All About Spike - Print Version
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Leashing the Beast
By Nos

Summary: In response to my own challenge *heh*, found on Crumbling Walls. The Nerdy Three find out what Spike's chip does and formulate a plan to kill the Slayer.

Rating: R for violence

Disclaimer: They don't belong to me. Never have, never will. I just love messing with them.

Spoilers: Post Dead Things.

Dedication: For Trisha, since she dedicated hers to me, and for all her support in my first fic. Thanks so much! And of course, to Fleisch for beta'ing and being there to goad me on. And to Marrec, for the brotherly support. And everyone at Crumbling Walls, cause I wouldn't have started writing again without you.



Chapter 1

Tara Maclay was a soft-hearted, softspoken woman. But when something needed to be done, or someone was suffering, she was there. She always had an open ear. She cared, almost too much at times.

Maybe that was why Buffy had chosen her to confess to. Or, maybe, it was because she was disconnected from the rest of the group. She really didn't know, but she was going to help. She had thought The Slayer would be overjoyed to find out there was nothing wrong with her, that the spell they had cast to bring her back from the dead hadn't changed her in a sinister way. Instead, she had broken down, sobbing, telling Tara that there had to be something wrong with her. Begging her not to forgive her. The whole story had come out when the tears dried, a good while later.

She was a little shocked; she really didn't expect the confession -- that the Slayer was sleeping with a soulless vampire. One who loved her, true, and would give his life for her or Dawn. But that wasn't the point. Spike was evil. Buffy didn't understand why she was feeling as she was: so attracted to him.

Tara had always had a soft spot for the vampire. He had proved to her that she wasn't a demon, even if punching her in the nose was the way he chose to do it. She still remembered his kind words to her after she had her mind stolen by Glory, and had accidentally burned his hand.

She didn't see him as truly evil. Maybe it was because she was new to the group, and hadn't lived through the fear Spike had caused them all in the past. Whatever the reason, it had wrenched her heart to hear Buffy's final confession: that she had beaten him bloody in the alley behind the police station, and left him there. The Slayer had sobbed again, recalling how he hadn't even tried to defend himself, he loved her that much. And she had continued to hit him, with her full Slayer strength, after she had knocked him out of vamp face.

She had finally convinced Buffy that they needed to check on him, to make sure he was alright. The Slayer had reluctantly agreed, almost afraid to face him. So they had split up, Buffy heading for the alley, and Tara for the vampire's crypt.

Which was where she found herself now, standing outside his door, where she had never entered. She fidgeted, and took the steps slowly, pausing to look around before knocking on the door.

When no answer came, she opened the door, biting her lip, and stepped inside.

"H-hello?" she called out, looking around.

She sensed movement to her right, and quickly spun to face it. Spike stepped from the shadows, and she gasped, taking in the damage done to his face. His usually pale skin had blossomed in a myriad of cuts and dark bruises. His nose was broken, and one eye was swollen shut. Dried blood still crusted his cheeks and lips.

He looked confused, and half asleep. He tossed the knife he had to the floor and scratched his head.

"Tara? Wha' are you doin' 'ere?" he asked, mumbling around swollen lips. He swayed a little on his feet.

It took her a while to respond.

"B-Buffy talked to me. She...told me everything."

The vampire stilled, tensing.

"So, you've come ta wha', finish the job she did?" he asked bitterly.

Tara shook her head.

"No! No...She's on her way...We wanted to make sure...you...you were alright." She gave him a little smile and held out the first aid kit she was clutching to her chest.

Spike blinked, and shook his head, almost losing his balance. He slumped to the floor, leaning back against the wall.

"Why does she care?" he asked softly.

Tara didn't know how to respond to that. She didn't even know if Buffy did care, or if she really was just using him.

"I..don't know Spike. She was really upset. If it helps...I'm...sorry this happened."

He chuckled, almost a giggle, as high pitched as it was.

"Yeah. Well. S'pose we should wait for The Slayer then, eh?"

She gave him a little smile and knelt, opening the box on the floor. Not looking at him as she spoke, taking out various items.

"I know what you're doing."

He blinked. "Wha'?"

She looked up for a second, before looking away again.

"What you're doing. Telling her she belongs in the dark, with...with you."

He narrowed his eyes a little, studying her.

"An' jus' what am I doin', pet?"

She gave that little half smile again, not looking up.

"You love her. And you think you could never really have her unless she was in your world. You're...scared of losing what little ground you've gained."

He snorted, a little too quickly.

"I'm -not- scared..."

"Spike.." she cut him off. Something in her tone made him stop speaking.

"You are trying to gain more of a hold on her, by drawing her into your world. But let me ask you this...What is your world, Spike?" she looked up then.

He stared at her. "Wha' do you think, pet? I'm a -vampire-. I live in the dark. You lot 'ave proved time an' again I don't belong in -your- sorry world."

She just gave him a knowing smile, and stood up, dusting off her skirt. The bandages and antiseptics were lined up before him, neatly, in a row.

"Just...Just think about it Spike. She'll be here soon. I'm gonna go." And without looking back, she opened the door and left.

Spike stared after her, dazed. What tha bloody 'ell jus' 'appened 'ere? Must be the concussion...

He shook his head, and leaned back, resting fully against the cold stone of the crypt wall. Pulling out a nearly crushed cigarette, he lit it carefully, avoiding the split in his lip, and closed his eyes.



Chapter 2

Buffy paused, stopping about 10 feet from Spike's crypt, pulling her jacket around her tighter. Though the air was pleasantly warm, even for a southern California night, she was chilled. And tired. She knew he could probably already sense her presence, as she could his. She knew he was there. But she just didn't want to have to deal with this. Why was it always so hard? Why couldn't she just pretend as if it never happened? She had tried that before, with him. She still remembered how flustered he sounded, when she pretended their first kiss didn't mean anything to her.

'We ... we kissed, you an' me. All 'Gone With The Wind,' with the rising music, an' the rising ... music, an' what was that, Buffy? '

There really was no other way. She had to face him again, eventually. He wouldn't forget, what she had done. She was sure of that. She just didn't -want- to deal with it.

She groaned and started forward again, trudging toward the crypt as if heading for her own execution. Though, at this moment, she might have happily marched up the gallows if only to be spared what was likely going to be an awkward and painful scene.

Taking a deep breath, she marched up the steps and opened the door. No need to break old habits by doing such a thing as knocking, right?

She felt him, of course, before she saw him. Shutting the door behind her as quietly as she could, she took in the scene. Three candles were lit, casting very little light around the room. Spike was leaning against a wall, near the door. He appeared to be sleeping, but one could never tell with vampires. Though Spike wasn't a good example -- always wanting to move, pace, kill, whatever -- vampires could stay still as a corpse for hours. Because that's what they were. Corpses.

She just stood there for a moment, watching him. This living corpse before her. It made her shudder to think of him that way. Wouldn't that make her a necrophiliac? It wasn't like she hadn't loved...she quickly derailed -that- train of thought...been with a vampire before. Angel, he was different from the creature before her, as night is to day. He had a soul. He was ashamed of his vampiric nature. He hid it from her. He felt remorse, guilt, for his crimes. Spike didn't. He didn't -have- a soul. He didn't know what it was like to feel remorse.

'Why don't you explain it to me?' he had said, when she stated the same to him. -That- had thrown her. She didn't expect him to understand. Hell, she didn't expect him to -want- to understand. But Spike was nothing if not unpredictable.

So what exactly was he? Sure, he was a vampire, by definition. But how could a vampire act as he does? Being a vampire slayer, she knew vampires. They lived only for the kill, for chaos and destruction. They didn't watch soap operas. They didn't take pleasure in eating human food. They didn't enjoy human company. They were at best animals, at worst, deadly sociopaths. Hunt. Kill. Feed.

But Spike wasn't like that. Sure, he reveled in violence. It was his nature. And the chip -had- changed him. He couldn't kill anymore; couldn't hunt. But most of his personality she simply couldn't pass off as the chip. He -always- loved to eat, watch tv. Even Angel, basically a human trapped in a vampire-shaped wrapper, didn't eat human food. Ever. And Spike had helped her save the world, before the chip. His explanation? He -liked- the world. And, he wanted to kick Angel's ass for stealing Dru. But his first answer was he liked the world.

She shook these thoughts out of her mind. Every time she tried to rationalize him, she got a headache. And if she thought about it too long....

She took a step forward, looking at the carefully laid out first aid supplies at his feet. Tara had been there. She smiled a little, wondering what they had talked about.

He stirred, finally, and jerked violently on coming awake, startled by her presence.

"Slayer..." he said, his voice slurred around bloodied lips.

"Spike." she nodded, hugging herself. What now?

"How are you?" It came tumbling out of her mouth before she could stop it. She almost laughed.

He lowered his eyes....eye, since he couldn't very well look out of the one that was swollen shut, and chuckled softly, also finding the humor in the statement.

"Fine, luv. Aside from the apparently colourful new complexion..." he made a vague gesture toward his face. He looked up again, a flicker of concern shining in his gaze.

" 'ow're you, pet?"

She shook her head, and moved closer, bending to take up a square of gauze. She crouched next to him, avoiding looking directly into his eyes, and opened the bottle of water Tara had left. Her hands shaking, (the same hands that had pounded him senseless without a second thought, she forced herself to remember) she began to gently clean the blood from his face.

He kept silent, knowing she didn't want to talk. Just like he always knew, exactly what she was feeling.

'And I can fool Giles, and I can fool my friends, but I can't fool myself. Or Spike, for some reason....'

He flinched when she wiped off the blood near his eye, the muscles in his cheek twitching violently. She frowned in sympathy, but kept at it, until the only discolouration on his face was from bruising.

She really couldn't do much for the swelling. She didn't think ice or Advil would have any effect on a vampire. He would just have to rest, let his natural vampire healing abilities take over. God, she had used her full strength. Looking at him now, there was no way she hadn't. He hardly ever bruised, even with all the fights he got himself into. Hell, the last fight -they- had been in, he hadn't even been marked up that badly. A few claw marks. Light bruising. Nothing really noticeable.

She realized that he was just watching her, blinking every so often. He had started breathing, as he always did when she was around. He didn't seem to notice. It was interesting, how human he could be without even trying.

She rocked back on her heels, and looked over her handiwork, still avoiding eye contact. Nodding to herself, she grabbed his arm and pulled him gently to his feet. Contact with his cold skin always sent shivers through her, shivers that had nothing to do with temperature or fear.

"Wha..?" he asked gently, still dazed. She didn't blame him. The only time she had ever seen him in worse shape was after a round of torture with a hell god.

"You need to sleep. I'm putting you to bed," she replied softly, and began to lead him toward the lower level of his crypt. "Can you get down there alright?"

He stared at her, tilting his head slightly, before pulling his arm away from her.

"Yeah."

He walked ahead of her, unsteady on his feet. She absently hoped he didn't tumble down the ladder. But he made it alright, and she followed quickly. He sank down on the edge of his bed, bending to pull off his boots.

"I've got it." she said quickly, and knelt before him, unlacing them and pulling them gently from his feet. He laid back, putting his arm over his eyes for a moment, before pulling himself fully onto the bed. She pulled the sheet over him, knowing full well he slept naked, but not trusting herself to remove his clothing.

"Feel better then, luv?" he mumbled, his eyes closed.

She frowned, confused.

"What?"

"Feel better? This relieve all that nasty guilt? 'elpin' the battered vampire ta bed?"

She blinked at him.

"Spike, this isn't about..."

He opened his eye, and stared at her.

"What -is- it about pet? S'not like ya care or anythin'. So why the hell bother, eh, Slayer?"

Of course, she got angry. He had a way of doing that didn't he? Pissing her off to no end with just a few words. But she took a deep, calming breath, and bit back the bitter retort that hovered on her tongue. 'Of course I don't care, you're just convenient....'

"Spike..." she said, her tone sounding a little more exasperated than she had intended. "I do care. That's why I came. I am sorry I did this to you. I really am." she crossed her arms. "But I really don't feel like talking about it right now, alright? I'm sorry, I'm tired, just go to sleep."

"'s okay...," he mumbled, already half asleep, despite his anger. How in the hell had he gotten back here, after what she did? "Night then, Slayer."

She swallowed. He'd forgiven her. Of course he had. He had forgiven her the moment it was over. She was reasonably sure he would let her do it every day, if he thought it would make her smile.

She forced back the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes, and moved back towards the ladder. She turned back, to look at him.

Despite herself, and the sudden, intense feeling that she was leaping from a cliff, she crossed the room, and pulled back the sheet on the other side of the bed. She curled up on her side next to him, not touching him, just watching him. He would have looked peaceful if not for the fact his face looked as if he'd been in a prison riot.

Tomorrow. Questions could come tomorrow. Just a little nap, she told herself as her eyes slowly drifted shut. Just a little while, then I'll go home....



Chapter 3

'It was a dark and stormy night...'

No, wait. Overused.

'Funny how things always seem to go your way when you're an evil genius...'

Better.

Warren pounded away happily on his latest entry in the log he'd been keeping since he, Andrew, and Jonathan banded together to take over Sunnydale.

"Hey! You...jerk! That's cheating!" came the high-pitched whine of Andrew behind him, accompanied by the clicking of controllers.

"Idiot, it's -not- cheating, you can't cheat in this game!" Jonathan replied, frustrated.

"But...but...you have me backed into a corner! And you're using that fast kicky thingy, I can't get away!" came the whiner.

"That's the -point-! Jeez, you're such a..."

"SHUT UP!" Warren finally screamed, causing the other two to flinch involuntarily and quiet down.

"See, now you made him yell..." one of them whispered quickly, before shutting up altogether.

Warren sighed. The things he had to put up with. Idiots. If he didn't need them....

'Things are looking up. Being on the lam is hard, but not without merits. One being free time. While the retards spend it bitching about video games, I found more important things to occupy my mind...'

Warren grinned to himself, and grabbed a small black controller that was resting near the computer. He wouldn't let it out of his sight. He flipped open the clear plastic safety shield, and idly fingered the three buttons on its surface: one green, one blue, and one red. He spun around in his chair, calling the others to attention.

"Gentlemen!" he interrupted another brewing argument, with Andrew seconds away from throwing his controller at Jonathan's head.

They stopped, of course, and turned to him with a sigh, putting their games aside.

"While you ladies were sucking your thumbs, I've come up with a plan....A foolproof plan to get the Slayer off our backs."

"What, we're not going to just kill her?" Jonathan asked, looking Warren dead in the eye.

The fearless leader smirked.

"Even better." he held up the controller with a flourish. "In my hand is the cure for all our problems."

The other two regarded him dubiously.

He smiled.

"You remember when Spike came? And I looked at his chip?" They both shuddered, and nodded.

"Well, I saved all the information. That baby was high tech. I knew that it would be useful. And it is. I've not only figured out what the chip does, I've figured out how to control it."

Andrew looked confused. Jonathan blinked at him.

"What does the chip do?" he asked.

"It's funny really. It zaps him whenever he tries to hurt a human being. When he was here? Even we could have taken him."

"No way! And we let him get away with...." Andrew started.

"Not important! The Fett is fine. The important thing is, we now have control. All we have to do is get close to him. Press this little button..." He ran his thumb over the green button. "...and the chip is totally in our control. It won't activate unless -we- activate it. Buffy thinks she has him trained?"

He grinned.

"Now we do a little training of our own...."

He turned back to his computer, chuckling to himself.

'And now we change the game. Now -we- make the rules....'

////

Buffy yawned and stretched, blinking sleep from her eyes. She smiled to herself. She felt....good. Well rested. She cuddled her sheet closer to her chin, breathing in the smell of...leather...cigarettes...dust....

Her eyes snapped open. Spike's crypt. In -Spike's- bed. God, what time was it?

She sat up slowly, carefully, looking over at the bed's other occupant. He still appeared to be sleeping. Good.

She pushed the sheet back and got up as quietly as a Slayer could manage. Looking around quickly to see if she was forgetting anything (and thanking the Powers she was fully clothed...) she started to tiptoe across the room to the ladder.

She made it halfway.

"See you tomorrow then, luv?" came the sleepy English accent from a tangle of sheets.

She froze, and gritted her teeth. Damn vampires. Stealthy exits were totally lost on him.

"Yeah," she said quickly, and against her better judgment, before darting up the ladder and out of the crypt.

////////

Spike heaved a sigh, and rolled over. The hammering of her heart coulda woke the dead. And it did. The moment she realized where she was, he'd awakened as well.

He sat up slowly, testing to see if his head was still spinning. So far, so good.

Bloody slayer. He was getting right tired of getting shot down for trying to do the right thing. Hell, she hadn't meant to kill that girl. She hadn't even done it at all, from what Tara said. But behind bars? What the hell could she do to save the world? It wasn't like they'd grant her parole on the basis of impending apocalypse, right? And where would her sister be? In a foster family. Or even worse, with Daddy. Or her little Scoobies? He was -trying- to save her. Stupid bitch.

'God I love 'er....'

He stumbled out of bed, and made it up the ladder without serious injury. And then to the fridge. He'd eat, then sleep some more. Hopefully, it'd only take a few days to heal up. Not likely, considering the pounding he had taken. But he could always hope.

He slammed the fridge shut, and slummed into his recliner, pulling the top of a container of cold blood. He wished for not the first time that he had a microwave as he downed the thick liquid in quick gulps. Pig's blood wasn't the best, but cold it was downright disgusting.

It had surprised the hell out of him, Tara's visit. The girl had barely spoken three whole words to him the entire time he'd known her. And suddenly she was mama bear? But she was right. He didn't know what world he lived in. Hell yeah he did. He didn't live in -any- world. The Scoobies wouldn't accept him. Would -never- accept him. And he killed his own kind. He was a traitor in the eyes of the demon world.

He looked around. THIS was his world. Alone in his crypt. The only place he really belonged.

He was startled from his thoughts by the sound of footsteps outside. He sighed. Setting the now empty container aside, he struggled to his feet. The door opened.

"Slayer, I really don' wanna talk right now, so if you could just be on your merry...."

But it wasn't the Slayer who entered. He tilted his head, and trailed off, staring at the dark-haired man before him. Robot-boy.

"What the heck happened to you?"

Spike growled, drawing himself up.

"You should see the other guy. An' if ya don' get the 'ell outta my crypt, you'll be lookin' at 'im in the mirror."

Warren chuckled.

"Naw. It's cosy here. Oh, and I wanted to tell you. Found out a little something more about your chip. It's neat really." He pulled out a small, black controller.

"Not a hard signal to replicate, once you put your mind to it." He held it out before him, and pushed a button on its surface.

Spike's eyes widened. Then rolled back in his head. Blackness came like an oncoming car. No warning.

And as though someone had hit his 'off' button, Spike crumpled to the floor.



Chapter 4

Buffy and Tara stepped into the welcoming silence outside of the Magic Box, escaping the constant arguing over flower arrangements and seating charts echoing from within. Tara rubbed her arms to stave off the chill in the air.

"So, how's it going?" she asked, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.

Buffy crossed her arms and sighed.

"I don't know. Good, maybe? We talked a little....I'm supposed to be meeting him soonish."

Tara nodded.

"Want me to come?" she asked, giving that little half smile.

Buffy thought about it for a moment, then shrugged.

"Sure."

Buffy opened the door to the shop, and shouted inside that they were leaving, which was most likely ignored. The girls headed out, walking in silence for a while. Buffy was the first to speak up.

"He forgave me, you know. Just like that. 'It's okay...' he said. Why would he do that? After what I did?" Her voice was getting smaller.

Tara gave the Slayer a sidelong look.

"He loves you. It's obvious. He's t-t-aking whatever he can get from you."

Buffy didn't respond. They were nearing Spike's crypt, and both halted, seeing the door wide open.

"D-Does he usually leave his door open?" Tara whispered.

"No, he doesn't. Paranoid and everything." She pulled a stake from her jacket and crouched low. "Come on."

They crept forward, slowly, Buffy entering the crypt first. Tara followed nervously, a defensive spell on her lips.

Buffy furrowed her brow, looking around. Her Slayer sense told her the place was empty. Worry began to clutch at her chest.

"Spike?" she shouted, tucking her stake away, and relaxing somewhat. She turned to Tara, watching as the girl also relaxed her battle stance.

"He's not here. Where would he go? He wasn't really in any condition for a midnight stroll."

Tara nodded, looking around.

"Do you think something happened to...to him?"

The look on the Slayer's face answered her question.

//////

Spike's eyes snapped open. His first thought was 'Ow...,' his second coming a few moments later. Wait a sec, this isn't my crypt...

"Stand up," came a voice from somewhere to his right.

He frowned. Who in the hell thought to give him orders? He turned his head to see for himself.

Ah. Robot-boy and his two friends. Ha. He just stared at the group, puzzled amusement reflecting on his battered features.

Warren sighed.

"Spot, you're going to learn really quick not to disobey me. When I say stand up, you stand up!"

That was it. Spike dissolved into laughter -- riproaring, in your face, you bleedin' idiots kinda laughter.

Warren's face turned beet red in anger. He held out the control and pushed the yellow button.

Spike's laughter choked off and came to a screeching halt as the chip went off full blast. He keened and grabbed his head, curling his knees close to his chest. The bastard held the button for thirty full seconds before releasing it.

"Stand up," floated again into Spike's hearing when rational thought returned. Glaring the full-on 'I'm gonna tear you to little bits' glare he was famous for, he slowly pulled himself to his feet.

Warren smiled.

"Good boy. Now, you're not to speak unless spoken to. You're not to move unless you're told. And you will do everything we say, without hesitation. Understand?"

Spike scoffed.

"Not bleedin'...," he began, and yelped when the chip went off again, nearly sending him to his knees.

"This is so cool." Andrew fidgeted excitedly. "It's just like that Star Trek episode when Picard got captured by the...."

"Shut up, Andrew." Warren snapped.

Panting, Spike watched this interaction.

Warren grinned, looking back to Spike.

"Now, it's time for your paper training, Spot."

Spike grinned right back.

"They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks..."

The sound of agonized wailing echoed throughout the basement lair of the Troika.

"This is going to be harder than I thought..." Warren said over the vampire's screams, finger still holding the yellow button down.

"How are we supposed to train him anyway? He's a vampire, Warren. They aren't exactly trustworthy." Jonathan asked.

"It's easy. Like an animal, he will respond to negative and positive reinforcement. All we have to do is make him see that we are in charge. Then we have ourselves our very own trained attack vampire."

He released the button and the screaming stopped. Spike's eyes were squeezed shut, blood trickling from his nose.

"Stand up, Spot." Warren commanded. He watched as the vampire struggled slowly back to his feet.

"Now, what's your name?" he asked.

Spike panted, trying to gather his shattered thoughts.

"Spike," he said, and was zapped again, a quick jolt of intense pain tearing through his head.

"Wrong. What's your name?"

He drew in a deep breath.

"WILLIAM THE FUCKIN' BLOODY!" he shouted, before falling over again, clutching his head tightly and biting his tongue to keep from screaming.

"Stand up," Warren commanded again, this time through clenched teeth.

Wiping blood from his nose, he did as he was told, as quickly as he could. The pillock had held the button for a good two minutes that time. He wasn't about to repeat that experience again.

"What's your name?"

"Spot," Spike replied, gritting his teeth.

Warren grinned, and Andrew clapped his hands in excitement. Jonathan had long ago stopped watching.

"Good boy."



Chapter 5

'Dear The Slayer....'

"What if he's writing in some sort of code?" Andrew asked, watching the shaking hand of their new 'pet' form words on a sheet of paper.

Warren waved a hand.

"His mind's totally blown, guys. He's not going to be thinking about codes at all." He leaned over the hunched vampire's shoulder, scrutinizing the note. "Make it as realistic as possible, Spot. She has to think it's from you."

He turned his attention to the others again after Spike nodded. Clapping his hands together, he rubbed them fiercely, grinning.

"So, this will throw her off the scent, give us a bit more time. She was getting way too close. Spot's training is almost complete. A few more days and bam! He'll be ripping her throat out."

"That is so cool." Andrew replied excitedly, almost hopping up and down. He examined the vampire and the note. "Do you think we should, like, feed him or something? He's getting kinda thin."

Warren scoffed.

"No. He's easier to control hungry." He snatched the now finished note from the table, reading it quickly, and then looking to Spike.

"You are aware you write like a toddler, right?" The vampire ignored him, of course. Warren chuckled, and handed the note to Andrew.

"Get one of your demon buddies to deliver this. If all goes well tonight, we go into action tomorrow. For the test run."

Andrew grinned and turned around, clutching the note to his chest. He paused, his eyes moving over the basement hideaway.

"Hey, where's Jonathan?"

////

[The next day...]

"So, what's the big bad?" Xander asked, falling onto the couch beside Willow, eyeing the piece of paper the fairly pale Slayer held in her hands. "Any word on the whereabouts of our missing vamp?"

Buffy shook herself out of her thoughts and handed the paper to them. Spike had been gone for nearly two weeks. It didn't make sense. She had searched high and low for him, beating up the entire cast and crew of Willy's, asking Giles to use his Watcher connections elsewhere, and still, not a word about the very noticeable vampire.

"Yeah. Found this this morning. It's...not right. I know his handwriting; he writes better than this."

Xander frowned at the paper, before Willow snatched it out of his hands, scanning the page.

'Dear The Slayer.'

'Tired of games. Leaving town now. I'll be back.'

'I love you.'

'William the Bloody'

Both Buffy and Xander watched her anxiously as she re-read the note carefully, studying the way the letters were written, delving for clues.

"Well...," the former witch started, chewing on her lip. "The only thing I can think of..." She furrowed her brow, noticing a pattern. "Every sentence has three words. Huh."

"Three words?" Buffy sat forward. "What does that mean?"

Willow frowned and shook her head. "It could mean a lot of things. We all know that Spike has a better grasp of the English language than this. And the way he wrote..." She chewed on her lip again. "Like he was shaking. Maybe someone made him write it? And he was trying to clue us in....Oh!" Her eyes lit up and she started gesturing wildly. "Warren, Jonathan...and... that guy! Three of them? Maybe...?" Her voice trailed off as she realized it was pretty unlikely. For the fifth time that week, she suddenly felt like she was needed somewhere. She had been passing it off as yet another symptom of magic withdrawal, but she felt like someone was calling to her, and if she only reached out and....No. No magic.

Not noticing the internal struggle occurring within her best friend, Buffy spoke up.

"No...maybe you're right." She drew a deep breath. "This is our first real clue. And the way the note is written.....Maybe 'I'll be back' means it's all going to be okay?" Now she was the one reaching.

"I don't know, but Bleach Boy has got to be seriously messed up to write something like this. Especially adding the 'I love you.' part....He's desperate."

Buffy nodded in agreement with Xander, standing up.

"Xander, come with me. We'll start...I don't know, looking around. Dawn's with Tara for the night, so she's safe....Willow, would you look around online? See if you can find Warren's computer or something...."

Willow nodded at her friend, standing up to see them out the door.

"Yeah, I'm already pretty close. Be careful, guys..."

////

"But what about Jonathan?" Andrew asked, as they loaded Spike into the back of their van.

"Screw him. We'll deal with him later. The test run's going to go as planned. I think our Spot here deserves himself a meal, right?"

Andrew frowned, looking at the vampire. He had started breathing again. That always unnerved Andrew. For the life of him, he couldn't figure out why he did it.

"Yeah. He can barely stand, much less fight the Slayer."

Warren grinned at him while starting the engine.

"He won't have to fight her, numb-nuts. She trusts him. He'll take her totally by surprise." He made a vague gesture to the back of the van. "Get him wired up. We're rolling."

Andrew did as he was told, fitting a tiny piece of black plastic into the vampire's ear while Warren steered them toward their destination. He had finished by the time the van rolled to a stop.

Warren turned around, regarding the vampire, and pulling out the remote control. He grinned in sick satisfaction when Spike flinched.

"Now, Spot, here are your orders. Find some girl, and feed. Then, go to the Slayer's house and pick up one of her little friends, and bring them back here. Do you understand?"

Spike nodded, keeping his eyes carefully downcast.

"Good. Now remember, we will be able to hear everything. If anything seems amiss...." He hit the button quickly, causing a yelp from the vampire. "Go."

Spike drew himself up on shaky legs, and exited the van.

Warren chuckled and spun around in his chair.

"Now the real fun begins...."



((AN: [....] is mental communitcation))



Chapter 6

Spike stumbled along the nearly empty street, his thoughts whirling. One name kept repeating itself in his mind, as it had since this whole thing had begun, hoping against hope that some thread of the mental connection that they once shared would still be alive.

'Willow, Willow, Willow, Willow....'

"Hurry up, Spot, if this takes all night, I swear to God...," an annoyed voice chirped in his ear, causing him to stumble in surprise. He squeezed his eyes shut, stopping in the middle of the road. Gotta do it, he thought. Gotta get it done. Just go and find some bint....

And he found her. Lovely girl, standing in a halo of a streetlight. Alone. Anxiously awaiting some ride, perhaps, someone she cared for. The last thread of sanity in him wondered why he was ingraining her face into his mind, speculating about her life. He watched her from the shadows, an innocent standing there, and mused about what her parents would think, if she had a boyfriend, and if the wanker would miss her, what her laugh sounded like....

He leapt from the shadows drunkenly, and yanked her into the alley with him. He knew what her scream sounded like. What her fear smelt like. What about a smile, huh? No, not going to get that.

He was so weak with hunger and delirium, it took him a little while to get her shoved up against the wall. He held her by the throat with one hand as she pleaded, tears glistening in her eyes. Please don't's, and take anything you want's mixed in with don't hurt me's.

But that's what he was going to do, wasn't it? What he was supposed to do. Hurt her. Take her life. His shaking hand shifted to her shoulder, pinning her there as his face contorted in demonic rage. He rushed at her neck, biting hard, half surprised when the chip didn't punish him. It would punish him if he didn't do this. He knew what her life tasted of now. He drank deep, a thirsty man in a desert, blood burning his parched tongue.

He pulled away and watched her slide bonelessly to the ground, his human face back in place. Curious, he thought. How strange it was to be standing here again, in this very moment. He'd been here before. Many, many times, in many different places. In different times.

He turned, only a little less weaker than he had been before. God, did he want more.

"Good job, Spot. Now go get one of the Slayer's friends and come back."

He nodded, even though he knew somewhere that they couldn't see him. It didn't matter; that's what he was supposed to do.

No one, not even he, noticed the girl stagger out of the alley, holding a hand to her bleeding throat, and run off.

////

"Oh goddess..." Willow breathed, the elation of having finally broken into Warren's computer crashing quickly as she read what was on the screen before her. Spike. Oh gods.

So she was right. The three nerds did have Spike. And what they were doing...Warren had described it with pride. And in detail. She felt sick to her stomach. They were planning on doing something tonight, but he hadn't specified. She needed to find Buffy, and fast.

She stood up, and started down the stairs, when a noise made her freeze. The house was dark. The only light on was in her room, since a tight budget was forcing them to cut down on electricity.

"Hullo?" she breathed, making her way down the stairs slowly.

Not a sound. Only the darkness answered. She reached for the light switch, looking around the living room, when her breath caught in her throat. Spike.

He moved slowly out of the shadows, purely predator. Stalking. She'd seen him like this many times before, and had hoped never to again. At least, not when looking at her. His lips were bloodied, his skin paler than she had ever seen it. Skin sunken into his face, making his eyes and cheekbones stand out in a frightening way.

"Spike?" she asked quietly, backing up. And then he was on her. Her shriek was cut off as he slammed her against the wall, knocking the breath out of her for a moment. One cold shaking hand clapped over her mouth, hard, her own teeth cutting the inside of her lip. She stared panicked into his wild blue eyes, feeling sorry for him and terrified beyond imagination of him at the same time.

He slowly raised the other hand, bringing it to his lips in a shushing motion. She nodded quickly, watching as he turned his head, pointing at the thing inside his ear. He growled suddenly, and smashed his fist through the wall beside her head, causing her to shriek out again, the sound muffled by his hand. But she was beginning to understand. He was making it sound like he was killing her.

He slowly removed his hand from her mouth and rested his forehead against hers, as if all his strength had suddenly been drained. He was shaking, terribly, and she realized it was because he hadn't eaten anything, if Warren's notes were correct, in two weeks. Cold fear leapt up in her throat again. She remained still, fearing to make any move at all, as he tapped the side of her head, then tapped his own temple.

She furrowed her brow in confusion, as he repeated the gesture a few times, before she understood, and shook her head quickly. No magic. He growled and did it again, harder. His bloodshot blue eyes inches from her own, pleading. This was serious. It wasn't really magic anyway, just a psychic ability, right? She closed her eyes, reaching out just a little, snatching onto the thread she had laid in his mind that horrible summer, and....

[Willow, Willow, Willow, Willow....]

[Spike!]

[Willow....help....robot boy and his pals....]

[We know, Spike, we know. Buffy's out looking for them right now. Please don't kill me?] she added as an afterthought, hoping it didn't drive him over the edge.

His shoulders shook in silent laughter. His head rolled against hers.

[Killed a girl. Pretty girl. Standin' there all alone, in the dark. Had to, they told me to, had to. Pretty girl with a mommy and daddy. And a wanker boyfriend. Why'd they leave her alone? She didn't need to be alone. She laughed pretty. I know she did....]

His internal rant continued. Willow paled at the horror of it. He had killed again. And by the way he was describing it, even though he was obviously on the edge of sanity, he had felt guilty about it.

[Spike!] she interrupted. [What do you have to do? Why are you here?]

[Want me to bring them a friend of The Slayer. Hurry up, Spot, won't be waiting all night. Gotta do it.]

[I know. I know. Let me...uh....write a note for Buffy. Do you know where they will take me?]

[1315 Elm. 1315, 1315...]

[Alright. I have to move, Spike.]

He didn't move. He still had her pressed to the wall, his forehead on hers, talking once again about the girl he killed.

[Brown hair. She probably liked to braid it. Pretty girl. Oh god...] his nostrils flared, scenting the blood of Willow's cut lip. [Hungry...so hungry.]

Willow stilled again, fearing for her life.

[If...if you kill me, they'll be mad. They'll punish you more.]

He nodded against her head.

[Gotta go. Gotta do it.]

She pulled a pen out of her pocket and wrote the address down on the wall behind her, hoping she got it right even with the awkward angle of her hand.

[Take me then, Spike.]

[Spot, they say...]

[No, you're Spike. You'll always be Spike.]

His thoughts stilled. Almost a minute passed before he thought anything else at all.

[Sorry. Don't want to. Sorry, Willow. You're a pretty girl too.]

He pulled his head back and then slammed it hard into hers. Pain blossomed in her head, and her knees gave out. He pulled her along behind him, gathering her up into his arms when she could no longer walk. Dizzily, she watched as he yanked the door open and stumbled out of the Summers' household. Her vision blurred, and she struggled briefly, before the darkness overwhelmed her.



((AN: The song in this chapter is Greedy Fly, by Bush. I do not own it.))



Chapter 7

((Do you feel the way you hate?))
((Do you hate the way you feel?))
((Always closer to the flame...))
((Ever closer to the blame...))
((Blame....))

[Spike...]

Stormy blue, bloodshot eyes flicked to Willow, for a second. She was waking up. He watched her, tilting his head as she sat up, taking in the room, her bound hands, and then looking to him.

"Spot! I didn't tell you you could move!" Warren shouted.

Spike winced, and ducked his head, snapping his gaze back to the position Warren had left him in.

"She's awake," Andrew stated, pointing at the redhead.

"Ahh. Hello Willow. Welcome to our humble abode." Warren grinned like mad.

"What...do you want with me?" Willow asked, frowning.

"You're bait. We knew the Slayer wouldn't come for the vampire." He was pleased with Spike's reaction to the comment, another wince. "So we had to take other steps."

"She's really pretty, Warren..." Andrew leered, and then jumped back six inches at the sudden warning growl rumbling in Spike's throat.

All eyes turned to him again.

Protective instinct had driven the growl from him. He didn't even realize he was doing it until Andrew had jumped.

"Spot, what the hell was that?" Warren asked, pulling out the control.

Spike shifted in his uncomfortable crouched posture, not looking up. The growl rumbled to a halt. He didn't respond. Willow watched, wide-eyed.

"I asked you a question, Spot." Warren continued, pressing the yellow button.

Spike yelped, and dug his fingers into his hair, falling over onto his side. He tugged at his hair, nearly ripping it out at the roots, as if it would make the pain stop.

"Stop it!" Willow shouted, her stomach turning. It was one thing to read about what they were doing to him, quite another to witness it for herself.

Warren gave her an amused look, and released the button.

"Spot?"

The vampire slowly uncurled his hands from his hair and looked up at Warren.

"I don't wan' you to hurt her." came the soft response, his voice gravelly from lack of use.

Warren laughed. And took a step toward Willow.

((I am poisoned crazy lush..))
((Will these hands to lift me up...))
((We are servants of our formulaic ways...))

With a vicious growl, Spike pushed himself up and leapt in front of Willow, panting. Oddly enough, even with this amount of disobedience, he remained in the crouched position.

[Spike, don't! They won't kill me, they need me...] Willow's mental voice trailed off, as Warren hit the button again. She trembled, the direct link allowing her to sense the amount of pain Spike was going through.

Spike screamed, and curled into a ball, his whole form shaking, his hands clawing at his head.

((I'm screaming daisies...))
((From fourteen miles away...))
((I've got my own time...))
((Got it all today...))

He took in shuddering, unnecessary breaths as the pain stopped and rational thought and reality came crashing back.

"...If you do that again, I swear to the Gods, I'll..." Willow was saying, her voice laced with malice.

"You'll what? You're not really in a position to make demands, girl," Warren replied.

Spike's eyes flickered to Willow's face, floating above him. She gave Warren the cruelest smirk he'd ever seen her give. He wondered irrationally if she'd been taking lessons from him.

((Make...))
((Up your mind...))
((Need some help...))
((Fight this mind, mind, mind....))

"I happen to be the most powerful of our little group. I'm even stronger than Buffy. I don't like doing it, but I could make the both of you bleed from every pore in your body with a single thought. Let. Us. Go." Willow radiated confidence, her eyes swearing that she could back that statement up.

Spike wondered whether or not she was bluffing. He shook his head several times in a vain attempt to clear it, and pulled himself back up until he was sitting upright.

[Willow, don't...Spot's not worth it...]

[Spike, shut up.]

He winced, half expecting the blinding pain again, since he had obviously made her angry. He lowered his head, and absently wiped at his nose, attempting to clean away the stream of blood there.

((Limbo this, and limbo that...))
((You were this and you were that...))
((Ever know that what you fear is what you find...))

Warren paled slightly, also unsure if Willow was bluffing or not. She had suddenly begun to radiate the impression of power. Gone was the shy schoolgirl Warren had taken her for.

((This Indian summer...))
((I signed my life away...))
((There's a greedy fly in here...))
((And I'll fly away...))

His finger slipped from the yellow button, and rested lightly on the red, not pressing it. He hadn't figured on rebellion from "Spot" or his new captive, but what had she said -- let US go? He could adjust his strategy.

"If you so much as try anything," he addressed Willow, "I'll press this button. Once I do, there's no going back. The chip will continue to fire until he's dead. Even I can't stop it."

((Make...))
((Up your mind...))
((Need some help...))
((Fight this mind, mind, mind...))

///

"Oh my god..." Xander choked, staring at Willow's still glowing computer screen. They had returned only moments ago, to find the front door open, and the wall by the stairs smashed in. Their search for the nerds hadn't been fruitless; their fruit was in the form of Jonathan, who was sitting downstairs on the couch, an angry Slayer standing over him.

Xander felt a pang of sympathy for Spike, reading Warren's detailed account of the vampire's 'training'. Even Spike didn't deserve this. Nothing on the face of the planet deserved this. Bastards. Xander felt the overwhelming urge to grab an axe and bury it in Jonathan's head for allowing this to go as far as it did.

He shut off the computer screen and made his way back downstairs, watching as Buffy hung up the phone.

"What's up?" he asked.

"Tara and Dawn are on their way. Dawn is going to come with us, I can't take the chance of leaving her alone right now. And we need Tara."

Xander nodded, running a hand through his hair.

"What's wrong?" she asked, taking in his slightly green pallor.

"Found Will's comp all logged on to Warren's upstairs. She cracked it, I guess. He was pretty...graphic about what they're doing to Spike."

Buffy's eyes blazed with anger for a moment, before she turned to Jonathan.

"Alright. You came for asylum. You've got it. In the form of 'I'm not going to rip your head off right now.' Talk."

The boy fidgeted.

"I can take you to them. That, uh, address on the wall is correct. But I can show you how to get in and stuff. It's not hard. They were, uh, planning on taking one of your friends, to get you to come to them. They won't expect you to come before they send a ransom note."

Xander stared at him.

"Why are you doing this? Betraying them?"

Jonathan met his eyes.

"Even I couldn't stomach what they were doing. They want to kill all of you, or, at least Warren does, and Andrew is following him. I didn't sign up to kill people."

Buffy shrugged.

"Doesn't matter. You'll take us to them. Xander, get some weapons. When the others get here, we're leaving."

((Make...)
((Up your mind...))
((Need some help...))
((Fight this mind, mind, mind...))



Chapter 8

The house looked nondescript. Dilapidated was the word for it. The windows were boarded up, and the roof was caving in in certain parts. The lawn was nothing more than a dirt lot; broken glass, glittering in the light of the nearly full moon, shone like snow across its surface.

Buffy approached slowly, alone. The others had gone around the back of the house, waiting for her signal before going in. She wasn't risking anyone else in this.

Her thoughts spun quickly through her head. Jonathan had described the layout of the underground basement in full detail, including where they were most likely holding Spike and Willow. It wouldn't be too hard to find them. What she would do when she did was anyone's guess. In the back of her mind, she knew that she might have to stake Spike. But thinking about it in depth made her stomach churn, so she didn't bother. She'd cross that bridge when she got there.

She crouched low and gently lifted the rotting wooden door that led to the basement stairs. Pulling a small dagger from her belt, she descended.

////

Spike tensed suddenly, his nerves tingling in the oddest way. He remembered this, somewhere. It meant something special, that something was coming....

His head jerked up, calling Warren's attention to him. He watched, idly twirling a quarter between his fingers, as the vampire's eyes flicked about, muscles jerking slightly. Spike didn't notice, however. The feeling tugged at him, calling him, comforting him somehow. The corner of his mouth twitched.

"Spot? Something you wanna share with the rest of the class?"

The vampire wilted immediately, lowering his head and stilling. Warren chuckled, and flicked the coin at Spike. It bounced off his shoulder and clanged to the ground.

[Willow. Slayer's here.]

Willow jerked awake, glancing at Spike and then to Warren. She took a few calming breaths and worked her hands, loosening her bonds somewhat.

A red light suddenly flashed above the door to the stairwell, signaling that the motion detector had gone off. Warren jumped to his feet, Andrew hurrying to his side.

"I swear to God, Andrew, if that damn cat set off the alarm again, it's dead. Spot, defend!" Warren grated.

"It's not MY fault. You're the one who wanted to feed it," grumbled Andrew, as Spike shot to his feet, facing the door.

The door smashed apart, flying open in a shower of splinters.

Brushing herself off, Buffy stepped in and grinned at the room.

"Wow. You guys having a get-together?" Her eyes roamed the room, noting everyone's positions. She crossed her arms and flipped her hair. "If I'd have known, I would have brought punch."

Warren licked his lips nervously, and gestured.

"Spot, kill her. Now!"

Spike took a step forward, clenching his fists tightly at his sides. His breath was already coming in gasps. She was an angel, standing there, so confident. He stared at her, transfixed for a moment, until a sharp burst of pain behind his eyes brought him back to his task.

"Spot! NOW!" Warren shrieked, grabbing Andrew by the arm and backing away.

Spike staggered slightly, shaking his head quickly, pulled up his fists, resting lightly on his toes.

Buffy stared at him, terrified for him. She really didn't want to hurt him. Not again. Not after what he had been through. She had seen the look in his eyes; she knew he was still there, just being forced into this action. If she could take him down quickly, and get to Warren and Andrew, this would all be over.

"Willow, you okay?" she called to her friend, her eyes never leaving

Spike.

"I'm...fine, Buffy." Willow pushed herself to her feet, working frantically now on the ropes that bound her hands. "Be careful. He's...not all there."

"I know, Wills," she responded, before jerking her head back to avoid Spike's first blow, the rush of wind from his fist touching her face. She counter-attacked on instinct, driving her knee at his stomach. The blow landed and bent him over, but he recovered quickly, and threw a solid uppercut. She backstepped, but not quickly enough, and his fist crashed into her chin, clacking her teeth together painfully and nearly driving her off her feet. Taking advantage of her momentary stunned state, he whipped his right leg around in a roundhouse kick, and sent her spiraling to the ground.

Buffy pushed herself up on her hands, and shook her head, quickly getting back to her feet. It was strangely eerie fighting Spike in silence. None of the usual banter flowed between them. Otherwise, she might be having fun. There was nothing fun about the pained and lost look in his eyes. He kept his gaze on her face, but never met her own. His fighting was normally passionate and beautiful. Poetry. Now, it was just dead. She needed to end it, and fast.

"Spike!" she said sternly, moving quickly back toward him. His eyes snapped up to her own for a second, before finding the floor. She smiled grimly and pulled her fist back, slamming it hard into the side of his temple, pouring all of her Slayer strength into the blow. He staggered, and then collapsed, panting. She raised both eyebrows in respect, at the fact he wasn't unconscious. But he wasn't getting up for a while either way.

"Sorry, baby." she told him, feeling slightly giddy. It was almost over.

She stepped over him, her eyes burning into the two nerds before her. Willow finally worked free of her bonds and joined her.

"This is going to be SO much fun..." the Slayer said cheerfully, stepping toward them.

"Stop! No closer!" Warren shouted, his voice high-pitched in panic. He held the remote out before him, hand shaking.

Willow grabbed Buffy's arm and stilled her.

"He said if he pushes that button, it'll kill Spike."

Buffy frowned, looking to the vampire who was already struggling to his feet, and then to Warren. She crossed her arms.

"How?"

Warren, feeling a bit more in control, grinned, happy to explain.

"It'll put the signal on an irreversible loop. Nothing can stop it. The chip will continue to fire until he's dust."

Buffy paled slightly, but tried to hide behind a scowl.

"What do you want?"

Warren held the control tighter, thumb resting lightly on the red button. He licked his lips.

"I'll let them both go in exchange for you."

Buffy opened her mouth to respond, but never got the chance to.

"No." came Spike's grated voice from behind her.

There was a sudden rush of air as Spike charged past her growling, and launched himself at Warren.

"Spike, no!" Buffy screamed, and joined him. Andrew promptly fainted, taking himself off the somewhat dangerous list.

Spike smashed his forehead into Warren's, knocking the boy out in a single blow as Buffy reached them. He stood quickly, backing away as if burned, shaking violently.

The controller buzzed softly in Warren's limp hand, the red button firmly depressed.

Buffy's world suddenly centered around that little red button. Thoughts of 'Maybe he was bluffing...' and 'maybe it didn't work...' filtered through her head. She raised her foot and smashed the controller with the heel of her boot, grinding it to little bits. 'Maybe it has a delay...'

She turned to her lover, watching him, as he stood there, panting, his eyes locked on Warren, fists clenching and unclenching. He was shaking still.

"Spike?" she said softly, reaching out a hand to him.

He flinched violently away from her touch, and then gritted his teeth, and dragged his eyes up to meet hers.

"Love...you..." he gasped out, before he jerked, the chip firing full blast.

He shrieked and collapsed.



Chapter 9

Time moves slower when you're afraid. Each heartbeat is felt like a knife through your chest. Each breath burns your lungs.

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.

"Do it."

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.



((Author's Note: The Angel episode Sleep Tight hasn't happened yet in this time frame.))



Chapter 10

He was trapped.

Motionless, eyes riveted to a single point in space, watching. In a flurry of blonde hair and black leather, the two fighters tore into each other, ripping and kicking and biting. There was nothing else, but the two of them, and the battle was horrific. Blood already pooled on the floor, splattered the walls.

The Slayer always appeared about to win. She would knock the faceless beast down, but each time it would get back up, and push on. It was wearing her down, and all he could do was watch. He couldn't even voice his horror at it.

And he knew he was doing this, that he was this faceless creature. But how could it be him? He wouldn't blacken her eyes with his fists, tear her flesh with his claws. He would never do that. And yet there he was, watching himself.

The battle raged on.

***

"Open the door!" Buffy shouted, as Spike began to struggle in her arms. Xander rushed ahead of her, fumbling with the keys before popping open the Magic Box door. Buffy practically fell through it, the bell ringing crazily above her head.

"Training room." she puffed out, grunting as her hold on the vampire slipped a little. She hoisted him back up, tightening her grip to the point of pain, and pressed on.

Xander again held the door as she struggled into the back room, and dropped Spike on a training mat, falling to her knees soon afterward.

"Spike...Spike!" she shouted, trying to reach him, restrain him, and dodge wild blows all at the same time. "Stop!"

She felt tears pricking her eyes again, but refused to let them fall. His eyes weren't even open. God, what if he had brain damage?

Someone flipped on the lights.

"Buffy, he's not even awake. I think we need to...chain him up or something." Xander spoke from behind her, refusing to look at the scene.

"Yeah..." Buffy breathed, exhausted. "There's some in the weapons chest."

"Here..." he grabbed them and locked the manacles around Spike's wrists, looping the chain around a strong pipe in the wall. They both backed up quickly to avoid the kicking feet.

He continued to thrash for a few moments, while Buffy and Xander watched in silence, unsure what to do. From the front they could hear Tara making an 'anonmyous tip' about where the police could find the stolen diamond and the murderers of Katrina Silver.

They had left Warren and Andrew in their 'lair', securely bound and gagged. There was little else they could do; both were human. Not demons to be slain. There had been a tense moment when Dawn had to be dragged away from Warren, whom she had kicked squarely in the mouth, but Buffy didn't blame her. She had had to struggle not to do much more herself.

The struggling finally stopped, and Spike sagged against the chains, still.

Xander looked away again, and helped Buffy back to her feet. He looked at her lost expression and quickly pulled her into a hug.

"Hey...He's gonna be fine. It's Spike, remember?"

Buffy snorted, returning the embrace.

"Yeah. He won't ever go away when we want him to. This isn't any different."

Tara poked her head in.

"I called Anya. She's on her way."

"She's so not gonna be happy about this..." Xander complained, referring to the vampire locked in the training room, and he led Buffy out.

"How ya doing, Will?" The Slayer asked, sinking into one of the chairs around the table.

"Good. Headachy, and dizzy, but good."

Dawn looked up from her study of the table, her eyes still red-rimmed.

"How is he?"

Buffy sighed, pushing a lock of hair out of her face.

"He's not good. When he wakes up...." she trailed off. If he wakes up...."We'll see."

***

Sleeping that night had been hard. Knowing that he was alone, even for a few hours, locked in the Magic Box, was killing her, but they had little other choice. It was the only place strong enough to hold him that didn't have any windows. Anya had promised she would come in early to check on him, and call her if there was any change during the day. Everyone had pretty much forced her to bed, all saying how much she needed her rest.

So Willow and Tara got a complaining Dawn off to school, while the Slayer slept. She didn't even dream, she was so exhausted.

When the call finally came, it was around noon. It woke her instantly, even though someone had answered it downstairs. She was changed and down the stairs before Willow hung up.

"Was that Anya?" she asked.

Willow nodded, grabbing her coat.

"Yeah. He's awake. Tara!" She called. "We gotta go!"

***

Buffy increased her pace when she saw that the 'Closed' sign had been put up on the Magic Box door. Anya had never closed the shop during the day, unless there was something wrong. Xander's car was already out front. She must have called him at work.

The three girls hurried inside, to an anxiously awaiting Anya, wringing her hands.

"Thank god! He's been doing THAT for about a half an hour. Scared away my money!" she whined. "I had to close early."

Growling and rattling of chains echoed from the back room.

"Has anyone been in there?" Buffy asked.

"No, I didn't go in." Xander paced near the door, running a hand through his hair. "Didn't know what to expect...."

"That's okay, Xander. I'll...go see...." she trailed off, and marched past them.

Xander went to console Anya, who looked as if she didn't know what to do with herself. She couldn't understand why Spike was acting this way.

Buffy turned the doorknob and the noise inside cut off abruptly. She took a deep breath and made herself push it open, and step inside.

"Spike?" she asked, shutting the door behind her as quietly as she could.

He was watching her, wide-eyed, before he tore his gaze away, looking at the far wall. He was sitting up, and as she came closer, he looked as if he were trying to push himself into the wall.

"Hey...it's alright, it's over...." She reached out to touch him, but he jerked away. Her eyes flooded with tears again, and she bit her lip to stop them from falling.

"Sorry about the chains. Everyone's...worried about you."

He didn't respond.

"Are you...hungry?"

He slowly shook his head, and she nearly jumped for joy that he was understanding her, at least.

"Dawn's really worried...Dawn and I...we're worried about you, Spike. Are you alright?" she asked, her voice as sincere as she could muster through her tears. She reached out again, fingers brushing his shoulder.

He yelped and jerked away again, pressing his cheek to the wall, panting.

Her lower lip trembled, and tears traced down her cheeks. She got up quickly and left the room, shutting the door carefully behind her.

Everyone shot to their feet at her reappearance. She hugged herself.

"H-how is he?" Tara asked, noting the tears.

"He's..." Buffy trailed off, and shook her head. "He's broken, like you said, Wills. Totally broken...."

Xander somehow managed to pull off looking sick and pissed off at the same time. His world had crumbled when Buffy died; one of his constants gone. Now it was starting to crumble again. Broken was never a word used to describe the always present and annoying vampire that would trade insults with him till the cows came home. Another constant gone.

"But we can fix him, right?" Willow asked, looking a little sick herself.

"I don't know." Buffy shook her head, walking over to the phone. "But I know someone who might."

*****

"Angel Investigations."

"Uh...Hi....I need to speak with Angel...please." Buffy said.

"Fine, may I ask who's calling?" replied the gruff and streetwise voice on the other end.

"Buffy."

There was a pause.

"Oh...Buffy? Yeah, I'll go get him."

Another, longer pause followed, until the phone was snatched up again, and an anxious sounding Angel spoke into the phone.

"Buffy? What's wrong? Did something happen?"

She closed her eyes. God, she was NOT looking forward to this.

"Yeah. I need your help. Actually...not me."

"Who?"

"Spike."

Pause.

"Uh huh."

"I told you he's been helping us. The chip and everything..." she fought back the tears again, her voice cracking. "He was captured a couple of weeks ago. Tortured. We just got him back, but he's..."

"Broken?" Angel asked, sounding surprised.

"Yeah. That's the word. I figured you knew something about..."

"Torture."

"Yeah."

Yet another long pause.

"Is he talking at all?"

"No. He won't let anyone touch him. He shook his head no when I asked him if he was hungry, but that was it."

She could hear Angel swallow. She tensed.

"The aim of torture is not to kill the victim, but to break down the victimís personality. If he's that far gone, Buffy...He's going to need a lot of help."

"I can handle it. What do I have to do?" she asked.

"Try to get some blood in him." he sighed. "I'll be there as soon as I can."

Click.

Buffy blinked. He was coming? Here? She slowly hung up the phone. She didn't know if that was a good idea, seeing how much Spike hated his grandsire.

She looked over at the others, who were watching her expectantly.

"Uh...Angel's coming. To help."

Willow winced, glancing toward the door to the back room, knowing it wouldn't please Spike. Anya and Tara looked a little confused.

There was a loud thunk as Xander dropped his head onto the table.

"Great." he said, the sound slightly muffled. He raised his head.

"Anyone got a muzzle? Or two?"



Chapter 11

It had taken a little planning. Actually, it had taken a lot. But thirty minutes and two scrapped ideas later, they were going in.

Buffy opened the door, a perfectly heated mug of blood in her hands. Xander followed, looking pretty nervous. He hadn't liked this idea at all, but it was the best they had. So, he got to be the distraction.

He stepped around Buffy, swallowing, and moved towards the chained vampire. Spike watched him, his eyes wild, his lips curling back slightly. He hadn't even noticed Buffy yet, apparently.

"Hey, Spike..." Xander started, taking another step. The vampire let loose a growl, low, almost too soft to hear. Gripping tightly at the chains that held him, he flattened himself against the wall.

"I come in peace," Xander held out both his hands, in the universal sign for being unarmed, and continued forward, slowly. Buffy crept up behind him, holding tight to the mug.

"Just want to talk..." Xander continued, now almost close enough to Spike to reach out and touch him. He stopped, slowly crouching to appear less of a threat to him. "We're just trying to help..."

Spike was frozen, it seemed, breathing harshly, muscles twitching and trembling. A small part of Xander wanted to gloat; Spike was afraid of him. Something that had never happened before, to his knowledge. But the greater part of him was sickened by it. He couldn't understand how anyone could do this to a creature, even a vampire like Spike. Staking, beheading, burning, sure, that was fine. But this? It was like pulling the wings off a butterfly.

Buffy was now close enough as well. She slowly set the mug down, and nodded at Xander. He flicked his eyes to her for a second to let her know he was ready, and reached slowly for the mug.

Buffy pounced, one arm locking around Spike's neck, jerking his chin up, the other locked tightly around his chest, stilling his arms. The vampire howled and thrashed, but was too weak to break the Slayer's hold. He must have realized this, for his struggling stopped, as did his breathing, his eyes locked on Xander. The terror in them made the boy freeze, for an instant, before grabbing the mug and bringing it to the vampire's lips, forcing the scent of it to his nose.

Spike vamped instantly, instinct taking over with the blood so close. Xander tilted the mug, draining it slowly into his open mouth, and noted it was comparable to feeding a baby bird.

The mug was emptied quickly, and Xander moved back, turned on his heel, and left the room. He knew Buffy would want a moment alone with Spike now that she had his attention.

****

God, this is hard, Buffy thought, her arms still locked around Spike, who was watching Xander leave. The demon had already receded, and he was starting to struggle again.

"Shhh, Spike..." she said softly, her mouth pressed to his ear. "We're not going to hurt you. We're trying to help. We know you can get through this....Please...." Those damned tears were starting to try and show again.

He made a soft sound in response, relaxing a little.

"We're all worried about you. We know...what happened. Warren can't hurt you anymore."

His jaw clenched at the mention of the name, but he gave no other indication that he understood. His eyes were drooping a little, as if he were fighting to stay awake.

"I'm here for you," she whispered. "You know that, right?"

He blinked slowly, and sighed, actually leaning into her hold. She was comforting him.

The tears were flowing free now. She was overjoyed she was getting through to him, but terrified that he would never be the same again. Her grip relaxed, and she removed her choke hold on him. His head dropped to her shoulder. Her hold on his arms turned into a gentle hug, and she supported him.

She sniffled, threading her fingers gently through his hair. He winced, and slammed his eyes shut, jaw clenching again.

"You don't have to be ashamed. What...happened, it would have killed anyone else. You...are so strong...."

His eyes opened again for a moment, and she could swear there were tears in them. But they slid closed again. He was falling asleep.

She kissed the side of his head, and laid him down as gently as she could. He whimpered at the loss of her touch.

"I'll be back soon, William."

He made no response as she stood and scrubbed her cheeks. She turned and left the room.

***

An hour after sunset, Angel arrived.

He frowned at the tinkling of the bell overhead as he entered the shop, Lorn in tow. No one said a word. He looked at each in turn, taking in their expressions. Willow looked terrible, pale and tired. Buffy looked worse, as if she had been crying for hours. The ex-demon, Anya, was moving around the shop, dusting things that obviously didn't need to be dusted.

Xander's face held no expression; he simply watched his fiancee, not even glancing up when Angel and Lorne entered. Dawn was asleep, curled up on the floor with her school bag as a pillow, a duster that was probably Spike's serving as a blanket. Tara -- Willow's girlfriend, he remembered -- was doing her best to comfort everyone, talking in low tones with Buffy and Willow.

Angel simply couldn't understand how this had affected them all so much. It was Spike. It couldn't be that bad.

"Eek, the aura in here just screams 'brood'." Lorne spoke, dusting off his jacket.

"Who are you?" Buffy asked, giving a soft smile to Angel, before taking in the green-skinned demon.

"This is Lorne; he's one of the good guys. He might be able to help."

"Oh," was all Buffy said, before rising and moving toward him. She had that 'let's get down to business look' on her face that he knew so well. Resisting the urge to call Cordy and check on Connor, he met her halfway.

"Where is he?"

"He's in the back. He was sleeping, finally. We had to force feed him, pretty much. He hasn't eaten since he was captured, apparently."

Willow looked over.

"When he came to...get me, he said he had killed someone. That they made him."

Buffy closed her eyes, and lowered her head.

"Since then, then. Do you, uh, wanna see him?" she asked Angel.

He thought about it for awhile, glancing to the phone again. Lorne gave him a look.

"Yeah."

Buffy nodded, hugging herself, and then pointed to the back room.

"He's in there." she said, before sitting back down.

Angel frowned, and shrugged, gesturing for Lorne to stay there while he entered the back room.

The first thing he noticed was that Spike was chained up. He cursed silently, shaking his head. Restraints would only further enforce the 'training' he had been put through.

"Spike, my boy..." he said rather loudly. His grand-childe jerked awake in an instant, looking around, dazed.

"What have you gotten yourself into this time, huh?" Angel steepled his fingers and crouched near Spike, tilting his head. He was surprised at the fear in Spike's eyes. Never once had the younger vampire been frightened of him, even after all his evil self had put him through.

"So, is this just some ploy? Make them think you're weak so you can kill them all?" he asked, his voice smooth and even. "'Cause I gotta say, you're doing a damn fine job."

Spike neither spoke nor moved. He simply stared at him, wide-eyed.

Angel chuckled and rose, giving a Spike a grin, before returning to where the others were gathered. Only then did his attitude shift.

He sighed, looking around the room.

"I need to know everything that happened to him -- it's the only way I can figure out how to pull him back. He's in bad shape. And Buffy?" he said, turning to her.

"Yeah?"

"Next time someone is brutally tortured and stripped of any control, let's try and not further that by locking them in chains?"



Chapter 12

Angel finally lowered the stack of papers Willow had handed him, struggling to control his anger. After reading Warren's account of Spike's training, he was feeling the sudden impulse to break the boy out of jail and teach him how it was done without technology. Even though he had issues with Spike, and his demon was fairly impressed with the boy's work, he still felt the need to avenge his grand-childe.

He stood, tossing the papers back on the table. The others watched, expecting.

"Though Warren wasn't clear on the why, I think I've pinpointed the moment Spike broke." He spoke firmly, his tone all business.

When he didn't elaborate, Buffy gestured for him to continue. He cast a look toward the still sleeping Dawn, before looking back to the Slayer.

"I think we need to know," she responded to his unspoken question.

Angel drew an unneeded breath.

"Alright. It was during one of the all-night sessions he pulled. He was trying to get Spike to tell him about himself. Warren found a scar on his side, made by what appeared to be a knife. When Spike refused to tell him where he had gotten it.....He reopened it. Stabbing him there. It took a few hours, doing it over and over, before he told him. After that, Warren had little trouble with him. He didn't say what Spike had told him; I guess he didn't consider it important. I need to know what happened with that scar. Why it was so important."

No one spoke. Buffy had paled again, hugging her arms around herself tightly. Lorn, most unconnected with the events, shifting in his seat.

"It obviously had to be something he was either ashamed of or afraid of. Right?" he offered.

Willow cleared her throat.

"He was never very...sharey. We would only know if he was hurt when it showed. But...but it had to be recent right? Since it's a scar..."

Angel nodded. "Yes, fairly recent."

"I know." Dawn's voice suddenly broke in.

Everyone turned to look at her. She was sitting up, holding Spike's duster around her.

"Dawnie, you shouldn't have had to hear that..." Buffy started, before her sister cut her off.

"If I hadn't, none of you would know." Her lower lip trembled slightly, but she drew herself up, and put on a brave face.

"That night. With Glory..." she started. "When I was on the tower. Before Buffy had to jump."

Everyone tensed, painful memories surfacing. The fact that the Slayer was back did nothing for the pain her death had caused.

"I sent Spike up there..." Willow remembered.

Dawn nodded, hugging the coat closer. When she spoke again her voice was emotionless, detatched.

"That creepy old man....Doc, was going to cut me, and start the ritual. I saw Spike come up behind him, and I was so relieved...But Doc was too fast. He got around behind Spike and stabbed him...." she held up the duster, showing the clean slice through the side of it. "Here...It must'a hurt a lot, but he tried still. Doc threw him off the tower. He...blamed himself. If he had saved me, Buffy wouldn't have died."

Everyone was silent again for a moment.

"Dawn, why didn't you tell us this?" Tara asked, tears shining in her eyes.

"Because none of you cared!" The girl was close to tears now herself. "None of you wanted to know. Don't tell me if I had, Xander wouldn't have used it as ammo."

Xander swallowed, and remained silent, unable to deny the fact.

Angel took in this news. It was still hard to see his grand-childe denfending a little girl. So unlike the Spike he thought he knew.

"Thanks, Dawn..." he said, sincerely. "I know that was hard, but it helps a lot."

She smiled a little, and leaned back against the wall.

"So, you can fix him?"

"I think I can....I just have to know one more thing." He already suspected, but he had to be sure. "What's the most important thing in Spike's life? I know you guys don't know him that well..."

"That's easy." Willow piped in, eager to help. "Buffy. Or Dawn. Or both." She furrowed her brow.

Angel looked at Buffy to confirm. She nodded slowly.

"He's in love with me."

"Good." Angel said, struggling to control the lingering jealousy in his voice. "Makes what I'm about to do that much easier."

****

The dream had come again, through the fog. The faceless beast tearing to shreds everything he cared about. He supposed it was a dream; memory couldn't be so shapeless, could it? It didn't matter anyway. He was still trapped, lacking the will to push through the fog to touch where soft voices sometimes filtered through. He had no idea when he had entered the fog. He only knew it was safer there. Let his baser instincts take control. It didn't matter. The need to hide, and be alone.

Parts of him knew what was happening. But he just couldn't seem to care. The fog was comforting, painless. He didn't have to remember there. He didn't have to see the look on his Slayer's face when he had smashed it.

He was somewhere familiar, that he knew as well, but anywhere could be familiar. Every once in a while, someone would come in, feed him, threatening to make the fog disappear. But it always rolled back in, after sleep.

But something had changed. When he woke last, a sliver of fear had touched him, the voice he heard something he remembered from long ago, when he was weak and useless. He had lost something important to that voice. But he couldn't place it. Protective instinct had almost driven him from the fog, but he didn't have the strength to fight it.

Suddenly he realized he was no longer alone. That voice was there again, taunting. He refused to see, to really listen. But it pressed on....

****

"...Spikey old boy, you should have been there...The way the blood ran...It was pure poetry. You could have written sonnets about it...."

****

Fear tangling up in the comfort again. He felt his chest rumble as his baser self growled, annoyed by this intrusion. GO AWAY! He wanted to scream, but he couldn't. the voice was getting louder, his weary mind almost hearing it. Like the soft voice of his Slayer when he had been fed last, it had come through. But he didn't want this voice to come through. It was something he didn't want, ever....

****

"She didn't even put up a fight...The witches were hard, but if you surprise them..."

****

Witches? Witches...he knew that. He could put names to the images that word brought up. Images? No! If he was remembering, the fog would lift. He could hear it now, the taunting voice. He tried to move his arms, press his hands over his ears. The pain was returning too, the deep throbbing headache.

"...And the little girl? Man, was she tasty. I just can't stop playing with her. So innocent, you know how I love 'em like that. She doesn't even cry anymore."

Dawn.

His eyes snapped open, and the fog shattered.

*****

Angel threw himself fully into the role. It wasn't the first time he had pretended to be Angelus to get something accomplished. Spike was growling full force now, barely taking breaths in between. His blue eyes were showing some vague awareness, and were locked on him.

"And Buffy, she didn't even put up a fight. The witches were hard, but I surprised them, took the stronger one, and the weaker just crumbled. Big and soft she was, like sinking my fangs into a nice, ripe peach. Beautiful."

He tilted his head, pacing in front of his now unchained grand-childe, hands clasped behind his back. He wafted the scent of Buffy's blood, donated from a slice on her palm. They had to make it as real as possible.

"I tore through the boy, made him watch as I took his demon." He grinned, squatting in front of the younger vampire. "Then I strung her up with her own intestines. He didn't put up a fight after that. It was fun to rip him apart. God, is he annoying."

He got closer, his face inches from Spike's, Buffy's blood on his breath.

"And the little girl? Man, is she tasty. I just can't stop playing with her. So innocent, you know how I love 'em like that. She doesn't even cry anymore. I'm thinking of keeping her forever. You want a taste before I do?"

Something flared behind Spike's eyes. A scream ripped from his chest and Angel suddenly found himself across the room with a throbbing jaw. Spike, enraged, coming after him. He leapt quickly to his feet, ready to keep the other vampire from tearing his head off with his bare hands.

"BASTARD!" Spike screamed, pummeling Angel's face with blow after powerful blow. Angel felt his cheek bone crack, but took the punches until he saw his opening.

He ducked under a high punch, and hooked Spike's arm, pulling it behind his back, locking his other arm under the blond's jaw. Spike's rage fueled his strength, and Angel found himself flipped over the blond's back, landing hard on the floor.

"Spike, do you smell anyone else on me?" he started the next step, while scrambling out of the way of a boot to the head. Back on his feet, he danced away from another wild blow.

"Shut up, you bastard, you killed them..." Another sharp blow to the face was landed, and this time, Angel returned it.

"I didn't, Spike, we had to get you back. Don't you smell the soul on me?"

His words were heard, but Spike barely faltered, staggering back from the blow to the nose.

"Doesn't matter. Bit's not a plaything. Gonna kill you..." He threw a hard punch at Angel's chest, which the older vampire caught, holding the wrist tight enough to hurt. The second hand followed and he did the same.

Snarling, Spike tried to break free, but Angel only tightened his grasp, bones creaking.

"Warren can't hurt you anymore, you don't have to hide. They need you, you know."

Spike's face faltered, but he didn't stop struggling, even though his struggles became weaker.

"They don't, they..."

"We do." Buffy said from her place by the door.

Spike froze, his eyes finding Buffy.

"I didn't...." he started, his voice cracking.

"No, you didn't hurt me, Spike..."

One of his arms gave another half-hearted jerk, and Angel released him, causing him to stumble slightly. The elder vampire stepped back, giving Spike room.

He steadied himself, panting, watching Buffy, and now Dawn, who had come in behind her. He choked back a sob.

They didn't speak. They simply came forward, reaching out gently at first, and then quickly when he didn't flinch away, Dawn on one side, Buffy on the other. They wrapped their arms around him, around each other.

He was still for a moment or two. Angel watched as his arms came up and pulled the girls closer, holding them tightly against his chest, burying his face in their hair.

They sank to the floor with him when his knees gave out and held him as he sobbed.



Chapter 13

"Are you hungry?"

He blinked, and looked up, Buffy's voice breaking the silence that had settled over the room once he had gotten control of himself. She and Dawn still sat on either side of him, the Niblet as quiet as he was, leaning on his shoulder. Angel still stood in the corner, a silent witness, his very presence irritating Spike to no end, far beyond the tiny blip of self-satisfaction he got knowing that Buffy was fawning over him in front of the older vampire. The humiliation he was feeling was pretty much overshadowing all his other emotions. Add the massive headache that was driving him to distraction: he was having a bloody wonderful day.

He shifted uncomfortably, not meeting Buffy's eyes, not wanting to see the pity in them.

"Uh, yeah," he replied, clearing his throat. Dawn stirred, lifting the weight of her head from his shoulder.

"I'll get it," she piped, in the eager voice of a teenager wanting to be useful. She hurried from the room.

Uncomfortable silence followed. He heard Angel shift on his feet behind him, and unconsciously gritted his teeth. Perfect. Just perfect. Not only had he gone off his rocker, he had broken down in front of the great poof. He was never going to live this down. And that goddamned fear creeping around the edges of his mind, the fear he was doing something wrong, was making him even angrier. He was fine now. Better.

"We're going to need to get you cleaned up..." Buffy said softly, flicking a flake of dried blood away from his neck. He could feel it sticking to his upper lip as well. He had no idea how it got there. Of course, he couldn't remember very much of what happened anyway. For the better.

"Yeah," he said again, suddenly amused at his own monosyllabic responses. Why did she care?

The door opened and he stiffened. Forcing away the growl that tried to claw its way out of his throat as an unconscious reaction, he looked up to see Dawn entering, holding a mug filled to the brim, her face so tight in concentration at not spilling it he almost chuckled. But all humor left him at the sight of the rest of the Scoobies and some green bloke he didn't know hovering in the doorway behind her, anxious looks on their faces.

This was ten times worse than the Watcher's bathtub.

Dawn smiled and returned to his side, handing him the cup.

"The others wanted to see how you are feeling."

Nauseated. He almost said it out loud, eyeing them wearily, as one by one they filtered into the room, Red with Tara in tow, followed by Xander and his girl. The green-skinned demon leaned on the door frame, studying him so intensely he felt like squirming. His muscles tightened. When he felt the handle of the mug crack under his tight grip, he drained the cup in one gulp, and set it aside.

"So, um, how ARE you feeling?" Willow asked finally, when he didn't speak.

He looked up at her, meeting her eyes. He had a sudden, and very disturbing flash of her terrified face, inches from his own. The vision swam for just a moment, before he was again looking into her pity-filled gaze. Pity. He shuddered and turned his head away in disgust.

"Better."

"Good." She half squeaked, half breathed. "We were all, um, worried."

He snorted before he could stop himself. Them worried about him. Funny.

"Spike!" Buffy scolded, swatting his arm.

He froze, his eyes suddenly on the floor. He squeezed them shut a half second later, growling at his own response. It wasn't like that was something she hadn't done a thousand times before. From Buffy, the gesture was almost playful, seein' as she wasn't drawing blood. She had done much worse to him, and he to her, over the time they had known one another.

Buffy watched him, furrowing her brow at his reaction, before her eyes widened in understanding. She gently stroked his arm where she'd slapped it, as an unspoken apology.

"Do you need anything?" Harris spoke, fidgeting. Spike's eyes widened in incredulity, but he didn't look up.

"Guys, I think it's too much. Too soon. Is it dark yet?" Buffy asked, her hands still working to soothe the vampire.

Xander nodded, frowning a bit.

"Dawn, Spike, and I are going to my place. Alone. He's exhausted and needs to rest."

"Are you sure?" the Protector of All Things Fluffy asked from behind them. "He's still not very stable..."

Spike drew a shuddering breath, hands clenching in the effort not to leap up and attack Angel again. Buffy was allowed to speak as if he wasn't in the room; he was used to it. HE wasn't.

Sensing the growing unrest in him, Buffy tightened her grip on his arm.

"Yes. He doesn't need to be overwhelmed right now, okay? You guys are great, but this is just too soon. Xander, can you drive us?" She glanced at Dawn, and they both stood, Buffy gently pulling Spike to his feet.

"Sure! Of course!" Xander stopped, as if knowing his enthusiasm seemed forced. "I'll, uh, bring the car around."

Everyone followed Xander out, except for Angel of course, who still seemed intent on keeping guard, and Tara, oddly enough.

Sensing her eyes on him, he glanced up, aware of how pathetic he looked, with Buffy half-supporting him.

Tara chewed on her lower lip, her eyes glistening. With pity or understanding, he couldn't be sure.

"You're in...pain," she stated, stepping closer.

"Tara, I don't think..." Buffy started, but Spike cut her off.

"Headache."

And suddenly, she wasn't the shy, soft little girl anymore, but the wise and nurturing figure he'd seen glimpses of over the course of the years. She placed her hands on the sides of his face, ignoring his wince, and gently forced him to meet her eyes.

"I was lost once too. It will be all right." She kissed his forehead, and pulled back, hands dropping to her side, the shy half smile returning. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Welcome back. I'll give Buffy a tea that will help your head."

******

The drive had been taxing. No one had said a word until they had reached the Summers' home, and then it was only goodnights and a strangely heartfelt and embarrassing 'Feel better soon,' from Xander. Buffy sent Dawn to bed, though the girl nearly had to be pried from his side, and guided him upstairs to the bathroom, where she left him alone and went to prepare the tea.

He gripped the edge of the counter, looking down at the sink. Even the whelp was pitying him. He was sure that Angel was as well. It was just too much. He was not supposed to be pitied! He was a creature of the night, he struck fear into the hearts of...well, demons. He looked up, staring into the empty mirror, frowning softly. He wondered how terrible he looked. If it was anywhere close to how terrible he felt....

'See? You're nothing..." a taunting voice called from his memory, holding a mirror before his face....

He squeezed his eyes shut, turning violently away from the mirror, jumping when he saw Buffy standing behind him.

"Drink up." she said with forced cheerfulness, holding the steaming cup of tea out for him. He did as he was told, draining the contents quickly, relishing the burn the heated liquid spread through his cold throat and stomach.

"Thanks." he said quietly, setting the cup on the counter. She busied herself, grabbing a towel from the rack and setting it aside, as if she had suddenly forgotten what she wanted it for. He sank down onto the toilet seat, watching her silently, as she began drawing a bath. She can't even look at me anymore, he thought, closing his eyes.

He flinched when he felt her fingers at his chest, his eyes snapping open to meet hers. He growled again, softly, and looked away.

"Shhh..." she whispered, biting her lip. "It's alright. You've been through a hell of a lot, Spike, not to mention worrying me nearly to death." He furrowed his brow, disbelieving. The first button of his shirt came open under her fingers, and she moved on to the second.

"When I thought you were gonna die, or be braindead, or whatever, I suddenly saw this whole big stretch of a world without Spike. A Spikeless world. And it sucked. I realized how much I would miss you..."

"I'm sorry...to have...uh, worried you," he said softly.

The second button popped open. He was suddenly very self-conscious.

"Don't be sorry."

"I can...do this myself." He said, referring to the bath.

"I know." The third button, followed quickly by the fourth. She hissed softly, her eyes widening. She quickly finished the rest of the buttons.

"Don't..." she warned, making full use of her Slayer voice when he tried to twist away. She studied his skin, gently peeling back the rest of his shirt.

"Bastard." She hissed, studying the bruises that covered his pale skin. There was a barely healing burn close to his navel. Remembering what Angel told her of Warren's journals, she pulled Spike to his feet, and removed the shirt, turning him around.

And there it was. A wicked ugly stab wound on his side. It was scabbed over, and healing, but it still looked painful.

He was silent, fists clenching. She didn't say another word, just divested him of the rest of his clothes, and guided him into the bath. She took her time, bathing him slowly, gently, until his muscles were no longer knotted and tense, and the water was growing cold. Draining the tub, she pulled him out, and started to dry him off. The dead look in his eyes was driving her insane. She wondered, briefly, if that's how she looked when she first started to go see him.

She guided him to her room, closing the door. He stood there, staring at her bed, clad only in the white towel she had secured around his waist. Coming up behind him, she ran her hands up his back, tracing the corded muscles underneath. He tensed, turning his head slowly to meet her as she moved around to stand before him, never breaking contact with his skin. When she met his eyes, they were no longer dead, they were angry.

"I don't need your pity, Slayer." He ground out. She smiled.

"There you are. I was wondering when you would show up." Her fingers slowly made their way up his chest, careful of his wounds. "And this isn't pity. I am just reminding you. Touch can be good."

She studied his eyes, tilting her head. The anger was gone. The dead look was as well. What remained was something she couldn't put her finger on.

She wrapped an arm around his neck and pulled him down, kissing his forehead.

"Come on. You need to rest."

He nodded slightly, swallowing, and let her guide him to the bed. He settled in, closing his eyes and inhaling her scent from the pillow as she covered him up. She joined him moments later, wrapping her arms around him, spooning him, and stroking his arm softly as he fell asleep.



Author's Notes: For one, I want to thank you all for the wonderful feedback. I really wouldn't have gotten this far without all of you. You are my crack. I just write to get it. And, cos', ya know, I like to. But anyways, I love you all, and thanks so much for your support with this.

Secondly, I know I haven't been updating as much as I used to. The summer slump is on me. But, I do have valid reasons. I've been in and out of the doctor, having MRI's for my freakin' knee problem. But it's all good, I survived the evil microwave death.

And thirdly, another reason for slow updates being the fact that I cannot get the idea for a new story out of my mind. My own post Grave fic. I know, everyone is doing it. Mine won't be anything special. But I can't not do it. So, while I have many other projects looming on the horizon, Rashaka's new challenge, the sequel to When Darkness Falls, I am going to pound out at least a few chapters of 'To Suffocate in Sand and Blood' before I start on any others. Sorry if that's mean of me. I really am. Forgive me?

On to the story...



Chapter 14

'You're nothing, you know.' The knife twisted, digging. He bit his lip to keep from crying out. 'Just a tool to be taken out and used whenever it's needed. Nothings don't need secrets, Spot.' Another twist and he was screaming.

Shift.

I'm dreaming, I'm dreaming, I'm dreaming.....

Shift.

The monster laughed. He hit the ground hard, bleeding.

Shift.

'You're nothing to me, William. You're beneath me.'

Shift.

A powerful blow landed, cracking his jawbone. Followed by another. And another. The demon fell away, and he was gasping, the world blurring around him, though her voice was clear.

'You don't ... have a soul! There is nothing good or clean in you. You are dead inside! You can't feel anything real! I could never ... be your girl!'

*****

Sleeping had been hard that night. She tried as best she could to calm him when he shivered, stroking his arm, rubbing his back. He would still, for an hour at best, before moving again.

It was hard to see him like that. He was usually so in control, such a force to be reckoned with. But now, he needed care. And comfort. And she didn't know if she could give it. She watched him, propped up on her elbow, listening as the birds sang out the coming dawn. She couldn't figure him out, her vampire, playing at being human. Moments ago, she discovered that she had forgiven him. Out of the blue, watching him, she knew suddenly that she had. For everything he had done to her and her friends. Maybe it was the fact that he had protected Dawn while she was dead. Had kept his promise. Maybe it was because he had kept them safe by not breaking under Glory's torture of him. Or because he had withstood her own torture of him, taken the beating in the alley without a word of protest, and forgiven her afterwards. Maybe because he really loved her. But most likely, it was because he was so weak now. So little. And the time was right.

Her discovery had taken her by surprise, and her first instinct was to wake him and tell him. But he looked so tired, she had resisted. Now, he was twitching again, making little sounds in the back of his throat. It pained her, but she still didn't want to wake him. He deserved his rest. He deserved her hand on him, in comfort, not in violence. She didn't know what it meant, this change of attitude that had brewed since he had gone missing; since she had seen him, writhing on Warren's basement floor in agony. She had feelings for him, deep, scary, fight-or-flight inducing feelings. But she didn't know what it was. And if it wasn't love, she couldn't play him anymore. He didn't deserve that.

He moaned suddenly, and curled his knees to his chest. She frowned, and bit her lip. Wake him. No need for him to suffer any longer.

"Spike...." she shook his shoulder lightly. "It's only a dream. Wake up."

He curled tighter into himself, silent again but shivering.

"Spike!" She raised her voice, pulling on his shoulder to roll him over. She sat up, hovering over him, and shook him again, harder.

He tensed, muscles exploded into motion, and suddenly he was fighting her, hands pushing out blindly, clawing at her arms, legs kicking.

"Spike!" She was shouting now, and he was growling, teeth gnashing, snapping at thin air. She got enough leverage and pushed him into the mattress, straddling him, holding him down. He thrashed and howled, fighting.

"Spike!" She called his name once more, and slapped him, hard enough to sting, but held back on her full strength.

His eyes snapped open, dilating, still clouded with the dream. He bucked once more and she fell to the side, bouncing on the bedcovers.

He stared, wild-eyed, before rolling off the bed with an audible thump, and scrambling to his feet, taking slow steps until his back hit the wall. He stood there, eyes closed, catching his breath.

She pushed herself off the bed, and approached him, slowly, as one would a wild animal.

"You okay?" she asked softly, reaching out to grab his hand.

He looked up at her, chest still heaving, blinking. His arms shot out and grabbed hers, pulling her flush against him. His vice-like grip held her, and she held him back, making nonsensical soothing sounds. He was still trembling.

In a flurry of motion, her back was against the wall, and he was kissing her. Just like that. His mouth plundering hers as if she were his lifeline, as if her breath in his mouth was all that kept him alive. She returned the kiss with all the passion she could muster, her tongue tangling with his, meeting him blow for blow.

Eventually he slowed down, releasing her, and pressing his palms to the wall behind her. He pushed his forehead against hers and barked a laugh.

"What?" she asked, still a tad breathless. Melting already, and he had barely touched her. God, the man had a talented mouth.

"Nuthin'." A long pause. "Jus' realized I'm naked."

She looked down, and indeed he was, still naked. She chuckled too.

"Is there anything you...need?" She asked, her voice coming out ten times more husky than she intended.

He pushed away from her, with considerable effort. She furrowed her brow, confused.

"I said I wasn't goin' ta be your whore." He took a deep shaky breath. "An' you're not gonna be mine."

She smiled at that, even though his back was turned. She could wait. Whatever he needed.

"Why don't you get some more rest. I'm gonna go heat up your breakfast and wait for Xander." He gave her a slightly questioning look as he climbed back under the sheets. "He's bringing you some clothes by."

His eyes widened a little.

"Not his, I hope."

She laughed, shaking her head.

"No, he's running by your crypt. He didn't wanna go last night. Too dangerous."

He relaxed and nodded, laying his head down. He didn't close his eyes again until she had left the room.

*******

She went downstairs, going about the ritual of busying herself. Dawn trudged down moments later, looking fully awake but cautious. After a quick glance around the room, she entered fully, falling bonelessly into a chair at the table.

"How is he?" she asked, toying with a place mat.

Buffy shrugged, popping a mug in the microwave. "He's not good, Dawn, but he's doing better. I think." She frowned. "I don't know. He's having nightmares."

"So that's what all the noise was about?"

Buffy nodded.

"Yeah, he was a little confused this morning. Kinda freaked out."

There was a moment of silence, broken only by the beeping of the microwave. That part done, letting the blood cool to body temperature, she got Dawn's breakfast ready.

"He's not going to get better, is he?" Dawn asked, her voice small.

"Yes, he is, he just needs our help." Buffy forced a smile. "He's going to be fine."

"You don't have to lie to me, you know."

Buffy sighed, and plopped down in the chair opposite her sister.

"He is going to be fine. I am going to make sure of that. Alright?"

Dawn searched her face, trying to see if she was lying again. Whatever she saw must have satisfied her, because she gave her own small smile and nodded.

A short knock, followed by the door opening and slamming shut signaled Xander's entrance. He dumped a pile of clothing on the easy chair and called out for Buffy.

"Yeah?" She held her bathrobe a little tighter, rising from the table to join him.

"Turn on the TV." She furrowed her brow and did as she was told.

"....happened sometime late last night, apparently the work of explosives. One inmate was killed last night, while five others remain in critical care. While police and paramedics are still searching the rubble, four inmates have yet to be accounted for. If you're just joining us, Sunnydale Police Department was attacked late last night, as part of a botched prison break. No word yet on the names of the missing prisoners."

Buffy looked over at Xander, wide-eyed.

"I stopped by on my way over, pretending to be a relative. Warren escaped Buffy. Warren and Andrew."



Author's Notes: Once again, sorry for the delay. Don't really have an excuse this time, except that I have lost my steam for this fic. I feel it's gotten tired, and dragged out. Like I should have ended it a chapter or two ago. But here I am again, and I am going to finish this come hell or high water. The other problem is that I am so jazzed about writing my next fic, it's taking all my willpower not to just stop this one and start the other. Many thanks to the folks at the TWoP board, namely, Nautibitz and Cousinjean, for urging me on. And as always, thanks to my beta, Fleisch, cos' without her, this fic would be crap.



Chapter 15

"Well all the love from me,
With all the dying trees I scream...
The angels in my dreams,
Have turned to demons of greed that's me...."
Soul to Squeeze, Red Hot Chilli Peppers

Spike had slept for most of the day. An exhausted sleep that had apparently kept him from dreaming. Small blessing that it was. She had been checking on him from time to time, and he had barely shifted position. Aside from the slightly creepy picture he presented, a corpse in her bed, she was grateful. She had other things to deal with.

The rest of the Scoobies plus two arrived at sunset. Ready to deal with the continuing threat of the now Duo of Nerds. Among other things.

"So, are we going to tell him?" Willow asked, twisting her hands in her lap. Buffy pretended not to notice.

"About what?"

"The chip. Warren and Andrew. All of it. Are we going to tell him?"

That was an interesting question. First off, telling Spike about the chip could be.....She didn't know what it could be. But she trusted him, right? That was important. He was just so messed up right now. He probably wouldn't want to deal with it at all. Would he?

Her troubled thoughts manifested outwardly with her drawing her hands through her hair, and heaving a deep sigh.

"I don't know Will. I just...." she sighed again. "I don't know."

"I don't think we should. I'm still worried about him going all Angelus on us," Xander spoke, shooting a pointed glance in the direction of Angel, who promptly began to ignore him.

"But if he just found out, by accident?" Tara shifted in her seat, glancing around the living room. "Wouldn't that be worse? He would feel betrayed."

Buffy brought up her hand, silencing them.

"Well, he's not exactly up and about right now, so we'll wait until he's better, okay?" If he ever gets better. "Right now, we need to focus on those god-damned nerds."

Everyone blinked in surprise at Buffy's language. But she ignored them and forged on.

"Xander, when you went to the police station, did they say exactly if Andrew and Warren had escaped or were just unaccounted for?"

"Unaccounted for. But I'd bet my life they were the ones that blew up the station."

"Alright, so we'll assume the worst and say....."

******

"....they've escaped. So where will we find them?...."

The soft voices floated up the stairwell, murmurs so light that only a vampire could understand them.

Well, that had to be one of the top ten most horrible ways to wake up.

For a moment, blind panic clutched at Spike's throat, but he pushed it away. They were just two bloody humans. No threat to him. As they had so amazingly proved over the past couple of weeks. Fuck.

He sat up in bed and looked warily around the room, as if the two harmless humans were waiting in the shadows for him. Bloody irrational fear. He was tired, so damned tired of being afraid. He had faced Slayers, the Boogiemen of his kind, with no fear. Probably because it was also fun as hell. But this....

Suddenly, being naked wasn't the greatest idea in the world.

He stumbled out of bed, eyes frantically searching the darkened room for his pants. He prayed to whoever would listen that Buffy hadn't left them in the bathroom last night.

Ah. There.

He pulled them on, wincing a little as the denim caught on his still healing cuts, and quickly grabbed the button-up folded neatly beside them.

The room was becoming claustrophobic, the darkness seeming darker than it actually was. He focused on what he was going to do, rather than the way he felt, striding over to the door and easing it open.

The voices were louder now, of course. Guess the gang's all here.

"Yeah, he seems to be getting better, though he's having nightmares....."

Still talking about him. Though the worry in Buffy's voice was almost enough to send his thoughts into a chorus of 'She cares!', he was sickened by it at the same time. He didn't want to go down there, where they would look at him funny and speak softly and slowly to him, as if he no longer comprehended the English languge. Where they would ask him if he was alright and if he needed anything to the point of nausea.

He slowly pushed the door shut again.

Window it is.

***************

Information about the explosion was coming in slowly. Angel was calling old informants. The news was endlessly giving updates, mostly the same story over and over, but occasionally, something new would 'develop'.

"Buffy..." Angel said softly, drawing her attention to him. "They just pulled Andrew's body from the rubble. Warren is still missing."

She stared blankly at him for a moment. How awful was it that she didn't care about the boy's death? She wasn't glad, no, but she wasn't upset about it. It had probably been his own fault, messing with explosives. What was worse -- she dearly hoped Warren's body followed those of his friends. That slightly freaked her out.

"Alright, so we don't have to worry about Andrew. Just Warren. You guys...keep looking...or watching...or whatever.... I'm going to check on Spike...."

She trudged up the stairs, pushing her hair away from her face. What in the hell was she going to tell him? 'Yeah, the guy who turned you into a puppy is running around free?' No. 'You know how I promised that Warren would never hurt you again? Well....'

She stopped, frowning. She suddenly noticed she only felt one vampire in the house. Spike's unique signature wasn't detectable at all.

She flew into her room, banging the door against the wall in her haste. Her curtain fluttered in the breeze from the open window. Spike's clothes were gone.

"Guys!" she yelled, and ran back downstairs.

******************

Spike trudged through the cemetery, wondering if this was such a good idea. Just a quick jaunt to the crypt to get some smokes. But his head was pounding again, making him dizzy.

The crypt was much as he left it, a little bit trashed, as if someone, or likely, something, had dug through his stuff recently. Understandable, considering how long he'd been gone.

He dropped through the hole into the bottom level, forgoing the ladder as too slow, stumbling a little when he touched ground again. He plopped down on his bed and started rooting through the dresser next to it.

"He's dead, you know."

The voice made him shudder, and he turned slowly, already knowing who it was. Just. A. Human.

"Who?" he managed, trying to keep his voice nonchalant.

"Andrew." Warren said, stepping closer. "It's your fault, you know."

He was slowly getting more and more angry. Which he figured was a good thing. In with the rage, out with the pain.

He shrugged, finding his smokes, and quickly lighting one.

"Good. What do I care?"

Warren smiled grimly.

"Oh you'll care. Stand up. You're coming with me."

Spike blinked at him, the fear now completely gone.

"Are you daft? That doesn't work anymore, boy."

"How do you know I haven't made another controller, Spot?"

Spike's jaw twitched at the name.

"Use it. Don't give a fuck," he answered, smoke billowing from his mouth as he rose from the bed.

"Oh, I will, Spot. And I'll find a way to collar your Slay-whore too."

Spike raised a brow, flicking the cigarette to the side.

"Is that so?"

"Yeah. If you're good, I might let you play with her when I do."

He shifted into game face, enraged, and launched himself at Warren. He felt something rip through his chest as he tackled Warren to the ground, but the pain didn't even register. His hands were wrapped around Warren's throat, and the boy was making the most pleasing sounds.

"Bastard!" he screamed. "You'll never be good enough to lick her boots!" He tightened his grip, and felt something crumple beneath his fingers with a sickening crunch. Warren's eyes bugged out, and then he was still.

Spike sat back, panting. The demon melted away.

Oh shit.

Buffy was gonna be pissed.



Chapter 16

Spike watched Warren's slowly cooling corpse from across the room, his back firmly against the wall, cigarette burning forgotten and smoldering in one hand, trying to figure out what the hell he was going to do.

He had attacked first. In Buffy's eyes, in everyone else's, he would be condemned. In his own, he was only sorry for the fact that he hadn't made the boy suffer more. He couldn't be sorry for killing him, not after everything he had done to him and everyone he cared about. Nope.

He shifted his eyes from the boy's face to his hand. A blunt bit of wood still held in his death grip, red with blood. When Spike first saw it, he figured he was only seconds from covering Warren with his own ashes. But it was only a knife, the blade broken off and still lodged in his chest. He barely noticed the pain, only felt the annoying sensation of a splinter, something forgotten within his body.

Dumping the body and washing his hands of the whole mess was out of the question. Last week's (last month's? Last year's?) little debacle with Katrina had shown how out of practice he was with that. And questions would be asked about his wound. He would need help getting the blade out, in any case.

He laughed to himself, watching the body as if it were going to hop up and dance around any moment now. How things had changed. A decade ago, he wouldn't be having this problem. He would have displayed the body, written his name on the walls in blood, bragged to the nearest ear, written to the local newspaper. But that was before Buffy, before the chip...

His thoughts came to a screeching halt. The chip. Confusion and dread spun in his stomach. Oh god, the chip. If he'd killed Warren, it must be gone. Or not working. Maybe he hadn't felt the shocks because of his burning rage. He hadn't felt the stab wound. Or maybe Warren wasn't human.

But the chip had always had the power to knock him out of killing mode, piercing the soft and vulnerable tissues of his brain and making his legs shake. And Warren WAS human, he'd smelt it, felt it....

A part of him, the part that still reveled in the thought of burning this town to the ground and dancing in the raining ashes, celebrated. Another part, the part that had grown to love and protect Buffy and Dawn and the Scoobies, recoiled in horror.

His mouth was already watering at the thought of feeding again.

Oh God, what if I'm not strong enough? What if...

A series of scenarios burned though his head. Xander staking him, not even giving him the benefit of the doubt. Buffy, with fire in her eyes, pulling back her arm for the killing blow, blood of some unnamed victim still warm on his lips. The twisted and mangled forms of Dawn, Tara, Willow, Giles, Xander, Anya, Buffy....after he'd finally snapped.

The fog started to roll back in. His eyes searched frantically, looking for something sharp and wooden. He couldn't let himself be unleashed on them. He owed them that much. He'd kill himself after he killed them, surely, so why not save their lives, one last time?

He crawled across the floor, groping under the bed until he found his prize. Returning to his spot against the wall, he stripped off his shirt, and pressed the wooden point to his chest, pushing...

He choked in pain, the splinter of steel twitching, digging deeper into the rib it had lodged in. He wasn't at his best, his own strength couldn't force the blade to break the bone and allow the stake to pierce his heart.

He laughed, tears forming, looking at the dead boy.

"What do you know? Looks like you get to kill them after all..."

The fog formed, thickened, and trapped him.

////

Buffy pushed open the door of the crypt, frowning softly. Angel stepped in after her, eyeing the room with distaste. She had sent the other off to various demon haunts, cemeteries. Tara waited with Dawn at home, just in case he came back.

God, the nerve! What the hell was he thinking, sneaking off like that, when he's so weak, so...needy. And damnit, SHE needed him. He was not allowed to just dissapear! When she found him....

"I smell blood." Her thoughts were interrupted with all the grace of a bowling ball to the head, with a statement like that.

"Spike?" she called, moving deeper into the crypt, Angel following.

He scented the air, and nodded toward the opening in the floor.

"Down there." And vanished down the hole a second later.

This time she was following, descending the steps with only a little less grace than her compainion, and was chilled by the scene presented to her.

Spike was backed against the wall, a firm hand holding a stake to his bloody chest.

Angel was one step ahead of her.

"Goddamn it, Spike!" He jerked the stake away, flinging it across the room where it clattered useless to the floor. Her eyes unconsciously followed it.

At the foot of the bed, on the rugs she'd had so much fun under, lay Warren. His neck was at an odd angle. It was obvious he was dead.

"Spike, what happened?" She asked, her voice coming out a little colder than she intended.

"Buffy..." Angel said, his voice softer now. He'd seen the corpse as well, but turned his gaze back to Spike. "He's gone again."

She turned to look, and indeed, his blue eyes were far away. He was motionless, only trembling slightly at their presence, not even looking at them. His gaze was locked on a point across the room. It was an even deeper fugue than he'd put himself in before.

She knelt at his side, shaking his bare shoulder.

"Spike?"

"Buffy..." Angel said again, frowning slightly.

She didn't look at him.

"Get the body out of here. And...give me some time."

He was silent for a long moment, looking from her to his grandchild, the frown deepening. Then he nodded, and did as he was told. Within moments, they were alone.

First things first. She ran her fingers over his chest, examining the wound. It didn't look too bad, it wasn't bleeding much. The glint of metal worried her, however.

Swallowing, she rose and found a switchblade on the bedside table. Flipping it open, taking a breath, she dug into his chest, half not wanting to hurt him, and half wanting the pain to wake him. He didn't move, however, as she made the cut a bit deeper, and dug her fingers in, removing the five-inch blade with little trouble. All he did was twitch.

A square of gauze and a little tape, and he no longer looked so...dead. She stared into his eyes, which refused to meet hers, and wondered what the hell she was going to do.

He'd killed again. So he knew the chip didn't work anymore. There had obviously been a struggle, and the part of her that Faith, Dracula, and Spike had seen cheered at his triumph over Warren, human or not.

But it was wrong. Killing people, even criminals like Warren, just wasn't to be done. Not by her. Not by him. Their punishment was decided in the human world, not in the world where she dealt justice nightly with a pointy stick.

But what would have driven him back into himself? Killing Warren? Or realizing the chip was gone?

'Love. Give. Forgive.'

She'd forgiven him so much. She could forgive him this. They would need to talk about it, discuss it, but she knew she could. He'd already wormed his way into her heart, and she wasn't going to repeat past mistakes. She'd already locked him in. Her beast was no longer leashed, but he was still hers.

She moved closer to him, pulling his form against her, and took his cheeks in her hands. She turned his head, looking into his still distant eyes.

"Spike." She kissed him softly, his lips cool and unmoving. "Spike."

Her hands drifted through his hair, down his neck, over his chest.

"Spike. Wake up."



Chapter 17

'Spike. Wake up.'

The words filtered through the fog, the feeling of warm fingers running up and down his arms. He felt himself shiver.

The scent hit him, and his mind sighed in contentment. Buffy....

'It's alright. I'm here.'

And God, she was. Her lips brushed soft kisses over his face, traced his cheekbones. Her thumbs smoothed his eyebrows.

'Wake up. You don't have to hide anymore.'

He whimpered, and the fog started to thin, his golden goddess breaking through like the sun, burning the cold mist away.

He caught sight of her hair flowing around him, felt the tips brushing his chin. Her lips fell on his again, gentle as rain. His eyelids fluttered.

'There you go. Come on, Spike.' Her whisper came to his ear, before her gentle nibbling did.

The fog slowly rolled away, under her skittering fingers and light kisses. She felt him draw breath against her, his lips part under hers. His hand drew up, gripping the back of her neck and tangling in her air, and his mouth flowed into hers, sipping from her lips as gently as she had from his.

She settled on his lap, trembling with the same desire he did. Her mind spun, screaming for oxygen, but she didn't care. When he pulled back, forehead resting against hers, she almost moaned at the loss.

"I'm sorry..." he muttered, hugging her close, as if she was going to leave.

She didn't respond, simply let her fingers play with the wild curls of his ungelled hair.

He swallowed, and spoke again.

"The chip....Buffy, it's gone...."

"Shh..." She pressed a kiss to his lips again. "I know. I was the one who told Willow to take it out. It was killing you."

He stiffened in surprise, pulling back to look into her eyes.

"You didn't tell me....?"

She shook her head, watching his reaction.

"I didn't want it to trouble you. Not until you got better."

"But what's to keep me from..."

She cut him off again, another kiss.

"No one can be your leash, Spike. Only you can. I'm sure you'll stumble a few times. But I'm here for you. We all are." She pulled him close again. "It would kill me to have to stake you. Please don't make me."

He shook his head.

"I won't. I'll try...." he trailed off. "But I've killed now. That girl. Warren."

She sighed softly, leaning fully against him.

"And that was wrong. You know that, right?"

He nodded, closing his eyes.

"I know it. But I can't feel bad for killing Warren."

"I know...." She kissed him again, clinging to the back of his head, and all talk was forgotten in gentle sighs and roving hands and crashing pleasure.

////

Epilogue

The Bronze was nearly full, the mass of sweating and sex-charged humanity swirling around him. Buffy was on patrol, and Spike was on a mission. Sitting alone in a darkened corner, he'd kept an eye on her since she arrived, her dark hair pulled back away from her face, watching her blonde friend flirt and dance, confident and shameless, with a little envy.

She was wearing tight jeans and a midriff she was uncomfortable in, dressed to kill, nervously accepting the few invitations to dance she'd gotten. Halfway through the night, her friend had left, a man on her arm, though she'd begged her to stay. Her own dancing had stopped soon after, and she gathered her things and her courage, and fled the club.

Spike paid and followed, keeping to the shadows, stalking. She walked with her head down, gripping the strap of her purse tightly, not meeting the eyes of anyone she passed. She was vampire bait, the way she moved, the way she kept to herself, avoiding passerbys with practiced ease.

The streets soon got quieter, the groups and couples thinning out until she was the only beating heart on the sidewalk. He moved closer, senses reaching out, slipping a hand into his duster pocket.

She suddenly stopped, looking up, turning her eyes over the dark street, as if she knew what was about to happen to her.

He moved forward, soundless, and leapt from the shadows. She flew back, screaming, tripping on the curb and falling on her butt in the road.

But his hunt wasn't for her. The two fledglings that had been creeping up behind her were both stupid and slow. He only took one hit, a meaty fist to the nose, before both were blowing in the wind.

Her eyes were wide and locked on him, looking at him as if he were the devil himself. She remembered. The silvery scar on her neck remembered too, this leather clad beast attacking her in the alley.

But she was frozen in fear, her hand still gripping the purse strap as if it were a lifeline, shaking.

He slowly tucked the stake back into his pocket, and held out his hand to her. When she didn't respond, he knelt, resting on his toes, watching her.

"I'm sorry," he said, tilting his head slightly. She blinked.

"W-what?"

"I'm sorry I hurt you. You didn't deserve it."

Her eyes widened even more, but her courage was returning to her. She pulled her legs back under her, and stood shakily.

He didn't move, not wanting to frighten her.

"I thought I'd killed you."

She swallowed, looking around the deserted street, before responding.

"I s-stayed a night in the hospital."

He nodded slowly to himself, looking down.

"I thought maybe you would have learned, though, walking home at night." He looked back up at her.

He saw a bit of anger flash in her eyes.

"I didn't have a ride."

He chuckled slightly, and rose. She took several hasty steps back.

"Hurry on home. Nothing will bother you."

She looked down at the dust she was standing on, then back at him. She drew up her chin.

"Thank you." Before she turned and fled down the street, full tilt.

He smiled a bit, and followed, silent, the only sound her tapping shoes on the sidewalk. When she was safe behind her door, he returned to his own, and the comfort of his lover's arms, feeling a little better about himself.

The End


Author's Notes: So sorry this took so long everyone. I kinda lost my love for this fic near the end, but you know what? I think it turned out pretty good. I hope it doesn't suck. I'd like thank all of you for the encouragement and support throughout this thing. And margin for the courage, if fleeting, to write that semi-sex scene. And of course, my beta, Fleisch, who's stuck with me even though I have a tendency to disappear for a month or so without sending her anything. Thanks to everyone at TWoP, and Crumbling Walls. And to my brothers, Merrec and Lucavex, who kept prodding and prodding me until I finally finished this. Now, on to my new fic, To Suffocate in Sand and Blood. I hope you all enjoy it as much as you did this one. Thank you so much.