Whiskey burned its way down Riley’s throat. Cheap booze, whatever Spike could afford or swipe. It wasn’t too unlike the rotgut Riley had been filling up at Willy’s with lately. He’d never been one to drink with the sole purpose of getting drunk before. But then, there were lots of things he’d never done before he met Buffy Summers.
"Hey, I'm well aware of how lucky I am. Like, lottery lucky. Buffy's like nobody else in the world. When I'm with her, it's like . . . it's like I'm split in two. Half of me is just on fire, going crazy if I'm not touching her. The other half is so still and peaceful, just perfectly content . . . just knows: this is the one."
"I’m the guy," he repeated, voice rough.
"So what’re you going to do?" asked his companion. Spike’s voice held its usual blend of sarcasm, derision, and all-too-accurate perception. Riley wondered where he’d gotten the last from, his human life or his vampire years.
The fact that Riley was sitting here drinking and chatting with Spike struck him as bizarre—and it was probably much the same for Spike. Especially considering the chest wound Spike was currently nursing had been inflicted upon him by Riley. What that had been about, the former soldier couldn’t quite say.
"I don’t know," Riley responded quietly. "If Buffy wants me back, I guess . . . I don’t know."
"Least you’re decisive." Riley glared at the vampire, then tossed the bottle back to him. Spike grinned and took a swig. "Don’t envy you your dilemma, Finn, and I don’t mind telling you that. You’ve got a bad way here. You can stick around for a bit, knowing you’re not going to be able to hold onto her forever, that you’re just delaying things. Or you can leave and not have even that. And all that’s assuming she doesn’t throw you out on your arse the second she sees you again. Lucky bloke you are."
"Yeah. Lucky me." Riley unfixed his gaze from Spike, allowing it to wander the crypt. "And you, Spike? What’s your plan? Staying here?"
"Why the hell not? Good a place as any to brood."
"And see Buffy."
Spike grinned again, flashing his canines. "Yeah. That, too." He stretched, wincing at the pain in his chest. "Right pathetic lot we are. We should get a club together, you, me, and Angel. All the guys whose hearts—beating or otherwise—Buffy’s got on a string."
"Yeah. Angel." Riley stood abruptly, wandering about the crypt. "I’d sure love to see that guy again, seeing as he’s the one who got me started on my Crazy in the first place. Before him, vampires were just animals. Lab rats." He thought a moment. "Actually, you know, I think it might’ve been you who disproved that to me."
"It’s true." Riley looked at him. "No matter what else you are, you’re an individual, Hostile 17. Hell, you’re one of the most individual individuals I’ve ever met. Then I find out Buffy fell in love with a vampire, and he can beat the crap out of me, but still lets me live . . ."
He trailed off, remembering that night. Hearing the alarm go out over the radio. Arriving on the scene to find the unconscious bodies of four of his friends, and one vampire standing over them. Realizing that this dark, deadly creature was Buffy’s first love. Fighting him, only to be soundly beaten. Listening to them talk through the door, hearing only their voices, not their words, but still recognizing the intimacy they shared, even cloaked as it was in anger and hurt.
Coming to realize, as time went on, that that very intimacy was something Riley could never, never share with Buffy. The passion she felt for Angel, the way he could both hurt and heal her, were things that would forever be beyond Riley’s grasp.
Spike relaxed into his chair, closing his eyes. "Yeah. Good old Angelus, there from the start. He was there the night I rose, don’t you know? And for twenty years after." Spike laughed. "He beat the crap out of me on a regular basis, too. Mostly when he got mad at me, but sometimes just for fun."
"Take it you weren’t too fond of him," Riley said.
"Oh, I hated the black-hearted bastard." That, Riley had expected. "And I loved him." That, he hadn’t.
Spike opened one eye. "What’s got your knickers in a knot?"
Riley spread his hands. "You just gave me two contradictory statements. Care to clarify?"
The vampire made a derisive noise. "Humans. You never seem to understand that emotions never play by themselves." He opened both eyes, flowing up into a sitting position and fixing Riley with his most penetrating stare. "You, for instance. How much do you love Buffy?"
Easy question, Riley thought sardonically. Why doesn’t he just ask me how to bring about world peace? "Probably too much," was his final answer.
"No probably about it, mate. Second question: how much do you hate her?"
Riley just stared at him.
Spike wasn’t letting him go. "Come on, soldier. Answer the question: how much do you hate Buffy?"
"I don’t," Riley stated flatly. "I don’t hate Buffy."
"Yes, you do." Spike’s voice dropped to a silky murmur. "She makes you feel things you’ve never felt before. You can’t get your mind off her. Everything you do, every moment of your day, you feel her. You ache for the sight of her, for the sound of her voice, for the scent of her perfume. Every part of you wants her. You want to devour her, make her a part of you forever—and the bugger-all is, you can’t. She will never feel for you what you feel for her. And you hate her for it."
"You want to grab her and shake her and yell at her until she understands exactly what you’re feeling. You want to fight her, to have her hurt you physically, because she’s torturing you inside."
"Part of you even wants to kill her. Part of you would destroy the whole world just because she’s in it."
"Don’t try and hide it from me, Finn." Spike’s blue eyes gleamed. "I’ve seen that look in Angel’s eyes, both with a soul and without, and he’s far better at hiding what he feels than you are. Hell, I’d see that look in my eyes if I could find a mirror that worked for me."
Riley rubbed his face in his hands, trying to shake off the unease Spike’s words had created in him. "Tell me about him. Angel."
Spike laughed again. "I see what you’re about. But I’ll indulge you. Angel, or Angelus, as he was calling himself back then, was the first person I saw when I rose as a vampire." He relaxed back into his chair. "Vampires imprint. Did you know that?"
"Think the first creature you see is your mommy?" Riley asked sarcastically.
"First vampire, yeah. Oh, Dru was there, and technically, she was the one who’d sired me. But it was Angelus who pulled me from my grave, who guided me through my first kill. When we awake, you see, we’re feral. Not a thought on the brain but gettin’ free of the ground and finding something to eat. The hunger is . . . like nothing else. Literally indescribable. You feed, you start getting your faculties back in order. But for those first moments, well, we’re little better than fledgling birds. We want something or someone to take charge, and for me, that was him."
"So he was like what? A father?"
Spike looked disgusted. "You’re trying to put an inhuman concept into human terms. A sire can be a parent, lover, companion, enemy, even god to his make, and all those at once. Angelus taught me the ropes. He was the one who disciplined me when I stepped out of line, and trust me, harsh lessons were learned. I traveled with him, his sire, Darla, and Drusilla for near on twenty years. We were more than a family, Finn, and there’s no way for me to describe it to you. Other vampires sometimes joined us—Angelus’ American brat, Penn, and believe me when I tell you I purely hated that git, Darla’s little pet, Adrienne, and Adrienne’s boy toy, Paulo—but mostly, it was just the four of us.
"I learned my place pretty quickly. Angelus was the patriarch of our clan, and Darla deferred to him in public, it being different times for women. In private, they were equals. Drusilla was Angelus’ favorite childe, the girl he drove mad, then turned. She was his darling girl, as he called her. Me, I was the runt of Darla’s brood." Spike snorted. "Angelus had little patience for the stunts I pulled. Darla had none whatsoever. Woman despised me."
Riley’s curiosity had been piqued. "What was she like? Darla."
"Beautiful. Intelligent. Coldest bitch this side of Hell." Spike took another swig. "I don’t recall one word she ever said to me that didn’t reek of disapproval. But she put up with me for Angelus’ sake, and he put up with me for Dru’s sake. It was a line of favorites: Angelus was Darla’s prize, Dru was Angelus’, and me, I was Dru’s. Twenty years, it was the four of us. We ran together, terrorized together, became the Scourge of Europe together." Spike’s eyes were distant. "Good times, those. I mean, there was fighting, especially when Penn was with us and he and I would get into it. Angelus would have to break us apart before someone got staked. Then he’d thrash us both.
"But there were good times. Mornings when we’d end up at home, all warm and fed, and I’d lay out in front of the fire. Darla and Dru would take each others’ hair down, and while Darla brushed Dru’s hair, Dru would beg her to sing. If Darla was feeling indulgent, she sometimes would. Woman had a voice, too. And Angelus would be sitting, sometimes watching them, sometimes drawing or reading."
Spike’s voice had a near-hypnotic effect upon Riley. The young man felt himself drawn into the lush, dark, sensual world the vampires had inhabited back then. He felt a burning desire to draw closer to it, like a moth to a flame. Dangerous as it was, wrong as it was, the desire was stronger than he felt he could resist sometimes.
He’d tried to shake it off, this obsession. Over and over, he’d told himself he was a nice boy from Iowa, Dan and Carrie Finn’s kid, big brother to Briana and Ericka. He liked playing basketball and going for long drives, especially if he had someone to share them with. He liked sunlight and good food. He went to church.
Or he had. He tried to think back to the last time he’d managed to make it to Sunday services. It had been months, maybe half a year.
All of that seemed to crumble under the weight of the fact that he was currently a freelance demon hunter who tended toward sleeping with the Slayer, getting suck jobs, and, oh yeah, obsessing about vampires.
"Good times, huh?" he commented to Spike.
"Yeah, good times." Spike’s eyes seemed to be turned inward, focusing back over his long lifespan. "They never last, you know."
"I’ve noticed that. What happened to yours?"
"Borsa, Romania," Spike answered. He took another swallow of the whiskey, then passed it back to Riley. "Everything seemed to be going fine. Angelus’ birthday came—that is, the anniversary of his rebirth as a vampire—and Dru wanted to hunt down the perfect present. Darla found him something, though, and so Dru and I took off while Darla gave him her gift and shagged him, more likely than not. Those two were always goin’ at it. Very educational, watching them. You wouldn’t believe some of the positions they could get into."
Riley choked on the whiskey. "You watched them?"
"Didn’t have much of a choice, sometimes. They’d drop right to the floor, ripping their clothes off. Never minded an audience and, as I said, very educational it was."
That was quite the mental image. "You vampires are weird, sexually."
"Care to push up your sleeves and say that again?"
Riley handed back the bottle. "Touché."
"Anyway, the next night, Darla found us. She was in a fury the likes of which I’d never seen. She told us to come with her, that there was an encampment of Romany gypsies nearby, and we were going to kill them all. So we did. Only thing was, Angelus wasn’t there. Not that night. Not the next. Not for nearly two years afterward." Spike’s eyes had grown distant again, but Riley picked up a hard bitterness in them now. "Darla took Dru and me to China. We had some fun on the trip, and then the Boxer Rebellion started. Great times for vampires, all that death.
"And then he was there again. Angelus just showed up one night. Dru was thrilled to see him, of course. Daddy had come home." Spike’s brow crinkled. "But she kept saying she was having strange dreams, that the stars were whispering that Daddy had gone away forever, never to come back home. I didn’t pay much attention at the time. I’d heard the Slayer was in China, and she and I had a date."
Spike turned his gaze fully on Riley again. "The night I killed the Slayer in China was the best night of my unlife. Even Darla was impressed, and Angelus . . . Angelus told me I was one of them. Real sad-like, it seemed. I took it for jealousy at the time, but he’d said the words. Claimed me as his own. I’d proven myself to him, and the rush from that was like a drug. Not the runt of the litter anymore. I was one of them. And you know what, Finn? You know what I worked out later?" He leaned in and lowered his voice. "It was all a lie. You see, that encampment of Romany we’d slaughtered was the same clan that cursed Angel with his soul. He had his soul back that night in China. He wasn’t claiming me as his equal; he was claiming me as one he’d damned."
For a long moment after that, Spike looked away, emotions Riley couldn’t even put a name to working their way across the vampire’s face.
"What happened then?" asked Riley.
"He left. Angel left us that night, and not one of us saw him again for near on a century. When Dru and I finally found him again, he’d already killed Darla. His sire and lover, the woman who’d elevated him above humanity. He’d killed her, and you know who he’d killed her for?"
Riley’s voice was barely a whisper. "Buffy."
Spike nodded. "The very same. First time I saw him, he was trying to stop me from killing Buffy. Trying to infiltrate, make me believe it was old Angelus again." Spike shook his head. "I sensed that soul of his through the show he put on. He even dragged Xander into it. That part was funny. There was something else, too, something that Dru sensed more clearly: our Angel had someone on his heart, and that someone was Buffy. I was sickened by that at the time, that a vampire could be such a fool over a Slayer." A short, bitter laugh. "I do love symmetry, don’t you? ‘Course, then she had to go and give him his moment of perfect happiness, and we all got Angelus version 2.0 inflicted upon us." Spike took an angry swig before handing the whiskey back to Riley.
"I’d have thought you’d have liked that," offered Riley.
A derisive noise answered him. "You kidding? After all those years sharing space with a human soul, the demon within him had gone mad. I thought I overcompensated for the first few years of my unlife, but the way Angelus went was beyond crazy. Stark staring crackers is more like it. You see, he had this vivid memory of all these things he’d felt for Buffy, and he couldn’t settle for just killing her—he had to destroy her. Had to own her, in the only way he knew how. He had to make sure nothing of her remained to haunt him. And when he couldn’t do that, he decided to end the world rather than see it go on with her in it. That’s when I jumped ship. I happen to like this world." He shrugged. "Besides, he’d laid claim to Dru, and I was getting sick of the two of them screwing."
"I think I’ve heard the rest," Riley said. "They fought, she stopped him, he got his soul back, he left. End of story."
"I never got the details," shrugged Spike. "Although he did look a bit peaked next time I saw him. I figure her stopping him involved something fairly painful. Those two." Spike chuckled, sounding not at all affectionate. "Trying to pretend they were friends. That’s one thing they’ll never be. You and I have a better chance of being friends than they ever will."
Riley barked a laugh. "In other words, not at all."
"Right again. They’ve got their tragic, noble, heart-wrenching romance, the kind that generally ends in homicide. And doesn’t that just trump our poor boy from Iowa?" Spike cocked his head, fixing Riley with his gaze again. "So that’s the saga of Angel, soldier. You see what I mean about love and hate: they’re two sides of the same coin. I loved Angelus for what he was to me back then, and I hated him for the same reason. Now, you answer my question: do you hate Buffy?"
"You do, don’t you? You hate her because you love her, because you can’t get that out of your heart. Don’t you, soldier?"
"Yes." The word was soft, almost sibilant, and Riley felt a rush go through him, one as intense as he’d ever gotten from being bitten. The word freed him. "Yes," he repeated.
"And here I thought you were a stupid one." Spike sat back, grinning again. "So what do you do, soldier?"
Riley looked at the door to the crypt, at the afternoon sunlight barely squeezing through the cracks. Strange—he could kill Spike right now. Grab him, thrust him out into the sunlight, let him go up in flames. He could do that. Technically, he should have the power.
But somehow, Spike had usurped that. Riley felt deflated and weak, as if he’d just been soundly defeated physically. Not, he reflected, unlike how he’d felt after Angel had thrashed him.
At least he knew the answer to Spike’s question. He knew that he would be on that transport tonight, leaving Sunnydale and Buffy behind. He’d leave, go somewhere else, get lost, and maybe, somehow, he could then find himself again. Lately, he looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the creature staring back at him.
He stood, taking one last drink of the whiskey. Handing the bottle back, he asked, "Don’t you know?"
"Thought so," acknowledged Spike. "Shall I wish you luck, then?"
"Nah." Riley opened the crypt door and looked out. "You know what a lucky guy I am."
"But she doesn’t love me."