Lets not even go into the embarrassment factor of how long its taken me to finish it and move right along...
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?
Thanks to myfeetshowit for her beta work this round and for helping break my block.
Chapter Twenty-Two - Judgement
From last time...
As a ragged horde, the dead rose for judgement at The First’s command. Heavy lids slid from lichened tombs. Sacred ground broke and parted as grasping hands pushed through six feet of good English soil. Something that was once a woman stepped onto the shore of the pond and moaned, the chains that had weighed her down still tangled in the sodden rags she wore.
Centuries of the village lost, their souls long returned to Heaven’s embrace, left their graves, a decaying, shuffling mass of them. Mostly skeletons now, their bones stained dark with earth and years, only a few still bore flesh, their stares sightless and their rictus grins broad and toothy, locked in an eternal smile. They converged on the road, pressing forward on shambling, stumbling feet, their progress slow and sure.
Buffy and Spike stopped, they were trapped, their path blocked by the vengeful dead.
The First laughed from the entrance to the vicarage. “There’s no way out kids.”
It seemed that they’d slipped one noose only to put their heads into another.
On hearing The First’s words, Buffy’s hand twitched around the haft of her axe. She itched to use it. Now she had the real Spike beside her, trying to swipe The First’s grinning head from its shoulders would be a pleasure. But she resisted the urge to strike out so pointlessly. It would be a cold day in hell before she would respond to The First’s needling taunts again.
There was nowhere left to go. From all sides, the full extent of The First’s undead army revealed itself. Under the trees of the forbidding woods, a village of vampires, old and young, fanned out behind their master in a restless arc, cutting off the path back to the Retreat. Behind Spike’s back, their ancestors, newly risen from the peace of their eternal rest, emerged out of the low mist, shambling across the hallowed ground with awkward post-mortem first steps.
But the worst horror was what waited by the crossroads in front of the Gallows pub. A dark, glowering fog that billowed with dreadful spectres made from tainted souls. Buffy had never seen anything like it and hoped she never would again. The cloud itself had little form, yet within its choking mists faces and misshapen bodies could be seen twisted with eternal agonies, their eyes glowing with a sickly, unnatural light simmering on slow burn. These were the murdered and the missing, the executed and the slain; each craving an end to their damnation, each seeking life to drain away. Trees withered as they passed and the grass beneath their skeletal boughs turned brown then black as it rotted in fast-forward time-lapse.
Buffy could hear them beckon her. Calling her back to her grave, their vile voices speaking on lorelei tongues she could hear only inside her head. She closed her eyes and tried to break their hold, focusing on happier thoughts; of life and love and happiness; all the things she’d found were worth living for. She might never find the innocence in such things again, she’d fought death and darkness for too long, but they gave her a hope from which she could draw enough strength to resist their siren calls, if not for herself or those others marked with Slayerness, but for Dawn and her friends and all those others lives she’d worked to save.
As she gulped down the blackness and opened her eyes again, The First gave the command for its army to advance. At its word, the mindless dead in the churchyard lurched upright, jerking to attention onto unsteady, bony legs. They began a slow creep through the snaggle-toothed headstones echoed by the vampire battle group by the woods. Each inched slowly forwards to drive their quarry towards the ghostly wretches by the crossroads.
The noose was tightening.
“Get back.” Buffy took an instinctive step toward the steady strength of the crumbling stone wall that defined the bounds of the churchyard, pushing Spike behind her and the protective reach of the heavy axe.
He didn’t question her, but fell into a fighting stance, coiled and ready, backing her up like he always had, covering the areas that she couldn’t. “You bring a boy to all the best fights,” he said.
She ignored his quip, warily watching their opponents instead. The numbers encircling them were more than enough to overwhelm the both of them out here in the open. Two against a hoard of skeletons, a hundred or so fledgling vamps, a few scattered Bringers and an indestructible entity hell-bent on vengeance were long odds, but this rabble couldn’t really compare with the Turok Han legion that had swarmed out of the Hellmouth to assault her small army of Slayers. They’d won that fight, but Buffy swiftly shoved the memory out of her head anyway; some of them hadn’t survived that battle, and if Spike hadn’t given his unlife, then none of them would have. She’d received this incredible gift of another chance with him; she wasn’t going to waste it.
As Buffy hesitated to weigh up their limited options, the vampires made their charge, surging towards them in one undisciplined mass, snarling and snapping. She caught the first with a sharp kick that shattered its thigh, following through with a swipe of the axe that took off its head with a vicious slice beneath its chin. It burst into dust as it toppled and was trampled under its neighbour’s feet, never to be seen again.
Behind her back, Spike fought in tandem with her, his moves flowing with hers with the grace of long familiarity. Without a stake or weapon, he chopped and kicked and punched, dropping the vamps at Buffy’s feet with quick uppercuts. She dispatched them quickly, two or three at once, and returned to scything down the attacks of the others.
"Any ideas?" Spike drove his fist into the face of a woman in a Barbour jacket and green wellies. She fell into a heap at his feet.
Buffy brought the axe down onto the nape of the woman’s neck and she too puffed into a greasy dust. "If you're feeling suggesty, go right ahead."
He looked around, swiftly assessing the threat for himself, frowning at what he saw as he snapped the neck of a vamp that came too close. He casually shoved the groaning man her way and waved his arm towards the small bottleneck of skeletons that had gathered by the lychgate. Their dry, withered fingers flapped uselessly at the latch. “Charge of the shabby brigade over there shouldn’t give us much trouble."
"How many?" she asked him, buying him time to look by taking another wide swing with the axe. Vertebrae shattered as the heavy blade sliced cleanly through dead flesh.
Spike paused as he tied to make a rough count, but before he could answer, a fleshless hand of dry bones and soil reached over the wall and grabbed him by the collar of his coat. The inhumanly strong grip yanked him backwards and he lost his footing, his head striking the wall as the arm pulled him back.
“Spike!” Buffy ignored inept punches as the vamps swamped them, her axe flashing through the night as it severed the arm of his attacker and lopped off its head an instant later.
Spike slumped to the ground, but a moment later he was back up and fighting as if it had never happened. Blood seeped from a gash at his temple, but he was throwing punches with a renewed vigour. “Thanks, pet. Looks like there’s not many of them, but I don’t fancy fighting them all off at once.”
Buffy wasn’t going to disagree with that. "Then we won't.” She shoved a balding middle-aged man into a group of tarty teenage girls to make a space and then ran. “This way!"
She ran, leading Spike a short way along the churchyard wall towards the village green and its small pond. Here the wall skirted the edge of the water, protected by a narrow bank that rejoined the green near the cricket pitch. As she aimed for this thin unguarded strip, the vampires surged forward and the skeletons in the churchyard changed the direction of their shamble; in the distance the cacophonous horns of the Wild Hunt rent the air.
But if she had wagered that the width of the bank would be too narrow for many to follow, she hadn’t foreseen how the semi-substantial spectres would flow across the pond like a slow, heavy vapour. They left the surface as still as glass, a dark mirror collecting stars from the heavens in its cool waters until the cloud of darkness swallowed them whole. Halfway between spirit and corpse, solid and yet ethereally insubstantial, these were the bodies of those whom had never lain in the loving embrace of consecrated earth. They despised everything that lived with a consuming need to corrupt it, to take back the lives snatched so suddenly from them by turning its vibrant goodness to ruin. Water would not stop them.
However, Buffy had been half right; only one or two of the vampires were able to chase them this way. The others ploughed into the water in the wake of their spectral comrades, shattering its calm clarity, but the water caught their clothes and made them heavy, dragging them back and slowing them as the mass of weeds tangled around their legs.
By the time the bank tapered, as it arched towards a large willow tree that tested the water sorrowfully with bare twiggy fingers, Buffy could feel an unholy chill at the back of her neck. A dolorous dread fell like a stone into her stomach and she felt like falling to her knees in despair. It took the strongest effort of will she had to struggle over the wall to the sanctuary of the churchyard but her dark mood lifted as soon as her feet touched the other side.
Her relief was short-lived.
The ground was uneven here, marking the roughly dug area of a plague pit. The earth vibrated as the dead began to rise from below. She lunged forward, trying to reach the path before they broke the surface, but before she could clear the edge of the disturbed ground, she was caught; something that had once been a hand, with creaking joints bound together by little but magic and rotten sinew, clamped onto her leg, grabbing her by the ankle.
Buffy crashed to her knees, the axe flying out of her hands as her palms struck the spongy ground. It landed at the foot of a listing headstone, out of easy reach. The fall released her ankle, but as she went to push herself up, but the ground gave way beneath her and her hands sank deep into the loam.
“Buffy!” Spike yelled. He tried to clamber over the wall, but the vampire pulling at his heel delayed him.
Something brushed her fingers; more bodies reaching up from beneath the earth. Revolted, she snatched her own hands back, pulling them free with someone else’s hand still attached to her wrist.
A dozen arms broke the surface around her. Bursting through the top of their unmarked grave like some morbid crop of fetid flesh; a strange harvest death had already reaped of plague many seasons before. They were everywhere, bodies that should have lain underground until judgement, pulling themselves free of the pit, hauling themselves free from the dark earth of their grave in a macabre, abominable rebirth.
Spike twisted and smashed his fist into the vampire’s face. Stunned, it recoiled, lost its footing and tumbled back into the pond with a splash, but by the time he got to Buffy he was too late to stop the hands grabbing at her, yanking her down with brutal grips, grasping and tugging at her coat, her hair, her face, anything they could reach. Each time she shook one off another would break through the grass to take its place.
“Spike! Grab the axe!” she shouted as she struggled, brittle arm bones snapping near the wrists and elbows as she tried to jerk herself free. “Over there!”
He followed the direction of her frantic pointing and snatched up the lost axe, using it to fight off a couple of vampires before returning. He chopped at the arms where and when he could, but there was little he could do without hurting her as well.
“There’s too many,” he hissed, tossing the axe aside and circling Buffy’s waist with his arms. “We can’t stay here.”
Duh, she wanted to say, but he heaved her free with his brute strength, setting her back onto her feet away from the disturbed ground.
But he didn’t give her a moment to get over her revulsion; he looked at her for their next move. “Where now, luv?”
“Follow me!” Buffy picked up the discarded axe and darted for the cover of the church porch. He was right, they didn’t have time to indulge in the horror; the lichgate traffic jam had turned and was advancing back up the path, while more shattered bodies, driven forward with one mind and one purpose, heaved themselves clear of their coffins and the cloying soil. Behind them, the leading group of vampires were clambering over the boundary wall. They tripped over their rising comrades; disarticulating limbs already weak and rotten, scattering them in shards around their disturbed pit.
But they all stopped as the wraiths began to seep into the churchyard through the wall, parting to allow them through, as if they were too malevolent for even for the dead to tolerate.
Buffy pulled at the huge wooden church door, but it refused to open. She shoved the axe into Spike’s hands and tried to force the wrought iron lock to give. It rattled promisingly, but refused to yield. It was well made and built to last, but once she braced her shoulder against the wood, it couldn’t hold against her whole slayer strength and it swung open with a creak of reluctant welcome. She held it open just long enough for Spike to break away from the defensive position he’d taken at the front of the porch and slammed it shut behind him.
“Quick!” Buffy yelled to him. “Find something to brace it with.”
Spike disappeared into the gloom, returning a moment later dragging one of the heavy, ornate pews. Buffy grabbed it and helped him wedge it into position between the door and a sturdy stone column. Dead things started to batter on the wood, but the barricade held, the lock jangling as the door shook in its frame.
With the door braced firmly behind them, Buffy could finally catch her breath. As she turned, the moon re-emerged from behind the clouds, washing the church in sombre kaleidoscopic moonlight as it streamed in through the stained glass. But its grave beauty was marred by the stench of blood and death.
She covered her hand with her sleeve and covered her mouth to block the smell from the corpse still mouldering on the altar. What should have been a place of hushed and sacred sanctuary was little more now than a house of the dead; a silently eldritch tomb, cold and sepulchral, a place the living had forsaken – and for good reason. “Now what?” she asked Spike.
He shrugged and looked around. “I guess we take a pew.”