William loved showers.
Indoor plumbing did exist in the late nineteenth century, but it wasn’t anything like the current modern marvels, and had belonged exclusively to the extremely wealthy. While related to those who were, William had not been even mildly wealthy and had considered himself fortunate on those rare occasions he was able to use such lavish, hedonistic luxuries.
If Spike didn’t stop him, he’d spend all day letting scalding hot water cascade over their dead skin, warming it for at least a little.
William missed the sun. He used to sit beside a small pond on his uncle’s estate—the one with servants who pitied the poor, penniless relation and allowed him what small pleasures they wouldn’t get in trouble for—and translate his burdens into horrible attempts at poetry. Then, when even he grew tired of mangling the English language beyond hope of repair, he’d slump down against the tall elm he particularly liked and just doze. Sometimes Anna, one of the elderly cooks who liked him, would leave him a small basket of bread and cheeses. Occasionally there was even a bottle of wine, most often after Great-Uncle Harold went on one of his rampages and began going through and discarding the vintages he suddenly considered ‘worthless’.
William wondered if his great-uncle realized what a tidy sum a few lucky servants made, selling off the suddenly undrinkable bottles.
Not that it mattered now, of course.
Spike sighed, chuckling when William tried to choke on abruptly inhaled water. His skin was turning pink under the intense heat, borrowed blood bubbling to the surface to make him look, for a few, all-to-brief moments anyway, human again.
Is that what I wanted? he wondered, soul and demon having tossed this question back and forth between them often once sophisticated thinking became possible again. Did I want to be human?
Surprisingly, it was the soul that was most vehement in its denials. William. . . William had hated his weakness, his ineffectuality, his inability to be anything people wanted him to be. For all the demon’s faults, William—Spike—was not weak anymore. Yes, there were limitations, not the least of which was the soul’s new influence, but Spike had control over his life and the ability to take care of himself when the control vanished.
Not that becoming human would have rendered him abruptly powerless, of course. It was his experience, his confidence, and his hard-won skill that the soul truly admired—for they were admirable features. Well, admirable until one looked at how those traits had been applied, at least. The soul was becoming very good at ignoring what it wanted to. Then too, William was definitely happy that if it came to a fight he could now physically defend himself.
William liked not needing to depend on anyone to take care of him. Liked it so much, that Spike—or the personality that had existed the last few decades—was wondering just how bloodthirsty and, well, evil he’d been when he was human.
Supposed to be broody now, he thought morosely. Don’t wanna be, but. . . I am the only other souled vampire in existence, should follow the bloody leader, then, shouldn’t I? Except he’d never followed any leader, even when he was desperately attempting to.
The problem was that William, the soul, his soul, hadn’t done those things. The demon had, while the soul languished wherever it had been. So while he was alternatively horrified and regretful that they had occurred. . . he couldn’t really feel guilty. Not when guilt was truly a wasted emotion for those who were long dead, generations of their loved ones having already joining them in the earth.
It was different with the Scoobies.
He knew them. He knew who they were and how he’d hurt every single one of them. And how they’d hurt him. Worse, the soul couldn’t blame those hurts on a bloodthirsty demon. The chip had caged it, muted it, which had left the soul without the precious armor it had created; by denying the demon’s basic wants and needs, the personality that had always been too human had changed. Drastically. He was just Spike now, just. . . normal. Oh, the devil to the left was more bloodthirsty and violent than most, and the angel to the right had been silicon and a blond-haired beauty, but the result had been the same.
Spike had been placed in a unique position to grow up. And, in many ways, he had. Which meant that when the soul viewed his most recent memories, there was no distance between the demon and Spike. There was no biological imperative to rationalize events once Spike had fully accepted the chip. They were his actions and he couldn’t blame them on the demon. The crushing guilt and horror he’d expected to feel? Forget about his long-dead victims. Remember, instead, when he had tried to sell out the Scoobies to Adam, when he had tried to force Red into casting him a love spell—or when he had tried to bite her outright, when he had tied up Buffy to make her love him, when he had tried. . .
Notice a lot of ‘tried and failed’ there?
Didn’t matter. For that his insides would clench and tears would burn, unshed, in his eyes. For those memories, those hurts, he’d feel wave after wave of choking, oppressive guilt.
For the first time, he understood how horrible it was for Angel. To desperately want forgiveness, redemption. . . freedom. And to know that even if he were to be forgiven by every last one of his victims, intentional or not. . . he’d never forgive himself.
Never be free.
He’d tried to prepare for it, knowing that he really had nowhere else to go. His demon still considered Sunnydale ‘home’ and his soul made him want to try and fix what he’d broken. Twisting over every situation, every possible permutation of how his arrival would be taken. . . he’d never expected this. Not even in his wildest fantasies, filled with the romantic idealism the soul couldn’t let go of, could he have imagined Alexander “I Hate All Demons” Harris welcoming Spike into his home. Taking him into a bed warmed with a mortal’s heat and scent. Giving, but, more importantly, accepting pleasure. Telling him, the evil creature who had tried so hard to destroy everything the human had ever loved, that he was glad that Spike had come back.
Spike. Not the soul.
“I—I’m glad you didn’t try and stake yourself again.”
Not because he was a fundamentally good person who believed that suicide was wrong. Not because it was the easy way out and he wanted Spike to suffer. Not because it was the ‘right thing’ to do.
There had been understanding and sympathy in the warm, husky voice. The clear knowledge that Xander knew how delicious suicide would have been, how it would be so easy to rationalize it as a sacrifice to those who clamored for blood-vengeance. He knew that it was both the easiest and hardest way out of a problem that had no easy solutions. He knew how attractive that sweet, sweet oblivion was, and how hard you had to work to get up and keep going, day after day.
It wasn’t the understanding, the sympathy, or the automatic politeness that had driven Spike out of the room.
It was the caring.
Spike braced himself against the wall, pushing his face under the spray and mentally reminding the soul that no, he didn’t have to breathe, so stop panicking, please. There had been a wondering, confused quality to it, but Spike had heard it nonetheless. The words had been prompted by gratitude—because Xander didn’t want to lose a—
Bollocks! The old human fear and insecurity, made cruel and rough with the demon’s voice, cut off that final word with a growl of derision. He’s your bloody enemy, vampire, an’ he always will be. Forget this nice act now, soon or later he’s gonna remember that little fact. Remember Xander, the one who always wanted Angel dead—even before he turned into Psycho-Vamp? The one who called you a waste of space, an’ not even ‘kinda naughty’ once you were as scary as a fluffy little kitten? You remember that, vampire? Cause he does. Yeah, you let him be nice now. Soak that up with the self-righteous new toy you have, but you don’t ever forget that he hates you. That he’ll stake you, an’ soon, rather than let his pack get hurt. But don’t think he likes you. Don’t think he cares about you.
Don’t you dare think he’s your soddin’ friend.
Spike breathed deeply, wishing it could still be as cleansing as the soul remembered it to be. He’d never lost his memories of William, something Angelus had used against him often enough, but with the return of the soul they were much clearer. Much sharper.
Much more painful.
William had been virtually friendless. Those he did consider his friends probably hadn’t reciprocated the feeling. He’d been the oddball his whole life; with a name that got him places, but without the money to keep him there. He’d attended college—St. Matthew’s at Cambridge—and had done very well, but becoming a professor was unbecoming to one of his class back then and he hadn’t the skills or wherewithal to set himself up in a more respectable business. So, without any other options, he’d been apprenticed to his cousin’s accounting firm. It paid decently enough, since he was family, but it lowered his social standing to the point where he became a laughingstock. Add in his penchant for horrid poetry and a rose-colored way of looking at the world. . .
Time to move on, then, he decided. Get my kit, see if there’s sewer access around here and get back to the crypt. Not his old crypt, but a newer, smaller one he’d chosen his first night back. It had none of the amenities he’d worked so hard to find, just a cold stone slab for a bed and the smell of death and decay. Maybe pick up a bottle or two on the way back. Hopefully, the alcohol fumes would successfully overload his senses so he wouldn’t be remembering the warm, slightly citrus smell that he currently couldn’t get out of his head.
A knock on the door startled him out of his thoughts, a chill blast of air as a dark head popped through the opening door. “Hey, Spike? It’s been almost an hour. You okay in there?”
“Yeah, mate,” he called, once again reminding the soul that no, his heart was not racing a mile a minute in surprise and sudden fear.
His heart wasn’t doing anything.
“Ow!” Spike whirled, grabbing the wall to keep from slipping, at the sudden cry of pain. “Damn, Spike, what’d you do—pipe water in directly from hell? That’s hot!”
Xander’s shadowy form was outlined against the curtain, inches from the shower itself. Certainly close enough to feel an occasional splash of water that escaped said curtain. “Oh. Right. Sorry. Like the heat, s’all. I’ll, uh, I’ll get you some dosh, if you like,” he offered nervously. “F’r the landlord an’ all.”
Hurriedly, he finished soaping his body and rinsed off. Told himself yet again that no, he was not upset about losing the boy’s scent.
Not a boy anymore, he told himself as he ducked under the spray one last time. Not a full man yet, no, but close now. Close to breaking, too.
The forlorn, empty expression as they both watched a full bag sail down four stories. . .
A towel was thrust past the curtain the minute the water shut off. Roughly scrubbing his hair, he wrapped it around his waist. . . and waited. “Uh, you gonna, um. . .”
“I’m not going to jump you, Spike.” And Spike didn’t even attempt to analyze that because there was no possible way he heard what he’d thought he’d heard. None at all. It was just a pity fuck, he told himself as he reluctantly pushed back the curtain and stepped outside. Xander was leaning against the sink, watching him speculatively. He was lonely an’ I was there. Nothing more.
But, oh, did the boy look utterly delicious, lounging casually against the porcelain sink. Tight white t-shirt, the kind he’d never worn in public, at least not that Spike had ever seen. Loose sweat pants riding low on his hips, allowing just a hint of a dark, curly trail of hair against warm, sun-bronzed skin. . .
Spike looked at his own pale, too-skinny body and tried not to grimace. The nice flush he’d worked up from heating his non-circulating blood was fading as he watched, leaving him with hardly any pigmentation at all. Yeah, like he’d want this.
“You want me to throw those in the washer?” Xander followed him back into the bedroom, where he’d tossed his clothes, and watched while Spike stared at his jeans in distaste. They were covered in grime, washing having not been a huge priority as he was hopping his way back from Africa, and then there was the brooding and the alcohol. . .
“Don’t have to go all out,” he said, instead.
“Spike, letting you use the washer and dryer downstairs is not ‘all out’. Ordering blood for you might have been.”
What the—no way in fucking hell. Forgetting about the towel covering not-so-much, Spike turned to stare at Xander in utter disbelief. Yeah, the slightly embarrassed, sheepish look said it all. “From who?” he asked. His voice sounded strangled to his own ears.
“Giles used to have me go to one of the butchers. I gave him a call and for an extra incentive, he was willing. It should be here in an hour or two.”
Spike sat down on the bed. “For an extra—” He shook his head, staring at the floor and clenching his jaw. Deep breath. “How much do I owe you?” His voice was better this time, but there was still that damned roughness to it. Sound like a git. Sound like. . . a souled vampire who’s getting help from someone he should be getting a stake from. Bloody hell.
“You don’t owe me anything.”
He had to laugh at that or else he’d be crying and he was so fucking tired of crying. “Bullshit. You don’t owe me anything but pain.”
“Right, cause I’ve been so nice to you.” Folding his arms across his chest, Xander hopped up onto the dresser. “Spike, when was the last time you ate?”
Oh, fuck me. What is this, turnabout is fair play? Bullshit. “Mother-hen isn’t really your style,” he said aloud. “Might wanna work on the delivery a bit. See if you can really get that note of sarcasm to work for you.”
“God, Spike, you’re such a guy sometimes.” Sliding to his feet, Xander rummaged around in a few drawers, pulling out t-shirt, boxers, and another pair of sweats. “Put these on, okay? You’re distracting when you’re half- naked.”
Thank god vampires couldn’t blush. “Wanker,” he muttered while tugging on the clothes. They were ridiculously large, although the boy wasn’t nearly as husky as he’d been a few months prior.
“Okay, now you just look ridiculous. Much better. Come on, there should be some kind of game you’ll want to watch on. I’ve got satellite.”
“Why do I wanna watch a game with you? Well, there’s the whole problem of all my other friends being female and don’t understand what a touchdown is, let alone offsides.”
“Not sports, you arsewipe! You slept with me. You bought me blood, Xander—the stuff you ‘ewed’ about damned near continuously the last time we shared a flat? I had a sodding invite here!”
The harsh sound of his own panting filled the room, blocking out the need for Spike to think. He hadn’t meant to do that, to blow up like that. He didn’t have the right anymore. Besides, why exactly was he arguing? Xander was offering a nice, comfortable way to pass the time with food, the possibility of a good argument over a game—although they’d watch Yank football over his undead body—and a chance to really clean up.
Because you’re a vampire and he’s a human. You aren’t his chum, he’s just lonely and depressed.
The demon rose up and snatched the words away before the rest of him had a chance to do more than blink. “You’re pathetic, boy. What, Slayer won’t return your calls? No bonding sessions over sappy chick-flicks and fruity drinks? She finally see you for the loser you are and just throw her hands up? Or better yet, is she jealous cos you did her job when Red went round the bend? Yeah, I bet that’s it, the way she looks at you like you stole something from her, ripped out her bloody heart and—”
“That’s enough.” Xander picked up Spike’s clothes and a bottle of detergent. “You done now?”
“Go watch some TV. I’ll go put these in.”
“Oh, and Spike?” A brief, hard look flashed over the forced calm. “The closest sewer entrance is a hundred yards away and it’s a very sunny day out. Don’t be gone when I get back.”
The implicit promise in Xander’s words terrified him. To have answers from a member of the group that never gave him any information other than tiny drips and hints shook his new soul in its moorings. I should be leaving, he thought, as he slowly got to his feet. The pants nearly fell off, but if he tied them tight they didn’t slip down too far. I should be risking the sun, running away like the coward I know I am.
Instead, he flipped channels.
It wasn’t more than ten minutes before Xander was back. “So, did you find something?”
“No football. S’too late, I guess.”
He could feel the puzzled look Xander gave him and the television both. “Um. . . the ’Skins against the Eagles? Looks like football to me.”
“That’s not football. That’s a perversion of a game that takes precision and skill until all that’s left is mindless beatings.” He snuck a glance to his left, surprised to see the boy grinning in anticipation. Of what, the game? He looked at the mindless barbarism in front of him. Why on earth would he be excited about this?
“Yeah, yeah. Lemme get some snacks.” Crap was apparently plentiful in the Harris apartment and soon an array of chips, pretzels, dips, and various candies were spread out on the coffee table in front of them. Xander slumped down comfortably next to him, handing him a soda. Spike very carefully did not request a beer.
They watched the game in relative silence, commenting only on particularly good or bad plays. Occasionally Xander would explain an odd ruling or why they were throwing the ball when the running game was clearly more effective.
“I came to a decision.”
The words were out of the blue, and for a second Spike thought they were directed at the television. Certainly dark brown eyes never left it. “’Bout what, then?”
“About everything. About. . . my friends. My enemies. Who I hated and why.”
The Eagles scored a touchdown, the tinny sound of the enthusiastic crowd hissing in the background. Spike sipped his soda and wished it was blood. He was suddenly starving.
“I realized that I was a racist asshole. You know I didn’t even know Anya had gotten her powers back until she told me? She told me why she got you drunk, too.”
She wanted me to make a wish, Spike realized, closing his eyes tightly. She wanted me to curse Xander, when the only thing I could think about was. . . Buffy. How much I hurt. How nice it was to finally have someone who’d listen to my side of the story.
“She’d been a demon for weeks, she said. Since right after the. . . the wedding. I never knew. I never even guessed. And then the whole thing with Willow. . . it was so easy to forgive her. She’s my best friend and I love her and of course I forgive her. I’d forgive her anything. And Anya hated me for that, because she had to work and scrape for acceptance from me. So she said, anyway.”
Spike closed his hands into fists. Xander wouldn’t appreciate his shoulder to cry on. Besides, he needed to get out of there, not dig himself in deeper. Soon as it was nightfall, he’d be gone.
“I did a lot of thinking. Did a lot of drinking too, but that came after. I realized some things about myself that I didn’t like so much and it. . . hurt.” The Redskins fumbled a ball, the Eagles recovering it on the twenty yard line. “She told me I was a hypocrite and she was right. I was supposed to hate all demons—except the woman I still loved was a demon and I was meeting other demons who were about as evil as small puppies. Clem’s fun, isn’t he? So, I made a decision.”
Brief pause while another touchdown was scored. The game had ridiculously high numbers but Spike couldn’t remember what they were. All he could concentrate on was the low heat against his side and the pain that poured out of the human.
“I told Anya once that I take people at face value. That I’ll listen to what they say and accept it. So I’m going to do that. Right now, you’re Spike. You may be a vampire, but you haven’t actually tried to hurt us—any of us—in a long time.”
Harsh, whimpering pants, small hands struggling against him, the twist of hot flesh as he tore and ripped and took—
“Hey.” A large hand brushed against his face, catching the moisture there. “She doesn’t hate you.”
“She should,” he whispered and he must have cried rivers in his too many years and oceans in this past year alone. Jerking out of Xander’s grasp, he scrubbed at his face.
“Fine. Other than that, you haven’t tried to hurt us in a long time. In fact, you’ve helped us a lot. And all we did was reject you.”
Tears forgotten, Spike stared at him, wide-eyed. No way. No way in hell.
“Hit me enough times and I do eventually get it,” Xander joked. “You tried and none of us let you succeed. So I decided that I was going to take your actions—anybody’s actions—at face value. If you try and hurt me or those I care about, then we’ll talk. But for right now. . .” Xander swallowed and looked him directly in the eye. “I forgive you.”