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 13

He fell forever.

There was a part of him that had forgotten color. He’d been relegated to darkness and shadow for so long that color itself seemed an abstract concept. He saw it when he retreated inward but never when he turned to reality. When his eyes had sealed shut he’d been left with but the memory of something brighter than the Hell he’d entered. Now he was falling in a sea of color. Yellows, oranges, and reds, swirling around him, cushioning and engulfing him completely until the ground was in sight.

Spike didn’t remember the ground being so red.

Then the scent hit him. A scent so rich, so delectable, so achingly wonderful he wanted to cry. It was fresh, delicious, and overwhelming. Every nerve in his body sparked to life, his fangs descending and sending shock-waves of pain through his weakened gums. Blood. Blood. He saw it now; saw it clearly. A river of blood. A long, winding river of blood.

His body smacked the surface so hard it would have knocked the remaining life out of him had it not birthed a surge of new energy. Spike’s mouth fell open, nearly weeping when blood poured in. Blood. He knew he should fight, knew he needed to examine where it came from, but Christ, he was so tired of fighting. His weakened stomach couldn’t survive another day without food. He barely had the strength to open his eyes; fighting his instincts wasn’t an option. Not now. Not anymore.

So he drank. Spike drank. Blood filled his mouth and trickled down his long-neglected throat, pouring into his stomach with such fiery rapidity he had to pace himself before his body locked up in alarm.

He’d lost himself in a sea of blood, and he couldn’t stop drinking.

Gasping, his eyes turned to the skyline. A hazy curtain of yellow, accented with rolling, pregnant storm clouds and a few rumbles of thunder. He kept himself afloat, eager tongue lapping at the waves of blood that crashed against his mouth, mind lost to worry. This wasn’t an offering of food; nothing like the red-rimmed glasses Larry had tried to give him over the past three centuries. Blood was already here—already lining the perimeters of a newborn world, and Spike had simply tumbled into it.

His long-useless limbs fought at first—muscles infused with energy so potent he thought he might explode. Spike shook his head, forcing his arms to stroke their way to the shoreline. Images in the distance were still fuzzy and his red-drenched eyes weren’t helping any, no matter how good it felt.

Bathed in blood. Every vampire’s fantasy was suddenly his reality.

The river’s flow threatened to tug him in again; Spike struggled his way to dry land, drenched head-to-toe, caked with red and uncaring. Streams of crimson rolled down his arms, dripped off his lips, seeped from his hair, and the feeling was so great he could barely keep himself from diving back in. As it was, his stomach had not yet filled to capacity, thus he’d barely made it three feet onto solid ground before turning back swiftly for more.

Spike collapsed at the shoreline, diving face-first into the waves of red that splashed against his knees. God, it tasted so good. So good. He could feast forever and never tire. Flavor exploded in his mouth. He’d forgotten this—forgotten how rich it was, how warm it was, how it fired his cells and left his nerves alive. He’d forgotten what it was like to have his stomach ache—to feel too full after a good meal. Therefore, when his abdomen began to cramp, he didn’t know how to interpret it. The only pain he knew as a constant anymore was hunger, so he kept feeding it. Kept eating. He could eat forever.

“God,” he groaned, pressing a blood-drenched hand to his belly even as his mouth kept devouring. “Oh God…”

It became too much too soon. Spike’s eyes went wide as a dull alarm in the back of his mind began blaring, his feet sloshing through the red mud at the riverbank in a hurried trek away from temptation. It took a second longer for the sensation to register, and by the time it did, he’d vomited all over himself.

“Christ,” he murmured, wincing and fingering his t-shirt. “That’s perfect.”

With his eyes clearing at long last, Spike turned to view the distance he’d fallen. It was minimal at best, but might as well have been forever. The opening to the cavern stood at the other end of the blood river’s bank, a rocky mountain that stretched for miles in the opposite direction, a small opening in its middle. It didn’t encompass the entire river, rather stood as an odd pseudo-natural development where Spike had tumbled into the dimension. Perhaps it was there only because he’d made it through the trials—he didn’t know. All he knew was, when the time came, that was the way out.

It would be a hard mountain to miss.

Spike sighed, pivoting to view the sickly yellow sky. His stomach rumbled again, but not enough to turn his attention back to the river. The river, he gathered, wasn’t going anywhere.

The river was a part of Buffy’s Hell.

Buffy’s Hell…

Spike turned his eyes upward again, gaze directed at the horizon, to the faint yellow sky with its ominous clouds, and the still-blurry shapes in the distance. It was unlike anything he’d imagined—so far removed from the renderings of the endless nightmare Willow had suggested so long ago. A place where Buffy’s fears lived and tortured her, without mercy or pity. No, the shapes weren’t monsters…

They were buildings.

Frowning, Spike turned to glance wistfully at the river. There would be blood here. Buffy’s Hell…human blood. Her savior complex notwithstanding, blood was what tied her to the earth. Blood of the people for whom she fought, and the lost blood of those she couldn’t save. Perhaps he was oversimplifying it—perhaps it wasn’t that complicated. But he understood the blood. A river around her prison would keep her locked inside herself.

Perhaps it was the blood that helped piece his mind together. Blood working its way through his body and repairing three centuries’ worth of damage He remembered suddenly waking after the trial by holy water, refreshed and renewed, made whole again despite what he’d suffered. His skin hadn’t melted and his muscles hadn’t fried. The third trial, despite how it had rendered him, had left him physically unchanged. The only thing that had been denied was blood, and he had that now.

He had blood and intelligibility. The shapes in the distance were buildings, and a river of Buffy’s people—those for whom she’d jumped—flowed behind him.

It was unlike anything he’d ever dreamt. And Buffy was there. Somewhere in the landscape ahead was where she lived.

Where she’d lived for a thousand years.

“Buffy,” Spike murmured, stumbling over his feet. “Buffy!”

The scene didn’t change, didn’t waver, the closer he grew. The more steps he put between himself and the river, the more twisted the new reality became, the more hardened and bewildering. He remembered sitting in the Summers’ living room or at the dining room table, talking with the others—the others whose faces he suddenly recognized with outstanding precision. As though truly nothing more than three days had passed since he’d dodged a goodbye hug from Willow and told Giles his prized duster belonged to Dawn should Spike not make it home. Things that the distance of time should have made lost forever came tumbling back.

Things like what to expect in Buffy’s Hell. Her worst fears—the sort of things she would imagine Hell to be. The sort of world she would create.

A city—a broken skyline encircled by a river of blood. The sky was yellow, sickly, and there were buildings; buildings without sound or life…an entire city with no life. The closer he drew, the more certain Spike became. He remembered this scene; he’d walked the abandoned streets of Paris after the Germans pelted the city with bombs. It hadn’t looked like this, but it had damn sure felt the same. Smoke and soot pillaring upward…he and Dru had camped out in an empty hospital, snacking on the dead and dying and waiting for a clear chance to leave before Armageddon came crashing down.

There was no soot or smoke in this place. No dying to feast upon. No people of any kind.

There was no life whatsoever.

It felt wrong to taint the air with sound, but the silence was offensive. And after three hundred years, he couldn’t keep quiet.

“Buffy!”

Spike stilled and listened. The call rolled down the empty streets, but didn’t elicit a response. There was nothing. Nothing at all.

A world full of hollow places.

And still, he couldn’t stop trying. He wouldn’t.

She was here somewhere—she bloody well had to be. And he would find her.

*~*~*



He never saw them. He heard them…heard faint, wordless whispers. They trailed him wherever he went, followed him around every turn. Whispers without form—he knew there was no voice behind them. No shadows to answer, no people to claim words that were never spoken. Just as the buildings lining the streets bore no distinction. They were nondescript structures with doors and windows, but nothing to separate one from the other. Voices without owners, buildings without reason. A vast space without civilization.

Buffy’s worst fears…

God, he was such an idiot. They’d all been idiots. The lot of them—sitting around the table and chatting up fears like they were a dime a dozen, like Buffy could be nailed to one certainty versus another. Her greatest fear would be the one to solidify Hell, and he, more than anyone, should have seen it. The greatest fear. A fear they shared, though not to the same extremes.

Buffy had been alone for a thousand years. She’d lived here, in this abandoned city without street signs or identifiable buildings, in a place where whispers followed her steps without providing a face. There were no phantoms, no ghosts, no torture to her body. This was torture on a different level.

Larry wouldn’t send his goons to visit. Silence was the greater foe.

Silence. Abandonment. How long had Buffy waited for rescue, knowing her friends were trying their damndest to find her? She had to know they were looking. She had to know they wouldn’t give up. It was what they did—Buffy and her chums, like the do-gooders they were. They didn’t give up, and they hadn’t given up. They had labored to find a way into her Hell, and they’d sent the one person who could survive the trials to retrieve her.

They just hadn’t realized how long her days were. How waiting even seconds could cost her everything.

Spike braced his mouth with his hands and shouted her name. His cries fell to the whispers and died down an alleyway. There was no response.

She was here. She was somewhere in this place—in the place she had lived.

“Good God,” Spike murmured, shaking his head. His eyes dropped to his blood-soaked t-shirt. He couldn’t approach Buffy like this. The first sight she had of another person—vampire or not—couldn’t be a snapshot out of a Wes Craven flick. With a sigh, he aimed his feet to the left, knowing it was a bloody long shot but figured there was no harm in seeing if there was a facility in which to clean up.

“No showers in Hell,” he mused quietly, pushing his way through the door of a building he picked at random. The inside didn’t reveal any surprises. The floor was scattered with an assortment of boxes and trash, a few pieces of furniture, but nothing he wouldn’t have expected. It gave the feel that, at any time, someone else could come wandering across the threshold to resume picking up a mess, or packing belongings into crates.

It provided the allusion that perhaps one wasn’t alone.

“Don’t suppose there’s anyone in here?” Spike asked, crooking his head around a corner. Silence answered him. The odds of finding Buffy so quickly were against him, especially in a place like this.

He sighed and tugged his t-shirt over his head, moving toward a staircase plotted in the back next to a rust-stained kitchen. A bloody kitchen. And yet, the place didn’t look like a home. It didn’t look like anything—a warehouse, perhaps, if he had to apply a label. But there was a kitchen, which provided the hope that there might be a shower.

These things would make the world seem a bit more normal while simultaneously enforcing a devastating sense of isolation. In the early days, it would be enough, undoubtedly, to drive anyone mad.

A shiver raced down his spine. He paused at the head of the stairs, nostrils flaring for any lingering scent, and while a woman’s fragrance was present, it was faint enough to suggest years had passed since Buffy had stepped inside this place.

“All right, Spike,” he murmured, turning his hands to his belt buckle. “Let’s make this quick.”

He found a bedroom three doors down, complete with a bed, a dresser, and a doorway leading to a bathroom. The comforter was twisted and nondescript articles of clothing littered the floor, along with a few stuffed animals with missing eyes or white cotton seeping from a rip in the seam.

It was haunting in how normal it was—how normal it could be.

How he was still very much a traveler in a strange land.

The bathroom was in much the same state. A few scattered staples but nothing more. Spike kicked off his shoes, stripping away the last shred of fabric. Red caked his hands and face, soaked his hair, and…

He paused and frowned, his head shooting up, meeting the eyes of his mirror’s reflection.

His mirror’s reflection.

“Bloody hell,” Spike murmured. “That’s not natural.”

No, it wasn’t. His memory might be a little fuzzy when it came to fine details, but he was bloody certain he hadn’t seen himself in anything but photographs and video since running into Dru so long ago. But here he was, standing in Hell, in a loo in Hell, and he had a reflection.

He looked…different. And the same. The last time Spike had seen himself, he’d stuffed a twenty in Dawn’s hand and instructed her to take a few candid shots of his head so he could see where his bleach was fading. Now he was…well, he didn’t know. The few times over the last three hundred years that he’d had the strength to hazard a glance at his body, he’d seen a twist of black, rotting muscles around bone so fragile it would likely break under a hard stare. He wasn’t that man anymore, but the fatigue and stress of the last trial had left an impression in his skin. He was thinner than he ever remembered being—never before had he been able to trace his ribs with his fingers, and it wasn’t a look he liked. Likewise, his hair had lost its color, dipped with red, flaked with chips of platinum, but his chestnut locks were back. He’d buried his hair under bleach for so long; he’d forgotten what he looked like without it.

It wasn’t bad…it wasn’t anything, really, aside from different.

And he wasn’t sure if different would benefit him.

Spike sighed and shook his head, turning to the shower. There would be plenty of time to worry over cosmetics later. Right now, he had to focus on scrubbing his skin clean so he didn’t scare Buffy out of hers.

Though there was no bloody chance the water would run. Hell didn’t strike him as a place that featured indoor plumbing.

But somehow, it did. And Spike wouldn’t question it.

Buffy’s Hell was a different breed. She’d made it as normal as she could while maintaining its landscape to that of a nightmare.

A place where no one else lived, but the world existed.

*~*~*



Spike had forgotten what cleanliness felt like, much like he’d forgotten how a different set of clothes could make a world of difference. The piles of clothing scattered across the bedroom floor provided a nice selection; after exchanging his blood-saturated jeans and tee for a different pair of jeans and a green long-sleeved cotton shirt, he again took to the ghostly streets under the angry yellow sky, darkening with what he could only assume was dusk. There was no sun, therefore no fear of death by its light, though the rules governing Hell were at odds with those with which he was so accustomed. He could see himself in mirrors here. Perhaps the sun wouldn’t kill him. Perhaps nothing would.

Whispers nipped at his heels. Whispers followed him wherever he went.

He couldn’t let them get to him. He had to focus on what was important.

He had to focus on Buffy.

“Buffy!”

The cry reverberated emptily along the outer walls of a dozen vacant buildings, over the barren street and drowned out the whispers that trailed him if only for a few seconds. And nothing. Nothing at all.

Would Buffy be able to distinguish his voice from the whispers? Did she even remember what words sounded like?

He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know.

“Buffy!” he screamed again, again receiving no answer.

Whispers at every turn. Whispers…whispers…

Then a different scent hit the air. A manifestation of grime and sweat, and other things he didn’t wish to consider. Whatever it was, it was alive, and it was near.

Incredibly near.

Spike drew in a deep breath and took off. “Buffy!” he yelled. “Buffy, it’s Spike. It’s Spike. I’m here to…I’m jus’ here. Buffy?”

This time there was a response; a deep, guttural response. Not human. Alive, but not human. Not Buffy.

Not Buffy, but something.

Something.

“Hey!” Spike screamed, turning another corner. There was no way he’d get an answer but he couldn’t help himself. It was the first living entity he’d smelled or heard in eons and it, whatever it was, was slipping away. “Hey!”

And then there were a thousand things; the constant whispers, growls rumbling from whatever creature lingered ahead, and now footsteps from behind.

Footsteps or hoof steps…he couldn’t tell the difference. Spike whirled around; if he didn’t know better, he would have sworn his heart thumped against his chest. And yet there was nothing there. Footsteps with no one behind them. He heard them clearly, heard rustling through the debris and against the pavement, but no face to match.

He couldn’t just be hearing things.

Only of course he could.

“Buffy?”

Nothing. And then the growl reemerged, and he was running again. Running after a creature he couldn’t see while dodging footsteps from feet with no owner.

He screamed without realizing it, her name leaping from his lips. A prayer. A mantra. Something he remembered when he didn’t remember anything at all. He was so close—he was so close, but he couldn’t find her. He raced through the empty streets of a city that had no civilians, following the sound and scents of a creature that might not exist, and Buffy was nowhere to be found.

This was her Hell and he couldn’t find her.

“Buffy! It’s Spike. Spike, remember me? Come out here so you can kick my ass for somethin’…I don’t know, jus’…it’s Spike!”

Nothing.

“Buffy!”

Nothing. Footsteps, growls, and whispers. And he realized something he couldn’t have known before.

He was being hunted.

Spike whirled around again, trying to pick up a scent. The heavy, lingering odor of whatever he was chasing tickled his nostrils, but nothing else. And then footsteps…more footsteps—quick and methodical, shadows dancing behind shadows before he could catch a glance. Someone was watching him.

Someone. Something.

He didn’t know.

“Hello?” Spike ventured. “Buffy?”

Something rustled behind him. He pivoted swiftly on his heels, but the scene hadn’t changed.

Nothing had changed.

And then the air ripped apart—a high whistle of something being hurled at superhuman speed. It pierced his shoulder before he could turn again, throwing him hard to the ground. Pain split his insides apart but he barely felt a thing. He couldn’t think about pain when he knew who was behind him. The only person who could launch a weapon like that and hit its target.

It happened. When he turned over and looked up, his eyes clashed with hers.

And the world fell away.

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