'Home is the
place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.'
'I should have called it
Something you somehow haven't to deserve.'
Who is this specter before me?
Who is this frail, broken ghost on my doorstep?
He teeters in the doorway, paler than pale, hollow-eyed, unwilling or unable to meet my gaze. One hand shoots out and clutches the frame in a desperate attempt to steady himself.
He doesn't want to be here.
He doesn't want to be.
He wants to die.
I can see it. It's in his eyes. There's death there, and surrender. The Spike I know would never have appeared on my doorstep, no matter what kind of trouble he was in. *Never.*
I barely recognize him. The hyperactive child-vampire, all chatter and movement, long, languid limbs, bright eyes, chain-smoking, ever-ready laugh, is gone. In his place stands this new creature, silent, sullen, starving. He stares at me with empty, hate-filled eyes, daring me to invite him inside.
The last time I saw him, he chained me to a ceiling and had me brutally tortured over the span of several hours. He doesn't like me. I don't like him. We're mortal enemies, and with damn good reason too. He's been a walking liability since the moment I turned him. And I know perfectly well what Wesley and Cordelia will have to say about it when they get here in the morning.
I step away from the doorway and gesture towards the apartment. "Come inside."
What else am I supposed to do? He's my misbegotten, half-assed responsibility. He's my duty. My burden. My childe.
He pauses for a long moment. What does he think- the once he comes inside he won't ever be allowed to leave? Does entering my apartment somehow compromise everything he is, everything he's ever been? But of course, of course it does. He takes a single step over the threshold, pulling his duster close around his body, as if he is cold here in the relative warmth of the apartment.
"Take off your coat, Spike," I tell him. I can smell blood on him, and for once it's his own, not someone else's. I need to see if he's injured.
He ignores me, paces across the room, his step shaky and uncertain.
"Spike," I say, more gently this time, "I need you to take off your coat." I reach out towards him and he jerks away from my hand. The sudden movement seems to overwhelm him in his weakened state and he starts to sink to the floor. I manage to catch him before he falls and I lift him to his feet again.
I can feel the pointed bones of his ribs and shoulders through the layers of leather and cloth.
"How long has it been since you've fed?" I ask, half guiding, half carrying him to the couch.
My only answer is a careless shrug.
I don't like this. I don't like this new Spike. He's too quiet. He's not nearly obnoxious and annoying and insufferable enough for my comfort.
I reach for his duster again and he shrinks away. Hell, this isn't Spike. I'll tell you who this is. This is a mortal boy, a pickpocket and highwayman with a taste for violence, scarred with a lifetime of poverty and abuse. This is William the Bloody. The fearless criminal who didn't shrink from any fight but pulled away like a frightened child if you tried to touch him.
I changed him. Drusilla changed him. A century of life at the top of the food chain changed him. But life has a funny way of knocking you on your ass and depositing you right where you started.
"Spike," I say gently, "I need to see if you're hurt."
I tug at his arms and he relaxes slowly, as if forcing himself to acquiesce to me. I remove his duster and move to pull the tattered, filthy t-shirt over his head, but he draws away again, arms tightly wrapped around his chest.
"I'm not going to hurt you," I say patiently.
Finally, that voice. A hoarse whisper, hesitant, afraid. "It's cold."
"Of course you're cold. You're skin and bones." I can count his ribs through the thin material of his shirt. His skin is marred with cuts and bruises. They're not healing as quickly as they should be. "Why haven't you been eating?"
No response. He leans his head back against the couch in an attitude of exhaustion.
Fine. Okay. Fine. I'm gonna do what I usually do in situations like these... I'm not gonna stop and try to figure out what the fuck is going on, because... I don't know what the fuck is going on. I'm just going to fix the problem.
Well, part of the problem, anyway.
I resist the urge to keep one eye on him as I remove a Tupperware container of blood from the refrigerator, pour it into a mug, and put it in the microwave. No reason to keep one eye on him. He's not going to dissipate into dust if I turn my back.
His eyes stare at the wall, unseeing. There is a dark bruise decorating his cheekbone, a laceration cutting through his lip. His hands are trembling slightly. I can't bear to look at him like that; I turn away.
I start the microwave and turn to look at him again. He hasn't moved; maybe he's asleep. I turn to the phone and pick up the receiver, dialing Giles' number from memory.
"Hello?" That familiar, bumbling, refined English voice.
I don't even see Spike come up behind me. His hand darts out and he slams his palm against the phone's cradle, cutting off the connection abruptly. His eyes burn into mine, famished and furious and not quite sane.
We stare at each other for several moments in voiceless confrontation. I should call Giles. I should get to the bottom of this. I should find out what the hell happened to my Childe.
My prideful, arrogant, stubborn boy clearly does not consider this an option.
The microwave dings loudly, shattering the silence between us. He starts and stares at it in surprise, as if he'd forgotten it was there. He seems half-delirious with exhaustion and hunger.
I withdraw the mug from the microwave and hold it out to him silently. His nose twitches as the smell of blood hits his nostrils and he vamps out immediately, clutching the cup in trembling fingers and gulping the liquid as quickly as he can. I don't even have time to tell him to take it easy, slow down before he makes himself sick, because the cup is already empty. Then a nauseated expression crosses his face; one hand presses against his concave stomach, while the weakened fingers of the other hand are not strong enough to keep the mug from slipping from his grasp and shattering on the kitchen floor.
I manage to get my arms around his waist and hold him over the sink before he vomits.
When it is over he collapses, exhausted, against my shoulder. He's shaking so hard. His features are smooth now, human, the expression of a frightened child. But his eyes are older, tired, dead.
I carry him back to the couch, lay him down against the cushions, and wrap an afghan around his frail, trembling form. I go into gameface briefly, just long enough to unsheathe the razor-sharp fangs that slice through my wrist, and I offer my blood to his parched lips. His mouth fastens weakly around my wound, the sips hesitant. He hasn't been allowed to drink from me since the night he was turned. That's simply something that Angelus wouldn't allow. What's more, Angelus certainly wouldn't have wrapped his Childe up in blankets and hand-fed him like an infant.
Then again, William the Bloody would have been too arrogant and stiff-necked to turn to his Sire for help.
"Fuck off," he whispers when he has the strength to speak.
Same old Spike.
He sits up weakly and leans his head against one hand.
"You're tired," I say gently. "Come on."
I stand and hold my hand out to him, but he pulls away again. Unwilling to accept any help unless it's absolutely imperative. I kneel in front of him; he avoids my gaze.
"Stop it," I say, a bit impatiently.
He glances at me, quirks an eyebrow.
"You don't want to be here. I get that. You don't want to have to take handouts from me. That's fine. You don't need to get an attitude to make your point." He blinks, looks away, eyes and expression shattering.
"You're safe here," I say softly.
"Why are you doing this?" he whispers.
I shrug. "For the same reason you came here, I guess."
"Blood to blood," he murmurs, almost inaudibly.
"Come on," I repeat. He glances up at me; his eyes are filled with tears and this almost undoes me. "You need rest."
I lead him into the bedroom. Yes, there's a perfectly serviceable couch on which one of us could sleep. No, Spike probably doesn't have any desire to share my bed. I don't care. I'm not leaving him alone tonight. He hovers nervously, eyes and feet never staying in one place for long.
I pull back the covers. "Sleep."
He glances at the bed hesitantly, as if he isn't altogether sure he's willing to sleep in the same zip code as I do, much less on the same piece of furniture.
"Where do I-"
"The bed," I say flatly.
He nods silently and draws off his ragged t-shirt.
I knew that he was injured and I knew that he'd lost weight but I was *not* prepared for the sight before me, the livid bruises, the pale, jutting ribs. He looks like several very large Someones got together and used him for a punching bag. He notes my horrified expression and smiles mirthlessly.
"That bad, huh?"
I chew on my lower lip, struggling to retain my composure. "You've looked better."
He shrugs carelessly, kicks off his boots. Ragged black jeans, the button missing, hang low on sharp-boned hips. Spike isn't one for undergarments; he never has been. I can almost see... I can almost see more than I probably should. I swallow nervously, turn away. I shouldn't be thinking about that sort of thing.
Because even if...
Even if he wasn't in a vulnerable position... even if it wouldn't be wrong of me to take advantage of his weakness, his desperation, his relative youth...
Even if I didn't know that he'd simply close his eyes and see someone else in my place, someone with dark curls and sea-storm eyes... even if I could admit to myself that these days I don't mind the idea of being second best...
Even if there wasn't the risk of me getting too close, getting too comfortable, losing my soul and reverting to that which he wants and fears, his greatest nightmare, his lost love, his Sire... hell, even if the mere prospect of getting laid wasn't enough to induce a state of perfect happiness...
Even so, it couldn't work. Too much has changed. It's been too long.
He smirks at me, hands on hips. "I haven't been here an hour and you're already brooding."
I sigh. "Go to bed."
He holds his hands up briefly, the gesture half defensive, half indifferent. "You're the boss."
I cringe. I was afraid of that.
I don't wanna be the boss.
He crawls under the covers and turns away from me.
There is a stillness to vampires that humans cannot possibly understand. The absence of breath, of heartbeat, of the pulse of blood in veins. The sound of internal organs functioning, of lungs inflating, of years withering away. Humans are astoundingly noisy, busy creatures, full of breath and scent and fear and memory. There is a stillness to vampires that they cannot hope to attain.
He lays next to me, his gaunt form barely denting my bedsheets, turned away, facing the opposite wall. He's only inches away from me, so close that I could reach out with one hand and stroke his pale hair or run a careless finger down his spine. But I won't. I can't. There is a distance between us. There are miles here that I can't cross.
So he stares at the wall, and I stare at the back of his smooth, perfect neck, and we both pretend to sleep. And it's bullshit. It's such utter bullshit.
Because we both know that no one's sleeping.
Sixscore years ago he would have rolled over and looked at me, lashes fluttering, blue eyes gleaming in the darkness. Sixscore years ago we would have stayed up all night laughing or crying or fucking. Sixscore years ago neither one of us would have pretended to be fucking *asleep* just to avoid conversation.
But that was then, this is now; Honesty is dead and Nostalgia is on the critical list.
If I don't speak soon I won't speak all night. And if nothing is said tonight, than nothing will continue to be said tomorrow night, and the next night as well, stretching on and on ad infinitum into weeks and months and years of meaningless, stupid, terror-stricken silence, and we will continue to whisper, speak, and scream of nothing, again and again, until the end of time. And perhaps that would be fair, perhaps I don't have any right to expect any more than that from him, but goddamnit, I can't just lie here anymore, it's like suffocating.
I can feel something shatter in the air when I speak. The expectation. The pretense.
"Why are you here?"
A silence follows that lasts for centuries.
His movement is sudden and unforeseen. He is a jungle cat, a creature of deadly stillness and rapid speed. He sits up, pulls his ragged t-shirt over a painfully lean frame, and then draws on his boots. He is dressed, standing, and almost at the door before I realize what is happening.
((Is this my punishment? I leave him, so now he gets to leave me? Is this your balance, my redemption? Is this your fucking idea of *fair*?))
He stops, runs one hand shakily through short, messy hair. His movements are awkward, unnatural. His body screams torments, choices, decisions of which his voice cannot speak. He glares at the door as if that will help him walk through it.
"I'm sorry," I whisper hoarsely. "I won't ask again."
He turns away from the door slowly, as if every muscle in his body is screaming at him to leave. He crosses the apartment, not looking at me, not even glancing towards the bed. Sitting on the couch, he curls himself up tightly, forehead against his knees. He will stay in that position, unmoving, nearly until dawn.
Thus ends the first day.