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Bring It On Home

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Two days before

 

This is a bad idea, went his brain while he gathered his few remaining t-shirts from his drawers and stuffed them in his duffel bag. The fish is just that, just a fish, what the hell does he know, went on his troubled thoughts while he pushed in a couple more pairs of jeans and looked inside his other drawer, the one with his remaining weapons. I’ll get there and then what will I do, win over the army of slayers with my Brit vamp charm and run off with the capital-S Slayer in my arms into a deadly-yet-romantic sunset? He just scowled harder, doing his best to ignore his stupid thoughts, and took out his favourite sword and two daggers with him along with a healthy heap of stakes.

Yeah, bet they’ll be tremendously needed at Slayer central.

He felt his eye tic and jaw tighten, but he’d decided to go and go he would, regardless of his stupid thoughts making him want to hit his own head against the wall instead. He gave a short sigh while looking around his room: the rest of his belongings were packed in carton boxes which he’d already sealed and piled up against one of the walls, but he couldn’t bring himself to carry more than a big bag with him. What if the Slayer just told him she didn’t need his help after all, thankyouverymuch, and see you for the next apocalypse, I’ll beep you when it’s here?

He snorted and shook his head at the image, the shadow of a smile on his lips. Then the moment was broken by a ring at the door, and then another, and then another, and he almost growled as he stomped to the front of his apartment.

“Mrs. Konikoff, I told you I wouldn’t —” he opened the door, but on the other side of it wasn’t an impatient, lovely old neighbouring lady with a tray of scones; it was an impatient, mopey old ass with a big forehead. “Oh. You.”

“Spike? Is it true?” He just raised an eyebrow at him and leaned on the doorpost, blocking the entrance. “I just saw Betta George, and he told me that you were leaving.” Spike just kept staring at him with a level expression, his hands going to his jeans pockets, forcing himself not to lock them into fists.

“What’s it to you?”

“Well, I… look, can I come in?”

“Not really in the mood for company, but thanks for passing by —” Angel interrupted him and pushed him aside with his shoulder, entering the apartment. “Or, yeah, whatever. Bloody wish the invite crap worked on vamp homes too…”

“So, is it true?” Angel looked around his place, a doubtful expression clouding his caveman eyes. “I’m guessing not, considering there’s not much packed here.”

“This is Jeremy’s cousin’s place, left it to me after the whole hell thing. Stuff’s mostly his.” He looked at Angel as he walked along the room, glancing more or less distractedly at the stuff still largely on the shelves, and repressed the urge to punch him for this blatant breach of privacy. “A little visit from hell, a bunch of demons coming and killing him, and the guy’s apparently ready to leg it as soon as time’s reversed and we’re all back to our not-too-hellish LA. Fellow’s got a weak stomach, if you ask me.” Angel didn’t seem to pay him much mind, which irked him to no end, until he found his little felt-Angel hanging from his desk lamp and looked back to him with a disappointed scowl.

“Really, Spike?”

“What can I say, mate, you look right fetching with a noose around your neck,” he smirked at him, enjoying his deepening scowl.

“Very funny. Very mature.”

“Ah, you know me,” Spike said with an even bigger smirk, finally finding a pack of cigarettes on a shelf and lighting one. “Where to find a more mature vamp?”

“Probably in any bar, at this hour… look, Spike, let’s be real. Your apartment is still full, and George told me your flight should be tonight, in less than three hours. You’re not really leaving, are you?”

Spike took a deep drag of his cigarette, enjoying the show of his dumb grandsire’s forehead getting increasingly wrinkly. He kept on smirking, without saying a word.

“Spike?”

“What’s it to you?” he repeated, this time with a bit less of a smirk and more of an edge to his tone.

“Well, you’re…” Angel seemed to search for words, his hands fluttering lightly in front of him. “Here now. Not there. And it’s been a while, so why go in the first place?”

Spike bit back a curse word and just kept on smoking furiously, trying to find reasons not to punch his face in.

“So, George tell you where it is I’m going?”

“It might have slipped out, yeah.”

Spike’s eye ticked again.

“Fucking fish.”

“He said he was sure you’d told me already. You know him, he’s got this weird notion of us being best pals, part of the team and all,” Angel said with a half grin, going to heavily sit on his couch.

“Seriously, where the heck does he get that crap? Fish’s brain must be mushy as hell, I tell you,” Spike muttered, throwing himself on the other end of the couch, and they chuckled together for a second before scowling and looking away from each other.

“So… you’re really going.” Spike shrugged his shoulders and just lit another cigarette, after stubbing the first one on the ashtray on the nearby table. He looked resolutely away from Angel, but from the corner of his right eye he could see him running his hand through his hair. “That’s… well, that’s something.”

A few minutes of tense silence passed by, Spike smoking furiously, Angel looking more and more distressed and anywhere that wasn’t him. Then Spike rolled his eyes, set his shoulders, and scowled right at him.

“What do you want from me, Peaches? What’re you looking for, here?”

Angel looked at him for a second, unsure, then looked away again.

“Well, honestly, initially I was just thinking of asking you for some backup. See, there’s this demon cartel downtown…”

“There’s always demon cartels downtown, mate. ’M sure you’ll be all right by your lonesome. And anyway, you can always ask George to help out, yeah?” They both chuckled at that, exchanging a brief smile, before Angel moved his eyes again. Spike rolled his own and bit back an exasperated sigh. “What’s this about, really? You gonna tell me I shouldn’t go?”

“That’s not it. It’s just…” Angel sighed a dejected sigh and Spike had to fight hard not to roll his eyes right out of his cranium. “I just thought — remember when we went to Rome?”

“Yeah. Turns out Andrew was just pulling our chain — she never was in Rome.”

Angel looked taken aback at that but he didn’t comment, moving his gaze away yet again.

“Oh. Well, that’s unexpected.” There were a few more seconds of silence and Spike lit a third cigarette, his patience wearing real damn thin by then. “Still… remember what we said afterwards? About moving on?” Spike felt his jaw ticking but he just nodded. “Well. Isn’t this just… you know… moving backwards?”

Spike took a deep drag and exhaled right in Angel’s face, smirking at his annoyed expression.

“Was thinking of it more like moving in another direction altogether, mate.” He decided to keep to himself all his love- and life-crisis reasons; wouldn’t do to bare his soul to bloody Angel, and anyway doing it with the fish had been humiliating enough already. The other vampire grimaced but didn’t say anything, his expression closed but tense. “I just… never told her I’m back. That’s just not right, is what it is.”

“You could always call her… and besides, something tells me she already knows.”

Spike scowled again. Am I the only one who didn’t guess that? Bugger.

“What about you, mate? What’s this moping around my place? Thought you’d moved on already. Didn’t call your pet dragon Buffy, now did you?”

“I didn’t call it that,” Angel muttered with a grimace.

“No, you just went on saying her name over and over while being tortured back to health. Cordelia’s name. Seems a tad more like moving on than actually naming the beast that, if you ask me.” Angel kept on grimacing, and gave another sigh, and Spike briefly wondered how exactly he could live with all this drama.

“Still. Nothing ever happened between me and Cordy, and it’s… it’s just hard to move on from Buffy Summers, you know?” Spike didn’t nod, but just barely. Boy, do I. “Especially when nothing actually ever happened.”

“Nina happened.”

“Nina… wasn’t enough. Never wondered why I was never really worried about my soul?” He asked with a sad grin.

Spike didn’t know what to say to that, so he stayed silent for a while. Angel just seemed… lost, and he couldn’t help but think that the way he looked now was dangerously similar to the way Spike himself felt. At least he had the decency not to show it so bloody clearly on the outside, though.

“Look, mate, I’m going. And maybe she’ll tell me to come back here and hold the fort in LA with you… or maybe not.” This time it was him looking away, while he felt Angel’s eyes on him. “I don’t know, and I won’t till I get there. But… think I need to see her and talk to her and tell her I’m back. And I think she deserves that much, after… after everything.”

After a few seconds he raised his eyes to Angel’s, ready to punch him if he so much as looked at him funny — but the other vampire was just looking at him with pensive eyes, seemingly not on the path of war about this.

“Will you greet her from me?” Spike blinked, completely taken aback. “After Dana and the way the local slayers and Andrew spat on my help, I’d have asked you to slap her from me, but… well. With what happened in the past few months, I feel like maybe she was right in not trusting me after all.”

Spike felt the sudden urge to touch his shoulder in a gesture of comfort. He decided to avoid any ponce moves, though, and just went for smoking right in his face again and grinning slightly at his disgusted expression.

“You tried to do the right thing and that counts for something, I wager. Next time though, just in case, speak to yours truly before making any rash decisions, and I’ll steer you clear.”

“That’s hilarious, Mr. I-couldn’t-wait-’til-Saturday.”

“Oi! That was a lifetime ago, it was!”

“Sure, because you’re drastically different now…”

“’Course. Always with a detailed plan, I am.” Angel raised his eyebrows at that and he couldn’t help but laugh. “I’m serious, though. Next time, share with the group before you start on a path that leads to literal hell being unleashed on your city. At least that way you’ll be able to blame more people for it if it all goes cock-up,” he added with a wink. Then, after tossing his last cigarette in the ashtray, he rose from the couch and went back towards his bedroom. “Well, old man, got a plane to catch. I’ll bring your not-a-slap to the lady on the other side of the pond, and we’ll see if I get to stay there for a while or come back here before you can say ‘slayed’.”

“I hope she punches your face in, Spike,” came Angel’s voice from the couch, while he went to retrieve his last stuff and finally close the bag.

“I hope she punches your face in at the next apocalypse, Gel-man,” he answered good-naturedly while coming back to the living room, and then he looked him up and down. “Of course, if you keep up all this moping, she’ll do way more than that. I’ll want front seats for the show,” he added, waggling his eyebrows. Angel snorted but he finally got up from the couch.

“What about your apartment?”

“Well, if I don’t come back immediately, I think Beck might appreciate some digs of her own for when she's out of Mosaic.” Angel raised his eyebrows at that, but he ignored it. “Until then, make sure nobody touches my favourite doll there, will ya?”

Angel scowled at him while he grinned and nodded to the Angel lookalike, still hanging from his lamp.

“Very funny. I hope you break several bones in your trip.”

“And I hope that demon cartel breaks all of yours.”

Angel smirked then and in a sudden gesture that somehow shocked Spike, he clumsily offered him his hand. After a beat, Spike took it and they shook briefly, before both of them hastily took their hands back. Not that Spike was embarrassed, of course not, but it was weird. That, he could admit.

“See you next time, then.”

Angel nodded and after another couple of seconds of awkward staring at each other, he finally turned and left. Which was a blessing, because a part of Spike had almost considered hugging the guy for one half-second — he clearly needed to set his mind straight and get the hell out of there.

And yet he gave himself a few more minutes to walk around the place; he tried to reason with himself that he was checking that he wouldn’t leave anything important behind, but the truth was that he was trying to process this whole conversation with Angel. They hadn’t argued and the Poof hadn’t tried to stop him from going… was that a signal from some kind of vamp divinity that tried to tell him he shouldn’t go? Clearly he couldn’t do something Angel would even tangentially approve of, could he?

He snorted at himself, shook his head, and retrieved his plane ticket. Truth was, saying out loud to Angel why he was going had helped in making it yet more stark clear in his mind that he needed to. And maybe it would turn out to be a terrible idea; but at this point, he felt that it was his next move, however it went. He sighed, mentally kicked himself for the drama, and finally left the apartment. He was going to do this, however it went, and he was going to see it through.

He resolutely ignored the vaguely panicking voices in his head and strode down the stairs to the building’s exit: he had a damn plane to catch and he was damn right going to catch it.

 

***

 

Now

 

The next day saw him wake up when the sun was already low on the horizon and, after scoping out the sunlight situation in the hallways, he just started walking down them, slowly looking for his way to the courtyard. He met more than a slayer but none of them talked to him — they just stared at him curiously while he passed by, making him think that the news of his arrival must have spread fast in the castle. He just hoped Dawn’s remark about he and Buffy sleeping together hadn’t… God knew she didn’t need any of that, this time around.

He finally stopped when he found a shaded window that faced the courtyard: he leaned on it and there she was, training like Satsu had said.

As usual, she was poetry in motion, deadly limbs going out to strike her fellow slayers in strong but measured blows; they couldn’t hold a candle against her, not even all together, and he couldn’t tear his eyes off. He felt his chest tighten at each of her less elegant hits; was that tension stopping her from being at her best? Was that because of him?

He looked up for a second, in time to see someone who was looking down at Buffy just as he was: it was Satsu, looking at the courtyard from another window, this one in direct sunlight. Her gaze had something familiar in it while she looked on her ‘ma’am’ fight, but then she seemed to shake herself and moved from the window. Spike kept looking at where her figure was, trying to figure out what exactly felt so familiar about all that, before going back to look his fill of his slayer.

The shadows lengthened and still she fought; her sparring companions came and went, but she didn’t stop if not to drink, or mop up the sweat with a towel. He felt completely mesmerised, seemingly incapable of stopping from watching her; was this all he could do, still? Was he destined to be no more than a stalker, after all this time? Would she even let him—

“Ah, there you are.” He turned with a jerk, looking at Dawn behind him. “Don’t you ever get tired of the stalker routine, Spike?” He found himself torn between joy at seeing her talk to him and rage at her words to Buffy the previous night. He settled on crossing his arms and just glaring lightly at her. “Yeah, about last night…”

He didn’t say anything and a few tense seconds of glaring on his part and eye-avoiding on hers passed. Then she huffed and looked back at him.

“I may have overreacted, but can you really blame me?” He just raised an eyebrow, ignoring the angry edge in her voice. “I mean, I understand that she wanted to ‘respect your privacy’ and all, but really, you’d think she’d put me first…” Her anger seemed to disappear in a second and she deflated, looking down again. “If she cared enough, that is.”

Spike felt an uncomfortable pang and, after a brief hesitation, he reached out to her, touching her arm.

“You know, I thought we’d be past this, after all this time,” she continued, brushing a tear away in an angry gesture. “I thought we’d be good sisters, sharing stuff, us against the world, or whatever.” She gave a small sniff and a rueful laugh. “But no, no sisterly bonding for the Summers girls.”

She kept looking down, and Spike was painfully aware of the fact that they were in a very public hallway, and any slayer could pass by at any second, and should he comfort her? Let her talk some more? Smack her on the head?

With a sigh, he hugged her tightly, to hell with overthinking.

“You’re barmy, the both of you.” She tried to move away but he held her tighter. “Seems to me, you both keep expecting the situation to solve itself, without actually trying to do anything about it.”

“I so do stuff about it!” She squirmed harder in his arms and he held tighter, one hand going to hold her head to his shoulder.

“Yeah, like accusing her of sleeping with me in front of her slayer friends?” Dawn quieted at that and he was pretty sure he could hear another sniffle. “You’re right, Nibblet, she shoulda told you about me. Hell,” he added when she squirmed again, “I should have told you about me, it’s true.” She finally held him back, sniffling again.

“Yes you should have, you dumb jerk.”

“But that’s what I’m talking about. You make mistakes, you admit them, you say you’re sorry… then you move on. Can’t do the one without the other now, can you?”

She held him silently for a few seconds, then he let her move her head back to look at him.

“You do realise it took you over a year to ‘say you’re sorry’?”

This time he was the one to look abashed, moving his arms back. She didn’t move hers, though, and he felt like something in his chest region unclenched.

“Well, better late than never, right?” She narrowed her eyes at him but didn’t let go, and was that a tendril of joy he was feeling? “I’m sorry, Dawn… I’m sorry. And you’re right, I’ve been a right dick about it all.” She nodded and he could see she was fighting to keep her expression angry. “Think we can get past it?”

“There should be more grovelling involved.”

“You accused me of secretly sleeping with your sister!”

“More than a year!”

In front of the little slayers!”

I mourned you!”

They stared at each other until the tension broke and they started laughing, and for the first time Spike was sure that this whole trip had been a good idea. Even just to get to this, to finally laugh with little Dawnie, it was worth it.

They ended up smiling at each other like loons, before she broke the silence with an annoyed voice.

“So, Spike The Wise. You’re saying I shouldn’t wait around for this situation to be better, and just go and apologise?”

“See, you’re slow, but you get there in the end.”

“Ah-ha, very funny. Does that mean you’ll stop your stalker routine and go talk to her, too?”

“Not stalking her,” he murmured, starting to walk away from the window he’d been observing her from.

“Seemed like stalking to me.”

“Didn’t even know she was here before a few weeks ago, all right? If I stalked her, I’d be bloody better than that.” He saw her raise her eyebrows at that while she walked next to him down the hallway.

“Yes, I’m sure you could be the best stalker of them all.”

“Thought you two were in Rome…”

“Rome?” She wrinkled her nose and he thought that these Summers ladies would definitely be the death of him, one day — again.

“Yeah, it was this whole thing with Andrew…”

He told her the story while going to the kitchen — and took the wrong turn only a couple of times, thank you very much — and found out that the girl who’d been posing as the capital-S-Slayer was just a ruse to lure out the Immortal and a few other nasty beasties. He didn’t have the time to decide how he felt about that, when Dawn started to take out some cooking supplies.

“What d’you think you’re doing?”

“Uhm… preparing something for an early supper?” He just glared at her until she fidgeted. “And besides, you haven’t told me why you’ve kept your unlife silent until now.”

“Oh, don’t even try that. You got shit to do, Nibblet,” he said, taking the pot from her and putting it in a cabinet.

“Yes, well, it can wait…” she tried to take the pot back but he stopped her and pushed her towards what he guessed was the door to the courtyard.

“No, it can’t. Go talk to her.”

“But Spike —”

“Stop protesting and go already!”

“Spike, that’s not where the pot goes.” She raised her eyebrow in a perfectly Summers expression and he felt like he was very close to blushing.

“You two having fun?”

Buffy’s voice interrupted his train of thought, as it seemed it would always do, and he felt like some of his cold blood did rise to his cheeks. He turned to look at her, feeling Dawn deflate next to him: she was sweaty, and clearly tired, and her eyes were guarded but she couldn’t seem to hide the tension in her body. He felt like he wanted to go hug her too and briefly thought that Dawn’s presence might not do him good after all.

“Buffy, look…”

Dawn’s voice was tentative, but Buffy didn’t look at her and just moved towards the stairs.

“Sorry, I need a shower.”

“No, wait —”

“I’m sure our resident vampire here can attest to the fact that I really need a shower.” In fact, their resident vampire could attest to the fact that he needed to bottle her current scent and keep it for sunny days, but he refrained from saying it. “Another time.”

Spike glanced at Dawn and saw her face go from hesitant to annoyed. He made an impulsive decision.

“Slayer, you should hear her out.” Buffy turned to look at him, her gaze getting much icier rather than guarded, and he gestured to the two of them, trying his best not to get himself maimed. “Look, Buffy, you two should talk. Come on, the shower can wait, can’t it?”

There was a tense silence until Dawn broke it with an eager tone.

“Compromise! Let’s make everyone happy. I’ll prepare something to eat while you take your shower and then we can have dinner together. What do you say?” At Buffy’s hesitation she took a step towards her, touching her arm lightly. “I — I want to apologise properly, Buffy. Please.”

Some of the tension slid off the slayer’s shoulders and she nodded lightly.

“OK.”

She didn’t exactly smile before leaving, but Spike was going to count that as a win anyway. After she disappeared up the stairs he turned back to Dawn, who looked at him with a frankly unnecessarily amused expression, and busied himself with pretending he knew anything about human food for a while. They ended up settling in a comfortable banter that made him capable of ignoring all the stares from the slayers coming and going around them, until Buffy’s voice returned to interrupt his thoughts.

He was almost certain that he managed to just smile at her without too much of a lovesick fool expression, too, regardless of Dawn’s smirk directed at him. Buffy, on her part, seemed a bit too tense to notice much, and he decided that retreat was the better part of valour: he gave Dawn an encouraging look and got out of there, going towards the courtyard.

Once there, he found one spot with enough shade and lit a fag, inhaling deeply, glad for his unliving lungs and for finally being alone with his thoughts. He idly looked around, trying to avoid meeting the gaze of the slayers training here and there, but otherwise not paying much attention to his surroundings. He wondered whether a talk could really do much to help Buffy and Dawn; certainly it couldn’t make things worse, could it?

He scoffed at himself and kicked at a small stone on the ground. Sure, after all, none of his plans ever backfired on him. And besides, look at him now, he was being all mature and responsible about things; that surely made him capable of giving the Summers ladies some good advice, didn’t it? They definitely just needed some time, and honest conversation, so that they could—

“So it’s true. You’re really back.”

This time, it was a decidedly unexpected and uncomfortably unwelcome voice that stopped his thoughts. He ignored the urge to sigh and turned to look at Xander Harris — who apparently had stepped up his game when it came to clothes, since he was wearing a well-fitting, all-black ensemble that seemed to come out of a spy movie. The eyepatch really just complemented the look.

“Yeah.”

He didn’t know what else to add; what should he say to someone who had never for one second trusted him? And not that he could blame the guy, really.

“Well, good to see you, Billy-boy.” Spike could feel an eye twitch at that but he just kept on smoking. Harris walked closer, his hands in his pockets and a slight grin on his nervous face. “It’s been a while. What’s it like to be back on the right side of the pond?”

Spike stared at him for a second, wondering if he was going to go back to his usual ‘let’s insult the Spike’ routine or not; he did seem friendly, so he decided to give him a chance.

“Can’t say I miss California’s sun, ’s a matter of fact.”

“Heh, figures.” There was a beat, both of them looking at each other in an awkward silence. “Look, man, I just wanted to say…” One of the boy’s hands went to his hair in a nervous gesture, then he huffed lightly and smiled a bit more at him. “Well, I guess I just want to say thanks. I don’t know how you did it, coming back and all, but… thanks.”

Spike blinked a couple of times at him, his hand with the lit fag stopping in front of his face. That he hadn’t expected.

“You saved the world.” Harris spread his arms slightly and kept smiling at him, and Spike thought he could actually feel something weird going on inside him. “How cool is that, man? Or as you guys would say here, mate. I can call you mate, right?”

He just kept staring at him, blinking slowly once. Was he pulling his leg?

“... sure,” he finally answered, even though he wasn’t sure at all.

Harris actually laughed at that, a small, embarrassed laugh, and he scratched his neck in a nervous gesture.

“Look, Spike, I know this is awkward. You and me, we’ve never… well. You know how it’s been between us,” he continued, looking at him with an apologetic smile, and Spike snorted lightly. “But, you did save the world, and I’m pretty sure you thought you’d be toast after that.” Spike nodded slowly and Harris nodded as well, grinning again. “Exactly. And that’s, well, that’s superhero material in my book. And when I say book, I mean comic book, and I mean several of them.” Was Xander Harris actually grinning at him in embarrassment? “So, what do you say we start over? I do wanna know how you’re back, and the when and the why and all that, but first…” He held out his hand to him; Spike was speechless. “Clean slate, starting over. What do you say?”

Spike felt like he had something to say indeed, but couldn’t remember what. He stared at him, going from his hand to his face, that was actually flushing in embarrassment — was this really Xander Harris?

Just when the boy looked like he might be regretting the whole thing and could be moving his hand back, Spike flicked the fag to the ground and grasped his hand.

“Deal.”

If anyone ever asked him, he would never, under any circumstances, admit that he felt something in his chest region at the gesture; that Harris’s warm and firm hand in his brought him a sense of acceptance and belonging his old human self had only ever dreamed of; that the young man's happy grin made his own lips turn up of their own volition. He’d never, under any circumstances, admit that being accepted by ‘the Whelp’ made him feel like an official Scooby — or that that was in any way a sweet feeling deep in his gut.

They just shook hands and nothing surprisingly momentous happened between them; that was his story and he was sticking to it.

After that bit of perfectly ordinary interaction, they spent some time catching up with each other, and wasn’t that incredible in itself? As it turned out, Xander Harris was the first person of the Scooby bunch he told the story of his reappearance in Wolfram and Hart. He found that, while being as much as a boy as ever, he was a rather fun kind of audience to have, when he wasn’t busy treating him as the dirt beneath his shoes: he reacted in all the right ways, gasping and gesticulating and all around being a right ridiculous git, and maybe Spike almost felt like he could be glad if one day he might call the guy a friend. He also was distinctly grateful that he had no telepathic bone in his body, though.

He did leave out some of the more humiliating moments — no need for him to know about that Lindsey bastard pulling one on him and convincing him of being some kind of chosen hero. He did not, however, leave out his win over good ol’ Peaches, and got all kinds of chuffed when Harris actually patted him on the shoulder and said “Good on ya, mate!”, no matter how atrocious his attempt at a British accent was.

At that point, though, he did notice that while he’d been eager to ask him about his comeback to unlife, he hadn’t said a word about his own experiences of the past year. And while he was almost ready to accept that Harris had more hidden depths than he’d previously considered possible, this thorough interest in the life of someone else seemed a tad too much.

“What about you then?” He asked, stopping him from asking something else. “How’s life treating you on the right side of the pond?”

Harris scoffed and idly scratched his neck.

“Right for you, maybe.” He seemed to take a sudden interest in a sword one of the slayers must have left near the wall they were leaning against. “Well, life here is certainly interesting,” he added after a few seconds of fiddling with the hilt. “And hey, I’m kind of the head watcher here, if you squint and tilt your head and look hard… OK, well, Giles is still the boss watcher, but by now I’m the vice-boss watcher, you know?” He picked up the sword and started rotating it slightly at his sides. “Got to learn all kinds of stuff! I’ve also helped with looking for new slayers all around the wo—” he stopped talking with a yelp when the sword scraped hard against the wall, and he quickly put it back against it, giving a little laugh. “Well, you know. There’s new girls with super powers all over the place and I helped out finding them. Now I’m mostly here at slayer central though, helping out the Buff to train all the newbies.” He gave a tired smile, folding his arms in a tense gesture. “Life is good.”

Spike raised his eyebrows and just glanced at his folded arms.

“Sure. Look right glowin’, you do.”

“Exactly! Glowing, with the happiness and the joyfulness and the all-around sense of purpose.” He nodded vehemently, all while giving a big sigh. “Definitely.”

There were a few moments of silence.

“So you’re exhausted and feel lost, huh?”

“God, yeah,” exclaimed Harris, sagging against the wall. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, life surrounded by attractive… energetic young women sounds like a fantasy, but reality?” He scoffed lightly and looked up to the darkening sky. “It’s a bit different.”

Spike felt a pang at the memory of LA, and a certain group of attractive, energetic women, and all that he’d gone through alongside them… he gritted his teeth at the onslaught of memories and took a deep, silent breath with closed eyes. When he felt like he could avoid bawling like a baby in front of his companion, he looked up and saw that he was thankfully too engrossed in the overcast sky to notice his distress.

“Yeah, Harris,” he answered in what was an entirely level and not at all rough voice. “Think I get what you mean.”

“Yeah.”

They stayed silent for a while after that, each engrossed in his own thoughts, until Spike felt like the memories risked choking him into a husk of himself. He shrugged, trying to physically move them away from himself, and took out another cigarette. By the time he’d lit it his hand wasn’t even trembling anymore, and he almost felt satisfied with himself.

“Still, you get to be a watcher. ’S gotta have all kinds of advantages.”

“Sure, when you consider an advantage being called ‘sir’ all the time…” Spike just raised an eyebrow at that. “And never in a fun way.” Spike huffed a laugh and shook his head. “I’m just saying, all of us straight people risk going a bit stir-crazy in here. Not that I should have a relationship, after the shitshow that was the end of my last one… none of the girls would deserve that, believe me.”

His expression got particularly dejected then, with a strong side of pathetic, and Spike repressed the urge to slap him on the head.

“Snap out of it, Harris. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Xander looked at him like he’d just suggested he date a ghost.

“And that matters here because..?”

“Just sayin’, you made a mistake, you learned from it. Doesn’t mean you have to keep on making it.”

There was a deeply uncomfortable silence after that when they looked at each other in a guarded way, both thinking about Spike’s own mistake and how trying to learn from it had resulted in his soul.

“You’re telling me I should try and sweep one of these super-strong ladies off her feet?”

“Sure, if that’s what you want, should give it a try…” Spike tried very hard not to look amused at the thought but going by Harris’s mildly offended look, he might have failed a bit short of that. “Truth is, I don’t know shit about what the right thing to do is. Back in the day, I thought that getting a soul would make everything clearer and easier. Turns out, everything’s muddier and more complicated than ever.”

“Amen, mate, amen.”

“Take it things are definitely unpatchable between you and demon-lady, then?”

Harris looked at him with a confused expression, which was damn confusing on its own. Until the young man’s eye got a decidedly hurt, even grief-stricken look in it, and Spike got a bad, bad feeling.

“Oh… you didn’t know.” Harris looked down, giving Spike the uncomfortable feeling that he was fighting back tears. His voice was suddenly very small and Spike could kick himself in the face. “Anya — she didn’t make it. She died saving Andrew… on the Hellmouth.” 

The rush of grief that hit Spike then surprised him in its intensity.

“Harris… I’m sorry. No, I didn’t know.” Was his voice hoarse? Not like I give a crap.

Harris shrugged, still looking down, and Spike swallowed. The memory of Anya in her shop came to mind, of their little bit of a night together and of Harris’s hurt eyes when he came to kill him then. Back when the boy had both of his eyes, back when Spike didn’t have a soul or common human decency… all those memories suddenly struck him, forcing him to furiously smoke the rest of his cigarette; anything to stop himself from breaking down and asking Harris’s forgiveness for all that grief. What would be the point? Guy wanted to start over; saying sorry now would just be opening up old wounds, wouldn’t do much more than ease his own battered conscience and uselessly remind Harris of all that old pain. Even more than he’d already done, that was.

He drew a last, long pull from his cigarette before flicking it to the ground, then moved towards the door that led to the kitchen.

“You got any beer in this castle, Harris?”

Could at least try to drink some cheer back into the boy, right?

“Yeah, there are some tough locals who love Scottish ales here…” Spike pretended not to see him quickly wipe a tear from under his eyepatch, his voice getting stronger and steadier by the second. “I mean, of course, I drink a lot of beer too,” Harris rushed to add, sending him a grin that didn’t warm his dead heart, no sir, not at all. Spike just grinned back at him with a cocked brow, accepting the joke for the peace offering that it was, and led the way back to the kitchen.

They didn’t add a word on any of that while taking their drinks. Harris, for his part, managed to surprise the heck out of him when he gave him a bag of blood and a black mug with the words ‘I don’t bite!’ written in red on it. It turned out that Buffy had sent him shopping that morning. Spike couldn’t decide whether he was more touched by the mug or by the fact that the young man asked him to remind him just how much he liked to heat his blood for ‘maximum pleasure’, and with a smile on his face too. In the end, the idea of being touched by anything that he did was just too much, no matter how the thought of Anya’s death hurt; so he ended up ignoring each bloody, tangled emotion and just grunted his thanks to the boy, stuffing his face with his blood.

At this rate, we’re gonna bloody hug by the end of the night.

He suppressed a little shudder at that and proceeded to spend some more time chatting with him, placing a table between them just in case. He’d noticed that his Summers ladies weren’t in the kitchen anymore but he pretended not to feel himself burning with the need to know where she was, and what she was thinking, and if she’d feel at all up to another long, intense talk by the time she was done with the Bit… and then Harris started saying that he missed American music of all things, his cheer back to full force, so he forced himself to concentrate on their conversation because that was complete bollocks.

They ended up drinking more beer than either of them had expected and talking about more things than he knew the guy cared about, both resolutely ignoring the painful bit of conversation they’d shared over Anya. Time went on and by the time her voice chuckled at one of Harris’s dumb jokes from behind him, Spike realised he’d almost completely stopped thinking about her for a while. Had Harris started taking lessons from Red on witchcraft?

“Never expected to see you guys so friendly. I guess distance and time really do wonders, huh?”

Spike scoffed while Harris laughed.

“You should have seen his face when I gave him his new mug, Buff!”

Spike turned back to stare at him lightly.

“Didn’t make any face.”

“Oh yeah, you were totally flustered, bleach-boy.”

“Was not,” he said with a sniff, taking a sip of his beer.

“You were this close to hugging me, man,” Harris insisted while Buffy circled the table to go and sit next to him, both facing Spike and grinning widely.

“You were clearly daydreaming, mate. What, missed me that much that now you want a piece o’ Spike?”

The boy recoiled with an exaggerated grimace and vehemently disagreed, but Spike’s attention was drawn to Buffy’s chuckle and he felt quite too proud of himself to stop there. They kept on bantering for a couple more minutes, while Buffy seemed to relax and smile more and more, and he felt like the king of the world.

“Well, OK, you know what? I’m pretty tired, I think I’m gonna call it a night.” Both Buffy and Spike looked at him with raised brows as he stood and he grinned at them. “All right, so maybe not as tired so much as aware that you two need to talk. It’s been good, mate, feel free to get a piece of the Xan any time you want,” he added, winking and pointing bloody finger guns at him. Spike just grimaced in mild disgust and avoided commenting, while Buffy chuckled again. Who’d’ve thought, Harris wasn’t that useless after all…

After he left they smiled at each other until Spike felt like something was tightening around his heart. She looked tired, not as much as the night before, but it didn’t really look like she could be looking forward to a long chat after all.

“Spike —”

“Buffy —”

They both stopped, smiling at each other before looking down, and Spike felt the powerful urge to smack his own head against the table. When had he become such a ponce? (Who was he kidding, he knew exactly when.)

“Look, Buffy, we don’t need to do this now.” She looked up at him and her expression got back to guarded. “I think you’ve had enough… intense moments today, haven’t you?”

She just looked at him for a couple of seconds before a small smile tugged at her lips.

“You were stalking me while I trained, weren’t you?” He opened his mouth to say that no, he wasn’t stalking her and would they drop it already, but she raised a hand to stop him and he shut his lips with a faint glare. “Don’t even. I guess old habits die hard, that’s all.” He glared a bit more but let her finish. She was smiling, after all… “Seriously, I’ve come to accept it. Vampire exes, basically can’t expect you guys not to stalk me, right?”

Spike’s humour pretty much evaporated at that, an uncomfortable sense of annoyance and pain leaving him with a set jaw. He schooled his eyes to neutral and just looked at her as levelly as he could.

“Right. Sure.”

Buffy, to her credit, seemed to understand her mistake and looked ashamed for a second, leaving him with a bitter sense of victory. Was this how their every interaction was doomed to go?

They didn’t say anything for a couple of seconds, until he was almost ready to get up and get lost somewhere where she wasn’t, when her hand touched his arm. He looked back at her and swallowed, cursing himself for being such a lovesick fool.

“Sorry about that.” Her voice was low and he could see her struggle to talk. Was he an asshole for being satisfied that she was making an effort? “Didn’t mean to make it awkward. I know you haven’t stalked me.” He nodded, feeling a bit of his tension leaving him — while another kind of tension spread from her hand, still on his arm on the table. I’m a hopeless prat, aren’t I? “Besides,” she added with a small smile that shot through his defences, “You’d have done a better job of it… Rome, really?”

He sniffed, taking a sip of his beer with his free hand.

“Thought you were shacking up with the bloody Immortal.”

She wrinkled her nose at that and his hand twitched to touch her. He forced it still.

“Well, that was the idea for the decoy, yes. Andrew did say it would be hilarious… I just never thought to ask why.”

“Git had a laugh at mine and Peaches’s expense, clearly.”

“And if either of you had decided to stick around to say hello to… well, ‘me’, you’d have known.”

Spike bent his head at that, feeling again that his cold blood was rushing in the direction of his cheeks. Her hand squeezed his arm before leaving it and he looked back up.

“Pet… Buffy. I am sorry.”

She just looked at him with a small, sad smile and nodded.

“Yeah.”

They kept looking at each other and Spike felt helpless; helpless to go back to the banter with Harris, when she was smiling; helpless to have her touch him again; helpless to do anything but fuck up when it came to her.

“Look, pet, you look tired.”

“You know, Spike, you keep saying that and I’ll start thinking I’m doing something wrong with my personal care,” she interrupted him with a small, cheeky grin.

“Personal care’s excellent, pet.” Don’t make it weird, don’t make it weird, don’t make it weird… “Just meant to say, we could take a stroll tomorrow evening, when the sun’s low. Wouldn’t wanna wear out the head slayer here,” he said with a grin of his own.

“As if you could, Spike.”

Spike concentrated very hard and managed not to let any innuendo out of his lips. Don’t make it weird, don’t make it weird…

“Well. Right. What do you say, then?” There, that wasn’t weird, was it?

She looked at him with a knowing smile and he thanked his lucky stars it took much more than this for vamps to actually blush.

“OK. It’s a date.” Spike managed not to splutter at that, but it was pretty close. “Let’s say we meet after sunset, all right? There’s lots of lovely paths around here.”

“Yeah. All right.” His voice didn’t even tremble, so what if it was a bit rough? Couldn’t really expect anything less.

“Thank you, Spike.” Her smile became gentler and she touched his arm again for a second. “I really am stupidly tired these days and, well, I’m just glad you managed to get your head out of your ass long enough to board a plane and get over here. So thanks.”

He nodded, feeling like he should be the one thanking her. But how do you thank someone for giving your life purpose?

He fought the urge to shake his head at himself, the thought of Betta Fish slapping him with his clammy fin in his head.

“Thank you for not punching my face in, Slayer. Buffy,” he corrected quickly, and she sent a satisfied smile his way.

They kept smiling at each other for a few more seconds, Spike feeling like he was a twelve-year-old with his first crush and Christ, could he be any more pathetic?

They finally did break the stupid smile-and-stare fest and then they were both going up the stairs. He pretended he knew the way to his room and let her turn to a different hallway to get to hers; her final “Goodnight, Spike” was soft, and gentle, and he smiled back at her kind smile, and then he looked at her go and felt like the idiot he was. The fact that there were two slayers walking down the same corridor and looking at him funny didn’t really make things better.

After he wandered around for an amount of time he wouldn’t have admitted out loud — why would all the hallways look the bleeding same? How could anyone not get lost here? — he finally got back to his room, sagging against the closed door.

He had a date. With the Slayer. With Buffy.

He thumped his head lightly against the door.

He was so buggered.