All About Spike

gnilaeH
By Kimi

Mirror POV for "Healing"

Rating: PG 13
Spoilers: For "Showtime" and "Potential" Post-"Bring on the Night"
Summary: Might want to read this first, if you didn't the first time.
http://www.the-sandlot.com/sandlot/fic.php?RECORD_KEY%28Fics%29=ID&ID(Fics)=775
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet!
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Author's Notes: This is a parallel POV for "Healing." An experiment for me. All dialogue and action is the same, just seen through different eyes. And the endpoint is a bit different. Let me know what you think. Even vampires need a little TLC. And they are a little longer-winded than certain slayers!

Thank you, Chris, Kelly and Colleen! Especially Chris, who had the burden of the one and only final beta. You kept me going when I was ready to call it a day.



On the edges of consciousness, there was music - a low hum, almost white noise, that rose and fell to a regular rhythm. He struggled to put words to it, but they didn't come. Humming soundlessly, he created a descant in his head.

Something cool touched his face. Opening an eye just a crack, he saw something the color of a soft blue sky taking up his entire field of vision. The sun would be coming next. And it was too much trouble to fight It anymore.

The humming trailed off as he slipped back into oblivion.

+

A shadow moved across him and settled nearby. Something was there with him, and he could no longer trust his bleary sight, no longer trust his perception.

It was waiting.

He frowned. Didn't give a bloody damn if the thing waited forever.

+

It had returned, casting its shade like a sapling in spring. The light would look mottled, he remembered, falling on the ground and setting up a pattern of tiny shadows. Then, the foliage would drop away as summer was left far behind - and a bright, mercilessly cold sun would cover the ground.

The winter sun felt like dying.

Christ, just get it over, he thought resentfully, as the presence faded away. He opened his eyes, sensing himself alone.

Back in Buffy's basement, he thought distractedly. Had to be. Who else's basement featured a washing machine at one end and was tricked out with manacles at the other? 'It' had no end of ways to drive him insane. He giggled and a sharp stab of pain colored the aching haze a bright red. With the overload came unconsciousness.

+

Back in the basement, slayer right in front of him. He could feel it.

Lovely. There'd been no rescue, no look of relief on her beautiful face, no small hands helping him out of the cave. Another hallucination, and a helluva lot more torturous than anything else they had thrown at him.

A small noise crawled from his throat. Get it over. Get it over.

"Shhh," she breathed softly.

Except...

It couldn't touch him. That was right, wasn't it? And this apparition was touching his hair. So maybe, just maybe...

"Buffy...?" he ventured. The words were forced past swollen lips. Of course, when in her right mind would she touch his hair so comfortingly?

He became very, very still, concentrating on opening his eyes. They didn't want to. In fact, one didn't.

What was it with the hitting him in the face thing, anyway, he thought resentfully. And not just the slayer either. *Always* got it first. One eye was obviously buggered up completely. The other, well, focusing was a bit of a trick. He tried to see her. See It.

"Shhh," she repeated in a whisper. "And yes, it's me. The really, really me."

He nodded, and it hurt. She was off her head to be touching him, off her head to sound so soft and caring, but it was her.

Had he told her? It sounded like she knew that It had been coming to him with her face. First, as the pleasant Buffy, solicitous of his welfare. The same kind of Buffy his love-addled brain had conjured up when he'd had RoboBoy make the 'Bot. 'Spike, it's me. It's you and it's me, and we'll get through this,' It had said. 'We'll get through this.' Worlds of promise in that. Promises that weren't real, weren't anything but figments.

And later, coming to him, coaxing him to feed. He remembered that much now. Wished to God he didn't.

"You're pretty bunged up." Her voice was apologetic, as if it were her fault. He tried to keep his face expressionless. Her next words were flavored with a wry candidness that stunned him. "I was just wondering if I could sit here and 'watch' you get better. Heal, I mean."

He felt his eye try to widen in surprise. What he needed was a comeback. Something witty, clever, droll even, to let her know he was better. And since getting up and walking out was completely out of the question considering he couldn't make any of his limbs work... "Lack of entertainment?"

That wasn't bad, he thought in satisfaction. Didn't come out the way it should without the body language to go with it, but bloody hell, he was doin' his best here, considering every part of his body was damn near immobile. But she deserved it. It hadn't been a hallucination. She'd fought her way in and gotten him out of there. Carried him out, or pretty close to it.

"Everyone else is asleep," she told him. He thought about nodding, but somehow it wasn't a very appealing thought. He'd done that already and it had sent shock waves through his body.

Made sense, though. Awake while they slept. She was on watch, the only one who could fight the fight and make it stick. And the basement was a part of the territory.

"And I need you to be okay", she continued. "So be okay, all right?"

Her eyes were soft and concerned. Right now, it was better than all the 'I love you's' he'd ever imagined. She 'needed' him to be okay. Needed *him*.

He wished he could get up right then, and help her fight. Of course, he had to get well enough to do it. "Workin' on it..." He allowed his tired eye to close and his mind return to the welcome state of unconsciousness.

+

His body was on fire. He'd tried to get up earlier and found that a colony of sharp knives had taken up residence in his ribcage. Or what was left of his ribcage. He suspected the knives *were* his ribcage.

By God, he'd never bitch about that Hellgod Glory's beating again in his unlife. That had been foreplay compared to this. Not as pleasant as fighting with Buffy, but infinitely easier to get over. Just laid around a bit, limped for a day or two, and went on.

He wondered if having his spinal cord severed by a pipe organ was better. Because everything from the neck down was white-hot pain. And everything from the neck up was sore as hell. His sodding hair hurt!

"Do you think you can eat now?"

As images of all of those women, all of those people he'd fed on, swirled to the top of his thoughts, he lashed out. "Think I've eaten enough, don't you?" he snapped.

She sat down on the stool, which had become a permanent resident beside the cot, with a mug full of pig's blood. "This could get real old, real fast. C'mon. Try sitting up."

No use taking it out on her. After all, she was the reason he was here, healing in solitude, instead of being poked and prodded by that damned Hellmouth offspring of his. Ugliest bastard he'd ever seen. He struggled to sit up, almost snapping at her again as she reached out to help. Several grindings of his teeth and a smothered 'bloody hell' later, he was 'sitting' against the wall behind the cot. Wished he'd stayed flat.

He reached for the outstretched mug and realized he'd spill every drop if he could even close his hand around it. His eyes fixed on the violently shaking hand. His hand! God, this was pathetic - and what was even more pathetic was that she had to see him like this.

"Let me."

Pity was not on his personal menu, thanks. He looked past the mug and pursed his lips. He wasn't an invalid. Just needed a little downtime.

"What? It's not like I haven't done it before." She sounded a little outdone. Oh, yeah. Could be the eating crack he'd made. Without waiting for his acquiescence, she put the straw in his face, then smiled. Right, then. Pity party. Bloody great! He finished the mug off quickly, just to get it over. It tasted dead and flat. And it would, after all the choice morsels he'd been imbibing from. Made him sick to think about it.

Think about something else, then. That'd do for a start. "How bad is it?"

She looked relieved. "Pretty bad," she admitted. "Although I did manage to lop the head off that cute little vampire you made."

Like he needed that reminder. Spike plus the Hellmouth. Just add blood and let it rise. He tried to get past the guilt and remember that chest-beating and moaning wouldn't do them any good. She was trying to be flippant. He could call her 'flippant' and raise her an 'ironic.' "Thank God for that," he said, summoning up a smile that felt as sick as he did. Try again. Go for the twisted smile of sarcasm. "Nasty bugger. Helluva kick," he said, gingerly touching his ribs. Big mistake. Pain radiated out from where he touched.

What was really worrying him was his hip. Didn't care to see what was going on there, but recently, it had gone from completely numb to a solid, unending ache.

Buffy grinned back. Good, she hadn't seen him wince. "I noticed. Not once, but several times."

"Same here." Squinting, Spike leaned forward a little, to examine the slayer's face. God, how hadn't he noticed? Her sweet face. There were cuts healing on her jaw, her brow. He tried to sound unconcerned. She was the slayer. Didn't need his mollycoddling. Wouldn't like it. "Ouch." He settled back, biting down on a groan. "Got you, too?"

She nodded as she touched her eyebrow. "Still sore. This one could leave a scar."

Funny. She'd been hit right where the China slayer had sliced him. Wouldn't put it past It to have done that on purpose. The thought made him decidedly uncomfortable. Conspiracy theory, anyone? "Nah. Be fine in a few. Slayer healing. Better than vamps. You'll see," Spike assured her. He needed to lie down, but he couldn't with her there hovering. He settled for slight shift of position. Tried not to grit his teeth. She knew it was bad, but not how bad. "Now. How can I help?"

Relief washed over her face. She smiled, but something wasn't quite right. It hurt him to see it. "Help me stop this thing." There was a plea buried in her simple words. "Help me protect everyone. Just... be here." He was beginning to be frightened for her. This was too much like the Buffy he remembered from the Glory Days. As she pushed her hair back over her shoulder, gathering her next words, he reconsidered his paranoia. She was fine, doing what she always did. Preparing to pull victory from the dark jaws of defeat. "I've got an army upstairs that needs training." Now, that was interesting, he thought. Armies could be good. "Well, maybe not an army," she said ruefully. "More like a pajama party really. Giles brought all of these slayers in training. Their watchers are dead. And they need..."

"Training?" Spike prodded her, though he already knew her answer.

Train a bunch of adolescent girls tagged for possible slayer-hood when what they really needed was an intervention from God and the angels?

He watched her lean forward, a conspiratorial glint in her eye. "Exactly."

Should have thrown himself in the bloody Hellmouth when he had the chance. He'd been a liability so far, not an asset. He brought his lips together as he considered that. *Had* been a liability. That could change, needed to change. "How many?" After all, help was help. And they *were* potential slayers. That counted for something.

"Well, just four of them at the moment, but there are more coming." She sounded so hopeful that he didn't dare do anything but look supportive. "In fact, it looks like all that are left are coming," she confided.

Which sounded like more manipulation and a bloody far-reaching plan to him. *All* that were left? Left as in 'remaining'? He risked a comment. "Homing in on the Hellmouth? Can't say as that's too smart. Like pigeons comin' home to roost."

Buffy nodded. "And 'home' is not a very friendly place. Worst of all, it doesn't look like their watchers were nearly as 'progressive' as Giles."

He tried to keep a straight face. "That's not good." He must have succeeded. No porcupine bristles anywhere on her. "So?"

"They need a crash course in slaying. We're going to need everyone we've got to beat this thing." She pursed her lips. "And they've been... sheltered."

"Well," Spike said reasonably, "it's not like they've been 'called,' have they? Watchers were keepin' 'em safe, I reckon." What? She'd been staking vampires at five years old with a sharp pencil? No. Until they were called, they were taught, nurtured, kept safe, in hope that one day, if they were the unluckiest birds on earth, they would live the lonely, isolated life of a slayer.

Spike wondered if dead wasn't better. Immediately pushed that thought down.

She was still explaining. "No field experience. I know you're not really up to it yet, but I need you to work with them. " Well, he could damn sure do that. Give them a real un-live vampire to fight with, practice on. He could do that, and do it well. Teach them some moves. Who better than him, a vampire who'd killed two slayers?

Buffy's voice cut into his thoughts. "I remember fighting my first vampire and it's a good thing my Watcher was there." He looked at her curiously, waiting for her to confide in him. She looked uncomfortable. "I kinda missed."

"You?" Spike was incredulous. "You missed?"

"The heart," she rushed on, embarrassment now apparent. "I staked him, but I missed the heart." She got a defensive look around her mouth and eyes that made him want to chuckle, but he knew that it would hurt like hell. Her and his ribs. "But then, I hit it," she continued. Her chin rose, daring him to laugh. "And that was the only time ever, okay? So don't start."

He did chuckle then. God, he loved her - everything about her. After all that had happened, all she'd been through, she was still a hero. And he could help. She'd said she believed in him. Deserved thanks for that. Undying devotion, loyalty... Hell, she deserved every bit of everything he could give her. "Guess a vampire with his fangs pulled is next best to the real thing," Spike said dryly. Inwardly, he felt a surge of triumph. He could *do* this!

"Yeah. I thought so." She looked down, then back up. The solemn look in her eyes wrung him out. "I need you. Know you can really help."

He smiled slowly. She needed him. She believed in him *and* she needed him. He might have cried if he had a tear duct that still worked.

Well, couldn't let her down now, could he? "Fill that mug, Slayer. Better yet, bring a pint or two. Takes blood to heal. Better get on with it, hadn't I?" The thought of the pig's blood made him want to shudder, but he'd survive it. Sure wasn't going back to the alternative.

"I don't *want* to push, but I have to. You understand, right?"

She was apologizing again. How could she apologize for wanting to save the world? "No worries, love" he said reassuringly. "You can't push me any harder than *I* can push me."

As she went upstairs, he began working on just how he would train a slayer. It would be a different kind of exercise for him. Smugly, he thought that he might just outdate the old handbook. Buffy trusted him enough to do something this important. He wouldn't let her down.

As he grinned widely, every nerve in his face shrieked in answer.

"Ow!" Bloody hell!

+

The mouse had gotten braver.

When she'd first slipped down the steps to feed the mountains of towels and sheets into the washing machine, she'd stayed close to the wall, skirting his space on the opposite side of the basement as well as she could.

Knowing it wasn't Buffy on the stairs, he'd kept his eyes closed each time, but he'd watched her from under his eyelids.

At first, she'd kept her eyes firmly trained on him as she hugged the wall, clutching the clothes basket in front of her. Wasn't exactly toothless, he thought, as he remembered all the bodies he'd buried in the cellar.

But after repetitious trips down with no retribution, he was spared only a cursory glance - not a very intelligent move if there was a vampire in the same room with you.

So he'd managed to shuffle across the room and put the machine's contents into the dryer. It had hurt like hell, dragging the clothes out while standing on his toes to keep his arm below his waistline, then dipping down, back straight, to put them in the dryer. His hip screamed, but by God it had been worth it to hear the girl's sharp gasp when she realized the undead lump of flesh had moved.

She hadn't been back down since.

+

The soft drone of the washing machine and dryer was offset by an impatient sigh. He opened his eyes, knowing what he would find there. Buffy, in all her golden glory, was holding a mug in one hand and what seemed to be a tee-shirt in the other.

Without a word, he pulled himself up to a reclining position and took the proffered mug. He eyed the shirt in her hand as he drank the pig's blood, which seemed a little less unappetizing than it had.

As he watched, she put both hands in one sleeve and crumpled it up into a big squashed donut hole. He drew in a breath and pushed it out, looking at her from under his lids with a look of long-suffering, and put the mug on a stack of boxes she'd placed beside the cot as a makeshift table.

Time to pay for lunch.

Hands down on the bed, he shifted his legs over the side, and sat upright.

"Okay. Deep breath." She waited a beat. "Now!"

"Deep breath?" He tried to stall, knowing how bad it was going to hurt. She nodded once, and he mirrored the move, ducking his head and putting his hands out in front of him.

She worked the tee-shirt over one hand and then the other, going from side to side until she'd gotten his shoulders into the shirt and could pull it down. While gritting his teeth inside the constricting shirt, he had an idle thought.

'Her hands are always so warm.'

Then, he was snapping his head through the neck of the shirt and grimacing at the massive amount of discomfort he was experiencing. "Well, *that* was bloody sad." He was totally disgusted with himself. "Can't even dress m'self."

Buffy was looking him over appraisingly. As if there was anything to appraise. He knew he still looked like shit. "You're not very big baddish with that bed head look you've got happening. Those girls aren't gonna be the least bit afraid of you."

His hair? She was checking out his hair? He almost laughed in her face. "Oh, wonderful!" he said cuttingly. "Christ, Summers, my ribs were in splinters, I can't raise my arms, and you want me to fix my hair?"

There was a delicious pout on her lips. Even through the ebbing haze of pain, he couldn't miss it if he tried. "Oh, you're such a baby," she said in what sounded like a flirtatious grumble. "It's been three days. You should be worlds better by now." A small hand reached up and pushed his hair back off his forehead. As she looked at it resentfully, he wanted to grab her and kiss her. Old habits die hard, he thought. Her lower lip went out even further as she reached up and did it again. Her teeth came down on her lip thoughtfully.

She was absolutely enchanting, and his mind was going somewhere it had no business going. His voice came out almost gruff. "What? You thought it was easy? Thought I just rolled off the bier lookin' the part?" Needed to get this in perspective. Make a joke. Something. "This hair? Doesn't want to do what it's told. Have to force it, y'see?" He'd settle for explanatory.

"Well, I'm sorry," she said petulantly, "but you're not very menacing is all."

That lower lip was still shining, plump and pink. Time to get those thoughts clean out of his head. "Slayer, I've got ribs tryin' to knit, and I can barely use my arms without screamin' in pain." And saying it out loud made it even worse. "Don't think the hair is gonna work any miraculous changes. I'm not Samson here. The hair's for shite."

"Which is Spike-speak for what?" She was almost tapping her foot in impatience.

Fine, then. She wanted the Big Bad - who was feeling neither big, nor remotely bad at the moment. Well, she'd get it. Anything to get his mind off her. He started to lever himself off the cot.

"Wait." Suddenly, she was fluttering around as if she'd pushed him too far. "What are you...?" In a sense, she had. And pain was an excellent distraction for it.

"Clear a path to the loo, Buffy. And get me all the hair goo you can muster. Got a demon to tame." This was going to hurt like hell. She might as well know it, in case he collapsed. "God, that hurts." He got to his feet, hissing the whole time. Slowly, his eyes took in the wooden stairs. Looked as far as any he'd ever climbed. "Bloody hell. Let's get it over, then." He stepped forward with his left foot, knowing already that the right one wasn't completely working.

He grabbed the stair rail. "Hold it." Wide green eyes stared at him in bad mood-melting concern. Not what he needed for this. He almost snarled out the words. "For pity's sake, get in front of me. One of us nearly paralytic is enough. Don't need you cushionin' my fall."

As she passed him, her hip brushed his. With the pain came a surge of longing. Thank God she didn't notice. This was utterly ridiculous.

"Oh, yes. You're much better today." She sounded pleased.

*Too* much better, he thought grumpily.

+

What the hell had he been thinking to let her drag him up here? Concentrated so hard on staying on his feet that he hadn't really thought about where they were headed until they were there.

Buffy had cleared the way, sending the little wanna-bees off behind closed doors. He'd caught half a glimpse of Harris, but not the Watcher. No Bit, either. Just as well, he'd thought, she just might flick a lighter and set his hair on fire.

It had been slow progress, but they'd made it. He stopped, throat tightening as he looked into the gleaming white room.

Christ! He couldn't go in there! He couldn't. Hell, give him back to Dru... or the bloody First! Whatever. Just...

He felt a gentle push in the small of his back. What she wanted, not what he wanted. A low sound escaped his lips as he stepped inside the bathroom. Don't think about it. Not now. Don't...

"Do you want to wash it?" she asked pointedly. "Because you... well, I could..."

He tried to swallow, but his mouth and throat were so dry it was like swallowing a rock. Oh, right. His hair. To cover his confusion, he bent at the waist. His arms worked pretty well at waist level. It's just that they were of no use at all above his elbows.

Just get on with it. Forget the other. She'd come for him. Might not have forgiven him, but she'd gotten him out of there. Stop bein' a git - she had more than enough to deal with already.

"God! What did they do, roll me in the mud?" Focus on something else.

Her words had a practical ring to them. She reached out and put a hand in his hair as she looked at it critically. "Maybe, but I think... yeah, there's blood in it."

Yeah, well, blood. Make a joke. "Ambiance, you think?" His expression was hopeful. Maybe she'd let this whole thing go and he could go back to hiding out in the basement.

"I don't think it's ambiance if it's your own blood. I think it's more like poor hygiene," she countered. "And so not you." Her eyes were sparkling with mischief. Didn't she realize where they were? That this was where he'd... She pushed her sleeves up. "Now how can we do this?" She brightened. "I know. The kitchen sink!"

"No!" He almost shouted. His nerves were completely shot. He couldn't figure out if he was shaking from the exhaustion of getting up there, or whether the bloody white room was doing it to him. Swallowing again, he tried to explain. "I will not stand in the community kitchen and let you wash my sodding hair like a child."

She wrinkled her nose. "It *would* play hell with the image you need to project." How could she pretend like nothing had happened? Here he was and here she was, and... Brought out of his reverie, he grimaced as she snapped her fingers, a sound like a gun shot in the small room. "The shower!" Her voice sounded triumphant.

His head swung around and he stared at her. Now this was just about enough! More than enough... "Have you gone completely around the bend?"

"It doesn't take any intuitive leaps here," she said reasonably. "You can't lean over the sink. You can't lean over the tub. You *can* stand in the shower." She looked him over. "Well, lean," she conceded.

"Are you crazy?" She was crazy. And still, he couldn't bring up the real reason that he never wanted to see this room again. Not the time. Not the place. God knew it wasn't the place. He tried another tack. "Besides the fact that the whole standing around thing sounds like more torture, which I've had more than enough of, thank you very much, there is a problem. If I get out of these pants, by any stretch of the imagination, I doubt I can get back *in* them." And that all by itself ought to do it.

He watched Buffy bite her lip. "Team effort?"

She was like a bulldog when she'd set her head on something. And he wasn't going along. "Hell, no. Harris comes nowhere near me. Or the Watcher either."

The tension went out of her body. "As if."

He started shaking his head before her cryptic words had finished penetrating his brain. She couldn't be serious. "No."

"Don't be ridiculous." Oh, now he was ridiculous? Everything he'd felt since he'd entered this hell dimension was ridiculous? "I'll just help," she explained. Since when had she become the voice of reason and rationality? He'd been gone longer than he thought. "I won't... look," she said, carefully choosing her words. "Not that it would be such a big deal anyway, because... well, you know. I'll be like a... nurse."

Oh, right. A nurse. "Buffy..." he groaned.

"No, really. I washed you up," she continued, "but not all over. You could use a real shower."

"I don't think..." Did he have to say it? Was she completely daft?

"Well, you were never shy about it before!" she said in exasperation.

His temper flared, but he held onto it. No arguments. Not here. "Yeah, I know, but we were..."

"Yes," she said levelly. "We were. But now we're not, so it's different."

His eyes found the floor, with its little black tiles. Little black spots on the white. "I'll take my own shower in my own time. Which is not now." He pushed out a breath. "I'll get cleaned up and meet them tomorrow. Maybe be well enough for some one-on-one. But I'm not doin' this." The words were firm, in and of themselves, but listening to his own voice falter, he knew that he was lost. She'd do what she wanted and he'd let her, like he always did.

"Fine. Meet them tomorrow. But you're still not going to be up to taking off your own pants!" Her voice held the faintest tinge of sarcasm. "Let's just get it over with!"

He'd like to fight her, but he couldn't. Not in here. Never wanted to hear his voice echo in this room again. "Fine." No fight left in him. He was tired. So tired. He should be thankful she was even in the same room with him. That she needed him for anything at all.

"C'mon," she said briskly. She even sounded like Nurse Buffy. "Off with the shirt." He bent slightly at the waist, and put his hands out in front of him like some two year old. Her hands were warm as she carefully worked the tee-shirt up his sides and over his shoulders. Bloody hell, that hurt! Gasping, he snapped forward as the shirt came off. He leaned against the vanity, one shaking hand holding him in place.

He'd lost his belt, he noticed. So that was one less thing between him and this. He concentrated on undoing his pants. Surely, he could get his clothes off without her help. He heard water begin running in the tub. "You might have a little trouble stepping over the side of the tub. You can lean on me and that'll help," she said in a matter of fact voice.

While she was fiddling with the faucet, he took advantage of the time to slowly work the waistband of his jeans down. The rivet raked over his hip, sending a sharp wave of pain straight to his brain. It almost dropped him to the tile.

Then, his pants were down over his hipbone and he saw it for the first time. There was a starburst of blackened flesh radiating from a small scabbed over wound. He stared in fascination. The bruising reached nearly to his other hip and up his stomach. Bloody git must have shattered the bone. He carefully slid his eyes around his side as far as he could without moving and grinding broken edges together. As far as he could see, the bruising was dark and heavy. If his kidneys had still worked, they damn well wouldn't be now. He'd be dead.

He thought about tugging his jeans back up and leaving. Wished he could, but he doubted he could get them back up. And he knew he couldn't get them down any further than they already were. Not alone. So he was stuck, pants down over his buttocks, hip screaming, legs shaking, shivering in this cold, sterile room at her mercy.

"I hate this," he spat out.

He heard a soft murmur that might have been words. He really didn't bloody care what she had to say at the moment. Didn't look up as her footsteps carried her to his right. Realizing she'd opened the linen closet, he caught her back in the corner of his eye and looked down quickly as she pulled out a towel. Then she was behind him again. A soft towel entered his peripheral vision.

She was handing him a towel. He took it gratefully and wrapped it around his waist, feeling the soft terry irritatingly brush against his hip. It was something at least, even if he still didn't know how he'd get the bleedin' pants off. A start.

He froze. Buffy passed out of his sensory line. He felt hands burrow up under the towel and delicate fingers hooked into each side of the waistband of his pants.

Bloody hell. Good thing he had the towel.

She tugged lightly, easing them down his thighs and calves, where they pooled around his ankles. Light pressure from her, and he lifted his left foot, and then the more difficult right one. Turning, he tried to catch her eyes as she stood up. She was looking at the filthy pants she was holding in her hands.

"Spike?" She looked up at him, a look of pity in her eyes, combined with something else he couldn't name. Her chest rose as she sighed; her eyes were gentle and sad. "You really need to soak the bruises." Whatever he thought he'd heard in her voice was gone. "Do you think you can lie in the tub?"

He felt his eyes begin to sting at the softness in her words. Almost in response, Buffy's eyes began to water. He nodded, not trusting himself to speak. She quickly turned to put the stopper in the tub. He clutched the towel with white fingers as he leaned against the vanity, trying to stay upright through the shaking.

"Don't deserve this, you know." His voice rasped with emotion, but he had to say it. He needed to be sure she knew it. Hadn't forgotten.

Buffy didn't respond, choosing instead to put her hand into the rush of water, then adjusting the temperature. Her back was to him as she crouched on the floor. Finally, she stood up, all business. "Let's get you in before you fall down." Which presented another problem. His eyes went to the black tiles. "You can give me the towel after," she said, divining his discomfort.

He was so tense that he imagined this was what it felt like to be marble. Still, he was in too far to turn tail and run now. Couldn't run anyway. Couldn't even crawl, came down to it. If she could do this, he could. One foot went in front of the other as he approached the tub. It was a short trip.

And they'd thought *he* was insane? He marveled at her, almost shaking his head in admiration. Nothing - no one - like her.

Putting a hand against the cool tile of the tub enclosure to steady himself, he lifted his left leg over the side and into the steaming water. The right foot wasn't as promising. Nevertheless, he was finally in, amidst pain and discomfort he'd only guessed at. She'd helped him into the tub without looking at him. Slowly lowering himself into the water, he hissed as the heat hit cuts and bruises. Carefully, he let himself fall against the back of the tub as his ribs burned and his hip ground in its socket. His eyes closed as he tried to relax - tried not to look at her.

His first bath at Buffy's. Not exactly what he'd envisioned, but right now, it felt like heaven. One thing more, though, and he'd better get it over with before he had time to think about it. Raising his hips, he freed the towel, opening his eyes and noting that her unreadable ones were fixed on his face. He handed it to her wordlessly and she took it, not even bothering to wring it out, a stricken expression on her face. She pulled the shower curtain closed behind her.

Seen his hip, had she? Well, that sight alone precluded seeing anything else down there.

"I'll be right back," she said reassuringly from the sink as he heard water run off the towel, then plop into the bowl. Obviously, she'd seen more than she wanted to. He almost sighed in relief. She was leaving. He'd never wanted to be alone as much in his unlife.

Strange, that. Two years ago, he'd have loved having her care for him. Now he just felt trod underfoot by the whole of it. He tried to let the hot water weave what magic it could, given such a piss-poor canvas to work on.

Dammit. Would he never learn to stop mixing metaphors? No wonder he'd been such a lousy poet!

Buffy had been kind. Almost made him nauseous. Fussin' over him like she had Angel that night in the Magic Box. He'd almost never gotten over that sight.

Bloody Angel.

He'd best just be thankful for small favors, Spike thought. She had come for him, just as he'd been certain that she would.

Well, 'hoped' she would, anyway.

But that was what heroes did. And if nothing else, his slayer was a hero.

So here he was, in her charge like everyone else in this suddenly too-small house. Just something else for her to take care of.

He sank in the tub, water covering his face as he tried to drown out his own thoughts.

Pushing himself back up in a panic, he gasped, drawing in air as if he wasn't dead and actually needed it.

Bloody hell. What was that about, he thought, as his body renewed its shaking.

Oh. More wanker-ness.

Vampires do not need to breathe, he admonished himself. Vampires do not drown. *Vampires* do not piss their pants and faint like a girl when some big ugly holds them underwater.

At least he hadn't pissed his pants.

Without thinking too much about it, he let his head slide back down into the water, bending his knees so that he could sink. His hip protested, but less than before.

Don't. Need. Breath. He was angry when he realized he'd pulled air into his lungs in preparation for going under the water.

He pushed the air out and lay there quietly. Not drowning, he told himself. Didn't need breath, he told himself. No reason to get all fitful.

Bored with the exercise, he slowly straightened his legs and surfaced. There. Still dead then. Water might burn his lungs, sure, but only if he was a stupid enough git to take it in.

One good thing about it: Buffy'd been pushed right out of his head, he thought in satisfaction.

For a space of about five minutes...

+

On the fringes of consciousness, he felt her. Even before he heard her footsteps or her ragged intake of breath outside the door.

His body wasn't nearly as battered as his spirit was. Was that ragged breath for him? *At* him? And whose idea had it been to get the buggerin' soul, anyway? Just like him to rush off all impulsive-like and jump into something he thought he knew everything about. The chip had been nothing compared to this constant 'thinking.'

Still, he had to own that this was as hard for her as it was for him, no matter how she veiled her feelings with that perky voice and that practical demeanor she had pulled about her like a shawl.

"I'm back," she announced brightly.

Shawls, veils. Bloody hell. He covered his face with his hand behind the closed shower curtain. Even the shower curtain. All ways to hide. Symbols all.

"Figured the water needed to be warmed up," she said as she pulled the curtain back just enough to drain some water out. He watched her stare at the drain. The water wound down in a tiny tornado.

It was all he could do to stay limp, not to attempt to cover the marks on his body. Nurse Buffy. So accustomed to him now that she could calmly contemplate the water with him lying right there, naked as a corpse.

Naked *and* a corpse.

He didn't speak. Didn't know what to say anyway. Gazed at her as she concentrated on watching the level of the water go down. Seemingly satisfied at last, she pushed the stopper down, and let hot water flow in.

She was frowning at the water level, putting a hand in to push the warmth toward the other end of the tub. The warmer water crept over his hip. She still hadn't looked at him.

"I'm going to wash your hair now," she said calmly. "Cause you can't get your hands up without it hurting, and I think you hurt enough." She closed the curtain at his feet and moved to the other end of the tub, pulling the curtain open there.

He closed his eyes, trying to block out the nearness of her. Heard a bottle spit out thick shampoo, felt the cold stuff ooze onto his head. Felt her small hands reach into his hair and lather the foam. "Okay," she said uncomfortably, "I've never done this before, so tell me if I do it wrong."

His tenseness gave way to lassitude as he concentrated on the feeling of well-being she was imparting just by touching him. He sank further into her hands as she moved them around to the sides and top, not rushing at all. He could almost see the furrow in her brow, even with his eyes closed.

The hands that gripped swords and stakes with a savage strength were bringing him comfort. He would have sighed in contentment if it all weren't so dreamlike.

"Okay, rinse and we'll see if I need to do it again." Her voice was tentative, uncertain.

He sank into the tub. Felt her batting the suds away from his hair and face, and wished he could help. Of course, at the moment, he was simply pleased that he hadn't made an ass of himself trying to sit bolt upright when the water had closed over his face. This time, he hadn't even taken a breath. Good on him.

A light pressure on his shoulder told him he could come up. He straightened his legs, feeling the water stream down his cheeks, over his ears, and through his hair. Gratefully, he opened his eyes, and found hers there just above him. He'd never loved her as much as he did at that moment, and it had never hurt as badly.

"I think it's clean," she said quietly. He couldn't place the expression she had on her face. "Soak a little longer, all right?" She pulled the curtain closed and left him with his thoughts.

+

He heard her return to the bathroom with a slam of the linen closet door against the wall. As usual, the real world had impinged on this one. Someone had been at her, and it was probably about him.

As she pushed the shower curtain open and found his eyes, he noticed that her lips were pressed into a tight line. "Put your arm around my neck." Her eyes grew apologetic, as if she realized that whatever had gone on outside, things in the quiet bathroom were different. "See if you can get your feet under you as I lift."

She bent down, eyes closed to give him privacy, he guessed, while he wrapped his hand around the back of her neck, as he'd done many times before. Usually, right before he kissed her. The intimacy of it shook him, and he clamped down on whatever thoughts his nearly disabled body was having. Obviously, there was one part of it that wasn't disabled at all. As she practically dragged him to his feet, he finally had some luck. The pain of getting up had driven any other thought out of his mind. He balanced himself as best he could and pulled the towel off her shoulder, wrapping it tidily around his waist in case his body tried to betray him again. Leaning against her as little as he could, still not trusting himself not to involuntarily embarrass them both, he stepped out on his left foot. Eyes open now, she huffed a bit as she leaned back, to try and help him ease his right foot out and onto the cold floor.

Tottering to the vanity, Buffy still supporting him, he reflected on what a pillock he must seem. He leaned back, taking the opportunity to rest, as she retrieved two more towels. He took the one she offered, determined to do *something* to help himself, even if he could only dry his stomach and a bit of his chest. She did the rest, taking the time to gently pat the scabbed-over wounds. He'd already started one on his stomach to oozing again. Just went to prove he was no good at that sort of stuff. He'd have scraped himself raw.

She tapped his shoulder and he lowered his head, feeling the soft towel she'd been using go around his shoulders. She took his from him, and began on his hair.

The anger and resentment ebbed away, leaving a kind of peace in its place. She'd been right, of course. He had needed to get cleaned up, had needed the soak. What had been all right for the Spike who had recovered alone in a crypt wasn't all right for a vampire who was being cared for as tenderly as he was.

Bemused, he watched her bite her lip, as she reached up and continued to fiddle around with the towel in his hair. Surely she realized it would be dry in next to no time?

She was playing with it, he decided. And he let her. Because... well, because. Because it was Buffy and this would probably never happen again.

Finally, she stopped. Time to recreate the Big Bad, then. What he was there for, right? He grasped one of the tubes of hair goop that had been laid out on the vanity, squinting at the label and nodded. Squeezed some out and leaned over to rub it into his hair.

"Got a comb?"

She opened a drawer and pulled out a wide-toothed comb. He supposed it would have to do. Without handing it to him, she leaned forward, seemingly distracted, ready to comb his hair herself.

"Don't," he said, as he straightened up. He couldn't take much more of this in any shape, form or fashion.

She stiffened, but kept her eyes locked on his hair. He gazed at her, willing her to see that the word hadn't been an admonishment. Finally, her eyes found his, and what he saw there almost made him catch his breath.

Not here, he thought. Not now. Probably not ever, Buffy. Pity's the last thing I want from you. And that's what this is, even if you don't know it.

He smiled wistfully and took the comb from her hand, leaning down to pull it through his hair.

"Just a sec," he told her, putting a little humor in his voice, "and we'll get me dressed."

+

He'd never been so happy to see a basement in his unlife. And a cot. Problem was, Buffy wouldn't let him lie down on it. Not in his newly-minted condition.

By the time they'd gotten back downstairs, Spike discovered that Buffy had postponed his meeting the slayerettes. He gathered she'd made that decision when she'd had to pick his feet up one at a time to get them in the sweatpants she'd brought. Pants which bore a passing resemblance size-wise to some of Harris'. But best not think of that.

By the time the shirt was back on him - again - and just as painfully as before, he was completely exhausted. The trip down from the bathroom had been one long, agonizing, torturous journey, and he was physically and emotionally drained. He'd been ready to fall on the creaking cot and stay there 'til the Hellmouth froze over.

But, of course, it wasn't to be. To add insult to injury, the bedding he'd been lying on wouldn't do since he was all tidied up. So he'd had to wait for her to fix that. He would have been amused at the noises she was making under her breath if he'd had anything that approximated amusement left. His eyes slid shut more than once, as he'd stood propped against the washing machine. His mind had ceased to work.

Finally, she seemed satisfied and had led him to bed.

His eyes closed before he hit the clean pillow. The fresh smell of detergent tickled his nose. She'd sat there a moment on the stool beside him. As he was drifting off, she'd gotten up, to go back upstairs to her friends and her Watcher.

Still and all, he felt better than he had in days. She needed to know that. He settled back into the comfort of the lumpy cot.

"Thank you," he whispered softly.

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