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.
He shifts a little to the left side and then back, trying to get more comfortable in the hay he’s settled in.
He’s a right cliché, he thinks, travelling through the States in a goods wagon transporting haystacks of all things, but he won’t complain. Much. Better than travelling with the cattle it probably will be delivered to, and it kinda smells good. Still, he’s too pissed that he couldn’t use the DeSoto to really appreciate the luck he had. And he sadly can’t blame anyone but himself that the engine didn’t start; he hadn’t used it for so long, mostly had preferred to walk or, since the night Buffy came back, to take the motorcycle. He hasn’t driven the car for almost a year, he thinks, remembering the last time he had.
He winces at the memory of that night. Buffy had sat beside him in the car, and he had been so full of hope. Before all had gone down the drain with Dru being back, Buffy finding his shrine and him chaining her up, confessing his love for her.
Buffy had shut him out of her home that night, and he still can feel the pain of the moment he’d realized it.
He closes his eyes and sighs. God, what had he been thinking, trying to force her to an admission like that. But he was desperate, and he just hadn’t known better then. Still often doesn’t, and how could he? The experiences he can draw on are very limited; limited to a lunatic vamp no less. He knows he has gotten better at figuring out what was expected of him, has learned from his mistakes; but he’s still at a loss when it comes to helping her, making her feel better, no matter how hard he tries.
His hands find their way to his pocket, his fingertips stroking the paper, the feel of it eliciting a small smile. He doesn’t really need the paper anymore; the words have long since been etched into his mind, as often as he stared at them. But he likes to touch it, likes the security it provides him. He’s on his way now, and he knows it’s the right thing to do. It’s what he needs.
A sudden seething pain at his other hand propels him to his feet, yelping and frantically hitting on his hand where a small wisp of smoke rises. Cursing loudly he glances up to the small window slits, letting enough sunlight through to draw a few golden lines on the floor, just where he sat until a minute ago. Deep in thoughts, he hadn’t even noticed the curve the train was rounding, making the sunny patches move. He slumps to his knees, snatching the bottle of whiskey he brought, pulling the cork with his teeth and pouring some of it over the burn. “Ow! Bloody hell!” Raising the bottle he gulps down two or three mouths full of the amber liquid, and then one more. “Bloody hell,” he repeats, murmuring this time.
Again he glances up at the window; then he shrugs off his duster and drapes it over the slits, carefully avoiding the sun beams, cramming the leather through the highest opening to fix it. He hopes it’ll stay there; the train will be on its tracks another twelve hours before reaching its destination and he intended to catch some sleep in the hay. He’s not keen on waking up on fire.
Plus: If he dusts, Buffy will be lost. And he can’t let that happen. He promised.
Never mind the stomach lurch the thought alone gives him.
His mind drifts back to Sunnydale, but not in the past; the future is what mostly holds his thoughts in these lonely hours since he left. Not too far into the future though; he doesn’t allow himself to think ahead of bringing Buffy out. He trusts that Anya will find the spell he needs, and also an orb of G’hol, if that is what is necessary to reopen the portal. What he’s not so sure about though is using the spell himself, even though it’s an easy spell, and with a well prepared crystal almost anybody could do it. He’s been around long enough in the supernatural world to know that.
Yet, he isn’t avid of using magic; never was. He’s deeply suspicious of witch stuff. He knows it often helped them, and he wouldn’t risk forgoing magic if needed, but he’d always stay apprehensive. To do a spell with a matter this sensible renders him terrified, even if he tried to appear calm and convinced when telling demon girl about it. Magic has often unforeseen consequences, and he really doesn’t want to consider what could happen during a fusion spell. With the woman he loves, at that.
He raises his hand, braces his palm on the back of his neck, drags his elbow toward his chest. His head tilting to one side, the releasing cracks sound through the wagon.
He has no choice. It’s the only way to bring her back, and he’s the only one who can do it. Will be anyway, when he’ll have the thing she can fuse with; when he succeeds in Africa. When he’ll be back with his soul.
The word alone still awakens a flutter in his stomach, not unlike fear, but not quite. Not anymore. Not since he left her trusting him to come back and help her.
He remembers when the thought of getting his soul back entered his mind for the first time; startled him out of feeling utterly helpless, more of a threat then than a solution. Born out of the deep wish to help the woman sitting so lost beside him in the shadow and finding not a single word of comfort. He saw her forcing herself to step into the light, the brightness she just had told him was hurting her, trying so hard to convince herself that she still belonged there, or at least would again, one day, while he had to remain not quite in the dark anymore, but still in the shadows. He saw how much it pained her, how alone she felt, and he couldn’t do a damn thing. Because, for the first time ever, he completely understood what she went through and yet hadn’t the tiniest glimpse of understanding; not about how she really felt. He knew pain and despair very well; still he knew intuitively that those were her feelings only at the surface, lying just underneath the mask she put on for those who had committed the crime to bring her back from heaven. He felt that there was something a lot worse hidden by the two layers he could see, and he had no way to get deeper; to reach right into her very soul. Because he hadn’t one.
It was in this moment that, for the first time, the idea of getting himself a soul ambushed his mind, driving its hooks in and never letting go again, however hard he fought to dismiss it.
But although he did try to get rid of it, in the beginning it actually didn’t bother him much that it didn’t work. It wasn’t really an idea, after all; it was more of a bad joke. A thought you could wave away with a shrug because it wasn’t worth being considered seriously; because, really, what self-respecting demon would do such thing? Getting themselves a soul, voluntarily. Yeah, right.
There came more moments, though, that rendered him feeling inadequately equipped for understanding her, helping her; and with each one the thought of the soul wormed its way deeper and deeper into his consciousness, incessantly, mercilessly.
He vividly recalls the shock that surged through him when she first climbed him, the brief moment of awe he felt because, for one happy second, he thought she’d just succumbed to her hidden desire because she felt for him. Until he caught sight of her face, drenched in pain, and he felt a second shock wave course through him, because he knew, could feel how much she ached, and once more he couldn’t do a damn thing about it. Could only be what she needed right now, hoping to help her by sharing the burden, bearing the knowledge that she’d hate herself just a little bit more after that.
But he knew it wasn’t enough; only he didn’t understand why.
And more and more his mind circled around his soulless state, and more and more it left him feeling incomplete.
The second he became aware for the first time that thinking about it terrified him, he realized that imperceptibly something had changed. Somehow it wasn’t merely a ridiculous notion any longer, swirling in his head every now and then, fueled by the urge to understand her better; disturbing, but too far-fetched to think about it twice; too repugnant to even want to.
Somehow it had turned into a thought that scared the hell out of him.
And something that could scare him that much had to be real. He understood instantly that he obviously had toyed with the idea in earnest without even noticing.
Never one for shying away from something scary, but throwing himself into the fray head first, consequences be damned, he began to dig. Already knowing about the old legend, it took him just a couple of weeks to get the address of a shaman in Africa. Written on a small paper, he carried it with him all the time and allowed himself to get used to the idea. With every incidence with the Slayer that left him feeling incapable of making her feel better, left him feeling helpless, the fear gradually dissipated. And slowly he gained the self-confidence that if necessary, he could do that. All the more so since she never left out a chance of throwing his soullessness into his face as the main reason for her refusal to see him as what he tried to be for her.
He just wasn’t ready to severely consider to go through with it, wasn’t ready yet to feel the need. But he knew that he was close; not to be good enough for her, but to understand how to be good for her. It was then that the presence of the paper in his pocket began to feel oddly comforting, even when the feeling of nausea still prevailed.
Until last night. Every doubt he still had left was washed away, leaving him cleansed of any remaining trace of disgust. And now that he’s determined, setting things in motion even, he almost feels like a child on Christmas Eve, all excited and stomach-fluttery.
“My soul,” he tries the words out loud, and he’s oddly pleased about the sound of it. He’s aware that he hasn’t a clue what is waiting for him, neither in Africa nor thereafter; but he’s ready to face it.
He thinks of Angel; as much as he loathes him, especially in the disguise of the ensouled vampire - he’s still the only reference he has. He remembers that his grand-sire struggled with having a soul, a lot, to be honest. But he didn’t choose it, did he? For Angelus, it was the curse it was meant to be. He never wanted to be good, and oh boy, could Spike ever understand that.
But that was then.
Sighing, he reaches up into a pocket of his duster, careful not to tear it from the window, and pulls out his cigarettes. He fishes the Zippo out of his pants pocket, puts a fag between his lips and lights it. He perches himself on a haystack after grabbing an empty bottle as a substitute for an ash tray. Burning cigarette, lots of hay and a flammable vampire – not a good combination.
He closes his eyes, savoring the feeling of smoke in his lungs before he blows it out slowly, letting his thoughts drift to the past again.
Back then, Spike almost felt pity for his grand-sire. Angelus, member of the Scourge of Europe, practically forced to be good. But now everything is different.
He has long since changed into a do-gooder himself, if only for gaining her attention, respect, affection. But that’s not really true, is it? There are things the Slayer does he can’t understand, such as risking her life for people she doesn’t even know. But doing good for humans you care about? Yeah, he gets that now. There’s not much he wouldn’t do for Dawn, and not any longer just because he knows how important she is for Buffy. And Red, Tara…even last year he took the chip-induced migraine on Tara’s behalf without batting an eye. Still, only for people he cares about. But if it weren’t for her, he would probably go back to his old ways in a blink if he ever lost the soddin’ chip, sparing only the lives of those he likes. It’s not that he’s not still evil after all, doesn’t relish a good slaughter.
Unknowingly, his tongue curls over his teeth, his eyes glinting in a wicked grin at that thought; but then the grin recedes and, his brows drawn together, he frowns. On second thought, he has to concede that that’s not really true either. He remembers the night he thought the chip had stopped working. The first thing he did was hunt down a girl to drink her dry. Only that it wasn’t because he really longed to do that; it was more about proving something to himself. He realized when he had her pinned to the wall how hard it was to bite her, hurt her, kill her. He had to talk himself into doing it, and as baffled as he was, he felt oddly relieved when the chip zipped him back. He hadn’t thought about this incident too closely; hadn’t wanted to, and too much had happened later that night. But now he can’t help but face the truth.
He isn’t as evil as he likes to be; not anymore. There are slices of a conscience, developed by being too long with the Slayer, having seen too much of what’s in her heart. By having experienced himself the effect of protecting, saving someone he cared about.
By having lost the one he loved.
He can’t shake the image of those who’d stay behind, of those who’d lose the one he’d drink dry. Because once he was the one left behind, and he can’t wish the agony upon anyone, can’t ignore the thought of causing it. Can’t not care about that anymore.
So, if that ship sailed long ago anyway, isn’t it the logical next step to get his soul back? Because he’s all too aware that he’s incomplete for the world she lives in. As much as he perceives even small things no one else sees, he still lacks understanding. And he needs to understand her to be able to help her; he learned that by now. If nothing else, her meltdown in hell’s antechamber proved that. He’s certain that, had he had a soul, he would’ve understood earlier.
It’s this incompleteness he’d felt all along; now he knows.
He may be here today because she needs him to do this right now, to get her back.
But he had the address before. The small paper, worn from being touched, caressed for weeks.
In the end, he’s here because he needs it. Because she needs him to need this.
Because he loves her.
“My soul,” he says, and this time, there’s conviction behind.
Days go by outside, but Buffy doesn’t know that.
She doesn’t know that in her home dimension, Anya does everything in her power to get an orb of G’hol and the right words for a fusion spell. Apart from that, she tries her best to convince the Scoobies that there’s no need for the cavalry, that Buffy will be back soon, and that she will be fine. And she lies about where she knows that from, makes an idiot out of herself by making up visions, lying that badly that she knows no one believes her. But she promised, and so she doesn’t tell. Luckily Xander trusts her enough to hold the gang off for a while, to listen to her whenever she insists that something cannot be done; preventing Willow from getting Tara to do an inter-dimensional locator spell was the hardest, but she succeeded; for now. Anya is glad that no one noticed the absence of Spike, because she knows that Xander’s trust would end right there. But no one ever misses him.
Buffy doesn’t know that Dawn cries herself into sleep, wishing the Bot were still there, helping to quell the loneliness, if not the fear.
She doesn’t know that Spike, after crossing half of the country on freight trains, decided that getting to Africa on a ship would take too long; that he has been on a plane, for the first time in his long life, and that he had to overcome his fear to even enter the cargo hold, but was quite fascinated seeing the land passing by when he dared peering through the window then, silently wondering why the hell there even were windows in the freight room. It wasn’t that the crates he was sharing the room with could marvel at the view, right?
Buffy doesn’t know all that. For her it was only a few hours, maybe. Maybe just one, feeling much longer, because it’s so hard, so hard to just lie there. And wait.
The siren’s song has gotten so prominent in her head, it’s hard to think of anything else. To focus on her will to stay away from it, when said will is diminishing every minute.
She pulls her hands up to her face for the umpteenth time, buries her nose in the fabric around her wrist, inhaling his scent. It’s the only thing left helping her to stay strong, because it still helps her conjure up his face in her mind, his eyes pleading with her not to give in, his voice promising to come back.
She doesn’t think about anyone else outside, she can’t. It doesn’t help.
She knows because she tried.
She thought of Willow, how sad and forlorn she appeared since the separation from Tara; how hard she fought to stay away from magic for good. And how little her own effort had been to help her.
She thought of Xander, and how strangely he acted sometimes during the last weeks. And that she never even had bothered to ask him why that was.
She thought of Dawn and how snippy she always reacted when Buffy had to leave her alone again. And how annoyed, even angry that always made her.
She knew she was supposed to feel compassion for Willow, should worry about what was wrong with Xander. Was supposed to be sad that she never could spend more time with her sister. Alas, she felt nothing; at least nothing but guilt for having failed them, which in turn only left her more guilty than before, even more wanting to go back to heaven. Left her giving in to the pull without even noticing until the distance to the veil had already melted away by half.
From that moment on she was done trying. She could try to care about their problems when she was out of here; in here, she would focus now on the one thing that had helped her until now.
She snorts. Funny how he was the one who constantly tried to pull her into the darkness to him, and now the memory of him is the only one making her want to stay away from it because he begged her to. She doesn’t really know how this works, why it is that it helps her to think about him; maybe because she knows he’d do about anything to keep her safe, keep her with him. Whatever the reason, she catches herself wishing fiercely he would be here, holding her back. Holding her.
It’s not the first time she ever thought of him holding her without having sex. Of her embracing him. But it’s the first time that she doesn’t chase the thought away as soon as it sneaks up on her, hissing in rage that it even dared to approach. It’s the first time she allows the image to tentatively settle in her mind, and she’s surprised when she realizes that, once entered, it easily makes itself comfortable there.
It’s as if a dam broke when she fell apart and let him catch her, holding her shattered pieces together. He was there when a part of the carefully erected walls around her crumbled, actually he gave it the last kick to break down with his questions. For the first time, in panic of the supposed lightness threatening her, she let some of the darkness in herself pour out. And he, by being there, trembling, weeping with her, for her, turned it into something else entirely. What before lay heavily and black on her soul, weighing her down harder each day, began to hesitantly morph into a feeling. Not one of the light, happy ones, but a feeling nonetheless. A feeling to mull over, to cry about, to maybe talk about, to influence her decisions, to do whatever feelings do to a person. And that was something she had craved from the first moment of being back, and it had always been denied her.
The only times she ever had felt something were when she was with Spike, but always only with her body; never with her soul. She had hated him for being the one making her feel at all and had needed to hurt him for it like she hurt. Had hated herself so much for stooping so low, doing those things with a demon she loathed, not only lowering herself in using him, but in merely using. Because she’d always known how much she hurt him, had known that she willingly believed the lie of a demon’s inability to feel, which only added to her guilt. Making it all the more important to never let him doubt her intentions, so how could she allow him to show her affection?
So she never did. Until today. Today she’d been too weak to rage against it, frozen in her misery; had needed it too much in order not to turn into ice entirely. And he had seized his one chance without thinking, his urge to be there for her stronger than the dread of agonizing rejection, almost palpable in the warmth that radiated off of him despite his bodily coolness. And he of all people had managed to begin melting her shell, to give her a tiny piece of herself back; a piece of the real Buffy, finally not the wrong one. And it felt so good within all the pain that now she encourages her mind to latch onto the memory, wishing for even more.
The weirdest thing is that she pictures herself crying in his arms again, and she, who never wants to show any weaknesses, is weirdly okay with it. Because she knows he would be, too. She knows that, other than her friends and family, he doesn’t expect her to be anyone but just Buffy, and that’s comforting and liberating at the same time.
Again she wonders why she hadn’t been able to acknowledge his love for her. She was the one who could see past his Big Bad attitude; could see that he was worthy of her trust even with the one most precious to her, her sister. He had never betrayed her belief in him, and she had counted on him like no one else. She had known, of course, that he didn’t act out of the goodness of his heart, but only for her, at least in the beginning. Then why could she still deny him the depth of his feelings for her, even before her world went black?
She goes completely still for a second or two when an old memory assaults her out of the blue. One that doesn’t seem to fit in her train of thoughts, and yet, suddenly everything falls in place, and a moan of pain escapes her throat. It’s her own voice she hears, making her mind snap back for years.
There must be some part of you inside that still remembers who you are.
But there wasn’t.
This is why she was so blind, why she decided to be blind against evidence. She knows now why she had to believe that he couldn’t love her
Not without a soul.
Because she knows the difference between a vampire with and without a soul. Because she once had known a vampire with a soul; had witnessed him losing it, and with it his ability to love. To love her. There was no part left in Angelus even willing to remember.
If someone loving her as much as Angel had could be void of every trace of his feelings for her as soon as the soul was gone – wasn’t that proof that a soul was indispensable for the ability to love? But that implied that Spike couldn’t really love her either.
Because otherwise, what would it say about Angel’s love?
She shivers, and unknowingly her hands rise up to her face again, giving her nose access to the ties.
Not too long ago, this sudden insight, paired with the new found certainty that Spike indeed did love her, would have shattered her world into bits. Doubts about the depth of Angel’s love for her would have been too disturbing to consider, so she never did.
To her mild surprise nothing dramatic happens. She doesn’t know whether this is because of her general lack of feelings, because the recent meeting with Angel had been a little on the disappointing side, or because her love for him begins to fade. All she knows is that thinking about Angel obviously doesn’t help the tiniest bit more than thinking about her friends, because when she checks, she finds herself halfway to the blackness again.
It’s still only Spike’s image that drags her back, away from the danger.
Again she breathes in through her nose, smelling the faintest bit of him in the ties she holds at her face. The siren’s song doesn’t cease to lure, but she stays strong. For him.
Somehow she thinks he’s earned that.