Bag of Bones
His heart hurt. It was subtle at first, the kind of faint ache that accompanies melancholy. Not the piercing, inescapable pain that comes with the loss of love. Spike was familiar with them both, and had no problem telling the difference.
But when the pain suddenly became sharper, he awoke without a sound or a start and looked up to see Giles, standing over him, pressing the point of a stake against his chest.
"Been awhile, Rupert," Spike breathed—careful not to exhale much. Didn’t want to jostle the stake. Hadn’t seen him since they were stuck in the magic shop, when they had lost their memories. He and the Watcher had thought they were father and son, and the last thing they’d done was hug. He hoped the Watcher hadn’t gotten any ideas, because he wasn’t Angelus.
Or, of course, he could’ve come to stake him for attacking Buffy.
Giles pressed the weapon closer to his heart. Spike could almost feel the muscle giving way beneath the pressure, ready to allow it entry. As if its presence were welcome.
Well, it damned well was not. His heart could keep its buggered opinion to itself. His entire existence had proven nicely that his heart couldn’t find its way out of a one-room shack without a sign over the door, so all things considered, it wasn’t getting a vote in this case.
"I want to know about you and Buffy," Giles told him coldly, holding the wood steadily against Spike’s chest. "What happened between you. Why you left. And what you think you’re doing back in town."
Spike shifted a little. Of course, he could hold a position for hours; no circulation to worry about. Came in handy quite a few times. But that didn’t mean he liked it, and he normally roamed around like he was on wheels. Of course, he thought sourly, some of the time he actually had been on wheels.
"You don’t really need the artillery, mate, what with me being toothless and all," Spike reminded Giles.
Giles glanced towards the door. For the first time, Spike noticed that the Watcher had left it open, bright early morning sunlight streaming into the crypt.
A well-timed visit, one designed to prevent Spike from escaping if the Watcher decided he didn’t care for Spike’s answers. He could stay with Rupert and his little stake, or take his chances on the sunshine. Which was still in the fatal way for him, soul or no soul.
Of course, he could always haul the blanket with him to give him a fighting chance outside. The blanket Buffy had given him. He liked it on his sarcophagus, where he slept. Where he had slept with her, months before. He liked it there, and he liked her there, and he might as well face it, he couldn’t run from her Watcher and still hope for more from her. It wouldn’t just happen.
Christ, felt like he was still in school and called before the headmaster. Of course, the headmaster had never actually called William to his rooms, because William had never stepped out of line. But if he had called him, Spike was fairly sure he would not have threatened to drive a stake through his heart. Beat him with a switch, maybe. Stake, no.
Slowly, Giles backed away, keeping the stake at his side. Spike sat up
"What is it you want to know?" he asked warily. It didn’t sound like Buffy had told him about the bathroom. Had she told him anything at all about their involvement? Maybe the Bit had told him. Or Anya. Or Harris…yeah, Harris hated him. Only reason he hadn’t taken Spike’s head off was that Anya stopped him. Guess he owed her one.
Giles surveyed Spike. "I know you told yourself you had feelings for her. I want to know what you think you were doing acting on them."
Spike felt a surge of anger. What the hell was with these people—didn’t think he was capable of love? Thought he was too low for that? Or that Buffy was too special to be touched by the likes of him? He’d agree with that one, actually. But the alternative was not touching her, and he didn’t care for that option.
And where, he wondered, did Rupert get off imagining that Buffy was some delicate violet who had things done to her? Like she wasn’t there right alongside him the whole time. Urging him on. Taking the lead. She was the one to kiss him the first time, and the second. The one to climb on him, not the other way around. To shove him against a wall and—
Spike gathered himself. He wasn’t above enjoying a beautiful memory a time or two. Or twenty. "She’s an adult, Watcher. She makes up her own mind about these things. I don’t remember her ever consulting you in the past."
Giles felt irritation prick at the edges of his composure. Why, he wondered, did Spike always have that effect? "Buffy makes her own choices, yes, but in the past she—"
"In the past, she dated a bunch of worthless gits because she was trying to make the lot of you happy by acting normal," Spike snapped. How dare he try to run her life? Giles had attended one too many Pink Floyd concerts in his youth, obviously, and brain damage was the inevitable result. "I suppose Captain Cardboard was your idea of the perfect boyfriend? Bland and USDA inspected? Readily digestible, no unpleasant aftertaste? At least that’s what his little bints said."
The lack of comprehension on Giles’ face alerted Spike that he’d said too much. Kind of a common affliction with him, really. "Forget I said that," he added hastily. Giles opened his mouth to inquire, but Spike cut him off. "If Buffy wanted you to know everything, she’d tell you everything."
Giles’ mouth tightened. The insufferable delinquent. "You’re trying to interfere with the Watcher-Slayer bond—"
"Bond? You mean the one that’s so strong you skip back to England a week after she’s perfectly happy to burn up rather than keep on living? Or the one where you leave her living with an unstable witch so powerful she can raise the dead, and you don’t even check up on them? Or there’s always the one where you take your swollen chess-club brain off and leave her to try to figure out every fucking magical bit of mayhem in Sunnyhell by herself, ‘aided’ by her useless friends. Christ, their combined brain wattage couldn’t power a nightlight. Or maybe the one where—"
"I think you may be forgetting that I’m holding a stake," Giles reminded him mildly.
Spike broke off his litany of Giles’ shameful shortcomings. It really was shocking. He’d secretly kind of admired the man before he hied off and left Buffy. Left her to bear the weight of protecting the world without his guidance. Left her with a bunch of self-absorbed children who gave her no help at all, and then came back and thought he could dictate her life. "You were supposed to take care of her," he pointed out. "And you left her, like all the rest of them did."
"As did you," Giles noted, his voice remote.
Spike closed his eyes briefly. Was that how she saw it? How she felt it? "I did it for her own good."
"As did I. One of the reasons I left was so she would make her own decisions," Giles pointed out. "But I want you to think about what you can offer Buffy. You are restrained from killing only by virtue of a chip in your head. It’s not something you’ve chosen, and it’s not something you control. What happens if and when the chip fails? You claim you love Buffy, but how will you behave if you cease to love her?"
"Won’t happen," returned Spike flatly, meeting the Watcher dead in the eye.
"So you say. But perhaps you should look to the example of your grandsire," Giles advised, ignoring the way Spike bridled at the suggestion. "I won’t even mention the unlikelihood of your just happening to fall in love with the woman your grandsire and former rival loved. The psychological implications are immense. I wonder, really, if it even has anything at all to do with her."
"But Angel left town so that Buffy could live her life. Live it as a human, not as a consort to a creature who cannot walk in the sun or give her children. And there was less to worry about with Angel. He had a soul, and was guided by more than merely his feelings for her."
I have a soul, thought Spike with bitter resentment. But he said nothing. The Watcher was not going to be his test subject for that little piece of news. Spike somehow doubted that he would be a receptive audience.
"How many people do you suppose you’ve killed over the years? A thousand? That would be a very modest guess, wouldn’t it?" said Giles. He clearly was not looking for a response. "You’re what, 200? Even if you only killed a person a week, that’s more than 10,000, isn’t it? And really," Giles added, shoving his point home, "you didn’t just kill to survive, did you? A vampire could survive on a person a week, but a nickname like ‘William the Bloody’ isn’t earned though moderation…is it?"
Spike didn’t reply. He wasn’t anywhere near as old as Giles thought, but the estimate of 10,000 victims was still terribly low. Unspeakable low. Unimaginably.
He’d needed to survive, dammit. That’s what vampires did, they killed and they ate. What was he supposed to do? Stand on a street corner with a tin cup and a sign? Will growl for blood? He was a vampire. It had delivered him from mediocrity, he’d told Buffy. That was nothing but the truth. As a human he’d been pathetic. A target for bullies, scorned by women, desperately taking refuge in poetry. Drusilla had made him a man in more ways than one. Spike had eclipsed William entirely, and it hadn’t just been his demon. It was the man inside him as well, hungry for conquest. Aching to get a little of his own back. Somehow, it had turned into a lot. And he’d loved every bloody minute of it.
What was he supposed to do? Apologize? Hello, demon. It was what came naturally. Had come naturally. Ripping and tearing and running wild. Energy and lust pumping through his veins, alive for the first time. Acceptance. Admiration. Other vampires, humans, looking at him with awe, with fear. Not contempt.
"I—I—" Spike began hopelessly. He would never hurt Buffy. Never hurt her again. Other people—well, who the hell knew? He didn’t feel like it at this particular moment, but that was no guarantee. The chip was still humming in his brain, its painful little electrodes muzzling him. Keeping him in check. But it wasn’t alone now. Not alone.
"I want you to think about what I’ve said, Spike," Giles told him, crossing to the crypt door and slipping the stake into his jacket pocket. "Buffy may be content to have you in town. But as you pointed out so eloquently, not so long ago she was also content to dance herself to death. When you were involved before, it was secretly. No one knew. Now, I’m aware of it, and I will be keeping my eye on you. So I strongly suggest you think before you do anything, Spike. Anything at all."
The pounding on the door woke Xander out of a sound sleep. It was dreamless, and that made him happy. He hadn’t dreamed anything pleasant in a long time, which was sad. Before, no matter how bad his life had gotten, he’d always been able to take refuge in dreams. Now he was happy just to sleep straight through the night.
He dragged himself to the front door without bothering to put on his robe. It was barely seven in the morning; whoever came that early could be terrorized by the site of Xander in his jammies, he was past caring. Maybe they’d take it as a hint not to come so early.
In the past, he might have been worried at being roused that hour. Was it an emergency? Was he needed? He knew that wasn’t happening now. The only person who needed him was in his spare room. As for the world possibly ending, would they even be aware of it? They didn’t do research any more. Buffy still patrolled. At least he thought so; he hadn’t gone with her in…well, since she died. She could—
"Xander? Are you there?" came Giles’ voice through the door.
Xander pulled the door open hurriedly. Giles had left Sunnydale as soon as he’d recovered from his injuries, moved back to England and hadn’t been heard from since, more or less. He’d called Xander a couple of times. Willow said he called her during the day occasionally, to check on how she was doing. Xander had been relieved to hear that. Giles’ apparent disinterest in all of them had hurt him. Made him wonder if Giles had ever really cared about them, other than for the help they might provide Buffy. Made him wonder how he could just turn off his feelings for people he had been around every day for the last five years.
Xander could never do that.
"What is it?" he asked in concern as he stepped back so Giles could enter.
"Did you know? Why didn’t you call me?" Giles demanded. He didn’t mean to sound so harsh, but talking with Spike had unsettled him. The things Spike had said to him—surely Buffy didn’t feel that way. That he’d abandoned her. She knew he had left for her own good. She had agreed with him, told him he was right to do so. She’d gone to the airport with him and kissed him goodbye. She hadn’t seemed upset. Certainly she would have said something if she were.
Xander had no idea what Giles was talking about. "Know what?"
"That Spike’s returned."
Obviously, Xander hadn’t known. For several moments he just stood there in shock, looking like he’d received a blow to the head. Then his expression began to clear and anger filled his face. "Are you telling me that little—"
The two men turned at the sound of the tentative voice. Willow was there in the hall doorway, wrapped in a chenille robe. The same one she’d used at Buffy’s, Giles noted.
"Has something happened?"
"It’s nothing, Will," Xander told her. She knew nothing of what Spike had done. Buffy had been adamant that Willow not be told. At first Xander had thought that she hadn’t wanted to distress Willow with such upsetting news, but eventually it became clear that Buffy simply wasn’t interested in telling Willow, ever. It was this major thing, but it was something Willow would never know because Buffy had cut her out of her life. Willow didn’t even get second-hand information about her. Xander hated it, but he didn’t want to tell Willow about it either. There wasn’t anything they could do about it. Before now.
Now, Spike was back.
"It seems Spike has returned to Sunnydale," explained Giles, relaxing a little. Obviously, the children had known nothing of it. He hated to think of not being told.
"Oh, that," nodded Willow.
Unbidden, Xander felt a curl of apprehension lick along his spine. "What do you mean, ‘oh, that?’" he asked tensely.
"Well, yesterday I went out—just for a walk," Willow added hurriedly, cutting off his protests. Xander was so protective. What did he think she was going to do? Walk into traffic? Or maybe walk into the Magic Box and stock up on ingredients?
Actually, both of those options had their merits.
"So, I went out on a walk and I passed by Buffy’s and I—uh—thought maybe I’d say hi, and Giles and Buffy were talking, and I overheard," Willow finished somewhat lamely.
"You know not to go there," Xander exclaimed in agitation—his concern about Spike pushed to the side for the moment. Jesus, the last time Willow had gone over there Buffy had told him that if Willow ever came back, Buffy would…he didn’t like to think about it. She’d told him to keep Willow the hell away. Said she could pretend Willow didn’t exist if she didn’t see her, and that was the best thing for all of them. He’d told Willow, again and again, not to try to see Buffy. He thought he’d gotten through to her.
But she’d gone over again anyway. What could he do? How could he protect her? He didn’t want her in an institution again. It hurt his heart to think of her there, trapped, locked up like she was nothing. But god, if she was going around to see Buffy…Buffy was adamant. And he couldn’t watch Willow all the time. He had to go to work. And he had to trust her that she was staying away. What was the alternative?
Willow wasn’t even looking at him. "What did Buffy say?" she asked wistfully, her eyes on Giles. "Did she mention me?"
Dear god, how could she look at him with such hope? Buffy had screamed at her on the street like some kind of shrike the previous day. She had sounded quite unbalanced, really. He’d actually been afraid Buffy might strike her, yet Willow seemed to have no idea of just how angry Buffy was.
Or, he admitted to himself, she was just too persistent to be discouraged. Willow had always pushed forward through difficult times. It was something he admired about her. He remembered how tenderly she had cared for Tara after Glory had stolen her mind, and winced.
"I’m sorry," he told Willow. "She…she spoke mostly of other things."
"You mean about Spike?" Xander asked. "What did she say about him? Is she going to st—see him? Is she okay? Is she upset? Did she say whether—"
Giles cut off his babbling. "Xander, what are you going on about?" he asked in bemusement. He’d seldom seen Xander so discomposed.
Xander looked around in utter frustration. He was not supposed to talk about it in front of Willow. Or in front of Giles, probably. Buffy hadn’t told him that, but they’d had a lot on their minds the last few times he’d been around Giles.
"Yeah," Willow added. "They broke up months ago. Why would Buffy be all upset now?"
"Well, it’s—it’s only natural," Xander improvised wildly. "Remember when Riley came back? Him and his wife—what was her name? Mary Sue?"
"Sam," Willow corrected. "Buffy wasn’t happy, but I think that’s mostly because she suddenly had Ms. Perfect shoved in her face. Spike didn’t—he didn’t come back with a girlfriend, did he? Because that would just upset Buffy. She got the most awful look on her face when she saw—" Willow broke off hastily. She’d been about to say, when she saw Spike with Anya, but Xander didn’t need to hear that. But she saw, from the crushed look on his face, that he’d made the connection for himself.
"No, he’s alone," sighed Giles. "Apparently you two know even less about it than I do." Which was amazing, him being isolated other side of the planet and all.
"So how did you know?" asked Willow.
He replied without thinking. "Anya told me."
There was a stricken silence in the room. Finally Xander said, "She called you?"
Giles shook his head. "She came to see me, actually. Teleported, or whatever is the acceptable term for vengeance demons."
"She came to see you?" Xander repeated, his voice hushed. "Has she done that before?"
Giles fidgeted. He hadn’t really thought about how to address this before coming over. Perhaps he should have. "Once or twice," he admitted.
Xander just nodded dumbly. He’d never mastered the skill of keeping his emotions off his face, or out of his voice. At least he could try not to talk. Maybe he could walk around with a bag over his head. That should take care of it. "I have to get ready for work," he said hollowly, turning to head back to his bedroom, leaving Giles and Willow in the living room.
It was still early. Not yet eight. He was due on the construction site, but there was time left for what he wanted to do. After that little piece of news he wasn’t heading straight to work. He had a stop to make first.
Why did bottles hold so little? It was one of life’s little mysteries. Like hot dogs, or Enrique Iglesias.
Nice little visit he’d had from Ripper. Earned himself his nickname there. Came in, said a few things, made Spike feel like crap. All in all, a good day’s work for Watcherboy.
Fuck him. Who did he think he was? Thought he knew everything. Didn’t even know how old Spike was—wasn’t that enough of a clue that he didn’t have a…clue?
Got to lay off the booze, Spike thought vaguely. Wasn’t doing him any good at all. Probably killing off his brain cells. Wait, could dead brain cells be killed?
Another of life’s mysteries.
So the Watcher thought Spike’s love for the Slayer had something to do with the Poof? Ridiculous. If he’d wanted to get back at that big girl’s blouse he would have gone after Darla. She was undead again, last he’d heard. And despite what Giles and Buffy and everybody else in Sunnydale thought, she was far more the center of his existence than Buffy had ever been. His whole fucking existence had revolved around Darla. It wasn’t just the blood bond between them; he was fascinated with her. He’d been with Darla for more than a century. Even with the soul, he wouldn’t leave until she forced him too. He ate the dregs of society and hoped that would be enough to earn him her favor. When it hadn’t been, he’d scrabbled around alleys and dank holes and hadn’t cared if he lived or died. And as soon as Darla was brought back to life, they were together again, according to Dru.
Meanwhile, the Slayer was up here going about her daily life, trying everything she could to protect her sister. And he was down there with Darla. Didn’t even come up to help fight Glory, the self-involved git. Yeah, that’s some eternal love for you.
Spike finished the bottle he was working on a began another. Dropped the first to the floor as he lolled in his armchair. Hadn’t even bothered to turn the television on, which was probably a bad sign.
He thought of his present. His now absent present. He started to giggle stupidly. He really was rather shit-faced at the moment. He’d had a sharp ache in his gut the entire time the Watcher had been there and it had taken a long time and a lot of booze to make it go away. Damned curse.
What was that poem—Kipling, wasn’t it? Rag and a bone and a hank of hair? He knew it, but it was a long time ago. That’s what he was, right? Nothing but the contents of that package. Except for the powder, he didn’t know what that was about. But the rest…that’s what he was before the soul, right? Empty, without meaning or emotion or—
Fuck that! Spike straightened up, his head unfogging a bit. He hadn’t been empty, he’d loved and thought and felt as deeply as anyone. Shitload more than some. He had never been empty. Life would have been easier if he had. Wouldn’t have hurt so much.
He wondered when he’d see the Slayer next. Maybe Buffy could help him with his little present. It was her job, wasn’t it?
No, mate, her job is killing your kind to protect her kind. Not protecting demons from scary bones and hair. Shouldn’t bother her with it anyway. She had enough on her plate, feeling all guilty about the Bit.
Still, if she was coming around he could straighten up the place a little. Make it more the kind of place she’d want to be, and less of a hole. He stood up to start with the cleaning, but his head started throbbing and he staggered a bit. What was that? Too much booze, or was he starting to sober up? Hadn’t been drinking as steadily the last fifteen or twenty minutes. Had let down the pace.
He bent to retrieve the bottle at his feet, and instead knocked it under the chair. Hunkering down, he stuck his hand underneath and rooted around for it. He didn’t find it. But he did find something else. A snug little package.
His secret admirer had paid him another visit.
Continued in Part 8