The man in the white jumpsuit gripped his mid-section as excruciating pain shot through his body. He started to choke, spitting out the food that was in his mouth as he pushed off of his stool at the Diner. He could hear his companions asking if he was alright, but all he could do was sputter in pain. He turned around and leaned back on the counter, his insides feeling like they were being ripped from him.
That's because they were.
His friends suddenly fell silent and he raised his head. There, where his stomach use to be, was a baby Alien. "Oh, no. Not again," he said as the Alien jumped off him and started down the counter. The man's head fell back and out of the corner of his eye he watched the Alien stop, hiss, then put a top hat on and start singing.
"Hello, my baby. Hello, my darling. Hello, my rag time gal..."
That's what ran through Buffy's mind the moment she felt the stinging dart pierce her neck before all went black.
Earlier that evening
"So, Wills, what do you want to do tonight after we patrol?" Buffy asked as she searched in the closet for an outfit she wouldn't mind losing. Spike had a tendency to tear her clothing in their haste to...get naked.
"We could Bronze," Willow suggested. "This is our first night of freedom."
"‘They can take our homes, they can burn our school, but they can't take our freedom!'" Buffy quoted, pulling on a lilac, spaghetti strap camisole with dark purple flowers stitched around the neckline.
"Um, Buffy? I don't think that's what William Wallace said," Willow told her as she smoothed out her dark green, corduroy overalls over a white T-shirt. She always felt frumpy when she watched Buffy dress, the other girl's selection of clothing was much more risqué. "Mel Gibson, either."
"Lighten up, Willow. We're graduates. I can misquote if I want to," Buffy mock-scolded. "No more teachers to fail me because of that, no more Snyder to...well, no more Snyder, period." She smiled hugely.
"‘No more classrooms, no more books, no more teacher's dirty looks,'" Willow sang, grinning at her friend. Buffy joined in as she drew on tan capri pants and matching high-heeled, open-toed shoes. "‘We don't need no education, we don't need no thought control...'"
The months since Buffy had last gotten kidnapped and forced to play in ‘The Game' had passed rapidly. Willow had taken the FedEx package and managed to narrow down the city where it was mailed from: Chicago. Which had 347 FedEx locations in a twenty mile square area, and that didn't include drop boxes. But the hacker was undaunted. She put a ‘red flag' on the company's computers for any shipments being delivered to Buffy's address. That way, the employee would note the location of the drop and any other information, including method of payment and personal description of the sender.
Spike had found a place to live that was not in Buffy's bedroom, although he didn't mind being there. The townhouse was small; it had only one bedroom, a bathroom, a living room and kitchen, but it suited his needs. And he only had killed the owners a little bit to confiscate the place.
The vampire tried not to raise too much havoc in Sunnydale, being wary of both Trick and Buffy's wrath -- more Buffy than the other vampire. He just wasn't interested in a power struggle with Trick, so he avoided any big plans the other put into action. Instead, he made his own fun, whichh mostly involved the Slayer being sans clothing.
Much to everyone's dismay but Joyce's, the couple was still going strong. No one seemed to understand how Buffy could fall for another vampire, especially one without a soul. Willow supported her, but couldn't understand their actions. Although she did have to admit that she liked the peroxide blond, especially now that he wasn't trying to kill them. He had a dry sense of humor, was a hottie, and seemed to love Buffy a lot. So, Willow kept her protests to a minimum as did Giles. Xander and Angel, however, voiced their opinions often.
Angel had become a recluse again, popping up only to patrol with Buffy and play Cryptic Guy. They would hold intense conversations as they swept through the cemeteries or park, trying to force themselves to be friends even though they knew it to be impossible. The Slayer had moved on because she had to, due to the curse, and she had accidentally found love again. But Cupid always struck when least expected.
The patrols were set up on a rotation schedule for the Slayerettes, all two of them, and Giles. Each night either Xander, Willow or Giles would go with Buffy on her rounds. They'd meet up with Angel, although the latter stayed in the shadows when the Watcher accompanied her, and sometimes Faith. Spike was always around, as well, though he kept his distance. As promised, he was only there to be an extra set of eyes.
But if that extra set of eyes was taken out first...
Buffy opened her eyes slowly, dreading the start of the next Game. *Of all the...grr!* she thought, the last part emitting from her throat in a low growl equal to that of her love. She heard a familiar chuckle at her left and raised her middle finger in an unladylike salute.
The first thing she noticed was the ceiling. It needed to be painted. She pushed herself to a sitting position and looked at her surroundings. "We're in a kitchen," she said, noting the old fashioned white refrigerator, gas stove, cabinets and antiquated sink.
"That we are, pet," Spike said, leaning against one of the cabinets.
Buffy turned to give him a scathing look when she saw them. "Willow! Angel!" She crawled to their unconscious forms lying on the floor to the right of Spike. She checked the red head over, then frowned at the other vampire not sure as to how to see if he was ok.
"Drugged, remember?" Spike said. "They should be coming around right about..."
"Nyaahg," Willow moaned loudly.
"...now," the blond vampire finished.
Willow blinked rapidly, trying to clear her vision as the pounding in her head threatened to make her scream.
"Willow?" Buffy said quietly, putting a hand on her best friend's shoulder.
The hacker opened her eyes and saw the Slayer looking worriedly down at her. "What happened?"
"You've been ‘recruited' to participate in the next Game," Buffy answered. Willow's eyes widened and she quickly sat up, then put a hand to her head as the movement caused it to throb.
"Careful. The drugs they use can pack a pretty powerful wallop for the uninitiated."
Angel began to stir and Buffy turned her attention to him. He opened his brown eyes and looked at her. "Let me guess - the Game?"
Buffy nodded. "The Game."
The dark headed vampire sat up and took in his surroundings. "We're in a kitchen," he stated.
Spike snorted derisively. "Good observation, mate. What else do your powers of deduction tell you?"
Angel glared at Spike and pushed to his feet. He tried the faucets first, making a face at the brown water that poured into the sink, then headed for the refrigerator. "Um, Buffy? Take a look at this," he said, standing in front of the open door.
Buffy squeezed Willow's shoulder again, then stood and walked over to him. She took a look inside the refrigerator, then looked up at him with an arched eyebrow. "This is new," she said as she pulled out one of four brown, paper bags on the shelf. She opened it and looked inside. "Apple, sandwich, bottled water, chips, candy bar."
Angel took and opened a second bag. "Type O blood bag," he said, pulling it out.
"They're feeding us?" Buffy said, confused. She took a third bag and opened it to find another blood bag. She threw it at Spike, then grabbed the fourth one. It held the same contents as the first one. "This can't be a good sign."
"Where's the letter?" Spike asked, still sitting on the floor, his blue jeans-clad legs bent, forearms resting on his knees.
"Letter?" Willow asked, accepting the paper bag from Buffy.
"Our instructions," Buffy said, looking for the annoying white envelope. She spotted it sitting on the counter near the stove. "Ta-da! Let's see what we've won!"
Angel frowned at her. "This isn't a joking matter, Buffy," he said.
"Piss off, peaches," Spike shot at him. "You haven't been pulled into this bloody Game before, and we have. And I'm only going to say this once - that's my woman, not yours, so watch your mouth."
"Or what? You'll try to beat me up?" Angel sneered. "Like that's going to happen."
Spike jumped to his feet, Doc Martens squeaking loudly on the faux tile floor. "Just watch me," he growled.
Willow stood up and boldly put herself between the two vampires. "Enough! Your posturing is hurting my head!" she yelled at them, her face paling at her quick movements. She swayed unsteadily on her feet and Angel immediately put his hands on her shoulders, steadying her.
"Willow, are you ok?" Angel asked her quietly after a final glare at Spike.
"Yeah,"she answered carefully. "Maybe I need to eat something."
Buffy had basically ignored the two vampires, having learned not to interfere until blood was shed. She was surprised when Willow spoke up, then worried at the paleness of her friend. "I think we need to cool down for a few minutes," she said, looking pointedly at Spike. He made a face at her, moved to the opposite side of the large kitchen and began to go through the cabinets.
"I'm ok, Buffy," Willow reassured her as she removed the apple from the bag and took a bite.
Angel gave her a concerned look. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, Angel," she said. "Thanks for asking."
Spike snorted from behind a cabinet door and Buffy rubbed a hand over her face. *This is going to be such fun,* she thought sarcastically. She looked down at the letter in her hand and cleared her throat. "Ok, for you two newbies," she said, sending a grin over to Angel and Willow. "This oh-so-exciting letter contains our basic instructions for this Game."
"You told them that already, ducks," Spike said as he closed a cabinet door and opened another.
Buffy ignored him and began to read. "‘Take a journey to the mind of a riddler. Allusion, mass confusion, question mark, clue-sion. What, where, why, who-sion. It's like a maze within yourself.'"
Spike stopped what he was doing and their eyes met. "Sorry, pet, don't know what song that's from," he told her.
"Song?" Willow asked as she finished her apple.
"Whoever set this up loves to start with song lyrics," Buffy said. "The first was Welcome to the Jungle by Guns-N-Roses, the second was Burn by the Cure. It usually hints as to what the Game is about."
"It's The Riddler by Method Man," Angel said. Three sets of eyes turned on him and he shrugged. "It's from Batman Forever."
"And you know this how?" Buffy asked as Spike chuckled.
"I have the soundtrack," he replied.
"Isn't that the one with the song that goes: ‘You hate your boss at your job, and in your dreams you can blow his head off. In your dreams, show no mercy'?" Willow said, her face lighting up in trivial excitement.
"That's the one," Angel responded, smiling at her.
"I have that CD!" Willow said. "My favorite song on it is Nobody Lives Without Love by Eddi Reader. What's yours?"
"The U2 song," he answered. "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me."
Buffy and Spike's eyes met again, and the vampire rolled his before turning back to the cabinets. "Um, guys? The letter?"
"Oh, right. The letter," Willow said. "Go ahead, Buffy."
"Thanks," she said dryly. "‘Four were placed inside a house. The house was reminiscent of the one by Stauf. Room by room the players tried, to solve the puzzles before they died.'" She looked up and gave Willow a worried glance. "‘Welcome to the House, Slayer. You and the Vampire have moved to the next level of the Game. Food has been provided in several rooms for you and your companions. Get to the exit, if you can.'"
"Is that it?" Angel asked, holding out his hand to take the letter from her.
"Yup," Buffy replied, giving it to him. She picked up her lunch bag and stuck it in the pocket of Spike's duster, which she always wore, then grabbed Spike's lunch bag and put it in the second pocket.
"So what are we suppose to do?" Willow asked, looking at the letter over Angel's arm.
"Get to the exit," Buffy replied.
"Solve the puzzles in each room," Angel said. He looked down at the red head. "Isn't Stauf the doll maker in that computer game?"
"That's right!" Willow answered. "The Seventh Guest. I played that game and the sequel, though the first one was much more fun and interesting. Wait, how did you know?"
"I was playing it once at a computer store," Angel replied. He folded the letter and gave it back to Buffy.
Buffy walked over to Spike while the other two began discussing computer games and tapped his shoulder. He stopped his snooping and looked at her. "Having fun?"
"Tons," Spike replied with a half grin. He nodded over at the hacker and the vampire. "Why did we get stuck with those two? I can handle the Witch, but hair boy? It'll be lucky if I don't bloody rip his tongue out before we even leave this room."
"Spike, I know it's going to be hard, but they're just as stuck as we are," Buffy said. "And we wouldn't have been given help if we weren't going to need it."
"I know, Slayer," he sighed. "But if what the wanker says is true, that we have to solve puzzles to move forward, I'm going to go out of my mind. Patience was never my strong suit."
"You're telling me," Buffy joked, giving him a small smile. He growled playfully at her, pulling her to him and nipping at her lower lip with his blunt teeth.
Angel heard Spike's growl and turned to see the couple start making out. He sighed and heard Willow echo him. He looked back down at the red head to see her staring at Buffy and Spike, too, before she raised her gaze to him. "They're lucky," she said.
"They have each other," Willow answered. She gave him a sad smile. "Even if Spike is a member of the undead demon club."
"And I'm not?" Angel asked.
Willow looked mortified at what she just said. "Oh! I'm sorry. I didn't mean...I meant that he didn't have a soul. You do. That's a good thing. Not that Spike is bad. Well, actually, he is bad. But that's not the point."
"Willow," he interrupted with a small grin. "Don't worry about it." He winked at her, then cleared his throat loudly. "If you two are finished trying to lick the backs of each other's neck from the front..."
Buffy pulled away from Spike and blushed heavily. "Right," she said, taking a step away from her lover. "I guess the sooner we start, the sooner we escape."
*This is going to be such bloody fun,* Spike thought, already feeling the walls close in on him as his hyper-activity started to flare up. He quickly grabbed the Slayer's hand to try to ground himself.
Buffy smiled at him, knowing what he was feeling, then turned her attention to the only door in the room. "Shall we see what's behind door number one?"
The door opened up to reveal a dining room. It held a very long, ornate wooden table with twelve chairs. Another door was directly opposite them on the other side of the room. Buffy and Spike walked over to it together, still holding hands. On it was a row of push button numbers, from zero to nine. The Slayer tried pushing, but it wouldn't budge. "Locked."
"Force it," Spike said.
Buffy used her enhanced strength, but the door still wouldn't move. "Now what?"
"I think we're suppose to figure out the puzzle," Willow said, looking past her at the numbers on the door.
"It's a bunch of numbers," Buffy said. "Do we just push randomly until it opens?"
"How about we read the clue first?" Angel suggested, pointing to the table. The others walked to where he was standing and looked. Carved in the hard wood were words.
"‘War, what is it good for?'" Willow read aloud. She frowned. "What's that suppose to mean?"
"Absolutely nothing," Spike answered. The three gave him confused looks. "‘War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.' Edwin Starr, 1970."
"Huh?" Buffy asked.
"It's a song lyric, pet," Spike explained. "It's pretty obvious the wanker who set up the Games is big on music."
"So the answer is nothing?" Willow said.
"Guess so," Buffy replied. She went over to the door with Spike and pressed zero. They heard a click and the door swung open. "Cool. If all of the puzzles are this easy, we'll be home in no time. And I just jinxed us, didn't I?" Willow nodded in affirmation.
The four entered another room. This one was set up as a study. Books lined one wall, and an antique sofa sat pleasantly in the center. A fish tank sat on a table against the other wall. Both Willow and Angel went immediately to the bookshelves and Spike and Buffy to the door on the opposite wall. "More numbers," Spike noted.
"Where's the clue?" Buffy asked, looking around the room.
"Hey, these are fake books!" Willow exclaimed, thumping on the cardboard cutouts.
"I guess they don't want us to spend time on things other than the puzzles," Angel commented.
Buffy dropped Spike's hand and began prowling around for the clue. The vampire felt disconnected almost instantly and a jolt of energy shot through him. It was funny how by just holding her hand he was calmed so as not to be bouncing off the walls. Granted, his thoughts tended to still skip all over the place, but he didn't feel restless.
He spotted the fish tank out of the corner of his eye, the bluish water from the light beckoning to him. He walked over to it and bent down. "There's no fish in here," he said, looking at the colorful fake coral and gravel. He lifted the lid to the tank and peered inside. A plastic pirates galleon floated on top of the water, a large, rolled piece of paper tucked in between the masts. "What's this?"
"What's what?" Buffy asked, coming over to him as he pulled the paper out.
"I think I found our clue," he said, unrolling it. He read it silently, his mouth moving, oblivious to the three staring at him.
"Spike, do you want to clue us in sometime today?" Angel said, folding his arms over his chest as he leaned against the bookshelf.
"Angel, that was a terrible pun," Willow said, a grin on her face.
He gave her a half smile. "It was, wasn't it."
Spike glared at his sire, but began to read the clue out loud. "‘On one of the boats on which Sinbad sailed, there was a ladder hung over the side that contained six rungs. The rungs were spaced one foot apart. At low tide, the water came up to the second rung from the bottom. Then the water rose two feet. Which rung did the water then hit?'"
"Math problems," Buffy whined. "But I graduated. I shouldn't have to do math problems."
"It's not that hard of a problem, Buffy," Willow said.
"So says the nerd," Spike mumbled so only Buffy heard him. She had to stifle her giggle.
"You just have to think logically," Willow continued.
"Logically, right," Buffy said. "We have a boat, we have a ladder, and we have water. Anyone want to go swimming?"
Spike chuckled and handed Willow the paper as she walked up to them. "Didn't bring my bathers, luv."
"Skinny dipping, then?" Buffy replied, leaning closer to his ear. Her tongue shot out and she licked the edge of it.
Spike's eyes rolled upwards as he closed them, intense desire shooting through his body. He could feel his jeans becoming strained as his cock twitched to life when she did it again. "Slayer, stop before I ravish you right here, right now in front of your friends."
Buffy pulled away from him, giving his rear a squeeze, causing him to jump and whirl to face her. She gave him an innocent smile. "I'm being good."
"Like that will bloody ever happen," he muttered, adjusting himself while he faced her. Her eyes shot down to his crotch and she ran her tongue over her lips, making it even harder. "Cor, Slayer, you're not playing nice."
Angel watched the exchange between the two, the scent of both their arousals permeating the air. "Great," he said quietly. "Just what I needed." He must have spoke louder than he thought because he saw Willow giving him a concerned look.
"You ok?" she asked.
"Nothing that a stake in a certain brainless vampire's heart wouldn't take care of," he replied.
"Sometimes they're so cute it makes me sick," Willow told him in a whisper.
Angel's eyes widened and he looked at her with shock. "Why?"
"Because she has a love life and I don't," she confessed.
"But I thought that you and Oz..."
"We broke up," she replied. "Months ago. Although no one seems to know that but me. And now you, since I just told you."
"Oh," Angel said. "I'm sorry."
Willow didn't want the attention, so she focused on the paper in her hands. "Water at the second rung of a ladder on a boat, each rung is one foot apart, the water rose two feet," she summarized loudly, getting the attention of the other two. "What rung is the water at?"
"Four?" Spike hazard a guess, his arm snaking out to grab Buffy and pull her against him. He slowly ground his hips against hers, letting her feel his hard on.
"That's what they want you to think," Willow said. "But that's not the right answer."
"Why? Two plus two is four," Buffy said, then bit her lip to keep from moaning out loud.
"Because it's a boat," Angel said, his brain clicking with the red head's. "When the water rises, the boat rises, too."
"Which means the answer is two," Willow finished. She went over to the door and pressed the number two. They heard another click and the door swung open. "Voila!" She looked into the room and saw it was empty save for a giant hopscotch on the floor that ran at an angle from the door to the far left corner of the room.
Angel walked up behind her and looked over her head. "What is that?"
"A hopscotch board," Willow replied. She turned her head up towards him. "You've never seen one before?"
"No," he said. "What is it?" He heard Buffy groan from behind them and rolled his eyes.
"It's a children's game," Willow explained. "You toss a rock onto a square, then hop on each one, skipping the one with the rock, to ‘Sky Blue' then turn around and come back, picking up the rock on the way."
Angel gave her a confused look. "Right." He heard another small moan from behind him and sighed. "Will you two cut it out already."
Spike raised his head from where he was nibbling on the Slayer's neck, the duster having been pushed off her shoulder. "We're just killing time until you figure out the next puzzle, mate," he said, then nuzzled the area behind Buffy's ear.
"What he said," Buffy breathed, leaning into her lover.
Willow made a fake gagging sound, making Angel chuckle. "Let's figure this out while they continue to maul each other," she said quietly, a wicked smile on her face. "We can always not tell them the answer."
"A cruel streak. Willow, I never knew," Angel replied. He gestured across the threshold to the area that said ‘Home'. "Shall we?"
They both stepped forward and looked at the large hopscotch that traversed the room to the opposite door. Angel's gaze roved around the room, searching for the clue. He found it in the most unlikely of places - the ceiling. "Willow?"
"What?" Willow said. He pointed up and she raised her head. "Oh. What's it doing up there? And what the heck does it mean?"
On the ceiling was painted a mirror opposite of the large board, the words ‘home' and ‘sky blue' written backwards. Three of the number squares were shaded in black - 1, 6 and 7.
"Trial and error?" Angel asked, looking at the ceiling then back at the floor.
Willow shrugged, then got in position to start. She hopped forward on one foot...and suddenly found herself almost plummeting through the floor. Angel reacted immediately, his arms shooting out and capturing her around the waist, dragging her back against him. He could hear her heart hammering in her chest, his would have been if it still beat. "Are you ok?"
"Um...no," Willow replied, her legs shaking as she looked at the hole where the floor use to be. "I guess black means 'don't jump there.'"
Unbidden, the laughter came from his chest as he released his fear. She patted his arms and he let go. With a deep breath, she hopped over number one before he could stop her and landed gracefully on number two. "Willow!" Angel exclaimed.
Buffy and Spike suddenly appeared in the doorway, the vampire's shout breaking into their euphoria. They saw Willow hopping forward, then pause when she landed with both feet on numbers four and five. "What's happened?"
"If you two would get your hormones under control, she wouldn't have almost killed herself!" Angel snapped, jumping over the hole in the floor and following Willow.
Buffy paled slightly at his words, but Willow shot her a reassuring glance. "Don't hop on the black squares," she instructed, pointing to the ceiling, then continued forward. When she landed on ‘sky blue,' she pushed the door and it swung open. Seeing nothing in the next room, she stepped through the open door, Angel less than a hop behind her.
Buffy stepped forward onto ‘home' and looked at the ceiling, noting the black squares. "Come on, Spike," she said as she began to traverse the room.
"Angel!" Willow shouted in alarm, making the Slayer stop and look up towards the door. She saw the hacker point and Angel rush to the other side of the room. Suddenly, he came back into view, his feet sliding as he tried to prevent a wall from crushing them.
"Willow!" Buffy yelled, jumping over the last square to ‘sky blue.' She reached the door just in time to see her friends disappear. The wall stopped moving as suddenly as it began, having swung on what looked to be a pivot in the center of the room. She could hear banging on the other side.
"Buffy!" Angel shouted through the wall.
"Angel!" Buffy yelled back. "Are you guys ok?"
"We're in a little room," he yelled. "There's a door and a set of stairs going up."
"There's a door on this side, too," Buffy called out as Spike joined her in the strange room. She went over to it and pushed it open. "It leads to a child's room."
Spike spun and kicked the movable wall, only to have it ring out. "Metal. Probably aluminum," he commented.
"Hey, stop kicking the wall!" Willow yelled. "It's making a horrible echo in here."
"I guess this is where we split up," Buffy shouted. "Be careful. Hopefully we'll meet up again, soon."
"You too, Buffy," Willow called back. She looked at Angel. "I love Buffy like a sister, but despite her SAT scores, she isn't too smart."
"Neither is Spike," Angel replied, frowning. He sighed. "I guess we can only go on and hope we'll find them quickly." He gestured through the door towards the stairs.
On the other side of the wall, Buffy and Spike were looking nervously at each other. "Why do I feel like I've gotten the short end of the stick?" Spike asked.
"Because our brains just got taken away from us," Buffy replied. She sighed. "I really jinxed us, didn't I?"
Spike took her in his arms, holding her close. "No you didn't, Slayer. It's this bloody Game. Between the two of us, we should be able to do this." He pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Come on, the sooner we start, the sooner we find them."
They entered the children's playroom and headed straight for the door on the left wall. On it were two round knobs with a picture of a camel on each one. Buffy looked at them, then at Spike. "Care for a smoke?"
Spike snorted at her humor. "That was pretty bad, pet, even for you."
"Thanks," Buffy smiled at him. "Let's hunt for that clue."
Willow and Angel reached the top of the stairs and entered a large bedroom. A bunk bed was against one wall of the light yellow room. Two dressers lined the other wall, as well as a toy chest. A rocking horse sat in one corner, waiting for someone to ride it.
"There's the clue," the vampire said, pointing to the bunk bed. He went over and picked it up as Willow went to the door. On it were more numbers, but this time they read zero to twenty by halves.
"What does it say?" she asked.
"‘There are two brothers whose combined age is eleven years. One is ten years older than the other. What are the ages?'" Angel read.
"That's easy," Willow said, looking at the numbers on the door.
"Found it!" Buffy declared, snatching up a stuffed toy camel. Around its neck was a piece of paper, which she quickly unrolled. "‘Two camels were facing in opposite directions. One was facing due east and the other was facing due west. How can they manage to see each other without walking, turning around, or even moving their heads.'"
Spike gave her a look of dread. "Bloody hell," he swore, throwing himself on the large, plush sofa amidst the pile of stuffed animals.
"My sentiments exactly," she replied, sinking to the floor. "What a time to lose Willow."
"Even Angelus for that matter," Spike said. "He does have brains under all that goopy hair."
Buffy giggled and they settled down to figure out the answer.