“So I lived my life alone, without anyone that I could really talk to …”
Riley Finn was army surplus.
Born on the Fourth of July, he’d shot up fast, like a sunflower, until even in the vastness of Iowa he’d felt too big. He outgrew the farm, and he outgrew the State: a magic beanstalk, with no castle at the top.
Oh, his family loved him – of course they did. That was what family was for, right? But they didn’t need him.
So he’d left, to go find somewhere he was needed.
To fight the good fight.
And Iowa expanded to fill the Riley-shaped gap.
When he went home at Thanksgiving, or on his mom’s birthday, he felt big and clumsy in the family farmhouse, bumping into furniture, and cracking his head on the beams. That last time, he’d knocked over his mom’s favourite vase – the one her mom had left her – and it had shattered on the floor. She’d told him not to fret over it, but he did.
He found that in his absence, the girl he’d left behind had cried, and then moved on, and he’d hugged, and understood.
But the hollow ache in his chest was not for her.
He looked over her shoulder into the distance, across the waving corn, wondering when he would find his mission.
“But he saw nothing, save peaks of rock that were sharpened like needles.”
Why was everything white?
Spike’s head throbbed like a bastard, so this couldn’t be heaven. He snorted. Fat chance of that!
He was lying flat on his back; it felt as if his spine had been welded to the floor. This couldn’t be good …
When he lifted his head, and tried to sit up, a wave of nausea soon convinced him to abandon the experiment. And everywhere he looked, he saw lines winding off in meaningless perspectives, reflecting back on each other, and back again, confusing him horribly. It looked like a holo-deck … but those hadn’t been invented yet.
Or had they?
What the hell was going on?
He clenched his teeth, and shook his head, trying to wake himself. That just made his headache worse.
Perhaps he’d got himself trapped in the Matrix …
The name seemed fitting; as he’d never bothered to watch the film, he didn’t rightly know, but he seemed to remember hearing about some different coloured magic pills that might get him out. Then again, everything around here, barring himself, was – as he’d previously observed – white.
That thought must have jinxed him, because he promptly threw up his last meal. The fast-food junkie he’d ambushed outside McDeath’s tasted even worse coming up than he had going down.
“Now there’s a bit of colour about the place’, Spike thought grimly, as he watched the anaemic blood spreading and congealing on the cold tiles.
Lying around here wasn’t achieving anything, but when he made another effort to rise, his hand slipped in the blood, and he crashed back to the floor.
“Of course, when you’ve been in this business as long as I have, you’ll know that vomiting is a fairly typical vampire reaction to being tasered.”
The disembodied voice seemed to come from somewhere off to his right, so Spike turned his head, and located the speaker: a hard-faced bitch, with a white coat, a clipboard, and eyes that could freeze molten lava.
“‘Typical vampire reaction’? Spike managed to splutter. “You don’t say!”
She turned, and fixed him with a Medusa glare.
So now he knew. They’d hit him with one of those new-fangled gizmos. As for why they’d brought him here – no doubt he’d find out, all too soon.
Under normal circumstances, he’d have launched himself at the transparent barrier between him and the lab-coat, in full fangs, and the hope that it wasn’t, as he suspected, toughened more than he was. But for the moment, even lifting his head off the floor made him heave, never mind about getting to his feet. Perhaps for once, he should show some sense: watch and learn, instead of shooting his mouth off.
Still, it didn’t look good, just lying on your back – and in the face of such provocation. “Come on Spike,” he muttered to himself, quietly enough that his observer wouldn’t hear him. “‘Do, or do not – there is no try.’”
Throughout his struggle to attain a sitting position, he could feel her gimlet eyes upon him, and when he finally had the wall at his back, Spike stared warily at his new nemesis, while fastidiously wiping his bloody hands on his jeans.
Only then did he take any notice of the square-jawed chump standing beside the scientist. Unlike her, he was clear-eyed and innocent-looking, and wearing fatigues. So … the military was poking its nose into the demon world now, eh?
The harpy coolly assessed Spike for a few more seconds, made some notes on her damned clipboard, then addressed her companion – “Agent Finn?”
Spike took note of the names of his adversaries.
The Professor looked up at Agent Finn with complete confidence. “This one, and the three other HSTs we captured today, are scheduled for controlled regeneration tests. Detail your men to take them down to the basement first thing tomorrow – the cells with the barred fronts. We’ll need to dart these test subjects periodically, for x-rays, and other assessment procedures.”
Agent Finn nodded. “Yes Professor, I’ll have it seen to, right away.”
Nevertheless, he stayed rooted to the spot, frowning slightly as he regarded Spike. “What is he, Professor?”
“This specimen –” she replied, making no attempt to hide her disapproval of his choice of pronoun: “– is a vampire.”
The soldier backed up, and looked intently into both the adjacent cells.
Now Spike’s attention had been drawn to it, he could hear the snarling typical of fledgling vamps – in game-face, as you’d expect in this situation – from either side of him.
Finn turned his attention back to Spike. “But he – it – looks human. No bumpy head, no fangs. How do we know he’s a vampire?” He eyed Spike doubtfully. “Is it the outfit?”
Spike blew out a scornful puff of air.
“It showed as ‘cold’ on the night sights,” Professor Walsh explained. “And, as you now see –” She pointed her pen at the red vomit, pooling and congealing on the tiles: “– it drinks blood, which is usually, though not invariably, indicative of vampirism.”
She patted Agent Finn on the arm. “It seems that not all vampires show their fangs and distorted features, all of the time. We’ve known this for a while, but thought it wise not to cause alarm by letting that information be known too widely. It could lead to … accidents. One day, I plan to find out why some show the features, and some hide them, but that’s academic, and will have to wait. I suspect it might be genetic, but it may be due to certain chemical inhibitors.”
Dropping his gaze to hide his contempt, Spike somehow managed to keep himself from saying, ‘Maybe you should just ask, instead of chasing them round tasering ’em. I’d have explained it to you, before I broke your scrawny neck.’ He just thanked his stars that for all their fancy gadgets, this bunch were woefully – and, he hoped, terminally – uninformed about vampires.
And Spike had no intention of helping to rectify the deficiencies in their knowledge, if he could help it.
When he looked again, his two visitors had already moved on to the next cell, but he saw the boy, Agent Finn glance back towards him, apparently still perplexed.
Spike returned his gaze steadily, until Finn blinked, and looked away.
“‘It is also lonely among men,’ the snake said.”
After that, the day passed timelessly. Spike imagined that he felt the sun go down, but he couldn’t be sure of much in this glorified fridge. After his head stopped spinning, he amused himself for a while by making faces at the Chaos demon in the cell opposite.
When he finally managed to get to his feet, he paced, and periodically flung himself at the transparent barrier, despite the fact that it delivered a shock of respectable voltage. At least the pain helped wake him up, and alleviated the boredom for a bit.
When he got talking with the neighbours, the vampire in the cubicle on the left informed him that the Slayer was involved in this venture. That set Spike off on a satisfying rant, but he soon realised that Buffy wouldn’t touch this lot with a ten-foot pole. For all her annoying blondeness, The Chosen One knew her stuff, while this lot couldn’t find their arses in the dark, without specialised equipment.
It didn’t add to his self-esteem that they’d got him banged up in a near impenetrable box, absence of the slightest idea about vampires notwithstanding.
Trying to guess his location killed a bit of time. He watched, taking care not to look too interested, as an assortment of medical and military personnel came and went. Judging by the atmospheric pressure, this place was underground – probably in a concrete bunker, knowing military types. The number of other assorted demons in the place told him that he was likely still on – or under – what passed for home turf: Sunnyhell. It also told him that he’d been captured by a serious – and secret – operation.
As the night crept into the small hours, Spike’s predicament began to scare the crap out of him. In a moment of clarity, he realised that no one above ground, living or dead, knew where he was, or would give a toss, even if they did.
Not Angel. Angelus had regarded the privilege of tormenting and subjugating his offspring as his sole prerogative, and would have moved hell to get him out. But even if Angel, LA Vamp Detective – the castrated, soulful version of his sire – did somehow get wind of his plight, Spike felt sure he’d happily let him rot here.
Could hardly blame him for that, what with the hot pokers, and the Mozart …
That airhead Harmony might still be in the area, but after the way he’d taken his pain at losing Drusilla out on her, she’d be unlikely to lift a finger to help him. Not that she could really cut it, when it came to a fight. Come to think of it, this outfit had probably nabbed her already.
As for Dru … his Dark Princess was swanning around Brazil, shagging every demon in sight. Even if she knew, she probably wouldn’t spare him a thought. After all these years …
A deep sigh wracked him. He shook his head angrily, trying to dismiss the visions of the past that threatened to engulf him, yet again. Crying wouldn’t help. Well, it never had before. No more rambling down Memory Lane, not for him, not now.
He had to focus.
Hard as he tried, not to let panic grip him by the throat, he had to admit that this time, his back was really up against the wall. Fists and fangs couldn’t cut it against tasers – not on their own – and William the Bloody would need all his guile if he wanted to get out of this with his un-life. Screwing his courage into a tight knot inside him, he promised himself that somehow, he’d find some way to fight or finagle his way out of here – wherever ‘here’ might be.
Bollocks to the lot of ’em.
A buzzer sounded, and a pack of blood dropped from the ceiling. In the light of his neighbour’s earlier warning about drugged rations, he decided – despite the hungry growling of his stomach – to ignore it, at least for now. They hadn’t bothered to heat it, anyway. Have to report them to the Zagat’s Guide, when he got out.
Spike continued pacing.
What had that virago scheduled him for? Rejuvenation tests? What, they wanted to work out how vampires lived so long, without ‘showing the signs of aging’, or some such rot? That couldn’t be right. No one went to all this trouble for wrinkle cream, did they?
Actually, now he thought about it, they did.
Fuck! Why hadn’t he paid attention?
Must need his head seeing to, for even coming back to Sunnydale.
Frustrated with himself, and dog-tired, he flung himself down in a corner of his personal ice cube, shoved a hand in his pocket, and dug out the packet of fags he’d found on his last victim. Only two left in it, and one of those was bent. He sighed. Beggars couldn’t be choosers. He fished around for his lighter, but couldn’t find it anywhere. Must have dropped it, when they took him down.
He flung the crumpled pack across the cell. Re-checking his pockets for something – anything – to do, he felt a thin paperback. What was it? He pulled it out, and contemplated the cover. Some nonsense Harmony had got him reading to her, in exchange for sexual favours. A kids’ book really.
Still, anything beat staring at blank walls, so he settled down to read.
“Straight ahead of him, nobody can go very far…”
Riley Finn lay on his back, in his bed, thinking. This made him uncomfortable. Not the student accommodation bed, but the thinking part. These days – when he wasn’t marking students’ papers, to make sure their thinking lined up with that of Professor Walsh – he generally tried to avoid it. He’d picked his team, and it made life simpler just to defer to the one in charge. Let them do the thinking for him.
But now, he couldn’t stop thinking about demons. ‘Animals’, Forrest had called them: ‘all of them.’ Was he right? But weren’t human beings ‘animals’ too?
Some of those ‘animals’ in the cells – well, they looked like demons. The possession of tentacles, big pointy teeth, slime, scales, bumps in odd places, and any combination of the above, usually satisfied him as to a thing’s demonic qualities: at least, if it walked upright. And until today, Riley had never seen a vampire out of uniform – with no visible fangs.
Well, if he had, he hadn’t known it.
But that one he’d seen today: he couldn’t get him – it – out of his mind. Dressed in black and red, and pale as chalk; obviously dehydrated; slipping in his own vomit, trying to rise, and then slipping again: that vampire had looked human. The capture squad may have used night-sights to pin him down as a ‘cold one’ but – well, to Riley, he looked like a regular guy.
Okay, maybe not regular, but pathetically, almost painfully human. It didn’t seem right to treat him this way. In another life they might have been …
No, that was ridiculous. None of his friends looked like that. Maybe if they did …
Riley realised that for the past few moments, he’d been rubbing his hand over his stomach, back and forth, back and forth. He shook his head. This was going nowhere helpful.
But he wasn’t going to get any sleep until he’d gotten this bee out of his bonnet, so – on an uncharacteristic impulse – Riley pulled on some clothes, and went to check out the human-looking monster in the cells.
“‘I cannot play with you,’ the fox said. ‘I am not tamed.’”
Spike rubbed his hands across his eyes. Must be getting sentimental in his old age. Hell, who was he trying to kid? He’d always been a sentimental idiot, and this damned book was getting to him. He could see himself, and Dru, on every other page. Still couldn’t believe she’d dumped him. Capricious she was, just like that flower.
God, he missed the mad bint.
Everything he’d done, for the past hundred years and more, had been trying to look out for her – but after all that, it seemed she didn’t need him to keep her safe. Just as well really. Couldn’t even keep himself out of trouble these days.
As he shifted, trying to find the least uncomfortable position to sleep in, he felt someone watching him. Slowly turning his head, he saw the young pup – the one who’d been following at the old dog’s heels, earlier on – staring at him from the other side of the pane. To cover his unease, Spike slouched into a more nonchalant pose, while deftly sweeping the book under his coat.
What the hell was the kid doing down here, in the middle of the night? And looking so nervous, too …
Funny, considering which of them was in a cage, at the other’s mercy.
Okay, Spike – take the initiative!
“What’s your name, Soldier Boy?”
“Riley Finn,” he promptly replied.
“‘Riley’, eh?” Spike pursed his lips. “I like it.”
Riley looked vexed with himself for having given it up so easily. “What’s yours? I mean, do vampires even have names?”
Hell, this bloke didn’t know anything! Spike dropped his gaze, considering how to play things.
“Well, do you?” Riley demanded. With a toss of his head, he flicked a strand of hair out of his eyes.
Spike was almost sure that Riley Finn didn’t know how endearing that little gesture looked.
“Do I what?” Spike kept his tone curious, relaxed.
Riley felt he was being toyed with, but decided not to rise to it. No need to forget his manners. It cost him nothing to remain civil to the prisoner. So again, he asked patiently, “Do you have a name?”
“I do.” A slight smile touched the vampire’s lips.
Without thinking, Riley took a few steps forward. “Well – what is it? I’ve told you mine.”
Amused, despite his situation, Spike looked up into the candid grey eyes of Riley Finn. What was it, that he saw there? Kid was … lonely. That was it. This, he could use. On a hunch, he dropped his attitude, and let his past drift gently to the surface.
“My name is William. William Bennett.”
Riley shifted, seeming uncomfortable. “You’re from England, right?”
“That’s correct.” Spike’s instincts told him to play nice with the polite hunk-turned-prison-visitor – try to put him at his ease – so he treated Riley to his most natural smile. “And yourself?”
“I’m from Iowa.”
“I hear it’s very pleasant there.”
“It’s very big,” Riley volunteered gamely.
“Is it indeed?”
“Oh – I didn’t mean –”
Spike suppressed a smirk. Sensing a need to change tack, he played the geek card. “Iowa – that’s where Captain Kirk’s supposed to come from, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, so they say.” Riley looked sheepish, but also absurdly proud. “I think there’s a plaque somewhere ... our one claim to fame.”
This last admission was more honest than Riley really thought appropriate when dealing with an HST. Nervous, for no reason he could identify, he rubbed his hands on his fatigues, and backed away from the barrier. He hadn’t realised he’d gotten so close. Time to get back on a more formal footing.
“Well, William – if that’s really your name – I’ll be seeing you tomorrow.”
Riley started to raise a hand, as if to wave goodbye, then made a fist instead, and lamely smacked it into his other palm. Then he beat an embarrassed retreat.
As the elevator took him up to his floor in Lowell House, Riley reviewed his closing remark – ‘I’ll be seeing you tomorrow.’ Could he have said anything more moronic to a prisoner? ‘I’ll be seeing you tomorrow.’ As though they’d arranged to go for a beer together; as though they were both looking forward to it.
Like they were friends.
What had he been thinking?
Yes, he would be seeing William tomorrow: seeing that he was moved down to the basement cells without escaping; seeing that he was ready for whatever research Professor Walsh had in mind.
He’d never had a conversation with an HST before. Now, he wished he’d left it that way.
When Riley finally got to sleep, he dreamed of unicorns – beautiful, blue-eyed unicorns, pale as milk – being hunted by men driving humvees, and armed with machine guns.
He woke up in a cold sweat.