Spike could smell the ocean. Not entirely out of the question, what with Sunnydale being right along the sodding thing, but was a bit peculiar to find that particular scent in the Bronze. He really shouldn’t have been there, either, honestly. He’d healed up enough that the girl manning the bar was serving him free pity drinks instead of calling an ambulance, but he should have been in the crypt, gulping down as much pig blood as he could stomach and nursing his injuries. The thought of it, though, being alone and cooped up, didn’t exactly appeal.
So here he stood, leaning on the balcony and gazing down at the people below. Searching for… what, exactly? Buffy or one of her little friends? The slayer had too much on her plate for partying, what with her mum dead and a deranged hellgod after the little sis. He could go hunting for them, he supposed, make some half-arsed excuse to show up at the Magic Box, like the pathetic, attention-starved fool he was. Maybe get some burba weed to make the sodding pig blood more palatable.
The vague plan faded away as his sea-smelling suitor finally made his way over. He was clothed this time, a pair of tight jeans, a gray shirt, and a black leather jacket that barely hung down past his hips.
“Was hoping you’d turn out to be a particularly vivid fever dream,” Spike said as the Dutchman leaned on the railing beside him, also gazing down into the milling crowd.
Hadn’t been much hope of that, though, had there? Spike knew his own subconscious. Dreams of being with the slayer and declaring his love for her? Meant he’d bloody well gone and fallen for the chit and his subconscious was letting him in on it. Dreams of a tumble with some random demon he’d never seen before with a detailed back story and retractable tentacles? He’d a vivid imagination, but that was a bit much to just pull out of the ether, even for him. Well, at least while more-or-less sober.
The Dutchman chuckled and reached out to drape his arm across Spike’s back. “No, my darling one, I’m very much real, and my two weeks start today. I thought I’d give you some time to heal up between now and our first meeting.”
Spike considered shoving him away and telling him to sod off, but decided against it. His reputation in Sunnydale had taken a massive hit with all his demon killing, but he was at least still known for dealing honestly. He’d agreed to let the tentacled buggerer court him for a fortnight, and there was no harm in letting him do it. Besides, there tended to be right nasty consequences to going back on an agreement with supernatural sorts.
“Come now,” the Dutchman said, pulling Spike away from the railing and towards one of the small sofas that had been stored on the balcony after the recent remodel. “You’re still hurt, my love, and there are things we need to discuss.”
He pulled a flask from inside his jacket and held it out to Spike as they sat down together. Even with the lid tightly screwed on, he could smell the blood inside. Human. His mouth watered at the scent. He hadn’t had human since the night Drusilla had come swanning back for him and had killed a couple up here on this very balcony. What would it have been like if he’d gone with her? He wouldn’t have been tortured and more or less discarded after the fact, that was for sure. Well, tortured perhaps, his dark princess had always had a thing for hurting him, but she’d have cuddled and pampered him right proper after the fact.
If he had gone, though, what would have happened with Buffy and the little bit? Would Glory have gotten her mitts on Dawn? Buffy would be utterly shattered if something happened to the girl.
Buffy…. It all came back to Buffy, even the flask of blood he was being offered. She wouldn’t want him to take it if someone had died for it. How would she even know? You’ll heal better with human in you. Can look out for her and the nibblet better that way. He licked his lips, but didn’t take the flask. She’d find out somehow. That’s how things always seemed to work out for him.
Beside him, the Dutchman smiled with amused affection. “There’s no death attached, so no reason for your lady to complain. I purchased it at a bar run by a man who assured me his business was slayer-tolerated if not quite approved.”
Willy’s most likely, and Willy paid college kids for the blood he sold. Cost an arm and a leg, it did, but drinking it wouldn’t get Buffy after you. Spike grabbed the flask and took a deep drink. He was barely aware of his body leaning into the Dutchman as the human blood flooded his mouth, coating his tongue with ecstasy as it filled him with energy and vitality. Not as good as straight from the tap – nothing ever was or could be – but this…. Human blood, somehow just the right temperature. And the people he constantly went out of his way to help couldn’t even be bothered to make sure he had enough of the sodding pig.
The flask didn’t hold much, just a few mouthfuls, but it was enough to make a small difference, dropping his pain a level or so. He was suddenly very aware of the Dutchman. Warm and solid and smelling of the sea. Would it feel the same as he’d dreamed? Having a go in the flesh? Spike forced the thought away. Human blood always got his libido to sit up and beg, but he’d long ago learned to ignore it if he’d a mind to. Right now, as the man had said, they had things to discuss.
“How’d you know about me and the slayer?” He’d called her Spike’s lady. That was more than just knowing he sometimes hung about and helped her lot out.
“You are the one chosen for this cycle,” the Dutchman said, as if it should mean something. “There are always those who fit my needs, and the cycle chooses as it will, letting me know what I need to about my bride-to-be.” He smiled. “It also helps that I asked around about you, my sweet one. Your feelings for the slayer are something of an open secret. My poor darling. So very loyal to one who treats you with such scorn.”
Spike shifted uncomfortably. Okay, so Slayer was hardly all sweetness and roses towards him, but if he was honest with himself, he couldn’t really blame her. Yeah, he’d been trying lately – had even refrained from lapping at the troll victims like a cat at a cream buffet, hadn’t he? – but he was still a vampire. Still someone – something to her way of thinking – that she was meant to kill. Vampire slayer, The. And then there had been that kiss…. An acknowledgment of what he’d done for her when he hadn’t expected anything. Not even the rescue that had come before.
Though she hadn’t much choice there, had she? he thought cynically. None of them had expected him to keep silent about Dawn. Because none of that lot really knew sod-all about him when it came down to it.
“There are things you need to know,” the Dutchman said, breaking into Spike’s thoughts. He reached into his jacket again and pulled out a silver necklace. Strands of silver formed a net filled of faceted blue stones. “This is the sign of the pact. It changes at the beginning of each cycle to match my bride-to-be. My bride must willingly put this on, in full knowledge of what it means.”
“And just what does it mean?” Spike paused for a moment, head tilted. “Beyond, I’m assuming, quite a lot of kinky sex.”
The Dutchman laughed softly and put the necklace back into an inner pocket. “Like a vampire, I take my sustenance from living beings. But instead of blood, I feed on loyalty, with that backed by love being the most exquisite. It matters not if that loyalty is aimed towards me, merely that it exists. I will feed from my bride for seven years, and then seek another as the cycle begins anew.”
“And what happens to the old bride?”
The Dutchman shrugged at that. “Humans are left as empty husks. Alive, but with nothing more within them. With demons, it varies, though none are left whole. You are the first vampire I’ve ever courted, so I cannot say how it will go for you.”
“Either way, seems a raw deal for your bride. If you’ve got to disclose all this, how do you ever….” Spike trailed off as a nasty thought occurred to him. Bugger this, he wasn’t going to fall into such an obvious trap. He got to his feet and backed away, eyes narrowed as he glared at the Dutchman. “You use it against ‘em,” he accused. “If you can’t win someone over, you threaten those they’re loyal to.”
The Dutchman just smiled. Gentle and understanding. “Coercion is not willingness. Some come to genuinely love me and offer themselves out of that. For others, they seek a favor and trade their lives for it. Either way, I’m drawn to those who will willingly become my brides.”
A favor…. Such as helping to stop Glory? No. It wouldn’t come to that. Buffy was a resourceful girl, and her watcher had both brains and powerful contacts across the pond. And they had him, Spike. He was no slouch in the brains department either, when it suited him, and he could fight. They wouldn’t need the Dutchman to keep Dawn safe. Would they?
“Just how often have you picked wrong and not got your bride?”
The Dutchman smiled again. Still gentle and understanding. “Never.”
“Hello?” Buffy called out as she walked into the crypt. “Spike?”
It was really quiet. Shouldn’t he be in his chair, watching TV or something? No sign of him, and the sarcophagus was empty, too. Or, well, had nothing on top of it, anyway. Maybe he’d climbed inside for a nap or something. She shifted uneasily, clutching the brown paper grocery bag closer to her chest. There were a few jars of pig blood inside, which was seriously of the uber gross, but well….
She walked farther into the crypt, looking for any piles of dust that seemed to be more than just actual dust. Vampires couldn’t die from torture, could they? She was pretty sure they couldn’t. Spike had once said that they couldn’t actually starve to death, so it didn’t seem like non-woody or holy object or sunlight related injuries should be able to kill them either. Not like I even care, she told herself. Spike becoming dustpan kibble would so uncomplicate her life right now. She didn’t want to think about the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of her stomach at the thought.
I need him, the coldly practical side of her pointed out. Other than her, he was the only one strong enough to even think about protecting Dawn. Glory had been able to hurt him pretty badly, but he could buy time against her little hobgoblins while Dawn ran away to somewhere safer. But in order to do that, he needed to heal, and to heal, he needed blood. Hence the piggy goodness she had for him. And, well….
As much as she didn’t want to dwell on it too much, he really had come through for them. Battered, bloody, and broken, but he hadn’t spilled the beans about Dawn. All because he thinks he loves me. It couldn’t be love, not really, but Buffy couldn’t deny that he felt something for her. He’d been loyal, and she’d kissed him for it. She hadn’t planned to, but looking at him, so horribly beat up, she’d been moved to do something. To offer some small kindness in recognition of what he’d endured.
And now she was doing something else, but he wasn’t here. Maybe he was off getting his own blood? Should she just leave the jars on his chair? Or stick them in the mini fridge? Before she could decide, the crypt door opened, and Spike came limping in.
“Spike! Hi,” she said. “I was looking for you. But you weren’t here. Obviously. Because you were out wherever you’ve been.” Damn it, she was babbling. She shut her mouth and looked him over. She couldn’t see much with all of his clothes, but his face looked better. It wasn’t anywhere near as swollen, though he was still badly bruised. There was also the limp, and he walked like things hurt inside. “I, uh, brought you some blood.”
He just stared at her for a moment, head tilted to the side as he studied her like some kind of newly discovered bug. Then he blinked. “Thanks, pet. ‘Preciate it.”
He walked past her to his easy chair, dropping into it heavily with a grunt of pain. Then he closed his eyes and just sat there, like he was barely even aware of her presence.
“So… where do you want me to put it? The blood.” She didn’t remember ever feeling quite this awkward around him, not even after he’d done the whole chaining her up and offering to murder his ex thing. Though finding out that he was obsessed with her had come pretty close.
Obsession…. Did obsession really lead to enduring physical torture so someone else wouldn’t be in emotional pain? It seemed too selfless for what obsession implied. Like she’d told him, there had been something real in what he’d done.
Spike opened his eyes and gestured her over. “Bring it here, love. Might as well go ahead and pour some down the hatch. Don’t suppose you brought anything to add to it? Burba weed? A handful of Weetabix? Maybe a pinch of cinnamon or somesuch?”
“Uh, no, sorry,” she said as she handed him one of the jars. Angel had never been all that keen on eating in front of her or anything, but she was pretty sure he’d never doctored up his blood the way Spike liked to. It made him seem weirdly more human, like someone putting jelly and sugar in their oatmeal to change it from boring health food to sweet treat.
Spike grimaced in disgust but took the jar and downed it. Buffy stared, watching the motion of his throat as he swallowed the blood. Was pig blood really that gross? Well, the thought of it was pretty nasty to her, but she wasn’t a vampire. Maybe she should have gone by Willy’s and gotten him some human?
There was a stab of guilt, but she pushed it aside. She was on her own now, taking care of a teenage girl when she was barely past being one herself. She couldn’t afford an extra expense like that. Besides, it was kind of his own fault he’d been tortured, anyway. He wouldn’t have been taken by Glory’s minions if he hadn’t been all disgusting and slobbery with the robot he’d had made of her.
He finished about half the jar, then set it down on the floor while he studied her again. He took a deep breath, then slowly let it out. “I want in,” he said quietly. “Whatever you end up doing to keep the pidge safe, you can count on me, you got that?”
The look in his eyes was intense, almost mesmerizing. She’d intended to use him to protect Dawn, but hadn’t been prepared for him to just offer like this. Maybe she should have been. He’d done a lot to help them. Okay, yeah, a lot of that had probably been trying to win her over, but he wasn’t stupid. He had to know there was no point to it. That she’d never….
She shifted uncomfortably and set the bag with the rest of the jars on the floor. “Yeah, I got it. I’m not gonna lie, we could really use your help. Glory is crazy strong, and I….” She stopped and took a deep breath. “I better go. You’re… um, you’re looking better, but you need to rest.”
He nodded and scooped up the open jar again. He didn’t drink from it, though, just sat there and closed his eyes. He looked exhausted and like something was really bothering him. Was it the Glory situation, or was there something else going on with him? Should she ask if he was okay? She hesitated, but then turned and slipped out of the crypt, leaving Spike to his solitude.
Confused feelings skittered through her mind, but she ignored them. Right now, she had just one thing to focus on: keep Dawn safe. Everything else could wait.
Leave a Review
Table of Contents