Fic: Smoke

Title: Smoke (1/3?)

Author: drizzlydaze

Setting: AU AtS S5

Rating: PG

Summary: The world’s gone to peace. The ghostly, not-so-dynamic duo of Spike and Lilah team up to save it. 

 Part One: Ghost

 Jagged shapes in the darkness teetered precarious atop one another, piled in high, swaying columns. The cold, stale air was thick with the scent of old. A layer of dust had settled over the entire shop as surely as silence, even over the little bell by the door. There was no shopkeeper and never any customers. If one were to venture into the backroom, there would be a faded Persian carpet below the worktable, and a trapdoor below that. It opened to a set of rickety, steep stairs that led down into a musty cellar.

 And in the cellar, hiding in the dark, was the last. She tried to remember that to venture outside would be suicide. She was the last, she was the last, and she was, and always had been, a survivor.

 Across the city, the abandoned offices of Wolfram and Hart stood defeated. There was a woman looking out from the window of the CEO office. She stepped back, approached the desk, and took up an envelope. Then she slit it open and let the heavy object inside slide to the floor.

 “We are,” she began, not even blinking when the whirlwind of magic and debris swirled up from the amulet, “the only ones who can save this sorry world.” She chuckled derisively. “Of course, I hope to end it soon after, but for now we unite.”

 Predictably, he lunged at her. Well, through her. And then he blinked. “Bollocks.”

 “Yes.” She nodded at him. “You’re a ghost. So am I, for that matter, just with a gift from my superiors—a little corporeality.” She held up a hand. “Listen. I don’t like repeating myself. You sacrificed yourself in the Hellmouth, but your essence was stored in this amulet. While you were gone, the world—and this includes your Slayer—has been taken over by an entity that your grandsire failed to stop. And here we are, at the end—after the end of the world.”

 He blinked. “And Buffy?”

 “As I said. The world’s ended. She’s gone where it has.”

 He chose to discard this piece of information, asking instead, “And who the bloody hell are you?”

 “Lilah Morgan. Requesting your services. I work for Wolfram and Hart.”

 “Real trustworthy, you lot are.”

 “Our goals are aligned, so yes.”

 “And what are they, exactly?”

 Her lips curved up in something just short of a smile. “I want to save the world.”

 ~~~~~

Everything floated. Colours and shapes swayed and shifted, and nothing held in her mind. Too quick to think on. Too hazy to think.

 If she had more awareness, she would register that they were dreams. But then, if she had more awareness, she would not be asleep.

The outside world sometimes manifested itself in her dreams. A boy’s voice, quiet and dark; a woman’s rich timbre; low, unfamiliar murmurs of a crowd. These moments were lost in the dream, insignificant, and she was far from waking.

There were visions of startling clarity. They lifted the fog of her slumbering mind, however temporarily, and imbued her with a sense of urgency. But they were never strong enough to startle her into waking, and as time went on, they grew less insistent and struck less often.

~~~~~

Spike was used to weird things. He’d long learned to go with the flow, but he always did things his way.

“The world has ended,” she repeated.

“Seems to me it’s right where it’s always been.”

As of late, his way was becoming shackled with the good guy way, due to the whole soul thing which really was quite a big deal, thank you very much. And saving the world was a rather big feature in the good guy way. (He had, of course, saved the world soulless, but apparently that wasn’t such a big deal.)

“This entity is a fallen Power calling itself Jasmine, also known as the Devourer. The world is overridden with adoration for her. Mind control,” she said finally, “and your Slayer is under it too.”

Lilah Morgan had filled him in on the current weirdness of the world, and it was rather more sobering than he’d have wished. Just his luck, waking up to another apocalypse. A happy Stepford-type apocalypse of joy and amity, but an apocalypse nonetheless.

“And it’s just us two?”

“As far as I know, yes. The Senior Partners are helpless with no players left on the board—except, of course, you and me.”

Spike was rather new to the good guy way, but he assumed it had a clause somewhere that precluded working against world peace. It was world peace between populations of mindless automatons, sure, but still world peace. But on the whole, even with the soul, he was fairly opposed to the notion of shells walking around the world pretending to be human, even if this dystopia was rather less dystopian than any novel had imagined, and, well, succeeding where precious Angel had failed was attractive. But still. “World peace, I imagine, works better without being smashed into pieces. Which is what I do.”

“Did I mention that she eats people to maintain her energy?”

Spike considered this, licking his own canines. “Well. That is pretty evil.”  He nodded, committing himself to the hero role, now that it was established that this Jasmine was, in fact, an evil people-eater.

“Happy? Let’s get going.”

He snorted. “Don’t see how we’re much of a threat. Two ghosts versus everyone else, and the everyone else aren’t exactly keen to be saved.” He looked out at the city. “Gotta be more Caspers out there. Couldn’t have got them all.”

“She had the whole world working with her for that, not to mention the Slayers.”

And the matter of Buffy… that was… He couldn’t quite think on it. Not yet. I love you. “What’s she doin’ with them?” he asked quickly.

 

“Oh, she’s done with them. Used them to eliminate those that her mind control couldn’t get. Soulless demons, mostly, but those were easy. Anything soulless, really, plus ghosts. Now Slayers roam around like any other sheep.” To his unspoken question, she continued, “My file and contract were hidden once the Partners realised what was happening. Only got to me in time.”

When he looked out of the window, the world looked like it always had been. There were ants and cars racing about in their mindless little routines. Same cogs, different machine. The world went on turning.

“One important little fact: we can cure them by exposing them to her blood.”

“Always gotta be blood,” he muttered. “So what’s the plan?” A bit of a silence. “I’m assuming the all-powerful Senior Partners had a brilliant master plan in case of Angel’s inevitable failure.”

“Well. A lot of things went off track,” she said, “not just Angel. As of now, the Partners’ plan has ended. With you. An ally.”

He looked at her incredulously, unsure if she were telling the truth. As the odds stood, her being evil and all, she wasn’t. “Me? That’s the plan?”

“That was the plan. Obviously, we need another one to follow through.” Lilah raised her eyebrows at his look. “What? Souled vampire, Champion, Shanshu. You’re a handy Angel replacement.”

It was not, she knew, a good or particularly clever thing to say. This vampire had a significantly quicker temper than the original. He had her by the throat in a second.

“I’m no one’s bloody replacement, least of all that toothless puppy!” he snarled.

“Well, well. Someone’s touchy.” It was rather hard to sound aloof while being choked.

His hand sunk through the moment he realised what he was doing, and Lilah gingerly rubbed her throat. He stared at his now incorporeal hand. “I touched you.” He looked up, eyes wide. “I touched something.”

“I know. Hence the pun.” She adjusted her scarf. “Reality,” she continued, unfazed, “bends to desire. So long as you want something enough, you can touch it.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Any other nice tidbits you’re keeping from me?”

“I’m not keeping anything from you. It’s just that the months taken to retrieve you have led to an awful lot of exposition to go through.” She tapped her finger against the desk, commanding his attention as he tried to pick up a mug. “One last fact: you’re not exactly a ghost. You are essence, brought back, and if you truly become corporeal again…”

“I get cleaned between my bloody ears,” he finished. He closed his eyes, recalling the burn of his soul as the Hellmouth collapsed around him. How many times would the world need saving? Wasn’t much good to begin with. Wasn’t worth much in the first place.

He looked closely at Ms Corporate. “So. What’s in it for you?”

“It’s work,” she said offhandedly, and gave away no tells.

“And I’m sure that’s half true,” he said to narrowed eyes. She had people she wanted to save too. Family, at least. He would have to find out more about that; her other connections, those were what he would bank on for loyalty. Not her bloody job, which was probably the least trustworthy reason to work with her. All sorts of double crosses, especially with lawyers.

Like him, she had her humanity. “Manchester United,” he said aloud. Lilah raised an eyebrow; on her face it was incredulity. “Dog racing. Punk rock. Hot wings. Happy Meals—off limits now, but still entertainin’. Passions. Blooming onions. Poetry. Blood. Love.” A smile crept up on his face. “Alright, I’m ready.”

~~~~~

She had to stay in the cellar. It was too dangerous outside, up there, anywhere, even if no one went into the shop. But there was no more food to eat, and the sewers were even more dangerous than the secluded store, so she, feeling fatalistic, crept out.

She found some food and water in the cabinets of the backroom. It was by no means a permanent solution, but it would do for now. Eventually, she would have to risk going out in the open, or at least risk filching food from the trash. She went to fiddle around in the shop, getting her bearings, daring someone to wander in and see her, and then she would see her…

Curiosity shops were something of a curiosity to her. She’d once enjoyed unhurried explorations of the catalogue, the little objects that she’d never buy (she was far too practical for that) but indulged in sight only. The shopkeeper wouldn’t disturb her trawling.

And this shop, well… its collection of items was more expansive than any other she’d seen, although the shop itself was of an average size—these objects were piled up, cluttered and messy, like the treasure trove of some dragon. (Dragons, she thought, were bound to be disorganised.) There were endless possibilities to explore. She took up a few bric-a-bracs in each hand, feeling their cool shape against her palms, the faintly moist layer of dust.

Her mind, already so unravelled and unravelling with each solitary day, chose this moment to remind her that survivors were not defeatist. Urgency overtook wonder (she could still wonder!); common sense overruled fancy. She darted to the backroom and into the hole in the floor, flung the carpet back over and closed the trapdoor (it opened to the inside).

The curios she had been holding were still with her. The food and water were safely stowed in her bag. She was still alive. The excursion was a success.

“I should write that down,” she said. “I should write it down.” So she took up her trusty black marker and wrote on the plaster wall, squishing the words between an equation and the doodle of a fire.

“The answers,” she said to her handiwork, “to the universe.”

~~~~~

How do you defeat an undefeatable foe? Team up with something bigger.

That was the plan, anyway. Finding that bigger something was a bit harder. Releasing it was a different story entirely. Their best ally was the resources of W&H. A plane or helicopter would raise too much suspicion; a magic byway, courtesy of the Partners, would not.

“Drogyn? Can’t say I know him.”

“Medieval-type guardian with little hygiene and a peculiar curse,” Lilah said, shrugging. “The usual. Jasmine’s checked out Drogyn and the Deeper Well, but the Senior Partners know secrets even the guardian does not.”

“Like what?”

“Like theft. It’s out of LA,” she said. “Think you can handle yourself?”

He put up his hand, wiggling his fingers. “Can’t exactly do much damage with these.”

She looked sceptical. “Just don’t be brash. Stay here, stay low.”

He didn’t like being ordered around. “And why exactly couldn’t you do this before? Seems you don’t need me.”

“I don’t have time for pettiness,” she snapped. “Just stay—”

“—Hold on a tick,” he said, a smirk tugging at his lips. “Your precious Senior Partners were the ones that wanted me, weren’t they? And you had to go with their commands before doing your own thing. So much for the whole independent woman thing you’ve got goin’ on. Still a pup to your master’s whims.”

To his chagrin, she laughed. “Don’t try play mastermind in Wolfram and Hart, Pratt.” And she left. Spike had the nasty suspicion that his past—his human past—was typed up somewhere in a big fat folder for her perusal. More like a certainty, he thought. He’d been far too naïve about this gig. Senior Partners and PTB were using him like Captain Forehead, their own little vampy pawn for the great game, only he’d never reach the end of the board and get promoted to—a queen? He gave himself a mental scoff. A real boy, more like. Echoes of Pygmalion, maybe—but he hadn’t been made, much as the PTB would like to think. In any case, he’d heard about that Shanshu bugaboo, and he didn’t really fancy it anyway. The whole yearning for things he could never have, dog on a leash—that was Angel’s gig. Or, uh, in Spike’s own not-so-distant past, but past nonetheless.

Files and Records was rows upon rows of cabinets. Slumped over the front desk was a brown-haired woman with no pulse and electricity sparking from her broken flesh.

This is important, he thought, closing his eyes to concentrate. I’m getting the file. I’m getting the file. Any file I want, I get. I take what I want.

 

He remembered Lilah Morgan and that humanity he hoped to find, but she had said her file was hidden. No need to bother for hers, then.

 

First the ‘S’s, then ‘B’s, then ‘W’s, and finally he gave in to the ‘P’s. His folder was thicker than he expected, a large black binder with Pratt, William (Spike) over the top. He left it on the front desk before browsing the ‘S’s again; Summers, Buffy was easily twice as thick as his, though he’d lived seven times as long. The last entry was of her training the Slayers post-Sunnydale, and nothing after Jasmine. He flipped to the front and tore out the first page, the one with her picture, and pocketed it. Then he checked out Jasmine (and Devourer), but she had already taken the file out.

Exhausted by the effort of handling so many objects, he slumped down on the reception desk (he wasn’t sure why he could sit and lie down, could stand on the floor but walk through walls, but he was no physicist) and massaged the weariness from his eyes. After a few moments, he began bouncing his leg, then pacing around the room.

Sit tight. Not his forte. But even he could recognise the dangers of going outside. A cracked screen glowed dimly with Jasmine’s face. She didn’t look as he had expected, nutty skin and rounded, but somehow this actuality fit it perfectly. Still. Hardly a face to fall over about.

But he wasn’t really looking at her. He was wondering, in some underside of his mind, that perhaps someone else would turn up on screen. Perhaps ghost girl was wrong. Perhaps Jasmine did take higher ups, or maybe she just needed security (in this ghost town?). Maybe he’d see her.

He wasn’t really looking. He was imagining.

She might not even be in LA. Or if she were… His mind inevitably drifted to Angel, and this world of synthetic happiness, sickly sweet Happily Ever Afters. Something rose in his gut, and he snapped his gaze from the screen. If she… If the Slayer… If Buffy

The only thing he knew was that she was trapped in this Jasmine-d world. He wondered how it worked. He hadn’t exactly had time to observe the people sheep populating the city, but the way Lilah had phrased it… Overridden with adoration. Shiny happy people; he suddenly thought of the very plastic Buffybot, and the wedding spell.

Unless this took the more suicidal route, like that boy’s bespelled jacket in the last year of SunnyD. “And if she got her hands on another rocket launcher…” he trailed off. (No, couldn’t be that way. Too much chaos if the love were destructive. ….Too much destruction if the love were destructive, burning the world away.)

He got up violently. Would’ve flung the chair to the wall with the force of his movement if he were corporeal. “And the point?” he shouted to the ceiling. “Bringing me back like this! Leavin’ me here, stuck here!” Saving the world, fine. That was action, explosions, light—

A warmth through him, the warmth of sunlight he could finally touch, and a warmth of… of his—

 

But now he had too much time. And whenever he had too much time, he either watched bad soaps or, dangerously, began to think. And think. And overthink.

There were no soaps now.

So he could remember everything. Overanalyse everything that was already past, already buried. Forgotten, most likely, all but his last shining moment playing the hero.

Sunlight hurt. He’d almost forgotten. His gaze blinded by its brilliance, light filling his eyes and crashes in his ears…

 

And pain as it tore him apart. Bones crushing into the ash he was, flesh burning black, something inside him being stretched and ripped beyond imagining. And the worst part was, something told him that that was his soul. That was its weight. Its destruction. (And just for a second, a blinding out-of-his-mind excruciating second, he wished it weren’t there to burn.)

 

Yeah. Real pretty, that was. He tried to control his shaking body, standing stiff and muscles taut. Very deliberately looked away from the amulet sitting innocently on the floor. He felt, in that moment, the rawness of his flesh and heat burning his body, memories stirring to life.

It was a bit silly, really. His soul had been his destruction, fodder for the fire, and would be again should he become corporeal with Jasmine undefeated. It alone rendered him (and Angel, he supposed, and god did he wish he hadn’t thought of Angel) susceptible to her mind control, and it alone, originally meant for the service of good, would prevent him from doing good.

He was about as useful as a nothing. His not-technically-ghostliness found him in the same bind as his soul—it protected him from Jasmine, but made him… effectively impotent. The more he thought about it, the more he thought being the Dearly Departed was the worst state he could be condemned to. No, it wasn’t time that made him run his thoughts in circles; it was his completely inability to take to action. Couldn’t even be useful to a fellow ghost.

So he decided to go out. Stretch his legs a bit. After all, didn’t seem like he was all that needed.

He wasn’t a complete idiot, though, and kept to the more empty streets. Made sure no one came within an arm’s length of him, so there wouldn’t be an accidental touches (or lack thereof), and tried to keep his expression the same as every dullard that passed him by.

“Don’t you just love Jasmine’s look?” a passer-by suddenly said.

He swallowed down ‘Uh’s and said, “Yeah, no question.” She was still looking at him expectantly, so he continued, with a show of confidence, “Glowing skin and… deep, soulful eyes. Pools of burnt caramel, dark delight. The inside glow of a hearthstone in dead winter, crackling coruscation. Like she knows you. ” Who knew William could come in useful?

“Exactly! Exactly!” The girl gave him a blinding smile and continued on her way.

The streets were unnaturally clean. Sterile, even—just like the people. Everyone beamed so brightly as to rival his final bonfire-y hurrah. It really was a town full of bots, but without the fun parts.

He turned a corner and saw Angel.

Let out a strangled shout. Fell backwards through a wall in his haste to escape, which would have worked rather well in getting out of sight had a couple not been on the other side. They got up at the same time, pinning him with laser stares.

“H-hail Jasmine!” He did a sketchy Nazi salute. The words and gesture were, laughably, almost automatic. “She’s great, isn’t she? Voice like a babbling brook, the tinkle of wind chimes in an autumn breeze. Can’t get enough of it!”

Faced with their stony looks, he could see that it wasn’t working.

Then the little boy started shouting, “Ghost! Ghost!” and the others joined in in a cacophony of hair-raising shrieks. He was rooted to the spot in one moment of dread and fear—there was nothing quite so eerie as this scene of ordinary humans slowly advancing to him with those looks and voices. Then he scrambled back through the wall, running off at full tilt.

He heard Angel call after him in surprise. For a moment, he allowed himself the luxury of the thought that Angel might have his back, that he had been pretending this whole time. But the moment passed, and the dread swept over him even as he sprinted to God-knew-where.

Because he was being followed by those wide, wild eyes; dozens of unerring pairs of pinpoint precise attentions. He could sense the change in the air, of being hunted, tracked, and recognised. And those stares, so thick he could feel them, were as constant as the soundtrack in his ears, the organised chant, slightly lilting, a little like a wailing siren, that drew out, “Ghost! Ghost! Ghost!”

So he ran. He didn’t think he could stop.

~~~~~

The shouts from outside shook her. She was curled up into a ball, heart punching through her chest, blood pumping in her ears. Secondary was the sheer level of noise. She was struck to the core, foremost, by the cadence and rhythm of their words; an ordered screech that hit her on the most primal of levels, and it was only a few fear-filled eternities later that she registered the words.

Through her ice-fright, she giggled. The mundane meanings slid off of her like sleet from a slant roof. Instead she found humour in the idea that they were calling out their own true names in that murderous heat. The thought that the truth was on their tongues and ringing in the air, but they could not understand because of its and their very natures.

We are ghosts to ghosts, she thought. I think I am.

 

The bell tinkled again and again, and the sound of heavy feet stomped over her head. A wordless shout cut through the ‘Ghost!’ wailing, the messy noise of a scrabble, a struggle, then the door opened and shut with finality.

She returned to the waiting, and something else happened.

The bell didn’t sound, but the some of the higher objects cluttered about the room above clattered to the floor. A heavy, female-sounding sigh, tinged with impatience. The clack of heels on wood, the sound of sweeping dust.

A ghost of fear stole over her. Keep silent. Silent as a mouse.

~~~~~

They had some kind of magic proddy rod thing that could hook onto him and drag him along. Humiliating, really, so he more often strutted along like he’d wanted to be caught. You had one job, he thought, feeling like this champion thing was a lot harder than he’d thought. Didn’t always win just ‘coz you were a good guy—unless he was just dragging the team down. Which seemed more and more likely with each agonising minute.

“I saw you in the street,” Jasmine said. Yeah, saw with a thousand manic eyes. “You seemed… disorientated.” Her voice was mellow, pleasant like waves. He could see the appeal; the actual magic, of course, didn’t work on him.

Still, he dropped to his knees. “Who are you?” Tried not to think too much on it.

She smiled, benevolently. “Jasmine. I see you’ve been lost for quite some time now.” The light, sweet scent of jasmine wafted around her.

He opened his mouth but no words came out for good few seconds. Then: “I… yeah. I dunno what happened, just popped out of an amulet all of a sudden. And I can’t touch anything. I’m not… It’s off, I never knew vamps could go ghost. Nothing in us to stay on, you know, not even with my…”

“You are not,” Jasmine said. The people around her sighed in adoration. “You are not a ghost, but floating essence. Different. I can see that now. You are welcome here, of course. All who wish, are.”

“I can’t imagine anyone who would deny,” he said. “But… you don’t know who I am. What I am.”

And it was all going very well—he’d been a bit worried that there might be some mind reading mumbo jumbo slash emotional sensor things—until another voice spoke up from the stairs, and he couldn’t act anymore.

“Spike.”

It was her. Now it was true awe that showed on his face, what he looked like when possessed with genuine emotions. But he didn’t care, didn’t think, only gaped and drank Buffy in. Not at all like the Buffybot, not plastic or magicked up, not anything but raw and open just like he, and absolutely blinding. He rose to face her, hand floating up to meet hers. He didn’t even have to think to touch her. Their hands clasped, cool.

He breathed out sharply. He might have closed his eyes to savour the sensation of her touch, but he couldn’t bear to tear himself from the sight of her. She, in turn, was looking at him with an undefinable mix of emotions across her face.

Then her hand passed through his and he was a not-ghost again. “You’re not real,” she said with a thick but steady voice. She moved her hand through his again, and he imagined he could feel tingles passing through his phantom limb. “You burned. You died.”

“Haven’t we all?” He quirked up his lips slightly.

She raised her hand to trace the ghostly outline of his face.

“He’s real,” Jasmine said. He felt bereft when Buffy turned to look at her. “Let me excuse myself, Buffy, Spike. I’m sure you have a lot to catch up on. Love is… so beautiful.” Smile.

~~~~~

Twenty minutes ago, a coffin dropped upon heaps of treasures. It disturbed said treasures and they sloped, crashing, along the sides until a plateau had formed on the top for the coffin to topple onto in an almost acceptable balance. There was no body in the coffin, nor lining, nor ashes of any ordinary kind. There was only cold stone thrumming with something not quite magic, shaped finely into a vessel made for lasting.

This coffin was, though not for all intents and purposes, empty. So perhaps it was instead a vessel made for waiting, shut but gaping.

~~~~~

Love. That was the parting blessing Jasmine had left in her wake. Buffy had never felt so connected or loved before Jasmine, a swell of feelings that seemed impossible to fill her even more—but Spike was here now. She couldn’t speak.

So he did. “I dunno why I’m here. Why I’m all see through.” Oh, so he thought he could be all Gruff Guy? “I did burn. Just didn’t take.”

She’d play along for now, if that pinhead wanted to play it cool. “How long?”

“Few hours, maybe. Then the… witch hunt started.”

“It wasn’t a witch hunt!” she protested, remembering that chase clearly through the eyes of the whole. The ghost of her memories. It was the only time she’d ever… But of course, Jasmine heard her pleas for what they were. “You know, you did and do seem kinda… ghost-y.”

He was looking at her shrewdly now, with those jewel blue eyes picking her apart like jigsaw. “But y’know I’m not…”

“Well, duh! Jasmine said so.”

“Jasmine said so. Right,” he said sulkily, for whatever reason.

She was vaguely annoyed with his uncooperativeness and more sharply unsettled by his tone, but it wasn’t like she needed to wait. She’d always made the first move. Million dollar question being what this move was supposed to be, and as a bonus, why she always had to make it. As when she was caught in a dilemma, she thought of Jasmine.

Love. Just grab him now and never let go. But then—peace. And the strange thing was, when she thought of peace, she remembered the last year in Sunnydale and… and the last time she saw him. “You weren’t… in heaven or anything, right?” She couldn’t help it.

He laughed.

The jerk. “Just thought I’d ask! Safety helmet on, because better safe than that other thing,” she said crossly. “And it’s not like you’ve been…”

He narrowed his eyes. “Been what?”

She felt the peace dangerously destabilised and words battered the dam dangerously. “Nothing.” She turned away.

He walked right up to her. She could see his big, clunky boots (how considerate the Powers were, bringing his trademark ensemble back as phantom as he) and his entire frame casting no shadow. He was kind of a ghost, if a ghost was a dead formerly-living non-corporeal being, which, in laymen’s terms, it was. Less human than he had ever been. He could walk in light now, but still no reflection and now no shadow.

But she could feel heat from him.

“Why can’t I touch you?” She held up her hand, palm forward.

He put his forth too. “Burned out, I s’pose. Pretty inconsistent, this.”

Maybe from afar it looked like their hands met. But there was only air. No. “I can feel you.” Air and heat. “And that’s—” She broke off mid-sentence, turning automatically to the door. The scent of jasmine floated through the air.

And in her voice of honey and amber: “Hello.” A bone-melting smile. “I hate to intrude…”

“Not at all!” Buffy said quickly, glancing briefly at Spike. He was transfixed by Jasmine too, though his jaw was unnaturally tight. “We were pretty much finito here. End curtains and all.” From the corner of her eye, she saw something cross Spike’s face. It wasn’t all that harmonising, honestly, and she wished he’d just start showing the happiness he must feel with everyone else.

Jasmine smiled in relief. “Well, I’m glad you had time to catch up. You two have a lot of lost time to make up for.”

Buffy nodded, wondering how Jasmine understood everything so well. “So what’s up? I get the feeling there’s something big a-brewing.”

“Yes,” Jasmine said. “We can begin bringing Spike back to the physical realm.”

Her eyes were full of delight when she turned to Spike again, but he was looking away with wide eyes.

~~~~~

Lilah Morgan was not happy. She had happened to be paired with the greatest, rashest, most impetuous dunce in the history of all heroes (which was saying a lot, given the thick heads they generally possessed), who had rather predictably tripped over his own shoelaces, entangling himself in a plot she would have to remedy.

She would prefer to screw him, not in the literal sense though she wasn’t entirely opposed to the idea, and move on with her own plan, but he had inadvertently moved himself to a position that would either prove useful or, more likely, dangerous. Both required overseeing. And rescuing, because apparently she did that now.

(Evil had standards, she knew. But she considered intelligence—and, while not too relevant in her current form, self-preservation—to be of higher importance.)

No doubt Spike was secretly loving the idea of being corporeal again. Izzerial knew if he even remembered that once a souled vampire, he would fall under Jasmine’s influence as well. Or if he cared. Buffy was too dangerous a piece, even as a sheep.

There was too much danger already.

Well, she was saving the world, if not in the loophole-ridden way the Partners planned. Still, she scoffed at the notion of being good. Or turning so—and shuddered as the thought of Lindsey passed through her mind, the moron. No, this was self-serving, which was about as low and as smart as you could get.

So Lilah moved around the shop, plucking trinkets from various shelves with a dusty book in one hand. She was no witch, but potion magic was elementary so long as you followed the steps. Which she, unlike certain people, could do. She, as were all extremely capable people, was proficient in the art on keeping an eye on more things than she had eyes. In this case, it was one eye on the spell book, one on the door of the shop, one on the shelves she used, and one on the seeing orb levitating beside her. 

Once all the items were gathered, Lilah set the ingredients and book down on a space between two high shelves that would suffice. She checked the seeing orb for timing, and awkwardly chanted out the Latin from the book. Herbs, candles, sand were laid down and waved around as was necessarily. And of course, the Orb, much different from the simple seeing orb, was set in front of her.

Below her, the not-so-last was done with being quiet like a mouse and instead scrambled up the stairs and into the backroom. The noise she made was quite substantial, and Lilah noticed. And she knew that she had been noticed.

As their eyes met, one pair fierce and the other mildly exasperated, the ritual had just been completed. A couple dozen blocks from the shop, another ritual, seen bulbously in the seeing orb, had also just finished with a bang. A look of wonder and horror tracked across Spike’s face as Jasmine intoned the last mellifluous word, and then something inscrutable as the Orb of Thesulah opposite Lilah glowed brightly with his stolen soul.

Part 2

Originally posted at https://seasonal-spuffy.dreamwidth.org/825462.html

drizzlydaze

drizzlydaze