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?
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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. 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. She meets Drogyn in the woods, who agrees to help as The First has turfed him out of his home..
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.”
Buffy gulped, finding her throat to be suddenly dry.
The Deeper Well sure was no ordinary boneyard. To start, the sheer number of sarcophagi placed in the towering stacks was too many to calculate; she reached over a thousand before she gave up counting, the task too enormous to continue. The towers, piled higher than the tallest skyscrapers, plunged for mile after long mile as they raced downwards to a distant vanishing point. More still, she knew, were piled below that; each one occupied, each one sealed from eternity, each one a seed with a demon sealed within.
But it was not just the jaw-dropping scale of the place that gave her the serious wiggins. Nothing felt quite right, and it wasn’t even the shock of discovering there really was a massive shaft that cored the earth like a cosmic apple; the Well’s improbability alone couldn’t account for all of the weirdness. Something that she couldn’t quite pin down felt… off, out of synch; a sinister something, or somethings maybe, and they jarred uncomfortably against her slayer senses, ringing them like an alarm bell. Bitter experience told her that such warnings were not to be ignored.
If asked to guess what these somethings were, she would have to admit she already had a pretty good idea. When she looked down into the abyss, nothing moved, nothing spoke, nothing lived anymore, yet she knew with a growing certainty that the Old Ones continued to linger in those depths. Not alive, definitely nothing like that; life was noisy, a muted, unheard buzz made from the in and out of breaths, the drum beat rhythms of pumping hearts, the constant rush of blood coursing through arteries, veins and capillaries; but here in the Well, everything was still and cold with deaths long forgotten.
Yet all the same there was awareness down there, something that still clung to existence; a million fragmented consciousnesses that roamed as their bodies slept on; refusing to die, lost and wandering in oblivion but never finished. The Old Ones would never be entirely that.
Giles had called their existence sleeping, and maybe it was, but that description didn’t quite fit. When she listened, Buffy could hear the mass of them over the soft creaks made by the timber of the ancient bridge as Drogyn fidgeted. A warped chorus it was, of many voices carried up together on the gentle, clammy breeze funnelled up through the Well by the teetering towers of sarcophagi. The sound hummed on the periphery of her perception, strangely close but always distant, too many of them whispering at once for their words to make sense, a multitude of threats lost in the clamour of a thousand forgotten languages.
For they were threats, Buffy had no doubt about that; she didn’t need to hear their words to understand what curses they meant. To hear them was to know them. These were nasty, ancient malevolencies, whose hate grew in increments with every hour they waited to be free again. An eternity of unvented rage had twisted their demonic souls into new, more concentrated horrors terrifying to imagine. Formless and dilute, they sought their rebirth, reaching out from their graves for any life to cling on to and corrupt. Buffy’s skin crawled as they sought to start their new lives by consuming hers, a slow, osmotic invasion seeping in through her pores, looking to rip her body away from her soul if they could. Only the power of the Well held them in check, binding their tortured essences to their stone-clad tombs, keeping them tethered to their earthly prison, unable to escape.
This was an army. One Buffy had no desire to ever meet ever. Legions of pure, savage demons that made the Turok Han look witless and weak. They were ready, ready to make war again as soon as their bodies awoke to take back their souls and rebirth them. Even an army of slayers wouldn’t stand a chance against such an enemy.
Appalled at the thought, she pushed away from the rail and turned back to Drogyn. “So we’re here,” she said brightly, trying to keep the dread she felt from showing in her voice. “Great venue, but the party’s kinda lame.”
Drogyn looked at her as if she was speaking another language, but then, Buffy supposed, hermits probably didn’t get out to many keggers.
“You know, we’re here, but nothing’s happening,” she explained.
Drogyn brightened as he finally got her point. “There are more caverns beyond the bridge. In fact there are many. Some of them are even quite homely.”
Buffy wasn’t sure she believed that. How anyone could live in this place without becoming corrupted by the occupants of the Well, she had no idea. “I’m sure they are, but I’m looking for the cool kids.”
Drogyn hesitated again, his brow furrowing as he worked out what she meant.
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Take me to, you know, The First.”
He nodded. “You speak very strangely, Lady, but very well we shall continue. Please follow me.”
At the far end of its span, the bridge found solid ground again, to Buffy’s relief, at the start of yet another tunnel, but she could not resist one last look back. For all the creepy vibes the Well emanated, this place, this impossible place, held her too.
Nothing had changed, the Well still waited, its yawning deep still patient and ready. Its occupants still longed for new life.
It was time to go.
The new tunnel was short, barely more than a brief passage a few yards long. At its end it became a large, but dimly lit chamber that branched out through monumental doorways into several more tunnels; some of these were bright with torchlight, while others were dark and appeared little used. None of these passages were anything like the rough-hewn tunnel that had led into the Well; these had been cut right into the soft bedrock. Straight sided and smooth, the stone was dressed and carved as delicately as the sides of the finest Egyptian temples, but the carvings were not in any way familiar or attractive, nor did they seem to be even vaguely human creations; a bizarre creeping pattern, coiled and sinuous, wove a twisting path around severe columns that rose up to a high ceiling spotted with a scatter of embossed and stylised stars. Elsewhere, vast murals depicted savage scenes, of war and violence, of sacrifice and running blood, which seemed as fresh as the day they were painted. Written between these imposing edifices, incongruously harsh, slashing strokes created a brutal, violent language that issued its proclamations in tall pictograms that, for all their strange unfamiliarity, left no doubt to their meaning: the Old Ones ruled here and they were absolute.
The pale light was not enough for Buffy to miss the grim evidence that showed this chamber was the site of a short, yet bloody battle. There was a smell, not strong now but very familiar, an odour that caught at the back of her throat: the bitter, rusty tang of dried blood. She looked more closely at the murals. Now, here and there, she could see what she thought was paint was really just flecks of real blood, flaky and dark, Pollock splattering the walls in arterial sprays. Under their feet, greasy, grey vampire dust clung to their shoes; some of it mixed with yet more blood. A gruesome trail smeared its way down a tunnel to their left, marking where the bodies of the fallen had been dragged across the rough floor to their disposal, or more likely, she thought, for reuse.
“Many tasted my blade here,” Drogyn told her, unnecessarily.
“And none of them followed you out.” Buffy picked at a spot on the wall where a dribble of blood had fallen in a lazy, sluggish drip from an undead vein. The fighting had been brutal enough here to maim as well as kill, yet Drogyn hadn’t been scratched. He was either exaggerating the numbers he’d killed or was seriously good fighter. She guessed she’d get to see his prowess soon enough.
“None that lived,” he agreed. He wasn’t boasting, just a professional stating the facts; Buffy liked that. “I know this place well enough,” he added. “Few could follow me through the tunnels.”
“Home, sweet, home,” she muttered absently.
He sighed. “I fear it will be no more, unless this ends.”
Buffy turned from her inspections. “Good point. Let’s get this done.” She pointed down to the long smear of blood that seemed to be their trail. “I guess we go that way.”
Drogyn smiled, beckoning her to follow. “Come. We should make our haste.”
The new passage took them downwards in a tight, square spiral that occasionally changed levels with short flights of steps, their precise perfection still unworn by millennia of use. Buffy felt like she was descending into the underworld or walking through some ancient palace found abandoned and forgotten in the deep jungle; the civilisation that built all this alien and forgotten, even as the they announced their might through the monumental scale of their domain.
They passed doorways blocked with tall, imposing doors and arches that opened into empty, austere rooms; their sides cut so square and so flat that they seemed to have been sliced out of the rock when it was still soft. Some of these rooms were decorated, reflecting the same arcane patterns they’d seen higher up, but others were bare to the stone; cold cells, featureless and bleak. What any of them had been used for, Buffy couldn’t ask and Drogyn certainly wasn’t giving her a tour, his stride was quick, determined. Battle ready.
Eventually, the passage narrowed and the faded splendour of the upper levels began to deteriorate as they reached places older still. Here the cravings were less stylised, organic and even more creepy, although much had crumbled or broken away from the wall to become rubble under their feet.
Drogyn stopped at a doorway that was little more than where the wall had been pushed in to create a rough, unlit tunnel.
“Through here,” he said quietly, before disappearing into the dark.
This short tunnel ended with a narrow opening, little more than a crack, which appeared just large enough for a man to squeeze through if he held his breath. A soft, hazy light came through its aperture, casting ragged shadows onto the crumbly walls around them.
Drogyn gestured for Buffy to stop and shushed her into silence as they approached the gap.
She could hear voices now, a low murmur undercutting a strange, metronomic chant. She put down the axe and crouched, creeping forward to see the long, narrow hall that opened out before them. Several times as tall as it was wide, the hall’s sheer sides rose like cliffs through the heavy shadows to a ceiling once as finely cut as the rest but now bristling with stalactites. These gleamed wetly as they greedily caught what little light reached them, a scatter of tiny eyes to watch the ceremony below.
A handful of bored looking vamps in gameface and some corpse-like things that should have been long at rest rather than going bump in the night, looked on as The First’s true servants, the Bringers, did their blasphemously funky stuff. Standing in a loose circle around a heavy stone altar, another primitive sarcophagus like those in the Well, they were chanting in unison, becoming one voice that carried their dark prayer in unholy echoes around the hall. The chant was hypnotic, but there was nothing soothing about the spiked, guttural syllables uttered by their torn, ragged tongues; the language was harsh, primitive and unfamiliar, devised to summon the worst of evils.
Plus, Buffy knew that chanting never meant anything good.
“This is the back way,” Drogyn whispered, tucking in behind her. “They will not know us until we choose.”
Buffy nodded, agreeing. She was thinking, planning, trying to work out the best way to tackle this. There were not as many as she had thought there would be, assuming that the whole of The First’s forces were here, but there was enough. They were easy opponents all of them, but too many for her to take on alone. She would need Drogyn for this.
But Drogyn, for all his claims about his skill, was an unknown. He looked competent; he knew how to hold his sword at least, but she didn’t really know how good in a fight he would be. Right then, with a longing pang, she wished it was Spike with her. To be able to go into this fight knowing exactly how her partner moved and how he fought, to know that her back would always be covered no matter what, was a luxury she could have done with right then. She missed that certainty almost as much as she missed Spike himself.
But Spike wasn’t here, and never would be again if she didn’t get this done. Drogyn, however good he was, would have to do; they didn’t have much time.
“Cover my back,” she told him as she picked up her axe again.
In response, he drew his sword. “What are you planning to do?”
Buffy shrugged. “We’ll figure that out.”
The battle didn’t last long. In fact it didn’t start at all.
Once inside the cavern, they crept forward slowly, stealthily, keeping to the deepest shadows by the high walls. Drogyn took one side, pressing himself tightly to the rock, almost invisible in his careworn armour, while Buffy crouched, inching forward over the once smooth and polished stone floor.
The Bringers continued with their droning chant, not seeming to notice the threat, but, before either of them could strike a blow and press their advantage, there was a shift in the air, the scrape and shuffle of many feet and the Bringers parted.
Buffy found she was surrounded. This was not an army that waited for her; it was an honour guard to welcome their sacrifice. A trap.
She straightened, knowing the game was up; but she swung the great axe anyway, not willing to give in without some sort of fight. The blade made a wide vicious arc that many dodged, though one Bringer was not so quick and she clipped the side of its head, the heavy blade tearing away the waxy, scarred flesh from its ruined cheek as the flat part disarticulated its jaw. But she couldn’t do more. At the apex of her swing many hands reached out and caught the axe. It was yanked from her grasp as the circle closed in and she was pushed forward towards the altar, where Drogyn waited, his fine sword missing as well.
Quickly, she assessed their situation. The exits from the cave were blocked; the ceremonial doors wedged shut, even the small opening that Drogyn had shown her was now covered by a guard of vampires. Neither of them had a weapon and The First’s army had overwhelmed them. The odds were pretty crappy.
But worse, at the centre of the circle, leaning casually against the great stone sarcophagus, lounged The First.
“Hello Slayer,” it purred, pleased with itself. “Glad you could make it.”
“Oh I wouldn’t want to miss this party,” Buffy ground out as she resisted the urge to hit the entity into the next week.
“I know. You even brought a date.” The First glanced at Drogyn dismissively before smirking at her in a parody of Spike’s trademark leer. “Does your boyfriend know?”
Buffy stepped forward, not prepared to give The First the pleasure of invading her space first. Win or lose, The First was going to lose this war and she wanted it to know that. “This is between me and you,” she told it. “Spike’s not a part of this.”
“I guess not. Though I have to say, I think your standards have slipped.” The entity pushed past her, dismissing her as little more than inconsequential, and strutted up to Drogyn. “How’re you doing, Dro?”
Drogyn’s posture stiffened. “You should leave this place, fiend!”
“Quite the threat!” The First laughed humourlessly. “You going to make me? Didn’t work last time, did it? A sodding useless Guardian you turned out to be.”
“They were many,” Drogyn went for his sword, seemingly forgetting that it wasn’t there anymore. His hands flexed nervously where the hilt should be instead, “but there are two of us now.”
The First snorted with derision. “I’d like to see you try, Battlebrand. A slayer won’t make a difference. Not when she’s dead anyway.”
“We finish this. Here. Now,” Buffy snapped.
“Fine with me.” The First shrugged, unconcerned. “I’ve been looking forward to this.”
“Then get ready to say sayonara.”
“Tough talk, but never gonna happen, pet.” The Fist laughed. It bounced back to her, shoving itself into her personal space like she knew it would, and leant in close into her face. “What are you going to do? Kiss me to death?”
Buffy felt sick at the thought. “Ugh. Hardly.”
She then made the mistake of looking up, catching The First undressing her with Spike’s eyes. With a recent intimate afternoon with the real thing behind her, the differences between Spike and this doppelganger were starker still. They looked the same, they moved in the same ways, but the eyes did not lie. Sure, she was looking into Spike’s hardest, iciest stare, the way it was when he’d wanted her to die with the same fervour with which he would later love her: lust filled, but scathing and full of hate; but somehow The First could only manage a poor imitation. Its eyes were flat and dead, lacking the vibrancy or the humour that had always danced in Spike’s shining blue gaze. That repelled her all the more.
The First seemed unconcerned; it still looked smugly pleased with itself and even lit a cigarette for nonchalantly dramatic effect. “I will endure because there is evil in everything,” it said, blowing a smoke ring with the exhale from its first drag. “You will die here. The Well will open. And so I will take the next village and then the next, and then the next town, the next city. You will not be able to stop me.”
Buffy feigned a yawn, fanning her face with her hand. She’d heard this all before, but nothing had happened yet. “Ego much?”
“Hardly,” The First drew away and patted the sarcophagus affectionately, circling it proudly. “I’ll have help. Lots of help. Your kind is done, Slayer. Fit only to be servants to your new lords.”
“Even if I fail, others will destroy you,” she warned.
“Others have tried.” The First grabbed a Bringer from the circle and pulled back its hood.
Buffy gasped. Although scarred, mutilated and sightless, the face was clearly recognisable: Roger Wyndham-Pryce. He stood there, unmoving, mind long gone or lost in some kind of thrall, Buffy didn’t know how the transformation worked, but what made him human had been erased, removed, replaced with this loyal servant.
“I believe you’ve met,” The First said.
Buffy was in no way surprised to find Wyndham-Pryce up to his neck in this. She had never liked he man but this… he hadn’t deserved this. “Why?” she asked, but suddenly she knew and she felt so sorry for Wesley, who should never know what his father had become.
“Someone tried to be a hero,” The First explained. “But too late for a double-cross, the deal was done. He did his part, you know. Got you here, brought me this wonderful knife.” It drew a primitive dagger from somewhere within its long coat, a long obsidian shard worked into a vicious, jagged blade.
A quick movement and The First pulled back Wyndham-Pryce’s head, putting the blade to the man’s shrivelled throat. Then it slowly drew the knife across Wyndham-Pryce’s neck like it might play a violin, short and sharp, but long. The wound gaped, raw and bloody, like the mouth of a great serpent and the man gargled wetly as he took a last slow, rasping breath. He didn’t register pain or panic; he didn’t fight for his life at all, just collapsed at Buffy’s feet and died.
The First nudged the body with its boot. “Stupid git. Thought he could bring me this gift then stab it into my back.” It looked up at Buffy as it wiped the knife idly on it sleeve. “Your friend’s plans? Your army of slayers? Piffle. We’re not talking half-breed vampires here, Buffy; the Old Ones are pure, primal. Proper demons. Untainted by the stink of mankind. Their power is beyond what you can imagine. Your ritual will fail and they will ride forth across a trail of your Slayer’s corpses.”
For a moment, Buffy wavered; so much for secret rituals, but she pushed the negative thoughts away, after all she was here because she wanted her friends to fail. The year before, with the Potentials to protect and train, she had become despondent, giving in to The First’s insidious efforts to undermine her confidence with its taunts, but she would never let that happen again. Spike’s faith in her had bolstered her and they’d won, knowing that all The First really had were lies and deceits to keep her from the truth of her own power. The Turok Han were strong and tough, but one vampire’s sacrifice and laid waste to an army of them.
This could be done and it would be. The First fought although it knew it was never going to win. Whatever its threats, its indestructibility, its resemblance to someone she loved dearly, it couldn’t scare her anymore.
All it really wanted was revenge, but she had a little of her own to find too.
Previous parts are here.