“Holy Mother of God,” Fitz breathed when the wind died down, leaving a man in a long black leather jacket doubled over with pain in the middle of the tiny bathroom.
The man glared at Fitz. “What… what…” he panted. “Who are… where am…”
“Spike,” Willow said soothingly. “Spike, it’s okay. It’s me, Willow?”
Spike didn’t seem to hear her. “Who… where…”
“I’m Fitz,” Fitz said, since the man seemed to be focused on him. “Leo Fitz. We’re at the old Wolfram and Hart building.”
At the words Wolfram and Hart, Spike’s face transformed into - Fitz didn’t know what, but it scared the bloody hell out of him. He scrambled out of the way as Spike roared and lunged toward him, managed to plunge one foot into the toilet, and then fell to the ground in a wet and terrified heap. He scooted backwards on his rump until he’d shoved up against the wall, then looked up to see -
Well, that was unexpected.
“Is he - coming out of the toilet?”
“It’s a holographic program!” Simmons said excitedly. She swept her hand out in an arc, and it passed directly through the man who appeared to be sprouting from the toilet tank. “A very realistic one, I must say.”
Spike looked down, then back up, his expression a mixture of horror and disbelief. “I’m no - no - no bloody hologram!” he said.
“Hey, you’re the one poking out of a toilet, pal,” Fitz said, some of his bravado returning now that he realized the man-beast-thing couldn’t hurt him. He stood, and passed his hand through what should have been solid chest.
“Fascinating, isn’t it?” Simmons said.
“Kind of fun, too,” Fitz said, doing it again.
“Oi, stop that! Bloody hell - who the hell are you twits? What am I doing here with you? And -” Spike shied away from Fitz’s hand, then finally noticed Willow. He stared at her. “Willow?”
“Hi, Spike.” She waggled her fingers at him
His forehead creased. “When d’you get to be so old?”
Willow gaped at him. “Old? I’m only thirty-four, mister almost two hundred!”
“Well, it’s a good bit older than the last time I saw you, innit? Did you say thirty-four?”
“It’s been ten years? Where the hell have I been for the last ten years?” Spike pointed to the amulet on the bathroom floor. “Wait. Don’t tell me I’ve been in there all this time!”
“It looks like it. Do you remember anything? Anything at all?”
Spike shook his head, bewildered, and Fitz picked up the amulet and turned it over. “Do you think there’s an off button?” he asked Simmons.
“For the last time, I’m not some hologram!”
Fitz stood impassive in the face of what should have been a spray of spittle, but left him perfectly dry. “Well, how d’you explain this, then?” he said, waggling his fingers inside Spike’s chest again.
“Dunno,” Spike said, jerking away and wrapping his coat tighter. He looked down at the sink inside his hip. “Ghost?”
There was a pounding on the door, and the doorknob rattled. “Hey, everything all right in there? I thought I heard yelling.”
“Oh, I just…” Fitz called back, then trailed off. He’d never been a convincing liar to start with, but add in his disappearing vocabulary and the high pressure situation, and his mind was a complete blank.
“Caught the sports scores. On my smartphone,” Simmons hissed.
“Right. Caught the sports scores. On your - on my smartphone. My team’s going to the championship!” he added, with a hopeful shrug at Simmons’ questioning look.
And when had she gotten to be such a calm and collected liar?
“Right on,” the man on the other side of the door said.
When the sound of his footsteps had died out, Willow took the amulet from Fitz’s sweaty hand. “Let’s hope you’re not doomed to haunt this place,” she said to Spike, and tucked the amulet back into her purse. Taking a turn to run her hand through Spike’s chest, she said, “Why don’t we get back to the base and see if we can figure out what’s up with this.” With a grin, she turned to Fitz. “You’re right. That is fun.”
“Oh sure, laugh it up at my expense,” Spike grumbled. He peered at Willow more closely. “Ten years? Really?”
“Really,” Willow said softly.
Fitz watched as a jumble of emotions crossed Spike’s face. Spike opened his mouth to ask something, then shut it again, seeming to think better of it. With a visible effort, he pulled himself together, and Fitz might’ve believed the cocky mask that settled over the other man’s visage if he hadn’t seen the raw pain in his eyes only seconds earlier.
And suddenly, Fitz remembered that earlier face. He shuddered. Whatever Spike had been before he’d been trapped in the amulet, it wasn’t human. Whether Spike was a ghost or hologram, Fitz didn’t much care, so long as he remained incorporeal.
Spike gestured to the door with a smirk. “Well, all right, let’s be on our merry way. Got better things to do than haunt the loo.”
Fitz agreed with Spike, at least on that.
It had taken some convincing on Willow’s part before Spike agreed to set foot outside, but it had turned out she was right - being a whatever he was meant the sun couldn’t burn him to ash. Again. Not an experience he was keen on repeating, either in the forward or the reverse, any time soon. All the sun had done was turn him noticeably more insubstantial than the rest of them. Sort of tingled, too, but not in an unpleasant way. Spike figured he could even get to like the sensation.
After a brisk five minute walk, during which the other three had argued over what Spike was while he floated along, dazzled by the sun-drenched streets, they’d arrived at a large black SUV in an underground parking lot. Now the driver was whizzing them along the LA highway to destinations unknown. Spike had meant to ask where they were going, but the question had tangled up with the dozens of others that needed answering, and he’d found himself unable to say anything at all.
Spike knew just how much could change in a decade, having lived through more of them than his three ‘rescuers’ and their driver combined. Ten years meant -
He couldn’t bear to think about it. Instead he stared out the window, pretending fascination with the billboards. After a while, he didn’t have to feign interest anymore. Spike was busy wondering how he could get his hands on an iPhone, and whether Game of Thrones was as good as the billboard hype made it out to be, when Willow nudged him in the arm. Or tried to, at any rate.
“You know, for a minute there, I was afraid you really would be doomed to haunt the building.”
Spike had had the same thought himself, but it seemed luck was on his side, for once. “Why’d you pop me out at Wolfram and Hart, anyhow? Can think of a hundred other places I’d rather haunt. A hundred hundred. CBGB, for a start.”
“They closed a few years ago.”
He stared. CBGB - closed? What kind of hell dimension had he woken up in?
“Besides, I tried - and failed. Couldn’t get you to ‘pop out’ out anywhere else,” Willow said with an apologetic shrug. “Since the amulet came from them way back when, I figured it was worth a shot. And it worked, so yay me, I guess.”
Spike leaned back and closed his eyes. Maybe it had been ten years, but for him, the memories of putting on that amulet were barely hours old. “They meant to trap Angel in there, I suppose.” No wonder he’d been lying, forgotten, in the bottom of a crater for so long. Wolfram and Hart had wanted Angel, not Spike. It always came back to Angel. Angel was the better champion, Angel was the better prize. Angel, Angel, Angel - it was the story of his unlife. “How is granddaddy, these days?”
Willow hesitated. “It’s a - a lot has happened. A lot of bad has happened, Spike. But -”
“Save it,” he said, the weight of a missing decade suddenly far too heavy for his incorporeal shoulders. At Willow’s pinched expression, he added, “Just for now. Let a fellow get acclimated to the brave new world he suddenly finds himself in.” Spike looked out the window. “Sort of expected there to be flying cars. I’m deeply disappointed in the future.”
“Heh. Wait until you see Lola.”
Before he could ask who Lola was, Simmons hung up her cell. “Director Coulson gave the okay to bring you on board, Spike. You know, I really don’t think you’re a ghost.”
“If you say hologram one more time -”
She shook her head. “I’ve never seen a ghost myself, but aren’t they meant to cause disturbances in their surroundings? Drops in temperature, for example?” She leaned over Willow to pass a hand over his arm. “I don’t feel any chilliness.”
“You think I’m hot, do you?” Spike said - and caught the glare her Bobbsey Twin aimed his way from the front seat. Oh ho. Looked like there was some fun to be had there. If he were inclined to be a bad, rude man - which, let’s face it, he was always inclined to be a bad, rude man, soul or no.
Simmons gave Spike a cool smile, but otherwise ignored his remark. “Presuming ghosts are even real, of course.”
“Oh, they’re real,” Spike and Willow said in tandem.
“But I think maybe Jemma is right,” Willow continued. “Other than the whole go-through-able thing, you’re not exhibiting many ghostly properties.”
“I’m dead, don’t forget,” Spike said. “Always figured it as the key prerequisite for being a spook.”
“And when were you ever not dead?”
“Got me there, Red,” he said with an easy grin.
The boy twisted around in the front seat to stare at him, sporting an identical questioning eyebrow to his Bobbsey Twin. Spike deepened his grin, letting it turn nasty. If these two twittering idiots didn’t believe in ghosts, vampires would be a right shock. He intended to save that shock for just the right moment.
Never let it be said he was nice.
“Coulson is okay with letting him know where the Playground is? Just like that?” Fitz said.
“Not exactly…” Simmons gave Spike a thoughtful look. “He suggested we find some way to blindfold him before we get there.”
It was Spike’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “An’ how do you propose to do that?”
“Maybe you could, I don’t know… disappear back into the amulet for now?”
“What do I look like to you, a bloody genie?”
“I can vouch for him,” Willow said. She turned to Spike. “They’ve got this whole secret base thing going on. If HYDRA - those are the bad guys du jour - finds out where it is… Well, badness is an understatement.”
“How about I close my eyes and promise not to peek,” Spike said, testily. “Who the hell am I going to tell, anyhow? I’ve been dead for ten years.”
Willow gave Spike her own thoughtful look, and then said to Simmons, “You know, Billy is not going to be happy about Spike. How will he ever clip a badge to him?”
Simmons laughed, and clapped a hand over her mouth. “Oh, god. I’m sorry. It’s just -” She mimed handing something to Spike. “Here’s your lanyard. Whoops! Slipped right through your fingers!”
“Right,” Fitz said, grinning. “Maybe he’ll have to make special edition ghost lanyard.”
Spike glared at them all. “Y’know, can’t say as I’m going with you lot in the first place. It’s not like I can’t take care of myself, even with my… disability.”
“Oh,” Willow said. “I didn’t even ask - I mean, I just assumed. Would you rather not? It’s just… I thought we could fix this.” She passed her hand through his arm. “Hopefully. But if not…”
It took Spike all of half a second to realize he didn’t really know where he would go. Who he knew that was even still alive. But he’d never been one for pity, or for being the pathetic hanger-on with no where else to go. “I know a shaman or two. I’m sure they could sort me out quick enough.”
Willow snorted. “You remember how powerful I was back in Sunnydale, right? Well - add ten years’ practice on to that. If you want quick, you know I’m your best bet.” Whereas the the girl Spike had once known might’ve preened as she said it, this was a mere statement of fact from somebody who’d figured out their place in the world.
Again, it hit him just how long he’d been gone. Ten years. It had been a decade since he’d last seen Willow. Since he’d last seen -
Don’t think about it.
Ten years. What were the odds she was even still -
Just don’t think about it.
“Yeah, but you forget - I remember the early days, pet. Blind Giles and wedding bells and all.”
Willow pouted at him, and Spike grinned. Now there was the girl he remembered.
Simmons leaned closer to him. “So, you’ve seen Agent Rosenberg do magic?”
“Agent -” Suddenly, the niggling sense of unease, the one he had put down to abruptly coming back to life, so to speak, in a unisex bathroom, resolved into a giant, red flag smacking him in the face. Spike narrowed his eyes.
He glanced at the driver. At the black SUV he was riding in. At the earnest young scientists staring at him with rapt fascination.
Secret base, Willow had said. HYDRA.
“Oh, no,” Spike said. He glared at the Bobbsey Twins. “I don’t think so. I’ve had enough of you secret government types and your sodding research…” He turned his glare on Willow. “And - you! Bringing me straight to people like them? I thought better of you, Willow.”
“Spike, it’s not like that!” Willow said. “These are the good guys.”
“Yeah, that was The Initiative’s refrain too, or don’t you remember?” He leaned closer to Willow, his gaze cold and hard, and stared at her until she flinched. “Appreciate the rescue, such as it was, Red. Ta.”
And with that, he threw himself out of the car.
Well, phased out, to be accurate. But the end result was the same.