Giles found himself staring at the clock in his shop for the second time in as many minutes, though it felt as though hours had passed in that time. Buffy was running late. Not terribly so, but he couldn’t imagine her dawdling at a time like this. Not when it came to picking up Dawn. The girl herself was sitting at the research table, attempting to do her homework. She mostly seemed to be fidgeting and watching the clock just as much as he was. Poor child. Her mother in hospital, and an ancient primordial evil after her, though she was as yet unaware of the latter.
The door burst open, the bell clanging wildly as Riley rushed in. “Buffy’s gone! Spike chased her into some sort of portal about twenty minutes ago.”
Buffy was gone… Giles felt his mind go blank for a moment. Gone, what did that even mean? Buffy, his Slayer, she couldn’t just be gone through some mysterious portal.
“What?” Dawn shrieked. Willow and Tara immediately tried to comfort her, but she pulled away from them, getting up from her chair with enough force to send it clattering to the floor. “Buffy can’t be gone, not with mom in the hospital! That’s… that’s just stupid.” She glared at Riley like it was all somehow his fault. “You’re stupid! Buffy wouldn’t let Spike chase her through a portal. He wouldn’t even be able to.”
“I know what I saw,” Riley snapped. “Some demons went through the portal, then Buffy ran into it with Spike right behind her. He chased her through it.”
Giles frowned in annoyance at the man’s insistence on what was patently rubbish. What was Spike supposed to have done, made rude or lewd gestures at Buffy until she’d run off right into a portal?
“That, uh, does seem rather unlikely.” And a pointless waste of time to argue about. “What did this portal look like? We need –”
A great bloody snake crashed in through the windows, hissed wildly at a screaming Dawn, and then retreated. It was the monster Buffy had warned them of, and Giles was suddenly convinced it was on the way to tell its master that it had found the key. And the Slayer was nowhere about to stop it.
Buffy stood quietly in line in her gray, shapeless smock and metal slave collar, waiting for her turn for a bowl full of gray, tasteless slop. The gray, hopeless life of a slave. Is that what she would become? Going out with a whimper instead of a bang? She still fantasized about lashing out, declaring herself Buffy, the Vampire Slayer before going toe-to-toe with the slavers and showing them what she was made of. It would be pointless, though, and she knew it. The instant she tried to actually hit one of them, the gross slug-thing they’d stuck in her head would send whirling razorblades of pain through her brain. Once had been more than enough of that.
She shuddered at the memory. She’d still been kind of woozy from the blow to the head when the demons had pulled her away from Spike. She’d been able to fight, but nowhere near at her best. They’d forced her down to the ground and shoved a vile, squishy thing in her ear. The babble and grunts of the demons had suddenly become words she could understand, and when she’d taken a swing at one of them…. God, her head ached just thinking about the pain.
Though at least she hadn’t been as bad off as Spike. He’d let out a blood curdling scream of agony before passing out, blood trickling from his nose, ears, and even eyes. Their captors had been confused by the reaction, but Buffy had been pretty sure it had something to do with the slug they’d gotten into him interacting badly with the chip. Spike had agreed, when he’d regained consciousness the next day, saying he’d felt the chip fire as soon as the slug had done its thing. That had been roughly a week ago. Now they were in some sort of work camp, being trained at various tasks.
The demon ahead of her in line – some species she didn’t know that was just as much a slave as she was – was given its food and moved out of line, leaving Buffy at the front. She held out the bowl on a tray she’d picked up at the start of the line, expecting the same single ladle of gray “nutrient paste” as always. Instead, she was given two ladles of some kind of fragrant stew along with a thick slice of bread with purple stuff slathered on top.
She blinked, noticing for the first time that her food station had two large kettles instead of the usual one. She didn’t stop to dwell on it, though, moving swiftly out of line so the demon behind her could be fed. She looked around as she headed towards the resting area and noticed that all of the feeding stations – set up by what the various species needed to survive – had two kettles now. Huh. That was weird. Why would they suddenly have new foods while keeping the old ones? Did the fact that she’d gotten some of the new stuff have anything to do with the tag that had been added to her collar after today’s work detail?
She shook her head, pushing the questions aside as she entered the resting area. This time of day was the closest the slaves had to freedom. If they wanted to eat, they had to get into the food lines pretty much as soon as they got back to the complex. But they at least had options on where they wanted to eat. In the mess area where they had breakfast, in the assembly yard, or the rest area. That last was a large room covered with thin sleeping pallets.
Spike was already there, sitting in their area and staring off into space. Like her, he was wearing only a collar and a gray smock that went down to mid-thigh, exposing a lot of leg that Buffy had to grudgingly admit wasn’t exactly hard on the eyes. He looked washed out, though, and not just because of the unflattering color. It was almost like something had died in him when the slug and the chip had had the big pain orgy in his head. It reminded her of when he’d tried to kill himself in Xander’s basement because he’d thought he couldn’t even fight other demons.
Not gonna happen, she thought firmly. Not on her watch. She knew she shouldn’t care about what happened to the stupid vampire, but, well… he was her stupid vampire, damn it! And the only thing familiar in this place. And, if she was honest with herself, taking care of him was helping her stay steady. It kept her thoughts off of the future and what was happening with her mom and sister back home. If she’d been in with the other humans, maybe helping them would have helped her, but after a brief discussion she’d been chucked in with the vampires and other more-or-less humanoid demons.
“Hey,” she said as she sat down beside him, balancing her food carefully so the stew wouldn’t spill.
There was a bowl of blood on a tray beside Spike, proof that he’d actually gone through the line after she’d put him in it. She couldn’t tell if was a different kind of blood from normal, but there was definitely more of it. He’d gotten the same new tag that she had. It wasn’t exactly a scientific sample or anything, but she was betting that was the reason for the better grub.
“You need to eat,” she said quietly, setting a good example by biting into her slice of bread. It was dense and chewy, and the purple stuff on top was the consistency of thick mashed potatoes with a vaguely sweet, nutty flavor. “They’ve changed the food for some of us, so it might taste better now.”
“It’s human,” he said.
Buffy froze, staring at him wide-eyed. Human blood. Had someone died to provide that, or had a little bit been taken from each of the human slaves? Either way, there was the urge to grab the bowl and fling it away. She took a slow, deep breath, fighting the urge. It wasn’t Spike’s fault he had been given human, and pouring it out wasn’t going to magically put it back into whoever it had come from.
“So it’ll definitely taste better,” Spike continued. “But what’s the bloody point?” He laughed, a short, humorless sound. “We’re slaves, pet, and we’ve no way to fight back. Even if we escaped, we’d be utterly helpless, and forced to be pacifists for however long we managed to survive. Not sure about you, but I don’t fancy living like that.”
The automatic response, you aren’t even living, anyway, popped into her head but didn’t make it to her mouth. Instead, she said, “They aren’t giving us better food out of the goodness of their hearts.”
She had the sudden, horrible worry that maybe her food was just as much people as his. She forced the thought away. It made sense to give Spike people because that was what vampires naturally ate. Sentient beings were totally not part of this complete Slayer breakfast. And, honestly, if it was people, she didn’t really want to know.
“Something’s coming up, and we need to be at our bests if we’re going to deal with it. We’ll eventually get out of this dimension, and when we do, Giles or Willow will figure out a way to get these things out of our heads. So, you just drink the damn blood already!”
His lips twitched slightly into a smile at her tone, and he actually did what she’d said.
Once they were both finished, Buffy took their dishes back to be washed while Spike stacked their pallets, making one slightly thicker one for them to share. That had started the first night after Spike had come to. He’d still been in a lot of pain, and she hadn’t been able to ignore it. So, she’d stacked their pallets and had made him lie down with his head in her lap so she could massage it. She’d silently cried the entire time, remembering doing the same for her mom once she’d started getting the headaches.
After that, they’d just kept doing it. It was nice to have something at least a little thicker to sleep on, and, well, it didn’t feel quite as lonely with him that close. It was still kinds of weird and unsettling though, especially since the smocks were literally the only things they were wearing other than collars. Spike had been a gentleman about it so far. Or possibly just so apathetic that he didn’t care about making lewd, snarky comments. She almost wished he would.
As she curled up beside him, her usual mantra floated through her head. I’m Buffy Summers, the Vampire Slayer, and this is not going to break me. We’ll get out of here and get home. She drifted off to sleep with those words firmly in mind.
Since reaching the training camp, the days had pretty much all been the same. Wake up at dawn, get in line for a few mouthfuls of rodent blood, gather in the yard to be sorted, and be set to some mindless task. Spike had put his all into each one. Not much point to any of it, but it kept his hands busy and his mind full of white noise. It was better than thinking on the future, centuries of boring drudgery stretching out before him with no chance of fighting his way free or going out in a blaze of glory.
Last night had been different though, hadn’t it? Both he and the Slayer had had tags added to their collars, and there had been a nice bowl of human for him after the day’s work in a quarry. Sodding well figured, didn’t it? His first taste of relatively fresh human blood since the ruddy chip, and he’d been too bloody depressed to properly enjoy it. That was sod’s law for you.
Buffy had gotten a similar upgrade to her nosh. That upgrade had continued at breakfast, when the two of them and others with the new tags had been separated out and sat down at a table together. After that had been some new togs for the lot of them. A bare scrap of a black leather skirt that barely covered the nethers for the blokes, and the same along with a breast band for the birds, including the Slayer.
He had to admit, skimpy as it was, he felt a touch more himself in the black leather than he had in the sodding gray smock. And the way Buffy kept sneaking shy little peeks at his all but exposed body before blushing and looking away was doing a fair turn at keeping the dark clouds of despair at bay. Enough so he was actually interested when he and the other tagged slaves were led into what seemed to be an arena.
They were all stood side-by-side – Buffy to his left and a particularly warty frunagek at his right – as a few of the demons in charge inspected them.
“Slaves,” one of them finally announced. “All of you have shown exceptional amounts of strength, endurance, speed, and agility. Useful traits for any slave, but especially so for gladiators.”
Gladiators? Everything in Spike honed in on that word, like a dog scenting a bitch in heat. Gladiators fought. The excruciating agony that had pounded him down into unconsciousness apparently wasn’t the norm, but whatever the slugs did was enough that no one, not even the Slayer, tried to attack more than once. There was no way they were meant to be fighting through that, which meant there had to be a way to stop the slugs from reacting.
“The gor’shurug in your heads are telepathic parasites that feed on thought energy,” the slave trainer continued. “They’ve been told to cause their hosts pain if they attack anything.” An ugly little smile spread across its face. “And now they’re told this: Starting now, these particular slaves may attack each other, but not kill. Begin!”
Spike didn’t even need a moment to absorb the meaning of those words. They were instantly part of him. It wasn’t what he had been hoping for, the freedom to attack anyone at will and possibly get free, and he wasn’t happy about the no killing, but it was good enough for now. He instantly turned to his right, his fist smashing into the face of the demon next to him. The violence of it – after a week without and the fear of never experiencing it again – sizzled through him in a rush of sensation that left him laughing in wild glee.
He was still a slave, and he couldn’t kill, but he could bloody well fight again. He focused on that and threw himself into the melee with gloriously reckless abandon.
Punch, kick, duck, weave, twist to the side, crunch a nose with the heel of her hand, grunt and push on through the pain when she didn’t dodge fast enough. Fighting her fellow slaves at the say-so of the slavers wasn’t high on Buffy’s list of things she wanted to do, but since no one else seemed to agree with that, she didn’t really have much choice. And, well, as much as she hated to admit it, after a week of no slaying, it felt really good to finally cut loose.
She was Action Girl, damn it, the Slayer. Violence was part of who she was. It didn’t matter if her strength and fighting ability made Riley uncomfortable. It didn’t matter that the one time she had truly reveled in her power and calling had been during that whole “want, take, have” debacle with Faith. It didn’t…. A familiar pale hand suddenly flashed into her field of vision, catching and redirecting the scaly fist that had been sailing towards her face.
“Keep your head in the game, Slayer, or it’s like to be knocked off, no kill rule or not,” Spike shouted, though more to be heard over all the noise, it seemed, than out of any kind of anger.
The awful, dull look in his eyes was gone, replaced by an excited gleam like a kid on Christmas morning as he moved effortlessly through the frenzied mob of demons. Almost like he was…dancing. Come on. I can feel it, Slayer. You know you wanna dance. She shivered and blocked a blow, her body on autopilot as she thought back to that night in the alley behind the Bronze. God, it felt like a lifetime ago, and not just a week. The mock battle that had left him panting and breathless and….
Buffy pushed her memories back as she pushed her body through the demons. She didn’t want to think right now. She just wanted to move, to be. She joined up with Spike, and they danced. Their styles meshed seamlessly. They’d fought as both mortal enemies and reluctant allies and were each very aware of what the other could do.
Eventually, though, there was no one left to fight, leaving the two of them staring at each other, both of them bruised and bloody and Buffy winded while Spike was breathing like he was. He eyed her warily, body tensed to defend himself even though they both knew he couldn’t. He was helpless against her, which meant she could “win” the fight right now with a single blow if she wanted to. But, well, she didn’t want to. It didn’t feel right to attack someone who couldn’t fight back, and he was still the only familiar thing in this crazy dimension. She didn’t want to hurt him.
As she stood there doing nothing, Spike slowly relaxed, his head tilting to the side as he studied her. Then he held out his hand. Buffy stared at it for a moment, then, slowly, hesitantly, reached out and took it in her own. It was cool and firm and calloused and familiar. Tears threatening to spill over the whole horrible situation, she yanked him towards her and held him tight.
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