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 yet again.
Chapter Twenty-Four - Icarus
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 heroes take shelter in the only place they can find to defend - the church. Problem is the wraiths don't find stone walls much of a problem and they find their way in. But as Buffy starts to surrender to their evocative calls, the church fills with a bright, weird light.
From last time...
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.
The whole church shone. Beams of light so brilliant it was like staring for too long at the California sun: too bright to watch, too intense, too painful.
Spike’s screams had become rasping snarls filled with agonies. A punk Icarus too close to a vicious sun, the strange sunshine flooding in through the shattered windows was too strong for him to bear. The light poured into the nave like a cleansing tsunami heaven-sent to purify the malevolent night. It took back to the divine what the profane had defiled with innocent blood and Buffy feared the thin strips of weak shade underneath the pews were not nearly enough to protect his undead flesh from its scouring. She stretched herself back over his chest in the desperate hope she was doing enough to shield him from crumbling to dust in her arms. Her small body was poor protection from the savage glare, but his skin had already begun to sizzle with a sickening hiss and there was no other shelter she could offer.
Too harsh to escape, the light washed away colours and drowned shadows as it intensified, whitewashing the walls, arches and dark sacred hollows to a stark monochrome. But she couldn’t afford to close her eyes, not yet, even though they stung and had begun to pool with tears which softened the edges of her vision and made the church look like a painting brushed in lipid watercolours. Through this watery lens the arches rose above her like a series of tall waterfalls, solemn cascades in a river of luminescence, the sagging wedding blooms hung from them brought back to life as bubbling spray crashing upon the rocky pews at the feet of the columns. Beyond them, the altar seemed vague, a boxy island in the torrent, but the vivid spring emerald of the altar cloth had become sallow and liquid, the intricate patterns embroidered onto the fabric and the gruesome trail of dry anaemic blood that stained the thin thread lost as the colours ran and bled into each other. Even the shimmering gold cross had faded into a formless, unrecognisable blob, bleached and pallid against the now drab cloth.
With no darkness left to sustain their tainted counterfeit of life, the revenant dead shrank away; crawling back into the silent refuge of their dark holes or, like the wraiths, curling away into charcoal smoke as they let cry one last shriek of hideous complaint. As the last of them fell mute, the banging on the church door ceased; the high tide of the risen ebbing as they returned to their desecrated graves.
Their racket was replaced by a sudden and reverent silence, the world falling still for a long moment out of time. As life and death reorganised themselves back into their proper order, Buffy felt something shift inside her, an odd movement of her being; as if the universe was clicking her soul back into position. The unbearable pressure of the wraith’s calls lifted from her like a heavy, suffocating veil to reveal how false their entreaties had been. A while ago she might have given anything to join them, to regain a longed for peace that had been ripped away, but that was then and for all the upheaval her life had seen since she didn’t seek death just yet. Finally, with a new lightness inside, she let her eyes fall shut.
The weird sunlight didn’t last. After a few minutes it slowly relented. Like a flare giving up all hope of rescue, it dropped in intensity, fading from dazzling to daylight to a brief, deepening dusk. As the church settled back into tranquil, moonlit shadows again, full dark returned and Buffy opened her eyes to a black world, deep and impenetrable.
She wiped a hand across her face, sweeping away the tears and trying to blink away the fuzzy constellation of polka dot stars burnt into her retinas. “The hell…?“
Spike didn’t reply. Instead he released a heavy, relieved sigh and let his head slump to the floor.
Gently, she prised his tense fingers from her arms and rolled off his chest onto her knees. She was worried about him, but he was solid and substantial and wasn’t on fire, and so was unlikely to dust if she left him for a minute to check for any more dangers. Even though her eyes were still adjusting to the dark, she peered out over the back of the pew. The church seemed to be smothered in a quiet calm. Nothing moved in the shadows or hollered a war cry from a undead throat. They appeared to be alone.
Relieved – nothing to worry about except a whole undead army blocking their way home – she sat back on her heels and looked down at Spike. “It’s okay, they’ve gone.”
He nodded, slowly heaving himself up to sit beside her. “About time.”
“What was that?” she wondered aloud, not really expecting him to have the answer.
“Not a buggering clue.” He hissed as he shrugged stiffly. “Ow. Bloody hurt though.”
“Are you okay?” she asked, not seeing anything wrong. He was nothing but a black shape tipped with silver where his hair caught the moonlight, but she couldn’t forget the terrible sounds he’d been making. She reached out to help him somehow, soothe him maybe, but as she touched his hand he snatched it away.
“Bit sore, pet,” he croaked apologetically, lifting his head out of the shadows. His exposed skin looked angry and red, just like he was a real boy who’d fallen asleep on a beach in the mid-day sun. In some places it was already beginning to blister and peel. “Nothing to worry about.”
She had her doubts; he looked so raw, but her concern could wait until they had figured out the cause of the mysterious light. If it happened again they needed to be ready for it. The sunlight – if that was what it really was – hadn’t felt evil though, like something The First would conjure, and it had driven the dead back to their rest, but she already knew that it wasn’t divine in any way – slayers didn’t get that kind of intervention. Instead it had felt more like being caught in a nuclear blast or standing too close to a star. Spike, pinned under her body where they’d fallen, had been protected from its full strength, but he was lucky not to have crumbled to powder a second time.
If she hadn’t fallen across him…
She didn’t think anymore, suppressing the cold fear scything through her, and just kissed him.
If she’d thought it through rationally, she wouldn’t have expected him to respond, maybe ducking out from under her searching lips as he tried to re-establish the distance between them, but instead he grabbed her, wincing a little with the pain, but kissing her back forcefully as if this was what he’d wanted all along.
A perfect moment became captured in one kiss. She shut her eyes, her hands gripping his arms, clenching the leather of his coat tighter and tighter after every second they were connected. She'd forgotten! Forgotten how great the soft swell of his lips felt against her mouth, how his touch made her feel so, so good. She never wanted to forget again, never, because this was what she had been missing all this time; that fission fusion, ying yang push-pull of their auras that drew them together, pitching light against dark in such wonderful ways; a struggle as old as the sun and the moon themselves.
And how different this was from the all the kisses they’d shared before, when she’d been so wrapped up in her own misery that she hadn’t noticed his. In her life she'd tasted young love, remorse, hopeless longing and, all too often, despair on another’s lips, but this kiss was in another class. This was one of those moments she’d tried to deny, when heat expanded like a supernova inside them, the same intense passion there had always been causing her to tingle all over with excited sparkles that exploded in her fingers and toes. A churning whirlpool of lust spun in her stomach as the kiss lingered; past passion into the barest of touches, a connection between them that neither wished to break.
They always came back to each other; to this now… though what this was exactly she couldn’t put a name to. A tangled knot of opposing feelings had warred within her. She knew they weren’t soul mates or anything fanciful like that, most of the time she’d known him she’d wished him a swift dusty death and meant it, but she had the fleeting thought that maybe they had become tied together somehow, tangled up on a tether that reached even through dimensions and death. How they’d got to this, she couldn’t say; but she couldn’t help wondering if this thing between them that kept drawing them to each other had all been part of some spell, perhaps even a residue effect of mistaken magic that had bound them together in a twisted arranged marriage. Maybe that spell of Willow’s had had much deeper consequences than a whole lot of red-faced embarrassment.
Whatever it was, whatever they’d felt, at some point it had deepened; Buffy couldn't quite pin down the exact instant when Spike had gone from murderous annoyance to sex-on-a-stick, but she guessed it had been something to do with her death. His weight, plummeting with guilt and grief, had somehow accentuated his best features and suddenly, tall, looming hunks were as out as last season’s hottest shoes and in came short, lean, muscular punks in mean leather and silver jewellery. If she’d realised just how deep a punk-rock, beached blond, irritating vampire could worm his way into her heart, she could have defended herself. Without a soul he would always be Mr. So Very Very Wrong, but that was no longer an issue. So here he was, Mr. Can't Live Without back from the dead again, cocky and coarse and with a soul just for her. She would not squander her second chance.
When they finally broke apart, his smile was warm, as happy as any she'd seen him wear, but when she looked up at him, trying to decipher his deeper mysteries in the soft moonlight, she saw a wariness there that lingered in his eyes as if he still couldn't believe this to be true. But he held her gaze and she saw there the same devotion she’d denied, buried under the doubt and the hope and the fear and the elation. She wanted so much to reassure him that this time she would get it right, but this wasn’t time for words. She said it all with another kiss.
When that was over she reluctantly pulled away. She licked her lips absently. “We had better go.”
“Yeah,” he replied, his rumbling voice scratchy and low, a promise for more to come.
She dropped her eyes and turned away, breaking the moment. She might even have blushed. If she kept her eyes locked with his, they might never leave and she seriously needed a shower. “Um. There’s—“
She never finished her sentence.
A whiplash crack of thunder rent the air and the church door imploded inwards, wrenched violently off its mangled hinges by the blast. The pew that had wedged it shut was propelled backwards, smashing against carved stone, the old wood pulverised into matchwood. As it fell to the floor, nothing more now than sharp, toothpick splinters, a dark figure stepped into the doorway, terrible in silhouette.
“Willow!” At the sight of the witch standing in the porch, hair bleached silver with raw magic billowing around her head at the centre of its own cyclone, angry ivory whips lashing at the air above her, Buffy brightened into a relieved grin.
Following Buffy’s voice, Hurricane Willow turned her head. For a second she still looked inhuman as she scanned the church for her friend, something capricious and elemental. Sparks still zipped and snapped from her fingers, her eyes fathoms deep with magic, but the impression was gone the instant she saw Buffy. Her power started to dissipate, colour flushing into her pupils and her hair bleeding back to red as the magic drained away.
A normal girl again, she gave Buffy a goofy smile in return.
Buffy pulled away from Spike and jumped to her feet, rushing down the nave to throw her arms around her friend. "Will! You're here! What happened? The First was outside. It had an army.”
“Yeah, we saw it.” Willow smile upped in wattage to become a broad grin. “Most of them are all dead or dusty now. The rest fled back into the woods.”
Of course, Buffy realised, a bright, uncanny light from out of nowhere – a spell. “That light. That was you?”
“Tara’s little sunshine spell. I tweaked it a bit,” Willow nodded proudly. “Okay, a lot.”
“Careful where you’re firing it next time, Red.”
As Spike spoke and emerged from the shadows, Willow’s sweet grin evaporated and she darkened; hair turning to russet, auburn, black. The glittering softness in her eyes hardened to flint. Her hand shot out and he froze mid-step, locked into freeze frame.
“Willow, no!” Buffy pleaded, moving herself between Spike and the witch. “It’s just Spike.”
Before Willow could answer, Giles appeared at her shoulder. He looked tired and worn, worry carving deep lines into his forehead, but he still looked dangerous and determined, a worthy adversary to anything evil foolish enough to cross his path.
“No, Buffy, it’s The First.” he told her, not greeting Buffy with any friendliness. There was work to be done and this wasn’t the time for happy reunions. “Please stand aside.”
“Giles! No!” Buffy protested, worried that this stand off was going to end up like a gunfight at the Not-Okay Corral. “Believe me, this is Spike. I know it. The First is out there somewhere.” She waved her arm in the vague direction of outside.
Willow’s glare seemed to waver. She gave Giles an anxious glance.
He stepped forward with an arm outstretched, trying to soothe and reassure her like she was an uneasy thoroughbred. “Buffy. I know these past few months have been difficult and you have lost a lot, including Spike. But this is not the Spike you knew. Something happened in Los Angeles, Buffy. The First has changed…”
“Giles, I know,” Buffy couldn’t help rolling her eyes. “I’m not jumping to conclusions because I want him back. The First is solid and it’s wearing Spike’s face. I’ve seen them both. Tonight. Together. In the both in the same place standing next to each other kind of together.” She gestured to Spike beside her, as still as a statue sculpted in ebony and alabaster. “And this one is Spike.”
Giles stopped and straightened. “Are you sure?”
“A million percent sure.” Buffy nodded. “I can tell the difference, Giles.”
“Hmmm.” he pondered as he gave Spike a critical inspection. Buffy bit down on her anger as she saw him weighing up the pros and cons of trusting her judgement. After all that had happened he still couldn’t quite accept that she was an adult capable of putting her feelings to one side.
Eventually he seemed to come to a conclusion and gestured for Willow to stand down. She lowered her arm sheepishly and she lightened again.
Spike, staggering slightly as he was released from his temporal trap, snapped. “Watch it, Red. This body’s brand new. Not likely to get another one!”
Willow's eyes grew huge as she realised he really was Spike. "Wow, then it's true! You're back."
Spike shrugged, using nonchalance to cover the awkwardness. "Just took a bit of a detour getting here."
“Two of them!” Giles sighed, rubbing his face with a hand. “As if one wasn’t enough already.”
Buffy chose to ignore that. “So how did you know we needed help?
"Giles got a call from Angel,” Willow said, picking her way through the debris she’d made to join Giles in the nave. Her nose wrinkled as she caught the stink of death that hung in the air. “He said you might need some Scooby assistance."
“Yes,” Giles added. “I believe Wesley found out something about the First's plan. Angel thought you should know. They're on their way."
Buffy ’s stomach dropped like a runaway elevator, hitting the bottom with a smash. "Angel's coming here?"
Spike snorted with disgust or contempt. Probably both. "Great, might have known the old bugger couldn't leave it alone. Still can't trust me, can he?"
"There’s a lot of that going round,” Buffy said acidly, but she put her irritation with Giles aside. “So how did you even get into the village?” she asked. “There's a spell..."
"Yeah, it's a really strong one too. We had to punch our way through it,” Willow gave the air a half-hearted right hook with her delicate fist.
“Indeed,” Giles agreed. “The village has been pulled into another reality …”
Buffy couldn’t resist. “Another dimension? Is there shrimp?”
“Yes, I believe so. Buffy. Please pay attention,” Unconsciously, Giles removed his glasses and started to polish them. This discussion was getting all too familiar; she might have been back at High School getting her daily Giles-lecture. “As I was saying, this village has been pulled into another reality, as it were, but we’re in nothing as complicated as a whole dimension. We’re within a spell. A powerful one that is holding us out of phase with the rest of the world, but the village remains real and physical. Unless they know it is here, people will subconsciously avoid the area, but once they find a way in they cannot escape. They get caught here.”
Buffy thought that over. Absently, she rubbed her biceps. Spike had held them so tightly she would have a bloom of bruises by morning. “A bit like a magical spider’s web?”
“That would be an excellent analogy. Yes, indeed it is.”
Spike nodded in that way he did when he was mulling things over. “It’s a trap. Lures you in, keeps you going round in circles 'til it drives you bonkers.”
“It’s like the whole village is contained in this big invisible bubble,” Willow threw her arms out wide to demonstrate her point and Buffy didn’t miss they way Spike dodged warily out of their range. “We had to ignore what our eyes were telling us and drive straight into it."
“We break the spell then.” Spike said firmly. “Get the hell away from here.”
Buffy perked up at that. "Great, that means we can leave."
"Not really,” Giles just had to pour cold water on an awesome plan. “We could break the spell, but for the moment I’m not sure that’s wise.” he explained, “As it is, The First has contained its armies within the village and the spell, but that only means they’re just as stuck as we are. They cannot harm anyone outside the boundaries. We may find it prudent to keep them here for as long as possible.”
Buffy slumped back down onto a vacant pew. “So what do we do?”