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.


   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.”


   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.


   “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...”


   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.”


   “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.



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