TITLE: "The Week After: Watching me, Watching you"
AUTHOR: Estepheia
PART: the first of a planned series of loosely connected stories.
DISCLAIMER: The characters are not mine (unfortunately). Don't sue me.
DISTRIBUTION: Want it? Take it. Just let me know where it's going.
FEEDBACK: Please. This is my firstborn, but feel free to send me your criticism, anyway. Otherwise the next one might be just as bad.... Estepheia@aol.com
SPOILERS: Post-Gift; incorporates rumors of the upcoming season
SUMMARY: Spike is captured and interrogated. By whom? You'll have to read on to find out.
RATED: R (language, violent imagery)
Text between * * equals Spike's thoughts.
THANKS TO: Cestruma, Miss_Binks and Nmissi for beta reading and for their kind encouragement.


Watching me, Watching you

"Tell me something, Spike. Truthfully, how many ... people ... did you kill during the last ... what ... 120 years?"

Spike frowned. He knew of vampires who kept count. Fledglings, mostly. Bragging. Competing. After a decade of unlife they usually stopped. He had even met a vampire with a checklist once, who was "collecting" kills like other people collect trading cards, here a doctor, there a priest. Quite a weirdo that had been, convinced that all his victims would somehow gather in a horribly middle-class afterlife, inhabiting some kind of Brigadoon village or whatever. Dru had found him fascinating. Spike had thought he was a complete and utter moron, casting for his own soap opera of the dead. That vampire had been dusted in New York in the seventies while trying to add a complete symphonic orchestra to his collection, thinking the other dead might enjoy a bit of Pomp and Circumstance. *Stupid twit!* Fancy choosing a Slayer's turf for a killing binge that wasn't exactly low key...

But this was no good. His thoughts were wandering and his interrogator was beginning to look impatient. "How many, Spike?"

He wondered briefly, whether it would be a good idea to bring that story up, and decided it wasn't. It would be recognized for what it was, an attempt to evade the real issue.

*Truthfully? Very well, then.* "I don't remember," he answered. And with a certain amount of indignation he added: "What? Do you remember every steak you've ever eaten?"

Giles looked at him as if he were a particularly disgusting worm that had just crawled from underneath a stone. *Now, that didn't go down well with him. Bollocks! Forgot! Angelus ate his girl friend.* Spike shifted uneasily.

"How often did you feed?" the Watcher asked, obviously determined to pursue the topic. "Twice a week? I realize it was probably more often, but let's just take that number for convenience. That's over a hundred kills per year. Times 120 years adds up to more than 12,000 people. What do you have to say for yourself? 12,000 deaths so you could prolong your undead existence!"

*That many? Hadn't felt like it.* "I'm a vampire. It's my nature. It's what I do. Well... did..." Spike said with as much calmness as he could muster, *...until that chip seriously messed up my eating habits...* But he prudently swallowed that snarky comment. He really didn't think it would be a smart move to antagonize Giles further, not when the man was fiddling about with stakes and crosses.

He carefully tested the strength of the chains that held him, but they had been expertly wound around him. It was an empty gesture, really, because he knew from the last time the chains had been used to confine him, that he could not break them. He wasn't going anywhere, unless the Watcher unchained him. But since it had been Rupert Giles who had zapped him with a taser (*Caught me totally by surprise, he did.*) and tied him to his favourite armchair, in the first place....well, it looked like he'd have to stay put.

Giles just stood there. Resolved. Dangerous. Still waiting. His face was unreadable. Spike had seen the ex-librarian like that before, once after he had tied up Buffy to declare his love to her, when Giles had told him in no uncertain terms to get the hell out of everybody's life and on that fateful night, when the Watcher had killed Glory's mortal half Ben. The night Spike didn't want to think about. The night the Slayer had died. The night hope had died.

Since then this hardness and resolve had stayed with the man. Spike had considered it an improvement, but now he wasn't so sure.

"So, why did you chain me up like this, Giles? Surely not to discuss statistics. Whatever murder and mayhem may have taken place in good ole Sunnyhell, it wasn't me. And I told no one that the Slayer is dead, either. Just like we agreed. So, if word got out, it wasn't me. I stayed here, in my crypt, kicking my heels and drinkin' myself into a stupor..." *...barely hanging onto unlife.* But there was that promise. He had failed once, to protect Dawn, and that had cost Buffy her life. He wouldn't fail again, not if he could help it. *So, I'll just stick around a bit longer. Provided I ever get to leave this chair in one piece.*

"Obviously." The Watcher gave one of the empty bottles that littered the crypt floor a slight shove with his foot. It rolled for a few meters before it collided with a half full bottle of Jack Daniels.

"Look who's talking! Well, I can smell a few whiskeys on your breath, Mr.-Know-it-all."

Spike had a horrid taste in his mouth. He really would have liked to drink something, anything, just to get rid of it. A fag would have been nice, too. However, one look at the Watcher's face told him he would get neither drink nor smoke. Not soon, perhaps not ever. *God, he looks pissed!*

He had felt panic and disorientation, when he had woken up after being stunned - an experience that brought back unpleasant memories of the Initiative (*Good riddance!*). Followed by confusion. Why on Earth should Giles capture him? Did the Scoobies think he had let that Doc guy throw him down the tower on purpose? Nah, they couldn't be that thick, could they? Did they blame him for Buffy's death? What was going on? And why was that stupid Watcher asking him these pointless questions?

"Let me hereby strongly and und irrevocably repudiate your insinuation that we might actually have something in common, Spike," the Watcher said in a quiet but menacing voice. "You miss her? Not the way we do. Soon you'll get over this inappropriate crush of yours, and you'll fall back on your old ways. Except that I am here to prevent that."

"So that's what this is all about. Should have seen it coming. Too indoctrinated by your Watcher's work ethic. So, are you going to dust me now?"

"Actually, the Council has expressed great interest in that chip of yours and since the Initiative - or what's left of it - is not very forthcoming, the Council has asked me to provide them with a sample. As much as I regret not being able to stake you ... it would be a shame if that chip were to turn to dust when you do, don't you think?" the ex-librarian said conversationally, while removing a syringe from a little wooden casket.

"What? All this because the bloody Councel wants a guinea pig?" the vampire shouted.

"Do you have anything else to say, Spike," Giles asked, "before I put you to sleep?"

Thoughts were racing through Spike's brain, while the furious demon within him was fighting for supremacy. It wanted to break the chains and rip the Watcher's heart out, but this wasn't the way Spike wanted to go. He only just managed to keep the savage rage at bay.

He had often wondered, what kind of experiments the Initiative had planned on subjecting him to. He had seen several Initiative files, pictures of some of the vivisections they had performed on other unfortunate demons and had congratulated himself on his quick escape. Somehow, he didn't think the Council of Watchers would have more scruples.

But something didn't ring true. Giles wasn't a brave little soldier who unquestioningly did what he was told, that Spike knew. "For God's sake, what did I do piss you off? Or is this a piece of theirs-is-not-to-reason-why?"

Giles remained silent.

"If it's just the soddin' chip, then cut my head open and dig it out! But don't...."
Suddenly words failed him. Spike realized that he was pleading, that fear had crept into his voice. Fear wasn't something he could experience physically. There was no accelerated heartbeat, no sweat, but the dread was real nonetheless. Death he could accept, perhaps even welcome. He felt like ashes anyway, with Buffy gone. Torture? He wasn't one to shirk pain, had even enjoyed it sometimes, taking it as pleasure's dark twin. But being a lab rat? The humiliation of being cut to ribbons for the sake of science? So that a bunch of stuffy Watchers could admire his bloody innards and watch his body mend itself? Again. And again. *Please no!*

"Do you have even the slightest idea what amount of damage a vampire can withstand without true death claiming him, Giles?"

But Giles was still looking down on him, relentlessly. The syringe ready.
"What did you do, when your victims begged you to spare them? I rather suspect you ignored their pleas."

Spike took a deep breath. This was a no-win-scenario.
"Is there anything I can do or say to make you change your mind?"

"You could say you're sorry, or indicate desire for redemption, something like that."

"Ok. I'm sorry. I said it. Unchain me. Get lost!"

"Somehow I think a tiny shred of sincerity would be in order."

"Come on, Rupert, open your eyes, it's me Spike! What do you expect me to do? Perform a bit of oh-woe-I-am- undone, just to please you?"

The watcher glowered at him. He was obviously losing his patience.
"I expect that you drop that snarky act of yours. That you look into a mirror, figuratively, of course, and tell me what you see."

Spike tilted his head. "So, you want to know, who I am? You know what, I've asked myself the same question. Ever since that chip was shoved up my brain."

Oh, how he wished he could pace up and down. "Well, I'm not like Soulboy. I try not to dwell on the past. What is done, is done. And nothing I can do or say will change that. Ever. But I can change. Already have. Didn't plan to. It just happened. Maybe it's the chip, maybe it was Buffy. Maybe she was what I'd always been looking for, and it simply took me a while to understand that. Makes no difference, really. Just 'coz she died it doesn't mean I'll go back to what I was. Don't want to."

He caught a dubious look from Giles.

"Look, part of me still wants to maim and kill. I'm still a vampire." He tried to explain. "But that's not all I am. Another part of me, the one that's in charge, liked drinking Joyce's cocoa. I'm genuinely sorry she passed away. And Dawn. I'm truly fond of her. More than that. I'd never hurt her. Or any of you people. Even if I could. Strange as it may seem, I like the world better with you guys bungling about in it, than with you pushing up the daisies. It seems I've sort of grown used to hanging around you lot."

Spike had never thought he would be brought to openly admit just how far removed he was from ordinary vampire kind. *Well, how is this for a spot of slushy soul-searching. I just made a complete prat out of myself.*

"Spike, we are not some kind of live soap opera you can take a passing fancy to."
Giles shook his head.

"A passing fancy? You still don't get it, do you?" Spike shouted, overcome by desperation. "You pig-headed piece of paranoia! How can you be so bloody dense? I loved the whole Slayer packet! All of it! Her strength, her bitchiness, her dedication, her perseverence, her loyalty, her friends!"
He had wanted to say "loyalty to her friends" but somehow it had come out differently.

The cat was out of the bag. He took a deep breath, why not go the whole distance....
"Would you believe", he went on, "I never had real friends, either in life or undeath? You'll hate me saying this, I know it's pathetic, but truth is, you and the Scoobies are the closest I've got to friends. More. You're family. Who'll talk "Passions" with me, now that Joyce is gone? Who am I supposed to trade insults with, if not Xander. Who'll commiserate with me on days past, if not Anya. And Willow, well, she's always been kind. Same as Tara. And Dawn? Anyone tries to mess with her, he's history. I'll rip his fucking arms off. Not because I promised to protect her, but because I care. More than I can put into words."

He glared at the Watcher who seemed to be strangely taken aback by this sudden outburst. "And unless you stake me or ship me off me to the friggin' Council you're not going to get rid of me, Watcher!"

"Glad to hear it." Rupert Giles said with a relieved smile and searched his pocket for the key to the manacles.



EPILOGUE

The door opened and there they were, Willow, Xander, Anya and Tara. The Scoobies. Only Dawn was missing. Willow was carrying something that looked like a portable loudspeaker with a large antenna.

"I guess that makes you one of us." Xander said - lo and behold! - without the usual scowl.
"An official Scoobie." Willow added.
"Congratulations! Here's your T-shirt." Anya said and waved a black T-shirt with bold red letters in front of Spike. "How come I didn't get one?" She asked, turning to Xander.
"Here, let me untie you." Giles pulled the last chains off Spike's arms.

The vampire grabbed the T-shirt and got up quickly. He looked at them, totally bewildered, frightfully embarrassed and more than a bit peeved. The demon inside him violently craved throwing himself at the Watcher and laying the man's brain bare with his teeth. Instead, Spike simply glared at him. Giles was unable to meet his eyes, instead he awkwardly stole a glance at Willow, who simply stood there, arms folded, like a general assessing her troops. Unusually poised.*Will came up with this charade?*

"We had to be sure." Tara said apologetically, placing a gentle hand on the vampire's arm. Spike nodded slowly, looking down at the T-shirt in his hand. "Dead and Kicking" it said. He looked up and saw their sympathetic faces. They were family. And he smiled.