And here's the next chapter of Melting Fire.
Ghosts that we knew
(Title from a song by Mumford and Sons)
She struggles to a kneeling position, careful not to hurt him, and then tries to shift his beaten body into a more comfortable position.
She’s not sure which is stronger, the fear because he’s still out cold, which seems unusually long and thus puts a lump in her throat she has to push past, or the annoyance that it has to be here of all places where she eventually runs into him. Or more precisely, got shoved onto him.
Nowhere to run, nothing to hide behind.
Stupid vampire; had to pick a fight with humans. Force her to fear for him, again.
She sighs. Her eyes scan his body for injuries, but there are none too bad. She lifts his shirt to look closely at his chest, the terrible wounds he did to himself still an image burning in her mind, but they look much better than last she saw them. Of course, it’s been nearly a week, and with drinking blood again, vampire healing kicked in rapidly. He’s still sore, but not worse than before being beaten up by Warren, that skunk.
His face is a different matter, though. That’s where Warren mostly put his imprints on, with fists and knees and feet. She saw parts of his violent outburst, still sees it in her mind. Until suddenly the picture shifts and the punching person becomes someone else.
Not the one taking the beating, though.
She feels sick.
She pushes it aside determinedly. Not here, not now.
Her hand itches to move toward his bloodied cheek, to find a small place where it won’t hurt to touch him, but she holds it back.
She lifts her head and takes in their surroundings instead. Damn, the same portal as before, it seems. Even the freaking veil is still there, enticing her with golden promises.
Something feels different from the first time around, though. Oh, she still hears the siren’s song. Except that it’s not all that alluring any more. It feels like staring at a gigantic bowl full of Chunky Monkey right after having stuffed oneself with Thanksgiving dinner. You know you want to eat it, but right now even the thought of digging in makes you want to barf.
It feels kinda weird, sitting here again, without having to fight against the pull, and she wonders what changed. She lets her eyes drift around, looking for a clue, but there’s none. She’s pretty sure that it’s the same portal as before. So why doesn’t it feel the same?
Her gaze falls on the vampire lying in front of her, and she feels a shiver running down her spine, because suddenly she knows of something that changed.
Her hand comes up, and this time she doesn’t stop it. She lays it tenderly on his shoulder, squeezing gently. Not willing to wait any longer.
“Spike.” It’s a strange voice coming out of her mouth - tenderness, fear, impatience, awe, the hint of a threat, all mingled into it. It’s because she doesn’t know how to feel; she just knows she really, really wants him to be awake now.
When he stirs, she gasps slightly and snatches her hand back as if touching fire, the one that actually burns you, then her eyelids fall shut for a second and she breathes out slowly, deeply.
She doesn’t know why she feels guilty all of a sudden - because she touched him, or because she stopped. But there’s no time to dwell on it, because his eyes pop open and he instantly turns his head toward her, sitting up the next moment like shot from a catapult.
“What the bleeding hell are you doing here?”
Her mouth is already open, prepared to shoot back, but then she sees his eyes on her, the anguish in them speaking of a fear too similar to what she felt not too long ago, and her breath catches for a second. She refrains from saying what she had in mind. Instead she inhales deeply and then answers honestly.
“I got shoved in, just like you.” When I wanted to pull you out, she thinks, but doesn’t say that either. He has enough to feel guilty about; why add to the list? He’ll remember soon enough anyway.
He groans - in annoyance or in pain, she’s not sure - and lets himself fall back, squeezing his eyes shut.
“Bloody brilliant,” he mutters, and now she can hear that, even if there’s pain, too, the annoyance definitely outweighs it. Something rises within her, the old pattern too strong, and she withdraws from him; not much, but clearly visible. Making her point.
“What?” she snaps at him; there are many things on the tip of her tongue, accusations of how it’s his fault they’re in this mess because he had to go without backup, a fist in his face for good measure; but she holds back. Nothing really fits anymore, and deep down she realizes it’s not the old anger wanting an outlet. It’s something different. She doesn’t want to think it’s hurt. She bites her tongue anyway, suddenly glad about it when he reopens his eyes and what she sees there is so much worse than annoyance.
“What?” she asks again, softer now, almost placable.
“You’re aware that there’s just one way to get you out of here?” He looks around, a new kind of alarm obviously kicking in. “If someone kindly opens the door for us, that is,” he murmurs.
“Oh.” She sits and stares at him, just stares. I had to link them, to save… She wasn’t aware. Not the least bit. She hadn’t wasted a thought on how to get out yet, but now that he mentions it, it begins to sink in - the only way to get her out is to link their souls again. If anyone opens the door for them.
Those pictures are there again, a flood of them really, dancing before her mind’s eye, mocking, taunting. All those nausea inducing images, worse than any horror movie, because they are real. Much worse, because they are everything always defining Spike for her.
The very worst, because she can’t for the life of her reconcile them with the man lying in front of her and not stagger away in horror and disgust, and yet she remains kneeling beside him.
And then there’s nothing but anger, a white, hot rage racing through her like a tsunami, because it’s still all too much. The next thing she knows she’s on her feet, and he is, too, because he knows her that well. Their faces are only inches apart, until the palm of her hand connects with his cheek with a loud slap.
“You asshole! I’m not going to be the screen for Spike’s Cruelest Hits again!” She has no control whatsoever over what she yells at him or what her body does, doesn’t care that it’s not really his fault they’re in this mess or about the injuries he took from the last beating that made her sick not five minutes ago. All the pent up frustration and insecurity, the helplessness of the last ten days and what feels like all the emotions she couldn’t feel for months are breaking through and rain down on him. “Keep your fucking shit to yourself! I don’t want to have anything to do with your atrocious past! I don’t care if you did it for me! I didn’t ask for this, and I sure as fucking hell won’t take any more of those horrifying pictures into my mind!” Fist after fist flies against him, his chest, his shoulder, and he lets her.
Until he doesn’t. Amidst her outbreak he catches her wrists with iron fists, holding them viselike between the both of them, and stares at her. The coldness radiating from him stops her more than his hands do. It’s a long time since he gave her a look that cold, if ever, and his voice matches his eyes exactly.
“You don’t really think that I asked for this, do you?” She’s paralyzed in his grip, and for a few seconds neither of them moves; they stand like one ice sculpture. “Trust me, Buffy, there’s nothing in this world I wanted less than you reliving my past,” he says. Then he releases her, letting go of her wrists reluctantly, almost tenderly, and steps back.
Her fury evaporates completely the moment she realizes he’s terrified. Of course he doesn’t want this any more than she does; probably less. She thinks of the long hours in his crypt, of how much he suffered, that he wanted to give up because of what he did. Thinks of his despair when he realized what the side effect of the linking had been, remembers him trying to tell her how sorry he was. Everything she pushed aside for the last week because she didn’t feel strong enough to face it rushes back into her mind, and this time, she doesn’t try to block it out, and she’s surprised that she can take it. And then she suddenly flashes back to that dank alley, and she remembers that she saw this unspeakable fear in his eyes already once, when he was helpless against her determination to turn herself in; when he tried to force her not to. And she knows with sudden clarity this is what he’s terrified of - that he might have to force his past on her once again, and he doesn’t know if he still could.
“Liar,” she says, because he is. But she’s no longer at war; it’s her peace offering.
He blinks. “What?”
“You’re lying. There is something you want even less than me reliving your past. And you would fight me for it, even if you don’t want to.”
The icy wall in his eyes comes tumbling down and leaves them vulnerable. She sees the fear flashing in them once more, sees them pleading with her. “Do I have to?”
“Do I have a choice?” she counters. She knows it’s not fair to challenge him like that, but she has to know.
He contemplates her for a long while, trying to hide the emotions fighting for dominance in his face. Eventually he breathes in deeply. “I don’t know.”
She relaxes. “Thank you,” she says quietly, and he looks at her, just looks, tilting his head a little, and something like awe sneaks into his eyes. Then he catches himself and straightens a bit. “Since none of your pals knows where we are, we should probably get comfy, right? This may take a while,” he says and looks around as if searching for the best place to do so - a couple of chairs or a couch, maybe.
“Actually, Dawn may…” Buffy starts, but she doesn’t get further. A sound interrupts her, and as they turn to its source, they both similarly sigh with relief; the portal is back in place.
“Thank God, they found us,” Buffy breathes, for now pushing the implication of fusing their souls aside in favor of a moment of ease. Then her brows furrow. “Where are they?”
She approaches the portal, stepping as close as she can before she hits the barrier, and squints through. It’s dark outside, and there is no one to be seen. She turns to the vampire, and when their eyes meet she knows there’s something wrong. There has to be, if even Spike looks worried.
She turns back to the portal. “Should I yell for them?”
“They wouldn’t hear you, pet.”
He sees the confusion in her face and hurries to elaborate. “Time stops outside, remember?”
He lets his eyes wander to their home dimension, but finds nothing that could serve as a clue as to why there’s no trace of their saviors. “Maybe I should go outside, figure out if everything is okay first and then come back to get you.”
“What?” Buffy’s beside him in a heartbeat. “And leave me alone in here again? No way.”
He’s surprised. She sure went fast from ‘no way in hell I’m doing this’ to ‘no way in hell I’m not’. He watches her closely and sees an old fear rising, a fear he witnessed already once in this same portal. It’s stronger than her resentments of fusing their souls again, and he doesn’t know how to feel about that. It doesn’t matter how he feels, though, because she made her decision, and in the end, that’s all that counts.
“Do we need anything to do this?” She’s all business now. The Slayer. But he won’t let her get away with this so easily. He grabs her shoulders and turns her to look him in the eyes.
“Are you sure?”
He’s not so sure himself, truth be told. He really doesn’t want her to see in detail what he did for over a century, and most of all he doesn’t want her to feel the joy he felt back then. And – he doesn’t want to dive into her soul either. He remembers what it was like the first time, but it was dampened by his insanity. And he’s not eager to relive her love life with Soldier Boy or, much worse, with Angel, fully lucid again.
But of course, he has no choice; not really. Neither of them has. It’s her way out, the only one. He’d do anything, as long as it keeps her safe.
She looks back and hesitates, seriously thinking it through. Her eyes get kind of clouded for a moment, focused on her inner self. Then they clear up, she breathes in and straightens a little. She raises her chin and looks him straight in the eyes. Her hand comes up, cups his cheek for a second; then she takes both his hands in hers, and he almost loses it, because she never did this before.
“Do we need anything to do this?” she merely repeats, her voice soft, warm, yet determined. He has to swallow to free the way for his voice.
“Uh, yeah, there’s this crystal…” He reluctantly lets go of one hand to get the crystal out of his pocket. It’s still there, found its way from pants pocket to duster pocket instead of the dust bin, because when he thought about throwing it away it felt terribly like throwing away a piece of Buffy’s soul.
He holds it in his outstretched hand and watches her gingerly pick it up and warily examine it.
“Is there something inside…you know, of us?” she asks, and he’s grateful that he doesn’t have to feel like a git for that thought any longer. Maybe it’s a soul thing, thinking like that.
“I don’t know,” he responds honestly. “I don’t even know if there’s any magic left in it,” he adds apologetically.
That startles her. “What?”
“Didn’t know that we’d need it once more, did I?” he snaps defensively, snatching the crystal out of her hand and pulling both his hands away from her. “Of course, had I known you’d throw yourself into every portal on your way, I’d have taken precautions.”
Christ, he knows it’s not her fault. Why can’t that bloody thing inside him stop him from doing stupid things? Well, because apparently souls aren’t equipped for that task, because she’s no better.
“Well, if someone hadn’t neglected to inform any of us about the stupidity they were up to, maybe I wouldn’t have had to try saving their sorry ass from vanishing into thin air!”
They are both yelling now, and he knows she’s as driven by the fear of what’s coming as he is, but that still doesn’t stop him.
“Yeah, and jumping into the portal, where you as human have no business to be, was the smartest way you could come up with, right? Not, let’s see, getting help to reopen that fucking thing to just let me walk out, because there is no bloody barrier to keep me inside!”
“I didn’t jump in, for God’s sake! I got shoved in when I wanted to pull you out! Forgive me that I was so scared of losing you, again, that I didn’t stop to consider my options!”
A deafening silence fills the void around them. He doesn’t know why he’s even so shocked. Her refusal to let him die, shown to him with a full blown breakdown on his chest; the whole ordeal with protecting him, tending to his wounds, forcing him to drink blood; fighting for him in any way one could think of made it abundantly clear that she didn’t want to lose him. And yet, having those words thrown at him in the heat of the moment, especially after what happened one week ago, makes a world of a difference, and he can see that she’s as shocked as he is.
He sees her hand snapping to her mouth in a belated attempt to hold the words back, sees the horror of what she heard herself yell written all over her face. But oddly enough, after a long moment of fright filled silence, she’s the first to somewhat regain her composure. Her hand slowly slumps down, and he sees her face softening as slowly understanding dawns in her eyes. She takes a tiny step toward him, just enough to show him it’s not him she’s afraid of.
He’s not sure he’d have caught her next words if not for enhanced hearing, so low is her voice. But he hears them.
He swallows. Something’s off, but he can’t decide why he feels that way. Not just because the Slayer doesn’t apologize; not to him, anyway. She looks at him, just looks, and he knows she’s waiting for something.
But she cuts him short, closing another bit of the remaining distance between them. “No, Spike. I’m sorry.”
He tilts his head and stares at her, and the feeling that there’s something going on that he still doesn’t understand gets stronger. He sees her fidgeting, her eyes boring into his as if she could connect their brains through their eyes, and suddenly he feels like it’s working because suddenly he gets it.
It’s not about their latest quarrel. It’s about so much more.
She sees that she confused him, can see that he’s trying to understand what she’s apologizing for, but is drawing a blank. Shit. Shit. Shit. Say something, she thinks, and then, just when his eyes light up, in her haste to finally get this done, words tumble from her lips she hadn’t really intended to say, because they are all wrong.
“I…I’m sorry for thinking you’d leave me in the portal.”
Great. She managed to apologize for the only thing she’s not really guilty of, because she never quite believed he’d leave her there for good. She feels herself blush, averts her eyes, ashamed for still not finding the courage to apologize for being a monster. “I’m sorry,” she whispers again, leaves the sentence hanging in the air this time. Coward, she thinks.
But then she feels his fingertips touch her bare arm, light as a feather, only for a fleeting moment. She looks up hesitantly, meets his eyes for one moment and wants to look away the next. She finds she can’t, though; his eyes glue hers to them, hold them in a vise, only softer.
It still hurts.
Tears spring to her eyes that she can’t avert any longer.
I’m sorry I beat you to a pulp, they scream to him.
I’m sorry I called you a thing.
I’m sorry I didn’t believe in your love.
I’m sorry I only saw you as a monster.
But she doesn’t say any of it. Still can’t, and it hurts probably more than saying it.
Yet, what hurts the most is what she sees then; the answer his soul has written into his eyes.
You were right, they say. And then they slide away from her, closing with something like defeat, but she knows it’s not her defeating him.
Without a conscious thought she catches his retreating hand in hers, pulls it back to her, squeezing it lightly before gently laying them both on her chest. Maybe I was then, but not entirely.
She sees the tension slowly leaking out of his body, and when his eyes reopen, they look different. Gratefulness is there, a hint of awe, a little wonder, but also a great deal of Spike. It’s as if she’s given him a part of himself back, a part he lost to his soul, but desperately needed.
It seems we both need forgiveness after all.
She takes his other hand that is still holding the crystal. “What do we have to do with it?”
She hears his sharp intake of breath and looks up.
“Buffy…” The horror still lingers, but there’s something else now. Something almost new. Something she’s seen a ghost of in his crypt, the very first moments she came to him. Something her sheer presence provided to the lunatic that he was back then. Hope.
“I’ve seen it already. And this time I know…” I know you regret. It makes a world of a difference, and she feels, knowing this, she can bear it.
He watches her, scrutinizing, and then he slowly nods. “There’s this spell. It’s just one word, really, simple. And we both have to, uh, to touch the crystal.”
She instantly shifts so that they are holding hands, the crystal safely tucked between their palms.
His brows shoot up, and the need to take her in his arms and kiss her is overwhelming all of a sudden. It’s said to sound like a joke, a funny reminder of strangeness experienced together. But he knows it’s so much more than that. It’s a gift for him, calling back to what it really was they experienced then, for a fleeting moment until the spell broke, and he finds that he has to swallow past the lump that built in his throat.
“Ready, Joan,” he whispers.
And then he says, “Ligate.”
It’s different this time. The warmth is there like then, floating from her hands and her eyes, from her soul. The rush of images is as overwhelming as it was weeks ago. And yet, it’s nothing like then.
Because this time, she’s there with him. He can feel her hands, and it feels as if she’s guiding him, even though he is the one dragging her out of the portal. She’s not guiding him with her hands, but with her mind, allowing him access to her very soul. He’s sure though that it’s not her choice what he sees. Too bleak is much of it; he knows it’s not what she would choose to show him of her inner self. But – she’s not hiding from him anymore. Even if it was possible, he can feel that she doesn’t even try.
He sees a lot of images he remembers having seen last time, too: her dad, Angel, Finn. Even her mom, all those who left her, and he feels the loneliness of being the one left behind. He sees the Scoobies, feels the love she feels for them, feels the strength they are giving her, but also a very dark streak coming from them, winding around her, capturing her, gagging her. He can feel, really feel the solitude of being the Slayer pressing on her, but also the satisfaction it gives her being the one saving the world. He sees the light in her and the darkness.
And then, just like the first time, for a long time he only sees the darkness anymore. Feels the despair smothering everything else, smothering her. Until he realizes – there is light within the darkness. Just a tiny gold nugget of light suddenly appearing, but it’s getting brighter by the second and slowly increases in size.
And then he sees there is someone else within the light that is now looking like a ball of sunshine; and with sudden clarity he understands it’s this someone that brought her the light. He can feel his heart racing in his chest, although he knows it’s impossible, because he knows who it is, even before he recognizes the bleach blond hair.
He feels her fear, of course, her reluctance, her indecision; but he also feels something else now, something he can only describe as peace and calmness. Maybe happiness.
None of those had been there the last time, and it’s what overwhelms him, because he understands that he is the source of those new feelings.
And for the first time in over a century, he feels warm.
It’s different this time. She’s very aware of their connected hands and eyes, feels something flowing from her to him, and from him to her, too. Something that connects them on a deep level, in a way she’s never before been connected to anybody, and yet, she knows this is not really new to them.
The flood of images sets in right away, but she’s oddly calm now, not afraid anymore. Because this time she’s not alone. He’s with her, she can feel that; holding her, sheltering her. Even if they both know he can’t protect her.
They are there again, those atrocities she tried to forget so desperately, but she doesn’t look away. She feels the glee again, and this time she knows - it’s his glee. His indescribable joy at blood gushing out of an artery wound like a geyser, painting the floor red, and also the faces around the open mouths that try to catch the fountain, laughing. His delight in the screams of fear he elicits from a running girl. His pleasure at making Drusilla happy with the gift of a child he brought her to devour.
The joy is not all she feels, though; the horrid images aren’t the only ones she sees. There’s also the torment of a love not reciprocated, a feeling of helplessness prominent for a while. Then the tune suddenly changes and turns into determination; images of a cave, fear and pain, so much pain, merged with the unbending will to survive, to achieve something at all costs. And she just knows - it’s the soul he’s fighting for. The very soul she’s looking into right now.
And then there’s grief and guilt, so much guilt that it hurts. So much of it that it’s getting harder to feel anything but. The remnants of joy swirl, mingle with anguish, dwindle away eventually, until nothing is left but agony. Black, black, everything.
Until there is a smidgen of something else, and she knows it’s hope. It lights the darkness a little, makes room for an old feeling, never forgotten, but locked away, as if there had been no permission for it, because it’s a feeling so purely good. But it’s strong, so strong in him that it can even take all the grief and guilt and agony and make it bearable. It fills her, like him, with warmth and peace, fills her until she doesn’t think she can take in any more, but she can; she’s not on the verge of bursting like she thought for a moment, because she feels her heart expanding to take it all in, and she knows it’s love. Grief and guilt, they are still there, not diminished even a little, but they don’t frighten her any longer. They are important to him, she feels that now. He doesn’t hide from them. He lets them into his heart instead, to the place where there was so much love that she didn’t think there was any more room, but there is.
And she knows she is the one giving him this, even if she never intended to. Never even acknowledged it to be there.
But she feels it’s what she wants - giving him the strength to bear his past.
She feels her heart expanding even more, and this time it’s unadulterated happiness, and she doesn’t know if it belongs to her or him.
She thinks it belongs to both of them.