Rating: Tame, I tell you, Tame.
Spoilers: Missing moments from Killer in Me. Yeah, I know. It was a year ago. But Damage made me think of this fic idea I started, so I finished it.
A/N Many thanks to Cindy and Lisa for their wonderful beta input.
Sleep, it sounds so good. He wants to hide. The chip can't find him there. But now he's conscious and there's nothing he can do but wait for the little hunk of silicon to send its next jolt screaming through his head. Teeth and claws, that's how he pictures it, ripping through his mind with its jagged edges, razor sharp like shards of glass. Crippling. Merciless. No longer a muzzle, it punishes indiscriminately, striking whenever it wants. Karma, he figures. Payback for years of carnage. Hurts where the soul can't reach him and then some.
He can't focus; his every is thought veiled in a foggy haze. His mouth tastes like copper. Blood, no doubt his. It turns his stomach and threatens to unleash bile. Maybe this is what death feels like - sinking toward oblivion, nauseous and alone. It's different from his human death. This time it's cold and gradual. It whispers to him, tempting him to succumb to its depths as it destroys him slowly from within. But he's ready for it this time. Just wants it all to end. He's sick of the pain. Anything has to be better than this.
He wants to scream, but all that comes is a weak groan.
"It's okay," she soothes, a hand gently caresses his cheek. Can't be real. More smoke and mirrors sent to confuse and betray him. But her scent is unmistakable. He recognizes it anywhere. It can't be anyone else. His slayer hasn't abandoned him. She still believes and waits beside him, offering her strength and welcoming him back to consciousness. "I'm right here."
Slowly he opens his eyes only to squint into the overhead lights. Bad idea. The smoldering headache behind his eyes is stoked until it's red hot. The queasiness is overwhelming, and all he wants to do is vomit. He hates feeling this way, weak and exposed.
"Where are..." he falters as he tries to raise his head but doesn't have the strength to complete the act.
"Still in the Initiative," she offers as she eases his head back. Her voice is calming, Spike blinks twice, but she's still nothing more than a fuzzy blur. No matter how hard he tries, he can't fully make his eyes focus.
Time's gone wonky, that's all he can figure. He's not sure how he's made it to the gurney with the thin mattress. He vaguely remembers her gently slipping off his jacket, but isn't sure where his t-shirt has gone. He remembers darkness, not bright lights or humming machinery.
Voices echo against the walls and boots clatter against the tiled floor. The cacophony is nearly unbearable. They aren't alone. Soldier boys. He can tell without even looking. He remembers their smells - Irish Spring and Old Spice - and the sound of clipped voices barking orders. Trapped, there's nothing he can do. He's their prisoner once again.
He doesn't need to talk. She understands him without words. But they've never needed words. A look of the eye, tilt of the head, their bodies have always said what they couldn't. Spike's body tenses in a pitiful attempt to flee, and immediately her hand circles his arm to calm him.
"It's okay," she explains. "They're here to help."
"What's happening?" he asks for the second time tonight.
She can't hide the truth from him. It's so painfully clear, etched in the furrows between her brows that he can see despite his failing vision. It can't be good. She leans a little closer before explaining, "We were right. Your chip's breaking down, Spike," her voice falters. She isn't General Buffy right now. That leader is lost among the ruins around them. She sounds small, afraid. "We don't have much time."
So it is the end, complete with a government-approved audience. How rich, he thinks to himself. There are a dozen things he wants to tell her, things he wants to make right. But not now. He's tired, so very tired. And all he can do is nod once and accept his fate.
"But they're going to try," she adds with a little more resolve to her voice. God, that's why he loves her so. She finds the power to keep going when he can't. "They're gonna fix you. That's why they're here."
The Initiative, here to fix him. Right. Now he knows he's hallucinating.
"We're ready for him, ma'am," Spike hears from the other end of the room.
"I guess this is it," she says, trying her best not to sound worried. The least he can do is return the favor, though the prospect of those wankers digging in his head again scares the shit out of him. But anything has to be better than this. Anything has to be better than waiting.
Her hand laces with his, and she squeezes until he returns the gesture. "I need you to hang in there a little longer," Buffy pleads. "Think you can do that?"
Spike opens his mouth to answer. He's not going to go down without a fight after all. But the words never come. Blood trickles from a nostril and his body betrays him. Every muscle seizes up, and he arches painfully against the mattress. He struggles desperately to maintain consciousness, but the world around him quickly grows dim. His thoughts are silenced, and the pain within his head explodes once again as he's wrapped in the arms of oblivion.
The house is quiet, but she knows that will change come morning. Until then, Buffy is thankful that the potentials are still on their retreat despite a brief interruption. She isn't ready for the chaos. She needs time to sort things out, figure out how to tell them. Tell Giles. She knows he'll come unglued. But she's an adult now, and it's high time she started making decisions on her own.
Reaching into the top shelf of the refrigerator, she retrieves a packet of blood. Human. He needs the real deal to help speed along any healing ahead for him. Tossing the blood in the microwave, she sets the timer and goes in search of a mug and straw.
Xander and Dawn are hunkered down on the couch and thankfully leave her alone. The sounds of some god-awful aspiring singer from the television warbles its way into the kitchen as the microwave beeps and she removes the blood, snips a corner of the bag with a pair of scissors and pours its contents into a ceramic mug.
"How's he doing?" Willow asks as she returns an empty popcorn bowl to the kitchen and places it in the sink.
"Groany," Buffy answers. She pulls on the straw, and its accordion folds curve into a gentle bend. "I think he's waking up, hence the hemoglobin cocktail. That's gotta be a good thing, right, Will? I mean that's gotta be better than doing nothing, like he has since we got back."
"I think it's a good sign," is all Willow can answer.
Buffy hesitates as she stirs the blood absently with the straw. A puzzled look knits her brow into a worried frown. "You're not mad I did it, are you?"
"You did what you had to do," Willow tries to explain, no judgment passed. She's the only one that knows what choice Buffy made. The rest will find out soon enough.
"But what if was the wrong choice?"
Willow smiles as she answers, "You're big on the help. It's what makes you Buffy."
"So," Buffy asks one last time, "I did the right thing?"
"You care for him, don't you?" Willow asks as though she already knows the answer.
Buffy heads back toward the refrigerator and grabs a cold-pack from the freezer. No sense lying about it now. Wrapping the pack in a dishtowel, she finally replies, "Yeah, I guess I do."
"Then you did the right thing."
When did Willow become so wise beyond her years?
With a small smile, Buffy gathers up her supplies. Blood, cold-pack, and a bendy straw. Resolve time, she tells herself. She knows full well she needs to believe in her decisions before she takes a single step into the basement. Her biggest critic isn't her watcher, her sister, or her friends. No, he's sleeping downstairs. He'll never trust her choice. In fact, he'll resent it unless she believes in it first.
She pauses in front of the cellar door. It's been cracked open all night. All the better to hear him if he wakes. The shadows have already gathered in the darkened basement below. The last threads of daylight have long vanished from the tiny window by the ceiling, and thin streams of light from the streetlamp outside cast the room in a pale glow. The wooden stairs creak beneath her as she descends and navigates the darkness.
Curled on his side, Spike doesn't stir as she makes her way to the bed and sets the icepack and mug on the floor beside her. She tucks the fleecy blanket around his bare chest and sits on the edge of the cot. For several minutes, she watches him with silent wonderment. Asleep, he looks nothing like a monster. He's finally at peace. Hardly the vicious animal the Initiative had once labeled him.
She gently strokes his tangle of hair, careful not to disrupt the tiny track of staples marching down the back of his head, praying that the searing pain beneath his skull has finally dissipated. After everything he's been through, he deserves the respite, even if it is only for a handful of hours. His hair is as unruly as its owner, springing in all directions no matter how many times she smoothes it into place. An unintelligible mumble rolls off his lips as her fingers trace down his neck.
"Shhh," she whispers in his ear.
"Am I dust yet?" he weakly croaks into the pillow beneath.
"Nah," Buffy banters back. It's so much easier to quip back and forth. Anything else and she'll lose it. "You still don't fit in an ashtray, so I think you'll manage."
He tries to laugh, but it comes out more as a stifled wince than anything else.
"How's your head?" she gently asks.
He licks his lips and swallows slowly as he opens his eyes. But even that takes too much effort. Too tired to do much more than that, he immediately retreats back into the darkness before answering, "Hurts."
"Do you want something for the pain?"
He answers with tiny shake of the head. "Too loopy as it is."
Without saying a word, she retrieves the cold pack and carefully presses it against the back of his neck. A trick she learned from him to chase away a headache. It still amazes her how he was always prepared for post-patrol achies. A waiting Ziploc of ice wrapped in an old t-shirt and a bottle of aspirin. He would've made one hell of a boy scout.
"Thanks," he whispers and relaxes back into the folds of the bed, his eyes sliding slowly shut once again.
"I brought you some blood," Buffy offers, reaching for the mug on the floor. "It's even warm."
"Not hungry," he answers.
A little sigh escapes her lips. He rarely turns down fresh blood, and he needs it now more then ever to heal. "Come on, Spike," she pleads, stirring the straw in the viscous fluid. "It'll make your head feel better. Just a few sips?"
Before he could argue, she presses the straw against his lips and waits for him to take a drink, hoping that the blood's scent will keep him from slipping into the folds of unconsciousness yet again. Slowly, he draws some of the liquid into his mouth and swallows once before releasing the tiny straw. It isn't much, but it's a start. She'll try again later. "More?" she asks as she waits for his answer before returning the mug to the floor.
Grabbing the icepack, he rolls onto his back, his face a contorted grimace as he settles into the pillow and lets out a sharp breath. The brief journey saps what little strength he has, but still he manages to open his eyes. "Your house?" he finally notes, his eyes fill with confusion as he takes in the surroundings.
"Yeah, we're home. They brought us back last night," she tries to explain. "You don't remember much, do you?"
"Not really," he answers as he rubs his eye with the back of one hand. "The chip, I take it they repaired it?"
His lips tighten into a thin line, and Buffy hears his breath hitch in his chest. The muscle on the side of his jaw twitches before he asks, "Well then, how much time do I have?"
"It's not like that," she answers as she digs into the front pocket of her jeans and retrieves something no bigger than a penny. Pressing the tiny disc of silicon and circuitry in the center of the vampire's palm, Buffy gently closes his fingers around the object.
"Thought you might want this," she says as he fingers the little chip and runs his thumb over its textured surface. Never in her life had she thought that something that small could cause so much suffering and pain.
"It's over," she said echoing the very words that she'd once used to push him away. But this time she feels a glimmer of hope with those two tiny words. He holds his destiny in his hands, a gift she is finally willing to give. "No one can mess with your head ever again."
"But..." he starts.
"Done deal," she interrupts, her finger covering his lips and effectively silencing him. "I had to make a decision. One I could live with. It was either the chip...." Her eyes dart to concrete below them before returning once again to meet his gaze. Grand speeches and lengthy explanations escape her, "...or you"
Spike tries to sit up, but is quickly eased back. "No," he begins as worry creeps through his voice. "It's too dangerous."
"Not any more dangerous than before," she points out. "The chip didn't matter when the First decided to have its jollies."
Spike's face wrinkles into a frown. "All the more reason not to trust me."
"We've made it this far without it," she answers standing her ground. "We'll get through this."
There, she said it. She trusts him. And for the first time, it feels right. But what is trust? Is it friendship, maybe love? She isn't sure. It doesn't matter. He's alive, and that's all that counts.
"Thank you," is all he manages to answer, his hand tightening around the chip a bit more.
"We can talk more later." She isn't ready for more at this point. They have tomorrow to deal with it. But it's a start, and she's willing to go from there. "So drink up. We need to get you better."
"Yes, ma'am," he answers before taking two more sips.
Setting the mug back on the floor, she adds, "Now, you, mister, need to get some more rest. So close your eyes and do what whatever you do while that the O-negative works its goodness."
He doesn't need much convincing. His eyelids quickly grow heavy, and he tries to fight it. Finally his eyes close as Buffy places a soft kiss on his forehead and whispers, "Go back to sleep, Spike. I've got your back."