AN: My aplogies for the delay. I was sick most of last week, which put a serious lid on my creative output.
Next chapter is in the pipeline.
He pauses, looks down to inspects his mangled fingers. For a moment I expect him to deny it, but then he laughs – or tries to. “Figured it out, did you?”
“How--- Does Buffy know?”
He shakes his head and resumes scrubbing. The sight makes me wince. It’s hard to believe that this is the same guy who threatened to strangle me with my own guts. He looks old and worn, even more than in that church, like he’s dying by degrees. It’s kinda disturbing, if you think about it. I reach for the faucet and turn the water off. Then I catch his wrist and wrestle the nail brush out of his hand. “Get out,” I say harshly. I plonk the brush on the sink and stare distastefully at the diluted red puddle that forms underneath it and at my own stained fingers. I quickly rinse his blood off my hands.
Behind me, I can hear him scramble to his feet and climb out of the tub. I turn around and toss him a dark blue towel. “Here, use this.”
He catches it and holds it as if he’s not quite sure what to do with it.
“It’s called a towel, and you’re supposed to dry yourself with it, nimrod!” I snap.
Eyes lowered, he clumsily starts to wipe the towel over his hunched shoulders and his mutilated chest. I watch him, meaning to check out his injuries - but I have to admit, first my eyes take a little southbound detour. I could say that that’s what guys do, you know, check out the competition, but I’d be lying. It’s nothing as manly as that.
I don’t know what I expected, but he’s kinda normal. For an insane moment I wonder if his face is the only thing that changes when he goes into vamp-mode. I shake my head in disgust.
What I don’t get is why he still makes me feel this way. I hate him. He hates me. He’s a vampire, evil, well maybe not-so-evil-anymore and he’s done unspeakable things. Definite turn-off, at least it should be. And that sex-on-a-stick vibe? Right now he looks more like something the cat dragged in, skinny, all sharp angles, tattered. Yesterday’s burns and those older cuts haven’t healed yet. Must hurt like hell. His hands too… I can’t take my eyes off them.
Suddenly Spike freezes. Looking up, he catches me staring at him. Crap! He doesn’t say anything, though. His lip curls disdainfully. He turns sideways, then drops the towel and picks up his pants. He briskly puts them on, swaying unsteadily. He fumbles awkwardly with the zip, shrugs, leaves his pants open and reaches for his shirt. He puts it on, not bothering with the buttons, picks up his shoes and stands before me.
He’s dripping. Drops of water crawl down from his hair, across his face, down his chest; drops of blood tumble from his hands, onto his shoes and the bathroom rug.
I realize I’m in his way and supposed to step aside. Instead, I open the medicine cabinet and rummage through my stock until I find the Tylenol. I turn on the tap and fill my cup with water. “Here, take these.” I hold out two pills and the cup.
He wordlessly swallows the pills and hands back the empty cup.
I close the lid of the toilet and nod towards it. “Sit down, Spike. I’ll bandage your hands.”
“Listen, you don’t have to… I don’t want your pity…”
“Shut up. I won’t have you drip blood all over the living room carpet.”
He sets his shoes on the floor, sits down, and without looking at me, he holds out his hands. They’re not a pretty sight. Dumb vampire! I unzip my first aid kit and clean and dry his right hand, then start bandaging it carefully. His fingers are as cold as ice.
“That soul of yours, how did it happen? Did you piss off a bunch of gypsies?” I say flippantly, like it’s no big deal.
“Not a curse.”
“Then what? I mean souls don’t just lie around for you to trip over, like oops, I’m souled. Or was this some kind of monkey’s paw deal?”
He raises his head, gathers his tattered pride and looks at me defiantly. “Fought for it, fair an’ square.”
“Why?” I must admit I don’t get it. “What’s it do?”
“Buffy. She deserved… better. I thought, that if I changed…” He shakes his head and lowers his gaze again.
“So, you’re still after Buffy. You think you can buy yourself back into favor with that soul of yours? Cause it’s not some kind of ‘get out of jail free’-card.”
“No, I… I just…” he peters off uncertainly and shrugs.
There. I’m finished with his right hand. I grab a new roll of gauze and start work on his left. This is as good an opportunity as any to clarify something: “Listen, you dumb bloodsucker. Let’s get one thing straight: I didn’t bring you here to screw,” I say sharply. “I wouldn’t touch you with a ten-foot pole. I brought you here to keep an eye on you, so you don’t hurt…”
“Buffy,” he finishes my sentence. “I won’t.”
Yeah, her too.
“Consider yourself on a short leash. There’s a closet that I can turn into a little room. You can stay there for a few days, until we come up with something. No one, not even you, should have to live in a dark hole all by himself. Plus that school basement was seriously messing with your head. But if you threaten me again, in my own home, I’ll kick you out like yesterday’s garbage. And if you ever lay a finger on…”
“…on Buffy or anyone else I care about, I’ll chase you round the world and round perdition’s flame,” I intone, getting a little carried away. “I’ll make sure you get what YOU deserve!”
He gives me a funny look but nods, like we just struck a deal. Hell, maybe we did.
An hour later I’ve washed the bloodstains out of the bathroom rug and settled him into his room. A small squeaky cot and a chair, that’s all that will fit into that narrow space, but he’s not complaining. In fact, he’s not talking at all, not even when I thrust a pillow, some sheets, a few blankets and a pile of old clothes into his arms. I’m relieved when he disappears in the closet, closing the door behind him.
I fix myself a mug of coffee and a pop tart, then write a note and stick it to the fridge: ‘Hands off my food!’ Underneath I jot down my phone number. Remembering the last time Spike and I shared quarters, I make a mental note to use my lunch break to buy him a toothbrush and some other stuff. And unless I want him to use up my shampoo I’d better get him some of his own. As a roomie, he was a pain in the butt, but fastidious.
Before I have to leave for work, I softly rap against his door. I hear a muffled sound, so I peer inside. He’s asleep, curled up, huddled into the embrace of his own arms. Even in sleep he looks miserable. Plus he’s muttering - don’t know what. Can’t make out the words. I’m not sure I want to. I never knew vampires could dream. Guess it’s the soul that’s giving him a hard time. I watch him for a minute, wondering if he’ll still be here when I come back, then I grab my keys and newspaper and head outside. Whew, am I glad to get out of the apartment of doom and into the morning sun.
Next stop: Revello Drive. I feel like I’m trapped in yesterday’s rerun. The girls talk about school, Principal hottie, homework. I guess I’m not old enough to feel nostalgic about High School. Although I often feel old. Like when I’m try to be hubby, big brother and dad all rolled into one.
We tiptoe around the whole Willow coming back issue because Dawn is still pretty angry with her. But she doesn’t know Willow as well as I do. That’s when I decide to make a sign for Willow. Someone should make her feel welcome. I know what she did, how she almost ended the world, how she killed that jerk Warren, may he rot in hell, but she’s still Willow, my best friend. If I’m not there for her, who will?
“So, when are you picking us up tonight?” Buffy asks, sounding cheerful, while Dawn sullenly gets out of the car.
“Six sound okay to you? That should give us enough time to get there before the plane lands.”
“Sure. Six sounds good.”
It’s only when I pull into the construction site parking lot that I realize I haven’t mentioned Spike’s relocation or his latest acquisition.
Continued in Part Six
Author’s Note: When Xander talks about “perdition’s flame” he’s quoting “Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan.” Of course Xander doesn’t know that it’s originally a quote from “Moby Dick” (which is why Spike gives him a funny look).