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.
She can’t believe he left her.
Not that she can’t understand why he did it. She’s not stupid. She knows it’s the only way to get her out of here. They could’ve waited for something to change until the cows came home. Had they both stayed here, Spike would’ve had to watch her wither and die, because the time outside may have stopped, but in here, she’s starting to get really hungry. And even more thirsty, she thinks, licking her lips that already begin to feel slightly dry.
Much worse than hunger and thirst though is the pull. That damn promise of peace, calling out for her with increasing urgency. It doesn’t help a bit that Spike told her it’s not what it pretends to be. Not because she doesn’t believe him; she does. She had been focused on the darkness luring her in, but she still had felt it, the shock of suddenly detecting something that jolted through him, just before he told her that it wasn’t heaven. She hadn’t seen his face then, but fright had radiated off him so forcefully that even in her distracted mind it had reached her. She could feel how he channeled all that new fear into holding her back, a fact that convinced her more than anything he could have said that he feared for her. With a pang she was reminded of the night in the alley; he was as scared to death of losing her then as he was here, and just like then he was determined to not let her go into perdition.
She’s pretty sure that he would’ve tried keeping her here even if it had been heaven, though. Even with everything he knows, she thinks he’s still selfish enough to refuse to let her go. He is a soulless vampire, after all, and she has an inkling of how much he mourned her loss. 147 days yesterday, uh…148 today; ‘cept today doesn’t count, does it… She can’t imagine that letting her have heaven back could ever be an option for Spike. Not as long as it meant that he’d lose her again. Then again… his demeanor had changed when the fear she’d sensed in him had appeared. Only then he’d gripped her tight on his own account, the fierce determination to keep her away from the darkness just then kicking in. Before, even after she’d told him what was happening to her, he had held her back mostly because he had seen how scared she was, because she clung to him, because it was what she wanted him to do.
Maybe, had this been heaven, he would’ve let her go had she really wanted to.
She wrenches her head away from the temptation, realizing, horrified, that she not only stared longingly into the dark, but was in fact trying to crawl closer. Those ties are meant to remind you to stay strong…Spike’s voice still resonates in her mind, soft but urgent. Without thinking twice, driven only by the memory of his pleading eyes, she rolls on her side, turning her back to the veil. Jerking her bound limbs forward, wriggling and pulling herself away from it, she gradually increases the distance between herself and the danger zone. When she feels the pull slightly lessen, she lets herself fall on her back, breathing heavily.
It’s much harder to resist, now that he’s gone.
God, she can’t believe he really left her.
She tries not to get pissed, but it’s hard. Because, as much as she doesn’t like that, she kinda needs him now. Which is exactly what makes her so pissed. She’s the freaking Slayer. She doesn’t need a vampire, for God’s sake.
Except she does.
Only to hold her back from the darkness, of course. But oddly enough, that’s not entirely true.
And she can’t even begin to express how much that pisses her off.
And who’s to say that it was true that this Mahatma demon thingy wanted her out of the way anyway? Spike wasn’t very welcome in the Sunnydale Demon Community either since he killed so many of its members lately. Didn’t he say himself this was a dimension created to punish demons? That humans weren’t even supposed to be here? Maybe her being here was just a matter of wrong place, wrong time; maybe he had been the one who should’ve been shoved in here all by himself, and the portal would’ve closed after him since there wasn’t a demon guard with him. Then it would be his fault that she was trapped. Because he had to start that stupid fight with her, and no, she was not willing to accept that she was the one who started the fight in the first place. Had he gone away like she wanted, she wouldn’t have had to punch him, right? God, she hates him, and it’s all his fault.
Of course, even if he had been the target, she could hardly hold him responsible, but she pushes that thought aside. She prefers to blame him rather than a nameless demon; makes it easier to stay mad at him.
And she wants to stay mad at him. Because otherwise her mind would inevitably drift to the memory of his body curled around hers earlier.
She didn’t have a breakdown like that since the night after she slept with Angel and had unknowingly turned him into Angelus. Even when her mom died, the night Dawn had tried to bring her back, she hadn’t cried like today.
Today she came undone. And he was there. He didn’t pat her shoulder, didn’t say any platitudes, no ‘there, there’, no ‘it’s gonna be okay’; nothing. He just silently held her, at a total loss for words, because there weren’t any. Was all around her, let her feel that she wasn’t alone, shielded her from the world. She can’t remember when she ever before had felt that protected, that safe.
If she’s honest with herself she has to admit that he was the reason she fell apart in the first place. Had he not offered her shelter, she would’ve reined it in as usual. But when she felt his trembling hands on her, felt that his cheeks were wet from tears he cried for her because he understood, felt him gliding beside her, taking her in, giving her all of him, the walls inside crumbled, unleashing everything she carefully had hidden behind them all those months.
She had let out so much of her pain, of herself then; had unloaded it on him, and he had taken it all. And then he had said he was sorry.
He was sorry. The one person who, no matter how badly she treated him, had done nothing than try to be there for her, from the day when she came back. She never wanted to acknowledge that, but right now she can’t pretend any longer not to see. He might have made terrible mistakes in the process, but he tried.
Because he loves her.
The moments he held her, the moments she let him really show her for the first time, she suddenly knew. It was almost palpable then, a feeling so strong, coming from him, washing over her like a tidal wave. It isn’t a weird kind of obsession, at least not anymore. He loves her, just as he always has claimed; only she has never believed him.
A myriad of images flush her mind, and many of them make her wince. To say he tried seems suddenly the understatement of the century. In typical relentless Spike manner he threw everything he had into the fray time and again, some of his actions just now understandable for what they were.
There was the night he came to kill her because she had mortified him in the worst way, and stayed to console her instead. That was the night she had, for the first time, felt him lifting some of the weight from her shoulders, had found some peace with him, if only for the moment. But of course she’d never admitted that, not even to herself.
He helped her with those demons Tara had accidently rendered invisible and she never stopped to wonder why. He then hit the witch, putting up with the inevitable migraine if he was right, which he knew he was. He did it to help, even if he really didn’t care about Tara. For her.
She remembers the night Anya’s Troll-ex had wreaked havoc in the Bronze; he refrained from taking advantage of the victims, tried to make the survivors more comfortable instead. She was righteously disgusted by the mere thought of what he’d decided not to do, and him expecting to get credit for his restraint; but she didn’t see it as what it was; that he did it to please her, because he thought that was what was expected from people who did the right thing. She humiliated him because she failed to see not only how difficult it must have been to abstain from the fresh blood all around him, but also how difficult it was for him to do the right thing without having a moral compass on his own helping him, depending only on his observations. That he literally had no clue to the right behavior but tried it anyway.
She hadn’t known that he really deserved to get credit.
Later he protected Dawn before he even knew that she wasn’t just her annoying brat kid sister. He didn't hesitate for a second when she came barging in, asking him to protect her mother and her sister, although she had spat in his face that she never needed him just the night before.
Not to mention that he decided to be willing to sacrifice his life for Dawn after he knew what she was.
He did all this only for her. Because he loved her.
One could still think he did it to get in her pants. But even in those days, she knew better. I couldn’t live, her bein’ in that much pain. Let Glory kill me first. He hadn’t even known whom he told that.
And then he stayed when she was gone, helped the others in their fight against evil, against the very thing he was supposed to be himself - he’d have loved to be himself - but had given up on at her behalf. If he really had wanted the chip out, he surely would’ve found a way. Instead he stayed and kept protecting Dawn, providing a kind of comfort no one else could, because they both knew that either of them felt guilty for her death. And he clearly didn’t do it to get some reward, because the only reward he could’ve cared for couldn’t be given anymore. She was dead.
He did it because he loved her even beyond death.
How could she have been so blind?
Sure, he still wasn’t good; not in the literal sense. He didn’t do those things because they were right, and she doesn’t doubt for a second that one day, he would’ve reverted to his evil self. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that he had changed, just like he’d always told her he could. Had felt enough love and guilt to help fight the good fight, help protect Dawn, even after her death. Emotions she never believed a soulless being could harbor. Didn’t want to believe.
She lets out an anguished groan when the images in her head change their tune, when they begin to remind her of the way she had responded to him. I know that I’m a monster. But you treat me like a man. She snorts disgustedly. Yeah, she kinda did, for a very brief period of time. Right up to their first kiss. But then…
She didn’t treat him like a monster then. She didn’t even dignify him with that small favor. She took from him whatever he offered her, whatever she needed, and then stomped him into the ground like the piece of dirt she felt herself to be. Hurled her disgust and her hatred on him, anything she could get a hold on to humiliate him. Again and again.
And he held still, just like he did in the alley, while the hurt burnt in his eyes; let her do this, because he thought it was what she needed. Because he thought it would help her. And because he still got more from her than he ever had believed he would get; the crumb he had once begged her for. And during all those months, his love never once wavered. No matter how badly she behaved toward him, he continued trying. Trying now to figure her out, to find a way to help her feel better, because he of all people was the one who looked through her charade, saw how miserable she still was. It wasn’t his fault that he just couldn’t understand her. She never gave him any chance to understand, because she didn’t want anybody to find out what she really needed. Because no one would give it to her anyway.
And now that he knows just how much her entire being still yearns to be there again, he left her here, the one thing she longs for seemingly close at hand and yet so far out of reach, because he said she couldn’t go there. She kicks her heels into the ground for lack of possibility to throw her fists into a punching sack. She really, really wants to kill something right now; instead she kicks again, rams her elbows into the dirt beneath her, at first one, then the other. Her head follows, and for a moment she relishes the pain erupting under her skull, but sadly it’s fleeting.
She can’t believe he left her.
Not now, not after everything she just revealed to him. He should have stayed, helping her figure out how to deal with what she just told him; never mind that she never would’ve allowed him to even try. Should’ve helped her at least staying here then, not giving in to the temptation of the darkness.
Because, oh God, she is so close again.
Unconsciously she’s been crawling toward the veil again, following the siren’s song, not caring what he told her she’ll find there. It sounds so good, the song; so peaceful, bell-like, happy. Only a few feet separate her now from the beauty she is promised. She feels herself drifting closer and closer, the movements easy, no obstacles to fight against.
With all the power she has left she focuses on the one thing she dares to rely on to find the strength to resist. His face, conjured up in her mind’s eye, looking at her with so much warmth a soulless vampire shouldn’t be able to convey with his eyes, pleading her to stay strong. Her eyes flicker down to the ties at her wrists, red ties made from his shirt, the only thing he left behind for her to hold on to. I’ll come back for you, believe me. She believes him.
Because she knows now.
She wriggles back to where the portal has been, panting from the effort, halting every now and then to look at her wrists. He wanted the ties to remind her to stay strong for her loved ones, expected her to want it for them.
He was wrong. She had been strong for her friends too long to find the strength in her now to do it for them. No, she wants to give him something he deserves to get from her, for all the times he was there for her without getting anything in return. The least she can do is give him an apology, and that is what she is fighting for.
When she feels she has come far enough, she lets herself collapse into a lifeless heap, curled up on one side, her back to the veil, the only visible movement being the rising and falling of her chest.
She can’t believe she let him leave.
His eyes glued to the mouse, he watches it racing across the grave, surrounding the headstone and disappearing behind it.
Seeing this is all Spike needs to know that the portal has closed. He still turns, staring at the place it has been just seconds ago. The place where Buffy has been, only a few yards away from him.
It was just a small step. In reality it made the difference between being in two very different worlds; the one with her in it, the one without.
He grunts angrily, because he is in the wrong world now.
He feels a blinding despair sneaking up on him, tackling him with full force then, creeping through his veins, paralyzing him.
Until her face appears before his closed eyes; her eyes casting him daggers, yet believing him to come back for her. You know I’m gonna kick your ass when I’m free, right?
Against everything she firmly believes, she trusts him to do this right. It’s what finally propels him into motion; the knowledge that he has to fulfill his promise this time. Throwing a last glance at the portal-that-ceased-to-be, he turns on his heels and rushes to the one person from whom he hopes to get the help he needs.
Squinting up to the moon he tries to assess what time it is. Then he remembers; it had been still early, about 10 p.m. Buffy was patrolling when they met, and time hasn’t gone by here. Chances are Anya’s still in the Magic Box.
He stuffs his hand into the pocket, exhaling in relief when his fingers close around the small paper. He’ll need it now. But first he needs to see the ex-demon. If anybody can help him now, it’s her.
Without a glance back he strides toward the exit of the cemetery, more and more picking up the pace the closer he gets to the shop until he’s almost running. He knows that a few minutes in no way will make any difference with what he plans to do, but he can’t help it. He wants to get the show on the road as soon as possible.
For once luck is on his side; there’s still light in the Magic Box, and through the window he can see Anya behind the counter, the gleam in her eyes telling him that she’s doing what she likes best; counting money. He tries to push the door open, and when it refuses to obey, he quietly knocks against it, moving aside to the window again to show himself. Anya’s head swivels up, watching with dismay the intruder who dares to disturb her in this moment of happiness. When she recognizes Spike, her frown smooths a little, and something akin to a smile appears on her face.
Spike kinda likes the girl. Her situation is not so unlike his; although accepted in the inner circle, she’s not an intrinsic part of it, a Scooby only by default because she’s Xander’s girlfriend. But none of them really acknowledges how valuable her knowledge of the demon world is for them; they never ask her for information, merely accept it when she offers, but always with a wrinkle of their noses, put off about the way she gained it. Like him she speaks her mind, not holding back with her opinion, even if it’s not popular. And like him, she’s been thrown into this life with humans, trying to adapt as best as she can, but not the least bit regretting her murderous past.
She walks over, and just seconds after knocking he hears the key turning. The door opens wide and Anya steps aside to let him in, closing the door behind him. “Wow. Whose parade did you rain on?”
“Huh?” He turns to watch her, trying to figure out what she’s talking about. Following her eyes scanning his face, he remembers the bruises probably still coloring his skin in all shades of a rainbow. “Oh. Yeah, well…” He ignores her questioning gaze and heads straight to the book shelves. “What do you know about Mala’hla demons?”
Anya turns the key to lock the door and walks after him. Without hesitation she pulls an old, leather bound volume from the shelf and flips through the pages until she finds what she was looking for. She shows him a drawing, and when he nods she lays it on the table, skimming over the text while talking. “I never met one myself, and I must say I’m not too sad about it. They are mostly just foot soldiers, doing the dirty work for their feudal lords. Not really evil because they’re much too stupid. But dangerous nonetheless, because they’d do about everything they are ordered to without questioning it, and their leaders rarely have good intentions. Very strong, as in really very strong. Not often encountered in our world; they inhabit several dimensions they fit in better, they even built some themselves.” She eyes him warily. “Where do you know them from?”
He shrugs his shoulders. “Had a little run-in with one of ’em a few decades ago. Didn’t like him.” Anya raises her brows, but he doesn’t elaborate, and she doesn’t prod.
“Why do you want to know?” she asks, curiosity finally getting the better of her.
“Time moves differently in their dimensions, right?” he sidesteps her question.
“Uh, that depends.” She sits on the edge of the table and takes a closer look at him now. “Did one of them do this to you?” Her tone is surprisingly compassionate, and he thinks that he must really look awful if even demon girl is sympathetic. He has no intentions to let her in on who turned his face into the picturesque landscape it apparently is and decides to fill her in on what is really going on instead.
“Did a lot worse.” He hears the slight edge in his voice, and he can tell that she heard it, too, because her eyes widen a fraction. A Spike that is beat up like that and scared seems to be worrying enough to gain her full attention. He nearly chokes on the words he needs to say. “Slayer’s trapped in one of their dimensions.”
“What?” Anya’s face is paling. “But we just brought her back! All the effort would have been in vain if she died so soon again!” She flinches when a menacing growl deep in his throat fortifies the glare he shoots her, and hurries to add, “Her effort to adjust, I mean. Obviously.” She straightens her skirt in a nervous gesture, deciding to take refuge in distraction. “What do you mean anyway, trapped there? How could she even get there?”
He sits beside her, glancing at his boots, deliberately leaving out the less glorious details of their encounter. “We were…at the cemetery, and suddenly there was a portal around us, and one of those wankers shoved us through.”
“Both of you? But you’re here,” she perks up,” that means you could leave it, right?”
“Do I have to spell it out for you?” He lifts his head and stares at her angrily. ”I could leave. She couldn’t.”
“Oh.” He can practically see the truth dawning on her. “Because she’s human.”
“And you just left her …?” She cuts herself off as he glowers at her. “But how can she even…”
“Look, I have no bloody clue why she could get there. I reckon the bugger wanted her there, out of the way, ya know? And made it happen somehow. And now she can’t get out.” He pats impatiently at his duster pockets searching for his smokes. When he finds them, he pulls one out and puts it between his lips, flips the lighter then and inhales deeply, not caring the slightest about her disapproving glare. Anya wisely keeps her mouth shut.
Blowing the smoke out, he answers her unasked questions. “It’s their prison dimension, I reckon, because the soddin’ portal stayed open until I got out. Like a guard leading the prisoner in has to get out again after delivery. And she’s not completely in yet. There’s still kinda…a veil or something she would have to pass. Bloody antechamber of hell is what it is.” He laughs darkly and takes another drag. “Have to get her back before…” He trails off. He can’t tell her anything about the pull Buffy fights against; no one but him knows about how deeply she still desires to be back in heaven, and he intends to leave it that way. It’s her call to make.
“Spike.” Her voice is uncharacteristically soft now; she can imagine how hard it will be on him to understand that he has to let go again. She remembers well how it was, back in summer. “She can’t get out. Only demons can pass through the portal into our world. She’s human.”
He half turns toward her and tilts his head aside. All anger and bitterness gone, he glances at her evenly. “That’s why I have to cloak her.”
Anya looks puzzled, and he can’t blame her. How could she understand?
“Willow can’t go in there to do a spell, Spike. She wouldn’t survive. Buffy is the Slayer, I’m guessing that’s the only reason she did.”
“But I can.”
She snorts. “Yeah, but you can’t do a spell like that. That’s powerful magic.”
He shrugs, but still feels eerily calm. “But I could do a fusion spell. With the right crystal…”
She laughs at that disbelievingly. “Yeah, right. You can’t do a fusion spell with her. You’d need a…” She cuts herself short and stares at him wide eyed. She doesn’t say a word, just stares and stares, her lips opening and closing and opening again. Until she finally gets words out again. Kind of. “Wha…huh…who?”
He steadily meets her incredulous stare, without batting an eye. After a while, when it’s getting clear that she won’t say anything else, he decides to answer at least one of her question-like syllables. “I have an address.”
That brings her back to earth. “What, they sell these things now to the highest bidder?”
He just looks pointedly at her, not even dignifying that with an answer. They both fall silent for a while; then she turns to watch him again, her face twitching slightly as if not sure she really wants to see him, really wants an answer. “But…why would you do that?” Her voice is colored by the kind of blatant insecurity that makes her appear so much younger than she is even as a human, almost childlike.
He frowns at her, pulling his head back a fraction in disbelief. Then his gaze softens, and a tiny smile curls his lips. “What do you think?”
He couldn’t tell what she’s thinking, because her face is almost blank, all wide eyes and gaping mouth.
He takes a last drag, straightens and walks over to the counter. He stubs out the fag end in a silvery bowl that, hearing her hissing, he imagines is something magically valuable, and gets all businesslike. “Right then. I need you to fetch me the crystal and dig up the spell I’ll need, yeah? Oh, and I’ll need something to create the portal when I’m back.” He draws his brows together, thinking hard, trying to remember. “An orb of…G’hol? Not… not sure, though. But you’ll suss it out. You…What?” he snaps, his voice more than a little irritated when he catches her still staring at him. He’s not in the mood to talk about what he’s about to do; he wishes fiercely that he wouldn’t have needed to tell anyone, but it was necessary. Telling demon girl was by far the least evil; not one to talk feelings much herself, the possibility to get away with only the information she needs to know about was a relative safe bet. To her credit, he can tell that she’s trying not to make a big deal out of it, but what he intends to do still seems to throw her for a loop. She’s speechless, something he can’t remember having seen on her until now.
He turns away from her, hoping to lead her to other paths the conversation could take. “Look, you can put the things into my crypt, I’ll find them there when I come back.”
Yeah, doesn’t work. Of course; it’s Anya, after all. She’s not one to be distracted easily.
He feels her gaze burning on his back, and then it’s not only her gaze, but her tentatively outreaching hand on his shoulder. “Spike --”
Suddenly he feels rage leaping at him that he can’t fend off immediately. Doesn’t want to either, because it feels kinda good. Familiar. He flinches under her hand, shoves it off violently with a half spin of his shoulder and steps away from her; fleeing. “Sod off! I’m not trying to play hero to get into her pants! Not the hero type here, and I’m already…” He catches himself midsentence, belatedly remembering Buffy’s wish never to tell anyone about them, then rephrases. “Not rescuing the damsel in distress, wanted to do this anyway. So don’t even try to talk me out of it. I need this!” And the second he says it out loud, he knows it’s true. He’s so unsettled by the sudden realization that he almost misses Anya’s response.
“I’m not trying,” she calmly replies. When her words register, he stares at her unbelievingly. She shrugs, secure in herself again. Because she understands now. It’s one of those things one does, like she didn’t run away from the last apocalypse. “I’m not Xander; I don’t care if it gets you in her pants. And I don’t really care if you die trying either. And it brings Buffy back, which makes Xander happy without risking his own life. Happy Xander equals lots of sex, so you got my approval here.” He turns, tentatively daring to meet her eyes again, and she looks straight into his face. Only before she walks back to the table, bowing over the still open book again, he sees something flickering through her eyes. Something she didn’t say, silently acknowledging his unspoken wish not to express it. Which, seeing this is Anya, lets it ring in his ears even louder. It’s something suspiciously close to admiration.
He swallows, grateful for her blunt words as well as for keeping the rest to herself. He watches her flipping through the pages some more, closing the book with a thud, retrieving another volume from the bookshelf, browsing through. Then, without looking up, she says, “You can go now.”
Now she does look up, and he’s surprised to find so much empathy on her features. “I won’t tell,” she says quietly, and he thinks how much more sensitive she is than the sodding Scoobies ever give her credit for.
He nods and walks toward the door. “There’s a chest on the left side of the crypt. Put it in the drawer.” His hand halfway to the doorknob, he pauses. “I’ll be away for a while. I’ll ask a friend of mine to take care of the crypt while I’m gone. Place like that empty for a while…” He leaves the sentence hanging in the air. He doesn’t want her to see how much he needs the knowledge to have a place to go to when he comes back; doesn’t want to think about it either.
There’s a moment of silence between them. Then she sniffles and raises her voice, her usual sarcastic tone back in it. “A friend of yours? He’s not gonna eat me, right?”
He turns once more toward her and gives her a small smile, and a mute ‘thank you’ travels to her, embedded in his glance. “No,” he says. And then he crosses the threshold and leaves.