Length: >100,000 words
Disclaimer: Nothing is mine. Only the plot, one demon and the veil are.
Setting: Right after 'Dead Things'
Summary: The night after, all he wants is talk.
The night after, there’s nothing she wants less than talking.
And suddenly they find themselves in another dimension; one that Buffy can’t leave. There’s only one way to get her out. A way with consequences.
A New Man
The day he leaves the cave should have been the first day of his new life. Instead it’s only the beginning of his biggest fight.
As soon as he recovers a little from the all-consuming pain of having his soul shoved into his chest, he staggers to his feet and stumbles to the entrance. When he sees that the night just set in, he grabs his boots, his shirt and his duster and moves to cross the village. He doesn’t even notice the people that duck out of his way, he’s much too focused on setting one foot in front of the other without tripping onto the sand.
He makes it as far as to the edge of the desert before the memories come crushing down on him like a tsunami wave. His knees buckle under the onslaught and he collapses to the floor. Distantly he hears a whimper, and it takes a while to realize it’s his own voice he hears.
It’s not that he forgot anything of what crashes down on him now; all the kills, the women and girls he drained dry, the children he collected for Dru, the men whose necks he snapped are still in his mind. Only that he didn’t care, didn’t feel responsible. They were merely memories to take delight in during times of boredom. He did what he was supposed to do, relishing it like he was supposed to, nothing else. He never felt a twinge of remorse.
Now he does.
And it shatters him.
Like in a cruel montage, hundreds, thousands of faces appear in his mind’s eye, faces that are contorted in fear and pain. Faces that, mutely or not so mutely at all, seem to ask him why. And he remembers every one of them, remembers the terror they showed, coloring the flavor of their blood deliciously. Remembers the ecstatic elation rushing through his body at tasting their pain, sucking it in with their blood.
His hands shoot to his head, clutching it tightly, as if to protect it from exploding. Tears are streaming down his face, and unarticulated screams tumble from his mouth, cutting through the quiet of the night.
When the pictures and voices in his head fail to diminish, he begins to claw at his forehead and his temples in the desperate attempt to tear them out of his head. All he can think of is to make it stop, until the scent of his own blood hits his nose.
The effect is horrible. The images change their tune; what he sees now is even more atrocious. It’s what he left behind. Bloody necks wherever he looks, ripped out throats, young girls with clothes torn apart, eyes wide in horror even in death. And the voices keep screaming, accusing him that he did this.
And he knows they are right.
All dead, because of him.
He doesn’t know how long it goes on like this. Somewhere in the back of his mind he’s desperately aware that he has to endure this the whole night, because he has no weapon to dust himself, to make an end to this. He has to wait for sunrise. And he can barely stand to wait another minute.
And then suddenly there is a warm hand on his shoulder, another one soothingly stroking his bloody temples. Strong arms help him up, help him to brace himself on broad shoulders. Then finally his world goes black.
When he comes to again, he lies on a thin mattress in a round straw hut. It’s distinctly cooler than outside, and he feels hysterical laughter bubble up in him at the notion that he’s beyond relieved about the change of temperature. Since when does he care about the cold, or the lack of, for that matter? It barely registers that the laugh somehow finds its way to the surface, and that it sounds even more insane than it feels. It’s short lived though, as it is replaced by a scream of anguish within seconds as the next wave of images hits.
And all that’s left is pain.
Later, he doesn’t remember how long he stayed there in this hut. Flickers of memories remain of him lying on the bed, screaming, babbling senseless words like a lunatic, laughing, crying. The scent of blood; his own blood, oozing out of the wounds at his chest he cut himself to find a way to get rid of that thing inside him that causes the agony. Every now and then those warm hands soothing him, only hands, never a face. He dimly remembers liquid being forced into his throat; not blood, but something stilling his hunger nonetheless.
He doesn’t know if this was even real.
All he knows is that at one point there was an image his mind latched onto. And held. And focused on it to never lose it again. The image of a blonde girl. Buffy, his maniac mind remembered.
Suddenly he knew she needed him.
And she needed him with that thing he came here for. His soul.
Somewhere buried deep inside of him, almost lost in insanity, merely reachable for him, was the knowledge that without him, she’d be lost to the world. Lost even to herself. That he’d be the only one who could help her; he knew that, even if he didn’t quite remember why.
But he knew he had to go to her. Find her, bring her back.
Had to find himself first.
Always for her.
He remembers that he focused on her with everything he had left, took a few steadying breaths and, scrambling, got to his feet. Remembers shrugging off the helping hands and shuffling out of the hut, starting his long way home. To her.
The journey back takes him much longer than his coming to Africa. He can’t go on a plane; he’s not lucid enough. He can’t focus as long as he’d need to get on a freight plane unseen; his muddled brain barely allows him access to a cargo ship, since the port isn’t nearly as secured as the airport. At least that is what he assumes is why he’s taking the sea route this time; in the few moments he almost can think clearly he finds that he can’t quite remember how he got in a ship’s cargo hold, and truth be told, he doesn’t really care. He’s much too preoccupied to work on coping with the steady flood of images from his past still assaulting his mind.
He’s in motion, getting closer to her every day. That’s all that counts.
He’s getting hungry, but for the first few days he doesn’t even think of getting himself some blood. The mere thought of gulping down the red liquid that screams of his deeds in the pictures haunting him day and night makes his stomach lurch. Only when he realizes how weak he already is, when he understands that he won’t make it to her if he goes on starving, he resorts to the only possibility he can allow himself; glad about having landed on such a run-down rust bucket, he catches a rat in a desperate leap and breaks its neck. His demon disguise shoots forward, fueled by hunger, and he sinks his fangs into the warm flesh. He drains all the blood this small animal contains and hurls the corpse aside.
It takes just a few seconds until he leans over and retches, throwing up every ounce of blood he just choked down back onto the floor beside him.
He lets himself fall on his back, then turns on his other side, crawling away from the accusing evidence of his new failure. Despair lies thickly over him like a heavy blanket; not comforting, but smoldering. There’s nothing left of him. He’s not the man he once was, despite the soul, but he can’t be the vampire he’s been for more than a century either. He’s nothing. Even more so than before.
He curls up into a ball and weeps, wondering how long he still will have enough liquid in his body for tears.
Much later, the next day maybe or the day after that, he tries again. He has to, he knows that. Luckily there’s no shortage of rats on the ship, and after snapping one’s neck he forces himself to drink slowly, pausing and talking himself into it again and again, his focus solely on the image of a strong blonde girl that for once needs him; needs him to survive, needs him to keep the blood in. The next time it’s a little easier, and after a few more days he realizes that even if he’s not getting stronger, he’s at least not getting any weaker either.
And each and every time after feeding, his streaming tears are proof that he’s not desiccating.
His crypt. Almost home, but not quite. Not without her. Nowhere is home without her anymore. Home is her. He knows that.
But she isn’t here.
The voices threaten to overrun him, again. Spike breathes in and out deeply, focuses on the image of her. The screams in his head dim down enough to allow him to move on. He pushes the door open, for a moment overwhelmed by the scent in the air. There’s something that doesn’t belong here, something demony, yet familiar. Clem, he remembers. He looks around, now noticing some evidence that the demon resides here, taking care of the place as he promised.
Spike tilts his head, sniffing to find again what overwhelmed him at first. He steps a little closer to the latch on the floor, and there it is. Her scent, still lingering in here, after all those weeks. He cautiously approaches the latch and lifts its lid. Slowly he descends, surprised that Clem apparently never had been here. Down here, it’s only him and her, mingled in a way that makes his heart clench and sing at the same time.
“Her. Her. Not them. Never them,” he mutters, and then, as the voices grow louder again, yells, “Not them! Not you! Get out!” A whimper escapes his throat and his knees buckle. Gripping the ladder, he catches himself. He clutches his head, trying to guide his mind back to her. Breathing a sigh of relief when he finds her again.
“Find it. Have to find it. Find her. Safe. Not safe. Not…” An annoyed growl rumbles in his chest, his hand slams against his head, a lame attempt to adjust everything inside. He knows it’s not working though. He tried it so often that, sometimes, he wonders why there still isn’t a dent in his head.
“Rats. No rats in here. No rats…” He listens to the sounds blubbering out of his throat, the maniac giggles, turning into helpless sobs then. He stalks over to his bed and slumps down on it, grabbing his pillow and pressing it against his face, to stifle the noises still coming out of him.
One hand scurries down, his fingers finding the scarred cuts on his chest; as always, they ground him again. Remind him that he can’t get rid of the soul again, that he needs it. For her. To save her.
“Right then.” His own voice again, finally. The one that belongs to the small part of his mind functioning normally against all odds. The part that is, sometimes, capable of conjuring up her image when he needs it. Which is pretty much always.
It has grown a little, that part, since he left Africa. Gradually it lets him be himself again. Lets him fight back the images, the voices, the guilt, long enough to do what needs to be done to survive. Lets him think coherently sometimes, more often than not lately, the closer he gets to her.
It’s like she’s able to help him heal even over the distance, he thinks, just by existing. By needing him sane enough to come back to her.
The thought of needing to get her out sets him in motion. He straightens, takes a deep breath and stands. He climbs up the ladder, and then he stands in the upper room and lets his eyes roam the place. He is surprised how strange it feels to be in here and yet how familiar. He sniffs briefly, regaining his focus on the task at hand, and strides over to the chest. He doesn’t have to think about where to look; the majority of all his more lucid thoughts during the last weeks circled around coming here and retrieving what he’ll need, hoping fiercely that Anya made good on her promise to place the items here.
He hesitates only a second, his hand lingering before the drawer; then he grabs the knob and pulls it open with one swift move.
It’s there. A grayish crystal and an Orb of G’hol. At least he thinks it’s an Orb of G’hol; to him, it’s just a shimmery, glassy ball. Both things are placed on a tee of his that someone arranged for him to see it immediately, but stop the orb from rolling around when opening the drawer. A small paper sheet lies in there too, half covered by the crystal. He pulls it out and unfolds it; only a few words are written on it in a crisp handwriting he knows instantly belongs to the ex-demon, although he never saw something she has written before.
‘The crystal is prepared.
You both have to touch it simultaneously.
The spell is ‘ligate’.
Relief washes over him. He had trusted Anya to get it done, but it was still the only part of the whole mission he had no control over, and he’s beyond glad that everything is set now.
He reads the note again and a small smile sneaks on his lips when he reads the last words. He can picture her being lectured by the whelp to wish someone luck before going on a dangerous mission and her obediently doing as he wants. Still her words mean a lot to him; she trusted him to see it through, and he is more grateful for her belief in him than he ever thought.
The smile, tiny as it is, feels foreign on his face, wrong somehow, undeserved. He thinks he has no right to have an emotion making him smile, not the least bit; he presses his lips together in a thin line, chasing the unwelcome trace of mirth away.
It’s far too easy to scare off.
He glances at the words again and commits the most important word to his memory; the touching thing doesn’t need any memorizing. It’s obvious that they both have to touch the crystal in order to be linked together. He grabs the crystal and stuffs it together with the sheet into his duster pocket where they join the other paper he still keeps there. Then he carefully takes the orb and lets it glide into the other pocket, placing his hand protectively over it.
Thus prepared, he closes his eyes for a moment, willing the images in his head to retreat. “’m comin’, luv,” he whispers, breathes in deeply again and tilts his head aside, causing his neck to crack; then again, determined now, “I’m coming.”
And then he leaves, the duster billowing behind him, feeling stronger than he’s felt ever since he left the cave on the other side of the world.
He has no trouble finding the right place; it’s his cemetery after all, he’s lived here for more than two years.
He takes the Orb of G’hol out and weighs it in his hand for a second. He’s suddenly very nervous, now that he’s finally standing here, moments away from what he was aiming for all those weeks. He wonders what he’ll find, once the portal is open. Will she still be there? Or will he have to go into the blackness? He briefly considers a third option he never really thought about, because he thinks it really isn’t one; but what if the others have found her and got her out? What if she’s not in there at all, but sitting at home, safe and sound, and he goes into the darkness completely in vain, damned to search for her in hell for all eternity? Worse even, hated by her forever, because he, too, abandoned her?
As if the voices in his head had felt his hesitation, the internal noise swells; he cringes. Then he shakes it off as much as he can. Anya wouldn’t have left the items in his crypt, he’s certain about that. “Shut up!” he snarls, concentrating on the anchor inside him to help him focus.
All of a sudden he can’t wait one more second. He hurls the orb to the ground without thinking any longer, and he feels the change in the air the next second. With a crackling sound the portal appears, a blinding brightness that hurts his eyes.
He steps tentatively closer, and he sees her instantly.
She’s still lying on the ground, her wrists and ankles still tied with strips of his shirt. He’s weirdly touched; she kept the ties, even though it wouldn’t have been a problem to get rid of them, but she did as he’d pleaded, to help her stay strong.
She faces the darkness, and he can see that she trembles. He wonders whether she’s cold, but then he gets it.
She’s just inches away from the veil, and she trembles because she fights with all remaining power against the pull. And she’s about to lose.
There’s no more hesitation. Without further ado he leaps inside and grabs her by her shoulders, dragging her back to safety. She struggles to get free, fights him with her bound hands and legs, trying to wriggle out of his grasp; but he holds her tight to his chest, his arms not giving way an inch. He hasn’t gone around the world and back for letting her slip through at the last moment, after all. He lifts her up and carries her toward the portal, as far away from the veil as he can, right until he feels the barrier hindering her going through. He gently lowers her to the ground then, and she turns around and begins to crawl toward what she thinks is heaven the second he lets go of her.
“Buffy…” There it is, spoken out loud; the one word that kept him going, kept him alive. Buffy. He shivers. This one word contains everything he thought of, everything he felt during the last weeks, despair and longing, grief and hope, fear and love. And he almost falls apart at hearing it all in his voice, by saying just this one word that means the world to him.
His hand is already at her arm again to hold her back, but it’s no longer necessary.
Because at the sound of his voice she freezes, and he knows she heard it, too. She turns her head, slowly, as if she’s afraid to see. When their eyes meet, all the tension, all the fighting leave her, and tears fill her eyes just like his. “Spike…,” she whispers amazed, as if she’s not sure she should trust her eyes, and then she falls silent again, for a long while.
“You’re back.” Relief, incredulity and bewilderment are mingled in her voice when she finally speaks again, her eyes scanning his face, and he wonders what she sees there that makes her eyes go so wide. “It’s been…so long…”
“Wasn’t long,” he objects, “only few weeks.” He isn’t aware that for her, it was a different time period; he only sees the confusion in her face and hurries to explain. “Flew through the air, I did. For you.” He desperately needs her to understand that he did everything he could to be back for her as fast as possible, took even the risk of sneaking on a plane, without knowing whether he could manage to leave it unseen during night time. His face falls a little when he thinks about his desolate condition after the trials; about the time he lost to insanity then, and about his inability to cross the ocean by plane again to save time. “But then over the waters,” he says, almost apologizing. “They wouldn’t let me go with the clouds then. Only screaming and blood. They wouldn’t let me.” He doesn’t see the lack of comprehension that his words cause to appear on her face, the puzzled frown creasing her brows. All he can think of is how close he is to save her. He leans a little forward, tugging at the ties of her wrists, fidgeting at the knots he made weeks ago. Then he loses his patience and grips them tight with both hands, tearing them apart with a jerk, proceeding to free her legs in the same manner. Kneeling before her, he takes her hand in his, his eyes searching hers.
“Come,” he says softly. “Buffy. Come.”
He sees her hesitating, sees her frowning, scrutinizing him; but then she rises to her knees, facing him, and again he feels relief flooding his body. She trusts him, again, still. He turns her hand palm up on his, peels the crystal out of his pocket with his free hand and places it in her open palm. Then he covers her hand with his and, their gazes glued together, he says the word he memorized.
It happens fast, and he’s not at all prepared for it. Warmth rises from her to him, from their joined hands and along their connected gazes, too; warmth that has nothing to do with temperature, but is something else entirely, something he doesn’t understand. And then, without a warning, a storm of emotions and images blazing into his mind threatens to overwhelm him. But the thought of her, of getting her out of here, was the one thing he held on to for the past weeks. He clings to it now like to a lifeline, ignoring the onslaught as best as he can, shaking, but determined. With all the strength he has left he gathers her in his free arm, his other hand never leaving hers, the crystal safely tucked between their palms. Half staggering, half crawling he somehow drags her through the portal.
As soon as his feet touch the ground of the cemetery, he slumps down, Buffy still firmly in his arm, and lets the fusion’s blast roll over him. The last thing he consciously discerns is her body going slack. And then he passes out.
The first thing Spike’s aware of when he comes to again is that he’s not alone. A weight is half draped over him that is so familiar that it chokes him. It feels so good, and yet is so deeply associated with longing that, even before his senses kick in, he instantly knows it must be her.
He blinks his eyes open and sees her blonde hair splayed over his shoulder, a loose strand softly fluttering in the early morning breeze. He knows without thinking that this is the faint wind that blows just before dawn; he has to get to his crypt very soon if he doesn’t want to burn.
The second thing he realizes is that the voices in his head are silent. For the first time since he left the cave in Africa, there’s nothing. No screams, no smells, no endless rows of accusing faces – nothing.
He lies completely still, as still as only vampires can, and waits. Waits for the torture to start anew; yet, it doesn’t. He can hear the leaves rustling quietly. He can smell the rich earth beneath him. He can see the colors surrounding him awaken, changing from the nightly grayish to juicy green, to mellow pink, to glowing yellow. He can taste the humidity of last night’s warmth leaving the grass beside him. His senses pick up on the smallest trace of what’s barely detectable, and he wonders whether it always has been like this, before. He can’t quite think back past the fight in the cave. He only recalls eternal torment, every hour, every minute of each day, rendering his senses numb; ebbing away at times, enough to think coherently for a while. But never completely. Not until now.
For the first time since he left the cage he almost feels like himself. Not as he used to feel, changed, but still him.
For a brief moment hope flares in him that it stopped altogether, the ever parading masses of victims accusing him; that maybe it’s his reward for saving the Slayer. For loving her so much that he decided to get his soul for her.
The next second he knows that, of course, nothing in his life is ever so easy.
He’s still grateful for a small break. He turns his head slightly toward the weight on his arm, relishing the feel of her head on it. He doesn’t want to move; not as long as she’s still out and doesn’t push him away from her. With half an eye he squints into the brightening sky, knowing that already he’d have to run, even if he started right now. Instead his hand comes up, stroking her hair, lightly, barely touching it. He listens to her heart slowly, but strongly beating in her chest, knowing that this is probably the one chance in his existence that he’ll ever experience this. A calm contentment settles in his heart, one he never felt before. This is what he wanted. This is why he went to the end of the world, this is his reward. Listening to her strong beating heart, knowing that it will still beat tomorrow, in her own world; because of him.
He did one thing right.
He feels her stirring, only the tiniest twitching of a muscle, but he knows she’ll wake soon. He presses his lips on her crown, softly, breathing in her scent, and carefully wriggles out from under her head. Sitting up beside her, he gently loosens their hands that are still glued together, the crystal safe between them. Peeling her hand off from his, he closes his fingers around the stone. He stands up and shoves it back into his pants pocket, not really knowing if there’s still magic in it or if it’s drained.
As soon as their connection breaks, the voices are back. Not yet at full power, but he knows they will be. He gazes at her for a long moment, and it’s then that he understands that it was her; that she shielded him, protected him from the victims of his past, with her very soul.
Gave him the break, however small, that gave him the strength to get up and run.
“Thank you,” he whispers, and he doesn’t know whether he means the silence in his head or the sound of her heartbeat.
And then he turns and dashes away.