Spike had started out in the fiery pit he’d expected hell would be, and then it took a more personal turn. The dark hall looked like bastard child of the Initiative and the Hellmouth. It was lined with unmarked gray doors and the walls seemed whisper and shift. No light was visible under the doors, and no sounds could be heard on the other side. For all he knew they were all bricked over. He resisted the urge to find a corner to curl up in; he’d done more than enough of that before he incinerated closing the Hellmouth. He felt the nearest door to see if it was hot, and was about to turn the knob when the sound of a throat clearing made him jump back like a highly strung Potential seeing her first vampire.
“That’s not the way out of here, Spike.”
Spike turned to look right into a pair of cool gray eyes. The brunette would’ve been beautiful in full light, but the shadowed grayness of the place suited her. Dark hair or not, Hitchcock would’ve loved her; she looked completely comfortable in hell.
Her relaxed manner inspired him to scrape together a little of his own battered cool and say, “If you know so much about getting out of here, why aren’t you gone? Are you the tour guide or something?”
“I’m sorry, how silly of me; you’re absolutely right. You go ahead and go though that door, just give me a moment to get my earplugs; the screaming tends to give me a headache.” She made a show of looking through her purse.
“Now I’m really regretting my un-lifestyle choices. If I'd known that you actually can take it with you, I might’ve tried to save something.”
“You keep that sense of humor, William.”
“You’ve used two of my names now, and I can’t recall even one of yours. Mind giving me one?” He eyed the scarf around her neck, trying to remember if she was one of his victims.
“You can have both. Lilah Morgan, I work for Wolfram & Hart.,” Lilah introduced herself as if she were making a business contact at a company party. “We’ve never met but I’m a big fan.”
Spike grinned wickedly. “Don’t tell me you wrote your thesis on me?”
“Do I look like a Watcher to you? It’s your skill at annoying Angel I admire, but that’s not why I’ve studied you. You’re my loophole; if a redeemed soul finds me worthy, I can break my contract and get back to the land of the living for another chance.” She nodded at the doors and said, “We have to go through them, but the doors aren’t the way out of here; you are, at least in my case. And if you get me out of here I’ll bring you with me.”
“As my beloved would say, that makes the kind of sense that’s not.”
“The Slayer talks like that?” Lilah asked incredulously.
“She hides a sharp intellect behind deliberate solecisms, bad puns and a bubbly personality or well… at least the bad puns,” Spike admitted with a grimace. “How ‘bout you start explaining things in plain English.”
“Because someone who uses the words ‘deliberate solecisms’ in a sentence needs things explained in plain English; your inner William is showing.” Lilah rolled her eyes and tried a door. When the knob turned she moved on to the next without entering.
“I hate to disappoint a lady but you’ve got the wrong vampire. I’m no poncy redeemed soul.” Spike didn’t like this one bit. It might look like hell’s hallway was better than being roasted but something about the place was stripping away his defenses. If he didn’t get out soon, he’d start writing poetry about voices as cool and silky as the hair that whispers against her neck. That was too bad; he started to look in his duster pockets for a pen and scrap of paper. When his hand found the pack of Marlboros, he stopped and looked for his lighter. It wasn’t there.
“All part of the hell experience, Spike,” she said, continuing to test doors while Spike followed her. “You get the cigarettes, but no lighter and oddly enough, they seem to like honesty. Who would’ve guessed it? I suppose it’s because the truth tends to hurt more.”
The hall was getting darker and warmer with each step. The walls seemed to be shifting and crowding in on each other more. “Decide on a door already, duchess.” Spike didn’t need to breathe, but he always hated it when he felt like he didn’t have room to do so.
Lilah moved as far to the side as she could in the close quarters and said, “Here, you try this one. If it doesn’t open, it’s the one we want, so kick it in. I’m counting on you to get me out. Just keep kicking the doors down, and don’t leave me.” Then Lilah very literally faded into the woodwork.
Spike had the feeling that this wasn’t going to end well but he didn’t have a lot of choices. Well, technically there were a lot of doors to choose from, but they all looked the same. He wasn’t fond of taking orders but he was even less fond of standing around doing nothing. Besides, she said she was counting on him, so he kicked the door in and hoped that it wasn’t sunny on the other side.
It turned out to be dimly lit, but not at all hellish. In fact, the smell of ribs and deep fried onions had Spike thinking he might have ended up in the opposite of hell.
“Welcome to the Patio Grill; are you ready to order?” the waitress said, a false smile plastered on her familiar face.
“Dee?” It wasn’t the question Spike had meant to ask; he wanted to know if this was Lilah. It looked like her if she were ten years younger and ten pounds heavier. The green uniform wasn’t her best color either.
“Are you ready to order, or can I can I get you something to drink first?”
“What I want is you. Come to L.A. with me, Dee. We can stay with my cousin until we get our own apartment. I know you want out of this town as much as I do.” This is hell, Spike realized, he was trapped playing small town Romeo. What he really wanted was to order some chicken wings.
“I want out, but not your way, Jimmy. It’s not good enough just to get somewhere else-I want to get somewhere better.”
That’s me, always beneath the girl even when I’m not me, Spike thought. He tried his best to focus his will, so he could control his speech and movement but he couldn’t manage it. “So I’m not good enough for you all of a sudden. You may be a straight A student but it’ll never get you what you want. You’re still a part-time waitress living in a trailer park.”
“You’re wrong, Jimmy, I don’t think I’m too good for you- I know it. And just so you know, the name is Lilah.”
This event was plucked from Lilah’s past not just to cause her pain but also to get Spike to leave her here, he realized. Lilah might be the kind of woman who had rejected him in the past but Spike didn’t like being anyone’s puppet. Besides, the way that Lilah stood taller when she declared her name reminded him of the Slayer and stirred his soul.
Spike grabbed Lilah’s arm and, feeling like he was trying to run under water, he headed for a door marked ‘employees only’. An ‘employee’ tried to bar the way and, when Spike kept going the waiter, turned into an impish-looking red demon. Spike was suddenly free of the underwater feel, and he shifted into game face and gleefully broke the demon’s neck.
Lilah said, “That was too easy.”
What did she have to go and say that for? Now the gray around him had a green institutional tint to it and he had a bad feeling he was on the wrong side of the security glass of a prison. “You’ve got to get me out of here, sis!” Just to make it more hellish he was a girl!
“I don’t have to do anything for you anymore; you’re 18, Melanie,” Lilah said flatly.
He found himself forced to whine, “Is this some kind of tough love?”
“But you’ve got it made now. The firm you work for practically runs the world and you set your mom up in that hospital.”
“Yes, one as far away from where I am as possible.”
Spike could almost hear a voice whispering the words in his ear. The bitch just put her sick mother away in a home so that she could have a career, and she left her sister to rot in jail. Just leave her here; she deserves it. “I thought you cared about me.” The whine quavered at the end, and he thought he’d be forced to cry.
“You’re the last person I’ll ever love, cookie.” The real Melanie might have been convinced by the cold tone of Lilah’s voice, but Spike wasn’t so sure. Something about her eyes made him think that maybe she was separating herself from her family to keep them safe. The woman was no saint or she wouldn’t be here, but she wasn’t as selfish as the puppet masters here would like him to think.
“Don’t look me up when you get out of here,” Lilah said, pulling Spike out of his thoughts.
Spike struggled with his will, and decided to stage a little re-enactment of his own. He’d feel like a fool if it didn’t work but sometimes a man had to take a leap of faith. When he laughed out loud at his own silent joke, it broke the spell. “I won’t have to; you’re coming with me. Move away from the window.” Lilah scooted away just in time to avoid the broken glass, and took his hand as the headed out the door once more.
“You should’ve left me.” They were in the hall again and Lilah didn’t seem happy about it. In fact, she seemed to have an idea of what was behind the next door and whatever it was, it wasn’t the exit.
“Thought you wanted out.”
“I did, I do. Look- I can see that you’ve built up sympathy for me, and I don’t deserve it. I’m not who you think. I’ve done things.”
“Well, were you lying when you said we’d be able to get out of here together?”
“Then it’s settled: we get out together. All for one…unless you got some plan to end the world when we get home, because I just went to a lot of trouble to stop the last apocalypse.”
“Actually I was hoping I could keep Angel from turning L.A. into a smoking crater that would make the Hellmouth look like a pothole. It’s not going to be much of a second chance if it only lasts a couple of months before the world ends,” Lilah said.
“Open the bloody door.”
This time Lilah looked nearly the same as she did in the hall, and Spike was a different teenaged girl. Lilah appeared to doing the right thing at first by giving Bethany a place to stay. It wasn’t long before Spike learned the truth though; Lilah was using Bethany for her own ends. Trying to mess with Angel’s head; there was enough of the old Spike left to applaud the end if not the means.
He felt every bit of Bethany’s anger and betrayal over what Lilah had done. Even seeing how much Lilah enjoyed the game she played didn’t stop Spike this time. He blew a hole in the wall with Bethany’s telekinesis and got them out.
Once they were back in the hall Lilah said, “I really thought that was where you’d leave me. I guess you’re convinced that I’m your only way out now, huh?”
“No, but I’m fairly certain that I’m your way out.”
“That matters to you?”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t want Angel to upstage me. Any idea if ‘the next leap will be the leap home’?”
“There’s only one way to find out.”
Being Wesley had very little in common with being a teenaged girl, and too much in common with Spike’s own past with the Slayer. Whoever was in charge tried to make it look like a cut and dried case of Lilah trying to seduce the good Watcher over to the dark side, but Spike knew better. It took both parties to twist love into something this ugly. Wes could love Lilah if he let himself and it was plain to Spike that Lilah loved Wesley.
The whole thing was embarrassing too- being someone else while he shagged. And it was embarrassing to admit to being embarrassed. He was a vampire for God’s sake-even with a soul he should be past blushing.
But somewhere in the middle of Wesley giving Lilah a speech about choosing sides Spike metaphorically clicked his heels. He realized that if he was indeed a redeemed soul with more than a century of blood on his hands then Lilah was redeemable as well. As soon as he thought it, he and Lilah were standing in front of a door marked exit.
Lilah said, “Thank you for your help, I’ll see you soon.”
“Wait! After all that trouble you’re not coming with me?”
“I’m not going to get my second chance wearing the same body.”
“So you’ll be reincarnated,” Spike had expected Lilah to be brought back to life as is, or as was. He never really thought of reincarnation as a good deal in the afterlife. In his opinion, most people would only be stuck making the same mistakes over and over.
“Well, going through puberty again isn’t going to be a bed of roses for either of us, Dad, but it’s better than roasting in hell. Just remember to get Willow and Buffy to help with the Black Thorn.”
“Black Thorn?” Spike didn’t even want to think about the rest of it. If he thought about Lilah coming back as his daughter his head might explode.
“You’ll understand when you need to …” She shocked him by giving him a little peck on the cheek. Then Lilah whispered in his ear, “And for the record, I think Joan’s a good middle name; don’t give her a hard time over it.” Lilah faded away for the last time.
Trembling with joy and fear, Spike opened the door to the world of the living.
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