The screaming hurt his throat but he could not help it.
It was the only way he could keep himself from telling them what they wanted to know. The pain was intense, it swallowed him whole and Josiah wanted only for it to stop. He could feel the blood running down his chest, could feel the blisters on his skin where the poker from the fire had seared his skin, branding him for his inevitable death. His fingernails were broken from digging into the armrest of the chair he was now bound to endure his torture. Not that the fingers they were attached to were of any use either, they too were broken, having been splintered apart by Angelus in the opening act of his torture session. His face felt warm but it was no longer the heat of the open fire warming it, it was hot and flushed because he was in agony.
He swallowed thickly and found that he had no saliva to soothe his sore throat. He wanted to gag but he would spare himself that indignity after letting them hear him scream. The stench of burning flesh, of his burning flesh, filled the air and taunted him with nausea. Josiah knew that he was hurt badly. The vampire Angelus had tried to be subtle at first with his fingers but had soon moved on to more brutal tactics, the fire being the most recent of his suffering. At some point, impatience had driven Angelus to tear through his skin with razor sharp nails and he knew that the slashes across his abdomen were serious cuts for they did not seem to stop the bleeding. Angelus had made him scream with ease but could not make him talk.
His father had always told him he was a stubborn creature that would be bound for hell if he did not learn compliance and obedience. He wondered if Angelus would find it amusing to know that Josiahs father had not been that different from his own. Like Angelus, Josiah had learnt in his own time and way that the good book was a matter of interpretation and both their fathers had got it all wrong. Josiah felt grateful that he was blessed with stubborness because ironically, that quality was keeping him from becoming a creature of hell.
"Youre a tough one preacher," Angelus spoke again, appearing almost as weary by all this as he.
"Maybe he needs to reflect," Darla sauntered over to him. "Perhaps he needs to see things from a different perspective." She reached for his swollen jaw and smiled at him. "You are a strong man, preacher, both in spirit and in body. This does not have to be so brutal, it could even be quite pleasurable."
She lowered her lips to his and took his mouth in a seductive kiss that was more invasive than it was exploratory. Josiah found himself responding a little because despite the coolness of her kiss, there was much passion in it. He wondered how many men had doomed themselves because of their weakness to the power of those lips and the illusion of warmth that it seemed to generate. He wondered if Angelus had been lost that way.
"No," Josiah wrenched himself away from her. "I dont mind dying," he said through his bleeding and cracked lips. "I do mind damning myself to hell."
Darlas seductive mask changed into an expression of rage to which she expressed by striking him across the face, tearing three deep gashes across his cheek. "Kill him!" She snarled. "Were not going to get anything from him."
"Leave him to me for awhile," William said confidently.
"Leave him to you?" Angelus looked at the third vampire in the room with blatant skepticism. "Spike my boy, youre even less subtle than I am. What makes you think you can make him talk?"
"Youre not having any bloody luck are you?" The younger vampire said snidely. "Let me have a go. Whats the worst that could happen?"
"Not much I suppose," Darla fumed, still smarting from being rejected by a mere human. "I doubt youd fare any better."
"I suppose there is no harm in it is there?" Angelus looked down upon his lover and caressed her shoulder in an effort to soothe her bruised ego after Josiahs refusal to submit to her charm. "Alright then Spike, see what you can do with him."
"Ill make him dance to a little tune by the time Im done with him," William said cockily as his older companions left the room for the time being. William watched them go as Josiah contemplated what fresh hell he was about to face at the hands of this younger, more brutal version of the vampire he had come to know.
William waited until after Darla and Angelus had left the room before he locked the door behind them. Josiah watched the vampire whom he would one day know as Spike and noted that time had done very little to change their mannerism. William moved with the same predatory confidence that Spike did and his hair was a honey blond as opposed to the unnatural white gold that the future version favored. He was dressed in suit instead of being entirely in black although he had discarded the suit coat. He pulled up the chair that Angelus had previously occupied and sat the wrong way on it as he faced Josiah.
"Fact is I couldnt care less about why theres another version of me here," William declared.
Josiah did not speak but was curious as to what he did care about.
"Theres strange magic going on here and I dont like it, dont even want to go messing about with it to tell you the truth."
"What do you want?" Josiah asked wearily, wishing he would just get on with it. Conversation was almost as exhausting as the torture, if not more. Conversation required him to think and Josiah did not wish to do that.
"I want to leave here," William stated. "I dont like it much and its playing havoc with Dru. The magic hurts her. I dont want to see her in pain."
Josiah honestly believed the sincerity that William had in his voice when he spoke about the vampire female Drusilla. As he did, Josiah could see that the same deep affection in his eyes that Spike had held for Buffy. Spike, William, whatever he was, must have been a contradiction. He was something that could not possibly be but was nonetheless. What was it that allowed him to feel the way he did? That allowed him to transcend the demon impulses within him to feel so much for another being?
"I cant make that happen." Josiah replied.
"No you cant," William nodded in agreement. "But you can give me the slayer."
The preachers eyes widened.
"If I get the slayer, I can convince Angelus to leave. Dru had a vision tonight and it scared the hell out of Angelus. He thinks I didnt notice how spooked he was but I did. Hes bloody terrified. If I can kill this slayer, then whatever Dru saw will come undone and Angelus will be able to leave this place."
"I cant give you the slayer," Josiah responded.
"No," William conceded that. "But you can tell me where shell be. Give me that and Ill let you go. Im not like Angelus, I dont particularly give a bleeding stuff if youre a preacher or not. If you ask me, I think hes got some parental issues that have followed him from his human life."
"Youll let me go?" Josiah stared at him skeptically.
"Im a vampire of my word," William stated.
"Thats not very reassuring," Josiah said weakly.
"Probably not," William could not blame him for his skepticism. "But thats all you got."
"I have no reason to trust you," Josiah swallowed, something of a plan forming in his mind. It was in all honesty, a long shot but he had to try. The alternative was to remain here and be killed anyway. If given a choice, Josiah would rather die trying for freedom then doing nothing. "You could get what you want and kill me anyway and I doubt that Angelus would allow you to follow through with your end of the bargain of letting me go."
"Angelus doesnt scare me." William retorted somewhat offended by Josiahs suggestion that he needed Angelus approval to do anything.
"You cant offer me what you dont have," Josiah replied before looking away, appearing convinced that William was in no position to help him. To a certain extent, he did not think this gamble was going to work but Josiah had no choice but to try.
"I can do whatever I bloody want," William stated, properly annoyed by the fact that Josiah thought him to be weaker and beholding to Angelus. "Look," he reached for the ropes binding Josiahs hands. "I can free you."
Within a few seconds both of Josiahs hands were free but it would take more than that for Josiahs freedom to come to him. He was not so delirious with pain to not realize that. Sucking a deep breath, feigning relief and compliance, he raised his eyes to the vampire who was looking down at him with a smug expression, gloating over proving Josiah wrong, that he did have the power to free the preacher.
"I dont suppose I could have a drink of water?" Josiah looked up hopefully.
The vampire considered the request a moment and then retreated to the far corner of the room and poured Josiah a drink from a jug of water that had been left there by the previous owners of the home. He brought the cup to Josiah who raised it to his lips.
"Now preacher," William stated, turning his back on the man as he slaked his thirst. "Give me the slayer or Ill kill you myself."
Josiah wasted no time the moment Williams gaze had moved away and offered a silent pray to his God for favor just once more. His hand moved quickly, making the sign he had not made in too long but would make all the difference if his faith still held and as far as Josiah knew this entire situation had only served to make it more iron clad that it had ever been. William noticed the movement but not what Josiah had done, swinging around suspiciously to face the preacher once more.
"What..." he started to say when he realized that Josiah was in the same position he had left him, holding his cup of water and quenching his thirst. Upon realizing that nothing had changed, Williams impatience grew short.
"Enough of this," William strode purposefully towards Josiah, preparing to resort to more physical methods of acquiring his information when suddenly Josiah stood up and flung the contents of the cup into the vampires face.
Williams scream followed Josiahs desperate lunge through the window. The preacher did not care about the damage he would do to himself, interested only in escape. Wood and glass shattered as he passed through the opening into the cool night air, his whole body screaming in protest from the exertion. Josiah did not look behind him to see what had happened to William, knowing only that the drink he had blessed and had turned into holy water was enough to do enough damage to the vampire. Josiah did not know where he was but he knew that his life depended on staying free and in the open until dawn. That was some hours away and the scent of blood would make him easy to track. Unfortunately, he had little choice but to run.
Every step sent a fresh wave of pain through him but Josiah did not look behind as he ran even though he heard more glass breaking in the distance as he left the house behind him. It was not long before he heard Williams enraged cry.
"PREACHER!!!!!!!!!!! I AM GOING TO TEAR YOUR BLOODY HEART OUT!"
Josiah did not doubt him for one instant.
+ + + + + + +
"STOP!" Spike shouted as they rode towards the Landers homestead.
Four horses came to a sudden stop, with Buffy clinging on tighter to Spike at the abrupt halt. Chris immediately turned to the vampire wanting to know why they were stopping especially when time was so crucial. The gunslinger was fighting his worst fears that the preacher might have already died and any delay in reaching Josiah did not at all sit well with him. Especially when one remembered that death was the not the worst thing that could happen to Josiah tonight.
"What is it?" Chris demanded of Spike.
"Blood," Spike said automatically, looking around the stretch of woods and terrain before him. "I smell blood."
"You said that already," Chris pointed out impatiently.
"I mean a lot of it cowboy," Spike stared at him shortly, not noticing the annoyance that crossed Chris face at being called that. "Somewhere close by. The winds carrying it to me."
"Someones bleeding," Buffy stated, understanding what the vampire was reaching at. "Human?" She looked at him.
Spike dismounted his animal and helped Buffy out of the saddle. When she was on the ground, he started walking away from the group. The scent of blood was strong and it was texture and salt were unmistakable. After more than a century of breathing it in, there was no mistaking the familiarity of its assault upon his senses.
"Its human and its close," Spike started to follow the scent, the wind was carrying it to him.
"Spike are you sure about this?" Buffy asked uncertainly as she followed him closely. It took less than a second for Chris, Vin and JD to dismount and hurry after them.
"No Im not," Spike said honestly. "It could be any other human in the area bleeding like a stuck pig. In either case, I dont think you want to be leaving them on their own out here do you, with vampires about? It would be like ringing the dinner bell."
"Could you put that another way?" Buffy retorted when she saw the three men next to her stiffen in reaction.
"Sorry," Spike glanced over his shoulder in what passed for apologetic where he was concerned. "You know what I mean dont you tracker?"
"Yeah," Vin nodded, understanding perfectly well what the vampire was referring to. He had hunted enough animals in his time to understand the analogy, although he did not like to think of Josiah in that same way. "I know what youre talking about."
"Can you tell how far away he is?" JD inquired, letting his eyes travel across the landscape and through the woods, trying to see this person whom both hoped and feared might be Josiah.
"Afraid not," Spike shook his head in response but he was moving faster, following its path. He could almost feel the fear breathing down his neck and felt relished by the familiar scent of prey. It had been so long. Now that the chip was gone, he could bask in the freedom to feed if he so desired it. All his instincts seemed freed, all the desires he had been suppressing for so long. He had not realized he was running now, that his feet was carrying him forward with surprising speed that the others were running at full speed to catch up with him.
"Spike!" He heard Buffy call but Spike did not answer. The scent of blood was so strong, he could almost taste it. He wanted to taste it. And for the first time in so long, he could taste it if he wanted to. He could even kill. The knowledge that he was freed of that damned chip impacted on him for the first time since all this began. He had wanted it gone for so long but with Buffys absence from his life, he had not given it much thought but he was free, truly free for the first time in almost two years. He could do whatever he wished and not be preyed by conscience or some foolish hope that a slayer might someday love a vampire.
He was almost euphoric with the realization until suddenly he heard a rustle in the bushes before him and looked up just in time to see a body lunging through the foliage straight into him. Both of them toppled over upon collision, with Spike recovering a good deal faster than the other. The vampire got to his feet quickly, fully aware he had run into the person who was emanating that visceral scent of blood and fear. It was only when he looked more closely at the man lying on his back, to exhausted to move, with pain etched in his face as markedly as blood was over the rest of his body, did Spike recognize it to be Josiah.
"Oh hell," Spike sunk to his knees as he stared at the wounds on the preachers body. He had thought he looked bad after Glory had been done with him but this was worse. "You look bloody awful preacher."
Josiah blinked his swollen eyes and stared at the face he thought to be his pursuer at first but soon realized was not. "Ive been better," he whispered through bloody lips.
"You just stay there preacher, helps coming," Spike swallowed, trying to ignore this hollowness in his gut as he called out for the others who had not been far behind him. "Over here!" He shouted into the night before looking down at Josiah once more. Without thinking, he pulled off his jacket and laid it over the fallen mans body, hoping that it would do some good. He had not lied when he said he cared about what happened to this man. Spike had not forgotten Josiahs kindness when they had first met .He saw the preacher, his body broken and bleeding, dying if he was not helped and found himself repulsed by all the feelings he had relished a short time ago. He had been enjoying all those feeling, thinking about all his freedoms now that the chip was gone, never for one moment considering that it was a friends pain and dying that he was enjoying so immensely.
He shouldnt be feeling this way! He was fucking vampire for Christs sake! He was not supposed to have conscience or consider humans any more than happy meals on legs as he had once coined the term of feeding. He should not be falling in love with slayers or guarding her life and her existence with his own! What was he? He was certainly no vampire! And after what he had been doing a short time ago, he was no human either. He was a freak who had become neither human nor vampire. Trapped in the limbo that existed between the two, he was doomed to be torn apart for what he was and if he was not careful, he was going to take everyone he cared for into the abyss as well. Just like this preacher and Buffy.
He almost destroyed her because he existed.
"This cant go on," Spike found himself saying almost in a daze, feeling his throat choke with emotion. "I cant go on like this any more."
Josiah looked at him weakly but did not speak.
"I have to stop this," he said in a small voice. "I have to end it here before it gets any worse."
"Spike," Josiah managed to say as he saw Spike retreating away from him. "Where are you going? William, hes still out there."
Spike absorbed the information readily enough, wondering if it was serendipity that made it William the one who had come after Josiah and coming to the conclusion that this would make things considerably easier. "See you around preacher," Spike bid the injured man goodbye, certain that Buffy and his friends would find him soon enough before hurrying down the path Josiah had taken to reach him.
+ + + + + + +
"Josiah!" Chris exclaimed when they finally reach the spot where the preacher lay. Josiah was lying flat on his back, his body a multitude of bruises they could see even in the darkness. Chris skidded to the ground next to his injured comrade and felt his stomach knot in horror at the wounds on the mans body and face.
"Oh God," Buffy cried out, as she looked on at the kindly preacher whose calming influence reminded her of Joyce. "Is he alive?"
"Barely," Chris said as he felt Josiah for a pulse. Josiah was appeared unconscious and Chris was hardly surprised that the scent of blood had driven Spike a little crazy. There was more than enough of it spilled by the preacher to ensure that every predator in a ten-mile radius would be making a beeline straight for him had he lain here any longer. "Vin, help me."
Vin did not need to be told because the tracker was already assisting Josiah to his feet. It took both Chris and Vin to use every ounce of strength they had to lift Josiah to his feet. Josiah was all muscle and bulk and he stood almost as tall as Buck but nowhere as lean. He was a solidly built man that had always towered over them but somehow felt frail and insignificant now. That alone inspired the trios utmost fury with Angelus who had obviously did this to him for information.
"Wheres Spike?" JD asked, looking around for the vampire. "Did he just leave him?"
"I wouldnt be surprised," Buffy frowned. However, even as the thought crossed her mind, she knew she was being unfair, Spike had been just as worried as the others over this mans welfare. However, her natural instincts towards the vampire would not be denied.
"Buffy," Josiah started to speak.
"Easy there big fella," Chris responded automatically. "Were gonna get you out of there. Just take a breather."
"No!" Josiah hissed. "Buffy."
"Yes Josiah?" Buffy asked coming closer because she could hear his labored breath and did not wish him to exert himself any more than necessary if he insisted on talking.
"You have to go after him," Josiah grunted through his teeth purposefully. "You have to go now!"
"After Spike?" Buffy did not understand. "Spike can take care of himself. He doesnt need me."
"If you dont go," Josiah looked her in the eye. "He wont need anything ever again."
+ + + + + + +
It did not take Spike to find him.
The vampire was so full of rage that he was screaming angry profanities at the preacher who had tricked into aiding his escape. The scent of blood brought him to Spike as easily as it had brought Spike to Josiah a short time ago. They met in a clearing between the trees, staring at each other through the moonlight, alone for the first time. Williams face was wounded, he could see the flesh burnt off in places. Spike was reminded of how he had looked after Buffy had toppled a church on top of him during one of their battles when he was something to be reckoned with, not this pathetic shadow of a vampire. Williams injury looked new however and without knowing the details, Spike realized that Josiah had somehow inflicted this upon the vampire.
"You again!" William hissed, his injuries hidden by the vampire visage he had taken upon sighting Spike. "Where is he? Wheres that bloody bastard of a priest!"
"Where you cant get at him," Spike retorted almost wearily. He wanted this over and done with. He wanted it all over. He wanted to be finished. "Was all that your handiwork?"
"No that was Angelus," William hissed as they began to circle each other, preparing themselves for the battle they knew was coming since they laid eyes upon each other. "Im going to do worse."
"Youre going to do nothing," Spike replied shortly. "Everything that you should do, youre not going to. Im ending it here and now."
"So you are me then?" William taunted, not really listening only wanting to fight.
"Yeah I am you and I suppose you should know that you had a bloody good run as vampires go, a hundred and fifty years all up human and demon. You had some good times, you made a name for yourself and you stuck with Dru for along time but that was my past and the future youre not going to see. Im finishing us both now." Spike said softly.
William did not listen because he could not possibly understand and he attacked first. Spike sidestepped him easily, slamming an elbow into the small of his back as he dodged the initial attack. William staggered forward but Spike caught up with him easily enough and threw a kick into the same spot, this time sending him all the way to the ground. The younger vampire landed heavily on his knees, a groan of pain escaping him as Spike slid his arm around his throat and dragged him to his feet again. William clawed at him as Spike held him firm in his grip. This was almost too easy. The fighting techniques Spike had learnt to battle the Slayer he would encounter in China was almost unknown in this day and age especially to William who was still employing Queensbury Rules and did not stand a chance.
"Sorry mate," Spike whispered as he pulled out the stake he had tucked in his belt when he left Josiah. "This is for the best. Believe me."
William saw the wooden stake and began to struggle harder, desperately trying to free himself from Spikes deadly grip. Spike could not stand to prolong this ugly affair and brought down the stake towards his younger versions heart. Spike closed his eyes, preparing to disappear when the point reached Williams heart, hoping that non-existence would be quick and painless as a vampires death should be.
It did not happen.
Something caught his wrist and kept it from making that final journey through flesh. Spike opened his eyes and found Buffy staring at him, her eyes stricken with shock and horror.
"What are you doing?" She demanded.
"Let it go Slayer," Spike swallowed, cursing the fact that she was here. "Its better for both of us this way. If Im gone, none of this would have happened. You wouldnt have to worry about getting wiped out of existence."
"You think this is an answer?" She cried out and slammed her fist into his face, forcing him to release his hold of William. The younger vampire stared at them both in confusion, clearly shaken at how close he had come to dying.
"Get out of here!" Buffy hissed angrily. "Get out of here before I finish what he almost did!"
William stared at Buffy; he was injured and not ready to face another version of himself and a slayer as well, not alone anyway. There would be another time but not today. "Later." He hissed menacingly and ran off into the darkness leaving Buffy and Spike alone.
Spike was on his knees, still holding the stake in his hand when Buffy turned to him.
"Why did you do that?" He asked dejectedly.
"Why did I do that?" Buffy could not believe he was asking the question. "You were going to kill him!"
"I know!" He shouted. "That was the plan, luv!"
"You were going to kill yourself!" She glared at him, wondering how he could even begin to contemplate suicide.
"So bloody what?" He stared back at her. "Whats it to you if I did? If I had killed myself then all this would be over. The preacher wouldnt be lying back there with his guts almost torn out and you wouldnt have to worry about me killing your great, great grandpa!"
Buffy felt her mind overloaded with disbelief. "You think I want that? You think I want you to die?"
"Why not?" Spike glared at her. "What is there for me? Even if this all works itself out, theres nothing for me back in the future! Ill still be this ridiculous joke trying to cling on to good old days when he used to the Big Bad instead of this neutered animal that nobody wants around! You especially! Damn you Slayer! Why did you have to change the rules?"
"What rules?" She exclaimed in bewilderment. Why did he make things so difficult? "What are you talking about!"
"When you came back," he looked at her with eyes glistening with moisture. "I thought I would die from how happy I was to see you alive. I know you didnt love me, I accepted that because seeing you breathing and walking was like a dream. If I couldnt have you, knowing you were alive was enough. But then you changed the rules, you touched me and we made love. How am I suppose to go back to what it was after that! How am I supposed to be around you knowing that Im just bloody convenient! I love you. I love you in every way that a man can love a woman but I want to be more than just a shag when you have an itch to scratch!"
"Spike its not like that!" Buffy tried to explain but could not say very much in her defense. It had been just like that and no matter how much she tried to deny it, she could not make it any less true. She had treated him badly, worse in fact than Parker had ever treated her. At least he had not humiliated her the next day with the unkind words Buffy had delivered to Spike that morning.
"Of course not," Spike replied. "Its just convenient!"
"Spike stop it," Buffy felt herself becoming angry. "We got more important things to deal with."
"You can do them without me," Spike responded. "Im staying right here."
"What do you mean?" Buffy stared at him before realizing what he was saying.
"Im going to see the sun rise." His gaze moved past her towards the horizon.
"Spike get up!" She pulled him to his feet. "You cant do this! I wont let you! I wont have you kill yourself for me!"
"IM NOT DOING IT FOR YOU!" He shoved her away. "Im doing it for me! I cant bloody well go on this way Slayer. I cant! Its becoming too hard!"
Tears were running down his pale skin and as she saw him in his misery, she found her own eyes filling with tears because she had driven him to this. Ever since she had returned from the dead, Spike had been there for her. He had helped her through the worst of returning to her life and she had felt drawn to him because he made the emptiness inside her go away. She had used him to feel without any thought as to how it would effect him. When she had made love to him, she had felt something she had never experienced before, an insatiable need she could not quench and she had drunk him over and over that night. In the morning, she had been ashamed that she had succumbed to lust and told herself that he was a demon and it did not matter what he felt or how she treated him.
"Spike, Im sorry," she whispered. "Im so sorry. I didnt understand."
He was surprised by the admission because it was the first time she had shown anything resembling real human feeling towards him, other than when he was required to make her feel whole like the night in that crumbling building. However it was not enough. "It doesnt matter Slayer," he dropped to his knees again. "Its over. Im finished."
"NO!" She shouted angrily, scrambling to him. "I dont know how I feel about you!" She finally confessed as if the words were wrenched from the depths of her. "I dont know if I will ever love you the way you love me but if you do this, well never know!"
"Please, let me go," he met her gaze. "I cant stay and wait for you and if you never come around, Ill still have to watch you die and I cant bear that again."
Buffy thought hard. She did not know what to say that could make him want to go on. She felt even worse because she had wanted to die once and his were the only words that had made her choose life. Why could she not do the same for him? How is that he ended being the more caring one in what passed for their relationship? Finally it came to her, what she had to say and it was the only thing she could think of saying because he had spoken it once to her once. She hoped it had the same effect upon him.
"Lifes not bliss, its just this," she reached for his cheek so that he would face her and started singing softly. "Its living. Youve got to go on living, so one of us is living."
Spike blinked and heard the words he had once sung to her seep into him. Sure, it did not have the fanfare created by a musical inducing demon but he could see that she was sincere and determined that he lived and that gave him something he had not felt in too long.
"Please Spike," Buffy spoke from the heart this time, not using words that belonged to him. "I dont know how I feel about you but you do fill up a space inside of me and I dont want that to end. Maybe well never be more than we are but I do care, perhaps not in the way you want but someday, it could be more. I just need time."
"Time," he snorted and rose to his feet, taking a deep breath. "Ive got lots of it."
"Not if the sun comes up," she pointed out with a smile.
"Alright," he conceded defeat. As if he had ever had any chance of defeating her. It was no different than any of their battles. She always won. "Point taken," he sighed. "Lets get under the shade."
"Yeah, lets do that," Buffy smiled, hiding just how relieved she was that she had not lost him.
Maybe someday she would tell him.
+ + + + + + +
Listening to them from his hiding place amongst the bushes, Angelus watched Buffy and Spike leave with a smile on his face.
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