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.
He should have figured she’d take to sparring like a duck to water, though with every swing of her fists, she unlocked a slew of memories and rekindled old stings his skin had somehow retained over three hundred years. Her mean right-hook, for example. Every time her knuckles smashed into his cheek, his bones would whimper and his joints would whine, and he’d have to remind himself why doing this was a good thing.
It didn’t take much coaxing. Seeing her in action was all he needed.
“That’s it!” he yelled, ducking a wild punch aimed at his jaw. “Just like old times, eh, Slayer?”
Buffy grunted and kicked his legs out from under him.
Spike barked a laugh, grinning up at her shining eyes. “Oooh, yeah,” he purred. “You always liked it rough.”
She rumbled another indignant huff, this one patently female. It was another in a long line of indicators that she was beginning to remember.
He flipped himself upright in an instant. “You missed this, didn’t you?” he drawled, ducking another errant swing and repaying her with one of his own. He wouldn’t pretend to not take pleasure in her surprised grunt, just as he wouldn’t deny extending a hand to help her onto her feet. Her resentful glare earned an amused chuckle. “Pretend all you like, sweetheart, I know you better than that. Missed the dance, you did. Slayers need it jus’ as bad as vamps.” He pointed at her. “Don’t think I didn’t know about your nightly sprints through Sunnyhell that last year. Soldier boy din’t cut it, and you needed a slay to work out the kinks.”
Buffy’s eyes flashed brilliantly and she swung at him again, landing a punch to his jaw that sent him soaring through the air and into the harsh, unforgiving side of a brick building. Still, Spike barely felt a thing. He rebounded with a gleeful leap, grinning ear-to-ear and motioning her forward.
“What’s the hurt, love?” he demanded jovially. “Something I said?”
Bloody right it was. This was familiar. This was something she understood, even if she didn’t know it.
And he was going to milk it for all it was worth.
The Slayer heaved another brutal swing; Spike caught this one in midair and used the leverage to deliver a kick to her lower back. Buffy panted and fell backward before nailing him with another cold glare. At last, he relented, shrugging. “Gotta take advantage of it while I can,” he said, shrugging. “You’ll be mopping the ground with my ass before too long.”
Buffy’s brows flickered upward and she ran at him again, leaping upward and smashing her foot against his face before he could blink. The ground beneath his feet vanished just as quickly, and in a flurry he was falling, crashing onto his back with a very smug slayer straddling his waist. It took a few seconds before the stars dancing around his head faded, even longer until darkness melted to light and he took in her smiling face. Her smile alone was worth the pain.
It was worth anything.
“Yeah,” Spike hissed, though with a grin. “Something like that.”
There was nothing he could have done or said to make her look more superior in that instant, and again he found himself flashed back. This felt right. Buffy kicking his ass. Buffy looking particularly pleased with herself. Buffy smirking at him in victory.
He saw his hand migrate upward before he realized he meant to brush her hair from her eyes. “I love you,” he murmured. The words felt familiar, too. Felt right. Felt more like a declaration than a reassurance. He’d loved her both blindly and with his eyes wide open. And though that was one thing he’d never forgotten, it still jolted him to remember how he’d made it this far.
A tender look fell over her features, the fire fading. It happened quickly but there was no mistaking the change, shining through in recognition without source or guidance. They remained that way for a long minute, Buffy just staring at him, trying to place her forgotten memories before softness melted into confusion. Her brow furrowed. She looked so close, then—within reach of an objective she couldn’t identify. And it was all Spike could do to keep his big yap shut.
So close. So close.
She knows who she is.
“Buffy?” he whispered, then winced.
Don’t push. Don’t push. Let her come to you.
Whatever end she was approaching vanished on the breath of a hoarse, pained cry. Her features contorted in agony, her hands fisting clumps of her hair. It happened too quickly for him to grab her, and in an instant, Buffy had tumbled onto her side.
“Buffy!” he gasped, rolling onto his knees and grabbing her shoulders. “What is it?”
She whimpered and shook her head.
This scene was too familiar for comfort. In a flash he saw himself, centuries younger, standing at Drusilla’s side; a stolen moment in which she was calm, if not lucid, one second and writhing in pain the next, her brain crushed with visions of things she only partly understood and only rarely conveyed. Oh yes, Spike knew this well…only he’d never known it with Buffy.
He had no idea what was happening to her, and that terrified him.
“It’s okay,” he whispered hurriedly, barely hearing himself. “It’s okay.”
It was over as quickly as it began, leaving eerie silence in its wake. The violent jerks fell to a confused calm; Buffy blinked at him blearily, as though refocusing his shape through blurs. She sat idle for several long seconds, then, as though nothing at all had happened, frowned, shook her head, and climbed back to her feet.
Every nerve in his body was on edge. “Buffy…”
Her frown deepened and she shook her head again, waving at him dismissively. And that was all there was to it. He could stop and stare and demand answers all he liked, but he wasn’t going to receive any, and Buffy couldn’t give them even if she wanted. So he had to stand aside and let her pass, not knowing what exactly had just happened or why. He played the silent role, and fuck if everyone didn’t know how much that wasn’t his strong-suit.
He needed to communicate with her beyond smiles and frowns, nods and shakes of the head.
He needed words.
But words he couldn’t have.
Spike sighed heavily and cast a hand through his hair. “No,” he said shortly, when she raised her fists again. “That’s enough for today.”
Buffy looked at him quizzically but relaxed her stance without quarrel.
There were things she understood.
Spike walked her back to the warehouse that she’d made her home before returning solo to the streets. She hadn’t wanted him to leave, and he hadn’t particularly wanted to leave her, but he likewise knew how he responded when in a slayer’s proximity after downing a bellyful of human blood. And he was hungry again—hungry for something that couldn’t be sated with the blood of a two-day dead boar, especially after tasting the good stuff.
Vampires hungered for blood, sex, and violence. He was satisfying as many of those hungers as possible. Blood from the river, violence in the half-hearted spars in which he’d engaged Buffy—which was honestly more for her benefit than his—and sex…well…
Spike’s jaw hardened, watching drops of red run between the cracks separating his fingers before his hands dipped into the river for another serving. Wrong. She wasn’t his. Not like this…not in any state.
He was here to help her. If she needed intimacy, he would grant it…but he wouldn’t take.
Even if it broke every natural code in his body, he wouldn’t take.
“Not like you’re not used to blue-balls, Spike,” he mused before tossing back a mouthful. Fuck. Had human blood always tasted this good? He couldn’t remember. He’d been muzzled back then, reliant on animals and whatever else he could finagle from resident demons around town. On occasion, Willy would get in the real good stuff, but the bartender always knew how to price his merchandise, thus Spike rarely got a sample. Likewise, Harmony had snagged a few bags off hospital delivery trucks from time to time but, more often than not, he’d relied on what was bagged and sold in butcher shops, and the butcher’s he’d met hadn’t specialized in human.
If he and Buffy ever got back to Sunnydale, he supposed he’d have to wean himself off the good stuff. The Slayer wouldn’t take kindly to him munching on the townspeople.
Spike licked his lips, dipping his hands back into the river for another helping. The chip hadn’t fired once. Not bloody once. It was something he hadn’t noticed right off, but it was hard to ignore after Buffy’s painful reminder. She’d never been the one clutching her head and screaming—that had always been his role. And though his memory was fuzzy, it was loads better now than it had been when he first stepped into her strange, terrible world. He remembered the chip very well—too well—and he needed no reminders of how it worked.
Humans get hurt by Spike’s hand, and Spike gets a migraine.
In the grand scheme of things, he supposed the chip didn’t matter one way or another. Not to him, at least. He’d lived by the chip’s rule before and he would again, if it was what Buffy wanted. Time in Hell might change her perception, but he couldn't see her taking a liking to the thought of him running around unleashed. There were always alternatives, though, and Spike was accustomed to jumping through her hoops. He knew he could school himself. He knew the difference between right and wrong—her right and wrong—and he would be whatever she needed him to be. Chip or no chip.
Spike sighed and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, rising to full height. “Reckon the sodding chip fell right outta my skull,” he murmured before wincing at the thought.
It seemed possible, given the shape he’d been in. His body depleted, his muscles black and rotting…perhaps his bones themselves had been weathered, grown thin in areas to allow a synthetic thing to simply fall away. Or maybe it had happened before then—before the three hundred years of imprisonment. After all, he had dived willingly into a pool of holy water. There was no telling how much of him had melted away before he’d regenerated.
He might have been without the chip since the first trial without knowing it.
At the moment, though, he supposed it didn’t matter. Buffy didn’t know anything about the chip, and it was something he couldn’t convey intelligibly. He’d worry about it when the time came. For now, there was nothing to do but turn on his heel and set off for their home. Their temporary home. The place where she lived.
“Right,” Spike muttered dryly, kicking at the gravel. “The place she’s lived a thousand bloody years. Don’t get more temporary than that.”
Everything in her world was harsh. The red lake. The orange sky. The burnt, crimson ground. She’d done a number on herself without even trying.
And she was waiting for him.
Spike sighed again and fixed his eyes on the buildings ahead. She hadn’t asked him to touch her since the night they showered together, and when he took her back to the building tomorrow to wash up again, he suspected she would want a repeat performance. He wanted one, too. He wanted one so badly. All he needed was an excuse. One tiny little indication that she craved his hands on her, and he was bloody done for. The way her body pulsed around his fingers, the way her pussy clenched and pulled him in…he was a goner. He wanted to feel her, taste her, memorize her every little whimper to play over and over on his inner soundtrack.
He needed closeness. He needed release.
He needed her.
I need a bloody wank.
A soft snicker wheezed through his lips. It was a simple solution with little payoff, save the obvious. While touching himself would take off the edge, it would similarly do little to relieve the burn he felt. Still, some help was better than none; he’d just have to find a free moment in which to rediscover his body. Not that Spike had forgotten how the piping worked; rather he’d only recently begun to think of himself as a sexual being again. He remembered ecstasy but nothing specific. Pleasure was a foreign entity, and he wanted to relearn it.
It wouldn’t be easy. Not with Buffy stapled to his side. He supposed he could sneak off into an abandoned warehouse and have a go at it, but he didn’t want to leave her longer than needed. Blood was essential; masturbation was not. He’d find time.
Though sooner was definitely preferable to later, before he busted a nut.
Spike stopped short of the doorway before she could sense him. The sight had taken him by surprise; he’d never seen her study the marks on the walls before. Ever since inviting him into her home, she’d been rather indifferent to his fear and curiosity, which he supposed was fair. After all, she had put them there and lived with them for God-knows-how-long. It was no small wonder she didn’t find them remarkable.
Only, for whatever reason, she did now. Buffy was staring at the walls, her expression troubled and her arms crossed. It was a look he knew well. He’d watched her mull things over more times than he could count, trying to unravel the unknown and form hypotheses only she could piece together. She’d managed to work up some truly brilliant plans when she wore that look, and though everything was different now, Spike was struck again with the feeling that, somehow, nothing had changed.
The notion was ridiculous and romantic, and he knew better than to be fooled by a look he recognized.
For her part, she didn’t give any indication she knew he was near. Her attention was totally claimed. Buffy licked her lips and shifted closer to the walls, her eyes following the years-old cuts her hands had made. She remained like that for some time, startling him when she moved, when she raised a hand to trace her work.
He was mesmerized. He wanted to go to her, to experience whatever she was experiencing at her side, but he couldn't budge. He couldn't tear himself away. Not when she moved like a ghost—like something out of both their imaginations. There was no hesitation as she explored; her finger never halted, never broke contact. She knew the marks well. Her strokes were fluid and confident, even if she didn’t rush herself. She traced one senseless symbol and followed it with another, her frown deepening and her eyes boring hard in concentration.
This was the brink of an epiphany. There was no mistaking it. No way could it be anything else. The look on her face was unquestionable…she just hadn't made it to the point of realization. To the place she was fast approaching.
Fuck, he couldn’t help himself—he was too excited to try. “You know what it means?” he demanded, surprising her enough to make her jump…
And that was it. The spell was over, snapped in half and cast aside. He’d scared her out of her concentration, stealing a gasp off her lips and chasing away the determination in her eyes until there was nothing but uncertainty. And that was gone just as rapidly. He saw it coming before she did.
Spike’s face fell as his stomach dropped.
He was at her side before she fell, catching her swiftly as the first wave came crashing down. Her hands flew to her head, harsh whimpers tearing through her lips. It came at her again and again—pain from nowhere, pain he couldn’t see and didn’t know how to stop. Forget what he’d thought before—this was nothing like Drusilla’s visions. At least then he’d had an idea of what to do. Hold her, demand what she'd seen and try to find a way to appease the vision…or stop it, whichever Dru thought was better. Visions were bloody easy; whatever this was, whatever Buffy saw, provided no trail to follow. She hadn't the words to tell him what was wrong, and he had no sodding clue how to help.
All he could do was hold her.
“It’s all right,” he murmured into her hair, hating himself.
She mewled pitifully and buried her face in his shoulder. Her body tensed and shuddered.
And he’d never felt more helpless in his life.
Spike shivered, sliding his arms under her legs and hoisting her off her feet. “It’s all right,” he said again, even though he knew it wasn’t. “I’ve got you, kitten.”
Her breaths rocked against his shoulder, ricocheting hard through her body. And every whisper twisted his heart. God, he hated this. He had no sodding clue what it was, but he hated it. There was no feeling worse in the world than not knowing how to relieve the pain of the one loved most. Holding her provided empty comfort—whatever she saw, whatever she had seen, remained with her long after the pain faded into memory. He had nothing to offer. No reassurances to whisper into her hair. This was something else—a whole new element introduced into a world where nothing had a simple explanation.
Spike carried her over to the place where they slept, sinking to his knees. “I don’t know,” he whispered, rocking her gently. It was the best he could offer. The truth often was. “I don’t know. I’m so sorry, Buffy, I just don’t know.”
She sniffled but didn’t look up. And they remained that way long after the tremors subsided and the agonized whimpers faded into silence. She clung to him as she had the first night, as she had when she worried he would disappear.
“I’m here. It’s all right. Spike’s got you.”
Buffy trembled, her nails digging into his arms. Nothing could pry her face away from his shoulder. She was rigid in his hold.
The world around her was blacker than darkness. She was safer with her eyes closed.
A dream. This has to be a dream.
Nothing else made sense. Buffy was in his arms. She’d fallen asleep just minutes after the pain subsided. This was fact. Buffy was in his arms. She was not standing at the walls. She was not.
This has to be a bloody dream.
Yet he felt wide awake.
She was carving. Her back was to him, blood streaming down her arm from where the glass dug into her palm, but she was definitely there. More than a shadow or a whisper of something in his head, Buffy was grunting and gutting word after word. They were words he ought to know but couldn’t decipher. Words that meant something to her. Words he needed to read. Words he couldn't see.
She's not there.
Glass dug into plaster. He smelled the dust. Smelled her blood. The air was thick with her tears. It was too real to be a dream.
But it had to be a dream. It had to be.
Maybe my mind’s going. Surprised I managed this long. How long did I last?
Buffy sniffed and shifted against his chest. Buffy scratched and dug against the wall.
He’d never experienced a dream that felt this real.
Hours could have passed and he wouldn't notice. He watched her work. Watched her move, watched her carve words that had no meaning. He couldn't tear his eyes away. Spike remained in shadows, holding a sleeping Buffy to his chest as a phantom with her face added to the horror of her opus.
He had no idea how much time passed before the writing stopped. When she was finished, Buffy turned to stare at him, and only then did he understand. How was another matter; she was trying to show him something. The girl in his arms and the girl standing before him were the same. They existed together. He didn't know how—he just knew. She was trying to show him something.
She was showing him the walls. She was showing him what was written. Somehow she was showing him.
It came down to one word. She'd bled to write one word. And as Buffy's phantom faded into darkness, the lines of her scribbles began to bend. The unintelligible writing took form, stretched beyond the mechanics of reality, twisted, turned, and became something else.
Every fiber in Spike's body numbed.
The word on the wall was a name.
The name on the wall was his.
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