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Willow was pacing in her agitation. “I’m telling you, Giles, the guy had to have threatened her. She was a nervous wreck and I could hear her crying when she thought I was asleep.”
“And you are certain you recognize this man as the head coach for the University football team?” Giles couldn’t believe a person in authority, an upstanding member of the community, would condone the behavior of the ruffians under his charge!
“Yup, no question. All soft voice and polite-sounding words,” she grumbled. “Whatever he said really shook Tara up though, and she won’t talk about it.”
“What about her version of what transpired at the Bronze the other night? Did it match up with the information Spike divulged?”
“Completely, only she made Spike out to be a bigger hero in her version.” Spike, finally able to move about again, wasn’t present to have his ego inflated at that admission. “I promised her that Spike would drop by to see her. She can’t believe he survived that beating and she really feels guilty.”
“Yes, I shall suggest it to him when and if he returns. I sincerely hope he will be moving out today if he can find a decent hovel in which to roost.” Giles struggled to keep from grinning in an unseemly manner. “I imagine he will return to loot my belongings for a housewarming gift for himself, the berk! He’d best keep his hands off my album collection or I’ll forget my resolve and stake him myself.”
“Giles, focus please!” Willow had an exasperated tone to her voice. “Tara is really sweet and I’m afraid for her. She doesn’t have anyone here, no family or friends, and this has her really spooked.”
“Yes, of course,” Giles agreed while mentally counting the records that might be in jeopardy and trying to think of a decent hiding place until Spike was well and truly gone. Once that was completed, he brightened noticeably and turned his full attention on the agitated redhead who had continued on her tirade.
“…..send us to college and expect us to learn to become decent adult human beings only to have jerks like that coach intimidating shy, sweet, pretty girls like Tara! What kind of people run these places anyway?”
“I fear the same flawed people that run many institutions in this world, Willow. Humans are flawed at best, my dear, and that is the sad truth.” Giles hadn’t quite forgotten the conversation with Anya a few days previous. In fact, he had already sought out the ex-demon to continue said conversation once already.
“But it’s not right. Tara is talking about transferring to another university in another state and I just met her!”
“No, it is not right, nor was what was done to Spike, but there is precious little we can do about it, I fear.” Giles was feeling more impotent than usual after his meeting with Buffy’s psychology professor. She had whittled away at what was left of his self-esteem by bringing home to him just how ineffectual he currently was and how little importance he held in his Slayer’s life. This situation with the jerky jocks proved just how little power he had without his Council position to back him up. Even a toad like the late, unlamented Snyder could walk all over him at this point. He needed a drink.
“So what are we going to do about it?” Willow, bless her, seemed to be of the opinion that he had value yet. It unmanned him further to have to admit he had no answers.
“I can but offer to talk to your friend and see what transpired. I make no guarantees about anything further though.” Giles sighed deeply and resolved that in some way he would assist this as yet unknown girl. Even if his Slayer had no further need of him, he might yet find purpose with the young people who used to look up to him.
“Where’s Buff?” Willow looked around as if expecting her friend to be hiding somewhere in the small apartment.
“As we speak, Buffy is being given the red carpet treatment at the Initiative labs. It would seem that they feel they have more to offer the Slayer than I–and so does she, apparently,” he said with more than a hint of bitterness.
“I’m sure that’s not true, Giles,” Willow tried to reassure the Watcher, all the while trying to swallow down the feelings of rejection that came from being out of the loop. “Buffy still needs you; we all do. I’m sure she’s just dazzled with the shiny is all.”
“Indeed. That harridan Professor Walsh is unlikely to have much to offer a spirited girl like Buffy.” Giles brightened at the imagined conflicts. “Lord knows I never could control her. Coming from a military background, she will be terribly frustrated by Buffy, I imagine.” He couldn’t keep the wide grin from his face at the thought.
The door was suddenly flung open with such force that it knocked a small hole in the wall as a smoldering Spike rushed into the apartment batting at a stray flame. “Mornin’, Rupes. Found a place, you’ll be glad to know. Bit under the radar for the G.I. Joe wannabes, I think.” He walked to a small end table and eyed the reading lamp sitting there. “Not needing this, are you, old man?”
“As a matter of fact, yes, Spike, I am quite in need of all my belongings.” Giles made a grab at the lamp that was already in Spike’s hands. “Go scrounge elsewhere. I am sure there must still be someone in Sunnydale that you can frighten into furnishing your new place without coveting my meager possessions.”
Spike looked at the lamp and handed it over, “Find something bit better lookin’ too, I’m thinkin. Right you are. Thanks for the kip and all. Don’t bother to come calling.” His voice was cheery and his face pure snark.
“Wow, you really look better!” Willow was impressed at the improvement in the vampire. You couldn’t tell he’d been injured at all now. A human would not have survived the beating he had received, much less be healed by now.
“Vampire healing, ducks. Yet another thing to thank Dru for,” Spike smiled at the girl. She wasn’t half bad, not all judgmental and nasty…like some others. “Might make an exception, pet, and put the welcome mat out for you. No magic though.” He shuddered.
“I did say I was sorry, Spike. Besides, Buffy said that Anya told her it wasn’t all my fault,” Willow teased. “Something about you already having a thing for Buffy.”
“Hey, no need to turn up nasty,” Spike said in forced horror. Actually he’d given it far too much thought already. Perhaps Dru had been right after all. Was nice to think it was natural, if the demon girl was to be believed, that is. Chit was too bloody honest to doubt.
“Um, Spike, would you mind paying a visit to a friend of mine?”
“Flash a bit of fang? Scare a bit o’ religion into a mate, yeah?” Spike guessed.
“NO! Nothing like that at all.” Willow looked horrified as she whipped her head toward Giles, “Can he DO that?”
“Impotent as ever,” Giles taunted.
“Hey!” Spike was affronted at the word choice. As always, this group had a habit of putting the worst possible face on his situation.
“The girl you helped out at the Bronze before you got all beaten up is still not sure you’re all right. I said I’d try to get you to drop in to reassure her,” Willow ventured. “I mean, you wouldn’t have to stay for tea or anything, but she does want to thank you and make sure you’re okay that we didn’t take you to the hospital or call the police.”
“I remember the bird. Pretty little wren ‘til you got up close and saw the bluebird hidden,” Spike mused. “Worried ‘bout me, huh?”
“Very. Look, she’s really shy and doesn’t know anything about demons or vampires or anything, and I think it would terrify her to find out, but if you don’t mind…,” Willow hesitated. She didn’t want to beg.
“No problem. Mum raised a gentleman,” Spike quipped to the snorting amusement of Giles. “Just say where.”
“She’s staying at my dorm while Buffy’s at her mom’s. I think she’s nervous staying in her own room. The coach of those toads kinda threatened her.” She looked up quickly at Giles, “Hey, I could do that! I could make them all croaking toads. See how many girls they can scare then!”
“No abuse of magic, Willow!” Giles admonished. “We will deal with these cretins, but without resorting to the supernatural. You will only hurt yourself in the long run using magic for vengeance.”
“Always consequences, ducks,” Spike agreed. “So the wankers went crying to their coach. Typical! No balls unless in a pack, hidin’ behind mummy’s skirt elsewise.”
“If you want, I can flash a bit of fang that direction. Not likely to set off the fireworks in my head just to toss ‘em a scare,” Spike offered.
Willow found herself deciding that she actually liked Spike after that remark. Maybe he wouldn’t be such a bad choice on Buffy’s part. He was certainly funnier than Angel had ever been, andfriendlier too. “Probably not a good idea, but thanks for offering.”
Giles followed Spike around the apartment, making sure only the vampire’s possessions left with him on the way to his new abode.
Willow made arrangements to meet Spike the next evening and introduce him to Tara. She wanted to prepare her new friend as much as possible for what had no choice but to be a confusing introduction. Spike looked untouched and he could say some pretty outrageous things even by vampire standards.
“Well, if you two do not mind,” Giles looked at Spike and chanced it, “Or even if you do, for that matter, I must ask you to leave as I have a previous engagement that cannot be delayed and I would like to lock up before I go.”
“’Fraid I’ll help myself to your Cream collection?” Spike teased, hitting the nail on the head as usual. “Can pick a lock, Rupes.”
“I have no doubt, just as you should have no doubt that I am skilled with a crossbow,” Giles retorted.
“No need to fight over cream, guys! Geez, I’ll go to the grocery store and get some for both of you if it’s that big a deal,” Willow offered.
Giles and Spike shared a look that screamed “Infidel!” before breaking into shared laughter.
“Okay, you’re both laughing at me and that can’t be good,” insecure Willow said, her face scrunching adorably. “I said something funny?”
“Cream’s just about the best of the ‘60s bands. Eric Clapton started there,” Spike explained.
“Oh!” Willow blushed as brightly as her trademark hair. “Guess I can’t just pick it up in the dairy section then.” She left to the surreal sounds of Spike and Giles discussing the relative merits of the contributions of Ginger Baker vs. Eric Clapton. “Gee, they sound like a pair of brothers!”
Giles headed to the nearest bar after completing his set at the Espresso Pump. He had made a decent amount in tips that night and planned to invest in some genuine Guinness in celebration. He had just been served his second pint–pulled properly from the tap, not some heathen bottle at an arctic temperature–when he heard a voice he had hoped was firmly in his past.
“Ripper, old man! Care to buy an old…friend…a nice frothy mug?” Ethan Rayne sat down across from the Watcher without an invitation.
“I thought I’d seen the last of you, Ethan. Didn’t you cause enough trouble last time you were in town?” Giles asked sourly as his “friend” ordered a pint and flirted with the waitress.
“Ah, but the unpredictable is my stock in trade, you remember that, dear one,” Ethan smirked.
“Don’t call me that, you pillock. We were young, and I, at least, quite foolish. I’m not proud of any part of that time in my life. You really need to leave before I let myself remember the less pleasant portions of my Ripper persona,” Giles threatened.
“Don’t be a silly sod,” Ethan was clearly not worried. “I come in peace. Really, Rupert. Actually, I’m not here about you or your little girl at all. Word has it that the demon world is all atwitter over some military group. Seems they know about your girl too.”
Giles peered at Rayne in contempt. “If that’s the best you can do, leave off, you old bugger. I know full well about the Initiative and their interest in recruiting Buffy.”
“Ah, but for what?” Ethan hinted. His pint arrived and he savored the first long drink of the heady beverage. “Yes, this is more the thing! Nothing like a bit of proper stout in this barbaric land to make one feel more comfortable. I see you are comfortable indeed” Ethan chuckled as he noted the empty glasses in front of Giles.
“What do you mean ‘for what’? For killing demons, of course. She’s not with the Council anymore. Buffy can work with anyone she wishes,” Giles muttered into his glass. “Not like she has a Watcher to answer to anymore.”
Ethan nearly fell from the booth laughing. “Is that what you think is going on? My dear boy, you are still so very, very naïve, aren’t you?”
“You’re so well informed, Ethan, what do you say is really happening?” Giles challenged.
“Why, experimentation, of course. It’s all about the discovery and control, don’t you know.” Ethan’s “revelation” was more than a little cryptic.
“What are you getting at, you berk? And do be specific,” Giles tried to look as formidable as possible, considering he was halfway to Dover already.
“Your Slayer. Military group of scientists originally founded by the Nazis. Experimenting on supernatural beings. Come now, Ripper, do I really have to spell it all out for you?” Ethan tsked. “You used to be rather sharp. Must be lack of use of those brain cells of yours.”
“Are you saying they plan to….what…experiment on Buffy?” Giles felt the need for sobriety immediately, but too much liquor had already passed his lips to allow for it.
“That would be the rumor,” Ethan confirmed. “The woman in charge would do Mengele proud! I rather like her, actually. Has this idea she can unlock the secrets of the supernatural world and exploit it for military uses. Nothing like The Chosen One to cap her success, is there?”
“Good Lord, I knew I hated that crone!” Giles stumbled to his feet. “Must get to Buffy immediately.”
“Relax, Ripper, they won’t spring a trap on your girl right away. They realize how bloody stubborn the chit is and hope to learn what they can with her as an ally at first. Besides, I doubt the girl would believe you, especially in your current shameful condition.”
“I feel sick,” Giles announced to no one specific. “Excuse me.” He lurched his way to the men’s room to commune with the porcelain god.
Upon returning to the table, Giles didn’t notice any peculiar taste to his drink. In fact, he noted nothing out of the ordinary the rest of the evening as he wrested as much information from Ethan as he could about the Initiative and its headmistress.
Buffy felt sick. She had thought the whole idea of the Initiative was promising. If there were real adult people with weapons and everything keeping the world safe, maybe she could actually live to be an ancient thirty-year-old worrying over her weight and thinking of a career. It was seductive. Buffy no longer was certain she yearned for that “normal” that Angel had told her to pursue, but it had an allure in some respects.
The idea that the entire world’s safety didn’t have to rely on her alone had been wonderful while it had lasted. Now she had looked into the face of evil and it wasn’t a demon she found there. The face was as human as hers, more so if Anya had been correct.
Everywhere she looked in those labs, those cells, she saw misery on a scale she had never imagined. Demons being cut into pieces while conscious was standard operating procedure with this group of monsters. She recognized a couple of fairly friendly demons she had used for information at Willy’s in the past. Their pleas for her to just kill them haunted her as she took her tour.
Riley seemed oblivious to the suffering and the wails, screams and cries that assailed them from all sides. There was some resistance shown, and one case of outright defiance, but it was dealt with swiftly and brutally. Buffy couldn’t blame the demons under the circumstances.
One rather pretty female demon from a species Buffy had never seen held her child close to her breasts and wept silently. That vision horrified Buffy more than even the outright despair that permeated the entire complex. The lavender-haired mother turned accusing eyes on Buffy and whispered, “You were supposed to be the warrior for good.”
Buffy felt the need for a shower, for many showers. Somehow she felt she might never be clean again.
“So that’s pretty much the layout,” Riley was saying. “Nothing you haven’t dealt with before, I’m sure. The vamps and more aggressive demons are chipped right away for everyone’s protection. We’ve really learned a lot from our tests so far. As long as the head is on it and the heart is not pierced with wood, a vampire can survive almost anything. Really resilient animals!”
Buffy had seen some of those survivors and nearly lost her lunch. She had spent years killing vampires but never thought to do to them the things she saw evidence of here in this hell of human making.
“They can do without feeding for amazing amounts of time too, even when we bleed them.” Riley actually sounded like an excited kid talking about a new toy. “Some of the other hostiles are nearly as hardy, but usually they’ll bleed to death fairly quick. I’d love a pack of vamps to train for combat! Imagine an army that is nearly impossible to kill but easy to control with a few volts! Of course, most aren’t as smart as other animals. The older ones might be useful, though, in time. We have to work out a few kinks with the chips first.”
Riley led Buffy into the operating theater where a newly captured vampire was undergoing a chip implant with no painkillers. They had gagged the poor vamp to muffle the screams. “We’re trying a 2.0 version now that allows remote control activation. Between traditional methods of brainwashing and this little baby, we might make them useful yet.”
The vampire, trying in vain to move within her restraints to escape the pain and terror, chose that moment to lock eyes with Buffy. Those eyes, blue like another vampire of her acquaintance, held accusation in their depths. Buffy couldn’t help but see Spike on that table and, for the first time, fully understood her mother’s position. There was nothing “good” or noble happening in this pit. It was far better to dust a vampire to keep it from killing, but not this! Not this!
Buffy, never very good at disguising her true feelings, had to get out of there and quickly. “Riley, I think I’m gonna be sick. Think I ate some bad egg salad or something. Sorry.” She nearly flew to the elevator and the fresh air it promised. Somehow nothing was ever going to look clean and pure again. She hadn’t felt this way since she first discovered that monsters existed. Now she had just discovered that some monsters were human.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/199440.html