Saturation - Chapter 4
written by Jane Davitt & WesleysGirl





"Xander, would you mind -?"

Xander paused and turned to look at Giles, who was sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by files and forms in triplicate. Giles was holding a pen in his hand and had his finger poised over a calculator. He gave Xander an 'I'm at the limit of my endurance' glare. "I don't want to say, 'Go away, Xander', but Xander, go away?"

"Hey! I've got feelings, you know. Hurt feelings."

"Yes," Giles murmured, with one of those piercing looks that always left Xander feeling... warm somehow. "And I've got work. Interrupted three times in the last five minutes work. Xander, you're pacing, humming and driving me insane. Please stop. I love you, but please leave the room."

Xander tried a sad pout and got nowhere. Giles had that determined look on his face.

"Fine," Xander said. "Maybe I'll go for a walk. Do we need anything from the store? Shop. I mean shop." He still couldn't get that word cemented into his brain.

Giles looked pointedly at his watch and Xander sighed. Right. Merrie Old England shut down for the night a whole lot earlier than he was used to. No stores -- shops open, apart from the corner shop that never seemed to shut, where everything cost twice the price you'd pay in a supermarket.

"If you're feeling a surplus of energy," Giles said, leaning back in his chair and letting his eyes travel over Xander slowly, "I know exactly how we could take care of that..."

Oh, yeah. Xander did, too, and with Spike out at the pub -- again -- they might actually be able to make some noise doing it. He had a fading bruise on his shoulder from where Giles had bitten him three nights ago, trying to hold back an anguished moan as he came, and although Xander hadn't minded that at all, it would've been nice to have heard Giles as well.

He went over to Giles and leaned against the table. "Going to take care of me here? Or upstairs?"

"Ah. No. I didn't mean that. Not that I'm not tempted –" Giles ran his hand over Xander's thigh, looking regretful," – but I have to finish these reports. I should've finished them yesterday. No, I meant; why don't you go down to the King's Head and take Spike up on his offer?"

"You're just trying to get rid of me," Xander said.

"Well, yes," Giles admitted. He really did look stressed, Xander realized guiltily, and it would only be to all their benefits if he went down to the pub and dragged Spike home before he got drunk again.

Not that Spike got drunk every time he went to the pub, because he'd gone several times in the past week and always come back acting reasonable. Well, reasonable for Spike. The new and improved version of Spike that Xander was still getting used to had asked earlier if either of them had wanted to go down to the King's Head and hang out, but at the time, Xander had been hoping for some time alone with Giles. He hadn't figured on Giles being so busy.

"Yeah, okay," Xander said. "Might as well go see what he's up to."

"Go and see what Master William is doing, and tell him to stop it," Giles said, sounding as if he was quoting from something. He grinned at Xander's puzzled look. "Never mind. Enjoy yourself, and I'll do my best to get this finished by the time you get back."

*****


The King's Head wasn't as crowded as it was in the middle of the week, but there were enough people to make it difficult to spot Spike at once. Xander bought a pint of lager and started to walk through the groups of people talking over the blare of music from the speakers on the walls. At least it wasn't Karaoke night, he thought.

The pub was one large room, with the bar jutting out into it, dividing it in two to a certain extent. On the far side was a dart board, a few fruit machines and two pool tables and, knowing that Spike enjoyed playing pool, Xander made his way over there.

The music didn't stop, but as he rounded the corner there was a sudden decrease in the general noise as heads turned and conversations came to an abrupt halt, followed by a rush of angry voices.

Fight. Oh, shit. Somehow, Xander knew he'd found Spike.

Leaving his pint on the closest table, with an apologetic smile at the couple sitting there, Xander pushed his way through the crowd and saw Spike face-to-face with a tall, bulky teenager whose face was red with beer and anger.

"You don't bloody well come here and con me out of the best part of fifty quid and then laugh at me, you fucking bastard."

"I wasn't laughing," Spike said, the most annoying grin he possessed plastered to his face. "Rude to mock the afflicted, innit? And, Robbie, mate, anyone who plays pool like you has to have something wrong with him."

Robbie, assuming that was his name and not something Spike was calling him to piss him off more, growled and raised his fist, and Xander got there just in time to grab onto Robbie's wrist. Robbie whirled around and Xander let go, taking half a step back and holding up both hands in an 'I come in peace' pose.

"Look, my friend says stupid stuff when he's drinking," Xander said quickly. "Give him a break, okay?"

"He's a bloody con man," Robbie huffed, lowering his fist, but not sounding any less angry.

"Oh, please!" Spike said, sounding genuinely disdainful. "Like I'd need to cheat to –"

"Spike," Xander said through gritted teeth. "Shut up, okay?" He stared at Robbie. Defending Spike didn't come naturally, but he'd played pool with him back in Sunnydale, when Spike was evil, and he'd never noticed Spike doing anything more reprehensible than trying to convince Xander the sleeve of his duster hadn't brushed against the white ball and moved it an inch. Which, okay, was bad, but come to think of it, Spike played well enough after all these decades that he probably wouldn't need to cheat anyway –

"What did he do? Exactly?" Xander asked.

"I won," Spike said in a silky-smooth voice when Robbie flushed and didn't answer. "Every single, sodding time. And it's winner stays on here. So this jer- joker wants to get me off the table so he can play with his girlfriend –" Xander glanced at a girl off to the side who was looking bored as if she was used to her boyfriend starting fights "- and he says, let's bet on it, and when I was racking up he whispers in my shell-like that if I let him win so he looks good in front of his girl, he'll meet me in the gents and give me the money back and slip me a tenner on top."

A ripple of amusement went through the crowd, and the girl rolled her eyes.

"Not being born yesterday," Spike said, his smile inviting Xander to share the joke, "I decided to stick with a sure thing and I creamed your fucking arse, didn't I, mate?"

Robbie made an infuriated sound and swung his fist hard. Spike ducked it, but the next one slammed into his jaw and sent him staggering back, crashing into the pool table and ending up sprawled on his back.

His face was a mixture of astonishment and pain.

For some reason -- and he wouldn't have been able to say why, couldn't, not even later, although he suspected it might have had something to do with the look on Spike's face -- Xander grabbed onto the back of Robbie's shirt, whirled the younger man around, and hit him. It was, quite possibly, the only perfect punch Xander had ever thrown, and it connected squarely with Robbie's nose. The crunch was both satisfying and a little bit sickening, but it didn't hurt Xander's hand nearly as much as it probably should have.

Robbie went down hard, crumpling to the floor with both hands clutched over his nose and mouth, his girlfriend giving a startled cry and going quickly over to kneel on the floor next to him.

"You might want to re-think that," Xander told her. "Guys like him... they never change." He turned to Spike, who'd managed to get to his feet and straighten his shoulders, although he still looked pretty stunned. "You ready to go?"

"Bloke still owes me money," Spike said.

Xander gave Robbie a cursory glance. "He's bleeding; good enough?"

Spike gave Xander an unblinking stare, and then smiled. "Can't spend it, can't use it."

"Don't push it," Xander told him. There was a side exit and he headed for it with Spike at his heels.

He didn't think he'd have admitted it, but the whole time they were walking toward the exit, and even once they'd gotten outside, Xander was waiting for some previously unknown friends of Robbie's to attack them from behind. Which, okay, at least meant that they'd hit Spike first. But Xander should feel relieved about that possibility, not bad, and all of these thoughts were just giving him a headache.

Stepping outside into the cool, fresh air, Xander turned to Spike, noting that there wasn't anyone following them, and asked, "In what universe does pulling a fast one on a guy that much bigger than you seem like a good idea?"

Spike sauntered a few feet further on, stopped, sighed and turned. "Did you miss the part where I wasn't pulling anything?" He prodded at his face. "And can I just take a minute to say 'oww'."

Xander could see the swelling of what was going to be an impressive bruise on Spike's face.

"You okay?" he asked, starting to walk, deciding that putting some distance between them and the pub wasn't a bad idea.

"It was a punch," Spike said, falling in beside him and looking less than pleased with himself. "One punch from a total tosser and I ended up on my back. No, I'm not bloody well okay. I feel like Superman after he's eaten a Kryptonite sandwich or something."

"I'm not saying he wasn't an asshole, but you let him think you were going along with his little scheme, and then at the last minute you pulled a fast one." Xander glanced over at Spike. "I'm not surprised he was pissed off."

"Pissed off and pissed," Spike said. "If he hadn't been, winning every game wouldn't have been so easy."

"Yeah, well, maybe next time you should go to a different pub," Xander said. "Unless you want to get your teeth kicked in."

Spike did that thing where he tucked his tongue behind his teeth and smirked. Xander didn't know what he wanted to do most; grin back, because that guy had been asking for it, or punch Spike and wipe the grin right off his face. He settled for an all-purpose glare and the smirk got wider.

"Plenty of other pubs," Spike said with an indifferent shrug.

They walked along in silence for a while, and then Spike gave Xander a sidelong glance. "Thanks," he said.
 
Xander was surprised enough that he almost stopped walking. Almost. "You're welcome," he said after a minute. He held up his hand and looked at his knuckles, then tilted it in Spike's direction. "Not a mark on me."

"Wish I could say the same." Spike rubbed at his jaw. "Stupid humanity."

"You might want to watch who you're insulting there, bub," Xander told him.

"Hey, I'm a displeased member of the human race now, myself," Spike said, hunching his shoulders a little bit. "How do you stand it? Knowing anyone can hurt you."

Xander thought about it for a minute, but it wasn't like things had ever been different for him. It was just... the way things were. "You get used to it," he said. "And if you're lucky, you learn to stop pissing people off."

"Because you're scared?" Spike shook his head, "Sorry. Spent too long being the scary one for that."

"So now you're going to be the idiotic one?" Xander asked. "Excuse me for thinking that doesn't make a lot of sense."

"That lad, Robbie; he didn't back down," Spike said thoughfully. He laughed without sounding very amused. "Not that I plan on using him as a role model, mind you." Xander got another glance from him. "So mind telling me why you saved the day? Automatic hero impulse kicking in? Because last time I looked I could take care of myself, you know."

"He was six inches taller than you," Xander said, like that was a good enough reason. "Plus, last time you looked, if you got hit in the face you wouldn't still be bruised a few days later."

"A few days?" Spike sounded disbelieving. He put out his hand and stopped Xander, turning him so that they were facing each other, with the light from a street lamp falling on Spike's face. "What do I look like? If I'm hideously disfigured, you can tell me."

Xander opened his mouth to assure Spike that no, he still looked pretty -- well, pretty, and then saw the glint in Spike's eyes.

"Very funny," he said. "You've cut your lip and yeah, you've got a bruise coming on your jaw; you'll live. When we get back put some ice on it and you'll be fine." Xander began walking again. "'Course, once Giles finds out what you've been getting up to –"

"We." Spike smiled smugly. "What we've been getting up to. Guess we're both getting spanked, hmm? Unless we come up with a convenient door for me to walk into and spare him the details."

Xander gave a short shake of his head. "Uh-uh, I'm not lying to him." That was one thing he'd promised himself he wouldn't do when things had first started between him and Giles. He'd learned his lesson there.

"You could let me lie and just keep quiet?" Spike suggested without much hope.

"No." Xander shook his head again. "Anyway, it's not like he's going to care. Or be surprised." Not about the Spike getting into trouble part, anyway.

Spike snorted. "Not going to care about his blue-eyed boy getting into a scrap? And that's you by the way, not me."

"Kinda got that," Xander said dryly.

"He's going to blame me." Spike sounded certain about that and there was enough resignation in his voice to make Xander feel the stirrings of pity.

"Let me do the talking, okay? But you know what? If Giles had been there tonight, he'd have probably done the same thing."

"Right," Spike said slowly, like it was the last thing he'd ever believe. "Giles would have stepped in and kept me from getting thumped."

"Yeah, he would have," Xander said. "You're having a hard time adjusting -- we both get that."

Spike stopped walking, and when Xander turned to look at him was wearing a funny expression. "Protecting me from myself, is that it?"

Xander tried to backpedal even though he knew it was probably too late. "No. I mean, not like that."

"Like what then?" Spike asked in a dangerously calm voice. "And now I come to think of it, what the hell were you doing there anyway? Thought you wanted to have some fucking quality time with Rupert. Well?" Spike took a deep breath when Xander didn't answer, looking angrier than Xander had seen him in a long time. "Did you come to fucking baby-sit me or something?"

Seeing Spike all mad made Xander feel the same way. "Actually, if you have to know, Giles was trying to concentrate and I was driving him crazy. So technically you were the excuse to get me out of the house."

"Not sure I like that any better," Spike muttered, sounding sulky. "Would it have killed you to have come out and had a drink with me, anyway? Either of you?" He gave Xander a reproachful look. "Not like I'd have started anything with you two around, now is it?" He tilted up his chin, looking suddenly smug. "In fact, you could say it's all your fault this happened. Because the pair of you were too high-and-mighty to come out for a pint."

Nodding with satisfaction, he set off down the street, swaggering again, his good humor restored, leaving Xander to gape at him.

*****


Giles finished clearing the table and glanced over at Spike, who was humming under his breath and chopping potatoes rather inexpertly. He'd lost control of the knife at least twice and nearly cut himself, and although Giles had gone over and corrected his hold on the knife handle after each incident, he'd been given the distinct impression that further lessons would be indignantly refused.

"I'll just get the mugs that someone's been leaving in the living room," Giles said pointedly, as though talking to the air.

Spike didn't comment.

There were only two mugs in the living room, and to be fair, Giles was fairly certain that one of them was Xander's. Who was due home fairly soon from work. They'd been taking it in turns to keep Spike busy and not leave him alone too often.

Pushing a pillow back into place on the couch, Giles straightened up and heard, "Bloody hell," from the kitchen.

Without rushing, because an exclamation like that from Spike could be prompted by anything from the sight of a squirrel in the small back garden to remembering that he was missing a TV show he liked, Giles went back to him.

"What?"

Spike turned around, his face pale, gripping one hand with the other. "Giles –"

He sounded panicky and shocked, and Giles found himself moving to him as quickly as possible. He was halfway there when he saw the bright blood welling up between Spike's fingers.

"God, what did you do?" Giles demanded, snatching a few sheets of paper towel from the roll on the countertop. Without waiting for an answer -- and he didn't really need one as it was obvious that Spike's complete ineptitude at preparing food had finally moved beyond clumsy to catastrophic -- he went to him and peered down at Spike's hand, steeling himself for the sight of a deep gash. The way Spike was cradling his hand, and the blood, made it impossible to gauge the depth of the cut, but from what Giles could see, it did look quite nasty.

"Over to the sink," he said, putting his arm around Spike, who seemed frozen with horror, and urging him to turn and take the two steps needed to reach the sink. Blood dripped down in scarlet splotches on the floor as they walked, and Spike stared down at them, his face twisting as if he was about to throw up. "Let's rinse it," Giles said, keeping his voice matter-of-fact.

"Gonna be sick," Spike said faintly, his good hand gripping tight to the edge of the sink as Giles brought the wounded one under the tap.

"No, you're not." Giles said it firmly, permitting no dissent. "Close your eyes if you can't look. Deep breaths."

The wound filled up with blood again as fast as the water washed it away, but it didn't seem deep enough to require stitches, at least. With Spike trembling beside him, Giles rinsed the cut for nearly a minute, making sure to get it good and clean before reaching for the drawer near his knee where they kept the freshly laundered dish towels. "That's it. Good lad. Do you need to sit down?"

Spike nodded, swallowing heavily and keeping his eyes averted as Giles wrapped the towel around his fingers and guided him over to the nearest chair.

"Put your elbow on the table," Giles said, eying the spreading stain on the towel. "Keep your hand elevated while I get the first-aid kit."

Spike nodded and Giles studied him for a moment, and then suggested gently, "Try putting your head down if you feel faint."

"'M not a contortionist," Spike said, with a flicker of his usual attitude. He turned his head, caught a glimpse of the blood on the towel and shuddered, dropping his head down to his knees.

Giles flicked on the kettle, intending to make Spike the universal panacea of a cup of tea, and then went to the cupboard where they kept an assortment of medications and bandages. They hadn't needed to use much in the way of dressings since arriving in England, but force of habit meant that Giles was prepared for anything. Being a Watcher meant that he was more than used to dealing with injuries; a cut finger was nothing.

Although given the way Spike was reacting...

Carrying what he'd need over to the table, Giles drew up a chair, sitting close enough that his knees brushed against Spike's. He reached down and gave Spike's shoulder a reassuring pat. "Soon have you sorted out," he said cheerfully.

Spike sat up straighter and turned his head away. "M'fine," he said, although it was very clear that he wasn't.

When Giles unwrapped the towel and wiped the fresh blood away, Spike breathed in sharply through his nose. "Relax," Giles said.

"You relax," Spike shot back. "You're not the one bleedin' all over the place."

"Since when does the sight of blood bother you?" Giles asked. "Surely you've seen it thousands of times."

"Different now," Spike said.

"Why?" Giles was honestly rather puzzled. "Spike, I once dug a tracking device out of your back and, well, granted you'd downed most of a bottle of brandy, but you didn't even flinch. I've seen you covered in blood after a fight; yours or someone else's, and you never gave it a second glance." He started to wrap Spike's finger in a sterilized dressing. "In fact, on more than one occasion, I saw you licking it off -- no, never mind. Now I feel sick."

"Told you," Spike said. "It's different."

"You'll heal," Giles told him, reaching for the roll of bandages and the scissors. "Not as quickly, and it might leave a small scar, but you will heal, you know."

"Yeah," Spike said softly. "I know." But there was something in his voice that told Giles it wasn't that simple, and as he wrapped the bandage gently around Spike's finger, Spike added, "Gonna get old, too."

Ah. "Yes," Giles said. "You are."

"I didn't ask for this," Spike said.

"No," Giles agreed, "from what you've said, you didn't. But isn't it preferable to being dust in this dimension with your soul -- well, I don't know where that would've ended up. Isn't this better than that?"

"I was immortal" Spike said with a soft vehemence that made Giles blink at him in surprise. "Immortal. Now I've got a couple of good years left before I'm senile and wearing a diaper." He glanced at his hand. "And, for the record, that fucking hurts. Hurts like hell."

It made sense that a vampire's pain threshold was higher than a human's, Giles supposed, but it was obviously something Spike hadn't really grasped.

"Give it time," Giles said. The kettle clicked off and he stood up to make the tea. "You'll adjust to the demands, limitations and differences of having a human body; you just have to be patient." He poured the boiling water into the teapot. "You're doing rather well, you know. I'm sure were I to become a vampire-"

"I could do that," Spike said. "Could find one. Get them to bite me." He didn't sound serious, but Giles almost wished he was; the dull resignation in Spike's voice was hard to hear.

"Shall we pretend you didn't say that?" he said, getting out two mugs and tipping in a couple of spoonfuls of sugar into one.

"You can pretend whatever the hell you want," Spike muttered, but when Giles looked at him pointedly, he sighed. "Not gonna do it. But I could."

Giles wondered if Spike gained comfort from the knowledge. "There are plenty of things you could do," he said, leaning against the counter. "You just need to sort out what you want to do."

"How am I supposed to do that?" Spike asked. He cradled his bandaged hand in his lap and studied it. "I don't even know where to start. Never been all that good at anything." He looked up at Giles, beautiful in his vulnerability.

"As a vampire, or as a human?" Giles asked. "Because as a vampire, I'd say you were successful by any standards. You survived for over a century and, although I'd rather not dwell on it, you killed two Slayers; I imagine you were viewed with some admiration by your peers." He smiled wryly. "You were good at being bad. And I imagine when you were human you were equally good at being good?"

He waited with some curiosity for Spike's answer. The Council records were fairly scanty on Spike's history before he was turned, but Giles had pieced enough together to know more about Spike than Spike would probably have liked.

Spike was still, looking at his bandaged finger again as though he couldn't summon the energy to lift his head. "For all the good it did me," he said. "Look where I ended up."

"You really don't want to see this as a reward, do you? As a second chance?" Giles shook his head, feeling a pang of disappointment that Spike was being so pessimistic, and turned around to busy himself with the routine of pouring the tea. He brought the mugs to the table and sat down facing Spike.

Spike took a sip from his mug and a little color came back into his face.

"Well?" Giles prompted him. "Can you really not think of anything positive in what's happened?"

"Besides royally pissing off Angel?" Spike's mouth quirked up in a reluctant smile.

Giles couldn't help grinning at him. "Besides that, yes."

After a moment, Spike shrugged. "There might be one or two things," he said, in a tone that made it fairly clear he didn't intend on being more specific.

Giles nodded. "You'll get used to the occasional injury," he said.

"If I'm lucky it won't include getting knocked on the head every other week," Spike said, his lips quirking upward again.

"I have a very thick skull," Giles said defensively.

"Good thing you do," Spike said. "Least there are fewer opportunities to get hurt now that you're off the Hellmouth."

"And careful about where I choose to drink," Giles said, raising his eyebrows meaningfully. He'd been surprised when Spike and Xander had returned home from the pub so quickly the week before -- and, in Spike's case, sober -- but once he'd been told why, and checked that neither of them was seriously hurt, he hadn't felt any of the anger Spike had clearly been expecting him to show. They could handle themselves against more than a lout in a bar, after all, and when Xander had finished telling him what had happened and ended with, 'Well, what would you have done, Giles?' he'd shrugged and said, 'Much the same', and been rewarded by a smile from Xander and a puzzled look from Spike.

Spike rolled his eyes. "Right, Rupert. Next time I'll make it the Rose and Crown, shall I?"

As the average age of the customers in that particular pub was hovering in the high seventies and the click of dominoes on the table was the only sound likely to break the funereal silence, Giles didn't dignify that with an answer.


Read: Chapter 5