This follows after Up, Down, and Strange. If you'd first like to read notes summarizing this previous story, click the second LJ cut.
I feel like this new stuff is a little sparse in places, but I've been trying to write at a relatively fast clip. Anyway, here it is.
A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows
In every man's existence there comes a point when he has to bow out of the fight, lie down in the gutter, and drink till he's immobile, and if there's no gutter handy he shouldn't let that stop him. Spike's suite had a well-stocked bar courtesy of the Grauth, with a rainbow of bottles, all full, except for the ones he'd already emptied. He'd lost count, but he'd started at purple and worked through the spectrum and was at yellow now, which was a fair stride toward pissed.
"It's the same old story," he said to his companion, steadying the bottle against the glass and pouring with care. When he'd filled it brimful, it seemed a shame to drink his accomplishment, so he left it sitting on the rug and took a pull direct from the bottle neck before collaring his thought again. "You love a girl, kill things for her, prat yourself up in a fancy uniform, and what does it get you? You're King Turncoat of the vampire world and she's still mooning over some soulful sod who--"
He broke off, emotion collapsing in on itself, and then snarled and threw the bottle into the fire. It shattered and doused the flames with 110 proof blonde gin. He fucking hated gin.
"Angel," he said in disgust as the flames leapt. "The man's every wank is a tragic opera waiting to happen. Know what his idea of a good time is?" he asked his silent listener, brows rising with the question. "No, you wouldn't. Exactly my point. Probably has some tepid and dreary hobby. Postage stamps. Putting ships in those little bottles."
He contemplated his own fresh bottle of something-or-other and thumbed out its cork. Another long swallow went down smooth but left a trail of fire behind. "Thought she was coming around to me. She said she cared." Vision was shiny, the room a wet shimmer he couldn't quite focus on. "But I know now. I'll always be the replacement."
Blinking a few times, he looked at the ghost. She was sitting cross-legged on the far side of the fire place, in a corner of darkness. Cool eyes in a white face stared unwaveringly at him. Eyes like the little glass beads in the faces of Dru's dolls.
"You might tell a bloke what you're after." He offered her a drink, shrugged when she didn't take it. "Don't know why you hang around. All the entertainment's elsewhere. Why not go haunt His Majesty, King of Pain," he suggested. "There's one gagging for another pound of guilt. Another soul on his bleedin' conscience."
The ghost stared.
"You're no fun at charades," Spike accused, uncurling one finger from the bottle and pointing it at her. "And Twenty Questions is right out." At once seized with another wave of fury, he sent the bottle flying her way. It passed through her and crashed against the wall. "Piss off!" he yelled. And then he slumped and closed his eyes. Sighed as he sank into the dark waters. "Go where you're wanted," he whispered.
"How was it?" Anya asked, interested.
"An, please." Xander had to raise his head from his folded arms to speak, and muster the nerve to look at her. "For once, I beg you, try to imagine a normal girlfriend, and then be that girlfriend. I need you to be angry, not digging for details of--" He broke off, reburied his head, and groaned. His body was a mudslide and he felt as if it could take the entire magic shop with it, collapsing into the bowels of the earth. Yay.
"Your illicit sex with a male vampire? Xander, I'm insulted."
That deserved another effortful look. "That's it? You're insulted?"
"I'm insulted you're underestimating my mad girlfriend skillz. Did you ever stop to think that maybe interrogation is my vengeance?"
"Oh dear god."
She leaned back in her chair, assumed an expectant look, and picked up a cracker from a plate at hand. "Just pretend you're on Jerry Springer," she said brightly. "Tell the viewing audience all about it."
Her tiny cracker-chewing noises unmanned him. It was time to fight dirty and change the subject. "Maybe, some night, years from now, if you get me drunk enough--but right now I need to figure out how to save my parents."
"Why don't you just ask Spike for help? The two of you have a bond now. Bonds create obligations."
"We have *no* bond."
"Well, it's better than asking Willow." Anya was spreading cheese on a cracker, wearing the satisfied expression of a gossip whose guesswork has proved true. "I always knew she couldn't be trusted."
Xander shook his head in confusion, ignoring that remark. "Why would I ask Willow?"
"You mean, why did you?"
"I didn't ask Willow for help. Dawn did."
"Oh. Right." She frowned. "I didn't know Dawn was a lesbian. Did you?"
Xander massaged the sides of his nose, through which he seemed to be breathing in one headache after another. Maybe if he just stopped breathing.
"Dawn is not a lesbian. Willow is not Spike. Spike is not the slayer."
"Speaking of," Anya said. Her tone alerted him, and her face was rewritten with a sympathy that scared him. She gave him a pile of paper. "I've been asked to hand these out to customers."
It was a sketch of Buffy, her eyes blazing off the paper like a warrior princess on the verge of a battle cry. *SLAYER*, the caption read. *Wanted for crimes against the state. 10,000 turgrik in reward for information leading to her capture*.
"I guess I know where I won't be going for help," he said.
He stared at the sketched face and it was as if Spike echoed there a moment, then echoed again as Buffy. The world was supposed to be topsy again but there was a lot of turvy left over, and he remembered the last grazing good-bye of Spike's lips, and looking at Willow with a bone-deep hatred. Who was he supposed to hate and who was he supposed to lean on?
"You should have some crackers before you go," Anya said, and laid one soft little hand over his. And as when you find yourself suddenly slapped, he almost, but didn't quite, cry.
"So that's it. You're get here, toss reality like a salad, and now you're just going to leave." Buffy turned to look at Angel as she challenged him.
He knew he should be focusing on the present drama. How could he? Every memory of her crowded his thoughts and pressed for attention. Her beauty was a distractive music in the room; his reply an absently read script. "You know what will happen if I stay."
"It's a risk, not a certainty. A risk I'm willing to take."
"There's so much good you can do here."
"You have Spike." He couldn't believe he just said that.
"I can't believe you just said that."
"He made a good slayer." He asked her with his eyes to share the joke and the truth behind it.
"Yes. Okay. Yes." She was visibly struggling with that. "But now he's got his old job back, and not to sound all Obi-Wan here, but we need rebel leaders. I can't do this alone."
"You'll have Giles. And I'll get more help to you."
"Assuming you make it out. And remember. And can crack the barrier again."
"I have to go back. I have my own people who need me."
"More than me?" She seemed to shake off that personal argument with impatience, and her voice rose stridently, as if she were sixteen again, living on the cusp of dying. "This is *not* your average apocalypse. This whole town is going under."
"If I don't go back, the whole universe could end."
"What is this, a game? Your straight beats my flush?"
"Actually--" He rethought the wisdom of explaining poker rules during a fight. "Never mind." He stepped closer, saw her tense, and stopped short. "If I could stay, I would. You know that."
Lines of defeat surfaced in the angles of her neck and shoulders, as if drawn forth by the eternally sketching pencil in his mind. Every image in his heart's sketch-book was of her. He couldn't imagine finding those pages blank again. He couldn't forget her, and for just a moment it was impossible--he couldn't go, he could never leave her again.
Then she turned away, her resignation making her angry, hopeless, as if he'd already left. "I guess we'd better get ready."
Giles wiped his bloody hands off on a towel and tried to pretend, by not looking directly at the refugee sprawl behind him, that no one else needed help. He felt he could sustain that fiction for at least long enough to eat something.
"Kind of gets you, doesn't it." Oz was eating a bowl of corn and, despite his comment, behaving as if all this were perfectly normal. Giles envied his aplomb, especially given how he'd been plucked from some distant square of the chessboard and dropped here.
"Yes," he said. "It does." He sat down tiredly, and then looked at the boy again. "How have you been?"
"Good. Did you know that a Tibetan monk has the ability to consume an evil spirit and hold it captive?"
"I--I believe I may have heard something like that." Startled, his interest whetted, he asked the only possible question. "Are you saying that you're no longer a werewolf?"
"It's been a year now."
Giles absorbed this. "Yet you didn't return to Sunnydale," he noted, keeping his words gentle to avoid any accusatory note. It was none of his business, of course, but he was curious.
"Kathmandu is the new Seattle. I had a band. We'd just gotten this kicking pi-wang fiddler." He paused. "What about you?"
"I've been re-indexing the council's library of demonic texts and preserving them on microfiche."
"You can't get much more fun than microfiche."
"It's like being on the receiving end of dentistry," Giles said, with a depth of distaste that had materialized since his return to Sunnydale. Memory recovered and finding himself in the thick of it again, he realized how desperately bored he'd been.
"At least with dental work, you've got the hand puppets to distract from the pain."
"Actually," Giles hesitated with head inclined, "I don't think hand puppets are typical of the profession."
"Huh." Oz frowned. "Now I'm disturbed."
"Strange." Giles had absently picked up a can of green beans and was thumbing the label. "I remember so well everything that happened--the invasion, going into hiding. As if I'd never left Sunnydale. If one were to use microfiche as an example, it's as if two entirely different plates had been overlaid." He paused, took a breath. "That was a tragic simile."
"Hey," Dawn said, coming up to the table. "Have you guys seen that woman with the anti-demon petition? They're saying she's missing."
Oz shot Giles a look. "I don't want to panic anyone, but those Burthak demons were eating some dodgy-looking stew earlier."
"Perhaps we should look for the bones."
"Yay!" Dawn said, bouncing on the balls of her feet. "Scavenger hunt!" When the others looked at her she adjusted her shoulders rather defiantly. "Oh come on. Like you weren't thinking that."
Knocking on the door of Spike's hotel suite wasn't like knocking on the door of a desecrated crypt. The glossy oak and shiny brass room number made Xander feel even scruffier than usual, like a black-sheep cousin slinking by for a loan.
A furry red demon in a butler's suit opened the door and gazed at him as if the meat delivery had arrived and the meat was on the turn.
"Nice horn section," Xander said, looking up at its looming brow. "Spike in?"
"Captain Aurelius is not at home." The red dust-mop had a forbidding voice to match its horns, and yet Xander had to fight a strange urge to pet it, the kind of urge you get when you've had a little too much weed and the shag rug starts to rub suggestively against you. Eight years of knowing the demons for what they were and sometimes, still, the Muppets looked friendly.
"Is that the American not-at-home, or the British not-at-home-to-visitors not-at-home?"
The demon shut the door in his face. Xander gave it a moment, then knocked louder. When the door opened again, he said, "The captain would want to see me."
"Indeed?" Red Fur did an impressive Spock imitation.
"Yeah. Maybe he hasn't mentioned me. Xander. Harris. He pays me for certain services." He'd only meant snitching, but after the words were said, the second entendre struck and he realized he would never again have a life innocent of subtext. "Information," he added. "He pays me for information, and I'd appreciate it if you'd pretend to believe that."
After a pause that might have encompassed a full FDA drug review, the butler stepped back and held the door open. "It is my job to recollect all visitors, sir," he said in what sounded like faint reproach. "Sir is remembered from his last visit."
"My last visit. Right. That would be my visit before this. Just out of curiosity, was I a seventeen-year-old girl at the time?"
The butler passed him with a long-suffering look and ushered him into a large room whose furniture loomed like grey icebergs in a sea of shadows. A fire burned and Xander could see parts of Spike--head, one shoulder, sprawled legs--behind the edge of an armchair. He was sitting on the floor among a collection of bottles. Red Fur melted away, leaving them alone. Xander wasn't even sure Spike knew he was there.
Reality was being shifty again, flipping back and forth between canon and stories that shouldn't exist, with dialogue and plotlines and images--terrible, wrong images--that he rejected. He'd always regretted the destruction of the DC multiverse; now, post-personal crisis, he got why it had to be done. When you had too many Supermans, history began to blur and contradict itself and you remembered what you'd never done.
"Didn't expect to see you...ever." Since Spike hadn't actually turned to see him, it was one of those metaphorical sees, and Xander was just as happy to avoid eye contact. "Come to finally scratch that itch of yours?"
"Let's be clear: I have *no* itch that involves you."
"Meant killing me."
"Oh. That itch." This wasn't playing well. Talking to the slump of Spike's shoulders from two yards away reminded Xander of too many one-sided conversations with his dad. And it made him wonder what he was doing here, trying to save one grim old bastard with the help of another. Was that all it came down to, preserving the status quo of your own life, even when it was only marginally less miserable than an invasion of demons?
"I'm just picking up where things left off before Angel's tilt-a-whirl." Xander pushed his unbusy hands in his pockets and felt the pistol tucked in the small of his back, souvenir of their break-in at Lady Elked's, shift against his belt. "I need your help. My parents--"
"Ghettos." Spike's hand lifted into view holding the neck of a bottle; he started to take a pull, then left off, lowering his hand again. "Don't know why you're bothering. You all die in the end."
Once he would have leapt for Spike, punched the shit out of him if only to release some of his own pent-up fears and frustrations. Now everything that people said or did seemed to be filtered through special 3D lenses, one red, the other green, and that double-vision superimposed two worlds of thought. Xander couldn't take the glasses off.
"I know. But I have to keep them alive as long as I can. It's a son thing."
As if with some arrested thought Spike's head lifted and he almost looked back over his shoulder. Xander could see his profile now, unreadable. "Guess that's so."
"So you'll help."
Spike rose to his feet, looking not so much unsteady as tired, though he tipped a bottle over on its side with one stray boot nudge. "Said I would, didn't I."
Not to me, Xander thought, but of course that didn't really matter.
Notes on Up, Down, and Strange
The refugees, wounded from the Imperial Work Center are in the Initiative. The attack on the camp was considered a rebel attack. The tunnels are being scoured by Imperial Army troops, blasting the tunnels to cave them in. The Initiative, which is under the officer's club, is safe--it won't be blown up because of its location. Where are the refugees going to go? everyone wonders. Jonathan, Dawn, Buffy, Giles, Angel, Oz, and Marcos & Dor & Kethas are at Initiative as we open next story.
Civil defense barrier has been compromised by the arrival of Angel, Giles, and Spike. Colonel Naziren of Special Forces has a new relationship with Liyoge. Nilec wants to know how Naziren has been exploiting Spike's relationship with the Slayer. Naziren: "We thought the slayer dead." Not the case. Nilec's men go to collect Willow ("Spike") for questioning while Dawn ("Xander") was there, trying to bargain to get the Harrises out of the ghettos.
Tara ("Anya") was running the Magic Box. Giles ("Tara") was at the Peacock club as a spy, to gather intelligence, more or less at Buffy's request. Major Strauch has a thing for Tara. Rosa is helping Tara and starting to feed her black powder.
Buffy ("Giles") and Angel ("Willow") worked on the wynariver. It was figured out that Mount Siliyik is being used to mine rubies to power the wynarivers. Angel had forgotten Buffy (as had Giles) because he was outside the bubble of Sunnydale, remembers her when he crosses over, forgets her when the universe is shaken up, and remembers her again when the wynariver is briefly activated. The crux of the universe's identity shake-up: Angel is a catalyst for a kind of quantum chaos, which was being kept under control by a spell--the spell failed within city limits. When they power the wynariver, it allows magic, and thus the spell, to resume.
Willow ("Spike") is playing a dangerous game. Naziren: "We can give you the spell keys to bypass the wynarivers. You'd be an Imperial warlock, far stronger than before." Willow believes that magic is the only thing that will win back Sunnydale, and defeat the Grauth. She conspires with the Grauth to put human citizens at risk for execution so that Spike ("Buffy" the slayer) will turn himself in. Her plan is to get her magic back, after which she will rescue him. Unfortunately, when trying to manipulate events, she gets people killed.
Xander ("Angel") and Spike steal Lady Elked's ruby to power the wynariver. Also, they took her blackmail letters, whatever they are; Xander has them. Before all this occurred, he was knifing Grauth, driven by his hatred and the angst of being tortured, and had gotten chummy though tense with Spike. Eventually, the wynariver is re-powered and the universe resumes its normal path.
Spike got to have sex with both Willow and Xander. Go, Spike. Slayers pull all the trim.