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 6

It would be a night funeral. The others wouldn’t like it—it would invite any manner of creatures and alert the demon underworld the truth of what had occurred. The truth her friends kept protected. Buffy was gone. She was gone, and the world couldn’t know. The world couldn’t know the Hellmouth was unprotected. The world couldn’t know its champion was in the ground. Not with the other slayer serving twenty-five-to-life in a cell somewhere in Los Angeles county, and the Scoobies were clueless whether or not Buffy’s death would trigger another girl’s destiny. In the laws of the universe, she hadn’t been the active Slayer when she jumped; her brief foray into death years ago had stripped her of the formal title. And yet, despite everything, hers was the name demons feared. No other slayer could wish to compare. She was a legend. Buffy was a legend, and the world couldn’t know she was gone.

For that reason, a night funeral was dangerous. Night funerals attracted attention, and Buffy’s friends were nearly as recognizable as the Slayer herself. If word got out that Buffy was gone, the Hellmouth would become a bona fide war zone, the likes of which the Scoobies couldn’t picture in their worst nightmares.

It was dangerous but necessary. If Spike couldn’t attend, there was no telling what he might do with himself. If he couldn’t look at her one more time. If he couldn’t say his goodbyes. His body was crippled with starvation, his eyes hollow from sobbing and his throat choked with the tears he couldn’t cry. He’d cried himself dry. He couldn’t cry anymore.

Gone. Gone. She was gone.

No, no, no…

“Buffy wanted you to have this…”


Spike didn’t know to whom the voice belonged. He didn’t even know where he was. The room was shapeless, the faces around him blurred and unfamiliar. Buffy wanted him to have something? It didn’t seem right.

None of this seemed right.

“Who’s there?” he asked. He barely recognized his own voice. “Willow?”

Something heavy sank into his hand. Something soft and wet. Something cold. A high shriek deafened his ears, every cell in his body freezing in horror. He couldn’t see it. Couldn’t smell it. Couldn’t do anything but hold. However, blind as he was, there was no questioning the tender weight cradled in his palm. He knew exactly what it was. He’d held too many to mistake it for anything else.

“You did your best,” the voice said. “No one blames you.”

Panic speared his insides. No. No. None of this was right. This wasn’t where he was supposed to be. This wasn’t where he was supposed to be at all. This was a place of death and loss, where Buffy was being laid into the ground. But it wasn’t right. There wasn’t supposed to be a funeral. There couldn’t be a funeral. She wasn’t dead. Her body was missing but she wasn’t dead. And he wasn’t near anything resembling normality.

Spike’s fingers tightened around the Slayer’s heart as his own shattered again. No. This wasn’t how it happened.

He hadn’t had the chance.

“‘m not supposed to be here!” he screamed. “This isn’t right! This isn’t fucking right! I’m gettin’ there. She needs me!”

“You did your best,”
the voice said again. “All is well.”

“No, all is not sodding well,” Spike snarled, throwing the heart to the ground and willing himself not to wince at the splattering echo. “That’s not hers. You’re not here. I’m not here. She’s—”

“Gone.”

“Gone,” he agreed harshly. “Not dead. I’m getting her back.”

“You tried.”

The voice faded, rolling into a faint, haunting melody which grew more and more distant with each syllable. It calmed to a hush before ultimately falling into a void he could not follow. The ground beneath his feet began to tremble, throwing him off balance as the disfigured world around him descended into a spiraling pool of darkness. It couldn’t be real. It couldn’t. He hadn’t been given a chance. They hadn’t let him try. Try, try, try…

It couldn’t be real.

And it wasn’t. Spike slowly became aware of several things. The cold, jagged stone against his back. The pounding throb hammering his head. Every stretch of his body was sore, tiny pinpricks stinging the heels of his palms where the rope had burned harsh lines into his skin.

Everything was fuzzy and distorted.

He had no idea what happened or how much time had passed. The last thing he remembered was nothing overly remarkable—nothing that would naturally lead to waking up on the cold cave floor with a bastard of a headache and a stomach twisted with knots, haunted by false memories and fears of things that would never come to pass.

There wouldn’t be a burial. So long as Spike survived, there wouldn’t be a burial. He’d fight to free her with his last drop of energy, with the last ounce of strength in his body. He didn’t care what it cost. What he had to sacrifice was immaterial. All that mattered was Buffy.

“Bloody hell,” he groaned, sitting up with a grimace.

“You’re telling me.”

Spike sighed, glancing over his shoulder. “Mind telling me what happened?”

Larry shrugged casually from where he stood cross-armed, leaning against a small alcove. “Not uncommon,” he replied. “Everyone passes out after they get to Hell.”

“‘m not a person,” the vampire retorted. “Is there a reason?”

“Well, it is Hell. We do get some bad press.”

“Not sure if you noticed, mate, but I’m not your typical tourist.”

Larry blinked. At least it looked like a blink. Difficult to tell when the demon didn’t possess conventional eyelids. “And I suppose that matters?” he drawled dryly. “Hell is Hell, no matter how you flip it.”

“Hell looks a bloody lot like a bat cave.”

“And I say again, it doesn’t matter. The journey’s greater than the destination. You got here and you knew what it was, even if the entry hall doesn’t look how you pictured it. Cheer up, man. It happens to everyone.” Larry offered another shrug. “Are you ready for the first trial?”

“Guess I better be, right?”

“You’re always free to turn around and walk away. No one would blame you, certainly.”

Spike’s eyes darkened, his mind dragging him back to the world he’d seen in his dreams, the one where Buffy’s home was in the ground. His heart twisted and filled with renewed determination. “Sorry to send you back to the filing room,” he replied snidely. “But what’s another few millennia when you’re in Hell, right?”

Larry smirked unpleasantly. “You’d be surprised.”

“Somethin’ tells me I wouldn’t.” The vampire sighed and shook his head, rubbing the back of his neck to worry out the kinks. He wasn’t a bloke of refined tastes, but there was a great difference between sleeping on a sarcophagus and sleeping on a stony floor. Didn’t much help matters that he’d grown accustomed to a soft cushy mattress over the past few months. “Right then,” he said with a nod. “Let’s get going.”

“There’s no shame in quitting,” Larry assured him. “Not many have gotten even this far. The thought of the unknown scares them away. You—”

“Don’ scare.”

“Don’t scare, as I think we’ve established into overkill.”

“An’ you’re looking more an’ more like a git who’s worried about keeping his job,” Spike retorted. “Figure you finally looked me up in your books, is that it? Found out I’m also not the sort to leave the woman I love in her own sodding nightmares when I know I have the power to get her back.”

Larry’s huge, greasy shoulders heaved upward. “I’m not too concerned,” he said. “Yeah, you’re nuts about this girl, but the trials turn men into mice, and mice into cheese, if you get my drift. And they get harder the further you go.”

Spike rolled his eyes. “Of course they do. Isn’t leveling up the idea?”

“I just don’t think you understand how difficult it will be.”

The vampire’s jaw tightened. “I think you better shut your gob before I rip out your tongue an’ shove it down your throat.”

“Someone’s touchy.”

“You’re tellin’ me I don’t get how impossible it’s gonna be to take the Slayer out of Hell?” Spike took a step forward, eyes blaring dangerously. “The girl jumped off a tower to save the world an’ fell into a world where her worst fears are her reality. An’ yeah, she’s the enemy. She has a stake up her arse the size of a giant sodding redwood. I don’t care. I love her, an’ I’m not going back unless she’s with me.”

A still beat settled between them. Larry favored him with a long, appraising look. “Good to get that off your chest, big guy?”

“Gotta get it through your thick skull somehow. You keep saying it won’ happen.”

“Well, give me some credit,” the demon replied. “I did tell you I wasn’t going to make things easy for you. It’s my job to make sure she doesn’t budge. I gotta give you a fighting chance, sure, but I’m not going to be idle about it. And yeah, I get that you love her.”

Spike’s nostrils flared. “Don’ say it like that. Like it’s nothing.”

“Never said it was nothing.”

“You sodding—”

Larry held up a claw. “Gonna stop you there. First: I’m not easy to offend. I mean, look at me.” He stretched his scaly, log-sized arms. “Do you imagine there’s anything I haven’t heard? Secondly: I know you’re serious. Anyone stupid enough to climb into Hell has to be serious…or insane, but you were never the nutty vamp, so I’ll take what’s behind Door Number One. In the end, I guess I’m just jaded. I’ve seen too many people swear their undying love for their honeys. Give them ten minutes in a trial and they’re swearing there’s nothing they wouldn’t do to get back home, no matter the cost.”

The explanation did little to smother Spike’s outrage, yet there was little to be gained by screaming at the top of his nonbreathing lungs. If anything it would prove the git was worming his way into the vampire’s subconscious, burying a seed of doubt where doubt should not exist. Larry’s prophesies aside, Spike remained steadfast, though there was no denying the fear that he would fail. The fear that he would collapse and die along the way. That he wouldn’t be strong enough to withstand whatever it was the guardian wanted to throw at him.

His own strength worried him. While he vowed to give every ounce he had to get to Buffy, he worried he wouldn’t have enough.

That was where his fears ended. The other possibility failed to resonate. The one featuring him crying uncle and returning to the world without Buffy. Returning a failure. They could shove a stake through his chest and he wouldn’t beg for mercy. They could toss him into the sun and he wouldn’t cover his eyes. They could ask him to bathe in holy water and he wouldn’t flinch. There was nothing he wouldn’t endure.

There was no price too high.

But he couldn’t allow himself to lose his temper again. He couldn’t let Larry see his weakness, even if it was glaringly obvious. “You’re not my favorite person right now,” he ground out, hands curling into fists. A gross understatement of laughable proportions, but he had nothing else to offer.

He needed to maintain focus.

“I’ll have to blog my despair,” Larry retorted, rolling his crimson eyes. Sarcasm, however, seemed misplaced for the demon, whose otherwise cheery disposition couldn’t manage an acidic tone. “All right then, Big Guy. If you’ll follow me, we’ll get you started with the first trial. And whoo boy, is it a doozy!”

Spike inhaled sharply and forced a nod. “Can’t hardly wait.”

*~*~*



At first glance, there was nothing to the trial. Nothing at all. No tangible objective and no way of meeting the objective; nothing but a starting point and an imaginary finish line. After leading Spike through several narrow tunnels, Larry had stopped so abruptly the vampire nearly collided with his foul-smelling back. The arrival had been anticlimactic but the aftermath was just puzzling. What sat before him was not a trial at all. He didn’t know what it was.

Well, not entirely. What it was seemed rather self-explanatory. But he had no idea how to proceed.

No idea whatsoever.

The channel broke into a larger crevice, the stone floor stretching a good ten feet or so before falling into a pool of black water. The spread between the walls stood at approximately four meters, stretching just far enough to make the tunnel-inspired claustrophobia ease while still emphasizing the fact that Spike was far from home. At the end of the pool was a wall carved from cave rock. There was no opening. No ostensible goal. The pathway simply ended.

“Shouldn’t have taken that right at Albuquerque,” the vampire muttered, rubbing his jaw.

“I always preferred Daffy Duck to Bugs Bunny,” Larry retorted. “I thought he got a bad rap.”

“Fascinating,” Spike noted dryly. “You should write a book.”

“No need to get touchy, now.”

Ignoring him, the vampire waved at the pool. “What the bloody hell is this?”

“It’s a body of water.”

“An’ it’s my trial?”

The demon nodded slowly. “Well…yes. I think it’s rather self-explanatory.”

“Self-explanatory. You want me to take a bath?”

Larry snorted and shook his huge head. “No. We’re Hell. What do we care about cleanliness? No, your goal is rather simple. This is the path that takes you to Buffy. It’s about a half-mile long, give or take a few feet. To get there, you just have to…well, get there. Starting here.”

Spike’s eyes were fastened on the wall. “An’ getting across the pool is the firs’ test.”

“That’s right.”

“Gotta say, mate, after you talked it up so much I’m a li’l disappointed.”

Larry favored him with a skeptical glance. “Do you not see the huge slab of stone?”

“Doesn’ worry me.”

That wasn’t entirely true, but there was definitely some level of relief. After everything the demon had said, a dead-end swimming hole seemed too good to be true. All he needed to do was get around the barrier—then he was on his way. On closer inspection, it might be even easier. Perhaps the wall wasn’t a wall at all, rather a door. Perhaps there was a lever of some sort. The kind he saw in old noir films. The secret book the on-screen dame pulled in the old crone’s library to get to the manor’s hidden chambers. The trick-candle in a castle’s dungeon that made walls spin around.

It didn’t seem right, but he wasn’t going to voice his misgivings.

“I did mention this is the only path to your slayer, didn’t I?” the demon guide said. “It’s not like you can cut back and take a short-cut.”

Spike shook his head, huffed out a deep breath, and took a step forward. “See you on the other side, Larry.”

A closer inspection of the wall didn’t yield new results. There weren’t any telling creases to indicate it doubled as a door and he saw clearly that it stretched below the surface of the water. And while hopes of immediate success faded accordingly, he refused to be put off. He now had a rough idea of where he was. Of where Buffy was. Buffy was beyond the wall. Buffy was waiting for him. In just a few short hours he could be with her. He could see her face. Bask in her smile. Hold her if she let him. Christ, he could be getting pummeled into the ground by the woman he loved and he would revel in every second. He could be with her and there was no greater prize than that.

Spike stepped up to the edge, peering into the black pool. “Jus’ water, then?”

“Your plain ole H2O,” Larry agreed. “We don’t get much light down here. Not that it would matter, right? As long as it gets you to Buffy.”

He nodded. “As long as it gets me to Buffy.”

“Okay, then. Feel free to proceed at any time. She ain’t getting any less-tortured, you know.”

A dark shudder commanded the vampire’s body and before he could help himself, a growl had tumbled through his lips. It was an intentional ploy, but it worked nonetheless. Larry wanted him to rush. Wanted him to get sloppy. Wanted to instill an unneeded sense of urgency to trip him up and cost him the mission.

Buffy.

Spike shifted his weight from one foot to the other before kneeling before the pool. He had to keep his thoughts with Buffy.

Buffy was the prize. She was the light.

And he would get to her.

Thus with a sigh, he dipped in a finger to test the water.

And immediately pulled back as his flesh started to sizzle.

“Bloody hell!” Spike barked, leaping to his feet and shaking off the pain. He whirled around to the demon with a fierce snarl. “You stupid git, might’ve bloody mentioned—”

Larry blinked innocently. “What?”

“Plain ole water?”

“Holy water is plain water. It just happens to be, y’know, holy.”

“This is Hell.”

“So you noticed.”

“Holy water—”

“Is nothing but water consecrated by some earthbound dress-wearing putz,” Larry acquiesced. “And yet, it makes your skin burn. I honestly thought you had this figured. What fun would it be if the water wasn’t blessed?”

Spike snarled and waved at the dead-end. “I’ll bloody dissolve before I even touch the sodding wall.”

“I’m here to help if you need anything.”

With a disgusted grunt, the vampire turned back to the pool and clamped his jaw shut.

Don’t accept what you’re offered.

He was pretty certain advice fell under that guideline, which meant there was nothing he could do. Nothing but sit and hope an answer bled through the cracks of his broken psyche.

A sigh rattled his bones. Spike sank to the ground and settled on his knees.

Might as well get comfortable. He was going to be here for a while.

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