Author's Note: This is a sequel to the ficlet Deja-Bleu. (That story can be found at my profile page.) Rating is PG-13; pairing is Spike/Fred; setting is post-Not Fade Away.

Songs in the Key of Insanity

"We're all mad here."

- the Cheshire Cat: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

There's still a few shots left in the bottle of Old Crow, and Spike gazes at it and considers; sour mash has never been his first choice of booze, but it was all there was to be had in the house, and right now he could do with a bit of the soothing syrup. The "house" is a Victorian-era hotel near an abandoned train track at the edge of a rotting ghost town. They're the first human guests it's seen in years; a benign old Fae woman runs it now, and sits on its porch, rocking and rocking, her dull grey wings drooping through the slats in the back of her chair.

The hotel, thankfully, is not quite so dilapidated. Spike stumbled across it soon after fleeing the convenience store and the rising sun (and Illyria), and the Fae hag took pity on them and offered them her cellar. It's cool and safe and comfortable, and there's no valuables here; nothing to break that can't be replaced easily; no nice wallpaper to spoil.

For Fred, it seems, has come back wrong after all.

Not damaged in the way that Buffy was, with dead eyes and hostile silences and violent, desperate, self-centered lust. And not comfortable in her madness like Drusilla. (Something about her reminds him of Dru, though, and he doesn't know if this should worry him or not. He's a little ashamed to find it strangely comforting.) No, Fred's madness is that of a daft, confused child, who senses that something is wrong but just can't put her finger on it. It waxes and wanes, and at times she seems almost lucid. But it's never long before something else sets her off, and she retreats back into La-La Land.

She's off in a corner at the moment, underneath the laundry table. It's a nice little hidey-hole -- as is the potato bin and the crawlspace under the stairs. In fact, Spike's been amazed at some of the places she's wedged herself into. Of course, it's not so hard to wedge when one's as thin as Fred is, and half starkers to boot – she refuses to wear more than a loose camisole and panties, and she yanks these up and down constantly to check for patches of blue on her skin.

Spike decides to let the whiskey be for now, and he crosses the room and kneels beside Fred's metal-and-Formica cave. She's drawing on the floor with a piece of chalk; stuff that he recognizes as advanced mathematics but hasn't a clue how to interpret.

"Doing all right, are we, Love?"

"Uh-huh." Her eyes never leave her equations. "There's no chewing gum stuck under this table. You know, if you drop a penny off the top of the Washington Monument, it won't really kill someone if it hits them on the head. That's just an urban legend. Can I have some peas?"

The rapid-fire change of subject throws him for a moment. "Peas?...Yeah, 'course. Uh, what kind of peas do you like? English?"

Her face lights up with laughter; it's a lovely, normal sound and it makes him laugh, too.

"No, Silly, YOU'RE the one who should eat those! English peas for English people." Fred's giggling so hard now that she can hardly talk. "Black-eyed peas are for Texans! They bring you luck if you eat them on New Year's Day. I could wolf down a whole mess of 'em right now. And corn on the cob is good, too."

"Got it. Peas and corn. I'll go raid the pantry."

It takes only a few minutes to run up to the kitchen and back; for longer errands he's had the landlady stay with her. The old woman isn't too spry, but she's got a sharp eye and a kind heart, and a bit of magic still left. Sometimes Fred likes to sit beside her quietly and stroke her wings.

He returns with two tins and a find her weeping. She's still under the table, but her mouth is frosted with a peculiar white powder, and the stick of chalk has vanished. He can only stare at her, dumbfounded. In despair and agony she looks up at him with tear-filled eyes and whispers, "I ate it."

During the months that Illyria had been with them, Spike had developed a grudging acceptance of the Old One; had at times even pitied her for her situation. Just for this moment, however...seeing the wreck that his dear friend has become at her hands...he hates her.

The bottle is empty at last. He's coaxed her to the sink and bathed her face and held her hair as she tries to vomit...but nothing comes out. "It's just your new innards, Lamb, that's all. They're likely designed for eatin' chalk and all kinds of odd bits. Don't try to force it up; you'll do yourself an injury." He offers her a swig of the Kentucky bourbon, tucks her into bed, and then polishes off the rest by himself.

In the night, she rises from her bed and creeps across the few inches of space that separate their folding cots. The quiet shuffling rouses him. He wakes to find her looking at him there in the dark, on the edge of his bed, knees on the floor and thin, pale hands clinging to the sheets as if to keep from drowning. Without a word, she reaches out one arm and her fingers touch his face.

A wave of loneliness rolls over him, painful and wretched, and with a moan he pulls her into the bed with him. In his frantic passion his mouth and body crush hers into the mattress; his hands burrow and clutch in her hair. Joy and grief and a strange, haunting triumph surge through his soul: however damaged Fred may be, she's his. She's with him now. Warm and alive. Companion, friend, lover...all the things his heart has longed for.

And when he hears her cries of climax, his heart sings.

Dawn comes into this cellar not in a warm glow of rose and yellow, but in a grey haze through a dusty, cobweb-mottled little window. It's in this dim light that Spike awakens once more. He reaches for Fred, but she's no longer on his cot. She's on her feet, facing a wall, busy with the day's work. Somewhere in the room she's found a felt-tip pen. And on the wall, and on the table, and in the sink, and down her arms, and across the sheets of their beds, the writing stretches, covering everything.

It isn't mathematics anymore. It's a single word, repeated over and over, hundreds and hundreds of times: