Sorry for the embarrassingly long wait for this (yet again), but there were circumstances! Rewrite after rewrite and agonising and panicking until I had a draft I was happy with – and then I realised I had written something that was completely off-piste and I had to rewrite it all again to fit the plan!
Anyway, although I’m happy with this now, I’m only really posting it because I’ve taken so long; I’d be much happier holding it back until the whole lot is finished and I know it will all fit together, but as I have no idea how long that will be, it’s about time this was out there before all the readers die off.
Unbetad again, but thanks to quinara for being my sounding board. Feel free to point out any errors. If you can even remember what's going on. Here’s hoping I don’t have to revise anything…
Working My Way Back To You
No characters were harmed in the making of this fic. They do not belong to me, but are the property of Fox Entertainment and Mutant Enemy.
Summary: Spike/Buffy. Post-Chosen, Post Hellbound. What did you think the First Evil was doing after the closure of the Hellmouth? Knitting evil jumpers?
Keep up in PDF! WORKING MY WAY BACK TO YOU IN PDF Just like a book might be, only better (if I keep telling myself that, it might prove to be true)!
A brief recap of events...
Spike was resurrected by Angel, Wesley and Fred in Wolfram and Hart using a mysterious disc that remade him from the matter of the universe. The only problem was The First was stuck in his body with him. Captured by Bringers, Spike and The First were separated and both head to England to get to Buffy. Now they need to get rid of The First before it comes through on its promise to sacrifice Buffy to open the Deeper Well. Spike has volunteered to be returned to the amulet, taking The First with him, but Buffy isn't very pleased about that. They argue, ergo sex ensues. Willow works out the mechanics of the spell she needs to do and it is agreed they will do a ritual at a stone circle called The Dancers. Buffy is still not happy and takes events into her own hands by going after The First on her own. Giles knocks Spike out to stop him following her and he’s taken to the circle unconscious. When he wakes up the ritual begins. Buffy meets Drogyn near the Well and he guides her to where The First is preparing a ritual of its own. Except The First knew they were coming…
Chapter Thirty-Four – Sacrifice
There had been times, back when Buffy used to regularly knock the creatures of the night right back into the darkness with a flick of her killer heels, when she’d thought evil things were just too much in love with their own voices. That was great for her, all that pompous speechifying just made her job that much easier, but really, every single one of those creatures that had told her in detail about how they were going to kill her and crush up her bones, had insisted that she ‘listen to my masterplan before I fail to kill you’, should have all just shut up and got on with the job. It was reassuring somehow, to hear nothing had changed.
The First, as ever, was no exception to the rule. In fact, despite of the strong competition she’d faced over her career as the slayer, the entity was still easily ahead of the field to take the Gold Medal in the smugness, self-satisfaction and 100m freestyle boasting events at the evil Olympics.
Whatever she said, whatever she did, The First would never just accept that she’d kicked its ass.
Yet here they were again like a broken record stuck in the same worn out groove. She folded her arms and held her ground, ignoring as best she could the sickening pool of blood that was slowly expanding from beneath Wyndham-Pryce’s cooling corpse, a dark spreading stain that threatened to seep under her boots and ruin the leather. She tried not to think about what the man had done and what he had failed to achieve with his betrayal. It was too late for him, his double-cross had proved futile, but she was even more sure of it now; they would beat The First again. Nothing she’d heard in the cavern tonight had convinced her that she was wrong. The entity might like to talk and talk, then talk some more for good effect, but so far, she’d seen little more of its masterplan for world domination than a small village of vamps and some dusty prehistoric relic from before the Stone Age; nasty powerful stuff, maybe, but hardly an apocalypse in the making. She was not impressed.
She flicked her hair back over her shoulder and lifted her chin defiantly. “Have you finished yapping?” she asked, adding a faux yawn just for effect. “I’m getting kinda bored here.”
“Cute.” The First finished its cigarette, taking its time to suck in the last of the tobacco. As it causally tossed the butt aside with no thought to littering, a Bringer shuffled forward to grind it out. Its duty done, it bowed to its master and retreated back into the group, but The First paid no notice and slowly exhaled a long, hazy cloud of blue smoke through its perfect copy of Spike’s nose. “But you’re right. Time’s tick tocking!”
The First gestured to its assembled devotees and the press of Bringers responded together, reverently dropping their heads as one. Scarred, tortured faces disappeared into the shadows of their rough cowls as they leant forward and twisted, broken hands clasped together as if in ardent prayer to their foul god. All their suffering; the pain of their transition, the breaking of their bodies, the sublimation of any self, had all lead to this. This was the moment they had been made for.
At first it appeared little else was happening and Buffy began to think The First was delusional as well as conceited, that it was just working its way towards one big anti-climax after another; but she wasn’t naïve enough to relax her guard. Instead, she swallowed, tense and ready to move, to fight, listening carefully for whatever it was The First might summon up next, but all she could hear were inconsequential sounds: the gentle in-out of Drogyn’s breath, his mail shirt clinking lightly as his chest rose and fell, the irreverently furtive mutterings from the bored vampires guarding the exits and somewhere out in the long shadows, the plinking of water dripping as it fell in plump, swollen droplets. Then Buffy heard the sound she was searching for and dreading: soft and low; twisted tongues mouthing a muted chant.
And she thought that was all it would be; some black-hearted spell woven on words barely spoken, but soon the incantation began to build, whispers turning to shouts; louder, faster, stronger, until the air in the cavern began to throb in time with the rhythm the Bringers set; a thudding, pulsating beat, the voices a bound together as a pounding, hammering drum. Power, power, power they wrought, making it, shaping it, pushing it out and out until it became almost too hard to breathe…
Buffy clamped her hands over her ears, but the gesture did little good. The energy felt like it was growing inside her, swelling in her head, bursting her chest, her blood thumping through her as if boiling in her veins. The Bringers, unfeeling, uncaring, carried on unaffected, unaware of the miniature universe expanding in her skull. Only Drogyn was holding his head as she was; the agony all too obvious in the pain sketched across his face.
The pressure was too much, unbearable, and Buffy felt her voice joining Drogyn’s, screaming for the pain to stop.
But The First didn’t answer their pleas. It leaned back and threw its arms open wide, revelling in its moment, oh so very pleased with itself. “This is so much fun!” it cried.
By now, the whole cavern felt like it would fall in on them, the walls shaking with rippling tremors, earthquake strong. It was a shallow shake; the epicentre all around them, rather than deep in the earth below. The rock thundered as it was rattled, and Buffy fought for her balance as the cavern floor bucked and lurched beneath them like a bad-tempered bronco. The First, though, barely seemed to notice the cavern see-sawing under its boots. Keeping balance, it seemed, wasn’t an issue for personifications of primordial evil. It basked in the demolition of the cavern, its will and whim the agents of the destruction wrought as stones and dust cascaded down from the ceiling, the fragile stalactites shattering in response as the rumbling resonance shook them into pieces of cutting, crystalline hail. The needle sharp fragments sliced into the faces of the unflinching Bringers beneath them; and twisted and mindless that they were, they carried on oblivious to their danger; unlike the fledgling vampires, who were new and undisciplined, and were more concerned about their personal safety than remaining to be torn apart with The First’s loyal bodyguard. They scattered and ran, disappearing back into the corridors and caves. Buffy would deal with them later.
In the cavern there was nowhere to hide. All Buffy could do was to cover her head with her arms, hope that she remained on her feet and that her brain would not explode out through her ears. The shards tore at the sleeves of her raincoat, ripping into the tough fabric like a rake of claws. Through the pain in her skull, she felt rather than saw Drogyn beside her as he stumbled and almost went down, but he was nimble and managed to remain standing. Then before she could protest, he reached out for her and pulled her to him, covering her with the arch of his body to shield her from the worst of the lethal shower. He at least was well protected by his heavy mail shirt and the shards pinged all around them as the pieces bounced off the metal shrouding his back.
Then, just as Buffy thought that her head might pop, something gave. The Bringer’s chant did not falter and the cavern still shook, yet the pressure in Buffy’s head eased as a deep boom echoed around the chamber. It was followed by an ear-splitting crack that tore the air apart like a caged lightning bolt. Rock sheared and faulted on one side of the cavern, a giant fracture splitting the wall from floor to ceiling. A great panel of smooth, dressed stone groaned ominously then fell away, tumbling out into the Deeper Well beyond them.
Their work done, the Bringers completed their chant and the earth around them return to calm as the cavern stopped shaking at last. Drogyn released Buffy from his protection and she straightened to see what The First had done. The vast cavern was now little more than a narrow shelf perched above the Well’s abyss, the whole of its expanse laid out before them. The cavern was the altar, she knew now. The First had her where it wanted her.
Drogyn, a thick trail of blood streaming down the side of his face and neck from a wound just under his eye, stared at the Well in wonder. “Evil thing, what have you done here?”
The First turned to them both in triumph. “You see—“ it started, but just as it tried to speak, it doubled up, stumbling over its words. It reached out to the sarcophagus to steady itself, pulling itself up straight again. “Your friends,” it said. “Their little bauble pulls at my bits and bobs.” it drew a hand across its belly, pulling loosely at its threadbare tee-shirt. The movement casually revealed a slash of pale and perfect skin above the top of its jeans. Buffy looked away. While that peep of smooth muscled flesh might have been lickable on Spike, it was a nauseating sight The First. The entity pushed off the sarcophagus and prowled up to Buffy. It still looked pained, but it seemed to have shrugged off most of whatever it was that was bothering it. “They have no idea what they did to me in that city over the sea,” it told her, “with their science and their spells. Hardened me up. Made me stronger.” It leaned forward into her face. “They can’t trap me with a pretty trinket. No one can. Not this time. Not when I can just do this.”
The First clicked its fingers next to Buffy’s ear. As it leaned back out of her personal space, the cavern rumbled again, but there was no earthquake, the epicentre of this shake at a distance this time. There was a long pause while Buffy waited for something else to happen, but nothing did. She glanced quickly at Drogyn, but judging by his frown and his wrinkled forehead, he was just as confused as she was. The First though didn’t look bothered at all by the lack of a dramatic finish.
“Huh?” Buffy tried, still confused. She narrowed her eyes sternly at The First. “What was that?”
The First smiled; a wicked grin that slithered slowly across its features. This wasn’t one of Spike’s expressions, mimicked and twisted by this perverse doppelganger, but something altogether older and knowing. It looked strange and wrong on the sharp angles of its borrowed face, as if it was forcing the facial muscles into some unfamiliar contortion that did not belong there. “I shook things up a bit,” it said. “All the things that ever had an evil heart in this village, I released them again.” The First hooked its thumbs into the belt loops of its jeans and mimicked Spike’s best swaggering strut as it circled the sarcophagus once more, a much better imitation than the hideous smile. “The spirits. You think you bound them, and so you did, but I control this place. They answer to my will. All I’ve done is broken open their shackles. Let the genie back out of the bottle.” The First stumbled again, this time dropping to its knees. “They can deal with your pals,” it coughed, “while we get to it.”
Buffy knew this was her opportunity. Now or never.
With The First down and distracted by the spell and its own ego, she pushed Drogyn aside.
“Lady!” he shouted as he tried to stop her.
She paid no attention to his protest. Wrenching her axe out of a Bringer’s hands, she charged past the sinister honour guard, using her slayer speed to move before any of them could react. Then she leapt, vaulting gracefully over The First onto the sarcophagus, bringing the great axe down as hard as she could onto its sealed lid.
The axe stuck the heavy capstone in its centre, the blow straight and true, yet the ancient tomb proved impossibly hard and unyielding. It resisted her forceful blow, and the ornate, ornamental blade turned on the rough, worn surface, pinging back and twisting the haft suddenly, violently, in her hands. The unexpected force of the recoil was too much, even for a Slayer to correct and she pitched forward and fell, losing the axe as she thrust her arms out to protect herself. The weapon was launched from her hand to land in front of The First, the blade biting deep into the cavern floor.
The First didn’t flinch, as if unsurprised by any of this, and it laughed smugly. It stood and pulled the axe free, swinging it casually to test its balance. “Nice weapon,” it said as if impressed.
Ignoring the entity, Buffy pulled himself up onto her knees, searching the capstone for damage, scrubbing desperately at the surface with her hands, looking for anything, any sign that she’d made a difference; but the great axe had done nothing. The stone was intact.
“I’m sorry.” The First cocked its head with a sickeningly false attempt at sympathy. “It’s a good axe, but that tomb has been sealed for too long to be broken by something so… ordinary.” It took a last look at the axe, flicking the sharp cutting edge of the engraved blade with a pale thumb, then shrugged and tossed it away. Instead, it drew the obsidian knife out from its pocket again. “You need something like this.”
Before she could move, The First gripped the knife in both hands and rammed it into the capstone between her knees. The black blade cut through the aged stone like it was made from the softness of flesh and it split underneath her, fracturing the lid into a web of fine cracks. Where the knife pierced the sarcophagus, something foul smelling and gaseous issued from the fissure, an angry jet of hissing, spitting vapour. Buffy reeled back from the stench, but not before she had breathed in a good lungful.
“Gross,” she croaked, finding her voice, though it was cracked and brittle.
The gas tasted bitter, so bitter it stung her tongue and burned her throat as it forced its way inside her body, and as she breathed it in she knew it was evil. And alive. It choked her, blocking her lungs to rob her of her breath and she coughed desperately to be free of it, searching for clean air, but finding none. Her chest burned and tightened with each inhale-exhale that she missed, and she hung there trapped between one breath and the next she might never take, until with a gasp, she managed to clear her airway.
But she already knew it was too late.
She waited a moment just to be sure it was over, then slowly, stiffly, tried to stand, but she found even this basic human skill more difficult than it should have been.
Struggling, she put an arm out for support, suddenly finding Drogyn at her side, holding her still. “Lady, you are not well.”
She wanted to tell him that she was okay, that it was just some funky fumes that had caught her out; archaeologists had to experience such things all the time, right? But she couldn’t find the words. She… she didn’t feel right. Then as she fought the strange feeling, a wave of nausea broke and crashed in her stomach, and for a moment she battled down the urge to spew her frugal dinner.
Drogyn held her and although he was little more than a stranger to her, she was glad of the contact, the comfort he offered, even if she wished so much that it was Spike’s arms circling her. Pushing down the vomit and the sour bile with a sheer force of will, she waited until the feeling passed, letting her body settle and ease before she tried to move again. Soon, when she was certain that she wasn’t going to barf on Drogyn’s ragged tunic, she pulled away from him and got to her feet, straightening unsteadily to look down at The First.
Eagerly, it lent forward on the sarcophagus, smiling up at her. It was pleased with itself. “If you were just going to do it all for me, I wouldn’t have bothered to make all this effort,” it gloated.
Buffy’s stomach twisted again as she realised what The First meant. In hindsight, The First’s plan was obvious. She’d been allowed to get hold of the axe. It had wanted this.
She’d lost this war on an intake of breath.
Fic: Working My Way Back to You - Chapter Thirty-Four – Sacrifice
April 18th, 2011