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.
She was beautiful. She was so beautiful. An angel in hell.
He’d forgotten so many things—things he swore he would never forget. Things he had thought impossible to forget. The way her hazel eyes, at times, burned green. The way her hair curled at the ends where it hung over her shoulders. The way she could peel away layers with a simple stare. She was beautiful—so beautiful. Her beauty struck him hard, numbed the pain in his shoulder and stirred him to tears.
There was nothing to do but stare for long, endless seconds. Captured in a moment three hundred years in the making. He’d promised himself this—he’d promised he’d make it here, make it far enough to experience the awesome power of this. It took forever to jerk his mind from a place of awe and wonder back to reality. She was real. The girl he’d fought to see again, suffered to touch again, the girl he’d seen only in his mind…she was real.
She was real.
A sob strangled his throat. Spike stumbled to his feet, his heart twisting when her eyes went wide with fear—when she jerked backward to regain the step between them. Her chest crashed with heavy breaths, her eyes like saucers, large and full of wonder. He tasted her fear and confusion, felt how hard her heart pounded and how quickly her blood raced. She was afraid. Buffy, the girl with a spine made of steel, was afraid.
And she didn’t know him.
Before he could even think of stopping himself, he’d reached for her, her name a desperate cry on his lips. “Buffy!”
A harsh gasp gripped her lungs. She shook her head hard, feet trailing backward.
“No,” he protested, hand closing around the spear in his shoulder and jerking it free with a hiss. “No. Buffy. It’s me. It’s Spike. Spike. Remember Spike?”
She gave no indication she understood. There was nothing in her of the girl who had jumped. This girl was hollow where Buffy was full of life, skittish where Buffy was steadfast, and timid where Buffy was lionhearted. An eternity alone could unmake the bravest of warriors…undo the strongest of men. And there was no one stronger than Buffy. No one stronger, and no one more human.
She’d been alone so long.
“God,” Spike gasped, taking slow, methodical steps forward, his hands up. “Buffy…it’s me. Fuck, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry…I should’ve been here sooner. I should’ve been here. I should’ve…”
Buffy shook her head again, her eyes welling with tears.
“Don’t run,” he pleaded softly. “Please don’t run.”
Asking made little difference. Without a sound, she whirled around and took off, hard and fast, in the other direction.
And Spike was hot on her heels.
He’d known there would be consequences, even if he hadn’t wanted to consider them. This stark reality was one, where he raced across the empty streets and through the winding alleyways, desperate to keep up with the colorful flash ahead of him. Seeing her again was the best and worst of all worlds. He’d known this was a possibility, feared its reality and hoped she would have the strength to fight the monstrosity of her own hell. But how could she, after waiting a thousand years for rescue that hadn’t come? How could he or anyone expect her to remember them when, in her world, she’d been alone and waiting longer than he or anyone could imagine?
She hadn’t had phantoms or captured memories with whom to speak. Chances were she hadn’t even known she was in any form of Hell. She might have pieced it together over time, but there was no way she would have understood it. After sacrificing everything—after martyring herself so her sister could live—the world had repaid her by sealing her in a world where she could not die, in a world of despair and isolation. In a world where she was utterly alone.
He should have seen this. He should have predicted she wouldn’t recognize him at all.
“Buffy!” Spike screamed, commanding his legs to pump faster. “‘m not gonna hurt you! Stop!”
If anything, the blur ahead became more distant, twisting around the corner and vanishing from sight.
Spike heaved a sigh, racing harder, faster, pushing beyond his body’s capabilities, his eyes focused and his heart trying desperately to ignore how quickly it could break. She hadn’t known him. A part of him had known she wouldn’t—he remembered all too well how his mind had begun to slip in the cave, and he’d known where he was and why he was there. He’d known this was a path he’d chosen deliberately, precisely for this cause. He’d hung in solitude for three centuries, allowing his body to waste away, to fade to nothing, all to see her face again. He’d done that, and he’d all but lost himself in the process.
Buffy hadn’t been given a manual before she jumped. She hadn’t known what waited at the other end of Glory’s tower. She couldn’t have imagined how giving her blood would damn her for eternity. There was no reason for her to remember him, especially after waiting so long for a savior.
How was she to tell him apart from the whispers that tickled the air? How was she to tell him apart from the growls of the beast he’d been tracking before she’d launched a spear through his shoulder? How was she to tell him apart from anything?
She couldn’t—and that was why she ran. Of the nothing in this world, he was an unknown element, and the most primitive instincts instructed fear of the unknown.
“Buffy!” Spike shouted again, nearly falling over as he sharply turned the corner around which she’d disappeared. “Buffy!”
The blur of motion returned. Running, hard and fast, its movements erratic. She was doing her best to lose him; he could feel her panic. Feel her fear. He felt everything, even at the distance that separated them. He felt it because he’d experienced it once upon a time—he’d felt pure panic. In the first minutes after awaking in his coffin, there had been nothing but terror—nothing but cold, dark, gripping fear.
Buffy had been living for centuries in a large coffin, and life, even in the form of a vampire, was terrifying.
She darted down an alleyway, and he was just yards behind her. She couldn’t run forever.
Slayer or not, eternal or not, she couldn’t run forever.
Not like a vampire.
To think he’d spent years trying to get her to fear him. The very embodiment of be careful what you wish for—right here in all its demonstrative glory.
Buffy feared him, and he couldn’t stand it.
The alley she’d led him down proved to be a dead-end, and even if his spirits leapt at having caught up with her, the state in which he found her in tore his heart to shreds. She was clawing at the brick wall at the end of the line, body jumping as fingers latched, searching desperately for a crook to leverage her weight, feet scuffling along the sides before gravity pulled her down again. She was so far from the woman he remembered, and it was devastating. He knew Buffy, the real Buffy, was somewhere buried in the shell of a girl who had been left behind.
This was his fault. He could have been here sooner—perhaps not soon enough to matter, but a hundred years was still a hundred years. If he’d gone immediately after learning how to storm the gates of Hell… If he’d taken off without waiting for Willow and Giles and the whole merry lot of them. If he’d gone…
If a thousand different things.
Though even as he broke, somewhere within himself, Spike knew better. There had been no other option. If he’d acted rashly, everything might have been lost. Without waiting he wouldn’t have heard the story of Brychantus. He wouldn’t have had the Rule of Three, and likely would have failed long ago.
But perhaps, perhaps, he wouldn’t have failed. Perhaps. And perhaps he would have been here to keep Buffy from losing herself.
Spike swallowed hard, his eyes misting again. He had to keep a level head. If he lost it, he would only frighten her more, and that was something he couldn’t afford to do.
“Buffy,” he said hoarsely, hands coming up again. She froze the second he spoke, every inch of her small body wrought with tension. “Buffy…it’s all right. It’s all right.”
Hard, shattering gasps rocked through her chest. She turned around swiftly, eyes clashing again with his before exploring the area behind him. She was contemplating another run, he knew, but he wouldn’t let her get far. He wouldn’t let her run again.
Not when he’d come so far to find her.
“It’s Spike,” he said again, patting his own chest to establish familiarity with the name. “Spike. I’m a…friend.” The word sounded wrong on his lips, but he had no other way of describing himself. “I’m your friend. I’ve come to take you home.”
Whether or not she heard a word was up in the air. Her eyes were still examining possible escape routes.
“Giles sent me,” Spike continued, hoping a name closer to her heart might stir some of the woman he knew to the surface. It didn’t. She favored him with a quick glance, but only to ensure he hadn’t come any closer. “Giles an’ Willow. You remember Willow, love?”
Still no response. Her attention had turned to her other surroundings. It was something else—watching her evaluate her options on such a rudimentary level, knowing her survival instincts were impeccable, deadly for anyone who dared intervene. He had to play this carefully, lest he find himself dust the second he reached his target.
There would be a bit of tragic irony. And neither of them would ever be free.
“How about Dawn?” Spike ventured, risking a step forward. Buffy’s eyes went wide and she pressed herself against the wall with a cry. He flinched but didn’t relent. “Or Xander? Joyce? Your mum, love, you remember her?”
No answer. Her heart thundered a mile a minute. She whimpered again when he took another step forward.
Spike swallowed again. He really didn’t want to play this card, but as sick as it made him, he knew if any of Buffy was left in her, there was one more name to mention—one more name which would guarantee a reaction.
Didn’t mean he had to like it.
“What,” he ventured slowly, hating himself, “about Angel?”
A long pause. Buffy just looked at him—and for a minute, he thought he might have seen a flicker of recognition; a flicker which quickly proved to be nothing but another gasp. There was nothing. He might as well have mentioned Bert and Ernie.
His heart fell.
“You don’t know me.” It was an obvious statement, but speaking was important now. For both of them. “Buffy…”
She shook her head again, shivering hard and sliding against the wall until she was secured in a corner where the building met brick. Her eyes fastened on him, large and round, and wholly terrified.
“You don’t know me,” Spike said again, releasing a deep breath. “’m Spike. William, if you like that better…God knows I don’t, but we can…it doesn’t matter. We were…I won’ lie to you, pet, I wasn’t your favorite person…but I love you. I love you more than I can even…an’ I’m here because you kept me alive. Because the world needs you, an’ I… God, I should’ve been here sooner. I should’ve been here before this happened. Before…” He broke off, shaking his head. “Let’s start from the beginning, yeah? You jumped. There was a tower, an’ you jumped. You jumped to save the world an’ you thought you were gonna die, but you didn’t. You ended up here. This isn’t home. This is Hell. You ended up in Hell. An’…” The words strangled his throat, but he had to keep talking—if not for her, then certainly for himself. “I don’t know why you’re here, but I’m with you now. You understand? I’m not going anywhere without you. Took me centuries to see you…to be here…an’ I’m not leaving. Not without you, sweetheart.”
While the fear hadn’t abandoned her eyes, there was a certain calm that couldn’t be denied. Tension rolled off her shoulders, and while she retained a healthy amount, she became relaxed enough to encourage him to keep talking.
“The Tower,” Spike continued, taking another step forward. “You stopped the end of the world, love. ‘Course, no small feat for you, is it? Bloody family event, the way things are up in ole Sunnyhell. An’ I was there. I saw it. I should’ve stopped it—I could’ve stopped it. If I’d been quicker, a bit more clever…I could’ve gotten there in time. Could’ve stopped the Doc from makin’ those cuts…from forcing you to a decision that…” He broke off again, tears assaulting his eyes. Strange how fresh that was…even after everything he’d been through. Even after the trials, after Larry’s taunts, after an entourage of ethereal visitors, determined to break him—determined to steal his name from his memory—the thought of Buffy leaping to what she thought was her death left him feeling cold and devastated. Left him with the horrid memory of what it was like walking a world that lacked her warmth.
“It’s all right,” he said softly, reining in his reactions. It wouldn’t bode well if he started sobbing in front of a girl who didn’t remember him. “It’s all right.”
She bit her lip uncertainly. It was better than nothing.
Spike exhaled deeply and took another step forward, flinching when she flinched. “You don’t remember me,” he said softly. “Might be just as well. I was never your favorite bloke. You were made to kill me, an’ I din’t make that easy…’course, I don’t know many who would, right?” Nervous laughter bubbled off his lips, then he frowned and shook his head. It shouldn’t be this difficult. “But it got us here…strangely, what happened even then. It got me here.”
There was no reaction. He sighed again and stepped forward, ignoring an inward pang when she flinched again and pressed herself further against the wall.
If he could just get close enough to touch her…
“Did I ever tell you what Dru told me all those years ago?” Spike continued, taking another step forward. “How I…how I realized I love you? It was after that truce. We had a truce, love, you remember? We teamed up, you an’ I, we saved the world.” A pause; he rolled his eyes at himself. “Right, of course, you saved the world. I got what I wanted an’ skipped out. But she knew, Dru did. She knew what I din’t. She knew I…” He broke off and cleared his throat. “When we got to Brazil, she wasn’t the same. She kept whisperin’ that I was covered in you. How you were all around me. I didn’t wanna listen, but she was right. God, she was so right. I came back to prove her wrong, see. I wanted to show her she was off her nutter—more than usual—an’ offer you as proof.”
Another step and another. Her scent tickled his nostrils…and despite the dirt on her face and the grime on her hands, despite the filth in her hair and the sweat on her skin, she smelled divine. She was here—¬here—he’d found her. She was alive. She was with him, after three hundred years of waiting, after three grueling trials, after a week’s despair of walking and living in a world without her, she was here. She smelled wonderful simply by existing—by being with him. She might be sweaty and dirty, she might be years away from her last shower, but Christ, it didn’t matter. He’d made it to her.
He’d made it.
“An’ I’m too late,” he whispered to himself, feet carrying him forward without permission from his brain. It seemed wrong not to hold her now. “It’ll be all right, Buffy. No matter what, you hear me? I know…God, I can’t imagine what it’s been like here. But things are gonna change. Your memories…I’m not going anywhere. Not without you, love. You’re my reason for everything. I know you don’t like the idea—never bloody did—but it’s what’s gonna get us outta here. I’ll do whatever it takes.”
His feet kept moving forward, determined mind not registering her widened eyes or the protective ball into which she’d curled herself. It wasn’t until she whimpered and threw her arms over her head that he realized what he was doing and came to a quick halt. “Sorry, sorry,” he said, his hands coming up, heart twisting. “I’m sorry, love. I din’t mean to…I jus’…Buffy?”
She was shivering so hard he could barely stand it.
He wanted to wait, wanted to give her time, but the need to touch her was overpowering. Spike drew in another deep breath and edged forward one step. “I’m jus’ gonna touch you,” he told her. “Jus’…I’ve waited three hundred years to touch you.”
He couldn’t wait for permission. The words themselves wore his body with fatigue, and when she was so close, when she needed someone even if she didn’t realize it, he couldn’t keep himself from her. With renewed vigor, Spike drew in a sharp breath and quickly covered the space between them. Buffy whimpered but didn’t attempt to flee again, just sat and waited.
Just waited. Passive. Buffy was never passive.
Spike knelt before her, tired eyes soaking her in. “I won’t hurt you,” he said softly, reaching for her. “I’d never hurt you, sweetheart.”
His fingers wove through her raven-colored hair, wincing when she gasped hard and ducked deeper into her arms. The first contact was enough to cripple any man. After so many years alone, yearning for this, yearning for her, he couldn’t help himself. He didn’t want to help himself. Not anymore.
Not when she was trembling so hard because she’d forgotten what it felt like to be touched.
To be loved.
An electric shock speared through his body the second his skin touched hers. It was warmth unlike anything he’d ever felt—fiery heat ripped through his veins, but he didn’t fry. Didn’t dust. In that second he kissed the sun and came back whole—a man touching the heavens in the face of Hell. For the first time, even briefly, he was at peace.
The shaking stopped and she looked at him, and the fear in her eyes wavered before fading entirely. Fading in favor of something he’d never before seen…not here. Not with Buffy. As though it took that moment—it took touching her, being touched, for the shaken girl to understand she wasn’t alone. That he wasn’t a monster constructed from her Hell…rather someone, something, that wouldn’t hurt.
She looked at him with awe and wonder.
“Buffy,” he whispered hoarsely.
And then Buffy gasped and burst into tears, barreling into his arms, wrapping herself around him. Her face pressed against his chest, her hands everywhere, her body broken and trembling. She clung to him and sobbed, and he held her. The world couldn’t pry her away.
Buffy was in his arms. She didn’t know him, she didn’t know herself, yet in that moment she was his. Entirely his.
In that moment they belonged to each other.
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