Reviews • Rating: 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.
Chapter Notes: I know these last few chapters haven’t been pretty; I just wanted to express my thanks to all my readers who stuck it out. You guys are awesome, and you don’t get told that enough. Thank you so much for your reviews, comments, and support.
Likewise, and as always, thanks to my betas. You ladies are amazing.
To everyone: I promise, your patience will be rewarded.
Her face was so bright. It was all he saw. Though his vision had faded well over a century before, Buffy’s face served as a beacon to warm him through the dark. She was the one thing he remembered. The one thing he carried with him. Every time his mind began to slip, every time his body shuddered against the unforgiving silence, he summoned Buffy forward. And while the memory who spoke with him, who had kept him company these lonely years, didn’t always come, her face was never denied him.
His light. The end of the tunnel—the end of his tunnel, and it was in sight. It was so close.
Just a hundred years.
A hundred years of remembering what he wasn’t supposed to forget.
Buffy, Buffy, Buffy. Keep your thoughts with Buffy. Buffy’s what matters. Buffy’s all that matters. Buffy. Buffy, Buffy…Buffy.
“You sure do know how to hang on, I’ll give you that.”
The phantoms were back—he’d known they would be. It was the last century—the last day—and Spike hadn’t budged. Not once. Not in the face of overwhelming odds, not when his body was a decrepit mockery of the man he’d once been, not when starvation pulled at his sanity and pain threatened to render his skinless bones to dust once and for all. Through everything, Spike hadn’t blinked.
He’d endured what no man could endure, and they knew. They had to know he wasn’t going anywhere.
Not until he made good on his word. Not until he got to Buffy.
It took several minutes to drag the face matching the voice out of his exhausted mind. There were times when Spike wondered if his memories of the spooks were real. Perhaps they were tormentors fashioned by Hell, given a fabricated past he’d come to believe because of relentless repetition. Spike didn’t remember much of anything of his real life anymore. Had he even known Angelus before entering Hell? At this point, his memories might as well be fiction Larry and the supreme Gits That Be had created to further his torment.
Spike toyed with the idea often, and even though it sounded possible, even convincing, he always discarded it in the end. He didn’t figure the few memories he had of Angelus would smart so badly if they’d never actually happened. If Angelus hadn’t truly tasted Buffy’s purity first. If a thousand bloody things.
There were some things that couldn’t be faked.
“How do you think this is gonna end, hmmm?” the prat continued. “They let you go and you, what, walk out of here like nothing happened? You think you can do that? Pretend like you weren’t a useless weight for three centuries?” A pause. “‘Course, you had good practice at doing that before, didn’t you? Guess that’s why Dru kept begging me to fuck you outta her. And she did, you know. She’d run to me and straddle my face, begging for a good—”
A soft sigh rolled through his mind as Spike turned his attention inward. This was another reason he concluded Angelus was an actual memory and not an implanted one; the bastard’s tactic remained the same, always the same. It was familiar enough to fan Spike’s ire, and it never evolved into something sophisticated. No, Angelus blabbered incessantly and didn’t seem to realize when his audience had drifted off to a better place. Most of his talk was about Buffy, but on occasion, like now, he’d try to scratch Spike’s nerves by mentioning the woman from before. The woman Spike only recognized now as the one who’d made him—the one he might have loved, even if he didn’t remember it.
Angelus couldn’t torment him. Not now. Time hadn’t defeated Spike; he certainly wasn’t going to let anything else.
Only one more day—he was so close, even if the end remained decades away. He was so close. Ghosts couldn’t annoy him. Not if he didn’t allow it.
And he wouldn’t.
They could talk. He would wait.
Wait for the end to come.
Years had passed since he’d heard her voice, seen her face, or watched her move across his prison. He didn’t know what had happened, how he could have lost something so essential to himself by doing nothing at all. He spent hours reciting her name—her name, not his own, if only to live up to the promise he forged before even entering the mouth of Hell. Even if he forgot who Spike was, he would never forget Buffy.
And in doing so, she helped him remember himself.
Buffy, Buffy, Buffy. Think about Buffy. About Buffy. Buffy, Buffy, Buffy. God, why doesn’t she come?
He tried so hard to see her, tried to remember why it had once been so easy. In the beginning, all he had to do to step inside himself was close his eyes. He’d close his eyes and she would be there. She would always be there. He didn’t see her now. He hadn’t seen her in so long. So long. And her absence rendered his world a dark, hollow place. He was thoroughly gutted without her beside him.
Even if she’s not real. She’s not real at all, is she? All in my head. Buffy’s not here. She’s waiting.
The real Buffy had been waiting far longer than he could even dream.
A hundred years for a day.
Spike gasped, pain tightening his chest, his heart twisting. Every move he made introduced him to a new level of hell. It was agony, but needed. He needed to feel something—anything. Even if his body had withered to nothing, even if he was left with only a vacant shell for a body, even if… Pain kept him alive when he shouldn’t be. Pain kept him feeling something.
Starvation. Would he ever eat again? He couldn’t remember how blood tasted.
Buffy, Buffy…why aren’t you there?
The dark offered no answer.
It never did.
“What do you think happens?”
It was another voice he knew—a voice he knew he knew. While it had remained dormant so long, his mind had come full circle in what he did and didn’t remember. Over the past few years, especially since Larry’s last visit, the phantoms had come to him almost daily. His mind was weary, but he knew who they were now. He knew who all of them were—he was able to identify them without struggle or undue concern; when it came to his blood-family, Spike reckoned he’d never again be able to forget them. It was only their faces that remained hazy; he recalled Darla had light hair, but couldn’t piece together her eyes and nose in a manner that struck him as accurate. He often confused women’s voices with Buffy’s face.
Buffy was the only face he remembered clearly.
You again, he replied in the only way he could.
“That’s right,” Darla agreed softly, her voice moving forward. “Me again.”
“Not exactly the ideal way to show respect for your elders, now is it?” she demanded, giving a long-suffering sigh. He pictured her folding her arms, because that was what Buffy so often did. “What do you think will happen if you somehow manage to get through these last few years, hmmm? Look at you. Do you really think you can manage the length of the tunnel to even get where you’re going? And what happens if you do actually get there? You’ve become nothing. Nothing.”
Spike didn’t answer. He had no answer. It wasn’t the first time it had been suggested, and he knew it wouldn’t be the last. All he knew was he had to get through the trial. What followed might kill him, but he had to get there to give it a chance. He couldn’t afford to worry about crossing that bridge when he was still on this one.
“What a sad case for the Slayer’s champion,” Darla mused thoughtfully. “But then again, that’s you all over, isn’t it, William? It always has been. So I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised.”
Again, he didn’t answer. There was no need.
Darla had given him what he wanted.
She’d spoken his name.
I’m Spike. William. I’m William, and I didn’t forget. I didn’t bloody forget. I’m William. William the Bloody. Spike. I’m Spike.
The silence didn’t answer him.
Buffy? Buffy…I know who I am, Buffy. I remembered my name.
God, why wouldn’t she come?
Strange how two hundred years couldn’t change the habit of something that had been second-nature for half that time. Whenever he awoke from a deeper sleep—the sort that lasted a good generation or so—he always tried to open his eyes. Always. No matter that he’d closed them ages before in order to escape the visual reality of his personal hell, he always tried to pry them open.
Just as he always came around when his dreams forewarned he’d been silent too long. He hadn’t had a reminder in years.
He would forget if he didn’t tell himself who he was.
Darla’s mistake, and his allowing himself to broadcast his relief at her mistake, had warded off the phantoms long ago. He hadn’t heard a voice in years now. Not one of them, not Larry, and not Buffy. Buffy remained far from him—blocked away, shoved into some discreet room in his mind. He couldn’t reach her, no matter how long he focused on her face. No matter how hard he thought about her voice. He couldn’t call her forward—the ghost of the girl he loved; his memory and his faithful companion. He needed her so badly, and she wouldn’t come.
Buffy, Buffy…I’m Spike. I’m Spike, I remember that. I’m Spike. Gotta remember that.
No matter how often he repeated her name, she stayed away.
He had no idea how much longer he had, but it would feel thrice that without her. It already had.
She hadn’t come to him.
Her absence made his bones ache.
Spike wasn’t going to forget his name. It occurred to him one day while encased in silence, left alone by ghosts and ignored by the Buffy who had once lived in his head. Over two hundred years, likely bordering on three, and he hadn’t forgotten. His mind, if anything, was quicker now than it had been a century earlier. He didn’t know why or how that worked; the last day had been bloody hard on him, but his resolve strengthened with each hour. At one point, he’d been in true danger of losing his name—losing himself—but he hadn’t. He’d had Buffy to speak with—Buffy to get him through the cold.
The ghosts could ignore him, and he’d remember. They could haunt him, and he’d remember. Perhaps his mind was becoming quicker again with age—it had failed him most profusely during the second day; perhaps he was maturing again. Growing up and finding himself in his prison. He didn’t know.
And while he still lacked memories, he knew the only thing he really needed in order to survive.
He knew his name and he knew Buffy’s. He knew Buffy waited at the end of the tunnel. The phantoms were insignificant; they were just voices, just personalities. There were some he recognized and more he didn’t, and none of them mattered.
It was for this reason, he suspected, that the phantoms’ silence came to an end. They realized there was nothing they could do, or not do, in order to make him forget. And they were getting desperate.
Therefore when they spoke again, they didn’t shut up.
“Ugh. If possible, you look even grosser than before.”
Had he been able, Spike would have rolled his eyes. He didn’t remember who owned this voice, but he assumed it was someone he’d known before, even if he couldn’t fathom wherefore or why.
“Like, way gross. Your little…slayer or whatever’s gonna flip her lid when she sees you, and not in the good way. Bleh.” She sighed, her voice migrating to the left. “You used to be something, Spikey. Remember that? We had, like, loads of fun. There was the time you tried to kill me, remember? And all the sex. We had tons of sex, and it was good. Do you even remember sex? If you do, you really can’t tell me you like this more. This. It’s all…dark and creepy, and you’re all kinds of nasty.”
A ghost of a smile drifted across Spike’s lipless mouth. They were getting desperate. He felt it. There was no other explanation. They had dropped the attack on his memory and were instead appealing to his vanity. Letting him know how terrible he looked, how time had worn away at his body, how even freedom wouldn’t mean anything. How his wretched legs wouldn’t support him and his useless body would fall away within the first step to Buffy.
He wouldn’t worry about that now. He wouldn’t give Larry or his cronies the satisfaction.
Not when he was so close.
Spike hadn’t seen anything in or outside his mind for at least fifty years, save Buffy’s face. Buffy’s face, which never spoke to him anymore. Buffy’s face, which kept him satisfied while the rest of him starved. Buffy’s face, which warmed away the chill surrounding him.
So it stunned him out of his proverbial skin when he heard her voice. He had drifted within himself to avoid the blabbering ghosts, and when he did, she was there.
For the first time in years, she was there.
And perhaps, given how he’d longed to see her, his first response wasn’t the best.
“Where the bloody hell have you been?”
Buffy blinked in surprise, her brow furrowing. “Me? Where the hell have you been?”
“Right here! What? You think I popped off on holiday?” Spike shook his head hard, relief weighing his worn, broken body so strongly it would have knocked him down in any other terrain. “You left me. How could you leave me?”
“Well, I’m a part of you, buddy, so you can’t blame me,” she replied, her hands coming up. “I’ve been here. You just haven’t looked hard enough.”
He stared at her for a long, incredulous second before cracking. He hadn’t heard a sincere laugh in ages, and though his was born of frustration and disbelief, it was different from the mocking rhetoric lurking outside these protective walls. He’d be grateful to laugh were he not so aggravated.
“I haven’t looked hard enough, she says,” Spike murmured. “You have any idea what the last few years have been like? An’ you weren’t there! You left me—”
“I have so not left you,” she snapped, brilliant eyes flashing with ire. “I can’t leave you, you jackass. I’m a part of you. A part of you. How can I leave you when I am you?”
Spike’s arms flailed upwards. “How should I know?”
“Then don’t blame me! You think it’s been fun trying to get your attention this long just to be ignored?”
“I would never ignore you.”
“Stop. Jus’ stop.”
Her eyes widened in protest. “Stop? You storm in here without so much as a hello or a smile and start reading me the Riot Act, and you’re telling me to stop?” She shook her head, exhaling deeply. “I’ve been here, Spike. I’ve been waiting. You might not see me, but I’m always here. I can’t not be. I’m in you.”
A hefty pause settled between them, her wisdom feathering over him and filling him with appropriate shame. He couldn’t argue with her. There was no repudiating the truth, especially when he wasn’t truly angry. He really wasn’t. Not with Buffy—the real Buffy. He hadn’t been able to reach his imaginary Buffy because of his own shortcomings, not hers, and scolding her was a way to punish himself. It made sense, after all; Buffy was a manifestation he’d created to keep himself company, and when she wasn’t there he was irritated with himself. He’d been irritated for so long because it had once been easy, and he’d allowed it to become difficult.
“I know that,” Spike confessed softly, sighing. “I’ve just missed you, pet. I’ve missed you so much. I din’t think…these last few years…”
Tension rolled off her shoulders. Buffy glanced down and licked her lips. “I know,” she said. “I saw it. I tried to talk to you, I really did. But you never heard me.”
“I miss you.”
“No, you. The real you.” He shook his head and turned away, the stirring of long-dead tears prickling his eyes. It wasn’t real, of course. He couldn’t cry in the real world. His body was a dry, dead leaf in the real world. But here he could cry. Here, in his mind, he could taste his tears and remember what it was like to live. “The Buffy…I haven’t seen her in nearly three centuries. Heard her voice. Seen her face. I’ve been waitin’ here, an’ she’s…”
“Don’t think about that,” Buffy advised gently. “We still have to get through whatever’s left.”
“I can’t help but think about it,” he replied. “They…the wankers who visit, they keep reminding me how I look on the outside. How much I’ve wasted away an’ all. How can I get there if I’m so bloody—”
“You decided not to worry about that until you had to.”
He frowned. “How’d you know?”
Buffy arched a brow. “Again. Me equals you. You might not have been too chatty with me, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been listening. Plus, it’s kinda hard to hide things from, well, yourself.”
The corners of his mouth tugged upward. “Gonna have to get used to that,” he said. “When I see you again an’ you can’t read my mind.”
She smiled grimly. “No,” she replied kindly. “No, you won’t. Even if I have to remind you, you know I’m not real. If you didn’t I wouldn’t be reminding you at all. And it kills you, knowing this doesn’t exist. Knowing whatever we’ve said here…it isn’t real. None of it. I might never look at you out there the way I do in here.” Buffy spread her arms. “And hey, you’ve been really good at portraying me realistically. I’ve never said ‘I love you’ or any other thing you know isn’t true. You told me once I’m the girl, in here, that you want in reality. But the girl in reality is unpredictable. She might never—”
“I know that.”
“She might not even wanna listen.”
He shrugged. “An’ if she doesn’t, yeah, it’ll hurt…but I’ll manage. I’ll survive…I will. That doesn’ worry me. Just getting there does.”
“It doesn’t worry you?” Buffy arched a brow. “Spike, this is me you’re talking to…and about.”
He smiled softly. “You know me too well.”
“So you are worried.”
“You’re me, pet. You suss it out.” Spike sighed and shook his head. “What I want most of all is to have her, but I know that’s not gonna happen. But she…the way it was at the end, she looked at me differently. An’ even if she doesn’t love me, jus’ to be near her, welcome, is enough. It’ll hurt, yeah, but I didn’t get into this to win her heart. She’s all that matters. Getting her out is all that matters. This has never been about me. Might not remember a lick, but I do know myself well enough to know my plans always fall apart. Bloody always…an’ that’s because they were for me. This is for her, an’ it’s the one thing I’m not gonna let fall apart. I care what happens after, yeah, but not enough to let it worry me. This is for her. It always has been.”
She looked at him just the way he remembered: with warmth and understanding, kindness and caring. The way it had been in the end.
Perhaps they were closer to the end than even he knew.
“What, exactly, have you done that’s ever been worthwhile?”
Spike stirred but didn’t respond. He’d felt his heart sink the second cold air brushed against his black, rotted bones, stirring him from his subconscious and into his bleak reality. Into the place where ghosts of his former life mocked what they couldn’t see and pushed harder by the day to get him to cave. It was an act of desperation if he ever saw one. Every possible piece of artillery was aimed and ready to strike; he just had to make sure they continued to miss.
“I mean it, William,” the phantom continued, her voice twisted with a sense of patrician entitlement he’d learned long ago to despise. This was another woman he didn’t remember, but knew must have been important at one point or another in his life above. She was snobbish and judgmental, and her voice grated into him with ruthless efficiency—a bad tick that wouldn’t go away. Whoever she was, he must have hated her to the core.
Again, she sighed and went on, “What have you done? You aspired to be so much once. A poet, though Lord knows how that turned out. A professor, a man of honor. Do you remember that, William? Do you remember when you thought you would conquer the world with academics and flowery words of beauty? You were once controlled by action and thought…now look at you.” Disgust seized her tone and twisted; it was something to which he was accustomed. The visits from the others often reflected the same. “You’re nothing. You’ve become absolutely nothing. Not a whisper. Not a peep. You just hang there while the world passes above you. In three hundred years, other men have conquered empires. Entire eras have come and gone, civilizations rising and falling again. And what do you do? You hang and wait. You rot. You decay. And you think it will matter, don’t you? You really think this matters.”
She wanted an answer he wouldn’t give. It was time to stop playing their game, time to stop speaking to them at all.
He would ignore them, now. Ignore them until the end.
It couldn’t be too much longer.
One day he awoke, and everything changed.
“Look at me.”
He wasn’t asleep. He couldn’t look anywhere. His eyes didn’t work anymore.
The demand came again. “Look at me.”
A crushing sigh rushed though the vampire’s frail body, his head trying to lift for the first time in over a hundred years. He’d forgotten how quickly fresh pain could shoot through his limbs, tackling the hurts of yesteryear and stirring them to consciousness with a swiftness that would put the Romans to shame. Hunger had been present always, giving way to starvation, but over the last few years, he hadn’t felt it as vividly as he once had. His senses were dulled, his nerves and cells all but dead, and it was impossible for the dead to feel anything physical.
He felt it now. Hunger arose from the ashes, an irritated sleeping beast. It seized his every remaining fiber and demanded something for being disturbed. Spike remembered thinking, long ago, that hunger never died; he hadn’t been wrong entirely, but he likewise hadn’t appreciated the quiet after hunger retreated to hibernate. It was always there—had always been there—it just hadn’t made as much noise as it did now.
“Look at me,” the voice said again.
Spike hadn’t the strength to open his eyes. He didn’t even know if he had eyes anymore.
“Look at me.”
And suddenly, without knowing how or why, it became easy. His eyes fought open against the vibrant agony running through his long-latent body, and he saw for the first time in years. It took a few minutes to adjust—for the blurs to manifest and take shape, for the sensitivity of disuse to fall away. It should have taken forever but it did not; everything was clear in a proverbial blink. Everything.
Hope and relief were dangerous things. Spike had learned long ago not to showcase them.
“I want you to see something,” Larry said. Then, without awaiting anything, he brought his hands together and pulled apart a space of staticy fuzz. It was bright and offensive, yet triggered a memory Spike couldn’t ignore. Television. It was a television without a box, tubes, or anything save the images telegraphed. A small formless screen set between the demon’s palms.
There were people. Larry was showing him people. People he recognized from a distant dream. People he might know in a different life. People who were sitting around a table, and talking about him.
“It’s been three days,” one of them was saying. A male with dark hair, youngish from the looks of it. “I say we saddle up and head on in.”
A redhead seated at the head of the table heaved an exasperated sigh. “Xander—”
“No, I’m tired of talking about this. Three days is like, what, a bajillion years in this place?” He turned to the older man sitting opposite him, anxiousness wiring his body. “You remember what you said when Angel came back from Hell, right? It was probably thousands of years for him. If time moves so much faster, why isn’t he back yet?”
The man looked half dead, though mostly from worry. “We can’t know what’s happening, Xander. We haven’t given him enough time.”
“All I’m saying is, if we keep waiting for Spike, we might never get Buffy back.”
“We don’t have a lot of options,” another voice said. Another girl, blonde, who was seated next to the redhead. “Getting Buffy back was more important to Spike than anything. If he failed—”
“How do we know that?” the one called Xander demanded. “I know…I mean, I know he…had feelings. Some of them, yes, might have been of the love variety. He was definitely the most mellow, chipped vamp we ever knew. But for all we know, he got there, saw what a bitch it was going to be, and, I dunno, went back to Plan A of torturing Dru to love him again.”
The redhead looked deeply troubled. “I don’t think so.”
“How do we know?”
“We have to have faith,” the older man said. “Spike is…he wasn’t my first choice, but he was our only one. And, like Tara said, he cares about Buffy. We know he cares about Buffy…”
“Enough to withstand Hell?” Xander asked. “It’s been three days. How long is that where she is, Giles? He should have been back by now.”
Silence settled over the table, accented with uncomfortable glances and uncertain fidgeting. It took a few seconds for anyone to find a voice.
“We’ll give them one more day,” the older man said. “One more day, and then we’ll look at our options.”
“Giles!” the redhead protested.
“We can’t put him on a time-table,” the blonde agreed.
“We also can’t afford to play fast and loose with Buffy’s life,” Xander retorted. “We have to do everything. Let’s face it; we don’t know what Spike’s doing. The only thing we know is he’s taking forever, and Buffy’s the one suffering for it.”
The screen disappeared without warning, leaving Spike’s tender eyes drifting through wide spots of color and disfigured formations until darkness settled in once more, and he was able to tell Larry apart from the shadows behind him.
“They’ve given up on you,” the demon said. “Just three days, and they’ve decided you’re yesterday’s news. They don’t care what you’ve done or sacrificed. They don’t care anything about you getting where they can’t. You really want to keep fighting for this? For one of them? They don’t have the stones to fight for you…why on earth should you keep going?”
Spike just stared at him.
“You can’t tell me you aren’t bothered,” Larry egged.
Can’t be bothered when I’m not surprised.
That wasn’t entirely true, but it changed nothing. Nothing. Larry could show him whatever he liked and Spike would remain unmoved. He’d made it. Nothing could distract him from the knowledge that he’d made it. Larry only visited at the end of the century, and it had been three days. Three days—three hundred years. It was over, now. This endless torment was over.
Relief would have washed him away if it had form.
It was over.
Larry sighed, arms falling to his sides. “Well,” he said, “you did it. Three days. I really wasn’t expecting it. You—you were a surprise no one saw coming. I mean, yeah, you gave me warning enough, but I…I didn’t listen. And here we are. You made it through. Way to go.”
Not a word was sincere. Spike didn’t care.
That’s nice. Let me go.
“You still have to get there, you know. Out of here. Out of the tunnel. We ain’t gonna carry you.”
Fine. Let me go.
“And even then, getting in’s nothing compared to getting out.”
Let me go.
Larry sighed again. “All right. Let’s get this over with. What’s your name?”
There was no hesitation. His jaw had been locked shut for centuries, but found the strength to fall open. Likewise, his raw, dry throat scratched like plank wood, and his hoarse voice, which had not tasted the air in centuries, managed to utter a single word.
“And why are you here?”
The guardian stepped back, waving a hand. “You’ll never make it out alive,” he quipped.
Then nothing mattered. Nothing at all. The binds that had kept him prisoner for three hundred years loosened until they were no more, and then his broken body was falling hard and fast to the ground.
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