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Chapter 12, which concerns various demons.
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     Of all actions of a man's life, his marriage does least concern other people, yet of all actions of our life 'tis most meddled with by other people.
John Selden (1584-1654)


    Buffy wanted to say she wasn’t having a problem readjusting to life without her husband. Giles put the three-level up for sale, Xander got a job on a construction crew, and Willow was auditing classes with Tara and Buffy until she could sign up for the next semester. Life had gone back to normal. Except it wasn’t normal.

    Xander had a newfound respect for demons, and had taken to patrolling with Buffy with much more gusto than he ever had before. Buffy was surprised to learn that Spike had been training him in street fighting while she was off at college – give Xander a chance to fight those demons on his own. Giles kept staring at sunsets, and had started recording some of his vast library into audio books for the blind. He still played his guitar a lot, which he had been doing almost constantly while he couldn’t see. Willow had started some kind of romantic relationship with Tara, which startled Buffy more than disturbed her. And every once in a while Willow would disappear – sometimes quite literally – and Buffy was afraid to ask her what she was doing while she was gone. She was almost certain it was vengeance demon work, and if Willow started killing people, Buffy knew it was her job to eliminate her. She didn’t want to believe that of Willow, so she kept not asking... which made Buffy wonder if she was turning evil, after all, if she was willing to close her eyes to it right in front of her.

    And she was so lonely at night.

    She tried to forget what it was like to feel Spike’s smooth cool body beside her, to hear his deep breathing. Even when he wasn’t ready to go to sleep yet – he still preferred having every moment of the night to wander in – he would tuck her in and make love to her and hold her until she fell asleep. He was usually there in the morning when she woke.

    She hated to admit how much she missed him. She missed his voice and his touch, she missed his platinum-black presence in the corner of the room. She missed not hearing his breath. She missed his weight in her bed. And yes, she was randy as anything. She’d never properly gotten to explore that side of herself before, and she didn’t know how the hell she’d lived without it for so damn long. In an attempt to transfer the frustration, she went out hunting demons every night, and wouldn’t let herself go home to bed until she’d slaughtered something.

    You need to kill. And what makes you so different from Spike?

    Which was, of course, the problem.

    Unfortunately, sometimes hunting just made it worse, and she’d ache for his rough touch after a good slay. It still felt like the damn spell was working. An addiction. She didn’t want to want him so.

    She missed him.

    Demons were getting hard to find, to Buffy’s annoyance. There were rumors that those commandos had been getting bolder and bolder. Buffy had actually run into them a few times. They’d always run back into the shadows when she saw them, and sometimes they attacked her – not with weaponry, but a car would come speeding around a corner, or even a helicopter would come and shine its light on her, distracting her from her pursuit. She was pretty sure they were hunting the demons. But apart from chipping Spike up, she didn’t know what they wanted them for, and it worried her.

    So when Buffy opened her front door and saw Clem, she was actually delighted to see him. “Hey! How’s it going? It’s been a while.” She gave him a quick hug. “You’re looking–” she stopped, because Clem actually looked like he’d been through the wringer. Well – even more than he usually did. His skin was drooping further than ever, even around his face, leaving one of his snakes half visible at the edge of his eye socket. “Is everything all right?”

    “Oh, yeah,” Clem said. “I’m just... kinda tired. We’ve been putting things on hold lately. Haven’t had much sleep. Had to set up an escort buddy system, so no one goes off alone. And I’ve been running the support group on my own for the last week, so.”

    “Support group?”

    “For those who had friends go missing. The group treasurer disappeared – go figure – so I’ve had to take on more of the paperwork.”

    “Go missing?” Buffy asked.

    “Yeah,” Clem said. “Oh, I forgot, you’re kinda out of the loop these days. A lot of the locals have started to go missing. Not just the hunters, even the soft crowd.” The soft crowd were the demons who just tended to go about their demony business, trying not to get in the way of human laws. Like Clem and his buddies. Spike had sort of fallen in with that lot, with the chip in his head. “We lost the sucker gang the other night,” Clem said. “All five of them. Nice girls, too. Some of the boys thought you might have done it, but...”

    “Nah,” Buffy said. “Spike introduced me to them. They were... all right.” Buffy had actually found the sucker gang creepy as all hell, but had limited her slayer duties to intimidating them all individually, warning them that if a single one of their clients ever turned up dead in Sunnydale, she’d dust the lot of them. They seemed to take the threat as a matter of course. At least two of them had looked indignant, one claiming she’d never killed in her unlife (possible – she had been a newborn, though Buffy half thought she might have been a client before she became one of the girls, which technically meant someone else had screwed the pooch, but hell) and one that said she hadn’t messed up in years, and that was back in LA. Spike hadn’t liked them much, either. They had been downright terrified of him.

    “Anyway, have you seen Spike?” Clem asked. “We were looking for him.”

    “I haven’t seen him in... almost two weeks, now,” Buffy said. She hadn’t seen him since that night when he’d turned up drunken and miserable on her doorstep, and Riley had offered to pour him back into Willy’s place. Riley had said he’d seen him safe, and that was it. She didn’t blame Spike. She wouldn’t have wanted to see her, either.

    “Do you know if he skipped town?”

    Buffy swallowed. She’d really hoped not, but, “Probably likely.”

    Clem didn’t look convinced. “Well, he... he didn’t take his stuff. Willy wanted to get it out of the back room,” Clem said. “I’m afraid most of his clothes got grabbed in a poker game to tie up the winnings, but I’ve got his personals here.” He took the paper bag out from under his arm. “Do you have any idea where he’s gone?”

    “Spike’s clothes?” Buffy said. “He’s missing?”

    “Yeah. I thought at first he’d gone back to your old place, but.... No clue where he is, then?”

    “No,” Buffy said. Clem frowned at the paper bag under his arm, unsure what to do with it. “You know what, I’ll take that,” Buffy said. “Hold it for him.”

    “Yeah,” Clem said. He handed the bag to Buffy. “Yeah. You can keep that... until he gets back.” They both knew what they were both thinking, and neither of them wanted to say it.

    “Clem? If you’re... ever in trouble... you or the boys, you can hide out with me or Xander until the heat’s off. Or we can... get you guys out of town.”

    Clem smiled, showing off his dog like teeth. “Thanks, Buffy,” he said. “I think we’re all right for now. Willy’s got that warlock keeping the confusion spell on the bar, and Rack has a few nasty tricks up his sleeve, too. We just... keep vigilant.”

    “Just don’t keep vigilante, huh?” Buffy said. “You stay safe. No heroics.”

    “We won’t horn in on your territory, slayer,” Clem said. “Thanks, girlfriend. Let me know if you see Spike, will you? Bye.”

    Buffy waved Clem off. She stepped into the hall and regarded the paper bag.

    Spike’s personals. She knew it wasn’t really her place to examine them, but hell. No divorce papers had been signed. Communal property and all. She opened the bag on the hall table.

    A couple of black t-shirts, still smelling of Spike. Buffy didn’t even think about it before she held them to her nose and breathed it in. God, he smelled good. She heard herself grunt a little, as if she’d been struck, as the scent revived memory after memory of moment after heated moment between them. Curled up into his arm at night. Rubbing his scarred shoulders after a fight. He had so many scars, Spike. So many battles. Kissing his long throat, running her lips along his pale skin, his cool hand cradling her skull against him, his hard, taut body as he melted under her touch.... She set the shirts down and reached into the bag again. A deck of cards, a zippo lighter. A large book....

    Buffy knew what it was before she even pulled it out. The wedding album. She’d wondered what had happened to it when she emptied out the three-level. She’d thought maybe he’d destroyed it or something, or that it had gotten lost. She realized she should have known he’d have kept it. She opened it. The first few pages were the high-gloss professional photos from the photographer, some of them awkwardly posed, with all her friends and family in the golden light of sunset, all of them looking a little bewildered – her mom, her cousins, Giles never looking at the camera, Xander with a bandage still on his forehead from one of his attacks. Everyone but Willow was there.

    The sunlight faded from the photos, and there was Spike. Posed kisses, a propped embrace. He looked so happy. He’d looked awfully human at the wedding, Buffy remembered, when the spell was still so fresh and hot and neither of them had realized it yet. Then there were other shots, shots her mom had mostly taken. Buffy walking down the aisle in her white dress, handing off the rings, the demon attack. Most of the demon attack Joyce hadn’t gotten shots of – just the one startled shot just as it burst through the wall of the tent – but the aftermath was clear. Buffy with her ripped skirt, Spike back in his leather duster.

    Buffy stopped and stared at the kiss at the alter. The artifice had been shattered by that demon. There was no more perfect dream, no more artistic wedding design. No more false tuxedo or flawless white dress. Those were two fighters, still flushed from battle, clutching at each other in complete understanding.

    Buffy looked down at her hand. Two rings she hadn’t removed. One a silver skull with emerald eyes, that Spike had pulled off his own pinky with which to propose to her. The other, a single plain band of gold. Its twin had still graced Spike’s hand, last time she’d seen him.

    The bag wasn’t empty. There was something at the bottom. She pulled it out. So that’s where that had gotten to. It was Buffy’s favorite blue cashmere sweater. It still had a small sauce mark on it from the spaghetti she’d eaten the night before Willow had come home, meaning it hadn’t been washed. She knew it still smelled of her, as Spike’s shirts had smelled of him. He’d kept it. She could just imagine him sniffing at it, as she had just done, his long fingers caressing the fabric as he used to caress her body through it.

    And now he was missing.

    “God dammit,” Buffy muttered. She shoved the items back into the bag and went to go see Willow.


    Buffy opened the door to Tara’s dorm room, knowing they almost never locked it. “Willow? Tara? I need a sp– Oh.”

    Willow stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by cowled female figures. At the head of this circle stood a behorned demon, who frowned as Buffy entered. “You are not one of the dark ones,” the demon intoned. “We cannot allow mere mortals to behold our sacred rituals. There is a penalty to be paid by those who break the laws of the lower beings, and such transgressions cannot be overlooked! You should have knocked,” he added.

    “Oh. Well. Sorry,” Buffy said.

    “You will be,” the horned demon said, and raised his hand.

    “She’s the slayer!” Willow cried quickly. “Buffy, this is D’Hoffryn. D’Hoffryn, um – Buffy. She’s not merely a mortal, she is the slayer, called upon by fate to be the warrior of the people. And – and thus she’s permitted... permitted to... um. She can sit in?”

    “You believe that the mere birthright of demonic energy calling upon this slayer to kill in darkness gives this little girl the prerogative to witness the assembling of the lower beings?”

    “Um... yeah?” Willow said.

    “All right,” D’Hoffryn said with a casual shrug, and turned back to the sheet of paper in his hand. “Where were we.... Ah, yes. Punishment. Willowankha. Until such time as your vengeance begins to meet quota, and you are hereby stripped of all demonic powers outside of those needed for your work. There will be no teleportation. No wounds will receive accelerated healing outside of those considered lethal. There will be no soul gazing. And the realms of Arrashmahar are banned to you until further notice. Do you understand these punitive measures?”

    “Yes,” Willow said. “But... I don’t think I really want to be a vengeance demon anymore. Not if I really have to kill people.”

    D’Hoffryn looked annoyed. “I keep telling you. You go for the pain, not for the kill!”

    “But... I don’t really want to hurt people, either,” Willow said. “Some of these women... I mean... they’re mad because their boyfriends cheated. And, yeah, okay, that can be really painful, but... you can forgive someone for that. And it’s not as if they killed anybody or broke any laws or anything. And maybe they had reasons. Some of these women... I mean... they can be really mean in the first place. And sometimes something can happen, like when two people are really good friends, and even though they both have other partners, their hormones can go all out of wack, and it doesn’t mean that they’re evil or any–”

    “Enough!” D’Hoffryn snarled. “I’ve had enough excuses! You either shape up and perform your vengeance with a vengeance, or else, Willowankha, we will have words again.” He raised his hands. “Oh. And say hello to Anya for me, there’s a good girl.” He and the other demons vanished in a blast of fire that filled the room with an awful chemical smell.

    “Damn portal spell,” Willow said, heading to the window. “Burning holes in Tara’s carpet.” She opened the window to let out the residual smoke.

    “What was that all about?” Buffy asked.

    “D’Hoffryn’s not satisfied with my work,” Willow said. “But, I just can’t do it anymore! I mean, do you have any idea what people wish when they’re angry? They wish all kinds of terrible things. And on really nice people, too! And yeah, they’re hurting, and I feel for them. I mean, I really do, now. But I mean, what they really need is a good friend, or a psychologist or something. It’s like, within their own anger and hurt and fear they can’t feel what the other guy is feeling. And I’m supposed to exact vengeance, when really it just looks like the whole world just doesn’t care about anyone but themselves, and they’re just hurting each other over and over. And... he also thought the puppy idea was stupid,” she added.

    “I thought you said your contract was kind of shaky.”

    Willow shook her head. “No such luck,” she said sadly. “Because I cast the Will Be Done spell willingly, the contract doesn’t fall under the clause of duress.” She sighed. “At least, that’s what infernal affairs says.”

    “So, what happens if you don’t do the vengeance demon gig vengeancy enough? Do you just get made back human, like Anya?”

    “Um. No. Anya had fulfilled her hundred year original contract a long time ago, which meant it could be broken. For the first hundred years, the contract is immutable.”

    “So what does that mean?”

    Willow swallowed. “It means D’Hoffryn can... well, he can terminate me.”

    Buffy looked at her friend. Willow was white-faced behind the demonic lines of power, and her neck looked tense. “You don’t mean your contract, do you.”

    “No,” Willow said softly.

    “Oh, god. There’s got to be something we can do.”

    “It’s okay. Tara’s trying to look some stuff up in the dark sites. And I’ve got ninety days before D’Hoffryn can come back again with more sanctions, so we’ve got some time. I can do a few tiny vengeances to keep up appearances, I think. What did you need? You looked all slayery when you came in.”

    “Spike’s missing,” Buffy said. “I wanted you to do a locator spell.”

    “Missing?” Willow asked. “I thought you two broke up.”

    “We did, but even Clem hasn’t seen him, and it’s been weeks.” Buffy was kicking herself for assuming it was just that Spike had been avoiding her. Spike wouldn’t have avoided her. Spike would have been lurking around in the corners trying stupid trick after dumb insult to win her back. He’d probably have been following her around on patrol like a love-sick puppy. Buffy sighed. She wasn’t sure what she would have done if he had been. She wanted him pretty much constantly. It would have been awful. Most likely it would have taken the pattern of telling him to back off, falling back into his arms, telling him it had to be over, breaking down again. God, it would have been like torturing him. Not to mention herself.

    “Oh. Well, my demon powers have been pretty much cut off, unless you wanted vengeance for something, but I can still do some of my older witchy spells. Do you have anything of his?”

    Buffy removed the skull ring from her finger. “Here.”

    “Okay. Let me get up a few supplies.”

    “I’ll wait,” Buffy said. She held the ring up to the light, and its emerald eyes glinted.

    “Shame I can’t still teleport,” Willow said. “I could have just said, Where’s Spike? and I would have been right where he was already.”

    “Was that one of the powers you had?”

    “Yeah. But those kinds of dimensional powers are a privilege, not a right, D’Hoffryn says. If I do go back to being just Willow, I really am going to miss a lot of that stuff. But it’s not worth it, with all the killing, and the maiming, and the turning people into toads.”

    “Do you never feel like you might... regret losing it?” Buffy asked.

    Willow shrugged. “Maybe,” she said. “But being a demon isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And Tara says she’d actually prefer it if I was just Willow again. She says my aura burns sometimes.”

    “Well, I like you as just Willow,” Buffy said. “Demon Willow is kind of scary-bad. But... just tell me one thing,” Buffy asked. “Is your demon name really Willy-Wonka?”



    Willow and Buffy crouched over the map of Sunnydale. “If he doesn’t show up here, we can get a highway map.” Willow didn’t add or a world map. Buffy’s face was already tense with worry. “Put the ring in the chalice.”

    Buffy dropped it in with a clink. “What if he’s not anywhere?”

    “Um. Well. I guess that would mean... that he’s not anywhere,” Willow said. At the look on the slayer’s face she added, “He’ll be here. Here. Powers of Thespia, hear my plea. Find this creature of darkness, reveal him to me.” A tiny green dot appeared on the map. “That was fast,” Willow said. “Usually I have to chant. I guess Thespia listens to demons a little faster than to just plain old Willow.” She sounded a little wistful. She looked at Buffy. “Well, he’s not dust,” she said hopefully.

    “Yeah, but where is he?” Buffy said, looking down at the map. The little green dot looked a lot like the sparkling emeralds in the ring.

    “He’s... huh. He’s here,” Willow said. “UC Sunnydale campus.” She looked up at Buffy. “Could he be following you?”

    “Daylight,” Buffy pointed out.

    “Oh.” She reached into her book bag and pulled out the orientation map of UC Sunnydale. She placed it on top of the Sunnydale map, and said, “Powers of–” Before she’d even finished the incantation, the emerald dot had moved onto the map of the college. “Thanks, Thespia,” Willow muttered

    “That doesn’t make any sense,” Buffy said. “He’s at Lowell House.”

    “Maybe he and Riley struck up a friendship that night when Spike was drunk,” Willow said hopefully.

    “Or maybe Riley didn’t drive Spike home, after all.”

    “Well, the back of Willy’s Bar isn’t really a home, anyway,” Willow pointed out. She wished she hadn’t said it at the stricken look on the slayer’s face.

    Buffy’s heart had twisted, remembering the way Spike had begged her, I’m only home here. Let me come home. With his cool lips on her throat, making her pulse pound. “I’ve gotta go talk to Riley.”

    Willow handed Buffy back her ring. “Do you want me to come with you?”

    “No,” Buffy said. “If Riley really is involved with these people who are kidnapping demons, I don’t want them knowing that you are one.”

    “I’m getting lots better about the face thing,” Willow said.

    “I know. But you don’t have your powers now. And I need you to go to Giles. Assemble the gang – Tara too. We’ll have a meeting after I talk to Riley.”

    “Okay. Here were go. Scoobies to the rescue again.”

    “Yeah,” Buffy said. She headed out the door. “To the rescue.”


    “Spike?” Riley said. He hadn’t expected Buffy Summers to come tracking him down at Lowell House. There was a time he’d have been thrilled by this development. Now he wasn’t so sure. “I dropped him off at that bar you told me about. Didn’t really seem to need any more to drink, though.”

    “He had a bed in the back, until he could find another place,” Buffy said. “Did he say anything to you? Anything about going anywhere?”

    “No,” Riley said. “Well, he did say something about maybe leaving town. Kinda hard staying around his ex and all.”

    Buffy searched his face. “Right. So, did you two just get on like a house on fire?”

    She seemed suspicious. “He was a little too drunk for light conversation,” Riley said. “Why do you ask?”

    “Oh, well. His friend was looking for him. Asked me if I’d seen him.”

    “His friend?” Riley said. “Which friend was that?”

    “Doesn’t matter,” Buffy said quickly. “So, you two didn’t become great buddies or anything. Drinking beers around the poker table or watching football in the man cave.”

    “Buffy, I... wasn’t really very inclined to like Spike very much,” Riley said. “And I think you might remember why.”

    “Right,” Buffy said. Suddenly she sighed, looking terribly relieved. “I’m glad. I was afraid he might have told you all these really awful things about me, and you know they aren’t really true. You know how married couples can get, lots of little resentments, all building up in close quarters, him complaining about my being a stuck-up bitch with a stake up my ass.” That was most definitely very real ire, there. “And he was always leaving his cigarette butts around, and he really did drink more than anybody has a right to, and we would fight. Just about all the time, we’d fight,” she said, her tone very lost and alone.

    Riley believed it. He wanted to reach out for her. “Yeah. It’s tough when that happens.”

    “Do you know...,” she said with a slight bite to her lip. “I really just kind of... hope... that maybe things can settle down now. And maybe I can find some happiness somewhere. A relationship with a little less... conflict.”

    Was she saying what he thought she was saying? God, he hoped so. But, still... “Maybe,” he said. “Maybe one day.”

    Buffy smiled at him, looking shy and stunning. “I guess I’ll see you in class tomorrow?”

    “I’d like that,” Riley said, as if it were a special date, rather than both of them going to be there anyway. What was it about Buffy that always tangled his tongue?

    “I’m glad,” she said softly, her eyes half hooded. Sultry. She reached out and touched his hand. Soft. Warm. “So, I’ll see you later. Bye.”

    He couldn’t help but notice how her lips pursed on the word “Bye.” It made his mouth go dry. “Bbye,” he said, sounding, in his mind, like a clod.

    Buffy left, and he watched her walk away across the campus, her shoulders, her back, her...

    His buddy Forrest slapped him on the back, startling him away from watching her. “So the little lady’s making a new play, huh?” he asked. “Told you it wouldn’t last, and she’d come crawling back.”

    “Yeah, you did,” Riley said, heading back into Lowell House. “But that was before we found out what her ex was like.”

    “Are you saying you don’t trust her?”

    “I’m saying I don’t know her,” Riley said. “I want to trust her.” He stood before the mirror door to the lower lab, and let light from the retinal scanner pass over his face. “But really, how can you be married to a guy like that, and not notice?”

    “Retinal scan accepted,” the elevator intoned.

    “Well, interrogate it again,” Forrest said, climbing in. “But I really don’t think anyone could go into that sort of thing of their own free will. We know they lie, when they can talk at all. If she wasn’t just fooled, it was probably that hypnotic thrall thing that some of them can do.”

    “Oh, yeah.” Riley said. “Hypnosis,” he added into the vocal scanner. He’d forgotten about that thrall thing. It was a rare talent among the hostiles, but they did have it.

    “Vocal code accepted. Riley Finn.”

    “Yeah. And that makes her just a victim,” Forrest said. “You gotta admit, it was a smart move. Figuring out who your girlfriend was and hiding there. I mean, we never suspected it for a second.”

    “She wasn’t my girlfriend,” Riley said. “We just... we went on a picnic one time.”

    “And flirted back and forth like a pair of highschool kids,” Forrest added. “She was duped, I’m sure of it. You should give her another chance.”

    “Why are you suddenly so keen on me getting with Buffy?” Riley asked as the lift opened, and they walked down into the compound.

    “‘Cause I’m getting sick of the way you’re pushing the demon overtime,” Forrest said, mussing Riley’s head. “I need a break, man. Getting you distracted with a nice piece of ass sounds like the best plan.”

    “Right,” Riley said wistfully. “Because that’s all she is. A nice piece of ass.”

    The image of her walking away stayed with him, though. That had been a nice piece.

    “I’m serious. Go interrogate it. Ask it about thrall. It’ll make you feel better.”

    “You think?”

    “Always seemed to perk you up before,” Forrest said. “We got a half hour before briefing.”

    “Okay. Good idea.” He went over to the tech lab. “I need the controller for hostile 17.”

    The palm-sized device in his fist, he headed down to the holding pens. Demons of all kinds were stashed in the tiny cells, in many cases cringing from the light. The pens were white and bright and open, where most demons preferred the darkness. The brightness kept them agitated, and made them easier to quell.

    Hostile 17 was sitting curled up on the floor of his cell, his head against the wall, looking daggers out through the clear  electrified doors. “Hostile 17,” he said. “Can you hear and understand me?”

    “Well, if it isn’t Captain Cardboard,” 17 said with scorn. “If you keep asking me that question every time you show up with that little tv remote in your hand, I’m going to assume you have memory problems, mate.”

    “I don’t need any of your cheek tonight,” Riley said, and indulged his current favorite pass time, of watching Buffy’s ex-husband cringe in agony as he manually fired the pain-chip in his head. He only pressed the button for a second, this time. The hostile cringed anyway, grunting with the pain, and then took a deep breath. Steeling himself. “I’ve come to ask you some questions.”

    “So what else is new,” 17 muttered. “I’ve told you everything I know. What other clever interrogation techniques have you developed? Or are we going to stick with the classics.”

    “The old tunes are the best ones,” Riley said firmly. “Buffy.”

    “What about her?”

    “Why her? Why did you target her?”

    “I already told you,” 17 said, sounding bored. “I picked the dumbest blond bimbo I could find and duped her into hiding me until the heat was off. I would have thought that was obvious.”

    “And she had no idea who or what you were?”

    “Nope,” 17 said, staring at the ceiling. “Come on. Do you think that boring little chit would be up for that kind of kink?” He scornfully rolled his eyes. “Barely worth the tumble, if you ask me. Really, mate, you’d be better off with a blow-up doll. At least she wouldn’t squeal like a dying pig in the sack.”

    Riley punished him for his insolence, and the creature winced as his chip fired. “So you did know I knew her.”

    “Not for a few weeks,” 17 said. “And I didn’t know you were all soldier-y until you dragged me down to this lovely five star hotel.”

    “See, now, I find that hard to believe,” Riley said. “I have a very hard time believing that you broke out of our containment unit, managed to avoid our retrieval team, and just happened to be found in Buffy’s dorm room, managed to escape again, and then somehow show up two weeks later marrying my girlfriend.”

    “Oh, girlfriend, is it?” 17 scowled. He stood up and glared at Riley. “One pitiful sunshine and apples picnic does not a girlfriend make.”

    Riley glared. “So, you know what we ate, do you?”

    “Oh, I know everything about that girl,” 17 said. “She’s a moron. Dull as a stone. A lame duck in the sack, and a total pushover. All’s had to do was promise her the moon, and the bint rolled over and begged for it like the trull she is.”

    Riley didn’t even bother threatening him, just hit the button again, and 17 groaned.

    “How did you keep her from knowing you were a vampire?” Riley demanded.

    17 grunted, and glared up at him. “Told her I had an allergy to the sun.”

    “And she bought that?”

    “‘Course she did.”

    “And the blood? I know you don’t function unless you imbibe at least animal blood on a regular basis. What did she think of your special diet?”

    “Bint thought it was red wine, most of the time,” 17 said. “Just ask her. She’ll tell you I drink too much.”

    “Ask her. Right.”

    “Yeah,” 17 said. “Ask her.”

    “And somehow she just managed to overlook the fact that you give off no body heat.”

    “Heat is relative, mate,” 17 said. “I took a lot of hot showers before I gave her a bit of the old Spike.” He ran his hand suggestively down his shirt. “She thinks I have a circulation problem.”

    “And your heartbeat?”

    “How often do you lovingly listen to your bed mate’s heartbeat?” 17 asked. “We didn’t have that kind of marriage. Get in, get out, get back to being evil, that’s my motto. Just flip her over and start in, then get her out of my sight. I was up all night, she was out all day. I only had to spend a few minutes with her to make the lonely little thing all devoted. Totally desperate, she is.” He grinned. “So maybe you have a chance with her after all.”

    It all sounded plausible, but not entirely convincing. “So she had no idea that the whole time she was harboring a vampire. No idea at all.”

    “None, mate. I’m way too clever for that.”

    Riley regarded the creature. “Tell me about thrall.”

    17 raised an eyebrow. “What of it?”

    “Did you hypnotize her? Is that how you fooled her?”

    The creature laughed. “I’ve no need for those kinda tricks, mate. You pick a dumb enough bint, you can talk her into anything. Even doing a milquetoast moron like yourself.”

    Riley squeezed the button on the controller again, and this time the creature went down. He held it, and held it, and held it, until the creature screamed, its neck cording, its body writhing, its face contorted in agony. If Riley hadn’t known it was only a vicious animal under that human face, he’d have felt kind of bad for it. As it was, he just held the button longer.

    Finally the creature couldn’t scream anymore, and Riley released the button. He frowned. He himself had been getting more and more violent lately, and the HSTs were the ones who mostly paid for it. Hostile 17, however, Riley found himself loathing beyond the contempt he held for the rest of his evil species. The beast stared up at the ceiling, panting, gasping, trembling in pain. Even the other vampires in the cells around them looked pitying. Or maybe, they were just hoping it wouldn’t happen to them. Riley had their controllers, too, but he never bothered torturing them like he loved to torture 17, pouring all his sexual frustration into the creature that had stolen what Riley had started to think of as his. A tone sounded, telling Riley it was time for his next briefing. He thought about giving the creature another hit, but he was afraid it wouldn’t be fit for the arena if he did. He walked away, leaving hostile 17 to his cell.

    Spike growled his contempt after the boy. “Thrall,” he muttered. “If I could, I’d show you thrall.” He crawled to his hands and knees. “If Dru were here, you wouldn’t be able to play with your little tinker toy!” he shouted down the hall. “She’d take one look at you through the glass, and you’d just open the doors for her. Have you rolling on the ground like a sodding kitten!” He looked down. “If Dru were here,” he muttered. He crawled back to his corner, unsure he was sturdy enough to stand. He sank heavily against the wall. “But they all bloody leave.”

    Spike tilted his aching head against the smooth wall of the bright, white cell. “Slayer,” he murmured to himself. He couldn’t allow himself to cry, not with those cameras he knew were all over the damn compound, but he missed her. Missed her more than he could even contemplate, the whole of his being crying out for her, a dead shell without her touch, her sweetness, her... her soul. “Come on, slayer, figure it out. Please...”


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