Wow! It’s a new chapter of Working! To all those still reading his labour of Hercules, I am so, so, sorry for the delay. I was completely stuck, i.e. my excuse is the same as always.
I did at least get this done for the eighth (eighth!) anniversary of the posting of the first chapter. That’s something, eh?
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)!*
*will include this chapter when I get back from the pub.
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, but The First has a contingency plan...
All the ghosts, all the spirits, all the energies; everything that had ever been trapped there, were released as one by the blast. The air around them roared, and they heard screaming, crying, shouting, laughing.
Spike looked up. The energy swirled and coalesced into a broad, imposing pillar of light that bridged the gap between the earth and the heavens in a great arc that gathered above their heads. Where it breached the sky, the suffocating blanket of cloud broke apart and coiled in on itself, spinning the vapour into an angry maelstrom of psychic fury and raging weather, a whirling, vindictive carousel cloud of loathing and spite. With it, the rain returned; the surging clouds belting out a lashing, hateful torrent. The wind bawled with some banshee howl, splitting the air apart in hissing forks of serpentine lightning. The earth rocked and rolled.
But the circle held, strong and sure as the old, old rocks that formed it. The storm whisked the rain around the circle as the sky lit up, but not a drop of water fell this time between the ancient stones. A great bolt vaporised a nearby tree as it crashed to earth, but inside the circle the violence could not touch them.
Spike felt every cell in his body shiver. There was no going back, no time to back out. This was it. Then it came. He was on fire; his body engulfed by flames that roared and rippled around him. The heat, furnace hot, was unbearable and it hurt, oh yeah it hurt, and he screamed out when he was unable to hold in the pain any longer.
Willow and Wesley finished their chanting on the same beat and Wesley yelled out, “NOW!”
Chapter Thirty-Five – Night and Fire
Magic on magic on magic; everywhere there was action as Willow’s channelled power joined Wesley’s shout to cast Mormundi’s spell out like a net. Their combined voices, united in their intent to catch and draw The First into the amulet once and for all, brutally punched the spell across the hillside with such strength that the force of it, an invisible shockwave of pure energy drawn from the ether, the stone circle, the innate power of an adept witch, exploded the charged air outside The Dancers and pushed the spirits released by The First back into the shadows.
For one agonising moment, half a breath long, the tormented night was turned into a blinding, impossible day. Angel instinctively threw his arms over his sensitive eyes and dived into the dark lee of one of The Dancer’s looming stones. The light might not have burned into his photo-sensitive vampiric flesh like sunlight, but the small, if marginal, protection the stone promised was reassuring nonetheless because they still didn’t really know what to expect from such twisted, insane magic. Wesley had explained the intention of the mad monk’s ancient spell, but none of them could even venture a guess at its potential side-effects.
A safe place to stand seemed a good idea just then; Angel was well aware that in this battle he would be little more than an observer. This was not a fight that could be won by the power of his fists; the stones themselves would have more influence on the outcome of this night than he would. He’d accepted there was little else he could do now apart from pray to any deity that cared to listen that the circle would maintain the silent strength of the centuries-steady stones and keep the rumbling storm at bay.
Night returned as quickly as it had left them. Angel blinked into the new blackness, his night vision lost. The others were now fuzzy figures on the periphery. Giles, his hand still poised over his small drum, was ready to pick up the beat again if required. Willow, staring shell-shocked at the violence the spell had wrought, was grounding herself with one hand pressed against the dark sentinel of weathered rock behind her. Wesley was bent over Mormundi’s precious book as he sought to protect its fragile pages from the cataclysmic storm they’d unleashed to meet the roar of The First’s hurricane. Light flickered warmly on their faces like firelight, soft dancing devils swirling dervish reels across their skin: light reflected from the vampire being devoured by the forces of fire and magic in the centre of the circle.
Spike was already little more than a blackened figure against the bright flare of the searing flames. Hunched over, he’d drawn himself in as the spell clashed with the power of the amulet; the two potent, but very different powers sparking and crashing as their energies collided and mixed. Angel watched hopelessly as they whirled around each other as Spike convulsed and screamed; ice fighting fire, blood boiling on bone, the flames roaring, flaring to blue-white tips as they fought. Then, just as Angel thought he couldn’t stand to watch any longer, Spike suddenly threw his arms wide, collapsing back as the fireball whooshed upwards from his chest and rocketed towards the heavens.
As the last wisp of flame vanished into the clouds to be extinguished by the maelstrom, Angel forced himself to look back towards the prone vampire immobile at the centre of the circle. The spells were now balanced and working together. Their combined power was obvious; the amulet on Spike’s breast lit the turbulent sky like a searchlight, holding steady, waiting, ready to snap closed around its prey. The whole night seemed tense and troubled, caught between intakes of breath, as if waiting a long beat drawn out to uncomfortable length. The wind quietened, the storm above grumbled, lightning licked the clouds: electricity on a short circuit that could never break to earth. Angel felt his stomach tie itself into knots. Everything was waiting for the big finale.
A finale that never seemed to come.
Something was wrong; with the spell or the magics, Angel couldn’t guess, but even he could tell that the battle was locked into stalemate. Paused. The amulet still held off the night with the towering column of light before them. Spike remained prone and still and unconsumed. The First did not appear. The trap did not close. Minutes passed as they waited.
Eventually uneasy looks began to be exchanged amongst them as it became obvious nothing was going to happen.
“No!” Willow scrambled clumsily to her feet. “We did everything right! Giles?”
But Giles did not have an answer for her, only questions. “Are you sure we did everything? Perhaps we missed something? Wesley, was that all the spell required us to do?”
“I believe so,” Wesley pulled out the large book and started to mull over the ritual once more. “I will check again for anything in the Codex we might have overlooked, but the coherency of the work and the condition of the vellum makes it impossible to be totally sure of anything Mormundi might have intended.”
As Wesley started to trace the erratic lines with his torch, mouthing the words over as he went to ensure there could be nothing he’d missed, Willow went to check the silver dish she’d set before Spike. He must have knocked it over in his throes, its charred contents had spilled out and were scattered haphazardly across the grass. She set the dish upright again and started to replace the herbs with fresh bundles from her pocket, anxiously counting them back in. “Althea, masterwort, belladonna, asafoetida, wormwood…”
With the others preoccupied with the spell rather than the vampire it should have affected, Angel cautiously went over to the centre of the circle to check on Spike, willing to take the risk of getting too near to help a fallen comrade. Even though there had been many times when Angel would have savoured the image of Spike being devoured by ball of fire, he couldn’t leave him to this fate, although whether he wanted to close his eyes for a final time or give some comfort to the condemned, he didn’t know.
He knelt at Spike’s side and shook his immobile shoulder. It was hard to see in the harsh glare, but these were not the scorched remains Angel had expected to see. Buffy had reluctantly described what had happened the last time Spike had worn the amulet deep in the Hellmouth and this seemed very different. Although Spike had been the centre of an inferno only moments before, one that should have flamegrilled his body past extra crispy well into burnt, he wasn’t even singed; the exposed pale skin of his face and hands remained untouched by the flames that had engulfed him. Even his ubiquitous coat bore no signs that it had been on fire only a minute or two before. Spike wasn’t dust or ash and was no nearer to becoming part of the amulet than he had been that afternoon. Instead, he lay motionless; lifeless, as still and as perfect as in death. With the brightness of the light leeching the colour from his pallid skin, he was finally the corpse he would have been if Drusilla hadn’t turned him all those years ago. That was something. The spell had not taken Spike. Not yet.
With all the herbs arranged in their dish and gently smoking as they burned in the pungent oil, Willow glanced up at him, worrying her bottom lip with concern. “Angel, is he okay?”
He couldn’t guess what was okay in this situation. “I don’t think he can feel anything,” was the best he could offer her.
She crawled over to take a place at Spike’s head. Patting his lifeless face none too gently; she spoke to him, “Spike?” but she too received no response to her urging.
Angel tried again, this time grabbing him by both shoulders and shaking harder this time, careful not to disturb the amulet, but not prepared to give up until Spike showed something of his annoying self. “Spike! C’mon!”
Spike’s head rolled back, but a small, pain-filled groan issued from his unmoving lips, the first sign he’d showed that he was more than just a vacant cadaver.
“Angel, stop!” Willow grabbed Angel’s arm and batted his hands away. “That won’t help him.”
Frustrated, Angel dropped Spike’s body back down onto the grass. He could see Spike’s pain now in the tightness of his jaw and the clench of his teeth, but the other vampire didn’t speak or move again. Angel didn’t even think he was conscious.
Willow placed a hand on Spike’s forehead, a somehow compassionate, yet testing gesture. Then, when she’d seemingly got some satisfactory result, she shifted to place both her palms to his temples. “Spike? Spike, are you with me?” she called.
“What’s going on?” Angel asked. “Is he okay?”
“Shhh!” She closed her eyes, concentrating on delving into the depths into Spike’s subconscious. “I can’t get in,” she said after several minutes had passed, “but he’s still here. He can’t move, but he’s in there. He can’t speak to us.”
“Thank goodness for small mercies,” Giles said as he joined them. He was looking at the chunky stone resting on Spike’s chest, curious but unwilling to touch it. “It appears that the amulet is open as it should be,” he mused. “Wesley?”
Wesley was still frantically flicking through Mormundi’s book trying to make sense of the ambiguous swirling patterns of the man’s writings, but the pretty paragraphs scrawled in the shapes of strange flora and fantastic animals weren’t the easiest to read quickly in the dark. “We’ve done everything right and set the trap,” he said eventually. “The ritual was supposed to work. Spike should be in the amulet with The First.”
“Great, 'supposed to work’ isn’t good enough, Wes,” Angel snapped, but he was not really surprised. “Maybe that’s all this Mormundi was: some kind of mad man.”
Wesley ignored that, still clutching the great book like it was their lifeline. Maybe it was. “It’s all we have. We’ll figure it out. If we can just—”
His words were devoured by a crack of thunder overhead. A bolt of lightning hit the tallest stone and shot around the sacred ring, bouncing from stone to stone, snuffing out their candles one by one until it found a weakness in their defences. One of the stones to the South split in two and then exploded. The ancient rock was pulverised, blown into bits, the rubble crashing inwards as the circle was broken.
Ducking the spittle of stones striking his back, Angel tried to look back at the break in their boundary. He could barely see beyond the circle, the night was deep, impenetrable; the blinding light bursting from Spike’s chest creating a bright oasis in a desert of darkness, but he could hear the disquiet forces of The First as they took their opportunity to approach again.
“Willow!” Angel shouted at the witch.
She released Spike’s head and pulled her athame from her pocket. “I’m on it!”
As she leapt to her feet to speak the words to invoke the circle once more, the spirits appeared at the gaps between the stones. Somewhere deep in those distressed woods, a horse whinnied; at least it sounded like a horse to Angel, if one that hadn’t taken a breath for a hundred years; the sound rattled dryly in its dead throat, the sound unsettling, disturbing, pitiful. And getting closer.
Willow rushed through the spell, calling on the elements, the protective spirits of the four corners of the compass to aid them again in their need. She was answered almost as soon as she had finished the incantation. The candles on the stones fluttered back into life just as the spirits committed their assault against the boundary. These were vengeful souls seeking solace and revenge for their stolen lives, stolen deaths, in violence. Dead and banished to nightmare, their flesh and their ties to the world long gone, they were just lost, angry souls seeking retaliation. They did not care who had plucked them from their rest, they lashed out indiscriminately at the magic they blamed for their macabre state, hoping to tear down the spell Willow had cast and devour those within.
Some, Angel saw, still wore the faded rags of their burial, funeral finery taken to ruins by the soft and soil. They clawed at the air, bodiless, incorporeal, staring without emotion on their broken eyeless faces, but despite the damage to the fallen upright, Willow’s hasty spell seemed to be holding, if only just. Fleshless limbs punctured the circle where the magic wavered and the dead reached in with bony fingers, seeking to grab at anything they could reach, only to be pushed back once more as the circle regained its strength.
Behind the spirits flinging themselves at the circle in their fury, beneath the close, forbidding clouds, chaos reigned; the ground trembled, the rain whipped the hill, horizontal and vicious. Screams tore through the night; evil, shrieking voices carried on a spiralling hurricane of spectral energy that shook the trees, ripping them from their roots and plucking the boughs from their trunks like a child would pull the legs from stricken insects. These too were hurled at the circle to bounce off the stones.
Then out of the shadows, a horse appeared; stamping as it tossed its fleshless head, rearing up on its hind legs as its hooves crashed against the circle. Its shrouded rider, the master of the Wild Hunt, threw out its ragged arms and wailed a piercing war cry straight from Hell. The sound seemed to slice through the night straight into Angel’s heart. The horse snarled and pulled at its bit, lurching forward again only to be repelled as the circle of The Dancers held firm.
But the return of the Wild Hunt was the least of Angel’s worries.
He could feel something new start to tug at him, then gain momentum, sweeping over him like rough, seeking hands; making his skin crawl uncomfortably as cold, invisible fingers probed into his flesh, penetrating his most personal space as they searched inside every cavity of his body for any part of its malevolent quarry that might be lurking there. No cell, no capillary was spared the search.
He gasped in something like pain, although this was deeper, rawer, more intense than some plain hurt.
Wesley heard him cry out. “Angel?”
Angel opened his mouth to answer his friend, but no words would come. His world became nothing more than the agonised territory of his body. He fell to his knees as the spells rummaging through his innards pulled him inside and out, stretching and twisting him; sucking the darkness from his very marrow. He could even see it now: a nasty black vapour oozing from his pores.
Their trap was finally closing.
Working My Way Back to You - Chapter Thirty-Five – Night and Fire
January 23rd, 2012