Who Wants to Live Forever


by
Metaforgirl



Part Fifteen

Willow had fallen asleep on the couch again. The leather of the heavy volume in her lap felt warm against her skin as she awoke. Not really clear about the origin of the leather, it gave Willow a little shudder to think of it warming her. She pushed up groggily and looked through the picture window behind her at the waning moon. “Baby,” she said unhappily, “I’m so tired.” She was trying to find the place she had been in the book when she had fallen asleep when Giles came in, concern in his manner.

“Willow. Xander isn’t in bed.”

“Huh? Oh.” Willow smiled and sleepily rubbed at her eyes. “I’m sure he’s fine, Giles.”

“Willow, it’s four a.m.!”

“He’s in Spike’s room, Giles.” Willow yawned and grumpily stood and headed for the kitchen. Coffee and self-discipline. She needed both in buckets if she was going to get through this thing tonight.

Giles looked perplexed. He glanced down at the book Willow had been perusing. He started and turned pink. “Willow!” He followed her into the kitchen. “Willow, I can’t believe you’re reading,” he gestured, “that!”

Willow chuckled. “Old lady’s gotta have some fun, Giles.”

“Willow!”

“There are pictures too.” She turned with the coffee pot in her hand. “Or did you know that?” She smiled sweetly. “I found that book for the first time in your library, Giles.”

“Brgghid’s Demonology is a standard text. All Watchers are expected to have a copy. Of course it’s nothing but imaginary drivel,” he snorted. “Brgghid was obviously well immersed in that cult he founded by the time he wrote the thing.”

“And yet you read it.”

Giles glared. A new thought dawned.” MY library?”

“Yes.”

“Willow Rosenberg, I only had that particular text in my library while you were still in high school!”

Willow giggled. .

“That is completely inappropriate reading material for a child!”

“Xander showed it to me.”

“Outrageous!” Giles stomped out of the kitchen. “Every day I am shown yet more forcefully what a complete and utterly bad influence I have been on you children.”

Willow smiled and made coffee. A minute later Giles was back in the kitchen doorway.

“Um. Willow? Why would Xander be in Spike’s room at four a.m.?”


~*~*~*~*~


Xander woke early. He was wrapped in a cocoon of warmth with a cool body curled against his stomach. He and Spike’s bodies were spooned together, Xander’s face buried in the soft hair at the back of Spike’s head, his arms encircling the slim waist. He nuzzled the skin on the back of Spike’s neck happily. He felt completely safe, completely rested. His stomach growled loudly. Completely starving. .

He eased himself backwards out of bed carefully. Sadly tossed aside his ruined slacks, and snatched an old pair of sweats from the corner. They were tight and worn at the knees, but they covered the embarrassing bits enough for him to get down the hall to his suitcase.

Sans shirt, in skintight sweats, with a vivid red vampire bite on his neck, Xander headed down the hallway to his bedroom. Downstairs, there was a hard knock at the front door. Xander nicked into his bedroom, grabbed clean towels, shaving supplies, and was headed back to the bathroom when he heard the knocking again, this time followed by urgent bell buzzing. He sighed and changed his route towards the stairway.

“Always some fire in Sunnydale.”

He reached the bottom of the steps as the combined knocking and buzzing became more urgent. As he grabbed the handle, he spotted Willow’s bright red hair resting on the arm of the sofa. He jerked open the door.

“Oh my god.” Maurice stood gaping in the doorway. The young vampire before him grinned.

“Not really, but I’ll take that as a compliment.” He proffered a hand, but the Watcher shrank away. Xander shrugged and withdrew the offer. “Can I help you, Maurice?” He jumped back as the strange little figure suddenly produced a stake. “Whoa! Calm down, fella. No trouble here!” He reached for the door to shut out the crazy guy, but Maurice had pulled a cross from his coat pocket and pushed into the entryway, waving the cross in a threatening manner at Xander.

“What have you done to them,” demanded Maurice, waving stake and cross, “where are the residents of this house?”

Xander was both confused and amazed. His brain was trying to catch up to the weird info being delivered to it, something like; ‘good guy with threatening weapons’. Xander waved towards the living room, Maurice turned and saw Willow lying there. “Oh my god!” he cried again. He turned on Xander and dove with the stake. Xander easily caught his arm and held him off. Years of experience and about fifty pounds making him, even half-awake, more than a match for the tiny Watcher. Maurice struggled to release himself from Xander’s grasp. “You don’t realize what you’ve done, that is the High Priestess of a coven you’ve destroyed…”

“What?” Xander held Maurice off and gaped at him.

“Maurice?” Willow was standing in the doorway. She looked like she’d had maybe an hours rest, Xander noted. Willow had always needed her eight hours. She looked awful, pale and ill. Huge dark circles under her eyes. She teetered on her feet and crankily glared at the two men. “Why are you making so much noise? I need to sleep!”

“You’ve turned her!” screamed Maurice, and his great fear gave him the strength to pull from Xander’s grasp. He jumped out the door and ran down the sidewalk to the street. Xander watched him go.

“What the fuck?”

“Everybody be quiet,” demanded Willow grumpily, she turned back to the sofa and flopped down on it again. “Need to sleep,” she said, and almost immediately did so. Xander shrugged and shut the door, trudging back up the stairs to his morning ablutions.

So when Giles received the call three hours later he had no idea what the man was talking about.


~*~*~*~*~


Showered, shaved, in fresh clean clothes and having consumed several servings of leftover chicken wings, Xander had set his laptop up in the kitchen where there was a second phone line. He scanned through the online calendar of company events, noting dates he needed to remember in his personal calendar. He had a week off, but they were gonna kill him with work when he got back. He had an obligatory letter to his therapist he had promised the woman he would send, but he was putting it off. They had worked to prep him for this trip. So far, he had not done a single damn thing he had planned and quite a few that he had sworn not to do. Xander paused in his typing and contemplated for a minute the doing of one of those things he had sworn to avoid. A goofy little smile appeared on his face. “Spike,” he whispered happily. What would she say when he told her. He stopped. Mentally did a continuity of events. When he went back to San Francisco and told her. Stop. Rewind. When he left Sunnydale, left Spike, went back to San Francisco and told her. That I came back and found him. Found him, fucked him, got him to tell me he loves me. And then left him again a week later.

“Shit Harris, youfuckingrottenbastard,” he muttered his favorite name for himself. His hand rose unconsciously to find the wound on his neck. As his fingers brushed over it, he felt a wave of such longing for his vampire it made him gasp. Christ, he thought stunned, I don’t even know how I’m gonna make myself leave. He turned back to his laptop and thoughtfully began composing a correspondence.

Dear Mary,

I’ve told you how much I hate this putting it all in words stuff, so you’re just going to have to bear with the nonsense.

I really fucked this up. Excuse my French. That guy I told you about? Well, we did it again. I know, I know, 100 miles away and I can see you looking at me, so just stop it all right? I know it was a mistake.

Xander paused. What could he say? Please tell me how to fix this? That would require Xander knowing what result would constitute a fix. He wasn’t sure what he wanted, what he should be wanting, what Spike wanted. The journey from prejudice to admitting his bisexuality had been long and nasty. The journey to admitting that his emotions could be engaged, that the attraction to men was more than a weird sexual kink, had begun two nights ago. He still reeled from it. He wondered what Mary would say. His mind cast back through some of their sessions, and he imagined a pattern to questions she had asked him that he had not noticed at the time. Had not responded to or even seen the place to which they pointed. He had been so angry. At himself. At whoever had passed him the disease. At god and the universe that allowed him to survive the Hellmouth. To bury his friends and yet survive, just to run off and foolishly kill himself with neglect. He had been angry with Spike, also. At the being who, he imagined, had given him the yen for male bodies. They had worked at the Spike anger for some time.


~*~*~*~*~


“He would just fucking look at me and it would start. God, it was so fucking bizarre, I mean this guy is really cool. Totally hard body, attitude up the Yazoo. I’d think, I can’t believe he’s hanging out with me…”

“You admired him.”

“Well, yeah, sure. I mean of course. He was all this stuff I’d always wanted to be. And he was …” Xander fumbled for a non-Hellmouthy way to explain this, “he was the type of guy the girls I knew fell for.”

“A physical type?”

“Yeah. Well, yeah it was physical stuff. But it was lifestyle and personality and just, ya know, a type that my girl friends liked. The kinda guy that, in high school, seemed to know the secret to cool. You know? They could be the biggest losers and it was like they just didn’t give a fuck. Like they could see beyond it all and knew better. That kinda guy. And he’s hanging out with me. Listenin’ to me talk and laughing at my jokes.”

“You found him attractive as a person. It wasn’t just physical.”

“You see?” said Xander. “How was I gonna not want to be around him? I mean I was awestruck. Everything was so cool when we both did it. Just drinkin’ beers and watchin’ games on the tube was cool. I even started to like soccer.” He smiled to himself. Mary didn’t speak for a moment.

“What would you say to him now if you saw him?”

Xander imagined Spike sitting at the other end of the sofa. An emotion swept over him, so powerful he felt embarrassed by it; sitting here in the daytime in this small tidy office with the calm gray eyed woman watching him mildly. The emotion felt so naked and raw wiggling out in front of him, he twitched in his seat uncomfortably. “I’d say, you fucking asshole,” he ground out fiercely. He looked away from his imaginary Spike, down at a glossy teen model on the cover of a magazine on the coffee table. “I’d say, why… why did you?” He stopped, struggling to mask his feelings.

“Why did he what?” Xander didn’t answer. “Xander,” said Mary gently, “what did this man do to you?”

“Why did you fucking make me feel that way!” said Xander tearfully. “Why did you fucking make me want …!” He was overwhelmed again.

“What did you want?” Mary prodded again gently, but Xander just shook his head. Holding himself rigidly at the edge of the seat, gaze fixed on his knees; he was unable to go on.

“It’s alright, Xander,” Mary said after a while. She flipped a page in her notebook, symbolically turning to the next subject. “Have you been taking your cocktail regularly?”

“Like clockwork,” said Xander dully.

“Good.”

“Yeah, it’s fucking the best.”

“You’ve been lucky,” Mary recited for what seemed to Xander to be the thousandth time. “But you’ve been pushing that luck, also. Your blood work is not as good as it should be. Healthy diet. Exercise. Rest.” She looked at him seriously. Xander felt it but avoided her eyes. “How much sleep are you getting?”

“Get to bed by ten.”

“Do you sleep?”

“Sure,” lied Xander, exhausted now and trying to see the time without obviously looking at the little clock on her desk. “Sleep like the dead.”

“Good.” Mary was silent until it forced Xander to look at her. Damn! He hated that trick! He stared back at her for a minute, involuntarily flinching like a bat under the spotlight. “Well. We’re finished here today.”

“Thank God!” thought Xander and, as he did every week, he bolted from the room.


~*~*~*~*~


I really wish I could see you, typed Xander slowly. I need to talk about some things with you. Boy, she’d love reading that, he thought grimly. Like porn to a pervert, telling a therapist that you wanted to talk. He tapped his finger absently on the space bar, his other hand reaching up once more, to unconsciously stroke the bite mark. There was a rap at the front door, and he came out of his mood and jumped to answer it.

“Brown!” Xander said and then stood speechless. The boy, correction, young man regarded him for a moment, absolutely no recollection on his face. He looked like he was ill. His eyes were swollen, his hair uncombed. The jacket looked like he had slept in it. He rubbed one grubby hand across his cheek and glared at Xander, then shoved hands in pockets, feet spread belligerently.

“Lookin’ for Willow,” he grunted.

“Brown, I’m Xander,” explained Xander sadly. Brown’s eyes tiredly scanned the face; remembrance came, quickly followed by dismissal. “Yeah,” he said, as if bored. “Is the witch here? Or do I have ta go somewheres else?”

Xander stood before this piece of unfinished business and realized that his imaginary conversations with this young man had depended upon Brown being the same as he had been when Xander had left. Ran off, more like it. The man before him was no longer the love struck, eager young soldier who dogged Xander’s heels. He was very much older. Exhausted and defeated. His whole body exuded misery.

“I’m sorry about Brandy,” said Xander softly.

Bright vicious rage snapped across Brown’s face. He made to step around Xander. “WILLOW!” he bellowed into the house. He stepped back and folded his arms, stared at the ground. Willow came around the corner.

“Brown?”

“Need ya to come.”

“I’ll be right there, I’ll want my bag.” Willow ran off. Brown resumed his stoic position, staring at the ground in silence. Xander couldn’t think of any more inappropriate things to say, so he was silent as well. But he felt stuck there. Searching this closed house for a window. Willow came back and as she walked out the door, he followed.

“Can I come, maybe help?”

“No,” said Brown over his shoulder as he hurried to the street. Willow stopped and considered Xander, then nodded. “Maybe I could use your help,” she said thoughtfully, and waved Xander to follow.


~*~*~*~*~


“At this house?” Giles spoke incredulously into the mouthpiece. “Was he certain?” He listened for a moment. Both his eyebrows rose as far as they could go, his hand rubbing his temple as if to ward off the headache. “Well, of course it’s absurd.” He listened again, became angry, “I think I’d know if there were minions being made in my basement, Quentin!” he stated testily. The man on the other end appeared to have an opinion about that statement that enraged Giles even further. “If you think I would not notice Willow becoming a vampire…” he stopped listened. “Yes, I’ve seen her in sunlight.” Listened some more. “No, she doesn’t wear a cross. What?” He made an exasperated sound. “For Heaven’s sake, Quentin, you are becoming hysterical and illogical. Willow Rosenberg, if she were not a pagan, would probably wear a star of David anyway.” He tisked. “I can’t believe I am having this conversation!” There was more rattle at the other end of the line. Giles waited with infinite patience for it to cease. But something in the diatribe made him uneasy. “Well no, of course I don’t follow his every move. Yes. Yes,” he sighed “Well, of course he’s hostile at this time. It’s understandable given the circumstances.” He listened. “Yes. Yes of course I will. And would you please try to speak to Maurice? The man is not well, Quentin. Yes. All right. Goodbye.” Giles replaced the receiver and looked at it for a moment. Then he wandered off to find Spike. This was not going to be a good day.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike was standing in the shadows of the unshuttered kitchen, staring at Xander’s laptop. He hadn’t meant to snoop. He was just going to shut the thing off and put it away for Xan. But when he rebooted the screen, to shut the system down, the letter appeared before him. The words seemed to pop out and stab him in the eyes.

… fucked this up…. That guy I told you about … I know it was a mistake … I really wish I could see you, …. need to talk …

He could feel himself panting. It was ridiculous, a vampire hyperventilating. But his demon was careening through his head in a jealous territorial rage while his romantic heart, too many times deceived, was mournfully trying to find an explanation. Not this time. Xander had not regretted this time. He told himself this over and over. There was an explanation. He looked up as Giles came into the room. The Watcher had a determined expression.

“Who’s Mary?” asked Spike.

Giles blinked and stopped. “Mary?”

“Xander’s Mary?”

Giles was thoroughly waylaid by this question. “Uhmm.” He cast back on the car ride he had shared with Xander. “He had a fiancé named Marilyn. Maybe Mary is short for Marilyn?”

Spike nodded dazedly. Of course, the old girlfriend. know it was a mistake … wish I could see you ... need to talk … Spike sat down with a thump at the table.

A mistake.

Giles harrumphed meaningfully, “Err, Spike,” he began.

“What the fuck now, Watcher?” Spike said, staring at the wall.

“I had a rather,” he chuckled darkly, “rather more unusual than usual conversation with Quentin just now.”

“Oh fucking buggerin’ fuck, Rupert, I’m here, I’ve stuck my dick in yer fucking guillotine. What the bleedin’ hell else do you wankers want from me?”

Giles was slightly taken aback by the outburst. Still he had expected this anger after last night. “Yes,” he said patiently, “you have made it quite clear that you aren’t happy, Spike.” The vampire shot him a look that told how ludicrous it would be to expect otherwise. “Yes, well.” Giles pondered how to put it.

“What,” sighed Spike.

“Someone has seen minions about.”

“Well raise the bloody alarm, man, go dust the bastards. What the fuck does that have to do with me?”

“They had reason to believe they might be yours.”

“Geezus, Rupert!” Spike banged his hands on the table and jumped up. “Get the hell away from me you sad, sorry fuck!” He strode out of the kitchen and pounded up the stairs. Giles watched him go sadly.


~*~*~*~*~


The apartment building was in one of those poor but still attempting respectability type neighborhoods. Brown drove them there in a beat up van that reminded Xander sadly of something Oz would have owned. He gripped a mat in the back, Willow in the front with Brown, and tried to stay upright and unspeared by various weapons, as the van bumped over bad roads and railroad tracks.

Brown did not speak during the journey and Willow did not ask questions. This seemed to be an errand both anticipated and performed often. Not a happy errand either, judging by Brown’s grim and Willow’s resigned faces.

The building was clean but old. Children stood on the front porches watching the trio walk by. Up the stairs and at the very back. Brown drew a chain from the loop on his belt to drag up an impressive bunch of keys. Xander noted a good size silver cross and a model of a stake, also in silver, dangling from the primary ring. Brown inserted a key, found with practiced ease, into the lock and swung open the door.

The interior was a single room with kitchenette. As they entered, Xander saw a beaten green couch, and take-out containers stacked in a large trash bin. Stacks of magazines at one end of the couch. The rug was torn through in the center; and then he heard the snarling. Brown flashed a look at Xander.

“He’s gonna make it worse,” he observed to Willow.

“Xander understands these things,” said Willow calmly. She had placed her bag on the couch and was rapidly pulling out the contents. “He might even be able to help you.”

“Don’t need help,” said Brown fiercely. He was standing in front of a room wide cage. At Xander’s look, he purposely stepped in front of the thing inside, as if protecting it. The snarling increased in volume and turned to a howl. Brown’s face became anxious. “Shut that door,” he ordered Xander, “had to move her once already, too many complaints.” He turned to the thing in the cage and spoke to it in a soothing, loving voice. “Hey, baby,” he said soothingly, “Crystal honey, we got somethin’ s gonna make it better baby.”

Shutting the door, Xander heard the name and felt a rush of nausea and fear. “Crystal?” he asked, looking to Willow for confirmation. He suddenly couldn’t bear to look towards the cage. She met his eye sadly and nodded. “What is it?” he whispered. Knowing.

“Fucking werewolf bit her,” said Brown hotly. He was squatted on the floor, facing the cage, just out of reach of the thing inside. “Wasn’t her fault,” he said softly.

Xander forced his latent Scooby adjust-to-weird-shock mechanism to get on top of the situation for him. He felt the guilt like a gaping hole in the floor behind him. But he had to feel that later. “Why is she still changed?” he asked coolly. “Full moon’s passed.” Brown didn’t speak. Willow poured something into a container. A little wisp of mauve smoke curled over the lip and disappeared. She murmured under her breath and handed the concoction to Brown.

“We don’t know, exactly, Xander,” said Willow quietly, “it seems to have a really harsh effect on women. Something to do with the menses.”

“She can’t change back?” asked Xander, horrified.

“She’s in the room with you, man.” Brown turned his head to bark at him, “Shut your fucking trap, kay?”

“Sorry,” said Xander, subdued.

Brown held the container up, and dashed forward quickly, spraying the contents across the figure there. The snarling rose to a shriek and a frenzied twisting werewolf sprang into the air. Xander instinctively dove forward and yanked Brown back as the creature hurled itself into the cage wall, narrowly missing the young man. Smoke was rising from spots on its fur and Xander caught a glimpse of remembered eyes in an agonized expression before the animal fell back to the floor, whimpering.

Brown did not pull out of Xander’s arms immediately, and he could feel the tense young body shaking. He rubbed an arm soothingly until Brown realized his position and jumped away. They stood watching the thing on the floor. The smoke rising from the fur was the same shade of pink as Xander had seen on Willow’s vial. The creature moaning softly to itself and writhing. Brown’s face reflected so much agony, Xander thought the young man was wishing the pain his. It was how he would have felt.

“Can we do anything?” he whispered.

“Just,” Brown struggled with something internally, “just turn away, man, she doesn’t wanna be seen like this.”

“Yeah. Sure,” said Xander and carefully turned his back.

The wall opposite had a recent boy band poster on it. The kind popular with teenage girls. Xander was overtaken by a wave of anger and helpless sorrow so intense, he had to take a deep breath to control it. He saw Willow watching him. He shook his head, knowing she could see the tears of anger in his eyes, knowing she would understand. “It’s not fucking fair,” he whispered to her.

I should have been here, he agonized in his own mind. I could have prevented this.

“It was my fault,” said Brown behind him, “I should have seen it coming.”

“It wasn’t anyone’s fault,” said Willow, looking at Xander, “You can’t know about things, you aren’t omniscient. It’s not your fault,” she said firmly, absolving both men.

“It should have been me,” said Brown, oblivious inside his self-recriminations. He jumped up and grabbed a heap of clothing nearby. Pushed the stack through a small opening in the fencing.

“Thanks,” said Crystal’s weak but definitely human voice. There was the rustle of cloth. Xander waited a decent interval then turned around. The girl sat on the floor in her jeans and t-shirt, trying to pull back shaggy, multi-colored hair. She was even thinner than Xander remembered her having been at fourteen. The short-sleeved t-shirt did not cover the burn marks and healing sores on her arms. Apparently the monthly ‘cure’ left scars. Xander wondered how adults managed not to see these things. He could recall so many obvious signs of trouble in his childhood that teachers and parents had let pass unremarked. You should understand denial, Harris, he chided himself. It’s your happy place.

The girl’s great eyes moved to him and that is when Xander saw the real damage. What lived in those eyes had no business being there. He had seen it before. In Buffy’s eyes, in Cordelia’s and Willow’s. In his own staring back from the mirror. Innocence marred by the knowledge of horror. Faith destroyed. Hope denied. A post-traumatic stress that no therapist could cure, because its cause was unbelievable and so unmentionable. He had found only one cure.

“Christ, I need a drink,” pronounced Brown loudly. He walked into the kitchenette and pulled open cupboards. Xander spied rows of bottles. Holy crap.

“Hey, Brown.” He tried to think of a line that would have worked on him. “Before you do, can I get you to help me with something?” Brown paused and looked at him. Xander desperately tried to think of ‘something’ that the young man could plausibly be asked to do. “Uh, I wanted to get a car. For a friend. A van, maybe like yours.” As he said it, Xander started to like the idea. “Something that could be customized.” Brown came back from the kitchen, he looked interested.

“Brown knows everything about cars,” said Crystal devotedly. He cast her a disgusted look, but smiled. “Well, you do,” she insisted.

“Cool,” said Xander. “I wanted to go look for something. Today even. Can you help me out?”

“Sure.” Brown assessed him evenly. “How much you gonna spend.”

They left the building discussing horsepower and bluebook values. Willow and Crystal trailing behind.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike was sitting in his room in the dark, paging through a battered three ring binder filled with scribbled-on lined pages. He had begun writing again when Xander had left all those years ago. The first attempts had been meant to be letters. Hopeful attempts to apologize, explain, somehow bring Xander back. As he wrote, and as time passed with no word from Xander, he had realized how inappropriate his heartfelt missives would probably be and had kept them instead, indulging in long, descriptive texts about his feelings for Xander, his memories. There had been a lot of material. Some meandering thoughts, some poetic, like the verse in Dawn’s wedding invitation. Over time, the writing itself had become a preoccupation, and he had begun filling the pages with memoirs, observations, and weird philosophical treatises. He had cut pages from other books and written criticisms and comments on them. Anne Rice was a favored source for polemics about the stupidity of romanticizing evil.

The binder was a kind of mirror for Spike. In its pages he could imagine a portrait of himself appearing, and sometimes he looked through them hoping to catch an angle, gain some understanding. He sat now and read a passage he had written about Xander. Soon after the man had left, still thinking perhaps they would see each other again.


I’ve read the homilies, 
that find god in minutia.
and thought them thin thoughts, 
for men afraid of life. 
 
But you enter the room,
in a storm of moment,
smelling of salt and heat, 
and I am overcome with details. 
Stubble missed in shaving. 
A broken fingernail. 
Collar flipped up. 
And a jacket with stains on the pockets,
from greasy burgers.
 
Barely stumbled erect. 
Only a human man. 
Yet you sweep over me, 
like wind over dark water. 
Your voice creating me,
as you speak my name.
 

He sat and stared at it. He knew when he had written that what he had felt. He knew the validation he craved from others and how deeply he needed that validation from those he chose to love. He knew how completely immersed in his mortal lover he could become. But what he was feeling today, what he had been feeling since last night, was different. He struggled to understand it.

His incipient jealousy seemed much more pronounced. Just the sight of the letter on Xander’s computer, before he had even read it, had turned him green towards the letters’ recipient. That Xander would even need to talk to anyone else. The young man’s absence from the house was driving him mad. He wanted to demand explanations as if he had the right. It was a possessiveness beyond anything that even psychotic, demonic and soulless Spike had displayed and it worried him.

But odder still was the protective instinct he felt emerging. His concern with Xander’s absence mostly revolved around the need to know that Xander was safe. He had once seen a female dog, crying outside the closet where her puppies were being kept. He understood the emotion. An almost physical need for reassurance that the object of affection was safe. He more than missed Xander, he craved his return. He needed him home. Until he was assured of that, he wouldn’t be able to relax. There was a knock at his door. The Watcher. He closed the notebook reluctantly.

“It’s not locked, wanker,” he called.

Giles entered slowly, letting his eyes adjust. “Spike, may I speak to you.”

“God, what now?”

“Nothing. There’s nothing.” Giles sighed and peered at Spike sitting on the floor in the dark. He wished he could see his face. “I just.” He sighed. He knew this wasn’t something he did well at all. “I just wanted to talk to you.”

Spike sighed as if very put out. “Yeah. Sure. Pull up some floor.”

Giles sat carefully on the floor across from Spike. The vampire observed how silly any man wearing suit trousers looked sitting cross-legged on the floor, especially one as naturally uncomfortable as Rupert Giles. The thought made him smile.

“Ya just wanna talk?”

“Yes, basically.”

“No more crazy accusations?”

“Not at the moment.” Giles smiled. He was rewarded by a short laugh from Spike.

“How ya doin’, Rupert.”

“Actually, Spike, I’m not having the best week,” admitted Giles, still smiling, “how about you?”

“Oh yeah, things pretty much suck for me too.”

“I’m sorry to hear it.”

“Likewise.” The two men regarded each other then both laughed. “Spike,” Giles sobered and tried, “I’d like to say. Er, that is I’d like to apologize.”

Spike sat back and looked at the mortal who had been his enemy, ally and sometime friend for fifteen years. “Don’t think I’ve ever heard that from you before, Rupert.”

“I haven’t very often felt the need, Spike.”

“Oi, bastard!” but Spike was grinning.

“I want to help, not make this worse, Spike,” Giles began. “I want you to know that I have been seriously fighting the Council over this issue for the past week. I know it doesn’t really matter much to know that, since it was obviously useless, but still, I wanted to tell you.”

Spike sat looking at him for a moment. His finger ran up and down the back of the book in his lap. “It matters, Rupert,” he said quietly. “It matters a lot.”

Giles felt enormously relieved. “I didn’t want you to feel that I agreed with any of this,” he said earnestly. “I didn’t want you to think that I hadn’t noticed,” he thought for a moment, “hadn’t noticed what you have created of yourself. You are a truly unique creature, Spike,” said Giles softly. “I am very proud to be your friend.”

Spike was so deeply moved, he had to turn his head away. He stared into the cold fire grate. “Damned amazing creature yourself, Watcher,” he said finally, in a voice gruff with emotion, “runnin’ around befriending Monsters. ‘S gotta be dangerous.”

“I have been told so.”

“Fucking lunatic even.”

“The accusation has been made.”

Spike snorted his appreciation. They sat there for a minute in companionable silence. Rupert leaned back and stared into the same empty fireplace. “So what are we going to do this time, Spike?”

“Fucked if I know, Rupert. Pretty damned insoluble problem this time.”

“Surely, we’ve faced worse.”

“Younger and stupider then.”

“Youth is over-rated. And stupidity? Well, I’m sure between the two of us we could engender some pretty convincing stupidity.”

Spike was silent for a moment. He drew a line slowly on the floor with ash from the hearth. “Don’t know if it’s worth it any more, Watcher,” he said slowly. “Hell of an eternity to go through all souled and helpless. Useless,” he amended. “Wonder what the bloody point is.”

“Everything has an affect, Spike. You can’t predict what you might accomplish.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure. Just can’t seem ta care enough any more.”

“We’ve spoken about this, Spike. You need to stay connected.” Giles shook his head. “It should be easy for you, Spike. You’ve always interacted well with the living. You seem to have enjoyed their company. I can’t understand what has changed. You’ve removed yourself.”

“Stop, Rupert,” said Spike suddenly.

“But what has happened, Spike? You cared more before the soul than you have in the last five years.”

“I mean it, Rupert, I can’t have this conversation right now.”

Giles was startled. They had traveled this particular circle many times. Spike was recalcitrant and uninformative, but never overly emotional. Giles guessed that the newest problem, coming straight on the heels of Dawn’s departure, was probably making it more difficult for Spike to discuss his unlife. He stopped pursuing it.

“Very well.” They sat for a few more minutes in silence and then Giles made to go. “Willow and Xander will be back soon, I expect,” he announced at the door. “She mentioned wanting to speak to you both.”




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