It had been years since she had a lucid dream. She’d even started to wonder if such dreams even existed. But now, Buffy had her answer. Because the world she was in right now was fiction. It had to be.
“Looky, looky,” rang a childish voice from the far right, followed by a giggle. “The little birdie heard our call, grandmum.”
“That was very thoughtful,” another voice decided. Moving. She couldn’t tell where her other captor was. “After all, we did extend her invitation personally. It would’ve been rude to stand us up.”
“Time for cake and hats,” agreed the other. “Shall we call Daddy down? He will be most disappointed if we start the party without him.”
A moment while the other speaker contemplated. “No,” came the answer. “I told Angelus that I want some time with our new friend before he broke her in. I think I deserve it, seeing as she’s the one that got me killed.” The voice’s owner took a step toward her. “Isn’t that right, Miss Buffy?”
Buffy felt her insides collapse and hot tears sprang behind her eyes.
“Hmmm,” Darla cooed a second later. “That’s odd. I could’ve sworn I just asked her a question. Dru, honey, you don’t suppose she’s gone deaf, do you?”
There was a thud, then a cackle. Something had fallen to the ground. The mad vampire’s giggles tore through the still air. “Shh. Little birdie’s playing possum. Sleeping, sleeping, sleeping the night away. Can’t have fun if the guest wants to nap.”
“No, no fun at all.” Darla sounded much nearer now. So close Buffy’s skin seemed to hum. “Well, we’ll have to wake her up, won’t we? You know how much your daddy likes to play with his food.”
“Oh yeah,” Drusilla said. “Make ‘em bleed. Raw. Tasty. Wakey, wakey little Buffy. It’s time for the party. You wouldn’t want to be late.”
Buffy kept her eyes closed, begging for unconsciousness. Begging for anything to take her from here, because dammit, she was going to cry, and she hadn’t cried in a long time. After all, crying was for the weak.
Sure, she’d cried when Riley left. She had cried when Riley wanted himself dead rather than fix himself. She had cried for Angel. She had cried when she killed him and she had cried when he left. She had cried for her mother—oh, she had cried for her mother.
Buffy honestly couldn’t remember when she cried for herself. And here she was, refusing to open her eyes. Stripped, ripped and on display. Her arms were chained—it felt like she was hanging from the ceiling. Her legs were similarly shackled, but her feet did not touch the ground. She was suspended in midair with nothing against her back and nothing beneath her toes.
More. Cold air nipped at every newly reopened wound. She felt dried blood crusted against dirtied skin, and realized she’d been denied the dignity of clothes.
She was completely vulnerable. And what was worse—she felt it.
“Come on, Buff,” Darla drawled. “We know you’re awake. You’re just making it worse on yourself. I know I have a few things I’d like to clarify before we… Well, we’ve already begun, but you were enjoying your snooze, and really, it would’ve been rude to wake you. Dru and I have no tolerance for rudeness. Do we, Dru?”
A bark from the side. “She stinks of goodness. It’s all over her. Inside her. Shall we carve it out of her, grandmum? Make pretty colors and rearrange the patterns? It would please Ms. Edith.”
Darla released an exasperated sigh at that. “I swear, one more word about Ms. Edith, and I’m going to throw that wretched thing into the furnace, you understand? God, I don’t know how Angel does it.” A pause. “If it had been my choice,” she continued, her voice low and conspiratorial, “she would’ve met dust years ago.”
“Hush! Your sour words will spoil the party.”
“There won’t be a party unless our slayer decides to wake up.” The sound of movement, and Darla felt even nearer. “Come on. I swear, we’re going to start again here in a minute with or without you. And I’m sure Angelus will wake you up. His methods might seem a little antiquated, but that’s only because he thoroughly enjoys a lively session.” A delighted cackle rang giddily through the air. “Oh god! You wouldn’t believe his bloodlust. He’s gotten so inventive this past century. Life at his side was always fun, but now it’s so good it simply must be fattening. I tell you, the man is an artiste.”
That did it, for better or worse. Buffy opened her eyes to her reality.
And immediately wished she hadn’t.
“Oh, look!” Darla clasped her hands together. “There she is!”
“The guest of honor has arrived,” Drusilla informed a line of century-old dolls. A dozen empty faces staring at her with equally empty eyes. “It’s time to start the party.”
“Looking a bit worse for the wearer, if you ask me,” Darla added as though she was gossiping to a noisy neighbor. Then her face grew pensive and she stepped forward. “Not so tough now, is she? Oh god! I think she’s crying! Dru, honey, we made the Slayer cry! How precious!” She threw her head back and cackled again. “Could it be that this is the very same face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium? Weeping in front of her enemy? This sniveling…thing?” Another short laugh, then Darla closed the distance that separated her from Buffy and slapped her, hard. “You disgust me.”
“Ohh!” Drusilla squealed, rolling onto her stomach. “Do it again! Do it again!”
Darla cast her companion a wary eye but shrugged. “Angel always told me it was better to keep her happy. Do you think we ought to try?”
Another elated shriek tickled the air. Drusilla was practically salivating.
Buffy’s cheek burned more with the first blow than the second, but she flinched all the same. And she hated herself for it.
“Now then,” Darla continued. “Where to begin? There are so many venues to explore, and I can’t tour them all. Angelus has claimed that right. He was already generous enough to allow Dru and me this opportunity to break you in.”
It came unbidden—a sudden rush of strength that Buffy seized and held. “You’re better to kill me now,” she said, her voice scratchy, her throat on fire. Every movement forced a surge of pain through her aching muscles—pain that was easy to ignore in quick bursts, but not in waves. “Whatever it is that you want from me, you won’t get it.”
Darla looked at her askance.
Then started to laugh.
“Good god!” she cackled. “I think I underestimated your superiority complex. Hon, we don’t want anything from you.” Darla leaned forward, her eyes burning with rage, though the rest of her remained calm. When she spoke again, her voice was level and composed. “We just want you to scream over and over and over again.”
“Is it because of Angel?” Buffy closed her eyes as her muscles again threatened to collapse. Her arms were stretched and aching; if she were any less of a person, she would have screamed her entrails out by now. But she didn’t and she wouldn’t. Crying had been bad enough—she wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of hearing her scream. “Because he chose me over you? You’re jealous? Is that what—”
“Please.” Darla rolled her eyes. “This has nothing to do with your precious Angel. Tell you the truth, I’m over it. Been there, done that, had my rebound guy.”
“Mmmm…” Drusilla cooed, licking her fingers. “He was tasty.”
“A screamer,” Darla agreed. “Then Lindsey came along. Safe, gullible Lindsey. Who never says no. Well…” She grinned. “Not to me, at least. Angelus being here, while cause for celebration, is purely coincidental. And trust me, dearie, if it weren’t for the Senior Partners, chances are I would’ve gotten bored with you by now. You see, Angel was the one who liked his victims alive. I just wanted them to bleed.”
Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “You seem to be going out of your way, though,” she said, flinching inwardly as her muscles strained. “Playing nice with the Slayer until it’s Angel’s turn?”
Darla shrugged. “Waste not.” She turned away, backing toward her loony companion, who remained sprawled on the floor, playing with fine whispered strands of her dark hair. “There’s no point in making trouble at home. Angelus and I have a lot of rebuilding to do. Old trust—not that there ever was any. No, ours was a simple love. Comfortable. Casual. The occasional slaughter of a convent. Angel has a thing for convents. Had he told you? No. Of course he hadn’t.”
Something sharp jabbed her side. Buffy buckled against nothing and her arms strained at the movement. When she looked, though, there was nothing at all. An old wound must have acted up.
That hadn’t happened in years.
“Double, double, toil and trouble.” Drusilla giggled, rolling onto her stomach. “You’ve been a naughty girl. It isn’t right to take toys that don’t belong to you. No. There should be enough candy for all the girls and boys.”
Buffy stared at her blankly, surprised when she felt a surge of newfound respect for Spike’s stamina. The peroxide pest might have been a thorn in her side, but he had to be more patient than she’d ever given him credit for to both understand Drusilla and love her despite the fact that she was completely mad. Buffy hadn’t been around Dru enough to appreciate just how crazy she was, and the Spike she’d gotten to know over the past couple years seemed far removed from this.
Buffy had known him when he and Dru were together and when they were apart, but she’d never actually seen them together to figure out how their relationship worked. And right now, she couldn’t picture it.
“She doesn’t care, grandmum,” Drusilla continued, lolling her head to the side. “She doesn’t care that she’s stealing all our toys.”
Buffy blinked. “What?”
“Bad, wicked girl,” the insane vampire hissed. “Caught with your hand in the cookie jar. Nowhere to run. No one to blame it on.”
Buffy inhaled. Note to self: never get involved with a souled vampire again. Ever. ‘Cause when he loses it, there’s hell to pay.
Even though she and Angel hadn’t been together in two years. Even though they didn’t even live in the same damn city anymore, she was still being punished for having ever loved him.
Finally, finding strength, Buffy said, “I thought you didn’t care about Angel.”
“I never said that,” Darla replied. “But Dru takes it a bit personally.”
“Well,” Buffy retorted, closing her eyes as she attempted to flex again. “Sounds to me like someone’s calling the kettle black.”
Darla shrugged. “That might be true, but you can’t blame her for being miffed, now can you? You do seem intent on stealing all of Drusilla’s favorite things. As if Angel wasn’t bad enough—you took the one thing Dru ever had all for herself. I’d be a little pissed about that too.”
Darla blinked, then slowly smiled. “Oh, you’ve gotta be kidding me. This is just too funny. You really don’t know?”
She shook her head and turned to Drusilla. “Honey, it’s okay,” Darla cooed. “It appears this was all one big mistake.” She turned back to Buffy, her eyes dancing. “Though I can’t believe you don’t see it, Buff. Especially after he rushed to your aid so gallantly. God, you should have seen his face when I told him you were in danger. It was so—what’s the word—priceless.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all.” Darla shrugged. “It doesn’t matter much, anyway. Dru won’t listen to me.”
As if in agreement, Drusilla released a mournful wail and rolled over again, clutching her stomach. “He calls for her. Oohh, grandmum. He’s so deliciously furious. My dark prince is furious with me. He burns. He wears her like a mask. She is…” Dru sat up suddenly, snarling, dark eyes burning. “She’s stealing him away from me.”
“She’s not going to get far,” Darla reassured her. “Oh no. Our friend here is not going anywhere.”
Buffy was still confused but forced herself to shove that aside for now. She had enough problems without adding decrypting an insane vampire’s ramblings to the mix.
And something told her that she would have plenty of time to think about it in the coming days.
“I have friends who will come for me,” Buffy said.
Darla smiled dryly. “I don’t doubt it. Humans are so predictable.”
“You won’t hold me here forever.”
“I have no intention to.” She shook her head. “You’re the Slayer. You’re not supposed to have friends and family. And yet you do, and by some small twist of fate, you’ve managed to make your way this far in life. It won’t last. I knew a slayer like you once. Not complete with the staff support, of course, but just as cocky, and that was what got her killed. Guess what? She broke just like the rest of them. The Master barely had to stretch his legs to do it.”
Buffy quirked an eyebrow. “But I killed the Master.”
A pulse of fury flashed behind Darla’s eyes. “Yes,” she said, “you did. You were a little girl and you got a little lucky. Nevertheless, we are not the Master. We’re not like the other vampires you’ve slain. You met Angel when he was sniveling soulboy. You saw him as Angelus and still underestimated him. You saw Dru when she was sickly and didn’t know how inventive that twisted little mind can get. You saw me before I was killed by the only person in this world who could. That’s over now. And Spike, dear William…I don’t even know where to begin.” She shook her head. “We’re the real thing, Buffy. We’re the vampires that brought the world to its knees. And the sooner you accept that, the better.” A significant pause. “Your little friends won’t find you here. Even if they did get into Wolfram and Hart, trust me, we’d know. And we’d take care of it. For their sake, you better hope they stay far, far away.”
Buffy’s glare did not fail her, and for that she was glad. Dried tears had crusted around her eyes and her body was cold, but she met her enemy’s stare, match for match and did not blink.
“I’ve had enough,” Darla decided the next minute. “Dru, it’s time to let Daddy and the naughty Slayer have some alone time. All right?”
“Oohhh.” Drusilla pouted. “Things were about to get interesting.”
“Don’t worry. They will.”
Then they were gone, leaving Buffy to the cold once more.
And despite herself, she drifted, entering that hazy place between rest and wakefulness. When she started again, though, her mind was instantly alert. Sharp and clear. She was still chained in the middle of an anonymous, windowless gray room. Her muscles still ached. Her eyes were still swollen. And she was still abandoned.
Only she was no longer alone.
A vampire with the face of an angel was in the doorway.
A long shudder ran through her body, and Buffy allowed herself to fear.
Giles had never told her about his torture sessions with Angelus. On some days, she noted a limp in his walk that hadn’t been there before Acathla. She’d never mentioned it, though, but it was there all the same.
Buffy held Angelus’s gaze best she could, willing herself not to speak or cry. Not anymore. She’d already shown them her tears—she refused to show them her pain.
Not even when he raked his gaze down her naked, exposed body. Not even when he graced her with a smile that did more just by existing than Darla had been able to do with words. Not even when he neared so close that she could feel him. She would not scream.
Angelus leaned close, capturing a lock of hair between his nimble fingers. “Hello, lover.”
She would not scream.
Lindsey McDonald didn’t know how late it was. It wasn’t unusual for the cogs in the Wolfram and Hart wheel to go days without seeing daylight. He was one such cog.
And he couldn’t stop staring at the face frozen on his monitor.
To her credit, the Slayer had pulled through. When she could have sobbed, she’d refrained. When she could have shouted, she’d remained mute. When she could have begged, she’d bitten her tongue.
But he hadn’t.
A picture was worth a thousand words.
That was how Lilah found him. Sitting in the dark, studying the security feed, gently outlining the pain contorted on the Slayer’s face with his index finger. He was so deep in thought that he didn’t even register her presence until she flicked on a light.
“You know,” she said, “this is becoming a rather bad habit of yours.”
“Hello, Lilah,” he replied without looking up.
“I’d have to say you’re developing the Angel-syndrome. First Darla and now—”
“It’s not about her,” Lindsey said. And it was the truth. He didn’t know what it was.
Only that it was growing stronger, had been since she’d attempted to flee his office. Had spurned into something greater as he’d watched them prepare her. That gnawing feeling that attacked his insides, the knowledge that someone good was being tortured by someone he hated. The reality that he had made it all possible.
It was eating him up.
He hated it. But that didn’t matter a damn.
“They don’t know about this, do they?” Lilah gestured to the security cameras.
“No. And they won’t.”
“You’re going to destroy yourself,” she said, moving to exit. “Not that it matters to me. By all means, destroy away.”
The light went off again. She was gone.
Lindsey stared blankly as Buffy Summers’s face contorted in pain. He had done that. He had done that without touching her at all.
The twisting inside took a violent turn.
This was no way to live.
With a heated sigh, he rose to his feet and forced himself to snap the tape off. Watching wasn’t doing. He needed to be doing.
It only took a second to decide. Then he was in motion, grabbing the phone. Dialing. Now before he could change his mind. Before his inner demons again shouted down his better angels.
He couldn’t be this guy anymore. It would kill him.
“Get me Kate Lockley,” he barked into the receiver.
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