A wild drumbeat of pain throbbed through Spike in vicious counterpoint to the horrible burning in his gut. Formless noise that might have been words swirled around him, nudging and jabbing, pulling him towards consciousness. There was a moan from some poor, wretched sod, and after a moment, he realized the sound was coming from himself. Bruises and torn flesh and broken bones. And the terrible itchy pain of healing that seemed to be working a bit faster than the norm, a hornets nest whipped up into a frenzy.
“…ike… up… ome on…”
Buffy. That was Buffy’s voice. He couldn’t make out all she was saying, but he knew it was her. What was…? Right, they’d been fighting someone. A woman stronger and tougher than the both of them, and likely about to try pounding them into a pulp. He struggled up to his hands and knees but couldn’t manage anything beyond that. The world spun in a dizzying kaleidoscope of colors and his mouth started watering unpleasantly. Oh, god…. He gagged and retched as something vile forced its way up his throat.
“Spike!” Buffy knelt down beside him, her hand resting comfortingly on his back.
“Thought… thought I’d left that sort of thing behind along with the pulse,” he muttered shakily. There was a small puddle of something dark red and tarrish on the pavement in front of him. Seemed like he’d absorbed what he could from the woman’s blood, but his demonic energies hadn’t been able to burn away the rest. A quick glance showed that the woman herself wasn’t just stood about, waiting. She’d buggered off at some point. “What happened?”
“She started yelling about how I ruined her hair,” Buffy said as she helped him up to his feet. Her nose crinkled up in an adorable mix of confusion, annoyance, and relief. “Then she, uh, stormed off after throwing me against an ambulance.”
Spike blinked at that and shook his head. Not his best decision ever, since it set the world to spinning again. At least now the bitch’s blood was out of him, the feeling of being invaded by a bloody horde of wasps was starting to fade. He took several slow, deep breaths, steadying himself.
“Well, then, least we know how to keep the lopsided bint at bay, don’t we?” He grinned at her questioning look. “Run at her with scissors and spray paint. Maybe some sandpaper to ruin her manicure. Threaten to muss her up a bit, and off she’ll go.”
“I don’t know, sandpaper manicures are probably all the rage,” Buffy quipped with a slight smile. Then they both went quiet for a moment.
“She the one after li’l sis?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she answered with a sigh. “And we’re going to have to figure out what to do about her. But for now….” She pulled him close and let him lean on her strength for a moment. “We need to get you home. Ancient primordial evil doesn’t seem to have agreed with you.”
Home…. The word conjured the other dimension. Time spent with Buffy and then Senka in the arenas and the gladiator house. Wandering Lady Sasszan’s holdings together when they weren’t training. He swallowed hard and squeezed his eyes shut. He had the crypt, of course, but that wasn’t home.
“Anywhere that we can be together,” Buffy said softly. “And right now, that’s Mom’s house.”
She’d lost Dawn. She’d been trusted to keep her safe, but she’d failed. She’d lost Dawn. That thought circled through Tara’s head as she was led to the couch and gently forced to sit down. She caught snippets of conversation as she tried to fight off the effects of the gas.
“… couldn’t have been Glory.”
“… find Dawn…. Tara?”
She blinked and managed to focus on Buffy and Spike.
“Are you two okay?” The words spilled out of her like they’d come from someone else. They were valid words, though. Both of them looked pretty bad, all bruised and scraped up, and Spike’s hair was stained red with blood.
Buffy flashed her a tired smile. “Yeah, more or less. Battered up enough for a good old-fashioned fish fry, but in one piece.” The smile faded. “What happened? Where’s Dawn?”
Oh, god, Dawn. Dawnie. It crashed down on her again, and tears gathered at the corners of her eyes. “Sh-sh-she…. R-Riley came, and he, he….” She was talking too fast, her tongue tripping over the words as they tried to come out in a rush. Breathe, Tara, breathe. She imagined the words in Willow’s voice, and despite the problems they’d been having, it calmed her enough to continue speaking. “He had a grenade and a mask. I th-think he took her.”
“Bloody hell,” Spike swore, running a hand through his already tousled hair before starting to pace. “Soldier Boy’s gone completely sack of hammers, sounds like.”
“Why would he…?” Buffy stopped and shook her head. “I don’t even care. If he wants to hide her away somewhere, he’s probably somewhere in the Initiative compound. We’ll hunt him down, and then his ass is toast.”
“I can help with that.” The sudden voice startled Tara badly enough that she almost screamed. A man had just swept in through the door Buffy and Spike had left open. He looked vaguely familiar, like someone she might have seen at the college. “The hunting down part, that is. I’ll leave the ass toasting to you.”
“Who…?” Tara started to ask.
“Special Agent Graham Miller, with the army,” the man cut her off. Then he shifted his attention back to Buffy. “I can get you guys in fast and easy, but we need to leave now. Riley is convinced Dawn isn’t human, and I’m betting he didn’t kidnap her just for a friendly game of chess.”
It’s not human, Riley told himself firmly as he set up the cameras. How many times had he walked blithely on past while scientists had worked on other human looking HSTs? This was no different. And it wasn’t like the situation with Oz where he was more or less a human. This… thing had never been human at all. There was nothing wrong with what he had planned, not even the desecration of a corpse argument that could be made over vampires.
He knew all that, but still, the key looked like a vulnerable fourteen-year-old girl, strapped to a surgical table. She’d been stripped down to her Hello Kitty bra and panties and had been gagged to keep her quiet. His every instinct was screaming at him to set her free and get her to safety. Be the big, strong hero that would save the girl. But how many real young girls would suffer if he didn’t do this?
He got the last camera angled just the way he wanted and turned to face the key. It was hyperventilating, desperately trying to drag in air around the gag as it sobbed, tears and snot streaking its pale, terrified face. He swallowed past a sudden lump in his throat. What the hell was he doing? He couldn’t do this. She was just…. A mystical key that had probably given both Joyce and Buffy cancer. Even if it wasn’t evil, it was a threat to humanity. And he had to have proof of it before he destroyed it, in case another one ever turned up.
He took a deep breath, then started talking for the recording equipment. “This is Riley Finn, former agent of the Initiative. I’ll be providing conclusive proof that the entity known as Dawn Summers is a new type of Hostile Sub-Terrestrial.”
He picked up a scalpel and took a step towards the table, resolutely ignoring the increased sounds of panic from the creature bound to it.
Oh, God, no. Please, no. No. No. No. No!
He was coming for her. She was strapped to the table and she couldn’t move and he was coming for her. She couldn’t breathe. Her nose was stuffed up from crying and she couldn’t draw in enough air around the gag. She couldn’t move and she couldn’t breathe and he was coming for her. Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God. He was coming….
She could see the scalpel. It glinted in the light. He was going to use it to cut her open. She was awake and aware and he was going to…. He was going to… The blade slashed down, and she tried to scream, but she couldn’t, because she couldn’t breathe. He’d stolen her breath, and drawn a line of fire down her stomach, and she was going to die. She was going to….
There was an inhuman scream of rage, and Riley was suddenly gone from her view. Wet, thudding, crunching sounds filled the room. Then hands were on her, but they were gentle, unstrapping her with a rush of soothing words that washed over her without fully sinking in.
There now, love, I’ve got you. Get you free in half a tick, yeah? Don’t you worry, Little Bit, big sis is taking care of the wanker. I’ve got you. Shh. Shh. It’s okay, love, I’ve got you.
The restraints and gag were gone. Spike had her. She was suddenly wrapped in something, enveloped in the scent of leather, smoke, and vampire.
Dawn flung her arms around Spike and sobbed against his chest, finally able to breathe.
Blackness crept in around the edges of Buffy’s vision, everything narrowed down by sheer rage as she threw herself at Riley. There was a crunch of bone and his nose looked funny and there was blood everywhere and her fist was drawing back to deliver another punch. He’s human! a small voice screamed in the back of her mind. Humans could be punished when they were bad, but they were fragile. She had to be careful, she had to….
Dawn’s hysterical cries got louder, and Buffy turned her head for a moment to see that Spike had pulled out the gag and was ripping away the restraints. There was blood on her stomach from the cut Riley had managed before they’d come to stop him.
Riley was suddenly on the floor on the other side of the room, and Buffy wasn’t entirely sure how he had gotten there. Or how she’d ended up close enough to lift him by the front of the shirt and slam him against the wall.
“Buf…” a cough, thick and wet, cut off his words.
He didn’t look too good. His face was a mess of red, one eye swollen shut, lips split and some teeth missing. Had she done all that?
Good, she thought fiercely. She was vaguely aware of someone not-Riley calling her name, telling her to stop, but she didn’t care. He had to pay for hurting Dawn. She’s was going to make him –
Sudden pain exploded through her abdomen, and Buffy staggered away from Riley, arms wrapped around herself. What was…? Why…? She could feel something warm and wet running down her thighs. She reached down under her skirt, and her hand came back red. That didn’t…. She couldn’t…. Then dizziness swirled through her, sending her down to her knees.
White noise seemed to fill her ears, along with… with Rehva? Rehva was calling his name. He had to… Senka tried to get up, but his legs refused to cooperate. Rehva was worried. He had to reassure her. He had to….
The white noise grew fur and fangs and ate the world away.
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January 19, 2021 18:49
Great chapter starting to close everything in and together. Now if they can just kill Glory, all will be well in the world again.