By Lara Dean-Brierley
SUMMARY: The elusiveness of memory and the remnants of power; sacrifices made and traded, chances lost. Or, more prosaically: Spike searches the world for Buffy. Bleak.
SPOILERS: Through season six.
RATING: NC-17 for some sexuality and gruesomeness.
ARCHIVING: Go for it. Then come back and say you did.
FEEDBACK: Behold the ravening feedback-devouring beast that is me. Ahem. Roar.
DISCLAIMER: Belongs to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and Fox, pas moi.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This evolved from the road trip story I promised. I wanted to play with non-Western mythology and see what demons outside of America were like, and in the process butchered the folklore of half a dozen cultures. I sacrificed accuracy to the gods of artistic license, and also for lack of information. Even university libraries have their limits. If you do happen to know something about the various critters encountered here, I would love to hear from you.
THANKS: Sofia Neto, as always, deserves a shrine for being so patient with my writing. I'm absolutely dependent on her opinion as a reader, and she has never disappointed--more often she exceeds my already ceiling-breaking expectations. May a truckload of hugs be dumped on her. (This is a good thing.) And Rebecca Lizard makes me swoon. I've never been so happy to receive an email that hacks apart my draft with such thoroughness and logic.
She can run day or night, but he is penned by the the moments between dusk and dawn, the unstretching of shadows and the first lilt of morning birdsong. They are golden bars, sunbeams, intangible and unbreakable, and all too effective a prison.
Every night he escapes and seeks out her footprints in the ground, or the waft of the vanilla scent that never left her, no matter how much the smell of sex and sweat should have drowned it. In her wake there should be the corpses of demons and broken hearts--and ash-filled winds, for her hands were five-fingered flames against his skin. It should be easy to follow her trail.
There is none to follow.
He can't find her in the smog of LA, the easy guess, or under the New York skyline whose glamour she once wistfully spoke of during pillow talk. He even goes to Iowa, desperate enough to try any state that she has ever mentioned, but in the end he returns empty-handed to California.
He has been to both coasts. But he has seen nothing but shores swept clean of everything but seashells; heard nothing but the rush of the surf and its unending commands of shush. The sea tries too hard to make him forget. He suspects it is an accomplice, trying to quench her traces. She must have passed over it.
Reluctantly, he turns to someone else for help. None of Buffy's friends bothered to hide their relief when he last departed, but perhaps it was as much because of his mission as because they were rid of him. They should be willing to aid him now. And at her first sight of him, even though it is night and he wakes her soundlessly so he will not disturb Dawn, Willow knows what he wants.
She searches the airline records for him. She is more successful than he was, and in return for the answer, she demands a promise from him: "Write."
"Won't be time to scribble notes," he says absently, leaning over her shoulder to peer at the miniscule letters.
She calmly taps a few keys, and the screen goes blank. She begins to close her laptop.
"See here--" He holds out a hand to stop her.
She shoves her chair back, whirling as she rises to face him. "No, you see. It's my fault that she had to leave, and I can't even go after her. And you want to disappear along with her. You might even find her. She might even be all right. But I can't just sit here not knowing!"
Her outburst startles both of them. But she stands by her anger, casting such a baleful look at him that he's glad she foreswore spells.
It's true that it is Willow's fault. Her last bout with magic was more than enough for everyone: for Buffy, for Giles, for Warren, nearly for the world. But he blames himself. Willow unleashed the earthquake that exhumed the last of Proserpexa's power; Spike let Buffy take it. She always got whatever she wanted of him.
Spike. Give it to me.
It's not safe for you, pet. He tried to divert her thoughts with a hand along her thigh, but she only pulled away.
Or for you. Give me the Tear. Now.
No need to ask what she meant. They had spent the last few months unable to decide the fate of the Tear, the indestructible heart of the effigy: Proserpexa's last regret, their tedious research had revealed. It had fallen from her eye and hardened into crystal, so that one of her followers could embed it within her likeness and complete her unfinished task of apocalypse.
You're not planning to end the world with it, are you?
No. She didn't even laugh at the ludicrousness of the question.
As somber as she: Then why do you want it?
To keep it safe from people who do want to end the world.
Only the day before he had fought an insane warlock, and before him, there had been half a dozen others who had tried to take the Tear since Spike had begun guarding it. He wished it had shattered with the rest of the statue.
They'll only keep coming after it, he said.
She smiled sadly. I know.
She kissed him then, slowly and sweetly. It thrilled him, for ever since he had returned she had rarely initiated anything between them. And when she let him undress her, he believed she was letting him distract her.
Fool. She was the one distracting him.
He tries not to remember how incredible that night was, even as his body rebelliously recalls, because everything she did with her mouth and hands was only part of a deliberate seduction. Once she eased him into a languorous sleep, she took what she came for, and left.
Oh, he understands Willow's guilt. He feels it himself.
"I'll tell you when I find her," he says to her.
She shakes her head. "Not enough. That might be never."
She is leaner now, somehow; somewhere along her dark journey, she lost the hesitancy and lightness that once characterized her. Without them, she does not flinch away from the bleak thoughts that he himself hides from.
"Fine," he says. "I'll stay in touch. And you'll let me know how Dawn's doing?"
"Yeah." Truce struck, she sits down again and opens her computer. She begins typing and the screen fills with odd symbols.
"What are you doing now?" he asks.
"Looking up the word for blood in Japanese."
She looks up, and he notices for the first time the tracks that tears have made down her cheeks toward the grim-set mouth. They're too wrapped up in their own griefs, both of them. He belatedly realizes that if his existence is fractured without Buffy, Willow's is already shattered. No matter how hard she looks, she will never be able to find Tara or her innocence. She is reduced to leaden flesh and lusterless nights and one weary day after another.
Willow and yielding no longer; it is a steely-eyed woman who speaks. "She's in Tokyo."
Continued in Part 2: The scent of a fox