Chapter 3: My Only Friend
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“Pet, you might want to tell your geeky little boyfriend to stop irritating everyone with his OCD issues. I’ve heard talk about leaving him outside the camp overnight. It won’t be a pretty sight.” Spike warned, blowing cigarette smoke in the other direction. Penny scowled irritably. The peroxide blonde grinned at her expression. “You’re cute when you’re pissed off.”
“Geez Spike. For a hundred and something vampire, you haven’t figured out how to lay off the cheese when talking to girls have ya?” Penny asked sweetly.
They were part of a small group, hunting for food and medical supplies in a mall just outside the city limits. The two of them stood guard at the entrance of a pharmacy as another two searched for useful stuff within.
It hadn’t taken long for the group of survivors to realize that the Nebraskan girl was the one of the best shots they had. Which wasn’t saying much, but considering the limited skills of the group at large, whatever little she brought to the table was valued. Unfortunately for fortunately, depending on how one looked at it, this resulted in her being posted to guard duty often, when she wasn’t on re-con missions. Even if part of her was selfishly terrified that she might not survive each assignment, she went along with it. Anything was better than sitting around feeling useless.
“You remind me so much of her…” Spike started wistfully.
“I probably shouldn’t ask but…who?”
“Another girl I knew once. Small, blonde, kicked a lot of vampire ass…”
“How’d she end up with you?” Penny asked suspiciously, remembering something from her own life. “Lost a bet?”
“I could say the same about you and Wonder Geek.” Spike retaliated.
“Was her name Anne?” She refused to meet his eyes.
Spike shot her a sideways glace, seemingly startled.
“Buffy. Buffy Anne Summers.” He confirmed after a moment. “The Slayer. One girl, before there was an entire herd.”
“So…she’s alive.” Penny said softly, more to herself than at Spike, whom she still didn’t like. Didn’t matter if they told her he had a soul. He was still a vampire.
“I hope so.” He murmured, dropping his cigarette. As he put it out under his heel, his expression turned utterly grave, “Listen Pet. Don’t let Wonder Geek get too close to Illyria. Promise me.”
“Is she Fred or is she Illyria?” Penny wondered. “Can’t keep names straight around here.”
“Wish I could tell you luv. But it doesn’t make a difference. It will only lead to much badness, as Buffy would say.”
“Are the two of you a thing?”
“Me and Big Blue? No.” he drew his leather duster closer around his wiry frame, even though it was as warm as Hell could be. “No.”
Penny nodded. She didn’t like Spike – didn’t mean that she didn’t trust him.
The weeks had turned into months, since they first joined the safehouse. The one run by a werewolf chick, an honest-to-god Mutant (“The X-Men do exist!” Sheldon had exclaimed immediately, to Penny’s chagrin) who shot electricity from her fingertips, and the teenaged boy named Connor, whom Angel had sent them to in the first place.
True, the leaders didn’t exactly inspire immediate confidence in her, but it was better than being on their own. Nina, Gwen and Connor had managed to keep the few survivors under their wing alive, and that was something in the desolate warzone once known as downtown L.A.
Besides, once she had seen them in battle, it became clear why they were in charge.
As they drove into the compound, Spike avoided all the booby traps that came from the brain of Sheldon Cooper. Vicious traps such as killer robots made of scrap metal and blades that shot out of spring loaded rusty pipes, were among some of the lovely surprises that led to the entrance of the ratty warehouse they were holed up in.
Strange as it was, she found herself extremely proud of her boyfriend’s killer instincts. As she stepped onto the concrete, she brushed past everyone, following the sound of Sheldon’s distinctive voice.
They were in a corner, discussing excitedly the mechanics of some new toy he was trying to invent. Not toy, she corrected herself. Security system that would probably be able to decapitate at least a dozen heads under a minute. The mousy girl she knew as Fred, or Illyria as Spike referred to her as, was gesticulating wildly, scribbling out equations excitedly onto scrap paper.
There was a time when she might have been jealous at the sight of a lover sitting so close to another woman. Now, all she felt was tendrils of fear creeping into her heart as she recalled Spike’s warning.
“Hey.” She called out.
The Sheldon she had known in what felt like another lifetime would have ignored her greeting, preferring to continue with his work. In this one, he excused himself abruptly from his discussion with Fred, making his way to her side under a split second. Fred seemed oddly curious as she stared at them.
“I don’t want to interrupt but…” Penny started, feeling the weight of the other woman’s strange scrutiny.
“And yet you have.” Fred’s voice deepened the way it did on severable memorable occasions, right before she took out some new Demon Lord that decided to test his will against hers. Sheldon might have been capable of ignoring such a tiny detail, that the harmless looking girl could become a killing machine in a heartbeat, but Penny wasn’t quite able to do the same. The blonde girl weathered the intense gaze, until a bright smile appeared on Fred’s face. “Go on you two.”
“I’ll be back.” Sheldon promised, leading Penny back to the tiny quarters they shared.
The moment they were alone, Penny found her hips pressed against the corrugated iron walls of their room, pinned in place under the weight of his lanky body.
A slum. She lived in a fucking slum, she thought for the thousandth time as she felt sharp slats digging into her back.
“You were gone for hours.” He almost snarled against her mouth. His body was a strip of muscle now, not a spare pound of flesh to spare. “Do you know what I was thinking?”
“Let’s be honest.” She said in between her laboured breaths as she ripped at the fly of his pants. “I never do.”
“Fucking hell Penny,” he had stopped saying ‘Frak’ some time ago. For some reason, the way he said ‘Fuck’ sent a jolt of excitement straight to her clit. At the same time, it made her want to cry for the part of Sheldon Lee Cooper that was lost forever.
Ignoring the latter emotion, she yanked his cock out, as he returned the favour and pulled off her pants. Slipping his hand under her ass, he lifted her body and tilted his hips.
“Every fucking time you leave,” he gasped as he slid inside her. “Every fucking time, I go a little crazier.”
“Sheldon,” she whispered, held upright only because she was trapped between his body and the wall.
His lips latched onto her neck, onto the faint wounds a vampire named Sam had left on there once, which Leonard had only deepened. As his tongue moved against her skin, as he thrust again and again into her welcoming body, her nails dug hard into his back, practically ripping into the fabric of his shirt.
She could feel the muscles moving under his skin, feel the heat coming off him in waves as he clung desperately to her, like she was the only thing anchoring him to the earth.
“Penny,” he murmured into her skin, as her fingers tangled in his lengthening hair.
“Fuck yeah,” she whispered, feeling her own body coil like a tightly wound spring.
His teeth scraped against her lower lip, and with a cry, she came. Slowing his movements, he waited for her to come back down to earth, before he pushed hard against her a few more times. As he came, her name lingered on his lips.
Together, they slid to the dirty ground, legs and arms entangled.
“I missed you.” He said.
“I can tell,”
All their friends were dead because they had to kill them. They hadn’t had a proper shower in weeks, and they lived in a germ infested Hell-hole – and that term wasn’t even an exaggeration.
Some days, Penny thought about leaving the compound alone and weaponless, under the blood moon and grayed-out sun.
The honest truth was, she doubted even Sheldon would blame her the day she finally did it.
She wasn’t comfortable with him coming along on a re-con mission. He wouldn’t stop talking, wouldn’t stop wanting to touch, wanting to explore the abandoned Wal-Mart in yet another abandoned mega-mall, and it frightened her.
“Relax.” Spike said, striding along beside Penny as she kept her eyes on him.
“Why was he allowed to come anyway?” she demanded, her hands clenching on her crossbow so tightly, her knuckles were white.
“Allowed? He forced Nina to let him get in the truck.” Spike chortled. “He threatened to explain particle physics at length until she let him come with us.”
“Fuck.” She cursed quietly.
“I can hear you from here you know.” Sheldon called over his shoulder. He brandished his drawn Katana. “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.” Damn his Vulcan hearing
, she heard a voice in her head say.
“I have to admit, that’s a decent sword.” Spike said, bending to light his cigarette. It did not miss Penny’s attention when he suddenly froze, cocking his head to the side.
“Bugger.” He said with feeling, as the ambushers started creeping out of the shadows. “Gavrok Spiders.”
“Spiders?” Sheldon almost squeaked, edging backwards with his sword sheathed neatly behind him, his shotgun raised expectantly.
“Nasty, flesh eating fuckers.” Spike nodded. Sara and Kyle, the other two members of their team drew closer, brandishing a baseball bat and a sword respectively. Penny watched in horrified fascination as the spiders, each the size of dinner plates began scuttling closer, their legs making the most disturbing noises as they skittered across the walls and the floor.
Without warning, one of the things fell directly from the ceiling onto Sara’s face.
For as long as Penny lived, she would never forget the agonized, blood curdling scream that was dragged out of the woman’s chest.
“Everyone out!” Spike roared, smashing the pommel of his sword into one of the giant bugs that had taken a flying leap with him. “Penny, take these two nitwits with you! You’re their best hope.”
Sheldon grabbed Penny’s hand and together with Kyle, they began to make a frantic break for the exit to the parking lot, only to be blocked off by yet another swarm.
“This way!” someone shouted. Without stopping to question the wisdom of their decision, their feet pounded in the direction of the person calling out to them, ducking in and out of narrow aisles containing useless junk. Someone else hollered, “Hurry up! We can’t hold them off forever!”
Emerging from the soft toy department, the three of them found themselves staring at a group of men hacking furiously at the spiders with machetes. One of them looked up and grinned, his handsome face unchanged by the preceding years.
“Gunn!” Penny exclaimed.
“Do I know you?” her one-time saviour asked. “Hold that thought. Follow us.”
The group took off with the three scavengers in tow, running deep into the heart of the shopping mall. Twice, Sheldon turned and fired. From the unholy and inhuman shrieks they left behind, it was clear that his bullets had found their intended marks.
“Do you know this guy?” Kyle panted, his red shirt soaked in perspiration.
“Kinda.” Penny replied. “He saved me a long time ago.”
They kept running, until they found themselves at the point where all corridors converged, beside a long dormant fountain that wafted the strong, stale perfume of mildew.
“That was fun!” Gunn whooped.
“Sure.” Sheldon gasped, sweat dripping down the side of his face. “Penny, I assume this man had once been one of your many paramours?”
“Nah. I simply saved Barbie here one time from vampires, am I right?” Gunn kept smiling his easy smile. Penny frowned – when was the last time she saw someone so cheerful? “What the hell were you people doing here? If my crew hadn’t been on the hunt, no one would have been around to pull you outta that mess.”
“We were looking for supplies…” Kyle started.
“Hunt?” Penny asked, dread settling into the pit of her stomach as she reached for the stake tucked into her jeans.
“Blondes.” Gunn laughed as his eyes flashed yellow, along with the eyes of his followers. “We gotta eat too, am I right?”
Sheldon let loose a shell into a demon’s chest, sending him crashing backwards. Penny stabbed her stake into one of the vampire’s heart, before turning around to fire a bolt at yet another bloodsucker who caught the arrow in his hand. Her arms were pulled behind her, twisted in such a way that she was forced to drop both weapons. Sheldon, stared in horror as he himself was wrestled to the ground.
“Gunn, let them go.” Spike’s voice called from above. The peroxide blonde jumped from the upper level, landing square on his feet. “Or do you nuggets really think you can take me?”
Even Penny could see he was bluffing, his face more than a little cut up, his stance just that little bit weak. Close by, from the direction of Walmart, thousands of scuttling legs could be heard getting closer and closer…
“Spike, get Sheldon out of here,” Penny called out, struggling against the iron grip that entrapped her.
“You’re got a lot more guts than I had given you credit for Barbie…” Gunn almost sounded admiring. “That’s the kinda spirit I need on my team.”
As he plunged his fangs into her flesh, she felt her knees buckling under her.
“No!” Sheldon yelled. There was an audible crack as someone snapped Kyle’s neck. With a battle shout, Spike leapt at the vampires beside Sheldon. Unfortunately, Penny never got to see the end of that struggle. She could feel herself being hoisted against the cold dead body of a man who had once rescued her from certain death, and whisked away into the labyrinth of the shopping arcade.
As Penny’s began to die in earnest, all she could do was weep as she realized a deep truth – she wasn’t ready for it to end after all.
“Relax Barbie,” she could hear Gunn’s voice whispering as if from far away. “You’ll wake up better and stronger.”
And then, she was gone.
When Sheldon awoke, he found himself staring at the dripping ceiling above the tiny cot he shared with Penny. He lay still for a second, waiting to see if she would plant a kiss of greeting on his lips.
“Stay still.” Fred’s voice said in the darkness.
“Where’s Penny?” he asked, blinking rapidly.
“You’re lucky you didn’t break anything.” Fred continued as if he hadn’t spoken, her voice gentle and sweet.
Sheldon pushed himself up by the elbows, to see Spike and Fred looking at him in pity.
“Where’s Penny?” he asked again.
“You know where she is.” Spike said.
Sheldon could hear a keening sound, as if somewhere close, an animal was in pain. When he realized the sound was coming from him, he was almost surprised.
“The scientist man…his grief is strong,” Illyria said later as they patrolled the grounds.
Spike ran a tired hand over his face.
“Of course his grief is bloody strong.” Spike sounded exhausted. “He’s just lost the love of his life. We need to keep an eye on him. He may try going after her the moment he wakes up.”
“I destroyed the ones who stole Wesley’s presence from me.” She tilted her head to the side. “If he likes, I will do the same for him.”
Keeping his voice even, Spike replied, “We have more important things to think about. For instance, if she gets turned, Penny has a working knowledge of all our defense systems,”
“You don’t believe that she will retain her former affections? After all, she will retain all the memories that made her human.”
Spike looked at the blue Goddess beside him, trying to understand what Illyria was asking.
“I don’t know.” He said. “I don’t know if things were ever as simple as we pretended them to be.”
He tried to remember about the way her skin felt under his hands, and wondered at himself, that he had waited so long before acting on his desire to touch her. For years, he’d tried to pretend he was better than his friends – that he was above such base urges as sex, above the need for companionship and affection. When he told people that he was an evolved specimen of humanity, he had even believed it.
The first time he had held her, that first amazing Christmas, was the first time his wall of absolute certainty had began to crumble. She had been so small in his arms, softer than anything he had ever touched.
Fred had been back earlier, only she was wearing her hair blue, in the leather catsuit that once would have set Wolowitz’s head spinning. She’s spoken to him in an alien voice, inquiring awkwardly first, about his well-being, and then muttering something about blood vengeance. He would have responded if Spike hadn’t showed up, as he always did, to hustle her out of the room, leaving him alone once again. Several other people had stopped by to offer their sympathy, but he had simply ignored their well-wishes. He didn’t care if everyone whom he was sharing a roof with had lost someone. This was his loss, and his alone.
Rolling over, Sheldon breathed deeply, trying to convince himself he could still smell her.
If he could go back to the day he met her, he wouldn’t have bothered mocking Leonard for his efforts. He would have strode across that hall and locked himself in with her in her tiny apartment. He would have forgotten about everything else that used to matter, because none of it mattered anyway, as it turned out.
When what passed as dawn broke, he was off the bed, seated on the floor, a feverish light in his eyes. Scraps of paper surrounded him as his hands flew over his writing pad, scribbling formulas and drawing diagrams, visual depictions of cells and genomes.
Truly, he almost regretted staking Leonard, although what he had done was necessary – Penny’s safety was paramount. Is
paramount, he reminded himself. There was always a chance she wasn’t gone.
Perhaps he could have saved Leonard, is what he was thinking now, but hindsight was always 20/20 wasn't it?
If a human could be transformed into a vampire through something as simple as blood transfusion, there had to be a formula, a technique of reversing it. It was all in his head, if only he could find the right balance of chemicals.
Leaving the room once, he approached Spike who had just returned from another rescue op. with a new survivors, and asked imperiously if he could have a blood sample.
“What for?” Spike frowned.
“For my experiment of course.” He said like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “I’m convinced that with a little time and some effort, I can solve this riddle.”
Spike continued to look at him in confusion.
“If Penny is still out there.” Sheldon swallowed. “I can save her. I’m sure of it.”
As Spike's confusion quickly melted into a sort of sympathy and pity, Sheldon forced himself not to react.
“Sheldon, once a human is turned, nothing short of a half-arsed prophecy can reverse the change.” Spike hesitated. “That is…if
she were turned. There’s always a chance Gunn was just...hungry…”
“You don’t know Penny.” Sheldon shook his head violently. “I cannot foresee her going gently into that proverbial good night, although how anyone can mistake the night as ‘good’ at this point is either blind or has gone completely insane.”
“Neither can I,” Spike said quietly, rubbing a shoulder that seemed just that little bit out of joint. “But mate, listen to me…”
“Will you give me a sample or not?” Sheldon demanded stiffly.
“No.” Spike snapped. “I will not bleed myself for something so pointless.”
“Fine.” Sheldon spun on his heel and returned to his quarters, bitter in the knowledge that using force on Spike wasn’t an option. Settling himself back in his spot, he picked up the blunt pencil he had been using.
Only to find that he had nothing left to write.
On the third night, a small horde descended upon the survivors.
As Spike had predicted, they managed to evade every single trap that had been carefully laid.
Sheldon listened to the chaos happening, detached and uninterested. Until the moment she stood before him, pale and magnificent even in her ripped hoodie and filthy jeans.
“Hey sweetie,” she smiled, her teeth white and perfect as before.
“Hey.” He said calmly, watching her, not making a single move to protect himself.
Even though her heart was a cold, dead thing, she couldn’t stop it from hurting as she took in his appearance. He looked even more unkempt than usual, still wearing the same clothes he had on that night in the mall. The hollowness in his eyes drew her closer, making her desperate to reach out and give him the comfort he so needed.
“Come with me if you want to live,” she quipped. Her stomach twisted. She was still hungry, even though she’d fed a second ago; there was still traces of blood lingering in her mouth, some of it splattered on her clothing. Amidst the stench of humanity, she could make out his scent, and it drove her wild.
“Terminator reference?” He responded. “What has death made of you?”
“Free, Sheldon.” She laughed, tossing her head back in heady pleasure as she luxuriated in the sensation of newfound strength coursing through her. “All that fear, all that anger and frustration…gone. Nothing but this feeling, like I’m soaring…”
Her body slunk closer.
“I can give that to you,” she murmured. “We can be together, forever. No more running, no more hiding…how would you like that for a change?”
“You’d just damn him.” Spike said from behind.
“Shut up Spike, you pathetic piece of shit.” She snarled, turning to face him with her game face on. “Don’t think Gunn didn’t tell me how we ended up here in Hell, you and Angel playing God with our lives...”
“I suppose we all have our version of events.” He leaned against the door frame casually as if there weren’t several bodies just two feet away, staring accusingly at him for failing to protect them. “But let’s stick to the subject. If you turned him, what makes you think that what comes back will still love you?”
.” She said with conviction.
“Trust me Pet. Just because you still feel the bond, doesn’t mean his
demon will.” Spike said with infinite patience and sadness. “I’ve got some experience in that area.”
“I’ll take that chance.” Sheldon said softly. Her eyes shifted back to her human green, as she flashed him a brilliant smile. “I can see no other way.”
“Sorry mate. Not tonight.” Spike grabbed Penny’s shoulder and spun her around, stake already poised to strike. Neither of them saw the speed at which Sheldon moved, placing himself between the old and the young vampire until it was far too late.
“Fuck!” Spike cursed as his stake tore through bone and sinew, into a beating human heart. Penny’s eyes widened in horror as Sheldon collapsed against her, eyes open in death. The gaping hole in his chest kept on bleeding unabated.
“You killed him!” she screamed, her voice roughened by fury and despair. In one moment, Spike could see that he had completely broken her, the way none of the horrors of the past months had done, the way dying a brutal death in the hands of a psychotic vampire had not accomplished.
“I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry,” Spike said sincerely, struck with remorse.
With an animalistic growl, she jumped to her feet and ran at him, no longer caring for her own existence. So he did what he had meant to all along.
Standing in the room, now filled only with dust and the body of Sheldon Cooper, Spike sighed and retreated.
Outside, the sounds of battle were already dying down.
Penny almost dropped the cup of hot milk in her hands as she stumbled in her kitchen.
Last thing she remembered, Spike was shoving a stake through her chest, and she could feel, literally feel, her body disintegrating into ash. Carefully, she set her mug down on her counter and ran to the bathroom, relieving her stomach’s contents. When there was nothing left to dispel, she stumbled to her feet and switched on the tap, staring in confusion as clear water flowed out. Finally, she bent down and took a sip. A sip became a gulp, and she kept drinking, trying to get the taste of sick out of her mouth…trying to rid herself of the taste of blood.
Someone was at her door.
(Knock, knock, knock)
(Knock, knock, knock)“Pen...”
(Knock, knock, knock)
The door opened before it could continue. On the other side, Sheldon stood, fist still posed for a third knock. Instead of completing his ritual, he pulled her flush against his body and captured her mouth in a searing kiss.
“What just happened?” she asked at last when they pulled apart.
“I don’t know. Spike killed me. And then I was sitting at my desk, still conducting that raid…”
Hand in hand, they gingerly approached the window and looked outside. The sky was a normal indigo, the moon a sliver of white. People were stumbling in the street, staring upwards in wonder. Soft cries of confusion drifted upwards, but there was no sign of anyone struggling or hurt. Bodies did not line the gutters and the tentacles that had held Los Angeles County for months were absent.
“Sheldon…you’re the smart one.” She started.
Her cell phone started ringing. Giving Sheldon a significant look, she pounced on it. The Caller ID reflected a single name. Carefully, she pressed the green button and held the phone to her ear.
“Leonard?” she asked tentatively.
“Oh God. You’re alive!” he said in a rush.
Sheldon snatched the phone from her as her knees began to fold under her, very much of their own accord.
“I’m not convinced this isn’t some kind of cruel trick.” he stated, running back to the window, his fingers gripping at the sill so tightly she could see the white of his knuckles from where she was crumpled on the ground. “Are you in fact my roommate, or are you some demon trying to fuck with our minds? I warn you, I’ve taken out more than a few of your kind now.”
Penny had been holding her breath for months; she couldn’t start breathing again if she tried.