For rating, setting etc, see Part 1.
Heroes in Hell Part 2
Hell looked a lot like Sunnydale on a really bad day, only without the bright California sun and with way worse humidity, kind of like a dirty outdoor sauna.
Buffy stood with her back to the big wooden door, which on this side had nothing special about it. It was just another door leading from the street into what looked like an empty, run-down warehouse. It might almost be the place where she and Spike had brought the roof down between them.
None of what she could see had been apparent from the other side, though. She’d opened the door on a rolling bank of fog that had swallowed her up so completely she couldn’t see her hand in front of her face, and then she’d fetched up here. Not that it was much of an improvement.
The sky was overcast, like a big storm was coming, and the atmosphere was getting muggier with every moment. She jumped at a sudden bang, like a gunshot, and watched, her heart pounding, as a rusty old car drove past backfiring constantly, as if it had hiccups or something. A warm, damp wind blew little tornadoes of trash down the street. The dust made her nose itch.
Marvin was right. Hell wasn’t at all what she’d been expecting.
Her hands felt empty without the Scythe so she wrapped them around herself and started walking. Somehow she had to find Spike, which probably meant she had to find a bar, the more of a dive the better.
Things didn’t improve much out on the main drag. There were stores but half of them were boarded up and the ones that weren’t had dirty flyblown glass in the windows and the things on display looked like thrift-store rejects. The people on the streets, men and women – no children – were normal enough looking, like you might see anywhere, but with this weird shabby air to them. It was like no matter how smart they appeared on the outside, you just knew they were as dirty as their surroundings underneath.
There were no couples either. Everyone was alone, and though many people glanced sidelong at Buffy as she passed, no one spoke to her. Instead, they looked away when they realised she’d noticed them, feigning a sudden interest in the nearest store window.
She walked a block. Then she turned right and walked another, and now she was already at the edge of Downtown, with what looked like a low-rent residential area in front of her. There was no sign of a bar. This place really would be hell for Spike if there were no bars.
She turned round and walked back the way she’d come – up Main Street, past the side road where the door was, and then on in the other direction. As she passed the stores again, she had the queasy feeling that none of them were the same as before – still dirty and still not selling anything worth having, but different, as if there were more interchangeable layers of hopelessness behind the one on display and they kept swapping around.
It was weird, like walking through a film set where someone kept changing the props. Still – as long as it was just the props and not the backdrop. As she’d passed the end of the side road, Buffy had been relieved to see that at least the warehouse with the exit in it remained where it had been. Hopefully – since she needed it to get out of here – that at least was a constant.
The road sloped uphill and into another residential area. Trees lined the sidewalks but their leaves were faded and yellow, like there’d been no rain for weeks. Just as she thought this, it began to rain – heavy and warm and somehow wetter than rain had any right to be. Now she was not only miserable, she was wet too – and nowhere nearer finding Spike.
She ran back down the road and huddled in the nearest shop doorway while rain sluiced down the gutters until they flowed like miniature rivers. She could see other people doing the same in other shop doorways but only one person in each. It seemed people in Hell didn’t like to share.
That gave her the closest thing so far she’d had to a plan, which wasn’t very close at all. Taking a deep breath, she ducked her head down and ran out into the rain again, across the street and into a doorway where a smartly dressed lady in a charcoal-grey pantsuit was sheltering.
“Hi!” Buffy said, brightly. “Lot of weather we’re having lately, huh?”
Pantsuit Lady, who looked to be in her mid-thirties – career-type, beautifully tailored and manicured– glared at her and pointedly turned her back.
Buffy scowled, noting that when you looked more closely the woman’s shoes were a little down at heel and the hems of her suit trousers were coming unstitched.
“I’m new in town.” She decide to ignore the initial rudeness. “I was wondering if you could help me?”
“I beg your pardon?” Pantsuit Lady turned back to gape at her in astonishment. Her mascara had run in the rain.
“Okay, I know this is Hell,” Buffy hurried on, “but I’m on a schedule here. I need to locate a friend of mine fast and I really, really would appreciate your help.”
“I bet you would.” The woman eyed her contemptuously. Then she tapped Buffy in the centre of the chest with one elegant fingernail on which the polish was a little chipped. “Like you said, this is Hell – and why the hell should I care about you? I have my own problems.” And she turned her back on Buffy again.
“Yeah, I can see that.” Buffy had been looking at the bloodstain all down the front of Pantsuit Lady’s jacket. Now she caught her shoulder and spun her around again. “See – this is why you should care about me, because if you thought Hell was hellish before, think how much more hellish it’ll be having me following you everywhere until you play nice. I mean, do you want everyone to know those Manolos are, like, two seasons old?”
At the look on the woman’s face, Buffy thought that Cordelia would’ve been proud of her.
Pantsuit Lady eyed Buffy nervously. Then she said, “I’m so sorry, ma’am. You should’ve said you were Management. How can I help you?”
“Management?” Buffy blinked at her in surprise but she didn’t deny it entirely. If the woman was scared enough to answer her, she might even make some headway with finding Spike.
“I’m looking for a guy named Spike,” she told her. “Do you know him? He’s yay high –” she held a hand up to really not that far over her own head – “platinum blond hair –scar on one eyebrow – doesn’t get out in the sun much?”
Behind her, the rain was pouring down like a grey curtain and the street was well-nigh invisible on the other side of it so it was no wonder Pantsuit Lady rolled her eyes at the mention of the sun. In fact, there probably wasn’t sun here, what with it being Hell, or if there was, there was most likely too much of it.
“I don’t believe I’ve had the dubious pleasure,” Pantsuit Lady said in a sarcastic tone, “but I’ll take you to City Hall if you want. If he’s around here someplace, they’ll have heard of him.”
“Okay, that’d be good.” Much to Buffy’s surprise, Pantsuit Lady pushed past her at once and plunged out into the rain which – stopped, as suddenly as it had begun.
“This way.” Pantsuit Lady set off at a fast pace, heels clicking on the wet sidewalk. She seemed in a hurry and Buffy had to run to keep up with her.
“I hope you’ll tell the other Management people I was co-operative,” the woman said, sounding a little out of breath. “It really is bad enough that my nail polish is chipped again five minutes after I put it on and that this stain just won’t come out of my jacket.”
“Yeah – sounds like torture.” Buffy couldn’t quite keep the sarcasm out of her own voice, but Pantsuit Lady gave her a look of such blank and utter hopelessness that her heart turned over in her chest.
“It is,” Pantsuit Lady said. “Believe me.”
They’d gone past all the stores now but turned left instead of right – and Buffy was sure that left turn hadn’t been there before – coming out into a small square with a flower garden in the middle. Not that there were any flowers in it. Instead, there was bare dirt, all raked over for planting that would most likely never happen, and now turned all to sticky grey ooze in the rain.
“City Hall,” Pantsuit Lady said, pointing at a long, squat building that crouched like a malevolent toad the length of a whole block. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really must get to the dry cleaners’ before they shut.”
“Sure.” Buffy watched her hurry away. “Good luck with that.”
Somehow, she had a feeling that Pantsuit Lady was wasting her time.
City Hall was as squat and ugly on the inside as the outside. Everywhere Buffy looked, there were lines of people, though what they were lining up for was impossible to make out. The people all had the same grey, hopeless look about them that made it hard to tell one from another, and suddenly she was stricken with fear that Spike might be among them and she wouldn’t even recognise him.
Unsure what to do, she went and joined one line, waited five minutes, shuffled forward one pace and then stopped again. In the meantime, another line nearby suddenly began to move much faster.
That looked more hopeful. Buffy thought of joining it instead, but everyone else in her line was way in front of her. When the ensuing mad scramble for places was over, the second line was twice as long as the first one and – surprise, surprise – not moving at all.
Impatient, she tapped the shoulder of the man in front of her.
“Excuse me, sir.”
The man spun round to glare at her. Like Pantsuit Lady, he was smartly dressed until you looked closer, when it became apparent that the collar and cuffs of his once-white shirt were grimy and his silk tie was worn at the edges.
“What?” he said rudely, scowling from under over-bushy eyebrows.
Buffy held up her hands in a placating gesture. These people were so touchy! “What are you folks lining up for?”
“Transfers of course.” The man’s scowl bit deeper and now a muscle ticked in his cheek. “There’s been a mistake. None of us are supposed to be here. I agreed to come because I was informed that mistakes could only be rectified on this side. I’ll be writing to my Congressman to complain as soon as the mess is sorted out.”
“Yeah.” Somehow or other, this didn’t sound quite right but Buffy couldn’t put her finger on why. Yet again, she wished Willow was with her to explain the stuff that needed explaining – or even Giles, though he’d probably just have stood around and wiped his glasses and looked disapproving.
She thought of Marvin. She could see him reaching the same conclusion as Touchy Guy pretty rapidly once he finally plucked up the courage to walk through the door.
“Hey,” she said. “Knock yourself out with that letter writing. In the meantime, where do you go if you want to find someone who thinks he is supposed to be here?”
For a moment, she thought the man was going to laugh at her. His eyebrows went up and the corners of his mouth twitched in a mean, laugh-y sort of way. Then he said,
“This person, whoever they are, must be a real asshole if they think they deserve to be in Hell. But whatever. Try Housing Allocations.”
He pointed towards a long, dark side-passage, overarched in dull grey brick.
“Thanks.” Buffy found herself speaking to Touchy Guy’s back, because he’d turned it on her the minute he’d finished speaking.
As she left the line, it suddenly moved forward a good three paces, at which everyone in the second line rushed back to re-join it, only for it to come to a jarring halt again.
Housing Allocations bore a battered sign on the door saying Back in 10 Minutes, which looked as if it’d been there for years. Buffy knocked but no one answered. She tried the door handle – locked. She stood for a moment, undecided. Then she kicked it open.
A solitary demon – the traditional kind with horns and a tail – was sitting with its cloven hooves up on a desk reading a dog-eared paperback copy of Catch22.
“We’re closed,” it said, without looking up.
“Well, it’s time you opened.” Buffy lifted a foot and kicked the demon’s hooves off the desk. “I need some information and I don’t have much time.”
The chair, which was on casters, skidded away from the desk with the force of her kick, rebounding off the wall and almost depositing the demon on the floor. It righted itself and glared at her.
“And you are -?”
Buffy put her hands on the desk and leaned across it, trying to remember how she’d done menacing pre-Scythe.
“I’m Buffy the Vampire Slayer – and no, I can’t say I’m pleased to meet you.”
The demon’s mouth fell open in amazement, revealing rows of sharp pointy teeth that were far too close together.
“Get away!” it said. “No – really? Never had a Slayer here before. This is an honour.”
Suddenly, it was all business. “How can I help you, ma’am? If it’s premier accommodation you’re after, I might have just the thing – or since this is a special case, you can name your own specifications, if you want.”
It scooted the chair back across the floor to the desk and began to go through a precarious stack of papers in an in-tray but stopped when Buffy said, “I’m not here to stay. I’m here on a visitor’s pass. See?” and she held out her hand with the ink-mark then frowned at the sight of it. Had it faded a little already?
“Oh.” The demon’s face fell. Now it looked positively grouchy. “And there was me thinking, at last someone else to help raise the tone around here. I mean – have you seen those people out there? Asswipes, the lot of them, and not a decent mortal sin among them – well, that they’ll admit to. Things aren’t like they used to be -” it lowered its voice to a sibilant whisper and looked furtively over its shoulder–”since the new management took over.”
Buffy ignored the diatribe. In the circumstances, it was kind of hard to feel sorry for the guy. “Someone else? Who’s here already?”
The demon was still griping. “Some vampire – didn’t look like I imagined him – kind of short for a great dark warrior – but he’s the real deal, and he has a soul, which is why he’s here of course.” Suddenly, it grinned. “Boy, I wouldn’t like to be him. It must be hell inside that pretty white head after what he’s done – not that it isn’t Hell outside it too.”
Buffy said nothing and after a moment’s pleased contemplation of its thoughts, the demon looked back at her. But then the grin was gone from its face as if a giant eraser had wiped it away, leaving it with a sort of deer-caught-in-car-headlights expression, only not nearly as cute.
“What?” it said, sounding puzzled. “What’d I say?”
Buffy leaned forward a little more and was pleased to see the demon flinch away from her. She still had it, Scythe or no Scythe.
“I’ll say this only once.” She was using her best, Me Slayer, You Imminent Dust voice. “Where is he and how do I get there?”
It was raining again as Buffy walked across the cemetery – and why there was a cemetery in Hell was anyone’s guess. Could people here get any deader than they were already?
The sky overhead was a sullen roiling grey-black, lit by the occasional lightning flash, and the air smelt strongly of ozone. Or was it sulphur? Buffy had never been sure what the difference was. She just knew that this wasn’t like rain back home because it didn’t feel cleansing in any way and it didn’t relieve the sullen tension of the air. Instead, it left her feeling hot and itchy and dirty somehow, like she might be covered in leeches – and wetter than she’d ever felt in her life.
She supposed it only made sense that in Hell, the rain would be hellish too.
She’d followed the Housing Allocation demon’s instructions and counted crypts from the gate as she went through the cemetery, though it was hard to make them out through the sheeting rain. No angels on the gravestones, not surprisingly– just endless repetitions on a theme of the dog, the goat and the moose, like the mark stamped onto her hand, which was weird. Were dogs and goats and giant deer more evil than other animals?
She was trying to ignore the thumping of her heart, which seemed to grow louder with every moment. After all, it was just Spike – no reason to be scared. No reason to feel like she might throw up any second or that maybe turning tail and running was an increasingly attractive option.
And there it was – unmistakeable. As like the exterior of his crypt in Sunnydale as made no difference. She remembered what the Housing Allocations demon had said about naming her own specifications if she wanted. Spike must have asked for this.
For some reason, the idea made her feel more freaked out than ever, even though she remembered that he’d often referred to Sunnydale as Sunnyhell. He must have meant it literally.
She stood for a moment with her hand on the crypt door, the stone damp and slimy under her fingers. Would he sense her? He’d always been able to do that during the months they’d screwed around together – well, the months when she’d pretended to herself they were just screwing around, though she’d known in her heart of hearts it was a hell of a lot more than that to him.
No, she told herself. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about the misery and the wishing you were dead – again – and his face all bruised and bloody in an alley and hard tiles on the bathroom floor and his hand going where you didn’t want it to and that blind look on his face, like he’d suddenly gone insane. Think about how he loved you. Think about how he died for you.
Screwing up what remained of her courage, which seemed to have washed away in the deluge, she knocked as loudly as she could on the door.
There was silence except for the steady drumming of the rain on the crypt roof and then, abruptly, the door flew open and he was standing there. Light streaming from inside outlined him in gold and there was the gleam of metal in his hand.
“Piss off!” he shouted, waving the metal object in her face. “Not bloody interested in double-glazing, I’ve told you a million times!”
He shoved her hard, his touch icy on her shoulder, and somehow she couldn’t say a word – could only stumble backwards and fall on her ass in the mud and rain and watch as he turned to go back into the crypt.
But then he stopped, and she heard him inhale sharply through his nose. His whole body tensed up. There was a long, long silence. Then he turned back and she saw his face for the first time, thinner than it had ever been and white as chalk, the eyes deeply sunken and glittering in the gloom.
“Buffy,” he said. Not a question, just a fact quietly stated.
“Yes,” she managed, though her voice had an annoying tendency to wobble. “It’s me.”
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/227245.html