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 3

Chapter Notes: A brief editorial note: The Tale of Brychantus and the Demon King as well as all other mythology presented in this story is entirely my own.


They didn’t know what to tell Dawn.

It was Buffy’s fault in a way, though Spike would kill anyone who suggested it. The Scoobies were accustomed to coddling the girl. Pretending she was five rather than fifteen. Pretending her fragile mind couldn’t comprehend the horrors she’d been built to remember. Her memories might be fabricated, but that didn’t make them false. She remembered discovering her sister was the Slayer. She remembered Buffy’s three-month hiatus following Angel’s death. She remembered the way the sky turned black with ash after Sunnydale High was blown to the moon. She remembered the monstrosity of Adam’s demented creations. And she remembered every night she’d stumbled upon Buffy scrubbing blood and demon entrails out of her clothing. She knew the world in which she lived was a hybrid of the one she saw on television.

And she knew Buffy had dived into a thousand hells in order to save it.

But Dawn couldn’t know where Buffy was or what she was facing.

Spike didn’t agree with keeping mum, but he knew it was what Buffy would want. Buffy would hate it if Dawn knew she was suffering because of her sacrifice. If Dawn knew she was suffering at all.

Therefore, when the girl asked him why he was the only one who could go after Buffy, he didn’t know what to say.

“I mean,” Dawn continued, “I know why you’re going. You’re…you’re way strong and stuff. And you love her.”

Spike nodded, keeping his eyes fixed on a spot on the kitchen counter. He’d come in here to make himself a nice, warm glass of blood and had instead found himself cornered by the love of his life’s kid sis. Couldn’t ignore her. Couldn’t wish her away. Couldn’t tell her the truth. Could do nothing but listen and wait for the microwave to beep.

“I love her,” he said softly. There was nothing else to say.

“But Willow…she’s all mega-witchy. Wouldn’t…wouldn’t it be good to have that kind of power if Buffy’s in a dimension like…like the one we think she’s in?”

There was a pause as his mind raced, and given how little time he had to come up with an answer, Spike thought his explanation an especially good one. “Guess it figures to keep her here in case some other Big Bad decides to throw in while things are all calm-like.”

A thoughtful frown depressed her lips. “But this is Buffy we’re talking about. Isn’t getting her back the most important thing?” Dawn’s eyes shone with tears, and that, more than anything, made the vampire’s heart twist. He could stomach the Scoobies’ pain, even if it only served to remind him of the darkness surrounding him, but the girl had lost so much. The girl was the only tangible piece of Buffy he had left. And when she wept, he fell apart. More so when he couldn’t give her the answers she deserved.

“Isn’t it?” she demanded again.

Couldn’t speak the truth. Couldn’t tell a lie. There were no happy mediums for vampires possessing a conscience.

“I’ll get her back, Bit,” Spike offered weakly. It was all he could give. “I bloody well swear it.”

“But Willow—”

“Is needed here.”

“She’s needed wherever she can help Buffy,” Dawn countered. “She can’t help Buffy here.”

The vampire smiled without feeling. “Sure she can,” he replied. “Figure big sis wants another apocalypse to stop? We wanna make things easy for her when she gets back. Jus’ long enough to…we don’t know where she is.” That wasn’t entirely false, but false enough to make him hate himself for lying. God, things used to be so bloody simple. “It’s better this way, pidge. Believe me. No one wants Buffy back more than yours truly, present company excluded. This is the way to go.”

Dawn’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “There’s something you’re not telling me.”

A sigh. He moved to the microwave and removed the now-steaming glass of blood, his stomach gurgling and his fangs twitching. Since hunger was a tangible pain again, he’d been hell-bent on consuming as much blood as possible. “Many somethings.”

“Where is she, Spike?”

The question made his insides tremble. “Not here,” he replied. “An’ we’re gonna fix that.”

He had agreed to wait. It wasn’t what he wanted, but he understood the wisdom behind caution. The last thing he wanted was to jeopardize their chances of recovering her because of his impatience. So the Scoobies hunted and researched and came to conclusions, tossed their findings out the window, and started over. And he agreed to wait because it made everyone breathe easier to think he wouldn’t fly off the handle.

He’d agreed because it was the smart thing to do, even if his heart didn’t agree.

The demon on his shoulder whispered nasty temptations he’d grown rather apt at ignoring. He knew where the entrance was and how to get where he needed to go. The Hellmouth. He could go right now and no one would be any the wiser. It was what Giles had concluded…the Hellmouth. It was the way to gain access, and though simplistic, it made sense. After all, how better to get into Hell than walk in through the bloody front door?

“You actually eat today?” Spike asked, raising the glass of blood to his lips.

“Yes.”

His eyes narrowed. “Dawn…”

“I ate! Believe me, after the Night o’ Lectures, I ate.” She crossed her arms and looked away, her nose wrinkling when he slurped his blood hungrily. “I didn’t eat much, but I didn’t barf it up, either, so everyone should be happy.”

“Won’ let you starve yourself, Bit.”

“I’m not starving myself!”

“Not after what she did. What she sacrificed.”

“She shouldn’t have—”

His nostrils flared. “Bloody right, she shouldn’t have,” he snarled. “But she did. She jumped, an’ there’s nothing we can do but get her back. But fuck if I’m gonna let her come back to a kid sis who doesn’ care enough to keep living after she sacrificed her life so you, Nibblet, could keep breathing.”

Dawn balked as though smacked. “She didn’t do it just for me—”

“You’re a dolt if you think that.”

“Spike—”

“She was gonna let the world burn for you. She was gonna let everythin’ go to make sure no one touched a hair on your precious head.” Spike broke off with a laugh, shaking his head hard. “You better pop off to bed.”

A still beat at that. The girl crossed her arms and arched a brow. “Since when did you become the boss of me?”

“Since now.”

“Hey—”

“I got about a hundred an’ thirty years on you, munchkin. Don’ make me prove it.” He gulped down the rest of his blood, set the glass in the sink, and turned around with an air of authority one couldn’t merely learn. “We got some rot to go over, an’ the like. An’ I’m not gonna let you squelch on your studies an’ give Buffy another thing to worry about when she gets back.”

It was easier to speak in absolutes. Easier to ignore the aching hole in his heart—the very real fear that he was playing to desire rather than certainty. He had to make it concrete in his head and heart before he proceeded; he couldn’t enter Hell thinking he might fail. If he did, Buffy would be lost forever.

And he wouldn’t allow that. Buffy wouldn’t be lost. Whatever happened to him didn’t matter, so long as she breathed Sunnyhell air once more.

Dawn sighed again; a dramatic sigh only performable by teenage girls. “Summer school should be illegal.”

Spike shrugged. “Preachin’ to the choir.”

“I was being hunted by a hellgod!”

“An’ now you’re not.”

The look on the girl’s face was so painfully Buffy, he had to look away. She was so much like her sister—the monks had made her so much like her sister. The way her eyes flashed, the way her mouth twitched, the way her shoulders wound tight when she was irritated or when she was about to employ the famous Summers’ pout. At times it made it difficult to remember he didn’t breathe. “Still,” she argued, gesturing emphatically, “allowances!”

His eyes remained steadfast on the ground. “It’s important to them, though, innit?”

“And to Buffy.”

A beat. He nodded. “An’ Buffy.”

Another sigh. Dawn shrugged and pushed herself away from the counter. “All right. To bed with me. Just…” She broke off, gaze fastened on the wall separating the kitchen from the living room. It was where the others had undoubtedly congregated. Where they were going over plans they would inevitably toss out in favor of something else. “Just,” the girl continued, “when they stop…let me know where you’re going.”

“Huss’at?”

“Let me know where you’re going.”

Spike shifted uneasily. “Not goin’ anywhere, pidge.”

“But when you get Buffy—”

“Not my call.”

Dawn’s eyes hardened into a glare. “Okay, what gives? You’re not supposed to be so responsible. It’s wigging me out.”

A soft, sad smile twitched his lips. “Things change.”

Things change. God, if that hadn’t been the motto of the past year.

Everything changed. Hating Buffy. Loving Buffy. Fighting Buffy. Fighting for Buffy. Finding Buffy. Losing Buffy. Watching Buffy jump.

Watching his world collapse as she tumbled to the ground.

Only she hadn’t died—she lived. And she was living in a world of her own nightmares.

Things change.

And he would sacrifice everything to change them back.

*~*~*



He’d stood under that window too many nights to count. Right under it, in the company of the tree Buffy had used so often as a teenager. He’d dreamt of being where he stood now with longing that made his heart sore. Save for the wrinkles on the bed where he’d passed out the night before, the room looked untouched from when Buffy lived there. A heap of dirty laundry piled on the floor. The closet door hung slightly ajar, her purse hanging loosely around the doorknob. She’d kicked off a pair of heels and left them resting beside the nightstand. Her beloved stuffed pig sat neglected atop her dresser. This room wasn’t dead; its owner was just missing. Buffy was missing.

Buffy was far from here.

Familiar pinpricks stung his eyes. God, his skin was raw from crying. He hadn’t thought he had any tears left to give. With a heavy sigh, he turned and forced his feet down the hallway. Dawn was asleep. The gentle cadence of her soft breaths reverberated through the walls with a peace he envied. The girl could find sleep when sleep abandoned him; even the few hours during which his body had known rest, his mind couldn’t escape its torment. Buffy haunted him around every turn, her eyes large and imploring, her mouth twisted in agony. Begging, crying, pleading, and waiting for him to find her.

The floorboards creaked nosily under his heavy boots. He was so accustomed to creeping around the Summers’ home. Hoping no one noticed him. Hoping Buffy didn’t realize he had a collection of photos and old, forgotten clothes stuffed in his duster. Every corner he turned came with the flicker of longing to run into her unimpressed face, complete with crossed arms and suspicious eyes. Her cute ‘don’t-fuck-with-me’ attitude that did little more than turn him on.

It was no use. She wasn’t here.

She was out of reach until the Scoobies got off their asses.

Spike turned toward the family room, reaching into his coat pocket. “What’d I miss?” he asked, sliding a cigarette between his lips.

Willow and Tara looked up at the sound of his voice, and judging by their mutual expressions, neither of them was very happy. Xander and Anya had pulled in chairs from the dining room and didn’t look much better off. No surprises there. Another illuminating discussion which would ultimately get them nowhere.

“Willow wants to do something dumb,” Xander announced.

“Something she’s not going to do,” Tara agreed.

Anya rolled her eyes. “They’re exaggerating.”

“Imagine that,” the vampire drawled, lighting up. “What’s this barmy plan?”

Willow sighed, running a hand through her hair. “Well,” she said, reaching for a small, aged book on the coffee table. “I found this in Giles’s library. It sounded familiar so I grabbed it.”

Spike’s brows perked. “Knicking things from the watcher? Bravo, Red.”

The witch wiggled a bit at that, her cheeks flushing. “I didn’t steal it so much as I…took it without letting him know. He was on the phone with other Gileses and by the time I remembered I had it, I was here and he was sleeping so…I’ll let him know tomorrow?”

“You shouldn’t be smoking in here,” Xander said suddenly, waving at the cigarette.

“Shouldn’t be here at all,” the vampire retorted. “I oughta be halfway to the underworld by now, if you lot would stop talking an’ get to doing.”

“Doesn’t change the fact Buffy wouldn’t want you smoking in her house.”

Spike’s eyes darkened. “Dirty pool,” he replied, pinching the end of his fag. “I figure this book means somethin’, else you all wouldn’t look so bloody serious?”

“I did some cross-referencing when I got back,” Willow agreed, running her thumb along the cover. “It was familiar because six of the books on hell dimensions mention it specifically.”

“What is it?”

“The Tale of Brychantus and the Demon King.” Her nose wrinkled. “It’s in Sumerian.”

The vampire exhaled deeply. “Of course it is.”

Willow shook her head. “Not really a problem. Tara knew a spell that would instantly translate texts based on a random sampling of the original language and a sampling of the target language. Fifteen minutes and presto manifesto.”

“An’ it’s important?”

Anya huffed at that, crossing her arms. “You’ve never read The Tale of Brychantus and the Demon King? Now I feel old.”

Spike smirked in spite of himself. “Sorry, pet,” he replied. “You got about a millennium on me.”

“It was such a widely-read story back in the day,” she mused with a dramatic sigh.

“What is it?”

“Best I can tell,” Willow piped in, cracking the book open. “It’s a folktale.”

Xander blinked. “Demons have folktales?”

Anya met the vampire’s eyes again and they shared a small, private grin. There were times Spike wondered if the boy had a mechanism in his incredibly small brain that switched off the capacity for rational thought. If it wasn’t human, in his book, it had no artistry. No history. No traditions. No religion. If it wasn’t human, it simply didn’t function.

“All cultures have folktales, you pillock,” Spike drawled. “Doesn’ bloody matter how you grew up.”

“Guess I never thought of demons as a culture.”

“An’ it shows.”

Willow waved a hand. “Guys,” she interjected sharply. “Point? This is important.”

“No, it’s not,” Tara objected. “We don’t even know if it’s true.”

“I think it’s true,” Anya added unhelpfully, her brow furrowed in thought. “I think I remember it being true. It’s been eons since I even thought about The Tale of Brychantus and the Demon King. It fell to obscurity sometime after the Black Death.”

Spike rolled his eyes. “This is fascinating, really. But will someone please tell me what the bugger the sodding thing is an’ why the lot of you have your knickers in a twist?”

“It’s a cautionary tale to those who enter hell dimensions,” the redhead replied. “It’s kind of…the tortoise and the hare. There was a quest, or a sort of…I don’t know, Knights Templar for demonic relics sometime in 1200-800 BCE range. A bunch of artifacts were retrieved from a variety of dimensions, designed to make the world a demon playground once more…to overthrow the disease of humanity. Among these things, the most coveted was a…trinity of sorts. Fashioned in Hell and waiting for the strongest and cleverest to claim them.”

Light flashed in Anya’s eyes, her hand shooting up. “Oh!” she said eagerly. “I remember this! It was…a…a ring, a sword, and a crown.”

Willow nodded. “That’s right.”

“Later texts speculate the ring became known as the Gem of Amara,” Tara said softly, disapproval set staunchly in her eyes. “And the sword was eventually split in two. Modern scholars think it was what was used by the knight who originally stopped Acathla…and, Buffy…a few years ago.”

Spike blew out a deep breath.

“A thing from Hell stopped an apocalyptic demon from sucking the world into Hell.” Xander blinked stupidly. “Talk about irony.”

A long sigh rolled off the vampire’s shoulders. “Don’t you know anything?”

“It’s not the sword that matters, but how you use it,” Anya agreed.

Willow sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “The point of the story is that no matter how evil the demon, you won’t get anywhere in a hell dimension without something called the Rule of Three. The Demon King in the story was supposed to be…some mega apocalypse-happy demon, widely feared and regarded as the Napoleon of his time, only on a much larger scale. He entered Hell to grab the goods, intending to end the world, but he did it without first seeking the Rule of Three.”

Spike blinked. “Which is…?”

“We don’t know,” the redhead admitted. “I can’t find it anywhere.”

“And you won’t,” Anya predicted. “The Rule of Three, if memory serves, can’t be written down in any dimension save one. If you try, the writing disappears…even if you try to get fancy with the wording. Hell isn’t big on tourists who know how to dance around the booby-traps, ergo why it only exists in writing in one place.”

Willow nodded. “The Inferias.”

The former demon nodded. “That’s right.”

“And that’s the point of the story,” the redhead concluded. “The demon king didn’t bother to acquire the Rule of Three before he entered Hell, and even he, the baddest of the bad, was lost. He didn’t think he needed it to survive—he thought his reputation spoke for itself. But this other demon… In some translations it’s a vampire, in others it’s a different half-breed…very low on the totem pole. All we know is it was a considerably weaker demon called Brychantus who learned the lesson the demon king did not. He went first to the Inferias to acquire the Rule of Three, which enabled him to enter Hell and emerge the victor. The Rule of Three is incredibly important.”

“According to the folktale,” Tara added quickly. “We don’t know if it’s real.”

Anya rolled her eyes. “How many times do I have to tell you? It’s real. It’s not called the Inferias anymore, but the place is rather pleasant. D’Hoffryn let me set up a summer house there after I flayed a priest.” Her smile turned wistful, completely oblivious to the looks she garnered. “Granted, I’ve only been once, as it’s impossible to enter without any mystical powers and I only got a vacation every five hundred years, but I remember it with much fondness.” She nodded. “And I’ve been to the library where the Rule of Three is archived. I’ve seen it. Very pretty casing.”

“And you don’t remember it,” Xander muttered.

“Well, it was in the year 1569. Would you remember something that happened to you over four hundred years ago?”

Willow snickered loudly. “Please. I spent the weeks leading up to graduation re-teaching him everything he’d learned so he could pass finals.” A pause. “Well, that and assembling an army to take out the mayor.”

The boy sighed. “Thanks a lot for that, Will.”

“I’m here to help,” she agreed with a nod. She turned back to Spike with a shrug. “The entrance rite into the Inferias is rather simple. I’d be back in a jiffy.”

It wasn’t often that Tara raised her voice, but he’d seen it happen before. More over the last few days—more since Buffy jumped. The blonde witch wasn’t one for exuding negative energy but, especially in the aftermath of losing her mind only to have it popped right back, she’d been especially protective of her lover. “I don’t want you going,” she said firmly. “We don’t know anything about this dimension—”

“I just told you, it’s fine,” Anya interjected tersely. “It’s pretty much identical to this one.”

“Then why is it the rules for navigating Hell can only survive in this one dimension?”

The former demon shrugged. “I don’t know. And truthfully, it hasn’t been proven the Inferias is the only dimension…one of the ones discovered over the past few centuries might be able to house them.” She turned to Willow. “I don’t think they would have moved the tablet on which the rules were written. It should be in Thestle, which is the capital city, and likewise the only gateway in or out of the Inferias. The public library is on the west side of town, and you should prepare to wait for a few hours. Unless tourism has subsided in the last five hundred years, the line to see the Rule of Three typically stretches to the city limits.”

“I’ll go,” Spike volunteered. He kept his voice tempered, but the prospect of actually getting out and moving—accomplishing a stepping stone to getting to Buffy—was too tempting for words. Every cell in his body itched to move, itched to do something that would make him feel like they were actually moving toward recovering the Slayer from her self-made Hell. He appreciated everything the Scoobies had done as well as their caution, even if the impatient man inside couldn’t abide it. He needed to be moving in order to feel useful, and if acquiring this Rule of Three was all that stood between him and entering the Inferno, so be it. “If it’ll keep everyone here happy—”

“No,” Anya said firmly, rolling her eyes again. “Weren’t you listening? In order to access the Inferias, you have to possess mystical powers. The guardian of the dimension made the stipulation after Brychantus’s tale became wide-spread. It was pretty much the only thing one could do to monitor the traffic.”

“‘m a vampire.”

“That’s a state of being, not a power.” She waved to herself. “I was a demon and possessed powers along with that, which is what allowed me to gain entrance. Being a mystical creature is not good enough, especially when your kind is older than humankind. It has to be Willow.” She paused as though only then remembering there were two witches in the room. “Or Tara.”

“And I say me,” Willow insisted. “Buffy said it herself: I was the only one who could hurt Glory. If there is danger on the other side—”

“And there’s not,” Anya muttered.

“—I can handle it.” She turned to her girlfriend before the blonde could issue another objection. “I’ll be fine. I promise you.”

Tara glanced down, her eyes heavy with trepidation. “How do we know the folktale is true?” she asked softly. “Aside from Anya’s memory…which doesn’t help us, being that it took place before she was made a demon. It’s not catalogued as history, Willow. It’s a story. And you know as well as I that a lot of pieces of history come tagged with stories about how or why they’re important. How do we know—really know—this isn’t George Washington’s cherry tree?”

“We don’t,” Willow replied simply. “But there’s no harm in knowing the Rule of Three. And the text says so.” She glanced down and hastily thumbed through the worn pages. “‘The rules may be simple, but you’d be wise to listen/To not lose your way along the mission.’”

Xander frowned. “How’d it keep the rhyme with the translation?”

“Easy spell,” Anya explained. “A lot of texts were bewitched to do things like that. It ensures the story doesn’t lose its punch just because it’s in a different language.”

“There are oodles of those warnings,” Willow continued, flipping forward a few pages. “‘Be wary, traveler, or you will see/What happens when you ignore the Rule of Three.’ I, for one, don’t want to learn the hard way that this Rule of Three business is legitimate. Anya says getting in the Inferias is easy and it’s safe as houses. This can’t hurt anything.”

It took a few long seconds for the dissent in Tara’s eyes to waver, and when it did, a pang of empathy harbored in Spike’s chest twisted. The part of him that very much did not want to like anyone in this house aside from Buffy’s kid sis. He liked the white witch, sure, but he sure as fuck didn’t want to feel for her. Yet feel he did. Felt her hesitation and fear, felt her gut-consuming worry that she would lose Willow. Lose Willow as he had lost Buffy. Lose her light, as Spike had lost his.

But Tara was strong—much stronger than even her lover knew. Thus when she nodded, she did so with conviction. “Okay,” she agreed softly. “You’re right. It can’t hurt anything.”

Willow smiled and brushed a kiss across her girlfriend’s cheek. “It can’t.”

Anya nodded at that. “Plus, time moves much differently in the Inferias. She could be gone all of fifteen minutes in this dimension. It was one of the reasons D’Hoffryn chose it for my vacation spot. I had weeks off, but was only gone a day or two.”

“Yet you were only allowed one vacation every five hundred years,” Xander mused.

“I didn’t say my vocation was without flaws.”

“An’ in the meantime?” Spike ventured. “We, what? Keep researchin’?”

Tara worried a lip between her teeth. “Discuss Buffy’s fears,” she said. “I-I don’t know her as well as you guys, but…if you’re going to be entering a world where her worst fears run free, I’d think you’d want a list of things to expect.”

The thought made his insides chill. Buffy’s worst fears.

The things he’d see once he reached her.

The things she had to face day after day.

The things from which he would rescue her.

He would get her out. Before her nightmares destroyed her, he would get her out. Spike would repay the mistakes he’d made. He would make right what should never have happened at the Tower.

He could have saved her from jumping if he’d been faster. More clever. He hadn’t.

A trip through Hell was nothing in the face of the debt he owed. He would get her out.

He owed her the world, and he was going to give it to her.

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