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 22

Chapter Notes: Thanks to Megan, Mari, and Tami for the incredibly quick turnaround. As promised, without FULL BETA APPROVAL, here is Chapter 22. I’ll make an announcement when a fully betaed chapter is available…until then, however, you’ll have to live with my mistakes.

Thanks so much to everyone who voted for this and my other stories at The Spuffy Awards. You guys are awesome!!


A lifetime could have passed before he moved and he wouldn't have noticed. Fuck, he wouldn't have cared. Nothing in the whole bloody universe could begin to compare to the harmonious ring of his name rolling off her lips. It had been too long, too bloody long since he heard her voice. She'd spoken, sure, but her words were fragmented—more sounds than anything else; she mimicked what she heard without saying a goddamn thing.

It was how she'd lived, as a shadow of herself.

“Buffy,” Spike whispered, rolling onto his side and gently shaking her shoulder. “Oh God. Buffy, love, can you hear me?”

Her brow furrowed as though burying herself further inside her dream. But the words came again, and he lived on her every breath. “Spike…I…”

“What?” he demanded hurriedly. “What is it? I'm right here, kitten. Right here.”

This was really happening. Oh God, this was really happening. Nothing could have prepared him for this. Time gripped and pulled, dragging him through a sea of memories he didn't care to relive. Moving from the second he watched her take the fateful dive off the Tower, falling until her body crackled and disappeared inside a vortex into which he could not follow. The agonizing days after that…running to the Summers’ home every night, demanding answers no one had and living under the hard, judgmental stares of people who didn't understand him. The not knowing—the not knowing. Christ, that had killed him. Assaulted with nightmares of where she was, what horrors she faced, how she'd be when he found her, and dreading the moment he found out.

Then it was into the rabbit hole. Three trials of torture, temptation, and dedication. Diving into a pool of holy water with only hope that he'd pull himself out on the other side. Waking up to the eyes of a demon wearing Buffy's face, offering him Buffy's body and appealing to a side of his nature that could no longer be enticed through tricks or flattery. And then the long, cold centuries of waiting—waiting without knowing what lay ahead, without knowing what he would find, or even if surviving the trial would mean a damn in a world without rules.

Now he was with her, and for the first time in generations, her voice was hers.

A long moan whistled through Buffy's lips, her body tightening with resistance. “No, no, please. Don't…no!”

His heart leapt into his throat. “Buffy!

“No! Please!”

Her eyes shot open and everything else fell away. The air split apart with the weight of her scream, her hands fisting her hair and tugging so hard he was certain she would rip her scalp apart. Joints jerked, twisted and locked, hard tremors coursing across her small form and rendering her a sobbing mess, and he didn't know what to do. He was caught between worlds and he couldn't help her. He couldn't help.

She'd been Buffy for just a second. Just a second.

And it was killing her.

“I'm sorry,” he gasped, not knowing why or what for, but it was the only thing to say. “Buffy…”

She hissed and whimpered, curling into a ball.

“I've got you, baby.” He flattened himself against her back, wrapping his arm around her waist and anchoring her against his body. “I've got you.”

There was no telling how much time passed before the tremors stopped—before her cries softened into gasps as the earthquake claiming her insides began to calm. Then there was nothing but quiet. He didn't ask if she knew him, didn't ask if she was all right, didn't say a damn thing because he knew every answer to every possible question.

The shade of Buffy had been scared away. But she'd been here. She'd been here. Right here in his arms.

He felt so close to something he couldn't name. Something he barely believed. Something he feared was entirely in his head.

But there were certain things that couldn't be imagined. She'd been here.

Buffy had been here.

He just had to find her again.

*~*~*



It had taken a half hour or so, but Buffy had managed to find sleep again. Spike hadn't had the same fortune. The night ticked by in quiet solitude, holding her to his chest and tenderly caressing her face, replaying their hours together over and over in search of something else he could have done. Some other thing he could have said, another way he could have touched her or encouraged her to break completely through the surface. Something…anything…

He'd lost track of the days. It seemed like it should have happened already—Buffy awaking, Buffy remembering herself. But there was no time-table for these things, and if there were he'd barely started the wait. How long did it take, after all, to reclaim an entire lifetime after having lived it a thousand times over?

Much longer than this.

But his Buffy was a fighter. She could accomplish anything, and she wanted out. She was pounding on the walls of her prison. She wanted out.

Last night had given him that if nothing else.

Spike sighed heavily and glanced down. He'd left Buffy's side a little more than an hour ago, needing a reprieve but similarly unwilling to go far without her. He sat just outside the warehouse, studying the fingernails that used to be chipped with black polish while his mind spiraled a mile a minute. The day before had been the best one he'd had in all his years. Waking with Buffy in his arms, sharing a moment of perfect intimacy with her, even if his actions had crossed into the murky shadow area between right and wrong. Sharing the day with her, touching her, rolling her clit between his lips and bathing his tongue with her juice, and again getting the privilege of holding her as she slept.

Then he'd experienced hope, true hope, for the first time since watching her fall. It might be ages before she managed to break through completely, but he knew now, with absolute certainty, that it was possible. He knew he would speak with Buffy again someday. The eyes he looked into would be her eyes. When he touched her, she would know him.

It might not happen for a while, but it would happen. There was no doubt.

He just hoped he knew how to talk with her when she was with him again. What was there to say to someone who had been lost for a thousand years? It's all right. I know how you feel. You can talk to me.

Bollocks.

He sighed again and ran his hands through his hair. What he wouldn't do for a fag and a beer right about now. He wouldn't turn down a mouthful of blooming onion from the Bronze or a bite of spicy buffalo wings, either. Something that made him feel normal. Alive, or something like it. Like the life he was in was the one he was supposed to live. Like he was real.

He couldn't switch off the feeling that he'd struck it lucky in the past. Caring for Dru had been different—she'd been sick and weak and receptive to all the attention he'd so willingly given her. But Buffy wasn't weak or sick, and this world was no angry mob.

He could help her, but how much? Aside from holding her hand and filling her head with promises he couldn't guarantee would come to fruition.

And then there was the matter of getting out. Awaking Buffy before he had an idea of how to leave this world might drive the final nail through the coffin. Give her back her life only to take it away again.

She might never forgive him for ripping her sanctuary away.

“Fucking hilarious, pet,” Spike mused, turning his eyes to the yellow sky. “You called it, din't you? But then, you were always a step ahead of me.”

A small breeze flirted with his ears, and he would have sworn he heard her laugh. He would have sworn but he didn't.

Spike cast his eyes downward and laughed shortly, shaking his head. He was pathetic…seeking the advice of a phantom. Talking to a figment of his bloody imagination as though she could impart wisdom he hadn't already considered. The truth of the matter was much simpler: he missed her. He missed Buffy so bloody much. Her quips, her laughs, her way with words…the way she didn't know how smart she was, or how funny. He missed arguing with her, missed the fights, even if they had been one-sided. The Buffy in his head had been imaginary on a rudimentary level, but at the same time, he'd made her into Buffy as he knew her. She'd denied it, of course, but those were his own fears talking—the fear he'd idolized the Slayer into something she wasn't, that he was jumping through hoops to touch an ideal, that the perfection he wanted didn't truly exist. She'd already been loved on a pedestal with Angel, and while Spike knew himself well enough to trust when he was or wasn't in love with someone, there was something so special, so different about loving Buffy. It made him second-guess everything, even things that were absolute certainties, and speaking with the Buffy in his head had led him to answers he hadn't even realized he needed.

Loving her had changed him inside and out—changed him in ways he couldn’t have understood or appreciated until she was gone.

Until he faced a world without her.

“Could use your divine insight now,” he murmured. “Not even you predicted this one.”

There was no response. He truly hadn’t expected any.

“’Course you’re in my head, right? You always bloody were…but it never seemed it. You were just…her.” A smile tugged on his lips. “An’ I only knew what you knew, because you were never really there.”

A harsh breath rushed through his lips. This was ridiculous. He was sitting just feet from the genuine article and talking to himself under the guise that the voice in his head had been anything but his way of saving himself when he needed it the most.

Buffy had been within a breath of him. He could taste her fear and confusion, felt the weight of what was to come. He needed to talk with her. He needed to do something, because waiting was going to drive him out of his mind.

Something stirred from the inside of the warehouse, and he knew immediately she was awake. Her pulse raced and her heart pounded a little faster, a tempo which grew steadily as she realized she’d been left alone. Spike drew to his feet without hesitation and stalked back into the shadows. Into the room with the mad walls and the startled girl. The little shadow of who was once the Slayer.

Christ, she was still a vision. Time couldn’t eradicate beauty, no matter how starved or beaten. Her tanned skin was rough with bruises and scars, some newer than others thanks to her newfound love of sparring, but she positively glowed in ways he’d never understood. The same sort of soft aura which had encompassed her the first time his eyes found her at the Bronze. It was something the other slayers hadn’t had; something he understood to be Buffy’s and Buffy’s alone.

Perhaps it wasn’t because she was the Chosen One…perhaps it was there because she was meant to be his.

“Mornin’, love,” he greeted, smiling and slipping his hands into his pockets. “How’s the head?”

Buffy smiled at him, relief chasing away worry. A pang of guilt stabbed his heart. He hadn’t wanted to frighten her.

She’d awaken alone for so long. He should have known better.

“Today’s your day,” Spike continued. “Whaddya fancy, hmm? Wanna go for a tumble?”

It was sodding ridiculous insisting on a one-way conversation, but the silence had to be filled and he knew it was good for her. Or rather, he figured it was. Whatever he was doing seemed to be working, if what had happened last night was any indicator, and he had no other method of connecting.

None other but the thing he wouldn’t do unless she wanted it.

Buffy’s smile broadened as she climbed woozily to her feet, and he couldn’t help but smile back. She was adorable. Purely adorable. It was maddening as fuck, of course, being caught between worlds, but there were some qualities about her that couldn’t be ignored. This was one of them. She could be so damn cute it killed him.

His eyes took a detour down her legs.

Right. Real cute. Other times, it killed him just to look. Her t-shirt hiked up her hips when she reached to rub the sleep from her eyes. The primal, forbidden part of him roared awake. He didn’t need to be reminded how she felt or tasted this early.

No, he had a whole bloody day for that.

“What we wouldn’t do for a telly, eh?” Spike drawled, plucking a random pair of slacks off the ground and tossing them into her arms. “Here we are. Why don’ you get dressed? Don’t know where we’re goin’ just yet, but we’ll find something.”

Buffy’s nose wrinkled but she complied without needing further instruction. She probably had expected his help in dressing.

And as much as he’d love to give it, he feared his control, as confused as it was, would come completely undone.

Might not be a bad thing…

Spike snorted and shook his head.

The last thing he needed was to give the devil on his shoulder an audience. In Hell, everything seemed like a good idea at first.

Or so he was learning.

*~*~*



The first time her head had ached, it had been in the midst of a fight. She’d been astride him, smirking in triumph and looking very much the way he remembered her. All brilliance, all fire, all victory…and it had dissolved on a gasp. She’d contorted and writhed, whimpered in agony he could barely understand, much less console. It had been gone before he realized what had happened and what the implications were.

The second time had been later that day. He’d stumbled upon her in a private moment, studying the work she’d made of the walls. As though seeing them for the first time, reconnecting what her carvings meant. He’d spoken knowing he ought to keep quiet, knowing he’d disturb the moment, but he’d been too damn excited to bite his tongue.

And then last night. After whispering his name, after forming words, after pleading with him for…for what?

Spike exhaled sharply and squeezed Buffy’s hand. She favored him with a curious frown but he didn’t meet her eyes. No sense expanding upon what couldn’t be explained.

“Probably wouldn’t hurt to go on a hunt today,” he mused. “Get some more pork before the pickings grow thin.”

Not a possibility, he knew, but she expected words and he was too preoccupied to try and find something meaningful to say.

They drew to a stop at the river’s bank. He hadn’t even known this was where his feet were heading until the scent thickened the air. Made sense. He was peckish and this was the best way to prepare for what promised to be a long day.

There were other things he’d noticed. Buffy’s whole demeanor about the river had changed; the hesitation she’d once exhibited was gone now, and it had been since the morning she led him here of her own accord. She understood now that it was something he needed, not something to be feared. Therefore when he’d set the now-familiar course, she’d fallen into pace at his side, tossing him glances every now and then which he met with an encouraging smile—a smile that never quite reaching his eyes.

He was so close to something. So damn close.

“Stay here, kitten,” Spike told her, holding up a hand for emphasis as the bones in his face shifted. “Won’ take long.”

He hadn’t even managed to turn around fully before her gasp hit the air, and immediately he knew. The demon retreated instantly, his feet twisting in the blood-caked mud. A harsh, metallic cry ripped through her body and sent her to her knees before he could catch her.

“Buffy! Buffy!” He fell to the ground beside her and seized her wrists. “Hold on, sweetheart, just hold on. It won’t be—”

Bloodshot eyes found his and every molecule froze.

And then her jaw fell open and she screamed. The universe could have unwound on that scream. It knew no end, stretching to the limits of this dimension and besieging others. Creating storms above and drilling into the ground below. He felt everything—he held her, refused to fall aside no matter how tempting she made it. Bugger if he knew what was happening, but he knew he had to hold her through it. No matter how hard her skin rattled against her bones. Buffy screamed and screamed, screamed until the force raping the air and beating it dry descended into an agonized ring. Screaming until her tired voice gave and she could scream no more.

She shook. She shivered. She huddled against his chest.

Nothing. Nothing.

“Bloody hell,” Spike gasped, bracing the back of her head. “Buffy…”

“Oh…God.”

Everything stopped.

She coughed harshly and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. Harsh tremors erupted through her body, partly as aftershock. Part…God, he didn’t know.

He was too afraid to look.

“Who…” Buffy coughed again. The ground trembled beneath her. “I…where…is that…Spike?”

It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. It wouldn’t last. She’d be gone again when he looked at her. Like the warehouse, like last night. Small visits, baby-steps. He just had to keep her here long enough to make an impact. Make a dent for when she was chased away again.

“I…I…what…what is happening?”

Christ, he couldn’t take it. He looked up.

Don’t run, don’t run. Don’t be another fucking ghost.

Their eyes clashed.

Oh my God.

Buffy was looking at him through her eyes.

She was real.

She was real.

“Don’t run away again,” Spike whispered. He didn’t realize he was crying until he tasted tears.

There was a frown of confusion, but it didn’t last long. The period between dreams and consciousness was always brief. And the instant she remembered—the second she understood—his reality came crashing down.

She was in Hell and she’d managed to hide within herself long enough to forget.

And when she dissolved, he was there to catch her.

It was all he could do. All he knew.

The world had just been rewritten.

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