"What's the catch?"
"Glad to see your good sense returning," he replied dryly, but seemed in no hurry to continue, fiddling with the lid of his lighter.
"Well, what is it?"
"I'm the gambling sort, Elizabeth. And if tonight is any indication, I'd reckon you are as well. So I'll make you a deal: when I give the word, get as far away from me as you can. Run, hide, whatever. If I don't catch or find you before sunrise…you win. I'll be out of your life forever. Better still, I'll head straight back to Sunny D, spend the rest of my days bouncing around a padded cell."
"And if I lose?"
"I ask only for your surrender."
"Complete and Total."
"Those are the terms. Do you accept?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Not really, no."
Buffy considered this. Strangely, it seemed such a small thing for him to want, just that she not fight anymore. And really, he'd taken so much from her already; she had little left to lose.
"You have me at a disadvantage."
"Bum foot an' all?"
"Well, now, I do think of everything, and I have thought of that."
He placed the filter between his lips. She followed the cigarette's movement while he spoke.
"Being as how I enjoy a leisurely smoke―and can't do so whilst dogging you all about―I'll finish my fag to the cotton before I give chase."
"What's that, a five minute head start?"
"More or less. Sound reasonable?"
"How do I know I can trust you?"
"There's a question, coming from you."
"That's not an answer."
"I've never lied to you before. Pointless to start now."
As if that settled the matter, he extended his right hand and waited for her to hobble forward and take it.
She did; there was no alternative.
His grip was firm, his expression grim.
"On my word, I'm no welsher."
"I'll hold you to it."
He released her then, flipped the cap on his Zippo. She watched the spark, flame, snap, and first drag. She watched him until his eyes snagged hers and he said,
"If I were you, Elizabeth, I'd be leggin' it already."
And so she did. As best she could, anyhow, glowering in pain and annoyance as Spike shouted "No cops!" after her.
A mere thirty seconds in and she'd already decided that the 'run' part of the run/hide option was going to result in a hard loss. Determination had not healed her; sheer will could not grant her speed. She knew she had to seek shelter, but there was nothing save forest surrounding her: dark and dense and no end in sight.
She trudged on blindly for a time, not sure of the distance she'd covered, the direction she was heading, or anything else except that at any moment he would be coming for her. She needed sanctuary.
She found a church.
The place was clearly abandoned. Only the long-dead still worshipped here, fellowshipping beneath weathered tombstones crumbling with age. She had wanted asylum, but a church? Appearing in an abrupt thinning of the woods, trailing its graveyard congregation―wasn't exactly a comfort, or a wise place to rest. If he happened upon it, Spike would search here, there was little doubt of that. If. She could only hope he found the forest as disorienting as she had, that the trees would turn him around and away from her. If they didn't…
She couldn't scoff at refuge now, even one as conspicuous as this. She was too weary: a horse ridden hard, foundering and foaming at the mouth, waiting for the gun. She could wait just as well in this dilapidated House of God, with its shaky foundation and windows like broken teeth.
Buffy approached the building cautiously. Its heavy double doors were ajar, one hanging at an awkward angle from rusted hinges. She slipped sideways through the gap, stepping carefully over shards of glass and miscellaneous debris to stand at the end of a long aisle flanked by pews.
She let several moments of indecision pass, taking small rapid sips of mildewed air and moving only her eyes around the large room. She wasn't the first person to venture here recently, though it seemed previous visitors had sought not shelter so much as a secluded place to party. They'd left the usual souvenirs: crushed cans, cigarette butts, plastic cups. The smell of spilt beer and vomit.
She placed a hand lightly on one of the hard-backed benches beside her, felt a touch of sorrow for such a forsaken place. She could hardly call herself a religious person, but it offended her all the same, this disrespect. Abandoned or not, wasn't a church still sacred?
But she knew. He'd been teaching her. Nothing was.
It was fitting: her broken body, her nearly-broken will, this broken church. She made her way up the aisle, instinctively checking the shadows as she went. Expecting to come across a sleeping bum, a drug-addled teen, Spike. She saw no one, heard nothing except the sound her sneakered feet made over garbage, like walking on packed snow. She was alone.
Unless you counted Him. A larger-than-life Jesus hanging above the altar on his cross. Sallow-cheeked and sunken-eyed, dying of exposure and the burden of humanity's sins. With his last breath, asking his Father to forgive creation. This was who Spike claimed to be, by halves. But Spike didn't forgive. His grandeur―at times so fucking convincing―was flawed here, as she stared fixedly into that sad, sad face.
She couldn't blame Spike for his beliefs. So much blame lay at his feet already, but not for that. She couldn't blame the ill for his illness.
For they know not what they do.
Here she stood, confronted with the truth, and knew what it was as she hadn't for too long.
He'd drawn her in from the first, his eyeteeth the hook she'd dangled from. Spun four years worth of fancies into a web fit to bind her. Plucked at her like a sweater's loose thread, unraveling everything she…just everything. And when at last she'd struggled free, shame-faced and shocked at herself, at what she'd almost believed…he'd found her. Found her, just to yank on that thread again.
And he would find her, always. And tonight. She knew that too. Hadn't the energy to deny it any longer. He would come for her, drag her back into his world where he was God, the Devil, and everything in between. Except this time she'd have to go quietly. No kicking and screaming, she'd already promised.
Suddenly, she was afraid. Afraid to lose, which would only mean losing herself, eventually. Afraid to leave this place where reality was so tangible she could cover herself in it, a favored blanket. Afraid of him, she thought, most of all.
There were small votive candles adorning the altar beneath Christ's bloody feet. The glasses that held them were cracked and dirty, their wax gone dingy with dust. She picked one up as reverently as anyone with actual faith. Kicked through the trash on the floor until she found a discarded Bic, spun the wheel until it admitted flame. It took a few tries before the charred wick would hold fire, but when it did she cupped the guttering flame protectively and crawled behind the alter. Wedged herself behind those candles, beneath the tortured Son of Man.
She huddled there, and she waited.
She sat for who knew how long, trying not to think. Letting her heart grow sluggish, then counting its beats. Matching them to the dull throbs of her aching muscles, which were still coiled in anticipation, and felt like they always would be. She sat, expecting every moment to be discovered. Certain he would soon storm in with a snide comment and patented smirk, wrecking her peace, claiming her life. But her heart ticked on, as did the second hand of her watch. And he wasn't there.
The sky started to brighten, at long-fucking-last. She stared out those shattered windows, watching what was left of the stained glass produce its colored light, signaling her victory. And he wasn't there.
She felt…it was over, really and truly, and…she didn't know how to feel.
She didn't need to. She just needed to get up. Parse her feelings later, maybe never.
Stiffness had claimed her wholly as she'd sat her vigil. She crawled from behind the altar and stood awkwardly. Limping and still holding the candle, she placed it back on its perch, watching the little lick of fire. She wanted it to burn forever. She wanted―
"Finding religion, Elizabeth?"
And he was there.
She leaned in close to the flame, let it warm her face.
She said, "Almost."
He was front row center, arms spread across the back of his seat, the ankle of one leg resting on the knee of the other, jiggling his foot the way men do.
"I didn't hear you come in."
What a strange thing to say, as if that was what mattered.
"Had your mind on higher things."
She watched the smoke from the extinguished wick as it curled and writhed heavenward, an aborted prayer. "I did."
"Been here a fair few hours, I have. My legs started to cramp. But I wanted to give you your triumph, for awhile."
"Only because it would make yours sweeter." He was so full of shit sometimes.
"That it has, lamb." Spike unfurled himself from the bench, fluidly as a cat, minus the domesticity. "And you will be, won't you, Doctor? My little lamb, docile and cooperative. Just as you promised, now this shepherd's got you in his flock."
His voice soothed her, even as he advanced in that slow, predatory, nearly obscene way he had of walking. He dipped his head so she had to see him, his gaze calm as a caress. Don't struggle, it told her. I'm offering a white flag. Won't you wave it? Aren't you tired?
She turned her back on him, crossed her arms over her chest―protective gestures rather than defiant ones. Trying to keep him out just a little bit longer, trying to again grasp the certainty that he was only a sick man, nothing more. She was losing it. She had lost.
"Come now, little lamb." His whisper a shiver down her spine. "I won't hurt you."
She felt his breath on her neck, and then his forearm, pressing hard. She couldn't breathe. She wouldn't fight. Her vision darkened at the edges.
Unconsciousness greeted her like an old friend.
She'd officially come 'round sometime during the drive through Indiana. Spike had lain her across the backseat; she was spared the sight of him. Though he must have known when she'd roused, had called her name with a question mark attached to it. She didn't want to talk to him; there were no words. Instead she stared at the back of her eyelids, let the car lull her: its motion, the purring engine, his smooth shifting of gears. She slid into a doze and stayed there, even after Spike stopped the car, picked her up, put her to bed.
Bed was where she found herself now, fully clothed beneath motel sheets rough from frequent laundering. Alone again, as far as she could tell. Spike had likely gotten his own room, assuming she'd already done all the running she ever would. Assuming correctly. She felt used up, exhausted despite several hours rest, her body one large wound. She wanted to be still, so as not to rile it, but she needed to pee.
The bathroom seemed impossibly far away as Buffy pitched toward it, her movements jerky, unreliable. She relieved herself quickly―avoiding the mirror―and tottered back, falling gracelessly facedown on the too-firm mattress. She wanted clean clothes, maybe a shower if she could stand long enough. Saw her overnight bag on the floor, near enough to reach without moving. She grasped one handle and pulled; the top wasn't zippered. It gaped open…and this wasn't her bag.
Black t-shirts, black jeans, socks, no underwear. A strong box, no key.
And the tapes. All of them, nesting in his clothes. Their whole history together, here. She'd almost forgotten about them―had meant to―after shutting them away in her office all those months ago. Meticulously labeled, dated, and ordered, but not looked at. Never listened to. Why had he wanted these? A question she couldn't answer, along with all the others regarding Spike. Why he wanted her, where they were going, what horrible thing he would do once they got there. If she started pondering those questions, she'd never stop, and she still wouldn't know a goddamn thing sooner than he was ready to tell her.
He'd already told her all he wanted her to know, on these reels. She pawed through the bag, found her recorder, the cassette she wanted. Tried to put the tape in only to find she had it backward. Turned it around, got it in. She was nervous, inexplicably so. She already knew what she was about to hear; it wouldn't be so bad. It was only the beginning. Still, to go back down the rabbit hole…voluntarily, this time. She wasn't sure she was prepared for it, or to find her way back.
In the end, she pressed Play with a shaking hand.
"I'm going to be taping each of these sessions. For record-keeping purposes, as well as a means of tracking our progress. No one but myself will be listening to them. Is that alright with you?"
"Anything for posterity, luv."
"Good. Then we can get started. Tell me something about yourself."
"You do understand the goal of these very mandatory meetings?"
"Of course. But you'll come to find I rarely give without taking."
"Would you consider that a cruel practice?"
"Not always. It goes both ways, you see."
"Is that so?"
"Yeah. Even the corpses that landed me in this sodding place got something out of the deal. I took their lives, but I gave them purpose."
"What an honor it must have been, to die at my hands."
"Who are your parents, William?"
(laughs) "Nice transition. Five minutes in and 've already made you uncomfortable. But you dealt with it well."
"Your parents, William."
"Spike. Who are yours?"
"I'm not going to―"
"Then neither am I."
(sighs) "Hank and Joyce Summers."
"And where are they?"
"Early retirement. Palm Beach."
"How very cliché."
"Possibly. Answer the question."
"The question is irrelevant. You know who my father is."
"So you've said. But you are a man: blood, bones, DNA. And yours was no virgin birth."
"I had sperm-and-egg donors, not parents. Grew up in a London orphanage, I did."
"You never wondered about them? Looked for them?"
"Once. When I was 18. When I had to leave the home; I requested my file."
"What did you find out?"
"They were young: panicked when they found themselves in the family way. An' they were dead by the time I could piss standin' up."
"How did they die?"
"Murder/Suicide. You must know this already?"
"I do. I wanted to know if you did. Did you also know you and your father have the same diagnosis?"
"You are familiar with the term 'High-Functioning Paranoid Schizophrenic'?"
"They're words; I've used 'em myself from time to time."
"And you know you have this disorder?"
"I've been told as much."
"But do you believe it?"
"Only when 'm dosed up. Modern medicine has a way of covering up some facts and completely manufacturing others."
"You value honesty; it's important to you?"
"Do you expect me to lie to you? Do you think I would?"
"But I'm a psychiatrist, W―Spike. I deal with mental illness daily; I treat it. With therapy, with medicine. Am I part of this conspiracy?"
"I'm not saying mental illness doesn't exist. Just that I am not it."
"And your father? Was he?"
"It's just a little curious, you two sharing a pathology: what you did to be imprisoned here, what he did to your mother, to himself…"
"I am nothing like him."
"I 'm not trying to offend you; I'm simply suggesting―"
"And I suggest you change the subject. Now. Something pleasant."
"What did you do for a living? What was your gift? Before?"
"Was a writer."
"Anything I'd know?"
"Hardly. Just bullshit back in London. Magazines and the like. But I've done enough sharing for the moment. Your turn."
"This isn't about me, Spike. This is for your benefit."
"And this information will be for my benefit as well."
"What do you want to know?"
"Why do you do this? Sweet thing like you, mucking yourself up wading through the criminal mind."
"That is really none of your business."
"I'm making it mine, or I'll have no more head-shrinking,"
"You don't have a choice, there."
(laughs) "They can force me to come here. They can't force me to talk. But you, you couldn't stand my silence, you want in so badly. You have to earn the invite, pet."
"My cousin…she was smothered to death. In a hospital, of all places. The man who did it, this sadistic intern, got off. Pled mental duress, got sent to a psych facility that may as well have been Club Med. Got 'cured'; he was a free man in a handful of years. All because a so-called 'expert witness' backed up his story. It was such a sham, but the jury didn't want to see the truth. That a person could do such a thing, be such a monster. They needed an excuse, but it wasn't really there. I wanted to make it harder for the fakes to all but walk under the guise of temporary insanity."
"And so you do."
"I expected you to try that particular tack. It may have worked, given your history. But you didn't even let it go to trial."
"There you go again, turning things back around. Quite good at that, you are. I don't see the harm in knowing a bit about someone I'm to be spending so much time with, mandatory or otherwise."
"I prefer to keep my objectivity. It's simple professionalism."
"Uh-huh. Has nothing to do with you not wanting a killer knowing your particulars."
"Why didn't you want a trial? Why plead guilty?"
"Did what I did to those six, and make no excuses for it. Denial implies shame. I had none. "
"Lifelong imprisonment without the possibility of parole is a punishment. Why accept that, if you feel you've done nothing wrong?"
"This is no punishment, only Man's idea of it. Doesn't harm me to be here. I don't answer to men."
"Who do you answer to? God?"
"Yes, but not only. The other one, too."
"That must be difficult for you."
"Sometimes. Others, it's easy enough."
"Creation, Destruction. They're more similar than you might think. Anyway, it's not forever. One day, the choice will be mine alone."
"What does that mean?"
"Time's up, Doctor. Another day, perhaps."
There was no other day, not where that particular piece of information was concerned. He'd moved it back inside himself, where it resided still, probably in the same unreachable recess Cecily occupied. Reminded of it now, Buffy wasn't quite sure she even wanted to know, except in that nagging, obscure way she wanted to know everything about him.
You couldn't stand my silence, you want in so badly.
And what work it was, getting in. He'd been infuriating, relentless: making her play show-and-tell. Demanding large chunks of her soul before baring even an inch of his own. She'd stopped trying to dissuade him after a time, resigning herself to the incessant cat-and-mouse. Because he must talk. She'd so craved his words―how they sickened and excited her. She blushed to think of it, and how little she'd changed.
She shoved the tapes away, along with their memories. Closed his bag in disgust, only to open it again and remove the strong box, heavy with whatever else he was trying to hide. She took it over to the pitiful kitchenette, found a steak knife. It jammed in the lock, broke off when she twisted, but the box was cheaply made, and gave.
Walking to the bed, Buffy held the box away from her body like a live grenade. She sat cross-legged on the rumpled sheets and settled Spike's secrets in her lap, shooting a guilty glance toward the door, imagining him bursting in at this pivotal moment, raging at her audacity. The knob didn't turn.
She took a breath, lifted the lid, and felt like Pandora must have, unleashing horrors onto the world.