For a long time, she floated in a warm pool of nothingness. She had a body somewhere that she was vaguely aware of, but it didn’t feel like hers anymore. It hadn’t truly been hers for a long time. She wasn’t sure she wanted it anymore, after what it had done.
Not really you, love, now was it? a soft voice murmured through the nothing. It was either high for a man or low for a woman and had an accent kind of like Wesley’s.
The nothing was slowly filled with a soft golden glow that then gave way to a pretty little garden. There was a fountain in the center surrounded by benches. A person – she couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman – rose from a bench and smiled at her. Sudden warmth blossomed inside her. She felt loved and oddly safe.
“Hello, there.” It was the same voice from before.
“Who are you?” she asked. It should have felt wrong to question, but it felt like it was okay, that she wasn’t meant to grovel. That worked for her. Groveling really wasn’t her thing. “What is this place?”
“Who do you think I am?”
The question was heavy with amusement, but not the condescending kind. This amusement invited you to join in. That was kind of at odds with the others she’d encountered, but she suddenly knew what she was dealing with.
“You’re one of the Powers That Be.”
“Bingo, sweets,” the person responded. “And this is a little place in your mind that I’ve temporarily made my own so that we may talk.” She – he? It? – cocked their head and studied her. “Poor girl, you’ve been treated quite horribly by some of the others, haven’t you? I’ve a task for you, too, but I’ll be asking for your help, not just taking it.”
She sighed. “What help does Angel need? I care about the man, but I swear, he wouldn’t be able to find his own butt with both hands and a flashlight without me.” Oh god, just how long had she been in the nothing? What kind of trouble had he gotten into without her?
The… being’s perfect nose wrinkled in disgust, and she felt a stab of pain. She wanted to take the being in her arms and make everything better somehow. She had to fix things. How could she…?
“Many of my fellows have their sticky little fingers all up in Angel’s pie, but I do not. I’m more interested in the other souled vampire.”
“The other…?” There was another souled vampire? How long had she been out of it?
“The Powers That Be are many different things, my dear.” The being gently took her hand and led her to one of the benches. They sat down together. “Some of us embody concepts. My particular concept is love. This other souled vampire – Spike – he’s mine, and he’s become caught in a trap meant for Angel. The others are content to leave things as they are. I am not.”
“You want me to do something to save him?”
Spike had a soul? Too weird. She didn’t really have anything against helping him, though, despite the whole thing with the Gem of Amara. He’d complimented her hair and had noticed she’d been to the gym. So, a soul and great taste. Definitely worthy of being saved.
“I do,” the being said simply. “You’ve a choice, though.”
“I’ll do it. Just tell me what I have to do.”
The being stood, eyes blazing with determination. “Cordelia Chase, do what the other Powers refuse to do.” The being was giving off serious badass vibes, which made sense. Love could be all soft and squishy, but it also led people to attempt the impossible and make hard choices. “Go and help rescue my bitch.”
Spike was in trouble, and there was no one to blame but himself. Not that he’d ever really been all that inclined to pass blame about, mind. Still and all, was nice when you could point the finger at someone else and take comfort in the fact that wasn’t you what had buggered things all to hell. But that wasn’t the case here. He’d got himself into this mess, and he’d get himself out of it.
Almost there, he thought, absently nibbling on his lower lip. Steady on, mate. You can do this. He was on his last legs, but if he could just get past this wave of enemies, all would be tickety-boo, now wouldn’t it? He took a deep breath and dove into battle, jumping, dodging, and attacking as best he could. Finally, he made it through. Just one little jump between him and safety. He was going to make it. He was…. One of his hands spasmed suddenly, sending the controller to the floor and his character arse over tits into a sodding bottomless pit.
“Bloody buggering hell!” he snarled in disgust, slumping back against the couch.
God, he was useless. Couldn’t even play a sodding video game. No wonder he’d buggered things up so badly with Dana. Poor girl. Totally off her trolley. Over a hundred years of experience with a madwoman should have helped him deal with the situation, but instead he’d somehow messed things up right proper, hadn’t he? Some hero, he thought bitterly, staring at his hands. Lopped right off, and then bloody Angel had swooped in to save the day.
What really mattered was that the girl was getting what she needed from people who knew what was what with her. He should be thinking of that, and not dwelling on the particulars of who had saved the day. It was just…. Sometimes he wanted what Angel had. Not the big, fancy office and fleet of shiny cars, though he had to admit the cars at least were nice. No, he wanted the recognition. Just someone, anyone, to give him a kind look and tell him he’d done good.
He tried to shake off the mood, but it clung to him like treacle. Ever since the incident with Dana, he’d felt… empty. Like something had been pulled out of him when she’d taken his hands. Something that hadn’t been returned by the reattachment surgery.
The middle finger on his right hand started twitching spasmodically. He glared at it and clenched his fists, forcing himself to ignore the unpleasant tingle that surged through both hands. So bloody useless…. The fact that he was still recovering made a good excuse for why he wasn’t out helping the hopeless like Doyle wanted him to.
The thing was, though, that he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. He’d barely even been able to drag himself out of the apartment for smokes, booze, and blood. What was even the point of it all? He’d helped save the world three times – four if you counted when he’d double crossed Adam to save his own arse – and only one of those times had been with the soul. A soul he’d bloody well fought for and earned.
Angel got one forced on him and had spent two years after actively trying to still be evil. And, yet, Angel was the one living the high life with praise and all he wanted served up on a silver sodding platter – the jammy bastard – while Spike was stuck in another sodding basement.
Not that I actually deserve the posh digs, either, he admitted. He’d never quite reached Angelus levels of depravity, but the things he had done…. He was a monster. He deserved nothing more than the dank little hole he was in. He sure as hell didn’t deserve Buffy, no matter what his subconscious seemed to think.
He heard her sometimes, her voice echoing in his mind and begging him to go to her. All in his head, of course. Buffy wouldn’t want him back, not really. She’d said she loved him, but he knew the truth. There was nothing good or clean in him. No one could ever love him.
Hearing Buffy was painful enough, but the other voice was almost worse. Dawn, reading to him from the same book he’d used to help her get through her grief. That was even more impossible. His Nibblet – no, not mine. Not anymore. Another thing I’ve buggered up – despised him, as she should, after what he’d nearly done.
As much as it hurt, though, he had to admit there was a sort of comfort in the voices. They made him feel less alone. Less like he should just go out and greet the sun.
“Oh god, Spike, I’m so sorry.” Buffy’s broken whisper slipped through his mind, and he closed his eyes, focusing on it. He was losing his bloody mind again, but he didn’t care. “I didn’t mean to do this to you. I was trying to help.”
He curled up on the couch and clung to the sound of her voice, letting it fill the growing void inside of him.
Angel was there again, checking in on them, but Buffy barely noticed him. He’d meant so much to her once, but right now she couldn’t even bother to be upset with him. All she could do was stare at the pinkish gold energy slowly moving from the amulet she was holding to the fish tank. She’d managed to bring back a nice chunk of Spike, but after that, the flow had slowed to the barest trickle.
The fight had been taken out of him. She’d taken both too much and not enough, and the amulet had made things even worse by slashing at his self-confidence. He’d been maimed and then Angel had been the one to rescue him. And now depression was eating him alive. She knew. She’d been there before. He needed to get out and do something, to live instead of just passively existing.
The flow of energy surged suddenly, going back to the thread it had been from the start. The tears that had been threatening finally broke free. That had to mean he was recovering from what she’d done to him, didn’t it? Maybe Mathias had gotten through to him?
“Willow!” she called out. Her friend’s eyes widened at the sight of the energy coming from the amulet. “The pro-”
Before she could even finish the word, the projection was up, showing Spike in a hallway with Angel and Cordelia. What was Cordelia doing there? And… had Spike just called Angel a gormless tit? Such a weird vampire. God, she missed him.
“What’s Cordelia doing there?” Willow asked with a frown of confusion.
“It’s… because of me,” Angel said quietly. For the first time since he’d shown up that day, Buffy really looked at him. He seemed even broodier than normal. “I’ve been thinking about her a lot. The Wolfram & Hart doctors say there’s a way to bring her out of the coma, but I have to sign off on getting something out of customs for it to work.”
I forgot, Buffy thought guiltily. She wasn’t the only one with a loved one stuck in a coma. Though at least Cordy wasn’t also being emotionally – and physically to an extent – tortured in her own personal hell. She was just… sleeping. Kind of.
The projection flickered suddenly, then went fuzzy for a moment before showing them a close up of Cordelia’s face. What the? Nothing like that had ever happened before.
“Willow, Buffy, it’s me, Cordelia,” she said. “The real one and not some cheap knockoff made by the amulet. I can’t stay for long, but I’m setting up some groundwork. We will get Spike out of this dump, trust me. And get your inside guy out. Like, now. The amulet has figured it out and things are about to get really bad for your friend.”
The image flickered again before returning to normal. Time had skipped, though, and Spike seemed to be fighting zombies or something. Willow frantically brought up another projection, this one showing Mathias involved in some kind of showdown against Angel and Cordelia.
With a loud curse, Willow practically threw herself at Buffy, slapping her hand over the amulet. Her eyes and hair went dark for a split second as she pulled Mathias out of the amulet only seconds before it tried to lock him away.
Buffy and Willow were talking to Mathias, assuring him that he’d done all he could, but Angel wasn’t really paying much attention. Willow had set up another projection, this one focused on Angel himself. It was showing him his amulet-created doppelganger. And Cordelia. It’d been so long since he’d seen her, awake and aware.
He’d never had Spike’s bizarre obsession with breathing, but – watching Cordelia say goodbye to the other him – Angel suddenly felt like he needed to breathe and there was no air. He forced himself to take a deep breath. It didn’t help. And then Cordelia was gone, leaving him to answer the phone.
“… she never did wake up?”
Angel swallowed hard. I need to do it, he thought. He didn’t know what he’d be letting into the country, and he really didn’t care. He could lose Cordy forever. He couldn’t let that happen. He’d sign the papers and damn the consequences.
His cell phone rang, and fear squeezed his cold, dead heart. It’s too late, he thought in numb horror as he pulled out his phone. He was terrible with the things, but he could at least read the caller ID. Wesley. Wesley was calling him. He swallowed again, trying to moisten his suddenly dry throat.
“Hello,” he croaked.
“Angel, you must return immediately.” There was a slight pause, then the ex-watcher continued on in a rush. “It’s Cordelia. She’s awake. She wants to talk to you.”
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