I should probably warn you that this fic is going to contain, and in fact already does contain, if you can figure them out, enormous spoilers for Buffy's seventh season. I'm trying to stick to the canon as closely as possible, and I even included some scenes, mostly as a way of indicating where in the season we are, but also because they fit :-)
Methos turned the key in the lock and paused. This wasn’t right. He’d triple-locked the door when he left, but now the door opened after a single turn of the key. Yet he sensed nothing. Simple burglars, then? He put his ear to the door. Everything seemed quiet. He took the handle and slowly eased the door open. Nothing. All was where it should be.
A rustle of cloth, behind him. He twisted aside just in time to avoid a curved silver dagger stabbing at his kidneys. He pulled at the arm holding it, overbalancing the cloaked assassin. The attacker went flying right into the dagger of a second cloaked figure. Then pain blossomed in his own chest. He tried to stab backwards with his right elbow, but his arm was blocked. So he kicked. Attacker Number Three only stumbled slightly, but it gave him enough time to turn around. Two quick punches and another kick had this assassin off balance. He caught him, and with a simple twist it was over. Number Two was just getting up from under the body of the first attacker. He kicked this one in the head. Now he could pull at whatever was stuck between his ribs. He pulled out another dagger. It was identical to the one that Number One had only tried to stab him with. But why?
Always leave one alive. That way you can ask questions. The assassin was not deeply unconscious. A glass of cold water and a few slaps in the eyeless face woke him up again.
“Who sent you?”
The man’s mouth split wide in a grin. Then he opened his mouth. The stump of a tongue was still visible. From nowhere he produced another dagger, and tried to stab Methos. Before he could do so, however, his neck was already broken.
Here there was also something wrong. The door was not locked at all, there were no dogs barking, no radio playing, and the alarm was switched off. Everything was too quiet. This smelled of something, and that something was death.
Crouched over the dead body of Carlos Cordoba, Methos didn’t see the dagger coming, this time.
Memories. The scream of a girl as he chased her down some unidentified street. The taste of her blood as it flowed down his throat. The taste of Slayer’s blood, heightened by the thrill of a long fight. Snippets of hundreds of people, of all ages, of all kinds. Every scent as clear as when he first smelled it, every voice now accusing him. All except for one. A man, one of the many he’d killed in New York in the rush after killing the Slayer. This one never accused, never spoke up. Except once, when he had stood before him as solid as a rock and asked if he’d changed. Well, he hadn’t. He was still a predator, a fearless hunter in the night. Only now he hunted a different prey.
What was that squeaking noise? Something had invaded his territory. This was not done. He started sneaking up on the intruder, a rat. But then a figure materialised in front of him. A tall man dressed in black leather, with a long scar running down over his right eye of his face.
“Some predator you are. Chasing rats, while you could be out there sowing terror and reaping fear. To be the man you’re supposed to be. To have the respect of everyone again.”
The man closed in on him, lips only an inch from his ear. The next words were a mere whisper.
“You could be William the Bloody again.”
This wasn’t right. William the Bloody was gone. Caged by a piece of circuitry, shattered by that crazy little thing called love, the fragments burned by the spark of a newfound soul. The predator had a new prey now. Of course, none of them would believe that. He wasn’t even sure he believed it. Still…
“No, no, no, no, no, no. Now is not the time. You know it. I know it. But making them understand... is a totally different matter. No manners is the problem. Proper breeding. Lack of etiquette. All of it lacking. All of it lost on them.”
The dark man stood up and started to laugh. “Not the time? Perhaps. But we’d better be ready for when the time does come, shouldn’t we, dear William?”
As the man spoke his name, he morphed into an elderly woman, long gray locks of hair framing her friendly smile. His mother came up to him and cupped his chin in her hand.
“Apparently I missed something. The sentimental fool has some real blood in him. It just needs to be brought out. And it can be brought out.”
No! This mustn’t happen. It was too soon.
“Not the time. Not hardly ready.”
“Too soon? Too early in the morning, sweet Will? Is the sun shining?”
And she started to sing. As the song progressed, he sensed probing tendrils sneak into his brain, into his deepest feelings, his most buried memories, releasing pain. And more.
“Stop. Please, mum! Begging now! Make it stop! Oh, God!”
“Oh, I’ll make it stop, my son. Soon, it’ll all be fine again. Just fine, dear William.”
Yet she sang on. And the pain didn’t stop, it got worse. Everything came out. He covered his ears, trying to block the song, but it was pointless. It came as clear as ever straight into his brain. He could hold it back no longer. His screams echoed through the basement.
The phone was ringing. Joe picked it up.
“Joe. Thank Goodness.”
A familiar voice, that. One he had not heard in a very long time. The man it belonged to had made a habit of disappearing at irregular intervals, and then showing up when you least expected him. Although not usually sounding quite so relieved.
“Adam? Where the hell are you?”
“On my way to you. Is everything OK? Where’s Macleod?
Ah, of course. If you’re looking for the Highlander, you ask the Watcher. But did the Old Man sound worried?
“Off somewhere. Probably another one of those getting in tune with himself things. Are you all right?”
“Damn. Not really. Look, I have to go. Watch your back, OK? I’ll be there as soon as possible.”
“Sure. You take care of yourself.”
That was weird and more than a little out of character, although the mystery man thing was Methos to the full. Watch his back? What could the Old Man have meant with that?
There she was. The Slayer. Facing off against this Sluggoth worm. Ready to do her duty as she had always done her duty. And he could help her. This predator had found a new prey. This hunter would hunt his own. He jumped down next to her, and ripped a handy pipe off a wall to have a weapon.
“You've had your turn, luv. Leave the real violence to the demons, yeah?”
Using the pipe, he started to beat up on the worm. This was better. Fight the demons. Help Buffy. Be there for her. Then maybe his own tormentors would leave him in peace. Maybe the accusations would stop. However, that would not be the right picture to present to the Slayer now, would it? To her, he was still the demon, still the bad man. Well, let her believe it.
The Sluggoth was pretty much beaten now, just ripe for the kill.
“That's right. Big bad's back and looking for a little death!”
He used the broken edge of the pipe as a spearpoint, plunging it into the demon’s centre of mass. Kill successful. Yet at that same instant, the demon changed into a man, and the pain and the voices exploded again into his skull.
The young man whimpered in pain. Oh no, what had he done? No, no, this was not supposed to happen…
“I’m sorry.” Pathetic. Sorry wouldn’t cut it. But he couldn’t help, couldn’t do anything.
“See Will? The killer’s still there. He never left. You’re still the merciless killer. It’s still in your blood.”
There he was again, the stranger in black. The scarred face was grinning at him, taunting him with his own thoughts.
“You won’t be able to help your friends, my boy. But you can give in to your instincts, and everything will be all right.”
Spike pulled the pipe out of the poor young man he’d just wounded. He looked at the pipe. Was everything going to be all right? What was wrong? What was right? Nothing he did seemed to work.
“Right. Wrong. All wrong. Wrong maneuver. Not hardly helpful.”
The accusations in the back of his brain grew in volume again. Where the words of the stranger had beaten them back, his own words encouraged them again. And it didn’t stop, they wouldn’t stop. The spark in him burned, giving power to the voices. And there was nothing he could do.
“God, please help me.” That was a good one. What would God want to have to do with him? He was alone. The Slayer. Maybe she would help. After all, he’d done this for her. “Help me!”
“You're not the one who needs help. He's going into shock.”
“No. No. Too much. Too much. Too much. Too much. Too much. Too much. Too much. A spark. Light only makes you see the bodies. Can’t get it out, it’s inside me all the way.”
The soul was there. He’d never get it out again. It was in too deep, too far.
“Deep, deep, deep inside me.”
“Why should that bother you, Will? It never bothered me.”
The stranger again. Was he inside his head as well?
“Get away. Get out.”
“I am through with this.”
Buffy. Oh, yes. She had it easy.
“Oh, oh, lucky girl. Call it quits. Now, there's an option. If only it were so easy. If only— If only— If only—“
If only he hadn’t got back his soul. If only it didn’t hurt so much. If only he hadn’t accepted Drusilla’s kiss. If only the voices would be quiet.
“What the hell are you screaming about? I can hear you. No need to SHOUT!”
The voices got louder and louder, to the point where he just couldn’t believe he was the only one to hear them. They were so loud they hurt. Although his cry for silence seemed to have worked. Now there was only the stranger, laughing at him again.
“What a sorry excuse for a vampire you are. Begging your own imagination to stop torturing you. Face it, boy, you’ll never be good, and you won’t let yourself be bad. You’re a joke.”
A joke, was he? Well that was just bloody fabulous.
“I get it. The joke's on me. Lots of laughs.”
If he was going to be the clown in this little circus, he’d better act the part. He started twirling the pipe he still held… That he had killed a man with…. No forget that, keep going, or he’d completely lose control again, and he didn’t want that to happen.
“Yeah. Hey, bring the wife and kiddies. Come see the show 'cause it's going to be a circus.”
And not just any circus either. If whatever was talking to him was in any degree serious, then the show would truly be something to behold. Best let the Slayer know that. She should know it. He walked up to her and went to his knees, like a proper supplicant.
This is just the beginning, luv. A warm-up act. The real headliner's coming, and when that band hits the stage, all of this... all this... will come tumbling in death and screaming, horror and bloodshed. From beneath you, it devours. From beneath...
From beneath them, something was getting ready for dinner. Just like the demon… the man he’d killed…had devoured. The poor little doggy. Poor guy. Too much. He had to get out of here, away from this new atrocity he’d committed. He got up and ran away.
Business had been slow tonight. Now the entire club was deserted, but for Joe and a single bartender. Joe was locking tonight’s income in the vault when he heard a scream from the bar area. In the vault was also a revolver, in case of emergency. This probably qualified. He headed towards the bar, where the bartender lay on the floor in a puddle of blood. A cloaked figure was still hunched over him. Now the man in the cloak rose and started to come at Joe. Joe fired the gun, twice. Both bullets found their mark, in the chest of his unknown assailant.
“Oh my God.”
For some reason, someone was banging on the door. Too stunned to really give his attention to that, Joe made his way over to the two dead bodies. The banging got louder. What was that? Looking up, Joe saw another of the cloaked figures stride towards him, dagger raised. He aimed the revolver again, and pulled the trigger. Nothing. Something crashed into the door. Joe pulled the trigger again. Still nothing. Pull, pull, pull. Three times nothing. Too late. He warded off the first stab with his cane, but that was enough to unbalance him. As he hit the floor, he saw a second dagger passing over his head. With a final crash, the door flew open, and a man came running in. In a swirl of beige cloth and bloodied steel it was over. Three dull thuds represented the bodies and a head all hitting the floor.
“Joe, are you okay?”
His savior was Methos, of all people. Not usually a man to get into a fight if he had any choice in the matter. Now he was helping Joe up from the floor, with his sword still out.
“Define ‘Okay’. I’ve got a few scratches and a big bump on the head, but… Jesus…”
He surveyed the destruction in the bar. The assassin he’d shot was in a pool of blood, probably from Dave, the bartender. At his feet, another pool was beginning to form out of the blood from the other two. It almost made him fall down again. Methos caught him.
“Take it easy.”
Was he kidding?
“Take it easy? Are you blind?”
“No, but you working yourself into a heart attack isn’t going to do any good either.”
“But will you look at all this! Three killers, just like that. They killed Dave; they were going to kill me…”
“There's three more of them outside. Those were after me.”
“Do you have any idea what’s going on?”
The Old Man accompanied him to a chair, and sat down himself in another one, before he answered that question.
“Yes and no. Yes, somebody is killing Watchers. And they’re doing a good job. I first ran into some of these guys a few weeks ago. I killed all three. I kept one alive for a while, but you can’t talk if you don’t have a tongue. So when he kept on trying, he was dead as well. Then I started to lose my Watcher contacts. One moment they’re fine, then I call again and I get a police officer on the phone. When I went to visit one of them, I found a dead body. Next thing I know, I wake up in a morgue. Up to that point, all they used were daggers. The ones outside had axes. They must have caught on.
“But no, I haven’t a clue who’s behind it, and no idea why. And it scares the hell out of me. ”
“Can we rest now?” he had asked. She hadn’t answered that. Buffy had just left him there, lying over the cross, his skin burning with its touch. But it couldn’t burn the soul out of him. It couldn’t make the hurting stop.
“Still gloomy, I see.”
There was the stranger in black again, back to taunt him. Back to *tempt* him. As if temptation could be possible.
“Just take a hike, mate. No chance in hell I will ever give in to that again”
And again the stranger was laughing at him. That was fine, though. He knew he was the clown in this circus.
“Oh yes you will, Will. Will will have nothing to do with it.” Then the stranger started to sing, and as the melody of ‘Early one morning’ drifted into Spike’s ears, all the pain stopped, the voices were silent, and he was free again. Free for the hunt.
He walked out the door, straight through the man in black, who turned around and called after him.
“Happy hunting, my friend. I’ll join you soon enough.”