CHAPTER 21 - RETURN
A Sunday night
It was strange. The fire of the portal did not melt ice.
Spike noted this in a rather detached fashion. The portal burned. After an eternity of cold numbness, the pain was almost welcome.
The ice that had encased him for so long was melting. He could no longer see so he had no idea where he was. Or what time it was. It would be ironic if, after waiting so long to return, he was reduced to a big pile of dust on his first morning back.
Not much he could do about it. He was too blind to find shelter and didn't have the strength to move into it, even if he found it. Only the mind still seemed to work and unfortunately that had never quit. Long after the cold and ice had blinded him and the hunger left him too weak to move, he had remained totally conscious.
At some point the ice covering his eyes finally thawed and with a sigh of relief he was able to close his eyes. He wasn't quite sure if the wetness on his cheeks was tears or melting snow. He didn't care.
As the thawing continued, his sense of smell began to return. He could smell grass, trees and the distant dawn. He wondered if he could use his sense of smell to locate the trees. If he could just find the strength to move, he might be able to crawl into the shade before the sunlight destroyed him.
He couldn't find the strength.
His mouth began to water and he realized he was detecting the faint smell of blood. He inhaled deeply, too weak even to switch into game face.
"There's something here."
Humans. Prey. He listened as they came closer.
"What is it?"
"It's rather hard to tell."
A male voice. He inhaled the odor of food, then realized the smell was vaguely familiar. They were both happy meals on legs, but he had once known them. Then a new odor, vampire, Angel. He felt someone turn him over.
"It doesn't even look human!"
Angel's voice was soft, "It's Spike."
"What happened to him?" That must be the female he had met an eternity ago at Angel's office. Frank?
"He hasn't eaten in a very long time. I've never seen a case this bad, but starving can't kill us. He's still alive. Fred, hand me one of the blood bags." Spike felt Angel prop him into a sitting position, his back against a rock. Then a straw was inserted into his mouth. He struggled to suck.
"Good grief," his sire's voice sounded torn between exasperation and sympathy. "Here, Cordy, hold his head." Spike choked as some of the blood was poured directly into his mouth. He swallowed and lost himself in the feeding.
He could feel some strength returning. With it, his senses sharpened and he became painfully aware of Cordelia's pulse, the blood rushing through her system. He was drinking pig's blood, but he was surrounded by human blood. He grabbed the human's wrist.
Sanity returned. He had endured pain and isolation for an untold time in order to return to Buffy. If he bit a human, if he tried to return to killing, the Slayer was lost to him. His hand shook as he felt Cordelia's pulse against his skin, then he let go.
His voice was a weak croak. "Get away."
"What did he say?"
He struggled weakly. "No chip. Get away."
Angel grabbed his wrists. He was so bloody weak he couldn't even struggle. "Gunn, there are some ropes in the car. We should tie him up. He's weak now, but when he gains his strength, he could be a problem."
The nausea struck when they were tying him up. After so long without food, Spike's stomach rebelled. The detached observer in him, the portion of his mind that had watched as he froze, starved, then burned in the portal, wryly noticed that he managed to thoroughly spray his sire. It was some time during this very messy process that he finally passed out.
* * *
The raging hunger woke him up. He tried to see where he was but his eyes still weren't working. If pain and itchiness were any measure, his body was starting to heal, but he was still weak. He cautiously managed to sit up, then held his head as the world spun.
He was on something soft, a bed. His sense of smell was working well enough for him to finally identify his surroundings. He was in Angel's hotel, the Hyperion. That explained the shackle on his leg. Trust his grandsire to distrust him so much that he was chained up before he could even walk.
Time passed slowly, hunger making every moment agony. Eventually he heard a door open, then close. More time passed. The door opened again and a warm mug was pressed into his hands. He held it tightly, absorbing the strange sensation of warmth. Finally he tried to bring it to his mouth and hissed in frustration as his hands shook and the blood splashed on his chest. He felt a cool hand steady the cup and lift it to his lips. He must be in sad shape if Angel was taking up nursing duties. Then he lost himself in the sweetness of the blood.
The cup was empty. For a moment he felt like Oliver Twist, "Please sir, I want some more," but a queasy sensation told him he was going to have trouble keeping even the little bit he had already drank. He groped to the side of the bed and placed the cup on the table.
"You couldn't see it, could you?"
He gritted his teeth at the sound of pity in the other vampire's voice. "Right, I don't get to see your lovely face either. I'll survive."
The Poofster didn't rise to the bait.
"How did you find me? Why did you bring me here and," Spike shook the chain, "put this on?"
"We figured you would return so we monitored the portal area. When it went off, we returned to find you. As for the chain, who knew what you would be like after a being stuck in a hell world? You're violent enough when you're your normal self."
Spike snorted. "Right, I'm bloody terrifying." He heard movement, then water running.
A moment later he was given a warm washcloth. "Here, wash the blood off. I'll get you another shirt." The door opened and closed again.
He wiped his face. It felt like a skull. He remembered two years ago. . "You know what happens to vampires who don't get to feed? Living skeletons mate. Like famine pictures from those dusty countries, only not half as funny." He was a damn mummy.
He hated being helpless. And it was worse being helpless around the Poofster. Angelus, his grandsire would have preyed on his vulnerability, indulging in his old habits of inflicting mental and physical torture. But Angel was worse. Angel pitied him.
He growled. After endless numbness, anger felt good. He let his demon flow through him. Angel might pity him, but he wouldn't have chained him unless he still felt some fear. He knew what Spike was capable of when he wasn't crippled by a bloody chip. A bloody killer. A force to be feared. A monster.
So why hasn't he staked me? Why hasn't he set me on fire, like he did Darla and Dru? He could have just left me alone to die in the sun?
The door opened and something soft hit him. A t-shirt. He tried to take off his bloodstained shirt and almost sobbed in frustration as he floundered, too bloody weak to get untangled. His grandsire gently helped. His new shirt was on and he sat, as mortified as when he had been in the wheelchair and Drew had brought him puppies while Angelus watched.
The older vampire noticed his humiliation and after a moment, turned to leave.
Spike heard the door open again and reluctantly spoke. He had to know. "How are the girls? Are Buffy and Dawn alright?"
His grandsire was silent. He could sense something was off. Spike was suddenly fearful. "What's wrong?" The continued silence panicked him. "For God's sake, Angel. What happened?"
"Buffy's been shot."
"No. Dawn was the one they shot. It was her foot. Buffy wasn't hurt except for the blood loss."
"Spike, that was almost three months ago."
The vampire was still as death.
"Somebody named Warren shot Buffy.
Yes, he's apparently one of three . . .
Spike's voice was harsh. "I know who the bugger is. How badly did he hurt her?" His voice cracked. "Is she alive?"
Angel shook his head. "I don't know everything that happened. Cordy and Willow e-mail each other and for a while there we didn't hear anything. Apparently Warren shot Buffy and Tara. Willow was able to save Buffy but not her lover."
"I'll kill the bugger!"
"Willow already did. She's with Giles in England now."
Willow a killer? Tara dead? Buffy shot and hurt? "Bloody hell! Bloody, soddin' hell. I should have been there."
Angel looked up, surprised at the anguish in the younger vampire's voice. "You couldn't have done anything, anyway. He attacked Buffy during the day." He was startled when Spike winced, his sightless eyes filled with tears.
He didn't know how to comfort him. And how odd was it that he would want to comfort Spike of all beings. "She's fine now. Willow wasn't very clear what happened, but apparently Buffy recovered from her wound."
Spike's voice was bitter. "She's been shot. Her best friend turned into a murderer. Willow and Giles are both in England. You didn't know Tara, but she was like a mum to Dawn when Buffy was dead and now she's dead. The only thing that kept the Slayer alive so long has been her family and friends and everything has fallen apart. And you think she's fine? You're a soddin' idiot!"
He wanted to throw something, break the furniture in his fury. Instead he was too weak to even stand. He clenched and unclenched his fists, staring into the darkness. He didn't even hear the door close.
* * *
Time passed. He healed. Gradually the darkness lightened. He regained the strength in his legs and could pace restlessly back and forth.
He had learned patience when trapped in the ice but it seemed to be deserting him. Buffy was patrolling alone with no one to guard her back. He had to get back. Even if she rejected him again for losing his soul, he had to be there to try and help.
Sometime during the fourth day he dissected the mattress. He was fashioning a key from the box springs so that he could pick the lock on his chain when Lorne wandered in with another cup of blood.
He tensed, watching the green demon. "Going to try and stop me, mate?"
"How ya' doing, Sparky. Just brought you a little something. Thought you might need a nip before the trip."
Spike watched the demon suspiciously before accepting the mug. He did a double take. "Wheetabix!" Lorne smiled blandly. "How did you know about . . . How much did you read when I sang?"
"I didn't scan the small print, but some of your recipes for blood drinks intrigued me. Professional weakness. I used to run the smoothest demon bar in this dark and dirty city"
Against his better judgement, Spike found himself relaxing. "You like the recipes?"
"Personally, not my style. But I've think we have a winner with the burba weed and blood combo. Of course I use O-positive, smoother on the palate."
Spike did not need to hear about human blood while swilling pig's blood with chunks. But Lorne made him smile and it had been a long time since that had happened. "Try it out on anyone I know?"
Lorne's eyes twinkled. "Angel. Makes the big bruiser purr like a kitten. Especially that ketchup and crumbled Reese's Pieces number."
That did it. Spike spewed his pig's blood. "That was a recipe the Niblet made up as a joke." The picture of the broody prince of hair gel slurping up candied blood and ketchup was too much and the two demons chortled till they choked.
"Listen. Can the escape routine and let me bring Mr. Sweet Tooth in for a tête-à-tête. The two of you need to mellow things out. Not that chains aren't your look, but you need to get home."
Spike found himself agreeing, then realized he had been had. He considered continuing his escape plan before Angel saw the mattress, then decided to give Lorne a chance to settle things. The demon was smooth and it was amusing to watch him at work. Besides if the Poofster got too pompous, Spike would just think of the ketchup fetish.
Lorne reappeared with Angel. Better yet, he tossed over a can of beer. "Thought this might ease the banter."
"Try bringing a six-pack," The demon just smiled and left him with his sire.
Angel was drinking from a cup. As he settled into the chair opposite the bed, he took a deep drink and looked enormously satisfied. Spike inhaled deeply and nearly lost it when he smelt the chocolate and peanut butter.
"You look more cheerful. Feeling better?"
"Good enough to go home now. Thanks for saving me, again, but Sunnydale calls." Spike took a deep drink of the beer. "It's been fun, but let's just unlock the chain and call it quits."
Spike noticed his grandsire hesitating. Strange. For over a century the balance of power had shifted between the two of them. Angelus had made his life as a fledgling a bloody nightmare. He had showered contempt on the wretched vampire with a soul. Angelus.2 had returned the favor when he had been stuck in the wheelchair. He had tortured Angel over the Ring of Amaras. By rights, Angel should be on top now. He owed his continued existence to his grandsire and between the chain and his current weakness, he was bloody helpless.
But Angel was hesitating. Finally, "I can't let you go out and murder people."
"Fine, I won't eat people. If you don't believe me call in the demon and I'll give him a chorus or two." Seeing his grandsire's skeptical expression, "I want to help Buffy. She disapproves of my natural diet. Hell, when I was human she had me eating vegetables."
The older vampire nodded. "Lorne will be glad to help." He was staring intently at his cup and he chewed on his lower lip. Spike frowned trying to figure out what was coming. His sire wanted something and it must be big.
Finally, "Spike, before you go . . . could you tell me about where you were?"
"Damned if I know. It felt like the North Pole only without St. Nick and the elves to snack on. No food."
If a vampire could grow paler, Angel did. "Is that the last hell world you were in or the first?" Strange, he looked scared.
"The second. The first was no picnic, but at least there was stuff to eat. Unfortunately most of the beasties wanted to eat me first, but it was sort of entertaining if you like a good fight. "
Angel swallowed. "Could a human survive?"
"Maybe. They'd have to be tough. Why are you asking?"
"I think that's where my son is. I told you he was kidnapped. He was taken to Quorthoth, a hell dimension. There's not supposed to be any way to get there. I think that's what all this has been about. Wolfram and Hart want to control Connor because the prophesies say he is important to the final outcome between Good and Evil. They used Dawn to get to where Connor is."
Spike felt sick in his gut. He knew what was coming. "And?"
Angel's eyes were dark and anguished. "I have to find my son. I need you and Dawn to reopen that portal and let me look for him."
"Do you have any idea what you are asking?" Spike's voice was low and dangerous.
"I'm asking Dawn to bleed. I'm asking for Dawn or Buffy to risk their lives being drained by an unchipped vampire. I'm asking you to go back to a hell world." Spike couldn't bear to look at the pain in his grandsire's face. "But he's just a baby. He must be so scared. I have to find him."
Spike closed his eyes and sighed. The future was plain. Dawn would hear of the frightened baby in hell and agree. They would figure out how to reopen the portal to Quorthoth. Then good old Spike would get to jump in and close the soddin' opening and spend a few days fighting beasties that wanted to eat him.
That was the real danger to the Key. Maybe there would be evil beings, human and monster, that tried to capture and use her. But if she ever perfected that little man-eating portal trick she had used on Wolfram and Hart, she would be able to defend herself from the bad guys. But she was a Summers woman with the tender Summers' heart. She would help Angel find his son. She would hear other sob stories from other desperate needy people. And she would help.
And when she did, he would be left having to close the portals. It was either that or watch Dawn or Buffy die.
He was well and truly screwed.
He opened his eyes, looking at his desperate sire. "You'll have to ask Buffy and Dawn. It's their decision. You know them, they'll say yes." His smile was sad. "I'm just the clean-up guy."
He couldn't stand Angel's look of gratitude. "Are we done? "Cause I have places to go and people to ki . . . er . . . help."
They called in Lorne, Spike sang and Lorne gave him the seal of approval. When Angel offered to drive him to Sunnydale, he refused. So instead they took him to the bus station and he climbed aboard the bus back to his home and his Slayer.
Continued in CHAPTER 22 - CHOICE