Table of Contents
Previous Chapter: Veneration
Next Chapter: Machination

“Here. It’s a smoky quartz, just like you said. I purified it before I came, so we should be all hunky dorey ready to go!” Willow was kind of bouncing on the balls of her feet, obviously excited. Eager. And understandably so. Her best friend was missing, possibly being held captive by a vampire, possibly by the government, and location spells had so far failed. Which was really weird in and of itself. As long as they were done correctly, short of a protection spell, nothing should have interfered. This was the next logical step to finding her.    Not that Tara had a ton of experience with scrying herself, at least when it came to things like this. Normally she did it more as a form of self awareness. But when Willow had come to her, asking for help, with those eyes… Well, how could she say no? It wasn’t in her to ignore somebody who needed help. And she was more experienced than Willow. Scrying took practice. Years of it, and they didn’t have that kind of time.   “Thank you. I have some salt water, to cleanse it.” She didn’t miss Willow’s disappointed look. “It’s just that, I’ll be the one using it, you know? So it’s important that there’s no residual energy. Ideally, we’d do this tomorrow night, so I could attune it. B-but I know… We’re short on time. I can make this work.”   “Oh, no! I totally understand. I was just hoping that we could just… have answers.” The forced smile fell a bit and she took a seat on the edge of the bed. “I just hate not knowing where she is, you know?”   Tara nodded. “I do. Why don’t you, uh, do some mediation? It’ll take me awhile to get everything set up and ready.”   She tried to take deep, calming breaths while she went about preparing for the ritual. The sage helped, at least. And having Willow around just made her feel… nice. More confident. She didn’t stutter as much when she spoke to her. She was at ease. Which would be really helpful for something like this. She needed to be open to whatever the powers chose to show her. She couldn’t try to get the answer straight out. It had to go naturally. And for that, she needed to be centered, focused on the goal.   The setting up of the ritual was almost a form of mediation in itself, and it helped make great strides in reaching the trance-like state she was aiming for. Meditation cushion, placed in the center of the room. Her wooden bowl, filled with fresh water, set just in front of it on the floor. Two identical white candles, one on either side of the bowl. A cone of jasmine incense, due north of the water. She lowered herself onto the cushion and took in a long breath before letting it out slowly. She set the quartz into the water, and began.   “I call upon Hecate, Goddess of Wisdom and Guide to Enlightenment. Bless this circle.” She lit her incense in offering before continuing. “May that which is in darkness come to light” She lit each candle in turn, ignoring the shakiness of her own hand. Calm. Open. “I need to find the way to Buffy Summers.”   The flickering candle light played over the surface of the water, reflected in her crystal. She focused on that point, letting her breathing become even and her eyes grow heavy. She let herself be free to wander, and very gradually, the shadows cast by the light drew her in.   She found herself in a dark fog, with blackness surrounding her no matter which way she turned. She tried to call out, but there was no sound. No wind. She couldn’t even see the ground under her feet. She wouldn’t panic. The vision would come, if she let it.   She walked through the darkness. It didn’t feel malevolent. She had no reason to fear the unknown. Very slowly, things became clearer and began to take shape. Most notably, a big fluffy dog with a curled tail. A soft glow emanated from it, providing very welcome light. It sat there ahead of her, waiting. Watching. Hello, doggy. Are you here to help me? It whuffed at her and rose to its feet before turning and walking into the haze. Tara followed after, watching as images floated by. The haze remained, however, making it nearly impossible to focus on any details.   Red bricks. Greek letters. Evergreen trees. Gray cable knit?    Metal? I’m falling down. A long way down. A shaft?   The darkness was replaced suddenly with light so harshly bright that Tara had to squint against it to see anything. The dog padded ahead of her, and the room shifted under her feet. She lurched forward and stepped into… A hallway? At least her sight here was mostly clear. She had to be getting close.    There were doors upon doors made of glass as far as she could see, all identical. She walked down the corridor, unsure if she was actually making any progress or if it just went on forever. Ghostly figures paced behind the doors. Details remained shrouded, but they all seemed more or less humanoid in shape. Some bigger, some shorter. One definitely had horns. On it went, until her guide dog stopped and sat in front of one particular door. Inside, the figure was crystal clear.   Black leather coat that hung near the floor. Bleached blond hair. Vibrant blue eyes.   Slayer…   She could hear his voice somehow, through the dead silence. British, she thought. That would be an important detail, probably. But where was Buffy? Why had the guide led her here, to this man? Where was this? Underground, somewhere, where there was enough space for all… this.    Are you okay?   The vision was melting, the walls oozing down in a very disturbing way. Like blood running from the ceiling to the floor, but black. She had to be close. She had to be. Tara spun in circles, trying to see Buffy, but it was too late. The darkness was eating everything, blocking out the vision. The big friendly guide dog was gone. Buffy. I need to find Buffy. She tried to regain her focus, to bring the images back.   Then she was back in her room. The candles had burned down almost to the carpet, and she quickly blew them out. Willow knelt down in front of her, concern written on her features. Tara let out a sigh. She’d failed, hadn’t she? She’d been so close, and at the last moment, she’d let go of her focus. All that time and effort, wasted.   “What did you see? Did you find her?” Her hand. It had come to rest on Tara’s own, and wasn’t that kind of nice in a way?    She shook her head. “No, but… I got really close. There was a-a man there. He was dressed in all black, big leather coat, ble-”   “Bleached hair. I was afraid of that.” She worried her lip between her teeth and paced for a few moments before coming to a sudden stop. “Tara, I know that you’re not like, super social, and everything. And I-I know that Buffy isn’t your friend. And this isn’t your problem, at all. I know that. But could you maybe, possibly, come and meet some people that can help us with this?”   Her eyes were so expectant, pleading. As uncomfortable as Tara was around new people, something was different. She was still nervous. And it was so sudden. But… Willow was such a pure person. Kind, and understanding, and gentle, and full of love. To think she’d surround herself with people that were cruel or heartless… It would be foolish. Whoever it was Willow wanted her to meet, they were probably like her. And it would be a good thing to know them.   “I’m free tomorrow, after classes.” She smiled softly, and Willow’s eyes lit up with joy. However nervous she would be, seeing that… It was worth it.    

***

  When was the last time she could remember being in pain like this? When she’d fought Faith? Or when she’d stopped Angel from awakening Acathla? Maybe when she’d actually died. That was probably the one that took the cake. Well, being dead wasn’t the part that hurt. It was the dying. And at that moment, Buffy almost wished they’d just do it already. What they were putting her through was nothing short of torture.   Walsh stood over her, a cold smile plastered on her face. “I’d like to introduce you to our head scientist here at the Initiative, Doctor Engleman. He’ll be the one performing your procedure today, so that we can begin to study you properly. Understand, Miss Summers, this is nothing personal. We are all scientists here. This is our job.” The way she said it certainly seemed impersonal, though maybe that was the way she looked at Buffy with no emotion in her eyes. Everything was impersonal, when she didn’t view you as a person.   The doctor stepped closer and eyed Buffy up and down. His eyes were overly large, and the way they took Buffy in made her uncomfortable. More so than the fact that she was strapped to an operating table, and that said a lot.    “This,” he said, gesturing to a tiny chip held between his fingers, “is a vital statistics monitor. One of a few I’ll be implanting today. This one will be going in your chest, right next to your heart. It will monitor your heart rate, your oxygen level. This one,” he held up a smaller, tubular object, “will be monitoring different hormonal levels. Now, I don’t normally allow my subjects to be awake during these procedures. They tend to be quite volatile, you understand. However, you’ve been in a state of sedation for six days now. I don’t think you’ll put up much of a fuss if we just use a local anaesthetic.”   Slayer… Are you okay?   She could feel everything they were doing. The fabric of her shirt falling away as it was cut down the middle. The sharp pinch of the surgical knife as it cut into her chest. The pressure of the chip being inserted into her muscle tissue. The needle going through her skin as they stitched her up. She couldn’t help but wonder how much anaesthetic they’d actually used, if any. It certainly wasn’t making much of a difference. At least her pain tolerance was high.    Slayer?   Engleman held up a dart, filled with liquid. “This is a sedative counteragent. Of course, we can’t give it to you in here without you trying to kill us, so you’ll have to be shot with it, once we get you situated for testing.” The gurney Buffy was strapped to was wheeled out of the procedure room and down a hallway. Lights passed overhead in a strangely hypnotic way, bringing Buffy an odd sense of calm. Maybe it was the drugs talking, but… She really, reading wanted to be shot with that counter sedative crap. She wanted to feel like herself again. No more weak muscles and zoned out helplessness. When they stopped moving, Engleman spoke again. “This is our newest testing facility. We do have a place we call The Pit, where most of our hands-on research takes place. However, Walsh thought that it was… well, unsuited for an HST of your caliber, we’ll say. We retrofitted an unused wing, just for your study. You should be so honored.”   “Buffy!” Spike’s voice cut through her thoughts like a knife, making her jump and bringing her back into reality. “You back with me now? Scared me for a minute there.”   She couldn’t say anything. What could she? It didn’t seem right to be scathing to him, which was all she’d ever been. She couldn’t talk to him about what had happened. She couldn’t take comfort in him physically. The panes of glass saw to that. Not that his room temp dead self would offer any comfort anyway, she reminded herself. But he was familiar, at least, and safe for the time being.   She glanced up at him, and wished she hadn’t. Even at a distance, she could see the pity in his eyes. And how pathetic was that? A neutered vampire who couldn’t even punch somebody in self defense, looking down on her with sympathy. His mortal enemy. A person he wanted dead. Guess this is the kind of situation they think about when they say they wouldn’t wish it on their worst enemy, huh?   “You know, Slayer…” Spike spoke quietly, a boyish smile spreading on his lips. “Wouldn’t really have minded ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’. At least you can slow dance to it, yeah? Not like Barry Manilow.” He chuckled a bit, which was a weird sound coming from somebody who’d very recently tried to kill her. “If you’d have picked any of his, I’d have called the whole thing off, spell or no spell.”   “Spike, what are you doing?” The whole idea was just… Buffy couldn’t wrap her head around it. Here she was, stuck in a government-run monster prison, sitting across the hall from her most annoying enemy, and he was talking about their one time would be wedding.    “Getting you out of your sodding head. What’s it look like? Made you smile for half a second there, didn’t I?” Had he? “Besides, the better condition I can keep you in, the better chance we have of getting out of here. Gotta keep your wits about you, Slayer.”   She couldn’t help but scoot closer to the glass door. Closer to Spike. She pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her chin on them, curling into herself. Nobody would blame me, right? If I took a little comfort in him? He’s the only thing here I know. I thought I knew Riley. I thought I knew Walsh. But neither of them are who they said they were. At least I know Spike. Evil vampire, wants me dead. Not that hard to remember. And I can deal with that. He’s up front about it. So if he wants to talk about weird things to distract me, why not?   “Can you… do that some more?” she asked quietly, unsure if he’d even hear her.    “Do what?”   “Talk. Just distract me. Get me out of here for a while.”   She could hear the sigh from across the hall. The rustle of leather as he sat down in a similar position to her own; back against the wall, one knee up with his elbow resting on it. She could imagine a cigarette between his fingers, the smoke curling up in a mesmerizing way. How long had he been in there without one? She didn’t have vices like that. She could imagine what a hindrance that could be right about now.   “Yeah, Slayer. I can do that.” He paused for a long moment before huffing out another breath. “You think your mum’ll make me some hot chocolate when I get you out of here? With the little marshmallows in it?”   “She might,” she said simply. “You could ask her politely. I mean, I’m sure she’d be very thankful, but you know, you can’t forget your manners around her.”   “Don’t I know it. Getting hit by her with an ax once was enough for me.”   She couldn’t help but laugh at that. “I almost forgot about that. Your face was priceless.”   “Summers women. Not to be trifled with.” he chuckled.    It probably wasn’t the weirdest thing to ever happen to her, although it was definitely up there on the list. Reminiscing with Spike about the first time he tried to kill her. And laughing about it. Stranger things had happened, right?   “I’m sorry, am I interrupting something? Should I come back later? You and your vampire boyfriend need some alone time?” Buffy’s eyes shot up, shocked to find Riley standing in front of her door. How the hell she hadn’t noticed his looming self before he spoke was beyond her. “I came down here to see if you needed anything, you know. Some food, maybe. But I can see you’re doing just fine.”   “Riley.” She couldn’t keep the anger out of her voice, and revelled in watching him flinch when he didn’t miss it. “I could use a few things, actually. A new shirt, since your creepy eyed science guy decided to cut this one up. And yeah, food. Water. No drugs in them. Some medical attention. While you’re offering, I mean.”    All that time hanging out with Cordelia had really improved her sarcasm game over the years, and she finally had a living person to use it on. No death quips for him. Just pure, unadulterated sass. It felt so good to be able to think fast enough to say it.   “I was trying to be nice, Buffy.” he snapped before starting to pace back and forth.    His gaze never left her, and she was reminded again of the procedure room, and the destruction of her clothing. How incredibly exposed she was here, with nothing to hide her from prying eyes. It fueled the anger she felt rising within.   “Well, you know. You shot me with a tranquilizer dart and took me hostage. I think the time for niceties is a little expired, don’t you?”    She’d stood up at some point, though she didn’t remember doing it. She still felt wobbly on her feet, but she was sure she could take him in a fight. She’d done it before, in a hallway full of smoke, and it was three on one that time. Good kick to the nuts worked on pretty much all men, right?   “Oy! Soldier boy! Why don’t you quit lookin at her like that?” Riley spun around to face Spike, his hand going to the baton strapped to his waist. “What? You got a thing for vulnerable women? Don’t like em when they can run circles around you? This your big plan? Get her all weak and exposed and then come swooping in with the gifts? Think that’ll make her want you?”   What? Oh, god, ew! It made sense though. For Riley. She hadn’t missed his puppy dog eyed look before all this had happened. But there were no fireworks with him. No spark at all. He was just… Joe Normal, in all the bad ways.   “What do you care if she’s exposed, seventeen? Figured you’d be the first one enjoying that view. Don’t tell me you’ve come down with a conscience.”   “Bloody hell, no. Just got more respect for women than you do, is all. Pretty pathetic, considering you’re the one with a soul.” Spike paused, an amused look on his face. Then she saw it. The glint in his eye. “Besides, you forget that she was my fiance?”    She almost fell over. Was he really taunting Riley with that? He was slipping his duster off his shoulders, and good lord, why did that make her stomach flip? Then his red shirt was following suit, moving fluidly down his arms in slow motion.The way he stood reminded her of the first time they fought, when he was postured and suggestive and lewd. Her eyes trained on the hem of his t-shirt, and she really could not stop herself from getting a good eyefull when it rode up. She was so distracted by the dips and the bulges and the holy hell that she almost missed what he said next.    “Give her this. Better than whatever paper hospital gown crap you were gonna offer her.” He tossed the shirt at the door before bending down to pick his duster back up and slide it back on in a flourish.   “What the hell is this? You expect me to just open your door? And then hers? I didn’t forget your little escape attempt.” Still, Riley took a few steps towards Spike’s door, his fingers tapping the key card at his waist.   “Right. What exactly are you afraid of? Big bad vampire with a chip in his head’s gonna get the best of you?” He laughed out loud. And really, it was pretty funny. Or it would be, if Spike wasn’t in very real danger. Riley didn’t seem the type to be merciful here. “You already beat the hell out of me once today.”   “Back corner, now. Sit there. Don’t move.” Spike put his hands up and sank to the floor, his rueful smile still in place. Riley swiped his key card, barely opened the door, and snatched the black fabric out in a flash before closing the door again. “Buffy. Same to you. You don’t have a mod chip yet. I can’t risk you being up when I open this door. I’m trying to help you.”   She snorted. Yet? Yeah, not happening. I’ll be dead before I let that happen. “So you guys are gonna make it so I what, can’t stop a mugging anymore? Can’t tackle humans to save them? You people are so incredibly stupid. What do you not understand here? I’m the good guy.”   “We don’t know that. We don’t know what you are. Please. Step back and sit down, if you want this shirt.”    His card was already poised at the lock, ready to be swiped. If she was quick enough, she could roll from the back corner and kick him. She could break his legs so he couldn’t follow them. She could lock him inside so he couldn’t raise the alarm. And considering all those things, a plan started to form in her head. Not one that she could do at that very second, but…    So she complied. She sat like a good little hostage, and waited for him to lock her back up before grabbing the soft black fabric that was Spike’s shirt and pulling it on. It fit kind of nicely, actually. Not quite her cut, but it didn’t drape off of her like she’d expected. And it smelled surprisingly clean. Huh. Vampires did laundry. Well, Spike did, apparently.   “You said something about food? Tell you what, you feed me something that isn’t laced with sedatives, and I’ll tell you what I am. Deal?” She felt more like herself already. Stronger, now that she had something to look forward to. She’d be out in no time at all, if Riley kept coming down to check up on her.   He nodded at her. “Deal.” He keyed in a code, and a packet of something that resembled stew dropped from the ceiling. “I’m listening. What are you?”   “Slayer, The. Look it up.”


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Table of Contents
Previous Chapter: Veneration
Next Chapter: Machination

Reviews ( 2 )

Saranac
October 23, 2020 01:10

Looks like Buffy is done with sitting passenger on this jaunt, and the same goes for the Scoobies - six days. Wow, they are incompetent. And that earthquake couple chapters back was the sign of those demons trying to open the hellmouth. Even if in this story that doesn't happen, it was still a stark reminder that the hellmouth never sleeps. Spike kept Buffy in the game, now it's time for payback.

Zab Jade
October 22, 2020 18:19

Great job with Tara. Shy and an outsider, willing to be brought to the notice of others for the woman she loves. Love the scene with Buffy and Spike, too. And the mental image I have of Spike taking his clothes to an all night demon laundry service. I was thinking a laundromat, but he does so terribly with the machines in Xander's basement.