All About Spike

Stop Me If You've Heard This One
By amerella

Spoilers: Strays off after As You Were.
Pairing: Primarily Spike/Buffy, though Spike/Other is featured as well. Slash.
Summary: A poignant tale of futility. Or perhaps just a tale of futility.
Rating: R for a gratuitous amount of Kick The Spike and for sexual situations.



Spike was just keeping to himself, having a fag and eyeing pockets and decidedly unattainable throats when the air shifted and the Slayer sidled into the booth next to him. "I thought you'd be at Willy's, somehow," she said when he held his tongue. She was as falsely pert as fucking anything

"Gets around, if you're shagging the Slayer," Spike told her after a moment. "Beginning to think I'll never hear the end of it. Humans, at least, generally let me be." He paused, thought on it. "'Cept for you, it seems." Christ, but he was sloshed. Was quite a bit of the time, but it did you well to keep your head around this girl. He should be careful what he said, at any rate.

"What is it really, kitten debt again?" She gave him a rather sly glance, which was bold of her after everything, but he wasn't in the mood to play just the same. "Since when have you ever been concerned about- things?" she asked eventually, sighing.

"Since right bloody now. What do you want?" He turned a bit towards her and their knees knocked. Some kind of terrible music twanged; either it was all out of tune or he was. He was sorry he'd asked.

"Dawn's been asking about you," she said very carefully. "We haven't seen you in over two weeks, you know."

"Haven't been counting the days or anything."

Buffy frowned, perhaps thinking of her lost summer again. He hoped not. One hundred and forty seven days. He'd been the one to do the counting, but even he wished it had been longer in that instant. "Anyway," she continued after a beat. "Considering that you used to stalk me and all, I kind of, I don't know, wondered about you." She looked past him, out the window, her reflection and his absence of one. "Asked around a bit."

"You broke up with me," he reminded her and felt moronic, saying it. The secret places of her he knew well: the inside of her thigh, the small white line of a scar beneath her left breast, the feel of her skull against his palm against the floor, the wall, the mattress- yet none of that mattered. His love for her was subterranean and her love for him was nonexistent. So what was she doing here? He wished she'd get on with it.

Predictably, she didn't. "So, you're still among the unliving. That's good."

"Is it?"

"Spike, please," she said softly. "I'm going to go. I just wanted to make sure that you were-"

"Well, here I am, yes. So now's your cue to leave."

She did. He watched her go. A few pale-faced boys ambling down the sidewalk began to quicken the pace when they saw her, and then when she saw them they ran. Spike glanced away, knowing the end of that sorry tale already. Although he would have liked to watch. She fought like- She moved like-

But he refused to name her as a poesy, even in his mind. Such silly litanies were lost on her, and had no business tugging at his consciousness after all these years besides. So he didn't watch and ordered another shot instead.

By the time he left the bar, it had gotten colder. The air was bitter, sharp but not clean, musky with the scent of woodsmoke and leaf mulch. He had this strange, alcohol-induced notion that the world had fallen into winter while he'd been trapped in that booth with her and then with himself. It had been spring, and now it wasn't.

The downstairs of his crypt looked like a blown-out bomb shelter and he didn't know why that was where he ended up except for the fact that that was where they'd spent most of their time together, her body and his heart. The bed frame was still intact, springs sticking up every which way like barbed wire. He went back upstairs. Outside, but the sky was already lightening. Inside, though, he didn't know what to do with himself. He had the unpleasant sensation of sobering up and being aware of it. He sat down with his back up against the stone wall with a bottle of whiskey, a pack of cigarettes and a few especially fierce and useful memories of her.

When all else fails, debauchery.

It had been his motto for over a century, though he sincerely doubted it would be any good to him at this point.

Fact was, she moved like a bird in flight. Everything about her was seamless and fatal. She could crash into a cloud at any moment and that would be that. He'd seen it happen once already, attempted to bring such a thing about himself on more than one occasion, couldn't bear the thought of it now.

He took a pull on the bottle. Couldn't hurt, at any rate.

*

By Friday night he was strung out on himself, half asleep even standing, stupid to have let himself get so far gone. However, resisting the temptation to excess had never been his forte and that wasn't likely to change any time soon. That was apparent when he abruptly spun half-circle, slamming the vamp that'd been trailing him into a tombstone, headfirst.

Well, he wasn't so far gone as to let this one past him, anyway. Good.

Stone and skull fractured raucously, but he kept on with his assault. The vamp was making gurgling noises, like a man with a bad stutter. "Shut it," Spike said, that sound twinging against seemingly raw nerve endings, but then curiosity won out. "Tell me what you think you're doing, then, following me about." He released the vamp, who tumbled to the scuffed-about earth, still choking away. "Talk, damn it," Spike insisted. "You can talk now."

"Spike," the lump on the ground acknowledged past a fat lip. A bit of brain matter leaked out onto electric, freshly planted grass. "Was sent to take you out," it slurred.

"Now that's rich. You were sent to take me out?" It would have been cause for amusement at any other time. As it was Spike was bone tired. Asleep, he doubted he would have roused fully even if the Slayer had have sucked him off and back to something like true awareness, and if that wasn't tired he didn't know what tired was. "By whom? And what do they want? Because I'll tell you right now, I don't have anything left to give right at this moment in time." Apparently, neither did such a sorry excuse for an assassin, for all he received in response was a sick silence. Spike gave the lump a small, frustrated kick.

"So, whose out there?" he reiterated, going over to the nearest tree and ripping a branch from it absently. "Really think it's in your best interests to answer the question." The lump shuddered away from, that makeshift stake. "Come on, now. Don't be that way. What have I ever done to you?" At that, he smiled. "Oh, wait."

Some unintelligible sounds. His injured party gazed up at him though one lazy, bloodshot, alarmed eye.

Spike took a cursory glance around him into the humming, day-glo night before he knelt next to the corpse, whose fingers twitched outwards, curling around his wrist. "What are you doing?" Spike demanded with insomniac paranoia, shaking off that chill touch. "Just what the fuck do you think you're doing?"

The vamp's face twisted around itself. "Don't," it said.

"Oh, come off it, mate," Spike said, calming himself. "You've already died once. Nothing to get your panties in a twist about, really."

"The Slayer," the vamp murmured then, the threat audible, though apropos of a fat lot of nothing. The lazy eye shut itself tight, and that was that.

Spike considered letting him be, then drove the stake home. Well, he supposed he should warn the bint.

She snapped awake at his presence, coming on over to help him wrestle the window open, or to keep it closed and keep him out. He couldn't tell, but either way he wrangled his way inside. She looked at him and frowned. There were pillow creases on her cheek. "What do you think you're doing here?" she said so that he could hear the unspoken again.

He shrugged anyway, and told her what he'd found out, which turned out to be very little. He had to stop and start a few times, lips numb and uncooperative with exhaustion, which infuriated him to no end. Had he been his crypt, he would have surely slammed his fist into something by now. And then he would have crashed out, and it would have been glorious, that post-adrenaline rush lazy slide into oblivion.

When he was finally finished his halting account, though, she said, "You came here at this time of night to tell me that?" and he lashed out despite himself, sending her bedside lamp screaming through the air. Slivers of broken glass drove into the wall. She looked at that small tragedy and then looked at him in much the same way. "I'm going to go tell Dawn it's only you," she said resignedly. "Stay here, but- don't move. You're all covered in grossness."

She left, and he sat down on the edge of her bed. It smelled of her, of soap and toothpaste and faintly, antiseptic. She was always getting torn apart by something or other, it seemed, sometimes even by him.

"Spike," she said disapprovingly when she returned, but perched herself down next to him anyway. "Look, when I mentioned that we hadn't seen you in awhile, I didn't expect you to show up here at four o'clock in the morning." He snagged a fag from his pocket unthinkingly and she slapped his hand down. "You're bleeding," she noted strangely then, instead of the expected reproach.

A bit taken aback at the apprehension he saw in her face, he said, "Not my blood."

She shifted, and her eyes shifted away from his. "All right. I'm not so much in an ass-kicking mood tonight, so can we do this tomorrow? Considering your 'hit-man,' I'm sure we can let this one go for the night. Spike?"

"Don't talk down to me," he snapped.

"Listen," she said in much the same tone he'd just used. "I understand that you care, or whatever. And that you're drunk. Still. But you have to leave now."

"'M not drunk." He scrubbed a hand over a numb-tired face. "And I'm going to bed, anyway."

"Not here, you're not," she said, whip-sharp.

"Didn't mean to suggest," he told her, rising.

"Oh," she said, much quieter. "Oh, okay."

Halfway down her street and he could still feel her eyes on his back, tracking his strategic retreat. Like a hunter or like a woman?

*

It was still dark when he awoke abruptly, and disoriented but with some sort of underlying presentiment, he went to the door. The Slayer was on the other side, hand poised at the handle but not to knock, never to knock.

She looked at him blankly for a moment, his shirt that was stiff with dried blood and torn at the shoulder. Then she said, "I thought you wanted to talk about vague-but-threatening guy."

"I thought you wanted me to sod off," he tossed back at her, but even as he said it he noticed the scent of ozone still clung to the atmosphere, and swore. Three hours of kip and he was generally good to go. Granted, he'd been down for the count last night, but something didn't sit right. Fatigue gnawed at him, still. Uneasily, he slammed his fist up against the doorframe. The skin scraped wide open and raw.

"Spike," Buffy was saying, somewhat grudgingly. "Are you okay?"

He hit the frame again, a bit harder, imagining it was her face. Something snapped and his mind caved in on itself against a knife-edge of pain. Despite this, he struck out again.

"Don't do that," Buffy said, grappling his arm down. This time he did hit her face.

She looked at him, bones tight in that face. There had never been a time when he'd struck out at her and she hadn't retaliated, but apparently there actually was a first time for all things, for she merely stood there, looking. He looked back. Some of his blood stood out starkly against her cheek, which was nearly as pale as his own these days between midnight patrol and her daylight hours being spent at that place she called work.

"What is this?" she asked quietly, only raising her hand to wipe her cheek clean. "What's going on?"

"Sorry, lamb," he said, drawn in by and inexplicably saddened by her paleness. "Just woke up, is all. Not quite myself yet."

Her mouth turned down. "You hit me. It's been awhile, for that."

"That's what we do, innit it? Hurt each other. Slosh about in such a manner but never manage to kill-" He paused to regroup. "We kill other things instead."

"Spike, we're finished with all of that. I told you-"

"Just because you deign to say it doesn't make it so," he spit out abruptly, as unable to contain himself as ever. "You're not God, Buffy, and I'm no patron of your Holier-Than-Thou-ness. You think I worship you?"

"I don't want you to worship me," she said, hands balling up into loathed little fists that he nevertheless wished would rain down upon him once more. "I don't want you to anything me."

"You do," he said, cooling off just as abruptly. It happened often these days, this dying within him. "And I do, though the why is a bit of a mystery to me most of the time."

She stared at him, unclenching and clenching those fists. "I don't want you to worship me," she repeated in protest, somewhat dumbly.

"You do, and we both know it. You like me in my corner, pining after you all pathetic-like. 'S fine with you as long as I stay back there so's you don't have to think about what it means that you want me right back; that you want me still. And you do want me still, Slayer. Don't even have to fool myself on that one. Can smell it on you, of course."

She grabbed his hand then, the still weeping one, and squeezed hard. "That's disgusting," she said vehemently.

"Maybe it is," he choked out. "Maybe I pulled you down into the darkness with me just like you said. I did, I suppose. But before that, love; I wanted you in the light. Shouldn't have, but I did. You know that. It's you that made this dark between us."

"You're the one that lives in the dark," she told him, releasing him viciously. Her hand fell to her side, wet with redness, his.

"But you twisted my kisses against me," Spike said desperately. Knowing he'd never have her again, truly, had him spilling everything inside of him and he hated it and he hated her but he couldn't stop what he'd set in motion, now. "We used to talk. Buffy, please. Don't you remember that you used to talk and I used to listen? We were friends, I thought." Pathetic truth was, he didn't really know. He'd only ever had lovers before, kills. Slayers, who were in a class by themselves. Not friends. But he thought now that they had been, ever so briefly. She'd been his friend and he'd loved her.

Yet now she was looking at him as if horrified, her face like a mask. "I remember," she said finally, but the words didn't fit that face at all. She continued, nearly tenderly, "But I don't think it can be that way with us, not ever again."

"Why not?" He was ashamed when his voice broke.

She looked away: perhaps she was ashamed for him, or even of herself. Now her scent was one of guilt and discontent. But underneath all that. There. "Because I do still want you," she confirmed.

He knew that, of course. He decided then that perhaps he knew entirely too much.

"I'd run along if I were you," he told her. There had been a time when he would have painted the walls with her blood, and it wasn't that far off, really, not if he thought about it. He'd hung about her and her lot for how long now? Barely five years. What was that to someone like him? Nothing. Nothing. Except that it was something, wasn't it?

Fact of it was, he was different now. Changed, and he didn't like it, didn't want it. Couldn't escape it just that same.

She hesitated, both surprising and infuriating him. "I can fix your hand up for you," she offered, edgily, maybe a tad concerned. She was looking at him again, peering at him all curious-like. If she was looking for tears they'd gone and dried right up.

"Get gone, Slayer," he said steadily.

She went. He waited until the thud of her receded into the night and smashed his fist once again into the wall. Fissures bloomed in the stone. This is you, Spike thought. This is my love. This is me, loving you.

*

Spike was sitting on the sarcophagus and fixing his hand up when Clem said from the still open door, "You should be more careful."

Yeah, he'd keep himself away from everything and that would happen. "Hand'll fix up fine. You coming in or not?"

"I meant," Clem clarified, unmoving, "in general."

"Well, cue the ominous instrumental piece," Spike muttered. Clem just looked at him, his face more saggy than usual. Spike blinked back to his hand, which was looking rather gory. He could see the knucklebone of his index finger clearly and decided then that it was probably a lost cause. He pulled a smoke from the pack with his teeth and lit it with difficulty, waiting for the shoe to drop.

"Spike, there's talk. About you. Like, bigger than usual talk. Just about everyone's decided they've had enough of you hanging around the Slayer."

Spike was unimpressed. "Uh huh. I noticed. You too, then?"

"Oh, not me. I like the girl all right. She has issues, but I mean, who doesn't?" At Spike's void look he lowered his gaze. "I shouldn't have let you drink so much the other night," he reprimanded himself. "I know you get all maudlin when you drink. Not to mention, violent. Now everyone knows you and the Slayer are quits. And Petere never did anything to you, you know."

"Don't rightly know who that is, but I'm sure he deserved it with a name like that."

"You owed him ten tabbies."

"Then that's one less thing I'll have to concern myself with, yeah?"

Clem shook his head, exuding an air of disappointment. "The thing is, with you two broken up and all, she won't be coming to your rescue anymore. So that's no longer an issue. See?"

"No. No, I don't see. She's never come to my rescue before, and isn't likely to at this late stage," Spike said. "Not what she does." Though of course it was precisely what she did, just not with him.

"Anyway, they're just saying all kinds of things," Clem continued anxiously. "I mean, you went to her birthday party."

"So did you," Spike reminded him blandly. "And what a riot that was."

"It doesn't matter that it was an evil party," Clem informed him in all seriousness. "And, Spike, really, you won't tell anyone I was there, will you?"

"Ah, let be," Spike said, amiable. "Who would want to off you anyway, you great git?"

"I have to get going," the other demon said then, apologetically. He shuffled off, but took the time to close the door softly before he did.

Spike finished off his fag, pinched it out between thumb and forefinger, knew he should probably change his shirt, move, do something productive, though ever since the Slayer had gone he'd felt as hollowed out as a drum. Well. He'd always known she'd be the death of him, one way or another.

He should have reviled the very thought of this. He did revile the thought of it. And yet there was a part of him that rejoiced, perhaps the part of him that loved her.

So he was fucked. That wasn't anything new.

*

A lot of things could and had been said about Spike. The fact that he had anything like common sense would not have been one of them.

He knew he probably should have just stayed put for awhile, kept his ear to the ground or what have you. But he'd never been the type to stay put, or to pay himself any mind at that, and so by something to two he was sitting at the counter while Willy stiffly did as he asked, and set another shot down in front of him.

Nothing much seemed amiss, Spike decided. Willy's back was always drawn up too tight, and no wonder. Most of his customers were homicidal maniacs with a running tab, Spike not excluded. He received a few hostile glances, but that was hardly anything out of the ordinary either.

Soon he was nicely buzzed, though bored out of his skull. He snatched a bottle of whiskey from behind the counter took off for the back door, Willy's protest choking off in his wake.

A fledge, probably only three or four years turned, followed him out, but sadly didn't seem interested in a brawl. While Spike leaned up against the wall, cig dangling from his mouth since there was just about nothing like having a smoke whilst drunk and beneath the open sky like this, the fledge perched on a crate over by the dumpster. "You know, everyone's-" he began.

"You just concern yourself with you," Spike advised him lowly. "It's a wonder you haven't gotten yourself picked off yet, following someone like me out here and all."

The fledge, strangely, didn't flinch, giving his provisional seat a pat. "You know, Ginsberg called these "the orange crates of theology," because they were always being grabbed up by the poor to be used as bookcases. The materially poor, see?"

Spike ground the just lit cig out with his heel, a bit taken aback. "Happened to be around for that particular period in history, yes. Amerika the beautiful. Do we fancy ourselves a poet, then?"

"No. I used to read, is all. When I was alive, I used to read all the time. I knew things."

"And now?"

"Now? I don't read so much," the fledge said tonelessly.

"Hmm. So, you know things?"

"Know lots of things. Know you're one lucky son of a bitch, if tonight is any indication."

Spike abruptly grinned, feeling his face twist stiffly around itself. "Then you don't know much."

The younger vamp shrugged easily. "Yeah, maybe not."

There was a silence for a time. "I like you," Spike decided.

Another shrug. "Do you want to fuck?"

Spike did.

The fledge's mouth, he found, was soft and yielding, like a girl's, though not at all like Buffy's. He missed her. He hated her. He was losing himself to madness and it was her fault. The thought of that, her, made him come.

Afterwards Spike, still leaning up against the wall, zipped up his jeans. "We should do this again sometime," he said. Abandoned crates in his peripheral vision.

*

That day, he dreamed of waking up. Time spun, a birthday girl in her party dress. The First Slayer had yet to have been called. He felt relief. And, then. The sky broke wide open. Eggshell sunshine scattered all around him. He was the in-between and he was darkness.

He thought, I have nothing to kill or to love, and felt empty.

He woke up and dreamed of. Waking up. Waking up, and waking up, and peeling back the layers of the world until he found the centre, which would contain himself, only.

His given name would be William. As a child, he would often try and look directly at the sun, although he had been warned against doing so. He would marvel at its roundness. He would love-

No. Please.

*

The dream was foremost in his mind for days.

On a Tuesday, not in any stage of inebriation for once but feeling disassociated from himself irregardless, he headed on over to the Slayer's house. Didn't know what he was going to say to her, really, just wanted to tell her to quit messing about in his head. You bitch. You bitch. He imagined being inside of her, her head thrown back, all caught up in the throes of it, and he'd snap her neck then, when she wasn't looking. His hands trembled guilty and hot at the thought, and he was painfully hard, suddenly. He went behind a tree and jerked himself off.

Emptily, he then decided the thing to do was probably just to head on home.

The fledge, Nick, was there, watching SNL without any sound. "'M going to get you killed," Spike said with sudden certainty. He wasn't sure if he cared, but he could already envision the death scene, the passionless passion play. Less than five seconds: wood tearing through flesh and heart muscle and that would be that. He could nearly taste the ash on his tongue, like so much nothing. He could have been imagining his own ending.

"No. You won't."

"Oh?"

"I got myself killed once already, you know." Spike stared at him thoughtfully. "Aw, c'mon. You didn't want it, when it was your turn?"

"I wanted it. But I'm- there's something wrong with me." The dream rose again in his mind.

"Yeah," Nick was saying. "With me, I was just upset with my grades. I mean, I had to get all A's. I had to get out of this town. All my friends were dying, and everything was always going to shit. I had to get out. But it didn't look like that was going to happen. So that's why things worked out the way they did, I guess." He shrugged. "And now I'm stuck here for always."

Spike remembered to close the door. "Well, that's pathetic, that is." If he had have cared, he supposed such a sorry, pointless little tale would have tugged at him. Things did tug at him, after all, no matter what she thought.

"I thought you'd be different," the boy informed him then. "You have this- reputation. I thought you'd kill me as soon as I spoke to you." He picked at the arm of his sweatshirt, which was frayed. He couldn't have been much older than Dawn when he'd been turned. Was still caught between boyhood and manhood, coltish legs and a long face, and he'd never grow into himself, now.

"My reputation isn't me," Spike said, not at all profoundly, and frowned. "'Cept sometimes it is, of course."

Nick shrugged, the way Spike had noticed he did. "You get in any trouble tonight?"

"No. A bit. Only one little tussle. A rib's broken, maybe." He felt at it. "Just fractured."

"Ah," Nick said. Spike sat down next to him, noting that his hand was looking better even if the pain from his ribs negated such a development. Will Ferrell was on the telly.

Another repeat, Spike thought dully. Nick was unzipping something.

*

He awoke much later to movement, felt but not seen. They strode like men, but they weren't men. Vamps. He sensed at least six of them, the devil's digit. Regardless, it was too many. They weren't fledges - they were too quiet, too synchronized for that.

He made for the tunnels, not opening his eyes until he was already on his feet. One of them caught his arm, too quick for a fledgling, too, and Spike backhanded him so that his neck snapped back, nice and audibly. It felt good, save for his bad hand, which sang crossly at him over the misuse.

Was really a shame to run, Spike thought momentarily, when it would probably be such an inspiring altercation, but then survival instinct kicked in and he did what his body told him to.

It turned out to be a good move. In the tunnels his feet sloshed through dirty water, and twice he almost stumbled, as that rib made his side twinge, tight and burning, so it felt as if he had a stitch in his side. By the time he'd lost them and he could stop, he was panting just as if he had to. He braced his palms on his calves and spit some blood, a bit furious with himself.

When he reached the end of the tunnel he was in at present, Nick was standing at the mouth of it. "I've been looking for you. I heard-"

"You knew about tonight?" Spike was a tad unsettled by this. Nick was entirely too smart for a fledgling. "No, not before you left, right? Or else you wouldn't have left. Got yourself killed for sure."

Nick regarded him. "I think we're all in love with the idea of death. Just comes with being dead, I figure."

"Oh, sod off. Sod off. You think all you want."

"Why else would you fall in love with the Slayer?" Nick seemed honestly curious.

Spike kicked some tepid water at him. It was childish but he couldn't have cared less. "I fell in love with her because I'm stupid. All right? That's plausible, isn't it? Sod off."

"It's plausible," Nick agreed, wiping his face off. Spike was placated by this. He went over to Nick and grabbed him by the chin, thumb pressing down on his lower lip, to the teeth. Drawing him into the kiss the best way, slowly and painfully. "I know when we do this, you think of her," Nick interrupted then.

Spike paused, close to that other face. That was true, he did think of her, though mostly he thought of himself, of no longer being himself, of kissing Nick and being just that, a mouth kissing another mouth. Was that how Buffy felt, with him? He didn't know, but he did know it was about time to remake himself again. Was just that he was unsure on how to accomplish such a feat. He did not say this. "Does that bother you?"

"No," Nick said, though for the first time there was a flash of something in his eyes, like ire. Pretty.

Spike considered him. "It doesn't bother you that I could never love you?"

Nick jerked, as if found out. "Who said anything about- that?"

"She did, of course," Spike said unkindly. "Come on, now, give us a kiss."

Nick jerked once more before complying, a miniscule changing of position, one that betrayed him nevertheless. I can hurt you now, Spike thought sickly, though with no small amount of satisfaction. Was that how she felt?

*

Nick's place was about what Spike had envisioned. The loft of a condemned building, sun-slick and treacherous at high noon, which was when Spike awoke with a dreamless head. He licked dry lips unconsciously at the scent of fresh blood.

The boy was standing above him, arm wrapped tight around a girl like she was his date for the prom. She clung right back to him, no matter that he might as well have had the butt of a gun to her head, having nothing else to cling to. When Nick plied her off of him she pitched right onto Spike's lap.

Spike didn't move, not at first. Her neck bled sluggishly from two clean puncture holes, like something out of Brahm Stoker. He felt ridiculous, and indolent with having just woken up besides.

"Come on, Spike," Nick intoned. "What Would Buffy Do?"

Spike moved then: the girl's head onto the pillow by yanking on her hair, and rose, yanking on Nick's in much the same fashion. His hair was still downy, like a child's. Spike wanted to tear it out, and did, half of a handful. Nick stumbled back and away from him to stand at the edge of the sunlight. He looked at his feet.

"We're not going to talk about her anymore," Spike told him. "Ever again."

"That's a long time," Nick pointed out.

"Yes it is," Spike said. For absolutely no reason, he had that stitch-in-his-side feeling again. Breathing hard, he went back over to the girl, who was dead by that time but still agreeably warm, turned her over, and tore her throat out.

*

Just as he'd felt those vamps, he felt the Slayer when she was still at quite a distance. He debated hightailing it in the same manner he had the night before, but ruled that out on account of him not being able to stand himself already.

It was still that night; the air clung to the skin just as steam would have. When she finally came into view he saw the sweat glimmering on her forehead the way it did during sex, and it gave him pause. Her step faltered too, and he knew there was still time to fuck off to parts unknown. But he waited too long, just like always, and then she was standing right in front of him.

"Hullo Buffy," he said quietly.

She swiped her wrist across that forehead, and then across her mouth, oddly. "You've got some blood-" she began at his incomprehension.

He wiped it away hurriedly with his mottled hand, and then shoved that hand behind him when he saw her watching him. There was a bit of aversion in her gaze, but no more so than usual. Not a smidge of suspicion. He didn't know whether or not to be disappointed.

She shifted. "You still haven't been around to see Dawn. Just- to break my lamp."

"Yeah. Can get you some dosh for that. If you'd accept it."

"I wouldn't," she said coolly, then, "Look. About seeing Dawn. I don't mind you doing that."

"Ta very," he said. He wanted to tear her throat out. But, no. No he didn't. He wanted to press his lips there, to her pulse point, maybe, and nothing more. Was the best thing in the world, that, better even that those late night smokes in the dark he was so fond of.

That old dream rose once more in his mind at that moment, as if to a crescendo, and came crashing down on him like a tidal wave. He turned away from it sharply.

"Spike," she was saying. Unfortunately whatever was going on with him wasn't enough to drown her out. "Your crypt's trashed. Did you know that?"

"Had some idea," he said tightly.

Now she looked suspicious. "You didn't- do it yourself, did you?"

He lit a fag absently, his first one in quite a while, but got little satisfaction from it. "No."

"Oh. Well, good. Because your TV's all smashed up, and I- didn't want to think you were going all Elvis on me."

"Would never do such a thing," he said dryly. He couldn't believe they'd fucked with his fucking television. That was really taking it too far. "Yeah, I'll come on by and see kid sis sometime," he told her, when he could.

"She'd like that." She paused, fingering her stake. "Okay. Duty calls."

"I'm sure it does."

She gave him a sudden harsh look, and started past him. He went the other way. Smoked the cigarette right down the filter, singed his fingers a bit. Lit another.

*

They caught him before he'd managed to finish off the pack. He was too busy cussing the Slayer out to have noticed them moving in, or else this was one of those subconscious things, the animus rebelling against something or other, and he wanted it. It was difficult to say at times, just what it was that he wanted.

And wasn't that an understatement, Spike thought, face in the dirt. Where you belong, he pictured her saying, her face like that of Helen of Troy's. He heard one of them nearing him and when the timing was right he kicked out, boot-tip connecting with temple. That one fell, hard, elbow connecting with the small of Spike's back before he could roll away. Christ.

He rolled out from under the body after the fact, somehow managing to slide the stake into the right place. Then he was left there, wavering on his knees. Five of them flanked him. None in game face. He was right; they were old ones. Of course he was older, per usual. Though there was always Angelus, waiting broad-shouldered and imposing at the fringes of his consciousness.

Spike shook his head in an attempt to shake such strangeness off, and one of the vamps said with B-movie gruffness, "We're going to kill you like a dog in the mud."

"Threatening, lads, but no points for originality." Spike wavered the rest of the way to his feet, and embraced the false bravado fully. "Let's see what you've got, then."

He'd managed to stake two more of them after ten minutes, but was back to breathing again. The next he was able to take out through sheer blind luck. Not just another overused figure of speech since he was actually half-blind; his eyes kept filming over crimson. Head wound. Probably bad, since he couldn't feel it at all and had no idea when or how it had happened. Two suddenly seemed like quite an imposing number.

Nick showed up then. He was a terrible fighter, much too young for this sort of thing, but had good timing and held them off just fine, anyway, while Spike scuffled about with his stake. In the dust he said thinly, "Well, that was idiotic, I suspect."

"No one followed me," Nick protested, sullen.

Spike was abruptly and at once bone tired of fighting. Time was, it had been what he was all about. That and Dru, don't forget, with her black cherry mouth and her black cherry eyes. You have to spit out the seeds, he remembered, and closed his eyes. His mouth felt gritty with dirt and tasted like small change.

Nick came over and wrapped his arm around Spike, the way he had with his prom date. Spike shook him off, hard, but Nick took him right back. "Do you think you have a concussion?" he asked, somewhat apprehensively.

"I think that's neither here nor there," Spike said, because it wasn't. He reached up and ran his hand across his head just the same, but felt nothing. Either his scalp had gone numb or his fingers had. That bode well.

"Fine," Nick said. "We should get out of sight, probably. Spike?"

They weave-walked for a bit. "What?" Spike asked eventually.

Nick gave him a look. In the loft, he lay Spike down on the bed, which was still all spattered with colour, smelling of girl, apricot shampoo and milk and blood. Spike clutched at the sheet.

The boy went to lay down next to him. "Don't," Spike hissed, anger or sadness flaring, and closed his eyes again.

*

Much later, he worked on sitting up. It was a process. Nick was sitting on the floorboards, back to the wall and turning pages, and didn't even glance towards him.

"Thought you didn't read much anymore," Spike said, resting on an elbow, nearly spent already. "What's it?"

The boy shrugged a one-shouldered shrug. "I killed an English major. It's The Plumed Serpent. Lawrence."

Spike searched the recesses of his memory and came up with bullfights, Mexico, Kate from Ireland. Inanely, he thought of Prague. "A lot of blood in that, eh?" he said finally. "Lawrence likes blood. Guess it's part of the human condition; something we can all identify with." He grinned. "Some moreso than others, of course."

"I guess so."

Spike let his eyes laze shut, but only for a moment. There had been enough of that. "You get to the part with the bull fight yet? The dead horse?"

"That happens right away." The sound of paper against paper, at once familiar and terrible. The sun was out in full force, lying hungry, in wait. Spike stared it down from across the room, trapped and restless, until his arm wobbled its way out from under him. He flopped backwards, throwing that arm across his face. Drusilla had loved bull fights. They'd bored Spike into apathy.

He didn't even have patience for himself. "Any alcohol in the place?"

After a moment in which he thought he was going to be ignored, Nick came over to the bed and pulled a bag of something out from under it. "Only have this."

"Human? Demon?"

"Demon," Nick said, impressively long-suffering.

Spike pocketed a few blue pills, and then took one beneath his tongue, sucking on it as if it were candy. It went down bitter. Nick had gone back to his book and all that blood. After awhile, Spike decided he wouldn't so much mind closeness anymore and called him back over. Nick came, saying, "You talked about her, in your sleep."

"Thought we weren't going to mention her, ever," Spike said, though he felt as loose as a kite, stringless, skyward bound, and didn't really care much either way. The talk was tedious, of course, but then again, most things were.

"You aren't ever going to kill me, are you?" Nick wanted to know, stretching out next to him.

"Could have let them off you last night, you silly sod. So, what did I say?"

But Nick was evasive. "You- You know, in the book? The horse is blindfolded, right? And that's how come the bull can get at him, because he can't see anything. But you're not blindfolded or anything. You see her coming, every time, and let her come."

Spike took this in, bit by bit. "No. Well, yes. But the both of us are predators. That rather evens things out, I think."

"I don't know, Spike. She's gonna get you killed. But you wouldn't kill her, would you? Or me, even. It seems- fucked up."

"Oh, and you're not fucked up?" He snorted, somewhat giddily. "Tell me another."

"Yeah, I am, maybe. But it's like- you really love her. That's just sick."

"Fine, I'm sick," Spike agreed, uninterested in the turn of the conversation. "Sick in the head. Sick in the heart. You on their side now?"

Nick thought about it. "No," he said finally.

Spike squirmed. He was hot, bleary-eyed, something that couldn't have been sweat itching at the collar of his shirt, probably blood. Always, there was blood.

Crisis averted, at least for the moment, he tugged Nick towards him, fumbling with buttons, wanting only that pale, cool skin on his. "Such a pretty boy," Spike murmured, just for something to say. Nick's eyes, which shone at nothing, shone at that. Oh, Jesus, no, Spike thought, but he couldn't resist. "Tell me you want me," he said. Nick did.

Spike swallowed back his next question and swallowed back bewildering tears.

*

This time he didn't sense them coming. It was debatable on whether Nick did or not.

Regardless, Spike jerked awake just in time to see the boy fall away into nothingness, exactly like Spike had imagined from the start of all of this. Dust fell upon his flesh like a blessing, but he scrambled away from it. One of his eyes had swollen shut and he saw only a dark shape before the hand that had dealt that killing blow came back at him.

He tumbled from the bed and crashed through the open window before even making sure the sun was fully set. It was. Something convenient for once.

But he didn't land on his feet, couldn't even feel his feet, had to check to make sure they were plodding forward. He felt weak as a human, flailing directionless in the black. He had no earthly clue where he was, and his feet weren't cooperating as well as they ought to.

Perhaps he should sit down, he thought eventually. Something was bound to find him and put him out of his misery. It was also what you were supposed to do if you got lost in the woods, he recalled, but that didn't exactly apply. Yeah, sitting down would be utterly moronic in his state. He'd likely tumble into the kind of sleep that would end up being his second death. So of course, upon considering the disadvantages, he sat down on a tombstone.

Listening hard to the night he thought he could hear something straight out of a horror flick, twigs snapping as a sinister figure moved in towards him off-screen and all that rot, but it was probably just the little blue pill having its way with him.

It was really a shame about Nick.

He wanted to care more. Wanted it to be more than just losing his fuck buddy. If he died tonight he hoped Buffy would care, a bit, anyway. Of course she probably wouldn't suspect anything at all for weeks, and even then might assume he'd merely followed after Angel in this too, this leaving her. Not bloody likely.

He thought again of Nick, but could scrounge up no grief, just a rather expansive kind of emptiness, the kind that brought a tear to the eye but for no real reason. He wished for his smokes and his coat and for everything to stop hurting.

Spike didn't know how long he huddled there wishing for those things before the Slayer came along. She surprised him into standing, which turned out not to be such a good idea. He hiss-winced and shuffled back behind his not-so-comfy tombstone.

Afterwards he squinted at her and saw that her hand was outstretched, still holding onto an ever-present stake, but loosely. She'd meant, it looked, to steady him. He saw this and she let her hand drop back to her side. "Fucking hell," he muttered. "'S you. What are you doing here?"

"I'm on patrol," she said slowly, as if he was being especially obtuse. "What are you doing here?"

'You see her coming, every time, and let her come,' he remembered Nick saying, but this time, at least, it hadn't had an ounce of truth to it. "Sitting," he offered dimly, a bit relieved at that.

"You're standing," she pointed out. "And you're all pummeled."

"You're so very observant, Slayer. Really you are."

She drew a breath. "Just stop talking now. What's the what?"

"So I can talk? You sure on that?"

"Whatever did this to you," she said impatiently. "Is it something I have to worry about?"

"Not as such," he said, and then something twinged, everything, and he blurted out, "Unless- Was just- everyone. Everyone wants to off me, see? Because I'm on the wrong side, depending on how you look at it, and they know you and I are off-again, never to be on-again, and so-"

"Geez, Spike," she interrupted softly. Whatever he'd been expecting from her it hadn't been that. After a little bit she came around the tombstone to face him off. "Look, let's go back to my place," she said awkwardly. "We can work something out, somehow."

"You don't want me there," he pointed out stupidly.

"Well, what else am I supposed to do with you? You're a mess." She seemed annoyed with either herself or with him, probably with him. Always was.

"Whatever the hell you want at any given moment in time?" It had slipped out before he could stop it, but she gave him a cursory thwack across the back of the head and that was that. He would have been on the ground, usually. She was slipping up, either that or holding back. He must have looked a sight, then.

"Ow," he said a bit after the fact anyway, wanting to close his eyes again. He didn't dare look away from her, though.

"Let's just go," she said finally, seemingly exasperated by his attempted staredown of her.

He went, still mostly focused on her although now focused on his feet once more as well. She didn't look at him again but kept in step with his painstakingly slow stride, anyway.

*

The Slayer sat across from him at the kitchen table with an uncompromising gaze and a wet towel, rubbing his cheek clean with not a bit of tenderness. The towel came away pink but she only rubbed harder. "Not a child," he thought to say, fed up. "Let me do that."

Not answering, she stood, puttered off somewhere. Fine. Spike laid his arms out in front of him and buried his face in them, close to the wood which smelled of cinnamon, yeast, flour, of being safe. When the Slayer pushed him back upright he flinched.

She took no notice. She'd washed the towel out, re-wet it. It was warm on the back of his neck, though it stung against what felt like a gaping gash. He tried to put his head back down.

"No," she spoke finally, firmly.

"Bugger off," Spike mumbled, but then her face had gone terrifying, all thoughtful and just this side of fury. She fingered the side of his naked throat, which he distinctly recalled being mouthed.

"What is this? Spike, what is this?"

"Just what it looks like," he said, part of him wanting her to fly off the hinges like good old times. It had been awhile. "You told me to move on, so- I didn't, of course. But there was someone. He felt sorry for me, or I felt sorry for him, or we both felt sorry for ourselves, I suppose." She was staring at him, incredulous. "I owe you nothing!" Spike hissed suddenly, on the defensive. "All you've done is- ruin me."

"I don't know what to say first," she said eventually, knuckles gone white around the towel. "You'd be dead right now, if I hadn't taken you in. Dead again."

"Taken me in? What am I, a stray? Something else pathetic enough for you to project your martyr guilt onto?" He despised her unreasonably in that moment considering he loved her so damn much. "If I had have managed to get myself dusted tonight, you wouldn't have even given a toss, would you? One less thing for you to worry about. Your little secret would never get out then. Might miss me a bit of course, for avaricious reasons, but-"

"For what reasons?"

He put his hand on her thigh, high on up, and she stiffened. "For those reasons. Learn the language."

She kicked him in the shin but didn't move otherwise, fingers still clinging to the towel as he breathed and held onto his knee and watched her breathe and think about kicking him again, or some such thing.

"You were sleeping with someone," she whispered.

"Something, if we're to be process," he managed mockingly. "And we were fucking. Surely that's a language you know. Inside and out."

Something like dread in her face then. "What happened to- him?"

"Death by association, you could say." He gauged her reaction, which was that same fresh dread. "Sometimes I'd pretend I was you, when we were together. You know, to have the upper hand for once." He was prodding her now, seeing how far he could take this thing. Her face hadn't changed. "Sometimes I'd pretend I was me and like I was before, but I just couldn't, in the end. Isn't that bloody hilarious? I think it is. I think it's absolutely side-splittingly droll, what I've let myself become."

"Oh my God," she said, but nothing more. Shocked into silence. For a good long while it would stay as such, he hoped, already regretting his latter comment, what he'd let slip. "Did you- did you love-"

"'Course not. That's part of it, see. Part of me being you and him being me and me being me, or not, as they case may be."

"Spike, you're not making any sense," she told him suddenly with reddened, though dry eyes.

"Oh, but I am."

"No, you're really not." She put the towel in his hand, moving jerkily, and headed for the stairs without another word. He watched her go, felt her go, ached with her going. Laid his head back down on the table once she had gone. He thought for a moment that his head would tumble right off of his shoulders and onto the floor, but it stayed attached.

It was stubborn that way.

*

After awhile she came back down to him. She'd changed into her pajamas, but hadn't slept. He knew, could tell. Endorphin-buzz niggled at his consciousness. "Fine," she said, just as if she'd never left in the first place, and it cut through the buzz, sort of. "Maybe you are making sense. Maybe. But you're not the only one confused about- everything. About the way you think you should be, I mean."

He rested his cheek on his arm, said, "Can't you just let it be? Never let me a say a thing. Every night with you, I'd hear how you were wrong to be with me, and I listened to it all-"

She sighed. "I know. Stop it, I know."

"If things weren't wrong with me I would have just set your house on fire years ago. Can still do that. Not entirely harmless, all right?"

"Spike, I know."

"Nothing's ever right, anyway. Not really, not with anyone. You should know that," he plowed onward to spite her and because it had to be said. She sat back down next to him warily. "Ah, Christ, Buffy. I'm sorry about before. Was only that I've been- lately I've been- I don't even really feel that way. You let me love you, and I'd be content to just be the incarnation of that wrongness." Whatever 'wrong' was. It shouldn't have even been in his vocabulary.

"I know," she repeated, very subdued now. "Listen, dawn will be here soon." Spike looked creakily towards the window and the world exploded purple, a giant bruise. "No. No, Dawn. She'll be awake soon. I don't want to surprise her, with you being here, uh, the way you are. So, there's a cot in the basement." A pause. "Spike, you're bleeding again."

"Oh. That bother you?"

"Of course it bothers me! You're bleeding all over my kitchen table." Then she was manhandling him upright. He clutched at her waist, not even really meaning to at first, but then his face was pressed against her stomach, all that cotton and the promise of skin beneath and the rise and fall and rise and fall of it all, and he decided that he liked it there. "Hey," she objected.

"Hmm," he answered.

But there was nothing more for a time. Then, "That's what this is all about, isn't it? If it bothers me. You asked me before if I'd care if you-"

"Would you?"

Her palm ran along his scalp, found the wound, touched it gently in a way he never would have expected from her. But she didn't answer for so long he grew tired and went away again.

*

A pipe dripped, from somewhere. There was the scent of mildew. So she'd gotten him down to the basement. Was gone now, but for once he was glad for it. There was something to be said for solitude. Usually he abhorred it, of course, but he was feeling kittenish, weakened by dreamscapes and her odd touch and everything else. Shaking hands patted his pockets down. Came up with a single crushed fag, unsalvageable, lint, some more of those teeny blue capsules. He popped them into his mouth for something to do.

He'd stopped shaking, at least, by the time she came on back. She was dressed again and seemed angry. "Sorry," he headed her off, and bit the inside of his mouth.

Still angry-looking, she climbed onto the bed next to him, and then on top of him. She was being careful not to jar him, unblinking and solicitous but then she kissed him and his head started up throbbing as if his pulse were beating in his temple - as if he had a pulse at all, and she might as well have not even tried to play nice.

The kiss got harder, the way their kisses always did. She fell to the side of him and drew him closer to her and then somehow he was on top of her, calling her, "Buffy, Buffy, so golden, such a sweet little girl, my lovely, Buffy."

Serious and unblinking and terribly wet for him already, she said, "Yes." His fingers were inside of her and she said it again, and then she gasped out, "Spike, you're- warm."

"Never mind that." The fever drug ran screaming through him, or she did, it was hard to differentiate, but it was true that he was warm, head still pounding hotly and everything was pounding and pounding for her, like a song with a well-known chorus, like he was merely a boy and she was merely a girl, and everything was tidal and base and sweet. "So tight," he said into her mouth. "So vital."

"So-" she began, but cried out, cutting herself off, oven hot forehead pressed up against his own. Eyes shimmering from beneath hooded eyelids. Veins running across those eyelids, silver, frail. Keep looking at me, Slayer, he invoked. Never look away.

But when it was over of course she did. He caught her wrist clumsily; it slid slippery from his grasp.

She stood, fingers clutching her shirt closed. "I'd care," she said earnestly, meaningfully.

He thought he might weep then, as feverish as he felt, as bereft. His head was still pounding away, albeit not quite as violently. "Fuck," he said, wincing. "What does that mean?"

"It means that I'd care," she said, soft. Hesitant: "I have to go back upstairs now."

"It doesn't mean that," he said, just as soft.

"I don't have anything else to give, okay? I just don't." Tears then. Her eyes like hard little diamonds, glinting off this and that.

"But I don't need- anything," he told her, his tone now one of humming desperation, though of course he needed her. And she looked away from him.

"You need me to love- and I can't- love-"

"What do you love, Slayer? Anything?" He didn't mean to say it that way, and when he saw it hit, saw the truth in it, he wished he hadn't have said it at all.

If it was just that she couldn't love him, not now, not yet, then there was anticipation. He'd wait around, be there when she needed him, be there when she didn't, and he wouldn't mind much of anything. It wasn't like he had anything better to do, right? But now this cut him down like nothing ever had.

"We'll talk about your fan club tonight," she told him then, so that he could tell she'd gone and shut herself off again. "Shouldn't be too hard to patch up the sitch. I can- I don't know, spread the word at Willy's for everyone to lay off, or something. We'll talk." Already heading back for the stairs even as she said these things.

He was always watching her walk away from him, he thought bleakly. Always watching her ascend.

Why? Didn't she know that with love, you never had to walk away? Not really, not truly?

He'd never be able to walk away from her, anyway.

Dawn showed up next, much later. Spike had heard the school bus pull in, and so he was sitting up and waiting for her when she careened gangly down the stairs, sneakers squeaking.

At noon Buffy had cried for a good long while over her chicken salad sandwich. He'd heard that too. She was mostly quiet now.

The bit took one look at him looking the way he did and came over to sit next to him. Her smallness made him think of Nick's prom date, her hair splayed out across the pillow like a woman in a stream, facedown. No matter what anyone had heard him dreamspeak, he decided, he'd like to kill them all for making him feel this way: the Slayer, baby sis, the whole lot-

At that moment, though, Dawn leaned up against him, resting her little head on his shoulder, and he drew in an unneeded breath. He thought then that he'd just like to thread his fingers through her hair more than anything else, and did.

She smiled up at him trustingly and he smiled back, loving her, damned.

*

Finis.

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