From Nothing


by Saber ShadowKitten
PG-13 Version
Part Fourteen




"Maybe if we ignore it, it will stop," Buffy suggested, but the phone kept ringing. Spike shook his head in defeat, placed a quick kiss on her mouth, then moved off of her. She climbed out of bed and wandered naked out of the bedroom and across the hall to the phone. Glancing at the clock, she noted it was already past eight p.m., so when she answered the phone she was able to growl, "This had better be good."

"Buffy?" Xander said on the other end of the line. "Roll call."

"Fuck," Buffy swore. "Transport?"

"Giles will be there in a few minutes," he answered.

"Gear?" she asked, trying to ignore the wetness slowly running down her inner thighs.

"None," he replied. "Standard phase one and two."

Buffy sighed. "Got it, see you in a few."

"Oh, and Buffy? Be sure to get dressed before Giles arrives," Xander said knowingly. "He still hasn't gotten over you having sex with Angel."

Buffy's reply was to hang up on him. She turned when she heard someone behind her, and saw Spike standing in the doorway, naked and holding the cat in his arms. He gestured to the phone, and she told him, "Xander. Get dressed, Giles will be here any second. I need to hop in the shower."

Spike cocked his head in question. "Big bad thing," she explained, moving past him towards her room. "It won't take long to kill, because I'm ticked at being interrupted."

He tapped on her shoulder, then pointed to himself. "No, you stay home. If we moved to phase three, the only person who'll be at HQ will be Ethan, and he's about as helpful as flypaper. I know you're getting better at defending yourself, but I'd rather not chance it," she said. "Now, go get dressed. I don't mind your nakedness, but Giles would probably have a heart attack."

He nodded and left her alone, taking Spike with him. She quickly showered and dressed in loose research cum fighting clothes. Pulling her hair up in a haphazard pony-tail, she made her way to the living room where she knew she'd find Giles waiting for her.

"Ready?" Giles asked, rising from his seat. Spike, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, rose as well. The cat that had been on his lap jumped to the floor and scampered over to his mistress.

"I'm good to go," Buffy replied, bending to pet Spike. She straightened and met the other Spike's eyes. "I'll see you later, ok?"

Spike nodded. ‘Be careful,' he signed.

"I will," she said. Giles moved past her to the front door and the Slayer took that opportunity to dash into the living room and plant a quick, hard kiss on Spike's lips. "I'll miss you."

She turned and, just as quickly, left the room. He heard the front door open and close, then the sound of a car driving away. With a silent sigh, he wandered into the kitchen and let Spike out the back door before he opened the refrigerator and took out his dinner. It was going to be a long night.



*****



It was going to be a long night. Buffy pretended to shoot herself as Giles droned on and on about the sighting of a new creature. Ethan had been the one to see it on his way back from a date, and, after they went through the usual banter about what woman would want to date Giles' old friend, he gave them a detailed description.

Phase one had been completed with relative ease, considering Ethan was an artist. The man had quickly sketched what it looked like, then retreated to the second floor of the bookstore to "recover from his trauma," with a new bottle of scotch. Phase two required the group to research the creature, which was what they were currently doing. Phase three, when they reached it, would be to eliminate the creature and phase four would be the mountain of paperwork that Willow required.

When Giles turned his back on those seated at the table, Cordelia leaned over and whispered to Buffy, "Was he any good?"

Buffy blushed. "Cordy!" she hissed.

"That would be a yes," the brunette said, grinning. "Xander said you answered the phone like he does when we're interrupted, but I wasn't sure you'd done it until just now."

"Did he use sign language?" Xander asked, keeping his voice low. He began gesturing with his hands as he provided sound effects. "Oh baby, yes, oooh."

Buffy kicked him under the table, her face the same shade as the can of Coke in front of her. "Shut up."

"So, are you two a thing?" Willow joined in the hushed conversation, as Giles began to read from the book in his hand. "I don't think that would be good. Remember what happened with Angel."

"He's nothing like Angel, and can we not talk about this now?" Buffy replied.

"But if we don't do it now, we'll actually have to listen to Giles," Xander said.

"Did everyone understand?" Giles asked, turning to look at them.

"Yes, Giles," they chimed together, giving him innocent smiles.

"Then everyone get to work," Giles said. "And Buffy, I don't need to tell you to be careful with Spike, do I?" Buffy thumped her head on the table as her friends laughed. They hadn't gotten away with a conversation while Giles lectured for years. But that didn't stop them from trying.



*****



Spike heard loud crying coming from outside the back door and it took him a moment to recognize the sound as the cat. Buffy had been gone for an hour and he'd used the time to eat, take a shower and changed the sheets. He was sitting in the kitchen, reading the new issue of Vanity Fair that had come earlier in the mail, when the noise started.

Marking his place with a subscription card, he stood and opened the back door. The cat was standing at the end of the small porch, crying loudly due to the wire that was tangled around him. Leaving the door open behind him, he went to retrieve Spike and was halfway back to the house when they struck.

Three vampires, the size of linebackers, surrounded him. One snatched the cat from his arms and tossed him in through the open door. The other two moved into position to take the blond.

Instantly, Spike lashed out with his fist, striking the vampire in front of him in the face. He spun and kicked one of the two behind him, causing him to stagger back. The third dropped into a fighting stance as Spike turned once again and attacked the vampire blocking the door. He knew he had to get inside.

Number two recovered from Spike's kick and circled around to join the first one in front of the door. Spike whirled and ran over to the edge of the small porch, hopping over the ledge to land in the grass below. He heard footsteps pounding behind him as he flew around the house, trying to reach the front door far enough ahead of his opponents to use the keypad.

Ten feet from the door, he was tackled by the vampire he'd kicked. Spike skid across the pavement, scraping his hands and forearms, barely avoiding smashing his face. He threw his head back, clocking the vampire atop him on the jaw, then bucked him off. He scrambled up and forward at the same time towards the stairs, kicking back with his foot at the vampire on the ground behind him, who was trying to trip him up.

Spike got to the stop of the stairs and froze when he saw the third vampire standing in a relaxed fighting stance in front of the door. Then something bashed him on the back of the head, and everything went dark.



*****



Buffy quietly let herself into the house at three, tired and cranky from too much research. Dropping her coat on the foyer table, she made her way towards the hall and stopped when she sensed something wrong. She slowly turned in a circle, then made her way to the kitchen, where the light was blazing brightly.

Her eyes widened in horror when she saw the back door open and saw her cat in the middle of the floor, not moving, wire wrapped around his legs. Fear coursing through her body, she turned and tore down the hallway towards the bedrooms.

"Spike!" she yelled, moving from room to room in search of the vampire. But her gut was telling her she wasn't going to find him. "SPIKE!"

Racing for the phone, she snatched the receiver and hit speed dial. "Answer, answer, answer," she chanted, dropping down next to the cat and petting him gently.

"‘Lo?" Willow said when she answered the phone, slightly out of breath.

"Willow, Spike's missing! I got home and I felt something wrong and the back door was open and Spike's on the floor all tangled in wire and Spike's not here," Buffy rushed out, her voice choked with panic.

"Woah, Buffy, slow down," Willow said calmly, falling into Watcher-mode. "Spike, the vampire is missing?"

"Yes, he's gone," she replied. "He's gone, Willow."

"Do you think someone took him?" Willow continued in an even tone.

"Yes," Buffy answered, letting her years of training take over so she could assess the situation. "The back door is open. My cat is effectively disabled. Spike is nowhere in the house."

"Ok, don't touch anything," Willow instructed. "I'll be over in five minutes."

Buffy stood and hung up the phone, then wrapped her arms around herself. "Oh god, Spike. Please be ok," she whispered.



*****



Spike looked around the room he was in, searching for a weapon. He'd awoken a few minutes before to find himself naked and locked in a bedroom. He walked over to the closet and opened the door. With one of his old, unique smiles, he yanked the wooden bar out, the hangers clattering to the floor. He quickly broke it down into small stakes and stashed them around the room, keeping two with him.

He heard the lock turning in the door, and he moved behind it, prepared to strike. The first vampire entered the room and was dust before he even realized Spike was awake. The second, however, and the others that followed, did not hesitate in the doorway. Four of them rushed into the room and a fifth stayed in the hallway, holding a medical bag and wearing a white lab coat.

Spike didn't wait to attack. He launched himself at the closest vampire, landing a hard kick to his gut before spinning and placing a second one across his jaw. He ducked as one came up behind him and tried to grab him, sliding under his raised arms to slam the stake into his back. Before the dust fell, he punched a third several times in the face, then staggered when the first vampire he attacked kicked him in the back of the leg, causing him to drop one of the stakes.

Turning, he faked a back-fist at the vampire with his right, then jammed the stake underhanded into his opponent's heart with his left. The fourth vampire, who had yet to get involved, sent a drop kick at Spike's arm, making the stake fall to the floor. Spike sprang forward away from the two vampires towards where he hid another weapon, but was kicked again from behind, this time in the lower back.

The two remaining vampires descended upon him like wolves, kicking and punching him as he struggled to retaliate. His hand closed around a stake and he slammed it into one of the two just as three more vampires entered the room. The last original one latched onto Spike's wrist and yanked it up sharply behind his back. He kicked backwards with his heel, connecting solidly with the vampire's leg, but one of the new vampires had come around and grabbed Spike's other arm.

The stake in his hand fell uselessly to the floor as he was forcefully dragged over to a metal table and draped across it. He fought against his captors as two held down each arm, one held down his legs and the fourth held his head in a vice grip over the edge of the table. He heard footsteps, then saw shiny shoes and the tails of the white lab coat come into view next to the vampire holding his head.

His braided hair was pulled up and clipped with something off of his neck. He heard the distinctive rasp of a zipper, then felt the cool metal of a blade pressed against the back of his neck. "Hold him steady," a German voice rasped. "One mistake and his spinal cord could be pierced, then he will be of no use to Santiago."

Spike squeezed his eyes shut when the first cut was made, his face morphing to that of his demon. By the time the second was made, tears were streaming down his face and dropping to the floor. Then a metal ring was inserted under his skin and around the vertebra in his neck.

He screamed.




Part Fifteen




Huge, dark circles ringed Buffy's eyes as she stared out the window of the car into the rainy day. Her thinning form was huddled in oversized clothes, her hair in an unkempt disarray. She was on her way back to the bookstore with Giles, her Watcher having come to pick her up after yet another fruitless night of searching.

Spike had been missing for five and a half weeks. Thirty-nine days of agonizing slowness and grief on Buffy's part. The small group of friends worked non-stop for the first week looking for Spike, Xander and Cordelia effectively eliminating the demon on their own. Giles and Willow alternated working in the bookstore during the day, while Xander utilized his library at the high school to conduct a search via the computer.

Angel had come up the moment Willow called, and he and Cordelia had gone together to question Willie, then search the sewers for Spike. They had easily fallen back into their old pattern of working together, allowing no inch of tunnel system to go without scrutiny. Buffy had beat up every vampire she could find, grilling him or her for information, but not one seemed to know about Spike. Either that, or they weren't speaking. The tracker on Jefe had proved useless, as well, for the Eunuch vampire had skipped town a few months after he was freed.

Eventually, Angel had to return to LA, Cordelia and Xander had other work to do, and Oz came home on one of his infrequent breaks, leaving Giles to have to run the bookstore. Buffy was the only one left to continue the search for Spike, at the cost of her own business, but that didn't matter to her. All that mattered was finding the blond vampire who had come into her life unexpectedly and had silently stolen her heart.

"I s-suppose it would do me no good to-to tell you to move on," Giles said quietly, steering his car through the rain.

"No," Buffy answered shortly, not moving her eyes from the window. "He's out there, I know it."

"But Buffy, it has been over five weeks. Certainly by now Spike is long gone, whether taken by other vampires, or-or dead."

"He's not dead, Giles," she said. "He's too valuable. No, someone kidnaped him, and I'm not going to stop until I get him back."

The cellular phone rang in Giles' pocket, and he answered it. "Hello?"

"Giles, it's Willow. Is Buffy with you?" the redhead asked over the line.

"Yes," Giles replied.

"Put her on."

Giles handed Buffy the phone. "It's Willow, for you."

"Yeah, Will," Buffy said in a lifeless voice into the receiver.

"Buffy, you're not going to believe it!" Willow exclaimed. "Angel called. He found Spike!"



*****



Spike slowly crawled from one vampire to another. There were seven of them this time, all Cuban, with dark hair and dark bodies, minions of the new master of Cuba. Santiago sat with that master, who had arrived the night before to attend the party that was to be held two days hence, and they chatted amicably while watching Spike service the others.

In Santiago's hand lay one end of a ten-foot chain that stretched across the rich, earth-toned room until it disappeared under Spike's long hair. That chain was soldered onto the metal ring that had been inserted through the muscles and around the vertebra in Spike's neck, the ring having been welded closed, as well.

He was once again a plaything to the vampire who held the other end of the chain. He'd been beaten and raped and forced into submission, but he never let go of the thought of escape, nor of Buffy. She was the only reason he hadn't yanked the ring out of his neck, which would cause irreparable damage from his spinal cord being ripped and all the bones broken. Each night, after he'd been chained to the wall above the small rug on which he slept, he'd work on freeing himself from his lavish prison.



*****



"It's an invitation to a party," Angel explained, handing Buffy the gilt-lettered card. "Read who it's for."

"Santiago," Buffy hissed, her eyes narrowing in anger.

"I got it off a master vampire who stopped in LA on his way up here. The party is invitation only, black tie, and takes place this Saturday night here in Sunnydale," Angel told the others. The small group was sitting together at Slayer Central, everyone having gathered when the dark-haired vampire arrived.

"Does it mention anything about Spike?" Giles asked.

Angel shook his head. "No, but that doesn't mean anything."

"We have to ask why would Santiago be having a shindig if he didn't have something to share?" Oz said.

"My thoughts exactly," Angel replied.

"So do we attack pre-party?" Xander asked. "A little search and rescue operation."

"No," Buffy said, surprising everyone.

"Why not?" Cordelia was first to ask. "You've been working non-stop in searching for Spike, and you look positively skanky because of it."

"I have to agree with Cordy," Willow said. "But not about the skanky part. Although you don't look your best. Not that you could look better..."

"What she means is, why?" Xander interrupted the redhead.

"Think about it," Buffy said, setting the invitation down in the center of the table. "This is an invitation taken from a master vampire. When we first went after Santiago, Xander said he was renown for his parties -- ones that masters from all over the world attended. Imagine what we could do if we get them all under one roof."

"You could wipe-out a major chunk of the vampire leadership," Angel said. Everyone sat in silence, contemplating what that meant.

"But what about Spike?" Giles finally asked Buffy softly.

Buffy shrugged. "I guess he'll just be a casualty of war," she replied, then walked up the stairs and out of the bookstore. The second the door closed behind her, a sob wracked her body. She crumpled against the store wall and cried.

Angel sat down next to her a few minutes later, putting his arm around her shoulder and holding her to him. "We'll get him back, Buffy," he whispered. "I promise."



*****



"Here are the plans," Willow said the following evening, spreading out the blueprints for the sprawling ranch house located just outside of the city proper. "This room here." She circled a large room in yellow highlighter. "Is probably where the main party is going to be held."

"Entrances and exits," Oz continued, marking each with a neon pink highlighter. "Xander and I did recon. There is an overhang that runs around the house, with armed guards stationed every twenty feet. They are there all day. It looks like all vehicles come through here." He pointed to the front gate. "And they drop off the guests before going to park back here." He pointed out another spot on the blueprints.

"There was a vamp already checking invitations at this door," Xander said, drawing in a green circle where the vampire had been standing. "We saw six limos arrive in the five hours we were stationed. Two guests per invitation -- probably the invitee and his or her date. Some had suitcases, some didn't."

"It's strictly hush-hush," Cordelia continued, opening a pad of paper to look at her notes. "Willie got an order for twenty cases of wine and thirty cases of assorted liquor. Someone is suppose to pick it up tonight. There were no names given, half pre-paid in cash, the other half upon pickup. He has heard nothing about the party, but he assumes, because of the order, there's something big going down."

"No one knows about it around town, either," Angel added. "In fact, the vampires I ran into all think Santiago is dead. My guess is his minions go to the neighboring towns to hunt."

"We have all the weapons we need for a major offensive," Giles said. "The clips have been filled, the specialty bombs are primed and ready, stakes sharpened, and gear is in order."

"And I staked fourteen vamps," Buffy stated. "Yay me."

"Buffy, your job isn't until tomorrow," Willow told her. "And you got the hard part."

"I know," the Slayer sighed. "I just feel so useless when it comes to the planning stuff."

"That's because you are," Cordelia said. Buffy rolled her eyes and Xander chuckled.

"Do you have the dress, Cordy?" Willow asked, getting back on track.

"I'll drop it off tomorrow for armament," Cordelia replied. "But I'll need at least three hours to get Buffy dressed. It's going to take a miracle to hide those bags under her eyes."

"Um, right here," Buffy waved her hand.

"Angel, your tux is at our house from the grand opening," Cordelia told the vampire. "As long as you didn't turn into a porker, it should still fit you."

"Thanks, Cord," Angel replied, giving her a wry smile. "I'll pick it up tomorrow after sunset."

"I'll have communications by three," Oz said. "It'll take me ten minutes to hook you two up and do a check, thirty seconds to explain how it works."

"The limo is rented," Giles said. "Ethan shall be the driver. He will drop you off, then leave the limo in the park as close to the building as he can. We shall evac him right after."

"Anyone have anything to add?" Willow asked.

"I want quick lock-pick stuff," Buffy replied. "Just in case."

"You got it," Oz said.

"Is that it?" Willow said, looking from person to person. "Team A, eight o'clock; everyone else, I want you here by six-thirty."




Part Sixteen




Buffy glanced at Angel sitting next to her in the limousine and he put his hand on her bare knee, giving it a gentle squeeze. They were on their way to Santiago's ranch, dressed to the nines and armed to the hilt, to pull off one of the most daring search and rescue missions the group had ever planned for.

Due to the vast changeover in the vampire population in Sunnydale, and to Angel keeping the fact that he had his soul returned low profile over the years, the master vampire Angelus and his ‘date' were about to attend the party of parties given by Santiago.

"We're passing point zero," Angel said quietly.

"Roger," Willow's voice came over the tiny radio receivers hidden in both Buffy and Angel's ears. The microphones were sewn into both of their outfits, Angel's disguised as the backing to one of his shirt buttons, and Buffy's where the spaghetti strap of the midnight blue dress met the material of the bodice.

The dress itself had a scooped neck and a slightly flared skirt that ended mid-thigh — and hid four stakes, a stiletto, three lock picks, and a specialty magnesium wire that would burn through any standard metal. In her clutch was a .9 mm Beretta and extra clips, as well as a few extra stakes and some Holy Water, all of which was buried under makeup and hair supplies.

The whole mission, however, banked on the invitation in Angel's pocket and there being other humans present to detract from Buffy's living status.

"Team A-E, approaching point one," Ethan said into the radio clipped to his collar.

"Roger, team A-E," Willow replied.

The limo pulled up in front of Santiago's ranch at precisely 9:05 p.m. A vampire dressed in a tuxedo opened the door, and Angel stepped out, passing his invitation on to the doorman as he offered his hand to Buffy. The Slayer exited the vehicle, keeping her face impassive, if not somewhat snobby. She put her hand on Angel's arm and the two entered the ranch without problem.

"Point one clear," Ethan's voice came over the radio in Buffy's ear. "Team A-E moving to point two."

"Roger, team A-E," Willow said. "Team A-main inside the building. Team B, report."

"Team B in position," Xander said. "Transport locked on target."

As the radio conversation went on in her ear, Buffy slowly took in the interior of the ranch house. Done in earthy tones and open areas, the main foyer flowed into a large living room type area. The right wall of the living room ended about two-thirds of the way into the room, leaving an opening that led to another connecting room. French doors were open on the left wall, allowing the party to drift outside to the sunken pool and patio. A bar was set up in one corner near the open doors.

There were two sets of doors to the right, both closed and a swinging door straight ahead. Undoubtably, the door straight ahead led to the kitchen and one of the two closed doors led to the rest of the house. As she and Angel stood there, the door closest to her opened, and she saw it was a study.

"There are other humans here," Angel said quietly to her. "No one seems to be paying attention to that fact, however."

"So we're good to go," Buffy completed. Everything she or Angel said would be picked up over the microphones and transmitted to the group outside, as well as the voices of anyone they were talking with. The plan called for them to ‘act naturally,' not using radio/mission codes or transmitting information, until Buffy gave the signal. Then all hell would break loose.

"Stick close to me," Angel said. "I'm going to head for the bar and put a glass of something in your hand, so you won't have to shake anyone else's."

Slowly, they wove their way through the crowd of sharply dressed vampires, both male and female. Angel nodded a greeting every so often, but he did not pause to mingle. Once they approached the bar, he ordered two drinks, and handed one to Buffy.

But the glass slipped through her numb fingers and hit the carpeted floor, spilling its contents. "Spike," she gasped, staring across the room to the connecting room.

The blond vampire was sitting naked on a small, black-fur rug, his legs bent in what absently reminded Buffy of a cheerleader's pose. His head was down, his long, blond locks covering his face. A doubled chain ran from behind him up to a ring about five-feet from the floor on the wall. She watched as other guests paused near him, studying him like he was an exotic pet, but no one touched him.

Buffy wanted to run over and throw her arms around Spike, and she barely refrained herself from doing so. If Angel hadn't been standing by her side, a restraining arm around her shoulders, she would have, despite the foolishness of the action. She yanked her gaze from Spike's still form and forced herself to look around before taking a deep, centering breath.

"I'm ok," she told Angel, looking up at the ensouled vampire.

"You sure?" Angel asked quietly.

Buffy nodded, her initial shock turning to anger. "Let's do this," she replied, steel in her voice.

Casually, they circulated through the party guests into the connecting room. Angel, his arm still around her shoulder, steered Buffy towards the wall to the left of Spike. He suddenly pushed her up against the wall and kissed her, much to the Slayer's surprise. When he broke off, one of his hands was braced against the wall slightly above her, blocking her from the other guests' views.

"That better have been part of a plan, or I'll be really ticked," Buffy said quietly, arching her brow at him.

"Mostly plan," Angel answered with a smirk. He nodded his head slightly in Spike's direction. "See what you can make of how he's chained up."

Buffy turned her head and carefully looked under Angel's arm. The ring in the wall was set into the adobe stone. She could see small cracks running around the metal, as if someone chipped away at the stone, then replaced it. The chain itself was not attached directly to the ring. Instead, it was looped through it and ran back down to Spike, where it disappeared under his long hair. There were two guards standing against the wall to the right of him.

"Well?" Angel said quietly, bending his head again and nuzzling her neck.

"It looks like he's been trying to get the ring out of the wall," Buffy replied, putting her hands on his lapels. "The chain is probably attached to a collar around his neck by some sort of lock."

"Why wouldn't he rip the collar off?" the dark-haired vampire said, thinking aloud. "Leather ones aren't that strong."

"Maybe metal?" Buffy suggested, turning her head again to study Spike. "I bet the lock itself is behind his neck where he can't reach it. Oops, company."

"Act like you're being ravished," Angel murmured. Buffy hid her face in his chest and listened.

"I heard Santiago only allows his special guests the privilege of playing with him," one vampire said as they stopped in front of Spike.

"I was talking to Juan, one of the Cuban master's top minions," a second said. "And he said he got to fuck the statue just the other day."

"You must be mistaken," a third said.

"Ask him," the second replied. "Or, better yet, ask the Cuban master."

"Did you see what he was wearing?" the first commented. "Who does he think he is? Castro?"

"What about Marlena, the Puerto Rican master?" the second said. "That's why they coined the term ‘vamp.'"

As the trio moved off, Buffy quietly asked, "Are all vampires such gossip hounds?"

"Yes," Angel answered, straightening. He pulled her away from the wall and draped his arm around her shoulder, then started to lead her around the front of Spike. "We're worse than teenage girls."

Despite the situation, the Slayer couldn't help but giggle at the picture his statement painted. Angel's arm tightened around her shoulder, and when she looked up at him in question, he gestured in Spike's direction. Turning her head, she gasped when she met Spike's gaze.

The blond vampire's eyes were haunted and pain-filled, but also held a touch of anger. He glanced to her left suddenly, then dropped his head again so his hair hid his face, as two other guests approached.

Buffy's hands clenched into fists, her nails digging into her palms. She wanted to turn and rip the heads off the two vampires who had started talking about what they were going to do with Spike later that night. Angel's fingers tightened around her shoulder, bruising the skin, reminding her not to react.

The two vampires finally walked away and Angel's arm slid from her shoulder to her waist. "Time to move," he whispered, pulling her into step with his arm.

She let herself be led away from Spike and out the French doors onto the patio. The night air was cool and crisp, faint music was playing in the background, and bamboo torches provided the right ambiance for the party. As soon as they were on the far side of the pool, where less guests were conversing, she began speaking in a low voice.

"We're getting him out of there now," she stated.

"Buffy, you're too close to the sit-" Angel began.

"I. Said. Now." Each word was short and clipped. Fire and rage were radiating from her body, making her eyes flash with deadly intent.

Angel studied her for a moment, then nodded. "Begin sequence," he said, his voice carrying over the radio and initiating the plan that would seal the fate of every other vampire at the party.

"Team C, blockade," Willow's clipped voice echoed in Angel and Buffy's ears. "Team B, acquire targets."

Buffy and Angel re-assumed their casual positions, the dark-haired vampire's arm around her waist, and they slowly made their way back into the ranch house. Her eyes flicked around the room, noting which of the vampires were guests and which were Santiago's minions. "Five," she said loud enough for only Angel to hear.

Angel nodded, then said, "Patio."

"Roger," Willow responded to Angel's statement of escape route. "Team B, copy -- patio."

"Team B, copy," Xander said.

Buffy ran her fingers along the waist of her dress and removed the thin magnesium wire that had been hidden within the material. Because Spike was in the open, she wouldn't have time to pick any sort of lock that chained him to the wall. With the wire, only a lighter was needed.

She and Angel wove their way back over to the blond vampire. As soon as they were close enough, Buffy raised her voice slightly so Spike would hear. "Do you think Santiago will let me play with him?" she said.

Spike raised his head at the sound of her voice. Her hands flashed quickly, speaking to him in sign language. ‘Be ready.'

He nodded imperceptibly, his eyes darting to where the others guests where before raising his hands and signing back, ‘Wall ring.'

"Oh, I think he'll let you," Angel replied over the signing.

"Team C, blockade complete," Cordelia's voice came over the radio.

"Roger, team C," Willow replied. "Return and acquire position."

"Copy, team leader," Cordelia said.

"Good," Buffy said, opening the clasp on her purse. "He's just so adorable."

Angel unbuttoned his tuxedo jacket. "Like a puppy."

"Do you think he'd beg?" Buffy asked, moving away from Angel towards Spike's left.

"Why don't you find out?" Angel said, turning so his back was to Spike.

"That's a good idea," Buffy said, pulling a lighter out of her purse. "I think I'll try it right now."

"Team B, eliminate targets," Willow's order came over the radio, as Buffy and Angel sprang into action.

The Slayer practically leapt at the ring in the wall, wrapping the wire around the metal and lighting it. Angel drew his weapon, a Colt .45, and plugged the two minions who were acting as Spike's guard to the right of the blond vampire.

There was a bright white flare as the magnesium burned through the metal ring. Buffy pulled out her own .9 mm and spun, shooting vampire after vampire. Spike stood, turned and wrapped his hands around his chains, then pulled with all his strength. The ring broke, causing him to stumble back a few steps.

"Team B-G, targets eliminated," Giles' voice came over the radio.

"Move in for support, team B-G," Willow instructed.

The party exploded into chaos. The five minions of Santiago's Buffy noted earlier pulled their own weapons, firing upon the crowd, regardless of who they hit. Some guests began attacking other guests, others hurried to get out of the ranch home. Buffy dropped her spent clip to the ground and inserted a second in one fluid motion. She glanced at Spike, who had draped the chains over his shoulder, then at Angel. "Move out," she ordered over the noise.

"Team B-X, targets eliminated, patio guards clear," Xander said.

Angel shoved his way through the crowd, clearing a path. Buffy yanked a stake out of her purse and passed it to Spike. "Follow Angel. We're going out through the patio." Spike nodded and spun, staking the nearest vampire. He then followed behind his sire, with the Slayer right on his tail.

"Team C in position," Cordelia said.

"Roger, team C," Willow replied. "Team D, what's your status?"

"Team D, ready on your mark," Oz said.

Buffy slammed her fist into a vampire who got too close, then grabbed a second and threw him over her shoulder into a throng of guests. With a growl, she whipped a stake out of a hidden recess of her dress and plunged it into the back of another vampire who tried to grab Spike by the hair.

Angel's clip was empty and he resorted to physically slamming guests out of the way. The trio burst through the patio doors and out into the night, heading directly for the wall on the far side of the pool. The ensouled vampire cupped his hands together and Spike stepped into them, then vaulted over the wall.

"Team A clear," Buffy yelled, running and flipping over the wall on her own. Angel landed on the ground next to her a second later.

"Team D -- now!" Willow commanded.

Buffy grabbed Spike's hand and ran. A loud blast was heard coming from the opposite side of the ranch, and the sky lit up in an orange flames as the dynamite-packed limousine exploded. Willow's jeep flew into view, sending dirt flying through the air as it skidded to a stop. The Slayer practically tossed Spike into the back seat of the automobile, then leapt in behind him. Angel jumped into the passenger seat and Cordelia hit the gas.

"Team C clear," Cordelia said, shifting the jeep into overdrive.

"Team B, on my mark," Willow said over the radio. "Three, two, one, mark!"

Five seconds later, the ranch house went up in flames as missile after missile blew through the stone walls. Any vampire still trapped within was burned to ashes in an instant. Those that had been lucky to escape out of the house were doing so under chunks of falling timber and other debris.

"Teams B and D, pull out," Willow instructed. "All teams, rendevous at HQ."

"Copy, team leader," Xander replied.

"Copy, team leader," Cordelia said.

"Copy, team leader," Oz said.

Buffy reached under the seat in front of her and pulled out an army blanket. When she raised her eyes, she saw that Spike's head was bowed, his long hair whipping around in the breeze from the open jeep, hiding his features. With a pang in her heart, she unfolded the blanket and gently covered him with it.




Part Seventeen




Spike slid on the running pants that Buffy had provided for him, wincing as the material rubbed over a gash in his leg, caused from scraping the wall when he went over it. The chain, which he had wrapped around his neck like a scarf, jangled as he shifted. The adrenaline that had been pumping through his system during the escape had disappeared, leaving him sore and drained. He wanted nothing more than to curl up beside Buffy and sleep for weeks.

There was a knock on the bathroom door and then Buffy's voice drifted through it. "Can I come in?"

Reaching out, Spike turned the knob and opened the door for her. She stepped inside, then closed it behind her, a small, zippered pouch in her hand. "Lock-pick kit," she told him, waving it slightly. "I figured you couldn't wait to get the collar off of you."

This was the moment Spike had been dreading since he'd been rescued. He didn't want her to see what Santiago had done to him, didn't want to hear the pity in her voice or view the disgust on her face. The chain was fused to the ring in his neck, and the other end was padlocked to one of the links just out of his reach.

However, he had no choice, not unless he wanted to carry the heavy chain around with him indefinitely. He brushed his hair back over his shoulders, then unwound the metal. When he was done, he sat down on the closed toilet seat and raised his eyes to hers.

Buffy stared at him a second, a frown appearing between her brows. "Uh, I don't see a collar."

‘There isn't one,' Spike signed.

"I don't understand," Buffy replied. "I see a chain..."

Spike held up his hand, interrupting her. He then turned on the seat until his back was to her and lowered his head. Squeezing his eyes shut, he reached back and pulled his hair off of his neck. The reaction he'd expected, however, was not the one he got.

"That goddamn motherfucking ASSHOLE!" Buffy spat, throwing the lock-pick hard against the wall. "If he isn't dead, I'm going to RIP HIS FUCKING HEART OUT AND EAT IT!"

Spike turned and stared at her, stunned by her outburst. Her eyes were flashing and her face was flushed with anger. He was very glad at that moment that he was on her good list, or he'd be terrified for his unlife. As it was, he couldn't help but shrink slightly away from her as she spun and punched the wall, leaving a large hole in the plaster.

"No, then he'd die too quickly. I'm going to cut him, then roll him in salt and lemon juice," Buffy growled, pacing back and forth in the small area. "Better yet, Chinese water-torture. Only I'll use holy water until a hole is burned through his brain. How does that sound?"

She stopped pacing and turned to him, then immediately looked remorseful. "I'm sorry," she said, dropping to her knees in front of him. "I didn't even ask if you were ok."

‘I'm fine,' he signed. ‘Tired, but fine.'

"Are you sure?"

Spike nodded. ‘I missed you,' he signed, then reached out and brushed his hand over her cheek.

"I missed you, too," she replied, tears filing her eyes. "I didn't think I was ever going to find you. If it wasn't for Angel..."

She was cut off when he bent and covered her lips with his. His hand went back around her head, holding her to him as their mouths open and tongues twined together. Anger, fear, longing and love went into the kiss. Emotions that had been held in check by both of them came tumbling out, and the salt from their tears mixed in as their passion increased.

It wasn't until the chain clanged against the side of the porcelain toilet as Spike shifted that they broke apart. Buffy sniffed and wiped her wet cheeks, then reached out and wiped his tear tracks with the pad of her thumb. "I'm sorry that fuck-head hurt you," she told him.

‘What bad language,' he signed, then rubbed one forefinger over the other in the universal ‘shame on you' sign.

Buffy chuckled. "I know. My mouth should be washed out with soap."

A small smile appeared on his face and his eyes were dancing with mischief. ‘I can think of something better to wash your mouth out with.'

"Spike!" she blushed, lightly swatting him on the arm. He gave her an innocent shrug, and the chain jangled. Frowning, she fingered the metal, serious once more. "I'm not going to be able to get this off myself." She met his eyes. "The others are going to see..."

‘I know,' he interrupted.

"Well, I guess the sooner we get out there, the sooner we get the chain off you and see what we can do with the ring," Buffy said, standing. "Are you ready? Or do you need a few more minutes?"

‘I'm ready,' Spike answered.

"Ok then," she said. She turned and stepped towards the door as he stood up behind her. She paused with her hand on the knob, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, telling herself that he was safe, that he was ok.

"Bhah-fee?"

Buffy's eyes widened and she slowly turned around to stare at Spike. "Did you just say my name?" she breathed in amazement.

Spike nodded, his lips curling up in a smile.

She let out a screech of joy and threw her arms around him, mindful of the chain. "You speaked!" she exclaimed, holding him tightly. He spun her around in a small circle and she laughed delightedly. Then she started to ramble, "When did you start? Is it still hard? How much can you say? Why didn't you say anything sooner? God, this is so great!"

Spike silently chuckled and set Buffy back on her feet. He held up his hand, halting her barrage of excited questioning and bubbly enthusiasm. ‘I have something to tell you,' he signed.

"What?" Buffy asked, a huge, happy smile on her face.

He prompted her to sit down on the edge of the sink, then moved between her legs, his hands on her hips. Looking her right in the eyes, he took a purposeful breath and said, "Lhaf vue."

The words might have uttered quietly and were not too clear, but their meaning was shouted in Buffy's mind and in her heart. "I love you, too, Spike," she replied, tears once again filling her eyes.

A large, genuine, full-blown smile crossed Spike's face, then he bent his head and captured her mouth in a searing kiss. Her fingers ran up his chest, then dug into his shoulders as their passion ignited anew. When the blond vampire finally broke away, Buffy was panting heavily, her heart pounding a wild staccato.

‘I want you,' Spike signed after stepping away from her slightly.

Her gaze darted down to the bulge in his pants. "Obviously," she replied wryly. He rolled his eyes and smacked her on the knee. "Sorry. My bad."

‘You are,' he agreed.

"So, why aren't we having sex in the bathroom?" she asked.

‘I want the chain off first,' Spike told her.

"Oh god, Spike, I'm sorry," Buffy said, mortified at her thoughtlessness. "Of course you want that. I can't believe that I..."

‘Got distracted?' he signed with a small grin and a devilish twinkle in his blue eyes. ‘I'm good.'

"You wish," she replied with a snort.

‘That's not what you said the other day...'

Buffy interrupted him by grabbing his face and hauling him to her for another kiss. She didn't know what he'd been through, or about the nightmares to come, but she knew one fact for certain.

Things were going to be ok.




Epilogue




"Target sighted," Buffy said, looking down the scope of her rifle. "Heading north towards intercept point. Will reach it in T-minus ten."

"Roger, team four," Willow replied over the radio. "Team one, prepare to intercept."

There was no reply.

Buffy watched through her scope as the dark-haired vampire the team was tracking reached the intercept point. They had been searching for this particular target for months, and now that he was found, they wanted to take no chance in losing him. She saw a figure dart out from the shadows of a nearby building and grinned evilly. "Payback."

She watched as the camouflaged figure spun and kicked the vampire in the jaw, followed by a hard cross to the same spot. His fist shot out again, slamming into the other's gut, before he dropped down and swept the dark-haired vampire's feet from under him.

A knife flashed in the darkness as her teammate dropped down on one knee and sliced the downed vampire across the throat. With her night vision scope, she could see the dark stain of blood as it poured from the wound against the paleness of the vampire's skin. Then it was washed away as she witnessed a bottle of holy water emptied over his neck. Smoke rose from the vampire and a terrible noise ripped through the quiet night as the holy water burned his skin. It abruptly cut off as his voice box melted away.

The knife flashed again, this time over the downed vampire's eyes, tearing them from their sockets. His nose went next, then his tongue as the camouflaged figure forcibly ripped open the vampire's mouth. She watched with macabre glee as each finger was sliced from the body, then both hands.

The figure then slit the vamp from neck to navel and pulled something from his pocket. She saw the strange shape to the grenade as the pin was yanked, then shoved into the downed vampire's body. Her teammate stood and sprinted away.

Five seconds later, Manuel Santiago's pieces hit the ground and turned into dust.

"T-hargit limnated," Spike's quiet voice came over the radio.

"Big time," Buffy commented, rolling to her feet and shouldering her rifle.

"All teams, report back at HQ," Willow said.

Sauntering out of the darkness, Spike reached her side and gave her a cocky grin. His telltale blond hair was braided and looped through the unremovable ring embedded in his neck, the top covered by a black watch-cap. Dark face-paint smudged his features and Buffy thought he'd never looked better.

"Hey, soldier-boy," she said. "Care to escort a helpless woman to safety?"

‘Who says you would be safe with me?' Spike signed. Although the blond vampire knew how to speak once again, it was still very difficult, and he preferred to sign. He and Buffy had continued their American Sign Language classes and had rose through the levels at a fast rate, allowing them to communicate with each other easily. ‘I could be dangerous.'

"Oh, I think I could handle you." She looked him over from head to toe, then gave him a wolfish grin.

His hands snaked out like lightning, yanking her bodily to him. "Haandl awhay," he told her, rubbing his pelvis against hers.

Buffy wove her leg between his and sent them both falling to the ground, with her on top. They began kissing madly, oblivious to the voices coming over the receivers in their ears.

"Are they at it again?" Cordelia sighed.

"Sounds like it," Willow replied.

"Insatiable," Ethan commented. "Reminds me of us in the good old days, Ripper."

"Ethan, shut up," Giles said.

"You'd think they'd at least wait until we turned off the radios," Angel complained.

"It does make for some interesting entertainment," Oz interjected.

"Hey G-man," Xander said. "Does this mean you're a Listener?"




End



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