TITLE: Take the Heat
PAIRING: Oz, Spike (no ship)
RATING: PG
SPOILERS: Set between S6 and S7 - Spike is back from Africa and on his way to Sunnydale...
AN: written for Catatonic; many thanks to LadyCat

************

TAKE THE HEAT

It's not a bad crowd. Heavy on the goth but pretty in black, red and purple, with vampirella lipstick and fluorescent nail polish, and tattoos shown off with pride. Too much fake silver though, and pewter crosses on leather strings.

It's the shockingly white-blond hair in the sea of bobbing black and hennaed heads that draws Oz' attention. At first he thinks he's mistaken, but he has an excellent memory - not just for riffs and lyrics but also for people, especially if they're cool or scary. Or both.

Oz gets through the set without a glitch, always one eye on the peroxided head. There's something desultory about the way its owner is jostled around by the crowd. Doesn't look like he's hunting.

When the lights go out, Oz passes his guitar to Devon and jumps down into the mosh pit. A few sweaty palms pat his back, but most people are too busy chanting, clamoring for the main act. Oz quickly pushes through the maze of heated bodies, hit by an unsettling barrage of scents—sweat, drugs, excitement—until he's reached his target.

It's Spike alright. But he smells … wrong. Vampire, okay, but there's something else, an acrid scent, like burning metal. Looks different too, close up. Messy. The clothes, the hair. Everything. His expression is slack, eyes almost all pupil. Spike's either stoned out of his skull or drunk, of both. But is he still chipped?

"Spike!"

No reaction.

Oz pushes against him and Spike staggers backwards, bewildered, his face showing no sign of recognition. But he doesn't resist when Oz steers him through the crowd and towards the back of the club. Once Spike stops and reaches for something. A sudden reek of burning flesh assaults Oz' nose and he knocks a gleaming cross out of Spike's smoking fingers. Jostles the unresisting vampire away from the dumb-struck goth girl who touches a tentative finger to the cross that's dangling from her neck.

Oz manages to manhandle Spike into the dark alley behind the club, just as a cacophony of shouts and whistles erupts inside. Moments later the music sets in, loud, harsh, and unforgiving.

He pulls the stake out of his boot and shoves the vampire against a red brick wall. There's a loud crack as the back of Spike's skull hits the wall. Spike shakes his head and laughs. It's a bleak sound, mirthless and hollow. "You're pretty eager," he says and bends down, cheap booze on his breath. "I like that in a guy…."

Oz almost stakes him before he realizes that Spike's still in human face and aiming for his lips, almost falling over in a clumsy attempt to kiss him.

"Hey!"

One shove is all it takes. The vampire reels backwards, lifting his hands, and erupts into nervous babble. "No kissin'? Right. So, what d'you want?" His gaze sharpens as he tries to focus. "Like the hair, mate. Hey, you the guy played the bass, right? Think I heard you play before."

Oz hardly listens. He's staring at hands and bare arms that bear a frightening number of burn marks, old and new, the cross shaped scars ranging from white and thin to red and inflamed.

"Ouch," he says, nodding at the burns. "What's that about?"

Blue eyes narrow. "Do I know you?"

"We've met."

A sniff. Then: "That's right. You're Willow's mongrel." Spike tries to snap his fingers but gives up after two tries.

"Oz."

"Oz." Spike echoes. That's when his gaze falls on the stake, rests there for a moment then travels back up to Oz' face. "Gonna use that?"

"Maybe." Oz studies the pathetic creature before him. No longer cool or scary. Doesn't look like he's fed in a while. No smell of human blood on him, just a strange tang of salt. And the drugs of course. "What did you take?"

Again that hollow laugh. "Everything I could get." Spike slides down, until he's sitting on the bare ground with his back against the wall, and closes his eyes. "Just to make it stop."

Memories of a brightly lit lab rise like bile, and something savage stirs inside of him. "The chip?"

"Huh?" A bewildered glance followed by a frown. "No. Not that."

Oz waits. Patience comes easy to him.

After a moment the vampire explains: "It's the screams, an' the … the faces, an' the things we—the things I did." He grimaces and hastily jerks away.

Oz has seen some strange shit these past few years, in Sunnydale and elsewhere, but this is a first time he sees a vamp retching his guts out. Fortunately, it doesn't take long. Just long enough to make a decision.

Oz tucks the stake away and crouches down. "You okay, man?"

Spike nods, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand, but he makes no move to get up. And he looks far from okay.

"What happened to you?"

"Went lookin' for somethin'," the words come out slurred.

"In the gutter?"

"Africa."

"Wanna talk?"

Spike shakes his head.

"Got a place?"

Another head-shake

"Come on." Oz bends down and picks up the filthy vampire, supporting him with his shoulder and an arm slung around Spike's unnaturally slim waist. "You can crash in the van."

The van is parked two streets further. It's a piece of junk but it's home. Oz opens the door and dumps Spike on the mattress that  lies in the back. Spike sways but manages to remain seated.

He peers around, then notices the photographs that cover almost every available surface: Oz and the Dingoes in San Francisco (and other Californian places), Oz on his own in a rocky mountain landscape, Oz in Mexico, Oz arm in arm with Willow. There's one picture of all the Scoobies – obviously taken during one of Willow's birthday parties. It's the only picture in the van that shows Buffy. Spike touches a finger to the pale smudge that is her face. If he's aware of being watched he doesn't show it.

"One more Dingo gig tomorrow," Oz tells him. "Then we go east. You?"

The hand drops and Spike turns to look at him. "Sunnydale." His lips curl into a ghost of a smile. "Face the music."

Oz gestures towards the mattress and Spike stretches out on it.

 "Why're you helpin' me?"

"Cause you need it?" Oz shrugs and hands him a blanket.

Slowly, Spike's fingers curl around the checkered fabric. A minute later he's asleep.

THE END