Title: (Some) Answers
Setting: NFA battle
Word count: 972
Prompt: Everybody Needs Somebody
A/N: I’m back! As the title says, exposition time. Part Eleven. Parts One (Chapters), Two (Like Old Times, But Not), Three (Help), Four (Victim), Five (Property), Six (Escapee), Seven (Interrogations), Eight (The Plan/The Book), Nine (The House), Ten (Clues).
The White Room is still there. It is hard to access, sure, and probably harder to get out of, but it’s still there. But the conduit is different.
“Gotta say, wasn’t expectin’ you.”
“I could say the same.” Angel steps closer in disbelief. “Form of the conduit is determined by the viewer… I don’t know why I’d want you here.”
“Maybe because you don’t.”
“But it doesn’t matter. This is just a form; you’re not him. I’m here for him.”
“Or you’re here for her.”
“I’m here to help both of them,” he counters firmly. “And I need your help.”
“And why would I help you, gramps? Bloody bane of my bloody existence. Takin’ everything that’s mine.”
Angel doesn’t respond for a long moment. This is the conduit talking, not Spike. …Could go both ways, though. “The Senior Partners have a problem. There’s a schism going on, a rebellion. I’m willing to bet their prize possession right now is Spike—and I know they’re hoping to trade him for something better.”
“You.” Spike—no, the conduit narrows its eyes. “Better, huh?”
“More valuable for them, anyway. You know Buffy’s not going to give me up. You know I won’t either.”
He just shrugs. “Still on opposite sides, mate. No incentive.”
“They let me in here, let me talk to you. That means they’re offering help. I’m just saying I know they have a plan to make us do what they want, and this is probably part of it. So you can cut the reluctant act and get straight to the part where I walk into your trap.”
The conduit smiles, a smile that’s all W&H and offices that looks odd on Spike’s face. “You want to find the contract that’s bindin’ me.”
“Here’s a copy.” A sheaf of papers materialise in Angel’s hands. “You wouldn’t make it through the legal jargon, so here’s a brief rundown—don’t worry, no tricks! Not my style. You can get your boys to go through it later, if you’d like.”
“Get on with it.”
“So. Big mystery of the day: Why’s Spike property? Nothin’ to do with the amulet, I’ll have to say. That bit of essence storing and resurrection was very straightforward. No, it starts with Illyria. When she hung with you bunch, she claimed Spike as her subject. Named him her pet, her property. It’s all very instinctual for the Old Ones, laying claim, and it’s an ancient ritual that holds to this day. ‘Course, there aren’t any Old Ones round ‘cept Blue, so present day-wise, still a unique case. In this day and age, this binding is called a contract—and that, gramps, places the ball in our court.”
“Still doesn’t explain why the Senior Partners have him now.”
“Illyria made a deal. Hm, Buffy’s fault, actually. When she found Spike, dead and dying, she called Illyria for help. So Smurfette does a chant, an ol’ healing spell from ancient times. But whether she knew it or not, it was beyond her restricted abilities—so she made a deal with the Senior Partners, with W&H. Remember the Mutari generator? We own it. We own her powers—well, owned. She got them back, and she’s already run off to another dimension. Anyway, we gave her her powers and she gave us… Spike. Hm. Doesn’t sound like the best deal for us, but there ya go.”
“Okay. Now tell me the trap.”
“You aren’t property. You need to know the details of the contract you’re trundlin’ into, so I’m layin’ it out. We chuck Spike out for you, you’re gonna be in his contract, which you do need to sign.” The conduit nods towards the papers. “Just satisfyin’ your curiosity. Also, stalling for time.”
The conduit draws the outline of the rectangle in the air with one finger, then blows on it. A square of black ripples out, growing larger and larger till it’s Angel’s height in both length and breadth. Dim outlines form within it, becoming more distinct as his eyes adjust from the white of the room.
“For your viewing pleasure,” the conduit says. “A window into Spike’s mind and all those who traverse it.”
Buffy’s in a dark, large room. She looks completely unscathed, and—hopeful? But the conduit is smirking, showing absolutely no sign of worry that Buffy’s plan to break Spike out, whatever it is, will succeed.
“See, you’re gonna sign this contract and get Spike and Buffy out of danger.”
“Well, imminent danger. Hence the TV screen, so you actually see what’s goin’ on in that empty noggin of his.” The conduit taps its own head. “Funny thing: she thinks she’s got it all figured out. Been stuck in a hollow house this whole time.”
The screen brightens slightly. Angel can see the bones of the house, the structure, the assembly. It’s clear that Buffy still can’t see a thing, though.
The conduit lets out a short, barking laugh. “She thinks that what’s missin’, what’s trapped away…”
“…is his soul,” Angel finishes. “She thinks this is a vessel.”
It looks at him askance. “And what d’you think?”
“Oh. Oh, no…” Buffy’s wrong. She doesn’t know the first thing about souls, Angel thinks despondently.
The house and its empty frame isn’t a body… it’s a conscience. It’s the framework trapping the person, the rules and regulations, morals and compunctions that keep you from getting out of control—the house is the soul. The demon and Spike, the fire and the person; that’s what’s missing, why the house—the soul—is hollowed out.
“But she’s not in danger,” Angel presses. “She’s dead wrong and she’ll go in circles if she keeps thinking like that, but neither of them are in danger.”
The conduit smiles. “Wait and see what she does. And here’s a pen to sign that contract.”