Lesson the fourth: View to a Kill
Buffy felt part James Bond, part Nancy Drew, and a whole lot of clueless. Sitting in the cemetery with Xander had had a completely different vibe to it. That had been like waiting at the rear stage door for a glimpse of a rock star, this was like knowing she was going to completely humiliate herself in front of said rock star.
"Should I be carrying my stake?" she checked.
"Have one handy."
"You don't," she noticed.
"I prefer to use my hands."
"But you can't beat a vampire to death--"
"You can take their heads off, works rather nicely."
She wasn't sure if he was bragging or not. Vamps were strong but even for another vamp, taking their heads off couldn't be easy. Then she realized that she was contemplating the likelihood that the man standing next to her could actually rip something's head off. Maybe that was why his nail polish was chipped. Decapitation must be murder on a manicure.
She decided he was bragging, keeping the little lady in her place.
"Slayers can sense vampires," Spike said.
"Yeah, I can't do that, but I hear the Council is working on a thingie, an electric sensor of some kind, you know, since heat sensors don't pick you guys up. Can you sense other vampires?" That would be good information for her research.
"I can smell them."
"You mean they smell dead?"
"I mean they smell like vampires. You know every species has its own smell. Dogs. Fish. Horses. Vampires." He looked her up and down, "Women."
"So the vampires will all know I'm coming?" Buffy gathered.
"Didn't think a girl like you would do that on a first date." Spike didn't look at her, nor did his walk miss a beat, "but once we're done here..."
She knew better than to respond. She had to save her resources for more important things than getting indignant or letting him get under her skin. She shoved a stake into her front thigh pocket. She had to do a double step occasionally to keep up with him, even though he wasn't walking quickly.
He slowed, turned his head and frowned. His jaw twisted in consideration, then he began walking again.
"Care to clue me in?" she said in a stage whisper.
She hadn't expected that. It unnerved her. He tended to be candid or at least gave that impression. Him choosing to keep something to himself worried her. "Was it vamps?"
"No." There was no expression in his tone and little more on his face.
"Do you know where we're going?"
He cut her a glare.
"What? I'm just--"
"Don't suppose your banker daddy ever took you hunting."
"No, but once my cousin and I made a trap for a squirrel with a shoe box, a stick, and some string. We used peanut butter for bait."
"I once caught a bird that way when I was a boy."
His admission surprised her. She had expected him to say something cutting to her. In fact, that was why she said it, to lighten the mood. The last thing she expected was for him to act all human on her.
"I didn't think that would work," she admitted.
"Neither did I. It didn't work the first 30 times or so." He shrugged and gave a boyish grin at the memory.
"So, what did you do?"
"That's the thing innit? You never really think you're going to catch one, and when you do..."
She waited for him to say something horrible, about how he squeezed the bird till its eyes popped or twisted its little neck.
"I didn't use a shoe box then. I had a little cage of twigs and such, so I could see it there, caught." He'd stopped walking and was peering into the past. "We just looked at each other for a spell. The bird didn't seem a bit afraid. Maybe it knew there wasn't a point to it." Spike frowned.
"So what did you do?"
"I let it go. I could have kept it…or killed it. I realized I could make a choice, the bird couldn’t; it was trapped. Being able to choose that‘s where the real power is. I lifted the cage, It took off and never looked back. I felt strong then. Stronger than if I'd kept it. Stronger than if I'd killed it."
Buffy was trapped again, not by his strong hands or hypnotic gaze, but by his person. His words and story were as precise and powerful as his hands had been earlier. He knew just what to say to keep her there, right with him and when she tried to lighten the mood or pull away, he immediately pulled her back.
"We never caught a squirrel."
"Just as well."
"Yeah." She truly didn’t know what they would have done with a frantic squirrel in a box. Likely they would have been too scared to even turn the box over to let it go.
Buffy had always thought power was in strength, but Spike had found his strength when he chose to let the bird go. It wasn't about mercy. He didn't feel strong because he'd made a humane decision. He felt strong when he recognized that he had a choice. Power was knowing you could choose--and then choosing.
Buffy's brows bunched together. Spike's hands on her earlier felt so powerful not because they crushed hers or held her fast, but because at any given moment he could have kept her or let her go. He didn't have to grip hard to keep her there. He hadn't learned that as a thug vampire with 100+ years of bad behavior behind him; he'd learned that as a boy.
Buffy recalled the mixture of anticipation and fear she had felt holding the string, watching for a squirrel to approach, hoping they caught one, hoping they wouldn't. A choice only equated power if you actually MADE a decision. Having options and refusing to, or being unable to, choose wasn't power.
Had she and her cousin caught a squirrel they wouldn't have wanted to let it go, because so much effort had gone into catching it, but neither did they actually want a wild squirrel. So much of her life felt like that, trying hard to catch something she didn't actually want, just so she could say she caught it.
Buffy stopped walking and watched Spike moving fluidly away from her. This was real. She was here as the result of a long list of choices. She was here with William the--No. She was here with this vampire and she could choose to let go of her idea of William the Bloody and be here, with Spike or cling tight to her previous beliefs, but that would be about as useless as a squirrel in a box.
She could almost understand it, watching him move, hearing him talk and learning how he thought, why Faith had hesitated to kill him. She knew she could at any time, which meant she didn't have to.
No, that was wrong. Spike killed people. Vampires were bad and had to be dusted. There had been flecks of blood on her pillowcase.
"Was it something I said?" he asked, not looking back.
Buffy hurried to catch up. "We're not going to let a vampire go are we?" She wanted to be sure.
"Why? You want to bring one back to the lab? Give it some IQ tests or what not?"
"No. I ...your story."
"Just a memory, Luv."
But it had been a human memory, a very human memory.
"We're almost there," he said it in the same dull tone, but this time he looked over at her. "You ready?"
She wanted to say yes, she forced her lips and tongue into the position to say yes, but it came out a gnarled grimaced no just the same.
Rather than seeming amused, Spike looked impressed. Strange man...er vampire.
Almost referred to a fresh grave about 30 yards away. There was no stone, just freshly filled earth.
"Won't be long," Spike told her, sitting on a nearby grave marker and lighting a cigarette.
"How do you know?" Buffy asked.
"Intel, poked around until I got a bead on a recent turn."
"So, it's going to rise." Buffy gave a nod. She could do this. This was how it went: someone got killed, their body got buried in a grave and then a young teenaged girl came along and killed whatever the thing was that crawled out.
Spike blew smoke rings and poked his finger through the middle of them. Buffy stood awkwardly, her eyes moving between the mound of soil, Spike, and her own hands which kept twitching around, unsure what to do with themselves.
"I'll tell you when. He's just waking up, it'll be a bit. You can take a seat," he suggested.
"I don't think I should just sit on a grave. Isn't that disrespectful?" It just seemed wrong, yet watching him do it seemed like the most normal thing of all. But he was a corpse; he belonged in a cemetery. It was less unseemly for a dead guy to perch on a grave than a very alive graduate student.
"Suit yourself, but they don't mind." He motioned around. "You don't hear them complaining." Then he cocked his head at the grave in front of them. "Cept maybe this one, sounds like he's waking up on the wrong side of the grave."
Buffy pulled out a stake, then looked nervously to Spike. "So what do I do? I mean, when he comes out do I just jump him? Will he be strong like you?"
Spike smiled at the unintended compliment. "Don't do jumping of any kind. I'll grab him and see what sort we're dealing with." He sounded like a big brother or protective boyfriend. She knew all about how protective boyfriends sounded.
Now even Buffy could hear the sounds of muffled words and scratching and scraping.
Soon. It was going to happen very soon. Spike tossed away his cigarette butt and jerked his head, motioning Buffy to step aside.
Her hand was working nervously around the shaft of a stake. It seemed to take forever, then all of a sudden it was happening. Arms, a head, and body were clawing out of the ground with astounding speed. The vampire shook dirt from its hair and looked around confused. No choice. It had no choice; it was hungry and disoriented and needed to feed. It was a person who wasn't human but it looked human, like a sad, confused, dirty human.
Spike frowned at the creature as if he didn't relish what was about to happen, but he'd made an agreement and was going to keep to it.
"Get ready," he told Buffy.
She already had her stake in hand, was there something else she should be doing? What was she getting ready for? Did he actually expect her to stick a piece of wood through that dirty confused human?
A very inhuman groan of pain and fury burst from the creature’s lungs.
Not human, demon, she reminded herself. Spike unceremoniously grabbed it by the arms and quickly wrestled them behind its back.
"Hey!" the vampire protested, sounding just as human now as he had sounded feral only seconds before.
"This one is all yours Ms. Summers." Spike held the confused creature fast, its chest out and arched, an easy target.
"I just have to stab it," she reminded herself.
"Yeah, NOW," Spike suggested.
"Stab who now?" the vampire looked at the small woman with the pointed stick who was approaching him slowly.
"Nothing personal mate, the lady has a job to do," Spike said in a matter of fact manner.
Buffy doubted the man even knew he WAS a vampire. He just seemed disoriented and angry.
"In the heart, Luv," Spike encouraged her. The vampire in his arms was struggling harder.
"Where exactly is that?"
"Center of the chest, just to the left. HIS left, your right. Do I need to draw a bleeding diagram? Don't they teach you anything?"
Buffy closed her eyes, rushed forward opening them and thrust the stake at the creature. Her blow grazed it, tearing the shirt.
"Geez, you're crazy lady. What is this? Some gang initiation? Hazing?" the vampire asked.
Buffy looked at Spike helplessly.
"Just do it," he growled, giving the vampire a jerk to disorient him and give Buffy another clear shot at its chest.
Buffy arched the stake over her head and drove it at the trapped vamp. She could feel and hear the flesh tearing, but the stake didn't penetrate. The vampire roared and kicked at her, it bucked back against Spike and flailed trying to free itself. Spike looked hard at Buffy with a hint of "I told you so." mixed with "Do I have to do every bloody thing myself?" and a dollop of "Not as easy as you thought eh?"
"What should I do?" she squeaked frantically.
Spike's arms shifted and Buffy paled, she realized that Spike was preparing to rip the vampire's head off, right in front of her, now, even as it was speaking. "Hey, I don't know if I have any money on me but if you just let me go--"
"Spike, don't," she implored. She pulled out another stake.
"You going to have another go?" he asked doubtfully.
"No. Yes. Should I?"
"No, stand back." Spike shook the vamp violently, then pushed him to the ground, "Stake!" he put his hand up, Buffy shoved one into his hand and Spike plowed it into the vampire's back in a hard smooth arc.
The vampire made a horrid noise, of pain, anger, tearing flesh and breaking bone then grew suddenly still before disintegrating into dust. Spike stayed there on his knees for a few seconds, looking down at the dust, at the stake in his hand, as if trying to make sense of it. Then he looked up at Buffy, who was frozen in place in horror.
"He's gone now, nothing to be scared of," Spike pointed out.
But there was, of course there was; there was Spike who not only was strong enough and smart enough to kill such a thing, but he could do it without hesitation or a second thought. The creature's lingering humanity was no deterrent, nor were its cries of pain or confusion, or it's human like pleas for release. The truly dangerous vampire was still right there with her. Spike was powerful. He was a vampire who knew he could make a choice, and he just had.
"What you expected?" he asked, though clearly he already knew the answer. He’d known it before they'd even left the hotel. He’d known it the first time he saw her. She had expected a mythological creature that rose off the pages of some centuries-old book, something that looked and behaved like a monster, something that was easy to kill because killing was the only sensible reaction to it. She hadn't expected this.
He rose and handed her stake back. "It's why there're Slayers. Not easy to shove a stick through a grown man's chest." So true, in so many different ways.
"He was so human."
"Bit like me?"
"No, nothing like you." Buffy was quite sure Spike would never offer anyone money for his life. "I couldn't do it," she said helplessly, the stake in her hand, that should have been dripping with blood and gore, was now splintered and dusty on the end, but it bore no sign of having just been inside a dead wet body.
"You've never seen a vampire before," Spike said as if it explained everything. "S'more important is you've never seen a kill."
Well, she just had, now, here.
"It'll be easier to stake one after you've seen what we're capable of." His voice sounded a bit hollow and old. Jaded, even tired.
Suddenly none of this made sense. Why would a vampire be teaching her anything? Why did she think it was good or safe or sensible to be out here with him? This wasn't some noble pursuit for knowledge, this was real and dirty and people died. That man/vampire Spike had just ended, had himself lost his life horribly just days ago, a violent bloody death. He was a murder victim and the first thing they did to him after he dug out of his own grave was to plunge a stake into his chest.
Buffy was interested in history and colorful characters and some sort of metaphorical struggle between good and evil. She liked books and charts and to be a little afraid before she went to bed because of all the terrible stories she'd read. Until now, that is what they had always been, stories, once, twice, thrice removed from reality.
No one told her there would be talking and tearing flesh. That wasn't mentioned in the books. William the Bloody had torn out throats and tortured his victims with railroad spikes but it had been written as a story, a fairy tale.
"So I guess you'll be leaving in the morning." He felt in his pocket for his lighter. "S'not as much fun in person, yeah?"
"Faith could do that? Stick a stake into a guy’s chest."
"Like a knife in butter, she was strong." He nodded.
"She wasn't just physically strong," Buffy realized.
"No." Spike shook his head. "And she enjoyed it. What you saw here--she liked fighting and scrapping, and the noise, all of it. That's what Slayers are Luv; they're killing machines, same as me."
"You like killing," Buffy acknowledged. Again, not just a story here, a real life monster that drank people's blood straight from the source. Not a rock star. Not a rock star.
"You can run. I'll give you a ten-second head start."
She was fairly certain he was teasing.
"You'd feel different if you saw a kill, or WERE a kill. Maybe you'd even hate us enough to have driven that stake in."
Her mind was racing. "So, is that what we do next? You bite me, so I understand why Faith--" She didn't finish the thought out loud. So she would understand why Faith had to stop caring enough about life and right and wrong and love and hate and the possibility of a future. Why she had pushed that all away and fucked a vampire instead of killing him, because what difference would it make? In the end, she could, and would kill him. She’d made that choice, perhaps only to prove that she HAD power.
Spike began to walk away without a word. Buffy followed him. She didn't know what else to do. He smoked as they walked. Buffy felt like she should be crying, but no tears came. Her face felt hard and cold. She knew she must be wearing an expression, but she didn't recognize the position of her facial muscles so she couldn't discern it.
They were walking in the direction of her motel. She guessed he was taking her home.
He turned down a street opposite from her motel and tossed his cigarette butt then stopped and waited for her to come up beside him.
He frowned down at her. "Can't release every bird I catch. You know that?"
No, she didn't know that. She didn't. She wanted to scream that there was always another way. He had a choice. He had power. But she nodded because she needed to know what came next.
Spike began walking again. He led her to a spot behind a parking garage. There was a line of short bushes, in the mulch beneath them lay two bodies. The male body appeared dead, but not mangled. The neck was wounded and judging from the angle, broken. The body had been roughed up, but it wasn't terrible.
The woman looked much worse, bruised, clothing ripped. One breast was half chewed off and her neck had been torn open.
Buffy's eyes met his questioning; had he done THIS?
"Get your stake," he told her.
She pulled one out, he motioned for her to hand him one.
He knew she wouldn't be able to further savage the girl. Spike took the stake and plunged it into her chest. There was still the tearing sound of flesh and breaking bone, but no cries of pain or fury.
"You have a go," he told her, jerking his head towards the man.
"No, it's enough. I won't, not to the body."
She just shook her head. Spike reached for her arm, took her hand, pulled her down. She was shaking and stiff as he forced her fingers around the stake, pulled her hand up then held her body steady as together they drove the stake into the man's chest.
Buffy cried in horror, then grew silent as the man's body turned to dust before her eyes. That man would have risen. Spike had known. She had dusted her first vampire. It would be her last. She was done. This..this was...
"The girl was just a victim," Spike said getting up, pulling Buffy with him. "but the man--"
"Did you do this?" She had to ask, but somehow she knew he hadn't.
"I don't turn people, not anymore." He was looking down at the woman's body without comment. He didn't disavow doing things just like that. He didn't claim it was not his work.
"You want to go back to your motel?" he assumed.
Buffy looked at him, puzzled. There was a mangled, defiled, mutilated body of a dead woman, that they had made worse by plunging a stake through her breastbone and she was just supposed to walk away? Go to her motel, have a snack and go to bed?
This was a crime scene. She needed to call the police and answer questions and give descriptions and then have months of therapy for having been part of this macabre scene. She couldn't just go back to her motel.
But Faith had, night after night after night. She just had to live with it. How many times had she had to stake a mangled body on the off chance that it would have risen? How many young women had Faith not been able to save and yet she had to live with herself every day just the same? And it went on and one.
Spike said he neither cared nor didn’t care. It had to have been the same for Faith. Caring was a liability. You couldn't do what needed to be done and still care but you couldn't do what needed to be done if you didn't care at all.
Buffy felt like she understood it now; for one millisecond she was in Faith's body, and she knew what it was like to be caught in impossibly strong arms, and being rocked from the inside by the very thing that you were sworn to kill. She understood the insane need of it. The way that sex could make you forget everything else, and make you present only in that moment, where nothing else mattered.
You just couldn't kill things all the time. At some point, you had to stop and forget.
There was nothing Buffy could do for that dead mangled girl now. It was too late. She imagined doing this night after night and then coming home to a Watcher who wanted a report and a tally of how many things you plunged a stake into and watched turn to dust and how many corpses you defiled, just in case.
It was unimaginable. No wonder Faith went to Spike--to help her forget for a few precious minutes--to be with someone who understood it all--and be able to help them forget too. No one else could have done it. Buffy understood that now, as she walked beside him, only someone who lived that life, who knew what it was like to kill and to be that close to being killed. There would be no way to forget with a mortal man. They would need to be lied to and protected. Vampires didn't need to be coddled or saved. No amount of blood or death or destruction would so much as cause them to flinch. With a vampire Faith never had to entertain the doubt that if her partner REALLY knew her he wouldn't want to be with her.
"The rest of it, you can read in books," he said simply.
Buffy nodded. She supposed he was right. The lore and the stats and the terrible tales were all in books. It was this she had needed to see for herself.
She knew now what Xander had meant, why he feared Spike.
They were at her door. Spike pulled the keycard out of his pocket and let her in. "You'll be alright?" he asked, not entering the room.
Buffy gave a bark of hysterical laughter, then broke into sobs.
He shifted uncomfortably on his feet.
"I could stay."
She looked at him as if he'd lost his mind.
"Or you could call Stuart or the boy," he suggested.
So many things she could do, but she could not erase what she'd seen and felt from her mind. She could never ever erase it.
Was this Spike caring or was this him NOT caring, Buffy wondered. Was this how he’d looked when he carried Faith's body to Stuart?
"Call your boyfriend. Tell him to be waiting for you at the airport tomorrow."
Buffy nodded. She looked around her room at her notebooks and her laptop and all the other symbols of her ignorance.
When she turned back, Spike was gone. Her keycard was on the table by the door. In the distance, she could hear a siren, too little, too late.
End of Part One