Night passed slowly, with heavy fighting outside and catnaps inside. Spike got a little sleep. He only needed a little. Buffy got a little more, woke with a start, gave Spike a look of reproach, and scrambled up on the crates and peered out through a small round window. Spike could see the sky over her shoulder: the day, or what passed for day in a land without sunlight, was murky and dim. The fighting was in the south.
"It's not that bad outside," she said quietly. "In the direction we're going. But there's a guard just outside."
Spike climbed up to look over her shoulder. "Do we care about one puny guard?"
"If the guard raises the alarm... But we've waited this long," Buffy said, clearly torn. "I hope everyone's okay. We've got to get back soon, or..."
Spike slithered back across the boxes and opened the trapdoor.
"Spike!" Buffy half shouted, half whispered, angry but not wanting to draw attention. He ignored her, awareness of the risk he was taking like the buzz of electricity working up to a zap.
"Spike. Come back. What are you doing?" But he was already down the ladder and out the door.
An angry woman at his back and an angry woman turning to meet him. Wasn't life grand?
"Hey, love," he said to Millie.
"Never do that ever ever again," Buffy said.
"Will if I want to," he said, casually. He'd been right, after all. Millie'd done her part for the ending of hell and escorted them all the way out of town, and then Buffy had found the cave entrance to the underground bunker, and they were currently on their way back home through an endless passageway with no distinguishing features. It was like one of those dreams of running without ever getting anywhere. "It worked, didn't it?" And that was all that mattered to him.
She didn't say anything.
"I don't take your orders," he said.
"Just don't expect me to take yours, or to deal with it when you..."
She trailed off, slowing down as they approached a T intersection. She'd been taking the few turns like she knew where she was going, but now she frowned, looking right and then left.
"Do you hear that?" Spike asked abruptly.
Buffy took off running down the left passage, toward the familiar sound of fighting, Spike on her heels. The sounds got louder and louder, and every turn Buffy made brought them closer. It was an area of the underground complex Spike had never seen, but if he had to bet he'd say they were heading for the Buffy's friends. She had that kind of look.
Somewhere in front of them, there was a rumble, the sound so deep it could be both heard and felt, like a buzzing through muscle and bones. It grew louder, thundering, unbearable. And then, slowly, it tapered off, leaving behind a stunned silence.
"Is that where we're going?" Spike asked. His voice echoed oddly in his head.
"Maybe," Buffy said nervously, but he could hardly hear her.
"Bloody great," Spike said. He would have said more, but just at that moment he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Something fast, claws extended -
As he was turning, Buffy shouted "Duck!"
She and Spike hit the floor as a machine gun opened fire over their heads, killing off a flock of blazing-eyed hawks screaming down the hall behind them.
"Come on," the soldier said, waving them to follow. He was going their way, so they scrambled to their feet and raced after him. They turned a corner and almost ran into a barricade of shredded hellbeasts. There might have been some office furniture in underneath too, but Spike could only see the occasional metal corner. There had been some serious carnage going on here.
Up and over, squishing and squirming through the gap at the top between the barricade and the ceiling, and the soldiers on the other side greeted them with cheers and slaps on the back. They looked like they hadn't been getting many wins today, so they'd take whatever and call it a win.
But not for too long. A few moments of jubilation, and then the barricade shook like something was ramming it. "Hellbeasts," one soldier muttered. "Red-eyed flesh-eating..." The soldiers pushed in, and pushed Buffy and Spike out, away from the barricade until they were clear of the knot of soldiers.
"Faith's along that way," one of them said, nodding toward a branching hallway, before turning back. "Give them more lead! Rip them to ribbons!"
"Thanks," Buffy said. Spike kept his head down. This was the last place he wanted to be identified as a vampire.
On this side of the barricade, the air was hot and damp and every surface was grimy: floors, walls, ceiling, the faces of the people rushing urgently in all directions. The walls were covered in networks of cracks, some gaping wide enough to harbor a giant rat or two, and the ceiling was askew, tilted and bulging like something viewed through a fun-house mirror.
The people were the young and strong type that Faith had probably recruited, and they were just this side of complete panic and riot. Spike could smell their sweat, their anguish, their terror.
"Sodding amateurs," Spike growled as they pushed their way into the turmoil. If he wasn't playing ally around here, he'd bloody well show them something to be afraid of. His body vibrated with desire, for more of that delectable terror-
And he got it. The screams started in the cross corridor, and human bodies pressed back, a shock wave of flesh retreating from some new threat. Mmmm.
"Out of the way, I'm the Slayer!" Buffy shouted, and pressed forward. Spike breathed in the scent of food crushing against him, and another scent. Musty, ancient, strong. He wanted to let his game face emerge, but had to settle for pushing violently through the throng. Food was all very well, but there was something worth fighting up there.
The crowd was thinning, disappearing into the rooms that lined the corridors, finding somewhere else to be. He heard a roar, more shouts, and he caught of glimpse of spiraling horns. Two pairs. More. And as the humans closest to the fight backed off, supporting a wounded comrade, Buffy burst through to take up the slack, sword in hand.
They rushed her, four lithe hellbeasts like a wall of muscle and horn, but the wall broke against one tiny girl who wouldn't be moved. Spike moved in as the formation fell apart, grabbing a horn and twisting to snap the beast's neck. The sodding beast didn't seem to notice.
Buffy laid on with the sword, and they didn't seem to notice that either. Zombie hellbeasts. But blow by blow, they forced the beasts back into the cross corridor. Blow by blow, they slowed them down, changed lithe into awkward, until Buffy thrust and got her sword stuck.
The sword bent without breaking as the hellbeast turned, and then Buffy let go of the sword before it could break. It was springy metal, and swayed back and forth, putting the beast off balance so that Spike could tackle it. Buffy pulled the sword free and Spike leapt up in time to block a blow from another hellbeast. Buffy's face was white as she sheathed the sword. Too precious to use.
"Go, sod it!" Spike shouted at Buffy. "Get the bloody sword to Willow. These are mine."
She didn't hesitate.
One by one, Spike disabled the hellbeasts, breaking and crushing until some soldiers showed up. Then he ran after Buffy. He wasn't gonna give up his spot on the back to the past express if he could help it.
The floor shook: another deep rumble, worse because it seemed to be coming from everywhere. Dust and ashes filled the air, distributed by a fiery breeze. Spike sped through the coughs and chokes of strangers, hearing the frenetic sound of machine-gun fire back at the barricade.
He slammed into someone in the confusion, tried to bat them aside, got thrown aside instead, astonished until he realized who it must have been. By the time he'd pushed to his feet, he found himself staring at the tear-streaked face of the other Slayer, with a stake coming at his heart too fast for him to do anything.
Buffy barreled into Faith and the stake just scratched Spike's side.
Spike saw his opportunity a moment later, and kicked and then hooked his foot around Faith's. She fell and Buffy stood over her. "No killing Spike," Buffy said. "He's gonna help me save the world." Faith looked at her dully. Not like she didn't believe, like she'd had all the care knocked right out of her.
"Vampires," Faith said. "From above. Demons from below. We're in the middle. We're going to die."
"No we're not," Buffy said, so very confident, while Spike wondered if he and Buffy had given the sodding 'vampires from above' the clue they needed to get in. Maybe she hadn't thought of that. Maybe she didn't care.
The reason for the tilted, saggy ceilings was revealed as the dust cleared. It filled the hallway from floor to above where the ceiling would have been and sprawled through the walls, a giant lump of coal-black beast, thickly muscled with glittering scales and knife-edged protrusions at every angle. Girders were snapped where it had writhed, and it was half buried under a pile of rocks. But it wasn't dead. It was still moving,
"How on Earth..." Buffy said, her mouth agape.
"This is the end," Faith said.
Some of the debris near the monster was moving too. Wounded humans. Some dead as well. Other humans darted in and dragged the ones that were moving out of danger...or at least out of immediate danger. There was blood, but Spike couldn't smell it through the ash and dust. It all seemed unreal: just something seen on the telly, without the pungent smells of reality.
"What happened?" Buffy asked, holding out a hand to Faith.
"Did you do that?" Spike asked.
"We just kept hacking," Faith said. "And bashing. And ramming it. And I forced it back and the others set off the charge."
"Good job," Buffy said.
"It doesn't make any difference," Faith said.
"Yes it does," Buffy said firmly. "I've got this-" She patted the sword at her side.
"A sword isn't gonna do much."
"-and Willow's got the rest of what we need."
"B., what are you even talking about?"
"Saving the world."
"Look at this! We can't even save ourselves." There was another burst of machine gun fire from the direction they'd come.
"I don't have time to explain, you're gonna have to trust me."
Faith got to her feet and stood squarely, no strut, no angle of the hip, no real awareness of her body as a weapon or a toy. She was covered in blood and ichor and after a moment shifted to favor her right leg.
Then she laughed. "Don't have much choice, do I?"
"Never give up hope," Buffy said, giving Faith a quick half-hug that left the other Slayer looking a bit stunned. "Come on, you've gotta help me get past that thing and get to Willow."
"What?" Faith yelped, but Buffy was on the move again, darting forward, skipping to the side, looking for an opening while avoiding the thing's claws. "She's gonna kill herself," Faith said to Spike.
"Not if we do our part," Spike said with a grin that threatened to turn fangy. To hell with hiding, he needed every advantage he could get. "I don't know about you, but I think it's time to play knight," he said.
He took a few steps back and then ran, straight for the beast. At the last moment, he swerved, picked up a steel girder. It was stuck in the tangle of debris, but Buffy saw what he was doing and darted in to push it free and then they were both retreating, unharmed.
Spike settled the girder on his shoulder and then ran again, straight for the beast with the girder pointed forward like a lance. He hit it with everything he had, and the vibrations of the beam almost made him drop it.
He stumbled back, and then went for it again, Buffy darting here and there, Faith watching with an open mouth. He still didn't make a dent in the beast, but this time the beast roared and laboriously shifted itself as he retreated. The wall cracked a bit more. Still no room past, but if it'd just move a bit more...
"You're crazy," Faith said. "I'm crazy..."
She shoved him and grabbed the beam from him and started running. And for the first time, Spike saw in her a Slayer he'd like to fight, not the controlling bitch who hid her lack of confidence behind a bold facade, but a Slayer with nothing held back. God, Slayers could fight when they put their mind to it.
When she came back for another run, Spike took hold of the trailing end and they ran together, the one two punch of crazy hope, jostling and running and then Buffy was through. Spike let go and scraped through after her. Behind them, over the roar of hell's giant monster, he could hear Faith shouting. The sounds faded as they raced down the corridor and skidded to a stop in front of a tightly closed door.
It was quieter here, but there were signs of fighting. The door was scored with claw-marks and streaks of ichor.
Buffy raised her hand to knock, failed to find a nice clean place to do it, and finally called out, "It's me. Giles? Willow? Let me in."
Giles, a sword in his hand, opened the door. There was a gun and a bottle of water on a table by the door, and a pole-arm leaned against the wall. Trust the Watcher to have every weapon imaginable at hand. Spike doubted he'd be able to use them.
"Buffy! We've been so worried!" Willow said. "And you've got it!"
"Good job, Buff. We'll forgive you for making us think you must have fallen into a hellhole," Xander said.
"You're all okay!" Buffy said happily, and then everyone was rushing at each other and it was enough hugs to smother a crocodile.
Spike stepped well out of the way. He wouldn't have minded if the herd of clueless teenagers had been thinned a bit, and-
And there was a bloody great glowing gateway in the center of the room. This was the portal? It looked like part of a bloody castle, an archway constructed out of glowing blocks slotted into place with the capstone glowing the brightest of all. There was a swirl of magic in the gap, and as Spike stared, Willow pulled away from the tangle of greeting holding the sword. She set it down in the center of the archway and took the book that werewolf boy offered her and started chanting.
Not wasting any time. Good.
"Willow is...much more powerful than I'd ever expected. You'd do well to remember that," Giles murmured to Spike. Thinking about the future already, when they were gonna be enemies again.
"Getting ahead of yourself, aren't you, Rupert? Save the threats for after I save the world."
Poor old Rupert looked like he'd eaten something sour. "Buffy will-"
"-win, so long as I'm there to fight Dru," Spike said. "Don't flatter yourself, you wouldn't have a chance against her, not even if you try poison. Think she wouldn't see that in your mind? She killed a bloody Slayer." And that still made him feel a little tingle of pride.
Now the Watcher looked like he'd eaten an entire lemon straight, and would never get the taste out of his mouth.
Willow kept chanting. She seemed nervous; it took Spike a few seconds to realize that her nerves were all about the noises coming from outside, not the spellwork. She seemed pretty confident with the spellwork, probably because the whole big glowing edifice that filled most of the room had given her plenty of practice.
Spike moved around to get a better view of the portal from the other side. The glow was increasing, bright like sunlight, and wasn't that just typical. He squinted and automatically turned away to guard the most of his skin from the inimical light. The noises from outside the room were getting louder, but the spell had to be almost done. Buffy was standing next to Willow, peering into the mist. As soon as there was anything there, she'd be ready. Spike moved toward her, aware of Giles moving to counter him from the other side of the portal.
The wall behind Giles crumbled and demons poured through.
Spike reacted instantly, leaping to the attack, and he was aware of Buffy on the other side of the room doing the same. The others milled in confusion. Useless lot.
Spike was forced to revise his opinion a few moment later. They were hardly fighters, but they did manage to get out of his and Buffy's way, and Giles was laying about with the pole-arm. He even had some idea how to use it. Who'd have thought?
The fight settled into a rhythm, with the useless ones gathered in a ring around Willow protecting her with their bodies, and the fighters keeping the demons at bay. Willow, her brow furrowed in concentration, was saying magical words that no one could hear - except maybe the magics that would come at her calling. Spike didn't look at the portal, it was getting far too bright. Still not burning him, though, so that was something. The demon hoard seemed never-ending.
"It's done!" Willow shouted. "Quick, Buffy-"
Spike risked a glance, but all he could see through the portal was a blur of brilliance. If he went though, he might end up in sunlight...but if he stayed, he might be eaten by a demon. You have to take a risk sometime.
"Come on," he shouted to Buffy. He could see her pulling free from her fight, and he gave the demon he was fighting one last kick to remember him by, pushed aside Xander and fell through the portal.
He was sitting in his wheelchair.
How he'd loathed this bloody wheelchair.
Acres of silence stretched out around him, shocking silence after the bellows and snarls and clangs of the fight he'd left behind.
The air was fresh. No fumes, no smoke, no gritty ashes.
"Dru, love?" he called, but no one answered. He wheeled himself through a couple of empty rooms, calling at intervals, and still no one. They must be out. Which might just put this as just about the time they'd been aiming for.
But an empty place like this, it could be any time in the months before, really.
Only one way to find out.
It was the right night. It could stand to be a bit earlier, but this would do. He tracked down Buffy just in time to stop a bobby looking to arrest her. Didn't the bloody coppers know who their friends were?
"Hello cutie," he said with a smirk. And here they were again, vampire and Slayer, about to save the world.
Or not. She took one look at him and it was immediate fierce attack, no joke, she meant to take him out.
"Now, you hold on a second!" he said, pushing her away. She had a bit more mass than he was expecting, and for a moment it puzzled him, and then the truth exploded through his mind. This wasn't the Buffy he'd come to know. She hadn't made it. This was past Buffy, pure and simple. Never been to hell, never made a deal with a vampire.
He was shocked by his own disappointment.
"Hey! White flag here. I quit," he said, playing for time.
Buffy said something, and as she spoke, he measured her up, because he'd be damned - literally - if he gave up now. His Buffy would never forgive him. She might not be here, but he could still try to make a deal with this Buffy. After all, he knew that some version of Buffy would believe him, as long as he made it good, and told her exactly what she'd believe.
He knew exactly what she'd believe. He knew the key to Buffy now, so he'd tell her a tale about the world that he loved, and the hell that he hated...and about what he'd do for Dru. For love.
The key to Buffy was love.
He drove down the highway, Dru on the seat beside him, each moment further confirmation that Buffy had pulled it off. She'd managed to save the world. It wasn't going to be another story of hell. It wasn't going to need another try. This was the real deal. This was the world, and he was the only one who knew it had ever been any different.
Everyone else - they were gone into the land of could be but isn't. All of them. Valiant Willow, obnoxious Xander. Cordelia, Oz, Giles. Faith. Angelus.
And Buffy. His Buffy. The Slayer who'd fought by his side, and not just for a few minutes. This Buffy - she'd never know about the tentative understanding a Slayer and a vampire could come to over time, if the times were bad enough. It'd been hard enough to convince her to let him help her, and it wasn't like she'd had much of a choice.
And it was bloody stupid to think it was a loss. Slayers and vampires, born enemies. It was better that way.
He drove on, into the sunrise, the fresh air blowing in through a dangerous crack in the window. He couldn't get over how fresh the air was. It smelled like freedom.
Dru finally stirred. Moaned. Sat up and looked at him. "Naughty Spike. Where are we going?"
"No we're not. You're not. You'll never leave Sunnydale."
Ah Dru. Always a challenge. "There, there, love."
"You smell like sulfur and ashes. All powdery. All burnt into something new."
"You've got no bloody idea, love," Spike said.
"I don't like ashes."
"Bloody good thing we didn't end up in hell, then, isn't it?" Spike said impatiently. What was she on about anyway?
"But this is hell," Drusilla said, staring at Spike. "You will make it so. You should have killed the Slayer, Spike."
And all around him, vivid colors, sweet smelling air. The Slayer's hair had been pure gold in the morning light. "Maybe next time," Spike said. Because promise or no promise, he'd be back. The Slayer couldn't expect to get off that easy.