|Miles To Go Before I Sleep
Annie and Oz brave the gauntlet to get back to base. Was Oz able to keep her safe as Spike promised Buffy?
Music Referenced: Helpless, Neil Young http://youtu.be/8aoqVEYzsZk
|To u2fan2005 and epd4 for their suggestions, corrections, and help betaing this chapter. And giant thanks to Anona for her grammatical and punctuation corrections, wonderful commentary, and final review. Final thanks to Capella42 for her insightful suggestions that made the whole story better. All mistakes are mine because I simply cannot stop fiddling right up to the last moment.
|Rating / Warnings:
NC17. Content is only suitable for mature adults. Contains explicit language, sex, adult themes, and other adult situations that some people may find objectionable. If you are under the age of 17 or find any of these themes objectionable – GO AWAY.
(earlier that day) Sunday, April 17th, 2011, Gift-less Dimension, on the Mexican Reefer:
Annie had long ago lost her voice from screaming. Now, only silent, terrified gasps escaped her throat as she pressed her back painfully against the railing on the side of the ship. She held the stun gun so tightly that her fingers had gone numb and were on the verge of cramping. Her knuckles had turned linen-white from holding the trigger down so hard. The electricity jumped between the electrodes on the end of the gun constantly, crackling a fierce warning to the large vamps. She was trying to keep the red-eyed vamps back, away from her and her mother – it wasn’t really working too well. Buffy lay motionless near her feet; Annie couldn’t tell if she was still conscious or not. The moans and ‘ooomphs’ that escaped her mother’s throat each time one of the vamps kicked her told the girl her mother was alive, at least. She heard Buffy tell her to ‘jump’ earlier, but she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t leave her mom there alone – they’d kill her, for sure.
Annie felt like she’d been here for hours, but certainly it had only been a few minutes. Now though, the vamps were getting braver, taking swipes at the stun gun to try and knock away. Annie held onto it with both hands, poking it at their bony fingers and long, scraggly arms to keep them back. They were reaching in from all around her, it seemed. Although she knew there was nothing but water at her back, she felt surrounded. If she let them knock it out of her hands, she’d have no way to protect herself or her mom. Her hands started to cramp and pain radiated up into her arms – her muscles ached and quivered with the strain. To make matters worse, there were scratches and gouges on her arms where the vamps’ long, talon-like nails had swiped at her in their attempts to disarm her. She didn’t know how much longer she could keep them from knocking the gun out of her hands. She was terrified beyond anything she’d ever felt – and that was saying a lot.
With all her soul, Annie wished her dad was there … she wished Spike was there. Tears of absolute, unmitigated terror rolled from her eyes and blurred her vision as she tried to tell her mother that they both needed to jump – soon! Buffy was too heavy for Annie to move, to pull over the side with her, and she shouldn’t take her eyes off the vamps or her hands off the stun gun, anyway. Then, suddenly, as if someone had heard her prayers, three of the vamps burst into red glittering dust. Through the dust she could see Spike, his sword already beginning its swing back towards the other vamps that surrounded Annie and Buffy. Annie’s tears came harder and sobs of relief wracked her body.
“MOVE!” he screamed at her as he began his attack on the vamps closest to her. Annie stepped away from him towards the newly open area to her right and ducked down, making herself as small as she could. All that was left of the vamps that had been beside her only seconds before were pretty sparkles covering the deck. When Annie moved from behind Buffy, the Slayer’s way to the water was no longer blocked and, in a daze, she pulled herself over the edge. Spike caught Buffy’s foot with one hand as he dusted three more vamps with the sword he held in the other. She kicked and struggled against him, thinking it was one of the Reds trying to pull her back up. Finally, her shoe came off and she slid over the edge to the ‘safety’ of the water below.
“Bugger!” he roared as he dropped her shoe and turned to face the Reds that were still streaming out of the hold.
He had just stepped in front of Annie when suddenly Oz leapt past him. The werewolf stopped the approaching vamps in their tracks as he snarled and swiped at them with his sharp claws. Spike sighed in relief and stole a quick look over the edge into the water to see if Buffy had surfaced … she hadn’t.
Annie was still holding the stun gun tightly in her hands, the trigger still activated, making blue-white electricity sizzle back and forth between the electrodes. Her heart was racing, she could hardly breathe, and she couldn’t stop the tears, no matter how hard she tried. Time seemed to blur; Spike was kneeling in front of her – talking about riding the ‘big puppy’. Her glistening blue eyes looked at Oz and then back to Spike. She didn’t want to be disrespectful, but that was a werewolf, not a puppy. She didn’t correct him. Were werewolves ‘ride-able’? She’d never heard that before, but… things were different here. Very different.
Then she was making him promise that he would get her mom. She felt better. Dad … no, Spike, had promised. It was like her dad had promised, so it would be ok … right? But he wasn’t her dad – he’d been cold, mean even. Things were different here. She prayed that it would be okay.
Then she was on the wolf’s back, squeezing her legs around his ribcage and leaning her head and body down against his neck. She thought it funny how soft his fur was. It seemed strange that a demon like that would have such soft, luxurious hair.
The next thing she knew she was on a rollercoaster ride with no safetybelt or seat restraint. Oz moved in leaps and bounds down the deck, bouncing from side to side like a demonic Tigger, knocking vamps out of his way as he went. She could feel his growl rumble through her chest as he snarled at the Reds. Annie held on, as Spike had told her to, for dear life. And she prayed some more. She wasn’t sure who might hear, but someone had – they’d brought Spike when she’d wished and prayed. She added a silent wish in there with the prayer, just for good measure.
Annie closed her eyes and held to the beast with all her strength. His unpredictable movements made riding this ‘big puppy’ akin to riding a wild bull. She’d often slide to one side or the other as he jumped from side-to-side in a serpentine fashion to keep the bats, which were circling overhead like giant vultures, off balance.
Her arms, which were clasped tightly around Oz’s neck and throat, made breathing difficult for the werewolf as he ran as fast as he could towards the closest sewer entrance with his precious cargo. He knew he couldn’t stop, couldn’t let her get re-adjusted on his back, lest the bats attack. So, he kept running, gasping for air as his lungs and muscles burned for oxygen. As laid-back and stoic as the man was, Oz’s wolf was the polar opposite – ferocious, high-strung, even emotional. Despite the differences, there was one commonality – heart. Spike trusted him with this girl, who Oz knew meant more to Spike than he let on in front of the others. Oz would not break that trust.
With only a few yards to go to the sewer entrance, Oz was knocked to the ground by one of the bats that had gotten lucky on its dive. He and Annie rolled head over heels across the pavement, carried along by his momentum. Oz was back up in an instant, though, turning quickly to see where the girl was. It wasn’t hard to find her. She’d found her voice again and was screaming bloody murder as the lucky bat dug its sharp claws into her flesh.
Blood ran down her thighs from where the demon-bat’s talons had sunk into her flesh, below the protected area that the flak jacket covered. She was pinned to the ground, unable to move, unable to get free. She pushed against the beast with exhausted arms, but couldn’t budge it. She screamed at the top of her lungs, but the bat didn’t seem to notice. The only thing she could see were its large, sharp fangs, and the only thing she could smell was its hot, putrid breath as it leaned down towards her throat, going for the kill. In a moment of lucidity, she reached for her stun gun … the holster was empty. Spike had kept it when he had taken it away from her earlier. Annie continued to scream in terror, her panic rising higher, as she felt the long whiskers of the bat brush against her cheek. Even as she kicked and struggled to get away, she closed her eyes and braced for the inevitable pain as tears she thought had run dry sprang to her eyes again.
Suddenly, the beast’s claws were ripped from the flesh of her thighs, sending new waves of agony through her body. She wrapped her arms around her torso as her screams escalated to blood-curdling and she started to cry uncontrollably. Annie curled into a ball on the pavement, trying to stop the burning, shooting bolts of pain that burst from her wounds and consumed her. Her stomach quailed and retched from the agony and fear that consumed her. Without warning, yellow, acidic bile exploded from her raw throat and covered the pavement in front of her prone body. She struggled to breathe between the waves of nausea, then began coughing and choking as the meager contents of her stomach filled her nose and sinuses in its attempt to escape her ravaged body.
Finally, there was nothing left to come up and the heaving waned. She gasped for air through her mouth and tried to clear her sinuses by blowing and sniffing … it would’ve been enough to make her vomit again if there had been anything left inside her.
She could hear growling and crunching of bone, but dared not open her eyes as fear gripped her, immobilized her, and refused to let her go. She wanted to be brave … she really, really did. She wanted to be a Bitty-Buffy, to make her dad proud, but it was beyond her reach. She couldn’t move, couldn’t even scream anymore; all she could do was cry. Then the bat’s high-pitched shriek of pain joined her sobs and cut the otherwise still air with knives of anguish.
And in another moment, the wolf was there, pulling her away, towards the sewer entrance. She tried to get up as he dragged her by the back of her shirt, but couldn’t make her body work. Blood poured from her wounds, leaving a thick trail of crimson on the pavement. Flesh and muscle hung like grotesque appendages from her thighs; dirt and debris embedded in her wound’s as Oz dragged her to safety.
The wolf continued to scan the sky and surrounding area for more attacks, but the other bats that had been circling them now converged on their downed compatriot. It thrashed wildly trying to get away and shrieked in pain as the cannibalistic demons drained its blood and ripped its flesh from its bones. The sound was almost more than Annie could stand. It invaded her brain like a red-hot poker and she started to hyperventilate, unable to get any air despite breathing in fast, furious bursts.
Riley, Tara, and Xander had apparently pulled the manhole cover closed over the sewer entrance when they retreated. Oz tried unsuccessfully to pry it open with his claws, but lacked the dexterity as the wolf to open the heavy cover. In only a few moments, he morphed back into the man, and quickly pulled the cover off. Annie writhed in pain next to him, tears still streaming from her eyes and blood running in rivers from her ravaged legs.
“C’mon!” he called to her. “Let’s go! Down!”
His voice pulled the Annie out of her pain and fear induced daze and she jumped when he spoke, as if he had struck her. She hadn’t even realized he had changed from the wolf. She looked up and met his eyes – no longer the eyes of the wolf; they were now kind and full of worry.
She began to shake her head in protest, to say that she couldn’t, her legs hurt, she couldn’t move, couldn’t climb down, she couldn’t do it, but something stopped her. She took stock of the man, the stranger, in front of her. Barely taller than she, he had fought the demons back, risked his life for hers – for someone he didn’t even know. If not for him, she knew that Spike couldn’t have gone after her mother – he would’ve stayed with her. It barely registered with Annie that the man was naked – it seemed perfectly natural. She also didn’t notice that one of his arms was mangled and bleeding badly – the only thing that hit her was he was asking her to be strong now, just as he’d been. She could hear her mom’s voice telling her that being brave was not letting anyone else know you were scared and telling her how proud her dad would be.
She closed her eyes and tried to take a few deep breaths and stop crying. Bitty-Buffy, Bitty-Buffy … Dad will be proud, Bitty-Buffy, she repeated to herself, picturing her father and that smile he’d give you when he was proud of what you’d done. She had to be that girl now – even though she didn’t think she was, she just had to try.
“Annie … I can’t carry you like this. I’m sorry,” Oz whispered to her, cradling his injured arm and keeping an eye on the bats that were nearly done with their fallen brother. They would be looking for their next meal very soon.
She swallowed back her fear and her tears and nodded slowly, then slid over to the manhole with her weary arms. Dropping her nearly-useless legs in first, she lowered herself down using mostly her arms. She faltered more than once and nearly fell, but managed to hold on by catching a rung with the crook of her elbow until she could steady herself and then move down again. She kept moving down slowly, clutching at the ladder with every ounce of strength she had, until she was finally – thankfully, on the bottom of the tunnel. Oz followed her down, closing the manhole behind him. The two injured combatants sat down across from one another on the cold floor of the sewer tunnel and just tried to breathe for a few minutes.
After getting his heart to calm a bit, Oz moved over and began checking her wounds. They were pretty bad … well, very bad … very, very bad. Large chunks of flesh were torn from her thighs and she was still bleeding profusely.
“Sorry about the full frontal nudity,” he offered stoically as he continued his inspection of her injuries and tried to staunch the worst of the bleeding. “Comes with the gig.”
Annie nodded, then scrunched her eyes closed in pain and held her breath when he touched her wounds. Oz ripped what was left of the legs of her jeans off and fashioned them into tourniquets, tying them tightly around her thighs. It was only sheer luck that her femoral artery hadn't been cut in the attack – if it had been, he'd be bringing a corpse back.
“It’s not much further now – can you ride if I walk slow?” he asked her at last, deciding there wasn’t much else he could do for either of them down here in the sewers.
Annie nodded resolutely. Bitty-Buffy. “Are … you … ok?” she asked him between gasping breaths, looking at the deep gash on his arm.
“Just a scratch,” he assured her. “Say something if you need to stop – I can understand you,” he instructed before morphing back into the wolf.
Oz lay down on his stomach and Annie climbed onto his back, holding onto his neck with her arms. When she was set, he began again – this time moving more slowly and with a distinct limp, but he kept a steady pace back towards base.
“Thank you,” Annie offered quietly as they walked through the dark tunnels. It didn’t seem enough, but it was all she had. Oz purred a rumbling response.
Oz banged heavily on the steel doors that led into the base camp and hoped someone would hear. He preferred to not have to shift back to his human form and use the iris reader by the door to unlock it; he hated to make the girl move from her position any more than necessary.
He needn’t have worried, though, as the door swung open almost immediately. Xander and Tara rushed out and ushered the pair in while Riley walked past them and looked down the tunnel for Spike.
As soon as Tara and Xander had the injured girl off his back, Oz headed for his room to tend his own wounds and find some clothes. Xander carried Annie to the infirmary while Tara ran ahead to get Andrew – who was the closest thing they had to a nurse … err, medic, these days.
Xander didn’t wait for Andrew to arrive to begin tending the girl’s injuries. Bat talons, he knew, carried all kinds of nasty germs on them and from the look of her torn flesh, she’d gotten a good dose of them. As Annie faded in and out of consciousness, both from the pain and exhaustion, Xander removed the tourniquets, cut the rest of her jeans off, and removed her flak jacket. But even in her daze, she refused to let go of the book and scroll that Spike had given her to safeguard, holding them tightly to her chest.
Xander scowled at the obstinate girl who held steadfastly to the items, then gave up trying to get them from her as he turned his attention back to her mangled legs.
“Oh God,” Andrew whined when he came in with Tara. “Bats … I hate bats. Why do you guys always have to get caught by the bats? I mean – duh! Look up!” he chastised as he retrieved an IV kit and began a morphine drip in Annie’s left hand.
“Gee, Andrew, why didn’t we think of that? Maybe you’d like to come with us next time and show us what we’re doing wrong instead of staying here in your cozy little geek clubhouse,” Tara shot back at him.
Andrew rolled his eyes and pursed his lips together. “It’s a ‘lair’, not a ‘clubhouse’ and I’m just saying … bats are bad.”
“Thank you for the newsflash. I think we can all agree that bats are bad,” Xander offered sarcastically, as he finally removed the book and scroll from Annie’s hands – she was out cold. He placed the items on the floor under her bed and the three of them worked on cleaning the girl’s wounds just as thoroughly as they could. They’d long ago run out of antibiotics. The best they could do was disinfect the wounds and hope her natural infection-fighting antibodies could defeat the germs the bat’s talons left in her. They knew from past experience, it was a thin hope.
They cut off any flesh and skin that was too damaged to repair and Andrew stitched up what remained. It wasn’t a pretty sight. The long, lean muscles of her dancer’s thighs had been ripped apart by the demon bat. Her flesh had already started turning purple-black from the bruising and was swollen grotesquely. Angry looking blood-red tissue peeked out in the areas where there wasn’t enough skin left to close over the wounds.
Andrew did the best he could, but his training as their medic consisted of Spike telling him he had to, “Find something bloody useful t' do!” if he wanted to stay. Since quoting ‘Star Trek:TNG’ got on Spike’s nerves, and Spike didn’t consider baking to be ‘useful’, Andrew had been relegated to helping the doctor and nurse that used to be part of the community, neither of whom were here any longer. From that moment on, he was the medic, despite the fact that he had nothing but very limited and rushed ‘on the job’ training.
When Andrew finished stitching Annie’s wounds up, he sighed heavily and stood back to examine his handiwork. “I think that’s gonna leave a mark.” Andrew cringed and chewed on his bottom lip in worry. “Do you think the Slayer will be mad? I mean … Oh God … I’m not a plastic surgeon! I only watched ‘Nip/Tuck’ a few times and mostly they were having sex. Which … hey, that is that Julian McMahon hot, or what?”
Tara and Xander both looked like they were gonna throttle him, and Andrew waved his arm dismissively. “Never mind,” he sighed and his shoulders slumped. No one here really appreciated good television.
“I did the best I could – you’ll tell her, right?” Andrew begged, folding his hands under his chin in prayer and looking at Tara hopefully.
“You are such a dweeb,” Tara replied, rolling her eyes and leaving the room. Xander followed her. There wasn’t anything else they could do for Annie now.
“But – you’ll tell her, right? I did the best I could!” he called after them.
Just then, Riley walked in. “Did she say where Spike was?” he asked as Andrew shut off the morphine and disconnected the IV.
“No, she didn’t say anything. You can’t reach him with that cute little psychic bond thing you do?” Andrew wondered.
“If I could, I wouldn’t be here talking to you, would I? Wake her up and find out,” Riley ordered.
“What do I look like, the Sandman? I don’t just put people to sleep and wake them up at will,” he informed Riley, snapping his fingers. “Although … that would be a pret-ty cool power to have,” Andrew droned, getting a kind of dazed look in his eyes as he thought of the possibilities. “I’d be like a god…”
“You are the most useless piece of …” Riley started to rant, his red eyes glowing brighter as he knocked Andrew out of his way and headed towards Annie.
Riley grabbed Annie by the shoulders and began shaking her to try and wake her up. When that didn’t work, he pulled a hand back to slap her face, but someone caught his wrist before he could come down with it. He whirled on whoever it was that dared questioned him, morphing into his full vampire visage and growling angrily.
Oz stood behind and slightly to the side of Riley, and didn’t so much as flinch when the larger man turned on him. “Pretty sure it wasn’t her day to watch Spike,” Oz informed Riley flatly, not intimidated by his rank in the ‘organization’ or the vamp’s larger size. Being the boss’ squeeze had its benefits, but didn’t impress Oz in the least.
Riley growled at him again, narrowing his eyes angrily.
Oz remained unfazed. “If you want to compare canines, we can. But I’m pretty sure I’d win,” Oz pointed out with a small shrug, his tone calm.
Riley thought better of taking on the wolf … he’d seen him in action and knew he couldn’t win in a physical fight. “I’m just trying to find out if we need to go back for him,” Riley explained lamely.
“Spike’s orders were to go to base. Until he countermands them, then good tin soldiers should stay put,” Oz related unnecessarily.
That was common knowledge: follow Spike’s orders until he said otherwise. They all had radios – if they needed help, they just had to call. And Spike had that bond thing with Riley from turning him – even if his radio was messed up, he could still contact him if he wanted to. Spike had rarely used the bond with Dru. Being in Dru’s head was like a ride on a demonic carousel that tilted and twirled wildly – frankly, it made him woozy. He didn’t use it much with Riley, but it came in handy when he needed to get a message to him quickly.
“Did you see where he went?” Riley asked.
“Where’s the Slayer? Are they together?” Riley continued his interrogation.
“What do you know?” Riley snarled sarcastically.
“That he wanted the girl protected,” Oz relayed as he pulled a chair up next to Annie, plopped down on it, folded his arms across his chest, and silently dared the ex-soldier to make a move.
Riley snorted angrily and glared at Oz a moment. “Well, good job with that, Dog-boy! You protected her into an early grave. I’m sure Spike will forgive you for failing. We both know how forgiving he can be,” Riley hissed at the smaller man sarcastically.
The thought of Spike’s wrath being rained down on the obstinate mutt warmed Riley's undead heart. Finn gave Oz a derisive snicker, then he turned abruptly and left the room.
That bitch Slayer and her spawn were messing with Spike’s mind and Riley had had just about enough of it. He felt like his world was crumbling. There were certain things he used to be able to count on: being Spike’s right hand, his confidant, the one person in the whole world that he could and would bare himself to, being Spike’s only lover, knowing that Spike would always come home to him. These things weren’t certain any longer. Nothing seemed certain as long as Buffy and Annie were here. He desperately wanted everything to just go back to the way it was before. He had realized something since the Slayer had shown up: it wasn’t Buffy he loved or desired any longer; it was his sire. It was Spike. He’d never tell Spike that, it would earn Riley the beating of a lifetime, but that was the truth of it. He knew that now.
When Riley left, Andrew stepped back up and straightened Annie’s covers. “So you’re like Rin-Tin-Tin, huh?” he asked, giving Oz a shy smile. Andrew liked Oz. The redhead was mysterious and solitary and dangerous. A literal lone wolf … a nomad, taking orders from no one, living by his own rules, a rebel with a cause. Like Dirty Harry or the Outlaw Josey Wales. Definitely someone rough and tough and Clint Eastwoody. He could imagine Oz saying, ‘Go ahead, punk, make my day,’ to Riley.
Oz nodded thoughtfully. “Or Clifford, the Big Red Dog,” he offered, his tone dry, as it normally was, making it hard to tell if he was kidding or not.
Andrew’s smile widened and he sighed dreamily … a big, cuddly Clint Eastwood.
Oz jumped, reflexively striking out with a fist when Spike touched his arm to wake him up. Spike blocked the blow easily as Oz cleared the sleep from his mind and focused on where he was and who had awoken him.
“Sorry, man,” he offered in apology as he rubbed his weary eyes.
Buffy was on the other side of Annie’s bed, brushing some stray curls back from her face. Annie had come in and out of consciousness over the last few hours since Oz took his post beside her bed. She now clutched the book and scroll against her chest again. After asking first for her mom, then her dad, and then for Spike, she’d been adamant about finding the items that Spike had entrusted her with. Oz gave them to her and she hadn’t let go of them since.
“What happened?” Buffy asked, looking at Oz with glistening eyes.
“Bat,” Oz offered in explanation. “Just a lucky strike – it knocked us both down; I got it off her, but,” Oz shrugged and shook his head in silent apology.
“Sorry, man, I did all I could,” Oz continued, looking at Spike.
Spike pursed his lips, planted his hands on his hips, and nodded solemnly.
“She’s got a fever. Did you give her antibiotics?” Buffy asked as she studied her daughter’s face and laid a hand on her forehead.
“Don’t ‘ave any,” Spike explained.
“You don’t have … any?” Buffy questioned in disbelief. “What about the hospital or … clinics, doctor’s offices… someone must have some!”
Spike shook his head. “Sorry, pet – we looted ‘em all – they’re long gone. Used ‘em up right quick, we did.”
“What about … houses? People surely left some. Have you checked medicine cabinets?” Buffy pressed.
Spike shook his head again. “Even if we found some, they’d be ten years old, Buffy. They’d be … useless.”
“This is not happening!” Buffy exclaimed as she pulled the covers down and looked at Annie’s wounds. In addition to the deep purple bruising that covered her thighs, the wounds themselves were now a bright red and weeping thick, yellow liquid: pus.
“Oh my God,” Buffy muttered, raising a hand to her mouth as her stomach churned and roiled. She touched a finger down next to one of the gashes and more yellow pus oozed out of the open wound. “No, no, no … This isn’t … this can’t happen!” she exclaimed. Her eyes were wide with fear when she looked back up at Spike. “Don’t you even have any antibiotic ointment? There’s gotta be something!”
Spike shook his head, pursing his lips together as the smell of what he knew was infected, rotting flesh assailed his nostrils.
“DO SOMETHING, SPIKE!” Buffy demanded, dropping Annie’s covers and moving around the bed to where he stood. Buffy pushed him in the chest, making him take a step back. “You said she’d be safe! You told me Oz would take care of her! Nothing to worry about, you said!
“DO SOMETHING!” she demanded again, pushing his shoulders with both hands. He took another step back.
“You’re the leader – fucking LEAD! Give me an order! Tell me what to do! Where to go!” she continued to scream at him, pushing him again and again until his back was against the wall.
Spike didn’t have any answers for her. There were no antibiotics. The best they could do was clean the wounds again and hope. He looked into her eyes and the worry and anguish there cut him like a knife. Had he let her down again? “Buffy … pet,” he began gently. “I’m sorry – I …”
“Spike! Where the hell have you been?!” Riley demanded as he entered the room.
Spike rolled his eyes and a low growl rumbled from his throat. “Not now!” Spike barked at his childe, turning impatient eyes on the ex-soldier.
“Oh, that’s great. So, it’s fine for me follow all your orders, get everyone back to base, but you don’t have the decency to even tell me where you are? That you’re alright?” Riley countered angrily.
“Not. Now,” Spike growled again even more emphatically, his eyes flashing gold.
“That woman is gonna kill you, Spike. She’s fucking with your head! She’s twisting everything! She’s gonna screw everything up!” Riley warned, pointing an accusing finger at Buffy.
“I think I liked you better when you just glared and tried to kill us,” Buffy retorted, turning to face him. “Be a good puppy and run along home now. Daddy will be there soon to spank you.”
“You bitch!” Riley growled at her, morphing into his full demon visage and drawing back a fist as he moved forward towards her.
Buffy stood firm, lifting her jaw and daring him to hit her; he’d stomped on her last remaining nerve. She didn’t care that Riley was now not only much larger than her, but also stronger – if he hit her, there’s no way Spike could keep her from dusting him. Wild horses couldn’t keep her from dusting him.
Oz was just a bit closer than Spike and he stepped up between Riley and Buffy. “Not cool,” he stated flatly, his own features beginning to morph into the wolf.
Riley stopped short as Buffy stood behind Oz with her arms crossed over her chest and her chin raised haughtily. Spike grabbed Riley by the arm and dragged him out of the room, slamming the door closed behind them. Buffy could hear their angry voices from the hallway, but couldn’t make out what they were saying. She gave up and went back over to Annie.
“She asked for you … you and Spike,” Oz offered, his human side back in control. “And those damn books – she really loves books. Reminds me of Willow.”
Buffy smiled sadly and nodded, touching a hand down on the old tome and the scroll that Annie had been sure would unlock the key to creating the Gem of Amarra.
“I’m really sorry, Buffy,” Oz apologized again.
Buffy nodded. “I know you did all you could, Oz. I’m not mad at you … it’s just …” Buffy sighed heavily and blinked back her tears. “Thanks.”
Oz nodded, his normally passive expression tinged with regret and sorrow, then headed towards the door just as Spike came back in – alone.
“You didn’t have to taunt him like that, Slayer,” Spike pointed out tersely.
“Oh yeah, I really did,” Buffy retorted angrily. “So, have you come up with a new plan, King Spike? Preferably one that includes saving my daughter’s life … and her legs?”
Buffy’s chest tightened and she swallowed back hot, angry, fearful tears. “She’s a dancer, you know,” Buffy told him, her voice softening as she looked back at Annie. Buffy’s chin began to quiver uncontrollably as the tears broke through her will and welled in her eyes. She couldn’t stop them from falling no matter how hard she tried to hold them back. “She’s … she’s gonna be the understudy for Clara next year in the Nutcracker … she loves to dance,” Buffy continued, her voice trembling, barely a whisper.
“God, Spike … please help me,” she begged him, turning around and facing him again. “Please help her.”
Spike pulled her into a hug and Buffy sobbed against his shoulder. “I’m sorry, pet,” was all he could offer.
The fluttering that Spike had been fighting in his chest suddenly turned into knives of guilt and anguish as he looked over Buffy’s head at the girl lying in the bed, clutching those damned books to her as if they were the Holy Grail. For him they may be, but for her they were only words, nothing more than paper and ink. If he hadn’t gone to retrieve them in the first place, if he’d just left with Buffy when he ordered everyone else out, this might’ve all been avoided. If he hadn’t taken the time to tuck them into her flak jacket, perhaps … perhaps the bat that caught her would’ve missed, or Oz would’ve been able to run that much faster without the added weight and been able to dodge the attack.
‘Perhaps’, ‘what if’, ‘if only’ … those were words Spike was all too familiar with. He’d lived with them haunting his every waking and sleeping hour for ten years. If only he’d been a little faster on the tower. If only he’d remembered that Doc was a Reptilian demon and they couldn’t be killed by just stabbing them in the chest. He’d been right there in the wanker’s house, had him down, all he had to do was finish him off then and there. If he’d done that, there would’ve been no one on the tower to spill Dawn’s blood in the first place. If he’d only been able to find Ben and kill him before the ritual began. He might’ve had a helluva headache, he wasn’t sure if the chip would’ve triggered on Ben or not, but it would’ve been nothing compared to the heartache he’d had since that fateful night. It seemed like there were a hundred things he could’ve done differently that night. And now there was a new sorrow, a new list of ‘if onlys’ to add to the montage of regrets in his head and heart.
Here he stood again. The Slayer asking for his help and all he could give her were empty words. King Spike was helpless. In fact, he was no king, no general, no leader, no hero. He was simply a smitten, besotted fool trying to keep his promise to a lady, trying to earn the love of a ghost, trying to make up for past failures.
In the end that was all he was – a helpless, love-sick failure.
Helpless, Neil Young
There is a town in north Ontario,
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