Wet and Wild
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Giles walked across town, having excused himself from the group as soon as they cleared the tunnels. He had concocted a story, something about needing a book from home, and as soon as the others had headed off for Michael’s apartment, he headed toward Buffy’s house. The others had a method of dealing with their concern for the Slayer and he could not bear to hear the jokes from Xander, the reprimands from Willow and the stating of the obvious from Anya. Most of all though, most of all, he could not bear the looks that Joyce kept casting his way.
As he climbed the stairs of the modest house on Revello Drive, he kept reminding himself that it wasn’t his fault that Buffy was the Chosen One. Every time he lifted his foot and stepped higher, he told himself that Buffy would be fine. Opening the unlocked door brought memories of her previous battles and when he stepped into her bedroom and flipped on the light switch, his own method of dealing with his concern for her kicked in.
When he had worked as a librarian and would send her on a mission, he often found himself watching her leave and then rushing out into the hallway to watch her until she was out of sight. He rationalized it by telling himself that he was checking to make sure she had her coat or her Slayer’s bag, but it wasn’t. It was because he didn’t want to someday have to wonder what she had been doing the last time he saw her.
He couldn’t remember if he had been angry with her. He couldn’t remember if he had told her to be careful or said anything to her to indicate that she meant so much more to him than just a Slayer. Perched on the edge of her bed, he rested his elbows on his knees and hung his head, wracking his brain to recall what his last words to her had been.
Had she known that, despite his agitation and anger at her, he loved her like a daughter? Was she able to understand that since she came into his life, he had not longed for a family, that she was his family? That she, and her friends, were his children and his life? Or had he failed to show her how he felt and would his punishment for that be to always wonder if she felt it?
Shaking his head, he stood and stared around the room, a blend of woman and child and always, her femininity. Smiling at the daintiness of her bedspread, he turned to pick up a stuffed animal and his boot hit something under the bed. Kneeling down, he slid a box out and reality slammed into him. It was a box full of weapons and stakes and Holy Water. His fingers skimmed the various items and he leaned his head against her bed, struck by how remarkable she was, how adept she was at hiding what she was. And how sad it was for her to have to hide anything about herself.
Giles drew strength from that. Looking at her weapons and seeing her love for life convinced him that she would not just give up. The Slayer, his slayer, would survive.
He pushed the box away and stood, ready to leave and go to the tunnels to find her. He felt guilty for not insisting that he stay and help with the search. As he strode toward the door, something caught his eye on her desk. He turned and lifted the brightly wrapped package, noting his name on the tag. He wrestled with himself, wondering if he should open it and then sat it back down. It would be wrong to do that. Having failed her in a million different ways, that would be too much.
Setting it back on the desk, he noticed an open card, one that was addressed to him. It wouldn’t be too bad to read through that. After all, it was just lying out in the open, right? Her perched on her chair, lifted the card and closed it, eyeing the cover, a picture of an English countryside. Buffy had written Merry Christmas in the corner and as he opened it, he adjusted his glasses to read her handwriting, which covered both sides of the blank card.
For so many years, I have looked to you for guidance, wisdom and strength. You have always been there for me and never once, not even when I made so many mistakes that you should have hated me, did you turn your back on me. I ’ve made mistakes in our relationship, Giles. I told you once that if you touched me, I would kill you. Remember? I was just mad and sometimes I wake up remembering that and want to call you and tell you. I’m telling you now.
I love you, Giles. I’m sorry for saying that to you.
My dad called me a couple of weeks ago and told me that he wanted to take me to England. A father/daughter trip together for Christmas. It’s something we talked about for years and I would always picture him taking me to dinner on one of those little sidewalk cafes. I had these images of him dancing with me and showing me the sights. I used to get so excited when he would mention it, but on the phone, I was impassive. I told him that I’d love to go, but I know how he is and wouldn’t hold my breath.
He got mad and hung up and then I got two tickets in the mail. First class all the way. He sent me a stupid note about letting him know if I wanted to see England with my father so he could take time off from work.
Well, I don’t want to see England with my father. I want to see it with my ‘dad’.
I want to take you, Giles, because I realized something. In the past few years, every time I would see myself at one of those cafes, I was with you. I want to see it through your eyes and I want you to show me where you grew up and everything. Anyone can be a father and anyone can parent a child. But you’ve been a dad to me and I can’t imagine seeing England with anyone else.
I wouldn’t want to.
Giles quickly pulled out his handkerchief and dabbed at his eyes. He read through the card again and then put it back the way he had found it, lying open on her desk. It was overwhelming. Certainly, he knew that she regarded him as a friend and she had proven time and again that she cared for him, but it was a shock to know that she loved him.
He had never been more convinced that his Christmas gift to her, the gift that he had worried about and agonized over, would be absolutely perfect.
Now he just had to find her and make sure she was alive and well. And he would be damned if he didn’t do just that. Grabbing one of her bags, he loaded it full of weapons from under her bed and set off back down into the tunnels. This time, he would march right into the Initiative and let them know exactly what he thought of their organization and demand that they help locate the soldier who had taken Buffy. They had caused the entire mess and he would force them to rectify it.
Giles grimaced as he eyed the bag, wondering how well a stake and a vial of Holy Water would intimidate a military of armed guards. Sighing, he decided it didn’t matter.
He had not been called Ripper for nothing.
And nothing would bring out the Ripper faster than a threat to his Slayer.
Riley closed his eyes as he listened to Michael’s threats over the walkie-talkie. It was all too much to process. Buffy had lied to him. His mother had lied to him. His father was here and wasn’t trying to kill anyone. Buffy had been shot and now Michael was a demon and had Forest hostage. The sound of Michael’s voice crackling over the talkie was the final straw. The pressure was almost unbearable. It felt like someone was standing on his shoulders just waiting for him to break.
He laid the talkie on the supply tray carefully and walked out of the room, where he promptly slammed his fist into the nearest wall. He didn’t feel anything, no pain and no welcome tearing of his skin, so he did it again and again until his hand ached. Every blow against the wall made him madder and he finally leaned his head against it, breathing hard and struggling not to cry.
Hal watched from the doorway and held his hand up as the vampire, the one called Angel, started to brush past him to go toward Riley. Angel backed away and Hal shambled to lay a hand on Riley’s shoulder. “It will be okay.”
“It’s never going to be okay.” Riley said, almost growling the words. He spun and stared up at his father. “Everything I have believed is a lie. Everything about Buffy, everything about you and everything about me. If Maggie did this to you, did this to Michael, then who is to say she didn’t do something to me? What if I’m not a man at all?”
“You are.” Hal held the boy at arm’s length and tightened his grip. “I can smell a demon a mile away. You are absolutely a human being, son. A man.”
“I’m pathetic. I’m weak. I’m out here beating up the wall when my best friend is in the hands of some fiend. And God help me, I’m scared.”
“We’ll help your friend. We will get him back.”
“No, I will. Michael’s fight is with me. It’s always been with me.” Riley backed away and walked toward a supply closet, intent on finding a weapon.
Angel stepped out of the room and glanced at Hal. “He can’t face this thing. Whatever it is, it will kill him in the frame of mind he’s in.”
“How do you feel about helping me, then?” Hal stared at the vampire, wondering at the emotion he possessed. “Riley can stay with the girls, locked in that room, and you and I can find Michael.”
“Sounds like a plan to me.” Angel nodded toward Riley who was coming back with several guns and two long machetes.
Hal turned his attention toward Riley and said, “Angel and I will go and find Michael. You need to stay here and keep an eye on the girls.”
Riley stared from one to the other, his jaw tightening. “Absolutely not. This is my fight.”
Angel cleared his throat and spoke in a low voice. “Then the answer would be for you to make sure he doesn’t go after Buffy again. He’s going to go after those closest to you.”
“You don’t know this place. I know it like the back of my hand.” Riley stood his ground, unwilling to back down.
“I know it even better.” Hal said. “You forget that this place was my creation, my baby. Besides, Buffy may wake up afraid and she’ll need you.”
The thought of Buffy needing him caused him to snort, but Riley knew that the girls would need protection. Hal was too clumsy to use a weapon and he wasn’t sure about Angel, so that left him. With a sigh, he handed over the small arsenal he had rounded up and stepped aside. “Don’t just kill him. Make it hurt.”
“That won’t be a problem.” Angel frowned as he glanced back over his shoulder at Buffy, who had not moved again. “Something tells me Michael is the one responsible for this. He shot her and I will cause him pain for that.”
Riley followed the vampire’s gaze and nodded, convinced that the demon could make good on his word. It was taking all of his will power not to insist that he go and fight for himself, but Buffy and Willow’s safety had to come first. Lying on the bed, Buffy looked almost childlike, a tiny lump under the covers, and Riley felt responsible for what she had been through. “I’ll take care of the girls.”
Willow appeared suddenly with the wakie-talkie in her hand. “Riley? There’s something going on. I think it might be Morse code.”
Riley took the device from her hand and turned the volume louder. Sure enough, there was morse code being sent across the waves. Angel cocked his head to one side, clearly lost, but Riley nodded. “It’s Xander. He’s saying that Michael attacked him, took Forest and that they are … somewhere in a room near the place where Spike was being held captive. Where did Xander learn Morse code?”
“He was a soldier once.” Willow replied simply, as if that made sense.
“But he’s only, what, nineteen?” Riley shook his head. “This could be Michael. It could be a trap.”
Willow looked thoughtful. “Tell him that Willow wants to know what club he was Treasurer of.”
Riley made a long sequence of taps on the walkie-talkie and waited for the reply, which came almost immediately. Riley’s brow furrowed and he asked, “The We Hate Cordelia club?”
“It’s Xander.” Willow sighed with relief. “He’s still alive.”
“We hate Cordelia?” Angel looked perplexed; wishing he could tell the girl how much Cordy had changed in her time in Los Angeles.
Willow shrugged. “We did. Or at least, I did. He couldn’t have considering what all he did with her.”
Hal glanced around the large facility and said, “You know, if we can hear this, then Michael can too. He may go straight for the boy.”
“We better go now.” Angel hefted a machete and slung one of the guns over his shoulder.
“Yes.” Hal nodded and looked over at Riley. “When we go, you barricade the door and shut off the lights in there so he can’t see you. Keep your weapon handy and keep an eye on Buffy’s vitals. We’ll contact you on channel twelve.”
“Be careful.” Willow offered, taking the gun that Angel held out to her before she followed Riley back into the exam room.
Once inside, Riley shut off the lights, blocked the door, and paced toward the window. He watched as Hal led the vampire down the corridor and around the corner, before he turned his attention to Willow. “Are you okay?”
The redhead moved to Buffy’s bedside and took her friend’s hand before she nodded at Riley. “I’m fine. Are you?”
He ran a hand through his hair and leaned against the wall, squeezing his eyes closed. “No.”
“She never meant to hurt you.” Willow pulled the cover up over Buffy’s shoulders and moved around the bed. She sat on one of the chairs and motioned for Riley to sit in the other one. “I know it’s hard for you to understand why she would want to save Spike and I know that it hurt you a lot to know that she knew everything from the get go, but she isn’t a bad person. Riley, she cares for you. I know she does.”
Riley flopped into one of the chairs and stayed silent for a few minutes, just staring at the blond who had turned his life upside down. “I can’t have this conversation right now, Willow.”
“You need to--.“
“I need to think, okay? It’s not all about Buffy. My mother is a psychopath. My father looks like some kind of swamp thing, my best friend is in mortal danger and the girl I love betrayed me for a demon. What I need to do is think. Process it all.”
Willow pursed her lips together and sat further back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest. For several seconds neither spoke, and then Willow cleared her throat softly. “I suppose I can see where all of that would be, well, hard to digest.”
“But, in Buffy’s defense—“
“Willow, if it’s all the same, I’d rather hear Buffy speak in her own defense.”
Before Willow could argue, Michael spoke over the airwaves again. “Agent Finn?”
Riley lifted the small black device and said, “What?”
“I see London, I see France,” He sang, in a nasally voice, as he watched Hal and the dark vampire run into the blond and the boy that had been with Forest. “But I don’t see you with your friends. And would you look at Hal? My God, you’re the spitting image of your grotesque father.”
Angel’s voice crackled next as he took the piece from Spike, “So, you can see us but we can’t see you?”
“That’s right.” Michael replied. “It’s called Hide and Seek.”
A new voice, Spike’s voice, chimed in as he snatched the talkie back. “I’m not known for my patience, so why don’t you come on down here and let me kill you for what you did to Buffy.”
“What about me?” Xander piped in. “Head wound!”
“Maybe it knocked some sense into you.” Spike replied, leaving his finger on the button so that the entire conversation was broadcast.
“Both of you, be quiet.” Angel snapped and he grabbed the talkie from Spike’ s hand. “So, Mikey. If it’s a game you want, it’s a game you get. But we make the rules.”
Michael watched from the monitor room as the dark haired vampire motioned for Hal to head toward the main frame. He switched to a different camera and watched as Hal instructed the blond vampire which switches to push. The lights flickered off and the monitors went blank. Michael glanced at Forest, who was regaining consciousness. “They don’t play fair.” His smile widened. “I’m having fun already.”
Once the compound was completely silent and dark, Angel turned to face the others. “Where would we find weapons and night vision goggles for Xander and Spike?”
“Right this way.” Hal led them down a short hallway and pushed a door open. He could see perfect in the dark and knew that the vampire could too. He handed Spike a pair of goggles and paused, eyeing the man up and down. There was something familiar about him, something he couldn’t put his finger on. “Son, have we met?”
“I think I would have remembered. No offense, but what the hell are you?” Spike strapped the goggles in place and blinked several times as his eyes adjusted.
Hal studied him closely, recognizing the voice. The vampire he had injected years ago was standing before him, but something wasn’t right. Leaning closer, he sniffed the air around Spike and shook his head. “You aren’t in a position to be asking me what the hell I am, young man. What the hell are you? A vampire? You don’t smell like a human, yet your heart pounds steadily in your chest.”
Spike squared his shoulders and stood up straighter. “Yeah, well, you think I like that? Bugger off!”
Hal watched him as he stalked to lean against the wall and motioned for the human boy, who seemed leery of getting too close. “Come here. Xander, is it?”
“Yeah.” Xander took a tentative step forward and reached for the pair of goggles in Hal’s hand.
“Come closer and let me see your head.”
Xander glanced at Angel, who urged him forward, and he swallowed hard. “I think it’s okay.”
Hal walked forward and tilted back the boy’s head. “You need stitches.”
“I’m left my sewing kit at home.” Xander quipped nervously.
Moving back, Hal lifted a machete and brought it upward. Xander’s eyes widened and he shouted, “No! Hey! I’m not lame, okay? No reason to kill me.”
Angel smacked him on the back of the head and watched Hal draw the blade across his hand. Blood seeped through and then the wound closed almost immediately. Hal stepped forward and reached for Xander, who tried to squirm away, but Angel pinned him and held him in place.
As soon as Hal pressed his palm against Xander’s head, the pain was gone. Xander gasped and ran his fingers over his scalp, pressing delicately, and then with more pressure. “What did you do? I’m healed!”
Spike had stepped out of the corner to watch the entire exchange and his eyes were wide. “Did you do that for Buffy?”
“Yes, she’s going to be fine.” Hal patted Xander on the arm and started for the door. “But don’t worry. I won’t be doing the same for Michael.”
Giles made his way back through the tunnels, pushing his glasses further up onto his nose, and eyeing his surroundings with apprehension. It had been less ominous when he had come down with a group. Now, he was alone and every one of his senses were going haywire. He breathed a sigh of relief as he entered the area that Spike had been kept hostage in and moved toward a ladder.
As he climbed, he ran over his options. Infiltrating a well organized and weapon toting group of soldiers did not rank high on his list of things to do, but here he was and there was no turning back. He had decisions to make though. He had to decide how to approach the people inside and how to demand that they help, without annoying anyone. Getting shot also ranked very low on his list of priorities.
He poked his head out of the manhole and then ducked below, registering what all he had seen. Which was … nothing. Sticking just the top of his head free, he scanned left to right, pondering the darkness. It had been his experience that good things did not happen in total darkness and inside a facility known for housing demons.
Bemoaning the task at hand, Giles pulled himself free and pressed his back against the wall. Now his options were left or right and since he couldn’t see three inches in front of his face either way, he chose to go left and put his right hand on the wall. Right hand rule. All around him there was silence and he listened to his own heavy breathing as he made his way through the darkness.
For ten minutes, he followed the wall, bumping into various tables and that stood flush against it. After he had successfully made as much noise as he could, he sighed and stopped walking, ready to announce that he was there to anyone who could listen. That was when he heard something off to his left and he whispered, “Hello?” Nothing. “Hello?” He spoke louder and stumbled forward, running into something that flashed blue and shocked him.
“Bloody Hell!” Giles shouted.
That was when the lights came on.
The next exclamation that escaped his mouth was also from shock, mental shock and not physical. All around him, there were demons behind pieces of what appeared to be glass. And the glass was slowly sliding sideways, allowing the smaller demons to step into the corridor with him.
“This won’t do at all.” He mumbled and fumbled for a stake from the bag as the demons surrounded him.
Hal could feel it. As soon as the lights had come back on, he knew that something had happened. Deep in his gut, he knew that Michael had opened the cells and let the demons out. His enhanced ears could pick up their howls and moans and his skin tingled. Moving fast, he grabbed the human boy and pointed at the main computer. “Flip that red lever and type in SYSTEM LOCKDOWN.”
Xander did as instructed and then jumped a little as loud crashes could be heard all over the building. “Whoa! What just happened?”
Hal quickly explained. “We overrode the system. Anything Michael wants to pull next will have to come from this computer. The monitors don’t work during a lockdown, neither do the phones or elevators, but that works well. I have a feeling that once his comfort level has been stripped, he’ll come to us. The lights will automatically shut off and on during lockdown. It was a bug that I was never able to iron out, so even if they do go off, don’t put too much stock in the shelter that provides because they will come back on randomly.”
Angel had also experienced the same feeling of unease and as he looked around, the feeling intensified. “Where is the lady that Willow blasted?”
Hal arched an eyebrow and glanced behind him, to the spot that Maggie had been lying in. The empty spot. “Son of a bitch!”
“We need to split up.” Angel said. “Some of us need to go find that woman and the others need to search for Michael.”
“I’ll deal with Maggie.” Hal stated, no emotion in his voice. “You three stay right here and wait for Michael to show. Odds are, he’s going to come down here and try to mess with the mainframe. When he does … “
“When he does, he dies.” Spike said simply
“Well. Shit.” Giles announced to no one. Demons flanked him on every side and he threw a cursory glance over his shoulder to confirm that he was indeed boxed in. None of the demons appeared to be advancing closer; they simply stood staring at him, sizing him up.
He knew that he did not appear to be an intimidating person, considering his slacks, sweater and dress shoes, but he did have a bag full of weapons over his shoulder. Moving carefully, slowly, he slid the bag around under his arm and pulled a stake free. One of the demons growled low in it’s throat when it saw the stake and moved back, the growl deep and resonant through the quiet compound. The others stood their ground, their demeanor unfazed by the sight of the small wooden weapon.
Giles scanned each, mentally cataloguing the different breeds and species that stood before him. Clearing his throat, he said clearly, “Do any of you speak English?”
“I do.” A vampire told him, flexing his fingers as though he couldn’t wait to ball a fist and pummel someone. “But it won’t help you any.”
“You must believe me when I say that I mean you no harm.” Giles scanned the demonic faces, pausing at several of the more feral looking ones to emphasize his words. “I am here on a mission that is of no consequence to you.”
“Oh, it is of consequence if you seek to do us more harm.” A horned demon replied, inching closer. “A stake? What have you in your bag to stop an army?”
Giles stood his ground, unflinching. He knew that he would have to fight them all or bluff his way out of it and at that moment, bluffing was comforting. “An army is what you will all have to fight if you do not make your way to freedom now. There is an opening around the corner that leads to the sewer and it has been left open. If you go now, you may have a chance at getting away from the people here.”
The vampire who had spoken first straightened his shirt a little and glanced around at the other demons. “He’s offering us a deal. Am I the only one here who isn’t moved?”
One of the vampires, hearing Giles’ blood pumping fresh and alive through his veins, leaped forward and attempted to bite him. As soon as he made the move, he clutched his head and howled in pain and shock. Another demon, thinking that Giles had somehow hurt the vampire, lunged at the man, only to have the same results. It happened several times, with several breeds, and Giles stood in the center, flinching every time claws raked him and the demons retreated in pain.
Chaos ensued as Giles, and more importantly, the demons, began to grasp what was happening. The creatures were unable to harm any living creature. Demons being demons, the ones that were not in pain began to taunt the ones that were, and soon, Giles was forgotten as the creatures waged a war with one another.
He used the distraction to his advantage and moved quickly away from the melee that was beginning in the main hall. He sighed with relief when he saw that the new corridor was demon free and walked briskly, keeping his mind on the task at hand. He had to find a human being and let them know what was happening. Helfting his bag, Giles clutched the stake tighter and moved further into the compound.
A movement caught Giles’ attention suddenly and he sighed with relief to see a young man dressed in fatigues supporting another young man. One was trying to open a door and the other was slumped against him, probably injured. “Excuse me, sir. I think I need your help.”
Michael turned slowly and eyed the older man up and down. “Really? How so?”
“My name is Rupert Giles and I am here to seek aid in locating Buffy Summers. She seems to have been kidnapped by one of the boys who work here and I fear for her safety.” His gaze left the young man and he took in the state of the injured boy with him. The black boy was gagged and his eyes were open and wild, clearly trying to send a message to him. Giles sagged a little and backed away as he realized that the boy was Forest, Riley’s friend. “And of course, this situation could not get worse.”
“Yes, it actually could.” Michael dropped Forest and slammed his fist into the boy’s face, effectively knocking him unconscious. “Worse for you, I mean. I need a new hostage.”
“Well. Shit.” Giles said again, dropping his bag and raising his fists in boxer fashion. “I must warn you, I won’t be taken alive.”
“I must warn you.” Michael smiled. “I was counting on you saying that.”
“Well,” Giles clenched his jaw and motioned with his hand for the boy to make a move. The lights went out again suddenly and he added, “Shit.”
Maggie rubbed the back of her neck, trying to work out the tension. It was a good thing that her jacket, although appearing nothing more than cotton, was lined with a material that protected against shock. She had been knocked unconscious by Willow’s laser, but the blast had been deflected enough that it didn’t put her out for too long. She slid her pass into the door of the Infirmary just moments before the lights went out again.
The back up generators inside the ward kicked in, enabling the machines to keep working and the various lights on the machines lit the room enough for her to see. She moved fast, collecting blood and saliva from the people strapped on the beds. Her thoughts were jumbled, probably from the shock she had received, but she was capable enough in her task to perform it quickly, fluidly.
Too many years of research, too many hours of blood, sweat and tears, had been invested in the Initiative to let it go. Even if she did not survive the night, the samples would be preserved in the deep freeze and Riley, sweet Riley, would see to it that her dream lived on. Marking the vials of blood and the swabs of saliva with the proper numbers and codes, she moved quickly into the next room to file them.
The blast from the freezer drowned out the sounds of the door opening behind her and when she stepped out of the freezer and closed the latch, she saw a reflection in the stainless steel. Her heart seemed to skip several beats and she sagged against the cool metal, not turning to face her creation.
Hal stepped further into the room and eyed her up and down. “I knew I would find you here. I couldn’t help but notice that your victims in there have gotten younger over the years. Honestly, Maggie. Children?”
She turned slowly and lifted her chin. “They were exposed to dangerous toxins because they were kidnapped by demons. We are merely-.”
“Oh, save it.” Hal crossed his arms and leaned against a counter in one corner of the room. “Is that what you tell yourself to get you through the night? That they were exposed? That they were mentally damaged enough by their encounters with demons that they could never live productive lives? That it’s all for a greater cause?”
Maggie’s eyes never left his, but she didn’t speak. Hal continued. “You know as well as I do that it doesn’t happen that way. You could make them forget what happened and they would be perfectly normal. You made Riley forget, didn’t you? That’s okay. I made him remember.”
“Aware of everything. He knows that it was Michael he saw that night and not me. He knows that you made me what I am and he hates you for it.”
“He would never hate me. I am his mother.”
Hal chuckled. “You used every mental torture you could on him. Making him call you Maggie instead of Mother and punishing him with the strap if he slipped up. You insisted that he be named Finn instead of Walsh so you could have the perfect soldier and no one would ever know he was your son. You separated yourself from him since his birth. You aren’t a mother to him.”
“He loves me.”
“Love? How many times did I hear that spoken endearment from you, Maggie? Look at what love did to me. Look at what your love for your job has done to innocent people. Is that the love you speak of? Because if it is, you’ve perverted it.”
Maggie swallowed hard and started to move past Hal. His massive body blocked her and she stared up at him. “What exactly is it that you want from me? You could have killed me when you had the chance, but you didn’t. Why?”
“Buffy.” Hal replied, staring down at her. “She’s the reason you’re still breathing right now.” A smile curled the corners of his lips and he leaned lower. “But, the idea I just got is all mine.”
Stumbling backwards, Maggie grabbed a long metal rod off the filing cabinet in the corner and swung at him. His hand, easily three times larger than a human hand, caught it and twisted, causing her to release it and cry out. “You bastard! You could have broken my wrist.”
Hal said nothing for several long minutes and then he grabbed her, tucking her under his arm and taking her into another room off to one side. It was hard, with his crippled hands, to hold her in place on the chair and strap her down, but he managed; fury and determination pushing him through any obstacles. As soon as she was strapped, he gathered supplies and kneeled in front of her. With a smile on his face, he used one sharp talon to cut into an alcohol swab and pressed it to her forearm. “Now, Maggie, this is going to hurt me more than it does you.”
“You’ll never get away with this, Hal.” Maggie tried to wriggle away as he picked up an IV and shoved it into her skin, roughly searching for a vein. “What are you going to do? Inject me with poison?”
“No.” He shook his head and reached for her other arm, using another alcohol swab before repeating the process.
“Why are you giving me two IV’s, Hal? What are you going to do to me?”
“You know the answer to that, Maggie. Think really hard.”
Hal walked to the freezer and flipped a light on, leaning down low so he could walk into the small room. He scanned the shelves before finding the mixture he needed, all the way in the back. As he shut the door again, he spoke. “You know, I told Buffy earlier that I would need time to find my cure. Time to research and time to create a serum, but I realized that isn’t true. My serum was attainable all this time. You see, Maggie, you can never erase what something was. The human in me, has been here all along, waiting for release. It’s like a vampire. The demon takes over, but the human is always still there. The body, the face, the mind, the memories. It’s weak, but it’s there.
You made me a monster. You didn’t realize that anything you do can be reversed. Anything you put in me can be flushed out. With a vampire, it’s demonic possession that grabs hold of the host and won’t let go, but with science, it’s numbers and equations and formulas that grab hold. The problem with me has been that the human components of the equation were suppressed. All I needed, all along, was enough human blood to counteract the foreign materials you injected into my body.” He paused for effect and took a bow. “You can hold your applause since you seem to be tied up.”
“What does this have to do with me, Hal?” Maggie felt a bead of sweat trickle down her back and took a deep breath.
“What I am right now is a medical miracle. I can heal wounds, stop the spread of disease and can’t be harmed. If I give myself a transfusion of human blood, then all of that is gone.” He turned his back to her and tinkered for several minutes at the counter. When he turned again, he had an IV in his arm and smiled. “But, if I give you my gift, then it goes on and on.”
Xander squinted through his night vision goggles as he poked his head up over a row of boxes. He scanned left to right and then ducked back down when he didn’t see Michael. “I don’t like this. We should be mounting some kind of offensive. I can do it, I have military memory.”
“There are three things wrong with that plan.” Spike replied. “One, we don’t know this area. Two, if you planned the offensive we would die and three, the thought of you mounting anything sickens me. So sit over there and be quiet.”
Xander exhaled loudly and looked toward Angel. “Isn’t he supposed to be a kinder, gentler demon now that he isn’t a real vampire anymore.”
“I’m not sure what he is supposed to be besides quiet.” Angel said softly. “You two are supposed to be concentrating.”
“God hath spoken.” Spike mumbled, staring back out at the darkness. His goggles were in his hands and he refused to humble himself enough to wear them. "This is ridiculous."
It was quiet for several seconds and then Xander spoke softly. “Do you think Buffy’s okay?”
“I don’t know. They operated and she was still asleep when we left.” Angel replied absently.
Spike jumped a little and stared at Angel in shock. “Operated?”
“They had to get the bullet out of her.” Angel closed his eyes, trying to wipe away the memory of seeing Buffy so helpless. “She looked so small and fragile.”
Swallowing hard, Spike turned his back to the others and drew in a deep breath. It was obvious that everyone just assumed that Michael had pulled the trigger that almost ended Buffy’s life. The sound of the gun firing, the sound of his sire’s voice screaming her name and most of all, the look on her face he had seen through the scope of the gun was too much. No matter what he was right then, man or vampire, he was still a killer. And she deserved better.
He wasn’t sure what he was going to do. He could leave town and not look back or he could stay and confess to her that he had done it. Either way, the pain he would feel would be gut wrenching and he would probably not be able to live with himself. Running his palms over his jeans, he exhaled softly and decided not to think about it until he had to.
Xander spoke again. “I don’t get it. What exploded to make Hal a Swamp Thing? You know? The movie? The lab explodes and instant Swamp Thing.”
“It’s a long story.” Angel said, eyeing Spike and wondering why he had become so sullen.
“Not that I’m complaining. He did fix the gaping wound in my head and all, but he’s a Swamp Thing, only without the grassy covering. He’s more like Scale Thing. Dermatitis Thing. Possibly even-.”
“Shh! Get back!” Angel crouched when he heard the sounds of a scuffle coming from around a corner. “Someone’s coming.”
In the darkness, where he had not been able to see well, Giles had been easily overtaken. He knew that the soldier he was fighting probably had some sort of night vision enhancements that had enabled him to catch him so quickly, but he was furious with himself for being such an easy target. Years of training with the Slayer should have taught him how to handle the darkness. He had drilled that into Buffy’s head so she could be aware of everything, even on the blackest night.
He currently found himself pushed along with a knife of some sort at his throat and the boy holding him firmly. “You will never get away with this.”
“No? I think I already have. See, my intention was to kill Buffy and guess what? She’s dead. I saw it with my own two eyes.”
Giles felt his knees try to buckle and shook his head. “That’s a lie.”
“She got shot, man. Right in the back and it was beautiful.” Michael leaned low, right at the man’s ear and added, “And I stopped them from getting her to the hospital.”
Giles threw his elbow back into Michael’s gut and then slammed his head against his face, smashing the goggles he wore and sending him down to his knees. The lights flickered once, twice, and then shone brightly. Angel stepped to one side of Michael, Xander stepped to the other and Spike and Giles closed in as well, forming a circle around the psychotic soldier.
Xander smiled brightly. “We won’t have to worry about taking you to a hospital.”
Angel slammed his fist into Michael’s jaw and yanked a handful of hair, tilting the man’s face to his. “Mostly because there won’t be enough of you left.”
The impact of Angel’s blow sent Michael staggering back toward Xander, who used the man’s momentum to propel him into a wall. The four men stood back and waited patiently for him to rise again. Michael stayed down low and turned slowly, looking from one to the other. Two of the men had machetes and he had no doubt that they knew exactly what he was and how to kill him.
Springing forward, he tried to skirt around Giles and run away, but the man brought a knee up into his abdomen and shoved him away. Firm hands gripped the back of his shirt and held him steady while the blond, the vampire, moved to stand in front of him. As soon as Michael made eye contact, the blonde’s fist slammed into his face once, twice and then a third time; marring his vision with trails of blood that leaked into both eyes.
Xander pushed Spike out of the way, mumbling something about hitting him where it hurts, and brought his boot up hard, right between Michael’s legs. Smiling with satisfaction, Xander watched him pale and did it again for good measure. Angel, who was holding him in place, shoved him forward and pounded his head against the wall several times, then dropped him.
Giles cleared his throat and spoke first. “Shall we confine him someplace until we can send him to the proper authorities?”
“He’s not human.” Angel replied. “Are you Michael? Is that why your father didn’t love you?”
“You go to hell!” Michael screamed.
Xander smiled at the man and said, “Apparently you don’t know old Angel here. He’s been to hell. They sent him back.”
Spike rolled his eyes and sighed loudly. “He was probably trying to turn all the demons into humans. Are you going to kill this asshole already?”
Michael swallowed hard and stumbled to his feet to face his attackers, wiping the blood off his face. “Looks like the odds are slightly in your favor.”
“They’ve always been in our favor.” Angel shot back, staring the man from head to toe. “You didn’t really think you would get away with it, did you?”
“Oh, I did get away with it. I wanted to hurt Buffy and she’s hurt.” Michael smiled, refusing to let them see that he was terrified. “She’s really hurt. And I’m the man who-“
“You think shooting someone in the back makes you a man?” Xander moved in and gripped the front of his hair, slamming his head against the wall.
Michael groaned and shoved the boy off. “You think I shot her? Please! That’ s so anticlimactic.”
Spike’s eyes widened when the man turned his gaze to him and started to speak. Moving swiftly, he grabbed the machete from Angel and rammed it through Michael’s gut, then pulled it free and looked at the others. “What? Talking never did solve any problems.”
Michael slumped to his knees and clutched his stomach. “You won’t win. Maggie has a bigger plan that none of you will stop. She’s-“
“Turning people into demons and claiming that it’s for a good cause?” Angel asked.
“Okay, you know what she’s doing, but you won’t stop her.” Michael stared at the blood on his hands and began to heave, every movement causing the pain to intensify.
“They won’t have to stop her.” Hal stepped from the stairwell and smiled at the others. “I saw to it that she won’t be a problem. Now, what do you say we get rid of this problem and go see how that adorable Slayer is.”
Spike needed no further prompting. He drew the blade back and brought it through the air quickly, deftly severing Michael’s head. As soon as he did it, a surge of pain shot through him and he dropped to his knees. Angel moved beside him and said, “Spike? What’s wrong with you?”
“My hands.” Spike held them up, expecting them to be gone. “I can’t feel my hands.”
Angel gripped one of his hands and then turned to Hal. “Look at this.”
Spike’s fingernails had grown longer and turned black around the edges. Hal squatted beside the man and tilted his face toward the light. “My god. He appears to be aging.”
“Aging?” Giles moved to the other side and stared at Spike closely. “Of course! Angel mixed his blood with a Marah demon, but the demon was dying and therefore, wasn’t strong enough to counteract the vampiric possession in the human vessel.”
“Marah? I’ve heard legends that a demon called the Marah can turn a vampire into a human. He came in contact with one?” Hal slid his fingers along Spike ’s neck and felt for a pulse, but was unable to feel anything through the thick layers of his skin.
“His blood mixed with a dying Marah demon. It was almost dead at the time it happened.” Angel provided the information, watching Spike closely.
Hal nodded. “And the vampire blood has obviously been corrupted to the point that it can’t sustain youth and immortality.”
“We have to do something.” Angel said quickly. “Is there another Marah demon here?”
“I don’t think that’s the answer.” Hal motioned for Xander to get a gurney and lifted the blond onto it. Already, his own strength was failing as the human blood inside of him began driving away the demonic enhancements. “Spike, can you hear me?”
“Yeah.” Spike moaned and opened his eyes. “Ow! My head!”
“Listen to me, young man. If you were to be given the choice, would you choose to become human again or be returned to the darkside?”
Angel shook his head angrily. “No one would choose this life and he isn’t in a position to decide that! Look at him.”
“I am looking!” Hal snapped. “He’s dying. Right before our eyes, he is going to age and die. Now, I don’t know if there is another Marah demon here. I don’t know if that would even work at this point. What I do know, is while he is still in this stage, I can remove the chip in his head and turn him back into a demon. I can't offer more. My mission here was about saving people. Not turning people into demons or demons into people."
"But there has to be a way." Angel closed his eyes and thought about Buffy and her love for his creation. "You don't understand. Without that chip, without being forced to stop killing, this man is one of the worst creatures alive. He will kill Buffy the second he gets a chance if he is able to harm the living."
"Do you want him to die?" Hal asked, strapping Spike into place.
Spike shook his head rapidly. "Don't give him a vote, dammit. He's thinking about himself and how good it would be to get the rock out of his shoe. He wants me to die!"
"No." Angel replied, laying a hand on Spike's chest. "I don't want you to die and come back as what you were. Buffy deserves more than that and so do you. I wanted to give you back what I took away from you when I mixed your blood. I wanted you to be able to take her into the sun and give her a family. Everything I couldn't give her, I was giving to you. I wanted to live through you and if you are just a demon, you can't give her any more than I can."
Hal laid his hand on top of Angel's and shook his head softly. "Young man, he was never just a demon. Ever."
“I- I don’t understand.” Angel looked down at Spike and saw that he looked just as confused by Hal’s statement. “Could you elaborate?”
“I will later. First, we need to get Spike taken care of. I don’t know how long it will take for him to begin to deteriorate completely. Can I count on you to find a vampire who will sire him?” Hal stared out over the compound. “I’m sure there has to be one here who would do it for their freedom.”
“Okay.” Angel moved away and stared at the floor, his mind fumbling to make sense of what had happened in the past fifteen minutes.
Spike stared at the vampire in shock. “Okay? No, I don’t think so, Angel. You did this to me and you will undo it. You sired me once and you will damn well do it again!”
Angel started to protest, but Hal held up a hand and began wheeling Spike away. “I need help in here. My hands are still not capable.”
“Help doing what?” Xander asked, already following to offer assistance.
“Getting the chip out. It should take less than ten minutes.” Hal pushed the gurney into one of the back rooms.
“Can we chop his head off to do it?” Xander lifted his machete and leered at Spike. “Can I, huh?”
“I heard that!” Spike growled. “Don’t forget, pissant, I’m about to be restored and when I am-“
Xander laid the machete on the counter and glanced over his shoulder at Giles and Angel, who had come into the room as well. “You guys heard that, right? Is anyone else thinking that this is a bad, bad idea?”
“This isn’t a bad idea.” Hal replied, turning to fit a metal device around Spike’s cranium. “Bad ideas are when you turn people into demons.”
“Isn’t that what we’re doing?” Xander pointed at Spike’s rising and falling chest. “It’s alive!”
Pausing, Hal scratched the side of his head. “It’s just half alive, right?”
“You said it’s dying. What other alternative is there for it?” Giles was watching intently, staring at the equipment in awe.
“It’s not an it!” Spike shouted. “I mean, I’m not an it! And I’m mostly dead which is only slightly alive.”
Xander’s eyes widened. “You’ve seen the Princess Bride!”
Spike growled. “I wouldn’t watch that sissy stuff.”
“You quoted it!”
“Can we stay focused?” Hal asked. When the others became quiet, he began doling out orders and soon, a strategically placed magnet was draining the power out of the chip. “In about ten minutes, we will make a small incision and insert this clamp that will remove the chip completely.”
Spike cleared his throat. “Shouldn’t I be given a numbing medication? Be drugged? Knocked out? Given alcohol?” Hal smiled a little. “You’re mostly dead. You won’t feel a thing.”
Willow gazed out the window at the compound and slumped back into her seat. It had been far too long since they had heard anything from the others. She sighed and glanced at the walkie-talkie that was resting beside Buffy’s bed on a table. She had already asked Riley several times to speak into it and ask the others if they were okay, but each time he refused, telling her that if he did that, it would put them at a disadvantage. If they could hear, Michael could hear.
Willow didn’t care what his reasons were and she was about to sneak it into her palm and blurt out something when it crackled to life. “Riley? Willow? This is Giles.”
Leaping from her seat, Willow grabbed it and said, “Giles! Are you okay? Why are you down here? What’s going on? Did you kill Michael? Did you find Forest?”
Riley held out his hand. When she made no move to give it to him, and kept talking, he pried it out of her fingers and pointed a finger at her. “Willow, you have to give him a chance to reply.”
“Sorry. I’m just excited.” She smiled weakly and glanced at Buffy as Giles spoke again.
“First, how is Buffy?” Giles glanced over his shoulder at the others, who were removing the chip from Spike’s head slowly. “Is she all right?”
Riley cleared his throat and pressed the button to speak. “Is this line secure, sir?”
“Michael is dead.” Giles replied. “He is no longer a threat. Please, how is Buffy?”
“She’s fine. Sleeping comfortably.” Riley stared at the small lump that was Buffy and sighed. “Any word on the condition of Agent Gates? Forest?”
“I saw him when I came in. Michael left him in a –“ Giles’ eyes widened and he slapped a palm to his forehead. “Oh dear! In all the commotion I forgot to tell anyone that quite a gaggle of demons have been freed from their, er, holding pens. The glass just slid to one side and out they went.”
“Do you know where, sir?” Riley stared at Willow and then moved back to the window. “Which hall?”
“Uhm, if you come up through the tunnel where we found Spike and Angel and go left when you climb the ladder, it was right down there.”
Riley handed Willow the walkie-talkie and grabbed his laser gun. “You lock this door behind me and if anything tries to get in, you shoot first and ask questions later.”
“Please don’t leave us!” Willow cried, clutching his arm. “Your dad said for you to stay with us.”
“You’re going to be fine.” Riley replied, squeezing her hand. “I won’t be gone long.”
Giles’ voice crackled again and he added, “They were harmless. Couldn’t hurt me at all and then wound up fighting each other. I did tell them how to get out and since we haven't seen them, I assume they left.”
Riley took the gadget back from Willow and spoke quickly. “How many?”
“Fifteen at the least.” Giles watched closely as Angel slid the clamp back and held the small implant up to the light. “Is that it? Are you done?”
Hal nodded and began instructing Xander how to close the wound. Giles remembered that he was speaking to Willow and Riley and shook his head. “Apologies. We’ll be there shortly.”
Willow watched Riley take a deep breath and start toward the door again. “You heard him, Riley. They were harmless! Implanted or whatever. Let it go.”
“I need to do this, Willow. It’s my job.”
“And what about what Buffy needs? She needs you here when she wakes up because she’s going to be scared and she’s going to—“
“Want to see you.” Buffy spoke suddenly, struggling to sit up. “Ow, god.”
Riley hurried across the room and held out a hand, pulling her into a sitting position. “Buffy, maybe you shouldn’t be sitting up.”
“Where are the others?” She choked a little and glanced at Willow, who was staring down at her from the other side of the bed. “Willow, can you get me some water?”
Riley watched Willow go into the bathroom, let go of her hand and said, “The others are okay. A-are you okay?”
Buffy picked at one of the small knots on the blanket and kept her eyes down. “That depends on you.”
“Are you waiting for me to say that I’m okay so you can yell at me some more?”
Riley sighed and stared down at her small hands, nervously tugging at the blanket. “No. I’m not.”
Her eyes filled with tears and she slowly raised her head to look at him. “What are you waiting for then?”
The sight of her hazel eyes brimming with unshed tears ripped through his gut and he lifted his hand to her cheek, catching one before it could course it’s way down. “I’m not going to yell at you.” He slid closer and pulled her against him, careful not to touch her back. "But I am going to hold onto you for a while.”
Spike sat on the edge of the gurney, delicately pressing the small incision that held two stitches on the back of his head. In one hand, he held the device that had ruined his life. It was so tiny that he had to squeeze it between his thumb and forefinger to believe that it was actually there. It bit into his flesh and he flicked it at Angel, then grinned. “I feel like a new man.”
Angel glanced at the others and said, “Leave us alone, please?”
Giles nodded and motioned for Xander to follow him out of the room. Hal paused beside Angel and handed him a box. “Angel, you won’t be able to ingest his blood. One thing I have learned in my time is that a vampire gives half of himself to the offspring he sires and the human blood he takes makes him stronger. It wouldn’t be a fair exchange and I fear that it would make you ill.”
“What are you saying?” Spike practically yelled. “He can’t do it?”
“No, he can do it.” Hal pointed at the equipment on the table. “Angel, you’ ll have to run an IV and not cap it off to drain the blood from his veins. When he’s almost blooded, you feed him. There will be no exchange for you so you need to stop him before he takes too much from you.”
Spike scowled at the prospect of being drained through a tube. “We can’t even do it the old fashioned way. Are you satisfied now, Angel? You screwed me up so bad that I can’t even get sired right!”
“This might work better if you don’t talk.” Angel sighed and nodded at Hal. “It’s okay. I’ll stop him.”
With a nod, Hal stepped out into the hallway and Angel turned back to look at Spike. “Take your shirt off.”
“Ooh, kinky.” Spike unbuttoned his shirt and slid it over his arms as Angel began opening an IV. “Last time it was my pants you wanted off.”
Angel stopped what he was doing and turned to look at the other man. “Last time I was an animal. I was a thing with no conscience, no remorse and everything that you are about to become. Spike, I know that there’s a part of you in there that feels human feeling. I saw it in the tunnels when you lost the ridges and experienced guilt earlier, but when I change you, it all stops. What you feel for Buffy will die along with you.”
Spike wadded the shirt up and laid it beside him. “Bullshit. What I felt for Buffy was there before this stupid human thing got me. All I had was that damned chip in my head that stopped me from killing her. It didn’t make me feel though.”
“When I reverted back to Angelus, I was worse than I ever was before.” Angel closed his eyes, picturing Jenny, then pushed it away so he could focus on Spike. “What if you come back as something worse because you did feel for her? That’s what happened to me. I wanted to punish her for making me feel. Moreover, you can’t control it, Spike. You can’t. No matter what you think you feel now or how strong you think you are, you will lose the battle.”
“It’s a battle I’m willing to fight.”
“Not with so much at stake. She’s going to trust you, Spike. She’s going to welcome you into her life and you will have every opportunity to kill her. Are you willing to let that be on the line?”
“If I come back as some kind of thing that can’t feel and can’t think, then kill me. But don’t deny me the chance. You took away my life once before and now I’m asking you to give it back to me. As a human, I had nothing. I tasted love one time and she was robbed from me. As a vampire I have tasted love twice and this time, I won’t let her be taken away.”
“Elizabeth died. The girl I loved as a human. Somehow, some way, someone saw fit to send her back to me. Not her, exactly, but Buffy brings me the feeling that only Lizzy brought me. Am I willing to let that be on the line? Yes, I am. Because I know how strong it is and I know that I won’t let her be taken again. I’d die for her.”
Saying nothing, Angel reached for Spike’s arm and slid the IV into his vein, then put the open end over a large trashcan. Red blood began to trickle through the tubing and he watched it for several seconds. “Spike, I’m going to trust you, but I won’t just leave after this. I plan on staying to make sure she’s fine and you’re fine.”
Lying back, Spike swallowed as a wave of dizziness crashed into him. All his words had convinced Angel to change him, but it had done nothing to convince him that he deserved the change and the chance that came with it. A ball of raw emotion wedged in his throat and he choked back a sob. “I shot her, Angel. I shot Buffy tonight.”
“Wh-what?” Angel, who had been trying to reconcile himself to the fact that there was no turning back, was too stunned to move. “You?”
“God help me, Angel. I saw that demon hanging onto her and thought he was going to kill her. She stepped out of the way and I had a clear shot of his chest and took it. I’m not a good man, I'm not a man at all.” Spike drew a hand over his face and stared up at the ceiling as his life slowly drained away. “I hurt her and I ran like a coward. Like a killer. I can't be that again.”
“It was an accident. You didn’t mean to.” Angel stared at the puddle of blood in the wastebasket and shook his head. Spike was dying and he was confessing what he thought was a sin. “It’s okay. You didn’t mean to and she ’s fine.”
“Please tell her I’m sorry. Please-“ Spike’s hand fell away from his face and he exhaled loudly. “Forgive me.”
Angel realized that he was almost dead and cut his wrist, placing it over Spike’s mouth. At first there was no reaction and then he felt Spike push the blood out of his mouth, trying to prevent the change. Angel gripped him and held his wrist in place. “Drink it! Do you want me to have to tell her that you were a coward who shot her and then couldn’t face it? Is that what you want?”
Spike was in a haze, a deep fog that made Angel’s words seem a million miles away, but he heard them. The cool blood burned the back of his throat, threatening to choke him, and he relaxed into it, swallowing deeply. He was vaguely aware that tears were streaming down his face and then Angel’s wrist was gone and he felt a shift and a whisper, “I forgive you, Spike. She will too. Come back to us the way I know you can. Come back … come back … come back … ”
And then there was nothing.
The Story Continues...
Buffy and Spike fic..