Hi. It’s my posting day today. As usual, I’ve just gone with the theme of the round. Hope you enjoy.
Setting: Post-apocalyptic rather different outcome of Shells in AtS season 5.
Pairing: The one, the only.
Rating: PG-R, for a little bad language
Beta: Beta’d by Dwyld on LJ, to whom many thanks.
2442 words. May be part of a longer fic one day, but I hope it stands on its own.
Buffy tapped another sprinkling of powder onto the katana blade, another and another, until the whole surface was lightly coated. Setting the powder ball aside, she picked up a clean piece of rice paper and began to rub the powder into the steel.
It wasn’t exactly a mindless task – especially not when your life depended on keeping the blade in good condition- but she could let her brain zone out while doing it – ignore her surroundings and concentrate on cleaning every precious inch.
A distant roar – a wave of sound, breaking against high stone walls – made her pause for a moment, then frown, and focus even harder on her task.
Someone – or something – had just died on the arena sand above her head, and no way was she going to be next.
A key rattled in the lock and the door opened. A young woman – dark-skinned, dark-haired, pretty – or maybe something that just looked like a young woman, you could never be sure – put her head around it.
“Ready for your make up, Ms Summers?”
Buffy glanced up in irritation. “Give me ten.”
“Ma’am.” The head withdrew. A moment later, the key turned in the lock again.
Like there was any way to escape.
Buffy rolled her eyes and went back to her task.
The blade was clean. It just needed polishing. A few drops of oil to each surface, another sheet of clean rice paper later, and it was ready. Buffy held it up, sighting along the silky steel. The blade shone blue where the dim overhead light reflected in it. Good enough.
Returning the katana to its sheath, Buffy slumped in her chair, waiting for the girl’s return. Now, she had no way of blocking out the sounds from above – the screams, the roar of the crowd, the sudden breathless silence.
The fight must be over because the silence dragged on a long time. Buffy realised she was holding her breath along with the crowd.
With a frown, she let it go, just as the approving roar broke out again. Above her, another fighter was dead, or – as very rarely happened – had found themselves, to their own surprise, granted mercy.
Mercy. Buffy grimaced. Their demon overlords must think they were stupid.
The door rattled open again, and the same girl put her head around it. She was wearing a control collar, visible in the open neck of her blue overalls. Human, then.
“Enough with the ma’am.” Buffy stuck her fingers under the collar around her own neck. “I’m no different to you.”
The girl stepped fully into the room.
“But I know who you are,” the girl said. “We all do.” Her eyes were shining. “They say you’ve killed a thousand opponents. You’re, like, arena royalty. The Godking herself always comes to watch you fight. I wish I could be like you.”
“Yeah, ‘cuz fighting for your life every damn day is so great.” Buffy snapped. “Except that it’s not. Grow the fuck up, okay?”
The girl’s mouth dropped open, then closed with a snap. Hurt showed on her face for a moment, before all emotion was smoothed away. “Follow me, please,” she said, in a clipped tone, “and leave your weapon in the cell.”
“I know the drill.”
Buffy set the sheathed katana on the table next to her cleaning kit and exited the room, past the huge demon guard in its faceless helmet and spiked body armour. It fell into step behind her, its heavy tread making the ground shake.
The underground corridor was dank and dark. Every few yards an ancient fluorescent tube flickered and fizzed overhead. From somewhere came the sound of dripping water. The air smelt of sewers.
Buffy followed the girl. The back of the girl’s neck was flushed with embarrassment, and Buffy felt a little ashamed. She hadn’t meant to be cruel, but how could anyone live through the years since the Godking’s return and still be that naive?
“Who’s my opponent?” she asked, to break the uncomfortable silence. “Do you know?”
The girl didn’t look back. “No, ma’am.”
Still upset all right. Buffy shrugged. Not her problem.
Light blazed into the dim corridor from an open doorway. The girl turned right and Buffy followed her into the prep room. The place was almost empty – just another faceless guard, which must have come here with the other fighter- and a couple of the make-up techs – some demon breed Buffy didn’t recognise – in their white overalls waiting for her by one of the mirrored tables.
Buffy frowned. That wasn’t her table. Call it superstition, but no way was she sitting anywhere except her usual table just before a fight.
Sidestepping the techs, she headed for it, only to find her seat already taken. Her heart seemed to turn over in her chest.
Two techs were working on him. They’d already dusted his skin with something that made it glow like nacre in the gloom. They’d painted his nails black too, and one of them was poised over him with an eye-liner pencil in one long, spindly hand and a mascara brush in the other. He pushed the hand aside and sat up.
She stood, frozen to the spot, unable to speak, while her stomach tied itself into knots.
“It’s been a long time,” he said, at last, just to fill the silence. When there was still no answer, he tilted his head. “You look well anyway.”
Buffy opened her mouth, but still no words came. Not him, she thought. Please – not him.
“I like the hair,” he said, while the silence dragged on and on. Why couldn’t she speak?
“Please take a seat,” one of the techs said, in that strange, passionless tone they all seemed to share, like they only had one voice box between them. It pulled out a chair. “You’re on in thirty minutes.”
At last Buffy found her own voice. “That’s my table. I always sit there.”
Spike’s gaze followed her pointing finger. He grinned – actually grinned. “Funny thing, Slayer. Me too.”
They stared at each other. At last, she turned to the techs. “I’ll wait.”
The techs looked as flustered as they ever got. “The time…” one began, but Spike surged to his feet suddenly, pushing the tech with the mascara brush out of the way.
“Let her sit, you twat.”
“Spike…” She couldn’t take her eyes of his face – his pale, beautiful face that she still dreamed about when she let herself dream at all. His eyes were already outlined in black, the eyelids painted a deep charcoal grey. He looked exotic – a fantasy figure. Not Spike at all.
Then he smiled – a genuine smile – not a grin, or a grimace – the way he’d only ever smiled at her. Himself again.
“I’m done, Slayer. It’s all yours.”
He sat down at the adjacent table, watching while the techs did her hair, her make-up, her nails. He was silent for a while, just stared, as if he could never get enough of looking at her.
“I thought you might be dead,” he said, at last.
She grimaced, as the comb raked across her scalp. She wore her hair short nowadays. Some of her opponents weren’t above grabbing you by it. Spike’s was very short too, barely a silver fuzz over his skull.
“I thought the same about you.”
She licked her lips, because she always regretted asking this one. “And the others? Seen any of them?”
“You mean apart from…”
But she interrupted him.
“Yeah, apart from Dawn.”
He drummed his fingers on the table top. “Heard about Willow a few times. They’re still finding her witches to fight from somewhere, and she’s still beating all-comers. Giles, I don’t know about. Xander…” his voice trailed off.
Her skin felt clammy. “What about Xander?”
He shrugged, looking uncomfortable. “Nothing concrete. Best case scenario is, Dawn found some way to protect him.”
“I guess. Being the Godking’s consort has to have some benefits, right?”
She closed her eyes, tired suddenly. “You fought any of the others?”
When she opened her eyes again, he was staring away across the room, fingering the collar around his neck. Stupid question. Just how many slayers were there?
“I fought Vi a while back,” he said, still looking anywhere but at her. “I tried to disarm her. She wouldn’t let me. Think she didn’t want to end up at the crowd’s mercy.”
“So you killed her.” Her voice was more accusatory than she’d meant. It wasn’t his fault.
He nodded. “Tried not to, Slayer. Believe me.”
There was a short silence. Then she said, “Am I the only one left now?”
He grimaced. “Looks that way. I haven’t fought another slayer in months. Only vamps and demons. You?”
She closed her eyes again. Faith’s face loomed large in her memory. Faith’s words: “Damnit, B. One of us has to live, otherwise the bastards win.”
“Only vamps and demons,” she agreed. “Just lately, they’ve been pretty poor specimens too.”
“Feels like the whole circus is winding down,” he said. “Be none of us left soon. Earth’ll be theirs again.”
She didn’t bother replying this time, because it had been obvious from Day One that was the plan.
At last, the techs were done with her. She gazed at herself in the mirror – the short, brutal haircut, the scar on her right cheek – Rona never had liked her – the thin metal band around her neck with its constant winking red light. The techs had gone for the Goth look, like they had with Spike, outlining her eyes in black, painting her lips plum-dark.
She looked like a crazy street walker.
“Don’t think you’ve ever been more beautiful,” Spike said, softly.
She raised an eyebrow at him, but his gaze was full of worship. He meant it.
The adoration didn’t sit well with her. She’d seen it too many times. “I’m not gonna let you throw this fight, Spike. You know that, right?”
His face turned guarded suddenly. “Wouldn’t do that to you, Slayer. Respect you way too much.”
She pressed her point home. “Not gonna throw it myself either.”
He nodded. “I understand.” To the death, then.
“I should damn well hope so.” She held his gaze. Words. Where were the damn words?
“Sir, ma’am.” The girl was back. “It’s almost time.”
“Right you are, love.” Spike winked at her and stood up, while the girl blushed, obviously smitten.
Buffy rolled her eyes. Same old Spike. Some things never changed.
The girl was gesturing towards the door. “This way please.”
“See you in the tunnel,” he said. She nodded, but her feet were reluctant to move. Now that she’d found him again, walking away seemed impossible. But, as she hesitated, the guard by the door came to attention and took a purposeful stride towards her. The next moment, the collar around her neck pulsed – not enough to be painful, but enough to warn.
“Okay, okay.” She muttered, and, with a last glance back over her shoulder at Spike, who was being herded to the far door by his own guard, she followed the girl. Back down the dank corridor with its odour of sewers, to her cell to pick up the katana. She slung the sheath around her waist and buckled it. The sword felt the way it should – perfectly balanced. Deadly.
“I’m ready.” She headed for the door again. She didn’t want to waste a single minute here that she could be spending with Spike.
“Ma’am.” The girl stood aside for her, face still doing the blank thing, and Buffy stopped. She might not get another chance to say it.
“I’m sorry. For snapping at you earlier, I mean. Kind of on edge, I guess.”
The girl’s face opened up at once, the hero-worship back in her eyes. “My fault, ma’am. I should know better than to waste the time of a famous fighter like you, just before a bout.”
“No, you shouldn’t. Keep on doing it.” The girl was taller than her, but then most people were. “What’s your name?”
The girl blinked away her surprise. “Sarah. My name’s Sarah.”
“And I’m Buffy,” Buffy told her. “And don’t tell me it’s a dumb name. I know that.”
“I wouldn’t…” Sarah began, but then she stopped. Smiled. “Good luck, ma’am. He’s cute, but I hope you win.”
“He’s my friend.” My lover, Buffy thought, but didn’t say. “I can’t imagine life without him.”
Sarah’s smile faded. “I’m sorry to hear that, ma’am..er, Buffy.” Her skin flushed even darker as she said the name. “I hope the Godking’s merciful, then.”
Buffy bit down on the sarcastic answer that sprang to her lips. It wasn’t Sarah’s fault. “Not much chance of that.”
The control collar gave out another warning pulse and the demon guard poked its faceless head around the door. “No more talking,” it growled. “Time for fight.”
“It’s always time for fight with you guys,” Buffy sneered, but Sarah was already hurrying from the room.
“Sorry, sir. Didn’t mean to keep you waiting. This way, ma’am. Buffy, that is.”
Buffy followed Sarah again, the guard bringing up the rear like always. The other direction out of the cell this time, then along another dank corridor with water seeping through the brickwork, up some stone stairs, their treads hollowed in the middle by dead men’s feet, the crowd’s roar growing louder and louder. Into the entrance tunnel.
He was there already, waiting for her. No sword in his hand, just a heavy mesh net. Vampires didn’t need weapons.
“Lesson the first: a Slayer must always reach for her weapon. I’ve already got mine.”
He turned to look at her, already in vamp face. She walked towards him, barely noticing when her handlers fell away. Not hearing as the iron gates to the tunnel clanged shut, sealing them in together. Only one way out now – up there, where the crowd was chanting and stamping its impatience.
He tilted his head.
“I’d rather be fightin’ you anyway,” he said, softly, and grinned, showing his fangs. Do you remember, Slayer?
She nodded. I do.
Somehow, her feet had propelled her across the distance separating them. They stared at each other as the arena gate swung slowly open and the roar of the crowd enveloped them.
“We aren’t dead yet,” she said.
“No,” he agreed, topaz eyes sparkling. “We aren’t.”
Taking her hand in his, he carried it to his lips.
“Care for one last dance, pet?”
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.dreamwidth.org/800580.html