It got me the honor of being voted 'Author of the Month' over at Elysian Fields in February, so I guess it can't be half bad.
It's Spuffy (because, duh!), and I tried to stay true to character, which won't always make for good choices of either of them.
It's an exploration of how a minor event (since I guess suddenly popping up in another dimension really is just a minor event in Buffyverse...) can change a lot; mainly inside people's heads and hearts. Many thinky thoughts in this one.
It's beta-ed by the fantastic SeaPea - thank you so much for this!
Title: Melting Fire
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.
Chapter 1: After the Storm (Part I)
And after the storm,
I run and run as the rains come
And I look up, I look up,
on my knees and out of luck,
I look up.
(Mumford and Sons)
He carefully scrunches his nose; just a little, only to find out whether or not it still stings, or by some miracle has stopped hurting. Hissing in pain, he curses his stupid habit to do such a thing. No miracles, not for him.
He stretches a little and silently curses again; why on earth he decided to lie down on the sarcophagus instead of his soft, fairly comfortable bed he has no idea. Kind of a habit too, he guesses, after having been beaten to a bloody pulp. Only last time this happened, the Slayer came to him afterward and…yeah, well, not gonna happen this time.
This time it’s her handiwork he’s recovering from.
He slowly moves the ice pack from one side to the other. He doesn’t have to feel around to find out where to put it next; there are bruises all over his face, so one place is as good as any other.
He sighs. If only it somehow had helped her, he would be perfectly content to nurse his beaten face; that’s how much of a poof he is these days.
He knows it didn’t, though.
He still feels kinda nauseous when he thinks about the despair radiating off of her last night. God, he wants to help her so badly, but everything he does seems to be, well, not helping.
Because she won’t let him.
Not emotionally, anyway. It’s not what she wants from him; he knows that. The rare moments of affection between them mostly end abruptly the second she becomes aware of the shift, either with, depending on the grade of bodily entanglement, her turning away or running off. Not without hurling her disgust in his face, colorfully illustrated with words, grimaces, glances.
Never without that.
Every time she leaves him behind, he picks up the shattered pieces of his pride, swearing to himself that this was the last time that the bitch treated him like dirt. Pictures himself leaving town. Yet already knowing better. Because she never will manage to smash his love for her the same way as his pride. Never his love.
The love she doesn’t want from him. The love she so insistently denies to be real.
Yet the love he’s sure she needs from him all the same.
It drains him, seeing her miserable, and not being able to help her. Doing everything he can, and yet never doing the right thing. Knowing that more than once he did something so wrong that it hurt her; that he was not only not helping, but making it worse somehow.
And he never knows what went wrong.
He really should leave town.
Like it has become kind of a habit, his hand wanders to the pocket of the duster he’s still wearing, too battered to pull it out when he arrived at his crypt. His fingers slowly feeling for a small piece of paper, relief soothes his features when they find what he was looking for.
It’s still there.
Not that he ever seriously considered going through with this. The thought alone, though disturbing and comforting in equal measures, makes him still shiver in revulsion.
It’s good to have the option, though. And in moments like this, desperate as he is now, it sometimes seems to be the only reasonable way to go.
Except reasonable really isn’t his cup of tea.
He cringes when he thinks of the night two days ago. For a moment, it had felt as if they had a real relationship. And he had to go and bollocks it up with his stupid remark about her being an animal. He frowns, irritated. Who would have thought that she could be that offended by something expressing nothing but his admiration? Amazingly, she didn’t run away, though. For once she didn’t even run when he started to talk about them, something that always sets her defense mechanism in motion; not that knowing this ever helped keeping his gob shut. But that night it didn’t chase her off immediately. She even conceded that she liked him. Well, sometimes. And then she belied her words about never trusting him and did exactly that.
But of course, that’s not really a news flash. Ever since he can hurt her, she lays her life in his hands every time she’s with him. Still, the thing with the handcuffs made it blatantly obvious.
And then, last night, she came to his crypt. He could feel her, lingering at his doorstep, only the door separating them. And what he sensed there was not only her presence, but something else, something more; he could’ve sworn that she was longing for him. He felt a rush of happiness course through his body like he hasn’t felt in ages, if ever. Until he opened the door and found the steps empty. She had vanished.
The rest of the night went straight to hell, of course.
He shifts a little, letting out a ragged breath at the pain it still causes.
He meant it when he told her to explain it to him last night. After all, he had only tried to help her out of that predicament she had gotten into. He understood that she felt guilty having killed a human. He knows of course that killing humans counts as wrong, despite what she is thinking; he doesn’t need a soul for that. He even gets it that for her, it’s not the knowledge about right and wrong. It’s deeply rooted in her sight of the world, just as deep as the knowledge that she has to eat and drink to survive.
He kinda lost that sight in that stable over a century ago.
The feeling of guilt for having done the wrong thing he understands, though; he knows how it feels. There’s still not one day gone by since that night in May that he hasn’t felt it. The guilt of having failed her, of not having kept his promise. The guilt of her dying.
What he doesn’t understand, however, is her determination to pay for what happened, in the only way she could think of. For him, turning themselves into prison doesn’t make a lick of sense, especially not in her case. Being locked away would do the world a lot more damage than only one dead human girl. And what about her sister? He remembers all too well the months Buffy had been…away. And he really doesn’t want to see the Niblet so lost again.
Doesn’t want to feel so lost again either.
He tried though. Tried to figure out what was going on in that head of hers, like he has done for months now. Tried to understand why the feeling of guilt over accidently killing a human weighed so much heavier than everything else; than her sister, than her friends, even than her duty as slayer. He didn’t find any explanation, which is why he intends to talk to her about it once again later. He so badly wants to understand this; because if he could, maybe he’d finally have a breakthrough. Would finally understand her.
Because he really doesn’t.
He gets that now.
Even though he more than once thought he did and has told her so, and he still thinks that none of the insights he gained about her were entirely wrong. Yet, he feels that he never really got to the core of it.
God, he knows of course that she doesn’t love him, knows that she is disgusted with herself for doing those incredible things with him. Well, that’s hard to miss, as often as she told him. She still considers him a monster, not capable of love, no matter how hard he tries to convince her, to show her that he genuinely loves her. To show her that he’d do anything for her. For some reason, she can’t believe him. Doesn’t want to either.
But she keeps coming back. Yearning for his touch; not tender of course, God forbid. But his touch nonetheless. Desperately longing for the way he makes her body feel.
He clenches his jaws. The sex with her is great. Of course it is. And yet…
It’s not at all what it would be like if he was allowed to do it the way he’d like to. It’s the only way he can get that much from her, but sometimes he wonders if the emotional pain it causes him, causes them, is worth it. He longs for being allowed to also show her the tenderness he feels when he’s with her, but he’s learned his lesson. He’s learned to keep it to himself, the soft touches, the loving words, the secure embraces; as much as it eats him up from the inside.
Sometimes he wonders whether he should ask her why. Why she lets them indulge in their heat, but denies them any warmth.
In the end though, he always decides to keep his gob shut and take what he can get, too afraid to destroy what little they have.
But he never once stopped hoping for more.
And that’s why he never stopped trying to understand her. Why last night, he begged her to explain it to him. Instead she chose to punch him into next week, and he let her.
Because then, all off a sudden, it hadn’t been about the dead girl anymore. You don't have a soul! There is nothing good or clean in you. You are dead inside! You can't feel anything real! I could never be your girl! Somehow he knew it wasn’t even about him anymore, even though every word she beat into him was directed at him. The desperation and pain rolling off of her almost tangibly spoke about something else. Something he couldn’t decipher.
And he had nothing to offer but letting himself be beaten to mush.
He snorts, his fingers ghosting over the bruises in his face; again she rejected everything but his body, this time as a target for a different kind of violence. Always only his body.
He squeezes his eyes shut, and then he lets the pain wash over him.
Buffy leans her head against the post and sighs tiredly.
She told the others she was going on patrol, but, oddly enough, she’s not yet ready for that. She convinced herself that she just needed a small break, but deep down she knows she’s just worried she’ll meet Spike.
And she’s definitely not ready for that.
She sat here so often over the last few months, but rarely alone. Tonight the porch is empty; only she sits there on the upper stair, her face tinted silvery-blue by the first moon rays. Of course she is alone; no one ever sits here with her except Spike. And the last time she saw him, he lay on the ground of a dank alley.
She closes her eyes, trying to shut the images out, but it’s futile. They haunt her, those eyes. The way he looked at her, after he held still, let her pound into him, again and again, without the slightest attempt to defend himself. Gliding even back into his human disguise, being the man she doesn’t want him to be, desperately needs him not to be, while she threw fist after brutal fist in his face.
After he had done nothing but try to help her.
She gets that now. Got it even then, in a way. It’s not his fault that he just can’t understand why she had to do this when she barely can.
That it’s all she got left, this one act of doing the right thing. Because nothing else in her life feels right.
She feels so wrong. It’s like she lost some crucial parts of herself in that grave, leaving her feeling like living in the negative of a photo, somehow. Everything is in the right place, but the colors aren’t. So much so, in fact, that it hurts the eye if you look on it for too long. Completely blurring her vision of how things ought to be, ought to be done.
And so she did things she knew were wrong, oh so wrong. Did them again and again, in the feeble attempt to get a tiny piece of herself back. A tiny bit of feeling real, of feeling anything, that she only was granted when she was with him. When he made her body feel, making her forget for a small amount of time that it’s only her body that can feel something. And so the only piece she ever got of herself was just another piece of wrongBuffy.
God, as much as it scared her – the thought of having come back wrong somehow was such a relief. It was at least a damn good explanation for why she acted so un-Buffy-like. Why she neglected everything she should care for just to do those unspeakable things with the vampire she hated. Shouldn’t have hated, though, because isn’t it impossible to hate a thing? She snorts derisively. Well, at least now she can; hate him, that is. Because after that night in the alley, she knows he deserves to be treated not like a thing, but like a real person, because he acted more like one than she did. He recognized her need to put her anger and disgust on him, and he let her.
He couldn’t have understood why she needed it, though. Couldn’t have known that all the bitter insults she threw into him along with her fists were directed at herself. Because all those weeks, she was the one acting as if she had no soul. She was the one without a shred of good in her, desperately clinging to the fragile frame around her, artificially telling her how to behave.
She was the one who was dead inside. Who couldn’t feel anything real. Because she came back wrong.
Except she didn’t.
Again Buffy feels tears stinging her eyes. She didn’t come back wrong. That’s what Tara told her anyway, and she trusts her.
Sadly, with her words that were meant to reassure, Tara pulled the rug out from under her, shot the only bearable reason for her behavior to hell.
She isn’t a demon of some kind, she’s only Buffy. There’s nothing left to hide behind, no scapegoat to lay her wrongness upon.
Tara was surprisingly understanding, even offered her forgiveness. But she can’t be, doesn’t want to be forgiven. Forgiveness would somehow turn all the wrongness into something acceptable. It can’t be that simple. And she feels that she doesn’t deserve that.
Buffy takes her head in her hands, bracing her arms on her thighs, and lets the tears flow. The last time she sat like that, he showed up. After she had stomped him to the ground with her words. He came to kill her, and stayed with her instead. Offered his help. Shared the silence with her like only he can, despite usually being the one who never shuts the hell up. Helped her more that night than she ever cared to admit.
That night she saw a glimpse of something in him and for the first time recognized it for what it was - humanity. But she couldn’t acknowledge that. Not then, never now.
But how can she even think about not acknowledging that part of him, after everything he has done for her since she came back? After he has been there for her like no one else, providing the refuge from the hell that her life had become whenever she needed it? Even if partly he acted out of selfishness, hoping to win her over; he still has given her everything she needed, no matter how much it hurt him.
Because she knows, of course, how much she hurt him, least of all by pummeling him into a bloody mess. Saw it in his eyes more than once, chose to ignore it just as often.
She used him as nothing but a means to make herself feel something. Secure in the knowledge that he was only a soulless thing. She couldn’t hurt a thing. Every doubt that ever tried to raise its head pushed away, fortified by the notion that she wasn’t responsible anyway, because she came back wrong.
But if he isn’t a thing, and she isn’t wrong, how can she be forgiven?
It doesn’t make things any easier that a part of her is disappointed that she didn’t turn herself in at last. The part that continually is too tired to deal with her life. Dawn was right; she wasn’t sorry to let herself been taken away. In prison, besides the punishment she deserved, she would’ve had some sort of peace; no slayer duties, no sister to take care of, no friends to put on a mask for. No vampire who claimed to love her.
Just peace. Almost heaven. The heaven she still longs for, so badly. Even though she realized, being invisible and threatened to turn into pudding, that she doesn’t really want to die anymore, heaven still affords great allurement for her.
Yeah. No heaven. Not for her.
As it is, she’ll have to go on dealing with her life. Somehow will have to deal with Spike.
If only she knew how.
She squeezes her eyes shut, and then she lets the pain wash over her.
He senses her a few seconds before he can actually hear her. He wonders, not for the first time, whether or not she can sense him from that distance, too; if so, she makes no effort to acknowledge his presence.
When she comes into his view though, he has his answer; at least for now, as deep in thought as she appears to be. She rarely wears her emotions openly on her face in front of others; with the exception of anger, annoyance and disgust, of course. But now, none of those show; what he sees instead makes his insides turn into a knot, since she’s so obviously feeling miserable.
Had she known he was there, she would have never allowed herself to let him see this. Not anymore, not since they first kissed.
He sometimes wishes they never had.
Not that he wants to relinquish the memories of kissing, of shagging her. But in the rare moments he’s able to admit it to himself, he’d prefer to have their relationship back to the point when they both could relax around each other - the weeks after she came back.
The weeks she almost seemed to like him.
Despite the sex, they have never again been that close.
He tenses when he sees two vampires sneaking up on her from behind and opens his mouth ready to warn her, but then he lets it snap closed again. He knows she’ll notice in time, and they’ll be no match for her.
Although there’s no visible sign of it, he knows the exact moment when she picks up on them. He silently watches her spinning around, kicking the smaller one against the chest, propelling him against the nearest tombstone. The taller one gets a bone cracking punch into his face, and Spike wrinkles his nose when he hears the fledgling’s break, knowing all too well how that feels, having her fist crashing against his nose.
She fights with them for a long while, much longer than he knows would be necessary. She doesn’t even reach for her stake; she wants to pound and kick and smash them, hurt them like she hurts inside.
That he remembers, too. Only that she shows them enough mercy to dust them in the end.
Without one of her quips, the whole time. Maybe it’s what pains him most.
He takes a drag on his fag and flicks it to the ground.
“Found someone else to pummel, you have. Lucky me.”
She doesn’t move a muscle, but he sees her shoulders tensing. “Go away,” she says bleakly.
He glides down from the crypt roof he’s been sitting on and saunters over to her. Why the hell doesn’t he just stay away? Oh, he knows exactly why. For the same reason why all his thoughts of leaving town, leaving her behind and liberating himself from his love for her, fly right out the window the second he sees her. Or hears her. Or thinks of her, for that matter. He just can’t. Bloody ponce that he is, he’s not strong enough.
“What, no funny comeback today, Slayer? No hilarious insults?” She lifts her eyes up to look into his face, and for a split second, he sees various emotions flitting over her features at the sight of his bruises; compassion, guilt, sorrow. “Got at least your wit successfully locked away if not yourse...?” Her fist connects with his nose before he can finish the word or flash her a smirk, eliciting the same noise as earlier with the fledgling, cutting him effectively short.
“Ow! Bloody hell!” He holds his nose and casts her an indignant glance, but as so often happens, the rising anger at her for using him as her punching bag and at himself for letting her is at war inside him with regret for having added to her agony. His eyes soften, and so does his voice. “Buffy – “ he tries, but another punch hurls him across the graveyard.
“I told you to go away,” she fumes, and even though he can see a hint of remorse hidden underneath the rage, it’s not enough for him to rein in his own anger any longer. He’s on his feet again within a second, leaps at her and sends her flying with a blow under her chin.
God, this feels so good.
She rolls off her shoulder, jumps up and bounces at him in one fluent movement, her fist aiming at his head again immediately. “What is wrong with you?” she yells, his arms now successfully blocking her blows infuriating her even more.
Staring at her incredulously, he catches her wrists and holds them in place for a moment. “What is wrong with me?” he asks before she flips around, freeing herself in the process, and uses the momentum to kick against his shoulder. He holds his ground though, getting a hold on her ankle and spinning her around. Still in the air, her other foot shoots out and kicks his chest. He staggers back, but again catches her punching hands when she pounces on him instantly.
“You just...can’t...stay away...from me,” she spits out, her voice strained from the struggle of wrenching her hands free. When he holds them viselike, she uses her head as a ram.
It happens the second their foreheads knock into each other.
A blinding light appears around them, the air crackles and they both feel a force hitting their bodies like a giant’s iron fist, sending them down to their knees. Their fight forgotten for the moment, they instinctively hold onto each other, striving to stay at least that upright and not to find themselves crushed down to the ground.
Their eyes wide open, they turn their heads to every side to get a clue of what is going on; yet, they find nothing unusual, except the bluish glowing light that is arching over them. And then Buffy sees it.
Her hands clutch his shoulders, her fingers digging deeply into his flesh. “Uh, Spike?” Her whisper oozes so much fright that he reflexively wraps his arms around her. She doesn’t shrug them off, doesn’t even seem to realize them holding her. His eyes dart to her face, immediately following her gaze then.
“Oh, not good,” he breathes, “not good at all.”
Where had been graves and crypts just a few seconds ago, brightly lit by an almost full moon, there is now nothing but blackness in one direction outside the arch.
They promptly struggle to their feet and back away from the dark, only to realize quickly that it’s pointless; the glowing arch as well as the blackness is moving with them.
They are stuck.
“A portal…that’s a portal, right?”
“Yeah.” He had never before heard her voice as tiny as now, and he just wishes to have something else to say.
Her hands grip him even tighter and drag him with her toward the other end where the cemetery still allures. “We have to get out of here,” she urges, panic seeping into her voice.
Spike has the sneaking suspicion that it won’t do any good; they are here for a reason, and they won’t escape just by running out of the danger zone. But he never saw her panicking before; she’s the Slayer, she doesn’t panic. Full stop. So there must be something seriously wrong, must be more about it than just being trapped in the portal to another dimension; something she sees, even if he doesn’t.
He tries running toward the exit with her, admittedly as much on her behalf as for his own survival instinct. Until he comes to a sudden halt, encircling the Slayer’s waist with one arm to hold her back.
“Crap,” she says. Out of the blue they stand in front of a deeply red skinned demon, about eight feet high, just an arm’s length away, blocking the exit. Their fists shoot out at the same time, but it’s too late. The demon’s arms, one and a half times as long as theirs, are already swinging toward them, and with his gigantic hands he shoves them back.
As strong as they both are, with the force field still somewhat holding them in place, they have nothing to counter.
With a strangled twin gasp, they tumble backward into the black.