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 Post subject: Pretty Vacant - Teen
PostPosted: Mon May 01, 2006 3:43 pm 
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Joined: Sun Oct 16, 2005 12:19 pm
Posts: 102
Location: Nottingham, UK
Title: Pretty Vacant
Author: Aissy
Completed: 29/04/06 (started: 04/03/06)
Fandom: AtS (borderline BtVS)
Rating: Teen
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters in this stor-- Hey, wait a minute, I actually own most of the characters in this story. The rest of them – they know who they are – belong to Joss Whedon, as does the universe in which I’ve endeavoured to fit this little tale. I have also borrowed the title, it’s not my creation, Google it if it doesn’t ring a bell.
Word count: 10,468 (sorry... when I'm not restricted by challenge rules, I'm out of control ;))


<center> PRETTY VACANT
</center>

He awoke into a nightmare. He couldn’t feel his body. Yet all his senses were acute. Sight. A quick-clearing, blurry – from the slumber – black light, shrinking his pupils to a dot, making his weightless eyelids blink. Touch. The air compressed every inch of his body. This body he couldn’t quite perceive. He had a reflex to feel the pain of burn, of raw flames licking his mortal coil to a cinder. Of skin crackling. But it was ice that was making him shudder. The frozen clinging of the North wind he had known as a boy. Except this wind wasn’t going anywhere. Taste. The buds on the back of his tongue were layered with a rank, thin paste of mould. And, piercing through it, the watering welled. The watering for the bathing of his mouth in warm, gushing, enveloping, reviving blood. Still. Ever.

Smell. A distantly familiar whiff of being scolded by Master Prendergast for scribbling poetry in Chemistry class, while he really couldn’t afford to woolgather during the lesson on… hydrogen sulphide. Sulphur. God. Oh God. Sulphur. Finally, hearing.

‘Welcome to Hell.’

Some saliva forced its way past the knot in his throat and a muttering escaped his gritted teeth. ‘Aw bloody hell.’

‘Precisely.’

He looked around to gauge his interlocutor. All he could see was the black light, and that was stinging his eyes when stared at so he closed them and relied on his ears to judge the voice, which didn’t, in any case, come from anywhere he could pinpoint. So far it hadn’t sounded off any specific mood, just a loud, nasal, creepy hellish voice, not unlike Jerry Springer’s. But with a BBC accent. ‘I knew this would happen.’

‘Yeah, we all did. This is hardly a surprise for anyone, William.’

He was sure his eyebrows would have risen at the name. Damned if he let anyone, big scary voice or no, be that flippant. ‘Name’s Spike,’ he taunted.

The voice blew up. Not loudness, not in his ears, just sheer unpleasantness, not distinctively anywhere, just nasty stuff. ‘Not to me, it’s not!’ Followed by an old classic: a punch in the nose. But electrical. Okay, the Voice could hurt. All over. He shivered. This dew squashing his absent chest, the space tightening around, the scarce oxygen… It was unbearable. He suffocated. Silly, when you think about it. He’d not needed air for, like, ever. ‘You and I go back to when you were christened. I believe you went by William at your christening, didn’t you? Before the whole evil absurdity!’

He interpreted his body to be writhing in agony. ‘Fine. “William”. “Billy-Boy”. “Punching Bag”. Whatever makes you happy. What’s gonna happen to me?’

‘Sorry, was that a question?’ The emphasis on the word spoke volumes.

He could still speak, despite the grimace of pain most likely stretching his facial muscles. ‘Er… Do you want it to be a question? I mean, no! No, it wasn’t. Unless I’m allowed to ask without you shock-waving me senseless.’

‘Actually, no, you’re not.’

‘Okay. That’s settled then.’ He thought of a way to sidestep -- ‘I assume I’m in for a whole lot of torment-fun.’ He waited for confirmation. Too long. The Voice was scheming. ‘That wasn’t a question,’ he hastily highlighted.

‘I know. I went to Grammar School too, you know. Before it even existed. Don’t be cheeky.’

Pins and needles nested in his left eye and he had a brief thought for Xander. ‘I can’t be cheeky, I can’t ask questions, I’d be very surprised if swearing’s not frowned upon… This conversation’s gonna be a pickle.’

‘You can listen and learn and think. Sounds like the kind of conversation you should’ve had more often. Perhaps you wouldn’t have ended up here.’

He knew there should be flames at some point. These were crumbling his ribcage. ‘The listening part I can do. The thinking and learning… I can’t promise anything in this much soddin’ discomfort. And the not trying to find out what’s going on… That’s just plain unrealistic.’ The Voice breathed in. ‘I know: cheeky. One hundred and twenty odd years of old habits die hard.’

‘Right!’ thundered the Voice, clearly angered. ‘Somehow, you’ve managed to negotiate! I am a trained professional, I’ve dealt with dozens of residents before, and somehow, you’ve managed to get the upper hand! How did that happen?’

A buzzing entered one of his ears, whirled around his brain for a moment and lingered in his other ear. ‘I have no idea.’

‘Because you’re all: “ooh, I can’t learn in this much pain”, boo-hoo, you big girl’s blouse! That’s why! So now I’m having to stop the torture because I have priorities!’

‘Well, you know what they say! You… gotta do what you gotta do!’ he winced.

‘Okay. I’m gonna turn off the torment for a bit. Then we’re gonna have a chat. Then I’m gonna have to turn it back on. Is that understood?’

He felt a crack in his airy pelvis. Kicked in the nads by a cloud boot. ‘Y—Yeah!’

‘“Yes, sir”,’ the Voice demanded calmly.

‘Oh, whatever!’ Spike yelled, exasperated. ‘Yes, sir! For God’s sake!’

‘For what’s sake?’ the Voice yelled back, outraged, still not turning anything off.

His heart was stabbed by a sharp, thick, immaterial wooden stake. He gasped and anticipated the dissolution of his flesh into tiny particles. It began, purely for the sake of pain, then stopped, to re-form his ectoplasmic tissue. Laws of physics: it couldn’t happen again. Only the best people die twice.

He took a while – or possibly longer, time was an uncertain luxury down here – to regain his senses after the scare. What? What was the question? Concentration was just not gonna happen if he kept getting staked. Oh yeah, the swearing bit.

‘For goodness’ sake!’ he corrected reluctantly. ‘This is hell.’

‘Don’t I know it!’ gibed the Voice.

A cool breeze swept through his atrophied lungs, putting out the pain. The buzzing gave way to silence. The black light dimmed, to become just black. Even the taste of mould subsided. There was still pressure on his body, a feeling of enclosure, but that was bearable. He sucked in all the peace he could grab; the relief would be orgasmic. I.e. short-lived. The Voice had made it clear. This was only a fag-break in his perpetuity down t’ pit.

He already hated the Voice. With its “yes, sirs” and its “no questions” and its taser slaps. He could think of a whole list of questions. Starting with “Do you know where you can stick your eternal torment?”. Now he was being granted a breath, the Voice was gonna get a piece of his mind. ‘Thank you…’ he sighed.

‘Pleasure. I don’t… enjoy this. Believe it or not. I have very strict orders.’

‘Wasn’t that the catchphrase at Nuremberg?’ he ventured, panting his recovery.

‘Don’t. William. Don’t go there. You’re making human assumptions about… laws that are widely beyond your grasp. Just know that… I love you.’

Yup, definitely Hell. ‘You what?’ he queried disgustedly.

‘Not that way, you pillock! The way you love a little baby that’s been put into your care, that you’ve nurtured, watched grow, laugh and cry, that you’ve guided through tough choices and hardships, that you’ve cherished and los--’

‘Aww!’ he interrupted. ‘I haven’t the foggiest what you’re on about. But if I did I’d be weeping by now. In fact… Yes, I can feel a tear in my eye… Wait… No… that must be the bleedin’ thorns you stuffed in there!’ he growled.

The Voice was quiet. He’d finally brought it down a peg or two.

‘I do not find it funny and I DID NOT FIND IT FUNNY WHEN I LOST YOU!’ it bawled. Oops. One well pissed off Voice. ‘You were mine! I looked after you, I took extremely good care of you, and you were a handful, let me tell you! And then, just when I was gonna get so many more years out of you… You buggered off. No goodbyes, no cards. No hope of ever catching up. Gone. Poof. Years of devoted love only to watch you walk away!’

Spike was aware of shaking his head with lack of understanding. ‘You’ve lost me.’

‘ANGEL!’ the Voice bellowed impatiently.

‘Er…’ Spike reflected. ‘Not quite. Almost the same, but in much much less poofy, much much more athletically ideal, and much much less broodily stern-bowed useless.’

The Voice had a loud sigh of aberration. ‘Guardian-type one,’ it despairingly specified.

‘Oh. Ohhh,’ Spike registered. ‘You? M—Mine? Oh, I’m getting the christening ref now.’

‘That’s when you were allocated to me. I didn’t let you out of my sight after that. Well, not for very long spells, anyway. You know. I didn’t watch you 24/7, fellow’s gotta have a life outside work, I’m not that sad. I mean, I did my best but you can’t expect me to be there every minute of every night of every living life. And I did have other projects besides you. We normally get about four at any one time; I had to share my attention evenly. So don’t you go thinking you’re the centre of the universe, will you?’

The centre of the universe. The words echoed. Sometimes, the magma at the centre of the universe overflowed and it spewed out evil through a crack in the surface. Its demon lava dribbled out, immersing all life under its igneous ending, spuming out and splattering till all existence around was dust, all beauty was killed, for miles on end around the crack. Around the gaping mouth. That’s what, sometimes, the centre of the universe did. That’s why he’d made the journey here. To save the centre of his universe.

‘Don’t worry. I’ll start questioning the angel-watch pecking order when I’ve run out of complete and utter confusion about this place. And, apologies, I know you’re not big on questions, but if you want me to learn… whatever it is you want me to learn, I’m gonna need to understand.’

‘I know. I’m gonna be in trouble for turning off the torment anyway so… Ask to your heart’s content.’

‘Too kind. Okay, starting from the start. Why am I here?’

‘Are you kidding?’ the Voice snapped. ‘I’m still not big on the cheek, by the way.’

‘No, I know, okay: lean mean killing machine. Over a century’s worth of drinking people to death’s bound to earn me a spot here. I dig that. But… Well, I seem to remember a certain Hellmouth. Which a certain vampire sacrificed himself to close. That’s why we’re having this very conversation. Otherwise I’d still be up there, minding my own business and not chitchatting with some Hell’s angel. But I opted out, took the deadness road instead. That’s gotta win me a few points. Surely. Doesn’t it?’ he prompted, doubtful.

‘Hmm-hmm,’ the Voice granted casually. ‘That’s why you’re here.’

‘Huh!’ Spike objected. ‘I’m being punished for saving millions of lives? Havin’ me on, you are!’

‘No. That’s why you’re here,’ the Voice insisted. ‘And not in the permanent corner.’

Hope felt different these days. Many, many years ago, it would have shot inside your heart and stomped it upwards into the chest. Nowadays it attacked the stomach. Squished it ball-shaped every single time. Even now that it wasn’t squishable.

‘Keep talking,’ the vampire coaxed gingerly, not quite daring to hear it.

‘Well, here’s how it goes. A mini, condensed, abridged, and extremely simplified summary because we haven’t got all day. Someone’s got some being-in-unbearable-pain to do.’ Spike both rolled his eyes and shut them tight. ‘Forget the palette of greys. That’s nice and pretty but applies strictly to the mortals’ world. Over here, things are much more black and white. When a human being is born, it’s up for grabs. You’ve got us one side, the Powers, aka Powers That Be, aka, just so it’s easier for your limited human brain to grasp, the guardian angels, who form but one tiny section of the whole of the PTB staffing. And you’ve got them the other side, the Forces, as in Forces of Darkness, who also have their own recruitment team. We have very strict rules as to who belongs to whom. Both sides fight like maniacs for the ownership of the little human being. When the latter is given a name, it labels its soul. Our side basically gets dibs on it. Henceforth, we both keep tabs. Our side and theirs. We record all the good deeds, they record all the bad ones. The idea is to have enough deeds on file to gain the rights to the soul when the candidate… arrives. So, usually, if they can prove that the person was evil enough to commit certain sins or a certain amount of sins, they win. We lose the soul to their side. Obviously, being the Forces of Scumness – as we call them in the office – their aim is to torture their belongings. Which they do. For eternity. So, the whole thing’s normally quite straight forward, given the basic nature of you people. It’s usually pretty clear, right from the preliminary hearing, which side a soul is owned by. But occasionally, there’s a glitch.’

Instinctively, Spike knew that this speech was very important. So he did try his best to pay all his attention to it. But while he listened and learnt, he also did that other thing the Voice had suggested he do: think. And for some reason, as he was being acquainted with his new environment and the only dwelling he’d know from now on, when he should have wiped out all traces of anything else, moved on, when he should have focused on the painful events ahead and no more on the painful events past… it’s a relic of his old home that came invading his mind, that he kept shushing but that kept creeping back. “Did she make it?” it repeated in a disruptive murmur. “Did she make it?”

‘Are you listening to me?’

‘Why, yeah! This is… crucial stuff. What makes you think I’m not?’

‘Because I know you,’ the Voice remarked. ‘What was I saying?’

‘“Glitch”,’ Spike answered, not having a clue what preceded in the sentence. ‘See?’

‘All right,’ mumbled the Voice, unconvinced. ‘Occasionally, there’s a glitch. So, instead of boring you with the whys and wherefores of all possible glitches, I’m gonna make it more eloquent to you by relating a little personal anecdote. Ready?’

‘Snug as a thug on a drug,’ Spike sneered.

‘Right. I’m transposing this into human context for you, otherwise you just wouldn’t make heads or tails of it, okay? The year is 1880, the place, little north of here. I’m having a bite with the lads, we decided to finish work early because everything looked quiet and we’ve all got our pagers in case of an emergency, so we hit the local where we’ve been watching a game of pistol duel in New England. We’ve each had a bet because one of the parties is assigned to one of us, so there’s a lot at stake here, either he dies and our side’s gonna be one soul the richer very soon, or he lives, in which case he’s a killer and our mate’s got his work cut out trying to retain the property of his soul in a few years. So it’s quite intense, as you can imagine. As the handkerchief drops, my pager starts blaring, deafening the whole pub, everybody’s staring, and before I can put it on vibrate, the landlord kicks me out, telling me that I’ve obviously other business to attend to than disturb his patrons. Fortunately, two of my colleagues followed me out to offer to help because I didn’t know what the heck was going on, my pager had never been that berserk before so I was panicking somewhat. But I guessed what it was. I had a girl in Austria-Hungary, Minka, whose husband abused her and she’d been considering poisoning him. She’d probably laid her hand on a little foxglove and I must stop her quick, before she acted out. So I open a window onto her. She’s in bed, fast asleep and my pager starts flaring a red light. So I look at it and it’s going, in big red flashing letters, “William”, “William”, “William”, “William”, “William”. So I open a window onto you. And I freak. Because you’re there, your back against a wall, and there’s this animal, no soul, nothing, very very close to your neck. She’s just about to bite, she’s a vampire, and I’m paralysed. My mates shake me, they’re yelling, “Talk to him! Talk to him!” And the vampire sinks her fangs into your neck. But I haven’t yet lost you, so I start screaming, top of my lungs, “William! Don’t do it! Don’t do it! Please don’t do it!” Then I watch helpless as the demon runs a nail across her bosom, drawing her own blood. I’m kind of trembling by now, but I carry on screaming and screaming, begging you, then ordering you not to do it. But you didn’t listen,’ the Voice concluded sadly.

‘I didn’t hear,’ Spike defended himself, oddly genuinely touched by the emotion of the Voice’s voice. It didn’t reply. ‘I didn’t hear, all right? I’m the victim, here! I got bit!’ he shouted insistently.

‘You didn’t “get bit”, William! Don’t give me that poor innocent casualty BS! I don’t buy it! You didn’t “get bit”. Werewolves “get bit”. Vampires drink off their sire, they turn themselves into vampires. So she pressed your lips against her blood! You’re the one who swallowed it! You drank her because you wanted her, you wanted to be like her! You listened to her call, rather than mine.’

‘I didn’t hear,’ Spike reiterated sulkily.

‘Yeah. Though you heard me well enough when I had my muse hat on and whispered rhymes to you. Anyway!’ it changed subject authoritatively. ‘That wasn’t even the glitch. That was just one of the tragedies we’re put through now and then. I just wanted you to realise how much of a tragedy it was. I lost you instantly. That’s the whole point. If you had just “got bit”, it would’ve been all right. Vampire victims are not lost to us. We catch their souls on arrival. Yours was stolen by the Forces before we had a chance to fight for it. The minute you drank off Drusilla, William, you disappeared off the planet as far as I was concerned. There was no possibility of communication, of my having any sort of influence on your… unlife, but more importantly, of my ever getting you back. You belonged to them. End of story. I was upset for a while, humiliated, as well, then I made my peace. I had another three to take care of, then I was allocated a replacement for you; life goes on, you know. The “incident” did go on my permanent record but hey,’ the Voice sort of reproached.

That was all well and good, but what the hell was he doing here? He wanted out. Away from this grip his vacuous body was in. If he wasn’t here permanently, then he was being transferred to the other side, and if they were happy to transfer him, there was a chance she’d made it. If they let him into Heaven, it must be because he’d saved her. Because then, thanks to him, she’d be able to carry on working for them fighting evil. Which would surely look good on his résumé. Or maybe, she hadn’t made it. He’d failed, hadn’t died hard enough, which would be why he’d landed a stop-over in tortureville. That would really be bollocks. If she’d died. He could definitely do with asking…

‘How did you like my little anecdote?’ the Voice asked, startling him out of his musing.

‘Er, yeah, not bad. The main character’s kind of cool. I’m seeing De Niro. Although we should really have a Hollywood ending. That depressing one’s gonna kill us at the box office.’

‘Well, no, that’s the stupid thing about this story! That’s not even the end! That’s like the… monochrome flashback at the beginning. Then you get a fade-in and the next shot is all in colour, with the date in white letters at the bottom. “May 2002, Guardian Angels Head Office, Room B203” Close on me. I’m having a coffee. I take my eyes off my fourteen-year-old Byelorussian drug dealer, Vladik, for a minute, to write in his file “followed my advice not to knife the kiosk lady for some cigarettes” but I know he’s going to be hard work. I take a peek at Magali, my middle-aged waitress in the South of France, for a break. She’s met a guy on the internet, she’s got a huge crush but he’s fifteen years her junior and she’s wondering if it’s going anywhere. I’m not brilliant at that sentimental rubbish so I just tell her to go with her heart. It’s worked for her in the past so I can’t be that hopeless. Then I check up on Hannah, my student at Glasgow University. Now, she’s been giving me a headache. She’s been mixing with some harmless cult, supposedly a vegan tree-saving society, but then how come three of them are vengeance demons? So I’ve been trying to talk her out of this cult for the past couple of weeks but she’s being stubborn. But right now she’s in class, yawning at her Faulkner, and frankly, I don’t blame her. My door opens and my assistant informs me that I’m wanted over in Allocations, where my boss awaits me. Now, I’ve already got my quota of four to watch over so that can mean one of two things. Either one of my four has just passed on, or I’m being promoted to five-watch status, which is quite big. Either way, I can’t wait to meet this new little baby I’ve got. First thing my boss says, “I’ve got good news and bad news.” Don’t know about you but that tends to kill my joy slightly. “The good news is, you’re getting an extra soul,” he explains, which I kind of guessed. “The bad news is, it’s not a promotion. It’s not a new project, it’s not an adorable little cooing virgin territory. It’s some old, tear-your-hair-out, bang-your-head-against-the-wall, hara-kiri-yourself-with-your-own-feathers, unfinished business. It’s William.”’

‘Easy on the compliments.’

‘What the flippin’ heck was that all about?’ demanded the Voice. ‘You’re at a huge, crowded, World Cup football game and you get your wallet pinched. You really, really don’t expect to get it back all intact with all the money in, one hundred and twenty two years later! One of your souls gets nicked like that, through vampirisation, you just never get it back. I mean, that almost never happens!’

‘Well, guess I’ve never been one for fitting in.’ So that was why he wasn’t here forever? Because he’d got his Voice its soul back? That was daft, that was. We all knew whom his soul really belonged to. Maybe still did. If she was still live and kicki-- ‘Hey, can I ask another question? Sir?’ he added, guessing that the question wouldn’t go down well.

‘No. I’m not finished. That, believe it or not, still wasn’t the glitch.’

‘Oh? The glitch why I’m here temporarily?’ Spike ventured, trying to sneak a confirmation.

‘Did I say you were here temporarily?’ the Voice countered.

Spike’s hope exited the stomach and went up to his throat, pulling the walls of it towards the middle. ‘No,’ he conceded despondently.

‘Oh. My bad. I should have. Sorry. You’re here temporarily.’ Okay, the Voice was messing him about. Spike wasn’t having any of it. He was officially going to… sulk. ‘Are you going to let me explain why?’

‘Yes, sir,’ he grumbled.

‘Right. I want you to listen very carefully. It’s very important that you understand everything, take it all in, okay? So you focus. This is what matters now, nothing else. I need your undivided attention. It’s absolutely imperative.’

‘Lecture away. Wait! Any chance of popcorn and a can of blood?’ he teased. ‘It’s just that it’s dead stuffy in here. You know. With all the flames and… brimstone…’ The Voice wasn’t amused. ‘Worth a try.’ He turned over in his Hell, trying for the least uncomfortable position, so the pressure around wouldn’t interfere with his concentration.

The Voice took a deep breath. ‘We got wind of the situation in Sunnydale. The whole First bugaboo. Partly because I was watching your every move, but also because other sections of the Powers were on it. And we feared it was all gonna go pear-shaped this time. It just looked like no matter how hard, how bravely you all fought, the Forces would get the better of you. I mean, we still had faith in you lot. But we know what they’re capable of. And it kept getting worse and you were struggling. More than usual. So, lest we should be right and the whole thing should go to pot, we decided not to take any chances and to secure our most valuable treasure. It was too precious. We couldn’t face losing that soul. So we dug out the one object at our disposal, which has been used but a few times in history to that effect: the Seraphic Soul Container. Once in the Container, the soul is entrapped and cannot fall into the wrong hands because the Container can only be opened by us. It was the surest way to do it. So we had to devise a plan for the SSC to reach Sunnydale. We dropped it in Los Angeles, taking the precaution to leave it well in sight in the most obvious of the Forces’ hangouts, thus ensuring they would pass it right on to one of our fighters, thinking it would be detrimental to him. It wasn’t too hard to mail it there, by the way, it’s not very big. It kind of looks like an amulet. So the Container was dropped, then taken to Sunnydale and left exactly where we wanted it, with the bearer of our soul. So far, all went according to plan. This is where the cookie started crumbling. What we hadn’t accounted for is that… lovers are idiots!’

‘Hang on a sec. Sorry to interrupt. But the Container is the amulet? Well then… Hang on a sec,’ Spike repeated, making a million connections. ‘The amulet was handed to Buffy!’

‘Well, duh!’ cried the Voice. ‘Whose soul did you think I was on about? Whose soul do you reckon I would describe as “our most valuable treasure”? Yours? Must I remind you of the century’s worth of drinking people to death? Not to mention the rest! Must I remind you of the cruelty with which you killed those two Slayers? Must I remind you of your music taste?’

‘No!’ begged the vampire. ‘I told you earlier! I know I belong in Hell! At least for a bit. I accept it. It’s gonna be a bastard but I was expecting to have to stop at the checkout at some point. I understand that. What I don’t understand is… Why would you need a Container to secure Buffy’s soul? Surely, if she died, her soul would beam it straight to Heaven, right? It would come straight to you lot. Wouldn’t it?’

‘Well, you would think so, wouldn’t you? The amount of good she’s done… Trouble is, it’s not as simple as that. They have a claim on her. The Forces. They have a claim on her soul, and it’s quite substantial. So we couldn’t chance it. Once a soul’s in Hell, it’s very complicated to get it out. By bagging her soul in mid-flight we were making sure we’d have her before the trial. That way it would be up to them to fight for custody. Otherwise, because of the claim, they would have been entitled to hold her in their waiting room, under their conditions of handling and use, until we compiled a defence and got her back. We were just trying to stall so she wouldn’t have to go through… well, this. It’s not uncommon a practice.’ Spike’s head was buzzing. Not artificially. How could she possibly have deserved Hell? ‘Of course, that implies that the very soul we’re trying to spare from hellfire doesn’t “pass” on our offer of a lift to Heav--’

‘Are you bloody taking the piss?’ the vampire provoked. ‘No way in hell is Buffy destined for Hell! What “claim” is that you’re yakking about? That’s balls! Whatever it is! There’s been a mistake somewhere. You must have her confused with the other selfless world-saving hero!’

The Voice sighed. ‘Look,’ it started in a low voice, ‘I am not at liberty to discuss Buffy’s case with you. Whatever happens to her from now on is no concern of yours, all right? You must concentrate on --’

‘But someone's cocked up somewhere!’ Spike cried, not about to drop the subject. ‘Check her file! Check under “evil asses kicked”!’

‘Buffy’s file is none of your business! You have enough to worry about with your own destination! Okay?’ Spike didn’t reply. He was beyond sulking by now. ‘Right. So, let’s carry on with your case, shall we? What I was about to explain is tha--’

‘Turn it back on!’

What?’

‘It’s buggered! Your justice system! It’s knackered and I’ll have nothing more to do with it. I don’t wanna know. Turn the torment back on!’

The Voice went silent. Spike flinched expectantly.

‘What is this, a paddy?’ it finally observed. ‘Are you for real? You are the most ill disciplined project I’ve ever had!’ It evidently considered obliging its guest, as it got quiet again. ‘You are lucky I’m good, I’ll tell you that for nothing.’ There was definite vexation in its sigh. ‘I’ll tell you about the claim. But in return, you will be on your best behaviour and mind what I have to say to you.’

‘Deal.’

‘I never told you any of this, all right?’ the Voice hinted. ‘Buffy’s a special soul. She’s worked on our side for so long, and she’s done her job so skilfully, she deserves the best pad on our plot… Which is exactly what we gave her. She had everything. Free refills of pleasure shots of all varieties, endless supply of serenity, unlimited love credits, and, last but not least, very hard to come by privilege, a constantly open window onto the mortals she used to care for. Afterlife of Riley, hers was. But that wasn’t good enough. She said thanks but no thanks, slammed the door in our faces, and cleared off back to existence in the flesh. Well, we’re normally exceptionally tolerant but we were less than impressed with that little stunt. Bad, bad faux pas. The higher Powers don’t take kindly to ungratefulness. So that constitutes a claim. And guess who jumped at the chance to reopen their file on her? That’s right, my friend: the Forces.’

‘Yeah but hold on right there. That wasn’t her doing! The whole coming-back-to-life deal. That was the result of a spell cast by the people who couldn’t bear it without her. It was their fault! Don’t see why she should be answerable for a crime she had no part in. She never chose to --’

‘Oh please! Hey,’ the Voice noticed, side-tracked, ‘I’m starting to get an insight into your relationship with the concept of responsibility, William. Quite an eye-opener, this chat. You “got bit” and Buffy “got undeaded”. Fascinating, really. GET REAL A MINUTE, WILL YOU?’ it snapped testily. ‘Do you honestly think, if a spell was all it took to bring people back from the dead, there wouldn’t have been a couple of hundred amateur witchcraft revivals by now: JFK here, Princess Di there, the odd Hitler in some areas, heck, I would have a go at John Lennon myself, why not? And Jesus would be collecting back-to-life Air Miles. Of course it takes more than an informed witch and the willpower of her friends to bring back the dead! You need the soul’s consent! You need the soul’s will. Buffy was only too happy to use hers. The journey back discombobulated her and her memory of Heaven gave her second thoughts. But she came back because she wanted to.’

Somewhere, underneath the nervous realisation that Buffy had made her bed of thorny roses and must sometime lie in it, lay an even more timid fancy that, perhaps, he’d had something to do with her willing to come back. Now he’d jumped the amulet queue, was she still slaying away or was she rotting in Hell somewhere? Perish the thought. He must find out. ‘Okay, one more question, then I’m all ears. Did --’

‘No! We had a deal. I told you about the claim; your turn. You listen to what I have to say, you focus. No more questions. If you don’t play fair, I will turn the torment back on until you’re better disposed. I’m an angel, not a saint. Now, have I got your attention?’

‘Yes!’ he growled. As Harmony would put it… Like talking to a brick mule. ‘Don’t know why you won’t answer a simple, harmless quest--’

‘She made it, she’s fine, she’s on her way to Europe. She’s upset you died. You’ll never see her again. MOVING ON!’

‘Okay, okay, no need to have kittens. What’s the what?’ Although “What’s the point?” was probably more pertinent if he was never to see Buffy again.

‘You’re here temporarily because your whole case is… fuzzy. You’re a vampire, but you stopped killing ages ago. But that wasn’t through choice. You got yourself your soul back, but only to get in Buffy’s pants --’

‘Oh, give me a little credit!’ the vampire exclaimed, insulted. ‘I got in Buffy’s pants way before the soul.’

In the dark, Spike missed the Voice’s eyebrows rising. ‘You closed the Hellmouth. That’s about all I’ve got on you that’s worth anything. Luckily, that was completely selfless. So I’ve managed to get you out on probation. But only so we can tidy up the mess that is your file! So this is what you’re gonna do. You’re going back. You’re gonna find yourself --’

‘I’m going back? Back where?’

‘Back to the future. Number 3, the Western one. Just to see what you look like in a cowboy’s hat. BACK TO EARTH, YOU NITWIT! Listen to me. You’re gonna find yourself a Hellmouth. There’s one in Cleveland, there’s one in Modesto, I believe, plus a couple more in Africa, take your pick. Then you’re gonna gather a few Slayers. Place an ad in the local paper, perform a locating spell, whatever it takes. Then you’re gonna keep on fighting evil, keep on smashing demons, just do anything in your power for me to build up your profile. Call it redemption. Do you understand me?’

‘Modesto? W—Where’s Buffy going?’ he stammered, confused.

‘Oh… My… God! If you say the B-word again, I swear… This is about you showing the Powers That Be that you deserve a place in Heaven! What language? You are not to fight alongside Buffy anymore because we are trying to prove that you’re made of the right stuff, not of testosterone!’ Spike’s eyebrows lifted. ‘You only need a small gang, because the harder the fight, the better. So about five or six Slayers should do it. But don’t try it on your own! Because that’s suicide and that’s cheating! And very very bad on your file. So, pop quiz. What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get back?’

‘Er… Find a Hellmouth?’ Spike attempted, certain it was a trick question.

‘Correct. What else do you have to find?’

‘Some Slayers.’

‘Well done. What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get back?’

Now it was definitely a trick question. ‘Okaay… déjà vu. Find a Hellmouth?’

‘That’s right. And what are you going to do with those Slayers?’

‘Well, seeing as they’re Slayers… Sink my teeth into their throats? Kidding. Slay stuff.’

‘Very good!’ the Voice exclaimed. ‘I’m impressed. What do you have to find?’

Broken record. Mummy-hand crap. Maybe the torment was back on already. ‘A Hellmouth and a bunch of Slayers and I’m gonna kill loads of demons to bump up my file! But before that I’m gonna answer the same question a hundred times.’

‘Yes! Good lad! Okay, I have to do this. The question thing. It’s to do with the memory capacity inherent to these atmospheric conditio--’ It was interrupted by what sounded like a knock on a door, followed by hinges turning.

‘Hi! Sorry to bother you,’ chirped another voice, female, this time. ‘I’ve got a problem with one of mine and the boss said I should talk to you.’

‘Oh,’ replied the Voice. ‘That the one that usually causes you problems?’

‘The same. But it’s serious this time. I’ve actually written a report.’

‘Mmh, that bad, huh?’ the Voice remarked, poorly concealing its concern.

‘’Fraid so. If you would care to cast an eye…’ the Female Voice requested. Her voice was both soft and decisive, the kind of voice that you’d gladly let boss you about for the best part of the day, till you turned round and shut it up with a great big snog. Linda Carter. It was Linda Carter’s voice. Well, not her voice, obviously. A similar sounding one. But for a very subtle tinge of an Irish accent. ‘Should we go discuss this in private?’

‘Hmm?’ his Voice uttered, clearly distracted, likely from reading the report. ‘Nah. No need. You know what these boxes are like… I’m at a loss, here. What’s the… er… notion?’

‘You mean “what the hell is he playing at”? I’ve been asking myself that very question again and again, and all I can come up with is… He’s finally lost the plot.’

‘Have you tried talking to him?’

‘What am I, a trainee? Of course I’ve talked to him! I talk to him all the time! But does he listen?’ The Female Voice paused. Spike wondered if there was any way at all he could get a Voice swap. Maybe that Linda one wouldn’t say no to a hunky, fit, dangerous but protective vampire of a project. Certainly be easy on the eye, to watch from her own private little goggle box window. Easier than whatever other project she had going on. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you. I’m… I’m just on edge. I’m at my wits’ ends…’ She sighed anxiously. ‘With this.’

His Voice was thinking. Big time, he could almost hear the cogs turning. Or still reading the report; it was seriously engaged in thought, whatever it was. Good. Nice to have it off his back for a minute. So. Cleveland. Modesto, Cal? Over his dead body. Africa? California was bad enough. Sunwise. Cleveland it would be. Kick a bit of demonic ass, be at the head of a little Slayer Scoobie-gang… He was really starting to like the idea. So he wasn’t to work with Buffy… The Voice had never said anything about her not visiting. What the hell was she going to Europe for, anywa--

‘What’s the plan?’ the Voice asked finally. ‘He usually has a plan.’

‘Well, that’s the thing,’ replied the Female Voice. ‘I don’t think he has a plan. Looks to me as if he’s going down the improvisation route. I thought it was a fad but it looks like he’s really going for it, that’s what’s alarming. But I really don’t think he has a plan.’

‘He has to have a plan! You don’t do something that radical without a plan. There’s gotta be a plan!’

‘No, I’m telling you, this is completely planless. The words “fighting evil from inside the belly of the beast” have been uttered a few times, but that’s clearly a cover up for a total lack of plan.’

‘Well, then, I wouldn’t worry. It won’t last,’ his Voice reassured.

‘Oh, I am worried. And it will last. Because if you read the last paragraph of my report… right there… you will see that they’re holding a gun to his head. They’ve hit where it hurts.’

‘His fatherly instinct…’

‘So what do I do?’

‘You keep talking him out of there,’ encouraged the Voice. ‘Get the rest of his team’s Guardians on it too. You’re gonna need all the help you can get.’

‘Yeah… All the help I can get…’ pondered the pretty Voice. ‘Or… All the help he can get!’ she triumphed.

‘What do you mean by tha-- Oh no!’ the Voice objected, guessing it.

‘Oh yes!’ the Female Voice insisted. ‘A little competition is exactly what he needs to get his head screwed back on right. It’ll drive him to assert himself as the alpha vampire and to be his own master, so he’ll escort everyone out again. And think about it! You’re after a challenge for yours. So he can prove himself. What’s more challenging than that?’

‘No, no, no, no!’ panicked the Voice. ‘You make a very good point. But we have history against us. Every time those two have teamed up in the past it’s been a complete disaster! The human death counts have gone through the roof in both files, worse than when they are slaughtering on an individual basis. If you compare figures --’

‘Figures, schmigures!’ the Female Voice judiciously pointed out. ‘There’s nothing in either file about them working together while both had a soul. There was always at least one missing. That sets a brand new benchmark. And you know as well as I do that annoyance can be the most effective of motivators. I vote yes.’ His Voice had a long sigh. ‘Come on! You’ve got nothing to lose.’

‘Oughtn’t we to notify the boss before we carry out such a mental agenda?’

‘Oh, you know what he’ll say. “Your soul, your call.” Go on! You know you want to.’

‘All right, then. I’m in…’ his Voice reluctantly yielded. ‘But don’t come crying to me if they stake each other!’

‘Brilliant! I’m really excited about this! I think it could actually work. Plus,’ the Female Voice added in synch with the turning hinge sound again, ‘it’ll be fun to watch.’ Spike could have sworn he’d heard a wink with that last comment. There was a closing door noise and the vampire understood the Voice was on its own again and about to resume its questioning frenzy.

‘Change of plan,’ it announced instead. ‘You’re not going to Modesto. You’re going to L.A.’

‘What? What the bloody hell for?’

‘To work alongside Liam -- I mean, “Angel”.’

‘Work alongside… Doing what?’

‘Apparently, changing the system from the inside, we’re not entirely sure.’

‘No way! No, you see, I’m not some kind of… soulful avenger! And I have no burning desire to help the helpless. Grandsire or no! No, I bagsie the Hellmouth.’

‘There’s no bagsieing anything! You are going to L.A. End of story.’

‘But did he ask for me personally? Because I’m pretty sure it’s mutual… No, this is a really pants idea. Office dustings are bad for morale and all. Sorry but I decline.’

‘Well, you haven’t got a choice! It’s that or eternal Hell.’

The vampire was silent for a moment. ‘Can I get back to you on that?’

The voice didn’t dignify that with an answer. Instead it cleared its throat, and began. ‘Where are you going when you get back?’

‘Aw, here we bloody go again!’

‘Where?’ demanded the Voice.

‘Los Angeles. Hell A. City of angels. And not, you’ll note, of spikes.’

‘Good. Good. And what are you going to do there?’

‘Stick to Angel like his shadow and annoy the unliving daylights out of him.’

‘Yeah. I mean, yeah about the sticking to him. You stay there and offer your help. If Angel refuses it, you don’t take no for an answer. You may well have to pester him for a mission.’

‘See what I can do,’ Spike pledged.

‘I’m not joking, you need to do good so I have material for your file, so if he’s reluctant, you follow him about until he gives you stuff to do. You do not leave him alone until you can partake, you virtually haunt him… Hey, that’s a point…’ the Voice said to itself.

‘So… When do I start? Not that I’m in any rush to hang with that magnificent muppet… Not hating the thought of a demon jaw on the end of my fist, is all.’

‘Mmh. Yes, about that… It may be a while yet. I mean, yeah, the fist and the demon jaw you’ll have, no probs. Only, to be quite semantically accurate, it may not be so much “on the end of” as… “through”. I’m being pernickety here, ignore me.’

‘Through? What d’you mean by that?’

‘Um, we’ll finalise the details later, all right? Meanwhile, I’ve got to really hammer it into your head that… What are you doing when you get back?’

‘Aw, pissin’ hell! I’m assisting twat features. I’m… helping the helpless from the inside. Or something. That right? Good. Bully for me. Next – and I mean next – question.’

‘Coming up. What are you doing when you get back?’

‘Stake me now!’ Spike moaned.

‘I have to do this! Once across the border, the memory gets completely dented. The only way for a returnee to have a speck of a chance to retain any recollection of what went on over here is if they answered the relevant questions a few dozen times. And even then, there’s no guarantee. But I can’t not give it a shot. Believe me, playing stuttering Anne Robinson: not my idea of a fun evening.’

‘And what’s in it for me?’ Spike challenged. ‘If I answer all your questions correctly, what do I get? A memory of my stay in Hell?’

‘Not a chance. You won’t even get the T-shirt. If we do this properly, though, with the right concentration and determination, you will harbour a feel, an inkling of what you must do. You’ll get a drive to accomplish your mission. You’ll know what to do. Without knowing why you know, but you’ll know. Carry on like this, however, and you’ll have nothing. Besides the fear, that is.’

‘The fear?’ the Hell traveller asked, concerned.

‘Your fear of Hell. A vestige of the torment. When you leave here, your fear of Hell will be quadrupled. Roughly. Again, you won’t know why. But you will be scared witless at the thought that you might end up here. Like you won’t remember this but your nervous system will.’

‘Perfect,’ Spike groused.

‘So let’s get to it. We haven’t got much time. Who are you working with when you get back?’

The vampire had a resigned sigh. ‘Angel…’ he conceded.

‘And what are you working with him doing?’

‘Doing good… You know, as homework goes, that’s pretty vague, mate. Got any “pointers” to offer?’ Spike suggested, stressing the word as if it were code.

‘Pointers? You know your good from your evil, don’t you? Even you. You know an evil deed when you see one. Makes you go out and get your soul back.’

‘No, I mean… Wouldn’t hurt to get a little preview. The gist will do.’

‘A preview? What are you on about? I haven’t got no preview!’

‘You sure? ’Cause where I’m from, word has it, blokes like you… They’re not rationed down to today’s One Life to Live. They get to watch next season’s merry episodes, if you catch my drift.’

‘Drift caught. But that’s a fallacy. The future, by definition, William, hasn’t happened yet. How could any being have access to it?’

‘Really? Even higher Powers?’ he inquired, sceptical. ‘What about time loops? What about prophecies?’

‘We really haven’t got time to start discussing time loops, sunshine. As for prophecies, we do have prophets here, but they are merely scientists who have such a hyper-developed mind that it can compute every causal relation in a given situation, thereby contriving all possible lines of events, to finally “predict” the most probable result to take place. Prophecies are just… hi-tech guesses. Besides, more often than not, once in your world, they get messed with.’

‘Well I’ll be damned,’ Spike joshed. ‘So that’s it, no pointers? Right doddle, that,’ he complained. ‘Stuck inside the belly of the beast with the bloodsucking answer to Charles Ingalls, no idea what I’m supposed to do… I’ll wager I’ll have to battle my way against an army of paperwork-worshipping suits an’ all, we don’t want me to be free of my actions… Why don’t you just cut my hands off?’

‘Nah, we would never do that! But… speaking of paperwork… I’ve just remembered. There is a job I can give you, if you like. To get you started?’

‘Shoot,’ Spike asked, somehow pleased to be trusted with a project of his own.

‘I don’t know the specifics but, a while back, some of the Forces started to unleash a very nasty kind of evil. So far, we’ve managed to impede it. But now I’ve got someone about to infiltrate the bastards handy, I may as well tell you how to see to it. Otherwise I can only shout advice from here and we’ve seen what good that does.’

‘I… didn’t… hear!’ Spike argued again, getting the hint.

‘Yeah well, no excuse for you not to hear now, is there? To unleash that evil, the Forces needed an accessory, which, by showing extraordinary ingenuity and astonishing combat techniques, we managed to eradicate.’

‘How?’

‘What?’

‘How did you eradicate it?’ Spike insisted.

‘We… got it held up at customs,’ the Voice confessed. ‘Well! We needed in impenetrable bastion…’

‘And you’re telling me, no one’s had the genius idea to sign a release order?’

‘Yes, they’ve tried, but we also protected the release by putting a spell on it. Basically, the order will only be valid if signed by a “pure” soul. Every lawyer that has tried so far has failed, surprisingly enough,’ the Voice explained with a chuckle. ‘But they’re gonna keep trying, and this is where you come in. You must make sure that nobody, under any circumstances, signs anything suspicious such as a customs release order. You understand?’

‘Not rocket bloody science.’

‘No, but it’s paramount. If that accessory was released it would have devastating consequences. Those whippersnappers over in Mystical Resources, they think they’ve got it all under control with their customs stunt, they mock me when I say it’s more than dodgy. But they won’t be laughing if it’s released, they’ll be kicking themselves, I tell you. That thing’s a time bomb. So you make sure no one signs any order.’

‘Sure, I’ll be creeping up behind them, armed with my merciless Tipp-Ex…’

‘Good. So what are you doing when you get back?’

‘Stalking soddin’ pen pushers.’

‘Yes. Where?’

‘Los Wankeres.’

‘What else are you doing?’

‘Working with il Poncino.’

‘And what else?’

‘Crushing everyone’s phalanges so they can’t sign any customs release orders.’

‘Beg your pardon?’

‘Talking everyone out of signing any customs release orders.’

‘Where?’

‘L.A. For starters, anyway.’

‘For what starters?’ the Voice asked indignantly. ‘I say anything about starters? L.A., until further notice!’

‘Yes, sir,’ Spike lied, fully intent on not waiting until further notice from the hereafter.

‘Don’t “yes, sir” me, you punk! You’re agreeing to L.A. to fob me off but you’re planning to pull a fast one!’

‘No, I… I thought I’d…’ he babbled, quickly thinking up a plausible bluff, ‘I thought I’d rid L.A. of all evil, then I’d go do Cleveland.’

‘And I’m Poet Smurf’s muse! Right, that’s it!’ the Voice announced.

‘That’s it, what?’ the vampire asked, worried.

‘You’re grounded.’

What?’

‘You think once I’ve dropped you off in Los Angeles you can give me the slip. Well, you’ve asked for it. I’m binding you to this place.’

‘Oh yeah? And exactly how’re you gonna manage that?’

‘Quite easily… Little frankincense… little lamb’s blood…’ the Voice enumerated to the sound of actual liquid – very possibly blood – and the scent of food – most definitely blood – dripping. ‘Done!’

‘Aw you… FASCIST! That is so bloody unfair!’ He was silent for a few seconds, miffed to have been found out. ‘That, anyway,’ he muttered, determined to have the last word.

The Voice waited for him to continue. He didn’t. ‘That what? Are we playing charades, now? ’Cause I’ve got a few questions of my own…’

‘“That” place. You said “this”. You’re binding me to L.A., right? You’re binding me to that place. Who’s not paying attention now?’

‘Are you winding me up? I am binding you to this place, not that. As I recall stating earlier, once in Hell, the soul is very difficult to retrieve. Hence our use of the SSC to secure Buffy’s soul, hence your presence here. Where do you think you are, William? Hey? A tad on the bling bling side? Rhymes with Capulet?’

‘I’m in the amulet?’ Spike marvelled.

‘Penny’s taken an awful long time to drop, dear. I thought you’d have worked that out when I explained about the SSC and how it can’t be opened by the Forces. So, to answer your question: you. You are not paying attention. And we can’t afford that. So, what will you be doing when you get back to Eart--’

‘Hey, wait a minute! Something doesn’t add up, here. If I’m in the amulet, and the amulet is the property of Heaven, then what’s with all the torture? Why do I get massive slayage from the welcoming committee?’

‘Because!’ the Voice retorted impatiently. ‘You still spent most of your time on Earth being a nameless bastard! You’ve still got to pay for that! You’ve been given a Hell sentence. Now, we’ve managed to agree an artificial Hell environment recreated here for you so we wouldn’t risk losing you in the “real” one, but you’ve still got time to do!’

‘Can’t you put in a good word for me? Seeing as I’ve been so cooperative during your little debrief?’

‘Unfortunately, my hands are tied. Turning off the torment, even temporarily, is gonna earn me a disciplinary hearing as it is; this is serious business, William, I’m not sure you realise. I could lose a soul!’ it informed gravely.

‘Aw, losing a soul isn’t as bad as all that. You’ll live,’ Spike jested. ‘What about if I promise I won’t do it again?’

‘I’m sure you won’t. But you still have to do your time. And soon, as well; I can’t keep the torment off much longer. Which is why all we can do now is cram. What are you going to do when you get bac--’

‘How long?’

‘I don’t know how long we have to cover the whole of my interrogation! Until someone realises the torment is off, I presume. Won’t be long. So what are you going to do when you g--’

‘I meant, HOW LONG IS MY BUGGERING SENTENCE?’ Spike shouted.

‘Oh. In Earth time, it’s been evaluated at four months and eleven days.’ The amulet tenant gasped. ‘But to you, because of the suffering and the inter-dimensional jetlag,’ the Voice specified, ‘it will feel like… four months.’

Spike’s insentient throat tightened. Four months of Hell. Judging by what they’d put him through in the first few moments, he wasn’t sure he could take one day, never mind four bleeding months. But he couldn’t physically die. There was no cop-out.

‘Come on…’ the Voice comforted. ‘What’s four months out of three hundred years?’

‘I’m only one hundred and --’

‘I know. But I’m hoping to keep you going for at least as long. If we play this right…’ The vampire was surprised to detect tenderness in the Voice’s tone. It’d meant it. The love bit. The virus could get as far up as Heaven, then. ‘What are you going to do when you get back to Earth?’

Spike focused. The last thing he wanted when he came back was to be as lost as Buffy had been when she’d come back. If at least he knew where he was supposed to stay, what he was supposed to do, it might make being in slaying distance of Angel bearable. If he had something to take his mind off his sire, with his constant holier-than-thou nagging, his sickly heroism and his revolting success-habit, not to mention the fact that said sire was to be his colleague, or, worse still, as he hated to anticipate, boss. It wasn’t even the fact that he was his sire, he had no problem with that. If it had been his direct sire he was supposed to work with, it would have been ace. Like the good old days. So it wasn’t down to some basic sire-siree, ancestor-descent naff rivalry at all. And it wasn’t because he was the… “ex”. Although that did get on his tits no end. It was just the fact that… Angel, for God’s sakes! He would just have to switch off. As his daily work routine. Give not a monkey’s, as he was so proficient in doing, and do his own thing. Which was why he had to have his own thing to do. Which was why he had to answer the pesky questions. Forever and a day. Or forever and four months, as the case may be.

‘Work with Angel.’

‘Yes. What else?’

‘Make sure no one signs any customs release thingybob.’

‘That’s right. Where?’

‘Los Angeles.’

‘Who with?’

‘Angel.’

‘Doing what?’

‘Thumping demons. General good.’

‘And what?’

‘Stopping signature-happy lawyers.’

‘And what else?’

‘Helping the helpl--’ Spike’s words drowned under a deafening siren. ‘What the hell’s that?’ he shouted over the noise, just before it stopped.

‘My pager. I’m gonna have to go,’ the Voice explained hurriedly.

‘What? You can’t leave me here like that!’

‘I can’t not, unfortunately. I wouldn’t, but this is an emergenc--’

‘More important than a vampire trying to do right?’

‘About exactly equally important, actually. Remember my Magali and her chat-room boy toy? Well, as he was quick to find out, the web cam hides every little facial imperfection: the spots, the five o’clock shadow, the fangs! After a year of e-flirting, looks like they’ve decided to meet today. And he’s not set out to kill, he’s spent far too long planning this. He’s out to make her drink. And I’m not having any of that crap again… I’ve gotta go, she’s walking down an alley… How did she not get a hunch from his nick? “Lushblud81”. That’s not his year of birth, ninny, that’s his age.’

‘Well, what about me? What about the questions? You—you’re supposed to guide me! Without you I’ve had it!’

‘You’ll be fine. You hang in there. Remember: redemption, redemption, redemption. We’ve done the questions a few times, it may be enough… Try and revise during the torment… I’ve got to go, William. I’ll see you in four months’ time.’

‘Yeah, all right, be off with you, then! Don’t come bothering me while I’m in atrocious pain again! Please stay!’ Spike finally let out, terrified of spending four months in Hell alone.

‘I can’t stay. And you have to do your time. I’m gonna turn on the torment now. You ready?’

As if anybody could ever be ready for that. ‘Like hell,’ he answered sulkily.

‘Come on, I know it’s scary, but at least it’s nothing new. You’ve been tortured before and you’ve tortured before… Torture is probably one of the things you know best. If there was a, like, torture theme pub-quiz, I’d wanna be in your team. You’re down on my phone-a-friend list if a torture question comes up in Millionair--’

‘All right, point taken! Four bloody months, though!’

‘At least you’re not being tortured for information. And in four months’ time, you’ll be watching a cute L.A. barmaid pouring you a pint, how about that? Come on, I’ve gotta go, lad.’

‘Aw, just turn the damn thing on! Get it over and done with!’ he ordered through gritted teeth. He used the few pain-free seconds he had left to brace himself. ‘Here goes nothing…’ he thought.

He was right. Nothing happened.

‘All right! He’s ready!’ the Voice shouted. There was a sound of rusty hinges turning. ‘Told you I didn’t need four months to get him ready to return. Told you it was fine to let him sleep for four months and then do the pep talk. I know my projects, thank you very much.’

‘Are you sure?’ asked an echoey, deep, action-blockbuster trailer voice.

‘Yeah, I’m sure… Easy peasy. He’s accepted his sentence, and he’s accepted his mission. Bob’s your uncle. I’m not convinced about the new L.A.-Liam arrangement but what can I say? What woman wants… Now please send the Container down sharpish, I’ve got an online-dating soul to save!’

‘He knows what he’s supposed to do?’ the Trailer Voice checked.

‘Yeah, yeah. Well, he knows as much as he’ll ever know. Heaven knows what he’ll remember outside, though. We haven’t had time to do that many questions… Oh well. Fingers crossed, eh?’ The Voice paused. ‘William, I’m not kidding, next time you end up in Hell it won’t be a threat of four months you’ll be getting. It’ll be the real deal, and multiply four by, ooh, infinite. So, don’t… go… to Hell. You’ve got your soul, you’ve got your Hell-fear, you’ve even got a team: you’re all set. Don’t disappoint me. Again. Now, go on, off you go!’

The blackness was pierced by a laser-looking beam of matter. It reached Spike and swaddled him whole, while suction sent his vaporous arms vibrating to bursting point. A gust of gas streamed in and grabbed hold of his limbs, pulling till the fluttering let go. He was dragged through a yellow grid, which resulted in his organism being minced into eddying spectre bubbles, ascending to re-form his shadow. His aura flickered, while he tried to hang on to the recent thoughts. Redemption, redemption, redemption. Stamp on L.A.’s evil. Boost the old file. Stop them signing -- No, you don’t. But thanks for saying it. The flames were too harsh on his heroic flesh. The dying too vivid. Redemp-- With the dust of the ash of his bones. That’s how it ended. A last scream of agony, sealing this damn Mouth.

He glared ahead at the life scattered in the room. Their confounded eyes.

‘Spike?’

‘Spike.’

A familiar face appeared in the door, reminding him to be on his guard. This could well be Hell.

‘Blondie bear?’

~The end~

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PostPosted: Tue May 02, 2006 2:25 am 
Interesting ficlet! I didn't know what happened to Spike as in how he came back, but this is an unique take on how it happened. Did Angel the Series take this same road or was it yours? Either way, well written and good tale!


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PostPosted: Wed May 03, 2006 6:34 am 
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Thank you for the feedback, Angie. As always, it is much appreciated. :heart

Quote:
Did Angel the Series take this same road or was it yours?


It is, I'm proud to say, pretty much mine. Spike was spurted out of the amulet at the end of ep 501, that's about all we viewers got. He was also rather petrified of Hell at the beginning of the season, I thought it would be cool if he had reason to be. The other thing that season 5 fans will (hopefully) recognise out of my story is the "customs release signature" element. But don't tell me you don't watch Angel? Not you? I'm appalled! :)

Quote:
Interesting ficlet!


I'm glad you call it that. It's another failed attempt at a "short" story, it was meant to be a lot shorter when I started it.

Thanks, Angie!!!

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PostPosted: Wed May 03, 2006 9:23 am 
I didnt' think you failed it! That's the cool thing about short stories, Aissy. You can make them as short as a paragraph or as long as five pages. It's up to the writer! :) It was very interesting and well written and just scary enough at the beginning to be truly Buffy/AtS...lol! Enough so it gave me shivers and made me think he was in hell! :lol:

Good job!

Nope, I haven't seen Angel since Doyle died. I liked him a lot though and did enjoy 1st Season very much! :D One question....how did Angel and Cordy get together??? I heard they got together...


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PostPosted: Wed May 03, 2006 11:47 am 
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That looked like it was gonna be a long post so I took the liberty to reply here: http://www.majiksfanfic.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?p=25736#25736 :)

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PostPosted: Fri May 05, 2006 2:04 am 
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Quote:
He awoke into a nightmare. He couldn’t feel his body. Yet all his senses were acute. Sight. A quick-clearing, blurry – from the slumber – black light, shrinking his pupils to a dot, making his weightless eyelids blink. Touch. The air compressed every inch of his body. This body he couldn’t quite perceive. He had a reflex to feel the pain of burn, of raw flames licking his mortal coil to a cinder. Of skin crackling. But it was ice that was making him shudder. The frozen clinging of the North wind he had known as a boy. Except this wind wasn’t going anywhere. Taste. The buds on the back of his tongue were layered with a rank, thin paste of mould. And, piercing through it, the watering welled. The watering for the bathing of his mouth in warm, gushing, enveloping, reviving blood. Still. Ever.

Smell. A distantly familiar whiff of being scolded by Master Prendergast for scribbling poetry in Chemistry class, while he really couldn’t afford to woolgather during the lesson on… hydrogen sulphide. Sulphur. God. Oh God. Sulphur. Finally, hearing.

‘Welcome to Hell.’

Some saliva forced its way past the knot in his throat and a muttering escaped his gritted teeth. ‘Aw bloody hell.’

‘Precisely.’


:lol That was great! :thumbsup I agree with everything Angie said. This isn't a "failed" short story. It's still a short story if it's under 5 pages or so. I liked this a lot. Sadly, I'm really a bit lost, myself, about how things came to be as they are in Buffyland. I watched a lot of eppies, especially in the beginning, but I missed just enough to be Buffy/Spike/Angel challenged. :lol But I really enjoy Angie's stories and your stories, challenged though I am. I'm like in the Buffyverse Special Olympics. :lol

Anyway, this was a great read! And that opening segment was really well done! :thumbsup :heart

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