"I'm nothing without her."
-Spike, Lover's Walk
It seems in a moment,
Your whole world can shatter,
Like dust in your hand
Falling to the floor.
How can life ever be the same?
It took three months for one of the minions to get up enough guts to go in to see the master. And when Manuel Santiago finally did, things changed around the hacienda.
For the first month, Manuel, the Cuban vampire, ordered what he now believed were his minions to bring a live human into the bedroom, where the master laid, and slit his or her throat, so the blood would bubble forth. Then they would hold the dying human's bleeding neck to the emaciated master's mouth, forcing the demon within him to feed, until he was physically healthy once more.
The second month, Manuel forced his sire onto his stomach on the edge of the bed, then proceeded to fuck him. The master uttered no cry as his tender flesh was stretched and abrased by the intrusion. His pale face reflected no emotions, no consciousness, nothing.
By the third month, Manuel had become the new master, and the old one was kept locked in the bedroom. He was always nude, tended by a Eunuch vampire created especially for him. Every day, he'd been force-fed to keep him alive and healthy. Manuel wanted a creature of beauty to show-off to the other masters, to allow the other masters to play with.
Months turned into years, and the old master was a silent, beautiful plaything for the creatures of the night. He'd been fucked and beaten and sometimes brought out for curious eyes, but he never uttered a single word, a single cry, a single sound. And if, perchance, another vampire would look him in the eye, they would become limp and afraid and would leave shortly thereafter.
For there was no life in the old master's eyes.
There was nothing.
But one day, things changed. Manuel packed up his hacienda, including his toy, and announced they were moving to Norte Americano. To California.
To La Boca Del Infierno.
"Are you sure this is the right place?" Buffy Summers asked, peering through the small night- vision binoculars.
"That's it," Willow Rosenberg answered, looking down at the hand-drawn map in her lap. "‘X' marks the spot."
"Too bad all we get is a lot of dust, instead of buried treasure," the twenty-six year old, blond Slayer said. She surveyed the area around the large, Spanish-style home on the outskirts of Sunnydale. "I see three, maybe four vamps roaming around. Pretty weak security, for a master vampire of Manuel Santiago's reputation."
"Maybe he doesn't need much security because of his reputation," the hacker cum witch cum Watcher-in-training stated.
"Or they could be armed," Xander Harris said over the radio clipped to each member of the small team's ears. The radio was voice activated, with two microphones that rested on either side of the wearer's throat, attached by an elastic band around the neck. "Check out Thuggee number three. The one with the sombrero."
"That's not a sombrero, doofus," Cordelia Chase-Harris said, her voice ringing loud and clear over the radio. "That's a fedora."
"Sombrero, fedora, the guy's got a big hat," the dark-haired, ex-Marine replied.
"You're right, I see a definite high-projectile weapon," Buffy said. "Jot that down, Wills."
"Check. One definite high-projectile weapon, or ‘gun' for short," Willow said. Buffy glanced over her shoulder at her best friend and gave her a look. "Hey, not all Watchers are as stuffy as Giles."
"Giles is not-so-stuffed anymore, Willow," the blond replied, taking up the binoculars again. "Hasn't been since high school graduation."
"He was losing his feathers long before that -- right around the same time dear-departed Wesley arrived," Xander commented.
"Wow, Wesley Wyndham-Price," Buffy said, adjusting her sights. "I haven't heard that name in awhile."
"That's because Cordy's been keeping her mouth shut," he replied. "No more ‘Wesley this' and ‘Wesley that' and ‘Wesle--eipe!'"
Willow and Buffy both chuckled at their friend's sudden cut-off. "Serves you right, Xand," Willow said.
"So, have we seen enough, oh Watcher-type-woman?" Buffy asked, rolling onto her back and staring up at the clear, night sky. "I have a ton of orders to process." Her mind danced over the figures and her stock, and she reminded herself she needed to purchase more stone gargoyles for her ‘fantasy' mail-order business.
"I think so," Willow replied, looking at her notebook once more. "Security, perimeter, general layout, possible entrances and exits -- yup, looks like enough."
"Hear that Cord? We are outta here," Xander said. "See you babes tomorrow at 2100 hours."
"Bye Xand, bye Cordy," Buffy said, as she and Willow climbed to their feet. She pulled off the radio and shoved it into the bag of reconnaissance equipment. "When are we going to hit?"
"Depends on the blueprints," Willow answered, opening the door to the jeep. "I need to see where Santiago would mostly likely be keeping those people."
"Too bad we just can't fireball the place," the Slayer sighed. "It worked so well last year."
"Yeah, but it took the SDFD almost two days to put out the fire," she said. "Almost lost a fireman, too."
"Right, I remember," Buffy said. "No flammable objects for the Slayer."
The ride to Buffy's house was made in companionable silence, each girl thinking of the work they needed to do for their ‘real life' day jobs. Willow was co-owner of a small bookstore with Giles, which converted into Slayer Central once the ‘We're Closed' sign was turned. The redhead lived in a small, one-bedroom townhome with her familiar, Angel. Given to her by his namesake, Angel was a chocolate and black long-haired Chihuahua, who acted more like a four-legged human than a dog.
Buffy, on the other hand, lived in a sprawling, five-bedroom home with her very blond, blue-eyed cat, Spike. Given to her as a joke by the same vampire who'd given the redhead Angel, the three year old cat acted exactly like his namesake -- territorial, vicious, and completely loyal to the woman he loved, which in this case was her. Most of the house was used for storage of her stock for her business, and the basement was a fully-converted work-out room.
The other members of the small, elite Slaying team were spread throughout Sunnydale. Xander and Cordelia had recently purchased a three-bedroom ranch in Buffy's old neighborhood. Cordy owned her own boutique and Xander had taken over Giles' job at Sunnydale High School as librarian. He figured that someone out of the group should work over the center of the Hellmouth, just in case.
Giles still lived in his tiny home, and had a going-on-four-years, annoying roommate, Ethan Rayne. The two were the complete epitome of The Odd Couple, but, after a harrowing brush with death, Ethan was a new man -- sort of. The spell that Giles and Willow had cast to save Ethan's life prevented the man from ever using magick again. That didn't stop him, however, from creating mischief. His motto was "the world loves a spice of wickedness."
The final member of the small group lived in Los Angeles near Joyce Summers. Angel had chosen his new home specifically to keep an eye on the mother of the Slayer. He came to Sunnydale from time-to-time, helping out when needed, seeking help for the same reasons. And while it was painful for them to see each other, time did indeed help the heart heal, and Buffy and Angel had, at long last, become friends and nothing more.
It was with this rag-tag group of individuals that the world continued to turn, and the people of Sunnydale lived on in oblivion of the danger that surrounded them. The friends had gone their separate ways after high school, only to return stronger and more willing to aid the Slayer and the Watcher in their fight against evil.
For over ten years, Buffy had been the Slayer, called just before she turned sixteen. The oldest and best Slayer on record, she was eventually given free reign over the Hellmouth, while the second Slayer worked in other parts of the world. The Council basically left the team alone, only passing on pertinent books or information in regards to the tiny blond and her hometown. Giles liked it that way, because the Council members had no idea as to the trials and tribulations of the field.
Willow pulled her black jeep in front of Buffy's home, and the Slayer jumped out. "See ya tomorrow, Wills," she said, shouldering her bag.
"‘Night, Buffy," Willow replied. "Scratch Spike behind the ears for me."
"Will do," Buffy said with a grin. "Bye."
As the jeep pulled out of sight, the blond punched in the security code for her front gate and headed up the walk. She noticed that her lilacs needed weeding, and made a mental note to call her gardening service, as she mounted the few steps to her front door.
Punching in a second security number, Buffy let herself into her home and looked around the well-lit foyer. "Spike, I'm home," she called, opening a secret closet door and setting the bag inside with the rest of the weapons. Her cat came bounding into the entryway, his tail swishing back and forth, and he paused a few feet away to study her with his so-blue eyes.
"What, no kiss?" Buffy teased, bending to scoop the feline up in her arms. "Willow said to give you this," she told him, as she petted him behind the ears. The cat butted his nose against her cheek as she made her way into the kitchen, purring loudly. "I don't think so, buddy. You ate earlier. You don't want to be another Garfield, do you?"
The cat seemed to take offense by the question, and wiggled out of her arms. He hit the floor gracefully and, tail in the air, sauntered out of the kitchen. "You're pathetic, Spike," she called after him, grabbing a bottled water from the refrigerator. She paused, the bottle partway to her mouth. "Now why does that sound familiar?"
Shrugging, she took a drink, then ambled down the hallway to her office, the lights automatically going on as she went. The house had cost a small fortune, but Buffy's home business was flourishing, especially since she patented a few of the figurines she sold based off of some of the creature's she'd fought. Her life was perfect. She had her health, her friends, her business and her cat; she saved the world every other week and countless innocents every night; and she wasn't bad in the looks department, either.
Flipping on the stereo, she let the music take her thoughts away from slaying and the upcoming attack on the new Master of Sunnydale, and she got down to work.
Cos my heart is broken in pieces
Yes my heart is broken in pieces
Since you've been gone
"It would depend of if Santiago has the people alive or dead for food," Ethan continued, gesturing to the blueprint laid out on the table. "If they're dead, find the room with the biggest power outlet. That's where the icebox would be."
"Since when did you get so helpful?" Buffy asked, sharpening yet another stake into a fine point.
"Since the bastard took the woman I'd been working on from the hospital," the older man answered. "She was a ripe chit, too. And I had been all set to pluck..."
"Enough, Ethan," Giles said to his old friend. "We don't need to go into details."
"Just because you aren't getting any of the old slap-and-tickle, chap, don't spoil it for the rest of us," Ethan replied.
"Ok, so they're four possible rooms that the people are being held in," Willow said, interrupting the Watcher before he responded to Ethan. "The kitchen, the cellar, the room in the northwest corner and this huge room on the east side."
"I think that's a ballroom," Cordelia said, looking over the redhead's shoulder. "Xander, does it say anywhere in the database about Santiago holding parties?"
"Hold on, I'll check," Xander replied, quickly pulling up the correct file. "That's a big ‘yes ma'am' about the parties. Over the past six years, he's had a whole hell of a lot of vampire hoe- downs. Most of them were held in Cuba, starting around the millenium. Check this, the side notes indicate the Cuban's parties were attended by master vampires from all over the world."
"Why?" Buffy asked, setting the new stake down and picking up another piece of wood. "What does this vamp have that the others masters didn't?"
"A living statue," Xander answered.
"What?" Cordelia said, moving to sit next to her husband and read the computer screen.
"That's what the file says: ‘a living statue,'" Xander said.
"Search it, Xander," Willow instructed, marking a black-and-white copy of the blueprints to the Santiago lair with Giles' help.
"Searching...," he said. He glanced at his wife. "How come I no longer think it's weird there's a vampire database on the Internet."
"Probably for the same reason you think it's a slow night when we only stake twenty vampires," Cordelia answered.
"That could be why," Xander said, returning his eyes to the screen. "Here we go, one ‘living statue.'" The ex-Marine cleared his throat and began reading. "‘The living statue is said to be one of the most beautiful vampires in the world ever contained. The male, perfectly sculpted like white marble and perfectly silent like a statue, was once a vicious master vampire, sired by the ‘angelic one' himself. The living statue may be seen or used by permission only from Manuel Santiago.'"
"That it?" Buffy asked.
"That's all she wrote," he replied.
"‘Sired by the ‘angelic one' himself.' You don't think that means Angel?" Willow said.
"That is a succinct possibility," Giles replied. "I haven't read of any other vampires being described a-as ‘angelic.'"
"One of Angel's or not, he's still a vampire," Buffy said. "Which gives him a one-way ticket to Dustville."
"Alright, I think we have a plan of attack here," Willow said. The others, minus Ethan, gathered around the table as the redhead began the briefing. "We'll do a two team in, one team backup approach. Buffy, you'll come in the front doors..."
"Team one, checking in," Buffy said quietly.
"Team two, checking in," Xander said, his voice coming over the radio earpiece.
"Team three, checking in," Willow finished the call in. "Team one, on my mark." The redhead looked at her watch. "Three, two, one, mark."
Buffy hit the button on her watch, then ran silently from her hiding place to the edge of the property. Dropping to the ground, she raised her high-power rifle with its night-vision scope to her eye, and took aim. "Target sighted."
"Team two, on my mark," Willow said. "Three, two, one, mark."
Less then a minute later, Xander's voice came over the radio. "Target sighted."
Giles' voice followed a few seconds later. "Target sighted."
"Fire on Team three's signal," Willow instructed.
Cordelia looked through the night-vision binoculars down at the security circling the yard. She waited until the fourth, uncovered vampire was in her sights, then said, "Fire."
Three silent shots whizzed through the night, the high-velocity wooden bullets piercing the hearts of the intended victims with perfect accuracy. The metal of their guns hit the ground with soft thuds, and the dust from where their bodies had been, sprinkled down on top of them.
"Team two G, target number for heading for your position," Cordelia said over the radio.
"Team two, copy," Giles responded. After a moment, he said, "Target sighted."
"Fire at will," Cordelia instructed. And the fourth guard was dust.
"Target eliminated," Giles said.
"Team one, approach the house. Team two, standby," Willow said.
"Copy," Buffy replied, rolling to her feet and shouldering her rifle. She hopped over the small hibiscus bush and ran, crouched low, towards the house. She darted silently up the front steps and positioned herself to the right of the door, repositioning the rifle in her hand. "Team one, in position."
"Team two, approach the house," Willow continued the plan. She glanced over at Cordelia, who was still looking through the binoculars. "Team three C, report?"
"Still clear," Cordelia replied.
"Team two, in position," Xander said over the radio.
"Prepare to enter on my mark, ten second delay on two, ready?" Willow said. "And mark."
Buffy moved in front of the door, and had it open with a violent kick. She took out the first two vampires inside the foyer before they had a chance to blink, then the third had half a yell out of his mouth before he was cut down, too. Her camouflage face-paint and fatigues stood out against the ornate, Spanish decor, as she swung her rifle at a charging fourth attacker.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw more vampires pouring in from other rooms into the foyer. "Alarm has been sounded," she said, ducking under a kick and firing another shot from her rifle, dusting one. Strap wrapped around her arm so she wouldn't loose the weapon, she pulled a stake from the sheath around her leg and plunged it up into the nearest opponent's heart.
More gunfire sounded from the direction of the kitchen, and she knew Xander and Giles had entered the house. The plan had been to get most of the minions within the house into the foyer, giving the two men time to enter and check the kitchen. Giles was then to proceed to the cellar, with Xander covering him, to search for the missing people.
Buffy dove and rolled into a side room, what looked to be a study, and fired off several rounds as the minions chased after her. She grabbed another stake and threw it, then another and another, all in rapid succession. Each landed on target, sending showers of dust into the air and onto the floor. She was in complete Slayer-mode, as were the other members of the Slaying team, for this particular mission. But that did not stop the comments she was silently making in her head with each shot or throw.
**Ooh, and another one bites the dust,** the Slayer thought, after dropping to one knee and picking the vampires off as they tried to get through the door. **I can't believe I just thought that. How cliche can I get?**
The clip was finally empty, and Buffy quickly shouldered the rifle. Getting to her feet, she dropped into a fighting stance, a stake in her hand from the holster. **Come and get it, boys,** she thought. **Or do I need to say it in Spanish? Um, come-o y lo get-o, amigos.**
With a snap kick, the vampire's head flew back, as the steel toe of her combat boot hit under his chin. She put her right foot down and used the forward movement to land a solid punch on him, before she spun and back-kicked another opponent. Her stake found its mark on the follow-up, and she didn't pause in attacking her next victim.
"Team three, coming in," Buffy heard Willow say over the radio. **Backup is coming in? Wonder why?** She staked another minion, moving fluidly and without thought. She grabbed another stake from her leg holster and threw it at the same time she sent a hard, side-kick at vampire.
"People coming your way, team three," Xander said.
"Got ‘em, team two," Cordelia replied. "Team three moving for interception and evacuation."
**Ah, not backup, pick up,** Buffy thought.
"Team two reporting, civilians clear," Xander said.
The Slayer continued to fight, and before she knew it, she was alone in the study, surrounded by piles of dust. "Team one, all clear," Buffy said, taking her rifle in hand again and inserting a new clip.
"Team three is clear, three C is transporting the civilians," Willow replied.
"Team two is clear," Xander said. "And moving out."
"Team one is going to make a sweep," Buffy said, peeking her head out the door. She darted across the empty hallway and checked the ballroom, then moved further into the house.
"Copy, team one," Willow replied.
Room by room, the blond Slayer searched for any other minions or humans, staking or shooting down the few vampires she ran across. She made it the entire way to the kitchen, then double- backed to go down a hallway that jutted from the main one. She didn't know if anyone had destroyed Santiago, and there was no way to identify the bodies, because there weren't any.
She got to the final door off the hallway, and she was surprised to find not only locked, but secured by an additional padlock. Not a single other door had been locked, not even the room filled with sophisticated computer equipment. "Team three, we have an anomaly, over," Buffy said quietly, shouldering her rifle to pull out her lock-pick kit from the breast pocket of her fatigues, part of the standard ‘gear.'
"Report, team one," Willow responded.
"Last door off the hallway, locked and padlocked," Buffy told her, as she worked the metal. "No signs as to what the room contains."
"Tread softly," the redhead warned.
"Roger that," the Slayer replied, hearing the distinctive sound of the lock turning under her pins. She dropped the metal to the floor, then went to work on the doorknob. It was manipulated easily under her expert fingers, and she smiled at her success. She put away her kit, the turned the knob slowly. "Moving in."
Opening the door, she went low, in case someone decided to try and blow her head off, and entered the room on a roll. Rifle in hand once again, she went up on one knee and searched the room with her eyes, ears, and other senses. There was one in the corner behind her and one sitting on the other side of the bed, bare back towards her.
"Por favor, senor, no matanza," the Cuban vampire in the corner said, holding up his hands in surrender. "Por favor."
Keeping her eye on the figure on the bed, Buffy leveled the rifle at the Cuban. "Team three, we have a language situation. Two bodies in the room."
"Copy, team one," Willow replied. "Tell him ‘repeta, por favor.'"
"Repeta, por favor," Buffy echoed.
"No muerta," he said, pointing to himself, then raising his hand again. "No muerta."
"‘No muerta,'" Buffy said to Willow.
"It means no killing," Willow said. "He doesn't want you to kill him."
"Instructions?" Buffy asked.
"Team two X will be at your position in T-minus three," the redhead answered.
"Copy, team three," she said.
Xander appeared, as told, his rifle leveled at the figure on the bed as he entered the room. "Team two in position."
"Team one, your call," Willow said.
"Team two, escort the Cuban," Buffy instructed. "I'll bring the other."
"Copy, team one," Xander replied, gesturing turning to the vampire in the corner and gesturing at him with the rifle. "Mova."
The Cuban kept his hands raised as he edged towards the door. Xander ushered him out of the room, leaving Buffy with the other occupant.
"Acquiring target," Buffy informed Willow. She rose and moved steadily towards the figure, who had yet to move or even acknowledge anyone was there. "Tu," she said in Spanish, slowly rounding the bed. "You, on the bed. Get up. Mova."
When the figure didn't respond, she got pissed. "I said get up! Ahora! Mova!" She got around the last corner of the bed, her mind taking in the fact that the person was naked, and she jabbed the rifle at the figure's side. Not even a flinch.
Frowning, she stopped moving and asked, "Language barrier again, team three."
"Team two?" Willow said.
"He says ‘no habla,'" Xander replied.
"No habla what?" Buffy asked.
"Just ‘no habla,'" Xander answered. "Your target doesn't speak, period."
"Copy, team two," the Slayer said. Shouldering her rifle, she pulled out a stake and moved until she was standing in front of who she could definitely tell was a male. She stared at the top of his long, white-blond hair, and had an eerie sense of deja vu. Reaching out with her left hand, she grabbed his chin and forced his head up. "Holy shit."
"Team one, report," Willow ordered.
"I found the living statue," Buffy said, staring at the familiar face, who's blue eyes reflected nothing. "It's Spike."
It's all too easy
To take so much for granted,
But it's so hard
To find the words to say.
"Repeat, team one," Willow said.
"Spike," Buffy said, horror in her voice from the lack of expression in his face and eyes. "Willow, it's Spike."
"Bring the target out, team one," the hacker instructed calmly, steel in her own voice.
"Roger, team three," Buffy responded, her training over the years kicking back in. Dropping the vampire's chin, her eyes searched the room for something to cover him with, as she sheathed the stake. Not finding anything, she shucked her fatigue jacket and thrust it at him. "Put this on."
Spike didn't respond, his head still in the position she'd raised it in, his eyes dead. Physically wincing by his lack of acknowledgment that there was anyone even in front of him, she put the jacket on him. "Let's go, Spike," Buffy said, pulling the jacket closed around him and quickly buttoning it. She took a step back and studied him. "Come on."
He didn't move, didn't blink, didn't do anything but sit there staring blankly at her. "Oh god, Spike, what happened to you?" she said, bending and pulling him up by the collar of her jacket. When he was almost standing, she swore. "Put your feet under you, Spike, and stand up."
Whatever she'd said must have worked, because the blond vampire was upright under his own power. Deciding not to test his mobility, she put his arm over her shoulder and settled a majority of his weight against her. "Team one, coming out," she said, leading him towards the door. "Need transport."
"Team three is at the front perimeter," Willow replied over the radio. "Team two has taken the Cuban target back to HQ."
"Roger," Buffy responded. The trip from the room to the jeep was made quickly, the Slayer mostly dragging Spike with her. Willow gasped when she saw him, covered in nothing but Buffy's fatigue jacket which barely passed his thighs, and she opened the specially-made, third door on the vehicle. Between the two of them, they got him half-sitting, half-laying in the back seat, then hopped into the jeep for an exceedingly-fast trip back into town.
The question hung in the air between the best friends, as Buffy continuously watched the perfectly still vampire -- what had happened to Spike?