Bloody Soul by Kallysten

ReviewsRating: NC-17

Summary: Story goes AU at the end of Becoming 2. Rewrite of season 3. Buffy/Angel for part of the story, spuffy undertones throughout.

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Chapters 13-16

Chapter 13: Like Ashes

When Spike woke, his internal clock informed him that it was the middle of the afternoon - a few hours left before sunset. His pounding head reminded him that not only did cheap alcohol taste terrible, but it also made for atrocious hangovers. And his nose told him that he wasn't alone; Drusilla was in the crypt with him.

That last bit, he dismissed without a second thought. Even with canons and fireworks echoing in his brain, he knew all too well where he was and why. He knew, just as well, that his Dru was gone.

Less than a week before, he had moved out of the mansion after having reached the limits of his endurance as far as angst was concerned. At the time, he had thought about leaving Sunnydale, but Joyce had easily convinced him otherwise, with the double argument that she would miss their talks and Buffy could certainly use his help on patrol. Instead, he had found himself a new place to call home before morning. It didn't have the flair of the mansion, he admitted, but some cleaning and scavenging had turned a dreary, dusty, moldy crypt into. well, a still dreary but a bit less dusty and moldy crypt. And it was his. He had a bed - or rather, he had a mattress - to sleep on in the lower level, a few empty crates for storage ready for when he would actually own stuff, a nice exposed pipe to tap for cold but free showers, and a fridge - unplugged, therefore not so effective - where he stored his blood and booze.

The Slayer knew where he now resided, he had pointed out the crypt to her, but she had not been invited to visit nor had she asked for a tour. He had thought their first patrol after his little drunken speech about love would have been awkward; but she had acted as if nothing had happened, and he had taken his cue from her. Denial was as good a place as any to dwell, he supposed.

Spike massaged at his temples, desperately willing the headache away, when a whisper froze him. Slowly, oh so slowly, he opened his eyes. Still in the crypt, check. Soul? Still there with the guilt, voices and never faltering hand squeezing his heart. And yet. He took a deep breath, and there it was again, stronger and undeniable now. Drusilla's scent. And again that tiny whisper.

Ignoring the pounding in his head, he sat up on the bed and quickly located the source of noise. Again, he froze.

"Drusilla? Kitten?"

His voice was a choked murmur that did not seem to reach the vampiress. She didn't move from where she was sitting on the floor, legs drawn up in front of her and her arms wrapped around them. Naked and covered with cuts and bruises, she continued to whisper, so quietly he couldn't make out the words. Finally shaking himself out of his torpor, Spike stood and slowly approached her, trying to appear as unthreatening as he could; he remembered how Angelus had been feral and disoriented when the older vampire had first reappeared. He knelt in front of her, reaching out to caress her hair, but before he could touch the tangled silk she raised her face to look at him.

"Princess is hungry," she said in a whiny voice, and Spike had to suppress the laugh that wanted to bubble past his throat. Dru was back and fine, not broken like Angelus had been.

"I'll be right back, luv," he said quickly as he rose. "Going to get you food. Don't move, OK?"

She didn't reply, but already he was stumbling to the ladder, hurrying upstairs to his fridge and then back down with two containers of blood. He placed them by the bed, then went to Drusilla and gently lifted her from the floor and carried her to the mattress.

"I know it's cold and not very good," he murmured apologetically as he offered her the first container, "but it's blood. It'll make you right in a minute."

She grimaced as she sniffed the blood, but drank it all anyway, before doing the same with the second jar. Still baffled by her presence, Spike only watched her, drinking in the sight of the woman he had spend so many years with, realizing that he had missed her more than he had thought. However, she wasn't the sole owner of his heart anymore.

When she had drunk all the blood, she licked her lips clean, gazing at Spike from behind almost close eyelids.

"Still hungry," she announced, and Spike sighed.

"I don't have any more, luv. I'll get more later, I promise. Why don't you get some rest."

He was startled when she shifted to game face and lunged at him; but he did not try to defend himself and instead offered her better access to his throat. Her fangs tearing into his flesh were pain and bliss all at once. He held her tight to him, trying to show her that he wasn't going to pull away, that he was willing to give her anything she needed. She stopped drinking after only a few seconds; and when she moved back, he could see that she seemed confused.

"You taste like ashes," she said sadly as she ran a nail down his cheek, drawing up a bloodless welt.

His throat tightened. Four words that summed up what he knew was going to be the biggest obstacle in front of them. No human blood in his veins - and none in hers if he could help it. He watched her lie down on the bed, her back to him, his lone sheet drawn up to hide everything but the top of her head. He had many questions for her, about whether she remembered where she had been, and how she had been brought back. And he had decisions to make, with her, or maybe for her.

If she was going to stay with him, there was no doubt in his mind that she would, he wouldn't be able to let her kill, and so another soul spell would be needed. It would be difficult for her, after all she already had more voices in her head that she should have had, but he would be there for her, would help her, and she would help him.

Such were Spike's thoughts as he took the sewer tunnels to his car, then drove to the mansion. Ignoring a startled Angel who was reading by the fire, he strode into the master bedroom, trying not to flinch as he entered it. It didn't take long for him to find the chest containing Drusilla's things, and he grabbed a dress, the porcelain doll and hair brush that were in it. When he stood again with his bounty, Angel was by the door, watching him with an incredulous look.

"Drusilla?" he questioned quietly. "How did she."

"Don't know how," Spike cut in sharply as he pushed by him and left the mansion again. He didn't have time to chat. He wanted to be back in his crypt before Dru awoke if he could.

She was awake when he arrived though, and dripping wet. Apparently, she had discovered what passed for a shower in his not so luxurious accommodations, but had not found his motel-borrowed towels. He wrapped her in the largest one, gently rubbing her skin dry and wincing at the bruises marring her flesh, before making her sit on the bed so he could work on her hair with the brush. The action was domestic, soothing, something he had done for her countless times in the past. But unlike the past when she had regaled him with sweet stories about pixies and stars, now she was now strangely quiet. He couldn't make himself talk either; he wasn't sure what to tell her, how to explain how deeply things had changed. Part of him remembered Darla's rejection of Angel because of his soul, and the idea that his own sire could reject him the same way was painful. And terrifying.

"Are you feeling alright, princess?" he asked at last. "Apart from being hungry?"

She tilted her head slightly, and he adapted his strokes to the new position.

"It's very noisy in here," she stated calmly. "Don't the voices ever quiet down?"

His hand faltered for an instant.

"No they don't, luv," he replied as coolly as he could. "You can hear them?"

"William is cross."

"That he is."

Letting go of the brush, he ran a towel over her hair, drying it gently as he fought to find the words to explain. He finally knelt in front of her and took her hands in his.

"I am different, now, kitten," he said softly.

"I know. Like daddy."

He managed to suppress the grimace that her words inspired, but before he could say anymore she was talking again, freeing her hands from his to gesture around his head.

"I can see her floating all around you. Even brighter than your soul."

Frowning, Spike watched her stand and discard the towel as she reached for the dress he had brought back.

"Her?" he repeated, dumbfounded. "Who, luv?"

She clucked her tongue reprovingly. "No more love for you. Miss Edith and princess can't stay with someone who taste like ashes."

All his fears resurfaced.

"Dru, it's the soul, I can't."

"Not the soul, silly. You didn't have a soul when you fought with the Slayer and sent me to hell, did you? You thought I'd forget? I'm insane, Spike. Not stupid."

Wide-eyed, he watched her slip the dress on, the protest that Angelus had sent her through Acathla, not him, dying on his lips. Insane? She didn't sound insane at all. Actually, she had never sounded so rational before. In other circumstances, he might have found it funny how going through Acathla had made Angelus lose his mind, if only for a time, but had apparently done the exact opposite for Dru.

"The soul is lovely," she said when she was clothed and came to stand in front of his still kneeling form. "Bright and singing like a delicious bird. I would have stayed just to hear you sing. It is your pretty soul that drew me to you, don't you remember? Effulgent William. Then it was gone but I still kept you. Different, and singing another song, but still bright so I let you be my knight."

The fleeting smile playing on her lips disappeared, and her face slowly locked into an icy mask. Spike didn't notice. He was still trying to comprehend. She couldn't mean. What did she mean exactly?

"But you're hers already, and I don't want to play with another little girl's toys. The pixies don't like to share. Better to get far away before she even knows I was here."

The last words were murmured, as if she were talking to herself, and already she was walking to the ladder. Feet bare, damp hair sticking to the back of her dress, a porcelain doll under one arm, she had all the grace of a queen stepping on her throne. Belatedly realizing that she was leaving, Spike darted after her, catching her just as she opened the crypt's door on the quickly falling dusk.

"Drusilla, don't."

A gentle smile and a finger to his lips stopped him. "Goodbye, Spike. Goodbye, sweet William."

He wanted to grab her, prevent her from going anywhere; but he couldn't move a muscle. She hadn't used her thrall on him more than a couple of times in the past, but he still recognized the helpless feeling never the less. All he could do was watch her walk away from him, and let the certitude sink in that he'd never see her again.

After Spike's short visit, Angel was restless until nightfall, trying to understand what was happening. He had smelled Drusilla on the blond as soon as he had walked in, and the thought that she was back was both incredible and frightening. She had gone through Acathla before him, and if he still had trouble remembering what had happened after he had lost his soul, he could on the other hand perfectly remember centuries of torture and torment. The idea that Drusilla might have gone through the same thing was intolerable. Hadn't she suffered enough, already?

Suspecting that Buffy would come to the mansion and unsure whether he would be back, Angel left a note for her, telling her he had business to conduct and not to wait for him. He would miss her; he sometimes felt that he only endured the endless days for the pleasure of seeing her at night. But at the same time, he couldn't help the twinge of relief that, for once, he wouldn't have to battle himself in her presence. The fight was getting incredibly difficult, a little more every night, and he didn't know how long he could resist before succumbing.

Somehow, it would have been easier if they had cursed him like the first time around. At least, they knew the loophole of that spell, and all he would have had to do was stay clear of too complete happiness. But the fact that they had changed the spell complicated everything. They thought his soul was anchored now. Thought that he could be as perfectly happy as he wished. What if they were wrong? What if the loophole was still there? Could he allow himself to take the risk, knowing what hell he would unleash for all of them, and especially Buffy, if his soul disappeared again?

And furthermore, did he even have the right to try to be happy after what he had done? He had gone to Jenny Calendar's grave and had tried to remember her death, without success. What he could remember however was the pencil in his hand as he sketched her, lying on Giles' bed. He hadn't faced the Watcher yet. He wasn't sure he would be able to. And Buffy's behavior, as she tried to pretend nothing irreparable had happened, only complicated things. He didn't want to patrol with her and risk coming face to face with the Scoobies or even Giles. He didn't want to come to a research party. What he wanted was to be sure he'd never be Angelus again. If it meant he couldn't be more than a friend for Buffy. well, he was ready for that eventuality. Better to be her friend than her enemy. Which was apparently also Spike's motto.

Over the past weeks, he had become thoroughly annoyed that his grand-childe was regularly patrolling with the Slayer. He couldn't understand why Spike did it - to alleviate his guilt? Did he really think it would be enough? - nor did he understand why Buffy allowed it. Did she really trust Spike? Even with a soul, Angel couldn't make himself trust the blond. He had waited for days for him to finally come clean and tell him why he hadn't staked Angelus the minute he had come back, or why he had insisted for his soul to be restored, but Spike had moved out of the mansion without ever explaining himself. And now, if Drusilla really was back, it was time to get these answers and even more.

Buffy had pointed out Spike's new home to him during one of the few times he had patrolled with her, and he had no trouble finding the place again. The place was empty when he arrived there half an hour after sunset, and Angel supposed that Spike had gone out to patrol with Buffy. Either that, or he was out with Dru. Now that he was in the crypt, her scent was much stronger and made it clear that he hadn't been mistaken earlier. Drusilla had indeed returned.

After a cursory inspection of both levels of the crypt, Angel settled on the sarcophagus on the ground level and waited. It was long past midnight when Spike finally returned.

"Where is she?" were Angel's first words as the blond closed the heavy door behind him.

Spike didn't seem surprised to see him there and barely shrugged. "Gone."

Angel frowned, unsure about how to take that, unsure which possibility he favored. "Dusted gone or left gone?"

"She left. Left me, left Sunnydale probably. She didn't seem too keen on meeting the Slayer."

There was a lot of pain in those few words, and Angel watched as the other vampire tried to wash it down with a swig of bourbon.

"Alcohol doesn't help."

Spike's head instantly turned, and for the first time cool blue eyes settled on him. "Does anything?"

The brunet shook his head. He didn't know what to say.

"You don't have any answer, do you?" Spike asked blankly after a few seconds. "I thought you'd show me, but you have no fucking clue. Bloody fucking."

Angel watched, impassible, as Spike shattered a couple of empty bottles on the wall - not the full one, however - before kicking at the shards, all the while cursing profusely and quite inventively. He now had one of his answers. Spike had hoped to get answers from him, which was why he had kept him around. The disappointment must have been very sharp.

"Do you think Dru ever loved me?"

The quiet question startled Angel as much as Spike's sudden stillness. The blond wasn't looking at him, his gaze fixed on the wall in front of him, but Angel could guess by the tension in his body that whatever answer he gave would mean a lot to Spike. The question was, how should he answer?

"I do not believe Dru was able to love," he said after long seconds of heavy silence. "At least, not like you loved her."

The only indication Spike gave that he had heard was a small nod. He then took a long swig of alcohol, and walked to the ladder that led to the lower level. Angel took this as his cue to leave, but before he had reached the door Spike once again startled him.

"Did you?"

That was another question Angel had no answer for.

For a while, I thought that Dru had reappeared like Angelus, without rhyme or reason. Then I met Anyanka - no, Anya by then - and learned what kind of demon she had been. I remembered crossing her path before while I was a bit too drunk to recall much more than having talked to a stranger. When I learned that she specialized in avenging scorned women, I told myself that couldn't have been it; it was just a coincidence. But I eventually asked her if she had granted me a wish, and she admitted she had. I asked her why - 'cause you know, I might have been scorned but I wasn't exactly female. The answer was disappointingly simple. She had seen me around the Slayer, and she had thought that giving me a wish would disrupt Buffy's life enough to make it worthwhile for her to grant an exception for a man.

There's something though that I didn't found the guts to ask. I didn't dare ask if my wish got cancelled when Anyanka lost her powers. I couldn't bear to think that Dru had returned straight to Acathla's hell, and it was easier to tell myself she was off somewhere, safe and happily back to her insane self. Yeah, the idea that I let her go while I knew that she'd feed and kill was nagging at my soul for a while, but I tried to convince myself that by hunting and dusting vamps every night I made enough of a difference not to feel guilty about her continued existence.

Even today, I still love her a bit, I suppose. I don't think it's possible to love someone for so long and have all of it disappear when another person take their place. At least, that's not how it works for me. I still have a soft spot for her, for the decades we spent together, even if I still wonder if during all this time she ever really loved me. Probably not like I thought she did. It was painful to realize that my love had not been returned as I believed for so long, but it was also an eye-opener. It proved to me that it's possible to love in different ways, to show it in different manners. Possible to love several persons at once. But most importantly it showed me that love doesn't need to be requited to exist. It just is, and there's nothing to be done about it. As I had told the Slayer and the poof, the only thing to do is to follow your blood. I'm kinda proud that it's the only thing I ever did.

The greatest lesson of all, I had already learned it long before though. It's the one humans find so hard to believe, especially the Slayer.

It is possible to love, truly love, without a soul. I am the unliving proof of that.

Chapter 14: Oh, don't deceive me

A loud snapping noise echoed in the library and Giles threw a stern glance across the table at Spike. The vampire replied with a somewhat apologetic look as he placed the ancient book he had angrily closed on top of the other ones, all just as old. Giles could agree that the exercise was frustrating, but there was no point in damaging precious volumes.

They were the only two still awake. Xander was asleep at the counter, Willow in Giles' office, and Buffy up in the stacks. They had spent the night researching, hardly the best way to spend their end of year vacation. Sunrise was slowly approaching, and the vampire had an hour left, maybe a little less, to get back safely to his crypt. Not that Giles would have admitted to caring about the blond's safety.

"Still nothing?" he asked quietly.

Spike shook his head. "Hard to find anything when you don't know what you're looking for."

The Watcher acquiesced. He glanced again at the book on his lap before adding it to the table's pile. He then stood and began pacing, anything to try to awaken his tired mind so he could decide where to search next.

"You're sure Angel said nothing more that we could use?" he inquired again. His voice was devoid of emotion when he said the vampire's name. It still surprised him how much harder it was to adjust to Angel's return, when he had accepted Spike's help somewhat easily. Of course, Spike hadn't killed the woman Giles had loved or tortured him, mentally or physically.

"Told you, he was rather incoherent," the vampire replied, sounding exhausted. "Wanted to know why he had been brought back and..."

"You mean, why Angelus was brought back, right?" Giles cut in harshly.

Spike sighed. "As I see it, that's part of the problem. He blames himself for what happened, doesn't want things to repeat themselves. He's afraid he'll revert to Angelus. Probably thinks whoever or whatever brought him back has plans for him. And I think he was seeing things that weren't there while he was talking to me."

For long seconds, Giles observed the blond, who, as was so often the case, wouldn't return his gaze without flinching. Anyone looking for the signs could see that Spike still suffered from his guilt, but the vampire had become better at hiding it from the younger members of the group and acted as if he were perfectly fine around them. Tonight however, he was particularly distracted, and more than once Giles had noticed his almost inaudible muttering, something he had done in the first days after he had been souled.

"You didn't mention hallucinations earlier," Giles finally pointed out. "And how do you know what Angel is afraid of? Did he say."

"He didn't say it in so many words, but I know him well enough to read between the lines. Know what I'd think if I was in his place."

There was something Spike wasn't saying. It had been there all night long, but only now could Giles realize what it might be.

"Whatever is affecting Angel. it's affecting you too, isn't it? Do you have hallucinations?"

The vampire looked startled for an instant, and then his face was an expressionless mask. "I didn't go to hell, Watcher, at least not yet. And no one brought me back."

"But you're afraid to lose your soul and go back to what you were," Giles insisted, following his intuition. "That's how you know how Angel feels; it's the same for you."

Pale blue eyes left Giles to quickly look up to the stacks. Giles glanced there too, seeing nothing but hearing quiet steps that meant Buffy was awake. When he returned his attention to Spike, the vampire was standing and slipping his coat on.

"Remember what you said this summer?" Spike asked quietly, almost absently. "About me having a soul being part of someone's grand plan or something. Did you really believe that?"

In truth, at the time, Giles had been trying to convince himself he was doing the right thing. Nevertheless, things had changed since then.

"What I believe," he replied with as much conviction as he could muster, "is that something as extraordinary as the return of your soul would not happen without a meaning. You have a soul for a reason, and I think it's up to you to find out what that reason is."

Strangely, Spike's gaze wasn't on him as Giles spoke, but instead slightly to his left. When the vampire shook his head before leaving without another word, the human was convinced Spike's reaction hadn't been in response to his voice.

Hallucinations. A slight frown creased Giles' brow as he remembered fragments of something he had read years before. Letters, if his memory was to be trusted. About the first of a kind, or something along those lines. Now if he could only find them, maybe they'd have the beginning of an answer.

The last couple of days had been increasingly difficult, and Spike was telling himself that he shouldn't have accepted Joyce's invitation. He hadn't slept at all the night before, researching with the Scoobies despite the taunting and suggestions to kill murmured into his ear. The ghost had followed him back to the crypt, and he had had a hellish day, and still no rest. It was dangerous that he was here. Dangerous for Joyce and her daughter.

He was about to walk away, anywhere as long as it was away from the Summers women, when the door opened and Joyce smiled at him, inviting him inside the house with a gesture. Apprehensive, he crossed the threshold, hoping that the ghost following him would stay outside, but knowing it wouldn't. He tried to focus on Joyce's words so as not to hear the other's.

"I'm glad you came," the human was saying, and looked like she meant it. "Faith is coming too. It didn't feel right to leave you two all alone on Christmas' eve."

She frowned suddenly, as if an idea had just struck her. "Do vampires. do you celebrate Christmas?"

Looking distractedly at the tree - and no, not at the Slayer hanging up ornaments while wearing a lovely little dress, he certainly had no reason to look at the Slayer - he replied with thoughts of long-gone winters.

"I used to. Not recently, though."

Behind Joyce, someone laughed, a hard, cruel laugh so unlike the person he refused to acknowledge. He closed his eyes and fists tightly, trying unsuccessfully to block the words that followed. He had been hearing them for days already, and when Angel had turned up at his crypt door with a haunted look and babbling senselessly, he had realized that someone was playing both of them. Or something. Whatever it was had managed with frightening ease to bring forth Spike's cruelest memory and fears; and he knew he was becoming more and more vulnerable to the hateful words spilling from the lips of the long dead woman.

A hand closing on his arm startled him, and he opened his eyes fearing to discover his nightmare was now corporeal. Instead, he found a concerned mother.

"Are you alright?" Joyce asked, and as he lied and assured her he was fine, his darting eyes noticed that now two Slayers were observing him. When had Faith arrived? And why did Buffy look like she had seen a ghost, too?

"Spike, can I talk to you for a minute? Outside?"

Throat tight, he followed the Slayer out, afraid that she had seen and heard. Afraid that, again, she would threaten to stake him but not follow through.

"Who was it?" she asked as the door closed behind him.

"Looked like the other slayer to me," he tried to evade with a small smile that faded on Buffy's dark look.

"It's haunting you too, isn't it?" she asked through clenched teeth. "That's why you've been so distracted. Why didn't you tell us?"

He shrugged, looked away from her, only to be distressed by a ghostly sad smile a few feet behind the unsuspecting Slayer.

"You can't let it get to you," she stated as if it were the most evident thing in the world. "You're stronger than it, and you."

He interrupted her abruptly. "What's the point of being stronger? It's right. She's right."

He gestured toward the grinning woman behind Buffy, but when Buffy turned, she didn't appear to see anything.

"I am a murderer," he muttered, "and fighting by your side doesn't change that. Your mother's not safe with me, and neither are you. You should have staked me long ago. And you should stake me now before that thing drives me insane and makes me hurt one of you."

If possible, Buffy seemed even more resolute. Not worried or frightened, as she should have been, but determined to reach him. And as he tried to listen to her rather than to the reminders of how sweet the blood of a Slayer was, sweet enough maybe to reach perfect happiness, he couldn't help but wonder why she was even trying.

"You think I'd have let her invite you tonight if I wasn't entirely sure you were incapable of hurting her? You think I'd patrol with you if I didn't trust you with my back? What are you saying, that I'm stupid? I'm not stupid. I see what you've become; I see how hard you try to do the right thing. And I say whatever that thing is telling you, it's wrong. You were a killer but."

"Still am," he muttered.

"Were," she insisted. "You are making a difference. You do help. And your help is very much appreciated."

Frowning, he shook his head. "My help is appreciated? Since when?"

Her mouth opened and closed again without a sound, a perfect imitation of a fish.

"Ever since you came back," he continued with a small snort, "you've either ignored me, refused my help or treated me like your lackey. Appreciation is the very last thing you've showed toward me. So you'll excuse me if I can't quite believe you there."

If he wasn't imagining things, a hint of red was now tinting her cheeks, and once again, he concentrated on that rather than on the too tempting suggestion to taste the ungrateful Slayer's blood that only he could hear.

"Since when?" she repeated quietly. "Since William. And no, I'm not making fun of him. Or you. Just saying. You're guarding my back, as he tried to do. It's more than even."

She cut herself short, and Spike would have given a lot to know what name she had been about to pronounce. Angel hadn't been accompanying her for patrols very often since being cursed again.

"You're doing good things," she reiterated her previous sentiment. "It never occurred to me you'd want to hear any encouragements from me. Or thanks. But you've definitely earned both."

For a few long seconds, he detailed her features, tried to decide if she meant her words or was simply telling him what she thought he needed to hear.

"Why do I have this feeling that you're practicing a speech you're going to give Angel?"

She shook her head, a cheerless grin touching her lips. "Angel's not here, is he? I'm talking to you, Spike. No one else."

More silent staring, and at last Spike slowly nodded, wordlessly pledging not to stop fighting. Buffy seemed to relax ever so slightly.

"They must be waiting for us," she said with a gesture toward the house. "We'd better get in."

"Go ahead. I'll have a smoke and then join you."

She opened the door and went to step in, but paused to look at him and asked again:

"Who is she?"

As his gaze drifted back to the now silent, frowning ghost who still observed them, Spike let a small smile curl the corner of his mouth.

"My mum," he replied quietly, thankful that the Slayer only answered with a brief touch to his shoulder.

As I recall, I never got to finish that fag. Minutes later the Slayer ran out of the house and asked me to come along, explaining on our way to the Watcher's flat that Angel had visited her, apparently back to his old tricks of using windows rather than doors, and that he wasn't exactly on the sane side of things. I left her a block from Giles' place. Didn't have an invite, still didn't want one. Told her I'd go check on Angel. She seemed grateful at my offer.

I went to the mansion, and from there I found him easily enough. Understood immediately what he was waiting for on top of that hill. I can't say I hadn't thought of doing it myself more than once in the past couple of days.

"Always taking the easy way out, aren't you?" I said to try to snap him out of it.

He reacted to my words as if they were a physical attack, body tensing and eyes glowing with anger.

"You think what I'm doing is easy? You have no idea."

"As a matter of fact, I do. Know exactly where you are. Have the same past, fangs, soul and nasty ghosts as you do. Only difference is that I'm not a fucking coward."

I had hoped for a reaction; didn't have to wait long to get it. A closed fist crashed against my jaw, and I replied in kind. Neither of us had any weapon, so it was just hands and feet, until we were both too tired and bloodied to do more than stay down for a minute or ten and catch a breath neither of us needed.

"It's the only way," I heard him murmur. "I'll end up killing her if I don't. Or she'll have to kill me. I want her so badly, it scares me. Want all of her, body and soul, blood and life. I'm still a monster, and I shouldn't subject her to that."

"Oh, come of it already," I snapped, sitting up to glare at him. "She knows exactly what you are. Once in your unlife, give the benefit of the doubt to the person who loves you rather than assuming the worst. Aren't you tired of running away?"

He frowned as he stood, towering over me as I remained on the ground. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"What do you bloody think it means?"

He never answered. Typical Angel. Although that time he had an excuse, in the form of a breathless Slayer who had found us God only knows how.

I stepped back and let her have the scene, listening silently as she tried to convince him, with no more success than me, that it didn't have to end with the sunrise, that he - and I - had been targeted by the First and that the nightmare was over now. And as her words glided in the fading night, it struck me how similar yet different they were from the ones she had offered me earlier. Same affirmation that Angel and I weren't killers anymore, that we could do good things. But where she had stated her trust in me, she voiced her need for him. Where she had convinced me that I had something to give to the world, she expressed what she wanted him to give to her.

As I listened her words and to what he replied, I wondered if they were already over without even knowing it. Yes, the improbable snow came and saved the day - saved me too, by the way, because I was too out of it to think of getting inside. I watched them walk away hand in hand - depressing, but at least they were both safe. Only then did I grasp that it was important to me the poof remained safe, even if he was a bloody idiot. But words had been spoken that they couldn't take back. Hers, methinks, showed that she didn't really see Angel for who he was, but had that romanticized idea of her first love and first lover that she couldn't shake off. His words were worse. He had admitted to wanting her blood as well as her body. And if sleeping with her wasn't going to cost him his soul, the temptation for more would always be there now that it had appeared. Hell, I know it from firsthand knowledge. The question was whether he would run away or give in first.

Beyond what that night meant for them, and to this day I remain convinced that it was only the beginning of the end, it meant a lot more for me, although I wasn't aware of it at the time. Seeing an image of Anne, even if it wasn't really her, made me confront what I consider is my biggest crime - one of the first, and certainly the most unforgivable. And as I did, I started to realize why I craved Joyce's presence and approval. I started to realize too that the Slayer did trust me. She wasn't allowing me to live out of pity, but because she valued my help - valued me, in a sense. First steps on a road that, eventually, wasn't that long.

Chapter 15: Loss

The night was quiet, unusually so. Spike had seen it occur before, more than once, and so it wasn't really a surprise to him. Something was happening in the town, magic or demon, something that had the humans riled up and ready for riot. Times like that, any sensible demon knew to keep a low profile and stay out of the way until things calmed down. Of course, he was anything but sensible, so he was out looking for the Slayer as he did every night.

His nose led him to the playground where Joyce had found the dead children two nights before. He wished he had been fast enough to prevent her from seeing them. She had been very upset by the discovery, as had Buffy and apparently the rest of the town. When he arrived there, candles and fliers adorned the playground, a silent vigil in the night. For once, Sunnydale's citizens seemed to have realized that something not completely normal was going on in their town. Spike only wondered how long it would take them to get back to their customary denial.

"She's not here anymore," an annoyed voice behind him said.

"Who's not here?" he played dumb without turning to face Angel.

"Don't pretend to be stupider than you are. You're looking for Buffy. As usual."

It was definitely annoyance that tinted Angel's words, and as Spike glanced in his direction, the feeling was obvious on the brunet's face. Spike wondered if it was finally starting to sink into Angel's thick skull that his grand-childe spent more time with Buffy than he did himself.

"Just giving help where it's needed." Spike pointed out as he lit a fag. "Needed and appreciated."

He couldn't help grinning at the last part. It was one thing to patrol and kill demons because his soul allowed him to rest better when he tried to make up for his past. It was quite another to have the woman he had a crush on overtly say she appreciated his help.

Crush. Was it still only that? It seemed that the time he spent with the Slayer deepened his feelings night after night. Could he say already that he.

"You think I don't see what you're doing?"

Spike was almost startled, having come close to forgetting that Angel was still there. He threw his grand-sire a wary look. His voice was still calm behind the annoyance, but that didn't say much about Angel's state of mind. Maybe there were safer things to do than reflect on his feelings for Buffy when the older vampire was around.

"I don't know what you think you see, Peaches, and frankly, I couldn't care less."

Stay here and chat with the brooding wonder, keep patrolling alone, or find Buffy and help her. The choice was easy. Taking a deep breath, he picked up the trail he had followed to the playground. Before he could take more than a couple of steps, however, a powerful hand closed around his forearm.

"What I see," Angel snapped, and the beginning of anger gleamed into his eyes, "is that you are stalking my girl. I know you and your obsessions, and I won't."

"'M not stalking anyone," Spike interrupted, pulling his arm free. "When the Slayer tells me she doesn't want my help, I'll stop offering it. Until then, sod off."

Angel was now downright pissed off, Spike realized when the brunet stepped right into his personal space, looking down at him with amber eyes as he practically growled. He was more used to seeing the look on Angelus than on Angel, but it only proved once more that it was the same man lurking beyond soul and demon.

"You have no business trailing behind her like a lost puppy. You're only doing this to upset me, and it's not going to work. Now back off before I make you regret it. And it's not a suggestion."

Spike flicked away the remnants of his cigarette and stood his ground, staring at Angel and making it clear his threat wasn't affecting the younger vampire.

"One," he replied coldly, raising a finger, "I'm not trailing behind her. I'm right by her side. Where you're not. If you have a problem with that, I suggest you talk to her, 'cause she made it clear the help was welcome."

A muscle twitched in Angel's jaw, and Spike had the sudden certitude that Angel had already talked to her about accepting help from any souled vamp who wasn't him.

"Two," he continued, now grinning smugly, "I don't give a damn why you think I do it. Just because you decided it was useless to patrol and keep your girl safe doesn't mean I have to think the same, or that I choose to do it to piss you off. Three, it does piss you off even if you won't admit it straight out, and it's a bonus for me. Now if you'll excuse me, I have humans to save. Get back to your brooding."

As he turned his back on Angel and strode away, Spike was certain Angel's answer would be a blow, and he readied himself for it - and for striking back. However, he soon had left the playground, and Angel hadn't followed him. Thoughts of why the older vampire had not reacted more violently to what Angel perceived as a threat to his relationship with Buffy soon turned again toward the Slayer herself, and Spike picked up his interrupted reflection.

Crush? Definitely past that stage. Infatuation? Certainly not, he saw Buffy for what she was, and had a clear idea of her flaws. Moreover, he had an even clearer idea of all the insignificant little things that made her different and special. Love?


Something was telling him that for a vampire to love the Slayer went against everything each of them stood for; it was only his soul talking, nothing else. But something else knew, was certain, that soul or no soul he might have fallen anyway if given the chance of knowing her. She was lovely, quick with words, funny, and a goddess when fighting. She trusted him, relied on him without showing any pity. He had no illusions she would ever have fuzzy warm feelings for him; but he knew just as well that fighting his own would have been futile. If he couldn't have her, he'd at least spend as much time with her as possible and do his best to keep her safe.

Three hours later, his resolve was seriously tested when he found himself with what he suspected were a couple of broken ribs, tied to a pillar with Buffy in the same position on his left, Willow and Amy on his right, a pile of books under their feet, and angry citizens carrying torches in front of them. The worst, however, was that Joyce was the one who had rendered him unconscious earlier with a blow to the head and was now setting the books at his feet on fire.

Her mother's hand reached out to touch the rope burns on her wrists, and Buffy instinctively flinched.

"I am so sorry, honey. I'll fix these for you as soon as we get home."

Buffy tried very hard not to sigh, but after half an hour of constant apologizing, it was difficult to remain tolerant toward her mom. Giles was apparently thinking the same, because he put down the box full of books he had been on his way to carrying out to the cars, and took his glasses off, cleaning them as he looked at Joyce.

"You need to understand that you are not responsible for what happened," he said with a twinge of impatience after having said as much at least twice already. "You, and all these people, were under the demon's influence; there was nothing you could have done to prevent this from happening."

"Just like when you ate the cursed candy," Buffy added helpfully.

For some reason that seemed to fluster her mother even more and Joyce blushed as she resumed packing books. Shrugging, Buffy picked up her full box and followed Giles out to the parking lot, coming across Spike who was walking back inside again. They deposited the two boxes in Oz's van, and Giles told him he could leave and that they would unpack and return the intact books to their proper place in the library the next day. The burnt or soaked ones would go home with Giles. Buffy doubted her Watcher would get much sleep that night and would instead try to salvage his precious volumes.

When they returned inside to pick up the last boxes, they found Joyce once again - what else - apologizing, this time to Spike. The vampire was an image of patient suffering as he stood still and allowed the human to check the swollen area at the back of his head. He threw a desperate glance at Buffy, silently requesting her help in pulling him out of Joyce's maternal clutches. The Slayer grinned, wondering whether to help him or watch the ex big bad deal with her mom. A quick look at Giles revealed that the peculiar scene also amused her Watcher, although his enjoyment faded when his eyes fell back on the books.

"Spike, Buffy, if you'd help me with these last boxes, I think we can call it a night."

The blond seemed immensely grateful for the offered escape and immediately picked up a couple of boxes, wincing noticeably as he bent to them but darting out without a word.

"He's not leaving, is he?" Joyce asked worriedly. "The wound to his head is still bleeding. He could have a concussion, and we can't let him leave like that."

She quickly followed Spike, and Buffy noticed that Giles was frowning as he rubbed the back of his head.

"Want me to remind her you might have a concussion too?" she said, only half joking. "I'm sure she won't mind having another person to play nurse for."

Giles stuttered slightly as he assured her he would be fine and picked up one of the last boxes. Shrugging, Buffy took the remaining ones and followed.

". will be just fine," Spike was telling Joyce as they approached the car. "Really, don't worry about me. Please."

"But it's my fault you all got hurt!" Joyce insisted, gesturing to the three of them. "I should at least try to make things better."

Giles closed the passenger door of his car as soon as they deposited the boxes. Clearly, he was preparing to flee.

"I have an enormous amount of work in front of me," he said quickly. "I'll see you tomorrow, Buffy. Joyce, Spike, good night."

Before Joyce could protest, he was already in his car and driving away. Spike looked ready to follow his example, but judging by her mother's expression, Buffy doubted he would be able to get away as easily.

"You're coming back with us," Joyce declared on a tone that made clear she wouldn't tolerate objections. "I can't let you go home like this."

Spike was evidently about to protest when Buffy intervened, taking his arm and pulling him toward the car. "Come on, Spike. You heard mom. Get in the car and she'll make your ouchies better."

He glared at her, muttering for her ears only: "You know I'll heal just fine by myself."

She nodded, never losing her smile. "I know it, but mom doesn't and she needs to do something to show how sorry she is. Play the game, would you? It won't kill you."

Chuckling at her own pun, she held the car's door for Spike before climbing after him. No way was she going through her mom's guilt trip alone if she could have someone else to suffer with her. And the way Spike didn't dare contradict her mom was just hilarious.

Buffy found things far less funny half an hour later. She had finished helping her mother clean and bandage Spike's wrists - he had struggled so much when the fire started that the ropes had made him bleed. Despite Joyce's plea, the vampire had refused to let her bandage his head too, grudgingly agreeing to some antiseptic being applied. Buffy had teased him when he had made a face at the sting of the disinfectant, sticking her tongue out at him when he had growled half heartedly until her mother had sternly told them to stop acting like kids. Now it was Spike's turn to smirk smugly as she remembered why she usually didn't bother with cleaning her small cuts.

"But it stings!" she protested as her mom insisted to apply a little more antiseptic to her wrist. She caught Spike with his mouth open, probably ready to make some smart-ass comment, and she gave him a glare that made it clear a stake would be in his near future if he dared say a word. He laughed, but kept quiet.

Once satisfied that they were fine, Joyce ordered them to remain in the living room while she prepared some hot chocolate.

"T's nice," Spike commented after a few seconds.

"What is?"

He pointed to his bandaged wrists and hers. "Having someone who cares that much. You're lucky."

Buffy was about to point out that if she allowed her mom to know about all her injuries, Joyce would quickly freak out; instead she nodded and smiled as she watched her mom in the kitchen.

"Yes, I'm lucky," she admitted fondly. "And so are you. Wasn't it worth getting a soul just so you can be part of the good guys and be pampered by my mom?"

She realized, even as she said it, that he had hinted a couple of times at a pain she could only imagine and that no, this probably wasn't worth a soul, not by a long shot. But before she could take back her words or quickly change the subject, he returned her smile, with a hint of shyness that reminded her of William.

"Yeah, it's worth it."

Joyce came back with warm mugs and settled between them on the couch. It was the first time Buffy shared a cup with the two of them, and she had the strange thought that she could get used to it. It was oddly comforting to have this quiet moment of peace. She listened, slightly amused, as Spike assured her mom that he'd be fine and that there really was no need for him to spend the night in the house. Joyce finally relented, and if Spike seemed relieved when Buffy glanced at him, he also appeared to be very pleased.

As Joyce placed both their empty mugs on the coffee table, Buffy leaned against her, sighing softly when a maternal arm came around to hold her close. By Joyce's movements, Buffy guessed that her ex-nemesis was also being pulled into a hug. She smiled to herself, remembering the first time these two had met and the notable role an axe had played in that encounter. She was about to remind them of the incident when Spike gasped audibly. Joyce moved back, and Buffy stood, wondering what had him doubled over in obvious pain.

"Spike? Are you alright?"

A few seconds passed before he replied, his voice wavering as he stood.

"Fine. Just fine. Think my ribs are cracked. Should go and feed. Get some rest."

He was out of the house before either of them could protest. Putting this odd behavior on the count of the events of the night, Buffy didn't worry about it until he failed to turn up for patrol the next evening.

I left the house, left them, and ran all the way back to my crypt, cracked ribs or not. When I arrived there, I sank to my knees. Cried until I had no tears left in me. Not sure if they were tears of relief or sorrow. Maybe both. Maybe much more than that. Maybe I cried because it was already awfully clear that I'd been as close to heaven as I'd ever be, and that I had lost all chances to ever be that close to it again.

So yeah, I almost was roasted. Not the first time, not the last. This is the Hellmouth, after all, and danger is a part of what it means to live here. I don't hold a grudge against the people who put us to burn; I'd probably have walked right along with them if the demon had affected me too. Anyway, what happened after made it worth it.

Joyce insisting for me to accompany them home, her concern for my health, the way she fussed over me exactly like she fussed over Buffy, all of it was a treat. She acted with me as if I had been family. As if I'd been her son. It wasn't the first time; she had been doing it ever since that summer, when I had unintentionally taken Buffy's place in her life. But it was the first time it was so blatant that I couldn't convince me it was wishful thinking on my part. And, coming so soon after the visit of the ghost of Christmas past, so soon after I had admitted to myself seeing Joyce as a mother figure, it meant a lot.

I don't think it would have been enough though, if it hadn't been for Buffy. She didn't remind her mom that my vampire constitution was such that I would heal whether my cuts were cared for or not, or that a concussion was not a risk for me. She played the game, helped Joyce patch me up, let me help in return, and at no time did I feel as if she were acting out of pity. She accepted my presence there, teased me in the same breath as she did Dawn, and I lost my last doubts that she might have been lying to me on Christmas Eve. She did trust me, trusted that I belonged to her side of the fight. And that word, belong, sums it all up.

That night, for the first time in more years than I care to remember, I belonged somewhere. Accepted for who I was, not what others wanted me to be. I had a family, friends, and I wasn't fighting alone anymore.

I didn't need to shag, to reach perfect happiness; I just needed to feel accepted. Loved.

Love's bitch to the core.

That's how I lost my soul.

Pathetic, huh?

Chapter 16: On the Hunt

Spike hadn't slept since returning from the Summers' house; instead he spent his time pacing back and forth in the crypt and smoking nonstop, wincing every so often as his painful ribs demanded his attention. The sun had never seemed to take more time to set.

There was only one clear thought in his mind. His soul was gone. Everything else was a muddy blur, and it was driving him as insane as the soul had.

The soul was gone, and so were the voice he had dubbed as his conscience and the overwhelming guilt of his many, many kills. He was already envisioning his next hunt, his first fresh dinner in months; and he couldn't wait for warm, human blood to slide down his throat, couldn't wait to gorge himself on life until he didn't feel so hungry and dead anymore. The simple thought of it was making him hard and impatient. As soon as the sun set, he would go out... and that was where it became less clear. He wanted to hunt and feed. He was, however, somewhat reluctant to do so in Sunnydale. He spent his day telling himself that it was stupid, and yet he had already half-decided not to hunt in this town. Elsewhere, yes, but not here.

The soul was gone, and he had no particular desire to hunt down the Scoobies. They hadn't taken advantage of his weakness to stake him; not going after them was a return of the favor. Still, he knew he shouldn't have felt as if he owed them anything. Bathtub, chains, treating him as if he was a useful tool and nothing more, all of it should have been a death sentence for all of them. If they were foolish enough to think he was harmless, he ought to teach them otherwise. The hitch was, he couldn't convince himself to do so.

The soul was gone, and he still had fond thoughts for Joyce. He shouldn't have. She should have been food to him. Nothing else. Nothing more. The idea of sharing a nice cuppa with her should have felt foreign to the soulless demon he was again. And yet. When he started to hunt again, he would lose that. He couldn't help feeling sad about it. Another reason to keep his extra-curricular activities discreet.

The soul was gone, and he still loved Buffy. He still loved the Slayer. It was even more wrong than before, because now he couldn't even blame his feelings on the soul. He still loved the fighter that she was, as well as the woman. Shouldn't he have hated her, rather than loved, hated that she was the exact opposite of him? Shouldn't he have used her trust in him to easily bag his third Slayer? He wanted her blood - no, he craved her blood. Yet, at the same time, the idea of killing her was strangely repulsive. If he killed her, he wouldn't get to see her fight, or talk, or laugh anymore. The possibility of turning her crossed his mind, but he immediately rejected the idea. There was no way to know in advance how much the demon would affect her, and he didn't want her changed any more than he wanted her dead. There, too, was a problem. If he hunted on her turf, she was bound to find out. However careful he would be, eventually, it would come out; he wasn't deluded enough to believe it wouldn't. The customary fight to the death would follow, and not wanting to off her didn't mean he would let her dust him.

When dusk finally came, his initial repugnance at hunting in the town he had helped protect for the past few months, combined with the need to not let the Summers women know he was killing again, led him to his car and out of Sunnydale. He wasn't sure as he drove away whether he was leaving once and for all, or if he would only go long enough to feed properly before returning back to the Hellmouth.

Two hours later, he entered Los Angeles. It took him four nights to admit to himself that killing again wasn't going to be as easy as he had thought.

After that first night in LA, Spike told himself repeatedly that it was normal that he hadn't fed yet. He needed time to relearn the skills of the hunt, that was all. It would make it all even more exciting when he finally found the perfect prey and sank his fangs deep into a tender throat. He found a safe place to park the car and caught some much-needed sleep on the back seat.

At sunset, he was ready and more excited than ever by the prospect of tasting human blood again. He found a club, full of blasting music and young blood. He settled at the bar and observed the dance floor, searching for the unlucky person who would serve as an appetizer. By midnight, the club was packed, and still Spike hadn't found anyone to hunt. He had been approached a few times by specimens of both genders, heard one or two really lame pick up lines, been offered a couple of drinks, but still. something was off. That redhead moving seductively to the fast beat of the music reminded him of Willow. The man dancing a few bodies behind her had on one of these awful Hawaiian shirts Harris favored. Longhaired brunette alone at a table - Cordelia. He had left Sunnydale; but apparently, the Scoobies had come along for the ride.

Scowling with hunger and anger gnawing at him, he left the club and went to prowl through dark alleys. He tracked a handful of imprudent humans but for each of these potential prey, there was something that stopped him at the last moment. When he realized he wasn't going to kill a woman because she wore the same perfume as Joyce, he cursed loud enough to startle her, causing her to run away in alarm. Sunrise was still more than two hours away, but he gave up for the night.

Back in his car, he spent the day recalling his greatest fights and most delicious meals, remembering with as much detail as possible the feel of thick blood rolling on his tongue, coating his mouth, warm from life, spiced by fear. Kills experienced for the second time brought forth no guilt - he killed because he was a vampire and needed the blood to survive, just like humans killed cows or whatever for the very same reason. The reminiscing, on the other hand, brought an edge to his hunger and the deep-seated decision that he would taste blood no later than an hour past sunset.

And he did. Refusing to even stop for a second and give himself the chance to think of a reason why the woman he was stalking was an inappropriate choice, he closed in on her and attacked, acting primarily on instinct. The bint struggled at first, even pulled a gun out of her coat's pocket, but Spike still sank his fangs in and took long, deep and delightful mouthfuls of blood sweetened by panic. There was a shout for help in the alley, and Spike dropped the woman before he had drained her. Unwilling to take any risk while he was weak with hunger, he disappeared into the shadows, already in search of his next victim. The night was only beginning, and it would be one of feasting!

He chose his next meals a little more carefully, a process that took time but the hunt itself was a delicious part of the game. He was whistling when, an hour or so before dawn, he checked into a motel using his latest victim's money. Only while gleefully reliving his night later did he realize something, and this new awareness struck him like lightning.

The first woman had smelled of gunpowder and, faintly, blood. Even before she had pulled out her gun, before Spike had torn into her neck, both scents were on her. It didn't take a genius to add it up. She had used the gun recently and shot someone. The second victim had smelled of blood and sex, and had been acting very nervously, as if his conscience wasn't quite clear. The third one, Spike had found in a club and taken him after observing him slip something in a girl's drink and disappear with her in the restrooms. The last one, the one Spike had left on the ground, pockets emptied, gasping for breath with a hand pressed to his neck and a plea for mercy on his lips, had been selling small white packages in the recess of an alley.

All of his prey had been predators. He hadn't made the conscious decision of hunting predators and hadn't realized he was doing it until now.

The second realization was even more staggering. Four times, he had taken blood that night; four times, he had walked away from a still beating heart. He had not finished a kill. He couldn't tell for sure if the four would live through the night, but if found in time, they might.

He tried to dismiss the whole thing as a fluke, nothing more, and went to sleep convinced that his next kills would be innocent bystanders.

When the next night he stumbled on a mugging and tracked the attacker three blocks rather than pick up the easy meal at his feet, he seriously began doubting that his soulful adventure had left him with all his wit intact. Disgusted, he entered the first bar he walked by, threw a fifty dollar bill on the waitress' tray and asked for bourbon. She brought a bottle and a glass, and didn't need to be asked to bring a second bottle when the first had reached the end of its short life.

He tried to blame it on the soul, but after a while, it didn't work anymore, because he knew quite well that the soul was gone. If it hadn't affected Angelus after he had lost it, it shouldn't have affected him either. So it wasn't the soul. What was wrong with him?

A thick accent ordering whiskey caught his ear, drawing his eyes to the next table, and he was almost surprised to discover a slender guy there rather than the bulky vampire he had expected. His gaze lingered on the man a little too long, and the stranger glanced at him, blue eyes appraising him.

"Whatever you're thinking," he said coolly, "I'm warning you, I have a stake and know how to use it."

Spike laughed at that, because coming from a not particularly very strong looking human, it was. His laugh subsided when he caught the man's smell. It was off, somehow, not human, but not completely demon either.

"What are you?" he asked, curious.

The guy raised his glass toward Spike. "Thirsty," he answered and took a drink.

Shrugging the whole thing off, Spike returned to his thoughts. Maybe because of his drinking friend's Irish accent, his mind slid toward Angel, and he grimaced as he remembered the past. In China, when Angel had returned to them for a while, he had fed on murderers, and it had infuriated Darla. Why in hell was Spike doing the same thing, and of all things, why was he doing it now that he didn't even have a soul anymore?

"Fucking soul," he muttered before taking a long drink directly from the bottle. When he put it back on the table, Irish not human guy was the one observing him.

"Soul?" he repeated. "Vampire with a soul? That's not a common thing."

Spike scowled at him before pointedly ignoring him. He didn't have a soul anymore, so why was he playing the game and acting as if he did?

The answer came when a bit of light lit the waitress' hair, giving her blond highlights for just a second. Spike had tried very hard not to think of the Slayer since leaving Sunnydale, but he realized now that she had been there all along, just like the others. The Slayer, who trusted him, who had told him she believed in him, believed that he could do good things. The Slayer who, as far as he believed, was heading straight into problems with Angel, and who would soon enough be free for anyone to seduce. The Slayer who would never blink twice before staking him if it came out that he had been killing.

He finished his bottle, glared at the Irish when he realized the brunet was still watching him thoughtfully, and finally returned to his car. If he wasn't going to kill anyone, he might as well go back to Sunnydale.

Buffy was pissed off when I found her the next night; for a while, I thought she knew where I had been and why. But in between rants about how every man whom she dared trust had apparently decided to make her birthday awful, I understood what had been going on while I was away on my little road trip. Turned out she could have used some help, seeing that her Watcher had played a nasty trick on her, Joyce had almost been a snack to a vamp apparently loonier than even Dru and Dawn had been scared half to death. She said if I had been there, I could have prevented her mum from being mixed up in that mess. I didn't see how I would have done that, but she wasn't exactly listening to me when I tried to point it out. I did manage to get something across to her - and that shut her right up. Why didn't she ask for Angel's help? She didn't have an answer.

I paid a visit to Giles, that night, after our patrol. I was upset that he had endangered the Slayer, and I might have had thoughts about expressing my anger physically. I'm sure you're thinking it's a good thing I didn't have an invite. Except, once he opened the door, it struck me that he seemed as miserable and guilty as I had been only a few days before, and all thoughts of making him pay flew out the window. To my shock, he invited me in with barely a hesitation. I understood why when he led the way in and added a new glass to the one on the coffee table, half full next to a bottle of scotch. It's no fun getting drunk alone.

He sank into an armchair with his glass and left me to my own devices. I've never been one to decline a drink so graciously offered. I helped myself and sat across from him, observing him until he became annoyed with my silent staring and snapped.

"Just say it, would you? Whatever it is."

I shrugged. "Was just wondering what's the point of having a soul if it lets you betray the ones you love."

It was clear from his pinched lips and briefly shut eyes that I had pressed on an already open wound. This was, after all, what I had been aiming for.

"I've been asking myself the very same thing," he replied tiredly after taking a sip from his glass. "I can't say I'm proud of what I did. Just glad I woke up in time to realize I was wrong."

That was too easy. Way too easy. And I told him so.

"Wrong? Is that all there is to it? It is wrong to do this and right to do that? Wouldn't your council of wankers say that you were wrong of stepping in and they were right to put her through that hell? They have souls too, though, don't they? How can the same simple thing be both right and wrong?"

He made a noise, half chuckle half sigh. "I think I've had a drink too many to discuss philosophy with you tonight."

I snorted. "Then why did you let me in?"

"Because I have a small understanding of what you are going through," he said coolly. "Not that I'd pretend to compare the extent of my guilt to yours. But I thought you might use a drink too."

I almost told him, then, that the guilt was gone. Except. it wasn't really true. I did feel guilty about not having been around to help the Slayer and Joyce. All due to Buffy's little rant, no doubt, but it was still there. Also, there was that inability of mine to completely go through a kill in Los Angeles. I wasn't souled anymore, but I sure acted as if I were. And yes, the drink was very much needed.

I had been drunk, when deciding to come back to Sunnydale and keep acting as if nothing had changed. On the way back, I questioned my decision more than once. But that night sealed it. Giles' actions reminded me it was possible for a souled human to consciously decide to do something he knew was wrong, something I had seen before but never reflected on. If that was possible, what prevented me, a soulless demon, to consciously decide to do what was right? By right, I mean acceptable by human standards, because from the demon point of view I was on my way to doing everything wrong. Matters of perspective. If I hadn't had ties to humans when I lost my soul, substitute family and friends, I probably would have reverted to values appropriate for a demon. But since I couldn't see humans as simply food anymore, the only way to adapt - or at least the only one I could see - was to play by their rules.

Of course, all of it had to remain my little secret. I had no doubt that none of the Scoobies would hesitate to stake me if they ever learned I was soulless again. As it turned out. Well, you'll see soon enough.


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