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Afterwhile
By ascian

Semi-series of short post-ep musings, from Spike's POV. These were written in the week immediately following each ep, so if some things don't jive with later developments, that would be why.

Begins with Showtime, right after Buffy cuts him loose from the Big Evil.



Showtime

As she cuts him free the whole world is somehow lacking in weight. It's soft, like you could fall through it, and full of little prickles of pain. Cotton candy and metal shavings. Don't drink the water. Her shoulder under his hand is the only solid thing.

She looks at him with dark, liquid eyes, filled with a tension that he cannot read. When did she become opaque? She's asking something, or maybe promising, but probably even she can't tell you what she means. She never did speak with words.

She turns under his hand, slipping his arm around her shoulders, slipping her hand around his waist. She's warm, and although that shouldn't matter, it does. Her heat surrounds him like a benediction. The other one - she was never warm. He never noticed the difference until now.


Her house is different from the way he remembers it, boarded up and under siege and full of strangers, painfully young girls with staring eyes. It reminds him of a boarding school. Is he supposed to know these people? Their eyes are full of awe and fear, but they're not really looking at him. They are hers, he can tell. Just like he is. They worship her. Just like he does.

Her grip on him is tighter, as though she can protect him from the silent questions that surround them. Maybe she's protecting herself. He can sense that he's an oddity here now, a marvel and a mystery. They look like they want to poke him with sharp fingers, to see if he'll bite. He lowers his eyes to the carpet. Blood and fear. It doesn't work that way any more, but some things never change.

Someone asks a question. The voice roars in his ears, and he doesn't hear the words but he imagines it's something like, "You're bringing him here?" Her shoulders shift under his arm, and she snaps back a reply that would freeze molten rock. She has never liked those kinds of questions, not about him. Questions like, Why are you doing this? What am I to you? Why now, after everything fell to shit, after trying and trying and failing so hard, why do I have your belief and your soft words and your arm around me now, when I finally understand how little I deserve it?

The strangers are not asking these questions, of course, but neither is he. He has begun to learn that there are worse things than living in doubt. When you know the answers, there's no such thing as hope.

He expects her to take him to the basement, back to the familiar safety of chains and concrete and the subtle torture of her presence. But instead, inexplicably, she is leading him up the stairs towards the bedrooms, and this is when he begins to understand that things have changed. What they have changed into, he has no idea. But as she lays him gently on the bed - her mother's bed, the witches' bed, but not any more apparently - a treacherous peace is seeping through him.

She is standing somewhere to the side now, not close but not far away either. He can't see her, but he can feel her presence, making the air around her restless, like a distant storm. He keeps expecting her to grab him, haul him into a chair, tie him down, but she just stands there, making the hair on his arm stand on end.

"Not safe," he mumbles, meaning that it's not safe to leave him unbound, that she is not safe from him.

"I can handle it," she says, and he could swear that she is smiling. She turns away, digging in the corner, and when she turns back she is covering him with a blanket. For a moment he thinks she misunderstood, but when he looks at her to protest, it's clear that she means that she can handle him. Unexpectedly, this is comforting.

"Don't eat anyone," she adds, after a pause.

"Don't think I could. State I'm in." His eyes are closed. He is very tired. He can hear her moving around, feel her retreat. "Don't leave," he says, without thinking, already less than half-conscious.

"I'm not going anywhere."

Later, he will be surprised by this, and somewhat confused.

They are in a foreign country now.



Semi-series of short post-ep musings, from Spike's POV

This part is during/after Potential.



Potential

Unexpectedly, he finds that he enjoys playing the tutor. He's done it before, but mostly for minions, which was all violence and swagger. This is different.

He always used to love hearing himself talk, but now she is the one doing the talking, and he provides the show to back it up. He likes backing her up, likes the sense of purpose. Likes the wary respect and genuine fear that flickers across the girls' faces when they look at him.

It seems there is something of himself left, after all.

He stalks them for her, because she asks him to. It's a mockery of the real hunt, heavy footfalls and clumsy lunges, but these girls are easy prey. There are vague stirrings of real bloodlust when he pins them; he is, after all, still a vampire. The effort required to suppress the hunger is not great, but it feels almost like free will.

Plus, it's funny, watching them squirm.

Catching her eye, it's clear that she shares the joke.

As they walk together in the graveyard, a little apart from the gaggle of girls they are supposed to be instructing, there is a sense of... not contentment, exactly, but something like it. They're not talking, but the silence is gentle, and she is very close. Close enough to brush against his arm as she sidesteps something in the grass. He finds himself remembering that they were comrades, before, and something like friends.

It's easy to forget that last part, with everything that came after.

His mind strays. They were on the ground, before, he on his back and her sitting on him, probing for injuries from the fall she'd had him take. This is a pattern for them, and he is aware of the irony. He had also been very, very aware of their positions, of her solid weight on his hips, and her hand, cool against his tepid skin. Of the heat of her groin against his, and the way that her hand had curled around his when he pushed it away from his cracked ribs.

Her eyes drift across him now when she thinks he's not looking. In this context, among strangers, they speak less and communicate more, and she is willing to meet his eyes, which is also a new thing. She looks at him differently now, and he doesn't know why. The defensiveness is gone, and something else is there instead.

He knows he shouldn't be worrying about this any more. That whatever once lay between them is irrevocably altered, that he is unlikely to be invited back inside in this life. More than anything, he realizes what a stupid dream it was in the first place, to believe that because she chose to meet him on his own level, that it meant he had any claim to her.

She is her own woman, he understands now. Despite the desperate need with which she'd sought him out, again and again. Despite anything she might have whispered in the dark.

Usually so sure-footed, graceful as a hunting cat, she stumbles into him for the third time tonight.

As her shoulder touches his arm, a couple of forbidden thoughts crowd through his mind. Darkness and sweat, soft cries and empty promises.

Some dreams are not meant to see the daylight, he tells himself, but it doesn't make the slightest bit of difference.



Semi-series of short post-ep musings, from Spike's POV

During/after The Killer In Me.



The Killer In Me

If you'd asked him a year ago - maybe even a month ago - if he wanted it out, he'd have laughed. It was what he'd wanted for years, wasn't it? The chip, the sodding chip, agent of his downfall. He'd blamed it for everything, for making him weak, for making him an outcast among his own kind, for castrating him. For making him soft enough to love her, and that was the root of it all, wasn't it? Really?

It's hard to remember, now, what it was like before she invaded his skin and made him hollow. Different, he thinks, without conviction.

Now it's tearing his head apart and isn't that more reason than ever to want it gone? And he wants the pain to be gone, more than anything, but in the moments between, when she's sitting beside him with that strange guarded sympathy, he looks through this and finds on the other side the vague twin shadows of death and freedom. Release, he tells himself.

The strange thing is that both ideas are terrifying.

Maybe they didn't expect me to last this long, he told her. And knows that this is true. He was supposed to be run through a maze until they got tired of him and spiked the cheese. Not supposed to be released into the wild. He doesn't have prophecies or a destiny mapped out, full of future engagements that can't be missed. He rather suspects that whatever plan there might have been was cut short long ago in an alley, and that he's been living on borrowed time ever since.

Something else you and I have in common, eh, pet?

But the truth is that he does have a place in this life after all - more or less - and in the newfound spirit of honest introspection, he is uncomfortably aware that the chip is what anchors him to it, keeps him in place. Keeps him safe. It's a leash, as surely as the chains around his wrists, and while he wears it, he is a good dog, and he can run by her side. It's not what he wants, not exactly, but it's almost close enough.

And now it's killing him. Cutting through his undead brain like a hot knife through butter. Chains cannot substitute for self-control, a leash does not pay for a life, and the truth of it is that the idea of dying almost comes as a relief, because it's become pretty clear to him that without the leash that's what happens anyway, except that it comes by her hand and he wants to spare her that for as long as he can.

She makes phone calls, looking for government agents in a flower shop, and behind the pain he finds himself admiring her insecurity and her bravado. It's funny, he thinks, that she is the one who is fighting for his life, the way he once fought her for hers.


Despite his somewhat morbid resignation, he finds that going gentle into that good night isn't really in his nature. So he goes into the the Initiative instead.

The place is halfheartedly closed up but not sealed, a noisesome testament to government inefficiency. Still full of dessicated skeletons with grinning fangs, and as dark as the grave he once dug his way out of. She is with him, of course.

The thing has a distinct X-Files theme to it, secret government agencies and enormous flashlights, and he feels an unexpected pang of nostalgia for a time when he spent entire sleepless days watching reruns and talk shows on daytime television. He misses television. He misses a lot of things. Ties to the world, he thinks, remembering something else he told her long ago, and almost smiles.

They are attacked. Of course things survived, how could they not? There were demons here, and of all the kinds of demons there are more than a few that thrive on darkness and death. This is their place, and there's no reason to leave. The thing that hurts, a lot more than his head - which also hurts - is his inability to leap to her defence. A gallant nineteenth-century impulse, that. And empty, because she rescues him again, but he can't help that part.

He is genuinely surprised when the government boys show up, but too out of it to react. Everything is thick and full of knives. She is leaning over him in the split second before the lights come up and he thinks, the thumping of humans moving around must've gotten lost in the being pounded by demons. He hadn't expected them to respond to her plea. A flower shop indeed.

Told you it was a government conspiracy, she mutters, as though it were a joke they shared. Despite the dazzlingly bright lights and the fact that his head is splitting in half before her eyes, he does register that.

After that things are fragmented. Someone is shooting molten lead into his skull and trying to gouge his eyes out with hot pokers. But they're doing it extremely slowly, and he just wishes they'd get on with it so that it can stop hurting so damn much. He's pretty sure he's going to die. Why would they help him? They're just here to claim the body.

Somewhere in the haze, either very close or very far away, he hears one of them talking to her, and understands something else. He is not going to die. They're here, against all reason, to save him. This is something he didn't forsee. Never imagined they would be able to muzzle him, make him safe again.

There's another option, though. Anxiety almost pentrates the wall of pain. Would they really take it out and let him live, reigned in only by a fractured conscience and dubious powers of self-control?

Unconsciousness is nipping at the soft parts of his brain as he hears them offer the choice to her.

He lets it swallow him before he hears the answer.



Semi-series of short post-ep musings, from Spike's POV

During/after First Date.



First Date

Just when he thinks that he is starting to understand some things, it all changes. Again.

She freed him; she has faith in him. She believes, but what does it mean? She is dating again. He tries to tell her that he's okay with it, that he's given up the dream, but what he really means is, I've given up hoping that it might come true.

She's beautiful when she's happy, he thinks wistfully, drinking in the sight of her, dressed in what technically qualifies as underwear, glowing in the reflected light of the afternoon sun. He is pointedly ignoring the invisible knife twising in his stomach. It's amazing that something can still hurt this much, after so long.

When she leaves, the house is full of noise but empty of her, and he retreats to the basement. Stretches out on his back on the cot, staring at the ceiling, and studiously avoids thinking about what she might be doing right at this moment. It occurs to him that it would be safer - especially in his current state of mind - to chain himself up like he'd promised, but he can't summon the energy.


At some point, activity from upstairs penetrates his awareness. He has been intensely studying the concrete ceiling, tracing watermarks and seams and pipes, and carefully not thinking about what she might be doing, right this very minute, with someone other than him. There's a junction here, and here, and new pipe through this section. Impact marks on the ceiling there, and they're serving the main course, and she's smiling and making conversation. Watermarks on the far side of the room, from the pipe she broke. She's standing in the dark with water around her ankles and despair in her eyes that somehow, only he can see. She is tucking her hair behind her ear with her little finger, dropping her eyes as she offers a small, self-deprecating joke over dessert. He goes upstairs.

It's possible that there is a God, after all, because Xander is in trouble. Spike has nothing against Xander, exactly, except for a sincere and long-standing mutual distrust and dislike, but right now he hopes that something incredibly nasty is trying to take a bite out of the boy.

True, he could check it out himself if he wanted to, with Willow or Giles, but surely it's better to get the professional on the job. Miracles do happen, because she also forgot her cellphone.

I'll go get Buffy, he tells them for the fourth or fifth time, and leaves before they can form a more cogent protest.


He follows her scent to a small, hidden restaurant tucked away in an alley that smells like butter and garlic and vampire dust. Sweat lingers; he'd recognize her fighting style anywhere. Not just hers, though - there's a male scent here too, mixed in with the action, and not at all afraid. He suppresses the entirely uncivilized urge to growl. He can bear the idea of her having dinner with someone else, but the mental image of the two of them fighting back to back makes him want to hurt things.

He slips inside. She's easy to spot. Always is. He watches a moment - they're on to dessert now, and she does indeed look genuinely happy. Part of him wants to stay right where he is, not go any closer, but he knows it's only a matter of moments before she senses him. Instead he opts for the direct approach, appearing noiselessly beside the table just in time to watch her accept a bite offered from the other guy's fork. How nice for them, he thinks ironically.

There is a beat, and then she turns around. Her reaction falls into the broad category of Buffy behavior that he no longer feels qualified to analyse.

Xander's in trouble, he tells her, and they leave right away.


It's obvious that something other than a simple date is going on between Buffy and the tall black guy, but he's not certain what. Not attraction - although there is that, too - so much as some confidence shared. He doesn't ask. He sits in the back seat, watching the other man trying to watch him in the blank rear-view mirror, watching him assessing the link between the beautiful blonde Slayer and the stranger who has presumed to interrupt her date.

He'd find it somewhat satifying to be so distinct an intrusion, if it didn't hurt so bloody much.


Afterward, when they have fought off the demon - a beautiful black girl with golden eyes, which would have been a coup for Xander if she hadn't turned out to be evil - and freed the boy, she runs immediately to his side. He can see the question in her eyes - are you hurt? and understands that it contains several meanings. Meeting her gaze, he takes her hand for a moment, and squeezes reassuringly.

In his peripheral vision he can see her date, the Principal, watching them. As she leaves him to check Xander, he sees an understanding in the other man's eyes, and a tangible disappointment that is deeply familiar to him. You love the girl, of course, because everyone does. And she is as beautiful and unassailable as the sunrise.


Later still, when he meets her in a darkened living room in a rare moment of quiet, he offers to leave town. He does mean it, sort of, but what he really means is that there are limits to endurance, even for him. Being useful is not the same as being loved, but it's something, and there has to be something.

Got another demon fighter now, he tells her.

Her response takes him entirely by surprise.

That's not why I need you.

Something red and sharp and too hot to touch prickles through him, so big that he can't put a name to it at first.

This is hope, he thinks dimly, and understands that hope is the most dangerous thing of all.



Semi-series of short post-ep musings, from Spike's POV

During/after Get It Done.



Get It Done

Everything changes, and nothing does. She summons the demon, and the demon comes, and the funny thing, he thinks, is how good it still feels. Oh, he has the soul, and it's as firmly lodged within his room-temperature flesh as it's ever been, but what he has forgotten while buried in the depths of his own pain is how small a thing a soul is, and how easily it can be overwhelmed.

Humans do it all the time, after all. God knows, being all soul-having doesn't make them good. Not any of them, whatever they might think.

She wants the demon, she'll get the bloody demon.

He strides down the corridor, reawakened fury swirling around him amid the folds of the coat like the opposite of a halo. Buffy's principal - his rival, his legacy, he thinks - watches from the shadows, hard-eyed.

Where did you get the coat? The question is posed pleasantly, but it's a loaded crossbow aimed at his undead heart.

New York, he answers, just as not-casual, silk and steel. Accepting the challenge.

This, the civilized veneer over violent death, the not-at-all-veiled sting of well-aged bloodlust; this he understands. The one thing that does surprise him is that it no longer feels quite so familiar. He used to imagine that violence was the one pure thing, but he is starting to suspect that, as with so many things, he had not quite possessed the whole picture.

Not clean at all, not really. A death leaves so many ends untied. Unfinished business, grieving loved ones, parents, watchers, lovers. Not-quite-lovers who go on nonetheless, shells of their former selves because unlike normal people, they can't forget. Children.

One of the things that comes with the soul is an awareness of consequences. The demon's greatest gift is its obliviousness to such things. After everything, it's almost funny that it's the demon she wants. But that was always true, really, and he does understand it.

It's the part of her that may or may not want the man that he's never been able to figure out.

Not going to worry about that any more. Might as well try to understand the ocean. She comes and goes in her own time, and there's nothing he can do about that.

Bitch, he thinks, and grins.


As the hulking demon kicks him in the stomach he remembers the one thing that should never have been forgotten: pain is strength. Every scar is a victory. This is an ancient truth, simple as they come, and he laughs through broken lips because it's all so bloody obvious, and how did he ever get so lost?

The world narrows down to a motion blur in which tendons stretch and bone yields with a slick, grinding crunch beneath his hands. Life passes through, and is gone.

He holds it for a second like an indrawn breath, then lets the body slip to the ground.

Oh yeah. This is what it's all about.

How the fuck could he have forgotten?

Leaning against the alley wall, he pulls the ever-present cigarettes from the pocket of his jacket - left there how long ago? but not thinking of that - and lights up.

Somewhere beneath his grinning demon he can feel the other thing, the soul, chewing over itself. Braces himself for the stab of remorse which never comes. Laughs when it doesn't, because for the first time in a long time, there's no question at all about who he is and what he's good for.

He's just going to help Buffy save the world. Doesn't have to change it.

For the first time in a long time, he feels good.