Why am I doing this? Giles asked himself for what had to have been the twentieth time since following Spike down into the sewers. The answer was the same as it had been all the other times. For Buffy. She’d entrusted Spike to his care, counting on him to keep the other man safe. So as much as he’d prefer to be taking the overground route, here he was, traipsing the sewers with a vampire rendered completely defenseless by the combination of slug and chip in his head.
At least the Sunnydale sewers were rather nice for what they were. The smell was, of course, atrocious, but the tunnels were wide, reasonably well lit, and there were walkways preventing the need to slog directly through the muck.
“Here,” Spike called out, turning down a narrow side passage. It was dry and led directly into the Magic Box’s basement.
“I really should put in a security door,” Giles muttered. He’d thought about it before – especially whenever he noticed a suspicious decrease in the supply of burba weed – but had never actually got around to it.
“Know a guy who could help with that,” Spike said, glancing back at him while brazenly stuffing burba weed into his pocket. “Bloke I’ve played poker with a time or t–”
He stopped suddenly, head tilting to the side and a handful of the herb falling to the floor. Then he cursed and rushed up the stairs.
Bloody hell, Giles thought, grabbing up a knife tucked away under some of the overstock. He didn’t know what Spike had heard, but unlike a certain bloody fool, he wasn’t going to rush up there with no way to defend himself.
He followed up the stairs and then into the training room. Spike was there, of course, along with Buffy, Willow, Tara, Dawn, and Riley. He barely noticed most of them, focusing on Willow’s utterly stricken look and Buffy….
My poor, dear girl. Spike hadn’t been willing to tell him much, but it had been enough to know she’d gone through more than he could imagine. The pain and torment writ clear on her face told him even more.
“What the bloody hell is going on?” Spike demanded.
And Buffy changed. The hunched, agonized young woman seemed to vanish as she strode over to Spike.
“Rehva,” she breathed, reaching up to gently cup his cheek. Then she wrapped her arms around him and pressed her face against his chest.
As Giles watched them together, the last of his reservations melted away. He no longer cared that Spike was a vampire. His slayer was broken and in pain. Spike brought her peace.
And Giles would do his best to ensure nothing interfered with that.
Leather. Smoke. The air right before a summer thunderstorm. The earthy scent of vampire. She breathed it in, let it wash through her and ease the pain. Inhale. Exhale. Pack it all away. Hide the pain. Bury it deep. Ignore what Riley had said. What Willow had….
Senka was vaguely aware of Riley leaving. Good riddance. That guy was seriously weird with all his talk of…. As if two men could…. He took another deep breath and squeezed Rehva tight, easing up only a little at her breathy squeak. She liked that sort of thing, but they couldn’t exactly have sexy fun time right here while….
He was dimly aware of the other people in the store. Giles was saying something about wanting an answer to Spike’s question. Who? What? Oh, right, he thought vaguely. Spike was Rehva, and she had asked….
Heated words that he couldn’t quite make out. Lots of anger and defensiveness. Rehva holding him tight and practically vibrating with rage.
Leather. Smoke. Summer thunderstorms. Rich, freshly turned earth. Deep breaths. In and out. Buffy, Buffy, Buffy. The others were talking about Buffy and what had just….
“You alright, love?”
The soft murmur of Rehva’s voice cut through the sea of noise, catching Senka’s attention and fully grounding him in the moment. He took one more deep breath, feeling steadier, then pulled back a little and flashed her a reassuring smile.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just….” He trailed off and shook his head, shivering slightly. He didn’t want to think about whatever it was that had bothered him. He smiled again before grabbing Rehva’s hand and turning to face the others. “So, we’re getting the slugs out, right?”
He wasn’t really sure just what had happened, but no one looked particularly happy. Giles had that tight-lipped disapproval thing going on while Dawn looked like she might start screeching at any minute. Willow was clearly sullen about something. And Tara…. Poor Tara was radiating misery.
Yeesh, take a personal moment with your girlfriend and everything goes nuts. He shook off the thought and snapped his fingers in an attempt to get everyone’s attention. “Slugs. Out. Now, please.”
Willow blinked, shaking off her mood and plastering an obviously fake smile across her face. “Oh, right, um….” She glanced around and then gestured towards a circle of colored sand on the floor. “You two need to stand over there while Tara and I do the spell.”
Senka’s hand squeezed Rehva’s while the other absently pressed against his abdomen. Willow and spells. She’d just done that one that had…. He shuddered slightly, then shrugged at Rehva’s questioning look.
“Sounds pretty simple, I guess,” he said. “Ready to get these things out of our heads?”
“More than,” Rehva muttered, leading the way towards the circle.
Spike wasn’t exactly thrilled at the idea of Willow poking about in their heads with her magic, especially after that diagnostic spell she’d used on Senka. Not that it seemed to have been done wrong, mind. Just sat wrong with him, her doing that without asking and then blurting out what she’d discovered. If she was carelessly and impulsively flinging magic about like that, what else might she decide to do with it?
Course, even without that, she didn’t exactly have the best track record when it came to magic. She’d buggered that “my will be done” spell up right proper, hadn’t she? Didn’t really matter though, honestly. They had to have the slugs out. And at least the other witch was helping out. Seemed to have a good head on her shoulders, that one.
He watched her as she and Willow lit some candles around the sand circle. Then they put a silver bowl down on the floor, joining their hands over it as they began to chant. Began sending their magic to poke about in his noggin. Like the Initiative with their scalpels and whatall. Like the slavers, shoving the slug into his ear to wriggle its way into his brain….
He could feel it, setting off a bit of a twinge. It knew something was up, but since Spike was just stood about in a circle of sand with Senka, there was nothing it could actually do to stop things.
Then the chanting stopped, and the feeling went away. He heard two soft plops and an odd little ping. What was…? Two soft plops and an odd little ping. The plops had to be the slugs, but what would –
Uh-oh? Willow saying “uh-oh” did not bode well. He took a step towards her, but Senka strode past him, going right up to the witches.
“What is it?” Senka demanded. “Did it work? Are the slugs gone?”
Were the slugs gone? Two plops and a ping. Slugs were bloody well gone. Spike was sure of it. Two plops and a bloody ping. Only one thing floating about in either of their heads that would make that sound.
He wrapped his arms around himself, only vaguely aware as Willow babbled something about putting “it” back in. It. The chip. The chip was out. It was out. He was free.
And Willow wanted to put it back in. Might be for the best, a little voice whispered in the back of his mind. If they all considered him safe…. No! No, no, no. For the first time in roughly seven years, he was bloody well free. He wasn’t giving that up. He wasn’t–
His racing thoughts quieted at the sound of Senka’s voice. He was holding the silver bowl, and once he was sure he had Spike’s attention, he upended it. And then stomped down, smashing slugs and chip alike.
Gone. Just like that. Well and truly gone. Everything seemed to spin for a moment. Free. He was free. Senka had destroyed the chip, setting him free. Free to maim and kill. Free to feed. To slaughter his way through Sunnydale and drown in human blood, fresh and hot from the source. Free to….
Free to put the man he loved in a situation where he had to choose between stopping him or letting people die.
He took a slow, deep breath to steady himself and glanced around. Willow looked horrified. Tara anxious. Rupert had on his neutral face. The Little Bit was actually grinning. And then there was Senka. Trust. And a look of understanding, as if he knew all the confused thoughts swirling through Spike’s head. Knew that it felt like the walls were closing in all about him.
Senka gave a slow nod, his fingers flickering out a message. Go. I’ll deal.
He went, bolting out into the main part of the shop and down to the sewers.
Xander wandered the night streets of Sunnydale, armed for bear. Or, well, vampire. A stake in hand, a string of holy water-soaked garlic around his neck, and a cross in his pocket. Not that he was actively hunting Spike, exactly. Just trying to clear his head while prepared to run into a not-quite-so-impotent-anymore vampire that he’d spent a year mocking and insulting as impotent.
He’d come home from work to find a couple of messages on his answering machine from Willow. The first had been letting him know about the spell to take the slugs out of Buffy and Spike. The second had been a garbled message about how the chip was out, too, and Spike was on the loose. But he shouldn’t worry, because Buffy said it was okay. Yeah, no need to worry at all. Never mind that Buffy wasn’t exactly all there right now. Or that her track record when it came to vampires she cared about wasn’t exactly outstanding.
Vampires that she cared about…. As much as Xander would have liked to put his hands over his ears and chant “la-la-la, I can’t hear you” when it came to the idea of Buffy caring about Spike, he couldn’t deny what he’d seen. Buffy had put herself between Spike and Riley, protecting the vampire like he was something precious to her.
Poor Riley. Yeah, he’d been flaking out on them recently, but he’d been through a lot. And that whole idea about Buffy not loving him. Xander had been working on a big speech about how Riley was the long haul and not Mr. Rebound, but it didn’t seem like he was going to be able to use it. Buffy had clearly moved on during the time she’d spent in that other dimension.
Riley was the biggest reason Xander had chosen this part of town for his head-clearing walk. The guy liked to set up quadrants and patrol schedules and was supposed to be around here tonight. If he could find him, maybe they could have some guy talk about this whole mess. And he could break the news about unleashed Spike to him. Assuming neither one of them ran into Spike before then.
“… don’t care that it was only yesterday,” a familiar voice said from a nearby alley. “You need the money and the blood. Just take a sip, and it should be alright.”
Someone needed blood? Just take a sip? What the hell? Xander cautiously peered into the alley. He didn’t understand what he was seeing at first, and even when he did, he couldn’t quite believe it.
Riley was leaning against the wall, head thrown back and eyes closed in disturbing ecstasy as a vampire sank her fangs into the crook of his arm. He was going to stake her at any moment, right? This was just a trick to kill the vampire, right? Any moment and she’d be dust. Any moment now.
The moment didn’t come. Instead, the vampire pulled away after about half a minute and delicately wiped at her lips, completely undusty. Riley hadn’t even tried to stake her during the bite, and now that she was done…. He just pulled out his wallet and handed her a few twenties.
“You need to take better care of yourself, cowboy, your blood is getting a bit thin,” she said with an odd fondness in her voice as she casually tucked the money into her cleavage.
“Don’t worry about me,” Riley said as he rolled down his sleeve, hiding the bite. “I’ll rest up and have plenty of iron. I’ll be fine for our usual night.”
Xander hurried past the alleyway while they continued to talk, then ducked into a different one, trying to process what he’d just witnessed. He felt sick. He’d admired Riley. He’d looked up to him as an example of what a normal Joe could be. Of what Xander himself could be if he applied himself enough. And now this. How long had it been going on? Obviously since before Buffy had vanished through the portal if they had a usual night. Maybe that was why Buffy had started pulling away from Riley. She’d been able to subconsciously sense the essence of skankpire all over him.
He thought of his planned speech again and felt even sicker. He’d been ready to rake Buffy over the coals for taking Riley for granted, based just on the perceptions of a guy who had worked for the Initiative for at least a year or so before realizing there might be something fishy about the place.
Xander took a deep breath and slowly let it out. He couldn’t take this to Buffy, not yet anyway, but he wasn’t just going to let it slide. He had a new speech to work out, and Riley wasn’t going to like it.
Leave a Review
Table of Contents
Reviews ( 1 )
January 14, 2021 20:25