Title: The Red Curse
Pairing(s): Various/Spike, Fred/Wesley, others as story develops
Rating/Warnings: NC-17 (Non-con/Rape, BDSM, torture, violence, language) Previous Parts
Part 27: Trapped
Time did not exist until it cracked apart.
There was a raging whirling within her, and it only grew stronger with the passing of each hour.
She stood outside of the hotel. Spike had entered here, whisked away into a small space, between crushing walls. The half-breed tiger beast was on the roof, its tail thrashing from side to side. It watched her through wary eyes, growling lowly as she neared.
Suddenly, time appeared, and a blast of agony bent her double. The world faded, and her body was rushed back into existence with a snap.
She whipped her head around, searching for an attacker, panting in the aftermath. She was within the clearing that contained the portal to the Havening Realm. Wind roared and the trees trembled in the shadows. They cried out in fear, and when she faced the center of the clearing, she saw why.
The portal was now a gaping maw of inexorable height, its reach spearing into the night sky, the soil below it forming a scorched crater around the spot in which it pierced the ground. It was ringed with blue, and sparks danced at its edges and sent a horrible crackling noise through the air. A scent and feel of wrongness, of burning, filled the clearing. Dark skies and a still ocean awaited on the other side – and far into the distance, there glowed a red light.
A woman stood at the portal's entrance, her yellow hair whipping about her head. She did not feel quite human. Beside her was another woman, with hair of red. The host's memories supplied the latter's name: Willow Rosenberg.
Spike stood between them. He wore a long black coat, but he wavered on his feet. He was greatly malnourished – she could see it despite the coverings he wore. When he turned his head, she saw in his eyes that he had lost some part of himself.
“Not safe here for you, Blue,” he rasped. Suddenly, Spike buckled beneath the weight of some attack, his body crumpling to the dirt.
Willow immediately had her hands pressed against Spike's back, her eyes closed and her forehead pinched.
The yellow haired one looked frantic. Illyria could smell the stink of her fear. “Is it Glory?”
“Yeah. She's pissed,” Willow grunted. “It's getting harder to hold her back.”
The yellow haired woman stared deeply into the portal, and then back at Spike. Her mouth was set into a grim line. “We can't take him, not like this.”
Spike gave a whine that choked off into a growl. “I have to go,” he insisted.
“No. We can do it on our own.”
A fourth came running, a woman with dark hair. She held an ax in her hands. “Coven says we only got two weeks til the portal expands and LA's wiped from the map. We're out of time, B. Gotta get dimension hopping.” She paused as she observed Spike. “Is he gonna hold it together this time? I ain't ending up like Angel.”
Spike suddenly screamed, nearly eclipsing the cries of the trees. The yellow haired one addressed as “B” collapsed beside Spike. “Damn it, Faith!”
Illyria felt another blast of pain as time awoke and pulled at her again, throwing her body back into the open air outside the hotel.
It took Illyria several seconds before she was able to fully regain her bearings. For whatever reason, she'd been shown what was to come. A futile future, one in which she remained, apparently only to see the end of the world. Spike had appeared nearly skeletal, as if a single blow would shatter him. Perhaps it wouldn't – perhaps the invincibility curse remained. Even so, Spike would not have been an able warrior, and he would have been a burden to any who were. The portal would not have been closed.
Illyria looked again at the hotel, a new plan forming within her mind. Spike's beast leaped down from the rooftop as she moved, spines raised and fangs glistening. Despite its aggression, it trembled before her. It knew it could not stand up against her strength, but it was determined to protect its master.
With a sneer she pulled her fist back. As she punched forward, she felt the whirling within her extend into her arm, and the blow sent the great beast sliding back to crash into the large trash receptacles at the edge of the parking lot.
That distraction dealt with, she moved towards the door to the room she knew contained Spike. She could feel him within, feel his suffering. He needed to be controlled, given proper direction, or else the future she had seen would be certain to come about.
She ripped the door from its hinges. First she would secure Spike, and then she would move on to the second part of her plan.
His first sensation was that of pain.
Pulled into cold, he was pressed against sharp rocks that cut into his flesh. Two blows to the chest and he was violently ejecting the dirt from his throat. His organs seized as he came fully to consciousness, and he frantically rolled onto his hands and knees and called the metal inside him up and through his mouth.
“You are alive.”
Ambrus was a bit too preoccupied with dry-heaving around the metal in his throat to immediately answer, or acknowledge the familiar quality of the voice. He panted in the aftermath, pulling the metal back to mold to the outside of his body. Then, he collapsed.
“It certainly would appear so,” he gasped, his head rolling against the ground. The moon glared down at him from the sky. The last thing he remembered was the suffocating soil raining down upon him, and his own frantic spell to create an indefinite stasis for his body, as well as protect it from any flesh-eating creatures that would manage to worm their way through the dirt.
There was a crunch, and then a dark shape obscured the moon. He had the glimpse of an angry, blue face before he was grasped and pulled between planes.
Nausea bubbled as he was dropped to a cold stone floor, dust rising around him with the impact. He saw an immense room, filled with crumbled statues. The air was stale.
A strong hand grasped his neck and flung him onto his back. He reached his mind towards the metal that hugged him, forming a whip-like tendril with a serrated edge that he lashed at the demon. She blocked the blow with her arm, her red armor easily deflecting it. He tried to wrap her instead, and her face tightened in annoyance before she delivered a kick to his face that left him stunned. He struggled to breathe, the taste of blood joining the lingering dirt in his mouth. The blow awakened the terrible pain at his neck, where an unhealed bite wound from vampire jaws was held together by metal. A similar pain burned in his torso.
“You are Ambrus Drake.” It wasn't a question.
Ambrus regained enough of his composure to look again at the demon. She wore the face of Winifred Burkle, and spoke through her voice. But her unblinking eyes were ice blue, and her flesh and hair were tinged with darkening sapphire.
“Illyria.” His stomach clenched. So Winifred had been overcome after all. Ambrus readied his mind to defend himself, however useless it would be against a demon of such power. “Where are we?”
“In my citadel.”
“Did you bring me back to kill me?”
She stared at him as if she would like nothing better than to smash him beneath her heel. Her pale blue lips twisted into a snarl. “You killed my Qwa'ha Xahn. I see it in the memories of the host.”
Ambrus snorted. “Yes, well, he was a bit of an idiot.”
He tensed as Illyria stepped closer. She examined him, her head tilted and her eyes shrewd. “You are weakened, but you have some power left.”
Ambrus narrowed his eyes and used the metal molded over his body to enable him to stand. Illyria stood before him and made no move to attack. “You're not going to kill me,” he realized. “Then what do you want?”
“You are the one who broke Spike's spirit. He will obey you.”
Ambrus felt as if his heart had leaped into his throat. “Spike's alive?” The surprise immediately transformed into something more visceral – a white rage. Spike had tried to kill him. It almost galled him as much as the loss of his stored magic.
Illyria frowned in confusion. “You thought he would be dead, even after what you did to him?”
Ambrus had to focus to calm himself. He was breathing much too quickly. “If anyone would have found a way to break the metal infusion, it would have been the Circle of the Black Thorn.”
Illyria tilted her head. “They are all dead, except for the red demon who fled. And you.”
Ambrus exhaled slowly, his fury nearly replaced by another emotion entirely. But it wouldn't do to get excited before he knew all the details. “And Wolfram and Hart?”
Blue eyes narrowed, and a small smug smile quirked beneath them. “Their fortress crumbled before me.”
Glee stirred as Ambrus realized that anyone who might have punished him for his past deceits was gone. He might need to start gathering power all over again, but his tendency to keep a low profile would avail him when he changed locations.
That was, if Illyria allowed him to continue to live. “And what do you have planned for me?”
She unclenched one fist and brought her hand up. A crumpled and half-charred photograph slowly expanded open, like a burnt flower.
Panic filled Ambrus as he checked his hands and his pockets. Fuck, he'd forgotten all about the picture.
“This has value to you,” Illyria noted.
He sucked in a careful breath to try and calm his fast-beating heart. “What do you want?”
Illyria's eyes tightened as if in pain, and Ambrus felt a heavy ripple of power flow through the air. But she was steady as she handed him the photograph. An outline of blue tendrils formed and began to undulate around her. He flinched back as one passed in front of his face.
A light came to her eyes, as if the power within her was trying to escape. “Spike has been cursed twice more since you were buried. Once, with a hellgod that torments him as he sleeps. And again, with a spell that forces him to relive torturous memories that bring forth the remembered pain as if it was happening to him in the present.”
Ambrus felt his breath catch. “The Red Curse?”
Illyria nodded. “He tries to fight against his fading, but he will not succeed. In the end, he will be overcome.”
Ambrus's anger towards Spike immediately refocused, now towards the imagined foes who had placed these torments on his pet. “You want me to help him. Why would an Old One care what happens to a vampire?”
Illyria seemed to be growing before his eyes, the glowing tendrils becoming more and more solid. When she spoke, it was through many voices. “The Apocalypse awaits if he is not healed. The hellgod must first be removed, and then the memory curse ended.” She stepped forward, and when Ambrus attempted to move away, he found a barrier of tentacles preventing his escape. A slender hand pressed against his chest. Three pieces of Illyria's armor broke away and began to crawl up her arm towards him.
Illyria tilted her head, her eyes a glowing white light. “You will be my new Qwa'ha Xahn.”
Any words he might have uttered were swallowed up in a scream of agony as the pieces of armor ripped their way through his chest.
Ambrus was no longer in Illyria's citadel when he woke. He opened his eyes to stone walls, a cry of desperation ringing in his ears. The edges of the crumpled photograph dug into his flesh.
There was a new burning in his chest. Ambrus felt through the tears in his shirt and found lumps beneath scarred, sealed flesh. He ground his teeth, and knew that at least for the moment, Illyria had him. He wasn't going to test how well his magic and power over metal would stand up against the sacraments ripping themselves from his body and destroying his heart. Any chances he had of leaving Earth were, for the moment, completely gone.
He finally raised his eyes to Spike.
The vampire began to scream.
Ambrus quickly lurched to his feet and clamped his hand over Spike's mouth, pressing the vampire's head against the stone, muffling the cries. Wide blue eyes moved in his direction, but they were painfully unfocused. Was Spike seeing Ambrus now, or some conjuration of the memory curse?
“Ssshhh, sweets,” Ambrus crooned. He pressed against the cold body and noted its thinness. Deep rage filled him once again. Whoever had done this had better be dead, or they soon were going to wish they were.
Ambrus took a moment to take in their cell, the chains that hung on the walls, the bars. The stone of their cell was grey, but the walls that lined the corridor outside were filled with red brick. He'd seen this dungeon before.
“This is Cyvus Vail's mansion,” he realized. Belatedly, he remembered the papers Cyvus had left, stating Spike's ownership of his remaining possessions. Which likely meant that Spike's friends were not far.
He turned back to Spike. The vampire's screams had dwindled to whimpers, his eyes shut tight. Tears had leaked onto Ambrus's hand.
“Spike, are you with me? I can unchain you, but I will need a sign that you are at least somewhat in possession of your faculties.”
For a long moment, there was no response. Then Spike gave a tight nod.
Ambrus felt a spear of relief – he hadn't been certain how far gone Spike would be. He reached his mind out and began to weaken the links on the chains. Just before Spike was freed, Ambrus took a step back to put some distance between them. The vampire crumpled to the ground, manacles still clamped to his wrists.
Spike curled up on the cell floor, the heels of his trembling hands coming up to brace at his temples.
Ambrus exhaled heavily – his own pain made his patience short. “How long have you been cursed?”
Spike made a high pitched noise, one that Ambrus eventually realized was laughter. It died down a moment later, and Spike lowered his hands to stare bleakly at the ground. “You're real, then.” He sucked in a breath, and shouted, “Illyria! You'll pay for this, you bloody bitch!” Spike suddenly clutched at his leg, and choked out a whimper.
Ambrus frowned and felt the worry claw deeper. The outburst from Spike had seemed lucid, but now the vampire writhed and trembled upon the ground as if caught in a fever.
Ambrus let a bit of warning slip into his voice. “How long have you been suffering from the Red Curse?”
Teeth grinding and eyes clamped shut, Spike shoved himself into a crouch. He took a few centering breaths before he finally answered, “Five days, more or less.”
Ambrus felt his worry rise at the same time his admiration grew tenfold.
Spike straightened his legs with a groan, his hand braced against the stone wall. He turned a glare on Ambrus. “I should have killed you properly. Thought the dirt was more poetic.” He shook his head. “Something Angelus would have done – should have known it would have turned tits up.”
The rage began to build again. Ambrus surged forward and was gratified when Spike shrank away, his vampire face coming to the fore with a snarl. The metal wrapped about Ambrus's torso rippled with readiness.
“Word of advice, sweetheart – you might not want to continually remind me that you tried to murder me. My patience hasn't increased after the months spent buried in the dirt, and I will add to your suffering if you cross me. Now, if you know what is good for you, you will get on your knees
– or I will make you.”
Spike exhaled with a shudder, and stared at the ground as if it was made of barbed wire. He shook away his demon face, then sank to his knees.
Ambrus felt a thrill. “Hands behind your back.”
“Come up with some new material, will you,” Spike snapped, but there was a quaver in his voice, and defeat made prominent in every slumped line of his body.
When Spike obeyed, Ambrus called to the shackles still clamped around the vampire's wrists, and made them mold together. Spike's fear was evident in the short puffs of air that rushed from his nostrils. He winced as Ambrus made the cuffs tighten painfully against his skin.
Spike again secured, Ambrus allowed himself to let down his guard a bit and take further stock of his own condition. His neck was killing him, as was his chest. The use of his power over metal only seemed to exacerbate the pain.
The photograph of his daughter was still safe, at least, crumpled but not entirely destroyed.
He would have killed for a bath and a clean set of clothes.
Ambrus wandered to the bars of the cell and forced a few of them to melt down, then peered through at the long corridor of the dungeon. The air was quiet, and electric torches lined the walls.
Spike's voice sounded behind him. “You won't make it out of here. Not alive, at any rate.”
Ambrus stepped out into the corridor. “If the Old One did not want me to leave, she would not have put me in a metal cell.”
“I'm not talking about Illyria. I'm talking about Angel, and two, maybe three Slayers, as well as a mightily powerful witch. Not to mention Charlie and Puss, and a former military super-soldier by the name of Riley Finn.”
Ambrus knew he did not have much time to argue with Spike, but the vampire's confidence was beginning to grate at his nerves. Spike would need retraining, and it would take far longer now that Ambrus did not have as many resources. And that was all beside fact that he had been made into an Old One's puppet.
When he turned back, Spike still knelt against the wall, his knees spread for balance. The blue eyes held an angry fire, tempered by pain and weariness. Ambrus felt some of his rage leave him as he remembered Spike giving him that same look the day he'd taken him.
“Your circle of friends has expanded,” Ambrus noted. “Did they or you find out about the secret passageways that Cyvus had implemented? He always preferred to have an escape route handy.” Off Spike's look, Ambrus smiled. He moved back inside the cell and to the wall, where the chains hung limply. “Well, I can see that at least you know about them. Somehow, I doubt you told the others.”
Spike shifted uncomfortably. Ambrus smirked and plucked the hanging length of chain from the wall. Spike warily watched his approach, and when the chain links were set about his pale neck, shut his eyes in resignation. Ambrus molded the links into a collar and leash, the end of the chain gripped in his fist.
“It sounds like you haven't grown that close to them after all.” He stroked his hand up the side of Spike's neck, then placed his fingers against the line of the jaw and tilted his head back. “I've been tasked with saving you.”
“I already had bloody help,” Spike gritted out. He opened eyes that were half-filled with tears of frustration.
“They weren't moving fast enough for the Old One. She's impatient after hundreds of years stuck in a casket. And I have an idea of how she feels. Get up.”
Spike obeyed, his head bowed. But when Ambrus began to lead him to the cell's exit, there was a strong jerk that nearly tore the chain from his hand.
“Wait!” Spike was breathless with panic. “It's gone.”
Ambrus clenched his teeth and yanked Spike closer, tightening the links until they dug into pale flesh. “What's gone?”
Spike's eyes were wide with fear, his voice strained around the choking chain. “The curse. It's stopped. It hasn't been barraging me with debilitating memories.”
“What?” Ambrus frowned, and he loosened the links. “It must just be a lull. The curse doesn't just wear off.”
Spike's chest heaved as he gasped for breath. “Listen, I don't know how much Blue told you, but that fucking curse was the one thing standing between the hellgod inside my brain and the outside world. The only reason she hasn't popped herself out by now is probably because you weren't exactly gentle with the shackles.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
, you twat. Pain is what is keeping the hellgod back, and now that my constant source of it is gone, she could come barreling out the moment I'm healed.”
“The curse can't be gone,” Ambrus insisted.
Spike's eyes suddenly narrowed, and he stared shrewdly at Ambrus. “You.” He sucked in a trembling breath. “It faded the instant you had me on my knees.”
Ambrus thought to Spike's reactions in the cell, and how the vampire had indeed seemed to be fighting off some invisible source of pain – until Ambrus had demanded his submission.
Spike swallowed, and shuddered. Some sort of understanding came into his expression. “You're going to do whatever the hell you want with me, I get that. And as much as I'd like Glory to pound you to bits, she wouldn't stop with just you. So, you need to do something, if you do succeed in getting me out of here.”
Ambrus's intrigue was nearly overwhelmed by confusion. “What?”
Spike stared back at him with a doomed expression. “Hurt me.”