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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.
He saw her burning.
It wasn’t real. Even in the midst of a dream, he knew the difference between fantasy and reality. However, knowledge could not prevent the subconscious from twisting in agony. Buffy torn apart by fire. Buffy’s flame-licked arms reaching for rescue that wouldn’t come. Buffy’s tormented eyes pleading with him to find her. To pay penance for failing her at the Tower by finding her, no matter the cost.
She was ripped by fire. Burning. Burning. And he couldn’t reach her. He saw her, felt her, but couldn’t reach.
“You shouldn’t be here.”
It was the truth. Hell was the last place to seek a Champion. Buffy jumped to save the world, and this was the way the world repaid her. Sending her down to a blistering inferno the likes of which no one before had ever dreamt. It was a special hell. It was her hell. One of her design, her making, her worst nightmares spurred to new life. Did she know the images were fake? Did she see the false prophets for what they were? Was she waiting for him? For anyone? Did she trust them to find her before she lost herself?
Or were they already too late?
“Spike…you shouldn’t be here.”
Resistance fortified as he tried to pry his eyes open. It had been so long since he rested. However, when will overpowered desire, he found himself staring blearily at a bland, cream ceiling, surrounded by her scent. Her presence. Days old but not forgotten. And he remembered.
Her room. He’d come to her room. And apparently, he’d fallen asleep.
Spike sighed and glanced up. Giles crowded the doorway, his expression stern but non-accusatory. Rather, compassion and understanding beyond anything the vampire had ever received from the man poured from every facet, and in that instant, they understood each other.
“Sorry,” Spike murmured, throwing his legs over the side of her bed. “I din’t…I don’ remember what I needed, but I know I needed something.”
A wan smile stretched the watcher’s lips. “Apparently what you needed was a nap,” he said, indicating the hallway with a nod. “Right now, you’re needed downstairs.”
“Have you found anythin’?”
“Nothing that inspires much hope, but we are developing an understanding of what…entering this dimension will entail.” Giles exhaled a deep breath, his eyes heavy. “The more I learn, the more convinced I am that…there is only one chance, you see. If we’re to get her out, we can’t dally with semantics. For instance, I need to look upon your lack of a soul as a blessing rather than a burden.”
Spike frowned. “How’s that?”
“It might be what saves her.”
He wasn’t sure whether to be grateful or shocked when Willow shoved a glass of blood under his nose the second his foot hit the bottom step. It wasn’t too long ago the witch had threatened to disinvite him from every corner of Sunnydale, detailing the many ways Buffy would kick his ass back to next Thursday if he didn’t let up on his obsession. Now she was smiling kindly, her expression sad but hopeful. And she had blood for him. Warm blood. Blood she’d poured because she cared.
“You’re eating,” she informed him.
“I made it myself.”
Spike eyed the glass warily. “Smells like swine.”
“Well, I didn’t open a vein or anything, but I did make with the pouring and the microwave and stuff.” She shoved the glass against his chest. “Eat.”
A pause. His eyes bounced from the blood to her face and back again. God, nothing in the world could have prepared him for this. He’d had a family once. Angelus. Darla. Drusilla, yet they had never been kind. Well, except Dru when she could manage it, but the eldest in his family didn’t try to conceal their disdain for him and their disapproval at his inclusion in the clan.
He wasn’t accustomed to concern over his well-being. It was something he hadn’t experienced since the days when his heart pumped blood. Since his mother entertained his poetry. And now Willow, the best mate of the girl he loved, was looking at him with compassion and respect.
Respect from a human. Respect from one of Buffy’s best friends.
It wasn’t until recently Spike had found himself in the precarious position of not wanting to disappoint someone; Buffy, of course, for whom he would have done anything…though even that hadn’t been enough. Offering anything and everything hadn’t been enough. He hadn’t wanted to fail her. He hadn’t wanted to disappoint.
And now Willow, whom he hadn’t realized until this second that he liked. Liking Buffy—loving Buffy—had been revolutionary enough, but even though he understood it, even though he’d made peace with it, he hadn’t been prepared to extend his regard to her friends. There was Dawn and Joyce, both of whom he loved as his own family…but without their relationship to Buffy, they were just two people in a world of millions. He didn’t want to like Willow or anyone else. They were a means to an end. Means to saving Buffy.
God, it’d be so much easier if he could convince his twisted mind that was the truth.
Spike sighed heavily, eyes glued to the cup pressed against his chest. “Don’ know if I can,” he replied.
“You almost did earlier.”
“Yeah, an’ then I didn’t.”
“Well, you’re gonna try.” Willow smiled brightly, but the hard determination in her eyes screamed it wasn’t an option. “Go ahead.”
Spike looked at her a minute longer before raising the glass to his lips. And instead of the disgust he expected, he all but tripped over himself in relief. Warm and thick, coppery and delicious. Absolute perfection. His stomach growled and the demon purred, though not loud, and the pain riddling his bones solidified at last to distinguish something he hadn’t felt since the Tower. Hunger. He remembered hunger. It returned from nowhere—hunger empowered by determination. Perhaps it was the knowledge he needed strength. Perhaps it was starvation. He didn’t know—all he knew was one drop had him aching for more. The bones in his face shifted without warning, fangs clinking against the rim as his jaw opened wider, gulping thunderous mouthfuls. Never before had pig’s blood been so delicious. When all that was left was a red-caked glass, he found himself licking the insides. Eager, ravenous, desperate for more.
“Looks like someone wants seconds.”
He nodded eagerly and thrust the glass back into her hands. “Please.”
Willow made a face. “Eww. Not your waitress. Blood’s in the fridge.”
“Thought you were bein’ all hospitable.”
“I was. Don’t you remember me giving you the glass?” She smiled and turned toward the living room. “We have some stuff to go over.”
Spike nodded, dipping a finger inside the cup and running it along the bottom. “Blood can wait,” he replied somberly. “What’s going on?”
The answer came from Giles’s voice rather than Willow’s as the watcher materialized from behind. “We have been researching hell dimensions all day,” he said softly. “And while there are—”
“All day?” Spike frowned and whirled to face him. “How long did I sleep?”
His answer came with a grim smile. “You went upstairs last night.”
“A whole bloody day?”
“You needed it,” Willow interjected swiftly. “And Dawn insisted—”
“You let me sleep while Buffy’s—”
“You needed your rest,” Giles affirmed, his shoulders dropping. “The more we research, the more I’m convinced of it. There might be millions of hell dimensions, but they all say the same thing.”
Spike arched a brow. “An’ that’s worth letting me snooze?”
Their scents hit him before Xander’s voice tickled the air. He and Anya traipsed into the living room from the kitchen, joined at the hip as always. It wasn’t a huge surprise; a good apocalypse typically made people cling harder to those around them. The fact that the boy and his demon bride were already inseparable only made their codependency more apparent.
“I still say it’s a crap idea and we need to look harder.”
Giles sighed hard. “Xander…”
“This is the one shot we have at getting her back and we’re going to trust—”
“Yes, we’re going to trust Spike.”
The vampire blinked and turned again. “Oh. So the lot of you came to the conclusion that I was right after all, is that it?” He bulldozed the watcher with a hard look. “It has to be me.”
There was no hesitance—only recognition. “Yes.”
Xander waved a hand. “You still haven’t convinced me that we shouldn’t all saddle up and go in together. This is Buffy we’re talking about.”
“Yes, which is precisely why Spike must go alone.”
Anya heaved a deep breath and smiled apologetically. “I tried talking to him,” she said with uncharacteristic modesty.
A still beat settled over the room. And though irritated, Spike couldn’t find it within himself to begrudge Xander his prejudice. The boy cared about Buffy. He did. He was the proverbial big brother, and he didn’t want anyone going near his sister without his say so. The fact that Spike was Giles’s number one candidate sure didn’t sweeten matters, but even if he weren’t the obvious option, Xander would complain about anyone going after the Slayer if it meant he was left behind. He wanted to be the rescue. He wanted to make it happen himself.
It was understandable, but ultimately a waste of time. There were things larger than egos at play. “Boy doesn’t want me flyin’ solo,” Spike murmured. “Doesn’ sound like there’s much in the way of options.”
Xander met his eyes. “I just don’t think—”
“Right,” Giles said sharply. “You don’t. This is unlike anything you can imagine. It isn’t infiltrating the Initiative or blowing up a school building. This is Hell. Human rules do not apply. Rules—”
“Exactly the sort of thinking which proves you wouldn’t survive.”
Harris sighed. “You don’t know that—”
“Yes, we do.” The finality in Giles’s tone wasn’t overly severe, yet for whatever reason it didn’t earn another objection. There was a considerable pause before the watcher turned back to Spike, determination marking his face. “Dawn’s due home in a half hour. We would like to have something to tell her.”
“Tara’s picking her up,” Willow offered. “I kinda feel bad, making her be errand-runny girl, but she’s…” She trailed off and blinked, and again the scent of tears slammed into the air. It was commonplace now, and no one questioned her. “She’s…Dawn lost her sister and her mom in…and Tara, with her mom. She’s just feeling extra…maternal.”
Xander cleared his throat. “You’re not making her do anything she doesn’t want to, Will. She practically guards Dawn’s room at night.”
“Yeah, but she misses all the Scooby stuff.”
“Being there for Dawn is the best thing she can do right now,” Giles reasoned softly, though there was a darkness in his eyes Spike wagered only he could see. The part of the old man that had told Buffy repeatedly before they headed into the final battle that killing the girl was the only means of saving the world. The part which had screamed at her, begged her to see reason. To realize, no matter the memories, that Dawn was not her true sister. Buffy Summers had no sister. She never had. Not until a group of holy gits decided to change the rules.
Buffy had threatened to kill anyone who stood between her and Dawn. And she meant it.
Chip or no chip, that crusade had become Spike’s. And he couldn’t help but wonder if the watcher regretted his callousness.
Or perhaps he regretted his own failure at making Buffy understand.
It didn’t matter. Dawn was family to Buffy; therefore she was family to Spike. It was the way it was.
“Every text we’ve found on hell dimensions has stated the same thing,” Giles continued. “Human souls are entirely too fragile to withstand Hell. The very strongest go mad within a few seconds, and spend eternity attempting to piece together fragments of themselves in order to remember who they are. Buffy’s…situation is rather unique.”
“Because she’s still alive,” Anya offered. “In Hell.”
Spike’s heart twisted and his stomach gurgled. Perhaps eating had been a bad idea after all.
“Because she’s still alive,” the watcher agreed solemnly. He looked as ill as the vampire felt. “She…the state of her soul while encased in a human body…we don’t know what effect that will have. We know the impact it had on Angel, but he had a demon to rationalize what he saw and experienced. Buffy has…nothing.”
Spike’s jaw clenched. “An’ she’s still there. I don’ see why we’re standing around here chatting if you kids have decided I’m the one for the job.” He waved a hand. “All demon, no soul.”
Giles pursed his lips and nodded. “Precisely.”
“What about this business with Buffy making her own Hell,” Xander asked, fight gone from his voice. “I still…I mean, I know she’s there and she made it, but…I don’t get why.”
Willow nodded, motioning to the living room, where book after book lay spread across the floor, open to various pages and likely all depicting an interpretation of Hell. “Most Western ideals of Hell are similar in their influence of Christian mythology. In the instance where a living person is lost in Hell—or the equivalent—her mind might…I dunno, piece together what she thinks Hell would look like, making that version of Hell her Hell. Does that make sense?”
There was no immediate response; Harris looked ill. “Way too much.”
“So when I get there,” Spike said, “I see Buffy’s worst nightmares.”
“That’s just…that’s the best theory we can come up with.” The redhead sighed, looking, for an instant, very old. “The books don’t exactly have an appendix for the living who get sucked into dimensions. But with what Anya and Xander discovered yesterday… Buffy’s in a hell of her own making, and not just any old corner of Hell, willy-nilly. One of her own making would be her own fears come to life. So…yeah. She would…the best guess would be…that.”
A dark, powerful shudder seized the vampire by the shoulders.
Buffy lost in a sea of her darkest fears.
He had to get to her. He had to get to her now.
“How does Spike get in?” Xander asked, though it was very apparent he didn't want the answer.
“The Hellmouth,” Giles replied. His eyes were fixed on the vampire. “It's our best bet. And as we are attempting to enter…” He sighed. “It will be difficult earning access.”
Spike shrugged. Every nerve in his body twitched with the need to move. The need to run. The need to be anywhere but here. It was the Hellmouth, then. Fine. Didn't bloody matter to him so long as he didn't have to wait for permission before going in. Every second in this reality was God-knows-how-long for Buffy. If there was any chance at getting her back, it became more and more dismal by the second. “Brilliant,” he said shortly. “So let's get rollin'.”
“It won't be easy,” the watcher warned.
“To infiltrate Hell? You don't bloody say.”
A long sigh rolled off Giles's shoulders. “There will be trials,” he continued. “You could die trying to get there…and even after you reach her, there's no telling if she'll be…Buffy.”
“Or if you'll be able to get back out,” Willow added unhelpfully.
Spike shrugged again, undeterred. “Well, we won' know a sodding thing if we jus' stand around an' chat about it all day, now will we? You say you know how we're gonna get in, so let's stop blabbering an' get to the getting. Buffy can't afford to wait.”
“She also can't afford to have us make rash decisions,” Giles replied firmly. “We need to learn exactly what entering Hell entails. What to expect once you are out of reach. Decisions made on a whim can cost us what little hope we have. There is no way, of course, to know exactly what you will face, but learning as much as possible will weigh the scales in our favor.” Or so we hope. The words didn’t need to spoken to have their punch. One look at the watcher’s face spoke volumes. After a dramatic pause, Giles continued, “I know you want to get to her now. We all do. But we want to make sure we don't make any mistakes…this is a different world, Spike. The slightest move, the smallest slip of judgment can have ramifications the likes of which we have never considered. We love Buffy.” A pregnant pause. The watcher swallowed hard, his eyes heavy. “You love Buffy. With as much as we want her back, we need to make sure our fervor doesn't cost her an eternity.”
If there was anything that could be said to slow the fire in Spike's heart, this was it. No matter if he knew Giles didn't believe it—and he didn't. While the vampire might have earned the man's respect, the road to acceptance was a long one, and it took more than a day to move a mountain. It was in the watcher's eyes; the firm belief in a demon's inability to love, in Spike's inability to feel anything but infatuation. However, an allowance—even a small one—was worth so much more than its weight in gold. Giles might not believe Spike truly loved the Slayer, but he knew Spike believed it. He knew what was at stake.
Giles didn't want to lose his daughter. The Scoobies didn't want to lose their friend. Spike didn't want to lose the woman he loved.
The woman he was made to love.
And while Buffy's chums might not like him, they knew their cause was his. They knew.
“All right.” Spike sighed heavily. “We wait.” He hated the idea, but the wisdom behind it could not be denied. They needed time—they needed to learn as much as they could. It made him feel idle and useless, but it needed to be done. He needed to wait.
He needed to know what he was up against. He needed to know how to get to her without losing her first.
Even as seconds ticked by in Hell.
Seconds that could be days for her. Seconds that could cost them everything.
It was too important. This was too important. If Spike's impatience cost him Buffy, he would never forgive himself.
So he would wait.
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