The midday sun streamed in through Buffy’s narrow window, hitting her smack in the face, and she sputtered like she’d been hit with a splash of water. She struggled against her restraints and tried to turn her face away, but her eyes continued to water, and all she could do was squeeze them shut against the light.
But the sun was still there. She’d watched it come up, and had been briefly distracted for all of two minutes by the sight of it rising above the treetops, but then she’d gone back to fuming. And the sun had just gotten brighter, and hotter, shining directly in her face with no reprieve, and it would be hours more before it moved.
And it was freaking January. She was going to get a sunburn, in January, all because her parents had thought raising their daughter in Southern California would be such a novelty. Which it was, of course, when you could go out in the sunshine properly, and spend a day on the beach with actual sunglasses, and a cool breeze, and preferably a big umbrella and a distinct lack of chains. And where you could have actual suntan lotion and not have to worry about dealing with a face that was going to look like a tomato when all this was over.
Buffy craned her neck again, her lack of Slayer powers making itself known as she struggled uselessly against the chains dangling from the ceiling. She tried looking back at the little door, tilting her head and listening in vain for anybody who might be coming to rescue her.
This was all Spike’s fault. What was he thinking, jinxing their good morning together like he had?
The thought of Spike caused a panic to flare up in her chest, and she hoped for the hundredth time that Meg hadn’t left him in a room facing the sun.
Buffy had woken up that morning to the feeling of Spike’s arm across her waist, and his legs tangled with hers, holding her in a loose embrace and purring sleepily against her back. It was such a stark contrast to all the painful, dizzy confusion Buffy had experienced the previous day, and she couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt this content in recent years.
She’d been seriously out of it for most of yesterday, and she knew it, but she also remembered clearly now the day that Angel had taken back, and she wasn’t sure yet if she preferred the haze. She knew she’d confronted him (it had all occured in her mind, of course, but it had felt very real at the time), and she’d let him go, choosing Spike instead. She didn’t regret doing so, but it had hurt all the same— making her feel empty, like something inside her had died and was gone forever. Which, in a peculiar way, she supposed it was.
And then Spike had made her drink that awful antidote that had made her feel dizzy and sick in a different sort of way, and the only other memories she had after that were dim flashes of walking back to the crypt with his arms around her. But now she was here, and Spike was too, and it was difficult to be bothered by much of anything when she could feel Spike nestling his face further into her neck, indicating that he was at least partially awake. She grinned and turned to face him, and kissed him the rest of the way there, and he grinned in return and kept his eyes closed and purred louder.
“Spi-ike,” she teased. “If you don’t wake up, I’m gonna tell everyone what a big softie you are.”
The purring tapered off, and his eyes blinked halfway open to glare at her. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“Mm-hm. My boyfriend is a big kitty cat.”
He growled, and was up, pinning her shoulders to the bed. “Could bite your head off, you know.”
She stroked his bare arm lazily. “Like a lion? ‘Cause you know, I’m pretty sure those count as ca—”
He cut her off by swooping in and kissing her, and she put her arms around him and pulled until he’d collapsed into her chest. He didn’t break contact with her lips, however, and kissed her firmly until she gasped for air and had to pull away.
He licked her chin in protest, and she suddenly felt such a burst of happiness that she laughed out loud.
Spike froze, and she looked down to meet his earnest blue gaze. He was looking at her with… something… something she couldn’t quite name, but it made his eyes very pretty. And his mouth was slightly open, smiling happily. “Oh, love,” he breathed. “Do that again.”
“What? I laughed, that’s all.”
“Not the laugh.” He shrugged. “Though that, too… but no.” He reached a finger up, and poked each corner of her mouth. “That. That smile… you glowed, love, you…” he suddenly stopped, and looked away shyly. “Haven’t seen you smile like that for a bit.”
She smiled again, wide as she could, and he exhaled, and hovered over her again, pressing kisses all over her face. “Don’t stop,” he breathed, in between kisses. “Oh, don’t ever, ever stop doing that, Buffy… the world lights up brighter when you do that… all the sunlight in the world couldn’t compare…” He pulled away suddenly. “Was it me?” he asked suddenly, eagerly, with a tinge of forced restraint. “Did I make you do that?”
He could be very silly sometimes, her excellent lover. “You see anyone else here?” she asked, smiling again.
He stared at her, happiness practically overflowing out of him, and Buffy wondered how he managed to look like that, even though all he was looking at was her. He fell into her shoulder and began a very aggressive round of purring, and she laughed as the vibrations of it tickled her all the way through. “Let’s not go,” he said in a muffled voice. “Blow off the bloody trial. It can wait until later. This morning is perfect just the way it is.”
Buffy gasped, and smacked his head. “Spike!” she said. “Way to jinx it!”
“What? I’m saying that going to meet Meg would make it not perfect.”
“The rules of jinxing are very clear,” Buffy said, even though she couldn’t have named a single one at that moment. “If something bad happens today because you said that, you totally owe me.”
Buffy was starting to feel dizzy again, which annoyed her to no end. She’d felt dizzy for way too many reasons in the past several days, and getting what was sure to be heat stroke was definitely not one of the more pleasant ones. It wasn’t even that hot, and the rest of her might have even been almost cold in her little stone cell if she could just get out of the direct sunlight for one freaking second. Had Meg known, when she chained her here, that this would be a torture all on its own? That Buffy would have to feel sweat dripping down her forehead, and her tongue swelling in her mouth for lack of water, and her head spinning wildly from the heat?
Okay, so maybe she was being a tiny bit overdramatic. But she still was uncomfortable, and she already was feeling tired and weakened from her lack of Slayer powers. She could gripe about the sun if she wanted— there wasn’t anyone around to stop her.
Spike held her hand very firmly as they marched through the forest, and Buffy swung their joined hands to let him know she approved. He kept looking at her, beaming every time she smiled, but there was still that thing in his eyes that Buffy still wasn’t able to read. It was affection, definitely, and might have even been love if they dared to use words like that.
Which they didn’t.
But there was something else there, too. It was like he was looking at her expectantly, except she had no idea why. She wondered if she’d said something the previous day that he was maybe looking for her to follow-up on. But most of what she’d said had disappeared from her recollection as soon as the antidote went down, and Buffy had no idea what he wanted from her.
And yet he looked at her as if waiting for something, and it scared her. In her mind they weren’t on the brink of breaking up any longer, but… maybe they were still brink-adjacent.
But he was smiling, and kissing her hair, and giving her threatening growls when she renewed her promise to tell everyone about his purring.
“ ‘S not sodding purring,” he insisted.
“Okay, Big Bad,” Buffy drawled. “What would you call it, then?”
He thought for a minute. “Light roaring,” he said staunchly. “All manly and protective-like… it’s just a warning, you know. To keep all the giant foreheads and other nasties away.”
“Spike.” Buffy rolled her eyes. “I chose you. I’m still choosing you. Actively. It wasn’t a fluke just because I was in La La Land.”
He stopped, and pulled her hand up to kiss her knuckles. “I know,” he murmured, staring deeply into her eyes. “Oh, sweetheart, I know.”
It always did funny things to her heart when he broke away from his regular collection of pet names.
Spike looked away abruptly and frowned. “Huh,” he said.
“What?” Buffy turned to look, and raised her eyebrows at the sight of a turret rising above the trees. “Wow. Meg’s been renovating the forest, I see. You think we’ll get to fight a dragon and rescue a princess?”
Spike snorted. “Wouldn’t be that simple. Like as not, the princess is a right bitch and the dragon is some innocent bloke in disguise, and he’s the one we’re actually supposed to rescue.”
“Well, now we know the game,” Buffy said, swinging their hands again, and grinning up at him.
He grinned in return, and both came into view of the tower and stopped.
Two trees had been bent and twisted to form a throne, and Meg sat on top of it, studying her nails coolly, with pinched lips and narrowed eyes. She looked up casually as they stepped forward, and her frown deepened.
But Buffy was barely looking in her direction. “Spike,” she whispered, and gripped his hand harder. “Spike…”
“Yeah,” he said. “I see.”
The turret had been attached to a single stone tower, as wide around as a house, and Giles, Willow, Xander, and Anya were all pressed up against it, with a wide blue light holding them in place.
“Buffy!” Willow cried, but the other three just stared at her, eyes wide with fear and confusion.
Buffy wasn’t sure what to do. She wanted to yell out to them, wanted to run and smash the tower down until they were saved, wanted to see how Meg looked with a dagger running through her chest, wanted to bury her face in Spike’s coat and beg him to make it all go away.
But instead she just stood and stared.
Meg pushed herself up regally off the throne, and stepped forward to them. Spike’s grip tightened, and he growled at the witch, “You’ve crossed a line now, you bloody harlot. They didn’t sign your sodding contract, and they are not to be involved in this little science project you’ve got going on.”
“And neither you two nor they have a leg to stand on at the moment,” Meg snapped. “None of you! You tried to cheat, and by rights I am free to do whatever I so please with the lot of you.”
“What?” Buffy squeaked, somewhat finding her voice. “We cheated? How did we cheat? Yesterday you said if we killed the demon we could go home, and…”
“This isn’t about the demon,” Meg said crisply, and Buffy thought that she was terrifying when she was angry. But that might have been because she’d never seen her like this before.
“No,” Meg said. “No, this is about you trying to get out of my challenge.” She put her hand over her heart, and wailed almost theatrically, “And after I worked so hard on assembling it!”
“We never did a bloody thing,” Spike snarled. “We’ve come every day, haven’t we? And we’ve completed your trials, cruel and inhumane as they may have been. And we’re here, and we’ll do your third, and we’ll all move on with our merry lives.”
“Tell them,” Meg said, turning towards the four pinned to the tower. “Go on. You know what I’m talking about.”
“It… it…” Giles said, and shook his head. “It wasn’t cheating, per se, we were just… searching for a way to… to…”
“We were looking for a way to break the contract,” Anya burst out. “Giles didn’t like that you agreed to Meg’s bargain for him, so he rounded us all up after you left, and we’ve been researching like crazy ever since to try and find a loophole.”
“A loophole.” Meg gave a cold laugh. “A way to kill me, you see.” She looked at Buffy and Spike, with hurt in her eyes. “I trusted you,” she said. “And I was doing these to help you! How could you let something like this happen?”
“Meg, we had no idea,” Buffy gasped. “Aren’t you all ‘Big Brother is Watching You’ anyway? I thought you could see what we do when we’re doing your challenges!”
Meg just looked at her, and shook her head in disappointment. “Maybe you didn’t break the rules,” she said. “Not you two, not technically, anyway. But they did.” She turned back to the tower.
“Congratulations!” she said to her captives in a perkier voice. “You wanted the contract broken? How about a new contract? This one involves one trial, and you four get to take it. That tower is a gauntlet of fire and poisoned arrows and I don’t even know what else; I was fairly irate when I created it. Your job is to make it to the top… alive, if possible, and for your sakes we can hope I’ve cooled down by then and will have decided what to do with you.”
Buffy felt sick. “Meg, you can’t—”
“I don’t like it when my rules are broken, Buffy!” Meg shouted, whirling around, her eyes flashing. Spike gave a warning growl, and he still hadn’t let go of her hand.
Meg’s voice was again brighter and more like her own when she turned back to the tower. “Oh, don’t look at me like that,” she said cheerfully. “You guys like this kind of thing, don’t you? All running around, playing the hero? Because, guess what? You do get to be the heroes in this story. We’re gonna include a little side quest, that involves rescuing a Slayer and a vampire, who will be rendered completely useless to you when and if you choose to find them and bring them along.”
She gave a bright smile as she moved back over to Buffy and Spike, but then looked between their six blank faces. “Oh, come on. A side quest? Like in a video game? You like video games, right?” She looked again at all their faces, but all of them were silent, and quietly horrified. “Really? None of you? Final Fantasy? Resident Evil?” She paused, and then asked hopelessly, “Crash Bandicoot?”
“What do you mean we’ll be rendered useless?” Buffy suddenly asked.
Meg brightened. “Oh! Yes, we should get to that part, shouldn’t we?” She took Buffy’s arm in one hand, and Spike’s in the other, and then nodded towards the tower. A blue light flashed as the four prisoners stumbled forward, and Meg grinned as a door at the bottom of the door swung open. “Okay, little gingerbread men,” she said. “Run!”
They ran, but Buffy was only dimly aware of it, as a swirl of blue light made her feel like she’d been flipped upside down; moments later, she found herself in a tiny stone room, with a window overlooking the forest. She could see the tops of the trees in the dim, early morning light. She turned, and saw Meg slipping a blue-and-gold ribbon around her wrist. “What—” she started asking, but then felt cold, suddenly, like all her blood had drained out of her.
Only it wasn’t her blood, and it was a feeling she remembered all too well. It was her Slayer powers. She felt empty without them, and sick at the loss, and when she looked around frantically for Spike, he was nowhere to be seen.
“Come here,” Meg said calmly, but didn’t wait for Buffy to move before she began shackling her wrists to the chains hanging from the ceiling. “Now don’t fret, my sweet,” she said, but in a more dangerous voice than she usually used. “You’ve got the easy part. You get to play the lost princess for once, hoping for someone to save you. And I’m sure they will, you know.” She tightened the chains abruptly, and let Buffy’s arms go. “I’m a little bit more concerned about whether your prince will be saved, however.”
“Where is he?” Buffy asked, through gritted teeth.
Meg simply walked out of her line of vision, and Buffy heard a door opening behind her. “I’m sorry it had to come to this, Buffy,” Meg said as the door slammed shut.
And now, however many hours later, Buffy was still here, with her arms aching more and more with every passing second, and her head getting worryingly dizzy by now.
Meg was insane. Of course she always had been, in a way, but not so much a psychotic-vampire-who-speaks-to-dolls-and-pixies way (as that would’ve been far easier to deal with, given their combined history), and rather just a kook who was way too invested in other people’s romances. But they’d intended to see this challenge through, just like the last one, and even if Meg seemed to have no problem letting them die if they failed, Buffy had always thought she’d been rooting for them to succeed.
But they should have never trusted her. Buffy had tried to do a good thing for Giles, and yet he apparently hadn’t trusted her enough to let her know… whatever it was he’d been doing, and now he and the others might be dead for all she knew. And as for Spike…
Buffy’s eyes prickled when she thought of Spike. She’d kept from crying the entire time she’d been here, because she refused to be a damsel in distress who would just cry helplessly alone in her tower. But she felt too heavy even to be able to hold herself up, and she could practically see the cherry-red that her nose was turning, and Spike had come along on this stupid challenge because she’d asked him to… he’d known not to trust Meg, and he’d been right, though it didn’t matter much now.
And now where was he? Alone in a room like she was, rendered useless? Had Meg taken away his vampire powers? Was that even possible for her to do? Had she made him human; normal, like her? Angel had been human for a day, and Buffy had thought it was everything she’d ever wanted, but he’d turned away from that, given it back… every obstacle for their relationship gone and he’d left her just the same…
But no, Buffy thought, angrily sniffing until her tears went back where they belonged. Spike was different. Spike wasn’t Angel. Spike was… he was wonderful, and kind, and he turned into a poet whenever she smiled, and he made her feel all warm and safe when he purred, and he’d stayed by her side all through her madness the previous day, and he was better than Angel… he was. He had to be. He wouldn’t leave her, even if he was human now. He was still her Spike, whoever he was, and he always, always protected her.
Her eyes were closed again, trying to stave off the current bout of dizziness, when she faintly heard a clanging, somewhere in the background. She forced her eyes open, and the clanging grew louder, and a loud smash indicated that the door had been broken in.
“Buffy!” Xander cried. “Buff, it’s okay, we’re gonna get you down, okay, just hang on, okay?”
“I think she gets that it’s okay, since it’s us and not the crazy witch,” Anya said.
Buffy could have cried again as she saw her four friends’ faces appear in front of her. But she didn’t, and instead let Xander swing at her chains with an axe, while Willow hugged her and sobbed, and Giles stood and tried to smile, even though he was leaning his hands on his knees and heavily panting.
“Are you guys all right?” Buffy managed to ask, and wow did her voice sound scratchy. Maybe she wasn’t being too over-dramatic with the dehydration thing.
Anya scoffed. “Look at us. Do we look all right?”
They didn’t. They looked scratched and blooded and dirtied and like their clothes had been through three yard sales and a homeless shelter. But they were all here, and no one was dead or unconscious, and Buffy was very impressed with them for having survived whatever they’d gone through on their own.
“So, what did she do to you?” Xander asked. “I mean, you should have been able to get out of those chains on your own, right?”
Buffy held up her wrist with the ribbon. “She took my Slayer powers.”
“What?” Anya asked, verging on incredulous. “You mean you aren’t gonna get us the rest of the way there? We’re still saving you?”
“Did you find Spike?” Buffy asked, as they walked out of her cell together.
She looked at them, and they all exchanged nervous glances, but finally Giles shook his head. “No,” he said. “We haven’t.”
Buffy frowned. “Because you haven’t been looking hard enough?”
“There’s been nowhere to look,” Xander protested. “Yours was the first door we saw. Everything else was just stairs, and flaming arrows, and suits of armor trying to attack you, and…” he paused for breath.
“And glowing radioactive rocks!” Willow jumped in. And a tar pit, and flying lizards…”
“And bunnies!” Anya shrieked. “And man-eating books, and frogs, and Nazis!”
“There were Nazis?” Buffy asked.
“Did you not hear the part where I said bunnies?” Anya demanded.
Buffy looked around, and smiled again. “But you guys made it.”
“It was nothing,” Willow said, a dazed smile on her face. She took a step forward, and stumbled suddenly. Giles caught her and stood her upright, and she gave a nervous laugh. “But, uh, we should be almost done now, right?”
“We’re nearly at the top,” Giles nodded. He heaved a sigh, and drew his sword. “Once more unto the breach, then?”
As it turned out, they only had to go up one more flight of stairs before finding another door. Buffy ran and kicked it without thinking, only to bounce off it without even causing a scratch.
She fell backwards and looked up angrily at the group. “Get it open,” she said heatedly.
They began raining down on it with axes and swords and as much magic as Willow could come up with, and once it had burst open, Buffy stood up and stumbled inside. Spike was there, but she stopped as she took in the sight of him.
He was in his vampire guise, crouched down on all fours with manacled bracelets around his wrists. Buffy could see the rest of the chains against the wall, which he’d clearly broken away from. His room didn’t have a window, and Buffy took a second to be extremely grateful to Meg for that, before hating that she hadn’t had the same consideration for her prison. But the moment quickly faded.
“Spike,” she said, stepping forward. He hissed at her, and she hastily stepped back.
“What’s wrong with him?” Willow whispered breathily in her ear.
“He’s…” Buffy’s eyes fell on a ribbon, identical to hers, under one of his manacles. Not human, then. So, so much worse than if he was human. She looked back up, and Spike’s lips were pulled away from his fangs, a warning growl rumbling low in his throat.
“He’s... “ Buffy again found herself blinking away tears. “She… isolated the demon. He’s stuck like that.”
“But…” Xander said. “But if he’s just a mindless demon now, then doesn’t that mean…”
“Buffy,” Giles said gently.
“I don’t want to hear it,” Buffy said quickly. “Don’t even say it, Giles.” She couldn’t hear those words. Couldn’t hear that they’d have to leave him… or stake him. Because it wasn’t Spike in there anymore.
Spike growled, pressing his knuckles to the ground, and began crawling towards Buffy, his shoulders rolled back, his motions slow and predatory. She had to make a decision, right now, and she knew… knew that the best thing to do was probably to slam the door in his face, have Willow try and magic it shut, and make their way up to the top of the tower.
But every single cell in her body disagreed with that idea. Even though her heart was pounding in her uselessly weak chest, and her voice cracked when she tried to talk. “You guys stay back,” she said, swallowing. “He… he won’t hurt me.”
“Buffy, are you crazy?” Willow cried.
“Buffy!” Giles said sternly. “You can’t go in there, not without your powers!”
He grabbed her arm, but she shook him off and whipped around to face him. “And yet you were going to send me in against that Kralik guy without my powers,” she said coldly. “And I came out of that just fine.” She looked back to Spike, and said slowly, “I have to give him a chance.”
Nobody followed her into the room, and Spike growled as she took a step forward. “You won’t hurt me,” she said, trying to control the tremble in her voice. “I know you won’t hurt me, Spike…”
Golden eyes glittered fiercely at her, and she stretched out a hand as she inched closer.
“Spike,” she whispered. “Come on, it’s okay, it’s just me, you won’t hurt me…”
She took another step, and Spike sprang up, and pounced. Buffy let out a shriek as he grabbed her, and fell backwards with his hands on her shoulders. He roared in her face, and Buffy squeezed her eyes shut, and willed her heart to stop its frantic beating.
“Buffy!” Willow called.
“That’s it,” Xander said. “I’m taking him out. I’m sorry, Buffy, but—.”
“No!” Buffy gasped. “No… please, Xander, not yet.” Buffy looked up into Spike’s eyes, searching desperately for any sign of recognition. “Spike,” she murmured. “Spike, it’s me. It’s okay, you’re okay…”
He snarled, but didn’t move, just stared into her face with his teeth bared. Buffy again felt the hammering of her heart, and realized it probably wasn’t helping her situation. She closed her eyes again, and focused on the scent that was Spike, the familiar scent of the man who held her and purred in her arms and said she glowed when she smiled. Her heartbeat slowed, and she opened her eyes again, and lifted a hand to touch the ridges of his eyebrows.
He gave a sharp growl as she did so, but she didn’t stop. She dragged her finger over his scar, down the wrinkled bridge of his nose, around his bumpy cheekbones, and finally across his lips.
He wasted no time in opening his mouth and seizing her finger in between his fangs. He bit down, and Buffy tried to smother her whimper of pain, but she didn’t pull away. “You’re okay, Spike,” she murmured. “It’s okay, it’s okay…”
She continued speaking softly, and he held her finger, letting the drops of blood spill into his mouth, but still staring in her eyes. “My Spike,” she murmured, swallowing and trying to smile amidst the pain. “My vampire. I know my man is in there somewhere, too.”
His eyes flashed, and the prickles of danger Buffy always felt when he was around grew more intense, as they seemed to when he was more of a threat. But she suddenly felt them lessening, and she gasped as she felt him pull his fangs away, He wrapped his tongue around her finger instead, and caressed her wound with it.
Buffy breathed out a sigh of relief. She gently pulled her finger away, and sat up as he moved away from her. He sat in front of her, watching her calmly, and Buffy wanted to hug him and pet him and tell him how proud she was of him. And she would. As soon as she could.
“That’s…” Giles cleared his throat. “Extraordinary, he… should have no control over his actions.”
Buffy rose shakily to her feet, and Spike rose with her. She took a breath, steadying herself, and stepped towards the door. She held her hand out behind her, and turned her head to see Spike staring almost distrustfully at it. She wiggled her fingers. “Come on,” she said coaxingly. “It’s okay.”
Spike took a hesitant step forward, keeping his eyes fixed on her hand. He lifted his own hand, slowly, and let his fingers brush hers.
Xander shifted uncomfortably. “How do we know he’s not faking?” he asked. “I mean if he shouldn’t be able to do that, maybe he’s just pretending—”
Spike’s head whipped towards Xander with a snarl, and he dropped Buffy’s hand. Xander’s eyes widened and he lifted his axe, cowering behind it. “Okay, okay! Not faking, got it!” Spike snarled again, and leapt towards him. “Spike, buddy, I’m sorry!” Xander cried, trying to laugh and deflect, but yelped in fear as Spike grabbed his shoulders. “Buffy!”
“Spike!” Buffy called. She rushed towards them, ready to… well, she wasn’t sure what her plan was exactly, or even if she’d be physically able to pull Spike away at the moment. But she didn’t have to. Spike threw Xander at a wall, and a sharp dagger flew through the air where he’d been standing, and embedded itself in Spike’s stomach. Spike roared in pain, and rushed forward, where Buffy could suddenly see an army of little red demons racing up from the stairs. More daggers were thrown through the air, and Buffy grabbed Willow’s arm, yanking her out of the path of one.
“Oh my goddess,” Willow gasped, and Buffy pushed her towards the next flight of stairs.
“Go, go!” she cried. The rest of her friends followed, and Buffy looked back. “Spike!”
He was fighting the demons, snarling and smashing and tearing their heads off, apparently heedless of the weapons they were throwing at him. “Spike!” Buffy called again. “Come on!”
But he didn’t listen to her, because of course he didn’t; he had to be stubborn. Buffy rolled her eyes and ran forward, hissing sharply as one of the projectiles flying around grazed her arm. She tugged Spike’s coat sleeve, dragging him away with all her might. “Come on, you idiot!”
He finally turned, and followed, running behind her as they climbed up the stairs. Her friends were just ahead, and they didn’t stop as they ran up the next flight of stairs, and the one after that. And Buffy looked around with wide eyes as she saw a wall made of purple sludge on one floor, and something that looked like little flying bears on another. Her friends had apparently made it up this very weird tower just by choosing to not stop running, and Buffy wasn’t about to argue with that logic now.
Finally they came to another door, and Anya almost fell on the door handle as she wrenched it open. The group staggered in, and she slammed the door behind them, and they stood, breathing heavily, before looking around.
There was nothing in this room, Buffy noted. No windows, no chains, no nothing. But there was light coming in from somewhere, and she glanced up, noticing the way the ceiling tilted up into a cone shape. There were chinks in the stone, where enough sunlight had entered to slightly illuminate the room.
“We’re at the top,” Giles murmured. “We’ve done it.”
That seemed to be the signal for everyone to sink to the floor, except for Spike. He watched the rest of them, before moving over to Buffy’s side, and kneeling down next to her. Buffy crossed her legs and let her head lean back against the wall, before tilting to look at him. Her eyes fell to his stomach, where there was a dark stain against his shirt, still oozing blood. She reached out, as if to touch it, and he watched her. But she changed direction, and reached up to his face instead, cupping his cheek and smiling faintly at him. He closed his eyes, and leaned into her touch.
“What happens now?” Anya asked.
Willow had been breathing shakily, but she seemed to get control of herself, and said in a steadier voice, “I mean… no one’s in danger of imminent death, right? Because the point was to make it up here alive.”
“Yeah,” Anya scoffed. “So that she could just turn around and kill us when we got here.”
“I don’t think she’ll kill us,” Buffy murmured, and Spike’s tongue darted out and licked her palm at the sound of her voice. She managed another small smile, and continued, “Meg likes her games. She won’t kill us outright.” She gave a sigh as she looked at Spike’s wound again. “But figuring out how to get out of here might be another one of her games.” She began pushing one of her sleeves back.
“Buffy,” Giles said suddenly, catching her movement. “What are you doing?”
Buffy swallowed. “Spike’s hurt, and we’re not exactly in a position for him to get pig’s blood anytime soon.”
Willow squeaked. “You’re not… Buffy you can’t be…”
“Why not? I did it for Angel, once.”
“And it almost killed you,” Giles reminded her. “You had to be taken to a hospital.”
“And Angel wasn’t…” Willow waved her hands desperately. “Feral, at the time.”
“Yeah, what’s to stop him from finishing you off?” Anya asked. She looked at Xander. “Tell her that he’s just gonna finish her off, and then the rest of us.”
“He saved me,” Xander said dully, speaking for the first time. “He’s… a monster and he… he saved me.”
Buffy looked at him in surprise, but Anya rolled her eyes. “Great,” she said. “How typically human. One noble sacrifice and all’s forgiven. Where was this energy when I was telling you about some of my vengeance curses and you were trying not to puke?”
“I’m just saying…” Xander swallowed. “Maybe he does have control. Some, anyway.”
Buffy waited for further words of protest, but when none came, she held her wrist out to Spike. He looked at it hesitantly, and she reached up her other hand, gripping his hair, before lifting her wrist higher. “Go on,” she said softly. “It’s okay, Spike.”
He took her arm in both hands, and lowered his head carefully towards her wrist, pausing for a moment. But then it was very abrupt, and Buffy gasped as pain suddenly flew all throughout her arm. Then Spike was drinking, gulping, growling as he fed off of her.
But the pain subsided, and Buffy felt a warmth spreading throughout, and a delicious headiness floating around her. Part of her panicked suddenly, wondering how she could have forgotten how… intoxicating this would feel. But part of her just wanted to give in, and she let her head fall back. She had to bite her lips to keep herself from moaning, with the audience she had.
But arousal started giving way to dizziness, and Buffy realized that Spike wasn’t stopping. Couldn’t, maybe. Some lazy part of her said to just let him take what she wanted, because the consequence seemed of little importance when she felt this relaxed and lightheaded, but also… something else said it would be bad, for Spike, if she let her friends pull him away.
She found that her free hand was still clutching his hair, and she summoned every bit of concentration she had, and yanked.
Spike stopped, instantly, pulling his fangs out of her, and Buffy heard a collective gasp from the room. She opened her eyes, and looked dully at her bloodied arm. Okay, so Spike was totally a messy eater. Gross. She almost giggled at the thought.
But then his head dipped down again, and his tongue came out, and it took Buffy a solid four seconds to realize that he was licking her wound. He was cleaning all the blood that had spilled over, and he was closing up the holes left behind by his fangs, and he was being very gentle, and thorough, and Buffy’s still dazed eyes were unable to look away.
Finally he seemed satisfied with his work, and sat back. He met her gaze for one second, but before she could even summon the focus to look at him properly, he was carefully lowering himself down. He curled up, resting his head on her thigh, and placed one hand on her bent knee.
The room was completely silent for a moment. “Wow,” Xander finally said, in a soft voice. “Check out Buffy the Vampire Whisperer.”
“That was totally sexy,” Anya said, sounding somewhat breathless. “I wish Xander was a vampire so he could do that to me.”
“Hey!” Xander cried.
“Anya!” Willow gasped.
“What? I’m kidding!” Anya said, laughing, and then repeated in a softer tone, “Sort of.”
Spike began patting her knee, lightly and hesitantly, and Buffy looked down at him and felt her heart do a complete backflip. He stopped almost as soon as he’d started, but she wrapped an arm around him and hugged him as best she could in that position. “My Spike,” she whimpered.
She loved him. She’d been denying even her brain from saying it, but she couldn’t do that anymore, not now that she was so sure of it. She loved him, and that was the most terrifying thought she’d had all day, but she didn’t doubt it anymore. She was ready to say it to him right now, if she didn’t have such a crowd of people in here with her. She settled instead for placing her hand on his head, carefully raking her fingers through his hair, and a pleased rumble began issuing from his chest.
“Buffy,” Willow gasped. “Is he… purring?”
Buffy smiled down at him. “He hates it when I call it that,” she said. “But yeah.” She watched him for a moment, content to just spend hours doing so, but then she sighed, and looked up at her friends in the room. “So,” she said in a business-like tone. “You guys wanna tell me what was up with the whole ‘you cheated’ thing?”
“We were just looking for a way to rescue you,” Giles said weakly. “As Anya said.”
Buffy blinked. “Rescue me.”
“Well, y-you know,” Willow said nervously. “Because you… almost died in the last challenge, which was a really stupid challenge anyway.”
“So you didn’t think Spike and I could handle it?” Buffy asked.
“You shouldn’t have had to handle it!” Giles cried. “You only agreed to her terms to rescue me!”
“Yeah, and I never regretted it,” Buffy said. “I would have agreed to them to save any one of you, and I would do it again tomorrow!”
“But you and Spike haven’t exactly been all… simpatico lately,” Xander argued. “And if Meg created the trials based on the fact that you were…”
“Spike and I were mortal enemies the last time we went on one of these, and we still made it through,” Buffy hissed. “I’m the Slayer, this is what I do. And Spike had my back, and we were doing just fine without you interfering. Neither one of us was gonna let the other die, or fail, don’t you get that?”
She was aware that that last part may have come out in a kind of shriek, and she wished Spike would back her up, or calm her down, or just say what she was trying to say in a much smarter way. But he couldn’t, and she looked down at him, still purring softly in her lap. She was totally jealous of him for being so oblivious right now.
“You’re right,” Giles said softly. “I know you were looking out for each other, and you’ve always fought best together, even when you hated each other. I just…” he sighed, and took off his glasses to rub his eyes. “I couldn’t… bear the thought of anything happening to you, all because you were trying to help me. I thought we could help you… by finding a loophole, but…” he put his glasses back on, and faced her. “I’m sorry, Buffy. We should have trusted you.” He paused. “Both of you.”
“Oh.” Buffy straightened, proudly, while trying to figure out how she’d managed to win. “Well… yeah. You should have.” She looked around the room, at her well-meaning friends, who loved her but, even after all they’d been through together, would never quite understand what it was to be a Slayer. But she couldn’t be mad at them for that, and she smiled. “But thanks for trying to help. Even if it kinda got us in a bigger mess.”
Another silence fell after that, and Anya looked like she was again about to ask what they were supposed to do now, when Spike suddenly lifted his head and sat up, sniffing the air.
A door appeared in the wall behind where Anya was sitting, and she gave a startled yelp and backed away as it opened. Meg appeared in the doorway, and held out her fist, which was drenched in blood and dripping liberally. “Here, boy!” she chirped to Spike.
Spike sat, stiff and rigid, still with one hand on Buffy’s knee as he eyed the blood in Meg’s hand. He let out a whimper, and Meg snickered. “You’ve really got him whipped, don’tcha?” she asked Buffy.
Buffy hoped she didn’t look completely exhausted and that the anger in her eyes was obvious to Meg. How dare she treat him like an animal?
“Come on, Spike,” Meg said, shaking her hand, and flinging droplets of blood in the process. Anya and Xander sputtered as they backed away from her. “Come with me.”
Spike’s grip tightened on Buffy’s knee, and Meg shook her head. “No, she can’t come with. Just you and me, love.”
“And what happens to the rest of us?” Anya demanded.
Meg looked at her in surprise, as if she hadn’t noticed the rest of them were in there. “You’ll get your turn. Confessionals for everyone. Like on a reality show.” She suddenly gave them all a cold, judgmental look. “You do know what reality shows are, right?”
Spike still sat frozen, and Buffy reluctantly pushed him away. He instantly turned to face her, and she smiled sadly and nodded. “Go ahead,” she said.
He stood, slowly, and followed Meg doggedly through the door. It closed behind them, and Anya instantly moved over to it, pressing her palms and her cheek against the door.
“Can you hear anything?” Xander asked.
“Not really,” Anya said. “Wait… hold on, I can hear voices… Meg’s saying… I mean, I think she’s saying…” She scrunched up her face in concentration. “Aliens have invaded Zimbabwe. There’s no time for rational solutions.” She turned to the group in horror. “Aliens? Do you think they’ll come here?”
Willow rolled her eyes, and Xander bit back a smile, but all Buffy could do was wait.