(AUTHOR’S NOTE 2 (2008): The story currently sits in this unfinished state. I know exactly where it’s going, but I haven’t had the inspiration to work on it in quite a long time. Watch this space. I’ve made a personal promise to myself that none of my stories will ever remain unfinished forever. Therefore I know I will update eventually. Most likely when The Insertion is finished.)
Spike had landed yet again. But rather than a splash or a crunch, this time he found himself flat on his back on what appeared to be a pile of cardboard boxes. An incredibly soft landing, given the circumstances.
He levered himself up and winced at the pain shooting up his spine, then looked around to take stock. According to Cecily, he’d faced Denial, and Anger. That made this place, whatever it was supposed to look like, Bargaining. Oh, goody.
Spike got to his feet and looked around again. All around him, once again, there were people and demons from all time periods. But the surroundings were… unique, to say the least. He appeared to be in a giant outdoor marketplace. All around him, the cries confirmed his thoughts as to where this place was.
“I’ll give you six of these for two of those!”
“I’d rather have two day old rotten fish than those eggs.”
“That’s too expensive! How about a trade?”
“I’m in bleedin’ Ferengi Heaven,” Spike muttered to himself, almost wishing Andrew were there so someone would get his Star Trek reference. Come to think of it, didn’t Cecily say he’d meet up with Rupert again on this level? But… where!? The place was huge, and a little intimidating to his vampiric senses. Too many scents, sights, and sounds for one place.
He shook his head to clear it, then nearly jumped out of his skin when someone rested a hand on his shoulder. “Yaaah!”
Giles raised an eyebrow. “A bit jumpy, are we?”
Spike growled at him, but there was no real anger in the tone. “Just a lil’ bit, mate. How would YOU feel if someone told you that YOU were dyin’.”
Giles smiled slightly. “William, I have been told that on several occasions in my life, and I am still here.” He blinked. “There.”
The vampire shook his head, then sighed. “Alright. If Cecily is to be believed, I gotta find some sort of ‘spectre’ from my past here, confront it, n’then move on to the next level.”
Giles grinned slightly. “AH, the Kubler Ross pattern. That would make this…” The Watcher looked around carefully. “Bargaining, I believe. Which means you have already made it through-”
“Denial n’Anger, I KNOW, Rupert.” The vampire growled. “And I’d like to be out of here as soon as possible. This place gives me the bleedin’ creeps.”
“Perhaps you do not want to leave here quite so quickly, Spike,” Giles said, an almost dark tone in his voice. “Despair is the next level, and I don’t believe either of us are in a hurry to get there.”
That stopped the vampire for a moment. “Despair, huh?” Giles nodded, but Spike squared his shoulders. “I don’t think M’here just to get stuck half way through, mate. If this is the bargainin’ level, let’s see who there is ‘round to bargain with.”
“Suit yourself, William… It is, after all, your dream.” The Watcher and vampire set off through the strange swap meet together. However, everyone they approached seemed completely absorbed in their own conversations, and had little time to deal with the two strangers to this world.
After some time, Spike sank down on one of many barrels scattered around a tent. “This is gettin’ us nowhere… And bloody fast, too.”
Giles leaned against one of the tent’s supports. “Yes… I do believe we are at a loss.”
Spike looked up at him out of one eye, rubbing the other to rid it of some sort of irritation. “Rupe, you’re supposed to be my GUIDE… You aren’t doin’ much guidin’ right now, though.”
Giles sighed. “I am as lost as you are at this precise moment, William.”
Spike finally just stared at him. “Alright. I’ll bite. I’ve let it go ‘till now but it’s botherin’ me. WHY do you keep callin’ me William?”
The Watcher raised an eyebrow. “That IS your name, you know.”
“Hasn’t been for a century or so, Rupert,” the vampire said with a snorted laugh. “You KNOW I’m Spike.”
“Are you?”, Giles asked quietly. “Are you really? Think about Angel and Angelus, William. They are two VERY different people, yes?”
Spike thought for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah… Peaches isn’t exactly the same as Angelus… Same body aside, ‘course.”
Giles nodded. “Yes. Now, if you were William when you were human, and Spike as a vampire, but you have now reclaimed your soul… Who does that make you now?”
Spike gave him an indignant look. “It makes me ME. I’m me, either way, Rupert, or haven’t you noticed that my soul didn’t change a whole hell of a lot ‘bout me?”
“It didn’t?” The Watcher smiled slightly, watching Spike.
Spike just growled, and stood up, intending to start moving again, but stopped when a familiar voice called out to him.
“You know it changed you, William… If it didn’t…”, a quiet laugh. “If it didn’t, I sure as hell wouldn’t be here.”
Spike froze, and turned slowly to face the voice, not sure what it was about the voice that had him so freaked out. It felt so familiar… Sounded so familiar… But it gave him a calming feeling. It was… it was… “Angel?”
The older vampire nodded slightly from where he was leaning against the counter in an empty tent-like shop. “Yeah. Strange place, your head. Then again, I’ve always known that.”
Spike had the oddest conflicting impulses at that moment. He was either going to run up to Angel and hug him so tightly his eyes would pop out, or he was going to run up to Angel and hit him so hard his teeth would fly out. Chose neither. “This comin’ from a guy who has to keep his demon chained up in his own head. Speakin’ of which, mate, he got out. Ran into ‘im already on this Wonderland ride.”
Angel laughed softly. “A manifestation of Angelus, huh? But not the real thing… Nothing here is real, you know.”
Spike growled, but both he and Giles moved closer to Angel, joining him inside the tent. “Yeah, well, it FEELS pretty bloody real to me, Peaches. My back hurts, n’I feel like I’ve been through several different settings on a blender.”
Angel nodded. “Makes sense, considering how badly your body is actually hurt. Will, this is your mind processing your death.”
Spike growled. “I’ve ALREADY heard this song n’dance, Angel. I’m not buyin’ it. I’m not FINISHED yet. Buffy-”
“Buffy can save the world on her own. She’s done it before,” Angel said in a hard tone. “She doesn’t need you. She doesn’t need me. She’s the Slayer.”
“Whoopte-fuckin’-do, Angel,” Spike said with a snort. “I say she does need me, at the least.” He glared. “And she NEEDED you, but you had to go all soul-havin’ and altruistic on her, and leave ‘for her own good’. She still cries for you at night, Peaches. Calls out your name. And believe me, it’s DAMN hard to wake up in the same bed with her when you’ve heard her nightmarin’ about her soulmate all night, and still feel like she came to you for YOU.”
“No, she doesn’t need me,” Angel said quietly, though it almost sounded as if he needed to convince himself. “Nightmares are nightmares, Spike. This-”
“Is MY bloody nightmare,” Spike finished. “N’I know you aren’t really here. I KNOW I’m talkin’ to figments of my imagination, but I SWEAR, Angel… I will never leave Buffy the way you did.”
“Then you’ll leave her your own way,” Angel said quietly. “You’re dying, Spike. You’re leaving her even as we speak.”
“No, I’m NOT.”
“Yes, you ARE, Spike.”
Spike smirked. “But you’re callin’ me Spike again.”
Angel blinked, then growled. “You’re pissing me off FAR too much NOT to be you.”
Spike laughed. “Told you, Peaches. The soul didn’t change me beyond givin’ me a bit more of a guilt complex than I already had.”
“You can’t feel guilt without a soul, Spike,” Angel said, forcing himself to calm down. “If that were possible, I’d-”
“Be a bigger poof than you are now?”, the younger vampire asked with mock innocence, then laughed. “S’like the Watcher said earlier, mate. I may be a vampire, but there’s somethin’ screwy with me. That, I accepted a long time ago. I don’t feel things the way demons are supposed to. I feel love. I feel hate. I feel passion. I feel pain. I feel regret. I feel guilt.” He looked Angel in the eye now. “And I feel family. Look, mate… I’ll make you a deal. You stop tryin’ to compare me to you… N’I’ll stop tryin’ to BE you for Buffy.” He held up a hand when Angel started to speak. “I know I haven’t been doin’ it consciously, but that’s the beauty of dealin’ with this sort of stuff when you’re unconscious… You start to see some stuff you weren’t earlier.” He extended a hand. “So… is it a deal?”
Angel eyed him carefully, then nodded and shook his hand. When he spoke, his voice was so quiet, Spike almost couldn’t hear it. “Deal. See you around, Will.” The name, when spoken this time, was simply a term of affection, and not an attempt to force Angel’s own schizophrenia onto Spike.
When their hands separated, and before Spike could say anything, he and Giles found themselves falling again. They barely had enough time to let out strangled shouts before the world closed in around them, and all was black once more.
Chapter 5: Despair (COMING SOON!)