Stretch out your arms and take hold of the cloth of your clothes in both hands.
Good and bad are mixed – if you don’t have both, you don’t belong with us.
The cure for pain is in the pain.
There were some things, Spike thought (not for the first time), that even a century of existence couldn’t begin to prepare you for.
He slid out of bed, careful not to wake Buffy, and patted through last night’s pockets for a pen. Scribbling a hasty note on the corner of an envelope he’d found on her desk, he tucked it under her pillow and shrugged himself into the shirt and jeans that lay neatly folded on top of the chair by the door. They smelt of fabric softener instead of cigarettes, a sure sign that someone – probably Tara – had sneaked them off the floor and put them through the laundry.
He couldn’t remember the last time someone had washed his clothes for him. The baby-powder scent of talc rose to his nostrils, sweet and nostalgic and – as right as it seemed for this house of women – at the same time utterly, utterly bizarre. For a moment, he pondered just taking them off again and getting back into what he’d worn yesterday – then he shrugged, found his wallet in the pocket of his duster, and looked back toward the sleeping Slayer, now sprawled unconscious over his side of the bed as well as her own.
“Back in a flash, luv,” he murmured. “Got some things to take care of.”
She didn’t stir.
The house was quiet.
He’d supposed that no one else would be awake, but he’d forgotten that Giles was an early-morning man; the Watcher was sitting at the dining-room table as Spike came down the stairs, wearing something that he probably considered to be casual but still came off as stuffy, and writing industriously in a leather-bound book. He looked up at Spike, opened his mouth as if to say something, then – evidently thinking better of it – resolutely shut it again and turned back to his writing.
“Morning,” Spike offered, and Giles grimaced.
“It is, rather, isn’t it?”
“Watcher’s journal?” Spike inquired, to break the tense silence that followed. “Rather above and beyond the call of the duty at this point, isn’t it, now?”
Giles made another face.
“Truth be told, it’s hard to break the habit,” he admitted.
Spike, who could have said any number of divinely ironic things at that point, most of them along the ‘living-on-the-wild-side-are-we-mate?’ lines, took another surreptitious look at the Watcher and decided to hold his peace. Giles had the look of a man torn between tact and his better instincts.
Clearly, he had things he wanted to say, and just as clearly, was determined to keep them to himself.
Personally, Spike figured that a little clearing-of-the-air was probably for the best, given these particular circumstances. He cleared his throat, and Giles looked up from his journal once again, forehead drawn into an annoyed little ‘v’.
“Had your morning cuppa yet?”
Giles frowned. “No. No, I haven’t.” Unspoken: what’s it to you? Spike, unfazed, jerked his thumb in the vague direction of the street.
“Thought I’d nip down to the corner,” he said; “pick up some Krispy Kremes for when the others wake up.” He rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. “French or not French, Harris can still put away the pastry; guess there are some things magic just can’t change. And then, it’s still a bit of a trip for me, being out and about in broad daylight.” He cut his eyes away, deliberately offhanded. “Fancy a walk?”
“Dunno,” Spike said, casually cracking his neck. “Thought maybe you could use the exercise. And –“ this quickly, as the Watcher’s scowl deepened – “maybe that we could get a little man-to-man chat in before the Slayer gets her morning mojo on.” He raised one eyebrow. “How about it, then?”
Giles hesitated, then closed his book.
“Well,” he said slowly. “It was quite a long plane ride, yesterday.” His eyes flicked to Spike’s and held. “And it’s not as if they have any proper tea in the house, after all.”
“There you have it, then.”
They set off for the corner.
There wasn’t any proper English tea at Sunnydale Doughnuts (Ask Us About Our Day!), either, as it turned out, which meant that Spike got to watch Giles fuss about and mutter over a Lipton tea bag … a more entertaining process than the telling of it would seem to suggest. He himself opted for coffee, one of the ultra-sweet, elaborate bastardizations of the macchiato that Californians seemed so fond of. This one boasted an inch of foam on the top of the cup, and enough cinnamon and cocoa powder over that to make Columbus want to discover America again.
Settling back in his trendy little white-pine Danish chair at the window table, he took a sip, felt the caffeine buzz into his system, closed his eyes against the buttery stream of sunlight pouring into the room, and waited for Giles to make the first move.
He didn’t have long to wait.
“It’s really true,” Giles said quietly. “I thought Buffy must have been mistaken about the … the sunlight issue. But it’s really true.” His eyes seemed held against their will to the sight of Spike’s hand on the light-striped table. “When did you first notice it?”
Spike shrugged and slurped some more foam off the top of his cappucino. “The other morning,” he said guardedly. “After – well, after it happened. After we came back. You know – I heard her tell you last night.” He toyed with the empty sugar packet by his cup. “Must have been tired,” he said. “It was a long night. I slept late. And when I woke up, there I was. Walking on sunshine and all that.”
“Isn’t it just?” Spike’s eyes slid sideways to the gold-streaked street outside the window. “Don’t suppose you’d have any theories about it. Being Idea Man and all.”
“Not as such. Though …”
Giles peered irritably at his tea, curled his lip, and pushed it away untouched. “Well, there’s no hard evidence to support this,” he said; “it’s just a theory. Not even a theory – I suppose if one were to categorise it, it’d fall more into the field of literature …” He trailed off. “Oh, all right. It’s really only a hunch. But it certainly seems as if you’ve been granted a … a cosmic forbearance, of a sort.”
“Once again,” Spike requested. “In the Queen’s English, this time.” Giles scowled, then sighed.
“A wish, all right? Are those short enough words for you to understand?”
He made a production of capturing his sodden tea bag with his spoon, then wrapping the string round it like a parcel and squeezing out the excess water. “It’s a very common theme in mythology, in … in fairy tales. You performed a selfless, heroic act for the benefit of someone other than yourself, and in return you’re granted a … well, a gift. A wish. Your dearest desire.”
“I didn’t do it to be heroic.”
“No.” Spike swallowed hard, looked the Watcher in the eyes. “I went up there with her because no one else would. And I did what I did because if I hadn’t, she would have. Again.”
An expression Spike couldn’t read swept Giles’ face. He cut his eyes away.
“Ah,” he said finally. “For love, then?”
“Would you believe me if I agreed with you?” Spike took another slug of his cappucino. “I’ve said it before, you know, and nobody broke out the tickertape. Why should things change now?”
“Things always change.” Giles hesitated. “People too, I suppose.”
“Big of you, Rupert.”
“Look, this isn’t easy for me.” Dragging his cup back toward him, Giles took a gulp of his tea, closed his eyes, and shuddered as if he’d just drunk battery acid. “I’ve got a veritable library of examples when it comes to you being self-centred, unhealthily obsessed, and on the verge of becoming unhinged where Buffy is concerned. I can’t think of too many instances where you acted selflessly. To come back and find you painted the Hero of the Day is, frankly, a bit hard to swallow.”
“How do you think I feel? My shirt smells like baby powder.” Spike took a deep breath. “Look,” he said. “I may still not be a man, and I realise that. There’s still a monster in there somewhere, and he’s probably always going to be there, despite the fact that I never asked for him. But now I’ve got a chance, a chance to be what I could have been if it had never happened. Understand?”
Giles’ eyes went sharp behind his spectacles. “I think so,” he said slowly.
“I never expected this.” Spike gestured toward the sunny street. “I never expected her to look my way – not really. But damned if I’m going to screw it up, now that I’ve got it. And damned if I’m going to let her shoulder it alone, as long as I can be there too. Suss that?”
Another piercing glance. A slow nod.
“What you did in the Tollbooth,” Giles said after a moment of silence. “I don’t know too many human men who would have done the same.” He took another wincing sip of his tea, his eyes never leaving Spike’s. “Whatever our differences, I must admit that. And that you’ve earned your right to daylight.”
He hesitated, then offered Spike a tentative smile. “William.”
At peace with himself, Spike reached for his second doughnut.
“So,” he said with his mouth full. “Think they’re up yet?”