[SPOILER WARNING: There are spoilers here for Season Seven "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", the final episode, "Chosen", and casting spoilers for Season Five "Angel". Those yet to see either, or both, and who wish to remain unspoiled, should avoid this fic.]
Spike looked out over the crater where the town of Sunnydale had stood, over the devastation, the destruction, and sighed.
So much... so much gained.
And so much lost.
HELLO, WILLIAM, a voice said from behind him.
Spike's expression broke into a grin, as he turned to face the seven-foot skeleton in robes of absolute night. ''Lo, mate. We do it, then? First gone, Hellmouth closed, army of uber-vamps dusted?'
YES. Death said.
'Everyone get out okay? Harris, Ripper, Red, demon-girl, Niblet...' Spike fell silent, before looking back up into Death's skull. '...Buffy?'
ANYA IS DEAD. THE OTHERS, HOWEVER, ARE STILL ALIVE, AND ARE LIKELY TO REMAIN SO FOR THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE.
'Anya...?' Spike echoed. 'So what got her?'
'A Bringer.' Anya said, stepping out of the darkness. 'And can I just say - being stabbed through the gut, not _nearly_ as fun when you're on the receiving end.'
Spike almost grinned again. 'Tell me 'bout it, love. Death really sucks sometimes.'
'What got you?' Anya asked curiously.
'Magical amulet...' Spike patted at his chest, before scanning the ground, then finally shrugging. '...Which I seem to've lost. Huh. Anyway. Blasted uber-vamps into dust and immolated yours truly in the process.'
'You got a big sacrifical scene?' Anya pouted. 'Darn. I wish I'd been there to see it.'
'No worries, love. I'm sure you didn't do too bad yourself.' Spike said. 'We can watch it when we get back. Bound to have a TV.'
'Oh... Oh!' Anya said. 'You mean with the whole dying and the punchcard and the resurrection?'
'Yup.' Spike said. 'Plus, got "regular cast member" on Peaches' show booked for the next year. Dunno how they're gonna pull _that_ one off, but I'm sure as Hell looking forward to it.'
He reached into his pocket, pulled out a punchcard, and offered it to Death. 'So how 'bout it, mate?'
'No?' Spike echoed. 'What do you mean, "no"? I've filled out all the bloody paperwork, haven't I? I'm entitled!'
NO. I CANNOT PUNCH YOUR CARD.
'And just what's _that_ supposed to mean, huh? I ask you, is _this_ any way to treat a guy who just saved the world-' Spike stopped as it sank in. 'I saved the world. I went and saved the world. I went and bloody saved the whole bloody bollocksing _world!_ _Yes!_ Eat _that_, Harris! Spike saves the world! Hah!'
'_We_ saved the world.' Anya pointed out.
'...Yeah, okay, we saved the world - but still, I ask you, is this any soddin' way to treat the guy who... oh, I dunno, gave up his soddin' _unlife_ to make the world safe for buffalo wings, cigarettes, crappy soaps, and Man United? Is it?!' Spike demanded. ''Sides, got a regular spot to be gettin' on with. Can't be doin' that if I'm stuck hangin' round _this_ place!'
I CANNOT PUNCH YOUR CARD. I AM SORRY.
'Wait.' Anya said. 'Waitwaitwait. _Why_ can't you punch his card? And does it mean you can't punch mine?'
YOU WOULD HAVE TO APPLY FOR ONE, FIRST. Death pointed out. BUT NO, IF YOU DID HAVE A CARD, I WOULD BE ABLE TO PUNCH IT.
'Then why can't you punch Spike's card?' Anya asked.
'Yeah.' Spike said. 'Like to hear that myself.'
'Maybe I should explain.' a familiar voice said.
In death, many illusions are stripped away. The true nature of things is revealed.
Which is to say that when the newcomer stepped forward, Spike and Anya knew exactly who - and what - they were looking at.
She had long, dark blonde hair, sleepy eyes, and pouting lips. Her dress flowed over her body, hiding the curves underneath.
She looked to be, for all the world, the spitting image of Tara Maclay - except she wasn't.
Eyes of warmest amber gleamed from underneath hooded lids, and the luminescent glow of a Power - a goddess - hung around her.
Not Willow's Goddess, though.
No. A goddess of folklore, of metafiction - of the realms Outside.
A goddess Spike knew, even if only by sight.
AMBER, Death said, inclining his head.
'Milord Death.' Amber replied, returning the gesture. 'Spike. Anya.'
She clicked her fingers. 'Oh, that reminds me. Anya, I've got your registration forms and records here. If you could just look them over, make sure all the details are correct...' She pulled a sheaf of papers, a pen, and some Tipp-Ex from the void and passed them to Anya.
'Ooh, goody!' Anya said gleefully.
'Well, now we've got the pleasantries out of the way, why don't you explain just what the bloody Hell's going on here.' Spike snarked. 'Or maybe you're just collecting "Buffy" characters.'
'Hardly...' Amber said, her mouth twitching into a crooked smile. 'I'd never hear the last of it.'
'So what's the trouble?' Anya said, as she started reading through. 'Why can't Spike go back?'
'Well...' Amber began. 'He's mentioned he's returning on "Angel", right?'
At their nods, she continued 'That's the problem. You see, the nature of Spike's death - thanks to that magical amulet - was such that no-one knows how he's going to come back - whether as a vampire, a human, or something else - and the MDO're just as much in the dark as everyone else.
'Now, the normal default for a death Inside and resurrection Outside is that you're sent back as you were before you died Inside.'
'Yeah?' Spike said. 'Sounds good to me. Let's do it.'
'I hadn't finished.' Amber said. 'In Spike's case, they'd have to get him to die again before he first appears on "Angel", so they can go over the forms, see what, if anything, needs amending, and prepare for the "official" resurrection. And their chances of persuading Spike to do _that_ are-'
''Bout as likely as the geek getting laid, am I right?' Spike said.
Amber winced. 'I wouldn't have put it quite like that...'
'Oh, I don't know...' Anya said, not looking up. 'I thought Andrew stood quite a good chance, if he smartened himself up a bit... And I, for one, would have been perfectly happy to give him some advice.'
Amber, Death and Spike _looked_ at Anya.
'What?' Anya scowled. 'All I said was that I would have been perfectly happy to give Andrew some advice. At no point did I mention, or even imply, having sex with him.'
'Not like you weren't thinking it...' Spike muttered, sotto voce.
'Now listen-' Anya began.
AHEM, Death said.
'Anyway,' Amber said, trying to get things back into some semblance of order, 'The MDO would much rather Spike stayed here until September, and _then_ get everything sorted - it makes things much easier on them.'
'Fat chance.' Spike snorted. 'No way I'm spending the next three months round the cesspit of the Universe, thanks so much.'
'But Death could have told us all that himself.' Anya said, flicking over a page. 'Which means you've got another option in mind.'
Amber's face broke into a brilliant smile. 'Got it in one.'
'Yeah?' Spike said, crossing his arms. 'Let's hear it, then.'
'It's quite simple.' Amber said. 'Normally, they have it filled out as "Return As: Same", so you come back as what you are. However, with a little tweaking...'
She pulled a form out of the void, and waggled her fingers.
'There we go.'
She handed the form to Spike, who looked it over.
It looked to be his registration form, just as he'd filled it out.
However, the "Return As" box was empty, with the word "Spike" and letter "A" scrawled next to it.
Spike frowned. '...Yeah? So what's that supposed to mean?'
'It means that you get to return straight away.' Amber said. 'When they know what you come back as Inside, the box gets filled in, and you'll be fixed like that.
'But for now, no-one can know what you've come back as.'
'...Yeah, all right, but what _do_ I come back as?' Spike said. 'I mean... what? Vampire? Human? What're we talking here?'
Amber shrugged. 'You come back as Spike.'
'Yeah, but the whole vampire thing-' Spike began.
'No-one's going to know.' Amber said. 'That's the whole point. No-one must know what you've returned as - not even me.'
'Yeah? I'd think exploding into a big pile of dust'd be a big giveaway.' Spike said.
'That's it,' Amber said. 'Think of it as expressing the Uncertainty Principle on a human-sized scale. When someone _does_ try to prove it, one way or another, the waveform collapses - and you'll be locked in that form. Which means the MDO will try to bring you in again.
'You'll come back as Spike - with the soul, and with the vampiric strength, speed and senses.
'What's going to be ambiguous is if you still have a pulse, if your body's still dead, whether you still come off as a vampire - and if you can still be dusted if someone stakes or beheads you.'
'And if someone tries...' Anya said, looking up for a moment.
'Then Spike gets locked in one of the forms.' Amber confirmed. 'Human, vampire, or... something else.'
'So do I still need blood?' Spike said. 'Big giveaway right _there_, I would've thought...'
'We should be able to arrange something.' Amber said, her mouth twitching.
'...Yeah, why not?' Spike said. 'Let's do it. Can't be any worse than how they _do_ return me.'
'Of course, that still leaves a wide range of possibilities.' Anya noted.
'...Crap.' Spike said.
'So where would you like to go back?' Amber asked.
Spike thought, remembering.
Finally, he shook his head. 'Not Buffy, wherever she is. I can just see the bint trying to convince herself she loves me if I'm there. Or trying to convince _me_ she loves me. Or... whatever.
'As for Angel... yeah, _right_. Like I _want_ to get a head-start on all the snarking and dealing with Mr Tall, Dark, Broody and Jealous. Fun as it might be... I think I'll pass.'
'So...' Amber prompted.
Spike shrugged. 'Got quite the little nest egg - big player, cult TV series, kinda came with the territory. Find myself nice little place outskirts of Nameless, get it fixed up, and _bamf_, I'm set.'
'Anya?' Amber said.
'Wherever Buffy is.' Anya said. 'They'll probably be expecting me - and if they're not, _someone's_ going to have a lot of explaining to do... Here you go.'
She handed the papers to Death, who nodded, and hid them away in the recesses of his robe. He pulled out a punchcard, punched a hole in it, and handed it to Anya.
Anya dimpled. 'Thank you.'
A PLEASURE. Death reached into his robes again, and pulled out an hourglass with Spike's name engraved on a nameplate. AMBER...? YOU'LL BE NEEDING THIS.
Amber accepted it. 'Thank you.'
Spike craned to get a looksee.
All the sand had poured through into the bottom bulb.
He wasn't terribly surprised.
'Don't worry about Buffy and the others.' Anya told him. 'I'll tell them what's going on.'
Spike grinned. 'Thanks, pet.'
I'M STILL WAITING ON THE NEXT POKER GAME, Death told him.
'Only 'cause you're down twenty credits...' Spike muttered, but a smile still tugged at his face.
Death turned to Anya. ARE YOU READY?
Anya sniffed. 'Of course I am! Come on! Let's get going!'
The twin orbs of blue fire in Death's eyesockets rolled. VERY WELL.
He took Anya by the hand-
-and they disappeared, leaving only the sound of hooves behind them.
'Well, then.' Spike said. 'What about me?'
Amber smiled, and touched the top bulb.
A spark jumped from her finger to the hourglass, filling it with light.
Spike tried to make out what was in the glass, but couldn't.
Amber lifted the hourglass.
The world exploded into light-
-and when it cleared, Spike and Amber were standing in an office.
A young woman with dark eyes, long brownish-black hair, and a figure that seemed to be built entirely out of gentle curves, was seated at a desk, typing at her terminal.
'Hi, boss-' The young woman looked up. 'SPIKE! Oh sweet Mother, it's _Spike!_ It's _Spike!_'
She shoved her chair back, and came around to examine him more closely.
'Hey, no touching the merchandise!' Spike warned her.
'Oh, sweet Mother...' the young woman whispered, lifting a hand up to his cheek before snatching it away. 'It _is_ him. You did it, boss!'
Amber nodded. 'Now we just have to help him find a place to stay for the next few months.'
'Right on it, boss!' The young woman looked Spike over again. 'Um... I hope you don't mind, but, er, after I've finished, could I take a few holos? It's not for me, it's for my sisters...'
'Fangirl?' Spike murmured.
'You don't know the half of it.' Amber murmured back.
'Oh, I'm sorry!' the young woman said. 'Um... my name's Trella. I'm Amber's PA. Um... it's a pleasure to meet you.'
'I'm sure it is.' Spike said, lounging against a wall.
'...Lounging against the wall, smirking, with those sharp cheekbones...' Trella muttered, as she eased herself back behind the desk. '...Okay, Trella, keep a hold of yourself... remember how much Spike pics go for...'
'I like her.' Spike observed.
'So did I.' Amber replied. 'That's why I hired her.'
'Yay!' a cheerful voice exclaimed. 'Amber-san's back, and she brought a friend! Who's your friend, Amber-san?'
Something - some_one_ - bounded into the room and over to Amber.
It was a girl. A girl who couldn't have been much more than sixteen or seventeen, with green eyes, a mass of purple hair that spilled down her back, and an aura of cheerfulness that practically radiated from her.
Spike sniffed at the air. '...You do know she's an android, right?'
'Of course she does, silly!' the android-girl scolded. 'My name's Atsuko Natsume, but everyone calls me Nuku-Nuku!'
'Nuku-Nuku?' Spike echoed.
'Ahem.' Amber said. 'Nuku-Nuku, this is Spike. Spike, this is Nuku-Nuku, my intern.'
'Your...' Spike said. 'Okay, she'd better not be here for what I _think_ you've got her here for.'
Amber shook her head, smiling. 'When I say she's my intern, I _mean_ she's my intern.'
'What did Spike-san think Nuku-Nuku was here for?' Nuku-Nuku wondered.
Spike opened his mouth, then closed it again.
Out of the corner of his mouth, he asked Amber 'How literal is she?'
'Very.' Amber said.
Nuku-Nuku nodded. 'Nuku-Nuku is very literal. But Nuku-Nuku's willing to learn, too!'
'...Okay.' Spike said. 'Thought you were here to do private things for Amber.'
'Oh no.' Nuku-Nuku said. 'Nuku-Nuku helps Amber-san and Trella-san out around the office, gets the paperwork and the snacks and the drinks, answers the telephone when they're busy, cleans out the rubbish... lots of things! Nuku-Nuku likes working here! It doesn't blow up like everyplace else does!'
'...Uh-huh.' Spike said. 'Lots of guns, violence, and explosions, am I right?'
Nuku-Nuku's forehead furrowed. 'No, no, Spike-san. The guns and explosions are whenever Nuku-Nuku's friends Arisa-san and Kyouko-san come to play - oh, and whenever Eimi-chan comes to play too. But Amber-san's office never gets damaged.'
Spike slowly grinned. 'I think you and me are gonna get on just _great_, Nuku...'
'Nuku-Nuku hopes so too!' Nuku-Nuku bubbled. 'Is Spike-san also coming to work for Amber-san?'
'Sorry, kid. I don't do office work.' 'Cept maybe _this_ office, Spike added mentally. ''Sides, got a job lined up in a couple of months.'
'Oh,' Nuku-Nuku said. 'But will Spike-san be staying around?'
'...Yeah, why not?' Spike said.
Trella's and Nuku-Nuku's eyes sparkled.
'...Oh yeah,' Spike said as an aside to Amber, 'why _does_ this place never get blown up?'
'Spell of protection.' Amber said. 'No matter what hits this place, it's unscathed.'
'Right.' Spike said, his smirk getting bigger. 'No problem _there_, then.'
He moved over behind the desk to get a better look at the screen. 'So how's it going?'
'Just printing off.' Trella said. 'And... here we go!'
She handed Spike some sheets of paper.
'Thanks, love.' Spike told her.
'Spike?' Amber's voice was soft.
'One thing you should know, if you're going to be around the place.'
'Yeah?' Spike said.
'Trella?' Amber said.
Trella blinked. 'Um... oh, right! Okay... Er... I'm a demon.'
Spike frowned. 'You sure? Don't smell like one...'
'Um... I'm not one of 'your' demons.' Trella tried to explain. 'I'm from a subverse where demons can take on human form without being recognised for what they are.'
Nuku-Nuku nodded. 'Trella-san /is/ a demon, but she's a _nice_ demon. Nuku-Nuku should know.'
'...Right.' Spike said. Wouldn't hurt to be careful... 'What kinda demon, or wouldn't I know?'
'A Lilim.' Trella said. 'One of the Daughters of Lilith.'
'...One of the...' Spike repeated. 'I just wanna be sure here. When you say "Daughters", is that metaphorical or...?'
Trella shook her head. 'Oh no. It's absolutely true. All Lilim are Daughters of Lilith - she creates us from her own being.'
'So when you say "sisters"...'
'It usually means the other Lilim.' Trella looked embarrassed. 'Sorry, Spike.'
Spike _blinked_. 'You mean... there's a whole group of demons who want holos of me?'
'Well, not _all_ of us...' Trella demurred. 'But, um, yes, quite a few of us...'
'So how many are Angel fans?' Spike inquired.
'Oh, we've got a good number of those, too. Although there tend to be more Wesley fans. We've also got some Gunn fans as well.' Trella thought it over. 'Oh, and some Giles and Xander fans - especially now Xander's gone and lost his eye - but there's a lot of overlap between them all.
'The better number are Spike fans, though.'
'Spike...' Spike couldn't help it any more; he burst out laughing, tears running down his face. 'Oh _yes!_ Take _that_, whelp-boy! Take _that_, Peaches! _I'm_ the one with the demon fangirls!'
While he was thus occupied, with Nuku-Nuku looking on blankly, Trella sidled over to Amber. 'Um, boss...'
'Is it okay if I maybe invite a few sisters over?'
'...I'd just stick to the holos.' Amber advised. 'Maybe point them to the 'Round instead.'
'...Do you think we should tell him?'
'Maybe when he's calmed down.'
'Okay. Um...I'll just go get the holo-camera, shall I?'
'You do that.'
Spike and Anya are Mutant Enemy's (from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer").
Death is Terry and Lyn Pratchett's (from the Discworld books).
Nuku-Nuku is Yuzo Takada's (from the anime series "All-Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku-Nuku").
The MDO - the Mortality Deferment Office - were created by BKWillis.
Amber was created in the Third Annual Pro-Fun Hoedown, "Goodnight, Sweetheart".
Trella is mine.
Copyright 2003 Imran Inayat