SUMMARY: Here's the idea: Post-Grave, post-Tomorrow AU; what would've happened if they never discovered Angel at the bottom of the ocean, and if instead of heading to Sunnydale, Spike ended up in L.A. first?
SPOILERS: Through "Grave" and "Tomorrow"
FEEDBACK: Hit me, biatch.
DISCLAIMER: Joss, please, don’t sue me. I’m really, really poor.
NOTES: Title and inspiration from T.S. Elliot's poem, The Waste Land.
“And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”
--The Waste Land, T.S. Elliot
Fred woke up to that haunting epiphany one morning, and she laid in bed for over an hour, staring at the ceiling in stunned, pensive revelation. She once believed wholeheartedly that all things, especially ties of love, lasted beyond what the heart can feel and the eyes can see. She was wrong, she realizes now. She wasn’t sure what exactly happened to make her realize this on such a mundane morning, or if maybe she always knew, only chose to not acknowledge the truth of it.
She knows she should’ve come to this conclusion ages ago; after everything that has happened, after everything she has lost, she should’ve realized it.
It took all of three months for Connor to run off, and another six until Gunn finally left. At least he had the decency to say goodbye. Of course, that hadn’t made it any easier; there’d been many tears and yelling and plaintive pleas for him to stay, but in the end, he walked away, too. Said he couldn’t sit around and wait for the rest of his life, that he needed to live, now, and he had to move on. Couldn’t keep searching for vacant ghosts who were long lost.
“Don’t go,” Fred had pleaded as he picked up his bags that fateful morning and headed for the door. “Please. Don’t.”
“I can’t stay,” he’d responded without turning back.
“What am I supposed to do?” she had cried out helplessly. “I thought you loved me.”
Gunn had faced her then, one last time, and his expression was so full of pity that she thought she was going to be sick.
“Love ends.” Two simple words, a small shrug, and then he disappeared through the door, and out of her life forever. Just like that.
And so then she was left on her own, in an abandoned hotel that was on the verge on eviction, left to bury herself in books and volumes, trying to find answers somewhere within the myriad of text, in the theorems and the prophecies and everything in-between. Couldn’t give up on her search, because Angel needed her. Cordelia, too. Sometimes she would be sitting in the office, surrounded by a mountain of manuscripts that led her nowhere, dry eyes rimmed red from lack of sleep and limbs sore from sitting in one position for hours on end, and she would be so close to just giving up completely.
But then she would remember-- remember Cordelia’s smile, a smile like sunflowers, and the way the older girl was the closest thing to a best friend she’d ever had. She’d remember Angel’s eyes, soft and honest, and the way he would look at her and really listen to what she had to say, no matter how rambling or pathetic. And she would be unable to even bring herself to think of leaving, not when there was still the possibility of either of her friends some day returning.
Maybe it would’ve been different, she thinks, if she was sure they were weren’t coming back. That if she could see a dead body, or a handful of dust, and know that they were finished, gone forever, never to return, she might be able to move on.
But maybe doesn’t count, and so she stayed, did not walk after Gunn when he left. Retreated further into herself, and it wasn’t long before she was writing on walls again. Waiting for ghosts of former comrades, because someone has to stay. They’ll come back, she tells herself. They’ll come back for her. They have to.
And one day, not a particularly special day, just your run-of-the-mill Tuesday evening, she steps into the lobby, and she finds a ghost.
Not the one she was looking for, however. This one, he is short, lean, clad in a torn black shirt, ratty jeans and scuffed up boots. All ragged looking and tattered. He’s hovering near the counter with his hands fluttering about absentmindedly. Looks distracted, agitated, as if he doesn’t belong. And he doesn’t. No one belongs here, not really.
“What are you doing here?”
The question blurts out before she can think to stop it, and she realizes it’s the first time someone has been inside of this lobby in months. Her voice echoes against the bare walls as she speaks, hollow and reverberating in the emptiness. The stranger whirls to face her at the sound.
His eyes turn in her direction, unfocused pale blue irises flickering over her own. She can’t help but be struck by how unkempt and scraggly he appears. Blonde, rumpled curls with dark roots fall across his brow, a smudge of dirt on the side of his neck. His gaze is strangely intense, as though he’s not sure she’s really there at all.
“I’m looking for Angel,” he says after a moment, voice so raspy and hoarse it sounds as if he’s swallowing sandpaper, yet she can still detect a distinct British accent underneath the harshness.
However, that interesting note is overshadowed by the name’s mention, and she feels her heart sink in her chest. Been so long since someone has inquired about Angel, that anyone’s cared at all, and sometimes she finds herself wondering if she just imagined him this entire time. If maybe she’d just slipped completely over the edge a long time ago and never bothered to climb back up to sanity. It would explain a lot.
She glances down at the floor and frowns to herself. “He…he isn’t here right now.”
“Oh.” Something in the stranger’s face shifts, an imperceptible expression flashing over his chiseled features, but she doesn’t catch it before it passes. “Do you know when he’ll be back?”
“I don’t know,” she replies honestly. “It could be anytime.”
“Right.” The stranger swallows and nods. “When did he leave?”
It takes her a moment to gather her voice to answer. “Months ago.”
A strange, choked laugh erupts from the stranger, and it quickly turns into something that is almost a half-sob. He turns away from her, leans against the counter. Rocks back and forth a little and shakes his head from side to side.
“Should’ve figured,” he mutters to himself, grinning bitterly. “Should’ve known. ’Course he’s not here. Never is.” Voice softens, lowers even more. “No one’s ever here. No one. No one.”
“Um, maybe I can help you with something?” she asks tentatively and takes a step closer. “Is there something you need? I’m no Angel, but--”
“It has to be him.” The tone is intense once again, and the stranger is staring at her, hard.
“Why?” she questions. “I mean, how do you know him? I thought--”
“I’ll go.” The blonde stranger turns hastily, hurrying toward the exit. “Shouldn’t have come, shouldn’t have--”
“Wait!” Fred races forward, maneuvers herself in front of the doorway to block him from leaving. “Wait, please. I just-- if you-- maybe we--” She snaps her mouth shut, cutting off her babbling, and inhales a little shakily. “I haven’t talked to anyone who knows him in…in a long time. I mean, you don’t have to talk about him, I just…” Stops again, tries to form a coherent thought. “It’s late, and there’s a lot of creepy things out this time of night, maybe you could just…stay here. Just for the night. If you want to.”
He’s staring at her with wide, blank eyes, and she holds her breath, wondering how he’ll respond. Finally, he glances away, shrugs a little. “All right.”
He allows her to lead him upstairs, up to her room. She sheepishly ducks inside and hopes he doesn’t notice the walls plastered in writing. But he doesn’t follow, just hovers in the doorway, looking everywhere but at her. Fred fidgets as she looks at him and twists her hands nervously.
“You can come in, if you like,” she says, moving to one side.
He ducks his head and tentatively steps through. Glances about as she hurries to the closet to grab some extra pillows. She takes them from the top shelf and turns to hand them to him, and suddenly she realizes she doesn’t even know who he is at all.
“So, um…” She holds the pillows out in offering and bites down on her lip. “What’s your name?”
“Spike,” he says quietly.
“I’m Fred,” she replies. “Nice to meet you.”
Spike just nods slightly in acknowledgment and takes the pillows from her arms. He’s turning to leave, when suddenly she catches sight of the mirror hanging on the wall directly behind him. What she sees causes her to gasp aloud, and she stares at him in shock.
He has no reflection.
Oh god. How could she have been so stupid? Letting him in here, inviting him inside, without even realizing, he knows Angel, that fact should have told her everything right off the bat, and oh god, she should have known--
“Stop.” She staggers backwards, fumbles toward the dresser. Yanking open the drawer, she snatches the pistol that lies inside and aims it toward him with a trembling hand. It’s the one souvenir Gunn left her with, her source of protection. She holds it now and wraps her finger tight around the trigger. “Stop, or I’ll shoot. I know what you are.”
“Do you?” He gazes at her with an expressionless face. “Then you should know those won’t kill me.”
“Maybe not, but I think I could cause some damage,” she retorts, steadying her hand as best possible. “Look, just leave, okay? I don’t know where Angel is. I don’t have anything you want, I swear.” She swallows, hard, and tries not to let her voice belie her alarm too much.
Suddenly he bursts into peals of bubbled laughter, the sound unhinged, bordering on hysterical. “Pretty girl thinks I want something. ’Course, can’t ever have good intentions. Always has to be something, always something.”
She lowers the gun a little and stares. “What’s wrong with you?”
He doesn’t look at her, instead keeps his eyes trained on the walls covered in writing. “Looks like I’m not the only one who can’t put the pen down, eh? So easy to cover the walls, it is.” He reaches out and skims his hands over the scribbles, then glances over at her. “Doesn’t look like poetry, though. Not like mine.”
A frown, and she glances at the walls. “It--it’s theories. Theorems.”
Mathematics, science, properties of matter and laws of gravity. Everything she keeps locked up inside of her mind is spilled out onto the walls. The way he doesn’t even bat an eye at this startles her. Something about him is off. Really, really off.
“Spike,” she says, softly. “That’s your name, right? What are you doing here? How do you know Angel?”
He blinks at her. “You think that this--” He gestures openly toward the walls, “--is just an effect of the spark?”
“Spark?” she echoes dumbly. “What do you--”
“Spark. Soul.” He makes that sound again, the wrenching half-sob that makes her stomach turn. “Learned it from Angel, y’know. ’Course, some things never change.” He turns away, hangs his head. “Only get to keep the leftovers.”
“You,” she whispers, stunned. “You--you’re a vampire with a soul? But I thought-- I thought Angel was--” Her voice breaks off.
His eyes are wide now, wide and vulnerable. “Is it supposed to burn this way? I--I can’t sleep, can’t think, can’t--” His voice cracks and he is unable to finish, so he moves away from her. “Can’t stay here. Terribly sorry, I shouldn’t have-- I’ll leave.”
He begins to go, but she quickly starts after him. “Wait! Don’t-- don’t go.”
Spike pauses, glances over at her in confusion as she rushes to him.
“You don’t understand,” she babbles out breathlessly. “I thought-- I didn’t think there was anyone else left out there who knew, and I’ve been here alone, and-- if you could just stay, even for just one night--” She looks at him, imploring. “Please.”
One look at her plaintive, pleading expression, and merely nods.
Never could say no to a girl in need.
Continued in II. dreams.