The Writing on the Wall by Holly

ReviewsRating: NC-17

Summary: There was no body to bury. There was no funeral. There was nothing but the three rules and the knowledge that a thousand years of torment was nothing compared to a world without her in it. Spike embarks on a journey through the Gates of Hell to rescue the one he loves, but in order to save her, he must risk losing himself.

 

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Chapter 10

It was strange how hunger never abated. He’d known all kinds of pain in his time; burnings, stabbings, bullets, holy relics, and more punches to the head than any ring fighter had ever taken. Even the worst of wounds faded after a while—the pain was fleeting. Always fleeting. Once his body adapted, he would forget. He would move on.

Hunger was a pain that didn’t let him forget.

He imagined himself as a skeleton covered with a thin layer of skin. What little he could see determined his blackened, rotted bones and his naked, exposed inner organs. The first time he’d tried to look had left him screaming silently, for his throat had long lost its ability to produce sound. His heavy head had swung southward, crusted eyes soaking in the sight of his shriveled heart protected by a slip of silk-fine flesh. When he breathed—which he didn’t anymore for the pain it caused—he’d watched his shrunken lungs expand and deflate with morbid curiosity. It was awful, and it was real. It was his reality.

He had no idea what had happened to his clothing. Had he had clothing? He couldn’t say. Perhaps the fabric had melted away in the pool of holy water—perhaps Larry had stripped him to further his humility. It was anyone’s guess. Likewise, his hair was gone as well. That was something he knew without knowing. Just as he knew the only thing keeping him alive at all was the webbing that had captured him in such a way that his fragile body was still intact.

Please…

He didn’t know for what he begged anymore. Rest, perhaps, but it often took years to find rest. True rest. The rest where he could retreat within himself and lie dormant until Larry visited again.

But even then, he feared rest. He feared how his mind might deteriorate if he allowed it to sleep. Without Buffy there to talk with him, what might happen when he shut himself down.

How the world could change.

What he might forget.

*~*~*



A constant echo in his head—a reminder. He needed this. Needed the repetition. Needed it to strike an inner chord. If he lost it, he would lose everything. He was supposed to lose everything. This test—the waiting—it was designed to capture him forever. They didn’t expect him to fail. No, no. That was too easy. Fail and he could go home. Piece of bloody cake.

Her memory was the only thing that held him here. Her memory, and his promise never to forget.

I’m Spike. I’m Spike. My name is Spike. Spike, Spike, Spike.

Over and over. He couldn’t forget his name. Couldn’t. The ghosts hadn’t visited in years. Hadn’t stepped out of the shadows to poke fun at his torment. Hadn’t the decency to remind him who he was.

I’m Spike. I’m Spike. I’m Spike.

He had to hold on to that. He had to remember.

Don’t forget your name. That’s what she said. Willow. Was her name Willow? She had red hair. I think she was Willow. Willow sounds right. She told me not to forget my name.

And so long as he kept repeating it, forget it he would not.

I’m Spike. Spike. Spike. My name is Spike. I’m Spike. I’m Spike…I’m…

*~*~*



“Spike.”

He opened his eyes slowly, wearily, knowing immediately he’d stepped within himself. It was always safer in here: safer, warmer, and there was no pain. No pain inside his head—not when he could again feel his fingers and toes, again sniff the air, stale as it was. Again see properly. Inside his head he was at his best.

Inside his head was where Buffy lived.

And Buffy helped him remember.

“That’s it,” he agreed tiredly, sagging in relief. The terrain might be the same as his prison, but at least, when he was withdrawn, he could move. Didn’t matter that his body never got this respite. He was always sore, of course, because reality remained just outside the door, but here, Spike could pretend to be all right.

When he was safe within his mind, he could pretend he was whole.

“Yeah, it. Your name. The thing you’re not supposed to forget.” Buffy crossed her arms, eyes narrowing. “You freaked me out just now.”


“Sorry, pet.”

“Don’t give me ‘sorry!’ Spike, let’s do this again. Willow told you…what?”

He turned his eyes downward, shamefaced. Christ, how she could make him feel like this when she was a figment of his own bloody imagination was beyond him. Yet he was grateful. Extremely grateful. Buffy kept him grounded—kept his eyes on the prize. Kept him in a place where he remembered what was at stake. It was so easy to forget otherwise.

So fucking easy.

“Not to forget my name.”

She nodded heatedly. “That’s right.”

“Been over a century, pet, by my count. Figure points for rememberin’ this long, yeah?”

“Well, if that jackass we call Larry has ever once told the truth, we got a little while longer to wait.” Her brows perked and her arms folded perfectly across her breasts. “Can you hold out that long?”

Spike smiled. It was so easy to smile when she was around. “For you? Love, for you, I could walk on water.”

“No need to get sappy,” she replied, lips twitching. “This is serious, William.”

“I know.” She only called him William when it was serious. “I know it is.”

“The first century nearly killed you.”

“Can’t kill me,” he retorted. “Killing would be too bloody merciful, now wouldn’t it? Same thing with the holy water. I remember that. There was a pool of it…I jumped in, burned mostly to death, an’ was right as sodding rain after a bit of shut-eye.” Spike sighed heavily and shook his head. “Can’t kill me. Vamps can’t die of starvation.”

There was a considerable pause. Buffy shuffled restlessly, her feet sliding against the rocky ground. She wanted to pace. He knew she wanted to pace. Pacing kept her in motion. Pacing allowed her to do what he could not—move. He couldn’t move; couldn’t feel the flow of air between his legs. Couldn’t feel anything other than useless and dead.

She was the part of him that kept on living when the rest wished for darkness. Buffy made him alive.

“You do look bad, don’t you?” she whispered, her eyes widening. “I mean…out there.”

Spike licked his lips. “Can’t see me out there?”

“No, because you can’t.”

“An’ you can’t know what I don’t know.”

She nodded. “Right.”

“Because you’re me, not real, an’ I’m alone.”

“You don’t have to be so morose,” she retorted grumpily. “It’s easier when we make-believe…otherwise…Spike, what the hell are you doing?”

He frowned and spread his arms. Might as well pretend he could, while they were pretending everything else. “‘m standing here. What?”

“You know you can leave whenever you like. Just pack up and go home. No one would blame you. For Pete’s sake, you’ve been hanging like a…a…a guy who hangs for over a hundred years.” Buffy shook her head and shivered. “You didn’t know what you were getting in to when you signed on for this gig.”

Spike laughed bitterly. “An’ you did?”

“Hello? Of the Chosen, here. I had an inkling.”

He arched a brow. She shuffled more.

“Well, I did! How many slayers live to see their sunset years, huh?”

“You will,” he said firmly. “Once this is over. I’ve waited this bloody long, Buffy. Don’t you start telling me I’m better off packing it up. I can’t leave you here. I won’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because I love you.”

“You love me,” Buffy repeated, nodding and licking her lips. “Ever ask yourself why?”

A harsh laugh rumbled against Spike’s chest. “Aside from every bloody minute of my last year with you, you mean? Every second since that dream…up until the Tower? No, pet. Not anymore.”

“Look, I know you felt bad because I leapt, but—”

Another harsh laugh. He blinked at her incredulously. “Bad?” he repeated, then again, quieter to himself. “Bad she says. Yeah, kitten, I felt pretty bloody bad. I made you a promise, didn’t I? An’ I let it…I let you jump.”

“Actually, you made a promise to protect Dawn. Dawn’s still alive, isn’t she?”

“No thanks to me. I could’ve beaten the bloody doc, pet. I know I could have.”

Buffy smiled warmly. “Isn’t it great the way your memory sharpens when we go over this?”

He wished he could smile back and mean it; nothing could eradicate the knowledge that he would return to his world alone, starving, and less than half a man. Whatever he remembered here, he remembered because of her. Because it was tied to her. Tied to Buffy as she lived within him. It had nothing to do with memories returning or knowledge he kept from himself until he wasn’t fully conscious; it was because the day she’d disappeared would forever be engrained in his mind. The cold slab of empty concrete where she should have lain—no, that and everything relating to it would be with him forever.

“It’s you,” he replied instead, shrugging half-heartedly. “Of course I remember it.”

Her smile faded a bit, a more serious countenance taking over. “I just…I wonder if it’s really worth it, you know? You say you love me, but Spike…you know that I—the other, not-so-pleasant I—you know I’m not going to just fall into your arms or anything. I’m downright bitchy at times.”

That comment earned a laugh. “Bloody right, you are.”

“But you love me.”

“I love you. An’ I don’t care what you give me in return. I don’t care if I don’t even get a thanks.” A pause. “Well, yeah, that might brass me off a bit, but Christ, love, I’m not in this for me, an’ if I am, it’s because I know that whatever I suffer here is nothing compared to the few days I lived in a world without you.”

“Sappy,” she accused again.

He shrugged. “I wasn’t called a bloody awful poet for nothin’.”

“You wrote poetry?” she asked, her nose crinkling.

“Think so, yeah. It gets fuzzy after a while, my memory. But that sounds right.” Spike broke off with a shudder. “I mean it, though. What I said. Living through this is bloody torment, but I know there’s an’ end. It will end eventually. But if I go back without you, knowing I gave up…you’re worth it, Buffy.”

She looked at him for a long, quiet moment, her eyes dark and contemplative. “Am I?”

“I told you, I love you.”

“Yeah, I know that, but which me do you love? I know you love talking with me now—as I am right here when I’m with you. But the other girl, the real one, the one you’re trying to reach…she’s not me.”

Spike reared as though slapped. “Of course she is.”

“I’m your ideal.”

“Rot.”

“I live in your head, Spike, I think I’m on even ground here.”

“My ideal is you,” he retorted, muscles clenching with long forgotten irritation. “Jus’ as you are. Just as bloody infuriating as you are. If I wanted you to be any different, you would be.”

“You’re reaching.”

“An’ you’re daft.” Spike turned away before his anger became visible. “I love Buffy. I love her because she’s exactly like this. Like you. You think you know things—how I feel, what I’d do, an’ you don’t have the firs’ fucking clue. She’s brilliant, but God, the clumsiest girl I’ve ever seen. Resourceful. Beautiful. Funny in her own way. You really gotta listen, y’know? Sometimes she doesn’ know she said something clever…other times, her eyes light up an’ it’s bloody Fourth of July, the way she smiles. She doesn’ think she’s smart, but she is, an’ it’s so…an’ she’s kind. To me when I din’t deserve it, to her friends who rarely deserve it…to everyone. Caring…God, she cares so much. She loves with everythin’ she is, an’ she doesn’t know how special that is. Doesn’ know how rare. An’ even if she irritates me to no bloody end, I’ll love her until I’m dust.”

A long silence settled between them before Buffy’s lips quirked, tugging upward into a soft grin. “Well, when you put it like that, I do sound pretty amazing.”

If anything, her concession only fueled his tantrum. “An’ you’re her! You’re so bloody convinced that no man will ever love you. The real you. You think it’s impossible to be loved without being put on a pedestal—the way your precious exes did. You don’t get that from me an’ you never will. There’s a reason you’re in my mind the way you are, kitten.” He shook his head heavily. “I had the fantasy. I had you without your personality in my arms, in my bed, an’ it wasn’t enough. It could never be enough for me. That piece of wirin’ would’ve done anything for me, an’ she did…an’ yeah, I liked it on a purely carnal level, but that’s where it ends. She wasn’t enough, an’ she never could be. She had your face…but she wasn’t enough. Having her didn’t make me want Buffy any less. God, if anything, it just made me realize how lonely I was. How I’d never have what I really wanted. I never wanted the bot. I want you. I want Buffy jus’ as she is. Nothing else will do for me. Nothing else. An’ if I have to wait here three thousand years, it’ll be worth it.”

The look in her eyes wasn’t unlike the one she’d given him in his crypt over a century before. The day he’d told her—thinking she was a machine—that Glory could kill him if it meant keeping Buffy and her sister safe. The warmth. The gratitude. The softness. She was so giving. She was always giving. Always.

And she wasn’t real. None of this was real.

Spike smiled gently, relaxing his shoulders. “See?” he said. “If you were the fantasy, that would’ve been your cue to leap into my arms an’ demand a good shagging.”

She glanced down with a laugh, wiping at her eyes. “Point.”

“I have you here as I’d want you in reality. I love you. I love Buffy. Jus’ as she is.” Spike looked at her for a second longer before breaking away, shaking his head with a short chuckle. “God, no bloody fantasy could drive me outta my mind like you do.”

Buffy shrugged. “What can I say? It’s a gift.”

“Infuriatin’ chit…”

“Hey!”

Spike offered a thoroughly unapologetic shrug. “Well, you are, pet. No use bein’ nice for the sake of manners. I am evil, remember?”

Her faux-indignation fell into a fond smile, reaching up to cup his cheek with a tenderness which would—in other circumstances—have nearly sent him to his knees. “Yeah,” she agreed softly. “Yeah,” she agreed softly. “Evil.”

The word was spoken with soft irony. He appreciated it.

“I love you,” he whispered.

“I know.”

“An’ I’ll do whatever it takes.”

Buffy nodded. “I know, Spike,” she replied. “I know.”

He looked at her as long as he could before reality began pounding against the walls protecting him. It would be so easy to overlook where he was; he could say whatever he wanted in here. To the Buffy who kept him company in the long, cold hours of his sentence. It was refreshing, in a way, spilling every word of everything he’d wanted to tell her in their last year together, but at the same time, there was no forgetting it wasn’t real. The conversations he had here wouldn’t carry over into reality. Perhaps he’d get to relive them with the real Buffy; he didn’t know. He had no way of knowing.

But he’d die for the chance.

*~*~*



Once upon a time he’d relished every minute. Every minute of every day he lived. Every minute was exciting—every minute led to the next. A surprise. Life in motion. He’d laugh and cry and shake his head before diving in again. Time was ever-changing. Time forgave. Time surprised. He loved living because he never knew what would come of it. What he would see. What would happen next.

That had been a long time ago. A different place. A different world. A different life.

Every minute was the same.

Every bloody second was the same.

Nothing ever changed.

*~*~*



“Pretty boy, all alone in the dark.”

That voice. He knew that voice. He’d once followed that voice over continents and oceans. He would have followed it to the stars had it asked. After all, its owner had once been his world; his whole bloody universe, his reason for living. His reason for everything. And even if he couldn’t remember her name, or what she looked like, it struck a deep enough chord to ensnare his attention.

She always did when she visited.

“Could snip your strings, if you like,” she continued softly, moving closer. He couldn’t see her—his eyes had been closed for years now, and he didn’t care to open them. His world didn’t get better the more he looked at it; his mind was a much safer place. “Could let the dolly walk on its own. Would you like that, dolly?”

Go. Away.

She whimpered her puppy whimper that had once been one of his greatest weaknesses. “Don’t want any crumpets? I could get you something tasty, my sweet. I could fill that rumble in your belly.”

He was sure she could. For a price. A hefty price.

A price he was unwilling to pay.

“Make the stars cry. Such a strong boy once…till the morning took you.” She sniffled pitifully. “Can’t help. Can’t touch you. Why won’t you let me touch you, William?”

The thought of her skin on him made him hiss. Spike flinched inwardly and willed himself into the darkest corner of his mind. Away from her—away from her voice. Away from everything that could touch him.

Silence was better than visits from phantoms.

*~*~*



He lived for talks with her. For seeing her. For merely being in a place where he could watch her face. Though seeing her grew more difficult over time. Sometimes she didn’t come—sometimes he was too weary to summon her face. Sometimes he waited for hours. Waited for her to step from the shadows of his mind and fuel him with the warmth and hope he needed to keep him company through the lonely days. Sometimes he waited forever.

She didn’t always come. He didn’t know why—perhaps he wasn’t strong enough to bring her forward. Perhaps his mind was abandoning him at long last. Perhaps a thousand different things.

And then, a ray of sunlight through building clouds, she would be there when he least expected it. Smiling. Welcoming. Reminding him.

Her name was one he would never forget. Even if he lost his own, Buffy would remain with him.

Can’t lose…can’t forget…

It was difficult holding on when his brain threatened to shut down. When he wanted it to shut down. When he wanted nothingness more than anything else.

When he wanted the deep sleep of a thousand years to get him through his trial.

*~*~*



Spike. Spike. Spike. My name is Spike.

*~*~*



“Spike,” she whispered, running her imaginary hands through his nonexistent hair. Her touch was so soothing. So warm. He loved her for her warmth. “Spike. Hold on. Hold on, Spike. It can’t be much longer. We’re almost there.”

God, if only it were so.

*~*~*



My name is Spike. My name is Spike. Spike. Spike. My name is Spike.

*~*~*



“My, my, my, doesn’t time fly?”

That voice. He knew that voice. It was the same he’d heard so long ago and required no introduction. He recognized it immediately, as well he should; he’d been waiting to hear it again for a century.

“Nothing to drink?” Larry asked, waving a glass of blood under Spike’s nose. It wasn’t as bad as before. His ability to smell had dwindled significantly over the past hundred years, though as his demon knew instinctively what it was, he wasn’t spared the pain of his fangs twitching or the agonizing twist of his withered stomach.

Hunger had never been so demanding as it was now. When he had the hint of what he wanted within grasp. When he knew he had to turn it down.

My name is Spike.

“Good,” the guardian cooed, thoroughly insincere. “You remembered.”

Can’t…drink…

“What, this? Surely one little sip won’t hurt.”

One little sip would kill. Hunger only hurt.

An inward laugh. Hunger only hurt.

When after a few seconds Spike failed to take Larry up on his offer, the guardian sighed heavily and, as he had a hundred years earlier, spilled the contents onto the stone floor before the starving vampire. “Well,” he said. “That was certainly a waste.”

Not…my problem.

“No,” Larry acquiesced. “It’s not. So, Day Two. You made it. Think you’re ready for another?”

Spike didn’t reply. A reply wasn’t needed—not when the answer was obvious.

Two hundred years. He could push forward. He could endure. And he would.

After all, what was one more day?

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