"No, I said Spike's back. He's human. Xand? You there?"
Oh right. She can't hear me nodding over the phone. "Yeah, Buff, I'm here. So what? Am I supposed to care? I mean, aside from the fact that you can't stake him now."
Buffy sighs, and I almost take it back. But no. It's true. Spike's a menace, no matter how you look at it. So what if he ran afoul of some sort of magical guy? And the guy cast a spell that made him human. Sort of. Physically. No way is Spike human in his head, and I can't see why Buffy doesn't see that, for all of her protests that she does. Pining for a different vamp, no doubt. Projection, I think they call it.
"What?" She's talking again and I missed the first part.
"Would you pay attention? That has to be a pretty powerful spell, Xand. Something along the lines of what you guys, well, I mean big. So I think we need to look into it. Will you come over and help us out? I'll feed you."
"As long as it's processed food with a high fat and calorie content," I answer, and she snorts. Go me, I made Buffy laugh, something none of us have done enough of lately. "Okay, okay, I'll be over in about half an hour, but keep him on the other side of the room from me, okay?"
"Right. One corner for Spike. One for Xander. Any other requests?"
"A side of agreeable. Hold the sarcasm. I'm on my way."
So off I go on my white horse to lend moral support and masticate innocent hamburgers. Because that's really all I can see me doing. I know Willow has to be there, so they don't need me. Of course, if Spike is human then I'm stronger than him now, so I can keep an eye on him while Buffy and Willow play research girls.
You know, once upon a time that whole sentence would've sounded strange. Sometimes I wish for a simpler time, back when the worst boogeyman in my life was my dad, and the worst thing that ever happened to me was his drunken yelling. No going back, I know, and without the Slayerette gig I'd probably be even more of a loser than I am, but I do wonder what life would be like if I didn't know about vampires and demons in general. Let alone knowing some of them personally.
I'm dawdling. Isn't that a fun word? But yeah, I don't want to go see Spike. If I never had to see that thing again I would be happy. And I don't know why Buffy let him in her house, human or not. I mean, how does she know he's not just hatching some evil plan? Okay, so maybe I can't see any evil plan of Spike's making him human, but it could happen. Or maybe it's a bid for sympathy. You know, I'm a man now, not a monster. Bat his eyelashes and hope that she could care for him.
Now I'm angry, so not dawdling anymore. Striding purposefully, that might cover it. I seem to be doing that a lot lately. At least this time I don't have an axe. Although I might wish for one later on. Did I mention I have a bad feeling about this?
I let myself in, like I usually do, with nothing more than a short knock and a, "Hey, I'm here." There's no sign of Buffy or Willow in the living room, just Spike. He's on the couch with the curtains open, soaking up the sun. So if I had any doubt that he really was human, it's gone. There's actually color in his face, a spot of pink on each cheekbone, and that's just weird. He's got music blaring, and thanks to his extended stay in the basement from Hell I know the song. It's called "Love Kills."
"Where's Buffy?" I shout over the racket, and he starts violently, almost falling off the couch.
"Shit! How do you people not have a heart attack on a daily basis?" He gets up and turns the stereo down, looking almost sheepish. "What was that?"
"I said, where's Buffy? And I've got news for you, Spike, but you're one of 'us people' now."
He tilts his head to one side and considers me a minute with this little smile playing on his face, and it makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. God I hate this guy. He finally shakes off whatever oddness made him look at me that way and nods toward the kitchen. "The girls are in the kitchen, cooking up something or other. Something about feeding you and forcing all manner of garlicky food on me."
With a cool nod (yay me, I'm mature guy) I head for the kitchen, which means turning my back on Spike. In retrospect, that's not one of my smartest moves, and that thought will come back to me over and over again. I don't even think about it right now, which is why the crushing pain as something blunt and heavy crashes into the back of my skull comes as such a surprise.
When I come to I'm in Buffy's basement. How sad is it that I've been down there enough in my short life to identify it by the smell of mildew and dryer sheets, and just faintly, demon parts? My head throbs relentlessly, and I'm afraid to open my eyes, because they might fall out. The music has changed, but it's still going loud and strong and I can't identify the song, though I hear it plainly enough. A woman's voice, rough with cigarette smoke, singing a chorus of something like, "Wanna be haunted by the ghost of your precious love."
There's rough wood against my cheek, and I have a feeling if I look, I'll see that I'm tied to the same post I was the last time I was down here. I'm standing this time, though, with my hands high over my head. Not going to look. Not. I don't want to see what's going on, and my head hurts so bad I think I might just puke, like an ice pick stabbing behind my ear.
"I know you're awake. Going to have to open your eyes sometime, Harris."
He's got a point, so I might as well get it over with. I crack my eyes open, and even the dim light stabs at me. Must have a concussion. Spike's there, looking all too normal in black jeans and t-shirt, and he's got this demented little smile on his face. Between us on the floor I can see the set up for a pretty elaborate spell of some sort. Red powder sprinkled in a wide circle, with a star in the middle of it, and black candles. There's bottles and bundles of herbs, and Spike knows just about as much about casting spells as I do, so that makes me even more nervous.
"Where's Buffy?" I manage. My voice cracks dryly, but I know he understood me. "If this is about trying to make her love you."
His face gets hard, that look he gets when he's at his vampy best and it just reinforces the idea that no matter what he is physically he'll never be human again. Spike walks over to me, carefully avoiding the spell circle, and stands really close to me, close enough that I can smell him, sweat and fabric softener and whiskey. "Oh, I gave up on that, pet. She was never going to love me, was she? No this is about a little payback. As for where she is, well she's right over there. Her and the little witch both."
He points to the darkest corner of the basement, shadowed by the stairs, and I have to strain my head around to see and I do see. I see it all in one horrifying moment before I turn my head away and vomit violently, heaving until my legs won't hold me anymore and I sag against the ropes holding me in place.
"Oh now, look at the mess you made."
"You bastard." It comes out as a whimper through the sour taste of bile and Spike just laughs at me.
"Never claimed I wasn't? Tried to change for her. Tried to make myself better than I was. Did it do any good? No. No more than it did for your demon bint to go human to please you."
"Anya? What are you going to do to Anya?" I can't believe I manage to care about anything, not with that image superimposed on my eyelids, red and white and Buffy's beautiful blonde hair. But it's Anya he's talking about, and I have to know.
"Nothing. Not going to do a thing to her. Promised her I wouldn't bite her and I won't."
That shouldn't make me feel better but it does and I'm selfishly glad. You know how your brain shuts down a little when really bad things happen? This qualifies as a really bad thing and I think I'm in shock. All of my blood seems to be in my feet and I'm cold. Cold enough to have the shakes. Spike has a knife now, a really big one, sharp and shiny and deadly, and he uses it to cut away my reeking clothes.
"What," I clear my throat, "what are you going to do to me?"
"Hold still, will you? You keep shaking like that and I'll cut you by accident. Don't want that." My shirt goes, then my jeans and thank God for baggies, because that was close enough to make my balls shrivel, if they weren't already from what I see in the corner and no, not looking at that anymore, even though it has all the fascination of a car wreck. "Anyway, got something special in mind for you."
"What?" Actually, there's a question I want answered more than the what, and that's, "How?"
"Went and tracked me down Red's warlock, didn't I? Rack, his name is. Stiff price he asked for, but it's worth it. Custom spell. Physical reversal. What was inhuman is now human. Chip that only worked against humans only works against demons now. I though that was a nice touch."
I only now realize I'm shaking my head violently. Trying to deny it. Trying to make this not happen by sheer force of will. And Red. He means Willow. That guy Willow was going to see. Willow, like a crumpled Raggedy Ann covered in spilled Kool Aid. My poor Wills. "So now what?"
You know, I don't really want to know, but it pops out and he gives me an approving look. "Always more balls than brains, you. Now I bleed you a bit. And while you're draining like a nice bit of venison I do my little reversal spell again. So I can get on with the best part of my revenge."
My eyes are riveted to the knife as it approaches my neck, until I have to tilt my head at a painful angle to see it shine. Spike lays it along my collarbone, just skimming the top of it, and runs it up my throat like he's shaving me and I can feel it cold against me when I swallow. He nods in response to all of my unspoken questions.
"Oh yeah. Red I did quick. She was always good to me. Buffy, well, got a bit out of hand with her, I guess. Too fast off the mark, but then I always was with her, wasn't I? But you. Oh, I'm going to enjoy you. Bleed you nice and slow 'til you've lost just enough. Then do my little spell to turn me right back into my vampire self." Here he leans in close and puts his lips right next to my ear. I can feel air when he talks, and his lips are warm, which is wrong. So wrong. "Then I'm going to feed you some of my blood, Xander. And then you die. And when you wake up, you'll be just like me. Like what you hate so much. An evil, soulless thing."
I'm crying now, and before I can even open my mouth the knife slices into my skin, pain as bright and shiny as the knife that causes it flares in me. The blood rushes to the surface, hot and slick and copper-oily, and there's a roaring in my ears as Spike steps away from me, but I can still hear him laughing.
"Oh yeah, child 'o mine," he says. "Who knew I could do it when I was only human? Always said I just needed one good day. And this is a very good day, indeed."