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.
(Title from an album by Sloane)
Buffy knows that something is seriously wrong the second she enters her home and finds her sister nervously pacing in the hall.
“What is it?”
The hastily spoken words have barely left her lips when she finds herself with an armful of Dawn, which is most concerning in itself as neither of the Summers sisters is big in the hugging department.
“I’m not supposed to tell, but it’s not betrayal if it’s an emergency, right?” Buffy is torn; she’s relieved that it seems to be just an issue of wanting to be loyal to someone that has Dawn so upset. Then again – emergency? Oh, yeah, there hasn’t been an emergency for at least a week. It has almost been boring lately, and no one wants that, right? But an emergency can mean anything between the end of the world - the new edition - and her favorite t-shirt shrunken where Dawn is concerned.
She sighs and gently disentangles from her sister’s grip; she’s not too worried, not anymore. Leading her to the kitchen, she says, “Why don’t you just tell me what this is about and worry about betrayal later?” She starts to rummage in the fridge; she’s not really hungry; she never is, that still hasn’t changed, but it gives her something to do while Dawn decides whether to fill her in or not. Which is not really a question, since she’s obviously bursting with her secret.
When she begins to explain, though, Buffy wishes she hadn’t.
Buffy freezes. Her first instinct is to spin around and ask how he is, if he’s been eating, if he healed, if he talked about her, if…Instead she squeezes her eyes shut and forces herself to ignore all the burning questions and to answer as if talking about the weather.
“What about him?” She intended to make it sound disinterested, lighthearted even. She fails, of course, which she knows even before she hears her sister snorting.
“He’s out killing a demon, and he doesn’t want you to know.”
Buffy frowns, bewildered. She closes the fridge without taking something out since nothing in there seems the least bit appealing to her, her appetite glaringly absent now even more than before, and turns around.
“And why is this an emergency? Or potential betrayal, for that matter? Spike kills demons all the time without informing me.” Although apparently not last week, or post soul at all, she thinks and feels her stomach clenching. Something is wrong, she suddenly knows that. Dawn wouldn’t be that upset if there wasn’t a reason.
“Yeah, but not that demon.” Dawn grabs her sister’s hand, and Buffy can see now that she’s not only upset, but scared. Really scared for Spike, which is a first. She always had unlimited trust in the vampire’s ability to fight and survive, and keep everyone alive in the process.
Buffy feels her own fear reemerge with a vengeance, the fear of losing him that held her in iron claws for days last week. The fear that makes it difficult to breathe, to form coherent sentences.
The fear that she refused to think about for the last few days. Like she refused to think about Spike at all.
Of course, that hadn’t worked so well, she’d thought about him all the time anyway.
She closes her eyes, trying hard to collect herself.
“Dawn, listen to me. You have to tell me everything you know. Now.” She’s surprised about how fierce and unwavering her voice sounds, as if she had everything under control, when really she wants nothing but to run, find him and rescue him from whatever danger threatens his life. Even though she knows how ridiculous that is, that he can handle himself at least as well as she can. The knowledge doesn’t help; her knees still feel like mush at the thought of what might happen to him.
She’s appalled at how easily the carefully rebuilt normalcy in her life is crashing around her.
Her eyes bore into her sister’s and finally Dawn spills, whispering, “It’s the Mala’hla demon.” Rolling her eyes about Buffy’s obvious cluelessness she adds, “The one that shoved you into the portal.”
Buffy can feel her eyes widening, but then she relaxes a little; it’s just a demon. Granted, a big one, huge to be exact, but just a demon nonetheless.
But then why does Dawn look so scared? “Is that all? Just one demon?”
Dawn shakes her head. “I think,” she says cautiously, because she’s not really sure about that part, “there are humans involved.”
There it is again, that icy fist around her stomach. Humans against Spike. Plus a huge, extra strong demon. And he has no way to defend himself.
And suddenly, for the very first time, the thought trickles in that there may be a downside to that chip in his head.
“Where?” Her voice, only slightly hoarse, shows that through all her fear, the Slayer is back. Calm, determined. Well, the calm is mostly just pretense, but at least she’s terribly determined.
Which doesn’t really help, she notices when she sees her sister shaking her head again. “He didn’t say.”
“Stay,” she unknowingly echoes the vampire’s order and hurries to her weapons chest. Grabbing her preferred short sword and a knife, she lets her mind race ahead to Willy’s, still the most reliable source of demon rumors.
She’s already at the door when she becomes aware of how forlorn her sister looks as she stands in the hall. She stops in her tracks, even though everything in her longs to race to the demon bar, and steps back to Dawn. She hugs her fiercely, and then she holds her at arm’s length, looking into her eyes, trying to provide the confidence she can’t find for herself; and for the first time in months she’s not just doing her duty in caring for her sister, but feels for her. Really feels.
“I’ll find him, and we’ll be back. I promise. Okay?”
Some of her emotion must have found its way through her eyes, because Dawn smiles tentatively. “I know,” she says quietly.
In turning and rushing off, Buffy calls back, “Call Xander to rally the troops. I may need their help with the humans.”
She doesn’t see or hear a reaction anymore, but she knows Dawn will do what is necessary. She knows the drill.
At Willy’s it doesn’t take long to find out what she needs to know. Willy is clueless, but he points to a booth with two vamps in it, telling her that Spike had a conversation with them. He finger quotes conversation, and his gaze glides to a wall where several picture frames are missing, and Buffy has a good idea about the kind of conversation the vampires held.
At the booth, she addresses the one with the swollen nose and wonders briefly if Spike had always hit his opponents in the nose or if she’d rubbed off on him.
“I heard you had a run in with a bleached vampire tonight.”
She raises a brow when the vamp backs away at her words; she is sure he knows that he’s safe from her here, that she won’t dust him at the bar. Spike must have made a good impression, she thinks, and grins for a second.
At the nod her question earned she goes on, “What did you tell him?”
“He asked about the Mala’hla demon. I told him I didn’t know much. Just that the three boys summoned it to do their bidding.”
“Three boys.” Warren, Jonathan and the other one she always forgets the name of. Those annoying little assholes. “That’s it. I’ll deal with those pieces of crap once and for all. Thanks, guys.” She turns away, but as if in an afterthought she whirls back and lets her fists simultaneously crash against both vamp’s temples.
“Ow! What was that for? I was telling you all I know!” Broken Nose complains, indignation on his face.
She grins. “I know.”
And with that she walks to the payphone, informing Dawn where she’s headed next before she leaves the demon bar without a backwards glance.
At first she’s relieved. The boys are annoying, but not really a threat. But then she thinks about what happened with the Mala’hla demon. They’d been ruthless enough to let her die in the portal. And they had already murdered Warren’s ex. They wouldn’t have any qualms about killing Spike. And he was completely defenseless against them. They probably didn’t know that, but when they found out…Also, extra strong demon.
Her pace quickens again until she’s in full race mode, her feet pounding on the pavement in a fast staccato, along with her frightened heart. She knows where to go now; she can only hope she’s not too late.
He squints into the sky to assess the time even if he doesn’t have to - he can feel it in his gut how far away dawn still is. Four hours. He has about four hours to find that freaking demon and kill it.
Oh, he would love to kill those sodding boys, too. He can’t of course. Not only because the chip wouldn’t let him; for a moment, he revels in the thought of fighting through the pain of overriding the bloody chip and kill them all the same.
But it’s not the chip making him cringe the very next moment.
He can’t. He can’t do it anymore, going around and killing people. Not even those who earned it. The soul wouldn’t let him.
It’s not like the chip, though, holding him back against his wishes. Instead it gives him the painful sense of ‘wrong thing to do’ in a way that he never felt before, like a twinge deep down in this place where his love for the Slayer hurts, too.
It leaves him helpless.
Bugger. He got his soul for finally not feeling bloody helpless anymore.
But what the bleeding hell could they even do with those wankers? No human law court would believe in attempted murder by summoning a demon and having it shove a Slayer and a vampire into another dimension. They would laugh their fucking asses off.
And those boys were already far too strong to be scared into leaving town. Not to mention the fact that he wasn’t so much of a scare to humans anyway.
But he doesn’t need to think about any of it if he bloody well doesn’t find the barest trace of them in the first place. He angrily kicks against the tire of an innocent car parked in front of the house Warren lives in. The quiet yet satisfying hiss of air escaping the tire makes him smirk, until it eventually registers what car he let his anger vent on.
The black van.
They saw this van after playing kitten poker, he and the Slayer. No wonder the boys haven’t been in the basement, which is obviously their commando central, while this is their outpost. And now that his attention is drawn to it, he can hear quiet whispers and quarreling from inside. He grins. Gotcha!
He strides over and with a creaking sound opens the back door of the van, every inch the menacing vampire he used to be. The second they see him, brightly lit from behind by the street lantern, they go mute in terror. Frozen amidst movement, and yes, they have been quarreling, as evident in Warren holding the little witch down, ready to punch him. They stare at him wide eyed.
“Hello boys,” he says, his voice chipper as if being the long and longingly expected guest.
Warren lets go of the witch and flops back on the chair behind him.
“What can we help you with, Spike? Got problems with that chip in your head again?”
The boy is courageous, he must give him that. Spike leans casually against the door frame, fishing for his fags and lighter, then flicking the tobacco to flaring life.
“Actually I’m looking for a fella’f yours. Yay high, skin crimson red like a massive sun burn? Looking all ‘grrr’?”
He looks at them calmly, surprised that he still savors the fright in their eyes at realizing they are busted. Sickened at the same time that, despite the soul, he can still feel that way.
But these aren’t just murderers. They are what made Buffy’s life even harder than it was without them; they were what almost took her away from him for good. So he lets it slide. Lets his eyes gleam for a second in relish, his lips curl to a malicious grin for a moment to let them know he isn’t up to something good with them.
The blond one is the first to talk, fear widening his eyes, the urge to back away from Spike clearly written in his face as is the desperation that he can’t because he’s caught in the stupid van. “How did you know…”
He’s cut off by Warren, whom Spike pegs for the driving force of the trio, and who now jumps in to prevent his fellow from betraying too much.
“You’re kidding, right? No one is as big as that.”
Spike smiles; he’s playing innocent? Well, two can play that game, mate, he thinks and pushes himself away from the van’s doorframe, turning to its inside, aimlessly picking up some item of the equipment he has no idea what it’s used for.
“Summoning a Mala’hla demon, eh?” he nonchalantly addresses the blonde again, rightly assuming that he might be the weakest link. “Not an easy task, or so I’ve heard. A right Yoda you are.” And he clicks his tongue in approval.
The pillock’s face lights up like a bulb with pride, answering before Warren can stop him. “Yeah, it took a lot out of me, what with the being that big and all…” Again he’s cut off, this time by a hit against his head, but the damage is done, and Warren knows it. But he’s not yet ready to give up.
“All right, we summoned the red Hulk. Needed him to do some groundwork for us. What’s that to you anyway? Not really any of your business.”
It’s a long while that Spike wished his bloody chip to hell, and for weeks he couldn’t imagine that he’d have the urge for wreaking havoc ever again. But right now he fiercely wishes to be able to smash the smug boy’s head in and turn it to mush.
As it is, he can only keep up the pretense of being a threat, and he has the small satisfaction that he’s still got it.
His voice menacingly low, he grabs and holds Warren by his lapels, nose to nose, ignoring the warning sting the chip sends him. “Throwing a human in a deadly dimension is murder, and seeing that you are responsible for the red chunk of flesh, it’ll be you who’ll be held accountable.” He sees the fear flickering in the eyes right in front of him and lets go of the paling lad, not without making a show of casually dusting off and righting the boy’s lapels. “Since the Slayer has been saved, I may convince her not to bring you to justice. But the demon is in for punishment; of the kind you end up dead with. So,” he tosses the other two a sharp look, “if you don’t want to be on the receiving end of her pointy weapons, I suggest you tell me where to find the sunbather.”
It’s then that Jonathan finds his voice again, if trembling. “Uh, you mean the one right behind you?”
Spike whirls around and half to the side, his coat flapping behind, but he can’t dodge the hit completely. The red fist only punches his shoulder, though, and not the head it was aimed at, and Spike bites back the pain. And pain it is, because boy, that demon is strong. It turns out to be every bit as strong as he warned Dawn, but at least he can hit it.
But the demon is not only mightily strong, but also terribly unimpressed by Spike’s punches. After landing a few and achieving not one little flinch, Spike backs away far enough to reach for the axe tucked in the waistband of his jeans. He leaps up and kicks against the demon’s chest with both feet and in landing strikes with the axe, leaving a deep gash in its chest. And the demon finally reacts.
Not in the way Spike wished for, though. The hit with the axe hurt, he can see that; but more than that, it made the demon angry. Growling he lunges at the vampire, beats and shoves and smacks, but Spike recognizes a good fighter when he sees one, and one of those the Mala’hla is not. It’s blind fury that propels him forward, and fury doesn’t fight smart. Spike on the other hand is a fighter by heart, and he begins to enjoy it, feels his dominance despite the red’s physical superiority; he dances around it, whips on the balls of his feet, spins and kicks and ducks, his duster flaring and billowing around him. Again and again he hits with his favorite weapon, and slowly the demon gets tired. Green blood is gushing out of several wounds. Spike lands blow after blow against the demon’s head and the red giant visibly weakens, while its opponent grins with joy.
So engrossed is he in the dance that he almost misses what happens right beside them. But in the nick of time he’s turned in the right direction, and he sees the blonde twit fiddling with something, hears Warren urgently whispering to him to use it, now; and then he recognizes the thing as a glassy ball.
An Orb of G’hol. They want to create a portal.
They want to get rid of him, maybe even of both of them. This time they are there to close it after them. He’d have no chance of getting it open from inside.
He doesn’t think twice. He trades another, more determined blow with his axe; then he pounces on the boys and crashes his fist against the smaller one’s head, realizing too late that the Orb wandered into Warren’s hands.
The second his fist connects, pain flashes through his brain. He manages to land another blow aimed at the brown haired before he stumbles and slumps to his knees, clutching his temples, his face distorted in agony.
It wasn’t enough; enough to send him to his knees, but not to interrupt Warren. As he squints through the ache in his head he sees a grin appearing on the boy’s face that could almost be called happy, if not for the evilness glimmering beneath.
He understood. For the first time, the Scoobies notwithstanding, a human enemy of his knows about his weakness.
Their gazes meet, and then Warren straightens, grows right before his eyes, his face beaming with the new found knowledge.
“The chip,” he says, his voice high-pitched in excitement, triumphant. “That’s what it does. You can’t hit humans.” His eyes narrow. He steps closer, tentatively at first, then more decidedly, and kicks the still kneeling vampire against the chest. Spike’s arm shoots out, fighting off the offending leg, growling, “Watch it!” but he winces almost simultaneously, and the grin is back on Warrens face, wider even than before, because they both know the threat is empty.
He should run. He knows he really should, but the demon is still alive, and he can’t give up now.
He sees Warren lift his hand, the one holding the Orb, and haul it to the ground just a few yards away. Spike jumps to his feet, intending to look for the Mala’hla, but his eyes get caught for a second by the blinding, sizzling light that appears out of the blue. One second of distraction is enough for the demon to come to its senses, and with a roar it leaps on Spike. The vampire wards the attack off again, his axe landing with a cracking sound on the demon’s head, leaving it dazed on the floor; but now the humans know.
“Andrew, help me get him through the hole!” Warren shouts, and, “He can’t hit you!” he adds. He’s over Spike before he can turn and run, dealing him blow after blow, and Spike tries to defend himself; but even that shoots agonizing arrows through his head, and he goes down like a bloody school boy in first grade beaten up by some fourth grade bullies. Closer and closer the vampire is being driven to the portal, but he can feel that it’s not any longer the only goal the boy pursues. It’s the rush of the power he feels, the sudden knowledge of having the upper hand on the one he always dreaded. And Spike, tormented by both the boy and the chip, is too exhausted to run, too hurt to beat back.
“Andrew, you little coward,” Warren yells again. “Come and help me! I told you, he can’t hurt us!”
But Andrew hesitates. “You don’t know that,” he whines, clearly dreading Warren’s disdain at his cowardice, but still not yet willing to attack a vampire. “We saw him fight with the Slayer. He could hit her just fine then.”
“Maybe it’s because she’s the Slayer,” Warren offers, panting from the effort to thrust Spike closer to the portal. “Do you see any resistance? Trust me, he can’t hurt us!”
“No, but I can!” a new voice appears, followed by the thudding sound of fists being thrown against body parts, and Spike feels almost like crying in relief. Not because he is saved, because he can feel he isn’t - he’s already halfway through the portal, and now finally Andrew seems to come to Warren’s aid, and one determined shove will accomplish what Warren started.
But just hearing her voice, realizing she came for him, listening to her fighting for him is enough to nearly drive tears in his eyes.
When the expected shove comes he only wonders if there will be time enough to tell her how much he loves her; tell her at least once while having a soul.
“Spike!” So much fright rings in the one word she shouts that he’s not even sure he still needs to tell her.
And then she’s there, small hands clutching his larger ones and he feels her pulling him out.
But only for a second. Then he hears yelling, and suddenly a soft weight lands on him.
“No,” he whispers, and then he hears a voice - he knows that voice, even if he can’t quite remember whom it belongs to – shout close it, close it, Jonathan, now!, and then he hears another voice hesitantly say claude, and then he hears nothing while his world goes finally black.
Nothing but a steady heartbeat he knows he should be pissed off that it’s here with him.
But he’s not.
Dawn throws the telephone receiver in its cradle and lets out a frustrated cry.
“Argh! Where the hell are they all?”
She feels like having dialed numbers for half her life, but she couldn’t reach any of the Scoobies.
Rally the troops, Buffy said. Ha! How is she supposed to rally anyone, if they all are AWOL? A small voice in her head whispers that probably they are just asleep, and she should try to take a cab to Xander’s and wake them, but Dawn never had been inclined to listen to that stupid voice. Way too reasonable for her taste.
So, looks like she’s the only available part of the troops, even if technically, she’s not really part of it. The troops, that is. But hey, she tried, right? And it would probably take too long to go to Xander’s anyway. Buffy told her on the phone where she’s headed, so Dawn knows where to go, and she left a message on his voicemail, just in case. And she is way capable of caring for herself; she’s not afraid of the things that go bump in the night, no Siree. And it’s not like she’s one of those clueless girls out alone in the middle of the night. She saw enough of her sister’s moves, tried them in front of the mirror often enough. She knows exactly how to dust a vamp, did it once already. And really, how hard can it be, to plunge a stake in its chest even without using its own weight, right?
She raises her chin in a determined gesture in anticipation of the inevitable lecture afterwards and grabs two stakes and a knife. She foregoes the bigger weapons, well knowing that they require a strength she’s decidedly lacking. In a last moment’s decision she also takes a bottle of holy water, because you never know, and leaves the house.
The thump of the closing door lets her pause for a second, the sight of the still very dark night suddenly sending a chill down her spine; too aware is she of the things out there to completely ignore the stupid voice of reason in her head, and she grips the stake a little tighter. Then she squares her shoulders and begins her lonely run through the dark.
It’s only a few blocks away from their home where this Warren guy lives, and she arrives there less than five minutes later. She hides behind a bush to assess the situation at first, listening to the voice in her head for once instead of jumping into the fray and maybe outing her disobedience without necessity. She sees the three boys she heard so much complaining about, and for a fleeting moment she wonders if they are really worth the trouble. They look so – unimpressive, she thinks, for lack of a better fitting word, but then her sister does, too. Until her fist hits you. And strength not always lies in muscles, Dawn acknowledges as her thoughts drift to Willow. But these guys seem to jump around uselessly like chickens when a fox enters the hen house.
And then she realizes what her mind shut out before, sees the full extent of what is going on right before her eyes. Sees the giant demon lying on the ground, motionless, sporting many greenly bleeding wounds and probably dead. Sees the blue light forming a perfect circle in the air. Sees Spike lying inside, battered almost as badly as he’d been after being tortured by Glory. Sees her sister kneeling in front of him, reaching for him, trying to pull him out. Sees the fear on her face. Sees one of the unimpressive boys racing to her, yelling something, shoving her in. Hears someone mumble something, knows it’s a spell of sorts.
Hears a whoosh.
Sees the portal closing.
With Buffy and Spike inside.
And all she can do is stare, stare and press her hands over her gaping mouth. Hoping to God that the scream that wants out so desperately resonates only in her head.
And she’s utterly glad that for once she listened to the small voice in her head that she usually disregards.