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Anywhere But Here

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Spike slouched in the wheelchair, scowling out at the courtyard garden. At its beds clustered with weeds and little purple crocuses, shut tight against the dark. At the tangled ivy and what Angelus had assured Dru was night-blooming jasmine, or at least would be when the weather turned warm enough for it to flower. At the three vamped sentries and single exit (the stairs were hardly worth counting.) And at the great pile of dark, unsettled earth to one side, a stark reminder of Angelus’ little stunt the week prior.

He heard the ring of footsteps through the hall, Angelus’ arrogant stride and the dreamy pitter-patter of Dru’s heels. His lover and her sire flowed around him like water around a rock, moving past without word or glance. Not long ago, Dru would have at least stopped to give him a parting kiss. But now...

“Dru…” he called out, feeling that he should say, well, something.

She froze halfway across the courtyard, pivoting with an eerie grace that reminded him of one of those music box ballerinas. Her eyes were dark and dilated. It seemed to take a minute for them to find him.

“Spike,” she said, drifting toward him, smiling a miles-away smile. “Did Angelus tell you? We’re going to have such games tonight.” She leaned over the chair and whispered in his ear. “We’re going to capture one of her friends.”

She clapped her hands together in glee and pulled back, swaying in place to music only she could hear.

“Pretty, pretty prey. So bright, so full of hope. And we’re going to suck it out like lemonade through a straw. Mmm… such sour sweetness.” She licked something invisible off the back of a finger. “Want to come?”

With that Angelus, who had been standing by the courtyard’s exit wearing an expression of amused irritation, strode to Drusilla’s side. He wrapped his great, brutish arms around her waist in a gesture that made Spike want to leap out of the chair and pummel him to the ground.

He couldn’t, of course, but the mental image was a decent distraction from the way Dru hummed happily at her sire’s touch.

“Ah, no Dru,” Angelus said as he walked his fingers in a leisurely path up her torso. “That wouldn’t quite work. I mean, I’d love to have him along, but we have to move fast. One sidewalk with no curb cutouts, and our boy here’s out of the running. Well, wheeling.”

“Yeah mate,” Spike said, “the wheelchair jokes just get funnier every time. ‘Sides, I wouldn’t get so superior if I were you considering this is, what? The fifth night you’ve gone after a bunch of school kids and a middle-aged librarian? One might almost say all those years of soulsearching have thrown off your game.”

Angelus growled but recovered with a dashing smile.

“Oh, some things take time to be played out properly. Not that you’d know much about that. You never did have the endurance for the long game.”

“Our William has always been delicate,” Drusilla cooed.

“I am not delicate,” Spike said, folding his arms, hating the slight touch of petulance in his voice.

Why did Dru have to get in on the action? Angelus’ transparent cruelty was one thing, but Dru’s mix of indifference and pity was harder still to stomach.

“You know,” Angelus said, “she has a point. We wouldn’t want you getting broken, -er.”

“I had half of a burning church dropped on me. I’d like to see you do better.”

Drusilla slipped out of Angelus’ arms. For a moment, welcome as a glass of water to a man dying of thirst, Spike felt the brush of cool fingers across his cheek. The burned one, leaving a line of sharp tingles down his skin even after her hand was gone.

“Poor Spike. Missing out has made him bitter. But don’t worry, my darling. We’ll bring something back for you.”

“Yeah,” Angelus said, “I’m sure we can find some little morsel for you to sink your teeth into.”

Sure they would. Last night Dru’d brought him a scrawny alley cat. She’d meant well, but Angelus hadn’t. He’d tossed the damned thing at Spike, and even vampiric reflexes hadn’t been enough to spare him a few deep scratches. The flailing claws had stopped after Spike snapped its neck, but the pathetic creature hadn’t had more than a few sips of blood in it. Spike’d never get out of the chair at this rate.

Which would suit Angelus just fine.

“You can play with the dolly while we’re gone,” Dru suggested. “A lovely tea party with lace and knives and bits of broken porcelain everywhere.”

“Yeah,” Angelus said, “a nice tea party. That sounds about your speed. But I’ve got big plans for her later, so don’t tire her out too much.” His eyes raked cruelly across Spike’s body. “Well, guess there’s not much risk of that, now is there?”

Spike shot him a murderous look. But Angelus wasn't looking at him, he was already looping his arm around Dru’s waist, leading her away. And Spike had already become invisible to her eyes, which gleamed with nothing but excitement for what lay ahead. Impulsively, he grabbed her wrist a moment before she was out of reach.

“Be careful, my love,” he said, his tone sincere (and not, he hoped, desperate.) “The Slayer’s little gang of friends might not look like much, but they can be tricky.” He laid a delicate kiss on the back of her hand. “I couldn’t stand it if anything happened to you.”

Angelus laughed.

“Oh, don’t worry, Spikey.” He grabbed Dru by the shoulders, pulling her back against his body, causing her hand to slip out of Spike’s. “I’ll take good care of Dru. I always do. You guard the home front. I’m really counting on you. If anyone tries to get in just, you know, wheel them over or something.”

He seemed to be putting even less effort into his insults than usual. Less interested in Spike now that he had his new toy, though Angelus’d never been the kind of vamp to pass up an opportunity for inflicting a bit of casual pain. But the casual nature of it only made it worse. Spike wasn't his rival, he was the family dog to be kicked or ignored as Angelus saw fit.

With a dismissive wave over his shoulder, Angelus sauntered away, giving Dru’s bum a sharp smack right before they vanished from sight. Spike could almost have ignored this twist of the knife if Dru’s delighted shriek hadn't echoed back through the courtyard.

He sat for a few minutes after they left, sizing up the state of the minions in the garden. One by the door; another in one of the decaying lawn chairs, fiddling with an over-long knife; and a third leaning against the wall next to a pile of jagged concrete slabs that had been pried up from the courtyard last week. This last one wore a distant expression on his vamped face. No doubt playing out some kind of greatest hits list of his pathetic accomplishments in the world of slaughter.

What would happen, Spike wondered, if he were to try to leave? Technically, there was no reason they should stop him. Right, technically.

Still, ‘long as Angelus had Dru, it was a moot point, wasn’t it? Spike had no choice but to wait it out. Dream of the night when he could drag Dru away, kicking and screaming if he had to. And give Angelus a few solid kicks on the way out.

All this staring was starting to feel as depressing as it was pointless. So Spike turned and wheeled back into the mansion’s central hall. And there she was, slumped against the back wall, the slim figure wrapped in chains thick enough to strangle an elephant. The girl behind all his problems.

It was her fault that he was stuck in this chair, the chair which had turned into a symbol of defeat and humiliation. Her fault that his lower back was a grinding nexus of pain. Pain which stopped with unsettling abruptness – only to be replaced by an even more unsettling nothingness below.

Her fault that they’d had to leave the factory, where he’d had at least a margin of clout. But her little gang of friends had already known that location too well and Angelus couldn’t have them bursting in and ruining his fun. And wasn't it lucky that he’d had already had the perfect place scoped out? That'd made for an interesting little road trip too, stuffed in the back of the DeSoto next to his (heavily drugged) mortal enemy with Angelus at the wheel and Dru at his side. Mummy and Daddy in the front and kiddies in the back. A bloody perfect little family.

And Angelus. It was her fault that puppy dog Angel had gone and broken his lead, that Angelus was all soul-loose and fancy-free.

Oh yes, it all came back to the slayer.

‘Course, of the two of them, she was the one chained to the wall. It’d be so easy to take it all out on her. He could land a few solid blows, channel anger and frustration through fists into flesh. Everyone seemed to think that injured equaled harmless, but he still had more than enough of what it took to make her hurt. He could get creative, have fun with the rusty implements left behind in the long-abandoned kitchen. Or there was always the old classic of holding a burning cigarette to her skin and watching how long it smoldered...

But, the bugger of it was, he didn’t want to do any of those things. Hurting her while she couldn’t fight back? While all she could do was look at him with those eyes? He was forced to admit, much as it felt like a failure on his part, that he’d get no pleasure out of that. So Spike would just wheel past her, retreat to his room. He’d lie on the bed (‘cause lying down it was a bit easier to pretend nothing had changed), close his eyes, and play The Ramones at a volume loud enough to blast away every shred of conscious thought. “I Wanna Be Sedated,” indeed.

Chains rattled as he wheeled by and, almost against his will, he turned toward the sound. She'd raised her head from her knees and her gaze was locked onto him. Damn, those eyes. He didn’t like the look they’d taken on: deep wells at the bottom of which a desperate creature paced.

Once, a very long time ago indeed, he’d been taken to see a lion at the zoo. It’d been one of the biggest disappointments of his young life, expecting a fierce predator and instead finding a defeated animal in a tiny cage. But then the lion had paused in its pacing. Its eyes had locked onto the assembled crowd in a way that spoke clearly as if it’d uttered words, “You may feel safe now, but just take away these bars and see what happens.”

The girl was like that, fierceness flashing through the despondency at unexpected intervals. Spike realized that he’d frozen, his hands stiff on the wheels of the blasted chair. Just move on, he told himself. Don’t engage.

Then she smiled at him, a tiny smile that only touched a corner of her mouth and did nothing to wipe the sadness from her eyes. Spike groaned inwardly.

Only Angelus would be crazy enough to turn the Slayer.

“Spike,” she said, sitting up a little straighter, causing the chains to clank again.

She looked so small amidst those massive iron links, her white dress dirty and torn from her little courtyard interment. A piteous thing, even with all her buried ferocity and chained strength. Good thing Spike was immune from pity. Dru had inoculated him against that particular disease the night she sank her fangs into him.

“Slayer,” he responded gruffly.

“The others…?” she asked in a quiet voice.

“Gone, yeah.”

“To hunt for my friends.”

Her friends. She cared about them too damned much. A good deal more than your average fledge would, that was certain. But then, the girl wasn’t exactly your average fledge. There was a reason most vamps wouldn’t dream of turning a slayer.

They came out wrong.

“Mm,” Spike said, wheeling up to a spot just outside of her reach. “I wouldn’t worry too much for the moment. They’re taking precautions, your mates are. From the sound of it, they never leave their homes at night in groups of less than three. They’d be wisest not to leave after sundown at all, but––”

“They’re looking for me. I wish...”

The girl stared out at the courtyard, her hands wrapping around the chains that bound her, gripping as if to yank them out of the wall. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d tried. The skin around the manacles was covered in purplish bruising and pink-red abrasions from her efforts. She'd have to break the bones in her hands if she wanted to free them. But even if she did, there'd still be the bands around her ankles. Angelus had done a thorough job, Spike’d give him that.

The Slayer dropped the chains, the strain going from her face and body.

“...I wish I could tell them not to,” she said, finishing a sentence Spike’d almost forgotten she’d started. “That it’s too late. Do you think any of them have guessed by now?”

“Watcher probably knows at this point that they shouldn’t hope to find you alive. But hope’s a funny thing. Distorts the mind.” He tapped his temple for emphasis. “As for the rest… In my experience, people never believe the worst till they see it themselves.”

“Yeah. I think you’re right there.”

She gnawed at a frayed fingernail, a habit Spike was almost certain she hadn’t had before. Wouldn’t have gone well with her neat little manicures. For a long moment, the two sat, looking out toward the courtyard. Spike should just wheel away; no good could come of getting attached. Leave the girl to her unhappiness and wallow privately in his own. He’d almost worked up the motivation to do so when she spoke again.

“Anywhere but here,” she said, looking at him with that little un-smile on her lips.

Spike sighed. God, did no one take the idea that he was the Big Bad the least bit seriously anymore?

“You know, as much as I’d love to stay and play children's games with my prisoner––”

The slayer let out a short, harsh laugh.

“Please. I’m your prisoner? We both know you’re almost as much a prisoner as I am.”

“That’s bloody well not true!”

“Oh yeah?” she asked. “Prove it. Wheel out that door.” The chains clanked as she lifted her arm to point. “I noticed you looking. Think they’d let you leave?”

“There’s no let to it. I’m their boss and they’ll do what I say if they value their unlives.”

“Sure. How many do you think you could take out before they stopped you?”

“‘Least one. Two with a bit of luck and strategy.”

“See? I knew you’d thought about it. They don’t exactly answer to you anymore, do they? So. Anywhere but here?”

“You know the answer,” Spike said. “Doesn’t matter where, long as it’s just me and Dru. No Angelus, no minions, no…” He inclined an eyebrow at her. “No complications. Just us and the open road. The way it used to be.”

“Oh, yeah, you and Dru forever.” She rolled her eyes and he was about to launch a biting retort when she continued. “You know how this works, Spike. Come up with something good so we can think about that for a few minutes instead of focusing on how miserable we are.”

How miserable we are? So now they were in the same category, were they? He was on the verge of snapping that he was perfectly happy, thank you very much, but what would be the point? She’d only laugh that humorless laugh.

Though if misery was a contest, there was no question who’d win. The girl put on a brave enough face most of the time, but when Angelus set out to hurt you, you hurt. And he was far from done. Bloody Angelus and his “big plans.” Ever the fucking artist.

Not that Spike cared what happened to her. If Angelus would just bugger off and torture the girl somewhere else, Spike wouldn’t exactly shed a tear. It was only this forced companionship, this shared suffering that left him feeling… uneasy. It was a shame though, that he hadn’t been the one to take her out. He’d told her the truth that night back at the school; he would have made it quick. He wished he could have at least done that for her.

He growled under his breath. When had he gotten so bloody sentimental?

“OK, OK. Give me a minute to think,” he said, reaching into his duster to fish for cigarettes.

Sure, he’d play her silly game one more night. But only ‘cause he was bored. And he was getting sick of his Best of The Ramones tape anyway. Most of Spike’s good albums were either back at the factory or in the bottom of a box. Angelus had given them bugger all time to pack with his spontaneous “Oh look, everyone, I’ve turned the Slayer; isn’t that just marvelous?” decision.

Spike located his smokes and proceeded to glare at them as if he could change the brand by willpower alone. They were those long skinny ones, the kind that used to be marketed as some sort of shite empowerment for the modern woman. A gift from Dru, taken from a victim’s purse no doubt. It was funny how you missed the simple things, things you never even thought about at the time. Like trips to the store for fags and booze and a taste of the dead-eyed service employee behind the counter. It wasn’t as if he couldn’t manage on his own. But Drusilla seemed to be having a little too much fun treating him like a child and Angelus had gone to great lengths to emphasize how “heartbroken” he’d be if poor defenseless Spike went out on his own and got hurt. God, his faux-protectiveness was infuriating. Though Spike had had to admit to himself that it would be an embarrassing end to a century-long career of mayhem and bloodshed: staked by a Slurpee-wielding Slayer Pal in a 7-11.

He supposed he could ask one of the minions to pop out and grab a proper pack of ciggies. But what if said minion refused to do even that small thing at his command? Spike didn’t think he could handle the humiliation. So he shook out a cigarette, hating the wrongness of how it fit between his fingers as he lit it. You’ve come a long way, baby, he thought bitterly. At least it was mentholated. He drew icy smoke deep into his lungs.

Finally, he looked at the Slayer again. It was easier through the haze from the cigarette.

“Alright, let’s see. I did Lima, Bangkok, and Marrakech yesterday and before that… Tokyo, Athens, Vienna, Jerusalem... OK, got one.”

“Mm-hm?”

“Night market, Jakarta.” She gave him a blank look. “Indonesia? God, don’t they teach you any geography these days?”

The girl just rolled her eyes and gestured for him to get on with it, chains clanking lightly at the movement of her wrist.

“Wonderful thing is, it’s so bloody hot there that people spend a good chunk of the day holed-up inside. Things are only just waking up as the sun goes down.

“Place is a mess of color, noise, smells. Busy humans rushing all about. I buy a bowl of this spicy meatball soup they have there. So hot it almost burns the eyes out of your head, but if that doesn’t wake you up nothing will––”

“Wait, you eat? I mean, actual food?”

“Hey, blood’s a food. But yeah, sure I do, when I wanna. Human food loses a bit of its flavor to us, so stuff’s gotta be pretty spicy, salty, or sweet to be worth it, but why not? It’s not like being a vampire automatically means you have to give up everything you enjoyed as a human. Or discovering new pleasures for that matter.”

She shrugged with an apathy that Spike found irritating.

So,” he continued, “I weave through the market. There aren’t many foreigners here, which means I can’t blend with the crowd––”

“Not to mention the fact that you’re not exactly super inconspicuous.”

“Right you are there. And normally any obvious foreigner’s gonna get swarmed with people hawking wares or asking for a little dosh. But when you’ve been a vamp long enough, you learn you don’t need to flash the fangs to get left alone. Though sometimes that can be fun. Most of the time, it’s just sort of an impression that you give, body language more than anything. Enough to make people uneasy, inclined to give you a little extra space.

“Anyway, mixed among the canopies are beggars and street performers. One catches my eye. A fire dancer. I stop to watch for a minute while the flame weaves around his body like some living thing.”

Spike gestured with his cigarette as he spoke, the glowing end leaving a trail of light in pale imitation of what he described.

“Then I go off to find something really satisfying to eat––”

“Aaaand I think you should keep the rest of that story to yourself.”

“Your loss, ” Spike said with a shrug.

“Right,” she said, “my turn.”

“Oh, by all means.”

“OK. Venice Beach. I used to go all the time back when I lived in LA.”

“Oh yeah. Been there once or twice. Veritable buffet of idiot kids and drunk tourists. Ate a roller skater there back in the early 80s. Tasted like cotton candy, and then the coke in her blood kicked in… That was a fun night.”

“Spike? You’re ruining it.”

“Sorry,” Spike replied in a way that made it clear he wasn't the least bit sorry. “Carry on, then.”

“Right. So I’m at Venice Beach with Willow and Xander. Neither of them has been to LA, and I’m taking them to see some of my favorite spots.

“We've walked along the path for a long time, watching the jugglers and living statues and window shopping in the seedy little stores. And we've just stopped to buy lemonade and these seriously oversized ice cream cones. Xander has a huge smudge of chocolate across his cheek, but he’s having such a good time that I decide not to tell him.

“And then we walk out onto the sand. The ocean’s so… big.”

Spike snorted.

“Oh, you know what I mean. It seems infinite, just going on and on in a way that makes me feel small. But, like, a good kinda small. And so blue. Willow and Xander are arguing over whether to make a sandcastle or play in the surf. I tell them I’ll be with them in a minute.

“I sit down, leaning back in the warm sands…”

She let her weight fall against the wall, closing her eyes as if catching invisible rays. Which was Spike’s cue to change the subject, and fast-ish.

“Yeah, well. Venice Beach. That’s rubbish.”

Her head jerked up, looking at him in startled indignation.

“Now, the real Venice,” he continued, “well, the place is also swarming with tourists, ‘specially if you go during Carnevale, which I guess is about now, isn’t it? But let’s ignore that for the moment.

“So picture this: it’s a quiet night. All I can hear is the lapping of water in the canal and the soft creaking of a boat moored nearby. Oh, that and the satisfying ring of my boots against marble paving stones and the footsteps of my girl beside me. She’s dressed in something light and summery; her skirt billows with every step she takes. We’re both relaxed, open, in no rush to do anything or be anywhere. It’s late, but we have a while before we have to start worrying about morning. A thin layer of mist’s creeping out over the water.

“We walk up onto one of those tall arched bridges, and Venice spreads out in front of us, this big net of dark water weaving around all those pretty Italian buildings, connecting everything. White moonlight and the orangish glow from the windows dance together through the fog over the water.

“On the other side of the bridge, we hear music coming from one of the buildings. A peal of pretty laughter rings through the air. Someone’s having a party. We could slip in if we wanted, mingle among the warm bodies, steal the wine and canapes. But for now, we’re happy to be where we are. I take her hand, and we dance to the music and the lapping of the waves.”

Her eyes had gone dreamy and soft as she listened, her chin leaning on the palm of her hand, her elbow digging into a half-bent leg. Then she looked at Spike and seemed to shake off the clinging tendrils of Venice.

“Sounds nice,” she said, her voice hollow.

“Is nice,” Spike said, around an exhalation of smoke from his almost burned out cigarette. Stupid skinny ones burned too fast anyway. “You won’t be here forever, you know. You’ll get to see it someday.”

She opened her mouth as if to say something but then closed it, nodding in an unconvinced sort of way. His hand started to reach for her, to pat her on the shoulder or something, and he froze, drawing it back almost guiltily.

“Right,” Spike said after a moment, “guess it’s your turn again.”

“Yeah, OK. Nowhere too crazy this time. I’m in a park, there’s this big, pretty one on the edge of Sunnydale. Lots of trees, a little lake. It’s peaceful. My friends are there with me. Willow and Xander, Cordelia and Oz, Giles… and Miss Calendar I guess. My mom. We’re having a picnic. The sun’s so bright that the grass and the leaves on the trees seem to glow.”

She closed her eyes, phantom sunbathing again. Spike winced.

“And I’m savoring the moment. Enjoying being there.” The girl continued, a wistful expression dancing across her face. “Listening to my friends, watching their familiar gestures. Xander and Cordy are bickering over some little thing but, under the barbs, you can tell they really care about each other. Oz is making a deadpan joke to Willow, and Mom, Giles, and Miss Calendar are deep in this boring conversation about cultural and decorative practices in Ancient Greece, or something like that. I just soak it all in, feeling the warm sunshine on my face…”

Buffy’s head tumbled into her hands as she began to cry. Her tightly bunched shoulders shook as each sob wracked her thin body.

Spike took a long draw at his cigarette, only able to get a small lungful of harsh and burning smoke. He stubbed it out against the side of the chair, leaving another dark streak in the shiny chrome. Her tears meant nothing to him.

So why the sudden desire to go closer? To slide out of the chair and sit beside her, pulling her head against his chest? It must be some misdirected twinge of the affection he would normally share with Dru. A symptom of the bizarre fate that had caught him and the girl up like a tornado, twisting them around till they couldn’t tell up from down. Enemy from friend. Still, he couldn’t quite bring himself to watch her cry and do nothing. God, he was a sorry excuse for a vampire.

So the next time he found himself reaching for her, he didn’t pull back. He awkwardly placed his hand on her quivering shoulder. She looked up in confusion.

“Why do you keep doing this, pet?” Spike asked, brow furrowed. “All these sunny days you’re dreamin’ up? Are you trying to torture yourself? Think Angelus isn’t doing a good enough job on his own?”

“I… You wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh yeah? And why’s that?”

“Because you don’t mind. Being what we are.”

Well, that was certainly true. When Spike had been turned, it’d been like a weight he hadn’t even realized he’d been carrying all his life had been lifted from his shoulders. But it wasn’t like that for her.

If this one was anything to go by, a turned slayer was able to drop neither her savior complex nor her sense of righteousness. There were stories about vampires stupid or crazy enough to think they could control a vamped slayer. They never had happy endings. The slayers’ inbuilt hatred of all things that went bump in the night made them dangerous companions for any demon. And over time they tended to become reckless, blindly destructive, or straight-up suicidal. Spike hadn’t heard of a slayer lasting longer than a couple years as a vamp. But then, Buffy’d always defied expectations. She might defy that one too.

But not with this attitude.

Spike felt a sudden surge of anger toward the girl. He withdrew his hand, leaning back and lighting another cigarette, taking a long drag before blowing it at her face. She glared at him, wrinkling her nose in a way that was far too adorable for a vampire.

“So that’s it then,” he said flatly. “You need to get one thing straight. You’ll never lie in the sun on a beach, in a park, or in the bloody Mojave for that matter. Never ‘just feel the warm sunshine on your face.’ The sun will never be anything but a big, scary ball of death for you.

“But you know that. Makes it easier, doesn’t it? ‘Cause then it can only be a fantasy or a memory. You’re not letting yourself imagine something you could actually do in the future. ‘Cause you’re not planning on having one. You’re not thinking to survive this, are you?”

Her voice when she responded was a dull steel blade.

“I already didn’t survive this.”

“Well, not in the technical sense, no. But look, pet, there’s a whole world out there for you to explore. Being a vamp… you’ve only seen the worst of it so far, believe me. It can be a terrifically freeing experience. There’s nothing to hold you down, no rules to shackle you.” She scowled and lifted her chained arms. Spike shrugged. “Poor choice of words. After this is over, you can go where you like, do what you please––”

She laughed.

“After this is over? You mean after Angelus is done with me.”

Spike couldn’t meet her eyes.

“Guess I do, yeah.”

“You know, I’ve been wondering. Why he did so little. Before, I mean. I’ve read up on him and the things he did to his victims...”

“I know. Witnessed some myself back in the day. Never much cared for them.”

She nodded, thoughtful.

“But on a scale of one to Angelus, what he did to me then was almost nothing. A little light stalking, murdering a classmate here and there. I mean, it was horrible and terrifying and I felt so, so guilty. But it wasn’t exactly his best material. I mean, no puppies nailed to doors, no corpses of best friends delivered like presents. He turned me first. And then he started with his little games. Ever more creative ways to make me suffer.”

Her gaze drifted out to the courtyard again, and Spike could almost hear the screams, the threats, the pleading that had bounced off those walls as Angelus had dropped her bound form into the casket. The sound had become muffled as he’d closed the lid and the minions had begun shoveling dirt into the hole, but its echo had never entirely left Spike’s mind.

Her eyes met his and Spike realized how truly frightened she was.

“He wants to pull a reverse Drusilla, doesn’t he? Turn me, then drive me crazy.”

“Yeah. Reckon you’re right.”

It occurred to him a little late that he should defend Drusilla.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with my Dru. She’s… unique.”

“Which is one way of putting it. Honestly, it’s kinda sweet how you care about her. Especially since she’s not exactly making it a secret that she’s sleeping with Angelus.”

Spike gave her a low warning growl.

“What?” she asked. “You know it’s true, I know it’s true, the friggin’ minions know it’s true. As I said, not exactly a secret.”

He sighed.

“Suppose not. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. Sure, Dru and I are going through a rough patch––”

“I’d say that’s an understatement.”

“Shut. Your. Mouth,” Spike said, his voice dropping to a dangerous register. “Dru and I, we’ve been together for over a century. We’ve seen things, done things that you can’t imagine. We’re eternal, she and I. Angelus… he gets inside her head, you know? After what he’s done to her...”

“And that’s just it. You love Dru as she is – which, again, is weirdly sweet – but if you could go back in time and stop everything that happened to her, wouldn’t you?”

“I dunno,” Spike said, flicking his cigarette and watching as the ash circle slowly toward the floor. “If none that had happened, I wouldn’t even be here. I’d have lived and died in human mediocrity. But, suppose if I could spare her the suffering... Sure I would.”

“Well, what about me then?” For such a little thing she generally never sounded small. She did now though. “Nevermind. Forget it.”

There was a long moment of silence which Spike felt he should fill. But for the unlife of him, he had no idea what to say. So he contented himself with taking another heavy puff from the skinny cigarette.

The girl was chewing a thumbnail which still bore faint traces of matt green polish. She stopped abruptly, a pained expression flashing across her face. Her arms wrapped around her knees, which she pulled tight against her chest. Her face rippled for a moment before she got a handle on it, forcing it back into human shape.

“God, I’m so hungry I could gnaw my own arm off.” She frowned. “And I’m kinda worried that might not be a figure of speech.”

“It’s like that sometimes at first,” Spike said. “Though it would be easier to control if you were getting what you needed on a regular basis.”

He didn’t tell her that he was hungry too. He couldn’t admit what he’d been reduced to, begging for scraps from Angelus’ table. She probably had a pretty decent idea anyway.

“And then there’s that,” she said in a voice so quiet that if Spike hadn’t been a vampire he would have struggled to make it out. “Angel- lus. He fed me human blood. Got me used to it and, OK, wanting it.”

The girl spoke as if she had something to be ashamed of, though Spike couldn’t work out what. Angelus had fed her from cups at first before moving on to the leftovers from his own meals, dead or almost so. Which meant that, by Spike’s estimation, she’d yet to be responsible for taking a single human life. And wasn’t that what you were supposed to care about? If you had a working conscience and all? But Spike didn’t bother asking her. He was sure she wouldn’t see things his way.

“You’d want human blood no matter what he did,” he reminded her instead, not unkindly. “You’re a vampire, luv.”

“Yeah. I know, I know. I really do. It's just… he’s been feeding me less and less each night, just enough to remind me how hungry I am, never enough to feel remotely satisfied. And the longer I’m going hungry, the louder the demon part of me is and the quieter the ‘me’ part of me gets.”

Spike thought about telling her that the demon part was as much her as any other, but decided that this wasn’t the time.

“So you know,” she said, “I figured out why he hasn’t killed any of my friends yet.”

Yeah. Spike was pretty sure he had too.

“I mean,” she continued, “what if they do catch one of them tonight? Or tomorrow, or… I’m not sure how much longer I can stay in control.”

“Look, your friends are resourceful and they’re on to Angelus’ game. They’ll likely be fine for now.”

At least until one of them slipped up or Angelus got the bright idea to use her as bait.

“Sure. For now,” she said, sounding unconvinced. “ But–– I don’t know why I’m telling you any of this. You don’t care.”

No. So why did he need reminding of that?

“That’s right,” he said, putting on his coldest sneer, “I don’t.”

They sat in silence for a minute, Spike hunching deeper into the chair as he smoked the rest of his cigarette, flicking it across the room in a trail of fiery sparks.

“Spike?” She finally asked, her voice cautious.

“Yeah, Slayer?”

“Do you ever think about getting out of here? For real, I mean.”

Spike froze. He should have seen it coming, realized that this whole time the girl’d probably been steeling her nerves to ask him this very question. After all, he was the weak link, wasn’t he? The one she thought she had the best chance of breaking.

“Thought about it, sure. But I’m not gonna. Not now. What’d be the bloody point?”

“Getting out isn’t point enough?” she asked, incredulous.

“And then what, exactly?”

“Well…”

“Tell me, Slayer, how many vamps do you think recover from serious spinal injuries?”

“Not a lot?”

“Round about none. Sure, we can heal from about anything. But a vampire who can’t hunt? Well, he’s pretty much dependant on the kindness of other vamps. Which, as you know, is in short supply. Angelus may be a twisted fuck, but he has a certain kind of family loyalty. He’ll make sure I stay alive, ‘least for the time being.”

“So he can torment you.”

“Not for the first time. Survived before, can do it again.”

“Oh,” she said in a way that made Spike realize he’d given away a bit more than he’d intended.

“Well, I don’t plan on sticking around nearly as long this time. Besides, should be a lot easier, what with you here to take the brunt of his attentions.”

She crumpled a little, and a part of him, which sounded suspiciously like the idiot who died in that alley all those years ago, said that this was no way to treat a lady. He shoved that part violently down.

“But,” she continued doggedly, “if we left together we could…”

“Oh, so this is a joint escape plan then? You what? Think I’ll run away with you?”

She looked as if she’d been slapped but, to her credit, she still wasn’t quite ready to give up. Chit was stubborn, he’d give her that.

“It’s just, I know you’re not happy…”

“Not happy? And you think some kind of half-baked escape plan with the object of Angelus’ current obsessions is going to fix that? I mean, you do realize you’d be more of a liability than an assistance? You could bring me blood, alright. But given your sodding conscience, it'd be pig or some other undrinkable slop. Meanwhile, Angelus would have the entire vampiric population out looking for you. Our only real shot would be getting as far from Sunnyhell as we could, as quickly as possible. Preferably in separate directions, so we’d be harder to track. But there’s a more than decent chance they’d still hunt us down. Besides, I can’t abandon Dru and I’m willing to bet that you’re not about to leave your mates to Angelus’ tender mercies.”

The girl sunk into her chains in defeat. Spike hated seeing her like this, but it was necessary. It wouldn’t do either of them any good, her thinking he was her best bloody hope.

“No,” he continued. “I’ve gotta play it safe. Wait till I’m healed enough to grab Dru and leave town. And I’m sorry, luv, but that means that you’re just gonna have to tough it out on your own.”

But maybe he needed to learn stop while he was ahead because something had shifted in the girl’s expression.

“Spike?” she asked, leaning forward as far as the chains would allow. “Seriously shut the hell up.” She sounded every bit the Slayer now. “I mean, first, when did you start playing it safe? Mr ‘I had a good plan but I got bored?’”

Spike had to smile a little at that.

“Got me there, pet.”

“I’m not done,” she said, slayer-fury burning with full, glorious intensity in her eyes. “Secondly, I’m not asking you to ‘run away with me.’ God, you make it sound like I want to elope or something. And finally, and this is really the most important one, I don’t want to get out of here so we can run off with our tails between our legs. I’m asking you to help me get out so I can kill Angelus. Because that’s the only way any of us are ever gonna be free.”

Spike felt a familiar restless excitement dart through his limbs, the ones still capable of feeling anyway. He couldn’t deny that he liked the sound of that. But it wasn’t so simple.

“Do you honestly think that you could kill him?”

“Right at this moment? Not sure. I can’t deny that I'm a little weak. If I were to actually stand up, I might even feel light-headed. But I’m guessing by the size of these chains that a bit of extra strength might come with the whole slaypire package. Could be some speed too, though I haven’t had a chance to test that part. So, maybe not right away. But give me a little time to recover and, oh yeah. I can definitely take him out.”

“You sure? He’s your sire. That’s a powerful bond. Not to mention the fact that up till quite recently he was the bleedin’ love of your life, wasn’t he?”

“Angelus buried me. While I was awake and struggling and begging him not to. The man I loved is gone. Or, I don’t know, maybe never existed quite the way I thought he did. ‘Cause, I trusted Angel. I told him my greatest fears. But this part of him was always under the surface. Waiting to use every secret I told him, every moment we shared, against me. Angel was a good man, in many ways. But he’s not the one in the driver’s seat now. Angelus needs to be stopped, and I’m not going to let any sentiment get in my way. As for the sire thing? Won’t know till I try, I guess. But I think my hatred and my desire to stop him from hurting anyone else is way stronger than any weird vamp/sire mumbo jumbo. Angel staked his sire. If he can do it, I can.”

The girl was practically incandescent now. She really was magnificent. The chains themselves seemed to shrink before her righteous anger as if no mere twisted metal bars could contain her.

“You know,” he said, “I’m inclined to believe you could. But there’s also Dru to consider. She’ll jump into the fight for sure, and I don’t think even you could take them both. Especially not since they’ve been feeding well and you haven’t. Also, if I were to agree to do this, there’d have to be absolutely no staking of Dru.”

She shrugged.

“Fair enough. But I guess there’s no chance that you could talk her into sitting the fight out? Or even maybe helping us? I mean, after everything Angelus put her through––”

“No chance. She’s too bloody devoted to ‘Daddy’. If I were in a bit better shape myself, I could at least knock her out so you could focus on Angel. But at the moment...”

“Yeah, I guess neither of us is exactly ready to jump into a fight. But, oh! Maybe you wouldn’t have to be able to physically overpower her? What if you drugged her? Injected her with something? Like they did to me when they moved me from the factory to here.”

Spike liked the way the girl thought.

“That could work.”

“But for the moment we’d just need to get out of here. Find someplace in Sunnydale to hide out and keep an eye on the situation while we recover. Then I kill Angelus and you grab Dru and get out of town like you’ve been wanting to.”

“Good in theory. But where could we hide? Wouldn’t take Angelus and his minions long to find us.”

They sat in silence as they pondered this. Then a thought came to Spike’s head. A horrible, horrible thought which should definitely not be voiced.

“What about these mates that you keep going on about?” Damn it, Spike. “Think they’d take us in? I mean, I’d almost rather take up parachuteless skydiving at high noon than hang out with that lot of do-gooders, but it might be our best shot. If we could stay somewhere that required an invitation, at least we wouldn’t have to worry about Angelus or his goons nabbing us in our sleep.”

To his surprise, the fierce warrior seemed to evaporate from her, replaced by the cornered animal.

“M-my friends? As in, Giles and Willow and Xander?”

“Right. Unless you’ve got a whole ‘nother set of friends you’ve been keeping mum about.”

“But wouldn’t that be putting them in danger?”

Spike shrugged.

“Truth is they’re already in danger, just for knowing you. If you were around, you’d at least stand a chance of stopping Angelus if he came calling. But, you don’t seem excited at the idea. You made it sound like you’d do anything to see them again.”

“I-I’d do anything to go back to the way things were. But to see them now? And have them see me? No. That’s not exactly part of the plan.”

Yeah. He could just picture her plan. Kill Angelus and then slink off to some dark corner to feed on rats and fight every demon she could till something finally put her out of her misery. But the girl drew strength from her friends, that much had always been clear. And if she was going to defeat Angelus and defy expectations, she’d need every ounce of strength she could get.

“I mean,” she continued, “what if I can’t control myself? What if I hurt them?”

“A freshly turned vamp is driven by hunger, I’ll give you that. Some let it rule them, become mindless beasts. But that’s not the only way. And it’s not your way. You’re stronger than that. And you’ll feel a hell of a lot more in control once you’ve got some fresh blood in you.”

She nodded, not looking the least bit comforted.

“It’s just,” she said, “you know that thing you told me about hope? Right now, they’re hoping the me they knew is still out there… and for all they know, she is. Maybe it’s best to let them keep thinking that. ‘Cause if they see me now? That hope’s gone. I’m really dead.”

Tears were in her eyes. She was clutching her knees with her hands, the fading scars from where she’d punched her way out of the coffin a stark white against her pale skin. Spike impulsively leaned forward and grabbed her hands in his own.

“Buffy, I didn’t know you too well before you were turned. Probably something to do with the fact that every time we met we were trying to kill each other. But I saw that fire in you. The loyalty that meant you always thought of those you cared about first in a fight. The pigheaded determination to do the right thing and sort out the consequences later. And I’m seeing all that now. You’ve been through a lot. Only an idiot would say that none of that’s changed you. But not in the ways that matter. And if your friends are too blind to see that, well, they’re an even bigger lot of fools than I’ve taken them for.”

A faint hint at an amused smile had broken through her tears.

“What?” Spike asked.

“You called me ‘Buffy.’ I think it might be the first time you’ve done that.”

“Oh. Guess I did. Don’t make a big thing of it, Slayer.”

Spike realized that he was still holding her hands, which he hastily dropped.

“So does that mean you’ll do it?” she asked.

Yes, he realized, it did. What could he say? He thought the girl could pull it off. Besides, he really didn’t feel like sticking around and watching as Angelus fucked Dru in every corner of the mansion and Buffy in every corner of her mind.

“Yeah. The hell with it. I’m already sick of this place. Course, we’ll have to at least wait until Angelus and Dru get back. He’s got the keys. Normally I’d just pick the lock, but these...”

He grabbed her nearest wrist, careful not to shift the manacle in a way that would dig into the raw places on her skin. The keyhole was glowing ever so slightly, faint blue lines etched into the metal around it.

“Angelus had ‘em made special. Got some kind of magic warding. Only the keys or a very powerful witch could open them.”

“Think you can get the keys from Angelus?” she asked.

“Please. I could steal the crown right off the bloody Queen’s head.”

“OK, but she is really old.”

“In the middle of a public speech. Surrounded by her loyal toadies.”

“Suuure.”

“Hey, what can I say?” Spike said, leaning back and slipping his thumbs through the belt loops of his jeans. “I’m a man of many skills.”

“And modest too.”

He only grinned at that.

“Right. So I guess it’s a plan then. Or at least the beginnings of one.”

“Yeah,” she said, “I guess it is.”

A smile crept across Buffy’s face, the first true smile he’d witnessed on her since that night at The Bronze, what felt like an eternity ago, when he’d seen her dancing.

Spike decided not to question, for the moment anyway, why that sight made him so happy.