Spike woke slowly, raging thirst and confusion only confirming he was still in London in his real life and that this was merely another nightmare.
The latest creature to appear had been so real that he had even managed to change the scenery, but then this one ate actors, so that seemed par for the course to Spike. He wondered what new torments he would think up for him and was not surprised when the slow progression of evil began again.
He pulled the sheet over his face as a large black man approached the bed. 'We don't have any black people yet. Go away.'
''K… great start. This ain't England, Bro, or wherever you think you are, and I ain't gonna go away. I bring blood, and I really hate pissing Angel off by spilling anything on his bed… and did I just say that? Out. Drink.'
'Are you an angel?'
Gunn bit back a laugh. 'Not last time I looked, but I can sing mighty fine gospel when I've a mind to. Now, you gonna have this?'
Spike peered out. 'I'm chained.'
'Sure are. The boss did it while you were asleep.'
Spike frowned. 'You should have woken me. I really like his stuff - not since he split from E-street though.'
'Okay, I'm feeling dizzy now, so, just drink?'
'Yes. I will, cus I'm in denial. No, recovery. No, maybe denial.'
'He has nice eyes: blue, like mine.'
Gunn watched Spike drink then backed toward the door, shaking his head.
The next in the progression of malevolence was an interesting choice. Spike watched her watching him for a while, waiting for her to speak first.
'Mine costs; yours looks free.'
'It cost me enough.'
Cordelia sat on the edge of the bed. 'Long time no see.'
Spike frowned. 'I know. I didn't see until it was too late, and I'd bought the ticket then. Didn't like the trip, though, and now I want to go home.'
'I'm not that mad.'
'Look, pal, you be as mad as you want here. Sanity is only a word at the Hyperion.'
'So is sanctuary, but it's harder to rhyme.'
'Spike? Welcome to the madhouse. See you downstairs for lunch?'
'Are you going to eat me?'
'I've stopped doing that to men, remember?'
'Found one that wanted more than just my mouth.'
'Ah. He wanted mine once.'
'I'm gonna put that comment down to insanity, Spike, and go.'
'Sleep maybe? Sleep is always of the good, as a mutual friend of ours used to say.'
Spike watched the next visitation with even more interest. She really looked evil: filled with that intense, hot innocence that could only be a deceit.
'Oh. He said you weren't really mad.'
'I'm not; I'm quite furious.'
'Oh. Good. Cus I can understand that. And madness, too, I guess. Been there, done that….'
'Are you still there?'
'Oh, no, all sane now.'
'How do you know?'
'How do I know I'm sane? I don't know. I just think I am.'
'That's not much of a recommendation. Do you think insanity recognises itself?'
'You know you're mad.'
'I know I'm dead. Wouldn't that make you mad?'
'Angel is just the same as you, and he's not mad.'
'You've not known him long then?'
'I think you're probably just confused. I was so confused when they brought me back.'
'From the dead?'
'Well, no, but I was dead to everyone here, so I guess, yeah, kinda.'
'Am I alive somewhere then?'
'I think you'd better go, cus you're confusing me.'
'Oh. God. I'm sorry! Only… I just wanted to tell you… madness passes.'
'You loved Angel, too?'
'Err… well, I wouldn't put it like that… yes.'
'So you know that's not true. You know it never passes.'
'Oh. Love? No, I think love is eternal.'
'Then Angel must be love.'
'You're confusing me.'
'I'm confusing everyone.'
'Ahh, but he is my madness.'
'I hear the telephone. Clients… sorry.'
The last one was absolutely the best. Spike pulled the sheet to his nose and watched the exotic green thing approach.
'Put that down, hon. I haven't come to trade madness with you. Sane as a sane thing here, so you'd win. I just came to say hi. So, hi, I'm Lorne, but everyone calls me the host. Nothing more. Oh… and… hurt Angel? You'll know what madness really is. Now, I've got buckets of ironing to do; so, toddle pip - as you English say.'
Spike repeated the toddle pip quietly to himself for a while. It was the most insane thing he'd heard all morning, and it struck his fancy. When Angel returned, Spike waited to see which manifestation of the evil it was and decided it was the confusing one that had brought him to this lunatic asylum. Not Liam, not Angelus, not Angel: someone he had never met before.
'Do you all talk to each other in there?'
'It's lunchtime, Spike. I want you to feed with me downstairs. I have some clothes for you here. Just jeans and a T-shirt. They should fit.'
He undid Spike's restraints, wary to get too close to the penetratingly astute madness.
'Was staking her hard?'
Not at all phased by Spike's random questions, Angel said sadly, 'What do you think, Spike? She was my sire.'
'Did I find it hard to kill you then?'
'You didn't kill me. You were hit by a van, remember?'
'Did I know what you were all that time? When I had the rhyme? Did I really know?'
Angel paused with the key in his hand. 'I don't know, Spike. Did you? I think toward the end you did.'
'So do I.'
'Here, dress.' Spike sat useless on the edge of the bed; Angel grimaced and pulled him to his feet. He put one arm into a sleeve, then the other and bent his head to fasten buttons.
'I did wake up cross. I think I've been cross ever since.'
'Yes. I know, Will.'
'I thought there would be love, see?'
'How could there be. I was a demon.'
'Not then. When I got this.' He ran an idle finger over the scars on his chest.
'Ah. Kind of hopeful then Spike, cus no one else who has a soul has the love they want.'
'There is a lot of love in this place; the walls are purple with it.'
'That's probably just the damp.' Angel bent to get Spike to step into his jeans. Nearly one hundred years of practicing self-control made him able to do it relatively calmly. He sensed Spike's head lower, watching him.
'Why did you bring me here?'
'I didn't do it for you. She was going to stake you. I couldn't have her live with that. I did it for her.'
'So did I. Didn't get me nowhere 'cept this madhouse.'
Angel rose to his feet, adjusting Spike here and there. 'The madhouse is now serving lunch. Let's go.'
Whether Angel had cleared the place a little for his first proper appearance, Spike wasn't sure, but only Cordelia was there, working at her desk. She glanced up as they came down. 'Better.'
Spike stopped. 'Better ain't gonna change the price of fish, is it?'
'Don't, Cordy, don't go there with him. Spike? If you can't say something profound and relevant, don't say anything at all. Okay?'
'Okay. How's about you're a fucking cunt of an arsehole, Angel. That profound enough for you? It's relevant.'
Angel propelled Spike into the kitchen then slammed him up against the wall. 'You may be mad, Spike, you may not: I haven't made up my mind on that one yet. Either way, you're in my house, and those are my friends. Treat them with respect.'
'Did I get invited? You said invites were important.'
'Your soul got you one - this one time. Don't fuck it up.'
'I think its already fucked up, Angel. It was fucked up when it got taken from me. Has it been somewhere, healing?'
Angel backed away a little, staring at the wide, blue eyes, Darla's throwaway comment coming back to him with eerie clarity. He frowned. 'Full of me….'
'No, you full of me.'
'You ate me.'
Sensing he was not going to solve his own insanities through Spike, Angel turned from the imminent confrontation and began to heat up some blood.
'I don't want to be restrained.'
'You have to be. I can't afford for you to leave.'
'Why? Did I cost a lot? Am I valuable?'
Angel didn't make the caustic, ironic reply to this remark that he had made to most of Spike's others. Instead, he sat down with the mugs of blood and cupped Spike's hands around one of them. 'You have a soul again, Spike. That makes you precious, yes.'
'And I could get more lost than I already am?'
'You're not lost. I've got you.'
'You are a maze I can't get out of; that's not safety.'
'Mazes can be quiet and peaceful, Spike, if you don't struggle to free yourself.'
'We're both dead already. Look, Spike, you are here. I am here. I'm not going anywhere; I'm just here, trying to make sense of my unlife. Now you are here, and I'll try to make sense of yours for you, too. But whatever happens, you have a soul now, and I count you as valuable as I count myself.'
'You value all souls?'
'Yes. I do.'
'Why is Wesley outcast then?'
Angel sat at his desk, his chin propped on tented hands, thinking about Spike and thinking about Wesley. Still, after all this time, he half expected Wesley to come through the door and interrupt his musing with light banter or friendly chat. It was almost painful that he didn't…. that he would never let Wesley do that again. Thinking about Spike was almost more painful, but it was less painful than having to listen to him. He was exhausting. Everyone was finding it so… endless questions that had no answers. Angel had meant what he'd said: he wasn't sure whether Spike was truly mad or whether he was just too sane. He guessed it came to one and the same thing in the end.
Angel glanced at the clock and tensed slightly, waiting for him.
Exactly on time, he heard the front door open and close. He heard familiar footsteps. The face was not so familiar, and he let his chair fall slowly to the ground when Wesley came into the office. No banter now - no friendly chat.
'You look like you've been in hell, Wesley. I'm glad.'
'It was a very pleasant hell then, Angel. You never told me the sex there was so good.'
Angel ignored this and rose. 'Let's get this done with. I don't want you here any longer than you have to be.'
'Where are the others? I suppose my ostracism doesn't extend to them - unless you impose it on them. I don't suppose they see staking a vicious, evil demon quite as you do.'
Angel went menacingly toward Wesley, fully expecting him to back away. He always backed away. This time, Wesley merely chuckled and turned his back to fetch a small holdall he had left by the door. Angel could not help being a little impressed at this and perched on the edge of the desk watching Wesley's back. 'I gave them all the night off, after all.'
'Good. Here. I want you see what I've found about Spike and his soul. I have access to some pretty rare collections, as you can imagine.' He saw Angel's expression. 'Don't worry, Angel; I wiped them before bringing them into this pure place.'
'Don't push me, Wesley.'
'Don't make yourself such a target then. Remember what you are, where you came from, what you have done in your long life and lighten up a little, hey?'
Angel jerked his head back. Ordinarily, he would have reacted a little more forcibly to this, but for some strange reason, what he was, where he had been and the things he had done had recently been playing on his mind even more than usual. He mutely held out his hand, and Wesley spread the books open on the table.
'You seem to have a key role in the coming confrontation between good and evil.'
'So I've heard.'
'Quite what role, no one knows. You may stay souled and have a role for the good or….'
'And…? Your point?'
'My point, Angel, is choices. Your choices to be more precise. There is reference here, and here, to a great choice. A weighing in the balance….'
'Things to make me good… things to make me evil….'
'Things to hold you to your path, things that might set you from it, yes.'
'And you think Spike is one of these things? Holding me to it? Or distracting me from it?'
Wesley looked up with a sad look on his face. 'I have no idea, Angel. But if you want my guess…?'
Angel pouted; years of friendship warred with intense hatred, clouding his purpose. 'Yes. I do.'
Wesley smiled fractionally, 'Then I'd say the soul was to make him more precious to you, to keep you with us.'
'Bloody silly idea that was then. Precious ain't so precious, Watcher, despite what the fucker might tell you.'
'Spike! I gave you enough drug to knock out six vampires!'
'I was sick. Blood too rich.'
'Well, as you're here, you may as well come in. This is Wesley….'
Spike took a step into the room. He had his eyes fastened on Angel. He turned at the words to look at the man, and then he froze. They both saw him turn pale beyond the definition of paleness; his face creased up in panic, and then he turned and bolted out of the door and up the stairs.
Angel frowned and turned back to the books. 'Angel! Aren't you going to do something? Go after him?'
'He's pretending, Wesley.'
'Jesus, Angel, are you stupid as well as begrudging?' Wesley went angrily out of the room and followed Spike up the stairs. It wasn't hard to find him; he was in one of the empty bedrooms banging his head against a wall. Wesley went over to him and put a hand on his shoulder. 'Spi…?'
'You're real? You're real! I smell your reality. Are you real?'
Wesley laughed, a dark, sad laugh. 'I've been questioning that myself lately, but yes, I think I am.'
Spike's legs gave way, and he sank to the floor with his back to the wall. Wesley sat alongside him in the gloom, and they did not speak for many minutes. Finally, Spike said sadly, 'Shall I row you to Skye?'
Wesley pursed his lips, thinking about this for a long time. Eventually, he said, 'My exile is no less painful than his, so yes, if you can. I'd like that very much.'
Spike gave a small, pleased smile and began to study his fingernails.
'You play The Fool well, Spike…. This perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world….'
Spike looked at Wesley and said seriously, 'I thought this was all in my head, see? Thought they all were - the endless progression slinking past me. But then there you were, and you're real. It kinda puts a whole new perspective on it all.'
Wesley frowned. 'But Angel is real. He's noticeably real. Could you not see that?'
Suddenly, much to Wesley's distress, Spike began to cry. He struggled to his feet and began to pace around the room, wiping his eyes and nose on his sleeve every so often. 'See… if this is real, then why aren't I forgiven? I did this to be forgiven, so she would forgive. So I could be a man for her. But I'm not forgiven. It's all still here, inside me: the evil, and there's no forgiveness, so I thought this can't be real. This must be an illusion and what I was before must be real. And then that got so easy to think I went back further to the time when all was real. Before him. Do you see?'
'I don't know. I think so. Did you want forgiveness, Spike, or to forgive?'
'What? What?' He came over in front of Wesley and knelt close to him, peering intently into his face. 'You would criticise me for that? Do you think I don't have enough to forgive?'
Wesley looked down sadly. 'I would imagine, knowing Angel, that you do.'
Spike flung away again, and the vitriol in his voice actually frightened the human. 'The fucker, the fucker. Shit…. I'm shit…. He'd rather stick it in shit…. All my love, lying like a turd on the pavement. That's what I was to him. After all I thought we would be.' He crumpled and put his forehead to the floor, the bitter tone becoming strained. 'He took me back to the little girl. It was my welcome to the rhyme. Now I rhymed, I had to go back, 'e said. She wasn't drugged this time, and he laughed and forced me to laugh, but I wasn't - not really. Do you see? How can I forgive that? He gave me to Drusilla: told 'er to put me on a lead. I loved him! I loved him…. ' He lifted his head and turned tear-streaked eyes to Wesley. 'What I did to Buffy… it was what he did to me in a way, an' it was cus I couldn't forgive…. So much anger all the time. I woke up so cross that I never really stopped. And she was there, and I got cross with 'er. Bad person, see? All twisted up inside; all black and flowing like that bloody coat of mine. Don't have it now. Thought I could get the blackness out of me just as easily. Thought this FUCKING soul would wash it out of me. Make me less cross, so I could forgive him. But it hasn't, it hasn't…. So, yeah, I play the fool, but it's better than doing what I want to do, cus if you can't forgive, what do you do? What do you do? Can you tell me that? What will I do if I can't forgive?'
Wesley left as the vampire, once more, began to bang his head on the floor.
Spike half heard him go, half heard him come back, and then felt strong arms forcing him onto his back on the floor. He saw the drugged water; he struggled; his chip fired off, and it was relatively easy for Wesley to do, more successfully, what Angel had intended that night. He did it for different reasons though: unable to stop his own pain, this small, but significant gesture, eased it somewhat. He wished someone could make him sleep as peacefully as the sad figure in his arms.
Wesley looked down at Spike and silently prayed that one day, the vampire might just find a small rowboat and take him to Skye.
He returned Spike to Angel's bed and fastened the manacles around his wrist. He went back to the office and found Angel still engrossed in the books. 'Did you find him?'
'Was he faking?'
'You know I hate you now, don't you?'
'You know I have no interest in your safety now.'
'Good, so you will believe me then, I hope, when I say - don't turn your back too often on Spike, will you?'
Angel looked up at last. He stared at Wesley thoughtfully. 'I can handle Spike.'
Wesley smiled, a small, sad smile. 'That's exactly what I mean, Angel. I think you've handled him once too often. Just be careful, please? Keep the books. Wolfram and Hart don't issue overdue fines. Not ones you can pay, anyway.'
Angel watched his retreating back with a pang of regret so deep it almost made him call out to stop the man leaving. Almost. Instead, he shrugged and returned to the books.
Later that evening, Angel released Spike. He left him in semi-sleep on the bed and went down to heat blood for them both. He was amazed when Spike came into the kitchen a few minutes later, dressed, if looking slightly shaky.
Angel smiled. 'Hey you. Is it you?'
Spike gave a weak, slightly wobbly smile back. 'Nah, I just decided I was as unreal as you, so it kinda all balanced out.'
'Huh. Well, do you want some unreal blood or some very real whisky?'
'Okay then. Major progress.'
Angel leant on the counter, watching Spike as the blood heated behind him. He looked… delicate, as if he would blow away on the first strong wind. 'So, what next, Spike? What do you want to do?'
Spike pouted and drew patterns on the table for a moment then he looked up at Angel. 'I want to survive.'
'I need… help.'
Spike gritted his teeth. 'I chose from a cast of one. Yeah. From you.'
'Okay then. You'll stay here?'
'If I'm welcome.'
'I wouldn't go as far as that….'
Spike looked up sharply but saw that Angel was smiling. He huffed. 'Fucker.'
'The most important things you need to do are sleep and feed - both, constantly. You will literally go mad if you do not feed well. I have a case tonight. But I'll come up and see you when I get back.'
'Yes. All right. Where am I going to sleep?'
'Choose any room you like. We'll sort it out tomorrow.'
Angel nodded and left to meet Gunn, slightly bemused by this sudden turn around.
Spike waited until he heard the front door close then he put his head to the table and began once more his systematic, rhythmic banging.