Slayer Rising by Sigyn [R]
Story Notes:

Challenge Specifications:

1. Vamp!Buffy with a soul.
2. Crossover (Author's choice)
3. Buffy no longer a doormat to the Scoobies.

 

Absolutely priceless betawork by Zabjade and bewildered. Thanks guys!

1. Chapter 1 by Sigyn

2. Chapter 2 by Sigyn

3. Chapter 3 by Sigyn

4. Chapter 4 by Sigyn

5. Chapter 5 by Sigyn

6. Chapter 6 by Sigyn

7. Chapter 7 by Sigyn

8. Chapter 8 by Sigyn

9. Chapter 9 by Sigyn

10. Chapter 10 by Sigyn

11. Chapter 11 by Sigyn

12. Chapter 12 by Sigyn

13. Chapter 13 by Sigyn

14. Chapter 14 by Sigyn

15. Chapter 15 by Sigyn

16. Chapter 16 by Sigyn

17. Chapter 17 by Sigyn

18. Chapter 18 by Sigyn

Chapter 1 by Sigyn

   

   Kill the slayer.

   That was what was in Spike’s head, all the time, every day, every goddamn second. Kill. The. Slayer.

   The Welcome to Sunnydale sign splintered under the wheels of Spike’s DeSoto as he swerved specifically to hit it. It was tradition by this time. Come back to Sunnydale, kill the sign, kill the slayer. Well, okay, he hadn’t succeeded in the last part yet, but he was going to do it this time. This time, it was gonna work. He’d made plans. There’d be no collapsing into drunken misery. No getting thwarted by impatience at the last second. No getting his arse handed to him by little blond chits with big egos.

   You’re all covered with her, Drusilla’s voice echoed in his head. I can still see her, floating all around you, laughing.  Why can’t you let her go? Well, hell, yeah, he was gonna let her go. Let her go to the great beyond he was, and bring back her sodding head to Drusilla to prove it! He was going to kill the slayer, sod it all, and the Gem of Amara was going to help him do it.

   But first he needed muscle.

   Spike squealed up to Willy’s and stepped out of his DeSoto, a little nervous, but ready to get to it. The Welcome to Sunnydale sign had left a long splinter of painted wood on the windshield. He plucked it off and lit a cigarette, taking a few determined puffs before he flicked it away. He straightened his coat, slicked back his hair, and put on his best Big Bad face. When recruiting minions, was best to look incredibly dangerous.

   ‘Course, he could always make his own. He had in the past occasionally, but usually he’d left the minion making to Drusilla. Always felt kinda cheap and uncomfortable handing out his own blood to just any dumb punk he wanted to say Yes, boss. It didn’t bug Dru, but him? Given a choice, he’d rather find someone else’s fledge and play Big Bad at him till he accepted Spike’s dominance and learned his place.

   Willy’s wasn’t the best place for this, since the slayer knew of it, so the darkest demons tended not to frequent it. But Spike wasn’t looking for dangerous muscle. Just a couple of determined bodies to haul rubble. All the rough and tumble was going to be his once he found the Gem of Amara.

   Drusilla had insisted that it was here, in Sunnydale. She even had sketched out a strange map in one of her more lucid moments. If the whole thing with Acathla hadn’t played out, she had planned on setting Spike and Angelus to find the gem. Her and her visions: The Judge. Acathla. The Gem. Sometimes they were just fairy tales, and sometimes... sometimes they turned out to be real.

   Spike was betting on the Gem of Amara being real. And he was betting Drusilla had told him true about the crypt, and where it would be. And he was betting he could find the muscle he needed to get it here, at Willy’s. A couple dumb minions, maybe even some of the pissants who used to work for him before, if the slayer hadn’t dusted them already.

   He strode into Willy’s with a brash swagger, announced that the Big Bad was back in town, and waited for the resultant recognition.

   He wasn’t disappointed. “Spike! Buddy!” Willy said with his usual obsequious terror. The man had no magical powers, no demonic strength, nothing to protect himself from the demons and death-dealers who frequented his pub. Naught but a glib tongue and the willingness to cater to anyone. There was a bit of a Hey, everyone, cool it, spell that he’d paid for, which permeated the walls and tended to keep most arguments low key, and most active fights out in the alley, but it wasn’t a true pacifist you-can’t-hurt-anyone-here sort of deal, as those were way too expensive for Willy’s budget. Spike felt the muffling blanket of the spell as he came in, but it was no more oppressive than a hot day, easily fought through. “Long time no see.”

   “Hallo, mate,” Spike said. He ordered two fingers of Jack, and Willy asked if he wanted him to spike that for him. “Yeah, sure. But the good stuff, right?”

   “Sure thing, Spike.” Willy pulled a donor bag out of the mini fridge under the bar and added another finger of human blood to the glass before handing the resultant mixture to Spike. “So what you doing back in town?”

   “Got a bit of an evil plan in the works. Like always.”

   “Well. Luck to you,” Willy said. “Welcome back. Anything you need–”

   “I know you’re just a bribe away,” Spike said. He plunked down the bill and leaned back against the bar, surveying the room. Slim pickings. A fyarl by the door... nope. Too dumb for delicate work, he didn’t want the gem crushed before he could find it. One vamp thug in the corner who might do for muscle work, a couple of fledgling mini-bits in the booth sipping, god, was that pigs blood? Smelled like it from here. And one scantily clad bint who was watching him with appraising eyes under a thick mane of blond hair.

   He eyed her. She was no Drusilla, but something about her appealed. She was no more than a fledge, he could tell that by her bearing, but decent lineage. She didn’t look like she was struggling to hold camo-face anyway, which was usually an indication of reasonable age, a good bloodline, or at least a decently made fledge. You turn a fledge on a drop you got the stupidest bumpy-faced minions, no matter your lineage, and a good-made fledge from an unknown line could surprise you with personality.

   This little bit clearly had personality. She cocked her blonde head, tilted her shoulder, opened her lips and let her tongue slide suggestively between her teeth as her eyes flickered coquettishly. She knew the rules of cheap seduction, that was clear enough. He smirked. “Hey there, all,” he announced, making sure just enough of his Big Bad was directed at the bint that she felt the power of it. “Just got back in town. Looking for a few good blokes to work a job for me.”

   “Might have some trouble with that, Spike,” Willy said quietly. “There’s, uh... well, a new feeling going on through town. If you’re looking to start a new turf war, well....”

   “Nah, I’m done playing the Master game,” Spike said. “I’m not trying to go all Order of Aurelius again. Just looking for a few good hands to move some earth.”

   “I can move the earth,” the bint said, sidling up to him at the bar. “Or at least, people say I make the earth move.”

   The architecture of that statement was abysmal, but the intent was clear enough. “Oh, can you now, pet?” He glanced at her table. “What you drinking?”

   “Bloody Mary, of course,” she said. “I am an evil vampire, don’t you know.”

   Spike found himself grinning. “Are you now.”

   She winked, and he chuckled. “Willy. Another Bloody Mary for the lady,” he said. He had finally realized what it was about the bint that he liked. Her age. She was eighteen, blond, a recently turned fledge, and, “Let me guess,” Spike said. “I’ll bet you went to school here.”

   “Well, duh!” The girl turned to him. “I’ve lived here all my life.” Spike tuned her out almost immediately as she chattered on. He kept eyeing the marks. Really slim pickings, minion-wise. Maybe he should just go to the cemeteries and see if he could pick up a few newborns? There were always newborns rising in Sunnydale. The girl kept on and on, demanding his attention. “My daddy was going to send me to Paris this summer,” she prattled. “But then he decided not to.”

   “And why was that?” Spike asked absently.

   “Well, I killed him and stole his credit card,” she said. “I didn’t know his death was gonna mean it got cancelled. I mean, could you die? Well, I mean, I did, but....” She shrugged. “That was before I got hired by this really great start up firm? We’re gonna change the face of Sunnydale, it’s gonna be a real show stopper. I’m the receptionist,” she added, as if that was a really, really great job. She tossed her hair back.

   Spike had been wanting to grab a lock of blonde hair and yank someone’s head back for months. Bint was clearly casting her cards for him. He thought he’d bite. “So what’s your name, pet?”

   “Um, hello! Harmony! I just said!”

   Spike let himself smile, envisioning slamming the girl into a wall before he took her. Yeah. That’d be good. Eighteen, blonde, Sunnydale alum... yeah. He could take her hard. “Well. Harm. That’s a good name, innit?” He slid his hand along her hip and looked her over with his patented smolder. “What do you say I take you out to my car for a good hard shag?”

   “Carpeting in your car?” she said. “Is that some kinky seventies thing?”

   Spike almost threw her away entirely. The disgust probably passed over his face before he was able to shake it off, but no, he hadn’t had his cock drained properly in months (don’t admit it’s been over a year, Spike m’lad) and he wanted to take the bint hard, here and now already, ‘cause even though she was clearly insipid and banal and almost immediately annoying, she was hot, and young, and blonde, and he was sure he could stuff her mouth with something that would keep her from talking.

   “No, pet, I just meant you and I could go somewhere more... alluring.”

   “My daddy used to want to take me fishing when I was, like, ten,” Harmony said. “But I never could handle the lures.”

   Bloody hell. “Did you want to go somewhere and have cheap, meaningless sex?” Spike finally said.

   Harmony looked affronted. “Well. Of all the things!” Then she stopped. “Um. Well, yeah, actually,” she said. “If you’re offering.” She shifted in her barstool and looked up at him. “Are you, like, older? ‘Cause you seem different from the boys in this town.”

   A bloody century older, and a powerhouse to boot, but he didn’t want to brag. Why waste a good brag on this brainless chippy? “Yeah, pet, I’m a bit older than they are,” Spike said.

   “Oh, good. I like older men.”

   All right. That was out of the way, then. Spike turned his head so she couldn’t see him roll his eyes. He was definitely going to have to find ways to keep her mouth full if he was going to keep her as a mattress for a few weeks. “Just sit tight,” Spike said. He took a good hard look at the boys sipping the pigs blood. “I need to pick me up a few minions.”

   Harmony giggled over her Bloody Mary, which seemed to be made with lambs blood along with the tomato juice. “Do people actually use that word? Minion?”

   “It’s as good as any,” Spike said. “Has tradition behind it.”

   “What do you need minions for?”

   “I need to do a bit of excavation,” Spike announced, loud enough to carry. “Got a bit of a lead on a treasure trove. Anyone care to join me, they’ll get a share of the spoils.”

   “Oooh, a treasure?” Harmony said. “What is it? Gold? Jewels?”

   “Probably,” Spike said. “But I’m just after one gem.” He couldn’t keep the words from leaving his mouth. They’d been rattling around in his head for months, ever since Drusilla had accused him of still being fixated on the slayer. Well, if he hadn’t been before, he sure as hell was now, the bloody bitch! “And after I find it, I’m gonna kill me the Slayer.”

   There was a strange silence in the pub after Spike said that. Everyone turned to look at him, not impressed, but in sheer disbelief. And then, very suddenly, the biggest thug across the way burst into laughter.

   “Oh, don’t think I could do it, eh?” Spike said. “I’ll have you know, I’ve come close a few times. I did a couple slayers in my day. You might have heard of me. Name of Spike.”

   His braggadocio was not having the desired effect. The laughter had started echoing around the pub, as vampire after vampire, and several of the demons, started to chuckle. Anger flashed through Spike, and his temper, which he did not have a good rein on in the best of times, ran off without him. “Oi! Shut it!” he snarled at the nearest chortling figure. “I’ll have you know, that slayer’s not gonna get the best of me this time!”

   “No.” Even Harmony was chuckling. “That’s not why they’re laughing, blondie. You have really great hair, did you know that?” She reached up to pet it, like he was a sodding kitten, and there were times when he would have liked such a thing, but not while he was being laughed at by a pub full of pissant fledges. Spike slapped her hand away, and she looked slightly hurt. “It’s just that you’re not gonna kill the slayer, Spikey, that’s all.”

   “And why the bloody hell not?” he demanded.

   “Well... it’s just gonna be really hard. Buffy’s not – well. I guess technically she is, sort of, but–”

   “Would you get to the point you stupid bint?” Spike snapped.

   “Hey, ease up, Spike,” Willy said quiet behind the bar. “None of the boys mean anything by it, it’s just that Slayer’s been a bit of a regular lately. They’re all getting to know her pretty well.”

   “A regular?” Spike snapped. “What the hell would the slayer be doing patronizing a crap demon joint like this?”

   “Getting a decent Bloody Mary,” said Buffy’s voice behind him. “Regular, Willy, and make it snappy. If he’s in town, I need to get drunk even faster.”

   Spike turned and stared at the slayer, telling himself he wasn’t frightened. She looked just like he remembered her, blonde, beautiful, petite, those supple wrists, that long neck, that golden skin, that scent....

   Except that wasn’t the right scent. And that golden skin was pale. And those green eyes were no longer vibrant and alive, they were dead and cold in Buffy’s hard, humorless face. No heartbeat, no warmth, no whiff of fresh blood. A dead-eyed fresh-faced fledge stared at Spike from out of Buffy’s face.

   “Oh, bloody hell!” Spike snapped. “Some berk got here before me?”

   Buffy grinned, but there was no joy in it. “Looks like,” she said. “Now clear out of town, Spike, or at least shut the fuck up. I don’t have time for your crap these days. Willy? I think I’ll skip the cocktail. Just give me my special?”

   “On it, Slayer.” Willy reached back down the mini-fridge and handed Buffy a donor bag.

   “What do I owe you?”

   “On the house,” Willy said.

   Buffy grinned. “One of these days you’re going to have to start charging me, or the boys will think you’re soft on me.” She glanced over at Spike, who was staring in stunned, horrified disbelief. “Don’t make trouble, Spike. I don’t have any patience for it, these days.” She shoved the bag into her coat pocket. “Clear out of here by tomorrow, and there’d better not be any sudden deaths, or I’ll know why. You all hear that, guys?” Buffy announced to the room.

   The general consensus humming around the pub told Spike that Buffy was more than just a vampire. She was a bit of a Big Bad herself these days. “See ya,” Buffy said, and she left the pub.

   “Don’t worry about Buffy,” Harmony said. “She’s been all up in everyone’s face ever since she turned. She and I were turned about the same time. Graduation! It’s really cool. We’re like best friends these days, sisters even! She hired me to work for her! First pay check I ever got, it’s really neat, and I get all the free blood I want, so long as it’s not human.” She slid her arm around Spike’s back and pressed her breasts up against him, nearly in his face. “So. You said something about a car, and cheap sex? ‘Cause I have expensive tastes, and I think you’ll find I’m worth more than that.”

   “Shut up,” Spike said, shoving her listlessly away. The pretty blonde fledge didn’t seem anywhere near as appealing as she had a few minutes ago. Neither did the prospect of the Gem of Amara. Or the taste of Jack and blood. Or the scent of the night or the beauty of the moonlight or the thrill of the chase. Someone else had already killed the slayer.

   There was nothing left worth living for.  

Chapter 2 by Sigyn

   Slayer hit her punching bag again and again and again, trying to beat the stuffing out of it; half wishing she could beat the stuffing out of Spike, or maybe out of some innocent human. Just keep hitting and hitting until she could hear the bones crack and the blood spurted out of their face and they groaned with the pain and –

   Stop. Those are evil thoughts. Don’t indulge those. Slayer gave the bag a final roundhouse kick, then reached over for her wineglass, which was half full of warmed donor blood. Slayer had spent the first four months after she’d been turned avoiding human blood completely, but after she nearly vamped out at a victim she was trying to save a few months ago, she’d realized she’d have to train herself up to it. The acclimation therapy was proving effective. The last time a victim she was saving had been blooded, she’d barely had to clench her fist to control herself. Despite her strength, she was still technically a fledge, and fledges had impulse control problems.

   And also hygiene issues connected to the feeling they didn’t belong in the world anymore, so why bother with social niceties like fashion and bathing? Which was probably why Xander looked at her askance as he came in through the jasmine garden. “What happened to your hair?” he asked.

   Slayer grabbed at it. She’d tied it up in a bun-like knot earlier in the night, and it seemed to have fallen to the side. The mansion still didn’t have any mirrors, and she wouldn’t have been able to see herself in them anyway, so she couldn’t see what it looked like. “I was working out,” she said. She grabbed at a brush, untangled the knot, and set about smoothing her hair.

   The mansion on Crawford St. didn’t look quite the way Angel had left it. Buffy had added more exercise equipment in the front room than Angel would have approved of, and some of Angel’s art was… she didn’t want to say pretentious, but she’d gotten rid of it anyway. She had a bunch of stuff left over from her mom’s gallery after it closed, and a handful of things from Revello Drive here now. The place was still big and echoing and strange, but it was more her place now than Angel’s.

   “How’s the construction coming?” she asked Xander once her hair was somewhat tamed.

   “Not bad. We’re setting up the freezers now. The rest of the factory should be renovated by spring.”

   “Can we get at least the slaughter floor up any faster?” Slayer asked. “We’re doing what we can piecemeal, but I’d really like the slaughterhouse to start making decent money sooner than that.”

   “You’ve already gotten a good blood flow available for you and the vampires,” Xander said. “That was the point, right?”

   “Yeah, but I’d like it sustainable, as soon as possible,” Slayer said. “And it’s not me and the vampires. It’s me and the rest of the vampires.

   “Yeah,” Xander said. “But you’re different from them, Buffy. You’re a person.”

   Slayer rolled her eyes. She didn’t like being called Buffy anymore. She wasn’t Buffy anymore. Technically she wasn’t a vampire slayer anymore, either, but the other vampires had still taken to calling her “Slayer,” and the name seemed right. She wasn’t Buffy, the Vampire Slayer anymore. She was just the vampire, Slayer. “Just because I have a soul doesn’t make me anything other than a vampire.”

   Xander looked uncomfortable. He didn’t like it when she talked like that. “Anyway, yeah, we set up instructions for the night crew, and yes, I got all the day crew out well before sunset.”

   Xander was the daytime front man for Slayer’s burgeoning slaughter business. The other vampires knew he was off limits (well, technically all of her “employees” knew that all people were off limits) but most of her boys were still fledges, and mistakes had happened. No lethal ones yet, (except that one time, the perpetrator of which Slayer had taken care of quickly, and with extreme prejudice) but she didn’t want Xander to fall prey to a fledgeling mistake. She’d never forgive herself for dragging him into the business with her in the first place if that happened.

   “You should check on the guys tonight, make sure they’re following the plans,” Xander added.

   “Right,” Slayer said.

   “But the FDA inspector I spoke to? Said that with the water flow and drainage around the factory, getting certification shouldn’t be hard with the plans we have. So, within a year we should be able to have legitimate, certified meat shipping out.”

   It wasn’t fast enough for Slayer, but at least she’d gotten the boys off human blood for the most part, and that was a start. Her plan was for the Night Butchers to be set up as a legitimate co-op, ship meat out for human consumption for money, and all the blood which most slaughterhouses only disposed of fed free and clear to her workers. Right now all that was happening was illegitimate, under the table stuff, but she had the coolers and the slaughter floor set, the blood was contained and distributed fairly to the boys, and if the meat had to go to dog food until the factory was fully renovated, well, at least it was something. But she wanted to be able to give them proper salaries, as well as a varied diet of high-quality animal blood.

   It was a decent start-up already. They had a business plan, cash flow charts, a loan from a local bank. Harmony played receptionist, ready night and day with her cellular phone, and Angel’s boys handled the pig slaughter and most of the construction. They needed oversight. They were all universally evil, and they weren’t above cutting corners, in the same way the sea is not above the clouds. But her goal wasn’t to make them good. Her goal was to keep them from actively doing evil. So far, it was working.

   “And remember, I’d like to branch out from pig soon,” Slayer said. “How soon can we start processing beef or something?”

   “I don’t know, it would need some different machinery, I think,” Xander said. He was only just nineteen; starting a business was a new experience for both of them. “Maybe you should stop by the college, see if Willow can help you look it up.”

   “Yeah,” Slayer said. Willow usually stayed up studying until well after eleven. It was only nine now. “I can do that. After I check the factory, make sure the boys are following your plans right.”

   Xander sighed. “I still don’t know why you insist on being all pally with them.”

   “I’m not pally with them. I’m taking care of them.”

   “Yeah, but why?”

   “Because they’re my brothers!” Slayer snapped. She felt bad at the hurt look on Xander’s face, but he already knew this. He’d insisted she could just stake them all and be done, but he really didn’t understand. She hadn’t mentioned that the core group of them were actually Angel’s boys.

   When Slayer, (still calling herself Buffy) had first opened her eyes, she’d had less than an hour of soulless, purely evil (and tightly chained) existence before Willow and Angel and Oz had finished the ritual and cursed her fled soul back into her newly demonic body. She had been furious at all of them: at Willow for dragging her soul back into her body so she’d be able to feel just what a monster she’d been made into. At Oz for going along with it. Even her beloved Angel…. Xander and Giles hadn’t been involved in the decision to do the spell, and indeed had been rather horrified, but Willow had insisted it was the only way.

   “We had to bring your soul back, Buffy!” she’d said. “Things are in major over-our-heads dangerland, here, how the hell were we supposed to fight without you?”

   “But how am I supposed to fight anything like this!” the newly vamped Buffy had despaired. “I can’t go into the sunlight, I can’t go near fire….”

   “Well,” Willow had said, perfectly reasonably. “You shouldn’t have let it happen. We need you.”

   Slayer was in agreement with her these days. She shouldn’t have been so reckless and stupid. She wished the whole terrible thing had never happened at all. And it hadn’t even made a difference. Angel, despite her being a vampire now, and despite his protestations of eternal love, had still taken off for LA.

   But that was a whole tangle of twisted emotion she didn’t want to try and cut through tonight. She’d had a full plate already. Pick up donor blood from Willy’s, check. Call Mom and Giles in London, check. Nightly meeting with Xander, check. Now, she just had to check out the factory, consult Willow, and do a quick patrol for any vampires who weren’t part of the co-operative, and recruit or dust them.

   Oh, and maybe check on Spike.

   Slayer thanked Xander, and then drove him to his house in her Mom’s old car.

   Joyce had sold the house on Revello Drive when Buffy had insisted. She was dead. She was a vampire. Everything was already over, and it just wasn’t safe anymore. Giles’s job was to be a watcher to a slayer, not oversee a newborn vampire. Buffy had begged him to go with Joyce, take her somewhere and help her start a new life. Joyce had finally agreed, with the stipulation that her newly vampire daughter would still keep in touch. The two adults had helped her and Xander set up the business plan for the slaughterhouse, and then Giles had taken Joyce to London, where they were opening up a new gallery, with art and antiques.

   Joyce still called regularly, as if Buffy were just at college or something rather than actively dead, and Giles was still available for on-the-phone research when there was a nasty demon Slayer didn’t know how to handle. But for the most part, Slayer let most of the demons live and let live.

   Yes, she was stronger than most other vampires, due to her originally being the slayer. Yes, she still had a conscience, thanks to Willow and her ensoulment curse. But the truth was, she wasn’t a slayer anymore. She was just a strong vampire with a conscience. The sense of duty was still there, but the joy and the need, the calling to protect? That just wasn’t.

   And unlike Angel, she had no century of human slaughter to weigh her down with guilt, so while she tried to keep the local vamps from killing, and wouldn’t let any people be actively hunted down around her, taking out the local demons? Not her job anymore.

   Of course, she didn’t know whose job it was. Faith, the person whose job it was supposed to be was still in a coma.... Ugh, no, too many ugly emotions.

   She stopped the car when they got to Xander’s house, and waved him off. He collected his bag of under-the-table pork loin (free meat was a great perk of being front-man) and climbed out. “Oh, and Xander?” she said before he closed the door. “Spike’s in town.”

   “Spike?”

   “Yeah. Keep an eye out. He’s not part of the co-op, and he’s probably at least as strong as me these days.”

   “I thought you were stronger than the vamps because you were the slayer before you were turned?”

   “Most of them,” Slayer said. “But he’s an elder himself, and we’re… well, kinda the same.” She shook her head. “Don’t worry about it, probably not gonna be a problem. He didn’t kill you before, right?”

   Xander rubbed the back of his head. “I still have a dent in my skull from the last time he...!” He stopped. “Yeah. Won’t invite him in. Catch you at the Bronze later?”

   Slayer raised her eyebrow.

   “Thought not. You really ought to loosen up sometime, Buffy. See ya.”

   “Later.”

   Slayer drove to the factory, plunging through red lights. She’d never done that sort of thing before she was turned. The rule of law had mattered more. Now, with the evil streak of the demon running through her system, her conscience had diminished to anything that actually hurt anyone. Traffic laws, petty theft, even littering didn’t matter to her much these days. That was why she hadn’t driven much when she was just Buffy. The desire to just push through the laws behind a wheel, the same way she did when she pursued vampires, had been too much for her and she hadn’t liked it. She hadn’t even managed to get a license, the hyper-awareness being too much for her. She still didn’t have a driver’s license, but she didn’t care anymore.

   Also, she’d been trying to perfect that thrall thing, like Drusilla had had. It had worked the one time she’d been pulled over by a Sunnydale cop. She didn’t go all pointy sharp fingers and be in me. Her trick seemed to be consistent persuasion and repetition. After seven attempts to give her a ticket, and Slayer’s repeat insistence that he didn’t want to, he seemed to forget that he’d been about to, and left her off with a warning. Her burgeoning thrall skills had helped recruit some of the more reluctant fledges to the co-op, as well.

   The factory looked different these days, with building permits and construction materials all over. The windows had been completely bricked over, and vampires ranged in and out, playing with that night’s shipment of swine. Some of the vampires really liked killing the beasts themselves, and Slayer allowed it. Actually, she allowed most things. She did not micromanage. She had a few overseers, all of them Angel’s boys, checked in on them once a night to make sure they weren’t cutting important corners in construction, and otherwise left them to it.

   Two of them waved at her as she pulled the car up. “Slayer! We got the freezer hooked up,” one of them shouted at her.

   “Great. Is it freezing?”

   “Not yet,” Tony said. He was her chief overseer.

   “Well, Spike’s in town,” Slayer shouted back. “If he shows up, we’ll test it on him!”

   The boys laughed. None of them liked Spike.

   Every one of Angel’s boys had been turned during that year while Angel had lost his soul and become Angelus. All they knew of Spike was that he was the wheelchair-bound clown-poodle owned by Drusilla, and tolerated by Angelus. They were poorly made, mere minion material, turned on nothing but a drop of blood. Angelus had made them as decoys, distractions, and foot soldiers, and most of them had been made only to be there for Buffy to slay. A set of disposable workers, a buffer between him and Buffy.

   Buffy hadn’t known they existed until the day of graduation, when Angel had informed the Scoobies, rather out of the blue, that he could recruit a small squadron of vampires to help them fight the Mayor during the eclipse. Buffy hadn’t questioned it at first, until she found herself among the group of heavy looking fellows, and realized.... “Angel? You have a soul. The vampires of Sunnydale hate you.”

   He’d looked embarrassed, then frustrated, and then finally admitted that he was sire to every single one of them. And as their sire, they’d be loyal to him so long as he was strong enough to dominate them, even if they had contempt for his soul.

   “You had an entire nest of self-made minions, just lurking around Sunnydale, for the last year?”

   “I didn’t have a soul when I made them, Buffy. It wasn’t really me.”

   Buffy had only looked at him. She was still herself. Getting her soul shoved back inside her hadn’t made her any less the demon she had been the hour before. It wasn’t until after they’d defeated the Mayor and Angel had been about to just send the boys on their way that she’d realized... these were her brothers. Fellow vampires, just like her. Not only had Angel just abandoned them, but he’d abandoned them to go on killing.

   That was when Buffy had insisted he bring them all back to the mansion, and she’d arranged the idea for the co-op. Human blood tasted better, yes, but more than that, animal blood cost money, and it was money these vampires didn’t have. Angel hadn’t wanted to bother.

   “We can’t just let them keep killing, Angel.”

   “We don’t have to do that,” Angel had said. “It’s not like they have souls. I’d forgotten about them until this whole thing, they’re nothing that special. We can just take care of it now.”

   It had taken Buffy some time to understand what he was saying. He had abandoned them, and then forgotten about them until he’d needed something. To be fair, he’d been in a hell dimension for the first half of that year, but he also hadn’t let on that he knew they were still in town even after he’d come back contrite and full of soul. He had called on them when he needed them, and they had come, loyally, to his side. And now he was advocating just staking them?

   “What if I didn’t have a soul?” Buffy had asked. “Would you just stake me?”

   Angel looked away. “No. I couldn’t.”

   Buffy believed him. He could have affection for other vampires, in his way. He hadn’t staked Drusilla, or Spike, even when they were torturing him, even when he’d still had a soul and should have hated them. But his casual dismissal of the rest of his offspring (even if they were only minion material) still bothered her.

   She’d adopted them. And lots of the other vamps in Sunnydale, like Harmony and anyone else who would agree to stop killing humans. Angel was right; they were nothing that special. They were evil, dumb, with a positively contemptible following instinct. But Buffy was a vampire herself. Technically, they were family. Soul or not, they were all the same.

   Which, meant, Slayer realized, that Spike was too, wasn’t he?

   So it was understandable that her vampire sensibilities had found Spike incredibly hot.

   Except, of course, it wasn’t. It wasn’t at all. And there were all kinds of reasons for that. And thinking about Spike and his sharp cheekbones and his supple lips and the heroic way he’d come to fight beside her last year…. Yeah, no. She quickly stepped into the freezer, to make sure it was all working well. It seemed to be. Cold air was starting to blow out of the side wall. The insulation seemed properly installed, and the electrical wiring wasn’t shooting out blue sparks or anything (not that Slayer really knew much about it, but even being looked at tended to keep the boys in order, even if she didn’t know exactly what she was seeing.) But the cold air wasn’t helping the hot images which were sliding into her mind....

   Which was damned aggravating. She couldn’t afford to think this way.

   I gotta go talk to Willow, Slayer thought. Despite her resentment over the curse and all, they’d maintained their friendship, and Willow had gone to UC Sunnydale to stay close, just like she’d promised she would. Even though Slayer had decided against going to college, even night courses. Being around people was just too dangerous while she was still a fledge.

   Also... that soul wasn’t so securely attached, after all.

   Which was why thinking of Spike at all was a bad, bad, bad idea.  

Chapter 3 by Sigyn

   

   “So who was it?” Spike demanded.

   Buffy started, whirling his direction in a defensive crouch, more demonic and less, well, slayery than he thought right for that sweet body. “Spike,” she said, recognizing him.

   Spike jumped down from the low roof of the college office he’d been perched on to land directly before her. Buffy’s eyes followed his descent, his coat flapping in the night. Okay, so they both knew how to play a look. She was certainly playing hers, her midriff just showing, her pale skin highlighted with black lace at the neckline, that jean jacket making her look just at the edge of tough. He glared at the once-slayer. “Who was it? Who stole my thunder as the Slayer of Slayers?”

   “Does that matter?” She turned to leave.

   Spike grabbed her shoulder and turned her back. “Yes, slayer. It does.  Or... uh....” He stopped. He really couldn’t call her slayer anymore, could he?

   “No, it doesn’t. It’s done. I’m done. Get over it. You don’t get to add another slayer notch to your belt. So sorry.” She pushed him away. “End of chat,” she said, mocking his accent.

   This wasn’t bloody right, this. He’d checked out Buffy’s house, but Joyce was gone, the house was empty, and a great big For Sale sign dominated the front lawn, joining the other hundreds of For Sale signs that always peppered any town heavy in the vamp population. He’d headed right over to Angel’s mansion, but the only scent he caught there was the new ex-slayer fledge; nothing from Angel, so his Old Sire was probably dust. He’d checked out the factory, ‘cause he’d heard rumors about that place, and he found it crawling with vamps, no one worth fighting, (he recognized a handful of them as Angel’s crap-made minions) and reeking of pig blood. He caught a whiff of her scent there under all that pig, but no late-slayer in the demonic flesh.

   He’d finally gone up to the college, rightly thinking that even if Buffy hadn’t enrolled (she should have enrolled! She should still be living and breathing and heading to school, so that he could rip her out of that life and show her the ending she deserved!) she’d probably be hanging out with that little witchy friend of hers. He’d caught the scent of that stupid twat she used to play with, Xander, at the factory, so if she hadn’t killed him for giggles, she’d probably have left the witch, too.

   Which spoke of a really well made fledge, honestly. Most were too heavy with the bloodlust to think clear about who should die and who shouldn’t. Which begged the question lingering so heavy in his mind. Someone had been really keen on making a slaypire, and someone had done it well. Probably someone strong. Who the bloody hell did it?

   He’d caught her scent as he came on campus, and lay in wait to catch her on her way out. He demanded answers, dammit! He hadn’t been able to get a good handle as to who had caught and turned her. No new Big Bad had come to town, no one had boasted about getting lucky, no gang had declared it their kill. It was a conspiracy of silence that was driving him barmy. It was more than curiosity. If this question wasn’t answered it was likely to become a full blown obsession. He hoped Buffy had already killed whoever did it, because if she hadn’t, he’d have a hell of a fight on his hands to take the title away from him. Buffy killer. Slayer killer. No, only Spike had been worthy of that title!

   “I refuse to believe it was any of the pissant nits in this sorry-ass burg,” Spike snapped at her. “I looked, there’s no one here I’d peg as a slayer killer, unless someone had a very good day. Even Sunday’s out of the picture.”

   “Who?”

   “Older vamp here on campus, petty but careful. I checked out all the gangs I knew, Sunday’s pack, the Sewer Gang, even looked in on the suck houses.” He spat to the side to show his contempt for that. Buffy’s apparent plan to make pig blood free and available to all the vamps in Sunnydale was more appealing than cheapening the exquisite sacred bite for money.

   But Spike kept running into roadblocks. Sunday’s pack was strangely missing, the Sewer Gang had gone almost feral, claiming they kept losing members (probably just to Buffy’s “co-op.” God, vampires, admitting they were cooperating. What had the girl done to the poor buggers?) and the suck houses… well, he’d hardly stopped to chat, with those kinds of lowlifes, but they didn’t know sod-all about who had killed the slayer. He’d been getting more and more keyed up over it all night. He was just about at the end of his tether.

   “No one’s taking credit for killing you.” It was an accusation.

   She didn’t bite. On his bait, anyway. “I don’t advertise my private life, Spike. And it’s none of your business. This isn’t your town.” She turned and stalked off across the campus.

   He followed after, like a sodding puppy, dammit, but he wasn’t leaving without an answer. “Well, it bloody well could be, with the slayer out of the way,” Spike said. “Why don’t you answer my question, eh? ‘Else I could just head back to the factory and bash a few heads. Take Angel’s boys over, they know I’m bigger and badder ‘n them. Offer them real blood instead of this pig swill you keep ‘em on, beat up a couple of the stronger ones, they’d toe the line in naught but a tick, I set myself up against you.”

   Buffy growled, vamping up. “You just try it!” She smacked him, and he gasped. Oh, yeah, that felt right. She could still fight like a slayer, even if there was that demonic undercurrent to the whole thing. He hit her back, and then she hit him, and the dance was on.

   “Come on, slayer,” Spike said, circling. “Lay it on me!”

   She did. Like a sodding lorry she did, and Spike grunted with it. “The boys wouldn’t follow you, Spike,” Buffy taunted. “All they know about you is Angel’s wheelchair bound fluffy poodle. They all think you’re weak, and pathetic, and, oh, hey, newsflash, they’re right.”

  “I could teach ‘em all different,” Spike said. “And you bloody know I could, slayer.” He’d expected it to be a taunt. He expected it to rattle her. But nothing. No sign of disturbance in her yellow eyes. She just kept fighting.

   Okay. Another tack, then. She hit him, and he let her, so she’d think she was winning (and damn, but she could still fight. She might well be winning if he wasn’t careful) and then he danced and forced her arm to the side, pinned and useless. “Tell me who did it,” he demanded in her ear.

   “None of your business,” Buffy snapped through her fangs. She forced her arm back, and elbowed him in the ribs. He grunted and went back.

   “Some great master come into town?” Spike asked. He thought of what great masters he’d heard of that were still active in the last decade. “Lothos? Kakistos? Hell, Dracula make an appearance?”

   Buffy looked surprised. “Dracula’s real?” She shook it off and hit him. “I killed off the other two, years ago.”

   “You what?”

   “You heard me!” Buffy did a roundhouse kick that threw him against a brick wall. Damn. She was strong as a little slaypire! He laughed and jumped himself back into the fray.

   “Well, it had to be some big bad,” Spike said. “I refuse to believe it was some lucky day for one of the sods around here.”

   “Why not?” Buffy asked. “A vamp is a vamp is a vamp, right?”

   “Wrong!” Spike snarled, bashing her in the face. “And you know it’s wrong, or you wouldn’t be keeping it from me! Some nasty thing got a taste of you, and I wanna know who, dammit! Between you and your Buffywhipped souled-up champion, it must have taken a real beast to take you out, slayer! Not as if Angel the great-and-wonderful would sire you his bleeding self.”

   “Shut up!” Buffy growled, vampire snarls in her throat. She hit him so hard he saw stars. She followed and threw him to the ground. “You – don’t know a thing – about it!” she said, hitting him over and over and over.

   He’d only been twitting her about her ex. What the hell was this attack about? This wasn’t just annoyance. This was something else. Something personal.

   “Bloody hell,” he said in sudden realization. Buffy stopped hitting him with a gasp, as if she’d only just noticed what she was doing, and didn’t like it. He grunted as he made himself lift his head to look at her. “Angel did this? Angel?

   “Shut up,” she said again, but this time her voice was weary. Her vampire face faded, and she looked like a sad, tired little girl. Or, no, young woman, because those were not little girl curves. But her face looked so world weary, and those eyes… god, those eyes.

   She didn’t seem to like him staring into them. She turned her back on him and started trudging away.

   “Oh, no, you don’t,” he said. He had to hear this story. Most of the vamps Angel made were minions, turned on a bloody drop; the once-slayer was clearly a high-end job. That made her someone real, it made her… family. Drusilla’s sister, really, in that way that vampires were related by blood. No, he couldn’t let this go that easy.

   “So, how’d it happen?” Spike asked. He knew Angel had a thing against turning people when was all soul-having, so something must have happened to the soul. “You two get all horizontal again, flip out his precious golden soul?”

   The thought of it disgusted him. The way Angel had bragged about his conquest of her, as if it was hard getting a seventeen year old girl to want to shag. As if that made her a slut, as if it made him some god of seduction even with the soul choking his motives. He couldn’t imagine she’d have wanted that sort of thing, but hell, Angel had his seductive tricks. That was how he’d lost the sodding thing before, no doubt it had happened again.

   “I can see you being brassed off, pet. Angelus wasn’t worthy of a slayer. He went playing the mind games, didn’t know how to relish a battle. Let me guess, before he turned you, he got you drunk?”

   “Stop it,” Buffy said, her voice ice.

   “Hold your mum hostage if you didn’t bend your throat?”

   “I said quit it!” She shoved him aside and tried to keep walking.

   “I’m sure the fight was epic, right? Or at least the play a clever one? How’d you take him out when it was over, slayer?”

   “What makes you think I killed him?”

   “Well, it was love everlasting, right? That or the sweet, sweet hunt. There’s no way you two were ever gonna get indifferent enough to just turn around and walk off. Hate each other, yes. Move on?” She should be so lucky. “Kill the love, and all that’s left is hate, right? Thin line between them two. Always thought Dru should have ripped his head off, the way he turned her. You finally give him a taste of his own medic–”

   Buffy hit him, and hit him, and hit him, and bloody hell, he half thought she might kill him, the way she was punching. If she took his head clean off with a single blow, he wouldn’t have time to tell her what a glorious strike that was. He changed tactics, going for more evasion in the fight, because trading blow for blow wasn’t going to cut it for this one. They’d used to be fairly evenly matched. She was a bit stronger now, though... he tried an unpredictable move, and no, she didn’t catch it at first. Okay, then. Her instincts were different. He could surprise her more easily, but he couldn’t fight strength for strength anymore. He could work with that.

   “Your ex isn’t here, pet, I could smell it. You set up shop in his old lair, so I know you had to have taken him out. He kill Joyce? Was that the game?”

   “Shut up! Mom’s fine!” Buffy insisted.

   Well, that was a bit of all right. He’d always had a bit of a soft spot for old Mrs. Summers, with her hot cocoa and her fire axes. “Then the fight must have been a real picnic,” he said. “Always thought dragging in the women and children was just wasting everyone’s time. That why you left your mates alive? Something to play with? Snack when they’re not looking? You got your own suck-mates, wandering ‘round town, while you keep the boys sloshing with free pig?”

   “You don’t know anything about it!”

   “Hey, I’m all for you dusting your sire, pet!” he said. He danced behind her and kicked her literally in her trim, perfect arse. “He never knew what to do with you, soul or no.”

   “I didn’t kill him,” Buffy growled.

   Spike rolled his eyes. “He turned on you, turned you, and you still left him alive? Bloody hell, turning stole the heart of you, slayer! Vengeance is best served hot and steaming, don’t you get that?”

   “He didn’t turn on me!” Buffy yelled. “It was an accident!”

   That stopped Spike short. An accident? The slayer wasn’t hunted and killed and murdered in glorious battle. It was a god damned accident? That was even more wrong than it being someone other than Spike who had taken her out.

   He was so stunned by her words he didn’t even realize she’d punched him until he hit the pavement. “Bloody hell, slayer,” Spike said. “You deserved better than–”

   His words were cut off by complete bewilderment as a group of camouflaged commando type soldiers flanked Buffy from both sides. Blue sparks glowed out of the darkness, and her body went rigid. What? Was this an attack? What was that, some kind of stun gun? Spike had been vaguely aware there were people around them, but the fight had been taking most of his attention (no doubt Buffy’s, too) and he’d assumed they were just college kids, interested in a student fight in the quad. But these were not college kids, and those were not textbooks they were wielding.

   For a second Buffy tried to fight the attack, but no dice. As Spike scrambled to his feet, still woozy from her blow, she fell backwards as if she’d been strapped to a board.

   He vamped out, ready for another fight, this time a flat brawl with a nice soldierful mob, but the buggers had another set of commandos coming up behind. Before he could even get a hit in, he was in the same straits as the late-slayer, and he found himself on the ground, fallen across her legs, his face in her belly, and he was annoyed to realize her slightly midriff revealing shirt had ridden up even more, and he was splayed across her skin. Which meant every zap from the soldier-boys was zapping her, too.

   That was just cheating.

   But he was unconscious before he could bitch about it.  

   

Chapter 4 by Sigyn

   Slayer opened her eyes on a weird looking ceiling in a bright white room, sporting a headache fiercer than any pain she’d felt since she’d been turned. She tried to bolt upright, but just fell over again. Damn, she felt mortal suddenly. Vampires certainly felt pain, but it was usually more distant and detached than this. Whatever those jerks had zapped her with had gone right into her damn core or something. Tuned to vampire frequencies, or… whatever. Did vampires have frequencies? Slayer actually didn’t know much about it. All she knew was ow!

    She fought to achieve equilibrium before she tried to stand up again. As she clenched her eyes shut and tried to center, a familiar voice echoed in her head. “Oi! Who's the jailer in this bleedin’ place?”

    Her eyes snapped open. “Shut up, Spike,” she muttered, to her surprise utterly relieved to hear him. He seemed to calm the headache. Whatever had happened, she wasn’t completely alone here. She rolled to her knees.

    “Slayer?” His voice wasn’t that distant, but a little muffled, behind a wall or something. “That you?”

   “Who did you think it would be, Vanna White?”

   “Well, you got the hair,” Spike said.

   Slayer dragged herself to her feet. The room she was in was solid on three sides, with a clear plastic wall in what her mind instantly dubbed the front. Mainly because there was no other obvious entrance. A quick assessment of her body told her the two stakes in her waistband were gone, as was the blade in her boot, though of course, they hadn't taken her fangs. She shook her head to check those – they were fine, though her headache spiked. She let the fangs fall again. Like Angel, and like Spike, apparently, she was always more comfortable in human face.

   Looking out the clear wall, Slayer could see into at least five other prison cells across the way, with an impression of lots more than that if she pressed up against the window. Which she quickly realized she did not want to do, as at the first touch the thing gave her a shock at least as strong and seemingly at the same demon jolting frequency as the weapon that had zapped her.

    The fact that she couldn't see Spike meant he was probably in one of the cells flanking her. “Well, this sucks,” she announced.

   “Yeah, we seem in a right pickle this time.”

   “We? There's no we, Spike. We're on different sides, remember?”

   “I seem to remember a pretty blonde vampire running around Sunnydale with the smell of blood all over her shoes. Was that you, pet, or am I just going barmy?”

   “Pig blood, Spike. I'm not a murderer.”

   “Oh, like you'd ever make a piss poor vampire like that,” Spike said. “Bet you took out half the town in half the night, and took out your slayer successor to boot.”

   He kinda wasn't wrong, though she'd done it a bit different than he was suggesting. “Doesn’t quite work like that,” Slayer muttered.

   “Oh, then please! Enlighten me as to how it does work,” Spike said. “I seem to remember turning makes most blokes pretty damn evil. Not as if they had a spare troop of gypsies around to shove a bleedin’ soul up your arse.” He stopped as if he'd just realized something, and then swore heavily under his breath. “Wait. How the hell did Angel get his wretched soul back, anyroad?”

   “Willow,” Slayer said, with a bit of a smirk.

   She could almost hear it in the cell next door, two and two quietly adding together, and…. “Oh, bloody hell! That is just cheating!”

   Slayer chuckled. “Don't like that I'm not on your side, Spikey?” she teased.

   “No kidding, I don’t,” he said. “You’d have made a glorious killer. Now what are you? Another joke like Angelus?”

   Slayer glowered, annoyed that he couldn’t see it. “I’m not a joke.”

   “You’re not a proper vamp, either, all souled up like that.”

   “What’s the matter, Spike? You scared of me?”

   “Never have been, never will be,” Spike snapped, and Slayer already knew he was lying. You don’t call in the Order of Taraka on someone who doesn’t spook you just a little bit. She heard a bit of a tapping noise, as if Spike’s foot was jiggling, or he was patting the wall in nervousness or something. He sighed. “Don't seem to matter right now whose side we’re on anyway, pet. They got good and evil twisted right up together in these cells.”

   Spike seemed to have recovered from his zapping – if indeed he had been zapped – much faster than Slayer had. “What have you figured out?”

   “Well. Assuming this isn't some expensive and complicated ruse on your part to throw me off my game and learn all my deep, dark secrets….”

   Slayer laughed.

   “So be it, the location of my secret hoard of pirate treasure will follow me ashes to dust. That case, the place looks government. Or at least government contractor.”

   “You see our captors? Uniforms?”

   “Only the blokes what zapped us,” Spike said. “They wore military camo, though any bugger can get that. But the standard cell sizes, the lighting, even the building materials. All smacks of military.”

   Slayer knew nothing about contractors or the military, beyond what Xander had shown her from ridiculous war movies (the more bloody of which she really liked now she'd gone vampire, something she had not yet admitted to her still human friend), so she only gave a sage and knowing, “I see,” to that piece of information.

   Spike didn’t sound particularly fooled. In fact he sounded amused as he relayed what he'd gleaned in the fifteen extra minutes he'd been conscious. Some really evil demons were imprisoned across the way. There was a vampire in the cell next to him; dumb minion material, said he was from the campus, so might have been one of Sunday's Gang. Slayer recognized Sunday as one of the vamps in town who hadn't been real keen on the co-op idea. She'd either gone to earth or skipped town when Slayer had informed her it was either toe the line, or be strung up by it. So, clearly they were picking up the evil demons.

   But there was more than that. That demon with what looked like water weeds in her hair, which Slayer could almost see if she went to Spike’s side of her cell and craned her neck as far as she could before she hit the electric window? That was a demon known as an undine, and the damn thing was as benign as a demon could get. And the loose skinned guy moping in the cell the other way? Spike was pretty sure he wasn't dangerous to anything bigger than a rat or a kitten, since his head was full of snakes, and they were only part of him that ate. They weren’t even venomous.

    “Maybe not golden angels,” Spike said, “but I sure as hell wouldn’t put them on the side of evil.”

    “You heard anything about our captors?” Slayer asked.

    “Not yet. Fledge next door says they aren't interested in talking.  Says they'll feed us in a few days, but the blood’s drugged, and they muck you up bad if you let yourself go under.”

    “Muck you up?”

    “Yeah. Something about walking zombies, those that get back to the cells at all. He’s seen it happen to half a dozen vampires, and even a couple of the other demons. They come back bandaged, some burned. None have ever spoken to him again.”

    “Experiments?”

    “Likely. Governments’ve been buggering with the supernatural since the forties,” Spike said. “Trying to make super soldiers, bollocks like that.”

    “What, like the Nazis?”

    “Them too. But I meant the brave boys in red, white, and blue.”

    Slayer wanted to ask what do we do, how do we fight them, but she already knew they didn't have enough info yet. Maybe once she saw their jailers they'd be willing to talk, and she could explain she was one of the good guys….

    Yeah. She didn't buy it either.

    “So, basically, we're screwed, right?”

    Spike laughed. “I never give up. But if I did, this would be a prime time for it.”

    Slayer nodded. Good to know the size of the cliff she was standing on the edge of.

   “So how did it happen?” Spike asked after a long moment.

   “We were zapped, Spike. It catch your memory?”

   “No,” he said quietly. “I meant you.”

   Slayer sighed.  “Damn long story, Spike.”

   She heard a chuckle. “Well, it would seem we have time.”

   Slayer sighed. She tried to think of any other topic of conversation that was likely to distract Spike from this question. Nope. She considered whether or not sitting in sullen silence was going to be any better. The harsh bright light of the prison grated on her vampiric senses, and talking to Spike did seem to calm that down. “Fine,” Slayer said. She settled down with her back to the wall, on the side Spike’s voice came from. “You remember that other slayer, Kendra?”

   “The one Dru took out?” he said, seeming to settle down opposite her. “Yeah.”

   “Well. After she went down another slayer rose. Her name was Faith.”

   The long and epic tale of Faith, her alignment with the evil Mayor, and her eventual attack on Angel with a poisoned arrow, took a while to tell. Spike was able to shine some lights on things that Slayer hadn’t known, like how the Mayor had been in league with most of the vampires in Sunnydale, including the Master, and that that was why the sewers were so perfectly designed for daytime travel. He was not at all surprised the Mayor would use his wicked charm to seduce an emotionally vulnerable slayer to his side.

   But by the time Slayer had gotten to the end of the story, Spike had fallen silent. As she spoke of the breakup with Angel, then his poisoning, discovering the only possible cure, she might as well have been talking to herself. Slayer had thought about just glossing over it all, leaving out the details, but she found she couldn’t. It was the first time she’d spelled the whole story out. It just felt too personal to tell it briefly.

   After she confessed that she’d tried to get the blood from Faith, but she had lost her, Slayer had begun speaking in a monotone. “I couldn’t let him die. I just couldn’t. Not even if it was over, not even if it was wrong. I told him to drink. I all but forced him to drink. He said no, but then after I hit him... held him to me. And he had me... and I went down... and he didn’t stop, and he didn’t stop, and he didn’t....” She trailed off, and found she was looking at her fingernails. “I did save him. That... was what I’d meant to do.”

   “Buffy....”

   The name was a whisper, and for once it didn’t seem like a slap in the face. Maybe because he wasn’t really talking to her, the vampire. He was speaking of that slayer she’d been, the girl filled with love and devotion, who had gone to such lengths. A eulogy for the fallen.

   “That... could have been the end of it,” she said. “Should have been. But... Willow forgot her bag.” She looked up at the ceiling. “To think it was something so simple as a forgotten school bag. She came back, and she found Angel, with me in his arms. I was... gone, apparently. Out of it. He’d taken... far too much blood, and....” She drew in a breath. “He was planning on taking me to the hospital, but Willow said there wasn’t enough time. She was probably right.” That was the exact word Giles had used, when he’d heard the story. Probably. Willow had probably been right that it was too late.

   “She told Angel to turn me,” she went on. “We had to take out the mayor, a greater demon was about to rise, we couldn’t leave that apocalypse to happen. I’d... taken Faith out of the picture. And if it wasn’t my job to stop the Ascension, it would have been Faith’s... not that she would have, anyway. But... with the choices I had made... about Faith... and about Angel....” Slayer looked down. “They were the wrong choices. Willow said they needed me more than they had needed Angel. She... was right.”

   She wondered what expression was on Spike’s face now. Was he fascinated? Bored? Touched? She had no idea. Hell, he was so quiet, he could even have been asleep, for all she knew. “She told Angel she could bring me back. My... soul. And because they were going to chain me up, the demon wouldn’t have killed anyone, it’s not like I’d feel guilt or anything.”

   Spike did make a sound then. That was a distinct scoff.

   “They did it. Willow, and Angel. And Oz went along with it, ‘cause they needed a third voice. Angel... fed me his blood....” She frowned. “I don’t actually remember that part very well. I was unconscious, and then I... kinda woke up to this taste in my mouth, and... couldn’t stop swallowing. And then I went back out again. I guess... I guess I was dead, then.”

   She skipped the next part. How when she next opened her eyes she was chained on Angel’s bed, and Willow and Oz and Angel were all chanting over an Orb of Thesulah, and the demon she was knew what was happening and screamed at them to stop it. They ignored her. They ignored all her pleading, all her desperation. She knew she didn’t want her soul back. She knew it would be hellish, that she would find her new, strong, exquisite body deformed, corrupted, disgusting if she had her soul back. She loved her new eyes. She loved the strength coursing through her. She hungered for blood, for death, for the night, she wanted only freedom! But she was bound, and they didn’t hear her.

   Once. Once she’d managed to get them to stop, for just a minute. As Buffy’s pleading and raging had dropped the fury and simply told them why. She’d begged them, if they weren’t going to stop the ensoulment, couldn’t they just stake her? She could see their perspective; vampires were their enemy, and you destroy enemies, but this... this wasn’t a noble destruction. This wasn’t death. This was simply going to be lifelong torture, for the soul trapped in a demon’s body, for a demon weighted down with that burden....

   Oz had heard her – no doubt it resonated with his werewolf dilemma. He’d faltered, and turned to Willow, who paused in her chanting. She was in tears.

   And it was Angel who said, “They lie. They’re just beasts, monsters, she’ll say anything to hurt us. Don’t listen.”

   And Oz and Willow and Angel had returned to their chanting, and Buffy had stared at Angel, disbelieving. He knew, he had to know, that what he was saying was a lie. He was a demon himself. He knew their desires, their needs, their hungers, yes, but he knew they still had dignity, cognition – hell, they had emotions, even if said emotions generally tilted to the dark. She had thought he loved her. Couldn’t he see what this meant? Did he want her soul back so badly that he would torture both of them for life, just to be near it again?

   Or maybe he just didn’t care.

   And then she had her soul. And it was just as terrible as she had known it would be.

   What really disgusted her was, Willow had known being turned into this had been Buffy’s greatest fear. Her darkest nightmare. Willow knew. But she’d thought, because she could do magic, that she’d just make it all right. All she’d done was make it worse.

   “So. Then I was me again,” she said. “And I had a soul, and I knew Willow was right about the Mayor. So. We all came up with a plan. Fortunately there was an eclipse that was going to happen, so Angel and I could fight. Angel brought up his boys, and I realized they were technically my brothers... and I needed a supply of blood. So I came up with the idea for the co-op.”

   “And Angel didn’t make it through the fight?” Spike asked.

   Slayer actually laughed. “No. He just took off for LA anyway, two days later.”

   “He… wait a bloody minute, he left? He turned you and then left?”

   “He didn’t want to,” Slayer said. “He stayed a few days. His first plan had been to just take off right after the fight, but now that I’d been turned I’d need a few pointers. He… taught me some. About my fangs… and the sun and things. He… said he thought about staying with me. But….” she trailed off.

   “Thought,” Spike muttered. “Thought about it.”

   “Yeah. I thought... I thought I could make him want to stay. As my sire. My... consort? Is that the word you all use? But... he’d said it was too hard to be around me. Even as I was. So. He left.”

   “Why too hard to be around you?” Spike asked. “The constant guilt for killing his lady love?” Slayer couldn’t be sure if that was scorn in his voice or something else. Spike sounded rather husky.

   “He said... we couldn’t risk losing our souls in each other.”

   She heard a sound, a grunt, movement, something. “You’ve got to be bloody joking!” Spike yelled. His voice came higher than it had come before. He’d stood up.

   The demons and vampires in the cells across the hall looked up, drawn by the shout. Spike and Slayer had been talking really too low for anyone else to hear them, but this had drawn all their attention. Their eyes were tracing back and forth at the cell beside her. Spike was pacing.

   “What the bloody hell does he expect? The two of you to live quietly celibate and pining forever after? Some kind of modern day, dumb as feck, bloody vampire version of Heloise and Abelard?”

   “Huh?”

   “What the hell was he...!” Spike took a deep breath and paused for a long moment. When he next spoke, he was back behind the wall again, only a few inches from her head. “Don’t buy it, slayer. He just doesn’t know what to do with anyone who loves him.”

   Slayer didn’t know what to say to that.

   “It’s probably why he killed you,” he muttered.

   “I told you. It was an accident,” Slayer said. “And I’m glad I did it.”

   “Are you, now?”

   “Yes. He’s alive, because of me.”

   “Like that matters.”

   “It matters!” Slayer said. “If he hadn’t taken my blood, he’d have died. This was the price. This had to be the price, there was no other way!”

   She heard a low growl. Then he said something which shattered Slayer’s entire world. “And the reason the dumb sod didn’t insist you do the damn procedure in a hospital to start with?”

   Slayer froze. “What?”

   “Would have worked, right? An IV of donor blood in one arm, and his fangs in the other? Take it out, put it in, and you both walk away unscathed.” Slayer felt nauseated. She wished he’d never brought up the concept, it had been easier thinking there had been no other possible way. But he wasn’t finished yet. “Don’t kid yourself, Summers, that man wanted to take you. It had naught to do with poison or saving or any bugger else. He killed you ‘cause he could kill you. Maybe the poison made it a bit harder to control his impulse, but he wanted to kill you. And don’t you ever pretend any different.”

   Slayer was shaking. “Why not?” she demanded. She stood up and shouted at the wall – which was strangely familiar. In some ways, she felt she’d been screaming at a blank wall every day since she’d been turned. “Why can’t I pretend different! Why can’t I pretend that he’s good and right and that he loved me! Why can’t I just live in the god damned lie and be happy in it!”

   She found she was crying, and she hated herself for it. If Spike had been there, she’d have taken his head off. Instead she hit the wall, hard. A couple of lights flickered as she dented something.

   But she had broken her hand. She wasn’t going to be able to do that again any time soon.

   She fled to the furthest corner of the cell and faced the wall, crouching down in fetal position as the hell of her existence crashed down upon her. She was a vampire. She was cursed. She was alone, and struggling, and desperate. She was trapped in a fluorescent-lit hellscape of a prison, and her only companion was one of her greatest enemies.

   She curled up into herself and sobbed.

   After several long, heavy minutes, she heard his voice, loud enough to carry, but very soft in tone.

   “I’m sorry, Buffy.”

   She wanted to dismiss it. But as she heard it, she realized.... Angel had said they’d had to do it. He’d said he wouldn’t have if she hadn’t forced his hand. He had said he wished things had gone differently.

   Angel had never said he was sorry.

   

Chapter 5 by Sigyn

   This wasn’t the worst pickle Spike had ever found himself in.

   Chained and tortured by the Immortal, he’d survived that. Captured and held by Nazis on a submarine, he’d survived that. Arrested for tax evasion and kept in prison for months, starving for blood. He’d survived that. Not to mention twenty years as Angelus’s protegé, Darla’s whipping boy, and a century as Drusilla’s unbreakable dolly. Yeah, these guys weren’t so tough.

   For him. But after two days of nothing-much-happening, he was getting bored. The few soldiers who walked past might as well have had their eyes and ears stoppered for all the good shouting at them did. Spike even tried dropping trou and giving them a good show, just to see if they’d even look at him. No dice. They were clearly instructed to believe that the demons in the cells were as lewd and stupid as monkeys in a zoo, and to ignore everything they did.

   His next-door-cellmate was the stupid minion, whom Spike had taken to thinking of as “Rat” based on what he’d said when he’d first spoken to him. “I’m rat. I’m a lab rat, just like the others.” The problem was, rats were actually rather pleasant creatures, and Rat bloody wasn’t. The bugger just wouldn’t shut the hell up. Spike had already determined he was going to stake the nit if he ever had half a chance. He often found he didn’t like his own kind much, and this minion-class wanker next door was no exception.

   Rat didn’t just talk to Spike. He talked all the bloody time. To himself, to the demon on the other side of him, to the vamp girl across the way. She seemed to know the bugger. They’d probably been from the same gang. They flirted, lamely, mostly recalling past kills. A properly dumb minion really knew nothing but obedience and the kill unless they survived past fledge age, and Rat appeared to be no exception. The idiot was a master of the single-entendre. “I’d really like to be screwing you right now,” he’d say bluntly to the girl, sometimes several times an hour. To his credit, she didn’t seem any smarter, and she never once said his advances made her want to rip out his tongue, tear it into one long strip, and garotte him with it, which thought frequently entered Spike’s head when the idiot started ‘flirting’.

   Whenever the minion started grating on his nerves too much, Spike went to the other side of the cell. There he kept trying to engage Buffy in some kind of conversation. Anything, even bloody I-Spy, because they had sod-all else to do in this hell hole. But Buffy wasn’t talking, apart from the occasional acknowledgment that yes, of course she was still there, you dope. He kind of wished he’d never asked about her turning. Before that, she’d seemed kind of willing to talk to him. Someone decent to talk to was a godsend in a place like this.

   Particularly as there didn’t seem to be any real way out.

   The first blood packet fell down the first day. Spike checked it, sniffed it, and yeah, it did seem drugged. “You gonna risk it, slayer?” he asked Buffy.

   “I’m not stupid,” was the terse reply.

   He wasn’t, either. But when the second blood packet dropped from the tiny hole in the ceiling, Spike had an idea. It wasn’t a good idea... but it was an idea.

   The question was, what to do with the blood? He couldn’t drink it, that was obvious, but the cell was bright white tile, and bloodstains would show up luridly. He was pretty sure they’d notice if he lined the edges of the cell with it. That left hiding it somewhere. He considered his coat pockets, his clothes, and finally landed on his boots. He leaned back against the bright white wall and undid his laces, casually, as if he was just rubbing his feet. He didn’t know if they had cameras on him or anything, so he had to be surreptitious about the whole thing.

   He had two packets of blood... that was going to be helpful. He grabbed both of them, and opened one. He mimed drinking from the full one while he used his coat to shield his pouring the blood into one of his boots. With an elaborate set of stretching and palming things, he managed to switch out the empty packet for the full one. He made a big show of frowning at the two packets of blood, one full and one empty, and shaking his head as he considered one, smacking his lips as if the first one had tasted strange. He threw the empty packet against the wall, and leaned back. He yawned, then shook his head, woozy. He acted as if he was suspicious, glaring at the full packet of blood which he had “only just realized was probably drugged!” He quickly slid his boots back on, (ignoring his now sticky foot) and paced the floor, glaring at the hallway, anxious, worried, and a little off kilter.

   Artfully, he “let the drug overtake him,” fighting against it, sagging and then battling it off, over and over again, until he had to sit down, and then drag his head back up as it tried to nod, and then... then... he went down... and lay on the ground, occasionally forcing his eyes to flicker open, wrestling against the anesthesia.

   And sure enough, a handful of men in lab coats showed up with a gurney, opened the cell door with some kind of key card, and strode in confidently to pick him up. He was really hard pressed not to groan, or burst into laughter. The guys were dumber than that minion next door! They didn’t check to see if he was really out, they were so damn confident in their drugs and their cells. They hoisted him up, carried him out to their gurney. Spike waited a bit for that moment right before any restraints were attached, that second when everyone feels well, that’s sorted.

   “Spike!”

   Buffy’s voice, sounding horrified, almost blew the game. Spike almost opened his eyes all the way to look at her. He ignored her, but her next words landed like a blow. “Hey, leave him alone. Yeah! You! Listen! You need someone for your experiments? I’m volunteering.”

   He did open his eyes at that. Buffy was standing by her plexiglass doors, glaring out at the lab sharks in their little white coats, and they frowned at each other at her words.

   “Take me instead,” she insisted.

   They hesitated another second, and then turned back to Spike, clearly instructed to ignore any behavior on the part of the creatures in the cells, no matter how out of character for evil demons. There was a second of confusion as they saw Spike’s eyes were open. Game up, anyway. Spike burst up from the gurney, ripping the one restraint they had almost attached, and grabbed the throat of the nearest lab-shark. “So sorry,” he said in his darkest voice. “Can’t stay. Got somewhere to be.”

   “Spike! Let him go!” Buffy shouted.

   Spike glared. “Pick a side, girly!”

   “Don’t kill hi-ahh!”

   Too late. The bugger was already dead. Spike threw his trachea aside and whirled for the other one, who had very wisely fled down the hall. Buffy was staring at the bloodied lab-shark in some kind of horror as Spike ripped the keycard from the bloke’s breast, and then ducked as the first one came back at him with a syringe. Idiots. If they’d had the damn thing, why didn’t they just hit him with it before they’d let him out of the cell? Spike twisted his arm up behind him and stabbed the bugger in his own neck. He went down – if it was bad for vampires, the drug was probably lethal to humans.

   “Get the other key!” Rat shouted from the cell behind him.

   “What?”

   “The other key! That one opens the cells, the one on his hip, that one gets the main doors! Hurry!”

   “Cheers, mate!” Spike said, ripping the keycard from the lab-shark’s hip pocket.

   “Let me out!”

   “Don’t really feature hearing your prattle, mate,” Spike muttered.

   “You don’t know the layout,” Rat shouted. “I’ve been here for weeks. I’ve heard them talking, I know the doors. You’ll never get out without me!”

   Spike thought about it, realized the bugger was probably right, and groaned with annoyance. “Hurry!” Rat shouted as Spike dragged the keycard through the slot. “Hurry!” An alarm was sounding now, and red lights flashing against the ceiling. Rat’s cell door opened, he bolted out – the female vampire across the way watched the two of them in vain hope. But even though Rat had been keeping up a steady chatter to her this whole damn time, he didn’t look at her twice.

   Which was why Spike’s next impulse bugged the hell out of him. He couldn’t decide if it was because Rat had ignored his girlfriend, or if it was because Buffy had stood up and told them to take her instead, or even if it was because she’d gotten pissed off at him when he’d killed the lab-shark, and he half wanted to see if she’d kill to get out. But without even consulting his own head about it, Spike didn’t take off after Rat. He paused at the ex-slayer’s cell door, slid the keycard into the slot, and said, “Get off your ass, cutie. Gonna be a hell of a ride.”

   Her door took some time to open, longer than either Spike or Rat’s cell doors, seeming to get caught on something. That didn’t matter to Buffy. She jammed through sideways, even though it was only open a few scant inches, crying out as the electricity still seemed to be coursing through it. Spike found himself grabbing at her sleeve to drag her through as Rat shouted at them to hurry the hell up. Spike had no doubt the bugger would have left without them, except for the fact that Spike held the key cards.

   Buffy popped out like a cork from a bottle, and Spike dragged her behind him, as the shock seemed to have slowed her reflexes. “Come on, come on!” Rat shouted, just as the door he was standing by opened.

   It wasn’t the lame lab-sharks on the other side. It was the geared-up commandos, with their body armor and their weaponry, and they took Rat down within half a second. Spike balked, his head darted, he tried to assess. If they’d just gotten through that door a little faster – there appeared to be a maintenance hatch in the foyer behind the hall, but the commandos were between him and it, and the door was bottlenecked with them. He could see it now; he’d have thrown Rat to the soldiers, punched through the hatch, made it out through wherever that hatch led...

   But he’d stopped to bring out Buffy, and those extra fifteen seconds had cost him.

   Buffy stepped in front of him, leftover slayer instinct or sheer chutzpah, he had no idea. “Come on, boys,” she snapped, vamping up. “I dare you!”

   They dared. Two pulled out their zappers, and one actually pulled out a gun. The bland-faced jerk leveled his pistol at them, said, “Down!” to his crew, and pulled the trigger.

   Buffy was thrown back against Spike with a grunt as the bullet pierced her shoulder. It wouldn’t be lethal, but Spike was furious about it anyway. “Hey! No way to treat a lady!” he shouted. The next shot grazed his sleeve. “Don’t damage the goods!” he said, pissed off more by the damage to his coat than the damage to his arm. By this time he had Buffy behind him, and he wasn’t that surprised that the gun-toting maniac had only been buying time for the blokes with the zappers. They caught Spike in the chest, and however-many-volts it was jolted through him, sending him back against Buffy again.

   Bleeding, Buffy caught him, dragging him back away from the soldiers, insulated from the electricity by his leather coat. “Back!” shouted one of the soldiers. “Back! Get back in there!” Buffy paused by the door to her cell. It still hadn’t opened properly. The soldiers noticed the same thing, and pushed her back again, circling, flanking her. Spike tried to shake off the effect of the stun guns, finally able to put weight on his feet again, but everything was whirling in his vision. “Get in there!” the soldier who had wielded the gun shouted. Buffy took a step away from him, and Spike fell with her, and then they were both in his cell, and the soldier slammed a button on the box by the door and the door slid shut.

   “Finn! What are you doing? They’re both in there!”

   “Easiest way to contain them,” Finn said. “If it bugs Walsh, we can tranq them, drag them apart later.”

   “What the hell is with that cell?” said another soldier, examining Buffy’s malfunctioning cell door.

   “I don’t know. There’s a big dent in the tile here, though. Think she might have damaged the gearbox?”

   “Possible. Though these cells were made to contain hostile sub-Ts.”

   “Maybe she’s a special model or something,” said the soldier. “Stronger or some shit.”

   “The girl?” Finn laughed. “She don’t look so special to me.” He and the soldiers sauntered off, Finn going on, “Better call in the clean up crew, get them in to pick up after 13. How’d he get out, anyway? I didn’t think they were clever enough to...” his voice was cut off as the door closed behind him and his crew.

   Spike gasped, wrestling with the lingering effect of his zapping. He looked over at Buffy. She looked daggers at him. “You let me out,” she accused.

   “You told them to take you, ‘stead of me, ” he retorted.

   She looked awkward. “You put me behind you,” she said.

   “Same to you.”

   They glared.

   “You killed him,” Buffy finally said. She looked behind her at the fallen lab-sharks. “Both of them.”

   “I’m a vampire.”

   “They were human,” Buffy said.

   “And again,” Spike snapped.

   A moment later someone came by, dragging the limp body of Rat by the scruff of the neck, and deposited him back into his cell beside Spike’s.

   “Are we both in agreement that that Rat desperately needs dust?” Spike asked.

   “Oh, hell, yeah,” Buffy with fervor.

   The two of them looked at each other, mutual enemies who had each, against all odds, and without rhyme or reason, just made a futile attempt to save the other. And suddenly they were both laughing in utter, uncontrollable hysteria.

   

Chapter 6 by Sigyn

   Spike couldn’t decide if Buffy being there in the cell with him was a boon or not. After their laughter died they both got extremely awkward. Things got even more awkward as other men in labcoats came and respectfully carted away the fallen. Buffy looked daggers at him as they did this, and he refused to look ashamed. Idiots who played with vampires deserved all the death they earned.

   After a while of standing in sullen silence, though, Buffy frowned at him. “Do you think they’ll leave us here?” she asked. “Together?”

   “No idea.” He looked across the corridor to the other cells. “None of the others are two-to-a-bag.”

   “They’d have to actually fight us to split us up, though.”

   Spike looked at her. Was she saying she’d fight to stay with him? Or just that she’d fight them regardless? Probably that she’d fight them regardless, despite her bizarrely altruistic soulfulness.

   “Is that what you want?” he asked. “Us together?”

   “Well,” Buffy said. “We probably are a little safer that way.”

   “Don’t kid yourself,” Spike said. “We’re both buggered, together or not.”

   Buffy sighed and leaned against the wall. “Yeah. Probably.”

   Spike growled and paced a little.

   “Do you always do that?” she asked after a bit.

   “What?”

   “Pace like that.”

   “Yes,” Spike snapped. “Get used to it.”

   Buffy grunted and looked at the ceiling, fidgeting a little. Spike’s foot felt vile and squishy. He wanted to take off his sock, and maybe smear the blood all over the walls, just for something to do. If he’d been alone, he would have, annoying his captors no doubt, but with Buffy here it struck him as childish, and he didn’t want to be seen as childish by Buffy.

   He realized she was humming something under her breath. He stopped and stared at her. “Why the hell are you singing the jingle for Doublemeat Burgers?”

   “What? It’s catchy,” she snapped. “And I’m anxious,” she added, looking down. She started humming again, deliberately, slightly louder than before.

   This was clearly going to become hell very, very quickly. Despite how damn cute she looked with her hair all rumpled and uncombed. Spike actually had a comb in his pocket.... He was tempted to offer it to her, but...

   God. He started pacing again, and she glared.

   The door in the corridor opened. “So it was these two?” said a woman’s voice, something Spike hadn’t heard in this place, apart from Buffy and the lady-fledge across the way. He jumped to the door to look out. “You say they demonstrated loyalty?”

   “‘S what it looked like to me,” said a soldier who had come along with the woman. She wore a lab coat. Flanking her were two of the commando guys, bland-face and the only black guy Spike had seen here. “Calling out to each other, standing in front, trying to protect the other and stuff,” said the one with “Gates” on his badge.

   “I wasn’t seeing loyalty,” bland-faced Finn said. “Subject 13 escaped. He let out subjects 12 and 9, probably to form a stronger front. He shoved the female in front of him at one point, until I shot it, and he didn’t trust it as a shield any longer. I got them both back to the cell.”

   “Together,” the woman said thoughtfully. “But they aren’t attacking each other.” She came right up to the window and gazed down at them, curious. At this distance Spike could read her badge. “Prof. Walsh,” it read, with an alphabet soup of Ph.D., M.D., D.Sc., and probably SSC for her Silver Swimming Certificate, too. “This is very interesting. Most hostiles we’ve seen have been just as destructive toward each other as they are toward human beings. When we leave males and females in the same cell, for example, they tend to attack. Dominance testing, forcible mating behavior. That is why we took to keeping them separate, even when we catch them in packs.”

   “Yeah, well, I’m not seeing that here,” Gates said. He stood a bit in front of the woman. “I’m telling you, there’s something different about these two. Behavioral mods? Did you already chip them up, or something?”

   “No, not yet,” Walsh said. “The last two prototype microchips caused severe brain damage to the subjects. Perhaps subjects 17 or 18 could have implementation upon arrival, if you can catch any more HSTs of this class. I had planned on doing a few more experiments with number 13 here, before I developed a new prototype, but if you say his behavioral patterns are atypical....”

   “Very atypical,” Gates said.

   “Well. Open the cell,” Walsh said, indicating with her chin. Spike didn’t see quite where the woman was looking. “We’ll do a few extra surgical experiments on Hostile 9, and we’ll set the other two down for further study.”

   Gates and Finn pushed past the woman, and Spike half expected them to open the cell and go after him or Buffy. Spike appeared to be subject 13. Was Buffy subject 9? He steeled himself for an attack, and beside him Buffy did the same, grunting a little. He could see the blood seep from the wound in her shoulder as she tensed.

   But the cell they opened was the one next door. Rat roared, and then was zapped and dragged down the corridor by his coat, moaning, but unable to move. “Good riddance!” Spike shouted after him. “Wanker.”

   Now that the soldiers were gone, Buffy seemed to think this was her chance. She came up to the cell door. “Are you in charge?” she asked the woman.

   Walsh ignored her.

   “Look, I need to talk to someone in charge,” she said. “I understand what you’re trying to do, here. I get that you want to rid the world of vampires and demons. I really do understand what you’re getting at. If you want to know more about what you’re doing, I can put you in touch with the right people. The Watcher’s Council is–”

   “Notes for reference,” Walsh said, cutting Buffy off. She hadn’t even looked at her. It annoyed Spike for reasons he couldn’t really understand. The woman had pulled out what seemed to be a tape recorder or something and was speaking into it. She rattled off the date and time into her machine, and Buffy looked to Spike, who shook his head. It was clear the people of this institution, whatever it was, had been trained to ignore anything the vampires said.

   The woman had finished rattling off numbers into her recorder, and had gotten down to the meat of her notation. “Upon personal observation, subjects 12 and 13 do appear to display a more human affect in comparison to most HST’s encountered in Region 7. It is uncertain if this is due to breeding, age, or perhaps some other distinction. According to Gates, subject 13 displayed evidence of strategy, loyalty, and understanding of tools.” She stood back and regarded the two of them. “Residual human affect, of clothing and grooming, appears at first glance to be at a more sophisticated level than the majority of the Hostile Sub-Terrestrials of the vampire class. Some evidence of additional strength in Hostile 12, though this would need to be tested in a laboratory setting.”

   She took a step to the side and regarded Spike directly. “Hostile 13 appears divergent in all affect, yet the supposition of divergence in vampiric nature may be erroneous. Clothing is atypical in style, reflecting perhaps past societal norms, indicating an inability to recognize the passage of time. Hair is pale; if natural perhaps indicative of some form of albinism. If these observations prove correct, and all mental and physical aberrations are merely the result of residual human traits, then the subject is likely of no value or interest.”

   Spike glared. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. They’d taken his lighter – bastards. He’d been bloody fond of that lighter – but his ciggies were still there. He pulled one of the cigarettes up to look like an aerial or something, and held the cigarette pack to his mouth, in the same posture that Walsh was holding her recorder.

   “Notes for reference,” he announced to his cigarettes. “Upon personal observation, it would appear that subject Bug-Shagging Loony with a God Complex is completely off her bird. Brains appear in the anal region. Eyes are piggy, and presumed ineffectual, perhaps indicative of some kind of willful emotional myopia. Genitalia ambiguous, comprising predominantly of cobwebs. If these aberrations are merely the result of residual childhood bullying for her tendency to be an insufferable know-it-all, the subject is likely of no value or interest.”

   Walsh stopped and regarded him, her eyes curious. “Notes for reference,” she said into her recorder. “Subject 13 shows evidence of primitive humor. The hostile appears to retain knowledge of irony, satire, and imitation. With patient training and tuition could possibly master limited combat strategy, and perhaps be utilized in more nuanced attack scenarios than other HSTs. Recommend retaining him and his mate,” (“I am not his mate!” Buffy announced, and was ignored,) “until prototype microchip is perfected, rather than risk potential intelligence on untested technology.”

   “Notes for reference,” Spike said to the cigarettes with a wicked grin. “Subject displays evidence of extreme thick-headedness. Seems unable to grasp the purpose of vampires, which would be to kill. Particularly self-righteous pseudo-intellectual twats with signs of extreme hubris. With patient thrashing and fracturing will likely be obliterated into a bloody smear on the floor.”

   Walsh looked bored. “Notes for reference. In contrast to his seeming intelligence, subject 13 appears to be under the delusion that he can escape the cells a second time.”

   “Notes for reference,” Spike said to his cigarettes. “The bint appears blissfully unaware that vampires are not particularly known for their obedience and predictability. Unless she wants her fanny minced into burger meat, she’d best leave the Big Bad and the Bigger Badder Biddy beside him in some kind of ruddy peace, or the only piece she’ll have is the big one I leave of her skull when I pummel her to messes!”

   “Notes for reference, presence of researcher appears to be affecting the behavior of the subject,” Walsh said rather hastily. “Recommend withdrawal and all observations to be performed at distance. End notation.” The woman backed away from the cells, headed toward the door, looking, Spike noted with satisfaction, a trifle nervous.

   “Notes for reference!” Spike shouted after her. “When I get the hell out of here I’m tracking you down first, bitch!” He shoved the cigarettes back into his pocket. “End notation.”

   He looked over to Buffy, who chuckled. “Real mature.”

   “Got the bird’s attention, dinnit?” Spike said. “Better’n you with your, I can put you in touch with the right people.

   Buffy looked down. “Actually, we got what we were after,” she pointed out. “Combat strategy, she said. They want to use us.”

   “It was always gonna be kill us, use us, or strip us down for parts, pet,” he said. “What else do you keep demons captured for, eh?”

   Buffy sat down, and then held her shoulder with a grimace. It had been nearly an hour, shouldn’t that thing have stopped bleeding already? It was just a bullet. Couple days it should be right as rain, and the worst should have been over already. The shot on his own arm was already starting to close (though the same couldn’t be said for his coat. Bastards were gonna pay for that.) Wasn’t Buffy all slaypire extraordinaire? And Angel’s fledge to boot, and he was no lightweight when it came to power and bloodlines, either.

   Fledge.... He frowned at Buffy. For all her strength and poise and brilliance, for all she’d been stuffed up tight with a soul and all, the slaypire was still just a baby fledge, not even a year as a demon. And it had been days since she’d fed....

   Ach, but that wasn’t his business. His business was to bide his time until he could get the hell out of here, and keep himself from going stark-staring in the meantime.

   “Wanna play twenty questions?” he asked, settling down against the other wall.

   Buffy glared at him for a moment, and then sighed. “Is it bigger than a breadbox?” she asked.

   “Nope.”

   “Is it smaller than a ring?”

   “Nope.”

   “Can I use it to gut somebody?”

   Spike grinned. “Most likely you could, slayer,” he said.

Chapter End Notes:

Segments from the Red Dwarf episode Holoship shamelessly stolen and paraphrased.

Chapter 7 by Sigyn

   

   Twenty Questions. I’m-Headed-To-The-Picnic. Guess That Tune. Slayer wanted to say she was bored with word games, but the truth was she wasn’t. Anything, anything, to distract from the pain in her shoulder, and the ache in her belly, and the agitation the god damn bright light was causing.     

   They were in the middle of some word game Spike had taught her called My Name Is, where, following the alphabet, you have to come up with a name, a location, and a thing, all within five seconds. Spike had just won, as far as Slayer was concerned, by trapping her with X. “I give up,” she snapped. “Xander lives nowhere, and... and what, does X-Rays?”

   “Xander’s short for Alexander, doesn’t count.”

   “There is nothing that starts with X!” Slayer shouted.

   “Xerxes from Xalapa plays the xylophone,” Spike said quietly, which Slayer thought was certifiably cheating, since he’d already flattened her with Quentin from Queensland likes quince.

   “Oh, shut up,” she muttered. She rubbed at her eyes. “Don’t they ever turn the lights off in this place? If they keep you under fluorescent long enough does it burn you like the sun? It just takes three days, while the sun takes four seconds?”

   “No,” Spike said. “But most demons feel stronger in darkness. No doubt they’re trading on that.”

   “Ugh!” Slayer grabbed at her head, almost tearing out her hair. She wanted to pace like Spike, but the truth was, she felt woozy, and didn’t want to be seen stumbling. She hadn’t felt good to start with, after two days without any blood, and now that she’d been shot, she felt ten times worse. She hadn’t had much blood the night she’d been captured, just that one wineglass full of Willy’s special delivery donor stuff. Her stomach had stopped growling the day before, too empty to make noises. Between her bruised, possibly broken hand and her wounded shoulder, her body was screaming at her, saying, Damage! You need blood to repair the damage! and there was no explaining to it that there just wasn’t going to be any blood forthcoming. Except for the stains on Spike’s fingers, where he’d ripped out the throat of that lab assistant, which.... Slayer kept pretending it didn’t keep drawing her attention, but it did. Those black painted nails had dried blood caked around the cuticles....

   There was a time Slayer would have found that disgusting. Now she just kept thinking how much she wanted to suck on them....

   Spike was regarding her with blue eyes that glittered like gems. “Why did you tell them to take you?” he asked. Slayer dropped her hands to frown at him. “When they were gonna take me away. Why’d you say to take you instead?”

   Slayer shrugged. “I... I thought if I volunteered for their experiments... I... I might get a chance to see whoever was in charge.”

   Spike’s eyes narrowed. “And that thought only occurred to you as I was being carted off to the knife?”

   Slayer looked down. That thing about volunteering... that was true. That had been in her thoughts. But the real truth was, the idea of Spike not being in the cell next door any longer had filled her with a panic she hadn’t been able to explain. The offer had been desperation. She would rather have gone under the knife herself before she’d choose to be in this place alone.

   But she didn’t dare say that.

   “Why’d you let me out?” she asked, rather than confess that. “You didn’t have to. All I did was slow you down.”

   Spike regarded her for a long moment, and then looked away. “You know, you might be able to come up with an excuse after the fact, but I’m still drawing a blank, slayer.” Then he frowned. “I suppose I can’t really call you slayer anymore.”

   “Actually, you can,” Slayer said. “It’s my name, now.”

   He frowned. “Buffy?”

   She shook her head. “I don’t really feel like Buffy anymore. I started going by Slayer. Willow and Xander still have a hard time with it, and... I don’t even try with Mom.”

   “Where is your mum?”

   “London.” Slayer sighed. “I sent her away, and made Giles promise to look after her. I don’t... trust myself to be around them.”

   “Why not?”

   Slayer shrugged. “This soul isn’t very secure. If it pops off... I don’t want my mom anywhere near me.”

   “You wouldn’t kill your mum. Soul or not.”

   “Are you one hundred percent sure of that?” Slayer asked.

   Spike looked down.

   “Yeah. Me neither. All I know is my first impulse is kill, with everyone and everything these days. It was a little like that as a slayer, with demons anyway. It’s a hell of a lot worse like this. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have this thing. Given any choice at all, I’d rather Mom was half a world away, safe with Giles.”

   Spike hesitated. “You know, even if you do lose it, after those first few months or so... impulses are a little easier to control. Once you’re no longer such a fledge, you shouldn’t have to worry much about it.”

   “I worry about it enough even with her in London,” Slayer said. “I worry about Xander and Willow, too, and they’re really vamp savvy. I won’t let them invite me in. We hang out on the porch if I come visit, or in the common room at the dorms.”

   Spike regarded her. “You trust yourself that little?”

   Slayer shrugged.

   “Or is it that you hate yourself that much?”

   Slayer wrapped her arms around herself and looked at her knees. Damn Spike. He was too damn insightful, and the bastard seemed to read her like a book. “Please just leave it,” she whispered.

   She turned away from him and hugged her knees. She couldn’t take this. Visions of ripping her loved ones apart were running through her head, and they were visions she had all too often. She really did hate it.

    “I’ve had human friends before, you know,” Spike said quietly. “Human hires. Hell, Willy’s brassed me off no end. It wouldn’t haunt me if I took him out, but I wouldn’t do it for no reason at all. Impulses are one thing. A conscience is another. But your brain’s still there, slayer, soul or otherwise. You can decide not to, conscience or no.”

    Slayer couldn’t decide if she wanted to hit him, or hug him for that little ray of hope. Angel’s behavior when he lost his soul was so horrific…. Killing innocents, torturing his lover, wanting to end the world. Most of the members of the co-op were minion material, thus easily led, with a few like Harmony who were turned and trained by sucker-class vampires, who specialized in killing their victims slow “leaving them alive” as they enthralled them into becoming blood-junkies. Slayer was playing Master, keeping these low-level vampires from killing with the co-op venture, but they weren’t high-class killers to start with. Not like Angelus. Not like herself. Some part of Slayer had always felt that without the soul, she’d instantly become like Angelus or Drusilla, all into the wholesale slaughter, torture, and destruction.

    But Spike… Spike had had a lover he was devoted to. He’d forged a truce with an enemy, rather than killing her and her family outright. He’d thought the world worth saving.

    Maybe being soulless didn’t have to mean being… well, as bad as all that. Not that Spike was good. Killer, murderer, yes, no conscience at all. But… he hadn’t killed Joyce when he’d come back to Sunnydale. He’d sat and had cocoa instead. That was what he’d chosen…. Companionship over murder. In that instance, at least.

    It wasn’t enough for Slayer to feel sanguine about the idea that her soul might detatch some day, but the terror that she’d instantly turn on everyone she’d ever loved, hunting them down with an obsessive zeal…. It felt a little as if a thorn had been dislodged from her heart. Still wounded, but the fear…. Not quite so bad.

    Unfortunately, the worst of her agitation wasn’t coming from her own self-loathing. She bit her lip, and tried to count to one hundred. That was supposed to calm people, right? But she got there, and the light still penetrated her closed lids, and her stomach was still gnawing at her. Was that where the center of the demon lived? In her stomach? Would the damn thing eat her if it didn’t get the blood it was demanding? She rocked back and forth in time with her counting, trying not to scream. She wasn’t calm when she finished. So she counted on to five hundred. And when she still felt agitated, she kept going. She was well on her way to a thousand, but she lost track somewhere in the seven hundreds, and debated starting all over again, or going back to five hundred and starting from there.

   And her counting was interrupted by a bare arm, thrust into her face. She tensed and her head snapped to Spike, who had climbed up from his place by the wall, and knelt beside her. His coat was off, hung over his knee, and his red overshirt was rolled up to the bicep. “Drink,” he said evenly.

   Slayer only stared at him.

   “It’s demon blood, it’s not gonna stop the craving,” he said. “But it tastes okay, and it’ll fill you a bit. Take the edge off that gnawing feeling. Should help you close up that shoulder, too.”

   Slayer glanced down at it. It was still oozing blood.

   “It should be starting to heal already, and it’s not,” Spike said. “You’re still a fledge. No matter how strong, that’s what you are. Fledges need to eat, that’s why they’re so hard to control.”

   She was tempted. Beyond tempted, she wanted. “But you....”

   “I’m over a hundred and twenty, I’ll be fine for weeks without fresh blood in me,” he said. “And if I’m gonna be sharing a cell with you, it’ll be lots sweeter if I’m not watching you rock back and forth as the hunger drives you barmy.” His face was very soft as he looked at her. “Just take it, slayer. Might as well hang for a sheep as a lamb.”

   Slayer didn’t know the idiom, and she didn’t care anymore. She vamped, took hold of the arm, and bit.

   Blood poured into her mouth, and she moaned, sealing her lips around the wound, drawing in the cool liquid, making it part of herself. She hadn’t tasted another vampire’s blood since she’d been turned, and her tastebuds had been mortal then. Despite the instinct to drink, it had felt like a spell, not just something delicious. This was delicious. It wasn’t like the pig blood, which was… food, but not good. It wasn’t like the donor blood, which was human and right and perfect (even though it was dead, and some part of her longed to taste it fresh from a living person). This was strange, but it filled her belly, and it tasted of demonic magics and joy and... and Spike. She could taste Spike, all of him, as if she could read him, as if the whole of him was spelled out in the blood, and if she only knew the language, she could read it back to him.

   But she didn’t know what she was reading. All she could do was take it in.

   And all too soon it stopped. She hadn’t judged where she bit, she hadn’t hit any veins or arteries, she had just clamped down. And of course he was a vampire. The same power which he insisted should already be closing up her shoulder quickly stopped the bleeding and started healing the bite.

   She licked at the no-longer-bleeding bite mark, then pulled away, disappointed. She wanted more. She almost felt like crying, it was over so soon.

   “It’s okay,” Spike whispered. Slayer looked up at him. He had the strangest look on his face, maybe pity, maybe sympathy, maybe even longing. She couldn’t identify it, but it cut her as deeply as her fangs had just cut him. “Do it again.”

   Maybe it was the way he’d put it. Maybe it was something else. But Slayer found herself doing it again, and not on his arm. With an abandon that startled her she lunged for his throat, sinking her fangs into his cool, demonic flesh.

   “Oh, god,” Spike murmured. “Buffy….” His arms went around her, hard, and she held him back, his body against hers, drawing him inside. Spike groaned, his breath coming hard, and he gripped her more tightly. His strength was like a warm blanket on a cold night, a comfort and a relief and a protection.

   She sucked at his throat, gripping him, wanton in her sudden lust for his blood and... and his body. Pull, swallow, pull, swallow. His scent, his strength, oh, god, the taste. He fell backwards, landing on his back on the hard tile, and she went with him, unwilling to release him. She found herself making tiny, lustful noises, writhing against him as she swallowed, over and over again.

   Her stomach was... was full. She should stop. Why didn’t he make her stop? Didn’t this hurt him? He felt so good beneath her, his flesh had felt so good between her fangs, the blood felt so good sliding across her tongue, down her throat. She only wished it were warm and alive. But he was alive, in his vampiric away, moving and breathing, she could feel his breath against her ear, his hand as he... he gripped at her hair.

   He was breathing hard. The sounds he was making... they sounded a lot like hers. It sounded as if they were making out or something.

   What the hell was she doing?

   She made herself leave his throat, pull away, look down at him, panting. Their faces were scant inches apart. God, his breath smelled heady. The taste of him was still in her mouth. She realized she was shaking. “Sorry,” she whispered. “I’ve... never done that before.”

   Spike looked a little stunned. His voice was husky when he found it. “Fed from another vampire?”

   She realized as he said it that it wasn’t even that specific. She’d never fed from anyone at all. All her blood had come in jars or bags or bottles, as distant from the creatures that supplied it as a package of hotdogs. She realized she was still sort of splayed over him, and she made herself get off. “S-sorry,” she said again.

   Spike lay on his back blinking up at the bright lights. Slayer sat, trying not to sob. She wasn’t sure why she wanted to. She felt better. Her stomach didn’t ache so much, and that desperate feeling of being eaten alive by her own demon, that seemed to have stopped. He’d said it wouldn’t stop the craving, but she lived mostly on animal blood. She was used to the damn craving never going away.

   Not only that, but Spike tasted easily ten times better than pig blood.

   She still wanted more. She didn’t even feel exactly hungry anymore, but the feel of Spike’s flesh between her teeth... with his body against hers, and his arms around her, and the sounds of his breath, and the feel of his strength.... oh, yeah. Oh, god, yes.... Slayer buried her head in her hands, and realized she was still vamped up. She made herself put her fangs away. It seemed almost sacrilegious, since the taste of blood was still in her mouth....

   A moment later she heard Spike move, and a heavy weight was lain across her shoulders. “You should try and sleep, after that,” Spike said. His voice was low, still husky. “That coat’s protected me from the sun, it should block out the light.”

   Slayer looked down at the black leather around her shoulders. She hadn’t slept much at all, in the two days she’d been here. The floor was uncomfortable, and the light... yeah. It had kept her awake. She pulled the coat off her shoulders and looked down at it. “Don’t you want to use it?”

   “Go ahead,” Spike said. “You’ve as much right to it as I do, really. I pulled that off my second slayer.”

   Slayer looked down at the coat, and realized Spike was sort of boasting about it, even while being generous. She ran her fingers over the butter-soft leather. “Was she hard to kill?” she heard herself ask.

   “Well, she didn’t lay down and tell me to drink from her,” Spike said.

   Slayer wanted to be insulted, but she wasn’t. Probably because, even if that was how she had died, it was also exactly what Spike had just done.

   “Get some rest,” Spike said. “Try to heal up. I’ll make sure you wake up if anyone tries... anything.”

   Tried to take him out of the cell, or her, or... yeah. She was worried about that.

   Slayer took the coat and went to the furthest corner of the cell, lying down with her face to the wall. She took off her own jean jacket to use as a crappy pillow, and spread the leather coat over her, the collar over her head. The bright white light was blissfully blocked by the heavy leather, and Slayer sighed with relief. God, yes. Darkness. She’d been craving it for days.

   Sleep eluded her, though. She lay there, in the darkness beneath the coat, and found herself unable to stop thinking. Thinking about Angel, and the turning. About Spike, letting her out. About the taste of demonic blood in her mouth... Angel’s... and Spike’s... and even her own. Could they do this? Feed on each other, keep the hunger at bay that way? They’d be growing steadily weaker, but without going crazy with it.

   And she realized she was thinking about this only because she wanted to touch him again. She wanted to touch and taste him, and have him touch and taste her. God, she couldn’t afford to think this way! It wasn’t right, it wasn’t safe.

   But... she was a prisoner. And they were probably going to kill them both, in the end. What the hell would it even matter if she...?

   She felt more than heard his presence as he settled down... not quite beside her. He was about two feet away, between her and the door. Close enough to be safer if their captors came into the cell, far enough away that he wasn’t being intrusive to her personal space. Slayer turned her head and looked at him under the edge of the coat. His arms were up behind his head, and one leg was slightly raised, his knee bent. He looked nonchalant and at ease and... and beautiful.

   And her bite mark was stark against his pale skin.

   Slayer rolled over and shoved her jean jacket at him. He looked vaguely confused for a moment, but the confusion faded as Slayer sidled up beside him and buried her head in the crook of his arm. Without a word of comment, without any kind of hesitation or question, Spike shoved the jacket under his head and snuggled her carefully against him, pillowing her head against his shoulder. She put her arm over his chest and kicked part of the coat over both of them. She even let it slide down so it didn’t cover her face anymore. With Spike’s body to snuggle into, she could bury her face in his flesh, and the light didn’t even matter anymore. She slid her leg over his, snuggling in as closely as she could.

   “Sleep tight, slayer,” Spike murmured. She didn’t even question it when he bent and kissed the top of her head, nuzzling into her hair. After everything they’d already been through... it all just sort of felt right.

Chapter 8 by Sigyn

    “I don’t read it,” said Angleman. “She’s feeding from him, right? It’s a dominance play.”

    “Is that really how you’re interpreting this?” Maggie Walsh glared at her assistant. Francis Angleman was a brilliant surgeon, a competent researcher, and a kindred intellect, but sometimes he lacked imagination. Walsh looked back on the monitor and rewound the playback. “Look. The female is agitated, stressed. They were conversing, they cease, and then he offers, offers his arm.” She shook her head. “This was more than mere dominance, but I’m not sure I can interpret what it was.”

    “Maybe it’s ritualistic,” Angleman said. “But I see him offering her a hand up, and she attacks. He struggles, look at his fist cording, so she attacks again. Full dominance play, she gets him to show throat like a wolf.”

    “Even if that is what we’re seeing, it doesn’t match usual patterns. The males tend to be slightly more aggressive among the vampire subclass.”

    “Slightly,” Angleman conceded. “But there are variants in any gender split based on humanity.”

    “They are demonic,” Walsh corrected him.

    He shook his head, pressing on. “There’s no real reason this female couldn’t be dominant.”

    Walsh frowned back at the recording. “The interpretation doesn’t stand,” she muttered. “Look at the subsequent behavior. He presents his coat, like a gift.” Like a gallant gentleman, actually.  

    “She’d established her dominance,” Angleman said. “His property was her right after that.”

    “But here, the nesting behavior,” Walsh said, fast forwarding to the appropriate segment. “This is intimate, even affectionate.”

    “We know they nest,” Angleman said. “We know they perform residual human mating behaviors, what’s so special about that?”

    “If she’d just established dominance, then why are they cuddling?” Walsh asked. “What is the biological function?”

    “Well, what is it in humans?”

    “Pair bonding! Exactly what I’m getting at!” Walsh said. “If we are to perfect the 314 project, we need to know the full extent of the demons’ powers. If these two have managed to retain more residual human traits than the other HSTs we’ve recorded, we may be able to use that to our advantage. What if we didn’t have to try and control and contain vampires collected in the field? What if we could use these two to create a viable medication, a partial vampiric transformation? Full human intelligence and training with demonic enhancements. Think about it. We could administer it to Riley, or Forrest, their loyalty and dedication combined with demonic strength and augmentation. It would be... glorious.”

    “I thought the drugs we were already administering were having the desired effect,” Angleman said.

    “They are,” Walsh told him. “But think of the potential! Think how much more effective our soldiers could be if we enhanced them all with demonic traits.”

    “Uh... all the Initiative soldiers, or... the entire military?”

    “Well, the military eventually, given time,” Walsh said, making him cringe. Walsh laughed. “You lack vision.”

    “I lack faith in your assumptions,” Angleman said. “We’ve tried enhancing our soldiers with vampiric essence before, you know what happened.”

    Yes. She did know. Formerly loyal soldiers had turned on their fellow officers, abandoned their posts, descended into animalistic states. Their enhanced strength was completely negated by their utter lack of loyalty, to either cause or comrade. Their intelligence, also, seemed diminished. But these two were different, she was certain of it. If the prototype behavioral modification microchip had been perfected she would have implanted one in both of them, instantly, and used their comparative harmlessness to run further tests. She wanted to examine their blood, test their allegiance, their intellect, their ingenuity. She wanted to determine their strength, their abilities. The only drawbacks to vampiric enhancement had been the lack of loyalty and the sensitivity to sunlight. The sunlight could be counteracted with protective suits (or spells... though she did not admit that she believed in such things, not on paper). The loyalty, though....

    If these two displayed loyalty, affection, attachment, even, if that trait could be isolated, then they wouldn’t even need alternate research. There it was – vampiric serum given to each soldier upon recruitment, their loyalty confirmed, their reliance on the military inveterate, their abilities reinforced. Even Adam could perhaps be resurrected like this, as she knew all vampires went through a stage of appearing death. She felt bad about what had happened to her Adam... he... he shouldn’t have suffered the way he did. That was why the technological upgrades, and the demonic implants, but if she could simply inject him with vampirically infected blood and have him wake up, loyal and still devoted to her and their cause...? Well. Maybe she would still perform additional upgrades. Polgara spines and perhaps fyarl attack venom... or, well, mucus membranes. Both of those would still be beneficial enhancements to her favorite – ah, soldier. Her favorite son.

    Walsh hoped against hope that these vampires were of a different variety. A vampire with loyalty... it seemed as strange as a vampire without fangs, or a vampire immune to the sunlight. “I wouldn’t just jump into human trials without further testing,” Walsh reassured Angleman. “Extensive testing. Which is my next plan. If we can get these two into the arena, we can perform laboratory testing with full documentation.”

    “Such as?”

    “Strength, ingenuity, intelligence, vulnerabilities,” Walsh said. “But loyalty. I want their loyalty tested above all. Once that’s been established, we can do blood work, MRIs, cranial dissection. I want to know what makes these vampires different, on a biological level.”

    “We can just arrange for dissection immediately. I can have them in my exam room before night falls.”

    “No!” Walsh said. “We need to establish their functional operation first. That means behavioral testing.” She turned away from Angleman, knowing he’d already learned that meant he was dismissed. “I’ll draw up a behavioral evaluation procedure. We can begin to implement the first stages tomorrow.”

    Angleman regarded her. “You plan to torture them,” he said, sounding much more blunt than she was used to.

    She thought about arguing with him, and then decided, no. He was displaying initiative, which was, after all, what the Initiative was about. “You could put it like that,” Walsh said evenly.

    “You know, for their sake, I hope you’re wrong,” Angleman said. “I hope there’s nothing human or loyal or... sentient about them at all. And I hope they’ll show you that quickly.”

    “I agree,” Walsh said. “The faster the initial tests prove conclusive, the less research money we’ll have to spend on them.” She glanced up. “You’re dismissed,” she finally said.

    Angleman left. Walsh returned to her computer. Now. What, exactly, could she do to the pair to test their so-far displayed loyalty? She was going to have to write out a full research project for these two.

***

   

   Spike hadn’t slept this well in ages.

   Well, maybe this didn’t quite constitute as “sleeping well” since he kept waking up and gazing down at the blonde head on his shoulder, and he kept checking the door to make sure they were still safe, and the floor was uncomfortable and he kept shifting, for himself and Buffy as well. But something about this (he assumed) night, even with the discomfort and the fear and the uncertainty and the residual pain, made Spike feel strangely... happy.

   She felt so good curled up against him.

   He had always been a cuddler. Even when he was human, his relations with everyone he cared about had been almost inappropriately hands-on. He’d been discouraged from touching his nurse, his schoolmates, his family. Even his mum had to maintain a discreet distance if there were guests in the house, though she’d allow him to put his head on her knee if they were home alone. He’d loved that about her.

   Drusilla had understood how much he liked to cuddle. Whenever things were good with them, she’d let him share a bed, even when their lair allowed for more freedom. At least, they had shared until Angelus had come back into the picture. Then his access to her bed had been restricted, and Angelus had resumed his rights as Dru’s sire. (Granted, some of that restriction was due to the ruddy wheelchair.) Even after he’d gotten Dru away from that bastard, she’d still kept Spike at arm’s length. Even when she allowed access, she seemed far, far away.

   Until she had ended it, and taken herself out of the picture entirely. Not that they hadn’t had dark times before, when she’d kicked him out, or banned him from their bed, or they’d squabbled or, well, tortured each other until devotion came back into the picture. But this time had been different. Going to get her back hadn’t worked, and coming back to kill the slayer in her honor... that wasn’t going to fly. Because the slayer was already dead....

   And Spike was becoming more and more content with that thought. Because if she hadn’t been turned... she likely would not be curled into his arms right now.

   He’d never held anyone who fit against him more perfectly.

   Sometime while they dozed Spike gave up all pretext of staying cool and turned onto his side, curling completely against her, their legs intertwined, heads facing each other, so he could properly breathe in her scent.

   He didn’t know what it was that woke them. The changing of the guard, perhaps. Perhaps a sound from one of their fellow captors in the cells. Maybe the sun had risen, unseen, and instinct kicked in for both of them, making them wake to hopefully seek out the darkness. But both of them opened their eyes at the same moment, and he found himself staring into her... glittering and soulful and stunning... and the fact that she was the one who moved for the kiss stunned him even more.

   She kissed like someone had opened a bottle of champagne. A quietly contained bottle of promise suddenly erupted into a an effluence of pure passion. She was a vampire, cool and tasting ever-so-slightly of blood, but there was still the echo of a slayer in the taste of her. She used her teeth and her lips and her tongue, and Spike moaned into her mouth.

   Memories of the slayer as she had been chimed within him. His first vision of her at the Bronze... that first proper fight at the school... the sweet feel of her beneath him on Halloween... that horrible, wonderful moment when he’d lost to her spectacularly, and she’d torn his spine asunder. Then the truce... talking with her, walking beside her, fighting beside her... how did they fight so well together when they’d been opponents from the moment they met? And yet they had... their fighting styles had meshed, just as their bodies fit together, just as her kiss... oh, bloody hell, had she asked someone how he liked to be kissed? Because if he had instructed her, she couldn’t have been doing it better.

   His arms tightened, sliding down to her hip, and her own were exploring him, gripping at his waist, as her body surged against his, sending his groin messages that it was high time to be getting on with things, even if the damn slaypire would rip his head off for it.

   Which a second later, it seemed she would. Her hands had found the edge of his shirt, and pushed it up to caress the flesh of his back. Then, at the touch of his skin, or maybe something else, Buffy – or Slayer or whatever she called herself these days – seemed to realize what she was doing, and pulled away. Her breath coming hard, she gasped, “I can’t.”

   Nope. Not having that kind of bollocks. “Angel’s too far away to protest, love,” Spike said, bending back in for a kiss.

   She fell into it for a moment, and then pulled away. “No, no. It’s... it’s not... not that.”

   “You don’t need to play by our old sire’s rules,” Spike whispered into her mouth. “I’ve learned that over the years.”

   He claimed her lips again, and she moaned. “Mmm.... Um, no!” She pulled away again. “We really can’t, Spike. I mean... god, it’s you! You’re an evil murderer, you don’t have a soul.”

   Spike raised an eyebrow. “And if I was part of your pretty pig-blood co-op, would that make a difference?”

   Buffy looked startled. “You’d do that?”

   That wasn’t actually what he was promising, he was just putting the idea more firmly into her head so he could have a chance to kiss her again. Which he did, dragging her even closer to him and deeply caressing her lips. Her name was pounding in his skull – not the title she’d taken as a demon, but who she had been, Buffy, Buffy, Buffy. It was so silly, and somehow so damn sexy....

   Buffy dragged her head away again, reluctantly, even as her body was writhing against him beneath the coat. “Look, we’re... we’re here, and....”

   Her embarrassment touched him. Most vamps these days barely had even a vestige of modesty, not like when he’d been turned, when even a vampire knew the obscenity of exposition, even if they then chose to exploit it. He slid his hand down her hip, closer to her groin, caressing her thigh in a way that made her eyes close and her breath catch. “I can keep it all quiet,” he whispered to her, heady. “All hidden under here, no one would ever guess how I’d made you feel....”

   Buffy made a small sound of longing, even while her face scrunched up in torment. She clenched her fists as she sat up, pulling away from him, shaking her head. “That wasn’t it,” she said. Her breath was still coming hard.

   Part of Spike wanted to push the issue, as he was now hard as a bloody rock, and a little shaky with wanting her, because damn!  That had been intense. But forcing his lovers killed the mood, since what he really always wanted was to be wanted, and Buffy didn’t strike him as one who was easily seduced once she’d ultimately determined she was done with something. So. Pouncing was out. Time for pure negotiation.

   He’d conquer the slayer yet.

   “You don’t want to shag someone evil, pet?” Spike asked. “Don’t kid yourself. Underneath that pretty soul, you’re just the same as me.” He smiled his most seductive grin, his eyes flickering up and down her body, caressing her with his gaze. “The same needs. The same desires. The same hungers.... You want to taste it. The big bad. You’re a demon just like me. You don’t want to play goody-two-shoes, no matter what Angel told you.”

   “Spike, that’s really not it.”

   “I get it,” Spike said. “I do. He’s seductive, and he likes to give orders, and all fledges like to follow. I followed at his coattails for years. But you don’t have to obey, pet. He’s not even here. You can have what you want.” He held his tongue behind his teeth and let his gaze smolder again. “And we both know what you want.”

   Buffy bent her head and covered her eyes with her hand. “I can’t, Spike. I really can’t.”

   “We can have what we please, we can do what we want. And you know you want me.”

   “So what if I do?” she snapped. “I can’t afford it. I’m not going to lose it for that.”

   Spike leaned back. “Did you think I meant it casual, love?”

   She blinked at him, a nervous swallow in her throat.

   Very suddenly Spike darted forward on his hands, arching his body over hers as she leaned against the wall, gazing down into her face. “I spent ages obsessed with you,” he whispered into her mouth. “I spent every waking moment learning you. You’ve scared me gibbering and you’ve torn me to pieces. I came back here specifically to kill you. You think all that doesn’t translate?” He let his lips barely graze hers as he breathed in her scent again. “Oh, you know it does, now, don’t you. You were my prey. You know what that means.” Her lips were so smooth as he whispered against them. “I was already in love with you, Slayer. I wasn’t thinking shag and scarper.”

   She shoved him away hard, and he went back onto his arse. She was trembling as she glared at him. Her expression was furious, but she sounded scared. “That wasn’t what I meant!” she said, her tone clipped. She looked deliberately away from him, and when she looked back her jaw was tense, and she’d forced the trembling down. “There are... a hundred reasons why we can’t, Spike, not the least of which being you that you are an evil murderer, you’re sort of like my nephew, and we’re probably on camera on the floor of a goddamn military prison.”

   “Family relations are a bit dodgy when it comes to vampire bloodlines, love,” Spike snapped. “We don’t exactly breed sexually. And I seem to remember you saying you’d wanted to keep Angel as your consort, which would have included Daddy Issues up the duff, if you go that route.”

   Buffy rolled her eyes, more as if he’d found her out than as if she was arguing. She already knew it wasn’t the same as a human familial relationship. “Fine,” she said. “But you’re still a murderer, and I’m not. You’re still evil, and I’m not. We’re on different sides.”

   “And differences make good sparks,” Spike said. “That’s not the issue either, and particularly not here, since the line isn’t good vs. evil but it’s us vs. them.” He made a general gesture at the entire prison. “If you really didn’t want to, I’d settle for a wank in the corner, slayer, but you want to.” He glanced over her form again. “I could feel how you wanted to.” He raised his eyebrow again. “You’re the one who kissed me, after all.”

   She looked up at the ceiling, as if preparing herself for something.

   “Come on, slayer,” he said. “There’s something between us. There always has been, you’ve felt it.” He smiled a bit. “And we’re the same now. Soul in the way or no, we’re the same. And you know it. That’s why you want it. Different sides of the same damn coin.”

   “Spike.... Angel and I....”

   Spike grunted. “Angel and you. Do you know often he’d shag Dru just to rile me up!” he snapped. “Expecting fidelity when he’s not even bloody here is a special kind of torture, and you shouldn’t play that damn game, love!”

   “It’s not fidelity!” she snapped. “I just can’t! We can’t, with anyone, all right? That’s how the damn soul gets popped off, we can’t have sex.” She seemed annoyed with him now. “Did I spell it out clearly enough for you? Was that the answer you wanted? I’m a slayer, and a vampire, and a god damned spayed puppy. Happy? Even if I wanted to –  which I don’t, because I hate you – even if I wanted to, I couldn’t, okay? Now drop it!”

   Spike was confused. “You can’t at all? Not without losing your soul?”

   “Nope,” she said. “That’s the deal. Stay single and broody and your loved ones stay safe. Get it on, and go on a rampaging slaughter.”

   “That’s complete bollocks.”

   “Them’s the breaks,” she snapped.

   “I thought it was just you and Angel. He said something about destiny and balance demons and....” Now that he thought about it, that shouldn’t have applied anymore. “Actually, I thought it was because you were a slayer. Like your blood can have healing properties, I thought....”

   “What, slayer sex-juices are a wonderful soul lubricant? Heal a soul away with a bit of pure slayer nooky! Not how it works!”

   Spike frowned. Getting laid? By anyone? That’s all it would have taken to knock Angel’s soul off? Over a hundred years, and the poof had never once gotten it on with anyone? God, if Darla had known that was all it would have taken, there would never have been a single argument about the damn curse. He couldn’t believe it. Sure, the great grand-hag had cast Angelus off once he’d gotten all soulful, but she’d taken him back a couple times. She’d never taken him into her bed? What was she doing, waiting until he proved himself evil enough before she’d deign to shed her knickers? He almost wished the bitch were here, so he could laugh in her face. Her greatest tragedy, the loss of Angelus to a soul, and she could have sucked the damn thing out with a good blow job!

   “So... you and Angel both have decided to be....” God. His Heloise and Abelard crack from earlier seemed even more apropos. He’d just meant star-crossed lovers, not castrated and basically imprisoned.

   “Yep,” she said. “So. Yeah, you’re the only soft thing in the whole damn cell, okay? It doesn’t mean you get to boink me.”

   Spike realized he’d probably confessed a bit much in his attempt to seduce her. More than he was comfortable remembering... he hoped she hadn’t been listening. “You’d find me the hardest thing in the room, you gave me half a chance, love,” he grumbled, stroking toward his groin.

   “Ugh. You’re a pig, Spike.”

   “Oink.” He glared at her. “You’re the one who just set yourself up as the swill.”

   “I. Am. Not,” she growled. Her face was tense. He wondered if she’d be blushing if she was still human.

   But he was ticked off. He’d felt at peace with her in his arms, it felt good, it felt right. All he’d done was offer her his arm for the blood she’d needed. She was the one who had bowled him over backwards with a shake-inducing neck bite that had nearly made him come even as he’d been afraid he’d pass out from it. She was the one who had followed up with the snuggles, she was the one who had moved those from a safe place to curl up, to an astonishingly erotic makeout session that had made his blood sing and his body spasm and lights of glory pass behind his eyes. What the hell was she on about, if she hadn’t felt the same way he had?

   No. She had to have. “What the hell do you want from me, slayer?” He stood up to pace, his agitation hitting again. Yeah, she was freaked out by the lights and the walls and the surveillance, it wasn’t as if he wasn’t, too. “Don’t play games, I’m not one of your minion level cronies out there at the factory. I’m not impressed by your bloodline, it’s mine. I’m not some pissant fledge turned on a drop, I’m a sodding warrior, and I kill your kind, without cheating by grooming you up to it from when you were jailbait.”

   Buffy scoffed. “Oh, typical guy, all freaked out and entitled the second a girl says no.”

   “God dammit!” Spike hit the window, the jolt of pain from the electricity centering him a bit more. “I don’t care if you say no, or yes, or if the whole damn thing is musical soul chairs, waiting for the band to stop.”

   “I knew you were evil,” Buffy muttered. “I’m allowed to say no!” She stood up to yell at him. “At any time!”

   “Of course you are, that’s not bloody the point!” Spike snarled. He darted in hard, and she backed against the wall. He glared into her face, his arms on either side of her head. “What did you want from me, slayer?” he demanded. “What was it? You gonna play games with me, and then throw me away?” He shook his head. “I put it on the line, bitch. Your turn.”

   “Just try it.” Buffy glared. “You know I’ll kill you. Rip your dumb head off, see if I don’t! I don’t have to put out just because you got horny.”

   “I didn’t say put out, I said put it on the line,” Spike said. “I get there’s a step you don’t want to take, but don’t you deny you took the others.”

   “Huh?” She looked confused.

   Spike’s breath was heavy with fury. “You gonna take what you want, then push me aside and say it was just a soft body? Use me for what you can get, then call me dirt? You’re the one who wants to roll in it, slayer. Don’t pretend you’re so high and mighty. This was all you, pet, not me.”

   “What are you talking about?”

   “You gonna pretend that was a joke, then throw me away?” Spike snarled. “Like Angel, like Dru, you think this was a game? I was honest with you.” Honest, generous, he’d been bordering on bloody chivalrous, and she just called him a pig for it? “I don’t need your slit, all I asked for was the truth of what you wanted. You don’t get to treat me like your toy, and then call me evil that you did it.”

   He pushed himself away from the wall and resumed his pacing.

   Buffy stood there in silence for a long moment. Then a slight noise caught him, and he glanced at her. She realized he was staring at her and slid down the wall so she could bury her head in her hands again. Was she crying? He couldn’t be sure, but she was distraught, whatever.

   “I don’t know what I want,” she finally said as he watched her. Her voice was so low even with vampire ears he could barely hear her. “I want to kill, and I hate myself for it. I want Angel back, and I hate him constantly. I want to fight, and run, and... and drink, and scream, and I want to die....” She looked up at him, and yeah. She wasn’t crying, but there were tears in her eyes. “You want to kill me, Spike? Join the club.”

   That hadn’t occurred to him before. He’d asked her if she hated herself, but he hadn’t realized the twistedness of it. Slayers kill vampires. Vampires kill slayers. She was both.

   It had to be like a war. The slayer’s soul in the vampire’s body... it had to make Angel’s torment look like bloody preschool.

   Spike leaned against the wall at right angles to hers and gazed down at her. The truth was, she’d butted up against a bunch of his own issues. Drusilla. Abandonment. Never being good enough. “I only asked what you wanted of me,” he said softly.

   She closed her eyes. “I just wanted to forget for a little while,” she said quietly. She looked up. “Yeah. I wanted. But I can’t, I–”

   “That wasn’t what I asked,” he said. “But you wanted?”

   “Yes,” she whispered, burying her face again. “God help me, yes.”

   “He’d better clear his schedule and help both of us,” Spike said glumly. “Cause I wanted, too.” Then he chuckled. “But since we’re the unholy damned, we’re probably on our own.”

   Buffy giggled, and he smiled down at her, and she looked up, and for a long moment they just gazed into each other. At least they knew where they stood. It was apparently on burning coals, but they both knew they were both there.

   “You really all that attached to that soul?” he asked absently.

   “Spike!”

   Spike grinned, his tongue behind his teeth. This was going to become a nicely running gag. Because yeah, maybe she couldn’t go quite there... but so long as they both wanted to, there were a lot of pretty byways he could show her on the journey, before he’d stop.

Chapter 9 by Sigyn

   “Okay,” Slayer said. “Left or right?”

   “That’s an odd one.” They had gone to a word game Willow had taught Buffy called “Extremes” where given a pair of concepts you had to pick one of the two. Spike kept getting the game wrong by picking third options. “Context?”

   “If it doesn’t matter which way you go, which way do you go?”

   “Left,” Spike said. “But it’s not random. If you come from an equestrian society, all kid’s’ll pick left. That’s the side you approach the horse on.”

   “Are you really left handed?” Slayer asked. Since it was supposed to be a getting-to-know-you game, one was allowed to break rhythm and just ask a question.

   “Think I’ve been faking it just to impress you, slayer?”

   Slayer shrugged. “Or that you adapted for fights,” she said. “Lefties are harder to beat.” They were more unpredictable. Giles had taught her that.

   Spike smirked with pride. He held out both hands. “Check ‘em out.”

   The left hand was slightly more muscled, a quarter size larger, there were bigger calluses on the knuckles, the black nail polish was slightly more chipped, and Slayer found herself with her hands on his, caressing his fingers, fascinated by them. Those were some damn sensual looking hands... hands she really wanted on her body....

   Damn, this was hard. She glanced down. Well, not... ugh!

   She made herself let his hands go and retreated back to her side of the cell. She’d been glancing down and along that body of his a lot. For all her protestations of virtue and chastity, the idea of losing her soul in Spike had definite appeal. She finally understood Angel’s confusion and desperation that Christmas Eve, when he’d come to her to tell her to stay away from him, being egged on by whatever that evil power was. She’d gotten turned on by Angel a lot, as a human and a vampire both, but it was different. It wasn’t this purely physical thing that made her want to just cut through all that stupid, saccharine, Ah, isn’t it wonderful how we’re just together here, thing and get to the god damn meat of it!

   It had to be because she was a vampire now. It was an evil impulse, just like the blood lust – you know, because it was actual lust, and had nothing to do with love, she just really, really wanted Spike’s hands on her, and his body against hers, and his... his.... Her eyes glanced along him one more time.

   He’d asked a question. “Um. What?”

   “Chocolate or strawberry.”

   “Chocolate,” Slayer said, somewhat wistfully. “Or it used to be.”

   “What do you mean?”

   “Well... we can’t eat human food anymore.”

   “Sure we can.”

   “I thought it would make us sick, ‘cause we don’t go to the bathroom or anything.”

   Spike shrugged. “Never been a problem for me.”

   Slayer stared at the reprieve he was offering. “You mean I can still have chocolate?” She felt nearly in tears.

   Spike bit back his laugh and then reached for her, pulling her into an embrace. “Oh, poor kitten.” He started kissing her forehead and her temple and the side of her face. “Have you been chocolate deprived this whole time?” He kissed the tip of her nose. “We get out of here, I’ll get you a whole box of the good stuff. From Germany, eh?”

   He bent forward to kiss her properly, and Slayer pulled back, even though she really didn’t want to. He let her, which almost annoyed her. But she couldn’t help but feel like snuggles and amused promises of German chocolates wouldn’t have been Angel’s reaction in this moment.

   She’d had Angel on the brain most of the – morning? Time sense was dead, and even the instinctive nervousness of the sun during daylight hours was so muddled by the perpetual nervousness of being in the cells in the first place that she had no idea what time of day it was. But they’d slept, and woken, so now it was morning. (She was still a little hooked on human sleeping patterns.)

   In any case, Spike was not like Angel. Angel would probably not have been playing word games with her this whole time. Angel would not have offered sympathy for her loss of chocolate – he was more likely to have said it was the wages of sin or something.

   “But... can we even taste it?” It didn’t smell exactly like food anymore, chocolate or any human food. Except fresh meat, but she hadn’t been chewing on that, either. She’d only been taking liquids. The closest thing to food she’d had was liquor and tomato juice in Willy’s special-edition Bloody Mary, since he’d sworn other vampires liked them. “Angel said it didn’t taste like anything.”

   “Angel has a terrible palate,” Spike said. “We need blood. We don’t need food, is all. Never had a problem with it, me.” Then he frowned. “I do tend to prefer foods that linger in the blood. Coffee, spices, that sort of thing. You should be fine with chocolate. Dark would probably be better.”

   “I always preferred dark.”

   Spike grinned. “Now, why would I have guessed that about you?”

   How could he make that into an innuendo? “Okay. Boxers or briefs?”

   Spike raised an eyebrow. “You’re making a big assumption that there’s anything there at all.”

   That thought hadn’t occurred to her. “Uh….”

   “Want to check?”

   Slayer rolled her eyes, and he smirked.

   “I have been known to sleep in boxers, if I thought the minions didn’t deserve the show,” Spike said. “So. Traditional or thong?”

   “I’m not answering that!”

   “You just asked me.”

   She hadn’t realized that was basically the same question. “Um... both?” she confessed. “Depends on mood.”

   “But not the third option?”

   “What, boxers?”

   Spike smirked. “You can borrow mine.” He cocked his head and eyed her fondly, as if imagining her in his boxers and not much, if anything, else. “You sure you’re all that attached to your soul?”

   “Yes.”

   “Just checking,” he said. Again. He’d asked that at least three times since they got up.

   “Spike, just because you–”

   “We.”

   Slayer closed her eyes and slid down the side of the cell, onto the floor. “Please, don’t make this difficult.”

   Spike crouched down before her and reached for her hair, hesitating before he made contact, to see if she’d stop him. She didn’t, so he caressed it, sliding down an errant tendril and lacing it between his fingers. “Slayer, it’s going to be difficult. It’s going to be difficult your whole life long, and you already know it.”

   “So did Angel,” Slayer whispered. “It was why he left. It was hard enough when we couldn’t do anything just ‘cause of him.”

   “Yeah, not being able to even get you off anymore must have been hell for the bloke.”

   “Yeah. But I was okay with it,” Slayer said. “I mean, we did a lot of patrolling and... well. Sometimes he’d let me snuggle.”

   Spike frowned. “Sometimes he’d let you...? Wait. Was this before, or after he killed you?”

   She didn’t like hearing it discussed like that. She didn’t like remembering that he’d killed her. “When I was alive,” Slayer said. “When we were dating.”

   “I wasn’t talking about him, I was talking about you,” he said. “Are you telling me he wasn’t giving you your own even before you had this temperamental soul?”

   “What are you talking about?”

   Spike sat back. “So, you were human, he was vampire. Your soul was firmly fixed unless he killed you, yeah? He couldn’t dare get off because the soul would wing its way off to the happy hunting grounds which meant... you couldn’t get your happy on, either?”

   “Well... no. We were dating.”

   Spike slid up close to her. “So he didn’t press you up against a wall while you were patrolling and jam his knee between your legs and tell you to ride him until you were flushed and sweaty and couldn’t ride him any more?” he asked, his voice heady. “He never sat down with you at a table at the Bronze and bought your friends drinks and slid his hand under your waistband to finger you until you had to freeze dead still lest they think you were having a seizure, right there? He never bent you over the bed and shoved a dildo up inside you, making you groan with how full it felt, let alone how strange, with him two feet behind, just watching the blood rush through your skin? Angel never once splayed you open in the graveyard and sank down between your legs, licking and nuzzling at your sweet slayer petals, until you screamed for him?”

   Slayer was trembling.

   “He could have done all that... and instead he told you to be chaste? Just cause he had to be?”

   “I... I don’t... know if he... he could have done... um....”

   “Couldn’t he?”

   Yeah, Slayer realized, he probably could have. He could probably have done any or all of those things, or more. They could have been writing erotic letters back and forth. He could have been sending her dirty pictures for her to masturbate to. He could even, she realized, have figured out some sort of surrogate to bed her; he could have kissed her to melting, handed her off, and then snuggled with her after or something... though she realized such an idea probably wouldn’t have flown with her when she was still human. That was an evil, lustful, vampire thought, because the surrogate she was thinking of was, to her horror, actually Spike, and... yeah. No, that definitely wouldn’t have flown. Not when she was still human and didn’t have to think twice about her morals and impulses and remind herself which ones were evil.

   That didn’t really matter. The point was, since Christmas when they were dating properly, she and Angel could have had a deeply sensual if not actively sexual relationship. She had even been over eighteen for most of that. He could have reached between her legs, encouraged her to fantasize about him, given her the chance to ride him in places that wouldn’t have gotten him off. It still wasn’t fair to him, probably would have been fairly frustrating for him, but there was nothing that made it wrong for her to explore her sexuality with him. Except for the fact that Angel had pretty much made it a blanket “we can’t” rather than “we’ll have to be careful, and only you can enjoy yourself.”

   And now she couldn’t even do that. It seemed like an annoyingly missed opportunity....

   “Shouldn’t have asked,” Spike said. “Angel doesn’t feel like there’s any point unless he gets his.”

   “And you don’t feel that way?”

   “Well. If the question is mine or hers? My first impulse is hers.”

   “Why?”

   He considered that for a long moment. “The thing is, Slayer... if I get my lady off... it’s not mine or hers. Hers makes her mine. You get me?”

   She wasn’t sure she did, but she was getting too hot to follow up. Spike’s fingers were also still doing interesting things to her hair, and the softness in his eyes was somewhat strange to see, and....

   All in all, Slayer found herself almost relieved when a handful of commandos descended upon their cell, armed with Tasers and stun guns and other heavy weaponry. She and Spike both scrambled to their feet, and as the door opened, Spike gallantly stood in front of her.

   “Stop that,” Slayer snapped, shoving him behind her. “I’m stronger than you.”

   “I’m older than you,” Spike snapped back, taking the forefront again. “If they’re going after you, they’ll have to go through me.”

   “You think you have to protect me?” Slayer barked. “I’m not some fragile flower!”

   “Oh, not with the Girl Power bit,” Spike yelled. “A bloke tries to show a little courtesy–”

   “It’s not courtesy, it’s condescension,” Slayer said. “That’s the one thing I don’t miss about Angel, his god damned Let-Me-Protect-You high and mightiness!”

   “And that’s the one thing I hate about the feminist movement!” Spike yelled back. “I’m all for burning the bras, and free love, and do whatever the bloody hell you want, but how’s a bloke to be nice when it’s all seen as–”

   “Uh, excuse me?” said a voice from behind the commandos. “This isn’t fitting any of the parameters.”

   Spike and Slayer turned to look. A ferrety guy in a lab coat was standing just to the side of the commandos, and Slayer could see him frowning at a clipboard. “Can you, sort of, get on with the threatening of them? I need to make a note of their reactions,” he said to the soldiers.

   “They’re just standing there, bickering,” said the commando in the front. Finn, Slayer thought his name was. “I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.”

   The dead silence after that seemed extremely pointed.

   “All right,” he said after that, but the air of threat had completely died. “You two. We need one of you for the experiments. You two fight it out. Whoever wins gets to stay safe, and we’ll give you another prisoner to play with. Maybe someone human to eat. So, whoever wins stays and gets fresh blood, whoever loses gets zapped.”

   Spike and Slayer stared at each other. It was so damn transparent. Did they really think they were going to fall for that? Then Slayer realized, yeah, most of Angel’s boys would have fallen for that. They weren’t strong enough to think beyond the bloodlust. Which meant these soldier guys didn’t even understand what they had with the two of them.

   “Oh, you go,” Slayer said casually.

   “Oh, no, ladies first,” Spike said with a bow.

   “I insist. It would be wrong to take such an opportunity away.”

   “What, Josef Mengele style experimentation? It’s something I’ve been longing to experience for the whole of my existence! I couldn’t deprive you of it.”

   “Well then, think we should?”

   “Both then?”

   When they looked back they were both vamped up. “Looks like you lose,” Slayer said to the commandos, and they both lunged.

   Even with the bottleneck, they managed to take down three of the soldiers before the electricity zapped them into submission.

Chapter 10 by Sigyn

   It wasn’t so simple as being knocked out. Spike kinda wished it was. No, instead he was strapped, while weakly protesting, to a gurney. His head pounded, his body felt like limp noodles, and he was pervasively (and annoyingly) worried about the slayer. They’re gonna kill her. They’re gonna kill her! kept pounding in his brain, and he wished to god he could just shrug and dismiss it like he did the first time he had that thought. But unfortunately, the taste of her kiss was in his mouth now, and it was no longer so easy to dismiss her.

   “Slayer,” he found himself murmuring, like a right ponce. “Slayer... kill the slayer....”

   It was such a common litany to pass through his head, it disturbed him that the meaning had changed. No. Don’t go all the way under, look about, Spike m’lad. Strategize. What have they got in the cells?

   It was quite a diverse selection of demons. What the hell were they keeping a fyarl for? What did they think they were going to do with it? They usually died in captivity. The damn thing had made itself a mucus nest, which they only did under extreme distress. It was gonna be a bear cleaning that cell out! Spike didn’t even recognize all the demons around him. What was with that big orange monster with the horns, whispering to a small pile of rocks? The rocks were too small to do much damage to the cells. The beast was murmuring, “Rocks, friends,” to itself. And wasn’t that a goondight in the cell in the corner? How’d they catch that? Goondights were some right elusive goons.

   There were a bunch of things which didn’t even make sense that they were holding. Like, okay, it made sense that they had one of those weevil demons that infested Wales (though what one was doing in SunnyD, Spike had no idea) and yeah, there was a bemaned… was that a tharil? Tharils were time-sensitive leonine empaths. Okay. Useful for combat. But what was with the tiny wombat looking creature, with the sodding cane? If that thing was useful in a fight, Spike would eat his hat. (And he didn’t have a hat.)

   They also think we’re all idiots, Spike realized. The beasts in a zoo thing. It wasn’t just contempt, it was actual ignorance. It wasn’t that they were ignoring them because they believed them all evil. They honestly didn’t realize that some vampires, at least, could retain intelligence beneath the bloodlust.

   This gave Spike a teensy advantage that he hadn’t realized he’d had. Of course, he’d played the dumb blond before. He’d done it for Angelus, he’d done it louder for Darla. He knew for a fact that Buffy was a master at it. God, he hoped they were gonna end up in the same place. At least in adjacent cells again. Though he’d miss looking into her eyes... those green eyes with the sharp edges, like broken bottles straight to the heart....

   It was a terrible time to realize he had fallen in love. Completely in love, not just prey-hunting love. As he was being dragged through corridors, probably to his extremely graphically Shelley-esque doom, what started flitting through his head was, of all things, dreams of vampiric domesticity. Dancing with the late slayer in the moonlight. Sharing blood from a wineglass at a romantic picnic. Taking her to fine urban hubs of romance, Venice, Vienna, a concert at the Opera House in Sidney. It would be brilliant to learn her kinks and her delights. Hone in on what kind of victims she wanted to –

   He was caught up short. That soul. And she didn’t want to lose it.... That was a spoke in the wheel. But strangely, he didn’t find it a deal-breaker. They could work around that. He preferred being exclusive, but there were lots of ways to enjoy one’s body without actual sex, and hell... there were a hundred different things they could do together, physically and not….

   It sort of bothered him that the idea of seducing that soul out of her didn’t really appeal. You haven’t fallen in love with her soul, you stupid man, he thought to himself. That would be far too many levels of perverse.

   Of course, perverse always sort of appealed....

   “Buffy!” he made himself call out.

   An inarticulate groan came to him from somewhere in front. Spike tried to tear through the restraints. They seemed weak enough to break, but not quickly.

   Then the sound of a secured door opening, and a weak, feminine scream.

   “Slayer!”

   There was a thump and a grunt followed by an extremely annoyed, “You’re supposed to be human!”

   One of the soldiers disconnected two of the restraints on Spike, the two that were holding him to the gurney. He tried to sit up, his arms still bound to his sides, his legs still strapped together. His captors didn’t care. A second later they tipped the gurney over, and Spike fell into darkness like a writhing caterpillar. His feet hit something hard, and as he toppled over, he landed on something cool and soft, that grunted.

   Thank god. “Slayer!”

   “Get off!”

   “Sorry. I’m still bound.”

   “Me too.”

   Spike vamped up, for instant night vision. The darkness was actually a relief. He wondered if their captors knew that. They had been dumped into a much larger cell. He knew it was still a cell, because there were no doors at all, apart from the one he’d just been dropped through. That one was a good eight feet from the ground, and did not have a ledge to stand on to try and figure out the locking mechanism.

   The room looked fairly jury rigged, though. As if it hadn’t been intended to be enclosed. Three walls of the top half looked fairly new, as if the room had originally been open on three sides. If he looked... yes. There were the signs of the base posts for a railing. It was all metal and welded together now, but there was enough air seeping through the cracks that there was an indication the walls were neither all that thick, or all that well put together. He was fairly certain if he could have stood beside them he could punch through eventually. The problem being, for all he could jump beautifully, he couldn’t actually fly, and these lower walls were concrete, doorless, and looked like they had nothing but solid earth behind them. The whole complex felt underground, but this bit felt like a basement.

   “That’s not good,” the slayer said behind him.

   Spike shifted and managed to sit up. He felt better vamped. It was clear Buffy did, too. She was staring at one of the new walls on the upper half. There was a window there. Not just a window, some kind of box seat or observation platform, as half the wall was solid glass. Probably bulletproof, though Spike determined already to have Slayer throw him up there and give him a chance to punch at it, at least once. The window was dark for now, just as the rest of the room was, but he was fairly certain that inside were chairs, computers, observational and recording equipment to register what took place in the... arena... below.

   “Oh, bloody hell,” Spike muttered.

   “Yep,” Slayer said. “Here, let me.” She bent over and sliced her fangs at the straps around his arms. Once the lower one was undone, Spike was able to shrug his way out of the upper restraints. As he performed a similar service for her, Buffy continued, “We might need to be unbound fast.”

   “Picked up on the Colosseum vibe too, did you?” He shrugged. “Going out as a gladiator wasn’t exactly what I would have chosen, but at least it has its glorious side.”

   “Do you think they’re gonna make us fight each other? Like they threatened in the cell?”

   “They might,” Spike said. “But the vibe I was getting at was testing to see if we would turn on each other that quick. Since we didn’t, and they kept us together....”

   “They’re testing both of us.”

   He nodded.

   She turned to him. “You okay?”

   Spike did a quick assessment. Arms, legs, nothing seemed broken. “Well enough.”

   “Good.” She pulled her fist back and punched him clean in the nose.

   “Bloody hell! What was that for?”

   “You killed someone!”

   Spike was losing his patience with this bollocks. “We were fighting together,” Spike said. “You threw the soldier at me, I thought that was the point!”

   “I didn’t know you were going to break his neck!” Buffy snapped. “I thought you were just gonna punch him, or shove him down or something.”

   “And when he got back up? People don’t knock out as easily as Batman would have you think. I know Adam West is sexy and all, but I think I’m a bit beyond him.”

   “Who?”

   Spike rolled his eyes.

   “The point is, I took down two without killing them,” she said. “I thought you’d agreed not to.”

   “When was this?”

   “When you said you’d join the co-op.”

   “I asked about potentials, there was no promise there.”

   “Bullshit.” Slayer punched him again, knocking him down.

   “Bloody hell!” Spike picked himself off the ground and touched his tender sniffer. “You done? I might need that nose in a bit, and we’re low on blood, slayer. No point wasting it healing your violent tendencies. I’d run out in half a day.”

   “You’re such a jerk.”

   “I’m an extremely powerful vampire, pet,” Spike said. “Goes with the territory.”

   “It does not.”

   Spike raised his hooded eyebrows.

   “There are powerful vampires who aren’t complete assholes.”

   “Name two.”

   “Me and Angel.”

   Spike said nothing, just cocked his head and let that hang there between them, pointedly.

   “Okay, fine,” Buffy said, and she slumped down in the middle of the arena, letting her face go back human.

   Spike actually chuckled, his fangs receding. How could her acting like a petulant schoolgirl be so damn cute? He wanted to pounce, knock her onto her back and smother her with kisses, but she’d probably hit him again. (Which also sounded cute.... God, he had it so bad already.)

   She looked awfully glum, though.

   Buffy buried her head in her hands and rubbed at her face. She seemed so young suddenly.... Poor Angel had been all twisted up over that soul of his, back when he was still pretending to be the big bad, like at the Boxer Rebellion. And her hair was a mess still... he hadn’t gotten around to offering her his comb.

   “These people aren’t good, pet,” he said quietly. “You don’t have to let their deaths weigh on your soul.”

   “Not how a soul works, Spike,” she muttered. “You don’t pick and choose what weighs on it.”

   Spike knelt down behind her and reached out for her hair. She cringed away, and he stopped. “I want to get out of here, slayer,” he murmured. “I want you to get out of here. If that means I have to kill every single one of these sods, I’ll do it without remorse.”

   “Big surprise there!”

   “Will you listen to what I’m telling you?” he snapped. He lifted her chin and peered at her in the near darkness. “I’d do whatever I have to to keep you safe. I’ll do whatever it takes to get you free of this. If that means killing them, if that means breaking myself, if that means dusting. If I have any say in the matter, whatall it might take, I’m getting you out of this. And if I’m not, it’s not going to be for lack of trying. No matter how much you kick and scream over the morality of it, that’s where I’m standing right now. I l....” He managed not to say I love you. “I’ll not let the youngest member of the family face this on her own, got that?”

   Slayer frowned at him. “I thought you said family....”

   “Isn’t sexual, but it’s real,” Spike said. “Just ask your big sis Dru, she knew it.” He reached for her hair again, and this time she let him. “We’re in this together, slayer. I’m evil. You can be good. And yes, I’m gonna do whatever it takes. That might mean killing for you, but that’s all on me, not on you. Don’t take responsibility for the evil crap I pull, got that? I’m already evil. You already know that.”

   “But you are my responsibility,” Buffy said.

   “How do you figure?”

   “I let you go. That means everyone you kill... is my fault.”

   “We made a deal, slayer. Me and Dru for the world, that doesn’t make my victims yours.”

   “No,” she said. “Not just against Angel, not just for Acathla. I let you go after that, when you came up when Dru dumped you. And I... knew you were helpless at the factory. I could have killed you there, too.”

   “Slayer, if every vamp you don’t kill makes all their victims your fault forever after, you’d be going to hell for all eternity already.”

   She didn’t answer, and Spike stopped. He’d been dismissing what she was saying, but... no. That was exactly what she meant. And, he realized, she’d always felt that way. Even before she’d been turned. That meant everyone Angel had killed, everyone Drusilla had killed, probably most of the boys at the factory, and yes, every single one of Spike’s victims for the last two years, she felt them all on her soul without even knowing who they were. It was utter bollocks... but he also knew saying that wouldn’t help.

   “So what does it matter?” he asked instead.

   “What?”

   “If everyone who’s killed by everyone else is your victim... then why bother trying to be good?”

   “Because I can’t let myself make it worse,” she snapped.

   Spike tried to think of what he could say that would get her off this, and couldn’t. He just started talking, and hoped he’d know what he was saying when he was done saying it. “It’s already as bad as it could get,” he said. “It’s not your job to be responsible for the fate of the world. Even when you were the Slayer, which, by the way, was an impossible task even then. Now you’re dead, it should be someone else’s job, and you should be free to enjoy your unlife. Everyone I killed, everyone Angel killed, we’re to blame for those. I get that you still have the soul of a slayer, but just because Angel shoved that into you after he killed you doesn’t mean everyone he killed is your....”

   Spike stopped.

   “Oh, god, that wasn’t your fault, either, Buffy.”

   Buffy stared at him in the darkness, and then looked away. “Yeah, it is,” she said evenly. “I let him do it. I let him kill. And I could have slain him in the mall, and I let him go. Everyone he killed after that is on me. My teacher, Ms. Calendar. A bunch of my schoolmates. I let you go, and you killed the owner of the Magic Shop, and you kidnapped my friends, and that’s on me. And those are just the things I know about. Lives are precious, Spike. Losing them....” She shook her head. “I can’t just wash my hands and say it wasn’t me. I am the slayer. I’m supposed to stop it.”

   “You’re not the slayer anymore.”

   She shook her head. “I stabbed the current slayer in the stomach and sent her into a coma she’s probably never going to wake up from,” she said. “And that one really was me. There’s no one to take her place.” She shook her head. “Don’t try to talk sense to this one, Spike. You don’t have a soul, you couldn’t understand.”

   “Maybe,” he said. “But not having a soul seems to make this much more clear cut. You do what you do. I do what I do. What I do is mine, what you do is yours. I kill people and let them die. So I’m evil. You save lives and let people live. That’s some good mojo. So some of the people you saved or let live happened to be evil. That still leaves you as good, in my book.”

   “Your book is questionable, Spike,” she muttered.

   “Well, it’s some bloody awful poetry, but the binding is sound,” he said with a smirk.

   Buffy finally looked at him, amused. “Why would it be poetry?”

   “That would be telling.” He took a strand of her hair and pulled out his comb. “Here,” he said, sliding it through the tangled lock. “Let’s get you cleaned up a bit.”

   She pulled away. “Don’t...”

   “Please?”

   She closed her eyes and silently relaxed. Spike moved in closer and started combing out her hair in earnest, using his fingers to tame the worst snarls, gently holding the strands when a particularly stubborn knot refused to yield. Eventually she sighed, and even leaned back against him, which made the hair combing more difficult, but made the whole thing just fantastic.

   “Why do you do this?” she asked.

   “What do you mean?”

   “You’re evil. Why are you ever kind, to anyone?”

   “Because I want to be,” he said. “Trying to do nothing but evil twenty-four, seven sounds like work. I just do whatever I want, I don’t call it good or evil.” He ran his fingers down the strands he’d already combed out. Bloody hell, it was like petting watered silk. “Right now, I want this.”

   “I thought you just wanted to get your dark princess back.”

   Spike cringed, and sniffed at Buffy’s hair. God, she smelled good. “Dru’s gone, pet,” he said. You’re all covered with her. Why can’t you let her go? Dru knew. She knew. “I don’t need her back.”

   “Don’t you miss her?”

   “Always will,” he murmured. “Doesn’t mean we fit together any longer.”

   “But wasn’t she your sire, or something?” she asked. “That’s what Angel said. Doesn’t that make you, like... bound forever?”

   “At some level,” he said. “But... sometimes you have to just let go and move on.” He kissed Buffy’s temple and put his arms around her. He also knew she wasn’t really talking about Drusilla. “Dru knew that,” he said. God, did she. “And so did Angel.”

   “Doesn’t seem fair.”

   Spike squeezed Buffy tight. “I seem to remember Dru saying much the same thing when Angel walked out on us.”

   “But he had a reason, then. He got a soul, he couldn’t... be around you with you being evil.”

   “He tried for a while,” Spike said.

   Buffy turned her head. “He did?”

   Spike nodded. “He tried to pretend the soul wasn’t all that, and he went all kill happy with Darla and us again. It was... we’d missed him,” Spike said. “It was good to have him back. Dru and I were okay with his soul, but Darla... I guess she wasn’t. She had the Master and those Aurelians all in her head, you know? Evil was blood and breath to her. Drusilla... had a hard time understanding when he left again.” He shook his head. “Made her a mite estranged from her grandmum, too, losing Angel. She really went... down for a bit.”

   “Down?”

   “Crazier than usual,” Spike said. “It tore her up, losing her Daddy completely. I had to work hard to keep her centered.”

   Buffy shifted completely around in his arms and looked at him in the darkness. “Like that,” she said. “Why did you care about her? How could you without a soul?”

   “How come he didn’t with one?” Spike asked. “He abandoned her, just like he abandoned you. And for the same reason, I think. Couldn’t stand feeling.” He leaned forward to whisper against her lips. “I love feeling, slayer. Even feeling bad.... Especially feeling bad....” He opened his mouth to kiss her, but didn’t get much of a chance before the lights flared on with an electrical thrum.

   “Uh-oh,” Spike said. He slid the comb back into his pocket and he and Buffy abandoned each other, falling into defensive stance.

   “Uh-oh is right,” Slayer said as the secured door above their heads opened up.

   Sure enough, there was a growl, and a squeal, and then something nasty came leaping out from above them.

   

Chapter 11 by Sigyn

   

   Slayer quickly lifted the paw of the beast to help Spike out from under it. “Hurry up! Flames will start any second!”

   “I know!” Spike snarled. “Damn thing’s caught on my boot.”

   Slayer reached under to disconnect the scales from Spike’s bootlaces and get him away from the beast’s carcass before the clean up crew showed up. The clean up crew was a set of flamethrowers on nozzles that came down and aimed at whatever beast or demon they’d managed to kill.

   “Help me,” Slayer said, grabbing at the claws of the creature which had attacked them, which seemed to be part serpent, part wildcat, bigger than either of them, and gave them both fierce headaches whenever it looked straight at them. This had been their hardest battle yet, but Slayer was determined to get something out of it before the carcass was eradicated, and they had to hide in the corner.  

   Spike and Slayer had quite the collection of weapons now, whether that had been the intent of their captors or not. The claws had seemed the sharpest when Slayer had been caught by one.

   “The claws are useless,” Spike said, giving the head a kick with his combat boot. “Here, help me get the fangs out of this madcoil.” One of the five inch long incisors popped bloodily out of the beast’s mouth, and Slayer reached forward to wrench at the other one. It had just popped out in her hand when the flaming hose came forward from the ceiling, and made a threatening gesture in her direction.

   Slayer glared up at the observation deck above them. The glass was tinted, so all they saw were shadowy figures at desks, but they were clearly there, and clearly watching them. Spike looked up too, threw yet another rude gesture at them (some kind of inverted peace sign. Slayer still hadn’t gotten around to asking what it meant, and didn’t really care. Clearly it wasn’t friendly), and raised his coat. Slayer ducked under it, and they went to the corner furthest from the monster.

   “You okay?” Spike asked, assessing her injuries under the sound of the flame thrower. Slayer could feel the heat, but they weren’t trying to burn their subjects. Just the beasts they were testing them with, to clear the arena for the next combatant. After the flamethrowers came the showers.... Slayer glanced at Spike, but tried not to think about those.

   “Scratched me a good one,” Slayer said, showing him her shoulder.

   Spike hissed, and then licked at the wound, catching up the blood with his tongue. It seemed selfish, but Slayer had insisted. Neither of them were to waste any blood if they could. Slayer closed her eyes at the feel of his cool tongue against the pain. “Looks like it’ll heal,” he said when he was finished.

   “You get anything when you bit it?”

   “Few swallows. Not a lot. Here.” He handed her the fang in his hand. The top was still stained red. Slayer had stopped being finicky a day or so ago. She popped the fang into her mouth and sucked off the strange blood mix of feline and reptile. Barely wet her mouth, but she’d take every drop she could suck, even when it was also covered in beast slobber.

   The flames roared behind them, and Spike glared up at the observation deck. “Oi! We’re flammable over here!” he announced, and the hose actually did change angles. Spike rolled his eyes. “Nice to see they care.”

   The two of them spent the rest of the burning trying to figure out the best way of using the fangs. As a very rough shiv seemed to be the easiest, and the best thing was, they each got one. Slayer slid hers into her jacket pocket, and Spike shoved his into his jeans, where it sat nicely with the heavy sap he’d made out of a bunch of iron teeth (why that one demon had had iron teeth, Slayer would never know) and some other creature’s... she’d thought bladder, but she’d actually looked away as he’d extracted it, though she’d sucked the blood off it when he’d offered without a qualm. They really were getting desperate.

   Slayer had the straps from their original imprisonment, twisted around her wrists to use as garrotes or restraints, and had also claimed the plastic stake that Rat had been supplied with when they’d dropped him in on them. Somehow their captors had seemed to think that he might join forces with them or something. Nope. Spike had overpowered him in an instant, and Slayer had taken the stake from him and stabbed him in the heart. It had come as a disappointment to both Spike and Slayer when it turned out the stake was only plastic woodgrain, and Rat was still infesting their new cell. Finally Slayer had ripped the annoying fledge’s head off, and that had ultimately put an end to his prattling.

   That one had dusted, of course, and was easy to clean up. Not so all the other beasts that had been thrown at them.

   “Are they ever going to get tired of this?” Slayer asked as the flames started to die down. Seemed like this one was going to leave bones. They were going to be tripping over them, unless she and Spike chose to crush them and drop the splinters atop the drain, waiting to be washed down the next time they turned the hoses on them. Shame the fire made bones brittle as all hell, and useless for clubs.

   Despite the fans whirring in the ceiling, the place stank of burned hair and smoke.

   “Dunno,” Spike said. “But it’s pretty clear they could kill us any time they wanted.”

   Slayer watched the fire hoses slide back up to their place in the ceiling, the wire that controlled them wheeling up along with them. They didn’t dare grab at them when they could burn them, which was a real shame. That wire could have made some really great weaponry. She glanced back at Spike, and then glanced away again. He was stripping again. “Do you really have to do this?”

   “You know it’s better if you do it, too,” Spike said.

   He was right, of course. Slayer groaned. She had a love-hate relationship with this part of the routine. She loved getting the slime and scum and whatever off her after the fights. She wished she wasn’t parading around for the benefit of whoever was on the observation platform. And Spike’s exhibitionist tendencies didn’t help. They didn’t help anything.

    Slayer lifted her shirt and bra over her head, and slid off her jeans, always careful to keep her back to Spike. So far, he’d been a gentleman about this... or at least if he hadn’t been he’d been keeping that fact to himself. She’d tried leaving her underwear on one time, and declared never again, as the clammy wetness had made her feel like she’d peed herself for a full day.

   Spike’s coat was fairly water resistant, and he’d put it in the corner that tended to stay the driest. Slayer folded up her clothes and put them on his, carefully folding the coat over the top to keep them dry. Sure enough, the water started, making the burning ash and bones of the madcoil hiss, as if it were still alive. Spike was standing stark naked, and beautiful with it (and god, he had to know it, too) baring his chest to the water. It made his hair curl up like a fluffy little poodle. Slayer loved watching it dry like that, even though he usually took the comb and tried to paste it flat to his head after every forced shower. She’d discovered that with just one or two passes of her fingers through his hair before it dried fully it would sproing up again, and he usually wouldn’t notice.

   It was the little things that mattered in this place. Cute Spike was…. Yeah. She loved his sproingy curls.

   Slayer slid herself into the water and tried to cup it into her hands, getting herself as clean as she could without exposing herself.

   And suddenly found herself grabbed. “I’m getting bloody sick of this, slayer,” Spike said, whirling her around to face him. “It’s your body. Stop being ashamed of it and get it clean already.” He shoved her into the strongest spray and stood behind her, encouraging her to hold her arms out like he always did, exposing himself.

   “They–”

   “Don’t matter,” he said into her ear. “Only you matter. It’s your body, dead or not. Own it.”

   Was it her body? It had never felt like hers. She had been a child, and before she’d even had a taste of being more than that, her body had been taken over by the power of a slayer, and a calling to save the world. Then she’d tried to give it to Angel, only to have it rejected and belittled. Then he had gone, and it had only felt like a prison, until she had been ripped from it by blood loss and death. Then it had been forced into the shape and desires of a demon, and it felt even less hers than it had ever been.

   But here Spike was saying it was hers.

   “Feel that water, slayer,” he said. “There’s precious few good feelings in this hell hole. Take this one.”

   Slayer closed her eyes and turned her face up to the water. It was cold, but she was a vampire now, and cold didn’t worry her. Tiny little hands, caressing her nude body... and Spike behind her, his hands on her shoulders... sliding down her back... along her waist... her hips... and he stopped there, to her surprise, but this was the first time he’d touched more than her hand while they were naked like this. She stepped backwards — had she meant to? Some part of her felt like she’d meant to — and stepped into him, and oh, god, there he was. Naked Spike, against her, his chest and his hips and that, that against her buttocks was definitely his cock. It twitched against her, and she shivered.

   “That’s right, slayer,” Spike whispered in her ear. “You wash yourself clean.” His tone of voice was anything but.

   The water shut off, and the lights shut down. The two gave a sigh of relief. “They’re done for the night.”

   “Thank god,” Slayer muttered. She shook herself to get slightly dry, and they headed to the driest corner to rest.

   She didn’t feel like trying to force all her clothes on over her wet body, but Spike had already offered her his t-shirt for times like this. She pulled it out of the almost-dry bundle of leather coat and slipped it on. Spike wasn’t very tall, and he liked his clothes tight, so the shirt didn’t cover her effectively or anything, but she sat down on the coat and flipped part of it over her legs as Spike perched on his jeans to dry off. The guy had no modesty. At all. Slayer had learned not to look.

   Except when she wanted to.

   She... sort of wanted to tonight.

   “They’re getting harder to fight,” she said, leaning against the wall.

   “Yeah. They are.” He regarded her. “You hungry?”

   “Always,” she said. “But I’ll be fine until tomorrow I think. Thanks, though.”

   “Just checking.”

   “You can’t keep giving me your blood.”

   “I can, and I will.”

   Slayer rolled her eyes. “You’d think if they were so damn interested in us they’d feed us properly!”

   “They don’t know what they have, pet. That’s obvious. That’s why they’re testing us.”

   “What do you think they’ve found out?”

   “That we fight well together, and we hold no loyalty toward rats like that fledge,” Spike said. “No doubt they’ll test something else soon. Unless this really is just an arena, and someone’s waiting for us to fail.”

   Slayer shook her head. “No. It’s too scientific. This isn’t just someone getting their jollies.” Then she paused. “It might be that too, but whoever it is would be framing it like it was a research project. They wouldn’t be able to accept it easily, if they admitted it was just their kink.”

   “You got human nature down pat, pet.”

   “That’s ‘cause I am one,” Slayer said. “Or a human soul, anyway.”

   There was a heavy pause. Slayer finally looked up. Spike was regarding her with a curious expression.

   “What?”

   “So how the hell does this work, anyway? You’ll go all soulless if you shag anyone at all?”

   “Now?” Slayer asked. “You’re bringing this up now?”

   “You mentioned kinks, and the soul, it got me thinking,” Spike said, and Slayer rolled her eyes.

   “So, no sex or you go soulless.”

   “That’s what I understand.”

   “That’s a damn fragile curse,” he pointed out. “I mean, hell, what if you get raped? That count?”

   Slayer glared at him. “Whatever you’re think–”

   “Not that,” Spike said. “I’m not looking to have my spine severed this evening, thank you very much. I’m just curious as to the mechanics of it. I’d heard that curse was some major gypsy mojo. You’d think it wouldn’t be that finicky.”

   “I don’t know. That’s just how it’s supposed to work. No sexytimes for the soulful.”

   “And, like I said,” Spike said. “What if someone forced it on you?”

   “With my strength?”

   “There are drugs,” Spike said. “You were zapped out of it just like I was. Sorry if it sounds like I’m harping on it, Slayer, but it doesn’t make sense it’s that fragile.”

   Slayer hadn’t thought about it before. “I don’t think rape would count,” she finally said. “I think I’d have to enjoy it.”

   “Why enjoy it?”

   “The clause is something... I think the word in the curse translated as happiness? Like... I think I’d have to... well. You know. While it was happening.”

   Spike was looking at her as if she’d just grown radishes for ears. “Orgasm?” he said very slowly and distinctly.

   Why, when he said it, did it not sound stupid? There were words she had never learned to say easily, even with just Willow to hear, and that was one of them. She wondered if the bashfulness would still be there if the soul wasn’t. “Uh. Yeah.”

   “So?”

   He still looked genuinely confused. “So, what?”

   “So why does that mean a rape couldn’t do it?”

   “Well, it’s not like anyone enjoys rape,” Slayer snapped.

   “No, but your body doesn’t know that.”

   “Yeah it does!” She was getting increasingly uncomfortable with this line of questioning, and he still looked relaxed and cool as a god damn cucumber. While sitting there naked, no less.

   “Trust me, pet, your genitals have no idea if your head’s agreeing to what the hell’s going on. Fiddle with them enough and they’ll swell up and burst pleasure on you even if you’re screaming to the skies for it to stop.”

   “That’s not true.”

   Spike just stared at her, his face deadly serious. “Yes. It is.”

   “Oh, g–” A cold chill passed through her already chilled body. “Please, just stop.”

   Terrible visions of horrors were going through her head. God, she’d been snuggling with that evil fiend. She’d been kissing him. She’d wanted him! She had all but been dancing naked with him in the middle of the room with a burned carcass. And here he was talking about... women... screaming at the skies for it to stop....

   “I’m just trying to figure out if–”

   “Shut up!” she snapped. “I didn’t ask to hear about all the victims you’d raped, Spike!”

   Spike was quiet for a long moment, and Slayer thought he was chagrined, or at least knew to keep his mouth shut even in his evil contempt. But when she glanced back him, expecting dismissal, he was staring at her with a fury that actually made her cringe. “They weren’t who I was talking about, but yeah. Let's go with them.”

   “Ugh.” Slayer turned her head away again and half covered one ear. “I don’t want to hear it.” Or ever touch him again, now that the subject had come up. She suddenly wanted his shirt off, and his coat off her skin, but that would uncover her, and she didn’t want that to happen, either.

   “Oh, no, you’re the one said I was wrong,” Spike snapped. “Let me tell you in great detail how that works. Angelus taught me.”

   Slayer looked up. She hadn’t realized that was the dark forest he was addressing.

   “That was his favorite game. Make ‘em scream. Not that he ever had the patience to do it right, when it was right. Spend time even with his precious Darla, she always had to take what she wanted first. But whenever it happened to his victims, oh, he loved that. See, some women,” he said. “Some get real flushed when they’re forced. They’re more likely to come, because their blood’s running so hot with terror. He loved that about them. He’d try to pick them out, he’d go on about exactly what it was in their scent which indicated they’d be ones to scream out the other way when he was puttin’ it to ‘em. See, he said. Get them to scream in terror, then in pleasure, then in agony. As many screams as you can get. Oh, Angelus loved his screaming.”

   Slayer wished he’d shut up, but she couldn’t make herself shout at him. Some part of her was, to her own horror, fascinated. Both for herself and for any potential victim, the idea made her insides almost feel warm, and the demon in her was hissing yesssssss! But the soul, the memories of Buffy, that, of course, was disgusted. The warring impulses seemed to hold her rigid.

   “And see, if he’d done more than one that night? If he was properly satisfied? Then, well, then sometimes he’d hold back. Then he’d play with them more. Make them scream with his hands and his tongue, even when they were so blitzed out with the bite they couldn’t move to fight anymore. And then, if he’d had enough? He’d call me over. Come on over, Willy. Let’s see what you can do with her. I knew I didn’t dare say no, ‘cause he’d do what he wanted with me if I didn’t.”

   Slayer could have been a block of stone, and she would have been more capable of movement. All she could do was stare at him, as his words drilled deeper.

   “Not that I didn’t learn to enjoy it. I’m evil, after all. Evil is as evil does. ‘Course my first impulse was to save my body for my dark goddess Drusilla, but Angel had other plans for that, you know? Like taking her, and me, and setting us both on to take others while he made us watch. ‘Cause it was all so funny, my quaint little human idea of staying loyal. You know, that was sodding hilarious, to think she and I were any kind of exclusive. That she might be my destiny. That she might be mine at all. Hell, that I might be mine, still. No. Had to train that thought out of me, through example and then through careful tutelage. Him and Darla both. And if it doesn’t take? Well, there are ways to make sure I know my body isn’t mine any longer. Mouths, hands, more weeping victims. He liked little blonde girls, around sixteen. He said they came the easiest. You wanna hear how we made them scream, pet? A blow by blow, as it were?” His eyes narrowed as his glare sharpened. “He taught me right well.”

   “He... didn’t have a soul then,” Slayer said, trying like hell to believe that was it. Since her own soul hadn’t made her a completely different being, since she still had all the impulses and desires of a demon but just knew better... the words tasted like ashes.

   “For some of it, he did,” Spike said. He raised his eyebrow. “He ever brag to you about what a libertine he was before he was turned?”

   Slayer looked up. “What?”

   Spike shrugged, “Could have all been lies, but he used to boast of how he’d put it to his father’s serving girls, and threaten to get them sacked if they refused him. Whatever you’re thinking of me, pet, you go ahead and think it, but don’t you stroll off with contempt for me and respect for that rape-happy bastard what killed you with your eyes shut, in cold blood.”

   The images Spike had painted in her mind were not what she had been thinking. And yeah, what she had been thinking – Spike the attacker – had probably happened, too. A hundred years of evil... she’d had horrifying impulses in just the last six months, even about Xander and Willow, even a few times about her mother. Without the soul to control those impulses, she had no doubt Spike had given in to them. But what he was describing wasn’t a feral dog set loose on a bunch of sheep. It was a carefully trained attack hound, set to kill by a Nazi or something. A Nazi with a whip in his hand.

   All those people. All those girls, all those victims. And yes, Drusilla and Spike along with them. And Slayer – no, Buffy. Buffy suddenly felt like one of them. Just one more in a line of Angelus’s victims, caught in his webs. How in the hell had she let herself fall for him? How? Why? Why had she bared her throat? He couldn’t even show kindness to his own damn lineage. Some part of her wanted to get up off the floor, cross over to Spike, and crawl into his lap. She still wanted him to shut up, but her lips, they could shut him up. She could kiss him quiet, and then his arms could bleed this feeling away, and then she wouldn’t have to feel this way anymore. About herself, about Angel, about him....

   “I’m sorry, pigeon,” Spike said from over the way. She realized she’d buried her head in her hands, but didn’t know if she was crying or not. She was just... lost. “I’m a bad, rude man. You got my back up is all.”

   He apologized so easily.... She looked up. His face was earnest, and his tone was so damn gentle. “Is that true?”

   Spike shook his head, what?

   “That you just wanted to stay loyal to Dru? That you didn’t want...?”

   He regarded her for a long moment, and then smiled ruefully. “I was gleefully eating people, pet, and thought their screams were funny. I’m not trying to play the innocent here. But no. Learning to add rape to my slaughter wasn’t my kink, that was Angel’s. Dunno if I’d ever have done it at all if he hadn’t pushed me into it.”

   “Pushed you? How...?”

   “You want to run the gamut from school-boy egging on to flat out torture, and you’d probably hit every point. But I’m really not claiming to be innocent. Once he taught me, it stuck for a while.”

   “For a while?”

   He nodded.

   “How long?”

   “Does it matter?”

   “Just... do you still... I mean what is that you... do... like, or... not?”

   Spike got a strange expression on his face, and then he shifted. Very slowly he crawled along the floor, moving to a position just in front of her, perched atop the edge of the coat that wasn’t thrown over her legs. How, she wondered, in the hell, she continued, did he manage to make that look so... damn... sexy? “Slayer?” he whispered when he had crept just a few inches from her. “You want to know how big bad I am?”

   She swallowed.

   “You wanna know my kinks? My likes and my turn-offs? Is this the new Twenty Questions?”

   “Um... yeah. I mean no. I mean... I....”

   “Don’t even know enough to ask, do you,” Spike said. “All right. Make a start. I’ll fill in the edges.”

   “Torture,” Slayer said quickly.

   “What of it?”

   “Is it fun?”

   He scoffed. “Find it boring.”

   That wasn’t actually the answer she had been either expecting, or hoping for. She’d expected him to say it was a lark, or something else with his Spikey turn of phrase. She’d been half hoping he’d say he was disgusted by it. Boring was neither, and was somehow both heartening and disturbing. “Boring?”

   He shrugged. “It takes so long, and it’ll go on for sodding ever if you’re doing it right. I hate it.”

   “But you’ll do it.”

   He shrugged. “When I’ve got to.”

   “To get information?”

   He shook his head. “Doesn’t work real well for information, you tend to get a lot of lies.”

   “Well, why would you have to torture?”

   Spike’s head cocked, and he gave a small smile, which disturbed Slayer, as she couldn’t figure out if it was amused or some other emotion. “Dru liked it.”

   “She liked when you tortured people?”

   “And her. I think I may have mentioned that at one point. Dru couldn’t love anyone who couldn’t torture her right. Another little legacy of Angelus.” He grinned. “Your turn. What do you think of it?”

   “Torture?”

   “Yeah.”

   “God, Spike. You’re such a–”

   “Don’t parrot the pig line, just answer. Do you like to torture? Someone who deserves it, say. The real evil sods like me.”

   “I don’t know,” Slayer said, glad she couldn’t blush. The truth was, she had been considering learning some torture methods lately, just... you know. For the education of it. Not because studying the evil of it sounded like some kind of fun. “I... shouldn’t indulge that kind of thing.”

   Spike smiled. “No. You probably shouldn’t. All right. My turn to pick a question. Do you like pain?”

   “I don’t understand.”

   “Do you enjoy feeling pain sometimes?” he asked. “Not here, this place is awful. But when you’re free. When you go out at night and fight down those newborns. When you have a knock down-drag-out with Angel’s boys – and I know you do, you gotta keep them in line somehow. When you do that, and one of them gets in a good blow. Does that give you a rush, or just make you want to heave?”

   God, if vampires didn’t blush, did they spontaneously combust or something? She could feel her skin wanting to flush, but her blood didn’t work the way it did when a heart ran her blood vessels. “Um... I guess... um. I....”

   He had such a damn smirk on his face.

   “Yes, all right? I was a slayer, pain’s part of the calling. I’d bet we’re all like that. I know Faith was.”

   Spike’s smirk had gone from smug to simply satisfied.

   “All right, you?”

   “Love it,” he said. “Within reason, o’ course.”

   “Of course.”

   His smile sparkled in his eyes. “I know how to take it, too. As much as anyone could dish out. Bleed any impulse you want away in me....”

   Slayer swallowed. The idea of scratching her nails down his chest as he moaned with pleasure at the pain.... She shuddered. God, would she have felt this way if she hadn’t been made into a demon first? She was a sick, sick, bloodthirsty demon woman, and... she really wanted to carve his chest open suddenly... within reason.

   “Um. My turn.”

   Spike nodded.

   “Why do you hunt slayers?”

   Spike shrugged. “Got sick of fights I knew I was going to win.”

   “Bored again?”

   “Something like that. Back at you. Why’d you go after the big bads?”

   Slayer didn’t really have an answer. “It was a calling when I was still human. Slayer. The big fights were part and parcel, part of just... being a slayer. I had an impulse for it. Like a vampire does for the hunt. Just my nature.”

   “But not anymore?”

   The truth was, she’d been so depressed and confused lately, (pre prison, of course) the idea of facing anything stronger than her hadn’t appealed. Getting up and getting dressed had been too hard, let alone thinking about finding a bigger badder baddie and doing epic battle. “Haven’t really thought about it.”

   Spike rolled his eyes, and then shook his head. “Fine. My turn?” She nodded. “Why do you lie so much?”

   “What?”

   “Why do you lie? You lie to yourself, you lie to me, you lie to your friends, and your mum, and the newborns, and Angel, and probably your watcher, why do you do it?”

   Slayer wanted to get indignant and say she didn’t, but clearly they both knew she did. She opened her mouth a moment, and then finally the words formed. “My dad. He used to lie all the time. He’d get in trouble, and he’d lie to mom. I think... I think he was cheating on her. And he lied about that. Sometimes I wondered if he was lying about whether or not he loved me, even. Cause… I’ve been turned six months now? And… he doesn’t even know. He hasn’t asked… and he hasn’t called. And I haven’t called him, and… that hasn’t bothered him. So. The question of whether or not he’d care if I was alive or dead has… kinda been answered. But if I asked, I’d rather he said he loved me, even if it was a lie.” Spike was regarding her with his expression soft. “It’s just… it’s easier to paint the world how you want it, and then... fake it till you make it, you know? You lie about being happy enough, eventually... maybe you will be.”

   Spike frowned at her as he thought about this. “Yeah, I guess I can see that.”

   “And your lies?”

   “I don’t lie,” Spike said. “Oh, I will, if I need to, but honestly, the truth is ever so much more fun.”

   “I guess it’s my turn.” She had to get this out of the way. It was too ugly, and it had already been dropped out on the table. She wanted it cleared away, one way or another. “You were talking about rape.”

   The amused spark in Spike’s eyes quickly died. “What of it?”

   “Do you rape your victims?”

   “I have in the past.”

   “Why’d you stop?”

   “I wasn’t actually enjoying it as much as I thought I should. Since rape would be, by definition, all about my pleasure, it seemed a waste of time.”

   “Why... I mean... why didn’t it...?” God, this was hard.

   “Why didn’t I like it?”

   Slayer nodded, unable to look at him.

   “I like being wanted,” Spike said. “Or I like to get my rush in and get it over with. So my victims get seduced to a corner and bitten until they swoon to death in my arms. Or they’re grabbed and crunched like the playthings they are. But if I’m going to bed someone, I sort of want them there with me. And I know it’s old fashioned, but... I don’t really fancy carrying on away from my lady. ‘Cause I don’t much fancy her carrying on without me.”

   “When did you stop...?”

   “That’s telling, slayer,” Spike said. “It’s been decades since I’ve bothered with that bollocks. Longer’n you’ve been alive, lots longer than you’ve been dead. Satisfied?”

   Strangely, she was. Maybe if she wasn’t a demon she wouldn’t find that half-assed, unabashed dismissal of his past horrors as touching as she did. But she had a soul, and that made her feel the idea of taking someone by force horrific. Spike did not... and he still didn’t like it. That seemed... almost sweet, at some strange level.

   “Now. Back at you,” he said.

   “Of course I haven’t.”

   He still had a look of slight triumph on his face. “Ever wanted to?”

   Slayer stared at him. “Why...?”

   “Even in fantasy. Even if you’d never do it. Ever wanted to? Or, here, both sides. Ever fantasized doing it to someone, or someone doing it to you?”

   Slayer’s hand clenched. Because she’d never admit it, but of course she had. She’d spent the six months after she lost her virginity with Angel soulless and slaughtering the town. Any fantasy she had of the man had instantly turned into some kind of horrific rape, because she wouldn’t let such a creature touch her voluntarily. And that didn’t stop her from being seventeen and horny and in love with the man who had turned completely evil on her. So some of those horrible images hadn’t been so horrible, at some deep, dark part of her psyche she wished she could just slice out and stake.

   And then, then he’d come back with a soul, and still in love with her, and it had grown even worse. Because then they’d wanted each other, but they both knew the cost of saying yes. So her fantasies had grown even more heady, as he pushed himself at her softly and lovingly, and yet with all intensity, as she, of course, said no, because she had to say no. And yes, flipside, she had envisioned just holding him down and taking what she wanted of him. Because young, horny, in love, hot boyfriend who wouldn’t touch her. She’d fantasized a lot of really iffy things that she didn’t want to admit to anyone, including herself, let alone Spike. And that was all before she’d been turned.

   After a long moment, Spike’s voice came to her very soft. “I’ll accept a simple yes or no. I don’t need details.”

   “Yes,” she said shortly.

   “All right,” Spike said. “I think it’s my turn to ask the question now.”

   Slayer was dreading it.

   “You want me to hold you right now, and kiss your temple, and take all these questions away?”

   Slayer closed her eyes. “Yes.” When he didn’t move, she opened them. “Is that what you want?”

   “Yes.”

   “Then I guess we’ve both answered that.”

   Spike opened his arms, and Slayer crawled the small distance along the coat to curl in between them, and Spike wrapped himself around her and held his lips to her hairline. He felt cool and still damp, but his skin was soft and his arms were hard, and it was so nice to just… be there. “I think,” he whispered between little kisses, “that soul or not, we’ve more in common than you know.”

   Slayer looked up. “I don’t want to think,” she whispered, and she closed her lips against his. Oh, yeah, this. Because Spike’s kisses could make the whole world disappear, let alone history and questions and all of the horrible, horrible truth.

Chapter 12 by Sigyn

   What does she want of me?

   It wasn’t the first time Spike had asked himself that question. Over and over again, What does she want, what is she after, how does she feel... about me?

   It was terrible timing, of course. Worst possible time and place to fall in love, which, knowing Spike’s luck, was bloody typical. In a hell pit fighting random demons when he had no access to romantic poetry, (except potentially some of his own, but... ha! No.) no jewelry, no kill he could lay at her feet, save all the demons they were slaughtering, which were not romantic gifts, but instead usually slime ridden corpses their very survival hinged upon. He shouldn’t’ve even been thinking on any of this, just survival. But Spike’s heart had always been an elusive and impetuous creature, and it had decided, Now!

   But of course, talking about it all right now seemed... stupid, given the circumstances. So he had no way of knowing how she actually felt about him.

   He couldn’t tell from her behavior. She’d go from desperately seeking his arms to shoving him away; from nervously and almost shamefacedly feeding on his blood to boldly and without embarrassment offering hers; from kissing him to punching him, sometimes all within an hour. And tonight — assuming lightless meant night — things had gone deeper. They hadn’t done much kissing or snuggling after the showers before. Fully clothed bedtime snuggles only, and their kisses were... pervasive, but few and far between. Neither of them felt exactly romantic, but they did want to cling to each other. But they’d never done it in that state of undress before....

   Granted, they’d only been in this hellhole for about a week, and they’d only been in the arena for about four days, so this was only the third shower where they knew the drill and were able to predict the best use of the opportunity. Still and all... bloody hell, but Buffy made a beautiful demoness. Her skin, her body, her hair, her shape, the way she moved... he was almost ashamed of himself for thinking how she put Drusilla to shame. Even as a demon, Buffy was golden and vibrant, a sunlight of a creature, compared to Dru’s moonlight of ethereal pale darkness.

   She felt bloody wonderful in his arms.

   Spike wasn’t good at being alone. He’d done it for the last year, several months of it spent drunk and chasing after Drusilla, either her memory or her in reality. He’d given up, tried to live on his own, and then gave that up too, and decided to go after the Gem of Amara. Because he hadn’t been able to get either the Slayer or Dru out of his head, and he’d had some idea that if he got the two thoughts together — dead slayer, gift to Dru — maybe things would work.

   Now the slayer was dead, but he wasn’t going to be bringing her head to Drusilla any time soon, and Drusilla was still in his thoughts, but not the way she had been. He wasn’t pining for her. He was just reminded of her. Because once again he found himself in the arms of, and trying desperately to care for, one of Angel’s girls. A wounded vampiress who had been utterly torn up at the hands of her sire, abandoned at the worst possible moment.

   Only unlike Drusilla, Buffy was clever and cagey and undeniably present every single moment she was with Spike. True, Angel was between them, like he had been between him and Dru. But he could deal with that.

   Or he thought he could. Until Buffy raised the stakes.

   When they’d finally stopped their kissing and gotten dressed after their dark, intense version of Twenty Questions, Buffy had been soft and subdued, and she hadn’t seemed to want to give back his shirt. She kept not getting around to taking it off, so he settled down to sleep in just his jeans, without asking for it. She had snuggled up beside him still wearing his black cotton, as opposed to her pretty (but now stained and creased) spaghetti strap camisole.

   She’d put her head on his bare chest and started drawing little nonsense patterns on his skin with her fingernail. No, not carving him open as Drusilla would have been doing, but varying from light to heavy and back again, gentle to beautifully painful, over and over again.

   And he was hard pressed not to tell her how he felt.

   Finally her hands had stilled. Her eyes closed. Her breathing deepened. And it wasn’t until he was quite certain she was asleep that he whispered into her still damp hair, “God, I love you, slayer.”

   It was as if he’d let off a bomb. Suddenly Buffy was up on her hand, glaring down at him as if he’d just confessed he’d eaten her mother or something. “Shut up!” she snarled. “Shut up, no you don’t!”

   Spike didn’t know what to say. He’d mostly been talking to himself, the words he’d been whispering in the darkness for days. He’d thought she was out. “I....”

   “Stop it!”

   Spike reached for her cheek, to try and... he wasn’t sure. Calm her? Explain? But she didn’t give him a chance. She grabbed his arm and shoved it backwards, and then his other one, holding his wrists up above his head on the cold concrete, and suddenly she was kissing him again. Hard. Hard enough it felt like he was about to be ripped through, as if she were trying to devour his teeth or something. “Buffy...” he whispered when she released his mouth.

   “Shut up,” she hissed. “Shut up, shut up.” She released his wrists, grabbing at his throat with one hand, and she reached down, scrabbling at his jeans.

   He almost didn’t want to believe what she was about until he heard his zipper, and then she had his cock tight in her hand, and she wasn’t about to stop until she got what she was reaching for. He stared up into her eyes in the dim light, wanting to whisper to her, wanting to make this something other than what it was, but she wasn’t after loving, touching eroticism. This was sheer carnal knowledge, of him, and only him.

   Spike came with little more than a grunt, and quickly, because frankly the idea of the slayer with her hand around his staff was the most erotic thing he’d experienced in years. Even though this wasn’t….

   “Is that what you wanted?” Slayer snapped at him when she was done. Her voice was very soft, but it was sharp as razor blades. “Was it?” She squeezed him again, and he groaned, because yes, it felt good, and yeah, he definitely wanted her, but no, this wasn’t quite how he was wanting it to go. What was wrong? She released his throat and threw herself off him, striding across the arena, kicking brittle bones as she went. The skull of the madcoil collided with the wall and shattered into fragments. Spike sat up to watch her, and she went across the room and leaned her head against the wall.

   Such a perfect portrait of despair Spike had never seen.

   He let the silence settle like the burned bones and then finally got to his feet, zipping his jeans as he went to her.

   “Please, just leave me alone,” she whispered when he came up behind her.

   “No.”

   She sagged a little, as if more resigned than disappointed. She hadn’t expected him to listen.

   “What was that, slayer?”

   “Don’t play games, Spike,” she said. “You’re a mindless, evil, thing. You don’t know what feelings are, you just know what you want.” She shook her head. “Don’t make up stories because you want to get laid.”

   Spike wanted to be offended, but he was almost too shocked for it. “You think that’s all that was?” he said, wanting it to sound indignant. Instead it was monotone, almost dreamlike. “You’re just like me, slayer. You know I can feel. We’re the same, dammit.”

   “You don’t have a soul.”

   “And you already know that doesn’t mean as much as Angel made it out to,” he said. “You’ve been both, souled and not, you must have been. Wasn’t there a moment after you first rose, before they shoved that thing in you? What were you then? An empty thing that couldn’t feel? That’s bollocks, and you know it.” His anger was finally catching up through the shock. “I wasn’t trying to get into your knickers, or get you into mine. I wasn’t even talking to you, I thought you were asleep, you ruddy bitch.”

   Buffy finally turned away from the wall. “That wasn’t what you wanted?”

   “It was, but not if it’s caused this! I was right as rain with your kisses and your arms and keeping each other alive in this hell hole! Did you hear me pushing for more?”

   “Why not?” Buffy snarled. She advanced on him, and Spike found himself taking a step back. “Why not? Why didn’t you want more? Why didn’t you demand it? Why can’t you be evil, for god’s sake, if you’re going to be evil!”

   Spike grabbed at her. “Because that’s not what you want,” he snarled into her face.

   “Yes, it is!” Buffy yelled.

   He frowned at her. “You want to be evil?”

   “I want you to be!” she yelled. “I want you to want more, I want you to push me, I want to have to fight you off!”

   “Why?”

   “Because it would be easier!” She cringed and her arms went up to hug herself. “Why can’t you want what I want?” she muttered to herself. “Why doesn’t anyone ever want what I want?”

   Spike cocked his head at her, searching her face. “What is it you want, slayer?”

   “More,” she moaned, and cringed into herself, too deep into despair even for tears.

   Spike regarded her for a moment, then made a decision. He kissed her. She was passive against his lips, but not unwelcoming. He lifted her, pushed her up against the wall, kissed her hard and then harder, and she let him, tilting her head back as he went for her throat, melting under him.

   When his hands went for her jeans, she hissed, life returning to her eyes, panicked. “No.”

   “Stop me,” he said quietly. He wasn’t reaching for her zipper. He could do all he wanted without it.

   When she did stop him, her hand catching his, he did stop. He went still and gazed into her eyes. “Has it scarpered off when you’ve done it for yourself?” he asked quietly. After a moment’s silence he added, “Don’t pretend you don’t.”

   Of course this woman, so in tune with her body and tortured for god-alone-knew-how-long by having a celibate boyfriend had to have indulged. After another moment, she shook her head. No. That hadn’t had an effect on her soul.

   “So do it yourself,” he said, heady. He pushed her harder against the wall, and turned his hand so hers was against the seam of her jeans. “Do it yourself.”

   Buffy closed her eyes, taking in a breath, and then she let her hand move, grunting and moving under his weight. “That’s right, pet,” he whispered, joining her, making his hand firm, twisting into her fingers, rocking against her body. “Yeah. That’s it, feel it.”

   He could feel her coming underneath him, hear it in her breathing, see it in the tension in her face. He flexed his whole body against her and as she came with a guttural grunt he whispered into her ear, “And I love you, slayer. Deal with it.” Then he pushed against her one more time, making the grunt turn into a soft cry.

   Buffy panted, staring at him when she was done, and he took a quarter step back, letting her down from the wall. He wasn’t sure if she was going to kiss him or kill him at the look in her eyes. They were fixed on him, glittering, unblinking, heavy as stone.

   He was trying hard not to pinch his toes against the concrete and ask if she was mad at him when she took his hand and walked backwards across the arena, back to their dry corner and his coat. When they got there she sat down, pulling him with her, and kissed him, gently. “Do it again,” she whispered. She lay down, her arms around his shoulders and arched her back sensuously as he went with her. “Do it again.”

***

   Spike was still awake when the lights came on. He’d been lying stunned, staring into the darkness.

   He had done it again for her. And again. And then she’d pushed him back and ridden his hips, grinding against him and scratching her nails down his chest, until they both screamed. And after she’d done that, she’d curled up around herself, as if cradling her own soul, and wept and wept.

   Spike had caught her into his arms and rocked her, singing slightly, like he used to do for Drusilla — it might even have been one of the songs he sang for her, he just reached for the first thing in his head. He’d kissed the slayer’s forehead, and her eyes, and her slightly blood-tasting vampiric tears, and whispered those ubiquitous sweet nothings he was so damn good at, tiny endearments and transparently empty promises, that served no purpose except to soothe. Things like, “It’ll be all right, pet.”

   He didn’t have to ask why she was crying. It was bloody obvious. Not for the first time, Spike wanted to kill Angelus. If he was going to leave people as ruins, it should have been his job to stay and deal with the aftermath! If Spike had ever made a proper fledge, he’d have wanted to make them strong, able to stand on their own two feet, face the world proper, leave them as masters of the night, not house-bound ruins of their former selves, slowly wasting away, coughing up blood....

   No. Slayer was strong. She was torn up inside, just like Dru was, but instead of her mind, it was her heart Angel had shattered.

   After her tears had slowed, and then stopped, he’d kept rocking her back and forth, in silence. Then Slayer had started kissing him, then pushed him backwards again. He’d thought she was still hungry; he knew he would have been after all the stress and trauma finally relieved. But no, she wasn’t. Or at least, not the way he had thought. She had lain him back, kissed down his chest, and then unzipped his trousers again, and then to his utter amazement had taken him into her mouth and given — and taken — everything she could there.

   When she was done she’d laid her head on his stomach and just stared up at him. Spike caressed her head, her hair, gazing down into her green eyes, which seemed full of such gratitude it hurt his unbeating heart. “I love you,” he found himself whispering again.

   “It’s nice you think that,” she said, which almost annoyed him, but he was too high to be brought down by soulist arrogance.

   She’d curled back up around him, her head on his shoulder, and he’d thrown the edge of the coat over her again, and just stared into the darkness. He was tempted to try and talk to her, beg her to answer what this all meant — hand jobs and blow jobs and dry thrusting and all the rest of it. Did this mean she was committed? Even if they got out of here? — but it was too fragile, too precious to try and pin down. If you put a pin in a butterfly, or even a night-flying moth, it dies.

   So he had stayed awake, feeling all of this, and when the lights came on, he had to blink his eyes closed. Slayer cringed against him and tried to bury her head in his chest. “God. Why don’t they just get around to killing us?”

   Spike kissed her forehead. “Not what they’re about, and you know it.”

   The two reluctantly sat up and put themselves together, replacing shoes and jackets and everything. Slayer still wore his T-shirt, and Spike still didn’t ask for it, just sliding his red overshirt on without it and buttoning it half way up.

   “What do you think they’ll throw at us this time?” Buffy asked. “The kitchen sink?”

   But it was just a hell hound. Spike kicked it in the head, Slayer jammed it in the throat, ripped out its trachea, and quickly licked at the blood, only to spit it out.

   “Unappetizing, or toxic?”

   “Caustic,” Slayer choked. She wiped out her mouth with the edge of Spike’s shirt.

   “Spit. As much as you can.”

   “This isn’t fair, I’m hungry!” Slayer was almost whining.

   Spike looked up. It didn’t look as if they were pulling out the fire nozzles yet – often they didn’t if the foes were small. “Let’s get it to the corner,” Spike said, and threw it on the pile of brittle bones they’d shunted aside so they wouldn’t get in the way of the fights.

   “They know we fight together already!” Slayer shouted. “I can’t do this anymore, Spike! I’m gonna crack!”

   “Come on,” Spike said, one eye on the door in case they threw another foe at them. “Come on, drink already.”

   “No, you’re weak.”

   “I am not,” Spike snarled.

   Slayer only looked at him. They’d been wrestling the night before. She knew exactly what his strength level was.

   “You’re a goddamn fledge, you need it more than I do. I’ll be fine.” He went to his knees, pulling her with him. “Keep your eye on the door.”

   Slayer hesitated, and then bit at his throat. She’d stopped going feeding-frenzy when she did this, but the sound she made as she suckled led him to believe her oral administrations the night before had as much to do with her hunger as her gratitude or her desire to please him. He held her tight, but she wasn’t wrong. He was weak. And he grew weaker with every swallow of his blood that passed over her tongue....

   “Another one,” Slayer said quietly as the door above opened.

   It seemed they were doing a canid theme today. What came through the door was powerful, furry, heavily muscled, and had three — Spike counted them. Twice. — three heads.

   “What the hell is that?”

   “A kerberos,” Spike said.

   “Tell me it’s edible? To us, at least?”

   “Venomous,” Spike said, pretending he wasn’t suffering from her bite. If he’d had an hour to recover, then his own demonic magics could have at least made him less woozy, if not entirely returning his strength, but apparently their captors didn’t care about that. “There’s tiny snakes in its fur. I wouldn’t try to eat it.”

   “Damn!”

   The kerberos was whimpering with pain as it picked itself up from the cold floor, and Spike and Buffy took stance. They really were a powerhouse when they fought together. Their styles meshed perfectly, their strengths were excellently balanced, and they seemed able to read each other’s moves without any difficulties, with just subtle shifts of movement, or quick glances of expression. But the kerberos was harder to kill than the hellhound. A lot harder.

   Neither of them dared get too close. Tiny, lethal looking snakes darted out from its fur every time they got near the beast, and its tail had a really big, deadly one, dripping venom from its fangs, and it seemed to watch them, arching like a scorpion’s sting above the creature’s back.  There was no blind spot, because it had three (four, or possibly more if you counted all the mini snakes) heads. The two tried to confuse it, flanking and getting on either side, but it just lashed its tail and waited. Damn thing had patience — Spike knew the kerberos could be used as very effective guard dogs, so that made sense. And he and Buffy didn’t have time or energy to wait.

   Spike’s patience broke first, which he knew was a mistake. Counting on his leather coat to protect him, he buttoned it up (something he almost never did) and then lunged at the beast’s back side.

   “Spike, no!”

   “Then bloody kill it!” Spike yelled, as he held the creature down. The tiny snakes hissed beneath him, unable to get through Spike’s tough leather second skin (not for the first time he sent a silent thanks to his second slayer). Buffy came up from above him, since she still couldn’t approach from the front. Taking out its head was going to be three times the trouble. She used her plastic stake and drove in from the side of the ribs, seeking out the beast’s heart. Clear ichor, probably pure venom, poured out from the creature’s side as it shuddered and died.

   And just as it made a final convulsion, Spike felt a piercing pain in his arm. The creature’s serpentine tail had found the chink in Spike’s armor, the slash caused by the bullet which had grazed his arm before. “Ahh!” Spike let go of the beast and disconnected the serpent’s head from his flesh. “God dammit!”

   “What is it?” Buffy came up and peered at the wound. “You gonna be okay?”

   “Yeah, ’m jus’ fine,” Spike murmured, and then fell onto his arse. “Maybe.”

   “Fuck,” Buffy muttered.

   “Hey,” Spike said, gazing up at her in absurd fondness. “Li’l girls don’ use that kind of language, slayer, slayer mine.” He paused as he heard the slur in his speech. “I think I’m gonna siddown.”

   “You are sitting.”

   “I’m... I’m... I am,” he realized. He grabbed at her and pulled her down with him. “Slayer,” he whispered. “Did you know how beautiful you are?”

   “Not the time for this, Spike,” she said. “You’ve been poisoned.”

   “Envenomed,” Spike said. “I gonn’ be fine. Jus’ need some blood, ‘sall. Your hair’s like sunshine. Did I ever tell you how I used to watch you? You’d be out patrolling, and strolling along, and Dru would be staring up at some cathedral she wasn’t really in, and I’d go out, ‘cause... ‘cause god, it could be lonely when she’d go off in her head somewhere, and then, there, there you’d be, searching for newborns in the cemeteries, or on patrol in the alleys, and I’d climb up some building, and I’d jus’ watch you and watch you and watch you, because you were so damn lovely. Tha’s gonna be my slayer, I say. Gonna kill that slayer.” He pressed his lips against hers, still murmuring. “Or you could kill me. You wanna kill me, Buffy? That what you want?”

   “Spike, come on, settle down.” She pulled aside her hair and pressed her throat to his mouth. “Drink. You need more to fix this.”

   “Nun,” Spike said, pulling away. “Not going it this way this time, Slayer. Nope, nope, nope.”

   “Spike, you need it, I have it, now–”

   “Oi!”

   Spike pulled away from Slayer and stared up at the shadowy figures in the observation platform.

   “Yeah! You wankers! You wanna watch your gladiators fight it to the death, give us some decent nosh, yeah? Give me something I can drink from!”

   “Spike, they’re not gonna listen to you.”

   Spike stared, and then staggered. “Wortha try,” he murmured.

   “Come on, Spike. Drink from me.”

   Spike glared at her. “No,” he said. “Not right now.”

   “Spike—”

   “When we’re both hungry, yeah,” he said. “When we’re tired and lonely and need it and want to share, yeah, but not ‘f I’m poisoned and doddering, no.”

   “Spike—”

   Spike grabbed Buffy’s throat and pushed her... well, he meant to push her against the wall, but he hadn’t realized he was still on his knees, and all that happened was they toppled over, and he glared down into her face. “You know how many times I had to play Daddy for that bitch?” he asked Buffy. “You know the jigs I had to dance to, the games I had to play for Dru, you know how often I had to play Angel? Ninety years I had to play that... ponce! Whenever she hungered for how he’d torture her. I had to play how he’d turned her, over and over again, and I don’t like doing it!” He rolled off Buffy and stared back at the ceiling. He’d never realized how much he’d hated doing it until now. “Never again,” he murmured. “Not replaying how he turned you, not doing it.”

   And then it happened. The door to their arena opened, and their captors threw down another vicious dog for them to kill.

   “Oh, god, no!” Buffy wailed. “Not now!

   But everything in Spike was suddenly saying the opposite. Oh, absolutely now. Because the dog they dropped in was hairy and growling and clearly deadly, and it stank of magic, so it wasn’t just a blood sack they were gifting them with. But under the magic, under the wolf hair, under the snarls and the growls and the slobber, Spike could smell it.

   That was human.

Chapter 13 by Sigyn

   Slayer had a wonderful sense of smell, but she was new to it. Very new. She knew only three things about this creature — one, it was a werewolf. That meant it was, at its core, human. And it had been eating at the college cafeteria of UC Sunnydale. The college cafeteria’s bottomless pot of beef stew was distinctive enough that Slayer could smell when one of her friends had had a cup of it two days later. Slayer doubted they ever cleaned out the pot, just kept adding more ingredients when it got low.

   Willow didn’t like the stuff much, but Oz, Oz couldn’t get enough of it.

   Spike bared his fangs, and the werewolf growled, forcing itself onto its ill-fitting semi-humanoid legs.

   “No, no, no, Spike, listen to me! That’s—”

   Spike wasn’t listening, and neither was the werewolf. Both of them snarled, Spike’s yellow eyes fixed on the beast. Slayer tried to get a grip on his coat, but Spike lunged, leaving it behind in her grip.

   “No!”

   The two fell creatures were already writhing on the floor, tearing at each other. This was not how she wanted this to go! Spike and Oz — how could it not be Oz? How many werewolves frequented UC Sunnydale, after all?— were snarling and snapping, fang against fang. Spike’s cranberry overshirt was shredded in a moment without his coat to protect it, and fur was already flying as Spike, woozy and blood-starved as he was, tried desperately to get his fangs into the beast’s throat.

   She was about to lose one of them. Both of them! No! Slayer plunged into the fray, dropping the coat, wrestling out the cords around her wrists, hoping to get them around Oz, hold him captive until the moon set and they could explain things to him, join forces. If only Spike would listen. But he was too addled and desperate to listen, so even though Slayer was trying to get between them, he kept pushing past her, fist and fangs and fury.

   “Spike, no, no, don’t, he’s human! He doesn’t mean this—”

   The werewolf made a deeply eloquent argument that that didn’t matter, as it buffeted Slayer hard in the back of the head, slicing at her scalp with its claws, sending her toppling into Spike. At the beast’s attack, Spike seemed to grow even angrier, his hunger replaced by sheer rage as he roared, leaping over Slayer like the monster he was.

   “Don’t do it!” Slayer screamed, but it was already done. The only reason it hadn’t been done almost instantly was because Spike was weak. There was a sickening crack, and the werewolf went limp on the ground, Spike’s hands on either side of its head.

   Slayer felt sick. She knew, from the experience with that werewolf hunter who had tried to kill Oz last year, that even dead the beast would not return to human form until the moon set. So she was spared the sight of Spike, the man (not man, the vampire) who she had been cuddling and snuggling and kissing and riding, feasting from the throat of her fallen friend. She looked away, cringing in sudden horror of the whole situation. What was she doing here? How had it come to this? Any of this?

   She knew a vampire could feast very quickly if he wanted to, so the sudden thump as Spike released the dead beast did not surprise her by coming so soon. “Slayer,” Spike said. The clarity of his voice told her he’d let his fangs down. “Get in on this.”

   Slayer retched. The scent of the human blood under the werewolf spicing was appealing, which made her retch even more.

   Spike’s hands reached out and touched her shoulders, and Slayer hit them away. Then she punched him, hard, harder, sending him staggering back across the room.

   “Slayer. Slayer!”

   “Couldn’t you listen to me?” Slayer shouted at him. “I told you to stop! I begged you to stop!”

   “The sodding thing was trying to kill you!”

   “Oh, and that’s your job, right?” Slayer snapped. “Pissed off it was horning in on your territory? I know it, I knew it, you let a guy touch you, and — gah!” She smacked him hard, and heard the cartilage crunch in his nose. For a split second she felt worried — that was one more injury they were going to have to try and heal, and they were both low on blood. But they weren’t. He was flush with blood, she could see it in his color, he was alive with it, and it was because he had just eaten — “He was my friend!” Slayer shouted, half sobbing. “He was an innocent, he did everything he could, from the beginning, never to hurt anyone, he was good! He was my friend, he was Willow’s, he was good!

   “Who?”

   “Him!” Slayer shouted, gesturing wildly at the fallen werewolf, and she attacked Spike again, pushing him back against the wall. “Oz — was — my — friend! You evil — murdering — bastard!” She hit him, over and over, harder and harder, it wasn’t until several strikes later that she finally heard what he was trying to say.

   “It’s a girl, it’s a girl, the thing’s a girl! Buffy... it’s not... Buffy...! I swear, Buffy....”

   Slayer stopped with her hand still pulled back for a strike. A girl? The werewolf was female?

   For a long moment the two vampires stared at each other, Spike’s face already swollen and misshapen, Slayer’s blood dripping down the back collar of the black T-shirt she wore. Then Spike’s head lolled back. “Spike,” Buffy said, suddenly horrified at herself. What was she doing? But what had he done? What was the right thing...?

   And the question was taken out of her hands as the fire nozzles came down. At first she simply sagged, thinking the hose was about to clear their corpses again, but no. For the first time, the stiff wire traveled along its little track, aimed the nozzle, and spat a burst of flame at the two of them.

   Slayer was so surprised she let Spike’s shirt go and backed away, only a second later realizing she should drag Spike with her if she didn’t want him incinerated. (Did she want him incinerated? Did she really want him dead, after this?) The two hoses split up, one driving Slayer back across the floor, past the carcass of the werewolf (was it really a female? It really wasn’t Oz?) across the arena with little bursts of flame, while the other hose held Spike at bay against the wall. Even if he was trying to follow her, the wandering flame wouldn’t have permitted it.

   As Slayer was driven to the other wall, the door at the upper level opened, and something that looked like a fire ladder dropped over the side. One of the soldiers looked down into the arena with a smile he obviously thought was charming. “Well, girl. Looks like you get a second chance at life.”

   

***

   

   “All right,” Slayer asked. “So what’s the sitch?”

   The woman Spike had mocked earlier was standing in what looked like a cross between a bad military movie’s war room and a college human-biology lab.

   “I’m so pleased to speak with you,” she said. “I’m professor Walsh, of the Demon Research Initiative.” She held out her hand for Slayer to shake, which she did, nervously, as Finn kept his gun trained on her the whole time. Slayer probably could have yanked Walsh into her arms and severed her spine against her knee before Finn could even have gotten a shot off, but that wouldn’t get her out of here. The place would probably go into lockdown if she killed these two, and the innocuous door she’d had to go through to get here, though plainly labeled with only the number 314, had been heavy, and locked firmly behind them.

   “They call me Slayer.”

   “So I had heard,” Walsh said. “I’ve been doing a bit of research into you. Both of you, really, but you seem to be the one to speak to.”

   Slayer looked past her. She recognized those windows behind her. Sure enough, when she went to peer down, there was Spike, still in the bone-strewn arena, looking very, very small. He was examining his coat.

   “What is this place?” Slayer asked.

   “This is the Initiative,” Walsh said. “We’re a military research and development agency, dedicated to investigating demonic potential, and protecting the human populace from the threat.”

   “Thanks for the info,” Slayer asked. “But what is this place? We’re still in Sunnydale, and that werewolf down there was a student at the college.”

   Walsh and Finn looked at each other. “Yes,” Walsh said carefully. “We are indeed still in Sunnydale. Our headquarters are underground.”

   “Natural caves, or part of the demon-friendly sewer system the Mayor and his cronies created?”

   Walsh and Finn glanced at each other again. “Mostly natural cave formations,” Walsh admitted. “Quite a bit was excavated a few years ago by our own faculty.”

   “Right,” Slayer said. She turned to look at the two of them. “And this part of the Initiative isn’t part of the general writ, is it? Otherwise you two wouldn’t be keeping it so secret, and he’d have a squad at his back.”

   Walsh smiled. “I was told you were intelligent,” she said. “I wasn’t quite sure I could believe it.”

   “Oh, yeah, I’m brill,” Slayer said, realizing she was tipping her hand. Probably wasn’t quite time for an air-headed hair-toss, though. “What’d you wanna talk to me about?”

   “I wanted to get to know you,” Walsh said, sitting down at what was clearly a desk prepared for this interview. “I find you and your companion fascinating.”

   “He’s not my companion,” Slayer snapped. “We just found each other in the same boat at the same time, is all.”

   “So I’m coming to understand,” Walsh said. “Riley, would you fetch our guest some refreshment?”

   Riley went over to a table and came back a moment later with a plastic donor bag of human blood. Slayer’s eyes dilated as she stared at it, and she could feel her face wanting to vamp out, she was so hungry, but she kept it down. This was probably a test. “No thank you,” she said. “I don’t drink human if I can help it.”

   Walsh nodded, as if she had been half expecting this, and Finn pulled out a coffee mug which held — Slayer sniffed it — pigs blood. She closed her eyes, still forcing the fangs down, and took a sip. It didn’t seem drugged. She forced herself to drink it casually, rather than chugging it like her body was screaming it wanted to. She couldn’t quite stop her hand from shaking, though, so she put the cup on the table and held it for long moments between sips while they spoke. “So,” she asked. “Can we cut to the chase? What is it that you want from me?”

   And Slayer sat there, sipping her blood methodically while Professor Walsh spun out what seemed to be a well rehearsed spiel. It was fairly predictable — World-domination without ever saying the word, self-aggrandizing dreams of improving humanity, yadda-yadda. Slayer was frankly bored by all of it, but she made herself look interested, look like she was buying it, kept up an interested chirp as if it all made sense to her, and she agreed wholeheartedly.

   “Demons cling to old ways and ancient feuds, but are hopeless with technology. Unworthy. Disappointed by demonkind, we turn to humans. Smart, adaptive, but emotional and weak. Blind. There is imperfection everywhere. Something must be done,” Walsh continued.

   Sounded like the goddamn eugenics of the Third Reich. “Indeed,” Slayer said, almost soothingly.

   “And so we come to you,” Walsh said, as if Slayer had been following her on some intellectual journey, rather than just watching the woman wander through her own twisted-mental-pathways. “You appear unique among our records. We have been testing you, and your companion.” (Slayer stopped herself from announcing No kidding! in a sarcastic voice.) “Your ingenuity, your intellect, your combined strategy, that is in itself remarkable. And yet, there is a marked difference between you and your partner.” Walsh turned to her, as if about to make a revelation. “You do not wish to kill human beings.”

   I’m not alone. Give any vampire an incentive not to, and an alternate food source, and most of them will give it up, so long as they can still get their fight on someway or another. Ask any baddie in LA, or hell, half the baddies here in Sunnydale, they’ll know most vamps minion up real easy, so long as you give them the right motivation and a strong enough role model. The real question isn’t whether I’ll kill humans, the question is why, but you know, I don’t think you deserve any of this information, Slayer didn’t say.

   “Well, they’re just people,” she said, with her eyes wide. “I don’t want to hurt anybody.”

   “Which is what makes you unique,” Walsh said. “Once we had our hands on you, I started looking for information. Asking other captives, for example. We caught quite a number of vampires on the outskirts of the city proper, by that old factory that is being refurbished.”

   Slayer kept her face carefully neutral. She hadn’t specifically told any of her boys not to give her away to scary military commandos with sadistic tendencies who thought all demons, regardless of danger to humans, were just beasts one could torture with impunity. (Slayer was pretty sure this shit still wouldn’t be okay if the demons were just dogs or something. She thought it was sick, and she was a vampire!) She didn’t know what they would say about her. She knew their loyalty to her was a capricious beast at the best of times, dependent upon her strength, her generosity in blood and funds, her fairness in listening to disputes between them, and her utter willingness to beat up or dust, with extreme prejudice, anyone who stepped over the line.

   “They claim you used to be something called a slayer,” Walsh said.

   “The,” Slayer said. “Vampire Slayer, comma, the. There’s usually only one.”

   “Yes, so our research tells us. I... believed the slayer was nothing more than legend, much like the other tales and stories the demons spell out amongst themselves.”

   “Well, I exist. Or I did.”

   “You still do,” Walsh said. “In a certain form. And the creatures we captured, they claim you have a soul? Is this a residual of your... slayer form?”

   Getting into it would be a bitch. “It’s just a saying,” she said. “It means my goal is, I don’t want to kill.”

   Walsh looked triumphant. “I knew it! I knew it! Francis, make a note... oh.” She glanced at Finn. Riley Finn wasn’t Francis — Slayer bet it was the other lab coat that had been making research notes in the corridor before, who for some reason wasn’t in on this interview with this vampire. “Well, this is being recorded anyway,” Walsh said hurriedly, glancing at a camera mounted on a wall. “Is this a common phrase among vampires? That those who don’t want to kill have, as you put it, souls?”

   “Uh....”

   “We have records, you see, dating back to World War II. Other vampires, with souls. Specifically an... Angelus. Have you heard of him?”

   “Yeah, I’ve heard of him,” Slayer said.

   “He used to work for us,” Walsh said, something that would have surprised Slayer a lot more a year ago.

   “Really.”

   “Indeed. He performed quite a number of missions for the earliest incarnation of our agency. We were hoping it would be possible to replicate the results of our successful missions with him.”

   “The goal? Which missions, exactly?”

   “I... really only have records of the one,” Walsh admitted. “But I’m certain there are more at higher levels of security. In any case, he too was considered different from his brethren. Was he a slayer, as well, in his life?”

   “No.”

   “Are you certain of that?”

   Slayer shrugged. “No, I guess I don’t know anything about that. I guess he could have been.” Now was the time for the air-headed hair-toss.

   “Well. I wanted to perform some neurological tests on you,” Walsh said. “Nothing invasive,” she added. She pulled up a machine with a bunch of little wires attached to it, and little soft stickers on the ends. “We use these in doctor’s offices, to monitor brain function. It reads the electrical impulses in your neural pathways, and allows us to keep a record of your instincts and reactions.”

   “It’s like a lie detector test? Is that the goal?”

   “It’s similar,” Walsh acknowledged. “But only in mechanics. This reads things like balance, neurological stimulus, brain adaptation, arousal.” She held out a page of wavy lines on paper. “It reads your neurological reactions and gives us a printout like this. We haven’t had a subject who we trusted enough to interview while we monitored.”

   “Well, I guess I’m willing to have you read my brain,” Slayer said. “But I wish I knew what the ultimate goal was.”

   “The goal,” Walsh said evenly, “is to put demonkind on our side. The goal is to make all vampires, and all demons, ours to control. The goal is to rescue our fallen soldiers and make them strong again. The goal is to change everything!”

   Slayer managed not to cringe as she took a swallow of her blood. That was some goal. “How would you achieve that goal?”

   “First step is testing,” Walsh said. “But I have a prototype in the works, a neuro-microchip, behavioral modification. If I can perfect it, I can implant it in every vampire we catch! Right now we can only prevent them from harming living, organic animal life, but with the implants we can use them to catch other demons. And if we can use the pathways of your neurological distinctiveness, perhaps we can prevent them from killing our own soldiers! We can send the modified creatures to Iraq, Afghanistan, the Sudan, South America, we can forward America’s interests, forward humanity’s interests, perfect my children, my beautiful sons!”

   “Uh... Professor Walsh?” Finn asked from his place against the wall. “Why are you telling her all that?”

   Walsh blinked, looking confused, and then shook her head. “There’s no reason she shouldn’t know her part in the great design!” She said. “Our goals are similar.”

   “Our goals are,” Slayer said quietly. “You’re right.” She swallowed the last of her blood. “Hook me up to her machine, soldier man. I can’t wait to be part of the great design.”

   As Walsh prepared her machine, and Finn kept Slayer covered (it would seem they weren’t complete idiots) Slayer stepped over to the window to look down on Spike. The moon must have set. The body on the floor was human, and naked, and Slayer was incredibly relieved to see that it was not Oz who lay there. It was someone else, young, attractive, Slayer half thought she recognized her from some sets she’d played at the Bronze. Wasn’t she a singer? She couldn’t remember. She was probably very like Oz, though. Music. Beef stew. How much of that was werewolf, and how much just personality? Wolves liked to howl... that was music, right?

   Slayer was making herself think all this, because she was also watching Spike as he feasted on the girl’s throat. She knew he was hungry. She knew this werewolf wasn’t Oz, and so probably wasn’t an innocent, since all the research indicated that they really, really did like eating human flesh. But watching Spike sucking on the blood of the naked girl still made Slayer’s insides seize up, as the demon in her screamed, Look at him! He is power! and the soul inside her cried out, Look at him! He’s a monster!

   “This chip,” she said suddenly, as Walsh came up behind her.

   “The monitor is ready.”

   “Good. This chip. Can you implant it in any vampire?”

   “Yes. Once it’s perfected.”

   “This chip,” Slayer said again. “If you put it in a vampire, they can’t hurt human beings?”

   “No,” Walsh said. “If a vampire with the implant were to attack a human, it would suffer debilitating pain.”

   “But he could still fight?” Slayer asked. “Other demons, say? Other vampires? He could still keep his place with them, even with this chip?”

   “It truly isn’t perfected yet,” Walsh said. “As of now, at the first attempt to attack a human, the pain causes more severe brain damage than I had hoped. We’re trying to find the right balance between pain and degeneration.”

   “But this chip,” Slayer said again. “You could implant it in, say, Spike down there, right? You could bring him up here? For the chip? And then he couldn’t hurt anyone?”

   “Yes. I’m sure we could. We had planned on implanting it in subjects just like him, in fact.”

   “So this chip,” Slayer said again. “Implanting this chip, this would make him harmless? He’s such a good fighter, you know. He’s strong, and he’s good with strategy. You’ve seen that, right?”

   “Yes.”

   “Too bad you can’t bring him here, and implant this chip in Spike,” she said. “It would be pretty awesome. If you’re after soldiers, he’s really among the best.”

   “I was interested in further studies of this chip technology,” Walsh said.

   “And the faster you bring him here, implant this chip, the faster you can research it, right? Maybe you should bring him and implant this chip soon, you know? Maybe using the research you get from my neuro testing, maybe this chip could be perfected?”

   “Perhaps....” Walsh looked over at Finn. “Finn, send a message to Angleman. Let him know that we’re accelerating implementation of the prototype chip on subject 13. We should bring him here and prepare for surgery. Tomorrow.”

   “Using my test results,” Slayer said again, louder. “With me. Because, without my brain patterns there, as you’re implanting, this chip won’t be as effective.”

   “Indeed,” Walsh said. “Your test results will prove invaluable. Parallel readings… monitoring both of your brain patterns for implantation. Yes. This chip. Definitely time for implementation of this chip.” She pulled Slayer over and sat her down in a chair, then stuck the soft spongy stickers all over her head and in a few places around her throat and on her fingertips. Slayer felt like a squid with all the little tentacles hooked up to her, but they didn’t actually hurt.

   “Please listen as I say the following words,” Walsh said. “You don’t have to respond outwardly. When we’re done with the aural portion of the test, I will hold up various images.” She set a bunch of flashcards on the table. Buffy saw an image of a campfire, a wooden cross, and a photograph of Spike among the others before Walsh gathered the cards back up and turned them face down on the table. “Let us begin. God. Devil. Right. Wrong. Evil. Vampire. Human.”

   Slayer was hard pressed not to roll her eyes as she listened to the litany. She was exhausted already from keeping her eyes fixed on Walsh’s, and her exertion was starting to give her a headache. But she couldn’t let on. She couldn’t let on at all that it had drained her. These people weren’t dumb.

   And one of the words they threw at her was, in fact, the word, “Thrall.”

   

Chapter 14 by Sigyn

   

   Spike had a full belly for the first time in weeks, and sort of wished he was still hungry. Trying to wrap his head around the Slayer and her mood swings was... well, he’d never been around a pregnant woman for long, but he wondered if that was what it would have been like. Yes, Buffy had this soul, which made her all remorseful and moralizing. Yes, that was probably pretty traumatic for her, when she thought about eating people. He knew it had twisted Angel up pretty bad. But seriously, the goddamn werewolf was about to kill her! There was no question on that, the thing had been snarling and charging and its hackles were up. Spike had fought werewolves in the past. They weren’t ones to listen to reason.

   Spike had some dim memory of the slayer hanging about with a werewolf. It had been somewhat after his time, he’d still been in a wheelchair and focused on other things, but there had been rumor in the underground. Still, one werewolf wasn’t like another, right? Wasn’t that what the whole soul thing was supposed to do for her, make everyone an individual person, not just interchangeable Big Macs waiting for the gullet? How could she equate her werewolf friend with any werewolf on the street? It’s not like she had seriously thought the bitch was her friend, it was perfectly obvious the bitch was a bitch, it was in her scent!

   But Buffy was new to this whole scenting thing. It took a while to learn to read everything you were smelling. Maybe she really hadn’t been able to tell...?

   It didn’t really matter. Spike had needed to recover from the poisoning, and the subsequent beating, it was either lay there in a daze for the next week growing steadily weaker, or feed on the corpse. It hadn’t been pleasant. Dead blood was terrible, the thing was rank with the taste of dog, and Spike couldn’t help but envision what Buffy would think of him if she was watching.... But he needed to eat.

   He needed a lot of things. Not the least of which to make sense of the turmoil in his own mind.

   Slayer was gone. Why had they taken her? Why hadn’t she waited for him? He could have shaken off the daze and come to her, she didn’t have to go up that ladder. Why had she left him there? He hadn’t sodding left her behind! (Of course, if she had mistaken the scent of one werewolf for another, and believed he had just killed and feasted on her friend, then he would have just betrayed her in a manner far worse than letting themselves get separated....) Now that they had her, what were they doing to her? Torture? Experiments? Or maybe their watchers up there really were into indulging their kinks a little more directly, and they were... were... Arrgh!

   He really had to stop pacing. It wasn’t as if he had energy to spare, they might not give him any more meals. Hell, they might still throw more monsters at him to fight, see how he handled the things solo.

   He didn’t want to handle them solo. He wanted Buffy back.

   And so time passed. Spike would pace, and force himself to sit down, and fret, and fidget, and pace again. He’d stare up at the windows, and glare up at the closed door, and poke at the drain, and glare back at the windows again. He’d go from being furious at Buffy, to terrified for her, to utterly confused by her, to hating himself for letting himself get caught up in her.

   And then... then he’d remember the night before, the feel of her weight atop him, and her cool, hungry mouth, and her strong, desperate hands, and the sound of her, and the scent of her. And then, since they didn’t seem about to supply him with another cold shower, he’d start pacing again, and begin the whole cycle over.

   It was almost a relief when the door opened and someone shot him in the head.

***

   Spike came to, still woozy, strapped to another gurney. He had an aching throb on the side of his head. What had he been shot with? It wasn’t a bullet. Some kind of lead-filled beanbag, or... well, he hadn’t seen it, so speculating didn’t matter. They’d knocked him out, and hadn’t seemed to care how bruised he got in the process.

   He was strapped very tightly this time, tight enough that even at full strength he’d have had a job to break his restraints. He did a quick assessment. Okay, he was still in his coat. He didn’t appear to be bleeding. Apart from the concussion, he seemed to be none the worse for the wear....

   “He’s all bruised,” said a voice by his feet. Spike tried to look up, but his head was strapped down. (Sensible of them, considering the teeth.) “How did that happen?”

   He knew that voice. Sweet devil incarnate, that was Slayer.

   “One of our non-lethal projectile weapons,” said another voice, one that did not fill his heart with poetry. “We had to incapacitate him for transport. It shouldn’t affect the implantation.”

   “Good to know,” Slayer said.

   “Slayer?” Spike called out. “What’s goin’ on?”

   “You’ll get him properly set up?” Slayer said, her voice very dead and even. “If we’re going to implant this chip, we need to make sure there are no distractions. We don’t want to screw this up.”

   “Oh, there won’t be any distractions,” said the other woman. Walsh, that creep-eyed labshark with the alphabet soup after her name. “I know exactly what I’m doing.”

   “I know you do. We’ll do great things,” Slayer said. “I’m so glad we decided to work together on this.”

   “Slayer!” Spike said. “Hey! What... what’s the skivvy?”

   “We’re going to implant a chip in your head, Spike,” Slayer said quietly. “My friend Walsh here has this really impressive microchip which will keep you from harming humans. At all. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?”

   Spike could have howled like the werewolf. He’d heard about that chip thing, they’d been designing it since World War II, some Nazi tech, which frankly sounded just like something Nazis would come up with. He’d thought the idea atrocious at the time. He was pretty sure he felt the same way now. “No!” he shouted.

   “It’s for the best, Spike,” Slayer said. “I can’t have you go hunting innocent people.”

   “Hey! Come on! I’ve worked with you! I’ve helped you! Acathla, remember? And I didn’t kill your mates, and I could’ve. You know I could’ve, Slayer! Hey. Hey! I helped save the sodding world, this is how you repay me?”

   “This is a wonderful repayment, Spike,” Slayer said quietly. “This way I won’t have to stake you.”

   “I’d rather you staked me!” Spike shouted. “Hey, listen. I get it. We’re on opposite sides. Gotta kill your enemies, right? But you... you don’t have to go to this... this... I’d have to live with it, Slayer. You... you... come on! It wouldn’t change anything. It’s not like it’s a bleeding soul!”

   “That’s right,” Slayer said. “It’s not. I think you’d best gag him, Finn.”

   “I don’t take orders from you,” said the bland-faced wanker, stepping into Spike’s view. Why hadn’t Buffy stepped into view? Couldn’t she look him in the eye while she was sentencing him to a fate worse than death? (Couldn’t she let him see her face one more time?)

   “Bind his mouth, Riley,” Walsh said. “We do need to concentrate. Francis? Prepare the anesthetic.”

   “Anesthetic?”

   “A local, I think,” Walsh continued. “We need to be sure brain function continues unimpinged.”

   Brain function? “Wait. Does this thing even work? Uh... uh... don’t you... uh... Slayer, don’t!” Finn was bearing down upon him with a sodding plastic gag, made to fit Spike’s whole mouth, keep his jaws immobile. He thought about vamping, fighting, biting, but really all he could think about was, “Buffy!”

   And she didn’t even respond.

   Spike couldn’t say anything after that. They’d forced the gag into his mouth, around his teeth, and the hatred in Finn’s eyes was apparent. Spike wanted to go on, tell them what a bunch of bleeding cowards they all were. Couldn’t they fight their own battles? Couldn’t they just get off their pasty arses and kill vampires like him proper? Come on, you sods, fist and fang, take you all at once! But, of course, he could say none of that. He could have wept over the slayer’s unexpected, but ultimately inevitable betrayal, but... it was his own damn fault he’d fallen in love with her and her miserable abandoned, sireless, souled-up plight. His being in love with her didn’t mean he expected her to reciprocate. On the contrary... he was fairly sure that meant she was more likely to leave than ever.

   Walsh and that other labshark, the one Walsh called Francis, were “prepping” him. They had injected a bunch of tiny needles into his head, which had the slight benefit of stopping his bruise from hurting, and then effectively stopped him from feeling anything at all from the neck up. Then they stuck a bunch of little suction cups or sticker-sponges or something to his skin, all over his forehead and throat, with wires on. They didn’t bother explaining any of this. For all he knew, the things were going to shock him senseless any second.

   Slayer was chatting up Finn somewhere near his head.

   “Oh, yeah, I’m from Iowa,” Finn was saying with what he clearly thought was a seductive purr. The guy could not pull off a purr. If Spike had been free, he could have given Mr. Whitebread lessons on seductive purrs. “It’s really lovely. My parents have this farm out there, and we go out every autumn, and take a walk with the dogs. It’s a tradition. We look at the colored leaves, watch the sunset. You should see it sometime.”

   And bring the marshmallows to cook over her burning corpse, you sod? Spike wanted to say.

   But to his horror, Slayer seemed to be buying it. “I’ve really felt like I’ve come to know you so well in these last hours, Riley,” she said, with a perky bounce to her voice. Spike wanted to gag, but, hey, already there! He growled into it.

   “You know... I’ve heard... well. Rumors,” Finn said, his tone going low enough that the doc and her doc-toy probably couldn’t hear. But Spike had vampire ears. “I’ve heard there’s... uh... nests of vampires. In places like LA. Good vampires, like you, who don’t kill people. But, uh... they’ll... let you know what it could feel like... you know?”

   “Oh, yeah,” Slayer said, with her own seductive purr, which was, actually, very effective, and almost made Spike throw up all the blood he’d swallowed against his own gag. Because it was directed at that pathetic midwest wanker. “Yeah, I’ve heard of that.”

   “I’ve always been... well... curious,” Finn said. “I’ve heard that the people who do that. Well. They’ll come back for more. But. It could be... you know, dangerous.”

   “Oh, it can be,” Slayer said, and Spike could just picture her arching her back, making sure her tits were right in Finn’s insufferable face. “But sometimes, you know... sometimes some things could be worth the danger.”

   Do you realize you’re basically advertising how you’d like to go visit a bunch of whores, Captain Cardboard? Spike wanted to shout.

   “It wouldn’t be that dangerous, though,” Slayer said. “If the vampire in question knew how to do it right. Right?”

   “Right.”

   Even Spike had trouble hearing Slayer’s next words. “Did you want me to show you...?”

   “I....”

   “We’re about ready,” said Walsh, coming into view. “The local anesthetic should be working about now. All we have to do is open him up, and get you both hooked up to the machine, so we can see if his brain waves start to match yours as we activate the implant. Are you ready?”

   “In just a moment,” Slayer said.

   “I had something I... needed to check. Here,” Finn said awkwardly. “A... a... a move they used. I wanted to... uh....”

   “We won’t be but a moment,” Slayer said soothingly. “You keep prepping. We have to install this chip.”

   “Yes. The chip,” Walsh said. “Very important to get this right....”

   Spike heard Slayer and Finn as they went across the room and through a door, and wanted to groan. Did she know what she was offering him? It was disgusting, selling the bite like that. And to that kind of self-righteous sod! There were a lot of people Spike wouldn’t have bothered to bite in his time, and that Riley Finn bloke would definitely have fallen in with them.

   And then he almost couldn’t care about what Slayer was doing with Finn across the way. Because he smelled singed hair, and burning bone, and someone was behind him, cutting into his skull.

   He wanted to scream, and he wanted to flail, and he wanted to hide, but all that happened was the buzz saw — he envisioned it as one of those circular saws from a 19th century lumber mill, even though logic told him it was probably more like a dental tool — cut into his skull to expose his brain.

   Ugh!

   “We’re back,” Slayer said quietly, cutting through Spike’s revulsion. How long had they been cutting at him? It seemed like forever. “Riley?” she continued.

   “Huh?”

   “Why don’t you have a seat.”

   “Huh.”

   There was a heavy sound of someone falling into a chair. Slayer moved slightly into Spike’s line of vision, but she wasn’t looking at him. She was staring fixedly at Walsh. “So, do you need me here, or what?” she asked.

   “If you could just sit down by the monitor,” Francis said distractedly from behind Spike’s head. He didn’t seem to like that Slayer was there. “We’ll get to you in a minute.”

   “I’ll hook you up,” Walsh said evenly. “We have to be sure it all goes smoothly.” Slayer was put in a chair by one of the monitoring machines which Spike had been hooked up to, and slowly Walsh stuck wire upon wire onto Slayer’s head.

   “You’re right,” Slayer said, and Spike felt a tug on the bind on his left arm. “Everything’s going to go completely smoothly. There’s no problems with this at all. He doesn’t have anything sharp pointed at your brain just at the mo, so I’d go — now!

   Only the last word wasn’t in a conversational tone. And as Spike watched, Slayer vamped up, and surged for Walsh’s neck.

   He didn’t need an engraved invitation. Spike snatched his left hand free of the restraints Buffy had loosed, reached over his head, and dragged sodding Francis away from his torture devices, tossing him against the wall like the tosspot he was. Walsh was struggling in Slayer’s grip, and as Spike wrestled the rest of his restraints free, he saw Riley Finn trying to get up from his position by the door, and then topple over. He had a bite mark on his neck, and though Buffy had “left him alive” Spike very much doubted she had left him enough to be functional in any way, at least for the time being.

   Spike didn’t have her restraint. St. Francis of the Torture Implants was dead without Spike even planning it, something in his body twisted wrong as he’d hit the wall. And when Buffy let Walsh go, Spike prepared to reach down and kill the bitch for her, so Slayer wouldn’t have to have the death on her precious soul....

   Only to find that Walsh was already dead. Buffy had drained her proper, and left her a lifeless corpse on the floor.

Chapter 15 by Sigyn

   “What the hell, Slayer?” Spike said gently, kneeling down at her feet. He stared up into her face and reached for her cheek.

   She turned away, her expression tense, and she let her vamp face down. She was gasping. “God, that’s a lot of human blood,” she whispered. She was shaking.

   “Yeah, probably more than you’re used to. You okay?”

   She nodded, and then shook her head, and then winced with a grunt of... pain? “Oh, god. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

   Spike wasn’t quite sure he understood. “The kill?”

   “No. The... getting them to bring you here. Riley was the hard nugget, he didn’t take to the thrall easy, and he....”

   “Oh, bloody hell,” Spike said. He darted up, went to the wall, and turned off the light switch. The dim lights from the computer monitors and a couple of desk lamps was more than enough to see by. “There.”

   Slayer relaxed a bit. Her eyes probably hurt. “How long have you been keeping that up?” he asked, coming back to her. He kicked Walsh’s body aside and went back to her feet.

   “Since they... brought me here.”

   “Bloody hell,” he whispered again, almost reverently. That was a long time to keep up a thrall. “You didn’t tell me you could do that.”

   “I can’t. Not... not like Dru did, it’s more... me. You know how I could get people to listen, if there was danger, just yell at them a bit? As a slayer? I think it carried on. I can’t get them to do things they wouldn’t really want to do, but I can suggest things they might sort of want to do. If I keep repeating it enough, they think it’s their idea. The chip thing was Walsh’s master plan, and... oh, god, you have a hole in your skull!”

   “I’ll be all right,” Spike said. The local was working, he didn’t even feel it.

   “I didn’t know they were going to open you up that fast. I had to try and keep the thrall up on Walsh, and get Riley distracted. Is he...?”

   Spike looked at the bloke. His color was wrong, and he was unconscious, but he wasn’t dead yet. Truthfully, it didn’t look good for the sod, but Spike didn’t actually care whether he died or not, so he said, “He’s fine.”

   “It wasn’t until Walsh was actually working on the project that I dared get out of her sight, and either the thrall didn’t work on Riley, or I couldn’t maintain both at once. I don’t know. God, my head hurts.”

   “Yeah, I’m sure.” Drusilla had never tried to maintain a thrall for that length of time. She tended to take folks deeper, set something deep in their brains they couldn’t end, and leave it there, while she came back to earth.

   “He’d been flirting. Sort of... lamely. He... god, he was....” She winced. “How could something that tastes so good taste so foul?”

   “He’s a wanker, and you had to play the coquette to catch him?” Spike asked.

   “I think he’s on drugs or something,” Slayer said. “I couldn’t tell at first, but Walsh didn’t taste so... toxic. I think it’s just him. God, my head...!”

   Spike reached up and pulled her into his arms, cradling her. “I got you, baby. Gonna be all right pet, the worst is over.” They were still in the compound, but they were free, they weren’t bound, they’d killed or incapacitated three of their worst captors, and with a little ingenuity they could probably get out of here. He kissed each of her eyelids and stroked her hair.

   After a little bit the worst of her shaking subsided, but she still felt keyed up in his arms. She kept burying her head a little deeper against him before relaxing again, over and over, as if she didn’t believe he wasn’t about to vanish. In the stillness of their embrace, Spike closed his eyes. “I really thought you’d turned on me for a bit, there.”

   “I did, too,” Slayer said quietly.

   “It really wasn’t your friend—”

   “I know.”

   “I don’t—”

   “I know.” She hugged him. “Just don’t talk, okay?”

   Spike stopped talking. He stroked her hair and held her close, and thanked god or the devil or whatever it was that looked over vampires for her strength, and her power, and her ingenuity, and her loyalty, and just... her. He thanked god for her.

   

***

   It was officially morning, according to the clock on Walsh’s computer. There was not going to be any glorious break-out until night. That meant they had to keep it secret that they were even in there, let alone that something terrible had happened to Walsh and her assistants. Spike had dragged the bodies out to the corridor and dumped them in a room which looked like a morgue. There was another body in there, anyway, so grotesque and hideously mutilated that it made even Spike feel a little sick. Walsh had been doing something so Frankensteinian that he wondered how on earth she had gotten funding. Except, this 314 corridor seemed to be in a secret part of the facility. It was possible that the only people who had known of this section had just been taken out of action.

   But before they’d started carting bodies around, Buffy had had to replace the square section of Spike’s skull back over his brain. “Oh, god. This is... really....”

   “I’ve had a cracked skull before, slayer, it’ll heal,” Spike said. “Do they have any kind of surgical tape?”

   “Yeah.”

   “Don’t seal it full, in case it needs to drain. Leave some gaps, and the demonic power should take care of the rest. Put a bandage over it.”

   “They’ve shaved your hair,” Buffy pointed out.

   “Bastards,” Spike said, though he’d already been pretty sure of that.

   “Just in a section,” she said. She taped the bandage over the wound. “Check this out.”

   Spike sat up, and into his palm she put a little circular disk, laced with gold filament. It was remarkably pretty, really. “And this is what they were gonna shove up my brain, that was gonna keep me from killing folks?”

   “Every vampire they could get hold of, I think,” Buffy said. “She said it was a prototype.”

   “Good.” Spike snapped it between his fingers, and then snapped the bits.

   Buffy looked down.

   “What?”

   “Walsh was evil, but....”

   “You still approve, don’t you.”

   “Of the end goal,” she said. “Not the method.”

   She really didn’t want him to kill. It was exceedingly important to her, he could tell.

   “Why?”

   “I don’t like having to stake my own kind,” she said. “There are evil people in the world, and it’s not right to go around staking them through the heart. But we can’t let them kill humans, either... it’s just....”

   “Twists you up, don’t it.”

   She nodded.

   “Then why’d you do Walsh?”

   “Because she was evil,” she said. “You have no idea, Spike, her plans made the Master’s look like a cozy country farm. She wanted to corrupt and torture all men and all demons, she was....”

   “Out of her mind,” Spike said. “And not in the fun let's watch the stars swirl on the ceiling way.”

   “Yeah.”

   Spike reached forward and kissed her. “It’s gonna be okay, pet.”

   “We’re not out of here, yet.”

   “We will be.”

   “No. Even without Walsh, this place exists. We’re gonna have to do something about it.”

   “How come?”

   Slayer just looked at him.

   “All right. Let’s get these bodies taken care of, and we’ll figure something out.”

   They’d settled Riley to recover on the surgical table, bound hand and foot, and then went to stash the others, finding the morgue. After they’d had it confirmed that they really, really did have to take this place out, Buffy started sorting through Walsh’s computer. She kept bumping up against various passwords and firewalls, which she was helpless against. Spike did what he could to help, but he hadn’t researched computers since the eighties. He could just about search through a database, but he was helpless otherwise.

   “What are we gonna do?”

   “Well, I found this,” Spike said.

   It was on the other computer, the military one rather than Walsh’s scientific one, and held a security plan. There were emergency exits, contingency plans, ventilation routes, and among other things there was a gas system in place. “Lethal countermeasures,” it was labeled as. “Whole place is wired up for it,” Spike said. “We can take the whole compound out. Hell, we could do it now, set it off, sit tight, and saunter out through the front door when the sun sets. We don’t need to breathe.”

   “We can’t do that. We don’t know the codes t-to....”

   “Not knowing the codes is what sets it off, Summers,” Spike said. “That’s the point. They don’t want this place found out.”

   “No,” Buffy said, crossing the room to the surgical table. “I don’t want to do that. We’ll have to find something else. We have a prisoner, I’ll wake him up and ask...”

   She stopped.

   “What is it?” Spike asked. And then he realized.

   There was no heartbeat from the soldier on the table.

***

   Buffy stared at the soldier, and the taste of blood flooded her mouth, without even drinking any. He was dead. Riley was dead. She hadn’t meant to kill him, he was just a dumb soldier, following orders, throwing himself into battle at other people’s will, curious about danger. She knew enough to know he’d known almost nothing of Walsh’s ultimate plans, and yes, he wasn’t exactly innocent... but he wasn’t evil, either. He was wrong, he wasn’t bad.

   “I did it wrong,” she said, her voice very tiny.

   Spike came up and slapped the guy once, then hit him methodically over the heart a few times, as if that might start him up again. Was that possible? Of course, he didn’t start up again. He wasn’t a broken television that could be fixed by kicking it a few times.

   Buffy reached out and grabbed Spike’s fist as he lifted his hand to do it again. “That’s not going to fix him.”

   “I’m checking something,” Spike said. “Listen.” He hit man in the chest again. She only heard mush.

   “Yeah?”

   “I heard it in his heart before, a kind of a washing machine sound with the heartbeat?”

   She had been listening to human heartbeats, but she’d only had vampire ears for a few months. “I... guess.”

   “I reckon there was something wonky about the sod’s heart,” Spike said.

   “They wouldn’t have let him join the military if there was.”

   “And Walsh here played by the rules? You saw what she was doing to that poor blighter in the other room.” He ripped open Finn’s shirt and examined his... admittedly ripped chest. (The guy had been all over her in the other room. It hadn’t hurt that he was easy on the eyes. That soldier had had some nice arms... and Slayer had been hungry for a long time, and Spike had been stoking that hunger all damn night.... She hadn’t exactly been opposed to feeding from Riley just a little bit, at least until his blood had started sending her woozy....)

   Spike was saying something about that. “You said you thought he might be drugged?”

   “Yeah. I... haven’t had much human blood, I thought... maybe... it’s always like that when you take it from the body? At least until I tasted Walsh, and she wasn’t....”

   Spike vamped up for a moment and took a bite of Riley’s arm. Buffy cringed, but Spike spat to the side. “Oh, yeah, he’s juiced,” he said. “And check out the surgical scar.”

   She looked where he was pointing. There were three narrow incisions which seemed to slide between Riley’s ribs. “What’s that mean?”

   “It means, I think Professor Walsh was playing with her employee’s hearts. And not in the romantic sense. Wasn’t there a file on Finn on her computer?”

   “Yeah, but most of it was password locked.”

   “Yeah, but still. She had him in her sights.”

   Buffy’s anxiety had not been allayed by the scientific medical examination of the corpse she had made. “What does any of that matter? He’s dead!

   “It means, it’s not your fault, slayer,” Spike said.

   “Don’t call me that!” Buffy said. “Don’t, I’m not a monster, I’m not a vampire I... I.... Ugh!” She grabbed Riley around the shoulders and started dragging his corpse across the room.

   “Buffy—”

   “Just don’t!” she snapped.

   “You took enough to put him out, not kill him,” Spike said. “Drugs, heart conditions, you didn’t know he couldn’t take it. It’s not your fault!”

   “It doesn’t matter!” Buffy shouted. “It’s done, and I did it!”

   “It was self-defense!”

   “Oh, give me a break!”

   “Oh, and if you’d asked nice, he was just gonna let you stroll off, was he? Bloody hell, this was the bugger who shot you last week!”

   “Just open the goddamn door.”

   Spike held the door for her like a gentleman, and Buffy dumped Riley unceremoniously in the room with the others.

   This was what it was always going to be like, wasn’t it? Good and evil twisted up into her life. Evil begetting evil, being drawn by more evil. And Riley was just the start of it. The Initiative itself was pure evil.

   They had to take this place out. The Initiative had to be shut down, it was an institution as toxic and poisonous as any demonic cult, torturing its own members as well as countless demons, of both good and evil persuasion, and preparing to open its doors and probably torture other innocent humans as well. Buffy had been captured, and Spike, and the undine.  They’d taken in the other werewolf, no doubt they would have captured Oz too, without remorse. Would they stop at demons? No, likely Willow would be in their sights, if they knew about the magic. Would they care that Xander was human, or would they only see that he was working with Angel’s boys and do their experiments on him, as well? What if they’d gotten hold of Joyce? Would they do comparative DNA testing, to see how the demonic power affected the parent-child DNA differences?

   The potential for horrors went on and on. They were scientifically too advanced to go backwards with this amount of research on hand, but they were too ignorant to really know what they were unleashing. No doubt they couldn’t understand the concepts of higher-demons, selling-of-souls, alternate dimensions, twisted realities. They’d thought The Slayer was merely a legend! They were too smart and too dumb, both at the same time.

   It had to be ended. The Initiative had to be broken.

   But they were people. For the most part innocent people following a protocol and a military plan and structure that would just keep barreling on, even with the head of the snake cut off. She had to do it. She had to stop this. And she had to do it quickly, or their opportunity to do it at all would have vanished. But the only way to do it was that gas thing Spike had found, and all those people... just hired, recruited soldiers and lab assistants....

   All of those lives on her soul.

   She looked up at Spike. None of that was going to bother him.

   “Come on,” she said. She grabbed Spike by the collar of his shirt and dragged him behind her, into the office. She made sure the door was locked (why? Why, when they were already behind the locked 314 door, and they would have been just as screwed if anyone had caught them at any point? Why was she only now concerned with locking the door? Maybe that kind of misplaced modesty would also go the hell away.) and pushed Spike up against it, kissing him hard.

   He really did know how to kiss.

   She spilled his coat off his shoulders and onto the floor. He was still in the shredded cranberry overshirt. She slid her hands into the rents and tore it off him, with a sound that made her pant. She was still hot with living blood, probably still a little tipsy from whatever Riley had been on, and it didn’t take at all long for her to blood to rise, her skin to tingle, her body to start crying out, more!

   Spike groaned against her, and when Buffy stepped back and lifted his own black T-shirt over her head, he grabbed at it with her and threw it aside. He buried his nose in her breasts, his hands tight around her ribs. They were both bruised, battered, torn, damaged from days of fighting, but really, that only added to the beauty of the moment.

   Buffy didn’t waste any time. She grabbed at Spike’s belt and whipped it open, tearing down his zipper, pushed her hands down the back of his jeans and grabbed at that tight, tight ass. She thought about going down on him, but he didn’t need it, he was hard as a rock against her abdomen. Good. Time to be getting on with this.

   She pulled him with her and swept the nearest desk free with her arm, just like a crappy porn movie. The lamp and everything else crashed to the floor, and Buffy unzipped her jeans, kicking them down around her knees before she arched backwards, pulling Spike down with her. She kicked her jeans off one leg and splayed herself open for him, holding him tight, ready to just get this over with already.

   Spike kissed her, and kissed her, and why wasn’t he getting on with it? She could feel him against her, but he hadn’t really started yet. “Do it,” Buffy whispered.

   He stopped kissing her, looking down. “You sure about this, slayer?” He was panting, and his blue eyes were very bright.

   She nodded. “Just don’t let me kill my mom.”

    Time seemed to slow for him. He cocked his head and gazed at her. “What was that?”

   “My mom. Just, whatever happens after, don’t let me kill my mom, okay? Or my friends, but.... I guess I can’t ask you for that. Just please. I don’t know where in London they are, but if I look, I could find them, please don’t let me—” she was babbling, and she knew it, and it seemed to be turning Spike off. He had pulled a little away from her to look down at her. “Look, I know, it’ll be okay. You said so. It’ll be fine. Let's just get this over with.”

   That was the wrong thing to say. Spike pulled away completely and started hitching up his jeans.

   “Spike?”

   “I’m not your barber,” he said. “I’m not your manicurist. You want your hair trimmed or your nails cut, you go to one of them, and you pay them proper.” He reached down and flung his ripped shirt at her. “You just want something cut off you, I’m not the bloke to do it.”

   She covered herself, because she felt helpless and ridiculous naked, when he was so clearly pissed off. “What? What is it? I just wanted to... to um....”

   “Shag me to burn your soul off,” Spike said. “Right?”

   “Well... yeah.”

   Spike stared at her. “And you’re not even ashamed of it,” he said. He shook his head. “So much for your so vaunted soul.” He went back to the door and retrieved his coat, yanking something out of the pocket. “Here, slayer. Your shirt.” He threw her camisole at her and went and retrieved his own T-shirt, slipping it on over his head.

   “I don’t understand,” Buffy said, yanking her clothes back on. She felt very vulnerable suddenly. “Why are you angry?”

   Spike stared at her. “I’m not a tool. I’m not a pair of sodding nail clippers you can use to shape your body to what you want it to be. Maybe this last week’s meant nothing more to you than that, but that’s not how I roll, slayer.”

   Buffy hadn’t thought of it like that, but he was right. That was all she had been thinking of him as. She had a problem, this soul was in the way, she needed to get rid of it, and he was right there. A tool. Nail clippers.

   And that made her feel even worse.

   The blood, and the deaths, and the drugs, and the last week, and the way Spike was looking at her all piled up on her at once, and Buffy felt her veneer crumble. She wasn’t Slayer, the powerful vampire. She was not Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She was not a strong modern woman forging her way through a hostile world. She was suddenly a scared little girl, dragged in over her head, who hated absolutely everything about herself.

   “I can’t do it!” she wailed, and she buried her head in her hands.

   Spike didn’t respond.

   “I can’t, I just can’t, I can’t kill all those people!” She glared at him through her tears. “But we have to, and I know we do, ‘cause we can’t leave it like this. They’ll nab the wrong demon and he’ll open a portal the world will be sucked through, or they’ll start some kind of demon eugenics war, or they’ll just succeed and break through and start selling demon seeds in grocery stores, and hell hounds at Pet World, a vampire blood treatment will just become the next spa infusion, and they’re gonna destroy the whole damn world if we let them keep on with this! But I can’t!

   “Not really my problem, slayer.”

   “But it’s not fair!” Her voice shook. “Do you know what it’s like, to want to kill, and want to hurt, and to have something inside you telling you the whole time what a monster you are for that? I liked biting Riley! It was fun, he was hot, and he was warm, and he tasted good, and I loved the sounds he made, and the way his arms went around me as I fed, I liked it! And I hate myself for that!” She jumped off the desk, screaming at him. “I have to kill these people. To save everyone. I have to make this place disappear, but I can’t let myself. It will haunt me, every single day, like Riley’s gonna haunt me, like Faith haunts me, like the fucking Master still haunts me! Did you know that? It hurts me that I had to kill him! It hurts me even more now, ‘cause his bloodline is in me, you know that?”

   “‘S in me, too,” Spike said. “I’m not real eaten up over it.”

   “Because you don’t have a soul,” she said. Spike rolled his eyes. He didn’t understand. “Don’t you get it? It wasn’t… nothing, it wasn’t like getting my hair cut, it would have been… been a real… thing. That I gave you, or… or gave up with you.”

   He looked at her. He finally seemed to be listening.

   “I love this soul, Spike. This is me, this is everything I was. It gives me the world, it gives me love, it gives me my mom and my friends and... and the beauty of the stars at night. But it’s not what I am anymore! It doesn’t fit, it doesn’t want to fit in this!” She tore at her arms with her fingernails, as if she could rip herself open. “This is insane! I can’t live like this!”

   “Fine, then,” Spike said softly.

   “What?”

   “You don’t have to,” he said. He took her hands and stared into her eyes. “I get it, you’re twisted up. You want it, but you don’t, you love it, but you hate it. You think I haven’t felt that way?” He touched her hair, brushing it from her tear stained face. “I’m looking at something I feel that way about right now.”

   He touched her tears away with his thumb. “I will gladly help you, slayer. I’ll make love to you, if that’s what you want. I’ll let you burn your soul away in me, if that’s what you need to do. But not here. Not like this, not for this. If that’s what we’re doing, I want to do it right. I want it real, I want it clear, and I want time to do it the way we both want it. Not dropped out on a desk in a war zone ‘cause you don’t think you can take the next step.”

   “But I can’t, Spike,” she said. “I really, really can’t, these people are innocent. Or... or as innocent as any soldier in a war is. They’re just following orders, it doesn’t make them bad people. I can’t just kill them. But I have to, but I can’t, but....”

   “Okay,” he said. “You can’t do that, we’ll think of some other way to shut this place down.”

   Buffy blinked. “You... you mean that?”

   “Yeah. There’s always a way out, we’ll think of something else.”

   “What if there isn’t any other way?”

   Spike kissed her cheeks, drinking her tears. “There’ll be some other way.”

Chapter 16 by Sigyn

   

   “Here you go, Buffy. One governmental conspiracy theory to rival anything Xander could come up with after a weekend marathon of the X-Files.”

   “Are you sure this will do it?” Slayer asked.

   “It should,” Willow said, pressing execute on the virus she had just uploaded into the Initiative computers. “I uploaded the false files and corrupted the ones that weren’t too encrypted to make sense of.”

   “And this’ll make the grand uppity-ups think the whole thing staged?” Spike asked.

   Willow glanced over at Spike. “Um. Uh, yeah. It should. If you want their funding cut, this should do it.”

   Willow had been incredibly nervous to find that Slayer was working with Spike, but she was going with it. Slayer figured, the witch could just deal. Slayer was a vampire now. So she’d picked up with another vampire. A vampire who was beautiful, and powerful, and strong, and funny, and unflinchingly sexy, and had helped her in the past when she’d been only a slayer. A vampire who agreed, even though he didn’t care overmuch, that the Initiative was “bad mojo” as he put it and probably shouldn’t be allowed to continue. So they weren’t exactly on the same side. They were still... mostly the same.

   Spike and Slayer had racked their brains for several hours before they’d bumped up against what would become their final plan.

   Slayer had called Willow, who was good with computers. Spike had found a way to sneak her in through an air duct. (Really, for a top secret secure facility, there were several glaringly easy ways to sneak in and out. They both wondered if that had been by design, and if Walsh had had some other plan in the works which actually involved some kind of betrayal of the Initiative itself.) While Willow prepared her virus, Spike and Slayer had spent several hours preparing a number of false files. With Willow’s help, they had them scattered through the Initiative’s network, in prominent places which would remain largely uncorrupted by the virus which Willow had just executed.

   The false files suggested, and in several places outright confessed, to manipulation and corruption, falsified data, and downright forgery. There were no demons, or if there were, the men of the Initiative hadn’t been capturing them. The whole of the demonic underground was an elaborate ruse to milk money out of the government. The facility, the captures, the research, all of it was playacting, fabrication, and outright lies. Footage of demon captures were created by a special effects group in Hollywood — Willow had called Cordelia and managed to create a paper trail to a real television studio in LA, complete with invoices, make-up effects, props department memos, the works. Cordy had actually used her contacts to get out-of-date records from the actual company, which Willow promptly updated into the Initiative computers, to add a certain amount of verisimilitude.

   And then, she promptly wrecked it all with her virus. It was designed to specifically target encrypted and protected files more vigorously. When the government tried to piece together the Initiative’s records, they’d find a lot of unreadably corrupted encrypted files, and a lot of slightly corrupted but still traceable files suggesting that everything the Initiative was and did were elaborate pantomimes, special effects, and outright fraud. Any flaws in the forged files would be assumed to be a result of the virus.

   “Computers are done,” Willow said. “The virus should kick in over the whole network at about midnight. It’s up to you two, now.”

   “Good. I’ll walk you out.”

   As Slayer led Willow back to the secret exit, Willow grabbed her hand. “Buffy? Is something going on between you and Spike?”

   “We’re working together on this.”

   “Yeah, but... I mean... are you two... with the kissy-face?”

   Slayer closed her eyes. “It’s hard to explain, Willow.”

   “I’m just worried, because... well... um. The curse is....”

   “Yeah,” Slayer said quietly, and she knew she was confirming Willow’s greatest fear. “You should be worried.”

   “Buffy, how could you?”

   “I haven’t yet,” she said.

   “Well, I know, you’re not going for my throat, it’s just—”

   “Angel’s boys don’t kill,” Slayer said. “The co-op is set up enough. If it happens, I’ll try and stay with it.”

   “Try? What if you can’t?”

   “If that happens… well. I suggest you take me out.”

   “How could I…?”

   “Call Angel. He made the mess, I’m sure he could fix it.”

   Willow looked very troubled. “I guess I could always do the curse again, if I had to.”

   Slayer just looked at her.

   “But… you’re not going to try and... well... not let it happen? It just seems… irresponsible.”

   Slayer decided it was time to make something very clear. “Willow? You did this to me. And I understand why you did. But truthfully? I told you to let me die.”

   “That was when you didn’t have it!” Willow protested.

   Slayer stared at her. “I love you, Willow, you’re still my best friend. But you should have listened.” She shook her head. “Oz did. For a minute. He knew.”

   “Oz is gone,” Willow said. Tears were welling up in her eyes. “He... he met some other werewolf, Veruca, and he brought her into his cage with him, and they... they....” She choked. “We got into a fight. She disappeared, but he left anyway.” She shook her head. “I was trying to call you! I wanted... I wanted to talk, but... you’ve been so hard to reach sometimes... I didn’t know you were... not for a few days... Xander said you weren’t at the mansion.... Oh, god, Buffy, Oz is gone!

   Slayer wanted to be annoyed that Willow was more worried about her boyfriend troubles than she had been about her friend being missing, (or the whole curse conversation, which seemed to have completely fallen out of Willow’s head already) but the truth was... Slayer had been hard to pin down lately. She’d only been missing a few days. And from what Willow had seen of this place, it really didn’t look any worse than the average Big Bad of the Week. Just another day for the Scoobies. “It’s okay, Willow. Maybe he’ll come back.”

   “I don’t know,” Willow said. “He said... he said the wolf was always inside him, that Veruca... showed him and... I think he left with his new werewolf girlfriend, and was just being nice!”

   “Did she go to UC Sunnydale?” Slayer asked. “Singer in some band?”

   “Um... yeah?”

   “Oz didn’t leave with her,” she said. “She was captured, brought down here. She... didn’t make it through their experiments.” Willow’s face went white. She couldn’t seem to decide if she was happy or horrified. “If Oz left, that’s good. He’s safer away from here until this place is shut down completely.”

   “Really?”

   “Really.” She really didn’t have time for girl-talk. “Look, I have to....”

   “I know. Good luck!” Willow stopped in the doorway and looked back. “Is Spike really... what a vampire girl would want?”

   “I don’t know. But he’s what I needed.”

   Willow stared at her for a long moment, and then nodded before she left.

   Slayer made sure her friend had gotten back out into the sunlight before heading back to Spike.

   He was in one of the rooms of the 314 corridors, smashing sample jars so he could flush the contents down the toilet.“Sunset’s in three hours,” she said. “You ready?”

   “We can get the doors open with a bit of a smash and grab,” he said. “Between Walsh and Finn’s key cards, we got most of the doors set. It’ll be up to you to sweet talk the demons into all leaving rather than fighting, though.”

   “I can handle it. If any of them are really evil, I’ll just kill them.”

   “Any bodies—”

   “Have to be brought to the fire, I know. This was my plan, remember?”

   Spike chuckled.

   “I think most of them will be happy to get the heck out of Dodge. You ready with your part?”

   “Burning stuff is something I’m good at,” Spike said.

   Walsh, Riley, Angleman, the hideous mutilated monster corpse, and any demonic samples which didn’t look like they’d flush were to be dumped in the arena and burned with the other corpses Spike and Slayer had left. They already removed a window pane in the observation room to make that simple. Spike had disabled the fans, and the resultant fire alarm from the smoke should be enough to send the soldiers to wherever they were trained to go if there was a fire.

   “The fire and the alarms should draw most of the humans out harm’s way, or to the corridor where I’ll lock them in until morning. But what about these samples, Slayer? We can’t be sure we got every sample in the whole compound.” They could really only move freely in the deserted 314 section of the complex.

   “That was one of the files I wrote,” Buffy said. “Hints that actual samples were bought from occultists to confuse the trail if they were inspected. Paper trails lead to the Watcher’s Council.” She laughed. Might as well get some use out of her heritage.

   “And the soldiers?”

   “Paid to lie, that’s one of the files. And Angleman’s files were clear on the drugs he was administering them all. I don’t think anyone will believe them. At least not enough to change opinion.”

   “All right. I think that’s about it, slayer.”

   “Yeah. I guess it is.”

   There was an awkward and surprisingly heavy silence. Spike stood with his hand on a sample jar, looking into her eyes. “And when this is over...?”

   “We have to survive first,” Slayer said quickly. She grabbed several jars and cracked them open. “Uh, Spike? Um. Thank you. For finding another way.”

   “You thought of it. I was just a sound board.”

   “Yeah, but... you listened. You....” This was too awkward. “Thanks.”

   “You’re welcome, Slayer.”

   There was another heavy silence.

   “You know if you join the co-op, the blood’s free, right?” Slayer said abruptly. “Once it’s running better, there’ll be a salary, too.... Right now we can only pay off the lights and afford free cable for the guys in the basement, but....”

   “Slayer?”

   “Yeah?”

   “Let’s get out of here, first.”

   “Right. Just. Offer still stands.”

   Spike nodded. “Mine does, too. If that’s what you want.”

   His eyes locked with hers, and Slayer broke her jar, unable to open it with her hands shaking. “Right,” she said, pouring the demon eyeballs into the tub. She didn’t know what to say.

   Suddenly Spike grinned. “Want to play Twenty Questions?” he asked.

   Slayer looked up, relieved. “I’m thinking of an object.”

   “Stake.”

   “Got me. Your turn.”

   

***

   

   “Why’s it even locked?”

   “You trust all the nasties in this town? The no-invite clause doesn’t apply anymore!”

   “I know, but — ow! Would you get it open already?”

   “I’m trying!”

   “Just break it —”

   “Then I’d have to fix it! Doors cost,” Slayer finally got her front door open and they fell into her mansion, “money!

   She and Spike collapsed on the floor, smoking and laughing with relief. Spike kicked the door closed behind them as Slayer rolled off the smoldering leather coat, giggling giddily at the ceiling.

   Getting out of the Initiative had taken a little longer than they’d thought. Many of the soldiers hadn’t been quite as dumb as their previous behavior had indicated, and they’d been difficult to work around, and some of the demons captured had indeed been tough nuggets to crack. None of them were the real hard-core dangerous, since these Initiative blokes hadn’t really known what was what, and hadn’t had supernatural strength to aid in catching them, but a few hadn’t wanted to give Slayer her due as dominant. Spike had had to join her on a couple of those, and where strength and chutzpah hadn’t convinced them, age and experience and another pair of fists had. (They had had to kill two. Slayer had been more annoyed by the delay than upset at that.) Eventually they had gotten every living demon out of the cells and on their way back to wherever they’d been plucked from, but it had taken time.

   What with demon taming, and soldier wrangling, and double checking to make sure it was a big enough debacle to call in the uppity-ups in the first place for an inspection (an e-mail from “Walsh” begging for more money, and offering a tour to justify the expense was sure to be a clincher) it had been nearly dawn when the two had finally gotten out of that hell pit. They could have found somewhere to hole up — Spike was pretty sure there were some caves nearby — but Slayer had been adamant. “I’ve been in the same clothes, fighting slime demons, snaky monsters, rock beasts. I’ve got blood, dirt, dust, grime, not to mention other kinds of ooze all over me. I want my own bathroom, and my own clothes, and my own damn lair!”

   So they’d run. As the sun had crept over the horizon they’d darted from shadow to shadow, hidden under trees, and debated whether it would be easier to get to the sewers or to just high-tail it. The last three blocks they’d both had to hunker under Spike’s coat, as he held it over them like a tarp.

   Slayer was chuckling, Spike was pretty relieved himself, and he looked up at the concrete ceiling with a sense of joy he hadn’t felt in a long time. The last time he’d seen this mansion, he’d been looking for Slayer, obsessed with finding how she’d died. The time before that, he’d been drunk and disgruntled and lonely, full of rage for Angel. And before that...

   Before that he’d been carting off an unconscious Drusilla as Buffy had faced Angelus, all alone in the garden.

   Spike felt self-conscious suddenly. He’d been debating offering his services again as servicer, but he felt awkward about it.

   And then Slayer rolled over, grabbed him by the shoulders, and kissed him.

   His arms went around her, as relieved by her kiss as he had been by the shade. When she pulled away he gazed up at her, tired and dirty, with a slight burn on the side of her face from the sun. “Thought you might have changed your mind.”

   “About you?”

   “About all of it.”

   “I thought about it,” Slayer said. “Buffy used to second guess herself all the time. You know what? I hate that about Buffy.”

   Spike grinned.

   “But I need a shower or something.” She lifted herself off him. “I’m for the bathroom.”

   “I seem to remember,” Spike said, “that the master bathroom of this place has a bath tub big enough for two.”

   Slayer stopped. “It does.”

   Spike let his eyes travel down her form. “Be right in. If that’s okay.”

   Slayer didn’t say anything, but the look on her face was nervous, not opposed.

   “There any blood in the fridge?” he asked, to kill the tension.

   “It’s pig,” Slayer said. “Half a pint of donated left... oh, shit, that’s probably gone bad. The pig will have too... oh, there’s a half gallon in the freezer for emergencies, unless you wanted to call Xander to bring some—”

   “This is an emergency,” Spike said. “I’ll defrost it. Got any burba weed?”

   “What?”

   “Nevermind. I’ll see what I can do with coriander.”

   “Huh?”

   Spike rolled his eyes. There had been times he’d had to make do with animal blood in the past, and it was usually better to spice it up a bit. Coriander, caraway, burba weed, all could make animal blood a little more palatable. She’d been living on animal blood this whole time, and didn’t know this? “Do you have any black pepper, at least?”

   “Maybe,” she said. “I never use the kitchen for much but blood. There were some spices Angel left in the cupboard.”

   “Those were mine,” Spike said. “But they’ll be two years old. Well, better’n naught.” He threw himself off the floor. “Meet you in the bathroom with some blood…?”

   Slayer smiled at him slowly. “Yeah. That sounds nice.”

   Spike warmed up the blood to a little over 99 degrees, knowing it would cool a bit, and raided the spice cabinet to doctor it up. He got it palatable — or at least better than that dog-hybrid he’d eaten last — and brought it up to the bathroom with a couple of wine glasses.

   The door was closed, and he could hear the water running. He knocked. “Slayer?”

   “Yeah.”

   He took that as an invite, though her voice was very small.

   There she was, in her bathrobe, waiting for the water to fill the big tub, and she looked nervous as all hell.

   Ordinarily Spike would have said this called for a little spiritous lubrication, but there was no alcohol in the house. He’d checked.

   Spike poured her a glass of blood instead. “Now, this is my special recipe,” he said as he poured. “Two hefty pinches of burba weed, and a dash of ground coriander. And—” he pressed a glass into her hand. “A little something extra, to kill the pig taste.”

   Slayer sipped it. “Woah,” she said suddenly. “You spiked it.”

   “That I did.”

   She glared at him. “You’re trying to heal a hole in your head, you—”

   “I’m fine,” Spike said.

   Slayer grabbed his hand anyway and glared at the gash he’d put in his wrist. “Don’t do this to yourself. Not for me.” She kissed the wound.

   The tenderness surprised him. He’d been expecting her to go cold and stiff and terrified. If his read on her was correct, she was all but a virgin. One night with Angel (which, knowing Angel, likely wasn’t all that) and one stress-tense almost fully-clothed tryst with him a few nights ago. It wasn’t surprising she was nervous. “I like to. Why shouldn’t I?”

   “Because I’m not worth it.”

   Spike touched her face. “Hear this, pet. You’re worth it to me.”

   “In a few minutes, you won’t even know me. Whatever you think it’s worth..., it probably isn’t.”

   “First off, if this is over in a few minutes, stake me. I’ll deserve it. Second.” He slid his hand down her throat and held her head. “What do you think I’m looking for, love?”

   Slayer rolled her eyes. “Nevermind. No doubt you can’t wait.”

   Spike looked down. It was hard to explain how he felt about it. But a gurgle from the tub told him the water had reached the overflow drain. He went to turn off the water.

   When he turned back, she had shed the robe, and he was gifted with the sight of her naked in her own environment. The only thing that could have made it better would be candlelight, and maybe rose petals or something. Well. They had time.

   Or did they? How much would change with that soul out of the picture? What would she be as a pure demon? He really couldn’t picture it.

   Which frightened him. Because right now, he loved her more than he had ever loved anything. He knew it was early days. He knew the rush of the new was intoxicating. He also knew the naughty factor, as he was about to bed a former slayer, was definitely an added attraction. But really... she was right. He knew her as she was, soul and struggle and all. The idea of standing beside her as they went to go slaughter their way through the night, pure and unchecked evil... well. That wasn’t her. Without the soul, it might be....

   But at the same time, he knew she had serious issues with his lifestyle as it stood. And that would cause problems too.

   “There any more of that blood?” she asked.

   “Uh... yeah,” he said. He’d been busy staring. “Brought the whole jug.” He poured her another glass, and she settled herself into the water. She’d added lavender scented bubbles and some kind of bath oil. As Spike shed his clothes — god, these things were filthy. He hoped his room in the basement had just been locked up rather than tossed, ‘cause he was going to need something new to wear when they were done — he enjoyed the view of Slayer frankly enjoying the view of him.

   He settled into the warm water with his own glass of blood. Ugh, pig. He shuddered, but he knew it was an acquired taste. The fifth swallow always tasted better than the first, as the demon had to get past the initial impulse of, not that.

   “This is probably going to be awkward,” Slayer said suddenly. “I know this is.”

   “Trust me, once we get started, it won’t be.”

   “I’m not very... good. At this.”

   Spike raised his eyebrow. “Pardon?”

   “Well, Angel wasn’t... very impressed.”

   “Angel,” Spike said, “was an ass. And was trying to hurt your feelings. And I know, ‘cause he bragged about it.”

   “Weren’t you impressed? By his… evil?”

   Spike shook his head. “Not of that.”

   “Why not?” she asked. She seemed deeply in earnest. “What is it? What is it that makes you so different from him? When he doesn’t have a soul, why is he so much more evil than you?”

   “Hey, I’m evil!” Spike said. “And don’t kid yourself, when he does have a soul, he’s not much better.”

   “But he is.”

   “He killed you,” Spike snapped. “And he didn’t have to.”

   Slayer looked down. “Yeah. I know.” She swallowed. “That thing you said. About... there being a way to save him without... killing me.”

   Spike tilted his head, but he didn’t say anything.

   “I... probably didn’t have to try and kill Faith, either. If I’d done what you said.”

   Spike shrugged.

   “I should have thought of it,” she went on. “One of us should have thought of it. But I was angry, and... too scared to think straight.” She shook her head. “I could never think straight around Angel.”

   “Yeah, he’s had that effect on a few people.”

   “I still love him,” she said abruptly.

   Spike let that hang there for a long moment. “I know.”

   “I still want to do this.”

   “Me too.”

   “But... if I suddenly change my mind....”

   Spike rolled his eyes. “Well, depending on where we are, I might ask you to suck me off again, but otherwise, fine,” he said, exasperated. “Slayer.” He moved forward in the bath and put his arm around her. “This is for you, right? This... is all... for you.”

   He curled her against him in the warm water and kissed her forehead, her cheek, her lips, tenderly, methodically, passionately. She made tiny, contented sounds and eventually her hand went around him.

   “Watch the head,” he said suddenly.

   “Sorry!”

   “‘S okay.” He kissed her again, until she nearly melted under the water.

   “Still think you’ll change your mind?” he whispered after a while.

   “Fuck no.”

   

Chapter 17 by Sigyn

   “Oh, god! Oh, god, oh... ah...!” Slayer shuddered and grunted. She couldn’t move her legs. Her body wouldn’t stop shivering, almost as if she were being shocked, and little jolts of residual pleasure still rushed through her, from her core out to her extremities. Was this it? Was this what it felt like when your soul left?

   Spike lay beside her, spent, panting, exhausted. They had managed to stay on the bed, but she was pretty sure they’d bent the frame. Didn’t matter. She had wanted to be thoroughly and completely fucked. That had most assuredly happened, several times, in the last three hours.

   They had not, in fact, consummated the deal in the bathtub, despite Spike’s ardent kisses. What had actually happened was, they both almost fell asleep. They’d been on edge for almost a week, and the night had not been a peaceful one, nor the night before. It wasn’t until Slayer had nodded off and fallen under the water that they both realized sleep was more important than sex. They’d drained the blood for the sake of their health, and toddled into Slayer’s bed still damp.

   It wasn’t until sunset that they’d both woken, and Slayer had decided to try again. Spike had made her wait a moment while he lit some candles, a romantic gesture which both touched and annoyed her. It wasn’t until he was finally done with that that Slayer had stood up, glared at him, and made a very firm declaration.

   “I don’t want it gentle.”

   He had complied.

   At first he just let her do what she wanted, which had not, in fact, been gentle in the least (except in regards to his head.) It wasn’t until she felt she was exhausted and climbed off of him that he’d taken things back into hand, and proved to her that she had residuals of energy she hadn’t anticipated. He started with his tongue, drawing sounds and sensations out of her that she hadn’t thought possible, and then followed up with the rest of him.

   Suffice it to say, the deed was well and truly done.

   If her soul hadn’t winged its way off while she was distracted with all that — and she was pretty sure that wasn’t how it worked — then it should be leaving any moment. Her body was sated, but she couldn’t relax, the terror of what was about to happen next gnawing on her as fiercely as any of those beasts she’d had to fight in the last week.

   “God,” she whispered, her fist clenching. She was almost in tears. The sex had left her feeling vulnerable and soft. “I hope it’s not bad.”

   “Huh?” Spike said to the ceiling. He’d seemed barely able to move himself.

   “I hope... I hope I end up more like you than Angel. I hope....”

   Spike lifted himself and put his arm around her, pulling her back into his embrace. When they’d finally ended they’d needed that moment apart, but it felt good now as he collected her again. “Hey, now. ‘S all right.”

   “I can’t stop shaking,” she whispered, more to herself than him. “Oh, god, this is it!”

   “Maybe,” Spike said. “But that’s pretty normal after any halfway decent shag, love, so don’t freak.”

   “Is it?” She’d never had quite this reaction after doing it for herself, and there was nothing remotely like it after that thing with Angel.

   Spike chuckled. “Yes,” he said without judgement.

   Slayer took in a few more shaky breaths, glad that this was normal, but still worried, because what would it feel like, then? “You really... really won’t let me kill my mom? Or... or my friends? Though... I mean, this is why I wouldn’t let them invite me in, so they’d be... god, I knew from the start I was going to do this, didn’t I? It’s just... out of all the people I could... I don’t want—”

   “You’re not gonna go hunting your mum,” Spike said. “I’d be bloody brassed off at you, for one, I like the bird.”

   “You do?”

   Spike shrugged. “She’s a decent sort. Makes a good cuppa cocoa. You’re not going to kill her.”

   “Why not?”

   “The thought doesn’t give you any pleasure. Angel went torturing you ‘cause he’d always wanted to, even with the damn soul. Didn’t you get that?”

   She hadn’t. She still felt tense. “I don’t know... what I’ll be like.”

   “You’ll be like you,” Spike said. “Just without the soul in the way.”

   “I guess....” She swallowed. “I guess I don’t know what I’m like.”

   Spike looked down at her. “I do,” he whispered. He kissed her a few times, on her eyes, her nose, gently touching her lips. “‘Cause I’ve fallen in love with it.” He nuzzled her, his lips smooth and gentle against her cheek.

   “Can you really love...? Without...?”

   “Yes,” Spike murmured. “We can,” he said. “And I’m in love with you.”

   “Me like this...?”

   “Yes,” he said. “And I’ll love you after, too.”

   “I don’t get it. I won’t be the same....”

   Spike was still speaking against her skin, not even looking at her. “I love every part of you, slayer,” he said. “I love your hair. I love your eyes. I love your lips. I love your sharp, naughty teeth.” He kissed down her throat to her collarbone. “I love your skin,” he said. “I love your nails. I love your heart.” He kissed above it. Then he finally looked down at her. “I love your strength, and your humor, and your courage. I love your loyalty. I love your compassion. I love your short temper. I love your fist. I love your screams. I love this body. And yes, Slayer mine, I’m pretty sure I love your damn soul.”

   She stared up at him, almost in awe.

   “And if some sod came and cut all your shiny hair off, I’d love you. If someone poked out your eyes, I’d love you. If you were hurt and couldn’t be strong. If you were tired and couldn’t laugh. If you were angry and forgot to be loyal. All these bits of you I’ve fallen in love with — even before you were turned, I’ll bet. I love them, but they’re not you. And when this soul wings off to where it’s s’posed to be, I’ll love you. Still. Because you’re you.” He kissed her gently. “You’re not your hair. You’re not your eyes. You’re not some clever quip. And you’re not a soul. You’re you. You’ll always be you.”

   Slayer was touched by the courage of his confession. His eyes were so cold and soulless, but held her so completely....

   “I hope... when this happens that I feel the same,” she said. “However... it works. That I’ll love however you can. Like a demon.”

   Spike smiled. “That’d be nice.”

   “I’m scared.”

   “Hang on to me,” he said, shifting back to her side and pulling her against him. “I’ll be here through the whole thing.”

   She nestled up against him and bit her lip, still nervous. His arms were comforting, and she needed that.

   “When is this supposed to happen, anyway?” he asked after a while.

   “I’m not sure.”

   “Well... how exactly does it work? Are we talking lightning bolts, or some such?”

   “I actually don’t know, I was asleep,” Slayer told him. “We... well, we did it, and then I fell asleep, and... and, well, maybe he did too. But when I woke up he was gone.”

   “Huh. Maybe you have to fall asleep, first,” he said.

   How the hell was she supposed to fall asleep when she was this scared? “I don’t know if I can.”

   Spike chuckled. “All right, if this doesn’t knock you out, nothing will.”

   And to Slayer’s shock, he started reciting poetry. At first she laughed, and then settled in, snuggled softly up against him, listening to his dark, accented voice caressing words like they were lovers. She recognized a couple of the poems from English class in school, but several others were completely new to her.

   “My soul is wrapped in harsh repose. Midnight descends in raven-colored clothes. But soft. Behold! A sunlight beam, Cutting a swath of glimmering gleam. My heart expands, 'tis grown a bulge in it, Inspired by your beauty... effulgent.

    She was drifting off. “Never heard that one.”

   “Old Victorian thing,” he muttered. “Silly, innit?”

   “Mmm...”

   “Sleep, slayer,” he whispered, kissing her hairline. “I’ll be right here when you wake. Always. Now. How about this one? She walks in beauty, like the night, Of cloudless climes and starry skies, And all that's best of dark and bright, meet in her aspect and her eyes....

   She had drifted off before he’d finished.

   

***   

   

   “What the fuck do you mean, you knew it wasn’t sex?” Slayer shouted at the phone.

   Spike knew better than to be in her line of sight, but he just couldn’t miss hearing even half of this conversation. He lurked behind the corner in the kitchen, knowing she knew he was there and didn’t care. But he still didn’t quite dare get in the way of this, not even over the phone.

   He’d been pretty sure her confusion and suspicion was going to boil up into rage when Angel started talking. She’d known she still had a soul, she felt no different at all after their tryst, and when Spike made a few particularly horrible suggestions, she had not been indifferent to suffering, not even when it had nothing to do with either of them.

   She’d called Angel, saying even as she dialed that he probably wouldn’t know what was going on, either.

   “You weren’t sure?” Slayer growled. “But you let me believe that. For the last year and a half! — Oh, so now you’re saying it might only apply to us? You mean there was a specific difference?” Her voice raised half an octave. “Wait, with Darla?” There was a scoff. “Oh. You figured it had grown weaker? Like the damn curse had suffered metal fatigue? — And if we had, after the turning, it would have done what? Sent you off murdering and raping again? What about me, Angel?”

   Spike peered around the edge of the corner, and saw Slayer pacing back and forth. Suddenly her face vamped up with fury. “Don’t call me that! You murdered Buffy. You drew out your sharp little fangs and you sank them into my pretty all-but virginal throat and you drank down every drop of my innocent blood, and then you shoved your evil inside me like the fucking monster you are!” She rolled her eyes and tossed her head. “Oh, listen to yourself. Everyone’s fault but yours. I didn’t make you, you let me!”

   Spike could even hear Angel’s desperate cry, tinny and distant over the receiver. “You said it yourself, there was no other way!”

   Slayer laughed, with no humor in it at all. “Actually, someone just pointed out to me, there was. — No, not some other spell, or anything. All we had to do was just give me a donation while you drank. Any hospital. Hell, I could have had a transfusion from mom and the Scoobies, even, no doctors involved. I know Xander and Willow are both type O.”

   Her eyes narrowed and her face went grim. “Yeah, Angel. Why didn’t either of us think of it? ‘Cause you didn’t want to get better, you wanted to feed. — No, Angel, you wanted me. And I wanted you to, ‘cause you’d set me up. I thought you’d stay if I gave you everything of me. And you still betrayed me!”

   Her voice went darker again, with a perfect demonic growl in it. “Oh, yes, it was. Oh, yes it was! You’d corrupted my soul before you corrupted my body. — No. It was. Because Faith didn’t have to die. I didn’t have to die. No one had to die. But we were both too thick to give a shit about anything but our goddamn melodrama! — Well, why the fuck couldn’t you just let me leave you when I tried? After Spike came, huh? For god’s sake, why’d you have to stalk me down in the first place, you evil, manipulative, fuck!”

   She shook her head vehemently at the phone. “Oh, no, you weren’t. You were trying to help yourself. From the very fucking beginning, I was just a means toward your ultimate redemption. Well, this is it, Angel. How’s it feel?” She scoffed at whatever Angel said next. “I’m supposed to care? You tried to condemn me to a life of celibacy, you fucking jerk! Because you were evil once, I had to try and be a fucking nun!”

   She rolled her eyes. “No, it fucking isn’t, Angel, it’s fine. Your own little baby slaypire is still just as tortured as you set her up to be. Buffy’s soul is still just as cursed and bound to a life of a monster, just like you wanted. Yay you.”

   She smirked then. Spike knew it. Angel had finally caught on. “Yep!” she said with a grin. Then, “Well, actually, I’m not telling you. Because my sex life, or lack thereof, is no longer any of your fucking business!” Slayer threw the phone across the room.

   Angel’s voice, desperate, distant, desolate, gabbled through the abandoned receiver. “No, wait, don’t hang up! Buffy? Buffy!

   Slayer had thrown up her hands and was pacing again, and Spike could not let this opportunity go by. There was no way Slayer could expect him to. “Angel!” he said, grabbing the phone. “Hallo, mate, glad to check in. Your bed’s really comfortable. Thanks for the nice digs, I’m loving it here.”

   “Spike?” Angel’s voice over the phone sounded incredulous, if not horrified. “Spike?

   “Oh, I know, been here before, but it’s lots nicer on two legs. And the master suite is a dream.”

   “What have you done to her?”

   “Just two words for you, mate,” Spike said, unable to keep the grin off his face. “I win.

   Slayer rolled her eyes, but didn’t seem particularly angry. Well, not at Spike, anyway. Fury still sparked in her yellow eyes, but it was all for Angel. “Give me that back,” she said, taking the receiver.

   Her face darkened further at whatever Angel said. “Oh, really. How touching. So, what, fucking an underage girl somehow erased a hundred years of slaughter, rape, and torture? How the fuck did that equate to perfect fucking happiness! Did you just forget about all that?”

   Spike couldn’t hear everything Angel said in response to that, but one word stuck out. “Pure.

   “Fuck you, Angel,” was all Slayer said in response to that. Then, “No, actually, you’re not. You’re staying right there in LA where you put yourself.” She shook her head at what he said then. “No. You gave up that right, when you left.” She listened for one more moment. “Don’t you dare, Angel. You know where you can go? I sent you there once, so you know exactly how much I fucking mean it when I say to you, go to hell!

   And this time she slammed down the phone so hard it broke.

   And Spike couldn’t stop grinning.

   “Will you take that insufferable look off your face?” Slayer demanded. “It pisses me off.”

   “Good.”

   “What did you say?”

   “Good. You should be pissed off.”

   “Not at you!”

   “Yeah, but I’m here.” He danced backward with an inviting stance, his fists at the ready. “Come on, slayer. Lay it on me.”

   “I’m pissed off enough, I might kill you.”

   Spike considered this. “I’ll take the chance.”

   “Your head.”

   “Lay off the face,” he said. “Come on. I dare you.”

   Slayer growled, and leaped for him, punching at his torso. “He said,” she said, “that he’d always sort of known it wasn’t just sex. That he and Darla got it on back — when he first — got the curse!”

   “Yeah,” Spike said, blocking the blows that came with her words. “I wondered about that.”

   “I’ll bet he tried raping and seducing other innocent virgins, too,” she growled. “I’ll bet he knew all along!”

   “How did he explain it?”

   “He said the curse might have gotten weaker!” She laughed. “Then, then he dared say it was just us.”

   “‘Cause you were the Slayer?”

   “No! ‘Cause what we had was true love!

   Spike was actually hurt by that. “Do you think he’s right?”

   “What does it matter?” Slayer shouted. “He let me think all this time that perfect happiness was some euphemism for orgasm.”

   “Well, maybe for him it is.”

   “Yeah, what, one stiffy with a seventeen year old girl, and all his sins are erased? Baptized in my virgin pussy, and he comes up clean and pure! What the fuck?” She body slammed Spike against the wall. “I can’t believe he let that erase all his fucking guilt! He should have been feeling guilty for that!

   Spike wasn’t sure. He was a believer in true love. “Dunno. If it was nice, it was nice.”

   Slayer shoved him sideways. “He’d been stalking me since I was fifteen!” she yelled. “He’d been directed to me. He... he manipulated me!”

   Spike didn’t doubt it. “I know, love.”

   “How the fuck? Did he brag about that, too?”

   He had, but that wasn’t how Spike knew. “No. ‘Cause he did it to me, too. Once upon a time.” Spike picked himself up off the ground. Slayer’s rage was cooling into something he wanted to head off at the pass before it brought her to screaming. He wasn’t sure he could keep off the tears, but that was what the sparring had been about. “Angel’s good at getting what he wants out of people,” Spike said, catching her by the shoulders. “And he’s really selfish, and he doesn’t understand love. He never has. Yeah. I’ll bet he thought that by claiming you, he was redeemed.”

   “All he did was corrupt me, instead,” Slayer whispered.

   Spike kissed her, tenderly. “Then be corrupted,” he said, heady. “It can be fun. Be corrupted, and rude, and powerful, and sexy. Be a little evil, slayer. Be a creature of the darkness, like you always knew you were.” He gently kissed her lips. “With me.”

   “Spike, I can’t.”

   “Sure you can,” he said. “Look. You wanted this soul gone, right? You’re sick of having it in your skin? Well, you want to get rid of it, you gotta learn to be happy, Slayer. So what makes you happy? Clearly poncing around about here being pious and celibate hasn’t done the trick. What do you want, pet? Blood? Violence?”

   “No. Guilt’s a very real thing, Spike.”

   “About what? Getting your fight on? Getting a taste of the good stuff?”

   “I’m not going to go killing people!”

   “You don’t have to. You liked tasting Riley, right?” She didn’t answer. “Right?

   Slayer closed her eyes.

   “A little night club seduction, a dance with a good looking bloke, and you only take a few sips against the wall. Hot and sweet and safe enough, leave him with a powerful hickey. Sound like fun?”

   Slayer bent her head, her yellow eyes finally fading. The idea appealed enough it had softened her, but she felt guilty for it.

   “How about a good brawl? Fist and fangs? You’ve been letting the demons go, not wanting to fight your own kind. Why not? They deserve it. Take ‘em out. Enjoy the kill.”

   She trembled a little in his arms.

   “Slayer, look around you. The world is your oyster, and you’re the pearl. Take joy in it, already! You have the night, and the moonlight, and the whole sodding world, forever.” He touched the side of her face, brushing her hair back. “And you got me.”

   She finally looked up at him. “I can’t, Spike. I can’t be with someone who’s killing people. Not with this soul. I just... I can’t.”

   Spike rolled his eyes. “Fine. I’ll join your sodding co-op.” Slayer actually gasped. “But only if I can still get a nip in at the Bronze sometimes. I don’t have to kill ‘em, but the seduction’s too much fun to lose.”

   “No mess ups! I’d... have to stake you if you kill, even on accident.”

   Spike nodded.

   “And only if you buy them something to eat, first,” Slayer said. “Like the Red Cross gives out cookies.”

   Spike actually laughed. It was so... high school. “Fine. Can I kill criminals?”

   “And you’re judge, jury, and executioner? No!”

   “Slayer!

   “Muggers deserve to be eaten? Na-uh, Spike.”

   “Fine. Can I rough ‘em up and just put a bite on for a minute, just to take them down?”

   She hesitated. “O-only if you call 911 after,” she said. “So they’ll get care.”

   Spike glared at the ceiling for a moment, half annoyed, half amused. “Fine!” he said. “I can do that.”

   “I’ll check up on you!” Slayer insisted. “I don’t want you screwing up.”

   “I wouldn’t risk your anger, pet. The point here is to make you perfectly happy, right?”

   Slayer blinked. “I....” It was as if she’d only just realized that was what he was saying. “You... you’d do that? That would be...?”

   “My goal in life until I succeed, right? Making you, my love, perfectly, deliriously happy. Yes. I plan to devote every bit of my energy to that, until you’re bloody sick of me.”

   “Or... perfectly happy?”

   Spike nodded.

   “What if it never happens?”

   He shrugged. “Then I’ll have to settle for making you a little happier than you are now. I can live with that.”

   “But what about your happiness?”

   He shook his head. “It was destroyed the moment you came into my life, slayer, and someone hit me in the head with a fire axe.” He touched the back of his bandaged head. Ah, poetic foreshadowing. “You’re the only thing that’s made me happy in years. I went and fell in love with you. Terrible mistake.” He slid his hands up and down her arms. “‘Sides. We don’t know that Angel was wrong. Maybe I just haven’t shagged you hard enough yet.”

   “I think we pretty much covered that.”

   “I think we need to make absolutely certain, Slayer,” he said. He scooped her up in his arms and spun her around until she laughed. “We can perform some scientific studies. What do you think?”

   Slayer laughed, and then kissed him, clearly much happier than she had been a few minutes ago.

   Well. That was one step closer, already.

   

Chapter 18 by Sigyn

Epilogue



   Slayer stared down at her latest kill, unable to decide how she felt about this. Time seemed to have stopped dead. She couldn’t think. She couldn’t move. Her life and her unlife twisted together in her head, and all she could do was stare down at the lifeless eyes that stared up at her.

   She didn’t know how long she’d been staring when the front door opened, and Spike came bustling in, bearing a grocery bag probably full of blood and cigarettes, and a big heart-shaped box. He regularly plied her with dark chocolate. He was kind and attentive and beautiful. And Slayer wondered idly if she would have let Faith live if she hadn’t been with him. Evil breeds evil....

   “Woah,” Spike said, taking in the corpse on the floor and the mess of living room. “What happened?”

   “She attacked me,” Slayer said, still unable to look away from the corpse’s face. “She... came out of her coma. She had some weapon, she... well. It didn’t work. Probably because I wasn’t supposed to be a vampire....”

   “She attacked you?” Spike set down his offerings and approached warily, as if Slayer were a wild animal. He wasn’t wrong. Slayer felt very, very wild.

   “This is Faith,” Slayer said.

   “That slayer you told me about?” Spike said. “The one who went dark?”

   Slayer nodded. “I... I tried to apologize to her. For attacking her before. I mean, she’d attacked Angel, she was killing people kind of indiscriminately, at the behest of the Mayor. All completely evil. It wasn’t as if she was good. But... I shouldn’t have tried to kill her. I was wrong there. But she wasn’t listening, and she wouldn’t... stop....” Slayer finally looked up. “I did it. I killed a slayer.”

   The Slayer of Slayers looked down at her, his blue eyes concerned. “You all right?”

   “She was my friend,” Slayer said. “She was... more than my friend. She was my....” She swallowed.

   “Buffy.”

   Slayer looked up. Spike still sometimes called her that, but it wasn’t like when Willow or Xander did it, just forgetting who she was now. Whenever Spike called her Buffy he was deliberately trying to touch some part of who she had been.

   “She was going to kill you.”

   “I know....” Slayer said. “I still... I don’t know....”

   “Buffy.”

   “I don’t know if I would have killed her if I’d still been... who I was.”

   Spike took hold of her shoulders and led her a little away from the fallen slayer. “You wouldn’t’ve now, if you’d had any choice, Slayer. I know that about you. You’ll take a nip from a college boy trying to get into your pants, but you’re not a cold killer. You do what you have to.”

   Slayer closed her eyes. She had been taking nips from college boys, (she’d almost taken too much from a boy named Parker one night, who had tasted delectable) and had even joined Spike in a few mugger-munches, but she hadn’t killed. “But I’ve killed a slayer.”

   “One snuffs it, another one rises. That’s the way, yeah? She was evil. Someone better will take her place.”

   It wasn’t until he’d said it that the truth of that dawned on both of them. Their eyes slowly widened. “Someone... someone else is the slayer now.”

   “Some other bird is....”

   “She’s being called right....”

   “Slayer. You’re free!”

   They stared at each other, and she could see the joy in Spike’s eyes. She wasn’t sure she was allowed to be happy. The idea seemed evil to her, to be glad that some other girl had just had her childhood snatched away, been thrust into a life of darkness and killing. It seemed wrong to think that killing her friend meant she was freed of the responsibility of the hellmouth.

   But... no. No. She couldn’t let herself feel....

   The phone rang. Slayer jumped, as if a demon had burst through the door. Spike went and picked it up. It was Giles.

   Giles had been deeply disturbed to discover that Spike had taken up residence in the mansion, but Joyce had understood. “Well, you are a vampire now,” she’d said when she found out. She had found out, Slayer had been amazed to discover, because Spike had called her up and asked permission to court her daughter. (“Yeah, I know it’s daft,” Spike had said when Slayer had asked about it. “If she’d said no, I’d have done it anyway. You know leftover human impulse doesn’t always make sense.” Then he’d scoffed. “Not like I was gonna ask Angel’s blessing.”)

   In fact, Joyce had seemed almost relieved that Slayer had taken up with Spike. “Of all the vampires you could have started dating, he did seem the most... reasonable.”

   No, it hadn’t been an enthusiastic endorsement of the relationship, but she had seemed to understand, at least once Slayer had told her he’d joined the co-op.

   Eventually Giles had accepted the circumstances as well. Wasn’t anything they could do about it anyway, all the way over in England. So he spoke quietly to Spike for a moment before Spike handed the phone over.

   “Buffy? Buffy, are you all right?”

   “Faith’s dead.”

   “So I heard. What happened?”

   “She tried to kill me. I... really didn’t want....”

   There was a heavy silence on the other side of the phone. “If you could do me a great favor, Buffy. The Watcher’s Council would like a description of Faith’s... final encounter. Not many details, but....”

   “I’m not writing this up.”

   “I understand. Just... so it was you who...?”

   “Yes,” Slayer said. “She attacked me with some magical doohickey. I think she got it from the Mayor. It didn’t work, and she went creepy feral, and I had to kill her. Her neck is broken.” She swallowed. “She hasn’t been fed from.”

   “Thank you,” Giles said. “The watcher’s council will take over from there. If you can find some way of—”

   Slayer let the phone fall from her hand. Spike picked it up and walked away with it. “No, she’s not going to hang about and wank while the watchers send a pick-a-mix of vamp-haters to fetch their fallen slayer out of her front parlor!” Spike snapped at it. “I know we can’t call the coppers, violent death and all that. Can’t we just dump her down a ravine and have an end on it?” He growled softly. “Hello! Vampire! I’m only playing pussy-whipped!”

   “Fine,” he finally said. “I’ll get her out of town. Give this Kennedy or whatever the skivvy. We’ll call in a week. Regards to Joyce.” He hung up the phone. “Watchers want to handle Faith’s remains,” he said. “I don’t trust the team they’ll send to pick her up. Do you?”

   “God, no!”

   “Said I’d get you out of town ‘til they were finished,” he said. “Fancy a road trip, pet?”

   A road trip? She couldn’t go on a road trip, she was the Slayer, she had to stay and....

   But no. She didn’t. “Who’s Kennedy? A watcher?”

   “Nope. Next slayer’s been called already, had a watcher already on the scene and noticed in a tick. Whole council’s in a buzz. She’s already made plans to come here.”

   “Another slayer? Here?”

   “Yeah. Giles is preparing a briefing, Sunnydale history, assets, geography. Us.” Spike reached out and touched her cheek. “You all right with that, love?”

   “She might not be.”

   “Not really our problem.”

   “It is if she decides to stake us.” Slayer frowned. “And what about the co-op?”

   “Is that really our problem, pet?”

   Slayer was about to protest it was, and then realized... no. That was the point. It wasn’t.

   “I’ll call Xander,” she said, suddenly all energy. “Get him to field the watchers’ goons. You get to the co-op. Tell them what’s going down, and we’re headed out of town. They can choose to stick it out with Xander and Willow, or leave. Or go back to killing, and let this Kennedy slay them, I guess.”

   “Do we tell them we’ll be back?”

   “Yes,” she said. “We’re still Masters of the co-op. We’re just... on vacation. We’ll be back some day.”

   “Is that true?”

   Slayer thought about it. “I don’t know.”

   Two hours before sunrise, she and Spike locked the door of the mansion on Faith’s corpse, and piled into the front of his bad black Desoto. Everything important had been stuck in the trunk or the back seat of the car. There wasn’t much left that was important to Slayer. The box of chocolates was on the floorboards beneath her feet.

   Xander said he’d watch the mansion and the co-op (if it survived) until they got back. He had the key to let the watcher’s boys in to get Faith, and check on plumbing and such. Willow had already been given Kennedy’s e-mail address so they could communicate until she got there. Willow had been working with another witch she’d met at school called Tara, and took to the news that another slayer was coming to Sunnydale as if she were about to meet the wife of one of Slayer’s ex’s. “I am prepared to hate her on sight,” she said with staunch loyalty.

   Nothing else seemed to matter. There was really nothing holding them there. Spike gunned the engine and, strangely, made a detour on his way through town. “Spike? What are you doing?”

   “Tradition,” he said. “There it is....” He swerved the car, slammed on the accelerator, and mowed down the Welcome to Sunnydale sign.

   Slayer laughed. “Are you the one who keeps doing that? The city council complains and complains!”

   “Hey, I only do it on my way in or out,” Spike said. “It’s been months since I hit the last one.”

   “Planning to kill a slayer,” Slayer mused.

   “Yeah, well. Plans change.”

   “They do,” Slayer said. She moved over on the seat and leaned up against her vampire consort. “They really do.”

   Spike put his arm around her and squeezed her tight.

   “Think we’ll ever come back again?” she asked.

   Spike shrugged and kissed the top of her head before gunning it onto the highway. “Whatever makes you happy, love.”     



This story archived at https://dark-solace.org/elysian/viewstory.php?sid=5105