Summary: After his break with Buffy, Spike couldn't stand the pain. He decided the only cure was to go back to as he was--before. The problem is that there are different interpretations of 'before'.
First Learn to Love One Living Man
--First learn to love one living man;
He'd known it wasn't going to be easy to earn his wish, and it hadn't been. The ruddy demon had put him through several different kinds of hell, leaving him feeling pretty much as weary and hurt as he'd ever been in his long unlife. But it was going to be worth it. Once he was rid of the chip he could go back to Sunnyhell and either fuck or kill Buffy--at this point, he really didn't give a damn which. *Maybe both,* Spike thought, trying to uncurl from the fetal position he'd found himself in when the ordeal had ended.
He'd stripped at some point in the proceedings, figuring that it would be easier to just keep his own clothes intact rather than have to hunt down new ones when they were ripped and blood-stained. At the moment he was wishing that he'd kept the jeans on. The floor of the cavern was gritty, and it was pretty uncomfortable on raw patches on his back.
*Yes, definitely both, and I'm damned if I'm particular about the order.* He coughed, spitting out a wad of cold, half-congealed blood, and whispered, "Is that it, then? Have I earned enough points, or do I have to go into the fucking bonus round?"
"I am impressed." The voice was quiet, unemotional.
"Hoo-fucking-rah for me. Am I done?"
"You have earned your request. Do you know what you want?"
"Oh, you'd better believe it." He forced himself into a sitting position. He'd gone through a lot for this, and he wanted to be fully aware to enjoy it. "I want to be like I was before."
There was a pause. "Are you certain?"
There was soft laughter. "Your wish is granted."
Spike experienced a sudden flash of clarity, and remembered exactly why you had to be so careful when you made a deal with demons--they were tricky bastards, who gloried in twisting the agreements into something that the other party had never intended, or imagined. One hand flew up in denial. "No, wait!"
The pain was immediate, and intense. It started at the base of his skull, right about where the chip was implanted, but it spread through him in a heartbeat. He stiffened, muscles locked in fiery agony, gut clenching. It felt as if lightning was racing along each nerve, molten fire pouring through every vein. He'd been careless on occasion and let sunlight strike this or that part of his body, skin bubbling and smoking, and that was nothing compared to this. He had time to think that there really were instances when you welcomed death. Then the blackness crashed over him.
The cave was dimly lit by the flickering of an unseen fire, but the creature had no trouble seeing. It waited, dispassionately watching the still body. There was a tightening of the skin in some areas, the edges of wounds slowly pulling together and sealing, leaving livid, seamed scars. The second change was subtler. The marble pale skin tone changed, going from cool alabaster to warm cream. A faint pink tint even spread over the cheeks. Then came the final change...
The still chest rose convulsively. There was a wheezing moan as air was drawn into lungs that had rested quietly for decades, used only when their owner desired a little extra volume for a tirade. The spine arched slightly. Deep in the man's chest, above the lungs, the heart swelled with a gush of warm blood, then stuttered to life. After a moment's erratic squeezing, it settled into a strong, steady rhythm.
The demon nodded. "Our agreement is fulfilled--you are as you once were--William."
No Easy Waking
The incident went unseen and unremarked, as did so many things in Sunnydale. One moment the small cleared space in the bushes was bare--the next there was a body lying on the grass. There was nothing to mark its arrival--no eerie sound, no mystical shimmer. One moment he wasn't there, and the next moment he was. An instant later a small pile of neatly folded clothes winked into existence next to him. The only thing that saw was the moon, and it reserved comment, having seen much odder things.
The man lay still for a while, minutes ticking by, then he moved. Long fingers twitched, clutching at the grass, and then the hands were raised. They only made it up a few inches on the first try before falling back. The second try was more successful. Though they were slow and wavered uncertainly, they managed to complete the journey to their intended destination, and the man clutched at his head, groaning softly.
*Lord. I have never in my life had such a headache. I've heard that drunkards have headaches the morning after a binge. Is that what happened? Have I been drinking? Surely not. I don't drink.* Pale blue eyes opened. *Do I?* He blinked, for a moment unsure of what he was seeing. Then he realized that he was gazing up into the depths *Or should that be 'the heights'?* of a nights sky. Where there should have been a sane and sensible ceiling there was a sweep of midnight blue, sprinkled with chips of light. *That settles it--I must have gotten drunk if I fell asleep out of doors. What will my family say?* He was fairly certain that it would be nothing good.
He shivered, and rubbed his arms, feeling gooseflesh. His eyes widened. He shouldn't be able to feel bare skin. The only time he was ever bare armed was during a bath--even his nightshirts had decently long sleeves. Then a breeze ghosted over his body, and he suddenly realized it was much, much worse than he'd imagined.
"Oh, God!" His hands darted down, cupping protectively over his crotch. He looked around frantically, but didn't relax, even when he was sure there was no one to be scandalized. He didn't need an audience--he felt quite scandalized on his own. He felt almost pathetic relief when he spotted the pile of clothing, but it took him a moment to force himself to relinquish his cover long enough to grab them.
He scrabbled through the garments, thinking, *I hope they fit. I hope the owner won't be offended. I'll have to recompense them, if I can find out who owns... Or maybe they're my own? That would be logical.* He fingered the heavy black material of the dungarees, frowning. Surely not. He'd never worn anything so coarse. These were obviously working man's clothes. Still, they'd have to do for now.
After searching he thought, *No drawers? Well, that proves it, then--these can't be mine. I'll just have to make do without.* He shuddered at the thought, but he didn't dare risk staying naked for another moment. He pulled on the dungarees, then was faced with another puzzling obstacle. Instead of the usual series of buttons at the fly, there was a single button at the waistband. The gap below it was lined on either side by what felt like tiny, rough nubs, rather like the teeth on a gear.
He fixed the button, then stared down at the results. *This is obscene. I couldn't possibly walk the streets like this. I have to hope there's something else here I can use to drape myself.* The shirt was odd, also. The sleeves were ridiculously short (they wouldn't reach below the upper arm), and there was no collar, cuffs, buttons, laces... He could only tell the front of the garment from the tag sewed in the back--it was apparently made by a tailor named Calvin Klein. *Odd. Most of them don't include their Christian names.* At first he was afraid that it wouldn't fit--it didn't look large enough--but he was determined to wiggle into it. He simply couldn't wander the streets half-nude. Never mind the fact that the he'd die of shame if anyone saw him--the first Peeler he ran into would have him locked away, willy-nilly. He was determined to struggle into it, and was surprised by how easy it was to don. The material stretched beautifully, then shrank back to fit him snuggly. Perhaps a bit too snuggly, he thought, looking down at himself. It seemed terribly revealing.
He also located a pair of socks, but no garters. Oddly enough, this didn't seem to be a problem--the socks clung to his feet as neatly as the shirt clung to his torso. If he hadn't been so distressed and disoriented, he'd have marveled at this. There was also a pair of heavy, scuffed boots, which also fit perfectly. He began to have the sinking feeling that perhaps these were his clothes after all. *What could I have been thinking of to go out dressed in such a manner? I must resemble a common laborer.*
At the bottom of the pile was a long black leather coat. He slipped into it quickly, wrapping himself in the supple material, and was grateful for the protection from the chill night air. It also served another, even more important, purpose. He buttoned it up, and was now modestly covered. Now he didn't have to worry about being arrested for public indecency, and could concentrate on getting home safely.
*Home?* He suddenly realized that he had absolutely no idea where home was. Judging from the state of his wardrobe and the circumstances he found himself in, one might even conclude that he had no home. He had heard talk of some of the more unfortunate of the lower class, unable to afford even a few coins for a night's doss in a vermin ridden flophouse, sleeping 'rough'. Still, he'd hardly thought that it would be this rough.
*Find a Peeler,* he thought. *That's why they're there--to help and protect. One of them should be able to help me find my way home. It's even possible that I've been missed, and an alarm has been spread to look for me. If I can just find one and tell him my name...*
The thought trailed off into a kind of numbness, because where there should have been the crisp and clear certainty of his name there was--nothing. He sat down abruptly, stunned by the realization. Not only did he not know how he had come to be in this predicament, he had no idea of his name, address, occupation... All he could remember was waking up here, cold and in pain.
Again he touched his head, feeling gingerly at the base of the skull, where the pain had been the worst. There was no dampness to indicate blood, no lump or abrasion. In fact, there wasn't even any undue tenderness. Still, he had heard that memory loss could result from a blow to the head. Surely this had to be the case? He must have been where he shouldn't have, and been attacked. He was beaten, then stripped, robbed, and left here. It was the only scenario that made sense. *If that's what's happened, it should be easy enough to deduce. They won't have left me any valuables--if I ever actually had valuables. In any case, maybe I can find some clue about myself.* He started searching his pockets.
The first thing he pulled from the dungarees was a flat, rectangular metal object. He noticed that it was hinged, and opened the lid, then shut it quickly when he smelled the sharp, acrid odor that reminded him strongly of gas. There was also a square paper packet that held cigarettes. He wrinkled his nose at these, tossing them away. While he thought that smoking a pipe was rather distinguished, he associated cigarettes with the more decadent fops and bohemians--those who delighted in shocking society.
There were also a few unfamiliar coins (flimsy sort of things), and a wrinkled piece of greenish paper. He smoothed it out, squinting at it in the moonlight. He made out the words 'The United States of America' above an oval picture of a craggy faced, bearded man. The scroll under the portrait said 'Lincoln'. *Yes, Lincoln is President of the United States, isn't he? What am I doing with American money? I may not know my street address, but I do remember that I live in England--London, I think.* Leaving that particular puzzle for the moment, he stuffed the items back into the dungarees and began searching the pockets of the coat. He found only one item--but it gave him a lift of hope.
It was a simple thing, just a scrap of paper no bigger than half his palm, but it might prove the key to his salvation. There was writing on it, printing done in an impatient, jagged style. He read it aloud. "Harris. 2100 West McKinley Drive, #18." He turned the words over in his mind, examining them carefully. *Is this me? Am I Harris?* It didn't feel right. *In any case, why would I be carrying about a scrap with my own address on it? I could understand a business card, or calling card, but nothing this casual. And surely I wouldn't need a reminder for a relative, or close friend.*
No, this must be an acquaintance. He studied it again, then nodded slowly to himself. *I must know him... Have known him. I should try to speak to him before I go to the authorities. I'd much rather make my way home on my own. I'm sure that whoever my family is, they'd die of shame if I was brought home by a policeman.*
He looked around, noticing more, now that his initial distress had ebbed. There were lights nearby, streetlights from the looks of them. If he was lucky, he might find some sort of bar that was still open. Surely he'd be able to get directions to... He consulted the paper again as he began to push through the brush. *Harris. I hope you're a patient, compassionate sort, Harris. Lord knows I could use a bit of friendliness right now.*
The Exile's Devotion
*Pissy day, pissy day,* Xander thought as he finished toweling his hair. The hot shower had helped some, the near stinging water pounding most of the aches out of his muscles. As crew boss, he had done minimal physical labor and more supervising for the last few months. Well, today he'd been down two men, and he had worked his ass off to stay on schedule. It was worth it. It kept his reputation for 'getting it done' intact with the bosses, and killed some of the mutters from his own men about those who directed instead of doing.
Xander considered walking around naked, but he still had some vestiges of life with the Harrises, and one thing that was sure to earn a beating was being naked anywhere but the bathroom. He settled for nothing but a pair of sloppy shorts and his softest, most comfortable T-shirt--the one that had been washed so often that Scooby Doo was so fuzzy he looked like a Shar Pei. Then he padded barefoot into the kitchen to scrounge something to eat. He was poking among various packages, trying decide between questionable Chinese takeout leftovers, cold pizza, or a sandwich when there was a knock on the front door.
*Oh, great--company at dinnertime. Well, if they know me, they know what to expect.* He went to the door, checking to see that the chain was on, then called, "Ye-ah?"
There was a hesitation, then a voice outside said, "Mister Harris?"
"That would be me."
"I... I was wondering... Might I speak to you face-to-face for a moment?"
"Are you kidding? This is Sunnydale, pal. I don't open my door after dark to anyone I don't know. Now, who are you, and what do you want?"
"That's just it. I can't explain myself, and I am lost."
Xander frowned. There was something vaguely familiar about the voice. Well, not the voice itself, but more the cadence, and the way certain words were formed. *English. That's it--he sounds a little like Giles, but it isn't the G-man. This is weird. Well, he sounds fairly human. Most oogies would have just tried to come through the door, and a vampire can't come in unless I invite him, so...*
Xander checked the chain once again, unlocked the door, and cracked it open, peering through the slit, but ready to leap back. He felt an immediate wash of combined relief and irritation. "Oh, it's you."
Spike looked up at him with what could only be called hope. "You know me?"
"Don't be any more of a smart ass than you have to, huh? I've had a bitch of a day." He was a little puzzled by the vampire's wince. "What do you want?"
"Might I come in?"
The blond shifted, seeming uneasy, but Xander just stared at him. He didn't feel obligated to make Spike comfortable. While they weren't at the 'I'd kill you if it wouldn't piss off Buffy stage' any more, they were still a long way from being bosom buddies. Finally Spike almost whispered. "Please."
Xander could feel his eyebrows climbing. *I'll be damned if that didn't almost sound humble.* He gave a mental shrug. *What the hell? He's chipped--the worst he can do is drink my beer and hog the remote.* "Oh, all right." Xander shut the door again, unhooking the chain. He swung it open, stepped aside, and swept his arm ironically toward the living room. "Enter freely, and of your own will."
"Thank you." He entered the room, and Xander shut and re-locked the door as he said, "I was beginning to be quite nervous out there. I'm not accustomed to wandering about in the dead of night."
Xander snorted. "Yeah, right. If you wanna talk, you'll have to do it in the kitchen." He walked toward the back of the apartment.
Spike hesitated for a moment, then followed him. *He must know me, if he feels comfortable enough to treat me in such a casual manner. But he doesn't seem to like me much,* he thought wistfully. *I hope that isn't an indication of my personality.*
He found the young man in a brightly lit room. Judging from the cabinets and the sink, he assumed that this was a kitchen. He hadn't spent much time in the kitchen--the family cook had been quite protective of her domain, but it seemed to him that it was missing several necessary items--such as a cook stove and a food safe. Instead there were a couple of shiny, boxy things he couldn't identify.
One of them had a hinged door, and the young man had opened it. As he came up behind the stranger, he was astonished to see that the interior of the thing was lighted, and that a distinct coldness was wafting from its interior. The young man looked over his shoulder at him and said, "I suppose you expect to be fed?"
He hadn't thought of it till it was mentioned, but he suddenly found that he felt positively hollow. "It's very kind of you to offer."
Another snort, but the young man began pulling items out of the box. "Don't be too grateful--it's going to be pot luck. You're just lucky that I have two beers left, because you would not have gotten the last one."
"Of course not." A well-bred guest would never knowingly take the last of anything, no matter how his host urged.
His host held up two objects--a plate, and what looked like a carton made of pressed, folded paper. "Pizza, or Chinese?"
"I... beg pardon?"
Xander lifted the plate. To Spike it appeared to hold several triangular slices of very thin, very hard bread, covered in... Well, it wasn't readily identifiable, but he thought that the round, reddish-brown objects might be very thin slices of sausage. "Pepperoni, or..." he gazed at the box. "If I remember correctly, I dumped the General Tzo's Chicken in with the Broccoli Beef."
He at least recognized some of the ingredients of the second option, so he pointed at the box. "That would do splendidly."
Xander handed him the box. "You're easy to please tonight. Plates are there, forks and stuff in that drawer." He sat at the table, picked up one of the flat wedges, and began to eat. After a moment he said, "Well?"
"Yes, thank you." Spike got the utensils indicated, then dumped the contents of the box on the plate. He examined it critically. It did look a bit like the dog's dinner, but he wasn't in any position to be picky. He carried it to the table and sat down.
As Spike picked up a fork, Xander said, "Look, I'm not known for my pickiness, but even I heat leftover Chinese food." Spike put down the fork, looked at the plate, looked at Xander, looked around the room, then looked back at Xander. "What, I have to play Emeril? You can't nuke it yourself?"
"I'm sorry." Spike picked up the fork again, poking at a broccoli floweret.
"Geez." Xander stood abruptly, taking the plate.
Spike watched as his host stalked over to the counter, opened the door on a small box, and placed the plate inside. Closing the door, he tapped the front of the thing several times. Spike was startled when a light came on inside the box, and a whirring sound started up. He got up and went closer, bending down to peer through the window in the door. The food was revolving slowly, on some sort of turntable. He stared, fascinated. "My word."
"What's gotten into you, Spike? It isn't like you've never seen a microwave before." There was a chiming sound, and the young man took the plate out and handed it to him. "Sit down, and I'll get us a beer."
Spike walked back to the table. As Xander came back, carrying two bottles, he was passing his hand along the bottom of the plate, and he looked perplexed. "It... it's warm."
"Duh?" Xander sat, putting a bottle before Spike. "G'wan and eat it. I'm curious to see if it's reached the spontaneous generation of life stage yet." Spike picked up the fork, speared an unidentifiable lump, and ate it. He looked thoughtful, then continued eating. "Note to self--the Moo Goo Gai Pan should be safe for another couple of days."
"It's very good." Spike bit his lip. "Though the chicken is a touch spicy."
"Don't just sit and bitch--you have a perfectly good beer in front of you." *Am I imagining things, or did Spike wince when I said 'bitch'? I must be imagining things.*
"Have you an opener?"
"For crying out loud, Spike, twist it off!" He got a blank look. Xander grabbed his own bottle and twisted the cap off, taking a healthy swig. Spike watched him carefully, then copied his action, looking amazed when the cap loosened.
Spike looked at the bottle, then said, "I don't want to be demanding, but might I have a glass?"
"A glass? Since when do you bother if it isn't on tap?" Again the blank looked. "Fine. I always wanted to be a butler." He got up and got a glass out of the cabinet, plonking it down in front of the vampire. It was a bargain store special--clear pink plastic, and five for a dollar. Spike regarded it doubtfully. "That will have to do, because I had to sell the crystal, china, and silver," he said sarcastically. Xander blinked, wondering if there was something wrong with the lighting in his kitchen. *There has to be, but I'd almost swear Spike was blushing. Vampires can't blush unless they've had a heapin' helpin' of the liquid red, and that isn't likely, given how he's chowing down.*
Xander went back to munching pizza as Spike poured the beer into the glass, tilting it carefully to avoid foam. He considered telling him that with the cheap brand he could afford, he'd probably have to pour a keg out of a second story window to get a decent head going. He saw Spike's eyebrows climb as he took a sip, and said, "What? Flat?"
"No, no--it's fine. It's just, um, rather cold. Perhaps I'll let it sit for a few moments." He gave a small smile that was almost apologetic. "I'm afraid that the chill might hinder my digestion."
Xander dropped a crust back on the plate and said, "What is it with you tonight? I mean, even Giles isn't so English he complains about a cold beer."
Spike was regarding him thoughtfully. At last, sounding as if he'd just come to a conclusion, he said, "You're an Yank."
"California hardly qualifies as Yankieland, Spike."
The other man frowned. "Spike? Surely that's not my name."
Xander stared at him a long moment, then said flatly, "What sort of game are you playing?"
"I assure you, I'm not playing."
"The hell you aren't. What is it with the fancy accent?"
"You heard me. You went from Coronation Street or East End to the Upstairs part of Upstairs, Downstairs." Xander's eyes narrowed. "Look, if I want to role play, I can find a decent Dungeons and Dragons group."
*Oh, lord. I hope my chance of finding out what is going on doesn't rest with a lunatic.* "I should have told you my situation immediately, I know, but I was very confused." He closed his eyes for a moment. "Am very confused."
"Yeah? You've always struck me as someone who knew exactly what he wanted." Xander shrugged. "Well, except for the whole Buffy episode. Look, either tell me what's going on, or get out of my house."
"I'm afraid I don't know exactly what's going on, though I have a few theories about what happened. I believe that I was attacked, robbed, and left for dead."
"I'm not joking. I woke up in what I believe was a park, in... um... in an unclothed state."
"Uh?" Xander reached over, flicking the sleeve of his duster.
Spike frowned. "Yes, I found that rather odd that they would leave the clothes also. And now that I think about it, I'm not entirely sure that robbery was their motive." He removed the bill from his pocket and showed it to Xander. "This is legal tender, is it not?"
"Not that I see much of it on my pay scale, but yeah."
"There was no identification, but I found this in my pocket." He showed Xander the slip of paper. "Luckily there was a sort of shelter nearby, and it had a map of the city on its side, so I managed to find my way here. Can you assist me, Mister Harris? I'm sure that if I can only find my way back home, my family will care for me."
Xander looked at him suspiciously. "Mister Harris?"
Spike seemed a little flustered. "That is your name?"
"Yeah, but Mister? Not 'Harris', not 'Whelp', not 'Pet' or 'Ducks' or 'Love'?"
Now Spike was staring at him. "Mister Harris, precisely what is the nature of our acquaintance?"
"Spike, what's my first name?"
"I can tell that you believe I should know, but I don't. In any case... Do I know you well enough to use your given name?"
Xander sat back, mouth slightly open. "I ought to believe that you're doing some sort of elaborate set up, but fuck me if I can figure out why."
Spike actually flinched. "Please, there's no call for such language. I know that men alone are occasionally free with their speech, but that goes beyond vulgarity into obscenity."
"This is Spike saying this to me."
Now Spike's expression became slightly stubborn. "I absolutely refuse to believe that I would have such a common name. Spike isn't a name for a decent, well-bred man. It's a name for a... a bulldog."
Xander was regarding him shrewdly, and now he smiled slightly. "When we get this cleared up, I'm going to remind you that you said that. You really have lost your memory, haven't you?"
"I can't remember a thing before I woke up. I've deduced that I'm English, that I'm in America, and that I've been here long enough for you and perhaps some others to feel you know me fairly well. I'm assuming that a blow to the head must have caused the amnesia." He rubbed the back of his skull gingerly. "I had the most beastly headache when I awoke."
Xander grunted. "Well, whatever happened, Giles will have a better chance at figuring it out than I will. I'll get changed and we'll run over."
Xander got up and headed for the bedroom. He was pulling a fresh shirt off a hanger when Spike appeared at the bedroom door. "I hate to impose, but could you direct me toward the water closet?"
Xander pulled the T-shirt over his head, and pointed at the bathroom. "Through there."
Spike looked away quickly, then glanced back, as if unable to resist. He couldn't recall seeing other people unclothed--unless you counted statues and paintings. He had a sudden flash of memory, of himself standing in some sort of a museum, staring at an exhibit. It had been a true antiquity, not much more than a fragment. At some time during history, the statue had lost both its head, and limbs. All that was left was an exquisitely carved male torso. Finding himself alone with the statue, Spike had dared to reach out, running his hand across the chiseled planes of the chest. He could remember how it had felt--smooth, hard, and cool. Xander Harris' torso was like that statue, but done in warm, living flesh. If he were to touch him--how would it feel?
Spike was blinking at him. "What?"
"You... you have an indoor WC?"
"I insisted on it. It cost more, but it's worth it." Instead of sniping back at his sarcasm, Spike just nodded, and went into the bathroom. Xander shook his head as he donned the shirt. *I don't know what it is, but something is definitely...* There was an alarmed cry from the bathroom. Instinctively Xander rushed over and opened the door.
Spike looked over at Xander, his expression dismayed. "I'd always heard that suffering a trauma could turn one's hair white overnight," He ran a hand up into his bleached hair, "but this."
"Oh. My. God."
"Not a speck of color. I can't believe this."
"Neither can I, but I'm seeing it."
What he was seeing was two Spikes--the one standing at the counter, fretting over his coiffure--and the Spike-reflection in the mirror-- the very clear, very there-where-it-wasn't-supposed-to-be-because- vampires-don't-show reflection.
Xander pulled to the curb and shut off the engine, then looked across the cab at Spike. The other man glared at him angrily, then said, in precise, clipped tones, "I don't know what you think you'll accomplish by kidnapping me and frightening me to death."
Xander sighed. "Look, I didn't kidnap you."
"Did you or did you not, over my protests, force me into this dangerous contraption, and tie me down when I tried to escape?"
"I did not tie you down." Spike jerked pointedly at his restraints. "I just buckled you in, man." He got an accusing stare. "All right, all right--so I did it a little thoroughly. But I had to get you here, and I couldn't risk having you jump out at a light and run. No telling what might pick you off." He eyed the other man. "If I get you loose, are you going to take off?"
Spike scowled, then said. "No." Xander cocked an eyebrow. "On my word as a gentleman." The other eyebrow rose to join the lifted one. Now Spike's look bordered on outrage. "Are you doubting my honor?"
"Spike, I've seen a lot of things from you, but honor wasn't one of 'em."
"Chill. It wasn't meant as an insult--exactly. You don't remember your past, right? For all you know you could have run guns, sold bootleg, and pimped nuns."
Spike paled, then whispered, "You're very young to be aware of such things. What sort of life have you led?"
Xander blinked at him, shocked by the compassionate tone of voice. He cleared his throat. "I'm just your average post new millennium man." He unbuckled the belts. "C'mon. Oh, and if you meet a snarky blonde girl--watch what you say, okay? You and Buffy haven't had exactly a smooth time lately."
As they walked up to Giles' house, Spike said, "What sort of a name is 'Buffy'?"
"Something that we've all wondered at one time or another, but usually silently."
At the front door, Xander pushed the buzzer, and they waited. "Who shall I be meeting again?"
"Well, Rupert Giles for sure. Probably Willow and Oz, maybe Cordelia. Come to think of it, Buffy is probably patrolling right now, but she might be by later."
Inside they heard someone call, "Yes, I'll get it."
The door opened. There was a pretty girl with long, brunette hair, holding something cupped against her ear. "No, Heather. I meant I'd answer the door. I'm researching, and everyone else has a lapful of books or something."
Spike whispered to Xander, "She's talking to herself. Is she... unbalanced."
Xander smirked. "Some would say so."
She gave them an annoyed look, then stepped aside and gestured for them to enter. "No, nobody important."
"And she's rude, too," Xander said as they entered.
"Oh, like you're Mister Manners, Xander. They're in the kitchen. You must have smelled the pizza. Heather? No, the sale is at Dillards. Do I look like I shop at Sears?"
"C'mon, Spike. There's no point in waiting for an escort. She's talking fashion--no telling when she'll be done." He led the other man back to a room rather like the one they'd dined in at his home. This one, however, was more spacious, and obviously more expensively decorated.
There was a large, round table, spread with stacks of books. The two young people sitting there looked up as they entered. They were a boy and girl about Xander's age, both of them redheaded. There was an older man just pouring boiling water into a teapot. He looked up and said, "Xander, I thought you were taking the night off."
"So did I, but," he hooked a thumb at Spike. "Something came up."
The girl piped up. "Spike, where have you been? We've been worried." The boy gave her a look. "Well, I've been worried. I mean, I know you're the big bad, and all that, but since the chip..." She trailed off. "You look funny. Are you all right?"
"You know me, too?" he asked.
She giggled, a touch nervously. "I don't know if anyone really knows you, except maybe Angel or Drusilla. Seriously, I don't know exactly what happened with you and Buffy, but there wasn't any need to go tearing off. She'll get over it."
"Dunno about that, Wills," said the other boy dryly. "First she'll have to get over herself, and that's a tall hill to climb."
The older man was pouring tea into a cup, and Spike said, "Sir? I hate to be a bother, but might I have a cup? I'm perishing for something to soothe my nerves."
Giles regarded Spike in surprise. "Certainly." He took down another cup and saucer. "But I have a bit of brandy if you'd prefer."
"Oh, no thank you. I very seldom drink strong spirits."
Cordelia had come into the room, tucking the cell phone in her purse. "Right," she said sarcastically. "Spike, if you weren't already dead, your liver would be pickled by now."
Spike gaped at her, then looked at Xander again. "Do you need help getting her to a quiet room? I've heard that laudanum is good for curing hysteria."
Cordelia's voice rose sharply. "Who are you calling hysterical?"
Spike winced, then said in an exaggeratedly soothing voice, "No, of course you aren't. It was quite wrong of me to use that term, and I'm sorry if I offended you. You're simply... confused."
Her mouth dropped open, then she said, "You've got that right."
Xander said, "Ease up on him, Cordy. He's not himself right now." He watched as Spike accepted the cup from Giles with a polite smile, then sipped the strong brew with every evidence of satisfaction. "Possibly literally."
Giles said, "Something is obviously going on. Spike, take off your coat and tell us."
Spike put the cup down carefully. "I... I'd rather not, if you don't mind."
Giles frowned. "Don't be silly."
Spike tugged at the coat's collar. "I'm a bit chilly."
Now everyone stared at him. Vampires didn't feel the cold like mortals did, not unless it got extreme--say to the point of freezing tissue. Xander poked Spike and hissed, "Will you just take off the damn coat so we can get on with this?" Spike leaned over and whispered in his ear. Xander blinked. "You're kidding, right?" Spike shook his head. Xander thought for a minute. "Come with me." He led Spike back into the living room. The rest of the Scoobies exchanged puzzled glances. They could hear a mumble of voices.
"Let me see."
"I can't. It's too embarrassing."
"Look, I can't help you if I don't know what's really wrong." There was a sigh, then a rustle. Silence. "Spike, the barn door is open, and the stallion is about to escape."
"I told you!"
"Well, fix it."
"I can't. There are no other buttons."
"What? Those aren't button fly, man. Do the zip."
"Oh, for... Here. Hold my keys, and don't move."
"What are you doing?" Spike sounded alarmed.
"I said hold still. Believe me, you don't want me to jerk this." *zip* "There."
"My word." Spike's voice was wondering.
"Yeah, it's called a zipper. Handy little device."
"Absolutely fascinating. You pull the tab?"
"Experiment later, Spike. C'mon."
Oz looked at Willow. "I haven't heard anything like that since I stumbled on the National Lampoon Radio Show." Xander and Spike came into the room, Spike with his duster over his arm. He was looking down at his own fly in a bemused manner. "Okay, now I officially want to know what the hell is going on."
Spike frowned. "Sir, you should watch your language in the presence of ladies."
Oz looked at Giles. "Giles? Have we been dropped into an alternate universe, and you just failed to tell us?"
"Okay, guys," said Xander. "Long story short. Spike showed up at my place. He can't remember anything before waking up in the park a couple of hours ago--nothing. That includes his name--and the past century or so. Oh, and one other thing... Ozzy, do you still have that cross?"
"Don't leave home without it." Oz dug under his collar, and came up with a plain wooden cross on a rawhide thong.
"Loan it to me, will you?" Oz pulled the cord over his head and handed the cross to Xander. "Thank you. Watch closely." He turned and smacked the cross against Spike's forehead.
Cordelia and Willow screamed, Willow shrieking, "Xander, no!"
Spike glanced up, a little cross-eyed, to look at the cross pressed to his forehead. "Mister Harris, although I do not have a complete memory, I'm quite sure you are the most eccentric person I have ever met. Exactly what are you doing?"
There was a brittle smashing sound as Giles dropped his cup and saucer. Cordelia, gaping in a rather unbecoming way, dropped heavily into a chair. Willow was wringing her hands in distress, and even Oz's usually inscrutable expression showed surprise. Xander nodded. "I'm saving myself a lot of time trying to convince them you are what you are."
Giles approached, watching Spike warily. "Spike, will you indulge me for a moment?" He took the blonde man's hand, holding it while he frowned in assessment. "The skin is warm--not just room temperature." He pressed his fingers to the inside of Spike's wrist, and his eyes flew wide. Then he reached up toward Spike's face, but the other man jerked back, looking suspicious. "I only want to check a second pulse point, to be absolutely sure."
"Are you a physician?" asked Spike, standing still so that Giles could press against the side of his throat. "I've been thinking this amnesia might be due to a blow to the skull, but I don't have any localized pain, and I haven't noticed any lumps or cuts."
Giles stepped back, rubbing his face. "No, I'm not a physician. I'm a librarian." He sat down. "And a very confused one at the moment. Children, I felt a strong, steady, distinct pulse, he's warm to the touch, and he's breathing."
"What does it mean?" asked Cordelia.
Giles gave her an impatient look. "It means the same thing it would mean for you or I--he's alive--completely alive."
"I'd like to know why you all keep making mysterious comments as to my vitality," complained Spike. "What could I be if not alive?"
"You could be a vampire," said Oz.
Spike's eyebrows rose. "You mean like Lord Ruthven, Varney, Carmilla--those sort?" He gave Oz a condescending smile. "You're a little old to believe in such fairy tales, aren't you?"
"Okay, there's one way to prove this," snapped Cordelia. She got up and stalked over to Spike. Standing in front of him, she flipped her hair back over her shoulder, turned her head to bare her neck, and said, "Bite me--and I mean that literally, not as another way of saying piss off."
Spike's jaw dropped. "Madam, you are no lady."
Cordelia frowned. "Didn't you hear me? You have my permission. Go on, the chip will leave you alone." She arched her neck again. "Go for it. Make with the deep hickies." Spike just stared at her. Cordelia moved closer, till her breasts brushed his chest. "Come on, Spike! Nice, fresh, pure virgin's blood." Xander started coughing violently. "Shut up, Harris."
Spike, blushing like a rose, was backing away from her. "This was a mistake. You're all quite mad. I'll just be going now. Thank you for the tea. Don't bother to see me out, I can find my way." He turned and bolted.
"Great," sighed Xander.
Cordelia looked caught between worry and being insulted. "He must be messed up if he'll turn down that invitation."
Giles was still looking stunned, but he said, "He seems physically fit, but the psychological and emotional trauma must be severe."
Xander said, "Giles, hello? This is Spike. Emotional and Psychological trauma R Us?"
"That's the point, Xander. I believe that isn't Spike--not exactly. And you'd best go after him."
"Because the front door slammed a moment ago, and I just hear your truck start. If Spike truly has forgotten everything..."
Xander's eyes widened, and he slapped at his pocket, then winced. "Son of a fucking bitch. A man who doesn't even really know what a car is is behind the wheel of a 4x4. Ozzy, c'mon. Take me in the van."
Oz hopped up and followed Xander out, saying, "You really think he'll make it far enough for that to be necessary?"
"With my luck he'll drive till he hits ocean."
Giles was putting on his jacket. "You girls remain here, in case they return before I do. I'm going to the library and see if I can figure out what might have caused these rather unique circumstances." He left.
Cordelia and Willow just sat for a few moments in silence. Finally Cordelia said, "I can't believe he wouldn't even take a nibble. Since when did his standards get so high?"
Willow let her head thump down on the book in front of her.
*I should have stayed where I was. At least then I wouldn't have had to die in the streets.* This thought crossed Spike's mind as the huge metal box he was in once again surged forward. *Perhaps I should stop stepping on that thing and try stepping on the other?*
He did so. There was a squeal as the forward momentum of the vehicle abruptly decreased. He felt himself being thrown forward. The round steering device thumped him solidly in the chest, and his forehead smacked the thick glass of the front window, causing him to see stars, but (Heaven be praised), the growl of the engine ceased with a cough. The vehicle continued to roll forward, but it was slowing rapidly.
This was a good thing. When it bumped up over the curb it barely had enough force left to roll across the parking lot before nosing up against the side of the large building he'd been approaching--far too rapidly.
Scrambled out of the thing, worried that it might decide to roar to life once again and finish its journey to disaster. It remained quiet, aside from a faint ticking sound. Spike still backed away from it cautiously. He had a hard time believing that people willingly subjected themselves to that on a regular basis. He'd just assumed that since he could drive a carriage competently, he'd be able to pilot Xander Harris' contraption. Vanity, vanity. Although he'd observed enough during their previous drive to allow him to start the thing and put it in motion, it was obvious that the properly guiding it called for a great deal of practice. As a matter of fact, hadn't one of the drivers of another car he'd narrowly missed shouted something about getting driver's lessons? And the other had mentioned something about headlights. He supposed it would have made driving safer if he'd been able to figure out how to turn on the front lamps, but he'd been in too much of a hurry to escape to bother with them.
There was no time to worry about that now. He'd once again been reduced to traveling on foot, and he'd best decide exactly WHERE he wanted to travel. He had no doubt that someone would be coming after him. Those huge metal devices seemed very prevalent, and one of the others at Giles' house was bound to have one.
There were several young people nearby, lounging against the side of the building, and watching him. One of them called, "Nice driving."
Spike replied absently, "Thank you. I'm afraid I haven't had much practice."
There was a vaguely melodic noise that seemed to originate from the other side of the building, and Spike could see the glow of artificial light from that direction. This was apparently some sort of public gathering place. Perhaps he could lose himself in the crowd, at least long enough to get his thoughts in order, but it would be best to know what he was walking into. "What is this place?"
"You're from out of town, right?"
He had thought that the group was entirely male. Granted, one of them looked to be a rather effeminate youth, with long hair and rouged lips (but Spike knew that such fey creatures existed. One didn't talk about them in polite society, of course). But now that the girl had spoken, her gender was obvious. Yes, that was most definitely a bosom swelling the front of her blouse, but... "You're wearing trousers."
She blinked at him. "Trousers? I paid sixty bucks for these Silver jeans."
Spike blinked at them. They looked plain blue to him, but he'd decided it was best not to point out flawed observations. "And very nice they are, too. Yes, I'm new to the city--very new."
One of the boys said, "Then you landed at the right place." He hooked a thumb back toward the building. "This is The Bronze. It's the only decent club in Sunnydale."
*A club? They must mean a public house. If they're allowed inside, it can't possibly be a club.* "Thank you." Spike made his way around the side of the building, searching for the entrance.
"Are you sure he went this way, Oz?"
"Wolves are hunters, Xander, remember? Besides, since we've passed two plowed down mailboxes, a rutted yard, and a knocked over trashcan, I'd say we're on the right track."
"I never would have believed he'd have been able to get this far. He was really freaked by riding in the truck."
"Has it occurred to you that maybe we freaked him out more than the prospect of going on Toad's Wild Ride?"
"C'mon, Xander. His concept of the twenty-first century has pretty much been wiped--and keep in mind that we probably aren't what the rest of America would think of as normal, what with all our Hellmouth experience, to begin with. He said we were all mad. Yeah, I suppose we must sound pretty bark at the moon to him right about now."
"Huh. I hadn't thought of it that way." Xander pointed. "Turn here."
"Yeah. That's some of my paint on that lamp post."
Spike stepped into the building, and almost turned around and stepped right back out. The noise was incredible--some heavily rhythmic, thumping sound. He supposed that it must be music, since he could occasionally catch snatches of what might be melody, and some of the tones reminded him of certain instruments. And the people WERE dancing to it. At least he supposed it was dancing. To him it rather resembled mass hysteria, or perhaps the beginning of an orgy. He found himself blushing. *Not that I'd know what that looked like.*
His mind was made up for him when someone behind him said loudly, "In or out, dude, but quit blocking the door." He stepped in. For a few moments he stayed near the wall, trying to get his bearings, then made his way toward what seemed to be a marginally quieter area. It proved to be a bar. At least he assumed that was what it was. The two men behind it were dispensing drinks from an astonishing array of bottles. Occasionally one would dump ice, liquor, and fruit into a small container, which would make a horrendous noise, then dispense brightly colored slush. It actually looked rather tasty, and Spike was reminded that his dinner had been cut short.
One of the bartenders placed a tray full of shot glasses on the bar near Spike, pulled several bowls out of something that looked like a small version of the chill box in Harris' kitchen, and began to scoop bright, shivering globs of colored stuff into them. Spike leaned closer, watching, then smiled happily. Jellies. It had been ages since he'd had jelly. And there was such a variety--green, purple, orange, red, yellow. He tapped the bar. "How much are these?"
The bartender eyed Spike. He recognized him, since Spike was a regular, but if the blond wanted to pretend ignorance of the weekly specials, he wasn't going to call him on it. Doing that with Spike could lead to nasty consequences. "It's Saturday night--Jello shots are a dollar apiece."
Spike felt around in his pockets and came up with the odd looking bill, offering it. "How many will this buy?"
"With tax?" Spike stared at him. Not good. "Okay, forget tax. For you--five."
"Marvelous. I'll have one of each."
Spike handed over the bill, and the man removed one glass of each colored jelly and set them before him. "You expecting company?"
"Oh, no. At least I hope not. Why?" He felt a stab of hope. Perhaps there was someone else here who could help him figure out what had happened? "Is someone asking after me?"
"No!" the man said vehemently, "And if they did, I wouldn't know anything, I promise you."
"Mm. Do you have a spoon for these?"
The bartender stared. "A spoon?"
"Well, I can't very well eat them with a knife and fork, can I?"
*Oh, man. I knew he was crazy, but has he gone round the bend completely? Nah, he must just be jerking my chain. I'd better play along.* "You don't eat them," he explained. "You drink them."
Spike frowned. "Drink them? Good Heavens, man, they're semi-solid. I could choke."
"Nah. Haven't ever heard of anyone choking on a Jello shot. Anyway, they're not solid enough to get stuck, right? Just plop one in your mouth and let it slide down your throat--kind of like an oyster."
"I see. I don't know how one can enjoy the flavor like that, but if you say so." He chose the yellow one and tipped it up to his lips. It was sharply sweet, lemon and sugar, but with a tiny sting, and he swallowed it quickly. He licked his lips thoughtfully. "It had a bit of an odd flavor. Almost medicinal. Still, it was very good. Is the green one lime or peppermint?"
The bartender stared at him. "Lime. I don't use schnapps."
Spike tossed back the lime shot. "Mm. That's quite good. I'm going to have to remember these." He picked up the purple one.
"Keep drinking them at that rate and I can guarantee you'll remember them."
"Mike!" called the other bartender. "Get your thumb out of your ass and hurry up with those shots!"
"I'm coming!" He quickly finished filling the remaining glasses. Before he was done Spike had disposed of the orange and red shots as well. Mike was watching him in awe. "You aren't planning to drive anywhere, are you?"
"I should say not!" Spike shuddered. "Beastly contraptions, your horseless carriages. They're a danger to life and limb."
"Particularly if you're soused when you get behind the wheel. No more for you, man, and if anyone says anything, you walked away with those, and I thought you were buying a round for some friends." He picked up the tray and carried it to the other end of the bar.
Spike sat watching the crowd, barely noticing the warmth that seemed to have settled in his stomach and begun seeping through his body. It was quite amazing. They didn't touch all that often, but most of them still seemed to give the impression of dancing with a partner. And what touching there was...
He felt the heat sweep over his face. He had danced before, of course--all well brought up young men did. But he had never touched his dancing partners more than one hand in theirs and the other on the side of their waist, well above the danger area of their hips. These young people... The music had slowed to a sultry tune, and now there were more true couples, and they were wrapped around each other. He'd never held anyone that close in his entire life. At least he didn't THINK he had. It was hard to tell.
Spike noticed something, and the blush suddenly kicked up into flaming. One of the couples dancing nearby was entirely male. Two youths, entwined in each others' arms, were shuffling together slowly, without paying much attention to the rhythm of the music. They weren't paying attention to much of anything but each other. Foreheads pressed together, they were gazing into each other's eyes, hands firmly gripping each other's posterior.
Spike felt like he was going to hyperventilate. He expected screams of shock and outrage at any moment, but no one seemed to notice. That wasn't exactly true. A couple of girls walked by and one of them nodded at the boys, giggling that they made a 'cute couple'.
He shook his head, and immediately regretted it, because the room did a rather neat spin. He grabbed the edge of the bar to keep from being thrown off his feet, and muttered, "When did I fall down the rabbit hole? I just hope I don't run into that ruddy Cheshire Cat. I don't think I could bear being grinned at right now, and they make me sneeze. And when did I stop making sense?" The girls gave him a suspicious look. Cute, they decided, but obviously unstable. They hurried away.
Spike spotted a pencil lying on the bar next to a pad of printed forms. He took both. There was one thing that usually managed to help him sort his thoughts out. He turned the pad over, happy to find that the backs of the pages were blank. He tapped the pencil point on the pad a few times, then began to write.
//I find myself sojourning
He paused, frowning. "Burning, learning, turning..." *No, not ABAA, I want ABAB.* "Bine? Bind. Dine, fine, hind... Hind?" *I don't want a hunting metaphor here.* "Line, nine, pine... Pine." *No, I'm already yearning, I can't be pining as well.* "Rhine?" *He said I'm in California, not Germany.* "Sign, vine, wine... Oh. I am in a bar."
He bent over the paper.
Sunnydale was, for once, pretty quiet. The cemetery was, pardon the expression, dead, and the park was empty of everyone but necking couples (not necking in the vampiric sense, either. The only thing being sucked was face.) Buffy wandered over toward The Bronze. That had been sort of mutually agreed upon as neutral territory, but she liked to make an appearance now and then to remind the vamps that patronized it to behave while they were there.
"Xander, beating your head against the hood of your truck isn't very productive."
"Perhaps not, but it makes me feel so much better." *VROOM* "ACK! Oz!"
Oz, sitting in the open cab, turned the key off, and the roar died. "Look, man, it still runs fine, and the outside damage is minimal, which is a fucking miracle, and there's no blood anywhere around, so Spike is probably in one piece. Be happy."
"Joy." Xander sighed, looking around. "I suppose we ought to go find him."
One of the teenagers standing near the corner of the building called, "You looking for the guy who was piloting that thing?"
"Yeah. You seen him?"
"He went inside," offered the speaker. "You ought to go collect him. He wasn't making a hell of a lot of sense."
"Well, there's a shot. C'mon, Ozzy." As they started toward the entrance, Xander said, "Do you have any rope in the van? It might make hauling him back to Giles a little easier."
"But explaining things to any interested cops a lot harder."
"So we tell them it's a fraternity initiation stunt."
Brandon had been watching the blond human since he'd come into The Bronze. He was looking to take his first meal in Sunnydale, and he wanted to enjoy it instead of just picking off some scroungy bum. This place was just teeming with temptations. He'd noticed several other vamps in the crowd, but oddly enough they didn't seem to be hunting. He couldn't understand that, but he wasn't about to talk to them to find out why. Brandon wasn't the stupidest vampire to ever walk the face of the earth, but if he lasted much longer, he'd definitely make the Top 100 list.
Brandon had only been a vampire for a couple of months, and was still in that 'bwha ha ha! Weak, foolish mortals! I am invincible!' mindset that got so many fledglings killed. While the man he'd targeted looked physically fit, and had a surface aura of danger in his dress and style, Brandon had dismissed that. There was a certain hesitancy in the man's manner and politeness in his speech that just screamed vulnerability. Brandon figured all he'd have to do is get this one away from the crowd and he'd be easy meat--or drink, in this case.
Brandon had been good looking in life. He'd enjoyed capitalizing on his resemblance to Justin Timberlake. In fact, he had been in the process of nailing a little honey who had mistaken him for the former Backstreet Boy when she'd suddenly turned butt ugly and sank her fangs into his neck.
The vamp that had turned him, a stupid chit who'd been beaten senseless by her sire for not disposing of Brandon after she'd finished her meal, hadn't been in the unlife long herself. She damn sure didn't have any wisdom to impart, even if he'd hung around. As it was, Brandon had made one of his very few intelligent decisions and escaped while the enraged senior vampire was intent on disciplining his childe. Now Brandon was operating without mentor or family, but hey--he didn't need them. He knew it all, didn't he?
Choice of prey, for instance. This one had the necessary physical attributes (he was arrogant enough to assume that he deserved to drink from only attractive people), he was alone, and so drunk that he wouldn't notice any danger until it was too late.
Brandon had noticed how the blond was watching the gay couple, and smirked. This should be easy. Though his looks and smooth personality were probably enough to allow an easy introduction, Brandon decided to hedge his bets. He bought a couple of Jello shots and ambled over to where the blond was propped against the bar, frowning over a piece of paper. "Hey. Writing the Great American Novel?"
"Hm?" The man gave him a distracted look, pale blue eyes slightly unfocused. "Oh, no. I don't have any talent for prose." He sighed sadly. "And I'm afraid I have very little talent for verse as well. Can you think of a good rhyme for 'surcease'?"
Brandon didn't even have any idea what surcease meant. He pushed a shot toward Spike. "Have a drink while we think it over."
"I'm afraid I can't return the favor. I'm quite skint."
"Go on. We'll think of some way you can pay me back later."
"That's most kind of you." Spike took the shot, rolling it around in his mouth for a moment before swallowing it. He licked his lips, and Brandon found himself following the act with great interest. One of the first thing he'd noticed after awakening to his new state was that any reservations about any type of sex that didn't involve personal discomfort had gone out the window. Male, female, willing, unwilling, living, undead--it was all good, and this one looked VERY good. Spike sighed. "Cherry. My favorite."
Brandon gave what he fondly believed was a dangerous smile. It actually made him look slightly more stupid. "Mine too." He poked the other glass over. "Have another."
"Oh, I couldn't possibly deprive you of your last drink."
"Go on, deprive me. Like I said, we'll find a way to make it up." He watched as the other man drank the shot. *Now, just a few minutes to let it take effect. He should be staggering pretty soon.* "My name's Brandon. Yours?"
The guy frowned. "I--I've been told it's Spike."
*Or maybe he's drunk enough now.* "Spike, you're looking a little woozy."
Spike rubbed his head. "I am a bit light-headed."
"Look, there's an exit right over there. Why don't I help you out so you can get some fresh air?"
"That's very decent of you." Spike pushed away from the bar, staggering as soon as he'd lost its steadying support. Brandon grabbed his arm, hard fingers wrapping firmly around the bicep beneath the T-shirt's short sleeve. Spike shuddered. "Your hands are very cold."
"I was holding a beer earlier."
"Oh, yes. You Yanks keep your beer at a ridiculously low temperature, don't you? No disrespect meant." The young man was steering him toward the door tucked in a back corner. "I mean, it's all a matter of taste, correct?"
Brandon opened the door and guided Spike out into the back alley. "Absolutely." The second the door shut he grabbed the taller man and shoved him against the wall, going to game face. "And you're just my taste, sugarplum."
Spike wasn't a coward, but he had absolutely no memory of demons, and he was already in a nervous state. He screamed.
In the parking lot, Xander and Oz exchanged glances, then ran toward the scream.
Coming up the block on the other side of The Bronze, Buffy did the same, pulling a wickedly pointed stake from her pack as she ran.
Once again, Brandon's ignorance led him to a stupid mistake. Instead of just draining Spike and leaving, he decided to play with his food. "What's wrong, sweetie?" He turned his head back and forth so that Spike would get a good look at his demonic visage. "Do I have spinach on my teeth?"
"Wha-wha-wha--" Spike swallowed. "What are you?"
Brandon giggled. "I'm one of the children of the night, dumbass." He grinned, showing his fangs. "I'm gonna be your daddy. Or I think the proper term is 'sire'. We can discuss it later."
Spike pushed at him beginning to babble frantically, "I've no money! I meant it when I said I was skint. I don't even have any jewelry, or a decent watch. Really, I have nothing for you."
"Don't sell yourself short, beautiful." Brandon used one hand to pin Spike to the wall. With the other he reached down and gave the blond's crotch a firm squeeze.
Spike almost hyperventilated. "You can't be serious!"
"That's for later, though. Right now I'm hungry." He grabbed Spike's hair, jerking his head back to bare his neck. "This is gonna hurt, pretty boy, but I'm really gonna enjoy it!"
They'd come out near the alley entrance, so when Buffy turned the corner she was almost upon them. All she saw was a vamp about to chow down on a citizen. She whistled sharply, and the vamp's head jerked around.
Brandon spotted the slender girl and hissed. "Get lost. I already have one blond, I don't need another."
"Consider me a bonus. I've certainly been told often enough that I'm a prize package." She lifted the stake. "Drop him."
Brandon once again demonstrated his stupidity. He was being confronted by a human who not only showed not a hint of surprise, fear, or hesitation, but also seemed versed in the proper way to dispose of a vampire. He sneered. "Oo, Barbie is gonna stick me! Who do you think you are--the Slayer?" Brandon had heard The Slayer mentioned in snatches of conversation. All he knew was that The Slayer was some mystically powered, bad-ass demon slayer, so naturally he was thinking someone along the lines of Blade, or maybe Eric Draven, if they went Goth.
"Yeah, actually--I do." Since Brandon was pressed up against his victim, Buffy didn't dare risk staking him through the back. Instead she gave him a good, hard punch to the kidneys. That succeeded in getting him pissed enough to turn loose of his prey and turn around. Then Buffy got a shock. "Spike! What the hell are you doing letting this fledge rough you around?" She ducked as a clawed hand swiped at her, then kicked the vamp in the crotch. "Dammit, haven't I told you that this playing with them shit can get you killed?"
Spike stared at her, round eyed, then his jaw firmed in determination. "Run, Miss! I'll deal with this thug."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Fine. Be my guest." She flipped the stake, then tossed it to him.
Spike was startled, but he caught the weapon, then just stared at it in bewilderment. Meantime Brandon had got his breath again. He snarled. "You kicked me in the nads, and I was planning on using them! You are so dead!" He reached for Buffy.
Spike acted instinctively. He wasn't a violent man, but he couldn't let a woman, especially one who had been brave enough to try to help him, die without making an effort to save her. This thing, whatever it was, was clearly a danger to all, and should be eliminated. He stabbed the demon in the back.
Brandon roared with pain and rage. His chosen meal had dared to hurt him. He turned, pointing at Spike. "Just for that I'm gonna make sure you come back, and I'm gonna spend the first couple of years thinking of ways to torture your ass!"
He shrieked as Buffy jerked the stake back out. "Angelus wannabe!" she snapped, and slammed the stake in again, piercing his heart. Xander and Oz were just entering the alley as the demon crumbled to dust. "Hi, guys. You missed the party." She pointed the stake at Spike. "And what is UP with you? You know damn good and well that if you stake them that low all you do is piss them off. Your aim is crappy." She frowned at his glazed look. "Just how drunk are you?"
Spike muttered, "O Hence, thou huntress deadlier than Artemis! Go seek some other quarry, for of thy too perilous bliss my lips have drunk enough,-no more, no more..."
She frowned. "Drunk enough to get sloppily sentimental, it seems. I told you, Spike, there is no you and me."
Spike looked at Xander. "Mister Harris. So, you've fallen down the rabbit hole, too?"
Buffy blinked. "Xander, Spike is acting sort of Drusilla-ish."
"It's a long story, Buffy. Spike, are you okay? He didn't get a fang into you, did he?" Xander asked, finding himself worried (which was silly. If anyone could take care of themselves around vamps it was Spike, right?)
"What? No. No, but I believe he wanted to..." Spike shuddered. "Oh, my. This is all too confusing. I'm sorry I purloined your horseless carriage."
"It's okay--no damage done. Well, not much."
"You know, I'm beginning to believe that even if you and your friends are a tiny bit insane, you're still much safer company than whatever else is roaming about. Do you suppose the Red Queen would mind if I went to the croquet party? I promise to keep the Dormouse out of the teapot, and keep the hedgehogs from crawling away."
Buffy frowned. "Red Queen? Is he talking about Willow, or Cordelia?"
"You know, Alice," Spike continued, "you're a much bigger girl than Mister Dodgeson indicated."
Then he fainted.
Notes: I highly recommend the entire Uncle John's Bathroom Reader series. They're vastly entertaining, informative, and funny as all get out. I'm not sure what the proper name was for the demon who granted Spike's wish, so I'm making it up. In Swahili, it is mjanja--tricky person, mpaji--giver, so Mjanjampanji is trickster giver (in my interpretation. I apologize for the butchery to anyone who actually speaks Swahili).
Ben Jonson Entertains a Man from Stratford
Only Xander's quickness saved Spike from hitting the pavement. He caught the ex-vampire, arms going under arms, wrapping around. "Oof! Damn, he's solid!" Spike started to slip, and Xander frantically tightened his grip. "Or maybe not. He seems to have dissolved his bones. Oz?"
Oz responded quickly. Soon the two boys each had an arm draped over their shoulders, and they were anchoring with the offside arms and hanging on with the inside ones. It worked, but given the height differences of all involved, it was far from perfect.
"Question for ya, Buffy," Xander grunted. "You were closer, and you've got that whole Slayerspeed thing going on, so why did I catch him?"
Buffy, in a move that wasn't at all unusual for her, ignored the question. "Spike was acting strange. Do you suppose the chip is malfunctioning?"
"I guess it could be, among other things. We need to get him back to Giles. I think it's safe to say that he has the greatest chance of figuring out what the hell is going on."
"Yeah," Oz agreed, "But judging from the expression on his face before we left, I don't know how big of an advantage he has this time around."
"Right," Buffy said. "Wake up, Spike." Spike continued to dangle. She slapped him.
"Quit it!" Xander snapped.
She looked at him in surprise. "We need him awake, right?"
"Don't hit him. You wouldn't hit Willow or me if we'd passed out, would you?"
"Xander," she said very slowly. "This is Spike."
"There's no good reason to hurt him."
"Vampires don't feel pain like we do."
Xander stared at her hard, as if he was just noticing something new--and unpleasant. "Ya know, Buff, if you changed one word in that sentence, you'd sound just like a Klansman back in the 1950s. Help me get him to the van, Oz."
Buffy stared after the men, not quite able to comprehend what had just happened. Was Xander calling her a bigot? Xander? The man who coined the term 'Deadboy'? Xander, who had cordially hated the guts of both Angel and Spike up until recently, and still didn't have them on his Christmas card list? "What's wrong with this picture?" she muttered as she followed them. She caught up with them in the parking lot.
Oz's van was parked by Xander's truck, which was having a close encounter with The Bronze. "Xander, I know you didn't exactly get a plaque in Driver's Ed, but you didn't make the instructor take Valium, either. What gives?"
"Wasn't me. Open the van, huh? Oz and I are kind of occupied." She got the key from Oz (who nearly dropped his side of Spike while retrieving it for her) and opened the van. Between the two of them, Oz and Xander managed to manhandle Spike up into the van. "Buffy, follow us back to Giles' place in my truck, okay?"
She frowned. "Why don't you drive your own truck and let me ride with Oz."
"Because someone needs to ride in the back with Spike, so they can be sure he doesn't upchuck and aspirate. Now, if you'd rather have that duty..."
"Where are the keys?"
"Since the truck is still here, I'm assuming they're still in the ignition."
Oz was climbing into the driver's seat. "Yeah, I forgot to take 'em out. We were a little distracted."
"Fine. I'll meet you there."
She shut the van door and headed for the truck as Oz pulled back. She was thinking about the last glimpse she'd had inside the van. Why hadn't Xander just dumped Spike on the floor? He could have watched him easily enough like that. Why did he have vampire's upper body cradled in his lap? If he was worried about puking, that struck her as a pretty damn risky position. She climbed in the truck and shut the door, shaking her head as she remembered the sight of Spike's head tucked into the crook of Xander's elbow. "That just looked so wrong," she muttered, starting the engine.
"Oz, is this Evian all right? Does bottled water have an expiration date, and if it does, does it matter if you're just going to splash it on someone's face?"
"I suppose it has an expiration date, since just about anything you can consume does these days. And it should be all right, but I have to tell you that isn't Evian--it's my stash of holy water. However, after that demonstration back at the house, it shouldn't prove a problem."
"Hm. Better safe than sorry." Xander opened the bottle, wet his fingertip, and dabbed it against the back of Spike's hand. "Nothing. Here goes." He flicked drops in Spike's face.
Spike sighed heavily, then moaned. "Oh, bloody hell. Just what I need--a sodding rainstorm."
"Now that's more like the Spike we all know and tolerate."
"Please pardon my language. I'm not at my best. Mister Harris?"
"Xander, I had heard that being inebriated would make the room spin, or the floor tilt, but I wasn't expecting vibrations and sudden pitches."
Xander raised his voice. "Take the turns a little slower, Ozzy."
"Does this mean that this isn't because of my intoxicated state, but rather that I'm once again in one of those infernal mechanical monstrosities?"
"Got it in one."
"Joy." He opened his eyes carefully, and found Xander bending over him. He suddenly realized that his head rested on a firm arm, his cheek was pressed against a solid chest, and his back was across muscular thighs. He hadn't even been held like this the time he'd caught that cricket ball in the face. The others had ragged him about that. *But damn it all, they were using a wooden croquet ball instead of the usual leather one.* His hand crept up to touch the scar bisecting his eyebrow, and he said, "I remember something."
"Yeah, progress! What do you remember?"
"I got this playing cricket."
Xander pursed his lips, then patted his hand. "Rest. We'll be there in a minute."
They parked, and Oz swiveled in his seat to look back at him. "So, how much help are you going to need to get him inside?"
Spike struggled into a sitting position. "I'm neither a slow child, a house pet, nor a bit of furnishing, sir. I can reply for myself. Have we stopped moving?"
"Then since it feels as if we're still in motion, I believe the answer is... considerable."
Oz and Xander were helping him up the walk, and Buffy had parked and was just climbing out of the truck when Cordelia opened the front door. She arched an eyebrow and called, "Nice to see you finally getting in touch with your inner redneck, Buffy."
"Shut up, Cordelia," she growled. "Spike called me Alice and told me I was a big girl, so I'm in a pissy mood."
"Cordy, move it. He's going down when we let go, and I'd rather his butt hit a chair than the floor," said Xander shortly.
"Looks like Buffy isn't the only one in a pissy mood," Cordelia huffed, moving out of the way.
Xander and Oz maneuvered Spike onto the couch. He slouched there, but didn't actually fall over on his side, so Xander figured he must be starting to sober up at least a little. Personally, he was sure that almost being drained by a vamp would be more sobering than a pot of espresso.
Giles and Willow, both carrying books, came in from the kitchen. Willow hurried over to sit by Spike, saying, "Oh, thank goodness he's all right!"
Spike smiled at her. "And autumn's fire is caught, in hair as soft as silk. With cherry lips, and jade green eyes. Her skin is pale as milk."
"Lips... skin..." muttered Cordelia, digging in her purse. She came up with a compact and a tube of lip-gloss and began a touch up.
Willow blinked at Spike, looking both shocked and pleased. "Oh..."
Spike leaned toward her, so close that she flinched back. He gazed at her solemnly, then hiccupped. "I'm sorry. You're eyes are hazel, aren't they? I'm an idiot. Serves me right for using a soppy poem that I wrote for someone else." He brightened, looking at Xander. "That's two things I've remembered! I've played cricket, and I once wrote a poem for a girl with green eyes." He frowned. "I believe she didn't think much of it."
Cordelia looked up from her compact. "You played cricket? I would have thought you were more of a rugby type--ultra violence, and all that."
"Madam," he said indignantly.
"Okay," Buffy scowled. "I'm the Slayer, I need to be kept informed of all strangeness, and this definitely counts as strange."
"Spike's lost his memory, and he's human now," said Xander bluntly.
Buffy opened and closed her mouth several times, then said, "Yeah, right. Pull the other one."
Cordelia had joined the group near the sofa. Xander snatched the compact away from her. "Hey!"
"Max Factor can wait a minute. Buffy, watch closely." Xander held the mirror in front of Spike's face. Buffy leaned over. Seeing Spike's reflection filling the glass was like a slap in the face. She jerked back with a gasp, then started to say something. "And before you can claim it's a trick... Spike, breathe on that."
"Ew, Xander!" Cordelia protested.
"Look, unless you plan to lick it later on..." He paused. "Come to think of it, with the relationship you have with your image, that's a possibility. Spike?" Spike had just about given up on protesting the bizarreness of his new companions, so he obligingly huffed on the glass. "Look, Buff--fog. That wouldn't happen if he was still a vamp, right? His breath would be either room temp or colder than the glass, so no condensation."
Buffy looked at Giles. "Is he right?"
"Oh, hell--I don't know," Giles sighed. "The books don't cover everything."
"Maybe we should consult Uncle John's Bathroom Reader," volunteered Oz. Everyone looked at him. "Hey, there's a lot of interesting information in those books, all broken down into bite sized pieces."
Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Surrounded by cultural plebeians."
"Said the girl who watched the Leonardo DiCapprio and Clare Danes version of Romeo and Juliet rather than read the actual play for class," said Giles dryly.
Spike had twisted his head to look at Cordelia. "You remind me a lot of someone."
"Uh--duh? We know each other."
He looked away. "I hardly think so."
"Zing," said Xander. "Giles, have you found out anything?"
"Well, yes, and no. There are several spells that will return a soul, but apparently it's much more difficult to return life to a body."
Xander said, "Didn't seem like it to me. Remember those guys I told you about?"
Giles thought, then shook his head. "Those were zombies, Xander--reanimated dead bodies. Spike has actually been returned to life, not simply, er, jump started."
"Zombies?" Buffy looked alert. "What zombies? Xander, you had zombies and you didn't tell me?"
"News flash, Buffy--my life is not an entirely open book to you, and you aren't the only one who can occasionally deal with the baddies. So if it's not voodoo, then what?"
"Well," Giles paged through the book he was holding. "There is one spell listed here, but it's hardly likely that's responsible."
"Why not?" asked Xander.
"To begin with, the deceased must be very fresh, dead less than a day, and Spike died well over a hundred years ago."
"But he was a vampire all that time. Isn't that sort of like being in a Ziploc freezer bag when it comes to freshness?"
"I do wish you'd stop saying things like that," Spike complained. "It was disconcerting when I was sober, and now it's quite unnerving."
"Besides that," Giles continued, "the spell requires the corpse of a fully matured African elephant."
There was silence. Buffy didn't want to give it up. "Maybe there's been a theft at a nearby zoo, and they haven't made a press release yet."
Giles rubbed the bridge of his nose. "And the planets must be in proper alignment--which they will not be for another fifteen years. That wasn't it, Buffy. Then there's the Amphora of Calicatese, which is rumored to contain an essence that can restore life."
"Rumored?" asked Willow.
"Yes. It's been sealed for the last three thousand years, so no one is sure if it actually contains anything."
"And you know this how?" asked Oz.
"Because the Council has it. They aren't going to open it unless they're absolutely convinced that they need to use the essence, and being a Council, it's highly unlikely that they'll ever reach a consensus on who would be worthy of risking the evaporation of whatever was left in the jar."
"Bureaucracy," said Oz. "Civilization at it's finest."
Willow held up her book. "That leaves us with not a what, but a who." She made a face. "Or maybe it is a what, since it's a demon, and they don't say if it's a boy demon, or a girl demon, and with them, you know, sometimes it's, um... you know..."
"Moot. Get on with it, Willow," said Giles tiredly.
"Yeah, I guess it is, since it says here there's only one of them left in existence. Anyway, it'a Mjanjampanji demon."
"I never heard of that," said Buffy.
"Yes, well, it's not surprising. It's a wish granting demon, with the power to grant any wish that directly affects the wisher only. None of that 'I'm having a bad week, please destroy the world' nonsense."
"Still," said Cordelia, "With that sort of ability, I'd think people would beat a path to its door. I mean, I can easily envision charter buses pulling up. I know I'd make the trip if it would let me eat a pint of Ben and Jerry's without having to spend a week in the gym."
"Not really, Cordelia. You see, in order to be worthy of having the wish granted, one must undergo several trials. They are different every time, geared specifically to each individual's own personal weaknesses or terrors, and if any of the recorded examples are true--they're quite painful and nasty. You have to really want something."
Xander said, "Wait a minute. Spike, is that how you got that slash across you're belly?"
Spike looked at him in consternation. "How did you know about that?"
"When I helped you keep from flashing everyone." Xander looked at Giles. "Being room mates with him before, I've seen him without his shirt, and there's what looks like a freshly healed scar across his abdomen. It's still bright pink."
"That could very well be the case," Giles agreed. "And if it's so, he probably has a number of others."
They looked at Spike expectantly. He crossed his arms and tucked his chin. "I'll have you know that I'm not in the habit of making close inspections of my own unclothed person."
Cordelia smirked. "Well, we could ask Buffy."
Buffy's voice was cold. "Since when did you become suicidal instead of just tactless?"
Spike was shaking his head. "You're not implying that I had, er, some form of relationship with this..." Buffy glared at him. "...child?"
"Well," said Cordelia, "if you count rough, animalistic, angst ridden, there's-a-fine-line-between-love-and-hate sex a relationship..." Buffy's hands were clenching into fists. "You know what? I forgot that I have a paper due for Masters of American Literature. I have to go work on my note cards." She was hurrying toward the door. "Six weeks will never be enough time." Her voice was fading. "Check with you later about Spike."
"As I was saying," continued Giles. "The other reason the demon is so seldom sought is the nature of its gifts. You see, the name translates out roughly as 'trickster giver'. In other words, the thing grants the wish, but usually in a manner that the wisher did not intend."
"I get it," said Xander. "Like they could ask to have a million dollars, and it turns out to be marked money from a robbery, and if they spend a dime, they're toast."
"Yes, that's the idea, though the demon would be much nastier, if possible. More along the lines of The Monkey's Paw. Wish for a million dollars, and receive it in insurance money when a loved one dies a gruesome death."
"But if Spike wished to be alive again--didn't it work?" asked Oz, puzzled.
"Given how the demon operates, he didn't ask to be human again. He asked for something else, and this is how the demon interpreted the wish. And we have to suppose he did it because he thought it would give Spike the most grief possible."
"I'll tell you right now," said Spike miserably. "He seems to have succeeded."
Willow patted his hand consolingly. "But you're human again, and that probably means you have your soul back. I can do a spell later to be certain, but I'm pretty sure you do."
"What makes you say that?" asked Buffy skeptically.
Willow smiled. "His eyes. They say that the eyes are windows to the soul, and Spike now has soulful eyes."
Buffy looked incredulous, but before she could say anything, Spike said, "Miss, I know you mean well, but I really wish you wouldn't call me by that vulgar name. It sounds like some low-class thug's alias. I just wish I knew my real name."
"Oh, that's easy enough," said Giles. "It's William."
"William?" Spike looked thoughtful. He tried the name again. "William." He smiled slowly. "Yes, that sounds right." He nodded. "It's a respectable, genteel name. Now, then, what of my surname?"
"That's not recorded. All we have is the title you earned."
"A title?" Spike sat up, interested. "I earned a title? What sort? Knight? Baronet? Surely nothing higher."
"Um... not that sort of title," Giles said slowly. "You know how rulers were often given descriptive titles, such as Alexander the Great, or Richard the Lionhearted?"
"Yes?" Giles hesitated. "Come, man, I know that sometimes the titles were insulting. I have enough of a sense of humor to laugh if it's a bit ridiculous."
"I'm afraid it was far from ridiculous. You were William the Bloody."