The Devil and William Pratt
By Barb C
Disclaimers: The usual. All belongs to Joss and Mutant Enemy, and naught to me.
Synopsis: There’s a whole sodding epic leading up to it, yeh? Chock full of blood, love, and death. But let’s skip that bit and go directly to the part where yours truly wakes up with a pulse.
Author’s notes: This story was written for the Fall 2008 round of seasonal_spuffy. The theme for this round was “Obstacles.” The story takes place in the same universe as “Raising In the Sun,” “Necessary Evils,” and “A Parliament of Monsters.” It’s set immediately after POM, and contains spoilers for POM. Many thanks to betas kehf, slaymesoftly, deborahc, and brutti_ma_buoni, and to enigmaticblues for getting the band back together!
There’s a whole sodding epic leading up to it, yeh? Chock full of blood, love, and death. But let’s skip that bit and go directly to the part where yours truly wakes up with a pulse – or if you want to be finicky about it, about three weeks after.
Fred’s office in the Hyperion had a postage-stamp of a balcony, and I’d stepped out to have a fag while we waited for the news. Buffy was already nagging me to quit, on account of my now-working lungs, but what’s a man without his vices? ‘Sides, purveyor of second-hand smoke’s my main chance at evil-doing these days. I took a drag, feeling the nicotine burn like it hadn’t since the day I’d nicked my first cigar from my father’s humidor. Wasn’t a bad way to waste an afternoon, lounging against the railing in the balcony’s shadiest corner, sending armadas of smoke rings sailing out into the sunlight. Curious, I stretched a hand after them, spread my fingers, and watched as the skin pinked up, then reddened, and finally started to char. Wisps of smoke curled from my fingertips. Took a fair bit longer than it used to. Still hurt like bugger-all, though.
The French door banged behind me. “Spike!”
I pulled my hand back into the shade, wincing as the blackened skin cracked and flaked away, healing near as fast as it’d burned. “Just testing, love. Got to know my limits, don’t I?”
“Can’t you stick to multiple choice?” Arms twined round my waist, a cheek rested against my back, and Buffy’s scent wrapped me in human warmth. Better than sunlight, my girl. She sounded exhausted, poor lamb, but she’d had a hard few weeks of it. “I’m being paranoid, I know,” she said. “It’s just I’m used to thinking of you and Angel as kind of indestructible. And now you’re… well… destructible. Walking out here to find you playing chicken with Mr. Sunlight? Not reassuring. Especially after that stunt with the motorcycle the other night. You don’t need to prove anything to me.”
I shifted my weight, uncomfortable. “Not trying to prove anything, love.” Didn’t have anything to prove. Did I?
“It’s so weird,” she murmured, soft against my shoulder. She slid one hand up beneath my shirt, pressing against my chest. “Your heart beating. It’s so slow. But strong. Like a great big bell, very far away.”
“Always has beat, for you,” I said, deep and growly. She snorted and nipped my shoulder, catching skin beneath my t-shirt in her sharp little teeth. But I could tell she liked it from the way her scent changed, and the little skip of her heart, so much faster than mine.
We heard the office door open, and when we turned round, Winifred Burkle popped in, an entire Warren Commission’s worth of paperwork clutched in her twiggy arms. “Hey, guys! I just got the last of the tests back from the clinic.” She dumped the whole lot in the middle of her desk: six inches of charts, binders, and graphs with circles and arrows on the back, every last one devoted to the X-File that was William the Bloody.
“Is everything OK?” Buffy asked, walking over to the desk and picking up a random folder from the top of the pile. “‘Organismal sen-senescence?’ What does this mean?”
Fred’s eyes lit up. Fond of the bird as I am, the trouble with the Burkle is, you ask her to explain something, and she does. “It’s all preliminary, of course – ” And she was off, rabbiting on about ‘conditional ectothermy’ and ‘enhanced hypoxic tolerance.’
“Spike,” Buffy whispered, frowning at a chart I was pretty sure was upside down. “Pay attention. This is your life. Literally.”
“Got a feeling I already know the ending.” If I was going to be bored out of my skull, might as well do it in comfort. I drew on my ciggie and slouched down in the nearest chair. Nonchalant. Not a care in the world. Guts in a Gordian knot. “Fred, love, sum up, would you?”
“The good news is, you’re alive.” Girl knows her sums. “Which, considerin’ the alternative, is really, really good news.” Fred adjusted her specs and rifled through a scrum of papers. “It’s pretty fascinating,” she said. “Since you don’t have a soul, the revivifying properties of the Mohra blood couldn’t make you human, like it did…” She glanced at the door. Could have told her the hall was empty. Angel’d been avoiding me since it happened. Or more likely, avoiding Buffy. “What happened to you was more like a… a fusion. The demon life force is fully integrated with the human host body, producing a living system which replicates most of the physical characteristics of the average vampire.” She fanned the stack of reports ‘cross her desk like a winning poker hand. “Here, see for yourself. Your cardiovascular system’s totally unique – a distributed network of contractile vascular tissue – ”
“You said there was bad news,” Buffy interrupted. “I mean you didn’t, but you said there was good news, and when there’s good news, there’s always bad news. So. Badness?”
Fred beamed at us with ghoulish cheer. “Oh, the bad news is you’re gonna die.”
That’s not the kind of thing a bloke likes to hear first thing in the morning, but truth to tell, I’d half been expecting it. Buffy’s warm little hand just about broke my fingers, tightening on mine. We must have looked a right pair of goops, because Fred’s eyes went teacup-sized and she shook her head hard enough to make her braids whip round her ears. “Oh, no, not right now! Just, you know, in an all-flesh-is-mortal kind of way.”
Buffy let out a breath. Could be I did too. “So exactly how mortal is Spike’s flesh, currently?”
“All the usual ways,” Fred burbled. Bird would have made a bleeding fantastic vampire. “You know, the ol’ reliables – sunlight, fire, beheading, and a stake to the heart. Also drowning, suffocation, poison, starvation, bleeding out, infection, disembowling, bullet to the head, electrocution – you can stop me any time; I’m running out of fingers. And oh, yeah, he’s gonna age now.”
“But he’s not human.” Couldn’t tell from Buffy’s tone if she wanted the answer to be yes or not, and all she smelled like was Slayer nerves. “So he’s going to stay like this? It’s not going to – to wear off, or – or – ” Takes a lot to make Buffy Summers look queasy, but I’d seen the dog’s dinner that was all that was left of the other unsouled vamps Gregson had tested his little process on, and it came close to making me queasy.
“Not so far’s we can tell.” Fred gave me a hopeful look, bit like a spider interviewing a fly for web space. “‘Course if Spike wants to stay on and let me run a few more tests…”
“Already done my time as lab rat,” I said, getting to my feet. “You two can chat about my not-so-looming demise as long as you like, but I’m going to get the car. It’s past time we headed for home.”
My sweet Slayer sat quiet, holding my hand tight. “Don’t you feel even slightly freaked out about this?”
There’s a question with no good answer. “Never featured myself dying peacefully of old age. Don’t reckon my chances of doing that have changed much.” I tipped her chin up and grinned. “Look at it this way: We’re lucky this happened ‘fore I went all bat-nosed, yeh?”
Buffy bit her lip – she doesn’t like surprises, my girl, not unless they involve flowers and chocolate, and I could tell she’d rather I stay and slog it through another round of tests. If she’d said the word, I’d’ve done it. But she gave me the nod at last, and I made my escape into the hallway.
The Hyperion Hotel was a gloomy old pile of bricks even before it turned up the Maginot Line in the middle of a vampire gang war, and now the place was crawling with contractors and insurance adjusters. Far, far away, I could hear Angel’s pocketbook screaming in anguish. We’d been here for two weeks now, ever since the big battle, and I was glad enough to be shut of it. Christ. What were they all so fussed about, anyway? Granted life’s a bit of a shocker when you’ve been undead for a hundred and twenty years, but the novelty wears off fast. Whether you need the oxygen or not, a chap’s got to breathe – to talk, to smoke, to track his prey. Keeps you in practice.
Heartbeat, on the other hand… it was weird, a bit. I’d forgotten what it felt like, all that racket, thudding and thumping, driving blood before it.
I’d get used to it. Didn’t have much choice.
The doors to the lift whooshed open as I walked up. Inside was Angel, leaning on the DOOR OPEN button. I took one look, spun on my heel and marched off back down the hallway. Before I’d taken two steps Grandsire’s long arm reached out, grabbed me by the collar, and yanked me inside. He smacked the DOOR CLOSE button, and took a step closer, looming over me. Empty threat, now. Or no – not empty; never underestimate the old man in a brawl.
He glowered at me like a week of bad weather. “You’re heading back to Sunnydale.”
Wasn’t so much a question as a challenge. I dug the keys to the DeSoto out of my jacket pocket. “Well…yeh. Any reason I shouldn’t?”
“You think nothing’s changed, don’t you?” he said. “You think you’re gonna take up right where you left off.”
“And why not?” I ground my fag out on the sole of my Docs, imagining it was Angel’s face. What? I’ve got issues.
His jaw went hard. “Spike…mortality changes everything. You’ll feel different. Buffy… she’ll…”
“How the fuck should you know how Buffy’ll feel?” I snapped. “Not like you’ve given mortality a test drive before, have you?”
Bit of a red-letter day when I get one over on Angel. Pity I hadn’t a sodding clue what it was I’d said. The big brooding berk didn’t say anything, just stood there clenching his fists, with his lungs going and his heart beating and his human sweat pumping. All kinds of wrong, that. Angel smelling like bleeding food. Made my fangs itch. “Look, mate,” I growled, “Some might call this whole sodding fiasco your fault. But not Spike. I had a choice, and I took it, and it does me bugger-all good to whinge about it now. Don’t see what you’ve got to bitch about anyway. You wanted to be human, didn’t you?”
If Angel could’ve growled a proper demon growl still, he would’ve. Managed a pretty decent imitation, anyway. “I’m trying to help, you ass!” He took a deep breath. “Forget it. Just forget it.”
The elevator dinged for the lobby, and the doors whooshed open. “Glad to!” I yelled at Angel’s retreating back. Sod him anyway. Still jealous of what I had with Buffy, was his problem. Trying to throw me off my game. Pulse or no pulse, at the end of the day I was still a vampire. Still Spike. Still me.
I’ve always fancied myself a big-city boy, but Sunnydale’s grown on me over the years. Bit like mold. Still, was a treat to be back on my own ground, get a welcome-back hug from Dawn and a bill from Anya for everything insurance didn’t cover from the smashed-up Magic Box. Home sweet bloody home. ‘Course, things had gone to hell in our absence. When our merry crew legged it to L.A. to go up against Angelus, the other vamp gangs in town saw it as a prime opportunity to muscle in on my territory. Buffy an’ I’d gone through a lot in L.A., the both of us, but the moment we hit home turf we were up to our bloody eyeballs in heads to be cracked, and we lost no time cracking ’em.
Didn’t give us much opportunity to ponder our new estates. Which suited the both of us fine. Or so I thought.
Two weeks later I was hiding behind a rubbish skip in Sunnydale’s darkest, dankest dockside alley and struggling to get my lighter to catch in the damp. Was a miserable night, as I recall, cold and rainy as it gets in California in March, and I was feeling rough as a badger’s arse. Night before, I’d been a touch off – achy, like, and scratchy in the back of my throat. Been a century and change since I needed a house call, but the best thing for a sore throat’s still a hot toddy, innit?
Only problem was, we didn’t have any honey, and we didn’t have any lemon, so I just doubled up on the whiskey and called it even. Turns out I’ve still got quite the tolerance. Just not quite as much as when I was a walking corpse. The love of my formerly un-life and I had a bit of a tiff over it when I finally crawled out of bed next afternoon – bloody unreasonable if you ask me, seeing as I was trying to stay in good nick for this very enterprise.
So now I had a sore throat and a sore head, and a sore Slayer in the bargain, and I was determined that if I was going to feel like shite, I’d feel like shite with a decent smoke. My lighter sputtered and flared, and the sodding fag finally leaped to baleful orange life. (‘m a poet. Can use ‘baleful’ if I like.) Crouched a few paces ahead of me, Buffy gave me the stink-eye over her shoulder.
“Do you have to do that right this minute?” she hissed. “You’re supposed to be making with the oogy vampire smelling thing, aren’t you? Besides, you can probably get lung cancer now.”
Bugger you sideways with a shrimp fork too, Slayer, I thought, but didn’t say, not being a complete idiot despite evidence to the contrary. “‘M still a demon, pet. For all you know, it’s providing vital nutrients as we speak.”
Couldn’t quite stifle the cough that came after. The Slayer’s pretty face scrunched in a look I’d not want to wake up to for the next forty years. I stubbed my cig out on the rain-slick macadam – ’cause I wanted to, not because she told me to, and taking my time about it. I rocked back on my heels and took a big lungful of the night. Tried to, anyway. I managed a clogged-drain snuffle. In the usual way of things, tracking’s a doddle in damp air once the rain’s let up, but tonight my head felt like a sack full of day-old pudding.
Wet concrete, ragweed, dirt, macadam, rubber, plastic, hot metal, fertilizer, worried Slayer, spilled oil, rusty metal, old drywall, mold, brick, exhaust fumes, a dead pigeon, the last dozen passers-by (human and otherwise), dead fish, rotting kelp, dog shit, cat piss, the stench of half a dozen unwashed vampires, and a pong like you wouldn’t believe from the rubbish skip. That’s what I should’ve smelled. (Not always a party having vampire senses, let me tell you.) What I got was mostly my own snot.
That bit I said before, about keeping in practice breathing? I was lying. Breathing from habit, and breathing ’cause you need it – ’cause you’ll die without that next hit of O2 – no comparison. Even if you only really need that hit three or four times an hour. But it’s not a thing you can pin down in charts and tests, that feeling. No use in trying. The idea that I couldn’t breathe sent me into a right panic for a moment, till I remembered my mouth worked for that, too.
While I sat there and hyperventilated, Buffy whispered, “Spike?”
Took me a minute. My head was pounding. “Yeah, pet?” Came out sounding more like ‘ped.’
Oh, right. Fuck. “Cad’t tell,” I said, apologetic.
Slayer huffed out a breath. “What do you mean you can’t tell?”
“I mead I cad tell!” I growled, and stood up – little too quickly, as it turned out. My pins went all wobbly, and Buffy jumped up and caught me.
“What’s the matter?” she said, eyes big an’ tragic in a face paler than mine. “Are you sick?”
Silly question. “Vampires don’d ged sick.”
“Well,something’s – ”
A basso profundo roar split the rainy night, and the ground shook as something the size of a steroidal buffalo burst out of the heap of wet cardboard across the alley and charged straight for us. It was a Chirago demon – six hundred pounds of armor-plated fury, wielding a halberd longer than I was tall, and swinging it straight for Buffy.
Question worth pondering, what a Chirago demon was doing defending the sentry point outside a vamp’s nest, but at the moment we had more pressing matters to attend to. “Slayer!” I yelled, but she was already in the air, springing straight up from her crouch and over the pendulum-swing of the crescent blade. She twisted mid-air, one leg shooting out in a kick straight to the bastard’s nose. Bone crunched and blood spurted, and the Chirago’s swing went wild. Buffy whipped out her sword on the way down, but the edge glanced off the thing’s back-plates.
Since the Slayer’d taken the high road, I took the low, unsheathing my Bowie knife and aiming for the knees. “Go for the joints!” I roared. My balance was off, and instead of hamstringing the plonker, I missed my mark, and my blade skidded along its armored flank and hit the pavement in a trail of sparks. The Chirago reared up and slapped me aside with the flat of its bloody great pig-sticker, knocking me into the nearest wall. I hit the bricks with a whoof – bloody inconvenient thing about having breath is how easy it is to knock it out of you.
By the time I staggered to my feet Buffy was clinging to the row of foot-high spines running along the thing’s back, teeth clenched in a snarl that’d do any demon proud, her sunlit hair flying. With each twist she drove her sword-point deeper and deeper into the join between two back-plates. The Chirago had dropped its halberd and spun wildly in place, roaring and clawing at its back and knocking bins about. Realizing it couldn’t reach her that way, it collided with the wall beside me. Buffy cried out as they hit, but didn’t let go, slipping to one side so’s the creature’s own back spines protected her from being crushed. The Chirago lumbered forward and lurched back again.
Trouble was, I knew her blade wasn’t long enough to hit anything vital from that angle. No time to dole out a lesson on Chirago anatomy. I eyed the massive forelimbs with their six-inch talons. If I could get inside that goat-buggering bastard’s reach…
Windows rattled overhead as the Chirago crashed into the wall again – Buffy’d maneuvered so’s it drove her sword deeper as it hit, and as it howled, I lunged. I got one good glimpse of rolling red eyes and jagged yellow fangs that put mine to shame as I ducked under a tree-trunk-sized arm. Sultry, fetid breath blasted my face (again, poet. Deal with it) and just for a second…
Look, I’m not going to tell you I never knew fear when I was undead. I knew sodding bucketloads of it. But somehow what I felt in that moment was different. Primal. Something I hadn’t felt since the night Drusilla sank her fangs into my neck, and I felt my heart slow and my breath falter, and I knew I was going to die. And I froze like a mewling little bitch.
Snapped out of it the instant the Chirago’s claws pierced the leather of my jacket and drew blood, but in a rough-and-tumble like that, two seconds is an eternity. One monstrous paw locked round my middle, and the fucker shook me till my brain rattled. The huge maw opened, the snaky tongue flicked out to wrap round my neck – and I leaned into its mouth and rammed my knife through the tongue, piercing the soft flesh of its lower jaw. With all my strength I shoved the blade deep as it would go and sliced downwards, all the way into the leathery underside of its throat.
A stinking, corrosive flood of blood and bile and venom burst out in my blade’s wake, and the Chirago sodding near deafened me with its bellowing. I felt a rib crack as it spat me away, and then Buffy yanked her sword free and drove it straight and true into the join between the Chirago’s neck plates and its skull. With a dying-pipe-organ moan, it shambled drunkenly from one side of the alley to the other, its serrated jaws drooling ropes of blood and spittle.
It collapsed like an armor-plated landslide. Buffy leaped free as it tumbled to the ground; yours truly wasn’t so lucky.
“Spike!” Somewhere above me I could see Buffy’s strained, sweaty face, her eyes dark with a terror I couldn’t suss out as she tugged and shoved and kicked at the body lying across mine. “Spike, talk to me! Are you OK?”
‘Course I was OK. ‘m a vampire, aren’t I? Didn’t feel OK, but that’d pass. Only a hangover, wasn’t it? Bit tired, though. And my head felt so hot and fuzzy, couldn’t understand why I was shivering so. “‘S all right, love.”
“You idiot!” Buffy was pulling out her cell phone, stabbing the buttons. “Willow! Willow, it’s me! I’m behind the warehouse at Harbor and 25th, and Spike’s hurt bad. Bring the car.”
“S’ all right, love,” I husked out. “I’m not made of glass.”
“What were you thinking?” she snarled, hauling my jacket off my shoulders. Huh. Hadn’t realized those claws went that deep. “You can’t just go running into things – not anymore! No, Willow, not you!” I could hear her poor heart racing along, pit-a-pat-pit-a-pat-pit-a-pat-pit-a-pat. Began to dawn that she was worried about me. She pressed the heel of her hand to the wounds. “No. I mean, yes, he’s bleeding, but it’s – he has next to no blood pressure, you know? But he was acting weird before he got hurt – like he was sick or something – and he’s got all this slime all over him and the last time he got demon goo in an open wound there were major transformations involved and no I am not panicking, I am perfectly calm and rational -”
Poor Slayer. I started to tell her that the only thing you had to worry about with Chirago venom was…well, it was something, but I was way too fucking tired to remember. So I went to sleep instead.
Felt a lot better when I woke up. Bloody brilliant compared to how I’d felt when I fell asleep. So good, in fact, that it took me a full minute to start wondering where the flying fuck I was.
I was sitting in someone’s old-fashioned study – no, not someone’s. Mine. The one in the London house I’d owned, back in the days when I was human, that had been my father’s before me. The smell of books, brandy and cigars came over me in a nostalgic rush, and for a second – well, all that dust will make a bloke tear up. There were the ranks of poetry and history, philosophy and travel – Byron and Shelley, Mallory and Sir Francis, Livy and Herodotus, the classics a gentleman’s library demanded and the romantic trash I actually read. There was the old leather-topped desk, and Dad’s old globe in the corner, where I’d sat as a boy and spun myself stories of thrilling adventure in far-off lands. There was the Turkish carpet with the stain where I’d spilled the ink-bottle, there was the fireplace, blazing merrily, and there…
…there in the armchair across from me was a weedy bloke in a fusty suit, blinking at me through a pair of prissy little gold-rimmed specs. The ponce licked the nib of his pen and scribbled a note in the journal resting in one knee. He had a weak-chinned, ineffectual face and mousy brown curls, and his delicate white hands looked never to have held anything more dangerous than a pen. He was the sort of lily-livered, squeamish pansy that men bully and women scorn, and I hated him on sight.
“Who the hell are you?” I growled.”Where’s Buffy? Where is this, and how’d you get me here?”
“Don’t be alarmed,” he squeaked. “Miss Summers is perfectly well. I’m only here to observe. It isn’t often that an entirely new species of demon comes into the world, and we… well, we’d like to be prepared when you leave it.” His smile was as genuine as the gilt on the roccoco picture frames. “I’ve tried to create an accommodating environment. I hope you’re comfortable.”
I looked down at myself – not a speck of demon guts to be seen. I was wearing my usual, black jeans, black t-shirt, and black Docs. And my old leather duster, which’d been retired to the back of the closet after the beating it’d taken when we closed the Hellmouth. Save for some special-occasion-only appearances in Buffy’s and my fantasy life, I hadn’t worn it since.
“That says interesting things about your self-image, don’t you think?” the ponce murmured, writing another note. “A kind of security blanket, isn’t it?”
I jumped to my feet – not about to admit that the flare of my old familiar duster behind me felt bloody good. “Sorry, mate. Places to go and things to kill.” I headed for the door, half expecting it would be locked. But it wasn’t, and I stepped through the doorway and out into the hall and –
Right back into the study. The poncy little git was still scribbling away in his journal. “You may as well relax. Would you care for some brandy?” He gestured to the snifter on the side table.
I very much would’ve, but I’d sooner eaten six pomegranate seeds, if he’d offered ’em to me. “Not my tipple these days,” I said, rudely as I could. “For an observer, your information’s not very current.”
“Well, that’s the whole point of this interview, isn’t it?” The ponce swirled his brandy in the big balloon glass – the set had been one of my parents’ wedding presents. “We want to get to know you. Intimately.”
Didn’t like the sound of that. I began to pace – always think better when I’m moving. Here’s a room I hadn’t set foot in for a hundred years and more, but somehow my legs remembered the rhythm: one, two, three, four, round the corner of the desk, five, six… I pulled out the top drawer and began rummaging. All I found was the usual assortment of rubbish: blotter paper, candle stubs, account books, penknife, sealing wax, and the rock with the fossil fern in it I’d picked up on holiday at Brighton when I was fourteen. Couldn’t be real, all this.
I spun around and closed the distance between me and the poncy git, vamp-fast, hauling him up out of the chair by his lapels. “Yeh, well, I’m not the type to kiss and tell. Who exactly is ‘we’ when they’re at home?”
For all the git was my size at least, and I wagered he was stronger than he let on, he just wriggled in my grasp like a bug on a pin. “There’s no need for this uncouth behavior! If you’ll only let me explain – do put me down!”
I dropped him back into his armchair. “Be quick about it, then.”
“You’re exceptionally aggravating,” he grumbled, tugging his waistcoat straight and raking a hand through his nancy curls. “Look, you’re a demon, are you not? An entirely new kind of demon. A living vampire. Living, mind you! – which means you could die at any moment. And we’re simply not prepared.”
“Prepared for what?””
“Why, your arrival, of course!” he said, as if he were speaking to an exceptionally dim schoolboy. “When demons die on this place of existence, their souls are remanded to Hell – or to a Hell, at any rate.”
“Vampires haven’t got souls,” I countered. “We go poof. No heaven, no hell, no nothing.”
Poncy Git rolled his eyes, chatting up the schoolboy’s even dimmer cousin. “Vampires are undead. You’re a living demon, and living demons have souls – not human souls, certainly, but soul, spirit, animus, call it what you will, you assuredly have one.”
That set me back good and proper. Could be this chap was lying through his slightly crooked teeth, but how d’you tell whether a chap’s got a soul, anyway, much less whether it’s standard issue? Some vamps claim they can smell it, but I’ve always been pants at that, even when I’m trying to convince Angel that I’m not. Didn’t feel particularly soulful. Yeh, in the last few years I… well, things’ve changed. What happened – and what didn’t happen – when those Initiative berks killed Dru proved that. Truth to tell, it scares the piss out of me. But that stone started its rolling well before my heart got a jump-start.
Sod it. “Bully for me,” I said, stalking over to the corner where the globe stood. Hadn’t there been a window here, where I used to watch the cabs go by on the street outside? I couldn’t remember. The door had gone missing, too. Now it was just an unbroken wall of books and walnut paneling.
I nabbed a book at random from the nearest shelf – it was the copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that Mother’d given me, that I’d given Buffy in turn. It looked and felt solid, real, foxed pages and cracked spine, smelling of leather and ink and old paper, and that wasn’t right, was it? That was how it looked and smelled nowadays. In my old study it should be newer, brighter, cleaner, the inscription on the flyleaf unfaded. I flipped it open, squinted. Didn’t have my specs with me, but even so, the words slipped and swam and squirmed away before my eyes.
“I’m dreaming.” I closed the book with a snap. “This is all a bleeding hallucination.”
The Git gave me a nasty smirk. “Are you? Is it?” He rose and strolled over to the shelves, pulling down a volume covered in dull green baize – Morris’s The Earthly Paradise. He opened it to “Cupid and Psyche,” but the illustration was all wrong: ‘stead of Burne-Jones’s Psyche languishing by the roadside, it was yours truly, languishing in Pre-Raphaelite agony on the living room couch at Revello Drive. Buffy cradled my head in her lap and Dawn knelt beside her. Willow stood to one side with a grim look and a knife in one hand.
“If so, you’re in no danger of waking up any time soon.” The git tucked the Morris under one elbow and whipped his journal out again. “Now, to business, shall we? I represent the Lower Beings. They have assigned me to study you, and determine which methods of, er, engagement will be most effective once you’re in our custody for good. It will make things ever so much simpler if you cooperate.”
I snatched his journal and chucked it into the fireplace. “Pardon me if I’m feeling less than cooperative.”
“Oh, that’s right, be difficult!” the Git said peevishly. He stomped over and retrieved his journal from the flames, all unsinged. Bugger. That let out my brilliant idea of chucking him in after it. “I hope you realize that you’ve created a terrible muddle. You’re unquestionably a demon, and yet you’re so…” he shuddered, brushing ash off the pages – “overwhelming tainted by humanity that quite frankly, we’re not certain how to deal with you. You’re a traitor to your kind, and that would indicate torment, but do you have any idea how devilishly hard it is to torment someone properly when they haven’t a human soul? No guilt, no remorse – the keystones to successful torment! You really have to give me something to work with, here!”
Buffy standing on that tower flashed into my mind, and Willow pressing her bloodied wrist to my lips, and my own sorry self, whispering promises I couldn’t keep into my sweet mad sire’s ear as she fell to dust in my arms.
“Good, good!” Poncy beamed, scribbling away. Like I’d done a trick and deserved a biscuit. “That’s excellent. No remorse, but regrets in plenty. Regret is so often overlooked, but it has a potency all its own, don’t you think? Oh, and failure! My, you are terrified of that, aren’t you? With good reason, I suppose.” He sucked on the end of his pen. “There was one more thing. Now what was it? Regret, failure, and… ah! Mediocrity!” He beamed. “That was what your sire rescued you from, wasn’t it? From living a life of pathetic insignificance, and dying unloved and unmourned by the mother who secretly despised – ”
I punched him in the nose. If he’d been human, I’d have caved his face in. As it was, he windmilled backwards into the armchair, which tipped over and pitched him arse over teakettle into the wainscotting. Satisfying. Decided I’d do it again. Then tear him apart, set him on fire, scatter his ashes and piss on them. The git scrambled to his feet as I advanced, clutching his sodding journal, his collar askew. “You – you ruffian!” he cried, fumbling for his glasses. “Bear in mind, sir, that I will have charge of you, sooner or later! I have it within my power to make your eternity an unpleasant one indeed!”
“Stuff it up your arse and light a fuse to it,” I said. “I see what you’re up to with that getup. That’s not who I am any longer. That’s not even who I was.”
The Git threw back his head and laughed. “You think so?” Something in his tone reminded me of Angelus. “But it’s who you’ll become. It’s already starting. You’re young and strong and handsome now, but with every passing day you’ll be less so. You can feel it, can’t you? The minutes, the seconds, slipping like sand through your fingers. Precious, and finite. It’s why you hesitated in that fight. It’s why you’ve been so desperate to prove something – not to her, but to yourself. But it’s futile.” He held the Morris book out again. “You’re a coward. You’ve always been a coward. In death you overcome it, for a little while. But now? The worm of fear gnaws upon your newly beating heart. Do you think you can hide it from your Slayer love forever?”
He thrust the open book in my face. Should have been Psyche wandering in the Underworld, but no such luck. A lone figure sat in shadow at the end of a long bare portico. It was a lean, wiry old geezer slumped in a wheelchair. He looked to be – well, old, yeh? Hair gone grey, face lined and hatchet-sharp, little bit of a gut. Scarred, sinewy arms and gnarled hands, slack on the wheels. But it was the eyes that got to me. Half in shadow beneath the iron-gray curls, they stared out at me with a despair that sent ice up my spine. Dunno as I’ve ever seen anyone look quite so hopeless as the chap in that picture.
“You’re lying,” I croaked. That paunchy old has-been couldn’t be me. “It’s a trick.”
“What need have I to lie? This is what it comes to in the end.” Poncy Git caressed the pages lovingly. “All your heroic aspirations. A crippled, useless old man, a burden to himself and to the ones he loves… do you think she’ll resent the duty that binds her to you? That does seem to be a pattern for you, doesn’t it? Have you any idea how many times you’ll disappoint her, William, and how deeply?”
I growled – not figuratively, this time, but fangy and grr. The Git just laughed. “She already suspects. Why do you think she’s mother-henning you so? Her instincts tell her how you’ll fail her. What a fool you were to make the choice you did, William. You could have been a god among vampires. You could have lived forever, invulnerable – ” Heartless. “Immune to sorrow, immune to fear.” Immune to love. Immune to joy. “But you squandered that option.”
He flipped pages again. “Of course, as your Slayer is so fond of saying, there are always choices. This is only one of many possible futures.”
I stared at the flickering images – Spike, chained to an altar, the Slayer standing above him with tears in her eyes and axe raised high. Spike, dressed in 1930’s regalia, taking a bullet meant for Buffy. Spike, battling a hulking thing of flame while a pregnant (pregnant?!) Slayer flees.
“You can’t avoid death. But you needn’t run to meet it with open arms, either – it’s the answer to a warrior’s question, and you aren’t really a warrior any longer, are you? Not where it matters. Do her a favor, and step aside before you fall.” The Git laid a hand over his heart. “You’ve come back to life. Why not go back to the life you were meant for? ”
He waved at the study, at the books and the papers and the rich sodding Corinthian leather, the sanctum where I’d dreamed of life for so long, before I died and learned how to live. And Christ help me, I thought about it. Just for a – well, take the smallest amount of time you can imagine and divide it by a million, but I remembered the Chirago’s jaws closing over my head, and I remembered the fear. And I thought about it.
Which only made me hate him more.
“I’ll show you who’s a warrior!” I had him slammed up hard against the wall in two ticks, books raining down about our shoulders. I saw the Morris go flapping to the ground, splayed open to a picture of Willow slicing Buffy’s palm with the knife, and Dawn rubbing some kind of goo into the wound. He grinned down at me, the lenses of his stupid little wire-rims flashing, and I drove fist into face again and again and again, bone pulping, blood spurting, except it wasn’t, that infuriating smirk was still right there, taunting me.
“Yes, yes, good!” he chortled. “Self-loathing! They said it couldn’t be done, but I do enjoy a challenge!”
“Shut – ” punch “the – ” smash “fuck – ” crunch “up!” I flung him across the room, full strength. He slammed into the fireplace with a crack that snapped the mantlepiece and his spine both, and fell to the floor, laughing. I stepped back, panting, furious, blood running from my nose (how the fuck did that happen?)
He jerked to his feet, an infernal marionette. Bones snapped back into place in a way no bones had a right to. “You’ll never be rid of me, William. I’ll say it again: you can’t escape death.” He beckoned to me, arms outstretched, hellfire glinting in his eyes. “But you can still attain glory. If you can’t bear the thought of a life without it, come with me now, William. It’s a good bargain, isn’t it? A short and glorious life, a swift death in your loving Slayer’s arms, the plaudits of all who know you! What a remarkable creature Spike was! What will it be? Remembered forever as a hero, or living on forgotten until you die all the same – ”
I lunged for him, fangs out. And six inches from his throat, something in that rusty collection of cells I call a brain whispered, Hold on, mate.
It didn’t add up. He said it himself – I couldn’t be rid of him. When you’re bound for hell, what’s it matter the date they carve on your tombstone? Soon or late, I’d get there. No. My nemesis didn’t give a fuck about how well I died. But he seemed to have his knickers in a righteous twist over how well I lived.
“You cheeky, sneaky bastard,” I breathed, rocking on my toes. I put my hand to his throat, squeezed – might not hurt him, but it made me feel good. “Observe, my well-toned arse. You can’t tell me Old Scratch needs me to teach him his business. And this other thing – seems you can’t make up your mind if I’m to go out like a Roman candle, or creep through my remaining years like a mouse afraid of my own shadow. Doesn’t matter to you if I win or lose, does it, so long as you can talk me out of playing the game.”
He drew in a long hissing breath. “I told you. I’m only here to – ”
“Observe, yeh. Well, observe this.” I let go his throat. “You’ve got one thing right: I’m going to die. But until I do, I’m going to live. Gonna bust demon heads, and shag my girl, and write crap poetry, an’ smoke an’ drink an’ eat crisps for breakfast. Dunno what puts me in that sodding chair, but if I fail her, it won’t be for lack of trying.” I threw myself down in the armchair facing him, laced my fingers across my belly and grinned. “Lucifer may have dibs on me, but damned if I’m going to build my own Hell for him and lock myself in.”
The Git probably had a diabolical rejoinder in mind, but just then the wall exploded. There in the gap stood my Buffy, blazing like the sunrise, brick dust billowing round her. Might have been a heavenly choir or two involved. She shoved the Git aside and held out a hand. “Come on, Spike,” she commanded. “We’re going home.”
Can’t say my girl doesn’t know how to make an entrance. “Anything you say, love,” I said, and as I took her hand, everything dissolved into sunlight.
Second time I woke up, I felt like deep-fried shite on a stick, but at least I was feeling it through a warm fuzzy antihistamine haze. There’s been considerable improvements in tending to the afflicted since last I had a heartbeat. There’s telly, for one, and the remote control for another. And electric blankets, and a wide assortment of fanfuckingtastic drugs, which I wasn’t knocking back nearly enough of ’cause no one was sure yet how they’d affect my shiny new metabolism. All for experimentation, me, but Buffy was taking it cautious, and under the circumstances, I wasn’t inclined to argue.
I was tucked up in our big bed, bundled in blankets and propped up on pillows, fenced in by boxes of Kleenex. Had it on good authority that Tara was whipping up some chicken blood soup for me downstairs, though I still couldn’t smell a damned thing. Worse’n being blind, for a vamp, but the company was almost making up for it. My Slayer was perched on the edge of the bed beside me, doing some high-quality cosseting, whilst Dawn fetched and carried and Willow sat cross-legged on the foot, reading through Fred’s notes like they were the latest Tom Clancy.
“Do you need another pillow?” Buffy asked anxiously, adjusting my blanket and leaning in to soothe my fevered brow. “Magazine? Aspirin?”
“Could just keep doig thad, pet,” I said, plaintive-like. Had a glorious view of her sweet little tits from this angle; pity I wasn’t in better shape to appreciate it. “Oh, yeh, right there…”
“…Chirago venom causes mild hallucinations, and a kind of a magical contact high,” Willow was saying. “It’s how they keep their prey docile. Anyone who’s exposed to it falls into this shared fugue state – I guess the hallucinations aren’t so mild when you’re running a fever of eighty-four degrees.”
“Bet they’re popular at parties.” Dawn set a tray full of nostrums I was almost glad I couldn’t smell down on top of the portable telly Buffy’d hauled in from my office – it was the old one I’d brought over from my crypt when I moved in last year, and distinctly second-rate, but my poor-Spike credit didn’t quite extend to a new flat-screen for the bedroom yet. She poured a spoonful of gloppy yellow stuff into a cup of sticky red stuff and handed it to me. “Here. Drink.”
I chugged the vile thing like a good little vamp, while Dawn measured out three pink pills, two blue pills, a white pill, and a partridge in a sodding time-release capsule. “Any chance of Spike infecting us with his vampire cooties?” she asked while I swallowed the lot of them down. “Because I could use a few days off school. There’s a trig test coming up.”
Willow consulted The Notes and shook her head. “Nope. His body temperature’s too low to be comfy for people-type germs. Demon ickies, on the other hand…” She paged through a musty volume entitled Dr. Bombay’s Compendium of 1001 Supernatural Maladies Both Common & Extraordinary, & Masterfully Efficacious Remedies Thereof. “I think he’s got about six of them.”
I coughed up a small piece of lung to the accompaniment of concerned cooing noises from my beloved – bloody hell, I was going to have to throw a whitey more often. “So whad do I do?” I said – not whinging, mind, merely concerned.
“Suffer,” Willow said cheerfully. “You’ve got the immune system of a rhino, you just need a chance to build up antibodies.” She gave me an innocent look. “Just do what any vampire does. Drink lots of fluids.” Dawn gave a theatrical groan. Willow pouted. “Just a little vampire humor. OK, very little. OK, going now.”
As they left I sank into my pillows and closed my eyes – when even Buffy’s bits jiggling overhead can’t keep me awake, you know Spike’s down for the count. Her fingers were doing lovely things to my temples, and I shifted into game face so she could rub my brow ridges. Ohhh, yeah. “Just lie back and Nurse Buffy’ll make you feel aaaaaaall better,” she purred. (In case you’re wondering, took about forty-eight hours to get her back into “Spike, stop being such a big baby!” mode.) She leaned over and blew out the bank of candles on the nightstand, leaving the bedroom lit only by the thin seam of light at the edge of the blackout curtains, and curled up beside me. “That was some weird dream you were stuck in.”
“Suppose so.” If it was a dream. The details were fading, and I was just as glad of it. Some things man’s not meant to know, or if he is, meant to forget as quickly as possible. “Buffy… Slayer…”
“Shh. Get some rest.”
Oh, how I wanted to take her up on that. But if I didn’t say something here and now, when I could write it off to being loopy on cough drops, I’d never say anything. And it had to be said. “D’you think I’b losing by edge?”
Buffy propped herself up on one elbow. “OK, are you still hallucinating?”
“God, no. If anything, you’ve been way too edgy lately.” She cupped my cheek in her hand, all with the big tragic eyes again. “Spike… William… what’s wrong?”
Couldn’t meet her gaze, so I looked up at the ceiling. Serviceable, our bedroom ceiling. Well-built. Free of leaks. Singularly devoid of Clever Things To Say To The Slayer. No sound but the hiss and bubble of the humidifier in the corner. Out with it, then – my shameful secret. “Buffy, I – ‘m… scared. Of dying.”
She let out a long breath, warm against my neck – she’s worth a dozen electric blankets, my Slayer is – and didn’t say anything for an even longer moment. At last, very solemn, “Spike… you know, there’s a word for people who are afraid to die.”
“There’s lots of words, and none of them very flattering.” I braced myself to hear a few well-chosen examples. Jaw set, sinuses clogged, the noble an’ self-sacrificing vampire awaits his inevitable doom.
SMACK! went a hard little Slayer fist against my shoulder. “It’s called NORMAL!”
“OW!” I yelled, grabbing my shoulder. “Soddig invalid here! Whad the fug was thad for?”
Buffy sat up and planted her fists on her hips, glaring at me, Psyche about to lay down a righteous bitchslapping on her Cupid. Or p’raps the other way around. “Because you’re such a moron! Is that it? Everyone’s scared to die! You think I’m not? The only time I wasn’t was right after I came back from the dead, and that? Not the highlight of Buffy Mental Health Week! Trust me, you get used to it.”
She dropped back down beside me, wrapping me up in a fierce embrace. “Look, I know I haven’t been making it easy on you. From now on I promise not to freak out so much, OK? I mean, it’s not like you’re any easier to kill than I am.” She pressed her nose to mine – brave woman; could’ve sneezed and taken her head off. “But you, you have to promise to be more careful, all right?”
Would’ve been easy to nod and go to sleep. Couldn’t quite remember why this was so important, but it was. “I can be careful, pet. But here’s the thing: if I’m careful, will I still be Spike?”
My Slayer considered this like I’d made sense, which is one reason I love her. She laid a hand over my heart. “Do you think you can manage ‘not suicidally idiotic’ and still be Spike?”
Too tired to laugh. But I think I got off a smile before the knockout pills kicked in in earnest. “Think I can live with that.”
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/312157.html