Company in Hell

Written by Glassdarkly, October 2005

Spike felt her long before he saw her.

It was like an itch between his shoulder blades that he couldn't quite reach to scratch, irritating and distracting at the same time. He'd be in the middle of trying to pick up things in the lab to impress Fred when he'd feel it and lose concentration, and whatever it was he was holding – usually something light and made of glass - would go crashing to the ground, and break as often as not.

After it happened for the fourth time in only three days, he could see from the guilty look Fred directed his way that she was gearing up to make herself be strict and ban him from the lab altogether. Since it was the only place he felt at all welcome, he took to standing quietly in the corner, trying to be unobtrusive. He'd leer at her as usual when she looked up and caught his eye, but restricted himself to making his body rest against the wall without falling through it rather than risk any more breakages practising his haphazard motor skills.

"Are you okay, Spike?" Fred asked him, finally. She was still a little bleary-eyed after the Halloween party from Hell, courtesy of Lorne – Spike wasn't going to let Angel forget about shagging that annoying little Eve bint in a hurry – so he nodded and smiled to reassure her. "'Course I am, luv," he said. "Happiest little spook in the world, that's me."

Fred smiled back, evidently too distracted to do more than take him at his word, and that was when he felt it again– the itching - worse than ever this time. It was almost as if little hooks were caught in his insubstantial flesh, tugging at him insistently; demanding his presence elsewhere.

For a moment, he was afraid, thinking of Pavayne and the way the bastard had been able to alter reality and drag him willy-nilly wherever he wanted. Then he reminded himself that Pavayne was corporeal now and safely locked away with no hope of escape, so it couldn't be him.

It was comforting to know the evil old sod was trapped behind so many mechanical and mystical failsafes that there was no way he was ever getting out. Spike had heard Percy the Ponce telling Charlie all about it; about how you could enter the cell but if you weren't protected by the right magics, there was no way you were ever getting out again.

He'd been a bit annoyed, listening, because he'd been thinking of going down into Pavayne's cell to have himself a bit of a gloat, and he could well have ended up trapped in there, but had anyone thought to warn him about the wards? Oh, no.

After that, he did go down to check things out once or twice; to stare through the little window into Pavayne's wide-open eyes, locked forever into that very private hell.

The first time he'd gone, he'd still wanted to gloat, but had ended up feeling kind of sick to his non-existent stomach and wondering just what the fuck was up with Angel that he could still be so ruthless, even with a soul. He wasn't sure he was up to it himself any more. They couldn't kill the bloke, of course – that was exactly what the bastard wanted – but there surely had to have been some other way to keep him contained that wasn't quite so – so hellish.

He'd gone away annoyed with himself for being soft and had only returned after he'd steeled himself to see the justice of Pavayne's fate again. After all, who knew how many hapless souls the evil bastard had fed into the maw of his private little hell dimension all the years he'd been haunting the building?

The second time, he'd managed to make himself meet Pavayne's eyes and try to stare him out – not that you could, since the meds that were in his system meant he couldn't blink and his eye-balls had to be kept moist artificially – but after five minutes of looking into the hatred and despair in those eyes, he'd had enough. He'd never been one for the pre-show – not like Angelus and Drusilla. He was a rip-their-throats-out-and-be-done-with-it kind of bloke; always had been.

At any rate, this itching sensation wasn't the same as how he'd felt just before being dragged off on one of his Pavayne-sponsored tours of pre-hell, otherwise known as the Wolfram & Hart sub-basement. Those had always come completely unexpectedly – out of the blue. This was more like someone trying to attract his attention.

Well, Spike thought, as he let his body return to its base state and slide between the molecules of wall and floor in the direction the tugging wanted him to go, they'd succeeded, and it wasn't like anyone would really miss him if he went looking.

It came as no surprise to find himself back in the sub-basement, and no surprise either to find that absence hadn't improved the place one bit. There was still water dripping through the ceiling near the service elevator doors and still far too many light bulbs that were either dead or near-dead, judging by their flickering. Spike supposed that someone must come down here sometimes, else how to explain the junk-heap of dead electrical equipment? He was pretty certain also that the table where the ghost had cut off its own fingers over and over again had once been the site of some illegal poker game – but still, the whole place stank of neglect, and there were no footprints in the layers of dust carpeting the floor.

Probably, Pavayne and his spooks had scared everyone off over the years.

Still, there was someone here now. He could hear angry muttering coming from round the corner, back where the table stood, and for a moment he expected to see the familiar shape of the armless woman appear, begging him to hold her, or maybe the other woman with the piece of broken glass in her eye. He found he didn't mind that. At least they were known quantities.

When he rounded the corner, however, following the insistent tugging, which – surprise! surprise! – wanted him to go in the direction of the voice, he found an altogether different explanation for it.

The dead medium stopped her pacing up and down in front of the empty table and turned an icy glare on him.

"About damn time!" she said. "I've been calling you for three days solid. Are you deaf or something?"

She stood, fists planted on her shapely hips, and, when he failed to answer immediately, clicked her tongue in exasperation.

"I might have known it," she sneered. "Only a stupid spook could get himself lost and me killed and not even have the courtesy to come say sorry right away."

Spike tried to speak, but all that would come out in the end was: "What the fuck are you talking about?"

He knew it was feeble. After all, he knew who she was – had even seen her die. But she just looked so vivid – so real – and so thoroughly pissed off that words temporarily failed him.

She rolled her eyes at his response and said:

"Ooh, scary! We have a real bad boy here, mamma. He knows bad words and everything."

She was beginning to piss him off now. Why, he wondered, did all the beautiful blondes he met have to be so bloody annoying? At the same time, he was beginning to get a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach, looking at her. There was something not right – something other than her breathtaking rudeness and sense of entitlement, that is. She looked way too sure of herself for someone who'd been a ghost such a short time, way too in control.

She was coming closer, her red dress a bizarre splash of colour in the drabness around them, her high heels even clicking on the dirty linoleum as if she still had some kind of physical presence. He backed off a little, but she came on in a rush, trapping him against the wall, which had suddenly turned annoyingly solid too.

"Oh, no!" she said. "Now I've got you, you're not escaping that way, buster. You have some suffering to do first."

Her hands were on his shoulders then and they had weight, pressing him backwards against the wall. Her touch jolted through him like cold electricity and he felt his spectral form waver, like interference on a TV picture, under the assault. Instinctively, he lashed out to defend himself and she went flying across the room and half way into the wall opposite.

He sighed with relief, wondering when it was that he'd become so easily spooked, if you could say that about a ghost. It seemed that he hadn't forgotten the lesson he'd learned so painfully from Pavayne, but he needed to learn how to exercise some control in the non-corporeal world too. He hadn't meant to hit quite that hard.

"Sorry, luv," he said, quickly. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I'm still practising this ghost shit, same as you."

She clawed her way back out of the wall, like someone crawling out of a sand hole. She was glaring at him again, her eyes suddenly like black pits with no discernible white or pupil.

"Sorry?" she said. "You think you're sorry, do you? Well, let me tell you – you will be."

Then her face seemed to turn kind of inside out, so that all her teeth were exposed, her pink gums like the open mouth of a poisonous anemone. She leapt at him again, snapping and biting as if she were in some kind of feeding frenzy. It didn't seem as if she was quite right in the head, Spike thought, and maybe not alone in there either, judging by the way her face seemed to be bulging and stretching, as if other faces were trying to break through and share space with it.

He avoided the flashing teeth but the cold shockwave of her touch burst through him again, tearing at the fabric of his being. It bloody hurt! He screamed, then elbowed her in the chest, lifting her off him and away across the room. This time, she went flying right through the table but then brought herself smoothly to a halt, hovering in mid-air, like some kind of ghostly exotic bird.

He stared at her. He felt as if he was hanging on by his fingernails, inches away from slipping into a realm that he still didn't understand and wasn't ready to face while she already had command of it. This time, when she directed her gaze his way, he had his hands raised in a placatory gesture.

"Look, luv," he said, trying to smile, although he felt more like vamping out and tearing her throat open, "I get that you're pissed off about being dead an' all, but really, it's not my fault, and there's no point crying over spilt milk, is there? Can't you just do what most people do in these circumstances and move the fuck on?"

Her face looked more normal now with less of that queasy-making movement, which was encouraging, but she still had the darkness in her eyes.

"That's better," he said, keeping his voice as calm as possible. "No point in all that Exorcist crap, is there? It doesn't get you anywhere."

"On the contrary," she said, "it's gonna get me exactly where I want to go – which is tearing you apart and scattering you in little psychic shreds all over this building."

She began to circle round to his right, her body undulating like a serpent in her fashionable high-heels, while he watched her warily, keeping his back to the frustratingly solid wall and his guard up.

"Bet you say that to all the fellas," he managed, although it sounded a bit desperate even to him.

"Oh, no," she said. "Only those I'm really, really pissed at. Like Sherman, for instance."


"My last boyfriend, and shouldn't I have known better? What a loser! Do you know, he wanted to spend his last year's bonus on a Lexus for himself, when I told him I expected a seafront apartment in Acapulco at the very least? Well, I showed him."

"I bet you did," Spike said. He was edging along the wall away from her in the direction of the elevators. "Came to a sticky end, did he?"

"Oh, yes," she said. "Last I heard they were keeping him under permanent sedation over at Patton State."

The skin of her neck was sort of bubbling now, as if whatever was inside her ghostly form with her was about to break out in some kind of unsightly excrescence, and there were what looked like little bolts of electricity fizzling through her tawny-blonde hair and lifting it off her shoulders.

"So this psychic shredding – " he said, although the words had a tendency to stick in his throat, "- not something you've taken up as a hobby since you died, then?"

She grinned at him, showing beautiful, and probably very expensive, white teeth.

"Hardly," she said. "What? You think Wolfram & Hart would employ just any old person as a medium, do you? You're even stupider than Eve said. I bet the only reason why you didn't fall into my little trap way faster was because you were too stupid to work out where the call was coming from."

"Known Eve long, have you?" he asked, still backing towards the corner and the straight run to the elevators. At this juncture, it wouldn't have surprised him to learn they were related.

"We were at Santa Cruz together," she said, "so when she heard that Wolfram & Hart was looking for another medium, of course she thought of us."

As she said the word 'us', the bubbling in her neck became worse than ever, as if other heads were trying to push their way out through the cover of flesh – or ectoplasm or whatever ghosts were made of.

"Not much liking your new look," Spike said, backing up faster and gesturing in the direction of the unsightly eruption. "Maybe you should tell the tenants to piss off, luv, and then you can move on towards the light or whatever the fuck dead people usually do?"

She was herding him now, following him down the long, dank corridor towards the elevators with an expression of the utmost contempt on her face.

"Why ever would I want to do that?" she said. "It's thanks to my good friends here – the not so dearly departed, my spirit guides – I'm the woman I am today. No one messes with me, baby, not with the back-up I have. They never did when I was alive and they sure as hell won't start now."

She reached out a hand towards him and he shrank back, very aware that he couldn't let her touch him again. But she made no real effort to, just balled her hand into a fist and made a grabbing gesture. He knew at once from his weary sense of dιjΰ vu that his clothes were gone, the very idea of them torn from him by her sheer force of will. He clenched his fists hard to stop himself from instinctively covering his privates with his hands and glared at her defiantly.

She regarded his naked groin, hands on hips again, a mocking smile on her lips.

"Well, dumbass," she said, "either you have a very inflated sense of your own importance, or an over-active imagination, because you have to be making that up. Which is it?"

"Fuck off," he said, backing up further. He put out a hand and ran it along the wall, which still refused to yield to it. She – however many of them there were in there – was too strong for him and he was very much out of his element still. Again, it felt distressingly familiar.

"Some of us might fuck you," she said, "if we feel like it. I mean, you are so not my type, but there are some of us who always did like a bit of rough, the more helpless, the better; Mr Werner, for instance, and his friend Marty. As for Geraldine – she always wondered if vampires would make good house pets."

"Geraldine can fuck off an' all," he said, back to the wall now, next to the elevator door. He raised his arms to protect himself as well as he could, but she stopped a few feet away, her lips pouting with amusement.

"Nowhere to run to now," she said. "Come here, baby, and let mamma give you a kiss."

The next moment, it was like a cold jellyfish had enveloped his face, sucking the energy out of him, covering him in painful little stings that joined together like bacteria multiplying under a microscope to wrap him up in pain. He could feel fingers, like fat, greasy sausages, pushing their way into his body and a chorus of gloating laughter, which made him want to cower like a schoolboy surrounded by a gang of bullies. Again, he heard himself scream, and something thick and dripping bile rammed itself down his throat and choked him. He felt tears start up in his eyes.

Then suddenly, it was gone and he found himself on his hands and knees, retching miserably, although of course nothing came from his stomach, while she stood where she'd been before, poised on her red high heels and with the boiling under her skin subsiding to an occasional sullen bubble.

"Oh, Mr Werner enjoyed that and so did Marty," she said. "To think we can all spend eternity together, baby, while we pull you apart piece by tiny little piece. Aren't you happy about that?"

He wavered upright, gasping, relieved to find that he still had the strength to do it.

"Still don't know what the fuck you want with me," he rasped. His throat felt so raw he could hardly get the words out. "If you're so keen to take it out on someone, why don't you go for the bloke who killed you, instead of the innocent bystander, because that's all I was?"

"Oh, William," she said, and she shook her head at him, "you were never innocent – not since that day in the alley - but since you mention it, who are you talking about?"

"Pavayne, of course," he told her, "the bastard who sodding well killed you in the first place. I can't do physical stuff, not like that – not like he could."

"No," she said, "I can see that. You haven't learned much about being a ghost, have you? I mean, I've been dead for way less time than you, and already I can do this."

He found himself sprawled out at her feet suddenly, his mouth on her shoe, which felt all too solid, and his tongue poked out to lick her dainty instep. Then she kicked him, sending him flying backwards to hit the wall next to the elevator door.

"Bad boy," she said, "slobbering on mamma's shoes. Geraldine says we'll have to get you a collar and muzzle if you don't learn how to behave."

He spat out the taste of her like electricity gone stale. "What about Pavayne, then?" he persisted. "He's still around. Don't you want to have at least a look at the man who killed you?"

She sighed with mock dismay. "Do stop lying to me, William. I could sense you from all the way down here – well out of reach of the bunch of pissants they call psychics in this building – but I don't sense this Pavayne guy at all. You and I are the only spooks around. Don't make mamma mad, okay, or it'll be even worse for you."

"You couldn't sense him because he's not a sodding ghost!" Spike shouted. He winced inwardly at the rising panic in his voice, knowing she heard it too. "He's alive – held in a containment cell. But that needn't stop you, need it, or are you saying you can't affect the physical world like he could?"

She wagged an admonitory finger at him.

"Of course I can. I can do whatever I want, William, and you really should try and commit that to your tiny little memory."

"Yeah?" he said. He raised a sceptical eyebrow. "So how about a bit of payback on him too, just to prove it?"

Her eyes seemed to turn inwards at this and her mouth began to open and close, although no sound came out, just a distant sibilant whispering, as of many people in furious discussion some way out of sight. Spike felt behind him. His hand slipped through the wall this time and into the elevator car, but he didn't try to escape. He knew he wouldn't get far.

Suddenly, she looked up at him again, and said, in a voice that seemed to echo with many others: "Okay, baby, take us to him. But if you're lying, you'll be very, very sorry, and that's a promise."

"I believe you," Spike said, "and I'm not lying. No bloody point, is there?"

She rushed forward again, gathering him up in her wake, and he felt something round his neck – something that choked him and squeezed his airway, even though he had less reason than ever to need to breathe.

"Good dog," she said. "Geraldine says heel."

He led the way, up through layers of concrete and steel, aware constantly of her right behind him and of the psychic leash round his neck that chafed and tore at his insubstantial being. He could feel his mind beginning to fray at the edges from the pain alone, in the same way it had when it had been Pavayne pulling his strings. This wasn't his world and what's more he didn't want it to become his world, and he knew that the more he resisted falling into it – the more he tried to keep his foothold in the physical realm - the more he laid himself open to attack by creatures like Pavayne and the bitch who had him now.

She was already worse than Pavayne, he thought, and she'd only been dead a week. He dreaded to think how powerful she'd become given enough time.

They burst up into the over-bright fluorescence lighting the grey corridor lined on either side with holding cells. Spike howled with pain again as the shearing at his neck grew worse. He was on his knees, with her standing over him, and he couldn't find the strength to get up.

"So this is where your precious Pavayne is kept?" she said. "That is, if he even exists. I'm still not sure I believe you, baby, and if you are lying, I can think of so many delicious things to do to you to make you sorry. Mr Werner just can't wait to get his hands on you properly, and as for Geraldine, well – she's slavering, baby, slavering."

Yeah, yeah, he wanted to say. I'm trembling in my non-existent boots.

Except that he was. His voice rasped out, sounding to his own ears as if someone had taken a piece of sandpaper to his voicebox and rubbed it half away.

"He's down there - at the end."

She led the way this time and he followed on hands and knees, her control once more making the floors and walls impenetrable to him and with the psychic leash around his neck always tugging him back to her. He gritted his teeth and told himself to go with it; to conserve his strength for what was to come.

They stopped in front of the door to Pavayne's cell and she bent down curiously to peer through the slit opening.

"Oh, boy!" she exclaimed. "He is so not pretty. I don't think Mr Werner wants to get better acquainted with him. Why's he staring like that?"

"Drugs in his system," Spike managed to choke out. "Keep him immobile. All he can do is look out into the empty corridor."

She shrugged and looked round and down at him – the first time she'd really spared him a glance since they arrived on this floor. She frowned.

"Mr Werner doesn't like your hair," she said. "He likes his boys to look neat and pretty, not to look like sluts – at least, until he hands them over to Marty. But we can fix that, no problem, and then it's on with the show."

Spike tried to ignore the heaving panic in his belly as he realised that she just wasn't interested in Pavayne at all. She and her 'passengers' were far more focussed on him, which was what you got, he supposed, for still being pretty even though you were dead.

"He had a fine time when he killed you, luv," he said, quickly, " – boasted about it to me afterwards – said the bones in your neck snapped easy as chicken bones and he was just sorry he couldn't pluck you like a chicken and eat you after too."

"Did he now?" Her eyes swung back to the peephole in the cell door. She moved towards it, with him dragging along behind her. He was shaking so much inside, his nerves so much on edge, he was afraid she would sense it and suspect something.

"Maybe," she mused, "we could introduce him to Marty? He's not so fussy about looks – more interested in the noises people make. What do you think, baby?"

"Why the fuck not?" he said at once, trying to hide his eagerness in case she turned contrary on him. "Just don't kill him, that's all. He used to be King Spook around here and I bet he could still give you a run for your money if he wanted."

"As if!" she said, contemptuously, but she was still peering through the slit at Pavayne, her attention finally elsewhere. Shakily, Spike got his feet under him and looked over her shoulder. Pavayne was staring out as usual, his eyes full of despairing malice, but there was something else in them now, which looked very much like fear. He wasn't deaf, after all, just helpless.

For a moment, Spike felt almost guilty about what he was trying to do, but then he remembered the feeling of barbed wire pressing into his flesh and the sight of the gaping maw of hell, its tendrils snaking out towards him, while Pavayne presented him to it like a delicacy to be eaten, and he steeled himself.

"I suppose we'll have to go in for a little visit," she was saying. "Come along, William, don't dawdle."

As she spoke, her spectral body lost its deceptive solidity and became wispy, like vapour. She began to pour herself through the slit in the cell door. This was his moment and he took it with everything he had, exerting all his remaining mental strength to tear himself from her psychic grasp.

"Don’t be a bad boy." She sounded annoyed. "Or you might have to spend some time with Marty too," and she tugged. He tugged back, determined not to yield, and then abruptly, he went limp, as if defeated, and the invisible leash went slack on her. She couldn't have been expecting such an easy victory and he felt her psychic grip loosen suddenly in reaction. With a last frantic effort, he tore at it again and wrenched himself free just in time to see her body re-materialise inside the cell, with himself safe on the outside.

He was already backing away by the time he saw her looking out through the slit, a frown on her face.

"Come back here at once," she said, and her voice hissed like angry serpents, with all the other voices behind it in chorus.

"Not on your fucking life." Already he was re-clothing himself, the familiar black forming up his arms and down his legs, giving him back his battered dignity.

"I'll just have to come get you, then," she said, "and this Pavayne guy can wait for a bit. Marty and Mr Werner are gonna share you between them for a while, they say, until you've learned your lesson."

"Yeah?" he said, mockingly. "I'd like to see them fucking try."

He was watching her face intently and he saw the very instant when she realised she couldn't get out. It felt very satisfying.

"You bastard!" she screamed, the echoes behind her voice full of panic now. "What have you done?"

He shut his eyes and stood still for a moment to compose himself, then went back to peer at her through the slit where she stood crammed in next to Pavayne, her body almost mingling with his. Pavayne's eyes were still fixed where they had been, staring forward, but now they were full of panic too.

Spike shuddered and tore his gaze away from the helpless figure.

"It's a holding cell," he told her. "That means it'll hold you, yeah? No coming out unless you've got the right mojo, which you haven't, you stupid bitch."

She gaped at him. Then her pretty face dissolved into a bubbling stew of discontented mouths all screaming and demanding to be fed.

He felt sick. "No need to go to pieces on me, luv. Seems to me you had this coming. Think of it as a little present from poor old Sherman, instead of that seafront apartment."

He turned his back on her, shrugged his shoulders uneasily and walked away.

"Stupid bitch!" he said again.

He could hear her many voices wailing and cursing all the way back to the upper floors and safety, as if they were somehow trapped inside his head now too. He'd have to warn Angel about her, he thought - one ruthless bastard to another – make sure that cell could really hold her – warn him as well about the kind of company Eve was keeping. After all, someone round here had to be a responsible citizen.

At last, he reached the lobby, where reluctant corporate minions were still removing the last of the Halloween party decorations. He stood and watched them for a while, still shaking with reaction – so much so that he wondered how he looked to them, not that any of them spared him a second glance. Ghosts didn't count for anything in their world, just as it seemed he counted for pretty much nothing in the spirit world.

That had to change, he thought, one way or another. He wouldn't be nothing.

With a grimace of effort, he pulled a bunch of wilting flowers out of a nearby vase as a present for Fred, to show her he was sorry for the breakages, and began to make his way back to the lab, determinedly using the stairs like a real person.

He was trying hard not to think of Pavayne, immobile and helpless and trapped forever now with that vicious harpy; trying to ignore the guilt that seemed to eat like acid at his soul.

At least, he told himself, the bastard would have company.