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Fic: Smoke (2/3?)

spuffy becoming
Title: Smoke (2/3)
Author: drizzlydaze
Setting: AU AtS S5
Rating: PG
Summary: The world’s gone to peace. The ghostly, not-so-dynamic duo of Spike and Lilah team up to save it.
A/N: Third part probably won't be up for a while, since I haven't started writing it at all yet! Posting this part immediately after finishing it, after all.

Part 2: Soul

Something stuffed in and something stolen, his mind light, his body steel. Weight lifted, weight granted, horror and ecstasy rushing up like bile. A ripping pain in his abdomen that had him crying out and falling to the ground, a dim glimpse of Buffy running to catch him.

He was falling with daggers of air cutting past him, falling in a vision of light and flame—fallen with the softness of silk rippling around him, lightness. More than the lightness of air, it was the lightness of a thin-spun glass jar, hollow and empty. Salvation.

Halfway between a barked laugh and a choked plea, he said, “Buffy.”

She had him in her arms. Her eyes roved worriedly over his figure. “Are you hurt? Does it still hurt? You don’t look hurt.”

Confused and overwhelmed with the feel of her, he took a moment to answer. “Everything in working order.” But—but not everything there. Oh god. Bloody hell. He gathered his strength and propped himself up. Amidst the confusion, from the lightness grew levity. He smiled.

And she said, stunned, “You’re back.”

“Seems so,” he said, and though he did not question the veracity of the statement, he wondered in what way it was true. There were too many thoughts even now, and so many emotions. He roiled. But she was in front of him, and he could touch her. So he cupped her face.

She leaned in and he closed the rest of the distance with a sharp motion, kissing her furiously. Something in him recoiled violently at his fierceness, his desperation, but the rest of him was too focused on the fact that she was kissing him back. When at last they pulled apart, Buffy’s pounding heartbeat loud in his ears, he felt his brazenness settle on him as fittingly as the soft, worn leather of his duster.

But Buffy had that familiar look of conflict about her, joy and relief and excitement and uncertainty and distress pictured in her eyes. And he wondered if he did not look the same.

Was this a prize? A gift? A blessing? Or his trophy, reward, whatever it had been… retracted? He was, if anything, bereft, which is another word for free. He didn’t have the adoration stuffed into him—though he was hollow, there was nothing to hold the adulation in. So he was invulnerable. But he was left in this caged world with less patience and less care, a lot more amenable to helping Lilah, and a lot less adverse to the call of blood.

He was a gambler, whatever his self-esteem, so he said, “I love you.”

He brought her down for another fervent kiss, feeling both brave and gutless with the action. She returned it eagerly, but somehow it also felt like she’d only ceded to it. That made for a churning, unpleasant familiarity, and a little thought that suggested he was only being self-absorbed.

When she pulled back, the familiarity was overwhelming and unwelcome. But Jasmine spoke, in a ringing voice, before Buffy could even open her mouth to respond.

“Wait.”

Buffy did. Spike felt even more lost, more a ghost than before.

“There’s something wrong,” Jasmine said, “and it angers and saddens me to see it, more to say it.”

Buffy turned to look at her, and, reluctantly, so did Spike. “Yeah?” he said.

She was looking at Buffy. “I’m sorry, Buffy. But Spike… Well, he’s lost his soul.”

He couldn’t read Buffy’s expression when she looked back at him. He tried to push down the emotions bubbling up in his gut. Mind control. Infected. She’s not herself. She’s not herself. She’s not…

“Lost… his soul…” Now he could see the soulless Spike reel running across her mind. Fighting her, taunting her, stalking her, chasing her, almost r—

He couldn’t stop himself. “Don’t look at me like that—please don’t look at me like that, Buffy, luv—” His heart turned over. ‘You know me’ got stuck in his throat halfway up because she did know him, his best and his worst. But he forced it out anyway, “You know me.” Because she did know and it was her choice. He reached out to her. “Buffy—”

She scooted just out of reach. His heart turned over. It must’ve been written over his face, because something else came over hers. “How did this happen?” Buffy said.

Jasmine answered, “Someone on the outside has taken his soul. Someone evil wanted him soulless, away from you and me and us.”

Buffy whipped her head around to Jasmine once more. “Let’s restore it! We can save him.”

“Buffy, he’s soulless now,” she said gently. “You know what he is, and what we must do. Remember Fred? I tried to save her, and we all know what happened. Whatever evil it is that took his soul, it will not hesitate to do so again. We must do the merciful thing. The good thing.” Jasmine approached Buffy with overwhelming sympathy in her eyes. “I know it’s hard. That’s why you won’t have to do it.”

He wished Buffy would turn back so he could read her expression. He reached out to her shoulder and hesitated, hovering and shaking. Then he brushed her shoulder, moved down her arm. “It’s mine. The soul is mine. I need it.” Something in him cried out, remembering the anguish of it, and he hastened to add, “But you’ve known me before.” A dangerous game. “You know I would never…”

“Even without the chip?” She still wouldn’t look at him.

“I would never hurt you.”

“But you did.” Her voice was soft like rain, on the edges of his vampiric hearing. But he heard. And he had nothing to say to that; even if he did, he was choked with guilt and revulsion. “And even so,” she continued, louder, “you’d hurt others. You don’t care about other people. About anyone.” He could do nothing but listen, unable to voice excuses or reason, dread overcoming him. “You don’t understand Jasmine! The world we’ve built is a good world. No fighting, no more fighting ever. And you can’t understand that.” She paused, as though gathering strength to sink the knife deeper into him. “You can’t love.”

His spiel was on the forefront of his thoughts, on the tip of his tongue, but he still stayed dumb in his numbness. There was a long silence. Then he said, “Please look at me.” When she didn’t move, he said again, more loudly, “Buffy, look at me. Please.”

Jasmine was still standing there, watching, but showed no signs of intervention.

Buffy’s head turned infinitesimally towards him, just a sliver of her cheek visible behind her hair. It was more of a sign that she was listening than of any acquiescence.

His mouth felt dry. He didn’t know what to say. “Someone stole my soul. The soul I’d fought for while still soulless. The soul I’ll fight for again… for you. Always for you.”

She turned to him. Her eyes were blurred grey-green like clouds of seaweed ocean, tangled, undulating. He could see the wonder. He could also see the sadness, disapproval, anger, the murkiness.

“But do you know peace?” Jasmine said.

Without the soul, he bloody well did. But he couldn’t say that, couldn’t speak of the blessed silence his new state left him in.

“Do you know love? Do you know care?” she continued. “You know the taste of fear against your fangs. You know that rush of life from their blood on your lips. You know chaos and glee, disregard and destruction. You know hate. But most of all, liar, deceiver, we know you are not Spike.”

“What the hell are you talkin’ about?” he said, completely nonplussed.

Buffy apparently wasn’t. She moved back again with something quite different in her face. “You’re not Spike,” she repeated.

He didn’t like the sound of that, less so her new expression. It was that darkening, that dawning, the horrific but cathartic clarity that covered her face with a sudden strangeness. “Uh, Spike is me. Pretty much all me.”

“Maybe I should say… you’re not William.”

“You’ve never met William,” he spat, now having an inkling of where this was heading.

“You’re a demon wearing his face,” she said with certainty.

Bloody Angelus. “So, luv, gonna start calling me Spikelus now?” he said with a bitter edge. “You saying that those two years of me pining and weeping like a lovesick fool count for nothing? That I only became… me, for the first time in a hundred a twenty some years, when I got my soul? And with that soul, my crimes before, my worst, aren’t still attached to yours truly?”

“When are you gonna quit asking stupid questions?” she said. “Soul and soulless, pretty self-explanatory.” Now she stood and moved towards him, in threat rather than peace.

He got up too, coat sweeping around him. “Then Angel’s bloody stupid for feeling guilt over another person’s crimes,” he said. “Chip’s long gone, I should be killing you right about now, right?”

“You’re not stupid. You’ll never defeat us.”

The use of ‘us’ gave him hope, strength. She wasn’t herself. She was the bloody collective. But the wounds kept on aching. “Can you at least believe… think… remember…” he said slowly, unsure of what answer he was looking for, “that I love you?”

“No, you don’t.”

Thank you. He fled.

~~~~~

The woman had a gun out.

Lilah put down the spell book. “That’s not very peace-happy,” she said.

“Lilah.” Her voice was cracked, thin like a cobweb. “You’re dead.”

Lilah’s eyes widened ever so slightly. She got up and looked at the woman. “Winifred Burkle,” she finally said, disbelieving. “They say you’re dead.”

“Your precious Partners? Or the coffee queen?”

The gun was still out. “One shot and we’re both gone,” Lilah said warningly, glancing in the direction of the door. “This place isn’t nearly as isolated as you think.”

Dear, dead Fred put the gun away. She moved out of the dark and into the dim. Now Lilah could see her clumpy, tangled hair; bone dry and bone pale skin; and wide, wild eyes. She was that girl from the cave once more, but she never waited for the handsome man. She never waited for anything at all.

“Do you still cry, without her? When the bullet tore through her body and hit glass, did you weep or rejoice?” Lilah said, honestly curious. “You let chance decide your choice, then and there. You relinquished your own will. Your own thought. You gave up.”

“No choice, not when no one else has any. Can’t choose anything else. Cake and all.” Fred crept towards her. “Got biscuits, though.”

Lilah rolled her eyes. “And you sound about as nutty as a newly souled vamp. Joke’s on me for thinking little Fred might be any help at all.”

She took a cursory glance at the seeing orb, then a second, more alarmed look as she realised it was entirely black and cracked right down the centre like a crooked, cat’s eye pupil. Abruptly it fell to the ground and rolled away.

She had a bad feeling about this. Hopefully, Spike had not been dusted.

“You can’t choose,” Fred said. “You’re dead. You’re just following orders. The world’s black like that.”

“That’s right,” Lilah agreed distractedly. “Just following orders.” Fred was beneath her notice. A survivor, yes, but not a fighter. Someone’s whose head was stuffed full of clouds and vague notions of goodness, but pure survivor at the end of it.

“Let’s go get biscuits,” Fred said, and vanished into the backroom.

Be that as it may, she really should keep an eye on Fred. Too much of a loose cannon. The crazy ones always were. So Lilah followed her swiftly, into the backroom and down the trapdoor stairs, into the dank basement. Fred flicked on the lights.

The walls were crammed with words. On one side, the usual markings of time, lines crisscrossing in a count of days. But mostly, there were tangents of nonsense words like the cracked glass side of Lewis Carroll, and obfuscating numbers and symbols that reminded Lilah that Fred still housed a formidable number-crunching machine of a mind.

That would be next to worthless in this game. No, the real worth in Fred was her immunity to Jasmine. She needed all the players she could get, as distasteful as working with this madwoman was to her. She wasn’t quite sure if she would prefer mousy, sunshine Fred to this shattered mind.

But first things first, she should get a move on and quit loitering around. Find another plan, or at least find Spike. Judging from the blackened seeing orb, Jasmine knew that his soul was gone. Spike was either dusted or had managed to escape—unlikely, but the vampire had a way of doing the statistically improbable, even (perhaps especially) while soulless. And if Buffy Summers had one charitable bone in her body, had retained even a single inch of that soul complex, she would be seeking out the Orb of Thesulah. More specifically, Lilah’s Orb of Thesulah. So there was at least one way that sitting around could spell victory, if Jasmine came to her instead.

Then Lilah paused in her thoughts, and glanced at Fred. No. This girl, not Jasmine nor Spike nor Buffy, was the one to help her. She needed to stop Jasmine with something bigger, correct? All she needed was a body, and the immune Fred had so helpfully presented herself as the perfect vessel.

So Lilah said, “Do you want to save the world?”

~~~~~

13-year-old Fang Long-Shi sees him and says in her voice, “I see you. We see you.” Long Shi drops his schoolbag and violin case, and stretches out his hands.

Sally McAllister, gripping her red handbag tightly with one hand, echoes, “We see you.” She throws herself forward as he runs past. “So easy to see.”

“We feel you. You’re a disease.” Raoul Rothworth Wolfe Sr., an old man recently cured from a previously incurable cancerous tumour in his brain, runs to him with steely eyes. “So easy to catch.”

The disease retorts, “Not quite so easy, am I? You haven’t got me yet!”

“You have demonic speed,” Emma O’Shea says, “but you still cannot hope to outrun our legion of love.” She will have the fortune of being Jasmine’s next meal, leaving behind an ecstatic fiancé and two-month-old baby girl.

Kitty Kat, 39 years of age—

—Mattis Achtenberg, huffing and puffing, lunges to—

—out springs Avery Willis Hattensohn, wide eyed—

—“We see you! We see you!” cries Hunter Armando, drawing something out from under his brown leather coat—

We move as one against the disease; we are one, cells upon cells fusing without touching, fusing into a single, wonderful consciousness. We are one in love and peace, seeking to envelope the disease in mercy. We are one, in blessed unity, blissful unity—

~~~~~

Mouths gaping, frothing, screaming; hands grabbing and rough, forceful; faces ugly with puce and zealousness; tens of sweaty, mindless people bound together in an eerie conglomeration of souls.

Spike nearly faltered in his step when he took in the mass of people surrounding him (even the roofs had rows of people marshalled on the edge like some organised suicide or, less disturbingly, well-coordinated snipers), but he forced himself to continue zigzagging between the mob. But then, they weren’t exactly a mob; they were organised to a military standard, yet flexible enough to respond to every change within the second. They were appendages, limbs; not simply bodyguard but body of Jasmine.

It was bloody creepy. And persistently annoying.

The flood kept on coming, and his escapes were narrower and narrower. The hands that missed then brushed now seized. He’d gotten out of his share of tight spots even with an injured Dru in tow, but this was starting to resemble Prague.

Then one of the pairs of hands that seized him managed to maintain their grip, and they pulled him away. The sea was over him, currents around, chaos. He didn’t know which way was up.

It all happened within a split second, and he found himself in an empty room. He could still hear the people out in the streets.

Magic was his best guess, but that train of thought was quickly derailed by the sight of his rescuer. “Angel!” he said, not bothering to keep his voice down. Perhaps not his rescuer, then. He shifted into a more battle-ready stance.

“You sure?”

Well, his face was half-hidden in shadow (or was that half-seen in the light?), but that voice was unmistakeable. And that grin. “A-Angelus?” he said, disbelieving. “Impossible.”

Angelus moved from the shadow, stretching his arms outward in a welcoming gesture. “And yet, here I stand. I did save your neck, Spikey.”

Spike looked at him warily, unsure of this new development. “Not much of a step up from where I was before,” he said.

Angelus raised an eyebrow. “Really. Well then, I suppose I could just toss you back out there…”

Spike swallowed and immediately regretted the action as Angelus’ eyes followed the movement. Keep the tells down. He had grown out of practice in the art of dealing with Angelus.

“Hey,” Angelus said, laughing, “I get it. Your little brain needs time to think. I mean, you just got your good ol’ soulless, corporeal self back, had a talk with Little Miss Buffoon, chased to near extinction by the Borg Collective—”

He heard me talking with Buffy? That can’t be good. “Yeah, knew all that, no need for the replay.” Then he added, “’Cept for the revelation that Angel actually saw Star Trek.”

“Nah, saw it after Buff boffed the soul outta me.”

Spike took care not to react. He knew Angelus was watching closely—hell, Angelus was always watching closely. “What’s the story?” he said shortly.

“You know Buffy, can’t keep her hands to herself.”

Spike took care not to react. The soul had taught him some restraint after all. But he found himself with a fist in the wall as Angelus anticipated his punch and swiftly stepped aside.

Angelus chuckled. “Take it easy, boy!” His eyes glinted dangerously. “No, I got my perfect happiness elsewhere. Could’ve predicted it, actually. A utopia can’t be a utopia without perfect happiness.”

As distractions went, that was rather interesting. “You mean…”

“When Jasmine’s utopia was complete, when the world was one with… puppies and rainbows, I got out. ‘Course, I didn’t exactly advertise it.”

“No one noticed?” Spike said, incredulous. “Aren’t they all a… hive mind thing?”

“Yet here I am. They just didn’t notice, the idiots.” Angelus smirked. “It’s about time something interesting happened, though I never figured it would be you. Like old times, right?”

Old times. Well, they were both soulless and hated each other’s guts, but that was where the similarities ended. Spike had changed. Angelus had changed; caged and released for a century plus had a different Angelus emerge from Angel’s shell. More vengeful, and more… desperate. He knew restriction intimately, the unwanted cousin to restraint. He was less languid now—and more dangerous.

“…Guess we’re stickin’ together. Bloody hell.” Spike sighed. “You already know someone took my soul, so I s’pose first thing’s that I take you to my leader.” If they could make it out undetected. If he could even find Lilah.

“Well, well. Guess it’s time to save the world.”

“Bloody hell.”

~~~~~

Two soulless beings do not make a right. No, they barrel straight on.

There was nothing stupid about them, of course, and Spike was the rash one. But Angelus had been caged for too long in his own skin, and he was eager for blood. Might as well go all out, get Enemy Number One over Willy (as always).

It was ridiculous to think that an ordinary mob, no matter how organised or large, could overwhelm two unrestrained, bloodthirsty, experienced vampires. Half the Scourge of Europe! (The male half, Angelus thought, then added to himself, the non-crazy half.)

It was a massacre. A good old massacre. Wonderful. Delicious. The kills were not in the least artistic. They were gluttony. Sometimes, it was good to let loose.

Spike was always excessive in that regard, of course. He never realised that restraint could produce the most satisfaction, and that with restraint came control. And he never realised the value of control. That didn’t concern Angelus, however; not anymore.

Angelus was pleased to see the demon back in the fore in Spike, pleased to see the blood drenched upon his frame, pleased to see that feral grin, the grin he’d once grown to hate, plastered on his sharp face. Most of all, he was pleased to know that Buffy would see him in this state through the eyes of the other meat puppets.

Though Spike’s love, sickening and amusing all at once, for Buff had remained, that did not necessarily mean it had not changed. Spike and his obsession with Slayers finally come to fruit.

Now Angelus found the situation gut-wrenchingly hilarious.

“Now that was fun!” Spike said, grinning madly. “Old times weren’t so bad, eh?” He took a long slurp from a thick neck.

He always ate messily. The blood was spurting everywhere, a veritable fountain of gore. Angelus ate well and drank deep, but he’d never been a barbarian about it. Messy blood was reserved for, as Spike called it, back-to-the-wall fighting.

They drank there for an indeterminate amount of time, restoring their strength and, well, indulging.

“Now this accomplice of yours…” Angelus said between necks.

Spike threw a body aside. “Lilah Morgan.”

Angelus laughed uproariously as it all clicked together. “The Partners got the champions after all!”

Spike, of course, didn’t have the slightest clue what he was talking about and continued gorging himself.

“…Where are we meeting her?” Angelus didn’t like feeling dependent on Spike for the information. After a moment, he realised that he really wasn’t dependent and Spike was, as usual, entirely unprepared. “You don’t know where your accomplice is?” he demanded, bodies forgotten.

“Never said that!”

Angelus waited.

“But, uh, in a manner of speakin’… Strictly speaking… No.”

“No,” Angelus repeated, feeling the world press down on him. He grabbed Spike by the neck. “Old times, eh?” he snarled and pushed Spike against a sticky wall with a single arm. “How could I forget?” Then he released him as abruptly as he’d seized him.

Spike glared at him, but didn’t return even a punch. Surprising. “There’s not time to be fighting now. Like I said, I dunno where she is. But I’m sure our man-eating princess does.”

That… wasn’t such a bad idea, actually. “Hm.” Somewhere along the way, Spikey had picked up a little self-restraint. The soul? Nah. More like the chip he’d heard about. Conditioning was quite a powerful tool, he knew. Strange, it must’ve dropped out when he was de-ghosted or he wouldn’t have been able to beat the crowd dead.

“Gramps!” Spike snapped his fingers right in Angelus’ face. “Let’s go. Follow the trail of crumbs.”

Angelus beat his hand away. More than the self-restraint, Spike had changed. He was more focused, more measured, more sober. More—mature.

Grown up, had he? But the dead couldn’t change, much less without a soul. The core of him, Angelus knew, was the same sickening brand. “Think lover Buffy will be there?” he said.

Spike stiffened and stopped dead in his tracks. Angelus walked on past him.

~~~~~

Did she want to die? Could she bear to die?

Save the world. The phrase had shaken her to clarity (remember those markings down under ground, your formulae and quotes and madness that all spell useless! You were a hero for a time, but you couldn’t save them when it counted.), and the question

“Your solution to saving the world is destroying it!”

“Desperate times,” Lilah said. “Better than no solution at all, correct?” She looked pointedly at Fred.

Fred, wide-eyed, shook her head frenetically. She couldn’t think, she was so out of practice. The sarcophagus seemed like maddest idea she’d ever heard, and yet Lilah seemed perfectly composed. She spoke as she thought, the babble of a brook, the chatter of teeth. Finally, at some point, her mind clicked, gears meeting in perfect alignment and then grinding along like an old, long-unused train screeching to a start.

“So many options!” The ideas danced before her, that wonderful surge of thoughts running through her. “Blood, souls, magic, dimensions.” Her eyes flashed as her thoughts took another turn, the glee of clarity sinking into analysis. “But you must know all that already. Your bosses would know that already, so why the coffin?”

Now she decides on sanity,” Lilah muttered. “So I have to actually convince you now? Damn, I was banking on a reservoir of guilt from sweet Fred.”

Fred chose not to list her considerable credentials certifying her as most definitely not Sweet, Little Fred. Why waste breath on Lilah Morgan? Instead, she turned and scanned the shop with fresh eyes and mind, a renewed sense of urgency.

“Great, she’s gone blank again. Hello? Fred? We’re on a schedule!” Lilah said, voice clipped. “Ready to save the world yet?”

Didn’t Lilah know time didn’t matter anymore? Now, more than ever, it was endless. And unpunctuated. And was still. She remembered the picture she drew of a fractured, frozen clock, stuck to the wall and stuck in time. Time kept it, not the other way round. Tick tock. Tock.

Lilah was still talking.

To save herself from listening to her voice for a second longer, Fred said, “I will. Not with you.”

This seemed to temporarily stymie Lilah. Fred didn’t know how her response was at all unpredictable—setting aside the whole evil-Lilah-plans-to-destroy-the-world, she wasn’t exactly keen on her on a personal level. Besides, she was a survivor and Lilah was dead.

“Just to clarify, you know I’m not actually destroying the world?” Lilah said. She sounded like she was talking to a particularly slow child.

Boom, the world breaking apart, shards suspended in empty space like a child’s mobile. The shards keep moving away from each other, expanding, drifting with direction. Fred giggled. “I don’t know about you but trading in Jasmine for a people-subjugating Old One doesn’t sound like a great idea.”

“Oh, and a people-eating goddess is better? At least the Old One would be up front about it.”

“Oh yes, very upfront with the carnage and the gore and the torture.” But there was something strange about this whole thing. Fred knew Lilah wasn’t stupid. Setting aside the Partners’ orders, why would she arrange for the Old One?

“We’re in an apocalypse,” Lilah tried a different tack, “so let’s just… bury the hatchet, burn the bridges, and get on with it.”

Burn the bridges? That merited something scathing. But then— “Do you hear that?” Her body stiffened, nerves on high alert. The sound… of something enormous coming their way. Fred made a lightning movement to the backroom, only to be caught by someone strong.

“No use, they know you’re here.” That voice… Angel with an edge.

“Angel?” She waited for him to release her, but when he made no move to do so, she felt a hysterical laugh bubbling up.

“Probably know we’re here too,” came another voice. A blond man emerged from the shadows, casting a wary look at the door, then to Lilah: “’Lo. We meet again.”

“Took you long enough, Spike,” Lilah said, her usual impatience and derision plain in her tone.

Spike? Spike, William the Bloody? The laugh tore through her, a true, full-blown hyena cackle. Everyone jumped and turned to her. “S-S-Spike, Angelus—ha!—and Lilah Morgan—ha ha ha! That’s the dream team? This is the resistance?” She doubled up in laughter as Angelus released her. “All the good ones have been brainwashed and we’re left with the dregs! Down, down down… Fighting without conscience, fighting in the name of evil and selfishness, fighting—”

“Just like you, for survival,” Angelus cut across in a rather neutral tone.

Far from sobering, her laughter only grew more violent.

Then the door was thrown open by the crowd (immediately her eyes sought out Wesley or Gunn or Lorne, but the light hurt), who flooded in with angry looks. The sarcophagus clattered to the floor in the commotion. Fred glanced at it with the acute awareness that she was the only free person with a soul. Lilah wouldn’t hesitate to infect one of the masses with it, but Fred couldn’t allow that. She still had a remnant of good sense—or good conscience to retain.

A group of women—a squadron of Slayers, she realised—entered next, and walking majestically behind them was Jasmine.

It hurt to see her, the pang of what was lost still echoing in her chest. For a moment, she was again lost in that dark cellar with the cave drawings marking the boundaries, keeping her from drifting. And the one wall with scratches of time. (That was before she believed in the frozen clock.)

“Knock knock,” said Buffy.

~~~~~

There was no compassion in her eyes. No spark, no uncertainty, no surprise or disapproval or even disappointment. It was under that look that he was now pinned down, as surely as the rays of light that had secured him in the Hellmouth in what seemed like a long time ago. Worst of all, he was familiar with that expression and so he could not blame it on Jasmine’s control.

He could only remember the thick, delicious blood sliding down his throat, and the bodies jerking beneath his fangs. Frolicking among the dead with Angelus, of all people!

Like a true defender of the people, she held the Scythe in her hands and cool justice in her eyes.

Jasmine waved at the civilians to stand back. “The shop is small and full of unexpected objects. It would not do to get anyone unnecessarily hurt.” Then she turned to the Slayers. “Buffy, Carina, Alexis, Wendy. You may slay the demons. Darren,” a warlock, no doubt, “may banish the ghost.” It seemed she did not know Lilah, though a ghost, was corporeal, or else she probably would have set the Slayers on her. Spike was sceptical of the warlock’s effectiveness; Lilah had not been banished before, held by contract, and she probably wouldn’t be now. Indeed, she wasn’t looking all that worried. Spike took that to be a comfort. She would be free to use the sarcophagus, whatever power it contained, as planned. “Wesley, Charles. I’m sure you’d like to take care of Fred.” Two unfamiliar men stepped out from the crowd, exchanging grim looks.

Looked like a brawl was about to break out. Spike assessed the fighters. The Slayers (he tried not to think of Buffy) would be a challenge for their sheer strength; he wasn’t quite sure of their actual skill, though. The two men seemed muscular enough, but they were only human. If he wanted to help the girl (Fred, was it?), the girl who had somehow escaped Jasmine’s control, he could take them out easily first.

The look still pinned him down. He couldn’t move or fight or kill even if he wanted to. At the moment, the only thing he really wanted to do was, as he had felt countless times before, to turn back the clock and not screw things up so royally. The problem was this: the nightmare that was now seemed set to continue even after Jasmine was defeated. Because he knew when it was all over, Buffy would still look at him with those eyes and he would deserve it. He felt that horribly familiar sinking feeling deep in his gut like the echoes of a soul. Soul without a soul—it was really only his gut and heart.

“Angelus,” Glasses said warily. “How could this be?”

“I kinda want to take him out too,” Baldie said.

“Oh dear,” Angelus said. Spike was surprised it took him this long to finally break the silence that had fallen upon Team Free World since Jasmine’s arrival. “Decisions, decisions. Me or the whore?”

Spike glanced at the girl Fred. Her only reaction was lifting her eyebrows very slightly.

Angelus, on the other hand, wasn’t paying any attention to her at all. He looked solely at Baldie. “You know, Gunn, you’re hopelessly human. You know what drives you? Vengeance. Hate. Anger. I could go on and on about this, talk about your vengeance kink eclipsing your future and how it feeds into your anger in other things, other people, every person who ever walked out on poor little Gunn, unwanted in the hood and scrabbling with all his might to etch out his own place. His insignificant place; you never did save Alonna. Never really protected her. I could talk about how this need to protect is just an excuse to save yourself from your own anger, and when you tried to protect Fred, protect her so-called lily-white innocence, you were promptly discarded. Dark? She wants dark? The side you work so hard to keep down, day after day working for a killer, the same breed that killed your sister, the side that still thirsts for revenge, the side that hates Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, the side that hates Fred too, the side that killed a man to save her, she who never wanted to be saved, the side that is the deepest part of you and inextinguishable and indistinguishable from the rest of you—its rejection is your downfall, and its acceptance shows you’ve already fallen.”

His voice always did have that mesmerizing quality, a ring of dark truth to his tone. “I could say all that, and more. And I could give you a creative choice between Fred and your conscience. An experiment, one might say. I could even give you a chance for vengeance. But none of this means anything, because it doesn’t mean anything to you.”

“I believe,” Spike drawled, “this is Angelus’ longwinded way of explaining why he’s on our side. World’s bloody boring when there’s no one to torment.”

“I wouldn’t say no one,” Angelus said, raising an eyebrow at Spike. Under his tone was a note of annoyance, probably from being cut off. Drama king.

“You’re mad,” one of the Slayers said, and that was that. The fight began.

Buffy went straight for him, of course, with that air-cutting Scythe. Official weapon of the Slayer, which was not great news for a vampire. He found no words to banter with or for any excuse; he only just found it in himself to evade her attacks. He was rusty, but so was she. And he was full of blood.

She talked, though. Rather, spat out a single demand. “Show it, then. Show your face.”

It didn’t take long for his demon mien to emerge. “Does that make it easier for you?” he said, but it was all bravado. He knew he was lost to her already, and maybe even lost to himself.

She wasn’t Buffy. But she fought like her. For a moment, he felt like he was sparring with her again in the basement of the overcrowded Summers’ home, but the feeling quickly passed when she nicked his cheek. A long, thin line of blood seeped from the cut.

He needed a weapon. No doubt the shop had an array of weapons for the taking, but it wasn’t like he could take his time cataloguing each item. Another time, he might have appealed to her sense of fair play—echoing again, do we really need weapons for this? And even if he had a weapon, with him so bent on only defending himself, he would fall still to her vicious blows.

He kicked out at one of the mountains and the objects crashed to the ground in a landslide, temporarily slowing her down. He took the opportunity to seize something from the pile, anything that remotely resembled a weapon, something with enough reach to fight on equal ground with the Scythe.

He ended up with an actual fire axe. It was like the Scythe’s cute little cousin.

Well. He took what he could reap.

She laughed at it. It was a beautiful sound, and he was annoyed at its beauty. She was brainwashed! Happy flower zombie! Shouldn’t she sound at least a little different? (Either way, he could not fight her for the life of him. He had always been outmatched.)

To distract himself, he shouted, “Lilah! Do something!” He didn’t have the luxury of checking what exactly she was doing. And he never did sniff out her reasons or humanity. There were so little of the two here, in anything. Maybe only in that Fred.

He couldn’t think of himself having humanity anymore, as much as he had with the soul. There was a difference. Not two separate entities as Buffy thought—but how he wished that were true now! He might be excused for his actions—but a difference nonetheless, that he was feeling all too well. A gap, a chasm, a hole in himself that made him a monster.

And here he thought self-loathing was reserved for souls.

He faltered. Buffy struck him with one hard blow of the Scythe, tearing deep into his stomach, and he fell to the ground. She stood before him like a blinding angel, Scythe raised high.

In a split-second, Spike had no doubt she would bring it down on him without mercy.

Then Fred crashed into her and Spike jumped to his feet, and it was a whole lot of chaos with Glasses following after and two of the other Slayers dead by Angelus’ hand, and everyone’s battles getting mixed up in one big—

Someone yanked him back. “This coffin, throw it at Jasmine,” came a low, rough order. Lilah’s eyes were angry, vicious—

In them he saw her humanity, and though he did not understand it, the sight of it roused him more quickly than the instruction itself. In that moment, that crucial moment, he trusted her blindly.

He took up the sarcophagus, shaved smooth and cool but heavier than he expected, and threw it with blinding speed and strength at Jasmine.

Jasmine’s eyes flashed for a second in awareness—

He expected the coffin to smash into her in the next second, but then a black shape threw itself in the line of fire. A moment later he realised it was Buffy, who batted the casket to the ground in a heavy thud.

He did not know what the sarcophagus did, only that it contained, in some way or form, an Old One, and that it was dangerous. He realised instantly that what was meant for Jasmine, Enemy No. 1 for anyone with a spine to spare, had instead been absorbed by Buffy. And that he had thrown it.

Jasmine and her body of humans froze. The white hats, dubious as the name was, did the same.

Spike felt his stolen blood freeze as well.

Buffy coughed.