Riley drove through the morning streets of Sunnydale in his SUV, quietly fuming. Didn’t any of them realize how dangerous the key was? What, did they really think it was just a coincidence that Joyce had ended up with a brain tumor after the thing had been forced into their lives? We probably all have tumors from being around it, he thought, sickened by the realization.
He looked over his shoulder as he prepared to change lanes, gaze lingering for a moment on the large dog crate he’d managed to fit in the back after putting the seats down. It was, unfortunately, empty. His plan had been to contain the key and call in the military, but the others were still clinging to the belief that Dawn was just a normal human girl. In fact, after the girls had gone upstairs to calm the key down, Giles had threatened to call the police if Riley tried anything. Like he was the bad guy here. He’d also made it clear that if the military was called in, none of the them would back him up in his claims about the girl.
He couldn’t really blame any of them for how they were acting. They’d all spent more time around Dawn than he had, being poisoned by whatever subterrestrial energies she – it, he reminded himself – was giving off. They’d become obsessed with taking care of the obscene thing. That was why Joyce and Buffy were always worried about Dawn having a babysitter when any normal girl her age would have been a babysitter. And it explained Buffy doing things like ditching their plans – which okay, yeah, had just been vague ones about hanging out together, but still – to take her “sister” out shopping for school supplies.
Buffy never would have blown him off like that for a real little sister. Her emotions and memories were being manipulated. It was almost like what Walsh had done to him, playing around in his innards, adding and removing as she had seen fit. But this had been done to the very core of Buffy’s self.
She and Joyce had been forced to love the cuckoo shoved into the nest. A sudden thought struck him. If emotions had been added, could some have been taken away or suppressed? Was that why Buffy had started pulling away from him? Why she’d told that goddamn vampire about her mother’s illness before she’d said anything to him?
Rage flashed through him at the memory of yesterday morning, looking for Buffy only to find Hostile 17 pawing through his girl’s room and sniffing at her things like some kind of deranged animal. I shouldn’t have tossed him that blanket. I should have just let the fucker fry….
Riley took a deep breath and slowly let it out, his fingers white-knuckled around the steering wheel. He couldn’t think about that right now. One problem at a time, and right now, that problem was Dawn. Okay. Okay, so it looked like it was going to be all up to him. He could do this. He’d get a hold of a Geiger counter and take some readings. And he’d take some blood, hair, and tissue samples. He could send them to one of his contacts in the military. Graham, most likely. He would tell him they were from an unknown hostile that very likely posed a serious threat to the country. Maybe even the entire world. With that proof, they’d have to believe him and would help him get her contained.
And, if need be, destroyed.
Dawn stared at the destruction of her room, feeling numb. She’d done it all herself, ripping pages out of her journals, throwing her clothes all over the floor, tearing the limbs off of her stuffed animals. She was just a thing, she didn’t need any of that stuff. Only people needed stuff. Or sisters. Or healthy moms. Or…. She sobbed and threw herself on the bed.
She was vaguely aware of Willow and Tara calling out to her from the other side of her door, asking her to let them in, but all she really heard were Riley’s words, echoing in her mind. He’d said she was just a blob of energy. A key. What did that even mean? She sat up and stared at her hands. They looked human. Four fingers and a thumb on each hand. A unique pattern of whirls and ridges that only belonged to Dawn Summers.
Dawn Summers…. Who or what was Dawn Summers? She’d thought she was just a more or less normal kid with a drama queen superhero for a sister. Buffy was all weird and stuff, but at least she was human. Dawn’s gaze traveled down to her wrists and the blue traceries of veins. Was the blood in there real? Would she die if it all spilled out? Energy didn’t need blood.
The door suddenly opened, even though she’d locked it, and Willow came into the room with Tara right behind.
“Go away,” she demanded, knowing she sounded like a whiny little kid but not really caring. “Leave me a–”
Willow murmured something in another language, and suddenly, everything felt peaceful and still. Dawn smiled up at Tara’s worried frown. Poor Tara. Didn’t she know there was nothing to worry about? Everything was going to be just fine.
“Seriously? Now? You want to talk about this now?” Buffy asked incredulously.
In the nine or so months that they’d had… whatever it was they had between them, she’d never really been comfortable with Spike’s demands that they actually define their feelings and relationship and talk about them.
Well, okay, maybe not demands, exactly, but he wanted to know where they stood and to talk about their feelings. All that girly stuff the romcoms all said she was supposed to want and seriously didn’t. And even if she had, in the middle of a festival arena with a saber-toothed yaktopus thundering towards them was so not the time and place for it.
“Yeah, now,” Spike insisted from behind her, his hands settling on her hips.
He lifted her smoothly into the air and tossed her straight up. The crowd roared its approval as she tucked herself into a midair flip, and, for a moment, she lost herself in the pleasure of their admiration. It was kind of like figure skating, cheerleading, and slaying all wrapped into one, and as much as she hated being a slave, performing like this with Spike made her feel more alive than she had for a long time.
She landed on the yaktopus – which was actually called something that sounded like someone trying to gargle while coughing up a hairball – just barely keeping her balance as it bucked and twisted, trying to throw her off. Luckily, she knew how to stay on. Their trainer had made sure they were familiar with the things before they’d started going on tour a month ago, basically doing ritual animal sacrifices at various fairgrounds during a month-long religious festival.
This region of whatever dimension this was apparently had things like this all the time, and the gladiator events were a big part of it. They provided entertainment by fighting each other and killing the yaktopuses (yaktopi?) that would be roasted up on a bonfire in the evening.
Buffy’s mouth watered at the thought, and she was suddenly struck by the absurdity of it all. She had been a slave for nearly a year now and was balancing on the back of a shaggy, fanged yak monster with a cluster of shoulder tentacles while contemplating the plural form of the made-up name she’d given it. And she was actually looking forward to eating the thing, despite its major BO problem, all while trying to avoid talking about her feelings with her… whatever Spike was.
Then the vampire himself was up there with her, sitting astride Mr. Yaktopus and grabbing at the tentacles. Right, show time now, deep thoughts and relationship talk could wait. Or not, since Spike didn’t seem to agree with that idea.
“May have escaped your notice, Buffy, but this isn’t just another showcase arena,” he said, voice tight and sounding almost afraid. The stenchtastic wonder bucked suddenly, and Spike swore before yanking viciously on the tentacles. “It’s a bloody auction.”
“Yeah,” she said with a grunt as she started up a handstand now that Spike had the beastie sort of under control. Her barely there skirt was even less there for it, of course, but she refused to let it bother her. The demons had control of her body because of the damn slug, but they couldn’t control how she felt about her body, damn it! “I’d kind of already figured that out.”
Both the crowd and the arena itself were different from normal. Nowhere near as many kid demons, and the adults all seemed sort of fancier than usual. And there were no slaves watching during a free moment gifted by their owners.
The main part of the arena was the same as all the others, but there was a holding cell attached, already half full of slaves with the custom tags of their new owners. It was why he was pushing and why she was being even more avoid-o girl than normal. They’d been trained as pair fighters, but there was no guarantee they’d be sold that way.
“I just wanna know what the bloody hell I am to you! Is that really so much to ask?”
Despite the argument, they both knew their parts. When they did this particular move, he was supposed to reach back and grip her thighs while she bent her legs at the knee and rested them on his shoulders. He hit his cue perfectly, and she bent her elbows a little and pushed off against the still running beast’s back while clenching her abdominal muscles tight. For a moment, she was actually sitting on his head before sliding down and leaning forward over the yaktopus’s. It left her privates right in front of his face, and, usually – evil, sexy thing that he was – Spike couldn’t resist giving a lick. This time, he didn’t, which, more than anything, proved how upset he was.
Damn it. She wanted to reassure him. To tell him that she didn’t do casual, so it all meant something, but the words wouldn’t come out. She was scared, too. If you accepted and named a thing, it went away. She’d trusted and loved her dad, and he’d gone away. She’d given herself to Angel, had named them lovers, and he’d become Angelus. When she’d taken him back and named him boyfriend, she’d only ended up losing him again. Even Giles, she’d named him father, only to find out that he was poisoning her. All her friends and family now, even the town she thought of home, were all gone, though she’d been the one forced to leave in this case. She was terrified that if she said Spike was more than her partner, he would be yanked away from her too.
But there was no time to explain that, now. The show had to go on and all that. She moved forward and twisted so she was sitting on the yak monster’s head while facing Spike, her legs only inches from its fangs as she clenched them firmly to hold her in place. She laced her fingers together in front of her, holding them down so Spike, standing now, could use her as a springboard to do an aerial somersault over the front of the beast. While it was distracted by him, Buffy scrambled along the bucking back and went over the side, clinging like a monkey as she pulled out her knife – kept in an arm sheath and only allowed because the slug prevented her from using it to harm anything but the yaktopus – and stabbed it into the soft underbelly.
There was a loud crack from near the head, and its bellow of pain and rage was abruptly cut off. Bled and killed after a life of being a pampered beast bred specifically to honor demon gods and be devoured by fairgoers. Better than some fates, really. But philosophy had to wait if she didn’t want to get crushed. Timing things just right, she sheathed the knife before leaping away and into a tumble routine that ended with her bowing to the crowd. A quick glance out of the corner of her eye showed Spike doing the same thing from on top of the corpse, his white-tipped caramel curls fluttering slightly in the breeze. God, he was beautiful. And she could lose him.
That thought left her numb and dazed until the auctioneer finally announced, “Sold as a unit to Lady Sasszan!”
Sold as a unit? Oh, thank God, she thought, her knees feeling a little weak as she and Spike were led into the holding area with the other sold slaves. Tags were added to their collars while a blue lizard woman with a feathery, pinkish-purple mohawk looked them over.
“I’ll call that one Senka,” she said, looking at Spike. The slug in Buffy’s head let her know it meant graceful warrior. “And the female will be Rehva.”
Buffy already knew that one. It was a grayish lavender flower with deadly thorns. The blossoms – minus the thorns – got thrown down into the arena as gifts during the fights sometimes. Senka and Rehva. She took a deep breath and slowly let it out. This woman could own them and rename them like dogs, but that didn’t make them dogs. She was Buffy Anne Summers, no matter what their “owner” thought, and someday, she’d be free.
Leave a Review
Table of Contents
Reviews ( 1 )
January 4, 2021 11:45