Previously: Prologue & Chapter 1, Chapters 2 & 3
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?"
Twenty hours after they first levitated Spike out of Glory's penthouse abattoir, Buffy heard one of the most disgusting and wonderful noises she'd ever heard: the gulping sound as Spike drank the blood he was submerged in.
She didn't know why she kept coming to sit with him. She just thought he should have some company. Leaving him back there alone seemed too much like treating him like luggage, like the Coleman cooler that held the rest of his blood. Or like the robot.
And apparently the others felt the same. Willow and Tara had offered to stay with him while she took a long nap in the bed, and she'd overheard Anya cheerfully telling the unconscious vampire that they had "finally had the good sense to leave town," and would "almost certainly evade Glory and the Knights at least somewhat longer than we would have back in Sunnydale." She'd even caught Xander sitting with him when she returned from making use of the camper's tiny shower. He just stood and left without saying a word, not meeting her eyes, not even warning her that Spike might peep while she was changing as she might have expected him to do. If she'd been worried she alone would be affected by Spike's sacrifice, those worries were apparently unfounded.
Now, Spike had bobbed onto his back, and was busily swallowing blood. He wasn't moving otherwise, and didn't seem to be conscious. She couldn't see the state of his skin through the blood, but if he was feeding he was obviously starting to heal.
"Good thing, ya' bloodsucker," she told him wryly. "In another day or two, that blood was going to get seriously rank."
They managed to keep Spike in the blood for another two days, adding water as it started to congeal around him, before finally furtively dumping it down a storm drain on a deserted back road somewhere in Arizona. He was still a bit of a grotesque at that point, looking more like he'd had his skin taken off with an electric sander than a knife, building layers slowly.
On the fourth day, he started moving around the room -- the soles of his feet had escaped Glory's attack -- wrapped in a sheet and looking ghoulish.
On the sixth day, still raw nearly to sinews in places, he demanded clothes, and complained when they were Xander's. Though she snarked back at him, she found herself absurdly delighted to hear his first "bloody hell."
They spent ten days in the desert, moving from campground to truck stop to RV park, never staying anywhere longer than one night. Buffy suspected that Willow was using magic to maintain an internet connection to find their rest stops, but since they needed it to find pit stops and keep an eye on Sunnydale as best they could, she didn't question it.
After ten days, though, there was little more they could find out from a distance. Willow had ascertained that there had been no new brainsuck victims admitted to Sunnydale General since they left, and there'd been no daytime disappearances to suggest Glory was collecting more victims. Some nighttime disappearances, but it was Sunnydale, after all. The police had seen only the normal amount of "mysterious" deaths, and no skinned corpses to indicate she'd taken up a new hobby.
The downside of taking everybody close to them on "this merry jaunt", as Spike had termed it, was that they had no one back home to gather and pass information. He didn't have any demon buddies he'd trust for information when he was further away than punching range, and Buffy admitted the same was true for Willy. None of Willow and Tara's college acquaintances nor Xander's work buddies were aware of Sunnydale's supernatural underworld that they knew of.
Buffy had tried to call that cute intern Ben from several gas station phone booths to see what was going on at the hospital, but he wasn't answering his phone.
The decision was made to send a small group to do reconnaissance in Sunnydale. To Buffy's, and weirdly, apparently Spike's, relief, the Buffybot remained powered down in an overhead bin where Buffy had stuffed her. "Not a subtle synapse in her metal head," he'd opined, and the rest agreed she was hardly discreet enough to do the required snooping. Despite still being a bit blurred around the edges, red in patches, and shinier and more plastic-looking than the 'bot everywhere else, Spike insisted he was recovered enough, and ought to go, since Buffy for safety's sake had to stay with Dawn.
Spike, Xander, and Tara armed with her best defensive spells, set out back to Sunnydale in another rented car. Giles grumbled perfunctorily about the wear to his credit card, but smiled and said, "Yes, I know," when Spike pointed out that leaving in the morning meant he wouldn't be able to drive.
The penthouse was deserted. Only after they arrived did Xander realize that it might not be the easiest place for Spike to be. But as far as Xander could tell, Spike stepped across the threshold without hesitation, and didn't seem overly bothered by the dangling chains and pool of dried blood. Instead he poked and sniffed around and found a small cubby-hole of a room filled with "Ben the Intern"'s clothes and hospital ID. He declared that neither god nor man had been in the apartment for at least a week, possibly since the Scoobies had left town. None of them could find any indication of where they'd gone.
Their next stop was a kindly old man.
Well, he looked like a kindly old man until he tried to kill them. Xander was a bit busy fighting for his life, but he was pretty sure he heard, "You have thwarted her Glorious return! You will die!", as Doc attacked.
Doc fought fiercer than he looked, fueled by fury, but with Xander and Spike wielding swords, and Tara casting a bit of Latin at a key moment, Doc was soon lying on the ground with a sword through him, tail twitching.
"Did he say...?" Xander asked.
Spike's grin answered.
Xander gave a victory yell, and both men headed for the door, when Tara's quiet voice called them back. "Guys. He's not dead."
Xander and Spike looked at the skewered Doc with wordless skepticism.
"I-I can see auras?" Tara explained, "and if he was dead, his would have dissipated, but it hasn't."
"Right then." Spike took his sword and cleaved Doc's head from his body. He held it up like a trophy. "Dead now?" The gore it was dripping on the floor was emphatically not human blood.
To the humans' mutual consternation, Spike carried the head with him out the door, and could only be restrained from punting it towards the business district by furious remonstration. He ended up dropping it in a trash can, dousing it with the contents of his flask, and setting it on fire.
"Really dead," Tara assured him.
It was a giddy threesome that made their way to the pay phone in Spike's cemetery. Spike had given the Slayer the number, and they were to go there to wait for her call.
"Didn't know demons had auras," Spike commented with careful nonchalance as they sat on headstones to wait.
"Sure they do," Tara replied.
"Man, I bet you could read all sorts of things in them," Xander said. After a thoughtful pause, he added, "Of course, mostly they're probably thinking 'smash, kill, destroy,' and there's not really time to decide if their aura is a winter or a summer."
"Nope," Tara agreed.
"S'pose vampires don't have 'em," Spike said, "being dead and all." He was looking down, but kept glancing at Tara as if trying to assess her response. "Nothing to read in us."
Tara merely smiled enigmatically.
When the phone rang, Spike's speed got him to the pay phone first. "Spike's House of Vamps, You Bin 'Em, We Skin 'Em."
When the requisite "Eeewww," rang down the line, Spike grinned.
Tara rolled her eyes, amused.
"Tell her," Xander demanded, crowding in so he could hear.
"You have news?" Buffy asked, sounding worried under her businesslike tone.
"Yeah," Xander interjected, "That old demon guy, he was all mad 'cause we 'thwarted the Beast,' and he had this attack frog tongue -- "
"It's over, Slayer," Spike cut him off brutally. "We won."
There was a pause. "You're sure."
"Dead sure." Spike spared a wink for Tara.
On the other end of the line, Spike heard Buffy the Vampire Slayer start, very quietly, to cry. Then she spoke the words he'd half expected never to hear: "Thank you, Spike."
[Continue to Chapter 6]