Debts VI: And Every Step by Te June 1999 Disclaimers: But they *need* me... Spoilers: Vague references to general third season-ness. Summary: Meanwhile, back at Rancho de Sunnydale... Ratings Note: R for violence, some f/f references, disturbing imagery. This story is meant to fill in some of the space between "One More Time" and "Cry Out Loud," as well as moving a little further in time. Acknowledgments: To Iain, for filling my head with the relatively happy thoughts for this series that have absolutely *nothing* to do with *this* story. * Rock on gold dust woman Follow those who pale in your shadow -- "Gold Dust Woman," performed by Hole * Yes, baby's not speaking to her angel anymore -- "Shelf Life," Seven Mary Three * Buffy remembered dying before she woke up, but the first thing she did when she opened her eyes in the close, airless blackness was use the rest of her senses to scan for trouble. Just like every day she'd woken as the Slayer. And then she took a deep breath, but caught only the heavy perfume of aging roses and too much CK One. Somebody had doused her body with the stuff in the hopes that she'd go ahead and rot like a good little dead Slayer. Buffy made herself still until she stopped trying to breathe. She knew that if she was going to get out of there she had to have calm, control. It took a long time, and it didn't help that she could hear... feel *something* Not Breathing right along beside her. Inside her. She knew what that meant, too. She was a vampire. She housed a demon. She needed to be killed. She ought to just stay down here and starve back down into death. Send the demon back to Hell, save lives. Yes, but she also knew it wouldn't work that way. She would live and live down here until the hunger drove her up out of the soil like a landmine, a large and solid weapon of pure bloodlust. It wouldn't matter who got in her way. They would die, quick and messy. Her mind supplied the image of Willow //tearing her apart// of Willow's face as she tore Willow apart and Buffy snarled, shook her head against it. No, no, no. Buffy did not notice how her body's writhe ceased above her hips -- she was too busy tearing at the smooth, thick wood above and around her. It smelled like mahogany. A part of her got lost in the images of burning... //dark wood, dark people around a fire, dancing for him. For the coming sacrifice. For *him* and know he was stuck in the body of another stupid fledgling. Stupid *crippled* fledgling -- // The voice was getting louder and louder. The *demon's* voice speaking, flooding her brain with memories, trying to take over -- //You're already dead, girl.// Buffy did her best to push the thoughts back, pushed and pushed until she saw Faith smile at her, felt Faith press the curves of her hips against Buffy's own, felt Faith cup her breast and drink from her and knew she'd gotten back. Let the demon stay there with the woman who gave it to her. Sire now. //You must not hurt the sire.// Buffy screamed and screamed and screamed and tore at the coffin, screamed when she felt the first clods of dirt fall in past the hole she'd made. Didn't stop until the dirt had clogged her mouth with muddy acid. //They buried you in consecrated ground. You can feel it, can't you? //You'd better try not to swallow. //In fact, why don't you just let me take care of this part. I've done it before, after all...// But Buffy didn't listen. Buffy kept on digging, feeling the dirt just settle around her, thanking whoever had chosen what she'd wear had picked something with long sleeves. It was thin, but it still kept most of the dirt from touching her. She wished she had a veil, though. She could feel her skin peeling and then continuing to peel. The ground wasn't just concecrated, it was soaked with Holy Water. The earth was nearly muddy with it. Who had done this? //Giles, wasn't it? The Watcher. He tried to hurt you. Tried to make you suffer here, alone, burning, so hungry. Forever, Buffy, forever burning like this why don't you let me help you --// Buffy screamed again and stopped trying to widen the hole in the coffin to accomodate her legs comfortably. She'd wriggle out using just her arms. Swim out from under the grave, save herself from drowning and God she hated drowning so much she could take anything but the drowning and how *dare* Giles do this to her? Was this what he really meant when he said he was no longer her Watcher? All those times when he allowed her to bitch out the Watchers' Council. Giles was... was... //Washing his hands of you, perhaps. Such a troublesome Slayer.// Shut. Up. //Of course he loves you, anyway, but resentment is such a tiny, fertile thing. Lies in wait, wrapped in the darkness. Lies and breeds lies.// Please stop... //Girl you aren't even supposed to be here. What did you think? You would use your powers for good? //Oh yes... Angel to think about. Well how much do you really know about him? How many times has he fooled you, little fledgling?// "Don't you call me that or God help us I'll kill us both. I'll get us out of this grave and... and *make* Giles kill us." Buffy spat dirt, felt her tongue numb a bit with pain and had to struggle not to slur... though she couldn't have said what made her speak out loud. "You said it yourself, right? Resentment. Needs me gone. Why, we'd be doing each other a favor, isn't that right, demon?" //What you will.// Buffy did not think she imagined the touch of something that could be considered petulance in the demon's voice. The echoes of it bounded, raced around the inside of her skull. But the important thing was that it was *quiet* again. Buffy concentrated on the hard swim and did not panic or rush. If she dug *just this way* the earth would loosen, fall around her in loose layers. She could move easily, though she'd apparently somehow managed to get her hips caught in the coffin-hole she'd made. She couldn't move her legs. She spared a moment to wonder if she'd had time to gain weight from the ice cream she'd eaten before she died, or if this was just another disgusting part of the process... The process. Yes. Giles would probably think this was the sort of valuable lesson she needed. That was how all those Watchers worked, anyway. Always testing, needing to see how Slayers worked under any number of conditions that had no basis in Buffy's life whatsoever. Training. Perhaps to them this was just more training. Building a better Slayer around the demon that occupied the old one. Using her. Manipulating her. Buffy heard a small voice protesting and nearly squashed it out of pure instinct. But then she heard it say that these weren't her thoughts, that Giles had *never* been the enemy, that the demon didn't need to say anything pretty if it could just speak in her voice. A bolt of feeling hit her, sudden, wracking, incomprehensible. Buffy nearly crushed out the voice out of the sheer need to make. It. Stop. But the ground burned her face, and fangs had sliced her lips to ribbons, and those weren't human fingernails slicing through the packed earth. Buffy *knew what she was* and she would not be tricked, would not lose her soul. She had to... she had to get out and warn everyone that Faith was out there. Had to... had to do whatever it was she should be doing now. Had to find someone with an *answer*. * It was nearly dawn before she'd gotten herself out of the grave, and so it was under a greying summer sky that Buffy first felt the sickening swing in her lower back that meant something was deeply wrong. The heat was burning off the fog some distance away and Buffy knew what she was, and what she was was -- //Crippled thing. Feed now, it will make you strong!// And oh, she needed to be strong, didn't she? Needed to be able to fight -- that's who she was, too. So when the shadow, dark and tall, resolved itself over the next rise Buffy remained still. Got low to the ground and stayed there and waited. If she could just take a little from this one, whoever it was, then perhaps she'd be powerful enough to find someplace quiet to rest against the sun. Just a little blood. But when the shadow resolved itself it was Angel, Angel looking down at her with a stake in his hand and he'd been *crying* -- "Angel --" "They told me how you'd been found. I made them promise to let me be the one who... who did it. But I found myself waiting and waiting... Buffy, why didn't you escape?" "Angel, please... I don't want --" He shook off her voice. "What's wrong with your legs -- oh. Oh, my God. It didn't heal..." Buffy snarled and pounced. Or tried to. All she could manage with her useless legs and weak arms was to fall on her face, burn her face again on the terrible ground. "Help me, Angel, I can't --" "Buffy this isn't *you*. We both know you know that." Looking down at her, lecturing like she was a child. Didn't he know who she was? Who died and made him the sensei? //Don't show the anger. Show him only your pain.// And before Buffy could think, long before she could scream or object, she let her shoulders sag like they wanted to and lowered her head for a long moment. //Yes. Show him how he *really* needs you.// Buffy looked up from under her damp, muddy lashes. Looked up into eyes she'd known, it seemed, since before she was even born. Perhaps Angel had stalked her mother around L.A. while Buffy had been in the womb. It would certainly be true to character.... Buffy looked up and she said "please," again, and tried to cry because she needed him so badly, because she was scared and this was wrong, because they were supposed to protect each other from this. In the end, the only tears she managed were those of rage and pain and hunger, but Angel scooped her up anyway. Carried her off like so many beautiful dreams and ugly realities. The rise of the sun weighed on her entire body. A great mass of presence that wanted her to sleep. She could not resist. * Buffy opened her eyes and found herself propped on several pillows that filled her head with Angel's scent. It was a disappointment to get this much of it and have it *still* seem so subtle. Had she lost some of her senses in the change? She moved to get up, start getting answers. And that's when she found herself chained to the bed. Her legs hadn't been chained.... //Why should he? They're useless.// And it was a fact she kept stumbling over, just another bit of unfairness on the galactic scale. Buffy had spent much of the past three years forcing herself not to look at the unfairness of things. It hadn't been an easy adjustment. Trapped in a bed she would've liked to share, paralyzed, aching with a hunger whose origins she did not even try to veil to herself, Buffy found herself wondering why she'd ever bothered. The reward of a good Slayer is death. Not even necessarily honorable death. Not even a death whose nature is known to your friends and family. Sure, she'd managed to hold on to loved ones. More of them than she hadn't, but in the end, what did that really mean? //Most of them will come to us like lambs to the slaughter if you play your cards correctly...// Buffy howled, pouring everything she had left into it. Wishing to God it would escape on her breath. But all that happened was that Angel came in to check on her. With Giles at his side, holding two blood bags. Suddenly, she could do nothing to shift her focus from the blood. She heard voices and they fell on her ears like wind through leaves. Meaningless things, nothing to her -- //Look how they tease you. You are no longer anything but an animal to them. A pet vampire to replace their pet Slayer.// No no no no no no-- "*Buffy*!" Command in the voice and something that wasn't entirely her responded immediately. Buffy found herself looking up at Giles again, catching his face with her eyes and holding it. Everything was hazed over with gold. How had she never realized how close to *dead* mortals were all the time? Just a little push would be all it took -- "... listen to me. Why should we keep you alive? Who are you?" And the blood dangled from Giles' fingers. Dangled and made Buffy angry, so angry. This is another test. //They never stop, do they? But you'd really better pass this one.// She'd had voices in her head before but there was something... oddly soothing about a voice meant for her and only her. Buffy tore her eyes away from the blood, away from Giles' exposed throat and yes, this *was* a test, isn't it? She gazed into Giles eyes. Stared and held Giles' stare easily. A million times before... "I'm Buffy." "And who else?" "As near as I can tell, the people in this guy's memories chanted 'Bokanu, Mobane' or something like that. He just used my brain for his own personal projec --" And that's when the pain hit, a sword, many swords, hot from the flame and burrowing through her brain, scarring everything in its path, slicing her to pieces, making her hurt hurt -- //You *never* speak the Name!// Buffy felt her body whipsaw in the chains, felt one go altogether and growled, screamed. But the moment she opened her mouth the blood was soaking her lips, filling her dry dirty mouth with what she needed and how had she gone so long without this? How had she survived when it was this good made her this powerful... powerful like a Slayer needs to be -- //Break the other chain while they're distracted. Kill them both!// But Buffy knew the test hadn't ended, and subsided as quickly as she could, even closing her mouth and turning away from the blood. The scream in her head had a satisfying hint of pained incredulity. "I can control this thing, Giles. But I'm going to need your help." Hint of pride in the man's eyes for a moment, but they never lost the hint of cold appraisal. //They never will. *Kill* him.// "And you're going to tell me everything I have to do to make you trust me." Curt nod. "There is the matter of your legs..." "Haven't you heard, Giles? Handicapped is such a *limited* word." * That day he'd left her alone with Angel. Whatever she'd hid from Giles, Angel saw right away. Of course. How could she love him anymore? Everything he'd done... Need her love her leave her hurt her and *leave* again. And what did he come back for? To kill her. Buffy kept the anger out of her eyes as best as possible, and when Angel ran a hand along her cheek she pressed into it. But when he cried she could not keep herself from lapping the tears away. They had, after all, been for her. Angel didn't stay with her that night, though, and when she woke the next sundown he was gone altogether. Someday. * Her arm strength was just as good as it had been before. Better, in fact, though not so many other people would notice. So long as she could forget her lower body was there altogether, she'd be fine. She couldn't, though, and her legs flopped and swung as uselessly as bags of sand. Buffy had examined them closely -- they showed as little sign of decay as the rest of her. Pale beneath the tan and useless. That's it. Giles had assured her that the demon inside her would continue to heal her as best it could, but that by no means included her spine. Two vertebrae at the base, splintered by her dear old friend, her fellow Slayer Faith, because Faith had wanted to cop a feel before killing her. One good kill deserves another, and another, and another. Sires just got you into trouble, and if she had any doubt of that she could just look over at Spike. Found not so far east of here, tied to a hotel bed, partially shredded, less partially burnt. Giles had taken the call over the police scanner on his way back from a magic shop in Modesto that doubled as a gym. Giles had returned with the vampire pate and a witch who looked suspiciously like someone she'd seen on American Gladiators. Ice, maybe. Frost? Janine would be her brand new physical therapist. And Spike... Spike had decided to fly on the side of the angels. Giles had wanted to know why, thought there had to be more to it, some big plot by the forces of darkness. Buffy knew it was just because Dru had finally dumped Spike in a way even he could accept. Spike would do anything to avoid being alone. Buffy knew the type... they were all over any high school. All you had to do to assure loyalty was to keep them on the tight, tight leash they handed you themselves. Besides, she also knew he could teach her. The first thing he'd done was teach her the threats and promises to use to get her demon to keep its mouth shut. He wasn't as chatty as he used to be, though he was good company over a blood bag. Genuinely enjoyed each one. When no one was watching them, pretending not to watch them... When they were alone they would occasionally drain their bags down halfway and then use them as blood-puppets. People screaming, embracing each other plasticly, pudgily, running from the big scary vampires that would, of course, get them anyway. Both together or one at a time. One to sit alone on the table, watching the other die. They never told each other precisely who the blood bags represented, and that was OK, too. * Therapy was hard, painful and humiliating. If her arms had been longer, her chest broader it might have been easier to compensate for the flopping flesh bags of her legs -- still obscenely toned. Spike wasn't healing very fast, either, so that meant Buffy was, inexplicably, seeing Xander for hours every day. Hours of more-than-half-serious bile from Xander, hours of Spike's aggressively cheerful responses. Inevitably, Xander would lose the ability to not get pulled in to actual conversations. Invariably, Xander would walk out much too quickly, shaking his head, muttering darkly about being in league with monsters or something else that would make him look over at Buffy with naked regret, apology. He hadn't said more than a handful of actual words to her since she'd risen. "'s he always like that?" "Just when he has a Deadboy to pester." "Ohhh... Hmm. I don't suppose I'm doing a very good Angel, am I?" "Do you think I'd let you live if you did?" And oh that thought had crept out of her mouth long before she'd realized it was there... Spike just nodded, though. Walked up to her chair and leaned in. "I have a few thoughts for you, Buffy." "Don't strain yourself. Sorry, momentary Xander possession." A strange little smile, not quite for her. "You can't let the demon have your emotions, ducks. It'll just use 'em --" "Against me, I get the point." Spike squeezed her shoulders. "*Listen*, Buffy. Using your emotions against you is besides the point. They take your anger, your resentment and build and build... They take your emotions and twist them until they're not yours anymore. And you don't know the difference, do you?" Buffy snarled at him, desperate to shut him up he was a liar -- Buffy ground her teeth together until she thought they'd shatter in her gums. Held them there for several moments. "Spike... how do I stop this?" "You can't let yourself feel. Even affection'll fuck you over if you're not careful." "I just thought it would fuck you over no matter what." "Yes, well, it *takes* longer if you're careful. Look... what I'm saying is that the angrier you get, the easier it is for the demon to kill every last shred of you that's left." A part of her wanted to know if that would really be so bad, the rest of her immediately jumped to ruthlessly mangle the thought, whether or not it was really hers. Buffy put her head down and rubbed her temples, losing herself briefly in the pattern of the blanket that covered her legs. Bright and pastel. Pretty. But everything in the room was bright... an attempt to trick Buffy's brain into believing there was still sunlight for her. Stave off depression, according to the preternaturally chipper Janine... "I can still get a good hate-on for the Ubertrainer, can't I?" Spike snorted, hopped up on the table beside her. The awkwardness of his re-attachment was almost invisible now. "I'd bloody fucking worry if you couldn't. Janine is clearly the Anti-Christ." A pack of cigarettes appeared from nowhere, one found its way between Buffy's fingers. She didn't hesitate to take the light when it came, though the demon's little screech of alarm at the sight of the flame was something of a surprise. "Cowardly little buggers." Buffy nodded, smiled a little. Took a short drag off the cigarette, testing her reactions. "C'mon, luv. Your lungs can survive the smoky bits of a four-alarm fire. Trust me, I know." "Is this peer pressure?" "Nope, I'm too much older 'n you for that. This right here is the considered advice of a wise and caring elder." Buffy blew smoke in his face, Spike dutifully inhaled and sketched a little bow. "Want some more advice?" "Does it involve my love life?" "Not by a long go --" "Then sure." She grinned. "Bitch. Anyway, cut your legs off." "What?!" "You heard me, they're just in your way. Cut 'em right the fuck off. Bandage up the thigh, case the stumps in some tough leather, and get back to your training. 's the only chance you've got, in my opinion." "As a physical therapist." "As a survivor." There was a long silence then, but there was nothing to really think about. "So, let me see if I get this straight. Spike's Three Steps To A Happy Unlife: One, chill out. Two, start smoking. Three, self-mutilation." "Yep. Sounds about right to me." "Will you help me?" Spike nodded. * Janine fainted when Buffy swung into the mat room the next day on her heavily-padded knuckles. It was almost payment in full for the way the scent of her own burning flesh remained high in her nose. Spike had surrendered scraps of his duster for wrapping the stumps. He'd also done most of the stitching, after Buffy had admitted she was about as good at sewing as Spike was at polka appreciation. Willow came to visit that day, and cried. Xander looked sick. And then Spike came in and commanded his attention immediately. From the pull-up bar she could see Xander haranguing the other man. At length. Giles looked her over twice. Nodded and gave her a smile she knew would've disturbed her... before. Now it just felt right. * Buffy tried and failed to keep from belching after the incredibly starch and protein-heavy *thing* she'd been fed. Apparently, vampires could bulk up. But they had to work at it. Spike flicked a cigarette at her and Buffy caught it in her mouth without thinking. "It'll help with the nausea. Remember, you've got blood in there, too. You really don't want to puke." "So remind me why I'm trying to get up to Janine's neck size." "It's a good look on you?" Buffy flipped the table over, Spike just barely managed to land on his feet. How many weeks had it been? "Temper, temper, Buffy. The stronger your upper body gets --" "The more chimp-like I become." Spike walked over to the ubiquitous fruit bowl -- Giles said her mother kept bringing them -- and fetched her a banana. "Ook, ook Slayer. Pretty soon you'll be back out --" "Don't call me that." "You're still the Slayer." "*A* Slayer. An undead paralyzed Slayer." "The new ones are pikers. Boring." "Twins. With great big powerful legs." "Legs like tree trunks, yeh. They used to play fucking rugby, you know it? And I'll tell you something else -- they're just a little too close if you ask me." "They're doing the job, they're the Slayers." "Oh, for fuck's sake, Buffy. If that's self-pity I won't help you cut your legs off again." "You could've mentioned they'd grow back." "*Most* demons give up after the fourth or fifth time." Buffy chuckled despite herself. "Leave it to me to get the overachiever." Spike picked up the table again and settled himself on it. "It's probably just pissed about you not killing people." "Fuck it." "Good girl. Keep your fangs clean in your own backyard, even if you don't anywhere else." "I don't want to kill, Spike." "Uh, huh. You're getting better at playing Buffy." "It's not a lie, not completely... You're the one who said I have to hold on to myself." "True, but... ah, fuck it is right. I'm not gonna pretend I've got all this figured out." "Gimme another cigarette." "Sure, ducks." They smoked in silence for a while, Buffy coating her fingers with ash and tracing patterns on the table. "Spike, what's the deal with you and Xander anyway?" "Ah, he thinks I'm stalking him. Won't lay off about it. Paranoid fucker, he is." "So... are you stalking him?" "Of *course* I am." Buffy giggled helplessly. "*Why*?" "Well, I've got to keep those old skills honed *somehow*..." Buffy knew she wasn't getting the whole truth, but decided to leave it alone for the moment. Still, though... "Spike, how much of... this," and she made a gesture to include the two of them, "is you and me getting along and how much is it you and the demon?" "I dunno, luv. Sounds more like the Watcher's area of expertise to me, but... why question a good thing?" Another pause. "I'd miss Bloodbag Theater." "Damned right. Thrill-a-minute plots, never know how it's gonna end." "Except for how we always eat them." "Except for that, yes." "Spike, you're going to help me find Faith." He nodded soberly. "And you're going to help *me* find Drusilla." End.