Master of Puppets


by Saber ShadowKitten
Series: The Game, story 7



Part One



"Hand me that red one, Will," Buffy said as she pulled her shirt over her head.

"This one?" Willow asked, taking a dress out of the closet. She turned to face Buffy and almost dropped it. "Buffy, what happened?"

"These?" Buffy said, gesturing to the as yet unhealed, deep scratches and bites that littered her torso and radiated from under her bra. "Spike's been a little...enthusiastic, lately."

"Enthusiastic?" Willow said, unbelievingly. "More like savage. Or violent. Or abusive. Or-"

"Will, it's not like that," she interrupted. "I give as good as I get."

"Yeah, but you've never looked this bad before," Willow told her as she walked around her best friend to see long nail gouges in her back. "You two have been together for six months now and I've seen his enthusiasm before, but not like this."

Buffy took the dress from Willow and put it on. "I know," she sighed. "But it's not like it happens when we're not having sex. If that was the case, I'd be really worried. What does have me worried is that he's been acting strange in other ways."

"How?"

"He gets really quiet and stares off into space," she answered. "Then he'll suddenly take off or we'll maul each other. And one night, I wore his duster to his place and he pretty much took it back. He also hasn't talked like he does in close to a month and a half, ever since we got out of that house. You know, how he starts on one thing and then goes on and on as he skips topics."

"You said that he's been acting like this since that game?" Willow asked. Buffy nodded. "Maybe something happened then that upset him."

"But what?" Buffy said. "He was fine that night and the next one..." She trailed off as she thought. "But the day we got that tape, I didn't see him at all. In fact, I didn't see him for days after that."

Willow was blushing and avoiding looking at Buffy at the mention of the tape. "So, um, now you know the day he got weird."

"Yeah, but why?" Buffy asked, staring at herself in the mirror. "Maybe Angel would know."

"Angel?" Willow squeaked. She had tried to avoid the dark-haired vampire ever since their ‘talk' over a month and a half ago. He had stayed away from her, as well, although she had caught a few smoldering glances sent her way across the Bronze at times. "But I thought Spike a-and Angel didn't like each other."

"They don't, but they have that childe-sire thing going and sometimes I've seen them talking," Buffy replied. She shrugged and added, "It wouldn't hurt to ask."

There was a knock on the bedroom door. "Buffy, something just came for you," Joyce said on the other side.

Buffy made sure her bites and bruises were covered, then opened the door. "Was it from Ed?"

"Don't I wish," Joyce replied with a wry smile. She handed her daughter an invitation size envelope. "That's a nice dress, sweety. But isn't it a little warm?"

Buffy smoothed the long sleeves and high collar down. "Nah, I'm fine."

"Ok," she said, shaking her head. "There's fresh sun tea. Help yourselves."

"Thanks Mom," Buffy answered and closed the door. She looked at the plain, creme object in her hand. "Why do I get the feeling I'm not going to do the dance of joy when I open this?"

Willow shrugged as the Slayer slid her finger under the flap and opened the envelope. She pulled out a stiff, designer invitation and groaned as she scanned it. "What does it say?" Willow asked.

"‘Slayer, your presence is requested, along with the Vampire and six teammates, at the Endgame,'" Buffy read. "‘Attendance in full is mandatory, or your lives will be forfeited. More instruction will be given on location.' Then it gives an address, date and time. Oh look, how convenient. A little map, too."

"The Fehu strike again," Willow said, taking the invitation from the Slayer. "This is this Friday. As in tomorrow night."

"And it looks like six other people get to join me and Spike. Fun," Buffy said sarcastically.

"We'd better go see Giles," the redhead told her, picking up her bag. Buffy grabbed her purse and followed Willow out the door.


*****


Spike pressed his hands to his eyes, trying to stop the images in his head. "Will you leave me alone!" he yelled into the empty apartment.

In his mind, Drusilla laughed coyly at him.

A swollen sun melting in the horizon
Between the sheets where I wait for her to come
A living flame, impossible to resist
Burning me deep with every bite, kiss and lick

I'm haunted
I'm haunted
I'm haunted by her

With a growl, he spun, picked up the nearest object and hurled it at the wall. The lamp shattered upon impact, the cord still plugged into the wall, making it send sparks of electricity into the air. Unsatisfied, he threw a framed picture next, followed by the night stand itself. The wood splintered, a giant hole forming in the wall where it hit. Blankets and pillows flew off the bed, the mattress ripping under his clawed attack.

Invades my sleep with tumescent intentions
Hades I'm sure must be missing a demon
I hate the morning
I hate the morning

Storming out of the bedroom, his wild eyes flit around the room for more things to destroy. Magazines, books, videos, and CDs all flew through the room, landing in tattered heaps on the floor. The coffee table was upended, the legs smashed off to become parodies of wooden bats as Spike swung at the knick-knacks on the shelves. Nothing was spared from the vampire's violence. And still, none of the violence silenced the siren's voice in his mind.

From the panes a green mist swirls
Is it a shadow or reflection?
This apparition in moon beams bathed
A voice like wind through the trees beckons

Into the kitchen he went, opening cabinets and smashing the dishes within on the floor. Not a single thing remained in its proper place under his tirade. With each slam of a plate or glass, he yelled at the vampiress in his head. "You didn't want me! YOU left me first! I even bloody tortured you and you only laughed! I love the Slayer, so you just SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LEAVE ME ALONE!!"

A sea of glass coated the ground, but the vampire didn't care as he stormed back out of the room, the shards embedding deeply in his bare feet, cutting him.

Cool rain on hot summer stone
The odor fills my presence
Of freshly dug grave and death and night
These things are her essence

Trailing bloody footprints across the carpet and over objects in his way, Spike returned to the bedroom and threw himself on the ripped bed. His world was spinning out of control, his body aching to either hurt and destroy or be held and comforted. Rage and hyperactivity hummed under his skin, making him almost shake as he tried to gain control.

Nocturnal mistress, spirit lover
Your mouth of wine and woodsmoke taste
My goddess of the violet twilight
You are lust incarnate

Spike grabbed the phone off the second, still untouched night stand. He punched the familiar numbers, his hand tight around the receiver as he waited for an answer.

"Hello?"

"It's Spike. I need the Slayer," he told Joyce, the phrasing of his request dead accurate.

"I'm sorry, Spike," Joyce said over the line. "She just left with Willow. Do you want to leave her a message?"

His precarious hold over his sanity, which had been slowly chipped away over the past month and a half, was lost with this news and Drusilla smiled victoriously in his mind. The one person who could calm him with a touch of her hand wasn't there for him. "Tell her I'm sorry," he replied, then hung up the phone.

In the sweat of my bed
The eastern sky hints of dawning
Alone and awake but exhausted I lie
Oh how I hate the morning

He stood and grabbed his duster off the chair. Sliding it on over his T-shirt and jeans, he headed for the front door of the townhome. He threw the door open and stood on the threshold, looking out into the early day.

I hate the morning
I hate the morning

Two perfect, bloody footprints glared mockingly at the sky as the door swung closed.


*****


"So, what do you think?" Buffy asked, looking up at her Watcher. "Should we go or not?"

"If their record wasn't accurate as to their ability to-to, er, kidnap you and Spike, I would say no," Giles began. "But I suspect we should take the-the threat to our lives very seriously."

"That's what I thought, too," she said, pushing up her sleeves on the red dress because of the heat from the hot August weather. "Willow, are you getting anything about this ‘Endgame'?"

"Nothing," Willow replied, her fingers flying over the keyboard. "Just the date and time it takes place and the betting information. Oh neat. You can bet on you, Spike or any one of the team you choose; or as a whole."

"How thrilling," Buffy said sarcastically. She turned her attention back to Giles. "What's the plan, Giles?"

"First, the, er, six teammates should be chosen and informed as soon as possible," Giles answered. He set down the invitation and removed his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Then, I suspect we should explain what happened during the other games and um, pack our weapons."

"Well, Spike and me are already going. Angel will probably go with no problem and so would Faith," Buffy said. "That's two."

"I'm going," Willow stated. "And I know Xander would want to go."

"Make that four."

"Five," Giles said. "I am going, as well."

"Ok, five then," Buffy confirmed. "Now, we need one more. But who?"


*****


"Forget it," Cordelia said, trying to close the door in Buffy's face later that afternoon.

"I wouldn't bother you if we didn't need your help," Buffy said sticking her foot against the door.

"What's in it for me?" Cordelia asked. "Death, injury, messed-up hair and ruined clothes? No, thank you."

"Cordelia, if we don't get a sixth person on the team, the Fehu will kill everyone who knows about me -- and that includes you," Buffy lied. It could be true, but she wasn't going to get into probabilities.

"Why don't you ask Oz?"

"Full moon. Amy is out of town and my mom will be gone, too," she informed the former cheerleader. "I hate to say this, but you're our only hope."

Cordelia studied the Slayer for a minute, then threw up her hands. "Fine. But you owe me big. What do I need to do?"

"We're meeting at the library at eight," Buffy answered, moving her foot. "We'll explain everything then."

"I'll be there. But if I so much as get one chipped nail, you are in a world of hurt," Cordelia told her, then closed the door in her face.


*****


"Angel?" Willow called as she entered the mansion at the same time Buffy was talking to Cordelia. She really didn't want to be the one to contact the vampire, but Giles needed to get Faith, who was in LA for the week. Xander was easily informed with a quick phone call and he was thrilled to be a part of the action.

"Willow," Angel said, coming out of the bedroom. "Is there something wrong?"

**I'm not in your arms,** Willow thought. Instead, she stammered, "N-No. Well, yes but not in a life or death sort of way. Actually, it is life or death if you say no. Or we don't get six people. I wonder if Buffy convinced Cordelia? That would not be good if she can't."

"Willow," Angel interrupted, putting his hands on her shoulders. He immediately removed them as the attraction flared up between them. "Why are you here?"

"Oh, heh-heh," she replied, nervously clenching her hands together. "Buffy got an invitation to the next game and it says she has to have six teammates. So far, it's me, Giles, Faith and Xander. Buffy's trying to get Cordelia and I came to ask you."

"Of course I'll do it," he told her.

"Oh good," she sighed in relief. "We're meeting at the library at eight to go over the different games so far and make some plans." Her eyes widened as she realized what she'd just said. "Oh goddess, we're going over the games. Including the house. The house where we...we did things that they don't need to know about. Not even Buffy knows. Unless you told her. You didn't tell her, did you?"

"No, I didn't tell her," Angel replied, walking away from the temptation to pull her in his arms. "Only Spike knows."

"You told Spike?!"

"No, he could...smell us," he said.

Willow reddened. "Oh. You don't think he told Buffy, do you?"

"No. I told him not to, and despite his being a jerk, he still listens to me at times," Angel told her. "Although lately, I'm surprised he hasn't gotten himself killed for the things he does say when I've found him out and about."

"Buffy said he's been acting all weird," Willow confided. "She's also got lots of bites and scratches."

"That's normal with vampires," he said, slightly embarrassed.

"I know, but not to this extent," she replied. "She looks like she was wrapped in barbed wire then thrown into a cobra pit." Angel looked at her in surprise and shock. "I was hoping you'd talk to Spike and find out what's wrong. She says he's been like this since we had our...since the day we...since you told me that you were leaving."

Angel thought back to that day and tried to remember how Spike was acting, but most of his memories revolved around the petite redhead in front of him. "I'll talk to him tonight."

"Thanks," Willow said. "I'd, uh, better go. I'm trying to find out more over the ‘Net about this new game." She smiled nervously at him, then turned and left.



Part Two




"No answer," Buffy said as she hung up the phone back at the library. "He's probably still asleep."

"At six in the evening?" Willow asked skeptically. "Didn't you tell me he barely sleeps at all?"

"True, but Spike sometimes does get to sleep late in the afternoon and then won't get up until the sun sets," she replied. "I'll wait until closer to seven and try again."

"Never fear, Xander is here," Xander announced as he pushed through the library doors, boxes in hand. "And I come bearing gifts of fruit and wine."

"It looks like pizza, Xander," Buffy said.

"Ah yes, but it has pineapple on it," the dark-haired teen replied, setting the boxes down. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, paper bag and held it aloft. "And I got grapes."

Giles walked by and took the bag of grapes without breaking his gaze from the book he was reading. "You're welcome, your tweedness," Xander said after him.

"What?" Giles asked, raising his head. "Oh yes. Thank you, Xander."

"Faith! Pizza's here!" Buffy yelled up towards the stacks. They heard a thump, then the brunette Slayer appeared.

"Hey, Xand-man," Faith greeted, hopping over the railing to land next to the table. "‘Za me."

The group of friends had ironed out any differences with the second Slayer that had occurred in the past and, although she tended to be a loner, the four got along well. She was still uncomfortable around Angel and Spike, as was Giles, but was fine with them as long as they didn't try to munch on her.

"Here you go, Wills," Buffy passed the redhead a piece of pizza over the counter.

"Thanks," Willow replied, not looking away from the computer much the same as Giles hadn't looked away from his book. "Hey, this address is for the old gaming complex outside of Chesterton."

"Gaming complex?" Xander said. "That place where they use to hold indoor laser tag and had all those video games?"

"And billiards and ski-ball and foosball and mini-golf," Willow confirmed. She took a bite of her pizza and chewed while she thought. "There's a blueprint for it."

"Let's see," Giles said, walking around through the office to come up behind her. "There don't seem to be many windows."

"That's probably why they picked the place," Buffy said around her bite of food. "Whatever this ‘Endgame' is will probably take a while to complete, and they don't want the vampires or other sun- allergic creatures to poof on them."

"Endgame is a chess term," Xander said. Faith and Buffy looked at him with matching skeptical expressions. "It means the final moves of the game, when each player tries to complete his plans to checkmate."

"Since when do you know anything so geeky?" Buffy asked. Xander shrugged, stuffing his mouth full of pizza instead of answering. "Gross much?"

"When's the Queen of Bitchiness getting here again?" Faith said. She chuckled when Xander started to choke. "What's the matter, Xand?"

"Cordelia is coming?" Xander gasped around his food.

Buffy nodded. "She's our sixth."

"Excuse me, I'm going to save the Fehu the trouble and kill myself now," he informed them, then headed out of the library.

"Think I should go after him?" Faith asked Buffy. "Rub it in a little?"

"Nah," Buffy replied. "We'll wait until he gets back to rub it in."

"Hey, guys, be nice to Xander about Cordelia," Willow scolded.

"Why?" both Slayers said simultaneously, then burst into laughter.

"Buffy."

The girls turned to see Angel standing in the stacks. "Angel, what are you doing here?" Buffy said, glancing at the window. "How are you here?"

"Overcast," Angel replied, his gaze going to the redhead over at the computer, then quickly back at the blond Slayer. "I need to talk to you."

"Ok," she said, heading over to the stairs to join him in the stacks. "What's so important that would drag you over here during the day?"

"Willow told me about what Spike has been doing to you," he told her, his expression serious.

"Oh, I'm going to murder her..."

"Buffy, stop. She's just worried about you," Angel said. "I decided to take advantage of the bad weather and get to the tunnels to go pay him a visit to see what was wrong."

"What did he say?" Buffy asked when he paused.

"He wasn't there. The townhome was trashed and I found dried, bloody footprints all over the place," he said quietly. "There were two perfect ones on the threshold, facing outside. Then there was a partial one on the step, then nothing."

Buffy's heart dropped to her feet and she couldn't breathe. "No," she barely said, staring at him with wide eyes as she realized what he was inferring. "No, that's not true. He's fine. He's just asleep, like all good vampires should be."

"Buffy-"

"NO!" Buffy yelled, running out of the stacks and over to the phone. She picked up the receiver and punched the numbers with a hard finger.

Willow came around through the office and walked over to Angel, who had come down the steps. "What did you say to her?"

"I think Spike may have..." Angel trailed off as Buffy banged her hand on the counter and began screaming into the receiver.

"PICK UP THE PHONE! PICK UP! PICK UP! PICK UP!"

"Oh goddess," Willow breathed as she caught what Angel was saying.

Angel moved behind Buffy and wrapped his arms around her, pinning hers to her side as she continued to scream. Giles took the receiver from her hand and hung up the phone, exchanging a concerned look with the vampire. Xander came running into the library and stopped suddenly as he halfway collided with Faith.

"What's going on?" he asked.

"We're going over to Blondie's," Faith said, grabbing his arm and pulling him back out the door. "And hope to hell that we don't find him DOA."

"DOA?"

"Dust on arrival."


*****


Giles phoned Joyce while Angel and Willow tried to calm the hysterical Slayer. He had to shut both office doors and cover one ear to hear her. "Joyce? It's Rupert."

"Rupert, what is all that noise in the background?" Joyce asked over the line.

"It's Buffy," he told her. "She's a tad hysterical."

"What's wrong?" Joyce said quickly.

"It would seem that A-Angel went over to speak to Spike and he was not there," he answered.

"Not there? But Spike called earlier this morning," she said.

"He did?" Giles jumped on the reply. "What did he say? It is imperative that you remember his exact words."

"He said he needed Buffy and I told him she had left and asked if he wanted to leave a message," Joyce told him. "Then he said to tell her he was sorry and hung up."

"Oh dear lord," he gasped. He heard a loud crash outside and quickly stood, throwing open the office door. Willow was helping Angel up from a pile of broken chairs and Buffy was nowhere to be seen or heard.

"Rupert, what is going on?" Joyce said exasperated.

"I am afraid there might have been an accident," Giles replied, his voice abnormally loud in the silence following Buffy's screams. "Or a suicide."


*****


"This doesn't look good," Xander commented as he surveyed the trashed townhome with Faith.

"Do you know how big Spike's feet are?" Faith asked as she squatted down in front of the dried blood in the doorway.

"I can go find a shoe," he said, going further into the apartment to the bedroom. He whistled when he saw the ripped mattress and the rest of the mess. He spotted a pair of shoes under a surprisingly upright chair and grabbed one, then returned to Faith. "Here."

"Thanks," she replied, taking it from him and measuring it against the print. "It's a match."

"I think all these broken dishes in here might be why all the blood," Xander commented from over by the kitchen. "Plus, this is where the footprints start. It looks like he went into the bedroom, then came back and went right out the door."

"Into the day," Faith said morosely, looking around the front step and the walkway. "But I don't see any dust piles."

"They could have washed away with the rain," he suggested. "Or blown away. There has been crappy weather most of the day."

"Say that again," she told him.

"What? Crappy weather?"

"Yeah," Faith said, standing. "Have you seen the sun at all today?"

"Only a little this morning," Xander answered. The proverbial light bulb went on above his head. "Maybe he tried to off himself but the sun didn't cooperate."

"That's what I'm thinking," she replied, squinting out into the fading day. "But where would he go?"

"Is there a tunnel or sewer entrance around here?" he asked.

"You go left, I'll go to your other left," Faith told him.


*****


"SPIKE!" Buffy yelled as she ran up the walkway to the open townhome, Faith on her heels. "SPIKE!"

"B, he's not there!" Faith tried to tell her, but she wouldn't listen.

Buffy ran into the townhome, her eyes wild. She flew towards the single bedroom and began throwing things off the floor, looking for him. "SPIKE! WHERE ARE YOU, YOU STUPID VAMPIRE?!"

"Buffy!" Faith put the other girl in an arm lock, with her arms under Buffy's and her hands locked behind the blond's head. "He's. Not. Here."

"Nooooooo," Buffy wailed, arms flailing. "Let me go."

"No, B. Not until you calm down," she said. Xander appeared and walked to the front of Buffy and slapped her.

"Buffy, stop," Xander commanded, his voice harsh. Buffy stopped wailing and stared at him, tears streaming down her face. "I think he's fine. I found another footprint outside of a sewer entrance about half a block from here. If you calm down, we'll call the library and get some flashlights and go look for him. Ok?"

Buffy nodded and Faith released her. The blonde fell to the floor, pulling the blankets to her and holding them close. She inhaled deeply, taking in Spike's familiar scent and let herself cry. Xander motioned for Faith to follow him and they both left the bedroom.

"I'll call Giles, you keep a guard on her until we can all go together," he told her.

"I hope that bastard's still alive or undead or whatever the hell he is," Faith said. "So I can stake him myself."



NC-17 Version

PG-13 Version 1