All About Spike

Code of Conduct
By L.A. Ward

Sequel to Telling; part of The Long Night Series

Part Two of the Long Night Series.
SPOILERS: After Life (though revamped at little -- ignore the pun)
SUMMARY: Spike at Caritas and. . .stuff happens.
DISTRIBUTION: Sure. Take it. Wouldn't mind knowing where you took it though.
DISCLAIMER: Not mine. Never mine. They belong to Joss, but I just had to play.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Technically this is a sequel to my fic "Telling" but it also works as a post "After Life" if on the drive to L.A. to drop Buffy off at the Hyperion, Spike and Buffy had basically the same conversations they had on the show.

Out the you of yesterday
the leavings of yourself
the you that never was you

Pick up the dice
rattle the numbers
let fly your choice

DO. . .

"Out The You of Yesterday"
Liliane Lijn

Lorne watched the vampire and the chaos demon playing pool.

It sounded like a joke. Two demons and a vampire in a pool hall. . .except this wasn't a pool hall. It was a billards room, and if someone wanted to know the difference Lorne would wag his finger and say, "Style, honey. It's all about style."

Dramatic lighting, dark walnut tables with scarlet felt, and nineteenth century reproduction bar stools beside an antique English bar created the appearance of a nineteenth century gentleman's club. Given the longevity of most species of demons, it was safe to say many of Lorne's customers *remembered* the nineteenth century, so he had made every effort to ensure an authentic appearance when he had added the billiards room to the rear of Caritas.

Lorne's green face lit with a satisfied smile as he stirred a swizzle stick in his gin and tonic. Everything about the newly refurbished Caritas had style. Then he heard the off key warbling of the Uurlac demon on the karaoke stage and decided everything had style except a few patrons. . . though that was not a thing the vampire Lorne had been observing needed to worry about.

Even if the vampire had a bit of the 80's punk left in him, the bleached blond bloodsucker carried it well, and in the end style was more about presence than fashion. This vampire had presence.

Then again, most of the old ones did. It took a certain shrewdness of character and strength of will for a vamp to survive more than forty or fifty years. They were a back stabbing lot and most other demons took little heed of them. Then there were all of their weaknesses--sunlight, crosses, holy water. No, for all the promise of 'eternal life' most vamps were gifted only a few decades of carnage then dusted -- except the strong ones, the lucky ones, or the smart ones. It was to the vamp's advantage to be all three. Still, that meant old ones were rare and likely to be formidable. . .and probably knew enough not to be a slave to the latest fads. They knew what worked for them and stuck to it.

Lorne sipped his drink. Yes, black leather worked for this one, and the demon found himself wondering what the vampire thought of interspecies relationships.

"Hi there."

Lorne turned to find a dark haired, human woman grinning at him.

"Hi there, gorgeous." He eyed Cordelia Chase. "That's quite the outfit you have there."

"You like?" Cordy turned to model the slinky black halter dress. It hugged her in all the right places, and Cordy had very nice places to hug. Even the Uurlac demons were noticing, and they were xenophobes.

"Is it new?" Lorne asked.

"Oh yeah. And expensive too. And--" Cordy's glee was obvious "--matching shoes. See." Strappy stiletto heeled sandals graced her well pedicured feet.

'Mmm-hmm, and what has Angel done now?"

Cordy plucked an olive from the bartending tray. "Disappeared for three days to clear out a vampire nest without signing payroll."

"And this was payback?"

"With interest."

"I see. So why waste all that gloss and glamour here, sweetie? Shouldn't you be at some human nightclub showing off?"

"I'm looking for Angel."

"Angel left an hour ago. Said you called about some Fyrll demon."

Cordy's jaw dropped. "What?"

"You didn't call?"

"No, I called. I just--" She stamped her foot. "I said I was going to collect the money we were owed for *killing* the Fyrll demon. Angel was supposed to meet me here." Cordy hopped to sit on one of the bar stools. "I thought vampires were supposed to have super special hearing. Must be a myth. Turns out they're as deaf as every other kind of male."

"Sorry, sweetie, anything I can do?"

Cordy arched a brow. "What are you drinking?"

There was a shriek from the other side of the room as the Chaos demon and the vampire circled each other in a predatory manner that clearly frightened the effeminate and excitable Gelf who stood near them.

The vampire straightened his leather duster. "Not my fault you bet more than you could afford to lose."

The demon protested in the string of consonants that made up his native language. However, the vampire didn't appear to need an interpreter and answered in a rough and tumble Brit accent, "What I'm saying, mate, is a welcher is a welcher no matter how big he is."

Again the Chaos demon muttered something Lorne could not understand, but the vampire refused to back down.

"Am I willin' to fight over it?" The vamp laid his pool cue across the table. "Yeah, I'm willin' to fight over it."

Lorne moved to prevent the pending fight. So far there had been no violence, but it was clearly on its way. As he stood Cordy grabbed his arm. "Spike!" she squeaked.

Lorne glanced over his shoulder at his lovely human companion. "Spike what, hon?"

Cordy didn't look up as she dug through her purse. "Spike *who* Spike."

Well that clarified. . .nothing.

Lorne touched Cordy's arm and asked, "Who or what is a spike?"

She pointed at the black clad vampire. "Him. There. That's a Spike." Cordy jumped off her bar stool. "I need to call Angel."

Lorne watched as the vampire bristled under his large opponent's insults. It didn't take a psychic to see where this fight would lead. Still, being on first person speaking terms with fate, Lorne was left with no doubts as to how this particular fight would end. He'd seen it more than an hour earlier when the Chaos demon had performed an ear splitting rendition of "The Way We Were." Listening to the demon now, Lorne suspected the horned monster had learned the lyrics phonetically...which explained why 'laughter' had sounded so much like 'slaughter.'

Lorne patted Cordy's hand. "You go and find a phone. I'll see what I can do to let the hot air out of the room."

"Be careful," she warned. "Spike can be dangerous."

Lorne frowned. "Just how well do you know the blonde cutie?"

"He's not cute." She paused. "Okay, so he's cute but only if you ignore the killer part. And to answer your question, I know Spike well enough to have been impaled on rebar because of him."

"He impaled you?" An unusually dark emotion bubbled inside Lorne. He didn't like the idea of Cordelia being hurt.

"Um, not exactly. Spike kidnapped an old boyfriend of mine."

Lorne laid a sympathetic hand on Cordy's shoulder, "Did the vampire kill him?"

"No. Worse. Spike locked Xander in a room with a witch who had a crush on him--and I found Xander and Willow in full spit swap!"

"Did *you* kill this boyfriend?"

Cordy shook her head. "Thought about it but fell through some stairs and became a Cordy shish kabob instead. Not exactly one of the better days of my life, and all because Spike wanted some stupid love spell to win back Drusilla."

"Wait." Lorne searched his memory. "Drusilla. Why does that name sound familiar?"

"Crazy girl who re-vamped Darla, went on a killer shopping spree and topped it off with a lawyer buffet."

"Oh. That Drusilla."

"Yeah. That Drusilla, that Darla, and that Spike. With Angel they made quite the fearsome foursome in the bad old days."

Lorne pursed his lips. "So you're saying..."

"That Spike and Angel are 'family' in that twisted undead way."

"And having seen what the rest members of the family can do. . ."

"I'll go call Angel."

Cordy slipped from the room as Lorne made his way toward the vampire and the Chaos Demon. "Excuse me, gentlemen," Lorne interrupted the posturing duo. "It is clearly posted that fighting is not allowed inside Caritas."

Spike tilted his head to the side. "Who would make such a nancy boy rule?"

"I made it. And anyone violating it will be shown the door."

The Chaos demon chuckled at the vampire's expense, but Lorne wasn't amused. "And you," he wagged his finger at the horned demon. "You've been banned here and you know it. You ate one of my bartenders as he was leaving the bar last week. Bartenders are *not* on the menu." Lorne pointed toward the door. "Go."

The Chaos demon looked offended.

"Do I *really* need to call a bouncer?" Lorne asked. "Last time I checked, Kurt was hoping to update his décor by having an eight pointer mounted over his mantle."

The Chaos demon looked confused.

Spike began counting the Chaos demon's horns. "One, two, three, four--"

The demon turned and left. Spike shrugged, picked up his pool cue, and neatly sank the eight ball in the corner pocket.

With an uncharacteristic frown marring Lorne's pleasant green features, he asked, "Was that really necessary?"

Spike cocked his head to the side. "Was what necessary?"

"Threatening a fight."

"Oh, that." Spike collected the balls from the billiard table's pockets and rolled them across the scarlet felt. "Fights aren't necessary. Just fun."

"That particular brand of fun isn't allowed inside Caritas."


Spike produced a pack of cigarettes, but Lorne stopped him. "*That* brand of fun also isn't allowed."

The vampire cursed. "Bleedin' hell. Got something against Marlboros?"

"By brand, no? All brands are banned."

The vamp looked stunned. "You're kidding, right? This is a bar! 'Course you smoke in a bar."

"Not this bar."

Spike stepped back, his expressive face showing confusion and frustration. "Is there some strange health ordinance? 'Cause I gotta remind you--this is a *demon* bar. You just threw out a bloke for eating a bartender for Christ's sake. You *can't* be worried about the population's health."

Lorne crossed his arms. "My bar. My rules. Besides if you light up here, you may literally light up. I have a little anti-smoking spell going with a few Furies."

The vampire suddenly stood totally still then cocked his head to the side. "Three brick stupid bints?"

"You know them?"

"Spent a perfectly nauseating fortnight watching them salivate over my grandsire." Spike began pacing. "Did I mention the experience was nauseating?"

"I believe you did."

"Well I can't mention it enough so that you know how truly horrifying it was." He laughed bitterly. "If Furies had anything to do a warding spell on this place, I'm surprised I crossed the threshold without bursting into flames."

"I take it you have 'issues' with the Furies?"

"A few. While drooling over the poofter they decided I wasn't worthy to lick his shoes--not that I would. I don't go in much for that sort of thing. Told them that they could bloody well stick it."

Lorne nodded sagely. "And the Furies were offended?"

"Oh yeah. No one was allowed to question the 'specialness' of the great Angelus." Spike stopped pacing. "I did mention this was quite the nauseating experience, didn't I?"

"A few times."

"Mentioned it to them too. Furies said I wasn't payin' Peaches proper respect, so they sent me to a hell dimension for six weeks." Spike lifted his chin. "And now I need a cigarette."

Lorne offered, "You could step outside and return when you're done if you would like."

"Well, maybe I won't like."

"Maybe. It's you're choice."

"Hrumpf." Spike pushed open the bars rear door.

As the door closed behind the vampire, Lorne could not help thinking there were times he hated reading auras and foreseeing destiny. * * *

The alley behind Caritas was dark but that didn't bother Spike. He was a vampire after all. He was used to the dark. He liked the dark. It was part of his nature. What was *not* part of his nature was following why had he?

Spike had always felt he could do whatever he bloody well wanted, so why had he chosen to follow the green guy's instructions? He could have had a good row with the Chaos demon. It would have been a nice work out after a night like tonight, and--as an extra bonus--it would have been a Chaos demon.

Spike didn't like Chaos demons. A fella couldn't trust 'em.

But he hadn't brained the slimy horned demon with a pool cue, now had he? No. Spike had listened to some red eyed, yellow coated, effusive bar owner and taken himself to a back alley just to have a smoke. Pathetic was what it was. Damned pathetic.

The vampire struck a match to light his fag and wondered what in the hell had gotten into him lately. His closest pal was a fourteen year old human girl. He was blind sick in love with a Slayer who stared at him stone faced while using him as convenient ally, punching dummy, or sounding board but who barely tolerated his presence when her world was anything but walking torment.

Plus there was the fact she had been dead for last 147 misery ridden days. . .but not 148 because yesterday and today didn't count.

Through all that was magical, mystical and mind numbingly frightening, Buffy was back. . .and still Spike could not shake the feeling that he had been responsible for Buffy's death--which was laughable when he thought about it. Spike had killed two slayers outright, but failing to save a third had left him gasping for air he did not need. Buffy's death had been an open wound in his side that would not heal. . .but now she was back and the nightmare was over.

Wasn't it?

Spike wished he actually believed it was over. He wished somehow he could force himself to commit to the idea that the anguish of the last few months had at long last come to an end. He wished...Aw hell, Spike wished many things. Rarely did any wish come true. That had been made clear to Spike more times than he could count in his hundred and some score years of existence. If he thought about it much it would make him as broody as Peaches, so Spike chose to forge ahead hoping action would somehow provide purpose.

Sometimes it even worked. There had been moments after Buffy's death when Spike could almost believe that protecting Niblet and even that ragtag walking disaster known as the Scoobies was enough to keep him occupied and distracted. . .to keep him going. Only as cures went, it had only been marginally successful. When the morning came and he had been left to his own devices, Spike had been all too aware of the aching emptiness inside him and the myriad of ways his unlife lacked direction.

It seemed that from the first moment Spike had seen Buffy wrapped in shadows and light and pulsing beat of The Bronze, his existence had become an ever increasing miasma of confusion until here he sat in a dark alley realizing he had just followed the rules of etiquette for a social situation without giving it a bloody second thought!

Bugger it all to hell! How had he been brought to this?

* * *

Charterhouse Public School London, England -- 1865

"Louder and with more conviction, William."

William Blodgett lifted his chin at Reverand Thackery's command and continued his recitation. "A gentleman is occupied in removing obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those around him. He concurs with their movements rather than takes the initiative himself. The true gentleman is tender towards the bashful and gentle towards the distant. He is seldom prominent in conversation. He makes light of favors while he does them, and seems to be receiving when he is conferring--"

"William, are you listening to what you say?"

William's uncertain gaze darted hesitantly toward the school headmaster. "Y-yes, sir."

"Are you quite certain you are listening?"

"Y-yes, sir."

Reverend Thackery stood and circled his massive oak desk. "And you have taken it to heart?"

William bowed his head. Sandy colored curls partially obscured his features as he murmured something unintelligible. The reverend lifted William's chin.

"You know why you are here, do you not?" the Reverend asked.

William nodded. "Because of the scene in the dormitory."

"Yes, William. Because of the scene in the dormitory. I am quite disappointed in you."

"But sir!"

Reverend Thackery raised his hand to bid William cease his protest even before it had begun. William dutifully complied despite the emotion boiling inside him. He had caused enough trouble.

The headmaster sighed and for an instant William thought the old man had patted his head. However, William quickly concluded he was mistaken when Reverend Thackery resumed his seat behind his massive desk and fixed William with a stern stare.

William felt like crying. He did not like to cause trouble or call undue attention to himself. It seemed that whenever he tried to step out of the shadows someone stood waiting to drive him back, so William had forced himself to become accustomed to the shadows even though he hated them. It was just that tonight he could not have borne one moment more. Frederick Nesbitt had plundered Bertie's Darton's personal belongings, and Bertie was but four days dead.

If anyone had bothered to ask--not that anyone would --William would have any number of things to say regarding Bertie's death. First among those things ws the matter of Frederick locking Bertie out of the dormitory during a winter storm. For nearly an hour Bertie had stood under icy sleet and rain as Frederick dared any of the smaller boys to approach the door.

In some hidden part of himself, William had charged Frederick, kicked him, and dragged poor Bertie inside, but in truth William had only stood still and cowed until Frederick had become bored with his sadistic game and had chosen to walk away. Once Frederick had left the room, William had immediately undone the latch and lead Bertie inside.

Bertie's lips and fingernails had been blue and his teeth had chattered as he shivered uncontrollably. It had given William a fright. How could anyone be so very cold? The silent question had been followed by a wave of self disgust. How could he have allowed the vicious game to go on for so long? Why had he not helped his friend?

William had rushed to the cupboard and removed a rough wool blanket to warm Bertie before he had turned to add coal to the fire. In that instant William had honestly believed the worst was over, that all would be well. It had been a tiresome night, but surely things would improve...

William had been wrong. Terribly wrong.

During the night Bertie had developed a fever that by morning had become a cough. William had fretted over his friend's health when Bertie had missed both Greek and Latin the next day, and yet somehow William had still been unwilling or unable to anticipate what was to come.

In what seemed to be a horrifically brief span of time, mere days, Bertie's cough had become pneumonia which had lead Headmaster Thackery to summon Bertie's mum.

Unlike Frederick and William, who were considered "Gownboys" because their parents were of some small social consequence, Bertie Darton had been a "Townie." "Townie" was a term which had nothing to do with geographic location and everything to do with Bertie's social standing. Unlike William's more genteel heritage --his great uncle had been the Earl of Rutherford-- Bertie's family were merchants and only modestly successful ones at that. Bertie, a bright boy of twelve, had been accepted to Charterhouse on scholarship...and he had been William's only friend.

William and Bertie had made an odd pair. Bertie, stocky and solid--some would even say plump--had stood half a head taller than the pale and almost painfully thin William Blodgett. If a soul had been asked a fortnight earlier which of the boys would most likely sicken and die, the person would have logically chosen William. Instead, it had been Bertram Darton maliciously left in the rain. It had been Bertie who had shivered under blankets and called for his mum. It had been Bertie that Reverend Thackery and single chambermaid had dressed in his best suit and placed in a pine box.

When Bertie's mum had finally arrived clutching a thin woolen cloak around her narrow shoulders, Headmaster Thackery had sadly informed her of Bertie's death. The woman had collapsed in indecorously loud tears as the reverend lead her to a chair near the fire. The headmaster had patted the her hand while praising Bertie, saying what a fine, bright young lad Bertie had been--honorable, kind, light spirited, everything to make a mother proud. Then the Reverend had reassured her that her son had died peacefully.

William had wanted to run screaming from the room. Bertie had spent days coughing uncontrollably and moaning in either fever or pain. He had complained of his sides hurting and the room spinning. Bertie had sounded as though he was drowning in his own breath even as he lay in a warm, dry bed. It had been horrible and William had known that his own inaction was to blame. He *should* have helped Bertie. He should have done more.

He could not stand and witness Mrs. Darton's tears.

Wanting to be anywhere but in that room, he had nevertheless stood in a shadowed corner enduring each agonizing moment as his just punishment for his cowardice and the self loathing had grown a thousand fold when Mrs. Darton had raised red rimmed, tear filled eyes to gaze blindly in William's direction.

She knows, William had thought--though the more sane portion of his mind had known Mrs. Darton was so absorbed in her grief that it was doubtful that she had seen William at all. Still, feelings had little to do with sanity. It had *felt* as though her gaze had branded him a weakling and coward, and he could find no reason not to submit to that brand. It was what he thought of himself. If he had been stronger or braver he would have *done* something rather than stand and watch Bertie freeze then cough himself to death.

William had failed his friend when Bertie had needed it most...and now Bertie was dead. Not *one* of William's pointless gestures such as sacrificing his own blankets or dinner had made an iota of difference. Those gestures had come too late to do any good. Nothing he could do would bring Bertie back or erase William's knowledge that he had failed his only friend in the world.

Tonight, when William had found Frederick Nesbitt plundering Bertie's belongings because Mrs. Darton had been too grief stricken to take them away, an emotion unlike any William had ever known had darkened his soul. Anger, bitterness, and shame had washed over him in a drowning wave. William had seen Frederick pocket Bertie's two headed sixpence and dog eared copy of Punch and something dark and foreign had burned inside him, flaying his senses raw. With a cry of inhuman rage William had launched himself at older boy, pummeling Frederick as hard as he possibly could.

The action had been so out of character for the normally passive William that for a moment Frederick had failed to react...long enough for William to land a solid blow followed by a satisfying crack of Frederick's nose.

Bellowing in fury and pain, Frederick had thrown William against the stone wall before wiping his nose blood away with the back of his hand. When William had fallen to his knees, Frederick had proceeded to kick him William in the side.

William had curled in upon himself, vainly searching for protection against the punishing blows, when Reginald Holland had grabbed him from behind and dragged William to his feet. Held immobile by the older boy, William had been left exposed to Frederick's punches and jabs. He had felt a fist hit his gut followed by an elbow, and, when William had doubled over in pain, Reggie had grabbed his hair and pulled him upright so that Frederick could land another blow.

How long this went on, William had no idea. He had lost all sense of time. He had been battered, bruised, and retching up the remnants of his dinner when the older boys had grown tired of the beating and had decided to drag him down the long, dark hall to shove him into the small two foot by two foot by three foot dumbwaiter. They had slammed and locked the door behind him, leaving William alone in the dark.

The dumbwaiter had swayed under William's slight weight, and he had been all too aware that only a small chain or rope was all that held him aloft. At any moment it could break sending him plummeting to the cold stone floor three stories below. If he moved too quickly or too violently he could do himself severe injury so William had sat impossibly still.

Slowly William had become aware of the pitch, black darkness surrounding him. There was a tiny crack of light beneath the door, but not so much that William could even make out the outline of his hand against the black. The dumbwaiter swayed and William's heart was in his throat as he pressed his hand against the rough wood of the box where he sat. He had listened intently for a moment. Would Reggie and Frederick return? They could not simply *leave* him there!

Could they?

Time passed. . .a great deal of time. William had no idea how much, but he could not help believe it was considerable. He had then begun fearing he had been forgotten. Who would notice he was gone? More to the point. . .who would care?

William had begun pounding on the door, demanding release then begging for it.

No one had answered his pleas.

Then William had begun to cry---silent tears because he knew better than to let the others witness the extent of his weakness. Just as he had known they *had* heard his pleas for help, William had known they were waiting to hear him utterly broken. He had refused to give them that satisfaction.

Some time later, after snuffling and wiping his nose with the back of his hand, William had begun wondering what he could do to prevent his spending the *entire* night locked in the dumbwaiter. That was when he had become aware of a quick, light touch across his shoulder.

At first he had dismissed it. It had been his imagination and nothing more. There was nothing else it *could* be. Nothing else was there. William had been locked in a box held aloft by little more than glorified string. The only thing he need fear was tumbling into the cellars. . .at least that's what William told himself in his more rational moments. In his less rational ones William had been quite certain someone's evil gaze bore into him, judging him and finding him wanting.

William had shivered and strained his faulty eyesight in a futile attempt to see in the dark even as he reassured himself there was nothing to see. There was no such thing as demons, gremlins, and ghosts. They were the stuff of nightmares and superstition, figments of a childish imagination. . .but everything was black and still and silent, and no matter how valiantly William tried to chase away his fears, panic rose inside him, choking him.

Again something had brushed across William's shoulder then the scruff of his neck. He had batted at it even as it found its way beneath his collar.

A spider? A ghost? Did it matter?!

William had screamed and instinctively tried to stand, banging his head against the top of the dumbwaiter and making him see stars. He had swatted as his neck as dumbwaiter gave a stomach jolting lurch, falling a couple of feet and making William aware--indeed, quite certain-- that his life was in real danger. If the rope gave way he would crash into the bottom of the shaft and. . .

William had clawed at the door. "Let me out!" he had screamed. "In God's mercy, let me out!" His nails had become bloodied from tearing at the wood. "Let me out!"

Suddenly, Reverend Thackery had thrown open the doors, and William had tumbled in shivering ball of hurt and fear at the headmaster's feet. Frederick and Reggie had stood only a few feet away snickering and openly enjoying William's humiliation and defeat.

The reverend had shooed away bystanders before demanding that Frederick, Reginald, and William follow him down the stairs. After seating them in the hallway the headmaster had explained he would speak to each boy privately.

William had not been privy to what Reverend Thackery had said to his tormenters. He had only seen Frederick and Reggie leave the library looking duly chastened as they cast William baleful glances. Once the older boys had disappeared up the stairs, William had been summoned into the headmaster's private study.

"William, do you know why I asked you to recite the virtues of a gentleman?" the reverend asked.

William bowed his head. "Because my behavior was unseemly. I should not have resorted to fisticuffs with Frederick."

The headmaster sighed. "That is not precisely the lesson I was attempting to teach you. Though, yes, it is quite unseemly behavior and is beneath you." The headmaster leaned back into his chair. "Look at me, William. I understand why you did what you did. It was an understandable if ill advised action. What I am attempting to impress upon you is such a reaction will gain you nothing and indeed could lead you to harm."

Thackery stood. "Frederick and Reginald are older than you. They are stronger than you. They can inflict great damage upon your person if you give them cause."

William glanced in the headmaster's direction and began to protest, "But--"

Again the headmaster raised his hand. "No, William. Save your protests. I am only stating fact. Beware Frederick, Reginald, and his ilk. Those boys are uncivil, unreasonable louts who seek only to subjugate those around them. Do not be swayed by their judgments of you, and do not sink to their level. You, my boy, are capable of accomplishing much good in this world--if only you will allow yourself to achieve it. You are clever and with proper instruction, will grow to be an intelligent and insightful young man. Do not let their bullying send you down the wrong path. Do not sink to their level. Use you wits, William. They are your greatest assets. You are what you create yourself to be. Now, begin again."

With his chin held high William trained his gaze on the landscape painting behind the headmaster's shoulder and continued his recitation. "A gentleman has no ears for slander or gossip. He never insinuates evil which he dare not say out. From long-sighted prudence, he observes the maxim that we should ever conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend. He has too much good sense to be affronted by insults. He is too well employed to remember injuries, and too indolent to bear malice. He submits to pain, because it is inevitable, to bereavement, because it is irreparable, to death because it is his destiny. . ."

* * *

Spike tossed his fag onto the pavement and wondered why tonight of all nights he was bothered by William the Bloody. Those memories were more than a century and a lifetime ago. None of it mattered now.

He lit another cigarette.

As a general rule, Spike did a fairly impressive job of repressing those antiquated memories even if he could never quite quash the wanker-like penchant for sentimentality. But why *those* memories, and why tonight?

Stupid question. Buffy had come back.

Willow had invoked some spell and--poof!--the Slayer had returned. Buffy had stood before him looking small, frail, and lost with huge haunted eyes. But it was *her!* It was really her and Spike's heart had sung though he could see Buffy's was doing nothing of the sort. . .and upon witnessing her pain, his own joy had died a quick, brutal death.

Spike had longed to touch her, to wrap his arms around her, to reassure himself that she was real. He hadn't of course. It would have been an intrusion upon her, so he had kept a respectful distance and when the shock of her return had faded he had watched her adoringly, warily, and pained by the confusion in her eyes.

Bugger it all to hell. Typical. One of his most deeply cherished dreams had been brought to life and it was not at all as he had imagined. Instead of the miracle of Buffy's return bringing relief and joy, it brought fear and yet more pain. Buffy was not happy. Her gaze spoke of an agony so great that for a moment Spike had thought it was physical. It had not been, but he knew better than most that there were times when physical pain was easier to bear than the emotional kind. And. . .and. . .

It was enough to make a vampire laugh at his own perverted, insane existence. Spike had wanted to HELP her, to make the pain go away, to do something, to say something to bring the life and light -- hell even fire and contempt -- back to her eyes. Instead he had stood watching her, feeling much the same as William the Bloody had felt staring at Bertram Darton's shivering small form. William had seen Bertie's agony but had no way of helping ease it. William had felt--no, he had *known*--he had failed his friend. And though he had tried desperately to push it away, William had somehow known the worst was still yet to come. Worst of all, William had been incapable of stopping a thing, changing a thing, or saving anyone--not even himself.

It bloody well bit the big was what it did.

It was pain and grief and helplessness all combined. It was caring so much you hurt and knowing there was more hurt to come. It was something a vampire was *not* supposed to feel.

That was part of the lure of becoming a creature of the night. All that. . .that. . .*stuff* fell away. It became inconsequential. Uncertainty became others' problems, not your own. *You* enjoyed chaos, fear, violence, and death. You did not wonder about consequences until they made you sleepless and sick. You did not grieve until it left you hollow and lost. You did not have your heart torn out by the doe eyed gaze of a young girl who needed your protection, or the exhausted and haunted look of a young woman who shouldered a lifetime's worth of pain in the brief span of twenty years.

Bugger it. This was *not* who he was supposed to be and yet here Spike stood not knowing what to do or where to go to set things right -- RIGHT for God's sake! What in all that was unholy was *he* doing wondering about what was right?

Out of the corner of his eye Spike saw a hulking figure lumber into the alley. Demon. Probably a scavenger of some sort.

Spike sank back into the shadows, blending with the night and allowing the bloke to go on his way. Spike didn't wish to become involved. . .which was the way things *should* be. He. Should. Not. Care.

He was supposed to be the "Big Bad" for Christ's sake! At best he should be *causing* mayhem. At worst, he should be disinterested in the mayhem caused by others. Instead Spike had just finished a summer doing nightly patrols with a bunch of humans to protect the helpless populace of the Hellmouth. It should be enough to make his skin crawl. . .only it didn't.

Taking a drag from his cigarette, Spike laid his head against the plain brick wall and closed his eyes. Without a doubt, Buffy, her sister, and her friends had well and truly messed him up. Spike was not at all as he should be.

Spike recognized the ache and uncertainty welling inside him. William had lived a lifetime of it. William had known pain, humiliation, helplessness, loneliness--all those things Spike had worked desperately to eradicate from his existence and to forget. . .surely even he deserved times when he could forget.

Spike swallowed convulsively. No, he could credit fate or the Powers That Be or the devil himself or whoever it was who arranged such things with at least keeping that much of the bargain. Spike *had* forgotten. For years, for decades, he had become the soulless killer, the scourge of Europe. He had cared for nothing and no one (especially himself) with the lone exception of his darkly beautiful princess, his Dru. All the love Spike had thought he had been left had been channeled into her. . .until she had turned away.

Spike saw the rear door of Caritas open. The scavenging demon quickly hid behind a dumpster as a dark haired woman stepped out of the bar. The black clad feminine form made Spike think of his darling Dru and the decades he had spent at her side, loving her blindly. . .so blindly he had thought himself loved in return. That misconception had been corrected when it had taken all of a single day for Angelus to lure Dru into his bed upon his return to his villainous ways.

One fucking day.

More than a century of giving Dru everything he had, of living for her in every way Spike knew, it had taken only hours for Dru to turn her adoring face up to the poofter. . .and STILL Spike had thought of nothing but protecting her, winning her back, loving her. . .Then she left him for a Chaos demon, then a fungus demon. Would he never learn?

Apparently not.

Fate was off somewhere laughing his ass off at ol' Spike. Spike just knew it. Nearly a century and a half of running had gotten him precisely no where. Here he stood -- *still* the bloody stupid fool for love. Granted, it was someone different, someone *better* he loved today, but the fact remained, Spike would gladly prostrate himself for the love of a woman, a certain woman, the woman he loved despite the fact it was an unrequited affection.

Silently, privately Spike yearned to see once-- just once--the *light* of love and happiness in a woman's eyes when she looked at him.

It had never been. Dru was not a creature of light... or of love if the truth was spoken. Dru was too lost for that. She only briefly intersected with this world. Harm? It was laughable to think of love ever piercing her self absorption. She had wanted to be coddled, petting, indulged, and entertained, and though Spike had the talent for such chores, his heart had simply not been in it. Truth to tell, for more than a year there he had thought his heart was at long last well and truly dead.

Turned out he was wrong. . .again.

And sickening though it was to allow himself to think it, somewhere in his unbeating heart Spike suspected that Harm was as close as any woman had ever come to loving him. . . .even Dru.

The thought was enough to chill the soul he did not have.

And then there was Buffy. It no longer mattered whether she loved him or ever *could* love him. Spike loved her. He hurt for her. He wanted to right her world for her--laughable though that goal may be-- and he had no idea of how to do it. What did a black knight know about defending a battered warrior of the light?

The woman in the alley screamed as the demon attacked.

Obviously not a scavenger, Spike though and frowned when he saw light from the street glisten off of . . .antlers.

Damnit. It was the Chaos demon.

The woman -- a human, even from a distance Spike could tell -- put up a good fight. She slammed her full body weight into the oversized demon causing it to lose balance and stagger. She pulled away and ran to the door of Caritas.

She didn't even see the demon coming. It was on her in a heartbeat.

Spike fiddled with his cigarette. This could be bad. Chaos demons were a horny lot. Not all were unremittingly evil-- but the ones who were happened to be nasty buggers. Given the bartender story and the way he was dragging the screaming woman from the door, Spike was willing to bet this particular demon fell into the ranks of the "evil."

Spike dropped his cigarette and crushed it with the toe of his boot.

And just what was *he* supposed to do about this? Spike wondered. He was a vampire for bleedin' sake. He was the creature from whom the woman was supposed to scream and flee, not some hero supposed to dash to her rescue. That was the Poofter's mindset. Evil's afoot, dash in, save the day and let the poor little damnsel in distress drool all over him. Sickening was what it was. Damned sickening.

The woman being dragged by the demon managed one good blow. Spike winced. Oh yes, the Chaos demon was going to feel that in the morning, and she may have just incapacitated the creature from carrying out his nefarious plans. . . at least his more sexual nefarious plans.

Well good. That would save Spike the embarrassment of playing some damned fool hero.

Only. . .well damn. Now the demon not only looked horny but pissed and ready to rip the woman's head off.

She screamed.

It was a loud, terrified scream and reminded Spike all too clearly of Niblet's when she had been caught on the tower. Suddenly Spike had the clear mental image of the look in Dawn's eyes when she had stood struggling and helpless on Glory's tower. He also remembered the sight of Buffy's body lying at the foot of the tower, beautiful, broken and lifeless. Would the same happen to this woman? Somewhere would there be people who would cry over her the way he and Niblet and the Scoobs had cried over Buffy?

Sodding hell.

Spike stepped out of the shadows. With a roar he launched himself at the demon. . .and found himself flung against the wall.

Chaos demons were strong buggers. But strength didn't take the place of intelligence. Spike regained his footing and began fighting in earnest.

Spike was a good fighter, a skilled fighter. . .a *talented* fighter. With a graceful turn he landed a powerful kick to the demon's solar plexus, then brought his elbow down hard on the back of the demon's neck.

The woman the demon had been attacking managed a kick her attacker's shins. Clearly the girl had spunk. . .enough spunk to get herself killed if Spike wasn't there. Grabbing the demon's antlers he made a swift turn resulting in a loud crack. With its neck broken, the demon dropped neatly to the ground. Unfortunately it also dropped on *top* of the woman.

Spike heard her screech as she kicked and struggled under the beefy demon. Pulling on the dead demon's shoulder, Spike managed to free the girl.

Spike blinked in surprise. "Cheerleader?"

Cordelia Chase looked up at him. "If you're going to kidnap me--" Her bravado fell away, and her head fell back to the ground as she closed her eyes and sighed. "Go ahead and do it. I'm too tired to fight."

"Kidnap you?" Spike asked in confusion.

"Yeah, you know, take me. Wait until Angel comes to rescue me. Jump him. Your ordinary 'Villain's Evil Plan 101' stuff."

Spike leaned against the brick wall and lit cigarette. "I'm offended."

"Hey, I call villains as I see them."

"I was talkin' about the ordinary part. I always liked the element of surprise in my schemes."

As Cordy sat examining the broken heel of her shoe she growled, "So surprise me. Let me go and leave Angel out of it."


Cordy sat still then looked at Spike curiously. "Come again?"

"I *said* alright. No kidnapping. No Angel." Spike snuffed out his cigarette and offered her a hand to pull Cordelia to her feet. "Tell you what, let's leave the Poofter completely out of it and not tell him a thing. Not like *he's* ever forthcoming with information."

Cordy ignored Spike's offered hand and drew herself upright before dusted off her dress. "Are you serious?" she asked.

Like he would tell her.

Spike gave a non-committal shrug, and was surprised when the dark haired young woman managed a soft, surprised smile. "Well great then."

Cordelia stepped over the demon's corpse and moved to open Caritas' door.

Suddenly she stopped. She didn't even glance back at Spike as she asked with evident disbelief, "Did you just save my life?"

"Now why would I do that, pet?"

Cordelia turned around and said softly. "I don't know."

Under her intent gaze Spike shifted uncomfortably. "Yeah, well wouldn't want you dead and all. It would only make Peaches all grievy, no doubt weeping all over Buffy. Not to mention me ending up with a brassed off Slayer on my hands."

"You don't know," Cordy murmured.

"Know what, love?"

"Buffy. She's. . ."


"Nothing," Cor said all too quickly. It was telling and she rushed her next words. "Buffy's fine. Everything is fine. I'm sure she's in Sunnydale slaying all the baddies like you."

Spike frowned and circled the girl. "You don't know." Well, at least he wasn't the only one the Scoobs had forgotten to mention to the gang in L.A. Spike was beginning to think the Scoobs and the Scoobies Deus never spoke to each other at all.

"I know plenty." Cordy opened the bar room's door and walked inside.

Spike was on her heels. "You were about to say Buffy is dead."

Cordy gasped. "I did no such thing. That would be a dumb thing to say."

"But that *is* what you were going to say."

Cordelia turned on her heel and began wagging her finger. "I did not say that. I didn't! I mean, if I said that, it would give you hellmouthy ideas."

Spike crossed his arms, "Oh you mean like thinking the hellmouth is vulnerable, undefended and open to exploitation?"

"Yes. Ideas like that. *Bad* ideas."

"Sorry to say, cheerleader, word leaked out not long ago. Hellions hit town and made a right mess of the place."

"And you just *happened* to be on hand."

Spike sat on one of the bar stools. "Something like that."

Lorne appeared at their side. "I see everything turned out the way it should in the alley."

Cordelia blinked. "What?!" She punched Lorne in the shoulder. "You *knew* what was going to happen in the alley?"

The demon handed Cordy a glass of water. "Saw it when the Chaos demon sang an hour ago."

"And you *still* let me walk out there?" She looked outraged.

The green demon held up his hands in self defense. "I tried to warn you, sweetie, but you were so intent on calling Angel--"

"My cell phone wouldn't work inside."

Lorne nodded. "An unfortunate side effect of the Furies' spell"

She punched Lorne in the shoulder again. "You let me walk outside and be attacked by a demon!"

"I knew nothing was going to happen to you. His blonde not-quite-badness here was going to save you."

"But he's evil vampire guy!" Cordy protested. "Why would he save me?" She faced Spike one more time. "Why did you save me?"

Spike shrugged. He really didn't like to contemplate these things. He feared if he thought about it too often he would run across some motivations he didn't want to admit. They didn't mesh with the Big Bad image. "'Sides," Spike excused. "You getting killed would only brass off the Slayer."

Now Cordy sat at the bar. "No. It wouldn't."

"Oh yes it would. Believe me, I've memorized the the list of 'what really burns Buffy.' Know it backwards and forwards and by heart, and letting her friends get killed --even when they're prats-- ranks very high on the list. Though-" He eyed Cordy. "You probably don't rank quite as high with her as Will or Harris."

"Yes, well, Buffy's dead."

"Is not."

"Is too."

"Am not."

Cordy emitted a high pitched shriek at the sight of an undead Slayer. "Buffy! You're not dead!" Cordy glared a Spike. "She isn't dead."

He picked up a handful of beer nuts. "I believe I said that before, love."

Now Buffy glared at Spike who only smirked.

Cordelia frowned then faced Buffy "Or are you dead? . . .That is, I mean, are you UNdead." The brunette visibly collected herself. "You're not a vampire, are you?"

Buffy sighed. "I've been getting that a lot lately. No. Not a vampire. Not a zombie either--though the only one to ask *that* question was Anya."

"Buffy, you're back!" Cordy threw her arms around a surprised Buffy.

Spike almost laughed at the expression on the Slayer's face. But to give Buffy credit, she patted Cordelia on the back.

Spike supposed even old enemy's could find forgiveness and least he sometimes liked to think so.

Cordy stepped away, wiping tears from her eyes. "This is just so great." She clasped Buffy's hands. "Have you seen Angel? We have to tell him."

"I just did," Buffy explained. "It's why I'm in L.A. I. . . uh. . .went to the hotel and talked to him. Met his friends, Fred and Gunn. We had a nice. . .um. . .reunion."

So why are you here? Spike wondered, but didn't ask. Reunion couldn't have been all rosy if the Slayer was here rather than with her erstwhile honey.

"Slayer?" Spike asked softly. Just one word but he felt certain Buffy knew it held all his questions.

Buffy only shook her head. She wasn't ready to talk yet. . .or at least not in front of Cordelia.

"Slayer?!" the excitable Gelf next him squealed. It stood and screamed at the top of its lungs, "Slayer! Run for your lives!"

The bar emptied quickly.

When the sound of trampling feet died down, the bar was perhaps 98% deserted leaving only Spike, Buffy, Cordelia, Lorne, and a couple of demons who looked so ancient that Spike was not at all sure the creatures had not petrified in their chairs.

"Hmm... can't say this is going to be a good night for business." Lorne complained then shrugged amiably. "Oh well. At least it wasn't a mass murder like last time."

"Lorne, is this going to cause trouble for you?" Cordy asked and real concern seemed to be shading her voice. "Two incidents in two weeks can't be good for business."

Lorne managed a strained smile. "At least no one is dead this time."

Spike raised a finger. " dead. The Chaos demon."

"Oh yes. I forgot."

Buffy arched a brow and looked at Spike. "Chaos demon?"

Spike shrugged. "Nothing to it. A poncy bugger."

"Hrmphf!" Lorne scoffed and faced Buffy. "Your friend saved our Cordy."

"Hey!" Cordy protested. "Spike isn't Buffy's friend."

Taking no note of Cordelia's protest, Buffy asked calmly, "Spike saved Cordelia?"

It was his imagination, Spike knew, but he could almost swear Buffy's gaze softened when she looked at him. It was such a pleasant delusion that Spike wasn't quick to push it away just for the sake of reality.

Cordy eyed Spike and made what sounded like a grudging admission. "Well, he did break the demon's neck." Leaning forward so she had a clear view of him the brunette asked Spike, "Why did you do that?"

Spike schooled his features to blankness. "You've asked that three times, Cheerleader."

"And you haven't answered. Not really. I want an answer."

"We don't always get what we want," Spike told her. "At least some of us don't." Spike stood, walked around the bar, pulled a glass from beneath the bar, and looked at Lorne questioningly.

The demon nodded, so Spike pulled the lever and filled his glass with Guinness.

* * *

Buffy slowly became aware of the way she was watching Spike. Actually, she became aware of the green demon watching her watching Spike. Buffy straightened her spine, lifted her chin and asked, "Is there a Coke or something back there?"

Spike grabbed another glass, filled it with soda, and slid it down the bar to Buffy. Hey, even if she hadn't been thirsty the request had sort of diffused the situation. . .at least Buffy hoped it had.

It didn't work.

Cordelia frowned. "What's going on here?" She glanced from Buffy to Spike and back again.

Buffy's kept her face carefully blank. "What's what?"

"What's with the whole not killing thing? Aren't you two supposed to be mortal enemies?"

Spike waved his hand. "Oh, that."

"Yes, *that*!" the brunette snapped.

Buffy sipped her drink while becoming all too aware of the demon's red eyed gaze on her. "We aren't trying to kill each other these days," she mumbled.

Cordy arched a brow. "Why?"

"After her being dead and all, killin' her just seems sort of redundant," Spike announced.

Buffy almost choked on her drink. "You know if you had decided that after the *first* time I died we could have avoided a lot of problems."

"Yeah, well, who tried to kill who last? If you're searchin' for an answer, blondie, I believe it would be you."

"Like you didn't deserve it." Pitching her voice into the high, sweet tones of the BuffyBot she cooed, "Oh Spike! How can I resist your big strong arms, your rock hard abs, and your sinister attraction."

He had the grace to look a bit unnerved by her speech. "Yeah, well, let's not forget the 'almost tortured to death' part."

"It's the reason you're still walking."

"Okay, time out!" Cordelia yelled as she stood. "What's with the Moonlighting routine?"

Buffy blinked. "Moonlighting?"

Spike gave a malicious grin. "You might consider being offended, love. I think cheerleader here just compared you to Cybill Shepherd."

Now the Slayer glowered. "I am *so* not Cybil Shepherd! I wear heels even with pants. And I kick butt in them too. Just ask Spike."

"She kicks butt in them," he dutifully repeated.

"See!" Buffy held out her high heeled boot clad foot.

Cordy shivered. "Creepy! This is just. . .just creepy." Then her gaze settled on the red eyed green faced demon. "Back me up here, Lorne. Lorne. . .?"

The demon looked distracted.

"Lorne, are you reading Buffy's aura?"

Buffy cast a startled glance at the demon, then Spike, then back to the demon. "You read auras?"

Lorne's green face lit with a smile. "It's my talent."

Cordy looked curious. "What does Buffy's look like?"

The demon frowned. "Hard to say at the moment."

That was a little frightening for Buffy. "Wh-what does that mean?" And damnit! Again she found herself glancing at Spike for. . .for. . .surely it wasn't for reassurance or security or anything. Surely ANYTHING but that. Spike gave that tiny, imperceptible nod that somehow made Buffy feel both understood and protected.

Damn him.

"Oh, don't be upset, honey," the demon said soothingly. "You have an aura and it's a very pretty one. It's just fluctuating a little at the moment, like you aren't quite sure where you belong any longer. You're in a transitional phase."

"Then maybe she should sing," Cordy suggested.

Now Buffy was definitely scared. "Sing? Why would I sing? In front of people--" Glancing quickly at Lorne and Spike "--and um. . ."

Spike arched a brow.

"People," Buffy repeated. She really didn't want to piss Spike off tonight. She needed a ride home.

Cordy said excitedly, "Lorne reads souls when people sing. He can tell you where you're going. What's going to happen to you.."

Buffy glanced at the demon who nodded.

She still felt nervous--the sick kind of nervous. "Sing? Me? Tonight? No, I don't think so."

Lorne patted her hand. Lorne's hand was surprisingly warm and comforting. . .for a demon. "Perhaps your friend can sing," he said quietly.

Cordy tilted her head to the side. "Now, why would I sing? You read my soul last week."

"I wasn't referring to you, honey. I was speaking of him." The demon nodded toward Spike.

Buffy frowned. Confused. "But that wouldn't work. Spike doesn't have a soul."

Out of the corner of her eye Buffy thought she saw Spike flinch. Still Spike said defiantly, "Yeah, that's right. I'm a vampire."

"And he's not her friend," Cordy stressed. "They've just taken their sparring to less lethal levels. And--ew--spewing hormones in the room. We'll ignore that part though. It's creepy."

Something flashed in Spike's blue eyes and his voice was flat and expressionless as he drawled, "Thank you, for your observations, cheerleader."

Lorne interrupted. "I know he's a vampire. I can read vampires. I do it all the time."

"Yeah," Cordelia said. "But that's Angel. He has a soul."

"I read other vampires too, sweetie."

Spike leaned against the bar. "You read the poof--er-- Angel's soul while he was singing? That can't have been pretty."

"Hey!" Cordy protested. "He's got a nice soul. It's sort of beige."

"Wasn't talkin' about his soul, pet. Though I must say, it figures it would be something as bland as beige."

Cordy and Buffy glared at him.

Spike took a sip of his beer and clarified. "I was talking about hearing Angel sing. Angelus did it a time or two back in the old days. It was one of his more annoying forms of torture."

Cordy backed down. "Oh. Well. .. I can't really argue with that." She looked at Buffy. "Angel can't sing. At all. And the stuff he *chooses* to sing. Well, torture isn't too far off the mark."

Lorne continued staring at Spike. "Are you going to sing?"

"Well. . ." Spike hedged. "I. . ."

"Are you scared? I'm really not that frightening."

Oh, now the green demon had hit Spike's hot button, Buffy thought.

"I am bloody well not afraid! If the poofter can do it, I can do it better."

"Considering Angel's singing voice, that's not saying much," Cordy muttered.

Lorne ignored her and directed Spike toward the stage. "Go ahead, cutie. Entertain us."

Spike glared at the demon then walked toward the stage.

"You should pick a song," Lorne instructed as he pointed toward the karaoke selection.

Spike jumped up on the stage and began reading the list. "Bloody hell, there are no Sex Pistol songs on here."

"Uh. . . no."

"No Ramones either."

"Afraid not."

Now Spike looked desperate. "Smiths?"

"If it isn't on the list, it's not in the machine."

"Not even The Clash!" Spike cursed colorfully under his breath.

Lorne assured, "I'm sure if your search long enough you can find something."

"Sure I could. . .if I was a wanker." Still Spike continued reading the list.

"Oh damn," Cordy said. "I have to call Angel."

Buffy's breath caught. "Really, there's no need, Cordelia. I just spoke with Angel."

The brunette shook her head. "No. It's not that. When I went outside earlier to call Angel it was to warn him about Spike. I got as far as saying 'Spike!' when the demon attacked would sort of be 'not fair' for Angel to show up wanting to rip Spike's head off when Spike sort of. . .you know. . .rescued me."

Buffy had to concede, "Yeah, it might be nice to avoid a Spike/Angel confrontation if at all possible."

"There's a phone in my office, Cor," Lorne offered. "You could use that."

Cordelia frowned. "Why didn't you offer it earlier?"

"Fate. Now, go call Angel."

Spike finally seemed to have selected a song. It had certainly taken him long enough, Buffy thought as he approached center stage. He looked uncomfortable.

No. Spike looked *scared.* Buffy hid her smile. She had seen Spike face down a horde of demons without blinking an eye, but *singing* scared him?

Spike's voice was low and soft and rich as he began. Then again, he always had that nice rich voice. Buffy wasn't really surprised to discover he sang rather. . .well. . .beautifully.

His words washed over her in the darkness. "Shall we agree/ just this once that /I'm gonna change my life." Spike's gaze met Buffy's. "Until it's just as tiny/ or important as you like."

"Mmm. . ." Lorne sighed appreciatively.

"And in time/ we won't even recall that we spoke/ words that turned out to be as big as smoke." Spike seemed to relax a little as the song progressed. "But smoke disappears in the air./ There's always something smoldering somewhere."

Buffy leaned forward. "You can read him?"

"Oh yes," the demon answered.

"*How* can you read him? How can you read a vampire's soul if he doesn't have one?"

It looked like surprise glittered in Lorne's eyes. "Oh, honey, he's *got* a soul."

Buffy gasped.

Spike sang, "I know it doesn't make a difference to you,/ but it sure made a difference to me--"

"Soul?" Buffy couldn't believe it. "How?"

"All sentient beings have souls, sweetie."

"But. . .no. Not vampires--I mean no vampire other than Angel."

Spike continued singing. "I approached immortal danger but you'll never know--"

"Angel has a *human* soul," Lorne stressed. "Others, like your friend there, have the demon kind."

"A demon soul?" Buffy shook her head. "Why have I never heard of that?"

Lorne shrugged. "Human prejudice mostly. If it's not a human soul then it can't be a soul at all. At least that's what *certain* people say."

"You sound a offended."

Lorne's pleasant features became momentarily solemn. "Look at me. Wouldn't you be?"

Spike's voice seemed to fill the room. "Then down the hall I overheard such a heavenly choir./ They interrupted my evil designs./ One day you are up in the clouds./ The next thing you're down with the Sweet Adelines."

Lorne stirred his swizzle stick in his glass that was empty except for melting ice. "Some people can be so exacting. If something doesn't fit a very narrowly defined criteria, it must not exist at all. So you call it whatever you like, if my using the word 'soul' offends you. Call it his spirit or his essence. His 'self' -- ego and id. His heart. Different words for what is more or less the same thing. It's not a human soul but it's something."

"Something," she repeated as she gazed up at Spike on stage.

Spike's gaze met hers and lingered. "There was a time not long ago,/ I dreamt the world was flat./ And all the colors bled away/ and that was that. . ."

"You want to know what his soul says?" Lorne asked.

". . .And in time,/ I could only believe in one thing./ The sky was just phosphorus stars on hung strings."

It seemed almost intrusive, like she didn't have the right to know. But Buffy couldn't resist. "What does his--" She almost couldn't say the foreign tasting word "--*soul* say?"

Lorne smiled. "I think you already know."

Know? How could she? Then something inside her sank. "It's a demon soul, right? Evil. He's just evil."

And still Spike sang, "I never thought you could be so small."

"You think it's that simple."

"It's supposed to be."

Lorne laughed. "So, you can look at him up there and think, what? His soul is black?"

"It's not?"

"Is yours white?"

Spike continued, "The answer was under your nose/ but the question never arose."

Buffy frowned. "How am I supposed to know? I don't see auras."

The demon nodded. "True. Well, I do and let me say that pure souls -- either white or black are rare. Not that I haven't seen black souls, I have and do-- though I must say I've yet to see a purely white one."

"They're mostly gray then?"

Lorne shook his head. "How boring would that be? No, it's far more complicated than that. It's blue, by the way."

Buffy blinked. "Blue? What's blue?"

"His aura."

Spike sang, "Lie down, baby. Don't say a word./ There, there, baby, your vision is blurred."

"Blue?" She repeated in disbelief. "But that..." Buffy sighed. "That doesn't tell me anything."

"Oh it does, if you let it. It just isn't what you expected." Lorne leaned closer. "What did you expect? *Really*? Black and evil? Gray and ill defined? Bright and opalescent like your own?" He leaned back in his chair. "Things aren't that simple and easy."

"But *blue*?!"

Spike's voice still threaded through her consciousness. "I know it don't make a difference to you,/ but it sure made a difference to me."

"Blue means a lot," Lorne explained. "True blue. Feeling blue. Blue can be as cerulean as a summer sky or as dark as midnight. It can as crystal clear like a pool of water or angry as a raging sea. OR it can be bright, glowing and electric."

"And which of those would his be?"

"Which?" The demon looked surprised. "Oh, it's not a question of *which*, honey. He's *all* those things."

"I don't want to hurt you now," Spike sang.

"And his soul?" Buffy questioned.

"His soul is an open book." The demon told her.

Spike's voice seemed to caress her. "When you find me at the end of my rope,/ when the head and heart of it finally elope. . ."

"He loves you."

"You can see me off in the distance I hope./ At the other end of the telescope," Spike finished.

Spike loved her. Buffy had known that. No, really, she had REALLY known that. It was just. . .she didn't know what to do with it.

What was she supposed to do with him? Spike was a creature who she should not tolerate...but did. He was a monster who shouldn't be her friend...but he was. No, really, he was. How could she with any sense of integrity continue to deny it?

Spike had risked his life for her and hers. More than once. He had stood by her side when he had no apparent reason to do so other than. . .than he *chose* to do so.

Buffy sighed and looked at Spike moving from the spotlight of center stage back into the shadows.

Spike was not *supposed* to be capable of loving anyone, especially not her. And yet to doubt his ability to love would not only be petty but blindly delusional. Some part of her had even accepted that fact *before* her death. Since Buffy had returned. . .there was no way she could continue pretending to not believe. Spike had proven his caring too often and too well.

But believing it, didn't solve anything. In fact it confused things in every way Buffy could think of. Things truly had made more sense when Spike had hated her. It had fit the rules. . .which now that she knew Spike better Buffy could admit was a perfectly ridiculous concept.

Spike. Rules. Spike following rules. Ha!

Buffy watched the graceful way Spike negotiated the shadows and silently admitted that as lost, confused, and frightened as she might be. . .as disconnected with her life as she had been since her death, something reached through her haze and touched her as being true, immutable, and unchanged. But how... HOW could that thing, that *one* thing be SPIKE'S love? It defied expectation, explanation, and imagination. . .and it rang utterly and completely true.

What joke was the universe pulling that out of all the uncertainties of her situation, Spike's feelings were the thing she did not question or doubt.

He loved her.


And Spike was approaching the table.

Buffy glanced around frantically then addressed the demon, "I. . .uh. . .Cordelia has been gone for a while. I'll just go check on her."

* * *

Spike saw the Slayer's back as she disappeared up the stairs.

He picked up his beer and drained it. "The Slayer skedattled, I see," he observed to the bar owner.

Lorne nodded. "She has a great deal on her mind." He paused. "And in her heart. I imagine being her is a confusing thing to be these days."

Spike nodded as he sat. "I suspect you're right."

Silence stretched between them. Finally Lorne pointed out. "You didn't ask about your destiny."

"*I* never needed to ask about it."

The demon's gaze seemed to bore into Spike before the creature nodded. "No, perhaps you didn't. You're where you should be. Or at least as long as you follow her, you're heading where you should be."

"You bloody well know it."

"No," Lorne leaned forward. "I mean that as in following her *right now.* Go. She needs your help."

That was all Spike needed to hear.

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