Dawn kept peering at him. The whole time Buffy was telling her and the Watcher about his soul, she kept darting glances over at Spike, as if she expected him to look put on a sweater and turn into Mister Rogers or something.

He knew it was a surprise, but it wasn't like he was the only vampire she knew with a soul-just the only one who wasn't going anywhere. Wanker. Maybe Angel should spend a little less time at Hal's Big and Tall Shop and a little more time trying to-oh, bugger, pay attention, you nob. The Watcher was looking at him like he had a second head growing off his shoulder, and Buffy was beginning to chop her hand through the air emphatically, like decisive hand gestures were the key to convincing Giles.

Spike was fairly sure they weren't, but he admired her resolve.

Giles squinted at Buffy. Could she really believe that? That falderal about Spike having a soul? She was so desperate to convince herself that Spike was worth loving that he had miraculously procured one from god knows where-the local convenience store, perhaps? Or down at the Sunnydale Mall, at Souls ‘R' Us?

Giles affixed Spike with a skeptical gaze and Spike squirmed a little under its weight. "A soul?" he repeated. "How very unusual."

"Not for Sunnydale," piped up Dawn. "Here, it's been there, done that."

Buffy narrowed her eyes at her sister, who studiously ignored her.

"It is an interesting coincidence," agreed Giles. He returned his gaze to Spike. "Yet another thing you and Angel have in common."

Spike felt his polite expression curdle at the mention of his grand-sire. "Not that much," he denied politely, and it was true. They loved the same woman, but they were opposites, as vampires and as men. Spike had seen it long ago, when Dru was still puzzling over whether to call him Jolly Will or Lucien, Prince of Liars, before he'd taken it out of her hands and suggested William the Bloody. ‘Bout time that nickname worked in his favor, and if it kept him from being known as Lucien, all the better. Upperclassman at Maryleby name of Lucien had tried to bugger him most of his second year, and he hadn't much wanted to hear that name every day for the rest of his unlife.

"Would you care to tell me how you acquired your...soul?" Giles asked. He thought he was doing rather well at keeping the disbelief out of his voice. Spike having a soul-a soul? Giles had been far more predisposed to accept Spike's presence in Buffy's life before his sudden claim to having a soul. He was a vampire, yes-and it really should agitate Giles more that his Slayer was involved with a vampire, but he had known Buffy too long to think he could dissuade her when she had her mind made up. She was convinced she knew what was best for her.

Sometimes, he thought she was right.

And Spike-obnoxious delinquent that he was-had demonstrated enough times how strong his feelings for Buffy were. Giles had been there when Spike was taken from Glory's home. He'd been bloodied and torn and insensible, yet still had not given Glory what she'd wanted. And Giles had been there when Spike had attempted to stop Doc from bleeding Dawn, and been stabbed and thrown from the tower for his trouble. His had not been the only body to fall from the tower that night, and it had been days later that Giles realized what Spike had done. And he'd been there when Spike patrolled night after night, like a mad thing, after Buffy was gone. He spoke to no one except Dawn for weeks. He had followed her every move, as if he could suddenly leap between her and danger, the way he hadn't on the tower, with Doc.

And so Giles accepted, reluctantly, that Spike cared for Buffy, and for Dawn, as much as it was possible for a demon to care. But this-this absurd "revelation"-was clearly made to play on Buffy's lingering feelings for Angel. Spike wanted her to love him and to believe that he himself was capable of love, and so he assigned himself this device that could make both of those possible. The desperation contained within the lie was breathtaking.

"This is fascinating," Giles murmured. Buffy nodded eagerly. She misinterpreted his words, and it was probably for the better.

"We'll just go, uh...go," said Buffy, grabbing Dawn's hand and pulling the protesting teenager from the room. Success! No doubt Giles wanted to go over everything with a fine-toothed comb until any sane person was ready to pull their hair out, so Spike could handle that one himself. Besides, she wasn't sure that she wanted Dawn to hear all the gruesome details, even if she loved that sort of thing.

The men followed the girls out of the room with their eyes before returning their attention, not very happily, to one another. "Perhaps you could tell me a little about how you came to this unusual circumstance," Giles said to Spike.

The coolness of the Watcher's tone didn't escape Spike. Little did, really. Except for the odd thing here and there, like blokes slipping into his crypt and leaving him little surprise packages.

"Saw a gentleman in Africa," Spike said baldly. Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea if he told the Watcher just how bad the pains had gotten. He could keep a secret, right? All kinds of secrets. All kinds of things he'd never told Buffy, and-

Oh, who was he kidding? He had to tell Buffy himself, because they were acting all adult and nauseating now, and she'd take exception to him heaving all over the place and not telling her about it. Women.

"What would motivate you to seek a soul?"

Spike's eyes grew thoughtful. He wasn't sure if the Slayer had told Rupert about what he'd done-tried to do-but he wasn't taking a chance. Giles' interest in his soul was fine, but Spike had no sudden inclination to explain just how much of a monster he'd had in him.

Still had in him, but easier to control, now. "Have a hard time understanding why I'd give up the good life of indifference for all the fun of guilt and responsibility?" Spike asked glibly, glancing away.

"Actually, Spike, I don't believe any demon would deliberately get a soul."

Spike snapped his gaze back to Giles. Ah, that's what this little line of questioning was in aid of. Giles didn't care about his reasons, because he didn't think there were reasons. "So you think it's just a lie, eh?"

"I wouldn't have put it so bluntly, but yes, I am less than convinced you have gotten a soul. The likelihood of your loving the same woman as your grandsire, and receiving a soul, like your grandsire, being coincidental seem highly doubtful."

"I didn't receive a soul anything like he did," Spike gritted out. "He was cursed. I went to the other end of the earth to get mine, and just about died fighting for it."

"Fighting how?"

"Trials, to prove I wanted it enough."

"And what if you didn't?"

Spike blinked at Giles. Even when those mangy beetles were rummaging about in his brain, he'd never thought about failing. Hell, he was good at it, wasn't he? Good at fighting, even that plonker with the tail and the glowing eyes said so. Used the past tense, which showed he'd had beetles running around his brains a few times himself.

The Watcher was probably right-there were few enough demons who'd want to saddle themselves with a soul, but he'd never been your typical demon. Thank god.

"If I didn't, I died," Spike said simply.

"Died how?"

Spike smiled tolerantly. "Well, there were several ways-depended on who I was fighting at the moment. Whole thing lasted a few days. I wasn't much with the consciousness when he finally gave me my soul. Caught fire once or twice, had some nasty green venom spat in my eyes. Felt like something that had been in a cow's colon and then went someplace really unpleasant. Bunch of things, none of them nice."

"And then you were given your soul?"

"Yeah."

"How'd it feel? Did it feel?"

Spike eyed Giles. He thought the man was becoming interested despite himself, that scholarly nature rising to the fore. The scholar in Spike might have found it intriguing himself, but he'd buried that side of himself so deeply, so long ago, that bits of it rose to the surface only occasionally. He had William's soul again, but he'd been Spike for more than a century. Spike was who he was, who he'd always been. The demon just let him out.

"All the other things? The fights, and the torture?" Giles nodded. "Made me feel all nostalgic for them."

Giles couldn't stand it any more. "Where is that notebook?" he muttered, patting his pockets. He fished out a little memo pad and began scribbling. "These are just preliminary notes, you understand," he told Spike earnestly. "I'll need a more complete account for my journal."

Spike could hear a snicker from the next room. Oh, she'd get hers, he promised himself.

***

Score one for Summers, thought Buffy in triumph, leaning back in a kitchen chair, eating a tiny chocolate chip cookie from the Grandma's Cookies Cookie Parade assortment. The cookie parade was the most important cookie breakthrough since packaged soft-baked cookies, since they allowed you to eat three times as many cookies for the same calories. Or at least that's what she and Willow had always told each other.

Willow.

The cookie abruptly turned chalky and tasteless in her mouth, and Buffy swallowed it without pleasure before hastily downing half a glass of water. She shoved the bag of cookies into the cabinet without bothering to affix the little clamp that kept the cookies nice and fresh, and was happy to be distracted by the ring of the telephone.

"Hello?"

"Buffy?"

"Yes," Buffy replied. The voice was familiar, but she hadn't heard it too often lately...ah, Anya.

"Anya? Is something wrong?"

"No," Anya said after a moment. "Look, I just wanted to mention that I heard a tip that a Nosredna-Laup is in town. It's a winged demon that eats...well, anything it wants, including babies and small-boned dogs, and once sets up a nest it tends to attract others, so you might want to kill it before...oh, you know what to do."

"Ugh! Do you want to talk to Giles about it?"

There was a long pause. Finally the dial tone gave Buffy her answer.

***

"No, I did not remember any pre-natal memories after receiving the soul," Spike said as he entered the kitchen, Giles hot on his heels. Spike looked distinctly harassed..

"Well, would you say that-"

"Honey," Buffy interjected sweetly, "would you go get some weapons? Anya called to say that there's a nasty new demon in town. A Nosretina-Lauper, or something?"

Spike looked pathetically grateful, and left the kitchen without a word.

"A Nosredna-Laup? Good heavens, that is an unpleasant specimen," exclaimed Giles. "And Anya encountered one?"

"No, she just heard about it."

"Hmm...I do wonder that she telephoned, she usually just pops over in that extraordinary way she has. I must say, I'm a little relieved that she chose a normal method of communication. I've been wondering how long she'd continue to serve as a vengeance demon."

"Giles?"

"Yes, my dear?"

"How do you kill a Nosberger-Lapper?"

"You damage its wings, then decapitate it," Giles replied absently, not looking up from the notes he was scribbling.

Buffy nodded. "Better get the crossbow," she murmured, and headed out the kitchen after Spike.

***

It was sacramental. Being here, in her room. Wanted, allowed, welcomed. The girly frills of adolescence still hung on the walls, and under them was the stern duty of her weapons chest, the contrasting aspects that made her Buffy. He loved them both. She needed them both to be her, and so he needed them too.

He smiled to himself as he knelt before the chest. The Bit had looked out at him as he came down the hall, peering around the mostly closed door to her room, and a sweet, hopeful smile lighting her face. She hadn't looked at him like that in forever, and he'd wanted to hug her and tell her that he loved her, loved Buffy, and would always protect them. But then she'd shut the door, her little peek over, and he'd gone on to Buffy's room, preposterously, unreasonably happy.

What should he get? Swords, they were always good. Nothing that couldn't be killed with a sword, more or less. ‘Course, Buffy had always favored stakes, so he should get a couple of those as well. And he'd see if anything else appealed, he thought, unlatching the lid and lifting it open.

And then he stopped moving, and stopped thinking, for a moment. Inside the chest was his old trophy, the duster, folded among the stakes and crosses and jars of holy water. Intermingled with them. It was sick. It was sacrilegious. For a moment nausea overcame him, and he thought he might pass out, or do something equally gittish.

He sat there and breathed, inhaled, exhaled, unnecessary but comforting, and finally opened his eyes. He saw the chest in front of him, and to the side, in the doorway, he saw Buffy, her face startled. A little pale.

"I-went to tell you to be sure to get a crossbow, but then I realized you weren't at my usual weapons chest, so you had to be up here." He looked at her blankly. "I use the one downstairs now. The one Xander made for me."

"Ah," he murmured. His mouth felt dry. "You...kept it."

Buffy was silent for a moment. "I was going to throw it away," she said finally. "I threw it to the back of my closet. I was going to throw it in the garbage. I was going to, but I didn't want to see it and didn't want to touch it, so I didn't, and then after a while I forgot about it. And when I found it again, I'd already forgiven you. And I thought about the way we'd treated each other, and it seemed wrong to just get rid of it."

She knelt beside him and covered his hand with hers, nudging her forehead against his. "It's a part of you," she whispered. "It's a part that hurts. It's a part I don't like to remember. But it's a part of you, and I couldn't get rid of it."

He fingered the soft, worn leather with his free hand. "Do you know where I got this?" She shook her head wordlessly. "I took it off my second Slayer. The one I killed in New York."

Her hand, still stroking his, stilled for a moment, then resumed its calming pattern. "That's not who you are," she said softly.

"Yes, it is," he told her, his voice steady.

"It's not all you are. It never was."

After a moment he shut the chest carefully, and they left the room weaponless. The duster rested still surrounded by the tools of the Slayer's art, in the little-girl room he loved. Maybe he'd come back for it later.

Maybe he wouldn't.

***

"Is that was you wanted?" Anya asked, hanging up the phone.

"That's fine," Willow said with a small smile.

"Then you should feel good about accomplishing what you set out to do, and celebrate by leaving my shop," Anya suggested. She had a strict policy against asking customers to leave her shop, but most Magic Box customers hadn't tried to kill her. And Willow had never been a paying customer anyway.

Willow smothered a laugh as she turned towards the door. Everything was for a reason-everything-but Anya didn't seem to realize that. Which amused Willow, really, since Anya was the oldest one of all of them. Older than Giles; older than Spike. Although almost everyone seemed older than Spike, because he wore his years so lightly.

But he'd seemed older, more somber, when they'd talked in the park. Like something was weighing on him. Preoccupying his mind. Eating away at him.

Good.

 





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