|Spike awoke to a blinding headache, the sound of Clem's vibrant snores, the feel of a cool breeze playing over his skin, and the unmistakable sensation of a pointy piece of wood being pressed into his chest.
"Wake up, Deadboy Jr.," a harsh voice demanded. "I want you to know who it is that finally dusts you."
Spike lay quietly so as to not betray that he was conscious. It has to be evidence of divine intervention that no one's killed the whelp before now, especially if he's gotten into the habit of taunting vampires - or in this case, someone he thinks is a vampire. Still, as long as he thinks so... one quick thrust and I'm free, though not so neatly as before. Why not just let him and get it over with? Plus - no more hangover.
"You really should stop and think twice," he said dryly, without opening his eyes. "Kill me and you might accidentally be doing me a favour."
"Save me the 'tortured vampire' routine," Xander retorted. "I've seen all the movies."
But you're not very observant, are you? Spike seized the stake in one hand from where it was positioned against his chest and sat up in a rush, pushing Xander away with his other hand. Xander stumbled back in the darkness and fell over. As he tried to recover his footing, Spike slipped out of the sleeping bag. For the first time he was glad that his new sensitivity to cold meant he'd taken to sleeping in his jeans, even with the sleeping bag - it would have been damned annoying to have to face the boy with his wedding tackle hanging out.
Xander scrabbled crabwise across the floor trying to retrieve the stake, but Spike got there ahead of him and kicked it out of his reach. Before he could stand again, Spike had him by his throat and the front of his shirt and was lifting him to pin him firmly against the wall.
"Chip--" Xander managed to choke out as his air supply was severely restricted.
"Ah, the chip. Funny, that. Seems it doesn't work any more." He favoured Xander with the best evil grin from his repertoire and permitted himself another few seconds to enjoy his struggle before releasing him and stepping away. Can't fault his courage, at least. Doesn't give up even when he thinks I could kill him.
"Speak your piece and get out, then. But I'm warning you - if you wake Clem, I'll tie you up and make you listen to him debate the merits of natural versus artificial sweeteners in sodas."
"You drove Anya away from me--" he began, before Spike spun back to confront him in the gloom.
"Oh no. Of all the sins I have lined up to atone for, I'm not taking on that one. That one's all yours."
Xander only stared at him as though he'd grown a second head. "Sins?"
"Oh come on, think!" Spike complained, exasperated. "Vampires tend to sleep in the day and don't feel the drafts; Spike's napping at night and has himself a cozy little 'Camper's Village' sleeping bag and propane space heater. Ergo..."
"You're... not a vampire any more." His tone made it more of a question.
Spike brought his finger to his nose. "Got it in one. Courtesy of a poorly worded wish I'm as human as you now. Though I don't really think of you as an exemplar of the species, you know. Did Angel one better at his own game," he added in an undertone. He reached to pick up the stake from the floor and hand it back. "Here. You can probably still kill me with this if you try hard enough - though I warn you, it'll be messier."
Xander took the stake and held it loosely in his fingers as though he had forgotten what it was. He stood there without speaking for so long that Spike began to think he'd been hit with some sort of paralysis spell.
He took a moment to shrug into a clean shirt. "If you're going to take up space, make yourself useful at least," Spike said as he fastened his buttons. "There's beer in the fridge."
Wordlessly, Xander complied. They ended up seated facing each other across the darkened crypt. "Buffy still won't sleep with you," he blurted suddenly. "It's still wrong. Just because you're not a vampire any more..." His voice trailed away.
"You know, you always were a sanctimonious git, Harris," Spike observed conversationally. "You're right. Boffing an ex-demon is absolutely one of the worst things you could do - unless, of course, it's your chance to get laid." He leaned forward, a note of query creeping into his voice. "She must have seemed like a schoolboy's wet dream come to life, hey?"
"Shut up!" Xander cried, getting to his feet.
"Or what? You'll kill me? Go ahead and try. It's not like I'd be the first human who died because of you, would I?"
Xander sank back into his chair, deflated. He dropped his face into his hands.
"Truth is, you never were enough of a man for her," Spike went on. "She deserves so much better than you - and you know it, don't you? Being with her makes you a better man, but you never would have been good enough. How could you even think you could deserve someone like her?" All through this harangue, Spike's voice had grown softer. Xander finally lifted his head again to see that the vampire - ex-vampire - wasn't looking at him any more at all. His head was thrown back in his chair.
"Who are we talking about here?" Xander ventured.
Spike sat up straight again and sipped morosely at his beer. "All the same boat, innit? The women we love don't want anything to do with us. Sad part is, we know they're probably right."
"Speak for yourself," Xander retorted. "At least I never tried to rape Anya."
It was Spike's turn to drop his eyes. "Buffy forgave me. No--" he began before Xander could comment. "It isn't up to you - or me - to decide whether she should or not. Or whether I deserve it or not. I know I don't. You think I don't replay that day over and over in my head, wishing I could go back and change everything? I know what I did. I can't forget it. To the last despicable detail, I know." He stabbed the fingers of his free hand viciously at his forehead as though trying to drive out the memory. "Do you think I can't hear her crying and screaming for me to stop every damned minute I'm awake? And yet being awake is better than the nightmares..."
Xander squirmed in his chair, unable to look at the naked pain revealed in Spike's face. This is wrong. It shouldn't make a difference to me that he's changed. But it does.
Spike lifted haunted eyes to him. "I'll pay every day of my life for what I did. Will you? I don't think you have the slightest idea just how much you hurt her by walking away as you did."
"I know she went back to being a demon to take vengeance on me," he replied angrily.
"She tried, you know. Not one of your friends was willing to wish you harm - though I don't clearly see how you deserve such loyalty. So instead, she decided that I could be her vengeance - her justice. At least, that was what she had planned. Let me tell you what happened."
"I don't need you to tell me. I saw it, remember?"
"You see, but you don't understand what you see. I was only there for a spell or something to ease my own pain. What happened between us was about finding comfort and a chance to forget. Then there was a little too much Jack and a little too much truth. It wasn't about you at all." Spike contemplated his now empty beer can and let it fall to the floor. Behind them, Clem's stentorious snores filled the quiet air, undisturbed by their presence.
"And after all your belligerent posturing when you found us there, I was perfectly willing to wish you hurt - and she wouldn't let me." He paused to let Xander absorb this last. He looked properly shell-shocked finally, Spike decided. About time you got the idea.
"Even now that she's got her demon mojo back - making the status of her own soul questionable, mind - she still loves you, you ignorant sod. If she didn't, you wouldn't have been able to hurt her so."
"But I would have hurt her more by staying," Xander insisted. "I couldn't do that to her. Look at what happened to my parents."
"I have. I was there long enough to see a bit of that horror show. But unless you've taken to being an abusive drunkard or a sharp-tongued harridan, you are not either one of your parents."
Xander's anger seemed to have completely faded away, and Spike took some pity on him at last. "It isn't love without risks. Can't be, when you open yourself that completely to someone else. If it's real, love is going to hurt sometimes - make you crazy, make you angry - and the times when it doesn't are worth all the others."
"But I can't even find her!" Xander protested. "I want to tell her all those things and somehow make it right again - but I don't even know where she is."
"There must be a summoning spell for vengeance demons," Spike offered. "Surely Rupert could ferret something out, if you contacted him."
"Would she even respond to a spell done by a man?"
"Do you want her back or not?" Spike asked. "Stop trying to think of reasons it won't work. Get Buffy to do it for you, then."
"But she'd have to have been..." Xander looked at Spike with sudden understanding that transformed slowly into pity.
"I'm sure I've dealt her more than sufficient hurt to make it official enough for Anya's liking," he said wearily, irked that the boy should now pity him. "Now if you're not going to kill me, sod off. I've got things to do."
Spike watched him silently as he got up to leave. "Harris," he said suddenly as Xander was pulling the door open. "I haven't thanked you yet for saving the world."
Xander turned back to face him, his face open with wonder at gratitude from such an unexpected source. "I was just the guy on the spot. Anyone else probably could have done it."
"I couldn't have. And it wasn't anyone else."
He ducked his head, embarrassed. "Yeah, well... you're welcome." He pulled the door closed quietly behind him, leaving Spike alone in the dark with his thoughts.
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