Many thanks to sandy_s for the thoughtful beta!
In lieu of starting with an actual plot, I used Oblique Strategies to provide a prompt every time I didn’t know what happened next … I’d say the result is more plot-like than one might expect. Prompts listed at the end, though some of their initially merely shakey relevance has been whittled away to nothing during editing.
I do plan to continue this 2 or 3 chapters, I think.
You know you want to dance.
The phrase came to her as she danced, her sword flashing in the torchlight as it rang against Spike’s. Drums and brass roared. He’d said it not so long ago — was it really just a few years? — yet it felt like something out of a different life. Sunnydale seemed nearly as distant as Hemery, the Buffy who had lived and died and lived again there as hard to parse as a stranger.
She parried, and he twirled, his black cape billowing — just right for the costume, but far too filmy for Spike. It was too close to the duster not to move like the duster. They hadn’t broken the bank on the costumes, and their fight was just a crowd-pleasing exhibition; but their swords were satisfyingly real, as was their actual quarry. She circled to the back of their limited space to get a better view of the float ahead of them, and also to force Spike a little further from the sequined line of mock-devil dancers bearing torches that followed them in the parade. She’d trust him with her life, but not to keep his polyester a safe distance from flames.
The drums came to a climax and paused; a lone trumpet pealed out, then took flight with a sharper tempo.
Up ahead, on an enormous devil-head-shaped float, she could see Ethan, decked out like some bacchanalian king. His dark blue top hat glittered, feathers trailing like glorious blue hair; as she looked, he leaned out to feed a grape to a dancer nearby, a young man clothed in nothing but some sort of jeweled speedo. Nothing about his lazy and exaggerated motions suggested that he was planning to pierce the veil between two worlds in the midst of Carnival, heedless of the damage it might cause.
An elegant feint from Spike distracted her, and she smiled at him as she responded. Familiar eyes gleamed at her from behind the white skull mask, and she knew he was grinning back even if she couldn’t see. They were just friends these days, by agreement, tacit acknowledgment that nothing ever worked out right between the two of them. In the cold light of day, living in an apartment filled with the people from their past -- well, it had seemed like the right decision, the adult thing to do. She’d had a vague sense she should be proud of them both, having a real talk and making a logical plan based on hard-won truths.
But she’d caught him eyeing the more extravagant costumes when they were getting outfitted, and she’d been unable to stop the thought from flitting through her mind that skant feathers and a bedazzled bikini might unlock a different plan. A breathless, tingly plan -- well. Spike had never needed such enticements, and it was an unworthy thought anyway now that they’d graduated to consent and clarity; so she’d resolutely stuffed it down into the file of bad-Buffy thoughts, not to be thought again. And here she was, in a maiden-in-a-feathered-mask costume, both relatively practical for fighting and absolutely a dramatic foil to Spike’s elegant Mr. Death. Not thinking about it.
The drums took up the new beat with such vigor she could feel them in her bones. Torchlight glittered off a million shiny surfaces. Spike was glorious in movement, as always, his controlled violence and grace gorgeous to watch. When their blades next crashed, he swung smoothly around behind her, bringing his mouth alongside her ear. The entire surface of her skin prickled. Under the whoop of the crowds, he whispered, “He’s on the move, love.”
Her gaze swiveled back to the float. The pretty grape-eater now held the whole bunch, looking wistful; she tracked the line of his gaze just in time to see Ethan’s blue feathers burrow into the crowd a salmon slipping away against headwaters. “Left,” she said, just loudly enough for Spike to hear her as she slipped her sword safely into its sheath.
It took a little applied Slayer-force to wedge through the thick band of onlookers; but if she knocked anyone off balance, they’d just fall against the next packed-in body. She didn’t have to check to know Spike was right behind her.
Buffy cursed her own shortness as she shoved onward; she’d lost sight of Ethan immediately. But she was making progress. Two buildings rose to each side as she pushed against the people funneling through the alley towards the parade route. When she reached a clear space, it was so unexpected she stumbled. Spike’s arm was instantly there to steady her; she looked at him sideways and realized his sword was still out. “Did you carry that through the crowd?”
“Did,” he said, pushing his death’s head mask up until it sat atop his head. “Might’ve slowed me down a tad if you weren’t blazing such a path.”
“Did you see where he went?”
“Just a glimpse. Into a tent,” said Spike. “Red velvet flaps.”
He glanced past her and frowned. She turned to see a series of tents of different sizes all hung with the same weathered red velvet fabric. Beyond them rose the snaky curl of a rollercoaster, sparkling with lights; in the distance the slow grandeur of a ferris wheel revolved against the stars. “Well,” said Buffy. “That doesn’t exactly narrow it down.”
“Faced this way,” said Spike, indicating the tents to their left. “So there’s only three.”
“I suppose … should we split up?” But Spike was already disappearing into the first, smallest tent. So much for plans.
By the time Buffy let the flap fall behind her, a woman in a drooping turban was already holding Spike’s hand, turning it thoughtfully this way and that. She didn’t look particularly magical - not like Willow, whose very presence these days spoke power. But there was a flicker of something in her face, a reluctant sparking of interest.
“Lovely fingers,” she was saying. “Water hands. You are driven by your emotions.”
“That so,” said Spike dryly as Buffy came up beside him.
“We’re actually here looking for someone,” said Buffy. “Perhaps he came in here — an older man.”
The woman flicked Buffy the briefest glance before continuing. “Highly artistic. You’ll be happiest in a creative profession.” She turned Spike’s hand over again to look at the palm. “Here, you have three lifelines — metaphorical, of course, representing the changes you’ll undergo.”
“Of course,” said Spike, more dryly still.
“And a large heart — you love very deeply ...”
“Like the lady said, we’re looking for someone.”
The psychic’s voice went on, slow and soft. “And your love will lead you in … in from the cold, or the dark; from nothing to more than nothing…” She hesitated. “There’s a ghost in your life, a ghost or an echo, someone … or something that returns to you, time and again in different forms.”
Spike pulled his hand away, and the woman gave herself a little shake before looking up at his face.
Buffy stepped forward and cleared her throat. “An older, English gentleman, with a blue hat.”
The palmist dropped her dreamy tone. “A reading is five dollars.”
Spike dug into his pocket and came up with a wadded twenty. “Did you see him?”
“No older fellows,” she said briskly, smoothing the bill before folding it neatly. “Not really my demographic.” She slid the money into the cleft of her bra and looked at them. She didn’t offer change.
“Let’s go,” said Buffy.
Back out in the night air, the amusements were drawing a larger crowd. Buffy forced herself to slow down and scan carefully. Wherever Ethan had gotten to, they had til the moon rose to find him, and more people would only make it harder. A reedy boy sat on a stool outside the next tent. Inspecting his nails was apparently more important than luring customers with a spiel. When Spike approached, the boy barely looked up, pointing to a worn wooden box with a slit cut into the top. “Tickets,” he said.
“Ain’t got ‘em,” said Spike, flashing a fangy grin.
“G-go on,” said the boy.
Once inside, Buffy stopped hard, Spike nearly bumping into her. Mirrors, separated by braided boughs of leaves in the dim light of bare bulbs, the dark green of the false leaves muted by dust. Mirrors set up in a series that curved out of sight, so she could already see distorted Buffys, glowy in their white costumes, arcing away from her -- tall, short, fat, thin, and wavy, but all with an equally disturbed set to their jaw.
No Spike, of course. She could feel him just behind her, smell his scent amid the mustiness of the hall, but her own image bounced down the hall unimpeded.
“Fuck,” said Spike.
“Yeah,” said Buffy, sliding her mask up off her face and trying to ignore the simultaneous motions around her. “But if it’s just a big circle, we can check it and get out of here fast.”
She began to walk. The drums and horns outside seemed muted, more distant than they should be. Their curved path dead-ended into another; the mirror directly ahead stretched her side to side, eyes impossibly far apart. She paused. “Does this costume make me look fat?”
She sought Spike’s eyes in the mirror, crinkling with subdued humor, and her smile faded. “Spike.”
“I see you in this mirror.”
His eyes flicked to his own reflection, squat and stretched sideways like hers, and even amid the distortion she could see his face go wary.
“Magic,” he said flatly.
“I was going to suggest we split up, but…”
“Let’s keep close, pet.”
She turned, without discussion, to the right. Wavy Spike, emaciated Spike, bottom-heavy Spike stalked just beyond the wavy, emaciated, and bottom-heavy Buffys. One of the mirrors made their doppelganger bodies seem too close to the glass, too large; she found she really didn’t care to examine too-close Buffy too closely, and let out her breath in relief when she reached the next glass, where mirror-Buffy was very far away. She paused, watching as distant Buffy, like her, drew her sword again, and only then realized Spike was no longer in the frame.
Which shouldn’t feel weird, yet now did.
“Look,” she said to the space where mirror-Spike shouldn’t be and wasn’t. “You’re gone. How weird is it that now that feels creepy?”
Spike didn’t answer. She turned to him — but she was alone, the curving corridor full of only warped versions of herself.
What are the sections sections of? Imagine a caterpillar moving.
Turn it upsidedown
Ask your body
A line has two sides
From nothing to more than nothing
Do we need holes?
Lost in useless territory
Don’t be frightened of cliches
Honor thy error as a hidden intention
Idiot glee (?)