DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title is Spanish for “red.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy and Spike are inside the back door of the gate, looking for Julio…

*************

Chapter 3: Rojo

She decided it was the absence of all the little things that made it seem so eerie. There were no chirping crickets, no far-off harmony of automobiles, no slight buzzing from lamplights overhead. The moon gave more than enough illumination, but the orange-red glow that diffused across the black surfaces of the street did little to warm them, leaving Buffy craving the familiar pools of light from home. It was entirely too still, and too sickly to be anything not preternatural, and she mused for a moment on what she would say to Giles about it when she got back…only to feel her throat tighten when she remembered that the Watcher wasn’t there for her to tell any longer.

Not everything was unsettling, though. With Spike at her side, his hands thrust deep into his duster and his mouth uncharacteristically silent, it was suggestive of more than one memory after her death, where they would stroll on patrol without saying a word but really without needing to, and she felt safe, safer than she did in the refuge of her house and the circle of friends who’d insisted on bringing her back. He knew that, of course, just as he always seemed to know everything else, but never brought it up, choosing instead to accept her lead and follow wherever she needed to go.

So, when she saw the familiar landscape of the cemetery, it was only natural for Buffy to veer off the path. This was where she belonged, after all.

“Where are you goin’?” Spike asked. He’d stopped as soon as she stepped from the curb, and was looking ahead at the graveyard gates in curiosity when Buffy turned back to address him.

“You said this Julio was a moonshadow demon, right?” She pointed to the low-slung orb in the heavens, hanging over the perimeter of an ominous mausoleum. “I assume that’s not because his favorite vacation spot is a loungechair in Hawaii. Doesn’t it look like the moon gets bigger in that direction?”

He’d started nodding halfway through her words, and dropped off the walk to come to her side. “We’re getting closer to where’d he’d be more likely to do his yogi bit, too,” he said. “Looks as good a place as any to start the looking.”

The double-chains that barred intruders coiled like aged serpents through the black iron bars. As Buffy tilted her head to examine where best to break them, she felt a gentle brush against her hip, and then saw Spike leap to the top of the ivy-covered brick wall.

“Mite faster, and less likely to get the wrong sort of attention,” he commented at her silent inquisition.

Nodding, she mimicked his jump, following him over the crest to land with a soft thud on the grass below. “Why does a place like this need a cemetery?” she asked as she scanned the grounds.

Spike shrugged. “Never bothered to ask,” he said.

As they resumed walking toward the ever-growing moon, the pall that had distinguished their earlier trek disappeared, leaving Buffy more talkative than she’d felt in ages.

“So, seriously now, do we have anything resembling a plan in our near future? Not that winging it isn’t the normal modus operandi for me when I’m officially down one Watcher, but something’s whispering in my ear that this isn’t exactly normal.”

When he stumbled---so slight, she would’ve missed it if she hadn’t been intimately aware of how his body moved---she couldn’t help but wonder what she might’ve said that could’ve unsettled him. The grass was clear, and the light was bright. There were no physical reasons for him to go Chevy Chase on her.

“Nothin’ as solid as what you might think,” Spike replied. “If I can’t talk him into makin’ good with Anya, then I’ll just have to beat him into doin’ it.”

“Any little moonshadow tricks I should know about? He doesn’t have poisonous tentacles or secrete acid or something like that, does he?”

“Wouldn’t matter if he did. You’re not the one who’s here to fight him.”

She stopped in her tracks at that bald statement. “I thought all that talk about looking menacing was just metaphor,” she proclaimed, hands on her hips.

“Someone needs to buy a better dictionary, then,” Spike replied without breaking stride.

“But I thought Anya---.”

“You thought the most literal bird on the planet suddenly decided to take a class in subtlety?” He was smirking when he glanced back at her. “That was your first mistake, luv.”

“Oh.” Buffy began walking again, her step quick as she returned to his side. “Well, I’m sure it won’t matter if I get a punch or two in. I’ll just---hey!” She yanked her arm away from the grasp Spike had stopped her with, glaring up at him in burgeoning anger.

“You. Don’t touch him. Got it?”

His voice hadn’t risen, his temper still calm, but there was a deadly determination in his face that raised Buffy’s hackles, like Spike thought he could actually dictate to her the protocols of going into a fight. She began to say as much, only to have him cut her off---again---with a repeat of his order.

“At least tell me why,” she demanded.

His exhalation was frustration leaking around his mood’s tether. “Moonshadows are empathic,” he finally said. “They take whatever negative emotions you might be experiencing and then turn ‘em around into, well…food. You get pissy ‘round him and the next thing you know, you’re pancakes. Kind of why I’m hopin’ we meet up with him soon here.”

“Huh? Did I miss a rung in this half-baked plan of yours?”

His gaze was a velvet assessment on her. “Remember wondering ‘bout this bein’ the wrong side of the tracks?” Spike asked. “That’s why.”

“What’s why?”

“Can’t you feel it?”

“Feel what?”

Before she could react, Spike placed one hand on her shoulder to keep her from moving, covering her eyes with the wide palm of his other. It left her locked in stasis and blind to the outside, with a warming sensation that started in the pit of her stomach. After a full minute of blossoming darkness, she felt him lean in and silkily whisper, “First instinct, pet. Tell me how you feel.”

The single word response surprised Buffy, not with how quickly she said it, but rather she was in a place where she could say it at all. “Peaceful.”

He was nodding when his hand fell away, removing himself from her personal space again. “That’s the yin yang of the backdoor versus the front. Drives most of the demons here crazy, so they stay away from it.”

“It doesn’t seem to bother you.”

“I’m not most demons.”

She held her tongue. In spite of a rising instinct to agree with him, Buffy knew she couldn’t ever voice it; Spike would never let her forget that she’d admitted to one of his sore points. Instead, she commented as glibly as she could manage, “Or, enough of that Dru wackiness rubbed off on you to make you immune to the effects. That could be an explanation, too.”

Catching the dilation of his pupils as she strolled past him made her body ready for the fight she knew he wanted. When Buffy felt his hand wrap around her bicep to spin her around, she used the anchorage of his weight to swing her leg in a wide circle, hooking behind his knees to send them both sprawling to the ground. They landed on their sides, his duster wending around her just enough to tangle her tighter with his limbs, and she felt the rising hardness in his jeans press against her hip as she fought to regain a superior position.

“So much for peaceful,” Buffy said, and then grunted when Spike rolled her over his head onto her back, following to straddle her, his powerful hands locked around her wrists and pinning them to the frigid earth.

“You’re the one who attacked here,” he growled.

“You grabbed me.”

“’Cause you were walking away.”

“No, I believe I was walking toward our fashion demon.”

“Only because you can’t stand facin’ your own,” he snapped back.

She hated when he got so philosophical on her, and hated it even more when he was right. With a determined glare, Buffy twisted her shoulders to try and force him off, but was surprised by Spike’s rough shove, her verbalized cry of pain stifled by the slam of his mouth to hers.

It was a brutal kiss, not meant for passion. His teeth scraped against hers, his tongue furious, but the moment she started to respond, Spike pulled back, leaving Buffy panting, and sizzling, and dumbstruck at the reversal of his attack. She braced for the verbal barrage she expected to come, only to be mystified when he remained unmoving, uttering only a single word.

“Breathe.”

The seconds slid into a minute, then two, while Buffy’s chest began to slowly ease its heaving. The quietude that had possessed her limbs prior to their comments returned, just as she felt the constriction dissipate from Spike’s, until his fingers were barely touching her wrists in their prison, the weight of his body more a lover’s caress than a combatant’s blow.

“I didn’t let you come along so that we’d be at each other throats the entire time,” he said quietly. “This isn’t about us fighting.”

“You’re right,” she replied. “It’s about helping Anya.”

He took a moment too long to respond. “Yeah,” Spike finally said. “Marrying Harris, she’s goin’ to need all the help she can get.” Glancing at their hands, his dark gaze slithered down her bare arms with the hunger of a man who knew he lacked the time to savor a grand buffet. “If I let you up, you think you can keep your fists aimed in a non-contact direction toward the demon who really is against you?” he asked.

Buffy’s eyes jumped over his shoulder. “You mean, the one about to stab you in the back?” she asked. Taking advantage of his laxity, she rolled to the side, pulling both of them out of the path of the long stiletto that came whistling through the air to be embedded in the soft earth. Simultaneously, they leapt to their feet, to face off with the blade’s owner as he extracted his weapon from the ground.

He was almost skeletal, razor-thin with long arms on a short body, nails like blood-red, curved talons on the tips of his fingers. Silver quills ran from the back of his head down his spine, and his skin was almost translucent, allowing the function of his veins to be seen beneath its surface. It gave the impression of hundreds of thousands of scarlet spider webs meshing to pulse with his every movement, disconcerting Buffy enough to make her eyes refuse to focus. She’d never seen a demon like it before, and wondered what she was going to have to do to kill it.

“You’ve gotta be Julio,” Spike drawled at her side.

The casualness of the statement took both Buffy and the demon by surprise. “Do I know you?” he asked, the tip of his knife dropping to point at the earth. The high pitch to his voice seemed out of place on something so scary-looking. “I don’t owe you money, do I? Because the last vamp I fell into pot with didn’t look anything like you. Well, except for the pale-skin and dated taste in clothing.” He swept a disdainful crimson gaze over Spike’s attire. “That black does nothing for your complexion, by the way. You should consider more jewel tones. Blues, purples. Maybe some red.” He grimaced. “Oh, then again, maybe not the red. It’s just so, you know, cliché.”

“Is this guy for real?” Buffy asked, looking up at Spike.

“Wait.” The stiletto came back up, aimed directly at the Slayer. “You are human. I thought I smelled it on the two of you.”

“I keep telling Spike to stop stealing that cheap cologne, but do you think he listens to me?”

His features hardened, ignoring her attempt at humor. “You don’t belong here, human. Is your deathwish really that strong that you’d resort to getting a vampire to bring you through the gate? Although, how he managed to last this long without draining a tasty morsel like you has got to take fangs of steel, if you ask me. That’s either truly inspiring, or truly pathetic. I’m not sure which.”

Echoes of his sentiments inside her head made Buffy’s throat constrict, her skin begin to crawl in anticipated anger. Her muscles were already tensing to take a step toward him when she felt Spike’s strong hand on her shoulder, clamping her in place, but when she looked up at him, his gaze was trained on the demon.

“Funny you havin’ a bias against humans,” Spike said evenly. “That why you bilked Anyanka outta her hard-earned dosh?”

The uttering of the ex-vengeance demon’s name made Julio pause, his blade wavering in silvery glints in the air. “How do you know about that?” he asked cautiously.

“Know a lot of things. But the bird’s a friend of mine and seein’ as how the thought those dresses made her just a mite happier, it doesn’t please me none that you’d go and run off without givin’ her what she wanted.”

“And she sent you here to collect.” Julio shook his head, but didn’t lower his weapon. “Anyanka always was a stingy bitch.”

“You robbed her,” Buffy exclaimed. She didn’t know why she was surprised at his show of non-remorse---he was a demon, after all---and in spite of Spike’s warning about keeping a rein on her emotions, felt the frustration start to rise again.

“Lemme guess. You’re a friend of hers, too.” He sniffed, and the slits that passed as a nose wrinkled in distaste. “What is that horrific stench?” He sniffed again. “You didn’t actually bring Doublemeat burgers in with you, did you?” he asked. “Those will take the scales off a Lishla demon at ten yards.”

“I showered! Why can’t anyone figure that out?” Hands on her hips, she broke free from Spike’s hold and took a step forward anyway. “And yeah, I’m Anya’s friend. Consider me official spokesperson from the bridesmaid camp.”

“Really?” She squirmed when he tilted her head, as if looking at her sideways would somehow help him pick up on something he missed the first time he looked her over. “Is she mad at you or something?”

“Why would you ask that?”

“Have you seen the dress I designed for her?”

“No. What does that matter?”

“It’s just…the color’s not exactly one that’ll flatter you, hon. And the neckline…and ruffle…” Julio shrugged. “Maybe she picked it out because it’ll look good on the others.”

“Not that she would know, considerin’ you’ve seen fit to gyp her outta what she’s got comin’ to her.” Spike was back in the fray, positioning himself awkwardly between Buffy and the moonshadow. “Let’s talk about either you paying her back, or making good on your dress deal.”

“Can’t.”

“You mean won’t.”

“No, I really do mean can’t. I don’t have the money any more.”

Buffy ignored Spike’s blatant attempt to exclude her and elbowed her way to his side, folding her arms across her chest in her best try at looking menacing. “Where is it?” she asked.

“Where else? I spent it.”

“It was supposed to be spent on Anya’s dresses. Or did that little detail escape your memory?”

“I can’t make her dresses if I’m dead, now can I?”

This was sounding way too familiar to Buffy, and she shook her head in disbelief. “Please tell me you didn’t use her money to pay off a loanshark,” she said.

Her accurate assessment took him by surprise, and Julio’s blade dropped just a little bit more. “Actually, it was a little guy up in San Francisco’s Chinatown. He had the most beautiful aqua silk I’ve seen in the past decade. I just couldn’t resist.”

“You bought fabric?”

He seemed affronted at her surprise, his quills bristling. “What? It’s not like I was gambling for kittens or something!”

“No.” Buffy leveled a firm stare at Spike. “Because that would be stupid.” She didn’t know if she should laugh or scream at the ridiculousness of the entire situation. How did she constantly get put into these spots? Oh, yeah, because she’d been Chosen. God, she hated that word. Because no longer did it refer to her calling, but to the friends who’d chosen to bring her back.

“What happened to the good old days?” Buffy continued. “Is there something wrong with demons just killing for what they want any more? Did someone start a Let’s-Go-Straight Anonymous when I was dead or something?”

“Well, that would’ve been dumb of me,” Julio said. “If I killed Soo-Jin, I wouldn’t ever get any more of the silk. Why would I do something as asinine as that?”

“Because you’re a demon, maybe?”

“Being a demon doesn’t make me stupid.” With a shake of his head, he turned away from her to Spike. “I’ve decided you’re truly pathetic. With a worldview like that, she’s going to stake you as soon as she’s done with you, you know that, right?”

“Probably,” the vampire agreed, shocking the Slayer to gape up at him. “And stop changing the subject. What’s it goin’ to take to get Anya her dresses?”

“Frankly? A miracle.”

“Oh, look,” Buffy muttered. “My specialty.”

She only meant to knock him down. In spite of Spike’s indirect reasonings on why she shouldn’t fight Julio, Buffy just didn’t see the harm in using the element of surprise she had to help Spike get the advantage in the battle she saw as inevitable. It was just a flying kick, after all, and she was wearing good strong boots. Up and down. Fast as lightning. Where was the bad?

She didn’t hear Spike’s shout at her when she leapt through the air. And she didn’t see the hasty rise of the stiletto as Julio tried to block her contact. She only felt the soft give of his flesh as her heel connected with his chest, but instead of sending him flying backwards, the kick seemed to merge her flesh to his, sending both of them tumbling sideways to the ground.

Ice leeched up her leg with the speed of quicksilver. The graveyard was gone, the black grass vanished. All Buffy could see were the myriad of images soaking her consciousness, lit by a scarlet moon that whispered its seductive call to her soul.

…dirt…clinging to her lashes with a grit that stung her eyeballs, choking in her throat and driving beneath her fingernails as she scrabbled to the earth’s surface…

…too-bright light as she blinked in unawareness at the people staring down at her, faces that were familiar but not, the urge to run and hide driving her away from those she knew she had once called her friends…

…the expectancy in their faces when they’d surrounded her in her own home, crowding in and speaking too fast, too loud, too everything, so that the world wouldn’t stop spinning around her, careening with an ever-growing speed as it threatened to tilt off its axis and send her pitching back to the heavens…

…her gravestone staring solemnly back at her under the midnight sky, because nobody had bothered to get rid of it after she came back, or to warn her about where they’d put it until it was too late, and Spike had to be the one who found her kneeling in the broken sod, digging at the dirt like an automaton as she tried to get back to the coffin that had held her away and safe…

…Spike…always watching her, whether she was babbling away about nothing, or whether she was silent in the midst of a patrol…hands cool and powerful every time he touched her, hands that knew the pain of killing and dying and loving and hating…

…and the blood, always the blood, whether it dripped from a victim’s neck or her own weapon, coating her existence in red like a blanket ready to smother…

*************

He tried to stop her. He’d honestly thought his warnings had been enough. But even as Buffy jumped forward with her leg outstretched, Spike realized he’d just been fooling himself. The girl was a fighter. She’d go out punching and kicking even if someone lashed her hands and legs together.

But when he saw the pair go down in a tangle, and the red mesh that decorated Julio’s skin began to seep into Buffy’s, panic overwhelmed him. She’d been snippy during the inquisition, but she hadn’t seemed angry. Spike had assumed she was doing well in keeping the negative at bay.

He should’ve known it was always there, simmering away like a volcano just waiting to blow. After all, wasn’t he on its receiving end often enough?

His reaction was instinctive. With lightning speed, Spike dropped to try and pull her away, hooking his arm around her waist as he frantically tried to prise her from the moonshadow’s repast.

He had to save her.

He couldn’t let her die again.

He couldn’t let her.

He couldn’t.

*************

Buffy had always thought red was a warm color, like fire and flames ready to burn her up, and though it did burn, it did so with a freezing intensity that thrust her back to wandering the streets of Sunnydale looking for Dawn during the singing debacle. It chilled her now, leaving her numb and pensive and waiting for the end she knew was approaching.

But…then it changed.

Shifted, rather.

Because before…there had been a jumble, as memories were stolen from her head, converted to a frigid energy that sucked her life from her flesh, rushing and tumbling and merging so rapidly through her consciousness that she could only wish for it all to cease. It wasn’t an unfamiliar wish. Often, she woke from restless nightmares to pray that she hadn’t. It was the main reason why she tried so hard not to sleep around Spike. Invariably, she woke to his comforting, the rocking and soothing whispers and soft caresses to her hair that felt right, and wrong, and right, all at the same time, and she couldn’t deal with it, because dealing with it meant accepting that things were bad, and she was supposed to be getting better about all this, damn it. Wasn’t that what the others expected?

So, when the change came, when the red began to soften, and the chill began to wane, her first thought was that it was Death, come to claim her again. And she was relieved.

But was she?

…and it was Spike again, only these were no pictures she could remember seeing before…

…bowed and sobbing with blood dripping obliviously down his face, and she could feel his grief, feel it as palpably as her own, felt the shame for failing her eat at his unbeating heart…

…pulling a vampire from a screaming Dawn, snarling and raging as he plunged a stake through the demon’s chest and not even waiting for the dust to clear before running to the teenager’s side and scooping her against his chest, both of them crying before her cheek even hit the leather…

…and then her face, as she was coming down the stairs, and the hope that swelled inside him made him feel like he was glowing---effulgent, was that even a word?---and for a split second, Buffy felt beautiful, as she hadn’t felt since she’d come back…

And the world came back into focus, the scarlet moon that had seemed so welcoming now receding back into the ebony carpet of the sky, and her limbs were starting to thaw as strong hands laid her out in reverence along the grass. She blinked once…twice…and then saw Spike’s worried face hovering above her.

“Did we get him?” she croaked, and it felt like her voice hadn’t been used in centuries.

His grin was automatic. “Thought I told you to keep your fists away,” Spike admonished, but there was no true reproval in his tone.

“I did.” She struggled to sit up, but the twirling of the world and Spike’s insistent hands kept her flat on the ground. “You never said anything about my feet.”

She watched as his smile faded, solemnity returning with a pale vengeance. “That was bloody stupid, you know,” he said quietly. “He could’ve killed you.”

“But he didn’t.”

“But he could’ve.”

“But he didn’t.” She turned her head to see an unconscious Julio lying just a few feet away. “And it looks like he got the worse end of the deal, anyway.”

“Buffy…” The seriousness of his voice drew her attention back, and she gazed up at the lowered lashes. “What he said…before…just tell me…did you do it on purpose?”

“Is your deathwish really that strong?”

“Does it really matter?” she whispered.

The shutters that came over his eyes weren’t fast enough to hide his disappointment. “’Course not,” Spike said quickly. “Just matters that you’re right as rain now.” He began to straighten. “Better get Julio back to Sunnyhell before he wakes up. And go grab Shopgirl from the DeSoto. Don’t think she’s goin’ to be too thrilled ‘bout bein’ stuck in the gate’s back door for this long---.”

“Spike.”

He didn’t stop from standing, though there was a definite hitch in his normal gracefulness as he stretched against the sky. “Yeah, Slayer?”

“Thank you.”

Though he nodded in acknowledgement of her gratitude, Buffy knew he didn’t completely get the why of it. How could he?

She wasn’t even sure she did.

 

To be concluded in Chapter 4: Blanco