Wet and Wild
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The machines hummed around her, clicking sporadically and constantly blinking various colored lights. Maggie leaned against one, making a show of checking her watch and sighing loudly. Several times, she had been instructed to wait outside by the technician, but she was the one in charge and made sure that everyone there knew that. When the clock on the wall ticked that another five minutes had passed, she spoke again. “Michael, what is the holdup exactly? You called me here over an hour ago and told me that the results were in.”
“The results were in, ma’am, but I don’t think you’ll be pleased with them. I’m running the tests again to compare the old ones against.” Michael, a short balding man with thick bifocals replied, shoving his glasses further on his nose nervously.
Maggie sighed again and crossed her arms. “Why would I not be satisfied?”
Michael stopped what he was doing and turned, lifting a stack of papers that the printer had spit out earlier that day. “Because, Mrs. Walsh, if the tests were right the first time, then she’s a human being. Nothing more, nothing less. Granted, her endorphins were abnormally high, indicating that her threshold for pain is above average. Not to mention her white blood cell count is double that of a normal person, which could be a result of the blast she took from one of our guns and her body’s self healing. Other than those small differences, she’s as normal as you or me.”
Walsh took the papers from the man and flipped through them, noting the results that she had expected to be different. Buffy had normal type o+ blood, a wonderful heart rate, her blood was oxygenated enough and the skin sample concluded that she was human. Grinding her jaw, she whispered, “You saw what she did.”
“Maybe the kid just wanted to live and her adrenaline was pumping. She was upset and we both know what people are capable of when they’re upset.” Michael clapped his hands together when the printer sprang to life again and moved across the room to get the new results. He thumbed through several pages before he turned and shrugged, “It’s the same thing. This is the more extensive of the testing capabilities we possess here and nothing’s different. I can send her blood to-“
“No, that won’t be necessary.” Maggie interrupted, handing him the paperwork. “This may not be a bad thing after all. If she is just a human, and can fight the way she does, then we want her. The Initiative is always recruiting.”
“But she’s just a girl.”
“And I’m just the boss. What better way to ensure that she won’t talk than to get her down here and make her one of us?”
“How do you plan to go about that? You’ve scared her to death, you know?”
“No, the people in masks scared her to death. Maggie Walsh is just her teacher.” Maggie paused and took a deep breath. “And teach her I will.”
“That’s all he said?” Giles glanced across the table and stared at Buffy who was lying on her sofa under a pile of blankets. “Twelve days? From today that would be the … eighteenth of December. A Saturday.”
Buffy nodded, purposely leaving out the part of her dream where she had practically attacked Spike sexually and he had played with her nipple. “He said to count roses and there were twelve of them on the floor. He said that the petals were hours and the thorns were pain, then he poked me with a thorn and vanished.”
“That’s our Spike.” Willow said, not glancing up from her open laptop. She was currently viewing the underground sewer system of Sunnydale. “Always making you squirm, Buffy.”
“You have no idea.” Buffy replied without thinking.
“Hmmm. The New Year, the ‘millennium’ occurs two weeks later, on a Saturday as well. Though it’s not the actual millennium-” Giles trailed off, staring into space and didn’t catch what Buffy had said, but Willow did and smiled at her friend knowingly. Buffy blushed and was about to smooth it over when Giles spoke again. “I suppose it could be a message, a portent, that we have twelve days to react to this underground league. I must confess that it is unsettling to be working in a time frame now. We know nothing.”
Buffy nodded and watched her friend tap away at the laptop. “Do you have anything, Willow?”
“Well, if the underground facility is as big as you say and the exit from one of the tunnels was directly under the Bronze, then no … I have nothing.” She shook her head and turned her laptop around so they could see the map. Pointing with her pen, she tapped the screen. “This is the exit you must have used. It opens into the back alley of the Bronze. Now, if you backtrack into the tunnels, you’ll see that the only access to that specific area is over here, really far away, “ she pulled her pen several inches away and tapped again. “and you said that you stayed left when you dropped into the tunnel, right?”
“Right, I kept going left and then the ladder was there.”
“Then you couldn’t have come from here.” Willow glanced at the screen again. “How far did you walk?”
“Not far at all. Just a few feet but it felt like years.”
“Then the system that these army guys use is new and it was built after this map in the early nineties…er…wait a minute.” Willow glanced at the screen again and squinted. “This map is marked as nineteen seventy-two and it claims to be the most recent renovations.”
“It’s not?” asked Giles.
“No, it’s not.” Willow shook her head and clicked the back button on her browser, making sure she was viewing the correct map. “I remember that they cracked open the roads about three miles south of the University when Xander and I were still in middle school. It rerouted our busses for about twelve weeks and we had to get up earlier because of it. Wait, there’s something else … what was it?” She paused, deep in thought. “That’s it! The trucks that they used had an emblem on the side that had nothing to do with the Sunnydale utilities. My dad told me that the this town must have failed some kind of test and the big guys had to come in and rebuild a portion of the waste area.”
“Do you remember what this emblem looked like, Willow?” Giles had leaned forward as Willow spoke, hanging on her every word.
She nodded, “All I remember about it was that it was a big red ‘I’.”
“And eyeball?” Buffy made a face.
“No, the letter I. And it had this circle type thing around it.” Willow smiled and added, “I’d know it if I saw it again.”
“Is there any way you can go back through the town records and find building permits or anything?” Buffy stared at her friend hopefully. “There has to be something.”
“Definitely.” Willow beamed and began typing furiously. “And if it’s not on town record, then I can hack through the personal files of the city council. I’ll find out who sanctioned the workers and go from there.”
“You are my hero.” Buffy smiled and glanced over at Giles. “We need to go down into the sewer and do a search, Giles. We need to do it now, before too much time goes by.”
“Agreed.” Giles stood and grabbed his jacket. “I’ll get Xander and Anya and we’ll sweep the south side.”
Buffy stood as well and said, “Give me ten minutes.”
“No.” Shaking his head, Giles pointed at the sofa. “You stay here and rest. We’ll get it.”
“No way, Giles. I know the sewers like the back of my hand and I was there. I can either go with you now or catch up later, but I’m going. Spike is down there because of me and I intend to help get him out.”
“Buffy, you don’t even know if he has survived thus far. He could have been killed immediately.”
“I don’t care. I owe it to him.” Buffy brushed past him and started up the stairs.
“Why do you owe it to him?” Giles called, following her and pausing to glance up at her.
Buffy turned and laid her hand on the guard rail. “I can’t explain it, okay? Some stuff happened that I don’t want to discuss and I have to help him.”
“Buffy, Spike is and always will be a vampire. I won’t speculate on what happened, I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t want to know anyway, but your safety and the safety of human beings must take priority over his well being.”
“I’m going.” She turned and headed toward her room. How was she supposed to tell him that maybe she was developing feelings for Spike. Maybe she already had feelings for him. How could she possibly hope to justify something like that? There was no justification and it defied logic, even to her; the one person who it should all make sense too.
Sighing, she shut her door and pulled on jeans and a sweatshirt. She dreaded going underground again and she was terrified of what she might find. Pulling on a pair of knee high boots, she stood.
At least this time her feet would stay warm.
Xander wrinkled his nose and held a hand over his face when a rigid corpse of a dog floated toward him. It bobbed up and down, bouncing off the sides of the cement tunnel and he tried his best to remain indifferent to it. Keeping up with the others had proven to be difficult, especially since Anya seemed to be turned on by stench and stagnant water and kept seeking kisses when no one was looking. Panning his flashlight, he saw Giles beckoning him to hurry along and picked up the pace, leaping over the dog.
The murky water splashed when Xander landed and Anya shrieked as it hit her face and neck. “Xander! You better be glad that I don’t mind getting filthy or else you would pay for that.”
“Why don’t you mind?” Xander asked, using the sleeve of his coat to wipe the splotches of dirt off her face.
“Because, the filthier I get, the longer we can shower together. And actually, Xander, before we leave this wonderfully rancid sewer, would you like to wrestle with me in the water?” Anya stared up at him adoringly, earning a small groan from Buffy and forcing Giles to clear his throat and walk away.
Xander smiled a little, embarrassed, and replied, “Anya, I think we’ve already covered why we don’t ‘wrestle’ in cold water.”
“Okay, we won’t wrestle. We’ll simply mate and dry off. We can have one of those quickies that you seem to be so fond of.”
Buffy snorted a little and hid her face, moving off toward Giles and Xander closed his eyes, silently praying for strength. “Anya, I realize that you’re new to being a human and you have a lot of naughty time to make up for, but do you think that from now on you could quietly reflect on what we do?”
Giles stopped walking and shined his flashlight toward the top of the tunnel, interrupting the banter. “Is this where you came through Buffy?”
Buffy stared at the grate and then glanced around her surroundings. She took several steps, pausing directly under the opening and then moving back toward the wall. “No, I don’t think so. I came out right in the middle of a bigger tunnel and the opening up there looked different.”
“This was the opening that Willow indicated as being too far away. I suppose she was right. We’ll go to the Bronze entrance and see if you can backtrack and find where you fell through, yes?” Giles pocketed the map and motioned for Buffy to lead the way.
Anya sighed as everyone filed past her and said, “Xander, have you ever done it at the Bronze?”
“No.” He replied, shaking his head at the irony of it all. Two years ago, he would have jumped at the chance to find a girl who wanted to have sex as much as he did. Now, he was so tired from having sex all the time that he would be willing to bet that by the time he was forty, he’d be using a penis pump just to get a hard on. At the rate they were going, Anya was going to kill his dick.
“We’re here.” Giles said, tapping his flashlight against the palm of his hand as it began to flicker.
Buffy stared at the ladder that led to the alley behind the Bronze and walked backwards, scanning the ceiling with her light. If her calculations were correct, then the opening should be right around the area they were gathered in. She squinted as the light played over the gray cement, inch by inch. Giles moved to stand beside her, his light joining hers and together, they covered the tunnel three times, finding nothing. “I don’t get it.” Buffy finally said. “It was just here yesterday.”
“Hey, what’s that?” Xander pointed his light toward the ladder and Anya moved to grab the bag that floated in the water. “It’s a cement bag.”
“The sons of bitches have covered the opening!” Buffy cried, throwing her light against the tunnel and shattering it. “How could they move that fast?”
Anya opened the bag, sifting through the powdery residue. “Ohh, here’s something else. The receipt for the purchase of the supplies and some candy wrappers and tools.”
“Why would they be stupid enough to leave it here?” Buffy asked, eyeing the receipt as she took it from Anya.
“Perhaps they were scared away by something. Or perhaps they were climbing the ladder to dump it in the trash behind the Bronze and dropped it.” Giles began to climb up the ladder and the others followed. “We’re going dumpster diving. Let’s hope we get something good, shall we?”
“Dumpster diving?” Pulling herself up the ladder, Buffy gritted her teeth. “And I just thought nothing could get worse than the sewers.”
“Have you ever had sex in a dumpster, Xander?” Anya asked, following Xander and eyeing his ass through his baggy black pants.
“No, Anya. Some places are just totally off limits.”
“And gross.” Buffy supplied. “Let’s not forget gross.”
Giles pushed the grate open and scanned the back alley before he shoved the lid all the way off. He turned quickly and helped the others out, noting that Buffy’s arm was bleeding again. Sighing, he pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and wrapped it around her, before he secured it with an I-told-you-so look. She ignored him and shoved the top back on the big garbage can.
The odor was powerful and Buffy shook her head, rifling around the contents. The top layer was mostly stale pizza and plastic cups; the staples of the Bronze. Giles pulled a large box out of the way and climbed up into the trash, his feet sinking down in several spots. Anya moved to one side and jumped into the dumpster as well, earning a grateful smile from Giles.
Together, Anya and Giles succeeded in digging through the garbage, pocketing this and that and handing several things out for Buffy and Xander to inspect. They were about to call it quits when Giles noted a fanny pack stuck in the corner, behind an empty bag of potato chips. He handed it out to Buffy and jumped down.
Buffy pulled the pack open and stared at the contents before she reached inside and pulled out a floppy disk. She flipped it around so that Giles could see the label and smiled. “Well, well, well, what have we here? A red I surrounded by a circle.”
“And Willow will know what to do with that compact disc!” Giles exclaimed, taking it from her and shoving it into his breast pocket.
“Giles, that’s a floppy disk.” Xander said, taking the bag from Buffy and rifling through it. “And here are condoms!”
“It’s not floppy!” Giles pulled the disk out and shook it at the boy. “It’s hard as a rock.”
“Ooh, hard as rock is such a sexy phrase.” Anya exclaimed, fanning herself. “Xander, would you like to use those condoms in the dumpster?”
“Giles, he means that a compact disc is round and plays music and DVD’s and…” Buffy watched the man’s face go blank and shook her head. “Never mind. Willow will know what to do with that disk.”
An hour and half later, everyone had showered and met back at Buffy’s house to see what Willow would find on the disk. Bashful under such scrutiny, Willow fumbled with her computer, finally inserted the floppy after several tries and ran the contents. The only options she had were upload and exit and she shrugged. She had a virus scan in place and had enough hard drive space for whatever the disk held, so she selected upload and watched as it transferred. It took fifteen minutes for all the files to load and she rebooted when the computer requested that she do so. As she waited for the Windows splash to load, she glanced at Buffy. “You look pale.”
“I think I have a cold from walking around half naked.” The Slayer shrugged. “I’m fine.”
“You were half naked and I missed it?” Xander raised an eyebrow.
“I heard that!” Anya screamed from the kitchen and then appeared carrying drinks. “Don’t think I’m deaf just because you screamed in my ear during our shower.”
“Oh God.” Xander shrank back on the couch.
“That’s right. You screamed ‘Oh God’.” Anya smiled and handed him his soda before she passed out the others. “Of course, I was so busy screaming ‘Oh Xander’ that I’m surprised I heard you at all.”
Willow turned a deep crimson and stared at her computer. A new icon had been installed on her desktop, a red I with a circle. “Oh my god!”
“That’s the spirit!” Anya shouted, clapping her hands together.
Willow double clicked the icon and watched with wide eyes as the screen showed the words, “Welcome Agent 2, please supply your password.”
She minimized that window and used another program, one she had devised, that would automatically decrypt any passwords that had been entered into the system and choose the correct one for the screen name. She waited for several seconds and opened the window again to see twelve asterisks lining the password box. “YES!”
Clicking enter, she smiled when she was taken to a new window with a list of options. Moving as fast as she could, she right clicked and saved everything to her drive in case the program detected the breech and booted her. She skimmed the contents, commenting on the basics. “They are doing tests on demons. They don’t have the right names for any of them, except vampires, but that’s the basic run down on what I’m seeing. They're taking blood, skin, and tissue samples, altering DNA and they hope to be able to someday reverse the process that something becomes a demon. Wipe out all forms or something.”
Moving over the various links, she added, “They call them all hostiles and give them a number.”
“Hostile seventeen!” Buffy screamed. “That’s what Spike is. Hostile seventeen.”
Willow scrolled down the screen and her eyes widened. “Oh. Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m positive! Why?” Getting to her feet, Buffy moved behind Willow and read the screen. “Oh my God!”
“That’s the spirit!” Anya shouted again, pulling her mouth off of Xander’s to do so.
Buffy stood and stared at Giles. “The chip, or whatever they stuck in Spike’ s head, is programmed to kill him on the eighteenth. Exactly twelve days.”
Riley excused himself from the dinner table, claiming that he was tired and went upstairs. He quietly dug through his bags and pulled out his laptop, quickly logging onto the net. Using his mother’s password instead of his, he logged into the Initiative’s main frame and scanned for updates. When he saw Summers, Buffy he clicked and scrolled fast, skimming over the results and finally reading the summary that Michael had uploaded.
Subject: Buffy Summers – female
Blood type: O+
All outward signs suggest that the subject is a human girl, aged eighteen to twenty. Long blond hair, hazel eyes and small frame. She displayed English speaking skills and spoke with clarity and confidence. No abnormalities could be detected with the naked eye or with a generic physical examination while subject was unconscious. No reaction to Holy Water, no reaction to ultra-violet light and no reaction to the Bremmal demonology test.
An internal mark-up on the subject confirms that the girl is a healthy human being. There are no characteristics in blood testing or chemical reactions that would suggest otherwise. The only abnormalities noted were higher endorphin and white blood count levels, all attributed to the subject’s experience with being captured.
All findings conclude that the subject is a viable candidate for the Initiative’s recruitment and the process has begun as of 12/7/99.
Riley reread the findings several times before he threw his laptop back into his backpack and pulled his jacket on. Rummaging through his wallet, he made sure he had enough cash and threw his bags over his shoulders.
He hoped he would already be back in sunny California by the time his grandparents let anyone know he was gone.
Riley dreaded confronting his mother. He had a gut feeling that she would be expecting him, so he chose not to postpone the inevitable and went straight down to the control room. He was directed toward the observation lab and made his way through the corridors, not pausing to speak to the many men who offered greetings. Once he arrived, he saw her speaking with Hostile Seventeen on the other side of the glass and stood back to listen.
“We have lost time to make up for. Someone as advanced as you are is usually already on the final levels of testing.” Maggie was saying. “So I suggest you cooperate.”
“I’m not in the mood.” Spike replied, staring at the assortment of tests that were laid on the table. “If you want to pick my brain apart then you’ll have to do it when I’m dead and you dissect it.”
“I plan to.” Walsh said casually, lifting a box with several different shapes cut into the sides. “Now then, I want you to take these blocks and put them through the proper holes as fast as you can. If you behave accordingly, I’ll see to it that you get human blood for dinner.”
With a grimace, Spike accepted the wooden box and the blocks. He sat it in front of him and watched as the woman set a timer. Smiling, he knocked the box into the floor and stomped it, breaking it into two pieces. He grabbed both and sat it in front of her, then gathered all the blocks and dropped them inside. “Did I pass? Fifteen seconds must be a record, eh?”
Maggie shifted the ruined test off the desk and concentrated on another, devoid of emotion. “This is a word association test. I want you to look at the photo and say the first thing that comes to mind.”
“Can’t I just be sent to my room for breaking your toy?” Spike asked, rolling his eyes when she shook her head. “I’ve been bad, send me to bed with no dinner. I don’t bloody well care.”
“Boy, when I punish you it will be about ten times worse than anything you can imagine. You’re really close to seeing what I mean.”
“Ohh, can you whip me and let me call you ‘big bad mama’?” Spike put two fingers up to his mouth and licked between them. “You’ll be calling me ‘bad daddy’ within seconds. On second thought, no you wouldn’t, because even –I- am not that desperate.”
Maggie nodded at one of the men who stood in the corner and he sat a box beside them. Spike eyed it curiously and watched her open it. She smiled and held up a cross with pinchers on the end. “You will be wearing this as a tongue ring if you don’t start playing by my rules.”
“Let’s play word association, then. Woman with weird crucifix? Bitch.” Spike crossed his arms and glanced at the boys with the guns. “Bitch. Flaming bitch! Don’t you fellas agree?”
Maggie held up a card that showed a woman breast feeding her child and said, “What do you think?”
“Lucky little shit.” What he actually thought was that Buffy had nice nipples that poked through her shirt and he would love to nurse from her any time and any place.
Nodding, she tossed that photo and held up another. It showed a man opening a car door for a woman. Spike shrugged and said, “Desperate to get laid. He’ s going to turn on the charm until he can get into her knickers and then she ’ll be opening her own doors, buying his dinner and begging him to make her get off first for a change.”
“Can you keep it to one word answers, please?”
“Why? Does my in-depth analysis throw you? Were you unprepared for me to be able to think?” Spike cocked his head to one side and took in the next photo, a supple little teenager who was baring her throat. “Boring.”
“Boring?” Maggie stared at the photo and then back at the blond vampire. Most vampires called the photo ‘dinner’. “Could you elaborate?”
“Why not?” Walsh slammed the photo down and glared at him.
“You said I could use one word answers and I’m afraid you’ll poke my tongue if I don’t behave.” Spike hid his grin when the woman sighed in exasperation.
“Just explain. Why would you call this boring?”
“Well, it’s been my experience that anyone who bares a throat that damn easy is too stupid to appreciate my power. I’m not going to feed on someone who wants to be fed off of, woman. A meal is no good if you don’t taste fear in the blood.”
Maggie tossed that one and held up another, a big red splotch in the middle of a gray background. Spike eyed it critically and replied, “Art.”
“You know you thought of blood first!” She cried, throwing that picture as well.
The next one showed a wishing well, causing Spike to smile. “Blood.”
“Why would you think of blood looking at this one? Can’t you just answer honestly, please?”
“I think of blood looking at that because Timmy was down a well and I missed it. I wanted to make the person who caused me to miss it bleed.”
“That’s absurd.” Walsh snapped, flipping through her stack of pictures.
“If you are going to question everything I say or tell me what to think, then give me what grade you think I should have and let me go!” Spike shouted, indicating with his hand to see the next one. When she held it up, he yawned and shrugged. “Michael Jackson.”
“What?” Maggie flipped it around so she could see it and rolled her eyes. “Why would a photo of a woman surrounded my demons make you think of Michael Jackson?”
“Thriller. Damn good video. Smashing make-up.” Spike smiled. “He’s a demon, you know?”
“You enjoy music videos?” Walsh leaned forward and scribbled furiously on her notepad.
“Not as much as I enjoy NBC’s daytime lineup, but they’ll do.”
“You watch television?”
Shaking her head, Walsh jotted several things in the margins of the hostile’ s file. Never before had she seen a vampire like this. None of the others had ever engaged her in conversation or been so animated. Usually by the time she tested them this way, they were already so broken that it was like testing someone in a coma. “I don’t watch any television.”
“You don’t watch television and you think –I- need these tests? You’re the daft one! There is a television in every home in this country. Every person watches television, so why does that surprise you?”
“You aren’t a person.”
Spike stared at the ground and said nothing, his jawbones protruding as he gritted his teeth. Professor Walsh watched him closely and then spoke in a small, calm voice. “It bothers you, what I just said, doesn’t it?”
“Did you want to become a vampire? You wanted to have sex with a mortal girl in the sewers and most vampires find that repulsive. You watch television and most demons are too busy plotting the end of the world to be bothered with that. So what exactly is your story?”
Spike crossed his arms and willed himself not to speak any more. Absolutely nothing, no amount of torture or starvation, would make him reveal the events that led to his turning. Nothing would make him relive the day he died or the way he came into being or his shame. Nothing.
He glanced up when a tall young man stuck his head through the door and cleared his throat. The woman turned and said, “Riley Finn! You have a lot of explaining to do.”
“I’m not the only one, am I?” The man shot back, ducking behind the doorway.
Spike watched the woman stomp out and tried to remember why that name sounded familiar. Riley? Wasn’t that a friend of the Slayer's? Hadn’t she said that someone named Riley knew that she had been engaged to Spike? “This just gets worse and worse.” He muttered under his breath, then stared at the armed guards. “Do either of you Gomer Pyle’s have a cigarette?”
Maggie slammed the door of her office and pointed at the chair in front of her desk. She waited until Riley sat down and then she spoke, “Do you realize how much pressure I have been under the past twenty-four hours?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Riley concentrated on staring at the papers on her desk, unwilling to look at her.
“Do you want to send me to an early grave, Riley? Because worrying about what we do, first of all, is enough by itself. Then, you release a girl who we suspect of being a demon, knowing that she can reveal us. I did what I had to do and sent you to Iowa and you come back! Your grandparents are worried sick and I expect you to call them with a full apology.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Riley glanced up at her and said, “Were you planning on telling me that she was going to be recruited or just let me come home and see if for myself?”
“What?” Stalking around her desk, Maggie yanked her chair out and flopped into it. “How did you know this?”
“I had my laptop.”
“You can’t access the Initiative’s files unless you have the program and I don’t recall giving you any clearance for that.”
“I didn’t ask. You can’t expect me to just go away and do nothing when the girl I’m falling in lo-“ He stopped talking and stared at his shoes. For several seconds the silence was deafening before he added, “When the girl I’ m interested in is in danger by the very people who I trust.”
“Trust is a dead issue here, Riley. I trusted you on several counts during this incident and you’ve failed to live up to it, so don’t you talk to me about trust.” She narrowed her eyes at him and spoke with a mother’s authority; something she seldom used. “Where did you get the program, young man?”
“The ‘young man’ would prefer not to say.”
“I have to insist that you do.”
“You can insist all you want to, Mother.” He spat the word ‘mother’ like it tasted vile against his tongue. “You have your way of doing things and I have mine. I took that disk myself and saw to it that it was disposed of. Now, why don’t you tell me exactly how you plan on convincing Buffy to join us?”
“I won’t have to now, son.” The smile that pulled her lips upward was anything but jovial. “You’ll do the convincing or I will see to it that you are pulled from the Initiative and your memory erased.”
“You wouldn’t dare.” Riley leaned forward in his chair, gripping the armrests to keep from throwing a fist against the wall.
“Oh, I’d dare. You do remember that man you called ‘daddy’, don’t you?”
Riley stood and moved to open the door. He definitely recalled his father and what became of him. “This is wrong. She’s a girl and she doesn’t deserve a life like we could give her. Constantly fighting, seeing demons everyday and living a lie to keep it a secret. How can you wish that on anyone?”
“You’re in love with her, aren’t you?”
“What if I am?”
“Then this is the perfect arrangement. We’ll teach her how to survive in your world and you’ll never have to live a lie with her. Go rest, it's late and I expect you to give me an outline of your strategy by tomorrow.”
Riley stepped out the door and slammed it hard. Resting could wait. The first thing he had to do was make sure that Grant disposed of the disk like he had told him too.
Willow pulled the thermometer out of Buffy’s mouth and stared at it. “Wow, Buffy. Your temperature is over one hundred and three.”
Buffy sneezed into a tissue and smiled at her friend weakly. “I’ll be fine, Will. Did you find anything else about the thing in Spike’s head?”
“Not yet. I’m still getting into the system without any problem though, so if there is a way, I'll find it.”
Nodding, Buffy rasped, “What about the commandos?”
Willow had dissected the files and was able to tell the gang-- minus Buffy, who was napping-- quite a bit about the organization. How it was founded, why it was founded and when it came to Sunnydale. What she had left out were the names associated with the soldiers. It took her a while to get the nerve, but she had finally told Giles, who was as stunned as she was. Now she had to tell Buffy and she dreaded it with every breath she took. “I did, actually. Since you’re sick though, I’ll just wait and tell you later.”
“Tell me now.” Buffy replied, hacking and pounding her chest. “Take my mind off the fact that I can’t breathe.”
“The Initiative doesn’t mean what you’d first think the name implies. You hear people say, ‘take the initiative’ when they want you to react swiftly, however, that’s not exactly how it’s used here. These people are using the Political Science terminology of the word; the right or procedure by which legislation may be introduced or enacted directly by the people.” She paused, saw the blank look on her friend’s face and chose smaller words. “Basically, they eventually want to make the public aware of demons, have testing under their belts and have a law put on the books regarding the existence and threat that demons pose. They want government funding and the only way to get that is to have enough evidence to prove they have a legitimate civil complaint.”
Buffy blew her nose and took a sip of water. “That doesn’t really sound like an evil thing.”
“Well, it’s not. I mean, not in the classic sense. Unless you view testing these demons as inhumane, its not a problem. Altering the DNA might freak some people out though, I guess.” Willow shrugged and handed Buffy another tissue. “The evil part is the fact that they’ve hacked into banks, small businesses and even the college funds to pay for their endeavors. They are taking the citizens of Sunnydale for all they’re worth. They have outside funding as well, an organization I couldn’t trace, but anytime the ends don’ t meet, they dip into the town’s funds.”
“Yeah, but if that’s all they’re doing then why would they use guns and strap me to a bed? I’m human! This one guy shot a poison dart at me!”
“I’m pretty sure it was a tranquilizer dart.” Willow replied and tucked her hair behind her ear. “There’s more, Buff.”
“Is it something that will give me a reason to find them and really rough them up for scaring me half to death?”
“I dunno.” Willow shrugged and took a deep breath before she spoke. “Maggie Walsh, as in Professor Walsh, is running things down there. She founded the organization in the eighties and has been in charge ever since.”
“No way!” Buffy sat up in bed and began shredding her tissue anxiously. “Walsh? I had her pegged for a demon!”
“I did too. No one could assign that much work and still have a clear conscience.” Willow grinned, but then grew serious. “The special agent in charge is Riley.”
Buffy’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped. “Riley? Finn?”
“From what I could gather, he is Walsh’s biological son. She’s named as his mother anyway, his father was left blank. I checked him out and he seems to be on the up and up, I mean, he’s normal and has no criminal history or anything.”
“He’s not normal!” Buffy cried. “He’s living a lie! Normal student by day and demon hunter by night and let’s not forget that he hasn’t bothered telling me what he does and-“ She paused and raised her eyebrow. “Oh my God, he’s me. He’s, like, a male me.”
“Sorta.” Willow chewed her thumbnail and watched Buffy, trying to gauge her emotions. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I guess. It’s just a little shocking.”
“That’s putting it mildly.”
Shoving a cough drop in her mouth, Buffy flopped back against her pillow. “I ’m glad I didn’t have time to fall for him. This would really, really sting if I had fallen in love with the wrong guy, yet again. And what if he was there? What if he just stood by and let those big men attack me?”
“What are you going to do?”
“I need to get down there and get Spike out. That has to happen first and second, I need to teach them that money doesn’t grow on trees, even in Sunnydale. They can’t just steal ... even if they think it's for the greater good.”
“You’re going to get your chance.”
That comment got Buffy’s attention and she stared at Willow. “What do you mean?”
“As of 12/7/99, you are their newest recruit.”
“I’m so proud.” Buffy deadpanned, crossing her arms angrily. “I’ll show them a thing or two about what motivates a real demon hunter. I’m hunting Spike and I intend to catch him.”
**And see if I could fall for -him-. What is it with me and bad guys?** She added silently.
"It's getting late, Buffy. You should probably turn in and I'll see you in the morning." Willow stood up and moved the contents on the table closer to the bed so the 'patient' could reach it better.
"Yeah, to sleep perchance to dream." Sighed Buffy, snuggling into her cover.
"You know Hamlet?" Willow looked at her skeptically and felt her forehead again. "You really must have a fever."
The room smelled of antiseptic spray and Buffy glanced toward the ceiling, wondering if anyone could hear her if she yelled. It was the same room and the same dirty needle was stuck in her arm. Part of her subconscious marveled at that, pondering why her dream would pick up where the last had left off. She shivered, her naked body protesting the cold metal table beneath her skin and the fans that blew freezing air her way. Opening her mouth, she pulled in a deep breath and shouted, “Someone help me.”
“It won’t help to scream, pet. I’ve been screaming forever.” Spike stood in the corner, twirling a rose in his hand. He held it up for her to see and said, “Now I have eleven remaining. Do you know what that means?”
“Eleven days. I know what it means.” Buffy felt a hot tear course down her cheek and she turned away. “They are killing you.”
Spike moved closer and laid the rose against her thigh. "Slayer, look at me." When she faced him again, he trailed it upward, pulling it along her hip and pausing at her ribcage. “The signs are all there, luv. Twelve roses all lined up in a row, just waiting for you to find them. Pretty roses, every one.”
“I don’t understand.” Buffy cried, trying to sit up.
Spike pulled the embalming needle from her arm and yanked her upward, shaking her. “All you have to do is look harder. You’ll know it when you see it.”
Buffy wrapped her arms around his neck and held on, closing her eyes. His tongue darted out, tracing her earlobe and she shuddered. “Spike …”
“Shh, no more words. The rest is for you.” He pulled away and smiled at her, putting his finger to his lips and licking it. She started to protest as he moved his slick digit between her legs, but every sound died in her throat when he pressed against her inner thigh. “Bloody hell, Slayer. You’re hot.”
“Spike, tell me what I need to do?” Buffy pleaded, her hips arching into his hand as he slid one, then two fingers into her core and used his thumb against her swollen clit. He didn’t reply and she squeezed her eyes shut, concentrating on how good he felt.
Suddenly, without warning, he stopped and moved away. “Don’t forget. Look closer, Slayer. Go where you’ve always gone and you’ll see what you need to see.”
Buffy sat up and leaped off the table when he vanished. She shook her head and shifted her weight from one foot to the other, unsatisfied and more aroused than she had ever been. “Spike, wait!”
Firm hands gripped her and a mask was lowered over her head. Buffy screamed into it, smelling gas. They were killing her, poisoning her air. Her chest tightened and her eyes grew heavy, watering as her oxygen was depleted. The last thing she thought was, "Roses, find roses."
Buffy sat up fast, pulling fresh air deep into her lungs. A cough, loud and thick with congestion, erupted from her chest and she groaned. Feeling her head, she noted the damp sweat and how hot she still was. Putting her feet on the floor, she shivered and stood, intent on finding some kind of medicine in her mother’s bathroom. Trudging quietly through the house, she pilfered through the contents of the cabinet and chose a bottle of decongestant. It would be dawn soon, but she was too ill to care that she would sleep all day if she took the meds.
Walking back to her room, she felt a moisture in her underwear and reddened, “I’m the only person alive who can turn a portent into a wet dream. And isn’ t it just like Spike to start something and not finish it?”
Riley, sitting in his car, watched the lights turn off and on in the little house on Revello Drive. He drained his coffee cup and glanced at his laptop, waiting for the tag registration on the car in the driveway to load. In order to recruit someone, you had to know everything about his or her family, home life and social status. Judging from the modest home, the Summers' family wasn't wealthy by any standards. It was a good thing the Initiative didn't discriminate based on financial status.
The laptop beeped as it pulled the requested information, straight from the Department of Motor Vehicles, up quickly and without any problems. With a copy of the mother's drivers license, date of birth and social security number, he would be able to find out everything about her life and discover whether or not she had any known disorders that could be passed to Buffy eventually. He already had Buffy's social security number and Forest was busy doing a background check on her in the seat next to him.
"Hey Forest, are you sure you got rid of the disk well?"
"Yes, man. Damn!" Forest hit the enter key on his own laptop and waited. "You keep asking me that. After Grant and I put the new cement up, we dumped everything behind the Bronze and you know as well as I do that even the beggars around here stay away from that trash!"
"You should have destroyed it."
"Listen, dude. We were in the sewer unarmed ... with that thing that none of us can catch somewhere down there. And Walsh was on our asses to get back underground. Sue us for being in a hurry." Forest whistled and stared at his screen when it loaded. “Damn, Rye! When Walsh gets a load of this chick’s police record there is no way she will pull her in.”
Riley motioned for his friend’s computer and swapped his own for it. His eyes widened as he digested one screen after another of complaints and incidents logged against Buffy. He didn’t want her in the Initiative. At least now he had hope.
“We have eleven days before Spike dies.” Xander said, shoving a handful of popcorn into his mouth. He stared pointedly at Willow and then turned his attention toward Giles, who was seated next to Joyce on the sofa. “I still don’t know why that makes a difference. It’s Spike. Spike, of the pointy fangs and Spike of the growly growl. I can’t stop thinking that he is-”
“That’s because you have a one track mind.” Anya interrupted, nibbling on an unpopped kernel from her spot in the floor next to Xander’s chair.
Xander paused, halfway to his mouth with the next handful, and raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me? I have a one track mind?”
“Well, yeah. Last night, when we were rutting like wild deer, you kept mumbling about Spike.” Anya sighed and took his coke can from his hand. “I swear, if I was a jealous woman … ”
“Now hold it right there-“ Xander said, trying not to notice the smirk on Willow’s face or the way Giles and Joyce were staring at him. “I just had a lot on my mind and I don’t rut! That cheapens it. Can’t you just call it-“
“Fornicating? Copulating? Having intercourse? Oh, or making love?” Anya asked hopefully, turning to rest her chin on his knee.
“Screwing.” Xander replied, not willing to go that far.
Anya sat up straight and stared at him apologetically, “Oh, Xander. I don’t have a screwdriver. Unless, oh, you could loan me yours from your toolbelt. The only time you wear it anymore is when you show me your interpretation of those Village People who do that dance.” She stood and hummed YMCA, making the motions. “I love it when you use your penis to spell the letters.”
“It bends?” Joyce blurted, staring at the two in horror.
Xander was too flummoxed to reply, so Anya spoke again. “Oh no, it doesn’t bend. He dips it into finger paint and spells the letters on paper … just by thrusting his hips. Sometimes I get to be the paper and then we merge our genitalia in acts of coition.” Her hand roamed over her hips and she stared off into the distance, panting. “Bodies clapping, undulating, uniting in slick friction until semen and-”
“Anya for god’s sake, stop now!” Fumbling to his feet, Xander dropped the popcorn bowl into the floor and clapped a hand to her mouth.
Giles was no longer able to remain stoic and quickly excused himself. Joyce followed and when Xander heard them erupt into laughter from the kitchen, he grabbed Anya’s arm. “You and I are going to the book store.”
“We are?” Smiling, Anya grabbed her purse. “I’ve always wanted to couple with you in the human anatomy section.”
“Anya!” Xander whirled and grabbed her by the shoulders. “We are not going to fornicate, copulate, mate, couple or anything else remotely pertaining to intercourse until you can learn some slang.”
“I don’t understand.”
“This entire humiliating moment could have been avoided if you knew what it meant to screw. No more big words! We’re going to teach you what slang is all about.”
“Coitus and coition are fairly short words.” She reasoned, running her hand over his chest. “Would you like to perform coitus on the Slayer’s sofa?”
Willow, who was sitting beside the sofa in question, composed herself from the laughter and shook her head. “No. There will be no coitus here.”
“Nothing dealing with intercourse, Anya!” Xander pulled her toward the door.
“Cunnilingus doesn’t have intercourse. Can we do that? Fellatio?”
The door shut on Xander’s groan and Willow shouted, “It’s safe! You can come back in!”
Giles and Joyce came back into the living room, both flushed from laughing and found seats. Willow shook her head and went back to the computer, reading and jotting down anything she thought pertinent. Glancing at the clock in one corner of her screen, she said, “It’s after three. Shouldn’t we wake Buffy up?”
“She’s awake. I’m gonna go out for a while.” Buffy replied, dragging herself into the room. Despite all the sleep she had gotten, she had dark circles under her eyes. She was dressed though, wearing black pants, a red sweater and boots. Something that she remembered from her dream was standing out. Spike had said something about going where she had always gone and seeing roses that were lined up. “I’ll see you later.”
“Are you certain, Buffy? You don’t look very well.” Joyce laid a hand on her forehead and sighed. “You’re hot.”
The phone rang and Joyce glanced at Willow, who was sitting next to it. “Willow, honey, will you get it?”
Willow grabbed it, tuning out the debate on whether Buffy should go out. “Hello?”
“Willow?” Riley asked, wondering if he had dialed the dorm by mistake. “It’s Riley.”
Waving frantically, she got everyone’s attention and said, “Oh, hello Riley.” Emphasis on Riley.
“Is Buffy around?”
“You want to talk to Buffy?” Willow spoke, indicating the phone and questioning whether her friend wanted to talk. When Buffy nodded, she replied, “Yeah, hang on a sec.”
Giles intercepted the Slayer on her way across the room and whispered, “How are you going to handle this? Are you going to let him know that you know or allow him to labor under the illusion that you know nothing?”
“He’s calling from Iowa. He’s not even here.” Buffy shrugged and glanced at the red head. “Will, what should I do?”
Willow covered the mouthpiece and said, “If he knows that you know, he’s going to wonder how and then I may lose access. Let him think you know nothing.”
“I guess it’s settled then. I’m clueless Buffy. It’s a good thing I’ve had a lot of practice at being her.” With a sigh, Buffy took the phone. “Hello?”
Riley perked when he heard her voice and smiled, ignoring the instant message from his mother that popped up on his computer screen. “Hi Buffy.”
“How’s Iowa? Is it snowing?”
“I’m actually back in Sunnydale.” Leaning on one elbow, he cradled the phone with his shoulder and replied to the message. –I have her on the phone! I’m logging off!—
“You’re in Sunnydale! When did you get back?” Glancing at the audience she had, Buffy mouthed. –He’s back.—
“How convenient.” Willow shoved her hands in her pockets and glanced at Giles. “Didn’t I tell you? They will use his connection to her as the way to get her. Classic strategy.”
“My grandparents decided to go on a cruise and couldn’t stand the thought of me being alone. They shipped me home.” The message box blinked again before Riley could disconnect and he rolled his eyes. His mother had written, --Remember your father! Don’t give me a reason to get upset. --
“Aww, I’m sorry!” Feeling a little light headed, Buffy perched on the edge of the couch before she added. “Since we have such a long break from school though, maybe you can get back out there.”
“Yeah, got to love that millennium madness. It got us two extra weeks just for computer upgrading. Imagine if it’s as bad as they say?”
“Yeah, really. We’ll get all of January off too!” Buffy cleared her throat and then coughed, twisting the receiver so he wouldn’t be deafened. “I’m sorry.”
“Oh, it’s just a cold. I forgot my jacket the other day and got caught in the rain.”
Riley thought for several seconds and then shut his computer down. “Hey, you know what? I have just the thing for the sniffles. Would you mind a visitor?”
Buffy’s eyes widened and she glanced up at her friends. “No, I wouldn’t mind a visitor.”
“Great, I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”
“Don’t you want to know my address?”
He slapped himself on the forehead for allowing himself to make such a slip. “That would come in handy, wouldn’t it?”
Buffy quickly gave him directions to her house and hung up, pacing nervously around the room. “He said he had just the thing for a cold and he’s on his way.”
“Don’t take anything he gives you!” Willow instructed. “Just tell him that you’re allergic to most herbs and you don’t want to press your luck.”
“Right!” Giles nodded his head in agreement. “We know they plan on recruiting you but we don’t know exactly what that entails. Having you drugged and in their element would be absolutely horrendous.”
“Definitely.” Willow eyed her friend up and down. “Just stay calm and be natural.”
“Actually, call him back and cancel the whole thing.” Giles pointed at the phone, wagging his finger. “I just don’t think Spike is worth the risk of getting involved with this militia. We aren’t thinking logically here. If you become involved, steal Spike and somehow manage to salvage him, then you ’ll have an entire army angry at you.”
Willow made a noise in the back of her throat and stared at Buffy with wide eyes. Buffy shrugged and said, “I have thought about it. When I get Spike out, secretly and without them knowing, I’ll simply do something that will get me kicked out. Or maybe let them know that I’m the chosen one and say it ’s a conflict of interests.”
“I don’t like this.” Giles pulled his glasses off, rubbing them furiously with his cloth. “We haven’t prepared.”
“Spike’s life is on the line!” Buffy shouted, her pasty skin flushing in anger. “You think he was prepared for that?! If I get in and see that I can ’t do anything then at least I can let him know what’s going to happen to him. He deserves that much!”
Joyce stepped forward and put an arm around Buffy’s shoulders, intervening before it got any worse. “I’m going to be here. I’m not going anywhere and I ’ll take care of her.”
“Mom, you can’t be here. You’ll just make us uncomfortable.”
“Yes, she can and she will. It’s absolutely perfect. Of course your mother would be here when you’re ill! I’m still not happy about this, but we haven’ t the time to argue.” Giles motioned for Willow to collect her things. “Willow, I’ll drive you home.”
Grabbing her belongings, Willow paused and squeezed Buffy on the arm. “Just let him make all the moves. Kinda feel him out and see what happens. And call me.”
Buffy was staring at the television, trying not to panic, when she heard the soft knock on the door. She had insisted that Joyce stay upstairs for a little while, at least, so that there would be less tension and her mother had complied finally. Collecting her thoughts and plastering a false smile on her face, she stood and walked toward the door, telling herself that it was all for Spike.
Riley was about to knock again when the door opened. Relief was the only thing he felt as Buffy smiled up and him and offered a friendly greeting. He adjusted the bag in one arm arm and quickly hugged her with the other, closing his eyes and leaning his head on top of hers. Part of him had been convinced he would never see her again, much less touch her. “It’s good to see you.”
Buffy didn’t know what to do and she almost pulled away, but she reigned in her emotions enough to give him a small squeeze back. Since she had known him, he had maintained a courteous distance from her, only touching her when he absolutely had to. Taking a deep breath, she said, “I’m really glad you’ re back. Why don’t you come in, it’s cold out here?”
He let her go and followed her into the house. “It really is. The weather lately is just not natural. I came to California for the sun.”
For the first time since he arrived, she gazed at him fully and gasped. His jaw was bruised and both of his eyes looked blackened. It dawned on her that he may have been there that night. Riley might have been the one that fought her and that pissed her off and made her even more leery. “What-“
He saw the way she was staring at him and realized that he was still bruised. “Oh, I should have prepared you over the phone. My grandfather had a horse corralled that broke free and we had to go chase it. I got a limb in the face.”
“Are you okay?” Part of her wanted to believe it and another part wondered if he really meant that he got HER limb in his face.
“Yeah.” Riley nodded and peered around the room. It was warm and inviting, decorated with just the amount of art and personal belongings to make it homey. Giving her his full attention again, he narrowed his eyes as he recalled her arm. “How about you? You told me you got cut.”
“Oh, it’s fine.” She shrugged and indicated his coat, hoping to change the subject. “Want me to hang your coat up?”
“Sure.” He put the bag down in the floor, not catching the weary gaze that Buffy cast at it, and peeled his coat off.
Buffy glanced at his arms. Even though he was a liar and was probably only feigning interest to ‘recruit’ her, he still had really good arms. Swearing under her breath, she quickly draped his jacket over a hook and led him toward the living room. “Do you want something to drink?”
“No, thanks.” He lifted the bag again and followed her, eyeing her tiny frame. “You know, for someone who doesn’t feel well, you certainly look great. Some people are just born with it.”
“It’s Maybelline.” She sat on the sofa and swallowed, trying to push away the scratchiness in the back of her throat.
“Well, maybe you should be their spokesmodel.” He sat beside her and opened the bag. “I rented a couple movies and brought you some bottled water. People don’t realize how many harmful contaminants there are in tap water. This is better if you have a sore throat.”
“Thank you.” Buffy took the water and movies he offered and almost burst out laughing when she saw the titles. If she didn’t know what he was up to, she probably wouldn’t have connected the dots, but since she did, the laugh would have been on him if she had dared giggle. “G.I. Jane and Fright Night? How did you happen to pick these?”
Riley licked his lips and took a deep breath. The plan was to gauge her reaction to the military film, see how she felt about women in the armed forces and then watch her react to a scary movie. Most girls would be quivering messes and leap into a guy’s arms, which he wouldn’t mind at all, but this was strictly a test. “Well, nothing will make a girl feel better than a movie about woman power and most girls like Demi Moore. The scary one is there because I’m a guy and had to even it out.”
“You’re very sweet.”
“I’m also sorry you’re sick.” Riley reached into the bag again and plucked a fuzzy teddy bear from the bottom. The bear had nothing to do with the test. It was there because he honestly felt bad for what he would be introducing into her life in the days to come. “See? He’s sick too.”
Buffy really smiled at him as she took the bear. It was sitting upright, wearing a red and white striped gown and had a little nightcap on. One paw was clutching a box of tissue and the other paw was rubbing his button nose. “It’s adorable. Thank you!”
“Feel better?” Riley watched her cradle the bear in her lap and berated himself again for allowing this to happen. She was a girl, frilly and perfect. From the top of her silky hair, straight to the bottom of her tiny feet, she was a girl and it was wrong to pull her into his world. Every fiber in his being wanted her to say that women fighting in battle was wrong and be terrified at the demons in the film. If that happened, he would have to tell his commanding officer that the recruit had an aversion to protocol and could not be a sound investment.
“Surprisingly enough, I feel great now.” She replied, and looked over at him in time to see an expression on his face that resembled guilt and apprehension.
The look faded when he realized she was watching him and he nodded. “Didn’t I tell you I had just the thing for the sniffles?”
Before Buffy could reply, she heard her mother coming down the stairs and glanced at Riley apologetically. “My mom’s here.”
Riley had expected as much when he saw her car in the drive. It was actually perfect because now he would get a chance to meet her and see for himself that she was as normal as her daughter, something that the Initiative had to verify visually. “That’s fine.”
Joyce walked into the room slowly and glanced at the boy on the sofa. He was certainly handsome and exactly the type of boy that she had pictured Buffy with. Broad shouldered and fit, his presence dominated the small living room. As soon as he saw her, he stood and extended his hand. “Hello, Mrs. Summers. I’m Riley Finn.”
Joyce smiled up at him, loathing herself for finding him attractive. She had wanted to desperately dislike him the moment she laid eyes on him. “Hello, Riley. You can call me Joyce. Please, sit down.”
Riley complied and folded his hands in his lap as the woman took a seat across from him. This would be the part where she grilled him on what his major was and what he planned to do with his life. The few dates he had actually had were all the same in this respect.
Joyce cleared her throat and spoke, ignoring Buffy’s nods toward the door. “So, Riley, what’s your major?”
Grinning, he replied, “I’m majoring in Psychology. It’s really interesting and the courses are a constant challenge.”
“Do you want to be a psychologist?” Joyce asked.
“At first I did, but I became a teaching assistant last year and really enjoy that. I may be a Professor instead.” Riley chuckled and leaned back against the sofa. “I know the pay is a lot less but I think it would be more rewarding.”
“Are you the assistant in Buffy’s class?” Shifting in her seat, Joyce got comfortable, ready to keep him talking until she cracked him and he confessed his ill intentions.
“Yes, I am.”
Figuring she may as well crack Buffy while she was at it, Joyce nodded. “And how is my daughter doing in that class?”
“Mom!” Buffy’s mouth flew open and she shook her head. “I can’t believe you would ask that.”
“It’s okay.” Riley held his hand up. “She’s actually got one of the highest grades in the class right now. That could change though, if she doesn’t write a paper as good as her last one.” He turned toward Buffy and asked, “How is it going anyway?”
“It’s fine. I’m almost finished. And mom, Riley and I are going to watch a movie. Didn’t you have stuff to sew tonight for that Christmas pageant?”
Joyce reluctantly took the hint and nodded. “Actually, yes I do. I’ll just be upstairs ... with the door open.” She directed that final statement at Riley with a pointed glare.
“And we’ll be here. Watching movies.” Riley squirmed a little as the woman stood. “It was nice to meet you.”
“Likewise, I’m sure.” She turned on her heel and made her way out of the room and up the stairs.
Buffy breathed a sigh of relief and shook her head apologetically. “I’m sorry, Riley. She’s very over protective.”
“She should be.” Riley shrugged and pointed at the movies on the table. “Which one do you want to watch first?”
“G.I. Jane. I haven’t seen that one.” Standing up, Buffy grabbed the movie, slid it into the VCR, and then motioned for him to follow her into the kitchen. She pulled a soda for him from the refrigerator and got them both glasses of ice. They made small talk while she waited for a bag of microwave popcorn to pop and then made their way back into the living room. She took a bottle of water and opened it, pouring it over the ice. “Thanks again for the water.”
“My pleasure.” Riley settled next to her on the sofa as the coming attractions started. She shifted a little, handing him the popcorn and he caught of whiff of her shampoo. It smelled like a garden, floral and rich, and just enticing enough to make you want to lean closer for a better whiff. He watched her profile in the light from the television, trying to picture her dirty and sweaty. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t imagine her wearing military fatigues. He stared at her dainty hand around her glass, taking in her painted nails, and wondered how she would adjust to the non-color policy. No jewelry, no make-up and absolutely nothing that could be considered a luxury was permitted as soon as you suited up.
The movie depicted a woman, Jane, who was permitted to train with the Navy Seals after a female Senator pulled a few strings. The bulk of the plot followed Jane as she underwent horrific training at the hands of the Master Chief, who wanted her to be a casualty to the sixty percent drop out rate. Buffy was vocal about her displeasure that Jane wasn’t treated as an equal even though she had proven time and again that she was. When Jane kept going, even in the face of adversity, Buffy cheered her on, saying that a woman should be allowed to do anything. Several times she said, 'If I was in her shoes I would-" and finished the sentence by telling how she would handle it.
Riley listened intently, his training taking over as he judged her reactions. It didn’t surprise him at all when Buffy freaked out over Demi Moore shaving her head but what did surprise him was her reaction to the ending. After a climax that involved Jane being beaten by several of the men, struggling to survive and eventually getting a small gift from the Master Chief, Buffy tossed her hands in the air and said, “Well, that was absolutely predictable.”
Buffy sighed and clicked rewind on the remote control. “Oh, just that they would have to spoil her moment by having that guy give her a book. She didn’ t need that book to know that she was a hero.”
Riley thought about that and said, “Well, maybe she did. Maybe she wouldn’t have felt satisfied without his nod of approval.”
“That’s not what being a true hero is all about. She didn’t need to know what he thought. That was stupid. Real heroism comes from inside, when you and you alone know what you’re doing to make a difference. Like Fright Night, for example. They go and kick demon ass just because it needs to be done. Not because they’ll get any attention for it.”
“Don’t you think it’s more rewarding to get attention?”
Buffy chewed her lower lip for a second and then shook her head. “If you do something just for the payoff then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. A true hero is selfless.”
Riley nodded at her, watching as she ejected the movie, and put the next one in. This time, he didn’t pay any attention to her reactions to the film and enjoyed her company instead. As far as he was concerned, he had gotten what he came for.
She had passed the test based on her reaction to one film and, in his opinion, would not let her gender factor into her ability to be a team player. He also felt, based on what she had said, that she would be content to serve under a veil of discretion and not seek acclaim for her exploits and endeavors.
His mother would be so proud.
Buffy tossed and turned, the mask on her face cutting into her cheeks. She wondered how she was still alive and tried to pull her hands up to yank the contraption off, but she was tied up again.
Spike appeared over her suddenly, staring down at her. Her pleas were muffled and he cocked his head to one side and unsnapped the fasteners on the mask. “What was that you said, luv?”
Buffy gasped for air and sucked it into her lungs greedily. “I said to let me go.”
He shook his head and hopped up onto the table. Sitting beside her, he twirled a scarlet rose in his fingertips and sighed. “I don’t think so. I can’t help but think that you aren’t listening to me.”
“Yes I am!” She cried, flinging her head back against the metal table. “I know we’re on a theme here. Now you have ten days.”
He nodded and turned toward her. “And you aren’t doing anything, are you?”
"I’m trying to save you.”
“I told you how to save me!”
“You gave me a cryptic message, Spike. Something about finding roses! I found one, it’s in your hand!”
Spike crumpled the rose he was holding and leaped off the edge of the table. “You haven’t even looked for them. Don’t you understand that once you find the twelve roses, you’ll be where I am!”
“I give up!” Buffy shouted, trying unsuccessfully to kick her feet in frustration. “This is ridiculous!”
“Fine, you need me to be more specific? You’ll find me by going to the ceme- “
“Buffy? Buffy, honey? Wake up.” Joyce shook her several times, trying to pull her from whatever it was that was making her tremble so much.
“Mom?” Buffy sat up quickly and glanced around her surroundings. She was in the living room, lying on the sofa. The bear that Riley had given her was in her lap and their glasses were still on the coffee table, but he was no where to be seen. “Where’s Riley?”
“You fell asleep and he decided to go.” With a frown, Joyce tilted Buffy’s face up and stared at her intently. “I’m worried about you and about this whole situation.”
“Don’t be. I’m not.” Buffy hugged her quickly and said goodnight, promising to clean the mess the next day.
Alone in her room, Buffy changed clothes fast, slipping into solid black and tying her sneakers. She tossed a few weapons into her bag and threw it over her shoulder before she slipped through her bedroom window and dropped into the front yard.
It was time to find the roses.
The Story Continues
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