Disclaimer: Joss owns all. I own four cats, half a house, and a dyspeptic Chevy Caprice. Please don't sue -- you wouldn't want any of them.

Spoilers: If it isn't obvious from context, and I hope it is, this trilogy is set between 'Restless' and 'Out of My Mind' -- though a few Buffy season 4 events were obviously affected by the AU.

Notes: Inspired by a poem of James Walkwithwind's, called A Thousand Dreams To Be Had.

Dangerously Thin

He came to my bed on Memorial Day. What that was about, I don't know, unless he just decided to get the hell out of Sunnydale to avoid the parade traffic and the barbecue smells, and the happy families picnicking into the dusk, within easy reach of his useless fangs. I'll never know. As if I could ask him. As if he'd tell me.

How he found me, in a rented room on Fifteenth Street, that I don't need to ask. He just closes his eyes, spins around, and says "Where's the person I could annoy the most on the face of this whole godforsaken planet?" Ends up pointing at me, and follows his nose. It's an acquired talent. If he'd had it when I left the first time, would I be here now?

So I got home, or, I should say, I got *back*, to my room late in the evening, and there he was. Curled up naked under the covers, that shock of electric hair flaring against the dark pillowcases. A little breaking and entering to round off a long day of travel, strip off, and then a snooze in my bed. No shame, no guilt, no handkerchief tied around the doorknob. Just Spike. And I refuse to say that I was glad to see him. I have my stoic, mysterious dignity to maintain.

He stirred as I grumbled my way in the door, sitting up and blinking at me. With his hair sticking up in little soft pieces that aren't even real spikes, not without a decent hair-gel, and sleep still haunting his eyes, he looks about seventeen. Not even the twenty-something he was when I made him into what I am. Into what I was. Into what he was. Certainly not like someone past his century mark and still pissing and spitting.

I shrugged off my coat and walked over to him. Didn't say a word. What words were there? Witty comic-book banter is for when you're beating hell out of Spike in an underground car park, or torturing each other with hot pokers. When he's in your bed, there isn't much to say. He said it anyway, with a wry twist of his lip.

"Fucked up again." And that's all I'd get out of him, I knew, as he turned on his side and faced the empty half of my bed. Looking away from me at whatever it is Spike sees. With the sheets slipping down to his hip, his pale skin made a shocking contrast to the wine-red satin. Which is, after all, why any vampire buys dark sexy sheets, but Spike's even paler than I am.

And thin. I could just about count his ribs. Boy doesn't eat, I thought insanely, as if I was the long-dead father he wouldn't ever see again. Of course he doesn't eat. He's got a little microchip in his head that puts him though an electric replay of all the pain I've ever given him, if he so much as gnashes his teeth at a human. Like me, he drinks from a bag, from a cup. Like me.

Unlike me, he eats human food on a whim, craving chocolate chip cookies or McDonald's french fries, for all the good the vanishing nutrients would do him. I, who want to be human, and might, someday, won't touch their food. He, who swears he's as evil as ever, loves and fucks and watches soap operas, and eats their food, and he's thin as a rail. All stretched muscle and jutting bone. As if he'd break in half if I sat down next to him and took him in my arms. Which, after silently taking off every stitch I was wearing, I did.

He bent his head, not in submission, but denial, not letting me have what was in his mind, what was in his heart, there in his eyes where I could always find it, once. He hid his face from me, but put his forehead against my chest, and just lay there. Taking what I owed him. What I'll always owe him.

In the morning, if he was there at all, it would be as if this hadn't happened. He might stay for a few hours, to torment me, laugh at my hair-care products, complain about the lack of food. Provoke me into a fight, so he could be sure as he left that I really am still the asshole I've always been to him. Those were the better times. More likely I would wake alone.

I don't know why I feel so much bigger than him, as if I could shield him from the world he keeps running headlong at, stage-diving into his usual stupidity and waiting for the crowd to kick him to the ground. I don't know why he comes to me, when he hates me with every fiber of his demonic being, but he does. Nights, just random nights, when whatever he's been doing has bitten him on the ass again, he's here. Taking what I'll always give, because it's his right. I owe it to him. If I tried to claim my rights as his Sire, he'd spit in my face. I don't try. Don't deserve them, couldn't master him anymore if I had a whip and a chair, let alone just my own voice. I know it, he knows it, and when we fight, he's cocky with the knowledge.

But there he was in my arms, in the spring, and he let me give him what comfort I could. What comfort, for some reason, only I could give him. He let me touch him silently, run my fingers along the deep hollows of his cheeks, whisper names at him that belonged to someone he wasn't, anymore. He touched me with a selfish need, a child hungry for attention, and then became for a moment the heart-shy virgin I had taken to my bed so long ago. My child is a predator, tightly wound, full of heat and light and darkness, and he could have any woman or man he so much as twitched his lip towards, except the two he wanted most. I've seen that Spike. I've loved him, as I've loved everything else he's ever been. But that Spike would never come to me. That Spike leaves in the morning, and I'll never be able to make love to him, because he hates me, and he owes me nothing.

I take what I can get, and when he's a child in my arms, at least it's still him, still me. Even though in the morning, it won't have happened, even though he's on his way in that laughable blacked-out car of his, back to Sunnydale, to whatever he's planning now. To whoever he's found down there, who can, maybe, give him everything but arms strong enough to keep him warm. When he finds that, if he finds that, I'll lose even this. The demon in me, strangely, wants that for him. It's the human who selfishly hopes he'll be back.

I took what I could get, that night, and he allowed me to protect him, from the world and from himself. With the lights out, he let me put my mouth on him, let me bury myself in him. Let me know at that moment that he needed me, wanted me, with the understanding sizzling in the air between us that tomorrow, he would be Spike, the fangless wonder who could still kill demons, and I would be the mousse-brained poof, and if we saw each other, we would play the game of teeth and claws.

When it was over, I waited for him to fall asleep. The only time I have to treasure him is then, in the still-dark early morning, when he's sleeping in my arms. I fought sleep, as I do every time, knowing he might be gone when I awoke, or still there, but more my enemy than ever. I held him, and brushed his hair with my fingers, and said the things I would never say if he were awake enough to understand me. That I'm a selfish bastard, for letting him come to me, for joying in it as much as I do. That each time I twist his face to look into his eyes as I'm making love to him, I'm one step closer to the hair's-breadth line that would, if I crossed it, turn me back into the monster who tortured so many of the people I love. Him the most of all.

I held him, touching the knobs of his spine, the sharp jut of his chin under my hand, and felt, again, that he would break. Just like that line, he's dangerously thin, and yet I risk it, every time, for what he's willing to let me be. His lover, for a moment or two, on a spring night in L.A., in the dark.