There was a moment of stunned silence as everyone absorbed what Buffy had just told them. She watched their expressions change as they took it all in. Willow, worried. Tara, horrified. Giles looked sort of vaguely uncomfortable, like he had bad gas or something and was too polite to just let it go. Anya was nibbling at her lower lip thoughtfully while Xander’s expression was unreadable. Not too hard to figure out what he was probably thinking, though. He’d never much liked Spike. And then there was Dawn.
“No,” she whispered, her eyes wide with panic. Spike had been… was her friend. And he’d been the one to get her down from that tower. “No. We have to do something.” She looked wildly around at everyone, her voice getting shrill. “We have to save him. We can’t just–”
“Hey, it’s okay,” Buffy said, cutting off the flow of words. “It’s okay, Dawnie. We’re going to get him back.”
She had no idea how, but they were going to do it. Her thoughts and feelings about Spike were all weird and jumbled. His words at her house kept running through her mind. And earlier than that, when she’d given him her blood…. The way it had made her feel…. The gentlemanly way he’d behaved during it all…. She didn’t know how she felt about it all, but there was one thing she did know. She wasn’t ready for him to be gone.
Xander sighed, then lifted up his hands when she whirled to glare at him. “Whoa, down, Buffster. I just…. Is this going to be one of those break out the books sort of things? Or more of a jump in without looking and hope for the best situation? Because, you know, I might need to do a soda run if it’s the first.”
Buffy’s jaw dropped as she stared at him, not quite believing what she’d just heard.
He gave a slight smile and an uncomfortable shrug. “Yeah, okay, so he’s a bloodsucking pain in the ass, but he’s our bloodsucking pain in the ass. No way am I just going to turn my back when some freaky demon is planning to make him the chick from a tentacle hentai.”
“Tentacle hentai? What’s…?” Buffy frowned slightly in confusion, then shook her head. “I don’t think I want to know.” She took a deep breath and glanced around. “We need to act soon, but we need some kind of game plan. We can’t just go in and take him back. We need ideas. Anybody?”
There was silence for a moment, then Anya raised her hand. “Actually, I might be able to get us some information. The legends about the Dutchman say he was cursed by the Christian god, but that’s not what happened. It was a wizard who did it. He got recruited by D’Hoffryn not long after.”
“Good. Okay, that’s good.” Buffy said, starting to pace. Then she frowned again. “But how does that help us?”
There had to be some way it would. Anya had proved to have a good head on her shoulders. She’d come up with most of the ideas for fighting against Glory. The Dutchman had been a huge help, but considering how many minions the hellgod had had, he wouldn’t have been enough on his own. The Dagon Sphere, the troll hammer, and the bot had been important, too.
“Oh, I know!” Willow said excitedly. “If we can get in contact with him, we can maybe talk him into lifting the curse. Or at least telling us the escape clause.”
“Exactly,” Anya said, beaming. “The curse is why the Dutchman is both immortal and needs a bride. Break the curse, and there’s a good chance Spike won’t be his bride anymore.”
“Escape clause? What…?” Buffy looked back and forth between the two women, utterly lost.
All the talk of curses and escape clauses was making her think about Angel and the horror show her life had become after his curse had been broken. Or escaped, or whatever. She’d always thought it was really stupid for there to be an out for that curse.
“C-curses need an escape clause,” Tara spoke up. “If they don’t, they, uh, tend to backfire on the caster.”
Buffy took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Okay. Good. So, we get in touch with this wizard guy.” She glanced at Anya. “You can do that?”
“No.” Anya shook her head. “But I still have friends in Arashmaharr. I can get in touch with one of them and get the info.” She looked over at Giles, who now just looked sort of resigned. “I’ll need someplace quiet and to use some of the stock as components to get in touch with someone.”
He took off his glasses with a sigh and started cleaning them. “For good or ill, it seems that Spike is one of us, now.” He glanced at Xander with a rueful smile before turning his attention back to Anya. “You can use Buffy’s training room and whatever supplies you need.”
Buffy closed her eyes for a moment and just breathed as Anya started gathering the things she’d need. Everyone was pulling together, willing to help. They could do this. They’d saved the entire world more than a few times by this point. Saving a single vampire should be a piece of cake. Right?
It was always a strange thing, the start of a new cycle. If he didn’t let himself dwell on the eventual outcome of it all, there was a thrill to the seduction. And the Dutchman always made a point to try to seduce, even in a situation like this one, where it was obvious that loyalty to someone else would be how he got his bride. No matter how his bride came to him, it meant he had someone new to love and lavish attention on. He wanted them to feel cherished before they were used up.
He gazed across the deck of his ship to where his new bride was leaning over the railing, looking out to sea. The two weeks wasn’t quite over yet, but he’d found it was best to take his bride away as soon as possible. The work on the ship – mostly to redesign the Bride’s Quarters for a vampire – had been finished yesterday. Once a few of the more human-looking crew members returned with the last of the supplies they’d need, they’d be off. His bride didn’t seem too fond of the idea. Sometimes they were. This particular one….
With a soft sigh, the Dutchman crossed the deck towards his bride. There was a spring to his step that had both nothing and everything to do with the other man. He was already feeding from him. There would be no ill effects to Spike until halfway through the cycle, when his decline would begin. The Dutchman pushed that thought aside, able to bury it with centuries of practice. He would enjoy the now, what he always thought of as the honeymoon period. And when that had passed…. Well, he’d do as he’d always done and take care of his bride. His love. His darling one.
“It’s not such a bad life,” he said as he leaned on the rail beside Spike. He put his hand – tanned and rough from all his days spent out in the elements on the deck of the ship – over the pale one of his bride. Spike glanced at it, but didn’t try to pull away. “We have electricity. Even satellite TV and radio. Your quarters are set up with both, along with a selection of books. And while I cannot go ashore or even stay in one location for too long, there’s no reason you can’t visit various places for a few hours to get other things.”
Spike raised a brow as he looked at him. “I’ve a room of my own, then?”
“Of course. Though you’re free to share mine anytime.” One of the tentacles in his back slipped free to curve around the other man’s waist. “While I love all of my brides, not all are interested in being lovers. And some who start out open to it change their minds.” He hoped Spike wouldn’t be one of the ones who changed their minds. He was a truly beautiful man and full of passion. “Come, I can show you the room, if you’d like.”
Spike looked up at the stars, taking a deep breath and slowly letting it out. “Yeah, sure. Might as well.”
The Dutchman led him into the interior of the ship. As always at the start of a new cycle, a sad weariness tried to settle over him. He would love, and he would lose. Such was always the way and would be for an eternity. He forced it back. It was the only way to stay relatively sane. He would love while his darling one was here. He would grieve when he was not. And then…. Then he would move on, as the cycle demanded.
Buffy was pacing again when Anya came out of the training room. Being still had never been one of her strong suits, especially when her brain kept insisting on thinky-thoughts that she didn’t actually want to think about. Like how she felt about Spike.
I’ll have time to figure that out later, after we save him. She turned to face Anya.
“What did you find out?” she demanded. “What do we need to do to save Spike?”
“Is it even a possibility?” Giles asked, ignoring her glare at the question.
It was going to be possible. She wouldn’t accept anything else, just like she’d refused to accept the idea that Dawn would have to die to save the world. Both Dawn and the world were fine. Spike would be, too.
“Um, yes,” Anya said, licking her lips nervously. “Probably.”
Probably? Probably didn’t sound good. Buffy didn’t like “probably.” It usually meant there was a big obstacle in the way that someone was trying to make seem smaller. Though Anya did tend to be blunt. She wouldn’t sugarcoat things. Probably.
“Just tell me what we need to do.”
Anya nodded and started to speak. “Okay, so, here’s the deal. The Dutchman’s brides are all really loyal people who have had that loyalty treated like it was worthless.”
Buffy winced at that. She’d started to realize things after the torture, but before that…. She hadn’t wanted to admit to herself that Spike could be loyal. That he could… love. Even though she used to know. She’d used both of those things against Spike once, threatening Drusilla to make him back off. But then she’d just sort of… forgotten. No, she reluctantly acknowledged, I didn’t forget. I just didn’t want to remember. It was easier to forgive Angel that way.
She took a deep breath and forced her thoughts to stay on the here and now. “What does that mean for us, exactly?” she asked. “Does it have anything to do with the escape clause?”
“Yes. The Dutchman has to witness one of those people performing an act of loyalty towards his current bride.”
An act of loyalty…. What would count as an act of loyalty? The thought of grabbing Spike and kissing him popped into her head, but she quickly banished it. That was an act of lust, not loyalty. And she so totally wasn’t in lust with Spike. Even if him feeding from her had made her all tingly. Even if Xander had kind of been right when he’d talked about him being all compact and muscle-y. Even if him having her back no matter what had become… comforting.
“Okay, so what counts as an act of loyalty?” she asked. “Would just the rescue attempt itself count?”
“Wouldn’t someone have tried that already?” Willow asked, sounding as dubious as Buffy felt.
“Not necessarily,” Giles commented. “After all, it must be done by someone who… ah, who feels that the bride’s loyalty is worthless. In most cases,” he shot Buffy an apologetic look, “such a person would hardly care if the bride was taken.”
Ouch. That kind of hurt. Except… thinking back on it, she was pretty sure she always would have been pissed if someone had just come along and taken Spike away. She’d always felt weirdly possessive of him. He’d been her nemesis. Then her chipped up pain-in-the-butt vampire who the commandos didn’t get to mess with. A sort of “I can do whatever, but heaven help the neighbor kids if they try” mentality. The Dutchman was so one of the neighbor kids. He didn’t get to mess with her vampire.
She took a deep breath and ordered her thoughts, a vague and incomplete plan coming to mind. “Wills, you remember when we were trapped in that frat house with the fear demon thingy?”
The redhead nodded with a faint grimace. “Yeah, so not something I’m likely to forgot. I don’t think trying to summon him is going to help much though. He was pretty easy to send back with a squish.”
“No, that’s not what I meant. That spell you tried to do that got away from you. With the glowy lights you said attacked you? It was supposed to find people. Did you ever perfect it?”
Willow brightened. “Oh! Yeah, I can do that one easy, now, especially with Tara’s help.” She smiled and gazed at her girlfriend. “You want us to use it to find Spike?”
“Yeah. We’ll find where he is, and if coming to rescue him doesn’t work….”
“Then we’ll just figure something else out,” Dawn said, a determined look in her eyes.
Buffy nodded slowly as she looked at her sister. Dawn wouldn’t be able to do anything to break the curse. Unlike Buffy herself, she’d always appreciated and believed in Spike. She’d never thought his loyalty was worthless. And after this, Buffy never would either.
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