Previously: Prologue & Chapter 1
WARNING: torture and disturbing imagery
Standard disclaimer: The characters aren't mine, just the story.
Blurb: "How is a vampire who won't talk like an apple?"
With their course decided, Buffy was able to distract herself from Spike's condition with the practicalities of leaving town en masse with seven humans, a sexbot, and a grievously wounded vampire. In Slayer mode, she gave orders, instructing Willow and Tara to float Spike out of there, sending Giles (still babysitting the Bot) to secure transportation, and Anya to get the blood and supplies they'd need to care for Spike. But once they'd left on their delegated tasks, she had to confront something even more daunting than the sight of him.
She had to tell her sister.
Back at the house, she sat her sister down to break the news. Xander, whom she'd put on food duty, continued through to the kitchen.
"It's bad, Dawnie."
"He told?" Buffy realized that Dawn was almost shaking with barely suppressed fright.
"No!" She put a steadying hand on Dawn's shoulder. "No."
"Then how is it bad?"
"He was... very brave." Or very stubborn.
Stupid vampire, making her feel for him.
Making her respect him.
This time the quaver in Dawn's voice wasn't on her own behalf. Mere hours ago, it might have made Buffy rant about her sister's attachment to a soulless fiend. Now it just saddened her. This would hurt Dawn.
"Did Glory kill him?"
No, but she easily could have. Once it became clear he wouldn't break. Or once he lost consciousness. Buffy only hoped that had happened early on. It was paradoxically fortunate that Glory's fury had sustained her torture long past the point when it had any chance of producing information.
If Glory had killed him, how would they have known? A scattering of dust on a pool of blood?
"He's..." 'Alive' felt like even more of a lie than it ordinarily was. 'Ok' wasn't even to be considered. "He survived." As a carcass. "She tortured him." She desperately didn't want to burden Dawn with the details, but she needed to tell her enough to keep her away. This wasn't something she wanted her sister to see; the image was already burned on the inside of her own eyelids. "With a knife."
Dawn swallowed. "Lot of holes in him, huh?"
"Buffy, tell me."
She couldn't. She just couldn't.
Xander, coming through with grocery bags, jumped in. "You seen Silence of the Lambs?"
Dawn had. She'd been jumpy for days afterwards. Mom had berated Buffy for letting Dawn watch it. As if Dawn did what she told her.
"You remember Buffalo Bill?"
Buffy winced. Could he possibly be any more inappropriately glib? But she understood why he couldn't bring himself to state it outright. If she said the words, 'Glory skinned him alive,' they'd echo inside her head forever.
As she recalled the reference, Dawn's face turned horrified. "She tried to make a Spikesuit?"
"She wasn't that goal-oriented."
"Oh." Dawn had gone very pale.
"Yeah." Xander grimaced in remembered disgust, then continued on out to the car.
"So, I decided we had to get out of Dodge," Buffy went on briskly. "Giles is out renting an RV for all of us." Her mouth quirked self-deprecatingly. "Buffy the weenie runs away."
"Thank you," Dawn said earnestly.
"For taking you out of school?" Buffy quipped. "Because you might not wanna thank me once Social Services finds us."
"No. For doing the big weenie run-away."
"Hey, I didn't say I was a big weenie... Also, huh?"
"I'm glad we're going. I don't want anyone else getting hurt because of me."
"Not because of you," Xander interrupted brusquely. "Because Glory's a psychotic hell god head-case."
"He's right," Buffy chimed in. "And if you start taking responsibility for Glory's decisions, then we're going to have to have a serious talk about what constitutes an appropriate daytime warddrobe."
The look Dawn gave her was profoundly unamused.
"Buffy, you got any Doritos?", they heard from the kitchen.
"You put Xander in charge of food, why?"
Buffy got to her feet. "Why do you think I told him to raid our kitchen instead of his? You go make sure he packs something Mom would have considered breakfast, I'll get weapons and our clothes."
As she headed up the stairs, she heard Dawn telling Xander not to forget toilet paper, and Xander saying, "See, this is why we gotta keep you around, Dawnster."
At least someone knew how to talk to her sister.
Boarding the RV Giles had rented, Buffy made her way into the back bedroom. There she found Spike creepily suspended in midair like a piece of "transgressive" shock art, while Anya briskly poured containers of blood into a large tin tub.
"Oh good, you can mist him," Anya said, nodding at a small spray bottle filled with a red fluid. A bit repulsed, Buffy nonetheless picked it up and started spritzing Spike with blood, like an evil carnivorous houseplant.
Xander followed her back, although there was little for him to do but fold his arms and look queasy. She suspected he felt it was his duty to bear witness.
When the tub was about half full, Tara and Willow held both hands and murmured softly. Spike curled up like an apostrophe, rolled in a woozy fashion onto his side in midair, then wobbled over to sink down in the blood until he was submerged. Willow and Tara dropped hands, looking drained and a bit shaky themselves. As Willow had once explained to Buffy, Yoda's "Judge me by my size, do you?" speech was wrong; the size of the thing you were trying to levitate did matter quite a lot.
"Are you sure he shouldn't be bandaged?" Willow asked worriedly.
"No, I'm not sure." What was she, Buffy the Vampire Doctor? "I just, I don't know, ok?"
"Bathing in blood is very restorative for vampires," Anya told them decisively. "Erzsébet had that part right."
"She just wasn't a vampire, so it didn't work. Everyone knows that."
An exchange of glances led to the unspoken consensus that there was no use staring at Anya. A stressed-sounding Giles called out for them from the front, and they went back out into the main cabin to store their luggage and take their seats.
Buffy was was distracted with Giles and his speculations about Glory's plan when she heard the gasp from behind the open bedroom door.
She'd told them to keep Dawn away; told them under no circumstances was her sister to see Spike in his denuded... re-nuded... skinned state. But she supposed it was inevitable that Dawn would have to see for herself, and sneak by her minders somehow.
She found the girl dropped to her knees and sobbing by the tub. Spike lay insensible and motionless curled in his literal blood bath, dimly visible, disturbingly evoking one of those grody specimens in a mad scientist's jar. And Dawn was crying, "Spike, Spike," with her arms wrapped around her own middle, as if to hold her own innards in.
When Dawn reached out a shaking hand as if to touch him, Buffy had a disturbing vision of what Spike might look like if he reacted; sat up and gasped, dripping blood, rising from his liquid environs like some Bizarro Swamp Thing. She knelt beside Dawn and wrapped her own arms around her, halting and corralling the reaching arm with ease, then hugging her firmly and shushing until Dawn stopped trembling.
"It's my fault," Dawn said hollowly. "It should have been me."
Buffy's features hardened. "Look at me." She spun Dawn around away from the macabre horror that had clearly taken her over. "He did this so Glory wouldn't touch you." She shook Dawn gently, though with Slayer strength, it was perhaps a more vigorous rattling than she'd intended. "Never, ever think that any of us would be happier if you were hurt. It's not true. Spike endured her torture because he loves you."
Dawn's eyes skidded away to the side. "He loves you," she countered.
Buffy's eyes widened as she released her.
At her lack of response, Dawn's own expression hardened. "He loves you," she insisted, looking ready to pitch a full-on Dawn-fit if Buffy denied it.
Dawn nodded in satisfaction, but Buffy knew Dawn had no idea how momentous this was -- both that Spike could love her, and that she could admit it. And yet, there was no argument. Silent and still, not even conscious, Spike made the most eloquent case for his love possible, and not even she had the capacity to deny it.
[continue to Chapter 4]