All About Spike

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A Poor Captain
By Rachel A.

Sequel to Recursion; part of The Geek Series

Feedback: Greatly appreciated.
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Can a boy who's done all the right things for all the wrong reasons help a girl who's done all the wrong things for all the right reasons? A story of the blind leading the blinder.
Category: Drama, Character Study
Characters: Spike, Willow, Giles
Pairing: Spike/Willow, sort of.
Thanks: To Cynthia and Laura, as always, for support, ideas, and betas. And to Leanne, Lanie, and Lovesbitca for enthusiasm and encouragement and maintaining my delusional idea that someone actually wants to read Willow/Spike stories.
Notes: This is the first part of what will hopefully be a three part series. It takes place in the same universe as the Geek series. Not necessary to understanding this one, but it provides some background for the relationship.
I've been avoiding spoilers for the upcoming season, and I haven't read a single souled Spike story for fear of undue influences on this series, so if I've unintentionally borrowed elements from elsewhere...well, it's unintentional.
Disclaimer: I'm a thief. I have zero dollars. Please don't sue me.



I wanted only to be gentle
But I gave her jealousy and rage
Who knows exactly what I'm after
Nite and fog are my days

Wisemen want faith, fools want gold
Sailors want water, but you want it all

-"Nite and Fog", Mercury Rev

xxxxxxx

It's come to his attention that planning is not generally his strong suit. He's only had a few ideas that he's clung to long enough to turn them into bonafide plans, and those plans have generally ended in staggering defeat, or they've been tossed aside before completion out of impatience, boredom, or simple whim. He should've known himself well enough to expect this. But this time...oh, this time is was supposed to be different. This time he'd been prepared.

But the deserts of California are a long way from the deserts of Africa, and there's too much time in between. Too much time and too little music. But it wasn't the airplanes that killed him. It was the bloody layover at Heathrow.

Sunnydale had been the plan. Soul and Sunnydale and Buffy and Love. He was supposed to show her, to make her understand. She was supposed to finally see him and know he could be just as good as anybody else. Maybe even better, and this stupid soul was his golden ticket. His get out of hell free card. Insurance, for both of them, that he would never, could never hurt her again. Because trust...

(I could never trust you enough for it to be-)

trust was the key. If she could trust him, she could love him. And if he could trust himself, maybe- maybe he wouldn't lose his mind after all. Instant trust, acceptable lust...and fuck if he isn't writing terrible poems in his head all over again.

It wasn't supposed to make this much of a difference.

He's not an idiot. He's always known that he was different. Different from Angelus with his elaborate tortures and his stark, cold malevolence. Angelus knew no humanity, no true emotion, certainly no love. He was the real deal, and Spike...Spike had always been a bit of a poseur. Spike felt things. Love, hate, desire, frustration, need. He felt them deeply, with the stink of humanity.

Of course a soul would change Angelus, turn him into a fundamentally different individual from the inside out. But Spike- it wasn't supposed to change Spike. It wasn't supposed to make him feel *more* because, Christ, wasn't it enough already?

Maybe it hasn't changed him that much, because the inability to stick to a plan, at least, seems to be an inescapable part of his makeup. But he knows, just fucking knows that soul-free Spike would've stuck to this one. Soul-free Spike wouldn't have gotten off that plane at Heathrow and deliberately missed the connecting flight back to California. Irony- it's not just a literary device anymore. No, for Spike it's become a way of life.

The last time he was in England with a soul, he didn't do much of anything. Didn't venture very far away from his home town, from his mother's house. Days were spent at university, nights spent collecting dust on parlor sofas at ridiculous parties, late nights spent alone, furtively and silently jacking himself off to thoughts of Cecily's ankles. Pathetic waste.

Then there were those first years with Dru and Darla and Angelus, making up for time lost and needs stifled, and he saw the country then. From London to Cambridge to Birmingham to Liverpool there wasn't a brothel or a pub or an opium den left unturned. They tore through towns, gutting them, ripping them open, and while his companions preferred to work subtly and in the shadows, Spike's actions were always loud and public and very often left them running for their lives. He kept them moving, constantly moving and it was...

(terrible, vile, disgusting wet and warm blood dripping down her chin and onto her dress, and it's a white dress because she likes to pretend, and it stains when she bites into the second squalling infant whose twin brother is drained and blue in the crib already and that one's never coming back, but the one she's got now...she wants to bring it back, but it was just supposed to be a little snack, a little tea and, god how...)

fun. Yeah, it was a right good time. 'Cept for boring old Angelus, that is.

But this time around, things are different. This time he's going hobo style. He's got everything he needs- toothbrush, comb, wallet, BedHead hair glop- in the small backpack he carries, like a wandering vagabond, or a penniless college student. He remembers the tunnels, the trains, the world below ground, and he travels it during the day. He walks the underbelly of his homeland, living on the leftovers of creatures without souls. And sometimes rodents. He's grateful that sleep is, for him, a luxury and not a requirement, because there are no beds for him in this world.

But at night- at night he sees the world he never knew. It's been almost three months since he got off that damned plane, and since then he's seen Stonehenge, and Canterbury Cathedral, and the Tower of London, and Westminster Abbey, and Big Bloody Ben, and he doesn't have any idea why he's doing this because it's all been so terribly disappointing. There were fences around Stonehenge, and too many people at the Tower, and Big Ben is just a stupid fucking clock after all. But the worst was the cemetery and the ghosts who followed him, ghosts he recognized and remembered and

(killed. You killed them.)

well, it's all become more than a little bit tedious.

He doesn't know why he keeps on with it, but he does. Almost against his will. It's a relentless drive, pushing him inexplicably forward.

Tonight he's found his way to the south, to Bath, a place he's never actually been. To a duck pond in the middle of Royal Victoria Park. There was classical music earlier, at the bandstand, but it's over now and most of the people have left. The sun set a few hours ago, and it's that time between the family hour and the witching hour when he can just...be.

There's a cool breeze and some clouds gathering to obscure the moon and it's quiet and peaceful and...quiet. He's never particularly enjoyed the quiet before, and now isn't really any different. When it's quiet outside and his eyes are closed he hears the horrible voice in his head even louder, so he keeps them open and stares at the lightly rippling water, at the walking trail that winds around the pond.

He wonders if a soul is maybe just a new sort of madness.

Sometimes it feels like an invasion, like a violation. Sometimes it feels like he's been possessed by yet another demon, like there are two of them inside him battling for control and none of it has anything to do with him. None of it has anything to do with what he wants. Sometimes he feels like a conduit for forces he doesn't even understand.

He sits on a bench near the pond for a long time, until his eyes start to feel dry and scratchy from staying open too long. He sits until he hears tiny, scurrying footfalls in the distance. Then he stands, getting ready to leave. Other people are, he's found, even worse than the silence.

But then he sees her, rounding the path on the other side of the pond. It's dark here, and there are the clouds, but his night vision has always been exceedingly good.

She looks frail and bent, clutching a book against her chest and hurrying along the trail. Everything she's wearing is black and loose and practically hanging off her frame.

And she's here. What the hell is she doing here?

He considers running, because it would be easiest. But it would also be cowardly, and probably very stupid. They're both here, and that's just so bloody bizarre that there's gotta be a reason for it.

He calls out to her, says her name as loud as he can manage it, but he's afraid and his voice is small and lame. So he waves his arms like a sodding lunatic, and if she sees him she doesn't let it show. There's only one thing left to do. It takes every ounce of will he's got to make his legs move around that trail so that eventually, he's standing right in front of her, blocking her way.

"Willow?" he asks, and part of him hopes he's wrong, that it's someone else who looks...exactly like her. The other part of him wants to grab her by the shoulders and shake her until she tells him everything he's desperate to know, answers the questions that have been knawing at him for weeks on end.

"Spike?"

Well, he isn't wrong. She recognizes him, though her eyes are hollow when she looks at him. Blank.

"Yeah. Yeah, it's me. Spike."

He hasn't spoken in so long, hasn't said his own name since...

Should he be changing his name? Is that what one does?

"What-what are you doing here, Willow?"

"I...I'm journaling." She squeezes the notebook tight, as if to emphasize her purpose.

Journaling. Do people actually say that? Is that a verb now? And furthermore, is that a reason to be in another bleeding country? She can be so infuriating sometimes.

"I mean...why are you...are you alone?"

"What do you mean, am I alone? Does it look like there's anyone with me?"

Bugger. He's an imbecile. Why does he always say the stupidest

(I knew the only thing better than killing a slayer would be f-
And Red here, - you couldn't even keep dog-boy happy. You can take the loser out of high school, but...)

most inappropriate things imaginable?

"I just mean..."

"I'm staying with Giles. Buffy isn't here."

"Oh. Well..."

"Sorry to disappoint you."

He isn't sure if disappoint is the right word. Relieve. Frustrate. Confuse. Those are better.

God, Willow is pale. Worse than him. Like a ghost, almost.

Last time he saw her, she didn't look like this. She didn't sound like this. The things she said-

("Is that what you think? That you're nothing?")

they weren't flat and lifeless and her voice wasn't this terrible monotone. The last time he saw her, she was different, and so was he.

It seems like years since that poker game, since she stole his money and laughed about it. Before Anya, before

("I'll make you feel it-")

the bathroom, before Africa, and it's like looking back through a black, gauzy curtain. It hardly even looks like him anymore.

But when he thinks about it, really thinks about it, he knows that the seed was planted that night. That was the night he realized things were gonna change, one way or another.

"So what- what are you doing here in England, then? Didn't come all this way to write in your journal, I'd wager."

"I'm staying with Giles," she says again, with the same bland indifference. It's starting to get on his nerves. Not just her evasion, but her complete lack of a reaction to seeing him here. Doesn't she find it even the slightest bit peculiar? Isn't it even worthy of a gasp or a "holy moley" or a...whatever Willow does when she's surprised?

"Summer vacation?" he asks, knowing full well it couldn't be anything that simple or pleasant.

"Something like that..."

"Well, is-is everything all right, back in Sunny D?"

Did you notice? he wonders. Notice I haven't been there since fucking May? Did anybody notice?

"I guess. I mean...it was when I left. More or less."

"When did you leave? How long have you been here?"

"Spike..." She sighs, the first sign of any sort of emotion he's seen from her. "I can't really have this conversation."

Well, that's just bloody fabulous, Red.

He stares at her with blatant irritation and disbelief. She looks at her shoes. He's on the verge of blurting out "I have a soul now, you stupid bint. You *have* to talk to me," when her skirt starts beeping the chorus of Mary Had A Little Lamb.

She rustles quickly through layers of fabric, and eventually produces a cellular phone. He rolls his eyes.

"Hello?...Yes, yes I'm ready. I'll meet you at....okay, yeah. Bye."

Fucking cell phones. God, how he loathes them.

"That was Giles," she tells him. "I have to go now."

"But..."

"I have to go."

She turns on her heel and starts walking back the way she came. He has the inexplicable but undeniable urge to follow her.

He walks a few steps behind her, utterly lacking in stealth or subtlety, but if she notices she doesn't seem to care, which just irritates him all the more. Hatred he could've tolerated. He's used to hatred. But this, this unresponsiveness, this bleeding boredom, as if he barely exists- it's impossible to take. Could the soul have made him completely irrelevant?

He ducks behind a shrub when they reach the front gates because Giles is already there waiting. He seems to have traded in one pathetic form of transport for another, but otherwise looks the same as Spike remembers. Willow takes the passenger seat and, Spike notes with a small measure of relief, doesn't seem to acknowledge Giles in the slightest.

The car chugs on its merry way, into the night, and Spike memorizes the license plate.

Later, in a dingy pub on the east side of town, after a few pints too many, Spike uses the pay telephone to call information. He almost can't believe it when the operator tells him that there are twelve people named Rupert Giles in the city of Bath. Isn't one enough?

He waves to the waitress for more beer and scribbles the listings for all twelve on a bar napkin.

xxxxxx

I tried to guide my love by starlight
And soon my life became a maze
Osiris and Orion were your favorites
Nite and Fog are my days

Vampires want darkness
Monsters want souls
Spiders want corners
But you want it all

-"Nite and Fog", Mercury Rev

xxxxxx

She knows that he's been following her. It's been hard not to notice. Sometimes she'll peer out her bedroom window, late at night, and he'll be there- lurking on the sidewalk, smoking cigarettes and looking annoyed. Other times she'll be running an errand for Giles, going to the market or the dry cleaners, and she'll sense him somewhere nearby, watching.

Tonight the ladies asked her about it. They wanted to know if she knew, and what she thought about it, but the truth is she hasn't thought about it much at all. It just sort of is.

The ladies nodded knowingly, and one of them (she still hasn't learned all of their names) mumbled something cryptic about everything becoming clear in time. Then they gave her tea and fish stew and made her meditate for three hours. The ladies are starting to get on her nerves a little bit.

It's not that they're mean. They're actually pretty nice, considering what they know about her. It's just that the whole thing feels so pointless. So frustrating. There's so much she doesn't understand, so much they won't tell her, and most days she still feels like she's walking through mud and getting out of bed hasn't gotten any easier. Nothing's really changed since she started seeing them.

But it's what Giles wants, and it gets her away from him for one night a week which is kind of a relief. The house is a two-hour drive, and Giles has been letting her take the car by herself for the past few weeks. She still can't get used to the whole wrong side of the road thing, but she likes the empty country roads at night. Well, as much as it's possible for her to like anything.

She rolls down her window and lets the cool night air smack her in the face. Summer's almost over and she's still here. She doesn't suppose she'll be going back to school this semester. Maybe the day she decides she cares about that will be the day they let her go home. She doesn't see that day coming any time soon, if ever, and she doesn't really care about that either.

But, hey, she remembered to take a shower today.

"One step at a time," Giles is always telling her. She's pretty sure she's only taken half a step since he took her out of Sunnydale three months ago.

Xander keeps calling. He calls every Sunday, and sometimes on Monday, and it must be so expensive, but she never has anything to tell him. She never keeps him on for long.

Buffy's written her a few times. She doesn't have the money for the phone calls, but she wants to keep in touch. Willow writes back, but her letters have all been the same. "I'm doing better. England is pretty. The coven is neat. Giles says hi."

She knows that she's lucky. She has her friends, and they want her to get better, and they're working on the forgiveness, but somehow that only makes it harder. She doesn't deserve forgiveness, and she doesn't want to live anymore, let alone get better, and it's an obligation really. Everything she's doing is out of obligation because it's all she really has- her only motivation. She feels guilt, and she feels afraid to let them down, and that's all she feels. She's wondered, more than once, if it was like this for Buffy, and if that was her fault too.

"Leave the past in the past, but remember the lessons you've learned," is what the ladies tell her. She tries not to roll her eyes when they say that, but it's hard. She doesn't even know what it's supposed to mean. For a bunch of "wise" witches, they sure are filled with meaningless and impossible clich�s. Don't they understand that she can't leave the past? Or that all the lessons she's learned are ones she'd rather forget?

She pulls up to the apartment, or the flat, or whatever the heck these stupid Brits call it, and her headlights catch on Spike's pale face. He's standing under the tree in front of her bedroom. She wonders if Giles will ever notice him and call the police.

She moves quickly from the car and ducks inside the courtyard before he can attempt communication. She's glad he can't come inside.

But then she remembers. Tampons. She meant to stop and get tampons. It can't really wait, and it isn't something she's about to ask Giles for.

Sometimes she really resents her body. More than her mind, even. The effort it takes to keep it running, to maintain it, groom it, stop it from becoming offensive to other people- it's just too much.

It wouldn't be so bad if she didn't have to walk right past him to get to the corner store. And speaking of grooming, it's a concept Spike seems to have given up on entirely.

"Giles doesn't keep the feminine products in stock, eh?" he calls out to her when she reaches the sidewalk.

For a split second she feels something other than the numb, but it's just grossed out so she doesn't know if that counts as progress.

She walks by him without looking, and then tries to ignore the footsteps and the moving shadow behind her. If only he would stop talking!

"Aren't you gonna tell me to go away ever?" he asks.

She shrugs. "Not really bothering me."

"Not bothering you? How can it not be bothering you? What's the matter with you?"

He's getting closer. Pretty soon he's going to be standing in front of her again, forcing her to respond and interact, and it is starting to bother her a little bit. If he wants to stalk her, well, who is she to have an opinion about that? But the talking. Ugh, the talking.

"Can we have quiet time now?" she asks, quickening her step just a little. He continues to follow her and eventually catches up and walks alongside her. And he's surprisingly silent, until they reach the market parking lot where he decides to grab her arm for some reason.

"What's happened to you?" he demands petulantly. "You're all wiggy." He's jiggling her arm. It reminds her of the way he looked at the hospital that time, when she almost killed Dawn. She saw him in the hallway outside the ER, putting quarters in a soda machine, then shaking and kicking it when no soda came out.

She just looks at him silently, hoping a vacant stare will be enough of a deterrent to this line of questioning.

He stares back for a minute, and she can tell he's trying to do some weird eye thing with her, some vampire voodoo mind trick. Eventually he seems to realize it isn't going to work, and he drops her arm and lets her go inside.

He keeps following her, though. Right up to the "feminine products" aisle. She makes her selection quickly, but is unable to keep herself from watching out of the corner of her eye as he picks and pokes at various items on the shelf. She can't help wondering if vampires might have some creepy fascination with menstruation, because wouldn't that make sense after all?

Then he hands her a bottle of something called Feminax, which she supposes is some kind of cramp and cranky reliever, and says "Think maybe you oughtta get some of this stuff, while you're at it."

She nods absently and puts it in her basket.

"Okay, now I KNOW you're broken!" he announces, quite noisily. An elderly Indian woman glances at them from the other side of the shelf, where the adult diapers are. "Any other chippie would've had my head for that. Or at least rolled her eyes."

She shrugs, rolls her eyes for his benefit, and brings her basket up to the register.

She hears him making all kinds of disgusted noises and rattling the bells on the door as he storms out. Of course he's waiting for her in the parking lot when she's done, leaning against the wall and smoking a cigarette, which he points angrily in her direction.

"I have a soul now! You can't be like this!"

"I know you do," she says. "I saw it."

"Saw it? How can you see it? It's invisible!"

He glances down briefly, checking himself, she figures, for an unearthly glow of some sort.

"Not to me," she sighs, and starts on what's sure to be an annoying walk home. She really doesn't feel like explaining it to him- the way souls flicker and spark around bodies and how she sees them sometimes now, even when she's not trying. It's probably just a side effect of her O.D.

But he doesn't ask about that. Instead, after a few minutes of walking, he asks her what it looks like.

"It's fuzzy," she tells him. "Sort of translucent. And purple."

"Are they all like that?"

"They're all fuzzy. Different colors, though."

"You sure that's not an aura?"

"Same difference."

"No it's not."

"Whatever."

She stops for a second to open the can of Diet Coke she bought and swallow four or five Feminax pills, wishing she was allowed to do a teleportation. She'd send herself to a forest, or to the middle of the ocean somewhere. Anywhere without other people.

"Aren't you curious about this at all?" he asks, with a twinge of desperation and a lot of irritation. "I mean, I've got a soddin' soul! Don't you wanna know how? Why? Anything?"

"Well..." she hesitates, because she isn't really sure if she's curious or not and she's trying to figure it out. "I suppose if I wanted to know I probably would've asked."

His mouth falls open a little bit and he gawks at her stupidly, silently. Some distant part of her-a part that she's almost managed to smother into oblivion- cracks open and registers the hurt and disappointment on his face.

She remembers that the last time she really looked at him, it wasn't in person. It was on a computer screen, and she was different then. She felt things. She felt strange, watching him writhe on top of Anya. She felt a little....not jealous. Just, sort of annoyed. She'd been spending time with him, playing poker and talking on the porch and there had been a few moments when he could've tried something, but he never did. And she wouldn't have gone along with it, of course, but she couldn't help wondering- if he was so desperate for a roll in the hay, or on the table, what the heck was wrong with her anyway?

Stupid. She was so stupid. Worried about such nonsense.

She looks away from his eyes, lets her gaze trail down his body to rest firmly on the tips of his boots.

He's different, too. And it isn't just the soul.

"Spike? What happened to your coat?"

"My....what? My coat? That's what you wanna know about? What the hell difference does that make?"

"Jeez, I dunno. Sorry I asked."

She starts walking again and the dull pain that's been throbbing in her uterus all night becomes suddenly sharp and agonizing. Stupid body. Stupid useless pills. Stupid Spike and his stupid mouth. Everything is just too hard, and there's no point in trying, and all she wants to do is sleep.

"I-I left it. At... a place," he says quietly, falling back in step with her. "It's gone. I can't go back there."

"Whatever."

By the time they reach the building they've both given up on talking, and Willow has to pee. She hurries inside without bothering to say good night.

A few hours later she wakes from a nightmare with the sound of metal scraping against gravel in her head and goose bumps on her arms. She pulls back the curtain to close her window, and when she looks down at the street she realizes the noises aren't in her head or her dream. The noises are Spike. He's kicking a beer can down the middle of the road.

Something about it is just...sad. It makes her lonely, looking at him, so she closes the curtain and goes back to sleep. But she doesn't have any more bad dreams.

xxxxxxx

She turns half nude to find me naked
But I can tell she wants me in other ways
In the dark I've driven her to madness
Nite and Fog are my days

I hope you see your ship come in
May it find you and never lose its way
But I would make a poor captain
Nite and Fog are my days

-"Nite and Fog", Mercury Rev

xxxxxxx

It's three more weeks before Giles finally finds him, crouching behind a shrub near the front gate. Willow isn't home. Spike watched her drive off in the Watcher's decrepit vehicle a few hours earlier, but he's been hanging about anyway, smoking and crushing pinecones under his boot heel.

Giles pulls him up by the collar and slams him against the side of the building.

"Rupie, old boy," Spike chokes out, Giles' thumb pressed firmly against his larynx. "It's been ages."

"Not nearly long enough. Now what in God's name are you doing out here? And this better be good."

If Spike knew the answer to that question things might be a lot simpler. He's asked it of himself many times over the past month, and so far he's only been able to come up with "Same thing as ever- peering through some psychotic woman's window and wasting all my bloody time."

He suspects this isn't the answer Giles is looking for.

"It's not what you think," he says, and the grip on his throat tightens.

"What I think is that you're standing on my lawn, spying on an unsuspecting young woman like the sick bastard that you are."

Well then, Spike supposes, it's pretty much exactly what you think. Except the unsuspecting part, which he latches onto in desperation.

"It's not like that," he insists. "She knows. She said it didn't bother her!"

"She knows? She knows and she didn't say anything?"

The vein in the Watcher's forehead starts pulsing visibly, and Spike suspects he might've been better off keeping that bit of information to himself after all.

"I...I have a soul now!" he announces, in a last ditch effort to explain himself, mentally adding "That's why I'm not smashing your head open like a ripe watermelon and smearing the insides all over the sidewalk, old man." But that's not really the only reason. There's still the chip. He's not just neutered anymore- he's a bleeding eunuch.

He doesn't expect the soul bit to impress Giles any more then it seemed to have impressed Willow, but he's hoping for at least a distraction and for once luck is on his side. Giles is momentarily shocked enough to drop his hands off Spike's person and back a few steps away.

"A what? What did you say?"

"A soul. I got one now. So no more of this manhandling for old Spike. You best just keep your hands to yourself, Watcher."

Giles looks him up and down, skepticism pouring out of every inch of flesh. Spike thinks he can actually smell the lack of trust. Well, it shouldn't be a surprise now, he tells himself. He's got every reason to lie, and Giles has no reason to believe anything he says.

"It's true. You can ask Willow. She saw it."

"Saw it?"

"It's purple."

Giles reaches for his glasses, then, realizing he isn't wearing them, squeezes the bridge of his nose. He looks, for what seems like a very long time, to be searching for words. Spike begins to get bored and considers making a run for it, leaving this whole sorry lot behind forever. He could go back to London, make a fresh beginning. Start a band and become a superstar like that Lestat wanker in those awful books.

"How?" Giles finally asks, dragging Spike out of his speculative stupor.

"Oh, you know. Same old story. Wacky demon, bugs in the eyeballs, fists of fire, and presto-chango- vampire with a soul. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but in retrospect, probably should've just killed a gypsy."

"Wait, are-are you saying you wanted this? That you sought it out?"

"That's right. And it wasn't easy, let me tell you. I was forced to endure horrible, painful trials, and could've easily been killed. Plus, I had to fly in coach! It's all terribly impressive, don't you think?"

"I think perhaps you should ask about a refund. Your so-called soul doesn't seem to have made a bit of difference."

"There are lots of differences! Just cause I'm not fluttering about like a giant pansy, acting all boring and depressed like some vampires with souls- it doesn't mean there aren't any differences."

He hasn't quite gotten a handle on what those differences might be, specifically, but he knows they exist. They must.

"Yes, well, the subject of your stalking seems to have shifted. Good show."

Spike is beginning to remember why he dislikes Giles so intensely. He'd begun to forget in the old man's absence. God, this bloody soul was the most important thing in the universe when he didn't have it. Now that he's got it the value seems to have shrunk down to nothing.

"I'm not stalking her," he says, and knows that it's not a lie. If she told him, as Buffy had so many times, in so many different ways-

(whatever you think you're feeling, it's not love. You can't love without a soul... I want you out of this town, I want you off this planet! You don't come near me, my friends, or my family again ever...You're not a man. You're a thing...Last night was the end of this freak show...There is nothing good or clean in you. You are dead inside! You can't feel anything real! I could never ... be your girl!)

-if she told him to stop it, he would.

"What do you want from her?" Giles asks.

"I just...nothing. I-I don't want anything."

But he does want something. He wants to talk to her, to make her laugh again, or cry. He wants to get her back, because she was the only one who didn't make him feel like shit on purpose.

"I want to help her," he says, and the truth of the statement begins crystallizing in his mind. It surprises him, and it isn't a particularly happy surprise. But it's real, and at least it's a reason.

"You did this for Buffy. This soul, it was for her, correct? So that she could love you?"

"Yeah," Spike admits, realizing this might not be the most altruistic motivation in the world. But bloody hell, he did it! Isn't that worth something to anyone?

"So then, if you don't mind my asking, what are you doing here? Why aren't you in Sunnydale, trying to get your money's worth?"

Sure knows how to ask the annoying questions, this watcher. Is he supposed to have it all sorted out already? Know the meaning of life and which religion is right and how many licks it takes to get to the middle of a Tootsie Pop just cause he's got a weird purple thing floating around him?

"I...I'm not exactly sure. I suppose there's just some things...

(You belong in the shadows... with me...Let it go... Let yourself love me...)

some things a soul can't fix. I mean, a girl either loves you or she don't, right?"

"Yes..." Giles nods slowly and runs his fingers through his hair. "Yes, I suppose that's right."

Finally. An acceptable answer.

"What happened to her?" Spike asks. "Willow, I mean. What's wrong with her?"

"It...it's rather a long story. Perhaps you'd better come inside."

xxxxxx

Giles doesn't end up telling him much that he couldn't have guessed on his own.

The only thing that surprises him is the news of Tara's death. Sunnydale's a place where people die a lot, but Tara was...she was nice. A nice, smart, pretty girl who was always decent to him and he knows people like that die just as often as the mean stupid ones, but it's still a little shocking to hear about it. And it makes him sad. She didn't deserve to die so young, so violently.

He figured they'd broken up again since Willow's been flying solo on this trip, but for this to happen, and just when they were on the mend...Poor girls.

Very sad, and surprising. But when Giles tells him, in vague, oblique terms, that Willow got "a bit out of control with the magic" after the shooting, Spike isn't surprised in the slightest.

"Was wondering how long it'd take," he says, and Giles makes his unhappy, constipated face.

"I hadn't realized you'd given it that much thought."

"Well, it don't take a genius, old man. Girl raised the bloody dead. If it was up to me, I'd have had her shipped over here to learn her craft proper the minute she crossed that line. Didn't anyone realize what that'd do to her?"

Giles' sour expression turns decidedly guilty and Spike's sort of glad. This really is all happening a little too late.

"That kind of power, it must've made her feel like a god. A twenty-year old idiot god."

A god who deliberately excluded him from her insane plans because she knew, somewhere deep down, that she was making a mistake and he'd be the only one with the stones to try and stop her. He feels a twinge of that old anger creeping up on him, startling him. He thought he was over that one.

"I tried to..." Giles falters for a moment and pours himself a scotch. "I was so furious with her. And that was before I met the women at the coven. I didn't...you can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped."

Spike shrugs. It's true enough, he supposes, but isn't that exactly what he's trying to do himself? She doesn't want his help, yet here he is. Maybe sometimes you've gotta force it. But he doesn't really feel like pursuing the topic with Giles. There's obviously a lot of baggage there, and he doesn't particularly care about Giles and his absent-father issues.

"When you say out of control..."

"It's really not my story to tell, Spike."

"Well, she's not tellin' it."

"Yes, precisely."

Just then the phone in the kitchen rings, and Giles looks relieved to leave the room and answer it. From what Spike can gather from Giles' side of the conversation, his little girlfriend's got some sort of maintenance issue. A flood or an electrical problem maybe. When he comes back he's carrying a large set of keys.

"There's been an emergency," he says. Spike smirks.

"Emergency's taken on a new meaning since you left Sunnydale, hasn't it, Watcher?"

"Yes, well...Someone ought to be here when Willow gets back. Would you mind waiting and making sure she has her tea?"

"Make sure she has her tea?" he scoffs.

"Yes, I'll show you what to do."

Spike shrugs. He doesn't figure he's gonna find anything more interesting to do tonight.

A couple hours later, after he's made the tea and a microwave pizza and eaten an entire box of crackers in front of the television, Willow comes home. She gasps in surprise to find Spike sprawled on the couch, a slice of pizza stuffed halfway into his mouth.

"How-how did you get in?"

"Giles invited me," he tells her around the food, but it sounds more like "Guys immutted mu." She seems to understand him, though.

"Oh. Well...Where is Giles?"

He swallows and clears his throat. "Went to play with Olivia's pipes. He taught me how to make your special sleepy tea."

"So you're here to baby-sit?"

She looks honestly annoyed for a second, which is, at least, a reaction. But then she seems to deflate, to visibly retreat into herself, and it's like he can actually see the bland, indifferent mask click back into place. She wraps her arms around herself and starts floating towards the kitchen, head bowed.

"I'm sorry about Tara," he says. She stops moving, freezes completely. "She was...really special."

He hates the words as they're coming out of his mouth. Platitudes, all. Nothing that'll do her a bit of good, but he feels compelled to spew it anyway. Because as trite as it sounds, it's true. He is sorry. She was special. Stupid soul.

"What else did he tell you?" she asks, her voice low and harder than he can remember hearing it. That girlish, nasally whine that grated on his nerves occasionally would sound like music compared to the dead tones she's taken on lately. He wonders if she's smiled or laughed once since it happened. Had he been this lost and empty when Buffy died? He can hardly remember it now. It pales next to what came after.

"Not much. Think he wanted you to tell me."

"Why would I do that?"

"Because I...I want to help you." The words are taking on more certainty each time he says them. Yes, that is what he wants to do. He is a helper. A giver. She'll see.

"Help me do what?"

"Well...I..."

Damn her, isn't it enough that he's here? Yeah, it's sad that Tara died, and it's not her fault, but whatever other mess she's gotten herself into...he's not so sure. She's lucky anyone wants to help her. No one's ever wanted to help him, that's for damn sure.

"I just want to help you, all right?"

He thinks he might be able to stomach it if she turns him away, says she doesn't want his stupid help and will he please get the hell out of this house and don't ever come back. He could stand that because at least it would be an end. But when she shrugs her bony shoulders and mutters, "Whatever," something just...snaps.

"What the hell is your problem, anyway?" He stands up, pausing to brush some crumbs off his shirt, and walks in front of her, blocking her way into the kitchen. "I'm trying to be nice here!"

She makes a tsking sound and rolls her eyes. His fingers clench and itch to slap her.

"What for?" she asks under her breath.

"I don't know!"

And he really doesn't. That's what's so bloody frustrating. The only answer he can come up with is "Because you invited me to Buffy's birthday party," but that sounds pathetic, even in his head.

"Okay, well then maybe you should go somewhere else and find somebody else's life to buttinsky into."

There it is- the whine. Maybe he's getting somewhere after all. But right now, he doesn't care. Right now he's too angry to care. Old wounds are meeting new ones, merging into a large sea of pain and resentment inside him.

"Maybe I should," he growls. "You and your friends are all the same, aren't you? Spoiled, stupid children who don't know how fucking lucky you are."

He knows it sounds a little crazy, calling her lucky after her lover gets shot dead, after all the horror she's had to endure growing up in Sunnydale, but she IS lucky, dammit. All of them, with their sacred circle of friendship, their never-ending love and support for each other...And now here he is, offering his support and his help for no apparent reason whatsoever, and she has the bloody luxury of turning him away.

If her eyes could roll any further they'd be on the back of her head.

"Blah blah blah," she says. Blah blah blah.

Maybe it's a good thing that he's still got the chip.

"You're an immature, selfish little snot," he spits. "I thought you were different, but I guess I should've known."

"Yeah, guess so."

"Just thought you looked like you needed a friend. But I s'pose I'm still not good enough for that, am I?"

He hates himself for the blatant hurt in his voice, hates her for the curious pity that clouds her expression- like he's some sort of dying animal, flopping about on the living room floor.

"You know, for somebody that used to be such a loser, you've turned into a pretty stuck-up bitch."

The pity vanishes instantly, and he's glad.

"I know what you're trying to do," she says. "And it's not working."

"What's that? What am I trying to do?"

"You're trying to get me all upset so I'll play with you. Well, I don't want to play. I just want to take a bath and go to sleep. So..."

"Well, isn't that just typical? It's all about you, isn't it? Well I've got some news for you, Miss Center of the Universe. I'm not 'trying to get you all upset'. I don't give a damn what you feel anymore. I give up. But I've got some grievances to air here."

"Oh, like what? Poor me, screwing Buffy isn't good enough so I have to do it with Anya, too. Boohoo."

Good Lord. Did the whole bloody town see that? Or is that what Buffy told her? Could she have possibly seen it that way? Could anyone?

"It wasn't like that. And this isn't about Buffy."

"Oh come on. Like you didn't get your fancy new soul just to impress her. Everything comes down to her. Especially where you and your so-called goodness is concerned."

She's angry now. Truly. But he thinks he's angrier.

"I helped you," he whispers, full of fury. "You and your stupid friends. I helped you when she was dead in the ground and never coming back. Or so I thought."

"Oh, what, am I gonna get a lecture about that from you now? Like you were so unhappy that I brought her back. You would've done it yourself if you knew how."

"No, no I wouldn't have and you know it. That's why you left me out of it. Why you kept me on the outside even though I'd been fighting alongside you all summer long. And maybe that's why you refuse to see any goodness in me. Because you know that even though I'm a vampire, I've got better sense than you've ever had. I may have done the right things for the wrong reasons, but is that any worse than you- doing the wrong things for what you, in your demented little mind, think are the right reasons?"

"Shut up."

"I may be an evil, bloodsucking monster, but I'm not the one who pulled my best friend out of heaven because I missed being coddled by her. I'm not the one who wiped everyone's memory so they'd still like me in the morning."

"SHUT UP!"

"You know what, I didn't have a soul. What's your excuse?"

"I don't KNOW! Okay? I don't..."

She starts backing away from him and her hands fly up to her face. Her eyes tear up and her lips start quivering and, oh bugger, she's going to cry. She's gonna cry and make him feel bad for yelling and...No. No, he's not gonna let that happen. Screw the soul. He's mad, and he's not backing down.

"I don't knooowwww," she wails and collapses onto the couch. She starts clutching at her lips and making these horrible noises and it's just not fair. She doesn't even cry like a normal girl- not in that way that makes a man feel all protective and big and strong. She cries like a child, with a broken abandon that makes him feel stupid and helpless and panicked.

"I'm so sorry," she moans. "I'm so...I'm so bad. So so bad. Oh, God, I'm so soooorry."

"Oh, balls," he sighs, and sits down next to her. "It's not that big a deal. Come on now, it's not that bad."

He reaches out to pet her shoulder tentatively, and she starts to shake alarmingly.

"Why am I still here?" she cries out, flailing her arms. "I should be DEAD. I should be dead. Why aren't I dead?"

"No, sweetheart, you shouldn't be..." He wishes he had a tissue or something. There's fluid coming out of every part of her face.

"Yes! Yes I should! I'm so awful. Why are they helping me? I'm so awful. People don't even know. They just go about their business, feeding their puppies and going pee, and they don't even know what this terrible girl almost did to them."

"And that terrible girl would be...you?"

"YES!"

She starts sobbing wordlessly. He spots a cloth napkin left over from Giles' tea earlier and reaches over to try and wipe her face. She swats his hand away, but grabs the napkin from him and blows her nose into it.

"Well, what...what did you almost do?" he asks. This is it. The reason they're all here. And he knows, now that the anger has passed, that this is the breakthrough he's been prodding her towards in his haphazard way.

She whimpers and sobs some more, then finally manages to choke out, "Destroy the world."

"Oh...That all?" Sort of anticlimactic, really.

"I murdered someone, too. Two someones. And I was mean." Her voice is all wobbly, like jello, and she puts particular emphasis on the mean part. Like that's the worst of it.

"What else?"

"Torture. The guy that...I tortured Warren, and then I killed him."

"What else?"

"What else? Isn't that enough? I'm a monster!"

"Oh, please," he sniffs. "Don't flatter yourself. Two killings and an aborted world destruction? You're not even Dru on a bad day."

"Dru's a monster!"

"Well... I'm just sayin', you're way behind is all. You wanna be a real monster you're gonna have to do better than that."

She looks him up and down and shakes her head.

"Spike, you're...really weird."

"Come on, give us a smile now. S'nothing to get mopey about."

"M'not mopey. I'm...sick. Or something."

She blows her nose again, and he raises an eyebrow.

"You're mopey."

"Whatever. Can I go take my bath now? Now that I've spilled my guts all over the place? Are you happy now?"

And just as quick as that, she's back to the attitude. But something's different. It's less authentic. He can tell she's struggling to get herself together and stay that way. It's a sad floundering for dignity that he recognizes all too well.

"I'm sorry, Willow. I didn't mean to...I know it's hard."

"Do you?"

"What, you think your pain is so unique?"

Try a thousand murders, Red. Or a hundred thousand. Try a hundred years of murder and blood and death and then see how many tears you can shed. See just how far 'round the bend you can go.

"No, I just mean...Forget it. It's not worth my energy or your time. I think you should leave, Spike."

"You think I should-"

"I can't do this. I can't do it anymore. Please, please just...go. Go back to Buffy, or whatever you were gonna do before you saw me. Please."

Well, that cuts it then. He told himself he'd leave as soon as she asked him to, and here she goes. He should've just let her take her stupid bath two hours ago.

She walks away from him, goes upstairs and, he's sure, hopes he'll be gone when she comes back down for her stupid sleepy tea. And he will be. Yes he will. As far away as he can get.

He'll go back to Sunnydale, like he'd been planning to in the first place before he got sidetracked into this stupid, useless trip. This fucking distraction. What does he need with it? Why did he even stay so long?

Well, except for the fact that he seems to have lost his ticket home, and he doesn't have enough money left for another one. But he's sure he can find a way back. He'll be better for it, and so will she.

He can't help her. He can't even help himself. He's become even more of a worthless lunatic and all he can do is make her cry and frustrate himself. It's starting to look horrifyingly familiar.

When he leaves the house, wiping an infuriating tear from his cheek, he wonders if this would sting quite so bad without the stupid fucking soul.

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