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Previous Chapter: Chapter 14: Prime Allies

The Ring Talks

Part 1: Taking Initiative

Chapter 15: Chained Less

I walk into the small operating room in the little-used south wing of Sunnydale Memorial Hospital to the sound of Tara admonishing her mission partner. “Anya! Don’t hurt him!”

“What good is having a hostage if I can’t rough him up a little?” Anya pouts. “We got the fun, safe job, but you won’t even let me enjoy it.”

“We need him in working order, Anya. Don’t hurt his hands.” I address the middle-aged stranger. “Herbert Rodgers?”

“Yes,” says the frightened-looking man, still wearing his Initiative lab coat. “What do you people want from me? What’s going on here?” He’s wringing his hands nervously. “Someone hit me over the head, right after the power went out. The next thing I know, I’m tied up in a closet, and a young woman is letting me out. She sent me up to the fraternity house, where these two snatched me, and brought me here at knife point.” He looks around. “I don’t know what I did to you girls, but I’m sorry. Please don’t kill me.”

“You will leave this room free and breathing, Herbert, but only if you do your job, and do it properly. That means no tricks, no unnecessary incisions, and generous use of local anesthetic. Do you understand?”

“You want me to perform surgery? Who is to be my patient? One of you?”

“Someone you already know.” I call over my shoulder to the dimly lit hallway. “Spike?”

Spike steps into the room behind me. “Evening, Doc. Remember me?”

The doctor’s eyes widen and he nods.

“Wish I could say the same.” Spike steps close to the operating table, slipping out of his coat. “What say we make a new memory? One I get to keep, and don’t mind having?”

“You– You want me to remove the Behavior Modification device. I– I can’t do that.”

Spike hops up to sit on the operating table. “You put it in. You can take it out.”

“But my orders–”

Anya waves her hand at him dismissively. “Pfft! Your orders! Your bosses are all either dead or scrambling around for excuses to stay out of Leavenworth. We got you out. We saved you from all of that.” She gives him a smile so cold I’m relieved she doesn’t have her amulet anymore. “But it’s not too late to throw you back to the wolves.”

Dr. Rodgers looks around at the four of us. “It wasn’t my idea, none of it. I’m just a set of hands to them. I only did what I was told.”

Tara pushes open the door to the scrub room. “And this is your chance to make it right.”


I flop down on the couch in my mother’s living room. “Where’s Riley?”

“Debriefing,” Xander says without looking up. He’s focused on picking out a movie. “He said he’ll call you tomorrow.”

“He was asking what the deal was with Dr. Rodgers,” Willow says, settling in beside me. “We kinda threw you under the bus and told him all we knew was that you wanted him to get out alive.”

“Thanks, guys. I guess I’ll have some ‘splaining to do when he gets back.”

“If he gives you any crap, Buff, just make him watch the tapes, Clockwork Orange style.”

I frown at Xander. “Those tapes were certainly effective on you.

“Just keep up your end of it, ok? If Spike goes all fangy rampage on us, don’t hesitate.”

“He won’t, but I promise.”

“Was the surgery a success?” Giles asks from his chair. His voice is quiet, the kind of low tone I know means he disagrees with my decision, but he’s trying to keep his opinions to himself.

“In progress. I got thrown out just when they were getting started. Anya said I looked really tired, and Tara sent me home. They said they can handle things without me.”

“Ok, so now I’m more worried,” Xander says, turning to face me. “You left Anya and Tara alone with an Initiative guy and Almost Chipless?”

“Rodgers is the one you need to worry about getting hurt. Anya’s itching to break a few of his bones.”

“Well, to be fair, all this Initiative stuff hit kinda close to home. She was sure they’d come for her, eventually.”

“I believe she can put aside that concern, now.” Giles takes off his glasses and holds them up to the light, checking for smudges. “I do hope we’ll have nothing to fear from the aftermath of all this.”

“We won’t. Soon, the Initiative will just be a memory.” I pretend not to notice Giles is talking about Spike as much as he is the Initiative. “But it’s weird that the girls thought I looked worn out. I don’t feel tired at all.”

“Me, neither.”

“I’m up for an all night movie marathon.”

“I’m surprisingly energized, myself.”

“You all look exhausted,” Mom says, coming into the room with two bowls in her hand. She hands the large one full of popcorn to Xander and offers me the smaller one. It’s full of mini pretzels.

I take the bowl and look up at her. “Um, thanks?”

She smiles like she knows something. “We’ll talk later.”


“You think you know. What you are. What’s to come. You haven’t even begun.”

The words are still ringing in my ears when I knock on the back door of the butcher’s shop. The implication seems to be that I don’t know anything, don’t know my future. But does anyone? I might have a better handle on things than most people, actually, since I already know I’ll die young. You know, again. As for what I am, I’m a slayer. It’s not that complicated. Stupid dream. Stupid first slayer. Stupid ‘you’re all alone in the world’ crap I’ve been hearing since the day I was called.

“Buffy? Are you alright?”

I look up to find Jack leaning out the back door of the shop, giving me a worried look.

“Oh, hi. Sorry. I was kind of lost in thought.” I pull some cash out of my pocket. “Three pints?”

He takes the money, but doesn’t head inside. “I haven’t seen you in a while. Did Spike piss you off enough to get tied up at your watcher’s again?”

“No. He’s at his place, and totally free.”

“Shit. He’s hurt, isn’t he? That’s the only other reason I can think of for you to be doing his shopping.”

I give him a weak smile. “Don’t worry. You aren’t likely to lose your best late night customer. He’ll be ok in a day or two.”

He goes inside and comes back a minute later with a paper bag. “Here’s four. Get that old reprobate back on his feet and make him get his own groceries.”

I take the bag with a bigger smile. “I will. Thanks, Jack.” I turn to walk away, but he calls after me.

“And for the record, reprobate or not, he’s a step up from the one you used to shop for.”

I turn back to face him, walking backwards down the alley. “Are you trying to play matchmaker, Jack Kiernan?”

“I don’t need to. You’re here, aren’t you?” He wags a finger at me. “You aren’t fooling me, Buffy Summers. Give your boyfriend my best.”

“Who said anything about a boyfriend?”

“You only do the vamp caretaker bit for two reasons: hostage or boyfriend. And you said yourself, he’s not tied up.”

I wave as I turn away again. “Goodnight, Jack!”


I slide the ring onto my finger and shove my keychain back into my pocket before opening the crypt door and going inside. After giving my eyes a moment to adjust to the dimness, I go over to the sarcophagus, where Spike is sleeping. “Hey, killer. Back to your old self?”

“Ask me tomorrow,” he grumbles.


“Have you ever had a doctor digging around in your brain?”

“Not like that, no.” I turn and walk to the kitchen area.

By the time I’ve put away the four containers of animal blood and lit a few candles, Spike is sitting up. He’s giving me a confused look. “What does that mean?”

“Nothing. Go back to sleep. I just came to stock the fridge and check on you.”

“No, not nothing.”

I put the lighter back on the counter. “Another time, ok?”

He apparently doesn’t feel up to starting an argument, because he nods and settles back down on his pillow. “I’m guessing you’re armed.”


“And you’ve talked to the Scooby girlfriends by now.”

“Yeah. Nice shiner you’re sporting, by the way.”

“Demon Girl’s got a good left hook on her, for having human strength. …You gonna stake me?”

“No.” I sigh and come over to sit on the edge of the sarcophagus beside him. “But you shouldn’t have done it.”

“Wasn’t gonna kill him.”

“Obviously, or you’d have gone for his throat. I know you, Spike. If you’re not going to get a good fight out of it, you prefer a quick kill. But why bite his forearm?”

“Bloke needed a scar where he’d see it every time he gets washed up to cut into a person. Made sure he’ll remember me, remember what he did.”

“Anya said you let go before she and Tara even got to you.”

“Yeah. The witch took him to get a bandage, and then Anya gave me a black eye for my trouble. So?”

“So, the way I hear it, you barely got your fangs in. Just a taste.” I look down at him. His eyes are closed, and he’s very still. He looks peaceful, safe. I know better. He’s dangerous, and the Scoobies have just taken away the only thing holding him back. The Slayer of Slayers is only a day or two from being back at full strength, and fully unleashed. “Did it give you second thoughts?”

“Wasn’t after his blood, Slayer.”

“I know.”

“Just leaving a message.” He opens his eyes and looks up at me. “If you’re expecting an apology, don’t hold your breath.”

“I’m not. I’m just afraid you’ll want more.”

“You think you’re talking to some idiot fledge, Slayer? I can manage it.” He looks insulted, almost pouty. “Old Herbert tasted a bit anemic, anyway. Didn’t want more of that.

“Why do I find that comforting?” I laugh and bend down to kiss him. “Just behave yourself, ok? I promised the Scoobies I’d stake you if you don’t.”

I try to stand up, but his hand on my hip stops me. “You’re not leaving already?”

“I was going to warm up a mug for you, since you don’t seem to be going back to sleep.”

“You went to the butcher’s? I figured it was more Cokes you were putting in the fridge.”

“Nope.” I pull away from him and go back to the kitchen area. “Jack says ‘hi,’ by the way. Also, he’s totally onto us. He figured it out almost as fast as Angel did.”

Spike sits up again. “I thought that little row down there was about Faith?”

“After that. When I left here the other night, I found him near the school, fighting with Riley. He actually came up here to apologize, but as soon as I got close to him…”

“He knew where you’d been.”

“I managed to keep him from saying anything in front of Riley, but he’s not happy.”

“Kind of his default setting. …And glad to hear you didn’t correct that problem.”

“Not funny.” I stick my tongue out at him and turn my attention back to the microwave. “I think I’ve had all the jealous men bullshit I can handle for one week. Don’t start.”

“Finn’s still carrying a torch, but I don’t think he needed to scrap with Angel for you to know it.”

“No, he didn’t.”

“So what are you gonna do about it?”

I shrug. “One step at a time.” I pull the mug out of the microwave and bring it to him. “The next step is keeping him from coming after you when he finds out why we were interested in Rodgers. I’m going to have to tell him.”

That will go well.”

“I think I can talk him out of starting a fight with you, but maybe you could make an effort to get along with him? You might like him if you ever gave him a chance.”

“Yeah, ’cause me and Soldier Boy have so much in common.” He scoffs and takes a sip from his mug. “Maybe we’ll start a club, the formerly chipped and in love with the slayer club.”

I take a step backwards. Then another. He did not just say that. I’m staring at him, trying to come up with a response, but I have nothing. I’m too surprised.

“Gotten awfully quiet over there, love. You didn’t know about his chip?”

“I– I knew,” I whisper.

“Saw blood on his shirt, figured he dug it out. Did, didn’t he?”

I nod.

He takes another sip from his mug, still acting totally casual, like he hasn’t just dropped a bombshell at my feet. “So what are we doing tonight? Not up for a patrol, but we could play cards or watch some telly.”

“You– You’re…?”

“I think there’s an ‘I Love Lucy’ marathon on tonight.”

He’s going to skate right by it, pretend he didn’t say it. Maybe he didn’t mean to say it. Maybe he didn’t even mean it.

“Spike…” Actually, pretending he didn’t say it isn’t such a bad idea. “If we’re going to make a habit of doing our TV watching here, we really need to look into trading in that ugly orange chair for a couch.”

He tilts his head, studying me. “Yeah. We’ll do that.”

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