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 3: Silent Nights

“I will dedicate and sacrifice my everything for just a second’s worth of how my story’s ending. And I wish I could know if the directions that I take and all the choices that I make won’t end up all for nothing. Show me what it’s for, make me understand it. I’ve been crawling in the dark looking for the answer. Is there something more than what I’ve been handed? I’ve been crawling in the dark looking for the answer.” ~Hoobastank, “Crawling in the Dark”

Giles was in a quandary. He had a friend coming in from out of town, and there really was no way he could have both Spike and Olivia stay at his flat at the same time. For one thing, the activities he had planned held no room for a third player. At all. For another, it would just be terribly awkward, and Giles had no desire for an awkward weekend when he really wanted something relaxing.

On the other hand, Spike’s mental state was still rather fragile, and kicking him out, even for a short time, would not be conducive to his stability. This meant he both needed to make plans to find Spike a place to stay and had to break the news to him gently. The girls’ dorm was out of the question for rather obvious reasons, and that left Xander.

Xander wanted none of it. “Giles!” he protested in a low whisper, casting glances over at Spike who was sitting next to Willow on the couch. “There’s no way.”

“Xander, I’m sorry to have to ask, but there’s no one else. My friend will be here the day after tomorrow, and I can’t very well just toss Spike out into the street.”

The dark haired man grimaced. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Spike. Well, he hadn’t liked Spike-the-vampire, of course, but this Spike was different. Quieter, for one thing, and a lot more skittish. Xander thought that today was the first time Spike hadn’t disappeared immediately into another part of the apartment, or outside, as soon as any of the gang made an appearance. And the only reason he hadn’t left abruptly today was that Willow had made a point of asking him to stay.

“Look, Giles, I’d love to help you out, but Anya and I already made plans.” He lowered his voice even further. “This is the first girl who’s actually wanted to spend time with me since Cordelia. Don’t ask me to screw things up with her.”

Giles blinked at Xander, finally sighing. Since he was essentially trying to kick Spike out for the same reasons Xander wouldn’t allow him to stay, he couldn’t really argue. “Fine, but—”

“I can stay in my car.” Giles looked around. Spike was standing right behind him with a tight expression on his face. Giles didn’t think he was precisely angry, but he was— “I can take care of myself.” Proud, that was it. Spike was proud. And unwilling to be a burden.

Willow was next to him, and she looked from one to another, sensing the tension and wanting to defuse it. “What’s going on, Giles?”

“I have a friend coming in from out of town,” he admitted reluctantly, not willing to throw his personal life open to the public. “She will be staying with me for a few days, and—”

“Is she an orgasm friend?” Anya asked cheerfully.

Giles heard a snort of laughter, swiftly stifled, from Spike. Giles didn’t know whether to be put out or grateful. It was the first time he’d heard Spike laugh at all. “Yes, I suppose one might call her that,” he replied stiffly. “In any case, Spike needs another place to stay for a few days.”

“I told you, I’ll stay in my car,” Spike said. He was furious that everyone seemed to think him incapable of making any kind of decisions for himself. Giles meant well, but Spike was beginning to feel a little caged in.

Willow’s face brightened. “Oh, why doesn’t he stay at Buffy’s house?”

“Huh?”

“What?”

Both Buffy and Spike spoke simultaneously. The Slayer, to this point, had been studiously, and obviously, ignoring Spike’s existence. She shot the ex-vampire a glare, and then looked over at Willow. “At my house?”

Willow looked both surprised and a little angry. “Why not? Your mom’s going out of town tomorrow. She already called and asked if we would check on things a couple times while she’s on her trip. If Spike stays there, it’ll be like having a house-sitter. Everybody wins.”

Buffy looked like she was about to protest again, but Giles cut her off. “I think that’s a brilliant idea, Willow,” he said firmly. “I doubt Joyce would have a problem with Spike looking after her house while she’s out of town. Buffy, why don’t you call her and ask?” When Buffy stared at him sullenly, Giles pulled his glasses off and started to clean them again. “Or perhaps I should be the one to call.”

“I’ll do it,” she replied, shooting a nasty look at Spike as she went over to the phone.

Willow could see Spike’s jaw clenching, and she laid a gentle hand on his arm, even as Giles tried to convince him that staying in his car would be a very bad idea. “You would be vulnerable,” the older man reminded him. “Not just to the soldiers, but what if the police spotted you? With no identification—”

“Yeah, I know. I’d be in deep shit.” Willow’s eyebrows went straight up. That was the first time she’d heard Spike swear. The changes in his character were obvious, and overwhelming, but there seemed to be a little of the vampire left after all.

“Spike—”

“Bugger off,” he growled, jerking his arm away from Willow’s restraining hand and stomping towards the front door. Giles, Xander and Willow shared a look before Buffy came back to join them.

“Where’d the bleached wonder go?” she asked. “I’m supposed to tell him that mom would be happy to have him stay.” The Slayer’s tone was an unsubtle mix of the nasty and sarcastic, and Willow was glad that Spike had left.

“He went outside,” she said. “I’ll go let him know.” She sighed. Ever the peacemaker.

Spike was sitting on the edge of the flower bed, wrists wresting on his knees, staring down at the ground. “Buffy’s mom said she’d be happy to have you stay there.”

“Great.” There was a long silence, and he said quietly. “I can bloody well take care of myself, you know. Been doin’ it for well over a hundred years now. Not like I’m suddenly incompetent.”

Willow came to sit down next to him, thinking it must be pretty sucky to suddenly have your entire way of life uprooted and pulled out from under you. “It’s different now,” she said quietly. “There’s nothing wrong with needing a little help, Spike.”

“The way she—you all look at me, like I—” he stopped, having already given away too much.

“Buffy’s just mad.”

He looked over at her with blue eyes that swirled with a heady mix of emotions. Anger, fear, hurt, loneliness. “I didn’t expect her to suddenly be my mate, not with everythin’ I’ve done, but what’s she so brassed off about now?” Spike asked, honestly bewildered.

“Because you’re human,” Willow said quietly, having already figured it out for herself. “You’re human—and Angel’s not.”

Spike’s mouth opened in surprise and he frowned. “I’d switch places with that poof in a minute,” he protested. “Wasn’t like I asked for this!”

Willow shrugged. “Think about it, Spike. The vampire she loves is still a vampire, and she can’t be with him. The vampire she hated… It might not be logical, but that’s how it is.”

“She tell you that?” he asked.

Willow gave him a wry smile. “I’ve been Buffy’s friend for a long time, Spike. I didn’t need to ask.”

“’course.” He looked up as Buffy stalked outside.

“Mom said she wants you to come over tonight,” she announced. “She wants to make sure you know where everything is.” Buffy’s tone clearly said that she didn’t really care if Spike knew where everything was, or if he wound up sleeping on the street and starving to death.

“When do you want to leave?” he asked as evenly as he could manage. Buffy merely lifted an eyebrow and tapped the toe of her boot on the ground in reply. “Right,” he muttered. “Let me get my things together.”

Willow declined to ride with them, already feeling as though she was in a precarious position. Buffy was her best friend and her roommate. Spike was someone she was rapidly coming to think of as a friend. Or, at least he was someone she wouldn’t mind having as a friend. She’d always had a thing for the underdog. But riding in the backseat of his car with the tension between them as thick as it was—no thanks.

Spike drove them both to the Summers’ residence, conscientiously following all the traffic laws. He had no desire to get pulled over, and no reason to try and impress the Slayer with his driving abilities. Actually, he had the sinking feeling that nothing he could do would impress her at this point.

Pulling up in front of the house and parking the DeSoto in the street, he put the car in park. Buffy was reaching for the door handle when his voice stopped her. “Look, Sl—Buffy. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything I’ve done to you in the past.”

Buffy turned to look at him, but her face gave nothing away, hazel eyes cool. “Fine, Spike. You’re sorry.”

The irritation he had been feeling for days suddenly spilled over. “Bloody hell, Slayer!” he burst out. “I get that you have reasons to hate me, and most of them are pretty good. But I’m not a vampire anymore! Don’t know who I am, but I’m not that Spike! So what’s your problem? What have I done that’s so royally pissed you off that you’re lookin’ at me like I’m dirt under your shoe?”

Her face didn’t change; if anything it only became harder. Spike hadn’t thought that was even possible. Her voice, when she spoke, was sharp enough to cut glass. “Have you ever thought that you don’t have to do anything, Spike? That it’s who you are? It doesn’t matter if you’re vampire or human. You’re beneath me.”

Spike sat frozen. He was suddenly back in a Victorian drawing room, baring his soul to a heartless young woman. Hearing the laughter of the others as a dim backdrop to her words. For one brief ghastly moment, he was William the Bloody Awful Poet again. Looking up through eyes that threatened to overflow, he could see Buffy through the clear patch in the windshield, impatiently tapping the toe of her boot. Spike took a deep breath and brought himself back under control. If there was one thing he’d learned in over a century of living—or unliving—you never let ‘em see you cry.

Buffy stayed long enough to see him in the door, kiss Joyce on the cheek, and say hello and good-bye in the same breath. Needless to say, she didn’t say anything at all to Spike. He stayed standing uneasily in the entryway, still not quite sure what to do with himself.

“Come in, Spike,” Joyce said warmly, noticing his discomfort. “I’ve cleared out the spare room for you a bit. There’s not a lot of space, but at least the bed’s free.”

“’s okay,” he mumbled. “’preciate you lettin’ me stay here on such short notice.” Spike remembered that he was supposed to be polite most of the time, but he hadn’t quite gotten the hang of it yet. After all, it was a skill he hadn’t needed for well over a century.

Joyce smiled in reply, laying a friendly hand on his arm. “Nonsense. I’ll be happy to know someone’s looking after things while I’m out of town. I usually ask Buffy to check on the house occasionally while I’m gone, but she’s so busy, you know.”

“Yeah,” Spike replied, not really sure what to say to that. Buffy didn’t let him in on her plans or her life.

“Well, why don’t I show you where things are?” she suggested. “I know you’ve been to the house before, but I don’t think you’ve ever gotten the full tour.”

Spike nodded and then proceeded to follow her around the house. She showed him where to put his bag, and he found himself grateful that he wasn’t staying in Buffy’s old room. The way things stood between the two of them, he had the feeling he would find himself on the pointy end of a stake if he made so bold as to sleep in her bed. Human or not.

Once she had shown him the house, Joyce led him back into the kitchen. “Have you eaten yet?” she asked.

Spike hesitated. He hadn’t eaten, it was past seven, and he was starving. On the other hand, he really didn’t want to be a burden, so he said he was fine. Of course, his stomach chose just that moment to growl rather loudly, yet another body function he was still trying to get used to.

“I’ll take that as a no,” Joyce said with something of a smile.

“I don’t want to be a bother,” Spike protested.

Joyce raised her eyebrows. “You’re hardly a bother, Spike. Besides, I usually eat alone. It will be nice to have company for once. I was hoping that Buffy might stay, but I know she had to run off.”

Spike didn’t tell her that it was on his account her daughter had no desire to stay. There wasn’t much of a point, and he didn’t want to sound as though he was feeling sorry for himself, even if perhaps he was. Moreover, he could hear the loneliness in her voice, and it was the same note he’d heard in Giles’ words every so often, talking about the Slayer and her friends. Neither of the adults were an integral part of things anymore. And while that independence was a good thing, it also changed the dynamics of everyday life in a way that was sometimes painful for those left behind.

“It’ll be nice to eat someone else’s cooking,” he said, striving for the chitchat he seemed to have so much trouble with now. “Giles does his best, but he’s no chef.”

She smiled at him. “Well, I’m sure he likes the company as much as I do.”

Spike shrugged. “Bit hard for him to toss me out when I turned up at his door like a stray,” he replied dismissively. “He just doesn’t know what else to do with me at this point, I guess.”

Joyce looked at him sharply, her hazel eyes catching what others might miss: the lines on his face that hadn’t been there before, the dark circles under his eyes, the set of his jaw that spoke of a perpetual tension. It was rather obvious to her that Spike was desperately unhappy, even as he tried to shrug it off. “Mmm,” was her rather noncommittal reply, knowing when to leave well enough alone. “How does pasta sound?” she asked.

It was an easy dinner to put together. Joyce cooked and kept the topics light, refusing to let Spike help. She had the feeling that what he really needed was a little mothering, and so she did exactly that. Telling him about the gallery, asking about Giles and the others, finally setting the plate in front of him as he sat at the kitchen island. “You didn’t have to do this,” he said quietly, his emotions again threatening to overwhelm him.

“I wanted to,” was all Joyce said. She waited until he was more than halfway done with his meal before asking the question. In some ways, Spike was easier to deal with than Buffy. Her daughter had always been a little alien to her, while this man was an open book.

“Could I ask you a question?”

The tone was innocent, and Spike had been lulled into complacency by the good food and company. “Sure,” he replied around a mouthful of pasta. “This is bloody brilliant, by the way.”

“Thanks,” she answered, amused by his boyish enthusiasm. “What’s your name?”

Spike looked up in surprise. “You know my name.”

“Not your real name.”

There was a long moment of silence, before Spike finally asked suspiciously, “Why?”

“Because I’d like to know,” Joyce said easily. “And somehow I have the feeling that Spike wasn’t the name your mother gave you.”

Spike frowned. It certainly wasn’t, and his mother had probably spun in her grave—“You look like her, sometimes,” he whispered.

“Who do I look like, Spike?” Joyce asked.

Blue eyes never leaving her face, he shook his head. “William. That’s what she called me. Sometimes, when the light—you look like her a bit.”

“What happened to her?” Joyce wondered if the key to the man in front of her wasn’t the answer to that question.

Anguish and guilt raged in Spike’s face, but he didn’t say anything. Joyce hesitated, and then changed tacks. “How old were you?”

“Twenty-five, I think,” he murmured. “No, not quite that. It was a couple months shy of my birthday when—”

“What happened?”

He shrugged, trying to shrug off the emotions that seemed to plague him at the same time. Spike had never been one to hide his feelings, but it was different now. There were too many things that could give him away. It was too hard to keep a poker face. “Went to a party,” he finally said. “There was a girl there. Thought I was in love with her, but she didn’t feel the same way. Told me so.” The scars were still visible, shining through his eyes in almost tangible pain. “Ran out crying like a bloody ponce. Dru found me. ‘sall.”

“What was it like?” When his gaze seemed to shutter over, Joyce reached out to touch his hand. “William. Tell me, please. Buffy never lets me in, and I want to know a little at least. I’ve never had the chance to ask before.” Spike paused again, and this time his face flushed a little with embarrassment. “Trust me, I think I’ve probably heard it all.”

He gave a little laugh that sounded more like a snort, and replied, “’s like the best sex you’ve ever had. Like nothin’ else you’ve ever experienced, all beautiful and grand. Feels so good and hurts so bad all at the same time, yeah?” When Joyce nodded, he continued, the words rolling off his tongue. It felt so good just to say it, to be able to speak what had never been spoken of to someone who would not be rushing off to put it in a little book somewhere. As grateful as he was to Giles, Spike sometimes thought that he was a lot like a fine specimen, an example of when the impossible happens and a vampire becomes human.

“They buried me in Potter’s Field,” he said, fingers playing absently with his fork. “Dug myself up to find Dru waitin’ for me. We went back to my house for clothes and such.” Spike took a deep, necessary breath. “Mum—mum was ill. Consumption they called it back then, but she was dyin’.”

“You killed her.” It was a statement of fact, not a question or an accusation. Joyce could see the truth written all over his expressive face.

“I loved her.” It was said with such simplicity, Joyce could feel tears in her own eyes. “I felt so bloody good. Like I was on top of the world, never had to worry about one of those pathetic sods who were always—” Spike stopped again, not wanting to reveal too much. “Wanted her to be with me always, so I turned her. And then she wasn’t my mum anymore.”

There was more to the story, but Joyce didn’t push, not when she could see Spike struggling desperately for control. “Will you be okay?”

“Sure. ‘course I will,” he said, brushing off her question with a hint of his old arrogance.

“She must have loved you so very much,” Joyce whispered, thinking that from his omissions that he must have been an only child, and that it had just been he and his mother. Thinking about how much she loved Buffy, with the kind of love only a mother knows for her sole child. Seeing in Spike’s eyes how very much he had loved her.

Joyce’s unequivocal statement unwittingly loosed the dam. The emotions he had been trying so hard to hold back for days burst free, first as a slow trickle as the tears began to roll down his face, then he broke down as the floodgates opened. The sobs that tore from his chest were almost frightening in their intensity. “I don’t think I can do this,” he gasped. “I don’t—I can’t.” He felt Joyce’s arms come around him as she drew him to her chest, holding and rocking him until he calmed.

When he finally pulled back, it was both with reluctance and a sense of shame; reluctance because it had felt so good to be held like that, shame because he felt weak for wanting it. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I got you a bit damp.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Joyce said with a smile, smoothing back an errant curl from his forehead. “I never get a chance to mother anyone anymore. It’s nice to know I haven’t lost my touch.”

Spike rewarded her attempt at humor with a watery smile. “Thanks, mum.”

The name was meant as a joke, but it held a reality behind it that was nothing to laugh at. “Will you really be okay?” she asked, concern overshadowing the humor. “Because I can still cancel my trip.”

The ex-vampire stared at her. “You’d do that for me?”

“Of course,” she replied, no hesitation in her voice. “I’d worry about you too much.”

He shook his head. “I’ll be alright. Just knowin’ you’d stay—” The smile he gave her this time was more successful, and he looked down at his plate, still half-full of pasta. “I made your dinner get cold.”

“I’ll just stick it in the microwave for a minute,” Joyce replied. They ate the rest of the meal in silence, both of them caught up in their own thoughts. Joyce was by no means certain that Spike was okay. Even when he’d been here before, crying over his hot chocolate for Drusilla, he had not seemed so broken.

Joyce had always had a fondness for the lost ones. She had genuinely liked Faith, would have loved to have been able to save her. But the dark-haired Slayer had, in many ways, been too far gone for her to reach. Plus, there were other events that had conspired to send Faith off the deep end. Spike seemed like her: all hard edges, but with a deep vulnerability that shone out of blue eyes like a Siren’s call.

Spike, for his part, was utterly embarrassed at having cried on Joyce’s shoulder. But he had to admit to feeling better. Somehow, crying by oneself and crying in the company of someone who cared were entirely different. Striving for something to say that wouldn’t embarrass him further, he asked, “So what kind of pieces do you have at the gallery now?”

The tension dissipated after that as Joyce moved on to safer subjects and Spike helped her clean up. “Would you like some hot cocoa?” she asked once the dishes had all been dried and put away.

Spike’s face lit up in a slow genuine smile. “Yeah, that would be right nice, mum.”

~~~~~

Joyce was gone by the time Spike crawled out of bed that morning. She’d left a note on the counter about where he could find the food in the freezer and pantry, along with plant-watering directions. At the end, she’d added a little note. “You hang in there, William. Things seem hard right now, but they always get easier with time. Just remember, if you ever need to talk, I’ll be here to listen.”

He smiled reflectively. Between Joyce and Willow, he felt almost welcome in the world of the living. The first day he spent inside the house, as per Giles’ instructions. There were only so many hours of day-time TV he could take now that his brain seemed to be functioning again. Passions was all well and good, but Jerry Springer got old real quick. His own life was insane enough without adding the insanity of stupid people.

Spike finally picked up one of Joyce’s paperbacks, losing himself for the rest of the day in Middle Earth. He had no idea why Buffy’s mother would have J.R.R. Tolkien’s classics, but it was a nice read for him. Stopping only for a late dinner, he made it most of the way through the first book in the trilogy before he was too tired to keep his eyes open.

That night he dreamed about orcs who chased him with scalpels and causing havoc among hobbits.

It was noon the next day before he noticed that something strange was going on. He had gone into the kitchen to make himself a sandwich and stubbed his toe. But when he opened his mouth to swear bloody blue murder, nothing came out. Spike frowned and tried again, this time not to curse but just to say anything at all. And still nothing came out.

There was only one place to go—again. While he wasn’t supposed to leave the house, he really wanted to know what was going on, and if anyone did, Giles and the gang would. Not that he wanted to see Buffy again.

With the DeSoto, he managed to get himself back to Giles’ place in just a few minutes. He was a bit surprised when the door opened and Giles gripped his shoulder, obviously relieved to see him. In fact, when he walked inside, Xander and Anya actually waved, and Willow came and gave him a hug. Spike met Buffy’s eyes for a long moment, and she was the one to look away first.

It was odd to have the silence enforced like that, to not have a choice about speaking. Spike noticed that everyone touched more, that they reached for contact in different ways than speech. He also would have felt more alone than ever if Willow hadn’t kept shooting him small, supportive glances, occasionally touching his arm when she passed.

They spent the day trying to discover what it was that had stolen the voices of Sunnydale, for it had affected the entire town. There was something intensely frightening about the whole thing, and though he wasn’t very excited about it, Spike went back to the Summers’ residence that night. He had promised Joyce that he would look after things, and a man kept his promises. That, at least, he could remember.

The front page news sent him straight back over to Giles’ the next morning however, and he was in the college auditorium when the ex-librarian gave his presentation. When they all dispersed, waiting for the Slayer to save the day as usual, Spike found himself not wanting to be alone again. Giles would be with Olivia, of course, and Xander and Anya were well on their way to making up after their little argument. Buffy was off to try and get their voices back, and he was left to fend for himself.

Which was why he was knocking rather sheepishly on Willow’s door about five minutes after she got inside the dorm room. Willow wiggled her fingers at him even as she raised an amused eyebrow. She picked up one of their white boards and wrote, “Didn’t want to be alone, huh?”

Spike shrugged and rolled his eyes, grabbing the board and scribbling, “You mind?”

Willow shook her head and wrote back, “No. Homework can wait. Movie?”

“What do you have?”

They were busy watching Sleepless in Seattle, after Spike’s vehement, though silent, protestations, when they both heard the pounding. Sharing an anxious glance, Willow stopped the movie and went to the door. Spike stood in front of it and nodded, and the redhead pulled it open. He frowned, not seeing anyone right away, and then stepped out of the room. The blonde girl plowed straight into him, knocking him to the floor and causing his knee to twist under him. He gave a silent yelp of pain, and then his eyes widened as he saw the monsters that had been chasing her. Willow and the other girl were on either side of him in a split second, hauling him to his feet and supporting him down the stairs.

They managed to reach a laundry room and locked the door. Even between the three of them they couldn’t move the vending machine though. Spike was barely standing, his leg throbbing, but he wasn’t just going to sit back and watch the monsters get to the girls. Willow pulled him back, away from the door and the soda machine, and then stared at the machine intently.

It rattled a couple of times, but didn’t move. Spike watched the stranger watch Willow, until the redheaded witch slumped against the wall. The blonde looked from her to the machine, tensing as the banging on the door coninued. It seemed as though the Gentlemen would be through any minute. Suddenly, the sense in the room drastically changed as the blonde grabbed Willow’s hand. Both their heads snapped around to stare at the soda machine, which slid across the floor and slammed into the door.

Spike realized that he had disappeared from the room as the two girls stared at one another. He almost felt as though he were interrupting a very private moment. He could sense the unresolved sexual tension that swirled around them.

And when their voices came back, no one quite knew what to say.

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