Watching the Scoobies do battle was like watching the old Follies: stupid slap-stick, obvious gags, and in the end, not really very funny. Oh, they’d gotten better since the first time Spike had watched them fight, and some of them had even gotten good. Well, relatively. Willow was damned good with the orders, but when it came down to it, Giles and Spike did for most of the beasties they saw.
Giles because the father-figure felt he had to. Spike. . . well, sometimes he did it for the ’bit, tucked away in her ivory three-bedroom, and to make sure nothing haunted his crypt. Except sometimes he wanted that haunting, craved it with a passion he didn’t think he could ever truly feel again. Because at least then he saw glimpses and glimmers. . . Those times, he stood by and watched the humans make fools of themselves. If they yelled enough, or he got bored enough, he’d finish off the toughest of whatever they faced that night.
Or sometimes, like now, there would be an agonized cry of true pain and his pose of studied indifference would shatter.
The instant Harris shouted, Spike threw down his just-lit fag and raced through the cemetery. He could smell the human’s fear and pain, acting like a blinding beacon through the maze of headstones and tombs. Willow was trying to tell him something telepathically, but he’d finally learned the trick of blocking her out. He hated that cold, whispery voice, slithering through his thoughts, exposing whatever parts of him that her bloody curiosity wanted that day. Wasn’t right, her doing that, specially when he’d asked her not to, all polite, even. And it made him think of Dru.
Harris was crumpled on the ground, thrown there by something big, hairy, and smelly: rotten eggs and old garbage surrounded the beast like a cloud, making Spike’s eyes water in protest. “Bloody great,” he snarled, picking up Harris’ short sword. The wooden haft was comforting in his hands, slippery from the boy’s sweat. What the hell he was doing with a short-sword, Spike didn’t know. He need projectile weapons, they all did.
“Come on, then,” he growled at the demon. “Lets you’n me have a go.”
A dozen witty responses appeared in his mind, but he said none of them. Wasn’t the time or place to have a good verbal battle—particularly since this thing apparently didn’t speak English. Wasn’t worth his time, if it wasn’t going to try. Instead, he slashed low, trying to get under the claws. The demon looked a bit like a werebeast of some kind, which meant the soft underbelly was probably vulnerable. Mammals were so predictable.
Pounding feet echoed through the graveyard, the lumbering, panting sounds of humans approaching. Not Giles, who had enough sense to move quietly. Probably Tara and the ’bot, since Willow was still atop her crypt, playing Master General. She was still trying to talk to him, too, soft cries in his mind growing more insistent, but Spike refused to let them take the shape of actual words. His head was off-limits, dammit, and he’d make her see that or die trying.
“Shut up,” Spike instructed. Sparing a quick glance over his shoulder he asked, “You mobile?”
“It hits like a truck, but yeah. I’m good.”
“Then get out of here.” Beastie was built like a truck, towering over even Xander’s lofty height and the width of a few half-backs mashes together. A werebear? Didn’t matter. Spike would kill it and that’d be the end of it. Just as soon as he had enough room to maneuver, without worrying about tripping over stupid, white-knights. “Get gone, Harris!”
He waited until he heard footsteps retreating instead of coming closer and allowed his face to shift. A straight fist-fight wasn’t going to do much, since this thing was going to easily overpower him. Good thing Harris had that ridiculous sword. All he needed was to get in and get that one good slash across the belly or the throat. . .
“Spike! Watch the—”
* * * * * * * * * * *
“Get off me, you wanker! I’m perfectly—”
“Yes, you’re perfectly perfect, Spike. And that wasn’t you who just crashed into my end table, knocking a very expensive glass figurine onto the ground.”
“Sod off,” Spike growled, hands in front of him as he inched forward. The gash on his leg throbbed from bumping into the table, but he ignored it. He had a goal. He was going to reach his goal and damn the sodding consequences. “What the hell are you doing with pansy glass figurines, anyway? Didn’t think you were that much of a poof.”
Giles’ sighs had their own bloody language, this one indicating that Giles was cross and bordering on annoyed. “Will you stop acting like a stubborn two year old and let me help you? Before you walk into the bar?”
Halting abruptly, Spike took a moment to reorient himself. If he was near the bar, that meant the couch was over—there! The rough fabric felt wonderfully fine as he ran his hands along the back of the couch until he was sure there was enough room for him to hop over it and land gracefully on—
“Ow! Fucking—books belong in a sodding library, you arse!”
The bastard was laughing at him now, too. Spike didn’t have to have eyes to see that tiny little smile that was five parts superior, three parts condescending, and two parts incurably, bollocksingly British. Spike knew that damned smile, could feel it eating into the back of his head, which was twisted against the sofa-arm uncomfortably from his botched landing.
“Are you done showing off now, Spike?”
Showing—he was damned well not showing off! He was walking-wounded, here, and just wanted to crash out for a bit, maybe even sleep, and the best place to do that was the bleeding sofa! That was all!
“Spike, you are not a child, despite how often you act like one. Don’t make me regret my offer to let you stay here for the night.”
Growling, Spike pushed himself upright and groped around for the stack of books that had broken his fall—and possibly his hip, the way it was aching. His hand hit leather and he counted spines. Four. Sodding four of the things in a stack, plus another under his arse and one digging into his back. Pushing them off the sofa without care to their probable ancient and worn condition was as petty and childish as Giles had claimed, but it felt bloody nice to do.
“Oh, yes, that’s wonderfully mature, Spike.”
“Sod off, Watcher.”
The response was the soft clink of ice against glass and the gurgling sound of liquid being poured. Bloody music to his ears, that was, especially if Giles was going to fill those glasses up high. Or maybe just bring over the whole bottle. Getting right arsed was the best way to finish this evening from the Hellmouth.
“Is there much pain?”
“No, Rupert, getting a face-full of acid is as pleasant as a warm summer’s breeze. Or were you talkin’ about my ego, which is not only bruised and bleeding, but shrunk down to the size of Harris’ balls.”
“Oh, well then, it can’t be that small, can it?” The mimicry of his own accent—a sign that Giles had a sip or ten before curling Spike’s hand around another glass—was disconcerting enough to throw him out of his self-pity. Momentarily. Acting like the spoiled brat was briefly entertaining, and entertainment was in short supply. “Since he was the one who pulled you away from the demon.”
“After it’d thrown acid in my face to blind me, and after I’d managed to gut it. Oh, yeah, that’s real heroic-like.”
“Indeed,” Giles replied calmly. If he’d had eyes to see, that tiny little eyebrow would be arched, expression both pointed and expectant.
Bollocks. He hated when Rupert called him on his sarcasm like that. Cause it was heroic, what Xander had done. Hadn’t run away the way Spike had told him to, just snuck around the nearest crypt to watch. And when Spike had gone down, crushed under the weight of the demon, Xander had rushed over to haul him out. Without knowing the demon was already dead, since the thing had twitched for a while after its gutting. So, yeah. Heroic.
“Stupid of him,” Spike added, accepting the cold, damp glass. “Dunno what the hell he thought he was doing, risking himself like that.”
“Spike. Are you concerned about Xander?”
Yes. No way he was admitting that, though, under pain of staking.
“I’m concerned about Xander’s money, hell yeah,” he blustered instead. “C’mon, Rupes, don’t tell me you haven’t noticed that he’s paid for the groceries for the last month. Willow borrows the car, and hey, what’s the convenient wad of cash waiting in the dashboard for?” Rolling his eyes hurt like a fucking bitch, but his body had reacted without thought. “Probably taking care of whatever bills can be paid off in cash, too, so his demon don’t notice where he’s spending her money.”
Raising the glass, Spike sniffed it carefully—he didn’t trust Giles not to put in some of the tonics Willow had offered before they’d finally left the Magic Shop. Satisfied that there was nothing but alcohol singing his nose, Spike risked a cautious sip.
“I noticed.” Giles voice had lost the annoyed edge from before, sliding into the weary, exhausted tone of an old man. It always disturbed Spike when he heard that voice. “I’m sure you noticed that I was taking care of the other half.”
Well, yeah. But the father-figure was supposed to take care of the bills. “I’ve seen your will, Watcher. Don’t care if you kick it. Hell, might be better off if you did.”
“Indeed it might.”
That was supposed to have been a joke, just Spike being caustic and vile as always. But the way Giles had answered. Odd. And wrong. Well, maybe he was just getting maudlin; happened sometimes, nothing wrong with it.
Spike tossed back the rest of his drink and shifted until he was stretched out. He felt odd without his duster, sent to the dry-cleaners in the hopes of getting demon-blood off of it. He was vaguely worried about it being away from him and him unable to check the job, but Tara had promised to go for him, so that was okay. Laying there, his eyes kept wanting to open to study the familiar cracks in the ceiling, and the long, meandering scorch mark that had been ineffectually painted over. But trying to see hurt like the blazes, so he slung an arm over his mangled eyes, giving him the illusion that the darkness behind his eyelids was voluntary. His muscles felt stretchy and tired, aching dully—a sure sign that he was going to need more than pig’s blood, and soon. He’d ask Rupert about it tomorrow. Maybe the old goat would rip off a blood bank for him?
“I tried contacting Angel.”
Spike didn’t move. Wasn’t unexpected, the way they were scrambling to defend the Slayer’s territory. “And?”
“He’s away. Tibet, if Cordelia is to be believed. Something about monks and meditating the pain away.”
Spike snorted, shifting again. “Sounds about his speed.” It was the perfect opportunity for some very justified and righteous Angel-mocking, but Spike didn’t have the energy to start. Besides, Giles would just agree with him. The Watcher had forgiven Angel for Buffy’s sake, but he’d never again trusted the souled vampire. Get him drunk enough, and the straight-laced Watcher would wax damned near poetic on Angel’s many and varied failings, something Spike had been delighted to discover over the past few weeks.
They’d spent a fair amount of time together, mostly getting drunk. Didn’t really talk much, just sat at whatever bar was closest, tossing back their shots. Rupert rarely offered his flat as a destination and Spike never suggested it. He wasn’t comfortable here. Too many memories wrapped up in the faint perfume of old glue and dust. Her, standing there in all her golden glory, bitching about stupid, random shit, or laughing with her chums. And that day, that one day he could hardly stand to remember, when they’d snuggled down in the chair Rupert now sat in. The taste of bubble-gum lips warm and soft against his own, the easy way her body fit against his, her voice whispering honeyed words, affectionate and dirty all at once. . .
Small wonder he spent more time over on Revello than here. Dawn was a good distraction, as were the witches. And if they were busy or sleeping, then Spike could concentrate on guarding the house, forcing the memories down.
It was harder lying here, surrounded by the familiar sights—well, smells, at the moment—of spending time with her, when she flirted in-between calling him a pig, and was so completely unattainable.
“I should prepare you a room.”
“Not putting me back in the bath, are you?”
“I would very much like to take a shower before bed, so no. Not the bath.”
“Good,” Spike replied with a hint of bitterness. Just a hint, though. “Y’could leave me here, too. Make sure I don’t shatter anything else.”
“I’ll guide you.”
Over and over he’d said that he didn’t need his eyes, thank you, and could they all just bugger off and let him heal in peace? He had a good memory and all those preternatural senses working for him, after all. He’d be fine. And he was, until he’d taken about five steps away from the doorway of the Box. First it’d been a lamppost. Then a mailbox left inconveniently in the middle of the sidewalk. Fortunately, only Rupert had witnessed him falling on his arse like a clumsy human, silently picking Spike back up and brushing him off before offering a stay at his flat, until Spike’s eyes healed.
“Don’t have to,” Spike offered diffidently.
I’m not one of your children, Spike wanted to say. Forget about my age—chronological or emotional—you have no obligations to me. There’s no bond between us, except maybe hatred or just irritated annoyance. There’s no reason for you to be doing this.
“I don’t mind,” Giles replied, equally aloof.
Spike studied the backs of his eyelids, trying to find patterns in the unremitting black. They were playing games again, the kind the children never understood. Maybe it was the British thing, or maybe it was just because they were both older than any of the Scoobies really understood. Not in age—experience. Where it mattered. Spike was so tired of it all, that heard himself gruffly muttering, “Hurts. Hurts like a sodding bitch.”
“Tara did clean your eyes, so it’s only a matter of time until they start heal—”
“Don’t be stupid, Watcher.”
They’d never spoken of it openly. None of them could, using hints and awkward phrasing to avoid having to say the words. Death. His art, and hers, and he couldn’t say the word, not even when he was standing over her grave, crying like the pathetic wanker he knew he was. Dead. Buffy was dead.
And they weren’t.
“It won’t.” Not that Giles believed the words he was saying, the ache in his voice making the lie clear. “Not forever.”
“Not for you, human. Or have you forgotten yet again, that I’m a vampire. We don’t forget, Rupert. Not the way you do. Time doesn’t dull our pain.”
The shushing sound of cloth on cloth meant Giles was shifting position. Grey eyes would be trained on him, curious and intent, academic interest pushing past bone-deep weariness and pain.
Either Giles was incredibly predictable, or he knew the Watcher better than he’d thought. Both options were equally disturbing.
“You remember everything? Every detail of the last however many years, you remember all of it?” Sounded bloody fascinated, didn’t he? Spike desperately wished he could glare, since Giles deserved a good, long, are-you-really-that-stupid glare. “How do you stay sane?”
Spike barked a laugh. “Implying that I am sane, something I doubt you’ll credit me with. An’ we don’t remember. . . everything. Not all the time. Least, I don’t. But when I think of something. . .something powerful that affected me. . . it feels the same. As bad—or as good—as it was that first time.”
Spike snorted, turning his face into the cushions of the sofa. Coarse fabric rubbed against the back of his arm and his nose. Didn’t hurt, really, but the irritation gave him something to concentrate on. He didn’t mind remembering the good things, like how it felt to hunt and kill and shag with Dru. The sweet tang of blood and viscera hanging in the air while they rutted like animals among the filth. Those memories got him hard in an instant, forcing sluggish pig’s blood to run hot and fierce in his veins. Yeah, remembering that was appealing.
But the other stuff. The stuff he didn’t like to remember, because each cut and stab felt as fresh as if Angelus were standing before him, scraping him raw with carefully chosen words. Dru’s dismissal, arrogant innocence twisted up in dreamy insight, carving out his heart and throwing it on the floor to stomp on. And Buffy. Buffy closing the door in his face, hurting worse than any of the words or punches she threw his way. Words could be changed, if they were true to begin with, and her hitting him was always good times. But that. . .
Spike knew he was really a simple creature. One of them damned cocker spaniels—kick him, and he came right back. Till the last time, anyway.
“One wonders how Angel survives, given his propensity for brooding. Reliving Angelus’ excitement and happiness every time, even while the soul made him regret it? That would drive even the strongest man insane.”
“You gonna compliment him on staying sane—which I doubt, by the way, since he was bloody bonkers for trying to wake Acathla—then I’m gone, Rupert. Had quite enough today.”
“Actually, I was about to compliment you.”
Spike rolled back over. “You what?”
“Complimenting. It’s when one says something complimentary—that’s nice and favorable—about someone else.”
Spike growled. No. More. Sodding. Games. “Thank you for the sodding English lesson, I had better teachers than you did, you lower class, upstart little ponce, now what the hell are you talking about?”
“You’re still here.” Giles paused for a moment, then shifted in his chair—leaning back, Spike guessed. “You have no reason to stay, and every reason go. Yet you’re here, fighting with us, caring for us—even though you go to great lengths to deny it. You should be running out of self-preservation, if what you’re saying is true. But you haven’t.”
Figured that this was what he got, when the games stopped. Annoyed, he asked, “Where would I go, then? Can’t take my meals wherever I want ’em, anymore. Can’t buy blood without dosh, which I’ve no way of getting, ’cept through stealing—and I can’t defend myself if I get caught. Self-preservation says stay here and deal, ’stead of starving.”
Uncomfortable, Spike pushed himself to his feet, groping his way over to the bar. The bottle had been left out, thank Christ, and he managed to grab it without knocking it over. Pouring was easier, since he could balance the bottle on the rim of the glass, and he didn’t need eyes to measure out a few generous fingers.
He wasn’t going to talk about this shit, not even with Rupert. He was a vampire, cruel and vicious, and he’d eat the lot of ’em if it wasn’t for the chip in his head. That was the only reason he was still here: simple lack of not wanting to starve. Nothing else.
He almost dropped his glass when the phone rang.
“Hello? Yes, Dawn, he’s fine. No, no, it’s late, dear, and you should be in bed. He’s perfectly all right, Dawn, just needs a few days of rest. Vampiric healing is—yes, I suppose that’s no problem. You can bring them over tomorrow, if you want. Yes, and the tonic, if Willow makes more. No, don’t—Dawn, if she doesn’t want to then—yes, all right. No, he’s resting and I don’t want to disturb him. Tomorrow. Good night, dear.”
“What’d the li’l bit want?”
“She’s bringing over her portable CD player tomorrow and several CD’s, including those audio-books, or whatever they’re called.” Giles voice came closer, then moved away—the kitchen? Yes, that was the freezer-door, and that was definitely the microwave being set. “She mentioned Dracula in particular—she thinks you’ll get a kick out of it, I believe.”
“Don’t really like the style,” Spike replied without thinking. “Not one for journal entries, s’too limiting. Can’t really get any good descriptions when the format encourages short-hand and laundry lists.” And why the bloody hell had he said that? Yeah, okay, not like Giles hadn’t guessed what a ponce he used to be, what with comments about the Watcher’s lower-class upbringing—which wasn’t ‘low’ so much as ‘lower than William’s’—but he didn’t say shit like that anymore. He wasn’t William. He was Spike.
“I mean, Stoker got it all wrong,” he blustered, gesturing with his glass and spilling a little. Damn. “Hell, you’ve met Drac—showy enough, yeah, but not really all that clever.”
“Yes, of course.”
Bloody hell, now he was being laughed at again. Dammit, what the hell did Rupert expect—was a book about sodding vampires, of course he’d read it. Besides, he got bored a lot. Dru slept more than he did, and reading was something quiet so he wouldn’t disturb her. And there weren’t even decent skin rags till the fifties, let alone television! So he read a lot. Nothing wrong with that.
“I never said there was.”
And now he was talking out loud. This was just bloody brilliant. First his eyes, then his ego, now his reputation, all shredded on the same night. Maybe he would leave town, just to spite Giles. Prove to him that he wasn’t what the Watcher was implying, would never be like that. Not again.
“Here, drink this before you break one of my good tumblers.”
A warm mug was pressed into his hands, the alcohol removed and set down on the bar. Still annoyed, Spike took a sip. And then another. Then a gulp. “Rupert? This is human.”
“Yes, it had better be. I paid quite a lot of money for it.”
Human blood. Actual human blood, without any of the chemicals used to keep it from coagulating. He took another sip, savoring the coppery flavor. What the hell was Rupert doing with human blood in his freezer? Not that Spike was complaining, really, but. . . human blood cost, particularly if you didn’t want blood-bank rejects, and usually meant dealing with some very nasty types—types that a white-hat like the Watcher wouldn’t condone dealing with.
“I was saving it for emergencies,” Giles said, completely casual, like it was normal for a Watcher to be stocking up in case the pet vampire got hurt. “I believe this qualifies.”
Spike tilted his head down, imagining that he was staring into thick, crimson liquid. Actions. Words hurt, yeah, but actions always clinched it. Even if Spike had no idea what it was clinching now.
“Why do you stay?” he asked. “I see the way you look out the window, sometimes. Or, did. You’ll hang back while the children prattle on, anymore, and not just because they’re talking about nonsense. Red told me you were thinking about leaving, last year. That you stayed only ’cause Buffy—” his voice broke and he took another sip before continuing. “Buffy wanted a Watcher again. So why do you stay now?”
“I never said I was staying.”
No. He hadn’t. Spike leaned against the bar, ignoring the twinge in his hip. This was important, because if Giles left, then who was going to take care of the ’bit? Hellmouth could go swallow itself for all he cared, but Dawn needed someone to be her parent, something the Scoobies weren’t prepared for. Something Spike wasn’t prepared for. “But you haven’t left yet. Haven’t made any plans. . .?”
“No. Not yet.”
Not very encouraging. Spike sighed and rubbed his eyes, almost grateful for the sting. “So why?” he asked tiredly.
Giles echoed his sigh. “Because you do, Spike. Right now, it’s because you do.” The heat of Giles’ body warned Spike that he was coming closer, but the touch of his hand under Spike’s arm still made the vampire start. “Now then, off to the guest-room. I believe Dawn mentioned spending the whole day with you, something about hurrying your recovery? So you’ll want as much sleep as possible tonight.”
Spike let himself be politely and insistently tugged up the stairs towards the guest bedroom he’d never rated when he stayed here the last time. This subject wasn’t over, not by a long shot, but for now he’d take the Watcher at face value—he wasn’t leaving yet. There was time enough to convince him to stay later. And he would convince him—they needed him too much for Giles to bugger off. Spike included, he realized as Giles turned him down the hallway. And Giles, perhaps, knew that.
But that needed to be talked about later, when Spike could glare at Giles as much as he wanted, and read the unspoken bits most people missed. And rest sounded bloody fine right then, the bed soft and the room nicely cool. It’d help him heal faster, a necessity if he was going to spend the day with a hyper-active teenager and no tv to distract her with.