“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.”

 

 





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