“What do you know about this?” she asked, sitting down beside him. “Is Professor Walsh some kind of Nazi mad scientist?”
Riley shook his head. “Maggie is the brains. We’re just the brawn. We capture the demons and vamps for her, but she doesn’t tell us what she does with them.” He stared at Spike with something approaching awe. “Was he really around during World War II?”
“Spike’s pretty old,” she said with a noncommittal smile. “And Angel’s older.”
“Angel? Which angel?”
“Sorry. I forgot, you don’t’ know…” She shrugged. “What the hell. Angel is another vampire that… that tries to be good. He’s got a soul, and he…”
“A soul? What’s that got to do with—”
“Thank you!” Spike said, throwing his hands in the air. When everyone stared at him, he said, “That’s just what I’ve been sayin’… Some vamps need a soul to keep them straight, and some don’t.”
Riley looked bewildered. “No… I just meant…” He trailed off as he realized he was the only person in the room who didn’t understand the significance of a vampire’s having a soul. He went back to the original subject. “Are you saying Maggies a… a Nazi?”
“No,” Giles said. “But she appears to be in possession of notes on the experiments they performed on vampires and demons during the War. I think we have to assume that she is continuing those experiments here… or plans to at some point.” He fixed Riley with a hard glare. “Do you know anything about it?”
Riley visibly struggled with his loyalty to his unit and his boss, and his distaste for anything resembling the kind of experiments the Nazis had performed on people. “Do you know what the experiments were?”
Spike answered for them. “I know that by the time they were done, there were only three of us left standing. The idea was to use us as weapons somehow, but they couldn’t figure out how to control us without killing us. So we ate them,” he finished with another shrug.
Riley’s face had paled even more. “They wouldn’t have had the technology back then….” He thought for a minute, then raised his eyes to Giles. “But we do. That’s why she wants so many of them brought in alive…. Oh God….”
“What do you know?” Giles and Buffy snapped the question out at the same time, causing Riley to flinch back against the mud wall. He stared at them, his mental conflict plain.
“Why are we taking the word of a vampire about this?” he asked finally. “He could be lying through his teeth.”
“The original information did not come from Spike,” Giles said tersely. “It came from the Council of Watchers – my former employers and Buffy’s… ”
“Buffy’s nothing,” she muttered. “I quit before you did.”
Giles sighed. “So you did,” he said, “but that’s hardly the point. The point is that the Council is a… an institution… that has been around for hundreds – perhaps thousands – of years in some form or another. They have extensive records on supernatural beings through the centuries.” He stopped and gave Riley a hard look. “And connections in many, many countries in quite high places. I suspect your clandestine organization is destined for a personnel change quite soon.”
“So, because some organization I never heard of thinks they know what Maggie’s doing, you expect me to tell you things I’m not authorized to tell anybody?”
“We’re not asking you to tell secrets, Riley,” Willow broke in, her voice softer and kinder than any of the three people glaring at the injured soldier. “But anything you can tell us would be helpful. Like, besides dusting vampires, what else do you guys go looking for?”
Riley gave Willow a grateful grimace. “I guess it doesn’t hurt to tell people who already know about sub-terrestrials and hostiles….” He took a deep breath and said, “We’ve captured several vamps for Maggie to—“ He broke off, looking at Spike, then away. “Not sure what she does with them, but she says she can make them harmless.”
Spike snorted and turned his back. “Wonder how many she’s dusted tryin’ to make that work?”
Riley stared at him. “If you actually survived the… attempts… back then, you’d probably be a great subject for her. You could volunteer to—”
“Volunteer to be controlled?” Spike’s eyes would have been bulging out of his head if they hadn’t already turned yellow and deadly. “Over my deader than usual body!”
While Buffy tried to calm Spike down and Giles shook his head at Riley’s foolishness, Willow brought the man’s attention back to her. “You were going to tell me what else, besides vamps, you guys capture or kill. Do you catch demons for her too?”
Riley shifted his gaze back to the gentle, intellectual redhead he knew from class. “Sometimes we do. Maggie has specific kinds of demons that she needs – wants – for her… work. We try to bring them in alive when we can find them. And then, there are the other, less common creatures – werewolves, zombies, dragons—”
He broke off, flinching away when his gentle interrogator suddenly had sparks flying from her fingertips and hair standing straight out from her head. She leapt to her feet and backed away from him, breathing hard and staring at him as if he’d turned into a hissing snake. Oz stepped up to Willow and murmured in her ear, stroking her arm and gradually calming her down until she was once again the shy, quiet girl Riley knew.
“What the hell…? What did I say? And how did you…?” Riley’s expression was suddenly the most fearful they’d seen it since they’d dragged him away from his fellow commandoes. He looked around the room again, his eyes wide open and calculating. They went from the girl he now knew could probably break him in half, to the man who somehow seemed to be in a position to tell her what to do, to the vampire who had already demonstrated how much deadlier he could be than the younger vampires Riley was used to fighting – although even Spike seemed to defer to Buffy.
And back to Willow, who, it seemed, was not the innocuous coed he’d taken her for. He narrowed his eyes at Oz, still stroking Willow’s arm and murmuring to her. Oz stared back, his usual calm expression no different from anything Riley had seen from him yet. But something about the boy’s eyes said that trying to harm Willow would not be in anyone’s best interest. Riley’s gaze shifted to Xander, who shrugged and shook his head, lifting his arms in gesture meant to show his harmlessness and normality.
“Are any of you human beings?” Riley asked. “Normal human beings?”
Ignoring his question, Giles said, “Are you?” While Riley stared at him, Buffy and Spike began nodding and pointing out that neither Riley nor any of the men in his squad seemed exactly “normal” to them.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Riley seemed genuinely indignant, glaring at them in confused anger. “Of course we’re normal. All of us. Maggie hand-picked us for our IQs, physical abilities and size. We’re as normal as….” he stared at the group watching him “… as anybody not part of your little… whatever you are… is.”
“Scoobies.” All eyes turned to Xander. “What? We’re the Scoobies. I mean, okay, maybe not fangface there, or Giles, but the rest of us….”
“Scoobies.” Riley frowned.
“Yeah, you know. Like “Scooby Doo”?”
“I got it,” Riley said with a grimace. “I just don’t get it…” He paused to look from blonde, occasionally ditsy, Buffy to red-headed, brainy Willow, and dark-haired, somewhat goofy-seeming Xander. “Oh.” He glanced at Oz, Spike and Giles. “So which one of you is the big dog?”
There was a lot of coughing and looking back and forth at each other before Spike rolled his eyes and growled.
“Could be whichever one of us wants to bite you,” he said. “It’s not a perfect metaphor.”
“And so not the point,” Buffy added. “The point is, Spike and I are used to fighting vamps and demons, and in his case….” She cleared her throat. “Anyway, we both have enough experience fighting super strong things and… sometimes… bad humans, to know what is and isn’t normal. And you guys are not normal. You’re not as strong and fast as we are, but you’re way stronger and faster than you should be.”
“We take a lot of vitamins,” Riley muttered. “Maggie wants us to stay healthy.”
“Yeah, well, you might want to ask her what’s in those vitamins,” Spike snorted. “That punch I gave you should have knocked you down for an hour or two.”
“Maybe you just aren’t as tough as you think you are,” Riley said. “Seems to me you’re pretty much being bossed around by a little girl.”
There was an ominous silence as Spike went into game face and visibly struggled to hold back his snarls. When Buffy tried to put a hand on his arm, saying, “Spike—” he shook her off and raised his hand to keep her back.
“I’m alright, Slayer,” he said. “Not going to harm your hostage.” He walked over to Riley, now obviously rethinking his impulsive words, and leaned over him. Spike let the soldier look into his yellow eyes and made sure he got a good look at his fangs before he spoke.
“That ‘little girl’ is the closest thing to a killing machine you’re ever likely to meet,” he said softly. “And I saw what she did to your boys – without half trying, I’d wager – so I know you know what she can do. Don’t know how you got her down, but I know it wasn’t because you or any other overfed wanker beat her in a fight.” He looked over his shoulder at Buffy, seeing her frown as she wondered where he was going with his unexpected speech.
“But the fact that I’ve never been able to kill her like I did two of the other slayers I’ve faced, isn’t why I let her tell me what to do.” He licked his lips, running his tongue over one fang before continuing. “See, I don’t have a soul like Angel does to nag me to do what’s right. And I’m more than a mite out of practice at it. So the Slayer is my… conscience. She’s what keeps wankers like you alive when all I want to do is rip your throat out and stuff your entrails down the hole.”
He stopped talking and stood up, shaking off his fangs and wrinkles. “Mock me all you want, soldier boy. You know, and I know, that you’d be shitting your pants right now if she wasn’t standing there watchin’ my every move.” He looked over at Buffy and spoke directly to her. “I know I have to earn her trust. And I know I’m going to make mistakes; but letting you goad me into something she’d have to stake me for? Not going to happen. Not today, not ever.”
Buffy’s breathy “oh” didn’t register on anyone without vampire hearing, but the smile on her face couldn’t be missed. Giles cleared his throat and interrupted the exchange of heated looks between Buffy and Spike.
“Well, I think we should think about getting some rest, if we can. There’s no telling how long it will take the Council to get this sorted out, but it could be as soon as tomorrow. I will volunteer for the first watch, if the rest of you would like to get some sleep….” His voice trailed off as Spike and Buffy held a whispered conversation, which was quickly followed by Buffy’s, “We’re just going to check out some of these tunnels. You know, make sure there aren’t any nasties lurking in them, ready to sneak up on us while we sleep. But you guys go ahead. Find a comfy spot on the…” she looked down at the packed dirt floor “… dried mud and rocks.”
“We’ll be right back,” she caroled as she followed an impatient Spike out into the darkness. After a few seconds, she popped back in with an, “Oops! Need torch!” She grabbed one off the wall and disappeared again.
“Where are they going?”
“I’d rather not know,” Xander said, slumping against the wall near Riley. “So, what kind of cool weapons and stuff do you guys use?”
Riley just blinked at him for several seconds. “This from a guy who broke into our headquarters carrying a crossbow?”
“Hey, what can I say?” Xander waved his hand at Giles. “I work with a bunch of traditionalists. Very conservative, those watchers. Very conservative.” He grinned at Riley. “Me, now. I’m all about the manly weaponry and things that go ‘boom’.”
“Right.” Riley went silent, and after a while, Xander gave up and went to find a place to sleep.
Willow and Oz were leaning against a wall, his arm around her and her head on his chest. Xander watched with interest as Oz’s nostrils would periodically flare when interesting scents drifted into the room. Giles, meanwhile, was doing as he’d promised, putting himself where he could see all the tunnel entrances, a cocked crossbow close by his side. For lack of anything better to do, Xander finally put his own head down and was quickly asleep.
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