku became genderless and built their ritual. He had found a passage on some of the built-in safeguards before the deluge of customers had become too much to handle. “She, uh, decided to take Spike with her to investigate the location where she found the Dagon Sphere.”
“Good,” Xander said, sounding like he actually meant it. Giles had noticed a decided decrease in the young man’s rancor towards the vampire lately. “He seemed like he was going a little stir crazy when we were playing Mario Kart a couple days ago.”
“You’ve been getting awfully chummy with Spike lately,” Willow said, the frown evident in her voice. She did tend to get rather jealous of Xander’s time.
“Well, yeah…. I… uh, I kind of feel for the guy. He’s sort of growing on me. Like a fungus or something.” Xander sounded a little disturbed at the realization. “An evil, bloodsucking fungus.”
Giles shook his head, tuning them out as he read. Now then, where was that passage? Ah, here we go…. In order to avoid too many unfortunate situations, a safeguard was built into the spell. It will have no effect on a couple at all unless…. He stared at the words, the implications hitting him like a ton of bricks. He was only vaguely aware of the jingling bell that indicated someone had entered the store.
“Good lord,” he whispered.
“Did you find something, G-man?” Xander’s question blended in with Willow’s inquiry of “What’d you find?”.
“This, this passage indicates that in order for the ritual to work, the, uh, the dominant partner must feel a certain level of trust and protectiveness for the submissive while the submissive partner must be in love with the dominant. At, at least at a subconscious level. For both of them.”
As he spoke, Giles looked up at the person who had come in. Riley stared back at him, face contorted with bitter rage. And then Buffy burst in through the door, out of breath and utterly panicked.
By the time Spike was aware of his surroundings again, the pain in his head had subsided to a dull, aching throb. He had been stripped down to nothing but his jeans – even the bloody amulet was gone – and was hanging by his wrists from chains attached to the ceiling, high enough up that his toes barely touched the bottom of a plastic basin that went up to his ankles. Another set of chains were attached to the floor at one end and the metal cuffs around his ankles at the other.
Prob’ly to catch the blood, he thought in regards to the basin, glancing around. He was in a pretty posh looking bedroom, full of all kinds of decadent things. If he had a sweet little set-up like this, he’d be reluctant to let it get too stained.
The woman in red rose from the bed and approached him. “It’s about time, vampire. I was starting to think you’d sleep forever,” she said, face and voice oozing false cheer. They were suddenly gone as she fisted his hair and yanked his head down. “Now, tell me where my key is.”
“Don’t know a sodding thing about any key. Have you tried poking about at the local garden gnomes? People have a habit of hiding them under the bloody things.” As much as he’d wanted a second go at the bitch, he’d seen how easily she’d tossed the Slayer about, and he had enough sense to be afraid of her. Unfortunately, his usual reaction to fear was snark.
“You and your little girlfriend took my monk, so I took you. I could have taken her instead, but, I mean, why bother? She’d break like a little twig. And, more importantly, you. Insulted. Me.” The last three words were each punctuated with a brutal punch to the face. His right cheek shattered in a burst of pain, pinprick stars sparking across his vision. “What did he tell you?”
“He said… he hid it the one place you’d never be able to find it, even with a flashlight and both hands.” He could feel it building inside, a burning rage. How dare this skanky bitch make him afraid? How dare she chain him up like this? He was not a bloody victim to be bound up and abused. He let his most infuriating smirk spread across his face, fighting back the only way he could at the moment. “Up your hairy, lopsided arse.”
She let go of his hair and hit him again, a backhand across the jaw followed by a fist like a wrecking ball to his ribs. He felt two of them snap and drive into his lungs. Breathing was suddenly painful, but he struggled to keep doing it. He hated not being able to breathe. Did he actually need to now? Did the sprog need air?
“Where is my key?” she demanded again.
“Sod...off…bitch,” he gasped out.
“So, you wanna do this the hard way, huh? Fine.” She looked at something behind him. “You, bring the water.”
“Yes, your most wonderful Radiancy,” a disgusting little scab of a demon sniveled as he rushed forward with a five-gallon gas can.
“I left the monk able to walk away,” the woman said conversationally as she took it from her minion. “I mean, yeah, he needed help to do it, but he could still walk. That isn’t going to be a problem here.”
She tilted the gas can, letting the contents splash over his bare feet and into the basin. The horrible, itchy burn set in immediately, his skin beginning to redden and blister. He bit back a scream, his entire body tensing as he instinctively tried to lift his legs up away from the holy water. The chains held them firmly in place.
Oh God, please no. A hysterical giggle almost escaped him at that thought. An evil, soulless vampire calling on God to save him from something holy.
He writhed and jerked as much as the restraints would allow, unable to stop the fruitless movement even though it jostled his broken ribs. The blessed water hissed and steamed, his flesh starting to bubble and dissolve. He could feel it seeping through his ruined skin, trickles of acid eating away at the muscle tissue beneath. He could deal with this. Dru used to use holy water on him sometimes. He could… he could….
Oh god it hurt. A thousand ravenous ants crawling and biting. As the basin filled, they started to find the bottoms of his feet as well. A rising tide of burning, shrieking agony while worms of fire tunneled and writhed down from the gas can’s spout. It was too much. Everything that had happened with the Slayer, and now this. He could feel his mind slipping, trying to hide away from everything he’d been through in the past week.
…pretend it was just one of Dru’s games. Miss Edith could bloody well believe whatever she wanted, but he’d always been Dru’s favorite dolly. He could almost see his princess now, flitting about, her finger over her mouth in a hushing gesture before she told him he mustn’t talk out of turn.
Just a game, he told himself. Just one of Dru’s games. All the while, the ants kept gnawing, their hunger never satisfied as they ate into the very demonic essence that kept him undead instead of just dead dead, damaging him in a way that only something holy could. But he would stay quiet, and he would endure, because that’s what Dru wanted of him.
Buffy paced the confines of the training room like a caged tiger, too agitated to be out in the main part of the store with the others. She needed to move, to do something. She couldn’t just sit around and wait while Willow attempted a locator spell. The woman in red had tortured the monk so badly he’d died. She was probably torturing Spike.
And Spike’s an idiot who likes to antagonize his enemies, she thought, remembering the way he’d acted when they’d been holding him prisoner in Giles’s apartment. Or, well, every other time she’d interacted with him, honestly. The woman was going to hurt him. Was probably already hurting him. What was it going to do to the baby? One wrong blow could kill it.
Oh god, her baby could die. It wasn’t even a cute little bump yet, and it could die. Or be brain damaged or so badly deformed that it would never lead a healthy, happy life. Bad enough stress to the system could cause spontaneous abortion, and she was pretty damn sure being kidnapped and tortured after getting your brain fried counted as bad stress.
Oh god, what if Spike was brain damaged? Or hurt so badly that he couldn’t fully recover? She didn’t think vampires could regrow limbs. At least, not vampires under two-hundred. How would she explain that to their child?
Okay, Buffy, just stop and breathe, she told herself. I don’t know what condition Spike is in right now, but the baby is at least still alive. She knew that much. She could still feel that urge to protect it, nestled in with her slayer instincts. It wasn’t pushing at her as hard as normal, mainly because she was already pushing at herself to get moving, to go rescue Spike. He deserved that from her. He’d caused himself pain to stop her from betraying Dawn to the enemy. A soulless, evil demon had done something selfless. Her baby sister wasn’t her sister. It was all too much to wrap her head around.
She was startled from her thoughts by the door between the training room and store suddenly opening. Giles stepped in and carefully closed the door behind him. He had serious face. She didn’t like that he had serious face. Serious face was very much of the bad. Was he going to suggest they just leave Spike to be tortured and dusted? Riley had, before he’d stormed out.
“No arguments, Giles, we’re –”
“Buffy,” he interrupted gently. “My dear girl, I’m terribly sorry, but I must ask you something. I know this isn’t the best time, but I very much doubt there ever really will be a best time.”
She blinked at him in confusion. This was not what she’d been expecting. She didn’t know what he wanted to ask, but she was very sure she didn’t want him to ask it.
“Are you,” he began, then hesitated a moment. “Are you quite certain that, when you fell afoul of the ritual, Spike didn’t….” He trailed off, unable to finish the sentence.
Buffy felt sick as she stared at him. First Riley and now Giles. He hadn’t weighed in yet on what had happened between her and Spike. She should have been expecting it, and she should have expected this reaction.
“He didn’t want it,” she said harshly. “He didn’t want me.” She took a deep breath and ran her hand through her hair, forcing back tears. “My god, Giles, if you guys had seen the look in his eyes…. He gets panic attacks sometimes if I get too close, and… and he has nightmares. He doesn’t tell me about them or anything, but sometimes, I go to check on him when he’s sleeping, and, and he’s.... whimpering. I did that to him. I….”
Instead of asking again if she was sure or trying to convince her she was wrong somehow, Giles put his arms around her. “My poor, dear girl. I’m so sorry. We discovered some things about the ritual, and I had to ask. To make completely certain Spike hadn’t set the entire thing up himself.”
She pulled away from him. “What do you mean? Why would you think that?”
“There are some safeguards – not very effective ones, honestly – built into the ritual. The, uh, more submissive part of the couple must, at least at a subconscious level, love the dominant. And the dominant must have a basic level of trust in – and a feeling of protectiveness for – the other.”
Buffy stared at him in stunned disbelief. Spike loved her? That couldn’t be possible. That was even more insane than the idea of her sister being some mystical blob of energy. But… he had kicked her in the head, despite the pain it would cause. No. That was for Dawn and Mom, she told herself. They were nice to him.
Her mind played through the times he could have killed her, but hadn’t. The times she could have killed him, but… hadn’t. She couldn’t deny that a bond had formed between them back when they’d formed that truce. Maybe even before. As much as she hated to admit it, there had always been… something about fighting Spike. He brought out the best and worst in her, and had from the moment he’d applauded her in the alley outside the Bronze.
“Riley,” she said suddenly, feeling both numb and overwhelmed at the same time. “You told that to Riley, that’s why….”
No wonder he’d looked so hurt and angry when she’d burst in, desperate to go rescue Spike. She needed… she needed to find Riley, talk to him, explain that she loved him and, and…. And, quite honestly, she didn’t want to. She felt sick as she realized it, but it was true. She didn’t want to. She loved him – or at least thought she did – but somewhere along the way, being with him had become a chore. He always wanted to be the big, strong he-man for her, and it was exhausting trying to let him or dancing around his ego when she couldn’t.
“I’m afraid I was taken rather by surprise by my findings and didn’t realize he was even in the shop until I’d blurted it all out,” Giles said, real apology in his voice. Something inside of her eased just a little bit. Giles had her back. Her watcher was watching out for her. Her surrogate daddy looking after her while she was dealing with being a daddy - or mommy, whatever - and helping her be the Slayer instead of holding her back.
The door opened again, and Xander poked his head in. “Willow’s got the location.”
Seconds became centuries and minutes dragged on into eons as Spike lay curled on the carpet, the chill radiating through most of his body contrasting unpleasantly with the awful burn centered on his feet and eyes and splashed across his torso. He deserved the pain. He’d been bad hadn’t he? He hadn’t told what mustn’t be told, but he’d talked. Told the ranting woman that if she needed a key so badly, she should just call a sodding locksmith and be done with it.
The Dru he had built in his head had punished him for it. She’d unbound him and put him on the floor before sloshing the holy water across his body, saving the last bit to dash into his eyes. Made everything all fuzzy and streaks of color, it did. But he’d learnt his lesson, really, he had. No more talking out of turn.
“Is this some kind of game to you?” the red blob shrieked, words spewing out of its mouth in pretty colors. It sounded so distressed, almost in tears. Poor blob. “This is valuable time from my life that I’m never going to get back, and you don’t even care.” She leaned down, practically spitting in his face. “Where. Is. My. Key!”
He squinted at her, trying to make out her features. She was blonde, and strong, which made him really uneasy for some reason. Her face was all scrunched up, like she was trying to be intimidating. She just looked like she’d gone all over constipated or somesuch. He must have said that last bit out loud, because Dru punished him for it. She slammed her foot down on the bend of his arm and ground into it, breaking the joint.
Sod it, he thought as he fought back a scream. He’d spoken again. Oh well, breaking some rules was all part of the game. As long as he didn’t break the rule, he’d win. Then Dru would take care of him, and they’d have a nice little night out on the town once he was all better. They could go dancing. Or maybe ice skating, if it wasn’t so bloody cold.
Cold. Cold. That was important for some reason, wasn’t it? He shivered, a small pained sound escaping him as the movement jostled his arm, ribs, and feet. Why was he so cold? There was something… something about…. Thursday. Was he supposed to do laundry on Thursday? No, no. The sprog. Thursday was the sprog.
Monday’s child is fair of face. Tuesday’s child is full of…. Focus, Spike, focus. Your wits can go on holiday later. Have to figure this out. The sprog was draining him. What was it Buffy had said? Confusion and disorientation at first. Confusion seemed about right. Was he disoriented? He was… facing a direction. That was oriented, wasn’t it? He drifted a bit, too cold to really pay attention to much more than random snatches of conversation.
“… leave as soon as….”
“…ayer will be here soon.”
He caught a vaguely familiar scent as someone knelt beside him and gently moved his injured arm closer to his body. Then a hand slid under his shoulders and he was partially lifted up, warmth suddenly coursing through him as something was slipped over his head and down around his neck.
“If you were human, I’d get you to the hospital,” a soothing male voice said quietly as he was settled back down on the floor. Like the scent, it was vaguely familiar. “I think Buffy will be more of a help to you than I will right now.”
Warmth. Warmth was good. And sleep. He was so tired. And hungry. He wanted someone to drain right away. Maybe a male. Not his usual preference, but they tended to have more blood in them. An athletic one, someone strong who probably took a lot of supplements and the like, but no steroids.
And then a sweet little college girl to cuddle up with. To snuggle close while he slowly drank from her, her warm, soft body driving away the cold. She’d be chained up and gagged to keep her sweetly docile. He’d been good, so Dru would do it for him. Won’t you, pet? They’d have something on the telly, and there would be a couple of quarter pound cheeseburgers covered in fried onions and pineapple chunks….
“Good lord.” A horrified voice with a comforting accent.
“Oh god, I’m gonna be sick.” Another male voice. Annoying wanker who might be becoming something else.
Vague, blurry movement, and a figure was by his side. A woman. Was it Dru? He couldn’t see well enough to tell. She didn’t smell right, but she hadn’t smelled right at all that night. There was a reason for that, but he couldn’t quite remember what it was. The woman hesitantly stroked his hair. Had to be Dru. The game was over, and now she was being sweet to him.
“Didn’t tell,” he mumbled. She made a shocked sound, and he squinted at the smear of color by his side, wishing he could see her clearly. “Didn’t tell. Won the game. Was supposed to win, wasn’t I, Dru?”
She hesitated before answering, long enough to make him uneasy. Sometimes he was supposed to lose. Usually he could figure out when, but not always. She’d be brassed off with him if he’d been meant to lose.
“Yeah,” she finally answered, voice strangely thick. “You were supposed to win, Spike. You did good.”
“Won’t throw me away again, love?”
Another hesitation. “No. I won’t throw you away. But we… we need to leave here, okay?”
He tried to get up, but his body didn’t seem to want to work right. Before he could try to force it, Dru held him down. “No!” she said sharply. “I’ve got this. You just rest, okay?”
“How are we going to get him out of here without hurting him too much?” asked the less-annoying-than-he-used-to-be boy.
“W-we… me and, and Willow, we c-could use a spell to, uh, make him a bit l-lighter.”
Spike closed his nearly useless eyes and let himself drift off, feeling completely safe for the first time in over a year. Dru was there, and she loved him again. That was all he needed.
Numb. Buffy felt utterly and completely numb as she stood under the shower spray and scrubbed herself raw with a loofah soaked in her sister’s soap. Had to wash away the “Buffy stink” as Dawn had so charmingly called it. Her scent had been deemed too traumatic without something to at least mask it a little. She choked back a sob and dropped the loofah, pouring too much of Dawn’s shampoo into her hand and rubbing it roughly into her scalp. It dripped down into her eyes, and she pretended that was the reason for the tears streaming down her cheeks.
The things Spike had said after they’d gotten him into Giles’s car…. He had curled up against her, and it had felt disturbingly good – like something she needed just as much as air – even as it unsettled her. It didn’t seem right. He still thought she was Drusilla as he nuzzled against her and babbled in a voice too soft for anyone but her to hear. She’d mocked him when he’d come back to Sunnydale after Dru left him, even though she knew how much it hurt to lose someone you loved.
But by then, - because of what she’d gone through with Angel - she’d firmly believed vampires couldn’t love and had been disgusted that Spike would dare to act like his feelings for his crazy ex had been anything important. But now she knew. Dru had been everything to him. Lover/mother/child/charge/owner and she’d just… abandoned him. Like a service dog not just retired, but tossed out into the street to live as a stray. It couldn’t have been the first time he’d felt abandoned, but it had been the most devastating.
Buffy could relate. Her father had thrown her away, and Angel…. God, we’ve even been abandoned by the same person, she thought. Even without all of the baggage caused by the ritual, the two of them really were a mess.
She rinsed and dried off before sprinkling herself with baby powder to further mute her scent. Then she got dressed in some freshly washed pajamas before walking to Dawn’s room and peeking in. Spike was on her sister’s bed, his coat draped over him like a blanket while the teenager sat on the edge and lightly stroked his hair. Someone had put his arm in a sling and his feet had been loosely wrapped with gauze. The skin was completely gone, leaving a horrifying mess of black and red muscle tissue interspersed with the white of exposed bone.
She fought the urge to open a vein for a him again. They’d already given him a pint of her blood and all of the human in the fridge. Giles was out getting more.
“Can you watch over him for a few more minutes?” she asked quietly when Dawn looked up at her.
She nodded, and Buffy turned away, making a brief stop in her own room before going down the stairs. She looked at the piece of paper she’d retrieved and dialed the number on it.
“Hello?” the voice at the other end said, sounding tired. She’d forgotten how late it was. She’d probably woken him.
“Hey, Ben, it’s Buffy,” she said, her voice sounding hoarse and strange to her ears. “I… I’m sorry it’s so late, but….” She took a deep breath before continuing. “We’re not fine. We’re really, really not fine.”
Buffy slipped back up the steps and into her room, grabbing one of her knives and holding it in her hand like a comfort object. She shouldn’t, she knew that. Giving too much blood would just make her weak. It’s… it’s just in case. He’s still in pretty bad shape. What if he starts convulsing again?
She took a deep breath and went to Dawn’s room. Her sister quietly stood up and walked over to her and gave her a hug.
“I’m sorry, Buffy,” she whispered. “When I saw…. I’m sorry. I thought it was you.”
“It’s okay,” Buffy whispered back, stroking her sister’s hair. Her sister, who was supposed to be some kind of key. Who she’d almost betrayed while Spike had let himself be badly hurt to protect her. “The things I’d been thinking of....” She trailed off with a shudder. “Go on to my room for tonight. I promise I won’t do anything to hurt him. I just… I just want to take care of him. For, for the baby, you know?”
Dawn pulled back enough to study her before nodding slowly. “Okay.”
Once she had left the room, Buffy carefully got into the bed with Spike and curled around him, sticking her knife under the pillow. He snuggled close, his face pressed lightly to her throat. She heard a familiar crunch of bone and was just barely able to grab his hair in time to stop him from biting her.
“No, Spike,” she whispered, pulling his head back a little farther. “You’ll hurt yourself.”
She retrieved the knife and cut into the skin at her neck before pressing him back against her. It was just a little cut, letting out no more than a trickle. He didn’t seem to mind, though, nuzzling in and lapping at her neck, as if it was more about the comfort of the action and taste than a desperate need. Buffy drifted off to sleep with him held safely in her arms.