Just one fic from me today, but I hope you enjoy it!
Title Promises to Keep (Miles to Go Before…)
Author Brutti ma buoni
Setting An AU post-Chosen (very AU for AtS season 5)
Genre Road Trip
This is not the world that you know. This a world in which, when an anonymous letter was delivered to the offices of Wolfram and Hart Los Angeles, it sat in the mail room for three weeks in the Weird Shit pile. It was checked, briefly, and found not to be imminently dangerous. Eventually, an intern spotted that it was addressed to the big boss, and showed some inappropriate initiative, walking the envelope up to the executive floor and checking in with Mr Angel’s PA.
It is a world in which Harmony Kendall left the envelope to one side for a couple weeks, before accidentally toppling it from the Unimportant In-Tray one day when Angel was more than usually testy. The contents of the envelope slid out, rattling.
“Eeuw,” said Harmony, deprecating the sender’s taste.
“Huh,” said Angel, recognizing the object.
“You want I should throw it away,” asked Harmony, the perfect disposal operative.
“Uh… No.” Angel paused. He really didn’t need that reminder hanging about. But it was an important object. Who knew, it might actually be useful someday. “Send it to Buffy,” he said.
Importantly, he never touched the amulet. Nor did Harmony, really. Sensibly distrustful of magical objects, she scooped it up with some cardboard and packed it up tight to make sure no one got accidentally magicked along the way. She really was a very good assistant, evil notwithstanding.
The Slayer Council was busy, in those early days, and Buffy wasn’t entirely with the programme. So it took time for the parcel even to reach Buffy’s Rome apartment, and a really long time before anyone thought about opening it. Buffy was mourning Spike, flinging herself into that thing with the Immortal that seemed like such a bad idea nobody could even talk to her about it, trying to keep Dawn to some kind of regular educational schedule, semi-participating in building the way the Council was going to operate in future… and trying not to murder Andrew, a former enemy that she had been technically living with for over a year now, despite not ever, ever wanting to live with him. Though his baking was really improving.
Other stuff happened in that time, too. Angel’s time at Wolfram and Hart wasn’t bolstered by any rivalry with Spike. Fred died, and there was nobody about to hold back Wesley and Angel’s grief. Illyria rose. Lindsey and Eve waited, and waited, and waited in vain. And, eventually, died, along with everyone else.
Spike wasn’t the cause of saving the world in the world you know. But he was a part of what happened in LA. And this time?
That didn’t exactly happen.
It was a week into the Apocalypse that Buffy opened the package. She was packing up the Rome apartment, because it was clear that city living wasn’t going to be a big part of her life from now on. Maybe not ever again. But Italy wasn’t too badly hit in those first days, and enough of the buildings were still standing that she could spend a few hours formally ending that stage of her life.
The package addressed from Wolfram and Hart had been a part of the Undealt With Council Crap for months, now, but suddenly – what with the Apocalypse being their deal, this time – Buffy realized she should probably check it out. She opened the first, efficient, layer of packaging, read the not-very-explanatory note from Harmony, and turned to the enclosed envelope.
She opened it. Slid out the contents. A rattling chain, and a jewel. Massive and butt-ugly, honestly, but also a memory of enormous power. Wow.
“Spike,” she said, quietly, reaching out for the amulet. She’d allow herself just a few moments, to remember, before packing it away.
The second she touched it, though, there was a whirling, a rushing and sparking, a power surge that shorted out the remaining electrical systems in the immediate area. And then there was a gritty ashy whirlwind, and fire, and a smell she hadn’t known she remembered, and there, suddenly, was Spike.
So that is what happened differently in this world. And this is now.
He’s screaming. She always kind of knew that he must have, at the end, because you can be really heroic about sacrificing yourself for the world, but burning up from the inside is going to hurt. Last time, she didn’t have to hear this.
There’s a moment, when he’s this grey-fiery screaming mass in her living room where she’s tempted, compelled almost, to consider killing him. Because the pain is too much, and if he’s stuck like this- But it passes, as he solidifies and cools, and becomes more recognizably Spike. (She realizes that she knew it was him even before that, even as the dying fire monster, but she doesn’t have time to process that thought and simply tucks it away for later. Post-Apocalypse later, if that ever comes.)
Spike stops screaming. He looks at her, immensely loving, that gaze she remembers from the last day of Sunnydale, and says, “Buffy?” He swallows. “You brought me back?”
She is tempted to take all the credit. Very. But- “Uh, by accident? Angel sent me the amulet, and it just- Well, it spit you out.”
“Oh,” he says, and though the love is still there, it’s a little less hero-worshippy. “Right. Well, here I am.”
He is. He’s a little transparent, and he’s standing in the middle of her couch, and this quite suddenly becomes something a little more complex than Resurrected Former Lover in My Apartment.
They exchange a lot of information in a very short space. It’s not a dream reunion, more like a Giles-type briefing. The two quakes that rock the apartment in the time it takes to explain Apocalypse, Angel and friends assumed dead, Spike apparently ghostly, no clue why, Buffy clearing out of the apartment right now, taking – it emerges – the amulet with her, as Spike is tied to it in some way, kind of underline the need to do shit now,without too many romantic turns. Besides, “I’m really glad you’re back,” seems like absolutely the wrong thing to say to a ghost, even if it is kind of the truth.
Buffy is going to headquarters, in Scotland, because they need her at the spearhead, because there are squads fighting the actual monsters that are now bursting through all over the world, but they need a core group to, you know, fix the Apocalypse. And apparently that’s Buffy’s speciality.
Anyway, she won’t be staying here, and Scotland has land, and space, and lots of defences, and if that’s all they can have while the rest of the world burns, it seems like a place to defend. Dawn’s there already, so Buffy needs to be there.
There are, though, some hitches.
“You’re driving?” says Spike, horrified.
Public transport stopped two days before, shortly after Andrew took off for Moscow (the two are definitely not connected). So, yeah.
“You don’t have a car?” says Spike, horrified.
“You don’t know the way?” says Spike, horrified.
Buffy is rapidly losing the feeling of gladness to see him again. Except: “Slayer, it’s fine. I’ll tutor you, sure you can pick up how to work a stick shift by the time we hit Nice. And I know how to hotwire, can teach you that, too. Oh, and I was navigating round Europe long before GPS, so…” He pauses. “Exactly how were you planning to cope without me?”
She doesn’t really have an answer. “I would have,” she says, anyway. Buffy does.
“I know. Sorry, love,” he says, and looks genuinely bashful for a second. He even fades out a little, and that makes her panic. Because, though she definitely would have managed all of this without him, she’d really prefer not to.
Spike is as annoying about one-remove car theft as you would expect, but an explosion that takes out a chunk of the Victor Emmanuel monument down the street kind of underlines the urgency and eventually Buffy breaks into a solid-looking FIAT that doesn’t have any sophisticated security, and doesn’t have a kid seat in the back. (She really doesn’t want to hinder other people fleeing if possible, but especially not those fleeing with babies.)
The streets, though, are pretty empty. A contrast to last week, when things first started, and all routes out of the centre were clotted and clogged, people flying on blind instinct anywhere that wasn’t a knot of population, to keep their heads down, hope that the big evil would happen to the big cities, and they’d be lucky on grandma’s farm, or in the mountains, or whatever.
It’s a lot like the last days of Sunnydale, as Spike and Buffy agree during Buffy’s first driving lesson. And this is a good thing, because Buffy and gear shifts are not natural partners. She kind of hops along the intersection by the Coliseum, which would usually mean the death of a scooter rider and likely a nun too, but on this occasion gets them nothing more than the stink eye from a feral cat and being photographed by what must be the last backpacker in town.
Spike guides her along beside the Forums, and the collapsing Monument, and then north, up the Corso. “This place doesn’t change. Nor do you. FUCK IT BUFFY WOULD YOU USE YOUR FUCKING EYES!” She doesn’t hit the truck, but she does stall the engine, and Spike tuts and fidgets as they head up to the Piazza Flaminia. He compulsively flings his hand down on hers on the gearstick as they approach, and they both gasp at the tingles. Tentatively, he makes the moves down to second gear, and her hand follows, no words necessary. He isn’t exactly touching her, but she can feel him where they overlap. And, more importantly, feel where he wants her to move to.
“Pull over.” She knows what Spike is going to suggest even before he says it, and she doesn’t want to agree. But, important running away business needs better driving. So.
Spike floats gingerly across into the driver’s seat, and settles on top of Buffy. Or, more like, into Buffy, and that is an incredibly weird and wrong thought given their history, but it’s basically true.
“Can you read my mind?” she checks, nervously, when he snickers.
“What? No, don’t think so. Just thinking this isn’t how we used to get close, but-“ Okay. It’s an obvious thought when you’re snuggled up this close. Buffy can deal. Except-
“Please could you keep your head out of my head?” It feels just too, too weird. They compromise on slightly tilted heads that gives Buffy a stiff neck after a bit. That, though, is the worst part. Having Spike on/in her, guiding her movements, actually feels kind of- Okay? And also, troublingly familiar. He taught Buffy a whole lot, two years back, about her body and what she could do with it. This doesn’t – shouldn’t – have the edge of sex, of course, but it’s still intimate.
And it works. They drive for hours, and not one random stall.
The motorways are badly affected by demon hordes and abandoned cars, and Spike is navigating by Roman roads (“Most of the Via Aurelia’s still there, easy enough up the coast, so long as we can get round at Nice we’ll be fine, head on up the Rhone – better than relying on a tunnel under the Alps I’d reckon.” Which, yes. Some of the tunnels have gone already, and there are beasts in the others. He nods when she tells him as much. “Nasty places there, in the Alps. Darla had friends I’d not care to meet anytime like this.”) It’s technically longer, but gets them places pretty fast. Through towns full of shuttered homes and shops, with ragged holes in some roads and blood splatter on buildings now and again. Mostly from panic and gunfire, they think. There’s little enough of the Apocalypse come to town in this area. It will get worse.
They never hear anyone screaming. Somehow, the scenes feel wrong without it, like the people have all gone away. Maybe they have.
Spike also knows how to siphon gas, it emerges, on one stop in a desolate seaside town, bright sunshine on colourful apartment blocks and the sea rolling in, inappropriate to Apocalypse season. “I’m like your handy criminal sidekick,” he says, dipping his head briefly into Buffy’s so she can feel the fizz of humour inside him. And he is, handy, anyway.
“Like a Swiss knife,” she agrees. “Except for being non-corporeal and mystically mysterious.” A thought occurs to her about ten hours after it should have. “Hey, you’re not frizzling in the sunshine.”
“Nope. Handy, this ghosting.” He sounds pretty calm, considering. Buffy suspects he’s postponing Ghostly Crisis the way she’s postponing Dead Undead Lover Returns Even Undeader Crisis. Right now, there’s a practical thing to be fixed, and they are both focusing fiercely. It’s making things easier. Deep thoughts are gonna have to wait till survival is at least a 50% possibility.
Oddly, it isn’t till the end of the day that it even occurs to Buffy to ask. “Hey, Spike?”
“Mmmm?” he sounds faint, tired, perhaps, if ghosts get tired. Maybe this was a little much for a first day re-alive.
“Um, you’re not the First, are you?” She really should have thought of this before. Non-corporeal used to be quite the big clue in Buffyworld, and here she is, forgetting it.
He’s quiet for a bit. “Don’t think so. Not sure how to check, to be honest. But I feel like me. Feel like helping you matters. Definitely don’t want you dead. And Buffy- when I died? I felt the First, then. I don’t think it can die as such, but it was wounded, recoiling. I reckon it’ll be a long time before it’s up and about.” He pauses. “Well, I think so. Could be talking bollocks and leading you to a messy end, of course. Somewhere in Romania, most like, given you’ve no bloody idea where we are.”
It’s the teaching, the teasing and the grouching that have kept Buffy from even contemplating that this entity could be other than Spike, honestly. The First never was good at the human side. “I do,” she says, “We’re almost in France. I can read signs, you know.” She hears her voice waver as she says it, and feels Spike shift in alarm.
“Christ, Slayer, how long has it been since we stopped last?”
It’s been about five hours. Buffy’s bladder is screaming, her arms are strained, she could devour a Doublemeat Medley without even thinking about the ingredients, and she wouldn’t have noticed any of that if Spike wasn’t here, she realises.
He steers them into the next layby that isn’t overlooked by rocks or mature trees. Demons may come anyway, but this gives them a chance of avoiding the most obvious natural disasters currently afflicting the planet. “Sleep, love. I’ll keep a watch, leap on you if you need to be woken, okay?”
He’s clearly trying not to sound lecherous, but there’s still a moment when they make meaningful eye contact. Half happy memories, half a bubbling-up of the wary memory of what ‘leap on you’ had once meant, when she was tired another time. Buffy goes to pee in the undergrowth, confused and tired and not processing yet.
She comes back to find the car surrounded by vampires. Spike’s standing in the centre of the circle, grinning. “Slayer?” he says, conversationally, and the vampires’ heads turn towards her. Buffy reaches for her stakes.
“Might I have the honour?” She doesn’t quite get his meaning till he floats through a bunch of vamps, and hovers just beside her.
“Oh! Sure!” Poor guy. He loved killing demons before, and incorporeal killing isn’t going to work. Or, if it is, they haven’t worked out how just yet. Spike steps into her body as the first, braver, vamps charge.
It isn’t like the driving. No need for Spike to take the lead. Buffy is in control here, Spike just along for the ride. She can feel him in her movements, riding her strength, feel his buzz feeding hers so that tired limbs stretch anew and rejoice. Just occasionally, he adds to her reactions or moves, giving her a little edge, compensating for a slight weakness or predictability.
They always did fight well together. The vampires poof too fast. Spike steps out of her body for the last one, into her adversary’s space. It slows the vamp, a little, but by the time he is staked, Spike has got bored, stepped out. He shakes his head, disgusted. “Nah, that’s no fun. He won’t work with me, not like you do. I’d rather fight on your side, don’t you think?”
Buffy yawns, nods. She’s suddenly back to exhausted. Spike offers her his untouchable arm, with a mocking little bow, and they stumble to the car again. She wonders whether she should stay in the front seat, ready for a quick getaway, but the thought of getting back in there after so many hours, and before so many more, sends her hurrying for the back doors.
It’s not comfortable, semi-prone on the back seat with her knees tucked up too far. She doesn’t sleep as fast as she might. Listens to the distant sounds of animals, and worse than animals. They’re still in Italy, though not for long. It’s going to be another few days at best before she’s back with the Council. Just her and Spike, against the Apocalypse.
He’s floating in the front seat, but she wants him closer. “Spike? Come lie with me?” It’s how they spent the last few nights of his unlife, after all. She still wants him there.
His head pops over the seatback, looking startled. “Really?”
She nods, and he slips over, curling around and into her, partly sharing her space, partly not. Less closely connected than when driving, but more consciously intimate. This is how they used to sleep, before, when they – rarely – got the chance.
He speaks into the back of her neck, the sound muffled by her skin, but no breath stirring the fine hairs there. “You reckon this one is bad, don’t you?”
“Mmmph. Probably.” It really doesn’t look too good. “It took out Angel’s whole crew, and half our North American squads, in two days. That has to be bad, right? The Council’re expecting me to come up with a magic fix-it, but I don’t even know where to start.”
He nods, which she feels as his space dips in and out of hers. Weird, to have that level of sensation, but nothing else. Spike is such a toucher, a physical being.
“Are you gonna be okay,” she asks, suddenly. “I don’t think we have time to fix you just now. And, you know-“
“Maybe not ever. Yeah, I know love. But… Well, back is better than gone, I reckon. Where there’s undeath, there’s hope.” He pauses, then speaks lower, less bravely. “’Sides. This… this feels like payback. For times when I had my strength and used it unwisely. Hurt people. You. All I can do like this is help, you know?”
She doesn’t answer directly, but she hears the words and understands them. And finds that it is actually the exact right thing to say. “I’m really glad you’re back.” Okay, he’s a ghost, and last time they spoke he didn’t believe something important she was trying to say. And sure, the circumstances are non-optimal, though Apocalypse with Spike feels more familiar than frightening. But she is, immensely, glad that he is back.
His head dips into hers, and they share a space for a long, quiet time, till she sleeps.
This is where this world changes. It doesn’t happen all at once. Travelling is a challenge. They will have to fight to the death on four occasions, with a range of beasts and demons risen from the depths of the land. There will also be a thing where Spike and Buffy disagree over a gear change just north of Lyons and the whole transmission will fall out in consequence. They will argue about this throughout two subsequent changes of vehicle and across the Burgundian plateau, Champagne and the Pas de Calais. There will turn out to be no means of crossing the English Channel apart from in a small bribe-encouraged fishing boat, in which ghostly Spike unexpectedly turns out to be more seasick than vampire Spike. There will be something that looks like a zombie plague in the vicinity of Doncaster, which they will hurry not to investigate on this occasion. They will get lost in the Highlands, as Buffy will not have noted down the castle postcode correctly and all the phone lines will be down, due to Apocalypse. They will argue about that, too.
But they will eventually return to the Council. It will be a long struggle, and not a simple one, nor will losses be negligible. But the Apocalypse will be stopped, and Spike and Buffy will be integral to its ending.
Did you doubt it?
As for what precisely can be done for Spike in this iteration, and how he will regain his physical form – and indeed what form his physical form will take? That is another story.
This story pivots on this moment, of trust and reunion, and of rest.
Originally posted at https://seasonal-spuffy.dreamwidth.org/822342.html