Running Out of Time
They pulled out of the driveway with the headlights off, wanting to attract as little attention as possible, if the house was already being watched by Riley’s men. A still-sleepy Xander snuggled contentedly with Anya in the back of the van, Mara seated beside them.
Willow and Tara sat in the middle seat with Julian, barely conscious by this point, leaning back against Tara as the two witches held hands and quietly murmured the words to every spell of healing or comfort that they could think of – all with discouragingly little effect.
Aaron sat in the front passenger seat, silent and grim, his expression a reflection of that on the face of the Watcher, who kept his eyes focused on the road, his vision somewhat hampered by the lack of light.
When the van left the road, moving slowly through the woods on the edge of town, Aaron began watching the space ahead of them as carefully as Giles was, employing his sharp vampire eyesight to warn the older man of any potential obstacles in the van’s path.
Finally, Giles brought the van to a stop, partially hidden by a patch of thick underbrush.
“Where are we?” Willow asked with a frown, looking up and around out the windows at the darkness, a bit anxiously.
“Nearly there,” Giles replied cryptically, turning off the engine and opening the door. “We’ll have to walk the rest of the way.”
“Julian,” Tara said softly, calling the attention of the others to the fact that they had already realized – there was no way the young vampire was going to be able to walk anywhere. He had left the house on his own feet, but supported heavily by Aaron and Mara.
By this point, even that much would be impossible.
“I’ve got him,” Aaron quickly volunteered, and as he was the physically strongest of the group, no one argued as he got out of the passenger’s side door and went around to slide the back door open, easily lifting Julian’s slight form into his arms.
The little band of fugitives followed Giles quickly and quietly through the darkness toward their destination, unknown still to all but the Watcher.
Willow was standing beside him when he brought them to a halt in front of a large boulder, nearly as tall as she was. She watched in surprise as he felt carefully along a tiny fault in the stone, sliding his fingers in until he found a hidden catch, and the front of the “boulder” swung open, revealing a dark, downward sloping tunnel.
Willow stared at Giles, astonished, as he gave her a slightly sheepish smile and a shrug.
“If you follow this tunnel all the way to the end, you’d come out in the old Initiative complex,” Giles explained.
The reactions of the group ranged from surprise to fear, before he quickly reassured them, “They’ve been abandoned for years now. Riley’s men steer clear of this area by his orders. He may employ the worst of their methods, but Riley in no way wants his current organization to be associated with the miserable failure that the Initiative turned out to be.”
Tara, who had moved to the front of the little group to listen to Giles’ explanation, nodded as she took in the wisdom of his decision, a slow smile of understanding crossing her lips. “A completely safe place – where they would *never* expect us to actually go.”
Giles simply nodded once, as he took out a small flashlight and shone it into the darkness, before leading the way down into the tunnel. The others trustingly followed him, accepting that he knew what he was talking about and the place was truly safe, though Mara seemed tense and anxious, hanging back a bit as they made their way deeper into the underground place that would hide them until it was safe to emerge again.
It was only when Julian began to weakly struggle against Aaron’s arms around him that Giles remembered, too late, the effect that this place and its history would have on a vampire’s keen senses.
The remains of tortured, mutilated demons that had been used for the Initiative’s experiments until their bodies could take no more, littered the ground near the walls, and though the actually atrocities had occurred years ago, the scent was still strong enough to make the humans uncomfortable – and must have been torment for the vampires, bringing back the memory of the stench of blood and death and fear that must have filled the Initiative complex at one time.
Giles was just wondering, with self-directed anger at his own thoughtlessness, if the smell of the soldiers that his vamps had described so vividly to him before still remained in this place – when the question was answered with Julian’s half-lucid, fearful reaction.
He fought weakly, futilely, against Aaron as the other vampire attempted to lie him down on the pile of soft blankets that Willow and Tara had brought from their house.
“No – don’t let them – no…” he moaned softly, his voice thick with pain and terror, struggling back to consciousness, his eyes flying open and staring unfocused around the room. “Please – don’t let them…”
Giles was at his side in an instant, as was Tara, surrounding him with the presence and scent of the two people he trusted more than anyone else.
“Julian,” Giles said in a firm voice, just sharp enough to draw the confused, terrified creature’s attention. “Julian, look at me.”
The boy obeyed, panic in his eyes, waiting in obedient silence.
“No one’s here but us,” Giles assured him gently, holding his gaze firmly. “No one’s going to hurt you…take you anywhere. It’s just us…we’re safe here, they can’t find us…and we’re going to keep working on taking the chip down…”
At that moment, another spasm of pain shook Julian’s body, and his hand shot out to grip Giles’ arm in a desperate need for support, unconscious of his own strength and causing the man to wince with pain.
“Please…” he gasped, his next words revealing that at least he had been lucid enough to understand what Giles had told him. “Please…hurry…”
Tears sprang to the Watcher’s eyes, as he gently removed the boy’s hand from his arm, clutching it tightly in his own, and did the only thing he knew of to bring any sense of comfort in this increasingly hopeless situation.
“It’s okay, Julian,” he said softly. “We’re almost there. We’re very close to finding the answer now. Just hold on – just hold on a little longer…we’re almost there now, son…”
A sudden realization came to Tara at that moment, and her startled gasp drew the Watcher’s attention. Aware of Tara’s ability to read auras, to see things that others often couldn’t, Giles looked up at her sharply.
“What is it?” he asked softly.
She looked up at him with a stunned expression, her eyes wide and solemn as she drew back her hand from Julian’s forehead. “Vampires…” she began cautiously, “…don’t…*have*…body heat. Do they?”
Giles shook his head, his own eyes widening, his hand tightening on Julian’s as he suddenly felt what she had just noticed – what he in his panic had failed to see. The strange warmth radiating from Julian’s skin ironically sent a chill down his spine with the very unnaturalness of it, and a sense of foreboding as he realized beyond all doubt that they had very little time left.
Julian was burning up – from the inside out.
Buffy awoke as if from a very deep sleep, her head feeling sore and hollow and far too heavy for her body – which also felt achy and utterly exhausted. A sense of urgency came slowly over her as she fought her way back to consciousness, aware that there was a reason why she was supposed to be concerned…something had happened…
Suddenly it all came flooding back to her with a surge of anger…
…followed by an intense fear…
*Oh, God, *Spike*!*
She struggled to open her eyes, realizing as she did that she could not move – she was restrained in some way. When her vision cleared, she saw that she was in a dimly lit room with four metal walls, bare and utterly unfurnished, with only a single uncovered light bulb of minimal power suspended from the ceiling.
She suspected that she was in one of the underground rooms like the one they had found Anya in – but at least they had not left her in total darkness as they had done to Anya. She tried again to move, glancing to the side to gauge just how bad her situation was.
Her back was against the wall farthest from the door to the room, and her wrists were locked in heavy iron shackles attached to the wall on either side. Her feet were unfettered, which was good, she thought, since at the moment she *really* wanted to kick someone. Unfortunately, that was not an option at the moment. She was completely alone in the room – for the moment.
She had no way of knowing how long that would last.
She fought off a sense of panic as she wondered just why she was alone. Where was Riley – and where was *Spike*? The fact that both were unaccounted for set a cold fear in her heart, as she remembered the last time Riley had gotten his hands on Spike.
*No,* she thought desperately, struggling uselessly against the chains that held her.
Unlike his inept men who had fallen before her so easily, Riley knew what he was dealing with in her; the chains were unbelievably strong, and held fast against her attempts to break free.
*Oh God – Spike – where -- *no*!*
She knew that after Riley had drugged her, there was no way that Spike could have escaped. He was defenseless, utterly incapable of fighting back against Riley. The thought of him being held prisoner somewhere in this place, with her husband free to do whatever he chose to the vampire that she loved more than anyone else…
*No – I *promised* him!*
At just that moment, the door was flung open, and a glimpse into the hall revealed that she was indeed in the underground dungeon, as she had suspected. But she could hardly think about that at the moment. Her attention was riveted on the two figures who had just joined her in her cell.
“Spike!” she gasped, her eyes widening in shock and anger when she saw his condition.
Riley held Spike by the arm as they entered, slinging him unceremoniously to the floor as he turned back to shut the door firmly again. “Hey, Buffy,” he said with a deceptively casual smile as he turned to face her.
Buffy’s attention was focused on the battered form of her vampire, still on his hands and knees on the floor where Riley had thrown him. He looked up at her with a heartbreaking expression of fear and resignation in his eyes – but it was the shame there that made her want to cry.
It was clear that he thought he had let her down.
Her anger rose as she took in the dark purple bruises that mottled his face, the blood that stained his mouth, his torn shirt, no doubt spilt by Riley’s brutal fists. His limbs were trembling as if with exhaustion, as if the effort to hold his body up was simply too much for them, and she knew that beneath his clothes, his body was surely as battered as his face.
Her blazing narrowed eyes rose to meet the ice blue gaze of her husband, smiling at her in a chillingly calm way as he shrugged easily. “I tried to wait for you. Got a little impatient, though. Had to start without you.”
“I’ll kill you,” she said softly, not a threat, not idle words – a simple declaration of fact.
Riley laughed softly, before the amusement, the smile, faded from his face. Never taking his eyes off Buffy, he stepped forward and delivered a savage kick to Spike’s ribcage, doubling him over in agony, setting off a fit of coughing, desperate gasps for unnecessary breath.
“Stop it!” Buffy cried out, pulling against her bonds. “Leave him alone, Riley, he didn’t do anything!”
“He didn’t *do* anything?” Riley echoed, disbelief in his tone. “Buffy – he’s the reason for all of this!” His voice trembled slightly with traces of the anger he was trying to conceal beneath his cold façade. He paused, visibly regaining control, before going on quietly, “We were happy, Buffy. We had everything we wanted. Until he came along.”
“*You* were happy. *You* had everything. *I* was as much a slave as any of your vampire girls – and he set me free,” Buffy declared defiantly, glaring at her husband furiously, unaware of the awed expression of wonder – and even joy, through the pain and fear of their situation – that came over the face of the vampire at his feet at her passionate words.
The expression vanished almost as quickly as it appeared, twisted in pain as Riley kicked him again, a nasty look of vindictive rage in his eyes as he followed up the blow with another one, then grabbed the dazed vampire by the hair and yanked him back up to his knees.
The whole time he never took his eyes from Buffy’s.
“Stop it!” she screamed at him. “Stop it!”
“Buffy,” Riley said calmly with a cruel smile. “Shut up.” And with that, he slammed his fist down across the defenseless creature’s face, knocking him back to the floor.
Buffy struggled to contain her fury, realizing that she could not help him from the position she was in, and that Riley was going to punish her for each offense by punishing Spike.
“Okay,” she said quietly. “Okay, Riley…please…please stop…”
Riley’s fist, poised for another blow, slowly lowered, and he released his painful grip on Spike’s hair, taking a step backward away from him with a satisfied smile. “That’s more like it, Sweetheart,” he said softly. “I think you’re starting to get it now – aren’t you?”
Buffy bit back her angry response, turning her head away to prevent Riley from seeing her rage, and to prevent herself from saying something that Spike would surely pay for. Instead, she simply nodded slowly, a grim expression on her face.
“You’re gonna behave yourself, Baby,” Riley went on, moving away from Spike and toward his wife, seeking her eyes with his cold piercing gaze. “Or things are gonna get a whole lot harder than they already are for your little pet vamp.” He paused, moving in close to stroke a hand slowly down her cheek.
That hand had struck out in cruel violence against the man she loved – had signed papers to authorize the murder of the man she loved like a father – had committed or authorized countless atrocities against creatures powerless to defend themselves against Riley and those in his employ.
She couldn’t help it. A wave of revulsion went through her and she pulled away from his touch, glaring at him with a look of sickened hatred.
His smile didn’t falter as he pulled away from her a few steps, regarding her thoughtfully for a moment. Then he reached into his pocket as he turned around to face Spike, effectively obstructing her view of the object he had just taken from his pocket.
The look on Spike’s face told her all she needed to know.
The vampire had managed to struggle to his feet behind Riley, as he had been taunting his wife, and though he had made no move to attack the man, he had been watching him intently, ready to risk – and sacrifice – his own life if Riley attempted to hurt Buffy.
But when the larger man turned toward them, Buffy saw his eyes flicker down to the object Riley had just taken from his pocket – and widen with sick terror, as the helpless vampire slowly backed away, shaking his head in a silent plea that told Buffy clearly that whatever it was Riley was threatening him with – he had used it before.
A few feet away from Spike, Riley turned, allowing Buffy to see the device in his hand – slim and rectangular and resembling a remote control. Buffy’s mind flashed back to the damning papers still tucked into her shirt – the written account of Riley’s ability to control certain vampires by remote access to their chips…
“No,” she whispered, shaking her head, a stricken expression in her eyes. “Riley – I’m sorry – Riley – don’t…”
Spike glanced at her with wide, panicked eyes – and then seemed to make a decision. He swallowed hard, his eyes going back to Riley’s face bravely, and she watched with awe and an overpowering feeling of love for him, as he visibly fought to control his trembling, his mouth set in a firm line of determination. He could not fight Riley – had no way of defending himself…
But he would take it with all the strength, courage, and dignity that Buffy had restored to him.
Riley’s eyes narrowed in anger and understanding. He saw the sudden change, subtle yet clear, in the vampire’s demeanor – and it enraged him.
“Riley,” Buffy begged him, straining against the chains that bound her wrists until the metal creaked and she felt blood running down her arms – but the chains did not give. “Riley, don’t do this! Riley, I’ll do whatever you want! *Don’t* *do* *this*!”
She went silent suddenly, frozen, speechless with horror, when Riley pressed a button on the device – and her vampire crumpled to the floor on his knees, holding his head in his hands, his mouth open and trembling in a silent scream, breath stolen by the vicious agony that Riley sent coursing through his body with the simple touch of a button.
She knew by Spike’s face, by the violent shudder that passed repeatedly through his body, that this was far worse even than the shocks that had assaulted him when he had killed the soldier in the cemetery, to save her. This was pain like she could not imagine – like he should not have to.
And she couldn’t even hold him.
“Stop,” she sobbed, her voice choked and broken. “Riley, stop, please! *Please*!” In an impulse born of her love for the suffering creature before her, Buffy moved to go to her own knees, restrained and prevented by the chains, but going as low as she could, pleading for mercy for the creature who meant more than her pride – than her very life.
“Riley,” she gasped in a strangled whisper, and he turned to look at her, his attention drawn in the change in the direction of her voice. “Riley, stop…please…”
Finally, Riley’s finger moved from the button, and she saw the violent spasms that had shaken Spike’s body slowly wane, her eyes focused on her vampire as her husband moved slowly back toward her, deliberately moving to fill her vision, to block her view of Spike, his hand returning to her cheek, turning her head toward him.
She did not dare resist this time, allowing him to move her, pliant and submissive – as he wanted her. She kept her eyes averted, not wanting the impotent rage and hatred he would surely see there to bring more punishment down on Spike.
When Riley tipped her face up and brought his lips to hers tenderly, it was all Buffy could do not to gag with disgust. She fought back the wave of nausea that washed over her, and forced herself to submit – but not respond – to the kiss.
*Spike…Spike…for you…love you…* she repeated again and again in her mind, reminding herself of why she was committing this forced betrayal. *Love you, protect you, no matter what…*
Riley finally ended the torment of the kiss, after a few interminable seconds, pulling back to look into her eyes. She had managed to suppress the fury, the violent intent to kill, for Spike’s sake – and all he saw was tearful terror, and the submission he craved.
“Now,” he said softly, a smirk playing over his lips. “Let’s try this again.”
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