Because this fic has terrified me ever since I agreed to do it. For one thing, it decided to go into a stylistic direction I completely didn't anticipate and will send most people running for the hills. But...well, that's how it asked to get written. Honest.
Since it's a bit experimental in nature (for me, at least), it's not going to be long. Part 1 is just over 3k, and I honestly think it's going to end in 2 parts. I think. We'll see. Part 2 isn't done yet and I won't be able to say for sure until it is.
But in the meantime, here's part 1...
Title: The Road to Return
Setting: A few weeks after Chosen
Rating: R, at most
Warnings: Some graphic description
Disclaimer: Not mine, as much as I would like them to be.
Author Notes: I'm starting clean from the end of Buffy so forget everything about Spike going to Angel or the S8 comics...
This was written for confusedkayt for the Welcome Back to the Hellmouth ficathon, who asked for Spuffy, hurt/comfort with Spike as the hurt one, a sympathetic Xander, a bruised mouth, playing cards, and no character bashing. I might not have hit the cards or bruised mouth as hard as she wanted, but hey, I got the Xander part. ;)
Sometimes, being taken for granted was a good thing.
Nobody asked any questions when Xander requested Africa. Well, at least, nobody asked the right questions. There were jokes about safaris, and there was advice about where to find sunglasses with only one lens, but not even Buffy made the connection he expected to be made. The only thing to come out of her mouth was…
“You should get a dashiki. I think it would totally work for you.”
So he smiled, and he took one of the new Council credit cards from Giles, and he hugged Dawn good-bye and pretended that he didn’t notice how soft she was in all the right places. Willow had already left for Rio with Kennedy, so that only left Buffy.
She gave him a stake in a box of Twinkies.
“You know, for emergencies.”
And that was that.
As his stomach dipped during take-off, Xander watched the ground fall away. It felt like that was all he’d been doing lately. At least this time, he didn’t have to watch his world crumble with it. This time, the ground would come back up to meet him, even if it would be foreign and sun-baked. He would get off the plane, he’d look up into the sun, and he’d take the necessary steps, back to the beginning, back to the source, in hopes of finding some peace.
Not for him, though. He wasn’t sure that was possible just yet.
But Buffy…She deserved more than getting saddled with this newfound Council responsibility. She’d lost as much as anybody during the big fight – more, if he weighed in all the karmic debt Sunnydale owed her for saving its ass so many times over the years. And for all her brave front, Xander knew what the loss meant, how deeply it ran. He didn’t agree with it – soul or not, Spike was still a vampire – and maybe nothing would come from looking for answers.
For Buffy’s sake, though, he had to at least try.
Hell isn’t supposed to be dark.
Hell is supposed to be a hot summer devoid of hope, sun bright and blood light.
Hell is supposed to be whiskey-soaked loneliness, because no matter where you look, someone undeserving has someone else equally undeserving. And you don’t.
Hell is supposed to be paved in piteous glances you’re not meant to catch, because you’re not really a vampire any more, are you, if you’re stuck relying on the kindness of sires just to eat.
Turns out, hell is none of that. Hell’s so bloody black, you can’t see a thing. You can’t even feel much because you can’t move, you can’t talk, you can’t smell, and you sure as fuck can’t taste. There’s something wrong about that, but without any of the other, there isn’t much room to debate it.
Hell, apparently, just is.
It would feel disappointing…if you felt anything at all.
By the end of the third day, Xander was ready to call a bad idea dead in the jungle. Nobody wanted to deal with a stranger from a strange land, even with the aid of a translator. They’d take his money, sure, and they’d tolerate his presence in their card games with rules he didn’t understand, but as soon as he started asking questions about what did a vampire have to do to get a soul around here, Xander was back out on the street again, usually with a few dollars less. Or birr, actually, since this was Ethiopia and not Miami. A loss was still a loss.
And maybe vampires with ill-gotten souls actually died when they saved the world.
All it took to get focused on his task again was to hear Buffy’s voice.
“How’s Africa? Gone on any safaris yet?”
“Addis Ababa isn’t exactly the Wild Kingdom, Buff.”
“But you’re not staying there for long, right? Giles said you were supposed to be picking up a couple Slayers in Nairobi next week. That’s, like, in a whole different country, right?”
“Yeah, south.” At least, he thought it was south. “And that’s another big city, so no lions, tigers, or bears for me there, either.”
They chatted as if an ocean and nearly two continents didn’t separate them, but by the time they disconnected, Xander had found his resolve again. After all, he still had seven whole days before he got delegated to Council duty.
Anyone from Sunnydale knew that a lot could change in seven short days.
You fight because you can.
You fight because if you don’t, someone will notice, and then someone else will say something about losing your edge, and the last thing you need right now is to look soft.
You fight because that’s what he did. That’s what you did. That’s what you did together.
Fighting has always been the easy step to take. When you couldn’t do anything else, you fought. When you didn’t want to do anything else, you fought. If you wanted to get philosophical about it, you would probably theorize that fighting feels good because it gives you a definitive result. There is no gray. You fight, or you die.
Death can be easy, too, but you don’t say that out loud because then you get funny looks from people who love you, who worry that maybe acknowledging what you did once upon a time wasn’t exactly a hard choice to make might mean you want to do it again.
You don’t. Even when you thought you might actually have stuff figured out.
And of course, all that depends on you looking at your world with philosophy-colored glasses and you wouldn’t do that. Or maybe can’t. The end result is the same.
Philosophy’s for the whiz kids.
For Slayers, there’s the fight.
More than once, Xander wondered if relying on the ravings of a crazy vampire and his own memory was a really good idea. Oh, sure, when it came to comic books or the oeuvre of Bill Murray, his memory was as good as, if not better than, Willow’s. But when it came to the cryptic, whether prophecy or Spike’s midnight babbles, he might as well have been Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel. Maybe he was remembering the details wrong. Maybe that was why Buffy hadn’t blinked when he’d asked to round up the Slayers in Africa. It wouldn’t be the first time Xander messed up.
But then Wendimu, his translator, heard a story about a cave where dreams came true, and the next day, Xander was bouncing over dirt roads, on his way to the tribe that was rumored to protect the cave and its “sorcerer.”
Not surprisingly, nobody in the tribe wanted to talk to him, either.
“Tell them I’m not interested in a fight.”
“Tell them I just want to talk to him.”
“Tell them I’m looking for an old friend. Wait. Don’t tell them that. Just tell them I’m looking for someone their sorcerer helped. They’d remember him. Tell them he would have been a bigger pain in the ass than I’m being.”
Nothing Wen told them worked.
“Can they at least point me in the direction of the cave? I’ll find him myself.”
Not surprisingly, that just pissed them off.
Xander and Wen pretended to leave, waiting over the hills for the sun to set. The tribe’s reactions only convinced him that he was right, that the cave was around here somewhere, and if they got angry enough to want to protect it, there was obviously something important inside. Or someone. Or something. This was likely a demon, so thing was probably more accurate.
Being accurate didn’t exactly make him feel better as he traipsed through darkness dripping in shadows, with only a flashlight and a recalcitrant translator for company.
Whether it was fate or not, he found the cave with little effort, but taking that first step inside was harder than he’d imagined. It was as much about questioning just what he was doing as it was being absolutely terrified about setting foot inside what looked like a black hole. This was the fodder of horror movies, and even if his life surpassed anything Craven could have conceived, Xander wasn’t so naïve not to know that maybe there was a very good reason the tribe didn’t want him near their so-called sorcerer. Maybe it wasn’t protecting what was in the cave. Maybe it was protecting those who might go inside.
Except he’d come an awful long way just to turn around at the last minute.
Taking a deep breath, he aimed his flashlight into the maw and took that first step.
Somewhere between nothing and all, a whimper emerges.
It brasses you off. You don’t make that kind of sound. You scream. You rage. You pick up the nearest object and smash it over your knee. Or you sink your fangs into it. Or your cock, if the object is tight enough.
You don’t whimper.
Except you do.
Because all of a sudden, there’s more than dark. There’s sheets of fire consuming your flesh, and there’s a desert that’s taken up residence in your throat, scraping it raw. If you chose to scream now, your lips would crack and bleed, but not even those wonderful rivulets would be enough to slake what feels like the mother of all thirsts.
Maybe there’s more to hell, after all. You don’t have a rock to roll, but Sisyphus probably never had a thirst to quench, either.
Open your eyes. Try and see. Find the light and find the blood. Perhaps that will take the edge off the hunger.
But there is no light. If nothing else, hell is still dark.
Or your eyes have failed, which is always a possibility.
Once upon a time, your eyes were blinded by human frailty. It took death to open them up, death again to close them. It could be a temporary measure, just as the loss of sensation was temporary.
And just when you’ve convinced yourself that it’s all right you can’t see because what’s the point in seeing when you can’t move, a light bobs on the wall. A sound follows it, a sound that might be a voice.
It’s hard to tell when all you hear is a whimper.
Xander couldn’t stop staring.
It was bad enough seeing the paintings on the wall, the caveman drawings of blood and gore that made him want to gouge out his other eyeball, too. And dealing with the armored demon with the glowy eyes had been less than pleasant. The thing talked like it had rocks in its throat, which was never a good sign for winning the Mr. Congeniality award.
“You seek me, mortal?”
“Yeah. Well, kind of.”
“You know her. The Slayer. She’s why you come.”
“Like I said. Kind of.”
“Speak plainly, or I’ll reduce your flesh to so much rubble.”
Xander cleared his throat. “I’m looking for a vampire named Spike. You gave him his soul back last summer.”
“Okay, time out. According to Spike—”
“I didn’t give it to him. He earned the right to possess it.”
Great. Just great. Why did demons have to be such sticklers for semantics?
“Fine. He earned it. Except he kind of used it to save the world a few weeks ago, and now I want to know where he is.”
The demon peered at him. Xander knew this because its glowing eyes turned into the tiniest of slits.
This was a question he’d actually been prepared for.
“Because he left behind people who care about him. And because I want to give those people some peace of mind if I can.”
“You speak of the Slayer.”
“Yeah. And her sister. And…others.” Andrew always counted in the “other” column.
The demon didn’t speak again. He just pointed. Into the darkest part of the cave.
Maybe heedlessly following the command of a demon when it gestured toward the bowels of what could only be described as sheer and unmitigated terror wasn’t the brightest thing Xander had ever done. Every step he took deeper into the murk, he told himself to turn around. And every step, his self ignored him. Stupid self.
But then he saw what it was the demon had meant for him to find. And both of his selves shut up.
It might have been Spike once. It might have had clothes, and it might have had skin, and it might even have had all its hair. Now, it was too hard to tell, with the stretches of exposed flesh charred and oozing. Now, it was just lying there along the wall, inert except for the faintest of sounds coming from its chest.
It didn’t breathe, though. For all its obvious agonies, it wasn’t alive.
At least, not in the conventional sense.
He considered it lucky that he got back out of the cave in one piece. Of course, he’d been running too fast to notice if the demon was paying any attention to his hasty retreat, but he didn’t want to get sick in front of him. This was worse than seeing Willow skin Warren Mears alive. A part of Xander secretly believed that Warren had it coming.
But for as much as he’d disliked Spike in the past, he wouldn’t have wished this upon him. Not after Sunnydale’s last stand.
His hands were shaking as he pulled out his phone. The signal was weak, but all it took was one bar to make the call he needed.
“Buffy? It’s Xander. Sit down.”
It used to be exciting to fly. To soar above the clouds. A grand adventure because you were little and planes were big and the world was even bigger.
The world’s not so big any more. And you’re not so small. Not for lack of trying.
Everybody flies, because it takes too long not to. And Willow’s not so reliable with the teleportation spells all the time. Plus, not here, and really, the last thing you want is for her to try and teleport you while she’s in Rio and you’re in Cleveland and the place you want to go is somewhere else entirely.
So you fly, and you try not to think of every other time you’ve been in an airport lately, all the people who have packed up and left, most never to return again. You’re not going to be one of those people, because this isn’t a moving out of someone’s life flight, this is…
You don’t know what this is. You only know Xander called, and there were apologies and mystical caves and pointed demons. Or demons who pointed. It was hard to tell because Xander lost signal, and then when he called back, he sounded sick, and all you heard was, “You have to come.”
So you go. Because it’s Xander. And what’s in Cleveland for you anyway except a bunch of little Slayers who don’t know how much you had to sacrifice in order to save the world a few hundred times? Well, Giles is still there. Funny that he’s the one remaining, when he’d been the first to try leaving.
Africa is as hot as Xander warned, but when you see him, when you stand back and really look, everything in you chills. Because something’s wrong, you can see it in his eye, and if you didn’t already know that he hasn’t started with the Slayer round-up yet, you’d think somebody else had died.
Or maybe not.
Xander wasn’t surprised when Buffy went all quiet after he told her about Spike. She’d done that a lot over the past year, especially after the Hellmouth collapsed. He never would have called her introspective before, but dying the second time had changed that. When she got slammed with too much information – or shocks – she withdrew. If only for a little while.
She was still silent by the time they were rumbling over the road out to the cave. Too silent.
“Talk to me, Buffy. Yell at me. Call me Ishmael. Say something.”
Her head turned to stare out over the bleached horizon. “Is this why you picked Africa?”
“Well, I didn’t pick it for the gourmet chocolate.”
“Why did you even think he might be alive?”
“I didn’t. I just thought…maybe I’d be able to get some answers for you.” He was glad when she looked back at him, even if all he saw was confusion in her eyes. “It was something you told me. That night with the rocky road when everybody else was asleep and I’d had that dream about Anya? You said Spike mentioned his soul down in the Hellmouth. That he could feel it. Which got me thinking about how he’d gotten it in the first place.”
“Spike never talked about it very much.”
“With you. With me, he was Chatty Cathy.”
Her brows shot up. “And you two became bosom buddies when?”
“It wasn’t like that. I was a…captive audience. And crazy Spike wasn’t exactly choosy about who else might be in the room when he’d start talking. Sometimes, all he needed was a wall. So I learned stuff. Not on purpose.”
It had never occurred to him that Buffy and Spike hadn’t talked about the soul. After all, a soul was the holy grail as far as she was concerned. A soul forgave a lot. It forgave Angel, and considering how much time she had spent with Spike after he’d moved into the house, protecting him, arguing for him, Xander had just assumed that the topic would have come up. At least once.
Apparently, it hadn’t.
So he told her the tidbits he knew, the Bantu tribe Spike had rambled on about, the cave, the trials. He left out the parts like giving her what she deserves, though. That was like kicking a guy when he was already down, which, yeah, might have been fun in the old days, but considering what was going on with Spike, would be just a little too much right now.
Buffy didn’t ask the one question he kept expecting, though. As they pulled the truck up to a bluff outside the view of the local tribe, Xander realized she probably wasn’t going to. Which was more than a little ironic because it was the one question he actually knew the answer to.
Why did you do this for me?
Because I love you, Buff. And because I know if there was a way for me to get some closure with Anya, you’d do what you could to get it for me.
But she never asked.
To be continued in Part 2...