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.
It had been three hundred years. Three hundred long, cold, lost years. Three hundred years during which his arms hadn’t moved and his legs hadn’t walked. Generations ago, he had closed his eyes without thinking of when he might see again, and his mouth had remained shut even longer. There had been times he didn’t think tomorrow would ever come—that his life, his whole existence, would be summarized in his tragically anticlimactic end. If not for the constant thought of a girl he would not have survived.
He wouldn’t have made it this far.
Spike moaned, bleary eyes blinking open without struggle. He saw. For the first time in three centuries, he saw the dark, jagged cave walls of the hell he’d entered so long ago. It was all familiar. All known. It was his domain now, the only one he remembered. The path he’d embarked on and refused to surrender.
The path that would get him home, would get him to Buffy
Pain. He remembered pain.
There was pain in the flow of energy through his veins, his cells communicating, sharing, trying to energize his dead body with nothing but dust coating his stomach. His limbs had been numb for ages, and now he felt. He felt everything; every twist of agony, every inward jab, every sharp jerk. There had been many times during his incarceration when he’d wished to feel anything, even if it was pain. Pain, at the very least, made him feel alive.
Made him feel something other than what he was.
And now he could move. He could see, he could smell and he could breathe.
His stiff joints didn’t want to budge. Every flex of muscle had his body screaming.
Spike gasped, a harsh, raucous gasp that cracked against his chest. Warmth. The cold he’d felt so long had been chased away with the soft embrace of flesh. He had flesh. Soft, peach flesh stretched from fingers to toes. He’d forgotten how wonderful skin felt over bone. The cool air he’d felt against his lungs and stomach had vanished. And God, it was wonderful. So fucking wonderful. He’d never felt anything like this—nothing in the world could hope to compare. He had form. He’d been without it for centuries, but when he opened his eyes, he had form. He wasn’t a twisted piece of rot anymore. He’d been made whole.
It didn’t make sense. None of this made sense. He remembered very clearly being told what would happen to him after the trials were over—remembered worrying about the day he’d walk free and his ability to get from his prison to the mouth of Buffy’s hell. But he was whole once more—a man once more. The clothes of which he’d been deprived had likewise returned. His body was mapped with skin, his head was again covered with hair, and he was clothed.
He’d been restored…except for the ache in his stomach. The bottomless hole chewing through his insides was going to render him completely useless if he didn’t get food. Food… God, he hadn’t thought of food with any sort of hope or genuine craving in so long. It had been off-limits; even thinking of blood during his incarceration was enough to spark a surge of desperation deep enough to forgo the mission. But now he could think of blood. Dream of blood. Crave it.
Another day without sustenance would surely kill him. He had the body of a vampire that had been held without food for three days, but the mentality of one who knew the truth. Who knew he’d been without it for centuries. And he needed blood. He needed blood so badly.
Spike swallowed hard and lifted himself onto shaking arms. “Buffy,” he gasped, turning his newborn eyes to the pathway ahead. He had to keep focus on what was important. What had brought him here.
The tunnel had been his white bloody whale, but he wouldn’t let it destroy him.
“It’s a long way down,” a voice cautioned. A voice Spike knew as surely as his own.
The stupid git wouldn’t leave him alone for anything.
“Well, well,” Larry continued, “look who learned to use his words.”
Spike’s jaw tightened and the rest of him hardened with resolve. “If you’re not gonna help,” he gritted through his teeth, fighting back a wince at how the words scratched his throat, “then leave me the hell alone.”
The guardian snickered. “The hell alone,” he cracked. “I get it.”
A long, harsh breath shook the vampire’s crippled insides. “Leave,” he rasped, dragging himself a few inches forward with a gust of borrowed energy. “Jus’…leave.”
Larry shook his head and placed a claw over his chest. “Dude,” he drawled, “that really hurts. After all we’ve been through.”
“You really think you’re gonna get there like this?” the guardian asked pointedly. “Look at you, man. You can barely hold your head up. How do you expect to rescue your ladylove from Hell when you can barely rescue yourself?”
Spike tried to glance up but decided it wasn’t worth the effort; he would have laughed had he the strength. Three hundred years he’d waited for freedom—a little distance wouldn’t kill him. He’d existed without flesh or blood, without anything but the hope of the woman waiting for him. Compared to what he’d been asked to survive, the rest was a bloody cakewalk.
“I’ll…worry about…it when I…get there.”
“Yeah,” Larry agreed. “That’s been your motto all along, hasn’t it? No one was prepared for you. You warned us…warned me, sure, but I could’ve sworn you were just crying wolf. And though I am way impressed, I gotta say, overall, not too happy.”
Spike’s fingers grasped the ridges in the ground, leveraging his weight the best he could as his worn body edged forward another few inches. His weak eyes couldn’t see much beyond a few feet in front of him, and he wouldn’t wager the scene would change anytime soon. Nothing but shadows and stone. Rock scratched against his belly, digging into skin and introducing him to pain he’d all but forgotten.
It had been ages since he’d had flesh to cut.
“It’s gonna be a long night,” Larry predicted.
Most likely; Spike didn’t care.
Time didn’t matter anymore. Not when he was so close.
Spike’s eyes fought open, frail lungs inhaling a deep breath of dusty air. He’d fallen asleep. He didn’t remember resting his head against the ground or allowing his eyes to rest. But he was awake now—awake and alone.
And he remembered.
There were faces he hadn’t seen in centuries. People whose names he’d lost on the wayside of time. He remembered them, now. The windows in his mind were aligning, shining light on shadow-cast corners. Giles, Willow, Xander, Tara, Anya, and Dawn. Dawn. He remembered Dawn. He remembered all of them. He remembered.
Spike gasped, his hand straining forward to anchor himself on something solid. They weren’t going to wait. They’d trusted him, treated him like one of them, patted him on the back, embraced him…and they weren’t going to wait. Barely seventy-two hours had passed for them—had elapsed since Giles and Willow sent him off. They had treated him like one of their own. He remembered it so clearly.
And Larry had shown him what became of that trust. They talked about storming the gates of Hell like it was a bloody game.
It hurt but he wasn’t surprised. He couldn’t be surprised. No matter what had occurred the last few days he was with them, they wouldn’t see him for what he was or what he offered. Willow and Tara had accepted him—he remembered that clearly. Remembered Anya’s startling defense of him at the dinner table an hour before he’d set off on his journey. He’d been so grateful, so astounded, but even if he hoped otherwise, a very real part of him had known it wouldn’t last. Tragedy often brought out the best in people, but it was a fleeting sensation. A quick glance at the way things ought to be rather than the way things were.
Three hundred years. He’d survived because he could. He was the only one who could.
He was so close. So fucking close. The end of the tunnel…it couldn’t be more than a few yards away. While he saw nothing but darkness, logic told him it only seemed endless because he hadn’t the strength to make the journey quick. How he managed to move at all on a stomach that had all but eaten itself to survive was beyond him, but he wouldn’t question it. He still had strength when he should not. He had the ability to move when he ought to be dust. His body had healed itself with power beyond his comprehension. He would make it. He would.
This wasn’t a trial. This was the passage he’d earned.
And he would make it.
Her fingers were in his hair, dancing over his scalp and sending small tingles down his spine. He loved it when she did this. When she came to him and favored his battered body with kindness and warmth—when she touched him like she cared. And he supposed she did care. She had in life. There, toward the end, she’d looked at him with compassion, and he’d carried her gaze with him when constructing her likeness in the seclusion of his mind.
The place where she’d kept him company these long, lonely years.
“You’re almost there,” she whispered, rubbing his crown tenderly. “You’re almost there, Spike.”
It took a long minute for the vampire to look up. “You’re here,” he murmured hoarsely.
Buffy smiled softly and nodded, cupping his cheek. “I came to say goodbye.”
“You’re almost there,” she said. “You’ve done so well, Spike. So incredibly well. You’ll make it soon.”
“My arms aren’ working.”
“An’ I can’t feel my legs.”
She nodded. “I know.”
A ripple of nostalgia rushed through him, and he offered a watery smile in spite of himself. “‘Cause you’re me. This is it, innit? You’re tellin’ me goodbye because…”
Buffy shrugged. “I’m not needed anymore.”
“Me. This me. You have what you need down there.” She nodded to the endless tunnel. There was no sadness in her eyes, no resentment or regret. And he understood as he’d always understood, but in ways he couldn’t appreciate until now.
During his imprisonment, despite her countless reminders, it had always helped to believe a part of her existed outside himself. It was improbable—impossible—but it had kept him from forgoing all hope, from giving up entirely. Buffy had saved him in his darkest hours without knowing it—she’d saved him with her memory, and the promise that was ahead. And while the conversations he’d had with her likeness remained precious to him, it was more for what they represented than what had been said.
He was close now. Close to the end, and his mind was reconnecting the dots separated so long ago. He didn’t know how or why, and he wasn’t going to question it. Spike understood this—he understood his need for the figment, just as he recognized he was not parting with Buffy by parting with the vision smiling into his eyes.
He couldn’t part with her, because she was a part of him. And she’d kept him alive.
“Take care of me,” Buffy said softly.
“I will,” Spike replied. “I will.”
“I don’t know what’s been going on…but it won’t be pretty. I won’t be pretty.”
“Bollocks. You’re always pretty.”
She rolled her vibrant eyes and shook her head. “Spike—”
“Gorgeous, point of fact. Oughta know, love…you were my light in the dark.” He smiled, muscles surging with renewed strength. “I can’t thank you enough for that. For stayin’ with me even…even through the rough parts.”
“You mean all of it?” she replied dryly.
Buffy pursed her lips and nodded, running her hand through his hair again. “She’ll need you whether she admits it or not,” she said. “Well, I really can’t imagine her denying she needs you, but you never know. She’s a bit stubborn…and I don’t know if any amount of time in Hell could change that.”
He grinned. “God, I hope not.”
“You sure you’re ready for this?”
Spike laughed harshly. “If I’m not, love, I bloody well don’ deserve to be here. I know it’s gonna be messy, but I love her. Through everything, everything, I love her more than I knew people could love.”
“And after everything you’ve been through…”
“I know. I’m pretty amazing.” He snickered and shook his head again. “Seems that was your line, once.”
“What’s mine is yours is mine is yours.” Buffy turned her eyes downward and exhaled softly, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. “You really still love me? Love her?”
“I would’ve waited until the end of the world for her.”
Spike looked at her a minute longer before allowing her to fade—the girl who’d been with him without ever being there. He’d said the same thing to himself so often. Whispered words of determination and dedication, all the while worrying his strength wouldn’t be enough. But the words weren’t empty, and they never had been. Once upon a time, even knowing his own capacity for love, Spike worried he wouldn’t have enough to offer. There was a fine distinction between words and action, and he had always been a man of words—a man of conviction. He’d known he would die for Buffy…he just didn’t know if he could live.
And he had. He’d lived.
It was just a little bit further.
A soft, yellow light spread across the cave floor. It was so faint, so distant, but it was the first light he’d seen in centuries and therefore nearly blinded him. Spike squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again. The light didn’t fade. The light was there, beckoning him, calling to him, whispering this was the end.
The light. The light at the end of the tunnel.
“God…” Spike gasped, summoning all his strength to lift himself onto his shaking arms. Tremors broke across his body, a hard, painful gasp slashing at his dead lungs. He wanted to collapse but he couldn’t. Not when he saw it.
Not when it was within reach.
And he moved. He moved fast. Ignoring his body’s pleas, ignoring his trembling muscles and numb legs, he moved fast. Moved despite limitations. Moved, moved, moved…
The light grew brighter, forms took shape. The nightmares he’d feared—the ones that had haunted her now for a thousand years. He couldn’t see them, couldn’t predict what lay ahead, but he kept moving. She was so close. She was there—there, and he was so close.
Her world, her hell, was just a few feet away.
Light chased shadow. The rock walls around him disappeared. And before he realized it, before it registered, the ground beneath his hands led to nothing and he was falling. Falling hard. Falling fast.
Falling out of the tunnels and into a new world—into a world where Buffy lived.
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