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Perdition Catch My Soul
By Estepheia

Rated NC-17 for naughty language and Slash (Xander/Spike)
Spoilers: S6 and S7; set during 7x02 “Beneath You”
Genre/Warnings: AU, episode related, slash, swearing, hurt/comfort, darkfic
Summary: What if Xander, instead of Buffy, had followed Spike into that church...



Part One

I can’t believe I’m spying on Buffy. When did this happen? Guess it started the moment Spike turned up at Revello Drive, acting like everything’s hunky dory. Leaning against the doorframe as if he owned the place - and everybody in it, besides.

And what do you know? It’s like somebody turned back the clock, because suddenly the whole summer doesn’t count. Suddenly Dawnie and I are out of the loop again. Suddenly Buffy is big with the secrets and the not telling and the keeping things to herself, and not so much with the talking and the being good friends.

She’s right; her private life is none of my business, not for me to judge. But when Mr. Rape saunters back into her life – and ours by proxy – that IS my business.

Which is why I’m standing in this alley, behind a pile of crates, Anya at my side, trying to listen to what Spike is saying to Buffy.

He’s pacing up and down, twirling a piece of metal, a pipe or something, like a baton.

Was it him who yelled, ‘Help me,’ just a few moments ago, helping us locate them?

And what’s he talking about? ‘Something’s coming?’ What else is new?

Suddenly, Spike runs off as if chased by the furies. We could wait a moment and pretend we didn’t hear his ramblings. I exchange a glance with Anya who is wearing her I’m-scared-please-help-me face, but before I can make up my mind whether I still have the right to try and comfort her, she silently shrugs and turns to leave.

I hurry to where Buffy is crouching. She’s adjusting the blanket covering Nancy’s troublesome, abusive ex-worm-ex-boyfriend. Nancy shakes her head, gets up and backs away from him, Buffy and me. I guess she really is over the guy.

She leaves without another glance at her ex. Makes me kinda wonder what I saw in her.

And the weird thing is: I just know, that if I were lying there, curled underneath a blanket, hurt and in shock, vengeance-demon or no, Anya would be fussing about me, even after that leaving-at-the-altar-fiasco.

“Buffy!”

“Xander!” She points at Ronnie, “Look after him. The ambulance is on its way.” She tries to hand me the cell phone and is about to chase after Spike.

I almost put my hand on her arm, but then I remember, just in time, that she doesn’t like being touched. Not anymore. “Don’t. Let me take care of that,” I say and nod towards the alley where Spike has disappeared.

Indecision is written on her face. “He said something… about what’s coming. Something from beneath. I have to find out what he knows.”

“Don’t worry, this carpenter’s not going to do anything rash, here.” The lie comes out easily. “If Spike knows anything, I’ll make him talk. You shouldn’t have to deal with this.”

“Maybe you’re right.” She nods slowly, her relief obvious. “Ask him what he meant, about that thing.”

“I will.”

Several yards into the alley, I hear her parting words.

“And Xander? Be careful.”

“You betcha!”

I don’t dawdle, I run. The minute I’m out of sight I pull a stake out of my pocket. A stake with Spike’s name on it. I carved it more than three months ago.

He’s nowhere to be seen and it occurs to me, that traipsing round Sunnydale at night is not one of my brightest ideas. Like that ever stopped me before.

I trot on down the road, always in a straight line, ignoring all the dark alleys that branch off from the main road. He’d ran like a man who has lost all purpose, one who goes where his feet carry him, wherever that may be. Eventually I reach a T-junction. There’s an old warehouse, dark and shuttered, to the right and a small cemetery to the left. Which way? My feet automatically carry me to the left and through the gate. I guess that means Dead R’Us wins.

I know most of Sunnydale’s cemeteries like the back of my hand. This one I’ve only been to a few times. Which is why I’m surprised to suddenly find myself standing in front of a church. Yellow light from flickering candles is seeping through the windows. Like a beacon. A church should be the last place Spike would turn to, but somehow I know that’s where he is.

I approach slowly. The door is ajar. It creaks when I give it a cautionary push. I clutch my stake and step inside. I don’t even try to be quiet.

“Spike?”

The interior of the church is mostly dark. Lit only by a handful of candles that flutter at my entry, it’s a place where shadows crouch like beasts.

At first, I don’t see him, but then there’s movement to my right. I jump back with a start, barely swallowing a girly squeal. It’s him. Spike emerges from the shadows like a great white shark emerges from the deep. Complete with the da-dam da-dam soundtrack. No wait, that’s just in my head.

He’s not attacking. Even so, I take another step back.

He’s taken off his blue sweater. A criss-cross of thin healing scars mars his pale muscular flesh. Not claw marks, more like someone tried to inexpertly carve him up like a thanksgiving turkey. White meat.

I stomp on the instinctual pity that threatens to undermine my resolve.

“A costume,” he says, and hangs his sweater over the backrest of a pew.

Come again?

“Can’t hide. Should’ve known,” he continues, sounding like someone who’s just been sentenced to death. How appropriate.

I realize his face is wet. He’s been crying. I look away. There’s something fundamentally wrong about a man in tears. And Spike in tears? That’s exponentially wrong. Something I’ve only seen once before and never wanted to see again. I don’t want to see it now, either. But if I don’t look at his face, I have to look at his mutilated chest. Better not. My gaze slides elsewhere, which happens to be down. Which happens to be where his crotch is. The no-go place. The one part of his anatomy that I have trained myself to never check out. Crap!

I look up, right into his eyes. And I realize I’ve been caught. For a dozen heartbeats – which isn’t long, because my heart seems to be galloping like a John Ford cavalry charge - we stare at each other…

He knows!

“How about it, Harris? Want a bit of vampire flesh, with no strings attached?” His voice is brittle. “Someone you can dump, when you’re through?”

“Huh? What --,“ I stammer. What’s going on?

His shoulders slump and he lowers his gaze. “Right. Serviced her, can service you too.” His hands drop to his fly and start to unbuckle his belt.

Service? What’s he--. I stare at his hands, horrified, unable to tear my eyes away. They’re shaking. Normally, he’s got that whole I’m-a-big-bad-sex-god vibe going for (or, if you’re me – against) him. Tonight, the sex-god’s broken.

He’s finished with the belt and starts fumbling with the button. “Just wait. I can get it hard,” he mutters. “If I put my mind to it.”

Mind? That’s it! This is some kind of mind-game. Freak the Zeppo. Except that Spike’s never been a great actor. A great show-off, a drama queen, but Emmy material? So not. With that theory down the drain, the full meaning of his words begins to sink in. God, he’s not really suggesting… Color me disgusted. I open my mouth, but nothing comes out.

The button’s undone and he’s reaching for the zipper, when the de-freeze kicks in.

“No!”

“What?” His hands pause. He tilts his head as if in deep thought and looks at me. “Oh, I get it. You wanna be the pitcher.”

Huh? Oh. Oh! The dreaded but familiar image comes unbidden, pops into my head like a steaming pop tart, hot and delicious: my dick thrusting into him, my hands gripping his thighs hard enough to bruise, his marble body squirming and writhing beneath me – if in ecstasy or pain I can’t tell. Lust and burning shame wash over me in equal measure, making me achingly hard. I feel hot and breathless. I feel like my most shameful fantasies are written all over my face. Do I want to be the pitcher? Boy, do I.

“Right then.” He drops to his knees as if in supplication and his fingertips brush lightly over my hard-on as he reaches for my fly. My fist connects with his face before I even know it. The forgotten stake in my fist slashes his skin, leaving a flaming red gash on his cheek. The impact propels him backward. A pew crashes under his weight. He remains sprawled across the floor, half propped against the broken bench, shaking his head as if trying to clear it. There’s a strangely grateful look on his face as he touches his injured cheek. “Yes,” he breathes and looks thoughtfully at his bloodstained fingers, then at me. “This is gonna be good. D’you want me to struggle?”

His words act like a bucket of cold water. I grab his sweater and toss it towards him. He doesn’t move to catch it, so it hits his chest and then slides down to his lap.

“I want you to tell me what’s going on.”

He stills. For a moment, he’s not even breathing.

Then he laughs, and what a desolate sound it is! “Wrong. Like she said, everything about me is wrong.”

He quickly scrambles sideways, like a cockroach scuttling for cover, away from the light. His sweater stays behind. Spike seems to merge with the shadows, like he’s returning to the cloth he’s been cut from. I can hear him get to his feet, even though I can’t see him.

“I was a good man, once,” his voice suddenly comes out of the dark, at least five yards away from where I suspected him to be.

“You, Spike? Tell me another one.”

What’s he doing? Playing cat and mouse? He’s moving around me, but manages to stay within the shadows all the time. As if the candlelight could burn him, too. The only thing that helps me track his movement is his voice: “So. Buffy never told you, then.”

I realize - again - that there’s a lot Buffy never bothered to tell me. “Never told me what?”

“It’s true,” he continues, “Went to church every Sunday, opened doors for the ladies, washed my hands before dinner, even gave money to charity.”

“Yeah? What makes you think I care?”

He doesn’t answer. Which means I don’t know where he is. The silence becomes oppressive. All I hear is my own terrified heartbeat.

“I think I know what’s wrong with you,” I blurt out.

“Do you, now?” His voice comes from behind me. I turn around, stake raised. There he is. He stands before me, shoulders hunched, eyes cast down. Close enough to touch. My eyes are drawn to the white flesh of his chest. I wonder if I’d be fast enough, if I tried to plunge the stake into his heart. Probably not. He’s a vampire. Preternaturally fast.

“I think you went and got your chip out.” I tell him. “Only, something went wrong and your brain got fried extra crispy. Who’d you hire, a butcher with a power drill? Too bad he didn’t do a badder job, cause if he’d turned you into a full-blown vegetable, now that would have been a gift to mankind.”

He doesn’t rise to the bait.

“Something like that,” he finally mumbles.

So, it’s true! Crap! Spike’s de-chipped and I’m standing here with one tiny little stake.

“And now? What’s the agenda? Kill us all and then go back to the old Missus? You’ll make a lovely couple, especially now that you’re on the same crazy wavelength.”

“S’pose it looks that way.”

There’s something I don’t understand. I just have to ask. “Why would you suddenly try to get it out? It didn’t stop you from trying to rape Buffy.”

“She told you, then?”

“She didn’t have to. I saw her. After.”

He squirms. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he’s ashamed. Yeah, like that’s ever gonna happen. “Men should be what they seem.”

“Meaning what?” Don’t you just hate it when crazies go all cryptic on you?

He runs his hand through his hair. “Something… something had to change. So I went. And I did. Change. And now…” he breaks off, wipes his nose on the back of his hand, then tries again: “And now I’m still nothing. Worthless. Still don’t belong. Don’t fit. And my head’s just…  It just never stops. On and on. Never a moment of quiet…”

Must have been quite an operation, that chipectomy. I know I shouldn’t feel sorry for him. So what, if his brain’s tied in a knot like that? He deserves worse. But what do you know? Some twisted, out-of-this-world part of me actually finds it painful to look at him like that.

“No way but this, no way but this,” he mumbles, then looks up to find me staring at him.

“What do you want from me?” he asks, suddenly sounding coherent.

“Truthfully? I want to see you burn in hell.” The lie comes out automatically. Or maybe it’s not a lie.

He laughs. “I think I can do that.” He turns away from me and slowly walks down the aisle. “You see I’m a vampire. I’m evil. I drink blood. I kill. I know how to fuck. But I don’t know how to love. Cause I’m just a thing. Vampire…”

He steps up onto the dais and stands before the large cross. He’s such a drama queen.

“But most of all? I burn. Easily.” With that, he drapes his arms around the cross before him, hugging it. And for a moment, I honestly think the cross is broken, because he’s not recoiling. When the fine mist rises up from his body, it’s almost as if he’s transforming into something else, like those movie-vampires do. Belatedly, understanding kicks in. Followed by the stench of burning flesh. A wave of nausea makes my stomach lurch.

Oh God!

I came here to dust him, once and for all. But before I have time to think about what I’m doing, I’m yanking him away from that cross and hurling him down the dais. He drops like a rag doll. I see him shaking, as sobs rack his body. His chest, shoulders and arms are still smoking. His skin is blistered, even charred.

I look at the stake in my hand and toss it away.

And then I throw up.



Part Two

I can’t believe I threw up. In the middle of a church. I pull out a handkerchief and wipe my mouth. Three steps and I’m beside him. I still feel kinda queasy. The sight and smell of him don’t exactly help. Extra crispy with raw flesh underneath. Let’s just say I don’t see myself eating another strip of bacon for, well, at least the rest of my life. Because: eww! I mean, he really looks like shit.

Even so, he looks like sin.

I can’t believe he tried to get into my pants. In the middle of a church. And now he knows that Anya’s ‘Viking in the sack’ is a fraud. I’m thinking, the hard-on kinda stuck out a little. Well, hopefully more than just a little.

I’m also thinking that we (meaning Buffy, Willow and I) already had our share of spectacular coming outs, painful confessions and relationship meltdowns to keep a daily soap running for years. We don’t need any more of that. So, I ask myself, what if he spills the beans? How do you explain to your best friends that you’ve been lying to them for years?

Things would be just so much easier if he were dead.

I should kill him. I doubt he could stop me now. I look around until I spot my stake, it’s lying underneath a bench. I should just pick it up and put the crazy bloodsucker out of his misery. I’d be doing everyone a favor.

I crouch beside him. He lolls his head to look at me.

“Does it hurt?” The inane question tumbles out of my mouth before I can stop myself.

“All the time,” he answers, after a moment.

“Good.” It should, because it was a dumb thing to do. Crazy or no.

His gaze wavers and he turns away.

“You should’ve killed me.” His voice is toneless, his stare vacant. “Chopped my head off. Made the feeling stop. Made. Everything. Stop. No apologies, no screaming, no fire, no beetles crawlin’ around inside of me, no spark drivin’ nails through my eyes…”

Man, he really has lost his mind.

“Yeah, we should have dusted you a long time ago.” I tell him, matter-of-factly. “What else is new?”

He sits up. “You could still do it,” he says. He tilts his head and gives me a knowing glance that carries more than a hint of the old Spike. “It’s what you’re here for, right?”

I stand up, pick up the stake and tuck it into the pocket of my jacket. Then I bend down and, after a moment’s hesitation, I grab his wrist and pull, so his arm comes to rest on my shoulder, then sling one arm around his naked waist. I ignore his hiss of pain and lift him to his feet. He’s lighter than I thought. And has he always been this thin?

“Maybe later. Come on, Spike, I’ll take you to your place. You can’t stay here.”

***

The Chrysler is where I left it, near the Bronze.

“Look who’s got a shiny new toy. Nothing screams ‘I’m a boring poof’ like wheels built for people twice your age.”

“Shut up, Spike.” I’m so not in the mood for one of our usual arguments.

He shrugs and falls silent.

I lean him against the car, glad to let go of him. I always have a blanket in the trunk. He watches quietly, while I get it out and spread it over the seat. Then I dump the crazy vampire inside.

 “No smoking,” I tell him, and point at the sticker on the dashboard. I’m not sure he heard me.

The acrid stench of burnt flesh mingles with the typical plastic and leather smell of a brand-spanking new car. I think I’d prefer cigarette smoke after all. But, uncharacteristically, Spike makes no move to spite me. I’m not sure I like him better this way. Chipped and obnoxious but sane Spike I can deal with, but crazy, possibly de-chipped Spike? Excuse me? Can I have a new vampire? This one’s acting all funny.

It’s only a ten minute drive, but it seems to take forever. Maybe it’s because Spike is so quiet. I’m relieved when we reach the Sunnydale High construction site. I pull into my usual parking space and kill the engine. I get out to help him, but he manages to get out all by himself.

“Feelin’ better now,” he says with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Why don’t you go back to that Anya clone of yours. I can find my way from here.”

“Who Nancy? Hey! What do you mean--” Spike arches one eyebrow mockingly. Realization hits. I hate him when he’s right. Okay I hate him, period. “Oh,” I drawl. “Look who’s got his marbles back.”

“Told you. Feeling better already.”

Oh yeah? Nice try. I grab my flashlight, then I lock the car with a beep. “Yeah, I can see that. And all that swaying is just a cunning plan to make me dizzy.”

***

There must be a million things I’d rather be doing, than sneak through the Sunnydale High School basement in the middle of the night, dragging an annoying, half naked vampire back to his lair. At least, I have keys for most of the doors, so it’s easy to get inside the building.

It’s kinda creepy in here at night. Not just because I know the hellmouth is directly beneath us. I mean, we spent how many hours in the old library? And that was right on top of this mystic con-something. No, the creepy thing is, this looks almost like the old school, it even smells the same. Gives me a flashback that smacks of claustrophobia, humiliation, fear and teenager hormones. Can’t wait to get out of here again.

Spike manages on his own for most of the way, but halfway down the stairs to the basement he suddenly recoils and buries his head in his arms, hiding his face. “No, I’m… I’m sorry. I’m here now, aren’t I?”

Uh-oh. Here we go again.

I actually have to grab him, to keep him from tumbling down the stairs. I sling my arm around his waist again, not happy about another round of skin contact. I can feel he’s trembling.

“I’m trying!” he yells, when we reach the bottom of the stairs. “I’ll tell him. Just go!”

I give him a firm shake. “Where to?”

He squirms. “One at a time… don’t all talk at the same time…to be direct and honest is not safe, I tell you…” But he tries to stagger to the right, so that’s where we go.

It’s like a maze down here, full of junk and old furniture. We walk past desks and file cabinets, old chairs, shelves, crates and boxes, blackboards and even piles of books. It’s like someone took a big broom and swept all the leftovers from the last High School under the carpet, or as it happens into the basement, nailed a new lid on it, and built the new School on top. Which is exactly what my company did.

The muttering is getting worse. He sounds increasingly agitated, but I can’t make out what he’s saying.

We finally end up in front of a metal door.

“Here?”

He nods. Behind the door is a small room. This can’t be right.

“This is where you live? Man, I thought the crypt was bad, but this? At least the crypt had furniture, a b--…” -

Bed. I have a flashback of naked Spike doing push-ups in his large four-poster bed. Okay, so he was boinking invisible Buffy at the time – and boy, did that take me ages to work out - but the image of his lean pale back, thrusting into thin air still lingers. Gah! I let go of him and stifle the urge to wipe my hand on my pants. - “…b-bar, carpets, a TV,” I continue, waving my flashlight around and letting the light dance over the bare walls. “This isn’t what I’d call homey.”

I’ve seen prison cells that look more appealing – in movies, anyway. And what’s with the locks and bolts?

“Don’t need a home. Homes are for people.” He says it like he means it.

“Okay, I’ll fix you something to drink, and then I’m off. Where’s your fridge?”

Spike just shakes his head.

“Where do you keep your blood?”

Another headshake.

And then I can literally see him pull himself together. He raises his head and looks me squarely in the eye. “You better go now. It’s not safe here. It… that thing, from beneath… it doesn’t like you. It doesn’t want you here. It says you destroyed the talisman.”

Whoa!

“It. Wants. You. Dead.” Spike says very carefully, each word marking a menacing step towards me.

That’s my cue. I match his advance with a corresponding back-pedal until I’m outside his little cell. He stands in the doorway. “Cheers for droppin’ me off, mate. Don’t be a stranger.” Then the door slams into my face and I can hear the bolt sliding into place and the click-clack of the lock.

I wait for a few more heartbeats. What for? You tell me. In the end I turn around and walk away. Words can’t describe how good it feels to get out of that basement. With each step a weight seems to be lifted off my chest. I hurry back to the car and get inside.

I take a deep breath and gag. The air still smells of burnt flesh. Okay, nothing the air-conditioning can’t handle. I turn the ignition key and the Chrysler obediently sparks to life.

Five minutes later I’m still here, staring at the darkened High School.



Author’s Note: Warning. This part contains a dream sequence that involves non-consensual sex, violent images, and character death. Also, the use of the cross is not meant to be disrespectful.



Part Three

As I drive off, a strange mix of nervousness and guilt nags at me. I feel like I forgot to prep for an important quiz and now I’m flunking. I thought I left that particular sense of failure behind, when the old High School blew up and smoking bits of ex-Mayor confettied on my graduation.

On my way home I go past Revello Drive. Like I thought,  the lights are still on. Meaning I better check in. The door is unlocked, as usual. I’m greeted by bouts of canned laughter and applause.

“Hello? Buffy?”

“Xander? In here.” Buffy’s voice comes out of the living room. I close the door and walk in.

Abruptly, the laughter is cut off, as Buffy puts the remote on the table, next to a bowl of popcorn and the Sunnydale Times obituary page. She gives me a slightly forced smile. “I was hoping you’d stop by before I have to leave for another patrol. How did it go?”

“Huh?”

“Spike. What did he have to say?” She shrugs into her leather coat.

Nothing much. Except for the offer to ‘service’ me. Which was one hell of a sick way of putting it. I shrug. “I don’t know,” I say dismissively. “Didn’t make much sense. The guy’s pretty much round the bend. Mumbled something about a thing lurking in the school basement. I didn’t see anything down there, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Why is it so important what he said?”

There it is, that tiny moment of hesitation, when she weighs how much to tell me.

“No biggie. It just, you know, sounded like he knew something. He still has connections. You know, ear to the ground, that kind of thing.”

I fish a handful of popcorn out of the bowl. “What makes you think the bleached sicko still wants to help? I mean, why should he? Why did he come back, anyway?”

She kneels down in front of her weapons trunk and arms herself. That way she doesn’t have to look me in the eye, when she replies. “I—I dunno, he just said he’d help, and I believe him. I think.” She closes the trunk with a decisive snap.

“What about Anya?” I blurt out.

“What about her?” Buffy asks warily, as she stuffs her stakes into the pockets of her jacket.

“If it’s true and we’re in for a big evil extravaganza, then Anya might have heard something. If you ask her, maybe she can…“

“Anya is a demon, now,” Buffy states. “No longer part of the gang.”

Yeah, like I need a reminder. After all I saw her go all vein-y and kick Spike’s ass. Funny, but it didn’t freak me out like I thought it would, the demon face, I mean. No matter what, she’s still Anya, right? And Spike is still Spike, named for torturing his victims with railroad spikes. I don’t need to see his pointy teeth and lumpies to know what he is and always will be: an evil soulless thing, right?

Apparently some of my thoughts register on my face, because Buffy gives me a comforting smile. “I’m sorry Xander,” she says. “It’s just that… I don’t think helping us ranks high on Anya’s agenda, you know. But, hey, Willow will be back soon, to help with the research. How is that for timing?”

“Willow’s coming back?”

“Giles just called. Apparently, she’s all de-toxed and ready. You’ll see, it’s gonna be just like old times.”

Amen and can I get a hallelujah!

Buffy heads for the door. I grab another handful of popcorn for the road and follow her outside.

“Right, I better get going,” Buffy says. “It’s getting late and I don’t want to miss it when Mr. what’s-his-name wakes up all bloodthirsty. Tomorrow morning?”

“I’ll be there.”

I watch her receding back, then take a deep breath. It’s a beautiful night. Warm air, the crickets do their thing, the moon’s almost full. But I feel cold and I’ve got the smell of burnt flesh clinging to my jacket. Swell!

***

It’s been four months. But every time I come home and toss my keys on the kitchen counter, part of me goes “Hey, where’s Anya?”

I open the fridge. No more smelly cheeses. Just leftover pizza and three six-packs. I grab one. Maybe the beer will help me calm down. I take it with me into the bathroom. I really have to get rid of this smell. I strip, stuff everything into the overflowing hamper and take a long hot bath.

Later, I open a new packet of boxer shorts, slip into a pair (because all the pyjamas are in the hamper) and then crawl between the sheets. To sleep. At least that’s the general idea, but I’m still wound up like a clockwork. My heart is ticking too fast and my body is tense. Normally, that’s my cue to spank the monkey, thinking about Anya, Angelina Jolie, the Playboy centerfold or no one in particular. On a less denial-y night my thoughts might even stray to Ben Browder in leather pants.

But tonight I really don’t feel like getting in touch with myself, because I know where my thoughts would end up. I’d end up wondering what might have happened if I hadn’t chickened out or sobered up or--- whatever. Oh boy.

So, I toss and turn and try to will all thoughts of Spike out of my brain. It takes a long time until I finally fall asleep.

In my dream we are back in that church. Spike is standing before the cross, naked. My eyes hungrily trace the outline of his limbs. I admire his lean calves and thighs, dwell on the hard muscles that ripple underneath milky skin. I step closer, open my pants and pull myself out. Without hesitation I position myself and plough inside him. One of my hands grips his shoulder, the other clutches his hip. Every thrust pushes him against the cross. I can smell flesh burning, and smoke starts to curl up. Suddenly, I realize that it’s not the cross that is branding him, it’s me. Everywhere I touch him his skin hisses and blisters. It bubbles like melting plastic then turns a charcoal black. He doesn’t scream. Just writhes underneath me. Somehow I know his mouth is sewn shut. Then there’s a whooshing sound and he’s suddenly engulfed by flames. I can feel the heat but it doesn’t burn me. The next instant he’s gone and his ashes are scattering to the floor.

“Oh god,” I hear myself say. I hear clapping behind me. When I turn around (suddenly fully dressed) I see Anya and Willow standing there.

“Willow!” I exclaim, glad to see her. I don’t mind that her hair is black and that her eyes are bottomless pits. After all, she’s my Willow.

“That was a nice effect,” Willow is saying.

“Yes,” Anya answers, nodding appreciatively. “Not bad for a beginner. But it was over too quickly. Vengeance is a fine art. You’re supposed to make the pain linger.”

I’m about to tell them that I don’t care about vengeance, but a loud beeping sound drowns out my voice. Willow shakes her head and gestures towards her ear. “I can’t hear you,” she mouths and I…

…wake up, all sweaty and sticky, my heart racing. My hand slams down on the alarm clock, shutting it up in mid-bleep.

The sun is shining into the bedroom, cheerful and warm. I know it’s only in my head, but for a moment it’s back, that horrible smell of burning flesh.

God, I think I’m gonna be sick.



Author’s Note:  This part contains a number of rude homophobic expressions. They are not meant to express the  views of the author.



Part Four

I’m right on time to pick up Buffy and Dawn. Reliable Xander - that’s me.

I’m not much for talking, this morning, so I just listen, as they talk about teachers and assignments, the new Principal, the quality of the cafeteria food and the weird hell called High School.

“You know, a girl in my pottery class was saying that there are ghosts in the school basement.” Dawn tells us. “She said she heard weird sounds coming through the air vents, like someone’s crying or something. You think those zombie kinda things are back? Cause, you know, last time they were more creepy than weepy.”

“I don’t think so, Dawn. I’m sure there’s a perfectly normal explanation. Maybe the sounds are from another class room. Or maybe it’s a prank. Or… or the wind, maybe.”

Or maybe not.

“Whoever made that talisman could have made another one, right? Maybe you should ask Spike. If he’s been living down there… Wait. Forget I mentioned him, okay?” Looking into my rear mirror, I see Dawn frown and fold her arms in front of her chest. “Probably a prank. Sure. Whatever.”

Looks like the info that Spike is as mad as a hatter has not yet caught up with Dawn. I shoot a glance at Buffy, but she’s studiously not-looking at me.

After that, the conversation turns to Willow’s imminent return. Of course we’ll all go to the airport tomorrow, to welcome her back. I think we’re all nervous about what she’s gonna be like and whether her mojo will be gone or not, but nobody brings those doubts up and for that I’m grateful.

I drop the girls off, then go to work. Yup, reliable.

Reliable Xander starts work punctually. He’s a right regular guy, wearing his sensible hard hat, pinning the new shift roster to the notice board, inspecting the excavation site, and running around with important looking blueprints tucked under his arm. Successful, down to earth, hands on Mr. Harris, doing his job. And the Oscar goes to…

At the end of the day I deal with the inevitable complaints about next week’s roster, do a bit of paperwork and send the crew off with a manly pat on the back and their pay checks.

When everybody’s gone and the Chrysler  is the only car left in the parking lot, I grab my flashlight and my stake, brandish my master keys and let myself into the main building. Not much later, I’m sneaking through the school basement. Again. I can’t believe I’m doing this.

Something’s down here. Something evil. Other than Spike. I can feel it. I half expect Pennywise the clown to jump at me. Whatever it is, it seems that something doesn’t want me to find him, cause I swear, when I take the same route like last night, the door to his bolt-hole is gone. Maybe the walls move when no one’s looking.

It’s deathly quiet down here, except for the skittering sounds of small feet hurrying along  the dark passages. I hate rats. As if on cue, my foot connects with something soft and squishy. I hastily point my flashlight at the squishiness. It’s a dead rat. I prod it with my toe. Yup, dead. I crouch to get a better look. Its throat is torn. But there’s no blood.

“Spike?”

There’s no reply. I put a tentative finger on the rat carcass. Maybe it’s my imagination, but there seems to be a bit of body warmth left.

“Spike! Can you hear me?”

I aim my flashlight at my surroundings. The bright circle dances over crates, a row of stacked chairs and a few gutted filing cabinets. I almost miss the tiny movement as the tips of two boots are hastily dragged backwards, out of the light.

Okay, lets investigate.

In the far corner of the room, there’s a narrow space between the filing cabinets and the wall, less than a yard wide. That’s where he is, sitting on the dirty floor, hugging his knees. When I point the flashlight at him, he flinches. I direct the brightness away from his face. At least he’s dressed. He’s wearing a dark button down shirt that looks downright filthy and the same pants as last night.

“You found me, then.” he states wearily. “So, what are you gonna do now?”

Good question. Fortunately, he doesn’t wait for me to answer but makes a vague shooing gesture: “I’m not going to make another one for you. You can’t trick me. You’re not real. Go away or change into someone else.”

Whoa. Not so fast. “Another what now? Change? Huh?”

“You picked the wrong guy. Harris would never come down here.” Spike shakes his head. “You think I’m stupid?”

“Stupid? Yes, the thought has occurred to me, Spike. I also think you’ve completely lost it.  Meaning, you need help.”

He lifts his head to look at me, then nods slowly. “I know.”

“I’d say ‘professional help,’” I continue, “but as weird as this town is, I don’t think we have shrinks that specialize in treating looney bloodsuckers. Meaning, I’m all you’ve got. Come on, pal. We’re leaving.”

“No, I can’t. It’s my place. It fits. I fit,” he mutters, then shouts: “Haven’t you learned anything?”

He looks like he’d like to bolt, but I’ve got him cornered. “Spike, this place is no good. It’s turning your mind into goo. You can’t stay here. In case you’ve forgotten. This is the hellmouth we’re sitting on. This is as bad as it gets.”

“Bad,” he echoes.

“Yes. Bad, Spike.”

“Bad Spike. Yes. Spike’s a bad man.”

“You’re not a man, Spike. You may look like one, but you’re not.” I guess you could call it my mantra.

He looks away. “Is that so?” he asks. His voice is brittle.

“Well, I must admit, sometimes it’s kinda hard to remember the facts,” I concede.

He gives me a bleak stare and nods. “Bad dog, then. That’s what Dru used to say. She’s here, you know. They’re all here.”

I sigh. This is getting old fast. “For the last time, Spike. You can’t stay here.”

He turns away and mumbles something I can’t make out.

“Say that again?”

“I’ve got nowhere else to go.”

“What about your crypt?”

When he doesn’t answer, I grab him by his shoulder. He hisses in pain. I let go with a panicky yelp, before I realize that no, my touch is not burning him. I merely touched one of his burns by accident. At least now, when he looks at me, he seems focused. “Spike, can we go to your crypt?”

“Not going there,” he chokes out. “Memories. Too many memories.”

I get that. I think of the apartment and how empty it feels without Anya. If the crypt is ruled out, that doesn’t leave a load of options. I wouldn’t dream of letting him near Buffy and Dawn, so that’s a definite no-no. Magic Box basement? Maybe not, since he and Anya tried to beat the snot out of each other last night. Well, someone’s gotto put up with him and – like I thought - that someone’s gonna be me. Swell!

***

We get out of the school basement without incident. I mean, Spike mutters a lot, and needs some coaxing, but in the end I get him into the car.

“Where are you taking me?” he asks.

“My place,” I answer curtly, still struggling with the idea of ‘Spike Trek II – The Return of the Evil Roomie.’ “But hands off my stuff! I haven’t forgotten about my lamp and the radio.”

“Why?

Good question. I just shrug.

Ten silent minutes later I pull into the condo’s parking lot and get out of the car. “Come on, we’re here.”

He follows me up the stairs. He seems alert, attentive. Checks the place out casually, like a thief who’s memorizing possible escape routes. I unlock the door and walk inside. Spike hovers on the outside.

“Get your butt inside, Spike.”

He hesitates, then steps into the apartment.

I close the door and watch his face as he looks around, taking in TV, kitchenette, microwave, and finally the old orange recliner chair – ugly but comfy.

“Okay, as you can see, this is the living room,” I babble, suddenly inexplicably nervous. I point at the various doors. “That’s my room over there. And this is the bathroom. You should take a shower. You’re definitely ripe, Spike.”

He gives no sign that he’s heard me.

“You gonna tie me up again?” he asks with a nod towards the chair.

“Do I have to?”

“That depends,” he says, sounding more Spike-y by the minute.

“On what?” I ask nervously.

“On what you want.”

“Huh? What? Want?”

“You brought me here for a reason.”

“Maybe I just want to help. Have you thought of that, Spike?”

He arches his eyebrow warily. “Yeah, and next they’ll be handing out ice-skates in hell.” He starts pacing. “Nothing ever comes without a price. Had a hundred and fifty years to learn that lesson. And since I already offered my helpin’ hand, fighting the beasties of the hellmouth and such…” suddenly he’s standing before me, much too close for comfort, “…there must be something else. Something. You. Want. From. Me.”

I swallow. I’m beginning to think that bringing him here may have been a big mistake. He doesn’t think he’s here because I want to be… ‘serviced,’ does he? God, I hope not. Okay, the thought makes my body tingle in a totally unwelcome way, but hey, I can handle it.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Spike.” Yeah, try denial.

Spike’s body radiates tension. He’s like a coiled snake, ready to strike.  Suddenly his hand is on my neck, as he grabs my hair almost painfully. Before I know what’s going on, I’ve got my back against the wall and his other hand between my legs. His face is only inches away from me.

“That what you want, Harris?” he asks, as his fingers tighten on my hard-on. My heart races, my mouth is dry and I break out in a sweat. Mortal fear mingles with arousal and disgust.

I’m unable to answer. I mean, what am I supposed to say, when he’s kinda fondling the evidence?

He gives me a truly evil smile, the kind I haven’t seen on him for quite a while. “Always figured you for a shirt lifter, Harris,” he says smoothly. “I’ve eaten enough faggots to know the signs.” His grip on my balls tightens, bordering on painful.

God, this can’t be happening. I’d struggle, except I’m kinda rooted to the spot.

“You know, you had your chance in that church. Wasn’t playing with a full deck, then. But I’m better now,” he says menacingly. “So, I’m telling you: If you try to get a leg over, I’ll strangle you with your own soddin’ entrails, even if the bleedin’ chip fixes me for good.”

His words are like a kick in the balls. This is worse than standing naked in front of the whole chemistry class. This is worse than being dressed up in a stuffed out bra and girl’s underwear and being made to dance in front of the whole fraternity. Worse even than my clumsy strip show at The Fabulous Ladies Night Club, where the string of my unmentionable popped in mid-action. I guess this must be the single most humiliating moment of my whole life.

“Fucking six-pound note,” Spike explodes. “How desperate do you think I am?” With that he lets go, giving me one last shove that’s hard enough to set off his chip, for he clutches his head in obvious pain. “I don’t need you,” he bellows, “or the soddin’ Scoobies. Don’t need anybody.”

More profanities pour out of him, but I’m not even listening anymore. All I hear is my own furious heartbeat and a strange roar in my ears.

“Get out!”

“I’ll go when I bloody well please.” He roars, picks up a chair and hurls it across the room. It hits the recliner chair, bounces off and ricochets into a lamp, smashing it into a thousand pieces.

Okay, that would be my cue for a hasty retreat. Maybe a dash for the front door? No, he’s too close. I’d never get it open. I turn around and run into the bedroom. I slam the door behind me, lock it and put a chair underneath the doorknob. My legs are weak and I slide down to the floor, my back against the door. Congratulations! Now you’re a prisoner in your own bedroom.

I press my ear against the door. No more crashing sounds from the other side. Just a strange manic laughter. I half expect him to go Jack Nicholson (only without the axe) and pound his way right through the door to try and grab me, but nothing like that happens.

Seconds stretch into minutes. I listen, but I can’t hear a thing. For a moment I feel like he’s directly on the other side of the door. I hold my breath. Then the feeling is gone.

Hours later I’m still sitting there. I must have fallen asleep somehow. According to the alarm clock it’s 4.30 am. I’m hungry and thirsty, and I desperately need to pee.

I’m sure Spike’s gone. Probably grabbed what money he could find, nicked the stereo, raided the fridge and left. Here’s hoping. I remove the chair, unlock the door and tiptoe into the living room. It’s dark, but a thin strip of light is visible underneath the bathroom door and I can hear water running. Maybe he showered and left the water running? Only one way to find out.

When I open the door, I am hit by cold humidity.

Spike sits huddled in the bathtub. Butt-naked. The shower is running, pelting him with ice-cold water. He’s shivering. A rusty liquid the color of thin tea rushes towards the drain, and is swallowed in a swirl.

“Won’t come off,” he says in a small voice. He’s gripping the nail brush with hands that are slippery with blood and scrubbing away with it like mad. “Just won’t…”

He looks up, like a drowning man, his desperation palpable.

That’s when I finally connect the dots.



AN: My aplogies for the delay. I was sick most of last week, which put a serious lid on my creative output.

Next chapter is in the pipeline.



Part Five

“You have a soul.” I don’t know why it sounds like an accusation.

He pauses, looks down to inspects his mangled fingers. For a moment I expect him to deny it, but then he laughs – or tries to. “Figured it out, did you?”

“How--- Does Buffy know?”

He shakes his head and resumes scrubbing. The sight makes me wince. It’s hard to believe that this is the same guy who threatened to strangle me with my own guts. He looks old and worn, even more than in that church, like he’s dying by degrees. It’s kinda disturbing, if you think about it. I reach for the faucet and turn the water off. Then I catch his wrist and wrestle the nail brush out of his hand. “Get out,” I say harshly. I plonk the brush on the sink and stare distastefully at the diluted red puddle that forms underneath it and at my own stained fingers. I quickly rinse his blood off my hands.

Behind me, I can hear him scramble to his feet and climb out of the tub. I turn around and toss him a dark blue towel. “Here, use this.”

He catches it and holds it as if he’s not quite sure what to do with it.

“It’s called a towel, and you’re supposed to dry yourself with it, nimrod!” I snap.

Eyes lowered, he clumsily starts to wipe the towel over his hunched shoulders and his mutilated chest. I watch him, meaning to check out his injuries - but I have to admit, first my eyes take a little southbound detour. I could say that that’s what guys do, you know, check out the competition, but I’d be lying. It’s nothing as manly as that.

I don’t know what I expected, but he’s kinda normal. For an insane moment I wonder if his face is the only thing that changes when he goes into vamp-mode. I shake my head in disgust.

What I don’t get is why he still makes me feel this way. I hate him. He hates me. He’s a vampire, evil, well maybe not-so-evil-anymore and he’s done unspeakable things. Definite turn-off, at least it should be. And that sex-on-a-stick vibe? Right now he looks more like something the cat dragged in, skinny, all sharp angles, tattered. Yesterday’s burns and those older cuts haven’t healed yet. Must hurt like hell. His hands too… I can’t take my eyes off them.

Suddenly Spike freezes. Looking up, he catches me staring at him. Crap! He doesn’t say anything, though. His lip curls disdainfully. He turns sideways, then drops the towel and picks up his pants. He briskly puts them on, swaying unsteadily. He fumbles awkwardly with the zip, shrugs, leaves his pants open and reaches for his shirt. He puts it on, not bothering with the buttons, picks up his shoes and stands before me.

He’s dripping. Drops of water crawl down from his hair, across his face, down his chest; drops of blood tumble from his hands, onto his shoes and the bathroom rug.

I realize I’m in his way and supposed to step aside. Instead, I open the medicine cabinet and rummage through my stock until I find the Tylenol. I turn on the tap and fill my cup with water. “Here, take these.” I hold out two pills and the cup.

He wordlessly swallows the pills and hands back the empty cup.

I close the lid of the toilet and nod towards it. “Sit down, Spike. I’ll bandage your hands.”

“Listen, you don’t have to… I don’t want your pity…”

“Shut up. I won’t have you drip blood all over the living room carpet.”

He sets his shoes on the floor, sits down, and without looking at me, he holds out his hands. They’re not a pretty sight. Dumb vampire! I unzip my first aid kit and clean and dry his right hand, then start bandaging it carefully. His fingers are as cold as ice.

“That soul of yours, how did it happen? Did you piss off a bunch of gypsies?” I say flippantly, like it’s no big deal.

“Not a curse.”

“Then what? I mean souls don’t just lie around for you to trip over, like oops, I’m souled. Or was this some kind of monkey’s paw deal?”

He raises his head, gathers his tattered pride and looks at me defiantly.  “Fought for it, fair an’ square.”

“Why?” I must admit I don’t get it. “What’s it do?”

“Buffy. She deserved… better. I thought, that if I changed…” He shakes his head and lowers his gaze again.

“So, you’re still after Buffy. You think you can buy yourself back into favor with that soul of yours? Cause it’s not some kind of ‘get out of jail free’-card.”

“No, I… I just…” he peters off uncertainly and shrugs.

There. I’m finished with his right hand. I grab a new roll of gauze and start work on his left. This is as good an opportunity as any to clarify something: “Listen, you dumb bloodsucker. Let’s get one thing straight: I didn’t bring you here to screw,” I say sharply. “I wouldn’t touch you with a ten-foot pole. I brought you here to keep an eye on you, so you don’t hurt…”

“Buffy,” he finishes my sentence. “I won’t.”

Yeah, her too.

“Consider yourself on a short leash. There’s a closet that I can turn into a little room. You can stay there for a few days, until we come up with something. No one, not even you, should have to live in a dark hole all by himself. Plus that school basement was seriously messing with your head. But if you threaten me again, in my own home, I’ll kick you out like yesterday’s garbage. And if you ever lay a finger on…”

“Won’t happen.”

“…on Buffy or anyone else I care about, I’ll chase you round the world and round perdition’s flame,” I intone, getting a little carried away. “I’ll make sure you get what YOU deserve!”

He gives me a funny look but nods, like we just struck a deal. Hell, maybe we did.

***

An hour later I’ve washed the bloodstains out of the bathroom rug and settled him into his room. A small squeaky cot and a chair, that’s all that will fit into that narrow space, but he’s not complaining. In fact, he’s not talking at all, not even when I thrust a pillow, some sheets, a few blankets and a pile of old clothes into his arms. I’m relieved when he disappears in the closet, closing the door behind him.

I fix myself a mug of coffee and a pop tart, then write a note and stick it to the fridge: ‘Hands off my food!’ Underneath I jot down my phone number. Remembering the last time Spike and I shared quarters, I make a mental note to use my lunch break to buy him a toothbrush and some other stuff. And unless I want him to use up my shampoo I’d better get him some of his own. As a roomie, he was a pain in the butt, but fastidious.

Before I have to leave for work, I softly rap against his door. I hear a muffled sound, so I peer inside. He’s asleep, curled up, huddled into the embrace of his own arms. Even in sleep he looks miserable. Plus he’s muttering - don’t know what. Can’t make out the words. I’m not sure I want to. I never knew vampires could dream. Guess it’s the soul that’s giving him a hard time. I watch him for a minute, wondering if he’ll still be here when I come back, then I grab my keys and newspaper and head outside. Whew, am I glad to get out of the apartment of doom and into the morning sun.

Next stop: Revello Drive. I feel like I’m trapped in yesterday’s rerun. The girls talk about school, Principal hottie, homework. I guess I’m not old enough to feel nostalgic about High School. Although I often feel old. Like when I’m try to be hubby, big brother and dad all rolled into one.

We tiptoe around the whole Willow coming back issue because Dawn is still pretty angry with her. But she doesn’t know Willow as well as I do. That’s when I decide to make a sign for Willow. Someone should make her feel welcome. I know what she did, how she almost ended the world, how she killed that jerk Warren, may he rot in hell, but she’s still Willow, my best friend. If I’m not there for her, who will?

“So, when are you picking us up tonight?” Buffy asks, sounding cheerful, while Dawn sullenly gets out of the car.

“Six sound okay to you? That should give us enough time to get there before the plane lands.”

“Sure. Six sounds good.”

It’s only when I pull into the construction site parking lot that I realize I haven’t mentioned Spike’s relocation or his latest acquisition.


Author’s Note: When Xander talks about “perdition’s flame” he’s quoting “Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan.” Of course Xander doesn’t know that it’s originally a quote from “Moby Dick” (which is why Spike gives him a funny look).



Genre/Warnings: Angst, episode related, AU, vague spoilers up to 7.08 "Sleeper"

Thanks to Abbylee for her help.



Part Six

At the airport, Willow is AWOL. She just never shows. So we check Revello Drive, but she isn’t there, either. Now everybody is worried. The girls. Giles. They think that maybe Willow is still evil. Impossible! Willow’s not evil. She did evil things, yes, but that was out of grief. The real Willow isn’t like that. She just isn’t, okay?

When I get home, Spike is in his room. I can hear him talking to himself. Great, I’m sharing my apartment not just with Spike, but with his invisible friends as well. I just hope his friends don’t talk him into doing anything stupid. When I go to bed I go through the better-safe-than-sorry routine:  Chair under the doorknob – check. Stake under pillow – check. Could my life get any spookier?

Apparently yes, because come next morning there’s still no Willow. Instead, we get a flayed body at the construction site. Then Buffy comes up with the plan of asking Spike whether he knows anything. Uh-oh.

“That would be a waste of time, Buff,” I say. “Whatever evil thing did this, I don’t think Spike has the inside scoop. He wasn’t here last night.”

“And you know that because?”

“I… um… he was at my place last night.” Ugh, that didn’t come out right. “He’s living in my closet now.” Crap, that doesn’t sound better, either.

“He’s where?” Buffy snaps incredulously, eyes big. “Are you nuts?”

“No, but Spike is. Very much making with the crazy. So I…uh… thought I should keep an eye on the guy. Make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid… --er than usual.”

“Hey, newsflash, you’re the one who sees red whenever Spike’s name is mentioned. The one who always brings up that… what he did. And now you go and invite him to stay with you? Without even telling me?”

“I thought the less you have to do with him, the better,” I say defensively as we walk to the car. “After what he did…”

“That’s not for you to decide,” Buffy tells me icily. “Regardless of what happened, Spike’s a vampire. One who may be connected to whatever evil is coming for us next. It’s my business to know where he is and what he does.”

I toss the hard hat on the back seat and start the car. The drive to my apartment is punctuated by a number of oh so casual questions that don’t fool me for a minute:

“Did he say where he was all that time?”

“Who cares? Wherever he went, he should’ve stayed there.”

Long pause. Then: “How is he? His mind, I mean. Still—“

“Crazy? You betcha. Talks to himself.”

Two traffic lights later: “Well, as long as he’s harmless…”

I just nod, pretending that driving requires all my attention. This would be the right moment to tell her about the soul. But if he wanted her to know he would have told her, wouldn’t he?

We reach the condo and take the stairs to the second floor when I hear Spike’s voice coming from somewhere ahead. What’s going on?

“Heard all about you,” he’s saying. “How you skinned that guy. Always thought you had it in you!” Swell. Talk about skinning people in my hallway, why don’t you? The neighbors are gonna love this.

“Did he just say skinning?” Buffy and I exchange a glance. Oh right. The body.

“You sure you don’t wanna stay? I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.” Spike says, his voice raised.

Buffy breaks into a run, taking two steps at a time. I follow her at a trot. When I reach the landing, whoever Spike was talking to is gone. There’s no one in the hallway, just Buffy and Spike. Who is wearing nothing but his pants. I try not to stare. I check for invisible people, instead.

“Buffy?” Spike asks softly.

“Spike, what’s going on?” Buffy wants to know, her voice stern and businesslike but I can see the way she’s looking at the scars on his chest. Almost like she cares.

“You look beautiful,” Spike says instead of answering, looking almost bashful. Like Buffy’s the holy grail. It obviously makes her uncomfortable.

“Who skinned whom, Spike?” she asks.

“Could we have a change of scenery for the next act, like maybe the apartment?” I suggest in a lowered voice. “My neighbors are already keeping tabs on me. No need to go Twilight Zone in the hall.” Spike opens the door wide and steps back. We follow him inside. He briskly walks into his room and comes back buttoning up his shirt.

Buffy rests her hands on her hips. “Come on, Spike. Who were you talking to? Who skinned whom? If you know anything about this, you have to tell me.”

“Just heard there’s a body, is all.”

“How do you know?”

“The witch told me.”

“Willow?” I interrupt. “Willow was here?”

Spike gives me a strange glance. “You mean you didn’t see her?”

“No. When? Just now?”

“Probably wasn’t her then. Maybe it was just in my head. It’s a bit crowded in there, of late.”

Buffy frowns, as uncomfortable with his ramblings than I am. “What happened to your hands?” She nods at the bandages.

He hides them behind his back. “It’s nothing.”

There is an uncomfortable silence. “Right, if you two will excuse me…” Spike hesitates, then walks into his room and shuts the door.

***

You know what’s scary? Hearing a 15-year-old girl talk about viscera, puddles of blood and skin-eating demons. Bleagh! And weird? Tracking said demon by using Spike as a bloodhound. And not funny? Dawn’s comment when Buffy tells her that I’ve got Spike unliving in my apartment: “You think Xander’s under a spell or something?”

You wish!

***

Much much later, when I get home, Spike is sitting in front of the TV. He wordlessly turns it off, puts the remote on the table and heads for his room. In the doorway he pauses.

“Did you find her then?” he asks.

“Willow? Yeah we found her.” I still cringe inwardly at the intense neediness I heard in her voice. ‘You’re here, you’re here!’ For a while I thought she’d never let me out of her sight again.

“Was it her did the killing? She dead? Slayer kill her?”

“No! Of course not. It was a demon called Gnarl, that was responsible for the flaying. Willow wouldn’t do that kind of thing.” Okay, in the light of what happened that sounds like denial in capital letters. But she wouldn’t, okay? I know she wouldn’t. It was a one time crazy thing that’s so not gonna happen again.

“You smell of blood.”

“Oh? Yea, she… That thing, it hurt her. It was going to…” The thought still makes me shudder. And why am I wasting precious sleep time talking to him? Are we having a conversation?

“Eat her, I know. Heard about the fellow. Peels ‘em like an apple.”

“Thanks for the image, Spike. If that’s not going to give me sweet dreams, then nothing will.”

But he’s not really listening to me. There’s a worried look on his face and he snaps around, staring into the empty space of his room and backing away from it. “No. That’s your MO, not mine.  Go away you skanky bitch, not talking to you!”

See, this is what I’ve had to put up with the past two days. Just when you think he makes some sense, he starts talking to invisible people again. “There’s no one in there, Spike. Who do you see? Someone you killed?” Wouldn’t that be some kind of poetic justice? Is that why he went nuts, because that soul acts like a giant slide show in his head, populating the world with the faces of the people he murdered?

“Not quite,” he mumbles.

“Who do you see?” I ask again.

“No one,” he says quietly. “Told you, I’m insane.”

I’m too tired to pursue the matter any further. Bedroom. Chair. Doorknob. Stake. I fall asleep in mid-wank.



Part Seven

Spike and I soon settle into a routine. It's quite simple: We avoid each other like the plague. When I get home he's either out or in the process of leaving. He usually returns when dawn approaches, shortly before I have to get up. If it weren't for the wet towels I wouldn't even know I've got a roomie.

Once or twice we spot him at the Bronze but he never joins us. He just nods, finishes his drink and leaves.

It's almost as if he's trying to be invisible. He's not inaudible, though. I'm a light sleeper these days. I can hear the door, the shower, the occasional squeaking of the springs of his mattress. No, he's actually not that loud, but his room is next to my bedroom and the wall is thin.

Whenever we do happen to meet, he's civil (and fully dressed). No innuendo. No talk of entrails or leg overs and no more offers. It's like none of that ever happened. As far as I can tell, he never tries to cut himself again, either. It looks like he's getting saner. But almost every morning the first thing I hear when I wake up, is Spike tossing and turning. Sometimes he's talking in his sleep. Whenever that happens I get up quickly and make my escape into the bathroom. Under the shower I don't have to listen to his pain and despair. And after that I make enough noise preparing my breakfast to wake the dead. Literally.

One morning, after more than a week of avoidance, I get up and realize I forgot to barricade my bedroom door last night. Does that mean I'm no longer afraid he'll murder me in my sleep or does that mean that part of me is hoping for him to just come in and. I don't know, jump my bones? Like that's ever gonna happen. The old Spike might have, but I'm beginning to think that he's gone. Anyway, it feels kinda pointless keeping up the Alamo stance when there's no real siege going on. I keep the stake but ditch the routine.

About two days later, while I'm at work, a furious Buffy storms in on me just as I am explaining some blueprints to my crew. "How long have you known that Spike has a soul?" she blurts out, eliciting funny looks.

Uh oh. "Coffee break. Back in ten," I tell the guys and herd Buffy into a quieter corner. "Buffy, be careful what you're saying and where."

"How long?" She interrupts me.

"Ten days or so," I admit.

"And it didn't occur to you to tell me? I have to find out from a student I'm supposed to be counseling? Who, by the way, is in serious need of saving. What were you thinking?"

"Gee, let me see, Buff. I was thinking, if Spike had wanted you to know he'd have told you. Why do you even care? That thing between you, it's over and out, right? Tell me, you two are not going to have another boinkfest now that he's got himself a soul." The mere thought makes my fists clench.

"Xander, we talked about this. That thing. with Spike. It's so over. I'm the Slayer. Whatever Spike does, it's my job to know about it."

"Your 'job' is to counsel students during the day and stake vampires by night. And my job is to build a gym."

She glares at me. We are cut off in mid-argument when one of the guys comes up with a problem. She chews on her lower lip. I spread my arms and give her an apologetic 'can't help it, I'm needed' look, although I don't feel sorry at all. She nods, obviously still peeved but heads back to her counseling office.

I watch her retreating back, remembering something she said. How come one of Buffy's student cases knows about Spike's soul?

***

That student, Cassie, talking about Spike's soul, turns out to be a subset of a larger puzzle. One that raises all kinds of questions about big-wordy stuff like destiny and predestination. It also makes you wonder what's the point in trying to help someone. I mean, we all pooled resources, wracked our brains, did the research and legwork, did all we could, Buffy whupped the demon's ass, saved the girl from ending up as demon chow, even Spike lent a hand. And then she just drops dead because of a heart-failure? Because she has an appointment with death? Hello? Wouldn't you feel like a puppet on strings if that happened to you?

We all go to the funeral, and by 'we' I mean Buffy, Dawn, Willow and myself. When I get home to change into my work kit, I bump into naked Spike!

"Spike!" I exclaim, proving that even in the face of his sudden and mind- blowing nakedness I can still remember his name.

Okay, he's not all-the-way naked because he's got a towel wrapped around his hips, but naked enough. I stare. I know I do. I can't help it. The scars and burns - gone. Plus, he's filled out a little, doesn't look quite so starved anymore.

Spike closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, then briskly strides past me into his room. A moment later he's back, buttoning his pants. He pulls a black tee shirt over his head and slicks back his wet hair with his fingers.

"Posh," he says, glancing at my dark suit. "What's the occasion?"

"Cassie's funeral."

He appears confused. "Who?"

"The girl with the visions. Who thought she'd die? Well, turns out she did, right on time, like a little clock that stops ticking." Do I sound bitter? You betcha.

"She looked alright to me," Spike mumbles with a shake of his head.

"Yeah well, she's not." I snap. As far as I'm concerned this conversation is over. I turn and walk into the bedroom. I toss my jacket on the bed and start unbuttoning my shirt.

"You say she had visions? Knew stuff?"

"Gah!" I squeal. "Spike!" He's followed me inside the bedroom! I glare at him. "Off limits, oh obnoxious one!"

"Oh, um. sorry, I wasn't thinking." He mumbles, dropping his gaze. He raises his hands defensively and backs off, until he stands outside. But instead of closing the door behind him, he kinda hovers.

"What?" I ask brusquely.

"The visions?" he prompts.

I sit on the bed and take my shoes and socks off. "Yes," I say tiredly, "Cassie had visions, saw all kinds of weird things like her own death. That's what the whole hubbub was all about the past few days." I see a certain realization dawning on his face and my own light bulb goes off. "Why, what did she say to you?"

"Nothing," he mutters and turns away. Moments later I hear the door of the closet fall shut. Was he always this bad a liar?



Part Eight

Man, sometimes I really hate this: this town, the impending doom and the whole running around with stakes in your pockets. And I really hate this suit. This is the fourth funeral it's seen and if you ask me that's four too many. I bought it when Mrs. Summers died, and I wore it when we buried Buffy, then for Tara's funeral and today for Cassie's. I transfer change, keys and stake into my brown leather jacket, then put the suit on a hanger and hide it in the back of the wardrobe so I don't have to see it every day. Then I change into my work wear. Funeral funk or no, I gotta put in a few more hours at the site. If I don't get the machines set up for tomorrow's vent work, nobody else will.

I grab my keys and head outside. When I pass his door I hesitate. Damn Spike for making my life so complicated! I don't get it. Why does he get my motor running? When he's not even trying. And when I don't even like him. Okay, getting sidetracked here. The important question is: Why was he asking after Cassie? She must have told him something, something he doesn't want us to know. Maybe about that thing from beneath? But why share important visions with a guy whose body count equals other people's social security number and who is also a) undead, b) incompetent and c) off his rocker?

I can stand here, outside his room, and speculate about what's going on in Spike's head until the cows come home. Point is, I'm not the one who took psyche 101 from Professor Frankenwalsh. I'm not smart like Willow, I'm hands on guy. If your faucet needs fixing, then I'm your man. But all this psycho stuff?

I shake my head and leave. Maybe Willow can figure this out.

***

After work I'm at Buffy's, where we all try to exorcise the failure of saving Cassie by watching a couple of movies. But we end up marinating in our own gloom and doom. Half way through the second film Buffy leaves for patrol, not much later Dawn goes upstairs, because 'remakes of 70s shows are so lame' and 'Bill Murray's part should have been played by Heath Ledger.'

A few minutes later, Willow pauses the movie. "I gotta say, Drew Barrymore's got nice boobs and all but honestly? I'm not in the mood for this. Is it okay if we watch the rest of this tomorrow night?"

"I agree with you on the boobs. But, yeah, I think I've seen enough, I mean, sure, tomorrow night is fine."

She smiles and turns the TV off. Then she turns towards me. "So, Xander, what's up? You've got your 'Something's freaking me out'-face on or. or maybe it's your 'I need a friend to talk to' face, I'm not sure, but there's something you're not telling us. Is Spike giving you trouble? You wanna bitch about your roomie, go ahead. I'm all best friend-y."

"No. Yes. no, Spike isn't really giving me trouble. Yet. No stealing, no bloodstained mugs, no overflowing ashtrays, no insults. He hardly even talks to me. You know, he's so much under the radar I hardly know he's there, except for-" I stop myself.

"Except for what?"

"He's got nightmares, Wills."

Willow lifts her eyebrows. "And why shouldn't he, Xander? He's got a soul now, that's gotta do stuff to him."

"Yeah, well what exactly does a soul do? Other than make him talk to people that aren't there and sound like Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now?"

"If YOU don't know that, who does? I mean, you guys live under the same roof. I know you're not friends or anything, but if anyone has a chance to find out what's going on inside of Spike, it's you."

That is NOT what I wanted to hear. "Well, I better get going." I grab my jacket and get to my feet.

"His nightmares, do they bother you?" Willow asks me, a the door.

"No. yes. I don't know. I mean, we're talking Spike here. He had it coming."

There's a strange look on Willow's face, that slowly turns into resolve. "Stay here, don't go away. I just wanna go and get something." She disappears upstairs. A moment later, she comes down the stairs again, a crystal flask in her hand.

"What's that?"

"A simple sleeping drought. Herbs and stuff. It should work on vampires too, keep the nightmares away."

"Oh, and you happen to have that ready?"

"He's not the only one with bad dreams," she says quietly.

I feel like someone kicked me in the gut. Deflated. "I'm sorry, Willow," I stammer, feeling like a complete idiot. "I didn't mean to--."

"It's alright, Xander," she answers and pulls me into a tight embrace. We stand there for minute or two, just hugging each other. It feels good to have someone to hold on to.

"Here," she finally presses the bottle into my hand and kisses my cheek. "Night, Xander."

"Night Willow."

When I get home the ex-evil roomie is out. I crawl into bed with some vague ideas about Drew Barrymore's boobies but pass out before I get any further.

***

When I wake up the apartment is quiet. I listen. No mumbling or humming, no singing, no squeaking mattress. Home alone! After about two weeks of cohabitation with Spike I feel like I'm a visitor in my own home. I can't even go and jack off for a while. In the evenings I tend to be too groggy, and in the mornings Spike's sleeping on the other side of that wall and I so don't need an audience. But today I can take care of my morning hard-on in peace. And if I think about Spike going down on me, it's only to get him out of my system.

When I head out of the bedroom and for the shower I almost squeal. Spike's sitting on one of the bar stools, hunched over the counter. I didn't hear the door, so he must have been there the whole time. Meaning it's possible he heard the whole thing, what with superior vampire hearing.

"Spike, what are you doing here?" I snap louder than necessary.

He looks up and arches his eyebrow. "Live here," is his reply. And for a moment there's a faint glimmer of the old Spike but then he frowns. He folds the paper he's been reading - MY paper! -, slides off the stool and points at the title page. "That really the date?"

"October 22nd, yeah, unless there's been some kind of time warp. So what's up with your sudden interest in current affairs? Is that soul of yours trying to whip you into an upstanding citizen?"

"When did she die?"

"Who?"

But he doesn't answer. Instead he gets that faraway stare. Swell, looks like his invisible friends just turned up. I jerk around, just in case, to check he's not staring at some kind of monster that's sneaking up on me. Of course, there's nothing there.

"Yeah? Wasn't listening ," Spike says. He gives me kind of an awkward sideways glance before he addresses thin air again. "Besides, it's none of my business. It's HIS place."

'His place'? As in 'my place'? Hang on a second. What's he--

"So what? Thoughts are free," Spike says quietly. Another quick glance in my direction - and this time he looks downright embarrassed.

Hey! It's one thing for him to talk with his invisible buddies, but when they start talking about ME I get cranky. I step between him and who- or whatever. That gets his attention. "Okay, if you do all this crazy talk in my living room you could at least tell me who you think you're talking to."

He hesitates.

"Come on, Spike. I'm listening."

"Doesn't matter, does it? Spike's three sandwiches short of a picnic - that's all it is," he finally mutters, refusing to look me in the eye. "All in my head, I know that. I mean, usually I know. And I'm fine most of the time, aren't I? Try to stay out of your hair when I'm not."

Not for the first time I feel something twist in my stomach. Painfully. This time I don't stomp on the feeling of pity. I mean, what's worse than being crazy? Knowing that you are. Man, all this is getting to me!

"Who is it?" I insist.

"Me," comes the soft reply.

"Huh?"

"There are others. But right now I'm seeing. me," Spike continues haltingly. He appears distracted, like he's still listening to inaudible voices. "And I'm the way I was, before I. changed. Bad. Dangerous. Telling me. things."

This can't be good! If Spike's tapping into his old evil self someone might get hurt.

"There's nothing there, Spike. Snap out of it. Concentrate." There must be a way to shut up those voices, right? Maybe if I bring his mind back on track. I grab his arm. "Spike, what was it you wanted to know? Who died?"

"Purple hair." he reaches up to touch his head but freezes halfway. He tilts his head and a smile appears on his face. He begins to hum a tune.

"Purple hair? Are you talking about Cassie?" I ask urgently.

Something about him changes. He seems taller. More focused. Less ga-ga. Which is good, right? Right?

"Never mind," he says with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Not important. Forget what I said."

What's going on? I know it's stupid but I have to ask: "Are you okay?"

"Never better." He meets my eyes evenly, even smirks a little.

Okay, plain crazy has just turned into darn suspicious. It's not in the words but in the delivery. He's too smooth. I've seen enough of him these past few weeks to know that he's anything but calm inside. Even I can see his pain and misery - whether I want to or not. Spike can't even look me in the eye for more than a second or two. I don't know why, but his sudden serenity gives me the creeps.

Something's wrong here!

Spike picks up his jacket and looks at my hand that's still gripping his arm. He's smiling, but underneath that smile there's a vibe of carefully restrained violence. I hurriedly let go and he heads for the door.

"Um, Spike?" I call after him. "It's daylight outside, you DO remember you're a vampire and extra flammable?"

"Don't worry. Not planning on going up in flames."

And with that he saunters away.

***

"There's something wrong with Spike," I say when Buffy and Dawn climb into the Chrysler.

"What do you mean, 'wrong?'" Buffy asks with a frown.

"He's acting all funny."

"Funny? How? I thought you said he's getting better, settling down."

"He is. Was. I don't know. I just think there must be something we can do. All this talking with invisible people. I mean, maybe it's not the basement that made him crazy."

"Maybe it's the soul," Dawn pipes in. "Angel was pretty crazy when he got re-souled after his rampage." Let me just say, I'm glad it wasn't me who brought up the A-word.

"Angel is different." Buffy says, as usual coming to deadboy's defense. "He spent countless years in a hell-dimension before the powers brought him back."

"Yeah, but what was it like, when he got cursed the first time? Did he hear voices, too?" I ask.

"I don't know," Buffy admits. "We didn't really talk much about what happened before he came to Sunnydale."

Swell.



Part Nine

Even when he’s not around, Angel manages to bring a conversation to a screeching halt. One look into Buffy’s face and I decide to drop the whole Spike going Jekyll-and-Hyde thing. It can wait.

At the construction site we’re doing vent-work today, but I can’t say I’m worth my pay check. Instead of concentrating on the job, I’m wondering what to do about Spike. The more I think about what happened, about the way he changed from one moment to the next, the more freaked I am.

What if we have to kill him?

All considerations concerning Spike’s state of mental health come to a standstill when Buffy picks me up to go spider-demon hunting with her. I’m not sure what she needs me for. She does the necessary axe-throwing and demon-killing all by her pretty Slayer-lonesome. But I tell myself that anything is better than breathing freon for eight hours. Boy, was I ever wrong!

Because from then on things just get more and more insane.

Turns out Anya is responsible for that heart-rendering spider-demon and twelve dead frat boys. I just don’t understand how Anya could do such a thing. Vengeance demon or no, she helped us out when Willow went all rampage-y. And a few weeks ago she de-wormed that Ronnie guy. It doesn’t make sense.

And how can Buffy and Anya try to kill each other? It’s their job? Hello? There’s something seriously wrong with a job that tells you to go and run your best friends through with pointy objects. Never thought I’d say this, but if that’s the price for all that super power stuff and the mojo then I’m I glad I’m just a carpenter!

In the end it doesn’t come to the worst. We all walk away from yet another Scooby meltdown, scathed but more or less in one piece. Which is good. Any ending met on your own two feet is a good one. But I don’t need a crystal ball to tell me there will be fallout.

Anya’s friend - dead. Anya – no longer a demon. That thing from beneath us – licking its chops.

And Xander Harris – still in love with Anya.

I thought I was over her, but now I know - I’m not. Now I know that part of me still clings to the hope that maybe I’d get a second chance, that somehow we’d get together again. I love her and I want to protect her. Make sure she’s alright. Which is why I can’t let her leave like that.

I rush after her, out of the frat house. “Anya – wait!”

“Xander, please. Just go away.”

“Whatever’s between us, it doesn’t matter. You shouldn’t be alone in this.”

“Yes I should.”

What now? I don’t get it. What’s she talking about?

“My whole life, I’ve just clung to… whatever came along.” Anya explains.

“Well, speaking as a cling-ee, kinda didn’t mind.” I tell her almost flippantly, but as her words sink in, dread rises up like bile. ‘Whatever came along?’

“Thanks. For everything.” Anya says with a sincerity that feels like a knife twisting in my gut.

Oh god. It’s over. Over and out. This is good-bye.

Guess that calls for a drink or two.

***

Of course I don’t stop at two. I pull that classic drowning my sorrows thing, tossing back one after the other, fiddling around with my coaster, digging into the peanut bowl and staring at the glass in my hand, as if those ice-cubes were tea-leaves foretelling the future. I neatly avoid looking into the mirror behind the counter.

What if she never really wanted me… the way I wanted her…? If I was just… convenient? What if she just hooked up with the first body she could find?

Maybe that’s what I should do. Get laid. Only without the cameras and my friends for a captive audience.

I shake my head, trying to get rid of the image of Spike fucking Anya on the table of the magic box. I swig my drink and slam the glass back on the bar. “Hit me again!” I say. “Double Shot.”

“I don’t think so. I think you’ve had enough. Go home, sleep it off.” Mike, the barkeeper, tells me.

Luckily, I picked my usual watering hole to get hammered. Mike likes me well enough to confiscate my car keys, in spite of my protestations, and call a cab before locking the place up. Otherwise I might have done something monumentally stupid.

I stagger back into the apartment, feeling useless and angry. Feeling Anya’s absence like a stab through the heart.

The door to Spike’s room is open. He’s out. Good. I’m sick of him and his nightmares, the wet towels, and his continued presence in my screwed-up life. Sick of lying and pretending. Sick of seeing his image before me whenever I close my eyes.

I should probably sleep it off, like Mike said, but I’m way too fazed. Instead I pour myself a drink and wander into Spike’s room.

Let’s find out what our ex-serial killer has been up to these days.

I put my drink down, next to a small pile of books and leaf through the pile. Two paperbacks, thrillers bought second hand, one medical textbook wearing a library stamp, dealing with mental disorders.

I quickly rifle through the chest of drawers. A few T-shirts and button-down shirts, another pair of jeans, some socks. All black. No underwear! An almost empty bottle of cheap scotch, a book of matches from a club, with a handwritten phone number on it. Five crumpled dollar bills and some small change. A stake. This can’t be all!

I sit down on the unmade bed. Come on, Spikey, we all have our secrets. So where do you keep yours? I look underneath the tangled sheets. Nothing. Pick up his pillow. Nada. Just smell of Spike, slightly earthy, laced with faint traces of tobacco. Not that I let him smoke in the apartment.

“Would you mind telling me what you’re doing in here?”

“Gah!” is my less than articulate reply.

Spike is standing in the doorway. Not all sunny, like this morning, but looking pissed.

I realize he’s caught me clutching his pillow. Crap! I drop it like a hot potato. “It’s not what it looks like!” I slur. “Um… what DOES it look like?”

“You tell me.”

“It’s my apartment.” I manage to say.

“It’s my bed.” His voice is low and smooth. I hate it when he talks like that.

I get up. The room is spinning or maybe it’s just me who’s swaying. I hold on to the chest of drawers. “I was just leaving.”

“Were you?” Spike drawls. Then he spots the open drawers. His mien darkens some more. “Find anything interesting? Or should I say ‘incriminating?’ What you looking for, Harris? ‘My Evil Diary’?”

I head for the door but he doesn’t budge. Instead he slams his palm against the door frame, barring my exit with his outstretched arm. “Answer me!” he demands, his face just inches away from mine. I can smell cigarettes and alcohol on his breath.

I stare at his lips, wicked, evil lips, then angrily wrench my gaze upwards. “Or you’ll do what? Call your invisible pals to beat me up?”

He doesn’t answer. For a moment he meets my stare, then a wary look crosses his face and he pulls back. I’ve got the upper hand and he knows it. He glowers but lets his arm fall to his side, making way.

Except I’m not leaving. Instead, I’m clutching his head and yanking his face towards me. Before I know it, my lips are on his.



Part Ten

Spike goes rigid. He jerks back - not enough to break free, but enough to make both of us lose our balance when I don’t let go. He staggers backwards, until his shoulders bump against the wall. I hold on and press myself urgently against him, using my full weight and strength to pin him. No more holding back! I muffle his wide-eyed, open-mouthed protest with my tongue, invading his gorgeous, filthy, irresistible mouth.

This has got to be the clumsiest kiss of all times. Too rough, too reckless, too drunk. But – oh, man! - the sheer intensity of it! Spike tastes like hot chilli peppers and salt, seasoned with whiskey and cigarette smoke, rounded off with the coppery tang of blood.

He squirms and finally manages to twist his head away, out of my grip. “Are you out of your bloody mind?” he sputters. “Get your hands off me!” I just dive at his neck and start nipping and kissing cool smooth skin, while my knee tries to sneak between his legs. Come on, Spike, you didn’t waste this much time with Anya. My hands take on a life of their own, one bunching up his T-shirt to get at bare flesh, the other going straight for his tight ass.

“Hey!”

Can’t talk. Can’t you see? I’m too busy biting your neck. Touching. Feel that? I rub against him, pressing my raging hard-on against his hip. Come on Spike, work with me here!

Spike inhales sharply and for a moment he seems to arch against me, pliant and wanting. Yes! Tiny electric sparks buzz through my entire body. Oh fuck, this is utterly wrong but it feels so right, better than--

His fingers dig into my arms. What? He’s pushing me away. No! Wait, let me--

The next thing I know, I’m seeing stars as I’m knocked off my feet by a sledge-hammer blow to the chin. Ow! I crash against the chest of drawers, knocking over a stack of  CDs in a noisy cascade of jewel cases. Stunned, I slide down until I sit on the floor, the drawer handles pressing into my back. I’m hot, and out of breath. I shake my head, trying to clear it, but it only makes me dizzy and kinda queasy.

Before me, Spike is kneeling on the floor, hunched over in obvious agony, palms pressed against his temples. A violent jolt racks his body, triggering a choked howl. I don’t get it. Spike isn’t doing anything. Why is the chip still punishing him?

After five or six shocks it’s over. Spike stops twitching and falls silent. All I can hear is his ragged breathing. Scrambling towards him, I put a hand on his shoulder. “Spike? Are you ok--”

He slowly lifts his head, his face a grimace of pain and helpless rage. “I said: Get your hands off me!”

I back off and concentrate on getting to my feet without falling over. A moment later Spike gets up too, swaying unsteadily, still clutching his head. He blinks, exhales forcefully and lets his hands fall to his sides. Then he fixes his gaze on me. Like he’s waiting for something.

There’s a sick feeling in my gut, a strange ache. Not just from too much drink but from shock. I just made a complete fool out of myself. I frenched Spike and tried to cop a feel. Heck I tried to get into his pants! And I wasn’t exactly scrupulous about it, either. I’m not sure what’s worse: the fact that I went completely overboard or the fact that he shot me down. “Oh god!”

Spike gives me a bitter, twisted smile and slowly wipes his mouth on the back of his hand.

I barge past him, literally shouldering him aside, and out of the closet. I head towards the bar, grab a glass and pour myself a double. Swig. Slam. Pour.

When he speaks his voice is calm almost weary: “Didn’t pan out the way you imagined? What was the script? The evil disgusting thing drops to his knees and blows you?”

I flinch. That one hit just a little too close to home. I turn around. He’s standing just a few feet away, tense. “Told you,” he adds. “Not interested.”

“Why not? You’re the guy who fucked a piece of plastic.” His jaw clenches but he holds my gaze. That’s when I go straight for the heart: “And before you play Mr. Sensitive, let’s not forget, Spike, you’re the one who tried to rape the woman he supposedly loves.”

Does he rage, hurl abuse or hit me? Storm out or hide in his closet? Go to pieces and talk to his invisible buddies? None of the above. Instead, he stands perfectly still, a pained look on his face. Then he nods. “I know.”

Suddenly I can’t bear facing at him. I turn my back on him and stare at the bottle of bourbon with loathing. Waiting for the room to stop spinning. Waiting for that painful knot in my stomach to go away.

Moments later I’m rushing to the bathroom and retching my guts out.



Part Eleven

“You gotta stop tossing your cookies when you’re around me,” Spike’s voice greets me, when I finally return from the bathroom, much worse for wear. “Turning into a nasty habit, that.”

Swell! I thought he’d be holed up in his room by now. Instead, he’s standing outside, on the balcony, surrounded by a diffuse halo of cigarette smoke, facing away from me.

“Still here?” I snap. “Shouldn’t you be huddling in some dark corner, atoning and feeling sorry for yourself?” Obviously I’m not handling this very well.

More smoke billows up, then comes his toneless reply: “Careful. Starting to sound like your old man.”

That shuts me up.

I drag myself to the sofa, plonk down, and lean back. I try closing my eyes. Nope, not good. I settle for blindly staring at the ceiling. I’m still drunk as a skunk, the whole world is rocking and spinning and my jaw feels like it got hit by a wrecking ball. Add to that the fact that my whole life just blew up in my face and passing out definitely sounds like a plan.

Should I just camp on the sofa? Maybe I should make a big manly effort and go to bed – maybe even drink a gallon of water first - when I hear Spike coming back inside. I keep my eyes trained on the ceiling because--. Because. I mean what’s the point? I know he’s standing before me, waiting for me to acknowledge his presence. Cigarette smoke – dead giveaway. “Go away, Spike,” I groan. Get out. Out of my sight, out of my mind and out of my life. Alaska maybe? At least until I feel more like myself again?

“You should put some ice on that bruise,” Spike’s voice carries a tinge of cold anger, but an exasperated, non-threatening kind.

He’s right. I should. But this carpenter is going nowhere. I try on ‘What do you care?’ for size, toy with another lame ‘Go away’ but then I settle for a grumpy “Later.”

Spike walks away. I hear rummaging and banging from the kitchenette and a muttered curse. Shortly afterwards, something cold lands in my lap. “Here. Lazy sod.”

I snap out of my ceiling gazing and look at the bundle, then at Spike. “Shall I take that as a sign that the ripping out of my entrails and the strangling have been re-scheduled?” I ask, smiling nervously.

Spike thrusts his hands into his jeans pockets, and shrugs. “If I tried that now, my noggin’ would prolly ooze out through my ears - long before we get to wrapping your guts ‘round your neck.”

Ew. My stomach lurches. Violently. I fend off the urge to rush back to the bathroom.

Spike sees my sick face and smirks fleetingly. “You can breathe again. You’re safe from me.” He chuckles self-depreciatingly. “Seem to have lost my appetite for guts somewhere along the line.”

“Could we maybe stop talking about viscera? Cause otherwise I can’t guarantee for your shoes,” I choke out.

He does that thing with his eyebrow, looking almost like old Spike, then he turns away and heads for his closet.

“Spike.” I call after him. When he pauses, I gesture with the ice pack: “Thanks, pal.”

He nods and disappears in his room and I can hear him moving around in there.

I press the coolness against my aching jaw. Better. Now all I have to do is de-fuzzy my brain. I know all there is to know about hangovers. A few aspirins. Lots of water. And then: Sleep. Maybe a quick hand job to take the edge off, first. I still feel horny, not so much in my pants but in my head: my mind keeps finding itself in places it shouldn’t wander, replaying that moment where I thought—Okay not going there! God, do I really have to go to work tomorrow? Crap! The car’s parked at Mike’s.

I finally convince myself to get up and stagger to the kitchenette. That’s when Spike comes out of his room, carrying a bundle of clothing under his arm. The sounds I’ve been hearing of drawers being opened and shut suddenly make sense: he’s been packing. Intercept course! Before he can reach the front door I step into his path.

“Oh now wait, Spike, not so fast! What do you think you’re doing?”

“Leaving,” he states, waiting patiently for me to step aside.

Which I’m so not doing. “Oh yeah, I forgot, you have that lovely hellmouthy place waiting for you. Like the presidential suite of basements. Big creepy maze, dark and dank, and have I mentioned the creepiness? If you’re thinking of going back there, then you really are certifiable!”

Somehow, Spike looks less than thrilled at the prospect, but he shrugs. “It’ll do. Just let Buffy know, right? Don’t really have the inside scoop anymore, but if she needs a hand hunting down some beastie--”

“No way!”

“What?”

“I’m not letting you go back to that place.” I know, a few minutes ago I was ready to exile him to Alaska. That doesn’t mean I wanted him to leave for real!

Spike snorts. “Right. Cause you enjoy my company so much.”

“Enjoy? Not so much. But that’s not the point. Like it or not, you’re better off here. Okay, there’s the catch that you’re still hallucinating and acting funny but, hey, at least you haven’t hugged any crosses lately. Or did I miss something? And with the basement chipping away at your marbles you’re no good to Buffy - or anyone else. Also, I have to admit, you’re a much better roomie than three years ago. You haven’t even stolen anything. Or borrowed my stuff.”

He looks at me searchingly, pursing his – ever so tempting - lips. “You’re serious,” he says, looking surprised.

“Mi casa es su casa,” I say emphatically, and as the words leave my mouth I realize I probably overdid it. I also realize I actually mean it. Kind of.

Suddenly he’s wary. “You know, you’d sound a lot more convincing if I hadn’t caught you in my room going through my things.” Crap! I’d forgotten about that. “Care to enlighten me?”

“I was sniff— snooping around for clues. Dunno. Maybe drugs.” I rub my temples, trying to ignore the dull pounding in my head. “You know pills, not ‘drugs’ drugs, although you’d take those too, wouldn’t you? Say, if a vampire eats a junkie, does he get high, too? And when you smoke—”

“What kind of pills?” Spike cuts me off in mid-ramble.

“Prozac or something. Anything that might explain… this morning. Worst case of personality transplant I’ve ever seen. Actually no, that’s not true. Angel turning into Angelus, that definitely takes the cake, but you came a close second.”

“Eh?” Spike looks utterly bewildered.

“You. Going all weird on me. Running out in mid-talk. Remember?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Spike scoffs, but there’s a worried edge to his voice.

We head back to the sofa. Spike drops his bundle on the recliner chair and we both sit down, as far away from each other as the furniture allows.

“You were asking me about Cassie--” I start.

“What, the girl with the purple hair?”

“The same. And then you started talking to your evil self, at least that’s what you told me. And singing. We mustn’t forget the singing. Oh and then you sorta changed, sounding – I dunno – not like yourself, cheerful, but in a dangerous kind of way. Like you were drugged up to your eyeballs. Then you walked out of the apartment and that’s it.”

“I don’t-- why don’t I remember any of that?”

“I don’t know. Maybe your soul’s broken? Or there’s a loose connection, like when wires aren’t soldered together properly.” Now Spike looks wigged. “Whatever it was, it really freaked me out. I was going to tell Buffy, but then Dawn mentioned Deadboy. And after what happened today I’m glad I didn’t. Cause she’d be standing here waving a stake around. Crap, I have to drive them to school tomorrow.”

“Well, the state you’re in, you’re not driving anyone anywhere.”

I vaguely recall telling him that I’m perfectly able to drive and that I’m totally in control, and Spike telling me to go and sleep it off and that’s the last thing I actually remember.

***

When I wake up it’s hot and sunny in the bedroom, meaning it must be at least noon. I’m sweaty and smelly and my hangover defies description. How did I get into bed last night? My pants, shirt and shoes are strewn across the bedroom floor but I honestly can’t remember taking them off. The last thing I remember is talking to Spike about driving Buffy and Dawn to school. Buffy! Crap! I leap out of bed.

Leaping is bad. Very bad. My head feels like it’s gonna fall off any minute and burst like a ripe melon. I pick up my pants. It takes me three tries to put them on, meaning I’ve still got a staggering amount of alcohol in my blood stream, literally. Man, did I get tanked last night.

Piece by piece the memories fall back into place. “Oh god!”

I rush out of the bedroom. The door to Spike’s closet is closed.



Part Twelve

My first impulse is to simply barge in without knocking. My fingers are already closing round the door knob, when it hits me that I’m about to violate his privacy again. I yank back my hand, surprised at how rapidly my heart is beating.

What if he’s gone? I vaguely remember talking him out of leaving. But what if he just grabbed his stuff and moved out while I was sleeping it off? And why do I even care?

It’s midday - by rights he should be in bed, sleeping. But how can I be sure? Do vampires snore? I strain my ears but I can’t hear a thing. No singing, talking, dreaming or… or whatever.

The door knob looks tempting, but with my luck he’d probably catch me peeping and then he’d come to all kinds of conclusions. Wrong conclusions. He’d think I’m trying to catch an eyeful of him wrapped in nothing but pale skin and a white sheet.

Fuck! Here I go again. One would think last night’s humiliation permanently drove all thoughts of naked Spike from my sleep-and-hangover-addled brain. But the mental snapshot of smooth strong limbs entangled in crumpled bed-linen is enough to make my dick perk up and tell me that no, it’s not hung-over. At all.

Could my life possibly be more screwed up than this?

There’s a rhythmic pounding in my head that feels like half a dozen elephants are marching up and down in there. I realize I’ve been standing outside Spike’s door for several minutes, supposedly trying to make up my mind what to do and in what order, but in actual fact I was zoning out. Okay, I better get rid of the elephants first. And the hard-on.

Half an hour later, I walk out of the bathroom, feeling vaguely human again and my tongue no longer feels like it needs a shave. Plus Colonel Hathi and the dawn patrol have left for greener pastures. Meaning coherent thought is back. Give me a coffee and I may even be up to coherent conversation. Go me! Thank god I can make coffee while completely on auto-pilot.

Crap! My boss is gonna kill me. And I forgot to drive Buffy and Dawn to school. I better give them a call first, they might be worried. I’m surprised they didn’t try to reach me – until I find out that the receiver is off the hook and buried underneath a few sofa cushions.

I pick up the receiver and dial Buffy’s number. After three rings the phone is answered: “Summers residence.”

“Willow?”

“Oh, hi Xander. How are you? Feeling better? Cause I can always come over and look after the patient.”

“The—? Oh. How did—“

“Spike called and told us you were too sick to go to work, that you were vomiting and everything.”

He did?

At the other end Willow continues: “Those twenty-four-hour stomach flues suck, but at least they don’t last long, unless of course they’re not really a twenty-four-hour thingie but a forty-eight-hour-or-longer sicknesses. I offered to come by but Spike said there was no need. Or should I have come? I still can, you know. No more classes today.”

“No. I’ll be fine, thanks Willow.”

“Oh, and I called your boss. You better get in touch with him. Um, I may have exaggerated a bit so when you talk to him you should make it sound like you’re on your deathbed.”

“Thanks Will, you’re the bestest.” I tell her, relieved that last night’s swan dive into the bottle costs me nothing more than a sick day. Now all I have to do is somehow deal with that Spike thing. We kissed. Well almost. Technically, I kissed him and he shot me down with a left hook. “Willow, I was wondering, are you busy? Or can we talk?”

“Sure! Talking is good, we should always talk. This reading assignment isn’t due till Friday, anyway. What’s up?”

“I did something really stupid last night.” Understatement of the year.

“How stupid? More the ‘oops, shouldn’t have done that’ kind of stupid or the ‘Everybody run for cover’ variety?”

“Colossal, but not apocalyptic.”

“Is this about Anya? Buffy told me about last night, how she and Anya fought and what d’Hoffryn did to Anya’s friend. Did you and Anya … you know, make up? Did you let her know how you feel? I mean, I know you still have feelings for her.”

“No, not so much. I mean, you’re right, I do-- have feelings for her. But there’s no chance we’ll ever get together again. Until last night I thought we might still be friends, like Harry and Sally, and a few years from now, when we’re both ready for it, we’d have a contrived but cathartic sexual encounter, banter for a couple of weeks, then we’d discover that we love each other and settle down for our two point four kids. But now I’m thinking this is a Gone with the Wind deal. Frankly, she doesn’t give a damn.”

“Oh Xander, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s alright. I had my chance and I blew it. Now I just wanna make sure this kind of thing never happens to me again. I don’t need any more pile-ups on the Xander Harris relationship highway.” A tiny voice in the back of the head seems to say: ‘It’s a little late for that, mate.’ I glance at the closet door.

There is a pause at the other end. Then Willow asks: “If it wasn’t you and Anya you wanted to talk about, what was it? You were saying: something stupid?”

“It’s Spike.”

“Oh. What did you do? Did you have a fight? Xander, you know he can’t fight back.”

Now would be the perfect moment to tell Willow about—about what? About that kiss? About how something that started off as a harmless nothing’s-ever-gonna-happen-anyway fantasy turned into something way too real?

“Nothing,” I say. “Unless you count the fact that I let myself get caught while going through his things.”

“Xander! You searched his stuff? Why? I know it’s your apartment, but shouldn’t he have some privacy? So he caught you? What happened?”

“He—um nothing. He didn’t exactly pat me on the back.” A thought pops into my head. Something that I noticed last night but then forgot about. “His chip fired. Several times.”

“He hit you?”

“No, I mean yes, but not because of the snooping around - and only once, but the chip dished it out pretty bad – it went on zapping him even when he wasn’t doing anything.”

“That’s weird,” Willow says. “Why would it do that?”

“I was hoping you’d be able to tell me,” I admit.

“Did that kind of thing ever happen before? What did Spike say?”

“Actually, we haven’t really talked.” At least not about the chip. Crap, did I really bring up the robot?

“Well, I remember researching Spike’s chip a couple of years ago, but what I found out was pretty sketchy. I always meant to ask Riley about it, I mean Dr. Walsh was all into behavioral science and he was her TA, but then I kind of forgot. It didn’t seem important then. I mean, the chip kept Spike from killing people, that’s all we needed to know, right? It wasn’t like we didn’t have other stuff to worry about, you know, bad stuff like - the gentlemen! And Faith, and then Oz …”

“It’s alright. It was probably nothing.” I say hurriedly. “Just a glitch.”

“Ask Spike if he knows what it was. Let me know either way. I can always hit the books and do some digging.”

“Will do.” I glance again at the door to Spike’s closet and lower my voice. “Willow? There’s something else…”

* * *

The rest of the afternoon passes without incident. At five I go out to fetch the car and pick up some groceries. When I get back, the door to Spike’s closet is still shut.

My resident vampire makes an appearance around seven. He strides out of his closet and stops when he sees me folding laundry in the living room while watching Jeopardy.

“Hey,” I say, looking up from a pile of not-matching-socks. I pick up the remote and turn the TV off.

“Hey,” he echoes, eyebrow raised, like he’s waiting for something.

“You think there’s something like Murphy’s law for laundry? Did you notice how you always put two socks of a kind in the wash but when the laundry is dry you’re left with just one?” Swell. I’m talking to him about laundry. Real smooth.

“Can’t say I’ve noticed. But then I never used to--” He stops, looking uncomfortable.

“—do laundry.” I finish the sentence for him. Feels kinda weird for him not to proudly rub it in. “Yeah, I get it. Vampire - laundry. It’s like Mother Theresa and murder charges. Only the other way round.”

“Yeah, like that.” He jams his hands into his pockets.

I squint at two dark socks, trying to decide if they’re the same color or not. “Thanks for phoning Willow,” I say and chuck the socks back into the basket.

I shoot him a quick glance when he doesn’t answer, but I’m unprepared for the expression of uncertainty with which he regards me.

I’ve had all afternoon to think. I know I could pretend I’ve got a blackout. Pretend that I don’t remember what I did. Or what I said. All I have to say is how I was so drunk last night, I don’t even remember how I got home. There. Easy fix. I wouldn’t even be lying. Much. I mean, I don’t even remember getting out of my clothes and into bed and--

Holy crap! I. Don’t. Remember. I mean, I remember arguing with Spike, and I think he grabbed me to keep me from going out to get the Chrysler, but I don’t recall anything after that!

Fuck!

“I—uh, I guess I was pretty drunk last night,” I say, sounding really lame.

“Yeah? Hadn’t noticed,” Spike mutters dryly. “So why did you get plastered like that?” he asks. “Something must’ve happened for Mr. Bricklayer-in-shining-armor to go completely overboard like that.”

“Anya is human again.” I blurt out, seizing on the opportunity to talk about something other than the kiss-that-shouldn’t-have-happened.

He tilts his head, clearly bewildered. “Is that right? Didn’t see that one coming. Someone smash her pendant again?”

“Not so much. I guess you could say she got fired. Except she kinda quit before that.”

Blink. “I didn’t know you could just quit being a vengeance demon.”

“You can’t. I mean, normally you can’t.” The way you can’t quit being a vampire either. Maybe that’s what getting a soul was all about.

Spike hesitates. “She alright?” he finally asks when the silence becomes oppressive.

‘What do you care?’ I almost snap back. Almost. Instead I ask: “Wanna hear the whole story?”

He blinks, then shrugs and sits down, trying to look casual. “Yeah?”

So we sit on the sofa and while my hands are busy, folding towels and nervously smoothing over embarrassingly gaudy boxer shorts, I tell him the whole thing. When I’m finished, he arches his eyebrow. “So, Anya lost her appetite for vengeance. Can’t say I’m surprised. I s’pose being round you Scoobies all that white hat stuff rubbed off on her. Should be easier for her this time: being human, adjusting.” He ponders. “I mean, she chose it. And she’s not alone, you’re still friends, right?”

I don’t know how to answer that, so I get up and start putting the laundry away.

Spike begins to pace. “Xander, listen, about what happened...”

I stop in my tracks.

“We were drunk. Both of us,” he continues nervously. He pats his pockets searching for his smokes.

I stare at him in mute terror. Oh god, what did we do?

“It wasn’t about you,” he continues. He stares at the pack of cigarettes he’s just dug up, then remembers that this is a no-smoking-zone and starts fraying the package instead. “It’s just-- we were lonely, is all.”

Not. About. Me?

“Look, you shouldn’t hold it against her.”

‘Her?’ Oh. He’s talking about Anya. For a minute there I thought--

He squints at me and I feel my cheeks burning.

“You-- you thought I was talking about something else, About last night.” he states quietly. “Look, you needn’t worry. I’m not going to tell anyone.”

I stand there, open mouthed, feeling dumb and helpless and cowardly.

“I mean it.” Spike hunches up his shoulders and shifts awkwardly on his feet. “This… thing….” He vaguely nods his head towards the closet. “Let’s just forget about it. Pretend it never happened.”

Hey, that’s MY line!