Table of Contents
Previous Chapter: Chapter 7
Next Chapter: Chapter 9

The Summers house was still and quiet. Either the key had been left alone and sleeping in without any protectors, or no one was there at all. Riley could work with either option. He got out of his SUV and used the hidden spare key to get into the house. A few minutes later, and he was up in Dawn’s empty room with a compact magnifying glass, searching her pillow for hairs. There were several, but none were quite… ah, wait, there. A long brown hair with an intact root. Perfect.

He carefully put the hair into a small baggie and glanced around the room. The empty cup on the nightstand probably had a saliva sample, but someone would probably notice if he took that. The small trash can had a wad of gum in it, though, which he carefully collected in another baggie. Unfortunately, there were no tissues stained with blood from a convenient nosebleed or anything. Damn. Well, he hadn’t exactly been counting on that or anything, so it wasn’t a loss.

It just meant he had to go through with the plan he’d already worked out. He wasn’t sure if Dawn had gone to school or was just with the others somewhere, or what, but they’d most likely have it at the Magic Box this afternoon. He’d show up, act all contrite, and if it was there…. Well, if he could get them to think he supported the key, it’d be as easy as giving candy to a baby. Or hot chocolate to a teenage girl.

Riley let himself out of the house as quietly as he’d let himself in. If everything went the way he hoped it would, he’d have things taken care of before they got Buffy back. And maybe then she’d appreciate everything he did for her.



A running jump brought Spike up close enough to grab the lowest set of bars and gave him the momentum to swing his legs up and over so he could plant his feet on the bar. From there, he pushed off, sailing through the air for a moment before grabbing onto the next bar. Flip, spin, next bar up, hang upside down from his knees for half a tick, swing, flip, grab, twist, and stick the bloody landing. Then turn with a smirk and an exaggerated bow at the sudden applause.

“Very nice,” Senka said, unashamedly ogling Spike. “I knew you were pretty damn flexible, but that…. Mmmm.”

His eyes took on a faraway look as his tongue peeked out, slowly sliding along his lower lip, and Spike had no doubt the other man was thinking up all kinds of wickedly delightful ways to take advantage of said flexibility. Where Buffy had been shy and hesitant when it came to trying new things, Senka dove right in. Shame and embarrassment and the constant worry about what others would think had been tucked away into the creamy center where Buffy hid, untouched by the shell she’d created to protect herself.

Senka wasn’t just some construct cobbled out of the ether, though. No more than Spike was something weepy little William pulled out his arse, Spike thought in an uncomfortable moment of self-reflection. The soul may have buggered off, but he’d still remembered being William bloody Pratt. It had still formed the core of who and what he was. And when that core had taken one blow too many, he’d drawn out select bits of demon and man to knit the jumper that was “Spike.”

Dru had understood that, and it had been why she’d still called him William at times without denying who he had become. She’d known that even when the tough, reckless persona had melded to become his very flesh, the core had still been there. And Spike understood that about Buffy.

He’d discovered in the past two months that Senka was the part of her that was a performer, that had blossomed as a figure skater and cheerleader and had taken joy in the raw physicality of being the Slayer. He was also the parts of her that most of society liked to term masculine. It had all been drawn out from within to protect her core. Buffy wasn’t Senka, but Senka was part of Buffy, and that was enough for Spike to love him.

“Well, you know,” Spike drawled, sauntering over. “Ate a gymnast or two back in the day. Can’t beat the Olympics for dinner and a show.”

Not that he’d ever actually knowingly eaten an Olympian, mind. He’d usually tended to leave skilled craftsmen and performers off the menu, seeing as how having them about generally kept things enjoyable and entertaining. He’d been to a few of the games, cheering himself hoarse along with the humans and having a gay old time of bashing in the heads of lesser demons thinking of mucking about with the proceedings.

Senka snorted and rolled his eyes, arm slipping around Spike’s waist once he was close enough. “I keep telling you, I don’t think it works that way.”

Spike raised a brow at that. “And just who is it is the vampire here, love?”

She… he – was harder to keep straight being cuddled against a very obviously female body and all – was right, of course. When you ate someone, you took in their life and essence, but it didn’t pass on any skillsets or career knowledge. Be quite a lark if it did, though. Could have bypassed all those cooking, fashion, interior design, and whatall lessons he’d faffed about with over the decades.

Course, actually going to the things and learning had been part of what staved off boredom, which had been the entire point. Not that he thought he’d ever really get bored with violence, but there was something deeply satisfying about a good, vicious kill on the way to learning the best ways to pair pastels with bold colors or somesuch.

“Maybe I’m the vampire,” Senka replied cheekily to the rhetorical question. “And you’re my yummy treat.”

He grinned and snapped his teeth at Spike, then bounded off for his own go at the training equipment before the trainer could start getting impatient. Damn, but it was something to see, wasn’t it? From the first moment he’d laid eyes on Buffy, Spike had enjoyed watching her move. Dancing at the Bronze like she hadn’t a care in the world and nothing mattered but the music and her own body. She’d lost some of that confidence in her physicality after the whole Angel debacle.

Odd that having someone else in complete control of her body – to the point where the bloody bitch what owned them had cut parts out – would have given that back to her. Well, maybe not so odd, really. Senka had been created in part from the buried and castoff bits of Buffy. Made sense that it was something he would have reclaimed.

Spike’s musings were interrupted by Sasszan coming out of the observation room just as Senka finished up. She’d been watching a lot this past week, both out in the main training yard and the specialized areas like this one. Probably due to the gladiator events in the city starting up again in a few months.

Festival season wouldn’t be for a while yet, but from what Spike had heard, there would be plenty of competitions in the city, starting with a week of showcase fights. Those that performed well would be asked to various arenas, the owners getting paid whether their gladiators won or lost. A win paid better, of course, but meant squat if no one actually wanted to watch the gladiators in question.

Agility and flexibility tended to be bigger crowd pleasers than brute strength. The fact that he and Senka had all of the above along with the nature of their relationship – vampire and vampire slayer, lovers and fighting partners against all odds. Human, demon, different dimensions, or what have you, no one could resist a good unlikely romance – meant they were a shoo-in for the showcase fights next year. He’d have put them in this year if he’d been calling the shots, but apparently most owners let new gladiators season for a year beforehand.

“Senka and Rehva will be in the showcase this year,” Sasszan declared to the trainer, inclining her head first towards Spike, then Senka.

Huh. Well, that was unexpected. But then, Sasszan wasn’t exactly stupid. They were bloody fantastic at this gladiator gig, and anything with eyes could see it. And the lizard’s eyes were bloody huge.

“Excuse me, Mistress,” Senka said quietly, palms pressed together and head down respectfully, “but I’m Senka. She’s Rehva.”

Sasszan blinked those big eyes of hers and glanced at Spike as if for confirmation. “What he said,” he responded with a shrug. Then, at the warning twinge of the slug in his head, he pressed his palms together, looked down, and threw in a “Mistress.”

“Hn. Either name is fitting.” Then she turned away from them to talk to the trainer, clearly dismissing them.

Spike hadn’t internalized the female persona Buffy had projected onto him, but he’d at least outwardly be whatever she needed him to be. Hell, before they’d gone through the sodding portal, he’d been working his way to being at least a sodding gray hat for her. He loved Buffy as she had been, and he loved Buffy as she, or he or whatever, was now. And really, that was the only thing that mattered, wasn’t it?



Dawn focused on the vaguely lightning bolt shaped imperfection in the center of the clear crystal in her hands, just sort of existing at it. Giles had given it to her as soon as she’d come to the Magic Box after school and had told her to sit down and meditate on the crystal. It was supposed to be mapping out her energy levels or something. Mapping out her energy…. She shuddered, trying not to think too much about it.

Tara had helped a lot, after Willow’s calming spell had been lifted. She’d sat Dawn down and talked to her about how she was special and important, and that it didn’t matter what she’d started out as. She was Dawn Summers now, a human girl with a few extra perks.

And apparently one of those perks was being the perfect “empowered object” for bringing Buffy and Spike back. She wrinkled her nose at that description. Empowered object. Like she wasn’t a person. But she was. She was a person and a key, and once they got the book they needed, her connection to Buffy could be used to bring her and Spike home.

She frowned a bit as she thought about it. Everyone had been a little vague about things when they’d explained. They knew what book the spell was in and what it would do, but didn’t actually have the book. Had Giles seen it once and knew it well enough to know it would work, but just didn’t remember all of the details? It was all kind of —

“Excellent, Dawn, you’re doing quite well,” Giles murmured supportively, breaking into her thoughts. “It seems to be attuning to your energy field.”

Dawn blinked, just now realizing that the crystal had gone from clear to vibrant green. That was… that was kind of cool, actually. She felt a smile starting to tug at her lips, but then the bell over the door chimed and one of the last people she wanted to see came in.

Riley stood there with that big, stupid “oops, sorry” grin on his big, stupid face. He was holding one of those drink carriers with four cups from the Espresso Pump.

“Look,” he started before anyone had a chance to tell him to go away, “I know I messed up, big time. I just… I don’t do well with surprises, and finding out about Dawn was a big surprise.” He walked over to the research table and carefully set the drink holder down. He looked straight at her and held one of the cups out. “I’m sorry, Dawn. I know it doesn’t make up for how you found out or for what I said, but I brought you a peace offering. Hot chocolate.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. She wanted to take the drink and throw it in his face, but…. She wasn’t happy with the guy, but he was her sister’s boyfriend. Also like, totally the king of the doofus people, but mostly her sister’s boyfriend. She’d try to get along with him. For now, anyway.

“Fine,” she said grudgingly, reaching out to take the offering.



It had gone for it. At first, Riley had thought it was going to throw the hot chocolate in his face, but the key had gone for the bait. And with that acceptance, the others had calmed down as well, though they still threw him dark looks from time to time. It didn’t matter, though. Once he had the proof he needed, he’d be able to free them from whatever mind control they were under. And that proof would come within a few days, if he could get the samples to Graham and convince him to seriously fast track the results.

Once the crushed up sleeping pills did their job, he casually walked over to Dawn and put his jacket over its slumped form. He got a narrow-eyed look from Tara, but he just smiled and continued on, pretending to make the key more comfortable. What he was actually doing though…. Once it was spread across the key the way he wanted, he pulled a finger stick and small vial out of his jacket pocket. The fall of it hid things from view as he pricked her finger and collected a few drops of blood.

Just a few more days. Don’t worry, Buffy, he vowed silently, I’ll keep them all safe.


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Table of Contents
Previous Chapter: Chapter 7
Next Chapter: Chapter 9

Reviews ( 1 )

January 4, 2021 12:08

Spike is def strong enough to not internalize what Buffy is pressing upon him. And I like your reasoning that he gives for what she is going through. It makes sense, and goes back to my comment on the last chapter.

Riley is a bad bad person. Stupid Walsh. Stupid Initiative.