Chapter 1 – Soul Sensations.
Spike seems to have lost something – but what? And, more importantly, why?
Thanks: to Bogwitch who did her usual thorough beta on this and didn’t let me get away with the writing I inflicted on her in the sloppy first draft.
The entrance lobby of the Hyperion bustled with activity and at first glance, it looked to be in total chaos. People hurried in from the street carrying toolboxes, cooking utensils, armfuls of bedding, and camping cots. The stuffy air smelt of dust, sweat and blood and was laden with soft cries of pain as the injured called urgently for assistance.
In the midst of this, Buffy moved through the room with calm efficiency, directing the first-aiders and indicating where supplies should go. As more bloodstained slayers were ferried in through the front doors she allocated places in adjoining rooms according to the severity of their injuries. Illyria followed her progress, observing from a distance as she checked each new arrival. Twice she stepped into Buffy’s path and received an icy glare, to which she responded with a slight, quizzical tilt of her head.
"Will you back off?" Buffy snapped.
"I wish to observe," replied Illyria.
"Well do it somewhere else – like Texas."
Illyria ignored her, instead looking over her head towards the doors as Angel and Spike appeared, carrying Gunn between them on a wooden board. They moved slowly, taking care not to jolt their injured comrade.
Buffy took one swift look at Gunn, and pulled her cell phone out of her jacket pocket, flicking it open with a snap. She punched a number into the keypad. "We need the Crash Team," she said briskly. She glanced at Spike and tears welled behind her eyes. "Hyperion Hotel, 4121 Wilshire Boulevard." Without waiting to hear further questions, she closed the phone and bent her head to a wounded girl at her feet.
Illyria switched her attention to the two vampires, though her eyes remained fixed on Buffy. They were nursing injuries of their own. Spike’s duster was in tatters; the charred remains hanging from his shoulders like paper streamers. His black T-shirt was stained and gashed and his face was a mass of purple and black. Several deep gouges on his forehead showed the beginnings of healing but the dried blood on his eyes and cheeks bore witness to the savagery of the demons who had felled him.
Angel’s injuries were less visible, but he moved stiffly with a pronounced limp on his left side. He shifted the weight of the board onto his right hip, wincing with each painful step.
"What were you playing at?" he hissed.
"Told you, she started it," snarled Spike.
"Not that!" Angel spat in response. Illyria noted that as he spoke, his eyes flicked over to where Buffy was still crouched beside the young girl. She was tight-lipped, her tear-streaked face bleak and closed.
Illyria stepped closer as Angel lowered his voice to a whisper. "You’re tearing her apart, Spike. I know we agreed to move on, but what you just did is too much. Even for you."
Angel gestured with his head at a vacant spot on the ground and he and Spike carefully lowered each end of the makeshift stretcher to the floor. Spike squinted at Angel through blood-caked lashes. "What’re you on about? That dragon venom’s affected your brain, Grandpa’."
"It’s not me that’s affected! This is the woman you said you loved. If this is an example of the way you treated her when . . . "
"Loved? The Slayer! Me?" Spike’s yell cut Angel off.
All activity in the room ceased as people turned their attention to the two vampires standing face to face, noses almost touching. Illyria’s swift, noiseless glide away from them went unnoticed in the hushed stillness that followed Spike’s outburst. She observed him from a distance, waiting for the storm she knew was gathering in his mind, to thunder its presence.
Gunn’s low groan, and an accompanying growl from Spike’s stomach, broke the silence. "Look’s like Chuck’s done for," Spike muttered, glancing down. His stomach gave another rumble. "And I’m feeling mighty peckish."
Buffy slowly got to her feet, glared at Spike, and crossed the room towards the entrance, as the distant sounds of sirens heralding the arrival of ambulances grew louder.
Angel tensed in alarm as he saw ridges beginning to appear on Spike’s forehead, but before he could move, Spike backed rapidly away from Gunn, colliding into Buffy in his haste to put distance between himself and the injured man.
Buffy pushed him aside, her grazed knuckles leaving droplets of blood on the shoulder of his duster. "Better keep out of my way, Spike. I'm not gonna take this much longer."
Illyria focussed on Spike. She could feel his confusion, reading it in swirling patterns of colour, pulsing round his body like a light show accompanying a symphony orchestra. She reached out and touched his mind with hers, probing it to reveal his thoughts and feelings.
Spike closed his eyes, the wave of emotion rippling across his stomach, leaving the muscles tight with tension. His nostrils flared at the familiar scent, Buffy’s scent: sweat and blood mingled with the sweeter, lighter perfume of Jasmine.
Unbidden images flashed through his mind with the instantaneous hardening of his penis; Buffy, naked and moaning with pleasure beneath him; a tiled floor; a torn bathrobe; hands aflame. With the images came an aching sense of loss and desolation, washing over him in painful waves. He swallowed hard and opened his eyes, struggling for a quick rejoinder to Buffy’s words that never came. Instead, he found himself staring into Illyria’s glacial eyes, hearing her speak, though her lips never moved.
"The price you willingly paid is high, vampire." Illyria’s voice echoed in his head.
Spike blinked with surprise. And suddenly, she was gone, resuming her place in the centre of the room, motionless and silent once more.
Angel, too, was watching as the warring emotions danced across Spike’s face. Horror, pain, desire, need, and guilt, in quick succession. He grasped Buffy’s arm as she moved past him. "Buffy . . ."
She jerked away from his grasp. “Not now, Angel,” she said stonily. "There’s more important things I have to do."
"You are coming back?" Angel frowned, lowering his voice. "There’s something wrong with Spike." He gestured at the blond vampire who swung his head from Angel to Buffy, frantically searching their faces for reassurance.
Buffy snorted. "You just figure that out?"
"This is serious." Angel glanced again at Spike who was inching further away from Gunn. "I think a demon took a chunk out of him."
"He’ll have to wait his turn," Buffy replied coldly, avoiding Angel’s eyes.
She swung the doors open, revealing the Crash Team. They moved swiftly into the room, carrying drip stands, IV bags, coolers, and medical bags.
"There’s your patient." Buffy gestured at Gunn. "There’s a room out back all ready." She pushed the doors wide open, and left without a backward glance.
Angel gave Gunn's hand a reasurring pat as the medics carried him away, then hobbled painfully to where Spike sat slumped against the reception desk with his knees drawn up, his head resting on them underneath folded arms. He placed a hand on Spike’s shoulder.
"Spike. What happened?" he asked softly.
The younger vampire mumbled something unintelligible and shrugged Angel’s hand off.
Angel lowered himself carefully to the floor, rested his head back against the front panel of the desk and sighed wearily. They sat together in silence, watching as the room gradually emptied, leaving Illyria standing alone in the same spot from which she’d watched Buffy leave the hotel.
"You’re a bastard!” Spike’s voice shattered the stillness. “A manipulative, self-centred, prancing, do-gooding, Nancy Boy . . ." The tirade came to a sudden halt.
"Feel better now?" Angel asked, studying Spike’s face for clues.
"No," Spike pouted. "I’m not done yet." His face creased with a sudden spasm of pain. "God, I’m hungry. All this fresh on-tap human blood sloshing around, you’d think I could have just one little sip." He inhaled deeply, then tensed his jaw and stared at his Grandsire. "Angel, what’s wrong with me?"
Angel regarded him for a long time before answering. Something in Spike’s storm-grey eyes warned him to tread carefully.
"That’s what I’d like to know," he replied finally. "Are you sure you haven’t taken Andrew’s advice too much to heart? Moving on’s one thing. But I’m seeing denial here. You loved her Spike. You got your soul back for her."
Spike’s shoulders slumped even lower as he let his head fall back into his hands. "But I don’t remember."
"You don’t remember . . .?" began Angel.
"Hang on!" Spike’s head snapped up. "Soul? Don’t be bloody stupid. I haven’t got a soul." He pulled himself onto his feet and strode angrily away, stopping beside Illyria who remained still and quiet. "You're the soulful one. I’m as soulless as the Ice Queen here."
Angel hauled himself up, slowly levering himself upright with the aid of the counter top. He limped painfully towards Spike. "As if I haven’t enough to worry about, I now have an amnesiac second-in-command on my hands," he thought despondently.
"No soul? Then how do you account for not being able to drink human blood?" he asked.
Spike’s response was instantaneous. "The chip."
"And why are you here helping me?" Angel raised his eyebrows.
"Because . . ." Spike stopped, narrowing his eyes. "That a trick question?"
Angel changed tack. "If you never loved her, why did you help Buffy in Sunnydale all that time?"
Spike didn’t answer. Instead, he began pacing the room, his face contorted with the effort of trying to recall the events of the past five years.
Angel was unsure how far to push Spike but he pressed on. "And why did you stay with Dawn after Buffy died?"
Spike ceased pacing. "Nibblet," he breathed. A painful vice clutched his chest as more images crowded into his mind; the feel of Dawn’s arms as she clung to him on the back of a motorcycle; her standing in the doorway of his crypt; "If you wanted to hurt Buffy -- congratulations. It worked."
Angel noticed Spike’s unease but continued his attack. "And why did you stay to die at the Hellmouth when Buffy told you . . ."
Spike’s fist slammed into Angel’s jaw, sending him reeling backwards into Illyria. "That’s enough," he snarled. "No more mind games. I . . . She," he struggled for control. "There. Is. No. Soul. Couldn’t love the Slayer. Right. Wrong. All wrong." Spike backed away from Angel and faced the wall, running his hands along the torn wallpaper and mumbling softly to himself.
The entrance door opened quietly and Buffy stepped inside; Lorne stood grim-faced behind her. Illyria was still contemplating the spot Buffy had vacated earlier. A flash of acknowledgement passed between her and Lorne and she shifted the focus of her attention from Spike to Angel.
"This Slayer is the One," an icy voice said softly in his ear. "And so it begins. It was not a demon that removed part of your comrade,” she said. He gave it freely to help another."
Angel caught the slight motion of Illyria’s hand in front of his eyes before the light from the room faded. The ground slipped away from under him and he felt the vertigo he’d experienced on the dragon’s back. He tried to shake his head in an attempt to clear it, but his muscles wouldn’t co-operate and he felt himself leaving his body and floating in the darkness.