This was meant to have been posted last Tuesday, but events and an accident where I managed to wipe the finished copy off my flash-drive prevented it being posted sooner.
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 again.
Keep up in PDF! WORKING MY WAY BACK TO YOU IN PDF Just like a book might be, only better!
A brief recap of events...
Spike was resurrected by Angel, Wesley and Fred in Wolfham 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. Meanwhile, Willow has been working out the mechanics of the spell she needs to do. It is agreed they will do it 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...
The woods themselves were quiet, too still and silent to be quite right. The hush once again watchful; no birds sang, nothing living rustled the undergrowth, not even the wind or the rain rustled the thickets of trees, but still Buffy felt as if many eyes were on her, guiding her progress, a silent escort making sure she got to where they needed her to be. Let them, she thought. This wasn’t a secret assault after all; she wanted The First to know she was coming.
She had just stuck out along the path when a voice hollered out of the dark, “Who goes there!”
Buffy froze in mid-step.
Okay, she wasn’t trying to be stealthy and her million candle torch lit up the night like a beacon declaring ‘Hello, Slayer here, come and find me!’ but with the vampire army now little more than dust ruining her shoes she had not expected to encounter any trouble out here. The First was supposed to want her at the Well after all.
The challenge had been issued with complete seriousness though, the voice curt and demanding; the speaker obviously meaning to carry out his threat if he didn’t hear the right assurances.
But still… “‘Who goes there’?” she scoffed, unable to help herself. The words were such a cliché. “Who says stuff like that?”
“I do,” said the voice, not so loud this time, but it remained hard and uncompromising. It was a male voice; soft and English, but still forceful, steely and, in its own way, not to be messed with. “Do not ask me any question,” it snapped before she could ask who was speaking.
Huh, odd. Wasn’t the next line supposed to be ‘friend or foe’ or something like that? “Who are you?” she asked, disregarding the request as she looked for the owner of the voice.
Not that she could see very much in the gloom. The darkness pressed in all around her, straightjacket close and impenetrable. Her torch could make little impression; the deep, dense shadows between the trees hungrily swallowed its light. What the beam did show was little more than bramble thickets and twisted, tangled branches that reached down for her from the canopy like grasping fingers. Nothing out there looked capable of making such impolite demands.
“I am called Drogyn, and do I believe I asked you first.” There was a rustle as a man rose up out of the undergrowth and stepped forward like a Shakespearian actor taking the spotlight for his soliloquy. He was carrying a sword and he was pointing it at her in a competent, businesslike way; keeping his distance, but staying wary. This was a man who knew what he was doing: another warrior like her.
Despite the weapon though, Buffy was more caught by his dress-sense, or complete lack of it; here was a guy in serious need of a subscription to GQ. The torch picked out a worn leather surcoat and something that was possibly chainmail poking out from underneath. He looked like an unhorsed knight about eight hundred years out of his rightful historical place and she thought with a nostalgic horror that he might even be some lost Knight of Byzantium looking to bother her again. She’d hoped the nonsense with the Knights was over long ago, yet the sword waving and the demands sounded remarkably familiar.
But a good look at him changed her mind. The Knights, for all their hard living in camp, had never been as scruffy as this guy: like the rest of him, from his damp, unkempt hair to his patchy stubble, his clothes were tatty; well lived in and in desperate need of a good wash. Even better, he should just trash them and start over; maybe in a nice suit. She wondered how long he’d been out here. She hadn’t come across him during any of her other trips to the woods, yet he looked like he hadn’t slept in a proper bed for a month. Maybe he was just good at hiding.
“So Robin Hood,” she said, now certain he wasn’t one of the fanatical Order. “Did you lose the rest of the Fellowship?”
The point of the sword did not waver, even as his voice shook with anger and his eyes squinted at her through the blinding glare of those million candles. “I do not understand. And please stop asking questions! If you ask me anything again, I will cast you down you where you stand.”
Geez. This guy was tetchy. “Nice. I’m Buffy. The Slayer, or one of them anyway, and I’d like to see you try.” She waggled her axe for emphasis, just in case he didn’t believe her, even though it was unlikely that he could even see her behind the blinding torch beam.
Drogyn lowered his sword cautiously, yet she noticed that he did not attempt to sheathe it. “The Slayer?”
“In the flesh.” She shone the torch up into her face to let him see then directed it back at him. “Now why are you here?”
“Lady, please stop asking,” he pleaded, shielding his eyes this time. “I am compelled not to lie.”
“Even better,” she said, pleased that keeping the torch on his face kept him uncomfortable and less likely press his luck with his sword. “Then you can tell me what you know. Are you working for The First?”
“I am Drogyn,” he told her again in a tone that implied the name alone should be enough of an answer.
“Who?” The name meant nothing to Buffy. Giles might have mentioned him to her sometime, but Giles had told her a lot of things she didn’t remember, especially back when she was sixteen and more into dating hot boys then listening to dusty lore she’d assumed she would never use. “Am I supposed to know you?” she asked, “because I have no clue.”
“Some know me as the Battlebrand,” Drogyn said with a sigh. “I am not in the service of The First and nor I do serve any such evil. I answer to higher powers than those. I am the Guardian of the Deeper Well.”
“Guardian?” Puzzled, she continued, “I thought the Watcher’s Council were guarding it. That’s why they built the Retreat, right, to watch the Well?”
Drogyn nodded, trying – and failing – to shift back into the shadows as she tried to keep him pinned with light. “I believe that is so. But the Council only protects the Deeper Well; they are not tied to it, bound to it as I am. I am its Guardian. I have been so for many decades.”
“And a great job you seem to be doing. Aren’t you actually, you know, supposed to be guarding it?” If Drogyn was out here camping in the woods, he wasn’t guarding the Well and if the Well wasn’t guarded anymore… She could walk right in unchallenged, just as The First wanted her to do. That made a nasty kind of sense.
Seemingly coming to a decision, Drogyn cautiously took a pace forward, narrowing the distance between them. Up close she could see there was a hint of a handsome, if filthy, man under the scraggle of unbrushed hair and he was younger than she’d thought, in his thirties perhaps. And there was no way he could have been here for decades unless he was immortal or something. Either that or he had to be using the most fabulous anti-aging cream.
She was so getting the name of that.
“Indeed I should,” he said quietly, conspiratorially. “Yet I was overwhelmed. The First Evil’s forces took the Well and I had to make my retreat out here.”
“Forces?” Buffy asked with a sinking feeling. She hadn’t thought about it much since Willow’s super-charged Tinkerbell spell had turned the army of vampire villagers to dust, but of course The First had access to more than just a few vamps; the spell wouldn’t have killed off its Bringers or any of the other dark things it counted in its retinue. “How many were there?”
He thought for a moment before replying, “Two score, perhaps more.”
Not that his confusing answer helped her much. “Two what? How many is that?”
“Some forty or so maybe.” He looked at her as if she was the one talking like one of King Arthur’s Round Table with the ‘scores’ and the ‘verily’s. “I did not make count of those that fell as my sword was keen and I bested many, but maybe two-thirds still survive.”
“’Bested’?” Buffy smirked.
He ignored her amusement and answered her anyway, “Yes, but alas I was still but too few.”
“Riiight,” said Buffy doubtfully. “And what were they?”
“Some were those twisted beings that serve the darkness, but most were those that do not live. The vampire.”
“Great. Let’s go stop them.” Buffy didn’t know how The First was finding all these people to turn, but it was going to stop right now. And this Drogyn guy was going to help her. He was wild, scruffy and she suspected he’d probably smell really bad if she got too close, but the weary softness in his voice made her trust him. She’d being slaying too long not to recognise evil when she saw it and Drogyn just wasn’t giving her those ‘I want to eat you or destroy the world’ vibes.
“Lady, there are but too many,” he protested. “Even for my sword and your axe…”
“Hey, Slayer here! Vampires are kinda in the job description. Besides,” she added. “I don’t think they’ll stop me.”
Drogyn didn’t look convinced.
“You need help,” she reassured him. “I need to kick The First’s ass. Problem solved.”
“Very well,” Drogyn finally relaxed and sheathed his sword, “but please, no more questions.”
Buffy held up her hands in mock surrender. “Okay. I promise. No more questions. Let’s go.”
Having extracted her promise, Drogyn seemed satisfied. With a nod he turned and led her back the way she’d just trudged. They walked for a short distance, following the path back towards the hedgerow. The tree cover was thinner here by the wood’s edge and the bare branches could catch less of the rain in their outstretched branches. Buffy wiped the water from her nose with a cold hand; the drizzle spritzed her face and her clothes with a fine, persistent mist and in response, she pulled her coat in tighter, not pleased to be back in the wet.
Her torch was giving up too; the batteries were starting to die and dim the beam from a million candles to just a bare few making their last stand against the night. Drogyn carried no torch of his own, but he didn’t seem to need one to find his way. He strode ahead of her with the confidence of someone who knew every tree and sapling, every rise and fall of the land, every unpredictable loop of the path. He knew when to duck each low hanging branch and when to avoid every knotted root lying hidden beneath the encroaching vines.
Buffy felt clumsy in comparison, as she used the ailing torch to pick out the driest ground so she didn’t slip on the patches of muddy earth he’d just strolled through. Dry twigs did not seem to snap under his boots nor did loose stones conspire to turn his ankles; she’d even bet the tendrils of creeping brambles hooking at her legs weren’t scratching at his calves with their tiny thorns.
She was brushing a low branch from her face when Drogyn stopped suddenly. For a moment Buffy thought he’d heard something and she strained to hear what it was that had made him stop, but although she held her breath, there was only a strange, flat silence. Then, before she could ask him why, he was off again, leaving their path without warning down a new track so overgrown she never would have spotted it was there.
“Whe—“ she started, longer having any idea where he was taking her.
“Do not ask!” he shut her down firmly. “You sought the Well. I am taking you to it. This is the quickest path.”
Affronted by his frustrated rudeness and unable to see much in the darkness through the misting rain, all Buffy could do was stumble after him, blindly, carefully, hoping he was right and knew where he going.
“Is the Well far?” she asked, not caring about Drogyn and his problem anymore. She was fed up with not being able to ask anything, it was so hard to get any information out of him otherwise. Add the mud, the endless woods that went on and on and the way even the sky above them seemed troubled, the clouds roiling and rumbling in their disquiet as if they anticipated the fight to come, and she just wanted this to be finished.
Drogyn stopped and glared at her, clamping his hand on the hilt of his sword. “Lady, I warn you now that my threats are not idle.”
“Sorry. I guess the Well isn’t close,” she rephrased gracelessly.
He loosened his posture and dropped his hand away from his weapon. He took a deep, grounding breath then gestured ahead into a clearing that opened up ahead of him. “The Well is here.”
Buffy had seen a lot in her short life, but this was a first, even for her. The ‘Well’ did not look promising. For a start it was a tree. A big tree, granted: a large, elderly oak that spread its boughs towards the turbulent heavens. It dominated the large clearing around it, but in no way could she call the tree a well of any description.
She stopped at the edge of the clearing out of the rain. “You have got to be kidding me. That’s the Well?”
“I assure you this is the right place,” Drogyn replied, walking over to the oak’s mighty trunk and stroking a hand across its bark with something like affection.
“But it’s a tree!” Buffy shook her dying torch, then guided its weak beam up and down the contorted trunk. There wasn’t much to see apart from gnarled, pitted bark. Nope, she wasn’t seeing the wellness here.
“It’s quite roomy once you get inside,” Drogyn told her without irony.
“Inside?” Buffy wondered for a moment if her judgement had been wrong. Maybe Drogyn wasn’t any of what he’d claimed to be and was really just some deranged, tree-hugging, mental patient with a D&D fixation that had somehow been lucky enough to escape becoming one of The First’s vamps. That wasn’t fair though. Drogyn didn’t look deranged, not if you discounted his bad temper and the roughness of his appearance anyway, because there was a fire in his eyes that was more earnest and focused than that.
She gave the tree another look. It was big, yeah, and there was a dark rent that opened like a mouth into the heartwood, but although the trunk’s girth was of chunky proportions and it certainly looked like it could be hollow, it was still going to be a bit too cosy to admit two. No way. She might have decided to trust him, but she had no desire to know Drogyn that well.
“The Old Oak is but a gateway,” he explained, now rubbing a hand almost lovingly around the opening. “The Well is vast. A hole in the earth that passes through realities, dimensions, through the entire world. The Old Ones neither dwelt fully in this realm nor any other, and so they rest in death.” Drogyn turned to her, but his hand never left the tree, as if it grounded him somehow or gave him strength. He certainly seemed a little less irritable. “They were demons that crossed dimensions,” he continued, “seeking dominion in each. They sleep in death between worlds, awaiting their resurrection, neither here nor there.”
“And The First wants to give them their wake up call,” Buffy added.
“So it would seem.”
She crossed the clearing and joined him by the entrance to the Well, reaching out and touching it herself. It hummed with life under her hand, but she could feel it weakening, dying a slow death beneath her fingers. The First.
“The First corrupts the Well,” Drogyn answered her unspoken question, his voice sad and mournful. “Poisons it with its presence here and drains the Old Oak of its life. The Oak is powerful, strong, and so it lingers, but it will soon succumb.”
She looked up at him, realising the deep affection he had for the place. “You guarded this?”
Drogyn nodded, seemingly too preoccupied to notice her questions anymore. “The duty was passed to me only a few decades past. I have been many things, seen many places, but I like it here. I have a cave in which to dwell that is warm and dry. It is my home now.”
Buffy let that slide, not sure whether Drogyn was pulling her leg or if a cave dwelling was what every Aragon wannabe aspired to.
Perhaps they should just get this over with. There was an entity that was way overdue its expiration date. She readied her axe. “Okay. Lead the way.”
Just because the Old Oak really was bigger on the inside didn’t mean that Buffy had abandoned all her doubts about what Drogyn had told her. Okay, the hole in the trunk had been less of a squeeze than expected and had opened into a dark, subterranean tunnel which she felt rather than saw was wide enough for the two of the to walk side by side, but a certain Wellness was still somewhat lacking.
By now, her torch had finally given up working and she slipped it into her pocket as Drogyn took a less twenty-first century torch from the wall and lit it with an incongruously modern Zippo. The torch roared into life with a whiff of burning oil that stung the back of her throat.
Buffy let Drogyn take point again. He strode on ahead, sword drawn and ready in one hand and the torch blazing in the other. The light licked softly at the walls of the tunnel, highlighting rough-hewn walls penetrated here and there by tree roots and large stones that bulged from the soft loam that held them in place. The tunnel seemed endless in the dark, its slight incline slowly taking them down into the earth, deeper and deeper by increments almost too small to perceive.
Soon the dark soil in the walls turned to a harder, sandy clay material, which crumbled under Buffy’s hand and covered her fingers in a soft, powdery dust. “Why can’t evil things make their lairs in clean places?” she mused, as she wiped her hands clean on her coat. “Like the mall! The mall would be great. Slayage and sales, what could be better than that?”
“That was a rhetorical question by the way,” she added before he could snap back at her.
He said nothing, but turned again and quickened his pace as if he couldn’t wait to be rid of his awkward charge.
Like the woods, the tunnel was also eerily quiet. Buffy could only hear their muffled footfalls and soft sounds of their breaths. With her other sense muted, she felt the tug in her stomach flutter more acutely as they descended. They were going the right way at least.
As she had suspected they met no challenge as the path was clear to receive her. With nothing to fight, her axe was starting to feel like a dead weight and she wished she’d brought something smaller, as there was no room in the tight tunnel to swing it anyway. Despite this, she kept it ready. A bulky weapon was better than no weapon.
After about half a mile, the tunnel ended abruptly and opened out, delivering them into a narrow cavern, the depths of which fell away beneath them into a vast abyss lit from below by a mysterious, ethereal light. A short wooden bridge connected the two sides of the cave with its functional, inelegant span and Drogyn strode across it confidently, seemingly unaware of the way the bridge creaked under their weight or the disconcerting gaps between some of the worn planks. Buffy tried not to think of the drop that awaited her if the bridge disintegrated under her feet. Instead she leant over the edge of a solid rail lashed together with thick coils of aging rope and looked down.
Suddenly, the state of the bridge was irrelevant. Down there, stacked on top of each other, coffins upon coffins upon coffins were piled up in haphazard towers of countless dead, waiting, waiting, to wake.
“Wow,” she breathed, awestruck. She felt like an idiot, but there was nothing else she could say that could encompass the scale or the impact of this place. She was staring down into forever, into unfathomable depths, and she was so high up that if she threw in a stone, it would never stop falling. There were no words to describe such a place, so she wouldn’t even try.
A hole in the earth, Drogyn had called the Well. That was some understatement.
“Behold,” Drogyn announced with an unnecessary sweep of his arm. “This is the Deeper Well.”
Previous parts are here.