"Trippy," Buffy said as she watched her opponent's scaly skin change color yet again, this time from light blue to indigo. "You're like a big ole' ugly mood ring, aren'tcha?"
It didn't answer, but it did turn a little green.
Spinning, Buffy socked it in the stomach. The ribcage. The throat. The knees. Nothing made a dent. A sharp weapon might do the trick, but this demon had accosted her on her way out of lecture hall. All she'd brought was a latte. "Can you guess my mood?"
The demon made another clicking sound, and its snake hair rattled.
"If you said 'angry, exhausted, confused, annoyed, a little hungry, and completely over this fight', you're right." Buffy dodged a lunge. "Who needs mood skin?"
Effortlessly, it blocked her next swing. Then, kaleidoscope eyes swirling, it poked her sternum, causing her to fall on her butt.
"See above, re: confused," the Slayer said, sweeping the demon's legs and rolling out of its way. "You do want to fight to the death, right? I mean, you sought me out, put me in that choke-hold, made with the threatening snake hair, but now, all you do is push me away. Gotta say, I'm starting to feel a little rejected. Where's the follow up? Where's the fire? Is it the whole hitting-a-girl thing that's holding you back?"
Click ung sa click hisssss, it said.
"Unless you are a girl. In which case, my bad." It was wearing a shapeless tunic. "Hate to disappoint, but if it's a chick fight you want, I'm not so much with the hair pulling and the..." She looked at its writhing hair. Maybe that was its weakness! She'd been kind of hoping to avoid the snakes, but if it meant she could move on with her night... Buffy took off her dangly earrings and threw them on the grass, saying, "Know what? Bring it."
It cocked its head and stared.
Buffy rolled her eyes and went for the demon's face.
In the ensuing melee, Buffy learned two things: The demon's snake hair was there to stay, and chick fights felt as ridiculous as they looked.
Not that she didn't rise to the occasion. Some time later, she found herself repeatedly smashing the demon's skull against a tree trunk, shouting, "Die already! Die! Die! Die! You psychedelic... H.R. Giger-looking... bitch!"
Fed up with its passive, saucery lava-lamp stare, Buffy thrust her thumbs into the demon's eyesockets.
Which, in hindsight, may not have been the best course of action, because suddenly, all of the snakes on the demon's head woke up, unhinged their little snake jaws, and hissed a fine purple mist. Right into Buffy's face.
A mist that reeked of... nag champa and patchouli oil?
"I knew it," Buffy said, turning her head and coughing. "You're here to create more hippies, aren't you?"
It didn't answer, and not just because it didn't speak English. It, and its hair, was dead.
Buffy extracted her thumbs and let the lifeless corpse slide to the base of the tree. She shrugged. "When in doubt, go for the eye gouge."
The only drawback of the eye gouge? The occasional hissing hair snake. And, ew: sticky, viscous, multicolored eye-goo all over her hands.
"...But only if you've brought a pack of Wet-Naps," she amended, squatting to wipe the goo off on the demon's hempwear. She noticed the time on her wrist. "Great. Now I'm late."
She was supposed to start Spikewatch over half an hour ago -- Giles must be climbing the walls.
"Late for an unimportant date." Buffy stood up and nursed a shoulder ache. Maybe she could plead exhaustion and go back to her dorm. She'd been Spike's babysitter for the last two nights -- hadn't she earned a night off? Besides, it was pretty clear that Giles was using any old excuse to get out of the house now. She couldn't blame him for that, but after this impromptu epic battle, all Buffy wanted was an excuse of her own, followed by a long, hot shower and a nap.
Uh oh. Sneezes plus Buffy equalled never good. Also not good: her eyes had started to burn. So, either she was coming down with something, or Medusa Lite was having the last laugh.
Oh, god. She wasn't gonna turn to stone, was she?
"Any chance that was just a sensual aromatherapy spritz?" Buffy's hopeful question was met with dead silence. Literally dead. She knew the answer, anyway. "Always with the catch."
Remaining calm, she assured herself, "It's probably just a temporary, mild side-effect catch. Not a 'turning to stone' catch, or a 'taking on an aspect' catch, or a Shumash-y 'catching syphilis'... catch..."
With a gulp, she hurried to the nearest phone booth.
* * *
Spike snagged the kitchen phone on its first ring. "Wankers Council, Sunnyhell Branch. Watchin's what we do. Get your ass kicked and we'll watch. Have a good, filthy snog and we'll watch, and wank, free of charge, day or ni--"
"Spike?" Buffy finally interrupted after the shock subsided. "Who let you answer the phone?"
"Cream Puff!" Thank Christ it was her. He'd been so bored. Peering into the open refrigerator, he scolded, "Where have you been, young lady? I've been worried sick."
"Yeah, I'm sure you have." As she watched a group of carefree students stroll by, laughing in the moonlight, Buffy exhaled her ennui. "And the whole irritate-the-enemy-with-cutesy-pet-names routine got old two days ago."
"But you told me you liked them, Lemon Drop."
"When we were under a spell." Buffy rubbed her tearing eyes. "Could you put Giles on please?"
"He's not here." Cradling the receiver between his shoulder and cheek, Spike emptied a bloodbag into his mug. "What's the matter, Candy Apple? Did some nasty get a nibble?"
"None of your-- Ow!" Not surprisingly, talking to him made it hurt more.
"Come on, Sweet Tart," he egged, always titillated by the concept of her in pain, "tell Daddy all your troubles."
"Daddy?" she repeated, incredulous, forgetting her discomfort for a moment. "Daddy."
He chuckled snidely. "Like that, do you? I had a feeling you--"
"Spike! Giles! Now!"
"Oh, you want him to play that game with you." He crumpled up and tossed the bloodbag toward the trash. It landed on the floor, leaving red speckles on the tile grout. "I should have guessed--"
"What? Ew! I don't want to play 'daddy' games with Giles!"
"Very well, then," he heaved a burdened sigh, pretending he wasn't enjoying this, "I will be your father figure. Put your tiny hand in mine."
"Look, I don't have time for... What about a tiny ham?"
"Hand, love." He sniffed the blood and opened the microwave. "But if you're hungry, I'm sure we can find something to fill up that tiny piehole of yours."
"Okay, you had better be talking about--"
"Cookies, for instance." Smirking, he pressed a series of buttons on the microwave. "Still a whole plate of 'em left over from Red's guilt trip. Dead tasty when you dip 'em in warm blood."
She wrinkled her nose. "No... thanks... Are you there alone?"
"Why?" Hands on the countertop, voice seductive, he teased her, "Do you want me to be?"
"No! I want to go back to my dorm and bathe. I don't want to spend three hours with you if I don't have to." Her eyes stinging, she winced, trying to keep her voice steady. "Giles wouldn't have left you alone, so if someone's there--"
"Now, Jelly Bean, you know you can bathe here. I'm not chained to the tub these days, so I won't be underfoot. 'Course, I could be, you say the word."
Buffy's head tipped back as she prayed to the heavens for some kind of end to the physical pain of whatever had been spit into her eyes, and the emotional pain of having to listen to Spike's constant provocations. He couldn't fight her anymore, so he'd resorted to driving her insane. "I will never say that word."
"Your loss. Vampires don't need air, know what I mean?"
"No. What?" She was already sorry she asked.
"See, I lie on my back underwater, right, and you sit down on my fa--"
"Just. Please," Buffy cut in irately, trying not to let him get to her. "All I want to know is, is anyone else there?"
"No," Spike said, and the microwave beeped. "Just Scrappy and his demon squeeze."
"Ex-demon!" Anya corrected helpfully from the couch, patting the arm that was draped around her neck. "Scrappy and his ex-demon squeeze."
"Scrappy?" Xander was offended enough to tear his eyes away from Jeopardy. "Scrappy? I should be Shaggy! Or at the very least, Scooby-- Is that Buffy?"
"Hmm," Buffy mulled aloud, "maybe Anya knows..."
"Knows what, Hot Pocket?" Spike asked, checking the freezer. That Oxford nonce had hidden it somewhere... "Got a demonology query?"
"No." Buffy made a point not to give the evil vampire in their midst a heads-up on Sunnydale's demonic activity -- especially when it was a demon that had managed to harm her. Also, he'd just called her 'Hot Pocket'. "Did you finally run out of candy names?"
"So, it's the candy names you like." He searched the cupboards again. "...Butterscotch? Pixy Stix?" Uh... "Toblerone?"
Toblerone? "Let me talk to Xander."
"I'm not completely useless, you know. Try me."
"There's no way I'm telling you anything--"
The recording asking for additional change kicked in, and Buffy searched her jeans for a quarter to shut the thing up. Stupid Spike, always wasting her time...
Meanwhile, Xander had appeared in the kitchen, snapping his fingers at the phone Spike held out of his reach. "Gimme the phone."
"Give the phone to Xander," Buffy said.
Spike ignored them both. "I won't use it against you, if that's what you're thinkin'. I've got better things to do, you know."
"Really," Buffy said, not believing him for an instant, and not being able to let this one go. "Like what?"
"Well," he began, idly scratching his chest. "I got a liquor cabinet here I haven't fully explored, tons of dirty magazines under your watcher's bed I haven't read, and... oh, Sabrina the Teenage Witch comes on in an hour."
"And to all of the above, I say, 'Please hurry, Buffy.'" With that, Xander swiped a bag of chips and left the kitchen.
Spike hadn't been paying attention to him, because Buffy was audibly cringing. "Giles has magazines under his--? Never mind, I really don't want to know."
"Some of them are dead brilliant, love. There's one called Foxxxy Mommaz, with a Z and three X's, right? I'm telling you, it's got to be seen to be believed. These bints have got these teeny-tiny little waists and, like, zeppelin-sized--"
"Spike!" Buffy sputtered, shivering in revulsion, "Stop! Stop talking! You're disgusting! Everything about you disgusts me!"
"I'm not the one with the lifetime subscription--"
"I don't care! I do not have time for this, and I have no idea why I haven't hung up on you yet!"
"Because you know I can I.D. your demon," he answered simply.
Could he? Maybe he could. Ever since he'd been defanged, he'd been playing sort of nice...
"And, you have the hots for me."
Except when he said things like that. Buffy snarled in frustration again. "I do NOT--" She took a deep breath. "Do you want me to tell you about this thing or not?"
"Yes. Tell me all about your scintillating brush with death, my little dollop of..." Leaning on a cupboard door, Spike spun a white jar to see the label. "Marshmallow Fluff."
She crinkled her brow. Where does he come up with this crap? "This thing I fought. It had snake hair that hissed at me when it died, and now my eyes feel like sandpaper."
"Was it a lady demon?" He moved some cans aside.
"I think so... How'd you know that?"
Result! At last, Spike found the Wheetabix Giles had been hiding from him, the sneaky bastard. He shook the box. "Snakes on the head? Chameleon skin? Could pass for an oversized walking hookah?"
Nodding, he crushed the cereal and sprinkled it into his mug. "Talk in a language with lots of clicking? Only weakness is the eyes? Shot out a Hendrix haze when it died?"
"Yeah, yeah, that's the one!" Buffy said excitedly as he went down the list. "So what was it?"
As she waited for an answer, Spike took the mug to his lips, drank heartily, then thunked it down on the counter, empty. "Never heard of it."
Buffy groaned, tempted to ram her head against the pointiest part of the phone booth. "Spike! Just tell me what the hell it's done to me!"
He chuckled merrily. "Come over and I'll be happy to."
"Argh! You're such a jackass!"
"I miss you too, Strawberry Nips."
Her jaw dropped. "Strawberry...?" Scandalized, she covered her chest, as if he could see her. "Ugh!"
God, she was easy. "Coming over then?"
"Yeah, I'm coming over. To beat the crap out of you!" Buffy slammed down the phone, drummed her fingernails on the receiver, and grudgingly accepted her fate. She had to unlock the mystery of the hissing snake hair demon, and Spike, for better or worse, held the key.
Probably for worse.
Swiveling the phone booth doors open, Buffy the Vampire Slayer took in a deep, dignified breath, and set a course for wild, humiliating adventure.