The Line Between Man and Beast

Riley watched as Aeth carefully rose and walked toward Spike before sinking to her knees, her head tilting to the side in the submission she'd learned at the end of Dalton's leash. Dalton's fingers found his hair, tugging at individual locks.

"Dalton improved your manners," Spike snorted. "I'm still not convinced she improved your magic." Xander was sitting at Spike's feet, another carving taking shape in his hands. Dalton had once told him that Xander's carvings were magic, but even without mystical powers, they were impressive. The current one showed Spike in a half-crouch, his fury clear in every line of the wood. Xander had talent.

"Willow has become a conduit for magic. She cannot shut herself off from all magic without it gathering in her body. This spell would prevent her from gathering even insignificant amounts of magic by allowing it to flow through her." Aeth delivered her message and then sank down, her forehead pressed to the floor.

"Tara?" Spike asked. She was picking at her dress, a frown on her face, but then she rarely had any other expression when Aeth was around. Riley wasn't sure if she disliked the dark mage or just the reminder that humans were lower life forms and could be turned into pets at Spike's whim.

"This—this is dark magic. I just can't say. I'm sorry," she finally offered.

"No worries, luv. At least you're wise enough to know when ya don't have the answer. The bigger fool tries to make herself look important by pretending knowledge she doesn't have. Isn't that right?" Spike asked, reaching out to give Aeth a kick with his toe.

"Yes, Master," she quickly agreed. Dalton snapped her finger, and Aeth rose and backed up to Dalton's side, kneeling on her left while Riley knelt on her right.

"It'd be a neat solution," Spike mused. He looked around at his court.

The leader of the Oden Tal, Falif, leaned forward. "Would anyone be able to siphon her magic?"

Aeth looked up at Dalton who gave a slight nod. "Yes, Mistress. Willow would have no control over the magic, so it would flow through her to the nearest source pulling at it."

"Fred?" Spike asked. The woman jumped a little and then blushed when most of the court focused on her. If Riley guessed right, the small Oden Tal woman sitting next to Fred had been distracting her with nimble fingers. Those two had formed quite a friendship.

"Master?" she asked as she looked around. The woman sitting next to Fred blushed as several of the Oden Tal made amused noises and one called out a foreign word. If Riley or Aeth had been that oblivious, punishment would have followed, but then Fred hadn't ever made the sorts of decisions that led to a person being demoted to a pet. She was a techno-mage who the Oden Tal courted and the lower-level vampires avoided.

Angel sighed. "Spike asked whether a spell to force Willow's magic to remain open so that it would drain out of her would work." Angel was a recent addition to the court. Sometimes the politics changed so fast that Riley didn't understand and with Aeth now sharing Dalton's quarters, he found himself reluctant to ask for the explanations he used to. However, it seemed that whatever stupidity Angel had committed in LA had been forgiven, and he was appearing more and more often, Wesley or Cordelia or Fred sitting with him on a low bench near Spike's chair.

"Um, as long as the flow of energy out equals the flow of energy in, there shouldn't be any problem. She'd just be like a circuit with power going through but not really affecting anything," Fred hurried to say. She looked over at Angel, and he smiled at her. Angel didn't treat his humans the same as Spike. Before the drugs, before he'd been broken into so many pieces that he didn't know himself anymore, Riley would have preferred Angel. The man treated his humans as equals, and Wesley was particularly quick to criticize. Now... now Riley knew he was where he needed to be. He leaned into Dalton's leg and her hand reached down to stroke his cheek.

In the months since she'd taken Aeth as a pet, he'd grown to realize that he wanted Dalton's touch as much as her body or her ownership over him. Oh, he still wanted those other things. He missed the nightly sex and the feel of her chains on him, reminding him that he was free to want the drugs because he'd never have them. But what he really missed was the constant touching. Even now, her hand slid away as she leaned the other way to stroke Aeth's hair. Riley leaned his cheek into Dalton's leg and simply waited. He'd grown adept at waiting.

"It'd be one less fucking problem to deal with," Spike sighed as he leaned back in his chair. Xander put his carving down and stroked his hand up and down Spike's leg. "Too many fucking problems at once, and you not having your house in order is not exactly helping." Spike sent a nasty glare in Angel's direction, and the other vampire looked down, clearly accepting the censure even if his body was tight. He did not like being called out in public.

"We are pursuing the Groosalugg," Falif offered. "Our informants in L.A. have given us a number of useful leads, and we believe that we shall find him within weeks."

"Make it days," Spike snapped.

"Of course," Falif agreed, but Riley noticed she didn't say how many days.

"What if he won't agree to the spell?" Angel asked. Riley had no idea which spell this was because the whole court was talking about the ridiculous number of spells that seemed to be planned right now. Tracking spells and truth spells, a spell to strip the seer of a power that was killing her, and a spell to find Master Spike another seer, a spell to imprison Willow, and now the need for a new spell to retrieve her from her prison after months in there. Master Spike had even staked one minion who had complained that real vampires didn't have this much magic around.

However, as near as he could tell, this Groosalugg was supposed to either take Cordelia's visions or at least stop her from having any more. If they didn't find him soon, Riley doubted the woman would survive. When she'd first come to court with the rest of Angel's humans, her sharp tongue had amused him, even when he worried that Spike might just snap her neck. Now, when she appeared, she was weak and trembling, her body often bleeding from mysterious wounds left by her visions.

"If you can take him in fucking hand, that won't be an issue, will it?" Spike demanded as he stared at Angel.

Angel stared back for a second before he looked away. "I won't just attack him."

"Then fucking challenge him, but if ya don't make him agree to the spell, I will. Xander's goin' to be sharing his spot at my feet and I'll fucking claim the queen-bitch. Got it?" Spike demanded.

Angel didn't answer, but he did give a short nod. Wesley had watched with interest. "Groo did seem very willing to follow Cordelia's orders. I doubt very much that the hierarchy of a vampire court would shock him," he said.

Angel narrowed his eyes and glared at Wesley, but the man simply stared back. Eventually, Angel reached out, caught Wesley by the back of the neck, and just pulled him close. Even if Wesley verbally argued with Angel, he always yielded physically, and this time was no different. He ended up with his head against Angel's chest, and he shifted to lean into the vampire's body.

Riley really had no doubt about that relationship. At one point he'd theorized that the correct way to control a vampire was to offer them enough sex to keep them happy and sated, and the longer he was in Spike's court, the more practical that strategy appeared. He had a flash of himself offering the General that bit of advice, and he had to smile. Yeah, they'd lock him in the nuthouse. That didn't mean he was wrong, though.

"Right then, so I need someone who has something useful to say about Aeth's spell here," Spike said loudly to the whole court. Fred caught the wrist of the Oden Tal woman sitting next to her, and Riley guessed that she was not in a mood to be distracted. The woman leaned back, her hand moving to Fred's leg as she watched the room with more interest. Falif was watching the pair, and Riley couldn't even guess what she was thinking. If this were Riley's command, he'd be worried about divided loyalty and fraternization in the ranks, but there was so much fraternizing going on, it hardly seemed fair to tell Fred and her young woman not to have hot sex on any available surface.

Tara cleared her throat. "I could call Giles," she said softly.

That was not a pleasant expression on Spike's face.

"The G-man knows way more about dark magic than he likes to admit, Master," Xander seconded her.

Aeth shifted uncomfortably, and Riley knew that she resented the fact that the others were questioning her magic. Well, she could get used to it. As a pet, the others had very little concern for her feelings. A pet could only look to his owner for any sort of respect because Riley knew how the rest of the world saw them. Sometimes Wesley would slip, and a bit of horror or pity would shine through his expression so that it practically burned Riley. Luckily that usually ended with Angel pulling the man into his lap or over his lap or just out of the room.

"I should talk to him," Angel said firmly.

Master Spike looked over with amusement. "You think you're up to that, pet? It's not like he has a high opinion of you."

"He'll believe that I want to help Willow," Angel said, his head high. But he also waited, his eyes on Spike who would either give permission or not.

"He'll believe that even more comin' from Glinda."

"He'll believe that you're serious if you send me," Angel countered, and that made logical sense to Riley. Xander and Tara had a lot of status in court, more than the minions or even the younger Oden Tal, but he wasn't sure that someone from outside of court would ever believe that. Every demon who walked into the court to pay respects to Spike turned to Angel as the second most important person in the room. Riley had no doubt that anyone with experience with vampires would believe Angel had more influence in Spike's court.

Spike reached down and tugged at Xander's hair, urging the man up and into Spike's lap. Xander had on jeans that hung low on his hips, and he slithered up into Spike's lap with a sensuality that Riley rarely associated with men. For long seconds, Spike ran fingers through Xander's curls and Xander played with the buttons on Spike's shirt, clearly looking for permission to go farther.

"You plannin' on calling him or using a portal to pop in on the old fart?" Spike asked Tara.

"I would be more convincing in person," Tara said, indirectly answering his question.

Spike nodded. "Right then, you, Angel and Xander, pop off and talk to Giles. If this spell is going to make Willow safe, it's time to bring her back before we have some other disaster."

"The dimension will hold for at least a few more months," Fred quickly interrupted. "I'm real sorry I didn't recognize the inherent danger of introducing a destabilizing factor into a closed system."

Spike waved his hand dismissively. "The whole fucking thing can collapse and take the witch with it for all I care." Riley could see both Tara and Xander react to that. Xander's hand stilled on Spike's chest and Tara sat up a little stiffer. "But if we can get her out safe, we will," the vampire finished. He gave Xander a slap on the hip and Xander rose and offered a flash of arched neck before he turned to Tara. "And get some blood before you go anywhere. You still don't fucking feed enough," Spike complained to Angel.

"Wesley and Fred have given too much already," Angel objected. Wesley had pushed himself away from Angel, but now he already had his head tilted to the side. Riley could see a flash of something that looked almost like disappointment when Angel didn't bite. That one was becoming well and truly addicted to the bite. For his sake, Riley hoped that Angel never decided to turn on the man because he would find himself going down the same path that Riley had, without a doubt.

"Use Riley," Spike said with a wave of his hand.

Riley jerked a little in surprise, but Dalton's hand was already gone, and he knew better than to question a Master's decision. Getting up, he walked over to Angel, prepared to go to his knees, but then Angel stood up and caught him around the back of the neck, keeping him on his feet. Riley offered his neck and waited, his body stiff.

No matter how often he saw Angel in court, he could never erase that first meeting when he and Angel had stared at each other across Buffy's dorm room. Only now Buffy was dead, and neither of them had stood by her side. Part of Riley wanted to argue that Angel was no better than he was, but the fact was that Riley had fallen so far that he wasn't a fraction of the soldier who had once stood beside Buffy, and he had no right to challenge Angel the way he once had.

Teeth went in faster than he expected, digging deeper into his flesh, and the power and the pain sent signals to Riley's cock that he did not like, but that was the nature of addiction. He no longer believed he had any control over it. His cock hardened in its cage and he fought to not groan in need. Angel took several mouthfuls, but Riley had plenty to spare. Long before Riley was dizzy, Angel stepped back and wiped his mouth.

"Thank you," he said. Riley found that amusing, as if he had any choice in the matter.

"Of course, Master." Riley turned to head back to Dalton. She looked up at him with yellow eyes, her nose widening slightly. She sniffed, and he knew that she could smell his need. He slowed his walk and tilted his head in invitation. Over the last few months, he'd had her attention only in flashes—a day here or a few days there. Most of the time, her attention had been on Aeth, first on training her and now on guarding the mage as she researched and prepared the spell. This was the first sign Dalton had given him in weeks, and he tried to mimic some of the moves he had seen Xander use so effectively against Spike.

A small part of his mind called him a whore, but that was easy to ignore. He was a whore.

Dalton's eyes slipped past him to where the Oden Tal sat. "Falif, would you like the use of my pet for the evening?" Dalton asked.

Riley stopped in the middle of the floor, his guts tangling at the thought of her giving him away. The Oden Tal were exotic, beautiful, powerful women. They were the sort of women who starred in most men's fantasies, but Riley had gotten used to Dalton. He'd grown to like laying in bed with her reading or talking about the farms back home or listening to her explain vampire logic as he tried to explain ideas like honor and guilt. He'd even grown used to her tired and cranky as she quickly used his body before falling asleep. The Oden Tal weren't Dalton, but then as a pet, he wasn't consulted on his preferences. Riley went to his knees in the middle of the floor, waiting for Falif's decision before he either returned to Dalton or went wherever he was ordered.

Falif sounded surprised. "Surely you have use for him."

"I'll be busy with this one," Dalton said as she pulled Aeth's head up by her thick braid. Aeth leaned into Dalton's touch, and for one second, her expression was smug as she looked at Riley. By vampire logic, she was the better pet—more beautiful, more powerful, more advantageous in a fight. Riley might have been beautiful once, but he knew what the scars on his back looked like. He knew how Dalton's fingers always avoided touching him there.

"Riley, would you choose to come with us?" Falif asked. Riley looked over his shoulder at the five women who were considering him with interested eyes. They'd never had a chance to try him before, and he knew they were curious. His other alternative was to sit in a corner and try to not disturb one of Aeth's piles of books or computers as she worked, Dalton standing behind her, holding her leash.

"Yes, ma'am," Riley answered. He turned and looked back at the floor in front of him as he waited for an order. Something silver flew through the air over him, but Riley kept his head down until he heard his mistress's voice.

"Return him in the morning."

"Of course," Falif agreed. Without waiting for a direct order, Riley stood up and turned to the Oden Tal, walking to a spot in front of their bench where he sank to his knees. One of the women, a young one with red hair, laughed and reached out to run a hand along his arm and up to his neck where the white pinprick scars from feeding gathered. Riley's cock hardened, and he tried hard to just turn off his mind and allow his body to do whatever it would.

Wesley was staring at him, a look on confusion on his face, but Riley was a soldier, trained to not give away anything to the enemy through his expression, and he focused on keeping his face neutral. Looking around, Spike was studying him, and Riley lowered his gaze to the floor, afraid that Master Spike might see some spark of disobedience in him.

"Mistress, I can prepare detailed notes on the spell and ceremony," Aeth suggested.

"Sire?" Dalton asked.

"Right then, make sure she don't try anything," Spike quickly answered, but he sounded distracted. Riley focused on a small bug trying to make it across the length of the wooden floor, but he could just imagine how Xander might be saying goodbye and distracting his master.

"We have a pleasant diversion to attend to as well," Falif suggested as she stood. Riley rose at her side, keeping his head down and avoiding the stares of the court. Victor wanted a human pet badly, and Riley suspected that he was now up for grabs if he wasn't on his way back to the stables. If Master Spike was going to give him to Victor, if they were exchanging silent looks right now, Riley didn't want to know. Then again, Victor might be a better choice than Angel. Riley clasped his hands at his back to keep himself from touching the mark where Angel had bitten him. The vampire was weak, and Riley suspected that it would be entirely too easy for him to slip that leash. The thought of the Rapture houses rose in his memory, half horror and half dream. No matter how long he was clean, Rapture still called to him. Then again, maybe that's where he belonged. Falif started towards the Oden Tal's end of the building, and Riley followed.

The plain gray and steel and wood structure gave way to colorful swirls and patterns painted across hallways. Spirals splashed across doors, long arrows dodged around rough windows cut into the steel siding, red circles dotted the floor like a blood trail.

"He is so quiet," one of the Oden Tal said, and a hand ran up his back, fingers brushing over his scars.

"Were you always so quiet?" another voice asked.

"No," Riley answered.

Falif led to a double door and pushed both sides open. The inside was a riot of color that made Riley blink for a second. "Do you plan to be this quiet all night?" she asked as she held up a silver key—the key to his chastity cage.

"I'm not sure what you want," Riley said honestly. He kept himself still as the Oden Tal moved around him, gathering in small groups on the floor where pillows and throws were arranged in piles. There were probably a dozen women here, and the ones who had not been in court started whispering loudly. Angel had been here one night, Riley knew, he and Wesley both. Fred often came here, but Riley didn't think any of the human pets had even been to the Oden Tal's main hall. No one in the stable had ever mentioned it, and the people there had very little to talk about other than their pasts and the latest soap opera plots.

"We want only for you to enjoy yourself. We know so little about you or Xander," Falif said as she reached forward. She slowly unbuttoned his jeans, and Riley went to parade rest, his hands behind his back so she could work more easily. "Like this," she said as she uncovered his trapped cock. The pink flesh pressed against the plastic cage. "This is not vabata."

"Ma'am?" Riley asked, not sure what she meant. She pushed his jeans open a little more so she could reach in far enough to find the lock.

"This is not respectful of choice. You and Xander allow the vampires to take away your choice to have sex. Why?"

Riley blinked for a second. "It's theirs to take," he finally answered.

"Why?" Falif asked curiously. She freed his cock and slowly pulled the cage away, running her fingers along the head until Riley groaned in need and hardened. "Does that not feel better?"

"Yes," Riley agreed. The conversation had grown quiet in the room.

"But yet you give that choice to Dalton, to a woman. On our world, women are not allowed choice over even themselves."

"That's wrong," Riley immediately answered. The idea of enslaving an entire gender turned his stomach. Falif smiled.

"And yet, you have no choice over yourself," she said.

Riley closed his eyes, wishing this was something as simple as them riding him while he tried to please them all before coming. That would be painful, but not as painful as this. "I made choices, and they were the wrong ones. Dalton and Spike make better choices for me," he said. Falif nodded, and maybe that was the answer she wanted because she turned away and wandered toward one of the groups. That left Riley standing awkwardly at the front of the room, his jeans open and his cock hanging out as he waited at parade rest. He was not into exhibition, and his cock slowly softened and shrank.

Several of the women returned to their own business, talking or watching small televisions, or in one pile, working fingers into each other and writhing in pleasure. He turned his head away when his cock started getting the wrong idea.

"Is he going to stand there all night?" the red-haired one asked loudly. Several of the women laughed, and a couple admonished her.

"Where would you like me to go?" Riley asked, fighting against his own embarrassment. He should know better by now because he had no more right to embarrassment than to any other feeling. This was his life, and he would accept whatever came.

"Where would you want to go?" one of the older ones asked.

"To Dalton," he answered quickly, but then he thought of Dalton, standing with her hand on Aeth's cheek. "Outside, to find Rapture," he amended himself, "which is why I can't be trusted to make my own choices, ma'am," Riley quickly answered.

That caused a sudden silence in the room. A young one said something in a foreign tongue, and one of the older ones hushed her. "Come over here, human," the older woman suggested, holding out her hand to him. Her black hair was just starting to streak with gray at the temple, and Riley went immediately to her, kneeling down in front of her as he took her hand.

"We get very few chances to sleep with males. The males of our own world believe that sex gives them power over us," she said as she ran a hand down Riley's chest to where his cock was still framed by his open pants. Riley glanced over at Falif to make sure this was allowed, but the Oden Tal leader was on her own pile of pillows, looking at an open scroll with another woman with hair cropped close to her head. Riley turned back to the woman who was stroking him and allowed himself to harden under her touch.

"Does he feel like Angel or Wesley?" a woman with short blonde hair asked as she came over and sat close.

"He is human; he feels like Wesley."

"Does that mean he can only choose one of us like Wesley?" she asked, clearly disappointed. The woman looked at Riley, obviously waiting for an answer. Riley glanced around at the number of women watching.

"I can service at least four or five," he said. It would hurt, especially without the cock ring, but he could hold off that long. Old words floated into his memory. Great minds had purpose, his mother always told him. She had told him to find his purpose... his destiny. Riley shoved his pants down and sat in order to pull them off. His mother would cry if she could see him now. He didn't have a great mind. He had a small mind, and the only thing he had in his future was pain.

Riley settled back onto a pillow and held out a hand to the young woman who had been disappointed at the thought he could only serve one woman before losing control. Confusion flashed on her face for a second, and the older woman pulled her close.

"He's letting you be on top, foolish one," she said, but her voice was amused. The young woman blushed as she straddled Riley. Her warmth made Riley harden even more, and he allowed his hands to drift up her thighs as he shifted a bit so he could thrust up.

"Ride him," another woman advised her.

"Do you know how--?" Riley started to ask, but then she finally figured out to line up with his cock and dropped into place. The tightness made Riley's eyes water, and he thrust up involuntarily, hissing at the heat and pressure that made him fully hard immediately.

She gasped, and women's hands steadied her, helping her find a rhythm as Riley just struggled to hold on and not come. Maybe if he was good enough they'd keep him. He fisted a pillow with one hand and reached down where their bodies met with his other. Working his thumb on her clit, he listened to her squeal with surprise and pleasure as he just hoped she would finish soon.


"Master, I did tell you as soon as I realized that the spell would require a life," Aeth defended herself, and Riley could hear her desperation. Riley knelt by the Oden Tal, his body still sore from the night before, but unless Dalton paid him some attention, he might return with the women after the current meeting was over.

"We m-must find another spell," Tara said firmly, but the return of her stutter showed how much this whole thing bothered her.

"Master," Xander said softly.

"They are quite right. To sacrifice a human life in order to save Willow would be an abomination," Giles insisted. Riley leaned back on his heels and found himself praying that Giles did not look in his direction. As much as it burned to see pity out of someone like Wesley, he truly did not want someone who had known him before to see him.

"Don't give me bollocks about the sanctity of life. Vampire here," Spike pointed out. Xander shifted uncomfortably at Spike's feet, and Spike sighed so loud that Riley could hear him from the other side of the room.

"But Willow isn't," Giles insisted. "If you expect me to believe that you... you... understand human beings..." Giles had a bit of a stuttering problem himself right now, but if Riley was remembering correctly, Giles had known Xander for years... had first sent Spike to stay with Xander after the Initiative had chipped him. And right now, Xander was going for his all-out puppy impression. His tail flipped from one side to the other, and he was kneeling up between Spike's legs, looking up with a desperate expression.

Giles cleared his throat and tried again. "If you understand human beings then you will understand that Willow will not be able to recover from the thought of having a human being die for her. It is abhorrent to..."

"So, you'd rather make poor Fred live with knowin' she sent Red into a world that's slowly collapsing in on itself and killing her?" Spike demanded. Giles' gaze went to Fred. When Riley glanced over, Fred was sitting with huge eyes, and Angel glared hatred at Spike for a second before he reached over and pulled her close. Fred's Oden Tal friend slid over on the bench, her hand on Fred's shoulder as she looked back toward Falif for help. The Oden Tal leader didn't seem inclined to do anything but watch.

"I would rather have been consulted before someone redefined space and time," Giles practically yelled. He backed up a step and sat on a bench where the vampire lieutenants normally sat. They'd been sent out to patrol the edges of the territory and get a meal.

Giles pulled his glasses off and polished them slowly in a gesture so familiar that Riley could almost convince himself they were back in Giles' apartment as they tried to decide how to handle the Initiative or Adam or Dracula. The Initiative imploded on its own, Spike had taken down Adam before disappearing, and Dracula had wandered off on his own after getting turned down by Buffy. It wasn't exactly a string of successes.

"Perhaps with some research, I can find some other solution. Winifred's calculations do suggest that we have some time," Giles said, his gaze focused on his glasses-polishing.

"Could be," Spike admitted. "Angel's staying on until we find a bloke who can take Cordelia's visions, so you have until then to try and come up with another spell."

"I shouldn't have suggested the dimensional prison. The math was all pretty, but math numbers on the page don't ever match what you get in the lab. I shouldn't have trusted what I saw on the page," Fred said, and Riley could hear the pain in her voice. Spike and Angel exchanged a look.

"It wasn't your call. You didn't make the decision to use that spell, we did," Angel said firmly as he rubbed her back.

"Like bloody hell, you did," Spike snorted. "You were on your fucking knees in front of me, mate, in case you don't remember it. Then again, if ya don't remember that, I'm happy to stage a rematch to remind everyone of who the fuck is in charge here." Now Spike sounded angry, and the whole court tensed. Riley shifted back, and Falif's hand found his shoulder. He wished he was with Dalton, but she took to the side of Spike's chair with Aeth at her feet, the mage's forehead to the ground. "It was my fucking call, and if I say to let the witch die, she bloody dies. Does everyone in this fucking room understand that?"

The entire court went silent. Dalton had her hand fisted around Aeth's leash. Xander had his hand on Spike's thigh, but he was motionless, even his tail was still. Tara had frozen with a cloth twisted in her hands, and Angel and his humans were absolutely silent—Fred with her head buried on Angel's chest and Wesley sitting on Angel's other side with wide eyes. The six Oden Tal sitting around Riley were all silent statues.

"Yes, I believe we all know who is in charge," Giles offered. Xander's tail twitched and then the breathing members of the court seemed to breathe again. "I only ask for some time to try and offer a few alternatives to allowing Willow to simply die. The original release spell may simply need adjustment."

Spike leaned back and Xander tentatively climbed up into Spike's lap, keeping his head low as his fingers stroked up and down Spike's arm. If that were Riley, he wouldn't be able to perform like that in front of Mr. Giles. Then again, as angry as Spike was, if Xander didn't soothe him, someone truly might lose their life.

"Rupert, you can work with Fred and Tara, but I don't want you near Tara's apartment. If the Bit finds out what bollocks we've made of this, I'm having someone for dinner, and your name is going to be at the top of the list."

Giles shoved his glasses back on and stood up. "I hardly think threats are necessary."

"No, but they make me feel better," Spike cut him off. "Peaches, keep an eye on this one, and if she fucks up again, eat her," Spike said as he aimed a kick at Aeth. The mage flinched a half second before the boot even hit her.

Angel stood up and pulled Fred forward with him. "Should I leave any for you to torture later or just finish her off?" Angel asked as he took Aeth's leash. Riley wasn't sure if Angel was playing a part to intimidate Aeth or not, but he was certainly convincing.

"Finish her off. You need the blood more than I do. You still aren't feeding enough; there is a bloody stable here."

"And Angel is always welcome to come back to visit us," Falif called out. Riley ducked his head as everyone turned toward them, but Mr. Giles didn't show any sign of recognizing him.

Spike smirked. "You and your bloody women, Peaches. You're a bloody show off."

"I have something worth showing off," Angel answered.

"Maybe I should give Wesley a try and see which he prefers." Spike looked over, and Wesley was turning an alarming shade of red.

"He's mine, Spike. If you're tired of Xander, you come to me, not Wesley," Angel said as he stepped forward. Riley watched the quick exchange of looks, the flash of a fang as Spike and Angel considered each other, but whatever Angel was doing, it seemed to put Spike in a good mood. Xander even gave Angel a smile before he worked fingers between the buttons on Spike's shirt.

"Find me a fucking solution," Spike said with a dismissive wave. Angel took a step toward the door and gave Aeth's leash a harder tug than he needed to. She scrambled to follow him quickly enough. Fred and Tara and Giles all followed.

"And you, take care him," Spike said with a wave in Riley's direction. Riley sat up as Dalton turned to consider him. She strode quickly toward him, and Riley lowered his gaze. He still wanted her. Even though he suspected that she preferred Aeth and the power the mage carried under her skin, even though he would always be her second choice, he wanted her.

"Did he behave?" she asked after stopping in front of the Oden Tal.

"He is remarkably well behaved and has great endurance for a human," Falif offered. "By our customs, we cannot use such a device as this, however." Even with his gaze down, Riley knew Falif was returning his cock cage. After sleeping with four women last night and three more this morning, Riley definitely did not need it. His cock's only goal right now was a long rest.

Dalton reached down and stroked his hair, and Riley waited for an order. "Come," Dalton said before she turned and started walking away. Riley rose and followed, ignoring the needy sounds Xander was making as Spike turned to more interesting diversions.

"Aeth's solution will work," Dalton commented. Riley waited for some comment that required his answer. He understood why Dalton said that—she wanted to make it clear that her pet did have power even if she had displeased Spike. Riley just didn't have anything to say about it.

"Why do the humans not want to trade the life of a stranger for the witch?" she asked. She stopped outside the room she shared with Riley and Aeth. She took a large key from a chain around her neck and unlocked the double deadbolt.

"They want a solution that doesn't require any life to be lost, Mistress," Riley answered.

"Why? We could find a human on the street and use it as a sacrifice." Dalton stood beside the open door, and Riley hurried into the room. Aeth's books had been removed, probably so that Tara and Fred could work with them, but two computers still sat on a low table in the corner.

"That would be..." Riley paused. His gut said it would be wrong, but that was not an answer Dalton would understand. "In King Lear," he said slowly, "Lear tried to decide which of his daughters was best by talking to them."

Dalton sat on the edge of the bed, and Riley went to her, kneeling at her feet. "Go on," she urged him, her hands stroking his shoulders.

"Lear favored the wrong daughters because he didn't really know them. He didn't understand that Cordelia really loved him. When humans kill people they don't know, they always wonder what they didn't know about the person. In war, human soldiers often have trouble when they think of the enemy as real people because killing a stranger means you just might be killing Cordelia."

"You worry about the person's potential for good," Dalton said as she cocked her head. "If Master Spike could purchase a convict, that would not be an obstacle."

Riley studied her for a second. Spike might have given the others permission to look for whatever they wanted, but he had the feeling that the vampire was going to go ahead with the spell anyway.

"Mistress, just because a person is a convict does not mean that they deserve to die."

"I could bring one I had picked for dinner, and then everyone would know that the human was scheduled to die anyway," she pointed out. But she studied Riley's face, waiting for him.

"If it were me in that prison," Riley said slowly, "I would rather die than know that someone else died for me. I couldn't live with myself, Mistress."

"What would you do?" she asked, her fingers moving up to his hair.

Riley thought about that. Honestly, he wouldn't do anything. His ability to make choices for his own life had ended long ago. "I belong to you, Mistress. I wouldn't do anything without your permission, but Willow might hurt herself or hurt someone who she blamed for making the choice."

Dalton nodded. "Which is why the other humans cannot be part of making that choice."

"Yes, Mistress."

"Did you enjoy the Oden Tal?" she asked, and the sudden shift in conversation put Riley on edge. There was something here he was not understanding.

"I served as best I could," he said carefully.

She nodded. "If you failed it was because a male's body has certain limits." Dalton stood up, and Riley could feel the cold grab his guts. If Dalton preferred a female pet, that should hurt less than any specific rejection. It wasn't personal. Riley had studied psychology long enough to know that he was lying to himself.

Dalton was standing at the closet, unlocking the heavy bolt. "Master Spike has asked that we return in two hours, but until then, I have time to watch you strain and hurt for me," Dalton announced. Riley closed his eyes. He didn't want his last memory of Dalton to be her demon torturing him, but he had very little choice in it.

"Where would you like me, Mistress?"

"On the bed." She turned around with heavy leather manacles. "On your back."

Riley stood and quickly undressed, before getting on the bed and stretching his arms and legs to the corners. Chains in hand, Dalton circled the bed, running a finger down Riley's leg and then up his arm as she chained his first wrist. Even though his cock was sore and his thighs ached, Riley's body reacted. The chains made it easier. Wearing them, he didn't need to try and control himself. He could fight without any danger of getting free. If Angel took him as part of his new stable, Riley wondered if he could escape. If Graham was still out there, maybe he... yeah, that was an old fantasy, but he couldn't exactly ask a friend to keep him chained up for the rest of his life. Dalton finished on one side and moved over to his left.

"You're tense."

"I'm sore, Mistress. I’m not going to be able to do my best," Riley admitted. She locked his left ankle into a restraint without comment.

"My enjoyment is in seeing you struggle and twist. You will do that quite well," she said as she locked the cuff around his left wrist. She knew exactly how long to make the chains, so that Riley was left stretched across the bed, his cock half-hard and his muscles straining to ease the pressure on his shoulders. She went to the closet again and returned with a tawse. She slapped the stiff leather against her hand and smiled. At one point, she'd amused herself by giving Riley the history of the belt-like whip, the way it had been used on naughty children. This time, she circled the bed silently.

She ran the cool leather along the inside of his thigh, and Riley arched up into the touch. Little bits of him that remembered terms like operant conditioning could have explained his reaction without ever using words like desire or lust, but Riley just let himself feel. Feeling the moment was all he had, and he'd become an expert in it. Not even vampires could live in the present the way he could. The tawse moved up over his chest, and he breathed faster, waiting for the first strike.

Dalton chuckled, her voice skittering across his skin leaving goose pimples in its wake. "Obviously they did not leave you too sore," she said, and she laid the flat of the tawse on his balls, pressing. Riley pressed his head back onto the pillow and pressed his eyes closed. That was both pleasure and pain and he wasn't sure if he wanted more or less, but the pressure now was a perfect torment. Fisting his hands, he pleaded softly, "Mistress."

"Mmmm." She moved the tawse, using it to press his cock first one way and then the other. When the pressure vanished, Riley took a second to breathe a sigh of relief, right before the leather slapped down on his stomach. The sound was sharp, but the pain gathered dully, an ache that started at the point of contact and sank into him. Dalton struck again, this time on his right thigh, and Riley yelled, arching his body and pulling against the chains.

"You strain so prettily. All that muscle standing out in cords like a work of art," she commented as she circled the bed. Riley's cock ignored the pain and focused on the words, on the heat left behind once he had controlled the pain, on the look of pleasure on Dalton's face. He might not be enough for her in the long run, but right now he was making her happy.

She swung, and Riley flinched, closing his eyes a millisecond before the tawse caught him on the inner thigh.

"Damn it," he cried out, the pain overcoming his control for a half second, before he could mentally gather his wits. He opened his eyes and found her watching him with yellow eyes. "Mistress," he gasped, still struggling with the pain.

"Are you begging me to stop?" she asked, teasing him with the tawse with one hand and running her thumb over his nipple with the other.

"No, Mistress," he answered. He knew she'd stop if he begged her, but she enjoyed this, and if his pain was all he could offer her, then he would. A part of his brain protested that logic, but Riley closed his eyes and braced himself before the tawse came down again and again over his chest, the slaps become a rhythm that controlled his breathing. She stopped and dropped the short whip on the ground.

Straddling his waist, she ran her hands up his chest, her fingers spread wide. "So very warm. I forget what it feels like to be warm," she said, her back arching as she rocked back and forth. Riley's cock hardened now. Her touch felt warm as it slid over the tawse marks, hot in fact. But that illusion vanished when Riley looked up into yellow eyes.

"Angel bit you. I didn't like him biting you," she said, and Riley frowned in confusion. Before he could ask what she meant, she had reached up and pushed his head to the side to expose his neck. Riley's body tightened in anticipation. He opened his mouth to warn her that he wasn't wearing the cock cage, that the bite was too much to ask him to endure without coming, but he didn't have a chance.

Her teeth sank into his shoulder, and his whole body narrowed to that one point, to the heat and the need and the pleasure that radiated from his shoulder out until it enveloped his whole body and nothing mattered but the bite. Riley thrust up, digging his heels into the bed and struggling against the steel as he came in a crashing wave.

Dalton licked the wound, sending shivers of pleasure echoing through his body. Slowly, his muscles relaxed, and Riley sagged into the bed, the chains no longer even necessary because he was floating on pleasure and that light-headedness he got when Dalton took more blood than usual. It felt good.

"I should punish you for coming," Dalton sighed, but she also slid down next to him.

"Yes, Mistress," he agreed. If she wanted to punish him, it meant she was keeping him longer. She reached up and unhooked his wrist cuffs before grabbing a blanket from off the floor and draping it over them. Riley's legs were still stretched open, but he brought his arms down and pulled Dalton close.

"Is bringing Willow home worth the risk that feelings will be hurt?" she asked him.

Riley's brain was still a little fuzzy, so he couldn't come up with an answer immediately. "Without Willow, Xander's the only one left. Cordelia's dying, Buffy's gone, most of the others died at graduation or when Glorificus started ripping through everyone who knew Buffy looking for the key. Those who survived have run for the hills."

"So, Xander needs her to survive?" Dalton asked.

"I think so," Riley tightened his arms. "It's not easy being the only survivor and knowing you shouldn't have survived because other people were stronger than you were." Riley remembered the horror of seeing Forrest dead and then reanimated by Adam, but then he didn't have to suffer survivor's guilt for long because he hadn't truly survived. "And Tara is alone trying to raise Dawn in the middle of a vampire court. She doesn't have any other adults to talk to about whether she's doing the right thing."

"What about Xander?" Dalton asked, her fingers trailing over Riley's chest and making him shiver.

"Xander belongs to Spike. Tara doesn't truly have anyone who's there just for her."

"So, even if we have to make a sacrifice, we need to recover Willow?" Dalton asked. Riley stopped breathing for a second.

"We need to find a way to get Willow back without making a sacrifice," he said.

Dalton nodded, but she didn't answer.


Riley felt uncomfortable in fighting clothes without any weapons. He had no doubt that the jeans and t-shirt were for Giles' benefit, but it had been so long since he wore clothing that they felt strange. And to wear clothing without the weapons he would normally carry outside the lair felt even stranger. True, the dusty warehouse was in shouting distance of the lair, but Riley itched to have a gun on his hip. When he looked at the runes drawn across the rough floor, he had the uncomfortable feeling he needed a weapon.

Spike stood off to the side, but Fred stood at his side instead of Xander. Angel was walking Aeth around the perimeter of their work on her leash, and Riley was standing beside Dalton just a few feet from Giles who kept looking in a large book with gold lettering, a bag slung over his shoulder. If this worked, they would have Willow back, but the very fact that Xander and Tara weren't here didn't leave much doubt about which spell the vampires planned to use.

"Riley," Giles said in surprise, physically jerking as he finally recognized him.

"Mr. Giles," Riley offered politely. His mother's manners were still there, even if she wouldn't recognize the man he had become. Dalton stopped and studied Giles, her hand tightening on Riley's arm, but at least he wasn't on a leash like Aeth. Riley missed the days when Dalton focused on him, and he even sometimes missed the bondage, but he certainly did not want to be publicly humiliated in front of Mr. Giles.

"It's good to see you..." Giles pulled off his glasses... "looking so healthy. I um..." He put his glasses back on. "I never would have expected to see you here."

Riley's blood went cold as he watched Giles flail through the conversation. Only one thing would inspire a reaction like that. "You found me after I left Sunnydale," Riley said. Every time he thought he had survived everything his stupidity could throw at him, he found a new level of misery.

Giles looked at him for a long minute. "Yes."

"Did Buffy..." Riley didn't finish the sentence because he wasn't sure he wanted to know.

"No, she did not see you," Giles said firmly. "Had I not believed you beyond rehabilitation, I would have told her, but as it was, I did not feel it necessary to inform her that I had found you."

Riley didn't answer right away, and he could almost feel Dalton's curiosity pressing against him. Part of her was still the college professor trying to understand the world, but as a demon, human nature was just a little beyond her. "Thank you," Riley said to Giles.

"I hardly think thanks are appropriate," Giles said. "After all, I am the one who made the decision to leave you there. I think I owe you an apol—"

"No, you don't," Riley cut the man off. "You were right. I am beyond rehabilitation. I would have happily died on Rapture if Master Spike hadn't forced me to give it up. I still would if he gave me that option, so you don't have anything to apologize for."

"I see," Giles said with a frown.

"We about ready?" Spike demanded. Riley looked over at Aeth who hadn't added anything to the numbers or symbols on the floor for at least five minutes.

"It should work," Fred said. Her hands were fluttering, and Spike reached over and caught one.

"You make sure those numbers are right, luv. The price of being wrong on this is more than you want to pay, and you won't be the only one payin' it."

"Spike," Angel said.

"Just speakin' the truth, pet, and you know it. You may play at giving your humans choices, but as long as she's in my court, she's followin' my orders, just like you have to, Peaches. Right, luv?" Spike asked as he turned to Fred, and put a finger under her chin to raise her head. Dalton tilted her head to the side and watched curiously.

"Your orders, got it," Fred agreed with a nod. Angel was fisting Aeth's leash, but he didn't comment as he walked back around to where Riley and Giles and Dalton waited.

"Perhaps we can just get this over with," Giles commented as he opened the bag on his shoulder and pulled out two carvings. They looked like stylized antelope, like the chiwara Riley had seen in an undergrad anthropology class. Giles placed one on either side of a gap in the circle surrounding Aeth's runes and numbers.

"Places, people," Spike said almost cheerfully, but then he was standing farthest from the circle, a crossbow in hand. Fred took the north side of the circle, and Giles walked over to the south while Angel handed Aeth's leash to Dalton as they stood on the west side, near the gap.

"Do it," Dalton ordered. Aeth tilted her head respectfully and then started chanting. Light gathered slowly, as if individual points from the flickering fluorescents overhead were pulled out and gathered above each of the runes. The points of light merged into a glow that started to slowly circle, like water out of a bathtub.

Aeth stopped chanting and tilted her head toward Dalton again. "The spell must gather strength, Mistress. Then we can finish it."

Dalton just watched the gathering storm, her fingers tight on Riley's arm, tight enough to hurt. Maybe at one point, Riley would have wanted the touch, the pain, the illusion that someone was holding on to him to keep him from drowning. Not now.

"It's okay, Mistress. It's fine," Riley promised Dalton, resting his hand on top of hers. She frowned at him, but loosened her grip a little without letting go. She was probably afraid he would run, but Riley had decided a long time ago that he needed to accept her orders. Aeth, Giles, and Fred were here to run the spell. The vampires were here to guard them. Riley... Riley was the sacrifice to buy back Willow's life. Fred's numbers said that the dark wouldn't give up one source of power without another, and Riley was going to step into a prison they'd made for Willow.

It was the ultimate chain, the ultimate Master. He'd never again have to fear the drugs. He'd never have to wonder if Dalton or Spike would get tired of him and give him back to some house where he'd lay in his own urine and feces. It would be him and his memories and his prayers, and maybe he could find something like peace before the bubble collapsed and he just stopped existing.

Aeth looked over at him, her face smug, but Riley didn't give her any reaction that she could use to revel in. He'd made his bed and he'd lie in it. At least he would know that his death bought someone else's life. That was better than the guilt he lived with now. He'd lived on in L.A., wallowing in filth and all the pretty colors of Rapture while Buffy died. This would save Willow; maybe it would right the scales.

"We're just about there," Fred called over the sound of the roaring wind inside the circle.

Riley stood up straighter. As a soldier, he was trained to put his life on the line to prevent civilian casualties. It was part of his job... it was part of who he had chosen to be long before he even knew vampires existed. This was an end he could face like a man.

"Mistress, it is the right choice," Riley said, his eyes focused on the gathering darkness in the middle of the light.

She looked at him and tightened her grip on his arm.

"I'm not going to run, Mistress," Riley said, almost amused at her inability to understand him, even now. "I'm still yours," he said quietly.

Aeth looked over at him, that smugness now unmistakable. "Mistress, the spell is ready for the sacrifice," she said, but her eyes stayed on Riley.

He nodded. He hoped that Dalton gave him a chance to walk into this on his own with some dignity instead of just tossing him in. He still remembered Willow, screaming and clawing at the ground once the edge of the spell had caught her. Her face had been twisted by hate and rage and fear, and Xander had watched with this haunted and pained expression that not even Spike could erase for the longest time. Riley wouldn't give Aeth the pleasure of seeing him act like that, and he wouldn't make Fred live with the guilt. And despite Spike's loud insistence that they were acting under his command, Riley suspected that Fred and Angel would still feel guilty. Mr. Giles had abandoned him to a suckhouse, so that man clearly had learned to live with making difficult choices that included sacrificing a few pawns to the greater good. Riley didn't expect guilt from him.

"Get on with it," Spike called. Dalton looked over at Riley, and he kept his face neutral as he waited for the order or the push. She pushed. But instead of throwing him toward the opening, she shoved him backwards. Aeth's hands were flying out to the side as Dalton yanked her forward by the leash before slamming her in the back with a swift kick. Aeth's screams vanished under the roaring winds, and then the circling lights flashed so bright that Riley threw his arm up to shield his eyes.

When he brought his arm down and blinked, the spell was over, the air was filled with thousands of dust particles that swam before his eyes and Willow was lying in the middle of the spell circle.

"Oh lord," Fred said softly, but her voice sounded like it was coming from the far end of a tunnel. Riley swallowed to try and make his ears pop.

"Tara, get in here!" Spike called, and the door came open. Tara hesitated just a second in the open doorway, the light from the street a halo around her, and then she ran forward. Xander came in behind her and stood just inside the doorway, watching the scene.

"Willow," Tara called as she ran to the other woman, her feet scuffing the carefully drawn runes.

"And you," Spike said as he turned to Dalton. "What the fuck was that?"

Riley froze. Dalton, however, didn't seem overly disturbed that Master Spike was obviously not happy about her choice of sacrifice. He wasn't surprised when Xander slipped in behind Spike, a soothing hand on Spike's back.

"Bloody hell, pet, just family here, so spit out whatever you're thinking," Spike sighed as he pulled Xander around to his front.

"Okay." Xander drew out the vowels and paused for a second. "I'm thinking what the hell just happened in here, Master?" Xander looked around the room. The sudden shift in tone from the quiet, sensual pet to this man who looked a lot like the Xander Harris Riley had known years ago shocked him.

"We were goin' to use a bloke we nicked out of some prison cell to trade for Willow, but Dalton went and changed the plan." Spike pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and lit it, his eyes still yellow as they watched Dalton. Angel had gathered Fred and Giles near him, and he stood over Tara who was chanting softly in Willow's ear, either to heal her or just to reassure herself that Willow was back, Riley didn't know which. Willow clearly wasn't conscious, but he could hear her labored breathing.

"Um, what happened to Aeth?" Xander asked.

"Good question. What happened to your mage, Dalton?" Spike asked, blowing a trail of smoke out into the air. Dalton stepped closer and caught Riley by the back of the neck. At this point, Riley didn't understand anything about what was going on, but he sank to his knees at her side, letting her pull him close.

"She thought she was more valuable than Riley. She wished for me to put Riley into that prison." Dalton looked down, and Riley watched her in confusion as she frowned at him. "Riley thought to go into that prison."

"Spike, we need to get Willow somewhere warm," Tara interrupted.

"Right then, this shite will wait until later."

"I'll help you," Xander said as he left Spike to hurry to Tara and Willow. Riley looked up at Dalton, not sure if he should help or not. That was answered when Angel stepped in and simply picked her up and started for the door, the entire human camp trailing after him.

"I have Aeth's spell. Tara, do you have an obsidian wand?" Giles asked.

"I think so. I c-can check."

"I'll get the room ready," Fred blurted out and then she raced ahead of the group and out the door. It took Angel a second to navigate the narrow exit with Willow in his arms and everyone else crowding around. "Watch her head," Xander said, and then the chaos was gone, and Riley was more confused than ever.

"Actually, seems like I'm not really needed, so we'll deal with this shite now," Spike sighed. "Bloody lot of them could at least pretend to remember I run the fucking court. Right then, start talking," Spike ordered as he walked over and leaned against the wall of the warehouse, and Riley looked down at the floor. None of this made any sense.

"You said I had to stop expecting others to act as vampires," Dalton said calmly. "I did."

"We had a plan."

"She thought I would use Riley as the sacrifice." Dalton sounded pretty outraged at Aeth's assumption, but then Riley had pretty much made the same assumption.

"The minute we pulled the arsewipe out of the closet, she would have known she figured wrong. Still not hearing why you threw away a valuable piece like her." Spike was still not sounding amused, and Riley held his breath as the seconds went by and Dalton didn't answer.

"She thought she understood me, that she could use me to get what she wanted." Dalton pulled Riley closer. "I didn't trust her enough to allow her to use me."

Riley glanced up, but Spike actually looked more amused than upset now. "Bloody hell, you could have waited until she did the last spell on Willow."

"Fred and Giles can do the spell," Dalton said firmly.

"Soddin'..." he stopped mid-curse. "You are getting to be cheeky, aren't you?" Spike asked as he dropped his cigarette and crushed it.

Dalton didn't flinch back, but Riley flinched for her. Very early on, Dalton had made a mistake that had put Xander in danger in a battle, and by the time Spike returned her to their room, she was a bloody mass of whip marks and broken bones. Riley had been afraid to even touch her for days as the open wounds slowly closed and healed. She would have healed faster, but Spike didn't even allow her to leave the lair to hunt.

"Serving a master does not always mean obeying blindly," Dalton said.

"Who told you that rot?"

"You did, sire." Dalton's fingers trailed along Riley's cheek, stroking him gently.

"Ya listened to the wrong bloody part of the lecture, luv. I'm sure I've pointed out once or twice that I'm the one who calls the shots around here," Spike complained, but he had an almost friendly tone, the way he would sometimes complain about Xander's tail about two seconds before the two of them were having sex on the floor.

"You do, which is why I listened when you told me I was being an idiot with Riley instead of challenging you for questioning how I handled my pet."

Spike snorted. "You'd last about two minutes in a challenge before you ended up hanging from my chains."

"I'd make it at least ten, sire."

"That sounds like a dare." Spike pursed his lips, but instead of starting a fight with Dalton, he walked over to a door and pulled it open. "So, since we don't need this piece of shite, I guess it's dinner time for you, mate."

Spike pulled out a man who was tied. His legs had about two inches of slack in the rope so he could stand, but his arms were bound so tightly that his chest thrust out. His bare head was a mass of tattoos, and a cluster of teardrop tattoos under his left eye made it pretty clear that this was not a good man.

"Or we could return him to the prison," Dalton commented. Riley looked up at her in surprise. Dalton was many things, but merciful was not normally one.

Spike looked just as surprised. "Suppose we could. Don't really see the point of it, though." Spike pushed the con back against the wall and walked slowly toward Dalton.

"As Riley said, we do not know what a man is like just because he is in prison."

Both Spike's eyebrows went up and he looked down at Riley. Swallowing nervously, Riley looked right back. They were his words, and if they made Spike angry, he would take the responsibility for that.

"So if Aeth manipulates ya, she gets shoved into a collapsin' prison dimension, but you're alright with Riley here doing the manipulation?" Spike asked, his voice slow and dangerous.

"Yes," Dalton answered, her fingers still stroking Riley's cheek. Riley had not been this confused since that first day in Fort Irwin when the commanders had introduced the unit to vampires, showing documentary footage that most of the soldiers had believed to be faked all the way up until they met their first vampire.

Spike snorted. "The Aurelian line isn't going to earn back any sanity points with you, is it?" he demanded, but again, he sounded amused.

"Probably not, but the line is in no danger of ever being suspected of sanity." Dalton smiled at Spike.

"Figure out what to do with this one," Spike said, kicking the prisoner who fell to the ground with a heavy grunt that was muffled by the gag. "And talk to your fucking pet before the git goes an offs himself. Just because the wanker has a better poker face than my boy isn't a good reason to be a fucking nit, got it?" Spike demanded.

"Yes, sire," Dalton agreed, her head tilting forward respectfully. Spike strode out of the room without another look, and Riley stared up in confusion. He normally considered himself a fairly intelligent man—a weak one who made horrible choices—but an intelligent one. Today was challenging that perception.

Dalton stood there, stroking his hair, and Riley waited for some sort of explanation that she didn't seem to be ready to give him. The prisoner made a pained grunt, and she looked over.

"Do you truly believe that he may have goodness that is simply unseen?" Dalton asked as she left his side to walk over to the man. She flashed into gameface, and he screamed behind the gag and pissed himself.

"I don't know." Riley stood up and took a couple of steps toward her. "You saved him because I said that?"

Dalton looked over at him. "I would have still killed him if Aeth had not been so aggressive, but your words made me consider it as a choice." She reached down and easily pulled the man to his feet, but he looked so unsteady that Riley thought he might just fall down again. Riley stepped forward to steady the convict.

Dalton sighed loudly. "I intended your night with the Oden Tal as a reward... because I had spent so much time with the mage and her questionable loyalties." Dalton started pulling the prisoner toward the door at such a fast pace that the man gave a couple of hops and then ended up crashing to the floor again. She growled at him in gameface.

Riley was so shocked that he stood still and watched the strange scene. "A reward?"

"They are more attractive in human terms." She pulled the guy up again, and whether this guy was a murdering gang-member or not, Riley was starting to feel some sympathy for him as he struggled to hop and shuffle fast enough to keep up with her. Riley trotted after her, putting his hand on her arm to slow her.

She looked at him, and for a half-second, Riley could imagine that he saw the human she had once been. "I prefer you," he told her.

She tilted her head at him and then turned away, pulling the prisoner toward the door but moving slower now. "I didn't understand your illogical preference for me. You were uncomfortable sharing a bed with Spike and Xander, so I thought you would prefer attention from the Oden Tal. Master Spike had Xander explain a few things that still do not make sense, and now I believe I should not have sent you away."

"What did Xander explain?" Riley had a few suspicions, but he really needed some direct answers. This uncertainty was not good for his digestion.

Dalton turned away from the prisoner and reached for him, her hands catching him by the back of the neck and the waist as she pulled him close. "He says you would have an irrational preference for me even if I were to be injured or weak. Spike was once captured and gravely injured, and Xander pursued a dangerous and reckless rescue plan with very little chance of success. He says you would do the same."

Riley studied her. "Of course I would."

"You and Xander are odd," she announced, and then she turned her attention to the prisoner, moving him toward the door at a slightly slower pace now. Riley wasn't sure what the plan was, but he had a feeling that the guy was actually looking forward to getting back into a jail cell.

"It's human to have irrational preferences," Riley pointed out. He got a hand around the guy's elbow and tried to help him along.

"Even to the point of disregarding appearance or strength?"

Riley thought about that. "If you weren't strong enough to control me, that would worry me," he admitted. "I wouldn't want to leave you. I still..." he stopped and blinked a few times to clear the dust that seemed to be making his eyes water. "I still hate myself for leaving Buffy. I should have died with her before leaving her to fight alone. The drugs made me do that. I can't promise I wouldn't ever leave you because I'm always..."

Riley stopped when he found Dalton suddenly vamped out an inch from his face. With one hand she grabbed him by the back of the neck so hard that he hunched his shoulders, and with the other she grabbed his cock. He froze. Dalton just slowly tightened her hold on Riley's cock until he couldn't breathe. Then just as suddenly she let go.

"I will kill you before I ever allow you to touch a drug. Never doubt that." She reached up and ran her thumb along his lower lip. "I have an irrational preference for you, even over someone as powerful as Aeth was, but I will drain every drop of blood and leave you a corpse before I allow you to abandon me for the drugs."

Riley held perfectly still, her hand still clamped around his neck tight enough to warn him that she wasn't kidding. "Of course, it's far more likely that I'll just chain you to the bed until you remember your place, at least once Rupert Giles is gone. Xander also says you have an irrational preference to not have Giles or Dawn see you in chains and a collar. Xander wears a collar with them, so why would you rather not?" Dalton asked. She let go of his neck and took a second to stroke fingers over his feeding scar. Riley reached up and caught her wrist, his back arching and his cock hardening at her attention. Dalton was definitely smirking.

"I don't want them to think I'm weak," Riley admitted, "which is stupid because in most psychological terms, I am."

"You should hunt more demons," Dalton commented. They were outside now, and Dalton opened the trunk of a large old car. She tipped the prisoner in. "After I finish keeping you chained to the bed for a while," she amended herself.

"He's going to suffocate in there. You should take the gag off... Mistress." Riley dropped his eyes down as he realized that he probably needed to remember his manners. Something might have fundamentally shifted when he wasn't looking, but she was still his owner, and he didn't think she wanted him forgetting all the lessons she had taught him at the end of her whip.

She looked down at the guy for a second, her hand on the open trunk. "I would rather just feed off you and dump your body in the ocean. My pet would return you to the police. So, I give you the choice," Dalton offered in an overly-friendly voice. The prisoner looked even more freaked than before. "I'm going to take your gag off. If you're quiet, my pet is right and you want to live. If you scream, I'll eat you for dinner." She flashed into gameface. "Isn't that fair?" she asked as she turned to Riley.

"Yes, Mistress," Riley agreed. "I really don't like watching when she eats people. Seriously, don't call for help because in this neighborhood, it's not coming anyway," Riley told the guy.

Dalton reached down and pulled the duct tape off so fast that it must have hurt the guy, but he lay silently, staring up at them in mute horror.

"You were right about him wishing to live," Dalton said to Riley with a shrug before she slammed the trunk shut. "I'll have Victor drive it somewhere and call the police, but right now, you need my attention more." She reached out and caught his wrist before pulling him back toward the lair. For a second, she moved so fast that Riley couldn't keep up and he stumbled after her, her hand on his wrist unforgiving. But then she slowed, and when Riley caught up to her, she slipped her arm around his waist.

For just a brief moment, Riley wasn't sure what to do. This wasn't a gesture Dalton normally used with him. He tentatively let his arm rest on her shoulders, aware that from the outside, they must appear to be more of a couple than a vampire and her pet. As they approached the lair, he prepared to move into a more formal position just a half step behind her as proper, but her arm tightened around him, and they walked into the main entrance.

Clearly Riley had some new rules to learn. He was bright, though. He'd figure it out.

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