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.

 

 





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