The Great Advantage of Being Alive by Enigmaticblue

ReviewsRating: PG-13

Summary: What if the Initiative had found a way to transform Spike into a human, rather than giving him a chip?

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Chapter 10: Fever Dreams

“What am I to you?/Tell me darling true/To me you are the sea/Vast as you can be/And deep the shade of blue/When you’re feeling low/To whom else do you go?/I’d cry if you hurt/I’d give you my last shirt/Because I love you so/Now if my sky should fall/Would you even call?/I’ve opened up my heart/I never want to part/I’m giving you the ball.” ~Nora Jones, “What Am I To You?”

Spike shifted the books underneath his arm and knocked on Giles’ door. He still felt bad about basically stealing the Watcher’s books without even letting him know what was going on, and then he hadn’t had a chance to return them until now. Joyce had sent him home from the gallery early since he’d opened that morning, and this afternoon seemed as good a time to stop by as any.

“Spike, come in,” Giles said, opening the door and stepping aside to let Spike enter.

The other man hefted the books so Giles could see. “Came to return these,” he explained.

“Of course,” Giles said. “Just set them anywhere.”

Spike hesitated. “’m sorry ‘bout just takin’ them like that.”

“Don’t be a git,” Giles replied. “You and Buffy did a good job. There’s nothing to apologize for. Though, in the future, I would rather be kept in the loop.” He took a closer look at Spike’s face, and found it rather too pale. “Are you alright, William? You look a bit off.”

Spike shrugged. “A bit tired, an’ m’ head hurts some. It’ll pass.”

Giles waved him to a chair. “Sit for a while. I’ll make us some tea.”

Spike sat, listening to the sounds of dishes being moved in the kitchen. It was a homey, relaxing sound. He really did miss having another person around sometimes, someone to pull him out of his own—usually melancholy—thoughts. The guitar leaning up against the chair caught his eye and, unable to resist, he reached over and snagged it. “You play?”

“Not as well as I would like, I’m afraid,” Giles replied from behind him, knowing what he was referring to. “Do you?”

Spike cradled the instrument in his hands and struck a chord. It sounded a bit off, and he adjusted his fingers and tried again. This time it rang true, and he shook his head with a rueful smile as Giles came around and put his cup in front of him. “No. Didn’t have the patience.” He handed the guitar over, and then admitted. “Play the piano a bit though. Learned when I was just a lad.”

Giles considered for a moment, running his hands over the strings. Singing at the Espresso Pump was an activity he didn’t really want to share with the group at large, but he had a feeling Spike might understand, not being wholly young himself. “I’m playing at the Espresso Pump tomorrow night.”

“Are you?” Spike seemed surprised, but not unpleasantly so. He settled back in his chair. “Let’s have a song then.”

Giles raised an eyebrow. “I beg your pardon?”

“Let’s have a song,” Spike repeated. “You’ve got to practice, yeah? Be much better to find out how badly you’re going to do in front of an audience before it’s more than one of your mates.”

Giles shook his head, but ran his fingers along the strings, breaking into the opening chords for “Behind Blue Eyes,” which he was planning on playing anyway. Spike closed his eyes, listening to the rather moody words and notes. Giles’ voice was mellow and pleasant, and he couldn’t help but enjoy the music. “Good band,” Spike mumured as the song ended. “Saw them in concert in London once.”

“Did you now?” Giles asked. Since Spike hadn’t said anything about his singing or playing, Giles thought it must not have been too bad. He started running through his repertoire of songs, and occasionally, Spike would join him, his rough baritone a nice counter to Giles’ smoother tenor. Giles decided that Spike’s singing talent didn’t surprise him. He wasn’t sure there was much at all that Spike could surprise him with anymore.

After a while, Giles fingers grew tired, and he decided to give them a rest. “And there you have it,” he said. “By the way, you don’t have to mention this to anyone.”

Spike smirked, though his eyes remained closed. “You don’t have anythin’ to be embarrassed about, Watcher. You’re not half bad.”

Giles harrumphed. “Yes, well, I have a feeling that the others wouldn’t understand.”

“You’re pro’bly right,” Spike agreed, his eyes blinking open. There was a weariness there that hit Giles hard. “They’re young yet.”

The Watcher stared at the ex-vampire. It hadn’t happened much recently, but every so often, he was reminded of what Spike had been, of the years that lay on his shoulders. It was history that bound them, the passing of years and of eras, and the understanding that they were not what they had once been. Their eyes met, and Ripper and Spike were in perfect understanding. “Yes, they are,” he agreed finally. Then, looking at the clock, he said, “Go home, Spike. Get some rest. You look as though you could use several days’ worth.”

Spike merely shrugged and smiled, though he did as he was told, shrugging into his jacket. “I won’t tell anyone,” he said abruptly, standing before the door. “An’ you’ll do alright. Sounds more than halfway decent really.”

Giles felt an odd glow of satisfaction that lasted long after Spike had left.

~~~~~

Buffy stood in front of the door to 2C with a feeling of trepidation. It was stupid really. She had seen Spike a couple days ago and he had been fine. At the same time, however, her mom had called to ask her to check on him. Spike didn’t just not show up, and since he didn’t have a phone, it wasn’t like Joyce could call. Buffy was closer to the campus, and without anyone to watch the gallery, Joyce couldn’t leave.  

She hesitated and then knocked, waiting for an answer. After a couple minutes went by, and no one came to the door, she knocked again, a little louder this time. Starting to get really concerned, she briefly considered breaking in, but since that would require actually breaking something, Buffy discarded that idea. There had to be another way inside…

“Can I help you?” Buffy turned to see an oily looking man staring at her. He was looking at her as though he had x-ray vision, and Buffy suppressed a shiver of distaste, reminding herself that she could break his fingers off if he actually tried to touch her.

“Yeah, I’m—” she paused briefly. She’d had lunch with Spike the other day, and while they weren’t dating yet, they were definitely heading in that direction. “I’m his girlfriend,” she said firmly. “He didn’t show up for work today, and he’s not answering his door. I’m worried about him.”

The man leered at her. “Mebbe he just doesn’t want to be disturbed.”

Buffy’s eyes narrowed, and she shot him a glare that had frightened braver men than he. “I don’t think so. Now, can you help me or not?”

“Fine,” the man grumbled, pulling out a set of keys. As the Slayer had hoped, he was the landlord. Spike had described him as “smarmy,” and Buffy thought it was a perfect descriptor. “Just don’t come cryin’ to me if you get an eyeful of somethin’ you don’t want to see.”

Buffy rolled her eyes and huffed impatiently. As if. When the landlord had unlocked the door, Buffy shot him an insincerely saccharine smile, and thanked him, shutting the door firmly behind her. 

“Buffy? What are you doin’ here?” Spike appeared out of his bedroom, looking harried and tired, his face flushed.

“I was checking on you,” she replied. “Mom called me and asked me to stop by when you didn’t show up today.”

Spike shook his head. “Dunno what happened. Must have slept right through the alarm. ‘m on my way now.”

Buffy frowned. Something was off. She marched up to him and put a hand on his forehead, her frown deepening further when she realized how hot he was. Temperature-wise. “Spike, you’ve got a fever. There’s no way you’re going in today. How are you feeling?”

“Fine,” he insisted, pulling back from her. At her look, he sighed. “’ve got a bit of a headache an’ a sore throat,” Spike finally confessed. “An’ the rest of me doesn’t feel all that great either, but I’m perfectly fine, Buffy.”

He picked that moment to sway, dizzy, and Buffy put a hand on his arm. “Right. You’re fine. Sit.” She steered him over to the lone chair in his living room and sat him down. “Spike, I know your boss, and her mom-dar is top of the line.”

“Huh?” He stared at her blankly.

“Her mom-dar,” Buffy explained. “You know, mom radar. The thing that tells moms if their kids are sick, and if they are, if they’re too sick to go to school. Trust me, mom’s going to take one look at you and send you home. You might as well save yourself the trip.”

Spike shook his head. “I should go. She needs me.” It was a weak protest even to his own ears.

“Forget it,” Buffy retorted, though her tone was gentle. “Look, I’ll get you something to drink. You need to keep yourself hydrated. Then I’ll call mom, tell her what’s the what.” She ignored the last of his protests and went into the kitchen to see if she could find some juice for him. Opening the fridge soon revealed that he didn’t have much by the way of food. Two tupperware containers of leftovers were the only things in there.

Buffy opened the other cupboards slowly, not wanting to make a lot of noise to let Spike know she was snooping. Peanut butter and Ramen noodles. She opened another door, found the glasses, and filled it with water. Taking it back to Spike, she asked, “Where’s the nearest payphone?”

“On the corner,” he replied, in between thirsty gulps. “Just up the street.” He had a sudden realization. “How’d you get in, Slayer?”

“Your landlord,” she explained. “I’ll be right back.”

Buffy walked the block to the gas station and plugged a quarter into the phone. “Hey, mom.”

“Hi, honey,” Joyce replied. “How is Spike? Did you find him?”

“He was at home, but it looks like he’s got a pretty nasty case of the flu.” Buffy rolled her eyes, forgetting that her mother couldn’t see the gesture. “He thought he was going to come into work.”

Joyce shook her head. “He should know better than that.”

“That’s what I said,” Buffy replied. “I peeked in the cupboards, and he really doesn’t have much in the way of food either.”

Joyce made a little sound of disapproval. “I wondered,” she stated, though she didn’t go into detail about why she had suspected anything. “Spike can’t stay at his apartment. He doesn’t have a phone, and if he needed help or anything…”

Buffy had already considered that scenario. “I know. I was going to call Giles. I don’t think we should take him to the doctor unless we have to since he really doesn’t have any medical records or anything like that.”

“Go ahead and call Mr. Giles,” Joyce said. “But I think you should take him back to the house. I have an extra bed and he doesn’t. I just think that might be better for everyone.”

Buffy thought about it for a second, and decided that it wasn’t a bad idea. Besides, Giles already had his apartment overrun at all hours with Scoobies. Her mom’s house would be quieter. “Sure, mom. Giles can give both of us a ride over there, and I’ll stay with him this afternoon. Hopefully, he’ll sleep, but it’s no fun being by yourself when you’re sick.”

She said her good-byes and then hung up and called Giles, quickly explaining the situation to him. He agreed to come over immediately, and she headed back to Spike’s apartment. He was half-dozing in the chair when she got back, and Buffy picked the glass up off the floor and put it in the sink.

“Buffy?”

“I’m right here,” she said, coming over to stand next to him. “Mom said don’t even think about coming in, and she wants you at our house so someone can keep an eye on you. Giles is coming over to give his verdict and to give us a ride.”

“Don’t want anyone to make a fuss,” he argued.

Buffy shook her head, touching one of the damp curls lying along his forehead. “It’s not about making a fuss, it’s about taking care of you. You’ve had people take care of you before, haven’t you?” she asked, teasingly.

“Not like this,” he replied, in perfect seriousness.

Buffy put a hand to the side of his face. “Well, get used to it. You’re part of the gang now, so you get taken care of just like everybody else.”

He smiled slightly, and his eyes drifted shut. “I’m just going to get some clothes for you,” Buffy said, but he didn’t reply. She sighed. She remembered being that sick a couple years before, when Angel had been going through his soulless stage. She was hoping, however, that Spike wouldn’t wind up in the hospital like she did.

Buffy managed to get some clean, comfortable clothes for him before Giles came. He knocked on the door and then stepped inside, per Buffy’s instructions. The Watcher looked around the apartment and winced. “Good Lord, I had forgotten how miserable first flats could be,” he muttered. Turning towards Spike, he glanced over at Buffy. “How is he?”

“Why don’t you ask him yourself, old man?” Spike said without opening his eyes. “I might be a bit under the weather, but I’m still capable of answering questions.”

“Well, I guess that answers the question of what kind of patient Spike makes,” Buffy quipped.

Giles smiled and walked over to Spike, placing a hand on his forehead. “You should have told me you were feeling this badly yesterday,” he scolded.

“Wasn’t feelin’ this bad,” Spike replied calmly. “Just not that good.” He looked at Giles with a touch of weary humor. “So what’s the verdict, doc? Will I live?”

“I’m certain of it,” Giles replied. “But I think Buffy has the right idea in wanting to move you to her mother’s house. You should at least be within reach of a phone if you take a sudden turn for the worse.”

“Thought you said I’d be fine,” Spike said suspiciously.

Giles gave him a quelling look. “As Buffy could tell you, the flu is not something to be taken lightly. If the Slayer can find herself hospitalized, a mere human had better take extra precautions.”

~~~~~

Buffy got Spike settled in her bed. The spare room was crowded with things her mom was storing for the gallery, and she had no problem putting Spike in her own room. “Get some sleep,” she advised him. “I’ll be around all afternoon.”

She didn’t have to say anything at all, since Spike was already drifting off into a restless sleep, curled up in a miserable ball under the covers. Buffy winced in sympathy and then went downstairs to talk to Giles. “Okay. Let’s have it,” she said without preamble.

Giles gave her a slight smile and followed her into the kitchen. “Have what?” he asked, though he was fairly certain as to what she meant. They had known each other for too long to not know when one or the other was hiding something. He had been well aware of Buffy’s attempts to distract him the other day, though he hadn’t known what she was trying to accomplish. Giles trusted both Spike and Buffy, though, and so he hadn’t been too worried about what they were trying to do. It turned out that his instincts had been right on target in that instance.

He only hoped that his instincts were not so accurate where it concerned Spike.

“Giles,” Buffy’s voice held an unmistakable note of warning. “You’re more worried about Spike than if it was just the flu. So spill.”

Giles sighed. “I have every reason to believe that it is simply the flu and that he’ll recover just as quickly as anyone else might. It’s his overall health that I’m concerned about.”

“What do you mean?” Buffy asked quietly, starting to feel the first pangs of fear.

“We don’t know what the Initiative used to change Spike, or what condition that left him in.” Giles took his glasses off and started polishing them on his shirt. “There have been a number of changes in the last century, not least of which are vaccinations, which Spike hasn’t had. The flu can be dangerous, and we don’t know what Spike’s immune system is like. We don’t know what kind of immunities he does have, or if the Initiative took any steps to prevent him from getting illnesses that we no longer have to be concerned about.”

Buffy put one hand to her temple and rubbed tiredly. “So what you’re saying is that Spike might have just gotten turned into a human only to die from some illness that he can’t fight off.”

“That isn’t what I said,” Giles replied. “Medical science is much more advanced than it used to be. I’m certain that even if he was to get a serious illness, there would be every possibility of curing him. But his health is a concern of mine, especially since I don’t believe he’s been sleeping or eating well, which certainly doesn’t help.”

Buffy looked away, thinking hard. “Great.”

“Spike’s condition is not the only thing I’m concerned about, however. We need to start thinking about how we are going to track down this Adam, and hopefully destroy him.”

“I know,” Buffy replied. She sighed. “I’ll have to go talk to Riley. He probably won’t be real happy to see me, but we both want Adam stopped. He’ll still help. And while I’m at it, I’ll see if I can get him to dig up some info on what they used on Spike.”

“I think that would be wise,” Giles agreed. “Riley is still our best source of information on Adam and the Initiative.”

Buffy looked over at Giles in sudden inspiration. “Do you think we could do something with Spike’s apartment?”

“Do what?” he asked, puzzled.

Buffy shrugged. “I don’t know, something to make it more homey or something. While he’s here, it would be the perfect opportunity. Like Trading Spaces, only without the trading.”

Giles had no idea what she was talking about, but he could get the general meaning behind her words. “Do you think we should?” he asked doubtfully. “Spike has gone to great lengths to keep certain things private. I’m not sure we should intrude.”

Buffy waved a hand dismissively. “Spike’s too proud for his own good,” she said. “He just doesn’t want to be a burden. If we do it on a strictly voluntary basis, it should be okay. Besides, you saw his place. At the very least, it could use a good coat of paint and a carpet cleaning. That’s not that big of a deal.”

Giles still wasn’t sure what he thought of her idea, but decided to let it go. Buffy would do what she wanted; she usually did. “Very well. I have somewhere to be tonight, but I wouldn’t mind helping out. As long as Spike knows it wasn’t my idea.”

“Chicken,” Buffy teased him. “That’s fine. I’ll talk to Riley tonight. They’re having a party at Lowell House, but I think I can get to him before it gets into full swing.”

“Good,” her Watcher said. “I will feel much better when we know what caused Spike’s present condition. It should help us know what to do for him. You’ll stay with him this afternoon?”

“Till mom gets home tonight,” Buffy said. “I don’t want him to be alone while he’s this sick.”

~~~~~

Spike dreamt.

He stood on a swinging bridge that hung across a chasm. He looked down, and couldn’t see the bottom; it seemed to go on forever. To his left, standing on the edge, was Spike, the vampire—rash, perpetually angry, and yet filled with a violent joie de vivre  that spilled over and left a wake of blood behind him. On the other side, to his right, stood William, the man—quiet, mousy, ineffectual William, who would have made someone a doting husband and indulgent father.

The demon called out to him. “You know you can’t escape your true nature. You were in the darkness for a century. Do you really think you can leave that behind? It’s not possible.”

The man called out to him. “You belong to the light now. There is no point in sullying your thoughts with evil things. A gentleman keeps his mind on that which is good and true and pure.”

“You don’t believe that Victorian shit,” the demon sneered. “The darkness is the place for you. You know you feel it in your soul.”

“You’re human now, a man. You must act like a man,” William called.

Bringing his hands up to his ears to drown out their voices, Spike howled a wordless cry. What was he? Who was he? He was Spike, and not-Spike. He was William, and not-William. He was both. He was nothing. “I won’t choose,” he said, screaming his defiance. “I am both or nothing.”

“Then be nothing,” they both said in unison, and the ropes holding the bridge broke on both sides at the same time. Spike fell—

—and landed on his back in a graveyard. He had known Sunnydale like the back of his hand, and he recognized this cemetery as one of those he had haunted on occasion. He had followed the Slayer there.

As if his thought had conjured her out of thin air, Buffy appeared, looming over him, a stake held firmly in her right hand. She dropped to her knees, straddling him, but there was no softness in her face. She was all business. “Buffy, no—” he protested.

“You’re beneath me,” she replied, coolly, concisely, and the stake slammed down into his chest. She pulled it out, and it made a sucking sound as it left. Then, as casually as if she were plucking a daisy, she reached down into the wound and pulled out his heart. “Did you ever think you had a chance with me?” she asked, and then crushed his heart in her hand.

Spike looked on in horror as she seemed to dissolve, and he put his hands up to the wound in his chest. They were covered in blood, but now it was not his, but others’, belonging to the thousands he had killed. He scrambled to his feet, terror overwhelming him. The faces of his victims  surrounded him, crowding in out of the darkness, and he tried to plead with them, tried to tell them that it hadn’t been his fault. That he had been a demon in a good man’s clothing.

There were no excuses that could wash away the blood on his hands, however, nothing he could do or say to make it all right again. He had been a monster, a demon, and he had loved every minute of it.

Out of the crowd of faces came Drusilla, then Angelus. They walked side by side, slowly. “I missed my brave knight,” Dru crooned. “Daddy promised to get him back for me.”

“No,” Spike protested, trying to run. He found his feet fastened to the ground. Angelus came around behind him, holding him in place as Drusilla sunk her fangs into his neck. “You’ll be one of us again, my boy,” Angelus murmured, and Spike felt his life slip away from him with a sense of despair.

He woke to find himself back in the Initiative labs, the metal table beneath him cold on his bare skin. He was tied down, unable to move, unable to speak. They had stolen his autonomy, his voice, everything that made him what he was. Again, he watched as the doctor sliced a thin red line into his chest. Again, he watched as the green goo was poured over the cut. This time, however, nothing happened. There was no change.

“This one can’t be fixed,” the faceless doctor said, his voice echoing in the cavernous lab. “We’ll need to open him up to see what the problem is.”

The scalpel descended once again, and Spike struggled against what held him, tried to cry out, tried—

The cold wetness on his face shocked him into wakefulness. He stared at Buffy, who was regarding him with a look of concern. “Are you okay? That must have been some nightmare. I’ve been trying to wake you up for the last few minutes.”

Spike shook his head, still speechless for the moment. It had been a dream; he had been tangled in the sheets. Buffy had a glass of water in her hand, not a stake. The Slayer put the glass down and quickly helped him untangle himself. “I’ll need to change the pillowcase,” she said, as though he had replied to her previous question. “I didn’t know what else to do. I tried shaking you, and I tried calling your name I don’t know how many times.”

Spike was still silent. “Spike, why don’t you go take a nice cool bath?” Buffy suggested softly. “Your fever’s still really high, and we need to get it down.”

“Am I beneath you?” he asked hoarsely, still expecting to see a stake appear in her hand. The dream had felt that real.

Buffy pursed her lips. “I’m never gonna hear the end of that one, am I?” she asked. “No. You’re not beneath me.” A rather dirty thought ran through Buffy’s head as she pictured Spike beneath her in a very different way than he meant. She flushed slightly. “Come on. We really need to get that fever down. I think it’s playing with your brain.”

Spike didn’t reply, but Buffy took his silence as acquiescence. At least he was mobile enough to get himself to the bathroom. Buffy started the water, making sure it was cool. “Okay, you soak for a while, and I’ll see if I can’t get something for us both to eat.”

“I was a monster,” he whispered.

Buffy paused at the door. She understood how you could get freaked out by your own dreams. She’d had a few Slayer-dreams that had pretty much wigged her for days afterward. “Spike, it was just a dream. I don’t know what you saw, but—”

“I was a monster,” Spike repeated.

Buffy came to kneel in front of him. “Yes, you were. But not anymore. Spike, you’re sick right now. You don’t feel good, and you just had a really nasty nightmare. It’s natural that you would feel out of sorts.”

“How can you even look at me?” he asked, despair written on his features.

Buffy smiled a little, trying to lighten the mood. “Well, it doesn’t hurt that you’re easy on the eyes.” When he didn’t return her smile, she gave an exasperated sigh. “Spike, do you trust me?”

“Wha—yeah, ‘course,” he said, still hazy from the dreams and fever.

“Good. Then trust me when I say you aren’t rational right now. We can talk about this again after you get better.” Buffy stared into his eyes. “Deal?”

A sheepish smile spread over Spike’s face. “I’m bein’ a bit of a ponce, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Buffy agreed. She ran a hand down the side of his face.

“This really sucks.”

“Being sick always does.”

“Buffy, I don’t know who I am.”

Impulsively, she kissed him on the forehead, a tender, maternal gesture. “It’s going to be fine, Spike. I promise.”

~~~~~

Buffy stood in front of the door to Riley’s room. The guys she had seen on her way in had been cool, though no one had been outright rude. However, it was probably a good thing she hadn’t run into Forrest. While she had no doubt that she could take him, beating up one of Riley’s bestest buds probably wouldn’t be conducive to getting his help.

She knocked timidly, and then entered when she heard him call to enter. “Hey,” she said.

“Buffy.” Riley’s eyes were cool and remote. “What are you doing here?”

“We need to talk—about the Initiative and about Adam. Do you have some time?”

Riley regarded her calmly. “Not here,” he replied. “It’s not safe.”

They walked outside through the campus, side by side, though not touching. Buffy had left her mom in charge of Spike. After the cool bath and Nyquil, he seemed to be doing better, but she had warned Joyce about the nightmares. Her mom had assured her that she could handle a few bad dreams. “So what’s up?” Riley asked, breaking the silence.

“I need your help. We need to figure out how we’re going to stop Adam.” Buffy turned to face him. “You said you were going to help us.”

Riley stared at her, and then nodded slowly. He still felt some resentment towards Buffy, but he was having a hard time blaming her at this point. He was also beginning to see that she had been right, that they inhabited different worlds. Just look at what had happened with Faith: there was a world out there he wasn’t sure he was ready for, or that he even wanted to know about. There was a world beyond the government-sanctioned demon-fighting he did—a world of magic and shades of gray. In this case, however, they had the same goal, to prevent Adam from hurting more innocents. That was something they could both agree was worth fighting for.

“I’ll tell you what I know,” Riley agreed, filling her in on what they had found out about Adam’s construction.

“So he’s pretty much invincible unless you can get rid of the power core?” Buffy asked. “I’m not loving that scenario.”

Riley nodded. “We haven’t figured out how to stop him either,” he agreed. “It seems Professor Walsh did almost too good a job on the design.”

Buffy laughed a little bitterly. “Why am I not surprised by that?” She was silent for a minute. “We’ll keep working on it from our end. Maybe we can find something that you’re overlooking.”

“I hope you can,” Riley said sincerely. “Anything else I can do for you?”

“Yeah, there is,” Buffy replied, looking over at him. “Is there any way you can get information on what was done to Spike?”

Riley’s face hardened. “Buffy—”

“Look, I know you don’t like him, Riley, but he’s human now.” Buffy forged ahead. “He’s sick. Giles thinks it could get more serious because he doesn’t have the immunities we do, and we don’t know what his health was like when he was turned. If we at least knew how it was done, it might give us some place to start.”

Riley looked away. “I’ll do what I can,” he finally promised. “I’m not sure Professor Walsh even knew what they did exactly, but I’ll see what I can find out.”

“Thank you,” Buffy said softly, touching him lightly on the arm.

Riley gave her a serious look. “Don’t mention it.”

~~~~~

Spike woke slowly to find Tara at Buffy’s desk, working on homework. “Tara?”

“Hey. How are you feeling?” she asked shyly.

“Better. ‘Least I don’t feel like I want to die anymore.” Spike pulled himself into a sitting position and grabbed the glass of water on the bedside table, drinking thirstily. He had slept restlessly, and every time he woke up there was someone there. It wasn’t like they were hovering or anything, but Buffy had been there until Joyce showed up. Then Joyce had made soup for him. And now Tara was there to watch over him. “’s there something’ I should know about?” Spike asked her. “Like somethin’ about me dyin’, because no one wants me to be alone.”

Tara smiled. “You’re not dying,” she assured him. “But I think Buffy was worried about you having another one of those nightmares.”

Spike frowned. There had been another dream earlier, about his mother. He had dreamt of her, of her singing to him, and of turning her and everything she had said to him. It had been far from a pleasant dream, and yet another reminder of the dichotomy of William and Spike. How could he ever hope to reconcile the two? “They’ve been a bit worse lately,” he admitted.

“It’s probably the fever,” Tara said wisely. “Drink this.” She pressed a mug into his hand. “My mom used to make this for me when I got the flu.”

Spike took a suspicious sniff and then a hesitant sip. After the first taste, he gulped it down quickly. It really didn’t taste too bad. “That’s alright.”

“My mom used to say that there wasn’t any reason for medicine to taste bad,” Tara replied.

“Might have liked your mum then,” Spike replied. “She still around?” Tara’s smile faltered, and Spike immediately realized his mistake. “’m sorry, Glinda.”

“I-it’s okay,” Tara replied. “You didn’t know.” She sat down on the edge of the bed. “Spike, why do you call me that?”

“What, Glinda?” He gave her a rather charming smile. “’s what you are, yeah? The good witch?”

Tara’s face fell. Spike’s inadvertant reminder of her mother, paired with his nickname for her broke down the defenses she usually carried around. “I’m not.”

He frowned, hating that she was suddenly sad. “What? Not good, or not a witch?”

“I’m n-not g-g-good.” The hated stutter was back when it had all but disappeared recently around Willow and Spike anyway.

Spike grew more serious. “Luv, you’re one of the best ones I know. Why would you say somethin’ like that?”

She shook her head, refusing to answer, but Spike wasn’t about to just let it go. It was obvious that whatever the problem was it had her scared stiff. He reached out for her hand and grasped it firmly. “I won’t tell anybody,” he said quietly. “’f you need to get it off your chest. I won’t say anything.”

“I’m part demon.”

Tara’s voice was barely audible, and only Spike’s close proximity allowed him to hear her words. At first, he just stared at her in disbelief; then he started to laugh. He just couldn’t help himself. If there were anyone in the world less likely to be evil or a demon, Spike had never met them. She stared at him, hurt, and tried to tug her hand away, but he wouldn’t let go. “There isn’t anyone less likely to be a demon, Glinda,” he said gently. “An’ trust me, you’re not one. ‘ve met I don’t know how many, an’ none of ‘em looked like you.”

Tara shook her head stubbornly. “I-it’s in my b-blood. All the w-w-women in my family are p-part d-demon.”

Spike blinked, beginning to get the picture, barely refraining from snarling. No wonder the girl was so shy. “Luv,” he said gently. “Do you have any siblings?”

“A-a b-brother.”

“An’ he’s not part demon?” When she shook her head, Spike rolled his eyes. “Well, there you have it. Demon blood ‘s just like anything else. You might find a few half breeds here an’ there, an’ some of ‘em can pass for human. Some can’t. But you don’t have sibs from the same parents, an’ have one part demon an’ one not. Doesn’t work that way. Trust me. Whoever gave you that line was a lyin’ bastard.”

Tara’s eyes flew up at his harsh words, but he was looking at her with such compassion she wanted to cry. She had no idea why she told Spike, of all people, what her deepest fears were. Perhaps she thought he might understand, since he had been a demon once himself. “Th-that’s w-what m-my f-f-father always said.”

“An’ I won’t take back what I said,” Spike said fiercely. “’sides, even if it were true, ‘s not about the blood runnin’ through your veins, it’s about what you do. You do right, that’s all that matters.”

“Do you really believe that?” she questioned.

“’course I do,” Spike replied. “I wouldn’t have said it otherwise.”

“No,” Tara said. “Do you believe it?”

Spike realized that she wasn’t just asking about what he believed about her, but what he believed about himself. “Now that’s entirely different,” he protested.

“Is it?” she challenged him.

He glared at her. “You don’t know what I’ve done.”

“I don’t care what you’ve done,” Tara declared. “I know what you do now.”

Spike stared at her, and then broke out into a reluctant smile. “You twisted my words around.”

“It seemed like good advice,” she replied.

“I’ll try if you will,” he promised. “But you should tell, Red. She loves you, you know?”

“I’ll try.” There was a pause, during which Spike felt himself drifting off again. “Spike?”

“Yeah, luv?”

“Thank you.”

Spike simply smiled. And whether it was the tea, or the conversation, he slept sweetly after that.

~~~~~

“Okay,” Buffy said. “Everybody have their assignments?”

“Bedroom, check.”

“Bathroom, check.”

“Kitchen, check.”

“Good, and I’ve got the living room.” Buffy surveyed her troops, consisting of Xander, Willow, Anya, and Giles. Buffy wasn’t sure what Xander had promised his girlfriend to get her here and do anything like real work, but an extra pair of hands was always nice.

Really, decorating for Spike was out of the question, mostly because no one had any idea of what he might like. On the other hand, painting was perfectly doable, and with more people to help, the job would get done a heck of a lot faster. Besides, Buffy was certain that the apartment would look so much better newly-painted, and she had chosen very neutral shades for the walls. With everybody pitching in, both with their money and their time, it was no trouble.

Then, with the help of her mother’s steam-cleaner vacuum (good for everything that might get in the carpets, including blood), the place would be spotless, ready for whatever Spike decided needed to be done.

There was plenty of chatter and good-natured ribbing as they got started, and sure enough, they were done in no time. The apartment was not that big. “Well, I hope Spike appreciates this,” Xander complained cheerfully. “Because my arm hurts.”

“Maybe you should work out more often,” Buffy teased, appreciating the mellow, creamy ivory color she’d gotten to put on the walls.

“Just because you’re the Slayer—” Xander replied, threatening her with a wet paintbrush.

Giles shook his head. “We should clear this out. I’m sure Tara doesn’t want to be stuck at Spike’s bedside all day.”

“We’d probably better leave the windows open too,” Willow suggested. “Otherwise, Spike’s going to be overwhelmed with paint fumes.”

“Good idea, Wil,” Buffy said. “Giles, you mind if I catch a ride back to the house with you?”

“No, not at all.” They packed up the paint cans, drop cloths, and brushes.

“You’ll tell Tara I’ll see her later tonight?” Willow asked Buffy.

“Sure.” Buffy and Giles rode together quietly for a while.

“Riley did tell you he would get the information?” Giles asked.

Buffy nodded. “There’s more. On patrol last night, I ran into a demon-vampire tag team.”

Giles glanced over at her. “Are you certain? Vampires and demons do not, as a rule, work together.”

“That’s what I said,” Buffy replied. “And trust me, taking on a vampire and demon by yourself? Not fun.”

Giles shook his head. “Demons look on vampires as half-breeds. There is a great deal of hatred between the two.”

“Well, tell that to the team I ran into last night,” Buffy huffed. “Giles, you know who’s behind this.”

“Adam.” Giles put a hand up to his head and rubbed wearily. “This makes it that much more imperative that we find a way to stop him. If he continues to unite demons and vampires, I fear it will be that much more difficult to end this.”

“I know, Giles. You haven’t seen him, though. Adam isn’t like anything or anyone we’ve ever faced before.” She gave a short laugh. “I’m not even sure a rocket launcher or blowing up a building will do it.”

“We don’t have a building to blow up this time,” Giles reminded her. “Not without a high risk of getting others caught in the middle.”

“I know.” They pulled up in front of the house. “Thanks for helping today, Giles.”

“It was my pleasure,” he replied. “Let Tara know that I’ll be happy to give her a ride as well.”

“Sure.”

~~~~~

Spike insisted on going back to his apartment the next day. Buffy insisted on walking him back, wanting to see the look on his face when he saw the paint job on his apartment. “I feel fine.”

Buffy had rolled her eyes, but didn’t argue with him. His fever was gone, and while he was still recovering, he would be fine on his own. “All right. I won’t argue with you.”

“’bout time,” he grumbled, but he was smiling. “Buffy, I—I really appreciate this, you lookin’ after me, I mean.”

“So you really are feeling better?” Buffy asked. “You were pretty freaked the other day.”

Spike shrugged. “It’s hard, Buffy. It’s—” He stopped, unsure of whether or not he should go on. “Before, it was just tryin’ to figure out what bein’ human means. Now, ‘m just tryin’ to figure out what bein’ me means.”

Buffy looked off into the distance. “You’re a good guy, Spike. You’ve changed. That’s all that matters.”

“Is it really, luv?” he asked. “After everything I’ve done, can you still say that?”

Buffy reached over and grabbed his hand. “Yeah, I can. One thing I’ve learned being the Slayer, is that right now is what matters. You don’t always have a lot of time, so what you do now is all that’s important.”

“Carpe diem, huh?” Spike asked.

“Pretty much.” They had reached his apartment, and Buffy held him back. “Wait, Spike.” She took the keys from his hand. “Eyes closed.”

He raised a scarred eyebrow. “What’s this?”

“Just shut ‘em.” He sighed and closed his eyes. Buffy unlocked the door and tugged him inside. “Okay, you can open them now.”

Spike opened his eyes warily and then took a deep breath. “Who painted?”

“We did. You like?”

Looking around the apartment incredulously, he shook his head. “Buffy, this—this is—” Spike stopped. The whole place looked cleaner, brighter, almost like a brand new apartment.

“Oh, and Mom filled up your fridge. There isn’t a ton in there, but it’s enough to get you by for a while.” She grinned at him.

“You didn’t have to do this,” he said softly.

“Spike,” Buffy pulled him around to face her. “It’s not about having to do something. We wanted to do it. You’ve been a lot of help, both to mom and the gang, not to mention Giles. This is the kind of thing people do for their friends.”

Spike had never had friends, not when he was human. And vampires didn’t make friends, they had minions, or perhaps families, but it wasn’t the same. He wanted to laugh, and he wanted to cry. “What are we, luv?”

“I think we’re moving into the dating stage of the game,” Buffy replied. “You think you’re up for the challenge?” she teased.

He gave her a wolfish grin and then kissed her thoroughly, showing her exactly how ready he was to move onto the next step. It seemed he still remembered how to kiss, because when he pulled back, Buffy was looking just a little bit stunned. “Oh, wow,” she murmured. “Better try that again, just to make sure.”

Spike had no problem obliging her.

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