Everything stank. Like, in about seventeen dimensions. Her eyes opened, only to show her about seventeen Spikes—where had he come from?—juggling around and around in a whirl that made her feel sick. Her ears were filled with some kind of grotesque scrabbling noise. She tossed her head, trying to see what it was, where it was coming from. Tried to spring up, but she couldn’t.
Her body was criss-crossed with chains, holding her down tight.
Goddamn Spike. How many times was he going to try this on with her? She’d made it clear they were finished. She thought he’d got that. Stupid vampire.
The air was cool and stony but she could smell a lot of things, and they all stank like whoa: beer, wax, leather, spice, blood.
Blood. Oh, blood.
Spike was hovering over her, his big faces resolving down to ten, five, two, and finally one as she blinked and blinked.
“What the hell are you doing?” She strained. Nothing but cold clank for her trouble. The chains were doubled, tripled, bolted. No give. He wasn’t taking any chances.
“Doin’ my best, all right? Takin’ care of you.”
“You’re dead, Spike.”
What kind of sparkless response was that? He wouldn’t quite look at her either, and now he was moving away, out of her line of sight.
The blood smell was even thicker now; so heavy that she had a weird sense that it was a shape and a pressure as well as an aroma. Which made no sense. None of this made any sense. She had no idea what she was doing here—she hadn’t seen Spike for days, not since she’d given him the gate. She’d been patrolling all the way on the other side of town from his crypt.
The scrabbling sound in her head wasn’t going away, she was cold, and every time she heaved at the chains, she just felt—hungry.
“Here it is.”
He hoved into view, holding something over her face, and the next thing she knew, a hot thickish splash hit her lips. She cried out “What the—?” and knew.
“That’s right,” Spike said, his tone still strange and flat. “Open up an’ let me pour it in.” He tipped her head up, and then the flask was at her lips, she was swallowing, and the more she swallowed the more she needed, as the chains cut her and the scrabbling went on and the smell of it was a shape and a pressure and a texture and delicious and hot and MORE.
“There is no more. You’ve got enough.”
Enough? There would never be enough.
“Let me up!” She struggled, incredulous that her strength, her need, wasn’t enough. Both so huge, inadequate.
All so weird.
“Can’t. Not ’til we talk over a thing or two.”
He said that, but he didn’t talk. He just stared into space.
Eyes like a sad mute dog’s. He focused on her, looking looking looking like there was nothing else but her face, holding the empty flask in his lax hand.
“You need to understand, Slayer. Couldn’t just leave you there.”
“Leave me where?”
“With him who was having his one good day.”
The words chopped through her. “No. NO.”
“Got there too late for me to save your life.” He glanced away then, just when she most wanted to see the expression in his eyes. “But I couldn’t bear to put a stake in you. That … that was too much.”
He went on, like he was reading an ad off a matchbook. “Thought I’d better not bring you back to your friends, state you’re in. They’d get more crazy ideas, magic you up again, try to call back your soul or somethin’ not too like it.” He lifted his shoulders, a motion like he was repressing the heaves. “But if you disagree, I’ll go find Willow.”
He paused, and the scrabbling sound that she was starting to understand was made by the worms and beetles in the dirt, the mice and rats and birds, the sewage and the water, everything all around them that she would have to learn to tune out and ignore, re-established itself as the center of her attention. Until the absence of his voice made her understand that he was waiting for an answer.
“I don’t want to be fixed again.”
“Yeah. That’s what I thought, so—”
She thought to ask him for more details, to fill in what she couldn’t remember, but somehow it didn’t seem very important or interesting. The smells in the air were more engrossing. Though she’d lost the last few hours—was it only hours, or longer?—she recalled that there was a terrible heaviness she’d been carrying.
Which was gone.
Even wrapped in this hundredweight of chains, she was so light.
It didn’t make any sense.
She’d always dreaded this, most. The worst thing that could happen to her.
And she wasn’t happy about it. She wasn’t really anything about it. Not yet.
Just: so light. The chains almost felt right now, needful anchoring.
“Still an’ all, maybe I should fetch Willow. Might be she could—”
“No.” Then: “Spike. Please. Don’t.”
He blinked, and ducked his head so she had to crane her neck and still couldn’t quite see him.
“Can’t let you just run wild.”
He didn’t answer. It took her a little while—just a second or two, but it felt like a separate little chunk of confused time—to recognize that he was weeping, not making any noise at it, but she could smell the tears running unrestrained down his face, feel how his whippish body shook.
When she began to laugh, it sounded like the bark of a seal, and shattered the cold air like glass.
The constant noise—everywhere, even in places that she’d have called quiet in life—struck her over and over with strangeness and unease, but the worse unease rose from the silence at her own core. She wanted to sleep but it was impossible, because her heart was still. When she tried to relax, to let go of consciousness, that absence inside her was too terrifying.
Fortunately, Spike didn’t mind having the TV on all day. He slept through it himself.
He’d let her out of the caul of chains that first morning, finally. Had to, really, because they needed to get gone before Xander or Dawn or Willow came around to the crypt, looking for her when she didn’t come home. He carried her out to the DeSoto, because even though he’d unwrapped the chains, he kept her ankles shackled together.
“I won’t do anything,” she’d said. “Don’t you trust me, Spike?”
That earned her a painful look, and nothing else.
They spent the first day in an eighteen-dollar motel room four towns south of Sunnydale, saggy twin beds that smelled like thirty years of sex and death, divided by a cardboard night-stand. Spike kept his distance, and most of his silence, and drank steadily, when he wasn’t dozing, from his flask. She took a taste, but the stuff was worse than ever. Brass and acid, not what she wanted at all. She experienced the unseen passage of the sun across the sky as a lowering threat bearing down, imagining the roof of the motel peeled away like the top of a sardine can, exposing her to fry. She forced herself to lie still. Not to scream. Not to break the shackles. Not to trace with her fingers the strange new contours of her face, which she couldn’t yet control.
They drove all night—after calling at a carniceria where Spike bought blood still warm from the hog, in plastic quart jars like Chinese take-out soup—and went to ground the second day in the same motel, except this time it was in Mexico.
Now after another night of driving, they were in some little Pacific coast town down past Puerto Vallarta, not in a motel anymore but in some sleepy little nearly-empty hotel that was like something out of some old movie on TCM about Robert Mitchum’s fists and Jane Wyman’s cleavage, all peeling white paint and slowly turning ceiling fans and every door and window louvered. When they entered just before dawn, Spike speaking Spanish to the man at the desk, she couldn’t believe he didn’t know they were vampires. Maybe he knew and didn’t care—who else would want to pay money to stay where there was no A/C and no TV? Their room overlooked the courtyard, not the sea, and didn’t get the direct sun. The layers of aroma, bodies and food and sex and decay, made her head swim. It was evening now; she still hadn’t slept.
The shackles were still on … except when they weren’t. She’d begged for a bath the second day, and he couldn’t refuse her, let her alone in the ticky-tacky bathroom, barring the other side of the door with his back, tacit acknowledgement that she could bust through if she tried, but then what would happen once she scrambled out of the room, into the baking glare of the day?
She didn’t bother to say that she wouldn’t try to get away. He wouldn’t believe her, and she wasn’t sure it would always be true.
Hunger licked at her constantly, itchy fire. She’d had plenty of pig blood, but that didn’t seem to matter. It was worse at night. It was worse during the day.
She was almost sort of glad for the ankle chain. When she thought of hunting, of bringing down prey—say, that maid scurrying now across the courtyard with a pile of linens in her arms—she bridled with the longing to seize, take, break. And at the same time it seemed disgusting to her, to sink her teeth into resistant skin, taste the stranger’s funk, sweat, the tiny hairs, stringy muscle, to tear through it and—
Seated at the little table near the louvered window, Buffy stared down into the courtyard with its fountain, a vague statue spouting vague seepage, palms in pots arrayed on cracked tiles, throwing long late-day shadows.
In front of her, a postcard, a pen.
Ten minutes ago, Spike had given them to her.
“Write a line to little sis. Tell her you’re not de— Tell her you had to go.”
He was in the shower now. She stared at the white rectangle, already fixed with a rosy stamp. Tell her you’re not dead. She couldn’t even begin to count the ways in which that wasn’t true, or accurate, or relevant. She’d been up and down so many times already, she didn’t know what was real anymore about her state of being.
Which would be worse for Dawn, thinking her sister just disappeared without a trace, killed by something, her body dumped or hidden or eaten, but maybe could turn up. Wondering every day. Or to know she’d been abandoned, getting a card in a few days that, no matter how sweetly worded, apology-strewn, would still be a kiss-off. Dear Dawn, I didn’t care as much about you as I do about myself. Sorry. Love, Buffy.
She didn’t know if she still loved her sister. All her senses were so heightened, but she didn’t know what had happened to her emotions.
Spike could weep, and sometimes he moaned in his sleep, and often he cursed behind the wheel. He looked at her very little, and spoke to her less, and she knew what that meant.
He was so full of feelings.
But hers: absent as her pulse.