By Elsa Frohman
Rating: PG-13 for violence
Spoilers: Through The Killer in Me and Awkening on AtS.
He moves his hand and feels the cold metal of the manacle. Good, he's safe, back in the basement. He's safe, and everyone else is too -- at least from him. He's come to view the manacles as a comfort. He sits up and deals with the wave of dizziness that accompanies the motion. A hand to the back of his head confirms that there has been surgery. They must have repaired the chip. Good again -- his brain isn't going to be liquefied after all. He might just make it a while longer. So much for expiration dates.
He rolls his neck to loosen the tight muscles, then leans back against the cinderblock wall. Another day facing his nemesis -- boredom.
He hears steps on the stairs and perks up. Maybe she was bringing him a mug of pig's blood. He wouldn't mind a bit of Wheatabix or burba weed to go with it, but he isn't going to complain.
"Spike, you're awake. Thank goodness!" She comes to him and starts unfastening the manacles without any further greeting. She's tense. She's been tense for weeks, but this is a notch worse. He can tell that she's nearly panicking.
He gives her a questioning look.
"I know you're still recovering from having your chip removed, but I need your help," she says, her voice barely controlled. "I can't ask the girls to do this, they're not ready."
"They've got Dawn!"
"Bringers. They grabbed her at school. I couldn't get to her in time," the Slayer's voice is trembling. She's holding back tears.
"We'll get her back," he says firmly. "Nobody is going to hurt the Bit while I can still move."
She looks at him and draws strength from his determination. She nods.
"I think they took her back to the caves. The caves where... Spike, I wouldn't ask you to go back there. I know how hard this must be for you. But ..."
"No worries, pet. We'd better get going."
He stands up and stretches, feeling the power in his muscles. This is what he's been spared for. He can help the Slayer as no one else can. He has the strength. He has the fighting skills. When they go in together, what foe can stand against them?
His headache is forgotten.
The caves don't bother him. It's just a place -- like any other. They have to get to Dawn before the Bringers can hurt her. He shudders to imagine what they want her for. It's too awful to contemplate. More ritual bleeding? Something worse? Or is the teenager just bait to lure the Slayer into a trap? It doesn't matter. They're going in and woe to whoever stands in their way.
Buffy is at his side, and together, they are focused on one thing. For the first time in ages, he feels something he used to feel occasionally when they patrolled together. They are one. When they fight, they are two parts of a single weapon.
He knows now that moments like this are the ones that make him feel close to the Slayer -- not the times when they shagged. No, the times when he can anticipate her every move and shape his own motion to complement her. He feels a flush of pleasure at the thought of entering a desperate fight at her side. Fists and fangs -- and the one thing that was missing all those years before -- the Slayer.
The fight is desperate. They are outnumbered -- he hasn't bothered to count the robed Bringers who fight with knives, clubs and axes, not to mention the fervor of true believers. Vampire and Slayer stand back to back and take on the hoard. He swings his battleaxe again and again, and foe after foe falls. Corpses surround them, but still the Bringers come.
Then he feels it. The Slayer has been forced away from her position behind him. They're being separated. He spins and takes out the attacker behind him. He sees the Slayer pushed farther and farther from him by the pressure of the battle. But she's still on her feet, and still making them pay with a life for each step they make her take.
He begins to work his way toward her.
"Spike, no!" she shouts, as she continues to fight for her life. "They're keeping us away from the tunnel over there. Don't come for me. Go for Dawn!"
The Slayer can defend herself. He knows she's right, but he's still reluctant to leave her. He's got to get to Dawn, though. The First wouldn't be putting up this sort of resistance if whatever he had planned for the girl wasn't important.
He turns and begins to slowly work his way toward the passage. The Bringers fight hard, but they fall, and finally he breaks out of the crowd and runs down the corridor. He can tell that Dawn is ahead. Her scent is in the air. And just as surely, he can tell that she's terrified. The odor of fear is sharp.
"I'm coming for you, nibblet," he mutters. "Nobody is going to hurt you."
The girl is tied to a great wooden wheel -- just like ... no, he can't think of that now. The good news is all the Bringers are apparently engaged in the fight behind him. Dawn is unprotected. The relief in her eyes as she sees him is better than anything he could have imagined.
"Spike," Dawn sobs, "you came for me. You came."
"Nothing in this world could have kept me away," he says as he uses his axe to cut her bonds. She collapses into his arms.
"There, there, bit," he murmurs. "Everything's going to be all right. Nothing can hurt you now. I'm here and I won't let anyone get to you."
The teenager clings to him, her slight body wracked with sobs. He sweeps the girl up and starts back, wondering how they're going to get through the remaining Bringers. But he figures they'll cross that bridge when they come to it.
In the chamber where he left the Slayer, he finds his fighting partner, tired, but whole, standing in the midst of a field of death. The Bringers are no more.
"You found her! Thank goodness," the Slayer cries out in relief.
"Buffy!" Dawn says.
He sets her down and she runs to her sister.
"Spike saved me," the girl says as she hugs the Slayer.
The Slayer looks up at him. "I wouldn't have made it without you," she says. "Thank you, Spike."
He smiles down at her. There are no words to express how that look on her face makes him feel.
"We'd better get out of here before the reinforcements arrive," he says, stopping before he can get sappy and promise to always be there for her.
He pulls up short when he sees who blocks their way now. Bugger. No, it's got to be the First. If so, it's non-corporeal.
"Angel, what are you doing here?" the Slayer says, looking from one vampire to the other.
"Angel?" the figure ahead says. "I don't think so..."
"Angelus?" the Slayer asks. The grief in her face is too easy to read.
"None other than," the other vampire says with a smirk.
"You lost your soul AGAIN?" the Slayer asks incredulously.
"What can I say? I'm careless." Angelus stalks toward them, menace in every step.
He sets the girl down and steps in front of the Slayer.
"Stay back," he says, narrowing his eyes.
"Run away, William," Angelus sneers. "This is between me and the Slayer."
"Not while I'm still standing."
"No, Spike. I'll take care of this," the Slayer says.
She steps forward and braces for the onslaught. Angelus goes game face and launches himself at her. They tear into one another with ferocity seldom seen on this plane. The Slayer is fast and strong, but Angelus is a vampire like few others. A rock that turns beneath the Slayer's foot betrays her and she falls. Angelus is on her in less than a heartbeat. His fangs are descending toward her throat.
It's time to act. He grabs the first thing he can reach, the back of Angelus collar, and hauls him away from the Slayer. It's vampire against vampire now, and there will be no quarter.
Rock crumbles as they fling one another against the walls. He loses all connection to anything but the power of his fists and feet. He kicks, he punches, he tears at his foe. He is the power. He feels it in every fiber of his being. He cannot be defeated.
And finally, he straddles the beaten Angelus. He has no stake, so he'll have to tear the fallen vampire's head off. But he stops himself. This is her former lover. He is coming back to himself and realizes that killing isn't always the answer.
He looks up at her with a silent question.
Her face is set and hard. "He has to die," she says simply.
But he can tell that it costs her to say so.
"Maybe Red could get his soul back again," he suggests.
"No. He's not reliable," she says, her voice trembling. "If we get his soul back, he'll just lose it again. He's too dangerous."
"Look, pet," he begins.
"It's got to be done. He's not like you, Spike. I see that now. I know I'll always be able to depend on you. You wanted a soul. You wanted to be good, and you suffered more than anyone should have to to achieve it. He's only good when someone forces him to be."
"I know you still care about him," he says carefully. "You shouldn't have to ..."
"If you don't do it, I will," she says.
"You heard the verdict," he says, looking down at the vampire beneath him.
"Do it," Angelus snarls. "Just do it. You've beaten me."
Buffy paced the length of the small room. They'd been working on him for hours. She stopped as the white-coated doctor came through the door with one of Riley's military men.
"Is he going to be all right?"
The doctor shrugged. "Who can say? It's not like I can take his pulse or his blood pressure. It seems to have gone right. That's all I can say."
"Can I see him?"
"You might want to wait a while, Miss. He's still out."
The doctor turned to the soldier who had accompanied him. "You tell Colonel Finn that I'm never working with that anesthesiologist again. That guy is weird."
"It's not like anesthesiologists who specialize in demons are easy to find. What was the problem?"
"He didn't hurt Spike, did he?" Buffy asked.
"No, as far as I can tell, he did his job. It's just he keeps mumbling. I hate doing surgery with that sort of distraction. But don't worry, Miss. I did my job."
The soldier shook his head. "A mumbler. Well, if he knows his job... Finn said he just showed up and volunteered last week. Kind of strange if you ask me. When we were driving over, he kept talking to invisible people."
Buffy registered shock. "Talking to invisible people? Where is he?"
"Now, Miss Summers..."
Buffy had the soldier by the neck against the wall. "Where is he?" she said between clenched teeth.
"He's probably washing up and changing in the room down the hall," the soldier said.
Buffy was down the hall before the soldier started breathing again.
She found the man she was looking for in a locker room.
"What did you do to him?" she demanded, advancing on the doctor with unmistakable menace.
The doctor was a small, Asian man, still wearing his surgical mask and cap. All Buffy could see was his eyes, but those eyes told her he knew what she was talking about.
"What.Did.You.Do?" Buffy repeated, taking a step closer.
"It didn't work. I don't know what went wrong."
"You'd better have a happy ending for this story, or you're not leaving this room -- ever," Buffy said, her eyes narrowing.
"I didn't hurt your vampire. It didn't work. He's still got his soul."
Buffy's jaw dropped. "You were trying to extract his soul? You work for the First..."
The Asian shrugged. "I failed. That's all that matters."
"What did you do?"
"I made him happy. Really happy. I don't know how much happier a person could be, but the soul's still there."
"What made you think happiness would remove his soul?"
"It worked with the other one."
"The other souled vampire?" Buffy asked, her blood turning cold.
"The one in LA."
Spike woke with a headache. Not the shrieking, skull-splitting pain of the chip's death throes, though. That was good. Buffy was sitting beside his cot.
He looked up at her. Her mascara was streaked. She'd been crying.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"Nothing, you're going to be fine."
"They fixed it?"
"No. It's gone."
"Do you think..."
"I trust you, Spike. What you've become, you became of your own will. Nobody forced you to get a soul. Nobody made you want to be something better. It all came from you. It's who you are. You don't need a leash. You're not going to turn on me."
Spike laid his aching head back down on the pillow.
"At least that part of the dream was real," he said with a twinge of regret.
"Sometime you're going to have to tell me what makes you happy," Buffy said with a little smile. "Right now, there's more to worry about."
Buffy let out an ironic laugh. "There are moments when I think the First is a real wuss, you know? I mean, it really misses the boat sometimes. It doesn't know the difference between you and Angel."
She touched his face, laying her hand on his cheek.
"We know who we are, Spike. I think that's the best defense there is. It can't mess with us if we remember that."
"You think so?"
"I never been surer of anything."