Searing, agonizing, unbearable pain. Only worse. Unnatural, in reverse. Dust becoming solid, bone reknitting, organs unexploding, eyeballs unliquifying, muscles returning to their raw state, skin re-sheathing, hair unsingeing. Heat dissipating.
Pain remaining, along with confusion.
Some place he has never been before. He can't yet remember who he is or where he has been, but he knows not here. There are faces he does not recognize.
He finds he has a voice. Vocal cords that were burnt to ash now function. "What… what…?"
There is a woman who seems familiar. "What the hell are you doing here, Spike?"
Spike. Yes, he is Spike. Images flit through his head of screaming people dying, his hunger draining their lives. And then one image that takes away the breath he has just discovered. Green eyes, gazing at him with love.
Voices drift around him, making little sense. "Harmony, please".
"This is Spike? The Spike?"
"Wait a minute… who is Spike?"
"William the Bloody. He's a vampire. One of the worst recorded. Second only to-".
"Me". Spike focuses on this new voice. He knows this voice. He hates this voice. "But you're dead".
The Harmony bint is nattering on, but Spike is focused the one he hates. The name 'Angelus' springs to mind and he lunges, feeling his face shift – yes, vampire – and he attacks the one he wants to destroy. Except –
Spike passes right though him. Surprised, more confused than ever, he stops, turns. Looks down at himself.
They tell him he is a ghost, but he cannot process, only stare in pain and confusion, until he hears one word – Buffy. Emerald eyes, filled with love. Buffy.
"Buffy – Is she…?"
"She's OK," Angel replies. Relief courses through him. He doesn't want to remember why he feels relief at this, because the feeling of undusting remains strong. Visceral. Should a ghost feel that?
But he does remember, all the memories of 150 years slamming back into him, the ones of his wife front and center. The wife whom he has left waiting for him in a town that is not here.
"Where is she?"
"At her mom's. She hasn't been… out much".
Oh, Buffy. "Need to see her. Need to talk to her," Spike mutters.
"That's going to be tough".
Spike glares. She needs to know. That he loves her, misses her. Except – bloody hell, he's a ghost. "You can't keep me here".
"Believe me, I don't want to". Angel smiles nastily. "But you know, it's been… difficult for me, consoling the grieving widow. Guess who she turned to in her hour of need?"
He has to be lying. "My wife would never-"
"Oh my God, you and the Slayer?" Harmony screeches. "I'd heard rumors but… that's just sick. I… yeachhh".
The thin girl speaks up. "Wait, Spike and Buffy…?"
"Considered themselves married," the British man says. He looks at Angel's sour face. "It wasn't something we ever spoke of… around the office…" Of course the berk wouldn't want to admit the girl he loved had chosen Spike over him.
"So Spike's a good guy vampire?" the black man asks. "Like Angel?"
"He does have a soul," the Brit begins.
Angel's response is swift and harsh. "He's nothing like me".
"You've got that right!" Spike agrees. But there are more pressing matters. "What is this place? Who are you people? What the bloody hell is happening?"
The thin girl looks at him with compassion. "Come with me. I'll – there are some things I can do, to try to figure out what is happening to you. We'll fill you in on the way".
They tromp through a building and into a science lab, Spike floating through walls for the novel sensation of it. In the lab, there is scanning involved, along with brief introductions and explanations. Spike isn't liking any of it, especially when they tell him he is connected to the amulet. The shiny trinket Angel gave to Buffy. God in heaven, what if she had worn it? What if this had been happening to her right now?
But she hadn't. He had, because she had chosen him. To be her Champion. And that was okay, he is glad to have done this for her, proud to have died for her.
Except, apparently there is no eternal rest for the wicked. He doesn't remember what came before, but he knows now how Buffy felt about being pulled out of heaven.
"Maybe he's here for a reason," Fred says, "You know, some higher purpose or something he's destined for. Sent to us by the PTB to help us-"
"Who gave them the bloody right to do that?" he yells. "Can't a man die in peace without some high almighty deciding it's not his time? Let's have a little more fun with him, eh? You'd think that saving the sodding world would be enough to earn me a rest. You'd think-"
"Spike?" Fred says as her eyes widen, and he realizes he feels – less here.
He looks at his fading body. "Oh balls".
And then –
Spike gasped painfully. Well, metaphorically. Not only was he a vampire and dead, now he was a doubly dead ghost of a vampire. No gaspage occurring.
Still, the mental gasp was strong. He was in-between again, and he didn't want to remember the other place. The one he went to when he faded completely.
He wasn't enjoying this ghostly business overly, but it was better than there. If that was his final destination, he'd put it off for now, thank you very much.
In the back of his mind, he was constantly trying to figure out how to get in touch with Buffy – should he get in touch with Buffy? Marrying a vampire was one thing, but would she want a ghost of a vampire?
Not that it mattered if he couldn't even let her know he was halfway on this plane of existence. It wasn't like the tosser of an ex would do it for him – either tosser of an ex, that was. Angel or Harmony. Maybe that Fred bird would call Buffy for him, she seemed like a right nice girl. Or the Brit, that Wesley bloke the Scooby gang had mentioned.
In the meantime, Spike was beginning to realize that being able to follow Angel around at will wasn't half bad. He sprawled in a chair, watching Angel conduct 'business'. Wasn't that a lark?
"You don't have to take that from him, mate," he told the poor sod Mr. Boss Man was intimidating.
"Stay out of this Spike, you don't work here".
"Damn right I don't. Look at you. This is what you do now? The mighty hero reduced to a bloody bureaucrat. No wonder the Slayer chose me, she knew what a prat you were…"
"Get out of here, Spike".
Now there was an idea. Why call the wife when you could… float to her. "Gladly. Cruel enough punishment being stuck here as a spook while you play 'Chairman of the Boring'. But hell if I'm going to spend my afterlife in your stinking city. Get stuffed".
Spike wondered how this ghostly business worked. Could he hop a bus? Did he sleep? "Guess I'll find out," he mumbled to himself as he passed through the front entrance to the great outdoors. He looked down, noting the bright sunlight made him a little see-throughish for his tastes. Not much he could do about that.
He wandered the streets, quickly realizing that having to avoid people so they didn't not bump into him was bloody annoying. Time to try out that bus theory. Spike found one heading in the general direction of north, and simply phased right into the unoccupied back end. Well, that was nifty. As the bus took him farther and farther from Angel's evil empire, he felt relief. And soon, he would see Buffy, comfort her himself…
Spike found himself gasping in very non-metaphorical pain, inside the basement of… Wolfram and bloody Hart. What the hell?
He wasted no time wandering but headed outside, then popped into the back of a semi. He didn't care where it was heading, he wanted away as rapidly as possible.
He'd just begun to relax when the same wrenching sensation hit him again, landing him back inside Angel's empty office.
Spike was getting pissed now. This time he ran, or appeared to run on ghostie feet, sprinting down the sidewalks and away. Far, far away. One good thing about being incorporeal, getting tired wasn't an issue. He'd just reached a sign announcing he was at the city limits when – bloody buggering hell – with a scream he was jerked though space, landing face down in the lab, and then disappearing a moment later – going there.
He trudged back to Angel's office.
"Spike. What are you doing here? I thought you left town".
"Don't think I didn't bleeding try".
Tied to Wolfram and Hart. Angel. That was no reward for a hero.
And gave him little to offer his wife.
Hi, honey. I'm a vampire. And a ghost. That can't leave your bastard of an ex's side. You want to come move in with Angel so I can haunt you and stare soulfully at you? Me and Angel-cakes can have contests, see who can give you the most longing look.
And if Buffy did agree to that… didn't matter how much of soulmates they were, not when he had nothing to offer her but his love. Not when the ex would be by his side, doing the same. And the prat could offer a bit more. A loving touch. A brief kiss.
The ability to pass city limits.
No, best to keep Buffy out of this. Let her mourn him and get over him, get on with her life, the way it was supposed to go. Especially when… well, who knew how long he would even be halfway here. The pull of the other place seemed to be getting stronger.
May as well haunt Angel. At least he could have a little fun before he was dragged down for good.
Spike found he wasn't feeling nearly as much equanimity about Hell as he wanted to. Sure, he'd been evil, gloriously so, but he rather thought he'd repented. Made up for it just a bit, by sacrificing the life he had been so very much enjoying in order to save the world.
But each time he went below, he stayed a little longer. The brief glimpses of Hell he'd been experiencing seemed like a bloody eternity each. Did he really deserve an actual eternity there?
Whether he did or not, he wasn't going to go quietly.
Fred. She would help.
"I know what's down there – where it's trying to take me – and it's not where heroes go. Not by a bloody long shot. It's the other one. Full of fire and torment. And it's happening. And I'm terrified," he said. He turned to her. "Help me?"
"Spike. Of course".
The girl tried. She'd work on it for a day or so, and then something else would come along, something that was a priority. He wasn't a priority. Nobody cared about him here, not like… he swallowed that thought. The amulet was here, belonged to this office. No point in getting anybody else involved. There was nothing a Slayer or a witch or a carpenter or a little sister could do for him. It had to be the scientist. She'd set him to rights or she wouldn't.
"Spike! Go haunt someone else!"
"And miss see you getting so hot and bothered? Not likely. 'Sides, ol' chap, this is the only kind of hot and bothered you can get, isn't it? You're so damn tight I'd tell you to loosen up, get laid, but… nobody wants that, do they. What's it like, having to go without? How long has it been for you… six years?" A malicious grin split his face as Angel studiously ignored him. "I know exactly how long, you tosser. Ever since poor Bitty Buffy turned seventeen. What was that like for you, taking her innocence? Deflowering the poor girl and then unleashing your monster on her?"
Angel lunged at him.
"Yeah, that's right. Funny how she fell in love with me when I didn't even have a soul. Didn't need one to treat her right".
Cold, dark eyes fixed on him. "Yes, I heard how right you treated her. You had your own turn at taking Buffy's innocence, didn't you? Faith told me all about your little tryst with her. Tell me, William, which particular experience hurt Buffy more do you think?" Angel wondered aloud.
Spike swallowed, all the fun gone out of it. "That – that wasn't…"
"You? Don't give me that bullshit. You know it was. Know that monster is still inside of you. Just like it's still inside of me. Don't tell me you don't remember sharing that little tidbit with Buffy when you had her tied naked to a bed against her will".
Buffy chose me, he reminded himself. I changed, and she loved me. Chose me.
Angel wasn't done. "That's why I will not be the one to let her know your sorry spirit is hanging around; why everybody here is under orders to do the same. She deserves better than you".
"'Ve already sussed that one out on my own," Spike mumbled too low for Angel to hear. Louder, he said, "Our Buffy doesn't like having choices made for her. She'll be mighty pissed when she finds out you hid me from her on purpose".
Angel shrugged. "We'll just have to hope your disappearing act becomes permanent before then. She's forgiven me worse". He rubbed his chin, thinking aloud. "Maybe you're right, maybe I do need to get laid. Willow's still pretty good with magic, isn't she? I wonder if she still has that re-ensoulling spell around". He stood. "Thanks, Spike".
Spike ran after him. "Hold on now, where you going?"
"I'm going to go visit our little Buff. It's been long enough for her to play the grieving widow, don't you think? After all, you're not in the picture any more".
It was Spike's turn to lunge ineffectually.
"Don't! Don't you lay your hands on her, Angelus! I'll kill you!" He followed the bigger vampire into the garage, sat in the car next to him as he sped through town. Yelling, threatening, begging him to leave Buffy alone. "I'm sorry mate, please, don't. I know you're pissed at me, but don't take it out on her. Don't hurt her".
Angel stared ahead, his face impassive. "Oh look. City limit sign. Bye, Spike".
Abruptly wrenched back, Spike let out a howl of dismay, tearing off to Fred's office. "Fred," he sobbed, "You have to help me, I don't care what stupid orders Angel gave you!"
She said, "Hold on," into the phone she was holding, and then pressed the speaker button. "I'm just going to step outside," she said, eyes darting between Spike and the phone as she shut the door behind her.
Spike stared at her through the window, and she gestured to the phone. "H-hello?" he asked.
"Listen up, wee little Willy. I don't care if Buffy made a colossal error of judgment and fell in love with you. You are nothing to me. Don't ever try to fuck with my head like that again, do you understand?"
"Yes, you moron. You don't have any power here. I do. So get used to it".
"You're… are you really going to Sacramento?" Spike asked, hating the fear in his voice.
There was a long silence, and then Angel said, "No. I… I wouldn't hurt her like that, Spike, you should know better". Then he hung up.
Spike swallowed his pride. "I'm sorry Angel," he said. Angel glared at him as he sat there. Sat politely on his grandsire's sofa, without the usual insolent, disrespectful sprawl. And awaited his response, meek and docile. Spike knew he'd gone too far this time, and while the thought would have made him right proud of himself any other day, the possibility that his behavior could have affected Buffy was enough to make him submissive for once.
Angel loomed over him, seemingly at a loss, then let his body drop into the chair across from Spike. "What do you think of Nina?" he asked.
"Huh?" Not that he was complaining, but huh?
"Nina. The werewolf. She seems nice, don't you think?"
So they were going to ignore the Buffy thing. Fair enough. "She seems nice," he agreed. "Bet she could make you… sorta happy?"
"Yeah," Angel smiled. But broodily. He had that down, he did. "Sorta happy enough".
The mutilated ghosties trying to haunt the vamp ghostie were, for lack of a better word, terrifying. Not the ghosties themselves, but the promise they held of what was in store for him. At least they weren't his ghosts, not like that time in Africa.
Fred wasn't much farther on with the Spike save-age than before, and he was feeling it. The pull into eternal damnation. Not one of your more pleasant feelings, never mind the brave front he put up for Angel.
"You think any of it matters? The things we did? The lives we destroyed. That's all that's ever gonna count. So, yeah, surprise. You're going to hell," Angel told him with full certitude. "We both are".
Spike didn't quite want to believe him. "Then why even bother? Try to do the right thing, make a difference?"
"What else are we going to do?" Angel asked.
Indeed. What else?
Best try to accept it. "So that's it then. I really am going to burn".
"Welcome to the club".
"Least I got company, eh?" Spike tried to build a sense of solidarity with his partner-in-hell, but it dissolved into bickering. Typical.
They went back and forth for several minutes until they ran out of insults. The great hulking git fidgeted for a moment, uncomfortable. "There was one thing about you…" he trailed off, and Spike waited, curious. He was gratified – shocked, but gratified – when Angel admitted sheepishly, "Yeah, I never told anybody about this, but I liked your poems".
His chest felt all warm and fuzzy at the complement, and that wasn't right, so after a moment he shot back, "You like Barry Manilow".
And then the evil spooks returned.
He had to put the day in the win column. Still a ghost, okay, but not headed for hell anymore. At least not this day. The true monster was locked away. Fred was safe and unstrangled, always a happy outcome. And he could bend reality to his desire. Just a smidgen.
Now that he had a little more permanence – and the ability to reach out and touch someone – he didn't think it would be quite so pointless to alert Buffy to existence. With which Angel still wouldn't help him out. But Spike would get there. Somehow. Faint heart never won fair lady, and if there was one thing he knew, his heart was more than strong enough for the task at hand.
He just had to practice his new tricks first.
"Oh, Fred," he sighed, not ashamed to let her see his pleasure. "Thank you".
He'd told her the story some days prior. Of the significance of today's date. And of the cupcake Buffy had brought him one year ago to commemorate the event (but not what had happened after, mind you. Fred was a bit too much of a lady to hear that sort of thing).
"Happy soul day," she replied, her brown eyes soft and compassionate as she held the cupcake up for him. He concentrated hard, then puffed out a wisp of air, extinguishing the flame. "Did you make a wish?"
"You know what it is".
Setting the cupcake on the lab bench, she leaned in close enough to whisper in his ear. "I could call her. For you. I think Angel is wrong."
"Gonna do it myself," Spike countered, his expression stubborn. "Got a couple weeks 'til our anniversary. To practice more. Know I'll have enough control by then, make it a good surprise for her". He'd knocked that cyborg out for Charlie, hadn't he? He was getting stronger every day.
And as for Angel – well, his grandsire did have a valid point. He reminded Spike regularly that it was selfish of him to expect Buffy to tie herself to a ghost, to not let her get on with a real life. "Spike," he'd say, radiating forced patience. "It's not that I don't like you. Well, it is. That aside, I know you love Buffy and she…"
Angel could never bring himself to admit that Buffy loved him back, but Spike knew the old man thought it at least. Granddaddy was making an effort to acknowledge what the married couple meant to each other, and he appreciated how hard it was for Angel – even if Spike would never admit to being so understanding either. "But give this some thought. Is this what you really want for her? To be tied down to no more than a memory of a man?"
Sometimes Angel would go as far as to say, with something suspiciously like empathy in his voice, "What you want, it would be worse than if I had tied her to me, William. The hardest thing I've ever done was to leave Buffy's side and set her free, but I couldn't condemn her to a half-life in the shadows. To a man who could never properly love her. Why would you do that to the woman you love?"
Spike couldn't help but agree with him. And if he'd been your average ghost, all flickering and moaning and haunting, then he wouldn't have even dreamt of a future with Buffy. But if Spike was doomed to be a ghost, he didn't plan on being your average ghost anymore than he'd ever been an average vampire.
So he worked at being a ghost that could touch. Kiss. Punch the bad guys.
He figured they would sort out the rest.
Fred held up her hand and he pressed his palm to hers, managing to hold solid for almost five whole seconds. "Yeah. Buffy's in for one hell of a nice surprise," she said wistfully.
It wouldn't do to be homeless once he was finally able to call his wife and invite her to join him. Annoying his grandsire wasn't one of his better plans, even Spike knew that, but he had to admit aggravating Angel in the hopes that the wanker would give him his own space was fun.
As long as he didn't cross that thin line again, the one that made Angelus come out and play.
Spike was feeling right puffed up from his earlier tender moment with Fred. A pretty girl giving him affection always did it for him. He needed an outlet for his emotions, and Angel was so very convenient.
"Get the hell away from me, Spike!"
Spike grinned in delight, following the lumbering git through the halls of Evil Incorporated.
"Would that I could, you big ape. 'Til then, why don't you make us both happy and give me what I want".
"You're not getting an apartment. You don't need one."
"You selfish sod! The rest of your lot get to go home to their nice and cozies. Me? I gotta nest in someone else's roost. It's not bleeding right!"
Angel growled in exasperation as Harmony handed him his mail. "You don't work here. You haunt this place and annoy me. That's all".
"Job well done, eh?" Spike retorted after his retreating form. "I'm not hanging 'round your pillow, singing dirty ditties while you rest your overblown head upon it, much as I might want to. Doesn't that merit me some consideration? A private spot of my own to rest my handsome head?"
"You're incorporeal, Spike. You don't rest your head. You don't need a private spot for anything". Angel walked into his office and slammed the door shut in Spike's face. Like that would stop a ghostly vampire.
He was about the pass through the doors when Harmony called out, "Spike? You got mail".
Feeling. Senses on overload. Hunger.
It all came flooding back.
His body vibrated while they nattered around him. Lust consumed him. Vampire, after all.
Sex. Blood. Violence.
The taste of blood from his nose – and oh, sweet merciful God, the hunger, not even remotely satisfied by Angel's otter.
The warmth of Charlie-boy under his fingertips. Itching to sink his fangs in. Enjoying the contact more.
Parts that had been useless – or, more precisely, untouchable – for so long now stirred. Hard to diddle your willy when it took so much concentration.
And. Oh. Harmony.
That's why he had put up with her for weeks longer than any sane man would.
Wanted to touch. Kept his hands to himself though. Had learned to control the lust long ago, before the soul even, no matter how rampant it was at the moment.
"I – Buffy!" he shouted with joy. Spike ran to the phone and picked it up (yes!), flinging it away as it shrieked in his ear. He rushed to Harmony's side and grabbed her by the wrist, tugging her back to her desk. "Harmony! Make it work!"
"Get off!" she snapped, shoving him away.
"Wouldn't I like to," he muttered. He took her hand again, rubbing soft circles with his thumb and giving her his sweetest smile. "The phones? Please, luv?" Her eyes narrowed at him. "That's a very pretty skirt you're wearing," he said, oozing charm and sincerity.
She rolled her eyes in exasperation, but fondly. "Sure, Spikey".
The fondness seemed to run out after a bit.
He sat in her chair, head in hands, staring forlornly at the phone he couldn't make work.
"Spike?" Harmony ventured. She probably wanted him out of her chair or some such. Didn't care right then.
"Shh. Don't talk. Trying to think".
Apparently the wrong answer.
"Ahhh!" he screamed as her fangs dug into the back of his neck. Not erotic, that. Painful. "Harmony! What the bloody hell has gotten into…" He shoved her off and turned around. "Your eyes?"
"You! Being nice to me! But you never were. Left me. For her. I'm not yours!"
He held his hands up. "Right. Not mine".
"Using me! To get to your Slayer whore! I'll kill you!"
He had to put her porch lights out. It was for the best.
Why share the good news with the wife via phone when you now had the ability do it in person? The wish he'd made earlier had come true after all. Maybe Fred had brought him a magic candle. Spike was all set to leave, already planning to heist the Viper and make it there in four hours flat, when Eve put a wrench in his plans.
Leaving town wouldn't fix the tear in the equilibrium. But maybe a prophesy would. The one that washed your sins clean and made you human. The Shined Shoes crap that Angel had claimed he didn't believe in.
He ended up stealing the Viper anyway, just not for his original intention. After his brief sojourns into hell – which may have only been thanks to Pavayne's black magic rather than his true final destination, but he didn't know for sure – the idea of being washed clean held some appeal.
More appealing was the promise of becoming human. Not so much for himself. He would hate it for himself. But he remembered how tightly Buffy had clutched his hand when she'd realized Slayers could have children. How she'd brought up the topic in round about ways for a few days after before dropping it permanently, realizing that bearing his children wouldn't be part of her future for a whole different reason.
So, yeah, he'd relinquish superpowers and immortality, become even more of a bleeding ponce than he was if he could make that dream come true for her. No question about it.
Which was why he was racing his way towards a drink of light, refreshing torment.
"Oh yeah. Look at you. Think you're the big savior, fighting for truth, justice and soccer moms. But you still can't lay flesh on a cross without smelling like bacon, can you?"
"Like you're any different".
"Well that's just it. I am, and you know it. You had a soul forced on you as a curse. Make you suffer for all the horrible things you'd done. But me… I fought for my soul. Went through the demon trials, almost did me in a dozen times over, but I kept fighting. 'Cause I knew it was the right thing to do. It's my destiny".
"Really? I thought it was because you couldn't help but make notches on your Slayer belt without it".
Spike got a whole lot more brutal after that.
"You never knew the real me. Too busy trying to see your own reflection… praying there was someone as disgusting as you in the world, so you could stand to live with yourself. Take a good long look, hero. I'm nothing like you!"
"No. You're less. The only reason Buffy chose you was as a poor substitute for me".
Spike stilled completely, his smile serene. "You keep telling yourself that, mate. But I'm still the one she chose". He couldn't help but add, "And the one who knows all the cute little squeaky noises she makes when she's creaming on my tongue".
This time it was Angel who attacked wildly.
The makeshift stake in Spike's hand drove downward with all his considerable strength, causing Angel to scream in agony. He stood, his face sliding back to human as his grandsire's did the same.
"Probably should have dusted you. But honestly? I don't want to hear her bitch about it".
And Spike turned away, reaching for the gaudy golden cup.