Round 3 of the Circle of Friends Remix is now open for reading at cof_remix
Artwork by comlodge
Shock to the System
(the Eyes Without a Face Remix)
Copyright December 2013
Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel: the Series are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN.
This story is a remix, done for Round 3 of the Circle of Friends Remix, of “Possibilities”, by comlodge.
– i –
“I’ve known corpses with a fresher smell. In fact, I’ve been one.” – A New Man, Ep. 4-12
They weren’t looking good, either of them. It had been just under three weeks since the Slayer had died in her last (successful) saving of the world, and those closest to her were far from having come to terms with this devastating loss. The effect was particularly visible on these two: the Watcher who had, it had been accused, come to see his Slayer as more a daughter than a sacred charge; and the stricken teenager whose death would have — should have? — occurred instead, had not her sister taken the sacrifice upon herself.
Rupert Giles was less crisp than had been his usual wont, less punctilious as to his appearance; and Dawn Summers, with none of the Briton’s reserve to prevent her from being open in her grief, had lost weight and dressed haphazardly. Really, something must be done to keeping her looking properly, lest the social workers decide to intervene; and Giles was supposed to care about that, he really was …
At the moment, however, a different passion had brought the girl to his domicile, and it returned to her some of the animation she had lost. “Spike isn’t eating,” Dawn told him, in a tone clearly intended to convey a matter of actual importance.
“Really?” Giles set down his cup of tea (and wondered if she suspected, or cared, just how much bourbon was in there). “I find myself remarkably indifferent to that news.”
“Which means he isn’t healing,” the girl went on insistently.
“And once again, it’s as if I don’t care at all.” He steadied his eyeglasses on his face; not the familiar nervous distracted take-them-off-and-clean-them, but something far more steady and self-possessed. “In fact, the only part that truly concerns me is that you seem to be making regular visits to a vampire in his crypt. That is neither wise nor productive.”
Dawn’s mouth set in a stubborn line. “Giles, he went up onto that tower to save me —”
“And made a right bloody cock-up of it,” Giles observed with an almost absent brutality.
She wouldn’t be deterred. “— and he failed, and Buffy died, and it’s killing him.”
He took another long swallow of the ‘tea’. “I believe you’ll find that he requires a great deal more killing than that.” The look he gave her was steady, measuring, and not over-brimming with affection. (Buffy was dead because of her, dead to save a sister created out of air and magic and fraudulent memory. Given that, how much could he care about her?) “The Slayer spent a great deal of time trying to bring about his end. I seriously doubt that a few days off his feed will be enough to put paid to him.”
“It’s more than that,” she persisted, with all the demanding presumptuousness of a fourteen-year-old convinced that her perceptions are a solid picture of reality. “It tore him apart when she died. And remember, he’s been on pig’s blood for nearly two years now, I don’t think that’s as nourishing as human. I mean, even before this happened he was starting to look older, wasn’t he?”
It was true; Spike, though still striking, was by no means the same sleek, almost beautiful creature who had first arrived in Sunnydale. “Perhaps,” Giles conceded. “Not that it matters —”
“Besides, where would he be getting even pig’s blood now?” she went on relentlessly. “That fall smashed him up bad, he can barely move, and he’s always just lying in the same place whenever I go by …” Dawn stopped, turned imploring eyes on Giles. (Futile, that, he’d been beseeched by Buffy Summers herself, he wouldn’t be swayed by this forged copy.) “He … smells. Not like before, I’ve seen him drunk and I’ve seen him when he hadn’t bothered to wash for awhile, but this is like … rot. Sweetish. Maybe gangrene. We have to help him, or we could lose him.”
The ‘smile’ that formed on his face was more of a twisted snarl. “Which would be a tragedy in the eyes of whom, precisely?” Besides you, which means perhaps less than you think.
Dawn’s eyes somehow went harder, but her tone was perfectly level when she spoke. “Whether you like Spike or not, Buffy trusted him. Maybe not with everything, but she left me and Mom with him when she was trying to make sure Glory couldn’t reach us. How many people would she have turned to for that? It means something.” She leaned toward him over the low table. “And think about this: sure, you could handle it better than I could, but if you won’t help me with him, I’ll just have to do it all myself. And you know you couldn’t stop me, I’d be sneaking out and calling on all kinds of unsavory characters and putting myself in such totally ridiculous danger, and for what? Doing the job you should be doing anyway.”
Very softly, Giles said, “Saving vampires is rather the antithesis of my job description.”
She brushed it away. “You fight evil. And you’re down a fighter. And Spike could help … wants to help, if we can just convince him not to lie there and decay into nothing.” Dawn stood up. “Whatever. I’ll get onto figuring out what I can sell to start bribing blood brokers. See you around, assuming I’m still alive.”
Giles held up his hand. “Dawn.” She stopped, looked back at him. God, it was so hard to … to find the energy, but he went on. “Don’t … don’t begin any hazardous measures. I’ll see to the matter. You have made your case.”
She regarded him with adolescent doubt. “You promise?”
“I said I would do it. It will be done. Without eagerness, but it will be done.”
To her credit, she didn’t gloat or even squeal. The maturity looked wrong on her, but seemed genuine. “Thank you, Giles. Even if you don’t care, I do, and … thanks.”
He nodded, accompanying it with a vague gesture, and she accepted that and made her departure. Leaving him to begin planning a task which held utterly no meaning for him.
But then, in the aftermath of Buffy’s death, very little did.
– ii –
“Oh, poor Watcher. Did your life pass before your eyes? Cup of tea, cup of tea, almost got shagged, cup of tea?” – Bargaining, Ep. 6-01
He hated them all, every last sodding one of them, and he wanted them dead in the bloodiest possible fashion. He endlessly courted agony-by-chip in detailed fantasies of taking them, seizing them in a grip that would drive his fingernails through the skin of their shoulders, tearing into their throats and draining the life from them while they wept and begged and pissed themselves. They had failed her, she had depended on them and she had died, and for that there could be no forgiveness. Never, none, not for anyone who had failed her.
… And they wouldn’t leave him bloody alone.
It started with the Watcher, doubtless some new form of torment. Come to gloat (Crumpet-Boy had done his dry share of that, back when the chip had first been installed), lord it over the diminished vampire with the unearned nonchalance of one immune to harm through no doing of his own. And Spike could almost respect that — who wouldn’t taunt a fallen enemy? — but that didn’t mean he had to enjoy it.
“You reek,” the Watcher had observed flatly on his first visit. “Good Lord, man, you may be subhuman but you’re still British. Where’s your pride?”
“Go sod yourself,” Spike returned hoarsely.
“I brought you blood,” Giles went on, as if the vampire hadn’t spoken. “Knew you’d be too sluggard to bother with it yourself.” He set the sealed jar down on the little bedside (slab-side) table Spike had nicked from the city dump. “I’d drink that down, it spoils quickly without refrigeration.”
Spike glared at him, unable to manage anything more. “Bugger off,” he mumbled. “Don’t need your sodding pity.”
“Nor would I waste any on you,” Giles replied. “But you’ve taken yourself out of the fight for long enough, and we’re all tired of carrying your share. So, drink up, get yourself moving, and try to be useful for something.” He looked around the crypt, shook his head. “However could you take a place as dismal as this, and make it more so? That almost requires talent, but would also call for more effort than I see you ever being willing to expend.”
The casual dismissal raised in Spike a smoldering rage. Something had gone out of the world when Buffy died, something bright and fierce and golden. He had loved Drusilla because, in her madness and viciousness and unpredictability, there had been a terrible dark near-perfection, a purity of self. The lover of beauty had worshipped his black goddess … but the purity in Buffy had been greater, more focused, magnified and energized. She had been unique, perfect, irreplaceable … and she had died, and all of them would suffer for it, and Giles was just the target currently at hand.
The Watcher was nearly out the door before Spike could summon the strength for a proper attack. “Ironic, innit?”
Giles stopped just short of daylight, looked back. “What?”
“All that time I spent trying to put her in the ground,” Spike jeered. It was like sprinting uphill carrying a bloody boulder, but he found the will and gritted through it. “But in the end, you were the one to do the deed.”
He had struck home, he could see it, but it didn’t seem to carry the proper weight; as if the Watcher had already taken a blow so massive, any lesser impact could barely register. “I wasn’t in a position to help her, at the last,” Giles answered, almost gently. “If I had been … ah, but you were, weren’t you? How did that work out?”
Then he was gone, and Spike lay quaking in impotent fury.
Tearing flesh. Agony and pleas and tears, and him laughing maniacally while he flayed the skin from the man’s —!
Surely this much hate should give him some strength.
But it didn’t.
– iii –
“This is the crack team that foils my every plan? I am deeply shamed.” – Something Blue, Ep. 4-09
Started with the Watcher, but of course it didn’t stay that way; that would have limited the pain, wouldn’t it? No, it had to spread, had to be worse, had to come from every direction, shame and helplessness piercing him like jagged shards through his vitals …
Except, no, he’d taken spears of rubble through the guts in that fall from the tower, and this was worse. The lot of them taking turns with him, varying timing and appearance so as to heighten the way it tore at him.
In some ways, the witch was easier to deal with than the Watcher, ’least in the beginning. She was so bloody ridiculous, all optimism and earnestness and trying to force the world to be the way she wanted it to be just by insisting that it already was. The Watcher might be a stodgy bookworm but Spike had heard the term ‘Ripper’ and seen glimpses of the reality now and then (like when Ben stopped breathing altogether too suddenly, Spike had heard that and understood very well what it meant, but he’d never admit he knew because that would be granting too much credit); an enemy of some merit, the Watcher, so his scorn carried just a bit of weight, however little Spike would let it show. The witch, though, she could be dismissed, because no amount of power would ever make up for how unprepared she was to deal with the world as it actually was. Or so he could tell himself.
Also, she was such an easy target. He’d come close to splitting the entire group, back before some part of him had actually come to care (about Buffy, only Buffy, it had never gone further than that), and he still remembered her weaknesses, still knew how to work the edges till he’d got the right spot just the proper amount of sensitive, and then make her jerk with a sudden jab.
On the other hand, he wasn’t really up to his proper form. She came in her turn, like the rest of them, with a jar of pig’s blood and urgings for him to take care of himself, pull himself together, there was so much to do and he couldn’t just give up … Her chirpiness was so nauseating, he forgot himself and pushed up on one elbow to regard her with the contempt he seldom showed so openly (if only because that made it less effective with overexposure), and observed, “Bit late to be looking at the big picture, don’t you think?”
She looked to him, startled (God, more raw power than all the rest of them put together, including him, including the Slayer while she was alive, and still she was so sickeningly vulnerable to disapproval), and asked, “What do you mean?”
Not sparing the steel, Spike said, “I mean, if you’d not been so caught up in reunion-time with your muff-diving sweetie, maybe you’d have been worth the space you took up in that last fight.”
He saw something flare in her eyes then, something deep and dangerous, more like Darla than he ever would have suspected in this silly little bran muffin. It was almost enough to be worth noticing, if he’d cared enough to be interested. In a voice that wasn’t at all chirpy now, and harder than he would have thought she could muster, she said coldly, “Do you have some kind of death wish?”
“Death?” He scoffed. “Been there. Done that. Didn’t take.”
“Well, you might want to re-think your position here.” She stood over him in a way that really would have been threatening if he hadn’t already known her too well. “I’m not the helpless little freshman you terrorized in her dorm room. I could end you, Spike. I could make you burn with a snap of my fingers, so I think you should be careful how you talk to me.”
“Careful?” he sneered. “I’m trashed here, you barmy chit. I’m so all-out shredded, a junior Girl Guide with a penny matchbook could kill me with no risk at all. Which means, right now, you’re no more threatening than that.” Besides which, fire would be clean and quick. Nothing to fear, just better than he deserved.
She actually shook, she was so angry, and slapped the jar of blood down on the table with a force that didn’t quite crack the glass. “Don’t think you’ll be rid of me that easy, buster,” she said, tight-lipped. “We’ll get you well no matter how much you fight it. And then —” She leaned over him, her face inches from his. “And then, you and I are going to talk.”
She was true to her word, too. She kept coming back, though she fobbed it off on others as often as she could. But she no longer tried to cheer him up.
Pathetic. No amount of mojo could possibly make her a threat. She’d never be more than an annoyance.
But she could be really annoying.
– iv –
“Can any one of your damn little Scooby club at least try to remember that I HATE you all?” – This Year’s Girl, Ep. 4-15
When it came to annoying, though, there was a king. A clown king, but foremost among them all the same.
Only, he didn’t seem much interested in clowning these days. (No surprise, given the circumstances, but Spike wouldn’t have believed you could cut that out of the whelp with a circular saw. Which, okay, file away for future thought, be it ever so unattainable.) The first few times, he simply walked in, eyed Spike like he was seeing garbage nobody had picked up yet, set the jar of blood on the side-table, and walked out again without a word. Unrelenting in his enmity — one of the few things about the boy worthy of respect — but too sunk in grief to mask any of it with moronic sallies of ‘wit’.
Over time, though, it began to grate. “Hoy,” Spike said from his bed the fourth time Xander appeared. “Not even gonna bother to insult me? ’cause that’s insulting.”
The look the boy gave him couldn’t have been more impersonal if Spike was a talking wastebasket. “First I’d have to care. On the scale of things that matter to me right now … well, you’re not in the same universe as that scale. Haven’t been for a long time.” His expression was flat, his voice bleak. “Bottom line, you’re not worth the effort.”
Spike showed teeth; not his real teeth, but enough for emphasis. “Yeh, know how that works. Coulda killed you a dozen times back in the day, but you just didn’t matter that much.” And this bit wouldn’t be fair, the boy had punched well above his weight in that last smackdown with Her Most Glorificent Skankiness, but hey, EVIL here, so “Still don’t. We saw as much, di’n’t we?”
And there it was, that flash of passion Spike had been playing for: bitterness, hate, even contempt, but still better than not even important enough to despise. Xander stood where he was, rock-still, and with low, seething intensity he said, “You were there, you limp-fang son of a bitch. You were up on that tower, where you might actually have made a difference, and what did you accomplish? Precisely dick.” His mouth worked, eyes savage. “I’d have cut out my own heart to be where you were, only you should have been better for the job: the Big Bad, the guy who helped terrorize fucking Europe. How long did you last up there? ten seconds? five? two? Whatever, it all comes down to the same thing: not long enough.”
He wheeled and stalked away, but stopped at the door to look back. “Why didn’t you die? Why didn’t you die instead of her? The world would be better off without you in it, but saving Buffy would have given some point to your miserable, worthless existence. But, no, you couldn’t do that.” He shook his head, turned away. “Well, congratulations, asshole. You had to go way ’round the barn to pull it off, but you finally killed your third Slayer.” Then he was out the door and gone.
The Watcher had made almost exactly the same point, but his words had been as deft and precise as a dagger thrust. This, now, was more like being hacked apart with a battle-axe, and instead of rousing him to rage, it left Spike slack on the bed (okay, slab-with-a-mattress), rendered near-inert with grief and desolation and self-loathing.
It was true. He’d been the Slayer’s last chance, the promise she’d relied on, and he’d bollixed it all balls-up solid. Who would have thought that poncy Doc would prove such a slippery bastard? Not as strong as Spike, not as quick, but always half a move ahead, and he’d known exactly where to plant the knife to paralyze (not kill, you couldn’t kill a vampire with steel unless you cut his head off, and that was trickier than it sounded). Spike might as well have not bothered to show up, for all the good he’d done.
He had failed, and she had died, and that pain was ten times worse than the physical damage he had taken.
And the only thing that could make it worse yet — the ONLY thing — was to find himself in complete agreement with Xander sodding Harris.
– v –
“I wasn’t lurking. I was standing about. It’s a whole different vibe.” – Blood Ties, Ep. 5-13
Little Sister was the worst. The first to visit him, the only one to care (and what bloody sense did that make?), looking to share a grief that neither one of them deserved. Wanting to talk, looking at him with all that need, when all he wanted was to burst her skull against the wall of the crypt. Wipe out that empty face with the lying eyes.
Buffy’s eyes, the same eyes as the Slayer, but in the wrong face. Not Buffy, not even real, never should have been here. Wouldn’t have been any need to dive off that bloody tower if there’d been nobody there to save, would there? He’d made a promise, so he had to pretend, but he hated her more than all the others together. And, of course, she was totally bleeding oblivious.
“Do you think it hurt?” she asked him one time, and the words knifed through him worse than Doc’s blade had ever done. He looked at her, so vulnerable, knowing he could tear her heart to shreds with the right words, and wanting so cruelly to do exactly that. “When she jumped into the … do you think it hurt very much?”
He hadn’t seen Buffy suspended in the light of that sodding portal, but he’d seen the body on the ground minutes later, seen the wrongness twisted under the skin. Unless the life had been whisked out of her before the pain had time to register, then yeah, it had hurt a lot. Enough to make Angelus envious. Pushing away thoughts of pouring acid into the girl’s eyes, Spike said gently, “It was quick, pet. Remember her face? She barely knew, if she knew at all.”
Dawn didn’t know much about dead faces. Spike did. Buffy’s was that of a warrior felled in battle, still fighting to the last, for all that she’d brought about her own death. Fitting, but not a thought to comfort this brainless chit … and comfort was what was called for, however little appetite he had for it. It seemed to be enough; she went away, still desolate but somewhat less than suicidal.
Mostly, though, she drove him to murderous distraction with her endless concern. “You don’t really seem to be getting any better,” she fretted, chapped lips and pale face and stringy hair; wasn’t taking very good care of herself, pot calling the kettle black, all that. “I know that fall took a lot out of you, but you’re the guy who came back from having a burning church dropped on him. Is the blood not fresh enough?”
Not for years, you dozy little cow. Blood was fresh from a torn throat, steaming with the life being ripped away; the cold, cankerous slop they provided for him wasn’t remotely comparable, for all that he could survive on it. “Blood’s fine, Little Bit. Just not as young as I used to be.”
Which was nonsense, and she ignored it as such. “They’re bringing you enough?”
“New batch every day. Regular as clockwork.” Which was true, little as he liked it. “Don’t worry yourself, I’ll be up and about soon enough. Just need time to let the bones knit straight.”
She looked doubtful, but seemed to accept it. Still, every time she came by (and she wouldn’t stop coming by!), she seemed more dissatisfied with his condition … which, perversely, made him want to not get better. Couldn’t she just leave him alone?
Not likely. And not happening. She walked in one day and, without saying a word, set a bowl on the side-table, held her bare arm above it, and pulled out a knife.
That actually brought Spike to his feet … or, at least, his feet were on the floor, even if his arse never left the bed. “Hoy! What the hell is this?”
“My blood,” she said to him, hoarse, tears welling in her eyes but refusing to fall. “My blood opened the portal. My blood killed Buffy. It might as well be useful for something.”
Spike shook his head. “Didn’t you read the manual, Platelet? I can’t feed from humans anymore.”
“You can’t attack humans,” she corrected him, brutal with self-hate. “But if I bleed myself, you can still drink it.” She regarded him over the unshed tears. “I’ve cut myself before. All it does is hurt. I’ll survive.”
“No.” Spike held out his hand, flat-palm STOP. “You can’t do this.”
“Why not?” she demanded of him. “What difference does it make?”
Wanting validation from him, reprieve from survivor’s guilt. Well, he didn’t have it to give. He’d have thrown her off the tower himself, if he’d known what her living would cost and if the microchip in his head would’ve allowed it. Her very existence was an endless reminder of what the world had lost, what HE had lost, why should he care if she drained herself white —?
He didn’t, didn’t care a whit. But, “She wouldn’t like it,” he heard himself saying, and Dawn’s face crumpled and the knife clanged on the stone floor, and his arms were around her while her body shook with sobs that seemed almost enough to rip her apart.
He didn’t care. But Buffy had died for this girl, and if she was worth Buffy’s life, then she was worth learning to care for.
Soon as he got around to it.
– vi –
“I mean, am I even remotely scary anymore? Tell me the truth.” – Doomed, Ep. 4-11
When they first started coming by, he hadn’t expected it but it hadn’t thrown him. They did such things, this lot, part of the ‘good guy’ mentality he’d never been able to fathom. He hated it, hated them, hated every moment they spent in his presence, but it didn’t surprise him. Because they did such things, this lot.
When the other witch showed up, though — the blonde one, the stutterer — he was surprised.
He knew who she was before she ever made it in the door, of course; torn up as he was, his ears still worked fine, and he recognized the pattern of her steps and even the rhythm of her breathing. So he had time to prepare a suitable response, or at least one that wasn’t completely feeble. “So what’s this?” he asked as she came in the door. He levered up on one elbow, regarding her with an arched eyebrow. “Decide to try out stick-shift for yourself, on someone as can’t properly resist?”
She stopped, regarding him through heavy-lidded eyes. She was different from the rest in all kinds of ways, not least because he hadn’t spent enough time around her to have a solid feel for the personality here. She’d seemed hesitant before, even timid, but that wasn’t the vibe he was getting now. “No,” she said. “It was Willow’s turn, and she kept putting it off but wouldn’t admit she just didn’t want to come, so I thought I’d make today’s delivery and then tell her it was t-taken care of.”
He shrugged, and — being who he was — managed to imbue the negligible motion with razor-edged disdain. “Well, then drop off today’s delightful porcine treat and be on your bloody way. Sure you’ve got oodles of carpet-munching to look forward to.”
Tara nodded, apparently to herself, and went to the bedside table, keeping her eyes on him the entire time. From the oversized floppy bag she carried (not what he would have expected, she’d struck him more as the hemp-satchel type) she produced the inevitable jar of pig’s blood. She set it on the table, but didn’t step back; instead, she reached into the bag again and withdrew something else. “Well, now,” Spike said, stretching the words out into a sardonic drawl. “Another prezzie for the bedridden hero?”
“No,” the girl said again, still calm. She held up the object, a seven-inch skillet in dark metal, blackened with long use. “Th-this isn’t the only thing I have from my mother, but it’s probably what means the most to me.”
God, the banalities of human existence; how could they bear to not just bloody kill themselves? “A frying pan? That’s how you best remember her?”
“Cold iron,” Tara went on. “Y-you can use it to block out extraneous magicks when you’re blending spell ingredients, or work with the patterns in the metal itself for others.” She smiled suddenly. “And s-sometimes she just cooked. She had this cornbread, she’d mix butternut squash in with the batter for a special flavor …”
“So, what?” Spike interrupted. “You going to use it to warm up the blood for me?”
“No,” she said a third time … and, taking a two-handed grip on the handle of the skillet, she swung it against the side of his head with all her strength.
“Bloody hell!” Spike roared. She’d put her shoulders into it, the bitch, and his skull rang like a Chinese gong. “Have you gone full daft? What’d you do that for?”
“N-none of the others like you,” she said to him, breathing quickly. Some of the hesitation he remembered was back now, doubtless triggered by such emphatic action, but she forged on. “Except Dawn, and m-maybe Anya. But they also treat you like you’re harmless; you tell them you’re evil, you keep reminding them, b-but they just shrug it away. They’re like, because you can’t hurt them, that means they can’t hurt you.” She shook her head. “Only, you can hurt them. You do it all the time, you do it every time they come to see you. You make words into weapons, and you cut, and you hurt, and s-somehow they just don’t see it.”
“Look,” Spike began, working to stand up, “if you think I’m going to —” He saw it coming this time, was able to get one arm up, but that just meant he took the impact on a not-yet-healed wrist, and her backswing connected with his head again before he could recover. “Bloody HELL!”
“You’re accountable, Spike,” she told him, and he could hear her forcing determination into her tone. “I’m holding you to account. No more free ride: every time you hurt them, I’ll hurt you. Those are the r-rules now.”
His head was a vast, echoing void, the broken wrist a white-hot blaze of agony. He reacted as he did to any suggestion of weakness: by attack. “I’ll make you pay for that, you Sapphic slag,” he told her, low and flat and deadly. “Whatever it costs, however long it takes me to work out a way, I’ll string your guts from the fence-posts and turn your throat into a spigot.” He felt it rising in him, the power, the wrath, the will. “Before it’s done, I’ll have you begging me to let you die.”
She was brave, but not fearless, this one; she’d gone white around the mouth, and her body seemed to shrink from the murderous menace he was glaring at her. She didn’t back up, though, or look away, and if her voice quavered a bit, it didn’t falter. “You’ll have to get b-better before you can do any of that. Because the others are right: you’re n-no good to anybody right now. Least of all yourself.”
She turned to go then. He could tell that her feet wanted to go faster, tell also that she wasn’t allowing it. At the door she stopped long enough to say, “You watch television here, so I guess you’ve tapped into an electric line. If warming up the blood will help, I’ll s-see about having someone bring you a hot-plate.” She looked back at him. “Because we don’t want me c-coming back here. Do we?”
She was as good as her word, both about the hot-plate and about not coming back. Didn’t matter, she’d made her point, accomplished her mission. Wasn’t a lot as far as motivation went, but it was something, and every little bit helped.
Spike had never been much given to empty threats. He had made this one a promise; it was time he began working himself into such shape as would allow him to keep it, or make a bloody good start.
Empasis on the ‘bloody’.
– vii –
“Damn right I’m impure! I’m as impure as the driven yellow snow.” – Intervention, Ep. 5-18
Of the lot of them, Droopy Boy’s demon chippie was the easiest to stomach. Come to that, Spike had trouble sometimes even thinking of her as one of Them; in a lot of ways, she had more in common with him than with the White Hats. They’d both been major operators in their time, both been obscenely reduced on coming to Sunnydale — him muzzled by the sodding chip, her stripped of her powers completely — and both found themselves in some kind of bizarre heart-connection to people they should have despised. Caring about things that shouldn’t have mattered to them, fighting for a cause they once would have sneered at as not only meaningless but bloody stupid. She was flighty and self-centered and she had a tongue like a rusty nail, and she was the only one of the bunch who didn’t treat him with scorn or dismissal. He was just somebody for her to talk to … and holy bleeding hell, did that woman ever talk!
All the same, she was a welcome change of pace. She’d trip on in, already in full cry, one arm still in a sling from the rubbish that’d fallen on her when the tower started coming down, set the jar of blood on the hot-plate, and start in on the pleasures of her sex life, the way the business continued to build at the Magic Box, the illogic of human social rules. He’d get fed up after awhile, and insult her, and she’d insult him right back and then ask if he wanted her to bring along Weetabix or cinnamon next time. Breath of fresh air, even if air was a take-it-or-leave-it thing with him.
Not that it started out that way. Her first visit, she stopped three feet from his bed, wrinkled her nose, and announced, “Gah. That’s really disgusting. I thought I might give you a little freshening, but it’s clear that stronger measures are called for.” She pulled a bottle of hydrogen peroxide from her purse, removed the cap and tossed it away over her shoulder … and, before he could even begin to suss her intention, she poured the entire bottle on him, with particular focus on his chest and legs.
Spike erupted from his bed with a screech, beating frantically at his sizzling skin; entirely different mechanism, but for the first few seconds it was as bad as holy water burns. At last he got himself under control, and rounded on Anya with tight-lipped fury. “What am I now, a bloody funhouse attraction?” he demanded of her. “Everybody line up and take a shot at Spike? Why do you bitches torture me?”
She waved it away. “Don’t be such a baby. I know vampires don’t get infections, but you do decay under the wrong circumstances. Something had to be done about those wounds, and peroxide will at least cleanse the dead flesh.”
“I’m all dead flesh, you brainless twat!” He glared at her, breathing heavily. “I ought to grit my teeth against the chip and thump you on your empty skull.”
“What a lot of fuss over a little antiseptic.” Anya shrugged dismissively. “Don’t try and pretend you haven’t done a lot worse to others in your time.”
“Thousands,” he spat back. “But that was different: that was me doing it to them!”
She nodded agreement. “Yes, that part’s always fun. Ready for your blood now?”
After that, it settled into the her-monologuing marathon that would become standard practice. If she’d wanted to make conversation, he’d have tried to throttle her (bright thought there: maybe the chip wouldn’t trigger on an ex-demon!), but she didn’t care about conversation, just wanted someone to blather to, and for now he was okay with that. Broke the monotony without actually hooking him into any of their bleeding Scooby games. He’d done his bit, for awhile, for Buffy’s sake, and maybe the time would come again … but right now wasn’t the time, and Demon Girl made her deliveries without trying to cheer him up or motivate him or lay some sodding guilt-trip on him, and he was more grateful for that than he’d ever admit under any arsenal of threats.
“How do you stand them?” he asked her suddenly one day. “I mean, seriously, how do you bloody stand them? They’re everything we used to hate or laugh at, and now we’re head ’n’ ears into their bloody nonsense … don’t you ever want to just set fire to ’em all?”
“Not for years,” Anya assured him blithely. “Oh, sure, I know you’re supposed to hate them, and I respect that. As long as I’m stuck in human form, though, these are some fairly decent humans to be around.” She laughed. “They’re not dull, that’s for sure.”
She was as great a bloody lunatic as everyone else in this appalling hamlet, he mused when she had gone. The ‘Scoobies’ especially. The only thing she had in common with them was what they all had in common: they were freaks who didn’t belong anywhere else.
Which, come to it, applied to him, too. Every one of them was missing something, or had some part contradicting the rest. Dawn, made from the Slayer in some unexplained way, but with none of her fire and no pre-existing reality. Anya, a thousand years of demon’s memories but trapped in human form. Red, a frigging powerhouse with no grit or focus. Droopy Boy, a hero (and that’s what he was; through all the very real derision Spike directed at him, he could recognize the depth of the whelp’s devotion to those he loved) without the skills or muscle to put any of that courage to effective use.
And Spike himself. An apex predator, unable to act on any part of his nature. Muzzled, neutered, made into a sodding pet. He’d been a ravening wolf, and now he was … what? a sheepdog? Still able to fight, but dependent on table scraps from those who should have been his rightful prey.
If misery loved company, Spike would make a bloody marvelous house guest, because his situation was just about as miserable as it was possible to be.
– viii –
“Any of you want to test who’s got the biggest wrinklies ’round here, step on up.” – School Hard, Ep. 2-03
Even if he could find no purpose in his own existence, Spike was putting actual work into recovery now, just to reach the point where the others would leave him alone, or else he could regain enough mobility to be bloody elsewhere when they came to annoy him. The day he could cross the room to turn on his telly was a milestone, even if it took him most of another day to gather the energy to go turn if off again. A week after that, he dug out some new clothes — or at least more recently-washed old clothes — made a heap of what he’d worn up onto that tower, and set fire to them with his Zippo. (Except for the Doc Martens; they’d not taken any damage in the fall, and good ass-kicking boots should be properly respected.) A few more days on, he found a bottle of whiskey and started working his way through it. Got down half of it before vomiting up lukewarm booze and black, rancid blood, then lay down again and finished the bottle.
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, indeed.
He was getting better. Like it or not, want it or not, care or not, he was getting better. Even without a reason or purpose, even without blood from a fresh kill to fuel proper healing, he was getting better. Why, he’d be back to a pale, pathetic shadow of his former self in no time now …
Then Buffy walked into the crypt, and his unbeating heart froze solid in his chest.
He was hallucinating. Drunk and dreaming. Finally in Hell and being tormented with a vision of what he could never have again. He drew a meaningless breath, head spinning, ready to croak out some bleating nonsense … and the thing before him gave him a bright, empty smile and said cheerfully, “Hello, Spike. Would you like some blood? Or how about a massage, I know you love a good erotic massage —”
And he was screaming, “Get out, you sodding junk-heap, get out, get bloody OUT!” He drove her out the door, fury personified, and then collapsed onto the stone floor, all strength spent, shaking from overexertion and revulsion. This was it, this was the limit, this was a torture even he could never have imagined —!
The witch. The bloody witch, she’d reassembled the ’Bot to make visits so she wouldn’t have to, and never mind what the sight would do to him. Lazy hoodoo dyke, he couldn’t touch her but maybe he could set fire to her bedroom (and her inside it!) without the chip blowing off the top of his head. Might be worth it even if he did fry his brain in the process …
He found himself on his feet with no memory of rising, rooting through one of his old trunks. Must be another bottle around somewhere, he’d always kept a few spares, it was easy to stay in booze when you could flash fangs at someone leaving a liquor store and pick up whatever they dropped when they ran away screaming. Come on, just one bottle, one sodding bottle —!
He’d thought Dawn was bad — the eyes without the face — but it was a thousand times worse to see the face without the inhabiting person. For the first time he got a glimmer of what humans felt when they saw a loved one raised as a vampire, there but not-there, the face and the voice and even the memories but still not there … if that was anything like what he was feeling now, it was a bloody wonder vampires hadn’t been exterminated centuries ago.
He stopped and leaned against the wall over the open trunk, hopeless, drained. Whiskey wouldn’t really help. Nothing would help. Buffy was gone. Even in his dreams, even with all the different ways he came up with to save her from leaping off that tower, she was still gone whenever he awoke.
Now and forevermore. Amen.
There was no use.
There was no point.
There was nothing.
He didn’t know how long he stood there, empty, wrung dry, not even despair left to him. He didn’t know if he started to turn before he heard the voice, or in reaction to it … but he was turning, and the rumbling words were echoing in the crypt: “Well, now. I heard you wuz under the weather, but boy, it looks like yew got worked over good.”
Big, was Spike’s first thought. He’d fought bigger — hell, he’d slugged it out with Boone, in Mexico, over that acid-tongued cheerleader! — but he was dismayingly aware of just how weak he still was, and in his current state size DID matter. The second thought, a fraction later, was Oh, hell: Gorch.
Lyle Gorch, in the undead redneck flesh, black Metallica t-shirt stretched over the broad chest and a straw cowboy hat perched on his head. He ambled on in, grinning through demon-face, cocky confidence radiating from the muscular frame. “Tiffi told me yew took a fall, said I might like my chances right now. Gonna hafta figger out a way to thank her fer th’ tip.”
Tiffi? Madame Tiphaine had put this yokel onto his trail? That treacherous demon skank! It wasn’t him brought a Skira’ad into the poker game as a ringer, that was Torgash, he’d just been happy to rake in the kittens when the odds went haywire. Stepping away from the wall with a languid casualness that — he hoped — hid how shaky his legs were, Spike brought out a grin of his own. “She sent you here, eh? So how’d you piss her off enough for her to want you dead ’n’ dusty?”
Gorch’s eyes went wary (Spike had hoped for that, and more), but he didn’t back away. “Tough talk, runt, but I bin hearin’ about you. How them so’jer boys got yew all de-fanged.”
“Really?” The amusement was unforced this time; Gorch truly was an idiot. “Any of your helpful informants happen to mention how I while away my boredom by ripping through Sunnydale’s demon population like a power saw? Including such vampires as don’t know how to behave toward their betters?”
“Better? Yew?” The wariness was greater now, but Gorch did have the predator’s instinct for weakness, and one disadvantage of Spike’s reputation was that anyone who knew it would suspect there was a reason he hadn’t launched himself at the intruder already, deploying fangs and fists and boots with exuberant gusto. “Seems ta me you’re lookin’ kinda puny, boy. Yew maybe tryin’ to run a bluff on ol’ Lyle?”
“What I’m trying, you inbred shitkicker,” Spike told him with slow relish, “is to decide how much head start I can give you and still run you down. I know I’m faster, but you look the type to really jackrabbit when you’re scared.” He tilted his head in arch assessment. “A hundred yards too much? Maybe I should make it a hundred feet.” He laughed. “And here I thought this’d be a slow evening!”
He didn’t have a chance if it came to an actual fight. Normally Gorch wouldn’t be in his league: the cowboy had a vampire’s delight in death and suffering, but in him it was a slower, sadistic taste rather than the joy Spike brought to combat, and the level of ferocity was all on Spike’s side. Right now, though, sheer brute muscle would carry the day, and Gorch had it while Spike was running on … not fumes, barely the memory of fumes. The rationed blood, the fresh clothes, even the peroxide Anya had poured on him, all had him looking more fit than he actually was, and that was the only thing making Gorch pause right now. No winning, no chance of escape, so Spike moved forward, widening his grin. “The rumor-mongers, now, they’re right about one thing: the last few weeks have been a drizzling bitch, and I’m all itching to work off some of that pent-up frustration. You’d be just what the doctor ordered; why, I’ll bet you’re strong enough to keep screaming for hours.” He looked around. “I know I’ve got a propane torch around here somewhere …”
It might have worked. Gorch had a yellow streak a mile wide, and Spike knew how to play on a coward’s fears (though that was usually before evisceration, rather than instead-of). The step forward should have sealed it, because no bully would ever believe a victim would willingly advance to doom. They’d never know, though, because “I hate to go where I’m not welcome, Spike, but Willow’s instructions were very specific —”, oh bloody hell, the ’Bot, and Gorch was wheeling to attack even as she strolled in blathering away, “— I’ll drop off the blood and then tcha-a-tch!!!” One ham-sized fist smacked her head to the side, and then Gorch snatched her up bodily, raised her above his head, and slammed her to the stone floor with desperate strength.
The ’Bot was strong: not Slayer strong, but enough to match most vampires. She’d been trashed by Glory, though, twice, and Red was more hacker than engineer, she wouldn’t have brought the toaster back to full capacity this soon. The massive impact was too much for whatever spot-repairs had been managed; the ’Bot squawked, spraying blue sparks from her open mouth and broken skull, convulsed spasmodically, and then went still.
“A … robot?” Gorch blurted, peering downward, stunned. “Th’ Slayer’s a robot? What the thunderin’ hell —?”
“She’s a sex doll, you berk.” Spike wasn’t feigning the contempt. “I had a sex doll made up so I could enjoy shagging something with the Slayer’s face.”
“Well, that’s … that’s just …” Gorch stopped, and the grin came back. “Yeah, that does sound like fun.”
“It was,” Spike agreed. “Almost as much as this.” And he leveled the sawed-off double-barreled shotgun he’d pulled from the open trunk while the cowboy was occupied, and pulled both triggers at the same time.
He’d never actually used the weapon before; he’d taken it off a would-be demon hunter in the late ’80s (Drusilla had played happily with the poor sod for nearly two days before he finally expired), and kept it because he loved the brutal elegance of the design. Rather than buckshot, each shell was close-packed with nine .32-caliber pellets, to best combine the advantages of shot spread and solid impact. Spike had just put more than two pounds of whizzing metal into the air, all of it in a spreading cone channeled at Gorch’s face. Under exactly the right circumstances, it could have decapitated the cowboy or even blown the brain out of that thick skull. Instead, half his face and part of his lower jaw vanished in a spray of blood, Gorch’s head snapped back at the impact and he screamed, screamed like a little girl. He lashed out blindly, still screaming, caromed off two walls and somehow found the door of the crypt, and ran-staggered out into the night, that lovely scream going on and on and on.
Warmed the cockles of the heart, it truly did. Spike couldn’t fully appreciate it at the moment, however; the recoil had wrenched at his healing arms and torn the shotgun completely from his grip, and he shook his stung hands, swearing. Bloody hell, that hurt!
At last the throbbing abated. He sighed, and looked through various junk stacked about until he found a stake, just in case Gorch was crazy enough to come back in his current condition. (Unlikely, the cowboy would be weeks healing, but then he was truly stupid.) That done, he looked down at where the ’Bot lay on the floor, shook his head. Funny: still and empty like that, the face didn’t bother him at all. Didn’t fill him with joy, exactly, but he could tolerate it. And he relished the thought of what he’d report when whichever of the White Hats found the tin can here: Sorry, she interrupted when I had a visitor, and he took exception. What can you say, I guess shoddy workmanship always shows in the end …
Seriously, though, enough was enough here. When a piss-ant peckerwood like Lyle Gorch could pose a genuine threat, it was time to take his recuperation seriously. And, even second-hand with a distance weapon, half-splattering the cowboy had reminded Spike of just how much pleasure could be found in a bit of killing. Get himself back into shape, get back out into the fight, start working at laying some of the ghosts to rest …
He took another look at the ’Bot, and a lance of pain went through him. It wouldn’t be enough, wouldn’t be nearly enough. Buffy was still gone, and no amount of recreational slaughter would ever change that.
It wasn’t enough. It would never be enough.
But it was something, and that’d just have to do.
And there you are. Don’t hesitate to offer commentary.