"My blindness is my sight"
-- Alice Cary
'Knowledge,' he had said. Buffy didn't want this kind of knowledge. Didn't want to see the things she had seen.
Buffy still wasn't sure whether she had actually gone back in time, or if she was somehow merely seeing the events that had taken place a week ago. Whichever it was, she had somehow found herself back at Spike's trial, watching events unfold but unable to intervene in any way.
Which she would have, if she could.
The first two Trials had been...blatant acts of cruelty. Spike had been forced to take on a bigger, stronger, armed opponent, with only his wits and his speed to rely on. That had been when he had injured his leg. As for the second Trial -- asking a half-naked barefoot vampire to cross a corridor lined with crosses and then have to reach into a container of holy water for the key to open the door...
God. It was sick. A shudder of revulsion went through the Slayer, along with a sense of shame at the part she had played in all this. If she hadn't agreed to come here then none of this would have happened. She wouldn't wish this torture -- there was no other word for it -- on her worst enemy, let alone on...on whatever Spike was now.
He certainly wasn't her enemy anymore, Buffy thought bitterly, as she followed the Valet through yet another doorway. If nothing else, what she had seen here today had proven that. For the vampire to go through so much for her, to endure such pain... No, they weren't enemies any longer.
But, while she might know what he wasn't, she still didn't know what he was. And that, according to the Valet, was what she was here to find out.
Buffy bit her lip, her thoughts still racing, then came to a sudden halt when she she realized that the Valet had stopped moving. She looked up and saw...
Spike. A dozen feet away, half-naked, badly burned, and hanging from two long chains that had him spreadeagled in the centre of the room, his head lolling forward upon his chest.
Once again it was all she could do not to act, not to try to change things. But she knew she couldn't. She was as insubstantial as a ghost here. And the helplessness was driving her crazy. To be forced to watch while someone suffered for her...it was horrible. And wrong.
"I've had enough," Buffy said abruptly. "I don't want to see anymore."
The Valet -- the one from her own time -- turned to look at her.
"But there is still the final Trial to go."
"Unlike you, I don't get my jollies watching other people get tortured. I've seen enough."
The Valet smiled coldly. "Actually, to paraphrase one of your Hollywood icons, I believe -- you haven't seen anything yet."
The Slayer closed her eyes. Damn him. And damn her. She should never have come back here. But she had and it was too late now. She had to see this through, no matter how difficult it might be. Reluctantly she opened her eyes and focused on the bound vampire. The burns on his chest and back were clearer now than when she had seen him last week, with only the quarter moon to illuminate his injuries. So many burns. And so much pain. Why?
She must have asked the question out loud, or else the Valet was reading her mind again, because he answered her softly. "It was necessary. Now -- shhh."
Unhappily, the Slayer turned back to Spike, flinching at the sight of the chains biting into his wrists and the blood soaking through the leg of his black jeans, as she steeled herself once more to watch...and do nothing.
* * *
Spike was hanging limply in the chains, barely conscious. The Valet from the past moved close beside him, gazing emotionlessly at the vampire.
"You've done very well to get this far," the small man began calmly, "but you should end this now, while you still can."
Spike raised his head -- Buffy's jaw tightened at the livid cut just under his left eye -- and met his gaze. "Does th' Slayer get her sight back if I do?" His speech was slurred and laden with pain.
A pause. "Well, no. Not unless you pass the third test."
"Then bring it on. Gettin' tired of hangin' around here..."
"As you wish." With that, the Valet stepped aside and raised one hand slightly...and the far wall that had previously been shrouded in darkness began to move forward, just enough to allow the flickering lights to illuminate the hundreds of wooden stakes -- all lined up in rows and pointing at Spike.
The vampire frowned at them blearily, trying to focus. "What am I s'pposed to do now?"
"You're supposed to die."
Spike seemed to gather a little strength at the Valet's words, standing a bit straighter in the chains. "That's the third trial?"
"Yes. A life for a life."
Spike shook his head, as if trying to clear his pain-fogged thoughts. "But it's not a life for a bloody life, is it? 'Cause I'm not alive...and we're only talking about her eyes anyway. Not her sodding life."
The Valet smiled slightly. "Semantics. We both know that it is indeed Miss Summer's life under discussion here. You yourself came to the same conclusion earlier tonight --if your Slayer does not regain her sight she will die. So the choice is up to you. Her life or yours. But you only have to say the word and I will release you right now. You may leave us in peace."
Spike swallowed painfully. "What about her?"
"She will die of course." The Valet leaned a little closer. "But really -- why should that matter to you? You are a vampire and she is the Slayer. She cares nothing for you. One day she will most certainly kill you. It's what she does, what she is. Wouldn't you rather just end all this and walk away, free and clear?"
The man paused, then went on. "In fact -- because you have completed the first two challenges, I can even offer you what you most desire...if you stop this final Trial now."
Spike merely stared wearily at him, saying nothing.
"The implant." The Valet's voice lowered persuasively. "We can remove it for you. Here and now. It will be quite painless and I assure you there will be no lasting effects. You will be exactly as you were before your capture. Come now -- is that not worth the life of one Slayer?"
The vampire froze, staring at the Valet in disbelief. Buffy could see various emotions warring on Spike's face - disbelief, hope, need...and something else altogether, something she was afraid to put a name to. And she found herself holding her breath, her fingernails digging deeply into her palms, even though some part of her was aware that all this had taken place days ago.
And that's when it hit. Realization. This was what she had come here for, this was the answer she had been seeking. But a tremor went through her. Did she really want to know? If she did, everything could change. She wouldn't be able to ignore the truth any longer, wouldn't be able to lie to herself...
Lie to herself. Was what she had been doing? Was it possibly she had known the truth all along but was simply too afraid to accept it? Beside her the Valet -- her Valet -- shifted, making a tiny self-satisfied sound. Buffy glanced at him, frowning at the pleased smile on his face...
And then her attention was drawn back to the vampire in chains before her who had still not moved or spoken. Hesitantly, Buffy took another step forward, raising a hand as if to touch him, then let her arm fall limply to her side. 'Spike,' she thought despairingly.
The other Valet was still waiting. A long moment passed then at last the vampire shook his head.
"No," he said simply.
"You do understand the offer, don't you? The implant..."
"I understand your flaming offer, but the answer's still no. And just get a bloody move on, will you?" Spike's voice was shaking now, from both pain and anger.
The Valet did not stir. "You are refusing our offer, then, to remove your implant and release you from this final challenge? And you freely offer your life in return for Miss Summer's vision. Is that correct?"
Another long moment passed. Spike did not move, did not even blink, his eyes unfocused and distant. Finally though, something flashed across his face and then was gone, as suddenly as it had appeared. And he nodded once, slowly.
"Yeah," he said wearily. "That's right."
* * *
Buffy froze. She didn't -- couldn't -- believe it. Spike would never give up his life, a chance at freedom, for her. And yet he had. And...somehow she wasn't surprised. Not really, not deep down. Because somehow, she had known all along.
The book had been right. This was all about making the ultimate sacrifice. And Spike had just done that.
But why? For him to do that, to even consider it, that meant that...
Buffy shivered, her mind skittering fearfully away from the thought. It couldn't be true. It couldn't.
Except it was. It had to be.
Spike loved her. Enough to die for her.
Buffy could feel the blood draining away from her face, shock and disbelief pouring through her --
-- and the Valet leaned closer, whispering in her ear. "So now your eyes are truly opened. Your Trial is now complete."
And with that, everything vanished. The Slayer blinked... and found herself back in the first room, the torches still casting shadows on the wall, the Valet standing beside her.
Buffy did not look at him, did not even move. She was too busy trying to deal with the sudden maelstrom of emotions swirling chaotically inside her. Too much. Too much information. She didn't want to deal with this right now. Didn't want to have to face the truth. Because if she did, if she admitted to herself that it was true...then her whole world would change. If Spike, a soulless vampire, was capable of so much love, of so much self-sacrifice, then...then she had been wrong. Wrong about him. And about so much else.
"Ahem." It was the Valet. The Slayer turned to him, her mind spinning.
He gave her faintly sympathetic look. "Enlightenment is never easy, is it?"
No. No, it damned well wasn't. But -- it was better than ignorance.
"I need to go now," Buffy said numbly, not looking at him.
"Yes. Well...I wish you luck. And I do hope things work out. Goodbye, Miss Summers. And remember -- your dealings with us are now finished."
And with that, the world changed...
...and she was outside once more, standing in the cool night air beneath the stars, staring down at the empty swimming pool. Everything was exactly as it had been when she has first arrived...
...but nothing was the same anymore.
Nothing would ever be the same.
Continued in Part 22