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 15

A thousand things went through his mind, but Spike retained none of them. He was only aware of the trembling girl in his arms; the way she shivered and clung to him, how her body wouldn't stop convulsing, even after her tears had dried and her sobs had subsided. His mind was blank—aware, thoroughly captivated, but blank. He was caught by the moment, and in so, made completely hers.

“It's all right,” he whispered, even though he knew it wasn't. “I'm here. Spike's got you. I’ve got you, Buffy.”

She jerked violently—enough to startle him, though he did not know at what. Reaction to her name, perhaps, though he'd said it several times now. At that moment, anything seemed possible.

“I'm sorry,” Spike said again, feeling every syllable. “I should've been here.”

Easy words to say. Easy sentiment to murmur. Yes, he should have been with her sooner. He should have jumped off the bloody tower and into her abyss, if only to catch her before she crashed. She might have hated him, resented being captured for all eternity with him at her side, but at least she wouldn't have been alone. Not after everything—not after all they'd been through together. At least, had he been at her side when she jumped, he would have saved her from solitude.

Buffy shook her head and pulled back, but only slightly. Her eyes danced across his face, questioning, before her hands began to wander…and every molecule in his body fell still. It had been so long since he'd been touched—so long. Not a hug or a handshake in three hundred fucking years, and now he was holding the woman he loved. Raw, angry emotion rolled through his chest and threatened to burst through his lips in relieved, thankful sobs of combined adulation and regret. He'd needed her to touch him, needed to feel her skin against his, and here she was. Centuries he'd waited, and Buffy's hands were on him. She explored with cautious curiosity, fingertips running along his chest, skimming his neck and inspiring trails of gooseflesh to follow in their wake.

“Oh God,” he murmured, eyes falling shut.

She didn't stop. Her fingers explored his cheeks, rubbed along his lips, briefly brushed over his brows before rolling over his nose and tugging his ears. Then she tunneled her way through his hair, massaging his scalp with such tenderness he nearly came apart. Her hands migrated southward, sliding down his arms and following them to the place where they were linked behind her. She explored his clasped fingers before her curiosity led her touch back up his arms until detouring to explore his abdomen. His stomach released an untimely growl the second she placed her hand against it, and when she jumped in surprise, he couldn't keep from smiling at her. His eyes fell open lazily just as her attention darted back to his face.

“Bit peckish is all,” Spike explained. “Ate a bit when I fell in, but tossed it up jus' as quick. Din't stay around for seconds—finding you was more important.”

Her brow furrowed, her eyes falling again to his stomach. Then, with childlike curiosity, she placed her hand on his belly again and waited for it to growl; when it did not, she looked up, gaze almost accusatory. A laugh tumbled through his throat before he could help himself.

“Doesn't do it on command, love.”

Buffy quirked her head, expression changing and her eyes falling again to his lips.

“Suppose you got nosh around here, don't you?” Spike mused, watching as her mouth fell open, mimicking the shape of the words he spoke. She didn't make a sound, just played shadow, and just as quickly the enchanting spell of her childlike innocence came crashing down.

She didn't remember a thing. Not a blessed thing.

“You forgot, didn't you?” he murmured. He'd known it the second he saw her, of course. He'd seen it, recognized it without knowing, and hoped against hope he was wrong. But he wasn't wrong—now, sitting here with Buffy in his lap, watching him the way she was, there was no hiding what he already knew.

“You forgot your name.”

Buffy met his eyes again, somber, as though she understood the significance of what he said. But she didn't. She couldn't.

She'd forgotten everything. In losing her name, she'd lost herself.

“Buffy,” he said. There was little chance it would work, but hell, a man had to try. “Buffy. Buffy Summers. Buffy Anne Summers. Buffy, Buffy, Buffy. Your name is Buffy.”

She frowned quizzically, her eyes falling again to his lips. He utilized the opportunity to say her name slower, knowing it was a long-shot but wondering still if it would come back to her if he could get her to say it. “Bu-ff-ee,” Spike sounded out. “Bu-ff-ee. Can you say that, sweetheart? Can you talk for me?”

Her eyes lingered on his mouth, her own resuming its game of mimicking the shapes it made.

But she didn't speak.

“Bu-ff-ee.” No response. Spike's hands seized her shoulders. “Buffy, Buffy, Buffy.”

There was nothing. Her eyes met his after a few minutes, almost apologetic. As though she could tell what he was trying to accomplish…and perhaps she could. There was a sad wisdom in her eyes, despite her candid behavior. The face of a woman who had tried everything in her power to remember…once upon a time.

A time far from now.

A long sigh rolled off Spike's shoulders. He glanced down, rubbing her arms. He had to speak—he had to keep his mind moving, keep words flowing, if only to counter the deathly silence that encompassed them. She'd lived in silence too long, and she wouldn't get it from him. “Don't think it works that way anyway, pet,” he said. “Though I'm hardly an expert. Spend a few days hanging around an' I make like bloody Dante. Guess he didn't have it too bad. They did steal one of his lines for their welcome mat.”

Her frown deepened.

“Nothing you have to worry yourself with,” Spike assured her. “When we see it again, we'll be on our way out.”

Buffy licked her lips and shuffled self-consciously. The movements were subtle at first but became increasingly agitated, as though she were becoming aware that she should try to make sounds to accompany his, and her frustration was about to manifest. He sighed and placed a finger across her lips—the last thing she needed was undue pressure, especially when he was growing more and more convinced the repetition of her name wasn't going to magically open the inner doors that forgetting it had closed. “It's all right,” he said softly. “It'll come when it comes.”

She shook his finger away, her mouth falling open, hoarse sounds scratching her throat. “Ahhhh…”

“Buffy—”

“Bu…” She inhaled, frowned, and concentrated. “Bo…boo…Boofay.”

The world might as well have stopped then…strange when all his heart wanted to do was pound. Spike was caught on a cusp—body ready to explode and freeze at the same time. Somehow, he managed to pull his nerves to a halt, his grip on her clamping, imploring eyes searching her face. “What did you say?” he demanded. “Buffy?”

Her face fell into a frown again, her nose twitching.

“Buffy…”

Again it came. “Boofay.”

An iron hand closed around his throat, his eyes watering. “That's it,” he encouraged. “Your name. That's your name.”

The frown refused to fade. She waited for a second as though expecting something. He couldn't blame her; he was expecting something, too.

Expecting anything. Anything.

An anything that didn't come.

“Come on,” he murmured, eyes turning heavenward. “She said her name, didn't she?”

There was no response. Of course there was no response. Nothing ever came that easily. Spike exhaled deeply, gaze finding hers again, heart breaking at the flecks of disappointment clouding her pretty green eyes. “Sweetheart, don't,” he urged, sighing heavily. “You…there's no need for that. You jus'…it's more than the name. More than the bloody name.”

More than the name. He'd known that—he had to have known that. The name was nothing more than an identity stamp. It held power for what it represented, not what it was. Not the letters it used or the sound it made. Names were a verbal symbol of life, and that was what she had forgotten. Her name, yes, but more importantly everything it carried with it. Past, future, friends, family…her very identity.

Imprinted in Buffy's name was everything she was. It was devastating in its simplicity.

Forget oneself and lose the world. Lose everything. And even if she regained words, they would mean nothing unless she could regain the essence of herself she had lost when she forgot.

When she lost the foundation of who she was.

That was the only bloody thing that made a lick of sense to him. The days in the cave had nearly ripped away his sense of self. Years would pass without word from the phantoms carved from his past, with nothing but silence eating away at his tired mind. He'd try to call for her—for Buffy—but she wouldn't always come; during the last day, the last hundred years, she'd only come once. And hanging with nothing but time at his side, it was easy to lose oneself. God, he'd felt himself slipping away. Felt faces he'd once known melt into a sea of indifference, felt things he'd known about himself fade until he didn't know if he was remembering something or making up a memory. There toward the end—before the phantoms renewed their visits—the only thing keeping him from losing his name was the promise of what lay ahead. The promise of this. Of Buffy.

She'd pulled him out of the cave. If she hadn't been with him, he would have lost all semblance of who he was. He would have lost himself.

But he'd known to fight for it. He'd been told his name was important. He'd been warned of what might happen, cryptic words or not. He'd been warned.

Buffy never had a chance. Not a fucking chance.

It wasn't fair. Christ, how it wasn't fair.

And yet, here they were. Buffy had forgotten her name, and everything attached to it.

Spike turned his attention back to Buffy, his eyes softening, his lips finding her brow before he could help himself. “'m sorry, sweet,” he whispered. “It'll be all right. We'll find a way, yeah? We'll get you back where you belong.”

From the way she looked at him he almost believed she understood. His heart jerked and his hands tightened around her arms. God, he hoped he could make good on his words—though he'd fight the rest of his days to give them strength, no matter the cost.

All the fight he had left in him was hers for the taking.

*~*~*



He knew exactly where to go—where to look. The deep crimson mud of the river bank was scattered with fresh, heavy footprints. His footprints. He'd stumbled to freedom here—here, he'd gorged himself on blood until his stomach rebelled. Here he'd stood and observed the cave from which he'd fallen, the one that had held him prisoner for centuries, the one that would lead them home. It had been here. A visual aberration within a nightmarish landscape—a mountain without hills or valleys, a mountain that simply was. It had stood here. Here, where Spike's footprints led away from the blood river, where the mud was disturbed against the bank where he'd collapsed and drank. It had been here. He knew it. He'd made sure of it before turning to the abandoned streets in search of Buffy.

In search of the trembling girl at his side.

She hadn't wanted to come here. The second it became apparent he was leaving the perimeters of the city, she'd tensed and shaken her head, but had followed him anyway, her grip on his hand like steel.

There were some actions that spoke volumes. The briefest look, the gentlest touch—the way one tensed, however slight or dramatic. Spike knew how to read people; he'd excelled at it once upon a time, and though his skills were a little rusty, his eye for Buffy hadn't suffered a lick for their time apart. And even if it unnerved him, the sense of being so needed by someone who could barely stand to touch him in the world he knew, he wasn't going to deny her…or himself. He needed this, her, as much as she did. She'd been without hope or reason for so long, and while he might not have eradicated her nightmares, he'd at least provided her with companionship, and Buffy wasn't going to let him out of her sight.

Which was just fine by him.

Only now he was standing at the place where there should be an exit. A way out.

There was nothing. Nothing. A vast, empty desert that stretched until the horizon clashed with the darkening yellow sky. A desert that stretched forever.

“No,” Spike snarled. “This isn't…it was fucking here. It was here.” His head whipped to Buffy's, eyes blazing. “It was here. Where I fell. I saw it. I bloody well saw it. It was here.”

Buffy's eyes were as wide as saucers, saturated in confused trepidation. She watched him like he was a bomb ready to ignite.

“It was here,” he insisted. “Here…goddammit.”

She shook her head, though only in reflex. There was nothing else to do.

“I made sure…I…” Spike tore his eyes away, turning his face to the sky. “You twisted, gutless sod! Come down here an' face me! Face me, you worthless bastard! Your plan is to bloody well torture us from a distance, as long as you don't get your claws dirty? You can't keep us here forever. You hear me? You can't keep us here forever!”

Wind rippled across the red river. The whispers from the city behind them grew in volume. The creature's growl rumbled through the still air. And Larry didn't respond.

There was nothing. Nothing.

They were stranded.

Spike stared hard at the blood, shivers sprouting across his skin. Buffy was beside him. Buffy was watching him, and he didn't know what to tell her. If there was anything to tell her. The exit on which he'd been banking, the path he'd traveled…everything. It was gone. And for the first time, the first true time, he knew what he could not have understood before. Not even in the long, endless years he'd spent in the cavern. Not in the holy water that had scalded his flesh nor the twisted phantoms that had tried to tear his mind apart. He understood now—there was no end. No end. Getting to Buffy hadn't been his destination; his destination had been getting her home. Getting her back to the place where she truly belonged.

There was no escape from Hell. There was only surviving it.

He'd earned his place here, sure as she'd earned hers. She'd jumped, and he'd followed her.

He'd followed.

A tentative hand touched his shoulder. Spike whirled to face her before he could allow his fears to surface. Before his mind could seize logic and reason; he knew the price didn't matter. It didn't matter where he was so long as he was with her. The battle had been worth it. Getting to Buffy was worth the whole bloody world.

Even if they were trapped here forever.

Even if he couldn't keep the promise he'd made to the others before he left, and in his head to Buffy a thousand times.

Hell with Buffy he could survive; life on earth without her was a different story. He'd already traveled far enough without her at his side.

A long, dark shudder seized his body. No matter what, from this point forward, they were together.

Together.

“It'll be all right,” he whispered, though he didn't know to whom he spoke. “It'll be all right.”

Buffy pressed herself into his side and wrapped her arms around his middle; every inch of his body relaxed.

This was worth anything.

“It'll be all right.”

And he meant it.

*~*~*



There were certain things time couldn’t eradicate, no matter how it tried. The instincts of a slayer were one of them. The second the growl touched the air, she hit the ground running, quickly scavenging something pointy out of a pile of debris and motioning for him to follow. And follow he had—it was the first sign of anything beyond utter devastation to hit his eyes, and once she found her target, it wasn’t difficult to see why.

“Figure they had to keep you fed somehow, din’t they?” Spike muttered, flashing Buffy a glance before turning his eyes back to the large warthog he’d wrestled to the ground. By the time he and Buffy had returned to the city’s empty streets, he’d consigned himself to the thought that the sounds he heard had no source—a theory proved wrong when Buffy’s eyes went wide the second the rumble shook the ground.

The growl from the creature he’d followed earlier. It was real. It, aside from Buffy, was the only real thing this place had to offer.

“Yeah,” he muttered, jabbing a piece of broken glass into the pig’s side. His fangs itched to play but he figured that to be a step down the road—once Buffy was accustomed to seeing him, accustomed to touching him and being touched. Introducing his bumpies this early, when she had no context in which to place him, might well send her running again, and that he could not allow. “Makes sense. Caught a live slayer who needs food, an’ this is what they give you.” Spike sighed and shook his head, kicking the dying creature once for good measure. “Bloody Pumbaa.”

Buffy frowned.

“Don’ worry about that, pet,” he assured her, hoisting the pig into his arms. “Got yourself some nosh. Gimme an’ open fire an’ it’ll roast proper, though don’t fret if I poke it from a distance. It’d be right…me getting here jus’ to be done in by a bloody spark. Where we goin’?”

She turned promptly as though she understood, and though his hopes spiked, there was little chance her mind had broken down the mechanics of language and reason within the last hour. As it was, the now-dark sky was indicator enough. Night was when she retreated, at least in this world. In the world above, night was when she thrived.

In the world above…

A world he might never see again.

Spike sucked in his cheeks, eyes catching Buffy’s when she glanced over her shoulder to ensure he was still following. The way they sparkled…the way she smiled…she was happy. Well, perhaps not happy, but she wasn’t miserable. She wasn’t the shattered girl who, just a little while ago, had clawed at the dead-end wall of an alley to escape what she thought was another nightmare. This was a girl inspired.

A girl for whom he’d live or die. A girl he’d braved Hell to find.

If she was with him, it wasn’t Hell. It was paradise.

“We about there, dove?” Spike asked, bouncing the warthog in his arms. “Not back to full strength yet. Bloody embarrassing to be done in by Babe.”

Buffy just grinned at him again and his heart melted.

Chump.

Spike glanced down and smiled to himself. It was fleeting, but for the first time in a long while, he felt normal. Felt like he could be anywhere—in Sunnyhell, trailing helplessly after the Slayer and hoping she’d drop some crumbs along the way. Felt something like himself sneak its way home. And though the sensation wasn’t permanent, it was kind enough to follow him until Buffy signaled they had arrived.

The building wasn’t much to look at, nor distinguishable at all from any of the others they’d passed. It appeared very much to be an old warehouse, worn by time and neglect. Her scent was heavy here. Thick. For a brief second, it reminded him of standing below her window, smoking fags and hoping to catch a glimpse of bare breast through the glass. Scent triggered memory, and those featuring her, no matter how painful, were the ones he treasured the most.

“Home sweet home, I take it,” Spike said, following her blindly through the entry way. “I don’t know, pet, I think you could have—”

His voice cut the second his eyes hit the walls. What little was left of day had just dipped below the horizon, therefore there wasn’t much light—not much but enough; though his eyesight had weakened from centuries of hunger, his vision operated far beyond what any human could reach. And he saw everything. Everything.

He saw everything—every aspect of the space belonging to her. Every inch of clutter, every scattered warthog bone, every strain of use against broken furniture. He saw everything. The bed she’d compiled from discarded clothing and stuffing from cushions, the place where she undoubtedly roasted her food before eating, the bucket she kept for water…but he didn’t look. He couldn’t.

He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the walls.

“Oh God,” he whispered, staring.

The pig hit the ground. Buffy turned and frowned at him, confused, but he couldn’t look at her.

Couldn’t tear his eyes away.

“Oh God.”

They were horrible. They were everywhere. And they were hers.

“Oh my God.”

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