Title: Carnival Dream (Anywhere But Here)
Era/season/setting: Season 2, canon divergent AU
Warnings: swearing, some violence, reference to the fact that Spike and Dru are still technically together, and I guess there is one minor reference to cannibalism too
Author’s Note: This can be read on it’s own, but is a continuation of Anywhere But Here, a story I originally wrote for the Seasonal Spuffy Spring Equinox event. It was meant to be a one-shot but is now going to be a longer fic. The revised version of that first chapter can be found on AO3 and EF.
If you want to read that before reading this or have already read it, all you need to understand this is that there’s a very slight time jump and we go right into a dream that Spike has later that night (well, technically day.)
But for those who prefer to go straight into this story, the most important details are: it’s mid-season 2, Angelus has turned Buffy (but she’s still got her soul), and Spike (who’s still in the chair) has just agreed to help her escape Angelus’ clutches. But of course, it’s just so Buffy can kill Angelus and he can get Dru back. It’s not like he cares about Buffy. Right?
Oh and on an unrelated subject, I’m interpreting the Carnival theme here as Carnival of Venice. More notes about that at the end.
Finally, this isn’t a final version, I may change it some before posting it in a chapter of Anywhere But Here. So if you notice any mistakes or have constructive criticism, don’t hesitate to speak up!
Edit: I was tired and apparently kinda spaced when I first posted, so not only was my Author’s Note riddled with spelling errors, but I forgot to thank my wonderful beta . Sorry, buzwuzz it was definitely not intentional! What I was planning on saying was that some of my very favorite things in this version are inspired by your feedback on earlier versions. Thanks a million for your help with the story and for all the work you’ve put into modding this community!
The night was peaceful as Spike paced the length of the canal, striding down the cobbles of the narrow walkway. Cool moonlight danced across brackish water. Moored gondolas creaked as they rocked in the sluggish current. He supposed it was a pretty scene. But empty. Lonely.
As if responding to some unspoken request, figures started pouring onto the walkway from doorways and alleys––costumed forms hidden beneath layers of bright fabric and unreadable masks.
Oh, of all the tragic bloody timing, he had to be here during Carnival.
The path quickly became clogged with figures, talking loudly, words blending into a Babel-ian soup of meaningless sounds. They laughed boorish laughs and pressed costumed bodies into each other in crude flirtation. Well, that was the point of the thing, wasn’t it? Getting your jollies off, gorging on booze and meat and sin before the deprivation of Lent. Fat Tuesday leading into Ash Wednesday.
Spike liked a good party as much as the next bloke but didn’t see why it had to come to such a sudden and unsatisfying end. He never had been a big fan of ashes. Or masks. Why pretend to be someone else just to do what you’d really wanted to all along?
But crowds of drunken revelers made for easy pickings. Spike sidled closer to a group of costumed figures loitering on the steps of one of the buildings. Somewhere under the layers, under those blank, porcelain doll faces, hot blood pumped, working its way through them as it did all living creatures. He could smell it. They were passing a bottle of wine, twisting their masks to the side enough to poor ruby liquid down wide, fleshy mouths. Hunger lanced through Spike’s gut. It felt like forever since he’d had a good feed.
He was just stalking toward them, thinking of how to lure one from the crowd, when someone brushed into him from behind. His foot landed heavily on the ground, his balance thrown. He turned to glare at the offender and froze.
She was different from the surrounding figures, Spike knew that, though he wasn’t immediately sure why. She was also costumed, though her dress was slimmer and more modern, the fabric an iridescent sky blue. A flash of gold glinted off her face as she passed. He watched the back of her head as it moved through the crowd, brown hair teased into an elaborate concoction of thick ringlets, the silken band of the mask forming a loose bow at the back of her head.
But it wasn’t her hair or what she was wearing that revealed her to Spike. It was all in the way she moved. Graceful, dangerous.
Of course. He’d know his beautiful deadly girl anywhere.
She passed through the crowd with such lithe, purposeful movements that she was difficult even for him to follow. Costumed humans kept getting in the way at just the wrong moments and slowing him down. Every time he looked up she’d vanished further into the crowd. Right as he almost got close enough to tap her on the shoulder, a group of particularly encumbered women trailing huge bustles stepped right into his path. He growled and pushed his way through them, almost tripping on their skirts in his impatience.
But when he got to the other side, his girl wasn’t there. His gaze darted around him, only seeing the masses of revelers clogging the walkway. He climbed onto the wrought-iron rail that separated the canal from the path, balancing atop it, one hand resting lightly on a mooring pole that stretched out of the water. And then he saw her, standing on the apex of one of those arched bridges. She was leaning forward, chin resting on palm, her posture conveying a wistfulness that her expression couldn’t. Moonlight shone on fine golden filigree-work that decorated her mask. Its features were simplified. Stylized, yet familiar.
Spike was filled with a sudden yearning to be at her side. To rest his hand on the small of her back, to––
But someone was climbing up the bridge, coming to stand by her side. He recognized the looming form of the man, even costumed as he was in some poncy 18th-century getup, an elegant black and silver ensemble. The mask had a bit of his shape to it and the massive forehead alone would be enough to identify its owner. Angelus, caught in profile, his “face” wearing an expression of theatrical grief, a single painted tear creeping down his right cheek.
And Spike could only watch as she turned and melted into his arms. Angelus held her in an embrace for a long moment, his hands slinking to the back of her head.
The he pulled her violently into a kiss, masks meeting with a visceral, unsettling crunch.
And before she could react and kick his ass in the way he so truly deserved, he was grabbing her wrist and yanking her down the other side of the bridge. Spike cursed and leapt off his perch, shoving through the crowd, doing his best to follow them.
As before, they always seemed just out of reach. But soon he was stumbling out into a great central plaza. The press of bodies was thinner here and it was easy to spot Angelus dragging the girl across the square.
This time, Spike saw Angelus’ masked face from the left. That side wore a different expression, a cruel, jeering laugh. Spike rushed after them.
Angelus was making for the palace that dominated the square. The building was an odd structure, a strange mix of imposing and delicate. Row after row of bone-white columns led up into Gothic arches that encircled the lower levels of the building. Torches blazed along the exterior walls, lighting diamond-shaped patterns of red and white brick. Along the top of the roof a line of metal decorations alternated between vaguely fang-like shapes and ones that looked like––well––spikes.
Light and the faint strains of string music escaped from the interior of the palace, and all the masked figures seemed to be heading toward it. There was something different about these figures from the ones by the canal. Instead of stumbling drunkenly, they moved with predatory ease. Their masks, while largely featureless, managed to convey a certain cold disdain. And unlike the previous revelers, they didn’t smell like blood or, for that matter, anything at all.
As he dashed up the steps of the palace, Spike had a moment of uncertainty. Armed (and masked) sentries stood blocking the door, moving their razor-sharp halberds out the way only after looking each approaching couple up and down. Spike could probably take them if he needed to, but he’d rather it didn’t come to that. Those blades looked more than capable of decapitating a vamp. Besides which, he didn’t have much time. Angelus and the girl had already gotten into the building. And Spike had a feeling that whatever was going on in there wasn’t exactly going to be good for her health.
It was clear that the guards were only letting appropriately outfited individuals enter. Spike hoped that dressing like some costume drama reject was optional but masks, at the very least, seemed compulsory.
It’s OK, he found himself thinking, I’m already wearing a mask.
And it was true. His hand flew to his face, and he felt a cool, porcelain smoothness beneath his fingers. The realization was both unsettling and comforting. Spike had a feeling that you didn’t want to stand in front of any of these cold creatures without protection. They’d tear you apart. Maybe literally.
He fidgeted as the sentries looked him up and down. They shook their heads at his appearance but slowly raised their weapons to let him pass. Spike wasted no time, ducking under as soon as the blades were high enough. And promptly froze at what he saw inside.
He wasn’t sure what he’d expected. A creepy, “Eyes Wide Shut” ritual maybe. Not this. Not a bloody ball.
A woman (or female-shaped figure at any rate) with peacock feathers in her hair bumped against him from behind, glaring through her mask as she swept by. He scowled under his own mask as he followed her down the sweeping steps into the massive ballroom.
This was the kind of space designed to make you feel unimportant. The floor was inlaid with colored marble, the walls decorated with pounds of gold leaf and huge, ostentatious paintings: Diana and her nymphs hunting, the gods gathered at Olympus. In the dim lighting, he could just see the pale marble columns extending up to some kind of walkway that looked down onto the dance floor from a couple of stories above. The ceiling was entirely lost in shadow.
The figures on the floor spun with a furious grace. A strange energy hung over the room, growing stronger as he descended. Whatever it was, it left him on edge. Sharp animal hunger and fear paced through him.
Down here, the dancers formed a vast circle of movement that took up most of the floor. So he stood on the edge as the paired figures wove ‘round and around together. He’d spent too many hours (never quite successfully forgotten) doing this, waiting on the edges to be let in. To have his chance to dance.
The figures were changing partners mid-dance in seamless movements that seemed perfectly choreographed with the music. As they flashed by they shot him condescending looks from behind their masks. He didn’t recognize any of them, but they had a similar look. The kind of people he’d made his name killing.
Spike knew that Angelus and his girl had to be in there, but each time he made a move for the floor one of the couples swooped in and cut him off. He caught a glimpse of that blue flashing somewhere in the mass of those bodies. He had to get through.
Well, if these buggers wanted to dance, he’d show them a dance. Spike threw himself into the crowd, only to have a dancing couple slam into him with such force that he felt like he’d been hit by a steel girder. He fell, growling in rage and springing back to his feet.
His blood boiled. They couldn’t do this to him. He wasn’t going to sit on the sidelines while Angelus waltzed away with the girl. Not going to let these tossers get in the way of him getting what was his.
Spike grabbed one of the dancers by the back of his stiff collar as he passed, intent on pulling him from the dance floor and beating him into puree. Instead, the collar was yanked out of Spike’s hands with a force that made his arm ache as the dancer continued unaffected on his trajectory.
Spike’s anger and desperation were mounting and he was about to throw himself again into that crowd, prepared to do it again and again, till he either got to the girl or got trampled to death.
But then he saw something. High above, a half-hidden figure had gestured at him from the arched colonnade. A flash of light cut across something on the figure’s face. Probably another bloody mask. Spike balled his fists hard enough to make his nails cut into the skin of his palms. He didn’t have time for this. And didn’t exactly trust whoever was up there to be a friend. But the bloke might have some answers. And if he didn’t… well, Spike could always start ripping off fingers till he thought of something. He was bloody well done being jerked around.
Back up by the entrance, a narrower staircase branched to the side, leading up to the upper level. Spike took it now, taking the steps two at a time. Climbing out of the ballroom seemed to clear his head a bit, some of that dark energy that had been boiling inside him evaporating away.
The upper landing, unlike the lower ballroom, was graced by slim windows to the outside world. The air here felt a little purer. As Spike stepped off the stairway he saw a form in a light-colored suit walking away from him. The figure turned, just before reaching the shadows that hid the end of the walkway, and his face was bathed in the moonlight that streamed through one of the windows. His bare, all too familiar face, vulnerable and open, surrounded by those loose, sandy curls that Spike had always detested. Spike growled and stepped toward him. But the man just gave him a sad little smile before turning and vanishing into the shadows.
Spike made to go after him, to… what? That finger thing sounded a lot less fun than it had a minute ago.
And then he saw it, light glinting off of something sitting on the railing around where the figure must have been standing when Spike’d seen him from below. It was a little leatherbound book, left open, a pencil sticking out of the crease in between pages. And, resting on top, a pair of brass-framed spectacles.
Spike approached the railing, peering into the dancing crowd below. They were spinning with inhuman speed, their paths tracing vast interlocking circles around and around the two dancing figures in the middle.
Angelus and the girl.
The bastard’s hands were tight on her arms as he spun her and, while Spike could see that she was struggling, she was gaining no ground. He was about to dash back down the stairs to try again to get through the crowd, when his fingers brushed against the pages of his—no, William’s—book.
It seemed like a longshot, but maybe the damned thing held some kind of message?
He lifted the spectacles out of the way, peering at the book. Well, there was something written there. But whatever letters or symbols were written on the page, they made no sense to Spike. They blurred and bent every time his eyes tried to focus on them. He slammed the book shut. Had he actually expected that pathetic git to give him something useful?
He realized that he was still holding the glasses in his hand and was about to drop them to shatter on the marble floor below, when… huh. Now, that was interesting. The world he glimpsed through the glasses looked different… darker?
Clearly, he was supposed to put them on. Spike despised the idea, but if it could somehow help him save the girl… He shoved the glasses on over his mask, deforming their delicate frames as he did.
The light of the torches below turned to a dull red, and the gilded decorations took on a tarnished, sinister glow. Even the wall-paintings had changed. There was the poor sod who’d seen the naked beauty of the goddess of the hunt, transformed into a stag in retribution and being torn to pieces by the slathering fangs of his own hounds. There, Saturn greedily devouring the infant flesh of his children. The images were so graphic that even Spike felt vaguely sickened.
On the dance floor, things seemed almost unchanged. Angelus still had the girl locked in that forced dance in the middle, and his comedy/tragedy mask just kept up its laughing and crying. But then Angelus turned in his dancing, and Spike couldn’t help letting out a sharp gasp at what he saw. Angelus was… hollow. Spike could see the interior of the mask, floating in the air, vacant eye-sockets staring at the girl. His costume moved as if on its own. Sleeve sockets ended in empty air where his hands should be.
And the dancers were like him. The skirts of empty dresses spun out in mesmerizing swirls of color. Masks and sometimes wigs floated in the air above vacant collars and necklines that plunged to reveal nothing but shadows.
Only the girl was solid, the sole real thing in a world of hollow creatures.
But something was changing.
The music was picking up pace, the sinister whine of abused violins getting louder and louder. The “dancers” were moving faster, their masks changing. Faces distorted, mouths opening wider and wider to reveal round, void-black maws, surrounded by row after row of shark-like plaster fangs. Brows drew tightly over blank eye-sockets that somehow managed to be filled with malice and insatiable hunger. A rapacious, fangy grin had spread over both sides of Angelus’ mask, the single tear on the right side of his face looking all the more painted and false.
As for the girl, the filigree on her mask was tarnishing, turning black and falling off in long strips as Angelus spun her more and more violently. She was struggling less, letting the brutal dance carry her along. Spike watched helplessly as she started to fade, becoming semi-transparent. She’d go hollow like the others if he didn’t do something to stop it.
Spike tore off the glasses, and the ballroom immediately went back to the bright, glistening place it had been before. But he wasn’t fooled by the illusion.
He climbed onto the railing. The hard marble floor was far enough below that he risked breaking his legs if he landed wrong. Or his back. But his girl didn’t have time to spare. He jumped without hesitation.
Time moved slowly as he fell, coat billowing behind him. His boots hit the floor with a solid thud, and he went into a graceful crouch as he landed, unharmed.
The music stopped. Masked figures, which now looked solid, their masks back to blank parodies of humanity, turned malevolent eyes to him. Not waiting for them to make a move, Spike lashed out, kicking the one closest to him, a figure in a ponderous red dress with an entire model ship perched on the wig atop her head. The creature fell back a few feet, but more immediately swarmed into its place. He punched another in the chest, but it was like punching a wall. And the things just kept coming. At this pace, he’d be overwhelmed in no time.
A thing in a green and yellow waistcoat lunged for him, and Spike remembered seeing the hollow echo of it through the glasses. He grinned under his mask, suddenly sure of what he had to do. He punched the creature as hard as he could in the face, enjoying the crunch of plaster under his fist. The thing let out a noise that sounded more like the metallic squeal of a braking train than a human scream. The mask cracked in half and disintegrated, the entire garish ensemble tumbling to the floor.
The masked figures froze momentarily, seeming shocked. Spike took full advantage, pulling his elbow back and smashing one of the things in the face before continuing the motion to pummel his fist into another’s mask. Howls wailed in inhuman harmony.
By then, the masked creatures seemed to have recovered and were converging on him, trying to overpower him and force him to the ground.
There was a brief scuffle in which Spike lashed out viciously with fists, elbows, feet. Time blurred, and before he knew it he was standing in the middle of a pile of tasteless fabric.
There was no one left in the great, silent hall but him, Angelus, and the girl. Angelus dropped his hold of her arms and strode toward Spike.
“Not bad. A bit late though.” His voice dripped with familiar disdain.
Spike glanced at the girl, still standing where Angelus had left her. She looked shaken and he saw that all the filigree had fallen from her mask. Without the glasses, he couldn’t tell if he’d stopped the dance before it was too late. But he caught a glimpse of something, some spark of determination flashing in green eyes.
Spike growled, rushing Angelus. His opponent lifted his arms to block his face, clearly expecting Spike to go for the mask. Instead, he swung his leg in a rapid, low arc, knocking Angelus’ knees out from under him.
The girl was on him in an instant. Her fingers grabbed the edge of the mask and tugged, but it seemed welded to the bugger’s face. So Spike moved to assist, placing his booted foot on Angelus’ chest.
“Wait,” Angelus said. “You don’t have to do this.” Spike wasn’t sure if he was talking to him, the girl, or both. “Think of everything we’ve done toge––”
Spike pushed his booted foot into Angelus’ chest with all his might. The girl’s grip on the mask didn’t falter, and as he tumbled back it came loose with a pop, turning to dust in her fingers.
Spike looked from her hands to Angelus and, for a moment, saw his unmasked face, naked and frightened. His eyes were wide and pleading, and he opened his mouth as if to say something. But his expression changed to a silent scream, and Spike watched with some strange combination of satisfaction and regret as his grandsire vanished.
Something glinted in the empty pile of clothing, and Spike stepped closer. Huh. A little silver key sat on top of the black fabric, though a key to what, he couldn’t fathom. It felt cool in his hand when he picked it up.
The room was fading out around them. Spike had the impression that the whole palace, and possibly all of Venice, was dissolving. The walls melted away and in their place, Spike could see just a vast, flat area of marshlands slipping away into the sea. What Venice would look like without all the buildings, he supposed. Stripped down to its natural state.
Out of everything that had been in that ballroom, only he and the girl were left standing. Though on what was a bit of a mystery. They didn’t appear to be on one of the patches of marshland. Dark water lapped calmly around his boots, licking the rubber of his soles. Huh, either the water was very shallow, or… best not thought about, really.
The girl was looking at him through her mask, a question in her eyes. He cocked his head in response, not sure what she wanted.
He took a step toward her, relieved when he didn’t fall through the surface of the water. He needed to touch her. To know that she was real and that she was OK. His hand ran along the contours of her mask, and he could almost visualize the face beneath it, but the details kept slipping away from his mind. It wasn’t enough. Not nearly.
She took his hand in hers, gently removing it from her face, shaking her head. She reached to the back of her head, fingers fumbling with the mask’s ribbon. She let out a frustrated huff, apparently unable to get it off. Had the cord become knotted? She turned to allow him access and Spike saw that a little iron padlock had been looped through the bow of her mask. That hadn’t been there when she’d passed him in the street. That bloody bastard, Angelus.
Spike lifted his hand, watching as the key glinted silver and full of promise. It fit perfectly into the padlock and turned with a satisfying little click. He untwisted the lock from the ribbon and let it fall into the water, where it sank out of view. Gently, he tugged the brown silk bow undone. She turned back to face him, holding the mask in place with one hand. Spike wasn’t sure why she was holding onto it. He’d gotten to her before she’d gone hollow. He was almost sure. Maybe it was him that she was afraid of? Showing him her true face?
He wanted to reassure her, let her know she had nothing to be afraid of. So he took a tiny step forward, close enough that he could smell her skin, but not so close as to seem threatening. He put a hand to the side of her head, stroking her hair in what he hoped was a comforting gesture. The hair felt strange. Coarse, and––
The whole mess shifted under his hand, twisting to the side and falling off. He looked at the lump of brown ringlets in his hand. A wig. He was holding a wig. He dropped it in disgust and it sank out of sight.
And when he looked at her he saw that golden hair had spilled out over her shoulders, glowing in the moonlight. She slowly lowered her mask, letting it crumble in her hands.
Who exactly had he expected?
She smiled, and the tenderness on her face surprised him. But then her smile turned to a slight frown as he stood, immobile with shock.
“Spike?” she asked.
She reached toward him, wrapping her arms around his neck. He let himself be pulled into the embrace, head tilting till his forehead was almost resting against hers. But then he felt her fingers at the straps holding his mask in place and gasped, stumbling back. The mask. He’d forgotten about the bloody mask.
He wanted, God, he wanted to kiss her so badly he ached, he burned. But… he wasn’t sure––could only speculate––what if he was hollow like the others? He’d fall to nothing. To ash.
But she’d already taken the risk of removing her own mask. So what if the risk had been lesser on her part? And he wanted her so badly he could barely think. So he reached shaking fingers to the ties of his mask. It fell into his hands. He turned it over and had a moment to examine the simplified version of his own face, locked into a cruel sneer. And then it crumbled to a fine powder and slipped through his fingers.
“Buffy…” he heard himself say in a breathy whisper.
He didn’t know how much time he had left.
Beyond her, he saw the stars and the vast, open expanse of water leading out to the ocean. Beyond her, he saw nothing at all.
They’d closed the distance between them without Spike being quite aware of moving at all. His hands tangled in her smooth hair. Hers crawled up the back of his neck. And then their lips met in a fierce, desperate kiss that sent a jolt of something electric through Spike’s body.
Spike woke, tangled in his satin sheets.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” he muttered under his breath, barely aware of the sounds that were passing his lips.
It always felt a bit like being cut in half, waking up to find half his body unfeeling, unresponsive. But that he’d gotten used to. This…
It was wrong. The dream was wrong. Or at any rate, meaningless.
After all, he’d dreamed about any number of women. In nearly every conceivable combination and position. His night’s victims. The other two slayers. Even Darla and he’d hardly been able to stand the bint. Buffy too, starting the very day after he’d first seen her. Violence that morphed into sex or vice versa. It was a perfectly natural predator/prey thing.
But this hadn’t been a sex dream. No, Spike had felt things for the girl––for Buffy––that he was only supposed to feel towards one woman.
Drusilla. That had to be it. After all, Buffy’d been wearing a damned mask and wig through most of the dream. Could he have thought she was Dru? Only, the idea was laughable, wasn’t it? Even disguised, Buffy was nothing like Dru. Much shorter for one thing. Not to mention the fact that she didn’t move the same, act the same…
No, Spike didn’t feel like lying to himself. If there was one thing he prided himself on, it was being honest about what he wanted. And he had wanted Buffy. Ached for her. For all of her.
The question that lingered was whether this was simply a mist that would be burned off by the light of day or the first signs of a storm rolling in to reshape his sky.
End Notes:OK, some factual stuff for the nerds like me. Carnival, or the Italian Carnevale, comes from Latin meaning either “to remove meat” or “farewell to meat.” In either case, Spike’s right that a lot of the holiday comes from the idea of enjoying dietary and even sexual pleasures before Lent.
The palace I reference more or less takes its external form from the real Doge’s Palace in Venice. The interior’s all made up.
Oh, and the gross scenes that the paintings turn into when Spike puts on the glasses are both really from Greek mythology. The hunter who was turned into a stag and torn apart by his hounds was Actaeon and the myth has been portrayed a surprising number of times in European art. And Saturn, AKA Cronus (the father of Zeus) was said to have eaten his children till his wife tricked him into eating a stone swaddled like a baby instead of Zeus, who would later cut his siblings out of his father’s belly. There’s a famously dark image of the subject by Goya, but for my money the painting by Rubens is even more viscerally disturbing. If your curious a wikipedia article with images of both can be found here. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Anyway, hope you liked my weird little trip into dreamland and let me know what you think! I’m curious to hear any questions or interpretations.
Originally posted at https://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/658018.html