Title: WHAT REACHES UP TO YOU
Author: Ivytree
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: All characters belong to Joss Whedon, UPN, Mutant Enemy, etc.
Feedback: Please!
Summary: Spike's holidays
Setting: Between Bring On the Night and New Year's Day, 2003

A/N: All quotes from the dramatic poem "Pippa Passes," by Robert Browning, which takes place entirely on one New Year's Day.


What Reaches Up to You, Part 1


* * * *


"This body had no soul before, but slept
Or stirred, was beauteous or ungainly, free
From taint or foul with stain, as outward things
Fastened their image on its passiveness:
Now, it will wake, feel, live -- or die again!"


* * * *


Buffy sat at her dining room table, a coffee mug in her hand, staring with unseeing eyes at the dusty reference book open before her. Suddenly, the monster with her face lunged over her shoulder, its features twisted with spite.

"Still searching for Spike? Have a good look, when you find him," the creature hissed in her ear. "Do you think I want him now? Take him, for what he's worth!"

As it spoke, Buffy's hand shook, and the mug tumbled over, spilling a tide of deep red blood over the tabletop that streamed down to form a spreading stain on her mother's carpet.

"No!" Buffy woke from her dream with a convulsive jerk. Impatiently, she scrubbed at her face with her hands. There was no time for sleep, or nightmares.

She had to find Spike. Her chest ached with the intensity of her need to find him. Was he dead, really dead, this time? Surely she would know if he were. In her mind, she wearily ran over the places she'd already searched. The haunted high school basement was empty, though sickeningly blood-spattered. She'd checked the crypt, the old factory, Angel's mansion, the derelict building where she and Spike had first – well, gotten together, and even the deserted house where the First had failed to compel Spike to kill her. But there was no sign of him, nor any other clue to what It might have wanted him for. Sparkly lights and holiday decorations blossomed all over Sunnydale, mocking her futile hunt. But a powerful drive, something she hadn't yet put a name to, kept her going. Responsibility? Honor? Love? Or all of those, combined? She only knew that she wouldn't let him down, just as she was sure he wouldn't let her down, no matter what. Not now.

Xander's voice had been gentle as he tried to discourage her from spending any more time on her search. "Is it really a priority, Buff?" he'd said. "Don't we have enough on our plate already? We don't know if he's even in his right…"

But when she turned to face him, her bleak expression had silenced even Xander.

In the end, of course, Xander was the one who did find Spike. Real-life irony didn't surprise her anymore.

Willow, Dawn, and the girls were upstairs, sorting laundry and squabbling over trendy tee shirts. Buffy had been perched on the counter in the kitchen, with Giles, trying to think how she could explain the meaning of what Spike had done. Would Giles understand Spike's quest – would he even trust the truth of it? Would he think it was some kind of trick? Had the all-knowing Watcher's Council (the LATE all-knowing Watcher's Council), through the long centuries, ever heard of a vampire seeking his soul's return? She understood it all now, she was sure she did. She knew why it made Spike a target of the greatest evil they had yet known. But how could she put her intuitive belief into words?

Earth shattering as the revelation of Spike's soul had been at the time, when Buffy thought about it now, his choice seemed almost inevitable. Angel had told her all she needed to know the very first time she'd encountered Spike – "he never quits," he'd said. And it was true - since that day, she had never known Spike to give up. He'd struggled and fought, won and lost, tried and failed. But he never stopped. That's why she was sure he was alive – he was just too damned pig-headed to die.

"Giles," she'd begun helplessly, still unable to come up with anything convincing to say, "You'll just have to see him for your…" But her cell phone rang, and she broke off. Apprehension washed over her as she answered.

"Hi, it's Buffy," she said.

"Buff?" Xander's voice sounded oddly cautious.

"Xander?" Fear crept up her spine, but she struggled to keep her tone even.

"Buff, I found him. I saw this abandoned house with an open basement window, and I thought it looked, well, kinda funny – y'know, not ha-ha, but weird - so I took a look around and…"

"Where? Tell me where?" Sheer relief made her fingers tremble as she scrabbled for a pen.

"Okay, okay – but Buffy…"

"What? What are you trying to say, Xander?"

"It's bad. Really bad."


* * * *


"Best speak again and yet again of it,
Till words cease to be more than words. 'His blood,'
For instance -- let those two words mean 'His blood'
And nothing more. Notice, I'll say them now,
'His blood.'"


* * * *


She couldn't even touch him.

Buffy fell to her knees beside Spike's limp body, drawing on her slayer strength to keep control, and hardly noticing when the hard cement floor bruised her shins. He sprawled like a discarded ragdoll, his hair thickly matted with blood, his face and torso swollen and black with bruises. She couldn't take his hand – his hands were smashed. And she couldn't put her arms around him…

"I think his ribs are broken," Xander had told her when she and Giles arrived. "Like, all of them. I tried moving him, and I heard what sounded like bones grating. We'll need some kind of stretcher, I guess."

"Did he say anything?" She heard herself whisper.

"Not a peep. Even when I – well, he never made a sound."

"What on earth could have done this?" Giles exclaimed, as he took in the extent of Spike's injuries. "And why?"

Buffy looked up at him. "Why? It wanted something. And It didn't get what It wanted." She turned her gaze back to Spike's almost unrecognizable face. A cold anger swelled within her, and she set her jaw. "It may be ancient, and powerful, and all 'oooh, look at the big, scary super-baddie,' Giles, but It's a fool. It should have realized he'd never give in." Her voice dropped to a murmur. "It doesn't know anything about him at all."

"I wonder if he could speak, even if he wanted to, in this state," Giles said.

At that moment Spike stirred, making them all jump. His crushed lips moved, and a trickle of blood ran down his cheek from the corner of his mouth. Holding her breath, Buffy leaned closer to catch any words.

"Brickbats and tiles," he said, weakly, but quite clearly.

"What?" she exclaimed.

"Oh, jeez, now he's gone nuts again!" Xander cried. "I knew it!"

"Oh, my God!" A thrill of agony shot through her. Xander had voiced her worst fear. What if, in the end, Spike couldn't stand up under this kind of pressure? What if the First had finally succeeded in breaking his mind, permanently? If resisting evil – for her sake – was what finally destroyed him? If SHE destroyed him?

"Actually, you know, I don't think he has." Giles' unaccountably cheerful voice interrupted her wrenching thoughts. He continued, "Those words are from an old English children's song. Very suitable to the season, as a matter of fact." Buffy and Xander gaped at him in astonishment as he began to sing softly,

'Bull's eyes and targets
Say the bells of St. Marg'ret's,'

"Even you two are probably familiar with the tune," he added. "And this is how the next bit goes,"

'Brickbats and tiles
Say the bells of St. Giles'

"And, of course,"

Oranges and lemons
Say the bells of St. Clement's…'

"And so on. Every English person knows it."

He was right. Buffy did recognize the tune, and the words – not that it got them anywhere, as far as she could see. "But what does it MEAN, Giles?"

"Apparently, whatever's happened to him, Spike still recognizes me, at least." Giles crouched beside Buffy, and stared consideringly at Spike's motionless figure. "So his mind isn't entirely gone. But, apart from that, I have no idea what it means."


* * * *


"Escape? To even wish that, would spoil all.
The dying is best part of it."


* * * *


He wasn't cold. That was the first thing Spike noticed as his mind swam towards something approaching consciousness. He couldn't open his eyes, and every square inch of his body ached indescribably – but he wasn't cold. And he wasn't lying on a rough, hard floor either. Had he fallen on a – a mattress? Was that even possible? He wasn't even sure where he'd been dropped when It – the Ultimate Naughtiness, or whatever it called itself – had suddenly packed up its bat-faced minion and scarpered off, spewing a stream of vituperative curses that Spike had barely listened to.

Because, in the end, what could It say that would make any difference? One voice alone echoed in his soul, speaking those four – well, five – words, over and over again. 'I believe in you, Spike.' That's what his Slayer had said. She looked right into his eyes, and told him straight out, just like that. Her words had resounded through his being since that moment, like the never-fading vibrations of a golden bell.

After that, nothing It uttered could touch Spike at all. It thought it was so clever – but It couldn't frighten him, or anger him, or even interest him. It didn't seem to grasp that point, and kept nattering on, and doing its little shape-changing party trick, as if anything It did could alter the choice he'd made. What could It threaten him with? Death? Pain? He expected both of those; they were old friends. What could It offer him? Power? Sex? A spot of lovely violence? He'd been there and done that, too, thanks very much. Freedom from this tormenting conscience? A soul wasn't all starlight and daisies, and he'd known that going in. He didn't mean to back out now.

No. Spike wasn't frightened. He was a little sorry to die this way, but he freely admitted he'd been living on borrowed time for about a hundred years. He wished he could have seen Buffy again, so she'd know what it had meant to him when she said what she said. And it did seem rather pointless to die NOW, when he was sure of himself at last. But if his alternatives were death by torture, or recanting his allegiance to – well, in the privacy of his own mind, he could admit it – his allegiance to good instead of evil, so be it.

At the moment, however, he didn't seem to be dying. He didn't seem to be doing much of anything. Though at least no one was actively torturing him, which was all to the good, he supposed. He couldn't move without agony, couldn't see, and couldn't hear, though if he really concentrated, he did seem to detect a distant hum of voices – and they were female voices, at that. Quite a puzzle, really.

But right now, Spike just didn't have the energy to solve puzzles – concentration took too much effort. Slowly, he let himself sink into the black river of unconsciousness again. Maybe later he'd figure it out. Or he'd be dead, and it wouldn't matter…

TBC