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.
Chapter Twenty-Three - Near Distance
A brief recap of recent events...
Spike found Buffy in the woods where they came face to face with The First who took control of Spike's mind to play with him a bit. It also revealed that it plans to sacrifice Buffy in order to release the Old Ones from the Deeper Well and bring on a new demon age. Spike and Buffy flee, only to run into the The First's army, a mix of Bringers, vampires and dead that have risen from their graves. Some of these, those who weren't buried in hallowed ground, manifest as dark and dangerous wraiths that fill Buffy with dread. Our heros take shelter in the only place they can find to defend - the church.
“So did you have a plan when you dived in here or did you just have an urgent need to repent?”
Buffy took a deep breath, noting the way Spike turned in her direction as he spoke but dropped his eyes to avoid meeting hers. The pallid moonlight caused harsh, jagged shadows to cut across his face with noir slashes of darkness, but he couldn’t fool her. If they had survived the night, she would sort this, but the time was so very not now to deal with his evasiveness or go over all the complexities of everything that had happened between them; souls and sex and sacrifice were heavy subjects she couldn’t tackle with a few glib words and he deserved more.
“I don’t know. I need time to think,” she told him. A tickle of that icy dread she’d felt outside still gnawed at her nerve endings, warning her that they still weren’t safe. As if to emphasise her fears, their makeshift barricade shuddered as the dead made a renewed sortie against the church door. “We can’t stay here.”
“Won’t have any argument from me.” Giving it a firm shove, Spike tested the strength of the pew one last time. Like the heavy door it was propped against, the pew was robust and sturdy. It would hold long enough for them to find a way to escape. He seemed satisfied by the way it remained firmly wedged against the fluted column of one of the ornate arches and straightened. He finally gave her a brief glance. “This is not exactly a place I’m comfortable, you know.”
A strained silence, leaden with the past and a hundred things still left unsaid, settled between them. Buffy bit her lip as she realised why. The church. Oh god. She should have thought of that. One of the most significant moments of their lives and it hadn’t even occurred to her. There was no way this wasn’t going to be awkward.
Despite the levity of his wisecracks, Spike’s discomfort was clearly visible even in the dim light. His jaw flexed with an anxious twitch and he shoved his hands into his pockets. When he slipped past her, he didn’t touch, pointedly skirting round her personal space, stalking along the aisle like a streak of absolute darkness in the covering moonshine.
“You okay?” she asked softly with a lightness she wasn’t feeling. She watched sadly as Spike used the pretence of giving their shelter a critical once over, searching for hidden dangers and weaknesses that could be exploited, to put a comfortable distance between them.
“Been better,” he confessed, dismissing her worries with a shrug, but he still refused to meet her eye. The barrier that had been thrown up between them was still very much in place and she didn’t know if she should try to penetrate his guard or give him time to relax. “Just came face to face with myself.” He paused in the centre of the aisle, spotlighted in the rainbow light beaming in through the large picture window, and reached out to gingerly touch an ornately decorated cross that was carved into the side of a pew. A small wisp of smoke rose from his sizzling finger and ghosted into the night. “Might need a minute.”
“Right.” She leant back against a table covered with leaflets advertising church services and toddler playgroups that would never be, keeping one cautious eye on the door and thinking over the implications of what he was saying, of what The First had done to him. This near distance he was keeping wasn’t about his soul or anything else that had happened in that Sunnydale church, but about the other things that still plagued his troubled mind. Perhaps he’d been too crazy back then to realise how much that moment had meant to her. “It’s not you, you know,” she offered. “It could never be a fraction of what you are.”
He turned his head to her then, raising an eyebrow over his shoulder in curious challenge, but the moment passed and he looked away again. “Maybe. But what it said, I don’t feel like that.”
“Huh?” A horrible sickly feeling started to sour her stomach; a dreadful burning flush that curdled in her gut. “Oh. That stuff about me using you? I—”
“Don’t worry about it,” he cut her off with a gentle swipe of his hand. “Everything that happened. It’s all forgiven. Water under the bridge and all that. I just wanted you to know.”
She sighed. He didn’t need to say any of this; she already knew he’d forgiven her, but she wondered how he could just sweep the issue away like that when it was obviously still troubling him. This wall he’d put up was the price she would pay for using him in more ways than one; venting all that anger and frustration which had built up inside her, giving him little in return but empty sex and fists to his face. His dismissive words weren’t going to erase the pain of being taken for granted. She might have offered him her faith in the end, but for all those times she’d beat him down for not having a soul, made him jump through impossible hoops, at the end he was the one she relied on and that wasn’t enough. She shook her head, she was such an idiot, she should have told him sooner that she loved him and not let words fail her after their first chaste night together. It sounded so pathetic in hindsight to have offered up those words only as he’d died; no wonder he was so distant now.
“Is that what’s really eating you?” Safe and cosy their feelings for each other were not, but passionate heights were dangerous by their nature. Maybe they shouldn't be in a relationship again if being with her hurt him so much. Flushed, she pushed off the table and approached him slowly, allowing him to keep some space but trying to shut the emotional chasm before it became too vast to close.
“That and the rest of it,” he replied quietly. “I’d ask you to kill me if I thought it would take.”
She blinked up at him in surprise. “What?”
“The First.” He whirled around and stabbed his chest with a finger. “It can control me. “I don’t know what—”
“Hey! Hey.” She grabbed his hand in and held it tight affirmation, looking up into his eyes as if she could will him into seeing the amazing person she saw before her reflected in her own. Back when things had been less complicated, before kissing him in an alley had destroyed it all, she'd gone to him talk through her problems, knowing that while he couldn't solve them for her he would always try. She needed to return a little bit of that commitment. “Not this again. I thought we were past all this trigger stuff. Spike, the trigger has gone. You saw to that.”
"Not the trigger!” He shook his head. “You saw it, the sodding First doesn’t need one now. It can control the dead, control me."
“I am not killing you. Not now,” she told him vehemently, realising what he was trying to ask her. She squeezed his hand even tighter. There was no way she was letting go.
“Buffy, I don’t think you can, but…” His eyes searched hers, blazing, pleading with her and she couldn’t help being drawn in. “but you’ll have to watch out. For me. I can’t—”
The agony she saw in his face made her gasp, but it also made her angry and she jerked her hand away. The moment was broken. “It’s bullshit, Spike! Don’t listen to it. It’s playing with both of us. Don’t you see? The First can manipulate you, so what? Nothing’s changed. We’ve been there before. And we know we can beat it. Think about it! If it could turn you against me so easily, then why didn’t it do that outside?”
“I don’t know!” He moved away and started to pace as if caged by his own powerlessness. “It could be waiting for something!” he suggested. “For the right moment. Anything!” With that, he lashed out, kicking the front pew over in frustration. It toppled over onto the stone floor in a scatter of prayer books and splinters.
“Spike! This isn’t helping.”
At the sound of her voice, the flare of his temper cooled as suddenly as it had ignited. When he looked back at her, the angry tension she’d seen was replaced with a cold fear. “Buffy, it said something. About keeping you here as a sacrifice. You know about that?”
She crossed her arms defensively, as lost for an answer as he was. “Only what you heard it say, that it would release the first demons from this Deep Well thingy. You know about that?”
“No.” He shrugged. “Never heard of it before. I mean we’ve all heard about the Old Ones, but they’re supposed to be dead. We need to find out about the well, and soon. I…” He strode back up the length of the aisle, drawing close again. He said lowly and tenderly: “I don’t know what The First could make me do. That’s why if you need to when the time comes you’ll have to stop me. Not losing you.”
“Spike. It’s not going to happen. I won’t let it. When this is over we’ll go back to the Retreat. They still have some books there. There might be something in one of them.”
“Okay. Research.” Spike nodded, but he didn’t seem to relish the idea.
That made two of them. “I know. I wish Giles was here.”
“Yeah, I’m sure old Rupert would know a thing or two,” he agreed, absently. His attention had drifted back to the walls of the church. “There another way out of this place?” he asked, turning and stalking back toward the chancel.
“I don’t know, I didn’t—” As he passed the ornate lattice of the rood screen and stepped up onto the dais, she went to follow him, but she stopped as she felt the floor beneath her shake. The movement was almost imperceptible, but she’d experienced earth tremors before and she knew what they felt like. “Did you feel that?”
“Feel what?” Spike asked, unconcerned. Finding no exits in the area behind the altar, he gave up and his attention fell upon the headless corpse still sprawled on its back across the altar cloth.
“I don’t know. Maybe I imagined a quake or… Never mind.” Maybe it had been her imagination after all. England didn’t have earthquakes, or at least she didn’t think so. She pushed it out of her mind as she watched Spike brush a finger across the dry pool of dark blood under the vicar’s chest, wrinkling her nose at the sight. She hoped he wouldn’t do anything vampiric and gross because if he put that finger anywhere near his mouth she would have to rethink this whole relationship thing. Reality really lacked the soft focus of her memories sometimes.
“I didn’t feel—” Spike broke off as the whole church shuddered. As he looked around to find out why, a hand shot up from the headless body and clamped itself to his neck, its bloated partner joining it to capture him in a fierce stranglehold.
Buffy staggered, clutching onto the pews as she struggled to keep her balance. She couldn’t help him. In their private chapels at the edge of the nave, the local great and good had awoken where they had been interred; their skeletal fists punching through the sides of their knightly tombs, the heavy stone pulverised by undead strength. Still dead, still not living, they too answered the muster of their unholy master. Those that had been laid to rest in the fair earth outside were not the only ones The First had roused from their eternal sleep it seemed.
Realising the incipient danger, Buffy shoved the pews apart; searching desperately for the axe Spike had tossed aside while they were barricading the door. She could just see it poking out from under the pew in front, its handle lying just out of reach beside the vicar’s lost head.
Spike prised the decomposing fingers from his neck and shoved the vicar away. "Dead here,” he told the flailing body as it bounced off the altar and fell to the floor into a spray of fallen petals from a wilting wedding arrangement. “What's choking me supposed to do?"
Buffy scrabbled under the pew for the lost weapon, kicking away mouldy hands that grabbed at her legs until her hand closed around the axe’s haft. When she sprung back up, Spike was already there, ripping the corpse’s head from the rest of its desiccated remains. But as she readied the axe to pitch in, the spectres emerged one by one through the walls of the hallowed sanctuary with piteous cries. Insubstantial and angry, the phantoms passed through old stone that was no barrier to those stuck in a state between the spirit and the flesh. Buffy froze as they closed in. Her limbs refused to obey her, suddenly paralysed and drained of all energy as their darkness tugged at her life force. Drenched with cold and a bitter acid dread, she longed again for the void of death and her afterlife of peace.
“Buffy!” She felt Spike grab her arm, pulling at her sleeve, trying to make her come with him, but she couldn’t go. She had to stay and wait for them to return her to the quiet of her grave. “C’mon!”
She opened her mouth to speak, but no words made it out.
Spike tugged at her coat again, more desperately this time. Tossing the skull aside, he stomped a heavy boot down through its cranium to stop it from snapping at his foot and grabbed her with both hands, giving her a vigorous shake. “There has to be another door near the tower, c’mon!”
She sank back into her own head, her eyes drooping sleepily as her mind started to drift away. She felt her legs sag and give way, reality swimming before her as her soul reached out for its immortal release.
“Buffy! Stay with me. It’s all a lie.” She could hear the panicked note in his voice and his strong arms supporting her, propping her up, not letting her crumble, but he sounded so remote and distant his words were almost lost. “Buffy, we have to g—”
As her eyes closed, the air seemed to expand and explode. The windows blew apart in a waterfall cascade of stained glass splinters and the church filled with a warm, brilliant light; divine and white but dappled with Technicolor. The brightness forced her eyes back open even as it dazzled her and she covered her eyes with her arm, squinting past their cover to see a clear blue daylight sky through the empty Gothic arches.
She was still aware of Spike, his hands gripping her arms tightly enough to bruise, but he was falling away, pulling her with him, tumbling backwards onto the hard floor between the pews.
And he was screaming.