Nobody puts on Shakespeare any more, which is a crying shame if you ask Spike. (Not that anybody does.) Same as nobody sings about London burning with boredom, or falling in love with someone you shouldn’t’ve fallen in love with, or how everybody’s gotta be exploited by somebody.
It wouldn’t mean anything to most of them. Not these days.
Turns out, the kinds of stories people tell each other change, over time; evolve, just like the people telling them. No room, these days, for death or war or vengeance, for the kind of love that goes careering down in flames and leaves nothing but scorched earth for miles around. Those things don’t seem grand any more, to most people—just sad and wasteful, a little bit undignified.
Not that he’s ever been much for dignity. Burn out, get pissed destroy, spirit expended in a waste of shame all the way.
Turns out, even Utopia doesn’t hold a place for everyone.
It tries, though, and doesn’t that just take the biscuit, the tin, and the whole bastard bakery? It’s not Spike’s fault, apparently, that he’s from an older, nastier world; that he might as well be speaking a foreign language to these contented, bright-eyed, gentle people, half the time. And so he gets a place to live and jobs to do (not the kind he’s good at, but then there hasn’t been a war worth the name in over a century) and even friends, after a fashion.
‘Communities of affinity,’ they call them, which is exactly the kind of cringeworthy hippy nonsense it sounds like, except that cringing at hippy nonsense is a thing of the past. Well yeah, okay, Spike still does it, but then he’s a thing of the past, too.
In principle what that means is a load of people—plus the various other creatures now elevated to the status of ‘people’—with the same interests and values living in the same building, sharing communal space, looking out for each other and making sure everyone has what he or she needs.
In practice, what it means—in this case, anyway—is a bunch of square pegs rattling around in a building at the edge of town, near the great glass wall of the Dome, the main uniting principle of their little community being that the world doesn’t know what the hell else to do with them.
They get by alright, though. Most of them are inoffensive enough—off in their own little mental universes, half the time, but not far enough gone that they forget when it’s their turn to dig the garden or clean the bathroom or cook dinner for the majority who eat. Spike even cares about a couple of them, a bit—respectfully, at a distance. Only way that seems possible, really.
Lauren: she’s got one of those big, easily-bruised hearts, a little too much tenderness in her for this world where everyone’s content and nobody needs pitying. She comes up to check on him, when he’s been antisocial for a few too many days in a row, and when he gets up and stumbles down to the kitchen late in the morning there’s always a new bag of synthblood thawing on the counter. He’s pretty sure it’s her.
Tommy: bit of an amateur historian (that’s what makes him a square peg), and at first it was easier for Spike to think that he was just a convenient source of information about the way things used to be than that he might actually have managed to make a friend. But they’ve sat up late, drinking tea and talking bollocks long after Spike’s stories have run out, too many times for that; and Tommy listens even to the ones that don’t have any proper historical facts in them, the ones that are just about people and moments in time that could have happened anytime, except now. It’s actually sort of nice, or at least better than being all on his lonesome all of the time. Never been much for his own company, and now, without even anything to fight to take his mind off things, he’s sure it wouldn’t take long to drive him stark raving bonkers.
This is still nothing like any of the human relationships he remembers, though—the ones that still burn in his mind and his heart, centuries later—always threatening to twist and tear apart over petty jealousies, insecurities, selfishness and rage and need.
It’s just calm. Just peaceful. Nothing else.
Worlds away from terrorising the Western world with Dru, laughing in fierce joy at the blood they spilled and lives they laid to waste. Worlds away from Buffy—from those first few darkbright months of violent delights, and from all the years afterwards, when they loved like hell and fought like hell all the same because they both just cared too fucking much. From drinking with Anya or shouting matches with Angel or sharing sorrow with Dawn. From sharing living space with a boatload of teenage girls, all yelling and giggling and stinking up the bathrooms with perfumed shower gel and somehow managing to nick his booze however well he hid it.
(An unbidden flash of memory: helping to heave some rat-arsed mini-Slayer who’d thought half a bottle of Jack after dinner was a bright idea up the stairs to her bed in HQ. The kid had got under the duvet, rolled over, and promptly puked on Buffy’s shoes. And Buffy’s face did that thing it sometimes did at the end of a long and tiring day when one more thing had gone to shit, that crumpled-up little-girl look, and he hadn’t been able to keep from laughing.
She hadn’t even hit him, just stood there looking at him like she was going to cry until she started to laugh, too.
She made him clean up the puke, though.)
Yeah, worlds away from all that. Blood loyalties and fierce loves, hating bits of the people you need most and being ready to die for them anyway.
Families, not so much the thing anymore. The whole ‘it takes a village’ principle, he supposes, but there’s something more to it than that. A sense of the dangers of too-closeness, of thinking of anyone else as ‘mine’. (He doubts anyone's read Brave New World in decades.)
Spike hasn’t belonged to anyone for a long time, which maybe accounts for some of the emptiness that opens up at the core of him and threatens—promises?—to suck him in whenever he lets himself think too hard. Self-sufficiency’s against his nature. In this world, the things that make him human are just as unnatural as the rest of him.
Or maybe this world is just a convenient excuse. Maybe he never could have belonged to anybody else, not after her. Not wholeheartedly, and in his book that’s as good as not at all.
He’s perched on the roof of their building when Lauren seeks him out. Necrotempered glass, it turns out, has uses beyond allowing vampires to walk around before dark, protecting humans from the twin dangers of a depleted ozone layer and residual radiation from the Last War. (Spike can hear the capital letters in people’s voices when they call it that. As though they mean it literally. Sometimes he suspects they might actually be right.) When it came, a couple of centuries back, to building domes under which to shelter while they waited for the outside world to regain its equilibrium, it was a no-brainer.
Which works out pretty well for Spike. Not that there are any skyscrapers left from which to survey the world around him, but there’s something comforting about sitting up here, looking down on the gardens, the gleaming white mushrooms of the buildings, the people going placidly about their business. If he squints, he can almost imagine the old, crooked sprawl of London, the bright, brutal streets of LA, their shadows, the fierce joy and abject misery in their corners.
Says something, doesn’t it, that that’s what he’s nostalgic for?
He sits out here during the day, mostly, since Lucy and Xue, who sleep on the top floor, explained that his stomping about on top of the building at all hours was keeping them up at night. Not in so many words, of course, and they were gentle and apologetic as you like about it, but that was all it took to get him to comply.
Sometimes he wonders if he’s turning into one of them.
Lauren’s head pops up over the top of the fire escape, and she levers herself gingerly up onto the gently sloping roof. Soft smile on her face as she scoots over to arrange herself opposite Spike, cross-legged.
“We haven’t seen much of you lately,” she says, upfront. “How’re you doing?”
He shrugs. “Alright. You know.”
Lauren nods, though of course she doesn’t know. None of them do. She waits a beat, then another; looks at him and inclines her head to one side.
She can’t know what’s wrong. But she’s not daft enough to think that nothing’s wrong.
“Haven’t seen much of you,” she says, “but I heard you. Last night. Talking to yourself.” She frowns slightly. “You always seem to do that this time of year.”
Spike cocks an eyebrow. Doesn’t say, Oh, shit, that was out loud?
And Lauren’s not daft, no, she’s perceptive; maybe would’ve used it as a weapon, the way he always did, if she’d been born in a different time. So she leans in toward him and says very gently, “Who was she?”
It was poison that did for her, in the end. Just poison. Human stuff. No spell for Willow’s magic to counter. No demon Spike could hunt down and tear to bits for an antidote. Nothing the doctors could do, either.
She’d looked up at him from the pillow of her hospital bed with her eyes too bright and said, “You know, I kinda forgot people fought like this.”
Spike had curled his lip. “’S not fighting, love. Cowardice is what it bloody is.” Not worthy of you, he’d wanted to say, but hadn’t, because wasn’t it obvious from the touch of his hand, the unaccustomed softness of his voice, the despair that was threatening to rip a hole right through him?
And she hadn’t even replied to that, to his pathetic attempt at clinging on to rage in the face of the end, just reached up weakly with her free hand to brush his cheek.
“I’ll see you again,” she said. A voice that brooked no argument, even shrunk to a broken whisper.
He hadn’t argued. Hadn’t said anything else, either, just bowed his head over their linked hands, no more able to give a comforting lie than he’d been able to accept one when it was him dying, and bloody well ashamed of it.
At least when it was his turn, he’d been dying the way they were supposed to die. In the heart of the battle, fire in his veins, and the world saved. Not exactly a blaze of glory, maybe, but a blaze of something. Not like this, with the smell of antiseptic making his nostrils itch and the clatter of a hospital ward outside the door, the surreal incongruity of Slayers and Watchers and vampires and witches drinking vending-machine coffee in hospital corridors, crowding into the confines of a tiny room with not enough chairs, exchanging helpless little glances full of misery instead of arguing tactics.
Just him and Dawn at her bedside, at the last. They hadn’t talked much. Dawn just sat there as the tears spilled down her cheeks; hummed something, wordless and low. Spike didn’t recognise the tune, but it was simple. Soothing. A lullaby, maybe. He could imagine Joyce singing it over an infant Buffy’s cot, smiling and kind-eyed, totally ignorant of how fierce, how bruised and battered, how fucking magnificent her little golden child would be one day.
Sometime in the small hours, Dawn’s humming tailed off.
Just silence, after that.
Lauren is still looking at him, expectantly. She's perceptive, yeah, but she's still of her time, and they're all about talking it out these days. Feel what you're feeling and let it go –all that bollocks. Well, Spike doesn't talk it out, and he can't fight it out, and no bloody way is he letting go, so he shrugs again and just says, "Someone I knew once."
Sometimes he thinks that he's turning into one of them. Other times, he feels like they’re from different planets. Different on some level more fundamental than the sunlight and the absence of reflection and the drinking blood.
Spike knows firsthand what happens when the animal in man wins out over the soul. How far it’s possible to fall from human.
Now, he thinks, he's seeing what happens when the tables are turned.
It wasn't uncommon for a mini-Slayer to throw a bit of a wobbly when her abilities first made themselves known. Spike could understand that. One minute they were normal kids, worrying about exams, and getting served in the pub, and whatever spotty little herbert they happened to have a crush on that week. The next, they had nightmare visions and super-strength, and some random stranger popping up on the doorstep spouting off about vampires and demons and fighting the forces of darkness. Do a number on anybody's head, that, even without teenage hormones thrown into the mix.
So yeah, he could understand it. Didn't mean he wanted to be around it.
And usually Buffy avoided it, too. Spike always figured it was because they reminded her too much of herself at that age. Maybe pissed her off a bit, too, to see them going off on one like their worlds had just ended, when their lives were going to be so much closer to normal than she'd ever got. Dawn and Droopy Boy and, bizarrely, Faith were all better at that kind of comforting shite, anyway, so Buffy and Spike mostly stuck to the combat training and let someone more qualified handle the heart-to-hearts.
This one time, though, Spike got back from his turn supervising patrol and Buffy wasn’t in bed. So he went looking for her, because nobody else had seen her all evening, and even in Slayer HQ you didn't let someone wander off for more than an hour or two without sending out the search parties.
He found her—or heard her, rather—sitting on an empty bunk up in one of the dorms, chatting in earnest whispers with the latest arrival. Her name's long since been lost in the mists of time—Mina? Marina? something like that—but anyway, she and Buffy were cosy as old mates, completely unaware of Spike standing at the door. He couldn't see Buffy's face in the darkness, just the light from the corridor picking out strands of gold around her head, the edges of her profile. He could imagine the furrow of her brow, though; that quiet intensity she had when you got her one-on-one.
He caught a little snatch of the conversation. The kid’s voice rising to a pitch of frustration: “But how do I fight monsters,” she’d said, “when I’m one of them? When I’m a thing?” And Buffy hadn’t said anything for a minute.
Spike knew better than to expect a denial from her. She knew the darkness in a Slayer better than anyone, after all—better even than Faith, who’d courted it like a lover.
At length, she’d said, “You don’t let it take you over. You do what you have to, to stay human.” She drew a deep breath. “That’s what being a monster is. It’s not scales or fangs or gross demon goo—though that stuff is evil, just take a look at my ex-favourite boots. Remember why we’re fighting. You’ll be okay.” She paused. “Mostly.”
Not particularly specialist advice, really. She could’ve been talking to any teenager with an identity crisis. Didn’t need to be one of her chosen ones.
Funny, really. Spike had always known it was more than Buffy’s post-resurrection crisis that drew them together, the first time round. It had been something deeper-rooted than that; more fundamental, somehow. She’d always known that what she was had a dark centre, an unnaturalness to it. Was a little bit monster. Spike had been a wall to break herself against, to crack the shell and see what was inside, to find out just how human she was. And later he’d been a wall to lean on, a prop for that humanity, a spark of perverse hope among all the loss and pain and other crap when it looked as if they were losing their last war.
It wasn’t violence, or victory, or even love that rid her of that particular source of woe-is-me, in the end. Just a few more years, a bit more life outside the Sunnydale asylum. The realisation that holding onto your humanity’s a bitch whether you’ve got a soul or a demon or a bloody stupid sacred destiny.
That everyone’s a little bit monster. Just how the world is.
It’s late. Spike’s in his room, an abandoned cuppa—because that’s the strongest stuff anybody touches these days—cooling on the recently-cleared surface of his desk.
On the list of things he misses about the bad old days, good old-fashioned drinking yourself into oblivion is near the top. If he’d had the foresight, he could’ve stockpiled—but nah, self-restraint has never been his strong point, has it? He’d just have knocked the lot back one pissed-up night a decade or two ago, and felt like shite in the morning.
He picks up the cup, finds it cold, and replaces it. Pulls down the final couple of volumes from the top shelf of his bookcase.
People knock shyly at his door and ask to look at them, sometimes. Spike supposes most of them have never seen a paper book in their lives. He lets them, usually, though he watches them with his fiercest glare to make sure they don’t go touching, and they tend to get uncomfortable and make their excuses pretty sharpish.
He runs his thumb along the edges of yellowed pages, mothwing-fine and ready to crumble to dust any moment. H. G. Wells, Men Like Gods. Which is a load of plotless guff, in Spike’s opinion—give him The War of the Worlds any day—but it’s a pretty edition, bound in red leather, and was a more-than-halfway decent present, considering that even vampires and Slayers who live and fight side-by-side every day of the year suffered gigantic lapses of judgement, imagination, and taste when it came to Christmas shopping.
(His taste was normally brilliant. Whatever Buffy said.)
Spike holds on to the book a moment longer. Then he sets it down in the box with the rest of them, and places the lid on top.
He grabs a pen and a bit of scrap paper. Looks at it for a moment, wondering if there’s any message at all that’s even slightly appropriate for the occasion. Then wondering when he started to give a toss about appropriate.
In the end, he just writes ‘TOMMY,’ pads downstairs in his socks, and deposits it outside of his friend’s bedroom door.
Tommy asked him about it all, once. About the little bits that have crept into the history books over the centuries, anyway. Demons, vampires, hellgods—creatures that lived for chaos and destruction. Battles that were bloody and looked like they might never end. He sounded as though he didn’t believe it.
Spike shrugged in reply. “’S all true. Well, mostly true.” Of course they bloody existed, you’re talking to one of them, he didn’t say, because even Tommy, fascinated as he was with the old world, would never have got his head around the idea that the quiet undead bloke up the hall had once killed for the sheer lust of it, jumped fists-first into the fray for the fun of it, burned to death because even if he’d there had been a choice, he’d never expected to outlive the battle.
He never should’ve, maybe. Never survived this long. He’s not meant to be in this world, that’s for sure.
“I don’t get it, though,” Tommy told him. “I just—how?”
That was what we were. That was what we were made for. That was what the world was. It was brutal and it was nasty and once in a blue moon it was fucking beautiful. It was mine.
Spike shrugged. “It was a long time ago.”
It’s early. Spike leaves through the front door as dawn breaks, before the first few people begin to appear in the gardens and the streets. There’s a maintenance hatch near the tunnel that connects them to the next Dome. Repair workers go out there once a month, maybe, and never without protective clothing. Shouldn’t be anyone due out for at least a week. He’s been keeping an eye.
He didn’t believe Buffy, when she told him she’d see him again. Sometimes he thinks that’s why he’s put off dying so long—just to avoid having his fears confirmed.
Now, though, he’s not so sure. He doesn’t know that there really is a Hell, as such, any more. He hasn’t seen a demon—a real one, a proper nasty fucker—in so long. And who’s to say other worlds can’t change as much as this one has?
Maybe that’s what decided him in the end, though. This world. Paradise on Earth, achieved at last, after a fashion. If this is what Heaven is, then he’s damn sure she’s not there either.
He slides the bolt free. Feels the door loose on its hinges, ready to swing open in the dry, punishing wind from outside. Closes his eyes.
Sees her behind them, the way he does every time. And at last—at long fucking last—she smiles for him.
That bright unguarded look she got once in a while, when a moment of joy broke through struggle and misery and death, that pure gold smile. The intensity of it. Fire more beautiful for the darkness; dawn more beautiful for the long, long night.
A world fierce and imperfect and endlessly changing. Not the way it should be, but the way it has to be, to stay alive. A journey never over; a fight never won.
A sun that burns.