Spoilers: Post Grave, but safe for S7 spoiler virgins. Speculation, that's all, folks.
Rating: Not Gutterworthy, but chock full o' angst and one naughty word.
Disclaimer: I have neither given nor received, nor tolerated others' use of unauthorized aid. Wait, that was my undergrad's honor code. Not mine, never will be. Damn.
Feedback: makes my toes curl and brings a smile to my face. firstname.lastname@example.org
To Chennie, my partner in crime and authority on the Middle East. To Kimi, fellow pot stirrer and hell raiser extraordinaire. And a zillion thanks to Chris, queen of the fine-toothed beta comb. To quote the great philosopher James W. Marsters: You rock!
The stones below his weathered boots had yielded to gritty sand and sticky mud that grabbed at his feet as he inched closer to the water. The same mud he'd seen sold in jars in Los Angeles. Miraculous spa treatments guaranteed to purge the pores and cleanse the soul.
But it was just silt, dirt, the same substance that seemed to clog and soil his rediscovered soul. Nothing in him felt clean. It was a filth he couldn't rinse off, couldn't scrub away. He carried it everywhere.
It was supposed to be a gift, the soul. A reward for surviving the trials, his wish. His desire. But it felt far from it. The damned soul was nothing more than a curse. No wonder it had driven Angel to the brink. It was a burden after a century of chaos.
A fitting place for the end of a long journey, this sea repelled life. Nothing could grow beneath its briny surface. Not a single plant prospered along its shore, and unforgiving rocky cliffs jutted up from the desert. A land devoid of growth, a dusty thumbprint in a barren nothingness.
If he'd had the energy he'd have scoffed at the irony. Across the shore he could still make out the smudges of light at the resorts dotting the western shore. An oasis for a lucky few in search of renewal. It was only fitting that he was on the far shore, as far from life as possible. So close but never touching. A world away, it was the story of his unlife. He didn't belong among the living. Didn't deserve it.
He was a monster. Life was his enemy. At one time, he'd thought the soul would justify his pitiful existence, give his demon purpose. But in the end it was nothing more than a weight that tethered him to his suffering. Something he couldn't escape.
It sang to him, screamed to him amid the swirling winds. Something he could never outrun, no matter how fast he ran.
He hadn't slept since he'd emerged from the cave. The images were too haunting, death and destruction at every turn. The visions came unbidden-a young family in Prague, a priest in Budapest, a little girl in a coal bin. They kept coming one after one, face after face, threatening to unravel what little he had left of his sanity. After all these years he could still taste their blood on his lips, and he wanted to vomit.
**Ask me again why I could never trust you!**
Worst of all, he could not escape her voice, her fear, her anger. The one gift he'd been given, he'd pissed all over. And with her cries, he'd killed the last crumb of hope left aflicker within him.
He wanted to make amends, be the man she deserved. But he couldn't.
The monster had tried to destroy her.
The man had betrayed her.
There was no such thing as forgiveness for a filthy, empty beast like himself.
He'd thought of elaborate ways to atone for his sins. Fight the good fight, martyring himself for the greater good. But as he wandered his way through the desert, he didn't have the energy for it. The morning sun would be his final judge and jury. That filth he carried around would finally be purged. He'd be cleansed, his ashes cast to the burning hamsim winds. A simple and anonymous end to a century of unforgivable fuck ups.
The sun would be up soon. His skin hummed with anticipation as though it could feel the dawn's impending approach. The sky was awash in a brilliant palate of pinks, reds, and orange, the heralds to another day in a land divided by war, defined by death.
Spike found a large rock and eased himself onto its flat surface. Finding a smooth pebble, he chucked it toward the water. The stone skipped across the surface several times before it was swallowed by a wave.
He was tired, so very tired. Every bone in his body ached for respite. The burns on his body had never healed, and loose skin clung to his clothes in a sticky mess. Leaning back, he closed his eyes. Only a few more minutes and then he could rest.
"Figures I'd find you here," an indignant voice announced from the shore. "Don't you think the whole Dead Sea thing is a bit high drama?"
Hallucinations. Or Hell. He couldn't be certain. Opening his eyes, he let his surroundings come into focus before he answered, "Go away, Anya. There's nothing to see here."
"Like hell there isn't," the vengeance demon replied. "Don't you know the sun'll be up soon? I don't want to have to clean vamp ashes out of my dress. It's dry clean only, you know."
No getting rid of the bint, he thought with a sigh. Sitting up he sneered, "Then send me the bloody cleaning bill."
She took a step forward only to let out an undignified shriek as her foot sank into the wet mud with a loud squelching sound. "Fat chance you'd pay for the dry cleaning or these shoes if you're dead."
"Pet, I've been dead," he sighed, returning to his brood. "Over a century, if you haven't noticed."
"You know what I meant," she snapped back as she climbed up the rock to sit beside him. Gotta love a girl who's forthright.
He slid over a bit and grabbed another pebble. This one jumped four times before sinking into the water. "Suppose this is the part where you tell me not to do it, that life is too bloody precious or whatever hearts and flowers rot you plan to spew?"
"No, I came to ask why," she responded as she smoothed out her skirt and dangled her feet over the edge. "And when your pity party for one is over, I'll be ready to hear your answer."
Spike let out a nervous chuckle. He rode his laughter for a moment until it felt like the beginning of a sob. Drawing in a ragged breath, he answered, "I just want it all to stop."
The same reason he'd given Buffy before everything had gone to hell. But this time he was certain he was making the correct choice. The only one possible.
"A soul is rarely an easy thing," she quietly said reaching over and touching his shoulder. Only then did he realize he was shaking like a leaf. Her touch was as warm and comforting as he'd remembered it.
But how did she know? Was it tattooed to his forehead? His breath hitched in his chest when he tried to speak. Her hand had released the floodgates and there was nothing he could do to stop the silent stream of tears from coursing down his grimy cheeks.
"I can feel it," Anya explained as though she could read his mind. "It's what we vengeance..." she paused to correct herself, "what we justice demons do. We listen for souls when they're in pain."
Suddenly he felt very small, not much bigger than the pebbles he held in his hand with their smooth edges dulled by years of exposure. Tiny stones that were gradually turning to sand and dust. Releasing the pebbles, he hugged his knees to his chest and asked, "And just what does my soul say? It certainly isn't in need of vengeance or justice."
Gently cupping his face, she thumbed away a stray tear. Behind her the light grew brighter. At least he wouldn't have to take this final step alone.
"I could hear your soul calling above all others, Spike," she soothed. "All souls deserve justice, and yours wants to rest. It wants forgiveness. And this final dusty ending in the sun isn't it."
"It's not that easy," he replied.
"Nonsense," she said. No driving that stubborn streak from her. "You forgave Buffy every time she pounded the snot out of you, didn't you? And you forgave her klepto sister for stealing your poker winnings with no questions asked. Seems pretty easy to me. You're definitely a forgiving type of guy."
"But this is different," he insisted staring intently at the waves that washed against the shore. "I'm just a monster."
"Then so am I."
He wanted to interrupt, but he couldn't find his voice.
"Look, Spike," she continued, "I've done a lot of things in my life, things that have caused a lot of pain and suffering. We all do things we regret. I realized it when I was human. But you don't see me slitting my wrists. We move forward. We forgive ourselves. I don't care if you're a monster. It's time you forgive yourself. It's not something I can do. It's one wish I can't grant. It's something you have to find within yourself."
Sunlight peered over the eastern cliffs. The far side of the sea began to awaken in a golden glow, and the edge of the water began to shimmer with the first glimpses of morning. Dawn had finally arrived.
"I can't," he whispered.
"You can't, or you won't?" she demanded. "The world would be a boring place if you weren't in it. Take that first step, Spike. Let go of the past."
"How?" was all he could manage to say.
"Go home, Spike," she said smoothing his unruly hair. "It's time to go home."
He inhaled sharply before releasing it in an uneasy breath. He didn't want to think, just wanted it to end. How, it didn't matter. Closing his eyes, he absently answered, "I just wish I knew where home was."
He didn't see her face morph into veins and leather. The air crackled around him with the acrid scent of ozone, and her lips were soft against his temple.
"Wish granted," she whispered in his ear with a kiss.
The world grew dark around him, and it took a few moments to realize he wasn't dust. Thunder rattled in the distance, and warm, gentle rain splattered against his skin. Lightning danced across the night sky, and the air was heavy with the smell of wet asphalt.
It certainly wasn't the desert. His rocky perch had been replaced by a curb. Trees lined the quiet street, and rows of houses spread out in all directions. He knew exactly where he was. Finding his bearings, he pulled himself to a stand and gazed at the street sign above him.
The corner of Sacramento and Revello.
Two blocks from 1630, he knew the neighborhood by heart. A minivan rushed past, kicking up a puddle of muddy water. He jumped out of the way before it could thoroughly soak him.
His feet carried him toward an old and weathered tree, one he'd leaned against many a night. Out of habit, he slipped into the shadows and peered in the large front window. He couldn't suppress a smile when he saw the familiar faces inside. Dawn was wrestling with Xander for the TV remote while the slayer tried to pry the two apart. Through the open window he could make out hints of laughter that rose above the sound of the television.
He lingered by the tree, silently absorbing the happiness radiating from the living room. Taking a step forward, he stopped dead in his tracks when a twig snapped beneath his boot. He wasn't ready to be seen.
"Someone out there?" he could hear Buffy ask.
Retreating into the yard, he made his way back to the sidewalk before anyone could see him. He wasn't ready to deal. Not yet. But it was a step in the right direction. Even his soul agreed. He was home.
He didn't have all the answers he was looking for, but he wasn't going to squander Anya's precious gift. She'd given him a second chance at hope. The rest could wait until tomorrow.
The rain felt good against his skin, and he could feel layers of grime wash away in its wake. Turning his face toward the deluge, he welcomed it. For the first time in months, he finally felt clean.