Thanks again to my betas calove, hesadevil and gamiila.
Feedback would be very nice (even if it's to say I'm too long-winded). Please?
Chapter Three – The Last Straw
Spike tore down the corridor leading from Angel’s office, seething with indignant anger. Leaving a long wake of shocked lawyers behind him, he walked through people as he went, too angry to bother even trying to avoid them. It didn’t matter where he was going, that wasn’t the point; he just needed to put some distance between himself and the enormous git. But trapped as a ghost, he could never get far enough away.
So he was stuck as a ghost for perpetuity because Angel couldn’t spare his science girl for few hours, was he? Well, might as well shove his head under his arm and have done with it, he thought. Frustrated, he kicked out at a potted plant by some elevator doors, probably placed there to carefully promote Sick Building Syndrome or the most diabolic Feng Shui. Spike figured that a building couldn’t get any sicker than this place.
His foot went straight through the pot.
That was the last straw. He could no longer take his frustrations out in even the smallest piece of violence. He wanted to tear the world apart, rip reality into shreds, bash a few heads until someone made him solid again. He was sick of this state, he wanted his life or unlife back - right now it didn't matter which, anything had to be better than existing as the ghost of a good vampire. He might have been long dead, but he'd still had something resembling a life, that he’d lived to its fullest. He needed to be solid again, if only to give Angel a good kicking.
Spike knew there were many things worse than being a spectre; he wouldn’t want to be Angel for instance, cut off from anything fun as a deserved punishment for years of misdeeds, unable to get close to anyone in case he got happy. But this ghostliness wasn't living, denied all feeling; not hot, not cold; a body that felt no fucking sensation at all. He had no taste or smell or touch; his favourite senses, the ones he had delighted in for so long, were all cut off from him. He couldn’t do anything he used to enjoy; couldn’t have sex, couldn’t fight, or drink, or smoke the odd ciggie. He’d had enough of this particular flavour of hell. Right now he would give the world to just feel something – anything - even pain would do, if it meant that he was real again, but his body stayed uncomfortably numb.
For good or for evil, he’d had things, even her, which gave some meaning to his existence. A car, a bike, a comfy crypt he could call his own, and other trivia a vampire didn't really need that he’d either carried around for years as fond reminders or had thought might make his girl comfortable enough so she’d stay. These possessions were nothing really, but they’d tied him to the world, made him a place in it that brought him closer to where Buffy existed. They’d made him feel real, like the man he longed to be for her, but now he was nothing to the world and he had nothing left in it. There was bugger all left. Not even his body remained; like everything else, gone, lost under a vanished town, his unlife sunk under rubble and dust.
One of the only ways Spike had left to influence the world, even in a small, annoying way, was his ability to watch and listen and talk. It was something he’d always done, but as his sole amusement it lacked satisfaction after a while, even if he could still irritate Angel as if poking him with a verbal stick. He had a kind of plan; maybe if he annoyed Angel enough, he might actually try and do something about Spike’s predicament, other than leave him to haunt these offices forever. Sometimes negative attention was better than no attention, after all. Until then,
Spike would have to create his own amusement.
When he’d been first resurrected, all he’d been able to do was observe and take the piss out of the mortals enslaving themselves to Hell’s corporate machine, while they sank deeper into the moral quagmire of infernal politics. He’d explored the endless offices from top to bottom until he knew the building better than anyone. Each room was characterless and sterile, lacking personality or quirkiness in their décor, just bland corporate colours that never diverged from the beige, despite the fancy names of the paint. Then he’d started playing games with people to amuse himself. Walking through walls was fun at first, scaring people as he randomly popped out or disappeared at the bottom of a dead-end corridor. His silent footfall, disturbing no air as he passed, made creeping up on the unsuspecting so easy. Even Angel, with his super sensitive hearing, couldn’t hear or feel him coming. The recent incident with Pavayne had taught Spike a few new tricks too, and being an apparition was just that bit better now he could move things again. It was not quite touch, in any real way that was tangible – he couldn't feel it after all - but he could hold things if he really wanted to, and he really did. At night he tried to practise focusing his willpower, bending reality around him, so he could connect with the physical plane. It was difficult; Spike had the will, but not the patience to discipline himself to focus hard enough to get results, but although he was a long way from the proficiency that Pavayne had showed over the reality around him, he was making steady progress. He could just about work the telly remote, and that would keep him entertained for an evening, though even that had begun to lose its appeal when all the decent shows were cancelled. He had enough control for a little joke or two at the expense of the Wolfram and Hart employees, and it brightened up this non-existence for a moment or two. He would draw moustaches on the family pictures that littered the desks of the evil lawyers, move small objects to impossible places or hide all the pens - like a disobedient poltergeist with a puckish sense of humour. It filled time, but in the end it was the kind of fun in which Spike could find no amusement. So bored beyond the telling of it, and awake every moment, with no solace to be found in the dreamy oblivion of sleep or fuzzy blur of drink, Spike had hours upon hours to fill. The long nights were the worst, insufferable with no one to talk to or torment until the Poof roused himself in the morning, keeping up his unnatural diurnal unlife. Spike knew he could always leave, explore the city a bit. He didn’t have to hang around these offices, haunting someone he hated, but he couldn't face being seen this way by the demon population of the City of Angels, many of whom were also Sunnydale evacuees. He didn’t want his already tattered reputation to sink still further into mockery.
Spike really needed a purpose again, to give himself something to do, but there wasn’t much call for the spectrally damned. It was the important battles, fighting for the things that mattered, that he missed the most. He’d liked saving the world, minus the flaming bits. He’d enjoyed watching the Slayer’s back as she fought, and it was frustrating to think that there was nothing he could do to help anymore – not even Angel. He couldn’t change anything. He couldn’t get out there and beat the solution to his problem out of someone himself. He had to wait for a girl he hardly knew to work a minor scientific miracle, but only if Angel would stop being a bastard and let her bust him out of this prison of incorporeality. As much as he hated the idea, Wolfram and Hart offered security and the only possible ticket out of this nothingness. He just needed Angel to agree. But however much he wanted to be with Buffy in Europe, there was no way he was ever going to let Angel know just how much or how scared he was that he would never be solid again. He’d let no chink in the Spike armour show so far, except in front of Fred, to encourage her to keep working on his problem, and he had no intention of showing his grandsire that vulnerability.
There were too many questions regarding Spike’s appearance out of the amulet left unanswered. Why was he the one doomed to haunt this Babylon? He wasn’t like Angel, named Champion of the People; he was just a guy trying to do the right thing. Compared to this, he’d been happy to rest. Angel was the one with the mission, supposedly the vampire on the grand journey to redemption. But he looked hardly penitent; living in all the luxury that a stinking rich and evil Law firm could provide. When did Spike, vampire briquette to a world that couldn't stand the sight of him, selfless and sacrificed, get his reward? If sluggishly meandering towards redemption with more than a little reluctance and a curse that took all the pleasure out of the journey, was worth more than the nobility of sacrifice for love, then Spike thought he’d gone wrong somewhere along the damn line. Why did Angel get a prophecy with a reward for doing bugger all, while Spike had fought so damn hard to have his love returned, only to gain a good death?
With these thoughts still in his mind, his angry exit from Angel’s office had eventually led Spike to Fred’s Lab in Wolfram and Hart’s Science Department. That was no surprise, nowadays it seemed that all roads lead back to there at some point. It felt like sanctuary. Here at least he felt welcome, and Fred always had a smile for him. If anyone was going to solve the riddle of the ghostly vampire, Spike had every faith that it was going to be this pretty science girl.
Fred’s team was hard at work when he sauntered inside. A few of her people were hunched over microscopes or cultures of unknown bacterium, while others seemed to be fussing over a demon corpse that was spread out on a gurney. Another group was in deep discussion over a hypothetical theory of the demon’s physiology that Spike had no ability to follow. Absorbed as they were in their conversations or scientific discoveries, no one looked up as he passed, they were all too used to his presence in the lab now to pay him any attention.
At that lack of reaction, and therefore lack of anyone to wind up, Spike sauntered up the short stairs to Fred’s office and leaned nonchalantly against the doorframe, watching as Fred plonked her package onto her desktop.
"How are you doing?" She asked, as she noticed him. She had only just arrived back here herself. She started to hunt around for something sharp to open her box with.
"Okay, I reckon," he shrugged, taking her question as an invitation to come in. He joined her by her desk and leant back against the table.
Fred would be the first to admit that she didn't know Spike very well, but even she could see that all was not well in Spikeland. His pose was meant to look casual, a little cool, but Fred could see the stiff defensiveness in the rigidity of his posture and the hands that were shoved deep into the pockets of his long coat. That was an improvement on his arms being clutched tightly around his chest as they had been when he’d first popped up out of the amulet, she supposed, but he hadn’t relaxed yet and she really couldn’t blame him.
Fred had seen the cocky vampire annoy Angel just for the hell of it, never contradicting Angel's view of Spike as an irritating upstart; but the scared man inside that visited her lab looking for answers or maybe just company, was quite different. She’d thought at first that the pressure of his resurrection and incorporeal state had left the vampire feeling vulnerable. Then she’d surmised that maybe it was because he was missing Buffy, who by all accounts had been the love of his unlife. Both these appeared to be true; she knew he wanted to get to Europe to find his girl again and that he hated being a ghost, but somehow she thought that his sadness ran deeper than that.
Fred was in awe of Spike's achievements. A vampire who had sought out his soul, who had laid down his existence to save the world and for the love of the Slayer, someone who had gone far beyond what was expected of him as a creature of evil. There was something terribly romantic about that. He was a miracle like Angel and yet he wouldn't acknowledge how special this made him. He thought he was just a guy. She didn’t care what Angel said about Spike’s past, he was different now, he had a soul, and she liked him.
“Have you told Buffy yet you’re here?” Fred asked, ripping the box open with a pair of scissors she’d found in a drawer.
“And how am I supposed to do that, pet?” Spike waved an incorporeal hand through the phone on her desk.
“You know, someone here could hook you up with a microphone or something to speak into…”
“Nah. I don’t want her to know I’m like this. Plenty of time for that after you fix me, eh?” Spike gave her a sexy wink, which made her blush, but it was covering a lot of unhappiness.
Spike had been wondering in the days since his resurrection; did he really have a future? When he’d let the flames consume him to save the world and the girl he loved, he’d already made his peace with it. Someone had had to make that sacrifice and in the end he’d wanted to make that gesture, to die like a Champion, to leave the world with a spectacular exit. He hadn’t been prepared for a life after Sunnydale. Nineteen days gone and the world had changed. Now he’d been months as a ghost and Buffy was a lifetime away, still thinking he was dead. He hoped she thought of him fondly and didn’t remember him as the hateful creature he’d once been. But he didn't suppose that anyone had actually grieved for him. He’d died twice now and it was unlikely that anyone ever had mourned his passing. His mother hadn't even known he was dead until he'd risen from the pauper's grave he'd been buried in and had taken her life too. There had been precious few other people left in his life he’d been close to by that point and he doubted any of the Scooby gang had cared enough to spare him a thought or a tear. He'd had his death and he'd had his glory, now what else was there to live for? Angel had his Shanshu to aspire to, but Spike was just hopelessly in love with Buffy Summers, and that turned out to be truly hopeless.
In his last moments, Buffy had said that she loved him, but Spike knew it wasn’t really true. He’d had more than enough time to dwell on that one over the seemingly endless nights, alone with only his dark past for company; an endless replay of everything that had brought him to this place. Love had made him shoot for the stars and each time he'd never believed that he could miss; because he hadn't realised that the arrows he was shooting would never be the right ones. He'd loved and lost, over and over, and he was still alone. He missed Buffy with all the passion with which he had ever loved her. How could he not love her still, when she shone like a beacon in the blackness of his history? She'd set him free from himself, pulling him from the pit, making him a better creature than he’d ever deserved to become. He longed to connect with her again, in even in the smallest way. There’d been a postcard on Angel's desk, a bright glossy photo of Tower Bridge bathed in rare sunshine that Spike had found on his early explorations of Wolfram and Hart. He’d known it was from Buffy, but he couldn’t flip it over to read her words and he doubted that Angel would be inclined to do it for him. Spike had longed to feel the stiff card between his fingers, to maybe catch a lingering trace of her scent in the invisible traces of her fingerprints. She still meant everything to him, and to walk away from that would be unthinkable, even if he was more realistic about his chances with her now. They’d never had much, but every moment he spent apart from her made it all just that little bit worse. It didn’t matter if he never had her; he would rush to her side the minute he made it back to reality, because in the end, he was still her slave. What else could he do? He was drawn to her as if magnetised; her positive to his negative, opposing poles inexorably pulled together against their natures. There was no way though that he wanted Buffy to see him like this, and he’d made quite sure that she wouldn’t. He knew Angel sure as hell wouldn't tell her, and Spike had made it clear to the rest of them that she was not to know until he was ready. They seemed to respect that, although he knew that Fred wanted him to make the call, but as much as he was tempted by her offer to set it up for him, he wasn’t ready for that step just yet.
Not that he would expect Buffy to rush back from her new life in Europe just for him. She would make an effort. He knew she’d soon have Willow researching some witchy way to conjure up a magical solution to his problem, and he had faith in the Red witch's ability to do that, if not her motivation, but he didn't want Buffy’s pity again. No, it was for the best that he didn't drag her back here to save his hide. He’d let Fred work her wonders, and then he’d cut those ties that bound him to Angel and Wolfram and Hart and leave L.A. for good. He knew Europe like the back of his hand after a hundred plus years of carnage. He’d find Buffy easily enough.
There were more important matters in the here and now to attend to. Fred had been going to fix him and had made one good attempt already. It wasn’t her fault that Pavayne had hijacked the party. He could always try a little bit of the old Spike charm to get her motivated again. Two fingers to Angel.
Judging by her blush, Fred wasn’t entirely immune to the charm he was trying to use on her, but she ignored it regardless. “I’m sorry we couldn’t recreate our last attempt, but I’ve still got plenty of ideas,” she pulled an object wrapped in tissue paper out of the box. “This should help.”
“I thought Tall, Dark and Boring wasn’t going to let you help me?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that, he’s just grumpy,” Fred smiled. “This morning didn’t help though.”
“The volume control slipped in my hand,” Spike protested. “I couldn’t get a grip on it again, could I?”
Fred gave him a look over the top of her glasses that said she wasn’t entirely convinced. “Well, maybe if you keep out of his way for a bit. He’s got this conference coming up and he’s finding it a bit stressful.”
“Stressful? He should try closing a Hellmouth.”
She ignored that last comment and unfolded the issue paper, pulling it away from the object it protected. The disc inside was made of a rough metal, possibly bronze, was about the size of a hubcap and slightly convex. It was inlaid with fine strips of gold in a pattern that looked vaguely like a stylised sun and moon against a star field, but it didn’t resemble any night sky that Spike knew.
“This is the Disc of Dangar,” she told him as she held it up for them both to see clearly. “It’s a demonic artefact that’s supposed to be Millennia old. I had to order it from our office in Berlin. There’s a small chance that this is what I need to make you corporeal again, if what they say about it is true.”
“And what would that be?”
“It’s supposed to have matter transmogrifying properties.”
“Transmogri-what?” Spike frowned. “Does it work?”
Fred sat down on the desk and placed the disc between them, tracing a slim finger over the patterns on it. “I’m not sure yet. If it does what it’s supposed to do, then I should somehow be able to channel your energy matrix through the field this will create,” she looked up at him. “I don’t want to get your hopes up too high, in case I can’t do this. I’m right at the edge of experimental science here. This combination of science and magic has never been attempted before. I don’t even know if it can be done. No one in Berlin was ever able to activate the disc; I’m just hoping I can get it to work for us, but I’ll do everything I can for you, I promise.”
“I know you can do it, pet.” Spike told her firmly. He gave her a wide smile, filling her with confidence. “I’m sure your big brain will figure it out.” It wouldn’t be long now, he was sure. Then Buffy would definitely know he was back.
Previous Chapters are here.