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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.
”What happens now?”
Spike tore his eyes away from the walls almost sheepishly. He’d been unable to do little more than stare since she’d led him inside. It was bloody amazing—he’d come to expect so much, had seen so many things, but he hadn’t been prepared for the writings to turn into names. It wasn’t extraordinary given the catalogue of experiences he’d had over the years…perhaps because it made everything she’d told him real, even if he knew it had been nothing else.
“What do you mean, pet?”
She sat on the makeshift bed, studying him with a warmth that made his toes curl and his body think of things it shouldn’t. “Is it weird?” she asked.
He smirked. “Let a bloke answer the first question before runnin’ off to the next.”
“The walls, I mean.” Buffy licked her lips, her eyes wandering over her carvings. “They didn’t always look like this, did they?”
“I can’t keep track of what’s real and what’s not. But I think I remember—”
“When I got here, it was unreadable,” he assured her. “I think your remembering turned it back.”
She nodded. “I just don’t understand why…”
A thick pause settled between them as she searched for words. When the silence became uncomfortable, he prompted, “Why your marks would change?”
“Right,” she said. “This isn’t normal, is it?”
“Normal’s relative, love,” Spike replied. He didn’t know what difference it made, didn’t know whether or not he was talking out of his arse, but it felt so wonderful just talking with her that he didn’t care enough to evaluate what was said. Not at the moment, at the very least. “Your world, your rules, that’s how I figure it. You told me the words stopped making sense to you, right?”
Buffy nodded again, though she didn’t look any more enlightened than before.
“I figure they just…became what you perceived.”
“I can do that?”
“Your world,” he reminded her. “Not sure how this works, but I reckon you control what you see to a degree.”
Her nose wrinkled. “I think I want a refund.”
A small ripple of mirth spread through his body; he managed to kill his grin. He hadn’t thought she’d be up for quips just yet, but Christ it was good to hear. “Just a theory,” he said again.
“It’s a good theory.”
“There were a lot of talks before I left,” Spike said, gesturing, “about this. About where you were and what to expect. I bloody resented it at the time, but it probably saved my life. All the hoops I had to jump…”
Buffy nodded faintly, wrapping her arms around her legs. “Three hundred years is a long time to look for someone,” she remarked. Her eyes met his. “What happened, Spike?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“That’s not fair. I told you my story of woe.”
“Right, love, you did. Wasn’t a quid pro quo.”
“It had to be bad if you’re not telling me.”
Spike’s brows perked. “How do you figure? Maybe I had a right good old time and I feel like shit knowing I was livin’ the good life while you suffered.”
She rolled her eyes. “You’re a terrible liar.”
“Oi! I’m a right good liar. You just didn’t give me time to come up with a convincin’ story.” He shuffled self-consciously. “I’m evil. Hell’s evil. Figure I’m right at home.”
Buffy didn’t look convinced. In fact, the look on her face was so thoroughly familiar he nearly felt weak in the knees. It would take a while before the realization that she was actually with him sank in; in the meantime, he enjoyed all her reminders. Every glance, every snarky comment…each and every indicator of the woman she’d been was something to be treasured.
“Who said you were evil?” she asked skeptically.
“Well, you, for starters,” he replied before huffing out his chest with indignation. “And I am bloody evil. Don’t you forget it.”
“I really said you were evil?”
“Too many times to count, sweetheart.”
“Well…” Now it was her turn to shuffle. If he didn’t find it so adorable, he might have worked to come up with more shining examples of his inherent monstrosity. As it was, it was nice hearing her defend him for a change…even from herself. “I was dumb,” she concluded.
“You looked for me for three hundred years. That’s not evil.”
Spike frowned. “I love you,” he replied. There was nothing more to it.
“There’s also that,” she agreed. “You love me.”
“Hate to burst your bubble, darling, but evil can love just as well as anything else.”
“Well, then…it doesn’t matter.” She nodded promptly as though she’d discovered the unarguable argument. “It doesn’t matter that you’re evil. Your kind of evil is…you’re not on par with Hell, Spike. And stop disagreeing with me. It’s wigging me out.”
He couldn’t help but grin. “How’s that?”
“It feels like we’re on opposite sides. Me arguing for your nonevilness.”
“That’s because we are,” he acknowledged. “God knows I spent months trying to convince you I wasn’t what I was…you and myself. But a bloke learns a lot over three centuries.”
Buffy licked her lips and fell silent. He took it as permission to continue.
“It began as infatuation, see,” he said softly. “Had a dream about you. About us. It’s bloody confusing as fuck because I feel like I’ve loved you since the second I saw you, but even then it was infatuation. The second I realized it is when I started to really fall. All through our last year together…the realer you became to me. And I did change, love. I changed for you…for me. You made me want to be better than I was. A better man. A man you could love.” Spike broke away, his jaw tightening. If he wasn’t careful he would reveal more than he intended. “But that doesn’t matter, does it? I can change who I am, not what. There’s always gonna be this. I can’t rip evil outta me. It’s there, all the time. It makes me who I am.”
An uncomfortable quiet settled between them. Her eyes had fallen from his at some point, and he didn’t really care to examine the connotations. There were some things all the sacrifices in the world couldn’t change. His nature, and her aversion to it, was among them.
“Nature isn’t your fault,” she whispered.
Spike blinked. “How’s that?”
Buffy exhaled and glanced up, her eyes shining. “Did I punish you for something you couldn’t change?” she asked. “I did, didn’t I? God, what the hell gave me the right…I can’t control what I am. Being the Slayer was never my idea. I was just…chosen. Like you were chosen.”
“It’s not that simple,” Spike interjected.
“Yes, it really is.” She shook her head. “I know there are things I don’t remember. About you. And me. And everyone. But I do know this…whatever you were or are…whatever I said you were, you came to find me. And you won’t tell me what happened to you, so I’m going to assume it was bad.”
Spike sighed, flooded with different waves of many-flavored emotions. All at once he was overwhelmed, defensive, skeptical, and more in love than he’d ever been. “It was bad,” he said shortly. “But I chose it. I knew what I was getting myself into.”
Buffy’s brow furrowed. “And I didn’t?”
“You didn’t know what would happen. I did.”
“I had to know it was a possibility, didn’t I?” He shook his head, which only furthered her conviction. “I jumped into a ripple of dimensions, Spike. Glory’s…her worlds were all hell-worlds. I had to know. I had to.”
“Rot. You jumped so Dawn wouldn’t, because you were so bloody sure she’d snuff it if she did. You did it to save her, Buffy. You jumped to save her.” Spike broke away before his temper got the better of him. The last thing she needed was to be scolded on her motives; motives he knew good and well had always been to jump, die, and rest for eternity. No one had ever discussed the possibility of being sucked into a hell dimension; in the last hours, all talk had centered on hell being unleashed on Earth and the necessary measures to prevent it. Dawn’s death was the only viable option…or it had been, until Buffy changed the rules.
Buffy exhaled softly, her shoulders dropping in defeat. “I don’t understand anything,” she said. “I don’t know why you would sacrifice so much for me—”
“I can only say I love you so many times.”
“Most people don’t love like this.”
Spike shrugged. “I’m not most people, love. Not bloody people at all.”
“Is that why we weren’t together?”
He offered a wry smile. “Thought we covered this. I didn’t have the right parts.”
Her eyes dropped unceremoniously to his crotch before darting away again, a warm blush tickling her cheeks. Spike tried and failed to smother a grin. Seemed the Slayer had remembered her naughty streak.
“The soul thing, right?” she asked, looking anywhere but him.
“And that was the only reason?”
Spike barked a laugh. Of all the conversations to have…
“You don’t remember,” he said, “and you’re confusing what you see here with reality. I’m not a sodding prince, Buffy. Not your white knight, no matter how much I want to be. I’ve done terrible things. Things I’d…and that’s not the kind of person you could be with.”
“This doesn’t sound like you.” She frowned. “I don’t remember a lot, but I remember enough to know this doesn’t sound like you.”
Spike shrugged lazily. “Told you, three hundred years of isolation can do wonders to a bloke’s perception.”
“So you don’t want me to love you anymore.”
Choking back his surprised laugh was almost impossible, but he knew from the look on her face he had to treat her question seriously. How she could doubt the answer was beyond him; however, he understood what was crystal bloody clear to him was the next man’s enigma. He wasn’t sure if that wasn’t also a lesson earned with time. Too many of his memories were little more than blurs, and the things he did remember offered few answers.
“More than anything, sweetheart,” Spike replied softly. “That’s what I want. But it’s not that bloody simple, is it? I was gettin’ there toward the end…knowin’ you’d never love me, knowing what I was and what you…but nothing can stop me from wanting it, just as nothing can change what I am or what I’ve done. I don’t deserve you.”
“I don’t believe that.”
The conviction in her voice was enough to break a man, especially one who had lived with hope and desire as long as he had. “Yeah,” he retorted, “you do. And if you don’t remember now, you will tomorrow or the day after. Whatever you’re feeling now won’t last.”
Buffy looked away and sighed. Tension held her every muscle hostage. “Tell me what happened.”
“You know when.”
Spike’s shoulders tightened. She was banking on him to cave, and why shouldn’t she? He’d already told her things he’d resolved to keep to himself. Things he swore would never leave his lips. Well, bollocks. She wasn’t getting sod all from him concerning the three centuries of starvation and solitude. He couldn’t bloody well take her sympathy, couldn’t stand it if the hero-worship in her eyes deepened or turned her gratitude into an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“Drop it, Buffy.”
“I’ve bloody told you, it’s not important.”
“And I say that’s hooey.”
His lips twitched. “Hooey?”
She nodded. “That’s what I said.”
“Tell me what happened.”
Let no one ever tell her she wasn’t stubborn. “It doesn’t matter,” Spike replied flatly. “All you need to know is I was prepared to sacrifice everything.”
She nodded, slightly subdued. “And you did.”
“No. Not everything. Not hardly, sweetheart.” He smiled in spite of himself. “I kept you with me.”
“Every day. You were with me every day.”
Buffy smiled at that, her eyes falling to her lap. “I was?”
“Better bloody believe it, love.” Spike took a step forward. “Wouldn’t have made it without you.”
He nodded. “And that is all you’re getting from me.”
The silence that settled between them was neither comfortable nor tense. Buffy sat, Spike stood, and they didn’t look at each other. It could have lasted hours, but it did not. There was still so much to discuss, things that would not wait for the sake of ease.
“I did what you asked,” Buffy whispered.
He blinked and met her eyes. “What’s that, love?”
“I remember now, and I don’t hate you.”
An awkward pause settled between them before comprehension dawned, and then he didn’t know what to do. She hadn’t addressed the intimacies they’d shared at all, not as he’d feared she would. The dreaded pop in the nose had remained absent, as had the accusatory glares and scathing remarks…all of which he now recognized as ridiculous and paranoid. After all she’d experienced, after everything she’d suffered, the touches he’d given her would be nowhere near the forefront of her concerns.
Still, knowing that didn’t knock back the need to explain his actions. Buffy understood now, sure, but she might not always. He needed to be prepared for that day.
She held up a hand, anticipating him. “I know.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be—”
“I know.” This time he didn’t press the issue, placated by her smile. “That’s why I wanted to tell you,” Buffy explained. “Whatever you thought I’d think…I don’t. I don’t hate you for touching…for giving me something that wasn’t…you took me out of myself.”
“Bloody self-serving. I’ve wanted to touch you for—”
“You seem intent on digging your own grave. Or is it dust-pile?”
Spike smirked. “Just don’t want you gettin’ the wrong idea of me, love. Everything we’ve had has been honest. I need it to be honest.”
“I don’t have the wrong idea of you.”
“Well, you don’t have your idea. All you know of me is—”
“Don’t do that.”
“Don’t project things you think I should be feeling or thoughts I should be thinking on me. You’ve been doing it all night, and I…” Her nose wrinkled. “You’re acting like Angel.”
Now there was an insult. “Oi! Take that back!”
At least she had the decency to wiggle. “Well, you are. I know I don’t remember everything, Spike, but I don’t have amnesia. It’s coming back. It will all come back…at this rate, probably a lot quicker than either of us expected. And Angel always did this. He assumed what I should or shouldn’t do or think. I remember that and it drove me crazy.”
“I don’t think there’s anything you should think. I just bloody know you, Slayer.” He shrugged. “Not sayin’ anything you haven’t told me before, or anything you wouldn’t have told me had…had…”
Her eyes narrowed. “Had…what? Had I not been sucked into Hell for a bajillion years? Well, that world doesn’t exist. I can’t speak for what didn’t happen, and you said it yourself, three hundred years can do a lot to change your perception. Imagine the impact of that times three.” She held up a hand. “Even if I wasn’t all here the entire time. Your name is on the wall, Spike. I wanted to remember you.”
Spike stared at her for a minute, then sighed heavily and lowered his eyes. She was right, of course. He wasn’t being fair…and he wasn’t quite being himself, but Christ, could she blame him? It would be so bloody easy to get swept up in the day’s romanticism. To believe the look in her eyes would be there forever, to believe the feeling she’d put into her hugs was genuine and wouldn’t fade. He’d been walking a fine line since he arrived, and when she looked at him the way she looked at him now, he nearly forgot the moment was fleeting, and the next might not be so generous.
And he couldn’t forget that, but he also couldn’t assume things based on judgment that was now a thousand years old. Time had changed him—why was he intent on thinking it would be any different for Buffy?
“I want this to be real,” he whispered. “I can’t take it if it’s not, Buffy. Being with you, here or anywhere, and getting what you’ve given me…if that’s taken away from me, I couldn’t bloody bear it.”
Her eyes softened. “I want this to be real, too.”
“An’ you know it might not be.”
“But I’m not excluding the possibility that it is. And even if it’s not real, I’m not…however things were won’t be the way they are. I can’t go back to that girl. She’s gone.” Buffy looked away. “She died in the jump.”
“Maybe not. But enough.” A small quiet held between them before her eyes found his again. “Are you going to stand there all night?”
Spike blinked. “Huh?”
She patted the vacant space beside her.
“You want…I didn’t know if…after you remembered…”
“I just want to be held tonight.”
He smiled, every nerve in his body singing. “I can do that.”
The walk across the room likely didn’t take as long as it seemed; it all felt like a dream. Everything since that morning at the river…he couldn’t quite shake the feeling he was going to snap out of a long, wishful reverie. But when he knelt beside her, she didn’t fade; when he wrapped his arms around her, she didn’t disappear; when her head found his chest, he didn’t jerk awake. Nor did she start when his fingers stroked her arm, or when his lips found her brow. Her heart beat against his silent chest, and every second was his.
“I don’t want it to be gratitude,” Spike whispered into her hair.
She was still for a second, then, “I know. I don’t want it to be gratitude, either. But I do…I do have…I have feelings.”
His heart jerked but he didn’t reply.
“But I’m smart enough to know it might not be real,” she continued. “You came to rescue me. You brought me back to myself. You’ve sacrificed so much, so yes, I am grateful. I am so grateful I’m…and I don’t want it to be gratitude. What I’m feeling. I don’t want it to be gratitude.” A breath. Buffy shifted and turned her gorgeous hazel eyes to him, and everything stilled. “I want these feelings to be real.”
She was so beautiful.
“I do. I really do. It’s so good to feel something. I want this to be real.”
God, there had never been sweeter sentiment. He was so exhausted on hope and fear he feared he might burst into tears, but he did not. Instead, he shivered and shook his head. “Mmm, Buffy…” Spike pressed his lips to her brow again, unable to help himself. “You have any idea what you just did?”
She shook her head.
“You gave me a crumb.”
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