Buffy hadn't been this nervous in a long time, not since the first time she entered The Circle. It seemed so long ago. She had entered The Circle as a girl, a frightened cheerleader, but she left as the Slayer. That day seemed almost like the first day of her life.
She wasn't as scared as she thought she ought to be. She thought she should be yelling at them, telling them that she was just a girl. That she couldn't fight demons, but she didn't really believe that anymore.
She had spent enough time being trained by Tain, fighting his other slaves in practice matches to know that she wasn't just a girl. She was something more. What, she didn't know, and that did frighten her.
In fact the whole reason she was standing here was because she had almost killed one of the other slaves during a practice session a few days prior. She hadn't really meant to, and she felt really bad about it afterwards. After all it wasn't his fault. She'd stopped seeing her fellow slaves as monsters, she didn't even think of them as demons–which she had learned was the correct term–they were just other slaves, no different than she was.
It was kind of like Star Wars or Star Trek. All these people who looked funny but were really just people. That's why she felt so bad about almost killing the other slave. She'd almost murdered someone. Buffy Summers was almost a killer. Today maybe she would be.
She had barely stepped into the arena when her opponent charged at her. He was a big fellow, with large wicked looking tusks, with which he was trying to maul her.
She stepped out of the way just in time, but he snagged her arm with one of his tusks, causing her to bleed a little. And then she stopped thinking and started fighting.
It was nothing like the training sessions Tain had put her through. It was dirty and painful and real. She felt her ribs crack and she knew no one was going to step in and stop this. The only one who could make it stop was her.
And she did. She managed to grab one of her opponent's tusks. It was razor sharp and it sliced her hand, but still she gripped it tightly and used it to twist his head and snap his neck.
Some of the crowd cheered while others booed. She looked up at them and she wasn't Buffy Summers anymore, she was the Slayer, and she promised herself that if she ever got free she would kill every one of them.
She hadn't though. By the time she'd won her freedom two years had passed and she'd learned something. Life was unfair, and no matter how many people you killed life was still unfair.
Now she walked up the steps to the owners' box for the first time. Today she wasn't the slave but the owner of a slave. Today she was doing to someone else the same thing that had been done to her, and she would have been lying if she said she didn't care.
The truth was she was kind of fond of Spike. He talked too much, or maybe he talked the normal amount, it was just that she still wasn't used to being allowed to speak. Tain's slaves were always punished for speaking. That was the main reason she let him talk, so that she would become comfortable with talking again.
She had no illusions about how he felt about her. He might act friendly towards her, but all she had to do was look in his eyes. He looked at her like she had looked at Tain, like he would kill her the first opportunity he got.
But that was okay; she wanted him to be a killer after all. She wanted him to want to live so badly that he would kill anything that got in his way.
As Buffy entered the owner's box, all conversation ceased. They all looked at her with hatred and contempt. There wasn't a demon there who hadn't lost a valuable fighter and an even more valuable purse to her. Only Tain didn't seem to be bothered by her presence.
"Ah, Slayer," he said in the too nice tone he always used. "Please, come sit here. You must be excited about your first match, although I don't know what you were thinking entering a vampire."
"He's good," was all she said, and she wondered if anyone else noticed the way she flinched after speaking, as if she was expecting to be struck at any moment.
But no one did. Instead she sat down by the man who had stripped her humanity away and put her through a living hell for two years. The only person in the box who would talk to her.
For just a moment she thought about killing him. It would be so easy, no one could stop her. But she quickly gave up the idea. It wouldn't change anything. It wouldn't make her a girl again.
Instead she let her attention wander to the first match that was beginning below them. It was important that she pay attention to every match. She'd been out of the game for a while now and she needed to know who the current contenders were and what their strengths and weaknesses were so that she could decide who Spike's next opponent would be.
The first two fights passed in a blur, and just like that they were announcing the third fight–Spike's fight. As the announcer proclaimed that one of the next fighters was a vampire there were assorted jeers, boos, and laughter. She didn't care. In fact if anything, she hoped that Spike's opponent had the same opinion. The more people underestimated Spike the better things would go for both of them.
And just like that the fight started. All of her concentration was on the fight below, so that at first she didn't hear Tain speaking to her.
"Hmmm?" she asked.
"I said he talks too much. It's a waste of energy. You should break him of that. If he lives."
"I like his accent," was all she said.
That was all the attention she could spare for Tain. All she could see as she watched the battle below was the mistakes Spike made. She saw a half dozen moments when his opponent could have killed him. Luckily the demon he was fighting wasn't paying as much attention, or was too close to see the opportunities he was missing.
When the demon hit the ground dead, Buffy was startled. She'd quickly convinced herself that Spike was going to lose. She didn't even realize until it was over that she'd been holding her breath. Even as the crowd hissed at the uppity vampire that had killed a demon she kept trying to convince herself that it really had happened.
"That's a nice purse you just won," a voice said from being her.
She turned to see Belef, a demon who looked a bit like a toad that had first been stretched and then squashed back down. He was also the demon who had fronted her the money she'd used to get herself started.
Tain had released her with nothing but the clothes on her back. When she had returned to The Center after her failed attempt to live back in the real world she'd still had nothing. She had tried to borrow the money she needed from several of the other owners, but she had no collateral other than herself, and most of them understood just as Tain had that she was too good to be worth anything anymore.
But Belef had taken her up on the offer. She wasn't sure why, but she knew he's always taken it personally when she'd won a fight against one of his slaves. She was pretty sure that the only reason he'd taken her up on the offer was because he wanted to take out of her hide the value of every slave of his she had ever killed.
"I'll be expecting my first payment promptly," Belef continued.
"You'll get it. You'll get it all soon," she told him.
The money she'd won today wasn't nearly enough to pay off her debt to Belef, but it was one step closer to being free of him. The next couple of fights she put Spike through would still be all or nothing for her. If he didn't make it, if she couldn't make enough to pay off Belef, she'd lose her freedom and maybe her life.
In the end, it was all pretty simple. She just had to make sure Spike didn't lose.
The cell Spike was put in after he won his match was nicer than the first cell he'd been held in beforehand, but it was still a cell. There was fresh blood though, water to clean off his opponent's blood, and some bandages if he wanted them.
He went for the blood first, gulping it down quickly. Next he cleaned himself off. He didn't bother with the bandages though. He'd broken a couple of ribs, but they would heal quickly and none of his other injuries were that serious.
Under any other circumstances he would have been thrilled with the fight he'd just had. It was just the sort of brawl he loved. But fighting because he had to, and to amuse a bunch of eviler-than-thou demons, was not his idea of a good time.
The bastards even had the nerve to boo him. He had rid the world of two Slayers, but did they care? No. All those demon elitists cared about was that he was a half-breed.
Well fuck them. There was no way he was going down in that arena, so they'd just have to learn to accept that a vampire could kick all their asses.
His thoughts were interrupted as the cell door opened and the Slayer entered.
"You fight again in three days. Any serious injuries?" she asked in a business-like tone.
"I'm fine. Thanks for the concern," he snapped back at her.
"Come on," she said as she turned to leave.
"That's it? No good job?"
"You're alive. Isn't that enough? Besides, you didn't do a good job. You were just lucky enough to have an opponent who didn't see all your mistakes."
"You know, Slayer, someone really did a number on you."
She turned on that to look back at him. "You think?" she asked sarcastically before adding, "Tain was right you do talk too much."
"No! Hey!" But he was too late. She reached down for the jewel on her bracelet that caused him pain and he fell to his knees in agony.
"I'm not your friend," she said sternly. "I'm not here to congratulate you. All I care about is how much money you make me, and to make me money you have to win. Which means you have to survive. That's all that matters to me. Understand?"
"Yeah, yeah, life's a bitch and so are you. I get it," he grumbled.
"Good," she said, turning her back on him once again to lead him home.
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