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The Darkling Plain
Giles got up particularly early - before the sun rose - and enjoyed the feeling of satisfaction it gave him to return to characteristic habits. Almost everything had given him satisfaction in the last few hours - hours since the blond vampire's departure.
He wandered downstairs in his pyjama bottoms, scratching idly at his belly, and opened the door to see if his newspaper had been delivered.
He cursed and knelt by the figure sprawled on his doorstep. Alcoholic fumes washed over him, and he reeled from the stench. Eyeing the east and cursing the vampire's stupidity, he dragged Spike into the apartment and over to the couch. For something so profoundly thin - nothing more than skin and bones when he had him under his hands - the vampire was amazingly heavy. Heaving and puffing, he eventually got him onto the couch. Bottles rolled away, falling out of various pockets: some full, most empty.
Giles kicked them under the table and crouched close to the pale face.
His smell did not improve up-close; nevertheless, Giles bent over him for a while, straightening his clothes and brushing a stray lock of hair off his forehead.
He had the distinct feeling that the meeting with Angel had not gone well.
Grimacing to himself, he made some tea. He wondered idly if he ought to feel used - that he was only wanted or thought about when Spike did not have the one he really wanted. He shrugged, grinned shyly to himself. He didn't really care all that much. When he was down, when he needed someone, Spike had come to him - albeit when he was so drunk that it was probable he wasn't too sure where he'd gone, but still….
The thought of drunken Spike careering along the highway flashed through Giles' mind, and he shuddered that he found it amusing.
He felt he ought to know something more of the situation but was fairly convinced that Spike would not be too forthcoming on his return to consciousness. He put his reading glasses on, scanned his address book, and punched some numbers he'd never rung before.
Giles put the telephone down very quickly, staring at it rather theatrically as if he'd been stung. He glanced at the clock in the kitchen and wondered why Angel was in Wesley's apartment at five thirty in the morning.
He frowned and looked at Spike, and a wave of pity washed over him at the pathetic picture he made. Then he remembered that it was Spike and cheered up slightly.
When he'd showered and dressed, he came down to find Spike had not moved at all in his absence. He called in to give Anya a brief outline of events - seeing no harm in sticking mostly to the truth - and set about some quiet work he'd been wanting to get out of the way for some time: tax returns, accounts.
Spike didn't move for a very long time. All through the long, quiet morning, he lay utterly still and silent. At lunchtime, there was a stir as he turned over. Giles looked up from his desk and frowned, suddenly seemed to have a thought, and dashed into the kitchen. Just in time, he held the washing bowl under Spike as he vomited.
Feeling he'd taken his fond indulgence of the vampire far enough, Giles marched the bowl to the toilet and disposed of its contents with a severe frown.
He got back just in time to catch the second vomiting session and cried out, 'Bloody hell!' as the vampire filled the bowl for the second time.
It flashed across Giles' mind to drag Spike to the bathroom, but he was too much of a coward to face the vampire's wrath when he awoke.
When he came back the second time, Spike had turned over completely and was now lying face down on the couch. His hair was matted and rumpled, sticking up at odd angles.
He resisted the temptation to crouch alongside the sleeping figure and rearrange those blond strands.
He was glad he'd been strong when the door flew open and Xander, followed by Anya, Buffy, Tara, and Willow, burst in.
'It's true then. The Bleached Wonder is back.'
Giles nodded and added the part he'd not told Anya earlier. 'He's drunk.'
No one seemed surprised or perturbed at this. Xander turned to Giles and said pointedly, 'And there's nothing with the wrongness in that. No criticism for the vampire here….'
Giles gave him his 'silly-prat' look but replied, 'Quite.'
Buffy went over and sat on the coffee table thoughtfully.
Anya stared at him without interest. 'He's lost weight.'
Tara smiled and said softly under her breath, 'That might just be contrast.'
Xander turned with outrage on his face, but before he could think of a suitable cutting remark, she added sweetly, 'With the couch. The couch is very… plump.'
He made a few contorted faces trying to work this out and then nodded, seemingly satisfied.
Giles smiled and went to sit next to Buffy.
'He was here yesterday.'
She looked surprised. 'Why the not telling?'
'I've hardly had time! He was here; I went to bed; he was here. I think things aren't going well for him in LA.'
'Will he stay?'
Giles was glad someone else asked the question he'd wanted to pose to himself, but hadn't had the courage.
Not wanting an audience for the vampire when he finally surfaced, Giles ushered them all out and shut the door.
He went back to his tax return but wasn't really concentrating on it, his mind returning to the thought of Angel picking up the telephone. He was glad he'd suppressed his number first.
Spike woke up just before dark. He turned his head in a very human response to finding himself face down and lay with it hanging off the couch for a moment before, with a groan, he sat up.
Giles got up silently and went to fetch a glass of water. He put it on the table and retreated. Spike looked at it for a moment, his eyes widened, and with his hand across his mouth, he ran from the room.
Giles waited patiently.
Spike came back and leant in the doorway for a moment before sitting slowly back onto the couch.
'Not go well then?'
Spike shook his head, staring at his hands.
'Anything I can…?'
Once more, Spike shook his head.
Rather at a loss, Giles went back to his work but then suddenly said haltingly, 'If you'd rather I went… I mean, I can go to work… if you'd like to be….'
Yet again, Spike shook his head.
Giles bent to his work, considerably unnerved by the vampire's uncharacteristic silence.
Angel watched Spike's retreating back and turned to go into his office. He sat down and pulled some paper-work over.
When he hadn't turned the pages in over an hour, Wesley went in and perched on the end of the desk.
'It didn't go well then?'
Angel shook his head.
'I told you, Angel, I'm willing to do what is best for you, and I don't think that this is it.'
'Why don't you let me decide what's good for me?'
'Maybe because of replies like that.'
Angel looked up. 'I told you I wanted you back. It's my agency. I'll decide who works for me and who doesn't.'
'As if this is anything about work.'
Angel suddenly looked down and rearranged his paperwork slightly as if that disproved Wesley's comment, but after a while, he said sullenly, 'I don't know what it's about. He's gone too far. He's brought someone into the bloodline, someone evil: my enemy. He's gone behind my back; used Christ knows what kind of magic to keep her soul in place - another damned souled vampire! Maybe we should start a freaking franchise!'
Wesley sighed. 'He does have a point about Lilah. If it's true she was dying - and I wouldn't put it past her to lie about that - she's better off now, no?'
'No. She's not. You have no idea….'
'Give me credit for having some idea, Angel. I've been a watcher and your friend, so I think I have some insight into what it means to be a vampire.'
Angel waved his hand dismissively then pouted.
'He'll be back. Don't worry.'
Angel nodded, but it was not very convincing.
'Come back with me tonight - I mean, you can sleep on the couch. I'd rather you weren't alone really.'
'I'm always alone.'
'You do melodrama well; I'll give you that. It almost makes you sexy. But stop being a complete prat and get some things, please.'
When dinnertime came and went and still Spike had not moved from his silent position on the couch, Giles gritted his teeth and went to sit alongside him. He put a hand on Spike's thigh, knowing this would make the volatile vampire react.
Spike just continued to stare at his nails, which, Giles noticed, were badly bitten and dirt-encrusted.
Feeling increasingly anxious, he got up and went to the fridge, rummaging in the small freezer section. He pulled out the blood bag he knew he'd kept there for… old time's sake… and pushed it into the microwave. 'Go and take a shower, please. I hate to say it, but you really need one.'
He grinned slyly to himself: that would make Spike rant and rave like his old self, if nothing would.
Spike stood up and went mutely to the bathroom.
Giles heard the water running and after a few minutes, went in quietly and picked up the clothes that had been strewn all over the floor. He threw them in the washer and then left some old jeans and a T-shirt of his in their place.
There was no movement from behind the curtain, just the sound of running water. Giles had the eerie feeling that in all the time he had known this vampire, in all the moods and vagaries of their acquaintance, that this was the first time he could say Spike seemed truly dead.
Pondering this thought, he went back to the kitchen, pulled out the blood and, smiling, poured it into a very familiar, yellow mug.
Spike came out dressed in the old clothes. They hung off him, but he didn't seem to care. His hair, wet and ruffled, shone in the soft evening light, and he looked very, very pale.
Giles placed the mug on the table, but the 'Kiss the Librarian' familiarity didn't even raise a smile.
Expecting Spike to refuse the blood in his habitual way when he was upset, Giles was perturbed to see him drink it as if he didn't really know what he was doing.
He sat down next to him again, and Spike went back to studying his nails, still bitten but now slightly cleaner.
Clenching his jaw, Giles got up, turned on the television and resumed his seat next to Spike. He watched the news, occasionally commenting on an item to his silent companion. When he could drag that out no longer, he got up, fetched some blankets and a pillow, and laid them on the table.
'I'm going to bed. Try to get some proper sleep. I won't pretend this will all be better in the morning, but it will be a few hours further away, and that can sometimes help. Goodnight.'
He climbed the stairs, gave the vampire a last, worried look and went to bed.
When he came down in the morning, the blankets were still folded where he'd put them, and the nails were still being studied thoughtfully.
Spike started drinking after breakfast. He saw the bottles under the table, picked up a full one of whisky, and drank it down in great swallows as if it were blood.
Giles came out from the kitchen, hovering nervously, vomit not the least of his concerns at this activity.
When Spike began on a second bottle, he put a hand on his shoulder and said softly, 'It really won't help.'
Spike swallowed that one down just as quickly.
When he finally passed out, Giles lifted his feet up, covered him in the blankets that had not been used the night before, and went very softly out of the apartment. He was desperate for some normality, for someone to talk to, and went with relief to the Magic Box.
Chatting to Anya though didn't seem very productive. He'd rather talk to the table than Xander, and wished that Tara or Willow would arrive. They did, with Buffy, and he smiled at them and joined them for doughnuts around the table.
He shook his head. 'He's started drinking again.'
Tara gave him a sympathetic look. 'His soul maybe?'
'No, he's had an argument with Angel.'
Buffy looked at him and frowned. 'He's seen Angel?'
Giles cursed under his breath. 'I suppose they were bound to meet eventually in a city the size of… I mean… blood and all that.'
'But Spike hates Angel. Angel hates Spike. That's kinda how the song's always gone. Why new angst at an argument?'
'I'm not sure. Maybe now they're both souled, they've more in common…? I really ought to be getting back.'
Regretting his impulse to share, he walked quickly back to his apartment. When he got there, Spike was lying in a pool of vomit on the floor.
Angel couldn't go back to sleep after the phone call. He felt that it had been Spike, but he couldn't confirm this, and he held the handset loosely in his hands for a long time, until the faint noise annoyed him too much.
He wanted it to be Spike. He wanted the usual scene: rant, rave, fight, kiss, make up, and then make love.
That Spike had turned his back so icily and walked out had unnerved Angel to the extent that he was almost considering apologising first. He had overreacted. He knew that. He was actually impressed that Spike had retained Lilah's soul somehow - a trick that seemed to have enormous import to their own situation. If Spike could do that for Lilah, perhaps they could anchor their own souls permanently.
Angel frowned when he thought of Spike losing his soul. He knew all their current problems stemmed from that one, devastating event. Too agitated to even attempt sleep now, Angel sat up and ran a hand through his hair. He went to stand in the doorway to the bedroom. Wesley was asleep on his belly, his face turned from the door. He slept naked, and the sheet was lying low on his back, just a hint of the swelling of his backside visible. Angel watched the sleeping man and thought about Spike and how he had lost his soul.
After a few minutes, he blinked and tipped his head to stare at the ceiling until he could bring himself under control.
He suddenly saw Wesley's abrupt, unilateral reinstatement from Spike's point of view.
It had been a petty revenge for his own jealousy of Spike's friends. Now he had raised expectations in this man about how their relationship would be.
Angel went back to sit on the couch and put his head down into his hands. Without Spike, nothing could give him any pleasure, so these expectations would not be fulfilled. Worse, he had no idea what to do with this mess they had created together.
Getting the unconscious vampire into a bath was even more difficult than getting him onto the couch earlier, but Giles persevered. The attempt wasn't helped by trying to keep his hands away from the more obviously naked areas.
The hot water revived Spike somewhat - enough for an unfocused stare and small hiccup.
Giles gave him an apologetic look then ducked him under the water, washing his hair and face.
Washed, roughly dried, and tucked very carefully in the blankets on the couch, Spike fell into a more restful sleep, and Giles sank exhausted into his armchair.
He looked at Spike for a long time. This was not what he'd expected from this strange, budding relationship of theirs. He'd wanted to explore something with Spike that he'd suspected about himself for a very long time. At this moment, however, looking at the incredibly vulnerable figure asleep on the couch, Giles would not have wished anything to be different. He was exploring another facet of his personality, but one as equally as satisfying as the sexual one. Spike needed him. Spike trusted him. Spike had reached out for help and had chosen him.
Suddenly, Giles got up and went to sit alongside the sleeping vampire. He leant on the back of the couch over him, and tucked the blankets a little higher around the thin frame. Spike stirred and opened his eyes.
He frowned and then focused on Giles' face. They stared at each other for a long time. A pale hand came out from under the blanket and cupped his cheek. Giles leant into the caress a little. He cleared his throat and said softly, 'Love can be the most difficult path we ever travel, Spike. It can be very, very frightening - to the extent that some people never attempt it. Would you want to be like that? Would you want to be half alive because you didn't risk taking that road? I don't think so. You have more life coursing through your veins than anyone I've ever met, and seeing you like this is… awful.'
Spike closed his eyes and pouted. Giles chuckled. 'Well, seeing you like that is rather endearing, but I don't think you're in the mood to hear that.'
Spike quirked his mouth and opened one eye. With a sigh, he sat up and shuffled until he could swing his legs to the floor.
Hearing Spike's voice after all this time was startling, and Giles hadn't realised how much he'd been talking to empty air to fill the void. He smiled and rubbed Spike's back reassuringly. 'Just promise me one thing.'
Spike sighed, eyeing the drying stain on the floor.
'Promise me you'll come back.'
Surprised, but clearly pleased, Spike nodded. 'But I have to go now.'
Giles nodded. 'I'll get your clothes. They're all clean and dry.'
When Spike was alone, he put his head down onto his chest and his hand over his eyes. It was like being in a tiny, dark place, where all he could hear were the echoes of his own dead heart. He was so scared he could hardly function at all. Drink was the only thing that helped. If he had his way, he'd drink himself into a real oblivion, somewhere open, where the sun would find him quickly - but he couldn't. He had people relying on him, people who had expectations of him: a new childe, lovers, friends.
The fear was so intense though. Everything he had become, everything he'd achieved since being souled was lost. Worse, he'd lost his natural ability to bounce back. It had all been lost, blown away when…. Spike flicked his head as if the almost-forgotten chip fired off once more. He grimaced at the lost memory. It was there, lurking, causing him pain, but he just couldn't get a grip on it.
Fear held his limbs heavy. Fear made his head muzzy. Fear made his stomach churn. Fear on all sides, closing in on him. He saw his clothes being laid on the table and pulled himself back from the slippery slope to madness enough to stand and dress.
He didn't even realise he was naked. He didn't think about the man standing watching him. That was all part of the darkness that beat in upon him. When he was dressed, Giles handed him his coat.
Spike seemed too lost to work out which way to move. Giles went and held the door for him.
'Will you be okay to get…. Sorry. Of course you will. Vampire.'
Spike looked up, surprised. He'd forgotten that. He was. He shook himself and recovered enough of his spark to make it to the door. The darkness outside helped revive him enough to step through.
He turned, but Giles laid a finger to his lips. 'Don't, Spike. You don't need to say anything. Only… call me, yes? Let me know you got there safely? I'd appreciate that. If I don't hear, I'll… worry.'
Spike nodded, hunched his shoulders at the darkness he could feel encroaching, and went towards the steps.
Despite the almost total silence of the visit, Giles found it very, very quiet when Spike was gone.
He knocked on the door, and Sam answered after a few minutes. The human was limping; he was still bandaged in a few areas, but he looked much recovered.
Slightly abashed, he embraced Spike, but then pulled away sharply. 'Shit! What hit you!'
Spike didn't catch his eye and shrugged. 'Life, Pet. Now, we need to call a conference. All the gang.'
'So… I'll call J then?'
Spike didn't hear the irony and nodded seriously. 'Yeah. Here. Soon as he can.'
Sam did as he was asked and watched Spike making some calls on his cell phone as he spoke to Jordan. He hesitated and wanted to warn the demon about something he couldn't define, but just said, 'Here- now,' and hung up.
He went to sit next to Spike on the bed, but Spike suddenly seemed to need a drink and went to the bar, pouring them both one. He handed one over then wandered over to the CD player and turned it on. A familiar track began, and they were both plunged back to another time: a vampire stripping and crawling; intense sex. Spike stabbed urgently at the buttons, trying to turn it off. Sam came up behind and did it for him. He put his arms lightly around the resistant form.
Spike frowned but didn't turn.
'It got out of hand. It was just for fun at first. I thought I could learn things that we could do together.'
Sam turned Spike around in his arms and smiled down at him. 'Yeah? What?'
'Do you think…. I mean…. Can we do this another time? I'm kinda….' He ripped out of Sam's embrace and went back to the bar to pour another drink. 'How fucking long does it take to get here!'
Sam stared at the pale figure and went up to him. He put a hand on Spike's arm. 'Whatever you want, Babe. If you need someone to talk to, I'm here. I'll always be here for you.'
There was a knock at the door, and with relief, Spike went to open it. Jordan came in then turned to watch the other figure in the hallway. Sam made a small sound of protest, but Spike said softly, 'I called her. Invite her in.'
The man gave him a look, but shrugged and said casually, 'Okay. Guess you're one of us now. Come in.'
Lilah came slowly over the threshold and looked at the three of them. Jordan grinned and nudged her. 'If you're real lucky, we'll do a threesome with Spike this time.'
She laughed and turned provocatively to Spike. 'Hello, Sire.'
Spike closed his eyes to drive the darkness back for a moment, then opened them and nodded silently to her.
He looked around his small, beleaguered group and said distinctly, 'Things have changed. We're not working with Angel Investigations anymore. We need to find somewhere new, and I need somewhere to stay for a while until….' He saw Sam's small step forward and turned with the best smile he could manage. 'On my own. I've done sharing - didn't suit me, yeah?'
Sam nodded and frowned slightly at Jordan. Jordan shook his head very slightly and returned his attention to Spike.
'We need some work. I don't care what it is, but we're going to go under unless we make some cash soon.'
'Sam - you're in charge of finding new office space. Lilah….' She looked slightly mutinously at him. 'I need to get back into my old place to collect some of my stuff. I need Angel out of the way. I can't think of a better distraction.'
She grinned. 'I'll go on a rampage. Blood, guts, hellfire.'
'I was thinking along the lines of paying your overdue respects to your grandsire. He'll go for that kind of shit. Jordan, I need you to come carry. Some of the crap in that apartment actually is mine. Everyone happy?'
No one pointed out the obvious to him.
He nodded then spun on his heel and left.
Sam let out a long, slow breath and went immediately to the bar. He poured them all a drink and sat heavily on the end of the bed. 'Who the fuck was that?'
Jordan sat next to him, and after only the smallest hesitation, Lilah joined them.
'It's because of me. Angel… didn't take it well.'
They looked at her then shook their heads. 'They spend their entire time arguing. This is something else.'
She shrugged. 'I need to make that call and get Angel out of the way.'
Sam laughed. 'Yeah, like you're actually gonna do that!'
Spike waited outside the agency for Jordan in pouring rain, and when he didn't appear, cursed and went in on his own, unwilling to miss his window of opportunity.
He sensed everywhere was empty and went into the elevator.
It was no worse now that he was back than when he'd been away. The fear was so bad all the time, that this close proximity to everything he'd once had didn't increase it at all. He kept focused on what he was there for and went around the apartment collecting his clothes and few personal items.
It all made a much smaller pile than he'd anticipated, and he frowned when he heard the elevator: he didn't need help carrying it after all.
The doors slid open, and Angel stepped out.
To Chapter 2
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