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 16

He remembered studying Greek as a boy. Memorizing the structure of an alphabet he didn’t understand, letters that didn’t resemble anything to which he was accustomed. Letters that, while uniformed, were otherwise indecipherable. Spike had never been good at Greek beyond a word here or there, and recognizing it when he saw it. Other languages had come more naturally. He’d learned Latin and its derivatives, the Germanic dialects and a slew of demon tongues. Greek, however, remained unreadable.

There was no such structure to the carvings in the walls. No symbol had a duplicate, no pattern emerged from the scribbles—but he knew they were words. Words that meant something, or had meant something, words etched over and over. Words in a language no one knew. Words she’d written. Words she’d put there. Her scent, her blood—he couldn’t breathe without being overwhelmed, couldn’t take a step without feeling her. These walls were her opus, and he didn’t know what she was trying to say.

The markings were hers and they were without logic.

Spike shuddered, taking a long step forward, his eyes fixed. “God,” he said again, raising a trembling hand to the rugged ridges of one of the carvings. Dried, aged blood was splattered across the plaster. How long ago had she done this? How much time had she spent creating a work of chaos?

Oh God.

“Buffy…”

Buffy made a small sound and padded forward. She had evidently worked out that the name was hers.

It was the thing she’d lost and didn’t know how to recover.

“What is this?” he asked, knowing he would receive no answer. “Why is this here?”

She licked her lips and shook her head. It was all she could do.

Spike sighed and turned his eyes back to the marks, a cold shiver sliding down his spine. “Well,” he said softly before clearing his throat, blinking and tossing her a glance. “I…you hungry, pet? Gonna start you up a fire, yeah? One roast pig coming up.”

If he didn't know better, he would swear she arched a brow at him the way she did so often when he wasn't telling her the full story. It was fleeting if there at all; the small, hopeful smile had returned by the time he turned to face her fully. And though it wasn't much, while it was most likely entirely in his imagination, it made his heart jump and his nerve-endings fire. He grinned without realizing it, ran a hand through his hair and fully turned his back on the wall. Little good it did. There was nowhere safe to look—nowhere to escape the writing. “Don't suppose you got a pack of matches, do you?” he asked, selecting a piece of jagged glass off the floor. He'd never done this before—gutted and cooked an animal. There had never been a need.

Well, here's hopin' I don't make her sick.

“A lighter’d work, too,” he said, though more to himself. “Think I had one in my jeans, but it probably rusted. An’ it’s clear across town. Not exactly sure if I could find the buildin’ I washed up in, anyway.” His eyes rested on the charred stretch of floor where she’d undoubtedly built her own fires. “How do you manage it, pet? Mind showin’ the new guy the ropes around here?”

Buffy stared at him a second longer before frowning and turning her attention to the dead warthog. She was still for a second, then her eyes brightened and she transformed into a whirl of motion, her quick hands seizing something off the ground, athletic legs carrying her rapidly into the back of the warehouse. It wasn’t a long wait; when she returned, she had a small torch fashioned from a piece of plywood and discarded paper, her expression hopeful and her eyes vibrant. She looked at him expectedly, a smile lifting her face when he grinned and nodded at her.

“Now, there’s a girl after my own heart,” he said, quickly compiling a pile of paper and wood. “How’d you manage that?”

She blinked and indicated the room into which she’d disappeared.

“Must have a stove or what all back there,” Spike mused. “Bloody handy.”

With the fire taken care of, he returned his attention to the pig, tightening his grip on his makeshift knife. The legs would be the best, he supposed, though there was undoubtedly salvageable meat in the abdomen and elsewhere. The first cut into the animal’s tough flesh sent a whiff of blood to his hungry taste-buds and the temptation to bite and drain the beast dry became damn near unbearable.

Was that how humans made their food? Didn’t they bleed animals out? He didn’t know.

“Fuck it,” he muttered to himself, slicing open the pig’s stomach and doing his best not to salivate when the blood’s scent intensified. He licked his fingers before examining the creature’s entrails. He supposed he couldn’t just leave animal guts rotting on the ground, and he didn’t reckon Hell cared a damn about sanitation issues. “Don’t know where you put these, love,” he drawled, wincing and lifting the pig’s intestines. Buffy just stood and shrugged as if to say, Your mess. You deal with it.

Spike grinned and glanced down, his eyes fixing on a cardboard box shoved in a far, seemingly forgotten corner. That would do. “Be a love, will you?” he asked, gesturing best he could. “Enough to stuff these down, yeah?”

Buffy’s eyes bounced between him and the corner for a few confused seconds before the request clicked. With a prompt nod, she hurried over to collect the box and scurried back just as quickly. And had he not paused to take a peek inside, he would have drenched the insides with entrails.

“Wait,” he said, nodding at the stack of aged, yellow papers stuffed within the box. They didn’t look to be anything remarkable, aside from the fact that there were many, all in her penmanship, and written in the same bizarre non-language as the carvings on the walls. While there was nothing to suggest the pages were worth keeping, the fact that they had once been important to her made them important to him. He wasn’t about to throw them away. Not now.

Spike glanced up and met her questioning eyes. “You know what those are, pet?”

Her brow furrowed, her nose wrinkling.

“You wrote them,” he urged unhelpfully. Then, almost sheepishly, he turned his head downward. “’Course you did. No one else here, right? But I’d know your writing anywhere. Stole enough of your notes an’ what all back in the day. Back before you jumped. Learned your handwriting backwards an’ forwards…even if it is bloody jibberish. You wrote it for a reason…can’t reckon why, but you did, din’t you? An’ we’ll save them.”

A long stillness settled between them—Buffy’s eyes darting from his face to the box and back again until she ostensibly concluded that removing the papers was what he expected. There were times, he noted, when she seemed to understand him, and up until this moment he’d hoped it meant she was remembering. But she wasn’t—she wasn’t remembering, merely reading his body language. It was too much to ask for so much progress so quickly.

Too much, and yet he wished for it anyway.

Buffy vigilantly lifted the scribbled, aged sheets, and frowned at them curiously. A few seconds passed before she looked up, eyes bouncing from the walls and the pages in her hand. Spike watched her carefully, waiting, hoping for a flicker of recognition. And though he truly hadn’t expected anything, he couldn’t prevent his insides from chilling when she betrayed none.

“It’s all right,” he muttered, at last dumping the entrails into the box. When he glanced up, her troubled eyes immediately fell away and in so doing took him with her. Spike sat up quickly. “Oh no, love, none of that. It’s all right. Don’t listen to me. I’m a bloody dolt.”

She worried her lower lip between her teeth.

“Now,” Spike said, leaning forward and wiping his hands on his jeans. He took the pages from her grasp and set them aside—better not to get them soiled here. There was no telling whether or not they were actually decipherable, but however the language read, it had been important enough to Buffy at one point to commit it to paper. There was all the time in the world to figure out what the words meant. “We’ll worry about that later, yeah?” he continued softly. “Let’s get you fed.”

The business of cleaning the warthog wasn’t as difficult as he’d anticipated. Buffy led him into the back of the warehouse where he discovered a small stove, and while it was broken and offered little aside from an open flame, that much was incredibly useful. Even more so was the sink he found by the back window. By looks alone, she hadn’t touched it in years; it took several attempts to get water to run; when it did, Buffy watched with such awe it made his insides crumble.

He didn’t think he wanted to know where she’d been getting her water.

“Let’s cook the leg tonight,” he said conversationally, eying the refrigerator pressed against the far wall. It didn’t work. That much was evident from the scent of aged rot occupying the air around it. “Meat’ll spoil, but something tells me there’s not a shortage of pig here, is there?”

Buffy just smiled at him, her eyes fixed on the warthog.

“Hope you’re hungry, pet,” he murmured.

*~*~*



The past few centuries had been nothing but cold; he had forgotten how quickly an open flame could warm the bones. Upon retreating to the main area of Buffy’s living space, Spike was greeted by an inferno fit for Hell, and though it became uncomfortable after a few minutes, he couldn’t deny the welcoming kiss of warmth.

The pig’s leg ended up resembling something he might have once seen on the telly, and judging by its smell and the way Buffy’s eyes sparkled, he’d done it justice. He sliced off a healthy portion with his shard of glass and handed it to her, wishing for plates but making do with assorted surfaces lying among the debris.

A quick glance outside confirmed evening had settled over Hell. Hell had a day and night. Strange how things like that had never occurred to him, yet seemed right in this setting. A setting ripped from the pages of Buffy’s imagination. As it was, the way the sky darkened and rolled into night was something he figured would always remember, even if they managed to make it back to Sunnydale some day. It was eerie in its similarities, yet different enough to make him painfully aware that home was far, far away.

Spike looked up and met Buffy’s eyes, unable to hide his grin at her food-stuffed cheeks. No. No, he was wrong. Home was wherever she was.

Home was right here.

“You must be bloody sick of pigs, eh, love?” he mused, poking at the fire with the stick he’d managed to procure, which festered but didn’t roar. It had started to die down an hour or so ago, and while he wasn’t worried about starting a new one, he wasn’t quite ready to relinquish the heat. “When we get back to Sunnyhell, the firs’ thing I’ll do is buy you a bloody funnel cake. Bet you can’t remember how sweets taste, can you?”

Buffy paused, grinned, and resumed tearing away at her slab of meat.

“Or one of those big greasy burgers from the place you like. The onion thing from the Bronze…God, I could stuff myself silly on that. They have those spicy chicken wings, too. Bloody brilliant.” Spike smiled wistfully. “All the things we’ll taste when we get back. I’ll take you wherever you like. We’ll see the whole world.”

She chewed, smiled, and swallowed. There was no doubt she was hanging on his every word, even if she hadn’t the foggiest idea what he was saying. And for that very reason, it was important he keep talking. His mind kept bouncing back and forth from one extreme to the other; one minute he thought her reactions were random, the next he was certain there was method behind what she did or what face she made. Her movements and responses were intelligent enough he hoped, he bloody prayed, that she was remembering at least some of who she was, even in the smallest measure.

“Wanna hear how I got here?” he asked, settling back. His stomach rumbled but he ignored it. Blood could wait until morning. As it was, he’d stolen enough sips from the pig to placate him for the evening. It wasn’t like not eating would kill him; if he could go three centuries without a drop, one night was a sodding cake walk. “It’s not a pretty story, but we got time to kill, yeah?”

Buffy licked her lips, finishing off the last bite of warthog before leaning back and crossing her legs.

“Willow, the redhead, the witch…she found this story about a demon king, or something or other. Gave me three rules to use to navigate Hell. You know the Hellmouth? You fought to keep it closed so long…turns out if you’re lookin’ for sub-ground real estate, all you gotta do is go into the rabbit hole.” Spike sighed and shook his head. “An’ I did. She got me the rules an’ I climbed down. Met with an enormous wanker by the name of Larry an’ made a deal to come an’ get you. There were these three trials, see, an’ I had to pass each without askin’ for rot. Or taking anything they offered me. Also couldn’t make any promises or…” He met her eyes and swallowed hard. “Forget my name.”

His breathing hitched and he held her gaze. She just smiled.

“Never told you, though, did they?” he whispered. “Couldn’t tell you. Sacrifice everythin’ you sacrifice, an’ this is how they reward you. You don’t belong here. Me? Yeah, I’ve earned it. I’m a vicious, bloody bastard an’ Hell is where I’m headed…even if I make it out of here, I’ll just be back one day, right? But you…this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. This is the last place you’re supposed to be. A place like…” He broke off with a hard shiver. “An’ we’ll get you out. I don’t know how, but we will.”

It was an easy thing to say; putting it into action was something entirely separate. Larry had seized the only viable way out, melting it into the endless horizon of Buffy’s mindscape. There wasn’t a hidden escape hatch. This was a place people entered without any thought of leaving. No one walked away, and as he’d been warned, the security around a living slayer would be insurmountable.

He couldn’t give up, but there was little reason to hope, and as long as he had an eternity, nothing would stop him from searching for a way out.

“Larry told me getting here was nothing,” Spike murmured soberly. “I didn’t think it was possible. After starving for so long, I just…getting to you was all I thought about. Getting out…I don’t know why I thought it’d be easy. Guess it was…as long as I got to you, the rest would be a cinch.” He reached forward without thinking, fingers threading through her hair. “I meant what I said, though,” he continued, thumb rubbing tender circles into her cheek. “Out there. I know I was angry, but…here? With you? There’s nothing better than this. Nothing…”

His voice trailed off, frozen with a horrible thought. It hit him from nowhere—a shot in the dark, blasting through the quiet and shattering the fortress he’d starting building around Buffy and himself. Something he should have already known. Something…

Oh my God.

He couldn’t be that stupid. He couldn’t be…

“Don’t make any promises,” he murmured. “Oh God.”

It was one thing while hanging in the cave—turning his face from the red-rimmed glasses Larry waved under his nose, repeating his name over and over to keep from losing himself completely, but there had never been any need to give anyone a promise. He kept his thoughts to himself, kept quiet, kept his mind focused on the tunnel through which he had to travel. And while he’d subconsciously banned the word from his vocabulary, he’d said a handful of things since arriving that could be construed as promises. Things he’d said without thinking, vows he’d made without hesitation—he’d condemned them with thoughtlessness. His promises…God…

“Goddammit!” Spike roared, tearing his hands away and leaping to his feet. He immediately broke into a furious pace, the worn, ragged floor groaning under his heavy strides. “Three hundred years. Three hundred fucking years! I din’t eat. Din’t move. Din’t ask for rot. Made bloody well sure I remembered my name. I made it—they told me they didn’t think I would, but I did. I made it. An’ the first thing I do when I get here…the first bloody thing I do is forget the sodding rules!” Another snarl ripped through his throat as his foot smashed into the box of warthog guts and sent it spiraling into a far corner. “I’m such a…Goddammit!”

The whimper that bubbled off Buffy’s lips was the only thing in the world that could have broken through the thick, angry cloud of self-loathing. Spike slowed his pace but didn’t break altogether, his head swinging southward, defeat crippling his shoulders. He couldn’t look at her. Not now. Not with what he’d done. Not when he knew he was the final nail in the bloody coffin—he’d condemned them to eternity here. In this hollow, hopeless place. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Not like this.

Not when his mind wracked with doubt. Not when he couldn’t think of anything but his shortcomings—his failures. How could he have come so far, sacrificed so much, only to let it go like this? Only to let it go now?

He’d allowed himself to believe it would be easy, and in doing so…

Spike shook his head hard, turning away to fix his eyes on the wall.

The wall on which Buffy had written, over and over again, in a place where she’d waited for centuries for rescue—a rescue which had only cemented her fate.

The air rustled as she climbed to her feet, and every inch of Spike’s body tensed. She would touch him, need him, and he couldn’t bear looking at her. He’d failed so miserably; he’d condemned her to an eternity of this. A thousand years down…but there would be no reprieve.

He’d made a promise and it had cost her everything.

Yet he couldn’t turn away, and he wouldn’t deny her. Thus, when her hand slipped over his shoulder, there was nothing but surrender. Spike’s body broke entirely, whirling around and seizing her in a fierce, desperate hug. Her heart thundered against his chest, her pulse raced in his ears, and he could do nothing but hold her. Give her all of himself—give what little he had to offer in lieu of what he’d taken.

“I’m sorry,” he gasped into her hair. Her arms tightened around him as though she understood, and even if it was cold comfort, he wouldn’t deny her a thing. “I’m so sorry. I just…I couldn’t keep it in. I needed you to know…an’ now…”

She offered a soothing hum, and he nearly fell apart all over again.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry…forgive me, Buffy, I couldn’t…I let it go.”

There was no reply, but for this, none was needed. All he needed was her arms.

And even though he had no right to hold her, no force in this or any other world could tear him away.

*~*~*



He moved slowly through the warehouse, eyes wandering to the walls every few seconds…unable to stop himself.

The carvings were hurried and desperate. She must have been so terrified—of what he didn’t know, and perhaps never would, but frenzied despair stretched through every mark. The picture his mind presented wasn’t any more forgiving; tears scalding down her cheeks, a piece of jagged glass grinding into her bloodied hands. Over and over, writing symbols that looked like nonsense. Writing something important in a language no one knew. Writing for someone. It was here for a reason.

Spike shivered and glanced down, wishing for a pack of smokes. He hadn’t had a good fag since the Hellmouth, and though the centuries had all but killed his need for nicotine, he could really use one now.

I promised.

It was so bloody unfair. She was dealt the punishment for his mistake.

“Be all my sins remember’d,” he recited softly, a harsh chuckle rumbling through his lips. “No worries there.”

When he turned, Buffy was climbing into the makeshift bed she’d built on the floor. Composed of clothing, stuffing from couches, and an assortment of other things, it gave Spike the odd sensation of being both homey and pitiful. She’d made this place hers, from the markings on the walls, to the camp stove on which she cooked her food, and the bed she’d pieced together…it wasn’t much, but it was hers. This place, these writings, this area…it was hers. More hers than any other corner of her Hell, because this was where she came when she slept. Where he would stay if she wanted him. If, after she remembered, she would have him for what he’d done.

The sentence he’d given her.

If she ever remembered.

Spike cleared his throat and shook the thought away, taking a step forward. “Tired, love?” he asked, voice strained. A sense of unwarranted calm had washed over them when the aftershock of his outburst finally wore away, and while he wanted nothing more than to scream until his throat gave way, he refused to scare her anymore. The fury would come later—right now, she needed the quiet.

“We had a long day, didn’t we?” he continued. “Started the day in a river. You tried to make me a bloody kabob. We hunted a pig, an’…” He broke off, jaw hardening. “Long day.”

Buffy blinked at him, then pointed at the bed.

“You want me with you?” he asked.

She moved forward and took his hands in hers, guiding him back until her heels brushed the edge of the nest. Then, with a tender smile, she guided him to his knees.

“I don’t deserve this,” Spike murmured. “You don’t know what I’ve done, sweetheart. I came here to get you out—”

Buffy shook her head and placed her finger across his lips, her eyes so soft and grateful he could barely stand it. And though he knew he shouldn’t, though he knew he’d lost his rights—if they’d ever existed in the first place—he couldn’t bring himself to move away. There was no sense in fighting tonight, or denying himself something he craved. He was exhausted, worn by the struggle and aching with the knowledge of what tomorrow would bring.

He hadn’t slept in three hundred years. Just once, just for one night, he wanted to rest. He wanted the solace of her arms, and with the day behind him, he could no longer fight what he needed so much.

Just tonight.

Please give me tonight.


TBC

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