Author’s Notes: This is a little complicated. For Spike, the story begins right after “Wild at Heart.” For everybody else, right after a slightly altered “Something Blue.”
The title of the story comes from an e.e. cummings poem that’s called, “the great advantage of being alive.” I know this has been done before, but this is the first Spike story I’ve written that begins with him NOT in love with Buffy. (At least, not that he knows of.) So it’s a bit different than my usual fare, but it will be B/S eventually.
Chapter 1: Lab Rat
“I’m not supposed to be scared of anything/But I don’t know where I am/I wish that I could move but I’m exhausted/And nobody understands (how I feel)/I’m trying hard to breathe now/but there’s no air in my lungs/There’s no one here to talk to/and the pain inside is making me numb./Try to hold this under control…Feeling weak and weary/ walkin’ through this world alone/Everything they say every word of it/cuts me to the bone (and I bleed)/I’ve got something to say/But now I’ve got nowhere to turn/It feels like I’ve been buried/underneath all the weight of the world…Now I’m goin’ through changes, changes/I’m blind and shakin, bound and breakin’/I hope I’ll make it through all these changes…” ~ Three Doors Down, “Changes”
When Spike became aware of his surroundings again, he was more than a little surprised to find himself strapped down to a table with a plastic something shoved in his mouth. His duster and shirt were missing, and the men in the lab coats surrounding him were busy fussing with various stainless steel implements. Just the fact that they were paying very little attention to him, as though they were merely marking time until the actual event took place, made him just a little bit nervous.
When one labcoat joined the group surrounding him and the pace of activity changed, Spike became more than a little nervous. Fear entered into the picture right about the time that one of the scientists pulled out a scalpel. For one, brief terror-filled moment, Spike was certain that they were going to start dissecting him alive. The cut the man made was shallow, however, and while Spike couldn’t actually see it, he’d been sliced up before. This didn’t feel all that serious. He allowed himself to relax for a brief moment until the latecomer pulled out a glowing green vial and poured it over the wound in his chest.
There was another flicker of fear, and then a flash of light that consumed him and warmed him all at the same time. It was that moment that caused him to lose his mind, overwhelmed by the onslaught of emotions and sensations. Not only was there the guilt and remorse (pale words when compared with actual feelings) that came from the gaining of his soul, but there was the loss of strength, smell, and hearing that came from losing his demon. There was the heartbeat, the blood pounding in his veins, the sense of terror from becoming human. It was too much, and his mind shut down under the pressure.
Later, Spike could never quite say how long he was in that state. It was days at least before a lucid thought ran through his brain, and then it was only long enough to realize that he was in some sort of sterile cell, naked, cold and hungry. He blanked out again after that, but his catatonic state didn’t last nearly long enough for his taste.
The second time he came around, there was a lab tech bent on pouring something down his throat, and while he wanted to gag at the chalky taste, a small cunning part of his mind warned him to be a good boy and swallow. It was that same part of him that clung to reality even when all he wanted to do was to retreat into himself again. And it was that part that kept his new-found sanity quiet.
The next few days were a miserable exercise in hanging onto his reason by his fingertips while trying to come up with some plan for escape. Every moment seemed consumed by sensations he had nearly forgotten existed. Hunger, thirst, cold, pain, they were all present in a way they had not been when he was a vampire. Spike wanted his duster with a longing he hadn’t thought possible, never mind what it represented. He wanted its armoring effect and its comfortable warmth. He wanted the illusion of being big and bad and scary, so that he himself might begin to believe it again, and perhaps hope that he would find a way out. But meanwhile, he feigned madness and waited, waited for the moment that they let their guard down.
“Dr. Walsh?” The technician entered Walsh’s office hesitantly. What they had been able to do—to actually transform a vampire into a human, was phenomenal. Of course, it didn’t mean much if the creature in question went insane afterwards. It seemed that they were going to have to stick to the original plan and concentrate on the computer chip implant rather than working on synthesizing the demon blood.
“No change?” Maggie Walsh turned to face her tech. It was more of a statement than a question.
The tech shook his head. “The subject has been moving from complete catatonia to periods of raving. He hasn’t shown any signs of improvement.”
Dr. Walsh watched the monitor. The subject, named Hostile 17 for their purposes, was curled into a small ball in the corner of the cell. When they had discovered the new HST and the strange properties of its blood, there had been high hopes. To be able to transform vampires into productive members of society would be an accomplishment of the highest order. But whether it was the treatment or the transformation, it wouldn’t do anyone any good to work on the cure for vampirism if all they were going to get were mental patients. It would be more efficient and cost-effective to perfect the chip or destroy the other subjects.
“I want another set of tests run,” she finally said. “There’s no need to run another trial, now that we know what the results are likely to be. Once the data has been gathered, prep the subject for transfer to our facility in Arizona. We need the cell for another HST.”
The tech looked skeptical. “Pardon me, Doctor, but is it wise to send him outside our facility here?”
“Just because Hostile 17 leaves doesn’t mean he’ll actually make it to his destination, Matthews,” Walsh replied. “There’s no need to advertise our mistake.”
Spike stayed curled up as much for warmth as for modesty. He had no idea where his clothes had gone, but they had disappeared while he’d been out of it. His focus at the moment was making plans for an escape; it was the only thing keeping him sane. At some point, he had recognized in himself both a mindless panic and a burning anger. It was the anger that he seized on; anger that someone had decided to play God with his life and had treated him like a thing, a lab rat. Spike had no idea what the reaction would be if he revealed that he wasn’t as crazy as he looked, but he had a suspicion that he wouldn’t see the outside of this facility any time soon in any case. The more harmless and incompetent they thought him, the greater the chance that they would let their guard down at some point.
The anger he felt was only heightened by the entrance of a couple of the soldier boys turned caretakers. They had a habit of talking about him as if he wasn’t there, or couldn’t understand, and treating him like something worthless, to be disregarded.
“Last set of tests for the idiot,” Matthews announced. “Good thing too. This guy gives me the creeps.”
Spike stayed motionless. “Don’t see what Walsh wants with this last set,” the other tech mumbled. “It’s not like there’s been any change.”
He fought down the urge to struggle even as the two men manhandled him into a sitting position so they could take a blood sample and blood pressure, among other things. The same two techs had come before for the same purpose, so it wasn’t anything new for Spike, though it was just as uncomfortable this time as it was the first. As the two soldiers made comments and exchanged gossip, he resisted the desire to make his own remarks. They were relaxed around him now, all of them were. No one thought of him as a threat, and he tried to remember that he certainly could be. He tried to disregard the niggling little voice in the back of his head that told him he would be able to do nothing against a couple of well-trained soldiers.
The two finished their tests, and then one of them, Walker by his nametag, took the samples. “Be right back,” he promised.
This was new. Spike kept his face expressionless, trying to decide what this development meant for him. A few minutes later and the soldier was back with a handful of what looked like hospital scrubs. Walker dumped his bundle at Spike’s feet. “Now what?”
Matthews sighed. “We get him dressed, nimrod. It’s not like we can walk him around with nothing on.”
Walker took a step backward. “I’m not doing it,” he declared.
Matthews rolled his eyes. “Don’t be a dick.” The soldier reached down and grabbed Spike’s arm, hauling the smaller man to his feet with a surprising gentleness. “You gonna get dressed, or am I gonna have to do it for you?” he asked.
Spike was torn. He could show some understanding and get himself dressed, but how much was too much? Where was the line? If he seemed to understand they might be more cautious, or not let him go at all.
That was the biggest problem. Once he made a bid for his freedom, it would be over. Instinctively, Spike knew he had one shot at escape; miss his chance, and there wouldn’t be another. He also knew that there was no way he would manage to escape from the facility itself. As a human, he wasn’t strong enough, fast enough, to manage it except by extreme luck. And his luck hadn’t been great lately.
Deciding discretion was the better part of valor, he stood perfectly still, feigning complete mental incompetence. Thankfully, Matthews’ only reaction was to heave a deeply put-upon sigh and pick up the clothes.
A few minutes later, Spike was more clothed than he had been for weeks, and he found himself grateful for that small dignity at least. “Do we use the shackles?” Walker asked doubtfully. “Walsh did say—”
Spike tried to look as defenseless as possible. “Come on, man,” Matthews finally replied after some consideration. “The poor guy doesn’t even know where he is. Trust me, you don’t want to freak him out. Put the cuffs on him, and that’s exactly what will happen.”
“Fine,” Walker said. “Let’s go, Brain Trust.” They walked him down the hall, one on either side, hanging onto his arms. Spike stole surreptitious looks at his surroundings as they walked. Sterile white cell followed sterile white cell, one after another, each one with a different sort of demon or vampire. It seemed that he wasn’t the only one getting experimented on.
Spike didn’t try to keep track of where they were going. He had no desire to find his way back, that was for certain. But more than that, he didn’t plan on coming back. If this escape attempt didn’t work, he was going to make sure it ended in his death, because he wasn’t ever going back there.
After a number of featureless hallways, they finally made their way to an airshaft. Walker went up first, with Spike in the middle and Matthews behind him. Spike had decided not to play dumb about climbing the ladder, if only because he didn’t want to find himself thrown over one of their shoulders.
They exited into a nearly-empty parking lot, and Spike barely kept himself from flinching as the sunlight hit his skin. Aside from a couple cars and a single truck, there was also a large, windowless van, like those used by the utility companies, and Spike knew that was going to be their destination. If he wanted to run for it, it had to be here and now, before they got him into the van. Because once inside, and on the road, he’d be in unfamiliar territory with no easy way out.
Spike waited docilely enough, watching as Walker unlocked the driver’s door, and then sprung the lock for the back of the van. Matthews opened the doors and crawled inside, messing with the belts on the seat, making sure it was ready for transport. When Walker came to stand beside him, watching the other soldier and obviously not paying attention to Spike, he knew it was time to act.
With one smooth motion, Spike pulled Walker’s billy club out of his belt loop and brought it down on the soldier’s temple. The man collapsed in a boneless heap, and Spike watched as Matthews turned to investigate the sounds. Without hesitation, he jumped into the back, thrusting the club into the other soldier’s stomach, and when he doubled over, hit him over the head too. Spike gave each of them an extra tap on the back of the skull to ensure that they wouldn’t be waking up any time soon.
Once the action was over, Spike felt the effects of the adrenaline rush, something he hadn’t experienced since Drusilla had met him in that alley over a hundred years ago. There was gut-churning fear, and a sense of excitement, along with a cold sweat. For one terrified, horrified second he stared at the bodies of the soldiers, and then took to his heels, running as though his life depended on it. Knowing that it probably did.
When Spike had run as far and as fast as he could, he finally slowed and then stopped. He plowed a hand through sweat-soaked hair and hunkered down in the bushes at the edge of a group of trees. Now that he had a chance to look around Spike could tell that he was still in Sunnydale, near a wooded park at the edge of one of the cemeteries. By instinct alone he had avoided the more populated areas of town, and luck finally seemed to be with him. No one seemed to be following him, or had shouted at him to stop. He knew very well that he probably looked like an escaped mental patient, and it would be an excellent idea to stay out of sight.
Spike shivered in the shade of the trees. The thin hospital scrubs he wore were hardly winter wear, even in California, and the slight breeze was rapidly drying his sweat. Gone were the days when temperature had little meaning.
It wasn’t only the outside air that was causing him to shiver, however. Now that he had paused in his mad flight, he had realized that he had been running from, not to, and he had no idea where to go next. Heading back to the DeSoto was out of the question; it was too close to where the soldiers had grabbed him in the first place. Spike wasn’t any too sure that the people he actually knew in Sunnydale would be willing to help him, but there didn’t seem to be any other choice. He had to go somewhere, find some sort of shelter, both from the nasties that were bound to come out after nightfall, but also from the soldiers who would soon be hunting him.
Of the people he did know, only two he could think of were easy enough to locate, and far enough away from the campus for his comfort. And only one of those two might be able to deal with the transformation he had undergone. Spike swallowed his fear and took a cautious look around. Now it was just a matter of getting there unseen.
Giles looked over his translation again. A colleague from Oxford, whom he knew from his tenure at the British Museum had asked for his assistance with the document. Apparently, the Ancient Sumerian had been interspersed with what Giles had recognized as a demon language. The last few days with the manuscript had been some of the most challenging he’d had in a long time. Well, the most interesting if one disregarded the Native American spirits and Willow’s botched “my will be done” spell.
After the high school had blown up, he had certainly looked forward to his life of leisure, thinking that he would have time for all the things he’d never had time for in the past. And that was certainly true. The only problem was that Giles found himself bored by the end of the summer, and thinking quite nostalgically about the Sunnydale High library. In fact, at this point, he would be quite happy to find a brand new project to keep him busy and occupy his time.
A frantic knocking on the door interrupted his thoughts and caused him to look up in surprise. The fact that the door didn’t open immediately piqued his interest even more. Buffy and her friends typically knocked and then barged right in. When the pounding began again, Giles finally rose to answer it.
Of course, once he saw who was doing the knocking he wished he hadn’t bothered. “Spike.”
“You’ve got to let me in.” The vampire was obviously desperate, but that hardly inclined Giles toward acceding to his demand. There was very little in the world that would induce him to invite a vampire into his place of residence again.
But once Giles had gotten past who was at his door, he started to notice other things, like the fact that Spike was wearing what looked to be hospital scrubs and was barefoot. Beyond that, it was broad daylight outside, the vampire had no protection against the sunlight, was not smoking, and didn’t seem that worried about his imminent combustion. Most telling of all, Spike’s hand had breached what should have been an invisible barrier, catching at Giles’ wrist in an imploring gesture. A hand that was warm and a little sweaty.
Giles didn’t reply to his demand, but instead reached out and grabbed the front of Spike’s blue smock, yanking him roughly inside. Spike didn’t even protest, instead slumping in relief as the ex-Watcher shut the door. Giles could feel Spike’s heart pounding underneath his clenched fist, could see that he was drenched in sweat and was absolutely white and trembling with shock and fear. And in spite of everything that had happened in the past, Giles found himself feeling sympathy for the—well, man.
“Sit down before you fall down,” he advised, not unkindly. Spike nearly collapsed on his couch, still shaking, and Giles went to grab a blanket. “Here.”
Spike drew it across his shoulders slowly. Even inside the relative warmth of the flat, he was still freezing. He couldn’t help thinking that the soldiers were right on his heels, ready to come bursting through the door at any moment. And he couldn’t seem to make himself stop shaking, even if it did make him look like a ponce. “Drink.” Giles was holding a glass of water in front of him, and Spike took it gratefully, starting to gulp it down.
“Easy,” the older man said quietly. “You’ll make yourself sick.”
He obediently slowed, finishing the glass off. “Thanks,” he said hoarsely.
“How long has it been since you’ve had anything to eat?” Giles asked. Now that he’d had a chance to get a better look at the former vampire, Spike was much too thin, almost sickly looking, as though he were ready to pass out at any moment.
Spike shrugged, the movement hindered by the blanket he had wrapped tightly around himself. “If you’re askin’ about solids, dunno,” he replied. “Kept me on a liquid diet the whole time.”
“Who did?” Giles asked, knowing that the answer to his question would most likely help explain why Spike was sitting on his couch with a pulse in the first place.
Spike shook his head, the little color he had gained leeching out of his face, his shoulders hunching up just a little more. Giles recognized the look on his face from victims of trauma he’d come across in the past. “I must insist you tell me what happened, Spike.”
The younger (looking) man looked up at him with a poor attempt at a smile. “Think I could get a drink first?”
Giles looked at him reprovingly. “Not on an empty stomach,” he replied, moving towards the small galley kitchen. “Why don’t you tell me what happened while I make us something to eat?” He knew from experience that it was sometimes easier to tell a difficult story if no one was looking at you.
“They came up on me from behind,” Spike began slowly. “Came back into town to—well, you know what I came back for.”
“Daresay I do,” Giles responded, slicing the bread for the sandwiches and beginning to brew some tea.
“Next thing I know I’m strapped to a table and some bloke’s slicin’ up my chest and pourin’ in green glowy stuff.” Spike drew in a deep, needed breath. “And what do you know, I’ve got a pulse.”
As the ex-vampire slowly related the rest of his stay with the soldier-boys, as he called them, Giles found himself not only feeling sorry for him, but almost liking him. It said something about the man that Spike was that he was able to pull himself together enough to keep up the charade of madness and then escape. And what had been done to him—Giles couldn’t be sorry that he wasn’t a vampire anymore, but the way this group had treated him after he became human was frightening. It said something about their definition of “human” that gave him pause.
“An’ then I came here,” Spike finished, just as Giles set his sandwich and fortified cup of tea down in front of him. “Didn’t know where else to go.” He hesitated slightly, looking blindly at the meal in front of him. His soft voice and hunched shoulders were at odds with Giles’ long-held understanding of his character. “If I could get my car, I’ll be out of your way. ‘s just, it was too close—”
“Don’t be an idiot,” Giles said firmly. “I’m hardly going to toss you out on the street, not when you’re so clearly done in. You can stay here tonight, and then we’ll decide on our next step tomorrow.”
Spike looked away, his jaw working, having a hard time understanding why someone he’d hurt in the past would be so willing to help him now. He couldn’t find the words to respond. “Eat,” Giles commanded gently. “Slowly, mind you, or you’ll make yourself sick, and drink your tea.”
Spike did as he was told, finding it easier than arguing or talking any more. The ex-Watcher was right, of course, he was done in, and he didn’t think he could have gone anywhere even if Giles had kicked him out. He probably would have collapsed right on the doorstep and stayed there. He forced himself to eat slowly, though he wanted to bolt it. It was his first taste of real food since becoming human, and he didn’t think he’d ever tasted anything so wonderful in his life. Spike threw Giles a grateful look after sipping at the tea, finding that he’d laced it with a generous portion of alcohol. And when he finished, he again looked to the other man for direction.
“Why don’t you get cleaned up?” Giles suggested. “I’ll see what I can find in the way of clean clothing for you.” He showed Spike to the bathroom and handed him a towel. “I’ll just put the clothes inside the door.” Then he left, leaving Spike alone.
The former vampire glanced at the mirror, startled to see his own reflection there, both repulsed and attracted by the sight. Repulsed because he was looking into the face of a killer for the first time, into the eyes of what he had become. Attracted because it had been more than a century since he’d seen himself. He swallowed and stepped closer, noting the bleached blond of the hair and the dark roots, still curly and unmanageable as ever. He fingered the scar on his eyebrow, finding it less prominent than he had thought it would be. But his eyes—
Spike quickly turned away from his own reflection and stripped off the grimy cotton scrubs, dropping them in a heap on the floor and stepping into the shower. He used the shampoo and soap he found and began to scrub off the accumulated grime. And suddenly it all hit home.
He let the spray hit him in the face as he sobbed in guilt and anger and hurt. For the gaining of his soul, and the loss of his innocence. For the return of mortality and morality all at the same time, and the loss of his demon. He cried for all that he had done, and all that had been done to him. He cried for his blood-soaked past and the terrifying future. And it seemed that all the water in the world could not wash it away.
Giles hesitated outside the bathroom door. He could hear the sounds of crying under the sound of the running water, and the gut-wrenching sobs tore at his heart in a way he could not explain. Perhaps it was right that Spike should suffer for what he had done in the past, but Giles found it difficult to feel satisfaction. At some point, Spike had been a young man, quite possibly one who had simply been caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, he was a young man once again, and very much alone in a world that must suddenly feel quite strange to him.
There was no reason to intrude on such an intensely private moment, Giles knew, especially after what he had been through. The humiliation, for lack of a better word, of being caged and stared at, had been very obvious in Spike’s story and tone of voice. Giles would not intrude on his privacy unless absolutely necessary. He left the clothing by the door and retreated back into the living room.
Spike joined him in a few minutes, dressed in a sweat shirt and a pair of worn jeans that Giles had found at the bottom of a drawer. The clothes were too big, but they were more substantial than what he had been wearing earlier. Giles politely ignored the younger man’s blood shot eyes and instead directed him up the stairs and to the bedroom.
“You can have my bed,” he said quietly. At Spike’s look of protest, he held up a hand. “You need it more than I do tonight,” he explained. “And I have some work that will keep me busy for some time. The couch will be quite adequate. Sleep as long as you like.”
In spite of Spike’s gruff, unembellished “Thanks,” Giles could hear the true gratitude in his tone, see it in his face. He understood that it had quite a bit to do with being treated like an actual human being for the first time in weeks.
Heading back downstairs, Giles pulled a book off his shelf, thinking about what might have been used to effect such a change from undead back to human again. The question was, of course, whether it was supernatural or scientific, and it seemed he would be spending some time in his books trying to figure it out. He needed to call Buffy as well, and let her know what had happened, tell her about this mysterious group of soldiers. But not tonight. Tonight he would research and let Spike sleep. Tomorrow would come soon enough.