"This is pointless," Xander complained, carelessly flipping a page of the fragile old book Giles had tasked him with. "We killed the demon."
"Spike killed the demon," Dawn pointed out. "The rest of us just kind of stood around and watched."
Anya looked up from her own research, offended. "I tried to hit it with my flashlight. And what did I get for my trouble? A ten dollar dry-cleaning bill, that's what."
"It was pretty goopy, after a while," Willow agreed.
"And it's dead," Xander reiterated. "Which brings me back to my point about pointlessness."
Giles tried to rein in his irritation. "It was a type of demon we haven't encountered before. Don't you wonder what it was? What it was doing in Sunnydale? What its strengths and weaknesses are, in case we encounter another one?"
"Well, we know its weakness now, duh," Dawn said. "Break the big shiny jewel in its forehead. No muss, no fuss."
Xander nodded. "It couldn't have been more obvious if it was an eight-bit Nintendo game."
"It took Spike long enough to figure it out," Anya muttered into the book she was reading. "I should make him pay for the dry-cleaning."
Just then the cellar door slammed open, heralding the arrival of the vampire in question. Spike stalked into the main room of the Magic Box looking more dour than usual. Giles noticed that his coat, at least, was largely clean. A few bits of crusty white residue clung here and there. "I'm here," he said, unnecessarily. "What's up with the books?"
"We're researching the demon from last night," Willow said.
"Nothing new to kill tonight, then?"
"Not that we know of," Dawn answered.
Spike nodded once, a sharp, jerky motion. "Right, then. Go on with your reading. Don't mind me." He fished a packet of cigarettes out of his coat pocket and tapped one loose.
Giles frowned at the flick of Spike's lighter. "You can't smoke that in here."
Spike took a long drag, making the tip glow bright red. "Beg to differ, mate," he said.
And Giles just ... let it go.
He'd been doing that a lot, lately. Everyone in their ragged group seemed to be passing simultaneously through an unnamed stage of grief that entailed being extremely annoying, and it was necessary to be tolerant. Sometimes it felt as though a stiff breeze would tear them all apart—even Spike.
Besides, the smell of the smoke wasn't so much annoying him as making him want to ask Spike for a fag. Not that he would—certainly not in front of the children.
Children? Not the right word, he told himself. Not anymore. But even with Buffy gone, he still felt a certain responsibility towards them all—a certain protectiveness.
"Did you have any luck with the runes?" he asked Willow, turning quite deliberately away from Spike. They had found a rather unnerving set of thirteen stones in the Sunnydale woods a fortnight ago, each engraved with one or two words in an alphabet Giles was wholly unfamiliar with.
"We're pretty sure it's not a human language," Willow said.
Tara, brushing her hair away from her eyes, nodded. "We're thinking demon. Except, um, a couple of the characters are actually Norse."
Giles leaned over to study the notes Willow had made, all the while aware of Spike pacing behind him. He was wearing out a path back and forth in front of the back bookshelves.
"Hey, Spike?" Dawn asked finally. "Is something wrong?"
"No," Spike said, which was so very obviously a lie that even Anya frowned in response. Giles hoped Spike hadn't got into the sort of trouble that would come knocking on the Magic Box door in the wee hours of the morning. They'd had that sort before, and he'd promised to stake Spike himself if it happened again.
"You had better tell us what's going on," Giles said. "And put out the bloody cigarette."
"I don't know what's going on." Spike stopped his pacing to glare at Giles. There was a glint in his eyes that Giles found disconcerting—he might be mistaken, but he rather thought it was fear. Then, with no warning, Spike strode towards the front of the store where the evening sun streamed sideways through the plate-glass window. Dawn shrieked his name while everyone else seemed to be frozen. But Spike turned to face them, standing in the sunbeam. The bleached tips of his hair glowed shocking white, but there was no smoke besides that rising from the cigarette in his left hand. "How about you tell me, Watcher?"
Giles's breath caught in his throat. Angel had said he'd destroyed the stone. "The gem of Amara?"
Spike snorted. "That what Occam's Razor gets you? Try again."
"Oh my God," Willow said softly. "Spike, are you ... alive?"
Instead of answering, Spike took a furious drag on his cigarette, squinting out the window. Into the sun. "Looks like," he said finally.
The sunlit evidence in front of them was insufficient for a solid conclusion. There were any number of possible explanations. "I would like to take your pulse," Giles said, feeling the awkwardness of the request.
Spike raised an eyebrow. "Be my guest, mate." He tossed his fag-end to the shop floor and ground it out under his heel before meeting Giles halfway. He started to hold out his wrist, but Giles had already fixed on the more reliable pulse point at his neck. Spike didn't object; he tilted his head back to give Giles convenient access, and breathed patiently as Giles pressed two fingers against his skin. His warm skin, his throbbing pulse.
"My God," Giles breathed. "It's true."
"Not exactly something I'd claim just to win friends and influence people," Spike muttered.
Giles found himself bumped aside by a squealing fourteen-year-old. Dawn threw her arms around Spike in a hug so enthusiastic he nearly fell over. "OhmyGodSpike you're alive!"
"Oi, Niblet," he gasped. "Don't get so excited. It might not be permanent." He turned to Giles, with Dawn still wrapped around him. He looked a little desperate. "It's not permanent, is it?"
"I couldn't begin to guess." Giles adjusted his glasses, taking a longer, curious look at Spike. He looked the same as ever, only perhaps a bit less pale in the cheeks. "How do you feel?"
Spike scowled, disentangling himself from Dawn not ungently. "Like somebody slipped roofies into my blood," he said, fishing out his cigarette packet again. "Everything's dull and heavy. How do you people fucking stand it?"
"We get by," Xander said. "Hey, could you maybe not give us all cancer, please?"
"Spike, you can't smoke now!" Dawn agreed. "You have real lungs!"
Spike eyed his unlit cigarette balefully, most likely torn between the desire to annoy Xander and to please Dawn. Giles, meanwhile, was working through a rather horrific realization.
Supposing the change was permanent, they had just lost the closest thing they had to a Slayer in Sunnydale.
"If he's human now," Willow said, "Does that mean that he has a soul?"
Spike froze at the question, cigarette halfway back into the packet. He blinked. "Hadn't thought of that. How would I know?"
"Well, he must, right?" Dawn said, sounding a little defensive. "The demon's gone and everything."
"Is it, though?" Xander asked. "I mean, we're all agreed that we don't know what the hell's going on here."
"There must be a way to tell." Willow looked as though she might rise out of her seat and go peer down Spike's throat to see if anything was glowing down there. Only Tara's hand on her arm seemed to hold her back.
"Well," Anya said to Spike, leaning forward, "When you think about all the people you've killed, do you feel guilty about it?"
He cocked his head a little, looking back at her. "Do you?"
The two of them held each others' gaze for a long silent moment. Giles thought to himself that he would be rather curious to hear Anya's answer.
"Hey, what about the chip?" Xander said suddenly, leaping up to put himself between Anya and Spike. "Does the chip still work?"
The corner of Spike's mouth twitched upwards. "Only one way to find out." He took a great step towards Xander, drawing his fist back.
In the split second it took to process what was going on, Giles realized the potential for disaster. "Spike, NO!" he shouted, sharply enough to stop the former vampire in his tracks.
The look Spike gave Giles was puzzled more than anything. "I wasn't going to hurt the boy," he said, letting his fist slowly drop. "Not really. Don't know that I even could."
"Think about it, Spike," Giles said. "The chip was designed to cause debilitating pain to a vampire. I imagine that it would cause real damage in a human brain. It's possible that one shock would kill you."
"If the bloody thing's even still working," Spike said, but he'd gone a shade or two paler than before.
"If you wanna find out, I'm still right here," Xander said.
Anya tugged at his sleeve. "Xander, be nice. Unexpectedly turning human is very disconcerting."
"M-maybe this has something to do with the demon from last night," Tara suggested.
"Yes, research!" Spike said, taking a step back from Xander and hugging his arms around himself. "Let's get with the research, then. Hop to it. Hut, hut, or whatever it is you do in America."
"Cumulatively speaking, you've lived here longer than any of us have," Willow pointed out.
Spike rolled his eyes. "Thanks, Red, but that's really not the point right now."
"Not actually true, either," Anya said to nobody in particular.
Xander flopped back into his chair and picked up the book he'd been looking through before Spike came in. "I still think this is pointless. How many times have we looked through these books in the past five years? If that demon was in here, one of us would've recognized it when we saw it last night."
"Oh, there it is," Anya said, looking over his shoulder at the page he was holding open.
"I knew that," Xander said. "I was just, you know, building up the suspense."
Dawn stifled a laugh behind her hand. Giles walked over to take a look at the book.
"What does it say?" Spike asked, crowding him.
The book was still in Xander's lap and, honestly, Giles couldn't read the text at this distance. It was one of the older books, printed in gothic script on a medium-quality press, and the letters blurred before his eyes. "When did you first notice the change?" he asked Spike, instead.
"Dunno." Spike backed off again, sticking his hands in his pockets with hunched shoulders. "Walking home last night, maybe? Had the worst craving for pizza, so I stopped at the Domino's on the way back to my crypt. Then the door to my crypt seemed a lot heavier than usual. Thought it was the fight, left me all fagged out."
"Here we go," Anya said. "The demon will recover from wounds near-instantaneously. Yeah, thanks, we noticed that last night. The blood of the demon has regenerative properties, which can transfer to other demon species upon the mixing of blood."
Xander looked up at Spike. "I think we've got our smoking gun."
"So it healed his deadness?" Dawn said. "Wow."
Anya frowned. "I got its goopy blood all over me and it didn't even heal the hickey Xander gave me yesterday."
Giles schooled his voice with an effort. "I would suppose, then, that the healing factor applies only to demons."
"But he's human," Willow said.
"He was a demon when the healing happened, though," Dawn said.
"Are we trying to make logical sense of magic?" Xander asked. "'Cause that doesn't always work."
Willow still looked as though she had faith in the powers of reason to explain magic. Certainly, she had much more cause to feel that way than Xander did, considering her own growing skill in that domain. "I wonder if it's still working?" she said. "I mean, if Spike gets hurt now, will it heal right up?"
Spike shrugged. "You got your pocketknife on you, Harris?"
Xander shifted in his chair to get access to his back pocket, and tossed the knife to Spike. Spike flipped it open and quickly cut a gash across the palm of his right hand. Dawn let out a quick yelp of dismay, and out of the corner of his eye Giles saw Tara moving to put an arm around her.
"Are you sure that was wise?" Giles said. He kept an eye on the knife. Spike seemed rather agitated by this whole turn of events, and Giles wasn't sure what he might do next.
"Answered the question." Spike held up his open hand, dripping blood. "Not healing up, is it? Hurts like a bitch." He turned his palm upwards to gaze at it himself for a moment with an abstracted look. Then he suddenly brought it to his mouth and darted out his tongue. He swallowed with a grimace of disgust. "Tastes like shite."
"Okay, ew," Xander said. "Spike? Humanity 101. We don't drink our own blood."
Giles cleared his throat. "Spike, you had better let me bandage that cut before you get blood all over my floor."
"I'll get the first aid kit," Dawn offered, springing out of her seat.
"Forget the sodding floor," Spike said. "What are we going to fucking do about this?"
There was a bit of awkward silence, and nobody quite met Spike's eye.
"Um, is there actually something we need to be doing?" Willow said finally. "I mean, you're ... healed."
Dawn came out of the training room carrying the first aid kit, while Spike squeezed his injured hand into a fist, glaring at it. "Funny, seems to me like I just lost my fucking superpowers."
Giles had been thinking along the same lines a few minutes ago, but that was not something he could admit out loud. "I know this is all very sudden, and must be terribly disorienting for you," he said, "but you must realize this is a ... a wonderful gift. One hundred and twenty-odd years ago you were murdered, and now here you are—breathing and whole."
Spike looked at Giles with eyes that seemed suddenly old and hollow. "Am I, though? Whole?"
The unanswered question of the state of Spike's soul flitted back into the room. No one spoke.
Spike nodded, as though his question had been answered. "There's a way to fix this," he said. And headed for the door.
"No!" Dawn shouted, darting in front of him to block the exit. "No ... no fucking way, Spike."
Spike stopped, visibly taken aback. "That's strong language, Niblet."
"You're going out there to get vamped, aren't you?"
Spike didn't answer. Giles knew she was right; he told himself that if Dawn had been a moment or two slower, he would have stopped Spike himself.
"It's not a good idea, Spike," Tara said softly from her place at the table. "What if the vampire you meet decides to kill you?"
"I'll take my chances," Spike said. "I know a thing or two about vampires."
"You're not doing this," Dawn said. Giles had the sense of storm clouds gathering in her voice.
Spike shifted his feet like he was thinking of just pushing past her, but he held his ground. "I was a vampire yesterday. There was nothing wrong with it then, was there?"
"Spike..." Dawn hesitated, like she was considering the consequences of what she was about to say. And then she went ahead and said it. "What would Buffy think? If she knew that you'd turned human somehow, and that you were about to go right back out and throw it away. What would she think about that?"
Giles felt sorry for Spike, a little, at that moment. If anyone else had said what Dawn just said, Giles was sure that Spike's response would have been angry and possibly violent. But not for Dawn.
Spike's shoulders slumped and his gaze went to the floor. Giles had a very uncomfortable feeling that the man might start to cry in a moment. "Spike, come and sit down," he said gently, largely to forestall that possibility. "Let me tend to your hand."
Xander yielded his chair to give Spike a place to sit, and Anya gave hers to Giles. Everyone watched with perhaps a bit of morbid fascination as Giles started cleaning the blood off Spike's hand.
"So ... what happens now?" Willow asked as Giles started fishing in the first aid kit for the antibiotic cream. "I mean, Spike, what are you going to do?"
Spike's only answer was a listless shrug.
"You'll need a place to live," Tara said. "You can't stay in the crypt."
"You'll need a job," Xander added.
Spike seemed to be drawing further into himself, staring blankly at his hand without responding to anyone's comments. It occurred to Giles that this might all be a bit much for him to cope with at once. "Never mind all that for now," he said. "He can stay at my flat tonight, and we'll worry about the rest later." Giles wasn't thrilled at the idea of having Spike for a houseguest, but there didn't seem to be a better option; while it was true that the Summers house had an unoccupied bedroom, the idea of Spike taking over Buffy's bed was really unthinkable.
By the time Giles had finished bandaging Spike's hand, the sun had completely set.
"Are we going to do patrol tonight?" Anya asked.
"Yes," Giles decided. That had been the plan, after all, and even with Spike's dramatically changed situation, the need was still there. Any night they skipped was a night for vampires to gain ground in the cemeteries of Sunnydale. "Though I suppose we had better adjust our strategies a little. We can think about it while we walk Dawn home."
"I have an idea," Dawn said. "How about you let me come on patrol? I mean, you need some extra help now, right?"
"Dream on, Dawnster," Xander said, mussing her hair affectionately.
They gathered together their weapons, and set off towards the Summers residence. By habit they walked in twos or threes, spread out enough to be a bit inconspicuous. Generally Spike would keep to the rear, the better to keep an eye on everyone, but today Dawn insisted on holding his hand and keeping him in the middle of the group. Giles wondered whether she was worried about him.
Certainly, Spike didn't seem to be taking his new humanity very well. Giles wondered if, indeed, he had somehow been left without a soul, and what the implications might be. Theoretically, it shouldn't even be possible ... but then, this scenario was not one that the theoreticians at the Watchers' Council had ever envisioned, so far as he knew.
Later, in the graveyard, Spike seemed more like his old self.
"Nothing like a good hunt to get the blood flowing," he remarked cheerfully as he checked behind the Anderson Crypt along with Anya and Giles. "If we don't find anything here, we should check Peaceful Acres. There was a funeral there yesterday."
"You should be careful tonight, Spike," Anya said. "You're not used to being human."
"I'll be fine," he said, sounding just a bit annoyed at the warning.
"I'm serious," she insisted. "Half an hour after I turned human, I burned my mouth on a slice of pizza. After a century or ten, you get used to being invulnerable. You get careless." As she spoke, with her attention on Spike, she rounded a corner. And then she screamed.
Giles ran forward, crossbow held at the ready. Anya was scrambling backwards away from the fledge she had, by all appearances, walked right into. Even as Giles aimed his crossbow, Spike rushed the vampire and punched it in the face, blocking Giles's shot. The vampire, a tall, slender ginger bloke in a well-cut burial suit, gave Spike a look of amusement as Spike aimed a second punch at its solar plexus. "That didn't hurt," the vampire said, sounding surprised, catching Spike's fist in his hand.
"Cheers for the morale boost, mate," Spike said through clenched teeth, dropping to his knees as the vampire twisted his wrist.
With the vampire and Spike both holding their places for the moment, Giles risked a shot. But his aim was bad—the quarrel embedded itself in the vampire's shoulder.
"All right, that hurt," the vampire said, turning its angry yellow eyes on Giles. Giles felt a rush of fear—the crossbow in his hands was useless now, and his stake was in his back pocket. He thought he might gain a second or two by throwing the crossbow at the vampire.
And then the vampire exploded into dust.
Anya stood revealed behind the swiftly-dispersing cloud, smiling widely, holding a stake. Spike hunched over with a gasp and grabbed his wrist with his other hand. Giles lowered his crossbow and breathed deeply.
Anya bounced a little. "Did you see that? I got it! It didn't even see me coming!"
"Good work," Giles said, wiping his forehead with his shirtsleeve.
"You see, Spike, you don't need superpowers to dust a vamp!" she said, tucking the stake back into her pocket. "It just takes coordination, practice, and a thorough understanding of your physical limits!"
"Thank you, Anya," Giles said, hoping that she would pick up on the implicit please stop talking now. Spike was looking absolutely shattered, and Giles doubted that Anya's pep talk was helping.
"It might take you longer than it took the rest of us, since you have to unlearn so many vampire habits," Anya continued helpfully, oblivious. "For instance: it's not a good idea to start the fight by punching the vampire. You're not strong enough to hurt it, and it puts you in a vulnerable position."
"Spike, is your hand all right?" Giles asked, in hopes of changing the subject before Anya managed to bruise Spike's ego any further.
Spike wiggled his fingers; the hand that the vampire had grabbed was the same one he had cut earlier. "Nothing broken," he said. Giles noticed, however, that blood had now soaked through to the surface of the bandage.
They were interrupted at that point by Xander's frantic arrival. He came to a stop, panting, as his gaze took in first Anya, then Spike and Giles. "Is everyone alright? I thought I heard a scream."
"That was me," Anya said. "But I staked the vampire!"
Willow and Tara came running up as well, coming to a stop as it became clear that there was no crisis in progress. "This graveyard ... is big," Tara gasped, leaning against Willow.
Looking over the group, Giles made a decision. "I think we should call it a night. We've eliminated one vampire, at least..."
"Three," Willow corrected him. "We got two on the other side of the cemetery."
"Two?" Spike repeated.
"They were, um, distracted," Tara said, blushing.
Giles decided not to ask for further elaboration. "Yes. Well. It has been an eventful night, to say the least. So let's all head home, and we'll meet at the Magic Box at the usual time tomorrow."
"Cheers," Spike said, accepting the glass Giles handed him and downing it quickly.
Giles raised an eyebrow, and poured two fingers for himself. "You have a human metabolism now," he reminded Spike by way of caution.
Spike nodded, the motion already a little exaggerated. "Counting on it, mate."
Giles shrugged to himself, and refilled Spike's glass. He was the one who'd suggested the Scotch, after all—albeit mostly as a way to guarantee that Spike would actually come home with him. After the fiasco in the graveyard, Spike had shown every sign of wanting to slink off by himself and drown his sorrows at Willy's or some other such unsuitable place. Letting him do so in the safety of Giles' flat seemed the better option; even as a human, Spike represented one-sixth of the group's fighting strength, and they'd certainly be worse off if he managed to get himself badly injured or killed.
Spike took his second glass and wandered over to turn on the television, which Giles found rather a relief as it eliminated the need for conversation.
In all honesty, Giles felt quite awkward around Spike tonight. By everything Giles had learned as a Watcher, this transformation—this, this miracle—should be cause for celebration. A man murdered in 1880 now lived again. A demon was vanquished.
And yet Giles found that his feelings about the change were rather ambivalent, not least because Spike himself seemed so appalled by it. Spike clearly was experiencing the change as a loss—a loss of strength, power, and perhaps even self-identity.
They were all of them far too acquainted with loss of late.
Giles drained his own glass, set it down on the counter by the sink, and headed off to bed without a word to Spike; any sort of communication seemed superfluous at this point. The blue flicker of the television followed Giles up the stairs, and canned laughter was the last thing he heard before he shut his bedroom door.
When Giles came downstairs in the morning, Spike was gone.
The spare blanket was crumpled on the sofa, and the pillow had ended up on the floor. There was no sign of a note or explanation, but last night's whiskey bottle had disappeared.
Later in the day, having left Anya in charge of the Magic Box for an hour, Giles went to Spike's crypt. He found him there, watching television with an open bottle of Jack Daniels in his lap.
"You can't live here," Giles said, standing in the doorway. "You're human now."
Spike shrugged. "'S got a roof. Walls. A telly. Privacy." He turned around to glare in Giles's general direction. "Did have privacy."
"You're drunk," Giles observed.
Spike rolled his eyes. "You're like Nancy Drew. Nothin' gets by you." He took a drink from the bottle he was holding.
Giles didn't have the patience for this. "When you're ready to pull yourself together," he said, "You know where to find me."
He hoped that Spike would pull himself together—but Giles wasn't prepared to invest a lot of energy in the project. So he walked away from the crypt, already putting Spike out of his thoughts.