Chapter 6: Freedman's Chains
Spike was lurking outside the hospital when Buffy emerged, shortly after sunset. She gestured to the building behind her as she neared him. “I saw you from the window. How did you know I'd be here?”
“Memory's a bit better than it used to be. Recalled the date.”
She stepped close to him, inviting him to wrap his arms around her as she finally broke down in tears, after hours of holding back. “I don't want to lose her again!”
He held her tightly. “I know, love. I know.
When she'd calmed down, he led her to a nearby bench. “Now tell me what you changed.
Buffy glared at him for the accusation. “Nothing. There's nothing to change. They're already scheduling tests to find out why Mom passed out, and why she's having so many headaches. I know she'll have the surgery in time. She did last time. It's after ...” She threw her hands into the air in frustration. “And there's nothing I can do about that, either.”
“I’m sorry, love. You know I'd stop it if I could.”
“I know,” she smiled softly. “But I don't know why that makes me feel better.”
“You know why.”
“Anyway, I do have some good news. The 'Ben is Glory' masking spell definitely doesn't work on me anymore. I was looking right at that man and I could remember there was a monster inside.”
Spike winced at her phrasing. It took her a moment to understand why. “His isn't a monster under his control, William. That makes a big difference.” She placed a hand on his shoulder. “You get me?”
Spike looked at her with an expression of awe, but his response was simple. “Yeah.”
“I have to go. I have a busy night ahead of me. I need to explain to Mom why she didn’t recognize Dawnie before she passed out. I want to do it here, so Dawn doesn’t overhear us talking about it at home. You know, get Mom prepared before Dawn hears it. And after I get them home, I have to go make a weird, one-sided phone call for Riley before patrol.”
“I'll stop in and check on them while you're out.”
“Thanks.” She stood and walked back toward the hospital. She stopped and came back a moment later, to pull him into a hug. “That came out way more cold than I meant it, Sparky. Thank you.”
“I knew what you meant, love.”
“Tara is willing to help.”
“And you see no folly in involving her? What remains of the Initiative could make a target of her, too.”
“Oh, don’t worry about those guys.” Buffy waved away that objection. “Their official policy on Sunnydale is to leave it under my management. In my time, they only sent people in four times after the Adam fiasco: Once on the trail of a demon, once to help Riley with another demon and offer him a job, and twice because I called them in for medical help. The first time they come back is tomorrow, of course. Are you in?”
Giles cleaned his glasses, buying himself a moment to organize his thoughts. “I was given to believe you didn’t trust me to participate in any of your time-altering work.”
“I don’t trust you with much of anything, to be honest. Spike thinks I should, that the you of this time is still an ally. This is your chance to prove him right.”
“Proving Spike right is not a goal I have ever expected to set for myself.”
“And I have serious doubts about your ability to achieve it over the long haul. But he’s been nagging me to give you a second chance, a favor you really don’t deserve from him.” Buffy closed her eyes for a moment, trying to force back the memories. “Contrary to appearances, Giles, William the Bloody has a very forgiving nature. Trust me. I know it better than anyone.”
“What will I do to lose your faith in me, Buffy?”
“Lose your faith in me.”
They stood in silence for a long time, staring out into Buffy’s new training room behind the Magic Box, separated by their thoughts. Eventually she whispered, “When I look at you, I see a different man, someone who reminds me an awful lot of Quentin Travers. I can’t get past that. I have a lot of trouble seeing the man you are right now. Spike is older, better at putting things into perspective. He thinks a watcher who already knows who we are is an asset we should use, that trusting you with our secret can improve our odds. I disagree. I think we’re asking for trouble by getting you involved.”
“Then why are you asking for my help on this matter?”
“Because I trust Spike. I trust his judgment enough to take his advice on this.”
“I don’t trust him at all.”
“This mission in particular seems especially ill-advised.” Giles held up a hand before she could interrupt. “You can assure me again that it was done in your timeline, with no repercussions, but even you had no interest in doing so at this point in this time. You can’t begrudge me some hesitation.”
“I don’t. But you can’t begrudge me not wanting to make him wait again, make him suffer again. He doesn’t need it, Giles, and he doesn’t deserve it. Help me fix this for him. …Please? ”
Giles had more to say, but he kept his lips pressed tightly closed. He only nodded his assent.
Riley opened his eyes to the glare of florescent lighting above him and Buffy standing beside his hospital bed. “Hey. Am I gonna live?”
She smiled. “It sure looks like it. I just wanted to check on you. I can't stay.”
“Yeah… I didn't expect you to …unless you calling for help and dragging me here means something?”
She took his hand, giving it a quick squeeze. “It means I care about you. But what I said the other night still stands. You deserve someone who cares more.” She withdrew her hand and began to move toward the open door.
“If we're over, Buffy, I really don't have any reason to stay in Sunnydale. I'm going to check out Graham's new team as soon as I'm well enough to travel. He said they're recruiting.”
Buffy stopped, but didn't turn around. “I know.”
“That doesn't even bother you, does it?”
“It bothers me that you'll be in harm's way. But Sunnydale isn't your future. If it were, you'd have a reason to stay.” She turned around to face him. “It would be wrong for me to pretend to give you one. So I’ll just have to wish you luck.” She glanced at her watch. Instead of the quiet “Goodbye, Riley,” he'd expected to hear, she exclaimed, “Oh, shit! I’m going to be late!” and ran out of the hospital room.
The surgeon glanced around the medical classroom nervously as he worked. The older-looking vampire carried a sword as he paced the perimeter of the room, watching for any sign of activity outside the door and windows. The female vampires were stationed on either end of the operating table. The one with the baseball bat stood behind him, keeping an eye on his progress. The smaller female -who had been the last to arrive at the scene of his kidnapping- seemed to be the one in charge. She sat in one chair with her feet propped up on another. She had an axe in her lap and a dagger in her belt. Her focus flicked constantly between the surgeon's hands and the face of his patient.
After what seemed like hours, he dropped the little device into a metal tray. “It's done.”
The leader nodded to her compatriot, who took the tray and delivered it to the seated vampire. The leader picked up the tiny mass of plastic and metal and inspected it closely. Then she dropped it to the floor and raised one booted foot over it. She stopped herself suddenly, dropping her foot instead a few inches to the left of the offending object. “Ok, Doctor. Bandage him up. No stitches required. You'll be on your way soon.”
“I don't know why I should do any more. You're just going to kill me, whether I comply or not. Just like you killed my driver,” he grumbled.
She gestured to the vampire standing watch. “Will you show our friend here what we did to his government-issue chauffeur?”
The older-looking vampire leaned his sword against the wall by a closet door. He pulled the door open with one hand while the other reached inside. He yanked out the driver, a young man whose wrists and ankles were bound with duct tape, another strip covering his mouth. He was alive, apparently unharmed. The vampire shoved the driver into a sitting position on the floor in plain view of the surgeon. He took up his sword and resumed his patrol of the room without a word.
The doctor also kept his mouth shut. The room was again quiet as he worked to wrap tightly the wound he'd opened on his patient. When he was finished, he took off his gloves and stood. “Now what? You'll kill us both at once?”
The leader smiled menacingly around her fangs. She moved in slow motion, every move deliberately drawn out: standing, placing her axe on her vacant chair, pulling her knife from her belt as she approached the driver. She crouched down and pulled the tape from his mouth.
“No! Please, no!” were the first words the young man spoke, terrified they'd be his last.
The vampire only smiled again. She used her knife to quickly cut the tape binding his wrists and ankles, then pulled him to his feet. She turned to the surgeon. “Thanks for your services, Doctor. We appreciate it. Now you two should leave. And I do mean now.”
Exchanging incredulous glances, the doctor and his driver scrambled out of the classroom with no thoughts to their dignity. No one spoke until their car could be heard pulling away outside. Then the room was filled with laughter.
Giles put down his sword and took a deep breath between chuckles. “Oh, that was fun!”
Buffy looked at him in shock. “I had so much trouble talking you into this, and now you think it was fun? Who are you and what have you done with Giles?”
He cleared his throat. “I'm still rather uncomfortable with the purpose of this mission, but scaring those two was terribly entertaining. I do think I'm ready to have my own face back, however. Tara?”
Tara wiped her eyes on her sleeve. “Sorry. That bug-eyed look on the driver's face really got to me. I should be ashamed of myself for laughing at them, the poor guys. Here you go.”
With a muttered word from her, the glamour was lifted, and Spike was suddenly surrounded by three familiar, human faces. He applauded them as he struggled clumsily to his feet. “That was brilliant!” He gazed admiringly at Buffy as she loaded the weapons into her bag. “How'd you know he'd actually do it and not give me a penny for my thoughts again?”
Buffy put down her bag and rushed over to steady him before he fell. “Simple. I'm a hell of a lot scarier than Harmony Kendall. And better motivated, besides. How do you feel?”
“Got a raging headache, but glad to know it'll be the last.”
“That reminds me...” She guided him toward the chair she'd occupied during the surgery and pointed to the floor. “I thought I'd let you have the honors.”
Spike grinned broadly as he brought the heel of his boot down hard on the chip, crushing it into an unrecognizable mess. “Owe you a debt for this, Glinda, Rupert. Anything you need, just ask.”
Tara looked thoughtful at this offer, but said nothing about it. She smiled shyly. “I'm glad I could help.”
Giles retrieved his glasses from his jacket pocket and inspected them for cleanliness. “Yes, well, I ask two things from you, Spike.”
“Let me guess,” Buffy interjected. “Don't kill anyone?”
Giles threw her a glare. “Actually, yes. I ask that you prove Buffy's faith in you well-founded and not make fools of us for helping to rid you of that device.”
Those words did nothing to fade Spike's good humor. “Been working on giving her reason to have faith in me for years, Rupes. Also, this isn't the first time she's helped get that chip out. She told you that.”
“Yes, well, I'm sure that’s true. …Which brings me to my second request: I need answers.”
Spike and Buffy exchanged glances. Gaining her assent, Spike nodded. “Best be over a bottle of the good stuff, Watcher. I’m thinking you'll need it.”
“Fine. Tomorrow evening, you're both invited to my flat for a talk. Nine o' clock?”
Buffy's expression turned suddenly grim. “Sorry, Giles. I have ...plans. Spike can tell you what you need to know.”
Spike was more cheerful. “Sure thing, Rupes. You bring the bottle, and I'll tell you stories 'til it's gone.”
Buffy slung her weapons bag over her shoulder. “I need to get the patient home, guys. He's high as a kite and probably needs some blood. Thanks again for your help. I really couldn't have pulled it off without you.” Wrapping a steadying arm around Spike's waist, she guided him out of the classroom, grabbing up his duster from a chair near the door as she passed.
Tara and Giles followed them out, listening as Spike rattled on about the incident. “Love, you'd have made a magnificent vampire. That was a bloody brilliant performance! You sure I can't turn a little gang for you to command?”
“That's not even remotely funny.” Buffy shuddered. “You need to sleep off whatever it was that doctor doped you with. If you were in your right mind, you would not have said that.”
He slung an arm over her shoulder and leaned into her welcome support. “This feels familiar, eh?”
“Just like old times. And you're still heavy.”
“Didn't complain last time.”
“Do I usually complain about hauling your ass out of torture chambers?”
The pair behind them exchanged looks of alarm. “Maybe he'll tell me tomorrow,” Giles murmured.
Giles poured a round for each of them and leaned back in his chair, clearly exhausted.
“Long day at the shop, Watcher?”
“Heavens, yes. It's quickly become apparent I can't manage it on my own. I've hired Anya... but you knew I would, didn't you?”
“You won't regret it. That bird's like having an in-house accountant. More than just a clerk at the till.”
“Good to know.” Giles shifted his thoughts from those of a storekeeper to those of a Watcher. “You're planning on taking advantage of being without that microchip, aren't you?” His tone was not judgmental or accusatory, but his casual attitude could not mask his skepticism.
“Thought I might do a bit of sparring with Buffy, but that's it for now. Haven't been able to fight her at all since we got back into this time. Been missing it.”
“You sparred? After the chip was removed the first time?”
Spike took a sip of his scotch. “Wasn't much time for it then. But before, we had some knock-down drag-outs.” He smirked at the memory of his favorite fight with her.
“I don't understand. It stopped working?”
“On her, yeah.” At the look on Giles' face, Spike nearly choked on his drink, fighting back a laugh. “No, she didn't get turned. Don't look so bloody horrified. You know we lost her. Well, when she came back, she was a bit different, not quite as human as when she... left. At least, that's how the chip read her. She'd been back well over a year by the time the li'l brain zapper fried.”
They drank in silence for a few minutes, Giles studying Spike, who held his gaze in return. Finally, the watcher spoke. “You're the one who is different. Not at all who you were a month ago, from my perspective. Barely the same vampire. Does the time you spent carrying that chip have the credit?”
Spike nodded. “Some. Buffy for most. That woman's got a way of making a bloke wanna help her out. For me, that meant a bloody lot of change. The enemy isn't generally considered a source of help. But I helped, anyway. Took a while to not be the enemy anymore -and still sometimes was- chip or no chip.”
Giles switched gears. “So what exactly is your mission in this time? You’ve both been quite vague.”
“Simple. She stays alive. If I can't do that for her,” Spike took a long drink, composing himself. “I make sure she doesn't come back.”
Giles was momentarily speechless.
“Yeah, Watcher. That's the big master plan. Lovely, isn’t it?” He shook his head. “Part of why I needed the chip gone. It'll make it easier to take on the worst case scenario, if I have to.”
“You'd have to kill a human.” Giles absorbed this for a moment. “Who?”
Spike stared at the floor. “Willow,” he whispered. “If I can't stop Red from trying to bring the slayer back any other way, I'll have to kill her. Buffy's written a warning out for her in a letter, so she'll know we both mean it to go that way.”
Giles was flabbergasted. “Willow performed a resurrection? And that's worth killing her over?”
The vampire looked up, his eyes locking with the watcher's to show how serious he meant his words to be. “It is. It's about saving the world, Rupert. For me, if it comes to that, it's Dawn. Sod the rest of the world, but Red's not gonna ruin my Nibblet's life.”
“A life without her sister?”
“Some prices are too high, is how Buffy puts it. If we lose her again, the world -including Dawn- is literally better off without her, bloody lousy as it is. And the Bit won't be alone. She'll always have me, watching her back.”
“And Joyce, of course.”
“Oh dear lord. You said you'd had a difficult few years, but I had no idea it was as bad as... These headaches she's suffering--”
Spike cut him off with a stiff nod. “Soon.”
Giles sucked in a long breath. “Oh my dear girl,” he muttered to himself. “To have to lose her mother, and then go through it again. However is she managing?”
Spike gave Giles a hard look. “Slayer's tough as nails. She'll make it. Do have some concerns about her losing her father, too.”
“Is Hank not going to come back for his daughters?” Giles asked innocently.
“Not talking about that worthless sperm donor Joyce divorced, Watcher. I mean her real father.”
As Spike's meaning sank in, Giles looked offended. “You're questioning my loyalty to Buffy.”
“I'm questioning if you're gonna be the man she thought you were back then... now, I suppose. I pushed her to keep you close, but we may both come to regret it.”
The recently canceled plan to return to England came immediately to Giles' mind. “I left her, didn't I?”
“Among other crimes.”
“I do care about her, you know.” Giles saw the challenge in Spike's eyes, and that it would not be easily escaped. “You have my word, then. I'll be where she needs me to be.”
“Spoken like a bloody politician. Just promise you'll let her have a say in where that is.”
“So be it, then.” Giles nodded his agreement to the terms and poured another round for them both. He leaned back in his chair once again, studying this unusual vampire for what seemed like a long time. “I never thought I'd say this, but I think I'm glad you're here. She needs someone who knows what she's been through, and is--” He emptied his glass in a single gulp. “And is... a friend.”
“Pour yourself another, Watcher. You're still too sober for this li'l chat.”
“This is no light matter, Spike.”
“No, it's bloody serious, every bit of it. But I know what you're asking. Just waiting on you to say it.”
“Are you the reason she ended her relationship with Riley?”
“Part of the reason. Ready to ask the rest of the question?” Spike smirked, already knowing the answer.
“I'm not going to ask that question, Spike. I'll wait to be told the answer.”
“'Cause you don't wanna believe I care for her.”
Giles glared, but continued as if having not been interrupted. “I'll give you this, at least. You are being a friend to her, one she clearly needs.”
“It's mutual, Rupert. Need her, too. Fact is, sometimes I think--” Spike stopped suddenly. He sat up and lifted his nose to the air as he placed his glass on the table. “Get your first aid box, Watcher.” When Giles hesitated, Spike's eyes glinted with amber. “Now, dammit!”
Spike rushed to the front door and out into the courtyard. By the time Giles returned to the living room with his first aid kit, Spike was carrying an injured Buffy into the apartment. Horrified, Giles ran toward them, nearly tripping over his desk chair.
Buffy handed Giles a glowing orb as Spike carried her by him. “Hi, Giles.” She smiled tiredly. “Keep that safe, will you? It's important.”
Spike placed Buffy on the sofa and wrenched open the first aid kit. He began with the cut on her forehead, cleaning it while wearing a look of anger only a vampire could manage. “She's loose, then?”
“Yeah. It's time to test out that theory of mine. Let's rally the troops. And Spike?” She winced as he inspected her swollen wrist. “Bumpies are showing.”
Spike shook his head, forcing his face back to its human look. “It's just that woman--”
“I know.” She turned to look at her watcher, who was taking in the scene in stunned silence, the orb still in his hand. “Don't worry, Giles. It's not as bad as it looks. I'll be fine tomorrow.” She pulled herself up into a sitting position with her good hand and winced again. “Mostly. Spike's overreacting. I'm a bit better at getting my ass kicked by Hellgods than I used to be. Practice makes perfect.”
“That's not funny,” Spike growled as he inspected the ankle he'd found her limping to protect when he'd scooped her up in the courtyard.
“Hellgod?” Giles repeated, suddenly stone-cold sober. “Is that-- Is that what killed you?”
“Technically, it was suicide.” Buffy's calm tone did nothing to bring Giles back to his senses.
“Suicide? What? Buffy? Why would you--?”
“It was not suicide!” Spike roared, slamming an open hand onto the coffee table, rattling the forgotten glasses and scotch bottle. He leaned Buffy forward and began to help her out of her jacket. His volume dropped to a near whisper. “It was sacrifice.”
Buffy opened her mouth to argue, but the look on his face stopped her. “Ok… Letting that one pass. Giles, pencil in a Scooby meeting. You’re all going to get some answers.”