For rating, setting etc see Part 1
Heroes in Hell Part 7
The room was still packed – every seat taken. And there was Skep behind his desk with his glasses slipping down his nose as usual, and from the darkness beyond the rows of shelving behind him, the noise of the typewriter kept up its incessant bad-tempered clatter.
Buffy swayed on her feet, only to feel a strong hand supporting her elbow.
“Steady, love. I got you.”
He was here. Spike was with her. She turned to look at him. He was grinning – maybe even smirking – and the dull patina of hopelessness that had overlaid his whole being was gone completely. She’d done it. She’d saved him.
Skep’s eyes went from her to Spike and back. Then he said, “See you had to rough him up a little to get him to come with. Those are some bruises, feller.”
Buffy took Spike’s hand in hers again and marched over to the desk to confront Skep at close-quarters. Behind them, the long lines of people were all whispering to each other in voices touched with awe.
She planted her elbows on the counter and glared. “I thought when you said I had to get him back here, you meant I had to get him back through the door, not that we’d both end up here anyway when the mark faded.”
She could feel herself beginning to steam – literally – in the airless heat of the room.
“Instead, we go running through the streets, get soaking wet yet again, and I nearly end up with a heart attack. Why can’t you explain things properly?”
Skep gave her a look of injured innocence that wasn’t fooling anyone. “I explained the deal to the best of my ability. The legalese is kind of complicated, I guess, but is it my fault if you misunderstood me?”
“Well – yeah.” Had he just called her stupid? She glared harder at him. How long was it since she’d slain anything? “You’re kind of a jerk, aren’t you, even for a demon.”
There was more whispering from the crowd behind them. Someone at the back yelled, “All ri-ight!” and there might even have been some air-punching.
Skep’s gaze swung round in that direction. He glared too and the room fell silent again except for the endless background noise of the typewriter. Nothing seemed to stop that.
“So,” she said, elbows still on the counter, while Spike leaned against it next to her, body half-turned towards the room.
He was lighting a cigarette, hands cupping the lighter flame as if to protect it from a non-existent wind. In spite of being wet through, he looked cool and dangerous, like a panther poised to spring. She realised he was showing off to the crowd and the knowledge made her glad. That was more like it. That was more like him.
“So –“ Skep echoed her, sarcastically. “What can I do for you now?”
She drummed her fingers on the counter-top. He hadn’t done much for her so far.
“So – I’ve persuaded him he doesn’t belong in Hell. Now I’d like to take him home with me. You okay with that or are we gonna fight about it?”
Skep pursed his lips. Smoke erupted from his nostrils in disapproving clouds
“Tricky,” he said.
“Oh?” She might have known it wouldn’t be that simple. “Tricky how? Did you send for that paperwork or not?” Beside her, Spike still lounged, louche and hipshot, but she could tell he was listening hard.
“Paperwork?” Skep looked puzzled for a moment, but then his face cleared. “Oh sure, the paperwork’s back there in the office. Tamika!” He shouted the name so loudly it made Buffy jump again, especially as, just as before, he kept looking at her the whole time, like he was shouting at her.
There was an almost-silence punctuated by the furious sounds of the typewriter. Skep frowned.
“Tamika!” he shouted again.
Abruptly, the typewriter stopped and at once the room seemed too quiet without it. The darkness between the shelving seemed to deepen and bulge, like a gathering storm cloud, and behind Buffy, the crowd stirred and muttered uneasily.
“Yeah?” The same girl’s voice, sounding grouchier than ever.
“You got the paperwork from upstairs, right?” Skep still kept his eyes on Buffy.
“Yeah,” the girl’s voice said again.
“She says she’s got it,” Skep told Buffy quite unnecessarily. Buffy rested her chin on her folded arms and glared at him some more. She said nothing and beside her, Spike carried on smoking, all cool insouciance.
There was a long, pregnant silence. Then Skep’s gaze dropped. He sighed an exasperated sigh and glanced back over his shoulder. “Guess I’ll go get it, then.”
“You do that.”
He got up from his chair and disappeared into the billowing blackness, which folded round him and swallowed him whole. There was more silence that was somehow more silent than the average silence. Whoever this Tamika was, it seemed she and Skep had a whole lot of nothing to say to each other.
Buffy drummed her fingers on the counter-top again, then stood on tiptoe, staring down the long rows of pigeonholes that made up Left Luggage, trying to spot the Scythe, even though looking into that darkness gave her the creeps.
“This place is shite,” Spike said in her ear, making her jump. She nodded. She had to agree.
He was still smoking, narrowed eyes scanning the room. “Glad I didn’t stick around here with this lot. Sad bunch of pathetic wankers.”
Buffy looked back over her shoulder. The damned were pretty non-descript for the most part – dull, almost grey-looking, some of them more than others. She wondered if those were the ones who’d been here the longest. Maybe, after a while, they started to fade into the background.
“Guess they all think they don’t deserve to be here,” she said. “In fact, so far no one I’ve met thinks that, except you – which is kind of ironic, seeing as you definitely don’t.”
“That’s all down to you, love.” His eyes were bright as he looked at her – adoring, almost. She couldn’t help leaning in for a kiss, even though he was giving her way too much credit as usual and she ought to break him of the habit.
“Hey, I didn’t get your soul back for you,” she admonished, sternly. “You did that all by yourself, remember?”
He was about to reply when Skep re-emerged from the gloom with a thick manila folder tucked under his arm. He looked flustered. His glasses were awry and there was a deep scratch on one cheek.
“Just can’t get the help these days,” he muttered, crossly. “How’s it my fault if she gets herself dusted while she’s still under contract?” He gave Buffy a look of appeal as he adjusted his glasses. “I mean, she worked in the steno pool when she was alive, right? Typing is her job so what’s the diff? If some blonde bimbo got the promotion she wanted instead of her, it’s not my problem.”
Buffy had no idea what he was talking about. Meanwhile, the typewriter started up its noisy clattering again. It sounded angrier still, if that was even possible. She pointed at the folder. “That it?”
“Indeed.” Skep sat down in his chair and cleared his throat pompously. Then he steepled his fingers together and regarded them both from under the rims of his glasses.
“See – as regards you taking Mr The Bloody here home with you, I’m afraid that may not be possible. He’s dead, you see. D-E-A-D. If he doesn’t belong in Hell, ergo he belongs in the other place and he’ll have to wait here until he’s sent for.”
He smiled sympathetically at her. “Thank you for pointing out the mistake, though. Much appreciated.”
“Here – hold on a minute!” Spike was up in arms at once, while Buffy felt her heart plummet once again into her non-existent boots. She’d known it might happen of course, but hearing the words made it feel all too final.
“Buffy –“ There was a frantic note in Spike’s voice. She turned to him, set a hand to his cheek.
“It’s okay, Spike. It’s good there– believe me, I remember.”
Did she? Sometimes she thought she did – the peace – the sense of fulfilment. They still came to her in dreams.
Her eyes were brimming again. “If you see my mom, tell her I love her.”
Spike had hold of her hand – tight, like he’d never let go. “Bollocks to that!” he said, rudely. Then he looked contrite. “Sorry, love – didn’t mean that about your mum – meant about the Heaven thing.”
Then he leaned across the counter, getting right up into Skep’s face.
“Listen here. Maybe the Slayer’s right and I don’t deserve to be in Hell – jury’s still out on that. But I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I don’t deserve – the other place. I’m a sinner, mate – big time. There’re books written about what a sinner I am – well, some Watcher bint wrote a thesis anyway.”
Skep just gave him back look for look. “Hey,” he said, as he’d said before, “I don’t make the rules.” He leaned back in his chair seeming awfully smug, like he was enjoying himself – like watching their pain was a great spectator sport.
And there was pain. She thought she’d felt it before when she couldn’t persuade Spike to come with her and everything had seemed so hopeless – but this was worse. It was selfish of her, she knew, but suddenly it seemed unbearable to have him snatched away now – and even more so because he’d be happy without her. He’d be in Heaven. What else could he be but happy?
But then her gaze was drawn to that writing above the door again. Abandon hope all ye who enter here. She thought of all the times she’d felt something didn’t sit right. Then she thought of Marvin and his brochures and his annoying sales patter.
“Actually,” she said. “You do make the rules.”
“I beg your pardon?” Skep’s big clawed hands were folded complacently on his belly but she saw him tense a little in spite of himself. Oh yes, she was good!
“I said, you do make the rules.” She waved a hand in the direction of the door. “People are supposed to go through that door of their own accord when they’ve given up all hope. But you’ve been persuading them to go through, haven’t you – telling them there’s been a mistake and it’ll all be straightened out if they do.”
Beside her, Spike muttered, “Bloody hell!” Now they were both leaning across the counter, elbows touching, and Skep was looking hunted. In fact, he was beginning to smoke gently all over and sweat had broken out on his forehead. Any minute now, she thought, he’d be asking her how she knew all this.
He didn’t, however. Instead, he produced a large white handkerchief from – well, she didn’t want to know exactly where, just as she didn’t want to know if that armour stuff all over him was actual armour or just skin. He wiped his forehead with it. Then he put his head in his hands.
“I can’t take much more of this!” he wailed. “You don’t know what it’s been like!”
“What what’s been like?” She kept her voice carefully in neutral, though it was hard not to sound smug in her turn.
“The changeover.” Skep’s voice came out muffled. “It’s not like it used to be. This used to be a family business. Everyone knew each other. Things were simple then – uncomplicated. People came here. I checked their names off the list – they took a seat – time passed – in the end they lost hope and went through the door – little damned lambs to the slaughter.”
He dabbed at his eyes and now the handkerchief was smoking too and when he looked up at them he was weeping fiery tears.
“There was job security then. Not now. Now we’re part of a soulless – literally – multi-dimensional mega corporation. There’re shareholders to please and tax returns to complete. I have performance targets – a monthly quota. My job depends on filling it. Can you believe that?”
“That’s the free market for you,” Spike said. “I blame the running dogs of capitalist imperialism. Or maybe that should be the running wolf, ram and bloody enormous deer. ”
She laughed. She caught herself wondering, too, what Anya would have thought of it all, what with her Dance of Capitalist Superiority. No time to get sidetracked now, though. She tried to make her face look sympathetic.
“Do your bosses know,” she probed gently, “that you’ve been bending the rules when it comes to the abandoning hope thing? Isn’t that still sort of important?”
Skep dabbed at his eyes again. “Sure it is. Hell with any kind of hope isn’t really Hell at all, is it?”
Spike’s elbow bumped hers again, but she forced herself not to look at him. He might make her cry because she wanted so much for this to work and it might not. Or worse still, he might make her laugh.
She traced a pattern on the counter-top with her index finger. “It’d be awful then, wouldn’t it,” she said, “if your bosses found out.”
Skep’s eyes got huge. Then they narrowed down to slits. “You wouldn’t!”
She met his eyes and held them. “It just so happens that I’m great friends –” and she gave Spike a quick, defiant sideways glare –”with the C.E.O. of Wolfram & Hart’s L.A. branch – and the subject just might come up in conversation, yes.”
She gave Skep her patented Slayer glower that had been terrorising vampires and demons since she was fifteen years old, or if not terrorising, at least worrying them a tad.
“In other words, I so would.”
Now Skep looked agonised. “Wish I’d taken a leaf out of Skip’s book,” he moaned.
She blinked at him. “Skip?”
“My brother.” He blew his nose loudly and at once the handkerchief burst into flames and then dissolved into a damp cindery residue. Buffy wrinkled her nose.
Skep didn’t even notice. “Pity that thing with the former Power That Was chick didn’t work out for him,” he went on. “If he wasn’t dead, he could’ve put in a good word for me.”
“Well, I can do that too,” Buffy said, quickly. “All those years of loyal service – I’m sure my friend would be very impressed.”
Beside her, Spike gave a small derisory snort and she nudged him hard in the ribs.
Skep looked from one of them to the other again. He sighed.
“I’d like to help you,” he said, “I really would, but I can’t. Those who’ve died a natural death – even vampires – can’t just go back and pick up where they left off. It’s a fundamental law of metaphysics, a big no-no – the biggest one there is – and even the bosses can’t get round that without some kind of get-out clause.”
He heaved another deep sigh. Buffy felt her eyes begin to prickle again. It seemed they were out of options.
“Spike –” She turned to him, but he was fishing in his duster pockets.
“Get-out clause?” he said. “Something like this, you mean?” Then he’d dumped that skanky-looking amulet he’d worn in the Hellmouth – the one that had burned him to a crisp – on the counter in front of Skep’s nose.
Skep stared at it. He seemed to go a shade paler.
“Where did you get that?” he whispered.
Spike grinned. “Off the same friend the lady’s talking about.” He gave her a sidelong glance. “’Cept I wouldn’t call him a friend, more a great big stupid wanker. Ouch!”
She’d elbowed him again. But he was definitely on to something.
“That’s right,” she said quickly, to Skep. “So you see, he didn’t so much die a natural death – more get mystically incinerated by a magical soul-channelling doodad.”
Skep was turning the amulet over and over in his big, clawed fingers. It looked even tackier suddenly, if that were possible.
“Hmm,” Skep said, at last. He sounded relieved. “I think you may be on to something there. I can run it by our legal department anyway.”
“How long’s that gonna take?” She was beginning to lose her temper now. What did it take to cut through all this red tape? “And if you say a couple hundred years, I am warning you, your ass is so slain.”
“Not to mention,” Spike cut in, “your bosses’ll have your guts for garters when she spills the beans to dear old Angel.”
Skep looked from one of them to the other. He heaved a deep, defeated sigh.
“Oh, okay!” he said. “I’ll sign the paperwork myself and have the guys in Contracts sort out the legal details afterwards.”
Now he’d said it, Buffy couldn’t quite bring herself to believe it.
“Spike can come back with me – be alive again?”
“Well, technically,” Skep said in a weary tone, “be undead again, but let’s not quibble over details.”
“No, let’s not.” She indicated the manila folder. “You gonna sign whatever needs signing?”
“Sure.” Skep began to open the folder, but then Buffy remembered the Scythe.
“Before you get too deep into that, can I have my weapon back?”
He blinked. Evidently, he’d forgotten about it. “Oh,” he said, “you mean that axe thing?”
“It’s a Scythe.” Buffy scowled at him.
“Weirdest looking scythe I’ve ever seen,” Spike muttered beside her. She resisted the urge to give him another hard dig in the ribs. Why did everyone say that?
Skep, meanwhile, heaved another deep, put-upon sigh, got slowly to his feet, and stomped off into the depths of Left Luggage, scanning the rows of pigeonholes as he went and muttering to himself.
“Bloke doesn’t sound too happy,” Spike observed.
“Yeah well –” she couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for the demon in spite of everything–”we probably outraged his demon morals or something, not playing fair like that. We’re supposed to be the good guys.”
“Bollocks!” Spike took her hand in his, raised it to his lips and kissed it. “He was the one caught with his trousers down, love. You just told it to him like it is.”
She supposed that was one way of looking at it. Skep was out of sight now, folded into the darkness again, giving her the dizzying sensation of depths of time and space hidden behind the desk that you could easily get lost in. Firmly, she told herself not to think about it. It was the only way to cope with the insanity.
“So –” Spike was still holding her hand. “Did you say home was in Scotland now, of all bloody places, or was I imagining things?”
She moved closer to him, and at once he put his arm round her, nuzzling into her neck, heedless of their audience. “You heard me.”
“Hope you’ve got a nice big bed waiting for us there,” he purred, making her ear vibrate. “Firm mattress, nice thick quilt to keep out the cold – can get bloody freezing in Scotland – good strong bedposts to fasten the chains to?”
She felt a deep shiver of need run down her spine. She remembered, too, that she owed him a spanking –not that she was giving him advance warning of that fact. Oh no. Where would be the fun in that?
She ran her hands down his back under cover of his duster and squeezed his ass. This was gonna be such fun and she was so owed it.
“I think that can be arranged.”
“Can’t wait.” He was mouthing her jaw, tongue wet and loose, and she felt that sensation between her legs again, like a dam about to give way.
“Spike –” she pushed him back a little. “Behave.”
He nipped her lower lip gently with his teeth, a not-sorry-at-all look on his face. “Sorry, love. S’just it’s been so bloody long – in fact, it’s been never. You wanting me, I mean, and not hating yourself for it.”
She set a hand to his cheek. “About that – ” But he wouldn’t let her finish, and now he did look sorry.
“S’okay, Buffy. I was an arsehole – and an evil one to boot. No need to say a sodding thing. S’over.”
She could see he meant it, and besides, this wasn’t the time or place, so she smiled at him and changed the subject.
“We have a castle, as a matter of fact, way up at the top of this deserted – glen, is it? It belonged to some relation of Giles.”
“Castle?” His face clearly said he thought she was kidding him. “What d’you need a sodding castle for?”
“You’ll find out.” She felt smug again now. She had plans for him – and as for the bitty Slayers, they were gonna love him. “Xander’s there and Dawn when it’s the vacation – she’s in school – and Willow drops by whenever she’s in the neighbourhood.”
She wanted to tell him that he owed his second chance to Willow and her magics, but there’d be time enough for that now. All the time in the world.
“What about old Rupert?”
“Oh, he’s down in London mostly. He keeps in touch by email.”
For the first time since they’d fetched up back in the waiting room, he looked dubious.
“What’s he have to say about all this, then? About you coming to Hell, I mean, just to rescue me?”
She thought of Giles’s tirade on the phone. She’d let him have his say. Then she’d had hers and there’d been no more arguments.
“He’s fine about it,” she said. “Couldn’t be happier.”
His face told her he didn’t believe her, but at the same time, his eyes took on a wicked glint.
“It’ll be a pleasure proving the old Watcher wrong.”
“You do that.”
She could see Skep coming back now, slowly re-emerging from the inky shadows with their faint hints of distant starlight.
“How about Anya?” Spike said, suddenly. “She and Harris make it up and tie the knot yet?”
“Oh.” She’d forgotten he didn’t know – that he hadn’t even asked about the others while they were still in Hell and he’d been so wrapped up in his own misery.
“What?” Then his mouth fell open in dismay. “She didn’t make it, did she?”
She shook her head. “No, she was cut to pieces by the ubervamps – saving his life, Andrew said.”
“Fuck” He didn’t let go of her but suddenly he’d gone all grim and grey again.
“Lots of the girls died too,” she said, gently. It was sort of a rebuke, but he wasn’t really listening.
“Fuck,” he muttered, again, at the same time as Skep put the Scythe down on the counter in front of her with a decisive clank of metal.
The demon opened a battered old ledger, sending a cloud of dust up her nose. “Sign here.”
She signed her name with a flourish and picked the Scythe up. The hilt fit into her hand, as always, like it was made for it. Beside her, Spike was fishing in his pockets for his cigarettes, his eyes suspiciously damp-looking. She wondered if he was thinking about the time that he and Anya had had sex on the table in the Magic Shop, and if so, was it a fond memory or was he ashamed of it?
“O-kay.” Skep had sat down in his chair again. “About these papers.”
He opened the manila folder and began to leaf through it. Then he frowned.
“Oh my!” he said.
At once, she was on the alert. They were so nearly out of here. Surely nothing could go wrong now, could it?
“What’s the matter?”
The look on Skep’s face wasn’t at all reassuring. He went on leafing through the folder. Then he shut it and gave her a scared look.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “This is the wrong file.”
“What? What do you mean it’s wrong? Whose is it, then?”
Spike had snapped out of his black mood at the exchange and he joined her in glaring over the counter at the unfortunate demon.
“Don’t slay me!” Skep held up both hands. “It’s totally not my fault. Tamika!” The name was shouted at top volume, while, like before, he still went on looking straight at Buffy.
There was no answer save for the pounding of the typewriter and then a zing! noise as Tamika hit carriage return.
Skep sighed. “Tamika!” he shouted again and, once again, suddenly, there was way too much silence.
“What?” the hidden girl’s voice said, crossly.
Skep’s hands balled into fists. “These are the wrong papers.”
The watching ranks of the damned appeared to have realised there was a problem now. The room was filled with a breathless, listening hush during which no one even coughed.
Then Tamika said, sullenly, “So what’m I s’posed to do about it, asshole?”
Skep gave Buffy and Spike a tight smile. “Excuse me.” He got up and disappeared into the darkness again.
Spike rolled his eyes. “Might’ve known it wouldn’t be that easy.”
She gripped the Scythe tighter. “Don’t talk like that. We’re leaving here – together. If these papers need signing so bad, well they’ll just have to fax them to us or email or – I don’t know, send them by flying carpet.”
“Right.” He didn’t sound wholly convinced but he did manage a tiny grin. “You’re indomitable, aren’t you, Slayer?”
She squeezed his hand in hers. “If that means something good, then yes I am.”
He moved closer. “Daft bint! It means you never give up. That’s my Buffy.”
She looked him solemnly in the face, met his eyes and wouldn’t let him look away. “You were the same once, Spike. One day soon, you’re gonna remember it.”
For a moment, he looked shaken. “Slayer –” he began. “Buffy-“
She didn’t have a free hand so she waved the Scythe at him. “If you were gonna say I shouldn’t have such faith in you, don’t. I wouldn’t be here, Spike, if I didn’t.”
His eyes looked over-bright again. He bit his lip and said nothing, just squeezed her hand in answer.
Time passed. The watching people shifted in their seats and coughed. More of the omnipresent smoke blew under the door to wreathe around everyone’s ankles. Spike drummed his fingers on the counter top. He pursed his lips, obviously bored.
Then he leaned across the counter and picked up the folder. “Wonder who this belongs to, then?”
Buffy was trying to peer into the darkness out back without getting dizzy and see what the hell was going on with Skep, but then Spike exclaimed aloud.
“Bloody hell! It’s hers. It’s Anya’s.”
“What? Let me see!” She set the Scythe down on the counter top again and snatched the folder from him. Just inside the front cover was a document, like the sort of form you filled in at the DMV for a driver’s licence, with a small passport sized photo of Anya stuck in the top left hand corner.
It wasn’t a very flattering picture, she thought. Anya would’ve hated it. For one thing, she had her eyes half-closed, which made her look kind of – dopey.
“Anya Christina Emanuella Jenkins,” she read, “a.k.a. Anyanka, a.ka. Aud. Who on earth needs that many names?”
“She’s here,” Spike said. “The poor cow’s stuck behind that door.” He gestured in the direction of abandoned hope.
Buffy leafed further through the folder. “She shouldn’t be, though, any more than you should. Look here.” She showed him the date-stamped entry on the back of the registration form or whatever it was, under which was written in a neat lawyerly hand, Query legitimacy of placement: return to registration dept.
There was another silence. The whole room seemed to be holding its breath. Then Spike said, “You did tell me heroes don’t belong in Hell.”
“I did.” She put the folder down on the counter and picked up the Scythe again. This time, she wasn’t leaving it behind. She just wouldn’t harrow – or at least not much. “But maybe sometimes they do, when they’re rescuing other heroes.”
They headed towards the door just as Skep reappeared out of the dark. This time, he looked even worse for wear. One of the lenses of his glasses was cracked, like someone had hit it with something heavy, and he had a big bruise on one cheek to match the scratch on the other.
“So sorry,” he said, as he came. “I’ve sent for the right papers. If you’d like to take a seat –” Then he stopped dead. “Where are you going?”
Spike grinned at Buffy and she grinned back. “Seems he’s not the only friend of mine you have here under false pretences.”
“Huh?” Skep looked at the folder and back again. He swallowed hard. “This isn’t gonna become some kind of trend, is it?”
“Not our problem.” Buffy’s hand was on the big brass door handle. All eyes in the room were on her. Then they swung back to Skep. Then they looked at her again. Was it her imagination or were there glimmers of hope in them?
She pulled the door ajar and a blast of cold, foggy air entered the room, setting everyone coughing. At the same time, the hand-written sign that said Under New Management fell off and wafted face down onto the floor.
“Wait!” Skep called frantically. “What about your visitors’ passes?”
She shook her head at him. No way was she falling for that again. Besides, knowing Anya, she was running the only successful business in this whole sorry place. She might take a deal of persuading to come away with them.
“Take it up with your new boss,” she said. “Or tell you what, when I see him next, I’ll do it myself.”
Skep swayed and clutched the counter. “I need a lie down,” he moaned, weakly, and this time she didn’t feel sorry for him at all.
Instead, she pulled the door wide open on the swirling fogbank. Spike’s hand was clutched firmly in hers and when she looked up at him, his face was full of wild excitement. Any minute now, he’d be laughing.
“Ready?” she asked him, and when he nodded, she stood up on tiptoe and kissed him hard on the mouth. “Then let’s go be heroes in Hell.”
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/228550.html