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 waits until the others are sleeping. For one she doesn’t feel like telling them where she’s headed, and she lied to them enough; but she also doesn’t really want to go.
And that’s an understatement.
The truth is, she’s scared shitless. She’s scared about what she’ll find, when even Anya is concerned. But it frightens her much more that she is scared about that. That she is so worried about Spike that the thought of what might have happened to him scares the crap out of her.
She’s also scared that she might dust him. She’s still so mad at him.
For leaving her.
For having the audacity to ask the right, the completely wrong question back there in the portal.
For being so God damned good to her then.
For somehow shoving those horrid images into her brain.
She’s still fuming, her seething anger merely thrust down under the surface, held there under so much pressure that she feels like a nitro glycerin bomb, bound to blow up with the slightest tremor. At his sight she might just explode and plunge the stake right into his heart without batting an eye.
She might just dust him.
Most of all she’s scared to death that the thought of staking him frightens her so much.
She’s not supposed to feel that way. And she really, really doesn’t want to.
But she can’t help it that amidst all those thoughts about how mad at him she is, the image of his pleading eyes pops up in her head again, the feel of his body around her. So different from all the other imprints his body made in her brain, those that she so often tried to prevent him making, but that she sought out all the same. That she always so vainly tried to forget afterwards. That she hates him for making, hates herself even more for letting him, craving him, giving in. This one though was different, not only in way of intention, but more than anything in the way it felt to her. In the way she felt about it.
Something changed in the portal, a subtle shift somewhere inside her, in a place that she can’t identify. She only knows she’s not at all prepared to face it yet.
All the way to his crypt she’s unsure about how to handle her confusing feelings. The closer she gets, the stronger is the urge to turn and run away as fast as she can, but she doesn’t. Of course not, because part of what she feels is worry about him. Curling her hand into the inevitable fist already, she decides to settle on anger then; that’s probably what they both can deal best with.
But when she stands in front of the heavy door, contemplating for the first time ever whether she should knock instead of barging in, she realizes that it’s not anger that ties her stomach into a knot. What if he is dead?
What if he isn’t?
She doesn’t barge in, but she doesn’t knock either. She compromises; she opens the door quietly, cautiously, not knowing what to expect. She doesn’t hear any sound, can’t tell at first if he’s in here somewhere or if she is alone. She closes the door behind her and tentatively calls out for him.
She startles upon hearing her own voice, the barely concealed fear in it unknown to her ears. She swallows and steps a little further inside the room, her eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness inside.
She’s used to find him in here with burning candles scattered throughout the room, bathing the house of death in a warm, lively flickering golden light; one more of those many contradictions surrounding him. Now it’s completely dark, usually indicating that he’s out. But suddenly she knows he’s not. She couldn’t tell why she knows, she just does.
She curses silently that she doesn’t have a lighter when she knocks her shin against the arm chair he usually slouches on when he’s watching TV. She loses her balance and almost tumbles over it, catching her near-fall with her hands bracing on the chair’s back. When she notices the leather underneath her fingers she sighs, relieved - his duster. She fumbles for the pockets and, when she finds one, triumphantly fishes out his Zippo and flips it to brightness. She quickly lights two candles, takes one in her hand and searches the room.
He’s not here. She sighs; she’d hoped to avoid the basement; alas, no such luck. With the candle in her hand, she carefully climbs down and sets it on the first place she can find to put a candle on, which happens to be the ladder she just left. She doesn’t need the light any longer to find him; she can feel him.
She turns and slowly looks into the direction she knows him to be, hesitantly stepping a little closer.
Then she sees him. And she instantly knows why Anya sent her here.
Something inside her bursts, and she suspects that it has to do with the small flame of worry, nagging at the anger inside her ever since Anya was there, flaring up and turning into blazing fear that resolutely pushes the anger aside. The sight before her eyes leaves no room for anger.
Whatever happened to him was bad.
He is in the farthest corner of the room, huddled on the floor, his head buried between his knees, a small heap of nothing. She has no idea why she thinks that; but somehow she’s sure that’s what he wants to be. Nothing. Not here.
She doesn’t think she ever said his name with this voice; low and almost tender, completely bereft of the usual sharp edge, and at the same moment she feels the anger punching its way back up for a moment. Why can he do that to her, making her voice all soft and tender just by crouching on the floor? But the anger subsides as fast as it rose when she hears the small noises coming from him, noises barely cognizable as words, and she’s at his side in two, three long strides.
“No. No. Not here. Not…not her. Not with…”
She reaches out for him, her hand hovering over his shoulder, avoiding the touch at the last second. She’s afraid that something would shatter at her touch. Most likely him.
“Spike?” Even softer this time, because her throat is too constricted to let more out than softness.
When he slowly lifts his head, her heart nearly stops. She has never seen eyes haunted like that. Eyes as dark as the deepest night, sunken in their sockets as if they were retreating to not see anything else ever again. There’s so much sadness in it, despair, so much fear that she can barely stand it. She’s reminded at the time when Angel came back from the hell dimension, when he wasn’t much more than a raving animal; but this is so much worse; so much more.
So much less.
She feels the strong urge to gather him into her arms, on her lap, rocking him back and forth, humming and telling him that everything will be okay.
Except she somehow knows it would be a lie.
His eyes, unfocused and staring in front of him, begin to wander and suddenly meet hers, connecting almost audibly. It’s then that she knows, he knows she’s here. And now she just wants to run. Run and never come back.
She doesn’t move though, because something flits over his face, flickering in his eyes, that wasn’t there a minute ago.
Somehow her presence provides him with the tiniest bit of hope, and she can see that he needs it. Needs it to survive, she thinks.
She finally closes the small gap between her hand and his shoulder and gently touches him.
The effect is horrible. He jumps to his feet in a flash, knocking her off hers, and dashes away from her, to the opposite wall. The noise he emits sounds like the screeching of a wounded animal, and his glance wildly scurrying through the room matches it exactly.
Buffy sits on the floor, frightened to the bone. What the hell happened to him? Her mind snaps back to the few moments before he dragged her out of the portal; he’d been different then too; talking in half-sentences, telling some nonsense. His eyes had been somewhat unfocused, but he hadn’t seemed to be completely out of his mind as he is now. He had known what he was doing, had saved her then.
Now he appears to be flat out crazy, and she’s paralyzed. She has no idea how to handle crazy Spike.
He doesn’t scream anymore; he is pressed against the wall, muttering quietly. Eyeing her warily, scared. Maybe that’s the worst; she thinks she never before has seen him scared.
“No touching. No…no touching.” His arms go up, a gesture of defense, protecting his head. Protects it against her, she thinks, and she shivers. He sinks back to the floor, gliding along the wall until he crouches again. His voice is muffled then, because he buries his face between his knees again. “Not her. She wouldn’t…No touching. You’re not supposed to touch. Only screaming and blood.” He bangs his head on his knees, muttering under his breath. “Bad things. Bad…bad. Cruel. All those…” He slams the heel of his hand against his head, two, three times, and falls silent, as if switched off. Then, after a moment of hesitation, he winds his arms around himself, and she wonders whether this is shelter or restraint.
Neither of them moves, not for a long while. Buffy has to remind herself to keep breathing, she’s that shocked. She doesn’t know what to do, feels so helpless. The only time she remembers feeling that helpless was when she found her mom dead on the couch.
But whatever it is that’s wrong with him, Spike’s not dead. He can still be helped. Because it’s what he needs now - help. She thinks of the flicker of hope in his eyes, and she knows he needs her help.
She crawls over to his side of the room on all fours, trying not to scare him away again. His head comes up, and she’s shocked all over again when she sees it’s wet from tears, and it’s just then that she realizes she’s crying too.
His eyes lock with hers, and all of a sudden he seems to be here again. “Buffy…” he whispers, his voice filled with incredulity now, then changes into contempt in an instant. “You’re not here. You’re just…” He trails off again, his head falls back against the wall, his eyes close.
For a second there he was lucid, she’s sure about that. She wouldn’t… You’re not here. He didn’t believe it though, thought himself hallucinating. Thought she was a hallucination.
He thinks she wouldn’t care enough to come. Not for him.
She feels her mouth go dry. Images of him lying in a damp alley, a bloody mess she left behind, assault her, and despite all her musings behind the portal, despite the insights she gained there, she’s not prepared for the feeling of regret overwhelming her. She swallows hard, then pushes it aside determinedly. She can’t dwell on it, not now. He needs her focused.
He has stilled, doesn’t even breathe, as far as she can tell, and it worries her almost more than anything else. For some reason he always breathes, just like she does; even in sleep.
She takes a closer look then, taking him in completely, and once more she’s horrified at what she sees. He’s so…thin. She can see each and every bone in his face, in his body, even though he’s dressed. Not even the day he sought out her help for the first time, all those years back on Thanksgiving had he been that haggard. It must have been days since he last ate.
Relieved, she realizes that finally there’s something she can do. She scrambles to her feet, rushing up the ladder and over to his fridge. She finds it empty though. She looks around in the dim light of the candle she lit earlier, and she finds what she’s looking for; a small plastic bag, filled with blood. She grabs it, snatches a glass from the board where she knows he places them and opens the bag.
She regrets it the second it’s open. It’s gone off, that much is clear from the stench. Since he has no sink in here, she opens the door and throws the bag out, hurls it as far away as she can, inhaling the fresh night air, fighting down the nausea that she is not sure just came from the bad smell. She leans her head against the door frame for a moment. What is she supposed to do now?
He needs blood, but she thinks he needs something else more right now. Why the hell does she have to be the one he needs it from? She doesn’t want to go down there again, to deal with whatever has gotten into him. She closes her eyes.
Blue eyes dance in her mind, pleading. And she hears a voice, his voice, promising her to come back for her. And he came. She feels his arms again, his body, giving her comfort when she needed it most.
More than that, he was the reason she stayed away from the blackness as long as she did; he saved her long enough to eventually literally save her. Because she felt the need to tell him that she got it now, that she believed he loved her. Wanted to apologize.
She can’t run away now. She owes him.
When she gets down, he hasn’t moved. She steps over to his side, careful not to frighten him, letting herself fall on hands and knees again before she inches closer to him.
“Spike?” Again with the tenderness. Why can’t she let go of that tenderness? But he doesn’t react, as if he hadn’t heard at all, so it doesn’t matter. She considers reaching out for him again, despite his violent recoil last time she touched him, and decides against it. Only her hand is faster, lying on his shoulder before she’s even done considering. She receives no answer, though; elicits not the slightest movement. She begins to hesitantly stroke him, his shoulder at first and then, when he doesn’t retreat, her hand glides up to his face. She cups his cheek with her palm, an intimate gesture she had never done to him before, and he still doesn’t show any sign of recognition. That’s when she knows - right now he’s not in there. Whatever he’d felt, he’d have never let her do that without commenting; he’d have reacted somehow, by word or facial expression, anything. But there’s nothing. He’s not there.
She sighs; she might as well get him something to eat, then.
“I’ll come back for you, Spike. I promise,” she echoes his words to her. “I’ll fetch some blood and come back to you.”
She struggles with the urge to kiss his forehead, his lips maybe. She doesn’t. She breathes in deeply, bracing herself for leaving him so helpless. So alone.
She’s appalled by how hard it is to leave him here. How much she wants to help him. How very much the reason isn’t that she owes him. Struggles also with the urge to punch his face in because she feels that way.
She staggers to her feet and darts upstairs, out of the crypt, as far as she can get before she slumps down on hands and knees and retches. There’s not much in her stomach, but she knows it’s not what her body wants to get rid of anyway.
At that time of night the butcher shops are closed, but she doesn’t want to wait till morning. So she goes to Willie’s. She thinks that maybe human blood is better now anyway - more potent. She resolutely pushes the thought aside about how much this goes against anything she firmly believes and why the hell she’s still doing this.
She doesn’t care about the looks she gets when she orders a half pint of human blood and asks politely, or as politely as she’s capable of at this place, to bottle it for her. She certainly won’t explain herself, won’t tell the present demon population that Spike gets fed by her, implying that he’s sick and therefore vulnerable. Anyone can enter his crypt, and he hasn’t made many friends here by helping her. On second thought she realizes that her buying bottled blood is telling enough, so she decides to let it slip that she needs it for an experiment with a fledgling, conspiratorially grinning. She’s not really making friends with that either, but of course she couldn’t care less.
With the comforting weight in her bag, she walks the way back to him, unsure of what to expect.
When she comes down she sees with one glance that he is still sitting there exactly like she left him, like a statue. Her heart sinks; how should she even get the blood inside him? She can’t swallow for him after all.
But maybe the scent will wake him enough from the rigor. She kneels down beside him, fishing the bottle out of her bag. She eyes it, looks to him, and decides it may be easier to feed him with a glass like she wanted in the first place. She climbs upstairs and fetches the abandoned glass from earlier, pouring a few ounces of blood in it. She’s a little surprised that she’s not disgusted; she always was by the notion of Spike drinking blood, or Angel even, but oddly not now.
She descends the ladder juggling the glass in one hand and the bottle in the other, then settles beside him, placing both glass and bottle within reach. Then she turns to watch him.
Her heart clenches at the sight; he looks vulnerable, small somehow as he sits there, his eyes closed, no sign of life visible in him. He isn’t alive, of course, but usually he’s so vibrant that he appears more alive than she feels nowadays. But now, all the life normally buzzing within him seems to have drained out, leaving an empty shell. She notices with a feeling of unease that she wishes he’d open his eyes and look at her, just look at her and see her.
Her hand rises to his head and cautiously smooths his hair back; his hair that is all curly due to the obvious lack of attention of the gelly kind, like she knows he hates it to be. She doesn’t know why he hates it; maybe he thinks curls are unmanly and not fitting to his Big Bad image.
She jerks her hand away when she realizes what she’s doing, that she’s trying to make him look a little more like he’d want to, and that she’s doing it to make him somehow feel better. But then there are those images again of him behind the portal. She can’t shake them, and once more they stir up emotions in her she usually wouldn’t ever allow herself to feel, not for him.
When she looks in his face again she freezes; a tear is gliding down his cheek, slipped out between his firmly shut lids, as if it overcame the walls erected to keep it in, gently pressed out by her smoothing hand. Or maybe just because he feels the loss of it, senses deep down in his non-responsive mind the terrible horror she felt at the tenderness coming from some hidden place inside her, flowing to him through her hand. Her eyes follow the glittering trace the small drop leaves, feels it strangely stinging deep down inside, at the same place where the horror made itself at home ever since she came to the crypt tonight. Once more that same hand comes up, gently wipes the tear away. “What happened to you?” she asks, so softly that no one not being right beside her could hear it. That no one could hear the compassion she feels, and the damn tenderness that snuck in again that she appears to be powerless against.
She grabs the glass and lifts it to his face, waiting for a sign that he’s aware of the blood right in front of his nose, but there isn’t any.
“Spike,” she says, still with that voice, “I brought you some blood. You need to drink it.” She sways the glass a little to stir up some scent, tempting him to open his eyes. Nothing.
The glass holding hand sinks down in her lap; what is she supposed to do now? She frowns; if she tried to pour it into his mouth, surely he’d swallow, right? But although his head leans against the wall, she probably wouldn’t be able to bring it inside; she’s afraid that it would just run down his chin. She hesitates. She knows the only way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to move him; to take him in her arms. She’s not ready to do that.
Even more, she’s not sure he is. Not after his reaction to her mere touch earlier.
“Spike,” she tries again, louder this time. Her free hand reaching for his shoulder, she shakes him carefully, just a little. “Spike. There is blood for you. Spike!”
She sighs. She reminds herself to think of the way he was there for her when she had her breakdown. That helps. She slips her arm behind his shoulders and tugs him to her, letting his head tilt over her shoulder. Then she raises the glass to his lips, gently pushing them open with her thumb, and pours a little blood in.
“Swallow it. Please.”
He does. Once.
But her relief is short lived.
His eyes fly open, glimmering golden; his head jerks toward her, and she can see instantly by the look in his eyes that he’s there, right here with her. He licks his lips, slowly; when recognition dawns on him he slaps her hand away from him, sending the glass flying through the room, and leaps up, bracing his hand against the wall to steady himself.
“Buffy? What…” He looks around as if he didn’t know where he was, until his eyes catch sight of the shards of glass and the small puddle of blood slowly seeping into the ground. He breathes heavily, his eyes going wide, something akin to fear flashing across his face. She sees him forcibly change his eyes back to blue. “No. Not…no blood. No eating for me. Not blood. Bad. Badbadbad. Only bad…blood…Not…bad.”
Buffy, having jumped up in shock, too, reels back. Until she sees his face, sees the inner battle he is fighting. She tries to understand what he mutters.
“Spike? Look at me.” Her commanding voice reaches him through whatever haze clouds his brain and he turns to her. “Why don’t you want the blood?”
His face contorts in desperation, already knowing that he can’t make her understand. “Bad!” he exclaims.
Buffy’s brows draw together. “Blood is bad?” When he just stares at her, eyes wide with distress, her irritation only grows. “But you need it. It’s what you do, remember?” He winces. She steps closer when she sees the rejection in his face, then touches him at his arm. He shakes her off and hurries back from her.
“No touching. Never touching. Want to fool me. Not here. Not her.”
Her insides clench into a tight ball at the view of the vampire on the verge of panic, and then, all at once, she understands a part of what he’s saying, and the ball turns to stone.
“You think I’m not real,” she whispers, shocked. ”You think your mind plays tricks on you, and it taunts you with my face.” He doesn’t answer, but she sees the confirmation in the expectant gaze he casts her, sees his shoulders hunch in anticipation of a blow, with words or otherwise.
She finds that it takes an effort not to reach for him. Again she thinks of the comfort he gave her with his body curled around her; but apparently her closeness is not what he wants right now. So she holds her distance to not scare him off. She tries to let the comfort she can’t give him otherwise resonate in her voice, but she’s not sure it works, since she has to push past the lump in her throat. And, of course, because she’s not really used to comforting him either. “I am real. I’m here, Spike. Can’t you tell? I’m pretty sure you can smell me. Isn’t that one of your vampire tricks?”
He doesn’t believe her. She narrows her eyes; he doesn’t trust his senses, that much is obvious. But why doesn’t he believe her words?
And suddenly she knows. She’s not like she usually is. She’s gentle, tender even. If he’s been hallucinating before as she thinks he has, why should he now trust a Buffy to be real that is so different from the one he knows?
She doesn’t think twice; she raises her arm and punches him, propelling him halfway through the room. Finds it oddly comforting, this punching him; finally feels on familiar ground for a brief moment. He lands on his ass, his back against his bed. He looks at her, the shock on his face slowly fading, until he hesitantly stands up, his eyes now shining bright with recognition and incredulity. “Buffy?”
“I told you. I’m here. And I want you to drink this.” She doesn’t want to think about the implication of him recognizing her for real only when she hurts him; yet, she feels the pang it causes deep down in her belly, never mind that, just seconds ago, she felt comforted herself by punching him. She hurries to snatch the bottle and approaches him. But he still shrinks back from her.
“Can’t. No blood. Not…not good. Bad.”
Her patience begins to wear thin. She closes the gap between them determinedly, but once more he tries to slap the bottle out of her hand. She’s faster, though, this time, and draws her hand back in time. She’s very close to stomping her foot when she shoves it toward him, trying to force it on him, until she flies through the room and finds herself on the opposite side.
“No!” he shouts.
She jumps to her feet. “Why the hell not?” she yells back. “You’re starving! A few more days like that and I’ll have a conversation with a mummy, only without the bandages part. And the tearing your brains out through your nose part, because there will be nothing left but a shriveled raisin. And I don’t…” She trails off, at a loss for words. What could she even say? That she doesn’t want him to dry out? That she wants him to be here, all Spike-like, being the pain in the ass he always was?
That she hated when he left her in the other dimension? That she needs him to be with her, because he is the only one that can make her feel anything?
That right now, he mostly makes her feel terrible fear of losing him?
“I promised to kick your ass when I’m free again,” she eventually remembers. “It’s no fun if you’re all weak. Or dust.”
She can see that he’s wavering. That he contemplates her words, lets even a tiny smile slip on his lips for a second. But then he shakes his head. “Don’t want to,” he says quietly, and then, “don’t deserve to.”
She’s taken aback. Her eyes go wide, and she feels her throat constricting and fresh tears welling up from deep inside her, but she pushes them back. “What?” she croaks; it’s all she gets out. Her mind races. What does he mean, he doesn’t deserve to eat? She stares at him, waiting for him to explain, because she doesn’t understand, but he only stands there looking at her, silent. She swallows, then lifts her hand that is still holding the bottle a bit; her last try. “Please,” she says as quietly as him, but he shakes his head.
She walks over to him, feeling his gaze on her, but not burning like it used to. She gently lays her hand on his arm, and this time he lets her. She locks her eyes with his, and suddenly she knows, this is not the right time. He’s as open as he can be in this strange state he is in, but whatever it is holding him back, right now no amount of words or actions on her part will convince him to drink the blood.
She breathes in and out, anxiety mingling with reluctant acceptance. “I have to go. Have to send Dawn off to school. But I’m coming back. I’m not giving up.”
His eyes, those eyes that showed so much confusion, so much fear, such deep despair this night seem completely calm and knowing now. She feels connected to him through their eyes like she never did before, and she feels a shiver running down her spine.
He says one more word, but somehow this one word proves to her that there’s still a chance to convince him; that there’s still a part of him that wants her help. “Why?”
She straightens. She knows something between them has changed. She can’t put it into words; she doesn’t even know whether or not she wants it to be that way. But she knows it’s true, and she knows that the answer to his question is part of the reason why it did.
After a long while he nods, just once, barely perceptible. But she knows he knows, too.
And then she leaves.