"None so blind as those that will not see"
-- Matthew Henry
Buffy closed her eyes, rubbing her temples with her right hand, wishing the headache that was gathering behind her eyes would go away.
'I need an aspirin,' she thought unhappily. 'I need Giles to tell me more about this place. I need to know what's going on.'
'And I really need to hit someone.'
Unfortunately, it didn't look as though she was going to get any of the above, at least in the near future. She had made her painstaking way around the entire antechamber only to find that there were no exits. At all. No doors, no windows, no grates in the floor...not even a handy ventilation duct. 'There's never a good ventilation duct around when you need one,' she thought sourly. The walls themselves were made of thick stone, she had determined, and the only things inside the room were the two chairs, a small table with a teapot on it, two cups of tea (one spilled)...and Buffy. Absolutely nothing she could use to help her escape. The room was Houdini-proof.
Frustration growing within her, Buffy rose again and began to pace, albeit carefully. It wasn't fair and it wasn't right. Spike was out there risking life and limb while she sat here like...like some pathetic damsel in distress. All she needed was a long dress and a simpering attitude, and she would be just perfect for the role. 'Helpless,' her mind whispered tauntingly. 'Completely helpless. Counting on your mortal enemy to save you...'
With a curse the Slayer flung the teapot across the room, listening to the resounding crash with a grim sense of satisfaction. First thing she had done all night that had made her feel good...
Well, OK. There had been the kiss. Kisses. Actually, now that she thought about it, Buffy seemed to have spent a significant portion of the night up close and personal with Spike...either clinging to him like a vine or letting him kiss her senseless. And, to be completely honest...kissing him back.
But why? Why now? And why Spike? Yesterday Buffy would have said that she didn't even like him, but today... Well, it was obvious that some part of her found the vampire attractive, at least on a basic, hormonal level... Hormones -- that was it. Well, bad hormones! Bad! Icky Spike. Dangerous Spike.
Exciting Spike. Exhilarating Spike. Being with him was like playing with fire. Living on the edge. Skating on thin ice. And pretty much every other cliche she could think of...
...much more exciting than Riley...
Feeling like a traitor for even thinking it, Buffy leaned her aching head back against the chair. This was pointless. Her mind kept going around in circles, always coming back to the same thoughts -- none of which were going to help her to get out of this place alive...or help Spike. 'If only I knew what this trial was,' she thought dismally. 'Maybe then...'
"I would offer you more tea, but there appears to have been an...um...accident...with the teapot." A voice said suddenly, mere inches away from her ear. Buffy jumped violently, her heart hammering in her throat as her body moved automatically and instantly into a defensive position.
"So sorry, Miss Summers. Didn't mean to startle you." It was the Valet. Again.
Buffy took a deep unsteady breath then let her hand fall back down, waiting for her heartbeat to regain its normal speed. "How did you get in here?" she said accusingly.
She could hear the smile in his voice, could almost imagine him winking knowingly at her. "Ah. Trade secret, my dear. I just came to see if you were all right. Not too bored, I hope? Of course, I see you've been amusing yourself by flinging the crockery about..."
"How's Spike?" Buffy interrupted, half dreading the answer.
"On the second challenge as we speak. Only one more to go. You chose your champion very well, I must say."
"And...and he's all right?"
"Erm...I wouldn't go that far. But he's still standing. And conscious. So, really, he's about as well as can be expected."
Buffy swallowed, a sick feeling going through her at the thought of him being hurt. "Call this off," she said resolutely. "Right now. I wouldn't have come here if I had known..."
"If you had known that someone else might have to suffer for your sake?" The Valet asked gently, covering her hand with his own.
She didn't bother to pull away. "Yes."
"You really care about him that much?"
"I..." Did she? Did she care about Spike? Buffy suddenly had the feeling she was standing on the edge of a precipice. If she admitted that it was more, that it wasn't just her hormones controlling her...then there'd be no going back. And things would never be the same between them. Her mind shied away from the thought.
"I don't want him to be hurt," she said finally, skirting the question altogether.
"Too late for that, I'm afraid. Still, perhaps it will make you feel better to know that he is doing this willingly."
It didn't. Because...that meant that he cared for her. On some level, Spike truly cared. And that wasn't possible, was it? He was a demon. He had no soul. He couldn't care, couldn't feel, couldn't...
Except...except he had loved Drusilla. He had been devoted to her. And devastated when she had left him.
The Valet leaned closer and whispered, as if sensing her thoughts: "Demons can feel love too, you know."
Yes. They could. They weren't all evil, emotionless creatures. She knew that. But vampires? The only one she had ever met who wasn't truly bad was Angel, and he had a soul. So -- where did that leave Spike? Was the chip in his head changing him somehow, or was it all just an illusion? Some kind of complicated trick?
No. It couldn't be. He had nothing to gain from doing this, and everything to lose. And how could the chip in his head be responsible? It might prevent him from hurting people but it certainly wasn't forcing him to help her. Was it?
No. It couldn't be. So it had to be something else. Something more. Which brought her right back to where she had begun -- with the notion that Spike truly cared for her. Maybe even...
'So not gonna go there,' Buffy thought determinedly, hunching her shoulders as a small shiver ran down her spine. She wasn't going to do this. Not again. She would never fall for another vampire. It was wrong and it was pointless -- and it was dangerous. Very dangerous. 'Been there, done that, got the emotional scars...'
"I rather think it's too late for that, Miss Summers."
No, it wasn't. And besides, she had a boyfriend. A nice, safe, normal boyfriend who loved her...
And then she realized... Buffy turned back to the Valet with a frown, shoving the disturbing thoughts aside. "Are you reading my mind?" she asked coldly.
"Well yes I...er...that is... Oh." He paused. "So sorry. That was very impolite."
"Yes," Buffy said, crossing her arms and glaring at him. "It was. So read this." She thought a phrase and felt him start beside her.
"How rude," he said. And then, in an eyeblink, he was gone. Again.
Buffy put a hand on the chair, feeling to see if he was still there, then groaned aloud in frustration. "Stop doing that!" she said to the empty air.
Only silence answered her.
* * *
This time, when the Valet returned, Buffy was ready for him. The moment she felt his presence in the antechamber she seized him by the throat with her right hand, holding the stake in her left, trying to ignore the waves of pain that rolled up her arm with the motion.
"Do you mind?" the little man said, unruffled, trying to slide her hand aside.
"Yes," the Slayer said, tightening her grip on his throat. "I mind a lot. I'm all out of patience. As of now, I'm patience-free. So you're going to do two things for me or Mr Pointy here gets to meet the inner you. You're going to get me out of this room. And you're going to end this trial before Spike gets himself killed. Understand?"
The Valet did not move. "Yes, I understand. But it's too late for that, I'm afraid."
What? Too late? But... Then it sank in. Spike was dead. Oh god. Abruptly she released her hold on the Valet, her left hand dropping to her side, her suddenly numb fingers barely maintaining their grip on the stake.
Dead? He couldn't be dead. Not this way. Not because of her. And not now. Not when she was just figuring out that...that she didn't hate him. That... Oh god. Spike.
Pain hit her then, driving all the breath from her body. For an endless moment Buffy felt only anguish...and then even that faded away...leaving behind a cold sense of anger. And determination. She lifted her head slowly, unaware of the feral glitter in her eyes. Her hand tightened around the stake. "If he is dead," she said flatly, "then so are you."
* * *
It hurt. Actually, hurt wasn't a strong enough word. A holocaust of pain was burning through Spike with every breath he took. From the deep gashes in his right leg to the many burns on his feet, chest, back, and hands, the cut just under his left eye, to the metal chains biting into his wrists...no, there was no part of him that wasn't in torment.
Including his heart. He couldn't even lie to himself anymore now, thanks to this sodding trial. Not after what he had just gone through...and what he had just done.
He had offered his life for the Slayer's. And the fact that he wasn't dead -- yet -- didn't mean a bloody thing. As the Valet had said, it was all in the journey, all in the willingness to make the sacrifice. For her. For Buffy. His Slayer.
He loved her. Enough to die for her.
Spike closed his eyes. The thought hurt, even more than the physical pain sweeping across his body. His injuries would heal...eventually, but the agony inside him wasn't ever going to go away. Because he loved someone who would never love him back, who would never look upon him with anything other than hatred, or at best polite indifference. And he couldn't even delude himself anymore, couldn't tell himself that it was only her body he lusted after...
'Should've killed me after all,' he thought bitterly -- and then the chains around his wrists abruptly vanished. And Spike found himself falling as the world around him disappeared...
Continued in Part 12