Title: The Five Stages Of
Setting: Post S6
Rating: R (language)
Word Count: 6200
A/N: Thanks to my betas, miskit, and foxstarreh
Stage One: Denial
“So you’ll give me what I want,” Spike says, dredging up some final reserve of strength to push himself upright. There’s anger in that strength, and resentment too, all folded in with a healthy heaping of self-loathing. “Make me what I was. So Buffy can get what she deserves.”
They stare at each other, demon to demon, warrior to… wish granter.
Spike resists the urge to cringe backwards as the demon looms closer, towering over him, but it’s more exhaustion than bravado that keeps him in place.
Reaching out to press a clawed hand to Spike’s chest, the shadow demon says, “We will return… your soul.”
The demon’s touch burns, worse than anything Spike has ever endured. Head thrown back, he screams. And screams. And screams.
When Spike comes to, he can’t quite place where he is. It’s dark. And quiet. But it’s not a cave. Not cool enough, not echo-y enough. Not… hard enough.
He shifts one shoulder, then the other, perplexed by the lack of sharp rocks that should be pricking and sticking into his back. Come to think of it, the ground beneath him is rather soft, and comfortable. Bed-like.
The blankets on top of him confirm his suspicion.
Spike sits up and pushes the covers off, barely registering the lack of pain he feels despite the weakness of his limbs. Patting himself down, he discovers he’s in old-fashioned nightwear. A long nightshirt and – bloody hell – a cap as well. His hands pause in their exploration, frozen upon the hair beneath the cap.
No. It can’t be. It isn’t possible.
The change in location and the clothes are one thing – maybe he’s been taken in by some kindly stranger with a fetish for the not-so-good-old days – but the hair is harder to explain away.
Could be he’s been out for a long time. He pats his head again, tentatively. Make that a Rip Van Winkle amount of time. Hair grows slowly for vampires, and he’s got a headful of wavy mane.
It’s still alright, he tells himself. No need for panic. There’s a bit of fear on Buffy’s behalf – how long has he been gone? – is she even still alive? – but for himself, nothing.
Spike swings his feet out, and encounters slippers on the floor. He slips his feet into them. Still no panic. Logical place for his host to have put slippers, and thoughtful. His eyes are adjusting to the gloom now, and he blinks, and blinks again when the room remains muzzy.
Continuing the effort to blink away his blurred vision, he tugs off the ridiculous cap, wondering about this soul thing. From Angel’s example, he’d expected to be in the grips of insanity about now, but maybe the mystery of his whereabouts and whenabouts has put that on hold. Soon as he solves the where and when, his mind will give him leave to go all bats in the belfry. Or maybe Angel, melodrama-loving git that he is, had played up the eternal torment factor. Either one is a possibility.
The room refuses to resolve itself, so Spike shifts into vampire visage for the slight advantage his demon senses give him.
Except he doesn’t. Shift. No rearrangement of bones, no elongation of canines, no enhancement of vision. He frowns, and tries again. Nothing. He reaches up to examine the points of his canines – maybe he’s already in demon face? – and feels nothing but blunt, human teeth.
“Balls,” he whispers, a tendril of panic sneaking its way up his spine.
Could be he’s drugged, and the drugs are preventing him from changing. The Initiative had tested something similar on him once or twice. Spike tells himself that’s all this is, even as he stretches his arm out. And finds his spectacles. On his nightstand.
Panic no longer seems unreasonable.
Spike leaps to his feet, jamming spectacles to face with the sort of automatic muscle memory one doesn’t expect to reassert itself after a hundred and twenty years. He’s too busy striking a match and lighting the bedside candle – he refuses to think his bedside candle – to ponder that detail. Logical thinking has gone the way of Elvis.
The combination of light and lenses brings the room into sharp relief. Spike stands there, gawking stupidly at the contents of the room – his room – until wax drips from the tilted candle onto his hand. Hissing in pain, he drops it. The taper breaks and rolls under his bed, flame fluttering and dancing. He dives after it, knocking his head on the bed frame in the process.
It hurts. Really hurts. Spike pulls a bloodied hand away from his forehead, and nearly faints at the sight of it.
If there was any doubt something wasn’t right before, it’s gone now. The sight of blood doesn’t make Spike feel nauseated, it makes him feel alive. Hungry. Powerful. Hard.
Sodding hell. What is going on?
Crouched next to his bed, the newspaper on his nightstand catches his eye, the date in the corner seeming to grow larger and larger as he stares at it. 1878. Not possible. Not at all possible. It’s a dream. A hallucination. Maybe another test. Whatever it is, he’s not currently inhabiting the year 1878.
Spike manages to jam the candle taper back into the holder, and then he’s out the bedroom door, running through his house, heart pounding and breath coming in gasps. It isn’t real. He just has to find the exit.
None of the doors provides the portal he’s looking for, only the usual view of the gardens, and the street. He’s soon back on the second floor, pacing the hallway and muttering to himself.
His mother’s door opens. “William?” she says, with genteel confusion. “Darling, are you quite all right?”
He stops in front of her, torn between sudden euphoria at the sight of her, alive and alive, and desperate denial. This isn’t real. “I killed you,” he snarls – or tries to snarl, but it comes out as more of a whisper. Wrong kind of vocal cords. “You’re dead.”
“Really, William,” his mother says, taking an affronted step backwards. “What a thing to say!” She shakes off her shock, and returns to maternal. “You must be feverish.”
Maybe he has to kill her again. Maybe that’s the test, the way out. He shrinks from the thought. “I’m fine,” he says, brushing away her hand. Good thing she hasn’t noticed the bloodied forehead yet. “It was only a bad dream, Mother, please go back to bed.”
His mother purses her lips, not buying his attempt at soothing. “Shall I send for the doctor?”
“Truly, Mother, I am fine. I’m sorry I gave you a fright.” Spike needs her to leave. To be out of his sight. She cannot be a part of this hallucination, this test, this whatever this is. If she is, the demon has found the one task at which he is guaranteed to fail.
“Perhaps a cup of warm milk…”
“Yes, that is a capital idea.” He moves to guide her back to bed, hand to her elbow, but pulls away. If he touches her, he will be lost.
That must be the key. The final ordeal is a test of his willpower, and if he loses, if he gives in to the lure of his mother, alive, he’ll be stuck in this pleasant facsimile of his past. Possibly for all eternity. It’s one way to grant a soul, Spike’ll give the bugger that. But he wants the real deal.
Crisis averted, but now what? Maybe all he has to do is return to bed and sleep, as a symbolic rejection of this reality. Spike shakes his head. Too easy.
He’s meant to believe he’s William again. But he’s not. Spike can feel the memories of the past century clamoring at him inside his head, the weight of his guilt ready to bury him the moment he allows it to. Soul’s making an appearance, finally.
He’s still Spike. He’s still a vampire. Maybe he just has to prove it.
Spike finds Bessie, the parlor maid, in the room she shares with Jenny in the servants’ quarters. He drags her from her bed and into the hall, hand over her mouth to muffle her screams. Her struggles give him some trouble, but even with this counterfeit human weakness, he’s still a man, and still stronger than her.
Besides, he’s not actually weak. All he has to do is believe, truly believe, and he can shatter this illusion.
“Shh, Bessie, shhh,” he says. “It’ll be all right.” Rather than exciting him, the girl’s terror makes his own soul tremble in horror.
It isn’t real, he reminds himself.
Spike ignores the roiling of his stomach, and banding his arm about Bessie to press her back tightly to his chest, sinks his teeth into her neck.
Stage Two: Anger
“Good morning, Mr. Pratt. Are we going to be reasonable today, hmm?”
“Fuck you,” Spike snarls at the doctor, twisting and struggling within the confines of his straightjacket. Doesn’t work. He’s still stuck.
“Hmm. Perhaps another dose of laudanum.”
With a supreme effort, Spike manages to launch himself from his padded corner. He rushes the doctor, only to overbalance and fall to the ground at his feet. “Go bugger yourself, you poncy arsehole.” Unlike his vampire strength, bravado is never in short supply.
The doctor’s lips thin and his eyes narrow, and he takes a mincing step back. “While Mrs. Pratt may prefer that we do not engage in electroshock therapy, if you persist in this… uncivilized… behavior, this moral insanity, I shall have no choice but to advise it.”
“Best try strapping yourself in first. Maybe you can shock your limp dick back to life.”
Spike can see his reflection in the good doctor’s glasses. He appears insane, even to himself. Hair askew, cheeks sunken and unshaven, eyes burning bright, spittle flying. His appearance matches the turmoil within.
The doctor leaves, barring the door to his solitary cell.
“Fuck you!” Spike rages at the door. He’s used up his more creative curses over the past however many days he’s been in here, and has fallen back on the tried and true. “Fuck you!” he yells to the ceiling, hoping the shadow demon can hear him. “And fuck you too, you fucking bitch,” he tells the as-yet unborn Buffy Summers.
Curling into a ball, he moans and sobs. “It’s your fault, you bitch. Your fault I’m here, your fault…”
Whether he’s blaming his mother or the Slayer, he’s lost track.
Spike is in hell. Worse than hell. Forced back into nancyboy, milksop William’s fragile, tepid existence. Banished to the loony bin by his own mother, subjected to the quackery of the times by a sadistic doctor Spike’s not too sure is entirely human.
Alone, day and night, there’s nothing to distract him from the faces of his victims, Buffy at the forefront. Has he killed her? He can’t remember. He knows he’s thought about it. Dreamt of it, alone in his padded cell.
“Your fault,” he croaks, lips cracking with the effort. Her fault, for making him want to be a man.
He flops to his back, thinking he should’ve know better than to make a deal with a demon. Can’t be trusted, that lot. When Spike gets out of here, he’s going to find the shadow demon, and force him to take it back. Then he’ll tear him limb from limb, and feed him his own beating heart.
“Your fault,” he tells him, her, the world. “Your fault.”
The door to his cell creaks open, and Spike blinks against the sudden brightness. The tall, spindly, shadowed shape in the doorway suggests the doctor has returned. How long has it been since his last visit? Since he’s threatened Spike with the electric chair? Spike remembers four visits from the orderlies since then, four meals and four half-hearted efforts to maintain his personal hygiene. Not more than a day or two, then.
“Good day, William.”
The doctor ignores him. “Your mother is here to see you. I trust you’ll be on your best behavior for Mrs. Pratt.”
His mother enters, and gasps in shock at the sight of him. She brings her hand to her mouth, tears in her eyes. “Is this quite necessary?”
“Mr. Pratt has proven singularly uncooperative,” the doctor says, primly. “It is for his own safety, and the safety of our staff.”
“Oh, William.” Anne moves closer, and falls to her knees beside him. “Please, my son. Can you not try to get better? For my sake, if not your own?”
Spike doesn’t answer.
Anne flutters helplessly beside him. “Bessie should make a full recovery,” she says, attempting to fill the awkward silence. “Doctor Gull predicts there will be some… scarring… but no other lasting damage. Physically, that is…”
He refuses to think about it. Refuses to think about the way her flesh had lodged between his teeth, strands of it stuck there days later. He has no desire to vomit on himself again.
Anne doesn’t bring up her own injuries. Instead she says, “Please, William. Please.” She turns his averted face to hers, her touch gentle and loving. He doesn’t deserve her compassion. He’s a monster, and will make her one too.
Rage and self-loathing bubble up and overflow, pouring out in snarls and curses and snot and tears. The things he’s done… And the bitch of it is he shouldn’t even care. Wouldn’t even care, if it hadn’t been for some stuck-up, self-righteous cunt of Slayer.
If he hadn’t gone to find the demon… No. That’s not it. Not the real source of his troubles.
If he hadn’t tried to make her love him back…
Hadn’t begun there, either, had it?
If he hadn’t fallen in love with the bitch in the first place. Hadn’t returned to Sunnydale. Hadn’t brought Dru to the Hellmouth hadn’t put up with Dru for over a century hadn’t been turned.
Hadn’t been such a failure of a man in the first place.
Hadn’t even been born.
That was the mistake, there. Being born. Spike turns maddened eyes upon his mother. The source of all his misery. She has escaped to the doorway, and is clinging to the doorframe, staring at him in horror.
“You should’ve dashed my brains out the moment you first saw me,” he says in clear, ringing tones.
His mother pales. Her mouth opens and closes, but nothing escapes but a strangled gasp. She trembles, and begins to swoon. The doctor rushes to her side and holds her upright.
Spike feels a certain amount of satisfaction, being the one to say it first this time around.
“This is why I recommend most strongly that family members do not visit patients,” the doctor says, his nattering, nasally voice floating in from somewhere far away. “For all of their sakes. It seems to have the effect of exciting the patients to far worse outbursts, and slows recovery. Not to mention the effect the shock of seeing a loved one behave so must have upon you.”
“Yes, I see,” Anne says, voice weak, breath wheezing.
“If there is one good thing to come of this encounter, perhaps you now see the necessity of employing a more severe course of treatment.” He gestures to Spike, who glowers at them from his corner, arms bound tight. “Electroshock therapy seems most advisable. Do I have your permission to proceed?”
Anne’s countenance is a mask of anguish. Spike bares his teeth at her, just wanting her to leave now. To let him be.
She turns away, granting his wish. “Yes, doctor. If you feel it is necessary, I give you permission to proceed.”
Stage Three: Apathy
Spike stands in the center of the cave, blinking.
There’s no demon here. Based on the blank rock walls, and the lack of skeletal remains, the shadow demon has yet to make this place home.
Fuck. Bloody, buggering fuck.
He turns, slowly, lamp lifted high. Nothing.
“Well, that’s it, mate.” His voice echoes back at him. “It’s over.”
Over over over…
He could go on indefinitely, hunting the demon down, but then what? Even if he does manage to find him, this William body has limitations, and Spike knows getting the demon to take it all back is going to involve more than a pretty please.
Never mind the fact that his funds are not unlimited, and that as William once more, he has obligations to his mother. He’s left her in Bath, with the instructions to get plenty of garlic and sun and fresh air in the hopes that these will curtail her coming illness (he may have watched the telly specials on TB with more than a passing interest in his past – er – future – former – incarnation).
Spike surveys the empty cavern once more. Nothing.
He’s always been proud to say he follows his blood, not his brains, even though his philosophy makes him a bit of a slow learner. But eventually the lessons sink in.
All it had taken was one session in the electrotherapy chair for Spike to decide he’d had enough of that. His preternatural tolerance for pain hasn’t survived his return to his former human self, and while the actual pain was minimal, the mere thought of enduring more had set his insides skittering. After a brief, shame-filled wallow over how pathetic he’d once been, and how pathetic he’d become once more, Spike had realized he would never get out of the asylum if he didn’t snap out of it. Never get back to the shadow demon.
Never get back to his real self, or to Buffy.
So he’d pulled himself together. It had been easy to batten down his rage and hide it behind a carefully crafted mask. He’d had plenty of experience with repression, after all: William had been a Victorian gentleman, and one who had bought into the ideals of the time on top of it.
Once his upbringing had reasserted itself, the doctor had written off Mr. Pratt’s eccentric behavior as a passing malaise, and wholeheartedly endorsed William’s notion to travel abroad and take in the sights as a curative.
After that, it had been a simple matter of closing up the London house and securing the necessary funds. It’s true he’s temporarily human again, but that doesn’t mean Spike’s forgotten how or where to quickly procure cash when needed.
But all for naught.
Spike considers smashing his lantern against the rocky wall in a fit of pique – it sounds mildly therapeutic – but what good will it do? Nothing. There’s no point. He turns and trudges his way back towards the entrance of the cavern.
Game over. It’s time to return home to England.
The servants side-eye William when he returns, sun-baked and melancholic. Despite his extended absence, they have undoubtedly not yet forgotten the unfortunate event with Bessie. Bessie herself has long since gone to serve at a small household in the country.
Now, he throws himself into running the household with joyless efficiency. He remains cool and distant with the servants, but not unkind, and the staff seems to breathe a collective sigh of relief at his proper stiff-upper-lip reserve. This, they understand and respect.
From time to time, William wishes he hadn’t been born a gentleman, but rather the type of street thug he’d styled himself after as a vampire. There is little with which to occupy his time, and the old pursuits no longer amuse. Poetry fails to hold his interest, he’s never been much for the theater, gambling and drinking have lost their allure, and the radio has yet to be invented, never mind the telly.
For William, it is one long day after another, each one to be endured. He finds himself frequently in the garden, helping out their aged gardener, taking small comfort in the mindless tasks of pruning and weeding and heavy lifting.
The guilt he’d expected from the soul has mostly faded. It is too paradoxical to repent atrocities that have not yet been committed, and requires more energy than he has to give.
Miss Cecily Underwood soon enters the London social scene. William avoids parties, for much the same reason he once did: he can’t stand the simpering fools who attend such things. His life experience is vast and incomprehensible to their tiny, fettered minds. He has no idea how to converse with twittering idiots.
And besides, he still remembers the taste of their blood in his mouth. Makes being in their presence more than a bit discomfiting, at least on his end.
However, when his mother requests he escort her to a dinner party, he cannot refuse. The one small pleasure William has is seeing his mother in good health. She coughs, but rarely. Not as frequently as the first time he’d lived this life. She even, on occasion, dances.
Miss Underwood is in attendance, and introductions are made. When William is introduced, he says, “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance… Halfrek,” with a spark of his old zest for stirring the pot.
Halfrek-slash-Cecily cocks her head, eyes narrowed in assessment, and returns his pleasantries with far more interest than she once had. Catching the tension in the air, William’s mother glances between the two of them, her pale blue eyes filled with delighted hope.
William almost finds it amusing, especially when Miss Underwood’s gaze frequently drifts his way throughout the dinner.
Miss Underwood comes to call, two afternoons per week. William typically finds an excuse to be absent during these visits, but today his mother has compelled his presence. He knows she hopes there will be a match. It’s not often a young lady shows interest in her only son.
Anne leaves the drawing room on a pretense, abandoning William to Miss Underwood.
“Mr. Pratt,” she says now, batting her eyelashes. “I have so been looking forward to a moment alone with you. You are a quite the difficult man to pin down. It rather adds to your mystery.”
William’s smile is forced. Even were she not a demon, Miss Underwood’s charms hold little appeal for him.
“I was curious as to how you know of my… alias…” she says. “So I did some investigating. Although I haven’t been able to dig up all the details, what I did learn is quite interesting, I must say. Altered realities are a hobby of mine, as you surely know.” She leans forward, dark eyes alight with curiosity. “Tell me, are you quite satisfied with the results?”
He shrugs. “It’s certainly not what I was expecting.”
“Would you undo it, if you could?” Her tone suggests she hopes his answer is in the affirmative. Vengeance demon, after all. What’s a wish gone awry if there’s no pain and suffering involved?
If Halfrek’s hoping for regret and despair, she’s out of luck. He’d asked the demon to give Buffy what she deserves – and what she deserves is to not have ever had to deal with Spike. Ever. In this new reality, she won’t. William sees now that the shadow demon knew exactly what he was doing.
What’s more, he agrees with him.
Stage Four: Bargaining
Whereas William had once been known as the Bloody Awful Poet, in this incarnation he’s become William the Bloody Awful List Maker.
Halfrek’s questions have reminded William that he is coming to a crossroads, and quickly. It is scant weeks until the night when he’d originally been turned, and though William had resigned himself to living out this life in its entirety, he realizes now that it’s not his only option. Drusilla approaches, though whether with salvation or damnation, he cannot say.
He could meet her. He could rendezvous with destiny, eyes wide open this time.
He could go forward, and with the knowledge he now possesses, truly be who Buffy deserves. He could avert so much of the heartache she has had to face as Slayer.
Here are the options, then:
On one side of the page is the heading ‘William’, and on the other, ‘Spike’.
Under William, in exacting handwriting, he writes, ‘Mother’.
It’s possible the consumption will make an appearance, but it seems the fresh air and sunshine have done their job, and William intends to insist upon multiple annual holidays at the seaside, never mind the addition of fresh garlic to all their meals. His mother shall not die for many years yet, nor shall she die a monster by her son’s hand. If he becomes a vampire, he forfeits his life as her son, and leaves her to live out her life without husband or children. It will take a heart of stone to make such a choice.
For his second point, he writes, ‘Wife and children of my own’.
Something he’d desired once, desperately, and in truth still does. William’s not the same insufferable fool he was before. He’s stronger, healthier, more confident. Less self-involved. Not to mention that the attentions of Miss Underwood have increased his cachet among his peers. William the First had had to be rescued from a dreary and pathetic existence, but William the Second could make a good life for himself. The foundations are well-laid. It’s a tempting prospect.
Third on the list is, ‘Future might be different now’.
Even if he goes to Drusilla, who is to say she will sire him? Whatever she’d seen in him in his previous existence might be gone this time around. He’s not the same bumbling, love-sick fool. Or perhaps she will sire him, but a hundred and twenty odd years into the future, what if it turns out Buffy is not called as Slayer? Perhaps not even born? William will have damned his soul a second time for nothing.
His only reason to give up this life is to live long enough to see Buffy again, but there’s no guarantee he will.
Finally, he writes, ‘Buffy deserves better’.
Even the shadow demon had thought so.
In this new reality, she doesn’t know he exists. Can’t miss him, can’t be glad he’s gone.
It’s probably for the best.
William stares at his list thus far, thinking. If his only reason for becoming a vampire is to help Buffy, there are other, less drastic options. He’s enumerated them before. A series of letters detailing future catastrophic events, to be handed over to a law firm and forwarded to her at the appropriate time. A time travel spell, allowing him to befriend her as a souled man.
Or he could take out his ex-slash-future vampire family now, and save Buffy the heartache later. He knows where they’ll be, knows their habits. Angelus and his two brides would never see William coming.
There are more possibilities than these, on his lists.
For a moment, he can’t remember the reasons for becoming a vampire. William dips his pen into his inkpot and pauses to collect his thoughts, nib poised above the other side of the page.
As he makes his first listing under ‘Spike’, his handwriting loosens and scrawls, without conscious intent. He writes, ‘Buffy’. Then underlines it. Twice. Smiles a little to himself as he half-considers drawing a heart next to her name. Certain Dawn would approve, he does, adding a trio of small, interlinked hearts.
Buffy is reason enough to damn his soul once more. He thinks of all the things she’s been through… and wants, desperately, to shield her from them. Wants to be her helpmeet, her equal. He won’t make the same mistakes again, that’s for bloody sure. William knows the lack of soul will be a detriment, but he has faith he can overcome that obstacle. With his eyes on the prize, it’ll be easy not to kill, and with the strength and foresight he’ll have, Spike can even do good in the intervening years.
There’s another point in Spike’s favor. William writes, ‘Help others’. Spike can do more than simply not commit the same sins. He can stop other evil. Help the helpless. Be a white hat. Thinking of all the good he could do energizes him, and he adds a set of exclamation marks for this point. Mind whirling with the possibilities, William muses on the likelihood of maybe even finding a way to get a proper soul before he gets back to Buffy. He could be her true equal then.
Quickly, he writes, ‘Vampire strength’. Going to her as a human is a nice idea, but though Buffy denies it, she needs someone more than human. Someone she doesn’t have to protect. With vampire strength, he can give the girl the help she really needs. Watch her back. William’s still fairly certain she has a predilection for men of the undead variety, too.
He’d be lying if he didn’t say he craved that strength and power for himself also. He misses supernatural enhancements, maybe more so after almost two years without.
The next item – ‘Keep Dru away from the Hellmouth’. William knows it would be better to dust her, but even now he feels affection for Drusilla, and recoils at the thought of killing her. Only a callous man could consider ending his maker so blithely. Instead, he can steer her clear of California, and if he’s clever enough, maybe even be able to convince her to walk the straight and narrow with him.
William drums his fingers on the table, then comes up with another point for his list. ‘Warn Buffy’. Sending letters to the future might work – but it might not. Best if he’s there to deliver the warnings in person. He can help her defeat the Master. Keep Angel from reverting to Angelus – well, assuming he doesn’t off the bugger himself first. Stop – uh – the Mayor. Keep the other Slayer from falling off the straight and narrow. Destroy the Initiative before it gets started. Warn about Willow’s out of control magicks. His list within a list goes on and on, cementing his decision.
Spike it is. He smiles, his choice clear.
A sudden thought gives him pause.
With a heavy heart, he makes one final note in the pro-William column. ‘Might not care about Buffy anymore after being turned’. So much has changed for William, there’s no guarantee he’ll be the same vampire he was before. Who knows what form his demon might take this time around? If he forgets his love for Buffy, he’ll have no incentive to give up evil.
The prospect terrifies him.
As the night of the party approaches, William makes endless bargains with himself.
If I let Dru sire me, I won’t kill.
If I become a vampire, I’ll seek out a soul.
If I choose eternal youth, I’ll know right from wrong, good from evil.
If I damn myself a second time… I’ll still remember I love Buffy.
He imagines hurting Buffy again, the way he did before.
Please, God. Even if I give up my soul.
Don’t let me forget how to be a man.
Stage Five: Resolution
And so comes the moment of truth.
It is time for William to make his choice.
The London newspapers are filled with prurient speculation over the recent rash of disappearances. The night of the party of arrives, clear and crisp. William dresses with careful attention to detail. He wants to stick as close as possible to the original script, never mind that he is a wildly different man than once he was. The tight fit of his shirt and jacket across his shoulders is a reminder of that difference. If he remains William, he’ll have to pay a visit to the tailor in the near future.
He considers bringing his writing implements, but discards the idea. There will be no derision of his words tonight, not in this reality. His peers almost respect him these days. Without mockery-fueled passionate tears, he’ll have to find some other way to catch Drusilla’s eye.
She’s prescient. And not immune to vanity. William hopes meeting her gaze while focusing on their past and possible future together will do the trick.
Stakes and holy water substitute for pens and paper in his pockets. He’s not yet sure which way this will go. Which choice he will make. Best to be prepared for anything. He also pockets his multitude of lists. Yes and no, for and against, pro and con. Walk into that dark alley, or stay in the light.
William… or Spike.
“William!” Miss Underwood says upon seeing him. “I didn’t expect you to honor us with your presence tonight. What a pleasant surprise!” The others around them titter, taking it for flirtation, but William can see the malicious glint in her too-bright eyes.
“And deny myself the pleasure of your company?” He offers her his arm. “I’d be a fool to limit my options, don’t you agree?”
She takes his arm under the watchful eyes of the other guests. A few society matrons nod to themselves, certain a match is forthcoming. William leads Halfrek to a quiet corner, where once he’d declared his love for her. “A word of advice, pet,” he says in low, dangerous voice. “Whether I’m in the picture or not these next one hundred years, when the time comes, you stay away from Buffy Summers.”
“Why, William. I have no idea what you mean!”
His smile is tight. “Right now, I’d wager you don’t. But someday you will… and you’d do well to remember this conversation, Cecily.” William bows to Miss Underwood, and takes his leave.
“Well,” she says, full of offended disbelief as he walks away. He enjoys turning the tables on her even if she doesn’t remember the other version, the one where she tore his heart out and ripped into tiny little shreds. Probably had a good laugh over it later, too.
After that, it’s merely a matter of marking time. William lurks quietly on the edges of the party, and waits for the conversation to turn to the day’s news.
Soon, their host David Havisham, and his two companions, Miss Catherine Benfield and Charles Archer, begin to discuss the disappearances. “But wild animals would leave a trace of some kind. Tracks…” Miss Benfield says.
William recognizes his cue, and edges closer.
“Mangled bodies,” Charles adds, with obvious relish.
“Charles! Don’t be ghastly. I merely point out that it’s something of a mystery. And the police should keep an open mind.”
“Ah, William,” says David, noticing him. “Favor us with your opinion. What do you make of this rash of disappearances sweeping through our town? Animals, or thieves?”
All eyes turn to him, and he remembers the humiliations of his past. Perhaps well-deserved. What a pompous, ridiculous figure he’d been. Still, he can’t resist repeating his lines. He’s relived the shame of this moment often enough over the years that he remembers them word for word. “I prefer not to think of such dark, ugly business at all. That’s what the police are for.” William looks to Cecily, who has turned to hear his response, and says, gallantly, “I prefer placing my energies into admiring things of beauty.”
There is a brief pause, and then David cries, “Hear, hear! Well said!”
“Indeed, sir,” says Miss Benfield, smiling between William and the now blushing Cecily, who has averted her gaze. For a moment, William admires how well Halfrek plays her part. “Your wisdom rescues us from a dreary topic.”
He laughs. He can’t help it. Miss Benfield reddens, suspecting she is being made fun of, but the conversation continues brightly along, William the center of attention.
It’s ludicrous. Ludicrous, and wonderful, and surreal.
And also disappointing. How much easier it would be to make a choice if he’d been rejected once more.
The men slap him on the back, and the women smile at him, and William almost doesn’t leave. His cheeks are flushed, his laughter loud, and he feels drunk with success. He still believes his newfound friends to be insufferable fools and vulgarians, but god. To be accepted. To be liked, if only for a moment. It’s a glorious feeling.
If William knew nothing outside of this life, he would be content with this moment.
But he knows.
He knows of epic destinies.
He knows of Buffy Summers.
He knows of the beautiful, mad vampire with ebony hair, waiting to grant him eternal life.
And he cannot forget.
William retraces his steps. Close now. So close. He sees them at the end of the street, coming towards him: Angelus, hulking and dark; Darla, glittering and cold; and Drusilla, lost and ethereal.
A hundred paces separate them. Fifty. Every argument for, every rebuttal against, every point and counterpoint ricochet through William’s brain as the distance between them shrinks.
Twenty paces. His decision is upon him. His mouth turns to cotton.
Ten paces. William raises his head and stares directly into Drusilla’s eyes. She cocks her head, curious. He smiles.
The sounds of the city fall away to leave nothing but the beating of his heart, a wild and erratic drum solo inside his head. My wicked princess, he thinks. My salvation. My destiny.
Drusilla’s head swivels to stare after him as they pass each other on the dark, London street.
William’s swivels with her. He fingers the stake in one pocket, his lists in the other.
It’s time. His choice is made.
A/N: Some of the minor characters’ names may have sounded familiar: Jenny and Bessie are in homage to Puddinhead’s “Yours, William”, while Charles Archer, Catherine, and David Havisham inhabit Unbridled Brunette’s “Forward to Time Past”.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/499649.html