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...
Buffy made him wait until sunset before approaching the cave.
“If it is Spike, it needs to be dark for us to get him out of there. I’m not leaving him any longer than I have to.”
Xander could have argued that it might actually be in Spike’s best interests to be left, at least until it was more comfortable for him to travel, but one look at the grim set of Buffy’s mouth meant it would be a waste of breath. She was going to take him home, if she had to carry him every step of the way.
She went in unarmed, except for a stake in her belt and a knife sheathed in her boot. Xander instructed Wen to wait outside. Just in case. He gave him the cell phone that wouldn’t work inside, too. Just in case. There was a lot more of just in case he would’ve liked to do, but time was ticking.
His greeting echoed against the walls, bouncing back to remind him that the cave was very large and ultimately, he was not. When nobody answered, he tried again.
“Lucy! I’m home!”
“Look, Xan, maybe we should—”
“So. The Slayer comes.”
They both turned in the direction of the voice. Time had not dulled the memory of those little red eyes, though this time, Xander thought he saw fangs, too.
Buffy barely blinked.
“Can’t say the bed talk really works for you,” she said lightly. “Especially if you just jump straight to the good stuff. A girl likes a little foreplay, you know.”
Spike now, quip later, Xander wanted to say. But this was Buffy’s show now. He was just the usher. Complete with flashlight.
“I expected someone different.”
“Taller maybe?” She shrugged. “I get that a lot.”
“How could you be the one responsible?” the demon went on. “You’re nothing. A speck. How are you worth enduring what the dark warrior went through?”
“And I’m guessing by ‘dark warrior,’ you mean Spike. But what he did, what happened between us, that’s really not any of your business.”
“It is when you’ve come for him.”
Xander bit the inside of his cheek. Stupid demon had a point.
“He’s here, then?” To anybody else, Buffy probably sounded exactly the same. His ear caught the difference. “Where?”
“Where he's safe.”
“Well, he’ll be safer somewhere else.” She scanned the cave’s interior with a practiced eye. Xander had told her about following it deeper in order to get to Spike, and he knew the exact moment she figured out which direction to go.
So did the demon.
“There is only one way to get what you want,” he said.
When Buffy didn’t have a quip for that, Xander leaned over and whispered, “The trials. Spike did three of them.”
“I knew that,” she whispered back, though they both knew she hadn’t.
“There won’t be three for the Slayer,” the demon corrected. “Just one. A fight.”
“Works for me. What am I fighting? Vampire? Fyarl demon? A good old-fashioned boogeyman?”
This time, Xander was positive he saw fangs.
“No, Slayer. Me.”
Punching armored demons is like slamming your fists into concrete walls. Not so much with the fun, and even less with the effectiveness, so that means finding new ways to attack. Feet are good, legs are better. Leap onto its shoulders, wrap your thighs around its neck, flip both of you over onto the ground.
The advantage doesn’t last long. You hesitate. It throws you against the wall like wet spaghetti.
You really have to stop pausing to listen for snarky commentary from the sidelines that hasn’t come in over a year.
A fist slams into your mouth, and you taste blood. You have to swallow more than once to get rid of the worst of it, but it’s enough to make you focus, make you mad, make you concentrate on what you’re doing and why.
It’s not the first time you’ve fought for Spike. If you have anything to say about it this time, it won’t be the last.
Weapons aren’t going to work on this demon, but the longer you fight, the more you wonder if this is about winning after all. He lands blows that hurt, and you bleed as much now as you did in the Hellmouth, but more than once, you see an opening for it to take that it doesn’t. A falter in your step. A kick that doesn’t go quite as low as you planned. You could have been dead a few times over, and yet, you aren’t.
Story of your life. And Spike’s, too, apparently.
Sometimes, it was hard watching Buffy fight. He’d long ago learned how to squelch the desire to jump in and help when she didn’t ask him to – too many hits to the noggin knocked that right out of his head – but when it wasn’t clear that she was going to thoroughly kick her opponent’s ass, Xander winced with every blow she took.
The slam against her solar plexus that left her momentarily winded.
The punch in the jaw that split her lip and left the demon’s fist bloodied.
The elbow to the side of her head when the demon sidestepped another attack.
He was half-tempted to go running back out to the truck and get the crossbow she’d insisted he leave behind. The only thing that stopped him was the fact that he didn’t think the heavy bolts could pierce its thick hide. Add in the possibility of accidentally hitting Buffy, and Xander’s feet stayed glued where they were, only moving to shuffle out of the way when the fight strayed too close in his direction.
Its gravelly voice reverberated against the cave walls. The single word command was said so forcefully, even Buffy came to an immediate halt.
“You are not about to call a time out,” she said incredulous. Sweat dripped from her forehead, and there were bruises already blooming along her jaw and cheeks. Her bottom lip looked swollen, too. “That’s not the way this works.”
“The trial is over. You have passed.”
“I passed? I didn’t do anything. You’re still alive. And in my way, I might add.”
“Life and death were not the goals here.”
“Care to enlighten me on what was?”
With the fight over, the demon edged back into the darkness until only its glowing eyes were visible again. “The dark warrior fought to be what you deserve,” it said. “He fought long. Hard. Your trial was to prove that you would risk the same for him. You’ve passed.”
Buffy’s mouth opened as if she was going to argue with him, until Xander darted forward to grab her arm.
“One of Spike’s trials was about beetles crawling into his eyeballs,” he hissed in warning.
Her nose wrinkled in disgust, but it was quickly replaced by a bright smile she shot the demon. “So game over,” she said. “Now where do I find Spike?”
There’s a sense of expectation you can’t shake, like a breath waiting to be freed from the confines of bone and tissue. It’s not a new feeling, and it’s not an old one. It’s something borne of Sunnydale. Hellmouths have a way of mucking up the natural order of things, and this…this is just another residual that’s been steeped into your sinew.
Because the old days would have seen you grab the expectation by the balls and twist until it careened in the direction you chose. The new days have you standing on the precipice, abiding the unspoken order to let it come to you.
Maybe it is a new feeling. Maybe it’s time to take the leap and tell the consequences to bugger off.
The pain is still there. The thirst. And it’s getting worse, not better. For all that you’re convinced you really are in hell, it’s not necessarily unwelcome anymore. This is your joy, after all. The love you beget might not have been the first you’d hoped for, but what does it matter if the torment means she’s free? What she chooses to do with it now is her choice. The only thing you regret is that it took getting a soul for you to finally understand that.
The dark is moving again. Shadows dance, flicker. You wonder if it’ll be the same hallucination you had last time. Hell’s got a bitch of a sense of humor, making Harris the first thing you see, but thankfully, it hasn’t come back.
For all your so-called noble intentions, seeing the vestiges of the past almost hurts more than all the rest of it put together.
He knew what was coming, but that didn’t mean Xander wanted to see it again. He definitely didn’t want to witness Buffy seeing it for the first time. He’d avoided sharing details about what Spike looked like, only to say he was badly hurt and couldn’t leave the cave on his own. He only hoped that the two days he’d been gone from the cave had been enough time for Spike to heal so that he didn’t look like a marshmallow still burning in a campfire.
The sound Buffy made didn’t sound like anything he’d ever heard before. He’d heard her laugh, he’d heard her cry, he’d heard her make those little snorting gasps when she’d fallen asleep during long research sessions in the library. Maybe the only sounds he wasn’t acquainted with were the ones she made in her double-backed beast moments, but Xander was pretty sure this sound could never be misconstrued for something so intimate.
He refused to swing the flashlight away from the body against the wall to look at her. He wasn’t sure seeing Buffy’s reaction wouldn’t be worse than seeing what she was reacting to.
The steps she took to Spike’s side were quick, almost clumsy. When her body blocked the beam of illumination, Xander rounded the space to stand off to the side, aiming the flashlight down the length of the blackened flesh.
Spike didn’t even blink. He was too busy staring up at Buffy kneeling next to him.
“God, what did…”
The query died on her lips. Her hands molded the air over his injured chest, the slightest of quivers betraying her shock. Xander wasn’t sure how she planned on getting Spike out of the cave when she couldn’t even bring herself to touch him.
A shadow shifted in the hollow of Spike’s throat.
Nothing else happened. The only thing that moved was the flutter of Buffy’s fingers.
“I’m not sure he can hear you, Buffy.”
“He has to. He sees me. I know he does.”
“Yeah, but he hasn’t moved from this spot since the last time I was here. And those are some pretty bad burns.”
Her gaze fell, sweeping down the length of Spike’s legs before crawling back up again. “Hellfire has a way of doing that to you,” she murmured.
This is what he would have looked like if you’d stayed. This is what you would have seen. Skin like burned paper. Flesh like the inside of a meat grinder. All before it crumbled into dust. The only difference is, you would have been lucky enough to hear him scream with pain—
No, Spike wouldn’t have screamed. He would have laughed.
You don’t feel like laughing now.
Xander is talking, and you know he means well, he just wants to help, but then there’s that movement again, that flexing of muscles in Spike’s throat, and you know – you just know – that Spike’s trying to say something. And that’s all that matters, because Xander’s had his chance to talk, he’s had the past month when Spike hasn’t, when all Spike’s had is this hole in the earth and echoes to whisper at him all night long, and all you want is to hear something, anything, come out of Spike’s mouth.
But it doesn’t.
“I’m going to fix this,” you hear yourself say. You might not know how, you might not even know what exactly is wrong, but you mean every syllable, as sure as you’ve ever meant anything else.
Spike blinks. You can actually hear it. His eyelids are so papery that they rasp against his dry eyes.
Before yours aren’t so dry anymore, you turn to Xander and you send him out to the truck to get the blankets that are in the back. He argues, or he tries to anyway, but how else are you going to get Spike out of here? You’ll hurt him if you touch him directly. Make him bleed. Make him bleed more. His flesh might slough away from the bone, or he might turn to ash, and then where will you be?
In a cave in the middle of Africa with a dusty soul staining your hands.
There’s enough blood on them already.
Somehow, they got him out of there. Somehow, Xander had the fortitude to watch Buffy cradle Spike’s scorched body in her arms, and to not listen to the whimpers that came from them. He didn’t know who they belonged to. They probably belonged to both.
Somehow, they got past the demon without further arguments. He melded into the darkness, only his little red eyes evidence that he was there at all, and though Buffy didn’t even look in his direction, Xander kept his hand on the crossbow he’d brought back inside. This was the point where the bad guy jumped up from where he’d fallen off the side of the building, waving his guns like a madman for one last attempt to vanquish the movie’s hero. But Hollywood let him down, once again. This time, though, Xander wasn’t complaining.
Somehow, they got Spike laid out in the truck bed without any of his body parts falling off. There were flecks of black caught in the blanket’s weft, but for the purpose of his own sanity, Xander was going to consider that dirt for now. Yeah. Dirt. Not skin flaking off from contact with something else. He’d make sure to get a clean blanket for Spike once they got back to the hotel. And hope that he didn’t see fresh pink patches of baby skin where Spike’s had rubbed away.
“I need to ride back here with him.”
Xander had known that, was nodding even before Buffy had finished talking. The privacy might do them some good. Spike wasn’t talking, but neither was Buffy. She had ceased as soon as Xander returned with the blanket.
If anybody could get her to open up, it was Spike. There had been a time when he and Willow had satisfied those roles for Buffy, the confidants in a world that made both no and too much sense. But Buffy had moved on. Willow had moved on. Xander hadn’t wanted to move on, but nobody had given him a choice in the matter. Even Spike had moved on, though Xander wouldn’t have traded places with him, even if he was in front with Wen and Buffy was back there with the vampire who’d earned the soul to stand at her side.
He’d done what he could for now.
The rest was up to Spike.
It doesn’t feel real. There’s too much sensation for one thing, where before there had been none. Air whipping over your skin, like an ex-lover’s angry caress when that last fight turns into a fuck. Voices booming in your ears, enough to make your teeth vibrate. Light cleaving the dark, no pattern, no rhythm, until the dark isn’t quite so dark anymore and the light reflects off her burnished skin.
And the thirst, grown worse by the scent of fresh blood. She looks down at you with the bruised eyes of a woman who has seen more than she should. The mouth you remember in so many different ways – smiling, stretched taut around your cock, thinned and grim when her body sparks with anger – bends in asymmetry that is familiar and not, and you feel your fangs itch to burst the swollen flesh and let the droplets rain into your wounds.
“I meant what I said. We’ll fix this. I promise.”
The words are artless, her tone more so. This is a gift she has bestowed on others, one you’ve witnessed time and time and time again, one she gave to you when she was weak. You’ve thrust it back in the past, wanting and undeserving to want, but this time, you wonder what it would feel like to hold it for just a few seconds. Savor its weight. Pretend you can keep it. You’ll give it back again, of course. You must. But when you ache like this, when you want to dig your fingers into your own flesh and pull it off your bones in order to dilute the pain, it doesn’t seem so wrong to exercise selfishness once again. Just one more time.
“Oh, Spike…” You’d forgotten how breathy her voice got sometimes when she said your name. “You didn’t really think I’d leave you there, did you?”
There’s nothing to believe when you think you’re in hell.
But perhaps she’s been Orpheus all along.
Don’t look back, luv.
And she doesn’t.
Sneaking a charred vampire into a major city hotel wasn’t nearly as simple as it should have been. Xander sent Wen inside to bribe their way up the back stairs and elevators, but the night clerk wasn’t the same one who’d been working every other time they had coming in during the wee morning hours with suspicious looking bruises. This one wanted real answers to real questions, and in the end, it cost nearly the rest of Xander’s stipend to get him to shut up.
“Spike’s going to owe me when he’s finally over this crispy phase,” he half-joked as he held the room door open for Buffy.
He had to stand well out of the way to give her as much room as possible. Not looking at the harsh lines of Spike’s face was nearly impossible when it passed just inches away from him.
“We’re going to need blood.” The gentle way she laid Spike out was enough to make Xander feel like he’d walked into the middle of something not for his eyes. “Lots of it.”
“It’s five in the morning.”
He hovered near the door. “I’ll go as soon as the shops open, okay?”
“That’s good. Thanks.”
She still wasn’t looking at him, too intent on covering Spike up, closing the curtains, doing everything she could to make Spike comfortable. Make him safe. Xander turned to leave, but as he stepped into the hall, her soft voice called him back.
Her eyes looked too large, her mouth too thin. She looked tired, more so even than those first few days after the last stand. Without a word, she crossed the room and threw her arms around him, squeezing in that standard too-hard Slayer hug as she buried her face in his neck.
“Thank you,” he heard her whisper.
He hugged her back.
No more words were necessary.