"Get those boots off my coffee table this minute."
Giles aimed a kick at Spike's feet as he walked past, but Spike was too quick for him. Lightning fast, the boots in question were gone, and Giles's flailing leg sent him staggering off balance.
The top book in the teetering pile Giles was carrying slid sideways and crashed to the floor, followed, in a sort of unstoppable slow motion arc, by all the others. Books rained down everywhere. The larger volumes landed hardest, accompanied by the unmistakable crack of ancient leather splitting along the seams.
Giles managed to bite back the expletive that sprang to his lips. He'd be damned if he'd give Spike any more fun at his expense.
Instead, he took a deep breath and gritted, "Well, don't just sit there, you bloody idiot. Help me pick them up."
Spike didn't lift his eyes from the magazine he was affecting to read. "Yeah, an' why exactly would I do that?"
Giles had retrieved the book with the broken spine. He winced at the damage to what was an irreplaceable copy of Mondragon's seminal work, A Demon Compendium.
"Because it's your fault, you pillock," he growled. "Throwing me off balance like that. You did it on purpose, didn't you?"
Spike looked up at last. He put a hand on his chest, as if to say, "Who me?" His face wore an expression of injured innocence.
"That's hardly fair. Was only doin' what you said an' takin' my boots off the table. Was your idea to carry so many books in one go." He smirked. "Any 'bloody idiot' could see how well that'd work."
Giles gritted his teeth. Spike had a point, damn him. In fact, Giles had noticed that he usually did, even when he hadn't, as now, engineered the situation himself.
This, needless to say, made him even more infuriating.
"Here you go." Still smirking, Spike stretched out a languid arm and gathered up the only book near enough that he didn't have to get out of his seat to reach it. He held the book out to Giles, but abruptly snatched it back again. Holding it to his nose, he sniffed, frowned, then made a disgusted face and opened it at the title page.
"Bloody hell!" Slamming the book shut again, he practically hurled it in Giles's direction.
"Hope you know what you're doin', Watcher. That book is fucking poison."
Giles glanced at the title and raised a disbelieving eyebrow. "Amador's Guide to Darkest Magic? I'd have thought it would be right up your street, Spike."
"Thought wrong, then, didn't you?" Spike almost snarled. "Wouldn't touch the thing with a sodding bargepole. And neither should you."
Giles thought of pointing out (again) that this didn't seem to apply to the rest of his belongings, which Spike appeared to consider were just as much his as they were Giles's. This was particularly true of Giles's collection of single-malt whiskies, which was rather smaller than it had been. But Giles had, on one occasion, found Spike shamelessly dividing his L.Ps into those that were 'crap' and those that 'were worth a few bob,' and on another pocketing a pair of ivory and gold cufflinks left to Giles by his grandfather.
Spike's reaction on being caught, however, had been an indifferent shrug, and a look of puzzlement at Giles's outrage, so arguing about the 'private' part of 'private property' was clearly a waste of time, and Giles had wasted far too much time on Spike already.
"Oh, for heaven's sake." Giles set the Amador and the Mondragon down on his work table and bent to gather up the other books. When they were all safely in situ, he sat down in his chair, switched on his lamp, opened his notepad, then paused, pen in hand, at the sight of Spike's disapproving expression.
Feeling like he was being judged by Spike of all...well, not people, really was the last straw in what had been a very difficult week.
Giles put his pen down. "What?" he exclaimed, crossly.
Spike, meanwhile, continued to look at him with lips pursed, as if he were somehow morally deficient, which, for sheer, breathtaking hypocrisy took some beating in Giles's opinion.
"You're playin' with fire," Spike said. "Hope you know that, Watcher?"
Giles clenched his fists, which were by this time positively itching to punch Spike square in the jaw. Or pick up a stake and dust him - something which Giles would have no qualms whatsoever about doing after having had to live with him for almost a fortnight.
In fact, with a visit from Olivia imminent, the only thing stopping him was the possibility that Spike was still holding back some vital information about the mysterious commandos to use as a bargaining tool.
"Not that it's any business of yours," Giles snapped, "but I know what I'm doing. This book, and others of its kind, are for research purposes only."
Spike rolled his eyes. "Yeah, that's what they all say."
"They who? Honestly, Spike, this holier-than-thou act of yours is very unconvincing."
Spike bristled all over. "What act? I bloody mean it, you berk. The wrong person gets hold of that book, they could do some serious damage."
Giles glared at him. "Like you with the Du Lac Codex, you mean?"
Even as the words left his mouth, he knew what Spike's come-back would be, and sure enough...
"You mean that very dangerous book you left lyin' around where any spotty little Yank high school brat could've walked off with it?" Spike sneered. "Lucky for you Sunnydale High was full of the usual bunch of illiterates, or restoration of a sick vampire would've been the least of you white hats' worries."
The sneer became a smirk. "Should say thanks, though, I 'spose, for helping me find a cure for what ailed Dru. Was remiss of me not to say so before, even if the ungrateful bitch did up and leave me afterwards."
"Don't mention it," Giles gritted. He glared at Spike some more, but he had to admit - if only to himself - that yet again Spike had a point. Giles had been very lax about security back in his high school librarian days. He'd relied far too much on Buffy's strength to protect his important books, along with the average teenagers' complete lack of intellectual curiosity as regards their contents.
But if the events of this past week had proved anything, it was what damage could be done by an unschooled amateur meddling with magic beyond their capacity. Giles suppressed a shudder at the memory of the Do-My-Will spell debacle.
Spike appeared to be thinking of the same thing, because his smirk had fallen away, to be replaced by a sour expression. "Was only tryin' to remind you that magic's tricky stuff," he said. "Even when the person casting the spell is a fluffy baby witch-kitten like your Willow, nine times out of ten it ends up goin' horribly wrong, an' in ways you least expect."
He grimaced, as if at a bad taste in his mouth. "You get all sorts of stupid bollocks goin' on, like people bein' struck blind, or...or asking their arch enemies to marry them, and kissing them, and...and whatnot."
For a moment, his face went curiously blank, but then he blinked back to the present and looked Giles in the eye again. "But black magic? S'fucking dangerous, mate. You shouldn't mess with it. Not ever."
"I am not messing with it," Giles growled. "I wasn't born yesterday, Spike. I understand the risks. I've been consulting such books for years -for research purposes, as I said. And sometimes, yes, it's necessary to use the enemy's own weapons against him, and in order to do that, one must understand how to use them. That's all."
Even as the words left his mouth, Giles wondered why on earth he was qualifying his original statement, potentially giving Spike yet more ammunition.
Sure enough, Spike sprang to his feet - so suddenly, it made Giles jump. The overhead light cast his face in shadow, and from that shadow, his eyes gleamed bright as knives.
"Yeah?" he said. "Which enemy would this be, then?"
Giles frowned. Was Spike being deliberately obtuse now?
"Why, you, of course," he said, with laboured patience. "Vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness. The source of all evil in this world."
To his astonishment, Spike gaped at him, then began to laugh.
"The source of all evil in this world?" Spike sneered, then burst out laughing again - a dirty, snigger of a laugh, edged with real contempt. He laughed and laughed, until he was clutching his stomach and crowing for breath, while Giles watched him, caught between irritation and embarrassment.
Being an object of derision to Spike, while no longer a novel experience, was still a thoroughly unpleasant one.
In the end, when there was no sign of the mocking laughter stopping any time soon, Giles decided to ignore it. Picking up his pen again, he opened Mondragon's Compendium at the relevant page - Arash Ma'har and its denizens - and began to make notes on the notepad.
After a moment, the laughter stopped, and Giles smiled grimly to himself. The best way of dealing with Spike was not to rise to the bait. He knew that. Spike knew he knew that. This was doubtless why the little bastard put so much energy into trying to provoke him.
For the next couple of minutes, Giles was very absorbed in reading Mondragon's rather sensationalized description of D'Hoffryn, lord of the Vengeance Demons, so it was only when he turned the page that he became aware of someone standing right beside him.
It was Spike, and the look on his face was enough to send Giles scrabbling for the stake that he kept in a secret drawer under the writing table.
But Spike had already backed off a couple of paces before he could lay his hands on it.
"The source of all evil in this world, my arse!" Spike said, bitterly. "Speakin' of arses, you're talking out of yours, mate."
Giles frowned again, and not just at Spike's rudeness. "What is this?" he said, not even trying to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. "Are you trying to say you're not evil after all? Just misunderstood, or some such puerile twaddle? I'm not a child, Spike. I don't forget what you are and what you're capable of."
Spike's lip lifted in the ghost of a grin. "No," he said, in the sort of patient tone one might adopt when speaking to the terminally ignorant, "that's not what I'm saying at all."
"What, then?" Giles demanded, irritably. "And hurry up and get to the point, will you? I have work to do."
"All right, then."
Spike perched on the back of the couch, way too close to him for Giles's liking.
"Yeah, I'm evil," he said. "I don't deny it. In fact - "and now the smirk was back - "I bloody revel in it." But the smirk fell away again at once. "At least, I used to, before those sodding soldier boys stuck this sodding chip in my head. S'rather taken the shine off, have to admit."
"Yes, yes," Giles had lost count of how many times during Spike's seemingly interminable confinement in his house he'd heard variations on this complaint. "Do get on with it, Spike."
Spike's gaze had gone glassy - yearning for his glory days, no doubt - but at Giles's words, he focused on him again.
"I'll also grant you," Spike went on, "that most demons are evil too. They can't help it, see? They're born that way. But when it comes to real, genuine, cold-blooded evil, you lot have us beat by miles."
His finger stabbed at the Amador volume, lying broken-backed on Giles's table. "Who was it wrote that book? Wasn't a demon, I'd wager. In fact, I know it wasn't."
"Don't tell me," Giles said, in a sarcastic tone, though the truth was Spike had rattled him somewhat, "you met Charles Amador back in the day and can vouch for his humanity?"
"No," Spike replied, still in that infuriating patient voice, "but I've met enough like him. Could give me a run for my evil money any day of the week, they could, and strange to say, not a single one of 'em's soulless."
"Just because there are a few bad apples -" Giles began, but Spike interrupted him.
"Also, just so we're clear, wasn't a demon put the Nazis up to it either, or the Bolsheviks, or any of those bastards. Wasn't a demon made the general populace fall in line with 'em either. Humans did all that stuff by themselves to themselves."
"Some authors I've read would dispute that," Giles protested, but Spike waved a dismissive hand.
"What do they sodding know? They weren't there, were they? Some of the things I've seen humans do to each other - well, reading about it in books isn't the same, believe me."
"But no doubt you were shocked and appalled by it," Giles sneered, even more rattled. He had to say something, dammit, and Spike wasn't letting him get a word in edgewise.
"Appalled?" Spike repeated the word as if he were testing it, then shrugged. "Not really. What do I care what a bunch of humans do to other humans? But shocked? Yeah, you could say that."
His gaze had gone distant again, as if remembering past horrors, and for a moment, Giles's curiosity got the better of him. Spike must have seen so much during the course of his long, mis-spent existence. If he could induce him to talk about his past, he could learn a lot, and perhaps even lead the conversation into areas more pertinent to the present.
Such as, say, medical experiments on vampires conducted by the military.
"You're right," he said, though it was hard to make himself say it to Spike, even to help Buffy. "I don't have your wealth of experience, Spike. Perhaps you'd care to give me the benefit of it?"
Spike jerked back to the present at once and gave Giles a look more in sorrow than in anger. "Let you pick my brains about the commandos then kill me, you mean? Not bloody likely, Watcher."
The sorrowful look became a contemptuous sneer. "Don't think you could handle the truth anyway."
"You may well find you're wrong about -" Giles protested, but Spike interrupted him for a second time.
"Look, my point is, you sayin' you need to keep dangerous books around in a house that bloody amateurs can break into whenever they feel like it, because you need them to fight 'the source of all evil in this world' - " he made sarcastic air quotes around the words - "is a load of old bollocks. The worst evil in this world is you, mate. Humans. Us demons're laggin' way behind you in the evil stakes."
He got up from his perch and headed over to the kitchenette, where he began to rummage around in the fridge, heedless of any perishables knocked onto the floor in the process. Giles winced as a carton of milk hit the tiles, but, no doubt to Spike's disappointment, it failed to explode all over them.
"So even if your little Slayer managed to kill all us demons," Spike continued, as he rummaged, "what good would it bloody do? You wanna get rid of evil, you humans should be offing yourselves. Ah, here it is."
He straightened, a large glass jug full of blood in one hand, took Giles's favourite mug out of the cupboard over the sink and poured himself a mug full.
Giles grimaced. Another item of crockery he'd never be using again.
Spike tipped his head back and drank the contents of the mug in one long gulp. His prominent Adam's apple worked as he swallowed. When he set the mug down, he'd gone into vampire face. He grinned at Giles, showing bloodstained fangs.
"So what I'm really sayin'" he lisped, "is that you Watchers and Slayers are wasting your fucking time. You'll never beat evil. It's everywhere - and the best place to see it is in a sodding mirror."
For a moment, they stared at each other in silence across the width of the room. The air crackled with tension. Then, just as Spike's bloody grin broadened into a smirk of triumph, Giles began to laugh.
"So that's what you're saying, is it Spike?" he said, when he had himself under control again. "There was I thinking that you were using specious arguments about the perils of dark magic as a way of trying to blind me to the fact that you're sizing up my books with a view to stealing them at some point, along with the rest of my belongings."
Giles stood up, crossed to the kitchenette and crowded Spike into the corner, where he could use his greater height to advantage
"I'd strongly advise you against it, by the way. Whatever may have previously been the case, the books are not unprotected."
He leaned in closer. "But you're welcome to test those protections of course, if you value your worthless hide so little."
Spike's eyes never left Giles's. His expression seemed to say, Go on, then, Watcher. Let's see what else you've got.
Giles met the yellow gaze steadily.
"But for the sake of argument, regarding your contention that humans are their own worst enemies, I admit that's not entirely untrue. However, rather than this being a reason to despair, I believe it only makes the Slayer's fulfilment of her sacred duty more important. Humans have enough internal demons to fight, without having to deal with physical ones."
Giles poked Spike hard in the chest with his index finger.
"Evil will always be with us, I've no doubt," he said, "and in many different forms. We do what we can to fight it in whatever way we can. We can't do more than that."
Their gazes were still locked, but after a moment, Giles had the satisfaction of seeing Spike's eyelids flutter and droop. He let his hand fall and stepped back, and a moment later Spike's face was human again.
But if Giles had hoped to see an expression of sullen defeat on it, he was doomed to disappointment. Instead, Spike grinned up at him. "Nice come-back, Watcher. Was worried about you for a bit there. Almost had you on the metaphysical ropes this time."
There was another moment's tense silence, then,
"Almost," Giles agreed, seething inwardly as he realised that despite his warnings to himself, he'd let Spike get to him yet again. "Good try. Interesting choice of material."
Spike shrugged. "Nothing hits home like the truth."
He dug in his jeans pockets and brought out cigarettes and lighter. Opening the pack, he offered one to Giles. "No hard feelings, mate?"
Giles hesitated, but not for long, because really, what was the point? "I wouldn't exactly say that, but since you're offering."
It was only when he bent his head towards the lighter flame that Giles noticed the brand name on the cigarette packet.
"You evil little bastard!" he exclaimed, outraged. "Those are my Pall Malls."
Spike, meanwhile, had somehow extricated himself from the corner Giles had hemmed him into and sidled off across the room. Throwing himself down on the couch full-length, he took a long drag on his cigarette and tapped ash onto the carpet.
"From your emergency stash, yeah, I know." He grinned at Giles, but the mirth never reached his eyes.
"Can't help bein' evil, can I? 'M a demon, remember?"
Giles gritted his teeth. "How could I ever forget?"