Good morning! My post for today will be a two-parter. The second part will hopefully be up later in the day.
Title: Jack the Giant Killer
Author: The Deadly Hook
Disclaimer: BtVS and AtS characters not mine. I play with them, like Punch and Judy. Dance, puppets, dance! The fairytale quotations are all from “Jack the Giant Killer,” The Blue Fairy Book, Random House edition illustrated by Grace Dalles Clark, 1959.
Rating: Probably R, by the end. This section’s more like G.
Summary: Post-“Not Fade Away.” Set vaguely in the future of my own universe of stories, although nothing needs to be known about them to read this, except that Buffy and Spike are together now, a pair of traveling demon hunters, trying to be a couple, yadda yadda. A trip to the far north leads to a tension-causing meet-and-greet with a real-life myth. Or two. Plus, Spike wears a fur hat.
Jack the Giant Killer
“Now I will show you a fine trick. I can cure all wounds with a touch. I could cut off my head in one minute, and the next put it sound again on my shoulders. You shall see an example.”
It all began with a travel guide.
A typical-looking travel guide in a typical-looking London bookstore. And one person, looking at it, who wasn’t at all typical.
There were other ways, probably, that it could have begun. Because unusual things happened to this person, and her equally unusual travel companion, all the time.
But in this case, it began with a book. Words and pictures and ideas.
“Look at this!”
The atypical person–woman, actually, because that’s what she was, and part of what made her even more atypical, being who and what she was–held up the book. Her name was Buffy, and despite the silliness of that address, and the long golden hair that flowed from the crown of her head in silken waves, she was not a princess.
“Look at what?”
Her companion craned his head to look. Just as she, Buffy, wasn’t a princess, the man with her wasn’t a prince. Nor was he actually a man. He was a vampire, and his name was Spike. A name as hard and sharp as Buffy’s was soft and silly, and just as deceiving.
“This.” She shoved the book in his face.
He glanced at it. “So?”
“It’s a hotel made totally out of ice.”
His gaze flickered back to the book, and then to her face again. “I repeat, so?”
Her expression fell, and she sulked a little. “You’ve been there already.”
“What? No, I haven’t been there, I just…” Now it was his turn to sulk, a flustered expression hitting his face with the suddenness of a punching fist. He scowled, reached behind him blindly to pull a different book down from a shelf. A lushly illustrated copy of the Kama Sutra fell into his hand, and he promptly paged it open and buried his nose in it.
“What?” she shot back. “What is it?”
“Nothing,” he insisted, although everything about his posture signaled discomfort. He turned a few pages of the book. Pastel paintings of bejeweled Indian lovers in contortionist poses flipped by, unseen.
Her face took on a mulish look. “I want to go there.”
“I don’t,” he said shortly. “Not a big fan of the cold.”
She absorbed this, or at least seemed to. Linked her arm through his, and peered over his shoulder at the pictures he seemed to have only suddenly noticed, staring at the spread-open oversize book in front of him like a map to an exotic destination.
“I’m sure we can to think of ways keep warm,” she said, and gave his arm a little squeeze. Her aquarmarine sweater glittered up out of the darkness of the bookstore stacks like the colors of a tropical fish. Vivid and rare.
He shook his head. Gave her a regretful smile. “Doesn’t work that way. Got no body heat to share, remember?”
“More complicated than that. Vampires, no circulation…” He grimaced. “You wouldn’t like it much either, I’ll bet.”
“Won’t know until we try it.”
“Never figured you for being all Call of the Wild.”
“But it’s not wild, that’s the point. It’s a hotel. They build it new every year.” She pushed her own book forward again. “There are chandeliers. Made of ice. And a bar. It’s like, the farthest north you can go and still be in a hotel. Movie stars go there.”
“Sounds great,” he said, not really meaning it.
“Oh, c’mon, Spike. You know you want to see it.”
“Lapland?” He looked at her, askance. “I’ll pass.”
“Why not? Just yesterday, you said you were bored.”
“Bored of London, sure. But what’s wrong with Spain? Or Tahiti, for that matter? Got to be baddies to fight there, same as anywhere.”
She waved aside the question of baddies to fight. Their current dedication to baddie-fighting was unbound to any particular time or place. Like he’d said, they were everywhere. “But I want to see this.”
He shook his head. To her, the implication was clear. Crazy.
Her eyes narrowed. “Oh, is that what this is really all about?”
“You think I’m playing by the crazy girlfriend rulebook.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Admit it. We women are all alike, right? Next thing, I’ll want an arm in a box for my birthday?”
“Oh, for Chrissakes. Dru wasn’t–that’s not–you’re nothing like each other. Where are you getting this, anyway?”
She sighed, and it was like she deflated, shrinking down smaller. “Okay. You’re… right. It’s just…” She looked away from him, uncomfortable. “You’ve done this before. The relationship thing.”
And then he deflated too, and for a moment, the two of them, unusual as they both were, were like any other two beings who didn’t know how to talk to each other.
Because this is, after all, a love story.
And all love stories, if not exactly the same, are ultimately about the same thing: two beings learning how to communicate. How to be.
“Not like this,” he said gently. The book he held was closed now; he looked uncomfortable, vulnerable. “Never had anything like this. Not in a hundred years.”
“Thought I told you that.”
“You did.” She looked uncomfortable now too. “And I know. I mean, that you… um…”
“Right,” he said, and then they both laughed. At themselves.
Look, I… I really don’t want to make a big deal out of this,” she said.
“It’s not. Pet, believe me, I–”
“I mean, this is all new to me.”
“New to me too.”
“I know. But… okay, it is a big deal. It’s the world. The whole world. As in seeing it–everything. Every fun, unusual, wacky, wonderful thing. I mean, I told Dawn once that I’d show her. Everything, except… I hadn’t even seen it myself yet.” She looked up at him, big dewy eyes, an earnest expression that would’ve melted anyone’s heart. “I want to see it with you.”
“Oh,” he said after a breathless pause. As if that answered everything. Maybe it did.
And once again they were two very unusual people, the warrior woman and her vampire consort, staring into each other’s eyes in a London bookstore’s stacks.
The kind of people stories are written about.
“So I want to go,” she said. “And see this place, because it looks neat, and I want you to take me.”
His brow knit slightly in distress, but he nodded anyway. “Whatever you fancy,” he said quickly.
She brightened. “For real?”
“We can go looking for Ali Baba’s bloody cave if you want.”
She laughed, skeptical, then reassessed his expression. “Are you serious?”
“Dead serious.” He put his book away on the shelf, and wrapped her in leather-clad arms. Gathered her in.
“Genies. Open sesame. For real.”
“I dunno, probably. Most of those old legends are real, one way or another.”
“Huh.” Now she looked thoughtful.
“Doubt you’d want the three wishes, though.”
“Don’t tell me. It’s really some demon that sucks out your brain.”
“Probably. Just sayin’–whatever you want. Pixies, penguins…”
“Penguins are South Pole.”
“And you’ll want that next, no doubt.”
She punched a little fist into his chest, over the heart, smiling. “Maybe.”
He planted a light kiss on the top of her bright head. Expelled a lungful of air. “As long as you’re happy.”
She laid her head on his chest, and hugged him back.
And so their journey began.
Of course it wasn’t all about the world, seeing the world.
Because for all that Buffy was a remarkable woman, with a remarkable life, she was also remarkably like other people in the things that she wanted. And standing in that dark bookshop–a place they’d only visited on a whim, looking for a present for her sister–she’d seen one of those things that she wanted, or at least the possibility of it.
Not that she regretted any of the choices she’d made. Having a vampire for a lover, or her current lifestyle–the drama, the action. She’d abandoned most of her ideas about normality a long time ago, revised them. Normal, she’d slowly come to realize, wasn’t something that the rest of the world honestly coveted. No one really wanted to be less than special.
But paging through that book, reading about the months-long winter darkness in the arctic circle, the sun never rising above the horizon, she’d thought about how marvelous it would be, just for a while, to spend time like everybody else. Like any other couple, instead of vampire and Slayer, eternally divided like night and daylight whether they wanted to be or not.
To sit at a breakfast table. To move among crowds enjoying a typical day… and Lapland was a long way to go just to a fulfill a romantic fantasy, but that was one of the remarkable things about her, that she accepted those kind of challenges as nothing out of the ordinary.
The fairytale ice palace was just an endpoint, a destination. It was the rest of the fairytale she wanted.
Even if she had to go to the ends of the Earth to get it.
“There!” She wedged the hat on top of his head, adjusted it carefully. “That’s perfect.”
“I’m not even gonna ask what it looks like.”
“You look fine.”
The hat was fur. Of Russian make, the shop vendor had said. Very Doctor Zhivago. Not that Buffy had known what that had meant, never having seen that particular movie.
Spike had blanched the moment he saw it. Stared at it in horror as if she’d asked him to try on an Easter bonnet. But that was their system–he might bitch, or kvetch, or glower menacingly, but whatever she wanted, she ultimately got. Because whatever else he was, with him, the wants of his woman came first. It wasn’t something he really had the power to change.
“Believe me, it looks way better that hunting cap with the earflaps.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” Surrounded by the hat’s furry corona, Spike’s lean face looked even sharper. Although the real old-fashioned death glare he was giving her was also a factor.
“Hey, don’t get mad at me. You’re the one who won’t wear a parka.”
“Like I want to look like a bloody ski instructor. Rather be caught dead,” he grumbled. “And I am dead.” He plucked the hat off his head, looked at it, grimaced, tossed it aside onto the bed. Stalked up and down on the worn rug for a few seconds and then took up his position again at the hotel room’s radiator, a hissing and spitting pillar of heat near the chilly window.
They were in Helsinki. It was winter, and the weather was, as to be expected, frigid. And Spike’s attitude about it had gotten worse at every stop they’d moved north.
Not that they’d constantly been moving north. They’d been months on the road, just getting to where they were now. East to the Netherlands first, to Amsterdam. Then wending their way further east in a jagged pattern, Cologne to Berlin to Warsaw. South to Vienna and on to Budapest. Then finally, north. To Berlin again, then Copenhagen, Stockholm, and here. At each stop fighting some demons, seeing the sights, learning something new about themselves and the world.
Because there was still, after everything, plenty to learn.
Like the fact that he–although she probably should have realized this a long time ago–was really kind of vain. He complained bitterly about the cold, but still refused to wear synthetics. Wouldn’t even consider most modern winter gear, the bright colors, the reflective surfaces, the stretchy leggings. Loaded himself down with layers instead–long heavy woollen coats piled one on top of another, like multiple kimonos on a 12th-century Japanese princess, until he was like a puffier version of himself swathed in Russian military surplus.
Apparently, it had something to do with image.
“You can’t be a badass in primary colors,” he’d sniffed. “Nobody’d respect you. Only person who can get away with that is bloody Superman.” In response, she’d glanced at her own outfits, the cherry reds and poppy oranges and fuschia pinks, and he’d acted as if she’d just proved his point.
“On you, it’s dramatic irony,” he said. “Nobody expects their neck twisted by a girlie in a pink parka. Not the same for a bloke.”
And that was that. No more argument.
But he wore the hat.
“I cannot be easy until I find out where this monster lived.”
The glacier was where it all started to go wrong.
The hike had been her idea. Just a good vigorous walk out to their destination instead of hiring a dogsled or whatever. After all, they were two adult demon-hunters. Seen and done it all, and a couple of snow-covered miles on the kind of breathtaking landscape that people filmed IMAX movies about? Hardly a big deal, not to them. And it would be that much more satisfying to arrive at their destination after a day out in the frozen waste, wouldn’t it? The place emerging out of the barren white like a fairylit vision.
They’d be fine. Even though the helicopter pilot who’d dropped them off had been keen to caution them about the danger, or at least that’s what she’d thought he said in his accented English, and also the fact that he might’ve been a demon, not that they could afford to be picky. It was off-season, apparently. Which was kind of weird, given the impression she’d gotten so far of Lapland tourism as being all about the Northern Lights.
But at least they’d found the darkness she was looking for. The sky suspended in twilight, and the stars over their heads turning like a wheel.
It was like they’d stepped off the end of the Earth. Into the beyond.
After awhile of walking into the wind, though, Spike began to move stiffly. Jerkily, almost, like a puppet being pulled by strings. He didn’t say anything, not that it was easy with the sharp cut of the wind–Buffy’s own arctic hood and space-age goggles barely seemed to help in that regard; heaven only knew what it was like for him, with nothing but the hat and a twisted scarf, three or four turned-up collars for shielding.
And for a time, she’d thought that’s all it was–his heavy woollen coats weighing him down, until he slowed so much that she had to stop. Turn around and see what was the matter.
He was stock still. Swaying a little, in the wind, like a tree about to fall.
“What’s the matter?” She marched up to him, peered at his face. His eyelashes were coated with frost.
He didn’t answer her.
“You are so stupid!” she raged, after she’d pulled him into a shelter of sorts, a little alcove of scooped-out ice, carved by the wind. Although it was really herself she was berating, for not hearing him correctly, not a big fan of the cold, not interpreting the signs. His insistence on layers. No circulation. To block out the wind, not space-age polymers that were designed to trap heat. The uber-grouchiness. The way he tended to mutter whatever you want no matter what she proposed, after throwing up only a token resistance, as if he was actually encouraging her to run roughshod over it, to turn on the sweet-girl pout because it always always ALWAYS worked.
He was so passive-aggressive she wanted to punch him. If he weren’t, at that exact moment, about as rigid as a piece of freeze-dried meat.
The question remained, though, now, of how they were going to get off the glacier. Get anywhere.
“Whrrz….?” he slurred after she’d managed to break out the sleeping rolls from their backpacks and piled him into one, using the other as a sort of curtain, a windbreak. Maybe he’d thawed out a little bit, out of the wind. Or maybe he was just rambling. Who knew how a frozen vampire’s mind worked? If it worked.
Her cell phone didn’t work. No signal. Which made no sense, because hadn’t she read somewhere that Scandanavians had the highest cell phone usage in the world? Obviously, she was either cursed, or there was something about the place. Possibly both. Make that probably.
Neither her rucksack or his yielded anything useful. He didn’t even carry a lighter anymore. He’d stopped smoking. She found herself cursing, wishing she’d never said anything about the smoke, the smell.
“I get it now,” she grated, teeth chattering. She huddled as close as she could, shivering. “Vampires plus cold equals frozen. You know, you could have just told me.”
He acknowledged this with a slow double blink. She could actually see this motion moving the frost gathered on the whites of his eyes.
Gut clenching in sympathy, she slid in closer to him, tried to give him some heat. Pressed her cheek against his. Tacky frost made her skin cling, like a kid’s tongue touching a metal pole. Then her skin heated his just a little bit, and they slipped free of each other.
“Why didn’t you just tell me?” she whispered.
His mouth worked. The Tin Man with lockjaw. Oil can.
“Thought I could… do it.” The words came out in bursts, breathy, halting. “If I… kept moving.” Long pause. “And you… wanted it. So bad.”
“I didn’t want you to freeze. What’s the matter with you?” Dummy.
His eyelids fluttered shut.
She wriggled closer, pushed her face tighter to his. Her forehead stuck against his, icy glue.
In a way, this was romantic too, she had to admit.
In that miserable, stomach-turning, about-to-die sort of way.
The Northern Lights put on their show.
It was gorgeous. Amazing. She wanted to talk to him about it. Ask if he’d ever seen the Lights before, but it didn’t seem likely. Technically, if he’d bothered to explain, or if she’d been thinking straight, he wouldn’t be seeing them this time.
It occurred to her that she could go for help. After all, it wasn’t like anything would happen to him. Or at least… she didn’t think so. Nothing she’d ever read or heard had suggested that freezing vampires was a way to kill them. So, technically, she could leave him where he was. Walk back to the nearest town. Or onward to the hotel.
But it might snow. And there were no landmarks on the glacier. He could end up buried in a snowdrift, a vampire popsicle, hidden beneath the surface where any stray foot or snowmobile track would shatter him like glass. She shuddered.
Then again, the other unattractive option was staying, and freezing herself. Adding her own corpsicle on top of his popsicle. And then he could enjoy that, her dead frozen body for company. Forever. Lucid and aware. Buried.
“Can you see it?” She’d squeezed into the sleeping roll with him, pressed against him front to back. He’d gotten a little more coherent, warming slightly, even as she herself grew colder. Stealing her heat.
“Yeah,” he whispered. “Eyes are clearing up.” He paused, as if summoning up the energy to make his mouth work. “Fire in the sky.”
“Oh dear me; is it you? Pray, how did you sleep last night? Did you hear or see anything in the dead of night?”
“Wake up!” Buffy hissed urgently, giving his shoulder a hard shake. “Spike! Wake up! We’re in trouble.”
And there was no question that they were. Although technically, probably not as much trouble as they’d been in previously, about to freeze out on the tundra.
They were in a castle.
Buffy had no idea how they’d gotten there. She didn’t even remember falling asleep. Only waking up, here, on the floor of this place.
A castle of ice. Sort of a lot like she’d visualized for the hotel, but grander. Huger, with vaulted ceilings rising high above the uneven floor. A cave of shimmering white, milky ropes of ice forming sheetlike curtains.
And bones littering the floor. Bones and bones and bones, everywhere.
to be continued in Part 2
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/116495.html