|Story Title:||Miles To Go Before I Sleep|
Stairway to Heaven
Spike and the others endeavor to build Buffy and Annie a stairway to heaven in order to send them home. Will they be able to get past the Reds, the Turok-Han, and the bats? Will anyone double-cross them and take the opportunity to escape themselves?
Music Referenced: Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin http://youtu.be/i7JGrpYSiCY
|Thanks:||To u2fan2005 and epd4 for their suggestions, corrections, and help betaing this chapter. And giant thanks to Anona for her grammatical and punctuation corrections, wonderful commentary, and final review. Final thanks to Capella42 for her insightful suggestions that made the whole story better. All mistakes are mine because I simply cannot stop fiddling right up to the last moment.|
|Rating / Warnings:||
NC17. Content is only suitable for mature adults. Contains explicit language, sex, adult themes, and other adult situations that some people may find objectionable. If you are under the age of 17 or find any of these themes objectionable – GO AWAY.
Tuesday, April 19th, 2011, Gift-less Dimension, in the Initiative / Base Camp:
Buffy ripped at her torn and tattered clothes frantically, pulling them off her body in anger and frustration and tossing them to the floor of the shower as hot water pounded down on her from above. She felt dirty … filthy. She could still feel Riley’s hands on her; feel his body pressing against her, as she shed the last vestige of his attack by dropping her shredded underwear to the floor. She scrubbed her skin violently with the only soap in the showers – a lavender and jasmine blend. The aroma, which should be luscious and relaxing, only infuriated her more. She needed something to get this feeling off her – she needed … bleach or … lye soap! That’s what she needed! Lye soap!
Buffy began to sob again as she scrubbed her skin raw with her fingernails, not even noticing the pain of her bruises, cuts, and welts as she tried to wash even them away. But they refused to leave her body, just as the feeling of being dirty refused to leave her. She had to get it off … get that feeling of being a victim off, the feeling of being violated off, of being a cheating slut off. She scrubbed and scrubbed her skin, her hair, her whole body until she bled, until she’d used the whole bar of soap and the water ran cold, and she still couldn’t get it off.
Finally, as the cold water continued to rain down on her, she dropped down onto the tile floor of the shower and curled into a ball and sobbed uncontrollably. What Riley had done was bad enough, but what she had done with him and his Spike in her dreams … that made it even worse. How could she have not known that those were more than just crazy dreams? How could she have not seen or felt that they were bond dreams? How could she have done that to Spike?
“God, Spike … I’m so sorry,” Buffy cried to the empty room as her sobs continued unchecked. She had a pain in her chest that she was sure was Spike’s soul being torn to shreds. “So sorry … Spike … sorry…” she muttered between deep, shuddering breaths.
“Buffy?” Tara called from around the corner, in the dressing area of the large locker room that had at one time served the Initiative soldiers. “I’ve got you some clothes.”
But Buffy didn’t even hear her, all she could hear were Riley’s gloating, stabbing words, ‘You need to see who’s really fucking you this time – Riley Finn! Say it! Riley! Say it!’ All Buffy could see were his glowing, red eyes as he held her down. His hands seemed to be everywhere at once – too strong for her to fight; then his knee was against her thigh, bruising, pushing her legs apart.
Buffy jumped when Tara touched her shoulder, her eyes flashed with fear as she instinctively lurched away from the intrusion. Buffy hadn’t heard her enter the shower area, hadn’t even noticed that Tara had turned the cold water off.
“It’s ok, Buffy … here.” Tara wrapped the Slayer in a towel.
Buffy took some deep breaths as she let the other woman put the towel around her, only then realizing that she was freezing from the cold tiles and water. “Thanks,” she muttered as she held the terry cloth around her bruised, bleeding, and battered body.
Tara gave her a crooked, comforting smile and Buffy caught a glimpse the girl she used to be – the caring woman and loving mother that she’d grown into back home, through the wall of hardness she’d built.
“Did he…” Tara began, then paused and let out a breath. “Did he …I mean …ummm … do you need any stitches or … anything?”
Buffy closed her eyes and shook her head. What she needed was lye soap; she doubted they had any. She didn’t ask.
“I’ve got you some clothes. C’mon – I’ll help you up,” Tara offered, standing up and reaching a hand out towards Buffy.
“Thanks,” Buffy muttered again as she accepted the witch’s help and got to her feet.
“It wasn’t your fault, you know,” Tara assured her as they walked back to the changing room.
Buffy let out a derisive snort but didn’t say anything. She couldn’t help but think if she’d just stopped those dreams, none of this would’ve happened – she wouldn’t need that lye soap right now.
“Buffy, it wasn’t your fault,” Tara repeated more adamantly as they walked.
“You don’t know what I did,” Buffy told her, her voice hoarse and barely above a whisper as she sat down to pull on the clothes that Tara brought.
“It doesn’t matter what you did. What do you think, you were asking for it? That’s not true and that’s not the Buffy I used to know.”
Buffy snorted again. “I provoked a soulless vampire into thinking I was gonna steal his lover – his sire. I didn’t mean to do it … didn’t even realize I was doing it, but I did. What exactly do you think would happen in that scenario?”
Tara sighed heavily as she handed Buffy a white, ribbed undershirt; she didn’t have any bras that would fit Buffy. “Spike’s always been able to keep Riley under control – he may have been a soulless monster, but he knew right from wrong.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Yeah, that’s the thing with monsters: they may know right from wrong, but they just don’t care. If they’re threatened, they lash out. I threatened him.”
“So, this is all your fault, then? You’re the one to blame?” Tara shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
Buffy slid the white undershirt on and then pulled a t-shirt over it and wrapped her arms around her torso. “I feel so dirty … inside,” Buffy admitted, closing her eyes to hold the flood back. “If Spike hadn’t come in…” Buffy shuddered and shook her head as images of the struggle flashed in her mind like a nightmarish slide-show.
“You aren’t the one that’s dirty, Buffy. The dirt’s scattered on the floor in there,” Tara assured her again.
Buffy nodded, but remained unconvinced. She should’ve been able to tell those weren’t just regular old dreams. She definitely should’ve been able to tell one of her dream-lovers was Riley … regardless of the fact that he looked and talked and … did nearly everything, like Spike.
“Ok,” Tara’s voice hardened again, back to the business of survival. “You need to put it aside now, your daughter needs you strong. We’ll find a way to get you home; you have to be ready to go. You can’t afford to be weepy and weak dwelling on something that’s passed and can’t be changed.”
Buffy met her eyes and nodded resolutely. “I’ll be ready.”
Back in Annie’s room, Buffy sat down in the chair that had been put back next to the head of her daughter’s bed. Buffy brushed back her girl’s hair and laid a palm on her forehead. She was cooler than she’d been before the ice bath, but still feverish.
That had been an experience Buffy never wanted to have again; dunking her semi-conscious, fevered daughter into a tub of ice water. Annie had first screamed as the cold water hit her burning skin, then she began to shake and shiver uncontrollably as she fought against Buffy to get out of the freezing water. Annie losing consciousness again had been a blessing; Buffy hated blessings like that. It was the most painful thing Buffy had ever experienced – even including Riley and the Council’s dungeon. She felt like she was torturing her own child and it threatened to rip her heart out of her chest. No matter that she knew it had to be done in order to save her, it still felt like she was the monster.
Buffy pulled the covers back and looked at the wounds on Annie’s legs. Andrew was doing all he could to keep them cleaned, but greenish pus still oozed freely from the large, angry gashes. There were red streaks running up across her hipbone and down past her knee where the infection was spreading to the rest of her body. The girl’s lean, muscular quadriceps were inflamed, bright red atop the dark bruising, and swollen grotesquely, at least twice their normal size. The swelling was stretching the stitches and some had ripped free of her flesh, opening the wounds up.
Fear gripped Buffy’s heart anew – Annie wasn’t going to make it – she could feel it in her bones. Their beautiful, smart, and funny girl was going to die in this godforsaken dimension just like so many of Buffy’s friends had … just like her counterpart had. And there was nothing she could do about it. The Slayer was helpless. That had been going around lately, and Buffy didn’t like it. Not one bit.
Buffy covered Annie back up and dropped a kiss on her daughter’s fevered brow before heading into the hallway. She needed to find Spike, find out what was being done, light a fire under someone’s ass. She needed to get Annie home.
It didn’t take long for her to find the blond vamp, she heard his voice before she saw him and turned and walked toward it. He was only a couple of doors down: in Dawn’s room. Buffy paused at the side of the door to listen and see who else was in there before going in. Spike was still talking …
“ … couldn’t protect ‘er … let her down again, I did,” he was saying, his words coming slowly, his voice sounding very tired. “Says she can fix it, Niblett.” Spike snorted softly. “Won’t be nothing to fix when I’m done. Seems all I’m good at is bollixing up ‘er life. I love her so bloody much and all I can do is hurt ‘er.
“I swear I’ll get ‘er and the Platelet home. When the nasties realize we’ve opened a bloody portal … we’ll be done for. There’ll be no one left t’ keep you safe, then.
“I swear I did m’ best, Dawn. When you see big sis, you tell her I did m’ best, yeah? Tell ‘er I’m so bloody sorry.”
Buffy furrowed her brow – that sounded like …
Buffy stepped into the room and saw Spike pick up a pillow and lay it over Dawn’s face. He didn’t even realize she was there as all his attention was on the comatose girl.
“What the hell are you doing, Spike?” Buffy demanded as she moved swiftly up to the other side of the bed and pulled the pillow away.
Spike looked shocked for a moment, then just shook his head. “Best this way, Slayer. When we’re gone, won’t have anyone to protect ‘er … this is best. No pain … just pass on. She can be safe – big sis’ll keep her safe.”
“And just where are you going?”
“Going t’ get you ‘ome – like I promised. Most likely won’t make it back from that mission, Slayer. Gotta take care o’ this now. Can’t leave ‘er here on 'er own,” Spike explained his logic to her.
“Ok, that’s not gonna happen. We still have four strong fighters and me, so just put the suicide mission out of your mind,” Buffy argued.
“You don’t know, Slayer – you’ve only gotten a small taste o’ what we’ll face,” Spike contended. “When the beasties realize there’s a portal open to another dimension full o’ juicy treats, they’ll flood us. Reds, Uglies, bats … and every other bloody demon within five miles’ll be there – we’ll be overrun. This is a suicide mission – we all know it, you should too.”
“No! There has to be another way,” Buffy insisted.
Spike shook his head. “It’s our gift to you. Go home. Save the girl, love your mate, hug your friends, be happy. Put this place outta your mind – don’t ever look back, don’t ever come back; we won’t be ‘ere.”
Buffy felt icy fingers wrap around her heart and throat; she suddenly couldn’t breathe. She shook her head in denial as tears streamed down her face again. “No … I … I don’t want…”
“No matter what you want, Slayer. Not up to you. This is what we’re givin’ – it’s all settled. You forgot – you’re not in charge ‘ere; I am,” Spike informed her sternly as he pulled the pillow out of her hands.
“Spike … no! You can’t do this! You can’t … your soul! Think what it will do to your soul!” Buffy argued, trying to wrest the pillow away from him.
“Got no soul, Slayer – only ever had you,” he insisted as he pulled away from her and backed up a step so she couldn’t reach the pillow from across the bed.
“That’s not true, Spike. William’s still in there – he’s always been there, deep down. Can’t you feel him? Don’t you know what it would do to him if you …” Buffy let her voice trail off as she looked down at Dawn, who hadn’t moved or even twitched.
Spike furrowed his brow and looked at her with a mixture of wonder and confusion. How could she know that he still sometimes felt like William? Still loved with his whole heart like William had? Still fought the ponce back at times … times like this?
“Spike, I know you. Your Buffy didn’t … not yet, not really, but I do. I know the man behind the mask, and a part of William’s soul is still in there. He wouldn’t want you to do this,” Buffy explained softly.
“Yeah, well … as usual, the ponce is wrong. This is best for the Niblett. I promised to keep her safe – that means more than just keeping her body alive, it means knowin’ when t’ let go, and this is the time.
“Won’t be safe here when I’m gone. Can’t let her be found by the Reds … or the Turok-Han. Any idea what they’d do t’ her? Any idea what that blood o’ hers tastes like to a demon? Sweet as Slayer blood, it is, with a bloody kick o’ ancient energy even older than a Slayer.” Spike shook his head. “Can’t take the chance, Buffy. Please don’t make this any harder than it already is.”
“Spike, I can’t … I can’t let you do this.” Buffy stood fast. There was no guarantee that he wouldn’t make it, that his team wouldn’t make it … there was no guarantee of anything in this place.
Just then, Oz appeared in the doorway. “We’re ready, man.”
Spike stared at Buffy across the bed, still holding the pillow in his hands. She had no idea what she was doing. She had no idea what would happen if the monsters got in here, and with the fighters gone, it would only be a matter of time before that happened. But he could see in her eyes, in the set of her jaw; she wasn’t going to allow him to do what needed to be done.
Finally, Spike nodded and set the pillow down. “Be right there,” he acknowledged Oz without looking at him.
“You stay ‘ere,” Spike informed Buffy as he turned to go. “When we get your stairway t’ heaven in place, someone’ll come back t’ get you and the Platelet. If ya need blood drawn, get the little poofter t’ do it … he knows how. Be about an hour or two if all goes according t’ Hoyle. Be ready.”
And with that he was gone, down the hall behind Oz and towards the exit, the blessed sword resting in its scabbard on his back, leaving Buffy standing alone in Dawn’s room. She sighed heavily and looked at the girl who appeared to be sleeping. She hoped she’d done the right thing by stopping him. Buffy sent a silent prayer to anyone that would listen to keep Spike and his team safe – so they could keep Dawn safe. She didn’t know what they were doing to build this ‘stairway to heaven’ for her and Annie, but she knew it would be important for her to get up it and get through the portal as fast as she could. The less time it stayed open, the fewer demons it would attract, and the better the chances of everyone surviving.
“Don’t worry, Dawn – I swear I can fix it,” she whispered to the unmoving figure in the bed before heading out to find Andrew to get some Key blood drawn so they would be ready when it was time to go.
“You go on ahead, I’ll catch up,” Spike told Oz after they rounded a corner and were out of view of Dawn’s room.
Oz looked at him and then down the hallway they’d just come from. The wolf nodded his understanding and kept going. Spike circled around and waited for Buffy to leave Dawn’s room and go back into Annie’s. When the coast was clear, he went back, moving with vampire stealth and speed.
He leaned over Dawn and pressed a kiss against her forehead. “I love you, Niblett. So, bloody sorry. Don’t forget to tell Buffy, I …” tears stung his eyes and his throat closed up. Spike closed his eyes and clenched his jaw until the muscles in his cheek twitched. The tendons in his neck stood out against his alabaster skin, taut as piano wires. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed back the bile that rose in his throat.
It wasn’t like he hadn’t done this and worse … much worse, to girls Dawn’s age in the past.
Spike’s hands trembled as he gripped the pillow like a drowning man would grip a life preserver. With every ounce of resolve and courage he had in him, Spike pressed the pillow down over the comatose girl’s face.
William was fighting him.
William would lose.
Two and half hours later…
“Hey,” Oz called as he touched Buffy’s arm, waking her from a restless sleep as she sat in the chair next to Annie’s bed.
“Are they ready? When do we go?” she asked, snapping awake immediately.
“Pretty much now,” Oz replied as he started uncovering Annie. Andrew had donated a set of his own sweat pants and a sweat shirt, and Buffy had gotten Annie dressed in them while she was waiting.
Buffy picked up the vials of blood Andrew had drawn, then pulled her scythe from under the bed and handed the weapon to Oz.
“I can’t carry her and it,” she explained when he looked at her quizzically.
“I can’t carry it if I have to wolf-out,” Oz explained.
“If you have to wolf-out, I’m thinking I’ll need it back.”
Oz shrugged and shifted it to his left hand as he reached under the bed and pulled out the scroll that held the key to decoding the secret to the Gem of Amarra.
“Spike said you should take this with you,” Oz explained when Buffy looked at him questioningly.
“But … he’ll … you guys will need it to create the Gem,” Buffy tried to argue.
“I’m thinking, not so much,” Oz stated flatly and shrugged one shoulder nonchalantly. “Do you need help getting her?” he offered, looking at Annie.
“No, I can get her … but, Oz, Tara can use the scroll to find the key and create a Gem for Spike. Does he know it’ll make him invincible? He can protect everyone better if he has it,” Buffy explained in earnest.
“Pretty sure he knows. We need to get going,” Oz told her before turning and starting out of the room, taking the scroll and the scythe with him.
Buffy sighed heavily. It was hard to argue with someone who wouldn’t argue.
Frowning, she tucked the two vials of Annie’s blood into the back pocket of her jeans. Buffy picked Annie up as gently as she could and followed Oz down the hallway towards the sewers.
They emerged from the sewers on the opposite side of the warehouse from where Glory’s tower had been. Oz helped Buffy get the unconscious Annie up through the manhole, as he kept a close eye on the sky and streets around them for demons. The activity of the last couple of hours had drawn some attention, as everyone knew it would. He and Spike had done their best to dust any vamps or bats that came near to keep them from leaving and returning with reinforcements, but some had escaped and the noise they had made getting the stairway in place was sure to attract even more.
While the two demons guarded the perimeter, Xander and Tara worked on moving the large crane that held the wrecking ball. Tara used magic to turn it and move it forward enough to use the long steel arm as a stairway over the bug pit as Xander directed her and showed her where to position it. She could only move it a small bit at a time, just a few inches, it was so heavy and seemed almost rooted, or perhaps rusted, in place after so many years. She had finally gotten it set where Xander wanted it and then had magically bent the jib down so it was about twenty feet above ground level and sticking out over Bob’s deep sand trap.
While they worked, the ‘demon-lion’ bug stayed hidden at the bottom of his trap, waiting patiently for a demon to fall in, as it had done for many years. Demons always fell in, it seemed – a few every week, either out of carelessness or ignorance or arrogance. Few ever escaped. Bob waited; time was on his side.
Tara was exhausted from her magical exertion, but refused to go back to base. She knew the demons would be coming – if for no other reason than curiosity. There was no way every demon within a three-mile radius hadn’t heard the equipment’s metal track scraping across the concrete. If they missed that, then the jib bending, which screeched like a thousand rusty cemetery gates being forced to move at once, would’ve certainly drawn their attention.
Tara pointed out that when that portal opened, they would need all the help they could get to keep the Reds and the Turok-Han from climbing the ‘stairway’ and following Buffy and Annie. What was going to be harder was keeping the bats from simply flying through it; in fact, she wasn’t sure how Spike planned to keep that from happening. Tara was hopeful that, when the time came, she’d have enough magic left to break the equipment’s arm and drop it down into the bug pit, cutting off any chance for the land-based demons to follow the Slayer.
Oz, carrying the scythe and the scroll, and Buffy, who was carrying Annie, made their way along the side of the warehouse, keeping close to the wall. Oz stayed behind her, keeping an eye out for possible attacks from the ground and the air as they made their way to ‘ground zero’. Just as they were about to get to the end of the warehouse to make the turn around the building, Buffy heard the unmistakable sound of bat wings flapping behind them.
“Run!” Oz shouted at her, knowing the bat couldn’t make the sharp turn at the corner of the building.
She turned the corner and stopped to look back just in time to see Oz use the stake-end of the scythe to dust the large demon-bat that had targeted them. It exploded instantly and covered him in a layer of sooty-dust, which he shook out of his hair and off his clothes like a dog shaking water out of his coat after a swim.
When he caught up to her, he held the scythe up and simply said, “Neat.”
Buffy had to laugh despite everything. Oz was the master of understatement.
“Right, then,” came from behind them and Buffy turned to see Spike, Xander, and Tara standing under the loading dock roof of the warehouse. They were near the ‘Buffy Memorial’ that she and Annie had found that first day; she hoped that wasn’t some kind of omen.
“You ready?” he asked as Buffy and Oz walked towards the group.
“Born ready,” Buffy assured him. “But you need to keep this scroll – you’ll need it. Having the Gem will…”
“Scroll goes with ya – belongs to the little bit there. She paid a 'eavy price for it,” Spike insisted, shooting Buffy a look that dared her to argue with him.
Buffy sighed, shifting Annie’s weight in her arms. “I’ll bring it back then.”
“Nooooo … you will not. You are not comin’ back ‘ere, Slayer. Do as I say – go ‘ome. Stay there. There won’t be anyone left t’ come back for,” Spike informed her again.
“Spiiike …” Buffy moaned, but he just shook his head adamantly.
Buffy looked at the others, meeting their eyes one at a time. She could see in their grim and determined faces that they also believed this would be their final battle. Buffy’s chin began to quiver and she shook her head. “No … there must be another way.”
“This is the only way, Slayer. Now, we need t’ move – won’t have long ‘fore the place is overrun. Here’s the plan: you and I are gonna go up the stairway. Harris, Glinda, and wolf-boy will stay down here – try to keep the demons from climbing up after us. I’ll keep the bats off ya and any nasties that get by the others away while you open the portal and jump through. I’ll try t’ keep the bats from flying through – can you control how big you make the portal?
Buffy shrugged. “I can try, maybe with less blood,” Buffy offered.
Spike nodded. “Try t’ keep it just big enough for the two a’ you. Once you’re through, Glinda will break the jib, drop the stairway ‘t keep the hordes from followin’.”
Buffy’s brows furrowed. “Drop the … but you’ll be on it!” Buffy realized.
Spike ignored her. “Right then, everyone ready?” Spike asked, looking at his crew.
Spike’s people nodded.
“No!” Buffy exclaimed. “Bad plan! Horrible plan! Your worst plan ever, Spike!”
“Right, then,” Spike continued, as if she hadn’t spoken. “'ere we go.”
Everyone started for the crane, except Buffy who stood still, holding Annie and staring after them. “No!” she called again, but they just kept walking.
“Fucking stubborn vampire…” she muttered under her breath as she stood her ground, stomping one foot down petulantly.
“I heard that!” Spike called over his shoulder. “If you want t’ go home, you need to c’mon now – the Reds are comin’ … I can smell them.”
Buffy sighed, stomped her foot again, and looked down at her daughter. Annie’s body was hot against Buffy’s chest as she held her in her arms, her skin was damp and pale; she had to get her some real medicine, get her to a real hospital. She had no choice. She had told Spike when she first arrived that she’d choose her daughter over him or anyone that got in her way – now those words were coming to fruition. These people were giving everything for her and Annie.
“Goddamnit,” Buffy moaned, looking up at the sky a moment as she tried to come up with a different plan. She had nothing. She sighed in resignation and started after the small group of kamikazes.
Buffy hurried to catch up with them. Spike was already up on the tall fender of the crane waiting for her. It pissed her off to know that he knew she would be there, that her objections wouldn’t last. But, of course, he somehow always seemed to know her true heart even before she did. Spike reached down with one hand and pulled Oz up onto the fender, taking the scroll from his hand and tucking it into the waistband of his jeans at his back, then together they gently lifted Annie up from Buffy’s arms. Xander and Tara gave Buffy a boost up while Spike caught her hand and pulled, lifting her up next to him as Oz held the unconscious girl.
“Right, then,” Spike began, taking Annie from Oz. “Gonna have to fireman’s carry her up. You know how t’ do that?” he asked Buffy.
Buffy rolled her eyes and tilted her head to the right, offering him her left shoulder to set Annie across as she held her left arm out. Spike set Annie across Buffy’s shoulder and Buffy secured the girl’s legs against her body with her left arm. Annie moaned from the pressure against her wounds and Buffy could feel the puss seeping through the material of Annie’s sweatpants and dampening her own shirt. Thankfully, the girl didn’t wake up.
An announcement of, “Showtime,” came from Xander on the ground below them. Buffy looked up to see what appeared to be an army of the tall, thin vampires approaching from the side of the warehouse where she and Oz had just come from. Their red eyes glowed like dancing flames of pure evil. The sight made Buffy shudder and a hard lump formed in her throat. She looked one more time at her three friends that would be the first line of defense against the evil horde and swallowed hard. Unable to even say ‘thank you’ or ‘goodbye’ past her heart, which was lodged in her throat, she turned and started climbing up the arm of the crane.
She could hear Oz growl as he wolfed out and the scythe clattered against the heavy metal fender, then to the ground below. She didn’t look back; she just climbed as quickly as she could while carrying Annie on her shoulder. She heard Spike unsheathe his sword right behind her and suddenly the air was full of the sounds of battle. She could hear Tara casting spells and, in her peripheral vision, saw bursts of flames ignite some of the vampires, but still the others continued to close in on the fighters. Buffy heard cross-bows fire and hit their marks, the unmistakable sound of vampires exploding into dust confirming the deadly accuracy of the warriors. Then there was the sound of stun guns; they sounded like big bug-zappers as they sent bolts of electricity through the vamps, incapacitating them. The stench of burning flesh wafted up from below and bile threatened Buffy’s throat. She clenched her jaw in determination, swallowed back her fear and nausea, and continued to climb.
Xander’s axe whistled as it whipped through the air towards the necks of the vamps and she heard the crunching of bone and more dusty explosions. Demons and humans alike screamed out in pain below her, but she dared not look back. Buffy pushed forward, up the arm of the crane and out over the deadly demon-bug pit towards the portal.
Then came the air attack. Spike screamed at her to duck and Buffy dropped down against the cold metal of the jib as he rose up and sliced his sword through the neck of the first bat. Dark, black soot rained down on them – it seemed like someone had dumped a bulldozer full of the dry grit atop the warriors. Buffy coughed the dust from her lungs and started moving again, up higher and out further over the deep pit, but Spike wasn’t behind her any longer.
She turned her head and looked back. He was fighting off three of the tall, glowing-eyed vampires that had gotten by the defenders on the ground. Just as Buffy turned back and started moving again, she heard the wings of another bat closing in on her fast. She had no weapon – she couldn’t have carried the scythe even if she’d wanted to. All she had were her fists, and one of those was otherwise engaged holding Annie over her shoulder. There was no way to put Annie down – the arm of the crane was like a large open ladder – there was no solid spot on which she could lay her daughter and not risk her falling into the pit below.
“Spike!” she screamed as the bat approached and she again flattened her body against the bars of the jib, trying to make herself as small as possible.
She felt the wind from the bat’s wings as it swooped at her, talons grasping at its prey. Panic stabbed her gut as Buffy felt Annie being pulled away from her by the bat. Buffy let go of the crane and held to her daughter’s legs with both hands to keep the bat from yanking her from her grasp and carrying the girl off. But the bat was so large and strong that it started to lift them both off the jib when Buffy did that.
Buffy wrapped her legs around one of the uprights of the crane’s arm and for a moment there was a tug-of-war between her and the bat over her daughter. Buffy’s upper body was pulled up and over the edge of the jib, along with Annie, as the bat tried to fly away with both of them. Buffy’s legs were straining, trying to hold onto the crane; her arms ached as they tried to keep a hold of Annie’s legs. Buffy was deathly afraid that her daughter would actually be torn in half as she struggled against the giant bat.
“SPIKE!” she screamed again just as all the pressure from the bat was released. She heard the bat’s high-pitched squeal of pain and then she and Annie were sprayed with a geyser of blood as the bat’s legs were severed from its body.
Suddenly released, Buffy and Annie dropped over the edge of the jib. Buffy’s legs were wrapped around the crane, her arms wrapped around her daughter. Buffy and Annie dangled off the ladder; they hung, swaying precariously upside-down over Bob’s pit. If the fall didn’t kill them, the large monster that waited below certainly would.
Buffy couldn’t help but think they must look like they were an insane trapeze act in the circus. Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages! Buffy could hear a sideshow hawker calling in her mind. Don’t miss ‘The Wacky Weckerlys’ Death Defying Shenanigans!’ Three shows a day!
Then Buffy flashed back to her fight with Glory on the fire escape of the Hyperion. She had barely been able to get Annie back up to Spike as Glory pulled and tugged and struggled to get them all to fall to the ground. She could almost feel herself falling now – just as she did then when she released Spike’s hand that fateful night. It seemed to take forever to reach the ground. She could see Spike’s face as she fell … it was odd how many things can race through your mind in just a few short seconds. Then everything was gone. Black. Silent.
Just as she thought history would repeat itself, Spike was there, pulling her and Annie back onto the relative safety of the crane’s arm, even as he continued scanning the sky for more attacks. He crouched over them protectively, scanning the sky for more attacks. He balanced effortlessly on the thin steel girders of the jib, his sword held at the ready in one hand and his other hand resting lightly, reassuringly, on Buffy’s back. Buffy tried to get air back in her lungs and calm her racing heart as she got Annie repositioned onto her shoulder.
“Not far now, Slayer … c’mon, then – keep movin’, almost ‘ome,” he encouraged her.
Buffy took several deep breaths and nodded slightly as she began moving again. She could see the center of the pit below her now – he was right, it wasn’t far. Just a few more feet.
There was only a slight angle to the ‘ladder’ here. It was almost level as it jutted out over the deep demon bug pit. Spike stood up on the metal arm of the crane as Buffy started crawling again. He scanned the sky for what he knew would be coming any minute – an uncivilized colony of bats.
A loud roar below him drew his attention and he saw Oz being overrun by the swarms of Reds, and now some Turok-Han had joined in the fray, as well. The only plus was that the two warring factions were also fighting against each other.
He suddenly feared that Buffy wouldn’t have enough time to get out. His heart lurched in his chest and his stomach quivered with fear. Not again, not again. He could not fail again. Spike clenched his jaw and dug deeper than he even knew he could. He struggled to push thoughts of failure, and the memory of being defeated in this very spot ten years ago, from his mind. He would get the Slayer and the Platelet out. He would not fail her this time.
Down below, Spike saw Xander and Tara laying in pools of their own blood at the base of the crane. The two humans' eyes were staring unseeing up at the grey, smoke-filled sky above – they were both dead. Spike swore under his breath; Glinda wouldn’t be able to break the jib. He’d have to hope the weight of the vamps would be enough to at least continue bending it where Tara had weakened it to get it to the right height for the portal.
Then Spike saw several Turok-Han overwhelm Oz and throw him into the bug pit. That made Spike the last defense now; Buffy’s only defense. Oz struggled to climb up the sandy walls of the trap, but he was weakened and injured and he simply kept sliding down with the calving sand towards the bottom.
Buffy saw him too and she watched in horror as the large demon-killer emerged from under his sandy hiding place and pounced on the werewolf. Oz roared in anger and pain as the demon-bug sunk his pincer into the wolf’s flesh and dragged its struggling prey under the sand.
“NO! Oz!” Buffy yelled down, frozen in place above him. Helpless. It was ridiculous, she knew – fruitless, completely in vain, but it was all she could do – scream his name, even as she knew he was dying … perhaps already dead. “Oz!!!”
“Go, Slayer! Now!” Spike screamed at her pulling her out of her horrified daze.
Buffy looked up at him, on her hands and knees, holding tightly with one hand to the girders below her and to her daughter with the other. He was still standing up on the precarious jib as if they weren’t high above a demon-eating lion’s den … as if it was the most natural thing in the world to be doing.
Spike wasn’t looking at her, though. He was moving away, back down the arm towards the oncoming horde. Buffy looked past him and her heart fell. The vampire armies were swarming now – climbing the jib. They could literally smell victory over the vamp that had been a painful thorn in their side since they’d come to this dimension. And beyond them, down on the ground below, she could see Xander and Tara lying still and unmoving. Vamps trampled over their prone bodies on their way up onto the crane as if they were nothing more than garbage in their path. Pain, horror, and despair clenched around Buffy’s heart like the fist of one of the demons, and threatened to overwhelm her. Spike had been right – they were all going to die helping her ... in fact, most of them already had.
Buffy steeled her resolve, trying to keep her breathing and her hands steady as she reached into her back pocket and pulled one of the vials of blood out. She held tightly to Annie with one hand and balanced just on her knees on the hard steel beams. This proved to be no easy feat because the jib was lurching erratically as the vamps climbed up from below. Then she heard something that sounded like … a tornado or a freight train. She looked up to see bats. Hundreds of bats. So many bats that the dark, smoky sky was blotted out by them.
“Oh my God,” she cried involuntarily as she struggled to get the plug out of the vial with shaking fingers while balancing herself on the jib and Annie on her shoulder. Just as she got the plug out, the jib began to sway even more, like a thin reed whipping in a gale. Then it began to jump and bob in the air as if it was alive and was trying to buck them off. She looked down and saw Spike fighting the approaching mob of vamps. They were trying to knock him off-balance by purposely moving the crane’s arm, shaking it with their strong arms and legs as they climbed up swiftly. They pulled up easily, hand over hand like lithe monkeys, despite their gangly arms and legs.
“Oh God, oh God…” Buffy continued to mutter under her breath as she struggled to keep her balance, keep Annie balanced over her shoulder, and spread the blood over where she hoped the portal was below her.
The movement of her perch sent the blood spraying far and wide below her – more coming out than she’d intended. She held her breath for a moment, thinking that her memory of where the portal exactly was had been wrong when nothing happened. She dropped the empty vial and held onto the vibrating structure below her to keep her balance as she waited and prayed. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, but was certainly only a few seconds, the bright light of the portal began to spread open below her.
“Spike!” Buffy cried as the portal opened and the bats approached like a never-ending squadron of German blitz bombers over London. “Come with us!”
Spike caught the light of the portal from the corner of his eye and began to back up towards her, still fighting and dusting the Reds as he backed up. How he kept his balance on the swaying bridge, kept his feet on the thin girders without even looking at them, and continued to fight at the same time, Buffy couldn’t imagine. But the odds were, as Spike predicted, overwhelming. Sooner or later, he would tire, falter. Sooner or later the Reds would have their one good day and take Big Bad out.
“Go!” Spike commanded her. “Jump!”
“Only if you come with me!” Buffy insisted.
“Not comin’! Jump you stubborn bint!” Spike screamed at her. Truth be told, he didn’t trust himself to go with her, as much as he wanted to. She wasn’t his, she’d never be his. All he could do now was get her back to her husband, her family and friends, and let that be enough. It would have to be enough; it was all he had.
“Damnit, Spike! Come with me!” she continued to argue.
Spike knew she needed to go, like now. He rolled his eyes and nodded in resignation, there was no time to argue with her further. “Be right behind you.”
Buffy took a deep breath as if preparing to jump off a high dive, which she felt like she was. But there was no water to fall into. She knew she couldn’t miss the portal; it was right below them only about eight feet. But how far would she fall after she went through it? What would she land on? She pulled Annie down off her shoulder and stood up unsteadily on the swaying arm of the crane, holding her daughter against her front tightly, straight up and down.
She looked at Spike one more time. “GO!” he screamed at her as he slashed his sword at the neck of another Red. He could hear the bats, they were very near now. He could actually feel their sonar bouncing off his skin there were so many of them. “I’ll be right behind ya!” he assured her again.
“No! Now!” Buffy insisted. She dropped one hand off Annie, and grabbed onto Spike’s duster-clad arm, then took one last breath and let herself fall backwards off the jib like she was taking the Nestea plunge. She held Annie tightly against her front so that the girl would be shielded as much as possible from the impact on the other side, and held to Spike with the other, pulling him with her.
“Bloody hell!” Spike swore as he quickly shrugged out of his duster, switching his sword to his right hand, trying to keep his balance on the arm of the crane and keep the Reds back at the same time. Spike wavered a moment when his duster caught on one shoulder, then it gave way and fell with Buffy and Annie into the portal. He put his arms out like a tight-rope walker to re-balance himself, then swung his sword at the next challenger in the long line of demons that were making their way up towards him.
And then there were bats. Spike swung wildly, wishing the soddin’ portal would close already as he turned three hundred and sixty degrees. His sword ripped into anything he could reach in an attempt to keep both the flying armada and the ground troops from breaching the portal and following the Slayer.
Portals are funny things – like magical bar doors from an old west saloon which swing in both directions. When Buffy and Annie fell into the portal in the parking lot of the Green Grocer, they dropped down from ground level into the pit that, in the Gift-less dimension, had been dug in that spot. Now they were falling down again through the portal, trying to get back up to ground level. If Buffy had thought about it, it was upside down. She should’ve been climbing up into the portal, not dropping down into it again from the other side. But the portal didn’t care, it was like David Bowie, it swung both ways.
The only problem with swinging doors, however, is that they can hit you in the ass if you don’t get out of the way quickly enough, and falling down to go up, well, that pretty much means you’re gonna get hit in the ass. Buffy felt like she was being flipped like a flapjack as she held tightly to Annie with one arm and the sleeve of Spike’s duster with the other, which she didn’t realize was no longer attached to Spike. It seemed to take longer going back than the first time through. She no longer knew which way was up as bright lights flashed in front of her eyes and wind whipped like a tornado around them.
The two were finally ejected from the portal, tossed several feet in the air, and dropped down on the asphalt of the parking lot of the Green Grocer a few feet away from the buggy corral. When the portal spit them out, it also flipped them over, and Buffy landed atop Annie instead of the other way around. Buffy quickly rolled off her daughter, who was face down on the pavement, and turned her over. Annie’s nose and mouth were both bleeding from the impact, but really, that was the least of her problems; those were minor injuries.
Buffy looked around for Spike – his duster lay beside her, but he wasn’t in it. “Spike!” she screamed across the parking lot, which was empty at this hour – three am. She scrambled back to the now rapidly-closing portal and just as she began to lean back down into it, the scroll came flying out of it, nearly hitting Buffy in the face as it was ejected just as Buffy and Annie had been.
“Damn it, Spike!” Buffy screamed as she leaned down through the shrinking hole in the world to find him. She felt like Alice in Wonderland. She was leaning down but actually had to look up to see him, which really made no sense whatsoever and spun her mind a bit. He was still fighting on the crane, battling both bats and Reds. Buffy could see some Turok-Han starting to make their way up the jib towards him too. He was keeping them all far enough away from the portal that they couldn’t jump into it, but the portal was closing and he was tiring.
“Spike! Jump!” Buffy screamed as she reached her hands up towards him and tried to keep the portal from closing any further.
Spike dared a look when he heard her voice below him. The portal was closing rapidly now – it was perhaps only about four feet across – too small for the bats to go through very easily. He knew it was only a matter of seconds now before it would be completely closed.
“Spike!” Buffy screamed again as the portal continued to close in on her. She knew it would be too late if he didn’t jump now.
She watched in horror as Spike stopped fighting and met her eyes with his. “I’ll always love you, Buffy. Don’t come back … there’s nothin' left for you 'ere,” he told her calmly, a look of resigned determination in his eyes. Spike gave her a small, sad smile, then dropped the arm holding his sword down aside his leg and leaned backwards. Everything seemed to move in slow motion as he tumbled off the jib, purposely missing the portal completely, and falling in a graceful swan dive down into the ‘demon-ant-lion’ pit far below.
“Nooooooo!” Buffy screamed as she watched him tumble down past her, too far away for her to reach, and into the waiting clutches of the giant demon-eating bug.
Buffy screamed his name as tears poured from her eyes. Her first instinct was to jump, as she'd done with Annie, and save him, help him – but she knew she couldn't leave Annie there alone. If I have to choose between you and our … my daughter, I’ll choose her every time, her own words to him that first night thundered painfully in her ears.
She watched, horrified, as Bob grabbed Spike around his waist and pulled the vamp under the sand like it had done Oz. The only difference was there was no struggle from the vampire. His mission was over; he’d done all he could to keep his promise to the Slayer. Dawn was safe with her sister now. Buffy and Annie were safe, back where they belonged. All his trusted allies were dead. His mission was complete – there was no more reason to stay. There was no one left to fight for.
With the portal closing dangerously around her, Buffy finally pulled away and fell backwards, overcome by exhaustion and heartbreak, onto the pavement in the parking lot. With hot, salty tears flooding down her face, a heavy heart, and the image of Spike being pulled under the sand tattooed onto her mind, Buffy scrambled back to her feet and hurried over to her daughter’s side. There was no one about in the parking lot – not a security guard or a policeman making their rounds or even a hooker with a john. The Blue Bomber was gone. Buffy prayed again that someone had found MacKenzie quickly and notified the police, and that the baby was alright. Buffy sobbed uncontrollably as she picked up the scroll, wrapped Annie in Spike’s duster, and lifted her up. Buffy cradled the fevered girl against her chest and began walking towards the road. There was a little traffic there – she could get help.
Buffy opened the bond with Spike … her Spike. She had to tell him she was back, get him here. She knew he must be franticly looking for them and she needed to see him – flesh and bone, walking, talking. She needed to feel his arms around her – she needed to know he wasn’t under the sand being devoured by a giant demon-bug.
The second she opened the bond, Buffy collapsed onto the pavement, dropping Annie and screaming in agony. Her flesh felt like it was being burnt off her bones with acid and she writhed in pain on the black asphalt. Her muscles pulled hard and taut as a bowstring as every nerve-ending in her body fired signals of excruciating pain to her brain.
Her mind seemed to explode with bright, white anguish as flashes of searing flames bombarded it. She thought she heard herself screaming, but honestly she wasn’t sure if that was her or something from very far away. Then, in self-defense, her mind shut down and everything went still and got very quiet.
She and Annie lay only a few feet from the sidewalk and the road beyond; only a few feet from help, but it might as well have been a hundred miles. The speeding cars couldn’t see the prone and lifeless figures in the dark at the edge of the deserted parking lot. The stairway to heaven had gotten them so close and yet left them so very far away.
Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin
There's a lady who's sure
all that glitters is gold
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