[identity profile] eee1313.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] dancing_lessons_archive
Part two of two

Episode Twelve: Wages

by cousinjean
Sick Cycle Carousel by Lifehouse
I Will Survive by Cake

Shoutouts: To all of my beta readers -- adjrun, Aurelio Zen, Ehann, fenwic, georgevna, and the rest of the DL crew -- for being spot on with most of your suggestions and for being patient with me when I cried and pitched fits and just didn't want to listen. It's a much better story for your influence. And to our regular readers, for not writing to complain about the schedule changes or all of the lateness that's been happening since I started back to school, and also for your support of this site. It is so very much appreciated.
Special thanks to Joss Whedon -- not that he'll ever see this -- for giving us these characters. I love them all so much. I can't wait to see what he's got planned for them all.

Riley sighed, and checked his watch. Six minutes and counting. He slumped down in the seat, and leaned against the door, propping his head on his elbow. Why, exactly, was he following orders from a vampire? Especially this vampire?
Because, answered a voice in the back of his head, this vampire cares about Dawn. And Dawn wouldn’t even be in this mess if you weren’t twelve years old.
Riley sat back up. Wasn’t that exactly why he should be in there, trying to find her, trying to make things right? Besides, he still didn’t trust Spike. Riley didn’t believe he’d let any harm come to Dawn, but even so, what if this was a set up? What if Spike had orchestrated this whole thing, just to make himself look good?
"Yeah, right," he muttered. "’Cause Spike’s always been such a good planner."
Still. Spike could be in on this. He could be in there right now, doing something to incriminate himself, to prove he should never be trusted. And here sat Riley, letting it all happen.
"To hell with that," Riley said, and got out of the car.
Spike had gone around to the East end to enter. That meant Riley would go West. He snuck around to the back of the warehouse closest to him, and spotted a fire escape. It took him a few tries, but he managed to jump up and grab hold of the bottom rung and pull himself up. As he climbed he tried not to think about the days when he could have easily made it in a single jump, like Buffy could. Or like Spike. "Now that’s the kind of thinking that got you in this mess," he told himself. He tried to focus on one thing: find Dawn.
About halfway up the fire escape, he pried open a window. The smell that hit him reminded him of base camp in Belize, when his company’d sometimes gone days without showers. He climbed through to a catwalk and surveyed his surroundings. The area below was partitioned off into sections. At the center sat about six large cages, each filled with people.
He started for the stairs that would get him down to the hostages, but the distinctive ch-chk sound of bullets being chambered froze him in his tracks. He put his hands up and slowly turned around.
"Agent Finn," said the soldier, who carefully trained his gun at Riley’s head. Riley recognized him. Private Monohan. "Sir, do you realize you’re a wanted man? You’ve been AWOL for weeks."
Riley mustered his most easy-going grin. "Private. You mean I was supposed to ask first?"
"Very funny, Sir."
"I suppose you’re going to take me in," he said.
"I’m afraid so, Sir," Monohan said as his features transformed. "But not to the MPs."
Riley nodded. "That figures." He measured Monohan for a moment, deciding whether he could take him. Before he could make a move he heard more guns being cocked behind him.
"This way, Finn," a familiar voice ordered. Riley turned around. Major Ellis motioned for him to go down the stairs. He was flanked on each side by two more armed vampires. Riley recognized them too, even through the bumps and fangs. Harrison and Birnbaum. They meant business. Riley did as he was told.
Once they reached the floor, Harrison patted him down and removed his weapons, then he and Birnbaum took up sentry on each side of him. Monohan brought up the rear as they followed the Major through the warehouse.
"For what it’s worth?" Riley told them, "Sorry to hear you guys are dead. I’d have sent flowers to your families if I’d known."
"Quiet, Finn," the Major ordered.
"’Course, I’m guessing your families probably don’t know yet, either," Riley said.
The Major stopped, turned, and slammed the butt of his rifle into Riley’s gut. "You will speak when spoken to, Agent Finn, is that clear?"
Riley was too busy doubling over and gasping for air to continue. Harrison and Birnbaum each grabbed an arm and dragged him along behind the Major. In the next building Riley recognized two more men from his base sitting around playing cards with that asshole Parker. Major Ellis led Riley up another set of stairs and down another catwalk to an old office. As they approached, the door flew open and a pretty blonde stepped out.
"Well, what d‘ya know, Cowboy," she said with a grin, "looks like you get to be first."
She stood back while the soldiers shoved Riley into the office, then she came inside and shut the door. She began to circle him, clasping her hands together and eyeing him appreciatively. "Well, you’re not Spike, and you’re definitely not the Slayer; but my boys tell me you’re quite the little Slayer’s Helper. You’ll do in a pinch. What do you say, Dru? Any friend of theirs is someone we kill, right?"
For the first time, Riley noticed the other woman in the room as she seemed to pour out of the shadows. Thin and pale, covered in a deep red velvet, her dark hair cascaded over bare shoulders. She looked like a well-to-do Goth, the epitome of how a female vampire should appear. Nothing like her partner, a little blonde waif who certainly seemed to like her designer clothing. Drusilla and Darla. He’d read dossiers on them on the flight back from Belize. So far, they were everything he’d pictured.
Drusilla stepped up to him, and sniffed him. She hissed, and backed away. "He’s no friend of Spike’s."
"Really?" Darla came round to stand in front of him, and looked up at him curiously. "Hmm, I wonder why that is. Wait, don’t tell me. You were in love with Buffy."
"What makes you say that?" Riley asked.
Darla sneered at him. "Aren’t they always?"
Drusilla leaned against the wall and started to giggle, so hard that she had to sit on the floor. Darla rolled her eyes and sighed. "What is it, Dru?"
She pointed at Riley. "The Slayer wants to take up the crusade, but it all falls to ashes!" She doubled over with laughter, like she’d just heard a hysterical joke.
"Right, Dru," Darla said. "Sounds like fun. So anyway," Darla draped her arms around Riley’s neck and pressed up against him, "What’s your name, Cowboy?"
His first impulse was to tell her his name, rank and serial number, but on second thought, he didn’t want her to know that much about him. He held his tongue.
"Oh, come on," Darla said. "You can tell me now," she stroked a finger along his jugular, "or after I’ve made you mine. And I am so gonna make you mine." She pulled the neck of his sweater down. "Oh, look at that." She grinned knowingly up at Riley. "Looks like I don’t get to be your first."
"It’s only fair," Riley said. "’Cause I definitely won’t be your first."
"No," Darla said, "but you can bet I’ll be your best." She kissed the scar on Riley’s neck, and he tried not to remember the girls, his blood rushing out of his veins, feeding their mutual desires. "Come on, Cowboy," she said, "you know you want it. All you have to do is ask."
"If you’re actually giving me a choice here, Darla, then I’m gonna have to say no."
Darla pulled back and smiled. "You’re right. You really don’t get a choice." She vamped out, and lowered her fangs to his neck. Riley knew he should put up a fight. He should do something. Stall for time, hell, maybe even call out to Spike; but as her fangs grazed his skin, something in him just didn’t want to.
Drusilla still lay on the floor, rolling around in fits of laughter. Suddenly she jumped to her feet. "He’s here!" She ran out of the office.
Darla pulled her head back and sighed. She wiped a bead of blood off Riley’s neck. "We’ll have to do this later," she said, licking her finger as she followed Drusilla out of the room.
Riley sank into the desk chair and thought about what just happened. Or what would have happened. He had to get the hell out of here. But how? He gripped the arms of the chair, then it hit him. The chair was wood. Riley stood up and lifted the chair above his head, then threw it on the floor as hard as he could. It splintered into pieces. He picked up a couple of makeshift stakes, then stood beside the door. He waited. Nobody came for him. Cautiously, he poked his head out. Nobody stood guard. He leaned over the catwalk. The poker game had broken up, and little piles of dust and ash littered the floor below.
The humans would be heavily guarded. There were too many to tell if Dawn was with them. Better, then, to sneak in from behind, sniff out the rest of the place as he went. Getting through the first building had been a cakewalk. There’d been a few vamps on guard, mere fledglings, easy enough to slip past. They all wore military uniforms and carried big guns. Just bloody wonderful. Nobody’d counted on the Master building his army with actual soldiers. Good thing he’d convinced Finn to wait in the car. The last thing he needed was for the boy to go and get himself shot. Not that the idea didn’t hold a certain appeal.
The next building looked to be more of a problem. It was wide open, offering few places to hide. About six vamps sat around a table off to one side, too engrossed in a card game to notice he’d come in. More military types, save one, all unarmed from what Spike could tell. He could fight his way through these tossers. He raised his sword, appreciating the way the light glinted off the blade.
"Not that it hasn’t been fun," the civilian said as he stood up, "but I’m bored. I’m gonna head back to the church. Somebody ought to be there to cover for Her Majesty’s absence with the Master."
The others simply grunted as he left them and started in Spike’s direction. He slid back against the wall, into the shadows, and hid the sword behind his back. As the whelp passed by, Spike thought he looked familiar, and then he remembered: the poncey college boy who’d humiliated Buffy. An involuntary growl escaped Spike’s throat as he made the connection. The bugger must not’ve heard, because he kept going; but the others did. Alert and in game face, the five rose from their table and started towards him. Spike pulled back further into the shadows and readied his blade. Come closer, you gits, he thought as he suited up.
Two of them pulled ahead of the others. "Who’s there?" one of them barked as he approached the shadows. "Identify yourself."
In answer, Spike leaped out at them, swinging his blade and taking them both out in one fell swoop. He allowed himself a self-satisfied grin as their heads hit the floor in an explosion of dust. "Yeah. That’s the stuff."
The other three all rushed him at once. Spike kicked one in the chest, knocking him back and stunning him. At the same time he thrust his sword backwards, and both felt and heard the satisfying squish of organs being impaled. He yanked the sword out and slammed the hilt up into the face of the third, knocking him out cold. The first one recovered from the kick and jumped Spike, pinning his arms behind him and forcing him to drop the sword. The other grunted in pain, clutching his stab wound as he bent to retrieve the sword. Spike reared his head forward and slammed it back into the face of his captor, then flung him over his shoulder and into the one with the sword. They both toppled over into a heap, and the sword clattered to the ground. Calmly, Spike picked it up and walked over to them. "If this is all you can be, Uncle Sam must’ve been deeply disappointed," he said, then brought the sword down, slicing smoothly through both their necks.
Spike straightened up and admired his handiwork. It felt brilliant to kill something after all of his restraint back at the shop. Too bad College Boy hadn’t stuck around, he’d have made an even better proxy. Still, soldiers. Close enough.
He heard a groan behind him, and turned to see the one he’d knocked out starting to come to. Spike walked over and greeted him with a steel toe to the head, and he was out again. Spike raised his sword, but then considered his victim for a moment. The bloke looked to be about his size. Spike knelt beside him and stripped off his uniform. The fight had been fun, but it had also been too chancy. He was there to rescue Dawn, not to vent his frustrations. Maybe a disguise would help him get to her without any more altercations.
Spike pulled the fatigues over his own clothes, then took the soldier’s hat and put it on, pulling it down to cover his tell-tale hair. Satisfied with his costume, he picked up his sword and took care of the evidence. He wished for his coat as he concealed the blade inside his new army pants. They were baggy enough for it, but it made his walk a little stiff.
He kept his game face on as he advanced to the next building, enhancing both his disguise and his senses. As he approached the breezeway connecting the two warehouses, the stench of unwashed humanity almost overwhelmed him; but mixed in with the bodily odors was the intoxicating scent of fear. It was delicious. Spike inhaled deeply, savoring the sensation. As he exhaled he leaned his forehead against the doorjamb, and pulled himself together. "Focus, Spike."
He pushed on into the building. Partitions filled the warehouse like a maze, but he knew he was close. It was impossible to pick out Dawn’s scent in here, so he relied on his hearing instead. There. He could hear her voice, speaking in hushed whispers, just a few feet away. He didn’t dare call out to her and draw attention to himself. He focused on her voice, following it like a beacon through the maze.
"I see you," a soft voice lilted behind him.
Spike closed his eyes. Not now. Please, not bloody now.
"I feel your hunger. They can’t feel it. You surround yourself with fools who can’t begin to imagine your struggle. Why do you struggle so, Spike? Is it all for her? For the Slayer?"
Spike said nothing. He didn’t turn around. He didn’t want to look at her.
A hand on his shoulder. "You’ve always struggled to belong, but it doesn’t have to be so." Soft lips whispering in his ear. "Come back to me, my sweet William. Be the beautiful killer I made you to be."
Spike licked his lips, and swallowed. He pulled out his sword and turned to face her. She was so close, so unutterably beautiful that for the briefest moment, he considered giving in to her plea, but then he straightened up, and shook his head. "Sorry, Dru," he said, "but I’m a self made man."
Something hit him from behind, and he stumbled forward. It hit him again, and he dropped to his knees, then collapsed on the floor. His vision blurred, but he could still make out Darla standing over him, next to Dru. "You’re a self made idiot," she told him.
Dru clutched her porcelain doll to her breast as she knelt beside him. She removed his hat and ran her fingers through his hair. "Miss Edith says you’ve been a very wicked boy and you must be punished," she told him with a pout.
"Oh, and how he will be," Darla said as she reared her foot back and kicked him in the temple.
Dawn wanted to heave as soon as they put her in the cage. It took about twenty minutes of lying curled in a ball before she got over it. By the smell of things, others had fought the same battle and lost; which was one reason she got sick. The biggest reason? When they’d put her in, they’d taken somebody else out. A redheaded girl about Buffy’s age. She’d screamed and begged and pleaded with them as they dragged her away. Then her screaming had suddenly stopped. Dawn shuddered as the memory made her want to hurl all over again. Once she had it under control, she sat up, and took in her cellmates.
She looked to be the youngest. In this cage, at least. Besides her, it was full of adults. Professional types, mostly. A couple of homeless. Nobody she recognized. Well, one guy looked vaguely familiar. Everyone else kept to themselves and avoided eye contact, but he kept giving her sidelong glances.
"What?" she finally asked him.
He looked at her, clearly surprised. "N-nothing," he said, and looked at the floor.
Seeing him head on, he looked even more familiar. "Hey," Dawn said. "Sorry. I guess I’m a little cranky."
The guy let out a bitter little laugh. "Tell me about it."
"Don’t I know you from somewhere?" Dawn asked him.
"No," he said, managing to sound even more bitter. "I mean, probably not. I get asked that a lot."
"I do know you," Dawn said. "I’ve seen your picture. You went to high school with my sister."
He looked at her. "Yeah? Who’s your sister?"
"Buffy Summers."
His eyes bugged out, and he came over to squat beside her. "Buffy’s your sister? Oh, thank God." He smiled. "I thought you looked kinda familiar. You’re Dawn, right? You’ve grown up a lot since …"
Dawn raised her eyebrows at him. "Since what?"
He waved his had. "Nothing. Just … it was nothing. You wouldn’t remember. Uh, my name’s Jonathan."
Dawn nodded. She didn’t know what else to do.
"So, we’re all gonna make it out of here," he said as he bounced a little on his heels. "Buffy’ll come for you, and she’ll save us all." He grinned, but then seemed to realize something. "Oh! I mean, not that I’m glad they got you or anything. But, you know …"
"Yeah," Dawn said. "I hope you’re right. I don’t even think Buffy knows I’m gone yet. But Spike does. He’ll come for me." She said this with absolute certainty, but even so, she frowned with worry. They were supposed to come for her. That was the idea. And when they did … Damn. She leaned her head back on the bars. Once again, people she loved were in danger because she couldn’t protect herself.
"Spike?" Jonathan asked. "But, he’s one of them."
Dawn shot him a look. "He is not."
"Wait a minute," he said. "Are we talking about the same Spike? Tall, blond, British, cool coat? Vampire?"
"I don’t know about tall," Dawn said, "but, yeah. That’s him."
"I know he’s chipped and all," Jonathan said, "but wouldn’t he still be working with all these other vampires? Last I heard, he wanted us -- um, I mean, he wanted you all dead."
"He’s not chipped anymore," Dawn said, eyeing him suspiciously, "but he’s good now. How do you know so much, anyway?"
"Um …"
"Listen to the girl," one of the homeless guys said, scooting over next to Dawn. She watched him warily, unable to scoot away because Jonathan blocked her. He looked like he hadn’t bathed in weeks, and even in this stink pit he managed to smell worse than the rest. He ran a dark hand through salt-and-pepper hair, and scratched his beard thoughtfully. His eyes looked old, tired, even though he probably wasn’t much older than Giles. "This vampire," he said, "this Spike -- he’s a warrior for the good."
"Um … yeah," Dawn said, and turned her attention back to Jonathan. "He and my sister both are. And they’re not the only ones."
"They’ll get us out of here, right?" Jonathan asked.
"I hope so."
"A war is being waged," the homeless man muttered.
Jonathan glanced at him, and then did a double take, and stared. "Father Sanchez?"
The man looked at him, clearly startled. Finally, he nodded. "Once upon a time."
"Wow," Jonathan said. "What … I mean, when you stopped showing up to lead group counseling, we all thought you’d died or something. What happened?"
"The mayor turned into a snake," Father Sanchez mumbled.
Jonathan nodded. "Yeah. And?"
Father Sanchez managed to look even more surprised. "You saw that?"
"Uh, yeah," Jonathan said. "He tried to eat me. It was kinda hard to miss."
"Shh," Dawn said. She heard footsteps. "Someone’s coming."
The three of them hunkered down like everyone else in the cage, trying not to draw attention to themselves.
"Dawn?" a voice called out in a loud stage whisper.
Dawn jumped up and moved to the front of the cage. "Riley?" She stuck her hand through the bars and waved. "I’m over here!"
Riley made his way over to her and set a bundle on the ground. "Thank God," he said. "Are you hurt?"
"No," she said. He reached through the bars and tilted her face up to examine the bruise on her cheek. "Well, not much."
Jonathan got up and came to stand next to her. "Riley!" he said.
Riley gave him a puzzled look. "Do I know you?"
Jonathan’s face fell. "No," he said. "Just … you’re gonna get us out of here, right?"
"That’s the idea," Riley said. He pulled a key ring out of his pocket. "I got into their office and busted up the desk. These fell out of a drawer. Let’s hope one of ’em works." He glanced at Jonathan again as he tried different keys. "Are you sure we haven’t met?"
"I just have one of those faces," he said.
"Hurry," Dawn said.
"What about us?" a woman asked from a couple of cages down. "You’re going to get us out too, right?"
"Just sit tight, folks," Riley said. "You’ll all be out of here soon."
The prisoners began to murmur excitedly as he fumbled with the keys. He looked back at Jonathan. "Weren’t you in The Matrix?"
Jonathan rolled his eyes and turned around to lean his back against the bars. Just then, the key turned.
"Yes!" Dawn exclaimed, and she and the others filed out of the cage.
"Just wait a minute, folks," Riley told everybody. "Hang on, and we’ll all go out together." He handed the keys to Jonathan and sent him to open the other cages. As he did, Riley picked up his bundle and unfolded it. "All right, everybody listen up!" He held a piece of broken wood in the air for all to see. "This, for all intents and purposes, is a wooden stake. The people who brought you here are vampires. This is what will kill them. Now, we’re probably going to have to fight our way out of here, and I don’t have enough of these to go around. I need volunteers to take up the front line, and help me get the rest of these people out of here."
Jonathan, Father Sanchez, and Dawn all stepped forward, along with a small handful of others, out of what must’ve been at least two hundred people. Riley handed out stakes to all but Dawn. "You just stick beside me," he told her. "All right, this way," he said after a quick lesson in proper vampire stakeage, and lead the group out through the maze. Suddenly, the partition in front of them was ripped away to reveal about fifty uniformed vampires. Some of them carried guns.
One of the latter group stepped forward. "Finn," he said.
"Ellis," Riley replied, then he lunged forward. In one swift movement he staked the vampire and caught his gun as it fell. Then he turned it around and opened fire on the other vampires. As he did, the people behind him all charged as one. The remaining vampires opened fire on the crowd. A few people fell here and there, but they remained undaunted.
The battle was on.
"Spike, wake up."
He didn’t want to. His head hurt, and the muscles in his arms and back ached. "Just a little longer, baby," he mumbled.
"No. You have to wake up. Now. We have to find my sister."
Dawn. Shit. He’d forgotten. He opened his eyes. "Buffy …"
"Shh," she said, trailing kisses along his cheek. "It’s okay. We’ll find her, and we’ll get out of here. This’ll all be over soon." She kissed him softly on the lips, but then it grew deeper. He tried to hold her, but he couldn’t move his arms.
"Something’s wrong," he said, then gasped against her as he felt something cold slice into the skin just under his ribs.
"Actually, I lied," she said, backing away from him and holding up his sword. "This is going to take a while." She lashed out and cut his other side.
"Buffy, what --"
She smiled, and kissed him on the nose. He tried again to reach for her, but he realized he was bound. He blinked as he took in his situation. He hung spread-eagle, tied between two support beams, his bare feet roped to the floor. Also, his shirt was gone.
He looked at Buffy "What’s all this then, pet?"
She backed away from him. Dracula stepped out from behind her. "What is this, Spike?" he asked. "This is payback." He came forward to put his arms around Buffy. She returned his embrace, and smiled up at him.
"Get away from her, Vlad," Spike said. "Or I promise you, I will test every known slaying method on you. And if none of those work? I’ll make up new ones until I find something that does."
Dracula rolled his eyes, and turned his gaze on Buffy.
"Buffy," Spike said, "love, you have to snap out of it. Look at me." She continued to stare into Dracula’s eyes. "Buffy, look at me!" Spike shouted.
Buffy complied, and her features transformed. Spike shook his head. "No," he whispered, and watched in horror as she opened her mouth to Dracula’s kiss. "No!" Spike screamed. He thrashed and strained against his bonds until he thought he might dislocate his shoulders. Then he just hung there, panting. "Buffy," he whimpered.
Dracula and Buffy broke off their kiss, and Dracula threw his head back and laughed. Buffy began to giggle. Except, that wasn’t Buffy’s laugh. He knew that laugh. Drusilla.
Spike seethed as he figured out what was happening. Drusilla’d done one of her mind fucks on him. Dracula grinned, took the sword from Dru, and stepped towards him. "I warned you, William," he said, morphing into Darla as he spoke. At the same time, Buffy’s features melted away to reveal Dru.
"You bitches," he muttered.
Darla held up his sword. "Nice toy," she said. "It’s a lot more elegant than anything I’d expect you to use."
"I find it’s a lot more efficient than a stake," he said.
"Mm-hmm. And it’s multi-purpose." She set the blade on his shoulder, against his neck, and drew it down, slicing into his jugular.
Spike could feel the blood flowing out of him. He looked down. It gushed from his wounds, soaking his jeans and puddling at his feet. They were draining him.
"Now that you’re awake," Darla said, "I think we’ll go fetch Little Sister, and let you watch while we turn her."
Again, Spike tugged at his ropes, but it was futile. He was already weak from blood loss. No way could he pull free. "Darla, if you so much as touch her, I swear …"
"Swear what?" she asked. "That you’ll hang there and shout a bunch of stupid British insults at me?" She grinned. "Face it, Spike, we’ve got you. And this is only the beginning. Soon your darling Slayer will come, and then you can watch her die. Or maybe we’ll turn her over to Dracula. He could have all kinds of fun with her. But cheer up, maybe you’ll just dry up first and you’ll be all insane with bloodlust by the time Buffy gets here. Ooh! If that happens, then maybe we can turn you loose and you can kill her!"
"Ooh, yes!" Drusilla said, clapping her hands. "I like that plan, Grandmamma."
"I thought you might, dear."
Spike swallowed. Maybe he could reason with her. "Darla --"
"Oh, save it, William. Face it, you earned this. This is what you get for fucking over your family."
So much for reasoning. Spike smirked at her. "And here I thought fucking each other was our little family’s specialty."
Darla smirked back at him, then she rammed the sword through his gut. Spike bit back a scream as she twisted it before pulling it out. Blood spurted from the wound before slowing to a trickle. He didn’t have much left.
Just then, gunfire sounded from a couple of warehouses over. "What the hell?" Darla asked, and sighed. "Here," she said, handing Drusilla the sword. "Have fun with him. I’d better go check this out."
As Darla went to see about the big noise, Drusilla stepped up to Spike. "Oh, yes," she cooed, caressing his face in her hand. She grinned at him, and bent down to lick blood off his stomach. "Mummy and her boy will have great fun while Grandmamma is away."
Spike closed his eyes. Finn should have gone for help by now. There was still hope. All he had to do was hold out till the cavalry arrived.
Even with their guns, the vampire soldiers had been outmatched. Their captives had gone from cowed hostages to angry mob in the space of about two seconds after the shooting started. They started tearing down the flimsy walls, breaking up the wooden frames to use as weapons. The vampires never stood a chance. Most of them had stayed to fight, and ended up dust -- soldiers to the very end. A few had managed to get away.
Riley took the prisoners up to the window that led onto the fire escape. After making sure most of them made it out okay and that the wounded were being tended to, he turned to survey the casualties. Seven people fell in the battle: a couple of middle-aged men, a teenaged boy, and three women of various ages. Most of them had visible gunshot wounds, but two’d had their throats ripped out. The homeless guy who’d been in the cage with Dawn knelt next to one of the women.
Riley came down to stand next to Dawn and Jonathan. "What’s he doing?"
"Last rites," Dawn said.
"What, is he a priest?"
Jonathan nodded. "Father Sanchez. He counseled me after --" He stopped, and gave them a sheepish look. "During my senior year," he finished.
They watched silently as the Father moved from body to body. At last, he stood up and looked at the three of them.
"There are more of these creatures here," he said.
"Yeah, uh, Father," Riley said. "So we need to get you guys out of here, then we can come back with Buffy and Faith and take care of them."
"What about Spike?" Dawn asked.
Riley looked at her. "He should be--"
Before he could finish, Father Sanchez ran into the maze formed by the remaining partitions.
"Damn it," Riley said. He turned to Dawn and Jonathan. "I’ll go get him. You two get out of here. Spike’s car’s parked out in the road, the keys are still in it." He looked at Jonathan. "Take her home. Find Buffy, tell her where we are and what’s happened."
"Yeah, okay," Jonathan said. As Riley ran after Father Sanchez, he looked at Dawn. "Um … after you, I guess."
"Okay," Dawn said, and started toward the stairs. Before she reached them, an anguished scream shook the windows. Dawn stopped, and looked at Jonathan. "That sounded like Spike!"
"It did?"
She looked around, frantic. "We have to help him."
"Yeah, but Riley said we should --"
"I’m not leaving without Spike!" She turned and ran.
"Dawn!" Jonathan called after her. "We’re supposed to …" She disappeared through the doorway into the next building. Jonathan stared after her for a minute. He had no idea what to do. Screw it. He was no superhero. He’d go find Buffy, let her work it out. Jonathan fled up to the catwalk, and climbed out onto the fire escape, to his freedom.
Riley picked his way through the maze, following the distinctive scent of Homeless Guy. "Father Sanchez?" he called. "Father, I know you want to help, but it’s better if we get you out of here. Let my friends take care of this." No answer. Riley paused to listen, hoping he’d hear the sounds of movement, and not another one of those screams he’d heard a minute ago. They had Spike. He knew it in his gut; but he had to trust that Spike could take care of himself. This priest, whatever his circumstances, was a civilian. Riley’s first duty was to him. "Father?"
He heard muffled sobs up ahead. He followed the sound around one corner, then another. There. A woman lay on the floor at the end of the row, curled into a ball and whimpering. She had her back to him. "Ma’am?" She didn’t answer, just continued to cry. He knelt beside her. "It’s okay, ma’am. It’s all over, I’m gonna get you out of here."
He reached out to pat her shoulder. She stopped crying, and started to get up. He helped her to her feet. She whirled around on him, fangs exposed, and sunk them into his throat.
"Son of a bitch," he muttered, trying to push her off, but he couldn’t break her grip. She wrapped her legs around him and hung on as he slumped against the wall and slid to the floor. Finally, she raised her head, and he looked up at her through blurry eyes.
"You didn’t think I was gonna let you get away that easy, did you, Cowboy?" asked Darla.
He opened his mouth to protest, but he couldn’t get any words out. Instead, something warm and coppery filled his mouth, and everything went black.
They promised Xander they wouldn’t split up, so they didn’t split up, no matter how much Buffy wanted to. Not even when Faith had to go back to the shop to get her bag.
"So, we might as well write down all our kills," Faith said as Buffy unlocked the shop, "so we won’t have to wrack our brains about it in the morning."
"Mm," Buffy said. "You go ahead. I’ll remember." She opened the door and went inside.
"Sure," Faith said, following her in, "whatever." She went to the weapons cabinet and tossed in her gear.
Buffy sighed as she did the same. She couldn’t wait for this night to be over. The entire patrol had been like this. Faith would make an attempt at conversation -- shop talk, mostly -- and Buffy would come back with a polite but succinct reply, cutting off any further discussion on the topic. Faith seemed to be looking for encouragement, some little iota of hope that they could be friends again, but Buffy wasn’t about to give her any. No sense in getting her hopes up about something that just wasn’t going to happen.
"Hey, looks like Spike forgot his coat," Faith said.
Buffy turned to see where she pointed. Sure enough, his leather duster lay draped over the counter next to the cash register. She shook her head and went to retrieve it. "He was probably in a hurry to get out of here," she said, then frowned as she noticed his cigarettes and glasses lying on the counter beside it. "Really in a hurry." She smiled. He probably rushed home to make more Jell-O. She shoved his things in the coat’s pockets and draped it over her arm. "You ready?"
"Just a sec’," Faith said, pulling a notebook out from under the counter. "I just wanna write this stuff down for Xander."
Buffy turned around to lean against the counter. "Gee," she said, running a finger absently over a patch job on Spike’s coat. "When did you get so conscientious about the details?"
"Well," Faith said without looking up, "I figure I tried to kill the guy, the least I can do is keep good notes for him."
"Good idea," Buffy said. "’Cause nothing says ‘Hey, sorry about that time I tried to strangle you’ like keeping good notes."
Faith put her pen down and sighed. "That was supposed to be a joke, B."
"I didn’t see the funny."
"Fine," Faith said, and resumed writing. "Sorry."
Buffy hugged the coat to her and looked around the shop.
"Not like you couldn’t stand to be a little more conscientious," Faith muttered.
Buffy spun to face her. "What?"
"No, not nothing," Buffy said. "What is that supposed to mean?"
Faith put down her pen and looked at Buffy. "How many vampires did I have to pull off of you tonight?"
"You didn’t --"
"Oh, no, Sister," Faith said, "don’t even try to deny it."
"I am not your sister," Buffy said.
"Fine, Buffy. You know, you can stand there and hate me all you want, and wish as hard as you can that I was back in that jail cell, or maybe even that I was still in a coma --"
Buffy looked at the floor.
"-- but don’t you stand there and deny that I saved your ass tonight. More than once."
"I would’ve been fine," Buffy said.
Faith crossed her arms and laughed. "Oh, yeah. You’da been just fine when those two fresh-from-the-grave vamps had you cornered ‘cause you didn’t stake ‘em as soon as you had the chance. Or when that big guy knocked your stake out of your hand because you hesitated."
Buffy looked back up at Faith. "I’d have recovered."
"Bull. If somebody hadn’t been there to watch your back tonight, Spike’d be sleeping in that big ol’ girly bed of yours all alone from now on. Face it, B," she said with a toss of her hair, "you’re slipping."
"I am not slipping!"
Faith softened a little. "I mean, no big. It’s understandable, what with you having to be mom to your sister and all."
Buffy’s eyes narrowed. "And just what would you know about taking care of family, Faith?"
Faith stared back at her a moment, then she shut the notebook and shoved it under the counter. She picked up her bag and slung it over her shoulder. "Low blow, B," she said as she headed towards the door.
Buffy closed her eyes, and sighed. That really was low. "Faith, wait."
Faith stopped and turned around. "Look, I’m ready. Can we just go?"
Buffy opened her mouth to apologize, but then stopped. Why the hell should she apologize to Faith? Like it would even matter. There was only one way to settle this. Buffy laid Spike’s coat back on the counter, then headed to the training room. She took off her cardigan and tossed it on the couch, then stood in the center of the room and waited. After a moment, Faith appeared in the doorway.
"You think I’m slipping?" Buffy asked.
Faith’s shoulders slumped. "I really don’t want to do this."
"But you’re obviously the top Slayer now," Buffy said. "So let’s see what you’ve got. Maybe you can teach me what I’m doing wrong."
Faith suppressed a smirk and shook her head.
"Come on, Faith. Don’t tell me you’re tired. Or maybe you’re just scared? Don’t want to end up in another coma?"
Faith tossed her bag on the sofa, and looked at Buffy. "You got lucky that night."
"Prove it."
Faith shed her jacket and tossed it next to her purse. Then she and Buffy began to circle each other. Buffy struck first. A spin kick to the head, dodged effortlessly by Faith. She retaliated with a kick to Buffy’s midsection, but Buffy blocked and connected an uppercut punch to Faith’s jaw. Faith reeled back a couple of steps, but then recovered and spun, bringing the heel of her boot crashing into Buffy’s lower back. Buffy grabbed her leg and used her momentum to swing her around and into the punching bag.
Faith looked pissed. She recovered herself and charged Buffy, but as Buffy prepared to flip her, Faith leapt into a summersault and sailed over Buffy’s head. She rebounded off the vaulting horse and spun in the air, landing a boot to Buffy’s face. Buffy went down, but she sprung back to her feet, and swept Faith’s out from under her. Faith rolled out of the way of Buffy’s tackle, and soon both Slayers were back on their feet.
They looked at each other for a moment, seething. They both had so much to say to each other. They let the fight become their language.
Kick. Dodge. Block. Punch. Connect. It went on like that for a while, neither giving up, and neither giving out. It wasn’t a fight to the death, just one-upsmanship, but both women threw their whole selves into the fight. Buffy hated to admit it, but it was actually kind of refreshing. She’d become so strong that she even found herself holding back with Spike, just a little. It had been a long time since she’d been this evenly matched.
Then Faith faltered. She dodged when she should have blocked. Buffy seized the moment and punched her in the face. As Faith stumbled, Buffy dropped and did a sweep kick, tripping her. Buffy pinned her as soon as she hit the floor.
"Who’s slipping now?" she asked.
Faith struggled, but she couldn’t break free. "Fine, B," she said, "you can kick my ass. Are you satisfied?"
Buffy released her and sat back on her haunches. She thought about the question for a moment, then nodded. "You know, I really am."
Faith rolled onto her side and propped her head up by her elbow. The two women just looked at each other for a minute. Then they burst out laughing. Buffy sat all the way on the floor, and Faith rolled onto her back, and for a full minute they struggled to regain control.
"What the hell are we laughing about?" Buffy managed to ask.
Faith shook her head and wiped her eyes. "I don’t know, but it sure feels good." She giggled. "God, I can’t remember the last time I laughed this hard."
"Yeah," Buffy said. "Well, actually, I can. The other night when Spike … well, there was pie. You probably had to be there."
"You guys laugh like this a lot?" Faith asked.
Buffy smiled. "Yeah. It’s nice. I mean, I never really laughed much with Angel. Or with Riley. Not that they didn’t have their moments."
"Hey, Angel can be a pretty funny guy," Faith said. "He used to come visit me with these horror stories about having to sing karaoke to solve a case, or he’d just be pissed off at his crew. He does a great imitation of Wesley."
Buffy laughed at the thought of Angel singing karaoke. "Do you miss him?"
"Yeah," Faith said. "He was the only friend I had there for a while." She looked at Buffy. "Do you?"
Buffy smiled. "Sometimes. Not as much as I used to." She stretched out on the floor beside Faith. "Ow," she complained, and they started giggling again.
"Looks like you stopped dropping your shoulder," Buffy said after they calmed down.
"Yeah. Looks like you didn’t."
"Maybe not," Buffy said with a grin, "but it didn’t keep me from taking you down."
"Nah. You know, if you’d go after vampires the same way you went after me, you wouldn’t need anybody to watch your back."
Buffy sighed. "Yeah, I know."
"So why don’t you?"
Buffy didn’t say anything.
"Buffy, just because Spike’s all cute and cuddly now doesn’t mean we start going soft on the rest of ‘em. He’d be the first one to tell you that."
"He has."
"Well he’s right. I mean, I know you’re afraid of going to the dark side, but trust me, doing well at your job isn’t how you get there."
Buffy thought about this. "So, how do you get there?"
"First you gotta stop giving a damn," Faith said. She looked at Buffy. "Somehow I don’t think that’ll ever be a problem for you."
Buffy looked at her. "Thanks."
"For what?"
"For this. And for the butt-saving back at the cemetery. You’re right, they’d have had me for breakfast if you hadn’t been there."
"Not a problem, Sis -- Buffy."
Buffy smiled. "So, Sister, how’d you react when you found out Xander was your Watcher?"
"Hell, forget that," Faith said. "How’d he react when he found out?"
Again, the two girls started to giggle.
"Do you remember, Spike?"
She stood behind him, arms wrapped around his middle, lips pressed against his ear.
"You pulled the little girl out of the coal bin. You told her we were going to play a game to stop her crying. You told her mummy and daddy were sleeping. And then you gave her to me for my very own. A present for your Princess. A delicious treat." She let out a soft moan as her tongue lapped at the blood pooled along his collarbone. "Do you remember?"
"Yeah, Dru. I remember."
She brought a hand up to stroke the hair at the nape of his neck. "And after, we propped the whole family up in the parlor and let them watch while we made love in front of the fire. Like wolves, we were. Or like … cats. Biting, and scratching …" She scored his back with her nails. Spike arched away from her and sucked air in through his teeth. Drusilla kissed his shoulder. "You liked it then." She moved in front of him, and stroked his face. "Such lovely wickedness. Can’t it be that way again, Spike? Say it can. Say we can be what we were."
It took a great deal of effort, but Spike nodded his head. "Oh, we can, Princess. We can be just like that again. Let me down, and it’ll be just like old times, I promise."
Drusilla slapped him. "Liar!"
Spike forced his head up to look at her. "Dru …"
She whimpered and dropped to her knees, rocking back and forth and pulling at her hair. "Why, Spike? Why did you leave me?"
"T’was the other way ‘round, wannit?"
Dru hugged herself and shook her head. "No. You left me as soon as you met her. In your heart, in your head … why, Spike?"
He closed his eyes and rested his head against his shoulder. "For one thing, pet … she’s faithful."
Dru let out a small whine, and looked at her hands.
Spike sighed. "Look, pet … it’s just … she’s just … Buffy."
Drusilla laughed, and stood up. She went over to a stool that held her little doll, a small satin purse, and a washcloth. She picked up the cloth and dunked it in a bucket of water beside the stool, wrung it out, then slung the purse over her arm as she approached Spike. With the washcloth, she cleaned his wounds, wiping the caking blood from his torso.
"Dru, what’re you--"
"Shh." She ran the wet cloth along his forehead.
"Let me down, baby."
She looked up at him with sad, black eyes, and shook her head. Then she opened her purse and pulled out a small bottle. "You’ve been spoiled, Spike. Your black heart is full of compassion." She grimaced with disgust as she said the last word. "This will cleanse you." She unscrewed the cap, and held the bottle to the stab wound in his stomach. As she poured, the wound and the skin around it sizzled. Spike screamed, a gut wrenching sound he didn’t even know he could make.
"Please, Dru," he gasped as she moved around to his back, where the cuts were freshest.
"No. William’s been a naughty boy, and he must be punished." She dribbled holy water over the claw marks she’d left on his back. Again, he cried out.
"You’ve forgotten," she said, coming around to stand in front of him. "You forgot what I did for you. What I gave you."
"What you gave me?"
"I gave you eternity. I made you strong, and beautiful."
"You took my humanity, Dru."
She grabbed his hair, pulled his head back, and poured holy water into the gash on his neck. Spike whimpered, and his whole body convulsed with pain, but he didn’t scream.
"And what did the Slayer do for you?"
Spike opened his eyes and looked at her. "She gave it back."
Dru frowned at him for a moment, then dumped the rest of the bottle down the front of his chest. Every muscle in his body contorted in reaction to the pain. "Bleeding fuck," he gasped.
Just then he heard another scream, one that didn’t come from him. God, no! He opened his eyes to see Dawn staring at him. She shook her head, hands covering her mouth, eyes wide with horror. Drusilla saw her, too.
"Run!" he told her, but it was too late. Drusilla already stood beside her.
"Such beautiful energy," she said, grabbing Dawn by the wrist and pulling her over by Spike.
Dawn looked too shocked to even think of struggling as she stared at him. "Oh, God, Spike," she said, tears streaming down her cheeks, "I’m so sorry."
"Not your fault, Love." He tried to swallow, but his mouth felt like cotton. "Dru, you can’t hurt her. You need her, or Buffy won’t come. Remember?"
Dru grinned and circled Dawn. "Don’t need the sister," she said. "She’ll come for her lover, just the same."
Spike hung his head. "Drusilla, you see what she is. If you drink from her, you’ll become the same thing."
Dru reached out her hand and let it hover next to Dawn’s face, not quite touching her. "But she’s so pretty!" She closed her eyes, and brought her hand to her temple. She began to moan. Then she laughed. "The lion and the unicorn shall birth an eternal knight," she sing-songed. She pointed at Spike. "And he shall be Champion and Destroyer of the Key."
"What …?"
Drusilla pouted. "No!" She stomped her foot. "I made you to be my knight! Not hers!"
"Yeah," Spike said, gesturing to indicate his predicament. "I’m a ruddy Lancelot."
Dru grabbed Dawn and pushed her towards Spike. "Destroyer of the Key." She grinned, her eyes sparkled. "Do it, Spike. Destroy her. Kill her, and I’ll let you go."
Dawn looked up at Spike. He shook his head.
"I’d sooner hang here and starve," he said.
Drusilla looked defeated as she backed away. Spike and Dawn both sighed in relief, but then Drusilla grabbed Dawn’s hair. Dawn screamed as Drusilla jerked her back into an embrace.
"No!" Spike cried as Drusilla sunk her fangs into Dawn’s neck. He wrapped his hands around the ropes that bound him and tore at them with everything that he had. "Dawn …" Suddenly, one of his arms flew free. He hung there for a moment, surprised, then his other one came loose and dropped to his side. He collapsed to the floor, staring in disbelief at the bum who came to stand before him, holding his sword. Without a word, the stranger unbound Spike’s feet, helped him up, and handed him the blade.
Drusilla was too lost in feeding to see. Spike stumbled forward, and wedged the sword between her and Dawn. Dru released Dawn, who slumped to the floor. Drusilla’s features changed back to human, and she looked at Spike as he held the blade against her throat.
"I told you to leave town, Dru," he said.
"My sweet William," she said, reaching for him. He relaxed a little, but then he saw blood trickling down her chin. Dawn’s blood. Violent rage bubbled up inside him. Spike raised the sword, and swung. Drusilla’s laughter echoed in his ears as her dust settled over Dawn. Someone screamed as he dropped to his knees. He turned to see Darla charging him, but he was too spent to do anything about it. He collapsed beside Dawn.
"You son of a bitch!" Darla shrieked. Spike groaned as she kicked him in the ribs. She grabbed the sword. "Forget the torture, Spike. It’s time for you to die now." She raised the sword above her head, but before she could bring it down she was doused with water. She turned to see the homeless man, holding the bucket. Darla lowered the sword and sneered at him as he dropped to his knees.
"What are you, Dorothy?" Darla asked him. "Am I supposed to melt now?"
The man crossed himself, and stood back up.
"If you were praying for mercy, I can tell you right now, the answer is no." Darla raised the sword. The man threw the rest of the pail’s contents on her, and Darla began to scream. She dropped the sword as her skin sizzled and popped, and she fell to her knees.
Spike reached out and grabbed her wrist. She was in no condition to fight as he pulled her to him and bit into her. Even second-hand vampire blood was better than the nothing that currently occupied his veins. As he drank he was surprised to find that her blood was warm. She must’ve just fed. Even better.
As his strength returned, he felt the air pressure in the room changing. He looked up to see why. A droplet of blood hovered above Dawn. It flattened and expanded, stretching out like a thin, red web. Another, larger one grew next to it, until it was almost the size of a door. Then it cracked, and light spilled through. Spike moved away, but stared in amazement. It didn’t open into a hell dimension. Well, not quite. Spike laughed as he realized the Key had opened a portal to Las Vegas. The light coming through it was bright as the sun, but artificial. Damn. How the hell would he close it? He looked at Darla, then stood and hauled her to her feet. He shoved her through the portal, and she sprawled on the sidewalk in front of the Paramount. Sure enough, the portal closed behind her.
"Huh," someone said from behind him, and he turned to see the homeless guy staring at where the portal had just been.
"You said it, mate," Spike said as he knelt next to Dawn. "Thanks for the save."
"Just returning the favor," the man said, and turned to leave.
Spike watched him go, wondering for a moment what he meant, but then decided it didn’t matter. He turned his attention to Dawn. He checked her pulse; it beat steady and even. Spike signed in relief, resting his forehead against hers. He gathered her up in his arms and struggled to his feet as the second portal cracked open. Again, he laughed when he saw where it went, but this time his laughter was filled with joy and relief.
"I mean, really, B, you should’ve seen the look on his face."
Buffy couldn’t stop laughing as she imagined Spike’s reaction to Faith that night at the Bronze. "I actually would’ve paid good money to see that."
"Yeah," Faith said, "but I feel kinda bad. I mean, I feel really bad about that whole deal, for obvious reasons."
Buffy stopped laughing, but she didn’t say anything.
"I feel bad for Spike. I had no idea he was so into you."
"Yeah, well, I don’t think he did either at the time." She sighed. This was nice. As much as she hated to admit it, she’d missed Faith. This was the fun girl she’d tried so hard to be friends with back in high school. Before everything had gone so wrong.
"Man, what time is it?" Faith asked.
"I don’t know," Buffy said, "but I’d better get home. I think Spike was planning something kind of --"
"Special," Buffy finished.
"Kinky," Faith said.
Buffy started to protest, but she caught herself grinning. "Maybe a little," she admitted. As she climbed to her feet, she noticed Dawn’s book bag sitting at the end of the couch. "Huh."
"Oh. Uh, it looks like Dawn forgot her backpack."
"Man," Faith said. "I guess it’s just a night for forgetting stuff."
"Yeah," Buffy said. "Except, Dawn doesn’t forget stuff. I mean, Dawn leaving her books is about as likely as Spike forgetting his cig-- oh, God."
"What?" Faith looked confused.
"I have to call home," Buffy said. She started for the shop.
"Oh my God," Faith said. Buffy spun to look at her, but Faith just pointed. Buffy turned to see some kind of round window appear in the middle of the room, lined in red. Spike stood on the other side. Dawn lay draped across his arms, unconscious. He stepped through, and the window closed behind them.
Buffy ran to them. "How --"
"The Key," Spike said.
"Is she okay?"
Spike nodded. "Lost some blood, but not too much. More exhausted than anything, I expect." Buffy cleared off the couch as he laid Dawn on it. "Maybe a little in shock."
Buffy knelt to look her over. "Someone bit her."
"Yeah. Dru." He stumbled towards the back door.
"Where is she now?" Buffy asked.
Spike paused on his way out, and turned back towards Buffy. As he slumped against the door, she noticed for the first time how terrible he looked. His face was gaunt and even paler than usual. His shirt and shoes were missing. He had claw marks down his back, and he was cut and burned all over. There were exit and entry wounds on his stomach and lower back, as though something had impaled him, and rope burns covered his forearms. As he looked at her, his eyes held a mixture of weariness and grief that Buffy had only ever seen before in a mirror. It killed her to see that expression on him, even more than the external wounds.
"She’s dead," he told her. He went outside, letting the door swing shut behind him.
Buffy looked down at Dawn. She smoothed her hair back and kissed her forehead, then stood up. "Stay with her until I get back?" she asked Faith.
"Yeah, of course," Faith said.
Buffy nodded, and got up. She went into the shop, to the mini fridge next to the coffee pot, and opened it up. It was a testament to how much the gang had accepted Spike that everybody made it a point to keep a couple pints of blood in their refrigerators. Buffy rummaged through the cabinet under the coffee pot for a mug, and filled it with blood. As it heated in the microwave, she went over to Spike’s coat and dug his cigarettes out of the pocket. She took the mug out of the microwave, headed back into the training room, and out the back door.
Spike sat on the ground across the alley, leaning against the building, looking up at the stars. Buffy studied him for a minute. He really looked like hell. She knew it was impossible, but he looked older somehow, like this night had aged him. In the light that leaked into the alley from the open shop door, she could swear she saw lines on his face that weren’t there before. Must be a trick of the shadows. He barely seemed to notice her as she walked over to him.
"Whatcha doin’?"
"Solving world hunger," he said absently.
"How’s that working for ya?" She held out the mug.
"Well," he said, "what do you think about ‘Band-Aid 2000?’"
"I think they know it’s Christmastime." She pressed the mug into his hand. "Anyway, it’s 2001."
"Oh yeah. No go, then. Doesn‘t have quite the same ring to it." He drained the mug, then set it on the ground and took his cigarettes from her.
She sat on the ground next to him. "What happened?"
He shrugged, and lit a cigarette. "They got Dawn. I got her back."
"By the looks of things it wasn’t quite that simple," Buffy said.
"It never is," he said, blowing smoke into the night air. "I take it Riley never showed up."
Buffy shook her head. "I haven’t seen him since the Bronze."
Spike leaned his head against the wall. "Figures."
Buffy reached out and gently touched the burned skin around his stab wound. "This looks painful."
"Yeah." He looked at her. "It’ll heal."
"Sure, this will." The cuts and burns weren’t what worried her. "Are you okay?"
"I’m fine."
"You sure?" She reached out to stroke the hair above his ear. "Because it’s okay if you’re not."
He looked at her, his eyes questioning.
"I know you loved her," Buffy said. She drew her knees to her chest and played with a piece of gravel next to her feet. "She was the love of your life."
Spike nodded. "She was." He reached out and placed a finger under her chin, turning her to face him. "Before I knew what it really means to have a life."
Buffy took his hand and held it in her lap, intertwining her fingers with his. They sat in silence for a moment before she asked, "Did Dawn do it?"
"No," he said. "I did."
Buffy waited as he took a drag from his cigarette. Anybody else probably wouldn’t have noticed the way his hand trembled as he held it to his lips. He blew the smoke away from her and flicked a column of ash into the street before he continued.
"It was a reflex, really. She bit Dawn, and suddenly I didn’t see Drusilla anymore. Just a monster hurting my girl. So I dusted her."
"Wow," Buffy said. "Spike, I … I’m sorry."
"Don’t be. It’s not like I didn’t warn her it would come to this."
Buffy leaned against him, and laid her head on his shoulder. "That doesn’t keep it from hurting."
"No," Spike said. A thin layer of dust still coated his jeans. He ran his hand over it, and stared at the powder coating his palm. "No, it doesn’t." He rubbed his fingers together, watching the dust fall from his hand and catch in the currents of the night breeze. He put his arm around Buffy’s shoulders, and gave her a squeeze as he finished off his cigarette and flicked it into the alley. He kissed the top of her head, then looked back up at the sky.
"Drusilla loved the stars," he said.
"She did?"
"Yeah. She used to make up names for them. She claimed that they sang to her. She was always asking me if I could hear them. Sometimes --" There was a catch in his voice, and Buffy heard him swallow. "Sometimes, if I listened hard enough, I thought that I almost could."
Buffy turned her back against him and leaned her head against his shoulder. "What kind of names did she give them?"
"Don’t know. She never told me. It was her little secret." He rested his cheek on top of Buffy’s head.
"Can you hear them singing now?" she asked.
"Almost," he said. "You?"
"I think so. Maybe if we listen for a while?"
He twirled a lock of her hair around his finger. "Let‘s give it a try, then."
Buffy closed her eyes and listened; but she didn’t hear any music. Instead she heard the same thing she heard after Anya died, after Tara, her mother, Angel … she heard the incessant cacophony of life going on. She knew that would be all Spike could hear, too.
Well, it would just have to go on without them for a little while.


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