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Mea Culpa

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He was expected. Nevertheless, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce paused for a long moment on the front porch of 1630 Revello Drive, fist poised to knock. No one who dwelt in this house was completely human. But close enough, some of them, that if he tried to walk through that doorway uninvited, the oldest and strongest of mankind's ancestral magics would block his passage. If they refused to let him in, ought he leave? Or camp on the doorstep till the sun rose? What would the neighbors think?

The door opened before the pause stretched to embarrassing lengths. The woman on the threshold barred his way as implacably as any spell - to the eyes, a small, trim blonde on the cusp of athletic middle age; to the uncanny senses Wesley possessed, a terrifying blaze of power. Slayer.

"You're here," she said, as if she wished he weren't.

"I am," Wesley responded, in as neutral a tone as he could manage. What did one say, after all, to the Slayer, if one were a recently-souled vampire with whom she wasn't conveniently in love? "You're looking well." That was true, at least. It had been twenty years and more since he'd first met Buffy Summers, and on most days, she wore them lightly. Three months ago, she'd been wire-thin. She was less so now, due in part, he guessed, to the light, almost imperceptible patter he could just catch beneath her own heartbeat. "May I come in?"

Buffy tilted her head, regarding him with hazel eyes far older than the rest of her face, as if she could detect the soul weighing him down in the shadows beneath his eyes, the slope of his shoulders. That gaze had unnerved Wesley, once upon a time. Now he simply endured it. At length she said, "I'll get Spike."

She turned away, invitation hanging unissued in the air. Wesley couldn't blame her, but it rankled nonetheless; he knew perfectly well he wasn't wanted here. She didn't need to rub it in. He waited on the doorstep, willing himself not to fidget. In his twenty years as the CEO of Wolfram & Hart, he had seldom had to deal with the more inconvenient aspects of being a vampire. Necro-tempered glass and corporate wizardry had made it easy to forget the downsides of being undead.

From the living room, three pairs of hostile eyes watched him: a teenaged boy slouched on the couch, pretending to play some sort of video game. He was slim and sandy-haired and bespectacled, but gold sparked behind the lenses whenever he glanced Wesley's way. A girl of about eleven sat cross-legged on the carpet hugging an even younger boy, who stared at Wesley with big doubtful eyes. The girl gripped one of her mother's stakes crosswise over her brother's chest, and in her defiant expression was something of her mother's steel. Wesley could smell their worry and their fear, hear the varied tempos of their heartbeats, human and less so. He had never been good with children, even when he'd been a child.

"Bill, Connie, you've both got homework, don't you?" Buffy's crisp voice interrupted the stand-off. "And Alex, I want to be able to see the floor around your bed for a change. Upstairs, everybody." She turned to Wesley. "Spike's coming. You can talk on the porch."

The children broke into a protesting chorus of "But Mooooom!"s, but they straggled off towards the stairs anyway, casting dire looks at Wesley as they did so. The younger boy stopped, one hand on the bannister, and asked, "Are you going to make my Daddy go away again?"

It was astonishing, the things which could break one. A child's voice. A child's eyes, clear and direct. Such little things, in comparison with the remembered horrors that one faced and overcame merely in order to force oneself out of bed in the evenings.

How many fathers had he made go away?

"Alex!" the older boy hissed, interposing himself between Wesley and the stairs as if he suspected Wesley of intending to devour his brother on the spot. His eyes were a smoky amber beneath jutting brows now, his fangs lengthening. Afraid, but not giving an inch. How very like his father.

"All of you, mind your Mum and get upstairs, or I'll tan the hides off the lot of you an' sell your bare bones to the Fyarl," a far-from-paternal voice growled. Spike made his way through the foot-dragging throng of his offspring with a smile for Bill, a hair-ruffling for Alex, and a peck on the top of her head for Connie. He exchanged a knowing look with Buffy, who reached up to touch his cheek, her eyes solemn. And then the door closed, and Wesley was alone with the reason he'd come to Sunnydale.

The older vampire (close enough, Wesley supposed, to what Spike was now) strolled out onto the porch, retrieving a lighter and a pack of fags from the porch railing. He was wearing a sweat-stained grey t-shirt and had a towel slung around his neck; Wesley had apparently interrupted a workout. Spike had obviously spent the last three months in a concerted effort to erase all vestige of the gaunt, broken captive Wesley had seen last. He looked fit, lean but solid, and his sandy-brown curls were neatly trimmed and slicked severely back. If his temples were a shade greyer, the lines around his eyes a fraction deeper, than they had been six months ago, it was a difference that only the most keen-eyed and uncharitable observer might have remarked upon. It was not Spike's fault that Wesley was both keen-eyed and uncharitable.

"All souled up now, are we?" Spike propped a shoulder against one of the big stone porch columns and began the leisurely ritual of puffing his cigarette to life. Very likely only Wesley would have noticed that his fingers trembled ever so slightly as he did so. As flame blossomed at the tip of his lighter, he glanced back at Wesley and cocked an eyebrow. "Did our Will get everything stowed away proper in there? I'd have featured you eating rats and wallowing in your sins for at least a year."

Shame and anger blazed up in equal parts, How dare he? warring with I deserve worse. "Angel feels, and I agree with him, that an extended period of... wallowing would serve no purpose. I intend to start making amends for the evil I did as a soulless vampire as soon as possible."

Spike nodded. His poker face had improved considerably over the years. "You wanted to talk. I'm here. Say your piece."

Wesley took a deep breath. "Ah. Well. This is all rather... difficult. But I'm here to... I'm here to apologize."

"Apologize." Spike tipped his head back and blew a smoke ring. "Why?"

"I should have thought that would have been obvious." At Spike's skeptical eyebrow-twitch, "It was Willow's idea," Wesley admitted. "She thought it might prove useful to my... recuperation."

"That's our Will." A fond grin took swift possession of Spike's face, and was as quickly evicted. "Not what I meant, though. Why d'you want to apologize to me?" When Wesley remained dumb, he went on, "Let's face it, mate, in the book of your sins, what you did to me barely rates a footnote on page forty-six. Why not hunt up some of the widows and orphans you gave the royal buggering during your tenure as CEO of Evil, Incorporated?"

It was astonishing, Wesley thought, the difference a soul made. Not simply in one's moral sense, which was only to be expected, but in one's confidence. There was an extraordinary freedom in not caring what anyone thought of you. But lying to Spike would give the vampire far greater significance than he possessed. "You were... available."

"Ah." Spike sucked on his cigarette. "Thought so. Bloody sight easier, apologizing to someone who doesn't matter, innit?"

"You have no conception of what I feel," Wesley snapped.

"True," Spike said agreeably. "But if my soul weren't already spoken for elsewhere, I'd take it back in a second just to stop berks like you and Angel yapping about how I don't." He gestured towards the street, the butt of his cigarette drawing a contrail of light against the deepening shadows. "You're done here, then. Can't say I wish you well. Bugger off and let us get back to our lives, yeah?"

Wesley wasn't certain what he'd envisioned coming of this encounter, but this wasn't it. "Spike, I - "

"You're sorry. Heard you the first time." Spike gave a dismissive snort. "Had a soul all of three months, and you've already forgotten everything you knew about not having one. I don't need your bleeding apology. No more than you need my forgiveness. I've been around a long time, mate - think you're the first bloke to tie me up and knock me around? Angelus, The Immortal, the Allies, the Nazis, the Initiative, Glory - they all took a poke, nor begged my pardon for it, and Spike's still standing."

"You may not need to hear it," Wesley said. "But I need to say it."

Spike took a drag and let smoke trickle out with his words, regarding Wesley with a far-too-shrewd blue gaze. "Could be you do. But not to me. I don't do remorse, Pryce. Bloke like me, deficient in the soul department, has to make do with regret. But even I know an apology's worth shite if you don't mean it." He tossed his cigarette to the concrete, grinding it out beneath the heel of his boot. "Save it for the widows an' orphans."

You'll go up there with the best of intentions, Angel had warned him, and ten minutes later, you'll want to kill him. Wesley stood still, hands fisted at his sides. "Perhaps you're right. I need to do this with someone I actually regret hurting."

For a moment there was something in Spike's eyes - not compassion, or sympathy, but a kind of understanding. Spike was, in a way, a creature more unnatural than Wesley himself - a vampire who'd chosen mortality, a soulless demon who'd chucked eternal darkness for a few brief decades of basking in the light which would inevitably consume him. Spike was caught between worlds - a monster aping the life of a man. In the end, both worlds would reject him, but in the meantime, he had the poor taste to enjoy himself. He stopped, one hand on the door. "If it's any consolation," he said, "Wish you didn't."

He gave Wesley a curt nod - acknowledgment of what they were capable of, both of them, and of what they weren't - and he was gone.

Wesley stood on the doorstep for a moment longer, breathing in the scent of meatloaf and warming pig's blood. Then he turned and walked down the porch steps. Perhaps he could reach Silverlake before sunrise.