For wiseacress's Halloween ficathon.
Warnings: character death
Spoilers through ATS 5.3
The rest is only pain. Sometimes a lot of pain, sometimes exquisite agony that reduces, like a fine Parisian sauce, a many-faceted human to a scream, a plea, the smallest things: a glass of water and a little space to breathe.
The fear is this: what’s next, who are you, what do you want, why is this happening to me? They think that they can know. They die still thinking it. Those are the lucky ones.
Give up on knowing, and you are an animal, innocent, stupid and cruel as a gazelle grazing by the broken body of its lover. The beast is full, it wasn’t you. There is no history. There are no reasons.
Angelus had liked that sort of thing, Spike remembered. He liked to drag it out, make them learn and relearn the lesson, liked to sip despair that ripened on the vine.
But Spike liked fear. He liked the electric jolt of it, his own or some victim’s, didn’t matter. Anything to wake him up, like falling through cracked ice to frigid water, like guitar feedback, like fucking on a bed of nails.
Hope was simply an occupational hazard. The refuge of those who refused to learn from experience, and those who wouldn’t survive to have any. Spike knew better than that.
He paced anyway, because it was expected, and because ghosts can’t smoke. Stupid rule, that, you’d think there’d be a ghost of every cigarette that ever burned.
Not like he was up to explaining why his fags didn’t count for their precious hospital regulations, anyway. Bloody nuisance sometimes that everyone could see him. Walking through the walls is all very well until some stupid bint sees him and drops her scalpel where it doesn’t belong. Simpler just to let Wesley sign the papers: the Watcher’d put him down as “next of kin.”
You couldn’t mistake it for sleeping. Angel’s face twisted and contorted a hundred times an hour, with rage, amusement, lust. Spike wondered yet again what scenes were playing on the inside of those eyelids, and whether he was in them.
Angel's body jerked again. New wounds blossomed on his gut, his throat. Nothing was causing them. Nothing Spike could see, anyway. But they looked jagged, like his flesh had been torn with teeth.
Spike swung his fist and connected with nothing. Stupid. The exact same thing would've happened if the air was full of invisible demons. The urge to snarl and drag the doctors in here was strong, but he knew what would happen. The same thing that had happened the last three times: nothing. The best paranormal medics dirty money could buy couldn't see a thing wrong with Angel. Wesley's tame psychics said he was no more possessed than a dropped twenty, and Gunn couldn't find anything to hit.
The wounds on his throat closed as suddenly as they'd opened. Spike waited, tensed, but nothing new appeared. For a second he even let himself hope it was over. And then he realized the crisp white sheets below Angel’s waist were slowly turning red.
He didn’t realize he’d reached out to peel them back until his fingers slipped right through the drenched fabric and came away clean.
Spike snarled. He hated the old bastard, of course. It went without saying. Wouldn't be the first time he’d had Angel’s blood on his hands, what did one more or less matter? Ought to be a picnic, seeing him like that. It's just that him bein' unconscious and all takes half the fun out, that's all, Spike told himself.
And he absolutely wasn’t shivering. Ghosts don’t get cold.
Spike went out into the corridor and found a nurse at the desk. "He's bleeding again."
"He's always bleeding," she muttered. "As soon as he put a bandage on one spot, another opens."
"You could at least change the bloody sheets!"
"Sir, I've got other patients..."
Spike let his eyes glow gold. "He owns this place. He owns you. If you want to live to see sunrise, change the damned sheets."
Gunn was next, struck down where he was manning Angel's desk back at the office with a strange chest wound that reached all the way to his heart but didn't bleed. Wesley figured the attack was aimed at Angel, meant to dust a vampire, though even he couldn't explain the twisted neck. His psychics were working over their overtime, and some were threatening to walk, but Wesley just smiled that strange tight little smile and cocked a shotgun and they backed down. Spike didn't blame them.
"Stay with Angel," Wesley told Spike. "We'll find whatever's doing this to him." He sounded like Buffy, Spike thought, off to save her sister if it ended the sodding world. Spike believed him. He stayed with Angel and watched the wounds blossom and fade on his skin over and over, until he felt into a hypnotic rhythm of counting them.
The next thing he knew, Wesley was in the next sodding bed, with his throat cut. It went too deep to talk, but when he finally woke enough to scrawl on a tablet, he swore he'd been alone.
"Call a fucking necromancer." Spike was standing in the middle of Lorne’s phone, that being the only way to make the demon stop dialing long enough to bloody well talk to him.
"No offense, prickly pear, but how do we know you weren't setting all this up the whole time? Everyone goes down but you, you get into Angel's body and then you own the whole show."
Spike tried to hang on to the shreds of his temper. Unfortunately, Spike wasn’t much good at holding onto things lately. "I could've done that the first time, Kermit. I've sung the whole fucking score of Tommy. Can't you tell by now I'm not fucking lying? He's been bleeding for days, mate, faster than we can get blood back into him. Whatever's going on in there, somebody's got to get it out."
"So you go all fantastic voyage, what’s to keep it from getting you too?"
"Guys?" Fred's high-pitched voice was on the verge of hysteria. "Guys, I can't see."
Lorne and Spike turned as one. There was something strange about Fred’s voice besides the tone. Mostly the part where it was moving away. For someone who couldn’t see, Fred was leaving the office with a quick, determined stride: a helluva lot more determined than Spike had ever seen her, now he came to think of it. Usually Fred walked hesitantly, as if she wasn’t quite sure the floor would be there. Spike popped ahead down the hallway to the first turning, figuring his ghost powers would come in useful for once. But all he saw was Lorne, out of breath, come panting round the corner.
“We need to be at the hospital,” Spike said for what felt like the 10th time.
Lorne waved a distracted hand. “Fine, go to the hospital. I’m a bit busy here, sweetcheeks, running out of fingers to stick in all these gaps, and I’m not talking about the plot holes in Tarantino’s latest.” His desk was covered with reports from Covert Ops, Overt Ops, Magical Ops, and Technical Ops. Spike had tried reading over his shoulder: half the time he couldn’t even understand the words.
“Mate, you’re not listening to me. We need to be at the hospital. This is just garbage, your people not finding shit and covering their arse by tellin’ you every last place they looked for it. Take a cellphone and a laptop, if they do find Fred, you’ll know.”
Lorne ran a hand over his horns. “It’s bad for morale, Spike. The ship needs a captain, and I’m the only one left.”
Soul or no soul, if it would get the demon thinking Spike would cheerfully have stuck a railroad spike through his head and stirred. “Right. You’re the only one left, mate. Whatever we’re dealing with, it’s targeting your little Boy Scout troop for a reason. Either it’s gonna come after you next, or one of the others. If it’s them, what the hell am I gonna do to stop it alone? Call it nasty names? And if it’s you, wouldn’t you have a better shot if you’re already right next to the bloody doctor?”
When they looked up at Spike, Lorne’s eyes were even redder than usual. “We need to be at the hospital.”
“Good thinking, sport.”
So they were at the hospital when it came. “They” being Lorne, and his assistant who carried his coffee and computer and organizer and any of half a dozen other things the demon called for periodically, despite apparently having only three hands. A young army of men in black outfits reminded Spike of his pleasant stay at the Initiative, and a chanting circle of monks in robes carried candles. Spike never did figure out what they were monks of. Probably worshipped Angel, lord knew everybody else did around here.
The group was far too large to fit in any of the patient’s rooms, so they took over the waiting room and closed the clinic to anyone else. It was for the best anyway, Lorne had explained to an irate doctor. If something came after them, they didn’t want collateral damage. The man turned pale and stopped arguing after that.
The lights went out. Spike jumped, then felt sheepish a second later when the emergency lights flickered back on in their place, at about half power. From the look of the room he wasn’t the only one.
There was a blast of cold air and all the candles in the monks circle blew out. Spike looked around a little wildly for portals, swirling vortexes, teleporting monsters, that sort of thing. It took him a moment to realize that the source of the chill gust was no more magical the big double doors at the far end of the room, where ambulances usually pulled up. Strangely, both the inner and outer sets had opened at once. The army types tightened their grips on their tasers.
Fred walked into a sudden silence. “There you are,” she said. “I’ve been looking for you.”
“Fredikins! You’re safe! You’re – wearing a bedsheet. Interesting choice for you, I would’ve gone for something a little more fitted...”
Lorne was standing right next to her, talking. And Fred didn’t turn to look at him. That was Spike’s first clue something was wrong.
The second clue was the head monk abasing himself and gibbering in fear. Spike had produced that particular reaction too many times himself to mistake it for a reaction to Fred’s ethereal good looks.
Still without looking at him, Fred’s hand came up to cup Lorne’s cheek, “You don’t judge. I like that about you.” It didn’t sound like the apologetic, twittery Fred Spike remembered, but it wasn’t like he knew her very well.
Lorne seemed charmed, if a little flustered. “Well, I try not to...”
Fred threw him across the room, where he crashed into the goldfish tank that bubbled away in the wall. “That’s my job.”
She started walking towards the corridor that held all three of their incapacitated colleagues. Spike followed at her shoulder like a bodyguard: he’d be damned if he risked losing her again. Neither of them bothered with the door, although only Stepford Fred left a splintered mess behind her. Spike could hear Lorne scrambling to his feet with a groan, but he was afraid to take his eyes off the girl.
She stalked into Angel’s room. Spike and a bruised and bleeding Lorne followed.
Lorne stepped between Angel’s bed and the thing that wasn’t Fred. “Who sent you? What do you want? Leave our friend alone.”
She laughed. “Nobody called me. I came.”
Spike rolled his eyes. It was twenty bloody questions with Harm all over again. “Fine. Who *are* you?”
Spike looked disgusted. “’Nother sodding vengeance demon with a spin doctor.” He told Lorne. “Smash her amulet, mate, and we’ll all be home for tea.”
Lorne grabbed for the gold chain at her throat, but NotFred sidestepped him easily despite her blind state. “Not a demon. Just Justice. And you can’t break these.” She pulled the charm from her necklace and dropped it on the rolling Formica cart that served Angel’s hotel room for a table, where it grew into a pair of golden scales like one of those flat sponges. Just add water.
She picked Angel’s body up in one hand and set him in one golden dish, perhaps the size of the palm of his hand. Angel was no smaller, the scales were no larger, and yet – he fit. Spike’s mind twisted.
And stopped, when she produced another, all too familiar amulet from her lack-of cleavage and dropped it into the other dish. The chain clanked dully. Angel, still twitching, didn’t so much as open his eyes at the noise or his sudden transition, though the metal must have been cold. The scales began to wobble up and down.
“Was Angelus worse than you? Is Angel better? Who suffers more? Two souled vampires, which shall go up and which shall go down? What do you say, William?”
Spike shifted into gameface. “I say, this is stupid. You don’t have to choose.”
NotFred smiled. “Maybe not today. But sooner or later, you always have to choose.” The scales were coming to a stop. Spike couldn’t help but watch in morbid fascination, but just before they settled out, the dishes were suddenly empty, and Angel was back in bed as if he’d never left.
“This way,” she said, for all the world like a tour guide.
Spike and Lorne followed. What else could they do?
The hallway was full of black-clad armed men, frozen in confusion. They hadn’t been briefed on what to do when the enemy wore the bosses’ body, Spike was guessing. Bad oversight in the circles they moved in. Eventually a couple of them risked a taser strike – they both fell to the floor stunned and Justice League Fred just kept walking into Wesley’s room.
This time Spike was half-expecting her to lift Wesley into the scales with one flick of a fragile wrist, though Wesley’s eyes – wide awake and panicked – indicated he had not been so prepared. What no one was expecting was what she produced to be weighed against him: a newborn baby.
Wesley couldn’t talk, of course, so Spike asked for him. “What the hell?”
Before she could answer, Angel appeared in the doorway. Well, more staggered. A pale blue hospital gown spotted with drying blood wasn’t the most flattering outfit for him either, but he seemed to be unconscious of it.
“No,” he said to the woman. “Not fair. That’s all changed now.”
Fred’s face was serene. “He did it.”
“You can’t punish him for something he doesn’t even remember!”
“That doesn’t matter.”
“It does to me.” Angel advanced on her, seemingly gaining strength as he went. “You put me through every death I ever gave out, that’s fine, that’s fair. Send me to hell if you want. But leave them out of it.” He took a lunging swing at Fred's jaw, which the blind woman deftly ducked.
“Angelcakes, careful, Fred’s in there somewhere,” Lorne urged in an undervoice. Spike was, irrelevantly, staring at Angel’s bare feet on the linoleum. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Angel that way: it made him look vulnerable, and naked.
So no one realized Wesley was slowly, laboriously climbing across the swinging bar of the scales until he dropped down on the other side, and the baby stopped crying. Wesley had picked it up and was rocking it gently.
Fred turned her back on Angel as if he were nothing and touched Wesley’s throat, where the scar glared red.
Wesley ducked away from her hand – and with no more warning than that, tossed the baby to Angel. Even with supernatural reflexes, Angel barely caught it, and Spike was hard put to it not to laugh.
“You’ve made your choice then.” The woman said to Wesley. Wesley nodded. Angel didn’t notice. Angel, Spike thought, might not have noticed if a bomb had gone off under his arse, he was staring so hard at the brat in his hands.
There was a pillow lying in the other side of the scales. Spike couldn’t remember how it got there.
At first Spike thought he was fading out again, at the worst possible time. But then he realized it was only Wesley who was getting fainter and fainter.
“Angel!” he said urgently. “Angel! Lorne!” but the green demon was watching, transfixed, as Angel sang the kid a lullaby. "So that's what happened..." he said softly. "No wonder everything felt wrong."
Oh well, no one else was gonna do it, and he was going to hell anyway. Spike stepped up to the bitch in Fred's body and gave her his best devil-may-care grin. “All right, that’s just about enough of you. Bring back the Watcher, piss off and give the girl her life back.”
Justice smiled. “Don’t be silly, Spike. I live here now. Angel killed my sister, you see.”
“Angel killed a lot of people’s sisters. People die, love. Can’t let it ruin your life.”
Spike didn’t remember Fred’s smile having quite so many teeth. “Mercy isn’t people, William.”
Spike had a bad, bad feeling about this. He wished Gunn were here, he was better at arguing. But Spike did the best he could. “How is this just? She never did anything to you!” Spike gestured at Fred’s body.
“She wanted to do the right thing. She said she’d give her life for it. I,” and the thing that would never be Fred licked her lips, “accepted.”
Now, when it was too late, Angel finally looked up and held out the baby. “What about him? I bought him another life, dammit. A safer, happier home than I could give him.”
Justice stepped through Spike and stroked the fuzz of hair back from Connor’s tiny, sleeping face. “He didn’t deserve it.”