Fear is the oldest of emotions.
It's what keeps you up at night, your pulse pounding in your eardrums. You hold your breath most of the time, trying not to make a sound while you strain to distinguish what is harmful and not harmful among the voices of the night. Fear of what is creeping, hiding just beyond your vision, in the shadows your eyes can't pierce. Fear of the darkness you hold inside yourself, that taste of evil, that licks at your soul until you actually fear yourself.
But helpless fear is the worst. Watching something happen that you can't prevent, no matter how strong, how quick, or smart you are. Standing frozen, as it creates blocks of ice in your insides, sharp glass in your throat.
A part of you convinces yourself that it's not happening. Fantastical scenarios flitter through your thoughts, but the reality is still there.
Buffy had only felt this fear once before, seeing her mother lying motionless on the couch. She had panicked then, screaming her mother's name, trying to revive her already cold body. Helpless.
This time, she froze. No movement came from her as Spike collapsed. She watched, disconnected, as Willow rushed to his side, trying to still his struggling, only to be thrown away. As the others came in, soundless, alerted by Spike's wails, that was the only thing she heard. The screaming. She heard it clearly, but at the same time muddied, as though she were floating in water. She wasn't supposed to be feeling this way. For him. So frightened of losing him. He was evil. Soulless. A vampire. She shouldn't care.
The world crashed back into being at her sister's terrified cry of her name. Only seconds had passed, but the eternity of fear had dragged the moment out forever.
"Buffy, what do we do?" Willow asked, still attempting to still the vampire's violent thrashing.
"I...don't know..." the slayer muttered, before taking over, moving finally, and taking charge. She pressed the heels of her hands on Spike's shoulders, straddling him and holding him down with her weight. He bucked wildly, gritting his teeth. The screaming continued.
Tara shielded Dawn, holding her tightly against her chest, as the girl sobbed, covering her ears. Tara looked pained, but took the weight of Dawn's grief for the suffering of her sworn protector. Willow softly explained the situation to Xander.
He raised his voice, hitting the floor beside Buffy, helping hold Spike.
"Maybe, we should just....He's suffering, Buffy...."
Buffy shook her head violently, the exertion getting to her. Her breath came in gasps.
"No...We have to do something! Willow, is there a spell, or something?"
Willow started to shake her head, passing a glance to Tara, but stopped. Her eyes widened.
"Oh...Oh! Tara! Do you remember, that spell I taught you? The ionization spell? It might be enough to block the signal for awhile, or at least disrupt it, give us some time...."
Tara nodded, gently curling Dawn on the floor. The girl was getting hold of herself, slowly, biting her lip against fresh tears.
"I...th-think I can do it," Tara said softly, almost unheard above the din.
Tara kneeled, giving Willow a small smile, and took her hand. Energy lending wouldn't hurt, not at this juncture. Willow had a reasonably good handle on her dark magic addiction, and wasn't afraid this would tempt her. Tara's magic was pure light.
Tara began to chant, softly, her head down, eyes closed. She held her palm out, a soft green glow beginning to form in its center.
Spike's struggling was growing weaker. The fear leapt up in Buffy's throat again, and it was all she could do to hold on. Blood streamed from his nose and one ear, pooling on the floor under his head. She leaned her full weight on her arms, trusting Xander to hold his legs, and started whispering to her vampire.
"Hold on, please, just a little longer, you can do this, I know you can, come on, Spike...." A litany of hope.
The air began to crackle with energy, and then exploded, harmlessly. Buffy felt her hair rise, and chanced a look at the others. Everyone's hair was standing on end.
"It worked!" cried Willow in triumph.
Spike tensed once more, straining against his captors, before falling back to the floor, panting. He whimpered and mumbled, unintelligibly, twitching.
Buffy relaxed, catching her breath. She looked over at the two witches.
"How long will the spell hold?"
"I..I don't really know...I've never done it before...Maybe an hour? At most..." Tara answered.
Dawn crawled closer to her sister and Spike, reaching out to touch the blonde vampire on the head, but pulled away again when he flinched violently, nearly bucking Buffy off of him again.
"What are we going to do?" she whispered.
Buffy bit her lip. She looked at her sister's pained expression, and then to Xander's sick one. Willow and Tara had an almost mirror expression of compassion on their faces. She made a decision.
"We have to get the chip out, and we have to do it now."
Xander looked at her as if she were crazy.
"Buffy, do you realize what you are saying? Even if we knew how to do it, even if he survived, he would be free. He would kill again, probably starting with us!"
Dawn gave him a glare that matched Spike's famous one in malice.
"You know that's NOT true. How many times has he saved your life, Xander? I am not going to let him die! He withstood TORTURE for me. He fell off a 100-something story tower. FOR ME! I love him, and he's not going to die. I don't care what you say."
Xander was taken aback. He melted, as all the Scoobies did when Dawn was this angry and upset.
"Dawnie, I'm sorry, I'm just..."
The former key shook her head, giving him a tiny smile.
"Yeah, I know. It's alright."
Buffy's heart went out to them both. Her sister loved this vampire. And she had a feeling she was getting there. She certainly loved him like she loved Willow and Xander and Tara. But more than that? She was getting there.
"He even stole that motorcycle for me," Dawn added, with a touch of pride.
Spike jerked and whimpered again, bringing everyone's attention back to him.
"So, how are we going to do it? I don't really know any neurosurgeons," Xander said, edging closer in case the struggling started again.
Silence filled the room. No one really knew. Even one of the scientists who put the chip in couldn't take it out.
"I can do it." Willow said softly.
Everyone looked at her. Xander spoke first.
"Willow, you know you can't..."
"I have to, Xander. It's the only way. If...If Tara helps me, I can do it. I have control now. It doesn't control me."
Tara squeezed her hand.
"Sweetie, are you sure? I mean..."
"Yeah. I can do this. I know I can."
Tara nodded, and then bit her lip, looking to Buffy.
"I'll have to drop the ionization spell to help. Can't have any conflicting energies. We'll do it as quickly as we can."
Buffy nodded, and got a tighter grip on Spike's shoulders. He was just starting to come around. His eyes were open, and staring at her in a cross between fear and curiosity. It broke her heart.
"Spike, it's okay. We're going to fix you. You just have to hold on, okay?"
He blinked, his eyes shifting to the side, then back to her. He licked his lips.
"What..." he began. "What do you want?"
Tears formed in her eyes. She shook her head.
"Just be strong." She leaned down and kissed his forehead gently, ignoring Xander's startled exclamation.
She leaned up and sniffed, wiping a hand across her eyes, and then returning it to his shoulder.
Tara spoke a word and the charge in the air vanished. Spike's eyes widened, and then slammed shut. He screamed once, then cut it off and bit his lip, hard enough to make it bleed.
Willow took a deep breath, and started gathering her power. And her power was immense. The empty void that had been inside her since she stopped using magic was suddenly filled again, and it felt wonderful. But she didn't linger on the feeling. She focused her thoughts, and dug for more, energy lacing around her body. She felt Tara's energy begin to pour into her, love and trust. She smiled, and let the magic inside fully, her eyes filling with inky blackness.
She found what she needed immediately. All she needed was to think of the problem and the spell would come to her. She reached out, and held her hand above Spike's forehead. Her energy, red sparks, laced around Tara's white, and she began to chant.
"Prometheus, giver of fire, giver of healing, heed my call!"
Spike jerked and screamed again.
"Extinguish pain, and bring it out. Bind pain, intruder rout."
Spike went deathly still, all his muscles clenched, rock hard.
"My will be done!" Willow screamed, and a light flashed.
Something snapped. Willow's hand jerked, and closed into a fist. Spike let out one last scream, and then collapsed, breathing for a moment, before he passed out completely.
Buffy was shocked to find tears streaming down her face. She looked up at Willow. The black was already draining from her eyes.
The witch smiled at her. She was panting, sweat pouring from her brow, blood trickling from her nose.
She opened her hand and turned it over. Something small and metallic hit the floor above Spike's head with a gentle tinkling.
"I did it...." she breathed, and sank into Tara's arms, unconscious.
Continued in Chapter 10