Title: Return

Author: Ivytree

Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: All characters belong to Joss Whedon, UPN, Mutant Enemy, etc. Well, almost all.

Feedback: Please!

Summary: The Spike Show. An alternative ending for season 6. Souled-up (really souled-up) Spike, the Scoobies, and friends battle to keep the Hellmouth closed.

A/N: (A brief synopsis in case you forgot all about this one.) When we left our heroes - Warren's attempt to drain power from the Hellmouth backfires and instead power flows from our world to the other side, strengthening the evil forces trying to break through. Willow's attempt to kill Warren, with Anyanka's help, only enhances the effect. Spike returns from Africa with not just his own soul, but as the repository of hundreds of Watchers' souls, and the power and knowledge the Watchers possess. Buffy loves Spike, and Xander loves Anya, who is now human again. Spike, inhabited by one of his gang of Watchers, leads a raiding party to roust Rack, Amy, and assorted demons who were in league with forces of evil. Giles determines that the attempt to break open the Hellmouth must take place on Tuesday, at the dark of the moon. Buffy dreams that Willow was drawn inside the Hellmouth. Willow is visited by a mystery demon smelling of brimstone. Giles, Spike, Anya, and Jonathan perform a spell to keep the Hellmouth from opening, and perhaps seal it permanently; the Hellmouth opens, but can still be forced shut by the spell if it's kept in place until midnight. At the same time, Buffy, Xander, and a small cadre of friendly demons recruited by Clem guard the spellcasters. Willow leaves Buffy's house where she's waiting with Dawn and runs straight toward the Hellmouth, where she is taken by a great beast. Dawn runs out of the house after Willow. Spike puts Xander in his place, and follows her down into the open chasm. He finds her, and they manage to avoid recapture and climb to a ledge near the top of the opening. Meanwhile, hell-beasts are massing inside and outside of the Hellmouth.

(Gee, this is long!)   

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RETURN

Part 37. Clouds of Darkness

"Hurry, Red!" Spike urged her on. "They've spotted us again—and it's not just beasties this time!"

"I am hurrying!" Suddenly the root she clutched seemed to come alive and twist itself out of her grasp. At the same time, he saw something snake around her ankle. Damn, damn, damn. He felt desperately for the axe.

"Yikes!" Willow cried as she was dragged back down the slope, scrabbling at the dirt with her hands. "Spike, help me!"

Cursing, Spike let himself slide down until he could grab her wrist with his left hand. Then, hooking one knee around a tree root, he seized the axe and swung it with as much precision as he could muster against the fiber gripping Willow's ankle. Her green, panic-filled eyes fixed on him trustingly. Better aim carefully, then; wouldn't want to cut the girl's foot off. One, two, three chops—and she was loose. Thrusting the axe through his belt, he heard her gasp gratefully.

"Come on!" he exclaimed, hauling fiercely on her arm. With a powerful heave, he drew her unresisting body up the incline; he dragged her before him, got behind her, took a firm hold, and pushed.

Puffs of foul-smelling steam pursued them as they struggled toward the opening. Rocks and plant matter tore Spike's arms and loose soil stung his eyes. The roots seemed to twist and squirm under his hands, and he felt them plucking at his shirt and jeans. Finally cooler, fresher air told him they had almost reached their goal. With one final shove, he thrust Willow out ahead of him and crawled out on hands and knees, and they collapsed on the grass, gasping.

"Next time, watch your hands, buster!" Eyes fiery, Willow rubbed her buttock. "I'll be black and blue tomorrow!"

"There's gratitude!" he retorted, stung. "You're lucky…"

Without warning, the earth bucked under them, and at the same time an inhuman bellow sounded from deep within the rift. With strange creaking sounds, woody tendrils emerged from the crack in the soil, twisting and turning blindly with a disturbing effect of volition, as if seeking them out. One turned in Willow's direction and halted, as if it had found what it was looking for.

"Spike! Close it! Close it up again!"

"S'pose I'd better." Spike struggled to his knees. "Hold on, Red." He placed both hands flat against the earth. After a few moments he felt power surge through him and flow into the soil under his hands. The ground seemed to shiver and groan, and the fissure slowly closed on the questing roots, leaving only a ragged line of yellowed, cooked grass to mark its existence.

 "The Parks Department's going to be pissed," Willow observed in a shaky voice. She turned candid eyes on Spike. "Are you running out of juice? It's taking a little longer every time, isn't it?"

He'd hoped she hadn't noticed that. "Just my pals protecting me," he replied, knocking on his forehead with soil-encrusted knuckles. "Don't want to burn out the circuits, do they? Not when they've gone to all this trouble." He looked upward, but the sky was black with clouds and not a star could be seen. They'd emerged well outside the glittering dome of the seal. "Bollocks! What time is it?"

Willow scrubbed dirt from her watch with the hem of her sweater and squinted at it. "Eleven fifty."

Just ten more minutes; if they could hold the hell beasts back for that long, the Hellmouth would close more securely than ever before. But if the creatures escaped and broke through the barrier…

"Right. We'd better leg it." Taking a deep breath, Spike clambered to his feet and extended a hand to help her up. "Come on, girl—let's go send the balloon up, shall we?"

* * * *

"Hold on…it won't be long now. Just hold on." Feathery voices whispered reassurance. So many he knew. Sam Zabuto, gone not long after his slayer. Tom McNab. Dr. Pettigrew, his old teacher. Even his dear Nan's voice, precise and astringent. Floating in a bubble of light and peace, Giles could barely feel his feet touching the ground. The voices supported him. There was no sorrow, no worry. It was quite lovely, really. Staying conscious and anchored to this world long enough to complete the spell was proving to be a bit of a problem. The temptation to relax, let go, and drift away into the beautiful void was very powerful.

He was only dimly aware of the others now, Jonathan, Anya, and Xander, holding down their corners of the spell. The other—that ghostly other, wreathed in wisps of sorrow—was gone now. And he didn't even wonder where Willow and Spike had gotten to; if Spike's talents, combined with those of centuries of watchers, couldn't handle this crisis, humankind was doomed, anyway. Why agonize? He wondered if this was what death was like, the serenity and comfort. Those who had been there always said they "went into the light." Was this that light? Was this what they had stolen from Buffy?

Even the sparks and flame licking up from the crack in the earth were beautiful, in a curious way, reflecting red against the white glow of the mystical seal. Giles was content to contemplate it's esthetic quality for the time being, and leave the struggle of analysis for later.

* * * *

Darkness smothered the streets of Sunnydale like a shroud. Houses and buildings were shut up tight, and no light from street lamp or shop window pierced the gloom. As Al's pickup bucketed toward the park, with Al, Jeff, Mezzi, and Dawn packed inside, they passed not a single moving vehicle. The citizens had either taken cover, or fled. Eyes wide, Dawn braced her arms against the dashboard, and tires squealed as Al, his knuckles straining, guided the truck around the road's final curve, over the curb, and right onto the park's once manicured lawn.

"Holy…!" Al slammed on the brakes at the sight of the glittering, translucent dome; the 4x4 skidded sideways before jerking to a halt.

"Sorry, everybody," Al said. "What IS that?"

The light reflected from Mezzi's eyes as she peered through the window. "It is a mystical barrier," she replied. "The Slayer's minions are attempting to contain the hell beasts."

"Oh. Wow," Al said. "I didn't expect it to be so…big."

"Um, they're not exactly MINIONS," Dawn ventured. "More like companions."

"Like Legolas and Gimli," Jeff offered.

"Exactly!"

"I meant no disrespect, Slayer-Sister," Mezzi said, as they piled out of the car. "All are heroes of legend in their own right, I know."

"Well…" Dawn began. But when Mezzi put it that way, she guessed they were. Even Jonathan.

"Okay, ladies and gents, it's time to kill stuff," Al said, opening the back of the truck. He unfastened a tarp-wrapped bundle, revealing a stash of bladed weapons.

"You kids be careful with these, now," he warned, handing Jeff an impressive battle ax and Dawn a gleaming sword; "they're sharp."

"Aw, come on, Al!" Jeff's shoulders twisted with embarrassment. "I know what I'm doing. Spike showed me how to fight."

"And my sister showed me," Dawn said. Well, she had. Kinda. Sorta.

"Yeah? Well, just make sure you don't slice up nothin' but bad guys," Al retorted, unimpressed.

* * * *

Buffy spun, kicked an attacking Wheezah demon directly in its secondary lung sac, and, whirling her sword overhead, sliced its head off neatly at the cervical vertebrae. The beast crashed to the ground at her feet, and she wrinkled her nose at the stench. To her right she could see Ezzi dispatch some sort of tall, thin creature with six—no, eight—arms.

"Ho, Slayer! Good hunting!" The Amazon caught her eye and grinned, her pointed teeth as scary as any weapon, and waved her spear in salute. Buffy returned the gesture, and surveyed the battlefield.

Between them, she and her demon army had killed about two score of attackers, from Polgaras to Dendrobians to a slew of others she had never seen before—not to mention vamps. Giles would have fun sorting out the carcasses after this was over, she supposed, and Willow could add them all to her demon database. If Giles survived. If Willow was still alive, and free, instead of being a soulless hell-slave bent on the destruction of everything she had ever loved or cared about.

Buffy decided not to think of that now.

The beasties, as Spike would call them—better not think of that, either—had swarmed at them from outside the Hellmouth. Buffy was grateful for that, since she was SO not looking forward to fighting those nasty little black things with the horns—something about their empty, grinning faces creeped her out. But it also showed that the Watchers' spell, pretty as it was, must also be darn effective at containing the hell beasts. At least for now.

Of course, the Enemy might not have hauled out the big guns yet.

* * * *

The Destroyer roused. It was old, and cold, and hungry. It sent Its consciousness outward, sensing fear, and shaped Itself to match that fear; It became—something. It grew. Larger and larger It grew, gaining strength, casually seizing, crushing, and gobbling up scrambling minions to add to Its bulk.

It could smell her now, the Sweet One; though her delicious power was oddly scattered, she was nearby, and ready for gathering. How satisfying it would be to take her in, ingest her, make her one of Its own! Then her savor, rosy and warming, would be theirs forever.

Perhaps not forever. It knew that eventually even she would dissolve into nothingness, no will, no resistance, her distinctiveness gone, just another automaton, scuttling to do Its will. But not for a long, long time; she was strong, the Sweet One, and she had called to It—while resisting Its answering call—for a long time.

It grew, and shuddered, sweeping minions aside without a thought. The Hellmouth was open, and untold power lay within Its grasp. With mounting desire, It sought the exit, breaking through tunnels too small for it to pass, dislodging showers of rocks and debris, It moved purposefully toward the entrance, where a faint white light flickered. The Others—how weak, how few in number!—had mounted a puny resistance, but soon they would be smashed and destroyed forever. It exulted. How many millennia had passed since It had walked the earth, free to take, destroy, and consume?

* * * *

"Ow!" Willow stumbled, arms flailing, and Spike hauled her up without breaking stride, half carrying her over the shuddering earth toward the barrier. A stitch stabbed her side, and her own ragged gasps sounded in her ears. But there was no time to stop, even for a moment; midnight would soon be upon them, and they had to be inside the barrier to perform their final spell.

At last they reached the translucent barrier. Willow saw Giles, Xander, Jonathan, and Anya through the shimmering veil, their faces serene, their eyes closed. She was glad at least somebody was having a good time—not! Around the perimeter, Buffy and her demon army dashed back and forth, weapons flashing, arrows flying, battling a relentless onslaught of vampires and demons. The once-green lawn, littered with corpses, was stained with red, purple, yellow, and black blood, all blurred by a haze of vampire dust.

The earth beneath them shivered regularly now, up and down, as if trying to split itself open even more; but the Watchers' spell, that lovely spell that Willow had so envied, was strong as well as beautiful. It expanded with every heave, but drew itself closed again.

Only a few minutes left now. Willow saw Spike turn to face her. His hair stood on end, his shirt was torn, his face was streaked with grime—and there was a question in his blue eyes. Well, she was ready. With a nod, she grabbed his hand and squeezed it, and together they stepped through the barrier with a 'pop.'

Once inside, they heard rumbling and crackling noises from the fissure; Willow flinched back as five or six wizened little hellbeasts scrambled up over the edge. Taking hold of his axe, Spike pushed her aside and prepared to do battle, but the little creatures ignored them both and ran blindly into the barrier. Willow stared open-mouthed as, one after another, they hit the shimmering wall and dissolved in sizzling smoke. Icy dread began to churn in the pit of her stomach.

"Uh-oh—that can't be good." She stared at Spike. "They…they were running away from something…"

"Mad with terror?" he suggested hopefully. "Of us?"

As he spoke the ground beneath her shuddered again, and she saw a bizarre shape struggle upward, glistening in the firelit rift.

Willow gaped. What WAS that thing? On each side of a flat, bulbous head sprouted something bent and pointy—like pincers. Thin forelimbs seemed to be set right behind the head. Like the other hellbeasts, it was completely black, glossy and steaming. And whatever it was, it was enormous. Huge, round eyes turned from side to side, white and red highlights flickering.

As it fought its way upward, it spotted Willow, and those eyes seemed to bore into her, burning hot and cold. She staggered backward. It knew her! It was coming for her!

"Spike!" she cried. "Stop it! Kill it!"

He stood stock still.

"Spike! What's wrong?" she screamed.

Flames roared from the Hellmouth. Their time was almost up…

"Spike!" Sobbing, Willow pounded his shoulder with ineffective fists. "Now! Do the spell NOW!"

Slowly, Spike pulled away, backing up, step by step, halting just before his shoulders touched the barrier. Then she saw his face, pallid as the unseen moon and slack with shock, and his eyes held an expression she never, ever expected to see there.

Sheer terror.

TBC

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"Horror covers all the sky,

Clouds of darkness blot the moon,

Prepare! for mortal thou must die,

Prepare to yield thy soul up soon —

Fierce the tempest raves around,

Fierce the volleyed lightnings fly,

Crashing thunder shakes the ground,

Fire and tumult fill the sky. —

Hark! the tolling village bell,

Tells the hour of midnight come,

Now can blast the powers of Hell,

Fiend-like goblins now can roam — "

Percy Bysshe Shelley