DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss', of course, and the chapter title is Spanish for "black."
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy has agreed to help Anya do something about her missing bridesmaids' dresses, with Spike along for good measure…
She'd expected to hear his motorcycle come roaring to the front of her house, like a lion furious for prey, but when Dawn yelled up the stairs that Anya was waiting outside, Buffy frowned, unsettled by the silence that had predated the announcement. It was only when she stepped onto the porch and saw the sullen gleam of chrome in the approaching moonlight that she understood why.
Behind the wheel of the DeSoto she'd long thought gone and forgotten, Spike sat half-cloaked in darkness, only partially visible through the open windows, his hands silvery against the steering wheel as they tapped out a syncopated rhythm from the radio that pulsed faintly in the night air. Smoke filtered from the far side of the car, wispy tendrils that dissipated the closer they got to the stars, and for a moment, she was there with it, trapped within the effluvium, soaring and fading with each encroaching yard to the heavens, because Heaven was done with her. No room for her there now. It would see her consumed first.
Her gut clenched. This was a mistake. She should never have agreed to this. She was going to combust if she went through with it.
Before Buffy could turn and flee back to the oasis of the house, Anya poked her head out from the back seat. "Hurry up!" she called. "We've lost enough time from Spike's stop at the Qwik-E-Mart." She disappeared for a moment when the vampire said something unintelligible, and Buffy heard the muffled, "Oh, you do not," from Anya before she reappeared again.
"Why do I have to be in front?" she asked as she approached the car.
"Because if any of Julio's buddies see me coming, we'll never get in," Anya replied.
She bit back the question of what exactly they were getting into and slid onto the front seat. It was way too reminiscent of the last time she'd been in the DeSoto, nearly a year earlier on that ill-fated "date" Spike had arranged when she'd learned about his true feelings for her. Would she have ever imagined that she'd be back in its interior, sitting there with his dusky eyes regarding her in calculated assessment? Could she have known that he would be the one to ultimately break through the barricade of apathy that shielded her from the fragile world around her?
Short answer? Not in a hundred billion years.
The long answer threatened her with a headache of heroic proportions.
"Didn't I see you had a map?" Buffy asked brightly, desperate to distract herself from the theoretical crashing of an abundance of taunting vagaries.
"We won't need that until later," Anya said from the back. "You know the way to the gate, right, Spike?"
His reply was a sharp twist of the wheel as he did an impossible u-turn in the middle of the street. "Suggest you settle back and get comfy," he said. "This part's the not so amusin' part of the amusement ride."
Buffy didn't have to be told twice. If Spike was warning about dangerous driving, then that was a warning she was going to take seriously. Nimble fingers secured her seatbelt as she slouched down in the seat, the top of her head so low she couldn't even see out the windshield.
"Didn't mean you had to take crash position, pet."
"Considering how much time we've spent together, Spike, this is pretty much the norm for me these days."
It was meant to be derisive, and had sounded so in her head. But when the words escaped, they teased with a gentility that was uncharacteristic of her lately, an affection so apparent in her tone that it shocked both of them into silence. Buffy saw his furtive glance into his rearview mirror, the question of whether how much the Slayer had actually admitted with the comment had registered with Anya lingering in his face, but relaxed when the knuckles that had tightened around the steering wheel eased their grip.
She'd gotten away with it. Again.
She was beginning to wonder if all her so-called slip-ups weren't some hidden message from her subconscious trying to get out. Leave it to Buffy's brain to look for backdoor solutions to non-existent problems.
"Why didn't you turn?" Anya asked. There was a creak of leather as she sat forward and leaned over the front seat to stare through the slits in the windshield. "The alley by the museum's the easiest way to get there."
"It's not the fastest," Spike replied. He used his elbow to nudge her hands off the headrest. "It's why I told you to buckle---."
Buffy shouted when her door suddenly bowed inward, driving her to pitch sideways to the center of the seat. She could hear Spike cursing under his breath, a string of invectives usually reserved for when he was only truly pissed off, and then saw the wheel wrench counter-clockwise out of his grasp.
"Get down!" he ordered when she tried to sit up, pushing her head back to the smoky leather.
The sickening twist in her stomach told Buffy the car was careening in circles and she felt the first shreds of panic when she glanced up to see what Spike was doing.
He'd vamped out, his eyes yellow slits as he snarled at whatever he could see through the windows. With his lips drawn back in fury, he looked every inch the killer she'd known when he'd first arrived in Sunnydale, the veins in his neck popping in bas relief from the force he was exerting on the wheel. Rather than being frightened at his appearance, though, Buffy was more scared at what could've provoked such a response, and curled her body in preparation for the crash she thought was imminent.
Anya's shriek from the back seat accompanied the smashing of the windshield. The glass held in its frame, the dozens of spidering cracks giving it the appearance of modern art, and Spike's bellow of proud indignance finished off the surrealism Buffy felt herself thrust into.
And just as quickly as it had started---well, not that quickly because it felt like it had lasted forever---it ended.
Her blood was roaring inside her head, her heart a virulent staccato against her ribcage, and it took all of Buffy's resolve to lift her head from the seat. The car's interior was bathed in light, streaming in from whatever illumination was igniting the street. Though Spike's door looked the same, a quick glance revealed the concave buckle that bowed the passenger's behind her, and she slowly turned back to see the frantic worry in the vampire's now-human face.
"You all right?" he asked. His hand dropped to unhitch her belt, then roamed the expanse of her torso in search of injuries. "Not hurt, are you?"
Buffy slapped him away, straightening in what remained of her seat. "What the hell just happened here?" she demanded.
"Spike's shortcut almost got us all killed." Anya's head appeared in the mirror, disheveled but unharmed, and the barely disguised anger in her brown eyes was unmistakable. "It's a testosterone thing, isn't it? If you'd just gone past the museum like I said---."
"I got us here, didn't I?"
"No, you got us stuck."
"Did you at least get us to this gate thingy?" Buffy asked.
"Well…" Anya and Spike exchanged a quick look. "Kind of, pet."
The non-answer was all she needed to send her over the edge. "OK, that's it," Buffy announced. "Change of plan."
"What? No! No change. I don't have my dresses or my money yet."
"You can get 'em on your own. I'm out of here."
Her foot lashed out at the broken door behind her, sending it flying from its hinges. Ignoring the shouts behind her, Buffy jumped from the car to begin the walk home.
Anya and Spike stared at the gaping hole in the DeSoto.
"Well…balls," the vamp muttered.
"Double balls," she agreed. When she saw him start to slide across the seat after the missing Slayer, her hand shot out and grabbed his arm. "Just where do you think you're going?"
"I'm not just leavin' her out there."
"And so you're just going to leave me in here? She's not the one who's paying you!"
"Slayer's got no idea what she's got herself into." Carefully, he unfurled Anya's fingers. "Just stay put. You'll still get your dresses. Just might be a bit…later than was agreed."
She sighed when he disappeared through the opening. "Stupid, lovesick vampire," she grumbled, settling back into the leather. "He's definitely sitting at Uncle Rory's table for this."
She was still standing frozen in the spot she'd landed when Spike appeared out of nowhere behind her. "Something tells me we're not in Kansas anymore," Buffy said slowly, not bothering to turn around and look at him.
She was riveted by the landscape. It was Sunnydale, but not the Sunnydale she knew. It was as if someone had drawn the town on an Etch-a-Sketch, and then picked it up and randomly shaken it, so that only half the outlines were there in a jagged horizon. Overhead, the sky was an endless swath of ebony, broken only by the orange globe of the moon dangling in dangerous proximity to the earth, and there was no denying the sense of peace that was suddenly suffusing her.
"What kind of magic is this?" she breathed.
"Doors aren't magic, luv. Just physics in motion."
"Did we go through the gate that you guys were looking for?"
When his silence stretched longer than she expected, Buffy turned around to see Spike kicking at the black grass. An embarrassed smirk twisted his lips, and he just shrugged when he caught her looking.
"I took the back way in," he explained. "Burned the bridge that would just let me come and go the right way last time I used it. And…I didn't exactly tell Anya I couldn't get her in through the front door. That was…all that to-do was the gate gettin' pissy about letting me through."
"You call nearly crashing your car just a to-do?"
"We're all in one piece, aren't we?"
His eyes were dark as he stepped closer. "You sure you didn't get banged up back there?" Spike asked softly. "Got a little bit rougher than I thought it would."
She held herself from flinching when he reached up to push her hair back from her face. "I just want to know what's going on," Buffy replied. "This gate thing. What is it and how come I never saw it coming?"
"You're not a demon, pet. You not seein' it's a matter of acuity."
"A matter of huh?"
"Perception. You're human so you'd never suss it's there. Kinda like the way it was with Rack's place, except, well…not." A hand ran through his unkempt curls as he searched for the words. "All it is, is a doorway to a…demon asylum, you could say. Didn't you ever speculate how you killed so many baddies 'round town but didn't hardly see them until they came out to do their dirty work? Well, what you're standin' in is where a lotta demons come to lie low. Anya got word this was where that Julio was hidin' out."
"And the map you have is a map to this place?"
He grimaced. "The map that's still back in the car, you mean?"
"Doesn't mean we can't still find him. Just have to be more creative about it."
For a long moment, she just stood there, breathing in the crisp air, the scent of his leather making her skin warm. "Why are you helping Anya?" she finally asked, her voice low in order not to shatter the calm that had settled between them.
He shifted his weight, his discomfort driving his hands back into his pockets. "It's not like I'm doin' this out of the kindness of my heart," he said defensively. "I'm gettin' paid for my efforts here."
"Somehow I find it hard to believe that Anya's paying both of us to do this one thing. I don't care how vengeful she's feeling, this is still her money we're talking about."
"What else could possibly bring me back to this place?" Whirling on his heel, Spike began marching down the broken walk, his step sure and able along the jagged concrete.
"Where are you going?" Buffy said, sprinting to catch up to him. "We can't just leave Anya…wherever she is."
"Why? She's not goin' anywhere. At least one of you birds is smart enough to know not to get out of the bloody car. It's just as well. She wouldn't last two seconds before something decided to take a bite out of her."
"That doesn't make it OK to abandon her."
"We don't have much choice in the matter," came the reply. "Only way to get out is to go further in."
As Buffy tripped along the walk, skirting the occasional rock and crevasse as she kept pace with Spike, she decided she felt like Alice on the other side of the looking glass. Any minute now, she fully expected a little white rabbit to come scurrying along with a pocketwatch, complaining about being late before disappearing into another hole. Wouldn't Anya love that, she thought, and almost smiled. Maybe it was a good thing they'd left her behind. On top of everything else that had happened, she wasn't sure she had the patience to deal with one of Anya's screaming hissy fits about the psychotic habits of little fluffers.
The silence was deafening, even the sounds of their steps swallowed up by the ground itself. "Is it safe to ask what you did to make them so cranky about letting you back in?" she asked, desperate for some semblance of normalcy in an otherwise cockeyed world.
Conversation with Spike?That's normal?
Except, she knew it was, knew it had been, once upon a time. He'd been the only one she could talk to for those long months after she came back, oddly comforting in his understanding, quietly waiting for her without making any demands. It had only been since they'd got physical that things had…stagnated. Was she silly for missing the way it had been?
It took him a minute to answer her. "There's a certain non-fighting agreement that I decided was a bit of rubbish," Spike finally said.
Buffy stopped in her tracks. "Non-fighting? As in…non-fighting? No punch-y, no hit-y?"
"Think that's what I said."
"How in hell were you planning on getting to this Julio guy without fighting?"
"What? You don't think my charm and good looks can work on the demon half of the population? I'm hurt, luv."
"They didn't even work on me, Spike."
He pretended to nod in understanding. "Should've known it was my hot, tight little body that finally did you in."
"And I'm tellin' you, you don't have anything to worry about. If he doesn't come around with sweet talk, then we'll go with the tried and true. Not like they can ban me twice now, now can they?"
"Do you even have an idea about how we're going to find him?" Buffy's outstretched arms embraced the emptiness of their immediate surroundings, her bare arms eerily orange beneath the full moon. "For being a demon hideaway, it seems remarkably short of demons."
"That's because we're in the not-so-nice part of town. Demons stay away from here if they can help it."
"Since when are the evil and ugly so picky? I thought not-so-nice was right up their alley." His lips pressed shut in a very much, I-don't-want-to-talk-about-this way that wasn't that typical of Spike considering he'd usually talk her ear off if she let him, and she stepped around to block his way down the path he'd chosen.
"I'm getting sick and tired of wandering around here in the dark," she started again, but he was speaking before she could continue her diatribe.
"Kind of hard not to do when it's nighttime, luv," Spike commented.
Her fist slammed into his jaw before she could stop it, and Buffy watched Spike go flying to the walk behind him. "Why can't you just give me a straight answer?" she shouted. "Are you trying to piss me off? Because that's what it looks like from this angle. That, and you're deliberately not telling me stuff that just might prove non-fatal if things go wrong."
He didn't say a word as he leapt back to his feet, just kept his eyes level with hers. Steady. Like he was waiting for something. And deep within the blue…
Buffy swallowed as the acid in her stomach threatened to revolt. She hated that look. She hated that he could have it in the first place. Spike wasn't supposed to have emotions that ran stronger than hers, and Spike wasn't supposed to care more about the world than she, and Spike wasn't supposed to do a lot of things, but he did. He took her punches, and he did as she asked about keeping them a secret, and even when he slipped and said something that could give them away, he was appropriately contrite afterward. He did it because he loved her.
And she hated him for it.
And she hated herself more for not being good enough to deserve it.
She'd never tell him that, of course. He'd either spend the next hour gloating or trying to convince her she was wrong, and Buffy couldn't stomach either. She just wanted things to go back to the way they'd been before. When he wasn't using her physical cravings for the moments of bliss he gave her that blocked out the pain of the rest of her moments as proof of something more. When he'd understood that the light hurt her eyes, and used himself as a shield from it without her ever having to ask for it.
When she hadn't been wrong.
She felt her anger deflate, her eyes falling from the gaze that could stare her into the next century if he so chose. "All I want are answers," Buffy said dully. She pivoted on her heel and began walking again toward whatever it was he'd been leading her. "I never thought that was such a bad thing."
His presence when he fell into step beside her was an unexpected relief, and she could sense the tension in his arms, his desire to do more than just be there, to take her in an embrace she wouldn't fight off, palpable even to her. "Seems to me," Spike said quietly, and she knew he was choosing his words carefully so as not to enrage her again, "wanting answers and bein' willing to hear them are two entirely separate things. I know you've got the first covered, luv, but…"
He didn't have to give voice to the question. Buffy heard it loud and clear.
She just didn't know how to respond to it.
To be continued in Chapter Three: Rojo…