"The end in sight"
-- Robert Browning
"What?" Buffy took a quick step forward, actually running into Spike as she did. She hadn't realized he was standing so close. Swearing briefly she stepped around him to where she thought the Valet was. "No, he can't," she said sharply. "This is my problem, not Spike's. I should be the one to take this trial, whatever it is."
"Now now, my dear." The Valet gave her an avuncular pat on the shoulder. "Haven't you ever heard of 'an eye for an eye'?"
"An eye for... What are you planning to do? Blind him too?" Alarm coloured her voice and Buffy reached out a hand to the vampire's arm, holding on to it tightly. She barely noticed when his hand come down on top of hers.
"Blind him...?" The Valet laughed. "Oh, that's very good. No, Miss Summers. We have no plans to blind your young champion here -- although accidents have been known to happen. No, the trials are a matter of life...and death. If young Spike should succeed, you will regain your eyesight."
"And if I don't?" the vampire asked harshly.
"Why, then I'm afraid Miss Summers' life will be forfeit. You, of course, will already be dead."
* * *
'Well, isn't this just sodding special?" Spike thought. The night kept getting worse and worse.
Actually that wasn't quite true. Things had been getting steadily better, from the moment he had first noticed the Slayer in the cemetery, right up until a moment ago. True, he'd gotten a few broken ribs for his pains...but that was a small price to pay, really. She had kissed him. Apologized. Not staked him in the back. And he'd seen her half-naked. Yeah, not bad at all.
But this... This was more than Spike had bargained for. When he had brought her here he hadn't realized that he'd be gambling with both their lives. And, while she might be willing to die tonight, he certainly wasn't. 'I've got an unlife to live," he thought resentfully. 'Things to do, places to go...'
Only...what would life be like without her? Spike had no doubts in his mind that if they left here tonight and the Slayer was still blind...then she would die. And probably sooner rather than later.
So it came down to this: How much did he really want to keep her alive? And how much was he willing to risk?
Slowly, the vampire turned his head, registering the way Buffy's hand was still resting on his arm, seeing the anxiety in her expression as she looked sightlessly up at him...
...and he swallowed, letting his eyes drift slowly shut. The answer was everything. He would risk everything for her.
* * *
"But...but he's got broken ribs," Buffy was saying, trying to think of a way out of this. She couldn't let Spike do this for her -- not that he would he agree to it anyway. But still...
"And you are blind. What, as you Americans say, is the point?" There was a note of impatience in the Valet's voice now, as if he were growing tired of the conversation.
Spike broke in abruptly. "I'll do it."
"What?" Buffy turned to him in shock, her fingers unconsciously tightening around his arm. "Spike, no."
"Buffy, yes," he said mockingly. "Look, this is what we came here for. You didn't think anything called a 'trial' was going to be easy, did you? So let's just get the bloody thing over so I can get you back to your sodding life and out of mine. I've got my own problems to worry about, remember?"
Buffy frowned, not buying his act. He had just offered to risk his life. For her. But why? What did he have to gain? One possible answer flickered briefly through her mind but she discarded it as impossible. Not that it mattered anyway. She had no intention of allowing him go through with this.
"I won't let you," she said firmly, her fingers digging into his arm.
One of his hands touched her hair. "And you plan on stopping me how, Goldilocks? You're blind, remember? Couldn't even kill one little demon without my help."
"It was a big demon," she said, a trifle shakily. "and I don't understand why you're doing this. We hate each other..."
"Yeah, Slayer. We do." And then he pulled her roughly forward, pinning her against his chest...and his lips descended on hers.
* * *
The kiss was even more powerful than the one in the crypt. Partly because she was fully conscious this time...and partly because Buffy could sense more than a little desperation fuelling it -- on both sides. Spike was kissing her as if nothing else mattered in the world, as if he expected her to push him away at any moment...
Only she couldn't. His tongue was moving sinuously against hers, his hand going around her waist to pull her even closer so that she could feel every inch of his body through the soaking t-shirt and jeans, could feel his arousal pressing against her -- and she couldn't do it. It felt too good. Too real. Too necessary. Nothing else mattered, only this moment. Only him. Instinctively, Buffy reached her good arm up to hang onto him, her fingers tightening in the wet material of his shirt as she tilted her head back, allowing him to change the angle of the kiss, to deepen it as his hands roamed freely across her body...
* * *
Inevitably, the end came too soon. Far too soon. Something was tapping Spike on the shoulder, although he barely noticed it at first through the red haze obscuring his senses. But there it was again... With a silent snarl, he wrenched his head up, breaking the kiss but not letting go of the Slayer.
"What?" he growled, looking back over his shoulder.
"Ahem." It was the Valet. "While I can quite understand your...er...ardour sir, there is still a series of trials to undergo. And time is passing. Rapidly." The little man pulled out a gold pocket watch on a chain and waved it under Spike's nose. "If you wish to do battle for the lady's favour then I suggest you put her down and GET ON WITH IT." The Valet folded his arms and waited, glaring at the vampire impatiently.
Spike sighed then turned back to Buffy. She was looking thoroughly surprised...and thoroughly kissed. Her lips were swollen, her hair dishevelled, and there was an expression in her sightless eyes that sent a wave of pure self-satisfaction coursing through him. He had kissed her. And she had kissed him back. Life was good.
"You don't have to do this," she said, her voice a trifle unsteady, her heart racing against his.
"Might as well," he said off-handedly, making sure the emotions that were rolling through him weren't echoed in his voice. "Nothing better to do."
He cut her off, kissing her again, fast and hard this time... and then he stepped backwards, out of her arms. Instantly she and the Valet began to fade. Spike watched them go, trepidation already beginning to replace the passion within him, then he took a deep breath and said aloud: "Be seeing you, Slayer."
And then they were gone and he was all alone.
And then a door swung open behind him...and he wasn't.
* * *
Buffy staggered as the world reformed around her, but the Valet put out a helpful arm, steadying her. "What happened?" she said in alarm. "Where's Spike?"
"Undergoing the trial."
"I want to see what's happening!"
The Valet chuckled shortly. "Yes, well that is rather the point, isn't it? If he succeeds you'll get your eyesight back soon enough."
"And if he doesn't we'll both die." Her voice was laced with frustration.
"Yes. Quite. Cup of tea?"
The Slayer ignored him, moving forward as she tried to sort out her surroundings. Her toe caught on something...a chair. "Where am I?" she asked, turning slowly.
"The antechamber. Please, have a seat."
"I'll stand. And where is Spike? Specifically?"
"Specifically?" The Valet paused, as if consulting something. "He's still on the first challenge. Doing quite well too, I must say. Not as well as our last supplicant, but still...not bad at all." He crossed the room toward her and pressed something into her hand -- a cup and saucer full of something hot. "It's Earl Grey," he said. "I hope you like lemon. And do please sit down. This could take a while."
For a moment Buffy debated throwing the cup, tea and all, at him, then decided against it. She needed information, after all, and Jeeves here was the only one who could help her. Might as well try to be polite. She could always beat him to a pulp later.
"So what is the first challenge?" she asked, sitting down carefully, holding the teacup with both hands.
"He must walk through a door."
Buffy narrowed her eyes. "No way is it as easy as that."
The Valet sat down beside her in another chair. "Of course not. You're very astute. But it's no good...ah, how do you put it? 'Pumping me for information'. It's quite against the rules for me to tell you anything else, I'm afraid. Sugar?"
Buffy shook her head. "Why?" she said flatly.
"It will make the tea sweet."
"No. Why can't you tell me what's going on?"
"Ah. As I said. Rules. Surely as the Slayer, you understand the importance of regulations?" He paused and she could feel his gaze on her, boring intently into her. "Or perhaps you don't."
She frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well, you are here with a vampire as your champion, after all. Which is, to put it baldly, simply not done. And then there was the...ah," he coughed delicately. "The... er...farewell embrace. Also quite surprising for a Slayer."
Anger flickered within her. "What do you know about Slayers anyway?" she said, gamely ignoring the reference to the kiss.
"Quite a lot, actually. Still, mustn't..." The Valet abruptly broke off.
"What?" Buffy said, alarm in her voice.
"Excuse me a moment, will you my dear? Duties to tend to..." He stood and she could hear him setting his cup and saucer down on his vacated chair...and then he was gone. One instant he was there, the next he was not.
Buffy surged to her feet, her tea spilling down her leg. She ignored the momentary pain though, instead stretching out with her senses to detect the Valet's presence. Or anyone's presence, for that matter. Nothing. "Come back here," she shouted abruptly. "Come back and tell me what's going on!" But there was no answer.
She was all alone.
Continued in Part 11