This is the first chapter of something piedmargaret and I have been working on for a while now - a Spike/Ethan futurefic that diverges post-Chosen. Angel S5? What Angel S5? And by future, I mean post-apocalypse. And by fic, I mean. Um, actually I mean fic. Or possibly I mean WIP. Because it is.
The Good Ship Venus - Chapter One
Spike/Ethan. PG-13, eventually rising to NC-17
Warnings: Did I mention post-apocalypse? I did? Oh, good. Extrapolate.
The title refers to this fine example of classical harmonizing.
wolfling and wesleysgirl = Mistresses of the Beta-Lash. Arrr.
Ethan has found another ghost town.
This one seems in pretty good nick under the thick prairie dust, which coats everything like a clumsy impasto. The town seems to have survived the years of neglect, the inevitable tornadoes, and the infrequent looters more or less intact. There are enough signs remaining on the storefronts to tell Ethan that this was once the city of Emporia, a fact which makes him giggle to himself.
"To market, to market, to market we go. What treasures shall we find here then, Ripper?"
Not much in the way of food, of course -- even a lot of the canned goods have long since perished, Ethan has found. But it's not as if he *needs* to eat; it's just pleasant sometimes to remember his more mortal days. Taste, like smell, is such an evocative sense. A single morsel on the tongue can spill a rich flood of memory within the mind. Ethan last ate -- when was it? Two, three weeks ago? It had been after his most recent encounter with humanity.
It seems fair to say that his species is not what it once was.
He had met with a small, bedraggled bunch of feral youngsters on the hunt. He escaped their murderous and quite possibly cannibalistic intentions by blinding them with mystical science. One quick series of cantrips, and Ethan was not only unharmed, but the lucky recipient of a plump hare.
Children, even half-wild savages like those had been, are always easily distracted by a good light show.
Of course, he could just have killed them, and would have done so had the lightshow not worked, but despite the fact he owes his species nothing but the misfortune of his birth, he can't quite bring himself to kill them in cold blood. Why speed the process?
The hare, spit roasted and served with millet mush, had made him happy for a little while. These days -- these long years -- pleasures are rare and simple and to be savoured whenever found.
He stops for a while before a storefront, the window unbroken. Using his hand, he pushes away the sticky dust and peers in to get a glimpse of what lies inside. An acrylic woman stands bleakly on the display floor, clothed in a flouncy scarlet ballgown.
"Poor plastic Cinderella. No one's ever going to take you to the dance, are they, m'dear?"
The dress, inevitably, wakes up synapses never long dormant, and Ethan finds himself remembering a tiny blonde Californian girl, her face lost in a dream, and the feel of a leather shoe kicked hard into his gut.
"Leave this place and never come back... good advice, Ripper, old chum. But you don't mind if I liberate a few things first, do you?"
The next store along has been smashed and looted a long time ago, and the one beyond that contains only the luxury electronic goods that had once been part of every American dream -- now fundamentally useless. Ethan only vaguely remembers what all these black boxes were meant to do. It's been so very long, and he was never much of a consumer, preferring to use the greed of others rather than give in to his own.
The sign above the subsequent wide window reads, 'The Emporia Marketplace', which sends Ethan into fits of helpless giggles for some minutes. He ends up on his knees on the broken roadway, clutching his stomach as he tries to recover.
"Oh, the humanity," he gasps. "Oh, the very humanity." It really isn't any wonder that what happened, happened. The only miracle is that it took so long before it did. Because a Pandora's Box never existed which some poor git of a human wouldn't open, and calling a fruit 'forbidden' is a sure-fire guarantee that blunt incisors will soon be biting into it.
The human propensity for catastrophically stupid curiosity and greed is something Ethan once considered his personal playground. He misses those days. At least, he thinks he does.
There's enough humanity left within his wrung-dry body that the Emporia Marketplace tempts him.
"Shall we open the box, Ripper? What do you say? Surely all the world's evils are already with us, but perhaps we'll find a little piece of hope left behind. That would be nice, wouldn't it? Hope would be quite tasty, I imagine. Like... mmm, nectarines glazed with cinnamon honey."
Ethan stands by the door and waves his hand across the lock, muttering meaningless syllables just for the sake of it. These days he doesn't need the rote and ritual of his mortal years. Sorcery now is as natural as breathing and far more vital to his survival. The door squeals like a living thing as he opens it.
It's dark inside, of course, but Ethan enchants his eyes and can immediately see clearly. The shop, sealed as it was, is almost dust-free, and the simple pleasure of seeing rich colours again is enough to entrance Ethan for a long moment.
It seems to have been some kind of bric-a-brac or cheap antiques store, and there are so many wonderfully sensual treasures for Ethan to stroke and smell and press his face against. Carved wooden chests from the Far East, odd pieces of china such as a replica phrenology head or a large Toby jug with the features of Abraham Lincoln -- that was the bloke's name, wasn't it? Ah, it was if Ethan says it was. It's not as if anyone else alive remembers.
It's mostly tat, of course. Mass-produced in sweatshops in the East and destined to serve no purpose beyond collecting dust on some cheapskate's floors or bookshelves. Only, of course, it all escaped its fate along with everything and everyone else that survived the Ending.
Ethan has opened a rather nice mahogany sideboard, now little more than pretty firewood, he supposes, when something starts to tingle inside him. It's a subtle personal alarm call that he knows well -- something magical or demonic is nearby.
It's only a slight sensation, which means that it's probably not a living threat to his hide. More likely one of the many treasures in this grotto has a magical component, and that interests him highly.
"Oh Ripper, what do you think it will be? An Aladdin's lamp to rub, perhaps? Or maybe a jewelled dagger imbued with endless poison. That could be handy. Well, not for me so much. But you'd like one of those, wouldn't you? You could cut me with it; watch me writhe..."
He begins to poke around the baskets on the top of the sideboard, each one of them full of second-hand trinkets and gaudy pieces of costume jewellery. His search is interrupted to pin a large topaz broach to his harlequin ensemble. The gem is the colour of clear cracknel toffee -- the stuff peanut brittle was once made of. It makes his mouth fill with saliva to think about it.
Continuing with his search, he starts to hone in on the source of the tingle. There's a small glass-fronted display cabinet just above the sideboard within which less tacky, undamaged jewellery is hung. It's locked, but not for long, and then Ethan is running his hand over the items within until he locates the source.
Ah ha. It's a huge glass crystal in silver casing, and quite obviously for a magical purpose, as who on earth would ever have worn something so ugly for decorative effect... well, other than drag queens anyway. Ethan smiles sadly as he remembers drag queens; remembers seeing Liesel, the German diva with the outrageous lisp down at the Roundabout every Tuesday night with Ripper for a year or more. They'd laughed at her for all the wrong reasons, of course.
He takes the huge pendant from its hook and sits down on a chair behind the counter to study the object, wondering what it's designed to do. There's no mechanism or obvious switch, and he imagines it will be activated with a word or a substance, or perhaps a gesture.
"Allakhazam, abracadabra, open sesame, hey presto," he says in a singsong voice, giggling. "You're the learned one, Ripper. Tell me what to do with this." He tries rubbing it like a mystical ring or lamp in folktales to no avail, then tries a variety of stage magic gestures, becoming increasingly amused by himself as he does so. "Come on, Flopsy, get out of the hat. Let's be having you."
He tries conjuring flame and burning it, and cutting his finger and bleeding on it; neither have any apparent effect. He even finds a chain and wears it for a while, but he's rather glad that doesn't work as it clashes horribly with his other sartorial choices. "Come on, come on. You must do *something*." He licks it, kisses it, and tries his hardest to produce a tear to cry on it, but fails miserably in that regard.
The cooling air of approaching evening finally draws his fun and games to a disappointing close, the amulet still resolutely radiating magic without actually doing *anything*. Pissed off, Ethan throws it down on the counter and turns to leave, muttering "Frange! Shatter, you bastard," in vindictive retribution for the thing's recalcitrance.
Which is when it happens.
Dying, despite Spike's first crap attempt at it back before he knew he *was* Spike, is *everything* it's cracked up to be. It's more. More than his creeping, shuddering little human soul could have imagined, or the raging monster that had replaced it, or whatever he'd been there at the end, the two of them locked together in uneasy peace.
It's a screaming, burning rush; the world -- bricks, stones, sky, stark outline of some suicidal pigeon flying low above the school -- gets brighter and brighter, 'til it's all the same. All white gold, molten and sizzling, inside and out, and it's on and on and on. The ride of a lifetime.
If it's Hell, it's nothing like he feared. If it's Heaven, it's more than he deserves. If it's forever...
It's a long time. Long enough that he loses the outlines, crisp in black against the gold, of the faces he doesn't want to forget. Loses the thuds and crunches of a house crashing down round his ears, the smash of a heavy hand across his cheek, the exact grey-green colour of someone's eyes, like a stone in a pond. They shimmer, blur, not gone but faded, folded softly into gold. A long time.
But not forever. Which maybe makes it Hell and Heaven both.
There's no warning, no fading, no tap on the shoulder that he doesn't have or really remember he ought to. No quick word in his ear -- hey mate, train stops here, best gather up your bags. Just... slam.
And he's flat on his face on a cold tile floor. Not a stitch to his skin, so he knows *just* how cold it is, and he's pretty sure he's broken his sodding nose.
All of which he's been before, and it's *definitely* not all it's cracked up to be.
"Oh, Flopsy!" exclaims a male and decidedly English voice above him. "You came after all. The show's over, I'm afraid, and the audience have all gone home."
It takes him a moment to find his own voice, and another to remember what a moment and a voice might be. Funny how 'sodding' and broken noses rushed right back without even stopping to say hello.
"My name's not Flopsy." And he lifts his head. "I think." The words come out clear, nose not broken after all then, though it throbs at him for a moment, where the floor has scraped his skin.
The bloke in front of him is... clearly bonkers. Has to be, to be wearing a get up like that. Half medieval travelling minstrel, half modern gent about town, and all in a rainbow of strangely co-ordinated colours. Smells human... ish.
"Which would imply another name then," the man says.
"It would, yeah." Spike doesn't give that other name, though it flops about on his tongue the minute it's asked for. He turns it over in his mouth instead. Tastes it, sharp, metallic. Tangy.
The stranger holds his overly ringed hand out, whether to help him up or to shake hands politely, it isn't obvious. Spike picks number one, since face down and starkers on the floor is just about never the lesser of two evils. Bloke's got a firm grasp -- hauls him up and looks him over, slowly and obviously. "Mmm, pretty. Very nice indeed. You can't possibly be human; they don't ever look like this anymore."
Human? Is he human? Was he ever? Spike brushes his hands across his own body. The length of one arm, pale hairs tickling his palm. Shoulder. Hip. Face. Everything that humans are supposed to have, right? He fits the specs. Chest -- strong and flat and silent. So. There's that then.
Face -- there's that thing he can do. That's an answer, innit. He does it, and grins. "They never looked like this."
The result isn't quite what he'd have expected... had he really got around to doing any expecting of anything yet. The bloke in the furs and Saville Row claps his hands like a happy child. "Oh, a true antique. One of a kind. How ironic to find him here, Ripper. How perfect."
Ripper. That's not him, whoever the poor nutter's talking to, but... the name jangles at Spike's temples, just out of memory's reach; he leaves it there to find its own way home.
"You're not quite all here, are you?" he asks, not unkindly. "Know the feeling." Part of him's still burning, off somewhere. He hasn't decided yet if there is better than here, but he misses it, that fire. Suspects he always will.
Bloke looks at his own hands, turning them over as if curious about what he'll see. "This is all of me that there's been for some time, I'm afraid. Do you like the cold?"
Spike knows the tune of that logic by heart, in another, older voice. This one's as unlike that as a living man can be unlike a long-dead girl, but it's comforting somehow, nonetheless. "Can't say as I do, especially."
Clothes. Those were for keeping out the draught, yeah? He'd had those. He remembers. Couldn't well walk about naked in a houseful of... girls? Another memory, slightly blurry, slides into place.
"Don't s'pose you've seen my gear? Jeans, shirt, boots, coat, stupid ugly shiny... thing..." He's lost for a second, as light and fire pour through him, out and up, stupid ugly shiny thing an inferno on his chest. "...goes round your neck..." he finishes, awkward and untrusting of his tongue.
"Ah, that." His companion nods. "It *was* ugly, wasn't it? A memory crystal, I suppose... and so you would be somebody's memory. Not mine, sadly. I'd definitely remember a body like this one." He reaches out as if to touch Spike's face, but instead dances his fingers briefly in the air in front of Spike before letting his hand drop. "If it's clothes you're after, I imagine we'll find some further down the road."
Clothes are second - fifth - on Spike's mind now. "I'm not anybody's memory but mine, mate. You've seen that crystal? Where is it?" It's -- important. He knows it's important.
"Dust between your toes, Flopsy."
"Name's not Flopsy; I told you. Unless that's a personal comment, in which case you try splatting face down and stitchless on the floor and see how much it does for *your* libido."
But he looks down at his cold toes, and the bare floor sparkles back at him, harmless bits of glass beneath his feet, not even big enough to cut. You're soaking in it, some dead bint enthuses in his ear.
Not *that* important, then. Or not important anymore. "Bugger. It was sort of on loan." Small hand, dropping it heavy into his. "Don't suppose she'll be so overjoyed at seeing me she'll forget to be annoyed that I've broke it?" Seems unlikely somehow.
The bloke unclasps his fur cloak, most of a single bear-hide by the look of it, and offers it to Spike with a kindly expression. "Poor little vampire -- he doesn't know, Ripper. Should we tell him? He won't like it."
Spike reaches, settles the cloak around his shoulders, even as his lids narrow, mind thunks and twangs and screeches. Ripper. Tweed and waistcoats. Fingers breaking one by one by one in Angel's hands. Jeans, old sweatshirts. Fierce eyes, hands like iron at Spike's collar, pinning his throat to the wall.
This one in front of Spike isn't that one, but... there'll be answers there, if anywhere. "Ripper. You mean Giles? Rupert Giles? You know him?"
The bloke's face falls into a twisted expression, his arms coming up to clasp around himself as he backs away from Spike. "Gone," he says finally, the word spat out like something poisonous. "Long gone. Who the hell are you, vampire?"
"Long gone?" Questions about where he is, how he got here, if everyone made it out of that crumbling memory of a school -- rise and fall in his throat, and he's suddenly a whole lot colder, despite the fur. "What do you mean, long gone? How long?"
"A long innings. A century not out and then some more," his companion says, using analogies Spike vaguely recognises as having something to do with green fields and white jerseys. "It's been a very long time to run between wickets, you know. There's not been any of your kind since the Ending."
It's hard to pick and choose among the nonsense, to find the meaningful words. Mostly because *none* of it seems to make sense, or at least Spike doesn't want it to. Doesn't want to connect the dots, no, not in this puzzle -- and he's going as fizzy and mad as the bloke in front of him; he'll be cowering under the school and burbling to rats in a minute.
"A hundred years? What're you playing at?" He's rough, not believing because he *can't* believe. Reaching for narrow shoulders with hard hands. "You're lying. Or cracked, or both. I saw him bloody yesterday." It can't have been longer than that, surely? Long enough to be dragged up out of the rubble by this dotty old fool, tossed on the floor to wake up with a short sharp shock?
The bloke quickly waves his foppish arm, and Spike finds himself slamming back into the counter. Magic. Should've smelled it really. "Bad rabbit," the... magician scolds. "Do that again, and I'll put you back in the hat."
At least now he knows where his lovely new nickname springs from. "What hat? Where'd you find me, old man?" The magician -- sorcerer? -- can't be far into his fifties, and Spike's got to be the eldest by his very nature, but there *is* something ancient and... tired about the man.
Eyes so dark they seem almost black gaze into his, and the sorcerer suddenly speaks as one both sane and arch. "I found *you* stark bollock naked on the floor, dear thing. Much as you found yourself, I imagine. You appeared when I shattered the crystal, which I found, hung as a pendant, in that case." He points to a glass-fronted display case. "This was once the city of Emporia, Kansas in what was once the United States of America. You have the first English accent I've heard outside my own head in what I believe to be over a century, although I haven't precisely been keeping records. And you have a very attractive arse. There now, anything else you want to know?"
Is there a basement? Are there rats? Just a corner he can rock in for a bit? A spell for unknowing everything that just slammed through him, clear and sane and solid, with the other man's words? Can he burn again please, because that was a good place to be?
He doesn't ask any of those questions; just shifts his gaze to the floor. A century sparkling up at him, dust between his toes. He looks back up, eventually, because... Because. He gropes for a reason, but the only one he finds is that he's tired of staring at his feet. Seems good enough.
"You got a name? Mine's Spike. Not, in case I haven't mentioned it, Flopsy." He lets his face show human again; the other seems more effort somehow.
"Spike," the sorcerer muses. "How very... phallic. I had a name once, but I haven't needed it for a long time. Rayne, it was. Now maybe it should be Malchus, or a gentile equivalent. 'Kingdom' perhaps, or possibly another kind of reign..." He pauses and shakes his head. "Forgive me. I've had no one of intelligence to speak to for a very long time. Apart from Ripper, of course, but he doesn't count."
There was a time, about two minutes ago, when the clickety clack of the little bits sliding into place in Spike's head -- Ripper, Rayne, Ripper, Rayne -- would have set him to shaking the man again, magic or no. Humans don't live a hundred years, and he's a liar and a madman, and somewhere outside those dingy shop doors everyone Spike knows and might have loved is still alive.
But sorcerers live as long as they can get away with, and cold black truth is cold black truth. There's no surge of hope in his chest, just an ache he wishes were less dull. "You're Ethan Rayne."
"Once," Rayne agrees easily. "Once upon a time, in a country far away, there lived such a man. Did we know each other?"
Remembering the man's reaction the last time he'd said 'Ripper's' real name aloud, Spike is... curiously not keen on setting it off again. Could be the soul. Could be that Spike's not keen on much of anything, right now. "No. We had a... mutual acquaintance. Once upon a time."
Rayne nods. "Were I a mathematician I could calculate the odds of you and I meeting like this. I'm sure they'd make a very long and pretty number." He walks around Spike, heading behind the counter as he continues. "But I was never much cop at arithmetic and only slightly better at algebra. Instead, I'm a chaos mage, and incredible coincidences are rather my stock in trade. My raison d'être, you might say, although *you* probably wouldn't. Which is why I'm still around to shatter amulets in the first place. Tell me, would you rather have stayed just a memory?"
Bloody hell, yes, is the first thing Spike thinks of saying, then the same but with 'no' at the end. How the hell is he supposed to answer that? Would he rather still be burning? Spike thinks of his hands clasping slender scarlet-clad arms, dervish circles suddenly stilled as he held her safe, who'd rather be burning. Life isn't bliss...
"Doesn't matter now, does it?" he answers, and sets his jaw on it. "Got to deal with what is."
"Oh, that's far from essential, I can assure you. Ripper and I try to do that as little as possible." Rayne ducks down behind the counter, and Spike can hear him rummaging. "*What is* is really rather dull and depressing, you see. And you *will* see, if you're quite sure you wouldn't rather be gone again."
"I'm not the suicidal type," he answers. It's not been strictly true in the past, and Spike's not sure it even is now, but this one's got no way of knowing that, and there's such a thing as asking for trouble. Even if he believed for a second he could go back to that happy raging fire, if he was sure he wanted to, Spike's not about to trust the job to a half-crazed chaos wizard with... questionable taste in clothes. Not that he's got room to talk at the moment.
Spike misses his coat with a sudden pang, absurdly crisp and deep. He glances toward the shaded front display window, wondering how high the sun might be, but only for traditional vampire's reasons. "Does 'what is' have a leather goods shop?"
"I'm sure we can get you clothed to your reasonable satisfaction. Getting you fed may be a smidgen more difficult." Rayne stands again, putting something small into the pocket of his jacket. "Shall we go take a look see?" He smiles amiably at Spike, gesturing to the doorway.
Spike nods, as keen to get out of this junk shop as he is to find some clothes. It's too almost-familiar, like he could pull open one of those drawers and find the extra flask of whisky that... a mutual acquaintance... used to hide behind the counter. Or the Burba root, third jam jar from the left. It's just a trick of the mind, but for a second the whole place smells like... dust between his toes.
"Might as well. There's fuck all else to do."