“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.

 





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