Contempt loves the silence
It thrives in the dark
With fine winding tendrils
That strangle the heart
--Natalie Merchant, My Skin
See, his deal was to always make best of a buggered situation. Not the 'cheerful in the face of adversity' bit - that sort of nonsense made him want to rip off the wanker's dangly bits and tee-off with 'em. However, it stood to reason that if unlife trapped you in a submarine swarming with S.S., you might as well celebrate Oktoberfest early.At least that's how he explained it to the litter of dead Nazis on the floor. They didn't reply. Eh, you know how dead people were.'Free Virgin Blood Party,' his arse. His pride still stung from that.It wasn't so much that he'd been duped. It was that he'd been duped so wretchedly, like a giddy newborn, some simpering fledgling mindlessly pawing for his first meal. But he'd been desperate. And desperation bred stupidity in the image of Drusilla, bloodless and weak, mewling for warm, little girls as her broken little body tossed and turned in the sheets. Desperation drove him to prowl the streets of Madrid hunting for young game and had trapped him in a submarine occupied by the carnival of idiots. Such as: The Prince of Lies, or whatever the bloke'd called himself. King of Bullshit was about right. What was it with boring, old codgers whose golden years had passed on for centuries, who insisted on regaling trapped audiences with endless exploits of once glorious havoc?'It was an apocalypse, I tell you. We had the power! We could have ended the world right then!'Well, pull out his brainstem and call him Fyarl, but considering the state of the universe at the moment, this so-called apocalypse didn't exactly happen, did it?A disgruntled grumble. "No...well, Lucas forgot the oregano. Oregano's a crucial ingredient!" he protested. "But we were this close!'Criminy.And yet, despite that, the interminable His Majesty still wagered better than conversing with contestant number two: Nostroyev, whose main claim to fame was that he'd wrapped his lips around Rasputin's thirty-centimeter (so claimed) knob. It was something the nattering little poofter rather enjoyed reminding his companions of with unnecessary frequency.Seize that.He wanted out. Now.This confinement felt a little too much like his first death. He wondered if he'd have to claw his way out of this steel casket as he had to do with his own buried coffin. Happy thoughts of using Nostroyev's head as a flotation device flitted through his brain.He rifled through the last Nazi's pockets for a key, his newest trophy, the S.S.-Gruppenführera, hanging smartly from his shoulders. If there was one thing they had going for them, it was their sense of style. Even if they did taste like pig.Taking a moment out of ransacking the corpse, he wondered how Dru was faring. Hoped his princess was still clinging on to unlife with those lovely, blood-red nails of hers.The port door swung open and he stood, facing an all-too-familiar mug.Well, well, well. If it wasn't the great big forehead himself."Spike," came Angelus' unenthused mutter.He snorted. "They'll let anybody in here."
A long time ago. Twelve months earlier, she might have forgiven him.
She might have remembered his desperate attempts to save her, the both of them atop that so-very tall tower. His frank and open willingness to sacrifice himself, to protect and watch out for her. His agony when he realized, as Doc's knife eviscerated him, he'd failed. The look on his face as he fell all those stories, and broke on the ground below.
She might have thought Spike loved her too. A little bit. In his own way.
Because she'd loved him. A little bit. In her own way.
And perhaps Dawn Summers still loved him. Somewhere, tucked away, in that tiny part of her that treasured all the summer sessions of five-card stud and scary 'when I was a bad vamp
' tales and pints of Ben and Jerry's Phish Food that accompanied late-night horror flicks on the couch as she huddled under the blankets, screaming when he grabbed her foot. Occasional sleepless nights with the two of them sitting on the back steps of the house, her arm tucked in his, head against his shoulder, as he held a cigarette with his other hand, both waiting for the sun to rise.
A larger part of her, though, hated him. Or something. For leaving. For coming back. For getting that thing
. For her
' was meandering aimlessly around the tombstones, popping off a rambly, ill-prepared lecture on staking, most of which were some variant of 'find heart, push.'
Observing her from the back, Dawn could sense Buffy's preoccupation, her distracted air and the way she held the stake, passing it restlessly from hand to hand. Next would come the twirling. And when that grew tedious, she'd start rolling it in her fingers. Moving nearer, she caught part of the murmured conversation between her friends (well, friends and one hostage), as the other potential slayers happily went through their fake-stabbing motions with all the full, if clumsy, enthusiasm possible.
"--don't feel right about just leaving Spike there."
"He hasn't regained consciousness in three days, Buff," Xander murmured in equally low tones. "Doubt it's going to happen any time soon. Besides, Will's keeping him company so it's not like he's all alone."
"It's just that--" And there went the stake rolling. "If he wakes up--"
"He'll probably scream from the stabbing pain in his chest," Anya cut in. "I don't see why we keep on feeding him. He's never going to heal with that splinter in there and it's just going to keep dripping like a leaky faucet."
Buffy glanced at the ex-vengeance demon, then away.
"Why hasn't anyone taken it out, then?" From the mouths of babes. Or in this case, Andrew, which, Dawn supposed, was close enough.
"Are you volunteering?" Anya put in bluntly. "You just need to cut him open and rummage around inside. Of course, there is that possibility that one wrong move might accidentally dust him."
The geek paled and shrunk back, pointing. "She's the one with the steady hand."
"Wha--hey--what? Me?" Buffy looked terrified. "What do I look like, Doctor Geiger? I barely passed biology. "
Xander gestured at the stake. "Considering where you stick those things on a daily basis, I'm positive you have more than a passing idea of where a heart's located."
"I--" Buffy's lips pressed together, teeth worrying the insides, turning the piece of wood over and over in her hands, looking at it like it were some sort of foreign object. As if she'd never held hundreds of them before and those calluses on her palm and the one directly below her right knuckle had formed overnight out of nowhere. "I don't think I can--"
"Gallifrey!" Blank looks dropped all around. "Doctor Who," Andrew clarified. Nothing. "His second heart was tied to the Eye of Harmony, except it didn't exist anymore and was slowly poisoning him, so he had to have it removed."
"And that answers the time-long question of, 'could you possibly be any more useless?
'" Xander sneered. He paused, considering for a moment. "Besides, it's more like Pusher
. Scientific nature of the whammy."
Andrew perked up. "Oh! The X-Files episode where Modell mind-controls Mulder and tries to make him shoot Scully!" He leaned back, dropping his voice into a lower register, and stuck both thumbs into his jeans. "'Cerulean is like a gentle breeze.
"Or we could continue to do what we're doing right now," Buffy snapped, giving the two men a dirty look, "which is--oh!--a giant exercise in nothing."
"On the other hand," Anya piped in. "once the brain damage settles in from starvation, Spike should be quite docile."
"Don't think there's going to be much of a difference, then." It wasn't even half snarky. Apparently, there was enough guilt to go around where even Xander could take a slice. "It's not as if Spike's exactly the freshest cup of coffee in the pot right now."
"Nothing like free psychotherapy from the First." Dawn tossed in half-heartedly. "Emphasis on the 'psycho.'"
Knuckles showed up white against the stake in Buffy's hand, fingers it gripping so hard, she might have caused another repeato-smasho. Dawn wondered who'd get the splinter to the heart this time around.
"It's not just that. It's the--because of...it."
Yeah, the 'it
', the younger Summers reflected sourly. Buffy'd never say it explicitly, preferring to rely on creative euphemisms, like, you know. 'It
.' Like 'it
' was something Spike'd picked up on sale at the Souls-R-Us Emporium for twelve ninety-five. Scratch and dent, slightly used. All sales final.
And it was really too bad he'd lost the receipt from whoever he bartered his sanity to, because Dawn was pretty damn sure he wouldn't have made that kind of purchase had he known just how gypped he'd get in the deal.
Buffy couldn't say the word because the whole idea was too unbelievable, too big and bulky and…like that giant white what-was-it-called bird thing? Right. Albatross. Buffy's basement-dwelling albatross. And it made her nervous and jittery and if anyone looked closely enough, maybe even a little bit guilty as well.
Which was stupid because Spike wasn't the one who'd nearly been raped. He wasn't the one Xander had found bruised and battered, crying on the bathroom floor. No, Spike didn't deserve a soul. He deserved pain. Death. Dust in the sun. Stakes and holy water and fire and a hundred splinters forever and ever and ever. He didn’t deserve any forgiveness. No forgiveness for you!
Then again, it was doubtful he wanted it.
Her gaze dropped to the ground. She was so confused. Too many questions, troubled thoughts. Too many whys no one bothered to explain.
Like--Why? Why did you do it if you loved her?
Or, to a lesser extent--Why her? Why did you choose to love her?
And in some, private, locked-up part of her--Why not me?
He never much fancied the ocean. Didn't care for being trapped in this small, steel container. Not what he would consider a jolly good time. Still, make do, so there he was, Captain Spike, ahoy and all that rot, underwater, enclosed, and with the tiniest bit of claustrophobia settling in, glaring at the Nazi cowering under the ashes of the former His Royal Horseshit. The Yanks that had boarded the swimming sardine can were apparently fully capable of running the jerry. He made a mental note to eat them later and fell back to doing what he did best - mainly, menacing."Anybody read Nazi?"The Prince of Lies had been very interested in the contents of the papers he'd had in hand, at least enough to unglue his decrepit self from his chair and attach it to Fritz (He didn't actually know the Nazi's name. But he looked like a Fritz, so Fritz he was.) before Angelus unceremoniously relegated him to the dustbin. Cranky old bastard, his sire."Intra-Gehirn-Kontrolle und Beeinflussung von Sub-Dämonen..."Oh, real helpful there, mate. Intimidation, however useful it was, did not make a German speak the King's language, and making the guy piss himself in an enclosed space was probably not the most well thought out idea he'd ever had."...Genauer: Vampire."Wait. He knew that one. "What about vampires?""I don't know. It's technical...Something about stimulation and...control. They've been experimenting on them... and cutting into their brains..."Americans. More and more useful all the time. He added a postscript to his mental note to eat this Lawson kid last. As a favor."They're trying to create an army... out of things like you."THAT he could understand. Him and Angelus. Top o' the toppers. Baddest of the bad that ever badded around."Wir sind nicht die einzigen." He was looking at Angelus funny. "Oder?""It was part of the mission." More and more interesting. Both sides, eh? Much as it was flattering to be desired by so many, he wasn't about to be melon-balled by either party in the name of science. Vampire regeneration be damned - he didn't want to empirically discover if brains grew back. If the Yanks wanted to get their hot little grubbers on him as well, supper would just have to be taken a little earlier.As he reached for his first appetizer, a young, fresh-faced boy who'd called himself "Spinelli," the jerry boat shook and shimmied, tossing them about like a package of jellybeans. Water sprung in the hulls, accompanying deafening explosions and the dead down below. Claustrophobia zoomed to the forefront and all he could think was to move. Moving. Had to keep moving. Following Angelus through the galley, through the kitchen and quarters. In the engine room, Fritz, bloody and beaten, bleating ceaselessly--"The Kraut poked me!"-- the makeshift shiv in his hands gouging out a sizeable chunk of calf. "I'll kill the bloody--""We need to go NOW, Spike."As Angelus shoved his screaming and kicking form through the door, he wondered what the hell the stupid German was bleating on about. He stopped and turned. And no, no it wasn't supposed to go this way. The plot didn't go like this. But when did William the Bloody ever listen to anything? Roughly shoving hands off, he turned to the other vampire. "What's he mean by that?""What?""Fritz, back there. He kept saying something about 'voll--vollkie-probey-something'. What does it--"But Angelus wasn't listening. His face was too busy melting, dripping like a Dali, as the filmstrip caught and burned away, celluloid dissolving into nuclear winter, and he found himself falling back, back, back......opening his eyes to white on white on white. Antiseptic stink, strapped down and sedated. Poked and prodded and starved under bright lights and plexiglass and inconsensual orthodontry."Genetic prints match the DNA strand imbedded in the Beta 37TGG mutator biochip with ninety-nine point three percent probability.""Him? He's the one?" Amused grandma voice. "Not a very impressive primogen, is he?""According to Spinelli's records, they weren't exactly picking from the cream of the crop.""And yet they've already created their first round of monsters. Monsters!" The clanking of instruments, metal bouncing in a tray. Heavy breathing. A low chuckle. "Let them keep creating their little abominations. After all, a little competition only hurts…the vampires.""Professor Walsh?""Prepare the hostile for cranial trepanation."And there were drills and needles and silicone and fire, lightning sparking through his cerebral cortex--
Spike woke screaming, his arms clutched tightly around his head as if to keep their insides from spilling out onto the pillowcase. The splinter shifted and turned, and he collapsed back onto the cot, gasping, hands dropping down to scrabble feebly over his heart. A hand gently pushed them away, pressing a towel to his bleeding chest, and his head lolled to the right, wearily surprised to find Willow perched in the chair next to him.
"Hey," she smiled in that shaky and pale manner unused to dealing with people waking in full-body elevation. "You were out for a while." Seeing that Spike wasn't about to engage in another fit of shrieking, she unwound a fraction, adding, "We were all kinda getting worried there, you know."
He nodded marginally, not believing the tiniest bit of it, and closed his eyes again, heightened senses noticing a distinct lack of high-pitched chatter, or assorted powder-and-lotion girl smells, or even the creak of the refrigerator perpetually opening and closing, accompanied by the constant patter of footsteps tromping about the floors above.
"Gone out for Slayer night school," Willow explained. "They should be back in a half hour or so."
"Must have drawn the short straw, stuck babysitting the useless infirm here." Spike's throat felt rough and sandpapery, coated with drying gobbets of a force-fed meal. He swallowed loudly, parched tongue running over the dried blood stuck to his teeth and mouth.
"I don't mind. It's kinda nice, actually, to have a bit of alone time. To sort things out. Think."
"You think about Tara." It was an intangible sort of statement, something between a query and assumption. Willow shrugged, ever so slightly. "I liked her," Spike said quietly. "She was nice."
"Yeah," her voice shook as she forced back tears. "She was, wasn't she?"
"Sorry for punching her in the face." It sounded kind of stupid, even to his ears.
"S'okay. You were only trying to help. In your typically sociopathic way." And the witch sat there, head bowed, wringing her hands in her lap. "It's funny," she stumbled on, "We both lost people important to us. Except you went out and got a soul while I went all veiny and black-magicky."
"Must've been a sight."
"Nah. Turns out, brunette's not really my color. Evil's actually pretty hard, what with the need to come up with nasty quips and nefarious plots all the time."
"We all have our bad days." Ghost of a smile. "Some of us just get 'em all strung together and call it a century."
"I doubt you ever tried to end the world single-handedly."
"Still here, innit?" His fingers brushed over his forehead. "It was the oregano, wasn't it? Everyone always forgets the oregano."
Willow let that pass, attributing it another flare up of the vampire's mental gophers.
"Been around longer'n you, Red," he added. "Add up a hundred years of unforgivable things and you'll find--"
"I'm just a one-shot apocalypse wonder? Poor Willow went temporarily insane, so if we just lay on the big old forgiveness, that'll make it all okay-dandy. Right?"
Spike found he couldn't answer that one. It wasn't as if he were familiar with the concept.
"I'm forgiven because I'm Willow. Good old, needs to be rescued, always bungling it up, Willow. Even if it's from herself." Bringing her legs up, she huddled her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. Pulling herself smaller, so small, perhaps she could disappear. "Sometimes. Sometimes I think it might have been better if they hadn't."
She couldn't explain it to them. Her friends. Anybody. Tell them, that even in her hyper-powered bad mojo'ed madness, she'd been quite lucid. Decisions were easy when you no longer cared, and in the end, what it came down to, for her, were two bullets. One misplaced, stray shot to destroy her world. And she didn't want to live in a world without Tara.
Two bullets, and the one who shouldn't have survived, did. She should have felt guilty for formulating the thought, for that quiet betrayal of her best friend, but given the choice, in this universe and all subsequent ones, she would have traded one bullet for the other, all without a second thought.
Scrubbing the back of her hand over her eyes, she glanced over at Spike, who'd shifted to lie face-up on the cot, still form broken only by the irregular rise and fall of his ribs. He didn't need to breathe, but then again, he'd smoked and talked and laughed, and when he'd exerted himself, he'd forget and start panting. Phantom lungs, shallow unnecessary breathing, the only thing separating him from the truly dead.
It reminded her of her Buffy in that operating room, the slug of lead in her heart, surrounded by surgeons and sharp instruments and machines that went 'ping
Willow sat up, her shoes dropping flat to the ground. "When Buffy was shot, I levitated the bullet out of her. Maybe I can do the same thing with the splinter."
At first, he didn't react. Then, eyes slowly re-opened. "Can't hurt to try. "
She leaned over him, hand hovering over his heart, fingers tugging on invisible mannequin strings. A whispered incantation touched his ears, murmurs, and warm rush suffusing his limbs. It began as an itch, a spark, a pull and sizzle. Then he felt it move, shift, a hot needle slowly burning, and it burned, burning in his chest, burning in his head and it was becoming unbearable. Light and the smell and the fire, blackening flesh, the splinter, the soul and the shattered demon. Hands in his heart, the sun burning out eye sockets and I'm sorry, never meant to hurt her. Oh, god, it hurts, make it stop, die, die, want to die, please let me die, can't--can't--
The tugging suddenly stopped and he fell painfully back onto the cot, sputum of blood and mucus spattering his chin, as Willow shot up from her chair, knocking it over. "I'm sorry--I--didn't—" Stumbled back. "I'm sorry--I'm sorry," she kept repeating, voice notching into hysteria, as she backpedaled towards the stairs. "I screwed it up."
"No, Will--" He reached weakly for her.
"I always screw it up. I always--"
"Red, wait!" Spike pushed himself off the cot but heavy limbs failed and he landed painfully on the floor, kicking over a nearby trashcan. The sudden, jarring agony was enough to make him vomit up the animal blood clumped in his guts. As the heaves subsided, he lifted his dripping face from the mess and looked up towards the stairs, but Willow had already fled.
"Looks like you're all alone again, with no one here but the trash for company."
And then she was there, kneeling before him, her golden hair and chapstick smile, the butterfly bandage gracing her cheek. He blinked and turned away. Illusion.
Heavy arms, heavy hands fisted the blotchy towel, wiping it over his bloodied mouth. The trickling had stopped. Wasn't much left over to bleed. He pushed himself to his knees.
"Trash. That's what Xander calls you anyway. Garbage." The First crouched in front of him. "Tell you a little secret, Spikey. They all think that. Because really, that's what you are."
Fingers picked through the refuse around him, searching through the dirty pile of candy wrappers and blood cartons until he found it. A single empty beer bottle. Widmer Amber Ale broke under his fingers, chunks of glass sprinkling on the ground. Sharp edges of the biggest shard bit into his hand as he picked it up.Shattering glass, distorted face, mottled anger, striking, blood, came back wrong. The ceiling, its beams, him. Breaking. Cracking. Sawdust tickling his back.
Get it out. Had to get it out. Drawing his fist back, he angled the point inwards and stabbed himself in the chest.
Pain made it real. For her. Everything for her. Fists, feet striking, yes, put it all on me, hate, hit, hurt, anything. Anything to protect her. And they melted all together, mushed phrases and phrases, declarations of love and hisses and sneers, breaking furniture and nails and fucking and drawing blood and biting and her begging. Begging him to stop.
Stop! Please stop! Flailing, crying, shoving. A kick and his head cracking open under the sink--
" Look at you. Weak and pathetic. You're beyond useless." Spike lifted his eyes and saw her, her beautiful face filled with disgust and loathing. "Why don't you just die?"Couldn't stop. Had to make her see. Make her feel. Understand. Couldn't she feel it? Why couldn't she feel it? Bruises matching his fingerprints, dotting her wrists, one purple mark the perfect shape of his left palm on her thigh.
"There's nothing good or clean in you!" she hissed, her voice so close to his ear.
Fingers and glass tore at his chest. Probing. Searching. For the splinter. Soul. Either. Both. Pieces of himself spilling to the floor.
Pain made him real.
"Tell me you love me," the illusion moaned.Always.
"I'm using you," it whispered.Anything to have her.
"It's killing me," it pleaded.Anything to keep her.
"Rapist."Feed on flesh.
"Nothing more than an animal."Give her what she deserves
We will give you back your soulYou are...
Dollar bills blowing in an alleybeneath
Glass, slick, so heavy in his handsbeneath her
"Ask me why I could never love you."nothing nothing but trash.
A mug crashed to the floor. A weak and nauseous "Buffy?" wavered in from the basement. The door flung open and steps piled inside. Another set, then another, then a flurry of more feet shuffling over carpet and toes slapping tile.
The Slayer roughly shoved through the mob of girls and flew down the stairs, her feet barely touching every other step. As she pivoted around the corner of the handrail, time stopped in the frozen frame of Willow standing there, hand over mouth, blood splattered on her shoes, socks and the bottom cuffs of her pants; at her feet, a broken coffee cup of congealing, microwaved pig; Spike, so still, he might have been a black and white photo against the floor. But there was too much red in this picture, everywhere; clothes and skin and hair and floor.
The stake in her hand unglued and fell, bouncing on the floor with a dull clatter.
With a lurch, time moved forward again.
Willow's head whipped around to face Buffy.
"Oh, Jesus," Xander coughed next to her, making strangled noise like a bile tarantula had crawled up his throat.
Footsteps of the girls who'd followed Buffy down tramped back up, followed by wet, retching sounds.
"What's with the big--" Dawn abruptly stopped, legs going limp, and she sat down heavily on the stairs.
Without a word, Buffy turned and marched back upstairs.
Dawn turned, incredulous, and followed her sister as she made a beeline for the kitchen. Yanking open the cutlery drawer, she pulled it all the way out slammed the drawer onto the countertop. From the pile, Buffy picked up a long filleting knife. A thin laugh followed as she held up the blade, noting the Ginsu
label. "This is supposed to be strong enough to cut through a tin can, so I guess that's good enough for..." Her jaw clicked shut.
Dawn knelt and fumbled around under the sink, breaking half a dozen yellow sponges from their cellophane wrappers, before dumping them into a pie pan. Calmly, almost casually, she remarked, "For the blood. There's going to be a lot of bleeding and you have to sponge the blood up. They do that on E.R.
all the time."
Back downstairs, they found Xander squatting over Spike, attempting to move him to a drier patch of concrete. The vampire was heavy and sticky, and he was stained up to his elbows. He glanced up at the knife in Buffy's hand, before glancing down. A red index finger traced a line down Spike's chest.
"You're going to have to go through the sternum. It's the breastplate." Off their collective looks he quirked a shoulder. "Who didn't see Pulp Fiction
But that was as far as the joke went. Unbuttoning the slippery caked shirt, Buffy pulled the halves away from his torso. The blade went limp in her grip. It was a mess. Scars, bleeders, little worms and knife cuts littered the landscape of Spike's chest like a bad cross-hatching experiment. Some were raised white lines, some crusted over, healing scabs. But a majority of them were new, all centered around the bloody, jagged mess over his heart.
"In Alien Autopsy
, they put the reticulan on a block. Better access to the thoracic cavity." Andrew, strangely enough, didn't seem as squeamish as assumed. But then again, he'd murdered Jonathan, hadn't he, Dawn reflected. He was used to stabbing someone and watching them bleed to death on the ground.
Xander bunched the towel and several shirts, slipping them under Spike.
"You're going to need retractors to keep the two halves of the sternum apart."
"Yeah, well, the amateur surgery ward's grossly underequipped at the moment, Anya." Buffy snapped, lifting the knife. "So we'll just have to make do."
"Is no one bothered by the fact that our collective medical knowledge derives entirely from reruns?" Willow had broken her stunned silence long enough to make the shrill query.
"At least mine came from the Discovery Channel
," protested the ex-demon.
"Buffy picks up new Slayer moves from Walker, Texas Ranger
every week." Dawn, offering up what had to be the strawiest straw-man in strawdom that had ever strawed to date, crouched on the side of Spike opposite her sister, pie pan ready.
At which point Willow gave up. "Have at it." A pair of hands rested gently on her shoulders and she turned, surprised, to the sympathetic face of the eldest potential, Kennedy.
The tip of the blade paused over the patch of mangled skin and muscle before rising and deliberately drawing down and southward. If there were any non-participating gawkers remaining, the sick, grinding noise the knife made as it sawed through the inch of cartilage drove them back upstairs.
Dawn made soft, gagging noises, going deathly pale at the sound. Her hands shook, but didn't hesitate to swab away at the blood rising to the surface.
Fingers of both hands reached into the slit and pried both halves of Spike's chest apart. Nested in the cavity, the dessicated heart resembled little more than a fist-sized prune.
"I see it. There." Dawn pointed at the gory little tip sticking out.
"Where? I don't--"
Buffy blinked as the teen's fingers plunged into his chest.
"What are you--"
"Trying to concentrate here."
It was a strange, slippery sensation, fumbling in Spike's chest cavity, all Upton Sinclair
and Fast Food Nation
and other gory horror stories about putrid cow guts that had made Dawn swear off Doubletmeat burgers forever. Except that instead of that steamy innard-like feeling, Spike was kinda tepid and gooey, like wet rubber cement. Really, really gross rubber cement. The overpowering stench of old blood that had threatened to toss her tummy's contents like a richter-scale banana shake had since deadened in her nostrils as her hand swirled around inside, attempting to make a grab for the elusive sliver of wood.
"Dawn, let me take care of this."
"Yeah Dawn," Xander's oddly weak voice trickled in. "Let Buffy do her thing."
"Almost there. I think I might--"
Missed. Again. The formerly still heart gave a warning shudder. Xander pressed down, trying to keep Spike still as his shoulders reflexively jerked and twitched.
"Get your hand out of there now, Dawn!"
"Shut up!" The teen shrieked. "Just shut up and let me--"
"You're killing him!" Buffy shouted, nearly hysterical.
Dawn took two short, hard breaths and shot her hand back in, fingernails scoring on the viscous splinter. With an equally quick motion, she snapped her arm back.
Spike's heart gave a giant lurch and shudder, but then settled back into a state that was most decidedly non-dustlike, much like the rest of him.
Buffy slumped back, letting the halves of the sternum slide shut.
"He's going to be okay," Dawn whispered. Then she laughed.
"You go, Dawnie!" Xander gently tapped her shoulder.
She was pale and shaking, covered in cooling gore and was probably going to hurl in the next minute, but for now she allowed herself to feel triumphant. Her hand lifted, victorious, in the air, the tiny sliver of wood grasped in blood-smeared fingers.