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The Cycle Series (Spike/Fred)

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  • The Cycle Series (Spike/Fred)

    Yeah, I want Fred back. And I want Spike to be the one to find her. So here we go:

    Title:The Cycle Series [seven parts]
    Author: sockmonkeyhere
    Rating: PG-13
    Pairing: Spike/Fred
    Setting: post-Not Fade Away
    Summary: Vignette-style story of Fred's resurrection.

    Part 1...


    It’s 4:57 by the old clock on the wall…Spike notes the time as he staggers to his feet in the convenience store’s doorway and rakes his gaze over the aisles of candy and overpriced toilet tissue. The angry young warlock who’d slammed the whole building with a mystic blast of god-knows-what when Illyria slapped the gun from his hand (“Insect! We require our dollar bills for GASOLINE!”) has flown off in a huff, leaving behind a botched robbery and a trail of sparks and wounded ego. His companion in crime is a wildly pissed-off female vampire, and she snarls and throws herself at Spike, and there’s a violent, screeching fistfight until finally he knocks her to her knees and sets her hair on fire with his lighter. She explodes in a screaming fireball.

    Be morning soon; gotta get the ****ing petrol ‘n be on our way. Wincing from his fresh new bruises, he limps to his motorcycle and pulls it upright against the pumps. As he finishes filling the tank, he calls out to the Old One: “All right, Periwinkle? Oi, that little bastard packed a wallop. I’m still seein’ stars.” No one answers.


    He spies her on her bottom beside the store’s front wall, hunkered down in the narrow space between the newspaper racks and the ice machine. She appears to have crawled there.


    It isn’t her. In the bug-swarm ghostly light of the gas pump island, the skin is pale and naked...and pink.

    The hair…is brown.

    The eyes…the eyes are pools of horror, staring at the smoking ash that was recently a person, and her body trembles and then he knows.

    The comment “I've seen the bloody Fred routine before” dies in his throat.

    Moving slowly, as though in a dream, he crouches down before her. The eyes have begun to dart now; here, there, and everywhere. She whines. It’s a horrid sound, like the cry of a trapped animal.

    With infinite care he reaches out and takes her hands in his. They’re scratched and raw and gritty from (Clawed her way out of a coffin, that's how) slamming and crawling across the pavement. Her knees are in bad shape, too. He slides his coat off and eases it around her, and something in her loosens and she sobs with fear and burrows into the shelter of his arms, and it’s at the same time awful and heavenly. The kid; whatever was in that wad of magic shit he threw at them must have done something. Knocked Fred back into place. Sent Illyria packing, maybe. Set things straight again.

    Has she come back wrong?

    "Hell, no," he scolds himself. Not his fetching mad scientist. If five years in a slave dimension couldn’t crack her…although it did crack her a bit, so they said…but look how she’d pulled herself together…

    I don’t want to be lonely anymore.

    The store’s clerk -- this is the fourth time he’s been robbed this year –- comes out, looks at them without a word, and goes back inside.

    An odd sense of peace comes over Spike. He smooths her hair as he used to smooth Dru’s and longed to smooth Buffy’s. If she is wrong, is broken, he can handle it; he’s been down this path before. This time he’ll do it right.

    He suddenly realizes he’s missed Fred desperately.

    I want you to know I did save you. Not when it counted, of course. But after that. Every night after that.

    Somehow he gets her onto the back of the bike; buttons her into the coat and pulls her arms around his waist…and then they’re out on the highway, wind whipping their faces, and the cold, white stars fill the dome of the sky.

  • #2
    Part 2...

    Songs in the Key of Insanity

    "We’re all mad here."
    - the Cheshire Cat: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

    There’s still a few shots left in the bottle of Old Crow, and Spike gazes at it and considers; sour mash has never been his first choice of booze, but it was all there was to be had in the house, and right now he could do with a bit of the soothing syrup. The “house” is a Victorian-era hotel near an abandoned train track at the edge of a rotting ghost town. They’re the first human guests it’s seen in years; a benign old Fae woman runs it now, and sits on its porch, rocking and rocking, her dull grey wings drooping through the slats in the back of her chair.

    The hotel, thankfully, is not quite so dilapidated. Spike stumbled across it soon after fleeing the convenience store and the rising sun <i>(and Illyria)</i>, and the Fae hag took pity on them and offered them her cellar. It’s cool and safe and comfortable, and there’s no valuables here; nothing to break that can’t be replaced easily; no nice wallpaper to spoil.

    For Fred, it seems, has come back wrong after all.

    Not damaged in the way that Buffy was, with dead eyes and hostile silences and violent, desperate, self-centered lust. And not comfortable in her madness like Drusilla. (Something about her reminds him of Dru, though, and he doesn’t know if this should worry him or not. He’s a little ashamed to find it strangely comforting.) No, Fred’s madness is that of a daft, confused child, who senses that something is wrong but just can’t put her finger on it. It waxes and wanes, and at times she seems almost lucid. But it’s never long before something else sets her off, and she retreats back into La-La Land.

    She’s off in a corner at the moment, underneath the laundry table. It’s a nice little hidey-hole -- as is the potato bin and the crawlspace under the stairs. In fact, Spike’s been amazed at some of the places she’s wedged herself into. Of course, it’s not so hard to wedge when one’s as thin as Fred is, and half starkers to boot – she refuses to wear more than a loose camisole and panties, and she yanks these up and down constantly to check for patches of blue on her skin.

    Spike decides to let the whiskey be for now, and he crosses the room and kneels beside Fred’s metal-and-Formica cave. She’s drawing on the floor with a piece of chalk; stuff that he recognizes as advanced mathematics but hasn’t a clue how to interpret.

    “Doing all right, are we, Love?”

    “Uh-huh.” Her eyes never leave her equations. “There’s no chewing gum stuck under this table. You know, if you drop a penny off the top of the Washington Monument, it won’t really kill someone if it hits them on the head. That’s just an urban legend. Can I have some peas?”

    The rapid-fire change of subject throws him for a moment. “Peas?...Yeah, ‘course. Uh, what kind of peas do you like? English?”

    Her face lights up with laughter; it’s a lovely, normal sound and it makes him laugh, too.

    ”No, Silly, YOU’RE the one who should eat those! English peas for English people.” Fred’s giggling so hard now that she can hardly talk. “Black-eyed peas are for Texans! They bring you luck if you eat them on New Year’s Day. I could wolf down a whole mess of ‘em right now. And corn on the cob is good, too.”

    “Got it. Peas and corn. I’ll go raid the pantry.”

    It takes only a few minutes to run up to the kitchen and back; for longer errands he’s had the landlady stay with her. The old woman isn’t too spry, but she’s got a sharp eye and a kind heart, and a bit of magic still left. Sometimes Fred likes to sit beside her quietly and stroke her wings.

    He returns with two tins and a find her weeping. She's still under the table, but her mouth is frosted with a peculiar white powder, and the stick of chalk has vanished. He can only stare at her, dumbfounded. In despair and agony she looks up at him with tear-filled eyes and whispers, "I ate it."

    During the months that Illyria had been with them, Spike had developed a grudging acceptance of the Old One; had at times even pitied her for her situation. Just for this moment, however...seeing the wreck that his dear friend has become at her hands...he hates her.


    The bottle is empty at last. He's coaxed her to the sink and bathed her face and held her hair as she tries to vomit...but nothing comes out. "It's just your new innards, Lamb, that's all. They're likely designed for eatin' chalk and all kinds of odd bits. Don't try to force it up; you'll do yourself an injury." He offers her a swig of the Kentucky bourbon, tucks her into bed, and then polishes off the rest by himself.

    In the night, she rises from her bed and creeps across the few inches of space that separate their folding cots. The quiet shuffling rouses him. He wakes to find her looking at him there in the dark, on the edge of his bed, knees on the floor and thin, pale hands clinging to the sheets as if to keep from drowning. Without a word, she reaches out one arm and her fingers touch his face.

    A wave of loneliness rolls over him, painful and wretched, and with a moan he pulls her into the bed with him. In his frantic passion his mouth and body crush hers into the mattress; his hands burrow and clutch in her hair. Joy and grief and a strange, haunting triumph surge through his soul: however damaged Fred may be, she's his. She's with him now. Warm and alive. Companion, friend, lover...all the things his heart has longed for.

    And when he hears her cries of climax, his heart sings.


    Dawn comes into this cellar not in a warm glow of rose and yellow, but in a grey haze through a dusty, cobweb-mottled little window. It's in this dim light that Spike awakens once more. He reaches for Fred, but she's no longer on his cot. She's on her feet, facing a wall, busy with the day's work. Somewhere in the room she's found a felt-tip pen. And on the wall, and on the table, and in the sink, and down her arms, and across the sheets of their beds, the writing stretches, covering everything.

    It isn't mathematics anymore. It's a single word, repeated over and over, hundreds and hundreds of times:



    • #3
      Part 3...

      A Time to Gather Stones Together

      Fred’s improved…somewhat.

      The ink on her arms has started to fade, and she’s agreed to wear clothes.

      There’s a nice breeze coming off of the lake on the other side of the railroad tracks, and it cools the porch of the old hotel and brings with it a mourning dove’s soft cry and the pale-sweet scent from an ancient, feral rose bush. The creaking of the porch swing, though, is Spike’s doing. He’s leaned back into it and is swaying it to and fro, just a bit, with the heel of his boot braced on the floor for leverage. The sensation is very lulling, and he’d like to close his eyes and drift off to sleep (Can we rest now?)…but there’s miles to go before he can sleep, and Fred to look after as she picks blackberries in the brambles that have overtaken part of the courtyard. He’d decided to risk letting her wander a little, although he made sure first that there were other boarders and the old Fae woman within shouting distance in case Fred took it into her head to run down to the lake and sink heels up like mad Ophelia.

      He can’t say when he became aware that someone was sitting in the rocking chair nearby. But he turns and looks, and recognizes her…and is quietly amazed that he’s not all that amazed. After the incredible things he’s witnessed in his life, though, why should he be surprised to see dead Tara?

      “Hullo, Glinda.”

      “Hi.” Her mouth breaks into a little crook of a smile; she casts him a brief sidelong glance and goes back to gazing peacefully across the courtyard, just as he’d been doing. Still shy, then. And still wearing the tie-dyed and flower-child-inspired medieval Earth Mother clothing she’d worn in life; her legs are hidden by its ankle-length skirt, her knees drawn up under her chin and her arms resting comfortably across them.

      The shrill of the cicadas rises to a fever pitch.

      “It’s nice here,” Tara murmurs. “Fred really likes it. And it’s got nice people. You can’t stay, though.”

      “Yeah, I was thinkin’ that, myself. Gotta find her some professional help. I can protect her, but I can’t get inside her noggin and fix what’s broke.” A notion strikes him. “Don’t suppose you can do anything about it?”

      “She saw some of what happened.” Tara’s voice never wavers from that calm, quiet timbre. “She knows that Wesley’s dead, and she remembers being constantly shoved and jostled and crushed down underneath Illyria. It scared her to pieces. And it hurt. Every time Illyria accessed her memories, it burned her like an electrical shock.”

      “Bloody hell.” His words hiss out in a horrified whisper.

      “…And Illyria’s coming. She’s angry, and she wants Fred’s body back. Cordelia’s tried to reason with her, and Anya offered her money, but she won’t give up. She’s not content to be just a spirit.”

      “But Perc- I mean, Pryce -- he’s one, isn’t he? And she was right fond of him, what I saw.”

      “She can’t reach him. If she’d calm down, we could help her.”

      Spike regards her through suddenly narrowing eyes. “How do I know…how do I know that you’re really Tara? How do I know that you’re not that little piece of mouse-shit First Evil?”

      Wordlessly Tara straightens her legs and places her feet on the porch floor. She looks at her feet; focuses hard on them. Her face tightens. Seconds pass. More seconds. And then slowly, steadily, her toes begin to resist the surface of the floor…and her rocking chair rocks.

      Tara smiles. “How-ow’s…that?”

      A grin of relief lights up Spike’s face. “Smashing!”

      Tara proudly wiggles her toes. “Little trick I learned by watching you.”

      They fall silent for a moment.

      “She’s coming,” Tara says again. “You need to go to Cleveland. You’ll find help there.”

      “Haven’t you got any abracadabra left in you, Pet?”

      She shakes her head ‘no.’ “Not the kind you need. Your landlady can mark you with a seven-point fairy star before you leave here; it’ll give you some protection against evil. But see, the thing is, Illyria’s not evil. She’s just pissed off.”

      He tilts his head and studies her. “We’re not Scoobies; never were a part of your circle. Why’re you helping us?”

      “Because you and I both know how bad it feels to be crazy. And because you helped us, even though you didn’t have to. And because when I was crazy, you were nice to me.”

      For a moment he doesn’t recall what she’s talking about. Then he remembers: the flight from Glory in the Winnebago, when a brain-damaged Tara had opened the blinds and burned his hand.

      (“No biggie. Look, the skin's already stopped smoking. You go ahead and play peek-a-boo with Mister Sunshine all you like. Keeps the ride from getting boring.”)

      In the west, a flash of heat lightning flares silently, illuminating the red horizon and some distant, roiling black clouds in the sky. The air has become sultry. Fred returns to the porch from her berrying, picking seeds from her teeth and licking her fingers. She stops and panics when she notices the juice stains on her hands, and it takes a bit of time for Spike to convince her that it’s harmless; that the patches are not blue, but purple. As he reassures her, he feels briefly the pressure of a hand, small and feminine, on his shoulder; when he looks behind him, Tara’s chair is empty.


      • #4
        Part 4...

        She’s Come Undone

        “Spike. Whoa. You look… Come on in.”

        Willow’s eyes are wide as she steps back to let him through. He’s arrived on her doorstep as per their phoned arrangement (she asking how he’d gotten her number, he too tired to explain), and he looks as disheveled as a cat in a blender. In the 3:00 AM darkness she can just make out the black hulk of a motorcycle parked in her driveway.


        Two thin hands appear on the edge of the porch where it drops off to the ground a couple of feet below. Between them, inch by inch, the top half of a face emerges.

        “Oh, my god,” Willow murmurs, as she and the Kilroy Was Here eyes stare at each other.

        “It’s all right, Pet,” Spike says to the hands and half-a-face. “Safe to come out. No bugaboos here.” Faith chooses that moment to join Willow in the doorway, and he adds under his breath, “‘Least none whose ass I can’t eventually kick.”

        “Nice to see you, too, Scooter,” Faith replies…and then does a double-take as Fred slowly rises into view and creeps across the porch on her belly.


        Not until she reaches the security of the living room, with the front door shut and locked behind her, does Fred finally relax enough to stand upright. Then she crams herself against Spike as he sinks onto a couch. His eyes close wearily, and Willow’s a little alarmed. Here in the lamplight he looks even shittier than he did outside: gaunt and rumpled; his usually natty hair an unkempt riot of curls. He looks… she thinks, He looks like he did when Glory was after us.

        “Are you hungry?” she blurts. “I – I can maybe teleport some blood in from somewhere, or there’s some uncooked pork chops in the frig that are kinda leaky, or-” She pauses. “I guess you could slurp some out of our arms, as long as you don’t take too much. If you’re actually starving, that is.” She can’t suppress a grimace at this, and Faith snorts aloud. Willow shrugs at her helplessly.

        Suddenly Fred speaks.

        “I remember you.”

        Slayer and witch simultaneously start a little and look at her. She peers up at them from where her face has been buried in Spike’s shoulder; raises her hand from under his arm and cautiously points to them.

        “I know you, and I know you. You were from before.” She spanks her forehead with the heel of her hand; tries to concentrate. “I rang a bell and marched in a circle. Ting, ting, ting! And then y’all put Angel in a jar. Or out of a jar. Somethin’.”

        Her gaze drifts away from them and out to someplace only she can see. “I tried to make an additive for the gas tank so we could drive here faster, but I couldn’t collect all the ingredients. Alka-Seltzer was not a good substitute.”

        “Shit, she really has gone non-linear,” Faith says softly. She kneels down so that her face is on Fred’s level. “So there’s a big Blue Meanie chasing you, huh?”

        Fred nods. “Wants to catch me bad. And I can’t think how to stop her, ‘cause I can’t…think. It all got scrambled and now I’m nuttier’n a squirrel turd.”

        Without opening his eyes, Spike chuckles just a little. Fred adds in a whisper, “I got so lost.”

        There’s a sudden, harsh gasp, and Spike opens his eyes in time to see Willow clamp a hand to her mouth. Her face contorts with some grief that he doesn’t understand. There’s a moment’s silence, and finally she draws a shaky breath.

        “You can leave her here with us,” she tells him, and with a watery smile she takes Fred’s hand. “Giles is flying in next week for a council conference, and Xander’ll probably be with him, and we’ll all take good care of her-”


        Spike snatches Fred’s hand out of Willow’s and pulls her tight against him, and now it’s his turn to look…grief-stricken?

        No. Angry.

        “You lot aren’t runnin’ me off! Not this time. You brought her back before and wouldn’t tell me; didn’t care that I loved her, too, or that I’d fought alongside you and protected her sister and was stupid enough to think that with a soul I’d finally be considered one of y-”

        “What the **** are you talking about?” Faith yells, and Fred shrieks at the sound and rushes to the picture window across the room and hides by winding herself up in the draperies. Spike’s on his feet, with gritted teeth and furious tear-filled eyes, quivering with the pent-up rage of rejection and loneliness and old, raw grievances.

        And finally, finally, Willow understands.

        And remembers a bouquet of flowers with an unsigned card.

        And is a little ashamed.

        “You’re welcome here, too, Spike,” she tells him quietly.

        He stares at her for one long, wild moment, and then his voice becomes one of desperation.

        “Help her.”


        They’re given a bed in one of the spare rooms and Spike collapses into it and is asleep within seconds. The drive to Cleveland has been a long and exhausting one, made even harder by the constant looking over his shoulder for Illyria, and the relief he feels from his outburst at Faith and Willow has drained him of his last bit of stamina.

        He sleeps hugging Fred close to him.


        “You bite your nails,” she whispers to him hours later. She’s holding his hand in both of hers, examining each finger minutely. They’re still curled up in the bed together, and he’s still groggy with sleep…and she’s still crackers.

        “Nope, that’s from changin’ the tire yesterday, remember? Tore ‘em down to the quick.”

        “Oh.” She chews her lip, trying to recall that, but instead she remembers something else.

        “You gave up on me.”

        He comes wide awake then; rises up on one elbow and looks at her. “Gave up? Luv, when?”

        “All of you. You all stopped looking for me. Charles, Wesley, Angel…you, Lorne. You quit trying. You let her have me.” Her expression is flushed with hurt, and she’s begun to cry. “I was there and I saw. Why did you stop trying? I never stopped trying to bring back you.”

        “Oh, Christ, oh, Fred…” Guilt rips through his gut and into his heart. “We thought – no, that’s not right; we tried not to think, because it hurt less that way…” He trails off, not knowing what else to say to her.

        “You won’t give up anymore, will you?”

        “God, no,” he says fiercely. “Never again.”

        “Okay.” She wipes her eyes on her sleeve and snuggles back against his chest. “Hydrochloric acid: clear colorless to light yellow; melting point minus twenty-seven point thirty-two degrees Celsius…”


        • #5
          Part 5...

          Making Medicine

          The attempt at a cure has begun, on the floor in Willow’s living room where she and Fred are seated cross-legged, facing one another, listening to a CD of soft, hypnotic music. Fred’s followed Willow’s instructions happily; she likes the witch and wants to please her, and she thinks her rituals are fun. They gently clasp hands over a bowl of herbs and incense and flickering candles; the odors soothe and the tiny flames relax and comfort, and Willow closes her eyes and murmurs the magic that Council wizards swear by for the repair of damaged minds. Fred interrupts only once, to announce with a giggle that it’s like playin’ Little Pink Clouds.

          Spike watches them through the kitchen doorway. He’s seated, too -- in one of the chairs of the dinette set -- stiff and wary, his arms twisted into a knot across his chest. Almost too casually, Faith joins him, sipping a can of orange soda and perching on the dinette table itself with her feet on a chair.

          “So…” she says after a minute, “…are you guys going steady?”

          Spike glances at her only long enough to give her a withering look. “What’s it to you, Slayer?”

          “Nothin’. I just never figured you for the Girl Scout type, is all. Y’know, innocent goody-two-shoes Pollyanna teacher’s pet who couldn’t punch her way out of a wet paper bag.” Faith smiles with mischief, and drops her voice to a sultry purr. “I always got the impression that you liked your ladies rough ‘n’ wicked. Warm champagne, remember?”

          This time he doesn’t even bother to look at her. “Tastes can change.”

          “Guess so.” Faith looks a bit disappointed at his refusal to flirt with her. “From booze to buttermilk, though; that’s a change I never would have predicted...although come to think of it, she did wear Naughty Librarian glasses sometimes.”

          They fall silent and watch as the candle flames turn an unnatural purple and Willow lays her palms on the sides of Fred’s face. Fred’s eyes glaze and droop shut, and Willow’s chant drones on: “Chaos, depart. Discordia, depart. Anu, goddess of health, Brigantia, goddess of healing, Menrva, goddess of reason, help us. Harmonia, restore us. That which was undone, make whole. Tabula implore, tabula supplere, tabula integra.”

          Faith picks quietly at the tab of her soda can. “Did Wes…were you there when he died?” There’s grief in her voice, for all that she tries to seem unaffected. It catches Spike by surprise.

          “No. Dunno many details; just the basic how and why. Illyria was with him, though. I suppose you could ask her about it when she blasts through your front door…if she’s not too busy slaughtering everyone, that is. Girl does enjoy a good rampage.”

          “The ‘why’ was stupid.” Faith glares into her soda as if The Why is floating there. “He had no business hookin’ up with that place, y’know it? Crazy-ass psycho killer attorneys. I should’ve made him come back to Sunny D with us when I had the chance.”

          “Right, ‘cause the Hellmouth was so much safer.”

          “Shut up and let me enjoy my hindsight. Who knows, maybe if you’d gotten your girl out when you first started feelin’ the wiggins, she wouldn’t be walking around with pudding for brains right now.”

          She could swear she sees him wince, and for a moment she’s almost sorry. But it passes.

          “She loved that bloody laboratory of hers too much to leave,” Spike replies. “Was convinced it was her best means to fight evil ‘n’ bring truth and justice to the world.” He pauses, and then adds, “She wasn’t my girl, anyway. There were always two or three blokes in line ahead of me. Still could be, for all I know.”

          Faith sighs. “Dude, you gotta stop wearing your heart on your sleeve. It was pathetic when you were jonesin’ for B, and it ain’t any prettier now.”

          “All done,” Willow announces suddenly, and Fred sags over in an unconscious heap. “Help me get her on the couch.”

          They scoop her up and deposit her on the sofa, and tuck a pillow under her head. Willow chews her lip thoughtfully and surveys her handiwork. “She’s gonna be out for awhile; maybe even a day or two. We’ll know if it took when she wakes up.”

          “I don’t like the sound of ‘if’, Red,” Spike tells her.

          “I know, but hey, it beats ‘when pigs fly’ or ‘I’d like to buy a vowel, Pat’ or ‘we don’t have a clue what we’re doing.’” Willow smiles at him encouragingly. “Wanna hear something funny? One of the goddesses I invoked – Harmonia – well, guess what the name of the territory was that she and her husband legendarily helped conquer?”

          “Disneyland?” Spike guesses.

          “No. Illyria. Is that a lucky sign or what? Go, Team Us!”

          Still smiling, Willow begins to gather up her supplies from the floor. Spike pulls an ottoman next to the sofa, and watches Fred. Her breathing is deep, steady. Her cheeks are flushed. There’s no movement under her eyelids; her sleep seems almost drugged, beyond dreaming.

          For awhile he only watches. Then with one gentle finger he traces her lips.

          Outside the wind begins to pick up, whirling around the house and chimney and rattling the tree branches. Another gust, and hail stones clatter across the roof…then cease as suddenly as they came.

          Everyone waits, listening in the stillness. Faith goes to the window and watches as the silent lightning illuminates an afternoon grown dark and threatening.

          A high, shrill whistle breaks the silence. From the corner of the room a ball of electricity, fist-sized and crackling with static, appears. It hangs in midair as though getting its bearings; then it moves. Bobbing and lurching, it begins to trace a crazed, rapid path along the walls and down the ceiling. One, two, three more light balls follow it. Together they circle the original ball, which shoots past them and swings toward the sofa.

          Without taking her eyes from the floating lights, Faith picks up a heavy candlestick. “Rosenberg, we could use some cover,” she says.

          “Already on it,” Willow murmurs, as both she and Faith back slowly up to flank Fred on the sofa. Spike hisses and shifts into vamp-face. Whispering a spell, Willow throws a protective force field around them all.

          The original ball veers off, circling.

          Illyria has arrived.


          • #6
            Part 6...

            Armistice Day

            “Damn it, will you just be still a minute and LISTEN to me?” Cordelia shrieks, as Illyria shoves past her and slams against Willow’s protective bubble. “Look, that thing’s not going to give. And frankly, Anya and I are tired of holding hands and playing Red Rover with you, and I’m sure that Doyle has better things to do, too, although I’m not sure I want to know what those things are.”

            Allen Francis Doyle is struggling to hold onto one of Illyria’s boots. “Don’t knock ‘em ‘til you’ve tried ‘em, Darlin’,” he grunts, and then, “OW!” as the Old One pulls free and kicks him in the face. “Jaysus, I t’ink she broke my nose!”

            “You’re a ghost. It’ll mend,” Cordy sighs in exasperation.

            “Give. Me. The. Shell.”

            Illyria whirls around now with wild, furious eyes and prepares to make another run at the force field. Anya quickly steps into her path. “Trust me, the human body is severely overrated. You should consider possessing a nice recently-deceased spiny anteater; they’re very dangerous to touch and they have a four-headed penis.”

            Doyle boggles at her. “Feck off, are you serious?”

            “Absolutely; they’re not as dangerous as rabbits, of course, but then what is?”

            “No, I mean about the four-headed penis-”

            “ENOUGH!” Cordy yells, and her aura glares so brightly that the group inside the bubble have to hide their eyes. “God, where is a phantom Tylenol when I need one?” Hand on hip, she points one immaculately lacquered and manicured finger at Illyria. “You. Rainbow Brite. You are so not getting my friend’s bod that it’s not even up for discussion.”

            “Take care, Bitch Trollop, that I do not decide to inhabit your shell instead,” the Old One snarls.

            Cordelia rolls her eyes. “Been there, done that, have the maternity-top souvenir T-shirt. Oh, and good luck even finding MY shell; it’s currently pushing up very stylish daisies in Forest Lawn.”

            “AAAAAAAAAAEEEEEEEE!” Illyria screams, and drives her fists into the floor.

            They pass through it harmlessly, and this outrages and humiliates her even further. She throws a tantrum. Within seconds, she begins to lose shape and churns herself into a thrashing, lunging, nebulous blob. Doyle leans against the fireplace, crosses his arms, and watches her performance, commenting dryly, “Oh, that’s dead ****in’ brill, dat is.”

            She hurls herself to her feet and reels through the room like a fly in a bottle, throwing off sparks; hammering at the invisible barrier over Fred and Spike. The blows send blue-white electrical currents rippling and crackling across the barrier’s surface. Anya and Cordy leap back in alarm at her howls of anguish. “Do you think she’d like some juice?” Anya yells through the cacophony, her hands over her ears. “I always feel better when I have juice.”

            “I AM GONE, I AM NOTHING, I AM DISPO-”


            A quiet male voice, soft and cultured. It cuts through her screams and silences her. Those inside the force field hear nothing and see only a new ball of light passing through the front door, but to the spirits in the room it’s a person, and it’s familiar.

            “Thank goodness,” Cordelia sighs, and adds in a stage whisper, “Where have you been?”

            Wesley doesn’t answer. His focus is entirely on Illyria. They lock eyes, and he takes a few steps toward her.

            “You exist,” she says, with a touch of wonder in her otherwise dead voice.


            He looks very much as he did during his last days of earthly life…but his bleakness, and his misery, have been replaced with an otherworldly calm. Illyria tilts her head in bewilderment, and her brow furrows.

            “I don’t understand this plane of existence. It confounds me.”

            “You’ll get used to it. We all did. It’s not a bad world, once you learn the ropes. Come with me, and I’ll show you.” He holds his hand out to her.

            She looks back, once, at Fred.

            Slowly, wordlessly…she lays her fingertips on his palm.

            Allows his hand to close around them.

            Allows him to lead her away.


            The other ghosts watch them go. As they pass a chair, Halfrek appears in it, sitting politely and watching with her perennially cheerful smile. “Are you finished now?” she asks Anya.

            “I hope so. These assignments are really eating into my quality time.”

            “Sorry about that,” Doyle apologizes. “This one come up too quick to check schedules. Was you meetin’ someone?”

            “Yes,” says Anya, and Hallie adds pleasantly, “We’re going to visit the TAPS team and pretend to be orbs and then not say anything when they ask us to talk to them.” She gathers up her purse and drifts through the wall with her fellow vengeance demon; faintly from the other side they hear her saying, “Would the porcupine-faced man like to come with us?”

            There’s only Cordy and Doyle left now. Together they gaze at the place where Illyria and her guide were last standing. “He never looked at her, not once, did’ja notice that?” Doyle notes, wondering. “Wes, I mean. At Fred.”

            Cordelia answers softly, “He couldn’t bear to. I think if he’d looked he wouldn’t have been able to leave. And he has to leave, to keep Illyria away from her.”

            “Where’ll he take her, do you think?”

            “No idea. Although if we’re quiet, we could probably follow them at a discreet distance…”

            Like fireflies, their lights wink out.

            From behind the bubble Willow sees the last of the mysterious glowing balls vanish, and carefully, cautiously, she lets the force shield drop. When it does, Cordy darts back in for an instant, unseen by anyone; she slips behind Willow, lays her hands on the young witch’s shoulders, and whispers something in her ear.


            “Was that her?” Faith asks. She twirls the candlestick-cum-bludgeon restlessly. “I thought we were gonna see a big scary blue chick. I’m kind of disappointed.”

            “Yeah, I’m pretty sure that was Illyria…cleverly disguised as a package of firecrackers. We can relax now, though. I don’t think she’ll come back again.”

            Still in vamp face, Spike appears unconvinced. “What makes you say that?”

            “I don’t know how I know; I just know.”

            “A little birdie told you, I suppose,” he scoffs.

            “No, not a little birdie. It felt more…emu-size.”

            Several choice, mocking come-backs spring to mind for that…but then he remembers Tara’s visit, and suddenly Willow doesn’t sound quite so silly after all. He also remembers that Willow’s just possibly saved his and Fred’s lives, and for that he owes her big-time.

            So he simply nods and says nothing.

            Nought to do now but wait for Fred to awaken.


            • #7
              Part 7...


              For twenty-seven hours, Fred is out like a light.

              Willow putters, checking Fred’s vitals often and consulting over the phone with some fellow wizards who’ve pulled off the spell successfully. Faith decides it’s safe to go grocery shopping, and returns from the meat packers’ with a plastic container of beef blood and hands it to Spike who pops open the Rubbermaid lid and slugs it down without bothering to heat it.

              A few minutes into the twenty-eighth hour, she stirs.

              “Fred?” Willow asks, peering down at her patient with not a little apprehension. Fred’s eyes open to see Willow’s face looming over her. She makes a small, breathy sound that might be a “Huh?”, and blinks.

              Excitement begins to creep into Willow’s voice. “Fred, how are you? How many fingers am I holding up?”

              Still flat on her back, Fred stares at the girl’s hand. “Uh…all of the above?”

              “Oh, my god, I think she’s back to normal!”


              “Owwww…” Fred moans, as she eases herself into a sitting position and rubs the back of her neck. “I feel like sump’um the dogs dragged under the porch.” She slides her legs over the side of the bed and looks warily around her. “Has Illyria come yet?”

              “Come and gone. Knock wood, she won’t be back again. Can we get you anything?” Spike asks gently. He kneels beside her, and places his hand almost shyly on her knee.

              “A drink of water, I guess. Yeah, some water. This must be your room, right?” she says to Willow. “I always figured you’d decorate with lots of candles.” She inhales a deep breath of air. “They smell nice.”

              Faith steps forward now. “So, are you still confused about anything, Tex? Besides fashion, I mean?”

              Fred considers. “...No. Well, there’s the question of what exactly it was that pulled that thing out of me, and what we can do to keep her from boomeranging back. And..and the others. Charles. Angel. Lorne. Weh-” Her voice hitches and for a moment she stares bleakly into space. “We have to try to find them; find out if they’re okay.” She looks at Spike imploringly. “I remember getting separated from them in the alley. And we had to run; you and Illyria fought and fought, but you finally had to run.”

              “We had to run,” Spike agreed. “We’d have stayed if we could. But there were too many damn monsters; we couldn’t see Angel or Charlie anywhere.”

              Fred nods. “Barely got away ourselves.”

              Her voice falls low and grieving. “We’re the only ones left.”

              “No, you’re not.” Willow sits beside Fred and puts her arm around her. “You’ve got us, and you’ve got the Council. We’ll all help you look for them. You’re a Scooby now, okay?”

              Fred gives her a watery little smile, and she gives Fred a comforting hug.

              Spike silently draws his hand away.


              Later that evening, some of Willow’s friends from the local coven drop in for a visit, and they congratulate Willow and there’s much merry-making. Faith has traded in her orange soda for a Jose Cuervo margarita with lime. Caramel corn and fizzy bottles of pink champagne make the rounds.

              The laughter filters out through the windows onto the lawn, where a tiny red glow bobs in the dark. Fred slips quietly from the house, away from the celebration, and spies the red glow. She goes to it.

              It’s Spike, slouched against a tree; the red glow is the tip of his cigarette. He raises his eyes to her as she approaches, and from habit, starts to say something flip. Quite the party, perhaps. Or Nice night for a widdershin. But the words won’t come. They die in his throat and there’s a longing so terrible and deep that it makes him feel sick. The cigarette between his fingers starts to tremble.

              Fred speaks. “I couldn’t find you. I thought you’d left and I started to panic.”

              “Not gone yet, Love. Motorcycle tank’s almost empty.”

              Her eyes widen with shock. “You are going to leave? Why?”

              “You’re cured now. That was Red’s doin’; she can keep you safer than I can.”

              “But that doesn’t mean you have to go away!”

              A tinge of bitterness creeps into his voice. “Why not? Because you’re not ready yet for me to not be here?”

              Fred’s lips move softly as she tries to repeat his words and decipher them. “I’m not…not be…you…okay, that’s so garbled even I wouldn’t say it. Where’d that come from, Spike? What are you talking about?”

              “Nothing. Just stay here, Fred. With the watchers and the witches and the slayers and all the other white hats. You’ll be safer.”

              “I don’t want to be safe. I want to be with you.” She pauses. “Wait, that didn’t come out right.”

              She takes a breath. “I want to be with you, no matter what.”

              “But you’re not in love with me. There’s the rub, Pet. I couldn’t stand that again; living so close to a woman I want, woman I love…waiting in desperation for even a few crumbs…” His face twists ruefully. “Said it before: I know I’m love’s bitch. But even a bitch has limits. Your heart’s already taken, and mine’s been broken three times. I don’t think it could survive a fourth.”

              The sadness in Fred’s eyes mirrors the pain in his. “I could learn to be in love with you, I think,” she says. “I don’t think it would be hard.” She eases his free hand from his pocket, and slides her thin fingers through his powerful ones. Her voice drops to a whisper. “I’m lonely, too.”

              Spike’s resolve begins to crumble. Does she remember, he wonders, their night of intimacy in the Fae woman’s house?

              Does it matter?

              There’s a bit of verse he heard once – doesn’t quite recall where, although he thinks it might have been an old X-Files rerun – which says that the heart wants…what the heart wants.

              Her hand is still in his, and he leads her by it to the quiet shadows and trees and makes love to her. She goes willingly. Their movements are slow, languid, peaceful; afterwards they linger, and exchange soft kisses of reassurance and affection.

              Can he come to love odd, quirky little Fred as much as he loved Buffy?

              Doesn’t matter. Fred’s here, and Fred’s now…and the heart wants.