- Fic: ‘In Remission’ by Quinara. [1/4; ~17K words total; PG-13]
- Fic: ‘In Remission’ by Quinara. [2/4; ~17K words total; PG-13]
- Fic: ‘In Remission’ by Quinara. [3/4; ~17K words total; PG-13]
- Fic: ‘In Remission’ by Quinara. [4/4; ~19.5K words total; PG-13]
Thanks for everything, mods – and thanks to people reading. I’m going to try and get the last chapter posted tonight, but editing does seem to be taking quite a long time. I hope you’re enjoying things!
In the five years Spike’s been missing, the world around Buffy has irrevocably changed. The general population has woken up to vampires’ existence and the kill count has dropped way down. She’s sharing a house with a soulless vampire, still going by the name of Faith. But what does Spike have to do with it? And what does it mean for their future?
Chapter Three: Spike
January 2010, Los Angeles CA
A week after coming back from Buffy’s, Spike sat in his apartment, trying to ignore the scent of her still lingering on some unwashed clothes. The cursor taunted him from the laptop screen, but he’d only got as far as Happy new year! and now he was stuck. He couldn’t concentrate. The noise of the night was loud, flooding in through the window because he was still English enough to enjoy a breeze and the flat was unseasonably warm. He could hear too many people in the apartment building, clambering up stairs and slamming doors; he could smell all their cooking, the Chinese takeaway and the chicken bones filling the bucket they’d left in the hall.
It was always like this after he went to see her. He’d told himself it would the last time, this time, but he wasn’t sure he’d manage to hold himself to that promise. Listening to the night he could only think of her trying to sleep in the cold, joking with him about that Mamas & Papas song…
He should have told her. He knew that. She’d wonder where he’d gone eventually, even if it wasn’t this week or the next. Six months was a long time, and while he wanted out of Los Angeles and the whole bloody subroutine he’d found himself stuck in, he knew it wasn’t entirely fair to go without saying goodbye. A different quality of goodbye.
His phone rang then, chirping like Poe’s sodding raven. Giving into the inevitable and drawing one last deep sigh, Spike tossed his laptop down the bed and leaned over to pick the thing up with one yank on the charger cable. It was Angel, because of course it was.
“Evening, Batface,” Spike corralled, rolling his eyes as he leaned back against the headboard. “What’s happened now?”
“They want a year.”
As usual, Angel didn’t bother with greetings. He got straight to the point. Unfortunately, Spike knew exactly what he was talking about, so he couldn’t even complain. “A year?” he demanded, stomach sinking as his eyes drifted back to the half-started email. It was worse than demons, dealing with the government. “First you drag us into this mess with all their national-duty, debt-to-society bollocks and now you’re signing us up for a bleeding year?”
“It’s called forced labour, Spike,” Angel came back at him impatiently. “Emphasis on the force. They’ve done it before and I am sure they’ll do it again. We go along, we help track down a few nests and they let us both off for another few decades.”
“A year is still a bloody long time.” Spike had heard the submarine story about a hundred times in the last few weeks, so he knew Angel thought he’d got this whole situation figured out. But frankly, Spike was not convinced. “I know you’re getting on a bit –” And, right, two-hundred and fifty years had to be hell on the old ego. “– but spare a thought for those of us who still keep up with the mortal coil, yeah? I still don’t see how the ruddy plan is meant to work… The Initiative tried it once and look where it got them. Not to mention bloody me!”
Angel harrumphed down the line. Spike knew he was as much of a broken record as Angel was, but he couldn’t stop his mind racing with worry. It was only because Angel would be going too – the slipperiest wanker in the Northern Hemisphere – that Spike had even thought to conscience it.
And a year… A year was too long. He couldn’t leave Buffy that length of time, even if he had the vain and selfish hope that a break might be just the thing they needed. He owed Dawn an email. Hell, he couldn’t even really leave Harris twelve months without some sort of stinging gif to undermine his masculinity. Just because Angel was reeling from Nina running out on him it didn’t mean Spike was left with no one either.
But before Spike could get to the end of that train of thought, the old man himself was off again. “I don’t see how it could be any more straightforward,” Angel was complaining. “We help them take out the biggest threats so there’s no one to mobilise the remaining population. Then if they can’t contain this stuff about PHM all they have to manage are the docile remnants.”
“And what are they going to do about all the rats who go fleeing to the border?” Spike challenged, because it seemed like an obvious problem to him. Even before they got started on the ulterior motives.
But Angel had an answer for that too. “Apparently they’ve got agreements with Canada and Mexico… But unofficially I don’t think they care.”
That, Spike supposed, was a point. Anxious, he stood up and walked over to the window, looking down at the busy streets below. As the people went driving by he couldn’t help but wonder how many lives this might save, if it all came off. With the potential resources the agencies had… “But it doesn’t seem natural, does it?” He couldn’t get that off his mind. “Even if it works out exactly like they say, you can’t wipe out evil in one clean swipe.”
Angel hmmed, like he’d spent ten years in a gutter thinking precisely about that question. Spike rolled his eyes, but he still listened. “That’s the thing about nature,” he pronounced, pulling his favourite melancholic voice. “It’s not nature that brings about balance; that’s just the equilibrium that comes from fighting for the same thing. It’s all a side-effect. Nature… It’s about survival. It’s about adaptation. It’s the group and the other. And ever since the Slayers…” He paused, and Spike took a moment to remember the brave new world they lived in was less than ten years old. Angel continued, “Vampires are going to change one way or another; they have to or they’ll be wiped out. Ten years from now they’ll be smarter, more organised, more deadly. Unless…”
“Unless what?” Spike interrupted. “We take them out now?” He shook his head, shooing a that buzzed towards his face. Maybe they could kill a few hundred; maybe they could put the Council to shame and really make a dent – but they others; they’d always go to ground. They’d always be out there. “It can’t be done.”
“No,” Angel seemed to agree. “But this plan… They think it’ll have them subdued in twenty years. I just think… If they lose what strength they had in numbers and the humans are on the look-out, don’t you think some of them will try to fit back into society?”
Spike snorted, uncertain he could believe what he was hearing. “You think the demon’s that weak? We never would’ve gone for that.”
“Right.” Angel didn’t sound convinced. He never did when Spike spoke. “And those weeks you spent in Giles’ bathtub, mooning after Buffy…”
“That is a conflation of two extremely different situations.” But nonetheless, that was the moment Spike felt himself waver. He found himself remembering all the shit vampires he’d dismissed over the years. The suck-whores and the bite-boys, the Harmonies (though none quite as ditzy as the original) and that bookish bloke minion he’d had back before his name had fallen. He thought about the really dark days when Buffy had been newly alive again and he’d wondered whether loving her wasn’t simply a survival strategy to help him put up with the pain and humiliation.
It was probably that last thought why he never did get round to emailing.
November 2014, Oakland CA
He could have cried when he woke up in Buffy’s bed, but he didn’t. Instead, he just lay there for a moment, frozen with the realisation of where he was. It was the scent of warm blood which had woken him, steaming gently from the mug Buffy held in her hands. “Sorry,” she said, holding it out to him. “We’ve got a better microwave these days. I left it in too long.”
Spike didn’t care, just took it and swallowed the whole lot down, squeezing her hand in thanks. It wasn’t enough to make him feel full, not in the least, but it was enough to get him feeling like himself again.
“Would you like some more?” Buffy asked him when he was finished, her eyes all sad and worried with her hair tucked behind her ears.
Of course Spike wanted more. He needed more; still felt starving. But for the moment he didn’t care. “Not right now,” he denied himself, shaking his head. The words came out roughly, irritating his throat. He wasn’t sure what that was about, but he had a horrible feeling like his lungs hard started rotting a bit in the last week or so. As it was, he’d breathed more than enough damp air. With any luck that would fix itself first. “Just – I need to tell you…”
Looking down, Spike was surprised when Buffy eased into the bed beside him. But he took what blessings he was given, sinking back down to rest his head by hers on the pillow. He’d forgotten what her face looked like up close. “Tell me,” she said, radiating warmth as she took hold of his hands again. “Just skip the parts with fawning priestesses or whatever.”
That made him laugh, which gave him the courage to get started. The thing was, he could only narrate the whole thing like it was some grand old adventure. More so than when he’d lived it, the images came vividly into his mind’s eye – the sweeping vistas as they travelled. Angel’s petty fiddling with the radio. The cities and the hub where they always found themselves back again. Nothing about the people involved, because they’d never got to know anyone. And nothing about where the big oaf himself was now, because Spike didn’t want to think about it.
He didn’t talk about how he was in trouble. Nor about how hungry he was, how delicious Buffy looked to him where she was bundled up in her sheets. The whole thing was as predictable as a bloody Tom Clancy novel, so the story tripped off his tongue like he was selling it. By the time he’d got to the end of the year, the part where they’d discovered not all vamps got to meet their maker but found themselves in a windowless correction unit, it was all just too inevitable. Right down to the part where he and Angel found themselves locked up.
That was the point when Buffy left to cook him up some more food. Spike listened to her downstairs, pottering around more than she needed to, frustratedly pacing as the microwave whirred. There was one recognisable sob.
What Spike couldn’t work out was why. He hadn’t even counted up for her how many deaths they’d overseen, how by the time they’d mechanised the holy water hose it all just seemed so heartless. In his head he knew he had lengthy reflections to tell her about the nature of unspoken imprisonment, where everyone knew you couldn’t leave but it was never said out loud – the difference between that and the part where they carted you away to live in a cell on three rations a day, the doctors running weekly tests.
Fucking hell, Spike was hungry. And Buffy knew – knew exactly how unnatural that was. She’d said she’d be right back, but it was taking her so long. He felt ready to gnaw his own arm off and he could feel it, the energy from the blood he’d consumed leaching away into the aether. Just gone.
It made him shudder, once, as Buffy appeared back in the doorway with two tall mugs on a polka dotted tray. Chin held high and motionless, she set it down on the bedside table and passed him the first pint. “Where is Angel now?” asked him straight, because apparently she’d had enough storytelling for one night.
For a moment, Spike thought maybe Angel was the reason for the crying jag. But one look in her eyes told him he was being petty. “I don’t know,” he told her instead, hand shaking around the mug handle. He drank – just so it wouldn’t be wasted, but it didn’t help much with the tremors. “I lost track him not long after they let us go.”
Buffy looked down, nodding once. It was the first time since he’d found her again that Spike actually thought she looked old. There were lines on her face, many of which she’d had since the First Evil, some of which he’d never seen before. As she pursed her lips, the line it drew was thin and tired. But when she spoke, none of that mattered, and it got to him just as much as it ever had before. “I just think,” she said, taking her time over the thought. He clenched the mug between both hands. “I just think of all the friends I have now. Vampire friends. And I just think of how many – people died so I could have them. How many I had to kill before we got to this point. How many extra now who’ve gone.”
Sometimes Spike thought the same thing and it made his vision go blank to think it. His cellmates at the end in there, Biggy and Smalls and Davie Mac, they hadn’t been his friends, but they’d still been his people. The three of them were out there somewhere, released just like him and the others, and they would be just as hungry, only without any comfy Buffy beds to sustain them. “But it’s not like we gave you a choice, was it?” Spike asked, not sure whether he should have said ‘they’. The soul didn’t seem important at times like this. Forcibly he raised his eyes back to her hers. “That’s the whole twisted logic behind this business: vampires’ll murder as soon as look at you. They’re spooks, little more than leftovers, so you have to tame them, one way or another. And if you don’t then the feral animal is too dangerous to leave on its own.”
There was silence for a little while as Buffy seemed to think it over. Drinking more of his blood, shutting his eyes, Spike almost believed what he was saying. The problem was, he could never quite get himself feeling the conviction on that vampires-as-animals analogy. Angel was usually all right with it, Spike remembered from conversations they’d had before, but it always seemed too simple for him. There was no animal with quite the same intelligence as a vamp, not the memories and not the knack to fit back in with human society right up until the time they wanted to strike. There was no animal that looked the same and smelt the same and thought and spoke the same as its prey, no animal whose brutality rested on such human emotions. They were the dark side of the fucking force, vampires. They didn’t even make sense to demons.
“Faith came straight back, you know,” Buffy said then, passing him the second mug of blood. He shouldn’t have needed it. He didn’t want it. But he took it all the same, and Buffy continued, “The circumstances have gotta be different, I guess, because she’s been facing vampires for years. Maybe because she killed people before? But she came looking for us and I couldn’t let her… Not like you. And –” She ploughed straight ahead, not stopping for a breath. “And I can’t help but think what if it’s like that for everyone? Now that people know about it a little before? What if they don’t want to leave their lives? It’s not like the whole world can be that unhappy.”
“Yeah…” Spike replied, staring down at the blood in his hands. “But that’s why…” If only it could be that easy. He breathed, then told her what somehow he’d always known. “You don’t go round turning any old slayer you slaughter in the street. You don’t go round turning just anyone. It’s a seduction, right? Or else it should be. Standards don’t always…” He shook his head quickly, casting off that way of thinking. “The vampires who last beyond the night, who stick around, they always think they’re getting something out of the exchange, yeah? That’s why they go for it all gung ho. It’s not just strength, immortality… It’s something intangible, something they’ve yearned for all their lives. Something…”
Glancing at Buffy, he bit the word back. He wasn’t going to say it, because he could still remember the moment Dru had caught it out of the air and looked in his eyes with the knowledge no one else had cared prise out of him before.
But Buffy was watching him, almost as knowingly, probably more so – because she’d come by her knowledge of him honestly, hadn’t she? It was disconcerting, to say the least.
And so he kept on, filling the silence, “I mean, all right, maybe it doesn’t work that way anymore. You’re all a bunch of cynics, you lot today, so the romance probably wouldn’t cut it. But you can’t force anyone to find their calling, not to evil and not to good.” Wryly he considered, “Bet they used to seduce you Slayers into it as well, back before the age gap got nasty… What did they do for you?” he asked Buffy, suddenly curious because he’d never heard this story. “Probably some Karate Kid postmodern Joseph Campbell bollocks, right? Just said you were the chosen one and waited for you to give up everything in the pursuit of being a hero.”
It made her laugh, at least, though there was something in her eyes that left him on edge. “Pretty much,” was all she said. But then she looked down at his mug which seemed all too empty and told him, “You still haven’t said why they let you and Angel go.”
And he froze, remembering it again.
October 2014, Unknown location
It was dark when they woke up. A whole group of them, some vamps Spike had never seen before, his cellmates and, of all people, Angel – whom he hadn’t seen in months.
They weren’t in Nevada anymore, if that was even where they’d been at the end. In any case, the whole climate was different here; the air cooler, damp enough that it clung to his nostrils. They were in a forest somewhere, lying on mulch and fungus and twigs. There was birdsong, nightjars or something, then maybe an owl.
Spike woke up slowly, looking at the bodies around him. Angel was already stood up; the two of them apparently the first to recover from whatever they’d been drugged with. “Any idea where we are?” Spike asked, clambering up onto his underused joints. His feet didn’t feel solid in his boots, like they would quickly become blistered and sore after a simple stroll. All of him felt entirely too soft.
Of course, he wasn’t going to let that on to Angel. Just like he wasn’t going to let on that it was almost a relief to see the fat fucker. After a century in and out of each other’s company Spike felt he had the right to forgo the pleasantries.
Angel seemed to agree, scowling like his jacket still cost eight-hundred dollars. “No,” he said simply. “But it feels like a long way and it’s meant to feel like that. Taking us out of the desert into here was no accident.”
“What?” Spike replied, feeling the pockets of his own abused army surplus. Of course he’d run out of fags months ago, but nothing else seemed to be missing. “This is a powerplay, you reckon? To prove what they can do?”
It was a weird sort of prison, the one they’d been in. There was never any change to the intake – no one leaving, no one joining – but the staff changed over frequently. The only things that visibly aged had been the furniture, and that had been replaced and maintained on some sort of basis. They’d never had to do anything – nothing to justify tax payers’ expenditure – just submit to tests like lab rats unconscious of what tests were being performed. Violence was allowed between vampires, but there’d been little to fight about, in the end. And Angel liked his peace more than Spike liked dealing with upstarts, so early on there had been a general descent into hopelessness. Vampires had oddly domitable spirits.
Spike had spent most of his time watching TV and playing Street Fighter with Biggy. It had been a bit like the year before Joyce had died, only without Joyce. Or Dawn. Boredom, though, had certainly turned most of his thoughts about Buffy back into obsessive fantasies, so with a few bouts of random violence that had almost been the same.
Speaking of women, though – there were some of them out here as well. Spike had always wondered if they’d kept the female vampires somewhere too. There were six of them, which with the blokes made twelve vamps in total – either the lucky chosen few or one group of several. There’d been many more of them back in the desert.
One of the women was getting up. “Oh fantastic,” she said, massaging her temples. “It’s the Aurelius boys. God be praised.” There was a Caribbean lilt to her voice and apparently she had a greatly underdeveloped sense of irony. “Why is it everywhere I go there’s always some mess you two have left there waiting for me, hmm?”
Spike raised an eyebrow. She was hot, this vampire, tall and slender with her hair peaking like a quiff over her forehead, but he didn’t think he’d ever seen her before in his life. “Do we know you?” he asked pointedly.
She stared straight back. “I would hope not.” Spike didn’t pay her much mind. Vampires were always the same once they reached a certain age… You always tended to run to each other at some point passing around the world and if you pissed someone off once or twice they never did bother to forget it. Maybe that party Dru and I crashed back in the ‘86… But she didn’t seem to want to dwell, continuing, “Have they let us go or not? I could do with someone to eat.”
Because now that Naomi Campbell mentioned it, Spike realised he was feeling a bit peckish as well. “Angel?” he asked. “D’you ever read GQ’s Guide to the Wilderness on one of your lonely nights in? Otherwise we’re going to have a problem…”
“No,” Angel replied, still glowering. He was definitely trying to figure out the catch. Spike was mostly trying to suppress panic. It was working quite well.
As more and more vampires woke up, it dawned pretty quickly that they were going to have to find shelter. The night was young, but it felt like summertime, so they wouldn’t have forever. But more importantly, as they started looking, they realised they needed food. A little more desperately than usual.
“We’re warm, you know,” Angel said dismally as Terry the ex-Scout Leader got them all together looking for deer tracks. “D’you feel it? The night’s not moving fast enough for this sort of temperature. That means we’re warm.”
“Or maybe the weather’s unseasonal,” someone on Spike’s other side piped up, not without sarcasm. It made Spike think back to those last few nights in his apartment, those balmy days he’d wasted. Was this really freedom they’d found now?
“Does it matter if we get more night?” someone else was asking. “I’m goddamn hungry.” Spike couldn’t help but agree.
And they were warmer, from what Spike could tell. It was usually difficult to move around other vampires in deep darkness, because there was no real way to sense them. But now, Spike thought he could have a good stab at telling where people were, how their bodies filled the surrounding space.
“Metabolism,” came Smalls’ weaselly, ex-science teacher voice, like a death knell. “If they sped it up, that would do it. We’d need to eat more, because we’d be burning energy quicker.”
“You mean… “ One of the other voices began, but then they were trailing off. For a moment there was silence, as the reality of it all sank in, but then everyone seemed to speak at once.
“Why would they do that?”
“How is that possible?”
“What’s in it for them?”
“How can you even guess that? It could be hundreds of things, for sure.”
“We should’ve guessed that was what they were doing. Experiments!”
“I’m writing to my representative. I don’t care if you wanna call us dead or not; he’s gonna listen.”
“That’s it. Bring on the Slayers. I am slaughtering every single meatsack I meet from now until the end of days. Gotta get some of the bastards somehow…”
“I am not listening to this.” Now that was Naomi. “You enjoy the next season of Survivor; I’ll be getting out of here and I don’t want to see any of you following me.”
And with that, she was stomping off into the forest. Spike looked to where he knew Angel was, though he couldn’t quite make him out.
“Wait!” Ex-Scout Leader called after her. “We have to stick together!”
“Yeah,” some bloke with a deep voice backed him up. It was the same one who wanted meatsacks to murder. “It comes down to it, we’re pack animals aren’t we? They might’ve kept us in cages but now we’re out a bit of hunger can’t keep us in line.”
“Speak for yourself, lunkhead,” one of the other women vamps spoke up. “I’m not a pack animal. I’m a vampire – and Clarice is right. I’m done scrabbling around in the dirt like a pig.”
Lunkhead seem to take exception to this and Spike wondered whether he should intervene, but the moment he made a move there was a scuffle, snarls like lions, but then the sound of one heavy lump of flesh falling to the ground and a foot grinding into face.
“You shouldn’t have tried that,” she spoke again, clear and deadly. After that there was only the tell-tale sound of a stake plunging into sinew and the sharp exhale the demon made when it was sent back down to hell.
There were a few of them around these days, ex-slayers, and Spike wondered, as she left, whether that was who this person was. His feet actually started to go with her, brain haring down the path that if people knew her in whatever Council outpost they came to, then she could maybe get him inside; she could maybe get him to some information about Buffy…
Because that was where he needed to go, wasn’t it? He needed to get to her, to tell her he was out, to stop her moving on with whatever life she’d concocted in the time he’d been away, to apologise that he’d never sent her that last email, that he’d never told her where he’d gone, that he’d been thinking of her and waiting, always waiting just…
“No,” suddenly Angel said, cutting through Spike’s thoughts. “I know what you’re thinking, and no.”
“Huh?” asked one of the other vampires, male.
But Spike ignored them; they barely did seem like people when he couldn’t see and they spoke shite. “What d’you mean ‘no’?” He let his human face drop for a minute, marking Angel’s figure now and noticing when people moved away from him. For a moment it was distracting, as he wondered why he hadn’t done this before (he could tell several others had) – but then he got back on track. “You got a different plan, have you? Trundle back to Los Angeles and mope around like we’re still relevant?”
Fuck, Spike definitely felt hungry now. It was worse like this.
And Angel seemed to think that was reason enough to stay in the woods. “We can’t go out there. Not until we know what’s going on. At this rate we’ll be starving by the time we meet anyone and they’ll be watching – you know they’ll be watching. And if vampires are public knowledge by now that’ll be just the news they want out there – that something’s sending us ravening. And if we crack…”
“Oh man…” One of the observing vampires said. “That’s gonna freak the vamps out and the humans just as bad. It’ll be like war…”
On another day, Spike might have taken the argument more rationally and come up with a clear headed response. The thing was, it was that day and that moment. His reactions were still a little sluggish from the drugs; it had just been intimated that he’d been fucked over by the government again; he couldn’t tell his arse from his elbow it was so dark; he was lost, tired, frustrated – and mother of Christ, he was hungry. It had been at least ten, probably nearer fifteen years since he’d signed up with Angel’s suicide adventure and he had yet to die and yet to feel any smidgeon of satisfaction from the whole affair. He’d just been freed from captivity and, ultimately, was in no mood to be told what to do.
And so Spike replied, “You know what? I don’t care. Just try and bloody stop me.” He pricked his ears and tuned into the sound of running water not so far away. He wasn’t Harrison Ford, but heading downstream still seemed like a reasonable bet of finding some civilisation in the next six hours. If he was fucked, he was fucked, but he wasn’t going to sit round here waiting for it. He could lope like a gazelle.
As he thought these things, Spike was already moving. Angel called after him, but he didn’t reply or even look back. It was a testament of something that Angel didn’t physically try and keep him there.
About when the loneliness kicked in Spike found himself wondering whether it was all hopeless anyway.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/488387.html