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.

   

 





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