Chapter 26: A Matter of Life and Death
Angel followed Faith’s scent, trying to catch up with the other Slayer. He’d been torn, not wanting to leave Buffy with Spike, but there was no choice. Spike certainly wasn’t going to be dissuaded from taking Buffy to the hospital, and that left him to chase Faith down.
Her scent was easy to trace through the woods; there clearly hadn’t been any other humans coming through the area in a while, and Angel tracked her through a park and to the street, where the trail abruptly ended.
Frowning, Angel knelt on the pavement, touching his fingers to the dark stains. Faith had bled, and he could see tire marks, probably where someone had driven away in a hurry, but there were no other signs of her presence. He rose, looking both ways down the street, knowing that there was no way to trace her at the moment. Her scent was gone.
Angel had a feeling that someone had grabbed her.
With a regretful sigh, Angel began to jog towards the hospital. If he couldn’t track Faith, he would check on Buffy.
Spike paced the length of the hospital waiting room. The doctors had immediately taken Buffy back for surgery, and he wondered what they thought of her injuries. First a broken arm, and now a puncture wound—it probably appeared suspicious.
Joyce came running through the doors. “Spike!”
“Joyce.” He turned to face her, enfolding her in his arms when she walked right into him. “She’s goin’ to be fine.”
“Have the doctors talked to you, yet?”
Spike swallowed. The doctors hadn’t talked to him, but he knew Buffy, and she was a fighter. They hadn’t come this far for her to be taken out by a pieced-together piece of machinery. “Not yet, but you know Buffy. Stubborn as the day is long.”
She clung to him for a moment, then pulled away. He could hear her taking a deep breath, visibly pulling herself together. “Yes, she is. Where is the doctor?”
“Said he’d be out to talk to us as soon as he could,” Spike replied, guiding her to a chair. “I called Rupert, an’ he should be here—”
His words were cut off by the Watcher’s entrance. “Spike! Where is she?”
“Still in surgery,” Spike said. “The doc said he thought she would pull through, but he wasn’t sure if anythin’ vital got hit.”
Giles frowned. “How did this happen?”
The words stung, and Spike took a second to calm himself. It only made sense that the Watcher would blame him.
Joyce put her hand on his arm. “This wasn’t your fault, Spike.”
“You haven’t heard what happened yet,” Spike countered ruefully.
Giles cleared his throat. “Yes, but I think it’s unlikely that you are responsible for Buffy’s injuries. I didn’t mean my question in that way.”
Spike nodded. “Yeah, well—took all of us by surprise. We were chasin’ down Faith, an’ we ran right into Adam. Or he ran into us. Said his ‘mother’ was dead, an’ Buffy confronted Faith. Told her to trust Angel an’ to not let the Council get her.” He sighed. “Dunno what happened, really. Buffy said she wasn’t going to let Adam hurt anybody else, an’ then Adam…”
He didn’t know what else to say. The image of Buffy impaled on the cyborg’s hidden spike would be forever imprinted on his mind.
“And Faith and Angel?”
“Sent Angel after Faith; she ran when she saw what happened. One of those soldiers came out of nowhere, said he’d hold off Adam while I got Buffy to a hospital.” Spike shook his head. “Dunno why, if he doesn’t think she’s human.”
“There may be more soldiers like Riley in the Initiative,” Giles pointed out.
“Don’t think he would have been so helpful if he’d known what I was,” Spike said stubbornly.
Any argument that Giles might have made was cut off by the doctor’s entrance into the waiting room. “Mr. Aldridge?”
“Yes?” Spike said, rising from his seat. “This is Buffy’s mother.” He put his hand on Joyce’s shoulder. “How is she?”
“She’ll make a full recovery,” the doctor assured him. “At first we thought that Miss Summers’ spleen might have been damaged, but everything seems to be fine. It’s a miracle, but none of her vital organs were hit.”
Joyce sagged in relief beneath his hand, and Spike squeezed her shoulder in support. He felt a little weak-kneed himself. “When can we see her?” Joyce asked.
“They’re moving her into recovery now.” The doctor smiled distractedly and looked at the clock. “Forgive me, but I have another surgery scheduled. Miss Summers should probably rest tonight, but you can see her in the morning.”
There was no way Spike was going to leave the hospital without having seen Buffy first, and he said as much, although he waited until the doctor was out of earshot.
“I’d like to see her as well,” Joyce agreed. “I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep until I do.”
Spike nodded, then looked at Giles. “That soldier said he’d find us later. Don’t know whether that was a promise or a threat.”
“Probably a promise, given the context,” Giles replied. “I can hardly believe that he’d attempt to kill you after saving your life. There’s no reason for him to think that you’re a vampire.”
Spike nodded. “Can’t help but wonder where he’s goin’ to show up, though. Here, or somewhere else. Or what he wants.”
The discussion was cut off by Angel’s entrance into the waiting room. “Where is she?”
“Where’s Faith?” Spike countered. “You were supposed to go after her.”
“Someone grabbed her, I think,” Angel replied. “I found blood and tire tracks, but no other traces, and the trail went dead.”
“The Council,” Giles guessed. “If Buffy was right—”
“If she was right, we don’t know how long Faith is goin’ to have,” Spike finished grimly.
Angel frowned. “I know, but how is Buffy?”
“She’ll be fine, Angel,” Joyce said, and Spike caught the edge of disapproval in her tone, and that gave him a great deal of pleasure. “There’s nothing you can do here.”
For some reason, Spike felt just a little bit sorry for the git. Joyce was a formidable opponent, and he hated to think of what he might have done if she’d decided to come out against his relationship with Buffy. Maybe the Slayer would have stood up to her mother, but with the distinct possibility of Joyce’s death in the near future, he was glad that wasn’t a risk he needed to take.
“She’s in recovery,” Spike added. “We’re gonna have to find Faith. If Buffy was right, the Council’s goin’ to try an’ kill her soon. Last time, Buffy got away; we don’t know if Faith’ll be able to do the same.”
Angel nodded. “I’ll meet you here tomorrow?”
“Say around six?” Spike suggested. “You won’t be able to do much until the sun’s gone down.”
Angel grimaced, but agreed, melting into the shadows. “That was quite the civil conversation,” Giles commented.
Spike’s eyes remained fixed on the spot where Angel had disappeared. “We want the same thing right now. An’ Buffy’s already made her choice. Maybe he hasn’t accepted that yet, but he’ll come around. If he doesn’t, it doesn’t really matter.” He didn’t elaborate, but what it boiled down to was that it didn’t matter because Buffy had already made her choice known.
And Spike couldn’t ask for more than that.
Joyce entered Buffy’s room quietly, not wanting to disturb the sleeping vampire. Spike had prevailed upon her to go home and get some rest, although he’d refused to do the same. She couldn’t help but wish that she’d had someone as devoted to her as Spike was to Buffy.
Although it seemed a little silly to be jealous of her own daughter.
In spite of her attempt to enter silently, Spike stirred in the chair, opening his eyes slowly. “Did you sleep?” he asked.
“For a few hours,” she replied. “How is she?”
Spike shook his head. “She hasn’t woken up yet.” He glanced at the clock. “I still have some time before Angel gets here, though.”
Joyce was about to ask him what exactly Angel was doing in town when a nurse stuck her head through the door. “Excuse me, but there’s a young man at the nurse’s station asking to speak with you.”
She looked at Spike as she said it, and the vampire frowned. “Me? Did he say what he wanted?”
The young nurse shook her head. “He just said that he wanted to speak with Miss Summers’ boyfriend, and that it was important.”
Spike rose. “I’ll let you sit down, Joyce, an’ I’ll go see what he wants.”
Joyce decided that there was no point in protesting. She sat down in the vacated chair and reached for her daughter’s hand. Buffy was still and pale against the white sheets, and even though she knew that being the Slayer afforded her some measure of strength, and the ability to heal faster than most, the worry still ate at her.
After a second or two, Buffy’s eyelids began to flutter. “Buffy?” Joyce said softly. “It’s okay, sweetheart. I’m right here.”
Buffy opened her eyes. “Mommy?”
“That’s right,” Joyce crooned. She’d had her appendix removed when she was about Buffy’s age, and she remembered what the after-effects of the anesthesia had done. The disorientation and slightly sick feeling had frightened her at the time, and Joyce thought that Buffy might be going through something similar. “You’re in the hospital, but you’re going to be okay.”
It took a moment for the import behind her words to sink in, but when they did, Buffy groaned. “Too many hospitals,” she muttered hoarsely.
“Do you want something to drink?” Joyce asked.
She grabbed the glass by the side of the bed, and allowed Buffy to take a few sips from the straw. “That’s enough,” she said, pulling the glass away. “I don’t want to overdo it right now.”
Buffy nodded, although she didn’t look happy about it. “Where’s Spike?”
“He’s here,” Joyce replied. “There was someone at the nurse’s station looking for him, so he went to see what they wanted.”
Buffy frowned. “What happened?”
“Spike said that Adam hurt you?” Joyce wasn’t sure she had the right name, but when Buffy nodded, she continued. “Apparently, one of those soldiers held the creature off long enough for him to get away, and Angel went after Faith.”
“And Faith?” Buffy asked.
Joyce shook her head. “Angel didn’t know where she was, but he thought the Council might have her.” There was something that she didn’t understand, but Joyce didn’t want to tire Buffy out with questions.
“What is it, Mom?” Buffy asked, beginning to sound more alert already.
“Why would the Council want to hurt Faith?” she asked. “I though they were supposed to help Slayers.”
“That’s only when the Slayer does exactly what she’s told,” Spike said from the doorway. “Isn’t that right, pet?”
“Pretty much,” Buffy agreed, her eyes on him. “Are you okay?”
“Just fine,” he promised. “Got the ring, don’t I? It’s too bad we can’t find one that would do the same for you.”
“I’ll be fine,” Buffy said. “It doesn’t even hurt that much.” She tried to push herself into a sitting position, as if to prove it, but immediately sank back onto the bed. “Okay, maybe I’ll just lay here for a minute.”
“Longer than that,” Spike said. He hesitated. “That soldier—Graham, was it?—was at the nurse’s station, wantin’ to know if you were alright. Think he knows that you’re not quite human, but it doesn’t seem like he cares.”
“He was always nice to me,” Buffy said.
Joyce looked at Spike. “Is it okay that he knows Buffy is here?”
Spike shrugged. “Seems like Adam killed the Professor, just like last time. Guess she never was goin’ to get complete control. They’ll have their hands full with him, an’ the soldiers aren’t interested in tracking down a Slayer now.” He hesitated, then added, “He did suggest we work together. Think he’s operatin’ under a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. He won’t ask what we are, an’ we’ll just not tell him.”
“Sounds good to me,” Buffy said. She reached for Spike’s hand. “You have to find Faith, Spike. If they took her to the same place, they’re in an empty warehouse in the industrial part of town. I don’t remember exactly where, though.”
Spike frowned. “Angel’s comin’ by later. We’ll go there first.”
“I don’t know if you have that much time,” Buffy replied urgently. “They didn’t have me for that long before they decided it would be easier if Faith were dead.”
Spike shook his head. “I don’t want to leave you. Thought Angel could—”
“This is important.” Joyce knew that look; it was the same one Buffy had used on her any number of times. She’d grown immune to Buffy’s large, imploring eyes, but it was clear that Spike hadn’t. “I want to know that I’ve done everything I could to help her, and if I can’t go—”
“I’m the next best thing?” Spike asked ruefully. He chuckled, although there was little humor in the sound. “Never could say no to you, could I?”
“I think you can reach her, Spike. I believe in you.”
Joyce knew that they’d both forgotten her presence. Spike’s gaze caught Buffy’s and held; the feeling humming between them was almost tangible.
He finally nodded. “I’ll see you later, luv.”
“Be careful.” Buffy smiled at him, a little uncertainly.
Spike just bent to kiss her, his free hand cupping her face gently. “As always. Love you.”
“I love you, too.” Buffy’s eyes followed him out the door, and she sighed wistfully when he was gone.
“He will be back,” Joyce said, not quite understanding the sudden melancholy mood.
“I know,” Buffy murmured. “It’s just that I don’t know how many more times I can ask him for something like this without hurting him.”
“He’d do anything for you, Buffy,” Joyce observed.
Buffy looked at her mother, and Joyce didn’t understand the grief she saw in her eyes. “I know, Mom. That’s the problem.”
Spike hadn’t fully understood what having a soul would mean. He’d done it for Buffy, thinking that it would somehow make things right between the two of them. There hadn’t been any other choice at the time. He’d been caught between two worlds, unable to go back to what he’d been, and unable to move forward.
If anything, though, having a soul put some distance between them, because Spike now knew that if given a choice between being with Buffy and doing the right thing—
Well, he didn’t know what choice he would make, but before the soul he would have said that it would be the Slayer, without question. Doing the right thing was now as important to him as it was to Buffy. It was a strange turn of events.
Spike parked in one of the lots adjoining the warehouse district. There were plenty of people and cars about; warehouses still in use were sprinkled among the empty ones. He had a feeling that the Council hadn’t wanted to use one of the abandoned ones down by the docks because there was the possibility that they would be attacked by the demons and vampires that inhabited that area of town.
All he had to do was find the empty warehouse the Council wankers were using.
Using all the stealth he’d learned over the years, Spike began a methodical search, heading for warehouses that he could tell were empty from the outside, focusing on those on the edges first. They wouldn’t want witnesses, not with what they had planned.
Buffy had given him the details of what had happened, including how she’d escaped. She had been bruised from her fight with Faith—or Faith had been bruised, and had probably done it deliberately to weaken her own body. Faith, however, had been bleeding, and it was hard to know how badly she’d been hurt.
Spike paused, catching sight of a black-clad man slipping into a building. He smiled grimly.
Looks like he’d found his prey.
Faith struggled with the chains that bound her. Unlike the last time that the Council goons had grabbed her, they weren’t taking any chances. She’d been unconscious when they locked her up, and they hadn’t so much as opened the door.
Her head ached, as did her left knee and hip where the truck had struck her, and her right shoulder throbbed where she’d hit the pavement. She had no idea how she was going to get out of this mess, but she knew she didn’t want to go to England. Faith wanted no part of what the Council had planned for her.
Maybe on some level she deserved punishment, if not for the accidental death of the deputy mayor, then for the death of the old professor. She had killed him without a second thought, on the Mayor’s orders. Faith still didn’t know why it had been important that he die; the Mayor had still been defeated.
Did that mean that she’d killed him for nothing? That her actions had no meaning, other than to put blood on her hands? It certainly seemed that way.
And now she faced her judge, jury, and executioner in the form of the Council.
Faith heard one of the men speak. “What did they say?”
“It’s too risky. The passage through Mexico is out, and there’s no way to get her out of the country from the U.S.”
“Are they sure?” The second man sounded worried. “I don’t feel right about—you know. She’s just a girl.”
“She’s a Slayer who’s killed more than one person,” the first man said sharply. “You’ll do well to remember that.”
“I haven’t forgotten.”
There was a long pause, and the first voice said, “I’ll take care of it since you’re too squeamish.”
Faith readied herself, knowing that she only had one chance at this. The back doors of the armored truck opened to reveal the man who had held a gun on her. “You’ve reached the end of the line,” he said.
She wanted to ask why—why the Council wanted to kill her now, why they hadn’t finished the job while she was in a coma, but the words stuck in her throat. The old man she’d killed had wanted to know why, too, and she hadn’t been able to give him an answer.
That was the trouble with being a hired killer. You never really knew why you were doing things.
Instead, she kicked out with a heavy boot, nearly catching the man’s hand. He pulled back quickly, preventing her from making contact.
“You’re a wild cat, aren’t you?” The man leered. “It’s too bad we don’t have time to get to know one another better.”
Faith sneered at him. If she was going to go out, she’d go out swinging. “You never had a chance. You had to hide behind your armored truck.”
“I’m getting paid to kill you, not to prove myself,” the man replied with a cruel smile. “Say goodbye, Slayer.”
The last time Faith had faced death, her main thought had been satisfaction that she was taking Angel out with her, so it didn’t matter if she died. This time, her life flashed before her eyes, and she was left with the knowledge that there would be no one to miss her, no one to care. In fact, she wouldn’t be surprised if Buffy danced on her grave.
Faith heard a distant shout, and the man in front of her turned away, distracted by the sound. She took her opportunity, kicking the gun out of his hand in the split second distraction. The gun landed inside the truck, and Faith immediately reached for it, straining her bonds and her muscles.
Her captor leapt inside, reaching for the gun as well, and his hands closed around it just a split second before hers. She struggled with him, trying to get control of the weapon, knowing that her life depended on it. His face was so close to hers, it was almost touching, and Faith could smell the onions he’d had for lunch.
Her breath came in gasps. She should have been able to take the gun easily, but the chains hampered her movements.
It was a shock when the shot rang out. The sound seemed to explode in the small space, making her ears ring. Faith felt the warm wetness of his blood splatter across her face and into her mouth. She gagged as his body collapsed on her, staring at his inert form in shock.
There was another death on her hands.